Visiting Gerardo in Prison

On our third visit, the neo-fascist architecture of the US Federal Penitentiary in Victorville California (built in 2006 under W. Bush) has become a familiar sight. The American Barbed Wire Industry, we think, must have lobbied hard to get prison construction commissars to allocate money for several football fields of pointed projections sticking out of the woven metal barrier; very anti-neighborly. What’s missing from the picture of miles of curled wire mounted on both sides of the walls on this monstrous concrete structure set in the Mojave Desert? A sign: “Only in America.” Where else would such a “monument” get built for a mission to “rehabilitate?”

Gerardo jumps from his plastic chair and we hug. Full of energy, smiling and in good physical shape, he tells us he had to wait for 25 minutes at the cell-block gate before a considerate guard finally allowed him to enter the visitors’ room even though other guards came and went – and ignored his request to see his visitors. A typical incident in the daily grind of a political prisoner in a maximum security federal pen!

We ask him how he responded to the December 26, 2010 Miami Herald story by Jay Weaver. The headline, “Cuban Spymaster Now Claims Brothers to the Rescue Shooting was Outside Cuban Airspace,” and the story, suggested Gerardo disagreed with Cuba’s version of its MIGs shooting down two Brothers to the Rescue planes over Cuban airspace on February 24, 1996.

“That’s ridiculous,” said Gerardo. His legal appeal questions the competence of his public defender to properly defend him, but he never expressed or implied differences with Cuba’s position. The appeal focuses on errors made by his trial lawyer and the prosecutor, which denied him due process.

The government also improperly concealed evidence (cables) that showed Gerardo had no information about Cuba’s intention to shoot down the Brothers’ planes.

The prosecutor never proved Cuba planned to shoot down the planes in international airspace, much less that Gerardo knew about it.  But the climate in which the trial took place bore the stains of media contamination. Gerardo’s appeal shows that during the trial “journalists” on the US payroll presented newspaper and TV stories that painted the defendants – and Cuba — in a bad light. All five Cubans agents got tried and sentenced in a prosecution-polluted climate.

“It’s a joke,” he laughed, referring to the Herald article, and his trial. “I’m sure every Cuban knows I have no disagreement with my government on shooting down the airplanes. I knew nothing about the flights that day, so I couldn’t know they would be shot down. I believe it happened over Cuban airspace, which is not a crime under international law.”

Neither The Herald nor the trial jury heard testimony or saw evidence that Gerardo possessed advance knowledge of Cuba’s alleged plan to shoot down Brothers to the Rescue planes. In the early 1990s, the Brothers claimed their mission was to help rescue Cuban rafters adrift in the Florida straits, but after a 1995 US-Cuba Migration accord dictated the return of Cubans to the island, Brothers began a new mission: flying over Havana and dropping leaflets.

On February 24, 1996, after repeated warnings not to fly over the island, Basulto, the President of the BTTR, announced his forthcoming flight, and the FAA also informed Cuba of flight details. The pilots and co-pilots of two planes died. Basulto returned safely to Miami.

Even if Gerardo had advised his government of the impending flights – which he did not – how would a Cuban intelligence agent know his government would shoot them down even though Cuba had every right to do so over its airspace?

The Miami jury convicted Gerardo of conspiracy to commit murder by aiding and abetting a plan to shoot down civilian aircraft in international airspace — not proven. The judge sentenced him to two consecutive life terms.

When we suggested the reporter who said Gerardo disagreed with his government, but did not interview him, should qualify for the Mussolini Journalism Award, Gerardo agreed. “Yes, Mussolini was a journalist before he got into politics.”

The story should have said that Gerardo did not receive due process. Cuban agents tried in Miami in 2001 — the equivalent of Jews tried in Berlin in 1938!

Gerardo, upbeat and eager to share, told us he grew up in Mantilla, a Havana neighborhood, where Leonardo Padura (El Conde mysteries) lived. He learned the possibilities and depths of friendship under socialism, where men talk honestly from the soul and don’t have to compete for money, “like the guys in Abel Prieto’s novel, ‘The Flight of the Cat’.”

“Bitterness doesn’t help the spirit,” he said. “Guillermo Cabrera Infante’s Tres Tristes Tigres, is brilliant and insightful. Compare it to his shrill diatribes against the revolution from which one learns nothing.”

