On June 16 and 17, 1998, the Cuban authorities, in an exchange with the FBI handed over a huge amount of material related to anti-Cuban terrorist activities conducted from US territory, including 230 pages of documents, five videos of material broadcast on US TV about terrorist activities against Cuba and eight audio cassettes containing 2 hours and 40 minutes of conversations between jailed central American terrorists and their contacts outside.
Less than two months later, on September 12, the FBI, in early morning raids arrested five Cubans in Miami. Were they related to terrorist activities against Cuba? Quite the opposite, they were Cuban agents working to infiltrate the anti-Cuban terrorist groups based in Miami and they had also participated in the gathering of the information passed on to the FBI.
This was the beginning of a protracted legal case against these five people now known as the “Miami Five”. The case is one of injustice, political manipulation of the justice system and one that exposes the hypocrisy of Bush’s so-called “war on terrorism”. And this is probably the reason why you have not heard anything about it in the mainstream media.
The Miami Five, Gerardo Hernández Nordelo, Ramón Labañino Salazar, René González Sehwerert, Fernando González Llort and Antonio Guerrero Rodríguez, have all been given the longest possible sentences for the “crimes” they are accused of. Gerardo Hernández has been sentenced to two life sentences and 15 years of jail. Another two, Antonio Guerrero and Ramón Labañino have also been give life sentences. And René González and Fernándo González have been condemned to 19 and 15 years imprisonment.
From the moment they were arrested, the Miami Five were subjected to extremely harsh treatment. After 15 days in the Miami Federal Detention Centre, they were transferred to the Special House Unit, better known as “the hole”, in isolation cells 15 feet by 7. These cells are used for very dangerous criminals, generally those accused of murder, and according to the rules, prisoners can only be kept there for a maximum of 60 days. Two of the Miami Five, Gerardo Hernández and Ramón Labañino were to remain there for 17 months.
What are the Miami Five accused of? There are a number of minor charges, including acting as agents of a foreign government without being registered with the US authorities (which the Five admit to), but the two main charges which three of them have been condemned to life sentences for are related to spying and murder.
From the very beginning, the local media started to talk of a dangerous group of Cuban spies that had endangered US national security. But in the seven long months of the trial (which makes this one of the longest judicial cases in the history of the US), the prosecution could not present one single piece of evidence to back up this case. Defence lawyers called to the stand US Navy officers, both active and retired, high ranking US intelligence officers and others and they all testified that after looking at all the evidence found on the Five, they had not seen any classified material.
Even the prosecutor of the case had to make clear in his opening remarks to the jury that, “we arrested these five men and we seized 20,000 pages of documents from their computers, but ladies and gentlemen from these 20,000 pages we cannot present one single page of classified information”. Since they could present no proof of the charge of spying, the prosecution decided to charge them with “conspiracy to spy”. Conspiracy is a very vague term and very difficult to prove. It means that the Five got together and decided they were going to spy. How can anyone prove that? And even if there was evidence (which was not the case), it is not normal that three of them should get the highest possible sentence you can get for spying (life imprisonment) but only for “conspiring” to spy!
The second charge for which Gerardo Hernández got his second life sentence is conspiracy to commit murder. He was accused of having been involved in the downing of two Cessna planes just off the coast of Havana by Cuban MIGs in February 1996. The story started in 1995 when an agreement was reached between Cuban and US authorities in order to regulate migration policies between the two countries. It was at that time when the anti-Cuban Miami organisation “Hermanos al Rescate” (Brothers to the Rescue) started carrying out terrorist activities against Cuba. In the 20 months leading to the downing of the two planes, they carried out 25 unauthorised flights over Cuban airspace. What did the Cuban government do? In each case they filed a formal diplomatic complaint for this violation of its country’s airspace. They received no reply.
In January 1996, the Cuban authorities invited admiral Carroll from the US Navy to Cuba and told him in no uncertain terms that their patience had run out and they would tolerate no more violations of their national sovereignty, particularly since they had information (provided by the Miami Five) that Hermanos al Rescate was about to arm these planes. Carroll went back to the US and reported to the Pentagon and the State Department that the Cubans were serious about their threats. Richard Nuccio, at that time an advisor to president Clinton, testified in the trial and said that he was very worried about the public boasting (in TV broadcasts) of Hermanos al Rescate leader José Basulto, about their illegal flights over Cuba.
