Political Prisoners Held in U.S.
Free the Cuban Five!
The Cuban Five have been unjustly imprisoned in U.S. jails for protecting Cuba against terrorist attacks launched from U.S. soil. They have been in jail for more than 11 years, serving far longer sentences, after having been convicted on trumped up charges in a prejudiced trial. Their harsh and vindictive sentences, completely disproportionate to typical prosecutions of similar charges (never mind the spurious nature of the entire case against them) resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court vacating the sentences for Antonio Guerrero, Ramón Labañino and Fernando González in June 2008. All had resentencing trials that resulted in shorter sentences but ones that are still unjust. Like Puerto Rican, African American and Native American political prisoners, the Cubans were pressured to collaborate with the government in exchange for lighter sentences. They refused, standing up instead to demand their freedom and condemn the U.S. for refusing to release them and send them home.
On December 8, Ramón Labañino, also serving a life sentence, had his sentence reduced to 30 years and Fernando González, currently serving a 19 year sentence, had his reduced to 17 years and nine months. On October 13, 2009, Antonio Guerrero’s had his original sentence reduced from life imprisonment plus 10 years to 21 years and ten months. His lawyer Leonard Weinglass pointed out at the time that counting time served and time off for good behavior, he expects Guerrero will serve about seven more years. In making her ruling, Judge Joan Lenard of the U.S. Federal District Court for the Southern District of Florida rejected a negotiated agreement between the U.S. government and the defense team for a sentence of 20 years.
President of the Cuban Parliament Ricardo Alarcón on November 30 spoke to reporters in Pinar del Rio, Cuba about the resentencing of Ramón Labañino and Fernando González: “Although any sentence against them is unjust, this event can at least make the case better known to the public and add momentum to the international solidarity movement in favor of these men,” he explained. Alarcón commented that in the case of Antonio Guerrero, for example, international solidarity was a key factor that led the judge to reduce his sentence during his resentencing: “After ten years of appeals, the fact that the U.S. courts have acknowledged that the sentences against them were excessive – despite the lack of evidence to support the charge of conspiracy to commit espionage – shows the injustice of the U.S. legal system,” Alarcón stressed.
Alarcón also recalled that it is the same system that already decided to maintain a sentence of two life terms plus fifteen years against Gerardo Hernandez, another of the Cuban anti-terrorists. This is despite the fact the Supreme Court acknowledged he also deserves to be resentenced.
“Fernando Gonzalez monitored a terrorist group led by Orlando Bosch. However, this criminal walks the streets of the United States as a free man while the Five have suffered countless arbitrary acts in maximum security prisons,” he concluded.
Bosch is joined by admitted terrorist Luis Pasada Carriles, responsible for the bombing of a Cubana airplane, killing all 73 people on board. While the U.S. arrested and tried the Cuban Five anti-terrorists in the name of opposing terrorism, they have systematically protected Bosch and Posada. Indeed the CIA is known for having them on their payroll and funding their terrorist activities. Double standards eliminate justice and rule of law, while unleashing replacing arbitrary imprisonment and impunity.
It is time for President Barack Obama to eliminate these double standards and stand up for justice for the Cuban Five. Release them now! Extradite Posada Carriles! End the Double Standards! It is time to end U.S. terrorism against Cuba by ending the genocidal blockade and arresting and disarming the anti-Cuban gangs who have committed acts of terror from U.S. soil.
The re-sentencing proceedings for three of the five Cuban anti-terrorists concluded yesterday after a hearing in the Federal Court of this southern Florida city. Ramón Labañino Salazar was handed down a new prison term of 30 years and Fernando González Llort was sentenced to 17 years plus nine months.
Although the new sentences are still unjust, they modify the former ones against Ramón (life plus 18 years) and Fernando (19 years) and are evidence of the role played by international solidarity in support of this cause and the untiring work of the legal team.
Despite heavy discipline in the court, the shackles… it was impossible to prevent Ramón and Fernando from appearing with their heads held high, their fists in the air, and smiles of encouragement for friends who came to show their support, including people from outside the U.S.
