The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund served as the legal arm of a multi-year Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) effort that uncovered thousands of pages of previously unreleased materials. The materials revealed that the U.S. government was paying Miami-based journalists to saturate the Miami media with reports that were highly inflammatory and prejudicial to the Cuban Five at the same time as the government conducted its prosecution of the men.
The Cuban Five were subject not only to a politically-motivated prosecution, but to a government-funded propaganda operation as well. That the U.S. government paid journalists who were placing incendiary stories about Cuba and the Cuban Five in the Miami press during the period of the U.S. Government’s arrest and prosecution of the Cuban Five goes to the heart of their unjust convictions.
The Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 prohibits the U.S. government from funding activities to influence and propagandize domestic public opinion (see 22 U.S.C. § 1461).
In 1998, five Cuban men were arrested by the U.S. government and tried in Miami on charges of conspiring to commit espionage on the United States.
The five men’s mission was to stop terrorism, keeping watch on Miami’s ultra-right extremists to prevent their violent attacks against Cuba. “The Cuban Five,” as they became known, were convicted after repeated denials by the judge to move the trial venue out of Miami. The U.S. government insisted that they be tried in Miami.
What the Cuban Five and their attorneys did not know during trial was that the U.S. government—through its official propaganda agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors—was covertly paying prominent Miami journalists who, at the same time as the government conducted its prosecution, filled the Miami media with false and hostile reports about Cuba and the Cuban five.
The materials uncovered through this work evidence the U.S. government’s payments to journalists in Miami whose reports constituted a sustained effort to create an atmosphere of hysteria and bias against Cuba and the Cuban Five and which would have affected the jury pool as well as the sitting jury. This evidence became a central issue in habeas corpus appeals arguing that their constitutional rights to due process were grossly undermined by the government’s covert media operation in Miami.
The PCJF worked with the lawyers for the Five over their years of appeals, including famed First Amendment and civil rights lawyers Leonard Weinglass and Martin Garbus. The last of the Cuban Five were released to return home to Cuba in 2014.
Liberation Newspaper v. Department of State, United States District Court for the District of Columbia | Case No. 1:13-cv-00836