WASHINGTON - June 13 - On June 10, 2004, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced criminal indictments of two south Florida residents for the supposed crime of "organizing, promoting and administrating sailboat races from Key West, Florida to Cuba."
The political nature of this announcement can be seen from not only from its timing, in South Florida five months before the presidential election, but also from the rhetoric contained in the DOJ's own press release, such as its claim that this action against two Florida citizens is striking a blow against "communist or oppressive regimes that threaten the freedom-starved people of those countries."
"It is ironic that official the DOJ announcement refers to protecting our 'national security' when such a long-standing and peaceful sailboat regatta has never posed any threat to our national security. The May 2003 regatta which is cited as the primary basis of the indictments was reportedly the ninth annual such regatta to Cuba," said Art Heitzer, an attorney and Chair of the National Lawyers Guild's Cuba Subcommittee.
Mr. Heitzer added: "This is another attempt to intimidate the U.S. population from travel to and direct interchange with the people of Cuba. It follows recent White House pledges to end most university groups to Cuba unless the courses 'directly promote U.S. foreign policy goals,' and plans to stop Cuban-Americans from visiting even their immediate family more than once in three years."
Contrary to the claims of the Department of Justice that these indictments will "protect the people of the U.S." and support "freedom-starved people," it is now the U.S. government that is seeking to restrict freedom and to imitate the actions of repressive regimes. The Guild calls on Attorney General Ashcroft to instead focus his resources on real potential threats to our national security in the Straits of Florida, including illegal drug traffic, paid smuggling of would-be immigrants, and armed provocations planned in Florida against the residents of Cuba.
The National Lawyers Guild, founded in 1937, comprises over 6,000 members and activists in the service of the people. Its national office is headquartered in New York and it has chapters in nearly every state, as well as over 100 law school chapters. The Guild has a long history of representing individuals whom the government has deemed a threat to national security, including helping expose illegal FBI and CIA surveillance, infiltration and disruption tactics (COINTELPRO) that the U.S. Senate "Church Commission" hearings detailed in 1975-76 and that led to enactment of the Freedom of Information Act and other limitations on federal investigative power.