Cuba and alleged terrorism: The facts

Campaign News | Thursday, 9 May 2002


Cuba and alleged terrorism: The facts

Since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon, there has been a concerted effort on the part of hard-line Cuban émigrés in Miami and their political allies in Washington to describe Cuba as part of an ‘international terrorist network’ and to suggest that the United States must act against it as part of its response to September 11.

It is scandalous that these groups should try to take advantage of the September 11 tragedy to advance their own narrow agenda when international co-operation among all nations willing to work in the struggle against terrorism is of paramount importance if innocent lives are to be saved in the future.

This briefing is a point-by-point response to the allegations to demonstrate that they lack any credible evidence and that they conveniently ignore and distort the facts.

Terrorism in Miami

Some of the same hard-line émigrés who now accuse Cuba of involvement in terrorism supported-and in some cases still support-Cuban émigré terrorism in the U.S. and against Cuba.

Militant hard-line émigré activities caused the FBI to designate Miami the “terror capital” of the United States. One of the most infamous attacks, in 1976, was that on Emilio Milian, who, on a Miami radio station, denounced terror tactics and intimidation by extremist émigrés. Milian survived, but lost both his legs in the car bomb attack.

Countless other terrorist attacks have taken place in Miami over the years, including the bombings of: the Cuban Museum of Art (in 1988 and again 1990); the home of Maria Cristina Herrera, the organiser of a conference on U.S.-Cuba relations (1988); Marazul Charters, which arranges travel to Cuba (1989 and again in 1996); Little Havana’s Centro Vasco, prior to the performance of Cuban singer Rosita Fornes (1996); the Amnesia nightclub before a performance by Cuban singer Manolín (1999).[1]

But the terror was not limited to Miami; in Washington, DC, two Cuban émigrés, Jose Dionisio Suarez Esquivel and Virgilio Paz Romero, helped mastermind the 1976 assassination of Orlando Letelier, former Chilean diplomat, and his colleague, Ronni Moffit. The terrorists were each sentenced to 12 years in jail and served half of that time. Though U.S. law requires that non-U.S. citizens must be returned to their country of origin after incarceration, the two convicted terrorists remained in INS custody because there is no deportation agreement with Cuba. The Miami Herald reported upon his release in 2001 that Cuban American National Foundation (CANF) lawyers had “fought diligently” to get Paz Romero released from INS custody. A CANF spokesman insisted they did so because trying a harder case could clear the way for easier cases to be won. A convoluted explanation, at best, which in no way changes the fact that the Foundation went all out to set free a convicted terrorist.

Over the years, many Miami-based terrorist attacks have also been launched against Cuba. Cuban émigrés Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles, who are regarded as heroes by the extreme right-wing émigrés (the City Commission of Miami declared a “Dr. Orlando Bosch Day” in 1983), were charged and imprisoned in Venezuela for the bombing of a Cubana airliner off Barbados in 1976, an act of terrorism that resulted in the loss of 73 lives, most of them innocent young Cubans - including the entire Cuban fencing team.

Prior to the Cubana airliner bombing, Bosch was the leader of the Movimiento Insurreccional de Recuperacion Revolucionaria (MIRR), an anti-Castro terrorist organisation, and was convicted in the U.S. for firing a bazooka at a Polish Freighter in Miami[2]. After he was released from prison, he violated parole and left the country. He then founded the Coordinacion de Organizaciones Revolucionarias Unidas (CORU), an anti-Castro terrorist organisation which orchestrated numerous bombings in Miami, New York, Venezuela, Panama, Mexico, Argentina, and elsewhere. Bosch was subsequently jailed in Venezuela for his involvement in the 1976 Cubana airliner bombing. After his release, he returned to the U.S. illegally in 1988 and was jailed for his U.S. parole violation. In 1989, the Acting Associate Attorney General denied Bosch’s petition to remain in the United States, stating that, “For 30 years Bosch has been resolute and unwavering in his advocacy of terrorist violence . . . He has repeatedly expressed and demonstrated a willingness to cause indiscriminate injury and death.”[3]

Nevertheless, Florida Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a strident anti-Castroite, Senator Connie Mack and Ros-Lehtinen’s campaign manager, Jeb Bush all lobbied for Bosch’s release from prison, which they achieved in 1990.[4] In a July 20, 1990 editorial, the New York Times complained, “The release from jail of Orlando Bosch is a startling example of political justice. The Justice Department, under no legal compulsion but conspicuous political pressure, has let him out, winning cheers from local politicians-and squandering American credibility on issues of terrorism.”

