Monday, 12 September 2011

The Miami 5:Thirteen Years On

Tony Woodley with Gerardo Hernandez
The following article was written by Tony Woodley, former Unite General Secretary, for the Morning Star.

The international media has been full of stories marking the anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks against the US this week, but you would need to search hard to find mention of the anniversary of the arrest of five Cuban counter-terrorists in Miami 13 years ago today or the fact that two of their wives have been denied visitation rights for 12 years.
On September 12 1998 the FBI arrested Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labanino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando Gonzalez and Rene Gonzalez who were trying to stop right-wing groups carrying out terrorist attacks against the Cuban people. Regular readers of this paper will know these names and the story of the Miami Five.

They travelled to Miami to infiltrate and monitor violent right-wing groups opposed to the Cuban government and responsible for the deaths of almost 3,500 Cubans over the last 50 years.

At the request of the US government they passed their findings to the FBI in 1998 but instead of arresting the terrorists the information was used to identify and arrest the five.

Held in solitary confinement, denied proper access to legal teams and tried in a hostile atmosphere which made it impossible to receive a fair trial, they received unprecedentedly harsh sentences ranging from 15 years to double life.

The arrest, trial and sentencing of the Miami Five has enraged legal opinion, NGOs and human rights campaigners from the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to Amnesty International. On top of this their wives and families are denied regular family visitation rights. Furthermore, recent evidence revealed that the US government directly funded Miami-based journalists to the tune of $125,000 to broadcast prejudicial articles before and during the trial.

Although the Miami Five enjoy a great deal of support within the British union and international solidarity movement, due to a virtual media boycott their case is almost unknown within the US trade union movement.

Last month I was honoured to be involved in a historic meeting to help break this silence when I travelled to Los Angeles to visit one of the five, Gerardo Hernandez, who is serving two life sentences in Victorville Penitentiary.

On August 13, 200 workers, union leaders and activists came together at the invitation of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in Los Angeles - the first time since the five's incarceration that a US union has organised a public meeting to inform their members and ask them to join the fight for justice.

It was great to be able to report this meeting to Gerardo the following day when I visited him at his maximum security prison in Victorville.

Despite 13 years held in this truly inhumane place, the man's spirit - like that of all the five and their families - is inspirational. Gerardo is well aware of the work of the British trade union movement and solidarity campaign for his cause, and sends his gratitude to everyone who fights for justice for the five. He also knows that despite waiting on the outcome of a final legal appeal, ultimately his freedom and that of his four comrades lies in the hands of the US government. This is why I have been working closely with US unions to lobby key stakeholders in the Obama administration.

Aside from the meeting in Los Angeles, British unions working together with the Cuba Solidarity Campaign have made notable breakthroughs in this case over the years, such as ours being the first country in the world to win MPs and unions to the cause.

Earlier this year WikiLeaks released cables that show our own PM raised the case with Hillary Clinton as a direct result of union pressure.

Amnesty International is now supporting the case because family members were given the possibility to explain the injustice to Amnesty face-to-face during numerous visits to Britain since 2005 at the invitation of CSC and British unions.

But increasing international solidarity is vital, and as the president of the Cuban parliament Ricardo Alarcon says: "The struggle must be multiplied until the US government is forced to put an end to this monstrous injustice and restore freedom to Gerardo, Ramon, Antonio, Fernando and Rene."

Supporters of the five do not want to have to mark the September 12 arrest anniversary every year. We would rather be celebrating the anniversary of their freedom. Everyone can play a role in achieving this, whether as individuals or within our unions and the solidarity movement, and there are many upcoming opportunities to do so.

The mothers of the five will be at Unite sectoral conferences in November, joining the annual Cuba Solidarity vigil outside the US embassy on December 1 and at the Latin America 2011 conference on December 3.

In Spring 2012 a prestigious exhibition featuring Cuban and British artists will include work by Gerardo and Antonio, and later next year all four Miami Five wives will visit Liverpool for a major public meeting.

For more information on these and other events, actions and how to get involved see CSC’s Miami Five website

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