By Wayne S. Smith
Stephen Kimber’s forthcoming book “ What Lies Across the Water?” is perhaps the most complete account of the Cuban Five I’ve yet read – and I came away from reading it with a renewed sense of depression. No wonder! The case has long befouled the image of the United States as dedicated to justice, honor and fairplay. As Kimber notes, the trial back in 2001 was such a complete farce that it drew massive international criticism – from 10 Nobel Prize winners, from hundreds of jurists, members of parliaments and various other organizations all over the world, many of whom joined 12 amicus briefs asking the Supreme Court to review the case. And for the first time in history, the UN Human Rights Commission condemned a trial in the United States.
Kimber follows the Cubans as they are assigned to the United States as undercover agents, not to work against the U.S. but to gather information on exile terrorist activities against Cuba. The Cuban government then invited representatives of the FBI to come to Havana to receive and discuss the evidence of these terrorist activities and plans gathered by the agents. The meeting took place in June of 1998. The Cubans then waited for the United States to take action against the exile terrorists. But none was taken. The only action, rather, was the arrest of the Cuban Five, they who had provided much of the evidence turned over to the FBI.
At the time, I wrote this off as simply another example of the U.S. government’s almost chronic inability to respond rationally to Cuba – and in this case to do what in fact would have served U.S. interests. Having read Kimber’s book, however, I now see there may have been more to it than that. We knew about the Havana meeting with the FBI. But few knew – and I certainly did not – that the meeting had in effect been prompted by Fidel Castro in a message delivered in the White House by Gabriel Garcia Marquez to President Clinton’s top Latin American adviser, Thomas Mack McLarty, and three senior NSC officials. The core of the message had been to suggest a joint effort against exile terrorism – especially in light of Cuban information that the exiles were planning new plane bombings – such as those carried out earlier by Luis Posada Carriles. According to Garcia Marquez, the American reaction to the idea of a joint effort had been decidedly positive.
What then had happened? Why the exact opposite of what seems to have been intended? Kimber believes it had to do with the FBI’s assignment of a new Agent in Charge, Hector Pesquera, who was close to the hardline Cuban exiles. Kimber writes that “in an interview with a Miami radio station soon after the verdicts, Pesquera claimed he was the one who switched his agents’ focus from spying on the spies to filing charges against them.” 
And “after the verdict in the Cuban Five trial, Pesquera was quick to claim credit for persuading officials in Washington to OK his plan,.i.e., to go after the Cuban Five rather than the exile terrorists. He told the Miami Herald the case ‘never would have made it to court’ if he hadn’t lobbied FBI Director Louis Freeh directly.” 
Kimber goes on to write that “at the same time, Pesquera apparently discouraged investigations into exile terrorism. An FBI agent told journalist Annie Bardach, that they’d thought it would be a slam dunk to charge and arrest Luis Posada Carriles. But then they had a meeting with the chief [i.e. Pesquera] who’d said no, that “lots of Folks around here think Posada is a freedom fighter. We were in shock. And then they closed down the whole Posada investigation.”
Kimber tried repeatedly to interview Pesquera, but without success. The latter retired from the FBI and then simply stopped responding to Kimber’s e-mails.
The outcome, Kimber concludes, was the exact opposite of what had been contemplated at that White House meeting all those years ago. Rather than efforts to halt exile terrorist acts, the United States arrested the Cuban Five – although “tried” is not the right word, for the trial was a sham. The prosecutors had no real evidence and so fell back to the old standby of trying them for “conspiracy” to commit illegal acts. No evidence, and they were tried in Miami where anti-Castro sentiment had reached such a level with the Elian Gonzalez case that there was no chance of empanelling an impartial jury. Defense lawyers requested a change of venue, but incredibly, it was denied.
Worst of all was the case of Gerardo Hernandez, who was accused of “conspiracy” to commit murder and given two consecutive life sentences, plus fifteen years – this in connection with the shoot down of the two Brothers to the Rescue planes in February of 1996. Never mind that there was no evidence that he was responsible. But there, behind bars, he remains today, mostly in solitary confinement and after all these years not allowed a single visit from his wife.
What may have begun with constructive intentions at that White House meeting all those years ago thus ends – so far – in shame.
 Kimber, “What Lies Across the Water”, p. 286.
 Kimber, op. cit., p. 286.
 Kimber, op. cit., p. 286.