Monday, 20 September 2010

Chronicling Cuba’s Fight Against Terror

Tuesday, September 7, saw the official launch in Dublin’s Connolly Books of Voices From the Other Side: An Oral History of Terrorism Against Cuba, a book by the Canadian author Keith Bolender.
By way of introducing proceedings Cuban Ambassador to Ireland Teresita Trujillo spoke of the extent to which Cuba has had to endure armed aggression both from internal and external (primarily US-based and directed) forces since the triumph of the Revolution in 1959. While stressing that Cuban intelligence and security services are now quite adept at averting and containing this threat, she did take the opportunity to draw the attention of those present to the fact that it is within the context of defending the Cuban homeland against this very same aggression that the ongoing case of the Cuban 5 (also known as the ‘Miami 5’) needs to be seen; these five men (who are now entering their 13th year in US maximum security prisons) were tasked not with carrying out espionage against US military and political targets as has often been portrayed in the mainstream media, but rather with infiltrating those organisations that have used and continue to use terror against the Cuban government and people.

Bolender’s book examines the history of terrorism against Cuba since the earliest days of the Revolution, through a series of testimonials from more than 75 individuals who have suffered directly or have had friends or relatives killed.

An estimated close to 1,000 acts of terrorism have been committed inside Cuba since the Triumph of the Revolution in 1959, with more than 3,500 killed and thousands more injured. The book deals exclusively with those acts directed against average citizens.

Chapters include the bombing of Cubana Airlines Flight 455 in 1976. Others cover the hotel bombing campaign against Cuban tourist facilities, biological terrorism, Operation Peter Pan, La Coubre, the attack on the village of Boca de Sama, the torture and murder of teachers during the literacy campaign, amongst others. Most of these attacks were conducted by counter-revolutionary organizations based in Florida, often with the knowledge and support of the American government. The connection of terrorists such as Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles and United States strategy against Cuba is examined, as well as how Cuban government national and international policy has developed as a response to these acts.

The Cuban national identity in coping with terrorism is also explored. The final chapter deals with the unjust imprisonment of the Cuban Five, explaining why they were needed to infiltrate the Cuban-American groups in Florida in order to prevent further acts of terrorism.

In his introduction to the book Noam Chomsky states that: “perhaps the most striking feature of Washington’s war against Cuba since it dared to liberate itself at last in 1959 has been the frenzy with which it has been waged. Kennedy’s Bay of Pigs invasion soon after taking office was authorized in an atmosphere of “hysteria,” Defense Secretary Robert McNamara later testified before the Senate’s Church Committee. At the first cabinet meeting after the failed invasion, the atmosphere was “almost savage,” Undersecretary of State Chester Bowles reported, describing “an almost frantic reaction for an action program.” The core component of the “action program” was a major terrorist war. Robert Kennedy, who was assigned the task of coordinating the massive campaign of state-directed international terrorism, repeatedly declared that overthrowing the government of Cuba was “the top priority of the United States Government—all else is secondary—no time, money, effort, or manpower is to be spared.”

Amongst the numerous interviews included in Bolender’s book is one with Haymel Espinosa Gomez, daughter of Cubana Airlines co-pilot Miguel, whose last words from the flight recorder of the doomed aircraft have been heard thousands of times in Cuba.

Another interview is with Jorge De La Nuez who was five years old when he lost this father in the flight. Now 40, he still remembers vividly the sense of betrayal when his mother told him he’d never see his father again - that somehow he did something wrong and that his dad was punishing him by not coming back.

During the 1997 bombing campaign against tourist facilities, Italian tourist Fabio de Celmo was killed and close to a dozen injured. Others were luckier. Nicolas Rodriguez Valdes was the barman at Cuba’s most famous café, Bodegita del Medio, when a bomb blew out the top floor of the Havana restaurant in September 1997. While no one was killed, dozens including Nicolas were severely injured. Remarkably, just moments before the explosion Rodriguez agreed to have his picture taken with a tourist who turned out to be Ernesto Cruz Leon, the Salvadorian later arrested and convicted with planting the Bodegita bomb.

Cuba suffered a variety of biological terrorism over two decades, including the introduction of Dengue 2 that killed more than 100 children in 1981. Ana Elba Caminero was living in a neighbourhood near the Havana airport when she was faced with the horror of seeing her two daughters Janet and Isnaviz come down with headache, fever, and aching bones. Both soon started vomiting blood. One day later Janet, six years old at the time, died. The same afternoon Janet was buried the mother had to visit the hospital to comfort Isnaviz, who was aware her younger sister had just died of the same disease she had. Fortunately, a few days later the 12-year-old recovered and Cuban authorities were able to identify the infection, unknown previously in the country.

In the early 1960s close to a dozen young Cubans were tortured and killed for teaching farmers to read and write under the government’s Literacy Campaign. Manuel Ascunce was 16 years old on November 15 1961. He was instructing Pedro Lantigua, 30 years his senior when counter-revolutionaries broke into the home during one of the sessions. Ascunce and Lantigua were taken into a near-by forest, where the teenager was beaten, stabbed more than 14 times and hung from a tree while still alive. Lantigua suffered a similar fate.

An entire village was terrorized in late 1971 when Boca de Sama came under assault. Two residents were killed, eight others wounded. The Pavon family survived, but during the attack a number of 50 calibre bullets smashed through their house, one hitting 15-year-old Nancy. The projectile shattered her right foot, leaving it hanging by the tendons. Desperate, the family stumbled into the darkness, and after hours of terror evading the bandits, was finally able to make it to the safety of a neighbour.

These are just a few of the dozens of dramatic accounts found in this very important book.

An appreciation of the extent and nature of the aggression against Cuba attested to in the pages of this book is vital to a holistic understanding of the context within which the Cuban Revolution has endured and evolved.

Voices From the Other Side: An Oral History of Terrorism Against Cuba, is published by Pluto Press. Spanish translation published by Editorial Jose Marti (Havana).

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