End the Case of the Cuban Five

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As a follow-up to our blog on “La Colmenita” (the Cuban children’s youth theater) last week, today we are happy to host a guest blog post from Wayne Smith of the Center for International Policy and former chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana from 1979-1982.

End the Case of the Cuban Five
By Wayne S. Smith

The Cuban Five were not sent to the United States to spy on the American government or its personnel; rather, they were sent to penetrate Cuban exile organizations believed to be carrying on terrorist activities against Cuba. The idea, then, was to provide any evidence they developed to the FBI. This was done. In June of 1998, three representatives of the FBI were invited to Cuba and returned with 64 folders of evidence. The Cubans then waited for the United States to take action, but they waited in vain. Rather, apparently able to determine from the evidence who had provided it, the United States arrested the Cuban Five and in 2001 subjected them to a totally biased trial in Miami, a trial, moreover, in which the prosecution could present no evidence that the Five had engaged in espionage or any other crime (other than being unregistered agents). No evidence, so the prosecution simply charged them with “conspiracy” to commit illegal acts. That required no evidence. And so all were convicted in 2001 and given long prison sentences.

Three justices of the U.S. Court of Appeals overturned the Miami court’s conviction and ordered a new trial outside Miami. But the Bush Administration managed to have this overturned and the convictions upheld. 

Not surprisingly, the case has become an international cause célèbre, condemned as grossly unfair by 10 Nobel Prize winners, in 12 amicus briefs, and by hundreds of jurists and members of parliament from all over the world. And for the first time in history, the U.N. Human Rights Commission condemned a trial in the United States. 

Neither the Bush nor the Obama Administrations paid the slightest heed.

Then, on October 7, 2011, one of the Five, Rene Gonzalez, having served his time in prison, was released, but told he would have to remain in the United States for three years under observation, and thus would not be allowed to return to Cuba to see his wife and family, a wife he had not seen during all his years in prison.

Reportedly, the U.S. government has indicated it would allow Gonzalez to return to Cuba, provided the Cubans released Alan Gross, the American USAID contractor arrested in December of 2009 for distributing communications equipment without authorization and in August of this year sentenced to 15 years in prison. The Cubans have so far demurred. Hopefully, Gross will be released at some point for humanitarian reasons. 

A better way to bring about his release and to avoid future such arrests, and to bring an end to the case of the Cuban Five, would be for the United States to formally end any further programs “to promote democracy in Cuba” that do not follow normal diplomatic procedures and have host country authorization. The United States would lose almost nothing in the process, for these programs “to promote democracy” have achieved little – if anything at all – in terms of changing public opinion in Cuba. As someone said, they have been almost as useless as TV Marti.

And Rene Gonzalez should be allowed as quickly as possible to return to his wife and family – and indeed the remaining four of the Cuban Five should then be pardoned. Their incarceration achieves nothing in terms of U.S. interests and is a continuing blot on our country’s reputation for upholding the law, one that is condemned almost universally. We only lose by continuing to hold them. 

For the full report, see the Center for International Policy’s Brief of October 2011 entitled Again the Case of the Cuban Five, here.