by Gerry Foley / September 2005 issue of Socialist Action
In August, the 11th Circuit Federal Appeals Court in Atlanta overturned the conviction and sentences of five Cubans who were condemned to crushing prison terms for informing the American and Cuban government of plots to commit terrorist acts in Cuba.
At the time of their trial, the defense argued that the Cubans could not get a fair hearing in Miami, a city dominated by Cuban counterrevolutionaries and
Mafiosi. Finally, after Gerardo Hernandez Nordelo, Ramon Labañino Salazar, Antonio Guerrero Rodriguez, Fernando Gonzalez Llort, and Rene Gonzalez have spent seven years in prison, the Atlanta appeals court was forced to recognize this obvious truth.
The five were arrested in September 1998 and held in prison 33 months before their trial, 17 of which were in solitary confinement. Gerardo Hernandez was sentenced to two life terms plus 15 years for “conspiracy to commit homicide” on the charge that he had aided in the destruction of a plane flown by a counterrevolutionary group that was shot down by the Cuban airforce in 1996 after intruding into Cuban airspace.
Labañino Salazar was given two life terms plus 18 years, and Guerrero Rodriguez two life terms plus 10 years. Gonzalez Llort got 19 years and Rene Gonzalez 15. They were also charged with failing to register as foreign agents. They rejected that charge on the grounds that they were not spying against the U.S. but exposing plots to commit terrorist crimes in Cuba.
The Mexico City daily La Jornada noted in its Aug. 9 issue: “From the start of the case, there was incontrovertible evidence that the five were engaged
in antiterrorist work and that the information they gathered was not only given to Cuba but also presented to the U.S. authorities by the Cuban government
itself, as a token of cooperation against terrorist attacks.”
The five had infiltrated Cuban terrorist groups, like the one headed by Luis Posada Carriles, a former CIA agent, responsible among other things for planting a bomb on a Cuban airliner that killed 72 people. Posada Carriles was jailed in Venezuela, and then escaped and fled to the United States, where he is being held for illegal entry but not charged with terrorism.
Venezuela is demanding his extradition, but the U.S. refuses to hand him over.
The scandal created by the publicity around the Posada Carriles case may have been a factor in the decision of the Atlanta court.
In an article written for the Cuban press service Aug. 9, Gabriel Molina quoted the response to the Atlanta decision by Ricardo Alarcon, president of the Cuban National Assembly: “A few days ago a group of UN experts determined that the arrest of these five Cubans and the whole legal procedure had been
arbitrary and contrary to the law. To be deprived of one’s freedom against the law is kidnapping.
“Now a U.S. court has also ruled that what the U.S. government did against those persons was not legal, and for that reason overturned it and ordered a new trial, so that justice is done. What the U.S. government should do immediately is to release them.”
After the Atlanta court ruling, the U.S. had 21 days to appeal it, or accept a new trial. If it accepted a new trial, it would have to file charges again and the
question of bail for the prisoners would be open. Or they could simply be released, as Alarcon said, if the U.S. authorities had any sense of justice or shame.
In Havana, Celia Hart, one of the most eloquent defenders and international emissaries of the Cuban Revolution, hailed the appeals court decision with an
article entitled “A Smile in the Darkness.” “Our five compañeros,” she wrote, “are not only innocent, brave, honorable. They are, above all else, internationalist revolutionaries, being held kidnapped as I write this by the worst enemy the history of the world has ever known.”