The story of US-Cuba relations, post 1959, has generally been subject to a serious information deficit. Those not raised on a diet of `Fox News' will have some idea of the intransigent bully-boy attitude adopted by successive US Administrations towards the recalcitrant little southern neighbour, although it might be thought that `terrorism' is too extreme a labelling of some of the measures taken. In fact, as this `oral history' of Cuba's half-century of subjection to US foreign policy shows, they are extreme measures wholly deserving of the label. Moreover, while critiques of American meddling in Cuba's affairs abound outside mainstream media they have been largely incomplete for lack of any account of the human toll. The lives of those lost or changed dramatically by personal experience of the terror have been unjustly ignored, and this study by ex `Toronto Star' journalist Keith Bolender goes some way towards correcting the ignorance. His chapters detailing the various incidents and phases of US-sponsored attacks on the presumed enemy are supplemented by interviews with survivors whose testimonies are frequently harrowing.
The history of the United States self-proclaimed `right' to interfere in Cuba begins long before the revolution. In 1832 the then Secretary of State John Quincy Adams declared that should Cuba become disconnected from Spain it would be unable to support itself. Triumphalist ravings occasioned by the 1898 Spanish-American war over possession of the island have their echo nearer our own time. In his introduction Noam Chomsky de-sanctifies the morally over-hyped John F. Kennedy and likewise points up Henry Kissinger's elephantine presence in the room. The latter's drivelling proclamation about `managing the global equilibrium', paraphrased as ruling the world effectively, is amply illustrated by his support for Ronald Reagan's terrorist wars in Latin America and the overthrow of Chile's democratically elected Salvador Allende. The 800 acts of terror documented by Cuba since 1960, which claimed some 3,478 lives and injured 2,099, have their place in the same scenario where any refusal to bow to the great northern neighbour's whim was not to be tolerated. The attacks would, it was hoped, put such a strain politically and economically on Cuba that its government would finally lose the support of the people. Here we come up against a deranged mindset which, bereft of logic as well as scruple, assumes that the victims of terrorism will seek the overthrow of the system under attack rather than pursue those directly responsible.
Some of the culprits are still pursued. Closure was never had on the 1976 bombing of Cubana Airlines flight 455 in which the entire Cuban fencing team were among the 76 killed. Six people affected by the tragedy are interviewed, including the daughter of one of the co-pilots. Although two Venezuelans confessed to the bombing CIA-trained Orlando Bosch and Posada Carriles, the masterminds behind the atrocity, would evade justice. Bosch was pardoned by George Bush Senior at the request of his other son Jeb, later governor of Florida. As for Carriles, his terrorist background includes involvement in Cuban hotel bombings in which an Italian tourist died, and in this he was an accomplice of the organisation Alpha 66 which believes tourists are legitimate targets. When the repellent Carriles' stated that `we didn't want to hurt anybody', as if to urge the point that bombers can feel pity for their victims, it might have impressed the Bush clan if nobody else. The father of the dead Italian tells the author that his son had two ambitions, to open a restaurant in Cuba and bring his soccer team to the island. He also expresses his admiration for a country in which no children go hungry.
The trail of carnage began shortly after Batista's overthrow. Fifty years on the US State Department and CIA refuse to declassify documents relating to the double explosion that ripped through the French vessel `La Coubre' in Havana Harbour and left 100 dead. Also described are attacks - some of them fatal - on volunteers taking part in the early literacy campaigns and `Cine Movil' project in the countryside. Department stores, coastal fishing villages and a packed theatre were considered legitimate targets. Nor has the effect of biological terrorism been any less catastrophic. In the `70s and `80s outbreaks were registered of swine fever, bird fever, brucellosis and Dengue 2, along with infections that reduced the country's banana and tobacco crops. That all of it could be explained away as part of one huge spontaneously occurring natural disaster is literally beyond belief. In any event CIA spokesmen are quoted who admit their part in artificially manipulating epidemics as part of the attempted de-stabilisation of the country. No-one has specifically claimed responsibility for the lethal hemorrhagic Dengue infections but, suspiciously, no cases of it were reported in either Jamaica or the Bahamas. `What fault did these children have, what political issue do they have?' asks one bereaved witness of the terror, a man whose 8 year old daughter was one of 100 children lost to the disease. It is a question that applies equally to children who were the victims of another programme hatched by the opposition.
In 1961 `Operation Peter Pan'. jointly conceived by church officials in Cuba and Miami in concert with US State Department officers and the CIA, promulgated the lie that every child was to be snatched from its home and made a ward of the new regime. This caused the exodus of more than 14,000 children who, separated from their parents, were taken in by Miami church organisations. Thus, the forces of reaction committed the very crime against Cuba's children they claimed to be preventing. One anti-Castro activist involved in the deception would later relent and describe it as child abuse and a form of `psychological terrorism'. The trauma of separation from the family at an early age is borne out by the case histories included, first person narratives demonstrating a fondness for the mother country and therefore how abjectly misconceived the whole scheme was. It is an outlook further emphasised by those interviewed under the chapter headed `The Cuban National Identity'. Friendly, community spirited and blessed with a strong sense of humour the people still retain a desire for independence and the right to make something of their country by their own efforts. It will, of course, be a source of some bafflement to those of a neocon disposition why Cubans should feel that the system they live under is actually worth defending and not be distracted by hostile propaganda pushed to the extremes documented in Bolender's study.
It is argued that certain restrictions on the lives of the Cuban people should be seen in the light of concerns about national security rather than dismissed as part and parcel of Fidel Castro's repressive state machinery. This is a point of some controversy. What is in no doubt is the right of any country under attack to defend itself and to this end five Cuban intelligence agents were assigned to penetrate counter-revolutionary organisations in Florida in the 1990's to gain information about impending plots. Though motivated by a sense of patriotic duty and the intention to save lives the five would be denigrated by an almost universally hostile US media as spies. (A Spanish-language Cuban dissidents' blog `Hemosoido', which invites readers to translate the various contributions into other languages, repeats the calumny). Betrayed by cynical and duplicitous FBI machinations their fate was sealed in 1998 by a biased judge and a jury stacked with the kind of hate-fuelled element that took to the streets of Miami in 2006 to celebrate when Castro appeared to be on his last legs. A total of 4 life sentences plus 75 years was handed down, indicating how seriously we might take the `war on terror' and the claims of its proponents to be acting in the interests of democracy and those in danger of falling victim to political murder.
Orlando Bosch died in April this year, his funeral attended by a predictably lachrymose crocodile contingent who would never have shed a tear for his victims. His daughter's fragrant characterization of him as a loving father whom she could never associate with violence is an affront to Bolander's interviewees with their stories of families devastated by the activities of Bosch and his `freedom fighter' brothers in arms. He is, sadly, not the only one in that category to be given the same simple-minded benefit of the doubt. The trial of fellow Cubana plane bomber Posada Carriles in El Paso, Texas, for perjury and immigration fraud - not terrorism - recently ended with not guilty verdicts being returned on all charges. A free man in Miami once again he will not be handed over to Cuba to be tried for mass murder because of US government claims that he might be tortured, something which would naturally go against the Christian principles of any Administration eager to excuse its own excesses in Guantanamo as not amounting to `real' torture. Meanwhile, the blockade remains firmly in place despite President Obama's tinkering with the restrictions on travel and the transfer of monies. While a disproportionate influence on Cuba-related matters continues to be wielded by the anti-Castro right we can only hope that the ongoing campaign to free the Miami Five will give them their day in court once again, only this time in an environment conducive to the administration of justice and a long overdue acquittal.