by Stephen Kimber on April 17, 2014 | No Comments
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the famed Colombian novelist who died April 17, 2014, played a fascinating cameo role in the story of the Cuban Five. In the spring of 1998, he carried a secret message about a terrorist plot against Cuba from Fidel Castro to Bill Clinton. That session led to an unprecedented sit-down between the FBI and Cuban State Security in Havana in June 1998. And it was those meetings that triggered the events that ultimately led to the arrest of the Cuban Five on September 12, 1998.
You can learn more about that backstory in this excerpt from What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of the Cuba Five.
Havana, April 18, 1998
Gabriel García Márquez needed to call Bill Richardson. Immediately. He needed to let the American ambassador to the United Nations know that plans for his upcoming visit to Washington had taken a sudden, “unforeseen and significant turn.” García Márquez, the Nobel Prize-winning author, had stopped in Havana for a few days on his way to the United States to clear up some literary loose ends.
He was writing an article about Pope John Paul’s recent visit to Cuba. When the Pope made his historic speech three months before to hundreds of thousands of Cubans — believers and non-believers alike — García Márquez had been a front-row guest of Cuban President Fidel Castro in Revolution Square. It had been a fascinating speech. The Pope had publicly called for the release of Cuba’s political prisoners while chastising the United States for its ongoing blockade and attacking what he described as a “capitalist neo-liberalism [that] subdues human beings and nations’ development to the blind forces of the market.” García Márquez was looking forward to writing more about its larger meaning.
Given that García Márquez and Castro had been friends for decades, it was hardly surprising the author would visit the Cuban leader during this stopover in Havana. Or even that Castro would ask his well-connected friend to carry a message for him to another of the novelist’s good friends, United States President Bill Clinton.
What was surprising — shocking, even horrifying — was the content of the message Castro wanted him to deliver to the president of the United States. Cuba had just discovered what Castro would describe as a “sinister terrorist plot” against Cuba, and he wanted Bill Clinton to know about it so he could take appropriate action. But Castro didn’t want to put this information in an official letter in order “to avoid putting Clinton in the predicament of giving an [official] answer.”
Instead, Castro had prepared a written summary of the plot and “other subjects of mutual interest,” which Márquez could crib from when he spoke to Clinton. The note, entitled “Summary of Issues That Gabriel García Márquez May Confidentially Transmit To President Clinton,” touched on seven different subjects, but it was “Point 1” that really mattered: “Plans for terrorist actions against Cuba continue to be hatched and paid by the Cuban American National Foundation using Central American mercenaries… Now, they are plotting and taking steps to set up bombs in planes from Cuba or any other country’s airline carrying tourists to, or from, Cuba to Latin American countries.”
Thanks to Cuba’s many and various intelligence agents inside the many and various plots, Castro was able to describe the plan in detail. The bombers intended to “hide a small device at a certain place inside the plane — a powerful explosive with a fuse controlled by a digital clock that can be programmed 99 hours in advance.”
While the immediate threat was against Cuba, Castro predicted that the simple, “really devilish procedures” involved and the use of components “whose detection is practically impossible” made such attacks so easy “they might become an epidemic as the hijacking of planes once became.
“The American investigation and intelligence agencies are in possession of enough reliable information on the main people responsible,” Castro’s note concluded, throwing down the gauntlet. “If they really want to, they have the possibility of preventing… this new modality of terrorism. It will be impossible to stop it if the United States doesn’t discharge its fundamental duty of fighting it. The responsibility to fight it can’t be left to Cuba alone since any other country of the world might also be a victim of such actions.”
Now, García Márquez picked up the telephone. He had promised to call Richardson a week before he was to arrive in the United States to find out whether Richardson had been successful in lining up his meeting with Clinton. But now it was no longer “a simple personal visit.” On the phone he explained to Richardson he was carrying an “urgent” message for the president.
“Out of respect for the agreed secrecy I didn’t mention on the phone who was sending it,” García Márquez would write later, though he assumed Richardson would make the connection, “nor did I let it transpire that a delayed delivery could be the cause of major catastrophes and the death of innocent people.” He also didn’t mention the “two unwritten questions” Castro had suggested he could raise face-to-face with Clinton “if the circumstances were propitious.”
Washington, May 6, 1998
“After a warm embrace,” Gabriel García Márquez would write in his report to Fidel Castro, “he sat in front of me with his hands on his knees and started speaking with a common phrase so properly said that it rang of truth: ‘We are at your disposal.’” But the man sitting across from him in the White House this morning was not — as both he and Castro had hoped — U.S. President Bill Clinton. It was Clinton’s oldest and closest friend, Thomas Mack McLarty, the president’s advisor on Latin America.
Clinton was still in California and would be for another day. García Márquez had only discovered that after he’d arrived in Washington from Princeton six days before. A staffer from Bill Richardson’s United Nations ambassador’s office had suggested he meet with the president’s National Security Advisor Sandy Berger instead. García Márquez had met Berger in September 1997 during an earlier face-to-face meeting with Clinton. Berger had seemed to be on the same wavelength as his boss on the issue of Cuba, but should he agree to meet with him instead of the man he’d been sent to meet?
García Márquez worried Richardson might be “interposing conditions” to prevent his message from getting directly to his intended recipient. If it was just a matter of timing in terms of meeting with the president himself, García Márquez told the staffer, he’d be glad to delay his own scheduled departure for Mexico by a day or two. We’ll let the president know, the aide replied.
García Márquez passed that message on to Cuba’s diplomatic representative in Washington who used a “special envoy — confidential communications are so slow and hazardous from Washington” — to convey the latest developments to Havana. “The response was a gentle request to wait in Washington for as long as necessary to fulfill my mission,” García Márquez wrote. “At the same time I was humbly asked to be most careful to avoid offending Sam Berger for not accepting him as an interlocutor. The funny end of the message [from Havana],” he added, “left no doubt about the author, even without a signature: ‘We wish you can write a lot,’” it read.
García Márquez, for his part, was “not in a hurry.” During his literary workshop at Princeton, he had managed to produce “20 useful pages” on the memoir he was writing. And “the pace had not diminished in my impersonal room at the Washington hotel where I spent up to 10 hours a day.” He would write, eat his meals and receive occasional visitors in the room.
