On April 13, as a sign of a political opening, Obama lifted the restrictions that his predecessor, George W. Bush, had placed on Cuban-Americans’ ability to freely send remittances back home and to visit their relatives on the island. He also relaxed rules governing the activities of the U.S. telecommunications industry there. Council for Hemispheric Affairs article “The Cuban Five: A Starkly Controversial Case that Obama Cannot Ignore” considers these gestures to be modest and minimal, serving more to sustain the U.S.-Cuba standoff rather than to end it. However, Obama’s actions are still perceived as significant for opening discussions on the 1998 espionage case involving the apprehension and trial of the Cuban Five.
The Cuban Five —Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González, and René González— attracted brief media attention in the U.S. in 1998 after the FBI agents obtained evidence that they formed part of a fourteen-member group called La Red Avispa [Wasp Network] that was engaged (since the early 1990s) in illegal espionage activities against violent anti-Castro organizations based in Florida, such as Brothers to the Rescue. Although these men pleaded not guilty to charges ranging from false identification to accusations of conspiracy to commit murder, they remain imprisoned after being found guilty by a jury.
On May 27, 2005, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention of the UN Committee of Human Rights in Geneva stated that “the deprivation of liberty of the Cuban Five is arbitrary, being in contravention of article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.” Supporters of the Cuban Five sent an open letter addressed to President Bush and to Mr. Alberto Gonzales asking for the annulment of the Cuban Five’s sentences because of the pervasive biased atmosphere during the trial in Miami-Dade. The letter was signed by political leaders, artists, and scholars such as Bishop Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Nadine Gordimer, Rigoberta Menchú, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, José Saramago, Noam Chomsky, Alice Walker, Harold Pinter, and Günter Grass.
U.S. government continues to face intense international criticism for having committed human rights violations that were allegedly carried out before and during the course of the trial, which itself has been riddled with accusations of prejudice, perplexing irregularities, and violations of justice. The defendants were denied visitation with their families, had limited communication with their lawyers, and were also subjected to seventeen months of solitary confinement during the trial. The fate of the five now lies in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court, which is due to decide in 2010 whether it will hear the defendants’ appeal.
For full details of the trail and a detailed chronology of events surrounding the “Cuban Five” case, see http://www.coha.org/2009/05/the-cuban-five-a-starkly-controversial-case-that-obama-cannot-ignore/
For photos of the Cuban Five and their families, see http://www.thecuban5.org/
Image by Manuel Fernández Matagón from, http://www.escambray.cu/Eng/opinion/Ostruggle0812261131.html