The Cuban Five are five Cuban men serving four life sentences and 75 years collectively, after being wrongly convicted in U.S. federal court in Miami, on June 8, 2001.
They are Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González and René González.
The Five were falsely accused by the U.S. government of committing espionage conspiracy against the United States, and other related charges. Instead, they were involved in monitoring the actions of Miami-based terrorist groups, in order to prevent terrorist attacks on their country of Cuba.
The Five’s actions were never directed at the U.S. government. They never harmed anyone nor ever possessed nor used any weapons while in the United States.
The Cuban Five’s mission was to stop terrorism
For more than 40 years, anti-Cuba terrorist organizations based in Miami have engaged in countless terrorist activities against Cuba, and against anyone who advocates a normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba. More than 3,000 Cubans have died as a result of these terrorists’ attacks.
Terrorist Miami groups like Comandos F4 and Brothers to the Rescue operate with complete impunity from within the United States to attack Cuba—with the knowledge and support of the FBI and CIA.
Therefore, Cuba made the careful and necessary decision to send the Five Cubans to Miami to monitor the terrorists. The Cuban Five infiltrated the terrorist organizations in Miami to inform Cuba of imminent attacks.
The aim of such a clandestine operation by the Cuban Five—at great personal risk—was to prevent criminal acts, and thus protect the lives of Cubans and other people.
But instead of arresting the terrorists, the FBI arrested the Cuban Five ANTI-terrorists on September 12, 1998. The Five were illegally held in solitary confinement for 17 months in Miami jail.
The trial began in November 2000. With the seven-month trial based in Miami, a virtual witchhunt atmosphere existed. Defense attorneys’ motions for a change of venue were denied five times by the judge, although it was obvious that a fair trial was impossible in that city.
In a blow to justice, the Cuban Five were convicted June 8, 2001 and sentenced to four life terms and 75 years in December, 2001.
A victory in appeals, then a surprise reversal
On August 9, 2005, after seven years of unjust imprisonment, the Cuban Five won an unprecedented victory on appeal. A three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the convictions of the Cuban Five and ordered a new trial outside of Miami.
(The Aug. 9 court decision can be read here (PDF file)
However, in an unexpected reversal on Oct. 31, the 11th Circuit Court vacated the three-judge panel’s ruling and granted an “en banc” hearing before the full panel of 12 judges. Exactly one year after the victory that granted the Five a new trial, the panel voted 10 to 2 to deny the Five heroes a new trial, and instead affirmed the trial court.
René González was released on October 7, 2011 following the completion of 13 years of his sentence with a further three years of probation in the US. He was allowed to return to Cuba for his father's funeral on 22 April 2013, and a federal judge allowed him to stay there provided that he renounce his United States citizenship. Fernando González was released on February 27, 2014. The remaining members were released on December 17, 2014, in a prisoner swap with Cuba for an American intelligence officer (identified by a senior American as Rolando Sarraff Trujillo); the release also coincided with the release by Cuba of American contractor Alan Phillip Gross, although the governments characterized the release of Gross as being unrelated to the release of the Cuban Five members. The release was sanctioned by President Obama and was viewed by some observers as a first step in the easing of political relations between the United States and Cuba