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Cuban Five: a Cruel and Bizarre Decision

On Friday, September 16, a federal district court judge made a bizarre ruling concerning one of the Cuban Five defendants who completes his jail sentence on October 7.  Judge Joan Lenard ruled that René Gonzalez, who has already served thirteen years in a federal penitentiary for being an unregistered agent of the Cuban government, will be forced for the next three years to live in Miami on what is called “supervised release.”

Mr. Gonzalez had asked the Court to allow him to return home to Cuba to be with his wife, Olga, and his two daughters, Ivette and Irma.  Several years ago, the Department of State decided to permanently bar Olga from getting a visa to come to the United States.  She has been able to visit her husband only once, during the last thirteen years.  A cruel and unusual punishment for any prisoner.

Although born in the United States, Mr. González grew up in Cuba.  He returned to this country—at the behest of the Cuban government—to monitor the activities of extremist groups in Miami who were carrying out terrorist attacks against Cuba’s civilian population from their safe havens in southern Florida.  But because he did not register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) and inform the Department of Justice of his activities here, he violated the law.  The Miami-based terrorists he was monitoring, conversely, have never been prosecuted and remain free and protected in Miami.

What possible interest would the United States government have in further punishing a person whose only crime is fighting terrorism?  Why force him to remain in Miami, a hotbed of anti-Cuba terrorism, for the next three years?  Doesn’t it matter that Miami-based terrorists have murdered 3,478 Cubans and incapacitated 2,099 more during the past five decades? Furthermore, how can Mr. González be expected to comply with the terms of his supervised release in Miami?

The court-imposed conditions include prohibiting Mr. González “from associating with or visiting specific places where individuals or groups such as terrorists, members of organizations advocating violence, organized crime figures are known to be or frequent.”  Does this not mean rather that he ought not to live in Miami, the sanctuary of terrorism in the United States?

The terrorists that Mr. González was tasked with monitoring continue to live in Miami.  They openly advocate violence.  As recently as April of this year, Luis Posada Carriles—the mastermind both of the downing of a Cuban passenger plane that killed all 73 persons aboard and of a campaign of terror in Havana that targeted civilians in hotels and restaurants —reaffirmed his support for further violence against Cuba.  Posada Carriles and his terrorist friends live in Miami.  Why is the Court putting Mr. González’s safety at risk by forcing him to live for the next three years side by side with the very terrorists that he tailed as an unregistered Cuban agent?

Cuban-American terrorists are already responsible for the murders in the United States of Orlando Letelier (ex-Foreign Minister of Chile), Ronnie Karpen Moffitt (an American citizen), Eulalio Negrín and Carlos Múñiz Varela (Cuban-Americans who promoted a dialogue with the government of Cuba), as well as Felix García Rodríguez (a Cuban diplomat at the UN).

A public opinion survey conducted on the eve of the trial of the Cuba Five by legal psychologist Dr. Kendra Brennan concluded that Cuban-Americans in Miami have  “an attitude of a state of war . . . against Cuba.”

Moreover, a 29-page study published a few years ago by Americas Watch said that “the dominant intransigent forces in Miami’s Cuban exile community” try to silence opposing viewpoints in Miami with violence.  For example, a radio station was raided and one of its commentators beaten while other advocates of policy changes were subjected to bombings, vandalism of personal property and death threats. “While in the last few years there have been as many as a dozen bombings aimed at those who favor a more moderate approach toward the Castro regime, none has resulted in a single arrest or prosecution,” the report concluded.

It is irresponsible and dangerous for the United States to force René González to remain in this climate of violence and terrorism for the next three years.  His life is at risk.

Judge Lenard explained that she cannot properly evaluate the “circumstances of the offense and the history and characteristics of the defendant.”

Really, judge?  The “circumstances of the offense” are that René González came to the United States not to spy on the U.S. Government or to commit any crimes.  His job was to gather evidence against terrorists who were operating with impunity from the United States and whose targets were innocent civilians in Cuba. In 1997, for example, Cuban-American terrorists organized a series of bombings at the most famous hotels and restaurants in Havana, including Cuba’s emblematic hotel—the Nacional—and the restaurant that Hemingway made famous, the Bodeguita del Medio.  The purpose of the bombing campaign was to destroy Cuban tourism, thereby striking another blow to the Cuban economy that at the time was reeling from the loss of its customary trading partners in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

Especially after 9-11, the United States sustains that it is a matter of national security to punish the terrorists and reward those who combat terrorism.  If that is the case, then René González should be allowed to return home to his family—rather than force him to remain in Miami surrounded by criminals who may very well have it in for him.

Judge Lenard also claims in her decision that, if she allows Mr. González to return to Cuba on October 7, she won’t been able to assess whether the American public “will be protected from further crimes of the defendant.” His only “crime” was failing to register as a foreign agent.  How will Mr. González endanger the American people if he returns to Cuba?  How much time does Judge Lenard need to make to properly evaluate something as clear as spring water?

The judge also alleges that more time is needed to “provide the defendant with needed educational or vocational training, medical care, or other correctional treatment in the most effective manner.”   What?!!!

René González has no intention of living in the United States.  His lawyer has already said that his client is prepared to renounce his American citizenship and return home to Cuba.  He has no need of educational or vocational training whose purpose would be to reintegrate him into U.S. society.  He wants to go home to Cuba and be reunited with his family, not be instructed on how to live in this country and endure three more years of estrangement from his family.  As for medical care, he will have access to the best medical care in Cuba and it will be available at no expense to the United States or to himself.

To no one’s surprise, the Assistant United States Attorney in charge of the case, Carolina Heck-Miller, opposed Mr. González’s request to return to Cuba upon completion of his jail time.  This is, after all, the same federal prosecutor who decided not to prosecute Luis Posada Carriles for terrorism, despite a request from the lead attorney on the case at the Department of Homeland Security.

The only saving grace in Judge Lenard’s otherwise inexplicable decision is that she gives Mr. González leave to re-file his Motion at a later time “should circumstances warrant modification.”

What circumstances could she be waiting for?  For a terrorist in Miami to take a potshot at René?

José Pertierra is an attorney.  He represents the government of Venezuela in the case involving the request for the extradition of Luis Posada Carriles.

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José Pertierra is an attorney in Washington, DC.

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