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Forum Post: US Invasion of Grenada: A 30-Year Retrospective

Posted 10 years ago on Oct. 25, 2013, 8:37 p.m. EST by LeoYo (5909)
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US Invasion of Grenada: A 30-Year Retrospective

Friday, 25 October 2013 10:33 By Stephen Zunes, Truthout | News


It has been exactly 30 years since US forces invaded Grenada, ending that Caribbean island nation's four-year socialist experiment. The island nation no bigger than Martha's Vineyard, with a population that could barely fill the Rose Bowl, was defeated with relatively few American casualties. President Ronald Reagan's decision to occupy the country and replace the government with one more to his liking proved to be quite popular in the United States, with polls indicating that 63 percent of the public supported the invasion.

On this anniversary, it would be worth looking back at the Grenadian revolution, the U.S. invasion, its aftermath and the important precedent it set for "regime change" through U.S. military intervention.

Grenada's Revolution

One of the tiny island nations that grew out of the British colonies in the eastern Caribbean, Grenada - like its neighbors - was populated by descendants of black African slaves. The original inhabitants, the Carib Indians, were wiped out during the early stages of colonialism. Receiving independence in 1974, the island was ruled initially by the despotic and eccentric Prime Minister Sir Eric Gairy, whose murderous secret police - known as the Mongoose Squad - and his passion for flying saucers, the occult and extra-terrestrial communication had brought him notoriety throughout the hemisphere. On March 13, 1979, in an almost bloodless coup, a young attorney named Maurice Bishop seized power with the backing of the New Jewel Movement. He and the movement proceeded to impose an ambitious socialist program on the island inspired at least as much by Bob Marley as Karl Marx. In the next four years, while most Caribbean nations suffered terribly from worldwide recession, Grenada achieved a 9 percent cumulative growth rate. Unemployment dropped from 49 percent to 14 percent. The government diversified agriculture, developed cooperatives and created an agri-industrial base that led to a reduction of the percentage of food and total imports from more than 40 percent to 28 percent at a time when market prices for agricultural products were collapsing worldwide.

The literacy rate, already at a respectable 85 percent, grew to about 98 percent, comparable to or higher than most industrialized countries. A free health care and secondary education system were established, the number of secondary schools tripled, and scores of Grenadians received scholarships for studies abroad. There were ambitious programs in the development of the fishing industry, handicrafts, housing, tourism, the expansion of roads and transport systems and the upgrading of public utilities.

What excited many in the American progressive community was the government's openness to decentralization and appropriate technology, which allowed small-scale American entrepreneurs access to development planning alongside those preferring a more traditional, centralized, capital-intensive model. It was an accessible revolution, close by and carried out by English-speaking people influenced more by Black Power and New Left politics than by Soviet-style communism.

although he likely would have won any popular vote, Bishop never held free elections as promised. The opposition newspaper was repressed, and there were some political prisoners, although the overall human rights record was not bad compared with most governments in the hemisphere during this period. On the international scene, Grenada largely supported Soviet policy, including the invasion of Afghanistan, although not to the degree of subservience as Eastern European countries. Relations were closest with Cuba, which brought in hundreds of skilled laborers, medical personnel, military advisers and development workers, even though there also were good relations with Western European nations, Canada, Mexico and Venezuela.

Ultimate control remained in the hands of the party, and the popularity of the regime was centered on the charismatic personality of Prime Minister Bishop. At the same time, the development of parish and zonal councils along with "mass organizations" insured a degree of grass-roots democracy and a reflection of the government's desire to create a "popular socialism." However, the New Jewel Movement also included a minority of hard core Marxist-Leninists like Bernard Coard and Hudson Austin, who were jealous of Bishop’s popularity and his predominant role. Coard and Austin led a military coup on October 19, 1983, and placed Bishop and his leading supporters under arrest. In response, there was a nationwide general strike and other protests. When a crowd of Bishop supporters liberated the ousted prime minister and his allies from prison, army troops massacred dozens of protesters and executed Bishop and other Cabinet members.

