Amnesty highlights plight of Miami Five

Campaign News | Monday, 7 June 2004

Three years on, family visits still denied to two of the "Miami Five"

USA: Three years on, family visits still denied to two of the "Miami Five"

Feature, form Amnesty International website 07/06/2004

Three years ago, five Cuban men were convicted in Miami on charges of spying on behalf of Cuba. Amnesty International has written to the US authorities on several occasions to express concern at the treatment received by the men and the difficulties faced by their families in gaining access to them.

The so-called "Miami Five" were convicted in June 2001 in Miami, following a seven-month federal espionage trial, on charges relating to conspiracy to commit offences against the USA, and in the case of one, conspiracy to commit murder. Cuban nationals Gerardo Hernández Nordelo, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González and René González are serving terms from 15 years to life imprisonment in maximum-security federal prisons across the country.

On March 10, 2004, the appeals attorneys for the case presented their arguments to the three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit in Miami. One of the central issues raised by the lawyers was the failure of the district court to change the venue of the trial from Miami, despite repeated requests by the defence at the time.

The attorneys argued that the pervasive hostility within Miami towards the Cuban government and those associated with it, combined with the extensive media coverage generated by the case, was inimical to ensuring a fair trial for the men. The decision of the court is still pending.

Amnesty International has raised concerns with the US Government about the conditions in which the five men have been held. In March 2003, the organisation wrote to the government to express concern that the five had been placed in solitary confinement in their respective prisons, reportedly on a directive from the Bureau of Prisons.

The organization was alarmed that these Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) imposed on the men restricted telephone calls and visits, including attorney visits, despite the fact that appeal proceedings were pending in their criminal case.

In response to AI's concerns, Director Lewis, US Department of Justice, informed the organisation that the SAMs had been lifted and that the men had been returned to general population. Furthermore, Director Lewis stated that "concerns with regard to attorney-client communication led the US... to issue a temporary modification of the SAM to restore the flow of attorney-client legal communication, and of legal mail."

In December 2002, AI raised concern with the Attorney General that the five prisoners had reportedly been denied visits from their families in Cuba. After a wait of almost six-months, visas were granted to three of the wives, however, for the remaining two, access to their husbands is still being denied.

René Gonzalez's wife, Olga Salanueva, applied for and was granted a visa to visit in March 2002 with their four-year-old daughter, but this was later revoked. The last time she saw her husband was on the eve of his trial in November 2000.

Gerardo Hernández Nordelo's wife, Adriana Perez, had obtained a visa, but was detained and interrogated by the FBI upon arrival in the US before being expelled from the country. Citing security concerns, the US government continues to refuse to reissue these visas.

AI has urged that these restrictions be urgently reviewed, drawing the government's attention to international standards that stress the importance of the family and the right of all prisoners to maintain contact with their families and to receive visits. In the case of prisoners whose families reside outside of the US, indefinite or even permanent denial of visits from the prisoner's immediate family is perceived as a severe deprivation to the individual.

Amnesty International has urged the government to consider granting temporary visas to the two women for visitation purposes, without prejudice to appropriate security measures, if there is no reasonable and conclusive evidence for continuing to withhold them.

Amnesty International continues to review the case in consideration of the fairness of the criminal proceedings leading to the convictions of the five men.

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