Holding Onto Hope for a Pardon of the 'Cuban Five'
by Patricia Grogg
Dec. 15, 2010
Reprinted from IPSNews
HAVANA, Dec 15, 2010 (IPS) - After exhausting the legal appeals process in the United States, family members and human rights groups in Cuba are calling for a solidarity campaign to convince President Barack Obama to pardon the five Cuban agents who have spent the last 12 years in U.S. prisons.
"What we need is a public opinion push so that Obama will be receptive and sign a pardon for our loved ones, whose only crime was to try to prevent terrorist acts against our country," said Adriana Pérez, wife of Gerardo Hernández, who was sentenced to two life sentences plus 15 years in prison.
Pérez said she realised that a pardon from the U.S. leader could be more difficult now that his Democratic Party lost its majority in the House of Representatives in the November elections. "But he still has his constitutional prerogatives and could grant a pardon so that our family members can return home," she told IPS.
In her opinion, such a gesture would be in keeping with the Nobel Peace Prize that Obama won in 2009 and would make him the first U.S. president in decades to extend a bridge of friendship between the two countries by putting an end "to 12 years of injustice."
Pérez added that the U.S. legal process would not likely lead to the release of the "Cuban Five," as they are known nationally and internationally, "despite having sufficient evidence of their innocence."
"The Obama administration has been less aggressive (against Cuba)... We are confident that it could be more receptive to our request," she said.
Gerardo Hernández, René González, Antonio Guerrero, Ramón Labañino and Fernando González (no relation to René) were arrested Sep. 12, 1998, and charged with conspiracy to commit espionage. In addition, Hernández was charged with conspiracy to commit murder.
A jury in Miami found them guilty on all charges in 2001. Havana decided to file an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court, following a ruling by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta that upheld the sentences for Hernández (two life sentences plus 15 years), and for René González (15 years).
The Supreme Court referred the case back to the federal court in Miami to review its sentencing for Labañino (one life sentence plus 18 years), Fernando González (19 years) and Guerrero (life sentence plus 10 years).
In 2009, after a seven-month trial, Judge Joan Lenard, the same one who imposed the initial prison sentences in 2001, issued new sentences: 30 years for Labañino, 17 years and nine months for Fernando González, and 21 years and 10 months for Guerrero.
In June, an extraordinary appeal was filed on Hernández's behalf, but Pérez is not optimistic about it. "It is a legal process that does not guarantee us the release of our colleagues, despite having sufficient proof of their innocence," she said.
Nor is the Cuban government holding out much hope about the latest appeal. According to Ricardo Alarcón, president of the Cuban Parliament, he is discouraged by a legal proceeding in which "a prisoner has just one chance to request that the same judge who sentenced him in the first place would annul the ruling and recognise his innocence."
"The Five have served 12 years in prison already, more time than any of the worst terrorists have been imprisoned in the United States, but furthermore, they are being held without reason, because there was no espionage, as the Court of Appeals recognised, nor was there murder, as the George W. Bush administration admitted," Alarcón told a press conference.
The only charge the Cuban Five will accept is that they did not register with the United States as foreign agents. "To be imprisoned 12 years for that reason is outrageous," said the Cuban parliamentary leader in an address about the case during a forum last Friday that drew Cuban civil society organisations seeking the release of the Five.
Those attending the forum, which coincided with the International Day for Human Rights, Dec. 10, issued a call to support the Cuban Five by sending letters to the White House to convince President Obama to "make use of his powers" and order their release.
In support of the cause, U.S. author, academic and documentary filmmaker Saul Landau presented his film "Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up" in Havana. The documentary lays out a half-century of U.S. hostility towards Cuba, based on an abundance of documents and interviews, including interviews of anti-Castro Cuban exiles in the U.S.
Alarcón avoided discussing the possibility of trading the Cuban Five for Alan Gross, a U.S. citizen who on Dec. 3 reached the one-year mark in a Havana prison, with no legal charges filed against him. "They are two separate cases," said the parliamentary chief.
"In due time I suppose he will be apprised of the charges," Alarcón said, but noted that Gross had violated Cuba's national sovereignty and committed crimes that would meet heavy punishment in the United States. "His case will be treated in accordance with our laws in an appropriate way, respecting all proceedings," he said.
Gross is a contractor with ties to the U.S. Agency for International Development, which according to Cuban authorities is an institution that finances dissident groups in this Caribbean country. In particular, Gross is said to have brought satellite communication equipment into Cuba for the political opposition. Washington denies the allegations.
A recent statement from the U.S. State Department insisted that Gross travelled to Cuba to help members of the Jewish community there to connect with other communities in that country and around the world, and said his arrest is a major impediment to advancing dialogue between the two nations.