CSC lobbies US London Embassy on behalf of the Miami Five

Campaign News | Sunday, 29 October 2006

Delegation is one of few to talk directly to US officials about the case

A delegation from the Cuba Solidarity Campaign has been to the US Embassy in London to lobby directly on the case of the Miami Five.

Following weeks of letters and phonecalls to arrange the meeting, the delegation finally went to the Grosvenor Square building on Wednesday 18 October, to mark the end of the international month of action for the Miami Five: five Cubans imprisoned in the US for fighting terrorism.

The group was led by Father Geoff Bottoms, Chair of CSC’s Committee to Free the Five, together with Natasha Hickman, CSC Campaigns Manager, Steve Cottingham, trade union lawyer and Joni McDougall, International Solidarity Officer of the GMB trade union.

It is believed that the UK campaign is one of the few to have met with Embassy officials within their own country.

After passing through the Embassy’s tight security checks, the delegation was met by Richard Mills, Counselor for Political Affairs, and Mary Traland, the US Department of Justice representative.

Richard Mills, who led the meeting on behalf of the US Embassy, had in previous correspondence and phonecalls admitted to very little knowledge about the case. However, he came well briefed and prepared to answer questions.

CSC presented the Embassy with; a copy of the February 2006 Open letter to the US Attorney General signed by 111 MPS, 15 General Secretaries, Nobel prize winner Harold Pinter together with 10,000 members of the public; a copy of the letter from Amnesty International calling for visiting rights for the families of the five; and background information on the Five including CSC leaflets, newspaper articles and a copy of ‘Mission Against Terror’ the DVD about the Five.

During the hour long meeting many aspects of the case were raised and discussed. These included, visiting rights of the families, the prejudicial climate of the Miami trial and the legal precedent for moving the trial to a neutral state, the contradiction between the treatment of the five and that of Luis Posada Carriles, who is protected from extradition from the US despite his involvement in bombing Cuban airliner. The legal aspects of the case were discussed in detail from the accusation of prosecutional misconduct, bullying and intimidation of the jury, to the current status of the case, future appeals and likelihood of a Supreme Court hearing if the next stage of the appeal was unsuccessful.

CSC stated the case of the Five very strongly and made it clear that there is widespread belief within the UK that the case is politically motivated.

Unsurprisingly, the US Embassy representatives argued the opposite. It was their belief that the US judiciary had acted correctly, that the case and subsequent appeals had been fair and that the separation of judicial, executive and legislative power in the US meant that political motivation had played no part. However, on further discussion they were prepared to concede that the conduct of the prosecution may have been improper and that there may be a case for appeal on this question.

Many of the responses were not unexpected, however the meeting was cordial and productive, and the CSC delegation left knowing that the case of the Five had been put to US representatives who had previously had no knowledge about the case and that their arguments had been listened to and taken seriously.

Richard Mills and Mary Traland also gave assurances that the Embassy would look into some of the questions raised and provide written answers. An apology was given on behalf of the Justice Department that the Open Letter on the case of the Five which CSC had sent to the US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in February 2006 had never received a response. Mary Traland gave assurances that the Attorney General would be made aware of this when he next visited the UK. The Embassy also promised to look into whether a response had ever been made to the Amnesty International letter on visiting rights for the families, and an offer was made to try to contact the prosecution for information on the status and expected progress of the trial.

In order to answer the delegation’s questions, the US Embassy had to contact representatives in the US. This once again drew attention both within the UK and the US to the fact that the cause of the Five is international and that campaigners will continue asking questions and fighting for justice for the five until they are returned home to Cuba and their families.

Massive march in Madrid to support Miami Five

Madrid, October 21.- A massive march took place today throughout the main streets of Madrid calling for the immediate release of the five Cuban anti-terrorist fighters, currently imprisoned in the United Status, according to PL.

Organized by the Freedom for the Five State Committee and other Cuba solidarity organizations in Spain, over five thousand people took part representing almost every one of the 17 autonomous communities throughout the country.

The packed demonstration left from the central square in Tirso de Molina in the old quarter of the city and ended in Paseo de Recoleto after passing down the wide Atocha avenue and other adjacent streets.

Hundreds of Cuban flags, placards and photos of Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, René González y Fernando González, the five heroes kidnapped in the United States, were the prevalent features of the numerous contingents that made up the march.

Gerardo’s wife, Adriana Pérez O?Connor, had the opportunity to witness this massive expression of affection by the Spanish people for the Five, given that the march coincided with her invitation to a cultural evening in Leganés to pay tribute to these individuals.

It is expected that she will give a speech during the event, and the Spanish press has dedicated significant coverage to her visit, including publishing interviews. Besides this, she appeared before Congress where she spoke with legislators.

Today’s march formed part of the international activities being carried out in Europe and throughout the world in support of the five anti-terrorist fighters.

