Monday, April 03, 2006
Public Forum Held on the Plight of the Cuban Five in Detroit
Speakers address the notion that 'terrorism is terrorism'
By Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor
Pan-African News Wire
DETROIT, April 1, 2006 (PANW)--Since 1998 five Cuban nationals have been held in prisons throughout the United States accused and convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage and murder. However, a forum held Saturday at Wayne State University in Detroit explained why a federal court overturned their convictions in August of 2005.
Guest speakers for this event are persons well acquainted with United States-Cuba relations: Atty. Leonard Weinglass, an appellate counsel for one of the five Cubans still being held in federal prison and Rev. Dr. Joan Brown Campbell, the former general-secretary of the National Council of Churches and currently Director of the Chautauqua Institute. The forum was chaired by retired Wayne County Circuit Judge Claudia Morcom, who recently testified at the United Nations on human rights violations in the United States.
Cheryl LaBash, a member of the Michigan Campaign to Free the Cuban Five, a Project of the Justice for Cuba Coalition, opened up the event by quoting from a City Council resolution passed earlier in the week calling for the release of the prisoners. She then introduced Judge Morcom who called upon Ignacio Meneses, the co-founder of the U.S.-Cuba Labor Exchange. Meneses paid tribute to retired president of the City Council, Maryann Mahaffey for her contribution to Cuba support work in the Detroit area over the last fifteen years.
Prior to introducing the guest speakers, Judge Morcom read a letter from the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C. sent to the participants of the forum. The letter acknowledged the solidarity in the United States for the people of Cuba and applauded the City Council resolution in support of the Five.
Rev. Dr. Joan Brown Campbell then took the podium and began to place the plight of the Cuban Five within the context of the 45 year-old blockade of Cuba by the United States. Campbell explained that during the Clinton administration she held hope that the blockade could be lifted during his second administration beginning in 1997. However, after having disucssions with Cuban National Assembly spokesperson Ricardo Alarcon on this idea that it was time for the lifting of the blockade, Alarcon responded that "it is never Cuba's time in the United States."
According to Campbell "the blockade makes no sense." In regard to the influence of the Cuban exile community based in Miami, she asked rhetorically: "What is the power of these folks in Miami?"
During the international crisis involving the attempted kidnapping of Elian Gonzalez in 1999-2000, Campbell became heavily involved in the negotiations aimed at obtaining Elian's release and return to Cuba to rejoin his father and other family members. She traveled to Cuba to meet with the family of Elian as well as enjoying an audience with President Fidel Castro.
At this time her daughter, Jane Campbell, was the first elected woman mayor of Cleveland, Ohio. She accompanied Campbell to Cuba despite the political risks involved. Campbell joked that during a meeting with Castro he lectured her on how to be an effective mayor.
Campbell later reflected on the current difficult period involving U.S.-Cuba relations. "The National Council of Churches, which represents 55 million people, no longer has a license to go to Cuba. There are other organizations that can no longer go to Cuba."
She continued by pointing out that "The government has so denied information on Cuba that people are stunned when they go. The American people understand people. These are young men with families," she stated in reference to the Cuban Five. "There are young women who may never have children because they cannot visit their husbands."
In reference to possible progress in breaking the blockade, Campbell said that "Every effort to have an impact on Cuba needs legal assistance. The combination of legal assistance and pressure from the American people." Campbell pointed out that every year she has visited Elian Gonzalez for his birthday. She did miss this year because of the revocation of the license to travel to Cuba by the Bush administration.
"The government of Cuba has protected Elian. The government has not used him as propaganda. It is easier to meet Castro than Elian. Elian was malnourished according to American doctors who had examined him after being released by the family in Miami. The fact that Elian is back in Cuba is nothing less than a miracle," Campbell stated.
Campbell pointed out that there are strong churches in Cuba. "The protestant church became stronger after the revolution because the missionaries left." Addressing the role of Elian's grandmothers during the crisis in 2000, she said "The grandmothers had not been out of Cuba. They came and met with 70 members of the US Congress and changed their opinions. One grandmother had heart probems but would not stop her mission. She passed away last year. They hired a lawyer, Grey Craig. They went to Cuba and met the family and Castro."
