The Cuban “Miami Five”
Jailed in the US for fighting terrorism
By Jorge Martin
On June 16 and 17, 1998, the Cuban authorities, in an exchange with the FBI
handed over a huge amount of material related to anti-Cuban terrorist activities
conducted from US territory, including 230 pages of documents, five videos of
material broadcast on US TV about terrorist activities against Cuba and eight
audio cassettes containing 2 hours and 40 minutes of conversations between
jailed central American terrorists and their contacts outside.
Less than two months later, on September 12, the FBI, in early morning raids
arrested five Cubans in Miami. Were they related to terrorist activities against
Cuba? Quite the opposite, they were Cuban agents working to infiltrate the
anti-Cuban terrorist groups based in Miami and they had also participated in the
gathering of the information passed on to the FBI.
This was the beginning of a protracted legal case against these five people
now known as the “Miami Five”. The case is one of injustice, political
manipulation of the justice system and one that exposes the hypocrisy of Bush’s
so-called “war on terrorism”. And this is probably the reason why you have
not heard anything about it in the mainstream media.
The Miami Five, Gerardo Hernández Nordelo, Ramón Labañino Salazar, René
González Sehwerert, Fernando González Llort and Antonio Guerrero Rodríguez,
have all been given the longest possible sentences for the “crimes” they are
accused of. Gerardo Hernández has been sentenced to two life sentences and 15
years of jail. Another two, Antonio Guerrero and Ramón Labañino have also been
give life sentences. And René González and Fernándo González have been
condemned to 19 and 15 years imprisonment.
From the moment they were arrested, the Miami Five were subjected to
extremely harsh treatment. After 15 days in the Miami Federal Detention Centre,
they were transferred to the Special House Unit, better known as “the hole”,
in isolation cells 15 feet by 7. These cells are used for very dangerous
criminals, generally those accused of murder, and according to the rules,
prisoners can only be kept there for a maximum of 60 days. Two of the Miami
Five, Gerardo Hernández and Ramón Labañino were to remain there for 17
What are the Miami Five accused of? There are a number of minor charges,
including acting as agents of a foreign government without being registered with
the US authorities (which the Five admit to), but the two main charges which
three of them have been condemned to life sentences for are related to spying
From the very beginning, the local media started to talk of a dangerous group
of Cuban spies that had endangered US national security. But in the seven long
months of the trial (which makes this one of the longest judicial cases in the
history of the US), the prosecution could not present one single piece of
evidence to back up this case. Defence lawyers called to the stand US Navy
officers, both active and retired, high ranking US intelligence officers and
others and they all testified that after looking at all the evidence found on
the Five, they had not seen any classified material.
Even the prosecutor of the case had to make clear in his opening remarks to
the jury that, “we arrested these five men and we seized 20,000 pages of
documents from their computers, but ladies and gentlemen from these 20,000 pages
we cannot present one single page of classified information”. Since they could
present no proof of the charge of spying, the prosecution decided to charge them
with “conspiracy to spy”. Conspiracy is a very vague term and very difficult
to prove. It means that the Five got together and decided they were going to
spy. How can anyone prove that? And even if there was evidence (which was not
the case), it is not normal that three of them should get the highest possible
sentence you can get for spying (life imprisonment) but only for “conspiring”
The second charge for which Gerardo Hernández got his second life sentence
is conspiracy to commit murder. He was accused of having been involved in the
downing of two Cessna planes just off the coast of Havana by Cuban MIGs in
February 1996. The story started in 1995 when an agreement was reached between
Cuban and US authorities in order to regulate migration policies between the two
countries. It was at that time when the anti-Cuban Miami organisation “Hermanos
al Rescate” (Brothers to the Rescue) started carrying out terrorist activities
against Cuba. In the 20 months leading to the downing of the two planes, they
carried out 25 unauthorised flights over Cuban airspace. What did the Cuban
government do? In each case they filed a formal diplomatic complaint for this
violation of its country’s airspace. They received no reply.
In January 1996, the Cuban authorities invited admiral Carroll from the US
Navy to Cuba and told him in no uncertain terms that their patience had run out
and they would tolerate no more violations of their national sovereignty,
particularly since they had information (provided by the Miami Five) that
Hermanos al Rescate was about to arm these planes. Carroll went back to the US
and reported to the Pentagon and the State Department that the Cubans were
serious about their threats. Richard Nuccio, at that time an advisor to
president Clinton, testified in the trial and said that he was very worried
about the public boasting (in TV broadcasts) of Hermanos al Rescate leader José
Basulto, about their illegal flights over Cuba.
