On Sept. 20, a liberal media voice in Miami, National Public Radio station WLRN, aired a “news” discussion about the Cuban 5 after another program on the same station cancelled an earlier interview about Stephen Kimber’s new book: “What Lies Across the Water: the Real Story of the Cuban Five.” Kimber’s website quoted the original program host/producer concluding that “the topic is too ‘incendiary’ and [he] fears a negative reaction from certain segments of the community.” A quick reversal came after a press release from the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5 made the censorship known.
Lest the station be viewed as soft on Cuba, the moderator Tom Hudson pledged to ask hard hitting questions and even recruited former assistant prosecutor in the case David Bruckner to attempt to refute the author, plus WLRN’s Americas editor Tim Padgett: a three to one set-up. The program opened on the attack, sharply blocking Kimber from any reference to the earlier cancellation. When Padgett insisted on minimizing the Florida-based attacks to “only” two hotel bombings, Kimber strenuously corrected him. “It was more than twelve hotel bombings,” all linked to Luis Posada Carriles, who lives free in Miami despite an open extradition request from Venezuela, where Posada would be put on trial for the bombing of a Cuban airliner in 1976 that killed 73 people. One such hotel bombing killed a young Italian whose brother still lives in Kimber’s home country, Canada.
Even after the passage of fifteen years since the Cuban 5 — Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González and René González — were arrested on Sept. 12, 1998, their mission against terror is still regarded as too incendiary in Miami. It is no wonder that in 2005, a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously found a perfect storm of prejudice in Miami and ordered a new trial — a decision reversed a year later in an uncommon move by the full 11th Circuit Court.
Cuba’s actions defensive
The major charge against the majority of the men was conspiracy to commit espionage. But there was no evidence of any attempt to acquire any military information not already in the public domain. Kimber strongly emphasizes the defensive character of observations at military bases like counting the number and type of aircrafts that could indicate an overt U.S. military attack. In 1983, the U.S. invaded tiny Grenada. In 1989, the U.S. invaded Panama. In 1994, the U.S. invaded Haiti. Who wouldn’t think that Cuba, in the throes of a sudden economic crisis after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, could be next? Since the 1959 revolution ousted the U.S.-backed Batista regime, unrelenting attacks have been launched by the U.S. on Cuba. Kimber points out that when Cuba turned to expanding tourism instead of succumbing to capitalist restoration, the bomb attacks from Florida on hotels and restaurants increased.
Gerardo Hernández is serving two life terms plus 15 years in the Victorville, Calif., federal prison, essentially as a representative of the Cuban revolution. He was convicted for conspiracy to commit murder, as Kimber said on tour, because Fidel Castro was not available.
Although former prosecutor Bruckner claimed the Cuban 5 were arrested because of the shootdown, the charge against Hernández was not among the original charges. It took seven months to claim that Hernández, while in Miami, somehow assisted in the shootdown by Cuban air defense of two small civilian planes piloted by Brothers to the Rescue. BTTR had repeatedly violated Cuban airspace and also trained with weapons deployable from the planes.
After the U.S. government failed to stop the overflights, two of three planes were shot down. Significantly, on May 25, 2001, it was prosecutors who petitioned to remove that charge, admitting the evidence presented at the trial was insufficient to convict Gerardo Hernández. The petition said, “In light of the evidence presented in this trial,” the judge’s instruction “presents an insurmountable hurdle for the U.S. in this case and will likely result in the failure of the prosecution.” Nonetheless, the Cuban 5 were convicted on June 8, 2001, and sentenced only a few months after the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center.
Padgett’s opinion on why the case of the Cuban 5 is still important after 15 years brings up Alan Gross, a Maryland USAID contractor in a Cuban prison convicted for secretly installing military grade communication devices in Cuba on the payroll of a U.S. government regime change program. Padgett asserts that Cuba will “not release Gross without one or more of the [remaining four] Cuban 5 being released,” and the Cuban 5 are a “major obstacle to thawing U.S.-Cuban relations.”
Who will enforce this U.N. resolution?
For millions around the world and certainly in Cuba, the case of the Cuban 5 remains a glaring injustice that is part of the hot and cold U.S. war against Cuba’s socialist economic system and its self-determination. All of Latin America, Central America and the Caribbean together with the vast majority of countries in the United Nations stand together demanding that the U.S. end its war on Cuba — part of that is sending the four Cubans remaining in U.S. prisons back to their loved ones in Cuba and to their brother René González who returned home last May after completing his full prison term. Protesters at the White House marked the 15th anniversary of the arrests on Sept. 12 with yellow ribbons and signs saying “Enough is enough, 15 years is a shame.”
Stephen Kimber originally intended to write a novel, a love story, based partly in Cuba and also in Nova Scotia, Canada, where he is a journalism professor at the University of King’s College and an award-winning author. He did not come to the story as an advocate, but as a professional journalist.
Shortly after the 2008 U.S. election, Kimber asked a Cuban friend if U.S.-Cuban relations would improve with the election of President Barack Obama. The reply that the relations depended on resolving the problem of the Cuban 5, started Kimber on a path of research through the 20,000 pages of court records and more than a thousand exhibits, resulting in this well-documented book.
In the words of former president of the Cuban National Assembly Ricardo Alarcon: “It is the work of a master journalist, a great writer, and, above all, an honest intellectual, committed only to what he could verify independently. This is not a book about the complicated and interminable legal process, but its essential aspects are covered. Nor is it a biography of the Five, although its pages show them for what they are: human beings close to the reader. The book goes beyond that and helps readers to understand the conflict between two countries.” (www.granma.cu/ingles/cuba-i/15agosto-33alarcon.html)