On February 24th, three Cessna planes, one piloted by José Basulto himself, left a base in Florida and went to Cuba. They had been warned by the personnel at the airbase that it would be very dangerous to fly over Cuban airspace. The Cuban authorities were also forewarned. Was it Gerardo Hernández who warned them? No, it was the US Federal Aviation Agency who warned the Cubans that the planes were on their way. The planes were warned by radio that they were about to enter a restricted military area. They ignored the warnings. The Cuban air force sent two MIG fighters and after further ignored warnings downed two of the planes. José Basulto managed to escape. The Cuban government claims that the planes were illegally inside their airspace when downed, while the US government charges that they were 4 miles outside the limit.
So one might ask, what is the relationship between Gerardo Hernández and this case? He has been found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder. The “proof” presented is a telegram to Gerardo, who had infiltrated Hermanos al Rescate, telling him not to fly on that date. This evidence is very flimsy, particularly for such a serious charge as this. It does not prove that Gerardo knew the planes were going to be attacked, and it does not prove he had anything to do with the attack itself. All he did was to report about the activities of a terrorist organisation operating from the US. Furthermore the information about flights leaving and arriving in South Florida is publicly available.
Finally, the bottom line is whether a sovereign nation like Cuba has the right to defend its airspace or not. For a government like that of the US which insists in immunity for its armed personnel operation abroad, it is a blatant case of double standards to bring an accusation of murder against a government defending its own territory against terrorists coming from the US. The case against Gerardo for conspiracy to murder is so weak that in an unprecedented move, right at the end of the trial, they tried to get the charge changed from murder to homicide. But both the Tribunal and the Appeal Court rejected the petition, since the whole trial had been based on the original charge.
A fair trial in Miami?
Clearly the evidence against the Five was at most flimsy, but the jury after very short deliberation, found them guilty. That can only be explained by the fact that the trial took place in Miami. From the beginning the defence attorneys asked for the trial to be transferred out of Miami. It is well known that the mafia type networks of the rabidly reactionary Cuban exiles dominate the city. It was very difficult to have a fair trial and a jury that would not be intimidated in such a city.
Furthermore the trial took place on the same dates as the polemic over Elian Gonzalez, the Cuban boy kept in Miami by some relatives against the wishes of his father. The Cuban exiles organised violent demonstrations and riots on those days, and the whole city was immersed in an atmosphere of anti-Cuban hysteria. How can the trial of five “dangerous Communist agents”, one of them accused of having participated in the murder of Cuban exiles, take place in such a climate and be a fair trial?
Even the US government recognised in a different case a year later, that a case connected to Cuba could not be tried fairly in Miami. The US government was being accused of unfair discrimination by a Mexican employee of the Immigration Service who claimed he had been dismissed because of his support for the anti-Cuban mafia in the Elian Gonzalez case. In this case, which has only an indirect relation to Cuba, the government argued that it could not be tried fairly in Miami and asked for the trial to be transferred. The request was granted. But in the case of the Miami Five, which is directly linked to Cuba and to the reactionary Cuban exiles who dominate the city, the request was rejected.
The government of the US also used a number of other legal tricks to get the Five condemned. For instance it used the Confidential Information Protection Act, in order not to release the 20,000 pages of documents seized from the Five. For months, neither the accused nor their lawyers had access to these documents, none of which contained US national defence sensitive information, or any classified information as stated by the prosecution itself. The defence was also not allowed to use the “state of need” argument against the accusation of acting as unregistered agents. This means that you can break the law in order to serve a greater good. In this case, the defence argued that they did so in order to save lives and property by infiltrating these terrorist groups.
Finally there is also the issue of the harsh treatment the Five received and are receiving in jail, particularly in relation to the visits from their family. Olga Salanueva, René’s wife, and Adriana Pérez, Gerardo’s wife, have never been allowed to see their husbands since they have been in jail! How is that possible? Simply by not giving them a visa to enter the US. The US immigration service said that they cannot even argue humanitarian reasons for the granting of the visas, since they are a “threat to US national security”. This vindictive ruling goes against the US’s own penitentiary rules and Constitution. Their young children have been growing up for years without being allowed to see their fathers. Visitation rights apply to even the more callous convicted murderers, so why should they not be allowed to the Miami Five who are clearly innocent victims of political imprisonment?
