UNITED STATES: 'Cuban Five' held in 'deplorable' conditions

Issue 

BY GLORIA LA RIVA

Olga Salanueva is the wife of Rene Gonzalez, one of five Cubans imprisoned by the US for trying to stop terrorism against their country. She hasn't heard a word from her husband since he and his four comrades were locked down on February 28 in "Security Housing Units" of the US prison system. SHUs are brutal isolation cells that have become standard in almost every US prison.

"This latest indignation has only served to strengthen us", she said in a telephone interview from Havana. Salanueva has been prohibited from entering the US and has not seen her husband for five years. His sentence is 17 years.

Rene Gonzalez, Fernando Gonzalez, Antonio Guerrero, Gerardo Hernandez and Ramon Labanino — the "Cuban Five", as they are known to their supporters — are political prisoners of the US government. They had infiltrated right-wing Cuban terrorist groups in Miami that have carried out terrorism against Cuba. Now they are serving sentences of between 17 years and double-life in prisons scattered around the US.

Since late February, they have been confined to tiny cells in which the lights are kept on around the clock and there is no way to tell day from night. No natural light can enter the windowless rooms. Reading and writing materials are prohibited.

For the first two weeks of this isolation, even Cuban consular officials in Washington were denied the right to talk with, or write to, their compatriots. Now a visit requires 16 days' notice.

Attorney Leonard Weinglass, legal counsel for Guerrero, travelled to see his client on March 20 in Florence federal prison near Colorado Springs. He also saw Hernandez, who is serving two trumped-up life sentences in Lompoc prison. Weinglass is preparing crucial appeals to be filed on behalf of all five political prisoners on April 7.

Weinglass wrote that he was shocked at Hernandez's "deplorable conditions". Hernandez has been stripped of clothing except for his underpants and T-shirt. His shoes have been taken away. A letter from his lawyer, Joaquin Mendez, was confiscated before Hernandez could read it. He is denied all contact with the outside world and fellow prisoners.

Weinglass said Hernandez's situation is even worse than that of many thousands of prisoners held in isolation around the US. He is in what is called "the box", designed for violent offenders.

In their five years of incarceration, the Cuban Five have not been accused of misconduct. But they are being collectively punished as victims of 43 years of US hostility toward revolutionary Cuba.

The confinement order against all five was authorised by US attorney general John Ashcroft, because he claims they pose a risk of "disclosing classified information" that "could pose a threat to the national security of the United States".

Yet the five never even attempted to engage in the gathering of classified information about the US. Their activities were strictly related to stopping terrorism by anti-Cuba groups in Miami and defending Cuba from possible paramilitary or military actions.

The US is concerned, however, about the growing international and national support they are receiving. There are more than 120 committees around the world campaigning on the Cuban Five's behalf.

An emergency worldwide campaign is underway to demand the release of the Cuban Five from SHU isolation and to secure a new trial. Appeals will be filed on April 7 in Atlanta. Two important web sites have all the pertinent information on their case and the campaign for their freedom. They are: <http://www.freethefive.org> and <http://www.antiterroristas.cu>.

[From the US socialist newspaper Workers World. Visit <http://www.workers.org>.]

From Green Left Weekly, April 9, 2003.
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