Reagan immediately implied that the Cubans were behind the coup and the killings. In reality, Cuban President Fidel Castro had condemned the coup and declared an official day of mourning for the late prime minister. Strongly worded cables from Havana underscored the Cuban government's concern, threatening a cessation of Cuban assistance and a declaration that Cuban forces on the island would fire only in self-defense.

On the morning of October 25, U.S. troops invaded the island, ousting the government and taking full control of the country within three days.



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[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 10 years ago

U.S. Hostility Toward Grenada

The United States long had sought to overthrow the New Jewel Movement. Immediately following the revolution in 1979, the Carter administration granted asylum to the exiled Prime Minister Gairy, who used the United States as a base for anti-government radio broadcasts. After the U.S. refused to provide aid for military defense and offered only limited economic assistance, Bishop turned to Cuba for help. The Carter administration then launched a campaign to discourage U.S. tourism, forbid emergency relief aid, and refused recognition of Grenada's ambassador.

When the Reagan administration assumed office, American hostility increased. Economic assistance through the World Bank and the Caribbean Development Bank was blocked, aid from the International Monetary Fund was restricted, and participation in the Caribbean Basin Initiative was not even considered.

When Bishop visited the United States in June 1983, Reagan refused to see him and offered to send only a secondary official. The prime minister eventually received an audience with National Security Adviser William Clark, who reportedly did not know where Grenada was. Reagan administration officials later argued that such peace overtures by Bishop were a major factor in his overthrow. More likely, it was the lack of a favorable American response that led coup leaders to conclude that such moderation did not pay off and that Bishop must therefore by removed.

Reports from The Washington Post indicated that since 1981 the CIA had engaged in efforts to destabilize the Grenadian government politically and economically. In August 1981, U.S. armed forces staged a mock invasion of Grenada on the island of Vieques off the coast of Puerto Rico. As in the real invasion that would come later, paratroopers secured key points on the Grenada-sized island, followed by a marine amphibious assault with air and naval support, totaling almost 10,000 troops. Striking similarities in the geographic code names during the exercise to actual locations on Grenada were hardly coincidental. It is not unreasonable to assume that a U.S. invasion of Grenada was planned at least two years prior to the revolution's self-destruction, which gave the United States the excuse it had been waiting for.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 10 years ago

The Rationalizations for the Invasion

The U.S. invasion of Grenada was the first major U.S. military operation since the end of the Vietnam War. Indeed, it may have in part been a test of the so-called "Vietnam syndrome," the purported "affliction" that made it difficult for the American public to support U.S. military intervention without a just cause. As with Iraq, the initial justifications for the invasion proved to be either highly debatable or demonstrably false, yet it still received bipartisan support in Congress and the approval of nearly two-thirds of the American public.

The major justification for the invasion was the protection of American lives. Reagan administration officials falsely claimed that the island's only operating airport was closed, offering the students no escape. In reality, scores of people left the island on charter flights the day before the U.S. invasion, noting that there was not even a visible military presence at the airport and that customs procedures were normal. Regularly scheduled flights as well as sea links from neighboring Caribbean islands had ceased as of October 21, however, although this came as a direct result of pressure placed on these governments to do so by U.S. officials. Apparently, by limiting the ability of Americans who wished to depart from leaving, the Reagan administration could then use their continued presence on the troubled island as an excuse to invade. The Reagan administration admitted that no significant non-military means of evacuating Americans was considered.

Particular concern was expressed over the fate of 800 American students at the U.S.-run St. George's University School of Medicine. The safe arrival in the United States of the initial group of happy and relieved students evacuated from Grenada resulted in excellent photo opportunities for the administration. It appears, however, that the students' lives were never actually in any danger prior to the invasion itself.

Grenadian and Cuban officials had met only days earlier with administrators of the American medical school and guaranteed the students' safety. Urgent requests by the State Department's Milan Bish to medical school officials that they publicly request U.S. military intervention to protect the students were refused. Five hundred parents of the medical students cabled Reagan to insist he not take any "precipitous action." Staff members from the U.S. embassy in Barbados visited Grenada and saw no need to evacuate the students.

