Saturday, April 14, 2012

Billboard company takes down ad for video that defends Cuban spies

   The billboard was placed above a restaurant, which had nothing to do with the ad. It was taken down quickly.
Roberto Koltun / el Nuevo Herald
The billboard was placed above a restaurant, which had nothing to do with the ad. It was taken down quickly.

A billboard in Little Havana advertising a video that defends five notorious Cuban spies was taken down just hours after it went up, amid anonymous phone threats that a restaurant beneath the sign would be attacked.

Max Lesnick, a Radio Miami commentator who regularly demands the release of the five spies tried in Miami in 2001 and sentenced to long prison terms, said the Alianza Martiana paid for the advertisement. Lesnick is also one of the leaders of the Alianza.

The ad went up on a billboard on the roof of a restaurant on the corner of 1st Street and 17th Avenue SW around noon Wednesday and was already down by about 7 p.m. , Lesnick said.

He and the Alianza were behind two previous ads defending the spies. Exiles who criticized those advertisements branded them as provocations and asked if Miami Beach Jews would not force down any billboards praising Adolf Hitler.

“If the Jews do that, it would be wrong, too,” said Lesnick, a Jewish Cuban. “We will put up our billboard every chance we get because that’s the right we have” to free speech.

Lesnick said the Alianza Martiana paid $3,500 to the Sarasota-based CBS Billboards for a 30-day display of the ad. There was no immediate word on whether the Alianza would get its money back, he told El Nuevo Herald.

The ad promoted a video, titled Freedom and available on Radio Miami’s web page, in which the president of Cuba’s legislative National Assembly of People’s Power, Ricardo Alarcon, defends the Cuban spies and demands their return home.

On the right side of the billboard was a large “5” — the emblem of the Cuban government’s campaign to free the spies — and to the left was an image of an open hand over the words “Give me Five,” in English.

Lesnick said the ad originally said “Obama Give me Five,” but CBS asked that the president’s name be removed to avoid complications with U.S. advertising regulations in an election year.

The billboard’s location in Little Havana — on the roof of a building that houses a Honduran restaurant, La Casa de las Baleadas — was the only one available when the agreement was signed, he added.

“This is simply an advertisement for a radio program,” Lesnick claimed.

Restaurant owner Liliana Vasquez said she received several anonymous phone threats Wednesday, including one saying, “We’re going to destroy your place.” She called police, she said, and a CBS employee visited her Thursday to apologize for the incident.

The five Cubans were convicted in 2001 of conspiring to spy on South Florida’s exile community, the Pentagon’s U.S. Southern Command in Miami and U.S. military airstrips in Tampa and the Florida Keys.

Four remain in prison, including Gerardo Hernández, serving two life sentences on a charge of murder conspiracy stemming from his role in Cuba’s shoot down of two Miami-based civilian airplanes in 1996, killing all four men aboard.

The fifth, Rene Gonzalez, completed his 13-year prison sentence and was freed, but still must serve three years of probation. A judge recently gave him permission to go to Cuba for two weeks to visit a brother reportedly dying from cancer.

Havana officials have confirmed the five are intelligence agents, but claimed they were in South Florida only to spy on radical Cuban exiles who might be plotting terrorist attacks on the Cuban government.

Lesnick and the Alianza Martiana, named after Cuban independence hero José Martí, have paid for two previous advertisements in defense of the Havana intelligence agents. Both drew strong complaints from some Cuban exiles. One was taken down quickly after it appeared on a billboard at the Miami City Casino, on 37th Avenue and 4th Street NW. The other appeared about two weeks later on the pages of The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald.

International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5 Announces

The attack on Ozzie Guillen shows the Cuban 5
could never receive a fair trial in Miami
The avalanche of criticism and complete
intolerance surrounding statements from Florida
Marlin's manager Ozzie Guillen in Time Magazine
certainly demonstrates how anyone who says any
comment even remotely favorable to Cuba will be
viciously attacked by right wing anti Cuban
circles in Miami. This is a clear example as to
why the Cuban 5, who infiltrated right-wing exile
groups in Miami in the mid-nineties to stop their
plans for violence against the island, and who
ended up serving lengthy sentences in U.S.
Prisons, couldn't have possibly received a fair trial in Miami.

Alicia Jrapko, of the International Committee for
the Freedom of the Cuban 5 stated, "Those groups
in Miami, who have made careers out of howling
about the lack of freedom of speech in Cuba, have
now fully exposed themselves in the case of Ozzie
Guillen. They have shown that it is they who will
not tolerate a person's opinion if it does not
line up with their backward way of thinking about
Cuba. If he could be so vilified and forced to
repent it shows there is no way the Cuban 5 could
receive a fair trial in that city."

Lawrence Wilkerson, Colonel, US Army (Retired)
and former chief of staff to Secretary of State
Colin Powell, wrote, "The only reason there is
such a hue and cry over Guillen's remarks is the
deadly stranglehold over Miami politics
maintained by hard-line Cuban-Americans. This
same deadly stranglehold ensured the Cuban Five
were railroaded to jail with sentences their
'crimes' did not in any way warrant."

The Cuban 5 were arrested in 1998 and although
they made no threats or injury to anyone and
there was no transfer of U.S. government
documents or classified material, the Cuban 5
were convicted on conspiracy to commit espionage
charges and sentenced originally to four life
sentences and 77 years in U.S. prisons.

On August 9, 2005, a three judge panel of the
11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta
commented on the political atmosphere that exists
in Miami: "Here, a new trial was mandated by the
perfect storm created when the surge of pervasive
community sentiment, and extensive publicity both
before and during the trial, merged with the
improper prosecutorial references." These
federal judges affirmed "the perception that
these groups could harm jurors that rendered a
verdict unfavorable to their views was palpable."

Activists from around the U.S. and international
representatives working for the freedom of the
Cuban 5 are gathering for five days of activities
in Washington, DC next week from April 17th to
the 21st. They will demand that President Obama
free the Cuban 5 who have been in U.S. prisons now for more than 13 years.

To see the full schedule of events and activities
plus a list of endorsers for 5 days for the Cuban 5 go to

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