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In their 54-year-old effort to bring down Cuba’s revolutionary government and restore obedience in our Caribbean neighbor, U.S. officials have compiled a spectacular record of failure, overshadowed only by the determination to persist in their pursuit of wrongheaded polices, further damaging U.S. interests.
In the 1990s, Washington began to define terrorism as the new peril on the security horizon. President Clinton deemed it reasonable to make informal arrangements with other countries, even Cuba, trying to achieve anti-terrorist goals.
Indeed, Cuban intelligence agencies fed antiterrorist data to the FBI because they assumed the Bureau shared the same dread as their U.S. counterparts about the death and chaos that would result from allowing terrorists to pursue their goals. But, in September 1998, the FBI Bureau Chef in Miami perpetrated an act of security illogic. He ordered his FBI agents to arrest the Cuban intelligence agents who had supplied the Bureau with important data about terrorists operating in Florida.
Havana had sent these men to south Florida to penetrate and stop violent Cuban exile groups whose members had planted bombs in Cuban tourist hotels and clubs, killing a tourist and wounding scores of others. U.S. authorities knew of the activities the Cuban agents pursued for six years, and did not act against them because the U.S. government did not see these agents as a threat to U.S. security. They were not seeking classified or strategic U.S. documents, but rather focused on spying on rightwing Cuban terrorists in U.S. soil. Indeed, the Cuban agents pointed the Bureau in the direction of hidden arms caches in Miami and an explosive-laden boat docked on the Miami River.
In June 1998, when relations between Cuba and the U.S. had begun to improve, Havana shared with the Justice Department even more information obtained by its agents. But, Clinton also confronted Congressional investigations related to his comportment with Monica Lewinsky. This helped lead to disarray inside the Justice department. During July and August 1998, right wing Cuban American Members of Congress began pressuring Washington to arrest the known Cuban agents. The extremist exiles feared that anti-terrorist cooperation between the two countries might lead to the arrest of the exile terrorists, also their friends and colleagues, and even contribute to a normalization of relations. But Attorney General Janet Reno planned to run for high office in Florida and did not want to antagonize organized Cuban voters in Florida, so she allowed the change in policy to take place.
The right wing exiles exercised enough influence to get Héctor Pesquera appointed as the new Bureau chief in south Florida. Pesquera, a rightwing Puerto Rican with a mediocre FBI record, but close ties to violent Cuban exiles, destroyed the country-to-country cooperative effort. Within a week of his appointment, he ordered the arrest of the Cuban informants – five of the Cuban agents refused to either flee to Cuba or arrange for a plea bargain. So, the FBI allowed Miami-based exile terrorists to continue plotting violence against the island. The powerful members of the Cuban settler colony in Miami used the power of the U.S. federal police to prosecute Cuban anti-terrorist agents (punish Cuba) and in the process torpedo possible rapprochement between the neighbors; and also destroy joint anti-terrorism operations. By manipulating U.S. government institutions, the Cuban enclave’s elite superseded the larger needs of the American people by replacing anti-terrorism with their own narrow interests.
The Justice Department charged two of the Five Cuban agents with murder, or conspiracy to shoot down two Cuban exile planes (both pilots and co-pilots died) that entered Cuban air space in February 1996. At the time the pilots of the three exile planes announced publicly their intention to go into Cuban air space, making known the date and time of the flights.
The Cuban agents, however, got charged with conspiracy to spy despite the fact that the U.S. government formally and by consent received the results of their spy work on terrorism in south Florida! General James Clapper, then director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and now director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, testified at their trial that he saw no evidence to conclude the Cuban agents were seeking classified or strategic U.S. documents or plans. They did not conspire to commit espionage. The U.S. mass media continues to incorrectly refer to them as “convicted spies.”
The Cuban Five (now four since René Gónzalez was freed on parole, but must remain in the United States until the end of his probation period), located in different US prisons for almost 15 years, became victims of vengeance, inspired by Miami-based right wing Cuban exiles, combined with a strong dash of meanness and cruelty, which continues long after the Cuban men survived long months of solitary confinement. The Justice Department has systematically denied these men basic privileges enjoyed by other inmates.
The most recent example of heartlessness occurred on April 7, when activist-actor Danny Glover traveled from his home in San Francisco by air and then rented a car to Victorville, California, where Gerardo Hernandez survives in the Federal Maximum Security Prison. After visiting Gerardo nine times, Danny assumed he would undergo the usual passage – fill out the form, go through x-ray machine, get patted-down, and then get escorted into the Visitor Room. But the desk guard at the prison said Danny’s visit had not been authorized (after nine previous visits) and he could not see Gerardo. A supervisor affirmed the desk guard’s statement. Meanness and malice!
For 14 plus years the U.S. government had also refused to grant a visa to Gerardo’s wife (“a threat to U.S. security”). During that time she has not been able to visit him. It’s not just the anti-Castro lobby that pushes this petty, vengeful policy. Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder run the federal prisons.
What’s wrong with the basic sense of humanity of those who make such decisions? Imagine if Cuba responded with equal cruelty to Alan Gross, the man convicted in Cuba for carrying out U.S. subversion for USAID. U.S. government officials would scream as would the media. But Cuba did not respond to this inhumanity by carrying out inhumane acts. Gross, confined in a Cuban military hospital cell, receives adequate medical care and frequent visits. He has access to the telephone and communicates with his family who also visit him. Gross promoted a policy of “regime change” in Cuba while Gerardo’s findings promoted U.S. security.
Washington has forced 52 plus years of broken relations on Cuba, combined with a tough embargo to punish Cuba’s people. Indeed, U.S. presidents have tried to dislodge Cuba’s government in every way short of direct military invasion. Fruitless, stupid, mean and cruel policies simply do not work in our national interest!
Saul Landau’s FIDEL and WILL THE REAL TERRORIST PLEASE STAND UP are available on DVD from cinemlibrestore.com.
Nelson Valdés is Professor Emeritus at the University of New Mexico