March 11: Latest from the Miami Five Appeal

Campaign News | Thursday, 11 March 2004

Federal Attorney against the wall

The judges’ questions in the Miami appeal hearing for the five Cuban heroes points to a more objective procedure highlighting doubts over the charges reports JEAN-GUY ALLARD of Granma International

MIAMI March 11 -Assistant U.S. Attorney Christine Heck-Miller found herself in an embarrassing position when faced with various questions by the three judges from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals during the hearing of the case of the five Cubans imprisoned in the United States.

She was clearly not expecting some of them, at least not in the way that they were formulated:

"Where is the reference that he (Gerardo Hernández) was going to know that it would be a murderous shoot-down as opposed to one justified by [Cuban] sovereignty," Judge Birch asked her, in relation to Gerardo’s alleged participation in the Cessna incident on February 24, 1996.

Concealing her nervousness with difficulty, Heck-Miller tried to give explanations that used up more than a few of the scant minutes at her disposal.

"If the charge of murder is withdrawn, what charges remain against Hernández," Judge Birch asked later, which made observers think that he was inclined to doubt the validity of the famous charge 3 that gave this Cuban patriot the most disproportionate of all the sentences handed down to the Five.

In a somewhat dislocated plea, Heck-Miller went so far as to insinuate that the downing of the light aircraft was a Cuban strategy to launch a propaganda campaign against the United States. An apt reflection of the Miami atmosphere that shocked more than one person on the public benches.

Previously, the same judge had suddenly asked the federal attorney, at that time marshalling an argument somewhat unrelated to the issue being discussed:

"And what is the link of all this with ‘murder’?"

A similar situation arose when the same U.S. government representative tried to reply to Leonard Weinglass, Antonio’s lawyer, who presented the defense arguments on the change-of-venue issue, based on jurisprudence.

The attorney emphasized the extent to which the denial of a change of venue by Judge Lenard was inexplicable, and how that refusal was later contradicted by the DA’s Office itself in the case of Ramírez, an Immigration Service official in Miami who brought a suit against the government claiming that he had been discriminated against for being Cuban.

In that case the DA’s Office asked for a change of venue due to the fact that a Cuban should not face trial in Miami because the environment was not a favorable one.

Attempting somewhat desperately to defend her position, the assistant attorney made various references to the case of Elian González and the press "sensationalism" taken advantage of by Ramírez, thus giving the reason to the Five’s defense lawyers, who proposed that the trial should be heard in another city precisely because there could be no impartiality in an anti-Castro hotbed like Miami.

One of the defense lawyers, Joaquín Méndez, stressed that the prejudice encountered in Miami during the trial was not only apparent in the jury selection, but also when Capo José Basulto, a man with a terrorist background, publicly described a defense lawyer as a "communist spy," equivalent to a death threat in this city.

On another occasion, he related, unknown individuals appeared in the courtroom with paramilitary-style uniforms.

The issue of conspiracy to commit espionage was barely mentioned in this hearing, which took place before judges Birch, Kravich and Oakes in an immense wood-paneled courtroom and large lamps in the Roman style, where some 50 people occupied six large benches and some chairs.


This time the Miami mafia refrained from the noisy demonstrations they organized during the trial when various jury members were forced to complain of intimidation tactics.

Their presence was reduced to a small "delegation" of half a dozen counterrevolutionary elements, among them individuals who have also been seen in Panama supporting international terrorist Luis Posada Carriles.

However, the presence of suspicious individuals linked to terrorist groups was noticed in the neighboring hotel where representatives of solidarity committees were located as the hearing was underway in the court.

"They didn’t have answers to various questions asked by the Court!" commented Paul McKenna, as he reached the sidewalk where the press was awaiting the defense team. "We are very satisfied. I think the judges will consider this case very carefully, particularly the charges of conspiracy to murder. They asked the government (federal attorneys) a lot of questions. I think we’re on the way to obtaining justice for the Five."

