WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com) – New evidence has been revealed by the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five–including the names and amounts of individual payments–that the U.S. government covertly paid tens of thousands of dollars to anti-Cuban Miami journalists working for major media outlets to write often incendiary stories about Cuba and a group of Cuban nationals who were on trial for spying inside America.
The men are known as the “Cuban Five.”
They are serving sentences varying from 15 years to double life, after being convicted of charges including espionage conspiracy.
The U.S. government, through radio and TV MartÃ, secretly and in violation of laws prohibiting government spending to influence U.S. public opinion, paid the writers, according to evidence uncovered in an 18-month investigation by the National Committee, and two Freedom of Information Act petitions.
The largest payments went to Pablo Alfonso, who wrote for El Nuevo Herald, and who received $58,600 during the trial of the five men–Gerardo HernÃ¡ndez, RamÃ³n LabaÃ±ino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando GonzÃ¡lez and RenÃ© GonzÃ¡lez–in politically volatile Miami in June 2001. Mr. Alfonso received a total of $252,325 between Nov. 1, 1999 and Aug. 22, 2007, according to documents released by the Committee to Free the Five at a press conference.
The Five were accused by the U.S. government of committing espionage conspiracy against the United States, and other related charges. But in their defense, the Five pointed out vigorously that they were involved in monitoring the actions of Miami-based terrorist groups, in order to prevent terrorist attacks on their country.
The Five’s actions were never directed at the U.S. government. They never harmed anyone nor possessed nor used weapons while in the United States, according to supporters, including the Partnership for Civil Justice, the National Lawyers Guild, and the International A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition.
“Now we are learning,” Brian Becker, director of the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition told reporters at the National Press Club June 2, “as layer after layer of what amounts to a vast operation by the U.S. government is uncovered, we see that the United States government, I think partly to cover its own tracks, partly to continue ongoing animosity against Cuba, has not only sought to prosecute and convict the Cuban Five, but went to extraordinary lengths of engaging in illegal, covert, domestic propaganda to ensure their conviction.
“At the time of their trial, and at the time this unsequestered jury was to deliberate on their guilt or innocence, journalists who are on (the payroll of) the same government that was prosecuting them, were planting stories that could only make the jury corrupted, a victim of a prejudicial outlook.”
Supporters of the Cuban Five are pursuing a federal lawsuit to force the U.S. government to disclose all the information that it is withholding, despite several FOIA lawsuits which forced the U.S. government to release the records that were made available June 2.
“What we are doing is seeking to reveal to the public, and allow the public to see the operations of its government–the government of the United States,” Mara Verhayden-Hilliard said in response to a question from The Final Call. “In the information that we’ve been able to obtain so far, it shows that the U.S. government engaged in illegal domestic propaganda operations.
“That it paid journalists during the trial of the Cuban Five, and before, and beyond, (who) have written false and incendiary stories about the Cuban Five, that during this period, absolutely would have tainted the sitting jury and the jury pool.
“We will not tolerate being lied to. We will not tolerate seeing the Sixth Amendment shredded. We will not have the government of this country lie to us and put articles in our newspapers by reporters that are getting cash from the government and aren’t even saying so,” Ms. Verhayden-Hilliard said.
Attorney General Eric Holder could commute the sentences, grant clemency, or vacate the convictions, she continued, comparing the illegal payments to the journalists to the case of Armstrong Williams who was disgraced when evidence was reported that he was paid more than $200,000 to write articles in favor of Bush administration education policies. Such acts are in violation of U.S. domestic propaganda laws.
The government has been prohibited for more than 50 years from engaging in domestic propaganda–paying for information to be distributed inside this country–by the Smith-Mundt Act, according to Ms. Verhayden-Hilliard.