Another remarkable aspect of the visit of Elian's father to the United States in 2000, was that "Juan Miguel would not stay two days in the United States after the Supreme Court decision" upholding his parental rights. Campbell emphasized that "he went right back after the Supreme Court decision." In regard to the plight of the Cuban Five, Campbell said "I believe these men will also be victorious."
Some legal aspects on the plight of the Cuban Five
Atty. Leonard Weinglass was then introduced by the event chair Judge Claudia Morcom. He acknowledged long time Detroit activists Frank Joyce and Atty. Hugh "Buck" Davis who were in the audience.
"This trial is generally not known. It was embargoed in the U.S. It has not gotten any comment in the print or electronic media," Weinglass began. He continued by observing that "This was the longest trial in U.S. history. It is truly remarkable. In the early 1990s the Cuban economy went into a tailspin, with it being in near collapse. The government had to accept hard currency. Cuba began a major effort to develop a tourist industry. There were four and five star hotels built in Cuba by Italian contractors. Over 1.2 million tourist came last year."
Weinglass continued by saying that "The exiled community finally saw an opportunity to stop the tourist trade. They planted bombs on the buses and the shoreline. One of the bombs killed an Italian tourist. Cuba protested every terrorist act to the U.S. and then to the United Nations. The Security Council never took it up. Cuba had to take steps to defend itself. They invited a delegation from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)."
"Under the Neutrality Act no one can plan attacks against another government . Three volumes of evidence was presented to the FBI. They asked them to take action on this cross border activity. They delivered the same material to the New York Times. They then sent a group of men without weapons to infiltrate these mercenary groups. They had lost 3,000 people. The mercenaries did not focus on military targets. The object was to destroy the country economically. These terrorists train in camps every weekend."
Weinglass read from a report issued by the U.S. government that provided information on these para-military actions against Cuba. "The government got a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act(FISA) warrant to break into the apartments of the Cuban Five defendants. They then downloaded information from their computers. This is how the government got the information. They were charged with conspiracy to commit espionage although no classifed information was in their possession. The government had no evidence of spying. These charges carry a life sentence, the same sentence that Hansen and Walker are serving time for."
"Seven months later they added conspiracy to commit murder. Hernandez was charged after he infiltrated the 'Brothers to the Rescue'. After 1993 the American government and Cuba reached an agreement on those fleeing utilizing rafters. Then the 'Brothers to the Rescue' group began dropping subversive leaflets. Two planes were shot down in 1996, four died, hence the murder charges against Gerardo Hernandez."
"U.S. Admiral Carroll was in Cuba for a conference and was told by the Cuban military that it would now defend its airspace. This was told to the U.S. military. The Cuban airforce scrambled two jets during a mercenary operation. The American Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) informed the Cuban Aviation authorities of the flights. Prior to the planes going down over Cuban airspace, Hernandez received a message from Cuba saying do not fly with the 'Brothers to the Rescue' on this flight. How could all this happen?"
"Weinglass continued by discussing the anti-Castro political atmosphere in Miami where the trial took place. "In Miami they could not receive a fair trial. A leading expert testified to this. They (the Five) asked to be moved 25 miles to Fort Lauderdale for the trial. The city has its own foreign policy towards Cuba. The City Council in Miami passed an ordinance banning relations with Cuba. It was later overturned by a federal court. "
"You cannot have a Cuban painting in Miami. Americas Watch said that anyone who dissents from this policy could face physical threat. All top positions are held by anti-Castro Cubans: the Mayor's office, the Sheriff, Police as well as the editorial structure of the Miami Herald. Three top jurors serving on the case all admitted anti-Castro bias. This was the first time that a federal decision has been reversed on the question of venue. In August these convictions were overturned. The longest opinion in history on venue was written. "
However, Weinglass noted that the "government appealed to the entire court. They heard the appeal on February 14. We got three minutes to argue the appeal. The opinion which overturned the conviction described the initial verdict as a 'perfect storm of prejudice' in the conclusion of the 93 page document. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta in the last 25 years has never ruled for the defense. The Cubans think that ultimately they will prevail."