The first Bush administration pardoned Orlando Bosch in 1992 and he now lives in Miami. When questioned about the 1976 bombing carried out by the terrorist organisation that he founded, Bosch declared, “you have to fight violence with violence. At times you cannot avoid hurting innocent people.”

Luis Posada Carriles, who escaped from prison in Venezuela in 1985, has admitted to the string of 1997 bombings of tourist hotels in Havana, which resulted in the death of an Italian tourist. When asked about the bombing that killed the Italian tourist, in a taped interview with the New York Times in 1998, Posada remarked, “It is sad that someone is dead, but we can’t stop. That Italian was sitting in the wrong place at the wrong time.” He added, “I sleep like a baby.”

In the same New York Times interview, Posada stated that his activities were financed by the late Jorge Mas Canosa, former CANF Chairman[5]. He said that Mas Canosa controlled everything and provided him with upwards of $200,000, often through other Cuban émigrés. “He never said ‘this is from the Foundation,” recalled Posada. Rather, the money arrived with the message, ‘this is for the church.’“

The Foundation denied the allegations, and one day after the story appeared in the New York Times, Posada contradicted himself in an interview taped by Univision Communications, Inc., a Spanish Language television network. Posada stated that the Foundation had not financed his militant operations, and that he had not seen Jorge Mas Canosa in several years. Anne Corley, spokeswoman for Univision, confirmed that an unidentified CANF representative was present for the interview, and she did not know whether they had arrived before Univision correspondent Rafael Orizondo. CANF used that taped interview to challenge the reports in the New York Times.[6] The New York Times stuck to its story, as it had six hours with Posada on tape. The Foundation said it was “ninety-nine percent sure” that it would sue the newspaper, but never actually did.

At the time of writing Posada is again in prison, this time in Panama, one of several Cuban émigrés accused of involvement in a recent assassination attempt against Fidel Castro.

Does Cuba support international terrorism?

In making their case that Cuba is part of an international terrorist network, hard-line émigrés usually point first of all to the fact that the U.S. State Department has for years now maintained Cuba on a list of terrorist states. Strangely enough, Afghanistan was not on the list, even though the U.S. government knew all along that Osama bin Laden operated out of that country. That says something about the accuracy of the criteria for placement, as in an inverse way, the Cuba case does as well.

According to the State Department, Cuba is on the list because:

1. It “harbours” Basque terrorists. In fact, while there are a number of Basque separatists living in Cuba, they are there as the result of an understanding reached between the Felipe Gonzales Government in Spain and Havana. Cuba is not “harbouring” them. Furthermore, State Department officials have stated off-the-record that they have no credible evidence that these Basques are involved in any terrorist activity from Cuban territory. Indeed, they say, there is evidence that Cuba would prevent that. Émigré sources reject that finding and claim the Basques are mounting actions against Spain from Cuba. But if that were so, surely the Spanish government would have complained. It has not. It has voiced no concern at all over the presence of these Basque separatists in Cuba; rather, it expressed gratitude to the Cuban government just last year for denying asylum to two ETA members. Spanish newswires reported that “Interior Minister Jaime Mayor Oreja said he highly appreciated the response of Cuban diplomats in Madrid alerting the police.”

2. There are a number of fugitives from U.S. justice, including several Puerto Rican Machateros, living in Cuba. This is true, but largely because there is no extradition treaty between Cuba and the U.S. And again in off-the-record remarks, State Department officials acknowledge that they have no evidence that any of these fugitives are engaged in terrorist activities aimed at the U.S. or any other country from Cuban territory. The best way to approach this particular problem, surely, would be to negotiate an extradition treaty.

3. Cuba has contacts with the Colombian guerrillas and has facilitated meetings between them and the Colombian government. That is true. But it is also true that the U.S. has had contacts with those same groups and facilitated meetings between them and the Colombian government. Mexico, Venezuela and a number of other countries have also had a relationship with these groups. Why are such activities, then, grounds for placing Cuba on the list of terrorist countries?

Other issues and episodes often cited by the hard-line émigrés in order to link Cuba to an international terrorism network or to label it a threat to the U.S. include:

Cuba’s defunct nuclear plant

One frequently heard charge in Miami is that the Cuban nuclear power plant has sinister purposes and could prove a threat to the United States. In fact, the plant, which was only about half completed and never had any nuclear reactors in operation, has been closed and mothballed for years. The Cubans say they have no intention of going ahead with its construction (and no funds to do so even if they wished). Categorically, it represents no threat to anyone.

