The 1970s as context for terrorist violence
By Saul Landau
Although Bush never would say
so, the mid1970s serve as background for today’s “war on terrorism.” That’s the
time his dad led the CIA and anti-Castro Cubans bombed and shot their way
through the hemisphere. The leading star of the 1970s terrorist show, and still
performing, was Luis Posada Carriles.
Posada, currently leader of
the fabled GAS (Geezers Assassination Society), enjoys his newly achieved
freedom living in the Miami area. A federal judge dismissed charges against him
by rightfully concluding that the U.S. government had played games with his case
by charging him with minor immigration offenses and then purposely prolonging
the legal processes so as to avoid confronting the nature of Posada’s crimes:
blowing up a Cuban passenger plan in 1976, planning numerous assassination
attempts over three decades and bombing Cuban tourist sites, which resulted in
the death of an Italian tourist.
Good reasons abound for
Justice Department officials to feel reluctant to charge Posada with terrorism.
As soon as they open the files, they discover the U.S. government had trained
and encouraged him to practice terrorism as a vocation, had sworn repeatedly to
use violence to overthrow the Castro government and was deeply involved in many
of his and his close associates’ plots.
The problem originated in
early 1960, when President Eisenhower first formally agreed to initiate a covert
operation to train and finance Cuban exiles to invade the island and overthrow
the revolutionary government. When the invasion failed a year plus later, what
should the new President do with these thousands of people?
President Kennedy followed
Eisenhower and kept some of the CIA Cubans busy with terrorist activities
in the post Bay of Pigs era, a policy that inadvertently led to the Missile
Crisis. Indeed, the intensity of attacks on Cuban personnel and property led
Castro to offer concessions. In August 1961, he dispatched Che Guevara to
Uruguay to hold a secret talk with Kennedy Latin America adviser Richard
Goodwin. If Washington would call off the terrorist attacks and relax the
embargo, Cuba would not push "any political alliance with the East." Che also
implied that Cuba might “discuss the activities of the Cuban Revolution in other
countries” (exporting revolution). Che went further, indicating that Cuba would
be willing to compensate expropriated U.S. companies. Che also emphasized that
"we do not have, nor intend to have, any political or military alliance with
anyone unless we are pressed toward it."
The Cuban revolution is
"irreversible," Goodwin understood from Che. By maintaining an outward veneer of
defiance, Che clearly communicated that he was negotiating, not surrendering.
Goodwin, and more importantly his boss, JFK, saw the concessions offer as signs
Kennedy turned up the heat,
the terrorist attacks escalated. Castro gave the Soviets the green light
to place intermediate range nuclear missiles on the island and by October 1962
the world trembled under the impending mushroom cloud.
After Kennedy and Soviet
Premier Khrushchev resolved peacefully the Missile Crisis, the issue of “what to
do with all the rabid Cubans?” became troublesome for successive U.S.
presidents. The CIA reduced drastically the number of Cubans on its payroll and
began to try to retract. Some Cubans took such policies as treason.
In 1967, Orlando Bosch, who
teamed up with Posada on the Cuban airliner job, showed his rebelliousness at
U.S. government restrictions by firing a bazooka at a Polish freighter anchored
in the Miami harbor. Paroled after serving a few years, Bosch tried to find
other sponsors for violence against Cuba. He found the most compatible spot in
Venezuela where his friend Orlando Garcia ran intelligence, DISIP, along with
his number two Rafael Rivas Vazques. But even with openly violence-loving and
Castro-hating allies in such positions, Bosch pushed the terrorist envelope over
the edge. In 1973, he plotted to assassinate Henry Kissinger for signing an
anti-hijacking treaty with Cuba and staged two bombings, while offering $3
million to the person who would assassinate Castro. He had not only violated the
terms of his parole, he had made the U.S. government very uncomfortable. This
translated into his old confreres having to arrest him, albeit apologetically.
Venezuela asked the United States to allow him back. Washington said no and
Bosch went to Chile, where he expected General Pinochet to throw down a red
carpet for him.