"It would seem that there isn’t enough evidence to sustain charge 3 (conspiracy to murder). And that they are also concerned over the fact that there was no change of venue, when the government itself demanded it in the Ramírez case. They are also concerned at the sentences, given that the life ones were handed down despite there being no threat to national security," he noted.

For his part, leaving the court, Leonard Weinglass stressed that "the accused were not asking for anything more than a minimal change, at no real inconvenience to the government," in their request for a change of venue, and that the DA’s Office tried to take advantage of the very particular political climate in Miami.


Joaquín Menéndez was very satisfied that the judges placed such emphasis on charge 3, the charge for which they have the least evidence to hold up a verdict.

"It looks as if they were also concerned at the harshness of the sentences for espionage," he said while observing that the court’s questions indicate that the judges are well informed from the combined appeal briefs for the case, a particularly complex one.

Evidently, the advertisement published in The New York Times in favor of the Five, and the seven-minute report transmitted five times by the Fox TV network have alerted the attention of the U.S. press, who had remained silent to that point in relation to this case, despite its highly particular characteristics.

The CNN en español network has referred to the trial on various occasions, as well as the AP news agency, while seven television channels were present outside the court and at the subsequent press conference in Miami’s Sheraton Hotel.

However, at the press conference, reporters from the media linked to the Mafia leadership tried unsuccessfully to ‘direct the debate,’ demonstrating in their obdurate attitude exactly why this Florida city should not have been the venue fort an impartial trial on any issue related to Cuba.


The assembled reporters listened attentively to statements from Weinglass and the various international jurists at the press conference.

Dr. Carlos Zamorano from Argentina, who represents the American Jurists Association and the Argentine Human Rights League, highlighted how his country suffered from Cuban-American terrorism through Operation Condor and said that he was hoping for a favorable court decision "to the honor of U.S. justice," in the face of the scourge of terrorism.

"The U.S. Constitution itself is on the side of the five," affirmed Edith Flamand, from the Progressive Lawyers Network of Belgium, while Italian lawyer Fabio Marcelli, from the International Democratic Lawyers Association, called for the independence of justice in the face of constant maneuvers by the U.S. executive power, and denounced the "flagrant contradictions" in prosecution pretensions in relation to the change of venue.

"There is not enough evidence" to sustain the various charges, noted Everhard Schultz from the Human Rights League, also representing the Lawyers Association of Berlin, where defense attorney Weinglass is about to travel, taking the cause of the Cuban anti-terrorists to the German capital.

Ian D. Thompson, speaking on behalf of the U.S. National Lawyers Guild. justified before the press this organization’s strong interest in the cause of the Five after a broad analysis of this flagrant case of injustice.

"Justice will prevail!" proclaimed British priest Geoff Bottoms, leader of the UK Support for the Five Committee, addressing the U.S. public. "Your judicial system has both the capacity and the competence for that," he affirmed.

Gloria La Riva, coordinator of the U.S. Free the Five solidarity committee, used the press conference to mention the existence in the world of hundreds of groups supporting the Five in their battle for justice.

"Now we have broken down the wall of silence, she affirmed with evident satisfaction, after years of struggle to make known the cause of the Cuban patriots.

The night before, a group of jurists supporting the Five met with a large group of Cuban Americans in the hall of the Martí Alliance, an organization linking many Miami groups demanding respect for Cuba’s sovereignty and the normalization of relations between the island and the United States.

In this occasion, journalist Max Lesnik launched an energetic call for an end to Miami terrorism and saluted the great courage of the Five in that struggle.

"What they went to defend is not only Cuba, which is their motherland, our motherland. They also went to defend the United States," Max declared, denouncing the "incomprehensible attitude and arrogance of a myopic political leadership that fails to understand how to get on well with the world."

March 10 demonstrated that an important and concrete step has been made in the cause of the Five. Now come the months of waiting for the verdict of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, which will not be characterized by calm. Many people in solidarity throughout the world will be continuing the incessant battle for truth and justice in defense of the five Cuban patriots and anti-terrorist fighters.

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