Penitentiary Home to One of “Cuban Five” 2

Supporters say Hernandez, four others wrongfully convicted

Rebecca Howes, Staff Writer – Victorville (CA) Daily Press

VICTORVILLE • An inmate housed at the United States Penitentiary-Victorville has drawn support from a wide range of dignitaries as he serves a double-life sentence at the maximum security facility.

Gerardo Hernandez, 48, was arrested by FBI SWAT team members in 1998 along with four other men: Antonio Guerrero, Ramon Labanino, Fernando Gonzalez and Rene Gonzalez.

The men, who have come to be known as the Cuban Five, were Cuban intelligence agents who were tried and convicted in Miami on numerous counts including failing to register as foreign agents, using false identities and conspiracy to commit espionage. Hernandez, the leader of the network, was also charged with conspiracy to commit murder for his alleged involvement with shooting down two Brothers to the Rescue aircraft.

Hernandez was convicted in 2001 and was transferred after his trial to Lompoc U.S. Penitentiary. In 2004, he was transferred to Victorville.

Supporters say Hernandez is innocent and is the victim of political persecution by the U.S. government. “The idea that anyone could live through this and maintain a sense of dignity is remarkable,” Hernandez’s attorney, Martin Garbus, said in a telephone interview. Garbus, a New York-based civil rights attorney, took over representing the Cuban Five after the death of attorney Leonard Weinglass in 2011. Garbus, who has visited Hernandez at the Victorville prison a half-dozen times, said he has a deep respect for his client. “I knew Nelson Mandela. There is the same kind of serenity with Gerardo — this extraordinary quietness and awareness,” Garbus said. “The ability to withstand his incarceration and to stay positive is extraordinary.”

Within days of Hernandez’s 2001 conviction, the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five was formed, according to coordinator Gloria La Riva. “Gerardo had nothing to do with the planes being shot down,” La Riva said, claiming that media-created hysteria led to an unjust conviction. According to La Riva, dozens of Miami journalists were covering the trial of the Cuban Five in a “highly prejudicial manner.” “Gerardo was on a mission in Miami to save lives,” La Riva said. “He never had a weapon, nor did he harm anyone.”

The Cuban Five are supported by former President Jimmy Carter and Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who was chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Feature continues here: Penitentiary Home to One of Cuban Five

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