Time to Free the Cuban Five

Exclusively in the new print issue of CounterPunch

14 Years of Injustice: Counterpunch: Tells the Facts, Names the Names

Freedom Ride for the Cuban Five
Freedom Ride for the Cuban Five

Time to Free the Cuban Five
14 Years of Injustice
by SAUL LANDAU

Five Cubans fighting terrorism in south Florida have served 14 years of prison, more than enough time for the US public to learn from its media about the horrific injustice done by the US government to these Cuban men. But the media has barely touched the grotesque frame up of Gerarddo Hernandz, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando Gonzlaez, Ramon Labanino and Rene Gonzalez, the Cuban Five as they are called. These Cuban intelligence agents volunteered in the 1990s to infiltrate violent groups of Miami-based Cuban exiles how had orchestrated bombings in Cuba of tourist spots — hotels, restaurants, clubs and bars and even the Havana airport where vacationers from Canada and Europe arrive. By scaring foreigners with violence they hoped to intimidate tourists from visiting Cuba, and thus hurt Cuba’s economy.

Cuban intelligence chiefs sent agents into south Florida because the FBI had done nothing to stop the bombing plots or indeed discourage the exile plotters from continuing their terrorist war against Cuba; so the agents’ job was to discover the plots, and alert Havana so the local police could thwart the violence. Havana then recycled the agents’ information to the FBI. On some occasions, thanks to these men’s information the Bureau did intercept caches of explosives and weapons destined to do harm inside Cuba. But the Bureau did not bother the terrorists. Instead. in September 1998, FBI agents busted the Cuban agents, , and the Justice Department charged them with conspiracy to commit espionage and one of them with murder. The later charge referred to a prosecution-concocted story that Gerardo Hernandez, the controller of the web of agents, had advised Habana of the date and time of Jose Basulto and his Brothers to the Rescue’s planned flight time on February 24 1996, and that he might possibly drop weapons into Cuba. Cuban aviation authorities warned the three small planes not to enter Cuban air space, but the pilots ignored the warning, and Cuban MIGs shot down two of the planes, killing both pilots and co-pilots. The craft carrying Basulto returned unscathed to Miami.

The US government claimed the MIGs fired their rockets over international, not Cuban air space. Cuba maintained the shoot downs occurred in its air space. The NSA refused to deliver its vectors to the court, alleging “national security” reasons. The jury never dealt with such issues of fact, nor did it apply logic and reason.

The charge of murder against Gerardo Hernandez had no factual foundatin, since Basulto himself had announced in public his plan to fly on that day, and a White House official had told several people, including journalists, of the Basulto plan as well. An intimidated Miami jury convicted the Cuban agents in record time.

The Miami jury members, whose identity had become known to the extremist exile community, understood that an acquittal verdict could entail serious consequences for them. The intimidation tactics used by right wing exile thugs (most people have watched The Sopranos and understand) had become legendary. The judge faced the same community ambience, with hundreds of thousands of exiles still furious with US government for having returned 6 year old Elian Gonzalez, in accordance with all known law, to his father instead of keeping the boy in Miami with his great uncle and cousins. His mother and he boyfriend had both drowned when their boat heading for Miami sank. The boy in an inner tube was rescued. Legally, the legally fit father had an air-tight case for claiming his son, but a substantial sector Miami’s exile community viewed the return of the boy as a “sell out” to Castro.

The five’s trial took place shortly after the Elian Gonzalez affair. The trial judge, Joan Lenard, sided almost always with prosecution’s motions and limited the scope of the defense. After the guilty verdict for espionage and murder, she handed down draconian prison sentences, including two consecutive life sentences plus fifteen years for Gerardo Hernandez.

Fourteen year have passed since the arrest of the five who have served hard years in federal prisons for helping to fight terrorism in south Florida.

In addition to the Kangaroo trial staged in Miami, the US government has treated the five Cuban agents with cruelty by denying visas to two of their wives and routinely sending them men into solitary confinement despite their having behaved as model inmates.

Ramon Labanino in a Georgia prison receives only yearly visits (US-imposed limits) from his wife, Elizabeth Palmeiro. Ramon got re-sentenced to a shorter term, but when his wife learned the FBI had busted him in 1998, his family’s life fell apart as it did for the families of the other four.

The media has ignored this injustice for more than a decade. They have ignored even the human story about the US refusing to grant visas so that two of the five’s wives can visit their husbands.

The Five’s lawyers have filed a new writ offering new evidence showing the US government paid members of the media to produce negative stories on Cuba and the defendants before and during their trial, to create an anti-Cuba atmosphere that jury members would absorb. That alone should merit an overturning of the guilty verdict.

Amnesty International made several major points about the case of the Five.

The jury foreman said the jury believed US rather than Cuban evidence over the place of the shoot down. That should not have been an issue. Because Gerardo could not have known what would have happened, even if he had given Cuba the data on the February 24 flights. How would a mid-level intelligence agent know that Cuba’s leaders had decided to shoot down the planes?

Ramon, Antonio and Gerardo were convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage, but the government conceded to the jury they had no evidence, that the defendants made no effort to obtain material related to an espionage charge. For a Miami jury the fact that Cuban agents were in Miami was sufficient for them to hand down a guilty verdict.

Amnesty also condemned the trial results because the US government has material related to Cuban espionage and the US government knew the five were not engaged, and refused to turn over to the defense that information so the jury could not know about that.

Finally, a perfect storm of prejudice existed in Miami. The jury understood they had good reason to feel frightened should they vote for acquittal.

The media needs to report this horrific injustice. Readers should write President Obama with the clear message: FREE THE FIVE NOW.

Saul Landau’s WILL THE REAL TERRORIST PLEASE STAND UP, and his FIDEL are available on DVD from cinemalibrestore.com.

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