Cuban Media Praises Stephen Kimber’s New Book 4

The Cuban Five Case Inside-Out

by Dawn Gable

HAVANA TIMES — The endnotes of What Lies Across the Water opens with: “The truth is — everybody lies.” But I believe author Stephen Kimber when he says that as part of his research for this book he read the more than 20,000-pages of United States of America vs. Gerardo Hernández ” from opening gavel to final sentencing.”

His detailed presentation of the case of the Cuban Five – five counter-terrorism agents, who operated in Miami and who refused to plea bargain when the larger network of Cuban agents they belonged to was arrested, is evidence of the painstaking digging Kimber has done to bring readers this full-blown account.

Although the subtitle is The Real Story of the Cuban Five, this book is much more than that. It peers into all the nooks and crannies of the last couple of decades of the ongoing saga of Miami-originated violence against the Cuban people, its leaders, and anyone perceived as friendly to its government or economy. It shines a light on famous villains such as Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch and introduces lesser known perpetrators like Francisco Chavez Abarca and Santiago Alvarez.

Relying on news articles, interviews, court evidence and government documents, in both English and Spanish, Kimber reports on the failed attempts by the U.S. and Cuban governments, in the late 1990′s, to cooperate on mutual national security concerns, employing a cast of characters ranging from U.S. diplomat Michael Kozak and Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez as well as the FBI and Cuban State Security.

He draws from documents obtained through FIOA (sic) requests, filed by the National Security Archives and investigative journalists, to give shape to the newest piece of the puzzle– Alan Gross, a USAID subcontractor hired to carry out aspects of the State Department’s regime change program inside Cuba, who is currently serving a 15 year sentence in a Cuban prison.

Far from being a boring account of deeds and misdeeds, Kimber employs eloquent prose and an enjoyable style to draw the reader into the tangled layers of terrorism and murder, espionage and deception, propaganda and myths, life sentences and impunity, meanness and hatred, love and sacrifice, romance and solitude, patriotism and delusion, good intentions and bad, and lies, lies, and more lies.

It reads like a page-turner novel, but it’s not. It is the unbelievably tragic history of modern U.S.-Cuba relations. Kimber, a professor of journalism at Halifax University and author of several other books, uses his brilliant turn of phrase to help his readers navigate through the tall tales and “official truths” guiding them to a more realistic view of the landscape and the prospects for diplomatic relations between the two feuding countries, for freedom for Alan Gross and the four Cuban agents still under lock and key, and for a life without fear of violence and intervention for the Cuban people.

I have only one criticism of the writing: the constant use of the term “America” when referring to the United States.

The only shortcomings I can mention in terms of content is, in reality, just my desire to keep the conversation going. Kimber begins his book listing its main characters, and ends it with a “where are they now” section. I would like to have seen more names on this lists.

For example, Michael Kozak, who was head U.S. diplomat in Cuba during the hotel bombing campaign and whose role in the FBI-Cuban State Security cooperative efforts are outlined in the book, is currently the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, which receives large sums of Cuba regime change money, which it funnels into the National Endowment for Democracy.

Hector Pesquera is another. As the book explains, he was the FBI agent in charge who ordered the arrest of the Cuban agents and later ordered the FBI’s files on Posada Carriles to be destroyed. While focusing his attention on the Cubans, he completely missed the 9-11 attackers who were preparing, within his jurisdiction, to murder thousands of U.S. citizens. Pesquera is currently the Superintendent of the Puerto Rico Police and recently there has been speculation that he is in the running to replace Janet Napolitano for Secretary of Homeland Security.

Lastly, whatever happened to the agents who turned state’s evidence against their brothers? Their sentences were up long ago. Surely they were not welcomed back to Cuba, but would they be safe in Miami. The big unsolved mystery in the case of the Cuban Five is how the FBI was originally tipped off to the agent network. Is there any reason to believe that one of those agents was a snitch all along?

I have been following the case of the Cuban Five for over a decade and have translated dozens of articles about their case. I have also translated entire books on exile violence against Cuba, but this book offered tidbits that I was unaware of, drew connections that I had not noticed before, and most importantly to me, confirmed some suspicions and dispelled a few rumors that I was unsure about. I am confident that even expert Cubanologists will find What Lies Across the Water useful, informative, at times infuriating, but always entertaining.

