with the brother of Rene González, one of the Five
MIREYA CASTAÑEDA, —Granma
International staff writer—
it seem strange that a case with so many ingredients
for a film, a best seller or a high-profile news
item is unknown in the United States?
would seem to be an order for silence on the subject
of the Five because they know that the men they have
caught, put on trial, and sentenced are not spies.
thoughts were conveyed to Granma International
by Roberto González, in his double role as Rene’s
brother and lawyer. This duality allowed the
affable, calm man, who received us in his own home,
to talk about the Five — because he didn’t just
discuss his brother — from the point of view of
his personal feelings and the law.
their arrest, René González, Fernando González,
Tony Guerrero, Ramón Labañino and Gerardo
Hernández have been subjected to especially cruel
treatment: 17 months in the Miami hole while
awaiting trial; totally ridiculous sentences such as
two life terms plus 15 years; returned to the hole
without any explanation, making it difficult to
prepare their appeals or see their lawyers and
preventing them from receiving visits from their
you visited them in prison?
visited René. My contact with the Five has been in
court (during the Miami trial); it was visual, not
physical contact. René is the only one I’ve seen
in prison, on family visits.
frequent are those visits?
go and see him at anytime because I’m an American
and I don’t have any visa problems. I was in Miami
for the whole process, at the trial; I was able to
make frequent visits during the preparatory stage;
since sentencing I’ve seen him three times. It
depends on work, on the need to visit, on my dual
roles as brother and lawyer.
prison is he in at the moment?
is currently being held in a prison in a little town
called Edgeville, in South Carolina.
a top security jail?
medium security. Gerardo, Tony and Ramón are in top
security facilities. Fernando and René are in
medium security prisons.
you tell us what happens during your visits with
relatively normal; there aren’t any special
circumstances. That is when he’s in with the
normal prison population; it’s different when he’s
in the hole. You have no physical contact with
prisoners in the hole, there’s mesh or glass in
between you; you can’t touch them. Normally we get
on well because the atmosphere between us is good.
One of René’s characteristics is that he doesn’t
make you feel like he’s in prison, he’s very
relaxed, very calm. Topics of conversation aren’t
dramatic ones at all. We don’t put the world to
rights in the prison. It’s just like we could be
talking here, about our problems, life, hopes,
worries, we tell stories. It’s just like you could
be doing here or at home.
René have an ability to distance himself? And I’d
also to know if he wrote as much before the trial as
he did during it?
doesn’t surprise me, but I think that more that
having an ability to distance himself, what René
has is an ability to concentrate. He’s a person
who can relate very well to what’s going on, and a
very aware man. More than distancing, what he does
is involve himself in things, and he knows exactly
what’s going on. What he has is a calmness,
confidence; he’s got his objectives in life very
well defined. It’s not that he’s a masochist or
anything, he’s just a very decisive man, a very
brave guy and he’s taken this on with decision and
bravery. He’s clear, he knows the circumstances,
what’s happening around him, he knows why; he’s
aware of things, he’s very aware that the problem
is not with him, but somewhere else. The fact that
he could write an account of what he’s a part of
with such objectivity is the most valuable thing
about it. Such honesty in his account, narrating it
as if he wasn’t part of this problem, comes from
his concentration. René knows that Cuba is on
trial, that it is a political trial, and he tells it
like that, he is a consequence, the judge’s
decision is going to fall on him. He knows that it’s
something bigger and that one day he made the
decision and took the risk, he’s just being
consistent. This gives him a lot of tranquility, it
makes him a serene person, secure in himself; he has
no regrets. As he said in his plea, ‘I have no
right to ask for leniency, I have no right to be
regretful, I did what I had to do.’ I think that
his ability to write the account has to do with his
vocation as a reader, he’s always read a lot, ever
since he was a boy. He had never written but having
read so much and having a capacity to analyze
problems, to be descriptive, he was able to write an
account. And he did so, without hate, without
resentment, despite the fact that he can see the
evil situation developing around him. But Rene is an
extremely balanced man, capable of evaluating
into account the violence in U.S. jails, what is
of the Five have any problems in that sense, and
they don’t because of the type of people they are.
The fact that they spent 17 months in the hole and
the way they emerged from it gave them a lot of
authority in the Miami prison. Normally someone who’s
been in the hole leaves it feeling unbalanced. A
person who spends one month in the hole comes out
affected in some way. Everyone in the Miami jail
knew about the five Cubans, they talked about them.
