Friday, October 30, 2009

Mark Your Calendars!

What better way to take a break from blogging about Cuba than to mark one's calendar with a host of activities about books on Cuba.

The Miami Book Fair International is coming soon next month, with its wonderful street fair just two weeks away. There are several book presentations concerning Cuba (as usual) that look interesting:

- Kenneth Treister will present his new photography book Havana Forever on Nov. 14 (more info), and, in case you miss him, he will also appear at Books and Books in Coral Gables on Nov. 28 (more info).

- Ann Louise Bardach will present her new book Without Fidel on Nov. 15 (more info), as well as Lars Schoultz the same day (more info) with his new (and remarkable) book That Infernal Little Cuban Republic.

[You can view previous book presentations by Bardach here, and Schoultz here. Also, Schoultz recently appeared on C-Span here.]

Spanish-speaking readers will also have some interesting presentations to attend:

- Nov. 14 (more info) a roundtable discussion on "Democracy in Latin America" will present author Alvaro Vargas Llosa (who recently changed his mind about the U.S. embargo towards Cuba) among others, and moderated by local television personality Maria Elvira Salazar. No doubt that Cuba will be among the topics.

- And, Juanita Castro, along with co-author Maria Antonieta Collins will present their new book My Brothers, Fidel and Raul on Nov. 15 (more info).

After the book fair, one can also attend a book presentation by Cuban historian and political analyst Julia Sweig for her new book Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know on Nov. 18 at Books and Books in Coral Gables (more info). Here's a book review by the L.A. Times.

And, I cannot end this post without mentioning the newest book by the prolific Cuban historian Louis A. Perez Jr., Cuba in the American Imagination. To my knowledge, he is not making any presentations, but make sure to pick up this book at your local bookstore or library. Here's an excellent summary of the book.

See you in a month or so.

[Photo by David Gallo]

A Man of Secrets

Since the last post had to do with early CIA activities against the Cuban government, I though I'd add a few things about former CIA Director Richard Helms, the man who became the CIA official in charge of Cuban operations in 1962.

The video excerpt above shows Helms, at the Church Committee in 1975, publicly admitting CIA operations against the Cuban government. He told the committee that the activity "was a government-wide operation supported by the Defense Department, supported by the National Security Council, supported by almost everybody in high position in the government."

Helms mentions various attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro, as well as "task forces striking at Cuba constantly," targeting power plants and sugar mills.

Today we would call that terrorism.

In 1962, Richard Helms was assigned to lead Mongoose, the CIA operation against Cuba. Assessing those activities, Don Bohning quotes from Helms' memoirs:

"Despite our maximum effort we had not inspired any resistance activity worth the name in Cuba; the, in my opinion, ill-advised sabotage operations were but pinpricks."

Nevertheless, Helms described Mongoose as "the largest peacetime secret intelligence operation in history." Juanita Castro, sister of Fidel Castro, formed part of this intelligence community.

Juanita's World

In this photo (courtesy of Libre magazine) Salvador Lew holds up a picture of a young Juanita Castro, sister of Cuban leaders Fidel and Raul Castro. I'm sure you've heard the news by now: two years after the Cuban Revolution of 1959, Juanita Castro worked with the CIA helping opponents of the Revolution. Juanita soon went into exile in 1964 after her brother Raul revealed that the Cuban government already knew about her secret activities.

Once exiled in Miami, Juanita Castro and Salvador Lew*, began a propaganda campaign against the Castro government. According to historian Don Bohning, the campaign tour was "secretly arranged by JMWAVE," the CIA headquarters in Miami. Juanita was mostly driven by a sense of betrayal against her brother Fidel Castro:

"He betrayed the thousands of us who suffered and fought for the revolution that he had offered, one that was generous and just and would bring peace and democracy to Cuba, and which, as he himself had promised, would be as 'Cuban as palm trees.'"

Before her departure to Miami Juanita wrote "various letters" to Salvador Lew asking him to head her public relations once she arrived. According to Ann Louise Bardach, Lew was a fellow classmate and student activist with Fidel Castro before the Revolution. Lew also became disillusioned with Fidel Castro and was exiled in 1961. Both Lew and Juanita met for the first time in 1964 when Juanita arrived in Miami.

According to Lew, both he and Juanita traveled to many cities and universities in the U.S. where Juanita would give speeches (in Spanish) against the Cuban government. Lew recalls how Juanita "amazed audiences" with her "extraordinary" oratory. Lew and Juanita even made it to Capitol Hill.


