The Cuban Five Debate


“Human rights are inalienable, immutable and universal principles that are incidents of an individual’s humanity”

These were the overarching themes that pervading Lecture Theatre Room 2 during the Cuban Five debate that was held on October 3, 2013 at the University of West Indies Law Faculty.

The Cuban Five are five Cuban Intelligence Officers said to be unfairly imprisoned in the United States. They were convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage, conspiracy to commit murder acting as an agent of the foreign government and related charges. The men, who were imprisoned in the late 1990’s, contended that their actions were not directed to the U.S government. Their defense was that they were there on a government mission in Miami, to monitor a terrorist based group, in order to prevent them from continuing their attacks on Cuba. The men also argued that their right to a fair trial had been infringed due to the lack of evidence the US had against them as well as the inevitable bias that jury members would have against them since they resided in a florida community with strong anti-cuba sentiments. Even the United Nations Commission on Human Rights noted that “the trial did not take place in a climate of objectivity and impartiality that is required in order to conform to the standards of a fair trial.”

It was an evening poised with fluidity, expression, and cultural integration with our Cuban neighbors. The debate was scheduled to begin at 5:30pm, and so it did with a brilliant rendition of Redemption Song by Jheavaughn Leon, reiterating the concept of freedom while awaiting the arrival of the Cuban Ambassador Senor  Bernardo Guanche Hernandez. Ms. Rowana Kaye Campbell the Legal Educations Officer, with her Committee, orchestrated the entire event and opened the proceedings. The Moot presented before us was, Be it resolved that the Cuban Five were unjustly and unfairly prosecuted and convicted in the United States of America?

This daunting task was accepted by Yanique Wilson and Jared Wright, first and second year students respectively, who comprised the proposing team. The opposing team members were third years Jameliea Simpson and Jermaine Campbell. Dr. Biholar, currently Lecturer of International Human Rights Law, and Mr. Osvaldo Cardenas were members of the reviewing panel. The procedures were clearly instructed, setting the stage for an entertaining debate.

The proposition elucidated points stating that the United States government was abrogating components of Public International Law, such as, Use of Force, State Responsibility, State Immunity and the Law of Treaties . Inevitably they identified that Article 26 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties was not being fulfilled because the US government failed to observe the right to a fair trial outlined in Article 10 in the Universal Declarations  of Human rights. They then proceeded to identify the impropriety and unfair treatment the U.S government subjected the Cuban Five to, reaffirming that it was unconstitutional. Finally they purported that it should have been dealt with as an international matter, instead of a domestic one. Their counterparts, the opposition, argued the position of the U.S. prosecutors with vigor and passion stating that the US government fairly tried and prosecuted the Cuban five. This was substantiated by stating the intended purpose for each indictment, such as it would prevent terrorism and that it was beyond a reasonable doubt that the Cuban Five were prima facie guilty. After the dust settled, the reviewing panel concluded in the propositions favor, awarding them the victor of the debate. Dr. Biholar commented that their argument was more detailed, organized and deeply rooted in legal principles.

Albeit the opposition did a valiant job to debunk in the minds of especially the Cuban delegates that this was just and fair under the law.  Each speaker brought to the fore their own, individuality, but it was the first Speaker of the proposition Ms .Wilson who captivated the audience. She eloquently argued her points, earning her several commendations. Positive remarks on the debate were given by Senor Osvaldo Cardenas President of the Cuban Jamaican Association.However, it was ultimately the Cuban Ambassador who had the final word. He addressed the patrons, thanked everyone that attended, commended the proposition and gave greater incite to the case. There was then a light reception.

In hindsight the Cuban Five debate was excellently executed and a huge a success for the Mona Law Society and the entire law faculty.

Pete-Semaj McKnight  


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