Terror in Miami - Cuba's exile community
01 November 2008
The magazine of CSC
|Steve Ludlam investigates the community behind the ‘Perfect Storm’ of prejudice against the Five|
The Miami Five’s first appeal to the US Court of Appeal in Atlanta hinged on the impossibility of getting a fair trial in Miami-Dade County. The Court set aside all the Five’s convictions, ordering a new trial, made necessary by,
‘… the perfect storm created when the surge of pervasive community sentiment, and extensive publicity both before and during the trial, merged with the improper prosecutorial references.’
The judgement cited extensive evidence of the bombings and killings in Miami attributed to Miami-Cuban exile groups.
One potential juror, the Court noted, ‘indicated that he would be concerned about returning a not guilty verdict because “a lot of the people [in Miami] are so right wing fas¬cist,” ... and be¬cause he had concerns for what might happen after a verdict was returned.’
The Court noted that, ‘During the deliberations, members of the jury were filmed entering and leaving the courthouse, and the media requested the names of the jurors. The jurors ex-pressed concern that they were filmed “all the way to their cars and [that] their license plates had been filmed”’. Their license plates were indeed broadcast on local TV.
A legal psychologist told the Court that there existed ‘an attitude of a state of war between the local Cuban community against Cuba’ which had ‘spilled over to the rest of the community’. She found a ‘deeply entrenched body of opinions [so entrenched as to often not be con¬sciously held] that would hinder any jury in Miami-Dade County from reaching a fair and impartial decision in this case.’ Florida International University’s Pro¬fessor of Sociology concluded that ‘the possibility of selecting twelve citizens of Miami-Dade County who can be impartial in a case involving acknowledged agents of the Cuban government is virtually zero ... even if the jury were com¬posed entirely of non-Cubans, as it was in this case’.
It was the existence of this complex culture of fear and bias that influenced the Appeals Court to summarise that, ‘Despite the district court’s numerous efforts to ensure an impartial jury in this case, we find that empaneling such a jury in this community was an unreasonable probability be¬cause of pervasive community prejudice.’ (The US Attorney General ordered an appeal which overturned the Atlanta judgement. A subsequent appeal by the Five saw all their convictions upheld in 2008.)
The scale of terrorism against Cuba is well known to readers of Cuba Sí. But what explains this ‘pervasive community prejudice’ underpinning terrorism and denying justice to the Five? After all, in the very year they were sentenced was George W. Bush’s declared that those who harbour terrorist are themselves terrorists. The explanation lies in the nature of original exiles, their ability to dominate later Cuban emigrants, and in the connivance of US agencies.
The first exiles were officers and dependents of the Batista dictatorship, who fled having looted Cuba’s entire foreign currency reserve.
As a Miami FBI veteran noted, some simply ‘set up shop here just like they did in Havana – running protection rackets and illegal gambling’ and re-opening Havana’s racially-exclusive clubs.
Hundreds of bombings and arson attacks on Cuban targets followed. Bacardí’s chief even acquired a US B-26 bomber.
Yet the batistianos were only about 5000 of the 700,000 migrants who followed, so how did they consolidate their power?
Of course, they used their wealth to reward and punish later migrants. Their radio stations abused dissidents: one moderate exile lamenting that ‘[a] million Cubans are blackmailed, to-tally controlled, by three radio stations’. Their loot poured into the local economy, and bankrolled local politicians.
When the Anglo elite turned against their Hispanic rivals, the exile leaders mobilized the émigré vote and took office themselves. Their clout was reinforced by mass commemoration of events like the Bay of Pigs landing, and religious rallies characterized by the ferocious anti-communism of the Cuban Catholic Church. As one US historian put it, they turned Miami, ‘into a one-issue community in which candidates for positions ranging from school boards to judges are assessed by their political beliefs regarding Cuba’. A Cuban-American sociologist summed up their success:
‘By the 1990s, the majority of city commissioners were Exilic Cubans, as was the mayor. The superintendent of Dade County public schools, the state chairs of the Florida Democ-ratic Party, and the local chairs of the county’s political chairs are Exilic Cubans. Further, the president of several banks (about twenty) and of Florida International University, the Dade-County AFL-CIO, the Miami Chamber of Commerce, the Miami Herald Publishing Company, and the greater Miami Board of Realtors ... are or have been Exilic Cuban. It is common to find Exilic Cubans occupying top administrative posts in City Hall, at the Miami Herald, and in the city’s corporate boardrooms.’
