From Chicago 7 to Cuban 5

MIAMI – Attorney Leonard Weinglass has taken on tough cases before. Known for his defense of the “Chicago Seven” – leaders of the protesters that interrupted the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago – Weinglass is now representing Antonio Guerrero, one of five Cuban and Cuban-American men unjustly convicted and imprisoned on federal charges.

Known collectively as the “Cuban Five,” Fernando González, René González, Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino and Guerrero were arrested in September 1998 for allegedly “spying.” In fact, they were gathering information on anti-Cuba terrorists based in Miami, information that was shared with the U.S. Despite their efforts to protect both U.S. and Cuban lives, in 2001 the Five were convicted and received extremely harsh sentences, ranging from 15 years’ imprisonment to double life.

Weinglass and other Cuban Five defense lawyers were here to argue an appeal to the case March 10.

Accompanied by a delegation of U.S. and international jurists and activists, Weinglass and the other lawyers submitted a 700-page brief to argue the appeal. The international supporters came from Italy, Argentina, Germany, Belgium and England. A distinguished group of Ecuadorians would have attended, but were denied visas by the U.S. State Department.

A decision from the three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is not expected for months.

A key part of the appeal is that the trial should never have taken place in Miami. During the oral arguments, Weinglass cited prejudice in a community with 500,000 Cuban-Americans. Prejudice on Cuban issues was the same reason cited a year later by the Justice Department for trying to move a trial out of Miami in a lawsuit over the federal government’s raid to seize the Cuban boy Elian Gonzalez, he told the court.

Celebrated as heroes in Cuba and among Cuba solidarity activists around the world, the five imprisoned men have sought to defend their dignity in the face of repeated efforts to isolate them from friends and family. One wrote a book of jailhouse poetry. There are some 235 solidarity committees in the U.S. and around the world.

Responding to a virtual news blackout on the case, supporters of the Five placed a full-page advertisement in last week’s New York Times, signed by notables such as author Alice Walker, Detroit Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Rigoberta Menchu. The ad explains the injustice surrounding the Cuban Five’s case and calls on people to sign a web site petition to President Bush.

For more information go to www.freethefive.org.