Celia Hart on the Cuban Five

Five Political Prisoners in the United States, or “A Cloud’s Tail”

De cinco presos políticos en Estados Unidos...o un Rabo de Nube

 [The original Spanish version of this article was posted on the web site www.rebelion.org on August 19, 2006. The translation by W.T. Whitney, Jr., has been edited for Labor Standard. A note with general background information on the case of the Cuban Five appears at the end of this article.]

[We also alert our readers that a demonstration for the Cuban Five has been called for September 23, 2006, in Washington, D.C.]

[Introductory Note by W.T. Whitney: On Cuban television August 10, National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcón stated that “what’s most important now is to raise the solidarity of all people, everywhere—a mobilization. Outraged denunciation is what is going to free them [the Cuban Five], apart from what happens in one court session or another. We have to whip up a ‘cloud’s tail’ that will bring justice.”

[The “Cloud’s Tail” Alarcon referred to is the title of a song by Silvio Rodriguez, “Un Rabo de Nube” (from 1978). The words are as follows:

Si me dijeran pide un deseo,

If they told me I could have a wish,

preferiría un rabo de nube,

I’d choose a tail whipping down from the clouds,

un torbellino en el suelo

a whirlwind hitting the ground

y una gran ira que sube.

and a great rage that keeps on rising.

Un barredor de tristezas,

a road-sweeper to clear away sorrows,

un aguacero en venganza

a heavy shower of vengeance

que cuando escampe parezca

which, when it stops raining,

nuestra esperanza.

appears as our hope.



Si me dijeran pide un deseo,

If they told me to make a wish,

preferiría un rabo de nube,

I’d choose a funnel from the clouds,

que se llevara lo feo

that would blow away the ugly

y nos dejara el querube.

and leave us only the cherubic.

It would seem that the nightmares of this summer for the people of Cuba don’t want to quit. As Silvio Rodriguez said in one of his songs, “We’re going to need a nice autumn/ To make up for this long summer.”

The source of our sorrow this time is the decision of the judges of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta , Georgia, who met in full session [on August 9, 2006] and reversed the decision of an earlier panel of three judges of the same court. A year ago the three-judge panel ruled that the Miami trial against the five Cuban revolutionaries [which took place in June 2001] had violated judicial norms, had been contrary to law [improcedente].

Now, by a vote of 10 to 2, with a foul and filthy ruling printed as an official document, a positive assessment is made, confirming the deplorable, disquieting farce of the original trial.

This decision confronts us anew with some questions: What is this system of justice in which we are making legal appeals? What can we hope for from this system? And above all, how are we to focus our strength for future battles?

We cannot be “saved from sin” unless we denounce the system of imperialist justice. This system is designed to protect the interests of the capitalists.

A system of justice that does not condemn its own murderous executive branch, which has scattered-squandered tons of bombs in the Middle East and, besides that, acts as an accomplice to the Zionists who make a mockery in carrying out their rampages right under the stupid noses of the UN “peacekeepers”—the forces of the UN, which are supposed to ensure international peace and security—such a system of justice deserves only to be rejected. In my judgment it is a waste of time to make appeals to [or within] this system.

It seems to me ridiculous that many friends think imperialism possesses the alternative of converting millions of dollars from the arms industry to programs for science, health, and education.  If that happened, there would cease to exist a capitalist empire which, like an insatiable dragon, needs all the oil, all the water, and everything else on the planet that it can exploit.

With imperialism, there is no “ethical” way of salvation.

The judicial power in the U.S. helps sustain the way in which the U.S. asserts its rule worldwide.

And the three branches of government envisioned by Montesquieu [legislative, executive, judicial] support one another like branches of one tree in order to make sure of this main purpose [i.e., the global rule of U.S. capital].

So then, why are we trying to fool ourselves? If all we do is follow the circuitous routes of  U.S. “law,” we run the risk of losing the strength we need to search for audacious and enterprising solutions in relation to our five comrades imprisoned in that country

The magnificent team of defense lawyers is working under extremely difficult conditions. Once the three-judge panel had ruled against the Miami trial, the Five should have been set free, but they continue to be imprisoned. It is not easy for them to see their lawyers, and every time a visa is requested for their families to visit them it turns into a tragedy. It really is a form of torture that has gone on and on, for eight years. They remain incarcerated by hatred and anger.

