Leonard Weinglass Tours UK to Rally Support for the Miami Five
Campaign News | Wednesday, 5 December 2007
By Stephen Hallmark, CSC Campaigns Manager
THE MIAMI Five’s lead attorney Leonard Weinglass has captivated audiences across the UK talking about the Cubans’ unjust imprisonment.
During a highly successful 10-day UK tour the inspirational civil rights activist and veteran campaigner has sought to build international support for the Cubans in order to pressure the United States’ authorities to free them.
Mr Weinglass, who has represented clients such as Angela Davis, Jane Fonda and the Chicago 8, has spoken at a string of high profile events, arranged by the Cuba Solidarity Campaign (CSC).
These included: a meeting with Amnesty International’s international secretariat to raise the question of unfair trial venue; a packed public meeting with MPs at parliament; and a keynote speech to 500 delegates at the Latin America Conference 2007, alongside MPs George Galloway, Dianne Abbott and Jeremy Corbyn, and former Minister Tony Benn.
Mr Weinglass also addressed more than a hundred lawyers and law students at a meeting that launched an organisation called the UK Lawyers’ Network for the Five.
The message the lawyer has pounded out at meetings across England and Ireland is: “To secure the Miami Five’s freedom we need to embarrass the United States authorities into making the right decision.”
Mr Weinglass remains “quietly confident” the Cubans - now in their tenth year of imprisonment - will eventually be released.
Gerardo Hernández Nordelo, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando Gonzáles and René Gonzáles, were convicted on charges ranging from acting as unregistered agents to conspiracy to commit murder - and three of them have life sentences without parole. In the US, life means precisely that.
Their true ‘crime’ was to attempt to defend Cuba from terrorist attacks originating in Miami.
Mr Weinglass, who represents Antonio Guerrero, said: “What we are really talking about is the United States using its court system to further political ends against another country.
“These men were convicted because of public pressure in Miami, public pressure is always the determining factor in a political trial such as this.
“We are fighting in a wilderness, but we will prevail if we continue to struggle and build support for the Miami Five because in the end justice will out while the system that carries out these travesties corrodes.
“The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals is considering the case and so we are at a crucial point, we must mobilise support and fight to release these brave men.”
This is why Mr Weinglass - who is 73 - is ploughing all of his charismatic energies into the campaign.
He said: “The Miami Five are suffering real deprivation in maximum security jails for the same cause I believe in, and that propels me forward.
“They live in the most difficult conditions you could imagine, but when you meet with them you see men who are strong, energised and principled.”
“When you leave them you come away with the feeling ‘I can do no less’.”
Mr Weinglass began to appreciate the role international campaigns could play in court cases when he defended Angela Davis, on trial for being an alleged accomplice in the murder of Judge Harold Haley, in 1970.
He said: “The worst thing in the American judicial system is to be alone, but when there is an active support network then there are always grounds for optimism.
“I was representing an Afro-American female, who was also a communist and member of the Black Panthers, at a trial held in a rural corner of America. The odds were stacked against us.
“Although lawyers obviously have a role in political cases such as these, it is a limited role. We speak and write, but our words and what we write are only heard or read if there is major support for the case.
“That was the lesson from the Davis case, the international campaign focused attention on the court and that lead to her acquittal.
“That’s now beginning to happen with the Miami Five, which is why the Cuba Solidarity Campaign’s work is so critically important.”
So far this year CSC has held a large public vigil outside the US Embassy to mark the Miami Five’s ninth year in jail, has lobbied MPs to sign an Early Day Motion about the case (110 MPs signed the petition), and has successfully lobbied members of the European Parliament to sign a motion calling on the US authorities to grant the wives of René and Gerardo access to their husbands (encouragingly, 24 out of 80 UK MEPs signed).
CSC has also gained the support of 15 trade union General Secretaries and personalities such as nobel prize winner Harold Pinter and Mayor of London Ken Livingstone. And more than 10,000 members of the public have signed CSC’s fair trial petition.
Mr Weinglass urged people to re-double their efforts. The Miami Five’s appeal is currently being debated by three judges.
The appeal is based on the alleged illegality of the way the prosecutor summed up the case at the original trial, and Mr Weinglass wants international media to focus on the case in order to spur US media to follow suit and thereby transform the case into a cause célèbre.
He said: “If the appeal judges apply lawyer-like standards then we shall definitely prevail, but normal rules do not apply to political cases such as these.
“The appeal is based on an aspect of US law that says you cannot manufacture facts in concluding the case that have not been presented during the course of the trial. But when the prosecutor summed up at the original trial he said - on three occasions - that the Cubans had come to Miami in order to destroy the United States.
“There were 31 objections made during the summing up and 28 sustained, the argument was completely out of bounds and driven to secure a conviction.
“We are cautiously optimistic about success, but the problem is that each US Government fears an acquittal would devastate its administration because of the 65,000 Cubans living in Miami.
“Many of them regard Cuba as their number one priority, and politicians all look at Florida as a key state, so the chances of this shifting are difficult to anticipate.”
However, Mr Weinglass has been heartened by the reception he has received in the UK.
He said: “The size and enthusiasm of the Miami Five’s support is greater here than in the United States, and I am very grateful to see the campaign’s strength.”
The lawyer’s speech at the Latin America Conference 2007 made a deep impression on the audience.
George Galloway MP quipped: “Three minutes of Mr Weinglass are worth more than 300 hours with any other lawyer”.
It is in the Miami Five’s favour that Galloway has never said a truer word.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
? Join Cuba Solidarity Campaign to keep up-to-date on the legal case and the UK campaign to Free the Miami Five;
? Write to the five prisoners expressing your support. Addresses available via CSC’s website - www.cuba-solidarity.org.uk - or from the CSC office: 020 7263 6452;
? Write to the US Attorney General’s office urging a retrial: U.S. Department of Justice, 950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20530-0001;
? Amnesty International calls on people to write to the US Office for Cuban Affairs to give the wives permission to visit René Gonzáles and Gerardo Hernández. For addresses log onto: www.cuba-solidarity.org.uk/news.asp?ItemID=974