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?
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)
by Stephen Kimber on October 23, 2013 | 7 Comments
A blog called Capitol Hill Cubans has taken me to task for my recent Washington Post commentary in which I ask why the United States put the Cuban Five in jail when their primary goal was to prevent terrorist attacks on their homeland?
After “commending” the Post for allowing me to present what it calls my “defence” of the Five, Capitol Hill Cubans quickly notes that, “while Prof. Kimber is entitled to his own opinion, he's not entitled to his own facts.”
Fair enough. So let us compare facts.
Capitol Hill Cubans is edited by Mauricio Claver-Carone, who is also a co-founder and Director of something called the U.S.-Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee. It is “the largest single [issue] foreign-policy political committee in the United States.” According to a 2007 report in the Miami Herald, the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC “raised about $1.5 million [between 2003 and 2007], most of it in South Florida, to lobby Congress to keep the sanctions against [Cuba] in place.” According to the Centre for Responsive Politics, Claver-Carone’s PAC doled out more than $400,000 in campaign contributions in 2012 to politicians who “have key roles on congressional committees responsible for Cuba-related issues or have demonstrated their support for the struggle for human rights in Cuba.” Including such luminaries as Cuban-American Tea Party favourite and wannabe president Ted Cruz ($15,000) and influential Republican leaders like House Speaker John Boehner ($10,000) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell ($10,000).
Mauricio Claver-Carone, it is clear, has his own skin in the game of maintaining an American policy hard line against anything remotely connected to Cuba.
Claver-Carone launches his attack on my commentary by declaring that my ability to state my views in the Post is — change the channel — “in stark contrast to the five Cuban spies’ bosses in Havana, who punish diverging opinions with torture, imprisonment and potentially even death, as famed Castro regime critic Oswaldo Paya may have recently been a victim of.”
He does not, of course, mention how rare it is for a dissenting view on Cuban-American policy — let alone a “defense” of the Five — to make it into the pages of the Post.
Instead, he continues by invoking his best diversionary schoolyard “So’s-your-mother” taunt, calling on me to now “defend the countless innocent Cubans who have been victims of the Castro regime's arbitrary and subjugated judiciary.”
Excuse me? I thought we were talking about the Cuban Five. I was.
I’m not an apologist for the Cuban government. I’m a journalist who looked into a particular espionage and murder case involving Cuba and Cubans that happened in the United States. I don’t know enough about the Paya case or the generic “countless” others he references to offer a considered opinion on them. But I did spend three years reading the 20,000+ pages of transcripts and evidence in the trial of the Cuban Five and interviewing participants on both sides of the Straits of Florida. Has Claver-Carone done the same?
Let’s look more closely at some of Claver-Carone’s “facts.”
“Prof. Kimber absurdly claims the so-called Cuban Five are venerated on the island as ‘national heroes.’ As he is surely aware, Cuba is a totalitarian dictatorship, where all means of communication are controlled by the Castro brothers. Thus, if the Cuban Five constantly appear on national television and billboards across the country, it's not because they are venerated by the Cuban people — it's because the dictatorship compels it.”
When was the last time Claver-Carone visited the island? I’m guessing the answer — given his arguments and his assumptions the Cuban people are mindless, fear-ridden automatons — is not recently. During my trips to the island I’ve talked with plenty of ordinary Cubans who can be openly critical, sometimes scathingly so, of their government and its policies.
I won’t dispute Claver-Carone’s contention that the media in Cuba is government controlled, and one could therefore argue that the billboards are more a reflection of government policy than popular will.
But my sense — again after talking to Cubans in cabs, in shops and restaurants, on the street — is that the cause of the Five transcends the usual politics.
At one point — as an experiment to test my theory — I put on a “Free the Five” t-shirt and went on a five-kilometre walk through various Havana neighbourhoods. I lost count of the number of thumbs-up, high-fives and handshakes I encountered. The T-shirt started countless conversations, not all of them sympathetic to the government but all of them supportive of the cause of the Five.
How is it possible — in this “totalitarian dictatorship” — for Cubans to sympathize with Cuban government “spies?”
The simple answer is that terrorist bombs have no ideology.
Consider the bartender in the Bodeguita del Medio, who lost his hearing to a bomb set off by a mercenary operating at the behest of Luis Posada Carriles in a terrorist campaign that Posada himself boasted was financed by the politically powerful Cuban American National Foundation. Or the mothers of the children who miraculously escaped being blown to bits by another exile terrorist bomb placed near the site of a schoolboy chess tournament.
Can Claver-Carone not understand why those Cubans might be grateful a group of Cuban government “spies” risked their own lives and futures to uncover terrorist plots against them?
That doesn’t sound so absurd to me?
"Prof. Kimber also seeks to justify the Cuban Five's penetration of U.S. military bases, including the U.S. Southern and Central Command and Ft. Bragg, by claiming the Castro regime was somehow legitimately concerned about a U.S. invasion."
No intention of invading Cuba? It would be helpful if Claver-Carone provided actual evidence to back up his claim. Because there is plenty of evidence to suggest the opposite.
