Defenders of the Cuban Five political prisoners see their convictions and sentencing as evidence of extreme prejudice. To compare sentences they received with sentences handed out to those who actually spied on the U.S. government may serve as corroboration.

Prior to September 12, 1998 when they entered prison Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero, Ramón Labañino, Fernando González, and René González were in Florida monitoring groups carrying out anti-Cuban terror attacks.

The future trial of Benjamin Bishop, arrested March 15 in Hawaii, may provide an opportunity for comparison. He is accused of spying on the U.S. government for China. The retired Army officer worked as a private contractor for the U.S. Pacific Command.

Bishop reportedly was romantically involved with a Chinese student residing in the United States. As reported on, “Bishop provided the woman with information relating to nuclear weapons, including intelligence on how the U.S. detects low- and medium-range ballistic missiles and information on early-warning radar systems.”

An AP story claimed his contact quizzed him on U.S. knowledge about “operation of a particular naval asset of People’s Republic of China.”  U.S. authorities searching his house in Honolulu turned up documents marked “secret.” Bishop had held a top secret security clearance for over 10 years, but was not authorized to take classified material home.

The charge against Bishop calls for up to 20 years in prison. The number of years of his potential sentence may serve as objective verification of U.S. prejudice against the Five, especially when contrasted with the prison years they face.

Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero, Ramón Labañino each received life sentences on the charge of conspiracy to commit espionage. Gerardo Hernadez received a second life sentence on the widely disputed charge of conspiracy to commit murder. Fernando Gonzáles and René Gonzáles were sentenced to 19 and 15 years, respectively, on minor charges. The first three prisoners will spend from 10 to 18 additional years in prison on those same lesser charges.

Benjamin Bishop’s likely punishment, if convicted, will probably be in line with sentences given others in similar circumstances. Except for one convicted of conspiracy, they all spied on U.S. government agencies. These are their stories:

·       Khaled Abdel-Latif Dumeisi, Jordanian, was convicted of spying for the Iraqi Government and not registering as a foreign agent. In 2004 he received a 3 year, 10 prison sentence.
·     Leandro Aragoncillo, U.S. citizen, in 2007 was convicted of passing 800 classified documents to the Philippine government. He received a 10 – year prison sentence.
·       Michael Ray Aquino, Filipino citizen and colleague of Aragoncillo, received a 6 year, 4 month prison sentence.
·       Gregg Bergersen, U. S. citizen, gave U.S. defense information to Taiwan and in 2008 received a 4 year, 9 month prison sentence.
·       James W. Fondren Jr., U. S. citizen, gave classified Defense Department documents to the Chinese government. He received a three – year prison sentence. .
·       Col. Lawrence Anthony Franklyn, U.S. citizen, gave classified national defense information to Israel. In 2005, he received a 12 year, 7 month prison sentence.
·      José Padilla, a U.S. citizen, was convicted in 2007 of conspiracy to commit terrorist acts against the United States and conspiracy to commit murder. He received a 17 year, 4 month prison sentence.

The fact that on appeal life sentences for Antonio Guerrero and Ramón Labañino were reduced to 21 years, 10 months, and 30 years, respectively, takes little away from marked discrepancy between long sentences awarded the Five and sentences like those given to convicted spies or the one Bishop may receive.

The contrast is all the more stark given, one, that the Cuban Five monitored private organizations, not the U.S. government and, two, they were not convicted of espionage.

The factual basis of prejudice against the Five is hardly confined to numbers. Part of the reality includes 17 months the Cuban Five spent in solitary confinement after being arrested, U.S. subsidies for journalists to influence their jury through the media, and nullification of their convictions by an appeals court panel on grounds of Miami-area prejudice, later overturned.  

Persecution of the Cuban Five is so extreme as to revive the perennial question of why Cuba. Foremost among possible explanations would be the vigor and long duration of Cuba’s struggle for independence from U.S. domination.

A chain of resistance began with Jose Marti’s 19th century campaign against U.S. and Cuban annexationists. It continued with an anti-racism movement violently repressed by U.S. troops in 1912, anti-imperialist upsurge in the 1930’s, and the present revolutionary government in power since 1959.

That was the big fish that got away.

March 15, 2013