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MURDER CHARGES AGAINST CASTRO?


The

June 8 conviction of a small group of Cuban spies in south Florida holds ominous

news on the US-Cuba front. The South Florida US Attorney Guy Lewis hinted that

he might indict Fidel Castro by stating that the conviction of spymaster Gerardo

Hernández on charges of collaborating with the murder of four members of

Brothers to the Rescue proved "beyond any doubt there was a conspiracy to commit

murder that had been approved of and ordered by the highest levels of the Cuban

government.”

As

has become customary in the Miami area, the US Attorney often follows the

bidding of the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), the stronghold of the

anti-Castro lobby. CANF President Francisco Hernandez elaborated on the US

Attorney’s remark. "The evidence presented at this trial makes it clear that

responsibility for the premeditated murder of four young men in the Brothers to

the Rescue shoot down does not stop with the conviction of Gerardo Hernandez.

The next step," said Hernandez, "is to indict those further up the chain of

command who initiated this crime, including Fidel and Raul Castro. We call upon

the Attorney General to take the necessary steps to bring all the guilty parties

to justice."

The

contradiction in CANF’s position lies in its own links to violence and

specifically assassination attempts against Castro. Under George Bush I, CANF

successfully backed the return to the United States from Venezuela of Orlando

Bosch, a kind of Timothy McVeigh of the right wing exile community. Bosch

boasted of his role in the October 1976 sabotage of a Cuban commercial airliner

over Barbados. 73 people died. Luis Posada Carriles, another long time terrorist

also liunked to the Barbados plane job told the New York Times that in 1997 CANF

had financed his campaign to bomb tourist sites in Cuba. One of his bombs killed

an Italian tourist. In November 2000, Panamanian police arrested Posada and

three other CANF-linked exiles when they found explosives in their rented car —

with their fingerprints on the dangerous material. The following year three CANF

leaders had bought sniper rifles and had consorted with other exiles to shoot

Castro on an island near Venezuela where the Cu! ! ban leader was to attend a

Latin American summit meeting. Indeed, Cuban intelligence sent spies to the

Miami area precisely to infiltrate violence-prone anti-Castro groupings who had

attempted to assassinate the Cuban leader and commit other violent acts to

disrupt Cuba’s economy. The prosecutor even admitted that the agents never

obtained classified information, but the defense argued that the point is that

they were never instructed to get U.S. secrets. The court-appointed attorneys

for the Cuban agents argued that in light of decades of terrorist actions

carried out against Cuba from US soil and the FBI’s less than enthusiastic

persecution of the anti-Castro terrorists, Havana had sent in the spies to

infiltrate extremist exile groups out of self defense, to stop future violent

actions in Cuba.

The

defense chose a 12-member non-Cuban jury with no close Cuban relatives or

friends to remove social pressure from the verdict in the largest Cuban

community off the communist island. But the intimidation exercised in that area

by a group of violent Cuban exiles does not exactly make for a fair trial

climate. South Florida juries have become notorious for their consistency in

deciding against the Castro government.

After

six months of trial, the jury deliberated for four days before declaring the

five Cuban agents guilty of violating US espionage laws and Hernandez of

collaborating in the February 24, 1996 shoot down by Cuban MIGs of two civilian

planes flown by Brothers to the Rescue, an extreme anti-Castro group. The two

pilots and two passengers all died. Cuba argued that the MIGs fired over Cuban

airspace after Cuba’s air control had ordered the pilots not to enter its air

space. Washington countered that the planes were in international air space when

the missiles hit their targets. At the trial, the spies’ lawyers presented

testimony to show that the Cuban government had warned US authorities over a

period of almost two years during which the Brothers had continually over-flown

Cuba, including missions when they dropped leaflets.

In

January 1996, Cuba told the State Department that future over-flights would

result in dire consequences. Indeed, US officials had taken steps — but not

sufficient ones — to stop the Brothers from flying future missions. As to the

issue of where the shoot downs occurred, a former air force colonel working with

the National Security Agency in 1996 testified that contrary to what the White

House had declared, the NSA had tracked the Brothers planes and the MIGSs and

found them to "well within Cuban air space." The Cuban spies admitted they had

infiltrated the Brothers and that the spymaster had warned the infiltrator not

to fly in the period when the fatal shoot down occurred. The prosecution argued

that such advise meant aiding and abetting a cold blooded murder. The defense

final argument included the fact that high US officials knew about the impending

flights several days before the fatal incident and took no measures to stop it.

US officials had even told people about the flights. To show the violent nature

of the Brothers to the Rescue, the defense also called Jose Basulto, head of

Brother to the Rescue. Basulto testified that he was a pacifist,a follower of

Ghandi and Martin Luther King — except when it came to actions against Cuba,

where violence was absolutely necessary. Other exiles testified as to their

absolute commitment to violence as a means to destroy Castro. The defense argued

that such testimony showed that the Cuban government had every reason to fear

extremist groups in South Florida, since the FBI did done little to stop the

terrorists from launching their hits against the island, Cuba’s decision to

infiltrate violence-prone groups derived from the island’s security needs, not

from a desire to commit espionage. Few feigned surprise when the south Florida

found all five defendants guilty of operating as foreign agents without

notifying the U.S. government and conspiring to do so. Three were convicted of

espionage conspiracy for efforts to penetrate U.S. military bases even though

Gerardo Hernandez, the leader of the spy group, faces life sentences on the

conspiracy counts. Ramon Labanino and Antonio Guerrero, who supposedly studied

U.S. military bases, also face life sentences on espionage conspiracy. Fernando

Gonzalez and Rene Gonzalez face up to 10 years in prison on charges of failing

to register as foreign agents and conspiracy. Five others indicted as ring

members pleaded guilty in exchange for their cooperation and reduced sentences.

Four accused spies fled to Cuba. Thanks to the guilty verdict on the murder

count, the right wing exiles believe they have a new legal basis with which to

push the Justice Department to charge Fidel with murder in the case of the shot

down airplanes.

Having failed to assassinate Fidel or destroy Cuba’s economy, and after last

year’s humiliating loss when Attorney General Janet Reno sent Elian Gonzalez

home to his father in Cuba, the Foundation — without abandoning its beloved

violence — has turned its tactical guns to prosecuting Fidel.

For

Castro, who has observed ten US presidents try to get rid of him, the new legal

challenge might bring forth an interesting legal response — in light of the

hundreds of assassination attempts initiated against him by agents of the US

government or by individuals operating on US territory. Someone might remind the

righteous members of CANF of the old throwing bricks while living in glass

houses proverb.

 

  

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