In 1998, five Cuban men living in Miami had their houses raided early one morning; their computers were taken and they were arrested for being unregistered agents of the Cuban government. These men had no criminal records, were unarmed and had not been involved in any violent acts or disturbances.
Eight years later, they are in five separate prisons across the United States serving life sentences or minimum 15-year sentences. The five – Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González and René González – were tried on the grounds of ‘conspiring to commit espionage’. The reality is that the Cuban Five or the Miami Five, as they are commonly known, were defending their country against the frequent terrorist attacks that were, and still are, being planned by various anti-Cuba organisations based in Miami.
The Five had been sent by the Cuban government to Florida in the early 1990s in response to the increased number of counterrevolutionary attacks on Cuba. Their role was to infiltrate the fascistic Cuban-American groups, whose sole intention is to bring down the socialist state. Although the Cuban government has often informed United States officials of such criminal acts taking place, nothing has been done to prevent these groups organising (quite the reverse, in fact).
US overt and covert attacks on Cuba
Since its 1959 revolution, Cuba has been the victim of thousands of terrorist attacks, which together have killed over 3,500 people and physically maimed more than 2,000 more. (See ‘A long March Towards Justice’ by Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada, Counterpunch, 27 August 2005)
Cuba stands strong as a proud example to the peoples of Latin America, Africa and Asia, as well as to the ever-poorer and more downtrodden working class in the imperialist countries; it is an example that imperialism would like to see the back of.
The US has overtly attempted to suffocate and isolate Cuba. The Helms-Burton Act, for example, states that any company trading with Cuba on even the smallest scale will be barred from trading with the United States. Cuba has, nevertheless, through the resilience of its people and with the help of cooperation from progressive countries around the world, been able to achieve a decent standard of living for its population and has continued to develop, in spite of this severe blockade.
The US has given financial support, resources and a base to groups who have sought to bring down the Cuban revolution. The “various counterrevolutionary groups created and run by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) have carried out numerous terrorist activities which have cost our country [Cuba] valuable lives and vast amounts of resources” . This is from an interesting article entitled ‘Why Five might conspire to “spy”’, which outlines just some of the thousands of attacks that have been launched against Cuba, and is well worth a read. (NY Transfer News, 2001)
Cuban Five successful
The Cuban Five successfully gathered information about various operations, including those of the notorious Hermanos al Rescate (Brothers to the Rescue), and passed it back to the Cuban government. In July 1998, Cuban officials met with the FBI to disclose some of the information that had been obtained. Instead of raiding the likes of José Balsuto, the Leader of Hermanos al Rescate, or Luis Posada Cariles and Orlando Bosch, both with a long history of covert operations on behalf of the US and proud of their terrorist actions against Cuba, the FBI instead arrested the Cuban Five, the men who had been obtaining information in order to prevent more terror attacks.
One might well surmise that the US’s ‘war on terror’ is a misnomer, disguising its real nature: a war for control of economic resources. Indeed, the US is not in the slightest bit averse to the use of terrorist methods in its pursuit of huge profits.
“These five heroic Cubans are being punished precisely because of the fact that they truly did fight against terrorism, even at the cost of their own lives … Those who have taken away their freedom and sought to slander and denigrate them have done so because they dared to combat the heinous criminals who were created and continue to be protected by those very same authorities.” (Ricardo Alarcón, quoted in ‘Campaign to free Cuban Five seeks mainstream spotlight’, The Final Call, 13 March 2004)
Having been arrested on spurious grounds and imprisoned without bail, the Five’s unjust treatment at the hands of the US judicial system continued. Their trial did not commence until 26 months after their initial arrest, and for a large portion of this time they were kept in solitary confinement.
The 20,000 pages of documentation found in their homes contained no incriminating evidence, and none of it was high security. However, this did not stop the judge classifying the documents as secret, thus denying the defence access to the material, even though it was the central ‘evidence’ of the case against the men.
The trial itself was held in Miami, the place where the five Cubans had based their investigations because of the well-known fact that this is where 600,000 Cuban dissidents reside. Although on five occasions the defence attorneys requested that the trial be moved, each request was rejected. Yet, one year later, another trial with only the faintest of connections with Cuba was moved on the grounds that there would not be a fair trial in Miami!