In March 1976, Bosch tried and
botched a contract for Pinochet: to assassinate exiled Chilean left leader
Andres Pascal Allende, the nephew of Salvador and his companion Mary Anne
Bosch then initiated an
umbrella organization of terrorists who gathered in June 1976 in Bonao, the
Dominican Republic, assembling murderers of different types, all of whom pledged
to assassinate Castro. He called the new group the Commando of United
Revolutionary Organizations (CORU).
Apparently, the gang of
hoodlums all agreed that murderous action would bring down Castro -- although
the absence of an articulate theoretician was painfully obvious. “Those guys
were thugs,” a former FBI Special Agent told me. “I knew them all, interrogated
them. They were criminals hiding behind some flimsy ideological screen. Bosch
was a mad man. The others weren’t much saner.”
A former Miami police officer
said years ago that the “The Cubans held the CORU meeting at the request of the
CIA.” They were “running amok in the mid-1970s, and the United States had lost
control of them. So the United States backed the meeting to get them all going
in the same direction again, under United States control. The basic signal was
‘Go ahead and do what you want, outside the United States’.” (Assassination
on Embassy Row, p. 251)
After the Bonao meeting
concluded in mid June, a series of violent anti-Cuban acts occurred, for which
CORU members claimed credit. On July 9, a bomb exploded in the baggage cart that
was in the process of loading onto a Cubana airliner. Had the plane left on
time, the luggage would have exploded in mid air. On July 14, the British West
Indian Airlines office in Barbados got bombed (they had started flights to Cuba)
as did a car owned by a Cuban official in Barbados. Three days later, machine
gunners opened fire at the Cuban Embassy in Bogota. Air Panama offices got hit
in that city as well, presumably because they handled Cubana Airlines business
in Colombia. On July 22, kidnappers in Merida, Mexico, tried unsuccessfully to
grab the Cuban consul. They did, however, kill a Cuban fisherman in the attempt.
On July 24, three anti-Castro Cubans got busted trying to place a bomb at the
New York City Academy of Music, where an event celebrating Cuba was taking
place. On August 9, CORU claimed credit for kidnapping and murdering two Cuban
diplomats with Argentine secret police help. In August and September, CORU
members bombed Cuban targets twice in Panama. In Trinidad-Tobago, bombers hit
the Guyanese Embassy, presumably for Guyana allowing Cuban aircraft to refuel on
route to Angola.
The violence escalated when
Omega 7 (a name used by the ultra right Cuban Nationalist Movement) bombed a
Soviet ship anchored in New Jersey and five days later assassinated Orlando
Letelier in a car bombing in Washington, D.C., killing his IPS colleague Ronni
Karpen Moffitt as well. The orders to kill Letelier came from the Chilean
government, but the assassins hired by Chile’s secret police sprang from the
same pool of crows that had met in Bonao. These crows -- Bosch and Posada --
then hit the Cuban commercial airliner over Barbados on October 6, killing 73
passengers and crew members.
For those spooks that still
retained memory, the old Spanish refrain should have echoed loudly. “Train crows
and they return to peck your eyes out.” Posada has joined his old comrade in
bombs Orlando Bosch, who apparently enjoys his dotage in Miami where he still
boasts to reporters that he ships explosives to Cuba. These violent exiles used
their intolerance for U.S. “policy changes” toward Cuba to become literally
An investigator would find the
bloody trail of these men and their acts traced back to a decision made in the
Oval Office. Eisenhower condoned violence. Kennedy escalated. President Lyndon
B. Johnson placed a tempering hand. But Richard Nixon and his National Security
Adviser Henry Kissinger re-opened Pandora’s Box of terrorists. This ugly
container of death merchants emerged from the initial illegal policy
designed to destroy the Cuban revolutionary government through violence and
economic strangulation. Once created and trained, the crows returned -- and
continue to do so -- to peck out the eyes of those who cultivated them.
President Bush now has his
“Posada problem.” He said after the 9/11 attacks: “He who harbors a terrorist is
as guilty as the terrorist.” It’s lucky we have a president for whom words are
Maybe some aspiring candidates
for the presidency will reflect on recent “terrorist history” and reject
“covert” means to achieve policy ends. The world already has more than enough
Saul Landau’s new book is
A BUSH AND BOTOX
WORLD. His new film WE DON’T PLAY GOLF HERE is available on DVD: