Posts Tagged ‘Gerardo Hernández’

The importance of the appeals process to Gerardo, Ramón, and Antonio

November 1, 2014


by Andrés Gómez, director, Areítodigital

The extraordinary appeals (Habeas Corpus) process of Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino and Antonio Guerrero, three of the Cuban Five whom the United States government arbitrarily and unjustly keeps imprisoned, is of fundamental importance in the development of the campaign to achieve their freedom.

First and foremost, it contributes to the possibility of a political solution of the case. The case of the Five has always been a political case. From the start that is how the United States government during the Clinton administration treated it. And that is how successive U.S. governments have conducted it to this day.

With the commendable exception of the unanimous ruling of the three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, the federal government succeeded in steamrolling the respective courts and impose its view that for the federal government, it is a matter of greatest interest and national security to obtain the Five’s guilty verdict, along with arbitrary and excessive prison sentences.

In foreign policy matters since the end of World War II, the United States federal courts have acceded to the Executive branch’s arguments of national security interests, even when it violates the Law and established judicial procedures guaranteed by the federal Constitution. The case of the Cuban Five has clearly demonstrated this.

In the same way that the federal government succeeded in the court’s outcome of guilt for the Cuban Five, today for many reasons, given that circumstances have changed, in seeking a political solution to the case, the federal government could convince the pertinent courts to find merit in the solid arguments of the defense appeals of Gerardo, Ramón and Antonio. Thus it would be the courts that decide their freedom. The courts would do it as they would if the pursuit of justice were their function.

This is the way it happened 14 years ago with the case of the Cuban child Elián González, when the courts ruled in favor of returning the child to his father. This also happened during the time of the Clinton administration.

Of course, there is always the option of presidential pardon or clemency as a political solution to the situation of Gerardo, Ramón and Antonio. It is a constitutional right of the Presidents of the United States that has been utilized thousands of times.

The possibility of a political solution through a court decision for Gerardo, Ramón and Antonio is much less costly for President Obama, a President whose political capital has diminished considerably and whose administration is besieged by grave international crises of greater urgency for his country. Moreover he has shown extensively during his tenure as President that he is not inclined to take political risks.

So then, the extraordinary appeal (Habeas Corpus) currently before the Court: Is it or is it not a vitally important factor in the development of the campaign to win freedom for Gerardo, Ramón and Antonio?

Keeping the international campaign for the Five’s freedom alive and growing, as it is, has always been a big challenge. From here on out it will be more so. To sustain and deepen it we have to base our work on solid arguments that demonstrate how and why the injustice was committed, and why it continues to be waged against the fundamental rights of three of the Cuban Five.

We need to base our work on a constant denunciation of the policy of State terrorism by the United States, a policy imposed on the Cuban people and its Revolution for more than 55 years with the aim of making it surrender its independence and most cherished freedoms and rights, by the use of vile force; a policy that has cost the Cuban people dearly in thousands of deaths, disabled and countless sufferings. Doing it we must try to convince conscious and politically committed persons, as well as, countless of others who aren’t, yet are people of good will living all over the world.

We must never forget that that is the reason the Cuban Five were infiltrated in the terrorist organizations of the Cuban extreme rightwing who’ve carried out from U.S. soil that despicable policy. That is why they arrested the Five, tried to subjugate them and have kept them cruelly imprisoned for so many years.


October 1, 2014


Mr. President Obama October first, 2014
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W.
Washington DC 20500 (USA)

Mr. President

For how long, Mr. President, are you going to keep the three Cuban patriots, Antonio Guerrero, Ramón Labañino et Gerardo Hernández, locked up in prison?
For how long, Mr. President, are these three men who, without weapons, risking their lives, worked to thwart terrorist attacks committed against their country, with the guilty complaisance of the United States government, going to be imprisoned?
For how long, Mr. President, will Nobel Peace Prize holders, members of Parliament, jurists, intellectuals, artists, political leaders, union officials, clergymen and simple citizens, all over the world, have to solicit you for you to finally finish by liberating these three Cubans?
For how long, Mr. President, will we have to demonstrate to you, by “a+b”, the innocence of these three men, when you know fully well that they are not at all guilty?
For how long, Mr. President, are you going to keep Gerardo Hernández’s wife Adriana, who he hasn’t seen since he was arrested sixteen years ago, from being able to visit him?
For how long, Mr. President, is your country going to continue, in total impunity, playing worldwide policemen, scoffing at the Cuban people’s sovereignty?
This sinister farce, in which the victims are the five Cubans René González, Fernando González, Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino and Antonio Guerrero, is continuing today, with the last three. It has been going on for too long.
You cannot keep Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero and Gerardo Hernández locked up in prison any longer. The Cuban government has thrown you a line with the opportunity of a humanitarian exchange – wise up and catch it while it’s still time!
Please receive, Mr. President, the expression of my most sincere humanitarian sentiments.

Jacqueline Roussie
64360 Monein (France)

Translated by William Peterson

Copies sent to: Mrs. Michelle Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Kathryn Ruemmler and to Mr. Joe Biden, John F. Kerry, Rand Beers, Harry Reid, Eric Holder, Denis MacDonough, Neil Eggleston, Rick Scott, and Charles Rivkin, United States ambassador in France.

