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On the 5th of each months personalities from the US and from other countries send letters to President Obama
October 5, 2014
Dear President Obama,
I am a 29-year veteran of the U.S. Army and retired as a Colonel. I was also a U.S. diplomat for 16 years and resigned in March, 2003 in opposition to the decision of the Bush administration to invade and occupy Iraq. Since my resignation eleven years ago, I have spoken and written frequently about my deep concern about policies and decisions taken by the United States government.
I am writing to you with my concerns about the cases of the Cuban Five. I suspect you have been briefed on the history of the decision of the Clinton Administration to prosecute the five Cuban citizens who were residing in the United States for their unarmed, non-violent monitoring of Miami-based terrorist organizations to prevent further attacks against the people of Cuba who have suffered more than 3,478 deaths and 2,099 injuries from terrorist acts from U.S.-based criminals.
I would like to bring to your attention that in 2005, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, concluded that, based on the facts and the circumstances in which their trial was held, the nature of the charges and the severity of the convictions, the imprisonment of the Cuban Five violated Article 14 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Liberties, to which the United States is a signatory. This was the first time the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention had denounced a conviction in a case in the United States because of the violations committed during the legal process.
A three judge panel at the Appellate level overturned the conviction of the Cuban Five. I strongly believe that due to intense political pressure from the powerful Cuban community in Miami, a full panel of the Court of Appeals reinstated the conviction.
Ten of your fellow Nobel laureates and other international notables, among them East Timor President Jose Ramos Horta, Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Rigoberta Menchu, Jose Saramago, Wole Soyinka, Zhores Alferov, Nadine Gordimer, Gunter Grass, Dario Fo and Mairead Maguire, Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland (1992-1997) and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997-2002), and UNESCO General Director Federico Mayor, among others, signed the amicus briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court asking a review of the decision of the Court of Appeals.
They were joined by hundreds of parliamentarians from around the world, including the Mexican Senate, the National Assembly of Panama. 75 members of the European Parliament, including two ex-presidents and three current vice-presidents of this legislature have signed petitions asking for the US Supreme Court to take the case. Numerous legal and human rights associations in Europe, Asia and Latin America, as well as international personalities and legal and academic organizations in the United States have signed these documents.
As you probably know, the Bush administration paid reporters to write negative stories about the Cuban Five during their trial in Miami, Florida jeopardizing the fairness of the trial and appellate process.
Despite the appeals from the international community and the United Nations, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case of the Cuban Five.
I, like many others who have served in the United States government, am deeply concerned about the lack of fairness of American law enforcement and judicial systems for the Cuban Five. Ramsey Clark, former U.S. Attorney General; Larry Wilkerson, retired U.S. Army Colonel and former Chief of Staff to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell; and Wayne Smith, former Chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana have publicly expressed their concerns, most recently to an international audience at the event “5 Days for the Cuban Five” in Washington, DC in June, 2014.
I am proud to add my voice as a retired U.S. Army Reserve Colonel and a former U.S. diplomat to their statements of concerns of the American prosecutorial and judicial processes and the American penal system concerning the Cuban Five.
Two of the Cuban Five, René González and Fernando González, have finally been released after serving their sentences. Three of the Cuban Five, Gerardo Hernandez, Ramón Labañino and Antonio Guerrero, still remain in U.S. maximum security prisons facing decades more of imprisonment.
I first met families of the Cuban Five in 2006 in Havana, Cuba. I had travelled there as a member of a human rights delegation that went to the gates of the U.S. military base in Guantanamo to protest the torture and inhumane conditions of the prisoners who had been kidnapped, tortured and imprisoned following the events of September 11, 2001. Hearing the stories of the challenge of visiting their family members in U.S. prisons caused by purposeful United States government bureaucratic measures intended to make visiting as difficult as possible, was hard to hear as a defender of human rights.
At the time of our 2006 trip to Cuba, the Cuban Five had been in U.S. prisons for eight years. During those years the U.S. judicial system was deeply influenced by the events of 9/11 and the subsequent curtailment of civil and political rights in the United States for U.S. citizens and extraordinary abridgement and violation of legal rights for non-U.S. citizens.
I hope that your administration, now that there are only two years left in your tenure as President, will be willing to challenge the strangle-hold the right wing Cuban lobby in Miami has on American politics to ultimately correct the injustices the Cuban Five have suffered and give a Presidential pardon to the remaining three members of the Cuban Five who are in prison.
U.S. Army Reserve Colonel, Retired and former U.S. diplomat
September 5, 2014
Professor Felix Kury
Dear President Obama,
I am writing as a Professor in the Latino Studies Department San Francisco State University (SFSU). This September will mark 16 years of unwarranted imprisonment of the Cuban Five, whose only crime was to prevent terrorist acts in Cuba from right wing para-military Cubans in Florida who have operated with impunity for the last fifty years. During these years, hundreds of my students at SFSU who have learned about the Cuban Five have also joined the call for their release.
The Cuban Five have never posed a threat to national security of the US. When they first were arrested, they spent time in solitary confinement, isolated from family and friends – a clear violation of their human rights, cruel and unusual punishment, and no doubt a form of torture. Two of the five, Fernando Gonzalez and Rene Gonzalez, have both returned to Cuba, having served their sentences.
Mr. Obama, I urge you to use the power of your pen to commute the sentences of Gerardo Hernandez, serving double life sentences in USP Victorville, California, Antonio Guerrero, serving 22 years in FCI Marianna, Florida, and Ramon Labañino (known as Luis Medina), serving 30 years in FCI Ashland, Kentucky.
As President, you are dealing with many challenges and controversies, such as the humanitarian crisis of Central American children, and the police brutality of the citizens of Ferguson. You promised change when you were elected. I have not seen any change in the foreign policy towards Cuba. Making such a humanitarian gesture by granting clemency will enhance the credibility and moral authority of your administration that has deteriorated as a result of listening to the wrong advisers.
As I write this letter to you I reflect on the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
Félix Salvador Kury
Program Director & Faculty Advisor
Clínica Martín-Baró, SFSU-UCSF
1600 Holloway Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94132
August 5, 2014
Nobel Price Laureate Mairead Maguire
I am writing again in the context of the worldwide actions that take place on the 5th of every month in solidarity with the three members of the Cuban 5 who remain imprisoned in the US.
The attendance at, and broad interest in, the recent event in Washington is a good indication of the increasing disquiet that exists internationally in all spheres of societies formed on a broad range of principles.
I have observed some very positive progress since I last wrote and I strongly believe that the ongoing and progressive normalization of Cuba – US relations will be beneficial to both nations and beyond.
It is the only way in which a space can be created in order to resolve the humanitarian issues that arise in relation to the three men aforementioned and of course, Alan Gross, who recently suffered the loss of his elderly mother and is, by all accounts very depressed and despondent as he awaits a resolution to his situation.
I lend my voice to the many you have already heard in asking you to do all within your power to bring to an end the suffering arising from these situations.
There are very real grounds for concern regarding the safety of all of the convictions and sentences imposed in the case of the Five and in particular there are very serious issues arising from the conspiracy to commit murder finding against Gerardo Hernandez Nordelo.
So many unanswered questions and reasonable doubts exist in this regard.
I know that you are fully informed about all issues arising regarding the Five and Alan Gross and we sincerely trust your intention to act accordingly.
I respectfully request that you do so sooner rather than later. Justice delayed is justice denied and there has been sufficient denial and delay to date.
Thank you very much for the time and attention you have already given to this matter.
I wish you every blessing and success in your work,
NOBEL PEACE LAUREATE
July 5, 2014
Fr. Geoffrey Bottoms
Dear President Obama,
As a Catholic priest in Britain I have followed the case of five Cuban prisoners in the United States known as the Cuban Five since 2002. They were convicted in Miami of charges ranging from failure to disclose themselves as foreign agents to conspiracy to commit espionage and even murder and were given sentences stretching from fifteen years to double life. In reality they were defending their people against acts of terrorism by certain Cuban-American groups in Miami hostile to Havana that have killed almost three thousand five hundred people and injured over two thousand others.
The United Nations Commission on Human Rights on the recommendation of its Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions and Amnesty International have both raised concerns as to the fairness and impartiality of a trial that took place in such a hostile environment as Miami where there were irregularities in the due process of law. An International Commission of Inquiry held in London in March of 2014 led by three internationally renowned judges reached a similar conclusion.
I have attended three appeals on behalf of the Five in Miami and Atlanta and heard the arguments for myself. I have also visited three of the prisoners and met with their families and am convinced that there has been a gross miscarriage of justice.
Fernando Gonzalez and Rene Gonzalez have both returned to Cuba having served their sentences but I am appealing for the release of Gerardo Hernandez serving double life in USP Victorville, California, Antonio Guerrero serving 22 years in FCI Marianna, and Ramon Labanino (known as Luis Medina) serving thirty years in FCI Ashland. The appeal process has now reached the stage of Habeas Corpus with fresh evidence having come to light of journalists in the pay of the US government writing biased reports both before and during the trial itself.
Mr. President, I know that you are a man of peace having won the Nobel Peace Prize and that you are also a man of faith who attempts to put his Christian principles into practice in public life. I therefore appeal for the release of the remaining three Cuban prisoners in the interests of furthering relations between the US and Cuba and world peace. Surely a humanitarian resolution to this case can be found?
The world has moved on since 1959 and it is obvious that US policy towards Cuba since then has failed to achieve its objectives. Meanwhile much suffering has been caused not least to these men and their families and especially Adriana, the wife of Gerardo Hernandez, who has been consistently denied a visa to visit her husband since 1998. I believe that they are victims of this failed strategy.
Both your country and Cuba stand to benefit from a relationship of mutual respect and co-operation and your presidency could be defined by ending decades of this sterile policy towards a noble and heroic developing country on your doorstep that only wishes to pursue its humanitarian future free from outside interference.
Can you do it? Yes you can!
With the greatest respect,
Fr. Geoffrey Bottoms
June, 5, 2014
Camila Vallejo Dowling, Member of the House of Representatives
Through this letter, I would like to join the clamor expressed by a large number of people throughout the world; artists, intellectuals, parliamentarians, jurists and people of good will, who expect from you a decision of elemental justice, especially taking into account your status as Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.
This concerns pardoning 3 Cuban citizens, unjustly held in prisons in your country, for trying to protect Cuba from terrorist acts planned from U.S. territory.
Antonio Guerrero Rodríguez, Gerardo Hernández Nordelo and Ramón Labañino Salazar have been convicted by U.S. authorities, falsely accused of conspiring against the United States, while in reality they actually infiltrated admittedly terrorist organizations, who have repeatedly attacked Cuba and Cuban citizens both inside and outside Cuban territory.
The world and especially Latin America expect you to pursue the normalization of relations with Cuba, inspired by the principle of peoples right of self-determination.
The release of these 3 Cuban patriots would be a great gesture in that direction.
I’m sure that you know about these cases and I believe that from your high office you will not endorse the continuity of the terrorist attacks suffered by Cuba, performed by sinister characters as Luis Posada Carriles, and that you understand that each country has the legitimate right to protect itself from such barbarous crimes.
Not only Cuba, but all people of good will in the world hope that Gerardo, Ramón and Antonio will be able to return to their homeland, as their comrades René and Fernando already have done. This is up to you.
Hoping sincerely that you will make the right decision, I say goodbye attentively.
CAMILA VALLEJO DOWLING
Member of the House of Representatives,
Republic of Chile
May 5, 2014
Greg Landau, Music Producer
Dear President Obama,
I am writing to you to ask you to review the case of the Cuban Five. These men acted to stop the terrorist activities being carried out in Florida by Cuban exiles against their homeland. My father, Saul Landau, gathered abundant evidence of the activities of these groups that operated with impunity in Florida with tacit support from local government officials who looked the other way at their illegal conspiracies to carry out armed attacks on Cuban soil.
The Cuban Five men were convicted in 2001 and have served lengthy sentences. The time has come to let them go, to end the cold war mentality that has shaped the United States-Cuba policy for decades despite huge shifts in the geopolitics that created them. The release of the remaining prisoners would signal a shift in U.S. policy to Cuba and a desire to heal past wounds opened decades ago in a world that does not exist anymore. The Soviet Union has disappeared, we now have normal relations with China and Vietnam, Cuba poses no danger to the United States, except as an example of the irrational policies of the past.
