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The Cuban Five: a Cold War Case in a Post-Cold War World

The day the Court sentenced him to life imprisonment plus 10 years, in maximum security, Tony explained to Judge Lenard why Cuba sent him to the United States.

“Allow me to explain my reasons, your Honor, in the clearest and most concise way:  Cuba, my little country, has been attacked, assaulted, and slandered, decade after decade by a cruel ,inhuman and absurd policy.  A real terrorist war.  . . .  .   Where have such unceasing ruthless acts been hatched and financed?  For the most part, in the United States of America.”

Tony Guerrero was part of a team of agents that Cuba sent to Miami, tasked with infiltrating the Florida-based terrorist groups responsible for the murder of over 3,400 Cubans over four decades.  The team did not seek to infiltrate U.S. government agencies, nor did it obtain any classified documents. Their purpose was to gather evidence, so that the FBI would arrest the terrorists.

In June of 1998, the FBI secretly met with Cuban government officials in La Habana.  Without revealing how they had obtained the evidence, Cuban law enforcement officials shared with the FBI 175 pages of documents related to 31 terrorist attacks and plans that took place between 1990 and 1998, as well as the money trail (through New Jersey and Miami) that paid for those attacks.

Cuba also turned over audiotapes of 14 comprising conversations involving the mastermind of the campaign of terror, Luis Posada Carriles, as well as 13 video and audiotapes of Posada´s accomplices, which provided the details of their crimes.  Thanks to Tony and his team in Miami, Cuba was able to provide the FBI with the names, addresses, telephone numbers, even the license plate numbers of the terrorists.

The FBI thanked Cuba for the evidence and promised to investigate.  Investigate they did, but the result was unexpected.   Rather than arrest the terrorists, the FBI used the evidence that Cuba gave them to arrest the Five.  Why?

The Miami terrorists were trained in the United States and were an important part of the covert war on Cuba during the Cold War.  For fifty years, the United States government has coddled and protected, rather than jailed and prosecuted, them.

Miami is their city-of-choice: a hotbed of hostility against Cuba.  It’s no coincidence that terrorists gravitate to that city.  Miami is where they are protected and feted, as if they were patriots and heroes. Only in Miami could the government win its case against the Five.

Gaining evidence to prosecute Posada Carriles and his terrorist network was the raison d´etre for the Cuba Five coming to the United States.  He is the mastermind of much of the terrorism.  After the fall of the socialist bloc, the Cuban economy went into a tailspin.  It turned to tourism for much-needed cash.  In an effort to scare tourists from going to Cuba, Miami Cubans unleashed a campaign of terror against the island.  They placed bombs in some of La Habana´s most famous hotels and restaurants: the Hotel Nacional, la Bodeguita del Medio, the Chateau Miramar, the Meliá Cohiba, the Tropicana and others.

On September 4, 1997, one of those bombs killed a young Italian by the name of Fabio Di Celmo at the Hotel Copacabana in La Habana.  A piece of shrapnel from the glass ashtray next to the explosive device severed his jugular.  Blood gushed from the left side of his neck, and he died within minutes.

A year later, Luis Posada Carriles admitted to the New York Times that he was the mastermind behind the bombs that had been exploding in La Habana.  “That Italian was in the wrong place at the wrong time, but I sleep like a baby,” he told New York Times reporter Anne Louise Bardach.

When he killed Fabio in cold blood, Posada was already a fugitive from justice with 73 counts of first-degree murder pending against him in Venezuela for the 1976 downing of a passenger plane that killed all 73 people aboard, including virtually all the members of the Cuban fencing team and a little nine-year-old Guyanese girl named Sabrina Paul.   Rather than extraditing him to Venezuela, the United States continues to protect him and ignore Venezuela’s request.

Fabiucho, as his family called him, was the youngest child of Giustino and Ora.  He was only 22 years old when he was brutally murdered.  He loved to read and to play soccer.  He was madly in love: with Cuba and her people. I spoke to his 90-year old father, Giustino, two months ago in Cuba.  Over drinks at a restaurant he opened in his son´s honor in the Vedado neighborhood of La Habana, Giustino recalled a letter he wrote to Tony six years ago: “Let the first rays of sunshine fall on the darkness of the monstrous injustice of your imprisonment.”

Giustino, these drawings by Antonio Guerrero are little rays of sunshine that fall on the darkness of this government’s indifference to the suffering of the Five.  It´s up to us to turn them into lightning bolts of action.  “Life is only life if there is courage”, said Tony in one of his most beloved poems.  Let us find the courage to take up the mantle of the struggle to free the Five from the “monstrous injustice” of their imprisonment.

Let us remember here tonight and let us repeat it without rest that Tony came to the United States to prevent crime, not to commit it.  Let us not forget that the U.S. government has turned justice upside-down.  And let us repeatedly remind the world that while the government of this country puts the real heroes in jail, it protects the criminals, allowing them to continue their reign of terror against Cuba.

On June 16, the Supreme Court turned down without comment a request to hear the appeal of the convictions of the Five.  The case is now squarely in the hands of the President of the United States.

With one stroke of the pen, the President can reduce their sentences to time served, so these brave men can go home to their families.  Article 2 of the Constitution of the United States affords the President the power of Executive Clemency.  That power is unfettered.

No normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba is possible as long as the Five remain unjustly incarcerated and the terrorists live in freedom.  Let this country come to its senses:  the terrorists belong in jail, and the counterterrorists must be set free.

From his prison cell in Colorado, Tony wrote that “tenderness runs pure and clear like a mountain stream, particularly when life is most painful.  Suffering is a shared experience.  We must know how to give without expecting anything in return”.  “Como el agua, pura y clara, Corre en su arroyo serena, ha de correr la ternura, Cuando aparece una Pena . . . No hay dolor que no sea tuyo.  No hay sufrir sin compartir.  Se ha de tener un orgullo, Saber dar sin recibir.”

President Obama, you were elected as a breath of fresh air, a Promethean President who looks to the future.  You say that you don’t like to look to the past.  But, Mr. President, you must understand that Posada and the other Miami Cubans were Washington’s instruments of terror against Cuba.  That’s why the FBI didn’t arrest them and instead arrested the Five.

It is now your responsibility to right these terrible wrongs.  A blockade premised on starving Cubans into submission and a campaign of terror to try and bring a proud people to their knees: that is the sordid past you have inherited from your predecessors in the White House.

Mr. President, you must begin to heal these open wounds. This is the most powerful nation in the history of civilization.  Rather than the most ruthless, Mr. President, ought not the United States be the most generous, the most humane?

President Obama, the Cold War is over.  For the sake of the victims of terrorism, for the sake of the suffering caused by almost fifty years of an illegal and immoral blockade, for the sake of your country, for the sake of the future, heal the wounds:  end the blockade against Cuba, extradite Posada, and free the Five.

JOSÉ PERTIERRA is an attorney.  He represents the government of Venezuela in its request that the United States extradite Luis Posada Carriles.  His office is in Washington, DC.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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José Pertierra is an attorney in Washington, DC.

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