We are the ones who must draw the appropriate conclusions, put less wear on the tongue and the keyboard trying to seek consolation from the selfsame monstrosity [that caused the injustice].

Many still have some faith in the North American judicial system, although such confidence is infantile. For justice to be done nowadays would be equivalent to my table rising up of its own accord through some sort of “Brownian movement,” with the molecules of air rushing upward, overcoming the force of gravity. It’s not impossible, but such an event would occur only when the solar system was no longer alive—if then.

The Five are political prisoners. As political prisoners they have been tried and condemned. It is our responsibility to get them out—as political prisoners.

The Five are not spies: there is not a single classified document “on the carpet” [that is, no such document is adduced among the evidence]. But for the North American system of power they are worse than spies. Spies can be dealt with. Spying is considered a profession, and there were cases of spies being exchanged in the old days with the former so-called socialist countries.

But that is not the case here. The Five do have a profession, the only one the ruling system will not tolerate. They are Cuban revolutionaries. Revolutionaries of the only country on earth that has preserved its socialist character safe and sound. They are revolutionaries from Fidel Castro’s country. And the North American laws have no leniency toward this crime. So they impose the most severe penalties they can think of, and if they have to violate their own sacrosanct judicial system, they do so without hesitation.

And the “judge” who sentenced the Five is of the same kind as those who supported Batista and Pinochet and would have cold-bloodedly assassinated John F. Kennedy.  That’s who passed judgment against the Five.

The Five are paying the price for everything those types would have liked to do to Fidel but were unable to.

Since the foul excrescenses in Miami lack the moral fiber and the bare minimum of courage to come to Cuba and confront us directly, the way Fidel did in a small boat with 82 men fifty years ago [landing on December 2, 1956], they take out their vengeance on our five comrades.

Our Five are being punished for all the promises [of the revolution to the workers and the poor] that were kept, the doctors we send around the world, the life of Comandante Fidel, our revolutionary speeches, etc.

Is the economic blockade against Cuba “legal” from any point of view? And the acts of destruction against our economy?  And what about their plan for “transition” to a “Free Cuba” with all its elaborate details —and its “secret appendix”? No, my friends. This is a country we have been at war with for half a century.

So we also have to keep in mind that we stand in opposition to this ruling force of the world. And to expect that its laws will treat us favorably is to be dangerously overoptimistic.

Being in the opposition, we have to fight! And to take that stand without fear and without any preconceptions. These five comrades are innocent of the stupid charges for which they have been sentenced. That is obvious. The prisoners in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib are also innocent! What difference is there?

The difference is that the Cubans were fighting in a coherent and organized way for the Cuban revolution. They are political prisoners just as much as Fidel was at Moncada. And for exactly the same reasons, with the aggravating condition that they are dealing not with the Batista dictatorship but with a worldwide dictatorship disguised by expert techniques, like the finishing touches applied in the illustrated magazines.

Fidel did not complete his sentence [of imprisonment after Moncada]. He benefited from an amnesty granted under pressure from the masses of Cuba. Very well, we have to do the same thing now [for the Cuban Five]. With the subtle difference that this time we have to mobilize the masses of the whole world [not just of one country].  And our mobilization has to start with the revolutionary forces, before anyone else.

Not only because the Five are paying for our right to be free, but also because they are defending the right of humanity to make a socialist revolution. We have five prisoners of the class struggle. Imperialism threatens us because we defend socialism—and only for that reason, for that and that alone.

On the other hand, fighting for their freedom is not merely an act of justice.  It is an urgent necessity. We have five comrades who can be useful in the struggle, strong comrades, with the experience of having been in enemy prisons. We must get them back to take their places on the front lines.

Let’s not give North American “justice” another second—this system not designed for revolutionaries. And not one second more for weeping or lamentations.

And just as they have been incarcerated for their revolutionary labors, all the revolutionaries of the world must be the first to get involved in the campaign to free them.

I make an appeal to all the forces of the organized left, to all social organizations, and to every citizen who recognizes that socialism is the only alternative to barbarism. And I am not just paraphrasing Rosa Luxemburg. We see barbarism being carried out right before our eyes, right now, in the murderous operations against Palestine and Lebanon in pursuit of territorial expansion, hegemony, and control over natural resources.

People still keep talking to me about “socialism of the twenty-first century” and “Keynesian solutions.” The capitalist system is waging new Crusades in the name of God. They are returning to the basic principles of their world. Meanwhile, do we want to launch ourselves into an ideological future with solutions based on principles from the twentieth century? Can it be that the destiny of twenty-first century socialism is going to be—capitalist reforms from the twentieth century? My God!

The task of liberating the Cuban Five should not fall solely on the shoulders of the Cuban revolution. It is the responsibility of the international working class.

They [the Cuban Five] didn’t think twice about their commitment. Back then, in the dark, decadent days of the 1990s; back then, when the Communist Party of the Soviet Union sold out the Soviet workers and workers all over, when we didn’t see the way forward, and we had lost the words to defend this socialist project. So many fellow citizens abandoned Cuba, at the risk of being eaten by sharks, and everybody doubted that socialism had a future. It was then that these men stood up in our defense against attacks on the only workers’ state that in fact was still there. For them, their personal and family lives were of less importance, and they had none of our doubts.

With their lives and their jail sentences, they lifted up the banners of socialist revolution. And of course they knew that imperialist laws make no allowances for concepts of socialism. In fact, socialism, since it denies the right to private ownership [of major means of production], technically is illegal throughout the world, except in Cuba.

As far as democracy is concerned, Atilio Boron expressed it quite well in a recent article published in the Cuban newspaper Granma on August 10. The title is “The Transition Has Already Happened, Stupid!” [a reference to the U.S. government plan of “aid for a transition to democracy in Cuba”]. He demonstrated accurately that concepts of democracy that came to the fore in the days of equality, liberty, and fraternity contained a key element that in fact makes democracy theoretically unfeasible. This is what he said: “I prefer Jean Jacques Rousseau’s ideas on democracy to those of Bush and Rice. Democracy for Rousseau is a social regimen under which no one is so poor that he has to sell himself, nor is anyone so rich as to be able to buy him.“

I don’t know if Rousseau could have comprehended that the social-political system that would come after he’d done everything possible to ward it off would always have poor people who have to sell themselves and others who can buy them. In fact, that’s the essence of this misbegotten socioeconomic system.

Fortunately, within a century after the death of the brilliant Rousseau, a German [Karl Marx] revealed the obscure mechanisms by which this perfidious system of buying and selling operates, and he sought to establish the means by which we can free ourselves from it.

So then, what kind of judicial system is this, in which we think justice might be done?

It would be irresponsible to leave the fate of the five unjustly imprisoned compañeros solely to the expertise of their lawyers and to technicalities that are tampered with by the system itself.

Is there ever a trial in Miami that is not politicized? In Miami they don’t even do a baptism or a funeral without politics! It’s all based on the cruelest sort of buying and selling of people, with everything wrapped up in hatred against the country they came from.

They don’t hate Fidel just because he’s been the leader of my revolution for so long. What they despise is our social system. What they hate is that the people know what their rights are. What they hate is that their fancy palatial homes have been turned into schools. What they can’t abide is that our doctors—real doctors, not mercenaries of the “health care industry”—restore the eyesight of the poor. To them, [to the Cuban counterrevolutionaries in Miami], poor people are better off without eyesight, and also without hope or voice. The poor people of the world are why our five compañeros.are in jail.

It’s enough to glance at the document sentencing the Five, officiously signed by Judge Wilson, a former Miami district attorney, for us to understand the political content of the penalties imposed on them. It’s enough to go back and read the declarations of our five brothers at their sentencing to know that when you celebrate the memory of the Moncada trial, you do it for them.

Back then [at the Moncada trial in 1953] they denied all normal legal procedures and guarantees to the young lawyer [Fidel Castro], and he was reduced to presenting his legal defense in a small anteroom of a hospital in Santiago de Cuba.

[Editors’ Note:  Fidel Castro’s speech, given under the difficult conditions here described, turned the tables on his accusers and denounced the whole system of Batista’s tyranny and the unjust social order it maintained. The speech was reproduced and circulated clandestinely, under the title “History Will Absolve Me.”]

