People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 47

November 20, 2011

 No Freedom for the Cuban Five


Yohannan Chemarapally



AFTER Barack Obama entered the White House there were expectations in some quarters that the US policy towards Cuba would be at least a little different form that of his hawkish predecessor. While on the campaign trail Obama had promised to lift some of the draconian aspects of the long running economic blockade on Cuba. The Obama administration did introduce a few changes, but most of them were cosmetic in nature. Washington has kept the punitive economic blockade on the island intact. At the same time, the Obama administration has allowed the terrorists responsible for killing of innocent civilians to roam free on American soil. The five innocent Cubans who had exposed the terror plans being hatched in Miami continue to be incarcerated in American prisons.




The international community has been repeatedly condemning the unjust five decades old economic embargo on Cuba. The Cuban deputy foreign minister, Abelardo Moreno, told the UN recently that the embargo has caused losses worth more than $975 billion since it came into force in 1962. The US government sanctions all international companies doing business with Cuba. “The figure does not count the physical, emotional and social costs of the blockade to the Cuban people for almost half a century, which has no previous records in the history of any nation under siege”, Moreno told the UN General Assembly in a recent speech. As an illustration of the extra-territorial nature of the American sanctions, Moreno gave the example of the Dutch Bank, ABN-AMRO which was fined $500 million for having financial dealings with companies doing business with Cuba. In the vote taken this year in the UN General Assembly on the issue, only Israel supported the US, with 186 countries voting in favour of the immediate lifting of the blockade. “The blockade is a unilateral and immoral policy, increasingly rejected by the people of the United States and the international community”, the Cuban diplomat said.


The Cuban government and people want the blockade to be lifted at the earliest but their immediate focus these days is to ensure the release of Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labanino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando Gonzalez and Rene Gonzales, known internationally as the “Cuban Five”. Their case has been a “cause celebre” world wide. International solidarity committees demanding freedom for the “Five” have sprung up all over the world, including India. Within the US itself, there have been growing and vociferous demands calling on the Obama administration to free the five Cubans who were convicted in 2001 by a Florida Court on the spurious charge of spying on American military facilities.


They were given excessively long sentences, put in separate jails in different parts of the country with periods of solitary confinement and routinely denied visits by their family members who are all residing in Cuba. International civil rights groups like Amnesty International have called into question the “fairness and impartiality” of the trial. A United Nations Working Group reviewing the case had come to the conclusion that the trial was not conducted in an atmosphere of objectivity and impartiality. The UN report also stated that the Cuban Five were wrongfully held in solitary confinement for 17 months after their arrests and that their lawyers were deprived of the opportunity to examine all of the available evidence before the US government invoked the Classified Information Protection Act.


Rene Gonzales was freed from prison in early October after 13 years in prison. But this did not translate into freedom for Rene. A judge has ordered him to serve an additional three years of probation in the United States before he could return to his home and family in Cuba. He will be instead forced to live in Miami, which is infested with fanatical and violent right wing Cuban exiles. The Cuban government has angrily reacted to this latest legal shenanigan by the Obama administration. Havana has warned that Washington will be responsible for the consequences if Rene is harmed in any way. The judge who gave the latest ruling added a caveat prohibiting Rene to visit places “where individuals or groups such as terrorists – are known to frequent”. This according to Cuban officials is a tacit acknowledgement that the US government knows about the presence of terrorists on its territory. The two killers of the former Chilean foreign minister, Orlando Lettelier, were let out of a US prison after having served only seven years inside a US prison. Lettelier along with his secretary were murdered in a busy Washington thoroughfare by agents of Augusto Pinochet, in September, 1976, a few years after the American sponsored coup in Chile.


It was well known that the job assigned to “Cuban Five” by the authorities in Havana was only to monitor the activities of the right wing anti-Cuba terror groups operating with virtual impunity from US territory. Terror activities against Cuba from American soil had markedly increased in the 1990’s, with hotels frequented by foreign tourists in Havana being targeted. President Raul Castro had revealed last year that 5,577 Cubans have either died or left permanently disabled as a result of terrorist acts in the last fifty years. Mercedes Lopez Acea, a Politburo member of the Cuban Communist Party said in a recent speech that the acts of terrorism perpetrated against Cuba were done “with the sponsorship, complicity and direct participation of the United States authorities”. She emphasised on “the historical truth” that Cuba has suffered the most from the “scourge of terrorism” which originated from the US.


