Leonard Weinglass interview on Irish radio RTÉ.ie
Dec. 6, 2007
Reprinted from RTÉ.ie
Listen to the interview here (22:10 mp3 file)
Pat Kenny: Since 1959, 3,500 Cubans have died and over 2,000 have been maimed as a result of terrorist attacks directed at them from anti- Cuban terrorists. It is a story that is not often told. To counteract such threats, five Cubans successfully infiltrated these anti-Cubans groups operating in Miami. For this they were arrested by the US authorities. They were tried and subsequently sentenced to terms of between 15 years and life imprisonment. An appeal against the men's sentences was successful, but then that appeal was later overturned. An international campaign has highlighted the men's case. Civil rights attorney, Leonard Weinglass, represents the men who have become known as the Miami Five and he is here in this country to meet members of the Seanad and Dáil Eireann today. You are very welcome to the programme, Leonard.
Leonard Weinglass: Thank you.
PK: Now, first of all, who are The Miami Five?
LW: Well, as you suggest, these are five men who came to the United States unarmed, with no intention of creating any disorder in the United States, no intention of compromising the National security of the United States. Their sole mission was to infiltrate the groups that had been attacking their country.
PK: Now, tell me about those groups and how much devastation they have wrought.
LW: Well, what we are talking about now is a framework of the early 1990's after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Cuban Government decided to build a tourism industry to fund their way out of the crisis. The crowd in Miami which had been periodically attacking Cuba realised this was an opportunity to finally end the Cuban revolution. They bombed hotels, they bombed the airport, tourist buses - tourism is a very vulnerable industry they thought they could destroy it; people will not bring their families to a place under attack.
PK: Explain how they got into Cuba, I mean no one is suggesting that they got in through Guantanamo Bay or are they - this was the US base at the time before 9/11 changed all that and it became a prison - but is anyone suggesting that this was used as a conduit for these people?
LW: No, it wasn't. Two of the five are American citizens they had dual citizenship
PK: No, no, I am talking about those terrorists who were coming over from Miami, is anyone suggesting they were coming in through Guantanamo Bay or were they just doing what many Cubans do in reverse which is get into an open boat and come across the short stretch of water?
LW: Yes, it is just a 90 mile trip and they were coming in that way. Actually they took boats and came offshore from Havana, fired canon into the hotels that lined the waterfront. So they were coming in through air, either with paid mercenaries from other countries - El Salvador, Nicaragua - or they were coming in themselves.
PK: And they did create a lot of mayhem and indeed death.
LW: Yes, an Italian tourist from Canada who was seated in the lobby of the Cobacabana Hotel was killed when a bomb went off near by.
PK: These groups in Miami have names, don't they? They like to call themselves by very glamorous names.
LW: Yes. "Commandos F4" - things of that nature. "Brothers to the Rescue" was another group that had their own air force. They had acquired surplus US Navy planes from the Contras in Nicaragua and used those to overfly Cuba.
PK: Now, the reason there is such antipathy between the Cubans of Miami and the Cubans who stayed under Castro's regime? Do many of them feel aggrieved because property was taken from them, or … what are the reasons?
LW: Yes, the upper middle class and upper class lifestyle of Cuba in the 50's was indeed one of the most glamorous lifestyles. They had mansions, they had businesses, they fled, they lost it all. They brought the Cuban Treasury with them - $400 million - they re-established in Miami. They now control the construction industry; they own large parts of the real estate. They are a very wealthy community. As you know, they determine who becomes President of the United States, as has happened, and probably might happen again. So they are a very small minority in the US, but a very powerful lobby that does control the Foreign Policy of the United States.
PK: It is ironic that had Cuba continued as it was under the Batista regime, and anyone that followed that, the United states might have wanted to do what it did in other Central and South American countries and that is intervene because it was a haven for the Mafia.
