Outrage at a verdict

Published : Oct 10, 2008 00:00 IST

The Cuban Five, whose only crime was to monitor terrorist activities against their homeland, complete 10 years in U.S. jails.

ON September 12, five Cuban patriots completed 10 years in solitary confinement in high-security jails in the United States. Their crime was to expose a terrorist plot against their homeland which was on the verge of execution from U.S. soil.

Gerardo Hernandez, Fernando Gonzalez, Antonio Guerrero, Ramon Labanino and Rene Gonzalez, now known internationally as the Cuban Five, infiltrated terrorist groups that were operating freely in the U.S. for more than 50 years. These organisations had succeeded in targeting Cuba. Their activities had caused the death of more than 3,000 civilians. In the 1990s, as Cuba was struggling to rebuild its economy following the collapse of the Socialist bloc, the main focus of the terror attacks was on the booming tourism sector.

The Cuban Five, who began working in the U.S. from the early 1990s, sent valuable information about the terrorist groups to Havana. The information helped the Cuban government thwart many terrorist plots. It was Cubas decision to alert the U.S. government about such a terrorist plot that led to the arrest of the Cuban Five. In 1998, when a U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) team visited Havana, the Cuban government gave it 1,200 pages of material that contained ample evidence of the terrorist activities in southern Florida. The document listed the names of those involved and the locations of illegal arms caches. The FBI promised the Cuban government that it would take action. No action was taken. Instead, the FBI used the data to track down and arrest the Cuban Five.

The Cuban Five admitted during their trial that they had entered the U.S. to try and stop the execution of terrorist plots against their country from Florida. At the same time, the Cuban Five and their defence team emphasised that their actions were never directed against the U.S. government and that they were not in possession of weapons while in the U.S. American laws in fact allow people to commit crimes that could prevent greater crimes. Leonard Weinglass, the lawyer representing Antonio Guerrero, one of the Five, argued that what the Cubans did was a form of self-defence, extended to acts which will protect other parties.

In December 2001, a Miami court jury, packed with anti-Fidel Castro zealots, convicted the Five on charges of conspiracy to commit murder, espionage and other serious offences. All of them were given harsh prison sentences, ranging from life terms to double life terms. The defence team had argued that the accused could never get a fair trial in any court in Florida. The right-wing Cuban-American lobby has a hold on the States politics. It played a big role in the election of George W. Bush to the presidency in 2000 in a rigged election.

After the arrest of the five Cubans, the U.S. government was quick to state that national security interests were involved. The prisoners were kept in solitary confinement for 17 months before being brought to trial. Many observers view their incarceration as an act of revenge by the U.S., which has failed to subjugate Cuba for the past 50 years. The Miami judge, who convicted the Five, had acknowledged the existence of terror groups in Florida but only recommended that the defendants be 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 operate.

Cubans were outraged by the outcome. President Castro himself led a million-strong protest march in Havana after the initial convictions. Since then around 300 solidarity committees demanding the release of the Cuban Five have sprung up all over the world, including India. On May 27, 2005, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention of the United Nations Human Rights Commission declared the detentions to be arbitrary and urged Washington to take immediate actions to resolve the situation.

Leading intellectuals, including nine Nobel Prize winners, have sent a petition to the U.S. Attorney General, demanding the immediate release of the prisoners. Solidarity groups in many cities stage protests on the fifth of every month in front of American embassies and consulates to highlight the plight of the Five. Fifty-six Canadian Members of Parliament have signed a petition demanding their release.

Gerardo, who was sentenced to two life terms plus 15 years, in a message to solidarity groups, wrote: When I remember back on what happened on September 12, the first thing that comes to my mind is the words of the FBI agent, who in the middle of his efforts to turn us into traitors, said Cuba will do nothing for you. Nobody will do anything for you. How far off were he and his fellow officials to imagine what has developed over these years in the struggle to free the Five. I will not have enough time to tell him of all the examples of support and affection that come to us from the Cuban people and from all our companeros from around the world.

Gerardo was given a draconian sentence because he was also charged with conspiring to commit murder. Without any evidence whatsoever, he was made a party to the shooting down of two small biplanes over Cuban airspace. The planes, operated by Alpha 22, a Cuban terrorist group that has claimed responsibility for many acts of terror inside Cuba and on Cuban interests in other countries, had made repeated forays into the country dropping counter-revolutionary pamphlets. The Cuban government had issued a strong warning that the planes would be shot down if they violated Cubas airspace.

Even after the events of September 11, 2001, the Western media have hailed the right-wing terrorist groups operating out of Florida and other parts of the U.S. as freedom fighters and anti-Castro militants. Meanwhile, the Bush administration has allowed the two notorious terrorists, Orlando Bosch and Posada Carriles, to roam freely in the U.S. Among the crimes they have committed is the 1976 bombing of a Cuban civilian plane, which killed 71 civilians.

Carriles is wanted in Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela for acts of terrorism. Since his escape from a Venezuelan jail, he has been under the protection of American intelligence agencies and regimes that are friendly with Washington. After being on the run for years he surfaced in Florida in 2005.

In May this year, Carriles was feted by the Cuban-American exile community in Miami for his efforts to overthrow the government in Cuba. Peter Kornbluh, who is with the U.S. National Security Archive, said that Posada Carriles safe haven in Miami was a direct challenge to the Bush administrations terrorism policy [evidence] leaves no doubt that Posada has been one of the worlds most unremitting purveyors of terrorist violence.

In June 2006, Jos Antonio Llama, a former Director in the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), which is one of the most influential lobbying groups in the U.S., threatened leading Cuban right-wing figures in Florida with legal action. Llama told the American media that the CANF had created a paramilitary group with $2 million provided by him. The loan, according to Llama, was to buy eight ships, one helicopter, a high-speed motorboat and 10 planes to commit terrorist acts against Cuba. Despite the grave nature of his allegations, Llama was never questioned by the U.S. authorities. In April 2006, another Cuban exile, Roberto Ferrari, was arrested for illegal possession of an arsenal from his house in California. He confessed to being a member of Alpha-66.

President Bush had, in a landmark speech following the events of September 11, said that his government would shut down terrorist camps, disrupt terrorist plans, and bring terrorists to justice. The Bush administration should have first shut down the terrorist training camps in Florida and brought people like Carriles to trial. Instead, in the so-called war against terror the U.S. administration incarcerated five Cubans.

Weinglass has been emphasising that the Cuban Five had come to the U.S. to put an end to this kind of terror activities against Cuba being perpetrated from U.S. soil. He said that the activities of the Five were necessary in order to save lives. An U.S. appeals courts in Atlanta had initially ruled, in August 2005, that the Five had not received a fair trial in Miami, but a 12-judge panel later reversed the decision despite evidence that the Miami jurors were biased or were intimidated. On June 4 this year, a court of appeals in Atlanta once again issued a ruling upholding the guilty verdict against the Cuban Five. The only legal recourse left for them now is to file an appeal in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ramon Labaninos wife, Elizabeth Palmeiro, told solidarity groups that the case against the Five was a political one. She went on to add that the legal system in the U.S. was subordinated to the political establishment and that the corporate media had remained silent about the case. Weinglass told the Cuban newspaper Granma that this case is one of those situations where I believe that the U.S. government is using the justice system to achieve a foreign policy objective. That is the difference between the Posada Carriles case and this case.

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