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State Carries Out Vandalism Against Homes of Dissidents 2

by Pedazos de la Isla

Police forces of the Cuban regime have not only taken up the task of arresting, beating, deporting and spying on human rights activists on the island, but also have a long history of carrying out acts of vandalism against their homes. In the last couple of days, new cases of these actions have been documented.

Alexei Jiménez Almarales, an independent journalist from Holguin province, sent a note to this blog where he explains that the home of dissident couple Julio Cesar Álvarez Marrero (president of the Claridad Human Rights Movement) and Catalina Hidalgo Nonell (a member of the Ladies in White) was attacked by mobs organized by State Security on the morning of July 29th in the mentioned Eastern province. “When they awoke on Sunday morning, they found the walls of their home full of signs with messages against them as well as exploded condoms full of paint…they had been thrown against the walls of their home, which was left completely filthy“, detailed Jimenez.

The repressors also “left a glass bottle with gasoline and a fuse on the tip in front of their house, as well as a box of matches next to the bottle.” Julio Cesar Alvarez told the journalist that this serves as a direct threat of lighting his house on fire and he assures that “if something happens to me or to my wife, the culprit is the Cuban government“.

Meanwhile, on the same day in the city of Colon, in Matanzas province, the Lady in White Caridad Burunate suffered a similar attack when political police agents hurled feces at her house, all of this as an attempt to impede her from marching to church as all members of this female group do each Sunday. “See the terror which Raul Castro’s regime has wanted to implant in Colon, Matanzas, filling my house with feces”, wrote the dissident on her Twitter account (@CaridadBurunate), publishing various photos of the aftermath along with the text. It is not the first time this is done to her.

Burunate’s home not only serves as a meeting point for a number of activists and Ladies in White in the area, but also as the headquarters of the community project known as “Lanza Flores-Capitán Tondique”, where members of the opposition in Matanzas prepare food for homeless and sick citizens. Caridad Burunate responded to the attacks by hanging a sign outside her home explaining to everyday people what had happened, as well as by publishing another tweet which read, “Down with Fidel, Down with Raul, Down with the tyranny, Down with the dicatorship, Down with communism and Long Live a Free Cuba!“

“Pastors For Peace” Ramps Up Media Coverage 1

Faith-Based Group Challenges Cuban Embargo, One Humanitarian Trip At A Time

By Martin Michaels in MintPress News

For the 24th consecutive year, Pastors for Peace, a faith-based organization with headquarters in New York, is in Cuba delivering humanitarian aid and defying a 51-year-old embargo on virtually all forms of U.S. aid and travel to the island. It continues a decades-long tradition by thousands of Americans who have challenged the travel ban and ongoing embargo by participating in organized trips through Pastors for Peace and other organizations like the Venceremos Brigade. This year, there is a special focus on delivering aid to Santiago de Cuba, an area of Cuba hit particularly hard by Hurricane Sandy.

Pastors for Peace: Americans challenge the blockade

Americans have been quietly going to Cuba ever since the travel ban was imposed, routing their flight first through Canada, Mexico or another nearby country. Most keep quiet about their foray to the island 90 miles off of Florida, since the U.S. government has penalized travelers in recent years for visiting. This isn’t the case with Pastors for Peace’s caravan participants, or “caravanistas,” who make clear that they reject licensed travel to Cuba and claim that as Americans and people of faith, they should be able to go to the island and deliver aid without the encumbrance of first obtaining permission from the U.S. Treasury Department. “Every time the U.S. Treasury Department backs down in the face of our challenge, and allows one of our caravans to cross the border with unlicensed aid for Cuba, we know that our message is being heard at the highest level in Washington,” Pastors for Peace declares.

Emily Thomas, a volunteer for Pastors for Peace who has been going to Cuba since 1978, began working for the group in 1993, the second year that caravanistas went to Cuba. “The first time they went down, they were taking bibles to Cuba. The U.S Treasury Dept. didn’t want to let that happen and CNN filmed it and that was the beginning of the caravan,” said Thomas in a statement to Mint Press News.

