New trial for Cuba Five

The Cuban government welcomed a decision by a three-judge panel of the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta to retry five Cubans convicted of spying. The five were sentenced four years ago to at least 15 years in prison on charges of spying on US military installations and exiles. However, the appeals court found that the original trial was unfair, citing a biased atmosphere against the Cuban regime in the Miami area. Cuba has campaigned intensively for the men’s release, calling them the “Five Heroes.” Last month, a United Nations panel also questioned the impartiality of the verdict and called the sentences unduly harsh.

Antonio Guerrero, Fernando Gonzalez, Rene Gonzalez, Gerardo Hernandez and Ramon Labanino were convicted in 2001 of serving in the so-called Wasp Network. Hernandez was also found guilty of murder conspiracy in the deaths of four Miami-based pilots whose small, private planes were shot down Feb. 24, 1996, by a Cuban MiG in international waters off Cuba’s northern coast. Three of the men received life sentences, one was sentenced to 19 years in prison and the other got 15 years.

In Havana, National Assembly speaker Ricardo Alarcon hailed the court’s ruling. “It’s the first happy news we receive in seven years,” said Adriana Perez, the wife of Gerardo Hernandez.

The five have admitted to being spies, but said they were trying to prevent terrorist attacks on Cuba. The judges wrote: “The reversal of these convictions will be unpopular and even offensive to many citizens. However, the court is equally mindful that those same citizens cherish and support the freedoms they enjoy in this country that are unavailable to residents of Cuba.” (BBC, LAT, Aug. 10)

The 1996 incident concerned Hermanos al Rescate, a Miami-based group that organizes flights in search of Cuban refugees seeking to escape to the US via the Florida Straits. While Hermanos al Rescate professes to adhere to nonviolence, a long string of terrorist attacks and attempted attacks have been launched against Cuba from Florida since the early ’60s, with varying degrees of US government complicity and involvement–as documented in a “US Terrorism” page on the website of the National Committee to Free the Cuba Five. The most recent entry reads:

April 26, 200l: Three terrorists from the Commandos Groups, F-45 and Alpha 66, attempt to land on the north coast of Villa Clara province. They fire shots at the Cuban Coastguard which has spotted them. Four AKM rifles, one M-3 rifle with a silencer, three hand guns, a great deal of material such as night vision equipment and communications equipment are confiscated by Cuban authorities. This equipment was meant to carry out sabotage and terrorist action on Cuban soil.

See our last post on Cuba.

  1. Convictions reinstated
    An update from Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nov. 13:

    On Oct. 31, the full 12-member 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, Georgia, reinstated the convictions of five Cubans of spying for the Cuban government, overturning a decision by a three-judge appellate panel that had ordered a new trial. In an unusual move, the full court agreed to hear the appeal from the five men, who were originally convicted in a June 2001 trial in Miami. The appeals process is expected to take months.

    The three-judge panel ruled on Aug. 9 that the men, widely known as the “Cuban Five,” could not get a fair trial in Miami because of the influence of rightwing Cuban Americans and the emotions from the US government’s decision to return six-year old Elian Gonzalez to Cuba in April 2000. (Miami Herald, Nov. 2)