THE FORBIDDEN HEROES

Without Any Exception Whatsoever?

Venezuela’s formal request for the extradition of Luis Posada Carriles was well founded. There is an Extradition Treaty between Venezuela and the United States, ratified by both countries in 1922, which has been implemented for a century.
Venezuela followed the letter of the law, with its Supreme Court issuing an arrest warrant for the fugitive who had absconded from a Venezuelan prison in 1985. The Venezuelan government formally transmitted its extradition request to the United States government on June 15, 2005.

Remember Elian?

The case of Elian González, a six year-old boy forcefully retained by his unknown great-uncles against the will of his father and in clear defiance of US law and decency was widely reported by media around the world. Miami, the place of the kidnapping, became a kind of secessionist city in North America when the Mayor, the chief of police, the politicians, every newspaper and local radio and TV broadcasters, together with religious and business institutions, joined with some of the most notorious terrorist and violent groups in opposing the courts' and government's orders to free the boy.

Justice in Wonderland

Very early in the morning on Saturday, September 12th 1998, each media outlet in Miami was talking breathlessly about the capture of some “terrible” Cuban agents “bent to destroy the United States” (the phrase that prosecutors love so much and would repeat time and again during the entire process). “Spies among us” was the headline that morning. At the same time, by the way, the Miami FBI chief was meeting with Lincoln Díaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, representatives of the old Batista gang in the U.S. Congress.

The Face of Impunity

As they recognized during voir dire, the kidnapping of Elian González and its consequences for the community was very much in the minds of those chosen to be jurors at the trial of the Cuban Five a few months after the six-year-old boy was rescued by the federals.
Like everybody else they had followed the events related to Elian which saturated the news. The faces of the kidnapers, their promoters and supporters, as well as others involved in the scandal have become quite familiar to the jury members. The faces, and two features of the Elian drama with a unique character and a direct connection with the process of the Five Cubans.

In Their Own Words

The disproportionate prison terms imposed on the Cuban Five – Gerardo Hernandez Nordelo (2 life terms plus 15 years), Ramón Labañino Salazar (1 life term plus 18 years), Antonio Guerrero Rodríguez (1 life term plus 10 years), Fernando González Llort (19 years) and Rene Gonzalez Sehwerert (15 years) – contrast sharply with those applied in recent years in the United States on other persons accused of truly practicing espionage, sometimes at an uncommon scale, and even on some tied to violent armed actions against the United States. None of them was condemned to life sentences; all of them received lesser sentences than the Cuban Five, some have already served their sentences and are free and others, convicted of espionage, have had their charges withdrawn by the Obama administration and were set free.

"Spies" Without Espionage

The first indictment in September 1998 charged the Cuban Five of being unregistered Cuban agents and of other minor violations. The government also charged three of them--Gerardo, Ramón and Antonio--with “conspiracy to commit espionage” (Count Two of the indictment).
Prosecutors didn’t accuse any of them of actual espionage for a very simple reason: there was not such a thing and thus it could never be proven. The prosecutors went even farther. At their opening statement they warned the jury not to expect them to present any secrets or anything of that sort.

Indictment à la Carte

More than seven months after the Cuban Five were arrested and indicted a new charge was presented by the US Government. Again, the charge was one of “conspiracy”, but this time to commit murder in the first degree and was brought specifically against one of the Five, Gerardo Hernández Nordelo.
The new indictment came after a public campaign in Miami actively promoted by “journalists” on the US Government payroll, including reports about meetings in public places attended by well-known Cuban exile leaders, US prosecutors and FBI officials, in which the accusation against Gerardo was openly discussed. It became a clear demand by the most violent groups in town and was a central focus of the local media.

It Happened in Miami

The Court of the Southern District of Florida is not an international tribunal, neither is it a UN body having jurisdiction on matters affecting relations between countries. It has a very specific duty, which is to determine if a particular defendant is guilty or not of a concrete charge. In instructing the jury in the case of Gerardo Hernandez, the Court recalled the language of the Government’s indictment.

Pryor's Judgment

When the historic unanimous decision was reversed at the urging of George W. Bush's Attorney General (Remember Elian? CounterPunch, August 11, 2009), the same 3-judge panel was to hear the remaining issues other than venue, which had been the one upon which they had expressed their landmark opinion. However, in the meantime, one jurist, the oldest and most liberal, had retired and somebody else was designated to substitute for him. The one chosen for that role was a Bush recess appointee, William H. Pryor, whose nomination, described as “one of the most contentious in recent history”, had provoked uproar in the Senate, which confirmed him over the opposition of 45 Senators.

The Unheard Call

Having exhausted their appeal efforts, the Cuban Five petitioned the Supreme Court to review their case. They were not asking too much. It was a case deserving the attention of the Justices for a number of reasons, some of a really exceptional nature.
All along the legal process – one of the most prolonged at the time in American history – a number of constitutional rights were violated, as well rulings which contradicted with the holdings in other Circuits - which are considered to be the main business of the Justices - on important issues such as venue, racial discrimination in jury selection, sentencing, and defendants and defense lawyers’ rights.

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Who are they?

René González Fernando González Antonio Guerrero Ramón Labañino Gerardo Hernández

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