CASTRO’S TERRORIST CONNECTION
By: Ernesto Betancourt
As soon as the attack on the World Trade Center took place, Castro started to take a dual position. He rejected terrorism, as well as the American potential reaction to it. He even gave assurances that under no circumstances would he resort to terror against the American people. Now, can we believe that? From the beginning of his regime, Castro has resorted and consorted with terrorism and has invested substantial resources in terrorist plans against the US.
During the insurrection, Castro kidnapped Marines from the Guantanamo Naval Base and other civilians and kept them as hostages. Once in power, he started supporting all kinds of groups that resorted to terrorism in their political efforts to seize power. Havana became a Mecca for terrorists. An organization called the Americas Department was established, first in the Ministry of Interior and, when the Soviets objected to their activities, it was transferred to the Secretariat of the Communist Party of Cuba and attached to his office as Secretary General.
This culminated in the effort to send Guevara to Bolivia in 1967. After hosting the Tri-Continental Conference, which was a kind of international for promoting revolution, Cuba set up a secretariat of the organization in the Americas Department to screen what groups to support and coordinate efforts to promote revolutions. At the Ministry of Interior, the Petis camps to train terrorists were established, the curriculum included how to carry out kidnappings, assasinations and make bombs. Through these camps passed people from the Uruguayan Tupamaros, the Argentinian Montoneros and ERP, the Colombian M-19, FARC and ELN, the Chilean MIR and Frente Patriotico Manuel Rodriguez, the Peruvian MRTA, not to mention the Sandinistas and the Guatemalan and Salvadoran guerrillas and many others. The New Jewell Movement in Granada seized power with Cuban assistance and the attempted coup by Michael Manley in Jamaica in 1980 was coordinated by Cuban Ambassador Ulises Estrada, a high ranking member of the Americas Department. Depending on the circumstances, all these efforts involved kidnappings and bank robberies to raise funds, links with drug smuggling and assasinations. The US was not immune to Castro’s terrorist efforts, including support for groups such as the Black Panthers and the Puerto Rican Macheteros. Several of those involved in such actions have been granted asylum in Cuba.
Knowing Castro, these repeated denials and pleading for US moderation in its response reflect fear for something that is going to come out and could focus attention on his links to terrorism. This could be information their recently arrested DIA spy provided Cuban intelligence or what they requested from her from Intelink, the intelligence network, or information from that agent they passed to Iraq, Lybia or the PLO that triggered her arrest; it could be a link to the IRA terrorists arrested in Colombia, one of whom was the Sinn Fein resident in Havana, who, according to the British press, were in the FARC controlled zone testing a NAPALM like bomb; it could be that the West Nile virus spread is likely to generate encephalitis outbreaks of such magnitude that attention will finally be focused on the Castro/Saddam bioterrorist alliance; or facilitating Afghans to come to Grand Cayman to infiltrate into the US, as has been disclosed y the Government of Grand Cayman and reported so far only in the Los Angeles Times.
Now, we have Castro orchestrating a public relations campaign with people who portray themselves as moderates, assuring us that Cuba is a peaceful country. In fact, they even propose that Cuba be withdrawn from the list of countries sponsoring terrorism. Well, before you buy that proposal, please read the second part of my Memorandum to the Bush Transition Team.
Castro’s War against the US
The roots of Castro's hostility against the US go back to his father who was a soldier in the Spanish army defeated by American forces during the Spanish-American War; and, to his resentment of Americans living at the United Fruit enclave in Oriente Province, where he was born and spent his childhood. The most explicit manifestation of how that hostility was converted into an aggressive stance against the US is reflected in the letter Castro sent to his secretary and confidant, Celia Sánchez, in the summer of 1958. That is, a few months before coming to power. In that letter, exhibited at the Museum of the Revolution in Havana and published by Lionel Martin in his book The Early Fidel, Castro states: "...I have sworn to myself that Americans are going to pay dearly for what they are doing. When this war is over, a much wider and bigger war will begin for me, the war I am going to wage against them. I realize that is going to be my true destiny."