For the founders of the movement, it is about transforming what they believe is an antagonistic U.S. foreign policy in Latin America. Rev. Lucius Walker saw the effect firsthand when he went on a humanitarian fact-finding trip to Nicaragua in 1988. “I was on a ferry boat which was attacked by Contras and I was wounded and realized that my taxes payed for the bullet which shot me. I was outraged, I was morally indignant. The response was to create an alternative to U.S. policy in the region — to give humanitarian aid, to build solidarity, friendships, relationships with people rather than buy into the mean spirited, hostile policy of our own government which destroys life,” Walker said in 2009.

The mission has grown considerably since that then, as hundreds have gone each year by traveling to Mexico and then working with local groups to load aid ships bound for Cuba. Everything from computers, medicine and school supplies is collected and transported across the U.S-Mexico border. Technically, Americans can travel legally to Cuba with a special license from the U.S. Treasury Department. By obtaining a “people to people” license, thousands of students, religious leaders and humanitarian volunteers have traveled to the island since President Obama began loosening travel restrictions.

There are now travel companies like Insight Cuba, which legally brings thousands of Americans to Cuba on trips sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department. It is an option that has increased during President Obama’s time in office, with major breakthroughs in 2009, when the president announced that Cuban-Americans could freely travel to the island and send money to family members. For members of the caravan, it’s also about highlighting what they say are harmful effects of the unilateral U.S. blockade. This year, there is an emphasis on bringing aid to residents in Santiago de Cuba, an area hit particularly hard by Hurricane Sandy.

Indeed, a majority of United Nations member states believe that the U.S. blockade is illegal under international law and constitutes a form of collective punishment against the island’s 11 million inhabitants. “The U.S. policy towards Cuba is immoral and illegal by international law,” Thomas said. According to The Hill, the U.N. General Assembly voted last year to condemn the U.S. embargo on Cuba for the 21st year in a landslide 188-3 vote. The only countries in opposition to the condemnation were the U.S., Israel and Palau. “As we have said in the past, if there’s a U.S. law that says I can’t take aid to my sisters and brothers then my God, my moral principles, my values say that I need to change that law,” Thomas said.

Minneapolis resident Marcy Shapiro has traveled to Cuba several times with Pastors for Peace. She notes that there is a dearth of basic supplies, including building materials and school supplies that Americans would find in abundance at any major store in the US. “Because of the embargo Cuba can’t buy a lot of goods and so what Pastors for Peace does is that they bring in a lot of goods that have been donated. It’s kind of amazing that they can’t even get some basic school supplies because they are manufactured in the U.S. or they may be manufactured someplace else but are unavailable because of the embargo,” Shapiro.

This is caused by a U.S. policy that bans not just U.S. companies from selling goods in Cuba, but also any international company that does so. If a company outside the U.S. decides to sell goods to Cuba, the U.S. government will then forbid that company from selling goods to the U.S.
Although Cuba boasts universal health care and basic education, the country has struggled to fill the hole left in its trade activities when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Without Soviet support, Cuba fell into a major economic crisis marked by fuel shortages, food rations and a dramatic decline in exports as well as imports.

The country began to recover by strengthening ties with Venezuela under President Hugo Chavez from 1999-2013. Venezuela increased oil exports to Cuba to 100,000 barrels per day, offering preferential pricing in exchange for medical assistance from Cuba’s doctors. There are now roughly 30,000 Cuban medical professionals working in Venezuela. “The market of the U.S. is so much bigger so obviously they are going to go for selling goods here in the U.S.,” Shapiro said. “I know people who work in education who don’t have enough pens, enough notebooks, basic things we take for granted that they can’t buy. They can’t get oil-based paints for painting houses.”

What does the future hold?
So what does the future hold? There have been some noticeable but mostly cosmetic changes over the years when it comes to U.S.-Cuba relations. Perhaps the biggest change has come in the hearts and minds of the average Americans, who increasingly see the merits of re-establishing diplomatic and economic ties with the island more than 20 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union. According to an Angus Reid national poll conducted last year, 62 percent of Americans now agree with the U.S. re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba. Just over half say it is time to lift the trade embargo.

“Obviously policy has changed, hopefully because of our work. I’ve been going to Cuba since Jimmy Carter and then Reagan and then Bush. Policy has changed and the policy about how it has enforced has changed. Our goal is that there is open and free travel and trade between the U.S. and Cuba, that there is a mutually respectful foreign policy as we have with other friendly countries,” Thomas said.