One reason he rarely went out — even to enjoy the city’s spring blossoms — was the sobering reality that he had placed Fidel Castro’s written message for Bill Clinton inside his hotel room safe, and “it had no combination lock but a key that seemed to have been bought at a convenience store around the corner. I always carried it in my pocket and, after every inevitable occasion in which I left my room, I checked that the paper was still in its place and in the sealed envelope… Just the idea that I could lose it sent shivers down my spine, not so much for the loss itself as for the fact that it would have been easy to identify its source and destination.”
Two nights earlier, however, García Márquez had agreed to attend a private dinner at the home of former Colombian president Cesar Gaviria. Gaviria had invited McLarty and his wife because she was eager to talk to the famous author about “some points” in his books.
After dinner, Gaviria — who knew the outlines of the message García Márquez was carrying — arranged for him to have a private chat with McLarty. “He did not conceal his apprehension over the terrorist plan,” Márquez noted, “even if unaware of the atrocious details.” McLarty said he hadn’t known about García Márquez’s request to speak directly to Clinton but promised to pass on the message.
The next morning, García Márquez sent another message to Havana. If he couldn’t get to see the president himself, he asked, should he deliver the message to McLarty or to Berger. Havana’s response “seemed to be in favor of McLarty, but always [being] careful not to offend Berger.” In the end, the Cubans were happy to let García Márquez follow his instincts. “We trust your talents,” the message said. García Márquez would call that “the most engaging consent that I have ever been given in my life.”
After lunch with McLarty’s wife — they hadn’t found the time to talk at dinner the night before — the White House called García Márquez to tell him a meeting had been arranged for him the next morning with McLarty and three senior officials from the National Security Council. There’d been no mention of Berger. Had García Márquez’s phone been tapped, or the communications between Havana and Washington been intercepted? He could only guess.
The next morning at 11:15 a.m., García Márquez was ushered into McLarty’s office at the White House, where he was introduced to the three NSC officials: “Richard Clarke, leading director of multilateral affairs and presidential advisor on all subjects of international policy, especially for the fight on terrorism and narcotics; James Dobbins, senior director at the NSC for Inter-American affairs with the position of ambassador and presidential advisor on Latin America and the Caribbean; and Jeff Delaurentis, director of Inter-American affairs at the NSC and special advisor on Cuba… The three officials were gentle and highly professional.”
There was none of the pro forma sabre-rattling or posturing that often opened such gatherings, García Márquez noted with satisfaction. There was “no mention of democratic reforms, free elections or human rights, nor any of the political clichés with which Americans pretend to condition any project of cooperation with Cuba. On the contrary,” García Márquez reported hopefully, “my clearest impression of this trip is the certainty that reconciliation is beginning to grow as something irreversible in the collective consciousness.”
The preliminaries out of the way, McLarty joined them from another meeting, and Márquez proceeded to outline the circumstances that had brought him to the White House today. He then handed McLarty the envelope with Fidel’s translated letter — six double-spaced pages covering seven topics.
McLarty quickly read the note, saying nothing, “but his changing emotions showed on his face as light in the water,” García Márquez would report back to Castro. “I had read it myself so many times that I could practically know which of his expressions corresponded to the different points in the document. The first point, about the terrorist plot, made him grumble and he said: ‘It’s terrible.’ Later, he suppressed a mischievous smile and, without interrupting his reading he said: ‘We have common enemies.’ I think he said it referring to the fourth point, where a description is made of a group of senators plotting to boycott the passage of the Torres-Rangel’s and Dodd’s bills and appreciation is expressed about Clinton’s efforts to save them.”
Once all had absorbed Castro’s message, the rest of the meeting focused, understandably, on the threat to blow up the planes, “which made an impression on everyone.” García Márquez understood why. He’d had to overcome his own “terror over a bomb explosion as I was flying to Mexico after having learned of it in Havana.”
García Márquez knew the circumstances were “propitious” to raise the two unwritten questions Castro had asked him to raise and that García Márquez had carefully written in his organizer as “the only thing I was afraid to forget.” The first question: “Wouldn’t it be possible for the FBI to contact their Cuban counterparts for a joint struggle on terrorism?” Though it wasn’t part of the unwritten question, García Márquez added “a line of my own making: ‘I’m sure that you’d find a prompt and positive reaction on the part of the Cuban authorities.’”
García Márquez was amazed at the “quick and strong reaction” of the NSC officials. Richard Clarke, for one, thought it would be a very good idea. But he cautioned that the FBI wouldn’t be keen if information about such cooperation leaked out during an investigation. Would the Cubans be willing to keep the information a secret?
García Márquez couldn’t help but smile. “There is nothing that the Cubans like better than keeping secrets,” he replied.
His second question wasn’t so much a question as a suggestion, a diplomatic opening: “Cooperation in matters of security,” Castro had suggested, “could open the way to a propitious climate leading to the resumption of American travels to Cuba.” García Márquez told his hosts he had personally met Americans from all strata of society who — knowing his friendship with Castro — asked for his help in making contacts for business or pleasure in Cuba. “I mentioned Donald Newhouse, editor of various journals and chairman of the Associated Press, who treated me to a lavish dinner at his countryside mansion in New Jersey at the end of my literary workshop in Princeton University,” García Márquez reported. “His current dream is traveling to Cuba to discuss with Fidel personally the establishment of a permanent AP bureau in Havana, similar to CNN’s.”
By the end of their meeting, which had lasted just 50 minutes, Clarke had promised the NSC would take “immediate steps for a joint U.S.-Cuba plan on terrorism.” Dobbins made a note in his pad that he would “communicate with their embassy in Cuba to implement the project.” Embassy? García Márquez joked that Dobbins had promoted the United States Interest Section in Havana to a new level in America’s foreign affairs hierarchy.
“What we have there is not an embassy,” Dobbins replied with a laugh, “but it is much bigger than an embassy.”
“They all laughed with mischievous complicity,” García Márquez reported.
And then it was over. “I know that you have a very tight agenda before you get back to Mexico and we have also many things ahead,” McLarty said. Then, looking him in the eye, he added: “Your mission was in fact of utmost importance, and you have discharged it very well.”
García Márquez couldn’t help but be pleased. “Neither my excessive honor nor my absence of modesty,” he reported to Castro, “has allowed me to abandon that phrase to the ephemeral glory and the microphones hidden in flower vases.” More importantly, “I left the White House with the firm impression that the effort and the uncertainties of the previous days had been worthy. The annoyance for not having delivered the message personally to the President had been compensated by a more informal and operative conclave whose good results would be forthcoming.” Gabriel García Márquez had done his part.
by Stephen Kimber on March 14, 2014 | 1 Comment
"Kimber did write a novel, a piece of historical fiction at best. It is also a love story set partly in Cuba. Kimber falls in love with the Five, blind love, as he finds no fault in their covert activities."
— From a review of What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of the Cuban Five written by former FBI agent Stuart M. Hoyt, Jr. You can read the full review here. And my rebuttal below. Or you can read the book and decide for yourself.
It is tempting to resort to the same sort of innuendo and guilt by association Stuart M. Hoyt, Jr., employs in his review of my book What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of the Cuban Five.
I could, for example, point out his review appears on a website published by the serious-sounding, fair-minded “Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research,” but whose ideological viewpoint seems best be summed in accompanying web pages like: “Let’s Keep the Reagan Revolution Alive” and “Margaret Thatcher: Passing the Torch of Truth and Freedom.”
Speaking of Reagan, I could note it was actually Reagan’s National Security Advisor who came up with the idea in 1981 to set up the Cuban American National Foundation, which not only became the most powerful anti-Cuban lobbying organization in the U.S. but also, in 1992, organized its own secret paramilitary wing to launch attacks against Cuba.
Though it would perhaps be uncharitable of me, I might also point out that the FBI — for whom Mr. Hoyt toiled for 24 years, much of it in counter-intelligence — failed to uncover links among the Foundation, its secret paramilitary and terror attacks against Cuba, even after the Cuban government had identified the connections and even after FBI agents had arrested — more by accident than design, it must be said — prominent members of the Foundation for plotting to assassinate Fidel Castro in 1997. (They were, of course, acquitted.)
I could wonder too about whether Mr. Hoyt — who served as a “counter-intelligence consultant” to the FBI after his retirement from active service and who has been an "expert witness" at trials, including of the Five — might have a vested interest in seeing the Cuban Five as a threat to American security.
But I won’t.
Let me instead focus on some of what Mr. Hoyt does say in his 2,800-word (“Space here does not allow a detailed refutation on Kimber’s work”) “review” of my book.
“The basic premise of Kimber’s (and Cuba’s) story,” Hoyt writes, “is that the Wasp Network [of which the Five were members] was established to ferret out, disrupt, and neutralize militant anti-Castro terrorists targeting Cuba and operating from the United States and other countries, principally in Central America. This was necessary because the U.S. took little or no action against the militants and, when they did, their efforts were ineffective. Any additional activity by the Five, such as espionage, was secondary to the anti-terrorist campaign and was warranted in the larger context of defending Cuba.”
That, in truth, is not a bad summary of the book.
Hoyt doesn’t directly refute any of it.
Instead — after noting I claimed I “reviewed all 20,000 pages of the trial transcript and sifted through thousands of pages of decrypted communications between Havana and its agents,” as well as interviewed Cuban officials, the Five and their families — Hoyt sets out to make the case I must therefore be in the pocket of the Castro government.
“Given the voluminous amount of documents and interviews,” Hoyt writes, “one wonders what help Kimber got from the Cubans in writing this book? It is common for the [Cuban Directorate of Intelligence] to provide journalists information in exchange for favorable reporting.”
Well, wonder no more, Mr. Hoyt.
Most of the documents I got came from the United States. The trial transcript, the source of much of the material in the book, came from a lawyer in Miami. I got the boxes of evidence presented at the trial from a Florida journalist. Much of what I wrote about exile plots against Cuba came from the pages of the Miami Herald.
In Cuba, I did what any journalist would do. I asked for interviews and requested documents. Sometimes I got them, sometimes I didn’t.
I asked to speak to a number of Cuban officials, including some former intelligence agents, for example, and learned that Cuban officials don’t necessarily say no when you ask for something or someone they aren’t interested in providing; they just ignore your repeated requests. In the end, I tracked down and talked to some of those agents on my own.
I also asked Cuban State Security officials for copies of documents they had turned over to the FBI during meetings in Havana in June 1998, and which I considered important for my research. They ignored me for more than seven months before suddenly providing them to me without explanation.
If the Cubans ignore reporters’ requests they don’t like, U.S. government agencies, including the one Mr. Hoyt worked for, often lie about the mere existence of the materials.
I spent two-and-a-half years trying to get those same documents from the FBI through Freedom of Information requests. The FBI, over the course of several appeals, claimed no material about those meetings existed. We now know that’s not true. U.S. prosecutors referenced the documents during the immigration fraud trial of Cuban exile terrorist Luis Posada in 2010.
Mr. Hoyt claims I put a great deal of emphasis on those documents in my book — which I did — but he insists “almost all, if not all, of the information provided by the Cubans was virtually worthless for investigative purposes. It was either already known by the FBI, widely acknowledged public information, and/or too general in nature.”
If it was so widely known, why had the FBI not already arrested Luis Posada and members of the Cuban American National Foundation for violating the U.S. Neutrality Act by plotting the bombings at Havana tourist hotels in 1997?
On another point of contention — were the Cubans trying to steal U.S. military secrets? — Hoyt acknowledges “Kimber admits the military was a target [of the Five] but minimizes its importance and writes little about it.”
Hoyt argues the “Five’s primary target was the penetration of the military,” and their purpose was not to protect Cuba from a possible U.S. invasion — as I argue in the book — but to launch an attack against the United States.
To support that rather ludicrous suggestion, Hoyt quotes from a message Cuban State Security sent to one of its agents: “How would you suggest that a maritime incursion could be carried out to the U.S. from our country?”
Sounds pretty ominous, doesn't it?
Well, as Hoyt himself continues, this message goes on to explain: “it would have to be two or three crew members with false documentation.”
Two or three crew members?! Some incursion.