We Will Never Give up Denouncing the Injustice, Says René Gonzàlez

September 10, 2014


Lisbon (Prensa Latina) Cuban hero René González, who is attending today a Festival of the Communist journal Avante, said his priority is to fight for the release of his three comrades still in U.S. prisons.

Rene, along with Antonio Guerrero, Fernando Gonzalez, Ramon Labanino and Gerardo Hernandez, were arrested in the United States in September, 1998, and subject to a trial plagued with irregularities and given unfair, harsh prison sentences for monitoring Miami-based violent groups operating against Cuba.

Rene and Fernando are back in Cuba after fully serving their prison sentences, but Ramon, Gerardo and Antonio remain in prison.
“We wil never give up the right to continue denouncing the injustice that has been committed,” said Rene in an exclusive interview with Prensa Latina, the full version of which we are posting here now:
PL: The Cuban Five were arrested nearly 16 years ago in Miami and given harsh sentences. Could you refer to the circumstances under which the trial was conducted?
Rene: The trial was carried out in an atmosphere that could be compared to a Roman circus. A frightening atmosphere of overwhelming propaganda against The Cuban Five which was orchestrated by journalists secretly paid by the U.S. government. It was held in Miami, which was wrong, as this is the only place in the world where you were unable to get an impartial jury to have a fair trial.
This has been acknowledged by human rights bodies, which said the trial was in violation of all international regulations, including the U.S. Constitution.
PL: What has helped you be so firm through all these years?
René: I think it is the morale. Knowing that we had morale in facing the prosecutors that they will never have gave us strength. Besides the justice of what we had been doing. You cannot judge anyone for protecting human life, which is the most valuable asset.
That combination of factors has given us the necessary strength and will continue doing so, plus our formation as a result of our Revolution that taught us a commitment to human dignity.
PL: You and Fernando Gonzalez returned to your country, but three of your comrades are still in prison. What is their legal situation?
Rene: The legal solution rests on the judge to rule about the motion 2255 or habeas corpus that later, if needed, would go all over the winding road from the district court to the supreme court.
This is an extrajudicial appeal because all judicial appeals have been lodged already. The process got to the end when the supreme court arbitrarily refused to revise it.
What is important for the people to know is that this is a case determined by political reasons and their solution will be motivated by the political calculations to be made by the judge and the U.S. government.
Hence the importance we attach to solidarity and to demand the U.S. government to do justice.
As the case becomes a burden to them and keeping our comrades in prison turns into a heavier burden to them they will make the right political decision, which is to apply their laws to the 2255 and in this case the comrades will return to Cuba.
PL:Regarding world solidarity, what is your opinion about the fact that so many world figures and movements support the release of The Cuban Five?
René: First we have to thank all these people for all their solidarity. After hard work for many years the wall of silence of the media has been broken and many honest people worldwide have joined the cause of The Cuban Five. We need to boost solidarity, multiply it and above all launch it over Washington, over the U.S. establishment that in the end will have to make a decision and we need all that energy to focus on them so they make the right decision.
PL: If your attitude has been brave, so has been your family’s. I think this has also given you plenty of strength all this time.
Rene: Of course, the role of the family is invaluable. The wives, the children, our parents and siblings, all have played an important role in this struggle.
They have represented the cause abroad. We cannot forget that I left prison just a year and a half ago, but for 15 years our relatives fought the political and public battles.
And they have done it good, with great dignity. Every success has been a source of resistance for us. I think they are heroes in this story.
PL-¿How do you feel back in your country?
René: I feel happy, fulfilled, honored, also because of the privilege that the Cuban people offer me every time we walk the streets of Havana and they come to us and greet us. I also feel committed to my three brothers who were in fact defending the Cuban people.
P: ¿What is your mission now?
Rene: My priority is to fight for my three comrades to be released and sent back to Cuba.

Not Another Minute of Injustice More

September 5, 2014

(Photo: Oscar Alfonso Sosa)

The world comes together once again, starting today, for a solidarity event with the anti-terrorism fighters unjustly held in U.S. penitentiaries and against terrorism. In Cuba, the youth will lead most of the activities during the event.

By: Margarita Barrios

Starting today and running until October 16, the campaign for the freedom of the Cuban anti-terrorism fighters unjustly held in U.S. penitentiaries will develop in Cuba and in other parts of the world with a number of activities included an International Colloquium at the Havana International Conference Center.

Under the motto “Not another minute more,” and on the occasion of the 16th year of imprisonment of the young Cuban fighters, solidarity organizations from the entire world, and especially from the United States, will demand the U.S. government put an end to injustice and immediately release Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero and Ramón Labañino.

In a press Conference held the day before, Fernando González, Hero of the Republic of Cuba and one of the fighters recently released after serving his full sentence and vice-president of the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP), explained that this event aims to expand the message to all the world and he noted the involvement of Cuban social and political organizations in the activities.

Fernando added that the event would begin on September 4 with a tribute to Fabio Di Celmo, the young Italian killed in a terrorist act on this day, and would end on October 16, on the 38th anniversary of the midair explosion of a Cubana de Aviación airliner offshore Barbados that took 73 lives.

Graciela Ramírez, coordinator of the International Committee of Solidarity with the Five – as they are also known-, said that from September 11 to September 13 people supportive of the cause would return to the Capitol in Washington to talk with U.S.representatives; on September 12 they would hold a vigil in front of the White House, supported with similar activities in front of the U.S. embassies in many parts of the world.