On February 24th, three Cessna planes, one piloted by José Basulto
himself, left a base in Florida and went to Cuba. They had been warned by the
personnel at the airbase that it would be very dangerous to fly over Cuban
airspace. The Cuban authorities were also forewarned. Was it Gerardo Hernández
who warned them? No, it was the US Federal Aviation Agency who warned the Cubans
that the planes were on their way. The planes were warned by radio that they
were about to enter a restricted military area. They ignored the warnings. The
Cuban air force sent two MIG fighters and after further ignored warnings downed
two of the planes. José Basulto managed to escape. The Cuban government claims
that the planes were illegally inside their airspace when downed, while the US
government charges that they were 4 miles outside the limit.
So one might ask, what is the relationship between Gerardo Hernández and
this case? He has been found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder. The “proof”
presented is a telegram to Gerardo, who had infiltrated Hermanos al Rescate,
telling him not to fly on that date. This evidence is very flimsy, particularly
for such a serious charge as this. It does not prove that Gerardo knew the
planes were going to be attacked, and it does not prove he had anything to do
with the attack itself. All he did was to report about the activities of a
terrorist organisation operating from the US. Furthermore the information about
flights leaving and arriving in South Florida is publicly available.
Finally, the bottom line is whether a sovereign nation like Cuba has the
right to defend its airspace or not. For a government like that of the US which
insists in immunity for its armed personnel operation abroad, it
is a blatant case of double standards to bring an accusation of murder against a
government defending its own territory against terrorists coming from the
US. The case against Gerardo for conspiracy to murder is so weak that in an
unprecedented move, right at the end of the trial, they tried to get the charge
changed from murder to homicide. But both the Tribunal and the Appeal Court
rejected the petition, since the whole trial had been based on the original
A fair trial in Miami?
Clearly the evidence against the Five was at most flimsy, but the jury after
very short deliberation, found them guilty. That can only be explained by the
fact that the trial took place in Miami. From the beginning the defence
attorneys asked for the trial to be transferred out of Miami. It is well known
that the mafia type networks of the rabidly reactionary Cuban exiles dominate
the city. It was very difficult to have a fair trial and a jury that would not
be intimidated in such a city.
Furthermore the trial took place on the same dates as the polemic over Elian
Gonzalez, the Cuban boy kept in Miami by some relatives against the wishes of
his father. The Cuban exiles organised violent demonstrations and riots on those
days, and the whole city was immersed in an atmosphere of anti-Cuban hysteria.
How can the trial of five “dangerous Communist agents”, one of them accused
of having participated in the murder of Cuban exiles, take place in such a
climate and be a fair trial?
Even the US government recognised in a different case a year later, that a
case connected to Cuba could not be tried fairly in Miami. The US government was
being accused of unfair discrimination by a Mexican employee of the Immigration
Service who claimed he had been dismissed because of his support for the
anti-Cuban mafia in the Elian Gonzalez case. In this case, which has only an
indirect relation to Cuba, the government argued that it could not be tried
fairly in Miami and asked for the trial to be transferred. The request was
granted. But in the case of the Miami Five, which is directly linked to Cuba and
to the reactionary Cuban exiles who dominate the city, the request was rejected.
The government of the US also used a number of other legal tricks to get the
Five condemned. For instance it used the Confidential Information Protection
Act, in order not to release the 20,000 pages of documents seized from the Five.
For months, neither the accused nor their lawyers had access to these documents,
none of which contained US national defence sensitive information, or any
classified information as stated by the prosecution itself. The defence was also
not allowed to use the “state of need” argument against the accusation of
acting as unregistered agents. This means that you can break the law in order to
serve a greater good. In this case, the defence argued that they did so in order
to save lives and property by infiltrating these terrorist groups.
Finally there is also the issue of the harsh treatment the Five received and
are receiving in jail, particularly in relation to the visits from their family.
Olga Salanueva, René’s wife, and Adriana Pérez, Gerardo’s wife, have never
been allowed to see their husbands since they have been in jail! How is that
possible? Simply by not giving them a visa to enter the US. The US immigration
service said that they cannot even argue humanitarian reasons for the granting
of the visas, since they are a “threat to US national security”. This
vindictive ruling goes against the US’s own penitentiary rules and
Constitution. Their young children have been growing up for years without being
allowed to see their fathers. Visitation rights apply to even the more callous
convicted murderers, so why should they not be allowed to the Miami Five who are
clearly innocent victims of political imprisonment?