June 11, 1965, Juanita Castro and Salvador Lew appeared before the controversial House Committee on Un-American Activities. In her submitted statement to the sub-committee, Juanita emphasized the dangers of communism:

"Communism is, and will always be, aggressive by its very nature. So are those who act as its tools... For this reason we affirm that no one can be a revolutionary, a democrat, a liberal, a pacifist, and a believer in progress if one is not an anti-Communist also. Communism is the exact opposite of a progressive democracy. By the same token, one cannot be good if one is not against evil and those who represent evil."


"I want to make a humanitarian appeal to save my people and the other endangered nations. Communist imperialism and its instrument in the Americas, Fidel Castro, are planning to take over this entire hemisphere. This is no secret."

During this period, with the help of the CIA, Juanita Castro was given a radio program that aired on shortwave inside Cuba and founded the Marta Abreu Foundation. After Juanita ended her relationship with the CIA, the agency cut all funding to both activities. According to her revelations for Univision, Juanita gave whatever money was left from the Marta Abreu Foundation to Alpha 66, the militant Cuban exile organization that was heading terrorist operations against Cuba. After the death of Vicente Mendez in 1970, one of Alpha 66's most admired leaders, Juanita Castro says she stopped supporting such operations.


But, Juanita's militancy was more nuanced than others in Miami. Where most wished death upon her brother Fidel Castro as the only solution, Juanita only wanted an overthrow.

This nuanced position became apparent in 2006 when the news of Fidel Castro's surgery made headlines. Amongst the celebration in Miami at the possibility of Fidel Castro's death, Juanita stressed that "[t]his is a spectacle, all this happiness." She seemed to disapprove of how people took joy at the suffering of her brother. "The ties of blood are strong," she told the Herald. More specifically:

"To me, Fidel has always been two distinct persons. On one hand, the oldest brother that I love, and suffer knowing that he is sick and, on the other hand, the political Castro with whom I want nothing to do with and would be happy if he hadn't assumed power."

Juanita got a lot of negative criticism for these comments, especially from Radio Mambi. But, Juanita didn't care. She told the Herald: "I never listen to the radio. There is so much hatred in this community. And they will say that all Castro's are the same... And that is a lie."


Because of her more nuanced opposition against the Cuban government Juanita was never accepted by the larger Cuban exile community. Furthermore, Juanita sees her brother, Raul Castro, more favorably than Fidel and believes that Raul can bring about democratic changes in Cuba. This is a position that is also viewed poorly by hard-line Cuban exiles, and generally ignored by the local media.

The story of Juanita Castro and the CIA shows how drastically Miami and the U.S. government have changed in its opposition to the Cuban government. Ironically, the militancy that Juanita once supported, is now her most vocal critic. It's been an interesting half-century of hostilities, but more changes are still required from both governments if we are all to finally live in peace. One should wonder though, how many more secrets are still out there to reveal.

*[Salvador Lew, was former general manager of WRHC-Cadena Azul, founded in 1973 and one of Miami's most anti-communist Spanish-language radio stations. In 1984, the radio station told listeners to boycott Burdines for selling sports clothing by Jane Fonda. Lew at the time called Fonda a "leftist communist." Burdines conceded after receiving several calls from angry customers, including bomb threats.

Salvador Lew was also appointed director of Radio and TV Marti in 2001 (he beat out Radio Mambi's Ninoska Perez-Castellon), until he resigned in 2003 after tensions with employees and a critical U.S. government report. In 2008, he described working at Radio Marti like working in a "branch of hell here on earth."

In a 2008 radio interview, Lew stated: "We have to do away with all the labels. All Cubans are equal. We have all made errors and we all have to fight to free Cuba and so that freedom arrives without blood, without hate and to rebuild the country."]

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Go Get 'em Mel!

Mel Martinez is a very interesting person. And things just keep getting more interesting with this man.

Last August, rumors of his early resignation were finally confirmed, and by early September the first Cuban-American to serve the U.S. Senate was saying farewell more than a year before the official end of his term. Martinez had stressed the care of his family being the reason for his early departure, but Radio Mambi hosts expressed their disappointment with the decision nonetheless. The people elected him to serve his term, and he let them down they would say. "I'm sorry if I disappointed," he told readers of El Sentinel.

But, just two weeks after his Senate farewell speech, he had found another job. A job where he could fulfill one of his lifelong passions:

"Even though I will no longer hold public office, my passion to work and devote myself to seeing a day when the people of Cuba can live in freedom will continue."

Martinez now works for DLA Piper, one of Washington's major lobbying firms. And, also one of the biggest at hiring former government employees.

But, most importantly, Martinez joins DLA Piper partner Ignacio Sanchez, a strong supporter of economic sanctions towards Cuba since the 90s, and one of the authors of the controversial Title III of the Helms-Burton Act. Sanchez has also been a long-time active member of hard-line Cuban exile organizations, such as the Bridge of Young Professional Cubans (whose goal was to "contribute to the overthrow of the Fidel Castro government and the reconstruction of Cuba"[1]), the Cuban American National Foundation and the Cuban Liberty Council (CLC).

Some may recall the name Ignacio Sanchez when in 2007 he was pressured to resign from the CLC due to revelations from Miami Herald columnist Ana Menendez. It was revealed that Sanchez provided legal representation to a foreign company with links to the Cuban government (the ultimate taboo for exile hard-liners and militants).

But, since the 1990s Ignacio Sanchez has been providing his legal expertise to several foreign companies that want to know more about the extraterritorial obstacles of the U.S. embargo (which he coincidentally helped design). What first began as providing legal advise at the law firm Kelley Drye & Warren, Sanchez now works with the mega-law firm DLA Piper and also lobbies for some of the largest global companies that stand to win or lose big once U.S. policy toward Cuba changes.

For example, Sanchez lobbies for the General Cigar Company, "the largest manufacturer and marketer of premium, imported, hand-made or hand-rolled cigars" in the U.S. and the company in a trademark dispute with the Cuban government over the Cohiba brand. Sanchez also lobbies for Diageo PLC, the "largest multinational beer, wine and spirit company in the world" that recently lost a bid to buy the makers of Absolut vodka. Diageo lost to Pernod Ricard, the French spirits consortium that has a joint partnership with the Cuban government and in a trademark dispute with Bacardi USA over the Havana Club brand.

So, Mel Martinez and Ignacio Sanchez will make a great team. Both in fact supported the now-defunct Cuban family travel restrictions back in 2004. At the time, Sanchez described the restrictions as necessary to "achieve freedom and liberty." And, Mel Martinez, then running for the Senate seat, was reported to have "helped craft"[2] the travel measures. But, when Pres. Obama took steps to repeal the travel restrictions earlier this year Martinez had a change of attitude and replied warmly with "some suggestions" [PDF], and even said that the President was "approaching it the right way."

(These remarks made Martinez a target on Radio Mambi, with one regular guest calling them "infantile and among the stupidest." [@3:37])

Anway, despite the fact that DLA Piper has a whole history of problems already (related to former House Majority Leader and DLA Piper member Dick Armey, and controversy over lobbying for a government that was violating human rights in Africa), I wish the best for Mel Martinez.

Even though his wisdom in the past has not been the best.

[Related articles]
- "A Deal Martinez Couldn't Resist" by Daniel Ruth
- "Martinez, His New Boss Aren't Strangers" by William March

[1] January 17, 1993. El Nuevo Herald. "Jovenes tienden puente de ideas entre Cuba y Miami" by Ana Santiago.
[2] October 19, 2004. The Miami Herald. "Castor, Martinez get testy on issues in debate" by Beth Reinhard and Marc Caputo.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mercenaries for Hire

So what have our local Cuban exile militants F-4 Commandos been up too lately? Well, according to the local Spanish news magazine Libre, commando leader Rodolfo Frometa was in Honduras this past August distributing important information to the country's security forces.

The article, written by Frometa himself, reports that he was on a mission, called "Mission Liberty," providing proof to the Honduran security forces of "communist infiltration paid by [Hugo] Chavez, and operated by Nicaraguans, Salvadorans, Ecuadorians, and Cubans who operate in Honduran streets to destabilize the next elections in that country."

The article also provides two photos of Frometa talking to Honduran security officials. One of the officials (photo above) shows Jose Danilo Orellana, the National Police Chief (also described as the "chief of the peace and democracy program for the National Police").

What is interesting is that Frometa states "that [the F-4 Commandos] are prepared to participate militarily in defense of the Honduran people if it is requested in case of any foreign invasion."

That's right. Libre magazine is helping to promote a local mercenary force.

