Sixteen Years Is Too Long: Continuing the Fight Against the Lawless Case of the Cuban Five

By: Juan Acosta, Research Associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs

Sixteen years is too long. September 12th, 2014 marked sixteen years since the Cuban Five (Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Fernando González, Antonio Guerrero, and René González) were arrested and imprisoned in the United States on spurious, politically motivated charges. During the past week, the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban Five and the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) organized a series of events in Washington DC. These actions included a forum to discuss the case at Georgetown University; visits by advocates to over twenty Congressional and Senatorial offices; and a protest in front of the White House. The activities took place from September 11th through September 13th to garner support and demonstrate the ongoing solidarity for those who remain imprisoned. In addition to events in Washington, there were simultaneous acts of solidarity in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Miami, and Toronto, which vehemently condemned the United States government’s unjust infringement of the fundamental human rights of the Cuban Five.

The Cuban Five (two of which, René and Antonio, were born in the U.S. to Cuban parents) are Cubans who were arrested on September 12, 1998 on multiple charges, among them conspiracy to conduct espionage. However, the case can be made that these men should more properly be seen as heroes, not criminals. In 1997, there were a series of bombings at major Cuban hotels including Hotel Copacabana, Hotel Nacional de Cuba, and Meliá Cohiba Hotel, which resulted in the death Italian tourist, Fabio di Celmo. These terrorist attacks were an organized effort to deter tourism on the island perpetrated by extremist anti-Castro Cuban exiles based in Miami[i]. In June 1998, three months prior to their arrests, FBI agents visited Havana and were given a plethora of evidence that overwhelmingly linked terrorist attacks against Cuba to venomous anti-Castro Miamians such as Luis Posada Carriles[ii]. What the FBI did with the evidence is unclear. What is clear is that these five men attempted to gather intelligence to avoid subsequent violent terrorist attacks by Cuban expatriates living in Miami. Three months after the FBI’s visit to Havana, Gerardo, Antonio, René, Fernando, and Ramón were apprehended and thrown into solitary confinement for seventeen months as they awaited trial.

 The trial of the Cuban Five took place in Miami, a hotbed of anti-Castro Cubans, under conditions which undoubtedly impacted the outcome of the trial. Additionally, it was uncovered that the U.S. government hired local reporters to churn out a high volume of prejudicial articles against The Five. Although the highly charged atmosphere raised serious doubts about the ability of the jurors to be impartial, motions by the defense to move the venue of the trial were denied by the judge, Joan Lenard. Today, René and Fernando are with their families in Cuba after serving their sentences and being released, while Gerardo, Ramón, and Antonio remain in prison. When political differences hinder the spirit of justice, as is the case with the Cuban Five, it is monumental travesty for democracies everywhere.

COHA has previously written on The Cuban Five and firmly stands alongside the Free Five grassroots efforts to successfully garner international attention and call on Washington to take action and no longer ignore this issue. Larry Birns, Director of COHA, describes this case as “a blatant miscarriage of justice, something that President Obama could have remedied during his first month in office so his rhetoric about justice matched his practice.”

In 2005, the United Nations Group on Arbitrary Detention denounced the manner in which the case was handled, finding numerous problematic procedures in this case that deprived Cuban defendants of their liberties.[iii] In 2009, an amicus brief was filed before the Supreme Court by ten Nobel Prize laureates from around the world in an attempt to have the U.S. federal government intervene to correct this travesty of justice and salvage what remains of Gerardo, Ramón, and Antonio’s lives, but to little avail[iv]. It is unknown if the briefs were ever examined; all that is for certain is that the court threw out the petition and decided not to hear it. Additionally, Amnesty International published a report in 2010 concluding the manner in which the case was handled infringed upon the Cuban Five’s human rights[v].

The series of events organized in Washington D.C. to raise awareness of The Cuban Five culminated in a public meeting with distinguished speakers: José Ramon Cabañas (Chief of Cuban Interests Section in Washington D.C.), Yeidckol Polevnsky (former Vice President of the Mexican Senate), Piero Gleijeses (foreign policy professor at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University), and Stephen Kimber (Professor of Journalism at the University of King’s College in Halifax). The panel’s presence and words energized those who stand with Gerardo, Ramón, Fernando, Antonio, and René. In his brief speech, Mr. Cabañas lamented the fact that the lives of these men and their families have been negatively impacted forever because they got caught up in the toxic politics that have defined U.S.-Cuban relations for over half a century. In August 2013, Professor Kimber released a book entitled “What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of the Cuban Five,” which objectively details the accounts that transpired and concludes the dearth of substantial evidence against The Five was overwhelming. At the public meeting, Kimber, and many others, expressed outraged at the injustice of the harsh sentences, particularly in the case of Gerardo, who was given two life sentences plus fifteen years.

