By Stan Smith, Chicago Committee to Free the Cuban Five
Stephen Kimber has written a book about the Cuban Five that catches you like a detective story. The book also presents previously unknown information about the case, even for those campaigning for their freedom. The Cuban Five are political prisoners who were arrested in 1998, tried in Miami on “conspiracy” charges - for which concrete evidence is not needed - and sentenced to long prison terms (one is now released and back in Cuba).
Cuban undercover agents, working to thwart terrorist and assassination attempts against Cuba “were also the heart and soul of what was regarded, even by its enemies, as the best organized and the most effective intelligence network in the world.” (p. 49) These agents were carefully recruited, with little pay, doing the work because they believed in the revolution.
The Cuban Five concealed their identities, and some infiltrated anti-Cuban terrorist groups in Miami, passing as bona fide right-wing Cuban exiles. Some Cuban agents also informed on Miami terrorist groups to the FBI, operating as double agents. The Miami Cuban right wing themselves knew their dirty work was made much more difficult because they were heavily infiltrated by Cuban agents.
Most US people are not aware of the case of the Cuban Five because the US corporate media has maintained a news blackout on the case – except in Miami, where it launched a smear campaign. In a recent rare exception, the Washington Post published an October 4 op ed by Stephen Kimber:
“Consider for a moment what would happen if American intelligence agents on the ground in a foreign country uncovered a major terrorist plot, with enough time to prevent it. And then consider how Americans would react if authorities in that country, rather than cooperate with us, arrest and imprison the U.S. agents for operating on their soil. Those agents would be American heroes today. The U.S. government would move heaven and Earth to get them back. This sort of scenario has occurred, except that, in the real-life version, which unfolded 15 years ago last month, the Americans play the role of the foreign government, and Cuba - yes, Fidel Castro's Cuba - plays the role of the aggrieved United States.” (http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-10-04/opinions/42719570_1_exile-cuban-agents-u-s-agents)
The Cuban Five were tried in Miami, where the US government admitted in other cases before and after this trial, that when the issue concerned Cuba, a fair trial was impossible. They were convicted of “conspiracy” charges and sentenced from 15 years to two life terms plus 15 years. Their defense during their trial largely rested on stating they were doing what the US government should have done, but didn’t: prevent violations of American neutrality and international laws by infiltrating, uncovering and stopping attacks against Cuba by Miami terrorist groups. Five other Cuban agents arrested with them on September 12, 1998 cooperated with US authorities in return for lesser sentences of 3 ½ to 7 years.
Kimber reveals that by the summer of 1996, the FBI knew Geraldo Hernandez was a key Cuban agent, as on September 11,1996 the FBI broke into his apartment and copied the contents of his computer and over 200
In a telling display of how the US “free press” operates, the Cuban Five case was covered daily in Miami, while outside Miami existed – and still exists - a virtual news blackout on the case. And in Miami the government actually paid journalists over $250,000 to write newspaper articles to whip up a climate in Miami against Cuban “spies.” (http://www.freethefive.org/journalists.htm)
Kimber notes in 2005 the United Nations Human Rights Commission described their trial as unfair ( http://www.thecuban5.org/vos_un.html) , as did Amnesty International in 2010. (http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/AMR51/096/2010/en/e628a0eb-868e-4768-808c-9ac139b089f0/amr510962010en.pdf) In 2005 the three-judge panel of the US 11th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned their convictions, stating their trial was "a perfect storm of prejudice and hostility," and unanimously ordered a new trial. (http://www.walterlippmann.com/cubanfive-11thcircuit.html)
This was later overturned by the full appeals court. When the case was appealed to the Supreme Court, the Obama administration petitioned the court not to take it up. It didn’t.
After the Cuban revolution, the CIA recruited and trained rightwing Miami Cubans for actions against Cuba. The most infamous included Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles (who blew up the Cubana airliner in 1976), Felix Rodriguez, who killed Che Guevara, and Jorge Mas Canosa, who later founded the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), which in spite of being a tax exempt foundation, has bankrolled numerous bombing and other terrorist actions against Cuba.
The CIA training of rightwing Miami Cubans in bomb-making and sabotage was not directed only at Cuba. In the 1970s a bombing campaign was unleashed against political opponents in Miami. During a period of one and half years, there were more than 100 bombings and an average of one assassination a week in Miami. The FBI described Miami as the “terrorist capital” of the US.
Human Rights Watch issued a report on the lack of freedom of expression in Miami. It documented 20 years of “bombings, vandalism, beatings, death threats and other examples of violence and harassment directed mostly against politically moderate exiles.” (p.66) It singled out Jorge Mas Canosa the head CANF. The report also said “government officials maintain a conspicuous silence in the face of threats to free expression.” ( p.66), and concluded that local, state, and national, leaders had “failed” to protect the First Amendment rights of Miami’s moderate exile community. Four years later this same city was chosen as the venue for the Cuban Five trial.