After the judge pronounced the verdict, a statement in the names of Antonio, Ramón and Fernando in which they confirm the political nature of the trial, was presented to various media sources. They drew attention to the situation of Gerardo Hernández Nordelo, who is serving two life sentences plus 15 years, and “who has been arbitrarily excluded from these re-sentencing proceedings.”
The document specifies that, as was the case at the time of their arrest on September 12, 1998 and on other occasions since then, “we have once again received proposals to cooperate” in exchange for being given lenient sentences but “we reject them as something that we will never accept under any circumstances,” they affirm. They also noted that, for the first time in 11 years, the U.S. administration is being forced to acknowledge that “we did not endanger their national security.”
Antonio, Ramón and Fernando were transferred to Miami for the re-sentencing hearings, in compliance with a ruling from the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, Georgia, which determined that the previous sentences had been erroneously imposed.
On October 13 in the same courtroom, Antonio Guerrero Rodríguez’ sentence was reduced from life plus 10 years, the sentence handed down in 2001, to 21 years and 10 months. Meanwhile, René González Sehwerert is serving his sentence in a Florida penitentiary.
After the hearing, the Alianza Martiana organized a political reaffirmation event, in which members called on President Obama to immediately release the Five.
Dear Sisters and Brothers from Cuba and from all over the World:
We have already served more than 11 years in prison and there is still no justice at any level of the American legal system. Three of us have come to the Miami Court to be re-sentenced due to an order from the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which determined that our sentences had been erroneously imposed.
Our brother Gerardo Hernandez, who is serving two life terms plus 15 years, has been arbitrarily excluded from this re-sentencing process. His situation remains the principal injustice in our case. The U.S. Government is well aware of the falseness of the accusations against him and the unfairness of his sentence.
This has been a complex process, difficult and much discussed in every detail, in which we participated along with our counsels. We did not give an inch in our principles, decorum and honor, always defending our innocence and the dignity of our Homeland.
Just as it did at the moment of our arrest and at other occasions during these long years, the U.S. Government proposes now that we collaborate to obtain more benevolent sentences. Once again, we have rejected such proposals, something that we never will accept under any circumstances.
Present in the results of these re-sentencing hearings are the work of the legal team and the indestructible solidarity of all of you. It is significant that the U.S. Government, for the first time in 11 years, was obliged to recognize that we did not cause any damage to its national security.
Also, for the first time, the prosecutor publicly recognized the existence of a strong international movement in support of our immediate freedom, a movement that affects the image of the US judicial system in the eyes of the international community.
Once again the absolute political character of this process is confirmed.
We the Five are punished for accusations that never have been proved. Although three of our sentences were partially reduced, the injustice remains for all of us.
The Cuban-American terrorists continue to enjoy total impunity.
We reiterate: The Five are innocent!
We feel profoundly moved and grateful for the permanent solidarity that you give us, so crucial in this long battle for justice.
Together with you, we will continue until the final victory, which only will be reached with the return of the Five to our Homeland.
Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada, president of the Cuban Parliament, stated December 11 that the Five should not have been deprived of freedom even for one second, and that the re-sentencing of three of them (Ramón Labañino, Fernando González and Antonio Guerrero – the last in October) is an additional argument for continuing and intensifying the struggle for the immediate release of the Gerardo and his four comrades.
On learning the new sentences that reduced Ramón’s prison term from life to 30 years, and Fernando’s from 19 years to 17 years and nine months, Alarcón stated that while lengthy sentences are being imposed on our compañeros, self-confessed terrorists like Luis Posada Carriles are at liberty, because the U.S. government is continuing to violate the law and international treaties.
President Obama is under the obligation to bring Posada to justice by extraditing him to Venezuela or by trying him in a U.S. criminal court. “There is no other legal action,” Alarcón argued.
Now It Is Obama’s Turn to Act
Speaking on the “Roundtable” television program, Alarcón emphasized that, in case of the Five, the U.S. government – which has to recognize that international pressure is growing and that it feels that fire – could not have imagined that it would satisfy us with reductions of sentences to 30 years, which is, in fact, a life term.
