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Cuba-Panama


Translated by David and Barbara Forbes

Relations between Cuba and Panama have recently deteriorated noticeably after the Cuban ambassador in Panama, Carlos Rafael Zamora, was declared persona non grata and ordered to leave the country. The Panamanian ambassador in Cuba, Abraham Bárcenas, was also re-called by his government. (1)

The diplomatic tensions originated around issues of international terrorism and, in particular, in relation to the case of the four criminals of Cuban origin who were sentenced in April 2004 for terrorist activities. In fact, Luis Posada Carriles, Gaspar Jiménez Escobedo, Pedro Remón Rodríguez and Guillermo Novo Sampoll, notorious members of a Latin-American terrorist network and instigators of several dozen attacks against innocent civilians, had attempted to assassinate the Cuban president Fidel Castro during the Hispano-American summit in November 2000. A bomb containing 15 kg of the explosive C4 had been placed in the university enclosure where more than 2000 students had gathered to hear Castro’s speech. According to the statements of the Panamanian authorities leading the investigation, the attack could have caused hundreds of victims. (2)

Following the judgement and sentencing of Posada Carriles and Jimenez Escobedo to eight years imprisonment and of Remon Rodriguez and Novo Sampoll to seven years, objections were made about the lack of proportion between the seriousness of the charges against the guilty parties, and the lightness of the sentences. According to the Panamanian Penal Code, terrorism-related activities are liable for the maximum sentence, namely life imprisonment. Furthermore, the four people concerned faced aggravating circumstances because of their previous criminal records. (3)

For example, Luis Posada Carriles, former CIA agent and professional mercenary, is a specialist in mass killings. He has been responsible for innumerable terrorist attacks against Cuba and has shown indiscriminate cynicism and fanaticism motivated by his anti-revolutionary hostility since 1959. His acts of assassination are innumerable. Having been a CIA instructor, a member of the Ranger Corps of the USA, an explosives expert and a specialist in acts of marine piracy, he is equipped with a sound paramilitary training. He was operations chief of the Miami-based criminal cells Comandos L and RECE, whose activities have left a trail of ruin, blood, and desolation.

Posada Carriles is, amongst other things, one of the instigators (the other being Orlando Bosh, a veteran of terrorist violence) of the bloody attack of 6th October 1976 against a civilian airline from Barbados. 73 people died amongst whom were the entire 24-member youth fencing team which had just triumphed at the Pan-American Games. This was the first act of air terrorism which, for doctrinal reasons, remains unknown to the general pubic. (5) The wave of brutal attacks, which shook the Cuban tourism sector in 1997 and which caused the death of a young Italian, is also the work of Posada Carriles.

The criminal files of the other three detainees were also very full. Gaspar Jiménez Escobedo, besides his numerous misdeeds, assassinated a Cuban fishing technician, Artañán Diaz Diaz, in Mexico. He was also involved in several bomb attacks as well as explosives and drug trafficking. For a time he was sought by the Mexican police. Guillermo Novo Sampoll was involved in several bomb attacks against embassies, ships and Cuban planes. He was then a member of DINA, the political police of the dictator Augusto Pinochet. As for Pedro Remón Rodríguez, he was the instigator of the assassination of the Cuban diplomat Félix García Rodríguez on 11th September 1980 and the murder of the Cuban emigrant José Eulalio Negrin in 1979. (7)

The attempts organised by the radical right-wing Cubans in Miami to free the four criminals were impressive for their intemperate zeal. The political lobbying power of the Florida extremists carried considerable weight with the Panamanian judicial authorities, judging by the verdict. Moreover, the defendants’ lawyers appealed against the verdict. Numerous collections were made amongst the Cuban oligarchy of the USA in order to achieve the discharge of the persons in question. The Cuban-American National Foundation participated actively in these activities intended to acquit the terrorists, by its president Francisco “Pepe” Hernandez. (8)

The lawyers of the criminals used all available legal means in order to gain the release of their clients, but in vain. The Panamanian courts rejected each and every one of the defence’s requests and detention under house arrest was refused for fear that the guilty parties might flee the country.

