A Holiday Visit to Gerardo’s Hell

2:30 PM, departure time the most excruciating part of visiting Gerardo Hernandez. A prison guard announced: “Visiting hours are over.” Gerardo lined up against the wall with the other inmates. We stood with wives, children and mothers. Finally, the electronically controlled, heavy metal door opened. Gerardo held up a triumphant fist. We did the same. He stayed in Hell (13 years now). We left.

We drove from the Victorville Penitentiary to the Ontario California airport, discussing the absurdity of five Cubans (one on precarious parole) who helped the United States fight terrorism but remain locked in federal penitentiaries while Luis Posada Carriles who orchestrated the 1976 bombing of a Cuban passenger plane (73 died) dines in Miami’s finest restaurants? In between visits to his proctologist Posada and fellow geezers continue plotting anti-Cuba violence.

Miami Federal Court judges will decide on Gerardo’s appeal, which presents new facts and evidence: Gerardo’s trial lawyer now admits he inadequately represented him; new documents show payment by the US government to Miami-based “journalists” who offered negative stories about the accused Cubans, thus tainting the trial atmosphere. Finally, the US government has still refused to deliver its “secret” map showing the exact point where on February 24, 1996 Cuban MIGs shot down two Brothers to the Rescue airplanes. The Cubans claim the incidents occurred over Cuban airspace, i.e.; no crime took place. Washington insisted the planes got hit in international air space, but the NSA said they could not release their crucial diagram: “national security.” Gerardo played no part in the drama — no matter where the shoot down occurred.

We agreed US Cuba policy bordered on the absurd. For example, the State Department placed Cuba on its terrorist list although the US has made Cuba a victim of terrorist attacks; Cuba has not reciprocated. But Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee argued: “the United States should not negotiate with a state sponsor of terrorism.”

This related to her objection to any US humanitarian approach to get Alan Gross released. Convicted in Cuba for activities related to a USAID regime change policy, Gross must either serve his fifteen year sentence or wait until the US military “liberates” the island. She called on people to assassinate Fidel Castro (see Landau’s WILL THE REAL TERRORIST PLEASE STAND UP).

This rhetoric hardly serves Gross’ interests. Thanks to Ileana he might stay in prison until age 75. He misses his family, as do the Cubans in US prisons.  Like Alan, they also have close relatives with serious illnesses. When my mother died in 2009 “I wasn’t in Cuba to bury her.”

Gerardo told us he and Adriana, now 42 want children. So does another member of the five, Fernando Gonzalez and his wife. The US denies visas to their wives. Time is running out. Gerardo’s face showed a flash of anguish.

The Five’s cause gets little publicity. Not so the case of Alan Gross, an American contractor sentenced to 15 years in Cuba for activities designed to undermine Cuba’s government. The Gross and Cuban Five cases, however, are different. Gerardo received two consecutive life sentences plus fifteen years for conspiring to commit espionage and aiding and abetting murder –supposedly providing information to Cuban authorities, which was public, on the February 24, 1996 fatal flights of the Brothers to the Rescue. Since the trial took place in Miami, the prosecution didn’t need to provide evidence for either charge. Imagine five Jews on trial in Berlin in 1938!

Gross, perhaps misunderstood the nature of his mission, to teach clandestinely dissidents to operate closed satellite networks to help overthrow the Cuban government. The Five came to Florida to stop terrorism, not destabilize the US government,” said Gerardo.True, Gerardo explained, Gross and the Cubans are prisoners and want to go home. But, he said, “the media reports regularly on the Jewish-American imprisoned in Havana for allegedly trying to help the Jewish community obtain internet technology. Cuban Jewish leaders deny Gross came to help them. Synagogues in Cuba had access to the Internet well before Gross’ visit,” he clarifed.


Nor, Gerardo smiled did “we [the Cuban Five] enter the US with tourists visas as Gross did.” In his visits to Cuba, “Gross never told his Cuban contacts he worked on a government contract. US policy says it wants regime change. Imagine Cuba sending in agents to overthrow capitalism and install a socialist government. Wow! Free health care for all — just because all human beings deserve it.”


Gerardo sympathized with Gross health problems. Alan gets special medical attention and doesn’t cohabit with convicted criminals. The Cuban 5 often did not receive needed medical attention in US prisons. Cuba has allowed Judy Gross to visit her husband.


Recently, groups of Jews picketed the Cuban Interest Section in Washington. Their signs “Cuban Gross Injustice” don’t indicate recognition of the Cuban Five. They, like the US government, demand that Cuba free Gross. They don’t demand reciprocity from Obama: free the Cubans who have already served 13 years.


Obama could make a humanitarian gesture to free the Cuban Five. Cuba has already “conveyed to the U.S. government its willingness to find a humanitarian solution to the Gross case on reciprocal basis.” (Cuban government press release December 2011)


The US media ignores the statements of 10 Nobel Prize winners, Amnesty International and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions. All agree. The Cuban Five did not get a fair trial and merit a pardon or a new trial– not in Miami.


Obama knows how to get Alan Gross home. After all, Israel swapped 1000 Palestinian prisoners for one captured Israeli.

Danny Glover is an activist and actor.

Saul Landau is an Institute for Policy Studies fellow. His WILL THE REAL TERRORIST PLEASE STAND UP (with Danny Glover) is on dvd (cinemalibrestore.com. COUNTERPUNCH published his BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD 



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