President Obama: Free the remaining members of the Cuban Five

here's some background reading:

The historical context of the Cuban Five

By Jane Franklin • Published on June 16, 2014
(A presentation given by Jane Franklin during the 5 Days for the Cuban 5 event held in Washington, D.C.)

Why Isn't Alan Gross on Next Plane Home After Bowe Bergdahl?

Jewish Forward, June 15, 2014
The Obama administration’s bungling of its media strategy with the release of the captive Army sergeant Bowe Bergdahl has obscured the essential fact that negotiations — even with interlocutors we can’t stand — do work. Anyone doing the American government’s bidding overseas deserves our protection and, if problems arise, our commitment to get him or her home expeditiously. That includes Alan Gross, who’s been sitting in a Cuban prison for four and a half years. read more

(Includes information about the Cuban Five)

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WEEKEND EDITION APRIL 26-28, 201354 Years of Stupidity and CountingCuba Policy: Fruitless, Mean and Cruelby SAUL LANDAU and NELSON P. VALDÉSIn their 54-year-old effort to bring down Cuba’s revolutionary government and restore obedience in our Caribbean neighbor, U.S. officials have compiled a spectacular record of failure, overshadowed only by the determination to persist in their pursuit of wrongheaded polices, further damaging U.S. interests.

In the 1990s, Washington began to define terrorism as the new peril on the security horizon. President Clinton deemed it reasonable to make informal arrangements with other countries, even Cuba, trying to achieve anti-terrorist goals.

Indeed, Cuban intelligence agencies fed antiterrorist data to the FBI because they assumed the Bureau shared the same dread as their U.S. counterparts about the death and chaos that would result from allowing terrorists to pursue their goals. But, in September 1998, the FBI Bureau Chef in Miami perpetrated an act of security illogic. He ordered his FBI agents to arrest the Cuban intelligence agents who had supplied the Bureau with important data about terrorists operating in Florida.

Havana had sent these men to south Florida to penetrate and stop violent Cuban exile groups whose members had planted bombs in Cuban tourist hotels and clubs, killing a tourist and wounding scores of others. U.S. authorities knew of the activities the Cuban agents pursued for six years, and did not act against them because the U.S. government did not see these agents as a threat to U.S. security. They were not seeking classified or strategic U.S. documents, but rather focused on spying on rightwing Cuban terrorists in U.S. soil. Indeed, the Cuban agents pointed the Bureau in the direction of hidden arms caches in Miami and an explosive-laden boat docked on the Miami River.

In June 1998, when relations between Cuba and the U.S. had begun to improve, Havana shared with the Justice Department even more information obtained by its agents. But, Clinton also confronted Congressional investigations related to his comportment with Monica Lewinsky. This helped lead to disarray inside the Justice department. During July and August 1998, right wing Cuban American Members of Congress began pressuring Washington to arrest the known Cuban agents. The extremist exiles feared that anti-terrorist cooperation between the two countries might lead to the arrest of the exile terrorists, also their friends and colleagues, and even contribute to a normalization of relations. But Attorney General Janet Reno planned to run for high office in Florida and did not want to antagonize organized Cuban voters in Florida, so she allowed the change in policy to take place.

The right wing exiles exercised enough influence to get Héctor Pesquera appointed as the new Bureau chief in south Florida. Pesquera, a rightwing Puerto Rican with a mediocre FBI record, but close ties to violent Cuban exiles, destroyed the country-to-country cooperative effort. Within a week of his appointment, he ordered the arrest of the Cuban informants – five of the Cuban agents refused to either flee to Cuba or arrange for a plea bargain. So, the FBI allowed Miami-based exile terrorists to continue plotting violence against the island. The powerful members of the Cuban settler colony in Miami used the power of the U.S. federal police to prosecute Cuban anti-terrorist agents (punish Cuba) and in the process torpedo possible rapprochement between the neighbors; and also destroy joint anti-terrorism operations. By manipulating U.S. government institutions, the Cuban enclave’s elite superseded the larger needs of the American people by replacing anti-terrorism with their own narrow interests.

The Justice Department charged two of the Five Cuban agents with murder, or conspiracy to shoot down two Cuban exile planes (both pilots and co-pilots died) that entered Cuban air space in February 1996. At the time the pilots of the three exile planes announced publicly their intention to go into Cuban air space, making known the date and time of the flights.

The Cuban agents, however, got charged with conspiracy to spy despite the fact that the U.S. government formally and by consent received the results of their spy work on terrorism in south Florida! General James Clapper, then director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and now director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, testified at their trial that he saw no evidence to conclude the Cuban agents were seeking classified or strategic U.S. documents or plans. They did not conspire to commit espionage. The U.S. mass media continues to incorrectly refer to them as “convicted spies.”