The medical school's chancellor, Charles Modica, polled students and found that 90 percent did not want to be evacuated. Despite repeated inquiries as to whether Washington was considering military action, he was told nothing of the sort was being considered. As the invasion commenced, Modica angrily denounced the invasion as totally unnecessary and a far greater risk to the students' safety than Grenada's domestic crisis. Vice Chancellor Geoffrey Bourne and Bursar Gary Solin also declared their steadfast opposition. The U.S. media focused great attention on the students who were first evacuated and "debriefed" by U.S. officials who generally supported the invasion. However, virtually no attention was given to those who stayed behind, who tended to be more familiar with the island and who largely opposed U.S. intervention. There were no confirmed reports of any American civilians harmed or threatened before or during the invasion. It was three days after U.S. troops initially landed before they decided to take control of the second medical school campus, raising questions as to whether the safety of Americans was really the foremost priority.

A second major justification for the invasion was the reported Cuban military buildup on the island. Reagan claimed that U.S. troops found six warehouses "stacked to the ceiling" with weapons that were earmarked for Cuban military intervention in Central America and Africa. In reality, there were only three warehouses that were only one-quarter full of antiquated small arms that had been confiscated a few days earlier by the coup leaders from the popular militias. Furthermore, Grenada was a most unlikely place for the Cubans to have stockpiled arms: Grenada is three times farther from the Central American isthmus than is Cuba itself and only marginally closer to Cuban bases then in Angola, more than 12,000 miles away Despite administration claims to the contrary, fewer than 100 of the 750 Cubans on the island were military personnel. Furthermore, despite initial press accounts that the U.S. assault was resisted almost exclusively be Cuban forces, it appears that the bulk of the resistance to the invasion was done by Grenadians. Many observers speculate that this was the primary reason for the refusal by the Reagan administration to allow media access to the island during the initial phases of the invasion, when most of the fighting took place. The U.S. estimates that only about 35 Cubans died but has never released Grenadian casualty figures.

Another excuse for the invasion was the airport under construction on the southern tip of the island, at Port Salines, near the capital of St. George's. Reagan repeatedly charged that it was to be a Soviet/Cuban air base. However, it since has been acknowledged that its sole purpose was for civilian airliners. Like other Caribbean islands, the tourist industry is an important source of income. The existing airport at that time was too small for jet aircraft, requiring tourists to change planes in neighboring countries rather than flying directly. Nor did the airport have facilities for instrument landings, resulting in the occasional stranding of tourists for days at a time during bad weather. Nighttime landings were impossible. To make matters worse, the airport was on the opposite side of the island over a range of mountains from the capital and most tourist facilities. While many of the new airport's construction workers were Cuban, the airport was designed by a Canadian company, and the contractor was Plessey, a British firm underwritten by Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's government. In addition to the British and Canadians, Finns and Grenadians were involved in the project as well. As was pointed out by Plessey officials at the time, none of the necessary components for a military airfield were being built, such as bomb-resistant underground fuel tanks, sheltering bays for parked aircraft or fortified control towers. Nor was the length of the runway excessive, as the Reagan administration charged. Three neighboring islands had even longer airstrips.

Originally the United States had been asked to help build the airport, which had been in the planning stages for more than 25 years, but had refused. After the invasion, however, the U.S. assisted in finishing the almost-completed project.

A third major pretext cited for the U.S. invasion was a request for intervention by the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), the charter of which allows for "arrangements for collective security against external aggression." However, because Grenada was a member of the OECS, there was no external aggression. The article stipulates that decisions for such actions must be unanimous among member states, which was not the case, because Grenada, St. Kitts-Nevis and Montserrat did not support it. In addition, the United States is not even a party to the agreement. Finally, the treaty specifically states that the rights and obligations of OECS members under other treaties - such as the charters of the United Nations and the Organization of American States, which specifically prohibit such armed intervention - are not affected.

