Supporters and the defense team for the five Cuban political prisoners in the United States expressed guarded optimism after their appeals hearing in Miami on March 10.

Although the panel of three judges that heard the appeal can delay their decision on the case for several months, many courtroom observers agreed that the defense arguments were very strong, while the prosecution was extremely weak.

One of the defense attorneys, Paul McKenna, told reporters following the hearing that prosecutor Christine Heck-Miller failed to produce any evidence implicating Gerardo Hernández in the downing of two planes shot down by MIG fighters in February 1996. Gerardo is serving a double life sentence based on this charge alone.

In addition, McKenna pointed out that the judges appeared concerned with the severity of the sentences handed down to all of the defendants – from 15 years to life – again with no proof that the Cuban Five posed any danger to U.S. national security.

The defense has maintained that far from posing a danger, the information gathered by Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero, René González, Fernando González and Ramon Labañino and given to the FBI before their arrest actually served to protect both Cuban and U.S. citizens from terrorist activities originating in Miami.

Defense attorney Leonard Weinglass was also cautiously optimistic upon leaving the courtroom, explaining that “the accused have asked nothing more than a change of venue (from Miami), which does not cause a real inconvenience to the government.”

Weinglass explained that the basis of that appeal is that it is impossible for a Cuban citizen to receive a fair trial in Miami – a bastion of extreme anti-Cuba, right-wing forces.