The U.S. navy must still be quaking in its nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.
When it comes to the most serious charge against the Five — the allegation that its leader, Gerardo Hernandez, was involved in a “conspiracy to commit murder” in connection with the 1996 shootdown of two Brothers to the Rescue civilian aircraft — Hoyt clearly hasn’t bothered to read the trial transcript or examined any of the evidence presented in court. He certainly hasn't read my book very carefully.
He claims “Juan Pablo Roque — a Cuban agent that infiltrated the Miami-based Brothers to the Rescue pilots organization — … was primarily responsible for the targeting and 1996 shoot-down of two civilian planes resulting in the death of four pilots. Roque fled to Cuba the day before the incident.”
Roque wasn’t involved in the shootdown. No evidence was presented during the trial to suggest he was. Decrypted messages between Havana and its intelligence officers in Miami clearly show Roque — who was unhappy with his life as an agent in Miami — wanted only to return home to Havana as soon as possible, and was obsessively focusing all his energies (and the energies of his intelligence officer controllers) on that objective.
Hoyt doesn’t have anything to offer about the actual case against Hernandez — perhaps because there is no compelling evidence to suggest he was involved with, or had any control over the shoot down. He is in prison serving two life sentences plus 15 years for conspiracy to commit murder, largely because Fidel Castro wasn't available to charge.
I’d be delighted to debate Mr. Hoyt’s facts with him. Anytime. Any place. Not that the facts seem to matter much to Mr. Hoyt.
One wonders — to borrow a phrase from Mr. Hoyt — what his real purpose is. And whose interest he serves.
What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of the Cuban Five is available in printed edition from the publisher, Fernwood, from Amazon and other online retailers, or by ordering from your favourite independent bookstore. It is also available as an ebook.
by Stephen Kimber on February 17, 2014 | No Comments
"This work is meticulously researched, factual without being dull and written with sensitivity and honesty – warts and all. It is as gripping as an action-packed movie and deeply moving..."
I (Helen Yaffe) wrote this book review of Stephen Kimber’s ‘real story of the Cuban Five’ for Science & Society. It is not due to be published until October 2014 (Vol. 78, No.4), but they have kindly given me permission to post it on my blog prior to publication. I wanted to post the review early to draw attention to an important event which takes place in London next month: the International Commission of Inquiry into the Case of the Cuban Five, on 7 and 8 March. The Commission website can be found here: http://www.voicesforthefive.com/,
The following day, Sunday 9 March, there will be a rally to demand justice for the Five in Trafalgar Square from 2pm. Details here:
Stephen Kimber, What Lies Across the Water: the Real Story of the Cuban Five, Winnipeg: Fernwood Publishing, 2014. 296 pages. $29.95 CAD. ISBN: 9781552665428
Review by Helen Yaffe*
According to the author, this book owes its existence to serendipity. In 2009 Stephen Kimber was in Havana researching for a love story he planned to write when, he explains, he ‘got sideswiped by the truth-is-stranger-but-way-more-interesting story of the Cuban Five.’ (1) Thanks to serendipity, Kimber has produced the first full-length book in English about the case of the Cuban Five. During his research, the Canadian writer, broadcaster and professor of journalism read 20,000-pages of court transcripts, and a mass of books, media reports and documents. He conducted interviews and established correspondence with the Five in prison. The book is organized chronologically into sections which are sub-divided by diary-like entries providing updates on the entire ‘cast of characters’. This work is meticulously researched, factual without being dull and written with sensitivity and honesty – warts and all. It is as gripping as an action-packed movie and deeply moving.
Most important, it contextualizes the story of the Cuban Five within the shocking history of Miami-based Cuban exile attacks against the Cuban Revolution and the turning-a-blind-eye, or often complicity, of US authorities. Since 1959, 3,478 Cubans have died and 2,099 been injured as a result of terrorist attacks or aggression against Cuba. Kimber’s account covers the 1990s, when the collapse of the Soviet bloc heralded the end of the Cold War and Cuba took an economic battering following the loss of 80% of its trade and investment, resulting in a GDP collapse of 34%. The US government (intensifying the blockade) and right-wing exiles (increasing terrorist attacks) hoped to exploit Cuba’s vulnerability and undermine its efforts to end political isolation and economic crisis, partly by developing its tourist industry.
At the centre of this exile opposition is the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), ‘ostensibly the single most powerful American lobby group working for peaceful, democratic regime change in Cuba. CANF has helped elect – and influenced the Cuba policy of – every American president since Ronald Reagan.’ (7) However, Kimber explains, members of CANF, ‘were also organizing and financing their own secret paramilitary wing whose purpose was to overthrow the Cuban government by force, and, if possible, murder Fidel Castro.’ (7) At least 638 assassination attempts have been documented by Cuban authorities.
The US government created the monster, Kimber explains. Shortly after the Cuban Revolution of January 1959: ‘the CIA set up shop on the south campus of the University of Miami, doling out $50 million to hire a permanent staff of 300 to oversee the insurrectionist work of more than 6,000 Cuban exile agents.’ (15) The failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961 catalyzed the campaign of sabotage and terrorism. Among the young exile recruits who received training in bomb-making and sabotage from the CIA were Felix Rodriguez, the CIA’s operative behind the execution of Che Guevara, Jorge Mas Canosa, founder of CANF, and, ‘the founding fathers of anti-Castro terrorism’(7): Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch Avila. Most infamous among their joint criminal enterprises is the blowing up of a civilian Cubana Airlines flight in 1976, killing all 73 people on board.
This book demonstrates that terrorist attacks against Cuba have never ceased and were actually escalated in the 1990s. A hotel bombing campaign in Havana left an Italian tourist dead in 1997. Posada’s plan to bomb the popular tourist night club, Tropicana, was thwarted by a Cuban intelligence agent whom he entrusted with the task. The agent had been promised $10,000 per bomb. Another plan uncovered by Cuban agents involved bombing civilian airlines carrying tourists to and from Cuba. This was three years before the terrible airborne terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the so-called ‘war on terrorism’.
