Appeals Court Upholds Cuban Five Judgment
by Jonathan Springston
Sept. 12, 2008
Reprinted from Atlanta Progressive News
(APN) ATLANTA – The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals denied a request on September 2, 2008, to reconsider its June decision in the case of five Cuban intelligence agents accused of spying in the United States.
A three-judge panel of the court on June 4, 2008, upheld the convictions and sentences for two of the so-called Cuban Five, but vacated the other three sentences and sent them back to a Miami federal court for new sentences.
The court’s decision last week to uphold their previous ruling means that Gerardo Hernandez and Rene Gonzales will continue serving time while Fernando Gonzales, Ramon Labinino, and Antonio Guerrero will appear before Judge Joan Lenard in Miami for new sentences.
Richard Klugh, a Miami attorney representing Fernando Gonzales, told Atlanta Progressive News the defense is "very disappointed" in the September 2 decision, but is “looking forward” to taking the Cuban Five case to the Supreme Court of the US.
Attorneys for the Five have until December 1, 2008, to ask the Court to take up the case.
Klugh, who is coordinating the appeals effort, said the defense will ask the Court to vacate the most serious convictions for which they believe the U.S. government has no substantial evidence and ask for new trials in new venue for all five men.
"We think this is a compelling case factually [and] legally," Klugh said. "It provides an opportunity for the Supreme Court to say… what a fair trial means."
In 2001, a Miami court sentenced Hernandez, Labanino, Guerrero, Fernando Gonzalez, and Rene Gonzalez (no relation to Fernando) to four life sentences and a combined 75 years in prison for, among other charges, conspiracy to commit murder and conspiracy to commit espionage against the United States.
The five, who are part of what Cuban intelligence calls "The Wasp Network,” have admitted they are Cuban agents, but denied spying on the United States or gathering and transmitting classified military secrets, and denied involvement in a 1996 shoot down of two planes that resulted in the deaths of four men.
On February 24, 1996, the Cuban Air Force shot down two of three planes flying away from Cuba in international airspace. The incident resulted in the deaths of two pilots and two passengers belonging to Miami-based Brothers to the Rescue, an anti-Castro group that worked to rescue those fleeing the island in rafts and which dropped pro-democracy pamphlets on Cuba.
A three-judge, 11th Circuit Court panel on June 4, 2008, vacated the life sentences of Rene Gonzalez and Guerrero as well as Fernando Gonzalez's 19-year sentence, concurring with their argument that their sentences were improperly configured because they did not gather or transmit classified information.
The judges ruled Fernando Gonzalez's sentence to be too harsh because he was not a supervisor of The Wasp Network.
Attorneys for the Five, in addition to battling U.S. government claims against their clients, have argued repeatedly that none of the Five received a fair trial.
The 11th Circuit Court made two previous rulings on the latter point.
A three-judge panel overturned the 2001 convictions in 2005 on the grounds there should have been a change of venue from Miami, where the trial received negative coverage and prevented the men from receiving a fair trial, to another location.
However, the full 11th Circuit reversed that decision in August 2006, rejecting the claim the trial should have been moved from Miami.
Supporters remain undaunted in their quest to free the Cuban Five.
"We are side by side with the lawyers in their legal battle and their case is very legally strong but it’s clear to us what will win their case is the court of public opinion… and the campaign to free them," Gloria La Riva, coordinator of the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five, told APN.
The National Committee will lead demonstrators in an act of peaceful civil disobedience in Washington D.C. on September 12, 2008, to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the arrests of the Cuban Five.
The group sent a letter to President Bush asking for a meeting so they can present 100,000 petitions containing signatures from citizens of 78 countries asking for freedom for the Five.
The letter also requests the government grant visas to Olga Salanueva Arango, wife of Rene Gonzalez, and Adriana Perez O'Connor, wife of Hernandez, who have been denied permission to visit their husbands in prison for eight and 10 years, respectively.
"The government has given a number of different excuses [for denying visitations] but the reality is it’s an additional punishment for the men and the family," La Riva said.
Supporters in Boston, San Antonio, Montreal, Toronto, Amsterdam, Oslo, Stockholm and other cities around the world will hold events on September 12 in conjunction with the action in Washington DC.