Posts in Cuban exile terrorism
What lies across the Water- Why History, International Law and American Values matter in the case of the Cuban five
The following text is my presentation at the panel organized by Wayne Smith about the book "What lies across the Water", at the Center for International Policy, April 18, Washington DC.
I want to thank Dr. Wayne Smith and the Center for International Policy (CIP) for the invitation to discuss the book “What lies across the Water”. As a Cuban-American who thinks constantly about the difficult relations between Cuba and the United States, it is an honor to be part of the effort of the CIP to improve the knowledge about the complex history of these links and the need to approach them with creativity and goodwill.
Whatever you might think about the Cuban Five, if you want to know how their case fits into the history of relations between Cuba and the United States, you must read this book. The author Stephen Kimber presents a well written short narrative about how the Cuban five ended up in US prisons. The book reads more as reportage for the general public than as an academic report. The author has studied the long history of conflict between Cuba and the United States and the use of terror as a political weapon by Cuban right wing groups in Florida.
(A billboard in Cuba which reads, "What barbarians. They have liberated a terrorist”. The billboard pre-dates Posada's April 2011 acquittal, and is more likely in reference to a 2004 pardon he received for the attempted assassination of Fidel Castro. The pardon was granted by former Panamanian president, Mireya Moscoso under pressure from the United States.)
Several nights ago (6 April), I watched “Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up” at the West End Cinema in Washington. Six months ago, Saul Landau, the filmmaker, had given me an earlier rough-cut version on DVD that I had watched, but I was not prepared for the final version with all of the added footage gained by Saul’s recent sojourn in Cuba itself and the slap-in-the-face showing on the large screen.
But the added footage from the island and the bigger screen were not all that made the final version more electrifying. It was, all in all, the pro-Cuba aspect of the film that stunned me.
And it was clear that this pro-Cuba aspect was not conjured by the filmmaker but by history. Perhaps, I told myself, I knew much of this history, intellectually, academically. But I had never seen it so graphically put before me, in such a tight, cinematic package that seemed to leap off the screen almost in synch with the beating of my pulse.
The backdrop of the film was the U.S.-Cuba relationship from the 1959 revolution to the present. That relationship was portrayed quite accurately, leaving no doubt why Theodore Roosevelt referred to the island as “that infernal little Cuban Republic” even though TR pre-dated the revolution by a generation-plus. That is chiefly because the one-sided nature of U.S. policy has been the same from 1823 to the present. TR’s remark demonstrated well before the Cuban revolution, well before the dictator Fulgencio Batista, well before the U.S. mob took over Havana, well before Fidel Castro shouted “¡Bastante!” from the Sierra Maestra, well before Jesse Helms displayed his latent racism toward Cubans, just how badly the U.S. had treated its island neighbor since the beginning of our republic. So badly, in fact, that the portrayal of it, however evanescently, by a master filmmaker made one want to weep for his country and its policies. I doubt there was a single person in the audience that night who felt any differently, except perhaps the several Cubans who were present who, indeed, probably wept for el coloso del norte as well but for different reasons.
And then there was the main point, the point embodied in the film’s title.
Guest post by Peter Kornbluh*
Feb. 9: In El Paso, Texas, the perjury trial of infamous violent Cuban exile, Luis Posada Carriles, took a historic turn today. For the first time in the long dramatic history dominated by hostility and aggression, U.S. government prosecutors formally presented evidence of terrorism committed against Cuba in a court of law against one of its own former CIA assets. Even more extraordinary, the evidence came in the form of a Cuban Ministry of Interior investigator explaining photographs and police reports to the jury relating to an explosion in the bar of the Hotel Copacabana which killed a young Italian businessman Fabio Di Celmo on September 4, 1997. “Cuba Cooperating in US case against ex-CIA agent,” reads tomorrow’s news headlines.
The godfather of anti-Castro Cuban violence over the last four decades, Posada is being prosecuted for immigration fraud relating to how he illegally entered the United States in March 2005. But the Obama Justice Department added three counts of perjury relating to a far more important crime: Posada’s role in a series of seven bombings that rocked Havana hotels and other tourist sites between April and September 1997. “The defendant is alleged to have lied about his involvement in planning the bombings in Havana,” state court filings by the Justice Department’s Counterterrorism Division. “The United States intends to prove that the bombings in Cuba actually occurred.”
