In September 1998, Miami FBI agents arrested Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labanino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando Gonzales, and Rene Gonzalez on spurious charges, including conspiracy to commit espionage. For days, however, no formal notification was given until a complicit media campaign smeared them falsely and maliciously.
At a June 2, 2010 Washington National Press Club press conference, the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five’s coordinator, Gloria La Riva, announced new Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) obtained evidence revealing names of 14 journalists who “were receiving covertly (paid) monies from the US government.”
Included was Pablo Alfonso who received $58,600 for 16 articles published in (the south Florida Spanish language) El Nuevo Herald newspaper. La Riva explained that “During the pre-trial period, there were hundreds of articles on the Cuban Five and not one was favorable.” Journalists were bribed to write them.
According to the National Lawyers Guild, Heidi Boghosian, “This shows that the US Government was an accomplice to manipulating the jury by bribing journalists that violated the principles of impartiality and accuracy.”
She also affirmed that the Five’s Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial was violated, federal authorities corrupting the process to convict them.
On September 9, 2006, New York Times writer, Abby Goodnough, headlined, “US Paid 10 Journalists for Anti-Castro Reports,” saying:
“The Bush administration’s Office of Cuba Broadcasting paid (them) to provide commentary on Radio and TV Marti, which transmit” anti-Castro propaganda to Cuba. Journalists named included Pablo Alfonso getting almost $175,000 since 2001 and Armstrong Williams (a notorious right wing liar) receiving $240,000 to write on various issues, including privatizing public education.
On September 14, 1998, a Florida grand jury accused the Five of infiltrating terrorist groups, charging them with 26 offenses, including conspiracy to commit crimes against the United States and espionage. For lack of evidence, the latter charge became conspiracy to commit it.
Gerardo Hernandez was separately accused of voluntary homicide, relating to the February 24, 1996 Brothers to the Rescue plane shot down for illegally entering Cuban air space, though no evidence linked him to the event. Other charges involved using false documents and for not registering as foreign agents.
Throughout their 12 year ordeal, they’ve been horrifically treated. Pre-trial for 17 months, they were isolated in a Special Housing Unit, for many weeks in separate cells. After a successful legal motion, two each per cell followed; one, however, still alone in isolation.
The five men were in America monitoring Miami-based, US funded, extremist right-wing group terrorist activities against Cuba. Ongoing for decades, declassified US documents showed that from October 1960-April 1961 alone, CIA operatives smuggled in 75 tons of explosives and 45 tons of weapons. During the period, 110 attacks were carried out, using dynamite and bombs against 150 factories, 800 plantations, and six trains.
From 1959-1997, US funded groups and CIA operatives committed around 5,800 terrorist acts, hundreds involving bombings that killed or injured thousands of civilians. In addition, from 1959-2003, 61 planes or boats were hijacked. From 1961-1996, 58 sea attacks were launched against dozens of economic targets and the civilian population.
Evidence shows CIA recruitment and support for over 4,000 individuals and 300 paramilitary groups, responsible for murdering hundreds of Cubans and injuring thousands, many permanently disabled. Fidel Castro, himself, was targeted hundreds of times unsuccessfully.
Moreover, chemical and biological warfare was conducted. In 1971, a biological attack contaminated half a million pigs, then killed to prevent swine fever from spreading. In 1981, introduced dengue fever affected over 340,000 people, killing at least 158 including 101 children. On July 6, 1982 alone, around 11,400 cases were registered.
South Florida is a hotbed of anti-Castro extremism, CIA operatives complicit in training and funding planned terrorist attacks, likely still ongoing. On June 16, 1998, Cuban authorities asked FBI officials to provide documents on known US-sponsored extremists to no avail. Three months later, the Cuban 5 were arrested for risking their lives legally for their country, monitoring subversive Americans to warn Havana of impending attacks. They harmed no one, committed no crime, did nothing illegal, had no weapons, nor did 119 volumes of testimonies and over 20,000 court pages of documents contain any evidence against them.
Beginning in November 2000, their politically-charged trial was orchestrated to convict. Little more than a seven month show trial, the South Florida venue alone prevented judicial fairness. Five times, in fact, motions to change it were denied, despite clear evidence a fair trial was impossible. As a result, on June 8, 2001, the men were convicted, then in December sentenced to four life terms and 75 years.
For being loyal Cuban citizens serving their country heroically, they were criminally charged, convicted in a witch hunt proceeding, and imprisoned. Committing no crime, they legally monitored US-sponsored terrorist groups, including Brothers to the Rescue, Omega 7, Alpha 66, Brigada 2506, Comandos F4, and other anti-Castro elements.
So far, they’ve been denied justice, though on August 9, 2005, after seven years in prison, a three-judge panel of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals overturned their convictions, ordering a new trial outside Miami. However, on October 31, the entire Court halted the ruling, ordering an “en banc” (full court) 12 judge hearing. In August 2006, the Court reversed the 2005 decision (10-2), affirming the District Court ruling.
An Independent Legal Opinion
In December 2007, UK attorney Steve Cottingham, a partner at OH Parsons & Partners Solicitors, titled an article on the case “Miami Five: Who Are Terrorists,” saying:
The trial was “profoundly flawed… their (prison) conditions… inhumane, and they were fall guys in an attempt to cover up the US’s support for illegal activity to overthrow the (legitimate) government of the Republic of Cuba.”
With the trial venue in Miami, defense lawyers knew fair proceedings were impossible. As a result, they commissioned a survey for proof. “The Court-appointed defense expert on psychology, Dr. Gary Moran PhD, testified that 69 per cent of all respondents (in Dade County) and 74 per cent of all Hispanic (ones) were prejudiced against people charged with the types of activities outlined in the indictment.” In addition, 49% of all those surveyed said a fair and impartial trial was impossible.
