may be one of the most ridiculous accusations of espionage in the history of this country
DEFENSE STATEMENT PRESENTED BY COMRADE
GERARDO HERNÁNDEZ NORDELO AT THE SENTENCING HEARING HELD ON DECEMBER 12, 2001
I would like first of all to express a few words
of thanks to a number of federal government officials who worked throughout our long and
complex trial, both inside and outside this courtroom. I am referring to the translators,
stenographers, marshals and other assistants, who showed a high professional ethic at all
I would also like to publicly express our
deepest gratitude to the attorneys who so masterfully represented us, and to all of the
people who assisted them in this very difficult task.
So as not to waste your valuable time, I
will try to be as brief as possible. There are five defendants in this case, and we share
many opinions and views, so I will refrain from referring to important aspects that I know
they will want to address in their turn.
Moreover, it would take too much time to
point out every one of the inconsistencies of the prosecution and its witnesses, every one
of its efforts to use and sometimes manipulate small portions of the evidence while
disregarding its larger and more essential significance.
The few minutes I have would not be enough
to highlight all of the attempts made by the gentlemen of the prosecution to ensure that
the jury was guided more by emotions and prejudices than by the facts and the law; nor
would there be enough time to point out every one of the reasons that made this an
eminently political trial. Moreover, it might not even be necessary, because no one knows
better than you what really happened in this courtroom between December 2000 and June
2001. Nevertheless, there are a number of elements that must not be overlooked.
Those who are not aware of the way the most
radical sector of the Cuban community in Miami traditionally operates, those who do not
watch Spanish-language television or listen to so-called "Cuban radio" might
have sincerely thought that it would be possible for us to be given a fair and impartial
trial in this city. Unfortunately, there are many realities of which the U.S. public is
still unaware. As for us, from the very moment that we were denied the possibility of
having the trial moved out of Miami, we did not have the slightest doubt of what the final
outcome would be.
It would be dishonest to deny that as the
trial progressed, and in view of the overwhelming arguments and evidence put forward by
the defense, combined with the frequently desperate behavior of the prosecution and the
reaction of the press, there were moments when we even considered that what seemed to be
impossible in this community could perhaps really happen. Yet the jury, with its quick and
unequivocal verdict, proved our initial prediction to be accurate. After six months of a
complex and exhausting trial, with dozens of testimonies and extensive evidence, the
members of the jury needed only a few hours, without even asking a question or voicing a
doubt, to reach a unanimous verdict.
It is sufficient to read the statements made
to the press by the foreman of this jury to understand that we never had the slightest
chance, and that they were influenced more by prejudices or by the final, deceptive words
of the gentlemen of the prosecution than by the arguments they heard here over the course
of half a year.
And when I refer to the deceptive behavior
of prosecution, I am not making a disrespectful or unfounded accusation. As I said before,
there is not enough time to point out every single example. It is enough to recall that
the person responsible for translating the majority of the evidence used by the
prosecution, an individual who claimed to be an expert in the field, stated before this
court that the Spanish word "plastilina" is used to refer to plastic explosives,
when in fact, any Hispanic child knows, without being an expert, that the only
"plastilina" in our language is what is known in English as "modeling
clay." Incidentally, the prosecution used the document referring to this
"plastilina" over and over again for its alarmist effect, despite knowing,
because they do know, that it has nothing to do with any one of the five accused.
It is equally ridiculous that during the
trial of people accused of being dangerous spies and a menace to national security, the
accusing party has repeatedly stressed an incident that purportedly took place in Cuba,
involving a taxi driver from the countrys main airport, at a time when the island
had just suffered a wave of terrorist attacks. I wonder how many taxi drivers are being
watched by the FBI at this very moment in airports across the United States, not only for
expressing their discontent with the government, but probably simply for wearing turbans.
In order to understand the attitudes of a country or its citizens, it is necessary to
live, or suffer, its daily realities. The above-mentioned incident, as inconceivable as it
may seem, was even included in the PSI report, although no one could explain what relation
it might possibly have to the crimes I have been accused of.
Now that I have mentioned the PSI report, I
would like to briefly refer to some of the statements I wrote for the same, and I quote:
"Cuba has the right to defend itself from the terrorist acts that are prepared in
Florida with total impunity, despite the fact that they have been consistently denounced
by the Cuban authorities. This is the same right that the United States has to try to
neutralize the plans of terrorist Osama bin Ladens organization, which has caused so
much damage to this country and threatens to continue doing so. I am certain that the sons
and daughters of this country who are carrying out this mission are considered patriots,
and their objective is not that of threatening the national security of any of the
countries where these people are being sheltered."
