|International Commission of Inquiry into the Case of the Cuban Five in London presented comprehensive summary of frame-up of Five and international fight for their freedom. From left, Irma González, daughter of René González, one of Five; author Alice Walker; Diana Holland, assistant general secretary of UNITE union; Mirta Rodríguez, mother of Antonio Guerrero, one of Five; and Kenia Serrano, president of Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples.|
Arrested in 1998, Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González and René González, known as the Cuban Five, are Cuban revolutionaries who were jailed in the U.S. on trumped-up charges that ranged from failure to register as foreign agents to conspiracy to gather and transmit national defense information and, in the case of Gerardo Hernández, conspiracy to commit murder. The Five were in fact carrying out a mission from the Cuban government to monitor rightist paramilitary groups based in Florida.
The commission was presided over by Yogesh Sabharwal, former chief justice of India; Zac Yacoob, former justice of the constitutional court of South Africa; and Philippe Texier, former judge of the Supreme Court of Appeals in France.
The first day concentrated on hearing details and accounts about the scale of bombings, assaults and deadly provocations directed against the Cuban Revolution over decades by armed groups based in the U.S. and the Cuban Five’s efforts to prevent further attacks.
Day two focused on the treatment of the Five by the U.S. government, focusing on their arrest, the conduct of the trials, conditions of detention and visiting rights. The conclusions of the commission will be issued shortly.
The format provided an opportunity for the Five and their defenders to present a comprehensive summary of the case and the international fight for their freedom. The strength, dignity and integrity of the men and their families, who remain unbroken despite the best efforts of the U.S. rulers, shone through the entire event. Despite the trappings of a quasi-legal proceeding, the sessions were marked above all by a spirit of solidarity.
Four days before the commission opened, the British government denied René González a visa to enter the country, citing his status as a convicted felon who had been imprisoned for more than four years. Due to speak publicly outside Cuba for the first time since his release from U.S. custody last May, González appeared before the commission via Skype instead.
Lorenzo Gonzalo, deputy director of Radio Miami, who had himself been deeply involved in counterrevolutionary activity in Cuba and Miami for many years, detailed the U.S. government’s training of mercenaries for the failed invasion at the Bay of Pigs and subsequent backing of rightist paramilitary groups. Since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, attacks by these forces have killed 3,478 and left 2,099 permanently disabled. Relatives of three of those killed described the circumstances.
Lt. Col. Roberto Hernández of Cuba’s Ministry of the Interior helped investigate a surge of bombings in Cuban tourist areas in the 1990s, the period the Five were in Miami. He summarized 12 actual and planned attacks, showing photos of defused bombs and the destruction caused by explosions. “This is why we still need men like the Cuban Five to defend our people,” he said.
Gerardo Hernández is serving one life term for conspiracy to commit espionage and another concurrent life sentence for conspiracy to commit murder. Life terms for Labañino and Guerrero for espionage conspiracy were later reduced to 30 years and 21 years 10 months respectively.
In the U.S. legal code, there is no such crime as “spying,” Philip Horowitz, the Miami attorney who represented René González throughout his 15 years in U.S. custody, told the commission. Espionage involves gathering and transmitting military secrets. That’s what the U.S. government wanted to convict them of, but couldn’t.
“They were not accused of espionage, but of conspiracy,” said Ricardo Alarcón, “because there is no evidence they did anything. Nothing they did endangered U.S. security. Yet the highest possible sentences for the actual crime of espionage were imposed.”
The fight to free Gerardo Hernández remains the center of the international defense campaign.
“My husband has served his time and done his duty to his country,” said Olga Salanueva, who is married to René González. “But his mission is not finished. All of our missions. They will only be complete when Gerardo is free.”
Tacked on eight months after Hernández’s arrest, the indictment on conspiracy to murder rests on claims he had advance knowledge of Cuban government plans to shoot down planes flown by the counterrevolutionary outfit Brothers to the Rescue. The planes — shot down by the Cuban Air Force in February 1996 — had engaged in repeated provocations entering Cuban airspace, going so far as to drop leaflets over Havana. Fearing lack of evidence was an obstacle to convicting Hernández, prosecutors asked the charge be withdrawn at the end of the trial. But the judge refused.
