HAVANA – One of the five Cuban spies serving long sentences in U.S. prisons is ill and being held in a punishment cell for no apparent reason, the speaker of Cuba’s Parliament said Thursday.
Gerardo Hernandez, one of the men known as the “Cuban Five,” was moved on July 21 to a poorly ventilated 6 ft. x 3 ft. cell that he shares with another inmate, Ricardo Alarcon said, adding that Cuba’s attempts to get an official explanation “have been fruitless.”
He said Hernandez is sick, apparently from a bacterial illness circulating inside the prison, and that he was placed in the punishment cell a day after receiving medical attention at the infirmary.
“This is a very serious situation we are denouncing,” Alarcon said. “We are following the events, which we hope will stop today or tomorrow. We are making efforts through all channels and are in contact with his attorneys.”
U.S. authorities have not told the Cuban government why Hernandez is in the punishment cell, the parliament speaker said, but Havana has learned that several FBI agents took part in moving the convicted spy to the “hole.”
“Evidently, it’s not purely an action of the prison,” Alarcon said, noting that the disciplinary measure is obstructing Hernandez’s ability to meet with his lawyers as he pursues an appeal.
Hernandez, 45, 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.
Havana acknowledges that Hernandez, Rene Gonzalez, Ramon Labañino, Antonio Guerrero and Fernando Gonzalez are intelligence agents, but says they were spying on Miami’s Cuban exile community, not the U.S. government.
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, a former CIA operative.
The five Cubans were arrested in 1998 and convicted three years later by a federal jury in Miami.
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.
In 2008, 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.
The trial court later reduced Labañino’s sentence from life in prison to 30 years, while cutting Fernando Gonzalez’s term from 19 years to 17 years, and Guerrero’s from life to 21 years and eight months.
Alarcon’s comments about Hernandez come a day after a severely ill former Cuban political prisoner arrived in Miami to receive medical care.
Besides the quadriplegic Ariel Sigler, Cuba’s communist government recently released 20 other political prisoners and promised to free 32 more in the coming months. EFE