Joan Cabo Mijares, member of the National Bureau of the Young Communist League (UJC), explained that in Cuba, in the evening of September 12, a political and cultural ceremony would be held on the Stairway of the University of Havana, in which the Cuban youth will show their support for this cause.

Other activities include a Festival of the New Technologies in the 600 Youth Computer Science Clubs on September 8, and on the 20th there would be a march in which participants would walk 5,844 meters, one meter for each day of imprisonment of Ramón, Gerardo and Antonio.

Cuban children are also taking part in this event, said the young leader; on September 20 there would be a National event called Children painting for peace, in which several activities would be done to ask for that long-wished desire of mankind to live in harmony.

Some of the most outstanding activities include the presentation of the book Redeeming the Past, by Father Michael Lapsley, vice-president of the Council of Churches in Capetown and president of the Solidarity Committee with Cuba in Capetown. Lapsley, who also attended the press conference on Wednesday, read a letter Gerardo Hernández sent him, in which he expresses his acknowledgement for his support for him and his comrades, whom Lapsley has visited in jail ten times.

Likewise; Kenia Serrano, president of the ICAP, said that over 200 delegates from 43 countries have so far confirmed their attendance at the 10th International Colloquium for the Freedom of the Cuban Five and against Terrorism, to be held in Havana from September 11 to September 13.

Two panels, one with the families of the Five and another one with families of victims of terrorism are also part of the activities to be held in the Havana International Conference Center, as well as the coordination of international activities of support for the cause.

Likewise; the participants in the colloquium will hold meetings with the Cuban Journalists Association (UPEC), and with Students and professors of the University of Havana, the Jose Antonio Echevarría Polytechnic Institute (CUJAE), and the University of Computer Sciences (UCI).

They will also see the work, No agradezcan el silencio (Do not thank the silence), by artist Alexis «Kcho» Leyva Machado in the Fine Arts Museum as well as a meeting with members of the Committees of Defence of the Revolution in Havana during the campaign called Demand for the Freedom of the Five.

Translated by ESTI

September letter for Mr. Obama

September 1, 2014


Mr. President Obama September 1st 2014
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W.
Washington DC 20500

Mr. President,

When you receive this letter, we will be not far from September 12th, the date of the sixteenth anniversary of the arrest, in Miami, of the five Cubans – Gerardo Hernandez, Antonio Guerrero, Ramon Labañino, Fernando Gonzalez and René Gonzalez.
The last two have served their sentence; the first three are still in prison in your country.
All over the world, citizens and organizations that respect human rights are joining forces and taking action to demand their liberation.
On the fourth of July this year, in the United States, the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law handed over to Attorney General Eric Holder, and also to you, Mr. President, an extremely complete dossier on the Cuban Five affair.
In this dossier, concerning the tragedy of the Brothers to the Rescue (BTTR) planes, for which Gerardo Hernandez was condemned to two life sentences plus fifteen years, one can read, on page 18, the conclusion:
« Following the shoot-down, the FAA revoked Basulto’s pilot’s license due to his actions; the FAA found that Basulto’s reckless operation of his aircraft on February 24, 1996 contributed to the deaths of four members of BTTR in the shoot-down.56
In summary, the record discussed in detail above shows that Gerardo Hernández had no involvement in the shoot down. He didn’t encourage the BTTR to fly on February 24. He didn’t know whether they were flying that day or when they were flying or how many planes were flying. Hernández was not part of the chain of command involved in the decision to shoot down the BTTR planes. The U.S. Government (not Hernández) advised Cuba when the BTTR planes took off. The U.S. Government watched on several radars as events unfolded. The U.S. Government not Hernández could have warned the BTTR planes to leave the area once they observed Cuban interceptors in the air. »
As for the general conclusion to this report, it finishes in these terms:
« For all of these reasons, the case of the Cuban Five should now be ended by releasing the remaining three members of the Five serving long sentences in U.S. prisons and permitting them to return home and rejoin their families in Cuba. From the standpoint of justice and sensible foreign policy, this would be the rational, moral, and humane step to take to bring this 16-year old case to an end. »
Mr. President, follow this sage advice from the members of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, those who established this report, and liberate the three Cubans who are still in prison. Sixteen years of imprisonment for innocent men is way too much; the United States stole their youth.
Please receive, Mr. President, the expression of my most sincere humanitarian sentiments.

Jacqueline Roussie
64360 Monein (France)

Translated by William Peterson

Copies envoyées à: Mesdames Michelle Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Kathryn Ruemmler et à Messieurs. Joe Biden, John F. Kerry, Rand Beers, Harry Reid, Eric Holder, Denis MacDonough, Neil Eggleston, Rick Scott, et Charles Rivkin, ambassadeur des Etats-Unis en France.

