by Stephen Kimber on May 8, 2013 | 4 Comments
An excerpt from What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of the Cuban Five, to be published in August 2013 by Fernwood Publishing.
Editor's Note: One of the things we tend to forget about clandestine intelligence agents is that their world really is clandestine. They can't even tell their families or closest friends what they're doing. When René González "stole" a plane and "defected" to the U.S. in 1990, Cuban authorities told his wife Olga he was a traitor. It took four years of pleading and cajoling — still without telling her the complete truth — before René was able to win her back.
In honour of René Gonzalez's final return to Cuba last month and of Mother's Day, here's a short excerpt from my book focusing on that period when René was still trying to convince Olga to join him in Miami.
Miami, May 24, 1994
"Remember I want to be with you at the beach in September and I am not losing hope. I am sending you a very big kiss and a lot of love. From your dear husband waiting impatiently with open arms to close around you in the most tender and loving hug."
René González looked again at the words he’d just written. It had been three years, five months and 16 days since his “defection” — three years, five months and 16 days since he had last seen Olga and their daughter Irma. Despite the time that had passed, René could still feel the righteous sting from that first letter Olga had written him. It had arrived about a month after he’d landed in the United States. He’d gone to Miami for a weekend visit. His grandmother telephoned from Sarasota. “You have a letter,” she said. “From Olga.” René had rushed back, excited, eager, tore open the letter and… found himself “torn apart.”“I wish you luck in your new future,” Olga had written, “but it will not be with me.”
For the next week, he had wandered aimlessly, “like a zombie,” trying to come to terms with what those words meant. On the one hand — the hand that had willingly come to the United States to perform a patriotic mission for his homeland — René was proud of her “most dignified, moving and strong response to my defection.” He had expected nothing less. But on the other hand — that hand that desperately missed his wife, the hand that wanted to watch his little girl grow up in front of him — he was devastated.
But he refused to give up. It wasn’t in his nature. Even as he had gone about the tasks at hand — finding a job, a car, a place to live, befriending fellow exiles, joining anti-Castro groups, working as a roofer for a year in post-Hurricane Andrew Florida to earn money for his flight instructor licence, volunteering as a pilot with José Basulto’s Brothers to the Rescue group, trying to set up his own flight training school — he continued to write, to call Olga through friends, to plead for forgiveness, for the chance to reunite their family once again.
His cause had been aided — inadvertently and unfortunately — by events unfolding at home. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba’s economy collapsed. There were shortages of everything from electricity to food. People — literally — starved. Olga herself reported their house had been robbed, and everything of value stolen. To make matters worse, the neighbours gossiped, sometimes loudly and pointedly, about René’s “treason.” Irma was old enough to ask questions, so Olga decided to move them to a smaller apartment in another Havana neighbourhood, closer to her parents. But then that building’s stairs collapsed, and they’d been forced to move into a temporary shelter.
Eventually, events and René’s persistence — and, of course, the reality that she still loved and missed the man she had married — wore her down. Olga finally relented. René applied to U.S. Immigration for a visa to bring her and Irma to Florida.
“Speaking of that,” he wrote cheerfully, “I don’t know if I already told you that I received the notice of receipt from Immigration… They tell me that the process should take between 90 and 120 days. I imagine that, within that time, they will have already made an appointment with you at the [U.S.] Interest Section in Havana to see if you are the same in the photograph I turned in… It was difficult for me to let go of that photograph, but it was the only one that more or less fit the requirements they were asking for. Besides, I imagine that it is more pleasant to grant a visa to a woman as pretty as you are than to any other woman. Anyway, I decided to sacrifice such a pretty photograph as long as I could have with me the original who is prettier still. Finally when you are here, I will be able to take hundreds of photos of you.
“As for me,” he continued in the same upbeat, chatty tone, “I am fine. As you must already know, I returned from Mexico… I am processing all the information I got there to start a [flying school] business I think will be successful… If it goes the way I hope, I think I can get a slice of what I have put up my sleeve to make money… With about 10 students, I could be assured of a good salary that would prepare me for when you all arrive.”
He skipped from subject to subject. His grandmother had had to postpone her planned trip back to Cuba because of her husband’s illness, he wrote.
“Speaking of trips to Cuba, I have been thinking about what could be a new alternative for you. Those who leave legally may travel [back to Cuba] a year after their departure. That means once you are here a year, you are free to travel there to visit whenever you want to. Unfortunately,” he added, “I can’t go with you because they would tear me to pieces if I show up there.
“Well, Tuti, I take leave in order to write a letter to your mother-in-law and another one to your daughter… Don’t fail to tell me when they call you at the Interest Section so I know the process is going smoothly.”
Of course René González still couldn’t tell his wife the truth about what he was really doing in the United States. If only.
In December 1996, Olga and Irma joined René in Florida where Ivette would be born. In September 1998, René was arrested and Olga deported back to Cuba. She was not granted a visa to visit him during his 15 years in prisonin the U.S.
by Stephen Kimber on April 27, 2013 | No Comments
The International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban Five has scheduled a week of activities in Washington from May 30 – June 5 to continue the campaign to win release of five Cuban intelligence agents still in jail in the United States for "conspiracy to commit" espionage back in the 1990s.
