The Guardian March 27, 2002


The Cuban five: Punished for fighting terrorism

In June 1998, FBI officials visiting Havana were given reports by the 
Cuban government on anti-Cuban terrorist groups operating in the United 
States. On September 16, 1998, five men  Rene Gonzalez, Ramon Labanino, 
Fernando Gonzalez, Antonio Guerrero and Gerardo Hernandez  were arrested 
in Miami and charged with espionage and related charges. They, the Miami 
Five, were found guilty and sentenced to prison terms ranging from 15 years 
to two life terms. They spoke out at their sentencing, saying they have no 
regret about their efforts to protect their country from terrorist 
acts.

The following is an abridged introduction of a new book published in Cuba 
of the speeches of the Miami Five at their sentencing. The introduction, by 
Ricardo Alarcon, speaker of the Cuban National Assembly and former 
representative of Cuba to the United Nations, offers some feel of the 
issues involved in their trial and the methods used by the prosecutors to 
coerce the jury into finding them guilty.

Early in the morning of September. 12, 1998, the FBI informed Republican 
Reps.from Florida, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), 
hornblowers for the Batistan terrorist mob in Miami, that it had just 
arrested five purported "spies" living there.

Formal charges were not laid until four days later. But from the very 
beginning, it was clear that this was a case of a political-repressive 
operation, aimed solely at benefiting the most aggressive and violent 
sector of those who had turned South Florida into the main base for their 
war on Cuba since 1959.

The various counter-revolutionary factions, and politicians and officials 
closely tied to them, immediately unleashed a frenzied and hysterical 
campaign to stigmatise the five prisoners. Not a day went by without the 
appearance of new articles or announcements, including statements by 
officials, slandering the five by portraying them as dangerous enemies of 
society.

The real reason behind their imprisonment was hidden. Not a word was 
published about their lives, in Cuba and the United States, as students, 
workers, fathers or citizens; nothing was said about the selfless and 
admirable sacrifices they made to protect their country and its people. Nor 
was anything said about what had happened to them since the early morning 
hours of that September 12, or about the brutal conditions they suffered in 
prison.

Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labaqino, Fernando Gonzalez, Antonio Guerrero and 
Rene Gonzalez are victims of an injustice and of cruel, inhuman and 
degrading treatment that violates their human rights and is irrefutable 
proof of the arbitrariness and illegitimacy of the legal proceedings to 
which they were submitted.

From the day of their arrest until Feb. 3, 2000, throughout 17 months, they 
were kept in solitary confinement, shut up the entire time in the "hole"

Their treatment constituted a violation of US prison regulations, which 
establish the use of solitary confinement solely as punishment for 
infractions committed in prison, and limit its length to a maximum of 60 
days. They had not violated any of the prison's regulations before being 
imprisoned. Nevertheless, they were kept in isolation.

It was impossible for them to maintain adequate communication with their 
attorneys and prepare their defence with the guarantees of due process.

We should mention the commendable work done, in spite of everything, by the 
defence. They were assigned public defenders, with whom they had no prior 
relationship. But despite the profound ideological differences separating 
them, they became convinced of the innocence of the five.

While the five endured in utter solitude, their enemies appeared on TV, on 
the radio and in newspapers day and night to slander them and threaten 
their families and friends.

Holding a trial in Miami with even the appearance of a normal legal 
proceeding was inconceivable. Yet the repeated requests made by the defence 
to have the trial moved to another city were turned down by Federal Judge 
Joan Lenard who offered no explanation as to why the trial had to be held 
there, only there and nowhere else.

There were numerous violations of procedure. Defense attorneys were not 
allowed access to "evidence" Often their requests that certain evidence or 
documents, which were fundamental for shedding light on the accusations 
made against the defendants, be included in the trial record were denied.

Witnesses were openly pressured by the prosecution, under the threat of 
being charged themselves if they revealed certain information.

The court provided 1,400 pages of documents, selected by the authorities, 
to the local press, which were used to fuel a propaganda campaign to 
demonize the accused.

The evidence and arguments put forward by the defence clearly demonstrated 
the terrorist activities carried out from Miami against Cuba and the 
tolerance exhibited by the US authorities, which make it necessary for the 
Cuban people to defend themselves.

They made it abundantly clear that the defendants had not sought out 
information that would threaten the national security of the United States, 
and had caused no harm to anyone.

