Dialogue: The Final Frontier

When trade sanctions, bluster, and a few bombs don't work, you gotta try something else

But in reality it is worse than that. The revolution's print, radio, and television journalists frequently retrace the very real history of CIA-backed anti-Castro operations, which remain a source of pride for many former and current foundation members. The propagandists often benefit from the same declassified U.S. government documents that their counterparts in North America and Europe use. They also have access to Cuban intelligence experts. For example the producers of the island's main nightly public-affairs TV show, Mesa Redonda, spent three nights reviewing 42 years of violent activities targeting the Cuban government, from the CIA-planned Bay of Pigs invasion and small-scale incursions in the Sixties and Seventies to an infiltration in April 2001 by three Miami-based commandos, who were promptly arrested by Cuban forces.

The foundation was mentioned repeatedly by commentators and guest specialists such as Manuel Hevia, the director of the Center for Historical Investigations of State Security: "During the most difficult years of the [post-Soviet] 'special period' of the Nineties, the Cuban American National Foundation and the Miami Mafia revitalized with full force ... plans to assassinate our commander in chief. Second objective: Direct the principal weight of its terrorist actions to try to affect the flow of dollars to the country, with special emphasis on the tourist sector. Third objective: Promote new pirate attacks along our coasts and infiltrations of mercenaries of Cuban origin with arms of every type ... acquired at low price in Miami stores, and kilograms of C-4 plastic explosives...."

It doesn't help the foundation's cause that Cuban media occasionally need only recite bona fide U.S. news stories to make their case. What better way to discredit the foundation than to reiterate reports of how, in October 1997, U.S. Coast Guard officers found a long-range .50 caliber semiautomatic rifle belonging to Pepe Hernandez on a boat named La Esperanza. The boat belonged to then-foundation member Antonio Llama. They busted a four-man crew (which did not include Hernandez) as it embarked for Isla Margarita, a Venezuelan island where Castro was attending an Ibero-American Summit meeting. Fortunately for the foundation, U.S. prosecutors never charged Hernandez. A federal jury in San Juan acquitted all the defendants of conspiracy to kill a head of state.

Oswaldo PayĆ”, at home in Havana last year, sought the foundation's blessings five years before his Miami beatification in January
AP/Wide World Photo
Oswaldo PayĆ”, at home in Havana last year, sought the foundation's blessings five years before his Miami beatification in January

Hernandez maintains the trip's purpose was not violent. "We're not going to delve into this because that person is still in a precarious position in Cuba," Hernandez says. "But the mission of that boat was to go to rescue a person who was going to defect and who formed part of Fidel Castro's inner circle at the summit. All of this has been well used by Castrista propaganda."

Havana's best supply of info-ammunition probably comes from Luis Posada Carriles's shadowy connections to foundation members. Posada, former foundation member Gaspar Jimenez, and two other exiles with assassination plots on their rap sheets are in prison in Panama, where prosecutors allege they conspired to kill Castro with C-4 explosives during the 2000 Ibero-American Summit. Like Hernandez, they maintain they were in the country to help a high-ranking official defect and that someone planted the deadly materials in a bag in their rental car.

Cuban officials never tire of pointing out that in 1985, Posada escaped from a Venezuelan prison, where he was held as a co-conspirator in the 1976 Cubana de Aviación jetliner bombing, which killed 73 people. He resurfaced in El Salvador, where he worked on a CIA-managed resupply operation for the anti-Communist Nicaraguan contras. Shortly after his arrival at a Salvadoran air force base, Posada writes in his autobiography The Paths of the Warrior, he received money from foundation members, including Mas Canosa, Pepe Hernandez, Alberto Hernandez (no relation), and Feliciano Foyo. (The latter two are now CLC members.)

In 1998 the New York Times reported that Posada, in an interview, "proudly admitted authorship" of a series of bombings at Havana hotels, discotheques, and restaurants in 1997. One blast killed an Italian tourist. Posada also expressed his desire to assassinate Castro.

The foundation adamantly denied any connection to the 1997 bombings or any armed plots against the Castro government. But its official policy on the use of violence remains mixed. "As an institution [CANF] has renounced violence to obtain the freedom of Cuba," Hernandez said. "But we understand that the Cuban people and all those who struggle against the Castro regime have the right to use all the weapons that they have at their disposal, including violence, to obtain their liberty. That's what the North American people did when they rebelled against the English. And all the nations of the world have done it to obtain their liberty."

He has one more thing to say on the matter: "This is a personal position that is not the position of the executive board of the foundation. My personal position is that it would save an extraordinary amount of suffering by the Cuban people if someone within the sphere of the Castro regime would manage to resolve the Cuban problem through the physical disappearance of Fidel and Raúl Castro. But it's not us who are going to conspire or give money to some mercenaries, et cetera, so that they carry out that act. That we have renounced."

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