7 nov. 2014

A Prisoner Swap With Cuba

Reprinted from New York Times
  Nearly five years ago, authorities in Cuba arrested an American government subcontractor, Alan Gross, who was working on a secretive program to expand Internet access on the island. At a time when a growing number of officials in Washington and Havana are eager to start normalizing relations, Mr. Gross’s continued imprisonment has become the chief obstacle to a diplomatic breakthrough.
There is only one plausible way to remove Mr. Gross from an already complicated equation. The Obama administration should swap him for three convicted Cuban spies who have served more than 16 years in federal prison.
Officials at the White House are understandably anxious about the political fallout of a deal with Havana, given the criticism they faced in May after five Taliban prisoners were exchanged for an American soldier kidnapped in Afghanistan. The American government, sensibly, is averse to negotiating with terrorists or governments that hold United States citizens for ransom or political leverage. But in exceptional circumstances, it makes sense to do so. The Alan Gross case meets that criteria.
Under the direction of Development Alternatives Inc., which had a contract with the United States Agency for International Development, Mr. Gross traveled to Havana five times in 2009, posing as a tourist, to smuggle communications equipment as part of an effort to provide more Cubans with Internet access. The Cuban government, which has long protested Washington’s covert pro-democracy initiatives on the island, tried and convicted Mr. Gross in 2011, sentencing him to 15 years in prison for acts against the integrity of the state.
Early on in Mr. Gross’s detention, Cuban officials suggested they might be willing to free him if Washington put an end to initiatives designed to overthrow the Cuban government. After those talks sputtered, the Cuban position hardened and it has become clear to American officials that the only realistic deal to get Mr. Gross back would involve releasing three Cuban spies convicted of federal crimes in Miami in 2001.
In order to swap prisoners, President Obama would need to commute the men’s sentences. Doing so would be justified considering the lengthy time they have served, the troubling questions about the fairness of their trial, and the potential diplomatic payoff in clearing the way toward a new bilateral relationship.
The spy who matters the most to the Cuban government, Gerardo Hernández, is serving two life sentences. Mr. Hernández, the leader of the so-called Wasp Network, which infiltrated Cuban exile groups in South Florida in the 1990s, was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder. Prosecutors accused him of conspiring with authorities in Havana to shoot down civilian planes operated by a Cuban exile group that dropped leaflets over the island urging Cubans to rise up against their government. His four co-defendants, two of whom have been released and returned home, were convicted of nonviolent crimes. The two who remain imprisoned are due for release relatively soon.
A three-judge panel on the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit overturned the convictions in August 2005, ruling that a “perfect storm” of factors deprived the five defendants of a fair trial. The judges found that widespread hostility toward the Cuban government in Miami and pretrial publicity that vilified the spies made it impossible to impanel an impartial jury. The full court later reversed the panel’s finding, reinstating the verdict. But the judges raised other concerns about the case that led to a reduction of three of the sentences.
One of the judges, Phyllis Kravitch, wrote a dissenting opinion arguing that Mr. Hernández’s murder-conspiracy conviction was unfounded. Prosecutors, she argued, failed to establish that Mr. Hernández, who provided Havana with information about the flights, had entered into an agreement to shoot down the planes in international, as opposed to Cuban, airspace. Downing the planes over Cuban airspace, which the exiles had penetrated before, would not constitute murder under American law.
Bringing Mr. Hernández home has become a paramount priority for Cuba’s president, Raúl Castro. Cuban officials have hailed the men as heroes and portrayed their trial as a travesty. Independent entities, including a United Nations panel that examines cases of arbitrary detentions and Amnesty International, have raised concerns about the fairness of the proceedings. The widespread view in Cuba that the spies are victims has, unfortunately, emboldened Cuba to use Mr. Gross as a pawn.
For years, officials in Washington have said that they would not trade the Cuban spies for Mr. Gross, arguing that a trade would create a false “equivalency.”
But a prisoner exchange could pave the way toward re-establishing formal diplomatic ties, positioning the United States to encourage positive change in Cuba through expanded trade, travel opportunities and greater contact between Americans and Cubans. Failing to act would maintain a 50-year cycle of mistrust and acts of sabotage by both sides.
Beyond the strategic merits of a swap, the administration has a duty to do more to get Mr. Gross home. His arrest was the result of a reckless strategy in which U.S.A.I.D. has deployed private contractors to perform stealthy missions in a police state vehemently opposed to Washington’s pro-democracy crusade.
While in prison, Mr. Gross has lost more than 100 pounds. He is losing vision in his right eye. His hips are failing. This June, Mr. Gross’s elderly mother died. After he turned 65 in May, Mr. Gross told his loved ones that this year would be his last in captivity, warning that he intends to kill himself if he is not released soon. His relatives and supporters regard that as a serious threat from a desperate, broken man.
If Alan Gross died in Cuban custody, the prospect of establishing a healthier relationship with Cuba would be set back for years. This is an entirely avoidable scenario, as Mr. Obama can easily grasp, but time is of the essence.(Nov. 3, 2014)

The New York Times also published this timeline to help readers understand the two cases.