As a result, the defense requested a venue change several times, each application denied. Prior to trial, the local media poisoned public opinion with malicious accusations and more. Moreover, despite careful jury selection, the charged atmosphere imposed overwhelming pressure to convict.
On December 2, 2000, the Nuevo Herald newspaper published an article, saying:
“Fears of a violent reaction by Cuban exiles against the jury that decides to acquit the Five men accused of spying for Cuba has caused many potential jurors to ask the judge to excuse them from their civic duty.” One said, “Sure I’m afraid for my safety, if the verdict doesn’t suit the Cuban community there.” Clearly, the challenge for the defense was too great to overcome, at trial producing the inevitable outcome.
Proceedings included 43 witnesses for the prosecution, 31 for the defense, lasting nearly seven months, as well as hundreds of documents for jurors to review. A key prosecution witness, General James R. Clapper (with 30 years experience in military intelligence) testified that they contained no secret national defense information helpful to Cuba. Key defense witnesses, including retired Rear Admiral Eugene Carroll, said the Cuban military threat to America is “zero.”
Nonetheless, on June 8, 2001, “Despite the lack of evidence of espionage or damage to US interests, the jury took a remarkably short time to convict all the Five on all counts….”
Numerous legal violations and improprieties were committed from time of arrests through proceedings, including:
- defendants had no immediate access to lawyers;
- they were interrogated for many hours without counsel;
- they were unjustly isolated for 17 months;
- thousands of pages of alleged evidence were kept secret;
- prosecutors threatened several witnesses with charges as accomplices if they revealed any information to defense counsel;
- the Miami venue denied defendants a fair trial;
- the local and national media created a charged atmosphere to convict;
- reports indicated that jurors were threatened with death if they voted for acquittal; and
- the entire process, including jurors, assured conviction, proceedings, in fact, a travesty of justice sending innocent men to prison.
Moreover, from arrest to incarceration, numerous domestic and international laws were violated, including the Constitution, Federal Bureau of Prisons regulations, the UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the Vienna Convention on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on Children’s Rights, the UN Minimum Rules on the Treatment of Prisoners, and the American Convention on Human Rights.
The Five were imprisoned in different parts of the country, their families denied visas and visiting rights, and although model prisoners, they were held in isolation.
They remain imprisoned, but not without hope. In February 2009, their attorneys appealed to the Supreme Court for a new trial. The original one, in fact, was the only judicial process in US history condemned by the UN Human Rights Commission. Ten Nobel Prize winners also petitioned the US Attorney General to free the Five. In 2009, however, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case without comment.
Amnesty International (AI) strongly criticized US treatment as human rights violations, saying in early 2006:
It was “following closely the status of the ongoing appeals of the five men (with regard to) numerous issues challenging the fairness of the trial which have not yet been addressed by the appeal courts.”
In January 2007, AI called for US authorities to grant family members visas to visit their loved ones, saying America’s actions were “unnecessarily punitive” by denying them.
In the UK, 110 MPs petitioned the US Attorney General in support of the Five. In April 2009, the Brazilian human rights group, Torture Never Again, awarded the men its Chico Mendes Medal, alleging their rights were violated, including by having “their mail censored and their visiting rights very restricted.”
A Final Comment
On September 15, Bernie Dwyer, an Irish journalist and filmmaker, interviewed Leonard Weinglass, a member of the Five’s defense team, saying:
The five should have been returned to Cuba shortly after their arrest, as is the custom when foreigners are arrested in the United States on missions for their home countries and their activities here caused no harm.
Instead, they were “subjected to cruel conditions of confinement, unjustly prosecuted in (an unfair venue) victimized by (prosecutorial) misconduct… and excessively and illegally punished with life sentences.”
After the Supreme Court declined to hear their appeal, “an outpouring of public support (followed), including (from) 10 Nobel Prize winners, the bar associations of many countries, the entire Mexican Senate, two former (European Union) presidents,” parliamentarians from other countries, heads of state, trade union leaders, student associations, human rights organizations, and dozens of distinguished figures globally.
On June 14, 2010, “We filed (and) will be filing a Memorandum of Law on October 11. The government will be given 60 days to respond and then presumably at the end of this year or in early 2011, we will have a hearing on Gerado (Herandez’s) claims in Miami.” If denied, it will be appealed, and if again, “once again (we’ll) ask the Supreme Court to review the case.”
Asked whether worldwide free the Five campaigns have helped, Weinglass said “Absolutely, (and they) should be continued and if anything increased” as the best way to achieve justice for these unjustly imprisoned men.
On October 13, 2010 AI issued a report and sent a letter to Eric Holder on the Five, expressing concerns about the fairness of their trial, while taking no position on their guilt or innocence, a disturbing part of it as their innocence is beyond question.
Nonetheless, AI asked the Justice Department “to review the case and mitigate any injustice through the clemency process or other appropriate means, should further legal appeals prove ineffective.” It also reiterated concerns about the wives of two of the prisoners (Rene Gonzales and Gerardo Hernandez) denied temporary visas to visit their husbands.
On October 19 at the US Embassy in London, a Vigil for the Five will be held. Noted speakers include UK MPs, labor leaders, lawyers, musicians, and many others. Those attending are urged to “Bring candles to this peaceful vigil for the Five and their families to mark the 12th year of their unjust imprisonment.”
The Five and many hundreds of other US political prisoners bear testimony to America’s judicial unfairness, imprisoning innocent men and women for political advantage in violation of constitutional and fundamental international human rights laws, ones US authorities repeatedly flout with impunity.