Biological warfare

A companion charge is that Cuba is developing bacteriological weapons in its biotech industry. This stems largely from the assertions of a former Soviet Colonel who claims his former chief told him Cuba had an active bacteriological arms programme. If so, there should be some evidence of it, yet dozens of American doctors and scientists - to say nothing of hundreds of Europeans, Canadians and Latin Americans - have been all through the biotech industry where this is supposedly taking place. They have discerned no trace of any such activity.

Allegations made by Dr. Manuel Cereijo of the Florida International University in Miami, are equally baseless. Dr. Cereijo claims in an unpublished paper that “special groups are working on projects to develop chemical, biological and bacteriological warfare” in centres such as the Biotech Centre, the Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Tropical Medicine. Dr. Cereijo provides not one shred of hard evidence-except for the addresses of the centres. But anyone interested would have these anyway for all the centres mentioned are ones frequently visited by foreign scientists, doctors and other personnel. For those who have had the free run of the Centre for Tropical Medicine and various other centres, Dr. Cereijo’s allegations are simply cause for amusement.

There was then an attempt to paint Cuba as a threat, using an article written by Jose de la Fuente, former director of the Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB) in Havana, in which the writer alleges that Cuba has sold biotechnologies associated with treating heart attacks, viral diseases and with the development of vaccines. The Miami Herald reported that such technologies can also be used to develop biological weapons. De la Fuente wrote that his concern was not that Cuba sold the technology but whether Iran would to use the technologies to care for its population or to attempt to develop biological weapons. De la Fuente also concluded that he had no cause to think that Cuba had sold the technology with malicious intent and that he could not “in any way confirm the use of this technology for anything other than [vaccines].”

The Cuban government stated categorically that “Cuba has never produced anything that is harmful, nor will it ever, nor does it need to. People are looking for ghosts that don’t exist.”

Then there is Agustín Blazquez, of Miami, who in website message after website message assures us that Fidel Castro introduced West Nile virus into the United States via migratory birds but offers no evidence to support his accusation.

Despite the lack of evidence, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida) has publicly warned that Cuba may launch a bacteriological attack against Florida and has called on the chairmen of the intelligence committees in the Senate and House, Senator Bob Graham and Congressman Porter Goss, both from Florida, to launch an investigation.

The Downing of the Brothers to the Rescue Planes

There are those in Miami, and a few of their allies in the U.S. Congress, who maintain that the shootdown of the two Brothers to the Rescue planes in the straits of Florida in February of 1996 was an act of terrorism on the part of the Cuban government which constitutes sufficient grounds for labelling Cuba a terrorist state. This is nonsense.

The shootdown did not take place without provocation or warning. Brothers to the Rescue planes had been penetrating Cuban airspace and overflying the island itself for well over a year. On two separate occasions in January of 1996, they overflew Havana at low altitude dropping leaflets. It was at that point that the Cuban government lost patience and issued a warning that the next time these planes came into Cuban airspace they would be shot down. These warnings were repeated several times publicly and in private conversations with U.S. officials.

In a January 1996 meeting with Fidel Castro, U.S. government officials who were part of a delegation to Cuba asked about the overflights. When they suggested that the offending planes were unarmed, Mr Castro insisted that they could not be certain the planes were unarmed. Planes piloted by émigrés from Miami had dropped incendiary devices and explosives over Cuban territory in past years, and they might do so again. Mr Castro emphasised that the first duty of any government was to defend the national territory and that Cuba would defend its own. Cuba had warned the Brothers to the Rescue planes to stay away. If they did not, Mr Castro maintained, Cuba would act accordingly.

The morning of the shootdown, the planes were warned by the Havana air traffic control tower. They were told that they had entered the Cuban defence zone, which had been activated, and that they should turn back. They ignored that warning. According to the U.S. government, only one of the three planes had entered Cuban airspace at the time of the shootdown. The two that were brought down were in still international waters. Cuba maintains that all three were in Cuban airspace.

The incident was not an act of terrorism because it resulted from the actions of Jose Basulto, who led his pilots toward the Cuban coast - despite urgent warnings to turn back. According to the Miami Herald, some of the family members of the fliers who were killed blame Basulto for the death of their loved ones.

Interestingly, Basulto’s plane was the only one all sides agree was in Cuban airspace, yet his was the only one not shot down.

