WASHINGTON — The United States Supreme Court today refused, without comment, to hear the case of the “Cuba 5,” Cuban citizens jailed by the federal government in a case that has generated intense international criticism of the U.S. judicial system.
The five Cubans — Rene Gonzalez, Gerardo Hernandez, Antonio Guerrero, Ramon Labaniño and Fernando Gonzalez — were arrested by federal agents in Miami in 1998, and accused of spying on violent ultra-right-wing Cuban exile organizations in the United States. Gerardo Hernandez was also accused of murder because of a supposed relationship to the shooting down of two airplanes which had been sent by the Brothers to the Rescue exile organization to buzz Cuban cities and drop leaflets on Cuba.
The five Cubans were arrested and charged even though the Cuban government had passed on some of the information they had gathered to FBI as proof that exile groups they were monitoring were planning terroristic acts in violation of U.S. law
The Miami trial of the five was denounced by many in Cuba, the United States and worldwide as a travesty, in which the virulently anti-Castro and anti-Cuba atmosphere of South Florida politics and media was allowed to influence the court at every stage.
In 2001, all five were convicted of being foreign agents. Gerardo Hernandez was also convicted of first-degree murder because of the shooting down of the Brothers to the Rescue airplanes, even though evidence to convict him was shaky to nonexistent. Gerardo Hernandez was given two life sentences, Labaniño and Guerrero each got a life sentence. Fernando Gonzalez received a 19-year sentence and Rene Gonzalez was given 15 years. They have been serving these sentences under harsh conditions in federal penitentiaries. Several have been denied the right to receive visits from their wives.
The five appealed their sentence on the grounds that the original trial should have been moved away from the anti-Castro atmosphere of South Florida. In 2005, a three-judge panel of the Federal Appeals Court in Atlanta ruled in their favor and ordered a new trial; however, the Bush administration got this reversed by the entire appeals court, which granted only new sentencing to Labaniño, Guerrero and Fernando Gonzalez.
In the meanwhile, the case of the Cuban Five has generated an international campaign which has garnered the vocal support of Latin American governments and many thousands of prominent and non-prominent citizens of scores of countries. The U.N. Human Rights Commission has condemned the actions of the U.S. government in the case.
In Cuba, the five are considered national heroes, as the groups on whom they were collecting information included violent terrorist networks whose past attacks on Cuba had resulted in death and destruction, including a bombing attacks during the 1990s.
Cuban President Raul Castro has hinted several times that there might be some sort of humanitarian exchange in which the Five would be released as well as some people serving time in Cuba.
The Obama administration today hailed the Supreme Court decision, claiming that the original conviction of the Five was justified. However, the collective presidency of the Cuban National Assembly (Cuba’s Congress or Parliament) issued a strongly worded statement, saying among other things that:
“The U.S. Supreme Court announced today, without any explanation, its decision not to review the case of our five comrades who are unjustly imprisoned in that country for struggling against anti-Cuban terrorism that is sponsored by the U.S. rulers. The judges did what the Obama administration requested of it.’
Further, the Cuban statement quoted defendant Gerardo Hernandez:
“Based on the experience we have had, I am not surprised by the Supreme Court decision. I have no confidence at all in the justice system of the United States … I repeat what I said one year ago, June 4 2008, that as long as one person remains struggling outside, we will continue resisting until there is justice”.
Thousands are now struggling outside, with many thousands more to come.