Shapiro told Mint Press News that she believes that changing the discourse is not just making a case for humanitarian aid for the Cuban people, but also showing how lifting the blockade will help the U.S., as well. “I think that the embargo is not only harmful for Cuba, but it is also harmful for the U.S. The blockade has really gotten in the way of our understanding of Cuba, our ability to trade with Cuba, our ability to share information. The U.S. loses out on some of the healthcare and scientific research that Cuba does and in the same way Cuba loses out on what the U.S. is doing,” Shapiro said.

What are the major barriers? The U.S. government still sees Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism and remains firmly entrenched in policies driven by a Cold War opposition to government’s alignment with the Soviet Union. There are major barriers regarding the release of political prisoners on both sides, including a group of Cubans known as the “Cuban 5.” Five Cuban intelligence officers thwarted a terrorist plot hatched in Cuba against their country. They were arrested and charged with espionage and conspiracy to commit murder in 1998. Cuba sees their incarceration as an unacceptable, politically motivated move and has demanded their immediate release.

Conversely, Cuba continues to hold Alan Gross, a USAID contractor who was arrested for espionage in 2009 and charged with “acts against the independence or the territorial integrity of the state” in March 2011. He is currently serving a 15-year sentence.

The U.S. maintains a section in the Swiss embassy to Cuba but has not had formal diplomatic relations with the island nation for over 50 years. During a public address last year, Cuban President Raul Castro said that he is willing to sit at the table with Washington to discuss any issue, as long as “it is a conversation between equals.” “Any day they want, the table is set,” Castro said.

Editor’s Note: Cuban Intelligence targeting of PFP has been covered in previous posts. Additionally, the author of this story previously worked for Occupy Wall Street.

ANSWER Hosts “Cuban 5” Event Next Saturday 2

San Francisco, Saturday, Aug. 3:

Celebrate with Orquesta Adelante! A Benefit for the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five

Bringing everyone together in unity and harmony through the positive force of music, Orquesta Adelante is the Mission’s own Corazon del Barrio. Join us to celebrate the Cuban Revolution and to raise funds for the continuing struggle to free the Cuban Five!

Also featuring an update on the status of the Cuban Five.

Come early and get a free salsa lesson!

Date: Saturday, August 3, 2013
Location: ANSWER Office, 2969 Mission St. (between 25th & 26th)
Time: Doors open 6:15 pm. Free salsa lesson 6:30 pm. Party starts 7:00 pm
Cost: $5-10 sliding scale

Why Not Just Dissolve the CDR? 1

By Regina Coyula, Translating Cuba

Comments on the recent speech by General-President Raul Castro can be heard in a pharmacy line as well as in an almendrón.* People in general are pleased that the country’s top leadership is finally acknowledging the presence of the invasive social weed that until now seems to have been growing unnoticed. Cubans, with our ability to adapt and to forget, are happy that the government is now taking steps, as any recently elected government would, to address the problems inherited from its predecessors.

Many claim that the deterioration in our social values is no worse than in other countries, which probably is true. But they forget this laboratory was supposed to be the breeding ground for the “New Man” — someone who would be generous, honest and hard-working. By now, several generations should have given birth to this New Man, of whom so much was expected. But as in the Michael Keaton comedy Multiplicity, each new version was even worse than the last.

As we have seen, experimenting with cows can leave you without cattle, but when you experiment with instruction, the repercussions for society can be quite profound, as is evident today. The family itself has been a tragic protagonist in the Cuban social experiment as well. Nevertheless, neither official acknowledgement of the litany of social transgressions nor popular enthusiasm are enough to resolve a problem that has done nothing but grow.

More than fifty years ago a grassroots organization was created, which later evolved into a non-governmental organization (though we all know this distinction is merely one of semantics): the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution or CDR. Its nation-wide framework stretched across the island’s geographic confines. It was designed from the ground up to “deal with” issues that encompassed, among other things, healthcare, education, sanitation, beautification, raw materials and, most importantly, surveillance. Inevitably, one has to ask: Where were the activists of this enormous organization — one which just concluded a nation-wide conference whose conclusions were overwhelmingly positive — while the bad behavior and criminal activity recently outlined by General-President Castro were proliferating?

