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Campaign to free Cuban Five seeks mainstream spotlight
By Nisa Islam Muhammad
Staff Writer
Updated Mar 13, 2004 - 12:42:00 PM

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(FinalCall.com) - The Campaign to Free the Cuban Five took their message to the American people March 3 with a full page ad in the New York Times. The Cuban Five are facing an appeal hearing March 10 in Miami on their spy convictions, which sentenced them 15 years to life.

The ad asks readers to, "Join Alice Walker, Noam Chomsky, Ramsey Clark, Cynthia McKinney, Dolores Huerta, Detroit Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu, National Lawyers Guild, International Association of Democratic Lawyers, and many others, in this critical cause for justice."

The Cuban Five are Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labanino, Rene Gonzalez, Fernando Gonzalez and Antonio Guerro. They were arrested in 1998 by the FBI and sentenced in 2001 on spy charges in a politically-heated federal trial in Miami. The group’s charges included the conspiracy to transmit information related to the national defense of the United States.

"We’ve never denied the facts that these men were working for the Cuban government seeking intelligence against those planning terrorist acts against Cuba," explained Paul McKenna, Miami attorney for Mr. Hernandez who is in Lompoc prison, Calif. "The Cubans complained about terrorism and planned attacks against their country but the U.S. did nothing."

Cuba responded to that lack of action by having the five Cubans monitor the actions of anti-Castro terrorist organizations in Miami.

"These five heroic Cubans are being punished precisely because of the fact that they truly did fight against terrorism, even at the cost of their own lives," Ricardo Alarcon, president of Cuba’s National Assembly toldThe Final Call. "Those who have taken away their freedom and sought to slander and denigrate them have done so because they dared to combat the heinous criminals who were created and continue to be protected by those very same authorities."

The United States didn’t see it that way. Following an extensive FBI investigation, the five men were arrested as part of a 14-member espionage team called "La Red Avispa"—the Wasp Network.

According to FBI documentation, the Wasp Network engaged in numerous activities, including locating vulnerable points of entry into the state of Florida for the importation of arms and explosives, infiltration of the U.S. Southern Command, and the attempted subversion of anti-Communist organizations in the U.S.

The FBI gathered more than 10,000 pages of information on what they considered to be a Cuban espionage cell. Of the 14, four fled and were thought to be in living in Cuba, five pleaded guilty and five have declared their innocence.

Those pleading innocent have maintained from the beginning that they were only keeping an eye on the anti-Castro Cuban exiles. "We can say, without the shadow of a doubt, that neither with our attitude nor our actions have we in any way interfered with, or jeopardized the security of, the American people.

"What we have certainly done is contribute to exposing terrorist plans and actions against our people, thus preventing the death of innocent Cubans and Americans," wrote the Cuban men in their defense statement.

Their attorneys stated in court that the Cubans never obtained any actual U.S. secrets or caused any harm to U.S. national security. The men, according to their lawyers, were sent from Cuba to monitor Miami’s increasingly militant Cuban exile community, specifically groups considered armed, and known to be responsible for calling for the assassination of President Fidel Castro and the overthrow of the Cuban government.

The jury didn’t believe them and convicted the men on all counts, finding them guilty of being unregistered foreign agents and using false documents.

According to the lawyers, the basis for the appeal will be the court’s failure to move the case from Miami to another venue such as Ft. Lauderdale, despite their repeated requests for a change in venue.

"This city was an inappropriate venue for this trial," said Leonard Weinglass, attorney for Mr. Guerro, who is in Florence prison, in Colorado "Fifty-five news articles came out with anti-Cuba remarks that showed this case should not be held in Miami. The level of prejudice and bias was high."

Mr. Alarcon agreed, "In Miami, when it is a matter of Cuba, there is nothing that even remotely resembles justice."

Justice was also skewed when it came to the receipt of funds to publish the New York Times ad. International Peace for Cuba (IPCA), the organization that received international donations for the ad, had almost $8,000 blocked by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) in February.

Ian Thompson, a lawyer for IPCA, demanded that OFAC explain why it had blocked the funds. OFAC responded that it was because the name "Cuba" appeared in the bank draft.

IPCA pointed out that other organizations such as the Cuban American National Foundation received money from abroad but yet did not suffer the same illegal withholding of funds. Eventually, OFAC allowed the funds to be credited to IPCA’s account.

Mara Verheyden-Hilliard of the Partnership for Civil Justice explained, at a press conference in February, that the withholding of funds from support groups in France and Spain was a clear example of the Bush administration’s use of the Treasury Department to stifle free speech in the U.S., and a growing trend of the government to go hand-in-hand with corporate entities like banks to carry out its policies against the island of Cuba.

Gloria la Riva of the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five told The Final Call, "The cost for the full page ad in the New York Times was successfully borne by solidarity groups across the world" and that the ad will appear in the days prior to the March 10 appeal hearing "to bring the case of the Cuban Five to the forefront after five years of neglect by the U.S. mainstream press."


 


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