Cubans denied family visits

Olga Salanueva and Adriana Pérez won’t be able to see their husbands this holiday season. For the third time, the U.S. government refused to issue visas for Salanueva and Pérez to visit their husbands. René González’s 5-year-old daughter, Ivette, who was born in the U.S., cannot visit her father, because her mother has been denied a visa.

Granted it wouldn’t be an easy visit, even with a visa. The visit wouldn’t be taking place in a cozy home, with eggnog and a warm fire. The visit, which the families desperately want, would take place in federal prisons in South Carolina and California.

Salanueva’s husband, René González, and Pérez’s, Gerardo Hernández, along with three other men – Fernando González, Ramón Labañino and Antonio Guerrero – are collectively known as the “Cuban Five.” In 1998 they were arrested in Miami by U.S. agents and charged with spying against the U.S., which is being disputed as a misrepresentation of their role.

The Cuban Five were on an anti-terrorist assignment to protect Cuba from attacks orchestrated by Miami-based groups. The information they gathered was used for the defense of Cuba and shared with the FBI. Their trial took place in Miami, where the atmosphere made it impossible to have a fair trial.

In a survey among the Miami population one month before jury selection, 49 percent of Miami Cubans supported direct U.S. military action in Cuba and 55 percent supported such action from the exile community. Non-Cuban support from Miami for such action came to around 27 percent.

Just 25 miles north of Miami, in Broward County, there was a substantial 26.5 percent reduction in hostile attitudes. National figures read 0.8 percent to 5.8 percent for the same questions. Although the jury was made up of non-Cubans, the media-hyped anti-Castro atmosphere intimidated jury members.

These five Cuban and Cuban American men were denied a fair trial, convicted and sentenced to harsh prison terms in what many call a shameful miscarriage of justice.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta will hear the appeal of the Cuban Five in the next few months. One of the Five, Antonio Guerrero, recently wrote from a Colorado federal prison that he is confident about the appeal. “I can tell you that the appeal presented is very solid, capable of destroying the fabricated charges, created by the U.S. government based on the manipulation of the evidence for a jury of the City of Miami,” he wrote

A campaign to help win the right of Alanueva and Pérez to obtain visas to visit their husbands is under way. In a joint statement issued Nov. 20 the two women said:

“On numerous occasions, we have addressed the U.S. authorities to ask that they issue visas to enter their territory with the sole objective of visiting our husbands.

“No reason exists to justify this denial; we are two women who are suffering – as an additional punishment to the unjust sentences imposed on our husbands – the impossibility of meeting each other even if in very difficult circumstances.

“Our families continue to be hostages of the arbitrary nature and violations of human rights being committed in this case. Ivette González, René’s daughter, is only 5 years old and has experienced the impossibility of knowing her father because her mother is not permitted to travel to that country and take her little daughter with her,” the two continued.

“We demand an end to these vindictive, dishonest practices, and the hatred against our families that doesn’t allow the full exercise of the rights that we have to visit our husbands in their respective prisons.

“We denounce and refute before the press the false arguments and lies that they try to use to continue punishing these political prisoners, fighters against terrorism,” they said.

The National Committee to Free the Cuban Five is asking people to contact Secretary of State Colin Powell, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge and Attorney General John Ashcroft, urging them to reunite the families. Religious leaders – including Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Rev. Joan Brown Campbell and Rev. Lucius Walker – have offered to serve in a “ministry of accompaniment” with both women to make the visits possible.

For more information on this campaign go to www.freethefive.org.

The author can be reached at talbano@pww.org.