Archive for April, 2012

Cuba Reports 4.3-Percent Infant Mortality Rate

April 30, 2012


Cuba has reported so far this year an infant mortality rate of 4.3 percent per 1,000 live births, lower than the 4.9 percent registered in 2011, when it reached the lowest level in the region, sources from the sector said on Monday.

  Doctor Maria Isabel Martinez, secretary general of the Health Workers’ Trade Union, said in a television interview that Cuba has always registered an infant mortality rate under 5 percent over the past five years.

Only Canada (4.92) made a similar achievement in the American continent in 2011, while the United States concluded with 6.06.

According to Martinez, those results are an incentive for the health workers to attend the May Day march on Tuesday.

About 50,000 health workers will take part in the march in Havana, venue of the main event on Workers’ International Day, representing almost half a million Cuban health workers.


Washington Post Ad for Cuban Five is published today!

April 30, 2012

New steps updating Cuban economic model

April 29, 2012

By Waldo Mendiluza*

Havana (Prensa Latina) The experimental creation of non-agricultural cooperatives, the promotion of a new Tax System Act and the proposal to improve the Ministry of Agriculture stand out among the recent steps to update Cuba”s economic model.

These actions are under the guidelines of the 16th Congress of the Communist Party -held in April 2011-, forum which established criteria for changes aimed to increase productivity and efficiency, as the principles of development on the island.

At an extended meeting of the Council of Ministers -held on March 31-, Vice President Marino Murillo presented the policy for starting experiments with farming cooperatives beyond the agricultural field, preserving in them the regulatory role of state and government.

Cooperatives make up the current model of economic management, along with the socialist state enterprise -main form in the national economy-, the foreign investment modes, small farmers, usufructuaries, tenants and private workers, who already number more than of 370 000.

This form of collective property with its own legal personality and assets is constituted by people who are associated and provide goods or labor to produce and serve, as sets one of the Party Congress guidelines.

During the extended meeting of the Council of Ministers, the Minister of Finance and Prices, Lina Pedraza, explained main adjustments for the forthcoming Tax System Act, considered one of the important actions for the economic update.

The proposed objective is to begin applying that standard on January 1, 2013, which includes the ability to change each year the taxes in the Budget Act, and also regulates tax benefits in order to stimulate the development of economic sectors and activities.

Another step involved in the ongoing update on the island responds to the need to improve the functioning, structure and composition of the Central Government entities.

In that sense, Vice President Murillo presented to the Council of Ministers the results of diagnosis practiced on the agriculture portfolio.

In general, the study concluded that the Ministry has been showing an unfavorable economic and financial situation for several years.

It also evidenced the inadequacy of actions and measures to reverse this scenario.

Speaking on the subject, President Raul Castro urged to fully analyze each problem prior to any change to fix it.

In the extended meeting was also discussed the improvement of the Ministry of Informatics and Communications from the viewpoint of separating state and corporate functions.

With regard to the issues discussed, Raul Castro stressed the role of them in the policy adopted by the island.

Today we discussed deep issues of great importance, which are slowly defining the way to go, he said.

The Cuban president meant that the implemented measures are supported by the resolutions of the 16th Congress of the Communist Party.

He also called on to be prepared for the possible variants, “because despite some progress being observed, the task ahead is huge.”


At the extended meeting of the Council of Ministers, some guidelines for the development of the Economy Plan and Budget 2013 were also approved.

According to the Minister of Economy and Planning, Adel Yzquierdo, the growth of gross domestic product (GDP) is expected to exceed 3.4 percent in 2012. This projection is, among other things, a set of energy-related investments, he said.

According Yzquierdo, most of the increase will be in productive activities, hence the leading role of industry and construction.

It is planned to maximize exports and to slow imports based on domestic industry means.

In that regard, he stressed the importance of prioritizing food production, achieving higher energy efficiency and supporting the marketing of agricultural inputs and construction materials, as well as sales to non-state forms of management.

Speaking of the private sector in the island, in recent months Cubans have registered for 180 more activities, standing out food sales, transportation of passengers and rental housing.

Around 370 000 people are incorporated into the so-called self-employment, which allows specialists project the figure of half a million by the end of 2012.

Government facilities put in place since October 2010 represent a stimulus to the non-state efforts. The extension of the authorized activities, the adjustments to the tax regime, the lease of premises and the steps in order to create a wholesale market stand out among the measures in this direction.

* Head of the National Editorial Department of Prensa Latina

Join the Free the Cuban 5/ End the U.S. Blockade of Cuba contingent

April 28, 2012
Join the Free the Cuban 5/ End the U.S. Blockade of Cuba contingent at the anti-NATO protest in Chicago, May 20!
Please join us at the Petrillo Bandshell (see details below) before the rally, which starts at noon. We will have a few signs and banners, but feel free to bring your own. We will also be leafleting against the US blockade of Cuba, to free the Cuban 5, and in support of the July challenges to the U.S. travel ban to Cuba by IFCO/Pastors for Peace, Venceremos Brigade, African Awareness Association and others.
For housing or to sign on to this letter contact
Stan Smith at 773-273-0166 or
Marilyn McKenna at
Spread the word! Together we can build a big contingent to say no to the continuing war against Cuba.
In Solidarity,
Stan Smith, Chicago Committee to Free the Cuban 5,
Marilyn McKenna, for the National Network on Cuba
Cindy Sheehan
 March & Rally to Protest NATO/G8 on May 20
 Action Mini URL:
Date: 2012-05-20
 Event Time: 12:00 pm – 4:00 pm
 More Info:
Description: Sunday, May 20, 2012
Noon rally at Petrillo Bandshell, (corner of Jackson and Columbus),
then march to McCormick Place, site of the NATO summit

Join in a legal, permitted, family-friendly march and rally to protest the policies of NATO!

