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Incapacitating the Cuban Five

In Their Own Words

by RICARDO ALARCÓN De QUESADA

The disproportionate prison terms imposed on the Cuban Five – Gerardo Hernandez Nordelo (2 life terms plus 15 years), Ramón Labañino Salazar (1 life term plus 18 years), Antonio Guerrero Rodríguez (1 life term plus 10 years), Fernando González Llort (19 years) and Rene Gonzalez Sehwerert (15 years) – contrast sharply with those applied in recent years in the United States on other persons accused of truly practicing espionage, sometimes at an uncommon scale, and even on some tied to violent armed actions against the United States.  None of them was condemned to life sentences; all of them received lesser sentences than the Cuban Five, some have already served their sentences and are free and others, convicted of espionage, have had their charges withdrawn by the Obama administration and were set free. 

The excessive nature of the sentences of the Five is an indication of the vengeful political motivation of the whole trial, as are the conditions of their incarceration, including the very serious obstacles for family visits that go to the extreme of having always denied visas to Gerardo and Rene’s wives.

But there is an even more revealing aspect demonstrating that the purpose of the US Government was to give shelter and protect anti-Cuban terrorists, to prevent their sinister plans from being discovered, thus becoming accomplice and cover-up for their future outrages. For the Bush administration that was as important, or more, than the extravagant years of incarceration. That was what the prosecutors said, vehemently and in rather graphic terms, when asking the Court for an additional punishment: “incapacitation”.

What does that mean? In their own words, for the government it was essential to ensure that these five individuals, after serving their prison terms, could never again do anything that may affect the activities of the terrorists who operate in Miami under the protection of the US Government. To guarantee that, the prosecutors requested, and the Court granted, specific provisions on each sentence, making certain that, after completing their entire period of incarceration, even one and more life terms, the defendants will be prevented from trying to do what they did prompting their imprisonment.

Gerardo, Ramón and Fernando were born in Cuba and as undesirable aliens, after terminating their prison terms will be immediately expel from the US territory. That was specifically incorporated in each of their sentences including Gerardo’s, who after spending in prison 15 years of his second life will immediately be deported (Transcript of sentencing hearing before the Honorable Joan A. Lenard, December 12, 2001, page 93).

René and Antonio posed a particular problem. Having been born in Chicago and Florida, respectively, they are both US citizens by birth and can not be forced to leave the country. That called for a more imaginative thinking and inspired rhetoric on the part of the prosecutors. And they showed plenty of both.

A more precise and candid explanation of “incapacitation” was required.

First came René, sentenced “only” to 15 years. The prosecutors expressed plainly their grave concern with the prospects of a still young man getting free and going back attempting to do again what he had done.

The Court, conceding to the government anxiety, added this peculiar requirement to René’s sentence: “As a further special condition of supervised release the defendant is prohibited from associating with or visiting specific places where individuals or groups such as terrorists, members of organizations advocating violence, and organized crime figures are known to be or frequent.” (Transcript of Sentencing Hearing before the Honorable Joan A. Lenard, December 14, 2001, pages 45-46).

And then it was the turn of Antonio Guerrero, who had already received a life plus 10 years in prison. The prosecutors had to employ all the resources of their eloquence. For the government “incapacitation” was of paramount importance. It could not take any chances and when Antonio faced the Court on December 27th, 2001 it was added to his sentence, word by word, the same “special condition” imposed previously to René.

All that happened in December 2001, just three months after the horror of 9/11. Since that fateful day George W. Bush became famous calling for an all out war against terrorists and anybody that gives them any kind of help. Just one quotation from his repetitive parlance: “Any government that supports, protects or harbours terrorists is complicit in the murder of the innocent and equally guilty of terrorist crimes.”

We have to take George W. Bush at his own words.

P.S. In October 2011 René González will have completed his prison term if his defense does not succeed in getting him out before. In any case he will be on supervised release during the current administration. Will President Obama try to “incapacitate” him? Shall René still be prohibited from doing anything to disturb the terrorists where they are “known to be or frequent”?

RICARDO ALARCÓN de QUESADA is president of the Cuban National Assembly.