He insisted that it is now up to Obama, “who is aware that they were unjustly sentenced,” adding that he also knows that even the Bush government could not prove the most infamous charge against Gerardo. He recalled that this has been a trial plagued by irregularities, from the initial charges to the sentencing, and that the U.S. government knows that these compañeros did not cause harm to anybody. All they did was to contribute to the peace, security, and freedom of their people as well as that of U.S. citizens.
He explained that in the case of Ramón Labañino, the 30-year prison term is the minimum sentence that could be handed down in line with the guidelines applicable to the crimes of which he was convicted.
He also stated that, while any punishment for these men is unjust, the reduction of the sentences is still important because it should change the conditions of their imprisonment. He highlighted that the most important thing is that, today, it is not only the defense stating that the trial was plagued by errors, but the current U.S. government itself has also had to acknowledge that fact. “All of this has come about within an unjust scenario, and thus they should never have been punished,” Alarcón concluded.
Less than 100 miles from Guantanamo, 200 delegates from 54 nations and all seven continents converged in Holguín, Cuba from November 19-23. The occasion was the Fifth International Colloquium dedicated to five Cuban political prisoners who have been held for eleven years in prisons across the United States. I was one of the U.S. participants who gathered to bear witness to decades of terrorism that have been unleashed against the Cuban people by organizations based a mere ninety miles away in Miami. We came together to accelerate the struggle for the freedom of the Five – Fernando Gonzáles, René Gonzáles, Antonio Guerrero, Gerardo Hernández and Ramón Labañino – at a particularly strategic moment in the case.
According to Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada, president of the Cuban National Assembly, who opened the plenary session of the Colloquium, the reduction of Antonio Guerrero’s sentence on October 13, 2009 from life plus 10 years to 21 years and 10 months, was a result of the global movement in solidarity with the Five. This movement effectively complemented work in the legal arena to force the U.S. government to re-examine the excessive sentences that had been given to three of the Five. In the next period, the role of international solidarity activity will become key to freeing the Five if the legal tactics to win complete freedom for all five men are exhausted.
The global corporate media has imposed a nearly total information blockade about the case. When they do write about the Five they work hand-in-hand with the U.S. Government to invert the truth and label them as spies. In reality, the Five were defending Cuba against the violent attacks, which had increased during the nineties. They were gathering intelligence about Cuban exile extremist groups in Miami, including the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), Brothers to the Rescue, and Alpha 66 to prevent further destruction and loss of life in a period when Cuban tourism was targeted by these forces who hoped to further isolate the island. The intelligence that the Five were able to collect about their activities was shared with the U.S. government, yet the U.S. failed to act against those who had perpetrated the violence and ironically turned around and prosecuted the Five. These facts have been deliberately kept from the American public and need to be widely disseminated in order to build popular pressure demanding their freedom. Alarcón urged the delegates not to ignore “any space that we can utilize from denunciation to prayer” in order to defend the Five.
While Alarcón’s presentation provided an analytical framework for understanding the aggressive activities launched against Cuba, family members who had been directly impacted gave testimony that enabled delegates to understand the physical, psychological and emotional damage these acts caused. Giustino DiCelmo, the father of an Italian tourist who was killed in the 1997 bombing of the Copacabana Hotel in Havana, painfully expressed what it meant to lose a son in such a brutally random manner. Odalys Pérez Rodriguez is the daughter of the pilot of Cubana flight 455, which exploded while flying from Barbados to Jamaica in 1976, killing all 73 people on board. She spoke angrily of Luis Posada Carriles, the CANF leader who has boasted of his responsibility in the bombing. The U.S. government refuses to prosecute him and his cohorts so he continues to live in freedom in Miami where he is able to continue his activities against Cuba with impunity. A group of delegates also visited the small town of Boca de Samá, meeting some of those who had resisted an attack by the anti-Cuban group Alpha 66 (supported by the CIA) on October 12, 1971 in which two people were killed and several others were injured.
The strong presence of the mothers, wives and daughters of the Five throughout the Colloquium demonstrated the courage and commitment of these women despite the fact that their loved ones have been locked up far away in U.S. prisons for so long. Olga Salanueva, René’s wife, and Adriana Pérez, Gerardo’s wife, explained that the U.S. government has denied their requests for visas on nine separate occasions preventing them from visiting their husbands. An International Commission for the Right of Family Visits, with members in 27 countries, has been established to expose the illegality of the U.S. policy and to build popular support for the inarguable right to family visits.
