National Press Club

Lawyer calls for reversing U.S. conviction of Cuban intelligence agents

June 5, 2014 | By Marie Wood | marierwood@hotmail.com

Martin Garbus, a trial lawyer and member of the Cuban Five legal team, told their a National Press Club Newsmaker on June 4 that the events in the case of the Cuban Five are unprecedented in U.S. history

Garbus was referring to the trial and conviction of five Cuban intelligence agents dispatched to Florida in the 1990s. Garbus explained that the mission of the Cubans was to infiltrate Miami-based militant exile groups plotting terrorist attacks against Cuba. He recounted that after the the Cuban government relayed the findings of the Cuban Five to the FBI, including a plot to blow up an airplane of tourists going to Cuba, the U.S. government arrested the agents instead of the suspected terrorists.

The resulting trial, Garbus said, was a lengthy one, in which the defendants were convicted of crimes against the U.S. According to Garbus, three of the five remain in prison and one, Gerardo Hernandez, is serving a double life plus 15-year sentence.

The conviction of the Cuban Five is seen very differently in the U.S. than in Cuba, where they are national heroes, according to Stephen Kimber, the Canadian author of “What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of the Cuban Five.” Kimber said that the conviction Gerardo Hernandez of conspiracy to commit murder is a miscarriage of justice.

“This decision changed the trial and the sentences that followed,” Kimber said. He added that the prosecutors in the trial even asked an appeals court to withdraw the charge, but the court said no. Kimber added that in the intervening years since 1998 most of the original charges in the case were reversed on appeal.

According to Garbus, three factors heavily influenced the decision of the jury: First was the sensational and emotional atmosphere in Miami when Elian Gonzales was returned to his father in Cuba.

Secondly, Garbus believes that the Bush-Gore election also contributed to an era of pandering to the conservative voters of South Florida. Garbus explained, “Everyone wanted the Cuban American vote, so politicians were willing to throw a bone to Cuban Americans.”

Finally, Garbus stated that during the trial, news stations such as CBS, NBC, and The Miami Herald ignored the judge's request and published pictures of the jurists.

Garbus also revealed another factor influencing the jury's decision: the constant barrage of negative information that blanketed Miami by Radio Marti and The Miami Herald. He believes that some of these media outlets were controlled by the Cuban right wing and financed by the American government.

Garbus said that U. S. District Court Judge Joan Leonard, who presided over the original trial, may rule on the case in the next few days. He added that “if she (Leonard) rules against us we'll take it up to the same appeals court that made other changes in the original trial findings.”