[Marxism] NYT: Fate of 5 in U.S. Prisons Weighs on Cubans' Minds

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Sun Aug 5 03:52:19 MDT 2007

After almost ten years, the New York Times prints their
very first article about the case of the Cuban Five.)

August 5, 2007
Fate of 5 in U.S. Prisons Weighs on Cubans’ Minds


HAVANA, July 29 — In Cuba, they call them “the five.” Their faces are
plastered on walls and billboards everywhere. Merely being a relative
of the five grants celebrity status. Even children know them by their
first names — Gerardo, René, Ramón, Fernando and Antonio.

They are not a boy band.

They are middle-aged men who have been sentenced to long prison terms
for spying, Cuban officials maintain, not on the United States
government, but on right-wing Cuban exiles in Miami who are
considered terrorists by the government here.

“The whole country knows their story by heart,” said Elena Portala, 
a 50-year-old bookbinder, as she walked by a blocklong wall with the
men’s names and inspirational quotations from each of them. “The
radio and the press talk constantly about them. They should be let
out of prison. They haven’t done anything wrong.”

These days, many Cubans are pinning their hopes on a hearing set for
Aug. 20, before the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th
Circuit in Atlanta, where federal judges will decide on whether the
evidence was insufficient to support the convictions.

The five men were among 10 Cuban immigrants arrested in September
1998 and accused of being part of a spy ring called the Wasp Network.
Four others were indicted but never apprehended. Prosecutors
presented evidence that the network had infiltrated Brothers to the
Rescue and other militant exile groups in Miami. Some were also
accused of seeking United States military intelligence.

Half of the arrested men pleaded guilty, but the famed remainder
stood trial in Miami after a Federal District judge, Joan A. Lenard,
denied a motion to move the proceedings to another venue. In June
2001, a federal jury in Miami convicted them. No Cuban-Americans were
on the jury.

All five — Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, René
González and Fernando González — were convicted of acting as
unregistered foreign agents and conspiracy to commit crimes against
the United States. Three were also convicted of conspiracy to commit
espionage, on the strength of evidence that they had gathered
information on military activity at a naval air station in Key West.
In addition, Mr. Hernández was convicted of conspiracy to murder in
connection with the deaths of four Cuban exiles whose two light
aircraft were shot down by the Cuban Air Force over the Straits of
Florida in 1996.

Judge Lenard threw the book at them. Mr. Guerrero and Mr. Labañino
were sentenced to life in prison. Fernando González was sentenced to
19 years, and René González to 15 years. (They are not related.) Mr.
Hernández was sentenced to two consecutive life terms.

Since their convictions, the five have been on a legal roller
coaster. In August 2005, a three-judge federal appellate panel in
Atlanta threw out the verdicts, saying the defendants could not
receive a fair jury trial in Miami because of anti-Castro bias among
the exiles. Two months later, a majority of the 11th Circuit
reinstated the convictions but agreed to hear an appeal on the
sufficiency of the evidence, among other issues.

Meanwhile, the “five heroes” have become the biggest propaganda tool
that the one-party, Communist government of Cuba has come up with
since Che Guevara. Their names and faces appear on walls and signs
all over Cuba, with the word “volverán,” meaning “they will return.”
Cuban officials never fail to mention them as heroes in official
speeches and ceremonies.

One reason for their popularity is the government’s simplified
version of their ordeal: brave men who tried to ferret out right-wing
terrorists determined to hurt Cuba while sheltered in the United

That approach carries the message that Washington is hypocritical in
its “war on terror,” jailing the five for the equivalent of trying to
find Osama bin Laden in his presumed haven of Pakistan.

That argument has become even more persuasive to Cubans since May,
when Luis Posada Carriles was released from jail in the United
States. The Cuban government has long accused Mr. Posada Carriles,
now 79, of plotting to assassinate Mr. Castro and says he
masterminded the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner, which killed 73
people, and a string of bombings of Havana hotels and nightclubs in
1997. Efforts to extradite him to Venezuela, where he is also wanted
in the jetliner bombing, have failed.

“I am convinced they are real heroes,” said an accountant who, 
like many Cubans, preferred to remain anonymous to avoid possible
harassment from the police. “Any person who is against terrorism has
to be for them. And the government of the United States is very
unjust to have them locked up while Posada Carriles is free.”

Even 13-year-olds here follow the government’s argument. “They are
like brothers to us,” said Lizbet Martin, a schoolgirl. “They
shouldn’t be jailed.”

In a recent interview with the BBC, Mr. Hernández acknowledged he was
gathering information about what he described as paramilitary groups
determined to topple the Cuban government. He maintained that the
Cuban government informed the Federal Bureau of Investigation about
the groups.

“They are people who’ve got training camps there in paramilitary
organizations and they go to Cuba and commit sabotage, bombs and all
kinds of aggressions,” he told the BBC. “And they had impunity, so at
a certain point Cuba decided to send some people to gather
information on those groups and send it back to Cuba to prevent those

But Mr. Hernández denies vehemently that he helped the Cuban Air
Force shoot down the two exile planes. “They needed to blame
somebody, and they chose me,” he said.

Alicia Valle, a spokeswoman for the United States attorney’s office
in Miami, declined to comment on the case. According to court
documents, the United States government agreed that the five had
spied on anti-Castro groups like Brothers to the Rescue and
Movimiento Democratico.

But the United States government maintained that they were
well-trained spies, not amateurs, involved in a range of espionage,
and that none of them informed the government of their presence, as
federal law requires, court documents show.

The case of the Cuban five has spawned some strange commentary.
High-ranking officials in the Cuban government, which regularly jails
people without public trial for speaking out against Communism, talk
at length and in detail about the lack of evidence in the case, and
they rail about the lack of “due process” in American courts.

In a recent interview, Ricardo Alarcón, the president of Cuba’s
National Assembly, said the men’s sentences were excessive in
comparison with other spy convictions and insisted they were not
seeking information about the United States government. He noted that
in July a former F.B.I. analyst, Leandro Aragoncillo, had received
only 10 years for passing top secret documents to the Philippine

The families, too, have become celebrities, if to a lesser degree.
They are asked to appear at all sorts of state affairs. In one week
in July, family members attended a graduation of Cuban doctors and
the annual National Rebellion Day celebration. Speakers at each event
tipped their hats to the families, calling the jailed men heroes.

But after the hoopla, back at home, some said, they must face the
task of raising children without fathers and living without husbands.

“It has turned my life upside down,” said Olga Salanueva, the wife of
René González, who was a pilot at an airport where one of the exile
groups kept airplanes. “No one is prepared to live so separated from
her husband. And to see a person so humane, so noble, suffer again
and again.”

She added: “We don’t have much confidence in the justice system of
North America. We know it is very difficult, because it has become a
political matter.”

Ms. Salanueva said that the United States had repeatedly denied her a
visa to visit her husband on the grounds that she was deported in
2000 and under current rules can never apply for a visa again.

Adriana Pérez, the wife of Gerardo González, has also been turned
down every year for a visa to visit him. State Department officials
declined to comment on the women’s visa applications. Elizabeth
Palmeiro, the wife of Mr. Labañino, said she feels pained every time
she looks at their two daughters, now 15 and 10, and realizes how
much of their lives he has missed. One girl was an infant and the
other was 5 when he was imprisoned.

“I feel a mixture of pain, of sadness, of fury, and pride,” she said.

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