It was on New Year’s Day 1959 that Fidel Castro led his rebel army into the Cuban capital, Havana, after nearly three years of armed struggle against the US puppet dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista.
When he did so, it was to reaffirm the sovereignty of the Cuban people after sixty years of domination by US imperialism, and behind the rebels lay a united revolutionary-democratic front based on the workers in the cities, the small peasants in the countryside, the students and the progressive intellectuals.
From the very beginning, US imperialism had its sights set on re-establishing its stranglehold on Cuba, and it sought to do so in 1961 by sponsoring and organising a group of counter-revolutionary Cubans based in Miami to invade the island and bring back a regime which would guarantee US control of the tobacco and sugar crop and restore Havana to its previous status as one big casino for the Mafia and a whorehouse for the US navy.
Famously, this attempt was thwarted at the Bay of Pigs by the heroism of the Cuban people, and the Cuban revolution then began to enter a new phase – that of seeking to build socialism.
The response of US imperialism – and its supporters among the deeply reactionary Miami-based Cuban émigré community – was predictable. There are some two hundred acts of terrorism documented in the period between 1961 and 1980 alone, including numerous attempts on the life of Fidel Castro and other members of the Cuban leadership.
Perhaps the most famous outrage orchestrated from US soil was the bombing of a Cuban airliner in 1976, in which 73 people died.
Against this backdrop, it should surprise nobody that the Cuban revolution took steps to defend itself. And it was ten years ago, in June 1998, that the revolutionary government handed over to the US political police, the FBI, a huge amount of material related to anti-Cuban terrorist activities conducted from American territory.
This included 230 pages of documents, five videos of material openly broadcast on US television about terrorist activities aimed against Cuba, and nearly three hours’ worth of audio cassettes detailing the links between jailed Central American counter-revolutionaries and their contacts outside among the Miami gusanos [literally worms, the word used by Cuban patriots to describe their treasonous compatriots].
The predictable response of the FBI was to ignore the evidence of state-sponsored terrorism originating from its own territory. Instead, in a series of dawn raids, five patriotic Cubans were arrested as ‘agents of a foreign power’ – the same charge which was levelled against the top leaders of the US Communist Party during the McCarthyite witchhunts of the 1950s.
These five men – Gerardo Hernández, Ramon Labanino, Rene González, Fernando González and Antonio Guerrero – have since come to be known as the Miami Five, but few people outside of progressive political circles will ever have heard of them; there has been an almost total media blackout in the United States and beyond.
The five men, Cuban intelligence agents monitoring the preparation of terrorist acts among the Miami gusanos, were all given the maximum prison terms allowed for their supposed ‘crimes’. Gerardo Hernandez was given two life sentences plus 15 years. Another two, Antonio Guerrero and Ramon Labanino, were also given life sentences, and Fernando González and Rene González were respectively condemned to 19 and 15 years’ imprisonment.
From the moment they were arrested, the Miami Five were subjected to extremely harsh treatment, even by the standards of a US imperialist regime which has since become infamous for its concentration camp in Guantánamo – ironically, and illegally. located in Cuba.
After a fortnight in the Miami Federal Detention Centre, they were transferred to the Special House, also known as ‘the hole’, and placed in isolation cells measuring fifteen feet by seven.
These cells are usually used for ordinary criminals, particularly those accused of murder, and the US prison service’s own rules state that a prisoner can only be kept there for a maximum of 60 days. Two of the Miami Five, comrades Gerardo Hernández and Ramón Labanino, ended up remaining there for nearly a year and a half.
What exactly are these Cuban patriots, loyal to their people and to their country’s socialist system, actually accused of?
There are a number of minor charges, including – as we have seen – acting as agents of a foreign government without being registered with the US authorities. This is an accusation to which the Five readily and proudly admit. But the two main charges for which two of them have been condemned to life sentences relate to spying and ‘murder’.
From the very beginning, the local media began to talk of a dangerous group of Cuban spies which had ‘endangered US national security’ – and this even before 9/11 and the so-called Patriot Act. But in the seven long months of the trial (which makes this one of the longest judicial cases in the entire history of the US), the prosecution could not present one single piece of evidence to back up its case.
Defence lawyers called to the stand US naval officers, both active and retired, high-ranking US intelligence officers and others. All testified that, after looking at the evidence found on the Five, they had not seen any classified or secret material.
Even the prosecutor of the case had to make clear in his opening remarks to the jury: “We arrested these five men and we seized 20,000 pages of documents from their computers but, ladies and gentlemen, from these 20,000 pages we cannot present one single page of classified information”.
As they could present no proof of the charge of espionage, the prosecution decided to charge the Miami Five with ‘conspiracy to spy’. But how could anyone provide evidence that these five men ‘got together’ and decided that they were going to spy? And why is it that three of these Cuban comrades ended up being given the highest possible sentence for espionage itself – life in prison – when the charge was merely conspiracy?
The second charge for which Gerardo Hernández got his second life sentence was conspiracy to commit murder. He was accused of having been involved in the downing o f two Cessna private planes by Cuban MIG fighters just off the coast of Havana in February 1996.
This story dates from the previous year, 1995, when the Cuban revolutionary government reached a rare agreement with US authorities regarding the regulation of migration policies between the two countries.
It was at that time that the Miami-based counter-revolutionary group Hermanos al Rescate [Brothers to the Rescue] began carrying out terrorist activities in socialist Cuba. In the more than a year and a half leading up to the downing of the two aircraft, they carried out 25 unauthorised flights over Cuban airspace. The response from the Cuban revolutionary government? It filed a formal diplomatic complaint – with no reply whatsoever.
In January 1996, the Cuban authorities invited US Admiral Carroll to Havana and told him in no uncertain terms that their patience had run out. The Cuban people and their socialist government would tolerate no more violations of their national sovereignty, particularly since the Cuban intelligence services had information – provided by the Miami Five – that Hermanos al Rescate was about to arm these planes with the connivance of US imperialism.
In the light of the foregoing, it is perfectly clear that the Five Cuban patriots are guilty of no crime whatsoever. They have been unjustly accused and sentenced. Let the whole of progressive humanity demand their unconditional release and that the US authorities apologise for this miscarriage of justice and pay hefty reparations for the loss of liberty that these patriots have suffered for the last 10 years.
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