Jailed for fighting US terrorism: 
Free the Cuban Five!

By Marce Cameron

A black president in the White House has changed nothing for five Cuban men imprisoned in the US for the “crime” of defending Cuba from terrorist attacks planned and organised in the US. On June 15, the US Supreme Court upheld the convictions of Gerardo Hernandez, Rene Gonzalez, Antonio Guerrero, Ramon Labanino and Fernando Gonzalez, known internationally as the “Cuban Five”.

The US government claims to be waging a “war against terror”. Yet since their arrest in Miami, Florida, in September 1998, these five Cuban anti-terrorist fighters have spent over a decade languishing in US high security prisons. Ever since the 1959 revolution led by Fidel Castro overthrew the US-backed dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, anti-Castro terrorist organisations based in the US have planned and carried out terrorist attacks against Cuba with impunity. The US authorities have either turned a blind eye to these illegal activities or actively supported the terrorists. According to the Cuban government more than 3400 Cubans have died as a result of acts of terrorism and piracy originating in the US.

With the demise of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Cuba expanded its fledgling tourism industry to pull the country out of the deep economic crisis caused by the loss of its Soviet-bloc trading partners. Taking advantage of Cuba’s predicament, Washington tightened the US economic blockade imposed in 1962 in the hope that this would cause the collapse of Cuba’s socialist revolution. Meanwhile, anti-Castro terrorist groups based in Miami launched a campaign of terrorist bombings of tourist hotels to discourage foreign tourists from visiting the island.

When the US authorities refused to crack down on the anti-Castro organisations responsible for these and other terrorist activities, the Cuban intelligence service sent the Cuban Five to Miami to infiltrate the terrorist groups. The five men prevented numerous planned terrorist attacks by giving advance warning to the Cuban authorities, saving both Cuban and US lives. Seeking the cooperation of the US authorities in the fight against terrorism, the Cuban government presented the US authorities with information that should have led to the arrest of anti-Castro terrorists. But instead of arresting the real terrorists, the FBI arrested the five Cuban anti-terrorists.

The five men were held illegally in solitary confinement for 17 months in Miami’s federal detention centre, unable to prepare a proper legal defence. Their trial was held in Miami, a city with a large Cuban-American community and home to many of the multi-millionaire former owners of Cuba’s farms and factories. This ultra-conservative oligarchy dominates the media and politics in Miami, ensuring that the trial of the Cuban Five would be anything but fair. In fact it was a show-trial, a politically motivated frame-up.

During the seven-month trial of the Cuban Five, a witch-hunt atmosphere prevailed. Despite five defence motions for a change of venue, the presiding judge denied the Five their right to be tried free from the anti-Castro hysteria in Miami. In December 2001, shortly after Washington launched its post-9/11 War on Terror, the Cuban Five were convicted on charges of espionage and conspiracy to commit murder, and were sentenced to prison terms from 15 years to two lifetimes. Yet these and other serious charges were never proven in court.

In May 2005, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that the US had failed to grant the Cuban Five a fair trial, and their case has been taken up by international human rights organisation Amnesty International. The Cuban people and government have been campaigning for the Cuban Five to be able to return to their country as free men, heroes in the fight against terrorism. Every sector of Cuban society has taken to the streets repeatedly to demand their release. The campaign features billboards, murals, cultural activities and political rallies. More than 250 local, regional and national “Free the Five” committees have now been established around the world.

In a statement released in response to the June 15 US Supreme Court decision to uphold their convictions, Rene Gonzalez, one of the five, cautioned against illusions that the “change” promised by Barack Obama during his presidential campaign represents a departure from US imperialism’s drive to crush the Cuban socialist revolution. “The web of crimes, genocide, arrogance and meanness that has shaped the psyche of this [US] empire will not be disentangled by the election of a new charismatic president timely drawn out of a still oppressed segment of the American people”, Gonzalez wrote. “To us, the Five, who for over a decade have been treated with despicable viciousness and cowardice, it is but the reiteration of an already familiar moral: it does not matter how low our captors have fallen, they can always prove their infinite capacity to fall even lower ...

“We are five Cuban revolutionaries the enemy will never subdue, an enemy that will live every day of its life with the humiliation of not understanding why. To the peoples of the world, the shamelessness of this [judicial] process is but the repetition of an old lesson: we are facing an empire that will not stop before any crime if it believes it can get away with it. No ethical consideration or universal outcry will make it stop but the price imposed by resistance.

“To the Cuban people, the real target of this act of vengeance, it becomes another reason to be united, to not believe in appearances, to always expect the worst from the aggressor, and to never cease in the construction of a society where the hypocrisy, indignity, deceit and cowardice that fostered a [judicial] process like ours are never taken for human virtues, as it is the case in the neighbouring [US] empire.”

While nearly all legal avenues for appealing their convictions are now exhausted, the Cuban Five could still be released by presidential decree if enough domestic and international political pressure can be brought to bear on the Obama administration. Under growing pressure to dismantle the US economic blockade of Cuba, Obama has called on the Cuban government to release so-called political prisoners — Cuban citizens jailed for subversion while on the payroll of the US government — as a precondition for the US moving towards the normalisation of diplomatic and trade relations with Havana. Cuba has rejected this demand, but Cuban President Raul Castro has not ruled out a prisoner swap with the US. “These prisoners [in Cuba] that everyone is talking about. We will send them with their families and all their belongings [to the US]”, said Castro last December. “Then send us back our five heroes.”