The US and the Cuban ‘dissidents’

FRFI 175 October / November 2003

The clampdown by the Cuban government in April 2003 on US-backed subversion forced a clear demarcation between Cuba’s real friends and its enemies. Alongside the usual right-wing ideologues, the furore has seen even some ‘progressive’ intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky and Susan Sontag line up behind the US administration to condemn the imprisonment of counter-revolutionaries and the execution of three hijackers. In Britain, commentators such as Joan Smith of the Independent poured anti-communist vitriol on Cuba, describing how ‘dissidents’ and ‘independent’ journalists were being locked up by a repressive, brutal state when all they wanted was ‘freedom’. Former CIA agent Philip Agee is nearer the mark when he points out that, given the US’s activities within Cuba, ‘so-called independent journalists, independent librarians and civil rights activists are not, nor were they ever, independent in any sense whatsoever.’ Responding to ‘left’ critics of Cuba in a Canadian journal in August, James Petras has pointed out that the proper term is ‘paid functionaries of the US government, paid to implement the goals of the Helms-Burton Act...under the guidance and direction of James Cason, head of the US Interests Section [USIS] in Havana’. JUANJO RIVAS reports.

At the time of the clampdown, Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque held a press conference attended by media from 22 countries, which conclusively exposed the US plot to organise mercenaries to overthrow the Cuban government and install a pro-US regime in its place. The criminal evidence produced included photographs, videos, notes of payment, publications, receipts of money transactions and the testimony of several Cuban security agents working inside these groups. Despite this, the media have deliberately ignored or distorted these facts, helping cover up for the Bush administration.

Since then a book has been published to further prove that those arrested were mercenaries who collaborated for years with US intelligence and Miami-based terrorist groups. Los Disidentes (The Dissidents), by Cuban journalists Rosa Miriam Elizalde and Luis Baez reproduces detailed interviews with the 12 Cuban agents who had infiltrated the so-called ‘dissident’ groups and whose real identity emerged during the trials. Those described in the bourgeois press as ‘independent’ journalists, human rights activists and other ‘legitimate’ advocates for change were in reality all participants in imperialist operations to defeat the Cuban Revolution. ‘No country in the world tolerates or labels domestic citizens paid by and working for a foreign power to act for its imperial interests as “dissidents”.’ (Petras).

Fomenting subversion
The book reveals how the ‘independent’ journalists to whom USIS opened its doors, offered 24-hour passes and the use of computers, free internet and printers, had no professional qualifications or experience. To make up for their lack of writing skills, training courses and workshops were facilitated on USIS premises, advised by USIS press officers. These paid hacks wrote to order, producing a stream of anti-socialist propaganda for the international press, aimed at justifying the criminal blockade. Cuban state security agent Octavio, who rose to be head of the ‘Independent Press Association’, explained how it produces misinformation for Miami website Cubanet. Cubanet is to receive $833,000 from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) this year.

Made-up stories about human rights violations and deliberate distortions were exchanged for significant sums of money, allowing these ‘independent’ journalists to live in comfort for years. For instance, the well-known reactionary Elizardo Sanchez Santa-Cruz was given a handout of $200,000 directly from the US to share with his colleagues, $50,000 via a Spanish Ministry of External Relations’ cooperation agency and $24,495 from the Norwegian embassy in Mexico on 28 January 2002 (increased to $26,074 a year later), in gratitude for fomenting subversion in Cuba.

USIS also set about encouraging the formation of a new ‘Liberal Democrat’ Party, as well as an anti-communist trade union – without much success, given the weakness and rivalry for the bribes among the mercenaries.

At the same time, while reinforcing the official blockade on the island, the CIA has been providing medical supplies to counter-revolutionaries, via its NGO associates, to set up ‘independent’ pharmacies. The aim is to build a parallel society, undermining the universal provision of education and health and setting up the basis for an alternative private system. To this end, the US Interests Section has successfully encouraged its counterparts in the Spanish, Swedish and Czech embassies to take a similar line, in clear breach of diplomatic protocol.

Improving old tactics

These are familiar tactics. Throughout the last 50 years the CIA has used similar techniques to impose regime change by toppling governments. Alongside sponsoring terrorism, other covert operations such as bribing and co-opting journalists have proved an effective means of dividing and destroying those who oppose US domination, whether in Guyana in 1964, or the CIA trade union operations in Brazil in 1963. So successful were CIA operations in Brazil that they were replicated ten years later in Chile.

Then, in 1974, a popular movement overthrew the fascist regime in Portugal, and communists with left-wing military officers took charge. At that time the Portuguese social democrats were a tiny minority living in exile, but they received at least $10 million channelled through a US foundation, plus extra funds from the CIA. Thanks to this supportive push the social democrats came back, built a party overnight, carried out an expensive campaign, took power and relegated the left to the sidelines.

In the late 1970s the growing strength of revolutionary movements in countries such as Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Nicaragua brought Republicans and Democrats together to establish the American Political Foundation to subsidise foreign operations through US NGOs.

In the 1980s under the Reagan administration the subversive role of non-governmental and voluntary organisations was developed further in relation to Cuba. The key players were the CIA, USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), created in November 1983. The NED’s non-governmental status provides the fiction that the money supplied is ‘private’ rather than from the US government, and it has become a ‘mega-conduit’ to fund the same array of non-governmental organisations that the CIA had funded secretly. Not surprisingly the violent right-wing Cuban American National Foundation was one of the first beneficiaries of the NED funds, receiving $390,000 for counter-revolutionary activities from 1983 to 1988.