When they came out they were fresh as daisies. The
Five came out of it very well, made calls to their
families, were communicating well, and they
immediately began integrating into prison life.
People in the prison understood that the five men
were different, they had an element that other
prisoners lacked, and that earned them a lot of
respect. Afterwards, they weren’t problematic
prisoners, they followed the prison rules, they
weren’t submissive but they are respectful and at
the same time respected. And because of their
educational level, they help other prisoners; they
write letters to lawyers, to families, they even
solve some of the interracial problem that arise in
prison because they’re not racist and can prevent
friction among prisoners.
René’s wife Olga still unable to see him?
René’s wife still hasn’t been given a visa. His
eldest daughter, 18-year-old Irmita, has been. That
was last year. She wasn’t refused (a visa) but her
mother has been refused three times.
parents have also visited him
my parents have been twice; they went together. They
need a visa and that’s why they’ve only been on
those two occasions. They requested the first one at
the beginning of last year and went. On their return
they asked for the second one but only received an
answer in December. That meant that the visit was
delayed until this February. That’s the problem,
the visits aren’t prohibited as such, but it takes
so long for the visas to be issued that only one
visit a year is possible.
speaking, what’s been your participation?
work here (in Havana) as a criminal lawyer at the
law practice on J and 23rd. This gives rise to a
series of circumstances. I’m a criminal lawyer, I’m
an American and I’m René’s brother. As is only
logical I became involved in the case and the U.S.
lawyers began to establish links with my office, for
everything that they needed in Cuba, to seek
evidence, come to research the case, negotiate
visas. I don’t really consider myself as being
familiar with U.S. law, but at the end of the day,
what happens is that one trial has more or less the
same structure as another. The objective is the
same, to work with the evidence and demonstrate
innocence. The procedure is different, but the U.S.
lawyers (Philip Horowitz for René) acknowledge that
I’m a professional and give me a role. What I’ve
done has helped in the sense of what is needed here
in Cuba, researching subjects such as terrorism, the
victims of terrorism, the violations of Cuban air
space by the Brothers to the Rescue group. We’ve
developed a good relationship that’s worked very
well. When I was in Miami I was able to take part in
their defense preparation meetings, give my opinion,
they accepted my suggestions, and it’s been an
experience working with them. I call it the
privilege of misfortune.
each lawyer and each one of the Five have their
specific defense. Is there a common defense?
the common defense is the necessity Cuba has to
defend itself from acts of terrorism; another point
of contact is that Cuba is not interested in
information relating to the national security of the
United States. It’s a point that all the defense
teams are touching on. Gerardo’s case stands out
because he is charged with conspiracy to commit
murder in the context of the downing of the Brothers
to the Rescue light aircraft; the others have not
been accused of this. It affects René from the
point of view that he had infiltrated Brothers to
the Rescue, he knows that organization inside out,
he knows how it functions. In this case it’s not
that the defense cases are connected but that René
could really help Gerardo´s defense as he had
questions for each of the Brother to the Rescue
witnesses and points to take up with them and that
really helped Gerardo’s lawyer, Paul McKenna. In a
general sense, the common focus of the defense is
the non-existence of the crime of espionage, the
false claim that Cuba is a threat to U.S. national
security, and the necessity, the real history of
acts of terrorism against Cuba. The lawyers worked
on the existence of terrorism being recognized and
Cuba’s need to defend itself. This is the biggest
hypocrisy of the trial, that a judge can tell you
that there are indeed acts of terrorism, that she
acknowledges that innocent people ate losing their
lives, and then hands down a life sentence to the
sentence adds that as René and Tony are U.S.
citizens and thus cannot be deported, that they
cannot frequent terrorist groups on their release.
Does the sentence actually say terrorist groups?
the text actually says terrorist groups and
organized crime. The Five’s defense brought the
terrorists to the courtroom and they stood there,
and the terrorists said that they were terrorists.
‘Yes, I fired a rocket at a hotel in 1970,’ that
was Basulto. Another one said, ‘I’ve got a
training camp in the Everglades, and an office in
Flager where I recruit people,’ and an FBI agent
effectively stated that Frómeta was detained whilst
purchasing a Stinger anti-aircraft missile and a
quantity of explosive with a concrete plan to blow
up a hotel. The judge offered him the
"sanction" of one year under house arrest.
