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Year 2009 No. 66, October 1, 2009 ARCHIVE HOME JBBOOKS SUBSCRIBE

Free the Cuban Five Now!

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Free the Cuban Five Now!

Miami 5 US Embassy Vigil

Interview with Attorney for Cuban Five

The Untold Story of the Cuban Five

Speech to TUC Congress by Salvador Valdes Mesa, General Secretary of CTC

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Free the Cuban Five Now!

Eleven years after their unjust imprisonment in the United States the campaign to highlight the case of the Miami 5 – Gerardo Hernandez, René González, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero and Fernando González – continues.

As anyone who has visited Cuba recently will be aware the Five Heroes, as they are known, are the subject of intense mobilisation; and these activities also have their reflection in widespread solidarity and consistent support throughout the world.

The case of the Cuban Five shows the self-serving nature of the US "war on terror", where those trying to provide legally obtained information to US government agencies to stop terrorist attacks against Cuba have been arrested and imprisoned. The US Empire has no interest in prosecuting a "war on terror" unless it serves its aims for world domination. It permits or commits terrorist acts itself in the name of promoting so-called "freedom", "democracy" and "western values", as indicated by its support for anti-Cuban terrorists such as Luis Posada Carriles, Orlando Bosch and terrorist organisations based in Miami.

Miami 5

The case of the Cuban Five reveals the attempts of the US Empire to outlaw resistance to its annexationist agenda against Cuba. It has imposed sentences on the Cuban Five which are purely vengeful. The Five have never committed any crimes. With an impending resentencing court case due to be heard on October 13 in Miami – the city from where these Cubans were attempting to prevent further terrorist actions against their homeland – upcoming actions in Britain include a candlelight vigil at the United States Embassy.

The Cuba Solidarity Campaign which is organising the event calls on supporters and friends to meet at the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square, London (Bond St tube) this Thursday 1 October 2009 – 6pm-7.30pm

The vigil will be attended by relatives of The Five – Adriana Pérez, Olga Salanueva, and Irma González – alongside other British political and trades union personalities and legal figures.

WDIE calls on the working class and people to step up the work to free the Cuban Five, ensure that the relatives of the Five are granted US visas and the right to visit their husbands and fathers while they remain imprisoned and defend Cuba's right to be, free from outside interference and US aggression.

Article Index



Miami 5 US Embassy Vigil

Thursday 1 October 2009 6pm-7.30pm

US Embassy, Grosvenor Square, London

with special guests from Cuba Adriana Pérez, Olga Salanueva, and Irma González - families of the Miami Five).

They will be joined by many guest speakers including: Colin Burgon MP, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Michael Mansfield QC, Bob Crow, GS RMT, Billy Hayes, GS CWU, Luke Crawley, AGS BECTU, Jerry Bartlett, DGS, NASUW, Linda Perks, RS London UNISON, Sally Hunt, GS, UCU, Hector Wesley, EC PCS, Jennie Bremner, AGS, Unite, Steve Hart, RS, Unite, Manuel Cortes, AGS, TSSA, Kelly Hockley, CYWU, Geoff Shears, Thompsons Solicitors, Steve Cottingham, OH Parsons, Christine Blower, GC NUT (tbc)

The vigil will be followed by an opportunity to meet the guests informally at a local venue.

Please show the five they are not forgotten by coming to this vigil to mark the 11th anniversary of their arrest on September 12, 1998.


Bring candles to this peaceful vigil for the Five and their families to mark the 11th year of their unjust imprisonment.

“The struggle must be multiplied until the US government is forced to put an end to this monstrous injustice and restore freedom to Gerardo, Ramón, Antonio, Fernando and René”
Ricardo Alarcon, President Cuban National Assembly

 

Free the Miami Five

Who are the Miami Five?

            The Miami Five are Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González and René González, five Cubans falsely accused and jailed by the US government of committing espionage against the United States.

What did they do?

            For more than 40 years, right wing Cuban exile groups based in Miami have killed almost 3,500 people in terrorist attacks against Cuba, with the complicity of the CIA and US government.

            The US government repeatedly failed to act against the perpetrators of such crimes, including the blowing up of a Cuban airliner in 1973 (killing 76 people) and a bombing campaign against Cuban tourist hotels in the 1990s (killing an Italian tourist).

            To save lives, Cuba sent five men to Miami to infiltrate and monitor the groups. At the request of the US government, this information was passed to the FBI in 1998.

            But instead of arresting the terrorists, the FBI used the information to identify and arrest the Five anti-terrorists on September 12, 1998 in Miami, where they were illegally held in solidarity confinement for 17 months.

A miscarriage of justice

            The trial began in November 2000 in Miami, a hugely hostile environment where the anti-Castro Cuban-American community wields enormous political influence.

            Defence attorneys’ motions for a change of venue were denied five times by the judge, although it was obvious that a fair trial was impossible in the city.

            During the trial, the judge, prosecution and US government officials suppressed defence evidence and ensured key witnesses would not testify.

            Despite intimidation of witnesses by the press and testimonies by prominent US officials that the Five had not accessed any classified documents, the jury reached a unanimous guilty verdict on all charges, without once seeking clarification of any evidence.

            The Five were convicted on charges ranging from being foreign agents to conspiracy to commit murder, and sentenced to between fifteen years and double life.

Families torn apart

            On top of the severe sentences, the Five are denied regular family visits. The US infrequently grants visas to close family members.

            Two of the prisoners wives, Olga Salanueva and Adriana Pérez, have been refused visas nine times and have not seen their husbands for 9 and 11 years.

            Human rights organisations have condemned the trial and the treatment of the families. Amnesty International has described the treatment of the Five as ‘contrary both to the standards for the humane treatment of prisoners and to a states’ obligation to protect family life.”

