By Michael E. Miller
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Cuba has given up complaining about such incursions through diplomatic channels. "Lately we are dedicating ourselves to public denunciations, because our experience with more discreet measures is that they never have produced a concrete result," Alarcon said. "Sometimes it is really ridiculous," he chided, and called the U.S. authorities' negligence in the majority of cases "criminal."
In the post-September 11 atmosphere of Cuban-on-Cuban recrimination, Havana has taken the opportunity to reassert that deploying spies in South Florida to detect terrorist plots was and remains just and noble. "These five compatriots," Alarcon announced, referring to the five undercover agents convicted this past June, "tried to help us prevent actions that these people were going to do because the North American authorities do nothing in relation to that."
During some of his diplomatic contacts in the Eighties and Nineties, U.S. officials even expressed tacit approval of Cuba's spying on exiles, Alarcon divulged, although he declined to offer specific names or dates of the meetings. "Never did any North American [official] say to me: “Hey, but that is a violation of North American laws,'" he avowed. "They have always understood that we have the right, and that we're even obligated to do it.... Because they knew that it wasn't anything against the United States.... And not only that, they said they would even be grateful if we would pass along the information, because in some way it could be useful to them."
The destruction of two Cessnas by a Cuban MiG in February 1996, killing four Brothers to the Rescue members as they flew toward the island, halted any hidden spirit of cooperation that U.S. and Cuban officials might have shared regarding exile violence. The deadly shootdown doesn't exactly fit the definition of terrorism, in light of the repeated warnings Brothers to the Rescue founder José Basulto and the two other pilots received from U.S. and Cuban authorities. But that doesn't keep Basulto and others from calling it one of the most brutal acts of "Castro-terrorism" ever. "If you tell me that a MiG attack on two unarmed civilian planes isn't an act of terrorism, I don't know what is," Basulto remarked.
"Recently, sadly and savagely, this country has learned how much damage civilian, unarmed aircraft can inflict upon its population," convicted spy Gerardo Hernandez told U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard at his sentencing hearing last week. "This is why, perhaps, its top leaders have warned that any aircraft that threateningly deviates from its established path could be shot down even if it carries hundreds of passengers onboard." Lenard sentenced him to life in prison for espionage and conspiracy to murder in the shootdown. (Click for full textof Hernandez's remarks.)
The September 11 attacks have breathed new life into an enduring effort by exile activists to argue that Castro is the real terrorist. Under the Cuban Patriotic Forum's principles, setting off bombs in urban areas and shooting at hotels and commercial vessels is not terrorism but a right. "Down with terrorists and down with the totalitarians of the world!" Eugenio Llamera exclaimed to a Radio Mambí reporter as the rain poured down before the "God Bless America" march in Little Havana on Saturday, October 20. Llamera, a former political prisoner, organized the demonstration along with other Patriotic Forum members.
Like Bosch, Llamera is one of the guys Havana points to when arguing that U.S. authorities have a special tolerance for terrorists of the Cuban-exile variety.
Llamera, for instance, was in a four-man Comandos L squad that took a boatful of weapons into Cuban waters on July 4, 1992. After a firefight with Cuban patrol boats, the exiles fled and were about seven miles off the coast of Varadero when the vessel broke down. The U.S. Coast Guard rescued them. The FBI later questioned the four and released them. One, former Black Panther Tony Bryant, stood trial on illegal-weapons charges. He was acquitted. None was charged with violating the Neutrality Act. At a January 1993 news conference, Bryant warned tourists to stay away from Cuba because Comandos L was planning more attacks. Four months later, according to Cuban and U.S. law-enforcement sources, Llamera financed a machine-gun attack on a Cyprus-flagged tanker, the Mikonos. Commandos fired on the ship as it steamed toward the Cuban port of Carúpano. Llamera denied involvement in the Mikonosattack. But he considers his commando operations to be acts of war, not terrorism. "You think that is sabotage or terrorism?" he exclaimed. "That's bravery on the part of four men." No charges were brought by U.S. authorities in this case or in several subsequent strafings of coastal hotels.
The local brand-Castro-a-terrorist campaign extends well beyond Llamera and other small-time anti-Castro firebrands. U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), University of Miami professors Jaime Suchlicki and Eugene Pons, and even El Nuevo Herald also are getting licks in.
Of course the Havana government does not have a pristine record when it comes to terrorists. The authoritarian regime is on the U.S. State Department's list of nations that promote terrorism (along with Libya, North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, and Syria), though its rationale could apply to Paris, Madrid, or South Boston: "Cuba continued to provide safe haven to several terrorists and U.S. fugitives in 2000. A number of Basque ETA terrorists who gained sanctuary in Cuba some years ago continued to live on the island.... Havana also maintained ties to other state sponsors of terrorism and Latin-American insurgents. Colombia's two largest terrorist organizations, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the National Liberation Army, both maintained a permanent presence on the island." The only additional information was that Cuba provides the Colombian guerrillas with "some medical care and political consultation"; "some ETA members allegedly have received sanctuary in Cuba while others reside in South America"; and Cuba "also appears to have ties to the Irish Republican Army through the two groups' legal political wings." It makes no mention of any ties to al Qaeda.