[Ppnews] Cuban 5 in middle of 'swap talk'

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Jan 27 10:54:09 EST 2009


Posted on Mon, Jan. 26, 2009

Cuban spies in middle of swap talk


Attorneys for five Cubans imprisoned in the 
United States on espionage charges will make a 
final appeal to the Supreme Court this week, 
seeking their release, but they have not ruled 
out "political negotiations" in the case.

The appeal of the spies, known as the "Cuban 
Five," follows recent statements by Cuban leader 
Raúl Castro that he would be willing to free 
dissidents and political prisoners in Cuba in 
exchange for the release of the five.

Paul McKenna, attorney for Gerardo Hernandez, a 
Cuban agent sentenced to two consecutive life 
terms, believes the exchange proposal should not be dismissed.

"I'm not a politician nor do I want to get 
involved in political affairs, but it would be 
naive to say [the exchange] is not a possible 
option," McKenna said. "It wouldn't be the first 
time that prisoner exchanges have occurred. There 
are precedents during the Cold War era."

Already, three of the imprisoned spies, Antonio 
Guerrero, Ramón Labañino and Fernando Gonzalez, 
may receive a new sentence from the Miami court, 
according to a ruling last June by the Eleventh 
Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. The other 
convicted spies are Hernandez and Luis Medina.

Hernandez was sentenced for conspiracy to murder 
four Miami-based pilots killed by Cuban jets in 1996 in waters off the island.

The five admitted to being agents but denied 
involvement in spying on the United States.

During a trip to Brazil in December, Raúl Castro proposed the exchange.

"Those prisoners [imprisoned dissidents], they 
want to release them? Let them tell us. We will 
send them over there with families and 
everything. Let them return our Five Heroes. It is a gesture on both parts."

The State Department's reaction at the time was 
firm: The matter of political prisoners detained 
against their will for simply having protested 
peacefully, it said, was independent from the 
case of five spies tried and convicted under U.S. law.

Yet the proposed exchange has been touted by the 
regime in Havana since early 2003, just five 
months after members of the so-called Wasp Net were sentenced in Miami.


"One of the hidden intentions of Fidel Castro was 
to launch a wave of repression in March of 2003 
against the opposition movement to have a reserve 
of political prisoners for a possible exchange 
for the five spies," said dissident activist 
Elizardo Sanchez Satacruz, who heads the illegal 
Commission for Human Rights and National 
Reconciliation in Havana. "It is no coincidence 
that the charges imposed alluded to a supposed 
collaboration with the foreign power."

Following years of a campaign seeking the release 
of the five spies, presenting them as "fighting 
against terrorism inside the United States," the 
Cuban government floated the exchange proposal 
during the visit of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone to Havana in March 2008.

It has been suggested that as the Cuban 
government presses its exchange proposal, the 
focus may shift to Cuban prisoners of potentially 
greater interest to the United States. These include:

• Claro Alonso Hernández, an intelligence officer 
arrested in 1996 and sentenced to 30 years for 
revealing Cuban national security secrets.

• Adrián Alvarez Arencibia, arrested in 1985 and 
sentenced to 30 years for acts against the state.

• Julio César Alvarez López, an intelligence 
officer arrested in 1991 and sentenced to 19 
years for revealing secrets and insubordination.

• Ernesto Borges Pérez, a counterintelligence 
captain and first officer of the Ministry of the 
Interior, sentenced to 30 years in 1998.

• Armando Medel Martín, an intelligence captain sentenced to 20 years in 1993.

• Rolando Sarraf Trujillo, an intelligence 
officer sentenced to 25 years in 1995.

• Máximo Omar Ruiz Matoses, lieutenant colonel of 
the Ministry of the Interior, sentenced to 20 
years in 1990 for espionage, dishonorable 
conduct, desertion and attempting to flee the country.

Other candidates are the two former employees of 
the Cuban Telecommunications Co., known as 
ETECSA, who were tried in mid-2007 behind closed 
doors after an investigation by the Logistics 
Directorate of the Ministry of the Interior.


Some analysts say the United States might be more 
interested in obtaining the return of some of the 
70 fugitives from U.S. justice who live in Cuba under government protection.

In 2006, the Cuban government promised to stop 
offering refuge to U.S. fugitives. Since then, 
Cuban authorities have returned four such fugitives to the United States.

"During the outgoing administration [of President 
Bush], there were some levels of contact between 
both sides to air out these matters," said a U.S. 
official in Washington who asked to remain 
anonymous. "That doesn't mean that there was talk 
of a prisoner exchange, but there may be a door 
open to consider it under more favorable circumstances," the official said.

The Supreme Court could take until the middle of 
the year to decide whether to hear the appeal 
requested by the attorneys of the five spies. If 
it does decide to take the case, a final ruling could come at the end of 2009.

The appeal argues that all of the sentences must 
be reviewed because the Miami federal court 
denied a motion seeking a change of venue and due 
to lapses in the jury-selection process.

Attorney Thomas Goldstein, a specialist in 
presenting matters before the Supreme Court, has joined the defense.

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