At the invitation of the White House, military and civilian representatives of the 28-nation US-commanded and largely US-financed North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) are meeting in Chicago, May 20-21, 2012. We say:

· Jobs, Healthcare, Education, Pensions, Housing and the Environment, Not War!
· No to NATO/G-8 Warmakers!
· No to War and Austerity!
Among those scheduled to appear at the rally:
Jesse Jackson, Sr. – Rainbow PUSH Coalition
Malalai Joya – former member of Afghan Parliament
Reiner Braun – ICC No to War – No to NATO, Germany
Malik Mujahid – Muslim Peace Council
Kathy Kelly – Voices for Creative Nonviolence
Vijay Prashad – author of “Arab Spring, Libyan Winter”
Leah Bolger – President, Veterans For Peace
Carlos Montes – Committee Stop FBI Repression
Kari Fulton – Environmental Justice Network
Larry Holmes – International Action Center
US Cuba labor Exchange

The terrorists Uncle Sam doesn’t care about

April 28, 2012

Since Washington has always given anti-Castro terrorists a green light, there is nothing to stop them from continuing to burn and bomb — and they did once again in the early hours of the morning, at the offices of ABC travel in Coral Gables, Florida –which is one of the travel agencies that recently sent large numbers of people to Cuba during the visit of Pope Benedict XVI.  ( KlW )

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (WSVN) — Fire investigators are examining the charred remains of a Coral Gables business believed to have been the target of a fiery attack.

Vivian Mannerud suspects that someone tossed a Molotov cocktail at the building where she has operated an international charter flight business that specializes in trips to Cuba since 1982. Most recently, the Archdiocese of Miami hired the company, Airline Brokers Company Inc., to transport 300 people from South Florida to the island for the Pope’s historic visit, at the end of March.

Mannerud received a call from the alarm company at 3:15 in the morning, Friday. She arrived on the scene to find her business gutted and charred with the windows blown out. “Very, very sad,” she said. “It’s horrible, but it’s just hard,” she said. “It’s a sad thing for my country.”

Mannerud spent most of Friday afternoon sobbing outside of her business, as investigators looked through the rubble and cleaned up the scene. “It might have been intentional,” said Mannerud, convinced that someone purposefully set her company up in flames. “I can only tell you what my gut is telling me.”

She was finally allowed into her business to retrieve a computer hard drive which, she says, she needs to file a report with the Department of Homeland Security.

The business has been controversial for many years, sending thousands of people to their native Cuba, and some have shown negative feelings toward it in the past. Mannerud believes someone may have hit the building with a Molotov cocktail, but stops short of naming any possible subjects. “There’s people that do not agree with the charter flights to Cuba and will go to any lengths to stop them,” she said.

The ATF, FBI and Fire Marshal enlisted the help of a K-9 unit to sniff out accelerants or anything else suspicious inside the structure. The trained dog sat down several times, signifying it found something, which put officers on alert.

The business owner said she has been targeted in the past, but she is not alone. Three separate incidents occurred in 1996, in which companies who do business with Cuba were attacked by fire bombs. Mannerud said, “In my 32 years of business, I’ve seen this happen to many other people.”

Mannerud plans to rebuild these offices. She said she is not giving up on what she does, and she believes in providing those charter flights to Cuba. “I will continue, if I have to sit on this sidewalk and write things with a chalkboard,” she said.

Investigators have cleared the scene. They will take everything they extracted from the scene and send it in as evidence. It can take weeks before it is determined whether or not the blaze was intentional.

Read more:,

Fire guts Miami offices of Cuba travel firm

David Adams

MIAMI (Reuters) – State and local officials were investigating a suspicious fire on Friday that gutted the Miami offices of a travel agency specializing in flights to Cuba.

Fire rescue officials responded to a fire at Airline Brokers before dawn. The ground floor suite of offices was destroyed and an acrid smell hung in the air as police cordoned off the street outside. Investigators searched through the ashes assisted by dogs that are trained to detect accelerant.

“There is an investigation currently underway,” said Deborah Cox, a spokeswoman for the state Fire Marshals Office. She said no details were being released because the probe was ongoing.

The FBI is also working with local police “to determine how the investigation will proceed,” said the FBI’s Miami spokesman, Michael Leverock.

Airline Brokers owner Vivian Mannerud said she suspected arson by Cuban exile militants upset over her role in organizing a special charter flight for 340 Cuban-American pilgrims who went to Cuba last month for the visit by Pope Benedict XVI.

“I’m afraid it was intentional, because of the indignation over the pope’s visit,” Mannerud said. “But we can’t conclude anything until we see the results of the investigation. Maybe it was electrical.”

Mannerud said she had not received any recent threats to her business, but she said she was targeted in the early 1990s by Cuban exile extremists.

“If it was intentional, that would be a big blemish on the city. I thought we had moved past the era of terrorist acts,” she added, referring to attacks on Cuban exile moderates in previous decades.

For decades after Cuba’s 1959 revolution, Miami was the scene of politically motivated arson attacks and car-bombings targeting perceived Cuba government sympathizers and people doing business with the island.

The fire destroyed the contents of the office, Mannerud said, raising the suspicion that an accelerant might have been involved. “It looks like an atomic bomb exploded. It’s pulverized and the furniture is ashes. There’s not even a leg of a desk,” she said.

None of the company’s 18 employees were in the office when the fire started.

Airline Brokers is one of a number of charter companies that fly to Cuba from airports in Miami, as well as a growing number of other U.S. cities, including Tampa, New York and Los Angeles, under special Treasury Department licenses.

Mannerud said her company has seven flights a week from Miami and Fort Lauderdale. Despite losing all the office computers, she said she planned to continue taking bookings, adding that the company’s Cuba flight schedule would not be affected.

The Cuban Five , “A crisis of law, a crisis of politics, and a constitutional crisis.”

April 28, 2012

Last week, I picked up Cindy Sheehan at her hotel near Baltimore Washington International Airport, and we drove to the Cuban Interests Section in D.C. for lunch. This was just one event among many during which international representatives gathered on behalf of the Cuban Five.  Cindy had asked permission to include me, and I was intro’d as her Sherpa, a challenging task for someone with no sense of direction.

Welcomed with hugs and kisses, we ascended a marble stairway to a banquet hall where we had a delicious meal and listened to commanding words in support of five men, considered heroes in Cuba.  Cindy communicated a powerful message of support:

I became interested in the case after a trip to the World Social Forum in Caracas in 2006 after I met with the mothers and wives of the Five Heroes, but I didn’t do much activism for the political prisoners who were given a kangaroo trial in Florida, convicted and given harsh sentences, until after I attended a colloquium about the Five in Holguin, Cuba in November of last year. There, I decided that trying to highlight the injustice of five anti-terrorism operatives fully complimented my struggle to end the state-sponsored terrorism of the US against the world. The case of the Cuban Five not only focuses my efforts on political prisoners but, also, highlights the hypocrisy of the government of my country that says it’s ‘fighting terrorism.’

When Cindy mentioned my political articles, I was asked to write a piece about the Cuban Five.  I agreed but voiced a concern I’ve addressed often—the issue of priorities.  People are worried about their own particular dramas.  Justice for political prisoners easily is relegated to an inaudible on the conscience meter.  In fact, many Americans would say, “I have my own problems.” And, “Who are they?  Why should I care?”

This is who they are and why we should care:  Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero, Ramón Labañino, Fernando González, and René González.  Human beings with families. Human beings whose mission was to monitor anti-Cuban elements in Miami to prevent acts of terrorism against their country. Human beings arrested in 1998.  Human beings who spent 17 months in solitary confinement.  Human beings who were labeled terrorists by the US government.  Human beings condemned originally to four life sentences.  Human beings, four of whom remain in prison while one, René González, having served his sentence, must stay in Florida for three years of supervised parole.  Human beings who made no threats, harmed no one, and transferred no US documents.

On Saturday, Cindy and I were back in DC, to stand in front of the White House, with approximately 300 others, knowing from our own experience that these protests are fraught with frustration. I saw in the faces of the congregants the same expectation I once felt—that my efforts could make a difference.

The late historian, academic, and author, Howard Zinn, said that the case of the Cuban Five “is something that is a secret from the people of the United States.” He believed that if we were informed, knew their plight, we’d act from a place of intrinsic decency.

But there are secrets more compelling to our population:  Whom will Donald Trump fire?   Who will be dancing with a star?  Inanities.

And, then, there are the secrets that become hazardous when their reality is delivered—economic collapse, home foreclosures, loss of health insurance, and hunger.  In other words, epic Wall Street crime for which there is no accountability.

Gore Vidal said, “The Cuban Five’s case proves that we have a crisis of law, a crisis of politics, and a constitutional crisis.”

Indeed, Mr. Vidal, indeed.

We are saturated with crises. So much so, that there’s an inclination to focus on our own small space and whatever debris is falling, smacking, and piercing to prevent us from seeing injustice elsewhere.  Or from seeing it clearly but feeling a paralyzing inability to help.

Missy Beattie lives in Baltimore, Maryland.

from Counterpunch

C.A.F.E. opposes hardline policy toward Cuba

April 25, 2012

Cuban Americans who favor improved relations with Cuba’s socialist government have launched a new organization. The group’s announcement is below:

For immediate release: April 25, 2012

Contact: C.A.F.E. (Cuban Americans for Engagement)
Dr. Maria Isabel Alfonso, Patchogue, NY; Phone: 347-419-3812

Cuban Americans for Engagement (C.A.F.E.) visit Washington, DC

On April 16th and 17th a group of Cuban Americans of different political persuasions from states including Florida, Illinois, Colorado, Massachusetts, New York, Virginia, and Kentucky visited Washington DC in order to promote engagement in relations between Cuba and the United States with members of Congress, the U.S. State Department, and the Cuban Interests Section in Washington. We counted on the support of the Latin America Working Group (LAWG) and the Washington Office of Latin America (WOLA) for such an undertaking.