In January 1959, shortly after taking power, Castro met with Colonel Ramón Barquín and his fellow professional army officers who had conspired to overthrow Batista and had been imprisoned as a consequence. During the conversation, he told them that he wanted an army capable of fighting a war. When one of the officers commented that the war had just finished, Castro's answer was: "No, the war is just beginning, because this is going to end in a war against the United States."
That is why the Cold War is not over in Cuba. Once in power, Castro started preparing for his war against the US based on two strategies: one overt and the other covert.
The overt strategy to wage war on the US
It is in that context and not in the context of a commitment to communist ideology that we have to see Castro's entanglement with the Soviet Union. He needed the Soviets as an strategic umbrella to counterweight American power while he was pursuing "his true destiny."
In pursuit of that overt strategy, Castro expected Latin American support. Once he realized that Latin America was reluctant to support his war against the US, Castro targeted Latin governments through his policy of exporting revolution. Some of these governments are now asking the US to accept Castro unconditionally, but any serious review of the historical record of the sixties will reveal that Latin American governments came to see Castro as a menace to their internal security and stability. Contrary to the prevailing perception that we twisted the Latins’ arms when the OAS acted in 1962, US prodding fell in most receptive ears.
The Bay of Pigs disaster in 1961 sealed Castro's hostility against the US. And also reassured him that even without a linkage to the Soviets, in the end, the US was likely to hesitate in the use of its military might against him. A perception that is as valid today as then. Just in case, however, Castro proclaimed himself a lifelong Marxist-Leninist at that time to force the Soviets to provide his regime with strategic support.
Emboldened by American hesitation at the Bay of Pigs, the Soviets decided to make a daring move aimed at upsetting the strategic balance with the US by locating 42 Intermediate Range Missiles in Cuba, within striking distance of the American heartland. As is very well documented in the Naftali-Fursenko book, One Hell of a Gamble, during the resulting October 1962 crisis, Castro was the only national leader involved who did not hesitate to engage in a nuclear war, regardless of the fact that it meant the eventual destruction of Cuba. Even Khrushchev was shocked by Castro’s irresponsibility in pressing for a Soviet first nuclear strike. Eventually, Castro realized he had been provided a bastion to pursue his true destiny.
In the late sixties, Castro pursued his overt strategy by promoting revolution in Latin America until Che’s failure in Bolivia, and Soviet pressure, forced him to stop. By 1975, there was a shift in theater to projecting Cuban military forces to support expanding Soviet influence in Africa. In the late seventies, Nicaragua and Grenada were targets of successful Cuban supported violent takeovers. Cuba was chosen to preside the Non-Aligned Movement. Convinced the Carter Administration was a pushover, Jamaica was selected as the next target.
However, in July, 1980, Castro was forced to back off from supporting a Grenada-like takeover by his friend and follower Michael Manley, who had openly announced he planned to abolish Parliamentary rule. The takeover was coordinated by Cuban Ambassador Ulises Estrada, a member of the Americas Department of the Central Committee, whose task was to promote revolution. A Cuban construction brigade, similar to the one that fought later in Grenada, was already in Jamaica, supposedly building a high school. A thousand Manley followers, known as the "Brigadistas," had been given military training in Cuba. They were to be supported by Cuban forces airlifted from Oriente Province to a strip habilitated for night landings in Mandelville, ten miles west of Kingston. CIA renegade Phillip Agee appeared in Kingston to denounce a CIA plot against Manley. The home of the CIA resident was shot at. President Carter issued strong warnings to Prime Minister Manley against such a move and beefed up our naval presence in Guantanamo. The Jamaica Defense Force destroyed the landing strip. Grafitti in Kingston called for "Cubans, go home." Manley abandoned his plans. He lost the parliamentary elections held shortly afterward. Facing a firm US stand, Castro backed off, leaving Manley on a lurch. By 1983, Castro was even bolder. When President Reagan sent American troops to Grenada, Castro was convinced that, in the next stage, American troops were to invade Cuba. He feared Reagan had decided to ignore the Kennedy-Khrushchev agreement that allowed him a secure hide-out from which to wage his war against the US. With doubts on Soviet support, he felt against the wall. According to General Rafael del Pino, at that time Deputy Chief of Cuba's Air Force, in his forthcoming book Inside Castro’s Bunker, Castro initially ordered preparation of plans to destroy Homestead Air Force Base, but then shifted the target to Turkey Point Nuclear Plant South of Miami. His comment was: "I want to do something that they will remember for the rest of their lives and then, when we are gone, history will remind them that we were the only ones who made them pay dearly for their imperialistic arrogance around the world."
