Decade of detention
Campaign News | Sunday, 14 October 2007
STEPHEN HALLMARK explains how the fight to free five innocent Cubans is now reaching a new level.
THE true hypocrisy of the US "War on Terror" is tellingly revealed by its vicious response to five men attempting to stop attacks against their homeland.
Now in their tenth year of imprisonment, the so-called Miami Five are guilty of nothing more than trying to prevent terrorism, but they have been jailed by the country which is supposedly engaged in an epic battle to defend humanity from terrorism.
The story only makes sense when the five prisoners' nationality and their country's history is considered.
Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labanino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando Gonzalez and Rene Gonzalez are Cuban and they had infiltrated a string of terrorist organisations based in Miami which were hell-bent on overthrowing the Cuban government and smashing the 48-year-old revolution.
They are now serving four life sentences and 75 years collectively after being convicted in Miami in 2001.
"If preventing the deaths of innocent human beings, defending our two countries from terrorism and preventing a senseless invasion of Cuba are the reasons I am being sentenced today, then I welcome that sentence ... This has been a political trial and, therefore, we are political prisoners."
Ramon's courageous words were said on being sentenced to life on charges of espionage against the US.
But what were he and his compatriots doing in Miami and were they really spying?
For more than 40 years, CIA-financed right-wing extremists groups - such as Omega 7, Alpha 66 and Brothers to the Rescue - have caused the deaths of more than 3,000 people in attacks against Cuba, including the bombing of a Cuban airliner in 1976 which killed 73 people.
The five men were sent to Miami in 1997 to gather information on terrorist cells conducting attacks on Cuban hotels with the declared aim of destroying the island's lucrative tourist industry. During the sustained bombing campaign, an Italian tourist was killed and scores more people were seriously injured.
The following year, the information that the Cubans had uncovered was passed on to US authorities. Two weeks later, rather than arrest those responsible for the attacks, the FBI seized the Cubans themselves.
Father Geoff Bottoms of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign (CSC) has met two of the prisoners and is in regular correspondence with all of them. He chairs the CSC Miami Five Campaign.
He said: "I've never had any doubt that we shall win and that the Cuban heroes will be released.
"The treatment these brave men are receiving not only punishes their friends and families, but also the whole of Cuba. Justice, truth and reason will eventually win out."
'International opinion is rising up against the grave injustice inflicted upon the Miami Five.'
This year, the campaign has successfully broken the wall of media silence which has enveloped the Miami Five - with the notable exception of the Morning Star. Articles on the BBC World Service have been followed by coverage by CNN, CBS and The New York Times.
Father Bottoms said: "The five's imprisonment must be viewed as part of an imperialistic campaign by the US to dominate Cuba, a quest which stretches back over more than two centuries. They are political hostages who have been kidnapped by the US.
"But there's a human face to this. The Miami Five have wives, children, families and dear friends - all of whom are suffering.
"I have the great privilege of knowing them. They carry themselves with dignity, know they are fighting for the Cuban revolution and stand out as representatives of a new humanity.
"They truly represent the qualities of the 'new man,' about which Che Guevara spoke.
"We will free them, we will beat the blockade and Cuba will come through triumphant and become a beacon of hope in a world in which solidarity will count for more than free-market competition."
For the US authorities not to have imprisoned the Miami Five would have been a tacit admission that the murderous anti-Castro groups based in Miami were indeed terrorists and that would have alienated the powerful Cuban exile community in a swing state, the state which clinched for George W Bush the election against Al Gore in 2000.
More than just alienating a swing state, the case of the Miami Five is part of the US obsession with Cuba, born of the people's ability to rise up and revolt against US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista and successfully defend their revolution against decades of aggression.
That is an affront that the world's sole superpower has been unwilling to swallow - especially since Cuba's society is worlds apart from the US neoliberal dream.
However, international opinion is mounting against the grave injustice inflicted upon the Miami Five. CSC is at the forefront of the movement and, last week, held a vigil in their honour outside the US embassy in London's Grosvenor Square, which was attended by more than 100 protesters.
An emotional message written especially for the vigil by Gerardo, who is currently in Victorville prison in the US, was read out.
"On behalf of the Miami Five, I wish to send our appreciation of your work, which is an inspiration to all of us," he wrote.
"We know that many in Great Britain stand in solidarity with us and that is very encouraging. We will keep you in our hearts. Venceremos!"
The demonstration was firmly backed by the British trade union movement and representatives from Unite, UNISON, ASLEF, the NUJ and GMB pledged to make it an annual fixture until the Cubans are finally cleared.
Fittingly, the vigil took place on the 40th anniversary of Che Guevara's assassination, during an international month of action for the five.
NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear said at the vigil: "After arrest, the Cubans were placed in solitary confinement and had tremendous difficulties communicating with their lawyers. The trial was held in the anti-Castro heartland, legal evidence was withheld and a media campaign was conducted against them by people in the pay of the US government.
"Any one of the above is sufficient to demand a retrial."
UNISON deputy general secretary Keith Sonnet added: "We very much support the Miami Five campaign. They were totally justified to take measures to prevent terrorist attacks against their homeland which originated in the US."
The global campaign is gathering momentum. Last month, Lawrence Wilkerson, who was ex-secretary of state Colin Powell's chief of staff, described the case as a "travesty" and added that "the US may rate a place on our own list of states that sponsor terrorism."
The UN has already ruled that the trial "did not take place in a climate of objectivity and impartiality" and had been "arbitrary."
But still the judicial process grinds on. The latest hearing took place in August and upheld the original sentence, but it sent the case back to a three-judge panel to debate aspects of the case. It will be months before a decision is delivered.
But the Miami Five are unbowed. In the words of Antonio: "My beloved brothers and I must be unjustly kept in prison, but there we shall not cease from defending the cause and the principles we have embraced."
Stephen Hallmark is campaigns manager for the Cuba Solidarity Campaign.
What you can do
Hear the Miami Five's defence attorney Leonard Weinglass report on the case's progress at the Latin America Conference 2007, Saturday December 1 - for details go to www.cuba-solidarity.org.uk
Write to the five prisoners expressing your support. Addresses available via the CSC website or from the CSC office: (020) 7263-6452
Write to the US Attorney General's office urging a retrial
Join CSC to keep up to date on the legal case and the British campaign to end US aggression towards Cuba.