BBC interviews Cuban 5 prisoner

News Analysis

On July 2, BBC News broadcast a television interview conducted by reporter Claire Bolderson with Gerardo Hernandez, one of five Cuban men incarcerated in U.S jails since 1998 for defending Cuba against terrorism. Publicity like this for the Cuban Five is extremely rare.

The interview occurred as the prisoners’ lawyers are preparing for a court hearing in late August on legal questions still under appeal. In August 2005, a three-judge appeals court panel nullified the Five’s Miami convictions in 2000 on grounds that widespread anti-Cuba prejudice in Miami prevented a fair trial, but a year later a full appeals court bench overruled that judgment.

An unabridged version of the BBC interview has circulated widely on the Internet. The broadcast version, it turns out, represents only about half of the conversation.

The televised version ends up abbreviating and distorting much of what Hernandez said. Presumably in the name of “objectivity,” it also weaves in charges by a Miami Cuban that Hernandez is guilty as charged and dwells on some of the lesser crimes he acknowledged at his trial, specifically the use of false documents and his failure to register as a foreign agent.

Even so, Hernandez is able to make some important points in the televised segment.

In the broadcast, the BBC reporter begins with the question: “Can you explain to us what you were doing in Florida in the first place?”

Hernandez replies, “I was gathering information on terrorist groups that used to operate in Florida with total impunity.” The segment includes him mentioning the training of right-wing paramilitary groups in Florida, the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people, the bombings of Havana hotels in 1997, and other acts of sabotage against Cuba. But his elaboration upon these acts and others are edited out.

The broadcast segment has Hernandez asserting his innocence of charges that he conspired to murder the downed Brothers to the Rescue fliers in 1996. But his argument for his innocence and his explanation of the circumstances surrounding the events, namely, the repeated violations of Cuban airspace by right-wing Cuban exiles, are cut out. As a result, his self-defense comes off as merely a protest against unjust persecution.

The interviewer asks about Miami prejudice in 2000: “So you think the jury was intimidated, or even tampered with? Was it as serious as that?” In the few words allowed him, Hernandez touches lightly upon the bias in Miami and the grounds for the prisoners’ appeal.

Then, as if to suggest Hernandez is not his own person, the interviewer explores his ties to Cuban President Fidel Castro: “Have you heard from him directly at all?”

“Two years ago,” Hernandez replies. He mentions Castro’s comments that once North Americans know about the Cuban Five, justice will prevail.

Some of the cuts from the interview are particularly telling. For example, “How are you being treated?” was the actual first question. “The worst part of my imprisonment,” Hernandez replies, “is that I haven’t been able to see my wife for the last 10 years” because of U.S. refusal to grant her a visa. Amnesty International and others have demanded that Washington let Olga Salanueva, wife of Rene Gonzalez, and Adriana Perez, Hernandez’s wife, visit their husbands in jail.

Hernandez’s remarks describing U.S. military testimony at his trial, where officers said there was “nothing related to espionage in this case … nothing related to the national security of the U.S.,” also ended up on the cutting room floor.

His elaboration about the impunity that anti-Cuba terrorists enjoy from the U.S. authorities was cut. For example, Hernandez cites Coast Guard testimony at his trial that officials released some weapon-laden boaters heading for Cuba because the boaters claimed they were “fishing for lobsters.” Along the same lines, his reference to the terrorist Luis Posada was dropped.

Responding by e-mail to a European supporter after the interview, Hernandez indicated that the questions he was asked differed from those presented beforehand to prison authorities, adding, “They always edit what you say to their convenience.”

But again, the BBC’s televised interview, as truncated as it was, represents an important breach in the information blockade about the Cuban Five.