Although there is not a shred of evidence to suggest that Cuba sponsors terrorism or is developing biological weapons programs, there is a great deal of evidence linking Washington to the 40-year old terrorist network that exists in south Florida.
Organizations such as Alpha 66, Omega 7, Brothers to the Rescue and the F-4 Commandos are responsible for the loss of over 3,000 innocent Cuban lives, yet have acted with impunity from the territory of the United States since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959.
After more than 40 years of unsuccessful protest, both in the Security Council and directly to Washington, Havana sent a group of men to infiltrate and report back on the workings of these organizations established throughout the exile community of Cubans in Miami.
They gathered the evidence, which was shared with the FBI by Havana, but instead of arresting the real culprits, the White House ordered the arrest of the group of Cuban observers.
Charged with everything from failing to disclose themselves as foreign agents to conspiracy to commit espionage and even murder, the Cuban Five were held in solitary confinement for 17 months before finally going on trial in Miami, the very place where they could not expect to get a fair hearing.
The jury was intimidated, witnesses were bullied by the prosecution, and the defense lawyers were denied access to all the evidence on the grounds that the information was classified. Even high-ranking officials of the FBI and the Southern Command gave evidence to the effect that none of the Five had been spying against the United States or threatened national security.
Yet all were found guilty in a unanimous verdict by the jury and received sentences ranging from 15 years to double life. Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrera, Fernando González and René González were then dispersed to maximum security prisons throughout the United States, making visiting difficult for their families.
Two of the wives have been denied visas to see their husbands on three separate occasions on the spurious grounds that they are spies as well as their husbands. Adriana Perez, wife of Gerardo, has not seen her husband for five years and Olga Salanueva, together with her 5-year-old daughter Ivette, has not seen her husband René since she was imprisoned for three months and deported because René would not make a deal with the authorities.
The case of the Cuban Five is now before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which meets in the Miami District Court on March 10 to hear oral arguments following the filing of briefs by both the defense and the prosecution that run into hundreds of pages. The defense lawyers have just 15 minutes to make their case, which works out at three minutes per lawyer, although a motion has been filed requesting additional time. As the last case to be heard that day, the odds for obtaining the extra time are good.
The three-judge panel from the 11th Circuit who will decide the case on the basis of both written and oral arguments was to be announced on Feb. 24 and was to be chosen from a panel of 14-16 judges. A decision is expected within two to four months and, if unfavorable to the Five, can be referred to the remaining judges of the appellate court and ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court.
There are many points of appeal in the briefs. Interestingly enough, the prosecutors have not spent one sentence defending the city of Miami and the exile community when responding to the defense’s claim that Miami is an impossible place for justice for Cubans wishing to defend their country. Venue of course is a major point in the defense argument.
The attorneys of the Cuban Five also argue that evidence is inadequate on the counts of conspiracy to commit espionage and even murder. The murder conspiracy charge in the case of Hernández, which the prosecution tried to link to the shooting down of two planes belonging to Brothers to the Rescue by the Cuban Air Force on Feb. 24, 1996, sets a dangerous precedent, as the act of a sovereign country in defending its territory has never before resulted in a prosecution.
Other issues concern excessive sentencing, inadequate preparation of a proper defense, mistreatment of the defendants and misconduct of the prosecutors, particularly in their final argument. Finally there is the issue of necessity defense, when after seeing the evidence of 31 documents on the violence perpetrated against Cuba, the court refused to allow evidence of terrorist attacks on the island not only during the past 44 years but even during the limited period from 1992 onwards.
Together with the appeal, a motion for a new trial filed by defense lawyer Leonard Weinglass on Nov. 13, 2002, will be heard. This is important because it both expands the court record and strengthens the main argument about venue. Judge Lenard, who presided over the original trial, rejected this motion when it was first filed in the Miami federal district court. Consequently, it has taken since last May to reach this point in what looks to be a long haul for justice. But as Paul McKenna, Hernández’s attorney, said in an interview with Radio Havana recently, “It’s like the ninth inning in baseball. We are at the final inning of this long game.”
The year 2004 will be critical in light of recent noises coming out of Washington. Following the expulsion of a Cuban diplomat and the announcement by the State Department that immigration talks were to be suspended, Roger Noriega, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, criticized Cuba for “supporting destabilizing elements within several democratic countries in Latin America.”
Since Noriega is a close friend of the “Miami mafia” and prime mover of the Helms-Burton Act penalizing investors in Cuba, this is hardly unexpected. Yet it signals a growing offensive against Cuba in the run-up to the presidential elections in November, when George W. Bush will once again need the help of his increasingly desperate and belligerent friends in Florida.
The Cuban Five and their families know that this is not the best time for a propitious hearing of their appeal, yet they remain committed to the truth and the belief that justice will prevail. More than that, they take heart from the fact that solidarity is growing in strength despite the conspiracy to hide the facts. With the U.S. seeking any pretext to justify further aggression against Cuba in its continuing “war on terror,” it is more vital than ever that these men are vindicated and returned home to their families. For they are the true fighters against a terrorism that is directed towards all those seeking a more just, equitable and peaceful world.
As one of the prisoners, Antonio Guerrero, wrote on the 45th anniversary of the triumph of the Cuban Revolution:
“Revolution that carries in your virile veins the emancipated blood of the mambi and the start, blood of your palm trees, blood of your mountains, the good sweet blood of all hope. Revolution that walks unstoppably, you march, as powerfully as a flooded river, with your torrent of ideas, precise and truthful, affronting the offence. You are the visible voice of millions of people. You are the light that guides, the invincible trench, the dream made present. You are a heart fraternal of peace. Happy anniversary eternal Revolution!”
Geoff Bottoms, a parish priest in Blackpool, England, works with the Cuba Solidarity Campaign in the U.K. and is chair of its Miami Five Campaign Group. He has visited Ramón Labañino and Gerardo Hernández in prison. U.S. authorities have not yet let him visit the other three prisoners. He can be reached at email@example.com.
(see related story below)
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Stay united –for justice and peace’
From a Nov. 26, 2003, letter written to Father Geoffrey Bottoms:
Coincidentally in the month of November our “trial” started and now we have submitted to Atlanta’s Court of Appeal the last documents of our appeal. Three years have passed from one event to the other. Now we should wait for the decision of that Court. There is not a date that limits their verdict.
I can tell you that the appeal presented is very solid, capable of destroying the fabricated charges created by the government based on the manipulation of the evidence for a jury of the city of Miami.
And I could express to you that each day of unjust incarceration is a day to denounce the double standards of the politics of the Empire in the war against terrorism.
Each day we add new brothers and sisters to our cause and for it we consider each day a day of victory.
Many letters have continued arriving to us and their messages encourage us and fortify our conviction in the final triumph of the truth and of solidarity.
Thank you for your support! Stay united, struggling for a better world of justice and peace.
Siempre amigos, hasta la victoria y por futura victorios.
that when they take the blue sky away from him
all he has to do is remember the color of her eyes
to be happy.
that when they cast him into utter darkness
all he has to do is remember her hair
to be happy.
that when they impose a cruel separation on him
all he has to do is remember her laugh
to be the happiest man.
A poem written “to my brother Rene when his daughter Ivette turned 1 year old,” Jan. 25, 2003.