Whose War on Terror?
by Barry Lando
At a time when the White House is spending hundreds of billions and has dispatched killer teams to liquidate Osama Bin Laden and lesser targets, imagine what the leaders of other countries might do if they were to declare their own War on Terror. Cuba, for instance. That question is provoked by a disturbing new documentary chronicling the past half century of Cuban-American relations and titled, “Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand up.”
Written and Directed by radical, Emmy-award-winning filmmaker Saul Landau, the report shies away from revolutionary cant and vague rhetoric. Instead, Landau backs up his case with research and interviews that, taken together, represent a damning indictment of U.S. policy. Most of the facts he cites are not news to those who have closely followed relations between Cuba and the U.S. since February, 1959 when Castro came to power. But the great majority of Americans have not paid attention. And most of what they have been told has been filtered through a Cold War prism that continues to warp U.S. -Cuban relations to this day.
Washington’s war against Castro began long before May 1961 when he declared himself a Marxist-Leninist. Indeed, almost from the time that Castro marched into Havana and made it clear his revolution was the real thing, American Presidents—Republican and Democrat–have attempted to combat and then overthrow his regime by every possible means, from an embargo that strangled the country’s economy, to allowing Cuban exiles operating from Florida to attack Cuba’s refineries, infrastructure, sugar cane fields, and assassinate government officials. Of course, there were also notorious attempts by the CIA to kill Fidel himself. And then came the disastrous Bay of Pig’s Invasion in 1961.
Incredibly, after Cuba charged—accurately—that the U.S. was behind the invasion, U.N. Ambassador, Adlai Stevenson, had the gall to “categorically” deny the allegation: “The United States has committed no offense against Cuba and no offensive action has been launched from Florida or any part of the United States”
As part of the agreement ending the Missile Crisis in the Fall of 1962, President Kennedy pledged that the U.S. would not invade Cuba, but the White House and the CIA continued to support the radical exile groups based in the U.S. intent on using terror and violence to topple Fidel.
According to Landau’s report, for instance, in October 1976, the CIA had information that one of the Cuban exiles linked to them was planning to plant a bomb on a Cuban airliner—but the U.S. never informed the Cuban government. All seventy-three passengers were killed. Altogether, the Cubans estimate that more than three thousand of their people have been died in such terrorist acts.
All this, of course, would have been immediately denounced and massively countered by the United States –if such a campaign had been waged against the U.S. or its allies by the likes of Iran, North Korea, Hamas–or Cuba.
On several occasions, Castro attempted to negotiate with the U.S. government. And there were Americans who argued for a change in policy.As John Burton, the former President of the California Senate put it, “We do business with all sorts of bad quote undemocratic countries without free elections, but we pick on Cuba because we can, because they’re small because they’re political benefit to doing it in Florida.”
Even after the end of the Cold War, millions of voters in Florida still view the struggle to bring down Castro as a holy crusade, which is the reason no American President—including Obama–has had the guts to change course. In effect, Florida is the only state with its own foreign policy. One of the best comparisons is the lock that the powerful pro-Israel lobby in the U.S. has had on America’s Mideast policy.
In the face of unrelenting attacks from U.S. territory, Castro’s government did what any government would have done: it dispatched intelligence agents to the U.S. to infiltrate radical exile Cuban groups and thwart their plans.
One of the groups they targeted was “Brothers to the Rescue”, flying small planes out of Florida to buzz Cuban cities, dropping anti-Castro leaflets and propaganda. According to Landau’s report, the group was also experimenting with weapons that could be fired from the air.
In 1996, Fidel Castro told visiting Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico: “You’ve got to tell your government to get control of these people.” As Fidel declared, “What would the U.S. do to if the Cubans flew over Washington? How long would that plane last?” Richardson relayed the message to Morton Halperin point man for Cuba on Clinton’s National Security Council staff. Halperin said he would raise the issue with the FAA. The flights continued.
Again, a top Cuban official asked Saul Landau to alert Halperin that there would be drastic consequences if the U.S. didn’t stop the flights. According to Landau, Halperin indicated he would have the FAA cancel the licenses of the exile Cuban pilots. But the FAA didn’t. And on February 24,1996 Cuban Migs shot down two of three small Cessnas over international waters, killing their passengers. Clinton, who reportedly had been hoping to loosen American policy towards Cuba, instead was forced by political pressure to further tighten the embargo.
Radical Cuban exile groups also targeted Cuba’s vital tourist industry, warning potential visitors they would turn the island into a free-fire zone. They bombed several Havana hotels, injuring and killing the innocent.
According to Landau, in 1998 Fidel Castro gave a letter to Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez to transmit to President Clinton: to stop the violent exile groups, Cuba would be willing to cooperate with the FBI. An FBI team was dispatched to Havana and the Cubans supplied them with substantial information about exile terrorist activities.
Instead of dismantling those exile groups, the FBI used the information to discover the identities of the undercover agents in Florida working for the Cuban government. On September 12, 1998, five Cuban intelligence officers were arrested in Miami and charged with, among other things, conspiracy to commit espionage and murder. Among the allegations–they had giving the Cuban government the information needed to shoot down the “Brothers” illegal flights.
The Cubans denied that charge, but spent more than a year in solitary confinement and—most important—were denied a motion to move the trial from Dade County, an area seething with anti-Castro sentiment. They were found guilty and received maximum sentences; in the case of one of them, two life sentences without possibility of parole. Last October, the U.S. Supreme Court turned down their appeal to have the trial remanded for change of venue.
A couple of months later, on the other side of the world, a CIA contract operative, Raymond Davis, was arrested by Pakistani authorities after killing two men in Lahore, presumably part of America’s War on Terror. After a barrage of calls to Pakistani officials from the highest levels in the U.S. government and the payment of “blood money” to the murdered men’s relatives, Davis was quietly released to American authorities and spirited out of Pakistan.
Meanwhile, in Florida the most prominent of the radical Cuban exiles—those proudly linked to the campaign of terrorism against Castro’s Cuba–remain free and the toast of many inside and outside the exile community.