The president of Panama, Mireya Moscoso, whose term of office ended on 31st August 2004, intended to settle once again in Miami (where she lived for more than a decade in the 80s), according to rumours circulating amongst the Cuban extreme right in Florida. According to the comments coming out of these sectors and from one of the defence lawyers, Rogelio Cruz, this Panamanian president had promised to pardon the four terrorists before the end of her term of office, in exchange for a warm and privileged welcome in her future country of residence. (9)

The Cuban Ministry for Foreign Relations, in a statement on 14th August 2004, therefore warned the Panamanian government of the serious consequences which could result from any future release of the four prisoners. “The government of the Republic of Cuba wishes to express the view that, if such plans are put into practice, the main responsibility will rest upon Mireya Moscoso, president of Panama”, the official memo warned, adding that the bi-lateral relations between the two countries would be irreparably compromised. (10)

Following this diplomatic warning, Mireya Moscoso decided to withdraw her ambassador to Cuba, all the while assuring that Panama “would not be subjected to interference or threats from foreign governments.” She stated that “these declarations are disrespectful and unacceptable for the dignity and sovereignty” of her country. However, the Panamanian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Harmodio Arias, confirmed that the president was considering the possibility of pardoning Luis Posada Carriles, Gaspar Jiménez Escobedo, Pedro Remón Rodríguez and Guillermo Novo Sampoll before leaving the political scene, while at the same time emphasising that she had not yet come to a decision. (11) “Now, following the Cuban accusations, she is in the process of studying the possibility of granting pardons,” he added. The credibility of this assertion is far from obvious and, in any case, reflects a surprising level of political skulduggery. (12)

This extraordinary remark, which confirmed the fears of the Cuban authorities, also raised serious legal and moral question. From a procedural point of view, according to Panamanian law, it is possible to grant pardons to prisoners only if the legal process is complete and if the sentence has been definitively concluded. However, the process was still at the appeal stage, which amounts to saying that any possible presidential pardon would constitute an illegal act. (13)

“I have not yet taken the decision to pardon Panamanians or foreigners, but if I do so, I will communicate this fact,” the Panamanian president notified on 24th August 2004. (14) How is it possible for the highest political authority in Panama to consider for a single moment the release of Luis Posada Carriles and his accomplices, who are responsible for several dozen massacres? (15) What will the victims’ families think, not only the Cubans but the rest of the world? What respect would Mireya Moscoso show for the innocent people of our planet, from Havana to New York, from Madrid to Jerusalem, trapped in the claws of the blind and pitiless violence of terrorist acts, if she were to absolve the above-mentioned persons? How can such a person give in to the extremist Cubans in Florida, who are assisted by the Secretary of State Colin Powell? (16)

Several Panamanian grassroots organisations have demonstrated in front of the presidential palace, after which a letter was sent to Vice-President Adalberto Pinzón. One of the lawyers for the victims, Julio Berrios, indicated that the letter contained arguments against a possible pardon. “They are international crooks. Posada Carriles is just as harmful as Bin Laden or any other terrorist, and neither his age nor his state justify a pardon,” he emphasised. (17)

The new president of Panama, Martín Torrijos, who took up office on 1st September 2004, showed some reservations about the soundness of the position of his colleague, who was still the nation’s political leader. It is true that the point about interference seemed very biased, given the acts for which the Cuban authorities are being blamed. Torrijos pleaded for close relations with Cuba, as with all the Latin-American countries. (18)

As for Carlos Rafael Zamor, Cuban ambassador in Panama, he has described President Moscoso’s suggestion as “a grotesque distortion of reality.” According to him, her real motives, which suffer from “ethical deficiency”, were being carefully covered up. “No Panamanian authority has any evidence for accusing the Cuban government of the slightest interference”, he told the press before leaving the country. (19)