In addition, "Five U.N. judges ruled that the case violated international norms. We have no idea when the ruling will come, there is no deadline. The Cuban community is not an immigrant one but an exiled one. They plan to return after a change of government. A 600,000 member community determined the political outcome of this case. They came to the U.S. with $450 million stolen from the Cuban treasury."
Weinglass then refered to the Luis Posada Carilles case. Posada is presently detained by U.S. immigration authorities. He pointed out that Posada was trained by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). "His partner, Orlando Bosch, was also involved in the bombing of the Cubano airlines in 1976. Reports say that he is one of the leading terrorists in the western hemisphere. Bush Sr. granted Bosch resident status despite a Justice Department report recommending denial. Bosch lives a normal life and is often granted a place of honor at presidential speeches."
Another astounding aspect of the case was brought to light by Weinglass when he pointed out that "The lawyer who introduced Bosch to Jeb Bush is named Batista, the son of the former dictator, who is now on the Florida Supreme Court."
Audience engages speakers
During the question and answer period, Rev. Dr. Campbell spoke to the level of intimidation during the Elian Gonzalez crisis. "There were gunboats on the Hudson and FBI agents on the roof of our hotel." This statement was made in response to the qeustion as to how the Cuban exile community welds so much influence over U.S.-Cuba policy.
"The editor of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer was formerly at the Miami Herald. Go back to the days of Batista and his dictatorship policies and study the history of repression. The corporate press has refused to cover this case," Campbell said in reference to the Cuban Five.
Weinglass added that during the speech of Che Guevara at the United Nations during the 1960s, a bazoka was fired at the building. The level of violence is much more than what we know. The violence is directed inwardly as well. The terrorist have immunity. Even the Nation Magazine will not cover this case."
During a trip to Kiev recently, Weinglass was given 20 minutes on a news program aired on television. This is more time granted to the case than any mainstream network in the United States.
When asked why an Israeli flag was being flown outside the home where Elian Gonzalez was held in 2000, Campbell said that she had no information on it all. However, she noted that there "were other rightist elements outside the home. "
Weinglass pointed out that during a recent vote on the U.S. embargo against Cuba in the United Nations General Assembly, only three nations supported its continuation: the U.S., the Marshall Islands and Israel. Cuba has no relations with Israel but is open to Israeli visitors and experts.
He then discussed the defense arguments that the foreign agents were justified out of necessity. "They were trying to protect lives and prevent war. The counter-revolutionaries want to provoke a war with Cuba. Terrorists were subpeoned, 35 exhibits were placed in the record that they were trained to commit criminal acts. The jury did not hear the necessity argument because the judge in the trial struck it down."
Campbell mentioned that there has been a link made between 9-11 and the plight of the Cuban Five. An organization known as the "9-11 Families for a Peaceful Tomorrow" have issued a statement in support of the Cuban Five indicating that any form of terrorism should be opposed.
Weinglass pointed out that the 'Brothers to the Rescue' aircraft were formally used by the Contras, who waged an illegal war financed by the United States against Nicaragua during the 1980s. "They were warned but did not turn back. FAA officials had informed the U.S. State Department that Cuba planned on defending its airspace. One of the pilots survived and recorded the warning, he laughed and turned around."
He illustrated that the FISA Court has issued warrants to wiretaps American citizens if they are suspected of being involved in terrorism. "This is being done outside the constitution." Weinglass stated that the FISA Court was not a real court but a room inside the Justice Department with no windows and two guards.
"In 20 years they have issued more warrants than all other federal courts in the country. After 9-11 FISA was amended to allow break-ins."
At the conclusion of the forum it was announced by the organizers that the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice (MECAWI) along with the Justice for Cuba Coalition, would be providing transportation to people in the area to attend the national march to defend Cuba and Venezuela in Washington, D.C. on May 20.
This event at Wayne State University's Law School auditorium was co-sponsored by several groups active in the Detroit area. These groups were the student chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, the US/Cuba Labor Exchange, the Michigan Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, the Detroit Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, the Metro Detroit American Civil Liberties Union, the U.S. Peace Council, Michigan Chapter, the Women's Inernational League for Peace and Freedom, the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice, the Canadian-Cuban Friendship Association, Windsor and the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights.