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The U.S.’s Terrorism Double Standard
During the last 50 years, the United States has suffered from a constant stream of vicious terrorist acts, first carried out by the Cuban government and then later outsourced to anti-capitalist groups who were given safe haven in the country. The human toll is enormous – 3,478 dead, 2,009 injured, and many more suffering the mental health problems associated with traumatic stress. The terrorist attacks include blowing up a civilian airplane, bombing hotels and restaurants in tourist neighborhoods, machine gun attacks from speed boats against coastal towns, introduction of chemical and biological agents such as dengue fever, and a program of conspiracy between the Cuban state and the Catholic church to remove thousands of children from their parents and the U.S.
All of this is true – only in reverse. The victim of the hostile aggression has always been Cuba. The country may be the worst victim of terrorism in the Post-WWII era. But in the bizarro world of the U.S. government, in a textbook case of projection, it is the Cuban government who is responsible for sabotage, destabilization and interference. The U.S. has even designated Cuba as a “state sponsor or terror.” In a historic irony, it was Saddam Hussein’s Iraq that was removed from the list to make room for Cuba in the early ’80s.
Terrorism was the main tactic in the campaign of subversion and interference that started immediately after the success of the revolutionary movement led by Fidel Castro. In March 1960,President Eisenhower green-lighted the first funds for the CIA to overthrow the new government. It is safe to say that Eisenhower did not lose any sleep over the mandate in the U.N. Charter that nations must refrain from the threat or use of force against another sovereign nation. By the time the Bay of Pigs Invasion was carried out, after being approved by new President John F. Kennedy, it was a full-scale ground operation launched in April 1961, consisting of 1,400 paramilitary troops and air support from B-26 bombers. The Cuban Army was quickly able to beat back the invasion, and the terrorist and mercenary forces quickly surrendered.
While all of Latin America rejoiced at the imperialist U.S.A. walking away with its tail between its legs, the military planners in Washington were just getting started. Their response to the humiliating defeat was not to obey international law and leave the rightful Cuban government alone, but to double down. The result was Operation Mongoose, which was authorized by President Kennedy in November 1961. Operation Mongoose involved thousands of people, millions of dollars and a violation of the Neutrality Act, which prevented CIA Operations in the United States, according to Noam Comsky.
“These Operations included bombing of hotels and industrial installations, sinking of fishing boats, poisoning of crops and livestock, contamination of sugar exports, etc. Not all these actions were specifically authorized by the CIA, but no such considerations absolve official enemies,” Chomsky writes.
Harvard historian Jorge Dominguez, in his review of thousands of declassified documents regarding the terrorist campaign against Cuba notes the complete lack of indifference toward human life.
“Only once in these nearly thousand pages of documentation did a U.S. official raise something that resembled a faint moral objection to U.S.-government sponsored terrorism': a member of the NSC staff suggested that it might lead to some Russian reaction, and raids that are ‘haphazard and kill innocents … might mean a bad press in some friendly countries,'” Dominguez says.
The hysteria of the U.S. military planners is evident by looking at the proposed terrorist campaign Operation Northwoods, a series of false flag attacks to be carried out within the United States and blamed on Cuba to create public support for a U.S. military invasion to overthrow Castro once and for all. The project made it as far as getting approval from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but thankfully President Kennedy showed some semblance of humanity by rejecting terrorism against his own citizens.
Terrorism against Cuba continued throughout the ’60s and ’70s, but eventually operations were left to right-wing anti-Castro militants based in Miami. The new government strategy was to turn a blind eye. Many of the people in these terrorist organizations were former CIA agents and paramilitaries who were veterans of the Bay of Pigs invasion. The two most prominent and dangerous such agents were Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch.