Cuba Solidarity Campaign, c/o Unite Woodberry, 218 Green Lanes, London, N4 2HB

www.cuba-solidarity.org.uk e: campaigns@cuba-solidarity.org.uk t: 020 8800 0155

Article Index



Interview with Attorney for Cuban Five

Radio Havana Cuba, September 1, 2009

Transcript of a telephone interview given by Miami-based Attorney Richard Klugh to Bernie Dwyer for Radio Havana Cuba on September 1. Klugh represents the Cuban Five in the appeals process.

***

Bernie Dwyer: Three of the Cuban Five, Ramon, Antonio and Fernando are now in the Federal Detention Centre in Miami. Can you give us the background to their move from their separate prisons and the reason they are in Miami now?

Richard Klugh: Ramon, Antonio and Fernando were transported to Miami within the last two weeks from their various institutions in Kentucky, Colorado and Indiana, in order to attend and be re-sentenced at a hearing by the district court judge as ordered by the court of appeals.

BD: Do they have any contact with each other?

RK: As of right now they are all separated from each other and separated from all of the other inmates. They are in the isolation units ordinarily used for special housing and it's unclear whether all of them will be allowed to leave the special housing units or isolation unit prior to re-sentencing or not. It's our hope that it will happen.

BD: Are they permitted to have contact with their attorneys?

RK: Yes. The attorneys are visiting and are able to talk to them. The re-sentencing hearing is about a month and a half away so they need to be talking to them. That's exactly where it stands right now. It's a relatively short period of time before the re-sentencing occurs.

BD: Are they allowed to have family visits and phone calls?

RK: They will be allowed to have them. There is always a delay when there is a transfer such as this but they are not precluded from having family visits.

BD: Can they receive letters from supporters and friends?

RK: Absolutely and of course everybody is very encouraged to do that, to write to them in the names in which they are listed in the Bureau of Prisons directory at the address of the Federal Detention Centre in Miami.

BD: Can you give a background as to why three of the Five, Antonio, Fernando and Ramon are being allowed to go back to court for re-sentencing and not Gerardo Hernández and René González?

RK: Gerardo, because of the disputed conviction with regard to the Brothers to the Rescue matter was not eligible for a re-sentencing hearing because he has already received a life sentence as to that accusation and we were unsuccessful in the direct appeal in reversing that conviction. He was deemed to be ineligible for re-sentencing. With regard to René, his sentence was based on offences as to which he really didn't have much of a right to appeal. They were not sentences with which the District Count had any real legal limitations on what could be imposed. And so the arguments that applied to the counts and convictions that Ramon, Antonio and Fernando had did not apply to René. That first fifteen years of the sentence is not subject to review under the federal sentencing guidelines because there is no guideline for the offence of conspiring to or acting as an unregistered foreign agent.

BD: How would you actually term this court appearance that is coming up?

RK: It's an opportunity to have a re-consideration of the prior sentencing decisions and to basically start at a lower level of sentencing for each of them and hopefully that will result ultimately in a substantial lowering of sentences. They would have a right to appeal from this re-sentencing decision if there are legal errors made in regard to the imposition of these sentences.

BD: Is there any chance that the judge could re-sentence them to longer terms in prison?

RK: There's always theoretically a possibility of such a change however I think that it is well known that each of the Five has been exemplary in their conduct while incarcerated. I think they are highly regarded by other personnel within the federal prison system for their good conduct, their good works with other prisoners, etc. There really is nothing that would indicate any reason to punish them any more than what they have already been punished for.

BD: If we look at somebody like René who is serving 15 years. Is there any mechanism that he can get time off for good behaviour?

RK: There is a limited provision for a reduction of sentence under the federal system so it is our hope that within the next two years at least that René might be able to be released. There is sometimes a need for litigation to force them to allow the prisoner to be released in the latter stages of incarceration. I don't know whether we will be in that position of having to litigate that with René or not but definitely we are prepared to insist that he be given every opportunity for early release.

BD: Do you know already who the judge is going to be at the re-sentencing hearing?

RK: it will be the same district judge that imposed the original sentences and essentially the same personnel. Some of the government attorneys are no longer with the government but essentially it will be the same personnel.

BD: Does that put prosecution and Judge in a position that if they re-sentence it appears that they made a mistake in the first sentencing?

RK: The court of appeals has already held that some of the provisions that were applied in the original sentencing were too harsh and that is the reason why we are having the re-sentencing. So those principles that were established by the court of appeals will form the basis for the re-sentencing process. And certainly it is our hope that as a result of that these sentences will be substantially lowered.

BD: The opinion that some of the original sentencing provisions were too harsh came from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta?

RK: Yes

BD: Do you feel that with the change of administration that you could expect anything different at all in the approach taken by the court to the case of the Five. They were sentenced during the Bush administration. Do you think it will make any difference under the Obama administration?

RK: I don't believe it necessarily would. So much time has passed. So many changes have occurred since the original sentencing. Everything that people have learned about what is and what is not something that merits a significant punishment I would think would help us in this process. But I don't know at the political level, the individual decisions in this case will have that effect. What I have found is that it does not have that effect ordinarily. For us the most important part of the case that remains deals with Gerardo and trying to do something that will give him an opportunity to be released.

BD: Can you talk at this stage about how the re-sentencing case will be presented in court?

RK: Each of the three will be represented by their principal attorney. Joaquin Mendez represents Fernando. Leonard Weinglass represents Antonio and Bill Norris represents Ramon. They are each preparing individual arguments and explanations for why substantially lower sentences should be given. It's very important to remember that Antonio and Ramon had life sentences and the hope is that the sentences will become significantly reduced to a sentence that is more in keeping with an offense in which there was no actual commission of espionage.

 

Article Index



The Untold Story of the Cuban Five

Richardo Alarcón de Quesada, President, Cuban National Assembly,
August 11-September 3, 2009


Forbidden Heroes


"It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place"

Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll

 

Remember Elian?

