Let the Cuban Five Go

There is a growing international outcry for the release of the Cuban five from US prisons. This call transcends ideological commitment because it appeals to basic principles of justice: to be treated in a fair and equitable manner. The Cuban five–Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González, Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, and René González—were arrested in Miami Florida on September 12, 1998. They were accused by the US government and subsequently convicted of committing espionage conspiracy against the United States, and other related charges. Since their convictions serious questions have been raised about the prejudicial conditions of the trial venue (Miami-Dade County) and the excessive sentences imposed on the defendants (fifteen years to life). Each day the Cuban five are kept behind bars carves another notch in the national conscience. It is time to let them go.

Details of the Cuban five case have been copiously covered in the press, so I will not rehearse them again here. I want to raise the question as to why the Cuban five remain today in prison. It is not enough to point to the serious nature of the charges; arguably, the real “crime” of the Cuban five was their infiltration of extremist anti-Castro groups to gain intelligence to prevent terrorist attacks inside Cuba, such as the bombing of the Copacabana hotel on September 4, 1997, which caused the death of Italian tourist Fabio Di Celmo. So while the Cuban five engaged in activities that violated US law, the defense argued persuasively that such activities did not pose a threat to the security of the U.S. and were motivated by an effort to prevent future terrorist attacks on Cuban soil. And if this is the case, the actions of the Cuban five did not merit such extreme retribution.

So why the retribution? In the case of the Cuban five, justice has arguably been trumped by foreign policy and domestic political calculations. In particular, the treatment of the Cuban five appears to be enmeshed in the general US policy towards Cuba. Perhaps if the US had not been engaged in a fifty year embargo against Cuba and did not have a history of support for militant anti-Castro groups, the Cuban five might have been given lighter sentences or sent back to Cuba. Moreover, Cuba might not have felt the need to send agents to Miami.

Hopefully times are changing. Now is an opportune moment, following the recent release of political prisoners in Cuba, to free the Cuban five, not as a quid pro quo, but as recognition that there is an injustice here in need of remedy. It would also constitute a significant humanitarian gesture. Moreover, a Presidential pardon of the Cuban five can help start a new page in US—Cuba relations.

Frederick B. Mills is a Professor of Philosophy at Bowie State University.

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