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----- Original Message -----
Sent: Wednesday, December 12, 2001 1:49 PM
Subject: [CubaNews] Day 1: Sentencing of Miami 5

Via NY Transfer News * All the News That Doesn't Fit

Report on Day 1 of the Miami 5 Sentencing

source - Karen Wald <[EMAIL PROTECTED]>


By Gloria La Riva

Miami, December 11--The case of five Cuban political prisoners in the
U.S. reached a critical stage as their sentencing hearings opened
today in federal district court here in Miami.

Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labanino, Antonio Guerrero, René González
and Fernando González were unjustly convicted by the U.S. government
in June for defending their country of Cuba from right-wing terrorist
groups based in Miami.

Although charged with espionage on the United States, the Cubans
showed in trial that they were only monitoring the actions of
notorious terrorist groups that have operated with impunity for more
than 43 years from U.S. soil.

Organizations like Omega 7, Alpha 66, Cuban American National
Foundation, and Brothers to the Rescue are responsible for a long
history of assassinations, plane bombings, and biological warfare
against Cuba and its people. Since the triumph of the Cuban
revolution in 1959, the CIA has actively trained, funded, directed
and sustained these fascist elements as part of the U.S.s
longstanding war against Cuba.

Instead of the terrorists being tried and imprisoned, the U.S.
government has conducted an aggressive campaign against Cubans who
have secretly infiltrated the Miami groups with the aim of preventing
future terrorist acts against Cuba. After a two-year FBI secret
investigation, the five men were arrested on September 12, 1998 in
pre-dawn arrests in the Miami area.

Today, as the old federal courthouse in downtown Miami opened for the
sentencing phase, we knew we were witnessing an extraordinary
injustice against the five Cuban patriots, who are very likely to
receive long prison terms. Despite committing no crime, and in fact
acting selflessly and heroically, they face many years in U.S.
federal prison.

In Cuba they are highly regarded as heroes who defended their people
by taking on the dangerous duty of infiltrating the terrorist groups
in Miami. Known simply as Ramón, Gerardo, Fernando, René and Antonio
to the Cuban people, their struggle while in U.S. detention has been
covered extensively on the Cuban media. Since their conviction in
June the demand for their freedom has been evoked in mass rallies
held in Cuba every Saturday.

The first days court session was held to address the common issues
facing all five defendants. In subsequent days each Cuban will
receive their individual sentences according to their convictions.
Hernández is the first to be sentenced, and Antonio Guerreros case
will be heard on Dec. 27.

The mothers of four of the Cubans were present in the court, having
flown in from Cuba to support their sons. Rene Gonzalez's 16-year-old
daughter, Irma, also came. But in an act of cruel insensitivity, the
U.S. government may only grant Ramon Labanino's wife Elizabeth an
entry visa to the U.S. two days after he is sentenced. Labanino's
mother is deceased.

The initial discussions focused on the defense attorneys request that
Judge Joan Lenard consider mitigating factors and lessen the
sentences of the five. It was an extremely technical exchange of
legal arguments between defense and prosecutors revolving around
federal guidelines for sentencing. All face a possibility of ten
years for failure to register as a foreign agent.

Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labanino and Antonio Guerrero also face
possible life in prison for conspiracy to commit espionage, although
the government failed during trial to prove any conspiracy or
espionage on the U.S. At one point, William Norris, attorney for
Labanino, raised again his objection to the governments use of secret
evidence to convict on conspiracy. Norris said, We dont know what the
top secrets are, or how the government arrived at its secrecy.

Hernández faces a second life sentence for an even more outrageous
charge of conspiracy to commit murder, related to the deaths of the
four Brothers to the Rescue pilots who invaded Cuban airspace and
were shot down by Cuba. Despite numerous warnings by the Cuban
government and official notification to the U.S. over the continued
violation of Cubas territory, Brothers refused to stop its incursions
until Cuba shot down the plane.

Although Hernández is convicted for conspiracy in their deaths by the
monitoring of Brothers to the Rescue, it was well known and
documented that the announced flights that day by Brothers would
result in Cubas decisive action.

Joaquin Méndez, attorney for Fernando González, gave the main
arguments for the reduction of sentence, using two main factors for
all five men. He cited legal provisions that allow for downward
departure if a defendant commits an act, to prevent a greater harm.
Thats the general principle with respect to all our defendants.

He showed, for example, that Fernando González was indeed involved in
keeping an eye on activities of persons who have engaged in acts of
violence against Cuba and Cubas leaders, and cited the case of
Orlando Bosch as one of those persons whom González was monitoring.

Bosch, an infamously known CIA operative, is responsible for the
bombing deaths of 73 civilian passengers on a Cubana airlines flight
on October 6, 1976. When the U.S. Justice Department acted to deport
him from the U.S. for his heinous crimes, the senior George Bush
signed a presidential pardon in 1990. Bosch lives freely in Miami.

Later in the three-hour hearing, attorneys for the five asked the
court to take into account the 18 months that the Cubans spent in the
Security Housing Unit (SHU), notorious isolation cells that are now
common to many U.S. prisons.

Again, Méndez was hard-hitting in his description of the cells
inherent cruelty, and the injustice of the men being relegated to the
hole for absolutely no reason. He emphasized that in three years of
Miami detention, the five had never been accused of causing any
problem to warrant isolation.

They were in cells three meters long and two meters wide, no company,
no contact with the outside world, said Méndez.

To U.S. prosecutor John Kastrenakes

arrogant claim that no psychological or physical injury was caused by
the SHU, Méndez responded angrily, They spent 18 months in solidarity
confinement. You dont touch anyone. You cant put your daughter on
your lap; you speak through Plexiglas one inch thick. 18 months
without the warmth of human contact. Do we need an affidavit to show
these conditions are deplorable?

Even with the most persuasive arguments by the five Cubans lawyers
and their principled and forthright defense, it cannot erase the
greatest injustice of all: that the companeros were convicted for
devoting their lives to combating terrorism against their country and
people. They were convicted based on an aggressive U.S. government
persecution and secret evidence that could never be challenged, the
refusal of the judge to allow for a change of venue, and other legal
violations.

Throughout their imprisonment, trial and now sentencing, they have
held their heads high. They express complete solidarity with each
other and regard each other as brothers. As they walked into todays
session, they smiled warmly to their mothers and supporters in the
front rows. It was very moving to see them together in court for the
first time.

At sessions end, after Lenard reviewed the procedure for sentencing
in coming days, she asked each Cuban if they wanted to attend each
others hearing. Of course, they said yes without hesitation. She
said, I anticipated that. She had already made arrangements for their
joint appearances.

Their fearless conduct has conveyed a clear message. They have
nothing to regret, nothing to renounce. With such belief in their
revolution that they would defend it in the most reactionary circles
in Miami, with such unwavering support of the entire Cuban people and
leadership, with the solidarity that they are inspiring in the U.S.,
Gerardo, Rene, Ramon, Fernando and Antonio are bound to some day win
justice.

[Gloria La Riva and photojournalist Bill Hackwell are in Miami to
show solidarity with the Cuban patriots during their sentencing. They
are representing the National Committee to Free the Five Cuban
Political Prisoners Held in U.S. Prison, which has initiated a
nationwide campaign to spread awareness of their struggle and to
organize political support for their freedom. For information on how
to get involved, contact: [EMAIL PROTECTED] ]

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