            The case of Elian González, a six year-old boy forcefully retained by his unknown great-uncles against the will of his father and in clear defiance of US law and decency was widely reported by media around the world. Miami, the place of the kidnapping, became a kind of secessionist city in North America when the Mayor, the chief of police, the politicians, every newspaper and local radio and TV broadcasters, together with religious and business institutions, joined with some of the most notorious terrorist and violent groups in opposing the courts' and government's orders to free the boy.

            It was necessary for a Special Forces team sent from Washington, DC to launch a surreptitious and swift operation to occupy several houses, disarm the heavily armed individuals hidden there and in the neighbourhood to save the child and restore law.

            Everybody followed that story. Day in and day out.

            But practically nobody knew that, at the very same time, in exactly the same place -- Miami -- five other young Cubans were arbitrarily deprived of their freedom and subjected to a gross miscarriage of justice.

            Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González and René González were detained in the early hours of Saturday September 12th, 1998, and locked for the next 17 months in punishment cells, in solitary confinement. The main accusation against them -- as recognised by the prosecutors and the judge from their indictment to the last day of the trial -- was that they had peacefully, with no weapons, penetrated ant-Cuban terrorist groups with a view of reporting back to Cuba about their criminal plans.

            Was it conceivable to have a fair trial in Miami for any Cuban revolutionary facing such an accusation? Could that happen while the kidnapping of Elian was going on with its surrounding atmosphere of violence, hatred and fear?

            According to the prosecution it was perfectly possible. In their words Miami was "a very large, diverse, heterogeneous community" capable of handling any sensitive issue, even those involving the Cuban Revolution. The prosecutors repeated that line when rejecting the more than ten motions presented by the defence lawyers requesting a change of venue before the start of the trial.

            The same government that was obligated to deal with Miami as a sort of rebel city and to secretly send there its forces to restore legality, lied repeatedly about the venue issue, denying the defendants a right so cherished by Americans, and refused to move the proceedings to the neighbouring city of Fort Lauderdale, half an hour away from Miami.

            Ironically, a few years later, in 2002, when the government was the object of a civilian complaint of an administrative nature, of far lesser significance -- later resolved by an out of Court settlement -- and only indirectly related to the Elian case, they asked for a change of venue to Fort Lauderdale, affirming that "anything related to Cuba" was impossible to get a fair trial in Miami.[ 1]

            Such a flagrant contradiction, a clear proof of prosecutorial misconduct, of real prevarication, was one of the main factors leading to the unanimous decision of the Court of Appeals panel, in 2005, to vacate the convictions of the Five and order a new trial. [ 2] That historic decision was later reversed by the majority of the entire Court under pressure from Attorney General Alberto González in an action that went contrary to the normal US legal practice. Mr. González's successful move, a manifestation of his peculiar legal philosophy, foreclosed the possibility of a just resolution of this case in a manner that would have honoured the United States.

            The panel decision, an exceptionally sound and solid 93-page document, including irrefutable facts about the half-century-old terrorist war against Cuba, remains an outstanding moment in the best American tradition and will continue to be a text to be analysed with respect by scholars and law school students.

            But that's another chapter in the long saga of the Cuban Five.

            Elian González now is about to finish High School and continues to attract the attention of foreign media and visitors who keep going to Cardenas, the beautiful town where he lives. When travelling towards Elian's home they will be surprised by billboards demanding freedom for five youngsters they never heard off before.

            In Leonard Weinglass' words:

            "The trial was kept secret by the American media. It is inconceivable that the longest trial in the United States at the time it was taking place was only covered by the local Miami press, particularly where generals and an admiral as well as a White House advisor were all called to testify for the defence. Where was the American media for six months? Not only was this the longest trial, but it was the one case involving major issues of foreign policy and international terrorism. The question should be directed to the American media, with continues to refuse to cover a case with such gross violations of fundamental rights, and even violations of human rights of prisoner."[ 3]

            Elian was saved because Americans knew about his case and got involved and made justice prevail. The Five are still incarcerated -- it will be 11 years next September -- victims of a terrible injustice, because Americans are not permitted to know.

            The Five are cruelly punished because they fought against terrorism. They are heroes. But forbidden heroes.


Justice in Wonderland


"Sentence first -- verdict afterwards"
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll


            Having been defeated on the issue of venue the outcome of the Cuban Five's trial was predetermined. It will go strictly in accordance with the Queen's prophecy.

            The American media played a very important two-pronged role. Outside Miami it was, and it continues to be, how Attorney Leonard Weinglass so aptly described contrasting sharply with their role within Dade County, both offering an impressive show of discipline.

            The local media not only intensively covered the case, but intervened actively in it, as if they were part of the prosecution. The Five were condemned by the media even before they were indicted.

            Very early in the morning on Saturday September 12th 1998, each media outlet in Miami was talking breathlessly about the capture of some "terrible" Cuban agents "bent to destroy the United States" (the phrase that prosecutors love so much and will repeat time and again during the entire process). "Spies among us" was the headline that morning. At the same time, by the way, the Miami FBI chief was meeting with Lincoln Díaz-Balart and Ileana Ross Lehtinen, representatives of the old Batista gang in federal Congress.

            An unprecedented propaganda campaign was launched against five individuals who could not defend themselves, due to the fact that they were completely isolated from the outside world, day and night, for a year and a half, in what is accurately described in prison jargon as the "hole."

            A media circus has surrounded the Five since they were detained all the way until now. But only in Miami. Elsewhere in the United States the ordeal of the Five has only gotten silence. The rest of the country does not know much about this case and is kept in the dark, as if everybody accepted that Miami -- that "very diverse, extremely heterogeneous community" as described by the D.A. -- belongs to another planet.

            That might have been a reasonable proposition, if it were not for some rather embarrassing facts recently discovered. Some of the media people involved in the Miami campaign -- "journalists" and others -- were paid by the US government, were in its payroll as employees of the radio and TV anti-Cuban propaganda machine that has cost many hundreds of millions of US tax payer's dollars.