I have taken many student groups to Cuba over the last decade and they are amazed at the difficulty that the U.S. government policies have created for ordinary Cuban citizens and their desire to end this senseless blockade of our neighboring island. Free the Cuban Five as a gesture to end this political barrier to friendship between the United States and Cuba,
April 5, 2014
Sandra Levinson, Executive Director, Center for Cuban Studies
Dear President Obama:
I write you today to urge that you look at the case of the three Cubans still held hostage to our outworn and dangerous foreign policy towards Cuba. Called “The Cuban Five” by their supporters, they were sentenced to lengthy prison terms in 2001 for the crime of trying to protect the lives of their fellow citizens-and, for that matter, the lives of many U.S. citizens too. Two have been released from prison, and of the three who remain, one was sentenced to life imprisonment. I understand far too well the urgency that led the Cuban government to send these very brave men to infiltrate the Cuban exile terrorist organizations.
“Terrorist” is not too strong a word to describe the groups these men infiltrated in Miami. For decades they have ignored the laws of the United States which gave them new lives and protection. These groups were left alone by U.S. authorities to carry out a war against both Cuba and these with whom they disagree on U.S. territory. Many of them were U.S. citizens. I am one of these victimize by them.
In March, 1973, a member of one of those exile terrorist organizations placed a large plastique bomb in the Center for Cuban Studies, almost destroying the entire facility in Greenwich Village, New York City. The only part that was NOT destroyed was where I was sitting – my only injuries occurred because the blast caused the large glass window next to me to shatter and fall on me as I was typing.
For me, then, the “Cuban Five” represent a heroic effort to disrupt activities deemed illegal by our own government. It is past time for the release of the three remaining imprisoned.
Center for Cuban Studies
March 5, 2014
Carol Blythe, President Alliance of Baptist.
Dear Mr. President,
For the past two decades the Alliance of Baptists has enjoyed a fruitful partnership with the Fraternity of Baptist Churches of Cuba (Fraternidad de Iglesias Bautistas de Cuba). This relationship has included visits of official delegations from both groups for the purpose of participating in annual meetings and other occasions. More than two dozen partnerships between local congregations have been nurtured and supported by the Alliance and Fraternity, most of which continue to provide vibrant evidence of mutual benefit and blessing.
During these years the Alliance has spoken out repeatedly asking our government to reexamine its 50-year policies of isolating Cuba and her people by means of an economic embargo and travel restrictions. We recognize that any U.S. administration is limited in what it can do alone to end the outdated economic and political isolation of Cuba on the part of our country, given that Congress must specifically repeal the Helms-Burton Act before normalization of relations may come to pass. We pledge our continued efforts to that end, along with those of many other citizens.
On a recent trip to Cuba, our Minister for Partner Relations, Rev. Ms. Paula Clayton Dempsey, met with the wives and mothers of the “Cuban 5,” intelligence agents arrested in 1998 and later convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage on what we believe were specious charges. Rev. Dempsey heard stories from these women of visas denied by the U.S. government so that, at most, yearly visits are all that have been allowed and in some cases, no visits at all have been permitted. These actions are not consistent with the high ideals of our country.
On April 14, 2012, the Alliance of Baptists adopted a statement that called on your administration to undertake a comprehensive review of the cases of the Cuban 5. We believe the Cuban 5 should be released for time already served. In this effort, we join many respected individuals and organizations calling for a redress of the cases including President Carter, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and several other Nobel Prize laureates; as well as the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and Amnesty International.
In that regard, we write today to encourage you to pardon these five men for the time already served, an act that would be a first step toward restoring relations with Cuba as a close neighbor to the United States. Releasing the Cuban 5 undoubtedly will help in the restoration of relations between both countries. We also believe that such a step could result in the release to his family of Alan Gross.
Together with our sisters and brothers in the Fraternity of Baptist Churches of Cuba (Fraternidad de Iglesias Bautistas de Cuba) we yearn for a new day in U.S.-Cuba relations for the mutual benefit of the people of both these sovereign nations.
President, Alliance of Baptists
*The Alliance of Baptists began in 1987 as a prophetic voice in Baptist life. Today, they are a faith community comprised of male and female laity and clergy, people of diverse sexual orientations, gender identities, theological beliefs, and ministry practices. They are are Christians knit together by love for one another and God, combining progressive inquiry, contemplative prayer and prophetic action to bring about justice and healing in a changing world. In their founding covenant, they committed to: the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ and the calling of God to all peoples to repentance and faith, reconciliation and hope, social and economic justice.
February 5, 2014
I will not address the juridical flaws of the case against the Cuban Five. These flaws are well known and others have written you about them. The Five were tried in a kangaroo court and received very heavy sentences because of the crimes of Fidel Castro.
What are these crimes?
Clearly, they have nothing to do with the state of political democracy in Cuba. The United States has very good relations with the government of Saudi Arabia and, as you know, there are no political freedoms there; indeed, there isn’t even freedom of religion and the rights of women are severely curtailed.
Castro’s crime – for which the Five are paying – is obvious: he humiliated the United States. As Leycester Coltman, a British ambassador to Cuba, has written, Fidel Castro is “still a bone . . . stuck in American throats. He had defied and mocked the world’s only superpower, and would not be forgiven.”
Where did the Castro brothers defy the United States? One of the most important places is southern Africa. I am sure you sensed this in your recent visit to South Africa when you witnessed how warmly the South African people responded to Raúl Castro. As the chair of the African National Congress said, when introducing Raúl Castro, “We now will get an address from a tiny island, an island of people who liberated us, who fought for our liberation.”
While the Cubans were fighting for the liberation of the people of South Africa, successive American governments did everything they could to stop them.
In October 1975, the South Africans, encouraged by the Ford administration, invaded Angola to crush the left wing Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA). In response, 36,000 Cuban soldiers suddenly poured into Angola. By April 1976, the Cuban troops had pushed the South Africans out.
Had the South Africans succeeded in imposing their will on Angola, the grip of white domination would have tightened over the people of southern Africa. It was a defining moment: Castro sent troops to Angola because of his commitment to what he has called “the most beautiful cause,” the struggle against apartheid. Castro, Kissinger explained, “was probably the most genuine revolutionary leader then in power.”
The tidal wave unleashed by the Cuban victory in Angola washed over South Africa.
Mandela later recalled hearing about it while he was incarcerated on Robben Island. “I was in prison when I first heard of the massive aid that the internationalist Cuban troops were giving to the people of Angola. … We in Africa are accustomed to being the victims of countries that want to grab our territory or subvert our sovereignty. In all the history of Africa this is the only time a foreign people has risen up to defend one of our countries.”
This Cuban victory over apartheid meant a defeat and a humiliation for the United States. Enraged, the Ford administration ended the talks it had been conducting with Cuba toward normalizing relations.
President Carter also said there could be no normalization of relations until Cuba withdrew its troops from Angola – even though the CIA conceded that the Cuban troops were “necessary to preserve Angolan independence” against the continuing threat posed by South Africa. In June 1980, the South Africans launched another major raid, advancing more than a hundred miles into Angola, stopping only thirty miles south of the Cuban line protecting the country. The UN Security Council responded with a tough resolution condemning the invasion, and the US representative on the Council minced no words in his speech chastising South Africa. When it came to vote, however, he abstained because the resolution included language suggesting that if South Africa launched another attack on Angola the Security Council might impose sanctions.
I am sure you can appreciate the irony, Mr. President. The United States had stationed large numbers of troops in Italy, West Germany and Turkey – countries that faced no immediate military threat from the Soviet Union in 1980, but Jimmy Carter denied the Angolans the right to have Cuban troops to protect their country from the very real South African threat.
Castro refused to bow to Carter’s demands, which meant that he sacrificed the possibility of normalization with the United States (and the lifting of the embargo) in order to protect Angola from the apartheid regime.
From 1981 to 1987, the South Africans launched bruising invasions of southern Angola, encouraged by the friendly Reagan administration in Washington. It was a stalemate until November 1987, when Castro decided to push the South Africans out of Angola once and for all. His decision was triggered by the fact that the South African army had cornered the best units of the Angolan army in the southern Angolan town of Cuito Cuanavale. And his decision was made possible by the Iran Contra scandal rocking Washington. Until the Iran Contra scandal exploded in late 1986, weakening and distracting the Reagan administration, the Cubans had feared that the United States might launch an attack on their homeland. They had therefore been unwilling to deplete their stocks of weapons. But Iran Contra defanged Reagan and freed Castro to send Cuba’s best planes, pilots, and antiaircraft weapons to Angola. Castro’s strategy was to break the South African offensive against Cuito Cuanavale in the southeast and then attack in the southwest, “like a boxer who with his left hand blocks the blow and with his right – strikes.”
On March 23, 1988, the South Africans launched their last major attack against Cuito Cuanavale. It was an abject failure. The US Joint Chiefs of Staff noted, “The war in Angola has taken a dramatic and — as far as the South Africans are concerned — an undesirable turn.”
The Cubans’ left hand had blocked the South African blow while their right hand was preparing to strike: powerful Cuban columns were moving towards the Namibian border, pushing the South Africans back. Cuban MIG-23s began to fly over northern Namibia.
Among the Cuban soldiers advancing toward the Namibian border were two young men whose names are now well known: Fernando González Llort and Gerardo Hernández Nordelo. Ten years earlier, René González Sehwerert had also fought in Angola. These three men, together with Ramón Labañino Salazar and Antonio Guerrero Rodríguez, are the five Cubans on whose behalf I am writing.
US and South African documents prove that the Cubans gained the upper hand in Angola. The Cubans demanded that Pretoria withdraw unconditionally from Angola and allow UN-supervised elections in Namibia. The US Joint Chiefs of Staff warned that if South Africa refused, the Cubans were in a position “to launch a well-supported offensive into Namibia.” The South Africans acknowledged their dilemma: if they refused the Cuban demands, they ran “the very real risk of becoming involved in a full-scale conventional war with the Cubans, the results of which are potentially disastrous.” The South African military was grim: “We must do the utmost to avoid a confrontation.”
Pretoria capitulated. It accepted the Cubans’ demands: it withdrew unconditionally from Angola and agreed to UN-supervised elections in Namibia.
The Cuban victory reverberated beyond Namibia and Angola. In the words of Nelson Mandela, the Cuban victory “destroyed the myth of the invincibility of the white oppressor … [and] inspired the fighting masses of South Africa … Cuito Cuanavale was the turning point for the liberation of our continent – and of my people – from the scourge of apartheid.”
You were at Mandela’s memorial service, Mr. President, and you celebrated his legacy. You saw the reaction of the South African people to Raúl Castro and to the name of Cuba. Yes, Cuba changed the course of history in southern Africa despite Washington’s best efforts to prevent it. In so doing Cuba offended and provoked the United States – not only Ford, and Reagan but also Carter, self-styled champion of human rights. In the American mind, Cuba was the aggressor and the United States was, as always, on the side of the angels. As US historian Nancy Mitchell has pointed out, “our selective recall not only serves a purpose, it also has repercussions. It creates a chasm between us and the Cubans: we share a past, but we have no shared memories.”
Perhaps, Mr. President, what you saw in South Africa may inspire you to bridge the chasm and understand that in the quarrel between Cuba and the United States the United States is not the victim, and that the Five Cubans are, simply, political prisoners.
 Leycester Coltman, The Real Fidel Castro, New Haven, 2003, p. 289.
 “Indicaciones concretas del Comandante en Jefe que guiarán la actuación de la delegación cubana a las conversaciones en Luanda y las negociaciones en Londres (23-4-88),” p. 5, Centro de Información de las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias, Havana.
 Henry Kissinger, Years of Renewal, New York, 1999, p.785.
 Mandela, 26 July 1991, Granma (Havana), 27 July 1991, p. 3.
 CIA, “Angola Cuba: Some Strains but No New Developments,” 9 Apr. 1979, Central Intelligence Agency Records Search Tool, National Archives, College Park, MD.
