Bird of Paradox

José Basulto, president of Brothers to the Rescue, is a CIA-trained warrior who insists he supports nonviolent resistance. Complicated? Sí, señor.

But the following August, with members of the CIA-backed Revolutionary Student Directorate (DRE), he completed his most notorious guerrilla attack. Members of the DRE motored two boats from Florida to Cuba for a midnight attack from sea. Basulto himself fired the 20mm cannon that blasted the façade of Havana's Rosita Hornedo hotel, where they believed Soviet military advisors were meeting with Cuban officers.

That came out during his recent turn on the witness stand. Defense lawyer Paul McKenna made sure jurors at the spy trial heard about Basulto's militant background as part of a strategy to convince the panel that his clients were acting to safeguard their country from violent counterrevolutionaries.

Basulto has long maintained that his involvement in anti-Castro violence ended with the Rosita Hornedo cannon attack. And a Cuban government dossier on him squares with his claim -- that is, until the early Eighties. At the spy trial, Judge Lenard refused to let McKenna introduce the dossier, which New Times obtained from the Cuban Interest Section in Washington, D.C. According to one memo, in August 1982 Basulto and Oscar Alfonso Carold, a former president of the Bay of Pigs veterans group Brigade 2506, "prepared an explosive device for an attempt against the Cuban President, and they studied the possibility of introducing it to Cuba." The file refers to the two men as "terrorists."

The Bay of Pigs veteran appeared recently at Brigade 2506 headquarters with Eva Barbas, mother of shootdown victim Pablo Morales
Steve Satterwhite
The Bay of Pigs veteran appeared recently at Brigade 2506 headquarters with Eva Barbas, mother of shootdown victim Pablo Morales

Basulto listened carefully to the allegations in the dossier. "No, that's not true," he said. "I'm not telling you that in other times I wouldn't have done it. But in the Eighties, the only activity that I had, had to do with assisting the contras in Nicaragua through Honduras. And that was by providing them with humanitarian assistance, providing them with a field hospital, and so on. I had no such ďterrorist' activity, as they may call it."

The file also claims that Basulto "was a subordinate in Miami of the CIA official Carl Jenkins" in the early Eighties. "That's even better," he said, bursting into laughter. Jenkins was the officer in charge of the CIA group he'd trained with in 1961. But Basulto never worked with him after that. "I have seen Carl Jenkins through the years, maybe a couple of times, or three times maybe," he explained, "but not in any specific or organizational way. No CIA for José Basulto since 1961. It's under sworn statement, and if it ever needs to be reiterated, I'll be willing to say it again."

Another allegation contained in the file charges that in 1983, as a member of the Junta Patriotica Cubana, Basulto organized recruits in Miami for anti-Castro paramilitary groups. "Untrue," he responded. He attended meetings of the Junta, an umbrella group for both pro- and nonviolent exile groups, only because he was serving a term on the Brigade 2506 board of directors. "It was a one-time experience that I don't intend to repeat," he chuckled. Besides, throughout the Eighties he was far too busy. The father of five had a luxury-home building company to run and construction of an industrial park east of the Tamiami Airport to oversee.

Although he is one of the most visible and outspoken Cubans in Miami, Basulto demurs at mention of his leadership role. "First of all I'm not a leader of the exile community," he insisted. "That's a burden. Don't put that on me. I am simply a person with an agenda, which is reflected in this group that I direct, which is called Brothers to the Rescue."

He pointed to a shelf of videotapes brought back from seminars in nonviolence he has attended. His philosophical shift took root at those seminars. "It's a manner of adapting," he said flatly. And so it is that the man who admires Ernestino Abreu for a suicidal mission to Cuba hangs pictures of Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., on his walls.

"If we can help change conditions in Cuba," he said, "so that no Cuban has to jump in a raft to be free, I think we have accomplished a tremendous deed. So we are working together with the internal opposition in Cuba. We were working with them in 1996 when we were attacked by Cuban MiGs. And the reason why we were attacked by Cuban MiGs was not because we were in any particular geographical location but because we were promoting an alternative to Castro from within Cuba."

Brothers to the Rescue was, in fact, not only posing a threat to Castro with those flights but also to the United States, which feared that Basulto might one day provoke a confrontation that would necessitate military intervention. But that, Basulto says, was the last thing he wanted. "Brothers to the Rescue does not want the United States to intervene in Cuba," he said emphatically. "When it had the opportunity to do so in 1961, it didn't do it. It failed to do it for 40-some years. And now we simply want to resolve the problem by ourselves. So whoever says I'm a provocateur is completely out of the reality of what we're trying to do."

When he took the stand as a hostile defense witness on March 12, the president of Brothers to the Rescue was puro Basulto, precisely what the spies' lawyers had in mind. At times it seemed he was defiantly flying the beleaguered prosecution once more toward the 24th Parallel of jurisprudence. As it was he flew right into a defense trap set by attorney McKenna, whose sole client, Gerardo Hernandez, was the only defendant charged with conspiracy to commit murder in connection with the shooting down of the Brothers' planes.

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