U.S. denies wives' right to visit imprisoned 'Cuban Five'
by Dalia Acosta
June 11, 2007
Reprinted from Final Call
HAVANA, Cuba (IPS/GIN) - Olga Salanueva is determined to visit her husband in the United States. She won’t give up, even though the U.S. Interests Section in Cuba has already denied her request for an entry visa seven times.
Ms. Salanueva was once a legal resident in the U.S., but everything changed in the early hours of Aug. 16, 2000, when she was arrested and accused of acting as a Cuban intelligence agent.
She had no idea until then that she would be separated from her husband, René González, and that after three months in custody she would be deported to Cuba, despite having a green card. Now, a bit weary but able to smile nonetheless, she is applying for the eighth time for a visa to travel to the United States to see the father of her two daughters, at least for a few minutes.
The U.S. never presented evidence to back up its charge that Ms. Salanueva was a security risk. While she was under arrest, her husband did not receive any of her letters, she said.
Ms. Salanueva’s husband formed part of a Cuban network that infiltrated Cuban exile groups with the aim of gathering information to prevent terrorist attacks against the Caribbean island nation, such as the bombings at Havana hotels that killed an Italian tourist in 1997. Some of the information they collected was reportedly even passed to the FBI through other channels.
Mr. González, along with four other Cubans, was accused by the U.S. of espionage. The appeal filed by their defense attorneys argues that the crime of espionage was not proven in the trial of the “Cuban five,” as they are widely known, but that they were merely convicted in 2001 of being “unregistered foreign agents.” Other charges they were found guilty of were passport fraud, fraudulent identification and conspiracy to defraud the United States.
Their sentences are as follows: two consecutive life terms plus 15 years for Gerardo Hernández; life in prison for Antonio Guerrero and Ramón Labañino; 19 years for Fernando Gonzáez; and 15 years for René González.
“We have lived through many separations since 1990, as a couple and as a family. René, who was born in the United States and is a U.S. citizen, left and didn’t plan to return. We didn’t see each other for six years, until he applied for us to go and we went there as part of a family reunification process,” she said.
At the moment of her arrest, the family had been together in the United States for only two years, and the couple’s second daughter, Ivette, was just two years old.
While she awaits the end of a seemingly never-ending appeals process, Ms. Salanueva dedicates a large part of her energy to an international campaign demanding that Washington respect the prisoners’ right to receive family visits.
A petition asking the U.S. government to issue the five prisoners’ families visitation visas has the support of 315 solidarity committees in 100 countries, 187 members of the European Parliament, nine winners of Nobel Peace Prizes, more than 6,000 public figures and well-known personalities and petitions containing 20,000 signatures, according to Argentinean activist Graziella Ramìrez, president of the International Committee to Free the Cuban Five.
Ms. Salanueva is not the only wife who has been repeatedly denied a visa that would enable her to visit her husband. Adriana Pérez, Hernández’s wife, has not seen her husband since he and the other four were arrested in September 1998.
A public statement issued Jan. 17 by the London-based rights watchdog Amnesty International urged Washington “to stringently review its decision to deny temporary visas to the wives of two Cuban nationals serving long federal prison sentences in the USA.” The communiquè added that Amnesty “believes that this deprivation is particularly harsh given the length of the men’s sentences and the questions that have been raised about the fairness of the men’s convictions.”
In 2005, a U.S. appeals court in Atlanta, Georgia overturned their convictions, arguing that they could not have received a fair trial in Miami, where the most radical anti-communist segments of the Cuban exile community are based. The three-judge panel described the initial trial as a “perfect storm of prejudice,” and ordered a retrial.
In May 2005, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention also issued an opinion finding that the U.S. had failed to guarantee the five men a fair trial.
A year after the Atlanta appeals court panel handed down its decision, the full appeals court ruled that it was fair to conduct the trial in Miami despite the strong anti-Fidel Castro bias there.
By declaring themselves guilty of espionage, the five men could have been released or had their sentences significantly reduced.
Observers say the tension between Washington and Havana has politicized the case. The treatment and harsh sentences received in the United States by the “Cuban five,” who are seen as heroes and fighters of terrorism in Cuba, is a result of the ties between the U.S. government and the most hard-line anti-Fidel Cuban exile sectors in Miami, they say.
The treatment included being kept in solitary confinement for months before trial and making access to evidence and communication with their attorneys difficult for the five men.