Miami 5 appeal – a step nearer victory?

FRFI 178 April / May 2004

Haiti is Cuba’s closest neighbour in the Caribbean. The two countries share a common history of sugar plantations, slavery and colonial exploitation. Both have had wars and revolutions to overthrow their colonial masters. The revolution in Haiti in 1804 against the French established the world’s first black republic. In Cuba the 19th century wars of liberation against the Spanish colonialists finally culminated in the revolution of 1959 that threw out the US imperialists and their puppets who had usurped the Spanish role. Yet the paths then taken by the two countries have been very different, as JIM CRAVEN reports.

On 10 March, the appeal of the Miami 5 opened at the 11th Circuit Court in Miami. 700-plus pages of evidence had already been presented to the three appeal judges by lawyers for the five Cubans who were arrested as ‘spies’ by the FBI in 1998 and are now serving sentences ranging from 15 years to life in federal prisons across the US. The lawyers are appealing against the findings of the original trial on a number of grounds including:

• Insufficient evidence linking Gerardo Hernandez to Cuba’s shooting down of two ‘Brothers to the Rescue’ planes over Cuban waters in 1996 to justify a conviction for conspiracy to murder.
• Insufficient evidence against Antonio Guerrero and others to justify federal spying convictions.
• The prejudicial nature of the original trial being held in Miami, making it impossible for the defendants to receive a fair trial. Some exiles attended the trial in military uniform, making clear their membership of paramilitary groups. Jury members later admitted they had felt intimidated.
• Serious irregularities in gathering evidence against the five, including illegal entry into their homes and illegal seizure of their computers; the seizure of personal papers making it impossible for them to prepare their defence adequately.
• Excessive sentencing on the basis of the charges brought for espionage which even in the prosecution case amounted to little more than ‘a flea on a pimple of the US’, according to Guerrero’s lawyer, Leonard Weinglass. Even senior military officials testified at the trial that the data gathered by the five was neither secret nor classified.
• The fact that the original trial judge refused to allow the jury to consider a defence of ‘necessity’ – that the five Cubans were acting to prevent the greater evil of terrorist attacks on their country emanating from Miami’s violent counter-revolutionary Cuban exile groups.

The judges will not present their ruling for several months. However, laywers for the five men admitted they had been encouraged by the judges’ line of questioning of the prosecutor, grilling her about the details of the evidence linking Gerardo Hernandez to the 1996 attack on the Brothers to the Rescue plane. One pointed out that a murder conspiracy conviction required ‘a plot to down planes in international airspace, not over Cuba after 25 incursions into Cuba’s airspace by planes from a Cuban exile group in 20 months’. Paul McKenna, lawyer for Gerardo Hernandez, felt the government had been forced onto the defensive.

Meanwhile, the US continues its harassment of the families and supporters of the Five. It has continued to refuse visas to family members trying to visit the five men, or moved them suddenly to other gaols. It has also attempted to withhold solidarity funds sent to the US-based National Committee to Free the 5 by French and Spanish groups. Eventually the money was recovered and helped fund a full-page advertisement in the New York Times on 3 March. It read: ‘Can you be imprisoned in the United States for opposing terrorism? Yes, if you oppose terrorism in Miami. Free the Cuban Five!’ Meanwhile, regular mass demonstrations for the Miami 5 continue in Cuba, and around the world support for their cause is growing.
Hannah Caller
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