BBC interview with Gerardo Hernández
[Transcript of BBC interview with Gerardo Hernández]
BBC: Well next month, a court in Florida is going to hear an appeal in a case that sums up much about the relationship between the United States and Cuba. Gerardo Hernández and four other Cubans were convicted in Florida in December 2001 on a range of charges including trying to obtain U.S. military secrets, spying on Cuban exile groups, and, in Mr. Hernández' case, conspiracy in the deaths of four Cuban-Americans whose planes were shot down by the Cuban government in 1996.
Gerardo Hernández is serving a double life sentence, but he argues that all he was trying to do was protect Cuba from what he calls "terrorist groups," anti-Castro organizations based in the U.S. He and his fellow defendants also argue that their trial was unfair because of the anti-Castro mood in Florida where it was held.
In the first-ever media interview [allowed to be] given by any of the five prisoners, I spoke to Mr. Hernández on the telephone from his maximum security prison in Victorville, California, and asked him to explain his story from the beginning. What was he doing in Florida in the first place?
Gerardo Hernández: Well in the first place, I was gathering information on terrorist groups that used to operate in Florida with total impunity. So at a certain point Cuba decided to send some people to gather information on those groups and send it back to Cuba to prevent those actions. In 1998, Cuba passed to the FBI some information regarding those groups, hoping that the FBI would do something against them. And unfortunately, what they did was arresting the people that have gathered that information.
But you do acknowledge that you were working as an agent for a foreign government, and in one of your defense statements you do say that you were working with false documents, falsee identity documents?
GH: Yes, I do acknowlege that. But there is something called "necessity defense," that says that if in order to prevent crime you have to violate a law you can understand that. In my case, yes I have fake I.D., I was working for foreign government, but not to affect the U.S. interest, but to defend Cuban interests, to defend the Cuban people from terrorism.
And the crime you were trying to stop, what exactly were they, the crimes?
GH: Well, for example, in 1997, a bomb exploded in a Cuban hotel and killed an Italian tourist. And in 1976, as you know, a bomb exploded in a Cuban airplane and killed 73 people. And that's only two samples of terrorist acts committed against Cuba. Anybody who lives in Miami, they know what Commandos F-4 is, and they know what Alpha 66 is. They've got training camps in the Everglades, they dress camoflage, and got weapons, and they train for the day they're gonna' liberate Cuba. They used to go to Cuba in boats and fire at Cuban buildings and they tried to organize an internal sabotage and all kinds of actions. Hopefully the U.S. government and the U.S. authorities will do something, because they say they have a war against terrorists, but how come you gonna' allow those terrorists to operate freely in Miami?
There is one very contentious charge on which you were convicted and the reason why you are serving such a long sentence – the shooting down by Cuba of two civilian planes from the United States in 1996. Did you have any role connected to that?
GH: No, absolutely not. I was in Miami and the plane was shot down in Cuban waters, a long way away.
So you didn't pass any information that would have helped the Cuban government to shoot down the planes?
GH: No, of course not. If you go to the records of those times, you will see that José Basulto announced way before the trip, he said we are going there on February 24, everybody knew that. And the government charged me for conspiracy, and they said that is because I knew that the plane would be shot down, and because I knew that the plane would be shot down over international waters, which has no sense at all. It's something crazy, but they need to blame somebody and they chose me.
You have an appeal coming up. What will be the grounds for the appeal?
GH: We argue that the trial wasn't fair in Miami. Our trial lasted over seven months and there were over 100 witnesses. The jury deliberated a few hours and they didn't ask a single question. They just found us guilty on every single count, and then the judge gave us the higher sentence possible on every count.
And you say that that is because of the influence of the Cuban exile community in Florida?
GH: Yes, of course. During the trial there were all kinds of irregularities, to call it like that. People were phoning [?] the jurors, and following the jurors, the press was following the jurors to their cars, and there were riots or some kind of contest [?] in front of the courts, all kind of things.
So you think the jury was intimidated, or even tampered with? Was it as serious as that?
GH: I believe the jury was intimidated. Anybody who lives in Miami or who knows what is going on there would understand that nothing related to Cuba is normal in Miami.
Cuban leader Fidel Castro in the past has taken quite an interest in your case and he's spoken on your behalf. Have you heard from him directly at all?
GH: Well I had the opportunity to talk to him by phone on his birthday two years ago.
And what did he say?
GH: Well he said that he's confident that justice will prevail because he has always been confident that when the American people find out about what has been done in our case, when the American people find out the truth about our case, justice will prevail. Everybody is confident on that.
Gerardo Hernández of the so-called Cuban Five on the phone from prison in California.