November 27 2000.
First day of the trial. The visible part of the process begins, following two years of “underground” activity in which the route has advanced quite a way away from public scrutiny.
The calendar is discussed. Work will be from Monday to Friday between 8:30 and 1:30 pm. Holiday between December 20 and January 2, 2001.
Prosecutors argue that it will take them a month for the presentation of their case. The Defense estimates in 15 days its refutation. All satisfied of the trial to last until the end of February and there goes the jury selection.
The first group of potential jurors arrives at 9:45. All standing. The solemnity to the detail in the absence of essence. An explanation of what they will do as jurors by the judge before the interrogation or “voir dire” – to tell the truth – that seeks to find reasons which would prevent them to serve as jurors: personal problems, obligations, links with any of the parties, among other reasons.
It calls our attention the amount of people who have ties to the brothers to the rescue. Another interesting thing is that more than half have been victims of crimes. Each responds to a personal questionnaire. Those whose responses are not considered suitable for them to serve on the panel are excused. The ones left are instructed not to read news of the case, or discuss it with anyone even if it is your spouse or close family member. Sort of settling on the Moon while living in Miami.
On the way back from lunch family members of Brothers to the Rescue pilots are already giving a show in front of the Court building. The judge has to ask the prosecutors to stop the spectacle being given by their godchildren. As it happens now the press- which has been the mouthpiece for the prosecution through hundreds of yellow articles against us – is already stalking potential jurors. A sample of the Group examined in the afternoon, taking a piece of my diary:
“At 2:50 enters another group of 34 potential jurors and they go through the same ritual that the first group underwent. In this group there are more alleged problems with the calendar, a total of fourteen. When it comes to general questions, there are more acknowledgments by potential jurors:
. Two of them have done business with Basulto.
. One has friendship with the family of Mario de la Peña.
. Two have a friendship with Silvia Iriondo.
. One knows Ramón Saúl Sánchez.
. Two know the journalist Hank Tester, who I have seen in the Democracy Movement activities and now appears in the list of possible witnesses.
Half dead from exhaustion we left the Court house and went back to the floor around 7 o’clock, amid applause and requests for autographs of the prisoners who had seen the news on television. At this time one of them has just told me that we are celebrities because we are not thugs like them. He asked me for an autograph.”
Two letters which I had written to Olguita before she was deported, and didn’t receive, are returned to me.
November 28 2000.
The Judge begins reminding the parties of her prior decision, at the request of the Prosecutor’s office, which instructs the parties not to make public statements about the case.
The ritual to discriminate those who cannot serve as jurors in the second group continues. Ten out of an initial proposal of 34 go. Some for confessing their hatred towards the defendants, others because they would face reprisals from their employers if they declare them not guilty.
The third group is also 34 and is dealt with in the afternoon. One of them, whose name we’d later know René Silva, begins to puff while looking at us threatening. A curious but premonitory finding: five of them have had to deal with the authorities and do not believe in the honesty of the officers of the law.
At the reading of José Basulto’s name René Silva jumps agitated and declare to know him. The same goes with Arnaldo Iglesias, and now Silva does not hide his anger while still facing hard on us. Attorney Paul McKenna, who represents Gerardo Hernández, asks the judge for a meeting with the parties, called in the jargon of the Court “side bar”.
Paul explains that Mr Silva may explode from one moment to another, contaminating the group. The Prosecutor – whom Silva has been snorting at in the neck – turns into a fool goat and says that she has not noticed anything. Called to the “side bar” Mr. Silva advances aggressive, while a US Marshall has situated himself between him and us: -Mister McKenna, I know that you are dying because I’m on the panel. I am sorry. I am so excited already. I will be happy to answer any questions”.
Without pause Silva explains that he was director of the Cuban American National Foundation, which carried out investigations into the case and has very strong opinions. He is excused from serving on the jury.
The procedure ends at 6 in the afternoon and we returned exhausted to the unit. The Cubans who “run” the unit have kept us the meal’s chicken, which we appreciate from our hearts as this is an article that would have reported profits, if they had decided to sell it.
Soy un espía, dicen