In spite of many years of efforts, the CDR guards, the “My Happy Pretty House” activities, the Parents for Education movement, the anti-malarial campaign, the Clic Patrol and the drives to collect raw material have not been successful at molding the social clay we needed to create the twenty-first century man.

An apt example of something where we are instructed but not educated is the party to celebrate the anniversary of this mass organization. On the eve of September 28, surrounded by smoke and rum, people set up makeshift wooden stoves in the street to cook a hodgepodge broth with a lot of ingredients but little substance (usually provided by a pig’s head) which is eaten at midnight from plastic cups. Shirtless men, their tongues loosened by the alcohol, listen to reggaeton music at full blast while people feel forced to socialize so as not to appear apathetic. This celebration of “popular support” offers an all too obvious example, which often ends with neighbors feeling disgusted.
To control social disorder the government is faced with a dilemma. It can enforce the law with strong disciplinary measures by extending its repression beyond dissidents, white-collar criminals and petty thieves caught in the act. Or it can leave it to others — to fate, the church or the family perhaps — to eventually restore lost values.

If we are to rescue good social conduct (as we should) and favor education and good behavior, erroneously deemed bourgeois rather than correct, there is no reason to keep the CDR alive. It has become synonymous with filth and environmental contamination, with theft and embezzlement, with illegal construction, with alarmingly high crime rates and other problems which I leave for the reader to recall.

This has led to a decline in its prestige, a lack of interest from citizens, and a sense of resignation with which the corralled members of the Juventud (the Youth) and the Party accept their appointments. It is the natural result of placing the interests of the government over those of society, rendering the CDR obsolete and burdening the state budget with a bloated bureaucracy which is only partially self-supporting.

Social organizations that arise in a natural way and with natural leaders respond to the interests of their environment, they are the ones who should address these problems. And above all (and when we say all we mean all) the law, with a Defender of the People and a Court of Constitutional Guarantees that citizens can turn to with the confidence of not finding themselves unprotected.

Regina Coyula | La Habana | 20 Jul 2013

*Translator’s note: Cuban slang for a type of large, antiquated American car used as a private taxi.

Translated from Diario de Cuba

Cuba Swaps Out Spy-Counselors in Argentina 1

Expelled from the US in November 2002 for espionage, Intelligence Officer Carlos Augusto Suanes Flexas is in Buenos Aires as the Counselor Officer. He can be reached at consejero@ar.embacuba.cu. Cuba’s MINREX lists no direct phone number for this particular “official.” He replaced Intelligence Officer Oscar Redondo Toledo, who had been declared Persona Non Grata by the US in November 2002 in retaliation for the Ana Montes case. He had been a First Secretary at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington at the time.

After his forced departure from his posting as a Second Secretary at the Cuban Mission to the United Nations, Suanes Flexas was assigned as 1st Secretary at Cuba’s (then) eight-man Embassy in Nicaragua. He appears to have arrived in the spring of 2006.

Mirta Rodriguez Praises Pastors for Peace Solidarity 2

(Escambray – Cuban News Agency) A meeting between relatives of the Cuban Five and members of the Pastors for Peace Friendship Caravan, reaffirmed the solidarity between the two peoples, in favor of the release the antiterrorist fighters. Present at the meeting, held at the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP), were Mirta Rodriguez, mother of Antonio Guerrero, and Elizabeth Palmeiro, wife of Ramon Labañino, as well as Gail Walker, daughter of late U.S. Reverend Lucius Walker and current co-director of the movement.

During the meeting, in which a group of young Belgians of the organization Christians for Socialism participated, Rodriguez expressed her gratitude for the solidarity and courage of those who have supported the cause of the five antiterrorist heroes since the beginning. Likewise, she stressed the importance of continue spreading the issue, particularly now, when it has been demonstrated that the U.S. government paid journalists so they lied in everything related to this judicial case.

Along with Antonio and Ramon, Gerardo Hernandez and Fernando Gonzalez continue to be in U.S. prisons, while Rene Gonzalez could return to his family in Cuba after 13 years and one month in prison, a year and a half of supervised release, and the relinquishment of his U.S. citizenship. Also during the meeting, Gail Walker reiterated the commitment of the Caravan members of maintaining a continuous struggle with respect to the cause of The Five, and expressed the pride that participating in such honorable battle represents for them.

