Cuban Five lose appeal, fight continues

A federal appeals court handed down bad news for the Cuban Five on Aug. 9. It reversed a decision from its three-judge panel one year ago that nullified their Miami trial because of prejudice.

The Five — Fernando Gonzalez, Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labanino, Antonio Guerrero and Rene Gonzalez — were arrested in 1998 for efforts to thwart violent anti-Cuban attacks emanating from Florida with the connivance of the U.S. government.

A 10-judge majority opinion said the original trial was fair, with even-handed jury selection. It sent the defense back to the original three-judge panel to seek rulings on nine unresolved issues.

The men spent 17 months in solitary confinement between their arrest and their trial in 2000. They were sentenced the following year, but had to wait another four years for a decision from the three-judge appeals panel. Then, in an unprecedented move, the court accepted the prosecution’s request for a full-court review of that decision. No other case in U.S. history has dragged on longer than this one.

“The majority whitewashed the question of the coercive atmosphere of Miami,” defense attorney Richard Klugh told a news conference Aug. 10. Attorney Leonard Weinglass said, “This is not the end of the case.” The six appeals attorneys will meet next week to decide between asking the Supreme Court to rule on the question of community prejudice and returning to the Appeals Court panel for rulings on the nine remaining issues.

Bruce Nestor, past president of the National Lawyers Guild, said the decision had “very profound implications for anybody seeking a fair trial within the current political climate in the United States.” The ruling gives the government “immense power to raise politically motivated cases and then find a venue where the community prejudice and attitude will ultimately favor them in the trial,” he said.

In a message to the prisoners’ families, Geoff Bottoms, co-coordinator of Britain’s campaign for the Five, wrote that “the timing of the decision appears designed to further undermine the sovereignty of the Cuban people.” He was referring to leadership changes in Cuba and the July 10 restatement of U.S. plans to return Cuba to its capitalist past.

At the trial, defense experts testified that the defendants caused no harm to U.S. government installations, personnel or strategic plans. They were monitoring private, well-financed paramilitary groups who specialize in bombs, automatic weapons and terror against Cuba. Terrorist attacks against Cuba over decades have caused over 3,400 deaths and economic losses in the billions, according to sources in Havana.

Three of the men, convicted for “conspiracy to commit espionage,” not actual spying, are serving life sentences. Jailers regularly impose solitary confinement on the Five, and the U.S. government blocks or impedes family visiting.

Amnesty International, the UN Commission for Human Rights, and parliamentarians worldwide have taken up their cause. An International Month of Action, Sept. 12-Oct. 6, seeks to bring greater world attention to the case.

Sept. 12 is the eighth anniversary of the prisoners’ arrests. Oct. 6 is the 30th anniversary of Luis Posada’s downing of a Cuban airliner, killing 73 people.

A march on the White House is scheduled for Sept. 23. Demands include freedom for the prisoners, family visiting rights and Posada’s extradition to Venezuela. Lead organizers are the National Lawyers Guild, the Committee to Free the Five and the National Network on Cuba. Other rallies will take place in Seattle, Detroit, and New York.