            Without knowing it, Americans were forced to be very generous, indeed. There is a long list of "journalists" from Miami who covered the entire trial of the Five and, at the same time, were receiving juicy federal checks (for more on the "work" of these journalists see: www.freethefive.org).

            The Court of Appeals decision in 2005 provides also a good summary of the propaganda campaign before and during the trial. That was one of the reasons leading the panel "to vacate the convictions and order a new trial." Miami was not a place to have even the appearance of justice. As the judges said "the evidence submitted in support of the motions for change of venue was massive."[ 4]

            Let's clarify something. Here we are not talking about journalists in the sense Americans outside Miami may be thinking of. We are referring to Miami "journalists," something quite different.

            Their role was not to report the news, but to create a climate guaranteeing conviction. They even called for public demonstrations outside the office of the defence counsel and harassed prospective jurors during the pre-trial phase. The Court itself expressed concern about the "tremendous amount of requests for the voir questions in advance of their been asked, apparently destined to inform their listeners, including members of the venire, of the questions prior to the time they are posed to them by the Court."

            We are talking about a bunch of individuals who harassed the jurors, following them, with cameras, through the streets, filming their car licenses and showing them on TV, tracking them inside the Court building, down to the jury room's door, during the entire seven months trial proceedings, all the way to the last day.

            Judge Leonard more than once protested and begged the government to stop such a deplorable masquerade. She did that at the very beginning of the trial, on several occasions thereafter and until the very end. To no avail. [ 5]

            The government was not interested in having a fair trial. During the jury selection process, the prosecution was very keen to exclude the majority of African American prospective jurors. It also excluded the three individuals who didn't manifest strong anti-Castro sentiments.

            By that time Elian González has been rescued but he was very much in the minds of the jurors. As one of them said during voir dire: "I would be concerned about the reaction that might take place I don't want rioting and stuff like that to happen like what happened in the Elian case." Or in the words of another: "I would be a nervous wreck if you wanted to know the truth I would have actual fear for my own safety if I didn't come back with a verdict that was in agreement with the Cuban community."

            In that ambience of fear began the longest trial at the moment in American history. And the one that the big media "chose" to ignore.


The Face of Impunity

            As they recognised during voir dire, the kidnapping of Elian González and its consequences for the community was very much in the minds of those chosen to be jurors at the trial of the Cuban Five a few months after the six-year-old boy was rescued by the federals.

            Like everybody else they had followed the events related to Elian which saturated the news. The faces of the kidnapers, their promoters and supporters, as well as others involved in the scandal have become quite familiar to the jury members. The faces, and two features of the Elian drama with a unique character and a direct connection with the process of the Five Cubans.

            First, the perplexing behaviour of every Miami public official, from its Federal Congressmen, the Mayor and the City Commissioners to firemen and members of the police force, who openly refused to obey the law and did nothing to put an end to the most publicised case of child abuse ever to occur. And, secondly, but not less astonishingly, that nothing happened to a group of individuals that so clearly had violated the law with the abduction of a child and the violence and disturbances they spread over the town when he was saved by the federal government. Nobody was prosecuted, arrested, or fined. No local authority was dismissed, substituted or invited to resign. The Elian case demonstrated how anti-Castro impunity reigns over Miami.

            When the jurors sat first at the Courtroom to do their citizens' duty they were probably surprised. There, live, were the "Miami celebrities" that they have been so accustomed to watch, day and night, on local TV. And they were together, sometimes smiling and embracing each other, as old pals. The kidnappers and the "law enforcement" guys hand and glove with the prosecutors (those valiant people who never showed up when a little boy was being molested in front of the media).

            The jurors spent seven months in that room looking at, and being watched by the same people so acquainted to them who now were at the witness stand, at the public area or at the news corner, the same people they would find frequently at the parking lot, at the building entrance, at the corridors. Some now and then proudly showing the attire used at their last military incursion to Cuba.

            The jurors heard them explaining in detail their criminal exploits and saying time and again that they were not talking about the past. It was an odd parade of individuals appearing in a Court of law and recognising their violent actions against Cuba that were planned, prepared and launched from their own neighbourhood.

            There, making speeches, demanding the worst punishment, slandering and threatening the defence lawyers.

            The judge did what she could to try to preserve calm and dignity. She certainly ordered the jury, many times, not to consider certain inappropriate remarks, but by so doing their prejudicial and fearsome effects could not be erased from juror's minds.

            The consequences were obvious. The Court of Appeal panel's decision stated it in clear terms: "The evidence at trial disclosed the clandestine activities of not only the defendants, but also of the various Cuba exile groups and their military camps that continue to operate in the Miami area. The perception that these groups could harm jurors that rendered a verdict unfavourable to their views was palpable." [ 6]

            Bur there was more. After hearing and seeing the abundant evidence of terrorist acts that the defendants had tried to avert, the Government succeeded in defending the terrorists by having the Court inexplicably agreeing to take from the jury the right to exonerate the Five on the basis of necessity which was the foundation of their defence.

            The heart of the matter, in this case, was the need for Cuba to protect its people from the criminal attempts of terrorists who enjoy total impunity on US territory. The law in the United States is clear: if one acts to prevent a greater harm, even if he/she violates the law in the process, he will be excused from any criminality because society recognises the necessity -- even the benefit -- of taking such action.

            The United States, the only world superpower, has interpreted such universal principle in a manner leading to war in faraway lands in the name of fighting terrorism. But at the same time it refused to recognise it when five unarmed, peaceful, non-violent persons who, on behalf of a small country, without causing harm to anybody, tried to avoid the illegal actions of criminals that have found shelter and support in the US.

            The US government, through the Miami prosecutors, went even farther, to the last mile, to help those terrorists. They did it very openly, in writing and with passionate speeches that curiously were not considered newsworthy.