The conservative, pro-embargo Cuban-American bloc in South Florida should not intimidate any politician or their fellow Cuban-Americans from behaving ethically to usher in a time of peace and cooperation between the U.S. and Cuba and advocate for the immediate release of the Cuban Five. Tides are changing, however. There is a new generation of progressive Cuban-Americans who are opposed to the continued imprisonment of their Cuban brothers. The Obama administration should not be swayed by extremists in the U.S. Congress from hammering out a more rational policy towards Cuba. Nations in the hemisphere have a growing spirit of cooperation and mutual respect for Cuba and it is time the U.S. instituted policy that adheres to this international norm. A period of productive dialogue should begin by revisiting the case of the current Cuban Five prisoners (Gerardo, Ramón, and Antonio). The U.S. government is not saving face by ignoring this injustice for sixteen years. By not addressing the overwhelming international outcry, legislators and the President reinforce negative perceptions that Washington is morally bankrupt. The Obama administration has the ability to take a bold step in the right direction by acting now to free Gerardo, Ramón, and Antonio and begin the long overdue rapprochement with Cuba.

Please accept this article as a free contribution from COHA, but if re-posting, please afford authorial and institutional attribution. Exclusive rights can be negotiated. For additional news and analysis on Latin America, please go to: and Rights Action







4 thoughts on “Sixteen Years Is Too Long: Continuing the Fight Against the Lawless Case of the Cuban Five

  • September 20, 2014 at 9:37 am

    The lie behind the “5”
    Not “5” but 12.

    The “Five Cuban Heroes” proclaimed by the Cuban regime were actually part of a network of 12 spies that infiltrated the U.S. In addition to the five spies who maintained their innocence but were convicted in a jury trial (with no Cuban-American jurors), five pleaded guilty to charges of spying in exchange for reduced sentences, one was deported, and one fled to Cuba to escape arrest. The trials cost U.S. taxpayers
    one million dollars to provide the defendants with a free legal representation. An appeals court is reviewing the five spies’ conviction.

    Confirmed by the Cuban embassy in Syria:

    September 12: The FBI arrests a group of “Cuban spies at 5.30 A.M. they are members of the Wasp Net; they are named:René González, Antonio Guerrero, Luis Medina, Rubén Campa and Manuel Viramontes. Other names are given until reaching 10, among them two women, but according to the statements, the main ones, are the first mentioned.”

    a text that conveniently disappeared on thye new version of the site where the Wasp network was no longer mentioned when the site was unified with others:

    Cuba originally denied they were Cuban agents.

    The Cuban regime initially denied the five men were Cuban agents; it took almost three years, after the spies’ conviction, for the regime to acknowledge that the five spies were in fact acting under its orders and that they were “heroes.”

    Complicit in extra-judicial killing.

    The regime is silent on the fact that the ringleader of the spies, intelligence agent Gerardo Hernandez, was found guilty of being closely involved in the Cuban air force’s shoot-down of two civilian planes, over international waters, that resulted in the deaths of four persons.

    “The US government’s espionage case also became enmeshed with an incident that happened in February 1996, in which Cuban air force jets shot down two of three Cessna aircraft flying toward Havana. Four pilots, members of the anti-Castro exile group, Brothers to the Rescue, were killed. Several of the Wasp network agents had infiltrated Brothers to the Rescue, including Rene Gonzalez, the pilot. In addition to charges related to information-gathering and the sending of “nonpublic” information to a foreign power, Gerardo Hernandez was charged with contributing to the deaths of the four pilots for passing along to Cuban intelligence information about the group’s planned fly-over. Several other Cubans who were eventually indicted in the incident fled to Cuba before they could be arrested.”

    Spying on military installations.

    The object of the five’s spying was not solely the anti-Castro community in Miami, as the Cuban regime maintains. Among the U.S. military installations of particular interest to the five spies was the Central Command located in Tampa, which focuses on the Middle East and has no operational responsibilities for Latin America.

    Confirmed by one of the spies in the Avispa ring at her trial:

    “In Miami, the indictment states, Marisol Gari helped keep tabs on security at the CANF headquarters and helped manage another agent in his bid to get a job at Southcom, which oversees American military operations in the Caribbean and Latin America.

    Gari also is accused of preparing a report for her Cuban bosses comparing the costs of U.S. mail service, Federal Express and other mail handlers.”

    The Miami Herald September 14, 2001
    Lawyer: Accused spy to plead guilty

    “Alleged Cuban spies George and Marisol Gari, known in their intelligence-gathering cell as Luis and Margot, reported to at least two of the five spies convicted in June, U.S. Attorney Guy Lewis said Saturday.

    The FBI, meanwhile, said the low-profile couple arrested in Orlando on Friday also reported at times to alleged fugitive spy Ricardo Villareal, also known as Hector. “He is probably in Cuba,” said Judy Orihuela, spokeswoman for the FBI in Miami.