During our visits with congressional offices we underlined the very important message that the Cuban-American community is not monolithic and that many voices exist within this community that favor a policy of more engagement with Cuba, including the end to the travel ban for all U.S. citizens. In all of the offices we visited, including that of Senator Marco Rubio, we emphasized that we do not feel represented by Cuban Americans who currently hold positions as representatives and senators in Congress. We categorically reject any attribution of said members to speak on the behalf of our community as a whole. The voices of Cuban Americans throughout the nation are articulated by the duly elected officials of each of our states and districts. It is precisely these representatives, and not the self-proclaimed representatives of the Cuban-American community, wherever they may be from, who represent our voices. We also would like to stress that polling data from the Cuban-American population and the American public, in general, demonstrate a clear rejection to any reversal of the flexibilization of family trips and people-to-people contact adopted by the Obama Administration.

In our visit to the U.S. State Department, we were informed in general terms as to the current U.S. policy towards Cuba and its implementation. From the beginning, we established that we disagree with the premise of any policy based in the Helms-Burton Act. This coincides with the feelings of the majority of Cubans on the island, Cuban Americans in the United States, and U.S. citizens in general.

We call on the Obama Administration and, in particular, the U.S. State Department, to more vigorously defend the steps taken by President Obama in April of 2009 and January of 2011 in favor of flexibilization of family trips and people-to-people contact. We have opposed and continue to oppose any narrow interpretation of democracy promotion as an instrument of regime change. We reject any interpretation of people-to-people contact that restrains the true nature of these trips. This narrow interpretation hinders legitimate means of information exchange between different communities in Cuba and the United States.
We advocate, in turn, for a broader understanding of people-to-people contact that never disparages the democratic reach of cultural, educational, and academic exchanges (music, dance, plastic arts, literature). We implore the Obama Administration to take an assertive posture in defending these proclaimed policies and not cede to those who categorize any non subversive exchange, such as visiting the island for a jazz festival or an artistic endeavor, as an “abuse” of the declared policy.

In our encounter with the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, we called upon the Cuban government to adopt policies in favor of a better and more comprehensive relation between the entire Cuban nation, comprised of the people of the island and the diaspora. We focused attention upon four points that we consider important in order to both mobilize more Cuban Americans to call for an end to the embargo and to facilitate more exchange with the Cuban people:

  1. An opening by the Cuban government to investments by Cuban Americans in small business and entrepreneurships;
  2. The elimination of restrictions to return to the island that affect specific groups, including balseros and professionals like doctors who have abandoned their posts in foreign deployments, who are punished by these regulations. (We oppose the U.S. government’s programs to promote abandonment of mission as part of a policy that seeks to destabilize Cuba, but we understand that Cuba must adopt clearly defined criteria to regulate the emigration of its professionals. Such criteria will provide a balance needed to protect Cuba’s population and the individual rights of professionals when deciding where to live.);
  3. The prohibitive costs for Cuban citizens to obtain and/or renew a passport outside of Cuba deters a more active relationship with the Cuban people on the island. In Cuba, travel permits are excessively difficult to obtain;
  4. A call for attention to the existing prejudices towards Cuban Americans that obstruct a more vibrant relationship with their Cuban counterparts in the areas of academic, educational, and cultural exchange.

We would like to thank the offices of the members of Congress, the U.S. State Department, and the Cuban Interests Section who met with us and allowed us to address our concerns pertaining to U.S.-Cuba relations. We extend the offer of providing a knowledgeable counter-balance on these issues as professionals in this country who believe in a culture of pluralism, civility, and respect. We look forward to continued dialogue with those offices and many more in Washington and around the nation in the near future. As Cuban Americans, we feel that the diversity of our community should be appropriately represented, and our endeavors in our nation’s capital is one important step towards engagement between the two nations.

The Real Story of the Cuban 5

April 25, 2012

What Lies Across the Water


I am a late-comer to the case of the Cuban Five. I stumbled on the story a few years ago while researching a novel—a love story—set partly in Cuba.
During a trip to Havana in the spring of 2009, I struck up a friendship with a guide who was showing me the city I wouldn’t see as a tourist. Partly to make conversation and partly because I was curious, I asked him what he thought of the prospects for improved relations between Havana and Washington now that Barak Obama was in the White House.
He didn’t hesitate. “Forget Obama,” he said. “Nothing will change until the case of the Five is resolved.”
The Cuban Five? I’d barely heard of them.
So he gave me a history lesson—about how a group of Cuban intelligence agents had uncovered a plot to be blow up an airplane; about how author Gabriel Garcia Marquez had carried a secret message from Fidel Castro to Bill Clinton with details of the plot; about how a delegation from the FBI had gone to Havana to meet with their counterparts in Cuban State Security to discuss it; and how, less than three months later, the FBI had arrested not the Miami-based terrorists who were planning to blow up the plane but the Cuban intelligence agents who were trying to stop them.
You can look it up, he said.
I did. I found a Fidel Castro speech on the Internet that outlined the Cuban version of events. Castro even read into the record the entire 4,000-word text of a previously secret report Garcia Marquez had written to Castro following his meeting with White House officials in Washington.
I was hooked. I put the novel on hold and began researching the nonfiction story of the Cuban Five.

