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Who Are the Cuban 5

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Photo Rene Gonzales

The Cuban Five are Gerardo Hernández Nordelo, Ramón Labañino Salazar, Rene González Sehwerert, Antonio Guerrero Rodríguez and Fernando González Llort. They are sons, husbands, brothers, poets, pilots, college graduates and artists. Three of the Cuban Five were born in Cuba and two were born in the United States. Also three of them fought in Angola, during the war against apartheid. They are currently serving long prison sentences in the United States.

Since 1959, Cuba has been subjected to threats, sanctions, invasions, sabotage, and violent attacks on its soil, resulting in 3,478 deaths and another 2,099 wounded. It has thus developed vigilance against foreign attacks.

In 1976, 73 people died when a bomb exploded aboard a commercial Cuban airliner, destroying the plane in mid-air.  The masterminds behind the attack were two men of Cuban-origin, Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles, former CIA operatives whom currently live in Miami.

In the early 90s, following the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba was trying to establish a tourism industry. Soon after, the right-wing exile groups in Miami started a violent campaign targeting tourist hotels and resorts, buses, airports and other facilities to discourage foreigners from visiting the island nation. In 1997, as part of that campaign, a bomb exploded in the lobby of Havana’s Hotel Copacabana, killing Fabio DeCelmo, an Italian tourist.  The Cuban authorities arrested Raul Ernesto Cruz Leon, a native of El Salvador who confessed to having been paid thousands of dollars by anti-Castro exile groups based in Miami to plant the bomb..

Due to the lack of response from the FBI to stop such attacks, Cuba sent the Cuban Five to Miami to monitor the organizations perpetrating these acts of violence. The idea was to gather information about similar acts that were in the planning stages in order to derail them before they were carried out. The Five were able to establish evidence implicating specific Miami exile groups and individuals in the attacks.

In 1998 President Fidel Castro sent a personal emissary to Washington to deliver a hand-written note to President Bill Clinton, asking that the United States indict and prosecute those who committed crimes against Cuba. In his letter to Clinton among other things Castro said, “If you really want to do so, you can put a stop to this new form of terrorism. It is impossible to stop this terrorism without United States involvement . . . Unless it is stopped now, in the future any country could be victimized by this new terrorism.” President Castro’s personal emissary was none other than Gabriel García Márquez, the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. At the time President Clinton was out of town and after waiting for him for several days, García Márquez finally met with White House Chief of Staff Mac McLarty on May 6, 1998 and gave him the letter.

In the wake of the Garcia Marquez visit, the United States sent an FBI team to Havana a month later to discuss collaboration with Cuba on stopping acts of aggression emanating from Miami. At the meeting Cuba handed over 64 files containing the results of its investigation into 31 different terrorist acts and plans against the island in the decade of the 90s. The Cuban government enclosed details of operations against Cuba, including photographs of the explosives used.

Cuba then waited for the FBI to start arresting the architects of these operations, but instead, on September 12, 1998, it arrested the Cuban Five; the very men who had come to Miami to monitor the activities of the violent Miami exile groups.

After their arrest, the Five spent 17 months in solitary confinement cells. The trial took place in Miami and lasted 7 months. They were charged with 26 counts of violating the federal laws of the United States. 24 of those charges were relatively minor and technical offenses, such as the use of false names and failure to register as foreign agents.

The Cuban Five were sentenced to maximum prison terms. Gerardo Hernandez received a double life sentence and Antonio Guerrero and Ramon Labañino receive life sentences. The remaining two, Fernando Gonzalez and René Gonzalez, received 19 and 15 years respectively.

In August 2005, the 11th Circuit three-judge panel unanimously overturned all the “Cuban Five’s” convictions and ordered a new trial citing it was impossible for the Cuban Five to receive a fair trial in Miami due to various Cuban exile groups and paramilitary camps that operate in the Miami area.

Three retired Generals and a retired Admiral of the United States army testified at the trial that the “Cuban Five” were not a threat to the United States National Security.

On May 27, 2005, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions found the detention of the “Cuban Five” to be in “contravention of article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights”, and requested that the United States Government adopt the necessary steps to remedy the situation, in conformity with the principles stated in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales directly intervened on the U.S. governments’ behalf to set aside the 11th Circuit three judge panel opinions.

In June 2008, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the guilty verdict and the panel ratified the sentences of Rene Gonzalez and Gerardo Hernandez.  In the cases of Ramon Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, and Fernando Gonzalez, they were sent back for re-sentencing in the same court that convicted them in Miami.

Amnesty International has condemned the inhuman treatment of the “Cuban Five”, by the United States refusal and/or severe limitation of visas for family visitations since 1998.

Adriana Perez, wife of Gerardo Hernandez and Olga Salanueva, wife of Rene Gonzalez have been denied entry visas by the US government to visit their husbands in US prisons.

In March 2009, 12 Amicus Curiae were presented before the US Supreme Court in support of the Cuban Five, including 10 Nobel Prize winners, intellectuals, members of Parliaments and organizations from all over the world.

On June 15, 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court announced without explanation its decision not to review the case of the Cuban Five.

On October 13, 2009, Antonio Guerrero was resentenced to 21 years and 10 months, and on December 2009 Ramon Labañino was resentenced to 30 years while Fernando Gonzalez was resentenced to 17 years.

On June 14th, 2010, the Cuban Five legal team filed a Habeas Corpus before the Federal Court of Miami.

On October 13, Amnesty International issued a Press Release that Seeks Review of Case of the “Cuban Five”

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