It should be noted that a UN Working Group recently "voiced concern... over the influx of foreign mercenaries in Honduras since the Central American nation’s President was deposed in a military coup... the Working Group said that other sources report an armed group of 120 mercenaries originating from several countries in the region was formed to support the coup in Honduras."

It looks like the F-4 Commandos are looking for a piece of the pie in Honduras.

Last July, Frometa advised loyal readers of Libre that the F-4 Commandos have "changed some tactics... to continue working without calling too much the attention of traitors who are waiting for a single error to destroy our organization."

You can rest assured that whatever tactical changes a militant group makes, they will always be a militant group, whose errors will be due to its very nature.

[Photo by F-4 Commandos, published by Libre magazine.]

Thursday, October 8, 2009

"Now They Call it Terrorism" [Updated]

Newly declassified CIA documents concerning alleged terrorist Luis Posada Carriles has provoked some interesting reactions.

Blogging for the Miami New Times, Tim Elfrink is finally relieved to say that "[Jorge] Mas Canosa [the late Cuban exile leader] believed in terrorism." Elfrink seems relieved for two reasons: 1) the newly declassified documents prove Mas Canosa funded terrorist operations during the mid-60s; and 2) therefore, Elfrink can't be sued for making such a statement.

But, are the new CIA documents really proof that Mas Canosa "believed in terrorism"? You might have to dig a bit deeper to make such a statement.

These CIA documents only confirm FBI documents declassified in 2005 revealing that Jorge Mas Canosa, working for an organization called RECE (Representacion Cubana en el Exilio/Cuban Representation in Exile), paid Luis Posada Carriles $5000 on June 25, 1965, to complete a "demolition operation in Mexico" involving "100 pounds of C-4 explosives." The new CIA documents shockingly reveal that Luis Posada Carriles was the actual informant that the FBI documents gives credit to. But, the documents, which solely rely on Posada's word, don't say that Posada carried out the operation.

Yet, if we consider other facts that have been revealed over the years, we get a better picture of the Posada/Mas Canosa relationship.

In the early 60s, Posada and Mas Canosa met at Fort Benning, Georgia. Stationed there, Posada "received instruction in demolition, propaganda and intelligence," while Mas Canosa "graduated as a Second Army Lieutenant." The FBI and CIA documents, based on Posada's own admissions, reveal the early partnership of both men in organizing terrorist operations aimed at Cuba.

In interviews published by the New York Times in 1998, Luis Posada Carriles revealed that the CIA trained him along with other Cuban exiles: "The C.I.A. taught us everything... [t]hey taught us explosives, how to kill, bomb, trained us in acts of sabotage. When the Cubans were working for the C.I.A. they were called patriots... Now they call it terrorism."

Concerning Jorge Mas Canosa, Posada also admitted that "leaders of the [Cuban American National Foundation (CANF)] discreetly financed his [bombing] operations. [Jorge Mas Canosa] personally supervised the flow of money and logistical support."

"Jorge controlled everything... Whenever I needed money, he said to give me $5,000, give me $10,000, give me $15,000, and they sent it to me."

Posada estimated that Mas Canosa had over the years provided him a total of $200,000.

Other links between Jorge Mas Canosa and terrorism were alleged by a former CANF board member in 2006. According to Jose Antonio Llama, Mas Canosa helped organize a "paramilitary group" within CANF beginning in 1992 to overthrow Fidel Castro. Francisco J. Hernandez, CANF's current President, was also alleged to have been involved.

Antonio Llama was arrested, among others, in 1997 on charges of conspiracy to assassinate Fidel Castro. Among the weapons found in that criminal investigation were two .50 caliber Barrett assault rifles. One of the rifles was registered to Francisco J. Hernandez.

The AP (Laura Wides-Munoz) recently interviewed Francisco J. Hernandez to respond to these recently declassified CIA documents implicating Jorge Mas Canosa. He said:

"The fact of the matter is that Jorge was never a man who believed in terrorism... Yes, in those years, he believed in taking the war of liberation to Cuba, but not to kill innocent people."

But, Mas Canosa, through RECE in the 60s, did target property, and such attacks are considered acts of terrorism. Also, his relationship with the notorious Luis Posada Carriles, based on Posada's own statements throughout the years, seems to describe a man who couldn't stay away from what they now call terrorism.

--- [Update] ---

The Cuban Colada blog has more about Luis Posada Carriles' activities as an informant for the CIA.

