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November 29, 2000.
The session begins at 8:45 with a discussion about the taking of testimonies in Cuba. The Defense has asked for it, but the prosecutors resist and the judge requests each party to forward their arguments to the Court. The fourth group of would-be jurors makes his entrance at 9:30.
On this occasion there are 29. Out of them:
- One doesn’t want to hear from the police.
- Another was assaulted by a policeman and the others tried to conceal it.
- One doesn’t want to hear from Governments: “The United States because it supports the Palestinians and Cuba because Castro was allied of Sadam Husein in the Gulf war”. A lethal combination of ignorance and islamophobia.
- One knows Marlene Alejandre, wife of one of the downed on February 24, 1996.
- Other knows José Basulto.
The fifth panel comes in the afternoon. Now is my turn, as a former associate of the democracy movement is part of the group. Very discreetly she asks for a “side bar” and explains the conflict to the judge, who lets her go. Without finishing the individual questionnaire the session is closed until the next day.
November 30 2000.
The work continues at 9:15 with the group from the previous evening, out of which 9 are excused from serving as jurors.
Once the preliminary questions are finished the seats on the opposite side, where the would-be jurors would seat, are emptied and a rather ridiculous scene ensues: the prosecutors approach with submissiveness the family members of brothers to the rescue pilots and offer them to sit in the first row, next to the Government officials. Paul McKenna makes the same gesture to my brother and Antonio’s mom, but the prosecutors jump like a spring to prevent it. Paul protests: the relatives of both parties are entitled to a space in the room.
There is a somewhat embarrassing impasse and after discussing the subject the judge separates the first row for the Government and public officers in general. The second will be for relatives of the downed pilots and on the third two seats to my brother Roberto and Mirta, mother of Tony.
The second stage begins. Each jury will go alone to the room for a more personalized interrogation.
It goes without saying that no one has sympathy for Cuba. Two declare themselves neutral. A man shows signs of intelligence above the average: the trial is a circus, and if it wasn’t for the hysterical Cubans of Miami a while ago the accused would have been put on a plane back to Cuba. “There have been other cases of spies without much so much hassle in the United States”. The guy is freed from serving in the jury and we lose the possibility that someone with a brain and guts – miraculous combination, we will discover later- ends up in the jury.
The prosecutors revolt because they say that the judge is going too low with the broom. Their thesis is that just because somebody hates us a little doesn’t mean he will be biased. They are insatiable and it is not enough for them that there is no one who are sympathetic with us. They need to fill up the final group with people who are asking for our heads so we have to exhaust all our peremptory challenges and still not get a single juror with traces of neutrality.
The judge surrenders to the demands of the Prosecutors. She won’t be so demanding to people who admit prejudice. Another twist on the screws against us has been decreed and with it the last hope for justice in the trial.
Now the judge begins to admit those who show serious prejudices against us, and the peremptory challenges we’ll be entitled to go evaporating one by one. A young woman openly admits her Cuban origin and her bias against the accused, but the judge bids, rephrases her questions, directs, and pushes. Gerardo is inspired with the following cartoon:
But in spite of everything, you can be impartial. Isn’t it?
In the end the woman –Ileana Briganti- is admitted and another peremptory challenge will go away with her.
December 1, 2000.
One day well short, because the judge examines only 24 people and of them eight already considered us guilty, so they are excused despite the grumblings of the prosecutors, for whom there is not enough that judge has uploaded the pass of the broom. The last panelist of the day has no relationship with Cuba, but his problem is that he works for the County and there in his work they either declare the day of tribute to Orlando Bosh, or Nasário Sargén appears to collect the money to finance the freedom of Cuba.
So David Cuevas, in short, fears for his work in the county if there is a verdict of not guilty. The problem is that he doesn’t find the way of saying it. (Who knows if by saying so, right away, he loses it faster). The way out that the poor man finds for his problem is to not understand any questions. The judge is pushing so he can understand something, but the guy doesn’t give up. Sometimes he remains aloof and it seems that he will catch up, but this behavior is always the preamble before he asks the judge to repeat the question.
Little by little, painstakingly, Cuevas’ conflict is emerging. Sunk in a slumber we hear the judge retrieving the confession that he fears for his safety, but he still needs to tell the how, the where, the why and the when. It is not enough that everybody knows the answer in the room. It has to be said by Cuevas himself. The judge finds the right questions:
– Are you afraid of the consequences of a guilty verdict?
– Are you afraid of the consequences of a verdict of not guilty?
And Mr. Cuevas abandons the room relieved not to have to serve on the jury. As it is Friday we’ll take the weekend of rest.
December 3, 2000.
Sunday. The Court building is closed, but the “justice” wheels are spinning in the Propaganda Ministry of the prosecution.
El Nuevo Herald, in Rui Ferreira’s pen, gives the sound alarm. “Cuban Americans could be out of the jury,” he alerts their readers. In a nutshell: You guys are being too honest by admitting that you cannot be impartial. Put the batteries on and leave aside the scruples.
The remaining of the day runs normally, while we wait to see what happens with the call to arms from the official mouth piece of the prosecutors in Miami.