WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court refused on Monday to hear an appeal from five convicted Cuban spies who said their trial in Miami was unfair because of the fervent anti-Castro sentiments that prevail in the city.
Havana acknowledges that Gerardo Hernandez, Rene Gonzalez, Antonio Guerrero, Ramon Labañino and Fernando Gonzalez are intelligence agents, but says they were spying not on the U.S. government but on Miami’s Cuban exile community.
Cuba says the men were sent to Florida in the wake of several terror bombings in Havana allegedly masterminded by anti-Castro militant Luis Posada Carriles.
Arrested in 1998, the agents Cuba calls the “five heroes” were convicted in a federal court in Miami and given sentences ranging from 15 years to life in prison.
A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta overturned the spies’ convictions in 2005, citing the “prejudices” of Miami’s anti-Castro Cubans.
But the full court later nixed the spies’ bid for a new trial and reinstated the original convictions.
Last summer, another three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit again refused to overturn the convictions and confirmed the sentences of Hernandez and Rene Gonzalez, while ordering the trial court to reconsider the penalties imposed on the other three in light of a subsequent finding that they did not gather Top Secret information.
Hernandez is serving two life sentences, one for espionage and the other for his ostensible role in the 1996 downing by Cuban MiGs of two civilian airplanes belonging to the Miami-based exile group Brothers to the Rescue, four of whose members were killed in the incident over international waters.
Rene Gonzalez received a 15-year jail term for espionage and for failing to register as a foreign agent.
The appellate panel threw out the life sentences handed down to Medina and Guerrero and the 19-year prison term imposed on Campa.
Lawyers for the Cuban government appealed the 11th Circuit decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, whose decision to refuse to consider the appeal leaves the convictions standing.
During a visit to Brazil last December, Cuban President Raul Castro responded to a reporter’s question about prisoners of conscience in Cuba by offering to trade the political detainees – said by dissident groups to number 207 – for the five Cuban spies in U.S. prisons.
“If they want the dissidents, we’ll send them tomorrow, with their families and all, but let them return our five heroes to us,” Castro said then.
U.S. officials dismissed the idea out of hand. EFE