Cuban Five: Jailed for Fighting Terrorism
"I am certain that many young Cubans, in their struggle against the Giant in the Seven-League Boots, would do as they did. Money can buy everything save the soul of a people who has never gone down on its knees."– Fidel Castro on the Cuban Five, 27 December 2007
by Alexander Martin Remollino
Jan. 6, 2008
Reprinted from Bulatlat (Philippines)
"(Jose) Marti taught us that ‘all of the world’s glory fits in a kernel of corn.’ Many times have I said and repeated this phrase, which carries in eleven words a veritable school of ethics.
"Cuba's Five Heroes, imprisoned by the empire, are to be held up as examples for new generations. Fortunately, exemplary conduct will continue to flourish with the consciousness of our peoples as long as our species exists."
"I am certain that many young Cubans, in their struggle against the Giant in the Seven-League Boots, would do as they did. Money can buy everything save the soul of a people who has never gone down on its knees."
This is what Cuban President Fidel Castro said about the five men now known as the Cuban Five in a message to Cuba’s National Assembly a few days before the New Year.
The Cuban Five are Gerardo Hernandez, Antonio Guerrero, Ramon Labañino, Fernando Gonzales, and Rene Gonzales – Cuban nationals currently serving prison terms in the U.S. for alleged espionage, conspiracy to commit murder, and other illegal activities.
The five Cubans had been sent to Miami, Florida in the 1990s on a mission to infiltrate organizations conducting terrorist activities against Cuba, particularly Brothers to the Rescue, and relay information about their activities to the Cuban government.
On June 17, 1998 the Cuban government and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) met in Havana.
The Cuban government presented to the FBI the results of its investigations into the activities of Miami-based anti-Cuba groups like Comandos F4, Coalition of United Revolutionary Organizations (CORU), Alpha 66, Omega 7, and Brothers to the Rescue – all based in Miami. These included documents, photographs and surveillance reports showing that these groups were planning to stage a number of new "terrorist" attacks.
Attacks against Cuba
Based on an item in the website Miami 5 (http://www.granma.cu/miami5/ingles/index.html), the attacks against Cuba included the following cases:
Oct. 7, 1992: An armed attack against the Varadero Melia Hotel perpetrated from a vessel manned by four Miami terrorists who were later arrested and questioned by the FBI, then released.
April 2, 1993: The tanker ship Mikonos sailing under the Cypriot flag was fired upon 7 miles north of Matanzas from a vessel crewed by Cuban born, U.S. based terrorists.
November 1994: Terrorist Luis Posada Carriles and five of his accomplices smuggled weapons into Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, during the IV Ibero-American Summit of Heads of State and Government in order to make an attempt on the life of President Fidel Castro. However, the security belt kept him at a distance thus thwarting his aim. Posada Carriles later told the New York Times: "I was standing behind some journalists and I saw Castro's friend, (Gabriel) García Márquez, but I could only see Castro from a long way away."
March 11, 1994: A terrorist group from Miami fired on the Guitart Cayo Coco Hotel.
Sept. 4, 1994: Two U.S.-based terrorists infiltrated into the area around Caibarien, Villa Clara, with the aim of carrying out sabotage in that province. A number of weapons and large amounts of military equipment were seized.
Oct. 6, 1994: Another armed group fired automatic weapons at the Guitart Cayo Coco Hotel from a boat that set out from Florida.
Oct. 15, 1994: A group of armed terrorists coming from the United States landed on the causeway to Cayo Santa María near Caibarién, Villa Clara, and murdered comrade Arcelio Rodríguez García.
May 20, 1995: The Guitart Cayo Coco Hotel was attacked the second time by terrorists manning a fast launch coming from the United States.
Feb. 11, 1996: After firing on our coastline, a vessel coming from the United States carrying three terrorists was captured by the Cuban cost guard patrol.
April 12, 1997: An explosive device was detonated in the Melia Cohiba Hotel in the City of Havana.