The Cuban Five (now four since René Gónzalez was freed on parole, but must remain in the United States until the end of his probation period), located in different US prisons for almost 15 years, became victims of vengeance, inspired by Miami-based right wing Cuban exiles, combined with a strong dash of meanness and cruelty, which continues long after the Cuban men survived long months of solitary confinement. The Justice Department has systematically denied these men basic privileges enjoyed by other inmates.

The most recent example of heartlessness occurred on April 7, when activist-actor Danny Glover traveled from his home in San Francisco by air and then rented a car to Victorville, California, where Gerardo Hernandez survives in the Federal Maximum Security Prison. After visiting Gerardo nine times, Danny assumed he would undergo the usual passage – fill out the form, go through x-ray machine, get patted-down, and then get escorted into the Visitor Room. But the desk guard at the prison said Danny’s visit had not been authorized (after nine previous visits) and he could not see Gerardo. A supervisor affirmed the desk guard’s statement. Meanness and malice!

For 14 plus years the U.S. government had also refused to grant a visa to Gerardo’s wife (“a threat to U.S. security”). During that time she has not been able to visit him. It’s not just the anti-Castro lobby that pushes this petty, vengeful policy. Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder run the federal prisons.

What’s wrong with the basic sense of humanity of those who make such decisions? Imagine if Cuba responded with equal cruelty to Alan Gross, the man convicted in Cuba for carrying out U.S. subversion for USAID. U.S. government officials would scream as would the media. But Cuba did not respond to this inhumanity by carrying out inhumane acts. Gross, confined in a Cuban military hospital cell, receives adequate medical care and frequent visits. He has access to the telephone and communicates with his family who also visit him. Gross promoted a policy of “regime change” in Cuba while Gerardo’s findings promoted U.S. security.

Washington has forced 52 plus years of broken relations on Cuba, combined with a tough embargo to punish Cuba’s people. Indeed, U.S. presidents have tried to dislodge Cuba’s government in every way short of direct military invasion. Fruitless, stupid, mean and cruel policies simply do not work in our national interest!

Saul Landau’s FIDEL and WILL THE REAL TERRORIST PLEASE STAND UP are available on DVD from
Nelson Valdés is Professor Emeritus at the University of New Mexico


The historical context of the Cuban Five

By Jane Franklin • Published on June 16, 2014
(A presentation given by Jane Franklin during the 5 Days for the Cuban 5 event held in Washington, D.C.)

Thank you all for being here in Washington to combat terrorism. I want to thank the other panelists and all the other internationalists who join us in the battle against this outrageous injustice. We need all the help we can get as we work here in the planet’s main base of terrorism to free these heroic anti-terrorists – Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, and Tony Guerrero. I’ve been asked to put their heroism in context.

The basic problem is that this injustice is part of a system of imperial injustice. Simón Bolívar saw it coming in 1829 when he warned that the United States “appears destined by Providence to plague America with miseries in the name of Freedom.” The ideology that drives this plague is American exceptionalism.

The doctrine of American exceptionalism emerged dramatically alongside U.S. policy toward Cuba. The United States itself had hardly become an independent nation when Thomas Jefferson declared that with Cuba and Canada “we should have such an empire for liberty as she has never surveyed since the creation.”

As Cuban revolutionaries were on the verge of victory against Spain in 1898, the U.S. Congress declared that Cuba had the right to be free and independent, and then Congress declared a war against Spain in which Washington portrayed itself as the provider of that freedom and independence. Washington presented the Platt Amendment, which gave it virtual control of Cuba, as if it would shield Cuba against colonization, while using it to turn Cuba from a colony of Spain into a neo-colony of the United States.

When the Cuban Revolution turned Cuba from a neo-colony into an independent nation, the Eisenhower administration immediately launched the counterrevolution – the State of Siege that continues today. A State Department memorandum in 1959, the first year of the Revolution, speculated that depriving Cuba of its sugar quota privilege would cause “widespread…unemployment” and “large numbers of people thus forced out of work would begin to go hungry.” Eisenhower canceled the sugar quota and a full trade embargo followed.

Alongside the overt terrorism of the embargo, covert terrorist operations have continued for all these decades. Just a few weeks ago, Cuba arrested four infiltrators who planned to attack military installations. Perhaps agents such as the Cuban Five helped uncover this plot just as they uncovered a plot by Luis Posada Carriles and his gang in the year 2000 to blow up an auditorium filled with people listening to a speech by Fidel Castro in Panama City.

