Obama’s next challenge? Interview with Adriana Peréz, spokesperson of The Cuban Five

he re-election of President Barack Obama has not only become reality, it will be Obama’s second quadrennial of generating grey hair. He will be confronting challenges of great difficulty (Gaza, social policy in the US, the financial crisis, …) and will have to contain many political and ideological dilemmas. One of those challenges are The Cuban Five. The Cold War is over but the struggles between communist/socialist Cuba and the capitalist United States of America remain an issue. The Cuban Five are a group of Cuban informants quested to find anti-Cuban movements in Florida. The operation was a non-violent diplomatic move to inform the United States of America about possible terrorist movements within its borders. The Cuban Five are Gerardo Hernández Nordelo, Ramón Labañino Salazar, Rene González Sehwerert, Antonio Guerrero Rodríguez, and Fernando González Llort.

It’s cold yet sunny Monday morning in the capital of Europe when I, alongside my colleague, reach the residence of the ambassador to Cuba. We receive a warm welcome and warm up with a cup of coffee while waiting for Mrs. Adriana Pérez to arrive. Adriana Pérez is Gerardo Hernández Nordelo’s wife, one of The Cuban Five. We managed to grab some time within her busy touring schedule. She’s traveling through various countries to tell the story of her husband’s case. When she arrives,  we get started after a brief acquaintance. It’s quite a one-sided interview for Mrs. Pérez has a lot to tell.

De Moeial: Can you tell me what happened in September 1998?
Adriana Pérez: “Well, we have to start by telling that Cuba has been a victim of terrorist attacks originating from Southern Florida ever since the Cuban Revolution. We have informed the US government about several events over the years, asking for supportive actions to avoid military decisions, but they haven’t occurred yet. So Cuba had to ask these men (the Cuban Five) to be the eyes and ears of our country within anti-Cuban organizations. It’s never been the intention of Cuba to search for information about the United States’ homeland security. I can say that some of these organizations are Alpha 66, El Grupo Democracia, Hermanos Al Rescate.”

“Let’s remember that in the ’90s, I know you guys are very young, a lot of terrorist attempts occurred in Cuba that affected many lives including that of an Italian tourist. So Cuba had to protect itself by infiltrating or observing anti-Cuban movements to know what would be their next move. This was the job of the Cuban Five; they had to require information of these organizations and pass it through to the Cuban and US government. For example: when the Pope came to Cuba in March, an American travel agency promoted the journey of religious people to Cuba. That agency suffered a terrorist attack, I believe it was in July. So clearly, these terrorist attacks still happen and the US authorities still haven’t found whoever is responsible, nor have they accused anyone of performing these attacks. The goal of those terrorist organizations is to send out a threat to anyone who tries to ameliorate the relations with Cuba: that they would suffer the same fate. This all to explain why Cuba had to do this work.”

“In June, before the arrest of the Five in September, some FBI agents visited Cuba after a US request. Fidel Castro had given voice to concerns of a possible terrorist attack on Bill Clinton that used commercial airlines in the future. Cuba had information about this threat but one did not know how or when this attempt would occur. So Cuba asked the US to help gather extra information. Clinton sent officials to Cuba where they received all necessary information pertaining these organizations. Despite this, the US didn’t use the information to stop these actions. Instead of acting, the US started to examine through whom Cuba had gained access to this information and when they eventually found the Cuban Five, they were incarcerated. Years later, the attacks of 9/11 took place.”

“Of course, that incarceration  was never a guarantee for a just and humanitarian juridical process. The trial began in June 2000 and in those two years (between the incarceration and the trial) the press (mostly Florida-based) had the opportunity to frame the five prisoners and depict them as spies. This created a certain public image that had a great influence on the course of the trial. So when the members of the jury were chosen, they were already intimidated and biased. Let’s stress that the portrayal of the Five as spies was only done by the Miami media. They are the ones who were spreading that information to the rest of the world. We now know that a group of journalists has received a sum of money from the US to create these misconceptions. The question is why the case of 9/11 is known worldwide and why the case of these five men, who wanted to avoid acts like 9/11,  is not.”

