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Much the same reasoning has been engulfing Miami's Cuban-exile community for the past month. On January 16, Fidel Castro issued his own Nixon-style enemies list: 64 Cuban exiles, mostly prominent Miamians, whom he deemed guilty of being "linked to terrorism." Holding court at the Havana International Press Center, Ricardo Alarcón (president of Cuba's National Assembly, and for those mapping out their Nixon/El Presidente flow charts, John Dean to Raúl Castro's Bob Haldeman) lashed out at both these 64 figures and the FBI. If George W. Bush was truly engaged in a war on terrorism, Alarcón argued, why hadn't he issued arrest warrants in Miami yet?
Needless to say, the FBI declined to comment. On Miami's Spanish-language talk radio and TV airwaves, though, it was another story. While Castro's list contained nothing quite as salacious as the Nixonian entry on black Democratic congressman John Conyers -- "has known weakness for white females" -- mere inclusion was grounds enough for boasting. Indeed, to most of the 64 who made the grade as Castro's ultimate enemies, the distinction is less a smear than a badge of honor.
More ominous were the detailed dossiers Alarcón simultaneously released on this list's members -- unlisted home phone numbers and addresses, physical descriptions, even their personal hobbies. Obviously the five Cuban spies currently appealing their sentences in a Miami court were very busy before being captured in 1998.
Still listees such as Luis Posada and Guillermo Novo -- currently on trial in Panama for attempting to assassinate Castro there -- can at least take solace that while they may not have offed El Jefe yet, they've at least gotten his goat.
Alarcón also reserved a special note of ire for Little Havana's own Rodolfo Frometa, who recently grabbed headlines by claiming his Comandos F-4 guerrillas had not only shot Cuban spy Juan Pablo Roque (known for his role in infiltrating the exile group Brothers to the Rescue), but had actually done so in Havana proper. Thundering away about this alleged act of terrorism, seemingly orchestrated from U.S. soil in a bold violation of federal law, Alarcón fumed at the international journalists gathered before him: "[Frometa] knows perfectly well that he can do anything in Miami and nothing will happen to him ... where else in the United States, or the world, can anyone go public saying that he has just committed a crime, and simply walk away for a coffee at the Versailles coffee shop?"
For his part, Frometa was tickled pink (oops!) to be sending the Cuban government into such a rage -- though in an interview with New Times's Kirk Nielsen, he was careful to insist he was merely "the spokesman of F-4," and absolutely unaware of any (illegal in the eyes of the FBI) military actions out of Miami aimed at the island. Those strikes were the handiwork of Cuba-based underground cells, he explained.
Frometa put such modesty aside with a Wall Street Journal reporter, crowing of F-4's "civic-military" alliance with a local anti-Chavista exile outfit, the Venezuelan Patriotic Junta. The two groups were exchanging "intelligence and counterintelligence," Frometa said, in order to fight "traitors to the Latin American fatherland." Junta leader Luis Eduardo Garcia, a former Venezuelan army captain and participant in last April's aborted coup there, was even less circumspect.
"We are preparing for war," Garcia told the Journal, adding that he was personally training 50 members of the Comandos F-4, 30 Cuban exiles and 20 Venezuelan exiles, in a shooting range near the Everglades.
Of course, paramilitary maneuvers in the swamps past Kendall (exaggerated or not) are nothing new. It's a story going back to 1959.
Much more telling are the omissions from Castro's enemies list: Many of the exile leaders referred to explicitly as terrorists for the past decade are strangely absent. Cuban-American National Foundation (CANF) head Jorge Mas Santos, Brothers to the Rescue head José Basulto, and Democracy Movement leader Ramon Saul Sanchez are all opponents who, according to FBI-deciphered messages between Cuba and her spies here, Castro once considered his greatest threats. Yet all three failed to make the list. Why the change of heart?
For hard-liners such as Ninoska Perez and Luis Zuñiga -- who turn up among the 64 -- it's proof that the aforementioned trio's support of the Varela Project and CANF's overtures for a "dialogue" are playing right into Castro's hands. And that their own insistence on a violent overthrow of Castro's entire ruling circle is truly the only way forward.
The casual observer may wonder just why Castro chose this moment to release his little list and stir up el exilio anew. After all, with a veritable rainbow coalition of farm-belt Republicans and northeastern liberal Democrats now calling for a repeal of the U.S. embargo on Cuba, simply ignoring Miami would seem the wisest course of action.
However, just like Nixon, Castro is downright obsessed with his media coverage. In fact the bulk of Alarcón's press conference was given over to incensed attacks on New York Times reporter Tim Golden. His crime? Golden had the audacity to personally meet with Castro in Havana, receive this list of 64 Miami terrorists, and yet still write a January 5 story on the 5 imprisoned Cuban spies back in the States that failed to attest to their "innocence." Yes, they were spying, Alarcón conceded, but as long as Castro's 64 remained at large in Miami, these men were just "patriots" acting in national self-defense.
Treading into Oliver Stone territory, Alarcón continued: "I don't want to fall into the trap of what Americans call conspiracy theory, but the truth is that it's very suspicious that [Golden's New York Times] article is published now when there is a concrete step to demand a new trial, when the stages of the appeal process have been announced."
Left unspoken was the implication that a fresh cadre of Cuban spies have replaced their imprisoned comrades in Miami, quietly keeping tabs on Castro's most wanted. But one hardly has to embrace Alarcón's "conspiracy theory" to limn the progress of Cuba's latest intelligence operation. Just turn on your shortwave radio. The same frequencies used in 1998 to broadcast coded messages from Havana to its undercover Miami crew are now back in use. Like Nixon heading into the 1972 election, Castro may be polling high, but he isn't above hedging his bets and playing dirty.