This statement was written for the PSI
report and sent to my attorney to be translated many days before the tragic and
condemnable events of September 11. Today they are more relevant than ever. Just as the
president of the United States stated recently before the United Nations, it is necessary
for all of the worlds countries to unite in the struggle against terrorists, and not
against some terrorists, but rather against all terrorists. And I would add that as long
as the acts of some of these criminals are condemned, while others are sheltered and
allowed to act with impunity against the security and sovereignty of other countries, and
considered "freedom fighters," this scourge will never be eradicated. And as
long as this is the case, there will always be nations that need to send some of their own
people to carry out dangerous missions for their defense, whether it be in Afghanistan or
Your Honor, we have been accused of
conspiring to commit espionage and harm the national security of the United States. We
have been placed on the same level as the worst spies ever known, without a single piece
of sound evidence and without having caused any harm whatsoever, solely on the basis of
suppositions. Ours may be one of the most ridiculous accusations of espionage in the
history of this country. Everything that we intended to do and have done was clearly set
out in the evidence put forward. The person who was closest to anything military, after
six years of working in his insignificant post, was merely asked to try to find a position
that allowed him to be closer to the runways, in order to observe the number of planes.
This is not espionage. The evidence and testimony offered by individuals highly qualified
in this area have demonstrated that.
On the other hand, it is true that for
years, some of the accused had false identity documents in our possession, but their only
purpose was to guarantee our safety. As a judge, you are aware of how many crimes can be
committed with false documents, and yet it was acknowledged in this courtroom that the
only use made of these documents, when they were used in any way at all, was exclusively
aimed at protecting our own personal integrity and that of our families.
Please permit me to briefly refer to what I
believe is the reason for which all of us find ourselves here at this moment: the third in
the list of charges against us, "conspiracy to commit murder."
The prosecutors and FBI authorities know and
knew from the very beginning what truly did take place before, on and after February 24,
1996. They themselves had to acknowledge that the high frequency messages they chose to
reveal as evidence are only a minute portion of all the messages they intercepted. They
know the true story. They know that there was never any conspiracy to shoot down those
planes, much less to do it over international waters. They know perfectly well that not
only Gerardo Hernández, but not even Juan Pablo Roque ever had anything to do with a plot
to shoot down the planes. They know that Roques return had been planned long before
for strictly personal reasons, and that in February of 1996, instructions were given for
him to choose for himself his date of departure, with the recommendation that it be either
February 23 or 27, depending upon the availability of airline tickets. If there had been a
plot in which Roque was involved, how could he have stayed here until the 27th? This is
just one of the many details that make this the most absurd and outrageous of all the
charges against us.
After two years of close surveillance, and
having taped most of our telephone and personal conversations and confiscated a large
quantity of materials from that time period, the prosecutors could not present a single
piece of evidence at this trial to demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that Gerardo
Hernández had conspired to shoot down those planes or contributed in a way to that act.
They based their entire case on pure speculation, on small excerpts of documents,
manipulated and taken out of context, and above all on the emotional and sensitive nature
of this accusation, due to the loss of human lives.
It would only be natural to ask what
motivated the prosecution to stage its whole propaganda show around this charge, and to
seek at any cost to convict someone who they know had nothing to do with the death of
those people. The answer is not all that difficult to find. One need only recall the
enormous pressure exerted by some sectors of the Cuban community who were not satisfied
with the economic sanctions adopted against Cuba following the events of February 24. The
repeated accusations made by these individuals and organizations against the government of
the United States for its alleged complicity in these events, according to them, and for
not doing anything to punish those responsible, became ever more bothersome, just as it
was bothersome and unforgivable to these Miami Cubans that the FBI regional office would
have infiltrated informers into a number of so-called "exile" organizations,
including Brothers to the Rescue. It had become necessary to restore images and improve
relations, and nothing would work better than finding, or fabricating, a guilty party.
The authorities knew this was a win-win
situation. If I was found guilty of the charge, all the better. If I was found innocent,
as unlikely as that may have seemed, they would still win, because they could silence
those who were accusing them of not having charged anyone.