    A federal indictment — born out of the ongoing crackdown against La Red Avispa, or The Wasp Network, Cuban spy organization — accuses the couple of trying to gain access to mail going to the Cuban American National Foundation and attempting to infiltrate Miami-Dade County’s Southern Command.”

    Couple accused of reporting to two Cuban spies
    An indictment says George and Marisol Gari tried to gain access to CANF mail and Southern Command.
    Herald Staff Report. Published Sunday, September 2, 2001″

    “A husband and wife who lived in Miami for about eight years were arrested in Orlando on Friday and charged with being part of a now-dismantled Cuban spy ring — the latest salvo against Fidel Castro’s foreign espionage apparatus on U.S. soil.

    A federal indictment accuses George Gari, 41, and Marisol Gari, 42, of being agents for the Cuban Directorate of Intelligence who assisted in two primary goals: trying to infiltrate West Miami-Dade’s Southern Command headquarters and to penetrate the inner circles of the Cuban American National Foundation, a prominent Cuban exile group.

    The couple allegedly belonged to Cuba’s La Red Avispa, or Wasp Network, which the FBI busted in September 1998. Five high-ranking intelligence agents from the group were convicted on federal spying-related charges in June. Those men are awaiting sentencing.”

    Couple belonged to Cuba spy ring, FBI says
    Husband, wife are arrested in Orlando
    By Gail Epstein Nieves, Lesley Clark and Sara Olkon.
    Published Saturday, September 1, 2001


    But evidence showed that Labañino supervised other spies in their efforts to infiltrate U.S. military installations — an offense that U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard found worthy of the maximum punishment as recommended under federal sentencing guidelines.

    The proceedings continue today with the sentencing of spy René González.

    Labañino, in a politically charged 47-minute speech, said he and his fellow spies were defending Cuba’s interests by monitoring for a possible U.S. invasion and by countering exile-sponsored “terrorism” against the island.”

    The Miami Herald
    December 14, 2001
    2nd Cuban agent given life term for espionage

    “On 12 September 1998 the FBI arrested 10 people associated with the “La Red Avispa,” or the Red Wasp Network ring, including eight men and two women in their various south Florida residences. They were accused of spying on US military installations and anti-Castro exile groups in south Florida and transmitting this information to Cuba. Among the military installations the group attempted to infiltrate were the US Southern Command Headquarters in Miami, MacDill Air Force Base near Tampa, and Boca Chica Naval Air Station in Key West. The group’s goals included documenting activities, exercises, and trends at the installations; monitoring anti-Castro groups and disrupting their plans; and developing positions of vantage from which to warn Cuban intelligence of impending military strikes against Cuba.”

    “HERNANDEZ, LINDA and her husband NILO HERNANDEZ, 46, were members of the Wasp Network, a Cuban spy ring in south Florida. Linda, 43, was born in New York but returned to Cuba where she grew up and married Nilo. In 1983 the couple returned to the United States where he later became an American citizen. In 1992 they were “activated” as spies and ordered to move from New York to Miami. They were arrested on 12 September 1998 along with eight other members of the ring. [See also Gerardo Hernandez and Alejandro Alonso.] Linda was charged with attempting to collect information for the Cuban Intelligence Service by infiltrating a right-wing Cuban exile group called Alpha 66. Nilo counted aircraft at nearby Homestead Air Force Base and reported using a shortwave radio. Although the information they passed to Cuba was in the public domain, in a plea bargain, the pair pled guilty to acting as unregistered agents of a foreign government. Each was sentenced to seven years in prison in US District court in Miami on 23 February 2000.”

    For lots of data see:

  • September 23, 2014 at 9:47 am

    Dear Juan Acosta,

    thank you very much for this excellent and extensive article about the Five. Yes, there is an urgent need for spreading the word about the case.
    We, here in Germany, were so happy reading about your support and we didn’t forget that of Larry Birns formerly.
    By the way, there were even 10 Nobel Prize Winners having signed one of the “Amicus Brief” having been filed at the U.S. Supreme Court in March 2009, among them also Günter Grass.
    We felt so free as to translate your article parially into German, i.e. the last Part, beginning with “COHA has previously written on The Cuban Five and firmly stands alongside the Free Five grassroots efforts to successfully garner international attention and call on Washington to take action and no longer ignore this issue. Larry Birns, Director of COHA, describes this case as “a blatant miscarriage of justice, something that President Obama could have remedied during his first month in office so his rhetoric about justice matched his practice.”…

  • December 12, 2016 at 6:53 am

    Having read this I thought it was really enlightening.

    I appreciate you taking the time and effort to put this informative article together.
    I once again find myself personally spending a
    lot of timee both reading and commenting. But so what, it was
    still worthwhile!

  • January 19, 2017 at 4:19 am

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