I think all of us here know about the record of Luis Posada, the most notorious terrorist in the Western Hemisphere. For nine years the U.S. Government has refused to abide by its extradition treaty with Venezuela, which requires that the U.S. either extradite Posada to face trial for the murders of 73 people aboard a Cubana passenger plane or prosecute him here in the United States for those murders. The U.S. Government in its White House right down the street is thus complicit in that mass murder.

Just two months before the arrests of the Cuban Five, Posada told the New York Times that “the CIA taught us everything – everything….They taught us explosives, how to kill, bomb, trained us in acts of sabotage.” He boasted of his exploits and bragged about his support from the FBI, the CIA and the Cuban American National Foundation.

Because U.S. intelligence agencies collaborate with the terrorists, Cuba has been forced to train agents like the Cuban Five to investigate terrorist groups. The first member of the Cuban Five to arrive in Florida was René González in 1990, just in time to help deal with the increase of terrorism that followed the disbanding of the Soviet Union and Cuba’s disastrous loss of more than 85 percent of its trade.

Cuba was perceived as vulnerable and the predators thought it was the time to bring it down. Overt terrorism escalated alongside covert activities. Congress worked closely with the Cuban American National Foundation to pass the 1992 Torricelli Act that intensified the trade embargo.

In that same year the Cuban American National Foundation created its secret military arm. Four years later, disappointed that Cuba was continuing to survive as an independent nation, the Foundation engineered the Helms-Burton Law, which became the law of the land. Helms-Burton aspires to be the Platt Amendment of the 21st century. But there is a key difference between Platt at the beginning of the 20th century and Helms-Burton a century later. Platt was U.S. law and then became Cuban law. Helms-Burton is U.S. law but Cuba is determined to keep it from becoming Cuban law. That is a major component of current relations between Cuba and the United States.

In 1999, Cuba, recognizing that Helms-Burton makes financing subversive activities part of U.S. economic warfare against Cuba, passed its own law that makes it a violation of Cuban law to introduce into Cuba, accept, or distribute materials from the U.S. Government that would aid in implementing Helms-Burton. Therefore, when a U.S. agent, such as Alan Gross, distributes such materials in Cuba, the agent is violating Cuban law.

By making Helms-Burton U.S. law, President Bill Clinton and Congress provided a legal front for the legitimization and normalization of terror. But a turning point came in 1998, the same year that the Cuban Five were arrested, when Hugo Chávez was elected president of Venezuela. From the time he took office in 1999, he championed Latin American and Caribbean unity, especially with regard to Cuba. Thanks to his leadership, by the time of his death last year, there was a paradigm shift of historic importance, dramatically represented by the creation of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). When the 21st century opened, the Organization of American States (OAS) included all 35 nations of the Western Hemisphere, but with Cuba suspended. By the end of the first decade of the 21st century, CELAC members included all 33 Latin American and Caribbean nations of the Western Hemisphere, with the United States and Canada excluded.

At West Point last week President Obama once again called the United States “the one indispensable nation.” But CELAC has definitively decided that the United States is not indispensable. Earlier this year Cuba hosted the second CELAC Summit where every member opposes the trade embargo. (Canada also opposes the embargo so the United States is alone in its support of its own embargo.)

Yet, as if oblivious to the consensus of Latin America and the Caribbean regarding the status of Cuba, President Obama declared in September 2011, “It’s clearly time for regime change in Cuba.” At a fundraiser last November in the home of Jorge Mas Santos, chairman of the Cuban American National Foundation, President Obama said the United States can help bring “freedom to Cuba.” He said, “we have to be creative” and “we have to be thoughtful.” Those words, “creative” and “thoughtful”, gave some analysts the idea that Obama might be ready for a positive step toward Cuba. But we need to pay attention to what he said next and I quote: “the aims are always going to be the same.” He spoke of the need to relate to the “age of the internet”, perhaps thinking that social media programs like ZunZuneo might do the trick by creating another color revolution of “smart mobs” in the streets of Havana.

Obama seems just as oblivious to the opinions of U.S. citizens. A recent Atlantic Council poll shows a majority of Americans want normal relations with Cuba and 61 percent believe Cuba should not be on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism. Yet all the Cuban Americans in the House and Senate down the street oppose any sign of rapprochement, including the idea that the President agree to negotiations without preconditions with Cuba. Such negotiations are the key to unlocking the prison doors for the three heroes who remain in U.S. prisons. So here we are again in the belly of the beast with a huge job to do because we have to find a way around the barriers of imperial injustice.