Letter of august to President Obama

August 1, 2014


Mr. President Obama August first, 2014
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W.
Washington DC 20500

Mr. President,

Last June 15th, for Father’s Day, you sent me, as well as many others in the world, an e-mail in which you wrote:
« Today, I’m thinking about all the dads across the country, spending time with family and loved ones — and especially those fathers serving our country overseas, who can’t be home with their kids today.
But I’m also thinking about all the young people out there who don’t have a dad in their lives at all — or who don’t always enjoy the opportunities and support that come with having strong role models (…) »
While reading these lines, I was thinking of the enormous injustice done to René González, Fernando González, Antonio Guerrero, Ramón Labañino and Gerardo Hernández, the five Cubans arrested in September 1998 at Miami. Posterity will be the judge of the injustice committed by the United States.
Your country kept René González shut up in prison for fourteen years. Fourteen long years during which he was not able to be with his wife and daughters, the youngest of which was just a baby when he was arrested.
Your country kept Fernando González shut up in prison for fifteen years. Fifteen long years of separation from his wife; this prevented them from becoming parents.
Your country is still keeping Antonio Guerrero shut up in prison, for going on sixteen years now, depriving him of the loving warmth of his two sons, depriving his sons of their father’s support.
Your country is still keeping Ramon Labañino shut up in prison, for going on sixteen years now, depriving him of his wife and of his three daughters, depriving his daughters also of their father’s support.
Your country is still keeping Gerardo Hernández shut up in prison, for going on sixteen years now. During all these years of detention, he was not even able to kiss his wife Adriana, for whom the United States has systematically refused an entry visa. He is condemned to two life sentences plus fifteen years. Gerardo and Adriana have also been denied, up until now, the possibility of having children.
Come on, Mr. President, put your actions in balance with your words and liberate the three Cubans who are still imprisoned in your country.
You have the possibility to do this; Cuban authorities have proposed to you a humanitarian exchange with your fellow countryman Alan Gross.
The holder of the Nobel Peace Prize that you represent cannot turn his back on such an opportunity to return these four men to their families and to thus permit better relations between your two countries.
Please receive, Mr. President, the expression of my most sincere humanitarian sentiments.

Jacqueline Roussie
64360 Monein (France)

translated by William Peterson

Copies sent to: Mrs. Michelle Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Kathryn Ruemmler, Janet Napolitano, to Mr. Joe Biden, John F. Kerry, Harry Reid, Eric Holder, Neil Eggleston, Rick Scott and to Charles Rivkin, ambassador for the United States in France.

July letter for Mr Obama

June 28, 2014

_1-Correo para Obama.Autor Adán-g

 Mr President Obama July first, 2014
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W.
Washington DC 20500

Mr President,

Your fellow countryman Bowe Bergdahl was liberated Saturday May 31st in exchange for five former high Taliban officials, held in Guantanamo.
It is inadmissible that you have not yet taken measures to liberate the three Cubans Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero, and Ramón Labañino who were, on the contrary, fighting against the terrorism that your country is practicing towards their island.
Cuba proposed to you a humanitarian exchange with your fellow countryman Alan Gross and you have still not responded favorably to its demand. Does this mean that the Taliban government seems to you to be the sort of people one can associate with, more so than the Cuban Government? It’s true that you have included Cuba on the list of countries supporting terrorism, whereas Qatar, the real sponsor for the jihadist groups, is not on it…
Do you know the fable by Jean de La Fontaine, “The Wolf and the Lamb”, in the United States?
Gerardo Hernández, the most heavily condemned of the three, has been condemned to two life prison sentences plus fifteen years. He is accused of “conspiring of attempting to commit murder” in the case of the two BTTR (Brothers to the Rescue) small planes shot down on February 24th 1996 under Cuban government orders. You know very well, Mister President, that this heavy charge attributed to Gerardo Hernández is a gross frame-up.
According to the indictment against Gerardo Hernández, the FBI was aware since 1994 of his mission to infiltrate Mafia terrorist organizations in Miami. If there had been the slightest suspicion against him concerning the BTTR planes tragedy, he would have been, without the least doubt, arrested in 1996. No one has ever been able to produce the least proof of his guilt; the prosecutor himself had demanded that the charge be taken out of Gerardo Hernández’s dossier, recognizing that it was impossible to prove.
However, as I recalled to you in my last letter, Hector Pesquera, the FBI official in charge of South Florida, had declared on January 22nd 2003 in a Radio Marti broadcast concerning the Avispa network for which Gerardo Hernández was the head, “I came here in May 1998. I was made aware of the situation. We then started to place emphasis on the fact that this investigation should not be only on questions of intelligence. The nature of this case must be transformed into a criminal investigation.” It is clear that, by hook or by crook, Gerardo Hernández had to have a crime tacked onto him.
This lamentable tragedy of the small planes would never have happened, and the young pilots would still be living, had the BTTR organization respected numerous warnings emitted by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) on the risks that the BTTR was taking by violating time and again Cuban airspace, going as far as flying over Havana to drop thousands of tracts.
Even though he had nothing to do with this affair, but seeing as he has been credited with being partly responsible, the least you could do in the way of justice towards Gerardo Hernández would be to find out if the Cuban government was in its rights shooting down these two small planes, no matter one’s opinions on this act. Cuban radar systems indicated that they were flying over Cuban territorial waters, whereas the United States government asserts that they were in international airspace.
This object of contention could be easily cleared up by declassifying the documents concerning the tragedy, so as to check the satellite photos that your government is holding. Gerardo’s lawyers have demanded this several times, just as did Peter Schey, lawyer and president of the Los Angeles Human and Constitutional Rights Center, on March 5th 2013.
Sadly, the different United States administrations have, every time, rejected this demand, and you have done nothing, so far, to break the deadlock on this situation, Mister President. It is absurd to take into count the parole of the prosecution’s witness Bjorn Johansen, who was working as a pilot for the “Majesty of the Seas”, to localize the exact place where the planes went down. This localisation is not reliable, first because it was founded on human observation, and also because his objectivity is contestable. Bjorn Johansen was working at the time for the « Caribbean Cruises » shipping company that was financially supporting the FNCA (Féderation Nationale Cubano-Américaine), and his second in command on the ship was Peter G. Whelpton, a member of this same FNCA.
This FNCA organization is obsessed with overthrowing the Cuban government. In 1992, it set up a clandestine structure, the “paramilitary commission”, secretly charged to organize terrorist actions. It has been recognized as being behind most of the terrorist attacks against Cuba that took place between 1990 and 1998 – the exact same terrorist attacks for which the Cuban Five came to Miami to infiltrate the terrorist groups!
Mister President, don’t you think that it’s high time to put an end to the injustice done since almost sixteen years now to the Cuban Five, by freeing the three who are still behind bars in your country? A humanitarian exchange with Alan Gross is a line being thrown to you; be wise enough to catch it, for the good of your country.
Please receive, Mr. President, the expression of my most sincere humanitarian sentiments.