 Memcon (Fidel Castro, Joe Slovo et al.), 29 Sept. 1988, p. 16, Centro de Información de las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias, Havana.
 US Joint Chiefs of Staff, 15 Apr. 1988, National Security Archive, Washington DC.
 US Joint Chiefs of Staff, 28 July 1988, ibid.; Mike Malone to A. Jacquet, enclosed in Jacquet to Pik Botha, 20 July 1988, SWA/Angola, v. 2, Department of Foreign Affairs, Pretoria; General Jannie Geldenhuys, “Samevatting van notas mbt SAW-operasies in Suid-Angola,” 23 Aug. 1988, H SAW, gr. 4, box 160, Department of Defence, Documentation Centre, Pretoria.
 Mandela, 26 July 1991, Granma, 27 July 1991, p. 3.
 Nancy Mitchell, “Remember the Myth,” News and Observer (Raleigh), 1 Nov. 1998, G5.
January 5, 2014
On December 19 you made a bold decision that was both morally right for the people involved, and it made a larger point about justice that was extremely important. You commuted the sentences of 8 people who had been imprisoned for at least 15 years on drug offenses. In this act, you both did them justice and you made a larger statement about inequality in the justice system
You have a similar opportunity now to commute the sentences of four persons referred to as the Cuban Five. Their names are: Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero and Fernando González. (The fifth, Rene Gonzalez, was recently released from prison after serving his sentence.)
In so doing, you would again both be addressing a case of unjust sentencing, and you would open the door to a new chapter in U.S. relations with Latin America by taking a major step toward reestablishing relations with a key neighbor. My IPS colleague, Saul Landau, who knew Cuba better than any other U.S. expert, died in September after years of working to both free the Cuban Five and reestablish U.S.-Cuba relations. Saul’s work on the Cuban Five case pointed to a terrible double standard in U.S. policy. On the one hand, we base much of our foreign policy on the fight against terrorism, and on the other, we imprisoned five Cubans who exposed the real threat of terrorism on U.S. soil to the U.S. government. This is wrong, and you can end this wrong by releasing the remaining four who are still in U.S. prisons.
Such an action will almost certainly engender a positive response in Cuba. Recently, the Cuban government has made it clear to us that they are interested in finding a solution to the case of Mr. Gross. President Obama, I believe it is time for a constructive dialogue between the United States and Cuba, based on mutual respect to find a humanitarian solution to the case of Alan Gross and the case of the Cuban 5; you can do it!
I visited Cuba in 1979 as a student at Princeton University in one of the first official exchanges between our two countries. I learned a great deal on that trip. Cuba, like our own country, is not without flaws, but we have a great deal to learn from one another, and we have everything to gain by taking steps toward reestablishing relations.
Just as you acted to correct a wrong on December 19, I ask you to do so again and release the Cuban Five.
Thank you for your consideration. Best regards
December 5, 2013
Nelson P Valdes
Dear President Obama,
As a naturalized citizen of the United States I want to ask you, my President, to commute the sentences of four persons, often known as the Cuban Five. Their names are: Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero and Fernando González. The fifth, René González, was recently released from prison after serving his sentence.
I am particularly interested in their case because I think their imprisonment, the result of a flawed trial, is a roadblock to normal relations between the United States and Cuba. Let me explain.
I was born in Cuba. When the Cuban revolution began I was 13 years old. By April 1961 I left Cuba, alone. It was part of a US government sponsored program later known as Operation Peter Pan. I was one of over 14,000 children that came to the US alone. In the United States I spent my teen age years in foster homes, then married, had a son and a daughter and eventually a grandson. From a janitor – my first job – I ended up with a doctorate in History and Sociology.
I am thankful to the United States and its institutions for the fact that I was able to make something of myself even though I never had my parents with me. I am 68 years old.
I have dedicated a significant part of my life to studying the country in which I was born as well as the country I made my own, and their relations. Because of the absence of normal diplomatic and commercial relations I have never been able – like many other Cubans – to interact in a fluid and normal manner between my two homelands. This needs to end.
I think that there is a need to have normal full diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba. A first step should be the full pardon of the persons who have been called “the Cuba Five”. I am well acquainted with their case. I was one of seven Cuban American scholars who submitted an amicus curiae to the Supreme Court on behalf of the imprisoned. All of us are respected scholars and specialists on Cuba and Cuban American reality. Moreover, there are many others – like us – in the United States who were born in Cuba or are of Cuban ancestry who support better relations and the release of these prisoners.
Any unbiased assessment of the case and the highly politicized circumstances under which the trial happened will have to conclude that our Justice system did not work properly, in this particular case. Political and partisan considerations worked against fairness; and at the time the Clinton administration was literally under siege. But you as my President can do something about it. Commute their sentences. In doing so you will be earning the appreciation of the Cubans who are now US citizens as well as of our relatives on the island.
It is the right thing to do. But it will also mark a profound departure from past policies. You will find that most of Cuban Americans in the United States will welcome and support your daring initiative. Moreover, such a pardon will lead to a reciprocal action from the Cuban government. They have gone on record to that effect. That means that both sides will pardon one or more citizens of the other side. Thus, your action – at the same time – will trigger the release of American citizen Alan Phillip Gross. It is not a matter of equivalent violations of the law in one or another country; rather, it will be equivalent humanitarian acts by two governments who want to initiate constructive engagement.
It is clear that the families of the Cuban Five as well as the family of Mr Gross want their respective loved ones to be freed. But neither family wishes to say anything that could affect their own relatives or the other side. Yet, both the people of the United States and Cuba would benefit.
I am also certain that if you were to announce the forthcoming Presidential pardon, Cuba will reciprocate. They have gone on record that they would do so. Then, other long-standing bilateral differences could be discussed, negotiated and hopefully resolved further in the future.
The time for better relations between both countries is now.
Thank you for your consideration. Best regards,
Nelson P Valdes
Emeritus Professor of Sociology
November 5, 2013
Retired Judge Claudia Morcom
Dear President Obama,
I am appealing to you as a colleague, a lawyer, a human rights activist and someone keenly conscious of the history of unjust imprisonment in our country. Specifically, I am writing this letter asking you to release the four remaining members of the so called “Cuban Five” whose only crime was to defend their country against unwarranted attacks. It is a simple act of justice that you can easily do.
The prosecution and imprisonment of the Scottsboro brothers and the outcry to free them was one of the factors that shaped my determination to become a lawyer at a very young age. It was in an era when women, particularly Black women, were seldom if ever enrolled in law schools.
As a young lawyer who organized legal defense for freedom riders in Mississippi, I saw first hand the ways in which hatred can taint our judicial system. In the years I served on the bench, I sought justice and heard all sides, especially in politically unpopular cases.
Since my retirement from the bench I have continued to advocate for human rights in our country representing the Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute and the International Association of Democratic Lawyers before the United Nations in Geneva and New York.
Because of my long term involvement with the National Lawyers Guild I have had the opportunity to interact with lawyers, law professors and students from all over the world. The U.S. has always been looked up to as a proponent for equal justice under the law and there have been many occasions where we have allowed long standing racist and sexist injustices to denigrate our aspirations for equality.
I have long been involved with the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies, the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, Southern Poverty Law Center and many, many other organizations. It seems that the violation of human rights and justice unfortunately continues generation after generation.
As a lawyer, senator, professor and community organizer, you too have seen all of the inequities in our systems, at state, local and national levels.
You have a unique opportunity at this time to try to really demonstrate to young people of all races, ages and genders that the U.S. they have known in the past can’t continue to relegate so many as second class citizens.
You have an opportunity to be an example and change the course of the future. One historic act that you can do to correct a massive injustice that is not only current but historic is to open a dialogue with Cuba without preconditions. Then as has been voted by the United Nations General Assembly for 22 consecutive years, end the embargo on Cuba. Not only for the legal justification, but for the humanitarian message it will send to the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean and justice loving people around the world. Critical to this historic rapprochement that only you can achieve is freeing the Cuban Five.
Hon. Claudia House Morcom, retired
October 5, 2013
International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5
Dear President Obama,
Today, September 12th, marks 15 years of unjust imprisonment of the Cuban Five. One of them, René Gonzalez served his entire sentence and is back in Cuba. Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero and Fernando González still remain in U.S. prisons. The Five committed no crime, and did not threaten U.S. national security.
They came here to prevent rightwing paramilitary groups based in Miami from committing more attacks on civilians in Cuba. These terrorist acts have caused suffering and mourning to Cuban families since 1959. Sadly, neither past administrations nor yours has put an end to these outrageous actions.
As you know, the Five were arrested on September 12, 1998. The Chief of the FBI in Miami, Héctor Pesquera, used tremendous resources to arrest them. According to published documents, FBI agents were watching the Five for years before their arrests. They certainly knew that the goal of the Five was to monitor right-wing Cuban exile organizations to prevent more attacks. The FBI and government agencies knew that the Five posed no threat to U.S. national security, as was testified by General James Clapper, your current Director of National Intelligence, and other high ranking officials during the trial.
Yesterday, this country commemorated 12 years since the brutal terrorist attacks of 9/11. While the FBI invested resources, time and manpower to arrest the Five, a group of men from Al Qaeda were receiving flight training in South Florida. Three years later, those men who should have been under surveillance, committed the horrific crimes against the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.
Other terrorists such as Luis Posada Carriles, the mastermind of the bombing of a civilian Cuban airline in which 73 people lost their lives, continue living with total impunity in our country. The graveness of his 1976 event continues to be hidden from the U.S. public. With profound concern we ask ourselves if the unjust imprisonment of these men and the outrageous sentence s against them were in fact a political vengeance. On September 3, René González made a call to his people making reference to the legendary song “Tie a yellow ribbon round the old oak tree.” The yellow ribbon symbol will be used to unveil the truth behind the case of the Cuban Five to the American people.
President Obama, please be aware that there is a nation that will fill with yellow ribbons on September 12th because they wait for the return of their four sons.
The International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5 is a group of citizens from the U.S. and other countries concerned about the human rights violations against these men. We, along with other Nobel Peace Prize, Literature and Physic Prize winners, lawyers, religious figures, labor leaders, intellectuals, actors and artist ask you once again to make use of your prerogatives as President of the United States and immediately free Gerardo, Ramón, Antonio and Fernando.
The entire world is waiting for a gesture from you to end this colossal injustice.
The entire world is “watching.”
On behalf of the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5
September 5, 2013
Dear President Obama:
I am a Midwesterner, born and bred. Like most of the people around me, I believe in hard work and fair play. That’s why, since my first visit to Cuba right before starting law school at the University of Wisconsin in 1972, I’ve been troubled by the contrast between people of Cuba who universally seem to love and show generosity to visitors from the U.S., and our government’s policies designed since 1962 to impose “hunger and hardship” on the Cuban people.
This letter is about the Cuban Five, asking you to act promptly to free them; still incarcerated are Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero and Fernando González, plus René González was recently freed after serving over 13 years in prison.
As a lawyer in Wisconsin, I had the opportunity visit and get to know personally one of the Five, Fernando Gonzalez, when he was held at the Oxford Federal Correctional Institution a bit north of Madison, WI. I cannot imagine a more temperate, reasoned and educated individual, and I joked that if he ever got out, he could be the Cuban ambassador to the U.S. Let me first explain a bit about his role, which I think exemplifies what the case of the Cuban Five is all about. Then I’ll show evidence that even U.S. authorities have treated them as being political prisoners.
