History Repeats Itself

Just a couple of days after the Clinton White House encounter with García Márquez, US diplomats in Havana approached Cuban authorities. We had a number of discussions specially focused on what the US had found about terrorist plots against civilian aircrafts and the warning that the FAA felt obliged to issue. In the course of those exchanges the US asked formally for a high level FBI delegation to come to Havana with a view toward receiving from their counterparts our intelligence concerning the ongoing terrorist campaign.  In preparation for that visit an Assistant Secretary of State, John Hamilton, communicated that “this time they would like to emphasize the seriousness of the United States offer to investigate any evidence that [Cuba] might have.”

The meetings were held in Havana on June 16-17, 1998. The US team was given copious information, both documentary and testimonies. The material handed over included the investigations related to 31 terrorist acts, having taken place between 1990 and 1998, including detailed information on the financing of the most dangerous actions carried out by Luis Posada Carriles’s network. The information included lists and photographs of weapons, explosives and other material seized in each case. Additionally, 51 pages with evidence concerning how the money was routed to various groups for terrorist acts on the island. The FBI also received tapes recording 14 phone conversations in which Posada Carriles referred to violent attacks against Cuba. Specific data was provided on how to locate the notorious murderer, such as his home addresses, places he frequented, and his car number plates in El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Panama.

The FBI took the files of 40 Cuban-born terrorists, most living in Miami, and the clues to find each individual. The US delegation brought back with them three 2-gramme samples of explosive substances from the bombs deactivated before they could have exploded in the Melia Cohiba Hotel on April 30, 1997 and in a tourist van on October 19, 1997, as well as the explosive device confiscated from two Guatemalans on March 4, 1998.

The FBI was also given 5 video and 8 audio cassettes and their transcripts with statements by the Central Americans who had been arrested for placing bombs in hotels. There they talked about their links to Cuban gangs and in particular to Posada Carriles.

The US side acknowledged the value of the information and made a commitment to reply as soon as possible.

We never got a word back. Nobody knows for sure what the FBI did with the evidence and the thorough information they received in Havana. They certainly did not use it to arrest any of the criminals or to open any investigations.

Wasn’t the State Department any more worried with the information it had gathered on its own concerning terrorist attacks against commercial airlines? What happened with their preoccupation with the lives and security of passengers, including American passengers?

Is that the way to “take immediate steps” on a problem “worthy of the full attention of his Government, of which they would urgently take care” as solemnly promised at the White House? Or “to emphasize the seriousness of the United States”?

It may be assumed that the FBI shared the information they got with their pals in Miami.

If facts have any meaning this must have been the case. On September 12, 1998, almost three months after the visit to Havana, we learnt through the media about the detention of Gerardo, Ramón, Antonio, Fernando and René and that Mr. Pesquera, the FBI chief in Miami, was, on that Saturday morning, visiting with Ileana Ros Lehtinen and Lincoln Díaz-Balart – the Batista-Miami Congresspersons – to inform them of the incarceration of the five Cubans.

History repeated itself. In 1996 President Clinton gave instructions to stop Brothers to the Rescue air provocations, but when his orders reached Miami, the local mob conspired to do exactly the opposite. In 1998 the very same President appeared to be willing to put an end to terrorist attacks against Cuba – and also against Americans – but when his intentions were learnt in Miami, the FBI there blew them out.

Mr. Pesquera has recognized in a press interview that his main difficulty was in getting Washington’s authorization to apprehend the Five. It should have been very hard, indeed. Was not Washington supposed to be on the other side of the fence in the fight against terrorism?

But Mr. Pesquera and his cronies, won. They proved being able to ignore law and decency, and to ridicule again the US Commander in Chief. Remember Elian?

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

Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada has served as Cuba’s UN ambassador, Foreign Minister and president of the National Assembly.