 American sponsored terrorism started with “Operation Mongoose” in 1962 under the auspices of the Kennedy administration. 5700 acts of terrorism have been committed against Cuba since then. According to the Cuban government, 700 of these acts were directed against industrial installations. Fidel Castro writing in the third week of October reinforced this point.” Assassination plans on the leaders of the Revolution were innumerable, in fact their gross actions didn’t limit themselves to that. Viruses and bacteria were introduced into our country to sabotage the production of plants and animals; even worse diseases and viruses that didn’t exist in the hemisphere were introduced against the population”, Castro wrote.      



Luis Posada Carriles, the notorious terrorist responsible for putting a bomb on a Cuban passenger plane in 1976 that killed 76 people, had become active again at the time the Cuban Five were in the US. In 2000, he was involved in a plot to assassinate Fidel Castro when the Cuban leader was attending a regional summit in Panama. He was released from a jail in Panama in 2004 under a presidential pardon. The Panamanian president, Mireya Moscoso, pardoned Carriles, just before demitting office. The Cuban and Venezuelan governments had put Posada on its most wanted list. Posada had escaped from a Venezuelan jail in the mid-nineties, where he was held for eight years in connection with the blowing up of the Cuban airplane. Posada turned up in the US in 2005 where he spent a short time in jail.


The Obama administration has not bothered to either try him on terrorism charges or prosecute him for the bombings of hotels in Cuba. Posada had confessed to a New York Times journalist that he had planned and financed many of the hotel bombings. The Venezuelan government had asked for his extradition but that plea was also ignored on specious judicial grounds. Ricardo Alarcon, the Speaker of Cuba’s national assembly called the Posada trial “a stupid and shameful farce”. The Cuban foreign ministry described the trial which concluded earlier in the year “as an emblematic case of the United States’ double standards in the international fight against terrorism”.  In the last days of the presidency of George Bush Senior,  Orlando Bosch Avila, who had masterminded many acts of terrorism against civilian targets in Cuba in cahoots with Posada was also granted an executive pardon.




Successive US administrations had either actively supported or turned a blind eye to the activities of the Cuban terror groups on their soil despite the government in Havana cooperating with Washington on broad counter-terrorism issues. In 2005, an FBI delegation visiting Havana was given voluminous documents detailing the activities of anti-Cuban terror groups in the US and Central America. Not a single individual named in the dossiers was arrested. Instead the Bush administration turned its wrath on the Cuban Five, who had provided much of the information to the Cuban government on the terror groups and their network.  


The Obama administration, like its predecessors, has continued with its subversive activities inside Cuba. The USAID’s Cuba program had risen to $250 million per year under Bush and was funnelled through Cuban dissident groups. After it was revealed that much of the money was squandered to supply groups inside Cuba with expensive luxury goods and the rest siphoned off through corrupt practices, the Obama administration adopted a more stealthy approach by subcontracting the job of destabilising Cuba to NGO’s and contractors. A contractor, Alan Gross, was arrested in Havana in December 2009, after being caught supplying lap top computers to dissident groups in the island. Gross had travelled to Cuba on a tourist visa despite working as an “independent business and development consultant” for Development Alternatives Inc (DAI), a company working for the US government. The DAI had received USAID money for “democracy development” in Cuba. Organisations like the DAI have been hired because of their willingness to run covert operations inside Cuba by subcontracting work to individuals like Gross.



In March this year, Gross was duly sentenced by a Cuban court for 15 years for crimes against the State. Now the Obama administration wants to trade Rene for Gross. The Obama administration despatched Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico to Havana in September to plead for the release of Gross. The US move to swap the two prisoners was rejected in Havana. Cuban officials have pointed out that Rene has already served most of his sentence. According to reports in the American media, the Cuban government was prepared to pardon Gross provided all the Cuban Five were released. US officials have said that they would not consider pardoning the remaining four Cubans who are still physically behind bars in American prisons. Richardson during his visit to Havana had also carried vague promises from the Obama administration about removing Cuba form the US State Department’s list of countries sponsoring terrorism and a reduction in the funding of its clandestine destabilisation programs.


The Obama administration thought that Cuba would jump to the bait. Richardson had even kept a plane waiting to whisk away Gross. Cuba wants all the Five to come back home and be reunited with their family. Gross has been in prison for less than two years for a crime he had committed while the Cuban Five have been unjustly incarcerated since 2001 for exposing a terror network operating from the American mainland. Rene, speaking to the Cuban people after stepping out of prison, said that “only one avenue of abuse which I have been subjected to has been closed”. He assured the Cuban people that he would go on fighting till his four comrades are also freed. “For me, this is only a trench, a new place in which I am going to continue fighting for justice till the five of us can return together to you”, Rene said in his stirring message.