With the passage of time, that young lawyer developed into the most capable and committed spokesman and statesman for the cause of working people in all human history—and not just because he’s given many more than 50 years of his life to that cause. This statesman has taught us to how to govern while remaining in the opposition [to the dominant social system]. He may be 80 years old, but he continues to be the chief public offender against the rule of Capital. Even when he’s sick and surrounded by the secrecy required in a situation of struggle, he disturbs the imperialists’ sleep. He has never stopped being an underground fighter.

Those clear declarations by the Five, at their trial eight years ago, are the direct descendants of  History Will Absolve Me.” What has transpired is that the revolution has already become international. Instead of the Isle of Pines or Boniato [prisons where Fidel was held], our prisons now are deep in enemy territory.

The solution, therefore, is the Cloud’s Tail (“Rabo de Nube”) proposed by compañero Ricardo Alarcon on August 10: a whirlwind of militant and continuous solidarity that will envelop the whole world and succeed in tearing down the bars. [See Introductory Note on the reference to Alarcon and the song “Rabo de Nube.”]

Let’s go into all those little corners of the world left for us by the imperial power.

All those who think of themselves as revolutionaries have to incorporate the liberation of the five Cuban political prisoners into their programs of action. We need to put a stop to the “collateral damage”—specifically, to see to it that René gets to be with his wife and little Ivette before she turns into an adult. And that Adriana can be with her husband. And that the mothers are no longer driven crazy from the anxiety they are made to endure when they ask permission to visit.

And from my inkwell, I cry out to compañeros of all the socialist tendencies—Marxists, Leninists, libertarians, and to my Trotskyist comrades, to all who think of socialism as the only solution to the disaster that is the world, to everyone standing up against barbarism—to take up the fight for the liberation of the Five as a combat priority.

It wasn’t by chance—I go back now to the beginning of this article—that it was in August, after Fidel got sick and the summer was turned into a time of dread for us, a few days after he made his proclamation to the people [telling of his illness, the need for a drastic operation, and the temporary transfer of his powers to Raul Castro and others], to top it all off, there came down on us the brutal decision of the full court in Atlanta. There is a definite historical connection between these two events.

I will say more:  when people ask me nowadays who will take Fidel’s place after he is gone, the only reply that occurs to me, the only revolutionary, Fidelista, and above all, communist reply, the only reply that can fill my lungs with air and invigorate my heart is this.

“I’ll tell you who will take his place—René, Ramón, Fernando, Gerardo, Antonio.”

Note from Labor Standard :

[The following background information about the Cuban Five is adapted from a helpful web site, www.freethecuban5.com ]

Who Are the Cuban Five?

Who are the Cuban Five? They are Fernando Gonzalez Llort, Gerardo Hernandez Nordelo, Ramon Labanino Salazar, Rene Gonzalez Sehwerert, and Antonio Guerrero Rodriguez.

These men are poets, artists, scholars, fathers, husbands, and sons; they were arrested in September 1998, spent 17 months in solidarity confinement, and were convicted in June 2001 in a U.S. federal court for defending their country of Cuba from terrorists based in Miami. They were sentenced to prison terms that range from 15 years to double life sentences. Some of the Cuban Five have been denied visitation from family members in several years.

The Cuban Five were convicted after a politically charged trial in Miami, in which the U.S. government accused them of threatening national security and engaging in espionage against U.S. military bases. 

Nothing could be further from the truth. The Cuban Five infiltrated Cuban-American right-wing terrorist organizations based in Miami to monitor their actions; these proven CIA-sponsored organizations have been responsible for the deaths and injury of hundreds of people in Cuba and other countries.

The Cuban Five infiltrated these organizations to protect the national sovereignty of their homeland, Cuba, and to safeguard the American populace from terrorist actions within the United States. The Cuban Five shared the information with U.S. officials when dangerous actions were planned by these terrorist organizations.  Instead of taking action against the terrorists, the U.S. authorities arrested the Five.

Cuba has repeatedly offered information and cooperation to the U.S. government to combat these terrorist organizations, but the U.S. government has always declined to cooperate with Cuba.