Jacqueline Roussie
64360 Monein (France)

translated by William Peterson

Copies sent to: Mrs. Michelle Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Kathryn Ruemmler, Janet Napolitano, to Mr. Joe Biden, John F. Kerry, Harry Reid, Eric Holder, Neil Eggleston, Rick Scott and to Charles Rivkin, ambassador for the United States in France.

Gerardo Hernández birthday: From his cell, he sends us a message

June 5, 2014


June 3, 2014

Gerardo Hernández is 49 today. We recently posted an announcement on Cubadebate about how to send him Happy Birthday messages through our website or writing directly to the radio program hosted by Tanya Torres in California. He’s been in prison for 15 years after a trumped-up trial in Miami that gave him a very long and unjust sentence: two life terms plus 15 years, which is currently serving in the prison of Victorville, California.

In his cell he can listen to Tanya’s program “Canto sin fronteras” (Song without borders). The first broadcast took place last Saturday, May 31 (the next one will be on June 7). What follows is Gerardo’s reaction, written in a letter that he sent to International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban Five coordinator Alicia Jrapko.

My sister:

I’d like to convey my joy and appreciation to Tanya in this language [Spanish], as there’s no better one to express our emotions… I confess that every year on June 4 Tanya surprises me and at the end of her program I tell myself the same thing: “If the Five are not released earlier, on my next birthday it will be harder for Tanya and her team to dedicate to me a better program than this one!”

But I’m always wrong: they invariably surprise me, and in a better way every year. I was quite moved by today’s program as I listened to the concert they dedicated to Fernando at the University of Havana. My brother’s words, the music, the ad-libbing, what our dear and recently deceased Juan Formell said… All of it! I thought I was dreaming.

I know there are many hands –and many hearts!– behind such a surprise, and I also know there will be a second part next Saturday, so I would like to convey my huge appreciation to Tanya and her team at “Canto sin Fronteras”, the KPFK staff, the comrades who have sent and will keep on sending their best wishes, and in general all those who have made this present possible, as they have all the others that always surprise me when I receive them through the ether right in my cell year after year.

I sincerely thank you all on behalf of the Five, and I assure you –what’s more, I promise Tanya– that one day, when we are already enjoying the freedom that all of you have fought and will keep on fighting so hard for, it will be us who will surprise you through the same radio waves with warm greetings from our dearest homeland. As we used to say in Africa, back when the Cubans and Angolans shared the same trenches, “The struggle goes on! Victory is certain!”

A strong hug,

May 31, 8:42pm

A CubaNews translation.
Edited by Walter Lippmann.

Gerardo Hernández: guilty as charged? Alan Gross: innocent as claimed?

May 30, 2014


by Stephen Kimber

It should be easier to make a deal. A 65-year-old American USAID subcontractor named Alan Gross is serving 15 years in a Cuban prison for smuggling sophisticated telecommunications equipment into Cuba. Cuban officials say they’re prepared to discuss his fate without pre-conditions as a “humanitarian” gesture. But it is also clear they want to exchange him for the three members of their Cuban Five intelligence network still in prison in the United States.

There are precedents for such a swap.

In 2010, Washington acted quickly to trade 10 Russian deep-cover spies for four men the Russian government had imprisoned for “illegal contacts” with the West. There is also the example of Israel. In 2011, Israel freed more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners to win the release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured by Hamas five years earlier.

And yet — even after a November 2013 letter signed by a bipartisan group of 66 Senators urging President Obama to “act expeditiously to take whatever steps are in the national interest to obtain [Gross’s] release,” — the U.S. Administration refuses to negotiate.

Why? Three words: Castro, Cuba, murder.

Even for those who can get past the first two, the third is often, understandably, a show-stopper.

In 2001, Gerardo Hernández, the leader of the Cuban Five, was charged and convicted of “conspiracy to commit murder” in connection with a 1996 shootdown of two civilian aircraft over the Florida Straits that resulted in the deaths of four men. He was sentenced to two life terms plus 15 years in prison.