Fernando was only in the U.S. a short time before being arrested with the rest of the Cuban Five. They were all working for Cuba, to try to prevent further acts of terrorism and mass murder. Fernando in particular was attempting to monitor Orlando Bosch, who not only advocated murder of civilians for political purposes, but Bosch acted as well, most notoriously in engineering the bombing of a Cubana civilian airliner in October 1976, killing all 73 on board, including a victorious team of young fencers and medical students coming from South America. Joe D. Whitley Acting Associate Attorney General, and later the first General Counsel to the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security, wrote in 1989 that “For 30 years Bosch has been resolute and unwavering in his advocacy of terrorist violence… His actions have been those of a terrorist, unfettered by laws or human decency, threatening and inflicting violence without regard to the identity of his victims.” But despite that and his illegal entry, Bosch was allowed to remain in the U.S., and without prosecution or confinement until he died in Miami in 2011. His partner in engineering the 1976 Cubana bombing, Luis Posada Carriles, still lives unfettered in Miami, where they have both been publicly honored, and your administration has failed to either try Posada for terrorism or honor an extradition request for him to face trial in Venezuela. On August 16, 2006, while Fernando and the rest of the Five were finishing their eighth year in jail, Bosch continued to publicly justify this bombing, in an interview in Barcelona’s LaVanguardia newspaper, where he also declared that “a bomb is a proof of rebelliousness, a proof of bravery.”
Contrast that with your own remarks on April 16, 2013, after the bombing of the Boston Marathon, that “Anytime bombs are used to target innocent civilians, that is an act of terrorism.” But that was Boston. Cuba claims to have lost over 3,000 of it people due to terrorism, much of it CIA inspired. The Cuban Five were sent to Miami, which the FBI had labeled as the “terrorist capital of the U.S.,” to try to prevent further deaths and mayhem.
To do this dangerous undercover work, most of the Five adopted aliases, and used false identification to match. Fernando’s alias is listed as the lead defendant in the court papers and on the appeals. Although when the U.S. media mentions this case at all, it often refers to the Five as “convicted spies,” that is not true. Their trial of over six months did not include any claims or evidence of any classified U.S. information, so none of them were ever charged with actual espionage, and only three of them were charged with “conspiracy”– supposedly, planning to do something which the evidence showed they did not actually do. For that, the judge initially gave them life sentences.
The Five all acted as agents of Cuba, and like the U.S. contractor Alan Gross now held in Cuba on a 15 years sentence, none of them registered with their host government to report their undercover work. On September 12, 2013, the four who remain in jail will begin their 16th year of imprisonment.
You have gone to Miami and publicly called for “justice for Cuba’s political prisoners…” But the imprisonment of the Cuban 5 in the U.S. was clearly a political act as well.
Here are a few examples of decisions in their case which were clearly “political”:
1. The decision to arrest them in violent, pre-dawn raids on September 12, 1998, while still allowing the career terrorists whom they were monitoring to live and operate freely in the U.S.
2. The decision to charge and later try them on grounds that for nationals of other countries, such as Russia, would lead to sending them home; and the extraordinary decision by Janet Reno to add a “conspiracy to commit murder” charge against Gerardo Hernandez, prior to her return to Florida and her run for Governor.
3. The decision to force their trial to take place in Miami, rather than let it be moved even to another county in Florida. The Miami jurors in the trial expressed strong feelings against the Cuban government these defendants all admittedly worked for; and the U.S. Justice Department in another case noted that a fair trial with less direct Cuban government involvement could not be held in Miami because of such sentiments.
4. The decisions to hold each of the Five in solitary confinement/special isolation for 17 months, to seek and obtain maximum sentences unheard of in a case where no U.S. interests or secrets were compromised, as well as to consistently deny two of their wives and children visas to visit them. These have been criticized by Amnesty International, and by the relevant body of the United Nations. The trial and confinement of the Cuban Five is the only U.S. domestic criminal proceeding to be found unjust by both these bodies.
5. Although the Cuban Five have been held in separate U.S. prisons and their conduct in prison has been exemplary, every one of them was simultaneously put and held in “the hole” around the time of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003; they were eventually returned to their respective prison populations after a public campaign on their behalf. No justification for these simultaneous actions has ever been provided to my knowledge.
6. Despite a unanimous three-judge panel decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals in 2005 that the Cuban Five’s conviction was the result of a “perfect storm” of hatred towards the Cuban revolution combined with intimidation, violence and threats in Miami, and prosecutorial misconduct, the Bush administration refused to accept a new trial outside of Miami, and instead pursued an unusual review by all members of that circuit, which then set aside the unanimous appellate opinion. That original court decision footnoted some of the extensive history of “exile” violence that the Five were attempting to deter.
7. The subsequent revelation that the U.S. government had paid the reporters for the Miami media who contributed to the prejudice against these Cuban agents and defendants, was a fact unknown to the defense or the judge at the time. The editor of one the influential Miami dailies that was implicated, El Nuevo Herald, then explained that serious compromise of journalistic ethics was not significant, because it was one of the paper’s founding principles to oppose the Cuban government.
Finally, and getting back to my Midwestern roots, the political nature of their imprisonment was also demonstrated by the authorities’ reaction in Oxford, WI when information about Fernando and the Cuban 5 started reaching the public. Each summer more than 10,000 Wisconsin progressives gathered just 20 miles away, in Baraboo, WI at “Fighting Bob” Fest, named after the famous “Fighting Bob” Lafollette; and for several years we worked to educate them about this case. By September 2007, hundreds of people came up to sign our petitions, under a banner with picture of Fernando and the caption “What Do You Know About Wisconsin’s Most Famous Political Prisoner?” We had a prison visit scheduled and confirmed by prison authorities to meet with Fernando that next week, but within 3 days of that gathering a prison representative called and said the visit was cancelled for no reason that could be disclosed, but it would be rescheduled. In fact, Fernando was being shipped away to Terre Haute, IND, where the case of the Five was not nearly so well known. I asked Sen. Russ Feingold to inquire as to the reason for the transfer, and was advised that the warden requested it based on alleged security concerns – even though there had never been the slightest infraction asserted against Fernando. When our government authorities act in fear of the public becoming educated, something’s not right.
So fair play is all we ask. The continued incarceration of any of the Five is not fair. When the people in the Heartland hear about this case, they agree. But it is both your job and your power to make things right, sooner rather than later.
Arthur Heitzer, Attorney at Law
Chair, National Lawyers Guild Cuba Subcommittee
August 5, 2013
President Barack Obama
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Obama,
You were born in 1961 so you were not old enough to experience in person the spirit of the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Power Movement, and the Anti-War Movement, all flowing together in a beautiful wave of change. You were only six years old (coming up on seven) when came the shocks of the assassinations of Reverend Martin Luther King and Senator Robert Kennedy, changing the politics of a crucial presidential election that had held the possibility of real change.
If you had been a decade older, I think you, as an African-American, might now be in a position to better understand the Cuban Revolution and why its destruction has been a persistent goal of U.S. foreign policy ever since 1959 when Cuban revolutionaries won their battle for independence and sovereignty.
The State of Siege began under President Eisenhower with the trade embargo explicitly designed to starve the Cuban people into submission and has continued to this day. When invasion failed to overthrow the Cuban Government in 1961, the year of your birth, the CIA and the FBI trained thousands of Cuban operatives for the covert war against Cuba — more armed attacks including the buildup to a planned second invasion timed for October 1962 (Operation Mongoose), infiltration, propaganda, arson, and murders. A network of terrorists continues to thrive in Florida and New Jersey.
I wonder if you know much about Operation Mongoose. It led directly to the Cuban Missile Crisis. I was pregnant with my third child when that happened, and you cannot imagine how it felt to be a mother of two young daughters and an unborn son when the whole world was threatened with annihilation. My five-year-old woke me up one morning to ask, “Mommy, is the world going to end?” You can read all about that invasion plan in my book, Cuba and the United States: A Chronological History, in case you need a reminder.
In order to combat the terrorism, Cuba has spent precious resources on developing an amazingly effective State Security Department and assigning agents like the Cuban Five to investigate terrorist groups. But Cuban intelligence agents were not able to stop terrorists from blowing up a Cubana passenger plane in 1976, the first time in the Western Hemisphere that a passenger plane was used as a terrorist weapon. That didn’t happen again until 9/11. Both the CIA and the FBI knew at that time that Luis Posada and the late Orlando Bosch masterminded the bombing. Yet I’m sure you must be aware that Bosch walked free in Miami until his death and of course you know that Posada continues to live as a hero in Miami despite Venezuela’s request for his extradition for trial on 73 murder charges after killing 73 people aboard that plane. As Venezuelan President Maduro has recently pointed out, it’s hypocritical to demand that nobody give asylum to Edward Snowden while at the same time refusing to respond to Venezuela’s request for extradition of Luis Posada.
Just two months before the arrests of the Cuban Five in 1998, Posada told New York Times reporters that “the CIA taught us everything – everything….They taught us explosives, how to kill, bomb, trained us in acts of sabotage.” He prided himself on his long years of support from the CIA, the FBI, and the Cuban American National Foundation. He bragged about masterminding the bombing campaign that struck Havana hotels and restaurants in 1997 and 1998, killing one Italian businessman and injuring other people.
Cuba charged that those responsible for the Havana bombings were based in the United States. The U.S. State Department responded that it would investigate if Cuba would provide “substantive information” to support its contention. That was in September 1997.
Nine months later, in June 1998, Cuba gave the FBI reams of “substantive information” gathered by Cuban agents. Then in July, a month later, came those confessions of Posada himself on the front pages of The New York Times for two days! Yet nevertheless, with all that information and the confessions in hand, instead of investigating the terrorists, as the State Department had said it would, the FBI arrested the investigators.
Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Fernando González, Antonio Guerrero, and René González were put in solitary confinement for 17 months even before trial. Thus began the long story of their unjust trial and incarceration. You hold in your hands the power to release them to Cuba as lawmakers from around the world have urged you to do.
Think of the carnage if all the Cuban agents had been imprisoned by the U.S. Justice Department. For example, in the year 2000, even as the Cuban Five were going to trial, Cuban intelligence agents foiled a major assassination plot in Panama where Posada and his co-assassins planned to use plastique to blow up the auditorium in which President Castro was to speak. Those Cuban agents not only saved the life of Fidel Castro but saved from danger about 2,000 people who filled the auditorium to hear him speak.
Cuban agents have even saved the life of a U.S. president. In 1984 Cuba informed U.S. United Nations Mission Security Chief Robert Muller that an extreme right-wing group was planning to assassinate President Ronald Reagan during a planned trip to North Carolina. The FBI consequently arrested several people and Robert Muller thanked the Cuban official who had given him information that included the names of the would-be assassins; the date, time and hour of their plan; the location of their weapons; etc.
The Cuban Five are counterterrorists whose investigations were to expose terrorist plots against Cuba and perhaps even against the United States. Please use your power to release the Cuban Five.
Born and raised in North Carolina and now a resident of New Jersey
July 5, 2013
To: Mr. Barack Obama
President of the U.S.A.
Dear Mr. President:
I am an artiste from the beautiful Caribbean island of Barbados, who rejoiced at your being elected President of the United States of America, me and millions more around the world.
We see you as a man of compassion and fairness and great leadership qualities.
It is therefore with hope and much anticipation that I write to you asking to please release from prison the four remaining members of the Cuban Five, who unfairly and unjustly languish in US prisons.
They were only doing what any good man patriotic citizen would have done to defend their country.
Furthermore, they saved many lives by their bravery and deserve to be praised and not unjustly incarcerated for their heroic act.
As a former Cultural Ambassador of my country (and accepted as cultural Ambassador for the Caribbean English speaking), I appeal to you, Sir, to please send these men home to their families.
Dr. Anthony Carter
J.P., B.S.S., Ph.D UWI
June 5, 2013
Well-known Personalities Send Letter to President Obama
Personalities Who Participated in the Second “5 Days for the Cuban 5 in Washington DC”, Sign Letter to President Obama
Dear President Obama,
We, the signers of this letter have gathered in Washington DC from May 30th to June 5th. We come from Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean, Canada, Quebec and from cities across the United States to raise our voices about a colossal injustice perpetrated against 5 Cuban men.
Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labañino, Fernando Gonzalez, Antonio Guerrero and Rene Gonzalez came to the United States unarmed, for the sole purpose of protecting their country from terrorism. If they had been young Americans you would be bestowing them with medals. Now, except for Rene Gonzalez, who just returned to Cuba after serving his sentence plus more than a year of supervised release in Florida, they are in their 15th year of unjust imprisonment in the U.S.
We are parliamentarians, lawyers, members of labor unions, authors, intellectuals, students, human right activists and organizers. A common cause has brought us together to raise our voices and ask you to allow the Cuban Five to return to their country and be reunited with their families.
