By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — They were arrested on Sept. 12, 1998, put on trial for seven months and have been detained since. The US government has portrayed them as terrorists but the people of Cuba regard them as heroes.
Gerardo Hernandez, Rene Gonzalez, Antonio Guerrero, Ramon Labañino and Fernando Gonzalez, popularly known as the Cuban 5, were arrested by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in Miami and were charged with conspiracy to commit espionage.
Lawyers of the Cuban 5 raised objections to a trial in Miami, Florida, which they deem as a community with a long history of hostility toward the Cuban government. Eventually, the five were found guilty and were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 15 years to two life sentences and 15 years.
“They did not put at risk the national security of the US government. They were in Miami, Florida to get information about the terrorist activities, which were being supported by the US government, directed against Cuba,” Juan Carlos Arencibia Corrales, Cuban ambassador to the Philippines, told Bulatlat.com in an interview a few days before the anniversary of the arrest of the Cuban 5.
Arencibia said before the arrest of the five, Cuba supplied information to the US government about the terrorist activities in Miami but the latter did not do anything.
“The five are Cuban fighters against terrorism. They are not terrorists,” Arencibia said.
Arencibia said the case of the Cuban 5 is “a great injustice committed by the US government.”
“They do not have any proof that the five are terrorists,” Arencibia said. “Since 1998, the case has been greatly manipulated.”
In August 2005, a three-judge panel of the court of appeals revoked all of the convictions on the ground that the five accused had not received a fair trial in Miami. The US government then asked the 12 judges of the Court of Appeals of the Eleventh Circuit to review the panel’s decision en banc. One year later, in August 2006, the Court revoked, by majority decision, the previous decision of the three judges.
On May 27, 2005, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, after reviewing the case of the Cuban 5, concluded that their imprisonment was arbitrary and urged the US government to take the measures needed to rectify the situation.
The Working Group stated that the imprisonment of the five violates Article 14 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Liberties, to which the United States is a signatory.
The US Supreme Court also ignored 12 amicus curiae briefs, urging the high tribunal to review the criminal conviction. An amicus brief is a document which is filed in a court by someone who is not directly related to the case under consideration.
Ten Nobel laureates, including Timor Leste President Jose Ramos Horta, Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Rigoberta Menchu, Jose Saramago, Wole Soyinka, Zhores Alferov, Nadine Gordimer, Gunter Grass, Dario Fo and Mairead Maguire, as well as the Mexican Senate, the National Assembly of Panama, and Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland (1992-97) and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997-2002), and UNESCO General Director Federico Mayor, among others, signed the amicus briefs.
Hundreds of parliamentarians around the world, among them 75 members of the European Parliament, including two ex-presidents and three current vice presidents of this Legislature; as well as numerous legal and human rights associations of different countries of Europe, Asia and Latin America, international personalities and legal and academic organizations in the United States.
Violations of rights
Besides the unjust trial raised by the Cuban 5’s defense lawyers, other rights of the five prisoners were violated.
Before the trial, the five were held in solitary confinement for 17 months.
Supporters also decried the delay in the granting of visas to the relatives of the Cuban 5 that prevented these relatives from visiting the five more than once a year on the average.
According to the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban Five, Gerardo Hernandez and René Gonzalez, have been prevented from receiving visits of their respective spouses, Adriana Pérez and Olga Salanueva, who repeatedly and systematically have been denied entry permit in US territory. As a result, Adriana and Olga have been prevented from visiting their imprisoned husbands for more than eleven and nine years, respectively.
“The U.S. government’s denial of visitation rights is a cruel and horrible form of psychological torture. Their rationale for the denial is ridiculous and baseless; none of these family members are a threat to national security,” the Popular Education Project to Free the Cuban 5, another support group, said in a statement.
Recently, through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) petition, the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five, has uncovered more than 2,200 pages of contracts between Miami journalists and Radio and TV Martí, media outfits run by Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), an official U.S. government agency, and its Office of Cuba Broadcasting.
According to the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five, the U.S. government has funneled nearly half a billion dollars into the Office of Cuba Broadcasting in Miami. “With an annual budget nearing $35 million, the OCB and BBG put on their payroll domestic journalists to broadcast the same message inside and outside the United States on Cuba-related issues, effectively violating the law against domestic dissemination of U.S. propaganda.”
The group maintained that the contracts prove that the U.S. government’s paid journalists in Miami “to create an atmosphere of hysteria and bias against Cuba and the Cuban Five.”
Campaign to free the Cuban 5
“Obama, also a Nobel laureate, must release the Cuban 5,” Arencibia said, referring to US President Barack Obama who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009.
Arencibia said Obama can use his presidential prerogative and issue an order to release the five Cuban prisoners.
The International Committee to Free the Five issued the same call, urging Obama “to end the injustice against the five,” as the 13th year of their imprisonment draws near.
The group noted that while the United States keeps these innocent men in prison, it protects notorious terrorists such as Luis Posada Carriles.
Carriles, a former agent of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA),was accused of masterminding terrorist activities in Cuba. The solidarity committee demanded that Washington “extradite Carriles, a fugitive in Venezuela, a country that has demanded his extradition for six years.”
“We have been softening terrorist activities. The U.S. has no moral authority to accuse us of terrorism because it is the biggest terrorist in the world,” Arencibia said.