10/29/13 - Frontline - Rally for the other four
For the people and the government of Cuba the top-most priority now is to
get the remaining four of their compatriots languishing in prison cells in
the United States for the last 15 years back to their country. In the
second week of September, Havana and other major cities were festooned with
"yellow ribbons" to symbolise the yearning of the Cuban populace for the
return of their heroes. The idea of commemorating their 15th year of
incarceration in a style more in keeping with American traditions was the
idea of Rene Gonzalez, the only one of the "Five" who is now free. Yellow
ribbons, which have deep cultural significance for Americans, were tied on
cars, houses and trees in the second week of September. Many Cubans were
dressed in yellow. The historic lighthouse in Havana Bay was festooned with
a gargantuan yellow ribbon.
This correspondent was present at a concert in honour of the Cuban Five
held in the Karl Marx auditorium in September. Popular Cuban singers,
including Silvio Rodriguez, even sang the perennially popular American song
"Tie a yellow ribbon round the old oak tree", which was composed to honour
soldiers and prisoners of war coming back from the battle front. In the
front row, seated along with the close relatives of the Cuban Five, was
Raul Castro and the top leadership of the Cuban Communist Party. After the
show, Raul Castro warmly embraced Gonzalez and the close relatives of the
Cuban Five. At this juncture, the release of the four Cuban patriots seems
to be the top-most foreign policy priority of the Cuban government. The
government has been working diplomatic back channels for this.
The U.S. public is largely unaware of the case involving the five as the
mainstream media have completely shut it out of their discourses. "The
symbolism of the yellow ribbon has a strong impact in the minds of
Americans. It is a message of love that appeals to the emotions," said Rene
Gonzalez. "We are trying to send a message to say that we are human too,"
he added. Gonzalez, who also held American citizenship, was conditionally
freed on October 2011 after serving his 1ife term. He was allowed to return
to Cuba to attend the memorial services for his father in May this year.
The court had earlier refused him permission to return to Cuba, requiring
him to serve a three-year probation sentence in the U.S. following his
The Cuban people are united in their conviction that unless the remaining
four Cuban patriots are released without delay, the terrible miscarriage of
justice will not be undone. Gonzalez, speaking on September 10 at the Jose
Marti Memorial in Havana, said that though he was now physically free, he
would only feel truly liberated once all the remaining four were also out
of the inhuman American prison system, a "cemetery of live people". Despite
living with people having mental and physical problems, the Cuban Five, as
one of them noted in a letter, "have not become insecure but have on the
contrary become serene", knowing fully well that they have the backing of
the Cuban people. Gonzalez said that the Five had jointly determined that
they would not allow "their spirits to be broken by the most powerful
nation in the world".
The Cuban people as well as the government want the international community
to be fully sensitised about the case, which they emphasise is a political
one, and the fact that the Cuban Five are political prisoners. The U.N.
Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions had ruled as illegal the arrests of
the Cuban Five. Over 350 committees have been formed all over the world,
including in India, demanding the immediate release of the "Five Heroes".
Special functions, protests and vigils were held all over Cuba and in many
cities in the U.S. to mark the completion of 15 years in prison of the
Cuban Five in the second week of September. Supporters of the Five held a
vigil near the White House. Danny Glover, Hollywood actor and a champion of
progressive causes, told Consortium News that the case of the Five
"expresses the dilemma of the U.S. with Cuba"-the inability to come to
terms with Cuba's sovereignty and the will of its people. Glover, along
with the noted American documentary film-maker Saul Landau, is among the
many prominent people who have been trying through the media and activism
to get justice for the Five. Landau, who made critically acclaimed
documentaries on Cuba, Chile and the revolutionary movements in the
American continent, passed away in early September. Gerardo Hernandez wrote
a moving letter to Landau praising him for his efforts. The letter reached
him days before his demise.
The heroic story of the Cuban Five started with an event that occurred in
front of the famous Havana sea front, the Malecon, on February 24, 1996.
Two small planes operated by a terrorist group based in Miami were shot
down by the Cuban defence forces deep inside Cuban air space. Earlier,
there had been several other instances of small planes flying from Miami
violating the airspace over Havana and other cities and brazenly dropping
anti-government propaganda leaflets. Terrorist groups, mainly comprising
right-wing Cuban exiles tacitly backed by the U.S. government, have been
engaging in violent acts since the 1960s. Even those advocating the
normalisation of relations between the two countries have been violently
Andres Gomez, a Cuban-American residing in Miami, told this correspondent
that he was lucky to be alive. Many of his friends who had stood up to the
violent activities of the Cuban émigré community in Florida were
eliminated. "Acts against the Cuban state are being tolerated by the
American authorities. Leaders of pro-Cuban movements and Puerto Rican
independence movements have been murdered in the past. Those committing
terrorism against Cuba are running free," said Gomez.
Within Cuba itself, 3,478 Cubans have lost their lives as a result of
terrorist violence. Terrorist groups like Commandos F-4, Brothers to the
Rescue and notorious individuals like Luis Posada Carriles were given a
carte blanche by the American authorities to indulge in their activities.
Carriles is the man responsible for the downing of a Cuban passenger plane
in 1976, which killed 73 people. He has also been implicated in many other
terrorist acts in his long career. Carriles is now living his last years in
comfort in a retirement home in the U.S.
