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What baseball’s Ozzie Guillen & the Cuban Five have in common

Published Apr 12, 2012 10:22 PM

How could a fair trial be possible in Miami for supporters of socialist Cuba? That is what organizers of the “5 Days for the Cuban 5 April 17-21” in Washington, D.C., are asking after Florida Marlins’ baseball manager Ozzie Guillen was pilloried by the big-business press for a seemingly respectful comment about former Cuban president Fidel Castro. The recent Time magazine interview of Venezuelan-born Guillen sparked a firestorm of the same Miami-based hatred faced by the Cuban Five during their 2000-2001 trial.

Suspended for five games and fearful of losing his job, Guillen was forced to retract his statement at an April 10 press conference, saying he was “down on his knees.” He even pledged to never speak about politics again. Right-wing Cubans in Miami are spearheading a campaign to have Guillen fired.

In an April 11 press release, the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5 pointed out: “The avalanche of criticism and complete intolerance surrounding statements from Florida Marlins’ manager Ozzie Guillen in Time magazine certainly demonstrates how anyone who says any comment even remotely favorable to Cuba will be viciously attacked by right-wing anti-Cuban circles in Miami. This is a clear example as to why the Cuban 5, who infiltrated right-wing exile groups in Miami in the mid-nineties to stop their plans for violence against the island, and who ended up serving lengthy sentences in U.S. prisons, couldn't have possibly received a fair trial in Miami.”

Committee spokesperson Alicia Jrapko stated: "Those groups in Miami, who have made careers out of howling about the lack of freedom of speech in Cuba, have now fully exposed themselves in the case of Ozzie Guillen. They have shown that it is they who will not tolerate a person's opinion if it does not line up with their backward way of thinking about Cuba. If he could be so vilified and forced to repent it shows there is no way the Cuban 5 could receive a fair trial in that city. ..."

“The Cuban 5 were arrested in 1998 and although they made no threats or injury to anyone and there was no transfer of U.S. government documents or classified material, the Cuban 5 were convicted on conspiracy to commit espionage charges and sentenced originally to four life sentences and 77 years in U.S. prisons.”

On Aug. 9, 2005, a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta overturned all five convictions, which were later reinstated. In their unanimous decision the panel “commented on the political atmosphere that exists in Miami: ‘Here, a new trial was mandated by the perfect storm created when the surge of pervasive community sentiment, and extensive publicity both before and during the trial, merged with the improper prosecutorial references.’ These federal judges affirmed [that] ‘the perception that these groups could harm jurors that rendered a verdict unfavorable to their views was palpable.’”

The April 11 press release also quoted Lawrence Wilkerson, Colonel, U.S. Army (Retired) and former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell: "The only reason there is such a hue and cry over Guillen's remarks is the deadly stranglehold over Miami politics maintained by hard-line Cuban-Americans. This same deadly stranglehold ensured the Cuban Five were railroaded to jail with sentences their 'crimes' did not in any way warrant."

Florida is also where George Zimmerman — the confessed killer of unarmed Black teenager Trayvon Martin — was allowed to roam free for 45 days before national mass outrage forced local and state authorities to arrest him on a second-degree murder charge on April 11. To see the full schedule of events and activities, plus a list of endorsers, for “5 days for the Cuban 5” go to www.thecuban5.org.