“The Five were trialed in Miami, where they had a public bias against them. So we already knew that they would be convicted. The Five were criminalized in the media for committing conspiracy and espionage although, officially, they were only accused of conspiracy and not for espionage. Why conspiracy? Because the North American law states that a charge like that does not need proof. It is enough to have the intention of conspiracy for the accusation to be justified. One of the three men is my husband. He has been condemned to an incarceration of two life terms plus 15 years.”

What has he been accused of?
“Espionage and conspiracy for committing an assassination in first degree. This is a fully political charge that was added seven months after his incarceration since they suspected he was the leader of the group. This charge has nothing to do with my husband. Gerardo Hérnandez didn’t know anything about the takedown of an airplane owned by the Hermanos Al Rescate, a supposedly humanitarian group that rescues shipwrecked Cuban immigrants. I emphasized supposedly because their goal is to promote the revolution against the present Cuban regime. But they went even further than that. They have frequently (over ten times) invaded Cuban airspace illegally. When they did, they transmitted a message through the Cuban communication towers to rise against the government. Cuba denounced these activities on several occasions, but when the activities kept going on, it decided to take the next airplane of that organisation down.”

“This happened in 1996. Cuba did not have another choice. Don’t you think Cuba would have liked to avoid such extreme actions? That’s why Gerardo is accused of assassination, although the legislation says that a man can never be accused of a sovereign act of his own country.”

“The five received about 26 charges, one of them  charged them with being a non-authorized agent,  which Gerardo accepted without complaint because of pronounced reasons. It’s obvious he could not inform the US government of their infiltrated positions in those organisations. Cuba has tried to talk about the anti-Cuban actions of those groups ever since the revolution, but none of the warnings have been taken seriously.” Three of them were also charged for having false identities. The irony is, though, that US agents do the same thing vis-à-vis Al-Qaeda: they infiltrate and adopt false identities.”

“Three Judges of the court of Atlanta revised the case, judges that have nothing to do with the community of Miami, and asked for a second trial because the defending party did not have any independence for the preparation of the case, this because the US government did not render sufficient promised evidence for the charges. The government classified some information under top secret so that this information was to be censured. The reason for this is that parts of those documents show that the takedown of the plane in 1996 occurred within Cuban territory instead of within international territory as was claimed. Anyway, it doesn’t matter where it occurred. Gerardo did not form a part of that operation, so it was unanimously accepted that there was no evidence for Gerardo’s assassination charge. Yet, one month later the prosecutor asked for that statement to be retrieved and exactly one year later the three judges retrieved their statement. We took the case to the Supreme Court with ten Nobel prize winners, religious groups, members of the parliament, full parliaments of Russia, Ecuador, Panama, etcetera, but the revision of the case was denied.”

“This trial was fully performed during the administration of George W. Bush. It was ended in June, 2009 when Barack Obama started his administration. Now we hope to reopen the case of Gerardo during the presidency of Obama because he’s the only one left with two life sentences.”

What has been the role of the European Union in this case?
“It has been a long journey. At the beginning, we were told to be patient, to trust in US politics and they claimed that the US is a very just and democratic country. Every year I went back “I haven’t seen him in six years”, “I haven’t seen him in seven years”, “I haven’t seen him in eight years”. The EU sent a written declaration to the US in 2006, asking them to respect our visiting rights. It was signed by 186 members of the EU parliament. Now, other actions have been organised. Five Euro-deputies had presented their endorsement to visit them in jail, the US denied. There have been public declarations; a call has been made to several governments that belong to the European Union, to search for a solution. That’s what we’re looking for, to maintain a space, a political institution that permits us to denounce the case evermore. We can’t give up, we can’t consider the case as exploited and we have to keep knocking on the same doors over and over again. This has been an opportunity to show the two faces of the government of the United States of America.”

So the EU has helped you with a given liberty to speak so you can spread the word, but will it take any political actions?
“There have been some political actions. Actions like written declarations. Leterme, for example, has seen us in several private meetings and spoke with the US government.The Belgian chancellor (probably referring to ex-vice prime minster Karel De Gucht) had spoken with the US government and said that relations between Cuba and the US would not ameliorate until this case was solved properly. When he came back from Cuba he stated that he was in favour of The Cuban Five and that Belgium could not criticize the violation of human rights without criticizing the case of The Cuban Five. This case is a political drama but also, don’t forget, a family drama for the wives and children of the five prisoners.”

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