By Leonard Weinglass, attorney for the defence
23, 2008 -- After decades of enduring attacks within Cuba’s own borders (acts
of arson, sabotage, assassinations and the use of biological weapons) perpetrated
by anti-Cuban terrorist groups based in southern Florida that enjoy the support
and consent of the US government, and after the United States repeatedly
refused to implement measures to prevent such attacks, a group of unarmed men travelled from Cuba to the United States to monitor the
activities of mercenary groups responsible for those attacks and organisations
that support them and to warn Cuba of their aggressive intentions.
* * *
September 12, 2008, protest in Washington DC to mark the tenth anniversary of the unjust imprisonment of the Cuban 5
* * *
September 1998, five of these men, who would later be known as the Cuban Five,
were arrested in South Florida by FBI agents and kept in isolation cells for 17
months before their case was even brought before a court. Initially, they were
accused of the vague crime of conspiracy which, according to US law,
constitutes a commitment to carry out acts of espionage (the US government
never accused them of actual espionage, nor did it affirm that real acts of
espionage had been carried out, as no classified military document had been confiscated
from the men). In addition the men faced minor charges associated with the use
of false names and for failing to inform federal authorities that they were
working on US soil on behalf of Cuba.
months later, a new charge was brought against the accused: again, that of
conspiracy, but this time to commit murder. This charge was brought
specifically against one of the five, Gerardo Hernández, the result of an
intense public campaign which sought to avenge the downing, by Cuba’s Air
Force, of two light airplanes piloted by members of an anti-Castro group and
the death of its four crew members, an event that had taken place two years
before, when those airplanes were within Cuban airspace. The planes belonged to
an organisation which, in the 20 months preceding the incident in which they
were downed, had penetrated Cuban airspace 25 times, something which had been
denounced repeatedly by the Cuban government. The downing of the planes took
place after Cuban authorities had officially warned the United States that it would defend its airspace.
spite of the vigorous objections raised by the Cuban Five’s defence, the case
was tried in Miami, Florida, a community that is home to more than half a
million Cuban exiles with a long history of hostility toward the Cuban government,
an environment that a US federal court of appeals would later describe as a
"perfect storm" of prejudices, which, in this case, prevented the
holding of a fair trial. Each and every one of the 12 members of the jury
selected to try the case expressed negative opinions regarding the Cuban
government and was a hostile jury member. The three potential jury members who
expressed a neutral stance toward Cuba were disqualified by the government
trial, which lasted over six months, became the longest trial that the United States had known until then. More than 119 volumes of testimony
and over 20,000 pages of documents were complied, including the testimonies of
three retired army generals, a retired admiral, a former advisor to US President Bill Clinton on Cuban affairs (all called
by the defence) and high Cuban officials. Near the trial’s conclusion, when the
case was about to be presented to the jury for its consideration, the US government
presented an extraordinary appeal before a higher court, seeking its
intervention, recognising that it had failed to prove the main charge of
conspiracy to commit murder and alleging that it was facing an
"insurmountable obstacle" in connection with winning the case. After
that appeal was turned down, the jury nonetheless found the five guilty of all
charges, under intense pressure brought to bear on them by the local media,
whose cameras followed jury members even while driving, so that their licence
plate numbers were made public, and by anti-Castro activists, who did not cease
their protests before the court.
guilty, the Cuban Five were given unprecedented long sentences and imprisoned
in five completely separate maximum security prisons. Gerardo Hernández was
given two life sentences; Antonio Guerrero and Ramón Labañino a life sentence
each, Fernando González 19 years and René González 15 years. The three men
sentenced to life imprisonment became the first three people ever to be
sentenced to life imprisonment for espionage in the United States in a case where no secret document was ever handled.
initial appeal process lasted 27 months and concluded with a decision by a
three-judge panel of the court of appeals that revoked all of the convictions
on the grounds that the five accused had not received a fair trial in Miami. In an unexpected move, the government asked the 12 judges
of the Court of Appeals of the Eleventh Circuit to review the panel's decision
through a so-called en banc procedure. Exactly one year later, in spite of the
strong disagreement voiced by two of the three judges who made up the panel,
the court plenum revoked, by majority, the 93-page decision of the three judges
and refuted the claim that a climate of violence and intimidation prevailed in
Miami. In the quarter century before this decision, that court had never ruled
in favor of a person accused of a federal crime.