Even General James Clapper, former director of the intelligence agency of 
the US Department of Defense, acknowledged that the accused had not 
committed espionage against the United States.

At the end of five months of courtroom battle, the total innocence of 
Gerardo, Ramon, Fernando, Rene and Antonio had been made clear.

The accused had carried out no espionage activities. They had neither 
obtained nor sought any information related to the security, defence or any 
other interest of the United States.

They had done nothing to cause damage to that country or its citizens. Not 
a single piece of evidence had been put forward, not a single witness came 
forth to uphold the charges against the five men.

Their efforts had been focused, solely and exclusively, on infiltrating 
terrorist groups and informing Cuba of these groups' plans for aggression 
against the island.

During the trial, it was thoroughly demonstrated that terrorist acts are 
carried out against Cuba from Florida, and that the US authorities do 
nothing in response. As a result, Cuba is obliged to defend itself from 
these activities, which have sometimes led to the loss of lives and serious 
damage for the people of the United States as well.

The most serious accusation against Gerardo Hernandez  conspiracy to 
commit murder, in connection with the incident of February. 24, 1996 [in 
which a Cuban fighter shot down an airplane flown by anti-Cuban terrorists 
in Cuban airspace]  is an outrage. There is a lengthy record of the use 
of light aircraft taking off from Miami to carry out countless and repeated 
violations of Cuban airspace and to commit numerous crimes, including 
shootings, bombings and the dropping of chemical and bacteriological 
substances.

All of this was amply documented during the trial. It was equally 
documented that Cuba had warned that it would not tolerate further 
incursions into its territory.

From the time of the jury selection process, its members were subjected to 
relentless pressures.

On December. 2, 2000, for example, El Nuevo Herald, in an article 
titled "Fear of being jury member in trial of spies" stated: "The fear of a 
violent reaction on the part of the Cuban exile community if a jury decides 
to acquit the five men accused of spying for the island regime has led many 
potential candidates to ask the judge to excuse them from civic duty."

This fear was not unfounded. The members of the jury lived in a community 
that had only recently suffered months of violence and anxiety, when a 
group of criminals kidnapped 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez, and even defying 
federal authorities with firearms.

The members of the jury were also aware of the physical and verbal attacks, 
used against those who dared to voice opinions contrary to the ones held by 
those who control Miami's exile community.

If they had done all of these things in broad daylight and in front of 
television cameras from around the world, what would they not have done in 
secret to control a dozen frightened people?

Judge Lenard imposed the toughest sentences possible on all five of the 
defendants: For Gerardo Hernandez, two life sentences plus 15 years; for 
Ramon Labaqino, a life sentence plus 18 years; for Fernando Gonzalez, 19 
years in prison; for Rene Gonzolez, 15 years in prison; and for Antonio 
Guerrero, a life sentence plus 10 years.

The five heroes were once again separated and isolated. All that is known 
is that Gerardo will be sent to the Lompoc penitentiary in California; 
Ramon to Beaumont, Texas; Fernando to Oxford, Wisconsin; Rene to Loreto, 
Pennsylvania; and Antonio to Florence, Colorado.

As well as distancing them from one another, this arrangement will also 
make it extremely difficult for them to have any contact with family 
members living in Cuba and with Cuban diplomatic representatives, who 
should be allowed access to them in accordance with international 
standards.

It is particularly outrageous, and should be denounced as vigorously as 
possible, that Washington has completely ignored universally accepted 
principles, standards and practices and failed to acknowledge the political 
prisoner status of these five heroes of the Republic of Cuba.

The brazen conduct of the US authorities in this case fully reveals their 
genuine stance towards terrorism and the utter hypocrisy of the campaign 
deployed after the horrific attacks of September. 11, 2001.

These five Cubans are being punished because of the fact that they truly 
did fight against terrorism. Those who have taken away their freedom and 
sought to slander and denigrate them have done so because they dared to 
combat the heinous criminals who were created and continue to be protected 
by those very same authorities.

Every hour that they spend locked up in that living hell is an insult to 
the memory of those who lost their lives on September. 11 and all other 
victims of terrorism. It is also an affront to all those who believe in 
dignity and human decency.

The Cuban people will fight relentlessly until the five are freed and can 
return to their homes and their homeland. In order to achieve this goal, 
the solidarity of all men and women of good will around the world is 
urgently needed.

* * *
People's Weekly World paper of Communist Party, USA

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