She was soft-spoken and earnest. She had a quiet determination, a depth of intellect and character that many a mom would hope for her daughter. She could have been your next-door neighbor. But for the cruel reality of U.S.-Cuba relations, Olga Salanueva would be praised in the U.S. as she is honored in Cuba, for being a hero in the fight against terrorism. Instead she endured three months in a U.S. prison and was then deported to Cuba.
Salanueva is the wife of René González, a U.S.-born Cuban American. René is serving 15 years in a federal prison in South Carolina, for the crime of fighting terrorism.
In jail for fighting terrorism, you may ask? How can that be, when the U.S. has declared an international war against terrorism?
Welcome to the case of the Cuban Five.
On a recent visit to Cuba, I met with Salanueva and other family members of the five imprisoned Cubans. Family members included moms, wives and a sister. I was joined by Communist Party USA (CPUSA) chairman Sam Webb and Northern California CPUSA chairman Juan Lopez.
We sat in a circle on a patio. Some faces reminded me of friends at home. Many wore a metal pin with the number five and the colors of the Cuban flag. We heard their pain from being kept from seeing their loved ones, and the humiliating treatment to which they have all been subjected. We also heard their courage and love for their husbands and sons, and for a world at peace – free from terrorism and war. They talked about their Five Heroes, a case known in the U.S. as “the Cuban Five.”
Who are the Cuban Five? Ramón Labaniño, 40, is an economist; Antonio Guerrero, 44, is a civil engineer; and Fernando González, 39, and Gerardo Hernández, 38, are international relations specialists. René González, 46, is a flight instructor and aviation specialist.
Arrested in 1998, they are now serving anywhere from 15 years to two life sentences on various charges; none of them are charges of espionage. They got the maximum sentence in every category. The trial was held in Miami where any semblance of impartiality is impossible. The judge’s refusal to move the location of the trial is the basis for the Five’s appeal. A ruling on that appeal is expected in the next few months.
The Cuban Five admit they were working on behalf of their country to keep it safe from terrorist attacks. They vigorously deny any charges of espionage on the U.S. government. “Our sons and husbands went to watch these (terrorist) organizations because we faced more than 40 years of terrorist attacks. It was the only way to stop them,” another family member told us. All told, terrorist acts against Cuba have cost more than 3,470 killed and over 2,100 injured.
So why was Cuba forced to dispatch five of its finest young men to Florida to watch terrorist groups, working to save both Cuban and U.S. lives? Why didn’t the FBI do its job? The Cuban government had repeatedly requested action on terrorists and shared information on terrorist plots with the FBI.
The answers lie in the senseless hostilities of U.S. policy towards the socialist nation, its president Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution. Starting with the invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in 1961, Cuba has been a target of armed intervention, terrorist bombings and hijackings, biological warfare, assassinations, and economic destabilization. And that doesn’t even include the effects of the U.S. trade embargo.
The case of the Cuban Five is not well known in the U.S. but it is extremely well known in Cuba and internationally. Their photos are everywhere in Cuba – on workplace bulletin boards, on neighborhood streets, on billboards – and in the many newspapers, magazines and web sites published by the vast number of Cuban media outlets.
As we talked with the wives and moms of the Cuban Five, they were confident that their loved ones would be freed once the American people learned the truth about their case. “We just want the judges to follow the law,” a family member said. They were very happy about the New York Times ad on March 3, which broke the official media silence on the case. The ad has also appeared in Spanish in La Prensa in New York City.
Salanueva, a legal resident of the U.S. for four years, and her husband René have two children, 16 and 6. Their six-year-old has never met her father. And despite repeated efforts to obtain visas to visit René in jail, Salanueva has been denied.
In a moving part of René’s sentencing statement he quotes a letter from his wife. “René, there are constant shows of support here for us, the families, and for all of you. Yesterday, when I took bus 58 home from Mom’s house, a number of people recognized me. … Then a woman came up to me; she squeezed my hand and gave me a prayer card she had suddenly pulled out of her purse, entitled, ‘A Happy Home.’ And she said, ‘At my church we pray for the five every day, and we pray for their children to have a happy home, like Jesus did, because they were over there so that all children would have a happy home as well.’
“She kind of caught me by surprise, I almost didn’t have time to thank her because I had to get off the bus quickly, but I realized that this is the way we Cubans are. And today we are more united than ever, regardless of beliefs or religions, everyone with their own faith, but all united in the same cause. I am going to keep the prayer card as a memento.”
At the visit, Sam Webb told the families, “We share your outrage and your pain. It is ironic that these men should be fighting against terrorism and find themselves imprisoned in the age of the war on terror, while terrorists walk the streets of Miami,” Webb said, referring to Orlando Bosch. Bosch is a Cuban exile-terrorist, charged with planning the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people. He served 11 years in prison in Venezuela before being released. When he came to the U.S. in 1988 he was ordered deported as a terrorist. The deportation order was overruled and Bosch was pardoned by President George Herbert Walker Bush in 1990.
