A hot topic among the country’s Marxist political parties in recent weeks has been “The Cuban Five.” Cuban nationals Fernando González, René González, Antonio Guerrero, Gerardo Hernández, and Ramón Labañino were arrested in 1998 on 26 charges, including espionage and conspiracy, for their intelligence gathering activities focused on anti-Castro groups based in Miami. Four of them were also accused and convicted of spying activities at American military bases. This past June 4th, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta upheld the convictions of the Five, calling their claims of innocence “meritless.”
The National Committee to Free the Cuban Five is a coalition of various left-wing, Latino nationalist and peace groups committed to the defense of the Five in the courts as well as on the street and in the media. Here’s how they tell the Five’s story:
At the trial there was not a single page of classified information produced showing evidence of espionage or any action directed against the US government. The frame-up charges were packaged as a necessarily vague “conspiracy” to, as the prosecutor actually put it to the jury, “destroy the United States of America.” In the period of 17 months between arrest and trial, the five Cubans were subjected to brutal conditions of solitary confinement and near-total isolation to hinder the preparation of their defense. This psychological torture was aimed at breaking their will, in blatant violation of their rights under US law. The hope was to break their spirit and force “confessions” to the trumped-up “conspiracy” charges. But this failed and the trial was finally held in November 2000. They were convicted in June 2001.
The truth is that the Cuban Five infiltrated ultra-right Cuban-American organizations, with a clear history of terrorist attacks organized on US soil against the sovereign Cuban state in violation of US law. Over 3,500 Cuban citizens have died in such attacks since the Cuban Revolution triumphed against the Batista dictatorship in 1959. Many tens of billions of dollars worth of damage have been done to the Cuban economy. These attacks stepped up in the mid-1990s as the Cuban economy reeled from an economic depression. Tourist hotels were bombed resulting in death and destruction. Low flying planes originating from US territory in violation of US law repeatedly violated Cuban airspace. Only after the Cuban government presented clear evidence of such terrorist and criminal activities and repeatedly implored, to no avail, the Clinton Administration to do something about it did the Cuban Five carry out its courageous and dangerous work which the record shows saved lives in Cuba.
The Committee’s national coordinator is Gloria La Riva, this year’s Party for Socialism and Liberation presidential nominee and a past candidate for various other offices. This coming Saturday, a “working conference” will be held in New York City to plan grassroots action in response to latest court decision.
While Marxist parties are well known for factionalism and splits, it’s interesting to note that several parties competing against each other for the Socialist vote are working together either as members of the conference committee or through their respective informational apparatuses. It should also be noted that most groups agitating for support for the Five also contrast their case with that of Posada Carilles, an anti-Castro Venezuelan considered a terrorist by the Cuban and Venezuelan governments, who’s currently walking free in the United States.
Here’s a rundown:
The Communist Party USA, which still maintains some ties with the Communist Party of Cuba, has supported the Five for some time. Speaking in 2004, National Chair Sam Webb commented “We really need to have the same combative spirit as those five heroes.” He continued: “It is ironic that these men should be fighting against terrorism and find themselves imprisoned in the ‘age of combating terrorism.'” Yesterday, the CPUSA put out an official statement regarding the June 4th decision, stating in part:
The Communist Party condemns the U.S. government for its complicity with this terror campaign. We view that government judges included as party to continuing persecution of the Cuban Five. They have, in fact, put the Cuban revolution in the dock. The valor and idealism of our brothers who are in jail exemplify revolutionary ideals.
We take to heart Gerardo Hernandez’ words in response to this skewed decision: “This is the same system that has unjustly incarcerated Mumia for more than 20 years along with Leonard Peltier and the Puerto Rican political prisoners” He asserts that, “We will endure as many years as necessary,” adding that, “As long as one of you is resisting, we will also resist until there is justice.” We resist too.
The CPUSA is taking part in the working conference committee.
The Freedom Socialist Party is also a member of the conference committee and has previously issued statements in support of the Five, referring to their convictions as a “kangaroo court” that found them guilty on “trumped up charges.”
The Party for Socialism and Liberation has been quite prolific in its support for the Five. The party has regularly followed the then-pending appeal and published articles by Gloria La Riva and others supporting a new trial and their eventual acquittal. On June 6th, the PSL was represented at pro-Five demonstrations in Los Angeles, New York, Seattle and D.C. The PSL maintains strong ties with the ANSWER coalition, which has also militated for the Five. La Riva will be a speaker at the Saturday NYC event, which counts the PSL and ANSWER as conference committee members.
Socialist Action has also supported the Five for quite some time, hosting rallies supporting them and currently endorsing previous protests by the umbrella National Committee. Though their website updates somewhat infrequently, the last issue of their party e-zine did call attention to Saturday’s event in their activist calendar.
The Socialist Equality Party has kept uncharacteristically mum on the topic of the Five, but they haven’t escaped all notice. Bill Van Auken, the party’s 2004 presidential candidate and 2006 New York senatorial candidate mentioned the Five in closing an article regarding Posada Carriles, referring to them as “framed up.”
Washington has enacted laws that have expanded mandatory prison sentences, authorized preventive detention without bail on the basis of secret evidence, restricted appeal rights, and expanded the use of the death penalty. Prison lockdowns and solitary confinement have increasingly become the norm.
The five men were convicted based on evidence collected through secret, warrantless searches of their homes-a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable search and seizure.
The FBI burglars couldn’t dig up evidence to frame them up for any serious offense. So the government resorted to conspiracy charges, a notorious frame-up weapon wielded by bosses against militant workers.
The SWP is also a member of the working conference committee and was represented at June 6th rallies in Seattle and Washington, DC.
The Workers World Party has long supported the Cuban Five and is a member of the working conference committee. Through their Workers World newsletter, party members have characterized the men as heroes and victims of biased legal proceedings. One piece by the WWP’s 2004 vice-presidential candidate Teresa Gutierrez, captures the tone of the party’s attitude towards the Five in referring to an earlier favorable opinion from the 11th Circuit:
There have been many outstanding declarations pointing out the unfair and unjust trial of the Cuban Five and many in favor of freeing the Five. These include, the ambassador said, the UN Arbitrary Detentions Report and the ruling by nine of the judges from the 11th Circuit of Appeals. But today, he said, there is â€œa new situation.â€ Legal options are almost exhausted.
It is now ever more important for everyone to continue to demand justice for the Five. Their families are denied visas to visit them, Ambassador Malmierca Diaz reminded the crowd.
“Nothing or nobody will make the Five give upâ€ he said. The work to free the Five must continue. â€œYour work in spreading the truth is vital.”