23 oct. 2013

Washington Post: The Cuban Five were fighting terrorism. Why did we put them in jail?

By Stephen Kimber

Consider for a moment what would happen if American intelligence agents on the ground in a foreign country uncovered a major terrorist plot, with enough time to prevent it. And then consider how Americans would react if authorities in that country, rather than cooperate with us, arrest and imprison the U.S. agents for operating on their soil.
Those agents would be American heroes today. The U.S. government would move heaven and Earth to get them back.

21 feb. 2013



                            Critic of art Gilbert Brownstone (I) y Gerardo Hernández, in Victorville prison, CA, EEUU.

The Los Angeles-based Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law has initiated several requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) seeking access to records that may show (1) what the U.S. Government knew about the likelihood for a confrontation between Cuba and Brothers to the Rescue (BTTR) planes that were routinely taking off from Florida after filing false flight plans and penetrating Cuban airspace in 1995-96, and (2) what the U.S. Government could have done to prevent the February 24, 1996 incident in which a Cuban MiG shot down two Brothers to the Rescue planes that had illegally penetrated Cuban airspace.

This interview was conducted on February 8, 2013 by the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5 with Peter Schey, President of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law and lead counsel in the FOIA cases.

IC: When did the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law file a federal lawsuit seeking documents from the U.S. National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA)?

8 sept. 2012

Rev. Joan Brown Campbell Joins the International Campaign and Sends a Message to Obama

September 12th will mark the 14th anniversary of the unfair imprisonment of the 5 Cuban Patriots. On the 5th of this month, joining thousands of people from all over the world, Rev. Joan Brown Campbell is sending a letter to President Obama asking him to release the Cuban 5.

Dr. Campbell was the first woman to be Associate Executive Director of the Greater Cleveland Council of Churches; the first woman to be Executive Director of the U.S. office of the World Council of Churches; the first ordained woman to be General Secretary of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA; and today, she is the first woman Director of Religion at the historic Chautauqua Institution. Dr. Campbell is truly a “first woman.” In every job she has held, she was the first woman to carry that responsibility.

As General Secretary of the National Council of Churches of Christ, Dr. Campbell played a crucial role in the fight for the return of 6 year old Elian Gonzalez to Cuba in 2000.


September 5, 2012

Dear President Obama,

Today I joined with thousands of people from all over the world to ask you for a humanitarian gesture to allow 5 Cuban men, four of them in US prisons and one under supervised probation to return home to their loved ones.

In December of last year a delegation led by the Reverend Dr. Michael Kinnamon, Former General Secretary of the US National Council of Churches of Christ visited Cuba. They held a number of important meetings including one with the Council of Churches of Cuba. In these meetings they shared days of pray and reflection. They then issued a joint statement in which they committed to work towards the normalization of the relations between the US and Cuba. The relationship between the U.S. National Council of Churches and the Cuban Council is 70+ years old and predates the revolution.

16 abr. 2012

April 17-21, 5 Days of Activities for the Cuban 5 in Washington DC

Contact: Nancy Kohn 617-504-9773 nancybkohn@gmail.com
Alicia Jrapko 510-219-0092 ajrapko@yahoo.com
Supporters of Changing Relations with Cuba and for the Freedom of the Cuban Five to Converge on Washington, DC
“5 Days for the Cuban 5″ April 17-21

Partial list of endorsers include Father Miguel D´Escoto, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Noam Chomsky, Danny Glover, Oliver Stone, Michael Moore, Cindy Sheehan, Angela Davis, Gayle McLaughlin, National Lawyers Guild, Center for Constitutional Rights, National Network on Cuba, the School of the Americas Watch, IFCO/Pastors for Peace, Global Exchange, Alianza Martiana, William C. Velazquez Institute, and more….

People from all over the U.S. along with international representatives will be in the U.S. Capitol for five days of events in April aimed at bringing about awareness of the failed 50 year old policy that this country has had towards Cuba with the demand to change it. The events will focus on various topics such as the blockade, the travel ban and the case of the Cuban Five who are serving long sentences in U.S. prisons. These men, considered heroes in Cuba, were in the U.S. monitoring the activities of anti-Cuba terrorist groups operating in Southern Florida. Activities of the week will include city wide outreach, public meetings, film showings and a day of lobbying the Congress and Senate.

As part of the five days of activities, on April 20, at 6pm, an evening event entitled “Obama Give me Five” will take place at the Festival Center, 1640 Columbia Road, NW. Known personalities will raise the obstacles to the improvement of relations with the island nation and how that could change. Keynote Speaker: Dolores Huerta, President, Dolores Huerta Foundation, co-founder United Farm Workers. Other speakers include Wayne Smith, former chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, James Early, Director, Cultural Heritage Policy, Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage at the Smithsonian Institution, Jose Pertierra, Immigration Attorney, who represents the government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in the case of Luis Posada Carriles’s extradition, and others.
Also, on Saturday April 21st at 1pm people on buses from New York City will be joining organizations from the DC area for a rally at the White House to Tell Obama: Free the Cuban 5.