U.S. lawyer Peter Schey cited evidence given at the trial that, based on high-level information from the Cuban government, Brothers to the Rescue was warned many times by U.S. agencies of the possible consequences of its actions. Hernández had only the knowledge that if the flights continued a confrontation was likely. “Who was in a position to stop them?” Schey asked, “not Gerardo Hernández. They had already been warned by the U.S. government. That government could have arrested them for filing false flight plans, which is a felony. That would have stopped them.”
The fighting spirit of those defending the Five was reflected in the statements of their relatives. “I know I’m the instrument they try to use against him,” said Adriana Pérez, who is married to Gerardo Hernández and has repeatedly been denied a U.S. visa to visit him. “I can’t hide moments of sadness, but every day I wake up and say to myself “there is no time for nostalgia or sadness, only to fight for his return.”
René’s daughter Irmita González compared the lack of human solidarity she noticed among the counterrevolutionaries in Miami to what she had known in Cuba. “I met the people my dad was working with in Miami when I was 12,” she said. “There was no love, kindness, honor. It was all about hate and money.”
After her father’s arrest, González went a year without seeing him. When her baby sister Ivette was first allowed to visit him in jail, she related, her father was chained to his chair. “Is he a dog?” the child asked her mother, Olga Salanueva. “Your father is not the dog in this room,” she replied.
The class “justice” the Five have received at the hands of the U.S. authorities strikes a chord with many working people. Lawyers and family alike described the 17 months the Five spent in punishment cells, denial of family visits and barriers put in their way to preparing their defense.
Motions requesting movement of the trial outside Miami, on the grounds that the Five would not get an impartial trial there, were denied. Martin Garbus, lead lawyer for the Five, described prejudicial and untruthful press coverage during the trial, threats to the jury, and recently established evidence that the U.S. government made substantial payments to journalists who were writing about the case during the trial.
Some 2,000 attending a concert featuring Eliades Ochoa and Omara Portuondo of the Buena Vista Social Club also heard from author Alice Walker and 10 leading British stage and screen actors who read letters, poems and other writings by the Five and their families from the books Letters of Love and Hope and Voices from Prison: The Cuban Five. Elizabeth Palmeiro, married to Ramón Labañino, told Radio Rebelde that many who came for the music “were finding out for the first time about the case of the Five. We were surprised to see how they identified with the cause.”
Antonio Guerrero’s 15 watercolor paintings depicting the Five’s first 17 months in “the hole” were on display at a closing dinner for commission participants held at the Trades Union Congress headquarters. Guerrero had spoken earlier to the commission by phone from prison. The Cuba Solidarity Campaign gives priority to its work with union leaderships; 23 national unions are affiliated to the group.
I Will Die the Way I’ve Lived, Pathfinder’s “catalog” of the paintings, was well received, as was the newly published Voices From Prison — more than 150 copies of the books were sold during the weekend event. “We’re looking at showing the paintings at a central Manchester venue; to tell people about it,” Unison North West regional officer Paul Foley told the Militant.
The International Commission was one of three international events planned this year by fighters for the freedom of the Five. From June 4-11 the third “5 days for the Cuban 5” will be held in Washington, D.C., and from October 27-29 the Third World Meeting of Solidarity with Cuba will take place in Havana.
“The Five were defending the Cuban Revolution,” said Kenia Serrano, president of the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples. “The struggle for the freedom of the Five is a struggle for the freedom and liberation of women and men everywhere. There is a slogan from the anti-apartheid struggle, that there is no easy road to freedom. We will need to fight hard. Let us unite to free the Cuban Five.”
For more information on upcoming events see http://5daysforthecuban5.com and www.icap.cu.
Havana book fair: ‘History of class struggle in US is vital for revolutionaries worldwide’
Melba Hernández: Combatant and leader of Cuban Revolution
Showings of paintings by Antonio Guerrero, one of the Cuban Five
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