Only a token force of 300 troops from these islands was involved, and only in policing functions in areas already secured by American forces. It later was revealed that the "urgent request for assistance" by these Caribbean states actually came after the U.S. asked for it and U.S. officials drafted the formal invitation letter, which they gave to selected conservative Caribbean leaders to sign.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 10 years ago

Reasons for the Invasion

Why, then, did the United States invade? Many believe that Grenada was seen as a bad example for other poor Caribbean states. Its foreign policy was not subservient to the American government, and it was not open to having its economy dominated by U.S. corporate interests. A show of force would cause states with similar leftist nationalist ideals to think twice. If a country as small and poor as Grenada could have continued its rapid rate of development under a socialist model, it would set a bad precedent for other Third World countries. In short, Grenada under the New Jewel Movement was reaching a dangerous level of health care, literacy, housing and economic independence.

Of particular concern was the influence Bishop and his supporters - who were greatly inspired by the Black Power movement in the United States - could have on African-Americans. A successful socialist experiment by English-speaking blacks just a few hours by plane from the United States was seen as a threat.

This invasion was also an easy victory for the United States eight years after its defeat in the Vietnam War and just two days after the deadly attack against U.S. forces in Lebanon. It established the precedent for "regime change" by U.S. military intervention and served as an ominous warning to the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua that the Reagan administration could go beyond simply arming a proxy army like the Contras and actually invade their country outright.

It also led to a sudden rise in Reagan's popularity, according to public opinion polls. Despite the fact that the invasion was a clear violation of international law, there was widespread bipartisan support for the invasion, including such Democratic Party leaders as Walter Mondale, who would be Reagan's Democratic challenger for the presidency the following year. (In his successful challenge of incumbent Connecticut Sen. Lowell Weicker that year, Democratic Senate nominee and future vice-presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman attacked his moderate Republican opponent for having raised constitutional objections to the invasion of Grenada.)

The Invasion's Aftermath

World reaction to the invasion was overwhelmingly negative. A UN Security Council vote to condemn the invasion was vetoed by the United States, which cast the sole negative vote. The General Assembly also voted against the invasion by a wide margin. Reagan dismissed such criticisms as simply reactive anti-American sentiment, although most of the states in the majority of the UN General Assembly vote also condemned the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan four years earlier. There was strong criticism from America's allies, particularly Canada, which had a sizable contingent of foreign aid advisers in Grenada.

The invasion could not have been better timed. The Grenadian people were so embittered and divided by the coup and subsequent killings that resistance was only a fraction of what it could have been had the invasion come two weeks earlier. Similarly, opposition in the United States, which could have pointed to a progressive and popular Grenadian government under Bishop, had to acknowledge that the successor regime was brutal, unpopular and illegitimate. Public attention was focused on the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut a few days earlier that had killed 242 servicemen, so popular sympathy and support for the armed forces was unusually high.

In Grenada during the ensuing months, the mass organizations were dismantled, the labor unions were reorganized, more than half of all medical personnel were expelled, investment and tax codes were revised to favor foreign investment, and cooperatives and state enterprises were sold to private interests. Billboards that had inspired the population to work for justice, equality, development and national sovereignty were replaced quickly by those designed to inspire them to buy American consumer products.

The quality of life for most islanders deteriorated in the period following the invasion despite infusions of American aid. This was most apparent in the health care field, where not a single pediatrician remained in this country where 60 percent of the population was under 25, nor was there a single psychiatrist to care for 180 mental patients. (Seventeen patients and one staff member were killed when the U.S. bombed the mental hospital during the invasion.) The U.S. invasion of Grenada prompted witch hunts throughout the Caribbean for those with leftist sympathies. Countries that thought they had the right as sovereign nations to receive economic and military assistance from whomever they pleased realized they had to reconsider. The day after the invasion, for example, Suriname closed the Cuban embassy in its capital and expelled its diplomats. Upon taking over the island, most foreign doctors, teachers and other civilians summarily were arrested and expelled by U.S. officials. Shortly after the invasion, U.S. forces raided and ransacked the Pope Paul Ecumenical Center because of its supposedly "subversive activities" of aiding the poor. Hundreds of Grenadians were held for months without charge. Some suspects were shackled and blindfolded in violation of Hague Convention standards on the treatment of prisoners of war. The island's only radio station was taken over by the US Navy. The right of free assembly seriously was curtailed, the press was censored, and writ of habeas corpus was abolished.