[Photo by Steve Satterwhite/Miami New Times]

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

R.I.P. Mercedes Sosa

Some people in Miami believed that the Peace without Borders concert failed because the very next day Cubans weren't protesting in the streets as a result. That was an absurd argument. Musicians only have the power to present different views and feelings about life, and therefore can only create gradual changes within a larger culture.

The famous Argentinian folk singer Mercedes Sosa [photo above] died this past Sunday, and while she alone was an influential figure, she was only one part of a larger movement in Latin America: music for peace. As a result, this larger movement was able to generate real social and political change which we see today throughout the Latin region. Sosa's life is being remembered by governments throughout Central and South America, even in Europe.

In my youth I recall my parents listening to Mercedes Sosa. My parents are not interested in politics, but they listened because it was good music and had a good (religious) message. It was only a few years ago that I myself gained a small interest in Sosa, and I found her voice and lyrics to be very powerful too.

Sosa was a very religious person whose concern was for the poor and helpless, and gave her voice to them and the world. May she rest in peace.

Below is one of her best known songs (written by Leon Gieco) , and one of my favorites: "Solo le Pido a Dios (I Only Ask of God)."

This song was also covered in English by the famous Danish band Outlandish, and with a music video filmed in Cuba.

I only ask of god
not to make me indifferent to the future.
Helpless are the ones who are forced to leave
and live in a foreign land

[Photo by AP/file]

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Credibility You Say?

Not much time to post nowadays. But, here goes. Also, thanks to all those who share their comments. I will try to respond to all, and attempt to interact more with readers since I will be posting less.

Now where was I? Oh, yes. So, there was a new poll taken concerning last month's Peace without Borders concert in Cuba [PDF]. According to the new numbers, the majority of Cuban-Americans interviewed (53%) had a favorable opinion of the concert (a stark change from a previous poll showing a majority opposed to the planned concert [PDF]). I had commented elsewhere that perhaps Cubans in Miami had changed their minds about the concert after it aired live on several local channels in Miami. Indications in the local media proved accurate.

What I found most interesting in the new poll (conducted by the Cuba Study Group and Bendixen and Associates), aside from the significant change in general opinion about the concert, was the data from the 50 and over category.

According to the new poll, Cuban-Americans over 49 years old were the largest group who watched the concert, and also the group that most changed their minds about the concert (about 10% more than younger Cubans). And, the most popular response given for the favorable views about the concert was: it "uplifted Cuban people" (51%).

So how did hard-liners in the media respond? As usual, they totally dismissed the poll. Aside from the fact that Radio Mambi generally ignores all facts that conflict with their propaganda goals, they sometimes have some reasons behind their behavior.

1) Radio Mambi hosts have concluded that the Peace without Borders concert was a secretly planned effort by the Obama administration to normalize relations with Cuba. Therefore, it should be viewed as a failed attempt at doing so, and condemned for trying. The new poll is merely another part of the conspiracy to normalize relations.

2) The new poll was conducted by Bendixen and Associates, a polling firm that has no credibility according to the hosts of Radio Mambi. Earlier this week, host Ninoska Perez-Castellon [photo above] cited two reasons: Bendixen polling was inaccurate in one Nicaraguan election, and inaccurate in the 2004 U.S. Presidential election.

She's correct in one example, but lying in the other.

According to Perez-Castellon, Bendixen polling totally missed the mark in 1990 (that's right, almost 20 years ago!) when it predicted an election victory for Daniel Ortega over Violeta Chamorro by 53% to 35%. Chamorro instead won with 55%.

What Perez-Castellon doesn't say is that Bendixen polling, by 1990, had several accurate predictions throughout Latin America. Also, Bendixen was not alone in its flawed data concerning Nicaragua, several other surveys had Ortega as the winner over Chamorro, with only a few polls reporting accurately.* Here's an explanation of what really happened.

Next, Perez-Castellon says that Bendixen polling predicted that John Kerry would win over George W. Bush in the 2004 elections. That's a lie. A review of Florida newspaper articles (via Newsbank) during the 2004 campaign shows that Bendixen polling never predicted a Kerry win (nationally or in Florida), but instead consistently revealed important data about hispanic and Cuban voting [article "Cuban Americans Split on Kerry"]. While Bendixen and Associates worked diligently with Democrats, providing information about changing attitudes within hispanic and Cuban voters, it never predicted a victory for John Kerry.

The only one whose credibility is suspect is Radio Mambi's.

*[Feb. 27, 1990, The Miami Herald, "For Pollsters, Upset Carries a Bitter Sting" by Tom Fiedler.]