Spies in Miami, Commandos in Cuba

If you disagree with what they do, why defend their right to do it?

Brothers to the Rescue leader José Basulto reiterated his organization's commitment to nonviolent struggle but also refused to condemn the armed actions of others.

1. "We're a nonviolent organization and we sponsor and propose to have people to use nonviolence as a form of changing the government on the island. We believe it's much more effective. It doesn't leave scars like violence does."

2. "We have stated our position clearly, and we do not think that [condemnation] is the way to go. We don't like to be used to antagonize groups here. It doesn't lead to any good result."

Anti-Castro commandos like these, photographed in the mid-Nineties, sometimes actually go ashore
Courtesy Jesus Hoyos
Anti-Castro commandos like these, photographed in the mid-Nineties, sometimes actually go ashore

3. "That is a speculative question and it's not for me to answer. It's not our position to judge anybody here for what the government of Cuba alleges happened. We're not here, as I said, to antagonize anybody that thinks differently than we do."

4. "We propose nonviolence. That's what we have been sponsoring all along, and if others want to govern themselves otherwise, it's not our business to do anything about it. If others do otherwise, take it up with them."

When first contacted for a response to the incursion, CANF executive director Joe Garcia said the question was tantamount to a brother being asked to respond to scurrilous charges that his sister was a child abuser. "Do I think that people have the right to fight for their liberty? Absolutely," he said. He later declined to reply to the specific questions. Instead he insisted on providing this response: "The foundation is against terrorism. Period. No more, no less."

Not only are exile organizations not condemning violence, they are still raising money for practitioners of it.

Two of the Miami area's most prolific sources of anti-Castro vitriol -- Radio Mambí WAQI-AM (710) and La Poderosa WWFE-AM (670) -- held on-air fundraisers June 23 and 24 to generate money for four exiles currently jailed and awaiting trial in Panama. The quartet -- Luis Posada Carriles, Guillermo Novo Sampoll, Gaspar Jimenez Escobedo, and Pedro Remón Rodriguez -- are under arrest for plotting to kill Castro during this past November's Ibero-American Summit.

The man who spearheaded the fundraising is Santiago Alvarez, a Hialeah-based developer whom the Cuban government accuses of organizing the assassination attempt. Alvarez denies his four friends in Panama were plotting to kill Castro, but he backs armed struggle in Cuba. "I think to free our country we Cubans have to fight for it, have to sacrifice for it, and if any blood is going to be spilled, it has to be ours," he declares. "I don't see any other way to get the Castro regime out of there. I don't think you will ever get anything out of negotiations." (Alvarez says he has a "certain responsibility" for the April incursion into Cuba but refuses to elaborate on his role.)

The detainees in Panama all have prior criminal records and indeed some have boasted about their violent anti-Castro endeavors. In a 1998 interview with the New York Times, Posada took credit for planning six bombings at Havana hotels and restaurants during 1997 that killed one person and injured eleven. He also told the paper that CANF financed the operation but later retracted that statement. (Posada has a notorious history of violent anti-Castro activity. He was imprisoned in Venezuela for the bombing of a Cuban jet in 1976 that killed 73 people. He escaped in 1985.)

In February 1986 Remón pleaded guilty to participating in a 1979 bombing in New York which was aimed at (and missed) Cuba's United Nations ambassador. Novo was convicted in the 1976 murder of former Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier in Washington, D.C., but acquitted after an appeal. Jimenez was indicted for the 1976 bombing that destroyed the legs of Miami journalist Emilio Milian, but the U.S. Attorney dropped charges in 1983, citing a lack of evidence. In 1981 the United States deported him to Mexico, where he was imprisoned for involvement in the killing of a Cuban government official in Merida. He was released in 1983, after his sentence was reduced, and he returned to Miami.

The fundraising campaign featured a taped telephone call from Posada and Remón. A weary-sounding Posada thanked his brothers in Miami for their support. Because he was not well, he said, he was now turning the phone over to Remón to read the rest of the message for him. It began with a prayer that "the power and will of God would make possible the liberation of our beloved fatherland.

"Each day the tyrant approaches his demise," Remón continued. "Together we will shorten the time, and we will conquer the freedom of our fatherland.... We want to take this opportunity to thank you profoundly for your brotherly support. Please send your support and correspondence to Fondos para Defensa Detenidos en Panama [Defense Fund for the Detained in Panama], care of Santiago Alvarez."

Brothers to the Rescue is not involved in the defense-fund campaign. Ramon Saul Sanchez says that during the Democracy Movement's weekly radio show on La Poderosa, he asked listeners to contribute. Sanchez calls Pedro Remón a friend.

Before embracing nonviolence in the late Eighties, Sanchez went to prison for refusing to testify before a grand jury investigating the 1979 U.N. bombing case. "Regardless of whether we agree with his methods, we defend his right to be represented by a competent attorney before the law," Sanchez explained, "especially when you have Fidel Castro trying to get him back to Cuba, where he most likely would be executed."

CANF executive director Joe Garcia says his organization is not endorsing or contributing to Alvarez's defense fund but added that some foundation members may be helping privately.

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