            That was happening in 2001. While the Southern Florida prosecutors and the local FBI were very busy harshly punishing the Cuban Five and protecting "their" terrorists, the criminals preparing the 9/11 attack had been training, unmolested, in Miami for quite some time. They should have had a good reason to prefer that location.


Incapacitating the Cuban Five: In Their Own Words

            The disproportionate prison terms imposed on the Cuban Five -- Gerardo Hernández Nordelo (2 life terms plus 15 years), Ramón Labañino Salazar (1 life term plus 18 years), Antonio Guerrero Rodríguez (1 life term plus 10 years), Fernando González Llort (19 years) and René González Sehwerert (15 years) -- contrast sharply with those applied in recent years in the United States on other persons accused of truly practicing espionage, sometimes at an uncommon scale, and even on some tied to violent armed actions against the United States. None of them was condemned to life sentences; all of them received lesser sentences than the Cuban Five, some have already served their sentences and are free and others, convicted of espionage, have had their charges withdrawn by the Obama administration and were set free.

            The excessive nature of the sentences of the Five is an indication of the vengeful political motivation of the whole trial, as are the conditions of their incarceration, including the very serious obstacles for family visits that go to the extreme of having always denied visas to Gerardo and René's wives.

            But there is an even more revealing aspect demonstrating that the purpose of the US Government was to give shelter and protect anti-Cuban terrorists, to prevent their sinister plans from being discovered, thus becoming accomplices and covering-up for their future outrages. For the Bush administration that was as important, or more so, than the extravagant years of incarceration. That was what the prosecutors said, vehemently and in rather graphic terms, when asking the Court for an additional punishment: "incapacitation."

            What does that mean? In their own words, for the government it was essential to ensure that these five individuals, after serving their prison terms, could never again do anything that may affect the activities of the terrorists who operate in Miami under the protection of the US Government. To guarantee that, the prosecutors requested, and the Court granted, specific provisions on each sentence, making certain that, after completing their entire period of incarceration, even one and more life terms, the defendants will be prevented from trying to do what they did prompting their imprisonment.

            Gerardo, Ramón and Fernando were born in Cuba and as undesirable aliens, after terminating their prison terms will be immediately expelled from US territory. That was specifically incorporated in each of their sentences including Gerardo's, who after spending in prison 15 years of his second life sentence will immediately be deported.[ 7]

            René and Antonio posed a particular problem. Having been born in Chicago and Florida, respectively, they are both US citizens by birth and can not be forced to leave the country. That called for a more imaginative thinking and inspired rhetoric on the part of the prosecutors. And they showed plenty of both.

            A more precise and candid explanation of "incapacitation" was required.

            First came René, sentenced "only" to 15 years. The prosecutors expressed plainly their grave concern with the prospects of a still young man getting free and going back attempting to do again what he had done.

            The Court, conceding to the government anxiety, added this peculiar requirement to René's sentence: "As a further special condition of supervised release the defendant is prohibited from associating with or visiting specific places where individuals or groups such as terrorists, members of organisations advocating violence, and organised crime figures are known to be or frequent."[ 8]

            And then it was the turn of Antonio Guerrero, who had already received a life plus 10 years in prison. The prosecutors had to employ all the resources of their eloquence. For the government "incapacitation" was of paramount importance. It could not take any chances and when Antonio faced the Court on December 27th, 2001 it was added to his sentence, word by word, the same "special condition" imposed previously on René.

            All that happened in December 2001, just three months after the horror of 9/11. Since that fateful day George W. Bush became famous calling for an all out war against terrorists and anybody that gives them any kind of help. Just one quotation from his repetitive parlance: "Any government that supports, protects or harbours terrorists is complicit in the murder of the innocent and equally guilty of terrorist crimes."

            We have to take George W. Bush at his own words.

            P.S. In October 2011 René González will have completed his prison term if his defence does not succeed in getting him out before. In any case he will be on supervised release during the current administration. Will President Obama try to "incapacitate" him? Shall René still be prohibited from doing anything to disturb the terrorists where they are "known to be or frequent"?


Spies Without Espionage

            The first indictment in September 1998 charged the Cuban Five of being unregistered Cuban agents and of other minor violations. The government also charged three of them -- Gerardo, Ramón and Antonio -- with "conspiracy to commit espionage" (Count Two of the indictment).

            Prosecutors didn't accuse any of them of actual espionage for a very simple reason: there was no such thing and thus it could never be proven. The prosecutors went even further. In their opening statement they warned the jury not to expect them to present any secrets or anything of that sort. The only thing the prosecution needed was to "convince" the jurors that the defendants were really bad people capable of conceiving an attempt to endanger the national security of the United States sometime in a hypothetical future. And, they argued, the defendants had to get the most severe punishment possible because they were the really bad guys disrupting the peace and tranquillity in Miami. Remember Elian?

            In order to achieve that goal the prosecutors, notwithstanding what their own indictment said, made the most inflammatory kinds of statements at trial, accusing the Five of no less than trying "to destroy the United States" and reminding the scared jurors that if they failed to condemn them they would "betray the community."

            The media did the rest of the job. They have always portrayed the Cuban Five as "spies" or as people accused of being "spies." The media went into overdrive in performing their task. They keep repeating the same tune even after the en banc Court of Appeals unanimously determined in September 2008 that there was no evidence that the accused had "gathered or transmitted top secret information" or that they had damaged the national security of the United States and thus it decided that the sentences for Charge 2 (conspiracy to commit espionage) were erroneous, it vacated them and remanded Ramon and Antonio for resentencing.[ 9] Nevertheless, even though it acknowledged that the same procedure should be applied to Gerardo, in an astounding act of judicial discrimination, the court refused to do so adducing that a life sentence was already weighing against him.