LW: It was the United States. It was a haven for the Mafia - that is well known. As a matter of fact, the Mafia, as is also well known, was subcontracted to do the assassination of Fidel Castro by the CIA, Trafficante being one of the people who they approached. But the United States has always had its eye on Cuba: Thomas Jefferson in a famous quote in 1802 shortly after the country was founded said that he was hopeful that someday the United States would acquire Cuba, so it has been the history of the two countries that the power in the North had always wanted to subjugate the Cuban country.
PK: And indeed they still, under a lease, occupy that part of Cuba that is in Guantanamo Bay.
LW: Yes - the only place in Cuba which uses torture, which has prisoners in large numbers who are brutally mistreated, is in Guantanamo Bay, which is the only part under the control of the United States.
PK: And which we heard from Michael Moore's documentary has a medical service nearly as good as the Cuban one.
LW: Laughs ...yes, that is true.
PK: So this is the background against which these disaffected former supporters of the Batista regime set up in Cuba and then were mounting attacks on what they saw as a crumbling regime no longer propped up by the Soviet Union?
LW: That is correct. It is a community in the United States which is the only community that has been investigated by Human Rights Watch and they found that in Miami, which has a Cuban-American Mayor, a Cuban-American Council, the Head of the Chamber of Commerce is Cuban-American, the head of the largest law firm, the President of the Bar Association, the head of the US Attorney's Office, the Head of the FBI, they are all Cuban-American and their main mission is to retake the country and to restore the lifestyle of Cuba in the 1950's.
PK: At the same time though, there were property confiscations by the Communists under Fidel Castro and the United States always claims to support the rights of individuals to own their own property.
LW: There were confiscations, that is true, but I must say in the current history Raul Castro has made it very clear in several public speeches that he is willing to undertake negotiations with the United States now, with no preconditions, which includes question of confiscation and the rights of those living in Miami. The people who live in Miami have the right to return to Cuba, travel, visit their families - only the United States Government restricts them, the Cuban Government welcomes them.
PK: So there is no problem if they go in through third countries as long as their passport is not stamped?
LW: There is no problem at all.
PK: No problem at all … so… now we get back to those terrorist groups who were attacking the island of Cuba trying to bring the regime tumbling down as ….
LW: … To try to destroy the tourist industry and, in that way, cause the country to fall into economic collapse.
PK: So these five men - volunteers - came over from Cuba with no malice towards the United States but simply to get an early warning to the Cuban Government that some attacks might be imminent by infiltrating these groups?
PK: How successful were they in infiltrating the groups?
LW: They were very successful. There hasn't been an attack since their coming into the United States. Unfortunately, they fell under an investigation by the FBI and they were charged with conspiracy to commit espionage.
PK: Was the FBI actually investigating the terror groups and these guys came above the radar - was that what happened? Or, were they specifically trying to find these Cuban operatives?
LW: In June of 1998 the Cuban government invited a delegation of FBI to come to Havana they gave them four volumes of material and information that had been gathered by the five. They named names, they named addresses - places there were training camps involved - and the FBI took the volumes, returned to Washington, and said the Cuban Government would hear from them shortly. They initiated no investigations of the perpetrators of the terrorist group that was there, they did initiate an investigation and within 5 months they had arrested the five.
PK: So how do you see this? Do you see this as the FBI acting as an instrument of the foreign policy of the United States because if the Cubans of Miami were to take over Cuba and become the government of Havana - they could effectively `do a Hawaii' on it and effectively become the 51st state of the United States?
LW: Well, I have no information, but I am sure that must be in the back of the minds of some of them - but it would happen as you suggest. As a matter of fact, President Bush announced that the United State's Government now has a secret, classified plan of several hundred pages as to what would happen to Cuba in the post-Castro period, so the plans are already in place.
PK: Now, lets get back to the five men: they were apprehended and they went to trial.
LW: The longest trial in the history of the United States at the time it occurred, six months in process. Two generals, one admiral, the advisor the President of the United States, all testified - but testified for the defence.
PK: Testified for the five Cubans.
LW: Yes, exactly. There has never been an espionage trial like this. To begin with, there was not one page of classified information and yet three of the five received life sentences.
