APPEALING FOR JUSTICE FOR MIAMI FIVE
Campaign News | Wednesday, 21 January 2004
APPEALING FOR JUSTICE - ARTICLE ON THE MIAMI FIVE APPEAL FROM GEOFF BOTTOMS
A full-page advertisement is to be placed in the New York Times by the US Free the Five Committee in February to try and break the media’s wall of silence on the case of five Cubans whose only crime was to defend their country from terrorism. It is sponsored by celebrities such as Danny Glover, Noam Chomsky, Harry Belafonte, Ramsey Clark and Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu together with the financial help of solidarity organisations throughout the world.
For more than 44 years Cuba has suffered from bombings and sabotage carried out by terrorist organisations in Miami such as Alpha 66, Omega 7 and Commandos F4 who have been funded and armed by the CIA in the US government’s attempts to destabilise Cuba. As a result more than 3,400 Cubans have lost their lives and a further 2,000 have been injured.
Yet instead of prosecuting these real terrorists, whose activities were monitored by the five men sent by the Cuban government to prevent such attacks, the FBI failed to act on the intelligence shared by Havana and arrested Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labanino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando Gonzalez and Rene Gonzalez. The date was 12th September 1998 after undue pressure had been placed on Attorney General Janet Reno by Hector Pasquera, the FBI Chief in Miami.
They were then falsely charged, kept in solitary confinement illegally for 17 months, tried in Miami where they could not expect to receive a fair hearing, and convicted on 8th June 2001 of conspiracy to commit espionage - and in Gerardo’s case murder - as well as other related crimes. All five are presently serving terms ranging from double life to fifteen years in prisons scattered across the United States.
The case of the Miami Five is now before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals which meets in the Miami District Court on 10th March to hear the oral arguments following the filing of briefs by both the defence and the prosecution that run into hundreds of pages. On this unfortunate anniversary of Batista’s coup d’etat in 1952 the defence lawyers have just 15 minutes to make their case which works out at 3 minutes per lawyer although a motion has been filed requesting additional time.
The three-judge panel from the 11th Circuit who will decide the case on the basis of both written and oral arguments is to be announced on 24th February and will be chosen from a panel of 14 – 16 judges. A decision is expected within 30 – 90 days and if unfavourable to the Five can be referred to the remaining judges of the appellate court and ultimately the Supreme Court.
There are many points of appeal in the briefs. Interestingly enough the prosecutors have not spent one sentence defending the city of Miami and the exile community when responding to the defence’s claim that Miami is an impossible place for justice in respect of Cubans wishing to defend their country. Venue of course is a major point in the defence’s argument.
The attorneys of the Miami Five also argue that evidence is inadequate on the counts of conspiracy to commit espionage and even murder. The murder conspiracy charge in the case of Gerardo and the shooting down of two planes belonging to Brothers to the Rescue on 24th February 1996 sets a dangerous precedent as the act of a sovereign country in defending its territory has never resulted before in a prosecution. Other issues concern excessive sentencing, inadequate preparation of a proper defence, the mistreatment of the defendants and the misconduct of the prosecutors particularly in their final argument.
Finally there is the issue of necessity defence, when after seeing the evidence of 31 documents on the violence perpetrated against Cuba, the court refused to allow evidence of terrorist attacks on the island not only during the past 44 years but even during the limited period from 1992 onwards.
Together with the appeal, a motion for a new trial filed by defence lawyer Leonard Weinglass on 13th November 2002 will be heard, which is important because it both expands the court record and strengthens the main argument about venue. Judge Lenard who presided over the original trial rejected this motion when it was first filed in the Miami federal district court. Consequently, it has taken since last May to reach this point in what looks to be a long haul for justice but as Paul McKenna, Gerardo’s attorney, said in an interview with Radio Havana recently, "It’s like the ninth inning in Baseball. We are at the final inning of this long game".
Besides the legal efforts a positive and successful outcome for the Miami Five rests on international solidarity. In the UK 112 MPs signed Early Day Motion Number 176 demanding a retrial for the Five before it was withdrawn at the beginning of the new parliamentary session and a petition of 10,000 signatures has been presented to the US Embassy and the Foreign Office.
Amnesty International has taken up the case of the solitary confinement of the Five and the visiting rights of the families. Plus countless letters have been written to the men in prison – two of whom have also been visited - and to the relevant US authorities. Recently the Cuba Solidarity Campaign sent £3000 towards the advertisement in the New York Times and will be represented at the appeal hearing on 10th March.
The year 2004 will be critical in the light of recent noises coming out of Washington. Following the announcement by the US State Department that migratory talks were to be suspended Roger Noriega, US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, criticised Cuba for "supporting destabilising elements within several democratic countries in Latin America". As a close friend of the Miami Mafia and prime mover of the Helms-Burton Act penalising investors in Cuba this is hardly unexpected. Yet it signals a growing offensive against Cuba in the run-up to the presidential elections in November when George W. Bush will once again need the help of his increasingly desperate and belligerent friends in Florida.
Already Cuba is falsely accused yet again of developing biological and chemical weapons and Cuban consular officials are obstructed in the course of their duties as well as in their right to offer consular assistance to Cuban citizens such as the Five. Also Olga Salanueva and Adriana Perez, wives of Rene Gonzalez and Gerardo Hernandez respectively, have been told that in future their visa applications must be made personally rather than through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Accused of being "a threat to US national security" both women are seen as engaging in an active political campaign against the US government as opposed to seeking a humanitarian visit to their husbands and therefore have been denied a visa three times.
The Miami Five and their families know that this is not the best time for a propitious hearing of their appeal yet they remain committed to the truth and the belief that justice will prevail. More than that they take heart from the fact that solidarity is growing in strength despite the conspiracy to hide the facts. With the US seeking any pretext to justify further aggression against Cuba in its continuing so-called "War on terror" it is more vital than ever that these men are vindicated and returned home to their families. For they are the true fighters against a terrorism that is directed towards all those seeking a more just, equitable and peaceful world.
Geoff Bottoms is Chair of the CSC Miami Five Campaign Group. For more information contact CSC, c/o The Red Rose, 129 Seven Sisters Road, London N7 7QG. Tel: 0207 263 6452. E-mail: email@example.com or visit us at www.cuba-solidarity.org.uk