MURDER CHARGES AGAINST CASTRO?
The June 8 conviction of a small group of Cuban spies in south Florida holds ominous news on the US-Cuba front. The South Florida US Attorney Guy Lewis hinted that he might indict Fidel Castro by stating that the conviction of spymaster Gerardo Hernández on charges of collaborating with the murder of four members of Brothers to the Rescue proved "beyond any doubt there was a conspiracy to commit murder that had been approved of and ordered by the highest levels of the Cuban government.''
As has become customary in the Miami area, the US Attorney often follows the bidding of the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), the stronghold of the anti-Castro lobby. CANF President Francisco Hernandez elaborated on the US Attorney's remark. "The evidence presented at this trial makes it clear that responsibility for the premeditated murder of four young men in the Brothers to the Rescue shoot down does not stop with the conviction of Gerardo Hernandez. The next step," said Hernandez, "is to indict those further up the chain of command who initiated this crime, including Fidel and Raul Castro. We call upon the Attorney General to take the necessary steps to bring all the guilty parties to justice."
The contradiction in CANF's position lies in its own links to violence and specifically assassination attempts against Castro. Under George Bush I, CANF successfully backed the return to the United States from Venezuela of Orlando Bosch, a kind of Timothy McVeigh of the right wing exile community. Bosch boasted of his role in the October 1976 sabotage of a Cuban commercial airliner over Barbados. 73 people died. Luis Posada Carriles, another long time terrorist also liunked to the Barbados plane job told the New York Times that in 1997 CANF had financed his campaign to bomb tourist sites in Cuba. One of his bombs killed an Italian tourist. In November 2000, Panamanian police arrested Posada and three other CANF-linked exiles when they found explosives in their rented car -- with their fingerprints on the dangerous material. The following year three CANF leaders had bought sniper rifles and had consorted with other exiles to shoot Castro on an island near Venezuela where the Cu! ! ban leader was to attend a Latin American summit meeting. Indeed, Cuban intelligence sent spies to the Miami area precisely to infiltrate violence-prone anti-Castro groupings who had attempted to assassinate the Cuban leader and commit other violent acts to disrupt Cuba's economy. The prosecutor even admitted that the agents never obtained classified information, but the defense argued that the point is that they were never instructed to get U.S. secrets. The court-appointed attorneys for the Cuban agents argued that in light of decades of terrorist actions carried out against Cuba from US soil and the FBI's less than enthusiastic persecution of the anti-Castro terrorists, Havana had sent in the spies to infiltrate extremist exile groups out of self defense, to stop future violent actions in Cuba.
The defense chose a 12-member non-Cuban jury with no close Cuban relatives or friends to remove social pressure from the verdict in the largest Cuban community off the communist island. But the intimidation exercised in that area by a group of violent Cuban exiles does not exactly make for a fair trial climate. South Florida juries have become notorious for their consistency in deciding against the Castro government.
After six months of trial, the jury deliberated for four days before declaring the five Cuban agents guilty of violating US espionage laws and Hernandez of collaborating in the February 24, 1996 shoot down by Cuban MIGs of two civilian planes flown by Brothers to the Rescue, an extreme anti-Castro group. The two pilots and two passengers all died. Cuba argued that the MIGs fired over Cuban airspace after Cuba's air control had ordered the pilots not to enter its air space. Washington countered that the planes were in international air space when the missiles hit their targets. At the trial, the spies' lawyers presented testimony to show that the Cuban government had warned US authorities over a period of almost two years during which the Brothers had continually over-flown Cuba, including missions when they dropped leaflets.
In January 1996, Cuba told the State Department that future over-flights would result in dire consequences. Indeed, US officials had taken steps -- but not sufficient ones -- to stop the Brothers from flying future missions. As to the issue of where the shoot downs occurred, a former air force colonel working with the National Security Agency in 1996 testified that contrary to what the White House had declared, the NSA had tracked the Brothers planes and the MIGSs and found them to "well within Cuban air space." The Cuban spies admitted they had infiltrated the Brothers and that the spymaster had warned the infiltrator not to fly in the period when the fatal shoot down occurred. The prosecution argued that such advise meant aiding and abetting a cold blooded murder. The defense final argument included the fact that high US officials knew about the impending flights several days before the fatal incident and took no measures to stop it. US officials had even told people about the flights. To show the violent nature of the Brothers to the Rescue, the defense also called Jose Basulto, head of Brother to the Rescue. Basulto testified that he was a pacifist,a follower of Ghandi and Martin Luther King -- except when it came to actions against Cuba, where violence was absolutely necessary. Other exiles testified as to their absolute commitment to violence as a means to destroy Castro. The defense argued that such testimony showed that the Cuban government had every reason to fear extremist groups in South Florida, since the FBI did done little to stop the terrorists from launching their hits against the island, Cuba's decision to infiltrate violence-prone groups derived from the island's security needs, not from a desire to commit espionage. Few feigned surprise when the south Florida found all five defendants guilty of operating as foreign agents without notifying the U.S. government and conspiring to do so. Three were convicted of espionage conspiracy for efforts to penetrate U.S. military bases even though Gerardo Hernandez, the leader of the spy group, faces life sentences on the conspiracy counts. Ramon Labanino and Antonio Guerrero, who supposedly studied U.S. military bases, also face life sentences on espionage conspiracy. Fernando Gonzalez and Rene Gonzalez face up to 10 years in prison on charges of failing to register as foreign agents and conspiracy. Five others indicted as ring members pleaded guilty in exchange for their cooperation and reduced sentences. Four accused spies fled to Cuba. Thanks to the guilty verdict on the murder count, the right wing exiles believe they have a new legal basis with which to push the Justice Department to charge Fidel with murder in the case of the shot down airplanes.
Having failed to assassinate Fidel or destroy Cuba's economy, and after last year's humiliating loss when Attorney General Janet Reno sent Elian Gonzalez home to his father in Cuba, the Foundation -- without abandoning its beloved violence -- has turned its tactical guns to prosecuting Fidel.
For Castro, who has observed ten US presidents try to get rid of him, the new legal challenge might bring forth an interesting legal response -- in light of the hundreds of assassination attempts initiated against him by agents of the US government or by individuals operating on US territory. Someone might remind the righteous members of CANF of the old throwing bricks while living in glass houses proverb.