Justice4JP Prefacing Note
The article below describes yet another example of the Clinton administration's tendency to deal selectively with instances of espionage for purely self-serving political purposes.
The kinds of activities that the Cuban spies engaged in - counting planes and tracking ships - were intelligence gathering efforts for the purpose of waging war and/or for staging terrorists attacks against the United States.
In spite of the Cuban spies' treacherous activities, the Clinton administration disingenuously downgraded the charges against them from "treason or sabotage" to being "unregistered foreign agents." (Registered foreign agents are essentially considered lobbyists for a foreign government.) To suit its own purposes this administration has transformed hostile foreign spies into benign unregistered lobbyists, facing greatly diminished sentences.
U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard sentenced Linda and Nilo Hernandez to seven years in prison anyway - in line with the prosecution's recommendation.
But the hearing provided an opportunity for the two, both U.S. citizens, to profess remorse for their activities.
"We knew we had been fooled and used," said Linda Hernandez, 43, as her elderly mother and 13-year-old U.S.-born son watched from the spectators' gallery. "Today we are truly sorry that we were part of that group that was an instrument of the Cuban government."
HAPPY FOR ARREST
She added: "I thank God for the arrest, because we are now doing what we should have done a long time ago" - cooperating with the U.S. government to unravel the activities of the Havana-controlled espionage ring.
"I would like to express my apologies to this court, to the U.S. government, to my son and to everybody for what I did - because I believe that I did wrong and I take full responsibility for that," said Nilo Hernandez, 46. "I feel bad."
FBI agents arrested the couple in their Southwest Miami home in a predawn raid in September 1998, charging they were part of a 10-member ring that snooped on U.S. military installations and Cuban exile organizations for the Cuban government.
According to the government, the couple counted airplanes as they took off from the Homestead Air Reserve Base and reported back to military intelligence in Havana. They also monitored boat movements on the Miami River, tried to infiltrate the Latin American Chamber of Commerce, Camacol, and parked outside the Fort Bragg military base in North Carolina to report on U.S. troop movements.
Because the information was in the public domain and no U.S. secrets were compromised, they were charged with acting as unregistered agents of a foreign government and were spared more serious treason or sabotage charges, said defense attorney J. Richard Diaz.
Three other junior members of the ring, including another married couple, have also pleaded guilty and received sentences ranging from 3½ to 7 years.
Five men alleged to be more senior members face trial in May.
In sentencing them to 84 months, Lenard followed the recommendation of prosecutor Caroline Heck Miller. The crime carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence.
Diaz said with good behavior and credit for the 17 months they already have served, the couple could be released to a halfway house in about three years.
Linda Hernandez was born in New York City in 1957 and moved to Cuba as a toddler around the time of the revolution. She returned in 1983 with her Havana-born husband, Nilo, who later became a U.S. citizen. At first they lived in New York, but were activated as spies in 1992 and ordered to move to Miami, according to the government's case.
Since their arrest, Diaz said, their 13-year-old son has lived with his maternal grandmother in Miami. The couple's closest living relative in Cuba is Nilo Hernandez's mother, who is about 70 years old and has a heart ailment.
By way of explanation, Linda Hernandez said she was raised and educated by a "communist totalitarian government that controlled every move and thought."
She and her husband spied, she said, because "we thought we were doing something right; there never was any material interest or enrichment."
On arriving in the United States, they slowly realized this county has "true freedom for all citizens." But when they tried to extricate themselves from their Cuban intelligence work, "they quickly exerted pressure on our families in Cuba."
While they were in solitary confinement in a federal jail opposite the downtown courthouse, "We were free for the first time in our lives."
There, she said, "We have gotten to know God, His words of faith and love."
Judge Lenard replied: "I find it sad and somewhat ironic that the first heartfelt expression of freedom is through the confines of a jail cell."