PK: But the charge was not of espionage because they did not have the evidence for that …
PK: ….it was conspiracy
LW: That's right. What the government said to the jury is `we do not have the evidence of espionage, however a conspiracy is an unlawful agreement, and it is our position that these five men must have agreed amongst themselves that at some unspecified time in the future, they would commit espionage' … and that was enough for a Miami jury. The case was tried in the one city in the United States where the five could not get a fair trial, as found by a Federal judge.
PK: I mean a judge in a trial like that is open to say: `hang on, we won't ever put this to the jury because there is no case' - now he didn't do that, he put it to the jury, he allowed them to, to … Was he Cuban-American - the judge?
LW: No. The judge was not Cuban-American and, by the way, she was a female. The judge had worked under the attorney General of the United States, Janet Reno, when Janet Reno was the Attorney General of the State of Florida. She was her assistant. Janet Reno was the Attorney General who brought the case and the case was then placed before her former assistant for trial.
PK: So, all too close and incestuous really for these five men to ever have any hope of getting a fair trial?
LW: Yes - as found by a three judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeal. Three judges with 80 years of collective experience reviewed this entire record - 119 volumes, 20,000 pages of exhibits - and they concluded, after a sixteen month investigation, that this case should not have been tried in Miami and that the five did not receive a fair trial. In fact, the phrase that they used is they faced a "perfect storm of prejudice".
PK: So the sentences that were imposed on these men - from 15 years to life depending on which of the individuals - were they then just overturned? Were the men acquitted?
LW: Yes. They were all set aside and the government was ordered to either dismiss the charges entirely or bring a new case in a different city. The government then appealed the decision of the three judge panel to an `en banc' court made up of twelve judges from the same circuit and that panel, that `en banc' court, reversed the three judge panel and reinstated all the convictions. We are now arguing additional issues on appeal that were not argued initially and we are awaiting a decision of a new three judge panel as to what direction the case will take.
PK: So how long have these men been behind bars?
LW: Since 1998, they have already served 9 years they are in their 10th year. Two of them have not seen their wives because their wives have been refused visas, when they apply for visas to enter the United States to see their husbands. This despite the fact that both Amnesty International and the World Council of Churches have both intervened on behalf of the wives indicating and pointing out that the failure to allow a visit by a spouse is a violation of the International Convention on Torture to which the United States is a signatory.
PK: Why do you think that the United States has decided to make an exhibition of these five people? In other circumstances they would simply be sent home.
LW: That has happened in the past. The United States has picked up other agents of other countries who had infiltrated the United States in order to monitor the activities of groups, that exist in the United States, that pose a threat to those countries. The United States itself today is operating in 80 countries - operating and overseeing the activities of groups that pose a threat, according to the United States, to American interests.
PK: There have been people who have tried to just come to the United states on other matters - academic matters and so on - that have been turned down, I mean, is this all part of a broader US policy towards Cuba?
LW: It is. This is the foreign policy of the United States brought into the criminal justice process and whenever the government seeks to use the criminal process in our laws, which are very favourable in general towards the rights of an accused, in a political matter, you end up with a case like this, which is simply an abomination on the record of an otherwise exemplary system.
PK: You represent Antonio Guerrero, one of the Cuban five . What is he like as an individual?
LW: Antonio is a poet, a lyricist, he is an intellectual. He is a man who has published several books, the lyrics to a major and popular song that is now popular in Cuba. He was cast into a very compromised position in the prison. They put him in a small section of the prison with 11 men who were "Marielistas" and, theoretically, hated the Cuban Government. They knew that he was an agent of the Cuban Government and the prison authorities expected the worst for him. Instead, these 11 men embraced Antonio, they protect him, they watch over him. He teaches them - he has courses and his time in prison has been very productive and constructive. I will say that of the five who are in prison, they have done a total now of 45 years, there has not been one write-up, one violation of prison regulation, by any of them at all during that entire course, despite the facts that they are housed in maximum security - very difficult and even dangerous - prisons in the United States.
PK: And when Antonio was put into solitary confinement, for some reason, his students went on strike.