the while, on May 27, 2005, the UN Work Group on Arbitrary Detentions, after reviewing the
arguments advanced by the family of the Cuban Five and the US government, concluded that their imprisonment was
arbitrary and urged the US government to take the measures needed to rectify the
Work Group stated that, based on the facts and the circumstances in which the
trial was held, the nature of the charges and the severity of the convictions,
the imprisonment of the Cuban Five violates Article 14 of the International
Convention on Civil and Political Liberties, to which the United States is a signatory.
20, 2007, an oral hearing
called by a three-judge panel took place at the Atlanta Court of Appeals for
the 11th Circuit. As in the two previous hearings held in March 2004 and
February 2006, the parties -- US government and the defence -- put forth their
arguments and replied to the questions put to them by the judges.
hearing was yet another step in the long appeal process for the Cuban Five
undertaken the moment they were sentenced in 2001. On this occasion, the US government once again proved unable to refute the arguments
of the defence or to substantiate its accusations.
defence, however, offered irrefutable proof of the improper conduct shown by
the government throughout the legal proceedings brought against the Cuban Five,
a flagrant violation which affects the entire case, related to prosecution’s
invention of crimes which it could not prove during the trial, promotion of a
hostile atmosphere and manipulation of the evidence and the jury.
lack of evidence needed to substantiate the two main charges -- conspiracy to
commit espionage and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder -- and the
imposition of completely irrational and unjustifiable life sentences, has been
another key argument advanced by the defence in its efforts to reveal the
arbitrary nature of the process. The government itself recognised during the
trial that it could not produce a single secret document to prove the charge of
espionage and that it had met an “insurmountable obstacle” in its efforts to
prove the charge of conspiracy to commit murder.
the rigged process, the government admitted that its true aim was to protect
the anti-Cuban terrorist groups that operate, with complete impunity, from Miami and to punish those who fight against them.
June 4, 2008, the three-judge panel expressed its opinion, ratifying the guilty
verdicts of the Cuban Five; ratifying the sentences of Gerardo Hernández and René
Gonzalez; annulling the sentences of Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González and
Ramón Labañino and referring the cases once again to the Miami District Court
so they could be re-sentenced at a hearing to be called for this purpose.
September 12, these five men will have served their 10th year in prison for
crimes they did not commit, but for having tried to protect Cuba from terrorist actions. Cuba, like the United States and any other country in the world, has a legitimate
right to defend itself from this scourge, which has already claimed many lives.
case against Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González
and René González is still in the appeal process at the Atlanta Court of
Appeals for the 11th Circuit.
Human rights violations
the time of their arrest and trial, the Cuban Five were detained, with no right
to bail, for 33 months. In addition to this, they were kept in isolation cells
for 17 months. They were denied all contact with their relatives and small
children and even each other.
August 2001, before they were convicted at their hearings, they were once again
sent to the “hole” for 48 days.
as the defence was preparing to submit their documents to the court and the
appeal process for the cases was about to commence in March 2003, the five were
once again summarily sent to isolation cells "on orders from
Washington", as the administrators of the local penitentiaries declared,
perplexed at that order, as the five men had maintained exemplary conduct
during their imprisonment.
the time the US Department of Justice decided to keep the Cuban Five in solitary
confinement for "national security" interests. US authorities applied
the so-called Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) by virtue of federal
regulations passed in 1996. These measures are applicable in cases where there
is reason to suspect that communication between federal prisoners can put the
country's national security at risk or lead to acts of violence or terrorism.
Cuban Five were once again sent to the “hole”, thus prevented from any contact
with the world. All communication with their lawyers was denied them. They were
not allowed to receive visitors, not even from the Cuban consulate. They were
not allowed to receive any correspondence or make telephone calls, not even
with their families. This measure was adopted by the US government at a crucial stage of the legal process, when
contact between lawyer and client is crucial and the defence was preparing its
declarations for the appeal.
