The Guardian 21 September, 2005

Cuban 5: "Free them now"

WT Whitney

Its momentum growing, a rejuvenated worldwide mobil­isation is pressuring the Bush administration to release five Cuban men held unjustly in US jails. Millions are demanding that they be freed immediately. They are "kidnapped", Cuban National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon told interviewer Bernie Dwyer. "The abduction has to end — immediately, unconditionally", he said on September 5 in Havana.

Jailed since September 12, 1998, Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González, Ramón Labańino and René González learned on August 9 that a US appeals court had reversed their convictions and sentences. The US government had arrested and charged them with various crimes, including espionage in some cases, in connection with their efforts to monitor right-wing terrorist activity in the Miami area directed against Cuba.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals based its decision on the extreme bias evident at their trial resulting from its Miami location. Legal observers note that the court could have invalidated the trial on a number of other grounds, including a defence team deprived of necessary evidence. The Bush administration has put off for an extra month its announcement on any plans for appealing against the recent decision, thus prolonging the Five’s imprisonment. Alarcon said the Five waited over two years for their trial to begin, over three years for their appeal to be processed, and now face even more waiting.

Paul McKenna, Gerardo Hernández’s lawyer, could have been speaking for all five victims: "My client now is innocent. He shouldn’t be in prison. He should be out."

The Cuban Parliament opened its current session on September 2 with a declaration to the world’s people, parliaments and political organisations that called upon the US government to release the five men immediately. In an August 27 article, Alarcon imparts something of the urgency and intense determination with which his government views their current situation.

"It is of no consequence to the US government [that] a working group on arbitrary detention set up by the UN Human Rights Commission declared the incarceration of the five men since September 1998 arbitrary and illegal", he writes. "The time has come to shout it from the rooftops, to go on demanding their immediate release until it happens. ... Nothing more. Nothing less."

That message gained new force with the worldwide circulation of a petition demanding that all five prisoners go free. Nobel Prize recipients joined intellectuals and ordinary people to sign an open letter to US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

"For the past seven years, these five young men have been held in maximum security prisons; they have been held incommunicado in isolated cells for long periods of time and two of them have been denied the right to receive family visits", the letter states. "At this present time, considering the nullification of the sentence, nothing justifies their incarceration. This arbitrary situation which is extremely painful for them and their families cannot be allowed to continue."

For the full text of the petition or to sign it, visit

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