How can the United States exchange a man convicted of conspiracy to commit murder for someone the State Department continues to insist did nothing wrong?

It’s worth unpacking both sides of that conventional wisdom.

Let’s start with the case of Gerardo Hernández.

The shootdown

On February 24, 1996, Cuban Air Force MiGs shot down two Brothers to the Rescue planes, killing the four civilians aboard.

The shootdown triggered not only an international incident between the two countries but also an outpouring of rage and demands for revenge from Miami’s Cuban-American exile community.

We can argue today whether the planes were in Cuban or international airspace when they were shot down. Or debate whether the shootdown was a reasonable response to Brothers’ provocation.

But none of those legitimate debates has anything to do with the central issue: What role, if any, did Gerardo Hernández play in the shootdown of the planes? Could he have known in advance the Cuban military was planning to shoot down the aircraft? Would he have had any control over, influence on, or role in the Cuban military’s plan to bring down the planes?

Hernández and the shoot down

During much of the time leading up to the shootdown (from October 1995 to January 26, 1996), Gerardo Hernández was on vacation in Cuba. Another agent, identified in trial documents as Manny Ruiz, took his place and remained in Miami until at least mid-March 1996. Ruiz, a major and Hernández’s superior in the Cuban intelligence command structure, controlled the decoding program required to communicate directly with their bosses in Havana until after March 14, 1996 — 17 days after the shootdown.

On January 29, 1996, Havana sent a high frequency message to Ruiz: “Superior headquarters,” it said, “approved Operation Scorpion in order to perfect the confrontation of counter-revolutionary actions of Brothers to the Rescue.” The message said Havana needed to know “without a doubt” when Brothers leader José Basulto was flying and “whether or not activity of dropping of leaflets or violation of air space.”

Although prosecutors would later claim these documents showed Hernández played a role in Operation Scorpion — the basis of the conspiracy to commit murder charge — the documents clearly show this message was addressed to Ruiz, not Hernández.

Two weeks later, on February 12, a second message concerning Operation Scorpion was sent to field agent René González and signed using the code names for both Ruiz and Hernández. Hernández says he “did not write or send the message of February 12.”

There are a number of reasons to believe him. For starters, the message adopts almost precisely the same wording as the January 29 message, including repeating two errors Ruiz might not have caught but Hernández surely would.

The message cryptically instructed González to “find excuse not to fly” on future Brothers missions. The reality was that González had stopped flying with Brothers more than two years earlier. Hernández would have known that.

The message also referred to González as Iselin, one of his two code names, but one which Hernández did not use in any of his other messages to him.

And what did “perfect the confrontation” mean? Judge Phyllis A. Kravitch — in her 2008 dissent from a decision of the 11th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals — pointed out: “There are many ways a country could ‘confront’ foreign aircraft. Forced landings, warning shots, and forced escorted journeys out of a country’s territorial airspace are among them — as are shoot downs.”

Would Cuban State Security have told Hernández in advance it planned to shoot down the planes? That’s highly unlikely. Cuban intelligence is incredibly compartmentalized; information is shared on a need-to-know basis only. Hernández, a mid-level field intelligence agent, would have had no need to know.

During this time, Hernández did have other important mission responsibilities. He was in charge of Operation Venecia, an unrelated plan to help another agent inside Brothers, Juan Pablo Roque, to re-defect back to Cuba. Operation Venecia was successful — Roque flew out of Miami on February 23, 1996.

On March 1, the Cuban Intelligence Directorate sent a message of congratulation to its agents in Miami: “Everything turned out well,” it said. “The commander in chief visited [Roque] twice, being able to exchange the details of the operation. We have dealt the Miami right a hard blow, in which your role has been decisive.”

The message did not refer to either Operation Scorpion or Operation Venecia. Instead it offered “our profound recognition” for Operation German. Based on the context of the message and the fact that Roque’s code name was “German,” it seems clear this message refers to Roque’s defection. During the trial, however, prosecutors argued the message congratulated Hernández for his role in the shootdown.

Prosecutors also claimed Hernández’s promotion to Captain in Cuba’s Ministry of the Interior on June 6, 1996, represented another acknowledgment of his key role in the shootdown. But June 6 is the anniversary of the founding of Cuba’s Ministry of the Interior, the date on which routine long-service promotions are granted to qualifying MININT employees. Having completed four years as lieutenant, Hernández had automatically been promoted.

As Judge Kravitch concluded in her appeal dissent, prosecutors “presented no evidence” to link Hernández to the shootdown. “I cannot say that a reasonable jury — given all the evidence — could conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Hernández agreed to a shoot down.”

The charge

Which brings us to the issue of why prosecutors decided to charge Hernández with conspiracy to commit murder. It was not one of the original charges laid after the Cuban agents were arrested on September 12, 1998. Prosecutors only added it seven months later, on May 7, 1999.

Why the delay?

FBI agents had penetrated the Cuban network as early as December of 1996, and decrypted and translated the relevant messages well before the arrests.

There are several possible explanations for the decision to escalate the case by tacking on the murder charge.

