On Varadero Beach, a hail of bullets fired from a speedboat hit their target, shooting up the Hotel Melia, one of Cuba’s main resort hotels. A week later, the Miami Herald reported that it had received a "war communiqué" boasting that "On the evening of October 7, 1992, Comandos L attacked a military objective off the coast of the province of Matanzas, Cuba." A tourist hotel had become publicly – not secretly — a "military objective." And three months later, Tony Bryant, who headed Comandos L, boasted on national TV at a Miami news conference of plans for more raids against targets in Cuba, especially hotels. Warning tourists to stay off the island, he declared, "From this point on, we’re at war." In fact, Washington had begun its War of Terror against Cuba in 1959. Tony Bryant’s televised press conference merely exhibited how legitimate and normal that War of Terror had become.
That year, 1992, with the Soviet Union disintegrated, Washington could have seized an opening for changing policy toward Cuba. Instead Congress tightened the trade and travel bans with the Torricelli Act – one of the laws that is part of the State of Siege, specifically aimed, in Torricelli’s own words, to "wreak havoc on that island." The Cuban American National Foundation orchestrated the Torricelli Law at the same time that it created its own unlawful paramilitary arm dedicated to killing Fidel Castro and overthrowing the Cuban Government.
Terrorists understood that by passing the Torricelli Law, Washington gave them a green light. If arrested, they need not fear conviction. When Tony Bryant was charged with possession and transport of firearms by a convicted felon, Federal Judge James Lawrence King in Miami dismissed the charges, deciding that "Bryant didn’t act like he committed a crime." The courts had become a cohort in the War of Terror.
The matrix for this legitimization and normalization of terror was the plan for invasion at the Bay of Pigs, combining the toxic mix of covert activities and constant lies that have constituted U.S. policy toward Cuba ever since.
In 1959 the State of Siege began. Air raids repeatedly struck the sugar industry, mainstay of the economy at that time. Others bombed Havana itself. Another attacked a train full of passengers.
Cubans, on the receiving end, experienced the deaths and destruction. But in the United States, those attacks were discussed in secret memos among people with security clearances on a need-to-know basis, developing an addiction to the drama and the power of being among those who are privy to the secrets.
The War of Terror forced Cuba to distort its economy by having to develop its Revolutionary Armed Forces and the popular militia to defend the country constantly from various armed attacks and invasion. From this dynamic between terrorists and their targets came two opposing agencies: On the one hand, the army of terrorists based in the United States and on the other, Cuba’s State Security Department or G-2. Cuba has no option of sending its armed forces to invade the United States in order to eliminate terrorist groups. Instead, G2 must infiltrate agents into those groups to uncover their plans. Fabián Escalante, former head of the State Security Department, has written extensively about this "silent war against terrorism."
Who knew that in March 1960 President Eisenhower ordered CIA Director Allen
Dulles to organize Cuban émigrés for an invasion? Although a secret from most Americans, it was found out by G-2 right away.
While G-2 had to fend off assassins, the American people were kept in the dark about the CIA’s far-reaching decision to recruit organized crime for help in killing Fidel Castro before the invasion. Not until 1975 did that connection become known when, in the wake of the Vietnam War, the Senate Select Intelligence Committee and later the House Select Committee on Assassinations conducted hearings that included testimony about the recruitment of Mafia.
Richard Mervin Bissell Jr., former Yale professor turned CIA chief of covert operations, asked Col. Sheffield Edwards, director of the CIA’s Office of Security, to locate someone to assassinate Prime Minister Castro. Edwards relied on former FBI agent Robert Maheu, who recruited crime bosses John Roselli, Sam Giancana and Santo Trafficante Jr. Trafficante testified that he introduced Maheu, Giancana and Roselli to some "very active" Cubans in Florida – perhaps the origin of what Cuba calls the Miami Mafia.
Although plots to kill Castro failed, the covert plots for invasion led to major overt measures that have remained in effect. In January 1961, as part of the invasion plan, Washington broke diplomatic relations with Havana and imposed travel restrictions on Americans. But nobody was telling Americans the truth about the changes. The Eisenhower Administration was launching a process that became a way of life, a culture of demonizing Cuba. Secrets and lies became the basis of beliefs and policy.
After the invasion began on April 15 with "softening-up" bombing raids, Prime Minister Castro, at a funeral the next day for Cubans killed in those raids, stated, "How these events help our people to educate themselves!" Meanwhile, the American people were being told lies: that the bombers were Cuban bombers flown by Cuban pilots rising up against their government.
The pattern set by President Eisenhower was continued by President Kennedy after the defeat at the Bay of Pigs when he launched another secret plan for invasion – Operation Mongoose. Once again, covert plans gave birth to a major overt component of the War of Terror: In a January 18, 1962, secret memo, under the heading Economic Warfare, CIA agent General Edward Lansdale listed "plans for an embargo on Cuban trade." Three weeks later Lansdale’s plans became official policy. Again nobody was telling Americans that the trade embargo was part of an invasion plan. People still don’t understand the significance. Lansdale’s Economic Warfare has continued at a cost to Cuba of more than $93 billion and thousands of lives.
