An international campaign is fighting to free González and his four comrades—Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero and Fernando González—known internationally as the Cuban Five.
The five were living and working in southern Florida where, at the request of Cuban security services, they monitored activities by armed Cuban-American counterrevolutionary groups with a long record of violent attacks on Cuba and supporters of the Cuban Revolution, and kept Havana informed.
After “stealing” a crop-duster plane in Cuba and ostensibly defecting to the U.S. in December 1990, González was welcomed into counterrevolutionary circles and integrated into paramilitary groups dedicated to the overthrow of the Cuban Revolution, a goal shared by Washington.
González became a pilot in Brothers to the Rescue, an organization established in 1991 by CIA-trained operative José Basulto. In the mid-1990s the group began organizing flights penetrating Cuban airspace and designed to provoke a Cuban response, calculating that might trigger a military confrontation with Washington.
Despite repeated warnings from Havana that the hostile planes would not continue with impunity, the U.S. government did nothing to stop them. In January 1996 a Brothers to the Rescue operation dropped counterrevolutionary propaganda on the island. The following month, after repeated warnings to turn back, Cuban fighter jets shot down two of the group’s planes that had once again entered Cuban airspace.
The Cuban Five were arrested in FBI raids in September 1998 and framed up on various conspiracy charges.
The most serious were the charges brought against Hernández, who led the group. He was convicted of conspiracy to gather and transmit national defense information, otherwise referred to as “espionage,” and conspiracy to murder and sentenced to two life terms plus 15 years. The murder conspiracy charge was added based on his supposed role in the Cuban government’s decision to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity by shooting down the Brothers to the Rescue’s intruding aircraft.
René González was convicted of failure to register as a foreign agent and conspiracy to act as the unregistered agent of a foreign government. He was sentenced to consecutive terms of 10 years and five years. Like the rest of the five revolutionaries he received the maximum penalty.
After 13 years in prison, René González was released Oct. 7, 2011. He has since been forced to remain in the U.S., serving a three-year term of “supervised release.”
In February 2011 attorneys for González filed an initial request that he be allowed to return to Cuba upon his release. The motion was rejected in September as “premature” by U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard, the original trial judge.
González’s June 22 requestOn June 22 González’s attorney, Philip Horowitz, renewed the request. In July the government responded and González’s attorneys replied.
In the case of a foreign national, “deportation is often a condition of supervised release,” the request pointed out. González is both a Cuban and a U.S. citizen. Born in Chicago, he moved with his parents to Cuba when he was five in 1961.
The government contends that because he holds U.S. citizenship, González should serve his supervised release in the U.S. It has rejected offers by González to renounce his U.S. citizenship if he is allowed to return to Cuba.
Forcing González to remain in the U.S. runs counter to the purported purpose of supervised release “to facilitate and oversee the re-entry of a recently incarcerated defendant into the community,” the request points out. It continues to isolate him from his family, especially. This has been part of the government’s attempt to maximize punishment of the five from the very beginning because they could not break them. González’s wife, Olga Salanueva, their two daughters and his parents all live in Cuba.
In 2000, the U.S. government deported Salanueva to bring pretrial pressure on González and then denied her a visa to visit him in prison for 10 years.
The recent court documents for the first time make public the fact that Salanueva was allowed to return to the U.S. to visit González in prison on one occasion—in November 2010, though “under the most burdensome conditions.”
While Salanueva “was permitted to travel with her children, they were kept separated during her visit,” states the June 22 filing. “Olga was confined to a hotel under armed guard, and was able to see her husband briefly only before being sent back to Cuba.”
“The brief visit was more traumatic than normal,” stated defense attorney Richard Klugh in an email response to questions from the Militant.
The visit was permitted as part of a “confidential diplomatic accommodation” between the U.S. and Cuban governments “in exchange for a family visit of an American prisoner being held in Cuba,” explained a subsequent July 30 reply filed on behalf of González.
The reply noted that attorneys for the U.S. government “violated the agreement between the two countries to keep this matter private,” by revealing in a March 2011 court document that a visit had taken place.
