Free the Cuban Five!
— Michael Steven Smith
POLITICAL TIMES HAVE emblematic cases. The ongoing Mumia case, Lynne Stewart’s current prosecution, and the two cases involving the U.S. and Cuban governments illuminate the reality of today’s politics in America, just as the Sacco/ Vanzetti case in the 1920s with respect to immigrants and anarchists or the McCarthite anti-communist Rosenberg case in the 1950s defined their eras.
The appeal of the Cuban Five’s convictions were orally argued by Lenard Weinglass and other attorneys in April of 2004 in Miami. Two of the Five are doing life sentences, one is doing two life sentences, another was sentenced to nineteen years, and the last got off easy with seventeen behind bars. They are separated in five of the worst prisons in America.
The Cuban Five — Fernando González, René González, Antonio Guerrero, Gerardo Hernández and Ramón Labañino —were convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage. The U.S. government frequently charges “conspiracy,” which is like a thought crime. One was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder. All were convicted of minor charges including failing to register as agents of a foreign government.
The convictions came about in this way. When the Soviet Union went under in l99l Cuba was in a lot of trouble economically. It had lost its lifeline. The Cubans thought that if they developed their tourist industry they could get some hard currency coming into the country.
Cuba is a beautiful island. It is as large as the rest of the Caribbean combined. It has gorgeous beaches, Havana is lovely, especially Old Havana, with its 18th century buildings constructed at a time when Havana was the great city in the western hemisphere.
So Cuba got people from places like Spain, Germany, and Italy to travel there on vacation. The plan was really working. This all didn’t sit well with the terrorists the United States coddles in Miami.
This “Mafia,” as they are referred to by the Cubans, thought that if they could stop the tourism in Cuba, they could really weaken the government there paving the way for its overthrow.
If Emma Lazarus was to write a poem for a new statue of liberty for the Port Everglades, which is the harbor serving South Florida, the poem might read as follows: “Give me your terrorists/ your country sellers/ your capitalist restorationists/ your assasins/ your torturers/ your scum of the earth.”
Of the 650,000 persons of Cuban descent who live in Miami there are more than a few who would fit that description. Orlando Bosch lives there. He walks his dog every morning. This man killed 73 people, including the young Cuban fencing team, when he blew up a Cuban airliner.
Felix Rodríguez and Alberto Gonzáles live there as well in comfortable retirement. They were the two CIA contract agents who directed the capture and murder of Che Guevara in Bolivia. Rodríguez, a friend of George Bush I, went on to participate in the contra-wars in Central America in the 1980s. A number of terrorists in South Florida openly train in the Everglades.
What they did was to start attacking the Cuban tourist economy. They planted a bomb in a hotel which killed an Italian tourist. They planted bombs on a bus coming from the Havana airport and tried to bomb the airport itself.
The Cuban government, to try to stop this, pleaded with the U.S. government to put a stop to it. When it didn’t, the Cubans sent five young men — the cream of the Cuban revolution — secretly to Miami under assumed names to infiltrate the terrorist organizations, which they did.
They compiled large dossiers on the terrorist groups. The number two man in the FBI met with his Cuban counterpart in the Interior Ministry and the Cubans turned the dossiers over to the United States and reiterated its demand that they put a stop to the terror.
There is a U.S. law called the Neutrality Act that prohibits attacks on foreign countries with whom we are at peace launched from American soil. So the Cubans requested that the Americans call a halt, that they please stop the Miami mafia.
What did the American government do? It arrested the five Cubans and tried them in Miami, of all places.
This prejudical venue calls to mind a story circulating in Havana when the Pope visited Castro some years ago. He was riding with Fidel in the open popemobile along the Malecon, along the ocean, when a breeze stirred up and lifted the Pope’s little skull cap off of his head. It floated in the air and landed in the ocean about fifty feet from the shore.
