Terrorism and Civil Society as Instruments of U.S. Policy in Cuba
By Philip Agee
The condemnation of Cuba was immediate, strong and practically global for the April imprisonment of 75 political dissidents and for the summary execution of three ferry hijackers. Prominent among the critics were past friends of Cuba of recognized international stature.
As I read the hundreds of denunciations that came through my mail, it was easy to see how enemies of the revolution seized on those issues to condemn Cuba for violations of human rights. They had a field day. Deliberate or careless confusion between the political dissidents and the hijackers, two entirely unrelated matters, was also easy because the events happened at the same time. A Vatican publication went so far as to describe the hijackers as dissidents when in fact they were terrorists. But others of usual good faith toward Cuba also jumped on the bandwagon of condemnation treating the two issues as one. The remarks that follow address the human rights issues in both cases.
With respect to the imprisonment of 75 civil society activists, the main victim has been history, for these people were central to current U.S. government efforts to overthrow the Cuban government and destroy the work of the revolution. Indeed regime change, as overthrowing governments has come to be known, has been the continuing U.S. goal in Cuba since the earliest days of the revolutionary government. Programs to achieve this goal have included propaganda to denigrate the revolution, diplomatic and commercial isolation, trade embargo, terrorism and military support to counter-revolutionaries, the Bay of Pigs invasion, assassination plots against Fidel Castro and other leaders, biological and chemical warfare, and, more recently, efforts to foment an internal political opposition masquerading as an independent civil society.
Warren Hinkle and William Turner, in The Fish is Red, easily the best book on the CIAs war against Cuba during the first 20 years of the revolution, tell the story of the CIAs efforts to save the life of one of their Batista Cubans. It was March 1959, less than three months after the revolutionary movement triumphed. The Deputy Chief of the CIAs main Batista secret police force had been captured, tried and condemned to a firing squad. The Agency had set up the unit in 1956 and called it the Bureau for the Repression of Communist Activities or BRAC for its initials in Spanish. With CIA training, equipment and money it became arguably the worst of Batistas torture and murder organizations, spreading its terror across the whole of the political opposition, not just the communists.
The Deputy Chief of BRAC, one José Castaño Quevedo, had been trained in the United States and was the BRAC liaison man with the CIA Station in the U.S. Embassy. On learning of his sentence, the Agency Chief of Station sent a journalist collaborator named Andrew St. George to Che Guevara, then in charge of the revolutionary tribunals, to plead for Castaños life. After hearing out St. George for much of a day, Che told him to tell the CIA chief that Castaño was going to die, if not because he was an executioner of Batista, then because he was an agent of the CIA. St. George headed from Ches headquarters in the Cabaña fortress to the seaside U.S. Embassy on the Malecón to deliver the message. On hearing Ches words the CIA Chief responded solemnly, This is a declaration of war. Indeed, the CIA lost many more of its Cuban agents during those early days and in the unconventional war years that followed.
Today when I drive on 31st Avenue on the way to the airport, just before turning left at the Marianao military hospital, I pass on the left a large, multi-story white police station that occupies an entire city block. The style looks like 1920s fake castle, resulting in a kind of giant White Castle hamburger joint. High walls surround the building on the side streets, and on top of the walls at the corners are guard posts, now unoccupied, like those overlooking workout yards in prisons. Next door, separated from the castle by 110th street, is a fairly large two-story green house with barred windows and other security protection. I dont know its use today, but before it was the dreaded BRAC Headquarters, one of the CIAs more infamous legacies in Cuba.
The same month as the BRAC Deputy was executed, on March 10, 1959, President Eisenhower presided over a meeting of his National Security Council at which they discussed how to replace the government in Cuba. It was the beginning of a continuous policy of regime change that every administration since Eisenhower has continued.
As I read of the arrests of the 75 dissidents, 44 years to the month after the BRAC Deputys execution, and saw the U.S. governments outrage over their trials and sentences, one phrase from Washington came to mind that united American reactions in 1959 with events in 2003: Hey! Those are OUR GUYS the bastards are screwing!
A year later I was in training at a secret CIA base in Virginia when, in March 1960, Eisenhower signed off on the project that would become the Bay of Pigs invasion. We were learning the tricks of the spy trade including telephone tapping, bugging, weapons handling, martial arts, explosives, and sabotage. That same month the CIA, in its efforts to deny arms to Cuba prior to the coming exile invasion, blew up a French freighter, Le Coubre, as it was unloading a shipment of weapons from Belgium at a Havana wharf. More than 100 died in the blast and in fighting the fire afterwards. I see the rudder and other scrap from Le Coubre, now a monument to those who died, every time I drive along the port avenue passing Havanas main railway station
In April the following year, two days before the Bay of Pigs invasion started, a CIA sabotage operation burned down El Encanto, Havanas largest department store where I had shopped on my first visit here in 1957. It was never rebuilt. Now each time I drive up Galiano in Central Havana on my way for a meal in Chinatown, I pass Fe del Valle Park, the block where El Encanto stood, named for a woman killed in the blaze.
Some who signed statements condemning Cuba for the dissidents trials and the executions of the hijackers know perfectly well the history of U.S. aggression against Cuba since 1959: the murder, terrorism, sabotage and destruction that has cost nearly 3,500 lives and left more than 2,000 disabled. Those who dont know can find it in Jane Franklins classic historical chronology The Cuban Revolution and the United States.
