Toronto, Canada — Toronto City Hall was the site of the Breaking the Silence Peoples’ Tribunal and Assembly Sept. 21-23. Representatives from unions and Cuba solidarity organizations heard evidence and rendered a people’s judgment calling for President Barack Obama to use his executive authority to end the 14-year imprisonment of the Cuban 5 — Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González Llort and René González — and allow them to return to their families in Cuba.
Testimony detailed the history of U.S.-based terrorism against Cuba that necessitated Cuba sending agents to monitor the violent plans hatched in South Florida during the 1990s. Raymundo Navarro, representing the Confederation of Cuban Workers, listed outrages orchestrated against Cuba: the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 and the destruction of 97 schools by arson, including a nursery school where 570 children and 176 staff were killed. He recalled the explosion of the freighter Coubre in Havana harbor; the burning of El Encanto department store; the first midair bombing of a passenger airline, Cubana 455, over Barbados on Oct. 6, 1976, killing all 73 people aboard; and hotel bombings in the 1990s.
Not all evidence presented came from sources friendly to Cuba. For example, in 2005, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the convictions of the Cuban 5 in a unanimous 90-page decision, citing the “perfect storm of prejudice” that existed in Miami. That decision was later reversed in 2006. Although generally critical of the Cuban government, Amnesty International’s October 2010 report, “The Case of the Cuban Five,” concludes: “Amnesty International is supporting calls for a review of the case by the U.S. executive authorities through the clemency process or other appropriate means.”
Legal efforts to free the Five
Defense attorney Richard Klugh said the legal team is currently pursuing habeas corpus appeals at the district court level, presenting new information and errors not known at the time of the trial. Although originally revealed by the Miami Herald, subsequent Freedom of Information Act requests from the National Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban Five and Liberation News uncovered further documentation and evidence.
Klugh said that in Miami, “The most prejudicial articles were being written by people whose primary job was to work for the United States to prejudice the interests of Cuba.” Of the Cuban 5, he asserted, “This was a political prosecution whose purpose was to prosecute innocent people. That was the whole purpose. They are prosecuting Cuba’s right to exist, Cuba’s right to defend itself.”
Klugh emphasized an important point made frequently by late attorney Leonard Weinglass: The U.S. government admitted it had no evidence and could not convict Gerardo Hernández of the 1996 shoot-down of Brothers to the Rescue planes that continually violated Cuban national airspace. Yet, denied a change of venue to Fort Lauderdale, Hernández and the other members of the Cuban 5 were convicted by a Miami jury under sway of U.S. government-paid propagandists posing as reporters, enveloped in the “perfect storm of prejudice.” There was even a conviction on a charge for which the prosecution admitted there was no evidence.
Also testifying was Jose Pertierra, the U.S.-based attorney who has represented the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela since 2005 in its struggle to extradite former CIA agent Luis Posada Carriles. He is wanted in Venezuela for 73 counts of murder in the 1976 midair bombing of the Cuban passenger plane, but is living freely today in Miami. Pertierra said the U.S. is responsible for that anti-Cuba terrorism, because the U.S. armed and maintained the terrorists, and failed to prosecute them, despite the evidence that the Five so valiantly gathered against them.
Posada Carriles escaped from Venezuela and began to mastermind hotels bombings in Cuba in 1997. This is even in FBI records! Money was wired from New Jersey to Posada Carriles so he could hire others to bomb the hotels. One of those bombs killed young Italian tourist Fabio Di Celmo on Sept. 4, 1997. Livio Di Celmo, Fabio’s brother, described the life-long devastation his brother’s murder caused his grieving parents.
Canadian author Arnold August detailed terror attacks in Montreal carried out by the same violent Miami-based groups that harmed, killed and endangered Canadians as well as Cubans.
Adriana Perez and Elizabeth Palmiero, spouses of Gerardo Hernández and Ramon Labañino, represented the family members who have actively sought international support for their loved ones since their Sept. 12, 1998, arrests, conspiracy conviction in 2001 and cruel sentencing later that year. Expressing the human cost to them and their families of the 14-year separation from their loved ones, the two women told of the prison conditions their spouses were forced to endure.
Perez and Gerardo Hernández married 24 years ago. Hernández has served 14 years of the double-life plus 15-year sentence. Perez addressed Obama: “When will this nightmare end? President Obama has the answer to that question. He alone can end this nightmare. That is why I say, ‘Do it now. Tomorrow is too late.’ Whatever happens I will be here. I believe the best thing I ever did in my life was to marry Gerardo. And the greatest thing I will ever do in my life is to continue fighting to have him return.”
Alicia Jrapko, of the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5, said that the FBI agent who arrested Gerardo Hernández in 1998 told him that no one would ever know where he was and he would rot in jail. Hernández says he would like to find that agent now to show him how wrong he was.
Union support grows
Parliaments, the Mexican Senate, the United Nations Committee on Arbitrary Detention, Amnesty International and labor unions support freedom for the Cuban 5. Nearly 3,000 brochures about the Cuban 5 were distributed at the Service Employees convention in Denver. Religious figures and well-known international personalities have visited the Cuban 5, which helps to protect them. Jrapko urged everyone to keep pushing Obama to do the right thing and let the Cuban 5 go home to their families.
Representatives of Food and Commercial Workers Canada, Canadian Union of Postal Workers, Steelworkers of Canada, Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 4400, Ontario Federation of Labour and the nation-wide Canadian Union of Public Employees sponsored and spoke at the three-day event. They demonstrated significant Canadian labor support for the Cuban 5 and consistent efforts of the Worker to Worker, Canada-Cuba Labour Solidarity Network since it began in the early 1990s.
In 2008, Tony Woodley, then general-secretary of Unite the Union, the largest Irish and British labor organization, called on the U.S. labor movement to weigh in on behalf of the Cuban 5. He said, “What we have tried to do over these last four years is to break the silence in [the U.S.] itself. Convening a meeting with the … largest unions in [the U.S.] took place four years ago … with leaders of the Steelworkers, Service Employees and the Teamsters, in the same room, hearing for the first time about the Cuban 5.
“We have tried to coordinate the politics within Britain and [the U.S.] to really get to the Obama administration … to try to make a degree of difference in the unfairness that is out there. … How can a civilized society, in a country that preaches democracy and tells the world what we should all do, treat people this way? It is a disgrace. The trial, the injustice and the freedom of the 5 is out there. … Representations have been made as recently as last week to Hillary [Rodham] Clinton and the Obama administration … using the supposed ‘special relationship’ between the U.S. and the U.K. has been taking place for the last four years.”
Participants attended from across Canada, from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Native representative Dakota Elliott opened and closed the proceedings. The Magistrates of Conscience included Cindy Sheehan, U.S. peace and justice activist; Denis Lemelin, national president, Canadian Union of Postal Workers; and Ken Neumann, national director of Canadian Steelworkers. Others include Marie Clarke Walker, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists in the U.S.; Tony Woodley, Unite the Union; Naveen Mehta, Food and Commercial Workers Canada; Wes Elliott, Grand River Territory; noted Cuban author Miguel Barnet; and U.S. filmmaker Saul Landau.
The gathering shared actions and materials and vowed to push harder and more effectively on the U.S. government to return the Cuban 5 to their homeland. Vancouver and Quebec organizations hold actions regularly at U.S. consulates; Vancouver activists have been on the streets for 83 consecutive months.
Documents, photos and video will soon be published on www.freethe5peoplestribunal.org. For more information, go to theCuban5.org, FreetheFive.org or antiterroristas.cu.