President Obama took historic steps recently to normalize relations between the United States and Cuba, bringing an end to leftover tensions from the Cold War and ending hostilities with a nation that once served as Russia’s potential launch pad for attacks on US soil. In so doing, he negotiated a prisoner swap, trading the three still-incarcerated members of a Cuban intelligence cell called the “Cuban Five” for two Americans, US Agency for International Development contractor Alan Gross and Central Intelligence Agency spy Rolando “Rollie” Sarraff Trujillo, who had been incarcerated in Cuba. However, one story that the mainstream media outlets missed regarding the Cuban Five unfolded a few years ago beneath the headlines.
Russia Today noted back in 2010 that a group called the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five obtained evidence via a Freedom of Information Act request which the group says shows that, in the period leading up to the trial that convicted the Cuban Five, the US government paid reporters to produce propaganda condemning the accused spies. The above-embedded video by Russia Today, which dates back to 2010, prior to Obama’s Cuban relations reset, features an interview with National Committee to Free the Cuban Five coordinator Gloria La Riva in which she explains in great detail the government’s effort to systematically smear defendants in a criminal trial.
Cuban Five supporters claim that the group of five Cuban intelligence agents, Gerardo Hernández, René González, Antonio Guerrero, Ramón Labañino, and Fernando González, were not in the United States to spy on the government, but were instead investigating a terrorist ring, in coordination with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, that had taken hold among Cuban refugee camps in Miami and launched a series of bombings in Havana. Notorious terrorist and sometimes-CIA-operative Luis Posada Carriles, an anti-Castro radical, was accused by the Cuban government of masterminding the attacks. Opponents of the Cuban Five believe that the group attempted to spy on the US military and that one of them in particular, Gerardo Hernández, had provided intelligence to the Cuban government that led to the downing of two planes that killed four American pilots back in 1996.
Gloria La Riva said that, after the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested the Cuban Five in 1998, US officials secretly paid journalists working in Miami, where the alleged spies were set to stand trial, to saturate the market with media condemning the group, allegedly in an effort to influence potential jurors. She claimed that the payments were issued through two obscure US agencies, the Broadcasting Board of Governors for Radio and TV Martí and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting. Manipulating public opinion by disseminating state-sponsored propaganda to influence a criminal trial violates US law.
Cuban Five member René González, who had the lightest punishment of the group, was released in 2011 after finishing his sentence. A second member, Fernando González, was released in February of 2014, also at the end of his prison term. The three remaining members, who were released in President Obama’s prison swap, had been sentenced to spend life in prison, with Gerardo Hernández having been sentenced to two life terms.