A potential breaking off of the diplomatic relations between Cuba and Panama could have a serious effect on the trade between the two countries. The president of the Consumers Association of the Free Zone of Colon, Hersey Levy, is worried about these political-diplomatic tensions. He defended the commercial ties with Cuba and denounced Mireya Moscoso’s behaviour. “I am not in agreement” with the president, he declared. (20)

However, the unthinkable happened. Mireya Moscoso pardoned the four dangerous individuals on 25th August 2004, with decree no. 317, thus causing the breaking off of diplomatic relations between Cuba and Panama (21). This decision, condemned at once by the future Panamanian president Martin Torrijos, caused an outcry in public opinion. Julia E. Sweig, an expert on Cuban affairs within the US Council for Foreign Affairs, was very explicit: “This reeks of political and diplomatic nepotism,” she emphasised, alluding to the links between Moscoso and Jeb Bush, governor of Florida, closely linked with Cuban extremists, and brother of the US president.

The Cuban-American National Foundation congratulated itself on the release of the four terrorists, of whom at least one, Luis Posada Carriles, was financed by the organisation’s former president Jorge Mas Canosa in his role as chief of its paramilitary wing. (23)

Francisco “Pepe” Hernandez, current president of the Foundation, was delighted with Mirey Moscoso’s decision. “This is a victory for all those in exile, and a triumph of justice, beyond the strategy adopted to bring democracy to Cuba,” he said. (24)

On 13th August 204, the Cuban people were severely affected by Hurricane Charley, which killed four people, destroyed 70 000 dwellings, severely disrupted the telephone and electricity services, ruined forests and caused damage worth up to a billion dollars. In the two provinces of Havana, the damage included the destruction of 298 educational centres, 312 health centres, 69 sports facilities, 63 cultural centres. (25) The US government, which imposes inhuman economic sanctions on the Cuban people, used the expedient of the State Department spokesman, Richard Boucher, to offer the despicable, insulting and ridiculous sum of $50 000 aid to Cuban non-governmental organisations.

Mrs Mireya Moscoso, nature has not been kind to the Cuban people Be that as it may. Washington does all it can to murder the Cuban people. That is a fact. But, over and above this, you have committed a crime against humanity in releasing four terrorists. You will have to accept the consequences of your actions before history, and you will be responsible for the crimes which these individuals will commit in the future. Mireya Moscoso, the memory of the victims of terrorism deserves something other than your pitiless contempt.