The need to keep abreast of these plots, and the abject failure of the US authorities to prevent or punish the perpetrators, led Cuban intelligence to create the Wasp Network (La Red Avispa) to infiltrate Miami exile-groups and gather information. The agents who stepped into this murky labyrinth of conspiracy and intrigue were Gerardo Hernández, Rene González, Fernando González, Ramón Labañino and Antonio Guerrero. In fact, Kimber explains, ten Cuban agents were arrested in 1998, but five of them struck deals with the US authorities; lesser sentences in exchange for testifying against their compatriots. That’s not all. According to Kimber: ‘Adding up all those names and code names, I arrived at a total of 22 members of La Red Avispa.’ (9)
The agent’s preparations involved affecting growing disillusionment with the Revolution before ‘abandoning’ the country. In December 1990, Rene González ‘escaped’ to the US on a hijacked Cuban aircraft. That night, Rene was wined and dined by the Cuban-American president of Key West’s Latin American Chamber of Commerce. He joined exile-group Brothers to the Rescue, led by CIA-trained José Basulto, which ran hostile flights over Cuban airspace.
Kimber describes the personal anguish and sacrifice involved for the Cuban agents. With trepidation we read that the FBI began surveillance of the agents in 1996. In June 1998, an unprecedented meeting took place in Havana between Cuba’s Interior Ministry, the FBI and other US agencies. This followed Fidel’s warnings, delivered via Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez directly to President Bill Clinton, about CANF plans to ‘set up bombs in planes from Cuba or any other country’s airline carrying tourists to, or from, Cuba to Latin American countries.’ (185) Kimber explains: ‘the Cubans presented the Americans with a blizzard of material: photos, audio and video tapes, confessions, wiretap transcripts, bomb-making paraphernalia…’ (199) and three documents: a 65-page Report on Terrorist Activities Against Cuba, a 61-page who’s-who of 40 exiles the Cubans had identified as terrorists, and a 52-page Operational Appendices with intricate details of operations. Unaware that Wasp Network was under FBI surveillance, the Cubans were determined to hide the identities of their agents. The FBI took the information away to ‘evaluate’. Then they arrested the Wasp Network.
The court case took place in Miami; a fair trial was impossible. The Cuban 5 were convicted of false identification, conspiracy to commit espionage and, in Gerardo Hernández’s case, conspiracy to commit murder. He was blamed for the shoot-down of Brothers to the Rescue aircraft in 1996. They received sentences ranging from 15 years to life. In 2005, a US court conceded that the Cuban Five did not receive a fair trial and ordered a retrial in a new location. The US Attorney General overturned this decision and the convictions were upheld. Evidence since obtained through the Freedom of Information Act reveals that the US government paid millions of dollars to Miami-area journalists to prejudice the public against the Cuban Five before and during their trial.
The Five have received ‘cruel and unusual’ treatment, including long stretches in isolation and being denied access to lawyers or family-visits. In late 2011, Rene González (15 years) was granted ‘supervised release’ on a three-year term, initially under life-threatening conditions; to remain in Miami alongside the terrorists he monitored. In spring 2013 he returned permanently to Cuba. In late February 2014, Fernando González (18 years) will be released into detention by US immigration authorities, prior to his return to Cuba. Antonio Guerrero (22 years) and Ramón Labañino (30 years) face many more years of incarceration. Gerardo Hernandez (two consecutive life sentences) will never leave prison, except through political intervention.
All of this has been tracked and opposed by an international campaign to demand the freedom of the Cuban Five. Campaign committees are active in many countries and especially active in the US. Some progress has been made in engaging international ‘dignitaries’, from actors to politicians, in raising the campaign’s profile. However, as mainstream media censorship has prevailed public knowledge of the case is limited. Kimber makes a vital contribution to addressing that by revealing the real story of the Cuban Five.
*Dr Helen Yaffe, completed her doctorate in Cuban economic history at the London School of Economics. She is the author of Che Guevara: The Economics of Revolution, first published by Palgrave MacMillan in English in 2009. (http://www.palgrave.com/products/title.aspx?PID=307678,)
by Stephen Kimber on February 14, 2014 | No Comments
Two states, two countries, 12 days, 13 events.... The latest instalment of the What Lies Across the Water book tour begins in San Francisco on February 25 and ends in Victoria, BC, on March 8. Thanks to the fine folks at the International Committee to Free the Five and by the Free the Cuban 5 Committee-Vancouver. Hope to see you... somewhere!
Tuesday, February 25
Golden Gate University
Room 6208, 6th floor
536 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94105
Sponsored by: American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) at GGU, the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), Golden Gate University, Law Librery and La Raza
25555 Hesperian Blvd, Hayward, CA 94545
Room 554 in Building 500
Sponsored by: Faces of Cuba
Wednesday February 26
402 Barrows Hall on the UC Campus, Berkeley, CA 94720
Sponsored by: Center for Latin American Studies
Thursday February 27
San Francisco State University
1600 Holloway Ave, San Francisco, CA 94132
Burke Hall: 337
Sponsored by: Latina/Latino Studies SFSU, Cuba Educational Project SFSU, College of Ethnic Studies
Friday February 28
Marin Interfaith Task Force
Redwood Presbyterian Church
110 Magnolia Ave, Larkspur, CA 94939
Sunday March 2
La Peña Cultural Center
3105 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA
Special Guests: Mayor of Richmond Gayle McLaughlin, Mayor of Berkeley, Tom Bates
Monday March 3
College of Marin
835 College Avenue, Kentfield, CA 94904
Fusselman Hall 110
Tuesday March 4
Sonoma State University
1801 E Cotati Ave, Rohnert Park, CA 94928
Sponsored by: Project Censored and Media Freedom Foundation
and SSU Sociology Club
Wednesday, March 5
Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House
800 E. Broadway
A Special Evening with: His Excellency Mr. JULIO GARMENDIA PEÑA
Cuban Ambassador to Canada; STEPHEN KIMBER, Journalist and Author of “What Lies Across the Water, The Real Story of the Cuban 5″
Thursday March 6th 2014
Nanaimo Harbourfront Library
90 Commercial St.
Book Signing & Author Reading with: STEPHEN KIMBER, Journalist and Author of “What Lies Across the Water, The Real Story of the Cuban 5.″ Also featuring His Excellency Mr. JULIO GARMENDIA PEÑA, Cuban Ambassador to Canada
Friday, March 7
Seattle University, USA
901 12th Ave
RSVP to email@example.com http://www.seattleu.edu/csjs
Event Co-sponsored by: Center for Global Justice, Latin American Studies Program, School of Law Latin America Program, Diversity, Citizenship & Social Justice CORE Track Program, US Women Cuba Collaboration, Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba (VCSC), Seattle-Cuba Friendship Committee
Seattle A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition, National Lawyers Guild, Seattle Chapter
Keystone Congregational United Church of Christ
5019 Keystone Place, N.Seattle, WA
FILM SHOWING — “Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up” by the late award-winning filmmaker Saul Landau — and AUTHOR DISCUSSION with Stephen Kimber.
