Stephen Kimber, Interim Director of the School of Journalism at University of King’s College in Canada, is the author of “What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of the Cuban Five.” The book recounts the story of the the five Cubans sent to the United States to infiltrate anti-Cuban groups in Miami and thwart plots of terrorists attacks on Cuba. They were arrested by the FBI on Sept. 12, 1998, and convicted in U.S. federal court in Miami in 2001 on charges of conspiracy–despite a lack of evidence against them. Antonio Guerrero, Ramón Labañino and Gerardo Hernandez are still in U.S. prisons. On a visit to Northern California on Feb. 25-March 4, Kimber shared the story of story of the injustice surrounding the Cuban Five.
Why did you decide to write “What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of the Cuban Five”?
I met someone who said nothing will change in Cuban-American relations until America solves the problem of the Cuban Five. The more he talked to me, the more I became interested in the story. This is a story of a real injustice. There’s no smoking gun. There’s not even a whiff of a smoking gun. But, I was more interested in the story than the cause. Because of the story, I’m a lot more sympathetic to the cause. I really wanted to bring attention to the cause.
What were the challenges you faced while writing this book?
I was unable to meet with any of the Five in person. I had to conduct my interviews with them by mail or email.
For two-and-a-half years, I sought information from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) through the Freedom of Information Act. The FBI had meetings in Havana in June 1998, and the FBI claimed it didn’t have any information from those meetings. When they did send me information, I received 400 pages of newspaper clippings.
Cubans are very good at not answering questions. They don’t tell you, “no,” they just don’t answer the questions. Luckily, I was able to develop a relationship with them.
What do you hope to accomplish with this book?
When people hear from Cuban Five advocates, some aren’t convinced of the facts. I wanted to provide the details to give people the context of the story. I wanted to get the message out because it’s important when there’s an injustice like this.
In a class of 50 or 60 Latina/o students (at the College of Marin), most of the students didn’t know about the Cuban Five. The students and I engaged in a conversation about the story, and they were able to see the larger picture. As a result of the conversation, the students are organizing an event to advance the cause. That to me is success.
Do you believe the book will help accelerate the release of the remaining three members of the Cuban Five? If so, why?
I would love to think that. I think that it can’t hurt. The book is going to it’s second printing. People can order the book from the publisher, Fernwood Publishing, Canada. It’s easier to order the book from Amazon.ca, Amazon.com’s Canadian website, rather than Amazon’s American website.
So far, what has been the public reaction to your book?
Many people have said it reads like a novel, which was a kind of storytelling I was hoping to achieve. The story hasn’t received a lot of attention in the mainstream media. If you don’t understand the whole story, you may just dismiss it. For the justice to be done, people must raise awareness of the issue.
In retrospect, is there anything you would have done differently with respect to writing this book?
The book includes the stories of the Cuban exiles and their plots against Cuba. Some readers found the number of storylines and characters — including those of the many exile militant groups — confusing, but I wanted to show that this was a bigger story than just the case involving the Five and provide the larger story with necessary context.
So, while I wanted to make it as simple and straightforward as possible, I’m not sure I could have done the story justice without including those details.