Perhaps there are people so naive or unaware
as to believe that I am exaggerating the importance that some U.S. authorities accord to
the opinions and reactions of the most extremist sector of the Cuban community. I would
like to remind those people of the fact that the citizens of this nation cannot travel
freely to Cuba, or smoke Cuban cigars, or trade in Cuban products without restrictions, or
simply immunize their children against diseases for which the only vaccines are patented
in Cuba, and further remind them that this fact does not exactly respond to the demands or
interests of the American people.
Your Honor, I have always said, and will
repeat now, that I deeply regret the loss of those four lives, and I understand the
suffering of their families. I also regret the thousands of lives that have been lost as a
result of the constant aggression suffered by my people throughout more than 40 years, and
the eternal mourning of many, many Cuban families. These dead also have names and faces,
although their pictures cannot be shown in this courtroom.
Cuba did not provoke this incident. On the
contrary, it foresaw it, and tried to prevent it through every means within its reach. The
prosecutions main argument during the trial was that this incident was a crime,
because it involved unarmed civilian aircraft. This nation recently found out, in an
unfortunate and brutal manner, just how much damage can be done to its people by an
unarmed civilian plane. Perhaps that is why its top leaders have warned that any plane
that strays threateningly from its scheduled route should be shot down, even if there are
hundreds of passengers on board. Perhaps the gentlemen of the prosecution believe this
would be a crime. Your Honor said today that this country changed its "perception of
danger" after September 11; unfortunately, Cuba had to change its perception of
danger on January 1, 1959, and this is what some people fail to understand.
The people primarily responsible for what
happened on February 24, 1996, are the same people who do not relent in their efforts to
provoke an armed conflict between the United States and Cuba, so that this countrys
army can do for them what they themselves have not managed to do in 40 years. Be it
flotillas, airspace violations, false accusations or any other abomination, the goal is
always the same: for the United States to wipe the Cuban government and those who support
it off the face of the earth, no matter what the cost in human lives on one side or the
other. It can be stated with all certainty that if anyone has repeatedly placed the
national security of this country in danger, it has been those extremist Cuban groups.
The prosecution stated in this courtroom,
during the final arguments, that Gerardo Hernández has blood on his hands. I wonder whose
hands are really stained with blood, if it is me or the individual who fired on a hotel
full of people in Havana, the same individual who appears in the evidence of this case
planning to smuggle antipersonnel weapons into Cuba; the same person who openly and
recklessly defied the Cuban authorities, over and over and over again, violating the laws
of that country, the laws of this country, and the most elemental rules of international
aviation; the same person who not only did not hesitate to lead these young men to their
deaths, but who also, in the moments of greatest tension, when there was still time to go
back on his plans, did not do so, and instead left his laughter on tape for all of
history, while his comrades were dying.
This persons hands truly are stained
with blood, yet this did not seem to matter to the gentlemen of the prosecution when they
shook those bloodied hands on numerous occasions, even in this very courtroom. Nor did it
matter to the prosecutors or the top FBI authorities in Miami when they shared the stage
and the celebrations with this same person during the press conference on the day the
verdict was announced. This is rather contradictory behavior for those who claim to
represent the law.
I want the gentlemen of the prosecution to
know that the only blood there may be on these hands is the blood of my brothers and
sisters who have fallen or been murdered in a cowardly fashion, during the countless acts
of aggression and terrorism perpetrated against my country by individuals who freely walk
the streets of this city today. And it is for this blood that I made the pledge to
sacrifice even my own life, if doing so could protect my people from such crimes.
Your Honor, the prosecution considers, and
has requested, that I should spend the rest of my life in prison. I trust that if not at
this level, then at some other level of the system, reason and justice will prevail over
political prejudices and the desire for revenge, and it will be understood that we have
done no harm to this country that deserves such a punishment. But if this were not the
case, I would then take the liberty of quoting one of this nations greatest
patriots, Nathan Hale, when he said: "My only regret is that I have but one life to
give for my country."
Thank you very much.
Gerardo Hernández Nordelo
I want the gentlemen of the
prosecution to know that the only blood there may be on these hands is the blood of my
brothers and sisters who have fallen or been murdered in a cowardly fashion, during the
countless acts of aggression and terrorism perpetrated against my country by individuals
who freely walk the streets of this city today
If anyone has repeatedly placed the
national security of this country in danger, it has been those extremist Cuban groups
by Antonio Guerrero Rodríguez,
december 27, 2001
Defense statement presented
by Ramón Labańino Salazar,
december 13, 2001
Defense statement presented
by Fernando González Llort
december 18, 2001
Defense statement presented
by René González Sehwerert,
december 14, 2001