With a trial based in Miami, it was impossible for the Cuban Five to receive a fair trial.  Under the threat of Cuban American right-wing terrorist organizations, defense attorneys made motions for a change of venue, which were denied.  The judge, the prosecution, and U.S. government officials suppressed defense evidence and made sure that key witnesses for the defense would not testify.

Also, in 14,000 pages of transcript, no espionage evidence was ever introduced. It was found that the information the Cuban Five had amassed was not government-classified, but public information that did not threaten national security. 

It was clear that the charges brought against the Cuban Five were politically motivated and fabricated, yet on June 8, 2001, they were found guilty of  espionage” and of threatening “national security.”

On March 10, 2004, oral arguments were heard at the 11 Circuit Court of Appeals for a change in venue, on the espionage conspiracy, and on Gerardo Hernandez Nordelo's murder conspiracy conviction. The most important issue in the appeal was the change of venue. If the court found that the trial should not have occurred in Miami, then all the charges should have been thrown out and the Cuban Five should have been given a new trial in a different city.

The U.S. government has waged war on Iraq and invaded Afghanistan all in the name of fighting terrorism, yet Orlando Bosch, anti-Castro Cuban terrorist responsible for the murder of 73 passengers on a Cubana jetliner, and Luis Posada, a known CIA-sponsored international terrorist who has murdered countless people throughout Latin America, are allowed to walk free in Miami. It is this contradiction that proves that the Cuban Five are a target of U.S. repression; their persecution by the U.S. legal system is a continuation of the U.S. government’s hostile policies against Cuba.

[The following background information is also from the Free the Cuban Five web site.]

On the Atlanta Court Ruling Against the Cuban Five

On August 9, 2006, exactly one year after a three-judge panel from the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, Georgia, unanimously overturned the sentences of the Cuban Five, a majority of the full court has ruled against the decision, reconfirmed the sentences, denied the Five a new trial, and ordered the case back to the three-judge panel for consideration of the remaining issues.

Two of the three-judge panel allowed to vote, Justices Byrch and Kravitch, opposed the full court's decision and reiterated that this “was an exceptional case in which a change of venue was imperative due to the latent prejudice of the community which made a fair and impartial trial impossible.”

With this ruling the Eleventh Circuit Court has ratified the [June 2001] decision of the original Miami court in denying motions presented by the defense for a change of venue and a new trial.

On September 29, 2005, in a very unusual act, according to U.S. legal experts, and with the evident objective of delaying the process and keeping the Five in prison, the United States government appealed to the Atlanta court against the three-judge panel’s decision.

The three panel judges, whose sum total professional experience exceeds 80 years, declared in their 93-page ruling that to form “an [impartial] jury in this community [of Miami] was not a reasonable probability due to the existing prejudice in the same.”

“In this case a new trial was mandated by the perfect storm created when the surge of pervasive community sentiment, and extensive publicity both before and during the trial, merged with the improper prosecutorial references.”

The [August 9, 2006] ruling adopted by the Atlanta court does not take into account the atmosphere of violence and intimidation that exists in Miami, nor the most recent things that have occurred in the city and been reported by the local press, including the occupation of armories for the purpose of using weapons against Cuba, public statements by terrorists who with total impunity admit to their crimes against Cuba. All this confirms Miami as the only city where a fair and impartial trial of the Five could not take place.

On May 27, 2005, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions stated that in view of the facts and circumstances in which the [June 2001] trial took place, the accompanying charges, and the severe sentences imposed, the trial did not take place in a climate of objectivity and impartiality necessary for the norms of a fair trial as defined in Article 14 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, and consequently requested that the U.S. government adopt such measures as are necessary to remedy the situation.

The legal process against the Five continues to be delayed.

September 12 is the eighth anniversary of the arrest of five men who should never have been put behind bars and who, in spite of their innocence, are confined to maximum security U.S. prisons and in some cases deprived of contact with their families.

This is not the end of the case. Far from it. Now, as never before, it is necessary to increase the fight for the freedom of these five men, whose only purpose was to fight against terrorism and to preserve human lives. We appeal to all the honest people in the world to join this battle, particularly the International Days of Action for their freedom from September 12 to October 6, 2006.

Nothing justifies their confinement.