Tamara Hansen, coordinator of Communities of Vancouver in Solidarity with Cuba, commented about the importance of consistency in the struggle for the return of these fighters to their homeland and spoke about the activities carried out in Canada in favor of their cause.

Editor’s Note: According to several former members of the Directorate of Intelligence, Cuba’s foreign intelligence service, Pastors for Peace has been a key religious target for decades.

Group Founded by “Former” Cuban Spy Denounces US-Cuba Policy 1

CAFE Denounces Mario Diaz-Balart’s Attempts to Reverse Advancements in U.S.-Cuba Policy

The Executive Committee of CAFE, Cuban Americans for Engagement, would like to express our severe dismay over the recent language introduced by representative Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) to the House Financial Services Appropriations Bill for the fiscal year 2014 that would reverse important advancements in U.S.-Cuba relations.

The language contained in sections 124 and 125 of the bill, which was passed by the full committee on Wednesday, would adversely affect two major policy changes of the Obama administration that have brought about improvements in the relations between the citizens of both nations over the past four years.

Section 124 would effectively dismantle the “people-to-people” licensing program, allowing American citizens to travel to Cuba for educational purposes, by defunding the program. These licenses have allowed U.S. citizens to legally visit Cuba and experience the island first-hand, ending their reliance on the skewed portrayals of Cuban reality by either the U.S. government or the corporate-controlled media.

These visits have also allowed Cuban citizens to interact with average U.S. citizens and to discover that most people in the U.S. desire normal relations with their Cuban neighbors. These educational exchanges have served to reinforce the similarities of both peoples and to express our shared interests.

The provisions in section 125 are particularly disturbing because they negatively affect thousands of Diaz-Balart’s own constituents and their families in Cuba by requiring OFAC to monitor and report details on Cuban American travel to Cuba and on all remittances carried to Cuba, whether by Cuban Americans or others.

These remittances that have been taken to Cuba in the past years have helped to bolster the nascent mixed economy and allow Cubans on the island to start and maintain small businesses. Without these much needed investments Cubans wouldn’t be able to participate in this new paradigm. The regulations imposed by this legislation would require a costly and intrusive monitoring system and would ultimately lead to diminished monetary support for the limited, yet increasing, free enterprise that is now possible in Cuba and less humanitarian and other donations to Cuba’s religious NGOs.

It is extremely hypocritical and downright un-American of Diaz-Balart and the Republican controlled Appropriations committee to discourage Cuban Americans from taking advantage of the economic reforms taking place in Cuba. These are the same public figures that decry the communist, authoritarian government’s control over the economy. These remittances have been the lifeblood of recent reforms in Cuba and Diaz-Balart’s shortsighted and malicious attempt to curtail such funds is an affront to the American way of life.
CAFE will join others in fighting to keep this hateful language from ever making it to the president’s desk and we hope that Diaz-Balart’s mean-spirited tactics will be met with negative results at the polls on Election Day in November of 2014. Diaz-Balart’s attempt to control the American citizenry’s right to travel and sabotage his own constituent’s efforts to contribute to the welfare of their extended communities in Cuba is a disgusting act of political posturing that shouldn’t be accepted by any sector of the American government or society.

CAFE advocates an end to the unconstitutional restrictions on travel to Cuba imposed by the U.S. Congress and exhorts the U.S. State Department to at least, in the mean time, establish a single general license to cover all currently permissible categories of travel to Cuba. We also support the unlimited investment by Cuban Americans in Cuba and the end to the embargo that prohibits individuals and companies subject to U.S. jurisdiction from most trade and economic transactions with the island.

Editor’s Note: “Former” self-professed Cuban Intelligence Officer Arturo Lopez-Levy is a founding member of CAFÉ. More on this group can be found in this May 10, 2012 post: CAFE: Changing the Aroma of Cuban-American Politics

Castro Apologist Releases Latest Book on Jailed Spies 2

“What Lies Across the Water”: Revealing New Book on Cuban 5

by W. T. Whitney Jr., People’s World

Publication of Stephen Kimber’s book about Cuban anti-terrorists serving wildly extravagant terms in U.S. jails is a remarkable event. Previously appearing as an e-book, “What Lies Across the Water” is the first full-length book published in English on the so-called Cuban Five. They were arrested in Miami on Sept. 12, 1998, and a worldwide movement on their behalf is demanding their freedom. Many view them as political prisoners.

