It was midday on Saturday, September 23. At the corner of Pennsylvania Ave. and 10th St. in Washington, D.C., a stage was set up in front of the Department of Justice.
Washington, D.C., Sept. 23.
Photo: Bill Hackwell
Surrounding the stage, a small crowd began to form. Cuban flags were held up proudly and defiantly. As the numbers increased, more banners began to be unfurled. Placards were distributed to the growing crowd of demonstrators. On the placards were the faces of five political prisoners.
The hundreds who came to Washington that day from around the country came on behalf of those five political prisoners held in U.S. prisons—Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González and René González, known together as the Cuban Five. People from Ohio, Chicago, New York, Boston, Kansas, Philadelphia, Richmond, Va., Montreal, Fort Lauderdale, Connecticut and Maine took part in the march. Fifty-one of the participants were Cubans from the city of Miami, Tampa and Key West.
Max Lesnik, director of Radio Miami, was the first to take the stage. “We are in front of the Department of Justice of the United States, demanding justice for individuals who were jailed because they tried to guard against terrorist acts on Cuba.”
Months before, the National Committee to Free the Five, the ANSWER Coalition—Act Now to Stop War and End Racism—the Cuban progressive coalition La Alianza Martiana, National Lawyers Guild, Nation of Islam, National Network on Cuba and other groups called for this demonstration and march. The goal of the event was to build a show of support for the Five. But even more important, the demonstration shed light on a case that has been virtually unreported in the corporate media and so, in large part, still unknown to the U.S. public.
The rally launched a spirited march to the White House. After a mass picket, the demonstrators marched to George Washington University, where a panel discussion rounded out the afternoon. It was filled with moving testimony from family members of the victims of terrorist attacks committed by anti-Cuba fascists. Francisco Letelier, whose father Orlando Letelier—former Chilean foreign minister under Salvador Allende—was assassinated by a car bomb in Washington, D.C., and Livio di Celmo, the brother of Fabio Di Celmo, murdered by a terrorist bombing in a Cuban hotel, were among those featured in the forum. Other speakers were Leonard Weinglass, one of the appeals lawyers for the Cuban Five; Gloria La Riva, coordinator of the National Committee to Free the Five; Andrés Gómez, coordinator of the Antonio Maceo Brigade in Miami; Min. Akbar Muhammad, international representative from the Nation of Islam; Heidi Boghosian, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild; Wayne Smith, former chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana; Peta Lindsay, student activist with ANSWER; and Saul Landau, author of the book “Assassination on Embassy Row” about the Letelier killing.
Francisco Letelier (left) and Livio di Celmo, family members of Posada’s victims.
Photo: Bill Hackwell
Since the events of Sept. 11, the U.S. government has trumpeted its right to act against oppressed peoples around the world under the pretext of fighting to halt terrorist acts perpetrated against the U.S. people.
Yet, while U.S. propagandists argue for the need to “defend U.S. national security” with offensive measures, the Pentagon has organized consistent terrorist attacks against Cuba ever since the victory of the Cuban revolution in 1959.
Ramón Labañino, one of the Five, sentenced to life in prison, pointed to this fact in his speech before being sentenced in Dec. 2001:
“Cuba, my country, has suffered more than 42 years of terrorist acts, aggression, invasions and provocation, which have resulted in the deaths of over 3,478 innocent human beings and physical injuries to over 2,099. Cuba, like the United States, has the right to defend itself.”
The U.S. aggression includes military operations like the 1961 attack at the Bay of Pigs and sabotage and destabilization attacks like Operation Mongoose. It also includes attacks led by counterrevolutionary terrorist organizations in Miami, who operate with the full protection of the U.S. government.
Alpha 66, Omega 7, Comandos L and Brothers to the Rescue are just some of the terrorist groups that have organized attacks on Cubans from the harbors and landing strips of southern Florida. These attacks have included planes flying over the island spraying pesticides over their crops and widespread dispersal of bacteria to target humans, agriculture and animals. They have also included planting bombs in Cuban hotels and other tourist spots.
U.S. backs terrorist Posada
Among the worst terrorist acts in the Americas was the attack carried out on a Cubana airliner on Oct. 6, 1976. Soon after the plane departed from Barbados, two bombs that had been smuggled on board exploded, killing all 73 people on board. The crew and most of the passengers, 57 people, were Cuban. There were six young Guyanese students who were flying to Cuba to study medicine, 11 Guyanese in total, and five North Korean cultural workers. The leading organizers of this murderous plot were Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles—both on the CIA payroll, and both responsible for numerous other terror campaigns.