This week marks the first time that concrete evidence is being presented to the jury on how those bombings took place and the damage they wrought. The jury has been shown photographs taken by Cuban authorities of the bloodstained floor of the hotel. Portions of a Cuban investigative study, known as the “Volcan report,” which discusses the cause of, and circumstances surrounding Fabio Di Celmo’s death, are due to be introduced as evidence during the testimony of Major Roberto Hernandez Caballero—he is Cuba’s lead detective on the hotel bombing investigation—who took the stand today.
The importance of this moment in U.S.-Cuban relations cannot be overstated. Posada was originally trained in demolitions by the U.S. military and put on the CIA payroll in 1965 to train and supervise other exile groups in sabotage, explosives and violent operations. Declassified CIA and FBI intelligence reports, posted on the website of the National Security Archive, identify him as a mastermind of a mid-air bombing of a Cuban jetliner that took the lives of all 73 men, women and children on board in October 1976. Most recently, Posada was arrested in Panama with a carload of C-4 and dynamite in what he admitted to U.S. officials was a plot to assassinate Fidel Castro at the Ibero-American summit in November 2000. By prosecuting him on charges related to his acts of terrorism, even if they are only perjury charges, the United States is effectively repudiating a dark past that its own Cold War officials and covert operatives set in motion.
This morning, a congressional staffer forwarded the latest "Cuba Facts" received from the University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies (ICCAS). The Institute regularly produces briefing papers and shares them with interested colleagues in the academic and policy community, and, of course, with staff on Capitol Hill. The Institute isn't afraid to take a policy position when it comes to Cuba and U.S. sanctions, or - in this blogger's opinion - to sacrifice an honest representation of the facts in order to convey a particular point of view. (And, let's not forget that until this year, the University of Miami's ICCAS received millions in taxpayer-funded support from USAID.)
But the latest Cuba Facts memo isn't what interests me. I'm more stunned by the quaint little event the Institute hosted last week to celebrate the "50th Anniversary of the Guerilla Struggle Against Totalitarianism." But what does it meant to honor the "guerrilla struggle" anyway? Perhaps taking a look at the honorees might give us a clue?
Where’s a good ombudsman when you need one? Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve received comments from readers on two very sensitive topics that remind me just how hard it is to find middle ground when it comes to Cuba.
Two days ago, a contributor for THN passed on what seemed - to him - plausible news. A group of Cuban bloggers, especially prominent abroad for their criticism of their government and prolific use of social media, were unable to send their 140 character messages to Twitter. One of them, the much-admired and maligned Yoani Sanchez, made instant headlines for publicly wondering if the Cuban government had blocked their access. After all, her blog is blocked in Cuba, so maybe it wasn’t a leap too far?
“Bloquearon la publicacion desde moviles cubanos a twitter. Parece que pusieron el filtro aqui dentro.1 amigo publica por mi este tweet”
Sanchez then went on to wonder – via friends to whom she dictated her tweets – whether Twitter had been the one to block access. That too had (an even more) plausible precedent. In May 2009, to avoid getting in trouble with U.S. authorities, Microsoft blocked access to its instant messaging software for countries subject to U.S. sanctions, including Cuba. And that, observed Sarah Stephens of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, was, ironically, just weeks after the Obama administration announced it would issue new regulations to increase telecommunications access for the Cuban people.
As it turned out, nobody was censoring anybody. Tomas Bilbao, who originally posted Sanchez' s concerns, did some investigating. And, as he reported here yesterday, Twitter simply made a change to how customers must dial in. That broke the Twitter link to which Yoani Sanchez and others in Cuban had become accustomed. Bilbao admitted that he jumped the gun without all the facts in hand, and I hope that Sanchez will do the same. If she doesn’t, she’ll only prove her critics right, who accuse her of being more interested in building the momentum her creativity and criticism have won her, than in building a constructive dialogue. And that’s where the real damage is done. Unfortunately, both sides are too quick to judge, take names and call the press.