The Miami Five – an ongoing injustice

3 Aug

By Kath Campbell & Vicky Grandon

Overview

Unite is backing the campaign to bring freedom to the Miami Five and visitation rights to their families.

On 12th September 1998, the Miami Five – Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, René González, Antonio Guerrero and Fernando González – were arrested by the FBI in Miami while trying to stop right-wing groups carrying out terrorist attacks against the Cuban people.

They have been unfairly interned in the US since 1998; their wives and family are denied full visitation rights and they are often held in solitary confinement.

 

Scotland’s Support for the Miami Five

On Wednesday 9th May the Scottish Parliament hosted a historic debate on the Miami Five. The debate – believed to be the first time a national legislature outside Cuba has dedicated a whole parliamentary session to the issue of the Five – coincided with Glasgow hosting the Beyond the Frame exhibition of contemporary Cuban art.

The first ever debate on Cuba at Holyrood saw a resolution highlighting the Five moved by Labour MSP Elaine Smith, Convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross Party Group on Cuba.

Elaine Smith – speaking alongside MSPs from Labour and the SNP – told parliament that the Miami Five had suffered a “miscarriage of justice” and were innocent men being used by the U.S. as “pawns in a political game.”  Elaine called for an end to the 50-year old economic blockade of Cuba, declaring it a “Cold War relic that should be consigned to the dustbin of history.”  Elaine’s contribution and those that followed in the debate also discussed opposition to the U.S. blockade and championed greater cultural, economic and political co-operation between Scotland and Cuba.

The debate was attended not only by the Cuban Ambassador, Esther Armenteros, but Rosa Aurora Freijanes, wife of Fernando, and Antonio Guerrero, Antonio’s son. They also met many Scottish Trades Unionists throughout their time in Scotland.

Arthur West, Secretary of the Scottish Cuba Solidarity Campaign, welcomed the debate saying:

“This is a historic moment in the Miami Five campaign.  The fact that our Scottish Parliament, representing over five million people, has recognised the ongoing struggle for justice for the Five and their families, can only be regarded as a huge breakthrough.

It is testament to not only the growing acceptance of their right to freedom but also to all the work of the Cross-Party Group and the Solidarity Campaign.  This in itself has been made possible by the tremendous support of the trades unions in Scotland, including Unite who have been staunch supporters of the campaign.”

For over fifty years Cuba has endured ongoing terrorist attacks against Cuban people emanating primarily from dissident groups in Miami.

To save lives, Cuba sent five men to infiltrate and monitor these violent dissident groups. At the request of the U.S government, this information was passed to the FBI but – instead of arresting the terrorists – the Bureau used the information to identify and arrest the Miami Five.

Held in isolation, denied proper access to legal teams and tried in a hostile atmosphere which made it impossible to receive a fair trial, they were sentenced to a total of seventy-five years confinement. Compare this to the terrorist and former CIA-operative Luis Posada Carriles who – although responsible for the blowing up of a Cuban airliner in 1973 which killed seventy-six people – remains at liberty in America.

 

Trial of the Miami Five receives international condemnation

The questionable legal processes used for the arrest, trial and sentencing of the Miami Five has horrified NGOs and human rights campaigners from the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to Amnesty International .

In October 2010, Amnesty International published a report condemning the trial of the Miami Five and calling for a review of the case. Central to their criticism was the “underlying concern related to the fairness of holding the trial in Miami, given the pervasive hostility to the Cuban government in that area and media and other events before and during the trial . . . there was evidence to suggest that these factors made it impossible to ensure a wholly impartial jury.”

Amnesty raised serious concerns about the circumstances of the pre-trial detention of the five men which included sporadic solitary confinement and limited access to attorneys and evidence. As the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared in May 2005, this “undermined the equal balance between the prosecution and the defence.”

Amnesty’s report followed a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals which, in August 2005, unanimously overturned the convictions of the Miami Five on the ground that “pervasive community prejudice in Miami against the Castro government merged with other factors to prejudice their right to a fair trial.” The decision was promptly quashed by the US government.

Furthermore, recent evidence obtained through the US Freedom of Information Act demonstrates that the American government directly funded Miami-based journalists $125,000 to write and broadcast injurious articles and commentary before and during the trial. Despite overwhelming evidence, the Supreme Court has consistently refused to consider appeals on these grounds – even though similar cases have been granted a retrial.

Conditions of René’s release endanger his safety

On 7th October 2011, René González became the first of the Miami Five to be released from jail after serving thirteen years of unjust imprisonment. In jubilant and emotional scenes, René was greeted by the loving embrace of his two daughters, Irma and Ivette.  His wife, Olga Salanueva – who has been denied visitation visas throughout René’s incarceration – was unable to greet her estranged husband as she was forbidden from entering the territory of the USA.

Prior to his release, Judge Joan Lenard issued a directive which forces René to live in Florida for a further three years and which prohibits him “from associating with or visiting specific places where individuals or groups such as terrorists, members of organizations advocating violence, organized crime figures are known to frequent.” The irony is that Florida is home to the very terrorists that René was monitoring. He is unable to return to his homeland, his life is in danger from anti-Cuban terrorist organisations and – most tragically of all – he will be separated from Olga for three more years.