The June 22 request on behalf of González also notes that being forced to reside in Florida places him in danger of reprisal by forces hostile to the Cuban Revolution and points out that González has complied with all his parole conditions since his release.
U.S. gov’t asks court to reject motionIn its July 16 response, the government asked the court to reject González’s request to serve out his term of supervised release in Cuba.
Among the government’s chief arguments is the fact that González was “resolutely and expressly unrepentant during and following his trial.” In its brief, the government twice quoted from what they refer to as González’s “vitriolic sentencing statement, and his explicit insistence on the right to continue to improve the world as he sees fit.”
“I can only feel proud to be here and I can only thank the prosecutors for giving me this opportunity to confirm that I am on the right path and that the world still has a lot of room left for improvement,” González said at his sentencing on Dec. 14, 2001. “I would like to believe you will understand why I have no reason to be remorseful.”
Since their convictions, the five Cuban revolutionaries have tirelessly explained that they acted to defend Cuba’s socialist revolution—a revolutionary struggle in which workers and farmers took state power out of the hands of the U.S.-backed capitalist ruling class, and to this day use that power to defend the interests of the toilers. They carried out work they are both proud of and would do again.
The U.S. government’s brief also points to what it characterizes as the “seriousness of González’s crimes.” This includes, the brief said, “using his status as a commercial airplane pilot to penetrate and report on activity in South Florida [of] organizations the Government of Cuba perceived as ‘counter-revolutionary,’ including at Brothers to the Rescue and Movimiento Democracía, a Cuban exile group where Gonzalez’s false depiction of himself as an anti-Castro sympathizer was so successful that he was proposed to head an intelligence division of its aviation group.”
The government also argues that González’s request to serve the remainder of his supervised release in Cuba is essentially a request to terminate it. And that cannot be considered before serving at least one year, it claims.
Moreover, his compliance with the conditions of his parole don’t amount to the ‘“exceptionally good behavior’ that courts look for in considering claims of early termination.”
González’s complaints of “impediments to his wife … visiting him in the United States are particularly ill placed,” the government response claims, in light of her involvement in his activities and the visit she was allowed in November 2010.
“The fact that a prison visit was granted should not be used to block his rights postrelease to be with his family,” Klugh told the Militant, saying this represented an unprecedented “violation of human rights standards.”
Answer to government’s responseOn July 30, González’s lawyers submitted a reply to the government’s July 16 filing. It emphasized that González’s request is to modify, not terminate, the conditions of his parole in a manner consistent with his foreign citizenship.
As to the assertion that González remains unrepentant, the reply notes that “each and every defendant who is charged with a crime has the right to maintain their innocence.”
González’s reply also “set the record straight” on the character of the conditions set on Salanueva’s November 2010 visit. In its March 2011 brief opposing González’s request to return to Cuba upon his release from prison the government revealed the visit as part of claims it was addressing the “humanitarian” issues and “suggested that there would be further accommodations.” But no such “accommodation” has been allowed since then.
The reply pointed out that the government attorneys “even opposed the defendant’s request to visit his dying brother in Havana which this court granted over their objection … shows the punitive nature of Rene Gonzalez being on supervised release in the United States.”
In March, González traveled to Cuba for two weeks to see his terminally ill brother Roberto González, who died of cancer June 22. The reply cited the fact that González returned to the U.S. following that visit as further proof that he would fulfill his promise to renounce his U.S. citizenship upon his return to Cuba. He will not give up this citizenship before he touches Cuban soil, explained Klugh, because “he would be imprisoned indefinitely as an illegal alien.”
González’s reply also documents the conditions he faces under parole restrictions.
He is required to notify every new acquaintance of his legal status, which would reveal his identity and potentially place him in danger.
This has imposed an extraordinary isolation as he “cannot befriend his most immediate neighbors, or even establish any form of casual friendship,” the reply said. Likewise, he has been unable to obtain a driver’s license because the state of Florida requires that he reveal his address. And, the reply added, his “access to health care was remarkably and unexpectedly much higher in prison that it could ever be under the current conditions.”
González’s request to return to Cuba to serve out his term of supervised release is now in the hands of Judge Lenard.
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