Toronto, Canada in late September was the setting for a Peoples’ Tribunal established to secure justice for the five Cuban patriots victimized by the US criminal justice system. Appropriately dubbed “Breaking the Silence,” the tribunal sought to bring attention to a gross injustice largely ignored or distorted by the North American media.
Held over the September 21-23 weekend, the tribunal drew several hundred participants to a review of the bogus case brought against five Cuban agents planted in the midst of the virulently anti-Communist, Miami-based Cuban defector community. As instruments of Cuban State Security, the Cuban Five were charged with ferreting out violent plots concocted to overthrow the Cuban government and harm the Cuban people and their friends. Necessarily operating clandestinely, they were essential counterweights to the US government's long established and deep engagement with organized criminal elements freely operating out of South Florida with CIA support.
To not employ all available means, including infiltration, would have been tantamount to abandoning the Cuban revolution. No honest person could but see the intervention of the five Cubans in the Miami cesspool of reaction and crime as anything other than an act of national defense and internationalist vigilance.
The Peoples’ Tribunal drove these points home. Speakers developed a detailed case supporting the existence of a dangerous nest of violent, reactionary ex-Cubans organizing in the Miami area with the knowledge and support of US security agencies. Reports to the tribunal established a long history of subversion and assassination on the part of Miami-based paramilitary organizations with the complicity of US officials. Testimony left little doubt of both the reasonableness and urgency of infiltrating these organizations. Nothing underscored the unchecked violence of the Miami murderers more movingly than the testimony of Livio Di Celmo, the brother of Italian tourist, Fabio Di Celmo, who was killed in a brutal bombing of a Havana hotel. The attack was orchestrated by the US government agent and career assassin, Luis Posades Carriles. Carriles bragged openly to the media that “The Italian was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Further, tribunal witnesses exposed the hand of the US government in railroading these patriots with exaggerated charges, a polluted political atmosphere, extra-judicial pressure, and corrupted evidence. A clear picture emerged that nothing even approaching a fair trial landed the Five in Federal penal facilities, an unjust incarceration that has taken 14 years of freedom from them.
Speaker after speaker stressed the necessity of building an international campaign for their freedom. As Elizabeth Labañino, wife of imprisoned Ramón Labañino, stated so eloquently, “We don’t trust in this system, we trust in solidarity.”
Serving on a panel of “magistrates of conscience”-- de facto jurors-- in the proceedings were fourteen distinguished figures including leading US anti-war activist, Cindy Sheehan, and noted US filmmaker, Saul Landau. Adding gravity to the panel were leaders of the Canadian labor movement: Marie Clarke Walker (Vice-President of the Canadian Labor Congress), Denis Lemelin (National President of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers), Ken Neumann (National Director for Canada of the United Steelworkers), and Naveen Mehta (General Council of United Food and Commercial Workers Canada). Joining the panel from the UK was Tony Woodley (Former Joint General Secretary and current Head of Organizing of the 1.5 million members of UNITE the UNION).
The panel asserted that “…this Peoples’ Tribunal concludes that the Cuban Five were unjustly detained, unjustly prosecuted, and unjustly sentenced, all contrary to international and U.S. domestic law including the U.S. Constitution. This Peoples’ Tribunal proposes the convictions be quashed, and that Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González Llort and René González be set free immediately, without any restrictions on their liberty.”
But the tribunal served as more than an urgent call for solidarity with the Cuban Five; it also exposed the corruption, hypocrisy and cynicism of the US government.
Judicial Corruption: The collusion of the highest levels of government with the judicial frame-up demonstrated what should be in no need of demonstration, namely, that the US judicial system answers to the needs of the rich and powerful. There are no broad interests of the US people served by maintaining a nest of violent anti-Communist thugs in Southern Florida. Nor do the US people support them anymore than they support an internationally abhorred, legally unsanctioned blockade of Cuba. Judicial rulings are fitted to conform to the interests of the US ruling class, just as they were in the Citizens United vs Federal Election Commission Supreme Court decision.
The Hypocrisy of “Terrorism”: The term “terrorism” has been appropriated by colonial and imperial powers to demonize the resistance of subjugated or weaker peoples. Whenever the oppressed rise up, they are labeled “terrorists.” Whether it was the anti-colonial Mau Mau movement, the Algerian National Liberation Front, or the African National Congress in South Africa, those audacious enough to defy British or French imperialism or colonial settlers were tagged as agents of terror. Perhaps the original “terrorists” were the aboriginal peoples of the New World who refused to acquiesce to those stealing their lands.
It is deemed “unsporting” of the weak to use extreme or unorthodox methods in the face of the powerful, overwhelming killing machines of bullies. Hence, they are guilty of terror!
It is another story when powerful states or their agents slaughter defenseless civilians or political adversaries. The North American and European media never saw terrorism when the Indonesian military killed over a million civilian Communists and their supporters. Nor do they see terrorism in the daily violence against Palestinian civilians by the Israeli Defense Force. And, of course, the capitalist media is incapable of finding terrorism in the acts of the Miami mafia and their bombings, assassinations, and intimidation at the behest of US security agencies. It was left to the Cuban Five to expose these dangers and work to prevent their realization. Every day the fear-mongering of a hypocritical “War on Terror” justifies another act of terror inflicted on innocent civilians in some far-away country by the US military.
The Cynicism of Human Rights: One of the most inviolable of rights is the right of self-defense, a right that applies equally to a person or a state. Through most of the twentieth century, aggression against another country, regardless of how illegitimate the government or how odious the country's internal policies, was recognized as a violation of the country’s sovereign rights. Conversely, any victim of aggression had a right to respond in self-defense. While Western “democracies” often fell short in aiding those exercising this right against aggression (Abyssinia, Spain, etc), they enshrined the doctrine as an essential condition of peace in both the League of Nations and the United Nations. Recently—especially since the demise of the Socialist bloc as a counter force—the US and its NATO allies have openly and often violated the right under the cynical and illegal excuse of “humanitarian intervention.” At the same time, the US shamelessly embraces its own right of self-defense with its global and perpetual “War on Terror,” a war that has brought death and destruction throughout Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.
But the violations of sovereignty in the former Yugoslavia, Libya, and Syria and other victims of Western “humanitarianism” are preceded by the example of Cuba. Since the revolution, the US and its Cuban-renegade mercenaries have used invasion, infiltration, bombings, assassinations, sabotage, and other forms of aggression to undermine and destroy the revolutionary government. The US and its allies have trampled Cuba’s right of self-defense, but the revolution has persevered. The judicial persecution of the Cuban Five is another instance of the denial of Cuba’s right to self-defense against outside aggression.
There is no excuse for the North American media silence or popular hesitation in defense of the Cuban Five. These brave, selfless and principled fighters have suffered 14 years of imprisonment for values that any fair-minded person would acknowledge. Their honor is secure, standing up to the corruption, hypocrisy, and cynicism of a ruthless imperial power.