During the next several years, U.S. forces loosened their grip and allowed for popular elections, which have led to the election of a series of centrist and center-right governments. Corruption has been a serious problem, as government officials have awarded contracts for public works projects to foreign investors with criminal ties and have set up offshore banking operations with little oversight. Although Grenada's economy has been expanding, poverty is widespread, and it appears that the country has been given little choice but to follow the neoliberal orthodoxy dictated by Washington and its allied international financial institutions.

Still, there is some lingering nostalgia for the island’s socialist experiment. In 2009, the airport was renamed after Maurice Bishop.

Copyright, Truthout.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 10 years ago

Exclusive: René González, Lone Cuban 5 Member Freed From US Prison, Speaks Out From Havana

Friday, 25 October 2013 11:55 By Amy Goodman, Democracy Now! | Video Report


In a Democracy Now! exclusive, the only freed member of the Cuban Five, René González, speaks out after a 13-year imprisonment in the United States. The five Cuban intelligence agents were arrested in the United States in 1998 and convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage. They say they were not spying on the United States, but rather trying to monitor violent right-wing Cuban exile groups responsible for attacks inside Cuba. In Cuba, the five are seen as national heroes. González was released in October 2011 and returned to Cuba in April. Joining us from Havana, González discusses why he came to the United States to spy on Cuban exiles, his arrest, and the four other members of the Cuban Five who remain in jail.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to a Democracy Now! exclusive.

DANNY GLOVER: Excuse me, sir. Do you know who the Cuban Five are?

CALIFORNIA MAN 1: Weren’t they those guys that—that played the U.S. in the semi-finals of the Pan American Games in the basketball tournament?

DANNY GLOVER: Do you know who the Cuban Five are? The Cuban Five are five men who were defending their country against terrorism.

CALIFORNIA MAN 2: Oh, yeah, the Cuban Five. Aren’t they that salsa band?

CALIFORNIA MAN 3: Americans?

DANNY GLOVER: No, they’re Cuban.


CALIFORNIA MAN 2: Why haven’t I ever heard about that?

CALIFORNIA WOMAN 1: The Cuban Five? They’re that rock band, right?



CALIFORNIA MAN 4: What are you doing out here, man?

DANNY GLOVER: I—man, you know who the Cuban Five are?

CALIFORNIA MAN 4: Not really.

DANNY GLOVER: Well, you want to find out?

CALIFORNIA MAN 4: No, no, no, no. Don’t take a picture of me, please. OK.

DANNY GLOVER: Alright. The police looking for you?

What they did was they infiltrated terrorist groups in Miami, of exiles, which had been planning attacks on the Cuban people and foreign citizens inside Cuba. The Cuban Five have a right to defend the Cuban revolution.

AMY GOODMAN: That was the acclaimed actor and activist, Danny Glover, in a clip from the documentary, Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up, by the late filmmaker Saul Landau. Danny Glover was asking people in California about the Cuban Five, the subject of our show today.

Fifteen years ago, five Cuban intelligence agents were arrested in the United States. Four remain locked up. The fifth will join us today from Havana. They say they were not spying on the United States but trying to monitor violent right-wing Cuban exile groups here responsible for attacks inside Cuba.

NELSON VALDÉS: The Berlin Wall comes to an end in the fall of 1989. The Soviet Union comes to an end in November 1991. The Cuban economy is going into a free fall. And the Cuban exiles decide that they have to enhance the attacks that they’re going to carry out on Cuba.

FABIÁN ESCALANTE: [translated] We had to send our men in order to know what plots they were hatching. And where were they hatching those plots? In Miami.

SAUL LANDAU: In 1990, René González hijacked a plane in Cuba and flew it to Miami. Shortly afterwards, he joined Brothers to the Rescue. He was followed by Antonio Guerrero, Ramón Labañino, Gerardo Hernández and Fernando González. Years later, these men would be known as the Cuban Five, Cuban intelligence agents whose job was to penetrate violent exile groups.