René’s safety is further threatened by inflammatory statements made by Cuban-born Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen who described González as an “enemy of America” with “blood on his hand” just days before his release.

 

Building the movement to Free the Five

The British trade union movement – and Unite in particular – has led the campaign to ‘Free the Five’, grant family visitation rights and allow René to return to his homeland.

An open letter to President Obama urged him “to intervene in this case and allow René to return to Cuba, rather than be forced to stay in Florida, which would not only be a cruel additional punishment but potentially threatening to his safety.”  The letter – along with various politicians and personalities – was signed by Len McCluskey and the general secretaries of 18 of Britain’s largest trade unions. This represents more than 4.7 million workers, or 80% of Britain’s unionised workforce.

UK-based NGO the Cuba Solidarity Campaign (CSC), in Scotland, the SCSC and Unite have been crucial in building the broadest possible alliance in support of family visitation rights, René’s return to Cuba and, ultimately, the release of the Miami Five. Cables released by WikiLeaks reveal that former Prime Minister Gordon Brown raised the case with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as a direct result of lobbying by CSC and Unite.

Any potential solution lies with the American government and the British movement in support of the Miami Five has been working closely with US unions – including the United Service Workers, the United Steel Workers and the Teamsters – to lobby key stakeholders in the Obama administration.

Former Unite General Secretary Tony Woodley spoke at the first trade union meeting in the U.S in support of the Miami Five last year and declared, “the Miami Five enjoy a great deal of support on the international level, but that is not the case inside the United States. Solidarity is absolutely crucial in this case and the political struggle will be decisive for the return of the Miami Five to Cuba.”

Unite also recently supported a CSC Miami Five stall at the SEIU conference in Denver. This is the first time that the issue of the Miami Five has had such a high profile at an American trade union conference.

In  June 2012, the wives of the Miami Five – Adriana Perez, Olga Salanueva, Elizabeth Palmiero and Rosa Freijanes – were special guests at Unite Policy Conference in Brighton. It was the first time the wives had visited the UK together and they were greeted to a standing ovation by over 800 delegates and visitors.

Elizabeth Palmiero – wife of imprisoned Cuban anti-terrorist Ramón Labañino – spoke on behalf of the wives and called on President Obama to intervene personally, saying, “The only thing our husbands are guilty of is protecting the Cuban people against terrorist attacks.

The case is political and there is no other way to resolve the injustice than building the pressure of international public opinion against the policies of the U.S. government.”

Conference adopted a motion to intensify support for the Miami Five, oppose the U.S blockade of Cuba and further increase the number of branches affiliated to the Cuba Solidarity Campaign. General Secretary Len McCluskey declared, “Unite will continue to give all the support needed until justice prevails.”

My plea to Unite members and beyond is simple.  As Rosa Freijanes said from the platform at Glasgow May Day 2012, “The Cuban people have resisted the illegal and punitive Blockade for over 50 years but the Miami Five are human beings and do not have another 50 years to survive – we must intensify the pressure on all our U.S contact to free them now.”

I hope readers will do just that and further strengthen this campaign.

 

Getting involved

Legal avenues in defence of the Miami Five have been virtually exhausted and only humanitarian intervention from President Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton can give justice to the five and their families. Public pressure to break the silence around this case is vital.

If the campaign in support of the Miami Five is to succeed, it requires resolute solidarity and concerted political will to raise the issue at the highest level both domestically and internationally. Everyone can play a role in achieving this, either as individual activists, or within unions, organisations or solidarity campaigns.

Here are some ways to support the Miami Five:

  • Unite, along with all its regions and over 100 branches are currently affiliated to the Cuba Solidarity Campaign. Many are also affiliated to the Scottish Cuba Solidarity Campaign. Affiliation for Union branches is only £20 a year.  Contact us  at: scottishcuba@yahoo.co.uk
  • Become an individual member of SCSC
  • Make an online donation to the campaign to Free the Five here
  • Support SCSC annual vigils  on the Miami Five in Glasgow and Edinburgh

As Wiki Leaks revelations show, actions like this have the potential to reach the highest level of US government. The freedom of the Miami Five will only be secured through collective political action across the broadest possible campaign. Until their release, the campaign will continue.

 

BREAKING NEWS: Dr Aleida Guevara, daughter of Che, will be speaking at a public meeting 7pm Friday 14 September at STUC, 333 Woodlands Road, Glasgow.

A benefit night for Cuba takes place at The Stand Comedy Club, beside the STUC on Wednesday 19 September 7:30pm. A special one day Latin American Conference will feature Cuba amongst other current issues on Sunday 02 December, also STUC.

Please contact us at the SCSC for tickets for all the above and encourage your branches to participate by buying tickets to distribute.

Kath Campbell is the Scottish Cuba Solidarity Campaign Co-ordinator.   Vicky Grandon is the Chair of the Scottish Cuba Solidarity Campaign.   Both are long-standing Unite members and activists.

Rosa Aurora Freijanes, wife of Fernando Gonzales, and Antonio Guerrero’s son, also Antonio, with the Unite Scotland activists at this year’s May Day Rally in Glasgow.

 

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