Forum on Cuban Five held Monday

The U.S. Supreme Court will decide next week whether or not it will hear the appeal.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to issue a decision June 15 on whether it will hear the appeal of the Cuban Five âÄî five Cuban men who have been in U.S. prisons for more than a decade after being convicted of conspiring to spy on the United States for the government of Fidel Castro . The Minnesota Cuba Committee, a Twin Cities-based group that educates the community about Cuba, sponsored a forum Monday at Blegen Hall at the University of Minnesota in anticipation of this decision to discuss the Cuban Five and the case. The five men, Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González and René González , were arrested in 1998 in southern Florida. After 17 months of solitary confinement, the trial began. They were sentenced in 2001 âÄï three with life sentences, Fernando González with 19 years and René González with 15 years. In addition, prosecutors said Hernández was aware of plans to shoot down planes of a Cuban exile group, Brothers to the Rescue, and was therefore also charged with conspiracy to commit murder. When they appealed in 2005, a three-judge panel overturned the convictions and ruled that a new trial be held outside of Miami, but one year later, that decision was reversed. In 2008, the convictions were upheld. Finally, this January, the Five appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. A decision on whether the appeal will be heard is expected to be issued June 15. It also remains to be seen whether the men will have individual hearings. August Nimtz , co-coordinator of the Minnesota Cuba Committee and a professor of political science at the University, said this forum was in conjunction with others being held around the country. Bruce Nestor, president of the Minnesota chapter of the National Lawyers Guild who participated in meetings with the legal team defending the Five said their supporters say the men received an unfair trial partly because the trial was held in Miami. âÄúThe community prejudice in Miami involving Cuba was so great that it was impossible for anybody allegedly connected to the Cuban government to get a fair trial,âÄù Nestor said. Among the legal issues that would be reviewed, Nestor said, are the location of the original trial, the members of the jury, conflicting evidence on HernándezâÄôs charge of conspiracy to commit murder and whether the sentences were fair. Morgan France-Ramirez , recent University graduate and member of the Venceremos Brigade to Cuba , a group that opposes the United StatesâÄô travel ban to Cuba, spoke about the younger generationâÄôs perspective. He said that because todayâÄôs youth learn little about Cuba, they believe the negative âÄúpropagandaâÄù about the country and the Cuban Five. âÄúItâÄôs all propaganda, the idea of spinning these people as terrorists,âÄù France-Ramirez said. âÄúItâÄôs hypocrisy by the U.S. We have a war on terrorism, and here we are, imprisoning anti-terrorists.âÄù The men are seen as heroes to some, he said, for fighting terrorism in Cuba and giving up their freedom. However, Dr. Andy Gomez , associate provost and senior fellow at the Institute of Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami , said the Cuban and Cuban-American community is not as homogeneous as it used to be, and not all of them feel that the Cuban Five are heroes. âÄúIf the Supreme Court turns over and frees and sends back to Cuba these five spies, some of us might not like it, but we will respect the majority of the court,âÄù Gomez said. He also said the argument over whether they received a fair trial is flawed. âÄúNone of the jurors were Cuban or Cuban-American descent,âÄù Gomez said. âÄúI think they got a pretty fair trial, to be very honest.âÄù Uva de Aragon , associate director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University , said there will be varying opinions in the Cuban and Cuban-American community if the appeal is heard. âÄúSome will be upset, some will believe that whatever the justice system decides will be the right thing, and there will be many that are indifferent to it,âÄù she said. âÄúSome percentage of the community believes that these were spies working for the Cuban government, that they were tried, that they were given every opportunity in the court, and they have been sentenced.âÄù Around 30 people attended the forum, including some University of Minnesota students and others interested in the case. Raudemar Hernández Abreu said he attended the forum because he is Cuban and the outcome is important to him. âÄúWe know it is an injustice what the U.S. is doing,âÄù he said. If the U.S. Supreme Court decides to hear the appeal, the case will be reviewed this fall.