Freeing "Cuban Five" will be a win-win for Obama

Call it a presidential pardon, restitutory intervention, or simply a gesture of international goodwill; call it whatever you wish… just so the bottom line allows for wrong to be finally righted. And that long-argued wrong has been the imprisonment in the United States of the “penta-cubanitos” for over a decade.

Most Americans have never heard of these incarcerated five Cuban nationals; arrested in 1998, then tried and convicted in 2001 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida on charges of falsifying identification, espionage and conspiracy to commit murder. Most Americans will just shrug their shoulders if told that there are five people in jail paying an unjust punishment, even if guilty on all counts; not when half-million people are crowding the nation’s penal quarters serving sentences on drug-related charges, victims of a society with a wrong problem-solving approach.

Even among those Americans with some familiarity of this case, a resounding number will tell you that the old feud between pro-Fidel Cubans and the large exile community in Florida of anti-fidelistas is an issue that needs to be resolved among them; as if two gangs establishing territorial rights. Pay no mind to our own government’s longstanding policy against the Island’s regime; or the infliction of pain on the Cuban population by virtue of economic reprisals; or, as added measure, the countless dirty tricks asked of the CIA in times past against Cuba which resulted in untold billionaire losses for the Island’s economy. So who in the US, other than human rights activists, is going to care for the rights of five foreign nationals convicted by our judicial system?

Sorry Fernando González, René González, Antonio Guerrero, Gerardo Hernández, and
Ramón Labañino; in Havana you have been hailed as heroes, but in these United States it’s all about politics… and Little Havana has up to now held the upper hand with American politicians, influencing the judicial system as well, particularly in Florida.

Any law-breaking committed by these individuals, for which they have been convicted – justly or not – has been paid in full several times over by spending 17 months in solitary confinement during their decade in jail, and what may qualify as a form of torture when close family members were denied visas to enter the US to visit them in jail.

It would be best, however, if we try not to rehash this entire episode at least not for now; but instead, create a crack in the damn that could, and should, bring the damn down once and for all. After almost five decades, those poisoned waters must be let go, and there is little better suited than to have these five Cubans freed as both an act of humanity as well as a symbol for the restoration of relations between Cuba and the US.

President Obama would be neither wasting political capital, nor placing himself at risk – not any more, not even in Florida – by taking this icebreaker action before his first 100 days in office have lapsed. Let those five Cuban recluses be in Havana for the May 1 parade! And do it without strings attached, or any form of negotiation. Just let these five individuals, patriots for Cuba but NOT enemies of the United States, go free!

Cuba’s government will know how to respond to this simple and just action by Obama. Acts of friendship and goodwill will be reciprocated, and those not convicted of violent crimes, but only in prison because of political dissent are likely to be set free. And the chain of mutual distrust will be broken by weakening just this one link.

It will only take this one act by the popular US president, an act of domestically little consequence, given the economic crisis in our midst, to put an end to an idiotic and unreal situation that has served no one, not even the remnants of that vengeful group of Cubans exiles of two generations ago. Raul Castro won’t need to make, or insinuate, offers of any kind, as he did in late December when visiting Brazil, nor will Obama… past this one act. Everything will follow its proper historical course after that.

Those who are waiting for Fidel Castro’s death as the start of a Cuban “transformation,” as they did for Franco’s thirty-plus years ago, have it all wrong. Castro is most definitely not Franco, even if both are Gallegos, and only those Cubans who reside in the Island should determine when and how their institutions evolve without any help, influence or interference from the United States.

Everything is so easy… all it will take it’s just for Obama to say the word! The freedom given to the “Cuban Five” will be freedom for us all: Americans and Cubans.