            As a matter of fact, it was very easy to realise that in this case no secret or military information was involved and that the national security of the US was never affected. That was what the Pentagon said, in clear, plain language before the trial started. That was the testimony, under oath, by Admiral (R) Eugene Carroll,[ 10] Army General (R) Edward Breed Atkeson,[ 11] General and former Commander of Southern Command Charles Elliot Wilhelm, [ 12] Air Force Lieutenant General (R) James R. Clapper.[ 13]

            Their testimonies were not secret, but were made voluntarily in open court. Probably such a parade of distinguished and decorated military chiefs sustaining the innocence of some young Cuban revolutionaries has not happened before a US Court of law. This didn't make the news out of Miami, but the official transcripts of the trial are there for anybody to read.

            Since the Cuban Five were condemned there have been other cases whose results sharply contrast with theirs. Let's very briefly consider a few of them.

            Khaled Abdel-Latif Dumeisi, accused of being an unregistered agent of the Saddam Hussein Government, was sentenced in April 2004, in the middle of the US war with Iraq, to 3 years and 10 months in prison.

            Leandro Aragoncillo was found guilty in July 2007 of transmitting secret national defence information of the United States (around 800 classified documents) obtained from his office in the White House, where he worked as military assistant to Vice Presidents Al Gore and Dick Cheney. Mister Aragoncillo was sentenced to 10 years in prison while his co-conspirator Michael Ray Aquino got 6 years and 4 months.

            Gregg W. Bergersen, a Defence Department analyst was found guilty in July 2008 of providing national defence information to unauthorised persons in exchange for money and gifts and was sentenced to 4 years and 9 months in prison.

            Lawrence Anthony Franklyn, a US Air Force Reserves colonel, working in the Defence Department was found guilty of giving classified and national defence information, including military secrets, to representatives of a foreign government and was sentenced to 12 years and 7 months. But he never entered a federal prison. He was free while appealing and last May the Justice Department dropped the charges that sustained his case.

            It goes without saying that none of the cases referred to above were tried in Southern Florida or involved any attempts to frustrate criminal plans.

            The Cuban Five got, together, 4 life terms plus 77 years. They didn't work at the White House, or the Pentagon, or the State Department. They never had or sought access to any secret information. But they did something unforgivable. They fought anti-Cuban terrorism and they did it in Miami.


Indictment à la Carte

            More than seven months after the Cuban Five were arrested and indicted a new charge was presented by the US Government. Again, the charge was one of "conspiracy," but this time to commit murder in the first degree and was brought specifically against one of the Five, Gerardo Hernández Nordelo.

            The new indictment came after a public campaign in Miami actively promoted by "journalists" on the US Government payroll, including reports about meetings in public places attended by well-known Cuban exile leaders, US prosecutors and FBI officials, in which the accusation against Gerardo was openly discussed. It became a clear demand by the most violent groups in town and was a central focus of the local media.

            The Government acquiesced to the demand and introduced the Second Superseding indictment whose essential new feature was adding this "crime" to Gerardo's list of charges.

            This was a political concession to anti-Cuban terrorists, who were seeking revenge for the downing by Cuba's Air Force, in February 24, 1996 of two airplanes (Model O2 used by the US Air Force first in Vietnam and later in El Salvador wars, as was concretely the case with these two planes) piloted by members of a violent anti-Cuban group, an event that had taken place two years before the Cuban Five were detained, when those airplanes were within Cuban airspace.

            The timing was very suspicious, indeed. According to information provided by the Government at trial, the FBI had found the real nature of Gerardo's revolutionary mission in Miami and was monitoring him and controlling his communications with Havana at least a couple of years before the downing of the planes. If that incident was a result of a "conspiracy," in which Gerardo was a key participant, why wasn't he arrested in 1996? Why was this issue not even mentioned in September 1998 when he was first detained and indicted?

            The planes belonged to a group led by José Basulto, a veteran CIA agent involved in many paramilitary actions since 1959, included the Bay of Pigs invasion and a number of assassination attempts on Fidel Castro. In the 20 months preceding the incident, this group had penetrated Cuban airspace 25 times, each one denounced by the Cuban government.

            After so many diplomatic démarches the US Government wanted to appear responsive. It initiated an investigation about those flights, asked for Cuba's help in providing details of previous provocations, acknowledged their receipt and thanked for them. On February 24, 1996 such administrative proceedings had not been completed, but later Mr. Basulto was deprived by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of his pilot's license and he doesn't fly anymore (at least legally).

            The provocateurs had blatantly announced that they would continue making illegal flights into Cuba's airspace and even proclaimed that the island, which was at the time suffering its worst crisis ever -- worse in economic terms, that the Big Depression, according to a UN report -- was not able to respond to their illegal incursions. In January, Mr. Basulto brought with him an NBC TV crew from Miami who filmed and broadcasted how they overflew downtown Havana throwing out propaganda and other materials. Cuba made it public that such provocations would not be tolerated anymore, made the proper notifications to all that may be concerned, including the US Government, the State Department and the FAA, which in turn warned Basulto and his group that they should refrain from such flights.

            The alleged "conspiracy" was in itself monumentally stupid, incomprehensible to any rational mind. It supposed that the Cuban government had decided provoke an all-out war with the United States, a military confrontation that obviously would have resulted in a terrible blow not only for the Cuban government, but for the entire nation and its people. In any crime motivation is always a key factor, a decisive cue. What could have been Cuba's motivation to provoke such an event precisely at that moment, the most risky for the survival of our country without allies or friends in a world and a hemisphere under the full control of the United States in 1996?

            Cuba did exactly the opposite. It denounced one by one, each provocation to the FAA and to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO, the UN family institution dealing with these matters) and sent dozens of diplomatic notes to the State Department. But Cuba went farther. It did his best to reach out to the highest level of the US Administration, the White House, trying to prevent more incidents.

