Miami 5 prisoner speaks to CSC

Campaign News | Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Father Geoff Bottoms reports on prison visit and meeting with one of the Five Cuban heroes

Fernando Gonzalez is one of the Miami Five. He is presently serving nineteen years for conspiracy, false identity, and failure to disclose himself as a foreign agent following a flawed trial in Miami where the prejudicial climate meant an unfair hearing. Together with Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labanino, Antonio Guerrero and Rene Gonzalez, he was defending his people against terrorist acts originating in Miami by infiltrating terrorist groups there and feeding intelligence back to Havana. This was shared with the FBI. The case is currently on appeal.

Between 16-17 May, CSC's Fr Geoff Bottoms visited Fernando Gonzalez in FCI Terre Haute, Indiana where he was transferred last year. This is the first time that he has met Fernando as permission to visit was not granted for the previous prison in Oxford, Wisconsin.

Fernando looks much younger than his forty-four years. He is slim, fit, alert and in excellent spirits. Despite having spent ten years of his sentence, with at least six and a half years ahead of him, he is positive, optimistic and self-confident. He is serious, deep-thinking, and widely read with a warm and relaxed attitude that comes from his profound love of humanity and total commitment to his people and the Cuban Revolution of which he is justly proud. While enjoying debate and discussion on issues ranging from consumerism and the role of the media to global capitalism and the nature of twenty-first socialism Fernando is humbled by the solidarity he has received from his own people and the international movement. In particular he wishes to thank all those in Britain who give so sacrificially of their time while struggling with their own problems yet have managed to achieve so much in the campaign to win the freedom of the Five. He is so sorry that he can’t answer every letter he receives but that comes as no surprise when you consider the size of his post-bag with most of the mail originating in Britain.

FCI Terre Haute is a medium-security prison that used to be a US penitentiary up to a few years ago. It was built in 1934 and is cramped and noisy with 1200 inmates yet the regime is more relaxed than Fernando’s previous prison enabling him to read, write and work out with a daily running schedule that obviously contributes to his fitness. Although he could earn more by working an eight-hour day in the dining room he chooses to clean and tidy the TV and hobby-crafts room for an hour a day that only pays $5.25 per month. He gets up at 5.30am and retires at 9.15pm yet his cell-mate sees little of him as he fills his time creatively while keeping himself to himself as a way to survive in an otherwise volatile climate. The one thing he really appreciates is his weekly delivery of the Morning Star which he finds highly informative and stimulating.

As part of the cost-cutting measures in the present economic climate the quality of the food in prison has declined while only three sets of t-shirts, underwear and socks are issued instead of the previous five. Whereas pens, pencils, writing pads and envelopes used to be free the prisoners now have to buy them from the prison shop at inflated prices. There is even talk in the US Congress of increasing the use of parole and deporting foreign prisoners early as part of the exercise. As Fernando points out, most of the inmates are serving time for drug-related offences where prison is not the answer, so costs could be cut by providing more effective remedial treatment.

Meanwhile Fernando wonders what it will be like adapting to civilian life following his release. With only 300 minutes a month to phone home at 99 cents per minute he misses his family and especially his wife Rosa Aurora whom he only sees once or maybe twice a year as US visas take their time coming. Apart from his mother and wife, lawyers and diplomats he has few visits yet he enjoys good relations with the other prisoners and the prison guards that makes life more bearable. Of course visits can be cut short at a moment’s notice because of an incident on the unit and all inmates are strip-searched before and after every visit.

When it comes to the latest stage of the appeal Fernando is hoping for a new trial on the counts of conspiracy to commit espionage and murder although the latter count could be thrown out. While this would mainly benefit Gerardo, Ramon and Antonio who are serving life it would hopefully lead to the re-sentencing or release of all Five who stand together in the fight for justice. Because of the political nature of the case Fernando does not expect a decision until after the US presidential elections where the desired election of Barack Obama would create new possibilities following his declared intention to enter into dialogue with Cuba. Whatever the outcome Fernando Gonzalez knows that victory is ultimately assured thanks to the international solidarity that is continually growing and especially in Britain.

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