Author Stephen Kimber elated with Cuban prisoners' release

A Halifax journalist is elated over the news that U.S. President Barack Obama has released three Cuban prisoners who were imprisoned for years in an espionage case.

Kimber spent years lobbying for freedom for accused spies

Stephen Kimber wrote a book called What Lies Across the Water about the men in the so-called Cuban Five and lobbied for their release from prison. (Toronto Forum on Cuba)

A Halifax journalist is elated over the news that U.S. President Barack Obama has released three Cuban prisoners who were imprisoned for years in an espionage case.

Stephen Kimber wrote a book called What Lies Across the Water, about the men in the so-called Cuban Five — a group of men who were part of the "Wasp Network" sent by Cuba's then-president Fidel Castro to spy in South Florida.

The men, who are hailed as heroes in Cuba, were convicted in 2001 in Miami on charges including conspiracy to commit espionage, conspiracy to commit murder and failure to register as foreign agents in the U.S.

Kimber was part of the lobby effort to have them released.

"I had been in Cuba doing research for a novel when someone suggested that I look into this case," Kimber told Information Morning on Thursday.

The Cuban government has admitted that the five were working for Cuba, but said they were sent in to Miami in response to CIA-sponsored bombings in Havana.

"One of them was a janitor at a military base. His job was to monitor what was going on at the military base and see if there was anything that would signal an invasion of Cuba," said Kimber.

"Pretty defensive kind of stuff."

Looking into the conspiracy to commit murder charge was what turned Kimber from a journalist covering a story into an activist.

The charge stems from the Cuban government's decision to shoot down two unarmed civilian aircraft belonging to the group Brothers to the Rescue.

'It was very emotional'

"When I went through the evidence … I did not find any compelling evidence that any of them knew anything about, had any influence on, or control over the event," said Kimber.

"But they were in Miami, and Miami was the home of the exile community — and that was essentially why they were convicted."

So Kimber wrote the book and worked with a lobby group called the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban Five to convince people in U.S. congressional offices and the Department of State.

Over time, two of the five were released when their sentences were up. 

Recently, Kimber noticed a difference in the reception he and other activists were getting and it became easier to arrange meetings with government officials. Still, it was a big surprise when he heard that the remaining three men — Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero and Ramón Labañino — were released on Wednesday as part of a prisoner swap with Cuba.

"It was very emotional. I never expected to … but I teared up," said Kimber.

"When I started this, the assumption was that this was something that I was doing because I thought it was right, but without any expectation that it was ever going to produce any results."

Kimber said he hopes to celebrate the news on a trip to Cuba in the near future.

"I have never met them — I could not get into a maximum security prison. But I have been exchanging letters for five years with Gerardo Hernandez and we had joked a number of times that we were going to meet in Havana and have a rum," he said.

"Now it seems possible, finally."

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