Sunday, 25 September 2011

Cuba launches campaign for Cuban Five

Source: South Journal, 11 September 2011.

The Cuban people, headed by the youth, kick off a nationwide campaign on Monday for the release of the five Cubans held in US jails for 13 years. The Campaign will run until October 6 and it will include actions not only in Cuba but also in other countries of the world, where people will demand the release of Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González and René González, known as the Cuban Five.

The initiative´s program includes views exchange, arts exhibitions, galas, an anti-imperialist tribunal, book launchings and other activities to start September 12, marking thirteen years of imprisonment of the Five.

Here a chronicle of the case:
September 1998: five Cubans were arrested in Miami by the FBI and held in punishment cells for 17 months before their case was taken to court. These Cubans were in the United States monitoring Florida-based ultra-right organizations of Cuban origin that had undertaken terrorist actions against Cuba, and even in US territory, over the past 50 years.

The five Cubans named Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labañino, Fernando Gonzalez, Antonio Guerrero and René Gonzalez were charged with conspiracy against the United States. Three of them, Gerardo, Ramon and Antonio were also accused of conspiracy to commit espionage. But the US government never asserted that such act was committed. They were never proven to have possessed any classified document. Despite energetic objection by the defense, the case was taken to a court in Miami, a community harboring over half a million Cuban exiles with long hostile records against the Cuban government.

Miami was the environment which, a US federal appeal court described later as “the perfect storm” of prejudices that did not favor a fair trial. And this trial took over six months, being considered the longest such process ever in the United States. Three retired US army generals, a retired admiral, the former advisor to Bill Clinton on Cuban issues testified at the trial and said there was no evidence of espionage. Seven months after the official accusation was issued, a new charge was imposed on Gerardo Hernandez: conspiracy to committee assassination. This was the result of a huge media and public campaign to take revenge for the downing in 1996, by the Cuban air force, of two planes belonging to the Florida-based anti-Castro group “Brothers to the Rescue” and the death in the action of four members of this organization. The Brother to the Rescue planes had illegally entered Cuban airspace 25 times prior to the incident and during 20 months, which led to reiterated protests by the Cuban government.

At the end of the trial, just when the case was almost ready for sentencing, the US administration admitted its failure at proving the charge of conspiracy to commit assassination imposed on Hernandez by saying that in the light of the proofs presented, this would constitute an insurmountable obstacle for the United States in relation to this case and would also result in the failure of the specific accusation. However, the jury found Gerardo Hernandez and the other four Cubans guilty of all charges, following intense pressure by the local media.

The Cuban Five, as these men are known around the world, were given 4 life terms and 77 years. This conviction turned three of them into the first people in the United States to have been given life terms in espionage-related cases, in which there was no evidence of their possession or transfer of any secret document. And then, they were confined to five different high-security prisons, far off from each other and with no communication among them whatsoever.

 August 9, 2005: A three judge panel with the Atlanta Court of Appeals revoked the court ruling after considering that the Cuban Five were not given a fair trial in Miami. But, the US government requested the rehearing by the Court en banc of the decision reached by the three-judge panel. This procedure is an action that only takes place in cases involving constitutional principles. One year later, the court revoked, by majority, the unanimous decision of the three judges.

May 27, 2005: The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions, after having considered the arguments presented by the relatives of the Cuban Five and by the US government, described the convictions as arbitrary and called on Washington to take the necessary measures to correct such decision.

September 2, 2008: Atlanta´s Court of Appeals ratified the guilty verdicts, upheld the convictions against Gerardo Hernandez (two life terms plus 15 years) and against Rene Gonzalez (15 years) while it annulled the sentences against Antonio Guerrero (life term plus 10 years), Fernando Gonzalez (19 years) and Ramon Labañino (life term plus 18 years) for considering them incorrect. So the cases of the three men were sent back to the Miami Court to be resentenced. The Court admitted the absence of any piece of evidence about the possession or transmission of any secret information or related to US national security in the case of the defendants under the charge of conspiracy to committee espionage. Some months later Antonio Guerrero was resentenced to 21 years and 10 months in prison, plus a 5-year parole; Fernando was given 17 years and 9 months in prison; and Ramon 30 years in jail.