Co-organized with: Wallingford Neighbors for Peace and Justice
Saturday, March 8
CUPE Local 50 Hall
2736 Quadra St.
"CUBA TODAY & the Case of the Cuban 5" Featuring: His Excellency Mr. JULIO GARMENDIA PEÑA, Cuban Ambassador to Canada, Mrs. MIRALY GONZÁLEZ GONZÁLEZ, First Secretary of the Cuban Embassy in Canada, and STEPHEN KIMBER, Journalist and Author of “What Lies Across the Water, The Real Story of the Cuban 5.″
by Stephen Kimber on October 31, 2013 | No Comments
WHAT LIES ACROSS THE WATER
The Real Story of the Cuban Five
By Stephen Kimber
Review by Jane Franklin
(Jane Franklin is one of the world’s leading experts on Cuba-U.S. relations. She is the author of Cuban Foreign Relations: A Chronology, 1959-1982 (New York: Center for Cuban Studies, 1984) and Cuba and the United States: A Chronological History (New York and Melbourne: Ocean Press, 1997 This review was originally published in a shorter version in the November 2013 issue of Z Magazine.)
Stephen Kimber was planning to write a novel, a love story set partly in Cuba. What he ended up writing is indeed set partly in Cuba but takes place mostly in Florida, where, as we all know from novels and movies and real life, anything can happen. And here it does. Who would believe this story if it were not real?
What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of the Cuban Five is an historical narrative, an expose, a political thriller, a romance, entwined in a maze of endless twists and turns involving terrorists and foreign agents, with the FBI’s surveillance and perfidy leading inexorably to tragedy.
By weaving the story of the Cuban Five into the history of U.S.-Cuban relations, Kimber highlights the grotesque patterns of both the history and the story. Take, for example, what he does with the figure of Orlando Bosch.
Those who have studied the war of terror that the United States has been waging on Cuba ever since 1959 are of course aware of Bosch’s central role. Partially educated in the United States, Bosch led a failed rebellion against the Cuban revolutionary government and then fled back to Miami with his wife and children in 1960. No sooner had Bosch settled in Florida than he launched his career of terrorism, joining the CIA’s Operation 40, running the Insurrectional Movement of Revolutionary Recovery (MIRR), firing a bazooka at a Polish freighter in the Port of Miami, violating parole, fleeing to Venezuela.
In June 1976 Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles, an equally notorious terrorist, were leaders in the formation of the Coordination of United Revolutionary Organizations (CORU), an umbrella group for attacks not only against Cuba itself but against countries and individuals considered friendly to Cuba.
CORU immediately went on a rampage of terrorist attacks in several countries. In October Bosch and Posada masterminded the bombing of a Cubana Airlines passenger jet, blowing it out of the sky as it was leaving Barbados, killing all 73 people aboard -- the first time a passenger jet was used as a terrorist weapon (that didn’t happen again until 9/11).
After years under Venezuelan arrest for that crime, Bosch returned to Florida in 1988 and was released from detention (for parole violation) in 1990 even though the Department of Justice had earlier ordered that he be deported as a terrorist. Thus a mass killer was released to walk free in Miami, where he was celebrated as a heroic freedom fighter.
The Cuban government, of course, wasn’t amused. “We cannot calmly take the news of the release of Orlando Bosch, who is a terrorist,” explained a spokesperson for the Cuban Interest Section in Washington. Havana had no intention of waiting quietly for [Bosch’s] next trick. (19)
What Kimber adds to this familiar history is a startling revelation: the connection between the release of this terrorist and Cuba’s quick decision to establish a new network of intelligence agents in Florida to foil the plots of Bosch and his fellow terrorists. This marked the birth of what Havana code-named La Red Avispa, the Wasp Network:
Although the group that would become known as the Cuban Five consists of the five men – Gerardo Hernández, René González, Fernando González, Ramón Labañino, and Antonio Guerrero – who stood in the prisoners’ dock in Miami when their trial finally began in 2000, there were, initially, many more than five of them. . . .When FBI agents initially swooped in on September 12, 1998, they arrested 10 people. Five of them quickly struck deals, pleading guilty in exchange for lesser sentences and a promise to testify against their compatriots. (8)
Kimber points out that, in the end, of the five who copped a deal, only one, Joseph Santos, testified in the trial and his testimony was mostly about how Cuba recruited, trained and deployed their agents.
At the time of the arrests, the FBI publicly identified four other Avispa agents it claimed had left the country before they could be arrested. That makes 14. Kimber concludes that there were at least 22 agents in La Red Avispa. (Therein lies, across the water, one of the mysteries that remain – the stories of the other eight.)
The first agent who became part of the Cuban Five arrived in December 1990, only five months after Orlando Bosch was released in July. René González flew away from Cuba in a stolen crop duster, landed in Key West, and became an instant celebrity. Here the political thriller begins, for he, like all the other Cuban intelligence agents, was risking his life to protect a country under siege by the United States.
René immediately became two different heroes. In Florida the anti-Cubans mistakenly thought he was their hero. In Cuba he was actually a hero but only a very few Cubans could know that. Other Cubans considered him a defector (a traitor and a thief who stole a plane) until after the arrests eight years later.
Stephen Kimber succeeds in making the difficulties of this painful double identity palpable for all the agents he describes. Right away we are shown how much this agent, his wife, and their daughter sacrificed in exchange for the agent’s job of trying to stop terrorist attacks against Cuba.