“Special Administrative Measures” were amended by virtue of the 2001 Patriot
Act, which extended the period of time these measures can be applied from 120
days to a year, and modified the norms governing the approval of such
extensions. As a result of this amendment, the "Special Administrative
Measures" could be applied to the Cuban Five again at any time in the
five men have been in prison for more than nine years. During this time, Adriana,
Gerardo Hernández’ wife, has never been granted a visa that will allow her to
visit her husband. Olga, René González' wife, has also been denied the
possibility of visiting her husband. With respect to the other relatives, the US government has continued unnecessary delays in the
granting of entry permits. The average number of visas granted for every member
of the family (including
wives and children) is solely one visa for every family member a year.
a result, in most cases, relatives have been able to visit on average only once
every year, when, in conformity with the regulations governing visits at the
different prisons, more frequent visits could have been coordinated, had the visas
been granted for this purpose.
International has condemned these acts as violations of international law. In a
letter addressed to the US Department of State, Amnesty International declared:
“Such denial of family visits for convicted prisoners would represent a
substantial hardship in any case. This is of even more urgent concern in the
present cases given the serious questions which have been raised about the
fairness of the convictions", adding: “this measure is unnecessarily
punitive and contrary both to standards for the humane treatment of prisoners
and to states’ obligation to protect family life."
The most recent decision in Atlanta
June 4, 2008, the three-judge panel of the Atlanta Court of Appeals for the
11th Circuit responsible for reviewing the case of the Cuban Five, made up of judges
Stanley Birch, Phyllis Kravitch and William Pryor, expressed its opinion. This
flowed from the August 9, 2006 court plenum that overturned the convictions of the Cuban
Five and called for a new trial, having found that they had not received a fair
trial. On that occasion, the plenum instructed the judges to review the other
arguments behind the appeal.
its new opinion, the panel ratified the guilty verdicts of the five, ratified
the sentences imposed on Gerardo Hernández and René González, annulled the
sentences imposed on Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González and Ramón Labañino and
referred these last three cases to the Miami District Court, so that they would
be re-tried at a hearing to be held for that purpose.
the panel defeated each and every one of the arguments advanced in the appeal
by the defence, alleging that they were “devoid of merit”, save those related to
the sentences imposed on Ramón, Antonio and Fernando. Only in connection with
the charge of conspiracy to commit murder brought against Gerardo, a charge
which the prosecution itself recognised before the court of appeals during the trial
that it could not prove, the decision was 2 to 1, with a 16-page decision
presented by Judge Kravitch, who affirmed that the government had not presented
any evidence to prove that Gerardo was guilty of such a crime.
99-page decision was drawn up by Judge Pryor, member appointed in 2007, who,
with a politicised language completely out of place in a legal document,
explicitly favoured the government's position and even changed a number of
facts invoked by that same panel in its previous decision in favour of the five,
regarding the issue of venue, and manipulated other facts in the case files.
whose appointment as federal judge proved highly controversial (owing to his
far-right positions) and which was denounced by important US newspapers as well
as criticised within the Senate, was proposed by US President George Bush in
April 2003 and disallowed on that occasion by the Senate. Subsequently, in June
2005, he managed to secure his appointment, although 45 senators voted against,
through a negotiated arrangement with the current Republican presidential candidate
In an interview for Cuban television
aired the day after the three-judge panel made its decision public, attorney
for the defence Leonard Weinglass affirmed:
“When the Five were arrested in 1998, the
Pentagon and the Department of Justice issued a statement saying that the United
States' national security had not been
damaged. Now, after they've been in prison for 10 years, we have an assertion
from a high-level court that there was no
espionage and that no top secret information was obtained or transmitted.
That's what the Court found. Yet, they are remanded to be re-sentenced and
we're not sure what the new sentence will be.
Gerardo's case (two life sentences plus
15 years) was the simplest, according to all the lawyers, and could have been
withdrawn. However, although his case is easy from the legal point of view, given
the lack of evidence for the charge of conspiracy to commit murder he is
accused of; it is the most difficult one from the political point of view, due
to the political climate that exists in Miami. The [Florida] Court did
not have the courage to set aside such a sentence even when the government
itself acknowledged in writing at the trial that it could not prove it.
one reads the Appellate opinion, in particular the first 40 pages, it is very
clear to attorneys there is ideological prejudice in the emitted decision.