Although prosecutors in 1998 boasted the FBI broke a “very sophisticated” spy ring, journalists and commentators quickly focused on just how unsophisticated the operation seemed. Critics had begun to dismiss the case as “second-rate.” That changed, of course, as soon as the murder charge was added.
The FBI was under fire from exile leaders in Miami for failing to charge anyone in connection with the shootdown. Soon after the 1998 arrests, Congressman Lincoln Díaz-Balart called on the Clinton administration to charge the arrested agents “for the murder of four members of Brothers to the Rescue” — even though no evidence then connected them to the incident.

The trial

The conspiracy to commit murder charge became the central focus of the seven-month trial.

Did the prosecution present a compelling case?

Theydidn’t believe so. At the conclusion of the trial, they filed a last-minute emergency petition to prevent the jurors from voting on the murder count. During her instructions to the jury, Judge Joan Lenard had outlined the level of proof required to convict Hernández of conspiracy to murder. In a petition to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeal on May 25, 2001, the prosecutors threw up their hands. “In light of the evidence presented in this trial,” the petition declared, the judge’s instruction “presents an insurmountable hurdle for the United States in this case, and will likely result in the failure of the prosecution.”

The Appeal Court rejected their petition, but the jury convicted the Five on every single count, including conspiracy to murder.

The jury

Which brings us to the jury, and the political climate in Miami at the time of the trial.

There is a traditional hostility among Miami’s exile community to anyone associated with the Castro government. But the climate was even more toxic in the lead-up to the trial:

Elian González, a Cuban boy, had washed up on Florida’s shores in November 1999. After an emotional and legal tug of war between his father in Cuba and his extended family in Miami, he was returned to his family in Cuba, ratcheting up the anger toward Cuba among many in Miami.
Although much of the Miami media would have been reflexively anti-Cuban in the best of circumstances, we now know some virulently anti-Cuban journalists and commentators, including some who wrote about the case before and during the trial, were secretly paid thousands of dollars by the U.S. Government through the Board of Broadcast Governors.
There was still anger and frustration among many in Miami because no one had been charged for the shootdown of the planes two years before, with some officials suggesting indicting Fidel Castro; Gerardo Hernández, it is fair to suggest, became the best available substitute.

Before and during the trial, the defence applied for a change of venue because of the climate of hostility in Miami. Those requests were all turned down.

In the years since their convictions, however, a number of respected international organizations have raised questions about whether the accused got a fair trial.

Amnesty International, in a 2010 report concluded: “A central, underlying concern relates to the fairness of holding the trial in Miami, given the pervasive community hostility toward the Cuban government in the area and media and other events which took place before and during the trial. There is evidence to suggest that these factors made it impossible to ensure a wholly impartial jury.”

Added the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in a 2005 report: “The climate of bias and prejudice against the accused in Miami persisted and helped to present the accused as guilty from the beginning. ”

Amnesty International also questioned “the strength of the evidence on which Gerardo Hernández was convicted of conspiracy to murder… [Amnesty] believes that there are questions as to whether the government discharged its burden of proof that Hernández planned a shoot-down of BTTR planes in international airspace, and thus within US jurisdiction, which was a necessary element of the charge against him.”

To repeat, once again, the opinion of Judge Kravitch, prosecutors “presented no evidence” to link Hernández to the shootdown. “I cannot say that a reasonable jury — given all the evidence — could conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Hernández agreed to a shoot down.”

The case of Alan Gross

If it’s obvious the case against Gerardo Hernández is not as clear cut as the State Department would have us believe, neither is the case for Alan Gross.

On December 3, 2009, Cuban authorities arrested Gross and later charged him with “acts against the independence and territorial integrity of the state.” He was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Although the State Department continues to describe him as a humanitarian do-gooder attempting to help Cuba’s small Jewish community connect to the Internet, the facts are more complex.

Cuba’s 1,500-member Jewish community has generally good relations with the island’s government. And they already had Internet connections. As the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, a global Jewish news service, would report later: “the main Jewish groups in Cuba denied having any contracts with Alan Gross or any knowledge of his project.”

In 2008, Gross had signed a one-year deal with Development Associates International, a USAID-connected firm, to import communications equipment into Cuba, set up three WiFi hot spots — one each in Havana, Camaguey and Santiago — and train Cubans to use them. He was paid $258,264.

That equipment included BGANS (Broadband Global Network Systems, which function as a satellite phone bypassing the local phone system and can also provide Internet signals and be used to establish its own WiFi hotspot, allowing it to operate undetected by government servers) and at least one specialized sophisticated SIM card, capable of preventing satellite phone transmissions from being detected within 400 kilometres. Such SIM cards are not available for general sale in the U.S. and are most frequently used by the CIA and the Defense Department.Despite U.S. travel restrictions, Gross made five visits to Cuba in 2009 alone. He never informed Cuba of his mission, and invariably flew into the country on a tourist visa. To smuggle his equipment into the country without arousing suspicion, Gross sometimes used unsuspecting members of religious groups as “mules.”

In December 2009, Gross had been scheduled to deliver a BGANS device to a Havana university professor who’d been using a similar U.S.-supplied device to send information on “the Cuban situation” to his handlers in the United States. He was actually a double agent working for Cuban State Security. Gross was arrested.

When Cuban authorities arrested Gross, they uncovered a treasure trove of reports back to his bosses in Washington in which he acknowledged the dangerous nature of the work he was doing. “This is very risky business in no uncertain terms,” he wrote at one point, adding that “detection of satellite signals would be catastrophic.”