President Obama, the time is now, enough is enough!
FREE THE CUBAN FIVE NOW!
Angela Davis, United States
Dolores Huerta, United States
Ramsey Clark, United States
Martin Garbus, United States
Peter Schey, United States
Wayne S. Smith, United States
Jane Franklin, United States
Vance “Head Roc” Levy, United States
May-Alice Waters, United States
Jose Pertierra, Cuba-United States
Andres Gomez, Cuba-United States
Max Lesnik, Cuba-United States
Vanessa Ramos, Puerto Rico-United States
Graciela Rosenblum, Argentina
Beinusz Szmuckler, Argentina
Anthony Gabby Carter, Barbados
Fernando Morais, Brazil
Glauber Braga, Brazil
Stephen Kimber, Canada
Denis Lamelin, Canada
Arnold August, Canada
Alejandro Navarro, Chile
Hugo Gutierrez, Chile
Nacyra Gomez, Cuba
Miguel Barnet, Cuba
Nancy Morejon, Cuba
Armando Aguilar, Ecuador
Damian Alegria, El Salvador
Andy de la Tour, England
Gilbert Brownstone, France
Gianni Vattimo, Italy
Fabio Marcelli, Italy
Luciano Vasapollo, Italy
Rita Martufi, Italy
Tecla Faranda, Italy
Alba Palacios, Nicaragua
Sofia M. Clark D’Escoto, Nicaragua
Ignacio Ramonet, Spain
Rafael Anglada, Puerto Rico
May 5, 2013
President Local 372
Dear President Obama,
As a worker and life time union leader who has lived by the motto, “An injury to one is an injury to all”, I am asking you to take the moral high road towards justice by releasing the Cuban 5 who are serving shocking long sentences in U.S. prisons. As you know these five Cuban men — Gerardo Hernandez, Antonio Guerrero, Ramon Labañino, Fernando Gonzalez and Rene Gonzalez came to this country to monitor the activities of anti Cuban terrorists in Miami. They came unarmed with no intention of harming the people or security of the U.S. but rather to protect their own island nation; what could be nobler. As a compassionate person you not only have the power but the responsibility to reunite them with their families in Cuba.
The labor movement around the world has had the opportunity to meet the family members of the Cuban 5 and is taking action to build a movement for their freedom. The labor movement in Canada is making the case of the Cuban 5 a political priority including the Steelworkers, Food and Commercial Workers and Postal Workers. And of course throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, the injustice done to these men is well known and an example of the breech between your administration and our neighbors in the Southern hemisphere.
With great enthusiasm our union movement contributed our brains, energy and finances in supporting both of your election campaigns. Latinos and workers in general voted for you in record numbers and here in the U.S. we are beginning to reach them about this case. The loud but shrinking voices from Southern Florida do not speak for us in the labor movement. It is becoming clearer that the majority of people even in Florida want normalization of relations with Cuba and you yourself have said that improving relations with the people of Latin America is important to your presidency. One small thing you could do to get that desire started is to free the Cuban 5 now.
President Local 372
April 5, 2013
Father Michael Lapsley SSM
Dear President Obama,
I was in your country with friends the night you were first elected and I remember vividly the feeling of joy, relief and most importantly the hope that your victory represented. It was like a heavy weight being lifted not just off the U.S. but the whole world in general. The only comparison I can make to that night in 2008 was what I felt when after centuries of struggle apartheid was defeated in my country of South Africa.
I wish that I still had that hope about what your presidency represents. I am appealing to that sense of natural justice that I saw in you that night to release 5 Cuban men who came to the U.S. to monitor the activities of anti Cuban terrorists in Southern Florida in the 1990’s. These men are now serving long sentences in your prisons, and the wives of two of them are even denied visas to visit them. I know that with all the international support that these men enjoy around the world that you are well aware of this case and that you could through the power bestowed on you in the U.S. Constitution have them released.
Mr. Obama what could be more noble than what these 5 men did in the war against terror and in defense of their homeland? If they had been young men from your country who had prevented a terrorist attack against the United States you most likely would be inviting them to dinner at the White House so you could bestow medals upon them.
I personally feel tremendous love and affinity for the Cuban 5 because I myself am the victim of a terrorist letter bomb during the waning days of the apartheid regime in 1990 that blew off both my hands, destroyed an eye, and other injuries. That bomb was a reaction of hatred to my work as a priest immersed in the liberation struggle against one of the most brutal and severe systems of racial oppression that the world has seen. Cuba stood with the people of South Africa against this oppression. One of the small ways that I have tried to pay my country’s debt to Cuba is by visiting one of them, Gerardo Hernandez serving consecutive life sentences. As a South African these visits with Gerardo have a particular poignancy about them because they remind me of how our finest leaders were imprisoned, not because they were criminals, but because they sought freedom and justice for all.
Since my recovery I have embarked on a journey of healing with victims of terror conducting work shops around the world called the Healing of Memories. In this work I have come to realize that none of us have to be trapped in the past. The animosity that the U.S. has had towards the island of Cuba for decades does not have to be your burden. You have the unique position of being an active agent of change in helping to shape a better world.
The simple act of freeing the Cuban 5 will not only be a gesture of doing the right thing but will dry the eyes of an entire nation who view these men as heroes. This gesture will also be a catalyst towards the normalization of relations between your country and Cuba and will be a step towards healing the human family. I know you have it in you and I appeal to you to summon that courage.
With my prayers and best wishes, to you Sir in all that you do as a world leader to make the world a better and safer place for all,
Father Michael Lapsley SSM
Director Institute for Healing of Memories
Dear President Obama,
I know that you are aware of the case of Cuban Five – Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González and René González. I am writing to urge you to consider their release and return to Cuba, something you can accomplish under your executive powers. These men have been imprisoned in the United States for more than fourteen years. It is undisputed that they were Cuban intelligence officers whose primary purpose was to monitor U.S.-based groups that had engaged in terrorist or criminal acts against Cuba and Cuban civilians. Their sentences are unusually harsh given that nothing they did involved any significant threat to the national security of the United States. There is no question that the outcome of their cases may be very significant with respect to future U.S.-Cuba relations and progress on the goals both the U.S. and Cuban Governments have expressed.
The Cuban Five were primarily engaged in what the Cuban Government and the Five considered “counter-terrorist” activities, penetrating groups like Alpha 66, the F4 Commandos and Brothers to the Rescue. Military experts at their trial, including your current Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, testified that the Cuban Five presented no substantial threat to national security. One member of the Five worked construction at a naval air station in Key West and did pass on information largely available to people without security clearances and not deemed particularly significant to the national security. But the record makes clear that the vast majority of the Cuban Five efforts were aimed at monitoring the activities of a small number of groups in Florida whose leaders had amply demonstrated their willingness to engage in illegal activities, at minimum, or terrorism, at worst, in pursuit of their objective: The overthrow of the Cuban Government.
The Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law is extremely concerned with the grave injustice involved in the case of one of the Cuban Five, Gerardo Hernández, serving a life sentence in a federal high security prison for a conspiracy to commit murder conviction related to the February 24, 1996 downing by the Cuban military of two planes of the Brothers to the Rescue (BTTR) resulting in the deaths of four members of that group. The shoot down was the culmination of over twenty-five illegal flights by BTTR pilots into Cuban airspace in the twenty months leading up to the event. As discussed in detail below, Gerardo’s sentence to “life” in a U.S. prison is grossly unjust for at least five reasons:
• Gerardo did absolutely nothing to encourage or persuade the BTTR pilots to penetrate Cuban airspace where two planes were shot down,
• The U.S. Government had far more warning and more details about the planned shoot down than Gerardo ever possessed.
• The U.S. Government easily could have stopped the BTTR flights and avoided the shoot down while there was nothing Gerardo could have done to stop the BTTR flights or the shoot down,
• Neither the U.S. Government nor Gerardo had the slightest idea that a shoot down would take place in international airspace (as the U.S. Government believes it did), and
• The U.S. Government, not Gerardo, told the Cuban Government that the BTTR planes were taking off from Miami and could be heading for Cuban airspace on the day of the shoot down.
Under these circumstances, regardless of the technicalities of U.S. law as interpreted by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals that may permit a “conspiracy” conviction to stand, a life sentence is extraordinarily disproportionate to Gerardo’s absolutely insignificant role in any aspect of the 1996 shoot down. He had as little role in the BTTR shoot down as a U.S. intelligence agent based in Islamabad has in deciding when and where drone strikes will take place in Federally Administered Tribal Areas along the Afghan border in Northwest Pakistan.
By way of background, Brothers to the Rescue had repeatedly filed false flight plans with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) since 1994. MiG pilots had previously encountered BTTR’s planes in Cuban airspace. BTTR leader Jose Basulto would communicate by radio with the Cuban pilots, ignore their warnings, and urge them to defect in their planes, an act that would obviously be criminal under Cuban law (as it would under U.S. law if a pilot defected to Cuba in a A-10 Thunderbolt II). Mr. Basulto is known for having engaged in various activities intended to overthrow the Cuban government. Trained by the CIA in intelligence, communications, explosives, and sabotage, he returned to Cuba posing as a physics student to help prepare for the Bay of Pigs Invasion, later infiltrated Cuba to sabotage an alleged missile site, and in August 1962 took a boat to Cuba and fired a 20 mm cannon at a hotel (Rosita de Ornedo) filled with tourists.
In 1995, Basulto and the BTTR publicly announced their new plan to commit “civil disobedience” within Cuban territorial waters. Cuba prepared to encounter the BTTR planes with MiGs. The U.S. State Department issued a weak warning to BTTR that its planes should not violate Cuban airspace. Disregarding the U.S. Government and Cuban law, on July 13, 1995, BTTR pilots again filed false flight plans and flew four planes into Cuban airspace. As Basulto and his cohorts entered Cuban airspace, Havana Air Traffic Control warned the planes to leave. Despite the presence of MiGs circling the BTTR planes, Basulto and the other pilots chose to ignore the warnings. In fact, at great risk to himself and Cuban civilians, Basulto kept flying towards downtown Havana and then buzzed the city at a low altitude for 13 minutes dropping nearly 20,000 leaflets.
The Cuban Government took restrained steps immediately after this incident forwarding a letter to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration notifying it of the violations of the Cuban aeronautical laws committed by BTTR on July 13, 1995. The Cuban Government’s letter specifically warned that the U.S. Government’s failure to stop BTTR pilots from illegally entering Cuban air space “may bring grave consequences,” and requested that the FAA promptly undertake “whatever measures are necessary” to insure that the illegal flights into Cuban air space and over Havana’s rooftops be halted. Indeed, the Cuban Government made very clear that if the BTTR flights continued to illegally invade Cuban air space, “[the] aircraft [may be] downed.”
Gerardo Hernandez had nothing to do with the BTTR continuing to illegally invade Cuban sovereignty, or the Cuban Government’s response. He never encouraged the BTTR pilots to violate Cuban airspace, he never suggested that they enter Cuban air space, nor did he possess any influence to stop them from doing so. The Cuban Government obviously discouraged BTTR’s intrusion into Cuban airspace by warning that this conduct may have grave consequences going forward.
The United States Department of State next issued a statement warning the BTTR pilots to stay out of Cuban airspace. The statement repeated the Cuban Government’s position that it could shoot down aircraft illegally penetrating its airspace and stated that “[t]he Department takes this statement seriously.”
Despite the warnings issued by both Cuba and the United States, it appears that neither U.S. intelligence agencies, the Department of Justice, nor the FAA took any effective steps to block Basulto and his BTTR pilots from continuing their illegal, provocative and dangerous unauthorized flights into Cuban air space.
In January of 1996, BTTR escalated its invitation of confrontation with the Cuban Government by dropping nearly 500,000 leaflets near Havana. Obviously aware of the dangerous confrontation they were inviting and maybe even hoped for, the BTTR pilots made a videotape they left behind in case the pilots did not return.