LW: Exactly. Exactly true. Antonio has the high regard of his fellow inmates and you are right, they did protest when he was moved into solitary confinement.
PK: You got involved in this case and I shouldn't be surprised because I am looking at your CV and you have been involved in many, many cases of which we have all heard in the past.
LW: I have been very fortunate.
PK: You travelled, I believe, with Jane Fonda to Hanoi - the Hanoi Jane episode.
LW: Yes. Actually I did not make the trip with her but was called upon to defend her upon her return when members of Congress were calling for Jane to be prosecuted for treason. It never happened.
PK: And other cases you have been involved with, Angela Davis and Ron Kaufman…
LW: Yes, that is right.
PK: ... the Patty Hearst kidnapping situation. What was your involvement there?
LW: Yes. I defended Bill Harris and Emily Harris, a couple who were part of the Symbanese Liberation Army, who were involved in her kidnap.
PK: The Chicago 7?
LW: Yes, Tom Hayden was my client.
PK: Why are you here then? What can you achieve by coming to Ireland and speaking to parliamentarians here?
LW: Well, we are part of a group that is seeking to generate world wide support for the case of the five. They should be freed. They should be returned home. We are having difficulty in the process because of the political nature of the case. I learned - I was one of the defenders of Angela Davis and we all learned that Angela - an African American woman, a member of the communist party, tried for the killing of a judge, facing the death penalty, tried before an all white jury, in a rural county - was immediately acquitted by that jury because the whole world was watching. I think the same procedure, we hope, will happen in the case of the five, the Miami Five and I am here and I am meeting with people this afternoon. I am meeting with public representatives in Finian McGrath's office in the parliament building and I have had the opportunity through Simon McGuinness and others who are working here in Dublin to meet with other representatives of Parliament and members of the press.
PK: Finally, I suppose people might say the case you make is very compelling but these were agents of a foreign government - the Cuban government - operating on American soil. Now, they weren't conspiring against America, but they were doing their covert work on American soil, albeit it for the benefit of their own government. Now, I know this sometimes happens, but normally governments tell each other that they are sending someone to do this kind of work: `we are not going to bother you but we really want to find out about our ex-pats who are up to no good'. But no government would officially tolerate that kind of activity - covert activity - unless they had prior agreement.
LW: It raises a question. The question is: if a government harbours terrorism knowingly, even trains some and equips some, and proceeds, over a long course - 40 years - with a kind of low intensity warfare against its neighbour, has that government forfeited the right to prevent people to come to the United States, with no intent of criminality, but rather, to monitor the activities of those groups, which the host country has…
PK: … And of course the logical extension of this is if the US Government, at some level, was supporting these terror attacks on Cuba, and you told them that there were five guys arriving who were going to stop those attacks, it is potentially possible that they would have been 'shopped' to the very groups they were spying on, by the US authorities and their lives would have been in danger?
LW: Yes. It simply would not have happened. The Cuban Government protested each of these bombings of hotels, the airport, to the United States government. They then even went the next step in providing the United States with the very information of the perpetrators, who live within the United States, who were doing this. It was only after the United States Government did nothing and, incidentally, Cuba brought this case to the United Nations - to the Security Council - arguing a very familiar refrain: "any country that harbours terrorists is as guilty as the terrorists themselves" - the very identical statement that President Bush used to justify the invasion of another country, which was Afghanistan and then Iraq. So Cuba always acted in first a diplomatic way, taking the lawful steps to try to prevent. And they did lose over 3,000 people trying to prevent these attacks from coming. This was a final option, they had no choice but to send unarmed men, who did no sabotage in the United States, harmed no one in the United States, merely to monitor activities and I think, on balance, we are quite willing to present all these facts - even the thesis you suggest - to an American jury and let an American jury decide whether or not, whatever technical violations of American law occurred here, were justified by the threats that the United States was permitting to continue against Cuba.
PK: Leonard Weinglass thank you very much for joining us on our programme today.
LW: Thank you very much for having me.