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Cuban detainees hope for fair trial

By Rodrigo Acuña - posted Friday, 26 October 2007


Outside the alternative media, last month saw nearly no coverage of the incarceration in the United States of Cuban agents Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero, Ramón Labañino, Fernando Gonzáles and René Gonzáles.

Now into their ninth year of imprisonment, the Cuban Five - as they are otherwise known - are serving a variety of sentences that include convictions for conspiracy to commit espionage and homicide. By most credible accounts, the Cubans are in prison - some on life sentences - for political reasons and not because they have broken any serious laws, other than overstaying their visas.

The current saga began in 1997 when nearly a dozen bombs struck Havana. With hotels, restaurants and nightclubs targeted, one explosion at the Copacabana Hotel wounded 11 people and killed Italian tourist Fabio di Celmo.

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Experience has taught the Cuban government that when bombs explode in Havana, or failed assassination plots against Fidel Castro take place, the first place to look is Miami - the haven for ex-patriots who fled after dictator Fulgencio Batista was overthrown in 1959. And there is one man who has stood out for his use of terrorism to overthrow Castro; CIA-trained Luis Posada Carriles.

If there were any doubts, on July 12 1998 in New York Times, Carriles admitted to paying a Salvadorian mercenary to carry out the 1997 attacks in Havana, including the bombing which killed di Celmo. When asked if he had regrets for the murder, Posada Carriles replied in the negative: "I sleep like a baby ... It is sad that someone is dead, but we can't stop ... That Italian was sitting in the wrong place at the wrong time".

When it was clear that Cuban exiles in Miami where behind the new wave of attacks in Havana , Castro's government took two courses of action.

The first was to dispatch Castro's personal emissary, Colombian Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez, to request US president Bill Clinton address the issue of terrorism by Cuban exiles. The second was to monitor the activities of Posada Carriles and 60 other emigrés, many whom belong to paramilitary organisations. This was the role of the 'Cuban Five'.

For its part, the Clinton administration seemed to have displayed some willingness to address Cuba's concerns. Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) agents travelled to Havana and exchanged information with local officials regarding the bombing that had taken place. But unfortunately, like many of Clinton's policies towards the Caribbean island, incompetence or sheer cynicism won the day. Instead of addressing the threat posed by the Miami emigrés, the FBI arrested the Cuban Five in September 1998 in Miami using information provided by Havana.

The court case which then unfolded was bizarre.

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In the initial proceedings, according to defence lawyer José Pertierra, the prosecution stated:

'"We arrested these five men and confiscated 20,000 documents from their computers, but ladies and gentlemen of the jury none of these 20,000 documents contain a single page of classified information."

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First published in Eureka Street on 4 October, 2007



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About the Author

Rodrigo Acuña is a PhD candidate in International Studies at Macquarie University, Sydney. A recipient of Benchmark Prize in Hispanic Studies by the University of New South Wales, he was also runner up for Open Prose in the Unsweetened 2007 Literary Journal. He writes regularly on Latin American affairs and has presented seminars at various Australian universities on political developments in Venezuela, as well as other Latin American countries.

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