AMY GOODMAN: That was the late filmmaker Saul Landau narrating his film, Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up. Today we’ll be joined by René González from Havana in his first extended U.S. television interview since his release from jail. He returned to Cuba earlier this year after spending 13 years in U.S. prison.

In Cuba, the five are seen as national heroes. They were spying on a group of exiles in Florida that had carried out a string of deadly attacks, including the 1976 bombing of Cubana Flight 455, killing all 73 people on board, and the 1997 hotel bombings in Havana.

One of the groups in Florida the men infiltrated was called Brothers to the Rescue, founded by a CIA-trained exile named José Basulto, who flew planes from Florida and Cuba to provoke the Cuban government. In 1996, Cuba shot down two of the group’s planes after they flew into or near Cuban airspace. Four people died. The Cuban Five also infiltrated Alpha 66, the F4 Commandos and the Cuban American National Foundation.

In 1998, the five were arrested. Charges included conspiracy to commit espionage, acting as an agent of a foreign government and, in one case, conspiracy to commit murder. Instead of deporting the spies back to Cuba, the U.S. put them on trial in Miami, a move widely criticized. Robert Pastor, President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser for Latin America, said, quote, "Holding a trial for five Cuban intelligence agents in Miami is about as fair as a trial for an Israeli intelligence agent in Tehran."

This is another clip from the documentary, Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up. It begins with retired Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief of staff of Secretary of State Colin Powell.

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: Look at the draconian sentences that they got. Two life sentences plus 15 years? And this is supposed to be because of the Brothers to the Rescue shootdown and so forth, which I have absolutely no way of knowing the truth about, because our government, the Cuban-American community and others have so clouded the facts and so obfuscated all of the available material on it.

LOCAL 10 REPORTER: Speaking on his own behalf, Gerardo Hernández said, "It is necessary for some countries to send their sons and daughters to defend themselves, to carry out dangerous missions, be they in Afghanistan or in South Florida."

NINOSKA PÉREZ CASTELLÓN: It’s not whether they were sent here because acts of terrorism were being—were happening in Cuba. You do not send people to spy in other countries because you think that they are committing or you say they’re committing acts. Those five that are—you know, try to be painted as heroes, are murderers.

FOX NEWS REPORTER: All the men were given maximum sentences, kept in solitary confinement for more than a year, barred from seeing certain family members, and what they believe was the most prejudicial, they were not granted a change of venue out of Miami.

LEONARD WEINGLASS: Well, there was ample evidence of intimidation of the jury. And, in fact, some of the jurors, during the voir dire process, when they were being selected, specifically said that they were afraid for their families if they reached a verdict in this case that was not acceptable to the exile community in Miami.

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: I do not understand why the trial proceeded in Dade County, Florida. A change of venue, to me as a layman, is something that is demanded when there is absolutely no chance of the defendant or defendants getting a fair trial in the area where they’re going to be tried.

REP. GEORGE MILLER: Not all terrorists are treated the same. Clearly, those that are favored by the administration can operate with impunity inside the United States. People who went to partake in violent acts against Cuba are protected. And yet you see individuals who were trying to stop those acts of terrorists, to try to make American law enforcement aware of these activities, are the people who end up being prosecuted—I mean, people who end up in jail. And those who blow up airliners, those who blow up hotels, those who conduct acts of violence are free—they’re the toast of the town—because the administration is paralyzed by their own policy with respect to Cuba, with their own policy with respect to the war on terror. And what you see is a level of duplicity that is incredible.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Democratic Congressmember George Miller of California. Before him, Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief of staff of the former secretary of state, Colin Powell, as well as the late Cuban Five attorney Leonard Weinglass and Cuban exile Ninoska Pérez Castellón. That was all from an excerpt of the film, Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up.

When we come back, we go to Havana, Cuba, to speak with René González, the only freed member of the Cuban Five, about why he came to the United States to spy on Cuban militant exiles. He’ll talk about his arrest and the four other members of the Cuban Five who remain in jail in this country. We’ll also speak with Ricardo Alarcón. Up until earlier this year, he was the president of the Cuban National Assembly. He was also Cuba’s former foreign minister. Stay with us.