But besides Cuba and Miami, the likes of Bosch, Posada and Felix Rodriguez were involved in terrorist acts against fighters for social justice in Latin America. For instance, Orlando Letelier and Ronnie Moffat, opponents of the Pinochet military regime in Chile, were killed by a car bomb in Washington DC. Felix Rodriguez helped Posada Carriles escape from prison in Venezuela, where he was held for blowing up a Cubana airliner, killing 73 civilians. Rodriguez had Posada flown to El Salvador, where he worked with the Nicaraguan contras in the 1980s aiming to overthrow the revolutionary Sandinista government. In the 1990s, rightwing Miami Cubans were involved in some attacks on the Pastors for Peace caravans to Cuba.
US War On Cuba
After the Soviet bloc collapsed, the US government expected Cuba (and North Korea) to quickly follow suit. Under President Clinton, the Torricelli and Helms-Burton laws were passed tightening US economic blockade. Cuba had sought to gain foreign exchange by turning to tourism, which prompted the CIA and Miami Cuban terrorist groups to resort to bombings in Cuba to scare away tourists in a new attempt to sabotage the economy. It was in this context that the Cuban Five went undercover in Miami.
Just as we easily overlook the real damage to Cuba by the US blockade, we also easily lose sight of the actual terrorist war being waged against Cuba by the US, though this terrorist war never reached the level it did in the 1960s.
There were a series of bombing attacks and assassination attempts on Cuba while the Cuban Five were in Miami, a number of which Cuban agents disrupted. In 1993 Posada planned to blow up a Cuban freighter in Honduras. In 1994, Rodolfo Frometa, the leader of an exile group, was nabbed in an FBI sting trying to buy a Stinger missile, a grenade launcher and anti-tank rockets that he said he planned to use to attack Cuba. That year Posada led a team of 6 Cuban exiles to kill Fidel Castro at a summit in Cartagena, Colombia.
In 1995, Cuban police arrested two Miami Cubans after they tried to plant a bomb at a resort in Varadero, Cuba. Anti-Cuba terrorists also attempted to blow up a Havana’s Tropicana nightclub, with enough c-4 explosives to kill several hundred in the audience, as well as bomb a thermoelectric plant.
Jose Basulto, founder of Brothers to the Rescue, planned to launch remote-controlled planes loaded with explosives against Cuba to explode at a public rally in Plaza de la Revolucion. This scheme was scratched after Cuba shot down two of their planes in February 1996.
In late spring and summer 1997 Posada organized a major bombing campaign to disrupt tourism to Cuba, its chief source of foreign exchange. Those working with Posada planted bombs at the Melia Cohiba on two occasions, the Commodore Hotel, Hotel Nacional, Hotel Capri, Copacabana Hotel, Hotel Miramar, Sol Palmeras, La Bodeguita del Medio (Hemingway’s hangout). In October 1997 attacks were planned on hotels, a tourist minbus, and at Jose Marti airport, but these were thwarted. The same year a Cuban travel agency in Mexico City was bombed. That year the Cuban Five helped to disrupt an assassination plot on Fidel Castro in Margarita, Venezuela.
The Cuban government later said the 1997 bombing campaign cost them $181 million in lost tourism and $80 million in extra security.
In 1998 Miami terrorists tried to place bombs on civilian airplanes heading to or from Cuba. Two were arrested while smuggling explosives to Cuba to be left on an airliner parked at the Havana airport. Bomb attacks on a power station in Matanzas, and on the Che mausoleum in Santa Clara were also successfully disrupted.
Fidel Castro wrote to President Clinton in 1998, “The American investigation and intelligence agencies are in possession of enough reliable information on the main people responsible. If they really want to, they have the possibility of preventing…this new modality of terrorism.” (p. 185)
Role of US Terrorist Groups in Government Policy
Kimber’s book gives a hint of the behind the scenes workings of the real forces running the US government, though he does not bring this out explicitly. While FBI agents were fulfilling a professed function of the agency by monitoring Miami Cuban paramilitary terrorist groups engaged in bombings, assassinations and drug running, and arresting them when justified, higher level agents were making sure nothing serious was done to endanger these groups’ activities.
For instance, Kimber quotes a July 23, 1998 Miami Herald article, “Anti-Castro militant Tony Bryant still chuckles when he recalls the FBI agents who interviewed him after a 14-foot boat, loaded with high explosives and registered in his name, turned up near Havana. They said, ‘You could hurt someone. Don’t do it again.’ ‘I promised not to do it again, and they went away.’” (p. 208)
Kimber quotes Posada Carriles, the mastermind behind most of the bombings, in an interview he gave: “As you can see, the FBI and the CIA don’t bother me.” (http://www.nytimes.com/1998/07/12/world/a-bombers-tale-taking-aim-at-castro-key-cuba-foe-claims-exiles-backing.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm) Posada noted his “close friendship” with high-ranking officials in the agencies.
As if in confirmation, while FBI agents collected extensive files on Posada’s criminal activities, the head of the Miami FBI, Hector Pesquera, in 2003, shredded five boxes of files on Posada, including documents concerning cash transfers to Posada. Pesquera claimed Posada had “disappeared from sight and was out of action.” Yet this was exactly when Posada, jailed in Panama, was awaiting trial for attempting to kill Fidel Castro by blowing up the building full of university students he would be addressing. Posada, at the time, had already been visited by the US Embassy’s FBI liaison there. (p. 226) This bomb plot had also been uncovered by undercover Cuban agents.
As head of the Miami FBI, Pesquera was the one who devoted FBI resources to uncovering and framing up the Cuban 5. While doing so, the men who carried out the September 11, 2001 attacks were training right there in Miami, under the nose of Mr. Pesquera, totally undisturbed.
In another example of how higher ups in the US government protected rightwing Miami gangsters, Miami Cuban group member Hector Viamonte was arrested and convicted, in part by Rene Gonzalez’ information, of conspiracy to import and distribute 3000 pounds of cocaine, yet received a mere 9 years in prison. This was 6 years less than Rene Gonzalez received, 15 years, for “conspiracy to act as a non- registered foreign agent,” and is lighter than what many small scale street corner drug dealers receive.
In the fall of 1995 and early 1996, just before Cuba shot down two Brothers to the Rescue planes, killing four, Richard Nuccio, Clinton’s point man on Cuba, asked the FAA to warn Jose Basulto not to provoke Cuba with more Brothers to the Rescue overflights. Nuccio is quoted saying a senior FAA official “rebuffed our concerns and said if they happen to run into him, they would mention it….[Basulto] was already quite annoyed and they didn’t want to bother him further.” (p. 103)
In further confirmation that the US knew what lay in store for their continued illegal flights over Cuban territory, Juan Pablo Roque, a Cuban double-agent who returned to Cuban in 1996, “insisted the FBI knew in advance the Cuban government would shoot down the planes. ‘FBI agent Oscar Montoto tells me on February 21st, ‘Don’t go on that mission because they are going to knock you out of the sky.’ Agent Montoto told me not to go,’ he repeated.” (p. 110)
Despite US foreknowledge that Cuba planned to physically stop future overflights if the US government did not stop them, it planned to charge Cuban leaders with murdering the four in the shootdown. The US Attorney’s office told the Miami Herald that the ‘best hope” for charging Raul Castro was to get Geraldo Hernandez, the leader of the Cuban Four, to agree to testify against him. “Hernandez himself scoffed at what he called ‘their ‘wild dream,’ the true reason behind their psychological torture [of me].’ In a 2010 letter to me, he wrote ‘it explains why they haven’t let me see my wife for 12 years like every other prisoner, why they haven’t let me write an email to her like every other prisoner, etc.,etc.” (p. 242)
Not mentioned in Kimbers’s book, a US court later declared Cuba owed the families of the four killed in the shootdown $188 million to be collected from Cuban assets. Similar bogus suits have won hundreds of millions of dollars from US courts in “compensation” from Cuba. One reason why Venezuela’s President Maduro canceled his attendance at the United Nations in September 2013 was the threat that the Cubana airliner he was flying in would be confiscated by US authorities for this purpose ( businessweek.com/news/2013-09-27/venezuela-s-maduro-said-to-cancel-u-dot-s-dot-trip-over-cuban-plane).
Violent terrorist groups, such as Miami Cuban ones, exist in the US with only token restraint by government agencies, to be used not just against Cubans, but against all of us in the movement for progressive change. It would be short-sighted to regard this as a Miami-Cuba problem. These Miami gangsters play the same social role as the Klu Klux Klan: extra-legal terrorist groups available to the US rulers as forces to intimidate and repress movements for social justice. We now know, for instance, that the FBI not only had advance knowledge of the 1963 church bombing in Mississippi by the KKK that killed four girls, but also helped conceal the criminals’ identity.
Stephen Kimber’s book on the real story of the Cuban Five could not find a US publisher. Not because he did not give an excellent, readable presentation of their story, but because he did. As Ricardo Alarcon, ex-president of the Cuban National Assembly said of the book, “It is the work of a master journalist, a great writer, and, above all, an honest intellectual, committed only to what he could verify independently.” http://www.granma.cu/ingles/cuba-i/15agosto-33alarcon.html