Miami Five - Ten years on
Interview with Fernando Gonzalez of the Miami Five, currently serving 19 years in a US prison
In May, Fr Geoff Bottoms of CSC’s Miami Five campaign, visited Fernando Gonzalez in FCI Terre Haute, Indiana.
Known by his prison name as Ruben Campa, Fernando Gonzalez looks much younger than his forty-four years and is slim, fit, alert and in excellent spirits.
Despite having spent ten years of his sentence, with at least six and a half years ahead of him, he is positive, optimistic and self-confident. He is serious, deep-thinking, and widely read with a warm and relaxed attitude that comes from his profound love of humanity and total commitment to his people and the Cuban Revolution of which he is justly proud.
Fernando is one of the Miami Five who is presently serving nineteen years in FCI Terre Haute, Indiana for conspiracy, false identity, and failure to disclose himself as a foreign agent following a flawed trial in Miami where the prejudicial climate militated against a fair hearing.
Together with Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labanino, Antonio Guerrero, all serving life for conspiracy to commit espionage and even murder, and Rene Gonzalez, serving fifteen years on similar charges to Fernando, he was defending his people against terrorist acts originating in Miami by infiltrating terrorist groups there and feeding intelligence back to Havana which was shared with the FBI.
Apart from tornados Terre Haute in Indiana is best known for the execution of the Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh on 11 June 2001. His crime was considered an unprecedented act of domestic terrorism that resulted in the deaths of 168 innocent people in 1995 just six years before the tragic events of 9/11 that spawned a resource war in the name of fighting international terrorism.
It was around the same time that five young men were in the United States struggling against a campaign of terrorism directed against Cuba that has been responsible for nearly 3,500 deaths and over 2000 injuries since 1959. Known collectively as the Miami Five they were to be rounded up as a threat to US national security rather than heroes, and their case has become a matter of international concern involving a Working group of the United Nations and Amnesty International as well as solidarity groups in nearly 300 countries.
Fernando is humbled by the solidarity he has received from the international movement. In particular he has this message for all those in Britain who are involved in the campaign to win the freedom of the Five,
“Thank you for giving so sacrificially of your time while struggling with your own problems yet managing to achieve so much. I am so sorry that I can’t answer every letter I receive but that should come as no surprise when you consider the size of my post-bag with most of the mail originating in your country.”
FCI Terre Haute is a medium-security prison that used to be a US penitentiary up to a few years ago. Fernando explains, “It was built in 1934 and is cramped and noisy with 1200 inmates yet the regime is more relaxed than my previous prison in Oxford, Wisconsin, enabling me to read, write and work out with a daily running schedule that helps to keep me fit”. Although he could earn more by working an eight-hour day in the dining room he chooses to clean and tidy the TV and hobby-crafts room for an hour a day that only pays $5.25 per month. “I get up at 5.30am and retire at 9.15pm so my cell-mate sees little of me”, he continues, “as this fills my time creatively while I keep myself to myself in order to survive in an otherwise volatile climate”.
As part of the cost-cutting measures in the present economic climate the quality of the food in prison has declined while only three sets of t-shirts, underwear and socks are issued instead of the previous five. “Whereas pens, pencils, writing pads and envelopes used to be free we now have to buy them from the prison shop at inflated prices” he points out.
Meanwhile Fernando wonders what it will be like adapting to civilian life following his release. As he points out, “I only have 300 minutes a month to phone home at 99 cents per minute so I miss my family and especially my wife Rosa Aurora whom I only see once or maybe twice a year as US visas take their time coming”. Apart from his mother and wife, lawyers and diplomats he has few visits yet he enjoys good relations with the other prisoners and the prison guards that makes life more bearable. Of course visits can be cut short at a moment’s notice because of an incident on the unit and all inmates are strip-searched before and after every visit.
The legal and political battles will continue in the fight for justice with the Cuba Solidarity Campaign in Britain more determined than ever to raise the stakes. Whatever the eventual outcome in this protracted campaign Fernando Gonzalez knows that victory is ultimately assured thanks to the international solidarity that is continually growing and especially here in Britain. “See you in Havana”, is his confident goodbye during the final hug before returning to his cell.
Miami Five case update
In June 2008, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, Georgia ruled to uphold the convictions of the Five and to send the cases of Antonio, Ramon and Fernando for re-sentencing on the grounds that no top-secret information was gathered or transmitted.
This still leaves Antonio and Ramon facing a substantial prison term even though their life sentences will be commuted and Gerardo Hernandez facing the prospect of serving his two life sentences to the full.
Meanwhile Rene will continue to serve his term of fifteen years while Fernando could have his sentence of nineteen years reduced.
In rejecting the arguments of the Five’s lawyers concerning the lack of sufficient evidence, and questioning the procedures and conduct of the trial in Miami, Circuit Judge William H. Pryor, who is a Bush appointee and described by the local press as a right wing zealot, summed up the Court’s decision by writing, “We conclude that the arguments about the suppression of evidence, sovereign immunity, discovery, jury selection and the trial are meritless, and sufficient evidence supports each conviction.”
The three judges split 2 - 1 on the question of the murder conspiracy charge against Gerardo and it now looks as though the defence will take the appeal to the full 11th Circuit Court of Appeals unless the decision is reconsidered following a recent filing of a petition. Failing this the whole case will be taken to the Supreme Court itself.
Letter from Fernando
Dear Fr. Bottoms,
I am aware of the reaction to the Court’s ruling by CSC in England as well as by some of the trade unions. As always I am very grateful for the support and solidarity we receive from England.
One thing is certain: regardless of the disappointing, unjust and politically prejudicial ruling, regardless of the obstacles we may face, our morale and our spirits are high.
The decision to continue the struggle for truth and justice is unshakable and our conviction remains that we will triumph.
Please convey my feelings of gratitude to all in CSC.