From that point on, Castro’s overt strategy against the US led to one frustration after another. When Gorbachev took power and decided to abandon Soviet expansionism in Africa, Castro’s efforts in Angola came to a negotiated solution. In Nicaragua, the Sandinistas lost the election in 1990. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the strategic umbrella for waging an overt war against the US disintegrated. Castro had to settle for negotiated solutions to the revolutionary conflicts he was promoting in Central America, particularly in El Salvador and Guatemala.
Terrorism, the covert strategy to wage war on the US
At the same time Castro approached the Soviets in 1959, he started preparations for his covert war against the US in its own territory by promoting unrest among minorities. In the summer of 1959, we had one of our regular weekly luncheons of the economic team with Castro at Cuba's Central Bank and one of the American guests he had invited asked to go to the rest room. Out of the rest room came a man dressed as a full fledged American Indian Chief, with feathers and all. Castro was already trying to promote unrest among native Americans. As I was getting ready to leave Cuba, in February 1960, a friend of mine in Cuba's Foreign Office informed me that they were sending money through Cuba's consulates in the U.S. to finance civil rights movement sit-ins. Similar relations were developed with Puerto Rico’s "independentistas."
American officials, confronted with such information at the time, reacted by saying: "He wouldn't dare." In 1996, the reaction of a retired American General, confronted with the above quoted Jane’s Defense Weekly article, was: "if he does that, we will crush Cuba, so what will he gain?" It is hard for reasonable human beings to understand individuals motivated to such destructive and suicidal behavior. That is why Castro has been daring all these years. As I told the General, "I rather see the US act more firmly now than crushing Cuba later."
In not taking these actions seriously, and responding accordingly, we may be encouraging more boldly actions. In the end, our bland responses may cause us and the Cuban people more grief than if we take a firm stand. Castro is justified in thinking he enjoys impunity to wage this covert war strategy against the US. All along we have resorted to indirect responses, such as the embargo. This perception may not only embolden him, but also his followers, particularly in the military. One Administration after another has avoided taking a firm stand on Castro’s provocations. In forty years, there has not been a single prosecution by the Justice Department of Castro’s agents. No wonder then that, when the first ten spies were arrested in September, 1998, they had all their information in the computers and diskettes occupied by the FBI. It was not incompetence, it was overconfidence. They felt there was an unwritten rule to leave them alone.
During the sixties and seventies, besides exporting the revolution to Latin America and Africa and supporting terrorism in Europe through ETA, IRA and the PLO, among others, Castro continued building a subversive network in the U.S. Members of this network are recruited from a pool of young Cuban exiles in the so-called Maceitos brigades, who go to Cuba to cut sugar cane, and young Americans brought to Cuba under the Venceremos brigade which, according to Granma’s July 27,1999 edition, reached 7,000 visitors this year. Castro also started building links with violent groups such as the Weathermen and the Macheteros from Puerto Rico.
Claire Sterling reports in her book, The Terror Network,
"the same meticulous selection went into recruiting 2,500 young Americans in the Venceremos Brigades...the Brigades visited Cuba in ten contingents between 1969 and 1977. There, under Colonel Simenov's fatherly eyes, they learned how to mount truly effective campaigns to destabilize the United States."
With the victory of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and the Maurice Bishop coup in Grenada, and with full Soviet support, Castro was feeling euphoric about his prospects for waging his covert war against the US, parallel to those successful overt actions That is why on July, 1980, during his visit to Nicaragua to celebrate the Sandinista victory, he was indiscreet in bragging:
"We have agents of absolute confidence all over the United States who are ready to undertake whatever actions are necessary at the time of our choosing. The Yankees cannot even begin to image the capabilities we have in their country. You all read about the riots in Miami...We can accomplish things that would make the riots in Florida look like a sunshower."