During the Sept. 23 forum in Washington, Livio di Celmo described how Posada Carriles had paid Salvadoran and Guatemalan mercenaries $5,000 per bomb to be placed in Cuban hotels, in the summer of 1997. One of those bombs killed his brother Fabio in the Copacabana Hotel lobby in Havana on Sept. 4, 1997. Francisco Letelier described the details of how his father was assassinated by Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s secret police with the assistance of counterrevolutionary Cuban organizations in New Jersey. Ronni Moffit, a U.S. activist traveling with Letelier in the car that day, was also killed by the bomb. Posada is also implicated in the crime.
Orlando Bosch openly brags about his crimes and terrorist history on Miami television, but today he walks freely through the streets of Miami after his deportation order from the United States was canceled by then-president George H.W. Bush. Posada Carriles escaped from a prison in Venezuela while awaiting trial for the Cubana plane bombing in 1985 and proceeded to El Salvador, where he was fully engaged with the CIA in the Iran-Contra arms shipments.
Just last year, Posada was detained in Miami on immigration charges, two months after he was secretly smuggled into Miami by terrorists Santiago Alvarez and Osvaldo Mitat. Posada thought he would automatically receive asylum, since that is the red-carpet treatment his accomplice Bosch received from Bush senior.
The legacy of Sept. 11, 2001, has made the immediate release of Posada a political “hot potato” for the Bush administration. Yet, the U.S. government, through Homeland Security, chose to set the stage for Posada’s possible release this fall by only prosecuting Posada on illegal entry, not for his bombing of the plane.
Cuba and Venezuela have demanded Posada’s extradition to Venezuela, but to no avail. This past Sept. 11, a judge recommended Posada’s release into the public, citing U.S. attorney general Alberto Gonzales’ failure to declare Posada a terrorist or a national security risk.
The history of U.S.-backed terrorism against Cuba did not begin with the Bush administration. It has been part and parcel of every administration’s policy since Eisenhower.
The Cuban government sent the Cuban Five to infiltrate these terrorist groups after it became apparent that the U.S government would sit idly by and allow the Miami terrorists to continue their plots. They accepted the mission, sacrificing their lives to infiltrate the terrorist groups and warn the Cuban government of attempted attacks.
In the course of their work, they obtained a substantial amount of evidence ranging from audio, videotapes and other documentation detailing names and locations of terrorists as well as the existence of a paramilitary training camp located in southern Florida. The Cuban government invited FBI agents to review the reports and to apprehend these individuals.
But instead of arresting the terrorist plotters, the U.S. government arrested the five Cubans. The trial was carried out in the city of Miami, although the defense requested that the trial be moved from Miami several times because of intense manipulation of the media by the counterrevolutionary Cubans and the environment of hostility against anyone seen as supportive of Cuba. In that climate, the Cuban Five were found guilty on all counts and received sentences ranging from 15 years to double-life imprisonment.
The case was appealed to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, Ga. In 2005, a three-judge panel annulled the initial verdict on the basis that the trial was carried out under biased conditions in the city of Miami and on the basis of prosecutorial misconduct. However, on Aug. 9, 2006, a full panel of the 11th Circuit revoked the 2005 decision.
In a brazen show of support for terrorism against Cuba, U.S. attorney general Gonzales intervened to appeal the three-judge panel ruling of Aug. 9, 2005, that granted a new trial to the Cuban Five. In other words, while he is strenuously fighting to keep the five anti-terrorist fighters in prison, he knows that his inaction on the Posada matter could help free that hated terrorist.
Weinglass highlighted the injustice of the case at the Sept. 23 forum. The Five “did not seize a single U.S. military document and yet they received the same life sentences that others convicted of espionage who had stolen thousands of military documents did,” he said.
Throughout the Five’s eight years of imprisonment, the U.S. government has tried to hide the injustice of their wrongful and unwarranted incarceration. Within that span of time, supporters and activists have worked to overcome the silent cover-up of this injustice.
Millions of Cubans have taken to the streets to support the Cuban Five. For them, the Five are an example of revolutionary determination and courage in the face of U.S. imperialism.
In the forum, Francisco Letelier described the struggle of the Five: “People have asked me today, why are you here? To me it is very clear. The story of the Cuban Five is connected to an historical relationship throughout the Americas, of people pursuing sovereignty, the right to live in peace, self-determination, justice.”
Now more than ever, with Cuba increasingly a target for U.S. threats and attempted counterrevolution, with the Five entering their ninth year of imprisonment, it is important to support the Cuban Five cause. The hundreds in Washington pledged to speak out about the case, to inform people of this injustice, to denounce the U.S. government hypocrisy and to build support for the Cuban revolution.
“We can’t simply admire the Five,” Gloria La Riva stated. “We need to fight for them.”