AN APPEAL TO THE GOODWILL OF THE PEOPLE
OF THE UNITED STATES: FREE THE CUBAN FIVE NOW
10th International Colloquium for the Cuban Five and against Terrorism
12 September 2014, Havana
Although it may pass unreported in the U.S. media, today marks the 16th anniversary of the cruel, unusual and criminal imprisonment of the Cuban Five. Human rights activists around the globe will hold a series of events to commemorate these brave young patriots whose only crime was to defend their country and fellow citizens from terrorist attacks launched from U.S. soil against Cuba.
The fact that this case, considered emblematic in defense of international human rights law, remains widely unknown in the United States speaks volumes about how the U.S. government and media withhold information from its citizens.
In September 1998, five Cuban counterterrorist officers sent to monitor Florida-based paramilitary organizations were arrested by FBI agents and accused of ‘conspiracy to commit espionage’. Their detention, trial and sentencing are singular in that:
· The five men were kept in solitary confinement for 17 months and later imprisoned in five separate maximum-security prisons spread across the U.S. without the possibility of communication with each other and limited access to legal counsel and evidence.
· The trial, which lasted seven months, became the longest in U.S. history.
· No evidence was presented at trial to show that any of the accused had actually handled or transmitted a single classified document or piece of information.
· The five Cuban men were sentenced to a total of four life sentences plus 77 years marking the first time in U.S. history that life sentences were meted out on espionage charges—and is even more astounding taking into account that the actions of the Cuban Five in no way falls under such a category and that they never constituted a threat to the national security of the United States.
· The right to a trial by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal is guaranteed under Article 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and Article 14 of the ICCPR, and is fundamental to the right to a fair trial.
· In May 2005, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions ruled that there were irregularities in the Five’s trial and arrest, effectively denying them a fair trial. The Working Group — in its only decision regarding a trial in the United States — called on the U.S. government to correct this injustice.
· In August 2005, a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the convictions of the Cuban Five and ordered a new trial citing pervasive community prejudice, government misconduct and extensive negative publicity before and during the trial.
· In 2006, in a clear example of Executive interference in judicial affairs, the Bush administration appealed the case and pressured the full panel of the 11th Circuit Court to reverse its previous ruling. The convictions were reinstated.
· In 2009, despite the dissenting opinions by judges in the Court of Appeals, and strong arguments made by their defense attorneys, the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision NOT to review the case of the five Cuban nationals,
· New evidence in recent years, including a paper trail of payments made, shows that the U.S. government paid journalists to write negative stories to discredit the five defendants before and during the trial in order to prejudice members of the jury.
Today law schools in Latin America use the case of the Cuban Five to illustrate the blatant failure to meet domestic and international standards relating to the right to a fair trial, once considered a cornerstone of U.S. Constitutional law.
In my region of the world, how the U.S. responds to the just demand for the release of the remaining Cuban Five will be seen as a litmus test of the resolve of the United States to improve relations with Latin America.
As someone who has lived a significant part of my life in the United States, I have great admiration for its people, culture and traditions, including its deep-rooted sense of fairness and respect for the rule of law. So it does not surprise me that a majority of U.S. citizens, including Floridians, believe it is time to put an end to the anti-Cuban policies of the Cold War and to normalize relations with their neighbor to the South. A humanitarian gesture granting clemency for the remaining Five would constitute a first step in the right direction.
This action is long overdue. The U.S. administration must desist in kowtowing to fringe elements in the U.S. Congress. This persistent refusal to right the wrong done to these Cuban patriots makes a mockery of U.S. claims to fight terrorism and is damaging to how the U.S. is perceived abroad.
I urge all U.S. citizens to take up the banner of the Cuban Five. It behooves them as citizens to uphold their own Constitution and international law, and equally as important, to hold their government accountable for its criminal misconduct. Indeed, our world will be a better and safer place if they do.
The U.S. has so much to gain and so little to lose by granting freedom to these Cuban patriots. Havana has repeatedly offered to begin negotiations with the Obama administration on a possible humanitarian release for Alan Gross. These talks should begin in earnest now. President Obama must know, in situations like these, dragging one’s feet is the equivalent of complicity.
Now more than ever it is time for U.S. citizens to join their voices with those of activists, human rights advocates and peace loving peoples around the globe in demanding freedom for Gerardo Hernandez, Antonio Guerrero and Ramon Labañino.
Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann
President of the UN General Assembly, 2008-2009