Another FBI official said that he had stopped a
vessel headed for Cuba - manned by members of
Alpha-66 carrying M16 rifles and explosives - but
let them go because they said they were only lobster
fishing. This came out during the trial, including
Basulto’s activities with Brothers to the Rescue,
flying planes over Havana and, more seriously,
interfering with civil aviation communications in
Boyeros and Matanzas. They penetrated the radio
frequency to broadcast messages, and this is very
dangerous during take-off and landing; it could have
caused a plane carrying 300 people to crash. They
are delinquents; they are given warnings but
continue to break the law and don’t have any
problems. The lawyers put it to the judge that she
should take into account that while these men, the
Five, certainly had violated a formality by not
presenting themselves to the attorney general as
agents of the Cuban government, they were unable to
do so precisely because of the support that the U.S.
government gives to those activities. It would be
ridiculous. The lawyers informed the judge that the
good jurisprudence they had broken was in not
registering themselves, which is a formality. The
judge was forced to respond to that: that they had
violated a formality but had saved lives, which are
worth more. They had committed an administrative
error but should be benefited by the law. The judge
replied, and this is what the text of René’s
sentence states: Acts of terrorism that are
committed against innocent people...are pernicious
and illegal...but they do not justify improper
conduct...And you are sentenced to 15 years for the
crime of non-registration.
here comes the astonishing addition.
because by sentencing him to 15 years, one would
assume that as René is a U.S. citizen, after 12
years he will have the right to parole, and is not
obliged to leave the country. At the request of the
federal judge, the judge had to impose a further
special parole condition: that the accused is
prohibited from associating with or visiting
specific places known to be frequented by
terrorists, members of violent organizations or
figures from organized crime. This is a legal
stipulation. It is not an interpretation, it is what
she wrote. When I heard this in the courtroom, I
froze. This is a sentence given after September 11.
How is it possible that after September 11 a judge
can effectively admit that there are acts of
terrorism like the ones this man was fighting
against, and then sanction him to 15 years
imprisonment and say that when he is released, he is
forbidden to approach those who are carrying out
these crimes? That is the same as saying: I’m not
interested in human life or in the fact that
innocent people die. And the other interpretation
is: I know they are terrorists, I know where they
are, but leave them alone because they’re my
terrorists. Technically, this has no explanation.
For this reason, they couldn’t make this public.
And we say that if this was known, the U.S. public
wouldn’t be able to understand it. After September
11, how can you explain why a man has been sent to
prison for combating terrorism?
are the arguments in the Atlanta appeal case?
most important argument in the appeal is a request
to annul the trial for violating the Sixth Amendment
of the U.S. constitution, which establishes the
right to a fair trial and an impartial jury. The key
element within the legal system is the jury. In
order to achieve this, there are two conditions:
first, that the jury members selected should not
have an opinion on the content of the case, and
second, that is should have no fear regarding the
decision it makes. The jury cannot have prior
opinions or fear, it is impartial. In the case of
Miami, that cannot be the case; everyone there has
an opinion of Cuba and an opinion of Cuban agents.
Any average Miami citizen would be scared to
pronounce a man accused of being an agent of the
Cuban government innocent. This is the principal
request, that the trial be annulled and there should
be a retrial in a different city.
should we expect during the next few months?
district attorney’s office must respond; it will
say ‘no, that Miami is a paradise’ and then the
Atlanta Court has to decide whether Miami was or was
not the place to hold the trial. They are also going
to contest the charges of conspiring to commit
murder and espionage, and with regards to terrorism,
they will state to the Atlanta Court that the judge
in the original trial did not apply the law
correctly because although she acknowledged the
subject of terrorism, she did not give the defendant
the benefit of combating terrorism. This is going to
take us all year. The district attorney’s office
has 60 days to reply, then the defense has a further
month. After that, there will be a hearing in which
the appeal will be argued and then comes the judges’
decision, which, as yet, does not have any date.
Were They Protecting Us From?
In 1996 Noam Chomsky remarked that
"Cuba was the target of more international terrorism than
probably the rest of the world combined". The following
list published in the web site antiterroristas.cu is just a part
of the terrorism directed against Cuba over the last 40 years.
AT LAUNCH OF BOOK OF CARTOONS BY ONE
OF THE IMPRISONED CUBANS
Love and humor can do anything
Castro presided over the launch of a book of cartoons by Gerardo
Hernández, one of the five Cubans imprisoned in the United
States on alleged charges of threatening that country’s
from Gerardo and his four comrades
Days of Gerardo Hernandez in the United States Federal Prison at
FOR millions of
Cubans, the living conditions of the Five Cuban Political
Prisoners being held in