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Vol. 76/No. 45      December 10, 2012

Howard University forum
discusses case of Cuban 5
(feature article)
WASHINGTON—Some 150 people, about half of whom were students, turned out Nov. 13 at the Howard University School of Law, a historically African-American university here, for a forum on the case of the Cuban Five.

“Both Democrats and Republicans have been committed to this prosecution. It starts under Clinton and continues under Bush,” said Martin Garbus, an attorney for Gerardo Hernández, one of the five, who is serving two life terms plus 15 years.

Garbus talked about court documents submitted Nov. 16 backing a habeas corpus motion previously filed by Hernández that his sentence be vacated on the basis that the U.S. government “secretly and illegally paid hundreds of journalists to publish propaganda—through writing, speeches, television and radio broadcasts that violated the integrity of the trial and the Constitution of the United States—in an attempt to persuade the jury to wrongly convict” the Cuban Five.

The new motions, Garbus pointed out, will be considered by the same judge who convicted the five and has rejected numerous other arguments on other aspects of the government’s frame-up.

“Tens of millions of dollars were used to pay probably hundreds of journalists,” Garbus said. “We’ve uncovered 70 thus far, who were writing for the Miami Herald and other newspapers, were on television and/or on talk radio.”

The featured speaker was film and television actor Danny Glover, an outspoken supporter of the fight to free the five for nearly a decade.

Glover, who has visited Hernández in prison on several occasions, noted that the case is part of Cuba’s “relentless fight for its own sovereignty and independence.” He compared the 50-year U.S. embargo against Cuba to the 60-year embargo the U.S. government imposed on Haiti more than 200 years ago when the island was liberated from French colonial rule through a massive slave rebellion.

“We have an opportunity to use this moment to really center on this case,” Glover said, raising the view that the re-election of President Barack Obama created favorable conditions to fight for the freedom of the five.

During its first four-year term, the Obama administration opposed every single move to release the five.

“This was a grievous injustice on the change of venue issue alone,” said Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell during the George W. Bush administration. He was referring to the repeated attempts by the defense to move the 2001 trial out of Miami-Dade Country on grounds that the accused could not receive an impartial trial there. The motions were rejected despite widespread publicity surrounding the arrests and trial, and intimidating actions organized by Cuban-American counterrevolutionary forces there.

Lamenting about what he sees as Washington’s waning influence in Latin America, Wilkerson argued the Obama administration should negotiate freedom for the five in exchange for the release of convicted U.S. agent Alan Gross from Cuba in order to burnish the U.S. government’s image in the world.

Gross, a so-called contractor paid some $500,000 through the U.S. State Department, was sentenced in March 2011 to 15 years in prison in Cuba for distributing sophisticated satellite communications equipment to select individuals and groups on the island as part of a clandestine program to undermine the Cuban Revolution and its government.

Kurt Schmoke, former dean of Howard University School of Law and former mayor of Baltimore, said that a trade for Gross was one possible way the U.S. government could resolve the issue, but that “the politics of that are bad.” It would be better, he said, “for President Obama to simply commute the sentence, say time served, and go home.”

Schmoke characterized the frame-up of the Cuban Five as a “violation not only of civil rights, but of human rights,” and urged students to get out the word about the case and fight to free the five among their peers.

Gloria La Riva, coordinator of the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five, spoke about how the five were monitoring U.S.-backed Cuban-American counterrevolutionary “organizations, such as Alpha 66, Omega 7, the armed wing of the Cuban National Foundation, Brothers to the Rescue and many others that have bombed, assassinated and used biological warfare against the people of Cuba to try to destabilize the Cuban Revolution.”

The other panelists included Aderson Francois, an associate professor at Howard University School of Law and director of the school’s Civil Rights Clinic; and Mara Verheyden-Hilliard of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund.

Okianer Christian Dark, the interim dean of the law school, moderated the panel. She closed the meeting by reading a message to the gathering from Antonio Guerrero, one of the Cuban Five:

“Whoever reads the documents of our trial could see … that we never committed nor conspired to commit espionage. … They will see we were absolutely justified to act clandestinely against the counterrevolutionary groups that organized and still organize terrorist acts against Cuba from this country.”
Related articles:
Chicago meeting links Puerto Rican political prisoners’ fight with Cuban 5
Who are the Cuban Five  
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