Monday, 12 September 2011

The Miami Five - 13 Years of Unjust Imprisonment

On this day 13 years ago, Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González and René González were arrested by the FBI in Miami while trying to stop right-wing groups carrying out terrorist attacks against the Cuban people. The five counter-terrorists – commonly known as the Miami Five – remain unfairly incarcerated within the US; their wives and family members are denied family visitation rights and they are often held in solitary confinement.

For over 50 years, right-wing exile groups within Miami have targeted Cuba killing nearly 3,500 people in terrorist attacks against the island. This has been done with the complicit support of the US government and the CIA.

To saves lives, Cuba sent five men to infiltrate and monitor these violent dissident groups. At the request of the American government, this information was passed to the FBI in 1998 but – instead of arresting the terrorists – the Bureau used the information to identify and arrest the Miami Five on 12 September 1998.

The Miami Five were sentenced to a total of 75 years imprisonment and remain interned within the US. Compare this to the terrorist and former CIA-operative Luis Posada Carriles who – although responsible for the blowing up of a Cuban airliner in 1973 which killed 73 people – remains at liberty in America.

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.

In October 2010, Amnesty International released a report condemning the trial of the Miami Five and calling for a review of the case. Central to their criticism was the “underlying concern related to the fairness of holding the trial in Miami, given the pervasive hostility to the Cuban government in that area and media and other events before and during the trial . . . there was evidence to suggest that these factors made it impossible to ensure a wholly impartial jury”.

Amnesty raised serious concerns about the circumstances of the pre-trial detention of the five men which involved sporadic solitary confinement and limited access to attorneys and evidence. As the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared in May 2005, this “undermined the equal balance between the prosecution and the defence”.

Amnesty’s report followed a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals which, in August 2005, unanimously overturned the convictions of the Miami Five on the ground that “pervasive community prejudice in Miami against the Castro government merged with other factors to prejudice their right to a fair trial”. The decision was promptly quashed by the US government.

Furthermore, recent evidence obtained through the US Freedom of Information Act demonstrates that the American government directly funded Miami-based journalists to write and broadcast prejudicial articles and commentary before and during the trial. Despite overwhelming evidence, the Supreme Court has consistently refused to consider appeals on these grounds – even though similar cases have been granted a retrial.

Legal avenues in defence of the Miami Five have virtually been exhausted and only humanitarian intervention from President Barack Obama or the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton can give justice to the five and their families. Public pressure to break the silence around this case is vital.

UK-based NGO the Cuba Solidarity Campaign and the British trade union movement have been crucial in building the broadest possible alliance in support of family visitation rights and, ultimately, the release of the Miami Five.

Any potential solution lies with the American government and the British movement in support of the Miami Five has been working closely with US unions – including the United Service Workers, the United Steel Workers and the Teamsters – to lobby key stakeholders in the Obama administration.

In a recent meeting in support of the Miami Five in Los Angeles, former Unite the Union General Secretary Tony Woodley declared, “the Miami Five enjoy a great deal of support on the international level, but that is not the case inside the United States. Solidarity is absolutely crucial in this case and the political struggle will be decisive for the return of the Miami Five to Cuba”.

America’s duplicity with regard the Miami Five is laid bare by Cuba’s ongoing inclusion on the US State Department terror blacklist alongside Iran, Sudan and Syria. As the Cuban Foreign Ministry said recently, the US government “has absolutely no moral right to judge Cuba, which has an unblemished history in the fight against terrorism and has been consistently the victim of this scourge”. This allegation is vindicated by the grotesque treatment of the Miami Five and the inexplicable harbouring of Posada Carriles.

The Cuban Foreign Ministry accused the US of the “political manipulation” of the sensitive issue of terrorism and, similarly, the handling of the Miami Five must be seen as distinctly political.

The unjust treatment of the Miami Five typifies US foreign policy towards Cuba and – when contrasted to the United States’ promotion and funding of dissident groups in Cuba – highlights American hypocrisy. The freedom of the Miami Five will only be secured through collective political action across the broadest possible campaign. Until their release, the campaign will continue.

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