Bosch founded the Command of United Revolutionary Organiz-ations – an extreme, anti-communist terrorist group – which has claimed responsibility for more than 50 bombings throughout the Western Hemisphere. According to the Dallas Morning News, the group was also suspected in the attempted assassinations of Cuban diplomats and other violent acts. Bosch also signed an ad during the trial of the Cuban Five in Miami in August 2001, supporting the use of any method of struggle against Cuba.
After the Revolution, many of the wealthier, whiter Cubans, with ties to the former Batista dictatorship, fled to Miami. They instantly began plotting for the day when they could return to their former life and riches. A pre-revolutionary Cuba that was full of poverty, inequality, casinos and mobsters. Batista ran the country in cahoots with U.S. gangsters and capitalists like Meyer Lansky and Conrad Hilton. A small, ruling elite profited while Cuban workers, Afro-Cubans, women and youth suffered.
This elite came to dominate all of South Florida, politically and economically, and found wide spread support among government officials and intelligence agencies. CIA-run training camps for anti-communist Cuban terrorists dotted the vast swamplands in the Everglades. Their extremism fit well with standing U.S. foreign policy to destroy socialism wherever it exists.
The fury of these anti-communists was unleashed ferociously in the 1960s and 1970s with bombings hitting targets in Cuba and in the U.S. as well. This included Emilio Milan, the news director at WQBA-AM, who had his legs blown off by a car bomb in 1976. Milan had publicly condemned violence committed by the Cuban exile community.
And then who could forget the kidnapping of the six-year-old Elián González and the ensuing violence and lawlessness by the exile extremists – a small, yet powerful minority in the Cuban American community.
In the wake of the horrific terrorist attacks on the U.S. Sept. 11, 2001, there were many voices that said the U.S. did not have enough “intelligence on the ground” – no spies to infiltrate al-Qaeda. Imagine for a moment that five educated, young American men infiltrate al Qaeda and are arrested and imprisoned for life in Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan. How would Americans feel? An unfair example? Not really.
Attorney Leonard Weinglass, known for his defense of the activists known as the Chicago Seven, represents Guerrero in his appeal. Guerrero received a life sentence. The most serious charge Guerrero faced was “conspiracy to commit espionage.” It wasn’t an espionage charge, but with scant evidence presented, the Miami jury found him guilty of “conspiracy.”
Weinglass, in an interview with Radio Havana Cuba, explained the charges. “There were 26 separate charges leveled against the Five. Two carried life sentences. The other 24 are really relatively minor and mostly technical.”
Often times, in these kinds of situations, some kind of quid pro quo deal with the government of the other country is made. But not in this case. The five Cuban men were denied a fair trial and then were sentenced to the maximum on all charges. Family members said they felt this case was less about justice under the law and more about the reactionary Cuban exiles dishing out revenge.
As the generation of anti-communist terrorists in Miami grow old, they grow more desperate. More and more the younger generations, and even a good number of the older generation, refuse to go along with the extremists’ program. They might not support the Revolution but they want normalized relations with Cuba.
Sam Webb, at the meeting with the families, said the Party has its own history of political prisoners. “During the Cold War, Party leaders went to jail for the crime of thinking. The charge was ‘conspiracy to teach’ and advocate the violent overthrow of the government. That was a lie; violence was never our policy. They were finally exonerated. And I am confident your heroes, our heroes, will be too.”
Take action! Write or call your congresspeople and demand a fair trial and visas for the Five’s families. Write to the Five. Learn more by visiting these web sites:
Terrie Albano is editor of the People’s Weekly World. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(See related story below)
* * * * * *
A short list of terror against Cuba
1960 The French ship La Coubre is blown up in the port of Havana by the CIA; 101 people killed.
1968 From Miami, right-wing terrorist Orlando Bosch fires bazooka at a Polish freighter. Miami politicians declare “Orlando Bosch Day.”
1976 Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles, working with others, blow up a Cubana civilian airliner that had taken off from Barbados, killing 73 people, including 24 youth from the Cuban national fencing team. In Miami, a car bomb blows off legs of WQBA-AM news director Emilio Milian after he publicly condemns exile violence.
1981 A bomb explodes in the Mexican Consulate in Miami in protest over Mexico’s relations with Cuba.
1996 Firebomb explodes at Marazul Charters in Miami, which arranges travel to Cuba. A bomb explodes in the Miami restaurant, Centro Vasco, to protest a scheduled concert by Cuban singer Rosita Fornes
1997 A wave of terrorist acts against hotels and other tourist establishments in Havana results in the murder of an innocent Italian tourist, Favio Di Celmo.
Over a period of many years, the Cuban government has uncovered 637 attempts on the life of President Fidel Castro. It estimates that U.S.-inspired biological warfare against Cuba’s crops and livestock have affected 300,000 people and resulted in 158 deaths, 101 of which were children.
Sources: Miaminewtimes.com; testimony of Ramón Labaniño Salazar.