Supporters say Hernandez, four others wrongfully convicted
February 09, 2014 1:27 PM
Rebecca Howes, Staff Writer
VICTORVILLE • An inmate housed at the United States Penitentiary-Victorville has drawn support from a wide range of dignitaries as he serves a double-life sentence at the maximum security facility.
Gerardo Hernandez, 48, was arrested by FBI SWAT team members in 1998 along with four other men: Antonio Guerrero, Ramon Labanino, Fernando Gonzalez and Rene Gonzalez.
Hernandez was convicted in 2001 and was transferred after his trial to Lompoc U.S. Penitentiary. In 2004, he was transferred to Victorville.
Supporters say Hernandez is innocent and is the victim of political persecution by the U.S. government.
“The idea that anyone could live through this and maintain a sense of dignity is remarkable,” Hernandez’s attorney, Martin Garbus, said in a telephone interview.
Garbus, a New York-based civil rights attorney, took over representing the Cuban Five after the death of attorney Leonard Weinglass in 2011. Garbus, who has visited Hernandez at the Victorville prison a half-dozen times, said he has a deep respect for his client.
“I knew Nelson Mandela. There is the same kind of serenity with Gerardo — this extraordinary quietness and awareness,” Garbus said. “The ability to withstand his incarceration and to stay positive is extraordinary.”
Within days of Hernandez’s 2001 conviction, the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five was formed, according to coordinator Gloria La Riva.
“Gerardo had nothing to do with the planes being shot down,” La Riva said, claiming that media-created hysteria led to an unjust conviction.
According to La Riva, dozens of Miami journalists were covering the trial of the Cuban Five in a “highly prejudicial manner.”
“Gerardo was on a mission in Miami to save lives,” La Riva said. “He never had a weapon, nor did he harm anyone.”
The Cuban Five are supported by former President Jimmy Carter and Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who was chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell. Actors Danny Glover and Martin Sheen and writer Alice Walker also have expressed their support to free the Cuban Five.
Glover, who has visited Hernandez in Victorville numerous times, told the Daily Press that he began following the case during the Miami trial.
“I thought that justice had not been done,” Glover said.
Glover attended the Porto Alegre World Social Forum in Brazil in 2003 and met the mothers and wives of the five men.
“I told them I would do everything I could on behalf of the Cuban Five,” Glover said. “I committed to them 11 years ago.”
Glover said the relationship between the U.S. government and Cuba is the issue.
“We need to find a solution to the Cuban embargo,” Glover said. “We need to find a way to demand a relationship with the Cuban people. The Cubans have no animosity towards the American people.”
Glover said he travels around the world talking about the plight of the five men.
“In any other situation these men would have been heroes,” Glover said.
Eight Nobel Prize winners, including Desmond Tutu, sent a letter to the U.S. attorney general asking for the release of the five men.
“You can look at his conviction and if his trial had been held any place other than Miami at that time you would have seen a different result,” Garbus said of Hernandez.
Hernandez has been married to his wife, Adriana Perez O’Conor, since 1988, and their relationship remains strong despite the fact that they have not seen each other in 15 years, La Riva said.
The U.S. government has denied O’Conor a visa to visit her husband on at least seven occasions.
A lengthy lockdown took place at the Victorville facility after the murder of Aryan Brotherhood leader David Snow on Nov. 13.
“During the lockdown, Gerardo’s attorney was denied entrance to see him,” La Riva said. “It’s a dangerous place and he doesn’t belong there.”
Glover said he visits Hernandez in Victorville every couple of months, and the two men easily converse about life, family, politics, sports and film. Glover said the Victorville guards have always treated him with respect, and he said the guards seem to treat Hernandez respectfully as well.
Rene Gonzalez is the only member of the Cuban Five who has been freed. He was released from prison in Florida in 2011 after serving his entire 13-year sentence. Fernando Gonzalez is expected to be released from a federal prison in Arizona on Feb. 27. He will have served 15 years, 5 months and 15 days.
“People and organizations throughout the world are aware of the unfairness of Gerardo’s conviction,” Garbus said. “His attitude remains bright despite what he’s been through. I have enormous respect for him.”