'Miami Five' Retrial Demand
British MPS call on US government to support motion for retrial of "Miami Five" - Mark Donne, Campaigns Officer of the British Cuba Solidarity Campaign, reports.
A number of British MPs have expressed serious concerns over the trial, incarceration and treatment of the “Miami Five” – the five Cuban nationals currently imprisoned in the U.S on various charges including espionage. To date, 55 members have signed an “Early Day Motion” (EDM)* tabled by Labour MP Michael Connarty, which calls for the U.S Government to support the motion for a retrial. The motion was filed by US Attorney Leonard Weinglass who represents one of the five, Antonio Guererro and was submitted to the Miami Court on 12th November 2002. It furnishes the court with overwhelming new evidence that a fair trial was not possible in Miami-Dade in the year 2000 when the Five were tried and that in the interests of justice a new trial be ordered.
Central to the motion for a retrial is the new, contradictory position of the US Government in relation to the venue of the trial. After the Five were initially arrested in 1998, their defence teams argued that the venue of the trial should be changed out of Miami-Dade County and sent 25 miles to north to Broward County. The basis of this argument was that there existed in Miami biased, prejudiced and strongly held feelings against the government of Cuba – and that the five men were acting as agents of Cuba, allegedly against the US Government. The US Government opposed the application for a change of venue and argued that the size of the Miami district, its demographics. It’s heterogeneity, and its non-monolithic population could diffuse the bias and prejudice that existed in the community and that a fair jury could be selected. However, one year after the trial ended and the Five were convicted, the same US attorney’s office that had opposed the venue change for the five, then sought a venue change for their client, US Attorney General Ashcroft. In a civil suit citing the same caselaw that that the Cuban defendants had cited in seeking a venue change, it was argued that it was “virtually impossible” for Attorney General Ashcroft to receive a fair trial in Miami because of the attitudes coming out of the Cuban American community!
In filing the motion for a retrial, Leonard Weinglass said, “The (US) Government took the position that when the defendants were agents for the Cuban government, they could receive a fair trial in Miami. But when the defendant in a civil case is the Attorney General of the United States, he could not receive a fair trial in the Miami district because of the very same prejudice and bias coming out of the Cuban American community.” Weinglass also expressed serious reservations about the fairness of the jury that was selected for the trial. He added, “The jury foreman said that he felt Fidel Castro was a communist dictator and that he looked forward to the day he could be removed. Another juror – who’s daughter was in the FBI for 10 years and is still in the FBI – said that he couldn’t reconcile himself with that (Cuban) government”.
The Early Day Motion in support of a retrial was presented to Parliament on November 21st and states that “The location of the trial in Miami, Florida in an atmosphere of media and public intimidation and the length of the sentences subsequently handed down calls into the question the safety of the judicial process”. It also notes the denial of visiting rights to the immediate families of the Five. The EDM was passed following the visit to London of Olga Salanueva, the wife of one of the Five- Rene Gonzalez. During her visit, Mrs Salanueva attended the All Party Parliamentary Group on Cuba AGM and addressed a packed “Free The Miami Five” public meeting. She spoke emotively of her gratitude for the groundswell of support for the campaign in the UK and told how the US State Department has revoked her visa and that of her four-year old daughter who has not seen her father since she was four months, thereby preventing them from visiting Mr Gonzalez. Mrs Slanueva also participated in a delegation meeting with the Americas Research Team at the International Secretariat of Amnesty International, based in London. During the meeting an international lawyer provided by the Cuba Solidarity Campaign illustrated the case for a retrial for the five and Amnesty assured the delegation that they would be looking into the case.
Upon signing the EDM, Dr Nick Palmer MP commented “As we've seen in our own country, trials in an emotionally-charged atmosphere often produce results that later turn out to be wrong. It seems quite obviously inappropriate to have tried the five Cubans in an environment that is virulently opposed to them, and it is not anti-American to point this out. Moreover, the conviction for murder (for shooting down a plane) of someone who is not actually shown to have had any connection with the incident appears to be a particularly astonishing case of attributing guilt by association. British readers could consider whether they might be tried for murder if they visited Ireland and someone charged them with the offences of the Black and Tans.”
*An Early Day Motion (EDM) is a statement of opinion lodged by a Member of Parliament or group of Members which may then be signed by others who agree with it. It carries no legal force, but offers MPs the chance to comment officially on events outside their control.