Terrorists on the Run

If you had taken up terrorism as your life’s vocation, or even as a means to a political end, President Bush’s State of the Union words would have put you into a state of terrible gloom. “We have the terrorists on the run,” he boasted, “we’re keeping them on the run. One by one the terrorists are learning the meaning of American justice.” He referred to “3000 terrorists arrested in many countries.” He alluded to other terrorists killed by the forces of good.

“My God,” the anti-Castro Cuban terrorist would say, “Bush seems serious about punishing terrorists or anyone even harboring a terrorist. My professional life is over. How will I make a living and God willing, overthrow Fidel Castro with force and violence? For forty years I have plotted safely with my co-conspirators in the United States,” he complains, “and now Bush, whom we helped elect by intimidating the vote counters in Dade County Florida and by voting ourselves early and often rewards us by making such terrible threats against terrorists? Damn him and those crazy Al-Qaeda Arabs as well! By crashing those planes into the twin towers and Pentagon, they gave terrorism a bad name.”

Not so fast, I say to myself. President Bush excoriated the terrorists who had done the 9/11 deeds. He even called them “cowards,” which I couldn’t quite understand. But he had a silent qualifying clause: terrorists who want to kill Castro, bomb Cuban targets, hijack Cuban planes or ships or do any other kinds of violence against Cuba still have the green light from the White House.

Indeed, he, his brother Jeb, the Florida Governor and his Attorney General John Ashcroft, have made a point of not only harboring, but actually coddling terrorists. On May 20, 2002, Bush specifically invited several famous (notorious?) terrorists to hear his speech in Miami.

Orlando Bosch at first received an invitation to sit on the platform. Later, when one of his advisers discovered that Bosch had earned the FBI’s label of the Western Hemisphere’s most dangerous terrorist, the seating arrangement changed and Bosch got dis-invited off the platform and moved into the audience. Bosch claimed credit in an interview with the Miami New Times (see Oct. 4, 2001 for further reference) for helping to blow up a Cuban commercial airliner over Barbados in October 1976. The police caught him after he fired a bazooka at a Polish ship in the Miami Harbor in 1967. This former pediatrician has cared little about children’s health, but found his calling in violence and spent much of his adult life after the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in January 1959 practicing that vocation. Observers noted the Bush family attachment to violent Cubans when President George Bush I (41), with help from Otto Reich, his then Ambassador to Venezuela, overruled strong advice from the FBI and INS and admitted Orlando Bosch into the United States.

Similarly, just before 9/11, Bush (43) also disregarded strong opinions from the FBI and INS and ordered the freeing from INS deportation custody of Virgilio Paz and Jose Dionisio Suarez. Both men had received twelve year sentences for confessing to conspiring with Chilean Secret Police officials to assassinate Orlando Letelier and Ronni Moffitt in a September 1976 car-bombing in Washington DC.

But a photograph showed a lesser terrorist actually sharing the platform with President Bush. According to a former, federal law enforcement official, the Prez must have told the Secret Service to find a seat for “that good old boy.”

This referred to Sixto Reinaldo Aquit Manrique (aka El Chino Aquit). The Secret Service apparently seated Aquit, arrested in Florida in 1994, a few rows behind the President as he spoke.

After his speech, Bush attended a $25,000-a-couple Florida Republican Party dinner to help finance the reelection campaign of his younger brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is running for re-election. Some of the big donors, members of the governing board of the Cuban American National Foundation, have also financed terrorists like Bosch and his erstwhile partner in the airplane bombing, Luis Posada Carriles. That’s what Carriles told Anne Bardach of the July 12-13, 1998 New York Times

We’ve gotten used to the war on terrorism as a fact of daily life, inured ourselves to the security procedures following 9/11, the long airport waits, the somewhat embarrassing “wanding” process and even the routine shoe removal and carry-on bag search. Some of us even suppress yawns when Attorney General Ashcroft or Homeland Security Tsar Tom Ridge warn of the next imminent terrorist attack and encourage us to join TIPS, a national informers’ association to spy on neighbors and anyone who might be suspicious.

Why then does the Secret Service not apply a standard set of rules? The answer, according to a former FBI Special Agent, is that the President told the Secret Service that there are good former terrorists especially those who strongly backed his younger brother Jeb for reelection as Florida governor and bad ones.

“There’s no way the Secret Service didn’t know that the man had been busted for a terrorist rap,” the former federal police officer said. Indeed, the Miami Herald (Nov 4, 1994), on November 2, 1994, reported that the FBI anti-terrorism squad nailed Aquit after he and two colleagues had “pulled up to a Southwest Dade warehouse…armed with 10 gallons of gas, fuses, and a loaded semiautomatic handgun.” The story cited police saying “the men smashed a window and tried to get inside before officers moved in.”

Miami Herald reporter Gail Epstein cited FBI Special Agent Paul Miller of the FBI’s Terrorism Task Force who said “there was enough fuel to destroy several warehouses.” The warehouse stored supplies for the Pastors for Peace who intended to ship them to Cuba.