            The New Yorker issue of January 1998 dedicated to Cuba on the occasion of the Pope's visit included a serious article in which a fairly objective account of those efforts by Cuba can be found.[ 14]

            Yes, there was a conspiracy to provoke the tragedy of February 24, 1996. But it was the entire and exclusive work of the same Miami groups that have launched a half-century terrorist campaign against Cuba, the same gang that would afterwards kidnap Elian González, a six-year-old boy. Events from which they always came out with impunity.


It Happened in Miami

            The Court of the Southern District of Florida is not an international tribunal, neither is it a UN body having jurisdiction on matters affecting relations between countries. It has a very specific duty, which is to determine if a particular defendant is guilty or not of a concrete charge. In instructing the jury in the case of Gerardo Hernández, the Court recalled the language of the Government's indictment:

            "Count 3 charges that defendant Gerardo Hernández conspired with other persons to perpetrate murder, that is, the unlawful killing of human beings with malice aforethought and premeditated intent in the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States." [ 15]

            Judge Lenard pointed out that Gerardo:

            "can be found guilty of that offence only if all of the following facts are proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

            "First. That the victims named in the indictment are dead.

            "Second. That the defendant caused the death of the victims with malice aforethought.

            "Third. That the defendant did so with premeditated intent.

            "Fourth. That the killing occurred within the special maritime or territorial jurisdiction of the United States." [ 16]

            She elaborated further:

            "To kill with malice aforethought means to kill another person deliberately and intentionally. Killing with premeditated intent is required in addition to proof of malice aforethought in order to establish the offence of first-degree murder. Premeditation is typically associated with killing in cold blood and requires a period of time in which the accused deliberates or thinks the matter over before acting.

            "It must be long enough for the killer after the intent to kill, to be fully conscious of the intent. You are instructed that the location of the alleged murder, as described in the indictment, if you find beyond a reasonable doubt that such offence occurred there, would be within the special maritime or territorial jurisdiction of the United States." [ 17]

            Such a crime had never occurred. During seven months of trial the prosecutors failed to provide any piece of evidence implicating Gerardo in the tragic event of February 24, 1996, nor could they demonstrate, "beyond a reasonable doubt," the exact location of the incident -- something that ICAO experts had already failed to determine.

            It should be noted, however, that Cuban radar showed clearly the shoot-down taking place well inside our territory, that the only remnants were found very close to the Havana waterfront and that the US coast guard, having failed to find anything in the international area, asked on February 25th officially through the State Department for Cuba's permission to search within our territorial waters. The local media -- the same government-paid "journalists" that had fabricated the accusation in Count 3 -- became nervous and even announced an imminent defeat.

            A few days earlier, as soon as the judge made it known to the parties her instructions to the jury, the prosecutors took what they described as "the unprecedented step of petitioning" -- to the Court of Appeals -- "for a writ of prohibition" because "in light of the evidence presented in this trial, this [the instructions to the jury] presents an insurmountable hurdle for the United States in this case, and will likely, result in the failure of the prosecution on this count." [ 18]

            After recognising again that the instruction "imposes an insurmountable barrier to this prosecution" the government asked the Court of Appeals to urgently decide:

            "That the district court be ordered to instruct the jury that it is not necessary for the jury to find that defendant Hernández or his co-conspirators in Count Three of the indictment agreed that the murders would occur in the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States."

            "That the district court be prohibited from giving the pattern jury instruction on first degree murder and from instructing the jury that it must find that defendant Hernández conspired to commit premeditated murder."[ 19]

            The Court of Appeals denied the emergency petition and accordingly the district judge maintained her instructions as quoted above.

            Some on the defence team were jubilantly celebrating a victory that was anticipated even by the prosecutors.

            But it took the jurors a few minutes, without asking any questions, to find Gerardo guilty of conspiracy to commit murder in the first degree in the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States, a "crime" that he did not commit and which the prosecutors had desperately tried to withdraw.

            That happened in Miami. In Miami, it is normal to kidnap with impunity a six-year-old boy, so why should it be difficult to condemn a young man for a "crime" that didn't occur?

Notes

1. Ramírez vs. Ashcroft, 01-4835 Civ-Huck, June 25, 2002.
2. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, No. 01-17176, 03-11087.
3. www.antiterroristas.cu September 12, 2003.
4. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, No. 01-17176, 03-11087.
5. Official transcripts of the trial, p. 22, 23, 111, 112, 625, 14644-14646.
6. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeal, No. 01-17176, 03-11087.
7. Transcript of sentencing hearing before the Honourable Joan A. Lenard, December 12, 2001, page 93.
8. Transcript of Sentencing Hearing before the Honourable Joan A. Lenard, December 14, 2001, pages 45-46.
9. Eleventh Circuit Appeals Court, No. 01-17176, D.C Docket No. 98-00721-CR-JAL, pages 70-81.
10. Official transcripts pages 8196-8301.
11. Idem pages 11049-11199.
12. Idem pages 11491-11547.
13. Idem pages 13089-13235.
14. Carl Naguin, Annals of Diplomacy Backfire, The New Yorker, January 26, 1998, http://www.newyorker.com/archive/1998.
15. Transcript of Trial before the Honourable Joan A. Lenard, June 4, 2001, pages 14587-14588.
16. Idem pages 14598-14599.
17. Idem pages 14599-14600.
18. Emergency Petition for Writ of Prohibition, May 30, 2001, pages 4 and 21.
19. Idem, page 39.

(This item was originally published as several items in CounterPunch.)

 

Article Index



Speech to TUC Congress by Salvador Valdes Mesa, General Secretary of CTC

General Secretary of CTC (Cuba Workers' Group of Affiliated Trade Unions) address to TUC Congress, Liverpool, Tuesday 15 September 2009

Brendan Barber, Secretary General of the TUC and Sheila Bearcroft, President of this Congress, dear friends, dear brothers and sisters, dear delegates.

