By Louis Martin, The Militant, Vol. 77/No. 6, February 18, 2013
Ramón Labañino, one of five Cuban revolutionaries framed up and jailed by the U.S. government for more than 14 years, recently won his demand to transfer from a Miami prison where he was sent in mid-January. The Bureau of Prisons consented to the transfer following protests by Labañino’s lawyers and supporters, who argued the move to Miami put his personal safety in jeopardy.
In a Feb. 1 message from the medium security federal prison in Jesup, Ga., posted on the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five website, Labañino explains what happened. “Since June 2012, the authorities of this institution informed me that I could be assigned to an institution of low security, due to the low points and clean record that we have maintained in all these 14 years of imprisonment,” he wrote. Labañino was later assigned to the low-security federal prison in Miami “despite the fact that Ramón told the Bureau of Prisons that this was not a good idea,” his lawyer William Norris wrote in an accompanying article. In Miami, wrote Norris, “both some inmates and some staff hold deeply rooted animus to the regime in Cuba that makes Ramon’s safety, let alone fair treatment, a problem.”
Labañino eventually left the prison in Jesup Jan. 11 and arrived at the Miami facility Jan. 14. “When I was interviewed by the official who receives the new ‘tenants,’” Labañino said, “she told me in a few words that I should not be in the population of that institution for obvious reasons of personal security, and therefore she decided to send me to the ‘hole’ where I should wait for the decision that the management of the place would make later. “Thanks to your phone calls, the efficient actions or our [Cuba’s] revolutionary government and our attorneys, they finally decided to remove me quickly not only from Miami but from all Florida.” After being held eight days in solitary confinement, Labañino was sent back to Jesup, where he is now waiting for a decision to be made on where to go next.
In agreeing to the transfer, the government has drawn attention to one facet of its frame-up: the insistence of U.S. prosecutors and the presiding judge to hold the 2001 trial of the five in Miami, despite seven defense motions to move it to any other location in the country. “What happened is significant,” Norris said in a phone interview. “If the Bureau of Prisons can’t guarantee his safety in a Miami jail today, what does that say about the trial?” The 2001 trial in Miami took place against a backdrop of a constant sensational and negative media against the five, as well as harassment and intimidation of the jury by the press and counterrevolutionary Cuban American groups.
In August 2005, a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta unanimously overturned the convictions and ordered a new trial outside Miami. They ruled that “an impartial jury in this case” was “an unreasonable probability” and “the perception that these [counterrevolutionary Cuban] groups could harm jurors that rendered a verdict unfavorable to their views.” But the U.S. government appealed and the decision was reversed the following year by a full 12-judge review by the same appeals court. The Supreme Court refused to hear the defense’s appeal of the reversal.
Starting in 2010, lawyers for four of the five filed habeas corpus motions arguing for new trials on the basis that some of the journalists who wrote false and inflammatory articles during the trial were at the time on the U.S. government payroll. These motions and related court documents from both sides are before Judge Joan Lenard, who presided over the 2001 trial.