I came at it as a “story” rather than a “cause,” and I think that’s important. Too often there is a sense of rote in our rhetoric about the Five. They are the “five heroes” who were “unjustly accused,” “unfairly tried and convicted” and then “punitively punished” simply for being “anti-terrorist fighters.”
It’s all true, of course, but it doesn’t help convince those who aren’t already convinced. Many Americans, I don’t have to tell you, are prepared to believe the worst about Cuba, and especially about Cuban government agents.
My goal was to tell the story—and it is a fascinating story—as a nonfiction narrative.
It begins in 1990 when a civilian Cuban pilot named René González “stole” a plane in Havana and flew it to Key West where he “defected.” González, in fact, was the first of the five Cuban intelligence agents sent to set up shop in Florida.
He arrived soon after a debate about the fate of Orlando Bosch had raged in the Miami media. Bosch—a well known anti-Cuban terrorist considered one of the masterminds behind a 1976 explosion aboard a Cubana Airlines plane that killed 73 people—had applied for residency in the U.S.. The justice department (though not necessarily the White House) opposed his application; Miami’s exile community supported Bosch. Guess who won?
I wanted to incorporate into the unfolding narrative details about what the various Miami exile groups were actually plotting (a lot), what the U.S. government was doing to stop them (precious little) and what the Cuban intelligence agents were learning about what the exiles were really up to (plenty).
As part of my research, I read the 20,000-plus pages of transcript from the trial of the Five, examined the binders-full of even more thousands of pages of decoded documents and correspondence between the Cuban agents and their bosses back in Havana.
I began a still-ongoing, still un-won battle with the FBI for documents relating to what I believe is a critically important meeting between the FBI and Cuban State Security in Havana in June 1998. After two years of appeals, I have only finally gotten the FBI to admit there are documents. But I’m still waiting to see them.
I also, of course, interviewed key figures in Havana, Miami and Washington—none of them more intriguing than Percy Alvarado.
Though not one of the Five, Alvarado too was a Cuban intelligence agent who operated in Miami around the same time as the Five. He claims he infiltrated the powerful Cuban American National Foundation. Key members of the Foundation recruited him to plant bombs in Cuba, he says. And Luis Posada himself—an acknowledged anti-Castro terrorist—trained him how to assemble the bombs he was supposed to sneak into Cuba.
Now let’s be clear. Everyone in this business lies. It is the nature of the clandestine world, and you should never take it on faith that anyone—American or Cuban—is telling the whole truth. That said, I was struck by the fact that what Alvarado publicly alleged in 1999 was later corroborated—inadvertently—by a senior official of CANF who just happened to be suing his former comrades in arms.
I also interviewed, by mail and email, members of the Five. I found them to be impressive, courageous figures.

I want to talk today about some of what I learned in that process. It wasn’t always what I expected. Or what I’d been told to expect.
The versions I’d read from some Cuban Five supporters, for instance, made it appear as if the FBI had learned the identities of the Five because of the information Cuban State Security turned over to them at those meetings in June 1998.
That’s not true. The FBI had been following the Cubans since at least 1996.
Which raises an intriguing question. Why did the FBI arrest them when they did?
I’ll come back to that.
The Cubans have also been at pains to argue that their agents were only in Florida to monitor the activities of exile terrorists groups.
Again, not entirely true.
One of the agents, Antonio Guerrero had an almost exclusively military mission. That inconvenient truth—rarely acknowledged by Cuban authorities—has provided anti-Castro mainstream journalists and commentators the opportunity to make it appear as if the Cubans’ primary mission was to “infiltrate” American military bases or steal U.S. secrets.
It wasn’t. The military aspect of their duties was minor—and there is an important context to it. Guerrero’s primary function was to serve as the canary in the coal mine, an early warning system of a possible U.S. invasion of Cuba.
The U.S. has satellites to keep an eye on its enemies—a variation on spying we accept as legitimate. The Cubans can’t afford satellites. They have human observers instead. Like Tony Guerrero.
His job was to pay attention to the comings and goings of military aircraft at the Boca Chica Naval Station. Was there a sudden build up of planes on the runways? What kinds? An unusual number of brass-hat visitors to the base?
The Cubans had legitimate reasons to fear an invasion—and not just because that’s what the influential Miami exile leadership prayed for each night. The Cubans knew what had already happened in Haiti, in Panama.

What did the Cuban agents actually do in Florida?
Most of the time they kept a close watch on exile groups they believed were plotting attacks on their homeland. They knew that those militant exile groups were rarely arrested, even more rarely tried and almost never convicted.
To keep the exiles from succeeding, the agents had to be inventive.
Consider just one example from July of 1998, two months before they were arrested.
Gerardo Hernandez, the controller of the Miami agents, received an urgent coded message from Havana that there was a vaguely identified “boat bomb” filled with weapons and explosives docked in the Miami River. The vessel was destined to be used as a weapon against Cuba.
Hernandez and his team of agents soon tracked down the vessel at a marina near a populated area.

