The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 75/No. 36      October 10, 2011

Gov’t-paid journalists
stoked bias in Cuban 5 trial
(front page)
There are many facets to the U.S. government’s frame-up of the Cuban Five, who are being punished for their unbroken courage and dignity as working-class fighters and the example of the revolution that produced them. One of the current fronts in their legal fight to overturn their frame-up convictions exposes the fact that some of the journalists who wrote false and inflammatory articles about the five during their trial in Miami were at the time on the U.S. government payroll.

Known as the Cuban Five, Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González, and René González had been living and working in southern Florida in order to gather information on Cuban counterrevolutionary groups organizing violent and at times deadly attacks against Cuba and supporters of the Cuban Revolution in the U.S. and elsewhere, with the tacit knowledge and backing of Washington.

In September 1998, the five were arrested and in June 2001 convicted of trumped-up charges including “conspiracy to commit espionage.” Hernández was convicted of “conspiracy to commit murder” based on the fraudulent allegation that he bore responsibility for the Cuban government’s shootdown of two hostile airplanes flown by Brothers to the Rescue that invaded Cuban airspace in 1996. Their sentences ranged from 15 years in jail for René González, to double life plus 15 years for Hernández.

Last week’s issue of the Militant explained the argument put forward in the habeas corpus petition filed last year by Hernández moving that his conviction and sentence be vacated on the grounds that the errors made by his defense attorney, particularly in relation to the conspiracy to commit murder charge, denied him a fair trial. Such habeas corpus petitions are open to defendants after all regular appeals have been exhausted. In June 2009, the Supreme Court refused to hear all appeals by the five.  
Journalists in pay of government
Four of the five Cuban revolutionaries have filed habeas corpus motions based on another fact unknown to them and their lawyers at the time of the trial, that the government paid thousands of dollars to journalists in Miami who produced fictitious and prejudicial articles that deprived them of their right to due process and a fair trial.

In September 2006 the Miami Herald published a front-page article headlined “10 Journalists Take U.S. Pay,” reporting for the first time that well-known reporters in the Miami area who covered the case, including some who wrote for the Miami Herald and its Spanish-language edition El Nuevo Herald, had received payments from the U.S. government’s Office of Cuba Broadcasting, an arm of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the government agency in charge of all nonmilitary international broadcasting sponsored by the U.S. government.

The Office of Cuba Broadcasting directs the operation of Radio and TV Martí—two government stations funded to the tune of some $30 million a year that transmit counterrevolutionary propaganda in Cuba and southern Florida.

According to the reply filed August 16 by Guerrero to the government’s response to his habeas motion, journalist Ariel Remos received at least $11,750 during the trial, publishing at least 15 articles both before and during the proceedings in Diarío las Américas, a Spanish-language daily with a circulation of more than 45,000 in southern Florida. In a concocted story titled, “Castro Represents a Continuous Challenge to the Security of the U.S.,” Remos falsely reported from the trial that there was a so-called “order of the Cuban intelligence service to one of its agents to find a place in south Florida to unload explosives and weapons,” which, the article asserted, “could be chemical or bacteriological weapons.”

According to information obtained from the government under a Freedom of Information Act request by the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five, Julio Estorino worked for Radio Martí from 1998 to 2001, although payments for his service during the trial have not been disclosed.

In the Jan. 5, 2001, issue of Diarío las Américas, more than a month after the trial began, Estorino wrote: “For if the insanity shown in the downing of the airplanes from Brothers to the Rescue over international waters, with cold, malicious calculation, were not enough, now it comes to light that Castro’s secret services have been trying to find infiltration points for weapons and explosives on the coastlines of this country, a task that was assigned to some of those implicated in the spy network.”

A habeas corpus motion arguing for a new trial on the basis of the government’s payment to journalists was filed by lawyers for Antonio Guerrero in late March. In response the government urged the court to reject the motion on the grounds that it cites only a small number of articles and lacks a “factual basis” because it does not show how those articles prejudiced the jury which the “Court took steps to insulate from outside influences.”

As affidavits filed by the defendants document, the scope of Washington’s propaganda campaign is unknown because U.S. officials have denied freedom of information requests for the names of all the journalists on its payroll and the amounts paid.

The limited information obtained from the government shows that five journalists received more than $80,000 during the eight-month trial and that a total of some $370,000 has been paid to seven reporters at various times since 1999.  
Violation of constitutional rights
The arrest and trial of the Cuban Five was marked by what have become increasingly common violations of rights guaranteed by the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, including FBI burglaries of their homes, the use of secret “evidence” by the prosecution and suppression of evidence for their defense, and the use of extreme pretrial solitary confinement in an attempt to break them and impede the preparation of their defense.

The trial court denied seven motions from lawyers for the five that the trial take place somewhere other than Miami-Dade County, where they faced a particularly biased atmosphere. Washington vehemently opposed all efforts to change the venue.

In fact, from the moment of the arrests, U.S. government spokespersons promoted public hostility by issuing statements about the five being a “Cuban spy network” that “threatens national security.” Despite being much weaker than they had been in the past, right-wing Cuban-American groups known for their violent actions against those deemed even sympathetic to the Cuban Revolution organized protests in Miami during the trial, including on the courthouse steps during the first day of jury selection.

Potential jurors said they were concerned about what could happen if they acquitted the Cuban revolutionaries. During the trial, jurors complained they felt harassed as right-wing TV stations filmed them entering and leaving the courthouse, all the way to their cars, even filming their license plates.

“Just as the government was contending that the trial should go forward in Miami,” said Richard Klugh, an attorney for Hernández, at a March 22 press conference, it was “flooding the local media with money to fund anti-Cuba, anti-Castro, anti-Cuban Five messages. That was a fundamental denial of due process.”

In 2005, a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta threw out the convictions of the five revolutionaries on the grounds that “the ‘perfect storm’ created by pretrial publicity surrounding this case” denied them due process, and ordered a new trial. The government appealed the ruling, which was then reversed a year later by the full 12-judge panel of the same court, with one judge strongly dissenting.

The 2006 ruling stated: “Nothing in the trial record suggests that twelve fair and impartial jurors could not be assembled by the trial judge to try the defendants impartially and fairly.”

The habeas motions are before Judge Joan Lenard, who presided over the 2001 trial. On the basis of the 2006 ruling, government prosecutors made a case in their response to Hernandez’s habeas motion that the question of the trial venue has already been settled, that there’s nothing new worth considering. They urged the judge to dismiss the habeas motions and deny requests for evidentiary hearings.

A habeas corpus motion is due to be filed by Fernando González shortly. Once all motions, affidavits, and replies have been filed, the timing of her ruling is at the judge’s discretion.

Mary-Alice Waters contributed to this article.
Related articles:
Cuba presses fight for return of René González
Cuban 5: For a world free of death penalty  
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