In comprehensive and convincing fashion the book explains how Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero, Ramón Labañino, Fernando González, and René González came to be arrested, tried, and imprisoned. Its coverage of bias and legal failings that marred their prosecution and trial is adequate, but less detailed. Kimber devotes more attention to events and personalities directly affecting the Five than to the context of early anti-Cuban terror attacks and the Cuban revolution. Kimber, a journalism professor at the University of King’s College, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, drew upon news stories in the Florida, Central American, and Cuban media and read 20,000 pages of court transcripts. He interviewed officials and contacts in Florida, Cuba, and elsewhere, and also family members of the Five and the prisoners themselves, via correspondence. The author’s clear, flowing, and often seat-gripping, even entertaining, narrative is an added plus. The book is highly recommended.

Kimber starts out by confessing he was no expert on the case initially. He was about to write a novel that touched upon Cuba. Then a Cuban friend with political and intelligence experience told him that “nothing can really be resolved between Washington and Havana until they [the Five] are returned to Cuba.” So instead of writing a novel, Kimber began work on a story he realized was important and that “needed to be told by someone who didn’t already know which versions of which stories were true.”
The way Kimber‘s report unfolds serves to highlight convoluted linkages of the prisoners’ experiences and their case to the many-faceted U.S. apparatus set up to undo the Cuban revolution. Implacable, non-stop U.S. enmity sets the stage for obfuscations, contradictions, intrigue, ambiguities, and strange twists. For Kimber, the resulting atmosphere was one where “Nothing, it seems, is ever as it seems.”

For example, Cuba’s “Wasp Network” included at least 22 agents it employed in an effort to block terrorism directed against it, not just the Cuban Five, as is often assumed. Agents were posted throughout the United States, away from Florida. Some of those arrested in 1998 pled guilty and served only short sentences. Cuban agents served as FBI informants. Far from exclusively monitoring private paramilitary groups, as many assume, one Cuban Five agent did gather non-classified intelligence from a U.S. military installation. For years, the FBI monitored movements, contacts, and communications of the Five and other agents. Meanwhile, the Cuban American Nation Foundation (CANF), darling of U.S. presidents, professed non-violence, yet operated a paramilitary wing.

Even the Miami Herald, reviled by Cuba solidarity activists, gains points through its reporter Juan Tamayo, who linked Havana hotel bombings to the Cuban exile terrorist Luis Posada.

The book attests to difficulties attending intelligence gathering in the midst of all but open U.S. war against Cuba. Cuban agents were well prepared, and superior officers in Havana supervised them closely. “Compartmentalized,” they were unable usually to identify fellow agents in the United States. They relied on advanced technical skills, support from loved ones, fearlessness, their own resourcefulness, their sensitive understanding of hazardous situations, and very hard work.

Kimber‘s “What Lies across the Water” has the potential for stimulating new thinking on the case of the Five. Information it provides and the book’s fact-based style of presentation ought to persuade readers to move beyond viewing the prisoners’ fate as a sort of morality tale, one with U.S. over-reaction, prisoners’ revolutionary virtue, and suffering. The book would encourage them instead to develop a response built on considering the larger context of generalized U.S. bullying of Cuba. The book may or may not succeed in this, but in all respects it is essential reading for those either new or old to the case of the Five.

The book exerts an appeal through effective portrayals of characters so far out of the ordinary, with such bizarre purposes, as almost to defy belief. They include: Cuban agent Percy Alvarado Godoy, CANF infiltrator for years; terrorist honchos Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada; the opportunistic Brothers to the Rescue leader Jose Basulto; and even Nobel Prize winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, message carrier to the Clinton White House. There is the flamboyant Wasp agent, pilot, unfaithful husband, and FBI informant Juan Pablo Roque, who returned to Cuba; CANF founder and Miami titan Jorge Mas Canosa; and not least, Francisco Avila Azcuy. That FBI informant, Cuban spy for 13 years, and chief of Miami’s Alpha 66 private military formation, was unusual, even in a setting where double agents were, and undoubtedly are, routine.