The long arm of the anti-Cuban Mafia in Miami
But the implications of this case go much further if one takes the time to trace the background of some of the people involved. Take for instance Hector Pesquera, Special Agent in Charge of the Miami regional office of the FBI and responsible for the arrest of the Five. What is his background? He became prominent when he was involved in the investigation that led to the arrest of four Miami Cubans in 1997. The US Coast Guard arrested them in October of that year when it seized a yacht in Puerto Rican waters. They found seven boxes of ammunition, military uniforms, two assault rifles and other military equipment. One of the arrested, Angel Alfonso Alemán, quickly declared that he was in charge and that their mission was to assassinate Castro during his visit to Margarita Island in Venezuela.
Hector Pesquera, the FBI agent in charge of the case, promised to carry out the investigation but added that “there might be foreign policy implications” in which case he does not “rule anything out”.
The investigation soon led to the National Cuban American Foundation (FNCA), the most important organisation of Cuban reactionary exiles, with close links with the US Republican and Democratic parties. The owner of one of the rifles was Francisco Hernández, the FNCA president and Miami’s most important counter-revolutionary leader. A member of the FNCA Executive Committee was the owner of the yacht. The member of the group in charge of communications was also a known FNCA activist. While on parole, one of the accused was arrested again by the DEA accused of bringing more than 350 kg of cocaine into the country.
All of the accused denied their guilt, with the exception of Alfonso who tried to get out by pointing out that he is well connected and showed pictures of himself with president Clinton, senator Torricelli (Democrat and the second largest recipient of Cuban American money in election campaigns in the US), the now deceased leader of the Cuban exiles Jorge Mas Canosa, etc. His lawyer, who is also FBI investigating agent Hector Pesquera’s cousin, went as far as to argue that if the CIA has tried so many times to assassinate Castro, how come it is a crime for him to attempt to do the same!
The Cuban mafia threw all her weight into the case and finally the accused were released. The judges, the accused and even special agent Pesquera himself, all celebrated the outcome with a mass (these types they are always very “pious”) and a party.
As if it were a reward for having failed to produce enough evidence against the accused, special agent Pesquera was sent to Miami and appointed as Special Agent in Charge for South Florida!
Barely 12 days later, the Miami Five were arrested. It was the first time that a “network of Cuban spies” had been broken up on US territory since the Cuban Revolution. Pesquera was quick to claim credit for the operation, despite the fact that he had only been in charge there for less than two weeks! The case of the Miami Five was clearly designed to appease the FNCA, with which Pesquera has such good relations, despite the fact that some of its most prominent members had been (sort of) “investigated” by himself in relation to terrorist activities.
Remember what George W Bush said about “aiding and harbouring terrorists” being on the same level as committing terrorist acts. But then this rule only seems to apply to the “bad” terrorists, not to the ones that are on Washington’s side and that sometimes even do some of the White House’s dirty work. Not to mention the enormous political clout the FNCA has in Florida, the state ruled by Bush’s brother Jeb, and in which Bush’s presidency was “won”.
The actions of the anti-Cuban terrorists (with a little help from the CIA)
Another story worth telling is that of Orlando Bosch, the person whose actions Fernando González, one of the Miami Five, was in charge of monitoring. Bosch left Cuba in 1960 and went to the US. His first terrorist activity was in 1968 when he was involved in the sending of a parcel bomb to Havana. In that year he was responsible for more than 40 terrorist attacks. At the end of the year he was arrested in Miami, tried and found guilty of an attack on a Polish ship and sentenced to 10 years in jail. In 1974, while on parole, he fled the US and carried on with his terrorist activities. He has confessed to carrying out bomb attacks in Miami, New York, Venezuela, Panama, Mexico and Argentina.
In October 1976 he was arrested in Venezuela in connection with the terrorist attack on a Cuban civilian airplane that resulted in 73 dead, men, women and children. This was the first ever bomb attack on a civilian airplane in the world. After spending 11 years in jail in Venezuela, having been proved that he had been an associate of two other men accused of homicide in the same case, he was finally released. In 1987 he returned to Miami and was arrested by the immigration service. The proceedings for his deportation began.
But then enormous political pressure was exerted by the Cuban mafia and its associates to get him released. Prominent in the campaign was senator Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Republican and the largest recipient of Cuban American money in election campaigns in the US). Amongst those involved was Jeb Bush, George W’s brother, who was then Ileana’s election campaign manager. Finally George Bush senior granted the release of this known and convicted terrorist and even gave him permanent residence in the US.