            Since long ago I have been following the continued actions of solidarity carried out by the British trade union and labour Movements along with the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, the agreements endorsed in the many TUC and trade union events, as well as the resounding resolutions unanimously adopted in relation to Cuba in the past year during the 140th Annual Congress, which has been an undisputed influence in other parts of the world. Therefore, it became my duty to be here today in order to express personally the gratitude of the Cuban workers, their trade unions and the Cuban people as a whole for your fraternal solidarity and sincere friendship.

            We Cubans will never forget that in times of difficulties caused by the blockade imposed upon Cuba by the government of the United States and the disappearance of the socialist community, Cuba suffered a deep economic crisis which deprived us of fuel, food, medicines and many other necessary resources. Still, we have always felt the friendly hand and the solidarity of the British trade unions which encouraged us and supported us morally and materially when in the early stages of this century ill-intentioned campaigns were unleashed against Cuba with the immeasurable aim of destroying our revolution and reverting our economic and political system, a system defended by the overwhelming majority of our people, who support and defend the revolution. When innumerable attacks were launched from Europe against my country, the British trade unions and the TUC improved their solidarity towards our workers, launching a strong message of friendship, brotherhood, understanding and support, which had an impact throughout Europe, and which repercussion became most evident during the celebration of the International Meeting of Trade Unions with Cuba and the European Conference on Solidarity with Cuba held in the year 2006. These actions gave us more strength for us to continue ahead in our struggle against the most brutal and criminal blockade suffered ever by any nation, a blockade which is still in place. The US tries to make it even worse. The present some kind of flexibility by way of applying cosmetic actions but, at the same time, they are trying to impose conditions. Our people demand the complete elimination of the blockade and we do not accept any kinds of conditions whatsoever.

            Also in our constant battle for the freedom of the five Cuban heroes, anti-terrorist combatants, serving their 11th year of unjust imprisonment in the United States' penitentiaries, we have relied on the hard work and support provided by the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, the TUC and the British unions, which has been, without doubt, of extraordinary importance to us. For us it has been of profound significance to have received several presidents and several secretary generals from different British trade unions who have joined us on different occasions, such as the case of the visit paid to Cuba by the General Secretary of the TUC, our friend, Brendan Barber, leading the largest delegation that attended our May Day celebration in Havana this year together with half-a-million Cuban workers in Revolutionary Square. That action was, no doubt, clear evidence of the high level of our relations, friendship and solidarity.

            Therefore, it is my utmost desire to say to you this day, on behalf of all the Cuban workers, thanks TUC and thanks British trade unions from the depth of my heart. I want to convey through you, delegates, to the Congress a strong hug to all the trade unionists in the United Kingdom for all that they have done and continued to do on a daily basis for the benefit of the Cuban people who will never forget your solidarity and who will always be ready to extend our friendly hand.

            This Congress is taking place in times of difficulties for the labour Movement and workers around the world. The profound global crisis, which began in the United States, radiates its consequences across the world, exerting its negative impact mostly upon workers and their families.

            We are witnesses of the growth of unemployment, the worsening of labour standards, the worsening of the quality of life of our people, the growth of poverty and social inequality in today's world. The World Federation of Trade Unions forecasts a possible increase of 51 million unemployed between the years 2009 and 2010. Europe and the develop world exhibits the highest rate. Meanwhile, it is astonishingly gross to see the way in which multi-billion economic packages are being assigned in order to save banks and major corporations who are, indeed, the creators of the crisis and how, once again, confidence is being placed in those financial institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund, which caused such damage and harm to the less developed countries imposing on them conditions that trimmed their sovereignty and controlled their natural resources, thereby causing a drastic reduction in their social programmes and, thus, eliminating jobs.

            Cuba, my dear friends, in the midst of the fierce blockade, of which we are victims, also suffers severely the impact of this crisis. As a consequence, we have been subjected to an increase of almost 53% in the price of foodstuffs and other goods, a reduction in the price of our exports and the diminishing of our income and revenues coming from the tourist industry. Added to all this has been the disastrous consequences of the passing through in our country last year of three devastating hurricanes that left damages valued at not less than $10 billion, which compelled us to make gigantic efforts in order to palliate the situation left by them.

            However, the answer given in our country to all of these shortcomings is different. While unemployment grows in the world, we have adopted a number of measures in the employment sector geared towards protecting our workers while in the world workers are declared redundant and thousands of teachers lose their jobs. In Cuba we protect and we perfect our educational programmes and we increase the level of salaries of our workers in that sector. Today, the workers of the world are losing or seeing their pension funds reduced while in Cuba we would rather increase these items and we strengthen and improve our social security and welfare schemes, while in the United States medical care is being denied to almost 50 million citizens. In Cuba we have endorsed a budget for the extension of medical services, institutions, hospitals and others in order to increase the level of our medical and healthcare services. They are absolutely free of charge and our infant mortality rate today has been reduced to 4.7 per each one thousand born alive. This has been the lowest figure in our history.

            It is well-known that our country provides international co-operation by way of thousands of Cuban workers abroad who, without charge, give attention to other nations and people in need. Also Cuba graduates thousands of young medical students coming from poor nations, sharing with them our no. 1 resource, which is our human resources created by the revolution.

            Dear delegates and friends, we strongly believe that in these times of difficulties for the working class, it becomes of paramount importance for trade union and labour movements to seek, in a responsible way and far from petty sectarian outlooks, ways and methods that will allow us to channel and bring closer our points of view and our actions for the purpose of defending the millions of workers and their families who we represent. We understand that unilateral actions carried out by national and international trade union organizations, disregarding or ignoring their trade unions or even attacking their criteria, far from helping to solve the serious problems of the world, only serve the purpose of making them more acute due to the depression and the international dispute.

            Thank you, once again, TUC; thank you, once again, trade unions of the UK, to your leaders and to your workers for this opportunity that has been given to me and, above all, for the friendship and solidarity that you have always given us. To all my dear friends, brothers and sisters, long live friendship among our workers. Long live solidarity. Thank you.

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