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An Open Letter to the State Department

The US is Violating the Rights of the Cuban Five

by SUSAN LEE

Kevin Whitaker
Office of Cuban Affairs
United States Department of State
Washington, DC 20520
USA
11 January 2006

Dear Mr Whitaker,

Amnesty International has written to the US government previously regarding Gerardo Hernández Nordelo, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando Gonzáles and René Gonzáles (commonly known as the "Miami Five") who were sentenced to lengthy prison terms in the USA after being convicted of conspiracy to act as agents of the Cuban government and related charges. One of the issues on which we have raised concern is the US government’s decision to deny René Gonzáles and Gerardo Hernández visits with their wives. Olga Salanueva, wife of René Gonzáles (sentenced to 15 years, imprisonment), has been refused entry to the USA since 2002 and René Gonzáles has consequently not seen his young daughter since she was four months, old. Adriana Pérez, wife of Gerardo Hernández (sentenced to life imprisonment), has not been permitted to visit her husband since his arrest in 1998. International standards emphasize the importance of prisoners maintaining regular contact with their families, including through visits. We are concerned that the long-term, permanent denial of visits from their immediate families has caused substantial hardship to René Gonzáles and Gerardo Hernández beyond the penalties imposed. The denial of visits has also reportedly had a detrimental impact on family members, including René Gonzáles, young child who is unable to travel without her mother. We believe that, in the absence of a clear and immediate threat posed by such visits, this measure is unnecessarily punitive and contrary both to standards for the humane treatment of prisoners and to states, obligation to protect family life.

Amnesty International is aware that visas have been denied in these cases on national security grounds, including the fact that Olga Salanueva was deported from the USA in 2000 after being accused by the US government of being an agent for Cuban intelligence. No evidence was provided on which she could respond to this claim. Amnesty International understands that Olga Salanueva continued to live legally in the USA for two and a half years during the trial proceedings against her husband and was deported only after her husband refused to enter a plea arrangement in return for her being allowed to remain in the United States. Since then, both she and Adriana Pérez have been denied visas under provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act relating variously to terrorism, espionage or national security, again without detailed reasons being given. In December 2003 Amnesty International wrote to the US Justice Department urging the government to ensure that the visitor visa applications in these cases be considered with the utmost fairness and that the applicants be afforded an opportunity to make full representations. Yet two years later, no such measures appear to have been taken. Furthermore, the reasons given for denying visas to allow them to visit their husbands have reportedly changed at various points, making it more difficult for the applicants to make their case and raising questions about the good faith of the authorities in this matter. We understand that Adriana Pérez, for example, was denied a visa last September on the unsupported ground that she may seek to remain in the USA.

Such denial of family visits for convicted prisoners would represent a substantial hardship in any case. This is of even more urgent concern in the present cases given the serious questions which have been raised about the fairness of the convictions. As you will be aware, in August 2005 a three-judge panel of the Eleventh Circuit Court of appeals overturned the convictions of all of the above prisoners and ordered a retrial. This was based on a finding that the pervasive community prejudice against the Cuban government and its agents in the trial venue and the publicity and events surrounding the trial combined to create a situation where they were unable to obtain a fair and impartial trial. The defendants raised numerous other issues challenging the fairness of the trial which have not yet been addressed by the appeal courts. Meanwhile, in May 2005, the United Nations (UN) Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued an opinion that the five had been arbitrarily deprived of liberty based on failure to guarantee the right to a fair trial in a number of key areas. The five remain in prison pending a government appeal against the Fourth Circuit’s decision, proceedings which Amnesty International shall follow closely. We urge the US government in the meantime to take every step to ensure that the five are treated fairly and are not subjected to any undue deprivations while they continue to be incarcerated, including denial of family visits.

We understand that the decision on issuing visitors, visas in the cases of Olga Salanueva and Adriana Pérez is now a matter for the State Department. We urge you to review this matter with a view to facilitating visits with their husbands in prison as soon as possible, with due regard to any conditions that may be required. We attach copies of some of our previous correspondence with the Justice Department on this issue.

I look forward to receiving your response.

Yours sincerely,

SUSAN LEE
Program Director
Americas Regional Program
Amnesty International