'Miami five' case in unprecendented London hearing

Fifteen years after their US arrest, five Cuban men convicted of espionage are to have a hearing in London

It is more than fifteen years since five Cubans were arrested in Miami and charged with espionage. They and their supporters have claimed ever since that they are the victims of a miscarriage of justice.

Four of the five remain behind bars in the United States but their case is now due to get an unprecedented hearing at the Law Society in London, in a specially convened commission of inquiry.

The 'Miami five' are Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Fernando González, Antonio Guerrero and René González. They were arrested in Miami in 1998, held in solitary confinement for 17 months and charged with conspiracy to commit espionage. Following their trial, they were jailed for terms of between 15 years and life.

The five had infiltrated Cuban exile groups in Florida which had launched or were suspected of planning attacks against Cuba. The case against them was they were part of "conspiracy to act as a non-registered foreign agent". Their defence was that they were acting to prevent acts of terrorism.

The case is part of the long-running conflict between the United States and Cuba. Since the revolution in 1959 that brought Fidel Castro to power, the US, through the CIA, has supported exile groups in Florida seeking to remove him. The Cuban government claims that more than 3,000 people have died as a result of various plots, from the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion to the bomb placed on a Cuban plane in 1976, in which 73 people were killed, and explosions in Havana hotels and clubs in 1997 aimed at derailing the Cuban holiday industry. Such plots were usually hatched in Miami and it was the groups based there that the five, two of whom were born in the US, infiltrated in the 90s. Their aim was to report back on the groups' activities.

A trial was held in Miami in 2001, despite legal objections that the five would be unable to get a fair hearing there because of such strong anti-Castro sentiment. All were convicted. The case, although little reported in the US, became an international cause celebre and has had the support of Harry Belafonte, Desmond Tutu, the late Harold Pinter, Nadine Gordimer, Danny Glover and the late José Saramago.

Now the case will have a hearing in a legal setting in London. On 7-8 March 2014, a two-day commission of inquiry into the Miami five case will convene a panel drawn from lawyers, human rights officials and academics at the Law Society in London. The commission will hear evidence from René González, the first and only member of the five to have been released after completing his sentence; earlier this year he wrote about his experience for the Guardian.

Michael Mansfield said that he hoped that the commission would "serve as an expression of truth and conscience by the people for the people. Politicians cannot be trusted to undertake such an exercise."

Irmita González, the eldest daughter of González, said: "I was only 14 when my dad got arrested and I am 29 now. I have been growing up in the middle of this battle. It's time for it to end and for my uncles to come back to their families, their life and their country."


Duncan Campbell

The GuardianTramp

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