U.S. made more than $70,000 in secret payments to journalists

Five American journalists who wrote inflammatory articles about the Cuban Five during their detention and trials received more than $70,000 in secret payments from the U.S. government between November 1999 to December 31, 2001.

Details of the payments, which were uncovered as the result of a freedom of information request, were revealed during a Washington press conference on Tuesday (June 2).

Free the Five’s Gloria La Riva

Gloria La Riva, coordinator of the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five, said the payments may have been illegal under American law. The Smith-Mundt Act bans the government from “propagandizing U.S. citizens… What makes the secret payments so egregious,” she added, “is that they were made by the same government that was prosecuting the five Cubans.”

The five Cubans—members of La Red Avispa, a group of intelligence agents Cuba says it sent to Florida to infiltrate Cuban exile groups in order to prevent terrorist attacks against it—were arrested in 1998. Convicted in 2001, all are currently serving lengthy terms in American prisons.

During the press conference, the Free the Five Committee—along with the Partnership for Civil Justice, the National Lawyers Guild and the ANSWER Coalition—demanded that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder “take action immediately to free the Cuban Five” based on this new evidence of “government and prosecutorial misconduct.”  The Partnership has also published an open letter on its website, calling on Holder to free the five jailed Cubans immediately.

The journalists who received the payments—Pablo Alfonso and Wilfredo Cancio Isla of El Nuevo Herald, Ariel Remos and Helen Ferre from Diario Las Américas, and Enrique Encinosa, a commentator with Radio Mambí WAQI—all wrote for U.S.-based Hispanic media, whose audience included much of the potential jury pool for the trial of the five Cuban spies.

La Riva described their reporting as “extremely prejudicial” and “highly inflammatory.” Among the stories cited at the press conference: unsubstantiated allegations that Cuba was “’lending or selling its intelligence services’ to Islamic terrorist groups” and suggestions Cuba had used LSD and other hallucinogens to make its intelligence agents “more aggressive and sure of himself.”

That latter story, in fact, appeared just as the unsequestered jury were set to begin their deliberations in June 2001.

The Free the Five Committee says it’s continuing to press the government to release the details of its contracts with the journalists and is also demanding release of additional information about other secret payments it believes may have been made to these and other journalists around the time of the September 1998 arrest of the Cuban Five.

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