Interview with Cuban Parliament President Ricardo Alarcon
"Obama can free the Cuban Five"
by Javier Rodríguez
Sept. 23, 2011
Reprinted from The Havana Reporter
Five Cuban men have been serving harsh sentences in U.S. prisons since being wrongly convicted by a U.S. federal court in Miami in 2001. Below, Cuban Parliament president Ricardo Alarcon comments on the case of Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labañino, Rene Gonzalez, Antonio Guerrero and Fernando Gonzalez.
Practically everything important about this case has been hidden from the U.S. people. For example, the U.S. government admitted its support to terrorist groups in Miami in the most explicit way from the first moment that charges were brought and throughout the last day of the trial, in numerous statements in which it reiterated that the Five had been arrested and charged for their actions against those terrorist groups; the sworn testimony of highranking retired officers – including admirals and generals – who stated that the Five had done nothing to harm U.S. national security; the participation of several of the most notorious terrorists, some of them wearing military garb, who there in the court, boasting of their crimes.
These things occurred over seven months, making it the longest trial in U.S. history at the time. Any of these things normally would have been news. But nothing was published about them, or, in fact, any other aspect of that trial, outside of the local media in Miami. And that media manipulated the issue to create an atmosphere of hate and prejudice that an Appeals Court in 2005 described as a “perfect storm” that justified its decision to overturn that trial.
Habeas corpus appeals
Habeas corpus is an extraordinary procedure in the U.S. system that a prisoner can present only once, after he or she has exhausted all ordinary appeal possibilities. Those of Gerardo, René, Antonio and Ramón have been presented and Fernando’s is being prepared.
All of them have as their common element new evidence that began to be discovered in 2006 about the role played by the local media which we now know was part of a conspiracy by the government, which forked over hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay these supposed “journalists” in Miami to do their very dirty work. For the last five years, various U.S. civil society organizations have been making different legal and administrative efforts to get Washington to hand over all the information that it insists on hiding about an operation that clearly violated the norms of due process. Judge [Joan] Lenard herself complained during the trial about harassment and provocations by the “journalists.” It is up to her to speak out now that everybody knows that the provocateurs were, in fact, employed by the government.
In the case of Gerardo, moreover, other important questions are involved related specifically to him, who faces the most complex situation, having been sentenced to two life terms in prison plus 15 years for the fabricated charge of conspiracy to commit murder.
They formulated a despicable charge against him that the government itself, in an emergency petition it filed with the Appeals Court on May 30, 2001, admitted was impossible to demonstrate “in the light of the evidence presented.” He had been attributed with invented participation in the February 24, 1996 shoot-down of two airplanes belonging to a terrorist group that had carried out numerous provocative incursions for years over Cuban territory.
Unable to present any proof, because Gerardo had absolutely nothing to do with that incident, the prosecutors grossly manipulated the evidence to make the jury believe he was guilty. In the conditions in which the trial took place, where various defendants and different charges were mixed, it was impossible for Gerardo to defend himself adequately; he could not speak or present witnesses to refute that completely false charge brought against him. If you add to that the irrational hate created by the above-mentioned “journalists,” you can understand why an intimidated and prejudiced jury declared him guilty of something about which, as I said, the government itself had admitted its failure.
But there is more. In order for the Feb. 24, 1996 incident to be material considered by a U.S. court, it would have had to have happened outside of Cuban territory (which is where we have always sustained it occurred, as indicated by our radar). Having received confusing and contradictory reports from U.S. radar, the investigative mission of the International Civil Aviation Organization asked Washington to submit to it the images taken by U.S. space satellites, but Washington refused that request. During the trial, Gerardo’s lawyers asked again for the images taken by [U.S.] space satellites to be shown, and the government refused again. Now Gerardo has asked again in his habeas corpus and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, in its response, insists on keeping the images hidden. Fifteen years have now gone by of hiding images that have only been seen in Washington. What can explain such stubbornness, other than the fact that those images showed that the incident occurred over Cuban territory and, consequently, the Miami trial had no jurisdiction over it whatsoever?
Unjust “supervised release”
The sentence handed down to René requires him, after serving his sentence, to begin a period of “supervised release” for three years. Forcing him to spend that time far from his family is an additional punishment lacking in any logic. Forcing him to remain in south Florida is, moreover, subjecting him to obvious risks and danger.
Rene’s release from prison, in addition, puts the Obama administration in a very clear dilemma. When the sentences were issued against the Five, the W. Bush regime demanded that the court, in addition to the most irrational punishment, establish very precise requirements to prevent them (the Five), once out of prison, from trying to do anything detrimental to the terrorists. That demand, in the case of René, was expressed as follows: “As a further special condition of supervised release the defendant is prohibited from associating with or visiting specific places where individuals or groups such as terrorists are known to be or frequent.”
The U.S. rulers now must decide whether or not to continue this scandalous effort to protect anti-Cuban terrorists. The best thing for them would be to allow René to return immediately to Cuba, so that they do not have to appear to be openly on the side of the real criminals who enjoy complete immunity there.
Obama can free the Five The U.S.
Constitution confers unlimited and exclusive powers on the president to free any person, no matter what the crime, charge or verdict has been, or the legal procedure in which he or she is involved. That power has been exercised by all presidents over more than two centuries. It would be practically impossible to calculate how many people have benefited. There is absolutely no obstacle limiting that presidential prerogative.
This is something about which President Obama must be constantly reminded, and by millions and millions of people every day.
There have been very important expressions of that solidarity all over the world. The best demonstration came with the petition filed with the Supreme Court asking it to review the case. Never before had that court received such a large, representative, universal number of amicus brief documents, signed by 10 Nobel laureates, jurists’ organizations, human rights advocates, parliaments, parliamentarians, intellectuals, religious people, trade unionists and political figures from all over the world.
This solidarity that is growing and will keep growing. The U.S. rulers in Washington and those who travel abroad run into it frequently. According to revelations by WikiLeaks, high-ranking dignitaries of their allied countries have expressed their concern about the situation of the Five. And I assure you that WikiLeaks has not said everything it knows, or does not know everything that has happened.
Impact on Cuba-U.S. relations
A normal relationship with the United States is unimaginable as long as any of the Five, even one, remains in prison and has not returned, free, to Cuba. Because their incarceration means, simply, that Washington continues supporting terrorism against Cuba and in that way any idea of improvement between the two nations is impossible.
I do not personally know President Obama, although I do know others in his government. Neither the president, nor his collaborators can be blamed as responsible for this injustice. But they can resolve it, and they know how to do so. If I were in a position to send them a message, I would say respectfully, without shrillness, that they do what their conscience should dictate to them. Free the Five now, all of them, without excluding any and without any conditions.