The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 73/No. 49      December 21, 2009

Cuban 5 win 2 more
reduced sentences
(front page)
MIAMI, December 8—Ramón Labañino walked into a Southern District of Florida courtroom here today throwing a broad smile and thumbs-up sign to more than 40 supporters who were present, and blowing a kiss to his wife Elizabeth Palmeiro, who was seated in the front row. Both Labañino and fellow defendant Fernando González entered and exited their respective court appearances today with similar dignity and gestures, exuding confidence that despite their more than 11 years in U.S. federal prisons, the campaign to win their freedom is gaining strength worldwide.

Together with Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero, and René González, Labañino and Fernando González are known throughout the world as the Cuban Five. Since their arrest in September 1998 they have been unjustly held in U.S. prisons on a variety of trumped-up charges of which they were convicted in June 2001. These include both acting as an unregistered foreign agent and conspiracy to do so, the use of fraudulent identities and documentation, conspiracy to commit espionage, and conspiracy to commit murder.

In June 2008 a federal appeals court vacated the sentences for three of the five—Guerrero, Labañino, and Fernando González—ruling the sentences were inconsistent with the court record. The appeals court ordered that each of the three be resentenced.

In the case of Guerrero and Labañino, the court ruling noted they had been convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage, but “the district court did not find that top secret information was gathered or transmitted.” The life sentences they were given in December 2001 by Federal District Judge Joan Lenard were therefore inconsistent with federal sentencing guidelines.

In the case of Fernando González, the Court of Appeals ruled that there was no finding that he “asserted control or influence” over any other participant in “the crime.” For that reason the sentence of 19 years was excessive. Their cases were sent back to Lenard for resentencing.

Labañino, who had been serving a life sentence plus 18 years (with no possibility of parole), left the courtroom today with his sentence reduced to 30 years. González’s sentence of 19 years was reduced to 17 years and 9 months. On October 13 Antonio Guerrero’s sentence of life plus 10 years had been reduced to 21 years and 10 months.

The Court of Appeals refused to vacate the draconian double life plus 15 years sentence given Gerardo Hernández, or the 15-year sentence given to René González. One of Hernández’s life sentences was imposed on the same erroneous grounds as Guerrero and Labañino’s life sentences. The appeals court, however, ruled that “Hernández need not be resentenced because the errors … are harmless.” Hernández was also sentenced to life imprisonment on a trumped-up murder-conspiracy conviction related to the shooting down of two airplanes violating Cuban airspace in February 1996. The appeals court ruled that “any error in the calculation of Hernández’s concurrent sentence for conspiracy to gather and transmit national-defense information is ‘irrelevant to the time he will serve in prison.’”

The reduction of Labañino’s sentence to 30 years—the minimum within the advisory federal sentencing guidelines—was recommended by attorneys for the U.S. government and by defense attorney William Norris. The recommendation was accepted by Lenard at the conclusion of a brief hearing.

In the case of González there was no recommendation from attorneys for the two sides, and Caroline Heck Miller, assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, introduced a lengthy summary of testimony and documents presented in the 2001 trial. She attempted to rationalize the government’s position that the seriousness of the threat to U.S. national security represented by González’s action merited the longest sentence possible. She was answered by defense attorney Joaquín Méndez.

The five Cuban defendants, as they have reiterated over and over again in the course of their fight for freedom, were in the United States at the request of the Cuban government to monitor the activities of ultraright Cuban-American organizations in Florida and to provide advance warning to the Cuban government of violent attacks planned on Cuban targets. Prosecutor Miller, however, described them as agents of a foreign government carrying out “acts of vigilantism on U.S. soil.” She called for the harshest possible sentence to be given to González as a “deterrent” against “all foreign agents.”

Miller said the conduct of the Cuban Five is “celebrated by a foreign government, providing a powerful incentive to others” to engage in similar activity within the United States. She said that needed to be met with “a powerful disincentive.” She was referring to the fact that in Cuba the five are national heroes whose names and faces are seen everywhere, and that a growing, worldwide campaign for their freedom continues to gain momentum.

During the resentencing hearing for Guerrero two months earlier, Miller had acknowledged the heat the U.S. government feels as a result of the broad international support that has been won for the five. In response to the judge’s questions, Miller told the court that the government hoped the reduced sentences would calm the “contentiousness” and “noise” swirling around the case.

As Judge Lenard imposed a barely reduced sentence on Fernando González, she echoed the arguments advanced by the U.S. government attorney referring to acts of “vigilantism by a foreign government.” Lenard said that “foreign governments have to know that such activities will not be tolerated” in the United States. She called attention to the recent “tragedy at Fort Hood” and said that “protection of the constitutional rights of citizens and safety of U.S. military installations and personnel” was fundamental to the national security interests of the country.

As a statement by Antonio Guerrero, Ramón Labañino, and Fernando González released to the press immediately after today’s hearings makes clear (see accompanying article), the reduced sentences that have now been won for three of the defendants place all in a stronger position to step up the fight for the freedom of the five.
Related articles:
‘Mobilize workers to support Cuban Five’
Cuban Five: ‘We will continue until victory’
N.Y. pickets: ‘Free Cuban Five now!’
Continue fight to free Cuban 5!  
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