Another of those involved with Bosch in the bomb attack on the Cuban airliner in 1976 was Luis Posada Carriles. He had fled Cuba in 1959 after having been a police agent under dictator Fulgencio Batista. Most of his later life was dedicated to one goal: the assassination of Castro, working for the CIA and, according to his own confession in an interview to the New York Times in 1998, for Jorge Mas Canosa, the former head of the FNCA.
When Bosch and Posada were arrested by the Venezuela authorities, the Cuban mafia in Miami raised the $50,000 dollars to bribe the jail authorities and got him free. He then joined Lt Col Oliver North who got him a nice job with the CIA organising Contras, the gang of counter-revolutionary cut throats sabotaging the Nicaraguan Sandinista revolution in the 1980s. After that “campaign” was over, he concentrated his attention on a bombing campaign against tourist installations in Cuba in the mid 1990s that resulted in the death of an innocent Italian tourist.
On November 17, 2000, Posada and another 3 prominent members of the Cuban mafia, with close links to the NFCA leaders, were arrested in Panama and accused of plotting to assassinate Fidel Castro during his visit to Panama to attend a regional summit. In April 2004 they were tried for and found guilty of being a threat to public security and falsifying documents. There was no mention in the verdict of the accusation of plotting to kill Castro. But on August 26, 2004, the four received a pardon from Panama’s outgoing president Mireya Moscoso, just six days before she was to hand over to President-elect Martin Torrijos.
The decision came shortly after a visit by Colin Powell to Panama. Posada went to Honduras, and the other three, all of them convicted terrorists, went back to Miami to a warm welcome by the anti-Cuban mafia, and not surprisingly were allowed in by the US immigration authorities. The three have carried out terrorist acts on US territory. One of them, Guillermo Novo, was convicted of participating in the car bombing that killed former Chilean Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier, in Washington in 1978. Incidentally, the other two people convicted of the car bombing of Letelier were released by president Bush against the advice of both the FBI and the INS.
It is quite clear why the Cuban government had to undertake measures to prevent terrorist attacks from these groups, since the US authorities not only do not do anything to prevent them, but even turn a blind eye or collaborate with them. Such terrorist attacks on Cuba (mostly against civilian targets, like the bombing campaign against hotels and tourist resorts) have caused 3,478 deaths and 2,099 permanently disabled since 1959.
Free the Miami Five!
The case of the Miami Five is clearly about the right of a sovereign country to defend itself against the terrorist actions conducted from a neighbouring country that harbours them and does not lift a finger to stop their actions. The case exposes the hypocrisy of the US ruling class when it claims it is conducting a war on terrorism. It also uncovers the important role that the reactionary anti-Cuban mafia in Miami play in US politics, both Republican and Democrat. It is therefore an overtly political case that the US ruling class and its media are not interested in publicising because the details are highly damaging.
Socialists all over the world must demand first of all that the basic human rights of the Miami Five are respected (starting with full rights to visits), that the trial, which is now subject to a legal appeal, is reviewed and takes places in fair conditions with full legal rights, and finally that the Miami Five, whose only crime is to fight the reactionary terrorist anti-Cuban mafia in Miami, be released. But this cannot be seen merely from a legal point of view. A political case must be fought by political means. US labour and progressive movement organisations must be made aware of the case and should take a clear position.
The scandalous case of the Miami Five has exposed completely the cynical hypocrisy of the Bush government in the so-called war against terrorism. Like the even more barbarous scandal of the Guantanamo Bay concentration camp, it has revealed the hollowness of its appeals to democracy and civilized behaviour and the rule of law. It stands condemned before the tribunal of world public opinion.
A labour movement enquiry should be conducted on the links between the Miami anti-Cuban terrorists and the US state apparatus, its security services, the legal system, etc. This is a crucial issue that the US labour and progressive movement should consider as one of high priority. The same dirty methods that the US ruling class uses against progressive governments and movements around the world are – and will be – also used against US workers and their organisations at home.
The real “crime” of Cuba from the point of view of the US ruling class is that it provides an example of how, by expropriating the capitalist class, one can provide for free for such things as high quality education and health care. And this is a very dangerous example for the workers and peasants in the rest of Latin America, but even for the workers in the US, millions of whom have no health care at all and are excluded from higher education. Socialists and labour activists all over the world must condemn the actions of US imperialism, which constitute a serious threat to the democratic rights of workers everywhere.
Free the Miami Five!
Fight to defend democratic rights!
Down with imperialism!
October 15, 2004
For more information on the Miami Five see also:
The US Committee to Free the Five