The long arm of the anti-Cuban Mafia in Miami
But the implications of this case go much further if one takes the time to
trace the background of some of the people involved. Take for instance Hector
Pesquera, Special Agent in Charge of the Miami regional office of the FBI and
responsible for the arrest of the Five. What is his background? He became
prominent when he was involved in the investigation that led to the arrest of
four Miami Cubans in 1997. The US Coast Guard arrested them in October of that
year when it seized a yacht in Puerto Rican waters. They found seven boxes of
ammunition, military uniforms, two assault rifles and other military equipment.
One of the arrested, Angel Alfonso Alemán, quickly declared that he was in
charge and that their mission was to assassinate Castro during his visit to
Margarita Island in Venezuela.
Hector Pesquera, the FBI agent in charge of the case, promised to carry out
the investigation but added that “there might be foreign policy implications”
in which case he does not “rule anything out”.
The investigation soon led to the National Cuban American Foundation (FNCA),
the most important organisation of Cuban reactionary exiles, with close links
with the US Republican and Democratic parties. The owner of one of the rifles
was Francisco Hernández, the FNCA president and Miami’s most important
counter-revolutionary leader. A member of the FNCA Executive Committee was the
owner of the yacht. The member of the group in charge of communications was also
a known FNCA activist. While on parole, one of the accused was arrested again by
the DEA accused of bringing more than 350 kg of cocaine into the country.
All of the accused denied their guilt, with the exception of Alfonso who
tried to get out by pointing out that he is well connected and showed pictures
of himself with president Clinton, senator Torricelli (Democrat and the second
largest recipient of Cuban American money in election campaigns in the US), the
now deceased leader of the Cuban exiles Jorge Mas Canosa, etc. His lawyer, who
is also FBI investigating agent Hector Pesquera’s cousin, went as far as to
argue that if the CIA has tried so many times to assassinate Castro, how come it
is a crime for him to attempt to do the same!
The Cuban mafia threw all her weight into the case and finally the accused
were released. The judges, the accused and even special agent Pesquera himself,
all celebrated the outcome with a mass (these types they are always very “pious”)
and a party.
As if it were a reward for having failed to produce enough evidence against
the accused, special agent Pesquera was sent to Miami and appointed as Special
Agent in Charge for South Florida!
Barely 12 days later, the Miami Five were arrested. It was the first time
that a “network of Cuban spies” had been broken up on US territory since the
Cuban Revolution. Pesquera was quick to claim credit for the operation, despite
the fact that he had only been in charge there for less than two weeks! The case
of the Miami Five was clearly designed to appease the FNCA, with which Pesquera
has such good relations, despite the fact that some of its most prominent
members had been (sort of) “investigated” by himself in relation to
Remember what George W Bush said about “aiding and harbouring terrorists”
being on the same level as committing terrorist acts. But then this rule only
seems to apply to the “bad” terrorists, not to the ones that are on
Washington’s side and that sometimes even do some of the White House’s dirty
work. Not to mention the enormous political clout the FNCA has in Florida, the
state ruled by Bush’s brother Jeb, and in which Bush’s presidency was “won”.
The actions of the anti-Cuban terrorists (with a little help from the CIA)
Another story worth telling is that of Orlando Bosch, the person whose
actions Fernando González, one of the Miami Five, was in charge of monitoring.
Bosch left Cuba in 1960 and went to the US. His first terrorist activity was in
1968 when he was involved in the sending of a parcel bomb to Havana. In that
year he was responsible for more than 40 terrorist attacks. At the end of the
year he was arrested in Miami, tried and found guilty of an attack on a Polish
ship and sentenced to 10 years in jail. In 1974, while on parole, he fled the US
and carried on with his terrorist activities. He has confessed to carrying out
bomb attacks in Miami, New York, Venezuela, Panama, Mexico and Argentina.
In October 1976 he was arrested in Venezuela in connection with the terrorist
attack on a Cuban civilian airplane that resulted in 73 dead, men, women and
children. This was the first ever bomb attack on a civilian airplane in the
world. After spending 11 years in jail in Venezuela, having been proved that he
had been an associate of two other men accused of homicide in the same case, he
was finally released. In 1987 he returned to Miami and was arrested by the
immigration service. The proceedings for his deportation began.
But then enormous political pressure was exerted by the Cuban mafia and its
associates to get him released. Prominent in the campaign was senator Ileana
Ros-Lehtinen (Republican and the largest recipient of Cuban American money in
election campaigns in the US). Amongst those involved was Jeb Bush, George W’s
brother, who was then Ileana’s election campaign manager. Finally George Bush
senior granted the release of this known and convicted terrorist and even gave
him permanent residence in the US.
