The Cuban Five and the Tricks Ahead - español
By Edmundo García
I’d like to begin this article by making something perfectly clear: If the Government of Cuba agrees to allow Alan Gross to travel to the United States, for whatever period of time or reason, I believe that not even the bones of the anti-terrorist fighter Gerardo Hernández Nordelo, who is currently serving a double life sentence plus fifteen years, will ever see the sun of Cuba again. That’s what I think, and now I’ll explain.
On February 27, the news circulated in the Cuban and international press that Phil Horowitz, the attorney for the anti-terrorist fighter Rene González Sehwerert, had presented an emergency motion to the court, requesting permission for his client, currently serving parole in Miami, to return to Cuba for two weeks to visit his brother Roberto González Sehwerert, who is seriously ill.
On March 12, the prosecution acknowledged the humanitarian character of the request, but opposed it, arguing that it posed a security risk for the FBI. On March 15, more than two weeks after Rene’s attorney’s petition was made public, the media also publicized a statement from Peter Kahn, the attorney for Alan Gross, regarding a similar request that he had sent to the Cuban government via the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, asking that Gross be allowed to travel for two weeks to the United States in order to visit his 89 year old mother and daughter, both with health problems.
One does not need to be a psychic to figure out that Kahn is forcing an equivalent comparison between Rene’s request and that of Alan Gross. Nor does one need to be a magician to conclude that his statement is designed to affect Rene’s request, and simultaneously counteract the growing international sympathy for his cause. It would seem that rather than actually succeeding with his petition for his client, what Gross’s attorney really wants is to negate the prior petition made on behalf of the Cuban hero.
The thing to keep in mind first and foremost is that Rene is a free man. And that he is serving parole far away from his family for two particular reasons:
- The determining factor, which is that Rene González was born in the United States, in Chicago. This is why he must serve probation in the United States. The same situation would apply for Antonio Guerrero Rodríguez, who was born in Miami, but not for Gerardo Hernández Nordelo, Fernando González Llort, or Ramón Labañino Salazar, all born in Cuba, and all of whom would be deported upon leaving prison.
- The other particular reason is that Rene’s case, like that of the other Cuban heroes being held prisoner, is inarguably political. If this case were not politicized, Rene’s humanitarian visit would depend simply upon an interview between his Probation Officer and Judge Joan Lenard, to determine how his behavior has been since he left prison. Behavior that as we all know has been exemplary; and for which reason Judge Lenard would surely approve the request.
If anyone doubts the politicization of this case, one need look no farther than the recent statements made by Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, when she became aware of the request submitted by Rene’s attorney. The Republican legislator and Chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said, with great disgust, “nowhere, no way, no how.” She even criticized the Justice Department for so much as leaving the door open by admitting that the law contemplates certain conditions under which a request such as Rene’s might be granted.
This poorly designed scheme, this unacceptable trick of comparing Gross’s condition with Rene’s parole situation is not sudden; it belongs to an agenda that began before he even left prison last October 7. A number of facts convince me that it was the basis for the rejected proposal put forth by Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico, during his last trip to Havana.
I’d like to conclude by putting on the table the truths that define the situation we are facing: Rene is a free man who has completed his prison sentence. Alan Gross is a prisoner who recently began to serve his own. In order for a comparison between the two cases to be possible, Gross would have had to have completed his prison sentence in Cuba and remain on parole there as Rene remains in the United States. In that case, yes. But as it stands, clearly, the two situations are not the same. Another equivalent example might be if one of the other Cuban Five still in prison were allowed to travel to Cuba for two weeks in exchange for similar permission being granted to Gross.
It ought to be remembered that Gerardo Hernández Nordelo’s mother passed away while he was in prison and it did not occur to him to ask for permission to attend her funeral. Just as it would not have occurred to Rene to ask for permission to travel to Cuba if he were still in prison and not on parole.
The exchange of prisoners and a corresponding gesture for gesture is not a new chapter in the history of the tense relations between Cuba and the United States. It was done in President Carter’s time, when he asked Cuba to free prisoners and Fidel Castro asked for the freedom of certain Puerto Rican political prisoners – the “Macheteros,” – one of whom was Lolita Lebrón. At the highest level, in the most discreet manner, and without a huge media fuss, these requests were accomplished. It was known that President Carter faced strong opposition from Republican politicians over the exchange, but at the end of the day, reason prevailed and Fidel’s formula of gesture for gesture opened the door.
This part of history ought to be told to Alan Gross, to his wife Judy Gross, and to the rest of their families and attorneys so that they might be aware that a solution is possible. They might even try asking Cuba for permission for Gross’s ailing mother and daughter to visit him there, as his wife Judy has repeatedly done; even though Olga Salanueva and Adriana Pérez have never been granted U.S. visas to visit their husbands Rene González and Gerardo Hernández Nordelo.
Senators Patrick Leahy and Richard Shelby, Reverend Michael Kinnamon, Rabbi Reb David, political strategist Donna Brazile, former Congressional Representative Jane Harman, and others have also visited Gross. And Cuba has not asked for any sort of reciprocity in return for these visits; for example, it has not demanded that Cuban officials like Ricardo Alarcón, President of Cuba’s National Assembly, or Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez, or even Ambassador Jorge Bolaños be allowed to visit the Cuban Five; they have only been visited by consuls as regulations permit.
I’m sure that if Rene is granted permission to travel to Cuba for two weeks, he will keep his word and return to the United States in the time and manner indicated. I know this because I know his principles. And also because he is conscious that his behavior will influence the destiny of his brothers who remain in prison.
I don’t want to end this article without mentioning that these impressions became ideas, and later, these ideas became written words, thanks to the trust given me by the Cuban hero Rene González himself, when he told me last night over the phone that he agreed with this perspective as I’d shared it with him.
Edmundo García is an independent journalist in the United States of America. He directs the radio program “La Tarde se Mueve” [Afternoon Moves] in Miami. Machetera is a member of Tlaxcala, the international network of translators for linguistic diversity. This translation may be reprinted as long as the content remains unaltered, and the source, author, and translator are cited.