In 1993, according to Cuban authorities, Aquit fired a 50 caliber machine gun at a Cypriot tanker in Cuban waters off the province of Matanzas. The UN Rapporteur cited this event in his 1994 annual report on human rights in Cuba.

Aquit proudly claims membership in the anti-Castro Secret Armed Army. He was tried and convicted and sentenced to five years by a Florida court. But, according to El Nuevo Herald reporter Cynthia Corzo, the state office of the public prosecutor let Aquit and his terrorist co-conspirators off with two years of house arrest (allowing them to go to work, church or to the market) followed by three years of probation and an additional 150 hours of community service.

More importantly, Aquit’s terrorist actions took on near epic status for the violent anti-Castroites when the President apparently made a special exception and contradicted his own rules in the war against terrorism. Or did Bush omit a paragraph in his speeches that specifies that the “terrorism” charge applies only to those who have an Abu or Bin in their names?

Those who have followed the course of Bush’s “war against terrorism” will appreciate the nuance that he has aimed his aggression at violent Islamic people, not at violent anti-Castro Cubans whose patriotic zeal impels them to use explosives against targets located in the United States. By inviting Bosch and placing Aquit on the platform with him, Bush acknowledged his debt to certain Miami Cubans. What’s a long history of terrorism compared to loyalty to the Bush family?

The Bush family rewards those who help their campaigns and helps them get asylum and prestige if they are criminals or high level appointments if they merely represent criminals. Bush appointed the Cuban-born Otto Reich Interim Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs after the Senate refused to confirm him. He has made several Cabinet and sub-Cabinet appointments of prominent Cubans as well like Commerce Secretary Mel Martinez. He eve moved the ubiquitous Reich to a National Security Council job after a Republican-controlled Senate told him to ditch the ultra reactionary whose policies aimed at hurting Fidel Castro, not helping the United States and helped give the Administration a bad name throughout Latin America. In April of 2002, various newspapers reported that Reich had collaborated with the unsuccessful Venezuelan putschists that tried to kidnap and then replace elected President Hugo Chavez.

In is State of the Union, Bush called Saddam Hussein an imminent threat because he was arming terrorists. He also had unkind words for the Iranian regime, part of his infamous Axis of Evil. I wondered if he had forgotten that his own father had helped send weapons of mass destruction to an even more radical Islamic government in Iran during the Iran-Contra affair of the mid 1980s. I wondered as well if he had forgotten that several of his top level appointments had gone to men who had participated in the illegal arming of the Iranian government: John Poindexter, head of TIPS (the ultra secret snitch operation), Elliot Abrams, now a policy planner, John Negroponte, the UN Ambassador and of course the omnipresent Reich.

So, count on Bush to reward his old friends no matter what their role in previous harboring or arming of terrorists and also rely on him give anti-Castro terrorists get out of jail passes and opportunities to share his platform as long as they don’t have Arab-sounding names.

With this kind of presidential support it is small wonder that no jury in south Florida convicts anti-Castro Cubans any more. Indeed, the juries down there award them large settlements in cases that other juries and judges would laugh at or just throw out of court. In a default judgment Fidel Castro didn’t show up for the trial because he claimed the court lacked jurisdiction –in late January, a south Florida jury awarded $40 plus million in damages to Jose Basulto, founder of Brothers to the Rescue. In February 1996, Cuban MIGs shoot down two planes flown by Brothers’ pilots. Basulto escaped. Like Bosch and Aquit, Basulto has a long record of violence. He told a Florida court just two years ago, however that he had converted to pacifism, except for Cuba where violence was necessary.

In December 2002, a Cuban hijacked a plane and flew it safely through the Florida radar and landed. He got a hero’s welcome and a shifty lawyer filed suit demanding that the plane, Cuban state property, be auctioned off and the proceeds given to his “emotionally wounded” client. What a precedent for skyjacking planes! What a lesson for prospective terrorists! The violent anti-Castroites, dense as they are, have noted the different standards Bush has set for them and the other terrorists.

I told my wife that the scriptwriters for The Sopranos, HBO’s hit program about the life of a mafia gangster, his family, friends and world, must have spent time in South Florida courtrooms. In one episode, a mob guy informs a juror at the trial of Tony Soprano’s uncle that he has a nice family and he hopes they live a long and prosperous life sufficient to insure that the juror will vote not guilty in the government’s absolutely airtight case against Tony’s uncle.

Is life imitating TV? “The Sopranos” is a well-produced farce. Real life is not as well scripted.

SAUL LANDAU is the Director of Digital Media and International Outreach Programs for the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences at Cal Poly Pomona University and is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies. His October 2001 film, IRAQ: VOICES FROM THE STREETS, is distributed by Cinema Guild, 1-800-723-5522. He can be reached at: landau@counterpunch.org


SAUL LANDAU’s A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD was published by CounterPunch / AK Press.