The reality is that, in the previous decade alone, American troops had invaded Haiti, Grenada and Panama. As he well knows, the overthrow of the Castro government has been on the American agenda/wish list since the revolution.
When the U.S Department of Defense announced plans to relocate its Southern Command headquarters from Panama to Miami in 1995, the Miami Herald pointedly included — along with already-happened examples like Haiti and Panama — a hopeful “toppling of the communist government in Cuba” as among the scenarios the new command centre might be called upon to oversee.
And it is also no secret influential exile groups were lobbying the U.S. government during the 1990s to overthrow the Castro government.
Sounds like a legitimate concern to me.
“Prof. Kimber then argues that the Cuban Five could not have been tried by a ‘reasonable jury’ in Miami, home to so many Cuban exiles. Yet, he fails to mention that not a single Cuban exile served on the juries that convicted the Cuban Five.”
Where to begin? While it is true that no Cuban exile served on the jury that convicted the Five, you didn’t have to be a Cuban exile to have been influenced — perhaps even intimidated — by the poisonous anti-Cuban government atmosphere in Miami.
We could start back in the 1970s when the FBI described Miami as the “terrorist capital” of the United States, thanks to its average of 100 bombings and an assassination a week, much of it directed against Cuban Americans who weren’t considered “pure” enough in their opposition to Fidel Castro. That view was neatly summed up by Andrés Nazario Sargen, a founder of Alpha 66, who declared that “when an American citizen… helps a person in Cuba in any way, it gives the Cubans hope, which postpones their need to risk their lives to overthrow [Fidel Castro], which hurts the cause.”
Not much had changed by the 1990s. In 1994, when Human Rights Watch released a report on the state of freedom of expression in Miami — not good — the city had to assign nine police officers to protective duty at the press conference about the report just to protect the presenters.
One of the issues Human Rights Watch flagged was the community’s response after a delegation of moderate exiles recently visited Cuba. When the moderates returned to Miami, they were verbally attacked on Spanish-language radio talk shows, shunned in the streets, subjected to harassing phone messages and death threats — “You’ll be floating in the Miami River with flies in your mouth” — their businesses were boycotted and some were even physically assaulted.
During the months leading up to jury selection for the trial of the Cuban Five, potential jurors were subject to the spectacle of militant Miamians declaring angry war on their own government over Elian González, the Cuban boy whose custody case had become their anti-Castro cause célèbre. Not to forget reading and seeing the steady drumbeat of hostile columns and commentaries in the local media, much of it — it turns out — bought and paid for by the U.S. government.
No wonder then that prosecutors in another high profile case — the trial of a group of prominent Cuban exiles accused in Puerto Rico of planning to assassinate Fidel Castro — opposed a defence motion to move that trial to Miami. The prosecutors knew better than to trust their case to a Miami jury.
“Throughout his defense, Prof. Kimber alludes to a host of alleged plots supposedly uncovered by Cuban agents. It's worth noting that his source is the Castro dictatorship itself.”
It is worth noting, in fact, that my sources for these particular plots included the Cuban Five trial transcript and the pages of the Miami Herald.
“Finally, to add insult to injury, Prof. Kimber unequivocally states that the ringleader of the Cuban Five, Gerardo Hernandez, was not aware of Castro regime’s 1996 plan to shoot-down two civilian Cessna planes, belonging to the humanitarian group Brothers to the Rescue, which resulted in the murder of three Americans and a U.S. resident (see below). He must be unaware of Operacion Escorpion ("Operation Scorpion"), the code-name used by Hernandez and the spy network for the operation to shoot-down the civilian planes.”
I am certainly aware of Operacion Escorpion, which was a plan to “perfect the confrontation” between the Cuban government and the Brothers to the Rescue exile group.
Brothers had been routinely and flagrantly illegally violating Cuban airspace for more than a year while the American government seemed powerless to rein them in. Cuban intelligence agents had also uncovered evidence that the group were test-firing missiles that could used in an attack against Cuba.
On February 24, 1996, the Cuban government shot down two of Brothers to the Rescue planes, killing four people.
The question is not what happened but whether Gerardo Hernandez, a street-level illegal intelligence officer in a state security agency that prides itself on extreme compartmentalization and limited "need to know" would have known of the Cuban military’s actual plans.
Certainly, “perfect the confrontation” is ambiguous. It could have, as even a U.S. appeal court judge acknowledged, mean anything from forcing the planes to land and arresting the participants to shooting them down.
The rest of the so-called evidence concerning the shootdown presented during the trial is equally ambiguous. The prosecutors made much of a message from Havana in the week after the shootdown congratulating Hernandez and his agents for having “dealt the Miami right a hard blow,” thanks to their role in what the message called “Operacion German.”
Operacion German? Not Operacion Escorpion. Although the prosecutors treated them as one and the same, the likelihood is that Operacion German referred to Hernandez’s success in another assignment: helping agent Juan Pablo Roque, whose code name was German and who had infiltrated Brothers to the Rescue, return home to Havana. His return to Havana happened at around the same time as the shootdown. The congratulatory message, in fact, specifically referred to the fact that Fidel Castro had visited with Roque twice “to exchange details of the operation. We have dealt the Miami Right a hard blow.”