Of course when René left home, his wife Irma Salanueva soon found out he had defected. She could not believe it. Suddenly she was a single mom. In his first letter to her he told her he had come to “a wonderful country” with opportunities for all of them. He was even investigating a school for their daughter, Irmita. In response, she wrote that she wanted nothing to do with him. “`I wish you luck in your new future but it will not be with me.’” (23) Through all the years since 1990, Kimber unfolds this love story that transcended more than two decades of heartache and separation until René, having completed his sentence, was released from prison in 2011 under “supervised release” and allowed to stay in Cuba in 2013.
The lives of the Cuban Five are heartrending stories of families living through years of uncertainty and separation. In 1994 Gerardo Hernandez left his wife Adriana Pérez to arrive in Miami as a Puerto Rican named Manuel Viramóntez. “Adriana didn’t – but did – know what her husband did.” (89) His Cuban friends and relatives thought he was a diplomat posted at the embassy in Buenos Aires, but his assignment was to supervise the agents of La Red Avispa.
At the time of the arrests, Gerardo was continuing to try to bring Adriana to Miami. They wanted to have children. After the arrests, with Gerardo sentenced to two lifetimes plus 15 years, the U.S. Justice Department’s refusal to grant a visa to Adriana prevents them from having children.
Kimber intricately weaves the individual stories of the agents into the intrigue and dangers of their political work. Notice how he introduces Juan Pablo Roque into the murderous world of José Basulto, another major terrorist who had organized Brothers to the Rescue:
Perhaps it was because they’d both fled Fidel Castro’s Cuba by swimming to freedom across Guantanamo Bay: José Basulto in 1961 in the wake of the Bay of Pigs debacle; Juan Pablo Roque more than 30 years later after he’d become so disillusioned with his life under communism he “pulled on some scuba gear and flippered his way to the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo,” where he demanded asylum. Or perhaps, Basulto thought, he liked the young defector so much simply because his story seemed so compelling, and he told it so well.” (44)
Roque had studied in the Soviet Union and returned to Cuba as an Air Force MiG pilot, just the sort to fly for Brothers to the Rescue, or so thought Basulto, who took a special liking to the dashing MiG pilot. Basulto did not know that two of his pilots were Cuban agents. René González and Juan Pablo Roque did not know either, because members of La Red Avispa did not generally know each other; only their supervisor knew who was who.
Thanks to Roque, Cuban State Security knew all about José Basulto’s “interest in acquiring long-range weapons for attempts on the Commander-in-Chief’s life [and] his money-gathering for attempts on some people’s lives in Cuba.” Roque had also told his bosses about instructions he’d received from Brothers on ways to “interfere” with the air traffic control towers at Cuban airports. (87)
What would have happened if Basulto had found out who these agents really were? He obviously had no qualms about killing people.
Nor did the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), the wealthiest and therefore the most influential of all the anti-Cuban groups in the United States. Until a former board member angrily exposed their covert military arm in 2006, CANF insisted that it was a nonviolent organization. Because of its intelligence agents, Cuba told the truth that Washington pretended not to believe even though of course the FBI also knew the truth.
Even Roque’s autobiography had produced positive, if unexpected intelligence: the Cuban American National Foundation, which had underwritten its publication, asked Roque to provide a “technical assessment of using arrow-rockets to [make an] attempt on the Commander-in-Chief’s life.” (87)
Meanwhile, CANF peacefully lobbied Congress and financed Cuban émigrés who became members of Congress, contributing money to both Democrats and Republicans, creating and orchestrating the passage of the Torricelli Act of 1992 and the Helms-Burton Law of 1996 – legal terrorism aimed, from the beginning, at starving the whole Cuban people into submission. The Real Story of the Cuban Five is a continuing part of that constant U.S. policy toward Cuba.
Kimber knew next to nothing about the Cuban Five as he started investigating the story, but his prodigious research, including his study of the entire trial transcript, and his interviews, along with his correspondence with the Cuban Five in their prisons around the United States, revealed to him the tremendous dimensions of what he, as a Canadian, was exposing:
So the story of the Cuban Five isn’t really the story of the Five at all. Or, at least, it’s not just their story. And it isn’t a simple linear narrative. It’s a cascading accumulation of incident and irritant, of connivance and consequence, a parallel, converging, diverging narrative featuring an ensemble cast of eclectic characters on both sides of the Straits of Florida – spies, terrorists, revolutionaries, counter-revolutionaries, cops, mercenaries, politicians, heroes, villains, journalists, innocents – whose personal ambitions, actions, loyalties, vanities, secrets, strengths and foibles collectively weave larger narratives about Cuban-American relations, about the war on terror, about hypocrisy, about truth and fiction, about right and wrong. (9)
Kimber describes the build-up in 1997 and 1998 to the arrests of the Cuban Five, rife with mysteries and surprises found in fiction. More than once Kimber remarks that nothing is as it seems.
One surprise to lots of us at the time, in November 1997, was the fact that the U.S. Coast Guard in Puerto Rican waters actually arrested multimillionaire members of CANF who had been on their way to assassinate President Fidel Castro on Venezuela’s Margarita Island where he was to attend an Ibero-American Summit meeting. Their trial was pending when the Cuban Five were arrested a year later. Some analysts have speculated that one factor in the U.S. Justice Department’s decision to arrest the Cuban Five in September 1998 was to deflect attention from CANF’s would-be assassins. The media predictably focused on the “Cuban terrorists” rather than CANF’s terrorists who were acquitted of all charges while the Cuban Five were awaiting trial in December 1999. Héctor Pesquera, the FBI director in Puerto Rico at the time of the arrests of the CANF members, was transferred to Miami and became the FBI director in charge of the arrests of the Cuban Five.
Kimber’s coverage of the inexorable path to the arrests of the Cuban Five zig-zags through the bombing campaign that Luis Posada orchestrated in Havana in 1997 and 1998; Gabriel García Márquez’s effort to persuade the Clinton Administration to stop U.S.-based terrorism, followed by the FBI’s delegation to Havana in June 1998 to receive information from Cuban authorities about the terrorist network in Miami; the front-page exposure of Luis Posada boasting of terrorism in the July 1998 New York Times; and the role of FBI agent George Kisynzski, the “very good friend” of Luis Posada, in the handling of a tip about a boat loaded with explosives in Miami.