Full disclosure: I'll be speaking at one of the events about my forthcoming book about the case: What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of the Cuban Five.
To help support its work, the committee issued an appeal for donations, using its existing PayPal account. But when some people tried to donate, they got a message back that PayPal is "not able to complete this particular transaction. This reversal is specific to this transaction and does not affect the use of your PayPal account. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. For more information, see Government regulations and policies. Sincerely..."
What's going on? And why? Here is a report from the Committee:
"One day after a matching fund appeal was sent out by the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5, PayPal stopped all donations coming in and froze all assets in the committee's account. The purpose of the appeal was for much needed funds for the upcoming Five Days for the Cuban Five, May 30 - June 5 in Washington D.C.
Donors received the following message: "Unfortunately, we are not able to complete this particular transaction. This reversal is specific to this transaction and does not affect the use of your PayPal account. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. For more information, see Government regulations and policies. Sincerely, PayPal".
The committee's account administrator called PayPal and followed it up with the following letter:
"You suspended this account for three days and then cleared it after I made a phone call, which is great. However, we still do not know or understand the reason for the suspension except that you suspect some activity that might possibly be in violation of Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) regulations.
"What activity? What provoked the concern? I gave you no more information in the phone call than you already had in your files.
"We are understandably concerned about any accusation concerning OFAC violations, and if there are any parties that are making such accusations to cause trouble to us, we want to take appropriate action. I'm sure you understand.
"Please therefore provide us with information that we can use to avoid such a problem in the future.
Organizations and individuals in the U.S. working in solidarity with Cuba are used to this type of intimidating tactic that is just another extension of the cruel and senseless blockade of Cuba. This action has only made us more determined than ever to make the second Five Days for the Cuban Five a great success. We get word everyday of more people coming to Washington and we should show our strength by making sure we make the matching fund. For those of you who had your donation bounce resubmit it and for those of you who haven't made a contribution there could be no better time than now.
See you in Washington D.C.
Donations are tax deductible.
You can make an online CREDIT CARD donation
TO MAKE A DONATION WITH A CHECK IN THE UNITED STATES
WRITE YOUR CHECK TO: International Committee
Send your donation to
International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5
P.O. Box 22455
Oakland, CA 94609
TO MAKE A DONATION BY WAY OF A WIRE TRANSACTION, FROM ANY COUNTRY WRITE TO US to: email@example.com and we will send you the necessary information to make the transaction.
by Stephen Kimber on April 27, 2013 | No Comments
At around 3:15 a.m. on the morning of April 27, 2012, someone firebombed a Coral Gables, Florida, travel agency that was in the business of organizing legal tourist travel to Cuba.
It was an act of domestic terrorism. But it didn't get the public — or FBI —attention the recent Boston attacks did, in part because the perpetrators were most likely Cuban-Americans, and because such acts of terror aimed at intimidating anyone who supports a saner approach to Cuban-American relations are still routine in Florida.
No wonder the Cuban government believed it had to send its own agents — like the Cuban Five — to Florida to protect itself from such violence.
Today, on the first anniversary of the still-unsolved terrorist attack, Vivian Mannerud, the president of the agency, compares what happened to her with what happened last week in Boston.
Terror in Miami
by Vivian Mannerud
This coming April 27, 2013, will mark the one-year anniversary of the domestic terrorist attack on my offices in Coral Gables, Florida.
Three incendiary devices where put inside my office in the pre-dawn hours. The effects were total destruction; everything was reduced to ashes.
As I watched the terrorist act in Boston, I could not help but find similarities and differences comparing it to my office fire bombing. Let me be clear, I am in no way comparing both acts as the one in Boston was of much more significance and destruction, to the people, city and our country.
Here is what I learned. Both bombings, Boston and my office, were carried out because of hate. I was lucky that no one died at my office, although the potential was there. As one blog put it: "Too bad she was not inside the office." [One of] the other tenants of the building who could have been working late, or just someone who works the night shift, walking their dog.
In the case of Boston, there was immediate condemnation from the city, state, and federal officials, and a determination to catch these terrorists. In my case, to this day, not one elected official — and in particular, James Cason, mayor of Coral Gables — has ever come out to denounce this act of terrorism.
I also learned the FBI has the technology to take grainy photographs and make them crystal clear. Yes, there is a grainy photograph of a vehicle of interest in my case, but no FBI technology has ever released the CLEAR PICTURE.
I, like Boston had many people come rally to help me and support me. After all, my "crime" was organizing legal travel to Cuba and, in particular, [during] the pilgrimage for His Holiness Benedict VI to Cuba
The Spanish radio stations were receiving calls celebrating this act, not much different than the Jihadist celebrating in the Middle East the bombing of BOSTON.
As we all know, ones man's terrorist is another man's hero.