Intelligence Operations

Press reports on September 22, 2001 noted the arrest of Ana Belen Montes, an analyst at the Pentagon’s Defence Intelligence Agency. She was accused of passing information to Cuban Intelligence, some of it related to military manoeuvres the Cubans thought might be directed at Cuba. It is no secret that both nations have conducted intelligence operations against one another. Indeed, Montes is also accused of having revealed the identity of American undercover intelligence agents sent to Cuba.

All this is symptomatic of the kind of relationship that has existed between the two countries for the past forty years. That is unfortunate, but it has nothing to do with events of September 11. Although Florida Congress members Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Lincoln Diaz-Balart were quick to say they were sure Montes’ information had been passed to terrorist states, in fact there has been no evidence of that.

Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has said that the Montes case is reason enough to keep Cuba on the terrorist list. But, if conducting intelligence operations against the U.S. were cause for a hostile reaction, then the U.S. would long ago have broken relations with Israel - and a lot of other states. One such case in point is that of Jonathan Pollard, who was convicted of spying for Israel some years ago. The Montes case is not exceptional and offers no justification whatever for keeping Cuba on the terrorist list.

Fidel Castro’s rejection of anti-terrorist resolution at the Ibero-American Summit

Anti-Castro émigrés have made much of Fidel Castro’s refusal to endorse an anti-terrorism resolution at the Ibero-American Summit in Panama in November of 2000-even suggesting that this reflects his sympathy for the terrorists.

They conveniently ignore the fact that Mr Castro was pushing for a broader condemnation of terrorism. The resolution in question, pushed by Spain and Mexico, focused on the activities of the Basque separatist group, ETA. Mr Castro wanted the resolution to focus on other terrorist activities in the hemisphere, including terrorist activities against Cuba-he had in mind most particularly the activities of Cuban émigré terrorist Luis Posada Carriles (who admitted to a string of Havana hotel bombings in 1997).

When Spain and Mexico insisted on a resolution focusing only on ETA, Mr Castro refused to sign. His refusal, in other words, in no way indicated support for terrorism any more than did the unwillingness of Mexico and Spain to include reference to Posada’s acts against Cuba. All were opposed to terrorism; they simply disagreed over the focus of the resolution.

Alleged ties to IRA

In August 2001, three suspected members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) were arrested in Colombia where they supposedly had been giving specialised training to one of the Colombian guerrilla groups. This would have nothing to do with Cuba except that one of the three, Nial Connelly, was said to have lived there for some years as a representative of the IRA. We cannot comment on the veracity of reports concerning the activities of these three in Colombia.

Connelly did in fact live in Cuba for a number of years, but according to the Cuban government, was there as a representative of Sinn Fein, the political arm of the IRA, not the IRA, and had left Cuba and returned to Ireland some time ago.

Gerry Adams, the president of Sinn Fein, on the other hand, has denied that any of them were members of his organisation-possibly simply to disassociate himself from the whole strange episode. Whatever Connelly was, we are talking about one man who at one point lived in Cuba. There is no IRA headquarters in Havana, as alleged by a study issued by the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies in Miami.

Cuban ties in the Middle East

Hard-line émigrés have made much of Cuba’s ties in the Middle East. True, Cuba has long had relations with most of the Middle Eastern states-as has the United States, Great Britain and most other NATO countries. Cuba has not had close ties to Afghanistan, however, and none with Osama bin Laden (It should be remembered that he fought against the Soviets when they were Cuba’s allies). Cuba’s ties with Iraq, moreover, have been cool since the Iraq-Iran war. As indicated below, Cuba’s ties with Iran are much closer.

Perhaps the most serious study of Cuba’s ties with the Middle East was prepared by a thoughtful Cuban defector, Domingo Amuchastegui. It is being distributed by the Cuban American National Foundation, presumably as evidence of wrong-doing on Fidel Castro’s part. But if one reads the study carefully and examines Amuchastegui’s conclusions, one might wonder why the Foundation considers this a useful document. The study chronicles Cuba’s relationships in the Middle East-none of which appear threatening in today’s context. It concludes that Cuba’s extensive ties and influence in the Middle East should be worrisome to U.S. leaders because of the opportunities that might offer for Cuba to undercut U.S. policies in the region.

By the same token, Cuba’s influence in the region could be turned to U.S. advantage, for Cuba has now taken an uncompromising position against terrorism, a phenomenon Fidel Castro says must be totally eradicated. As has been said over and over again, the world changed on September 11. Russia, China, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are now our allies in the struggle against Osama bin Laden and the threat of terrorism in its broadest terms. Given Cuba’s ties in the Middle East, it would be in the interests of the United States to open a dialogue with Cuba as well.

