by the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban Five
A LEGAL UPDATE: THE CASE OF THE CUBAN FIVE
In September 1998, five Cuban men were arrested in Miami by FBI agents. Gerardo Hernandez, Ramón Labañino, Fernando Gonzalez, Antonio Guerrero and René Gonzalez were accused of the crime of conspiracy to commit espionage. The US government never accused them of actual espionage, nor did it affirm that real acts of espionage had been carried out, as no classified document had been confiscated from the Five. Their actual mission in the United States was monitoring the activities of the groups and organizations responsible for terrorist activities against Cuba. After the triumph of the Cuban revolution in 1959, Cuba had been the victim of more terrorist attacks than any other country in the world, killing 3,478 and injuring 2,099. The vastly majority of those attacks originated in southern Florida, by groups tolerated and partly financed by the US government.
After their arrest, the Five were immediately placed in solitary confinement, isolated from all other inmates for the entire 17 months of pretrial custody. For the first five months they were housed in separate cells isolated from each other as well as the other inmates. After those five months, a motion was filed by the defense asserting that their need to work on their defense was being compromised by the isolation. Four were then moved into the same single cell, with one kept housed alone, but they remained in the Special Housing Unit in isolation cells for all 17 months before their case was first brought before a court.
In spite of the vigorous objections raised by the Five’s defense, the case was tried in Miami, Florida, a community with a long history of hostility toward the Cuban government, which prevented them from receiving a fair trial.
The trial, which lasted over six months, became the longest trial in United States history. More than 119 volumes of testimony and over 20,000 pages of documents were compiled, including the testimony of three retired US Army generals and a retired admiral, who agreed that no evidence of espionage existed.
Near the trial’s conclusion, when the case was about to be handed to the jury for consideration, the US government recognized in writing that it had failed to prove the main charge against Gerardo Hernandez, conspiracy to commit murder, admitting that it was facing an “insurmountable obstacle” in connection with winning the case. This charge had been added seven months after Gerardo’s arrest. However, the jury, under intense pressure brought to bear on them by the local media and Cuban-American community, nonetheless found the Five guilty of all charges.
The Five were sentenced to a total of four life sentences plus 77 years and were imprisoned in five separate maximum security prisons spread across the US without the possibility of communication with each other.