I wish I could say my case is isolated. It is not. There are many cases of these types of bombing in South Florida, even some that have resulted in death and maiming people. Just because they dare to think differently on Cuba and how we should approach democracy in Cuba.
Gee, I thought we lived in a democratic nation that encourages free thinking.
Here in South Florida, you can lose your life for this. Imagine that. Most of the country would not even believe this has been going on in South Florida — yes, part of the United states of America.
As I watched Yoani Sanchez visit here, I wondered if they told her about these unsolved crimes, or if they told her how at some point people in South Florida would lose their jobs if their employer found out they traveled to Cuba. Or how we too have in South Florida “actos de repudio,” calling you communist, just because you believe in peaceful solutions. Solutions that would help the U.S. and the Cuban people.
So, here it is, a year later,no news, no arrest, no suspects.
I — born in Brooklyn, with an enormous love and pride for my country — was convinced that, this time, they would be caught. I was wrong. It just is not politically correct in South Florida to call these terrorists what they are, TERRORIST. They are called freedom fighters.
I just wonder, whose freedom?
Vivian Mannerud Verble
PresidentAirline Brokers Co.
You can find more on the original story here, including a video news report from the day after the attack.
by Stephen Kimber on February 6, 2013 | No Comments
Panel discussion followed by Q&A
with acclaimed journalists Keith Bolender & Stephen Kimber
7pm, Thursday, February 7
Room 302, Dalhousie Student Union Building
6136 University Avenue
Since the early 1960s, few other countries have endured more acts of terrorism against civilian targets than Cuba. The US has had its hands in much of these terror attacks. The impact on the Cuban civillian population has been enormous, with over 1,000 documented incidents resulting in more than 3,000 deaths and 2,000 injuries.
Keith Bolender and Stephen Kimber will examine different facets of this tragic history. Drawing on his groundbreaking book, Voices From the Other Side: An Oral History of Terrorism Against Cuba (2010), Bolender will tell the story from the Cuban side by giving voice to the victims on the island. Bolender allows the victims to articulate the atrocities the Cuban people have suffered - which largely originate from Cuban counter-revolutionaries based in the US, often with the active help of the CIA. Voices From The Other Side includes first-person interviews with more than 75 Cuban citizens who have been victims of these terrorist acts, or have had family members or close friends die from the attacks.
In his forthcoming book, What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of the Cuban Five (2013), Stephen Kimber, chronicles the story of the case of five Cuban intelligence agents sent to penetrate Cuban-exile terrorist groups in Miami. Their mission was to prevent terrorist acts. However, they were arrested and sentenced to long-terms in prison. As former U.S. diplomat Wayne Smith observes: "Kimber follows the Cubans as they are assigned to the United States as undercover agents, not to work against the U.S. but to gather information on exile terrorist activities against Cuba. The Cuban government then invited representatives of the FBI to come to Havana to receive and discuss the evidence of these terrorist activities and plans gathered by the agents. The meeting took place in June of 1998. The Cubans then waited for the United States to take action against the exile terrorists. But none was taken. The only action, rather, was the arrest of the Cuban Five, they who had provided much of the evidence turned over to the FBI."
Keith Bolender is a freelance journalist who worked for more than 10 years with the Toronto Star. He has written extensively on Cuban matters for a variety of North American publications. He is a member of the Institute for Public Accuracy (IPA), on their Roster of Experts for Cuban Affairs. He currently lectures at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies on American Foreign Policy and the Cuba Revolution.
Stephen Kimber is an award-winning Canadian journalist and writer. The author of one novel and seven books of nonfiction, he is a Professor of Journalism at the University of King 's College in Halifax, Canada, where he specializes in nonfiction.
Sponsored by the Canadian Network on Cuba, Nova Scotia Cuba Association & Nova Scotia Public Interest Research Group.
by Stephen Kimber on February 5, 2013 | No Comments
"Good morning, welcome to Radioactivity. I’m Rob Lorei. Coming up today we’ll talk with the author of a new book about a group of five Cubans who are imprisoned in the US. They say they were spying on Cuban exile terrorist groups in Florida and elsewhere…."
by Stephen Kimber on January 12, 2013 | No Comments
One of the enduring questions about Cuba's shootdown of two Brothers to the Rescue aircraft in 1996 is where the planes actually were when they were brought down?
In international airspace as the U.S. claims and the International Civil Aviation Agency concluded? Or over Cuban territory as the Cubans continue to insist? The U.S. has satellite photos that could answer that question. But they refuse to release them on grounds of "national security."
The latest from the legal trenches...
PASADENA, Calif. (CN) - There is no reason for the U.S. government to shield the existence of satellite images showing the Cuban government shoot down airplanes, a group told the 9th Circuit.
In 2010, the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law filed a federal complaint under the Freedom of Information Act against NASA and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA).
The group wants access to any satellite pictures taken on Feb. 24, 1996, of an area near the north coast of Cuba, where Cuban MiGs shot down two aircraft flown by Cuban exiles in the group Brothers to the Rescue, killing four U.S. citizens. (More from Court House News...)