NOTES:
[1] Cuban Ministry of Foreign Relations, « Gobierno de Panamá retira embajadores », Granma, 25th August 2004. www.granma.cu/espanol/2004/agosto/mier25/nota.html (site consulted  25th August 2004).
[2] Glenn Garvin, « Panama : Exile Says Aim Was Castro Hit », The Miami Herald, 13th January 2001 : 1A ; Glenn Garvin & Frances Robles, « Panama Suspect Has Ties to Dade. Anti-Castro Figure Was Indicted in ’76 Milian Case », The Miami Herald, 21st  November 2001 : 1A.
[3] El Nuevo Herald, « Condenan en Panamá a Luis Posada Carriles », 21st April 2004 : 23A.
[4] Luis Posada Carriles, Los caminos del guerrero (Miami : publisher unknown, 1994), pp. 21-24.
[5] New York Times, « Seventy-Eight Are Believed Killed as Cuban Jetliner Crashes in sea After Blast », 7th October 1976. www.nytimes.com/library/world/americas/100776cubaairliner.html (site consulted 7th March 2003) ; New York Times, « Anti-Castro Extremists Tolerated, if not Encouraged, by Some Latin American Nations », 15th November 1976. www.nytimes.com/library/world/americas/111576cubaailiner.html (site consulted 7th March 2003) ; David Binder, « Two Nations Report Anti-Castro Exiles Have Plotted Many Terrorists Acts », New York Times, 20th October 1976. www.nytimes.com/library/world/americas/102076cuba-ailiner.html (site consulted 7th March 2003).
[6] Ann Louise Bardach & Larry Rohter, « Key Cuba Foe Claims Exiles’ Backing », New York Times, July 12, 1998 : 1.
[7] Cuban Ministry of Foreign Relations, « Declaración del Gobierno Revolucionario », Granma 26th August 2004. www.granma.cu/espanol/2004/agosto/juev26/declaracion2-e.html (site consulted le 27th August 2004).
[8] El Nuevo Herald, « Recaudan fondos para exiliados presos en Panamá », 23rd April 2004 : 17A.
[9] Cuban Ministry of Foreign Relations  Declaracion del MINREX », 14th August 2004 ; Elaine de Valle, « Pardonned Exile Trio Back Home », The Miami Herald, 27th August 2004. www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/9508461.htm (site consulted le 27th August 2004).
[10] Ibid.
[11] Nancy San Martin, « Stung by Cuba’s Charges, Panama Pulls Ambassador », The Miami Herald, 24th August 2004.
[12] El Nuevo Herald, « Moscoso decide analizar si indulta a los anticastristas », 25th August 2004. www.miami.com/mld/elnuevo/news/world/cuba/9485676.htm (site consulted  25th August 2004).
[13] Gouvernement révolutionnaire de Cuba « Denuncia cuba intento de presidenta Moscoso de indultar a los cuatro terroristas anticubanos », Granma, 23rd August 2004. www.granma.cu/espanol/2004/agosto/lun23/nota.html (site consulted 25 August 2004).
[14] Rui Ferreira, « Panamá saca a embajador cubano », El Nuevo Herald, 24th August 2004. www.miami.com/mld/elnuevo/news/world/cuba/9477479.htm (site consulted 25th August 2004).
[15] In international law, the term “massacre” applies to every assassination which includes more than three people.
[16] Colin Powell intervened personally with the president of Panama to ask for a pardon for the four terrorists.
 [17] Granma, « Marchan grupos populares panameños en apoyo a Cuba », 25th August 2004. www.granma.cu/espanol/2004/agosto/mier25/marchan.html (site consulted 25th August 2004).
[18] La Jornada, « Martín Torrijos, por mantener ‘estrechos’ vínculos con todos los países, incluido Cuba », 26th August 2004. www.jornada.unam.mx/032n1mun.php ?origen=mundo.php&fly=1 (site consulted 26th August  2004).
[19] Jean Marcel Chery, « Embajador cubano abandona Panamá », La Prensa, 26th August 2004. www.prensa.com (site consulted 26 August 2004).
[20] El Nuevo Herald, « Crisis entre Cuba y Panamá preocupa a la Zona Libre », 26th August 2004. www.miami.com/mld/elnuevo/news/world/cuba/9496031.htm (site consulted  26th August 2004).
[21] International Herald Tribune, « Four Cubans Pardoned », 27th August 2004. www.iht.com/articles/535947.html (site consulted 27th August 2004) ; Anita Snow, « Mireya Moscoso indulta a cuatro anticastristas », El Nuevo Herald, 27th August 2004. www.miami.com/mld/elnuevo/news/world/cuba/9506952.htm (site consulted 27th August 2004).
[22] Glenn Kessler, « U.S. Denies Role in Cuban Exile’s Pardon », Washington Post, 27th August 2004 : A18.
[23] Ann Louise Bardach & Larry Rohter, « Key Cuba Foe Claims Exiles’ Backing », op. cit.
[24] Rui Ferreira, « Mireya Moscoso indulta a cuatro anticastristas », El Nuevo Herald, 27th August 2004.
[25] Anett Ríos Jáuregui, « Pérdidas superiores a los mil millones de dólares dejó el huracán Charley », Granma, 25 août 2004. www.granma.cu/espanol/2004/agosto/mier25/perdidas.html (site consulted 26th August 2004).
[26] Cuban Ministry for ForeignRelations, « Inaceptable ofrecimiento del Gobierno de EE.UU. tras paso de huracán », Granma, 23rd August 2004. www.granma.cu/espanol/2004/agosto/lun23/declara.html (site consulted 26th August 2004).

 

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