Given that, after his return, Roque was interviewed on CNN — where he dissed his former trusting colleagues in Brothers to the Rescue and even disclosed the cell phone number of an FBI agent who’d recruited him to spy on the Brothers group — it seems much more likely that is the "hard blow" the message refers to.
That was the problem with much of the evidence in the trial. It wasn’t evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. Unless, of course, you were a member of a Miami jury.
So when Claver Catone argues that the Five “were granted complete due process by our independent judiciary [and] were duly convicted by a federal jury for their illegal activities against the United States,” we should not be reassured.
by Stephen Kimber on September 21, 2013 | 1 Comment
“With surgeon-like skill, Kimber dissects, bottom up, an injustice perpetrated at the highest levels on Cuban patriots acting for their government with few financial resources in a hostile foreign country… An important and riveting book.”
Atlantic Books Today
"What Lies Across the Water connects the dots between the Cuban American National Foundation -- an influential lobby group of Cuban exiles living in the U.S., the Brothers to the Rescue organization and paramilitary operations meant to violently overthrow the Cuban government and assassinate Fidel Castro… Those looking for truthful testimony about the Cuban Five will find that What Lies Across the Water makes a compelling and damning case."
“With this important new book Kimber does a masterful job of showcasing his abundant talents as an investigative journalist and popular writer… What is remarkable is how he picked up this story, and began to collect all available information about it and to study it prodigiously. What is surprising is that he ended up putting so much meticulous work into uncovering the details of this exceptional story. What Lies Across the Water is easy to read, written almost like a novel. It is packed with information and entertains as well as informs.”
“Far from being a boring account of deeds and misdeeds, Kimber employs eloquent prose and an enjoyable style to draw the reader into the tangled layers of terrorism and murder, espionage and deception, propaganda and myths, life sentences and impunity, meanness and hatred, love and sacrifice, romance and solitude, patriotism and delusion, good intentions and bad, and lies, lies, and more lies.”
“[The book] is fruit of a research carried out by someone who at the start was not a defender or sympathizer with the cause of The Five. Kimber, as many of the thousand Canadians who visit Cuba, probably bumped more than once into a propaganda poster written with naiveté or linguistic clumsiness; or heard someone speak with admiration of The Five Heroes. But he knew almost nothing when he started his research… It is not a lengthy work, difficult to read; quite the opposite. Its light and clear language allows readers to move along the episodes of the conflict, and finish in a few hours a story that captured them from the first page. It is the work of a master journalist, a great writer, and above all an honest intellectual committed only to what he could verify on his own.
“Kimber’s account of the Cuban Five comes with a bit of bias. However, it’s ultimately a compelling read, but only after you doggedly surmount its difficult structure.”
Douglas J. Johnston
Winnipeg Free Press
Publication of What Lies Across the Water, Stephen Kimber’s book about Cuban anti-terrorists serving wildly extravagant terms in U.S. jails, is a remarkable event… The author’s clear, flowing, and often seat-gripping, even entertaining, narrative is an added plus. The book is highly recommended.
by Stephen Kimber on September 16, 2013 | 5 Comments
My New York publicist had arranged an interview for me with WLRN, South Florida's popular National Public Radio affiliate, for this Tuesday (September 17) to talk about my new book, What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of the Cuban Five.
Since I'm currently on a book tour in the northeastern US, the station arranged for me to go to affiliate WGBH in Boston to do the interview live from a studio there. All was set... Then, late last night, we got this email from WLRN:
"I’m sorry to say that Topical Currents host/exec prod, Joseph Cooper, has told me to cancel the interview with Stephen Kimber. After looking over the book and accompanying material... he feels that the topic is too 'incendiary' and fears a negative reaction from certain segments of the community."
That email tells you everything you need to know — and more — about why it was impossible to find an unbiased jury in Miami to hear the case of the Cuban Five. And why it is even more important today — 15 years later, with four of the five still in American prisons — for Americans to learn the facts about this case.
Update: WLRN has apologized, and re-invited me to appear on another program on Friday, September 20 at 12 p.m. ET (1 pm AST). Here's the story from the Miami Herald. And here's a link to the live stream of the station's broadcast. The program I'll be appearing on, Florida Round Up, also has a web page with information about the program.
by Stephen Kimber on September 10, 2013 | 2 Comments
Who are the Cuban Five? Why did the FBI arrest them? 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 Americans?
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 in a number of appearances in book stores and community events in Washington DC, New York and Boston.
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 planning 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 the five are still in jail. One is serving a double-life-plus-15-year sentence.
September 12 marks the 15th anniversary of their arrests and Kimber's tour is part of a larger campaign organized by the International Committee to Free the 5 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.
SEE TOUR SCHEDULE
CONTACT: Nancy Kohn, (617) 504-9773
(Spanish or English): Alicia Jrapko, (510) 219-0092
International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5