A blind eye to terror
Campaign News | Saturday, 12 January 2008
Violent acts committed by Cuban exiles prompted the 'Cuban Five' to travel to the US. Now they are in jail with little hope of release writes Duncan Campbell in the Guadian's Comment is Free website
Five Cuban men, later to become known as the Cuban Five, were arrested in Miami, Florida in September 1998 and charged with 26 counts of violating US federal laws. Twenty-four of those charges, being relatively minor and technical offences, alleged the use of false names and failure to register as foreign agents. None of the charges claimed they used weapons, engaged in violence or destroyed property.
The Five had come to the US from Cuba following years of violence perpetrated by armed mercenaries from the Cuban exile community in Florida. Cuba suffered significant casualties and property destruction. Cuban protests to the US government and the UN had fallen on deaf ears. Following the demise of the socialist states in the early 90s the violence escalated as Cuba struggled to establish a tourism industry. The anti-Castro groups in Miami responded with a violent campaign to dissuade foreigners from visiting. A bomb was found in the new airport terminal in Havana, tourist buses were bombed, as were hotels (an Italian tourist was killed). Boats from Miami travelled to Cuba and shelled hotels and tourist facilities from offshore.
The mission of the Five was not to harm the national security of the US, but rather to monitor the terrorist activities of these violent groups and report back to Cuba. They were never armed, never sought to obtain security clearances, did not seek or obtain a single page of classified information, inflicted no injuries and did no property damage. Yet, three are serving life sentences in US prisons and one is doing two life sentences. Two have been sentenced to 19 and 15 years respectively.
The first conspiracy charge alleged that three of the Five had agreed to commit espionage. The government argued at the outset that it need not prove that espionage occurred, merely that there was an agreement to do it at some unspecified time in the future. While the media was quick to refer to the Five as spies, the legal fact - and actual truth - was that this was not a case of spying, but of an alleged agreement to do it. Thus relieved of having to prove actual espionage, the prosecutors set about convincing a Miami jury that these five Cuban men, living in their midst, must have had such an agreement.
The second conspiracy charge alleged that one of the Five, Gerardo Hernandez, conspired with others, non-indicted Cuban officials, to shoot down two aircraft flown by Cuban exiles from Miami as they entered, or were about to enter, Cuban airspace. They were intercepted by Cuban migs, killing all four aboard. Hernandez, who had successfully overseen the infiltration of the group that sent the aircraft, was not charged with tipping off the Cubans about the planned flight, its route or mission, but rather with being part of a conspiracy to shoot down the aircraft because he was warned beforehand not to let his comrades fly on those days. While the government attorneys argued to the court of appeals that the trial judge's proposed instruction on that charge made conviction virtually impossible, the Miami jury, having received that instruction, nonetheless quickly convicted Gerardo.
Miami, with its decades old political and social culture that eschewed anything associated with the communist government of Cuba, was the one place in the US where they couldn't receive a fair trial. As Lisandro Perez, the leading authority on the Cuban exile community in Miami, later said in an affidavit that was submitted to the appeals court, their chances of finding a fair-minded jury in that venue was "virtually zero".
Over 200 support committees for the Cuban Five have been formed throughout the world, including in England and Ireland. No self-respecting government, concerned with issues of justice and fairness, should stand aside while these five brave young men languish in five separate maximum security prisons spread across the US. They were not prosecuted because they violated US law, but because they exposed and prevented those who were violating international norms as well as US law. By infiltrating a terror network that's allowed to exist in the US they not only exposed the perpetrators but the hypocrisy of the US's opposition to terrorism.