FBI agents are always colluding with anti-Cuban elements because the FBI’s job is to enforce the law of our land – the U.S. policy, codified in the Helms-Burton Law, aimed at overthrowing the Cuban Government. Kimber includes an explanation of “the yellow light” (208) used by the FBI to warn terrorism suspects to “lay low” for a while.
My own favorite example of such a “yellow light” occurred during the so-called “FBI investigation” of the 1997 plot to assassinate Fidel Castro. Aboard the boat searched by the Coast Guard were two .50-caliber ultra-long-range super powerful sniper rifles. One belonged to CANF President Francisco (Pepe) Hernandez. When I learned that FBI agents “interviewed” Pepe, I could hear the message: “lay low until this blows over.” Pepe was never charged and remains the president of CANF as of this writing.
The FBI knows who is who in the anti-Cuban groups and, as the evidence presented in the trial of the Cuban Five reveals, they also knew who was who in La Red Avispa. They had been watching the Cuban Five for years, implanting listening devices in their homes, following them to meetings, watching and waiting. The story of how Juan Pablo Roque serendipitously escaped is one of the most exciting in the book.
What Lies Across the Water shows that the most egregious charge, verdict, and sentence in the trial of the Cuban Five were based on a blatantly egregious lie: that Gerardo Hernández had something to do with the famous 1996 “shootdown” of two Brothers to the Rescue planes. The charge against him of conspiracy to commit murder led to his receiving a life sentence and to his other life sentence not being reduced so that he has two life sentences plus 15 years. First, that charge was added seven months after the initial indictment. Then, at the conclusion of the trial, the prosecutors themselves filed a last-minute emergency petition to prevent the jurors from voting on the murder count against Gerardo. They had decided that there was not sufficient evidence and that this would “`likely result in the failure of the prosecution.’” (232-33) The Appeals Court rejected their petition.
Kimber connects the story of the Cuban Five not just to the preceding history but also to events during and after the trial. Each question he explores adds more significance to the story. How did such seemingly extraneous issues as the attempt to keep Elián González in Miami impact opinion in Miami, the venue of the trial? How was Posada’s plot to kill President Fidel Castro in the year 2000 thwarted? (I see startled expressions whenever I point out that if that plan had succeeded, plastic explosive would have blown up an auditorium with about 2,000 people inside. Imagine the carnage if Cuban agents had not been doing their job.)
How did the trial of the Cuban Five relate to the trial of Luis Posada in El Paso, Texas, in 2011? And what about the case of Alan Gross? Cuba has its own stories of watching and waiting. Kimber follows Alan Gross from his first visit to Cuba in 2004 until his arrest in 2009. Cuban officials were aware of exactly what he was doing during all those five years. Gross, working for the State Department, was, like the FBI agents, doing his job. Does the U.S. Government care enough about its agent to exchange him for the four members of the Cuban Five who remain in prison?
Copyright 2013 Sting of the Wasp: The Cuban Five Connection
by Stephen Kimber on October 30, 2013 | No Comments
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Who are the Cuban Five? Why did the FBI arrest them in 1998? Why are they still in prison in the United States? What makes them national heroes in their homeland? What does their case have to do with the war on terror? And why should their story matter to the rest of us?
Canadian journalist Stephen Kimber, the author of a new book — What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of the Cuban Five — will tackle those and other questions during speaking engagements this month in Ottawa, Kingston, ON, Toronto, Chicago and Milwaukee. (Full Schedule Below.)
The Cuban Five — Gerardo Hernandez, René González, Ramon Labañino, Fernando González and Antonio Guerrero — were members of a Cuban intelligence network dispatched to South Florida in the early 1990s. Their job was to infiltrate and report back on militant exile groups plotting terrorist attacks on Cuba.
Cuba even shared information on one of those plots — a plan to blow up an airplane carrying tourists to Cuba from Europe or Latin America — with the American government. Instead of charging the terrorist plotters, the FBI swooped in on September 12, 1998, and arrested Cuba’s intelligence agents.
After a controversial trial in hostile Miami, the Five were sentenced to unconscionably long prison terms. Four of them are still in jail. One is serving a double-life-plus-15-year sentence.
Kimber’s tour — he's previously spoken in Washington, New York and Boston — is part of a broader campaign to bring attention to the case and win the release of the remaining members of the Five.
Stephen Kimber, an award-winning Canadian journalist, is the Interim Director of the School of Journalism at the University of King’s College in Halifax, Canada. He is the author of one novel and seven previous books of nonfiction.
For more information contact:
Where & When:
Nov 6, 7 pm, Ottawa:
Octopus Books. 251 Bank St, 2nd Floor (25OneCommunity)
Nov 7, 7 pm, Kingston:
Kingston and Frontenac Public Library, Wilson Room, 130 Johnson St.
Nov 8, 2:30 pm, Toronto
Accents Bookstore, 1790 Eglinton Ave. (near Dufferin Street) Phone #: 647-352-8558. Book signing.
Nov 8, 6:30 pm, Toronto:
York University, Ross 556 South (DLLL Lounge). "Cuba By Canadian Authors" with Keith Bolender and Arnold August.
Nov 10, 2:30 pm, Toronto:
Steelworkers Hall, 25 Cecil Street. "Cuba By Canadian Authors" with Keith Bolender and Arnold August.
Nov 13, 7 pm, Chicago:
DePaul University, Schmitt Academic Center, 2320 N. Kenmore Avenue, Chicago IL 60614
Nov 14, noon:
Northwestern University School of Law, 375 E. Chicago Ave., Chicago IL, 60611
Nov 14, 7pm, Milwaukee:
University of Wisconsin/ Milwaukee, Student Union, Room 240, 2200 E. Kenwood Blvd, Milwaukee, WI 53211
Nov15, 9 am, Chicago:
University of Illinois/Chicago [UIC], Rafael Cintron Ortiz Cultural Center, Room LC-B2, 403 S. Morgan St., Chicago IL 60607 (between Harrison and Taylor, Morgan and Halsted)
Copyright 2013 Sting of the Wasp: The Cuban Five Connection