On January 15, 1996, Cuba once again sent a letter to the FAA, informing the U.S. Government of the BTTR’s violation of Cuban airspace on January 13th and again making clear that the BTTR pilots should be prepared to face “serious consequences” if they continued their illegal breaches of Cuban airspace. Again, Cuba appealed to the United States to adopt the necessary measures to prevent BTTR planes from violating Cuban airspace.
Gerardo Hernandez had nothing whatsoever to do with BTTR’s decision to leaflet Cuba by plane in January 1996, or Cuba’s response to that incident. Nor of course was Gerardo in a position to compel the U.S. Government to take any action against the BTTR pilots.
Shortly after the Cuban Government warned the United States Government that grave consequences would follow if the BTTR continued to illegally invade Cuban airspace, and the U..S. Government warned the BTTR pilots, Gerardo Hernandez was basically told the same thing (though in less detail). In mid-February he received a message from Cuban authorities that Juan Pablo Roque and René González, the two men who had infiltrated the BTTR, should not fly with BTTR from February 24 through 27 because there could be a “confrontation” on those dates. The U.S. Government and the BTTR pilots also knew that a confrontation may take place, and unlike Gerardo, had been warned this could involve a mid-air shoot down.
BTTR leader Basulto has publicly testified that he was aware of Cuba’s warnings “for a long time,” and that he and the other pilots all knew a consequence of entering Cuban airspace could be a shoot down.
On February 24, 1996, I understand that the FAA, not Gerardo Hernandez, informed the Cuban Government that three BTTR planes had left Miami and may again illegally enter Cuban airspace. So again, the U.S. Government appears to have greater involvement and responsibility than Gerardo for it is the U.S. Government, not Gerardo, who informs the Cuban Government that the BTTR planes are taking to the air.
It is undisputed that Gerardo Hernandez had nothing to do with the BTTR’s decision to fly planes that day towards Cuba. He did not encourage or solicit them to do so, nor did he have any power to stop them. Only the U.S. Government could have stopped them, if it wanted to.
As the planes approached Cuba, they were clearly warned that they were “in danger” and that they were flying into an area that was “activated.” Gerardo had nothing to do with Cuba activating the airspace. This was obviously a decision made in Cuba. Basulto ignored Cuba’s warnings as his plane flew into Cuban territory. Whether the other two planes entered Cuban territory is disputed. Cuba believes they did; the U,S. Government believes they did not. Gerardo, of course, has no independent way of knowing whether all three BTTR planes entered Cuban airspace or not.
Two planes were shot down by a Cuban MiG. When the shoot down occurred, Basulto’s plane was 2.1 miles into Cuban territorial airspace. Based on its radar data, the Cuban Government has argued that the shoot down took place in Cuban airspace. However based on its own radar data and eye witness accounts, the U.S. Government believes the shoot down took place in international airspace, and therefore constituted murder.
At bottom, it appears the U.S. Government knew more than Gerardo knew about Cuba’s plans before the shoot down.
It also appears that the U.S. Government, not Gerardo Hernandez, was in a position to avoid a confrontation by grounding the BTTR pilots or suspending their licenses, something Gerardo had no control over.
In addition, U.S. radar operator Major Jeffrey Houlihan and a Senior Director Technician at the Southeast Air Defense (SEADS), both observed the BTTR planes heading to the Cuban Air Defense Identification Zone, observed one of the planes penetrate Cuba airspace by at least three nautical miles, and observed MiGs launched from Cuba circling the BTTR planes, yet no effort was made to communicate with the BTTR pilots to leave the area or to scramble U.S. planes to intervene. At bottom, while the U.S. Government was observing the events unfold, and taking no steps to prevent a shoot down, Gerardo had no idea what was taking place.
After the shoot down a communication to Hernandez from Cuban officials stated: “We have dealt the Miami right a hard blow in which your role has been decisive.” A response from Hernandez observed: “[T]he operation to which we contributed a grain of sand ended successfully.” Finally, the head of the Directorate of Intelligence recognized Hernandez “[f]or outstanding results achieved on the job …” None of these communications indicate that Hernandez—or anyone else in the U.S. Government—anticipated that the shoot down, if one took place, would occur in international airspace. Indeed, records indicate that these communications involved the long-planned successful operation to have Cuban intelligence agent Juan Pablo Roque return safely to Cuba on February 23, 1996, not “Operación Escorpion” involving the BTTR flights over Cuba.
How to respond to illegal and often dangerous invasions of its airspace by pilots calling for the overthrow of the Cuban Government, was a complex question decided by high level authorities in Cuba, not Gerardo Hernandez. The complexity of the issue is demonstrated by the executive authority called for in the U.S. Justice Department’s “white paper” on “targeted killing,” made public last month, that justifies under international and domestic law the president’s (or other “informed, high-level” administration officials’) decision to order the execution of persons abroad by drone strikes if such persons are believed to be “involved in planning terrorist attacks against the United States.” Your Administration would never leave such decisions to an intelligence officer working abroad, and Cuba certainly did not leave the decision about how to respond to the BTTR flights to Gerardo Hernandez. They never even consulted him on the question.
The Court of Appeals that affirmed Gerardo’s conviction was divided, with one judge finding the evidence was inconclusive and concluding that the conspiracy to commit murder conviction should be reversed. A second judge upheld the conviction but acknowledged that with all the technicalities involved, it was a “close” question whether the conviction was valid. The third judge found, based on numerous technicalities in the law (as interpreted by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals), requiring a lengthy and complex explanation in his written decision, that a conspiracy to commit murder conviction could be affirmed.
However, regardless of the legal technicalities that may arguably support a conspiracy to commit murder charge under U.S. law as interpreted by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, it is undisputed that (1) Gerardo’s involvement in the shoot down was absolutely minimal, (2) he did nothing to encourage the BTTR pilots to illegally penetrate Cuban airspace, (3) he had nothing to do with the decision to shoot down the BTTR planes, (4) he knew less about what was planned by the Cuban Government than the U.S. Government knew, and (5) there was unquestionably far more that the U.S. Government could have done to avoid the shoot down than Gerardo could have done. In this context, Gerardo’s life sentence for “conspiracy to commit murder” is extremely harsh, undeserved, and fundamentally unjust.
The principle of proportionality–that the punishment should be proportional to the seriousness of the crime–is a fundamental tenet of domestic and international human rights law. This principle is embodied in Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The principle of proportionality is also a cornerstone of international criminal law. Under Article 77 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, a term of life imprisonment is permissible but must be “justified by the extreme gravity of the crime and the individual circumstances of the convicted person.”
In addition to the entirely unjustified severity of Gerardo’s sentence, I should also point out that the validity of his underlying conspiracy to commit murder conviction is highly questionable. Clearly there is no defense to a country shooting down a civilian plane in international airspace when the civilian plane does not pose an imminent threat to the safety of others. On the other hand, it is probably true that a country may lawfully shoot down a civilian plane that has repeatedly and illegally invaded its airspace, dangerously buzzed its capitol, refused repeated warnings to cease its illegal activities, and openly encouraged the overthrow of the country’s government. Yet at Gerardo’s trial the United States offered no evidence—for none exists—showing that Gerardo entered into a “conspiracy” (i.e. an agreement) with the Cuban Government to shoot down the BTTR planes in international airspace. In fact, the United States failed to prove that Gerardo entered into an agreement to shoot down the planes at all. As discussed above, the only thing Gerardo knew was that there could be a “confrontation” with the BTTR planes, less information than the United States Government had in its possession.
For all of the reasons discussed above, we urge you to give serious consideration to exercising your Executive powers to authorize (1) declassification of all U.S. records regarding the BTTR shoot down, and (2) Gerardo’s release from prison and return to Cuba. Doing so would not only show the U.S. Government’s commitment to proportionality in sentencing and equal and fair justice, it may also be a significant step contributing to the process of normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States, something supported by the vast majority of Americans and countries around the world.
I look forward to a response from your Administration on this issue. Thank you for your consideration.
Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Obama,
I am writing today to request that you employ your constitutional presidential power to grant pardons to the Cuban Five and immediately send them back to their country and families. These prisoners are Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González and René González.
Article 2, Section II of the Constitution provides you with the “Power to Grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.” This article carries a humanitarian feature and exists in most countries of the world. One can say that it is virtually universal. Let us highlight a few positive examples that bring out the best of the American people. President Abraham Lincoln pardoned 264 of 303 members of the Dakota Indigenous people who defended themselves against settler expansion in the Sioux Uprising of 1862. More recently, in 1977, President Jimmy Carter in his first day of office granted unconditional pardons to hundreds of thousands of men who had evaded the draft during the U.S. war against Vietnam by fleeing the country or by failing to register for military duty.
There are also instances of leaders granting pardon in other countries. In 2010, Cuba released the prisoners tried and convicted of crimes against the security of the Cuban state. Many U.S. commentators suggested that this would result in “a thaw” in U.S.-Cuban relations. Despite this, there has been no gesture from you to date to pardon the five Cuban prisoners.
Furthermore, in December 2011, the Cuban government announced through Raúl Castro that the Council of State, over which he presides, “has agreed to pardon more than 2,900 prisoners. Not included in this pardon, with very few exceptions, are individuals convicted of crimes of espionage [and] terrorism.” One may respond by claiming that Cuba did not pardon most individuals for “crimes of espionage” and thus why should the U.S. free the Cuban Five? Yet, the U.S. government has never actually accused them of espionage, nor has it affirmed that real acts of espionage were carried out, as no classified document was confiscated from the Five. For this reason, they were charged with conspiracy to commit espionage and conspiracy to commit murder, because actual espionage or murder could not be proven. In law, “conspiracy” facilitates a conviction compared to actual conspiracy; nonetheless, the sentences received were greatly disproportionate to any “conspiracy” conviction.
The Cuban government, compared to the U.S. government, even further “agreed to pardon” among the more than 2,900 prisoners “certain individuals convicted of crimes against the security of the state, who have completed a large portion of their prison terms with good behavior.” The Cuban Five, in contrast, were never convicted of crimes endangering the security of the state, as no proof could be found to this effect. The five Cuban prisoners are also known for their good behaviour in prison. Therefore, President Obama, I urge you to join the tradition of some of your own predecessors, such as Lincoln and Carter. This humanitarian policy is preferable to your most recent statement on this issue. On January 30, 2013 in an interview on Telemundo, you stated that “in order for us to see an actual normalization of the relations between the United States and Cuba, that we have to do something about all those political prisoners who are still there.” Clarification would be in order regarding “political prisoners” in Cuba; the facts suggest that the only “political prisoners” left in Cuba are those in Guantanamo prison.
In the U.S. Constitution’s Article 2, Section II, the President is vested with the powers to grant pardon, with the exception of “Cases of Impeachment.” Impeachment refers to people within the U.S. political system itself who have committed wrongdoings that merit accusations of impeachment. This is considered the worst offense and thus only those convicted of impeachment are exempt from any possible presidential pardon. Clearly, this “impeachment” exception does not apply to these five prisoners. Once again, I request that you pardon them.
Amendment 8 of the U.S. Constitution excludes the use of “cruel and unusual punishment.” In the case of Gerardo Hernández, for example, he has been sentenced to two consecutive prison life terms plus fifteen years for crimes he maintains that he did not commit and that the government could not prove. While at the same time, during all this period for over fourteen years since his arrest, the State Department has denied an entry visa to his wife Adriana Pérez to visit him. Is this is not an example of “cruel and unusual punishment”? In a similar manner, Olga Salanueva, the wife of René González, another of the Cuban Five, has also been denied an entry visa to visit her husband in the U.S.
Therefore, I am asking you to enforce the relevant portions of the U.S. Constitution that can be characterized as being humanitarian. I implore you to sit down with the Cuban government and work out a humanitarian solution to this problem of prisoners so that the normalization of relations between the two countries can be established and flourish. A compassionate outlook is a hallmark of democracy. Cuba has already exhibited this twice in the case of prisoners. And let us not forget Alan Gross, held in a Cuban prison, who appears to have been abandoned by your government.
It is time to turn the situation around. The decisions by Lincoln and Carter to pardon may not have been popular with everyone in the U.S. at the time, but these stands have gone down in history as being positive examples.
Thank you in advance for considering my appeal.
Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States of America
The White House
Washington DC 20500
Dear President Obama,
This is my first ever letter to an American president. That’s not just because I’m not an American citizen. I’m also a journalist, and journalists are not in the habit of writing letters to heads of governments.
But having spent the past three years researching the case of the Cuban Five, I believe I have an obligation to write to you.
The fact is American journalism hasn’t done a very good job of explaining to the American public the case of the five Cuban intelligence agents who have been incarcerated in the U.S. since 1998. As a result, your administration has mostly managed to avoid dealing with the issue at all or, when forced to comment, responding with the tired, rote rhetoric of the Cold War era.
But the case of the Cuban Five has recently been brought back into the public spotlight because of Alan Gross, the USAID subcontractor currently serving a 15-year jail term in Cuba for bringing satellite communication equipment into that country.
The media reporting of his case has been equally problematic, mostly parroting your own State Department line that Gross is a “humanitarian” who was arrested while trying to help Havana’s tiny Jewish community communicate with the outside world, and is now being held “hostage” by Havana.
You know that’s not true. So, of course, should the media. After all, it was Desmond Butler, a foreign affairs reporter for the Associated Press—a news agency subscribed to by most American media and unlikely ever to be mistaken for a tool of the Cuban regime—who documented the facts of the case.
Alan Gross was “paid a half-million dollars” by USAID, your government’s “democracy promoting” agency, to smuggle sophisticated communications equipment into Cuba. That technology included Internet satellite phones capable of avoiding detection and spy-quality SIM cards “most frequently” used by the Defense Department and the CIA.
The goal of all of this was not to assist Cuba’s Jewish community communicate, as your government has insisted (the Jewish community already had Internet connectivity) but to promote regime change—to overthrow the government of Cuba.
Gross’s own reports make clear he knew he was engaged in “very risky business” and that discovery of what he was up to “will be catastrophic.”
That said, Alan Gross’s family and friends, not surprisingly, want him freed.
Just as the Cubans want the Five—who are considered national heroes in their homeland—freed.
Your government’s unblinking response has been that there is simply “no equivalence.” The Cubans were trained intelligence agents convicted of trying to steal military secrets and conspiracy to murder four innocent civilians killed in the shootdown of two unarmed Brothers to the Rescue aircraft in 1996. By contrast, the American argument goes, Alan Gross was just a humanitarian do-gooder.
We now know Alan Gross was much more than that.
But it is equally true the Cuban Five are much less than the murderous danger to American security the media and your government has portrayed.
I have read the 20,000-plus pages of the transcript of their trial and examined the thousands of additional pages of documents prosecutors entered into evidence to try to convict them.
I won’t try to whitewash the case against them. They were trained intelligence agents, and some of them used false identities to enter the United States. Part of the mission of some of them was to gather military information.
Their primary military mission, however, was not to look for information that could be used to attack the United States (forgetting, for the moment, the ludicrousness of the idea of tiny Cuba launching a military attack against the might U.S.).
The Cuban Five posed no military or security threat to the United States. Don’t believe me. Ask retired U.S. Lieutenant General James R. Clapper, your own Director of National Intelligence. When you appointed him in 2010, you said he possessed “a quality that I value in all my advisers: a willingness to tell leaders what we need to know even if it’s not what we want to hear.”
You should hear then what General Clapper had to say about the Cuban Five. In 2001, as Director of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, Clapper testified at the trial of the Five. He was asked specifically whether he would, “with your experience in intelligence matters, describe Cuba as a military threat to the United States?” His answer: “Absolutely not. Cuba does not represent a threat.” He also testified he found no evidence to suggest members of the Five were “trying to obtain secret information.”
The real military goal of the Five was to protect Cuba from possible American attack. That such an attack was possible is beyond dispute. Consider—as the Cubans undoubtedly did—Grenada (1983), Panama (1989) and Haiti (1994).
Cuba’s unarmed agents were essentially canaries in a foreign coal mine, using their trained eyes and ears to detect signals of possible imminent attack. When you think about it, that’s exactly what your American satellites, drones and, yes, human agents do in countries where you perceive a threat to American security from hostile governments—or terrorist elements.
That, in fact, was the real purpose behind Cuba sending its agents to Florida—to infiltrate and report back on the activities of terrorist anti-Castro exile groups who were actively plotting and often carrying out deadly attacks against Cuba from the safe sanctuary of Florida.
I don’t need to tell you that such attacks are illegal under the U.S. Neutrality Act, but perhaps it is worth reminding you that American authorities have rarely arrested anyone in connection with such plots and that Florida juries have even more rarely convicted anyone accused of any crime against Cuba.
I’ll come back to that.
Perhaps the most significant—and seemingly rational—rationale your government has offered for refusing to consider a humanitarian swap of the Five for Alan Gross is the reality that one of the Five was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder in connection with the shootdown of those Brothers to the Rescue planes in 1996.
One can argue—I do—that the Cuban government should not have authorized its jets to shoot down those aircraft. Despite the Brothers’ well documented ongoing provocations and illegal violations of Cuban airspace—which, by the way, both the FAA and the Clinton administration considered illegal and provocative, and attempted to stop—I continue to believe there were other, better options for the Cuban government than bringing down the planes.
But that is beside the point.
The only important issue here is whether any of those five agents had any control over, or played any role in the decision to shoot the planes down. Having read the trial transcript and examined the evidence presented during their trial, my conclusion is not only that there is no compelling link between any of the Five and the shootdown but that, in fact, the evidence leads to the opposite conclusion.
Cuban State Security is incredibly compartmentalized and information about such a significant attack would have only been communicated on a need-to-know basis. There was no need for low-level Florida field agents to know anything about what Havana’s military was actually planning, and there is no evidence they did.
But, you may counter, the Five were convicted by a Miami jury who heard all the evidence.
Let’s consider that.
I don’t have to tell you about the pervasive power and influence in Miami of right-wing Cuban exile groups. After two presidential campaigns, you know that better than anyone.
But let’s consider three other points when we imagine the chances that a Miami jury could impartially judge the actions of acknowledged Cuban agents.
In the lead-up to the trial of the Five—which took place in the aftermath of the emotionally charged Elian González affair—Miami’s media was filled to bursting with even more-frenzied-than-usual anti-Cuban rhetoric. We now know that at least some of that was orchestrated by journalists who were also being secretly paid by the U.S. Government’s own Broadcasting Board of Governors. When those clandestine payments were first revealed in 2006, the Miami Herald—to its credit—fired its bought-and-paid-for journalists for their egregious violations of journalistic ethics. But by then the damage had been done. [Read more about this issue on this website]
Consider as well the double standard of justice that was common in cases involving Cuba. There was another criminal case that took place around the same time as the arrest of the Cuban Five. The FBI had charged a group of anti-Castro Miami exiles, who had been arrested aboard a vessel off Puerto Rico, with plotting to assassinate Fidel Castro. Defense lawyers tried to get the trial moved to Miami. Federal prosecutors objected on the grounds that their case against the men would not get a fair hearing from a jury in Miami. Less than a year later, however, federal prosecutors objected again when the Five’s defense lawyers applied to have the trial moved out of Miami. Did they really believe Miami juries they’d claimed were too sympathetic to anti-Cuban exiles would suddenly be able to fairly adjudicate a case involving pro-Cuban agents?
Even more to the point, prosecutors in the Cuban Five case—just before the jury was to begin its deliberations— asked an appeal court to allow them to drop the charge of conspiracy to commit murder because they didn’t believe the evidence they’d presented could lead to a conviction.
Although the appeal court rejected their plea, the prosecutors needn’t have worried. After a seven-month trial, the Miami jury took just a few days to find the Five guilty on all counts, including conspiracy to commit murder.
I’d simply ask you to instruct your own lawyers to review the trial transcript and examine the evidence linking the Five to the shootdown—and report back to you on what they find.
It may be sobering.
You already know that Amnesty International has raised “doubts about the fairness and impartiality of the trial [of the Five]… the strength of the evidence to support the conspiracy to murder conviction… and whether the circumstances of the pre-trial detention of the five men, in which they had limited access to their attorneys and to documents, may have undermined their right to defense.”
You will know as well that the United Nations’ Human Rights Commission’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions, after examining the evidence, “requested the U.S. government to adopt the necessary steps to remedy the situation.”
You may point out—rightly—that the United Nations Working Group more recently determined that Alan Gross’s detention was also “arbitrary,” that the Cuban court did not act in an “independent and impartial manner” and called on Havana to “order [Gross’s] immediate release.”
Even if we accept the findings of the UN report, where does it leave us? Can two wrongs make a right?
The reality is that neither Alan Gross nor the Cuban Five should be languishing in prison. They are all, in the end, victims of the failed 50-plus-year history of American policy toward Cuba.
It is time to end the injustice—and, frankly, the stupidity—of a policy that hasn’t, and doesn’t serve the interest of either country. Or the world.
As you gear up for your inauguration and the unique opportunity a second-term American president has to create an historic legacy, I would urge you to reconsider the case of the Cuban Five.
You should use the occasion to grant executive clemency for the Five, allowing them to return home to Cuba. The Cubans have already indicated they would be prepared to reciprocate by freeing Alan Gross to return to his family in the United States.
Such a swap would not only represent a significant and long overdue humanitarian gesture by both governments but it would also signal an opportunity to finally restart relations between the United States and Havana on the basis of mutual respect and understanding.
Thank you for your consideration.
Stephen Kimber is a journalist and Professor of Journalism at the University of King’s College in Halifax, Canada. He is the author of one novel and seven nonfiction books. His latest book, What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of the Cuban Five, will be published in 2013.
Cc: Vice-Presidente Joe Biden
President Barack Obama
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President:
As a former United States Senator from South Dakota, I call your attention to an important case of injustice, one that you can easily remedy. It has to do with a group called the Cuban 5.
After years of terrorism against Cubans-bombing tourist hotels, blowing up a Cuban airliner, and other criminal acts, Fidel Castro sent five of his people to Miami to collect evidence on those committing such terrorism. They turned the information they had gathered over to the FBI, whose agents promptly arrested the Cubans. They were convicted by an intimidated Miami jury, then sent to American prisons. That action showed the world the duplicity of our war on terror.
I would hope that you would pardon these five men, an act that would be a first step toward restoring relations with Cuba as a close neighbor to the United States. Our 50 year embargo against Cuba has caused a great deal of suffering to a people we say we want to help.
Back in the 1970s, my colleague, George McGovern and I separately traveled to Cuba and met with Fidel Castro. We did so again together in 1977 and fostered an exchange of basketball teams from South Dakota. We played three games in Havana, and the Cuban team returned to South Dakota for three games here. President Carter approved of the exchange, and his administration was on the way to normalizing relations, a step that was halted by the actions of Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC). The Cuban government was open to normalizing relations back then, and I believe are still interested in doing so.
Freeing the Cuban Five I believe would be a first step in normalizing relations with Cuba. I also believe that such a step would result in the release to his family of Alan Gross, who was carrying out US policy in Cuba when he was imprisoned there.
Such a gesture on your part would lead to a restored neighborly relationship. It would also be seen as a very sensible and courageous step on your part.
You’ve made a lot of us very happy by succeeding in your re-election to the Presidency.
Cc: Vice-President Joe Biden
November 5th, 2012
Dear President Obama,
You have the presidential power to pardon and release five political prisoners held by Federal Bureau of Prisons in the United States. Antonio Guerrero Rodríguez, Fernando Gonzalez Llort, Gerardo Hernández Nordelo, Ramón Labañino Salazar, and René González Sehwerert are being incarcerated by US authorities on false charges of general conspiracy, conspiracy to commit espionage, and conspiracy to act as non-registered foreign agents. René González is an American citizen, and currently under restricted probation in Florida.
This is a case of which I am sure you are well aware. Each of these individuals, known world-wide as the Cuban Five, were arrested in 1998 for working on behalf of the Cuban people against on-going terrorists groups based in Miami. Hundreds of bombings, assassinations, and external attacks have occurred since the 1959 revolution against the Cuban people. The Central Intelligence Agency in cooperation with right-wing Cuban extremists is clearly implicated in many of these attacks going back as far as the Kennedy administration.