So if Alan Gross is not quite as innocent as claimed, and Gerardo Hernández is not as guilty as judged, where does that leave us?

The truth is that — whatever their violations of the laws of the countries in which the two men were arrested — both Alan Gross and Gerardo Hernández are two more human victims of more than 50 years of failed American policy toward Cuba.

Their continued incarcerations represent — for both sides — a major impediment to improving relations between the two countries.

The Cuban government has expressed a willingness to discuss Alan Gross’s fate without pre-conditions. It is past time for the United States, which is ultimately responsible for Alan Gross’s failed mission in Cuba, to do the same.,

June-letter for Mr Obama

May 30, 2014


Mr President Obama June first, 2014
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W.
Washington DC 20500

Mr President,

On April 18th, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Columbian writer, passed away.
“The world has lost one of its greatest visionary writers, and one of my favorites when I was young, you declared, when you learned of his death.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez played an important role in the history of the Cuban agents of the Avispa network, to which belonged Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González, Ramón Labañino, and René González, “The Cuban Five”, as they’re called.
In April of 1998, this writer left for Havana looking for more information concerning the recent visit of Pope Jean-Paul II to Cuba, for which he was writing an article. Garcia Marquez, who was a friend of the Cuban president, met with him and told him of the trip he was soon taking to the United States in order to conduct a writer’s workshop at Princeton University, starting on April 25th. He told President Castro that he would maybe be meeting President Clinton.
It was in this context that President Fidel Castro confided to Garcia a mission “non-official” but of capital importance, to let the president of the United States know that the terrorist organization CANF (Cuban American National Foundation) had put into place a diabolic plan to put bombs in Cuban Airways planes, and in other passenger planes going to and from Cuba from other Latin American countries. Of course, Mister President, the Cuban agents were aware of this information.
In the end, Garcia Marquez wasn’t able to meet with President Clinton, but he was received at the White House in McLarty’s office by three National Security Agency officials, for who this information sent shivers down their spine. I won’t go into the details of this meeting and of the diplomatic ups and downs that it caused, but what came out of it was the visit of a delegation of FBI officials to Havana on June 15th. Cuban experts conversed at length with this delegation on June 16th and 17th, and handed over an extremely detailed report on the terrorist attacks in preparation so the FBI could arrest the plotters.
The head of the terrorism section of the Miami Mafia, which had gotten wind of the contacts between Cuba and the United States, did not lose time in changing the chief of the South Florida FBI. Hector Pesquera arrived in Miami from Porto Rico in May 1998, and on September 1st was named chief of the South Florida FBI, and had the Cuban agents arrested on September 12th.
Pesquera put all his energy into hunting down the members of the Avispa network, during which time, in the territory he controlled, at least 14 members of Al Qaeda were in training, in complete peace, to prepare for the dreadful terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001.
The Cuban Five’s sentence in Miami was a travesty of justice. In this city, a fair judgment was impossible. As doctor Pastor, an ex-counselor for President Jimmy Carter for Latin America wrote, “Holding a trial for five Cuban intelligence agents in Miami is about as fair as a trial for an Israeli intelligence agent in Tehran”.  
The Cuban Five were heavily sentenced, Gerardo Hernández winning hands down, serving two life sentences plus fifteen years. They accused him of “conspiring with a view to committing murder” without the least proof. This charge against him had been added on to his judicial document eight months after it was constituted.
On January 22nd 2003, in a radio emission “Radio Martí” in Miami, Pesquera declared, concerning the Avispa network, “I came here in May 1998. I was made aware of the situation. We then started to place emphasis on the fact that this investigation should not be only on questions of intelligence. The nature of this case must be transformed into a criminal investigation.” What he said clears up for us the accusation afterwards attributed to Gerardo Hernandez. It would be very easy to prove this man innocent, but your country refuses his lawyers access to essential documents that would prove his innocence.
This willingness of your country to harm Cuba, alas! has not finished. Recently, on April 26th, Cuban authorities arrested four terrorists – José Ortega Amador, Obdulio Rodríguez González, Raibel Pacheco Santos and Félix Monzón Álvarez, who had arrived from Miami to prepare terrorist attacks against military installations.
Mr President, such policies must be done with! Do listen to the voice of the delegation of members of Congress from your country who visited Cuba at the beginning of May. Led by Barbara lee, this delegation, composed of four elected councilors, met with your fellow countryman Alan Gross at the prison hospital in Havana, and demanded you to open negotiations with a view to liberate him. She wishes that these negotiations be broadened so as to include the three Cuban secret agents Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero, and Ramón Labañino, who are imprisoned in the United States.
Listen also to the numerous voices that are rising up in this beginning of June at Washington to demand you to liberate Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero, and Ramón Labañino
Please receive, Mr President, the expression of my most sincere humanitarian sentiments.
Jacqueline Roussie
64360 Monein (France)

translated by William Peterson
Copies sent to: Mrs. Michelle Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Kathryn Ruemmler, Janet Napolitano, to Mr. Joe Biden, John F. Kerry, Harry Reid, Eric Holder, Pete Rouse, Rick Scott and to Charles Rivkin, ambassador for the United States in France.

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