Lawyer for Cuban 5 seeks world support

BERLIN – In a whirlwind visit, U.S. civil rights lawyer Leonard Weinglass spoke to several audiences here about the case of the Cuban Five. The five men – Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero, René González, Fernando González and Ramon Labañino – were convicted in a Miami courtroom in 2001 for alleged “conspiracy to commit espionage,” and have been in U.S. prisons ever since. Weinglass is one of the attorneys who argued their case in a new appeal hearing, March 10, in Miami.

He explained that the five, who were sentenced to long terms – in three cases life sentences and in one case a double-life sentence – could not be legitimately convicted for espionage, because they had not passed on to the Cuban government a single classified document. They also could not get a fair trial in Miami, a city with extreme right-wing, anti-Cuba prejudices.

The task of the five, as they all admitted, was to infiltrate the anti-Cuban terrorist organizations in Miami so as to warn Cuba about the continuing provocations and attacks by sea and air against the island nation. The decision to do this involved the right of self-defense, something practiced by the United States in countless countries before and especially after 9/11. But this time it was Cuba taking precautions against potential terrorist attacks.

Weinglass said Cuba had sent numerous requests to the U.S. government to end support for the armed attacks and threats, but these warnings were ignored. Only then did Cuba ask the five in Miami to find out more details about what the terrorist groups were planning. In one case, anti-Cuba terrorists planned to use two unmanned planes to drop bombs on a big rally with Fidel Castro at the Plaza de la Revolución in Havana.

Weinglass told how the appeal of the verdict and sentences – and the demand for a change of venue for a new trial to any city except Miami – was now in the hands of three judges, whose written opinion is due within a month or two. The judges can throw out the whole verdict or any parts of it, reduce the sentences, or leave things as they are, in which case the lawyers will consider appealing to a higher court.

While Weinglass did not overestimate the chances of the five getting a fair hearing in the present U.S. political atmosphere, he stressed that any and all assistance from people of other countries would improve the men’s chances.

His talk clearly moved many of the people in his audience. At a large meeting at Humboldt University, for example, the audience was particularly disturbed to hear that two of the five have been prevented from seeing their wives and children in these five years, and that for one very bitter month – despite their good conduct as prisoners – they had been kept in total isolation: tiny cells, no windows, lights on 24 hours a day, no reading material, and not a single human voice. Only a mass campaign by their supporters, which reached the floors of Congress, put an end to this cruel government policy, although the five remain in widely-separated prisons across the country to this day.

Groups and individuals who heard Weinglass decided to start a petition and letter-writing campaign on behalf of the Cuban Five. After three busy days, Weinglass and his wife (also a lawyer) went on to Brussels to further widen the campaign for a new, fair trial or for dismissal of the charges.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org.