Posada and Bosch were suspected in the bombing of Cubana de Aviación Flight 455 in 1976 that killed all 78 people on board. The victims included all 24 member of the Cuban national fencing team that was returning with gold medals, after being victorious in the Central American Championships. Also on board were a group of fisherman who had completed a contract fishing in Guyana. Two men who boarded the plane and later disembarked before the plane took off from its final stop in Jamaica were later caught. Both confessed that Posada and Bosch were the masterminds behind the plot. A declassified FBI report quotes a reliable source confirming that Posada was involved in the planning.
Both men later ended up living in the U.S. Bosch would die in Florida a free man in 2011, after years of involvement with militant anti-Cuban organizations. He was jailed on unrelated charges in the ’80s, but pardoned in 1990 by George H.W. Bush. The first President Bush did so at the request of his son Jeb, who was acting on behalf of his allies in the powerful Miami anti-Castro community. The President issued his pardon despite warnings from his own Attorney General who called Bosch and “unrepentant terrorist.”
Posada has also wound up in U.S. jails but is now free living in the Miami area. The U.S. has refused to extradite him to either Venezuela or Cuba. He continued his terrorist career and was responsible for more deaths. Speaking to the New York Times, Posada admitted: “he organized a wave of bombing in Cuba [in 1997] at hotels, restaurants and discotheques, killing an Italian tourist and alarming the Cuban Government.” Mr. Posada, the article states, “was schooled in demolition and guerilla warfare by the Central Intelligence Agency in the 1960’s.”
The former CIA terrorist also admitted the involvement of other groups based in Florida. He said: “the hotel bombings and other operations had been supported by leaders of the Cuban-American National Foundation. Its founder and head, Jorge Mas Canosa, who died [in 1997], was embraced at the White House by Presidents Reagan, Bush and Clinton.”
Today Posada lives as a free man in Miami, as Bosch had before he passed away. Posada is still active in supporting anti-Castro groups such as the Ladies in White, who generated much controversy recently when members were detained in Havana for several hours upon protesting publicly.
Another example of horrific terrorist acts against Cuba are the numerous instances of chemical and biological warfare. The worst may be the alleged introduction in 1981 of dengue fever, whichkilled hundreds and sickened thousands more. Many other cases involving poison and sabotage of tobbaco and sugar crops have been reported.
In his excellent book “Voices from the Other Side: An Oral History of Terrorism Against Cuba,” Keith Bolender interviews survivors and relatives of terrorism victims in Cuba. His many interviews include a woman who lost her leg as a child from machine gun fire by terrorists from Miami attacking her coastal village; the wife of the pilot of Flight 455; a mother who lost her daughter to dengue fever; and a man who as a teenager found an unexploded bomb at a hotel while waiting to play in a chess tournament.
Bolender also puts the terrorist actions in the context of American policy.
“American aggression ran from the embargo, propaganda, isolation, and the Bay of Pigs military invasion. As the rhetoric increased, terrorist acts were formulated and carried out.. American officials estimated millions would be spent to develop internal security systems, and State Department officials expected the Cuban government to increase internal surveillance in an attempt to prevent further acts of terrorism. These systems, which restricted civil rights, became easy targets for critics,” he writes.
There are many other terrorist organizations who live openly in Florida. With names such as Omega 7, Comandos F4, Brigade 2506 and Alpha 66, these groups have admitted to killing people in the past and announce their intention to do so in the future.
“Other than an occasional federal gun charge, nothing much seems to happen to most of these would-be-revolutionaries,” write Tristram Korten and Kirk Nielsen in Salon. “They are allowed to train nearly unimpeded despite making explicit plans to violate the 70-year-old U.S. Neutrality Act and overthrow a sovereign country’s government… No one has ever been charged for anti-Cuban terrorism under [anti-terror] laws.”
The article goes on to mention how the federal government has failed to extradite other militants accused of terrorism and murder such as Luis Posada Carriles.
Anyone who has use of his brain can see the hypocrisy in the U.S.’s official position on terrorism enunciated by George W. Bush in an address to Congress the week after September 11, 2001.
