Cuban spies appeal for US retrial

Campaign News | Monday, 20 August 2007

By Michael Voss, BBC News, Havana

A US federal appeals court in Atlanta is due to reconsider whether there are grounds for a retrial of five Cubans convicted of spying for Havana.

They were arrested in 1998 and found guilty in a Miami court on charges including using false identities and conspiracy to commit espionage.

Three were given life terms, the other two 15 and 19 years in jail.

Cuba's government says the trial was political and accuses the US of double standards in the fight against terror.

If there is one issue in Cuba which the authorities use to rally anti-American sentiment, it is the case of the men known as the Cuban Five.

They are considered national heroes and figure prominently on billboards all over the country and are the subject of regular rallies and demonstrations.

The Cuban government says they were not in Miami to spy on the US but to prevent anti-Castro exile groups from launching what it calls terrorist attacks on Cuba.

The year before they were arrested there had been a bombing campaign against tourist sites in Havana. An Italian national was killed and several Cubans injured.

The president of Cuba's National Assembly, Ricardo Alarcon, is leading the country's international campaign to secure a retrial.

When we met, he produced US court documents of an Iraqi agent allegedly caught spying on anti-Saddam groups in Chicago. He was jailed for less than four years.

"The court of appeal needs to explain how an agent of Saddam Hussein was treated fairly and not identified as an enemy spy for monitoring Iraqi exiles while our people... were considered a danger to the US," Mr Alarcon said.

Third appeal

The daughter of one of the five, Irma Gonzalez, believes the US is applying double standards in the fight against terror.

Her father, Rene Gonzalez, has now spent nine years behind bars.

She was 14 and living in Miami with him when he was arrested. She and her mother were later expelled and she is now back in Cuba studying psychology.

"I think the US government believes there is good terrorism and bad terrorism. So the life of Cubans isn't worth anything. You can kill here, plant bombs in hotels and that's not terrorism. But if something happens in the United States, that's very bad terrorism," she said.

This is the third time the case has gone before an appeals court.

Initially the verdict was ruled unsound because the men could not receive a fair trial in Miami, which has a large Cuban exile community. That ruling was later overturned.

Now the federal appeals court in Atlanta is hearing oral submissions on defence claims about lack of evidence and the length of the sentences. It must then decide if there are grounds for a retrial.

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