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“Obama’s Chance to Distance Himself from Bush”

Blanche Petrich
A CubaNews translation. Edited by Walter Lippmann

(La Jornada)

Ricardo Alarcón considers that Obama can open a new stage in his administration if he decides to release the four Cuban prisoners and allows René González to return home.

Thanksgiving is near and, following an old American tradition, President Barack Obama might decide to release the four Cubans accused of espionage who are jailed in different US prisons, on the basis of documents of the Court of Appeals and the Justice Department. The documents concluded at the time that there was no evidence that the arrested Cubans had spied on the government and that the sentences passed by the Miami court were illegal and disproportionate.

If the Chief of the White House used the constitutional authority he has, “which is as American as apple pie”, he would have at last distanced himself clearly from the policies of former president George Bush, who always chose to protect the terrorist groups and the people who promote the use of violence against Cuba. It is the President of the National Assembly of the People’s Power of Cuba who challenges Obama in an interview with La Jornada.

“That is the challenge facing Obama today. He must decide if the republic of Miami is part of the American Union or a secessionist state.”

Last Friday, René González Sehwerert, born in Chicago but a member of the Cuban state security, came out of prison after serving 13 years accused of conspiracy to commit espionage. Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero and Fernando González Llort are still in prison and there is a habeas corpus appeal  pending resolution. Gerardo Hernández Nordelo faces the most complicated legal situation since he got two life sentences plus 15 additional years after being found guilty of the first degree murder of four US pilots who were flying light military planes over Cuba and were shot down by the Cuban Air Force.

– What legal instrument does Obama have to decide the release of the four Cubans still in jail?

–Any legal instrument at any time. It can be forgiveness, a pardon, an amnesty, or dropping the charges. Presidents of the United States generally do this when dates like Thanksgiving or Christmas are near. Obama has done it before.

– Even in the case of [Gerardo] Hernández Nordelo who is serving two life sentences?

– Even in his case. Let’s not forget that documents of the Court of Appeals show that the Prosecution failed to prove his culpability in the case of the four dead pilots. That document is vitally important because it concludes that the analysis of the evidence must lead to the absolution of the defendant.

The leader of the Cuban legislators, age 74, is one of the Cuban government’s foremost experts on US political and legal peculiarities and the intricacies of the bilateral relationship, because for decades he has represented his government in unofficial negotiations with Washington. Since the five agents were arrested, he has been one of the main banner-bearers in demanding their release. In his speeches against the trials of the Five Heroes –as they are officially known in Cuba– Alarcón usually recommends: Read the records of the judicial process; the most solid arguments in favor of the defendants are there.

He explains that Obama has at least two absolutely clean arguments to resolve the release of the four. First, a declaration by Bush’s former attorney general, Alberto Gonzalez, who in 2006 had to admit that the sentences — as passed in the first instance (with three of them sentenced to life) were disproportionate and even illegal. Second, the findings of the panel of the Court of Appeals presided over by judge William Pryor, a symbol of the ultra-right, which forced Miami judge Joan Lenard to review the entire procedure and reclassify the sentences. Obama can do this and he knows it better than I because he is a very good lawyer.

Alarcón insists that this juridical solution “has been stated by us and we will continue to do so ad infinitum. But not only us: we know that this has been suggested by other heads of state who are very close friends of the United States. According to Wikileaks, it was suggested by the former British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown in his time and also by the Vatican.”

A Bittersweet Feeling

Alarcón says he received the news of René González’ release with a bittersweet feeling because of the prohibition imposed by the judge against his return to Cuba during the next three years of supervised freedom. He believes this restriction is evidence that today even under Obama’s administration there are regions where anti-Castro terrorist groups remain active and enjoy state protection.

He brings out from his inseparable briefcase a document where he has underlined a phrase. It is the reply dated March 2011 of Judge Lenard to the appeal presented by the defense for González Sehwerert against the restrictions on his conditional freedom. Apart from the usual measures, the released is forbidden to visit places frequently attended by individuals or groups of terrorists, members of organizations that encourage the use of violence and organized crime elements.

He adds: So then, the authorities know where the terrorists meet, and instead of going after them, they impede the person who infiltrated them to get near? These two lines should be a shame, because they prove the false nature of US antiterrorist rhetoric.

– Do you think these groups organized to make attempts against Cuba are still active in Florida?

–Yes. What I cannot affirm is that Obama is behind them. But he has a very concrete challenge. René is today in a safe place in South Florida with his daughters, his brother and his father. But he is under surveillance. To protect him, to attempt against his life, or to prevent him from doing something against the terrorists? And it’s no longer Bush and the former prosecutor Alberto Gonzáles who are accountable. The responsibility falls now on Obama and Eric Holden, the present attorney general.

Obama must choose now if he is to continue the policy that Bush dictated to Judge Lenard – something which she admitted – or takes a different path. For him the most discrete and practical way is to let René leave.

– Do you think he can make that decision? He has forfeited many of his objectives for significant change.

–Obama’s dilemma is that his election was marked by very high expectations. His main problem is that for many people there has been no difference between him and his predecessors. If he wants to be re-elected he has to make a difference. His problem is that he won the election, not the power. Therefore, it is not easy for a president to change things overnight. But is he really interested in getting his followers – who today are frustrated because they don’t see the changes – motivated to vote? That is his dilemma. And he can start here, by freeing the four and letting René go home.

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