At an April 9 press conference in Havana, Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque presented a detailed discussion of the recent trials of Cubans charged with acting in the interest of a foreign state to harm Cuba’s independence or integrity, and spreading information in support of the blockade and the economic war against Cuba. The press conference also featured details of the U.S. Interests Section’s work to support the so-called dissident movements. The complete transcript of the press conference is available online, at roque.html.

The Cubans tried and sentenced earlier this month had the ability to defend themselves including legal representation, the right to call witnesses, to introduce evidence in their favor, and to appeal their sentences, Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque told a press conference in Havana, April 9.

Under the country’s Law on the Protection of National Independence and the Economy of Cuba, the defendants received public trials in the country’s established court system.

Perez contrasted Cuba’s treatment of these defendants with the harsh isolation accorded the five Cubans now serving long terms in U.S. prisons for their efforts to expose anti-Cuban terror in Miami, which prevented them from working on their legal appeals.

The 75 defendants were tried “in just about every province of the country” between April 3 and 7, receiving jail sentences of between six and 28 years, Perez said. The law under which they were charged was passed by the Cuban legislature in response to the Helms-Burton Act.

(This act, passed by Congress in 1996, formalized more than four decades of U.S. embargo against the island nation, set forth U.S. policy to aid a counterrevolutionary government in Cuba and threatened legal action against anyone investing in Cuban businesses formerly owned by U.S. citizens or Cubans now living in the U.S. – M.B.)

After pointing to over 40 years of an ironclad economic blockade that has cost Cuba over $70 billion, incitements to subversion and illegal emigration, aggressions and terrorist acts including 600 attempts to kill Cuba’s president, Perez said, “Our people have to contend with the obsession of U.S. governments … to foment the emergence or strengthening of groups responding to their interests, with an evidently annexationist vision” of defeating the Cuban revolution.

Perez pointed out that under the Bush administration, hostility toward Cuba has increased dramatically. In the last seven months, Perez said, seven hijacking incidents have occurred involving aircraft or ships, “and the terrorist hijackers involved in four of those cases remain at liberty with no reported legal actions against them.” Since last October, granting of U.S. visas for legal immigration have dropped dramatically below the 20,000 per year level set by the two countries in 1994 – a major factor, Perez said, in the spate of hijackings. At the same time, U.S. restrictions on travel to Cuba have been greatly tightened.

Perez recounted the actions of U.S. Interests Section head James Cason, including an excerpt from Cason’s interview with Miami TV in December 2002. In it, Cason talks of his meetings with Cuban groups in Miami including the Cuban American National Foundation, aimed at unifying the anti-Castro opposition.

Perez noted that unlike his predecessors, Cason has even opened his office and home to opposition groups for their meetings, which became much more frequent last month. “Mr. Cason, implementing his government’s aggressive policy against Cuba, has compelled us to apply our law …” Perez said this was Cuba’s reaction when “no other option remained,” given the path of confrontation and provocation that the U.S. government has chosen to pursue.

Perez also presented many specific instances of U.S. funding for projects aimed at overturning Cuba’s government, including over $1.6 million from the International Republican Institute, nearly $27 million in the 2004 U.S. budget request earmarked to fund the 1,200 hours per week of anti government broadcasts by Radio Marti, and $22 million from the U.S. Agency for International Development since 1997 to implement the Helms-Burton Act.

“The Helms-Burton Act has paragraph 109 which directs the government to distribute money for subversion in Cuba through USAID and it has paragraph 115 which favors giving the money through secret channels, the special services’ channels,” he added.

“We do not blame the majority of Cubans who live in the United States,” Perez said. “[their] right to relations with their families and to visit Cuba we also respect and defend.” Nor does Cuba blame the majority of U.S. people who favor normalizing relations between the two countries, he said.

Marilyn Bechtel can be reached at

PDF version of ‘What’s really behind the trials in Cuba’