On May 7, 1999, more than three years after the shooting down of the two
small planes, the first of the five Cuban heroes, Gerardo Hernandez, was
charged by the U.S. federal authorities with trying to commit "grave
murder". His four comrades, Rene Gonzalez, Ramon Labanino, Antonio Guerrero
and Fernando Gonzalez, were soon picked up for questioning. The Five were
illegally held in solitary confinement for 17 months in a Miami prison. The
American media immediately went on overdrive, painting the five as "spies"
of the Cuban government engaged in a conspiracy to subvert the American
government. At the initial trial in a Miami court which lasted for seven
months, the lawyers and witnesses for the five Cubans had pointed out that
their actions were never aimed against the American government.
The Cuban Five had stated under oath that they had been on a "patriotic
mission" to the U.S. since 1990 to infiltrate the terrorist organisations
based in Florida that were involved in terrorist activities against their
homeland. It was clarified to the court that they never carried any arms,
nor harmed anyone. It was evident to the American intelligence agencies
that the only purpose of the clandestine activities of the Five was to warn
the authorities back home of impending and planned attacks from American
soil so as to protect the lives of Cubans and foreigners alike. One of
those killed in a bomb attack on a hotel frequented by tourists in 1997 was
an Italian national. In an interview to The New York Times, Posada Carriles
had admitted to masterminding the hotel attacks.
It was evident from the outset that much of the news that was printed or
broadcast at the time of the arrest of the "Five" and during the course of
the preliminary court hearings was "paid news". Now lawyers for the "Five"
have produced documentary evidence for this case. The lawyers for the Cuban
Five in Miami had stated that there was no possibility of the "five" ever
receiving a fair trial in Miami, the stronghold of the anti-Fidel Castro
Cuban exile community. At the time the Cuban American National Foundation
(CANF), led by the late Jorge mas Canosa, was the second most influential
lobbying group in the U.S. after the pro-Israeli American Israel Public
Affairs Committee (AIPAC). The Miami court gave the Cuban Five a draconian
sentence of 70 years in jail in a judgment delivered on December 2001. The
unjust nature of that trial was recognised four years later when an appeals
court overturned the judgment, ruling that there was a miscarriage of
justice. The three-member 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the
Miami judge was swayed by a "perfect storm" of pervasive community
prejudice, government misconduct and extensive negative publicity before
the trial began. The Bush administration, indebted to the right-wing Cuban
community for his dubious victory in Florida in the presidential election,
promptly went in appeal. A full bench of the 11th Appeals Court reinstated
the convictions. Later court rulings reduced the sentences of Rene
Gonzalez, Labanino and Guerrero.
Ricardo Alarcon, a veteran diplomat and the former Speaker of the Cuban
Parliament, said at an international conference, "15 years-Basta (enough)",
that the trials of the Five "were a grotesque mockery of justice" with the
Western media being "silent accomplices". He said that the media in the
U.S. had accused the Five of engaging in espionage and conspiracy though
there was not a shred of evidence to back up the claim. Alarcon pointed
out that American nationals accused of similar crimes were given much
lighter sentences. "Private Bradley Manning is another hero who risked his
life for the sake of the world. But the court which sentenced him did not
charge him with conspiracy against the state," Alarcon noted.
Martin Garbus, the lawyer for the Cuban Five, who took over the case after
the demise of Leonard Weinglass, said at the conference in Havana that he
had proof that the U.S. government had spent "tens of thousands of dollars"
on the media in its efforts to obtain the maximum punishment for the Cuban
Five. "Government money was being used to influence the media. The public
at the time thought that they were reading independent reportage. Nothing
like this had ever happened before in the American media," he averred.
Garbus said that National Security Agency (NSA) and Central Intelligence
Agency (CIA) material released by the American whistle-blower Edward
Snowden would no doubt prove beneficial to the case of the Cuban Five. He
said that most of the material presented by the federal authorities to the
American courts was based on illegal wiretaps and snooping on emails. "The
U.S. government had issued warrants [against the Five] based on illegal
intercepts," Garbus emphasised.
The lawyer for the Five had argued in court, while calling for a new trial,
that the U.S. administration "through millions of dollars of illegal
payments and thousands of articles published over a six-year period,
interfered with the trial and persuaded the jury to convict". Miami
Herald, one of America's leading papers, fired some of its journalists
after they admitted receiving secret payments from the U.S. government.
Thomas Fiedler, a Pulitzer Prize winner and former executive editor and
vice- president of Miami Herald, had said that it was wrongful on the part
of the media "to carry out the mission of the U.S. government, a propaganda
mission. It was wrong, even if it had not been secret."
In late September, a Federal Court ordered the State Department to hand
over material in its possession on secret payment to journalists in Miami
during the trial.
Noam Chomsky, speaking at a recent event at the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology (MIT) to discuss the case of the Five, explained that in the
U.S. the standard definition of terrorism applied only when terrorism was
directed toward itself and not when the U.S. promoted terrorism. He cited
the case of Cuba as an illustration. Other prominent Americans who have
called for the immediate release of the remaining four Cubans include
former President Jimmy Carter. The late American man of letters, Gore
Vidal, said that the case of the Five "is additional evidence that the U.S.
is experiencing a legal crisis, a political crisis and a constitutional
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