Below is the introduction to the most recently updated version of The Cuban Five: Who they are, Why they were framed, Why they should be free available from Pathfinder Press. Martín Koppel is the author of the first part of the booklet. Mary-Alice Waters is a member of the National Committee of the Socialist Workers Party and president of Pathfinder. Copyright © 2012 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.
The Cuban Five: Who they are, Why they were framed, Why they should be free is a selection from dozens of news articles and other features in the Militant newspaper over more than thirteen years on the frame-up trial and fight to free Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González, and René González. The five Cubans living in southern Florida were arrested and imprisoned by the US government in 1998, during the Clinton administration.
Framed on charges that included conspiracy to commit espionage and, in the case of Gerardo Hernández, conspiracy to commit murder, the five—who proudly acknowledged they were working for the Cuban government—were convicted in federal court in Miami and given draconian sentences. On September 12, 2011, they began their fourteenth year behind bars in US federal prisons.
What were their alleged criminal activities? Monitoring plans for action by counterrevolutionary Cuban American groups with a fifty-year record of deadly attacks on Cubans as well as other supporters of the Cuban Revolution—on the island, in the United States, and elsewhere. These organizations operate from US territory with Washington’s complicity, as they’ve done ever since the victory of the revolution in January 1959.
Three of the Cuban Five, as they became known around the world, were given life sentences with no possibility of parole. Hernández received a double life term plus fifteen years. The US government has refused to allow Adriana Pérez and Olga Salanueva—the wives of Hernández and René González—to enter the United States to visit them. Olga and René have not seen each other in more than eleven years, Gerardo and Adriana in more than thirteen.
In August 2005 a three-judge panel of the US Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta ruled that the defendants had been “unable to obtain a fair and impartial trial.” The judges pointed to “pervasive community prejudice,” “the government’s use of inflammatory statements during closing arguments,” and the “perfect storm” created by negative pretrial publicity. The court of appeals overturned the convictions and sentences of all five and ordered a new trial.
The US government demanded a review of that 2005 decision by the full appeals court. One year later the Eleventh Circuit, with two of twelve justices dissenting, reversed the ruling of the three-judge panel and upheld the convictions.
In June 2008, after further briefs and hearings, the appeals court ruled that the penalties handed three of the five exceeded federal sentencing guidelines. More than a year later, at the end of 2009, Labañino’s life sentence was reduced to thirty years and that of Guerrero to twenty-one years and ten months. Fernando González’s nineteen-year sentence was reduced slightly, to seventeen years and nine months.
In June 2009, in accord with the position argued by the Obama administration, the US Supreme Court declined, without comment, to review the case.
On October 7, 2011, René González, having served his prison term, was transferred to the jurisdiction of the federal probation office. Forced to remain in the United States and under US government custody for another three years of “supervised release,” he is fighting to be allowed to return to Cuba.
With all regular appeal procedures now closed to the defendants, the four who remain behind bars have each filed habeas corpus motions before the federal court in Miami, asking for a hearing to present new evidence that has come to light since they were convicted in 2001.
The fight waged by the five for their freedom, together with their unbending courage and dignity, have gained them broad and ever-growing support worldwide. Among those who have demanded freedom for the Five—and condemned the violations of constitutional rights in their arrests and trial, and the conditions under which they are held in US federal prisons—are numerous US and international legal associations, the Mexican Senate and other groups of parliamentarians across Europe and Latin America, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, trade unions, women’s organizations, Cuban Five solidarity organizations, and student groups.
Ten Nobel Prize winners and numerous prominent US artists and writers have added their voices to the campaign to free the Five, as has former US President James Carter. The Supreme Court appeal included an unprecedented twelve friend-of-the court briefs from legal scholars and associations around the world.
The Militant has written about and helped mobilize support for the fight to free the Cuban Five from the beginning. As the articles in this collection detail, the investigation, arrests, trial, conviction, and subsequent treatment behind bars of the Cuban Five involve multiple violations of the first ten amendments of the US Constitution, the Bill of Rights—won and defended in struggle by the toilers over more than two centuries. Every aspect of the frame-up is and remains an assault on the rights of all working people in the United States. And the conditions the Five have been subjected to are familiar to some two million others behind bars in the United States—and to their families.
At the same time, the Cuban Five are also the targets of Washington’s determination to punish the people of Cuba for making and successfully defending their socialist revolution for more than half a century. As exemplary products and combatants of that revolution, the Cuban Five are being held hostage to the demands of the propertied rulers of the United States that the Cuban people renounce their sovereignty and independence and submit once again to the dictates—and oppression—of US capital.
The first part of this collection is a series of articles by Martín Koppel published in the Militant in 2008 and 2009, outlining basic facts about the case and the trial.
Part II contains articles on more recent developments: an article by Sam Manuel on the 2008 court decision vacating the sentences against Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González, and Ramón Labañino; an article by Seth Galinsky on the Supreme Court’s 2009 refusal to review the case; and two news reports by Mary-Alice Waters and Ernest Mailhot on the 2009 resentencing hearings for the three. The latest articles, by Michel Poitras, report on the fight to permit René González to return to Cuba following his release from prison, and on the habeas corpus petitions currently before US federal courts.
Articles have been edited to minimize repetition, as well as to update ages and years of imprisonment and make factual corrections.
The final part of the collection consists of three features published in the Militant giving readers a glimpse of the character and history of the Cuban Five—the kind of internationalist fighters they are. These include an interview with René González on his participation in Cuba’s sixteen-year mission aiding the people of Angola to defeat repeated military interventions by the army of white supremacist South Africa; a tribute to Gerardo Hernández by a Cuban internationalist who served in the reconnaissance unit led by Hernández in Angola; and an article by Antonio Guerrero on how he taught himself to draw and paint in prison.
The selection will continue to be amended and expanded until the fight to win freedom for each and every one of the Five is won.