99-page ruling finds that Judge Joan Lenard made mistakes when she sentenced
Fernando. She made mistakes when she sentenced Antonio; she made mistakes when
she sentenced Ramón. She made mistakes in the instructions she gave the jury
about Gerardo and -- according to two of the three [Atlanta] judges -- made a mistake when she denied a change of
these six or seven serious errors, the [Atlanta] court remands the case to Judge Lenard
this is one of those situations where the government of the United States is utilising its justice system to achieve a foreign-policy
objective, and can be compared to the opposite tack in the case of Posada
when this happens and the existence of political prejudice is revealed, the
American people feel greatly ashamed at the failure of their system of justice
and the courts of justice."
these years of unjust imprisonment, the delay in the granting of visas to the
relatives of the Cuban Five, imprisoned in the United States since September
12, 1998, has, in most cases, prevented these relatives from visiting the five
more than once a year on average, despite the regulations of the different
prisons allowing monthly visits.
2006, when a new procedure for the request of temporary entry visas was
introduced, this situation has worsened, and the time relatives have had to
wait to obtain a visa and, thus, the time the five have been denied visits from
these relatives, has increased significantly (up to 19 months, to date).
to these regulations, relatives in the United States must request the visit at the US Interests Section in
Cuba via phone. This has forced the relatives of the Cuban
Five to resort to an exceptional mechanism which has made the securing of visas
an even more complicated process than before 2006.
* * *
Letter to the Attorney General of the United States of America
Alberto Gonzales Attorney General of the United States of America
According to the information supplied by the
international press, on August 9, 2005, the Court of Appeals of the Eleventh
Circuit Court of Atlanta declared null and void the decision passed in Miami which
had condemned Gerardo Hernández Nordelo, René González Sehwerert, Ramón
Labañino Salazar, Antonio Guerrero Rodriguez and Fernando González Llort for
infiltrating the extremist Cuban American groups in the south of Florida in
order to obtain information about terrorist activities directed against Cuba.
Their prison sentences have already been declared illegal by the Working Group
on Arbitrary Detentions of the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations.
the past seven years, these five young men have been held in maximum security
prisons; they have been held incommunicado in isolated cells for long periods
of time and two of them have been denied the right to receive family visits.
this present time, considering the nullification of the sentence, nothing
justifies their incarceration. This arbitrary situation which is extremely
painful for them and their families cannot be allowed to continue. We, who have
signed below, are demanding their immediate liberation.
NOBEL PRIZE LAUREATES Wole Soyinka, Nadine
Tutu, Rigoberta Menchú, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, José
Saramago, Harold Pinter, Zhores Alfiorov, y Günter Grass and over 6000 intellectuals and artists from around
the world, including Noam Chomsky, Oscar Niemeyer, Mario Benedetti, Harry
Belafonte, Pablo González Casanova, Ernesto Cardenal, Thiago de Mello, Danny
Glover, Walter Salles, Eduardo Galeano, Alice Walker, Manu Chao, Atilio Borón, Francois
Houtart, Ignacio Ramonet, Luis Sepúlveda, Tariq Ali, Ramsey Clark, Gianni Miná,
Frei Betto, Miguel Bonasso, Howard Zinn, Jorge Sanjinés, Rusell Banks y Alfonso
Sastre, have signed this letter.
More than 1000
parliaments around the world have declared their support of the Cuban Five
through motions and letters addressed to the US government which demand their release.
and parliamentary commissions of Great Britain, Ireland, Russia, Mexico, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Bolivia, Venezuela, Panama, Peru, Brazil, Paraguay and Mali, among others, have pronounced themselves in favour
of the Cuban Five.
Assembly of the Inter-parliamentary Union, the Latin American Parliament, the
Central American Parliament, ParlaSur, the Andean Parliament and the Indigenous
Parliament have passed resolutions in this connection.