Reagan’s programme of targeting civil society had a huge success in Poland, where the combined efforts of the CIA, NED and the Vatican sponsored the reactionary trade union Solidarity, providing it not only with money but intelligence information, computers, printing equipment, TVs, and even radio and television transmitters. This led the trade union to transform itself into a political party, taking control of the government in 1989.

Cuba defends itself
In May 2001 Senator Jesse Helms introduced legislation to provide $100 million to repeat in Cuba the ‘successes’ in Poland. On 20 May 2002 George Bush announced his ‘Initiative for a new Cuba’, mentioning again the Polish example, and promising direct assistance to ‘help to build Cuban civil society’ leading to a ‘new government’ in the country. The USAID programmes from 1996 to 2001 disbursed $12 million to 22 NGOs, all apparently based in the US, mostly in Miami. The budget for these sinister plans jumped to $5 million in 2002 and is to increase to $6 million in 2003, showing a tripling of funds since Bush seized power. Alongside appointing Miami Cubans to high office in his administration, this strategy is also a pay-back to the Cuban mafia for its decisive role in the fraudulent presidential elections. Chief of the US Interests Section in Havana and CIA member James Cason orchestrated operations, contacting mercenaries, hosting meetings at his own residence and securing the flow of money.

Despite USAID claims that its NGOs can’t provide cash to Cubans directly, over $100,000 in cash was found in the possession of the 75 mostly unemployed mercenaries who went on trial. As Philip Agee says ‘anyone who thinks they are prisoners of conscience, persecuted for their ideas or speech or victims of repression, simply fails to see them properly as instruments of a US government that has declared revolutionary Cuba its enemy’.

What government in the world could fail to act against such a threat? Cuba has laws to protect its sovereignty that criminalise the distribution of US propaganda that supports the illegal blockade or undermines the Cuban government – and it used them. The US has underestimated the unity and ideological strength of the country, where ordinary Cubans volunteer as security agents to defeat imperialist attack. The Dissidents shows the sacrifice such Cubans made to penetrate the network, posing as counter-revolutionaries, suffering the bitterness or even rejection of families and communities. When their role was revealed at the April trials, popular celebrations greeted these courageous and often anonymous comrades who work in the shadows against the imperialism that threatens their homeland.

US steps up aggression

The execution of three Cuban hijackers in April 2003 needs to be understood in the context of the rapid escalation of subversive activity by the US administration.

2001 US propaganda claims that Cuba is planning electronic warfare against communications in the US; that a Chinese ship loaded with weapons is heading for Cuba; that Cuba is developing a research programme for biological weapons. James Cason, later head of the United States Interests Section (USIS) in Cuba, claims at a conference on national security that Cuba had failed to offer condolences or support after the attack on the World Trade Centre. Cuba had been in fact amongst the first to do so.

August 2002 Five people hijack a boat in Pinar del Rio. US releases hijackers.

September 2002 Cason arrives in Cuba with the aim of ‘speeding up the process towards a democratic Cuba’. He offers his residence and USIS for the counter-revolutionaries to meet with foreign diplomats. He begins to meet regularly with counter-revolutionary leaders.

October 2002 Cason tours Cuba, visiting counter-revolutionaries. He holds a working meeting for a project for an ‘Assembly for the Promotion of Civil Society in Cuba’.

November 2002 Cason visits ex-convict Oscar Elias Biscet Gonzalez, who receives prize directly from President Bush. Sentenced for actions carried out for Cuban American terrorist foundation, Gonzalez had been released five days earlier. Meeting at Cason’s residence between counter-revolutionaries and a visiting US delegation. A Cuban plane is hijacked to the US. The US releases the hijackers and sells the plane. Meeting at USIS to discuss making contact with petty criminal elements. Further tours of Cuba to meet counter-revolutionary grouplets with view to setting up single party of counter-revolution.

December 2002 Cason hosts function for counter-revolutionaries to meet diplomatic representatives from the UK, the Czech Republic, Poland, Greece and Chile.

• January 2003 Cason tours Cuba, taking material supplies to counter-revolutionary grouplets and establishes contact with religious sector. Cason announces his ‘6,000 miles’ plan of systematic tours throughout the country. A boat is hijacked and taken to the US. Cuba requests the return of the hijackers. The US releases them.

February 2003 A Cuban border patrol boat is hijacked and taken to the US. Hijackers are not charged. Counter-revolutionaries meet visiting US cultural delegation at Cason’s residence. Cason calls on other diplomatic missions based in Havana to follow the example of the USIS. Brothers to the Rescue beams an illegal television broadcast into Cuba. Miami 5, gaoled in the US, consigned to the punishment block.

March 2003 Meetings with counter-revolutionary ringleaders at Cason’s residence continue, now almost daily. Cuba makes formal protest to Cason over his violation of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Protocol. Cuba publicly exposes subversive actions of USIS and Cason through Cuban media. 70 counter-revolutionaries are arrested for mercenary activities in the service of a foreign power. A Cuban plane is hijacked and flown to Miami. The hijackers hold knives to passengers’ throats. US refuses to return plane. US re-inforces blockade. USAID announces $1m aid to the University of Miami’s Cuba Transition Project. US publishes a world human rights report condemning Cuba and supporting internal subversion.

April 2003 A plane is hijacked. The hijacker holds a grenade and demands fuel to fly to the US. There, the hijacker is released. Five people attack a soldier, seize his rifle and attempt to hijack a plane. Cuba estimates that a further 29 hijacking plans have been foiled. A Cuban ferry is hijacked. Eleven hijackers, armed with knives, demand a boat and threaten to throw hostages overboard. They are captured, tried, sentenced and three are executed.

 

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