One of the best sum-ups of the U.S. terrorist war against Cuba in the 1960s came from Richard Helms, the former CIA Director, when testifying in 1975 before the Senate Committee investigating the CIAs attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro. In admitting to invasions of Cuba which we were constantly running under government aegis, he added:
We had task forces that that were striking at Cuba constantly. We were attempting to blow up power plants. We were attempting to ruin sugar mills. We were attempting to do all kinds of things in this period. This was a matter of American government policy.
During the same hearing Senator Christopher Dodd commented to Helms:
It is likely that at the very moment that President Kennedy was shot, a CIA officer was meeting with a Cuban agent in Paris and giving him an assassination device to use against Castro. [Note: the officer worked for Desmond Fitzgerald, a friend of Robert Kennedy and at the time overall chief of the CIAs operations against Cuba, and the agent was Rolando Cubela, a Cuban army Comandante with regular access to Fidel Castro whose CIA codename was AMLASH.]
I believe it was a hypodermic syringe they had given him. It was something called Blackleaf Number 40 and this was in response to AMLASHs request that he be provided with some sort of a device providing he could kill Castro. Im sorry that he didnt give him a pistol. It would have made the whole thing a whole lot simpler and less exotic.
Review the history and you will find that no U.S. administration since Eisenhower has renounced the use of state terrorism against Cuba, and terrorism against Cuba has never stopped. True, Kennedy undertook to Khrushchev that the U.S. would not invade Cuba, which ended the 1962 missile crisis, and his commitment was ratified by succeeding administrations. But the Soviet Union disappeared in 1991 and the commitment with it.
Cuban exile terrorist groups, mostly based in Miami and owing their skills to the CIA, have continued attacks through the years. Whether or not they have been operating on their own or under CIA direction, U.S. authorities have tolerated them.
As recently as April 2003, the Sun-Sentinel of Ft. Lauderdale reported, with accompanying photographs, exile guerrilla training outside Miami by the F-4 Commandos, one of several terrorist groups currently based there, along with remarks by the FBI spokeswoman that Cuban exile activities in Miami are not an FBI priority. Abundant details on exile terrorist activities can be found with a web search including their connections with the paramilitary arm of the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF).
Reports abound of the arrest in Panama in November 2000 of a group of four exile terrorists led by Luis Posada Carriles, a man with impeccable CIA credentials. They were planning the assassination of Fidel Castro who was there for a conference. Posadas résumé includes planning the Cubana airliner bombing in 1976 that killed all 73 people aboard; employment by the CIA in El Salvador in 1980s re-supply operations for the contra terrorists in Nicaragua; and organizing in 1997 10 bombings of hotels and other tourist sites in Havana, one of which killed an Italian tourist. A year later he admitted to the New York Times that CANF directors in Miami had financed the hotel bombings. Through the years Posada freely traveled in and out of the United States.
Another of the CIAs untouchable terrorists is Orlando Bosch, a pediatrician turned terrorist. As mastermind along with Carriles of the 1976 Cubana airliner bombing, Bosch was arrested with Carriles a week after the bombing and spent 11 years in a Venezuelan jail undergoing three trials for the crime. He was acquitted in each trial, released in August 1987, and arrested on his return to Miami in February 1988 for parole violation after a previous conviction for terrorist acts. In 1989, the Justice Department ordered his deportation as a terrorist citing FBI and CIA reports that Bosch had carried out 30 acts of sabotage from 1961 to 1968 and was involved in a plot to kill the Cuban Ambassador to Argentina in 1975. After lobbying on Boschs behalf by Miami Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban American with close ties to CANF, and by Jeb Bush, Ros-Lehtinens campaign manager prior to his election as governor, the elder President Bush, who was CIA Director at the time of the Cubana airliner bombing, ordered the Justice Department in 1990 to rescind the deportation order. Bosch was released from custody and has freely walked the streets of Miami ever since.
Seeing the obvious, that the U.S. government was not taking action to stop Miami-based terrorism, the Cubans opted in the 1990s to send their own intelligence officers to Florida under cover as exiles to provide warnings on coming terrorist actions. There they infiltrated some of the exile groups and were reporting back to Havana, including information on planned illegal over-flights of Cuba by Brothers to the Rescue.
Still, the Cuban government hoped that the United States could be convinced to take action against Miami-based terrorists. So in 1998 Cuba delivered to the FBI voluminous information it had collected on U.S.-based terrorist activities against Cuba. But instead of taking action against the terrorists, the FBI then arrested 10 members of a Cuban intelligence network whose job was to infiltrate the terrorist organizations. Later the five Cuban intelligence officers running the network were tried in Miami, where conviction was guaranteed, for conspiracy to commit espionage and for not having registered as agents of a foreign power. They had never asked for nor received a classified government document or classified information of any kind, yet they were given draconian sentences, one of them two life terms. The inhuman treatment of these unbending prisoners ordered by Washington, designed to destroy them mentally and physically and turn them against Cuba, sets world records for sordid, deranged punishment. Demand for their freedom is the main political topic in Cuba today.
Most recently, in declaring an unending war against terrorism following the September 2001 attacks by Al Qaeda and prior to the war against Iraq, President Bush declared that no weapons in U.S. possession are banned from use, presumably including terrorism. But rather than starting his anti-terrorist war in Miami, where his theft of the White House was assured and his election to a second term may depend, he started the series of pre-emptive wars we have watched on television, first Afghanistan and then Iraq, and now he threatens Syria, Iran and others on his list of nations that supposedly promote terrorism. Cuba, of course, is wrongfully on that list, but people here take this seriously as a preliminary pretext for U.S. military action against this country.
Philip Agee is a former CIA agent who played a principal role in exposing the sinister workings and modus operandi of the Central Intelligence AgencyAmericas version of the Soviet Unions KGB.
Granma, August 23, 2003