The Women’s Forum
of the Joint ACP-EU Parliamentary Assembly and the Network of Parliamentary
Women of the Parliamentary Conference of the Americas have denounced the situation of two wives of the
Five, to whom the United States has denied visas.
In February 2007,
187 members of the European Parliament signed a written declaration which asks
the US government to grant the wives of two of the Five, Olga Salanueva and
Adriana Pérez, and other relatives, the needed visas as expeditiously as
legally possible, and asks the European Commission Council to call on the US
government to adopt the measures needed to rectify the situation.
Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions of
the UN Human Rights Commission May
deprivation of liberty of Mr. Antonio Guerrero Rodriguez, Mr. Fernando González
Llort, Mr Gerardo Hernández Nordelo, Mr. Ramón Labañino Salazar and Mr. René
González Sehweret is arbitrary, being in contravention of article 14 of the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights”
Important associations of lawyers,
ombudsmen and human rights activists have voiced their support of the cause of
the Cuban Five:
Association of Criminal Defence Lawyers
Association of Federal Defenders
Association of Criminal Defence Lawyers
Order of Defence
Lawyers of Brazil
Rico Lawyers’ College
Association of Democratic Lawyers
Association of Jurists
Federation of the Ombudsman
GERARDO HERNÁNDEZ NORDELO
in the City of Havana on June 4, 1965. Graduated in 1989 on International Political Relations in the Higher Institute of International Relations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
1989 to 1990 he participated as an internationalist combatant in the war of
liberation of Angola and against apartheid.
is a caricaturist and he has published his drawings in the Cuban press media
and displayed them in exhibitions in various galleries. A book containing his
works was published recently. His poems have been published in electronic media.
was unfairly sentenced to two life terms
plus 15 years. The government of the United States prohibits his wife to visit him.
Conspiracy, Conspiracy to commit espionage, Conspiracy to commit murder, False
Identity and Conspiracy to act as a non-registered foreign agent
RAMON LABAÑINO SALAZAR (LUIS MEDINA)
P. O. Box 3000
Pine Knot, KY42635
in the City of Havana on June 9, 1963. Graduated with a summa cum laude in economy from the University of Havana
in 1986. Ramón has three daughters of 18, 12 and eight years of age.
was unfairly sentenced to life
imprisonment plus 18 years.
Charges: General Conspiracy, Conspiracy
to commit espionage, False Identity and Conspiracy to act as a non-registered
ANTONIO GUERRERO RODRÍGUEZ
in the city of Miami on October 16, 1958. Graduated as airfield construction engineer from the
Technical University of Kiev, in the former Soviet Union. The expansion of the Santiago de CubaInternationalAirport was the most important works in which he was involved.
is a poet and painter. He has published three books of poems, the first From my Altitude, and two more recently Confidential Poems and Décimas for Antonio Maceo.
of his poems have been put to music. He has two sons of 20 and 13 years of age.
was unfairly sentenced to life
imprisonment plus 10 years.
Charges: General Conspiracy, Conspiracy
to commit espionage and Conspiracy to act as a non-registered foreign agent.
RENÉ GONZÁLEZ SEHWERERT
P.O. Box 7007
in Chicago, US, on August 13, 1956. He is a pilot and flight instructor. René has two
daughters of 21 and seven years of age.
1977 to 1979 he participated as an internationalist combatant in the war of
liberation of Angola and against apartheid.
was unfairly sentenced to 15 years of
imprisonment. The government of the United States prohibits his wife and his little daughter to visit him.
Charges: General Conspiracy and
Conspiracy to act as a non-registered foreign agent.
FERNANDO GONZÁLEZ LLORT (RUBEN CAMPA)
P.O. BOX 33
TERRE HAUTE, IN 47808
Born in the City of Havana on August 18, 1963. Graduated with a summa cum laude in international
political relations from the Higher Institute of International Relations of the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1987.
1987 to 1989 he participated as an internationalist combatant in the war of
liberation of Angola and against apartheid.
was unfairly sentenced to 19 years of
Charges: General Conspiracy, False
Identity and Conspiracy to act as a non-registered foreign agent.