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By Pepe Billete
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What would happen at this stage of our war on terrorism if a group of clerics, claiming to represent all members of their ethnic community, publicly appealed for the freedom of suspects jailed for attempting to blow up the head of an evil empire? They would be blasted to the Stone Age by state-of-the-art military aircraft, right? What if these spiritual leaders, however, were not in league with al Qaeda, not based in Tora Bora, but lived and preached right here in greater Miami? FBI agents and CIA operatives would swarm around them for questioning, right? Probably, unless they were the twenty Cubans in the Spiritual Guides in Exile Working Group (Grupo de Trabajo de Guías Espirituales en Exilio).
The group is an ecumenical body composed of nineteen men and one woman who represent the Presbyterian, Episcopal, Baptist, Methodist, and Roman Catholic faiths, including Auxiliary Bishop Agustin Roman of the Archdiocese of Miami.
(For list see below)
Earlier this year the Guides quietly beseeched the president of Panama to pardon four men who are imprisoned and awaiting trial in that country. The four suspects -- Luis Posada Carriles, Pedro Remón, Guillermo Novo, and Gaspar Jimenez -- are charged with plotting to plant C-4 plastic explosives in a public place in Panama City in December 2000. According to the indictment, the plan called for detonation as a particular evil emperor named Fidel Castro approached. Castro was in Panama attending the Ibero-American Summit at the time. As most people know, C-4, the missive of choice for Palestinian suicide bombers and the al Qaeda operatives who pulled off the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, is not a precision tool. Barring a miracle, such an explosion would have mangled many civilians besides the bearded El Comandante en Jefe. The trial is scheduled to start December 5.
The Spiritual Guides sent their appeal in a letter to Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso. Disregarding the judicial process, the Guides proclaimed the defendants' innocence. "The four are victims of a well-orchestrated stratagem by the Castro regime to avoid the diplomatic censure that he was inevitably going to suffer at the Ibero-American Summit," they wrote in Spanish. "These four men embody the desperate and persistent efforts of the Cuban diaspora to liberate themselves from a despotic tyranny that has spent more than four decades oppressing the Cuban people." In a word, heroes. The Guides' letter also summarized the alibi Posada, et al. first put forth last year: They were in Panama only to help the chief of the Cuban government's intelligence agency defect. (See "Fidel Made Them Do It," New Times, August 9, 2001).
Only twelve Guides signed the letter but, according to Bishop Roman, all twenty collectively wrote it during one of their monthly meetings at San Juan Bosco Catholic Church on West Flagler Street in Little Havana.
The four embodiments of exile heroism have the following criminal histories, according to U.S. law enforcement records:
Luis Posada Carriles, age 74. Imprisoned in Venezuela along with Orlando Bosch, on charges they organized the bombing of a Cubana de Aviación jet in 1976 that killed 73 people, including members of Cuba's national fencing team. Escaped in 1985 and joined anti-Communist CIA operations in El Salvador and Nicaragua. Took credit for planning six bombings at Havana hotels and restaurants during 1997 that killed one person and injured eleven. (Venezuelan authorities released Bosch in 1988 and he returned to Miami.)
Pedro Remón, 57. Identified by fellow Omega 7 member Eduardo Arocena as triggerman in murders of pro-Castro activist Eulalio José Negrin in 1979 and Cuban diplomat Felix Garcia Rodriguez in 1980. Also bombed Cuban consulate in Montreal that year. Arrested in Miami in 1982. In 1986 pleaded guilty to failed 1980 bombing attempt aimed at Cuba's U.N. ambassador. Sentenced for criminal contempt in Arocena's murder and bombing trial. (Arocena is serving a life sentence.)
Guillermo Novo, 68. As member of the Cuban National Movement, fired bazooka at (and missed) United Nations headquarters in 1964 while Che Guevara was speaking. Convicted in the 1976 Washington, D.C., car bombing that killed Chilean ambassador Orlando Letelier and Ronni Moffet. Acquitted on appeal, but served four years for lying to a grand jury investigating that crime.
Gaspar Jimenez, 66. In 1977 helped kidnap Cuba's consul to Mexico, killing a consular official. Escaped from a Merida jail in 1977. Arrested in Miami and deported to Mexico in 1981. After sentence reduction was deported back to Miami in 1983. That year the U.S. Attorney in Miami dropped sealed grand jury indictment containing witness account that Jimenez was responsible for explosion of bomb attached to car of radio journalist Emilio Milian, destroying the latter's legs. (Milian survived and continued to speak out against intolerant exiles. He died last year at age 69.)
When Milian's widow, Emma Mirta Milian, read an October 21 story about the appeal letter in El Nuevo Herald she became very upset. A devout Catholic, she met with several of the Spiritual Guides, including Bishop Roman. She brought him a stack of old Miami Heraldarticles documenting the criminal pasts of the four men. Several of the articles recapped police and FBI investigations from the late Seventies and early Eighties that led to the Jimenez indictment. "I told him I was very disgusted because they were supporting a pardon for four assassins, four terrorists," she recounted. "I said, 'Padre, how could you ask for a pardon for four terrorists?" Roman, she continued, told her the pardon followed a request by the wives and other relatives of the four accused. "I was able to get very few words from his mouth," she lamented.