A non-partisan journal of the left.

The Plight of the Miami Five

Fri 22nd Aug 2008

On the evening of September 11 2001, in a speech delivered from the Oval Office, US President George W. Bush described the 9/11 attacks as “acts of mass murder ... intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat.”
He added that the US “will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbour them.”

The rest of the world is expected to soak up this tough talk and answer to the call of fighting a global war on terror. Bush tells us that we have the blunt choice of being either with him or against him. However, the situation can be a little different if the victim of terrorism is not the US, or one of its allies. It would seem that those committing acts of terror which do not swim against the tide of US foreign policy, or even give a helping hand in destabilising countries the US considers rogue states, are less likely to face justice.

Since 1959, almost 3,500 Cubans have died and more than 2,000 have been injured, as a result of terrorist attacks planned and perpetrated by right-wing paramilitary groups such as Alpha 66, F-4 Commandos, or CORU. These organisations, based in and around the city of Miami, Florida, have for decades been waging a war against Cuba, with the aim of destabilising the country’s economy and ultimately overthrowing its political system. Terror attacks carried out by members of these organisations have included the 1976 bombing of a plane belonging to the Cuban airline, Cubana, in mid-flight, causing the deaths of all 73 passengers. Bombs have also been planted in Havana in an attempt to damage Cuba’s tourism industry.

A lot of these groups were either set up, or have been supported, by individuals who fled Cuba after the 1959 revolution. Among these exiles were individuals who had enjoyed wealthy lifestyles under the US backed dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, at a time when the vast majority of the Cuban population lived in a state of poverty without access to either healthcare or education. Having lost their privileges after the revolution, they fled across the water to Miami and, together with the US government whose exploitation of Cuba’s natural resources also came to an end in 1959, have been plotting to bring back the good old days ever since.

Endeavouring to defend their citizens against these acts of terrorism, Cuban authorities recruited a group of Cubans to infiltrate the right-wing organisations and gather information about any impending attacks. The Cubans authorities shared the gathered information with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the hope that action would be taken by the US authorities. They were left disappointed. Next, the Cubans provided the New York Times with the names and addresses of those involved in committing violent acts against Cuba. They even supplied information about the location of paramilitary training camps. However, the newspaper did not publish a word on the matter. Ironically, on September 12 1998, 10 members of the group were arrested by the FBI, while four fled to Cuba. Five of those arrested were pressurised into pleading guilty and received sentences of 3 ½ to 7 years. The remaining five of these fighters of terrorism maintained they were innocent. For doing so, they were to pay a heavy price. No action was taken against those responsible for perpetrating the attacks.

The five men, René González, Fernando González, Antonio Guerrero, Ramón Labañino and Gerardo Hernández, were repaid for their bravery with prison sentences of 15 years, 19 years, life plus 10 years, life plus 18 years and, two life terms plus 15 years, respectively. All five were tried with espionage as well as a mixture of other associated charges. These defenders of their homeland have become known as the Miami Five.

In November 2000, a seven month trial began. Even before the trial had started, each man had already spent 17 months in solitary confinement locked up for 23 hours a day in a cold and cramped cell. While solitary confinement is generally reserved for violent prisoners, none of the five men had broken any prison rules during their incarceration.

There was a virtual media blackout on the trial. Only the local Miami press covered the proceedings, while the mainstream media chose to, and to a great extent still does, shy away from covering the story of the Miami Five. The trial itself took place in the hostile atmosphere of Miami - in the den of those whom the Miami Five had tried to stop. On account of pressure from prominent and wealthy Cuban exiles, it was impossible for a fair trial to take place. Requests, made by the defence, to find an alternative venue for the trial were denied by the trial judge on five occasions. The five Cubans pleaded not guilty but were convicted on June 8 2001.

It was reported that members of the jury felt pressured into delivering a guilty verdict. They stated that both they and their licence plates had been filmed by a team from Television Marti, a well known anti-Castro organisation. Despite the fact that the Miami Five neither harmed anyone nor possessed any weapons while carrying out their mission, they were accused of seeking, in the words of Florida prosecutor Thomas Scott, “to strike at the very heart of our national security system and our very democratic process.” However, no credible evidence has ever come to light to indicate that the Miami Five posed a threat to the national security of the US. Even the chief prosecutor acknowledged that of the 20,000 pages of documents taken from the homes and computers of the Miami Five, none contained classified information about national defence.

Leonard Weinglass, the lead attorney of the Miami Five. He has stated that "It is part of the argument that the U.S. can do whatever it wishes to another country, but if that country dares to protect itself or tries to interfere with the process—such as the Miami Five trying to stop terrorist attacks against their homeland—then the US will deal with them most severely.” Unlike the US government’s knee-jerk response to 9/11, Cuba response was far more civilized and directed only at the terrorists themselves. Cuba has, as of yet, no plans to lead a ‘coalition of the willing’ on an attack upon Miami.

