On Monday August 20, a three-judge panel of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta heard the case of the Cuban Five for the third time. In August 2005, a similar three-judge panel of the same court had unanimously overturned all of the Five's convictions and ordered a new trial. In 2006, after the direct intervention of U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, the full panel of that Court reinstated the Five's convictions.
Fernando González, Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero, Ramón Labañino and René González are internationally known as the “Cuban Five.” They were arrested in 1998 by the FBI and accused of "conspiracy to commit espionage" and other charges. In 2001, in what was to be the longest trial in federal history, they were sentenced to terms ranging from 15 years to double-life. The trial took place in Miami; the one U.S. city where five men accused of being spies of the Cuban government could not receive a fair trial.
In addition, two of them have been doubly condemned. The U.S. government has denied Adriana Pérez, wife of Gerardo Hernández, and Olga Salanueva, wife of René Gonzáles permission to visit their husbands in prison. Both women have requested visas on seven occasions and every single time the United States government has denied their request without justification.
The Five committed no act of espionage against the United States. What they were doing was monitoring Cuban exile terrorist groups in south Florida in an attempt to track and prevent terrorist attacks against Cuba. The U.S. government arrested the Cuban Five for sending information to Havana about terrorist plots and actions being planned against the island. Since 1959, Cuba has faced threats, sanctions, invasion, sabotage, and terrorist attacks on its soil. This aggression, organized from within U.S. borders, has resulted in 3,478 deaths. U.S. national security agencies have financed, sheltered, and even organized these terrorist groups.
For the past 48 years, U.S. administrations of all political stripes have allowed "anti-Castro" right-wing terrorist groups to operate with total impunity in south Florida. Meanwhile, corporate media continue to portray these organizations as "anti-Castro militants" and "freedom fighters," leaving their despicable activities unreported.
Post-9/11 no other case shows the hypocrisy of the Bush Administration’s so-called “War on Terror” more than the case of the Cuban Five. Just recently, Luis Posada Carriles, a well-known terrorist of Cuban origin was released from jail in El Paso, Texas. Instead of being detained for the crimes he committed in several countries, including being the admitted mastermind of the 1976 bombing of a Cuban commercial airliner that killed 73 innocent people, he was arrested for immigration violations. Today, Posada and Orlando Bosch, his co-conspirator in the airline bombing, freely walk the streets of Miami. The irony of the Cuban Five case is that it was precisely men like Bosch and Carriles who they were monitoring.
Cartoon drawn by one of the Cuban Five, Gerardo Hernández Nordelo, from prison in Victorville, CA, after Luis Posada Carriles entered the United States illegally.
Since December 2001, voices demanding the immediate liberty of the Cuban Five have been multiplying around the world. In defense of this cause, there are now more than 300 committees in 100 countries.
What’s more, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention of the United Nation’s Human Rights Commission declared on May 27, 2005, that the detainment of the Cuban Five to be arbitrary. The commission urged the U.S. government to take immediate measures to resolve this situation.
A few months later, 6,000 worldwide personalities including nine Nobel laureates sent an open letter to the U.S. Attorney General demanding immediate freedom for the prisoners.
Amnesty International has also sent a letter to the U.S. government stating that the denial to grant visas to the wives of René González and Gerardo Hernández was an additional punishment, contrary to proper treatment of prisoners and their families. The letter also raised questions about the guarantee of due process in the Miami trial.
In a recent interview Leonard Weinglass, a leading attorney on the legal team for the Cuban Five, stated, “This case is the first case in our collective memory that will be argued a third time on appeal. This has never happened before.”
Wineglass believes one of the reasons for the third appeal is the international attention that the case is now receiving. This was evident at the appeals on August 20 in which many jurists and lawyers traveled from all over the world to attend the appeals of the Cuban Five.
Among them, the most prominent figure was the Chilean Judge Juan Guzmán, who led the prosecution of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. Also at the court were jurists from Ecuador, Germany, Italy, Brazil, Belgium, Spain, Puerto Rico, and Canada. A catholic priest from England Geoffrey Bottoms also attended the appeals as well as ex-Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney and former U.S. Attorney General, Ramsey Clark. Also present at the appeals were members of the US National Lawyers Guild, the Association of Democratic Lawyers and the Mexican-American Bar Association.
How long it will take for the decision of the appeals to be made is impossible to predict. September 12 marks the ninth year of their incarceration in five different federal penitentiaries across the country.
At the very core of the Cuban Five case, lies U.S. policy towards Cuba—a policy marked by unrelenting hostility since the start of the Cuban Revolution in 1959. It is in this context of Cuba’s right to defend itself that the Cuban people see the Five as heroes on the frontlines of protecting their sovereignty from the return of a colonial past.
Alicia Jrapko is part of the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban Five.