The target date of October 1962 for overthrowing the Cuban Government led directly to the October Missile Crisis, almost resulting in nuclear war – the ultimate CIA blowback. Cuba had announced repeatedly that a new invasion was being planned, but somehow Washington, even after the crisis was over, managed to conceal the connection between the October Missile Crisis and Operation Mongoose. Cuba was further demonized, and most Americans continue today to live in ignorance about the cause of the Missile Crisis. The toxic mix of covert action and lies persists.
The CIA-trained Cuban terrorists created in the plans for the Bay of Pigs invasion became major purveyors of this history of secrecy and lies. In December 1962 Cuba released more than a thousand prisoners of Brigade 2506, the Bay of Pigs invaders. They joined thousands of other Cuban émigrés to be given further training by the CIA. From 1963 through 1966, about 300 CIA agents like E. Howard Hunt worked out of a CIA station based at the University of Miami. They controlled thousands of Cuban operatives in a campaign of constant armed attacks, sabotage, infiltration, propaganda, arson, and murder.
Some Bay of Pigs veterans enrolled at Fort Benning for CIA training that gave them commissions as Army lieutenants. I’ll follow briefly only one of these trained terrorists: Luis Posada, but Posada had three important buddies at Fort Benning — Jorge Mas Canosa, Orlando Bosch, and Félix Rodríguez. Posada, Bosch, and Rodríguez became major terrorists, and Posada has acknowledged Mas Canosa, who became chairman of the Cuban American National Foundation, as his financier. Posada told New York Times reporters that "the CIA taught us everything – everything." He said, "They taught us explosives, how to kill, bomb, trained us in acts of sabotage." (See New York Times front-page articles, July 12 and July 13, 1998.)
Posada became a CIA hitman, specializing in trying to kill Fidel Castro during visits abroad – for example, in Chile in 1971. But in 1976 those Senate hearings resulted in a report that the Ford Administration knew would recommend that the CIA stop assassinating people around the world. So the CIA privatized its assassination business. Posada was removed from the CIA payroll in February 1976 to become a free-lance assassin financed by wealthy Cuban-Americans.
Posada went on a rampage of terror, linking up with Orlando Bosch in the Commanders of United Revolutionary Organizations (CORU), devoted to terrorism against Cuba and any institutions and individuals considered friendly to Cuba. In the last six months of 1976, CORU set off 50 bombs in several countries. Their most murderous plot came in October 1976 when Posada and Bosch arranged the two explosions that blew up a Cubana Airlines passenger plane, killing all 73 people aboard – the first time in the Western Hemisphere that terrorists aimed to kill all passengers and crew on a civilian airliner. The next time that happened was on 9/11/2001.
Finally, in April, 2009, Posada was charged in El Paso, Texas — not Miami — with felony perjury for lying to an Immigration Judge by denying that he had arranged in 1997 for a Salvadoran, Raúl Cruz León, to take explosives to Cuba to set off bombs in hotels and restaurants in Havana. Those bombs led to more death and destruction.
But Posada is charged with perjury and not murder, and the Justice Department persists in not extraditing him to Venezuela for trial on 73 charges of murder aboard that civilian airliner.
In 1998, the FBI went to Havana where Cuban officials gave them reams of information gathered by Cuban agents about terrorists in Florida. But instead of arresting the terrorists, the FBI arrested the Cubans who had gathered the evidence. Now known as the Cuban Five, Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González, and René González were tried and convicted in Miami and remain imprisoned, two with life terms and one with two life terms. In the United States, it is legal to harbor terrorists and to send counterterrorists to prison.
I keep thinking of the point made about the Cuban Five by then-President Fidel Castro in 2005. He said, "The most tragic aspect of all this for the U.S. people is that while [Héctor] Pesquera [the head of the FBI in Miami] and his troops were maliciously devoting all their time to the persecution, arrest and rigging of the trial of the Cubans, no less than 14 of the 19 responsible for the September 11 attacks on New York’s Twin Towers and other targets were living and training exactly in the area for which Pesquera was responsible."
Fortunately G-2 agents continued their work and uncovered another plot to kill Castro in the year 2000. As Fabián Escalante has meticulously documented in his book, Executive Action: 634 Ways to Kill Fidel Castro, the CIA started these attempts in 1959 while the FBI started even before that, in 1958 while Castro was still in the Sierras. Most have gone unnoticed, but President Castro made sure to call attention to this one. After arriving in Panama City to attend an Ibero-American Summit meeting, Castro held a news conference to announce that Posada and his three Cuban-American co-conspirators were planning to assassinate him by bombing the auditorium at the University of Panama where he would be speaking. He even revealed where the police could find the would-be assassins. G-2 agents not only saved the life of President Castro yet again but also the lives of hundreds of people, mainly students, who packed the University of Panama auditorium to hear Castro speak.
When Posada was pardoned and smuggled into Miami, he was welcomed as a hero into Miami’s community of terrorists. Fund-raisers are being held to pay his legal costs. The normal way of life treats terrorists as heroes. In Cuba, for half a century, the normal way of life has been a struggle to defeat terrorism.
Jane Franklin can be reached at www.janefranklin.info.