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Posted on Tuesday, 03.22.11

Cuban spy claims innocence in downing of plane
AP Legal Affairs Writer

MIAMI — In a new appeal, a convicted Cuban spy insists he is innocent
of any role in shooting down planes that dropped pro-democracy
leaflets in 1996 on the communist island and helped rescue migrants in
the ocean.

“I came to Florida in service to my country, unarmed, to contribute to
end violence against my people and therefore to save lives,” Gerardo
Hernandez, 45, said in a sworn statement filed in Miami federal court.
“That I would be charged with a conspiracy to murder was the furthest
thing from my thinking and reality.”

Hernandez is one of the so-called Cuban Five, convicted in 2001 of
spying in the U.S. He is also the only one serving a life sentence for a
murder conspiracy conviction arising from the Brothers to the Rescue
planes that were shot down by Cuban fighter jets, which killed four men.

Attorneys for Hernandez are asking U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard to
throw out his conviction and sentence, based in part on his new claims
filed Monday.

In the documents, Hernandez contends he was never told that he could
have been tried separate from the others on the murder conspiracy
charge. If he had, Hernandez said he would have testified in his own
defense that he was innocent, something he did not do in the spy trial.

Attorney Richard Klugh said Hernandez could not testify in the spy trial
because he would have had to admit on the stand that he was a Cuban
agent and could not call his co-defendants as witnesses.

“He clearly had no involvement in the shootdown in 1996,” Klugh said.
“Clearly there was a clamor for someone to take responsibility for it,
but Gerardo Hernandez is not responsible.”

The Miami U.S. attorney's office had no immediate comment.

Hernandez said in the affidavit he was unaware of any Cuban plan to
shoot down the exile planes. Instead, he said he was involved in a plan
labeled “Operation Venecia” to call international attention to their
purported violations of Cuban sovereignty.

“The idea that would elaborate a plan to confront those planes on
international waters was to me, and still is, absurd and irrational,”
Hernandez said in the affidavit.

In one new wrinkle, Hernandez also said that he was replaced for several
months by an agent known as “A-4” or “Miguel,” who took possession of a
computer disk the spies used to decode messages from Havana. That's
significant because Hernandez said he did not have the disk when he
supposedly sent a message warning that no Cuban agents should fly on the
exile planes from Feb. 24-27 in 1996.

The Brothers to the Rescue planes were shot down Feb. 24.

His affidavit also contends U.S. prosecutors portrayed a commendation he
received and a promotion as linked to the downing of the planes. In
fact, Hernandez said, he was promoted from lieutenant to captain along
with dozens of others strictly based on length of service.

Hernandez has lost several other appeals, while three of the Cuban Five
had their sentences reduced in 2009 because they never obtained top
secret U.S. information – despite efforts to do so – from military
installations such as the Miami-based Southern Command and Key West's
Boca Chica Naval Air Station. The five are hailed as heroes in Cuba.


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