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Cuba, War and Ana Belen Montes

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The U.S. government has imprisoned Ana Belen Montes for almost 15 years. Now an international campaign on her behalf is gaining steam with committees active in Latin America, Europe, Canada, and the United States. Arrested by the FBI two weeks after September 11, 2001, and charged with conspiring to commit espionage for Cuba, this high – level analyst for the U.S. Defense Intelligence Service avoided a death sentence for treason by pleading guilty and telling all to the U. S. Justice Department.

Ana Belen Montes received no money. The former specialist in Cuban and Latin American affairs is serving a 25-year jail term.

Three petitions, accessible here, here and here, are circulating; one asks for her release, two for humane treatment. Defenders charge that in prison in Texas, Montes is isolated from the general prison population and prevented from receiving visitors, telephone calls and emails.

Advocates face an uphill battle. Documents relating to her trial and press reports then and since portray her as a U. S. citizen who took the wrong side in a U. S. war. Government officials probably despised one of their own who betrayed them. Maybe her family’s Puerto Rican origins gave rise to suspicions she sympathized with Cuba and Puerto Rico’s shared anti-colonial struggle. True or not, her fate stands as a warning for Puerto Ricans.

With U. S. war against Cuba continuing, the U.S. government likely will resist both easing up on her prison conditions and releasing her. For the new solidarity movement she is a hero, but really she’s a special kind of hero: a prisoner of war true to her cause.

There was a war. While the U. S. government shied away from military invasion after the failed Bay of Pigs venture in 1961, warlike aggression was the norm until the 1990s. At one time or another, U. S. government agents or proxy warriors carried out sabotage, armed thuggery in the Cuban hinterlands, microbiological warfare, bombings of tourist facilities, and miscellaneous terror attacks throughout the island. Few would deny that the bombing of a fully loaded Cuban passenger plane in 1976 was an act of war.

The U. S. economic blockade, engineered to deprive Cubans of goods and services essential for their survival, caused yet more distress. U. S. government leaders believed misery would induce Cubans to overthrow their government. Aggressors within the George W. Bush administration had a replacement government waiting in the wings.

And despite the restoration of diplomatic relations recently, there is still war. The U. S. economic blockade remains; counterrevolutionaries inside Cuba still enjoy U. S. support and money; Cuban land in Guantanamo is still occupied; survival of the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 testifies to undying cold war; and Ana Belen Montes, who took sides, is a prisoner in that war.

Official rhetoric on war with Cuba informed Montes’ prosecution and trial. Having surveyed Cuban espionage activities, a New York Times reporter in 2003, for example, communicated the opinion of some U. S. officials that, “Mr. Castro’s Communist government remains a threat to American national security.” State Department official Otto Reich charged that, “These activities and others prove that they are a hostile country.” A Wall Street Journal writer in 2002 cited State Department reports asserting that, “Cuba has at least some bio-weapons technology and has expressed concern that Cuba could share the science with rogue states.”

Ana Montes was recently labeled as “one of the most damaging spies in US history. Her involvement in shaping US foreign policy on Cuba caused grave damage to the US national security.” This was a reference to a Defense Department report she authored in 1998 rejecting the idea of Cuba as a military threat to the United States. Montes is alleged to have covered up Cuba’s supposed chemical and biological warfare capabilities.

In communicating secrets to the Cuban Government, Ana Montes, already in a theater of war, already a combatant, became a soldier on Cuba’s side. In prison now under such circumstance, she is one for whom solidarity is of a different order than the same for other political prisoners.

What may be required is, in effect, to sign up for the same war she joined, and take the same side. That approach worked in securing the release of the Cuban Five anti-terrorist prisoners. For Montes, however, there is no Cuban government on the battle lines as there was for the Cuban Five.

Combatants in an uneven fight can take encouragement from Montes herself. She told her sentencing judge that, “I engaged in the activity that brought me before you because I obeyed my conscience rather than the law. … I felt morally obligated to help the island defend itself from our efforts to impose our values and our political system on it.”

In 2015, in an interview, she sounded like an unwavering captured soldier: “If I repent, I deny myself … It’s not within the framework of my logic. I always knew the possible consequences of what I did.”

“What matters to me,” she insisted, “is that the Cuban Revolution exists … What’s necessary is that there always be a Cuban Revolution … They, [the Cubans], have to take care of the Revolution. I tried to do that.”

Clearly, to be in solidarity with Ana Belen Montes and be effective is asking a lot, especially in a time of war. Montes herself voluntarily went to war in much the same way that compatriots did who joined the Republic’s side in the Spanish Civil War in 1936. That sort of internationalist commitment is what Montes needs now. Maybe it’s on the way.

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W.T. Whitney Jr. is a retired pediatrician and political journalist living in Maine.

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