Comment: US Congressman calls for Castro's assassination

Campaign News | Tuesday, 6 April 2004

By Wayne Smith, former head of the US Interests section in Havana

March 31: As is well known, back in the 1960s, the CIA mounted a number of assassination attempts against Fidel Castro, at one point even involving the Mafia. The attempts all failed and over the years such tactics came increasingly to be seen as an embarrassment. In February of 1976 they were knocked off altogether by an executive order signed by President Gerald Ford forbidding any employee of the U.S. government from involvement in “political assassinations.”

That executive order was rescinded by President Bush shortly after 9/11, apparently with the intention of going after known terrorists, such as Osama bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders, who posed a threat to the United States. A matter perhaps of fighting terrorists with terror tactics, but under the circumstances it was - and is - perfectly understandable. But going after terrorists is one thing, going after the leaders of other countries who are considered to be political enemies quite another.

The position of the U.S. should be above reproach; it must not be perceived as condoning such assassinations. That is a particularly sensitive issue in the case of Cuba, because of our record of past indiscretions and because of the Bush Administration’s almost frothing-at-the-mouth hostility toward the Castro government. Hence, Republican Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart’s March 22 statement that the United States should consider assassinating Fidel Castro was certainly not helpful.

The fact that Diaz-Balart suggested it doesn’t mean it has or will become U.S. policy. But coming as it does at a time when the Administration itself is saying its primary objective is to bring an end to the Castro regime, Diaz-Balart’s statement will raise suspicions internationally as to U.S. intentions - and tactics.

Further, the Diaz-Balart statement must be seen against Bush’s history of sheltering and supporting Cuban-American terrorists in Miami. Bush has asserted over and over again that anyone who supports or harbors a terrorist, is a terrorist. But by that definition, there may be terrorists in the Bush family - perhaps even George W. Bush himself.

In 1989, for example, the first President Bush went against the advice of his own Justice Department and cancelled the deportation of arch-terrorist Orlando Bosch. Shortly thereafter, he set him free. Bosch was a Cuban exile who had been convicted in the U.S. of terrorist activities and spent four years in prison. Released in 1972, he violated parole and fled to Latin America, ending up eventually in Venezuela, where in 1976 he was imprisoned for masterminding the bombing of a Cubana airliner with the loss of 73 lives, including virtually the entire Cuban fencing team.

The hard-line exiles in Miami loved it. In 1983, the Miami City Commission declared a “Dr. Orlando Bosch Day,” apparently to honor him for his acts of terrorism. Released from Venezuelan prison under strange circumstances in 1987, Bosch returned to Miami in 1988 without benefit of a visa and was almost immediately arrested for his earlier parole violation. The Immigration and Naturalization Service began proceedings to deport him. As the associate attorney general put it in 1989: “For 30 years, Bosch has been resolute and unwavering in his advocacy of terrorist violence.” Indeed, the Justice Department had information linking him to more than 30 acts of sabotage and violence in the United States, Puerto Rico, Panama and Venezuela.

As the associate attorney general pointed out: “The security of this nation is affected by its ability to urge credibly other nations to refuse aid and shelter to terrorists. We could not shelter Dr. Bosch and maintain that credibility.”

But shelter him we did, for Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and the usual crowd of hard-line Cuban exiles demanded that we do so. They lobbied unrelentingly for Bosch’s release. Among those in the forefront of the lobbying effort on Bosch’s behalf was Jeb Bush, then managing Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s re-election campaign.

In the face of this pressure, coming even from his own son, the first President Bush decided it was politically expedient to harbor a terrorist. Bosch was released and still lives freely and unrepentant in Miami. In a TV interview in February of this year, far from expressing any remorse over the deaths of those killed in the 1976 bombing of the Cubana airliner, Bosch insisted that “all the persons traveling in the plane were criminals and Castro henchmen?”

And then there is the case of Luis Posada Carriles, who along with Bosch was responsible for the downing of the Cubana airliner in 1976. He also spent time in a Venezuelan prison, but escaped in 1985 and turned up in Central America working in Oliver North’s secret Contra operation, along with Felix Rodriguez, a key figure in the Iran-Contra scandal with close ties to then Vice President George H.W.Bush.

In 1998, Posada Carriles acknowledged in an interview with The New York Times that he had directed the bombing of a number of hotels in Havana the previous year which had resulted in the death of an Italian tourist. Though he had thus confessed his culpability, no charges were ever filed against him in the U.S. Today, he is being tried in Panama for involvement in a subsequent assassination plot against Fidel Castro.

These elements in Florida who have been closely involved in sheltering terrorists and in outright terrorist activities are President George W. Bush’s closest political allies in the state. Indeed, two years ago, he nominated Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s chief of staff, Mauricio Tamargo, for an important post in the federal government. And at this moment, one Luis Zuniga Rey is a member of the U.S. delegation to the U.N. Human Rights Commission’s annual meeting. According to the report of Enrique Bernales Ballesteros, a U.N. special rapporteur, Zuniga was directly involved in the same effort to bomb hotels in Cuba as Luis Posada Carriles, now being tried in Panama. Just the sort of man we need on our human rights delegation!

Wayne S. Smith is a Senior Fellow at the Center for International Policy

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