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Is it coincidence or conspiracy?
Supporters of five Cuban intelligence agents now serving lengthy sentences in US federal prison following controversial espionage convictions, say federal government documents detailing payments made by a US government-run anti-Castro propaganda operation to prominent Miami-area journalists prove a conspiracy.
Articles by those journalists and others, a federal appeals court once noted, contributed significantly to inflaming “pervasive community prejudice” in Miami which made it impossible for the agents known as the Cuban Five to receive a fair trial.
Others, however, claim it’s just coincidence that the same journalists who were paid $1,125 to $58,600 to appear on anti-Castro programs produced by the U.S. Office of Cuba Broadcasting before and during the trial for the Cuban Five also published scandalous articles about the Five in an influential Spanish language newspaper owned by the Miami Herald and in other local media.
The National Committee to Free the Cuban Five, during a recent press conference in Washington, released documents listing both the amounts of federal funds paid to the journalists and the articles they published.
“This is a most blatant and outrageous example of government influence destroying the right to a fair trial and the right to appeal,” said Gloria La Riva, Coordinator of the National Committee.
“During the pre-trial period there were hundreds of articles on the Cuban Five and not one was favorable,” La Riva said.
La Riva, in her remarks at the National Press Club in Washington, said the payments to journalists, funneled through Radio and TV Marti, violated federal law banning domestic government propaganda.
The National Committee along with the National Lawyers Guild, the Partnership for Civil Justice and the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition are calling upon U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to take immediate action to correct the unjust convictions of the Cuban Five – two of whom are serving life sentences.
The eight-month long trial for the Cuban Five that ended with their convictions in June 2001 is widely condemned as unfair partly due to the acid nature of the anti-Cuban Five news coverage that saturated Miami, where the trial was held despite repeated defense requests to have the proceeding moved away from a city containing America’s largest anti-Castro Cuban population.
A May 2005 legal analysis of the Cuban Five case conducted by the United Nation’s Human Rights Commission proclaimed the original trial “did not take place in the climate of objectivity and impartiality” required for fair trials. The Commission’s report called for a new trial.
The US federal appeals court panel that ordered a new trial for the Cuban Five in August 2005 concluded that extensive pre-trial publicity and publicity during the trial, coupled with prosecutorial misconduct, created a "perfect storm” of gale-force unfairness against the defendants.
President George W. Bush’s administration demanded a rehearing on that new trial grant and won a reversal in an August 2006 ruling that found insufficient evidence that news articles ‘impaired’ the right to an impartial jury.
The U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal from the Five.
Ironically the same federal prosecutors who claimed “objective” news coverage didn’t rob the Cuban Five of their fair trial rights cited negative coverage in Miami when seeking to relocate the trial of a Hispanic federal agent who filed a race discrimination lawsuit against the federal government.
This astounding flip-flop by federal prosecutors regarding the prejudicial impact of news coverage came exactly one year after the Five’s conviction. Federal appellate judges found no fault with this flip-flop.
The Cuban Five, who were dispatched to the US to monitor the activities of anti-Cuban organizations in the US, enjoy hero status in their Caribbean island nation.
These men have support from governmental leaders of a wide array of nations including Argentina, Belgium, Mali, Panama, Russia and Sweden. These leaders see the Five’s imprisonment as persecution, noting that vindictive federal authorities are even denying wives of two Five members permission to visit their incarderated husbands.
The five are: Antonio Guerrero; Fernando Gonzalez; Gerardo Hernandez; Ramon Labanino and Rene Gonzalez.
U.S. authorities consider the Cuban Five dangerous operatives inserted into the U.S. to undermine opponents of the Cuban government living in the U.S. and to spy on U.S. military installations and U.S. political and law enforcement activities.
The Five, however, say their U.S. mission sought to only prevent violence in Cuba by monitoring violent anti-Castro extremists in south Florida, some of whom were conducting terrorists attacks inside Cuba.
Curiously, the FBI arrested the Five in September 1998, three months after the Cuban government gave the FBI voluminous documentation on anti-Cuban government terrorists operating in south Florida, some of whom were openly engaged in paramilitary training.
“The Cuban government gave the FBI names, addresses, videos and documents. The FBI took the information, said they would get back to them but never did,” said Leonard Weinglass, the attorney handling appeals for the Cuban Five.
Weinglass is preparing to file a new round of appeals for the Cuban Five in mid-June that will include evidence of the government payments to those journalists who later authored negative articles.
“No one knew at the time of the trial about the heavy hand of government interference. The reporting was very prejudicial,” observed Weinglass, who didn’t represent the Five at their original trial.
The National Committee to Free the Cuban Five is engaged in a separate legal battle to pry additional documents from the U.S. Office of Cuba Broadcasting regarding its payments to journalists. The office is s refusing to release these.
Some see similarities in government payments to journalists like Pablo Alfonso (who received $58,600 during the Five’s detention and trial period, during which time he wrote 16 negative articles), with the much criticized payments the Bush Administration provided journalists to advocate for its No Child Left Behind education program.
One of those Bush-financed "journalists," conservative media personality Armstrong Williams, received $240,000 in payments…payments that a 2005 GAO report subsequently declared illegal.
Yet a more accurate comparison of government-journalist collusion is the FBI’s secret employment of news media sources to generate negative publicity during its infamous COINTELPRO assaults against African-American and anti-Vietnam War activists during the late 1960s and early 1970s. COINTELPRO actions included interference with court proceedings in an effort to win convictions.
“Much of the Bureau’s propaganda efforts involved giving information or articles to “friendly” media sources,” stated a 1976 U.S. Senate report on the illegal COINTELPRO actions.
The deliberate journalistic sabotage of the Cuban Five trial by paid-off journalists, as detailed in the documents released by the National Committee, apparently is not news considered worthy of reporting by mainstream U.S. media, which has blacked out the story.
A post-press conference examination found no next-day coverage in domestic mainstream media in the news data bases of Google, LEXIS and Yahoo.
“The U.S. news media hasn’t covered the Cuban Five story sufficiently,” says National Committee Coordinator Gloria La Riva.
Linn Washington is a founding member of the new collectively-owned, journalist-run online newspaper ThisCantBeHappening. His work, and that of fellow journalists Dave Lindorff, John Grant and Charles Young, is available at: www.thiscantbehappening.net