Fidel asked the driver to stop the limo. He said to the Pope, “Papa, I will get your cap back.” Fidel then got out of the popemobile, walked over to the shoreline, and then he walked across the top of the water 50 feet, picked up the skull cap, and then walked back across the water to the limo and placed the skull cap back atop Papa’s head.
This event was reported as follows: Prensa Latina, the Cuban newspaper, ran an article recounting the events pretty much as just stated. La Observatoire Romano, the newspaper of the Vatican, reported in its headline that “Pope Allows Castro to Perform Miracle.” And finally, the Miami Herald, in screaming second coming 40-point type ran a headline proclaiming “Castro: Too Old to Swim.” You can’t get a break in Miami.
The Judge for the Five’s trial has a husband who is the city attorney for North Miami. If she would have allowed a change of venue, which is granted routinely — after all, the man who bombed the Federal building in Oklahoma City was tried in Denver, racist cops in Brooklyn are tried in Albany — her husband wouldn’t have gotten re-elected.
The defense lawyers requested that the trial be moved, not out of state, but just thirty miles up the coast to Fort Lauderdale. The Judge said no. It is impossible to get a fair trial in Miami if you are a Cuban revolutionary. Remember the atmosphere surrounding six-year-old Elian González whom the gusanos refused to return to his Communist father?
The trial took seven months. The jury was out but three-and-a-half days before they found the Five guilty of everything. The jury was contaminated necessarily because it was a Miami jury. The foreman during the jury interview process said he believed Castro to be a communist dictator and that he would be happy the day he was thrown out.
The daughter of another juror worked for the FBI for ten years, his son was a Marine for twenty-one years, and he opined that the whole Cuban government was incompatible with his experiences as a retired banker. A third juror was married to a member of the Pedro Pan brigade, young children sent from Cuba to Miami, with the support of the Catholic Church, to flee atheistic communism.
Another juror was married to an immigration guard, and so on. The whole jury was like that. The Five received horrific sentences. This is what is now on appeal.
Grounds for Appeal
The facts and law in the case, in Attorney Leonard Weinglass’ opinion, are very strong in favor of the Five. There was insufficient evidence to send someone to prison for conspiracy to commit espionage when they didn’t take one single page of anything that was classified. It was all public information.
Gerardo Hernández, who was convicted for conspiracy to commit murder, had infiltrated The Brothers to the Rescue outfit that had flown multiple flights low over Havana dropping leaflets. They had discussed flying a drone equipped with explosives to kill Fidel when he spoke at an outdoor rally.
Two planes, after repeated Cuban warnings to the United States, were shot down. Hernández didn’t even know this. He was merely told not to fly that day. The government of Cuba shot down the planes as an act of state.
The necessity defense, which allows for a small crime if it is done to stop a larger one, was not allowed by the Judge to be raised.
The sentences were absolutely savage. Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanson, who are also doing life sentences, stole thousands of documents and compromised American security. The Cuban Five didn’t steal one. Yet they got the same sentences.
And their crime, remember, was conspiracy to commit espionage some time in the future.
What will the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit — not the most distinguished court — rule in the fall of this year? It is very hard to get justice in the present climate.
It is a cold comfort to know that Governor Dukakis of Massachusetts exonerated Sacco and Vanzetti. The Rosenbergs were innocent of conspiracy to steal the secret of the atomic bomb, as we now know — there was no secret. Making an “A” bomb was a question of industrial capacity.
The Cuban Five have been branded as terrorists as well as communists. In the fearful atmosphere that has pervaded since 9/ll we cannot be sure the judges will do the right thing. The case has not received the attention it should have.
The Cuban website on the Cuban Five and terrorism is <a href="http://www.antiterristas.cu">www.antiterristas.cu</a>; and the Free the Five Defense Committee’s website is <a href="http://www.freethefive.org">www.freethefive.org</a>. What we can do is publicize their situation and offer our solidarity. §
ATC 112, September-October 2004