The trial of the Cuban Five lasted for seven long months. The prosecution brought the additional charge against Gerardo Hernández of ‘conspiracy to commit murder’. This attempted to connect Hernández with the bringing down in 1996 of two US Cessnas that were being flown into Cuban airspace by Hermanos al Rescate. There had been 25 previous illegal invasions of Cuban airspace, and the Cuban Five had gained information that future flights would be armed. The Cuban government had raised this with US authorities, warning that they would tolerate no further incursions. In the event, it was not Hernández but the US Federal Aviation Agency that informed the Cuban authorities of the approach of the two Cessnas. The leader of Hermanos al Rescate was flying the third Cessna, which escaped.
After the seven-month trial, the jury deliberated only a short time and returned with a guilty verdict on all counts. This is especially surprising bearing in mind that the prosecution had attempted to withdraw the charge of ‘conspiracy to commit murder’ on the basis that they could not prove it; nonetheless, the jury found Hernández guilty.
Brutality in prison
Throughout their time in prison, the Five have been treated with brutality. They have all been sent to high security prisons and have been put in the ‘hole’ (solitary confinement), sometimes for months on end. The wives of Gerardo and Rene have not been given visas or granted entry to the US and so have never been able to visit their husbands, while the other three are allowed only very rare visits. And all of this for ‘conspiring to commit espionage’.
The Five have continued to fight for justice and their freedom through the courts and via an international campaign around their case. In 2003, they filed an appeal against their convictions. In August 2005, 28 months later, a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeal in Atlanta returned a verdict reversing the unjust convictions.
However, the US judicial system fears justice as it fears the plague, and 11th Circuit Court overrode the three-judge panel and granted a hearing before a full panel of twelve judges. This panel voted 10-2 to deny the Five a new trial and affirmed the original court sentences.
Cuba defiant against US hatred
The US has continually victimised Cuba since the Cuban people so bravely overthrew their oppressors and kicked out the Yankee exploiters. In 1959, Cuba was transformed from the playground of the United States into a thorn in that country’s side. The victorious Cuban Revolution put an end to the brutal puppet regime of Batista and to the unbridled US plunder of Cuba’s resources. This in itself is enough to make the US hate Cuba with a vengeance.
Moreover, on the basis of socialist construction, the Cuban people have created a far higher standard of living than has been achieved anywhere else in Latin America, and this without depending on the exploitation of people in the oppressed world. This tiny island, cut off by sanctions, has one of the best healthcare systems in the world, not only providing for the Cuban population but also providing medical support and training to progressive countries all over the world. It is able to provide free education to its population while the rich imperialist governments are busy trying to convince their populations that free education is no longer a viable option, and Cuba even exports its revolutionary education techniques and many of its trained teachers.
This is exactly the reason for US victimisation of Cuba, and for the continued injustices that are being perpetrated against the Cuban Five. We join the progressive people of the world in demanding their unconditional release.
We conclude this article with the words of one of the Five, Ramón Labañino, writing from prison.
“It is five years now, and today our denunciation of injustice and the barbarity that the US government commits against our people and we Five, is more relevant than ever.
“During all this time, the US government has continued protecting in a most shameful and infamous manner, the hemisphere’s worst terrorists – Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles. It continues helping the terrorist extremist rightwing of Miami. It continues trying to force our people to its knees with the criminal economic blockade, and it continues to threaten us with military invasion and massive extermination.
“All these are the reasons for which we came to the United States to defend our people and the people of the United States.
“Today, as we did five years ago, we would repeat exactly our same allocutions, word for word, with much more energy, with many more arguments and with more emphasis, confronting the cowardice of the prosecution and government, in its failure to defend its own people from Cuban-American terrorism and death.
“Today we are much stronger, we are more prepared, more convinced of the final victory of truth and justice.
“And today, as always, we will continue to … wear our prison uniform with the same honour and pride with which a soldier wears his most prized insignias!”
Ramón Labañino, USP Beaumont, Texas