June 15, 2009: The US Supreme Court announced, without further details, its decision not to review the case of the five men despite the unquestionable arguments submitted by the defense in the face of evident and countless legal violations committed during the whole process. With this decision, the US justice also turned a deaf ear on the huge world support of this petition and of the Cuban Five, which was openly expressed in 12 amicus curiae documents—an unprecedented action since it has been the largest number of such documents ever filed with the US Supreme Court requesting the revision of a criminal case. The amicus curiae documents were signed by ten Nobel laureates including the president of East Timor, Jose Ramos Horta; Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Rigoberta Menchu, Jose Saramago, Wole Soyinka, Zhores Alferov, Nadine Gordimer, Gunter Grass, Dario Fo and Maired Maguire; the Mexican Senate; Panama´s Parliament; former Irish President, Mary Robinson who was High UN Commissioner for Human Rights (1997-2002), and the former director of UNESCO, Federico Mayor, among others. From the legal point of view the case has concluded. The Cuban Five are now undertaking an extraordinary process, which is known as Habeas Corpus. This is a one-time opportunity of the defendants after all appeal resources have concluded with no success.

In October 2010, Amnesty International issued a report on the case, which read that if the legal appeal process did not yield on-time compensation, and given the long sentences imposed and the term already served by the Five, the organization would support all calls on US authorities to review the case through the proceeding of pardon or any other appropriate ways.

Cuban Five Demand Freedom 
by Teresita Jorge Carpio

The Cuban Five have been victims of an unfair conspiracy after being detained on September 12th 1998 for having infiltrated terrorist organizations based in southern Florida aimed at stopping actions against the Cuban people. Gerardo Hernández, René González, Ramón Labañino, Fernando González and Antonio Guerrero were abruptly striped from their family and submitted to a biased trial in Miami and later sentenced to long unfair prison terms ranging from 15 years to 2 life plus 15 years.

Their defense statements were impressive, sincere and passionate. Tony Guerrero´s defense was poetic stating that they will always defend their principles and cause in their unjust imprisonment. His final words affirm a better future when he said: Because, at the end, we shall rest free and victorious beneath that sun which we are denied today. Rene did not request clemency, but justice for his comrades accused of crimes they did not commit, while Ramon proclaimed: I will wear the prison uniform with the same honor and pride with which a soldier wear his most prized insignias! Fernando concluded by saying: In my years in prison, I always carry with me the dignity I have learned from my people and their history. Gerardo Hernandez was also an example of integrity and dignity when he praised US patriot Nathan Hale saying: My only regret is that I have but one life to give for my country." Love and hope irradiate the letters of these five men that synthesizes a history of value, sacrifice and love as characterized by African American writer Alice Walker.

A phrase by French writer Victor Hugo became their own: "Love, you know, seeks to make happy rather than to be happy." Sweetness and kindness accompany the heroism of the Cuban Five in its incarceration in the dark dungeon, witness of their commitment to the Homeland and their loved ones. To his jewels, as characterized Ramon Labañino to his wife Elizabeth Palmeiro and daughters, he said: Love is the most profound feeling in our lives. Rene Gonzalez, one of the five anti terrorist fighters incarcerated for the last 13 years write to his daughter Ivette: Your good qualities today will turn into virtues tomorrow. In every letter, message or telephone contact, Gerardo, Rene, Ramon Fernando and Tony constantly transmit a message of love and hope.

These five men, characterized by Gail Walker as heroes are dignified heirs of Jose Marti. Homeland is Humanity, said Cuba´s National Hero. They are an international symbol from their prison cells in the fight for peace and for making a reality the desire that a better world is possible. Their loyalty for the Homeland and firmness of the principles are an example for the honest citizens of the world that demand the immediate release of the five giants, as characterized by the leader of the Cuban Revolution Fidel Castro.