A decade of infamy
International solidarity committees are speaking out in 109 countries against the continued detention of the Cuban Five
by Faiza Rady
Sept. 12, 2008
Reprinted from Al-Ahram
Friday, 12 September, marks the tenth year of imprisonment in United States high security jails of the "Cuban Five": Gerardo Hernandez, Gerardo Labanino, Fernando Gonzalez, Rene Gonzales and Antonio Guerrero.
The five went to the US in the early 1990s with the mission to gather information about Cuban-American terrorist attacks against Cuba. The Cuban government passed on their documentation to the FBI, assuming that the agency was in the business of combating terrorism. It was a mistake. Rather than arrest their own home grown Miami-based terrorists, the FBI arrested the five visiting Cubans in Miami on charges of "intent to commit espionage" and "threatening US national security".
"This is utterly shocking," says renowned writer and political activist Noam Chomsky. "Cuba approached the United States with an offer to cooperate in combating terrorism, and in fact the FBI sent people to Cuba to get information from the Cubans about it. The next thing was that Cubans who had infiltrated the terrorist groups in the US were arrested."
It was a bizarre instance of clamping down on those combating terrorism while letting real terrorists go free.
This Friday, 346 committees of solidarity with the Cuban Five in 109 countries plan to demonstrate in front of US embassies, hold vigils and organise speak-outs about the Cuban political prisoners. On Saturday, a concert entitled "Five Stars and a Song" will take place in New York, with the special participation of actor Danny Clover. The New York-based Committee to Free the Cuban Five and other progressive US solidarity committees are organising a march on Washington as well as actions in other cities, including Miami. Protests are also planned to take place in Montreal and Beirut.
Besides the solidarity of progressive groups and NGOs, international expression of support has been forthcoming from foreign governments and parliaments. In July, on the 29th anniversary of the Sandanista Revolution, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega awarded the Cuban anti-terrorist fighters with membership of the Augusto Sandino Order, saying that they had set an example of courage and merit.
In February 2006, 10,000 British citizens, including Nobel Prize laureate Harold Pinter, London's former Mayor Ken Livingstone, and 15 union officials signed an open letter to US Attorney-General Alberto Gonzales, demanding freedom for the Five.
In June 2006, a plenary session of the National Assembly of Mali passed a motion to condemn their incarceration. In July 2006, the Venezuelan parliamentary group, at a plenary session of the Latin American Parliament, approved a resolution urging the US to release the Five. Similar expressions of support were extended by members of the left faction of the German parliament, the Bundestag, Irish MPs, Russian Duma deputies, Mexican MPs, and the Commission of Human Rights of the Brazilian House of Representatives, among others.
Last week, the Atlanta Court of Appeals of the 11th Circuit rejected the Five's defence request for a retrial on the grounds that Miami's charged politics, backed by the city's Cuban-American right wing, had precluded any possibility of a fair trial. It is ironic that the court's decision to reject the retrial request reverses a 2005 ruling by the same court that revoked the conviction of the Cuban Five and ordered a retrial because they considered the city riddled by a "perfect storm of prejudice". Prior to this ruling, the Cubans' sentences had been declared illegal by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention who said that Miami's biased political climate precluded any chance of a fair trial.
"What you're dealing with in Miami is not simply prejudice against Cuba," explains Leonard Weinglass, attorney for the Cuban Five. "A Cuban-American is the mayor of Miami, a Cuban-American owns the major newspaper, a Cuban-American is the chief of police, a Cuban-American is the head of the FBI, and there is nothing wrong with any of this except that none of them could have achieved political office without having a very hostile attitude towards Cuba."
Jurors had solid reasons to expect a backlash should they vote to acquit the Cuban Five.
In 2005, the Bush administration refused to accept a retrial. In a highly irregular move, the Department of Justice told the Atlanta Court of Appeals to cancel its decision and asked a new 12-panel judge to re-examine the case. Ultimately bowing to political pressure, the court then denied the Five's appeal for a retrial prior to its second rejection of the same request last week.
The Five's charge of "conspiracy to commit espionage" is in itself highly contentious as it isn't contingent on evidence of actual spying having occurred. "It's the type of charge that the government makes when it cannot prove the actual crime itself," explains Weinglass. Not one of the thousands of pages seized by the FBI from the Cubans' dossier on Cuban-American terrorism contains classified government information. The Five were found guilty not of spying, but of the tenuous charge of "intent" to spy. In other words, all the prosecution had to do during the trial was to convince the jury that there was an agreement among the Five that they would engage in spying at some unspecified time in the future.
"This case is one of those situations where I believe that the US government is using the justice system to achieve a foreign policy objective," says Weinglass. "The Five succeeded in their mission. They interrupted planned attacks. They saved lives in Cuba. They prevented the destruction of property."
Cuban government sources estimate that since the Cuban revolution, 3,478 people were killed and 2,099 injured in attacks against the island. In 1997 alone, Cuban-American terrorists placed bombs in no less than 10 Havana hotels and restaurants, in addition to bombing one of Havana's airports.
Feted by their people, the Five are honoured in Cuba as national heroes. During their mission, the Five tracked down 64 terrorists scattered in the Miami area and recorded four hours of film, documenting illegal military training in various combat camps. Among other groups, the Five investigated Brothers to the Rescue, an organisation that has a history of plotting to attack Cuban facilities. Since 1992, the group has used planes to violate Cuban airspace on numerous occasions, flying at least twice over the capital Havana. They also attempted to fly through the Giron air corridor to take pictures of sensitive areas. One of their principal aims was to test the response capabilities of the Cuban air force.
A similar group, Alpha-66, is an outfit that the Miami Police Department lists as one of the most virulent and dangerous of Cuban American organisations. Since its inception in 1966, Alpha-66 has been part of the autonomous operations of the CIA, used in illegal operations to protect their CIA agents from potential prosecution. Alpha-66's recent record includes assassination attempts against former Cuban president Fidel Castro, bomb threats on Cuban offices in Mexico, the US, Ecuador, Brazil, Canada and Puerto Rico, and six armed raids on Cuba between 1992 and 1993. Besides dabbling in criminal acts, Alpha-66 engaged in prohibited attacks against a foreign country. "In accordance with US law, under the Neutrality Acts, no US citizen is permitted to attack a foreign country, and yet this has been done with impunity for the past 40 years," says Weinglass.
For the Cubans the struggle goes on. Upon hearing the Atlanta Court's verdict, Cuban National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcón told the press: "We are going to appeal to the US Supreme Court, the World Court, and wherever else we have to go with the legal material to fight this infamy."