In this climate, as a US journalist put it, in Miami, ‘any individual or business viewed as sympathetic to Havana became fair game for vigilante justice’. In the 1960s alone, Cuban-Americans carried out 156 terrorist actions within the US and other third-party countries. In the 1970s, when some Miami-Cubans sought dialogue with Havana, a violent backlash ensued. In 1973-76 alone, the FBI investigated 103 bombings and six murders credited to exile groups, all inside the US.
Those seeking dialogue were abused in the exile -owned media, their properties were bombed, and two were assassinated. When Cuban hotels were bombed in 1997, killing an Italian tourist, the all-powerful Cuban American National Foundation issued a statement saying it did not condemn the bombings.
Human Rights Watch reported that ‘suppression of dissent in Miami takes a variety of forms, including attacks on artistic freedom, academic freedom, the press, and human rights activists’.
Cuban orchestras and bands found per¬formances cancelled after bomb threats. Academics at the Institute for Cuban Studies at Miami-Dade University were attacked and bombed. Miami’s Cuban Museum of Arts and Culture was bombed for exhibiting works from the island.
Threats, after Cuban artists were nominated, forced the 2001 Latin Grammy Awards to relocate from Miami to Los Angeles. The Miami New Times, noting that ‘lawless violence and intimidation have been the hallmarks of el exilio for more than 30 years’, listed sixty-eight such acts within Miami, including forty bombings and six mur¬ders.
This terror-enforced conformity also rested on a long relationship with US agencies. In the early years, the CIA station based in the University of Miami was ran a small army of paid batistianos infiltrating Cuba.
The mafia, evicted from their Havana empires, was also soon running CIA murder plots against Fidel. After the Bay of Pigs de¬bacle, the CIA’s Operation Mongoose employed some 3000 exiles to attack hundreds of civilian targets in Cuba. When Mon¬goose was suspended after the missile crisis, many furious paramilitaries went ‘freelance’.
They have spent decades organizing terrorist activities against Cuba, and serving rightwing regimes and US ‘dirty wars’ across Latin America. They continued to receive covert US backing and open political support.
Take Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles, career terrorists who masterminded the infamous Cubana airliner bombing. Both eventually re-entered the US seeking protection. The US Attorney General rejected Bosch’s po¬litical asylum application, insisting that he was ‘resolute and unwavering in his advocacy of terrorist violence’ and had ‘repeat¬edly expressed and demonstrated a willingness to cause indiscriminate injury and death’. Lobbied by the Miami-Cuban machine, President George Bush Snr, former CIA head, released Bosch.
When Posada entered the US illegally, the Justice Depart¬ment called him ‘an unre¬pentant criminal and admitted mastermind of terrorist plots and attacks on tour¬ist sites’. But he too was freed to be greeted as a hero in Miami.
Law enforcement agencies have also been tolerant. Human Rights Watch reported in the 1990s that, ‘While in the last few years there have been over a dozen bombings aimed at those who favour a moderate ap¬proach to the Cuban government, there has not been a single arrest or prosecution in that time.’
A 1999 FBI report on terrorism within the US listed 27 acts attributed to Cuban-American groups in the 1980s, mostly bombings. But in its 62 pages of analysis there is not a single word about these bombings or the culture that supports them. There is no reference terrorism against Cuba. One FBI agent complained that, ‘Every day we have a Neutrality Act violation because people leave to do runs on Cuba. But no one will allow us to do our job’.
And, of course, when Cuba gave the FBI its intelligence on Miami terrorism, the FBI did not use it to arrest terrorists, but to arrest the Five. As vet¬eran US civil liberties lawyer Leonard Weinglass, one of their appeal court at¬torneys, has written,
‘The Five were not prosecuted because they violated American law, but because their work exposed those who were. By infiltrating the terror network that is allowed to exist in Florida they demonstrated the hypocrisy of America’s claimed opposition to terrorism.’