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December 5, 2013
President Barack Obama
The White House
Dear President Barack Obama,
As a naturalized citizen of the United States I want to ask you, my President, to commute the sentences of four persons, often known as the Cuban Five. Their names are: Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero and Fernando González. [The fifth, René González,was recently released from prison after serving his sentence].
I am particularly interested in their case because I think their imprisonment, the result of a flawed trial, is a roadblock to normal relations between the United States and Cuba. Let me explain.
I was born in Cuba. When the Cuban revolution began I was 13 years old. By April 1961 I left Cuba, alone. It was part of a US government sponsored program later known as Operation Peter Pan. I was one of over 14,000 children that came to the US alone. In the United States I spent my teen age years in foster homes, then married, had a son and a daughter and eventually a grandson. From a janitor – my first job – I ended up with a doctorate in History and Sociology.
I am thankful to the United States and its institutions for the fact that I was able to make something of myself even though I never had my parents with me. I am 68 years old.
I have dedicated a significant part of my life to studying the country in which I was born as well as the country I made my own, and their relations. Because of the absence of normal diplomatic and commercial relations I have never been able – like many other Cubans – to interact in a fluid and normal manner between my two homelands. This needs to end.
I think that there is a need to have normal full diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba. A first step should be the full pardon of the persons who have been called “the Cuba Five”. I am well acquainted with their case. I was one of seven Cuban American scholars who submitted an amicus curiae to the Supreme Court on behalf of the imprisoned. All of us are respected scholars and specialists on Cuba and Cuban American reality. Moreover, there are many others – like us – in the United States who were born in Cuba or are of Cuban ancestry who support better relations and the release of these prisoners.
Any unbiased assessment of the case and the highly politicized circumstances under which the trial happened will have to conclude that our Justice system did not work properly, in this particular case. Political and partisan considerations worked against fairness; and at the time the Clinton administration was literally under siege. But you as my President can do something about it. Commute their sentences. In doing so you will be earning the appreciation of the Cubans who are now US citizens as well as of our relatives on the island.
It is the right thing to do. But it will also mark a profound departure from past policies. You will find that most of Cuban Americans in the United States will welcome and support your daring initiative. Moreover, such a pardon will lead to a reciprocal action from the Cuban government. They have gone on record to that effect. That means that both sides will pardon one or more citizens of the other side. Thus, your action – at the same time – will trigger the release of American citizen Alan Phillip Gross. It is not a matter of equivalent violations of the law in one or another country; rather, it will be equivalent humanitarian acts by two governments who want to initiate constructive engagement.
It is clear that the families of the Cuban Five as well as the family of Mr Gross want their respective loved ones to be freed. But neither family wishes to say anything that could affect their own relatives or the other side. Yet, both the people of the United States and Cuba would benefit.
I am also certain that if you were to announce the forthcoming Presidential pardon, Cuba will reciprocate. They have gone on record that they would do so. Then, other long-standing bilateral differences could be discussed, negotiated and hopefully resolved further in the future.
The time for better relations between both countries is now.
Thank you for your consideration.
Nelson P Valdes
Emeritus Professor of Sociology