What to do about it?
They certainly didn’t want to allow the vessel to sail, of course, but Hernandez realized the options Havana had suggested—blowing up the vessel, or sinking it—were all too risky, and might endanger innocent civilians.
Instead, Hernandez messaged his bosses, cleverly suggesting someone call the FBI anonymously and tip them off about the boat’s cargo.
A week later, a story appeared in the Miami Herald. The headline: ANTI TERRORISM RAID COMES UP EMPTY. The story detailed how members of Miami’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, acting on an anonymous tip, had raided vessels in a Miami River marina. They were looking for explosives and guns destined for a “third country.” But the raid was a “bust,” according to an FBI spokesman. They didn’t find anything.
How hard were they looking? The FBI agent in charge was a guy named George Kisynzki. Two weeks earlier, in the pages of the New York Times, Luis Posada himself had described the agent as a “very good friend.”
What was going on? “Law enforcement veterans saw the search as an FBI hint… to cancel any conspiracies,” the Miami Herald reported. “That’s a common practice in South Florida… known as ‘admonishing’ or ‘demobilizing’ an operation.”
We later learned more about this particular incident. The boat’s owner was a man named Enrique Bassas. Bassas, a wealthy Miami businessman, had been one of the co-founders of a sixties-era terrorist umbrella group called CORU, which had been responsible for blowing up that Cuban plane in 1976. More recently, Cuban intelligence had identified Bassas as one of the financiers of a new mercenary, anti-Castro army being organized in Miami.
Perhaps most significantly, the month before the raid, Bassas had been in Guatemala City meeting with Luis Posada. They were, according to a later report, trying to figure out how to sneak weapons and explosives into the Dominican Republic.
The Dominican Republic? That just happened to be where Fidel Castro was scheduled to speak the following month.
The Miami Herald later reported on this botched assassination plot and came up with its own—close to the money—explanation for what had gone wrong. Cuban intelligence agents, explained the Herald, “presumed by most law enforcement and exile experts to have penetrated many exile organizations, tipped the FBI to protect Castro’s life during the visit to the Dominican Republic.”
There are a lot of episodes like that in the trial records. It’s also clear from those records the Cuban agents weren’t interested in using violence to achieve their objective of preventing exile attacks on their homeland.
Which is more than can be said for the exiles.

But what then are we to make of the most damaging charge—conspiracy to commit murder—against Gerardo Hernandez?
That charge relates to the February 1996 shootdown of two unarmed Brothers to the Rescue aircraft in the Straits of Florida that killed four civilians.
There’s no doubt that charge—filed seven months after the arrests—affected the cases of all five defendants and unduly influenced the harsh sentences they all received. Including, of course, Hernandez himself, who is currently serving two life sentences plus 15 years in prison for his supposed role in the shootdown.
And the allegation continues to resonate today. Whenever the question of pardoning the Five, or swapping them for the American Alan Gross is raised, the inevitable answer is that the U.S. could never consider such a deal because the Five were responsible for the deaths of four innocent men.
I spent a lot of time focusing on that allegation. I read the transcript. I studied the court documents. I read the International Civil Aviation report on the incident.
The reality is that there is not a shred of compelling evidence to suggest Gerardo Hernandez knew about the plan to shoot down the planes, or that he had any control over, or role in what happened.
Indeed the evidence paints a very different picture of what Hernandez really knew.
Cuban State Security is famed for its compartmentalization. I tell another story in the book about two agents who’d infiltrated the same exile group and the efforts Havana undertook to make sure neither man knew the other was actually working for the same side.
The back-and-forth memos between Havana and its field officers in the lead-up to the shootdown make it clear everything was on a need-to-know basis—and Gerardo Hernandez didn’t need to know what the Cuban military was considering.
There are, of course, plenty of other unresolved issues about the shootdown.
Were the Brothers’ planes in international waters as the Americans claim, or in Cuban airspace as Havana argues? The best answer to that question could come from U.S. satellite images taken by any one of more than a half-dozen satellites the American government and its agencies had tracking events that day, but Washington so far refuses to release them.
More importantly, was shooting down the planes a reasonable response to the Brothers’ provocation?
Those provocations had been going on for seven intense months prior to the shootdown. The Cubans had complained. Washington had tried—and failed—to prevent the continuing overflights. And the Cubans had sent several clear messages to Washington that it would take action if there were any more illegal incursions into their territory.
To make matters worse, the Cubans knew—thanks to their agents—that Brothers to the Rescue were test firing air-to-ground weapons they could conceivably decide to use against Cuba. They were more than a nuisance; they were a threat.
That said, I don’t believe the shootdown was the most reasonable response. There were alternatives, including forcing the planes down and putting the pilots on trial.
But my view doesn’t change the only important reality: Gerardo Hernandez was not involved in shooting down the planes and he should never have been charged.

Which leads to yet another question: should the Five themselves have ever been charged with anything?
Well, they did commit crimes. They failed to register as foreign agents, and three of them carried false identity documents. Those are minor, commonplace crimes in the world of intelligence; American agents operating in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Moscow and elsewhere commit them everyday.
But there is no evidence the Cuban agents stole military secrets or threatened American security. That’s why they were never charged with actual espionage—just “conspiracy to commit espionage.” A thought crime versus an actual crime.