Leaders from diverse political parties, social organizations and Cuba solidarity groups led the contingents, including Francisco Frutos and Felipez Alcaraz, the leaders of the Communist Party of Spain.

Also present were Willy Meyer, European MP and head of International Relations for the European Left group, Carmelo Suárez, general secretary of the Communist Party of the People’s of Spain and José Antonio Barroso, the mayor of Puerto Real.

The demonstration ended with the reading of a statement clarifying that the thousands of people representing the peninsula and islands were there to demand that the US government immediately release Gerardo, Ramón, Antonio, René y Fernando.

Miami Five: Another Injustice

By Wayne Smith*

On Sept. 23, some 700 people marched on the White House, demanding freedom for the so-called "Cuban Five," and over the past few weeks, meetings have been held around the country with the same demand.

This seems to puzzle, and perhaps irritate, many Americans. As a neighbor of mine put it: "They were sent up to spy on our government, weren't they? And weren't they convicted of espionage? So how can anyone say they didn't get what they deserved?"

But the answer is: No, they were not sent up to spy on our government. Rather, they were sent up in the early '90s to penetrate, and provide information on, Cuban exile organizations suspected of terrorist activities against Cuba, organizations such as Brothers to the Rescue, Alpha 66, Omega 7 and others.

And no, they were not convicted of espionage. They were not even charged with espionage. The activities of the Five had to do with obtaining information on the activities or plans of private, non-governmental groups, which is not a crime.

And so, to have something to charge them with, the federal government turned to "conspiracy to commit espionage." In other words, it alleged, they had agreed among themselves that at some unspecified future time, they would spy on the U.S. government.

However, there was not a shred of evidence to back that up, nothing to indicate that was what they intended. But not to mind. The lack of evidence bothered the jury not at all.

Another common misconception is that whatever the Five were doing here, it must have been intended to do harm to the U.S.

But again, no, the intent was not to do any harm to the United States; rather, it was to gather information on the illegal activities of these exile organizations and then, since Cuba could not act on it, to provide that information to U.S. authorities. And this was done.

In the summer of 1998, the Cuban government invited representatives of the FBI to Cuba, where they were handed a memorandum documenting terrorist activities on the part of a number of Miami organizations and urged to take action against these violations of U.S. law.

But the FBI took no action at all against any exile organization. Rather, in the fall of 1998, it arrested the Cuban Five on charges of conspiracy to commit espionage -- almost certainly because it suspected them of having provided the information in the memorandum. In short, the FBI moved not against the terrorists, but against their accusers!

The Five -- Gerardo Hernandez, Rene Gonzalez, Ramon Labanino Salazar, Antonio Guerrero and Fernando Gonzalez -- were put on trial in November 2000, convicted on June 8, 2001, and given sentences ranging from 15 years to two consecutive life terms.

Were the Five altogether guiltless? No. They were, admittedly, the unregistered agents of a foreign government, a transgression that might at most have resulted in a few years jail time -- or less, given that they had provided to the U.S. information that could have been crucial, had the U.S. chosen to use it.

By all rights, they should have long since been released. Rather than that, they have now been in prison under difficult conditions for over eight years, and facing a lifetime more.

Perhaps the most unjust case of all is that of Hernandez, who had penetrated the Brothers to the Rescue organization and was charged with conspiring with members of the Cuban military to murder four members of that organization whose two planes were shot down in or near Cuban airspace in 1996. But the charge is utterly absurd.

Brothers to the Rescue had long been overflying Cuban territory. In January 1996, the Cuban government issued a public warning that if they came in again, they would be shot down. A diplomatic note was sent to the U.S. government, again demanding that it take measures to halt such flights. It did not. On Feb. 24, three Brothers to the Rescue aircraft, heading for Cuba, were warned by the Havana tower to turn back. They did not. Two planes were shot down, resulting in four deaths.

An overreaction on Cuba's part, yes, with tragic consequences, but Hernandez had nothing to do with it. Indeed, that a jury could find them guilty of so phony a charge I would take as proof that these men could not possibly receive a fair trial in Miami.

Three judges of the Eleventh Circuit Court in Atlanta seemed to think so: In August 2005, they revoked the sentences and ordered a new trial in a location other than Miami.

But, in August 2006, after apparently having been prodded by higher authorities, the entire Eleventh Court rejected the three judges' decision reversing the sentences, denied a new trial and ordered the case to be sent back to the panel for its consideration of remaining aspects. We will see what comes of that.

Meanwhile, a grave injustice has been done to the Five and the credibility of the U.S. system of justice has been tarnished. This is a wrong that must be corrected. Our honor demands it.

* Wayne S. Smith is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy in Washington, D.C. and an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He is the former chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana (1979-82).

Wayne is an invited speaker to the Latin America 2006 conference to take place in London on 2nd December.

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