This statement provided the inspiration for Monimbó, a novel by Robert Moss and Arnaud de Borchgrave, which depicts how vulnerable the United States could be to acts of terrorism that lead to racial conflict. But the actions supported by Cuba went beyond inspiration for fiction. According to Tex A. Hudson, in his CANF report Castro's America Department:
"on December 3rd 1979, "the Macheteros machine-gunned a US Navy bus in Sabana Seca, Puerto Rico, killing two sailors and seriously wounding ten others with AK-47 fire." And, later on, in January, 1981, "Machetero commandos destroyed nine U.S. military jet fighters, worth $45 million, at the Muñiz Air Force National Guard Base in San Juan. In an operation that the DA reportedly supported with training and weapons, the Macheteros robbed a Wells Fargo depot in Hartford Connecticut, of $7.2 million September 12, 1983...and Machetero member Victor Manuel Gerena, employed as one of the Wells Fargo guards, was given sanctuary in Cuba."
A significant revelation appears in the recently published autobiography of Jorge Masetti, entitled El Furor y el Delirio, the story of a life dedicated to promoting revolution until Castro executed his father-in-law, Colonel Tony la Guardia, during the Ochoa affair. In his book, Masetti confirms that the Macheteros’ Wells Fargo action was financed and equipped by Cuba. He was involved in an operation in Mexico to provide US$50,000 to a Machetero courier. The money was brought to Mexico in person by Jose Arbesu Fraga, a deputy of Manuel Pineiro at the Americas Department of the Central Committee. Three months later, Arbesu Fraga again traveled to Mexico to bring the false passport used by Gerena to fly from Mexico to Cuba. Four million dollars, out of the seven, were shipped from Mexico to Cuba via diplomatic pouch.
The FBI included Gerena among the 1999 Ten Most Wanted criminals. After the robbery, Arbesu Fraga, this time disguised as a diplomat, served as head of the Cuban Interest Section in Washington, without the US raising any objections.
In the face of such meek behavior on the part of the US, what message have we been sending to Castro and his followers? It is to be hoped that something more firm will come from the strong national security team assembled by President-elect Bush for his administration.
Contrary to end of the year comments by US pundits, who totally ignore the region, Latin America is likely to generate the first crisis to be faced by the Bush Administration. It will be in Colombia where the so-called peace process is crumbling and is likely to come to a heading as early as February, 2001. The Colombian Government has given the FARC a deadline to come to terms in the two year peace process or the 42,000 square kilometer zone graciously granted to them by President Pastrana is bound to be recovered by the Colombian army. The US is involved in this crisis on the government’s side as a result of Plan Colombia, which is strenuously objected to by the FARC, a narco-terrorist organization that initially had overt Castro support and recently has maintained a more discrete relationship with Cuba.
The other guerrilla group, the ELN, is openly supported by Castro who, ironically, now hosts the peace conversations between this group and the Colombian government. Undeterred by the failure of the first abdication of territorial sovereignty to guerrilla groups, President Pastrana has now offered to withdraw the army from another chunk of territory, despite violent protests from residents of the region. The state is collapsing in Colombia. This could generate a Hemispheric wide crisis.
This is likely to be Castro’s test for President Bush’s national security team.
January 1st, 2001
The Author Ernesto F. Betancourt worked directly with Castro in 1959, after representing him in Washington during the insurrection against Batista and was a member of the Castro delegation during his first visit to the US in April that year. He was present at a meeting of the Economic Cabinet at the Banco Nacional de Cuba in July that year, when Castro stated that "if the US send the Marines, I don’t care. They will have to kill 300 to 400 hundred thousand Cubans and I will get a bigger monument than Jose Marti." The author opposed the Bay of Pigs invasion and predicted its failure. A month before the Missile Crisis, provided Bobby Kennedy information, obtained by former Rebel Army officers infiltrated in Cuba, on missile deployment. He also, organized the research department of Radio Marti, before it went on the air, and directed the station for its first five years. Does not have any property to recover in the island and opposes a US invasion of Cuba. Finally, although Cuba born, is an American citizen by birth and does not seek any office in a post-Castro government.