The other point that’s worth making is that the FBI knew exactly who the Cuban agents were and what they were doing in Florida. They’d been following them for at least two years. They’d broken into their apartments, stolen their computer disks, decoded them. They knew what they did each day, even about their love lives.
Let me give you just one example of how closely the FBI followed the Cuban agents. In April 1998, one of the Five traveled to New York to meet—supposedly secretly—with an intelligence officer from the Cuban Mission there. The FBI knew about the rendezvous—at a Wendy’s on the Hempstead Turnpike—far enough in advance that they were not able to have seven video cameras and countless still cameras recording the meeting but they were also able to plant of their own 35 agents at the fast food restaurant that day. It must have been a surprisingly good day for the operators of that Wendy’s!
So let’s consider the situation from the point of view of the FBI. You have complete access to a Cuban intelligence network and, better, the Cubans don’t know you do. You know that they’re not doing anything to threaten U.S. security; in fact, much of what they’re doing—monitoring compliance with the U.S. Neutrality Act—is your job.
So why arrest them?
The moment you arrest them, you lose access to this unfolding intelligence gold mine. And, worse, you know these captured agents will simply be replaced by another group of agents—and then you’ll have to discover the new guys and start all over again.

So why arrest the Five when they did?
There are things we don’t know about that. But there are some things we do.
In May 1998, the FBI appointed a new Special Agent in Charge of its Miami Field Office. His name was Hector Pesquera, the first Hispanic to head up that very important, very political FBI field office in the heartland of Cuban America.
We know Pesquera quickly made friends with key leaders in the Miami Cuban exile community, including a convicted felon who’d been a former police officer in Batista’s pre-Castro Cuba—not to forget a number of high-profile exile leaders Cuban intelligence had identified as terrorists.
It was just a month after Pesquera arrived on the scene, of course, that the FBI delegation flew to Havana to meet with their Cuban counterparts. That’s when the Cubans gave the FBI documents fingering some of Pesquera’s new friends as terrorists.
The Cubans would later say they believed the agents who came to Havana treated the information they turned over to them seriously, and genuinely intended to follow up.
And yet, three months later, FBI swat teams swooped in and arrested the Five, ignoring the exile plotters entirely.
We know Pesquera made that decision. We know because he said so. After he’d initially been appointed, Pesquera told a Spanish language radio station following the arrests, “I was updated on everything there was. We then began to concentrate on this investigation. As far as intelligence[-gathering] is concerned, [I decided] it shouldn’t be there anymore; it should change course and become a criminal investigation.”
We know his agents on the ground objected.
We also know—because Pesquera himself bragged about it—that he lobbied all the way to the top of the FBI food chain in Washington for authorization to make the arrests. He later told the Miami Herald the case “never would have made it to court” if he hadn’t lobbied FBI Director Louis Freeh directly. “To this day there are people in my headquarters who are not completely sold.”

No kidding.
I’ve tried to interview Pesquera, who retired from the FBI in 2003—after authorizing the destruction of the FBI’s files on Luis Posada—but he continues to give me the runaround.
Late last month, however, Pesquera popped up in the news again; he’s just been appointed the chief of police in his native Puerto Rico.
The universe continues to unfold…
And the Cuban Five remain stuck in the United States, four still in prison, one in the prison of parole.

It will not be easy to right this injustice, not in a country where in the past week the manager of a Miami baseball team was forced to make a groveling apology for offering the mildest of praise for Fidel Castro, and where the owner of a Miami restaurant faced anonymous threats because her restaurant just happened to be located on the ground floor of a building whose roof featured (however briefly) a billboard calling for Freedom for the Five.
Those prejudices and fears will be difficult to overcome. But they must be. And that’s why it’s especially important to make the case based on the facts.
I hope my forthcoming book, What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of the Cuban Five, will contribute to that conversation.

We hear a lot these days about Alan Gross, a U.S. government contractor who is currently serving 15 years in a Cuban prison for smuggling illegal communications equipment into Cuba.
His supporters, like those of the Five, are demanding his release.

While the two cases are different in many important ways, the key reality is that the Cuban government is unlikely to consider releasing Alan Gross unless the U.S. government reciprocates by releasing the Cuban Five. And the U.S. government won’t release the Five without considerable public pressure.
That’s why those who are arguing Alan Gross’ case need to know about the Cuban Five.
They need to look beyond the rhetoric, both from supporters of the Five but also—and more importantly—from an American government that disingenuously insists the Five were somehow threatening U.S. security and responsible for the deaths of innocent civilians.
I will close with a quote from Jane Franklin, a widely respected expert on Cuban-American relations. She was responding to a recent column in the Washington Post in which Alan Gross’ wife, Judith, drew heartfelt but false parallels between her husband’s situation and that of the Five.
If she were Judith Gross, Franklin wrote, “I would study the cases of the Cuban Five to find out exactly how they came to be arrested, tried in Miami, convicted, and sent to separate prisons around the United States. Having come to grips with the outrageous injustice of their imprisonment, I would then commit my life to a campaign for releasing the Cuban Five in exchange for my husband Alan Gross.”

This essay is an abridged version of a talk by Stephen Kimber about his forthcoming book, What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of the Cuban Five, on April 18, 2012 at the Center for International Policy in Washington, D.C..

STEPHEN KIMBER, a Professor of Journalism at the University of King’s College in Halifax, is an award-winning writer, editor and broadcaster. He is the author of one novel — Reparations — and seven non-fiction books.

Danny Glover Ratifies Compromise with the Cause of the Cuban Five

April 23, 2012

The famous American actor Danny Glover is one of the most active fighters for the cause of five Cubans imprisoned in the U.S. jails since 1998.

The star of films such as Lethal Weapon and The Color Purple said he decided to join the fight for the Cuban antiterrorists during the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2003, just after looking at the faces of the wives and mothers of the Five.

