Mara Verheyden-Hilliard

The release of the last three members of the “Cuban Five” as part of a prisoner swap marking a shift in United States policy toward Cuba was a victory for people all over the world, who had been seeking justice and freedom for them.

The “Cuban Five” are five men, who were sent to Miami in the 1990s to collect intelligence on violent right wing groups believed to be responsible for attacks on Cuba. These attacks were being perpetrated by Cuban exiles and, to some extent, at least had the tacit support of the CIA.

Neither of the men were spying on the United States government or the American people. They were strictly interested in threats posed by these groups to the Cuba government and Cubans. Nonetheless, in September 1998, Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero Ramón Labañino, René González and Fernando González (no relation) were arrested. They were held in solitary confinement and then put on trial in the hostile setting of Miami and charged with espionage-related offenses.

The US government sought to pin the shooting down of two planes in 1996 on the five men, even though there was virtually no evidence to connect them. Prosecutors succeeded in convicting Hernandez of a conspiracy to commit murder charge that led to him initially being sentenced to two terms of life in prison.

Both René González and Fernando González had previously been released in 2011 and this year, respectively.

To talk about the significance of the release of the rest of the “Cuban Five,” Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, the executive director for the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF), appeared on the “Unauthorized Disclosure” podcast this week. PCJF launched a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit and sought documents on the extent to which the US government had paid journalists to write propaganda to influence the outcome of the “Cuban Five” trial. They exposed “reporters for hire” and brought further attention to the injustice that had unfolded, making it possible for the “Cuban Five” to push for further legal proceedings to challenge the unfairness of their trial.

During the discussion, Rania Khalek and I talk a bit more about the shift in US policy toward Cuba, a SWAT incident with Ft. Bend police that was particularly brutal, cops selling “Breathe Easy, Don’t Break the Law” T-shirts and the company in which America keeps when it comes to torture.

The podcast is available on iTunes for download. For a link (and also to download the episode), go here. Click on “go here” and a page will load with the audio file of the podcast. The file will automatically start playing so you can listen to the episode.

Also, below is a player for listening to the podcast. You can listen to the podcast this way or you can go to iTunes and find the podcast listed there.

{!hitembed ID=”hitembed_1″ width=”500″ height=”360″ align=”none” !}

“It’s a wonderful victory,” Verheyden-Hilliard declares. “It’s really a wonderful thing to know that justice at least some measure of justice could happen, that these men could return home to their families.”

“It is a testament to the fact that there has been so much organizing work by people in the United States standing up to oppose this extreme miscarriage of justice and also people around the world.” She adds, “That they are now free, that they were now able to set foot on their own soil is really really significant. And it’s also so significant because it’s a recognition – or at least many of us hope that it is a new day in US relations.

“We’ve had this Cold War attack against Cuba that has gone on for 50 years, and it does not serve the people of the United States in any way. It does not serve the people of Cuba in any way. It is simply turning to the right wing and the right wing in Miami and serving their interests and their interests only.”

Verheyden-Hilliard continues, “For decades, the people of Cuba have been subject to terrorist attacks, bombings, violence, mayhem — And these attacks have been perpetrated by right wing organizations and people coming out of Miami; also people working as a proxy for the CIA.”

The “Cuban Five” were not “engaged in actions against the United States, against the government of the United States, against the people of the United States.” In fact, according to Verheyden-Hilliard, the men shared information they uncovered with the FBI under the presumption that the “US government would want to stop actions coming from inside the United States. But, instead of arresting the people that were posing a danger of violence to the people in Cuba, the US government actually arrested these five men.”

The Miami media was saturated with hostile reports from a number of journalists who were on the payroll of the US government.

The Eleventh Circuit ruled that the “Cuban Five” trial had been a miscarriage of justice but then the US government requested a rehearing and won.

According to Verheyden-Hilliard, the judge at trial refused to sequester the jury so they were exposed to all this propaganda.

PCJF was able to “uncover a substantial amount of information showing huge sums of money going to these supposed independent reporters from Miami from the US government, which is completely improper.”

“The money flows through the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which is the propaganda agency that creates Voice of America but also radio and TV Marti in Miami. But under the law the US government is not allowed to propagandize the US public. It’s a law called the Smith-Mundt Act,” states Verheyden-Hilliard.

“It’s clear the Obama administration has made a determination that it’s seeking to turn a page in US-Cuba relations. They’ve taken certain actions that are significant in that regard. Unfortunately, Cuba is still subject to a fifty-year long blockade by the US government where the US government imposes economic sanctions and a total blockade around the country which is depriving people of Cuba of right to food, right to medicine and the things you need to survive,” she adds.

Later in the interview, she contends that the blockade is an act of war and collective punishment — a “crime against humanity.” It “must be lifted in order for the Cuban people to have the right to determine their own destiny.”

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."