July 12, 1997: Bombs blasted in the Capri and National hotels.
Aug. 4, 1997: Another bomb exploded in the Melia Cohiba Hotel.
Arrest and trial of the Cuban Five
The FBI promised to take action on the results of Cuba’s investigations – including the surveillance reports, which had been prepared by Gerardo Hernandez, Antonio Guerrero, Ramon Labañino, Fernando Gonzales, and Rene Gonzales.
The five, however, were arrested on Sept. 12, 1998 and charged with espionage, conspiracy to commit murder, and other crimes. For 17 months they were kept in solitary confinement.
Their trial began in November 2000. The U.S. government insisted on their being tried in Miami, in spite of several requests for a transfer of venue citing the "impossibility of a fair trial" in the said city.
After a six-month trial involving 24,000 pages of documents and 119 pages of testimonies, the five were convicted and sentenced to four life terms and 75 years in prison.
On Aug. 9, 2005, the Cuban Five won a victory on appeal and a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a new trial outside of Miami. However, on Oct. 31 that same year, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals conducted an en banc hearing and voted 10-2 denying them a new trial.
The wives and children of the Cuban Five have repeatedly been denied U.S. visas preventing them from visiting the five in jail.
The campaign for the freedom of the Cuban Five has gained broad international support.
On May 27, 2005 the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) adopted a report by its Working Group on Arbitrary Detention criticizing the trial and conviction of the Cuban Five. The report stated, among other things, that:
"The Working Group notes that it arises from the facts and circumstances in which the trial took place and from the nature of the charges and the harsh sentences handed down to the accused that the trial did not take place in the climate of objectivity and impartiality that is required in order to conform to 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."
In 2006, eight Nobel Prize winners have also written and sent petition letters to the U.S. Attorney-General calling for freedom for the Cuban Five. The signatories are Zhores Alferov (Physics, 2000), Desmond Tutu (Peace, 1984), Nadine Gordimer (Literature, 1991), Rigoberta Menchú (Peace, 1992), Adolfo Pérez Esquivel (Peace, 1980), Wole Soyinka (Literature, 1986), José Saramago (Literature, 1996), and Gunter Grass (Literature, 1999).
In the United Kingdom that same year, six MPs wrote to then Prime Minister Tony Blair urging him to call on the U.S. to act against terrorists in Miami and release the Cuban Five. Blair declined to take any action.
Among the most prominent supporters of the campaign to free the Cuban Five in the U.S. are writer Alice Walker and actor Danny Glover.
At present there are support groups for the Cuban Five in 27 countries.
Gerardo Hernandez was born in Havana in 1965, and has a degree in International Political Relations. He has been a cartoonist and humorist from his youth, and while at school he was also part of a theater group. In 1989 he was part of the Cuban forces supporting Angola against the invading South African apartheid regime. Several of his cartoons and jokes were published in 2002 in the book You Can Achieve Zeverything with Love and Humor.
Antonio Guerrero was born in 1958 in Miami. Their family returned to their native Cuba the following year, after the victory of the Cuban Revolution. He trained as an airfield construction engineer in Kiev, Ukraine and graduated in 1983. As an engineer he was responsible for, among other things, the expansion of the Santiago de Cuba International Airport. Also a poet, he has published several poems in both Spanish and English in the book Desde Mi Altura (From My Altitude).
Ramon Labañino was born in Havana in 1963 and was schooled in Economics at the University of Havana, where he graduated with honors.
Fernando Gonzalez, who was born in 1963 in Havana, earned a degree in International Political Relations with high honors. He was active in theater and participated in international cultural festivals. From 1987 to 1989 he was part of the Cuban forces supporting Angola against the South African apartheid regime.
Rene Gonzalez was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1963. Their family returned to Cuba in 1963. He served in Angola from 1977 to 1979. He studied aviation after that and graduated as a pilot and flight instructor in 1982.