This book tells the tragic story of the Cuban Five. But here’s hoping it also helps re-orient energies of justice-seeking activists toward joining or rejoining a necessary fight. Their task is to take on the century-long U.S. campaign to impose domination over a Caribbean island. The agenda presently is to end the U.S. economic blockade, end campaigns of internal subversion and international isolation of Cuba, and, surely, free the Cuban Five.

“What Lies across the Water, The Real Story of the Cuban Five”
Stephen Kimber
2013, Fernwood Publishing, Canada
Paperback, $29.95 CAD

Expelled Spy Leads Migration Talks 3

Cuba-US Migration Talks Held Despite NK Boat Seizure

By Silvia Ayuso

HAVANA TIMES — The United States and Cuba resumed migration talks in Washington today despite Panama’s seizure of a ship bound for North Korea with weapons from the island having put a veil of distrust on Havana. The hidden cargo discovery revived the voices of those who see these technical meetings between the US and Cuba as undesirable rapprochement with the government of Raul Castro.

The meeting, the first after more than two years of interruption of what had once been regular meetings, was chaired by the acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Alex Lee, and the director of the USA desk of Cuba’s Foreign Ministry, Josefina Vidal. As the meeting concluded, the Cuban delegation was quick to point out in a statement the “friendly climate” in which the encounter occurred. The State Department meanwhile stressed that at the meeting, focused on immigration issues, “it also reiterated its call for the immediate release of Alan Gross”, whose imprisonment in Havana has become in recent years the main obstacle to even a slight rapprochement between Cuba and the US.

According to the Cuban press, the meeting, “reviewed the progress of the migration agreements in force between the two countries,” while not mentioning the Gross case. The meeting “assessed the main results of the actions taken by each of the parties and together to tackle illegal migration and trafficking of migrants.” It took place a month after bilateral talks resumed to restore direct mail service interrupted for more than half a century.

The seizure earlier this week in Panama of a ship bound for North Korea carrying “obsolete defensive weapons” from Cuba, as acknowledged Havana on Tuesday, had triggered calls from some lawmakers to cancel the meeting. The Obama administration decided to go on with the meeting which it called technical, seen as at least a gesture toward the island.

The State Department refused to suspend the appointment, arguing, according to spokeswoman Marie Harf, that it is an “ongoing process” important to Washington because “safe immigration is in the interest of the United States.” Harf had already ruled out that the ship incident would find a space in the “very structured” talks today, but said Washington has requested a meeting “very soon” with Havana to “discuss with them about this boat” but did not explain what specific clarifications it wants from Cuba.

The Obama administration has emphasized at all times that such meetings “do not represent a significant change in US policy toward Cuba.” However, the fact that Washington and Havana have some sort of high-level official contact is usually followed with the utmost attention, for the major implications that a gesture of rapprochement could have between the two governments at odds for more than half a century.

The latest round of migration talks, the fourth, took place in January 2011 in Havana. After six years of hiatus, Cuba and the United States had resumed these contacts after the arrival of Obama to the White House in 2009. However the meeting in 2011 was already tarnished by the case of Alan Gross, who is serving 15 years in prison for crimes against the “independence” and “territorial integrity” of Cuba, which Washington denies.

Up to the interruption of the meetings under the George W. Bush presidency, Cuba had been looking for a new immigration agreement with the United States, to replace the one signed in 1994 following the “rafters crisis,” when thousands of Cubans landed on US shores on precarious boats. Seeking to bring an end to the migratory crisis, the United States agreed to grant 20,000 immigrant visas a year to Cubans to facilitate an orderly exit from the island, while Cuba agreed to accept, without reprisals, those Cubans detained at sea by the US authorities. In addition, earlier this year, the Cuban government entered into force a historic immigration reform that relaxes foreign travel for Cubans.

With approximately over 1.5 million people of Cuban origin, the United States is the country where the majority of Cuban exiles have settled. The US is also the leading destination for Cubans trying to leave the country. The Cuban delegation said that during the meeting on Wednesday “it provided useful information on the updating of the Cuban immigration procedures and its implementation process.” It also said that Cuba “reiterated its willingness to keep up these exchanges in the future.”

Editor’s Note: Use Cuba Confidential’s “search” tool to learn more about the espionage career of Josefina Vidal.