Political frameups of pro-labor, antiracist and antiwar activists are nothing new in U.S. history. The Haymarket martyrs, Tom Mooney, Sacco and Vanzetti, Angelo Herndon, Angela Davis: these are just a few of the most celebrated cases where government authorities used trumped-up evidence to railroad innocent people to jail or to the death chamber.
Two additional cases are the 1950s frameup of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the alleged atomic spies of the Cold War era, and the 1990s frameup of the Cuban Five, five Cubans who tried to thwart terrorist attacks on Cuba from U.S. soil. While there are significant differences between the two cases, there are also undeniable parallels.
Both trials were held in an atmosphere poisoned by political hysteria.
In the Rosenberg case, anti-communism was rampant. The trial took place as the U.S. government was launching its Cold War against the USSR. This campaign sought to demonize the Soviet Union and Communists, to cancel out the great prestige of the Soviet Union during the Second World War, and to turn back the worldwide surge toward national liberation and socialism.
On the domestic front, anti-communism reached a fever pitch in the Rosenberg trial and Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunts. A concerted effort was made by McCarthy, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover and others to paint U.S. Communists as Soviet spies seeking to overturn the “American way of life.” The real goal was to wipe out the gains made under the New Deal in social legislation and to weaken the labor movement.
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were victims of this anti-communist hysteria, a hysteria that made it impossible for them to get a fair trial. Affirming their innocence to the end, the Rosenbergs were cruelly executed on June 19, 1953.
Fast-forward to the 1990s. While anti-communism in the U.S. has greatly subsided, pockets of it are still very much alive. One such pocket is Miami, Fla., particularly among the Cuban American population.
The Cuban Revolution, while achieving enormous gains for its people in the form of free education, health care, housing, employment and racial and social equality, gave rise to a host of bitter enemies. Among these were (often wealthy) counterrevolutionary Cubans who fled the country and set up shop in Miami, hoping one day to return to a “liberated” Cuba.
While today’s Miami includes many Cuban Americans who favor normalizing relations with Cuba, there remains a hard-core anti-communist, anti-Fidel group of fanatical elements that promotes paramilitary training and terrorism, frequently
aided and abetted by the CIA.
For over 44 years the Cuban people have been subjected to acts of right-wing terror emanating from Miami-based anti-communist groups like Alpha 66, Omega 7, and Brothers to the Rescue.
These acts include biological warfare; the 1976 bombing of a civilian Cuban airliner carrying 73 people, killing them all; bombings of ships, harbors, and hotels; hundreds of attempts to assassinate President Fidel Castro; and countless other acts of provocation and sabotage.
As a consequence, Cuba has taken steps to protect itself. At some point it decided to have five of its citizens infiltrate terrorist groups in Florida to notify Cuba of their plans. The work of these five heroes – Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero, Ramón Labañino, Fernando González, and Rene González – no doubt saved many Cuban and U.S. lives. But in 1998 they were arrested, charged with spying against the U.S., an absolute misrepresentation of their role.
Lawyers representing the Cuban Five immediately sought to have the trial venue changed from Miami to somewhere else, arguing it would be impossible for the Five to get a fair trial in Miami.
The judge denied the motion for a change in venue. Evidence about the terrorism perpetrated by right-wing exile groups in Miami was ruled inadmissible. The FBI, the prosecuting attorney, and the judge were hell-bent on twisting the facts and determined to get a conviction. Attorney General John Ashcroft (much like Attorney General Herbert Brownell in the Rosenberg case) added greater vengefulness to the prosecution.
The sentences were outrageous, with three of the five getting life-plus sentences, and the two others getting 15 to 19 years.
The media has been strangely silent about the trial and the harsh treatment the Cuban Five have received in prison, including frequent bouts of solitary confinement and cruel denials of family visitation rights, again reminiscent of the Rosenberg case.
But the truth will out. Bush’s lies on Iraq are becoming unmasked. So, too, will the lies about the Cuban Five. Their imprisonment must not be allowed to stand.
An appeal for a new trial is pending in Atlanta. Write and e-mail letters to your congressperson. Write letters to the press. Once the American people learn the truth about the Cuban Five, the truth will demand their freedom.
John Gilman chairs the Milwaukee Committee to Defend the Cuban Five. In the 1950s he chaired the Milwaukee Committee for the Defense of the Rosenbergs. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org