It is time for the normalization of US-Cuba relations and the termination of attempts by the US government to undermine the Cuban government. Continued belligerence by you and the US government towards Cuba and these men is the wrong policy at this time in US history. You can move forward in the development of positive US-Cuba relations immediately after the US election November 6 by pardoning the Cuban Five and moving to the lifting economic sanctions.
I hope you make the right decision.
Peter Phillips Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology, Sonoma State University
President of Media Freedom Foundation
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Obama,
This past month marked the 14th anniversary of the unjust incarceration of the five Cuban men who came to the United States to monitor the activity of anti-Cuban terrorist groups operating with impunity in Southern Florida. The Cuban Five came with no weapons, no intent on harming U.S. citizens or undermining U.S. policy.
Their mission was predicated on preventing more harm to their country and to U.S. citizens as well.
Despite the mainstream media’s silence in the U.S. regarding the case, many have managed to hear about the Cuban Five through alternative channels. And many have denounced the unfair and unwarranted convictions.
On March 6, 2009 in an unprecedented show of support, twelve amicus briefs called upon the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.
Numbering among the Cuban Five’s supporters were ten Nobel Prize winners, the entire Mexican Senate, the National Assembly of Panama, members from every political group within the European Parliament, including three current vice-presidents and two former Presidents, and hundreds of lawmakers from Brazil, Belgium, Chile, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Mexico, Scotland, and the United Kingdom. In May 2005 the UN Group on Arbitrary Detentions declared the incarceration of the Cuban Five to be unjust and arbitrary, in contravention of Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
President Obama, your administration has treated Cuba with the same failed policy of unrelieved antagonism as your predecessors. Cuba has never attacked or threatened the U.S. and as Pentagon generals and State Department officials have stated on numerous occasions, Cuba has never been a threat to the national security of the United States.
In Cuba the Five are considered heroes to 11 million people. If these five men had done the same thing for the U.S. you would be presenting them with medals.
The Cuban government has made it clear that they are willing to sit down and discuss a range of issues that are of interest to both countries including the freedom of the Cuban Five.
The only thing they ask is that this be done in an atmosphere of mutual respect, without preconditions.
Negotiating the release of these anti-terrorists fighters would set you apart from the arrogant colonial view that has so dominated U.S. policy towards Cuba.
Michael Parenti, Ph.D., author and scholar
1935 Stuart St.
Berkeley, CA, 94703
Rev. Joan Brown Campbell
Dear President Obama,
Today I joined with thousands of people from all over the world to ask you for a humanitarian gesture to allow 5 Cuban men, four of them in US prisons and one under supervised probation to return home to their loved ones.
In December of last year a delegation led by the Reverend Dr. Michael Kinnamon, Former General Secretary of the US National Council of Churches of Christ visited Cuba. They held a number of important meetings including one with the Council of Churches of Cuba. In these meetings they shared days of pray and reflection. They then issued a joint statement in which they committed to work towards the normalization of the relations between the US and Cuba. The relationship between the U.S. National Council of Churches and the Cuban Council is 70+ years old and predates the revolution.
The statement of the churches indicates that to obtain that desired and necessary objective, a number of humanitarian questions must be solved, “that are cause of the lack of unjustifiable understanding and an unnecessary human suffering”. The greatest obstacle mentioned in their declaration was the US blockade against Cuba. Voting on the lifting of the blockade has been brought up in 20 occasions at the General Assembly of United Nations.
Another obstacles mentioned in the joint statement is the imprisonment in the United States of “Five Cubans”, from a trial full of irregularities, whose sentences “have been declared unjust by numerous human right organizations, including Amnesty International and even the United Nations”.
Members of the delegation met with the mothers and spouses of the Cuban 5 as a show of support for the freedom of their children and spouses.
The Cuban 5, as they are internationally known, were no threat to US national security. Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González and René González sacrificed their lives to monitor terrorist groups based in Miami. They came to this country to alert and protect Cuban and North American people from criminal actions that have cost the life of thousands of Cubans and foreign citizens like Fabio Di Celmo, a young Italian who died in 1997 product of a bombing in a Havana hotel.
The Cuban government asked the U.S. government to put an end to the impunity of violent organizations that seriously threaten both countries. In June 1998 a delegation of high-level FBI went to Havana due to the magnitude of the complaint. Cuban officials gave the FBI all the information they had on these criminal groups to cease their actions. Incredibly, three months later the FBI arrested the messengers of this critical information, the Cuban 5.
This month of September will mark the 14 anniversary of the arrest of these five men; and so far no terrorist has been convicted, while the Cuban 5 still remain imprisoned.
On October 7 of last year, Rene Gonzalez, one of the Cuban 5, served his sentence of 15 years and was released, but the U.S. government prevented him from returning to Cuba to be reunited with his loved ones. René is being forced to stay for three years of probation in South Florida where his life is in constant danger. As an additional punishment, the U.S. government refuses to grant a visa to his wife Olga Salanueva to visit him in the U.S.
President Obama, I have visited Cuba over 30 times, I have met the families of the Cuban 5 and I share their suffering. It is time to free the Cuban 5 as a sign of our humanity. This same concern is felt by the entire Cuban people, leaders of all religions, lawyers, intellectuals, artists, 10 Nobel Prize recipients, parliaments, governments, Christians and Catholics in Latin America and thousands around the world.
More than a decade ago, when I was the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States, I had the opportunity to get involved in the return of Elian Gonzalez to Cuba. He was a young child, a victim of the contentious relations between the United States and Cuba. During that time I was able to meet his grandmothers and his father and I experienced the pain of a Cuban family.
I feel there is a similarity between both cases, although Elian was child separated from his family, the Cuban 5 have spent 14 years without watching their children grow, and be with their parents as they grow older. Some of them have lost family members during these long years of incarceration. Furthermore, as Elian Gonzalez, the Cuban 5 are at the center of U.S./Cuba relations.
President Obama, the people of the United States and Cuba wish to live in peace, harmony and brotherhood. There is no reason for our country to continue such an inhumane policy towards the island nation. Releasing the Cuban 5 undoubtedly will help in the restoration of relations between both countries.
Rev. Dr. Joan Brown Campbell
Dear President Obama,
Though I have little faith you will actually read this letter, my passion for this cause gives me optimism that you might take a moment to hear me.
I am writing to you about the case of the “Cuban 5.” The Cuban Five are five Cuban anti-terrorist agents from Cuba, who came to the United States to monitor the activities of real terrorists-Cuban expatriates living here who planned violent counter-revolutionary acts in Cuba and have been responsible for the deaths of thousands of Cubans over the years.
As you probably know, my son, Casey Austin Sheehan, was killed in Iraq on April 04, 2004. He was lied to by his government and military leadership that told him he was occupying another’s land to “fight terrorism.” So many injustices have been committed in this so-called Global War on Terror, but these Five Cuban heroes have been in US jails and prisons for fourteen years and their only real crime was not registering as foreign agents-a mild crime that usually carries a mild sentence of expulsion or short prison terms.
However, to obfuscate the USA’s training of and harboring of real terrorists, such as Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles, the injustice system of this country has convicted these five Cubans in a travesty of justice and the penalties were inhumane.
I have read numerous other letters to you from colleagues who have also pled with you to Free the Five based on the fact that they are sons, husbands, and fathers who need to return to their homeland and be with their families. Since you are already well aware of the deaths of sons, fathers, husbands, wives, mothers, and daughters due to the expansion of the Bush wars, and starting a few of your own, I am rather certain that approach will not work.
I know and care about the families of the Five-Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González and René González-they are optimistic and wonderful human beings. I have had the fortune of getting to know them over the years during my travels to Cuba and around the world. I am not appealing to you based on compassion as that would be a useless waste of my time and yours-the US imprisons more people per capita than any other nation in the world. Nor am I appealing to you based on the fact that you were a Constitutional Scholar and lawyer, primarily because what happened to the Five was an obscenity of the law, as was the signing of the NDAA into law, drone bombing in countries without a declaration of war, and assassinating US citizens without the due process guaranteed by the Constitution-all clearly in violation of the Constitution and also obscene.
However, I am appealing to you to “Free the Five” based on the fact that you have said, and shown the world, that the USA can “act pre-emptively” to protect our “safety,” and I would like to believe that you would extend the Cuban people and government the same right to protect its citizens from acts of terrorism.
Your regime has vigorously violated the sovereignty of several countries in the purported quest to “keep America safe.” The Cuban government and the Five Heroes did far less.
As a United States citizen, I do not make appeals of the people who work for me, however, I demand that my government allow the Four still imprisoned people listed above, as well as René González, who is out but on probation in Miami (which is the worst place for him to be because of the counter-revolutionary Cuban terrorists who live there) to return home. They have been punished enough for a relatively small crime.
President Obama, you have also made a statement that “Cuba needs to change its society” before you will consider normalizing relations. The blockade is an anachronism from the Cold War that can be lifted to the benefit of both nations- then you can go visit and see how wrong you’ve been.
Dear President Obama,
Though I fear your staff protects you from letters such as this, I write in the hope that one of our voices leaks through. I am one of thousands of people around the world who ask that you make a humanitarian gesture that is also a meaningful step to reduce international tensions: grant Executive Clemency and cause the release of the Cuban 5, who have been wrongly held in our prisons for nearly 14 years.
Together with a number of colleagues in the arts who speak as Actors and Artists United for the Freedom of the Cuban 5, I ask for the release of these five men: Gerardo Hernández Nordelo, Ramón Labañino Salazar, Rene González Sehwerert, Antonio Guerrero Rodríguez and Fernando González Llort.
Release them because they are sons, husbands, brothers, poets, pilots, college graduates and artists who have committed no crime against the United States.
Release them because they came to this country unarmed and never posed a threat of any kind to US National Security.
Release them because they came here only to monitor the activities of violent Cuban exiles who, operating from bases in Miami of which our government is well aware, were planning violent actions against innocent people in Cuba.
Release them because they were trying to prevent more brutal acts against their country and save innocent lives.
As you’re aware, Mr. President, yesterday was our Independence Day, a day many politicians use to celebrate our nation’s laws, its history, and its people. For many of these same politicians, supporting the so-called “war on terror” is used as a way to demonstrate their patriotism.
That being so, it is an act of profound hypocrisy for our government to continue the incarceration of these heroic men who put themselves at risk to stop the very terrorism we claim to find so abhorrent.
Therefore, I respectfully ask that you to reverse this mockery of justice and use the power conferred on you by our Constitution to do the right thing and allow the Cuban 5 to return home to their loved ones.
Dear President Obama,
I respectfully ask you to consider starting negotiations, based on an atmosphere of mutual respect, with President Raul Castro of Cuba, to resolve one of the main issues recently identified by the US Council of Churches of Christ and the Cuban Council of Churches. This issue is the case of the “Cuban Five” prisoners in the United States.
Four of the Cuban Five are serving long and extreme sentences in different prisons in our country for defending Cuba from terrorist actions planned on our own soil. Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, and Fernando González were arrested in 1998. Rene Gonzalez was released in October 2011 after serving his sentence but he has to remain in the U.S. for three more years under supervised probation.
For a long time, a number of personalities, members of Congress, religious, prestigious jurists, artists, intellectuals and large labor unions in the United States have raised their concerns about the unjust incarceration of these five Cuban men and are advocating for their freedom.
The need to send these men back to Cuba to be re-united with their families has also been the concern expressed by major human rights organizations, Amnesty International, the United Nations Group on Arbitrary Detention, former US President Jimmy Carter, members of the Armed Forces of the United States, 10 Nobel laureates, along with governments and parliaments from around the world. As a mayor of Richmond, I add my voice to theirs in asking for a humanitarian gesture to end this arbitrariness.
Mr. President, today on the 5th of June, I join with thousands of people from the United States and from around the world who write to you on the 5th of each month and ask you for this humanitarian approach, well within your power, in returning the five Cubans to their country and their families.
A humanitarian solution to this case will be a clear message to the world and will constitute an important foundation for the improvement of relations between the two countries. It will also demonstrate that we are a humane people with compassionate hearts.
Gayle McLaughlin, Mayor
City of Richmond, California, United States