One of the most moving aspects of the Colloquium were the trips that delegates made to surrounding communities – Gibara, Báguanos, Rafael Freyre and Calixto Garcia. In each town, community members put together an educational and cultural program followed by a culinary feast. These local events showed the breadth and depth of community support for the Five and their families. The Five are recognized by young and old as national heroes for defending the right of Cubans’ to live in peace. Community members expressed resounding appreciation for the solidarity that the international delegates offered. They emphasized again and again that they held the U.S. government responsible for the terrorist activities of the extremist groups but only felt friendship for the American people, especially those who opposed their government’s policies regarding Cuba.
At the final plenary, a unitary declaration was released on behalf of all of the participants, which summarized the demands of the Colloquium and laid out a plan of action to be implemented over the next year. An end to U.S. logistical and financial support for anti-Cuban terrorist organizations, the prosecution of Luis Posada Carriles, and the right to family visitation were included as key demands. The central demand – to free the Five – was directed at President Barack Obama since he has the legal and constitutional power to release them and a moral, political, and judicial obligation to do so given their innocence. Their unconditional release would clearly demonstrate a changed direction for U.S.-Cuban relationships and open up opportunities for friendship in Latin America as a whole.
The Colloquium was very successful in mobilizing the next stage of global solidarity in the struggle to free the Five. Delegates from Latin America and Africa in particular emphasized their belief that the incarceration of the Five was an attack against all freedom loving people around the world. And the message for progressive people within the United States was crystal clear. It is time for us to insist unequivocally that the U.S. end its 50-year economic and military war against Cuba by ending the blockade and freeing the Five.
On December 8, Ramón Labañino and Fernando Gonzáles will be appearing in a Miami court for re-sentencing. To get updates on the case and become involved please go to www.thecuban5.org. For a full history of the Five see the Counterpunch series by Ricardo Alarcón: The Untold Story of the Cuban Five.
Diana Block is a member of the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban Five. She is also on the Advisory Board of the California Coalition for Women Prisoners.
For the Release of the Five Heroes and Against Terrorism
To all women and men in the world, justice lovers, to the people of the United States,
Five courageous Cubans: Gerardo, Ramón, Antonio, Fernando and René have been unfairly imprisoned in U.S. jails for more than eleven years; their only crime has been to fight against terrorism and to defend their people’s right to live in peace.
While fighting against terrorism, and defending the fairest causes of humane dignity and liberty, these Five Heroes harbor their entire people’s decorum, as well as that of progressive humanity at large.
As a result of the delayed and politicized process, the most outrageous physical and mental tortures have been committed against them and their relatives. This is a flagrant violation of the most basic principles of international law, of the established procedures with regard to due process, and of the regulations on the treatment of detained persons.
The United States government maintains a double standard in its policy to fight against terrorism; harbors, protects and supports U.S.-based terrorist organizations that operate with impunity, causing victims not only among the Cuban people, but also in other countries.
Bearing in mind the above-mentioned statement:
The participants in the 5th International Colloquium “For the release of the Five Heroes and against terrorism,” social fighters, trade unionists, parliament members, pacifists, party leaders, intellectuals and religious leaders, have agreed to issue the following Declaration:
1. We demand that the United States government:
Respect its own laws and act in accordance with the rules of International Law.
IMMEDIATELY cease the systematic and repeated violations of human rights against the Cuban Five and their relatives, particularly the violation of the right to be visited by their wives Olga Salanueva and Adriana Pérez. And reclaim the granting of visas to both of them.
Put an end to the logistic and financial support provided to terrorist organizations based in that country, and to bring the notorious terrorist Luis Posada Carriles to justice for blowing up a Cuban airliner in which 73 civilians were killed.
2. We demand that President Barack Obama and the Government of the United States of America free RIGHT AWAY the Cuban Five because they are innocent.
3. We call upon all honest people in our planet, and especially the noble U.S. people, to work intensely to disseminate the just cause for which the Cuban Five are fighting and to demand their liberation as a way of paying tribute to decency and truth.
