Research: Commentary

Continuing Shame in the Case of the Cuban Five

October 17, 2013 | Article


Stephen Kimber’s piece in the Washington Post on October 4 regarding the case of the Cuban Five was superb – carefully researched and reasoned. I came away from reading it, however, as I had from reading his book, What Lies Across the Water, with a deep sense of depression, for it all so painfully undercuts the image of the United States as dedicated to justice, honor and fairplay. As Kimber notes in his book, the trial of the Cuban Five back in 2001 was such a complete farce that it drew massive international criticism – from ten Nobel Prices winners, from hundreds of jurists, members of parliaments and various other organizations from all over the world, many of whom joined 12 amicus briefs asking the Supreme Court to review the case (which of course it did not). And for the first time in history, the UN Human Rights Commission condemned a trial in the United States.

In his book, Kimber follows the Cubans as they are assigned as undercover agents, not to work against the U.S., but to gather information on exile terrorist activities against Cuba. The Cuban government then invited representatives of the FBI to come to Havana to receive and discuss the evidence of these terrorist activities and plans gathered by the agents. The meeting took place in June of 1998. The Cubans then waited for the United States to take action against the exile terrorists. But none was taken. The only action, rather, was the arrest of the Cuban Five, who had provided much of the evidence turned over to the FBI.

And yet, the meeting in June had in effect been prompted by Fidel Castro in a message to the White House delivered by Gabriel Garcia Marquez to President Clinton’s Latin American adviser, Thomas Mack McLarty. The core of the message had been to suggest a joint effort against exile terrorism, especially in light of Cuban information that the exiles were planning new plane bombings, such as those carried out earlier by Luis Posada Carriles. According to Garcia Marquez, the American reaction to the idea of a joint effort had been decidedly positive.

 What then had happened to turn the whole thing around? Kimber believes it had to do with the FBI’s assignment of a new Agent in Charge, Hector Pesquera, who was close to hardline Cuban exiles. Kimber writes that “in an interview with a Miami radio station soon after the verdicts were read, Pesquera claimed he was the one who switched his agents’ focus from spying on the spies to filing charges against them.” [1]

And “after the verdict in the Cuban Five trial, Pesquera was quick to claim credit for persuading officials in Washington to OK his plan, i.e, to go after the Cuban Five rather than the exile terrorists. He told the Miami Herald that the case “never would have made it to court if he hadn’t lobbied FBI director Louis Freeh directly.” [2]

In his book, Kimber went on to write that “at the same time, Pesquera apparently discouraged investigations into exile terrorist activities. An FBI agent told journalist Annie Bardach that they had thought it would be a slam dunk to charge and arrest Luis Posada Carriles. But then they had a meeting with Pesquera who had said no, that Posada was a “freedom fighter.” And so the whole investigation against him was closed down.” [3]

And thus the outcome, Kimber concludes in his book, was the exact opposite of what had been contemplated at that White House meeting all those years ago. Rather than efforts to halt exile terrorist acts, the United State arrested and tried the Cuban Five – although trial is not the right word, for the trial was a total sham. The prosecutors had no real evidence and so fell back on the old standby of trying them for “conspiracy” to commit illegal acts. No evidence, and also they were tried in Miami where anti-Castro sentiment had reached such a level with the Elian Gonzalez case that there was no chance of empanelling an impartial jury. Defense lawyers requested a change of venue, but incredibly, it was denied.

Worst of all was the case of Gerardo Hernandez, who was accused of “conspiracy” to commit murder and given two consecutive life sentences, plus fifteen years – this in connection with the shoot down of the two Brothers to the Rescue planes in February of 1996. Never mind that there was no evidence at all that he was in any way responsible. But there, behind bars, he remains today, mostly in solitary confinement, and after all these years not allowed a single visit from his wife.

The case of the Cuban Five, then, continues as a shameful stain on the standing of U.S. justice. It is a stain which must be removed.


[1] Kimber, What Lies Across the Water, p. 286.

[2} Kimber, op. cit. p. 286

[3] Kimber, op. cit. p. 286

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