The prison photographer – another inmate – took our pictures. Then we ate junk food from vending machines – all that’s available – and discussed reforms in Cuba.

“I thought Raul’s speech (President Raul Castro, December 18, 2010) was needed. We must change to survive. We must become productive and efficient.”

“Visiting is over,” a guard announces. Gerardo lines up against the wall with other prisoners. We huddle near the door with other visitors. He raises his fist. “Keep the faith.” He smiles confidently.

“He has Mandela-like qualities,” Danny says.

Saul agrees.

Saul Landau’s new film on the Cuban Five case and its history — WILL THE REAL TERRORIST PLEASE STAND UP — will soon be available. Counterpunch published his BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD.

Danny Glover is an activist and an actor. He produced THE BLACK POWER MIXTAPE, which premiered at Sundance.


More articles by:

SAUL LANDAU’s A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD was published by CounterPunch / AK Press.

March 22, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Italy, Germany and the EU’s Future
David Rosen
The Further Adventures of the President and the Porn Star
Gary Leupp
Trump, the Crown Prince and the Whole Ugly Big Picture
The Hudson Report
Modern-Day Debtors’ Prisons and Debt in Antiquity
Steve Martinot
The Properties of Property
Binoy Kampmark
Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and Surveillance Capitalism
Jeff Berg
Russian to Judgment
Gregory Barrett
POSSESSED! Europe’s American Demon Must Be Exorcised
Robby Sherwin
What Do We Do About Facebook?
Trump Spokesperson Commemorates Invading Iraq by Claiming U.S. Doesn’t Dictate to Other Countries; State Dept. Defends Invasion
Rob Okun
Students: Time is Ripe to Add Gender to Gun Debate
Michael Barker
Tory Profiteering in Russia and Putin’s Debt of Gratitude
March 21, 2018
Paul Street
Time is Running Out: Who Will Protect Our Wrecked Democracy from the American Oligarchy?
Mel Goodman
The Great Myth of the So-Called “Adults in the Room”
Chris Floyd
Stumbling Blocks: Tim Kaine and the Bipartisan Abettors of Atrocity
Eric Draitser
The Political Repression of the Radical Left in Crimea
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan Threatens Wider War Against the Kurds
John Steppling
It is Us
Thomas Knapp
Death Penalty for Drug Dealers? Be Careful What You Wish for, President Trump
Manuel García, Jr.
Why I Am a Leftist (Vietnam War)
Isaac Christiansen
A Left Critique of Russiagate
Howard Gregory
The Unemployment Rate is an Inadequate Reporter of U.S. Economic Health
Ramzy Baroud
Who Wants to Kill Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah?
Roy Morrison
Trouble Ahead: The Trump Administration at Home and Abroad
Roger Hayden
Too Many Dead Grizzlies
George Wuerthner
The Lessons of the Battle to Save the Ancient Forests of French Pete
Binoy Kampmark
Fictional Free Trade and Permanent Protectionism: Donald Trump’s Economic Orthodoxy
Rivera Sun
Think Outside the Protest Box
March 20, 2018
Jonathan Cook
US Smooths Israel’s Path to Annexing West Bank
Jeffrey St. Clair
How They Sold the Iraq War
Chris Busby
Cancer, George Monbiot and Nuclear Weapons Test Fallout
Nick Alexandrov
Washington’s Invasion of Iraq at Fifteen
David Mattson
Wyoming Plans to Slaughter Grizzly Bears
Paul Edwards
My Lai and the Bad Apples Scam
Julian Vigo
The Privatization of Water and the Impoverishment of the Global South
Mir Alikhan
Trump and Pompeo on Three Issues: Paris, Iran and North Korea
Seiji Yamada
Preparing For Nuclear War is Useless
Gary Leupp
Brennan, Venality and Turpitude
Martha Rosenberg
Why There’s a Boycott of Ben & Jerry’s on World Water Day, March 22
John Pilger
Skripal Case: a Carefully-Constructed Drama?
March 19, 2018
Henry Heller
The Moment of Trump
John Davis
Pristine Buildings, Tarnished Architect
Uri Avnery
The Fake Enemy
Patrick Cockburn
The Fall of Afrin and the Next Phase of the Syrian War
Nick Pemberton
The Democrats Can’t Save Us