After 9/11, the Miami Five once again found themselves in solitary confinement. This time, the decision was taken by Attorney General John Ashcroft who made use of special powers that he had been granted after the bombing of the twin towers. Although, on this occasion, the Miami Five were to be held in solitary confinement for a year, an international outcry led to their release after 30 days. During this time, one of the five, Gerardo, was stripped naked and held in a windowless box, in case he tried to attempt suicide.

To add insult to injury, the families of the Miami Five have faced restrictions in visiting their relatives in prison. Two of the men’s wives, Olga Salanueva and Adriana Perez, have on numerous occasions been denied visas to travel to the US to visit their husbands. They have not seen Rene and Gerardo now for eight and ten years, respectively. In one scenario, although Adriana was granted a visa to visit her husband in 2002, upon her arrival in the US she was detained, fingerprinted and questioned by the FBI. After eleven hours, Adriana was on her way back to Cuba, having been expelled from the US. On July 19 this year, Olga was denied an entry visa for the ninth time. Adriana's is still waiting to see if her ninth visa request will be approved by the US state department.

The unnecessarily callous behaviour of the US authorities breaches even the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, adopted in 1955. Part 1, Section 37, states that ‘Prisoners shall be allowed under necessary supervision to communicate with their family and reputable friends at regular intervals, both by correspondence and by receiving visits’. Amnesty International has consistently condemned the treatment of the Miami Five and in May 2005 the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions issued a report that concluded ‘the trial did not take place in the climate of objectivity and impartiality which is required in order to conclude on the observance of the standards of a fair trial, as defined in Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the United States of America is a party’.

August 9 2005 saw a glimmer of hope for the Miami Five when, a panel of three judges overturned their convictions at the Court of Appeal. A new trial was ordered, one that would take place outside Miami. This decision was challenged by the US government and the case was put before a full panel of 12 judges. On August 9 2006, precisely one year later, the Court of Appeal’s decision to have a retrial was overturned by the panel, 10 votes to two. Most recently, in June of this year, a court in Atlanta upheld all five convictions. However, the court decided that the sentences of Fernando, Ramon and Antonio were disproportionate. The three men are currently awaiting re-sentencing.
During their time in prison, the Miami Five have gained the respect of prisoners and guards alike. Mr Weinglass has referred to this as the ‘Mandela effect’. Like Nelson Mandela, the five Cubans are political prisoners. They were unjustly imprisoned for daring to protect their fellow citizens from terrorists who have long acted with impunity on US soil. The case of the Miami Five is just one example of the double standards and vindictiveness of the US government, bowing to the pressure of a powerful Cuban-American lobby. (About 650,000 Cuban Americans, many of them possessing anti-Castro sentiments, reside in Miami-Dade County in the state of Florida. Florida is considered to be one of those key states that each presidential candidate needs to secure in order to win the race to the White House).

The Miami Five have another thing in common with Nelson Mandela. Just like the brave fighter of apartheid, particularly during the latter years of his imprisonment, the Miami Five enjoy widespread international support. Nearly 300 solidarity groups exist in 90 countries, all calling for the release of the five Cubans. For example, this year the US based National Committee to Free the Five paid to have billboards, calling for the release of the Miami Five, erected in both Los Angeles and San Francisco. In Canada, the 500,000 strong Canadian Federation of Students passed a motion calling for the immediate end to the imprisonment of the Five. June 5 to 7 saw a wave of demonstrations taking place from Scotland to Peru.

In the UK, the Cuba Solidarity Campaign has for years been at the forefront of the campaign to free the Miami Five. A number of large trade unions, lead by Unite, have thrown their weight behind the campaign, as have MPs from all three major parties.

In spite of the possibility that three of the Cubans may have their sentences reduced, the fact is that the five fighters of terrorism remain political prisoners. (All are held in separate prisons). They stand the best chance of release once sufficient international pressure has been mounted on US authorities to embarrass them into overturning the convictions. With the 10th anniversary of their imprisonment approaching, there is much that can be done, here in the UK, to support the campaign to free the Miami Five.

  1. Write a letter to the Miami Five to show your support and solidarity. The addresses can be found on this website http://www.amicustheunion.org/default.aspx?page=8764

  2. Sign a petition calling for visiting rights to be granted to the families of the Five by e-mailing your name and address to campaigns@cuba-solidarity.org.uk

  3. Attend the vigil outside the US Embassy, Grosvenor Square, London (Bond St tube) on Tuesday 7th October from 6-7:30pm. Olga Salanueva and Adriana Perez will be speaking at the event. Bring your friends and family.

  4. Encourage your Student Union or Trade Union to organise events that publicise the plight of the Miami Five. Get in contact with your local Cuba Solidarity Campaign branch to see how they can help by e-mailing office@cuba-solidarity.org.uk or calling (0)20 8800 0155.

  5. Donate towards an advertising campaign. Adverts in the national press will have a big impact in raising support for the campaign to free the Miami Five. Cubs Solidarity aims to raise £15000 for this purpose. You can donate by calling (0)20 8800 0155 or send a cheque to


CSC c/o UNITE Woodberry
218 Green Lanes
London
N4 2HB
Great Britain

Photo by Tony & Yo, used under the creative commons licence from Flickr.
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