Cuba-US, the Perfect Prisoner Swap
While the Bush administration and the Cuban government don’t see eye-to-eye on many issues, there is more than Gulf of Mexico oil drilling deals that could be beneficial to both, even without lifting the time-worn US blockade against its neighbor.
There are currently 59 prisoners in Cuba who were on the US payroll to carry out activities to destabilize the island. Cuban State Security closed in on them when their actions were intensifying and they were arrested on March 18, 2003.
Working for the enemy is not taken lightly in Cuba. The following month they were tried and received stiff sentences up to 27 years in prison. Of the original 75 prisoners, 16 were later released for health reasons, and the rest remain in prison.
These prisoners are considered heroes by their patrons in Washington, who call them “dissidents.” Inside the US Interests Section in Havana there is a mural with pictures and information on them. A Christmas lights display with the number 75 in the front yard of the US Interests Section demanded their release back in 2005.
The Bush administration has made their case a top priority in its attacks on Cuba and the European Union has also chimed in to plead for their freedom.
A dozen or so wives of the prisoners dress in white and parade down Fifth Avenue in Havana’s Miramar district on most Sundays demanding their husband’s release.
Household Names in Cuba
Meanwhile, in the US, five Cubans continue in prison after eight and a half years for the “crime” of uncovering terrorist plots against the island being planned in Miami under the complacent eye of US authorities.
Havana had made available to the White House the sensitive information gathered by “Los Cinco” —known internationally as the “Cuban Five.” However, the FBI proceeded to arrest the informers instead of the terrorists.
Detained in 1998 and convicted in a politically charged Miami courtroom in 2001 for conspiracy and failing to register as foreign agents, the Cuban Five were sentenced to harsh terms ranging from 15 years to double life imprisonment.
To make their imprisonment even crueler, the Cubans faced long periods of solitary confinement and their family visits, supposedly guaranteed by US law, have been hampered at best and denied at worst.
Back home the Cuban Five are never far from most peoples thoughts.
One day five jets doing air acrobatics flew over my apartment and made a loop over the Caribbean coast. My five-year-old grandson piped up from the balcony with a big smile, “They are ‘Los Cinco’. They escaped from prison and have returned to Cuba.”
I was amused but not totally surprised, the Cuban Five have name recognition here nearly on the par with Fidel Castro, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, or the country’s national here Jose Marti. Their images are all over on posters, calendars, billboards and on TV.
However, the boy’s remark struck a chord and I began to dream…
The Win-Win Deal
In step with its concern for the “dissidents,” Washington would surely consider alternatives to get them released.
One possibility would be to offer Havana a prisoner swap whereby the United States would send the Cuban Five home and on the same plane take the 59 “dissidents” to Miami where they would receive a hero’s welcome from Governor Jeb Bush, a handful of Cuban exile groups and their followers.
The Bush administration could also offer the ladies in white a seat on the same plane to join their husbands for a slice of the American way of life.
Meanwhile, the Cuban Five —Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labanino, Fernando Gonzalez, Antonio Guerrero and Rene Gonzalez— would rejoin their families, and finally get on with their lives.
Such a deal would make a lot of people happy on both sides of the Florida Straits, providing a precious, momentary lapse in what appears to be a never-ending diplomatic stalemate.