Supporters will travel from cities across the United States, Europe and Canada to participate in the 5 days of activities, including Dr. Norman Paech, expert in International Law, ex member of Parliament, Germany; Peace activist Cindy Sheehan; Salim Lamrani, French researcher and professor; actor Willy Toledo from Spain, Stephen Kimber and Arnold August from Canada and many others.

The “5 Days for the Cuban 5 in Washington D.C.” was initiated by the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5.

The International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5 is a network of concerned citizens from several countries of Europe, Latin America and from the United States. The main objective of the International Committee is to raise awareness about the case of the Cuban 5

For more information about the Cuban 5 visit www.thecuban5.org

17 ene. 2012

Amnesty International Labels as Unfair the trial of the Cuban Five

In its Report 2011, Amnesty International made a reference again to the case of the five Cubans imprisoned in the United States.  In this occasion the case is included in the section dedicated to the United States in the segment of Unfair Trials. It is important to point out that it is the only trial classified by Amnesty International as UNFAIR in the United States.
Annual Report 2011 (http://www.amnesty.org/en/region/usa/report-2011)
United States of America
Unfair trials (http://www.amnesty.org/en/region/usa/report-2011#section-155-9)
In June, a new appeal was filed in the case of Gerardo Hernández, one of five men convicted in 2001 of acting as intelligence agents for Cuba and related charges. The appeal was based, in part, on evidence that the US government had secretly paid journalists to write prejudicial articles in the media at the time of trial, thereby undermining the defendants’ due process rights. In October, Amnesty International sent a report to the Attorney General outlining the organization’s concerns in the case.

15 dic. 2011

Cuban Five prisoners are not alone

by: W. T. Whitney Jr. , People’s World
December 2011
The end of the year is a fitting time to step up correspondence with Gerardo Hernandez, Fernando Gonzalez, Ramon Labiñino and Antonio Guerrero, in jail now for 13 years. Their cause is just: they are serving cruel sentences in U.S. federal prisons for defending the Cuban people from U.S. terrorism.
The prisoners appreciate the vigorous worldwide campaign on their behalf. Nevertheless, as their years in jail mount, they need reminders that they’re not forgotten, that they are not alone, and that our support does not waver.
Here’s how to address letters to the prisoners:
Gerardo Hernandez, No. 58739-004, U.S.P. Victorville, P.O. Box 5300, Adelanto, CA 92301
Antonio Guerrero Rodríguez, No. 58741-004, FCI Florence, P.O. Box 6000, Florence, CO, 81226
To write to Fernando Gonzalez, address the envelope: Rubén Campa, No. 58733-004, FCI Terre Haute, P.O. BOX 33, Terre Haute, IN, 47808. (But address the letter inside to Fernando.)
To write to Ramón Labañino, address the envelope: Luis Medina, No. 58734-004, FCI Jesup, 2680, 301 South, Jesup, GA 31599. (But address the letter inside to Ramon.)
Rene Gonzalez recently left prison, because he finished his term. He is unable to receive letters because the location in Florida where he is serving probation is undisclosed.

18 oct. 2011

US Celebrities ask Obama for the Immediate return of Rene Gonzalez to Cuba

Edward Asner, Jackson Browne, James Cromwell, Mike Farrell, Danny Glover, Susan Sarandon, Peter Coyote, Bonnie Raitt, Elliott Gould, and Others Send Letter to President Obama for the Safety and Immediate Return of One of the Cuban 5, Rene Gonzalez to Cuba.
(Oakland, CA-October 11, 2011) Several concerned US actors and artists sent a letter today to President Obama asking for Rene Gonzalez’s immediate and safe return to his wife and family in Cuba. The letter is part of the Actors and Artists United for the Freedom of the Cuban 5 campaign.
Gonzalez was arrested in 1998 and sentenced to 15 years of imprisonment on conspiracy to act as a non-registered foreign agent. On Oct. 7th Gonzalez was released after serving his sentence, but a South Florida district judge denied his return to his homeland. “Not only is the order to serve an additional 3 years of parole in the US extraordinary and punitive, it is the kind of gratuitous insult that further aggravates the unnecessary tension between the US and Cuba. It only adds injury to insult that the separation of this family be extended for another 3 years,” states the letter.
During Rene Gonzalez’s 13 years in federal prison, the US government denied his wife Olga Salanueva, entry visas to visit him. The letter to President Obama points out that if Gonzalez remains in the US, his life will be in danger from organizations whose entire mission is premised on the violent overthrow of the Cuban government. The actors and artists ask President Obama; “How, sir, can Mr. Gonzalez’s safety be ensured in the middle of an environment that generates so much insecurity?”