Global campaigners unite in London for the Five
CSC director, Rob Miller, reflects on the highlights
On 7-8 March, more than 300 people from 27 countries gathered at the Law Society in the heart of London’s legal district for the International Commission of Inquiry into the Case of the Miami Five. More than 20 expert witnesses, attorneys and family members of the Five who gave compelling testimonies on the unfair trial and imprisonment of the five Cuban men who had been unjustly imprisoned in US jails in 1998, three of whom are still serving long sentences.
The main witness was due to be René González, the first of the Five to be released, who was scheduled to testify in person in London. However at the final hour René received the news that the British Government had denied him a visa to travel to the UK.
Despite this further injustice René was able to give his testimony to the Commission via Skype. The delegates packed into the Grand hall at the Law Society listened attentively, gripped by his compelling evidence presented about the work of the Five, and the arrest, trial and imprisonment.
Three Commissioners presided over all six Commission sessions: Zakeria Mohammed Yacoob, former Justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, Philippe Texier, former Judge, French Court de Cassation and Yogesh Kumar Sabharwal, former Chief Justice of India. They listened to each witness that came to the stage then questioned each in turn to ensure that the full evidence was clearly explained.
Two commission co-ordinators, Professor Sara Chandler, Chair, Human Rights Committee of the Law Society of England and Wales and Elizabeth Woodcraft, Barrister and author, made sure that witnesses and Commissioners had ample opportunity to express their testimony. They ensured that the programme for each day was adhered to and that the complicated series of presentations ran smoothly so that delegates could clearly follow the events.
Phillip Horowitz and Martin Garbus, two of the Cuban Five attorneys gave details of the denial of the Five’s rights to a fair trial by the US government. They described the anti Cuban hysteria whipped up in Miami making a fair trial impossible. Garbus presented a 558-page document to the Commissioners outlining the US government’s illegal and secret payments to prominent Miami reporters who worked to condemn the Five through their highly prejudicial coverage. Attorney Peter Schey spoke of the US government’s refusal to produce vital satellite images of the shoot-down of Brothers to the Rescue planes on February 24 1996. The shoot-down was falsely pinned on Gerardo Hernández and is the reason he is serving a draconian double-life sentence.
Among the others giving testimony were two victims of terrorism against Cuba. Margarita Morales, whose father died in the 1976 terrorist bombing of Cubana flight 455, when 73 people were killed, spoke movingly of her suffering and the pain of all the Cuban victims of the many years of terrorist attacks against the island.
Betina Corcho, whose mother Adriana Corcho, a Cuban diplomat, was murdered by a bomb placed by anti Cuban terrorists in the Cuban Embassy in Portugal in 1976, also gave testimony. Her words brought tears to the eyes of many as she recounted the loss of her mother and the ensuing years of suffering. She recognised the work of the Five who risked their own lives and freedom with their operations in Florida trying to protect the Cuban people against further such atrocities.
The Commission heard testimony from Roberto Hernández Caballero, investigator of terrorist crimes committed against Cuba who gave an overview of the history of aggressions against Cuba that has resulted in the deaths of over 3,000 Cuban citizens over the past 50 years.
One of the most important testimonies was given by Angela Wright, senior researcher at the Americas desk of the International Secretariat at Amnesty International. She was principal author of the 2010 AI report ‘US: The case of the Cuban Five’. Angela explained the position of Amnesty International and the clear case of injustice perpetrated against the Five through the unfair trail and subsequent treatment of the Five and their families.
Family members Adriana Peréz, wife of Gerardo Hernández, Elizabeth Palmeiro, wife of Ramon Labanino, Irmita González, daughter of René González and Mirta Rodriguez, mother of Antonio Guerrero all spoke at different points through the two days. Olga Salanueva, the wife of René González, had been due to travel with René on the Monday before the Commission. But due to her husbands visa denial she was only able to arrive into London on the morning of the second day of the Commission. As she walked into the Commission the hall rose in a spontaneous and uplifting tribute to her and her husbands struggle for liberty and justice, before she too was able to give her personal testimony.
As well as the six Commission sessions there were two special discussion panels. The first heard from former President of the Cuban National Assembly Ricardo Alarcón, former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark, and one of the Vice-Presidents of the European parliament Miguel Angel Martínez. In a wide ranging discussion they spoke of the turbulent relationship between Cuba and the US and the history that ultimately led to the work of the Five and their subsequent arrest and imprisonment. The discussion also looked at the Blockade itself and the impact on the people of Cuba as well as the role of the European Union in helping sustain the anti-Cuba policies.
The second panel coincided with International Women’s Day, and featured renowned US author Alice Walker, Irmita González, daughter of René, Diana Holland, Assistant General Secretary of UNITE the union, Mirta Rodríguez, mother of Antonio, and Kenia Serrano, President of the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples. The campaigning role of women internationally was discussed and the campaign for the Five was seen as one amongst the rich history of women’s struggles for justice and a better world for all.
In an emotional intervention Antonnio Guerrero rang up his mother Mirta Rodriguez who was on stage at the time. “Thank you all for your friendship. I am very happy with your work and your support” he said over the PA. Once again the crowd rose to their feet in solidarity not only with Antonnio but his 86 year old mum who longs for nothing else but to live and see her son free again.
The final session saw Justice Yogesh Sabharwal read out an preliminary 13 point statement into their findings in which they said pardoning the Five could bring a vital contribution towards “world justice and world peace”. To cheers and applause he summed up “Having heard two full days of compelling evidence, we would urge the President of the United States of America, Barack Obama, to pardon completely all these five persons and to release immediately and unconditionally the three persons who continue to languish in prison in the United States”.
The full report is due to be published in May to be presented to the world’s media and we hope directly to President Obama.
The two days were truly inspiring and a huge thanks must be given to everyone who volunteered and supported the Commission and associated events at every level and who are too numerous to mention.
We must ensure that the Commission and the ensuing reports are used to drive forward the campaign for justice and liberty for the Five, the remaining prisoners and all the families.