On June 5 the Eleventh Circuit of Atlanta's Court of Appeals upheld the federal convictions for conspiracy against the Cuban Five — five Cuban citizens held in US prisons since their arrest on September 12, 1998.
The ruling has sparked street protests in solidarity with the prisoners throughout the world, including a huge protest in Havana on June 10. Why, the protesters have asked, does the United States justice system throw anti-terrorist fighters in prison and allow proven terrorists, such as the infamous Luis Posada Carriles, to walk free?
Collectively, the Cuban Five are currently serving four life sentences plus a further 75 years. They were first convicted by the US federal court in 2001 in Miami after spending 17 months in solitary confinement awaiting trial. The US government falsely accused the men of illegal espionage.
Incredibly, two of the Cuban Five were even convicted of conspiring to commit murder. None of the Five ever harmed anyone, nor ever possessed or used any weapons while in the United States.
These sentences were handed down despite a Pentagon and Justice Department statement issued shortly after the five's arrest that stated the national security of the United States had not been compromised by their activities.
In their defence, the five argued that their clandestine efforts on behalf of the Cuban government were never directed against the US government. Instead, their only role was monitoring the actions of Miami-based terrorist groups in order to prevent further terrorist attacks on Cuba.
Furthermore, they pointed out that Cuba has never placed the security of the US in jeopardy or committed any acts of aggression or terrorism against it.
Miami is home to numerous anti-Cuba terrorist organisations responsible for attacks on Cuba since the triumph of the revolution in 1959. A campaign of bombings, assassinations, sabotage and the widespread spraying of bacteriological and chemical agents has resulted in the deaths of over 3400 Cubans and left a further 2000 people severely injured.
Notorious anti-Cuba groups, such as Comandos F4 and Brothers to the Rescue, have operated with impunity from within the US with the knowledge and support of the FBI and CIA. From the early 1990s, the Cuban Five infiltrated these terrorist organisations so they could alert Cuba of planned attacks.
No US investigation has been conducted into the illegal activities of the groups they were attempting to infiltrate.
Carrying out terrorist attacks
Meanwhile, the Bush administration is refusing to extradite the anti-Cuban terrorist Posada to Venezuela, despite a formal extradition agreement between the two countries. In 1985, Posada was arrested in Venezuela for his role in the 1976 mid-flight bombing of a civilian Cuban airliner. He subsequently escaped from a Venezuelan prison and went on to carry out numerous other attacks on Cuba, including a series of hotel bombings in Havana in 1997.
In 2000, Posada and his accomplices planned to blow up a crowded auditorium in Panama City where then Cuban President Fidel Castro was due to speak. The plot was foiled and Posada was again imprisoned until the outgoing pro-Bush Panamanian president Mireya Moscoso granted Posada a 2004 pardon.
Posada then entered the US illegally in March 2005 and was charged with violating immigration law. Despite worldwide demands for his arrest and prosecution a US court dropped all immigration charges against Posada in May 2007.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez responded to the decision by stating that Posada "is a murderer, a terrorist, and a torturer, and now he enjoys total freedom in the United States".
Posada, a long time CIA operative, was feted at a function held in Miami on May 2. According to a May 14 article posted on the website of US anti-war group ANSWER, the man responsible for the deaths of 73 people in the 1976 plane bombing was honoured with an art gallery exhibit of his paintings.
In a speech to the function Posada made an unmistakable call for further terrorist attacks against Cuba, declaring "we must not wait for Fidel Castro to die [or] for Raul to make mistakes".
In the June 5 court ruling, a three judge panel decided to uphold the convictions for espionage conspiracy and murder conspiracy against Gerardo Hernandez (sentenced to two life sentences plus 15 years) and Rene Gonzalez (sentenced to 15 years).
The original sentences meted out to the other three — Antonio Guerrero (life sentence plus 10 years), Fernando Gonzalez (19 years) and Ramon Labanino (life sentence plus 18 years) — have been remanded for re-sentencing based on findings that they gathered no "top secret" information.
Ominously, it will be Judge Joan Lenard — the same judge who handed out the originally harsh sentences to the five in 2001 — who will announce a hearing to issue these new sentences.
Free the Cuban Five
Marjorie Cohn, president of the National Lawyers' Guild and part of the legal team representing the Cuban Five, condemned the blatant hypocrisy of the court's decision in a June 5 press conference. Citing "a nearly 50-year policy of the US government to isolate and punish the Cuban people", Cohn asked "Why were these five men in the United States?"
Cohn answered simply "to gather information about terrorist acts being planned against Cuba. And there have been a number of terrorist acts … There are people who are walking free in Miami who have admitted responsibility for [the 1976 airplane bombing]. And the US government refuses to prosecute them. And yet these five Cuban men, who come into the United States unarmed … are convicted and sentenced."
The Cuban Five have steadfastly defended their role in monitoring anti-Cuba terrorist groups based in the US. They have rightly declared themselves to be political prisoners, "guilty" only of attempting to protect their country and save lives.
Their imprisonment is nearing the 10-year mark. More protests and actions in support of their release will be necessary to build pressure on the US government to grant them an unconditional release.