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The Untold Story of the Cuban Five

Mission Impossible

by RICARDO ALARCÓN De QUESADA

When the Supreme Court decided not to hear the Cuban Five petition, the Justices acted exactly as requested by President Obama’s Solicitor General, showing that on this issue, there has been no change, certainly not a change we can believe in.

The Supreme Court last June 14 simply joined the other two branches of Government in demonstrating their hostility towards the Cuban people. During the 1990s this official animus, had among its main features their connivance with a terrorist campaign that has cost lives, caused human suffering and material damages, which the US instead of preventing – as was its obligation – tolerated or promoted.

Immediately after the break up of the Soviet Union, Cuba entered an extremely severe economic crisis, worst for us than the Big Depression of 1929. It was precisely the time chosen by the US to strengthen its economic blockade as reflected in the Torricelli Amendment (1992) and the Helms-Burton Act (1996). The trio – Torricelli, Helms and Burton –replying to those objecting the illegal extraterritorial legislations assured their colleagues that it was the last year of the Government led by Fidel Castro.

Others made easy money in those days publishing cheap texts, announcing with specific datelines the inevitable end of the Cuban Revolution. It became an uncontested dogma for many scholars, politicians and journalists and a source of encouragement for those who have actively sought revenge for decades.

Some, unsatisfied with what they perceived as Washington’s insufficient aggressiveness, tried to make a final assault on the abandoned, isolated island.

Paradoxically in September 1994 and May 1995, Cuba and the US succeeded in negotiating new migration accords in an exercise of quiet private diplomacy that involved the commitment to move towards the lifting of the embargo and a promise to curb terrorist actions against Cuba.

It was then that Mr. Basulto and his cohorts ramped up their airborne incursions. Basulto was very open in explaining his intentions. The alleged “humanitarian” nature of their previous flights – to help undocumented Cubans to enter the US – had disappeared with the new US policy, since May 2, 1995 to send them back to the Island. From that day on, as recognized by Basulto, the flights would continue and be multiplied with a subversive purpose. Almost daily he was on the media announcing the next provocation and proclaiming that Cuba was so weakened by the economic crisis that it could not protect its borders or even impede him to overfly downtown Havana as he did on more than one occasion. The US authorities knew what he and his group were doing, as it was known by anybody having a TV set because the provocations were filmed and reported live by the Miami local stations of national TV networks.

In 1995 and early 1996 we made our outmost to persuade Washington to prevent those completely illicit air provocations. We were just asking the US Administration to respect international law and abide by its own domestic laws and regulations.

A rather intense wave of official communications took place between the authorities of both countries through which the US side explicitly recognized the illegal character of the flights and initiated, with Cuban cooperation, administrative proceedings against the transgressors. Or so they reiterated in diplomatic notes.

Apart from the open channel we warned time and again, at the highest level, both US civilian and military authorities.

Fidel Castro was personally involved in those efforts. He spent many hours with more that one US important visitor, some with clear White House endorsement. And we succeeded in getting a very specific commitment by President Clinton that those provocations will never happened again. (Indictment À la Carte, Counterpunch, September 3, 2009; Annals of Diplomacy, Backfire, The New Yorker, January 26, 1998).

Something rather strange happened on the road from Washington to Miami. It appears that President Clinton gave specific instructions to fulfill his commitment. But in that peculiar town (Remember Elian?) the US Commander in Chief’s orders are not always obeyed. As soon as the Miami mafia learned of the President’s instructions, the provocateurs organized their last violation. That was the real conspiracy, the only one, leading to the tragic events of February 24, 1996.

President Clinton astonishingly reacted as if he never knew anything and rushed to sign the Helms-Burton Act in a deplorable ceremony at the White House, joyfully surrounded by some of the true culprits, the very individuals who defied him. It was a presidential election year and Clinton won easily in Miami.

That experience would have been more than enough to anybody in terms of believing in the possibility of serious talks and engagement with such frivolous partners, some kind of mission impossible.

But we tried it again. We didn’t have a choice.

RICARDO ALARCÓN de QUESADA is president of the Cuban National Assembly.