In an exclusive interview with the newspaper Trabajadores, Glover expressed he considers Gerardo Hernandez (one of the fighters) as his spiritual brother, and added he not only wants his freedom but also that of his four companions, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando Gonzalez, Ramon Labanino and Rene Gonzalez.

The leader of the Campaign Actors and Artists of the United States for the freedom of the Cuban Five stated that in political terms there is still no enough pressure on president Barack Obama, no quid pro quo, and perhaps the government does not see the convenience of free these innocent men.

For that reason, he considered, we must continue to spread the theme around the world. The more people we bring to the table the greater the amount that we will have working for the cause of the Cuban Five.

For Glover is necessary for many people understand the senselessness of what has happened in Cuba during the last 50 years and more, and said his relationship with the island is emotional, sincere and practical, so it holds its existence.

He stressed that these men are a paradigm, proactive in the fight against a serious problem: the incessant attacks of the U.S. government against the Cuban Revolution.

The Cuban Five, noted, responded honorably, they risked their lives by conviction, gathered information and protected the people without taking the law into their hands.

Referring to his relationship with Gerardo Hernandez, recalled that the first time he met him in prison, two years ago reinforced his feelings against the injustice committed against these antiterrorists.

Gerardo is truly extraordinary. His love for Adriana is admirable. What they feel to each other is like that love we all dream of, he pointed about the link between the fighter and his wife, who was repeatedly denied a visa to travel to America.

According to Glover, be tenacious and persistent are key elements in the fight.Every opportunity to explain the situation of the Five must be seized, because “for a period of time the mass media have been closed to us”.

More than 25 years ago, he recalled, we had access to reports on CBS. Long before the scandal of Fox News, you could have a dialogue about what Cuba is. Now there is a successful intention of minimizing the impact of television to explain what is happening in our world.

The fight takes already a level of urgency, and the more people know about these families the less they will be isolated in Havana. Cuban people can not be the only one who carries this burden, we also have the duty to give a hand, he pointed.


Cuba’s Children, Among the Happiest of the World

April 23, 2012

Elio Delgado Legon

The story of children in Cuba during the revolutionary period begins with a dark chapter: “Operation Peter Pan.”

Based on one of many invented lies against the revolution, this was an operation organized and financed by the CIA and implemented with the complicity of some Catholic priests and Falangists.

They invented the lie that the revolution was going to take away the parental rights of parents and that their children were going to be sent to Russia. They then drafted and circulated a supposed law that was “signed” but allegedly had not yet been announced.

In this way they deceived many parents who sent their children to the United States. These mothers and fathers also believed in the promise that the Revolution wouldn’t last long and that the children would soon return.

As a result of this operation, 14,000 children were removed from the country without their parents, many of them never to see their families again.

I won’t dwell on the suffering and trauma caused to those children and their parents because that’s not my aim here and these details are widely known. What I want to emphasize is that everything was organized on the basis of several lies.

Other lies about Cuban children have been invented over the past 50 years.

At other times the situation has been distorted, such as when it was said that children were forced to work, when in reality what existed was a system of work-study that was part of their instruction.

This was for students in junior and senior high school. They would go to boarding schools in the countryside where they would receive everything for free (food, clothing and shoes, books and medical care).

There, they would work part-time, along with their teachers, and take classes the other half of the day. Although this rural boarding school program is almost gone, the method — although it was slandered — was not incorrect.

Such slandering was similar to another allegation that have been used for over 50 years by the US and its pawns in the war against the island:  That Cuba promotes sex tourism and child prostitution.

Nothing could be more foreign to the ethics and morality of the Cuban Revolution, which since its inception eradicated prostitution and began treating women as deserving human beings.

These media sources that defame Cuba fail to say, however, that there is no child in Cuba who doesn’t go to school or has to work to help their family to survive, like in many countries – including developed ones.

Nor do they admit that Cuba has one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world and the lowest in the Americas, matched only by Canada: 4.9 per thousand live births.

Nor do they say that the blockade — maintained by the US against Cuba for over 50 years —  keeps the country from buying some medicines for children suffering from cancer, for example. To Washington, it doesn’t matter who dies because of their absurd blockade policy.

Nor do they report that the Cuban government is forced to seek these drugs in any country, wherever they are, paying tremendously high prices in order to save the lives of these children.

But I won’t give any more of my own arguments. I prefer to cite statements by Jose Juan Ortiz, the UNICEF representative in Cuba. In an interview he was quoted as saying:

“For years I had a strong desire to work here because this is a country that internationally receives more attacks against it than defenses.

“The advantage of being here is that the government’s priority for children is clear. We can discuss nuances with the authorities, but we can see very clearly what the objectives are.

“The quality of protection and the work with children in unquestionable, which have been actions taken by Cuba historically since the beginning of the revolution.

“The education and health indicators published by UNICEF each year are comparable or even better than some highly developed countries.

“At those levels, there’s nothing we have to do. Here, we don’t have to do what we do in other countries – working, for example, for the incorporation of girls in school as equals with boys. That’s something your country succeeded at many years ago,” said Ortiz.

These are not words of a member of the Cuban government, but a UN official, one very interested in the issue of children and therefore knowledgeable about the treatment of Cuban children – who are undoubtedly the happiest in the world.


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