Fidel Castro’s visit to Iran

One complaint which does have some basis in fact relates to Fidel Castro’s visit to Iran in May, 2001. Standing next to President Castro, Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stated that “together, Iran and Cuba can overcome the U.S.” Mr Castro agreed and added that the U.S. was “weak.” Later, he said to a cheering crowd of students at Tehran University that “the imperialist king will fall.”

Logic would dictate that they did not actually call for Iran and Cuba to defeat the U.S. militarily but rather that U.S. hegemony, to which both Cuba and Iran see themselves as victims, would be overcome and the strength of the Iranian and Cuban systems would prevail.

Given that the Taliban and Iran are mortal enemies, and that bin Laden’s network of terrorists are trained in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, what relevance do these remarks have to the events of September 11?

It is worth noting that the United States did not rule out contacts with Iran because of Ali Khamenei’s statements. On the contrary, since September, according to a series of press reports, the U.S. government has opened lines of communication to the Iranian government and has some hopes that Iran can be useful in the struggle against terrorism, which Iran has categorically condemned. Ali Khamenei has said Iran will not join in any campaign led by the U.S., but that it will co-operate fully with U.N.-led initiatives against terrorism.

Cuba’s position against terrorism

One must juxtapose Fidel Castro’s statements in Iran with his specific reactions to the terrorist attacks on the U.S. On the afternoon of September 11, the Cuban government immediately condemned the terrorist attacks on the United States and offered “its sincerest condolences to the American people for the distressing and unjustifiable loss of human lives.”

The government offered any medical or humanitarian assistance within its means to aid the victims. The Cuban government also immediately offered its airspace to U.S. aircraft that were still en route to the Unites States when the FAA closed American airspace. We note, that the U.S. Interests Section in Havana was one of the few U.S. diplomatic missions not to close as a precautionary measure immediately after the September 11 attacks. No terrorist threat to Americans in Havana!

A September 15th rally in Cuba was dedicated to condemning the attacks on the U.S. people. In a September 22nd speech, President Castro rejected President Bush’s call for war, considering it unwise, but went on to categorically condemn terrorism as an “ethically indefensible phenomenon which must be eradicated.” Cuba, he added, is “opposed to terrorism but also opposed to war.

Mr Castro went on to pledge that “the territory of Cuba will never be used for terrorist actions against the American people” and to express solidarity with the American people. Interestingly, he reiterated Cuba’s “willingness to co-operate with any country in the total eradication of terrorism.”

Moreover, in keeping with continued calls by the Cuban government for an international coalition to fight terrorism, Mr Castro has pledged in a letter to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan that Cuba will co-operate fully with U.N. initiatives to eradicate terrorism and Cuba has ratified all twelve U.N. resolutions against terrorism.

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[1] See “The Burden of a Violent History,” by Jim Mullin, in the Miami New Times, April 20, 2000. Available: http://www.miaminewtimes/issues/2000-04-20/mullin.html

[2] Bosch is connected to many more acts of international terrorism. The report on the Exclusion Proceedings for Orlando Bosch Avila, in which the Acting Associate Attorney General denied Bosch’s request for exclusion from deportation, includes a list of confidential and non-confidential information on Bosch’s terrorist activities reviewed by the Justice Department. The report can be found online at http://cuban-émigré.com/doc_051-075/doc0054.htm

[3] Exclusion Proceedings for Orlando Bosch Avila. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of the Associate Attorney General, Washington, D.C., January 23, 1989 Available: http://cuban-émigré.com/doc_051-075/doc0054.htm

[4] “Examples of Controversial Pardons by Previous Presidents.” A report prepared by Minority staff, Committee on Government Reform, U.S. House of Representatives, April 20, 2001. Available:

see also, “A Cuba Obsession,” by Jane Franklin, in The Progressive, July 1993. Available:

[5] “Key Cuba Foe Claims Émigrés’ Backing,” by Ann Louise Bardoch and Larry Rohter, New York Times, July 12, 1998, Available:

Life in the Shadows,” by Ann Louise Bardoch and Larry Rohter, New York Times 13, 1998 Available:

[6] Univision says émigré group was present during bomber interview,” Bloomburg, July 14, 1998. Available:

[7] Exclusion Proceedings for Orlando Bosch Avila. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of the Associate Attorney General, Washington, D.C., January 23, 1989 Available: http://cuban-émigré.com/doc_051-075/doc0054.htm

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