13 September 2013, 12:17

Protestors demand Obama to release 'Cuban 5' agents arrested by FBI 15 years ago

Protesters outside White House

Protesters outside White House

Protesters outside White House

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Protesters gatherd in front of the White House on Thursday to demanded President Obama release the Cuban 5, the Cuban agents the FBI arrested 15 years ago for alleged espionage. The VoR's Washington correspondent Molly Seder reports from the scene.

Thursday was the 15th anniversary of the arrest of the Cuban five.

The five Cuban intelligence agents say they were dispatched to Miami to investigate terror attacks targeting Cuba but have been in prison in the US since.

Protestors in DC called for the release of the four still in prison.

"We’re here today on the 15th anniversary to ask Obama to do the right thing and free them," said Bill Hackwell, a member of the "National Committee to free the Cuban Five," the group that rallied outside the White House. 

Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero, Ramón Labañino, and Fernando González were charged in 1998 with conspiracy to commit murder and espionage as well as acting as an agents of a foreign government.

A fifth member who now lives in Cuba, Rene Gonzalez, was released from US custody in 2011.

Their supporters say they don't deserve such lengthy sentences. Today four of the five remain locked up.

A number of prominent thinkers and politicians have also called for the release of the Cuban 5. This includes the usual suspects – Noam Chomsky, Alice Walker, Gove Vidal, and Howard Zinn – and former US President Jimmy Carter. 

In front of White House, protesters demanded justice. 

"There is an injustice regarding the case of the Cuban five," says one protestor. "These brothers were here actually trying to combat terrorism, trying to save lives. They committed no atrocity, no harming of the life of anyone."

"These men were not spies," says another. "They’re heroes. They were trying to stop terrorism against their country and anyplace else they would be regarded as heroes and they are around the world." 

Organizers say conditions are harsh for the prisoners – who are routinely denied family visits as they serve their uncommonly long sentences.

Professor Stephen Kimber, author of 'What Lies Across the Water: the real story of the Cuban five', says the agents informed Havana of a plot they uncovered to blow up an airplane en route to Cuba. 

"Fidel Castro realized he couldn’t stop this on his own," he explained. "He used Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Nobel Prize winning novelist to take this to another friend of his, Bill Clinton."

Kimber says in June of 1998, President Clinton sent the FBI to Cuba to investigate.

There US agents saw Cuban 5 intelligence, including bomb fragments, wire-tapped evidence, and confessions by low-ranking mercenaries.

But their response left Cuban officials stunned. 

"In three months they arrested not the plotters, the people who were planning the terrorist actions, but the Cuban agents who discovered it," Kimber says. "And that’s really the ultimate injustice of this whole case."

After their arrest, the men stood trial in Miami, a city full of Cuban expats with little sympathy for Castro and his agents.

Bill Hackwell of the 'National Committee to free the Cuban Five' says there were a number of problems with the court case, among them jury intimidation: 

"The media there were taking [the jury members’] license plates down," Hackwell said. "So everyone knew who they were, who the jury was, so they felt intimidated and they said so afterward."

Furthermore, Hackwell says the Miami press was hysterical in their coverage of the trials.

"During the trial there were like these charged, outrageous articles that were showing up in all the mainstream media," he said. "Just to make the atmosphere impossible."

Hackwell's organization claims the US government paid prominent Miami journalists to publish inflammatory reports on the case while the trials were ongoing. 

On its website, the "National Committee to free the Cuban Five" says it has evidence the US government acted through the Broadcasting Board of Governors. 

However, Letitia King of the Broadcasting Board of Governors told the VoR this is fabrication. 

"The allegations that the Broadcasting Board of Governors paid local reporters to generate negative coverage of the case are entirely baseless," she said.

Even so, Sheryl of the National Committee to free the Cuban Five blames the press for their continued detention. 

She says the story seldom makes the news and, when it does, it's biased.

"The media has refused consistently to cover the Cuban 5," she said.

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