4. We ratify to the Cuban Five and to everyone fighting for their freedom that we will not stop denouncing this injustice, and that we will continue to fight until they return to their homeland.
The 5th Colloquium held in Holguin is especially relevant after the rejection by the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case in June, 2009; the resentencing process of Antonio on October 13th with the unjust sentence of 21 years and 10 months, the next resentencing of Fernando and Ramon dated for December 8th; and the unchanged sentences of Rene and Gerardo, the latter being the most difficult, and the current rejection to grant visas to Adriana and Olga.
This has been a political case, but more than ever it is necessary to exert the power of international condemnation and solidarity before Obama’s Administration that has the legal and constitutional power to put an end to this injustice.
All our efforts in the struggle for the release of the Five are intended to influence the United States, where the big media continues to ignore the case. The work of more than 300 committees in over 100 countries has begun to bear some fruit. This is a fact acknowledged by the prosecution in Miami itself in the view for the resentencing of Tony: “There is much international noise around the case, it is necessary to improve the image of U.S. justice.”
Regarding this, we need to set our goals towards strengthening those aspects that we will work harder on.
Main Proposals Made by Participants to Attain the Release of the Five
1. Widen Working Spaces
Continue spreading the case and demand solidarity among all social movements and broaden the political spectrum of the sectors that we bring our message to, mainly governments, parliaments, religious organizations, celebrities, legal organizations, human rights organizations, trade unions.
Promoting the participation of activists for the freedom of the Cuban Five in the U.S. Social Forum 2010.
Continue to strongly denounce the double standards of the U.S. government that keeps five innocent people in jail and shelters self-confessed terrorists like Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch.
2. Working with Parliamentarians
Bond the request of parliamentarians from every country to U.S. Congressmen.
Support the visit of activists for the freedom of the Five to U.S. Congressmen and to the Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi herself.
Bring about the visit of parliamentarians from other countries to the five in their prisons.
3. Working with Trade Unions
To have activities organized by or related with trade unions impacting on U.S. counterpart trade union.
To carry posters of the Cuban Five in the demonstrations taking place May 1st in each country.
4. Expand the Use of New ICT (Information and Communications Technology)
Use Youtube to upload videos on personalities that could have an impact on the U.S. audience.
Improve our websites, bulletins and messages, use the social networks that provide the opportunity to create Blogs, and use Facebook and Twitter.
Achieve a larger presence in big media, even publishing a page on a national newspaper in the U.S.
Disseminate www.cubadebate.cu and www.antiterroristas.cu sites as language reference centers on the case of the Cuban Five.
5. Cultural Resources
Spread knowledge about the intellectual work and artistic sensibility of the Cuban Five.
Make use of all cultural events, ranging from concerts to exhibitions, including world known personalities and to strengthen our efforts to bring the case to the media.
Thousands of people work in the world to lift the genocidal blockade against Cuba, for several reasons not all of them work for the release of the Cuban Five. We must gather the work of all those who are in solidarity with Cuba because demanding the release of the Five is to demand the right of Cuba to live in peace.
— Participants in the 5th International Colloquium “For the Release of the Five Heroes and Against Terrorism,” Holguín, Cuba, November 21, 2009
On December 1 the 19th Ibero-American Summit of Heads of State and Government in Estoril, Portugal demanded that the U.S.-backed terrorist Luis Posada Carriles be extradited to Venezuela to be tried in that country. The presidents of 22 countries participating in the Summit opposed the impunity Posada Carriles has enjoyed for his terrorist crimes. Posada Carriles has been the mastermind of ongoing terrorist activity against Cuba, including the mid-air explosion of a Cuban airliner in 1976, in which all 73 people on board died. At the time, the Cuban-born Posada Carriles was a citizen of Venezuela. He has been an agent of the CIA, paid and protected by them. The U.S. refuses to extradite Pasada and also refuses to bring him to trial for his crimes.
After three days of discussions in the Portuguese resort, the Ibero-American community agreed to support all efforts aimed at achieving the extradition of the Posada Carriles requested by Venezuela. Participants included countries of Central and South America, the Caribbean, as well as Spain and Portugal.