Another of those involved with Bosch in the bomb attack on the Cuban airliner
in 1976 was Luis Posada Carriles. He had fled Cuba in 1959 after having been a
police agent under dictator Fulgencio Batista. Most of his later life was
dedicated to one goal: the assassination of Castro, working for the CIA and,
according to his own confession in an interview to the New York Times in 1998,
for Jorge Mas Canosa, the former head of the FNCA.
When Bosch and Posada were arrested by the Venezuela authorities, the Cuban
mafia in Miami raised the $50,000 dollars to bribe the jail authorities and got
him free. He then joined Lt Col Oliver North who got him a nice job with the CIA
organising Contras, the gang of counter-revolutionary cut throats
sabotaging the Nicaraguan Sandinista revolution in the 1980s. After that “campaign”
was over, he concentrated his attention on a bombing campaign against tourist
installations in Cuba in the mid 1990s that resulted in the death of an innocent
On November 17, 2000, Posada and another 3 prominent members of the Cuban
mafia, with close links to the NFCA leaders, were arrested in Panama and accused
of plotting to assassinate Fidel Castro during his visit to Panama to attend a
regional summit. In April 2004 they were tried for and found guilty of being a
threat to public security and falsifying documents. There was no mention in the
verdict of the accusation of plotting to kill Castro. But on August 26, 2004,
the four received a pardon from Panama’s outgoing president Mireya Moscoso,
just six days before she was to hand over to President-elect Martin Torrijos.
The decision came shortly after a visit by Colin Powell to Panama. Posada
went to Honduras, and the other three, all of them convicted terrorists, went
back to Miami to a warm welcome by the anti-Cuban mafia, and not surprisingly
were allowed in by the US immigration authorities. The three have carried out
terrorist acts on US territory. One of them, Guillermo Novo, was convicted of
participating in the car bombing that killed former Chilean Foreign Minister
Orlando Letelier, in Washington in 1978. Incidentally, the other two people
convicted of the car bombing of Letelier were released by president Bush against
the advice of both the FBI and the INS.
It is quite clear why the Cuban government had to undertake measures to
prevent terrorist attacks from these groups, since the US authorities not only
do not do anything to prevent them, but even turn a blind eye or collaborate
with them. Such terrorist attacks on Cuba (mostly against civilian targets, like
the bombing campaign against hotels and tourist resorts) have caused 3,478
deaths and 2,099 permanently disabled since 1959.
Free the Miami Five!
The case of the Miami Five is clearly about the right of a sovereign country
to defend itself against the terrorist actions conducted from a neighbouring
country that harbours them and does not lift a finger to stop their actions. The
case exposes the hypocrisy of the US ruling class when it claims it is
conducting a war on terrorism. It also uncovers the important role that the
reactionary anti-Cuban mafia in Miami play in US politics, both Republican and
Democrat. It is therefore an overtly political case that the US ruling class and
its media are not interested in publicising because the details are highly
Socialists all over the world must demand first of all that the basic human
rights of the Miami Five are respected (starting with full rights to visits),
that the trial, which is now subject to a legal appeal, is reviewed and takes
places in fair conditions with full legal rights, and finally that the Miami
Five, whose only crime is to fight the reactionary terrorist anti-Cuban mafia in
Miami, be released. But this cannot be seen merely from a legal point of view. A
political case must be fought by political means. US labour and progressive
movement organisations must be made aware of the case and should take a clear
The scandalous case of the Miami Five has exposed completely the cynical
hypocrisy of the Bush government in the so-called war against terrorism. Like
the even more barbarous scandal of the Guantanamo Bay concentration camp, it has
revealed the hollowness of its appeals to democracy and civilized behaviour and
the rule of law. It stands condemned before the tribunal of world public
A labour movement enquiry should be conducted on the links between the Miami
anti-Cuban terrorists and the US state apparatus, its security services, the
legal system, etc. This is a crucial issue that the US labour and progressive
movement should consider as one of high priority. The same dirty methods that
the US ruling class uses against progressive governments and movements around
the world are – and will be – also used against US workers and their
organisations at home.
The real “crime” of Cuba from the point of view of the US ruling class is
that it provides an example of how, by expropriating the capitalist class, one
can provide for free for such things as high quality education and health care.
And this is a very dangerous example for the workers and peasants in the rest of
Latin America, but even for the workers in the US, millions of whom have no
health care at all and are excluded from higher education. Socialists and labour
activists all over the world must condemn the actions of US imperialism, which
constitute a serious threat to the democratic rights of workers everywhere.
Free the Miami Five!
Fight to defend democratic rights!
Down with imperialism!
October 15, 2004
For more information on the Miami Five see also:
The US Committee to Free the Five