This is the third part in Ricardo Alarcón’s series on the Cuban Five. Click here to read part one and here to read part two.
As they recognized during voir dire, the kidnapping of Elian González and its consequences for the community was very much in the minds of those chosen to be jurors at the trial of the Cuban Five a few months after the six year old boy was rescued by the federals.
Like everybody else they had followed the events related to Elian which saturated the news. The faces of the kidnapers, their promoters and supporters, as well as others involved in the scandal have become quite familiar to the jury members. The faces, and two features of the Elian drama with a unique character and a direct connection with the process of the Five Cubans.
First, the perplexing behavior of every Miami public official, from its Federal Congressmen, the Mayor and the City Commissioners to firemen and members of the police force, who openly refused to obey the law and did nothing to put an end to the most publicized case of child abuse ever to occur. And, secondly, but not less astonishingly, that nothing happened to a group of individuals that so clearly had violated the law with the abduction of a child and the violence and disturbances they spread over the town when he was saved by the federal government. Nobody was prosecuted, arrested, or fined. No local authority was dismissed, substituted or invited to resign. The Elian case demonstrated how anti-Castro impunity reign over Miami.
When the jurors sat first at the Court room to do their citizens duty they were probably surprised. There, live, were the “Miami celebrities” that they have been so accustomed to watch, day and night, on local TV. And they were together, sometimes smiling and embracing each other, as old pals. The kidnapers and the “law enforcement” guys hand and glove with the prosecutors (those valiant people who never show up when a little boy was being molested in front of the media)
The jurors spent seven months in that room looking at, and being watched by the same people so acquainted to them who now were at the witness stand, at the public area or at the news corner, the same people they will find frequently at the parking lot, at the building entrance, at the corridors. Some now and then proudly showing the attire used at their last military incursion to Cuba.
The jurors heard them explaining in detail their criminal exploits and saying time and again that they were not talking about the past. It was an odd parade of individuals appearing in a Court of law and recognizing their violent actions against Cuba that were planned, prepared and launched from their own neighborhood.
There, making speeches, demanding the worst punishment, slandering and threatening the defense lawyers.
The judge did what she could to try to preserve calm and dignity. She certainly ordered the jury, many times, not to consider certain inappropriate remarks, but by so doing their prejudicial and fearsome effects could not be erased from juror’s minds.
The consequences were obvious. The Court of Appeal panel’s decision stated it in clear terms: “The evidence at trial disclosed the clandestine activities of not only the defendants, but also of the various Cuba exile groups and their military camps that continue to operate in the Miami area. The perception that these groups could harm jurors that rendered a verdict unfavorable to their views was palpable”. (Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeal, No. 01-17176, 03-11087)
Bur there was more. After hearing and seeing the abundant evidence of terrorist acts that the defendants had tried to avert, the Government succeeded in defending the terrorists by having the Court inexplicably agreeing to take from the jury the right to exonerate the Five on the basis of necessity which was the foundation of their defense.
The heart of the matter, in this case, was the need for Cuba to protect its people from the criminal attempts of terrorists who enjoy total impunity on US territory. The law in the United States is clear: if one acts to prevent a greater harm, even if he/she violates the law in the process, he will be excused from any criminality because society recognizes the necessity –even the benefit- of taking such action.
The United States, the only world superpower, has interpreted such universal principle in a manner leading to war in faraway lands in the name of fighting terrorism. But at the same time it refused to recognize it to five unarmed, peaceful, non-violent persons who, on behalf of a small country, without causing harm to anybody, tried to avoid the illegal actions of criminals that have found shelter and support in the US.
The US government, through the Miami prosecutors, went even farther, to the last mile, to help those terrorists. They did it very openly, in writing and with passionate speeches that curiously were not considered newsworthy.
That was happening in 2001. While the Southern Florida prosecutors and the local FBI were very busy harshly punishing the Cuban Five and protecting “their” terrorists, the criminals preparing the 9/11 attack had been training, unmolested, in Miami for quite some time. They should have had a good reason to prefer that location.
RICARDO ALARCÓN de QUESADA is president of the Cuban National Assembly.