“From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime. Our nation has been put on notice, we’re not immune from attack. We will take defensive measures against terrorism to protect Americans,” Bush said. Shortly after, he ordered the invasion of Afghanistan after refusing to provide the Taliban regime with any evidence that Osama bin Laden was responsible for the 9/11 attacks.
According to his own doctrine, Bush himself would be fair game for a Venezuelan commando raid on his Crawford ranch. And his father would likewise be a legitimate target in his Kennebunkport home for a Panamanian commando squad. Cuban jet fighters and drones would be completely justified in launching attacks in Miami whenever they saw fit.
In reality, the Cuban government has decided to follow the course of international law in its efforts to combat terrorism. They have managed to infiltrate right-wing militant groups in Florida to prevent future plots. After gathering evidence and making a case for what these groups were planning, Cuban authorities shared their intelligence with FBI officials in 1997. The FBI listened to Cuba’s case, took the information back to the States – and arrested the Cubans who had foiled the plots. (For comparison, after catching the paramilitaries who physically invaded Cuba on a military mission to overthrow the government at the Bay of Pigs, most invaders were questioned and sent back to the U.S.)
The Cuban Five, as those imprisoned for fighting terrorism are called, are hardly known, if at all, in the United States. But they are heroes in the native country.
Stephen Kimber, writing in the Washington Post, tries to put the story of the Cuban Five in perspective: “Consider for a moment what would happen if American intelligence agents on the ground in a foreign country uncovered a major terrorist plot, with enough time to prevent it. And then consider how Americans would react if authorities in that country, rather than cooperate with us, arrested and imprisoned the U.S. agents for operating on their soil.
“Those agents would be American heroes. The U.S. government would move heaven and Earth to get them back.”
Members of Seal Team 6, who carried out an illegal premeditated assassination of Osama bin Laden in the sovereign territory of Pakistan, have been treated as heroes. As are soldiers who have served in the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. How can the U.S. expect to have any credibility in the world when it acts with such blatant hypocrisy?
As Noam Chomsky points out, the U.S. has a long history of hypocrisy when it comes to terrorism. In the ’80s, after Reagan announced his desire to wipe out “the evil scourge of terrorism,” the United Nations took up the issue with a resolution announcing “measures to prevent international terrorism which endangers or takes innocent human lives or jeopardizes fundamental freedoms.”
The bill was passed with virtual unanimous approval of the entire world by a vote of 153 to 2. In opposition were the United States and its client state Israel.
Chomsky describes the U.S. use of the “propagandistic approach” to terrorism. “We begin with the thesis that terrorism is the responsibility of some officially designated enemy. We then designate terrorist acts as ‘terrorist’ just in the cases where they can be attributed (whether plausibly or not) to the required source; otherwise they are to be ignored, suppressed, or termed ‘retaliation’ or ‘self-defence.'”
A look at the U.S.’s flagrant disregard for international law and principles reveals actions such as denial of habeas corpus and due proccess (originated in the Magna Carta almost 800 years ago); unilaterally undertaking aggressive wars; “shock and awe” bombings; extraordinary renditions; and extrajudicial assassinations, including with drone strikes and Hellfire missiles. These all demonstrate the extent to which the U.S. is willing to disobey all legal and moral conventions to achieve its political goals, all in the name of fighting terrorism.
To deny that Cuba and its residents have been, and are the victims of terrorism for more than half a century is an outrage. To add insult to injury by labeling the Cuban government a sponsor of terrorism because of political considerations is just cruel.
The many victims of terrorism in Cuba may never see justice carried out by those responsible. But their suffering is the same as that felt by Americans after 9/11. The least we can do is admit that, and stop allowing our government to use terrorism as a propaganda tool for its own convenience while the real human cost is ignored in countries other than our own.
Matt Peppe holds a master’s degree in Public Administration from the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy at SUNY Albany and a bachelor’s degree in English and American Literature from NYU. He writes about U.S. foreign policy and Latin America on his blog. You can follow him on twitter.