[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 10 years ago

AMY GOODMAN: Cuban singer Silvio Rodríguez during a concert in honor of the Cuban Five in Havana in September. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with a Democracy Now! exclusive. We turn now to René González, the only freed member of the Cuban Five. He was released in October of 2011. He returned to Cuba in April of this year after being jailed in the United States for 13 years. I recently spoke to him from Havana via Democracy Now! video stream. I began by asking him why he came to the United States to investigate militant Cuban exile groups.

RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: Well, for my generation Cubans, it was part of our development or common experience to have seen people coming from Miami raiding our shores, shooting at hotels, killing people here in Cuba, blowing up airplanes. So, we were really familiar with the terrorist activities that the Cuban people had been suffering for almost four years back then. So it wasn’t hard for me to accept the mission of going there and monitor the activities of some of those people, who had been trained by the CIA in the '60s. Some of them had participated in Bay of Pigs. Some of them had gone then—after that, had gone to South America as part of the Operation Condor. And if you look at the history of those people, you can see their link to the worst actions of the U.S. government, be they Iran-Contras—even the Kennedy assassination plot was linked to them. So, it wasn't hard for me to accept the mission and to go there to protect the Cuban people’s lives, and that’s what I did.

AMY GOODMAN: What were some of the groups that you and your colleagues came to infiltrate? What were their names, and what specifically did you know they were doing in Miami?

RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: Well, if we are talking about that, we should start by Luis Posada Carriles, who’s still in Miami. He’s living there under the protection of the U.S. government. Posada Carriles has a long story of terrorism against not only Cuba, but also even in the United States. He was responsible for the blowing up of the Cubana airliner in 1976 in Venezuela. And later on, when we were in Miami, he was also organizing the bombs which were placed on the hotels in Havana. But it’s not only him. I mean, he doesn’t work alone. The sad part is that he was being paid for by the Cuban American National Foundation, which is a legal organization linked to the Washington establishment, an organization which has a lobby in Washington, which has paid for the election campaigns of guys like Ileana Ros or Lincoln Diaz-Balart. And those people were paying these terrorists—that terrorist to put bombs in Havana in 1997. So that’s an example of the whole scheme that we were facing there.

And, of course, there were some other people, like José Basulto, who founded Brothers to the Rescue, but before that he had a long history of terrorism against Cuba. We had Orlando Bosch, who together with Luis Posada Carriles, was involved in the plot in Venezuela to blow up the Cubana airliner. And we have, for example, the Novo Sampoll brothers, who were linked to the assassination of Orlando Letelier in Washington with a car bomb. So the list is long, but those are the—those were the people we were watching on, and that was our mission there.

AMY GOODMAN: How did you make it from Cuba to Miami? Explain how you came up.

RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: Well, I was a pilot here in Cuba. So I was flying with the skydiving operations here for sports operations. And, well, I took a chance and stole a plane, and I landed in Key West. Of course, I had been born in the United States, so when I landed there, I showed my birth certificate, and then they allowed me to go back to my family’s house. And then I ended up with Brothers to the Rescue, which was the first organization that I infiltrated there. And the rest was just linking up with all those people and, you know, going from one group to another to find out their plots against the country.

AMY GOODMAN: And what most surprised you about what you found in the linkages of these groups, from Brothers to the Rescue? Talk about what Brothers to the Rescue was doing and who was supporting them and what you were reporting back to Cuba.

RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: Well, as I told you, Brothers to the Rescue was founded by—I mean, he’s a main celebrity, I would say he was—José Basulto, was a young guy trained by the CIA during the Bay of Pigs invasion. But he was part of what was called back then the infiltration teams. So it wasn’t only him, but a bunch of guys from the infiltration teams, they were the ones who created Brothers to the Rescue. Initially, it was—I would say it was more of a psych-op operation. They tried to incite people to leave Cuba by boats or rafts, and then they would pretend that—let’s say, they would rescue some of them and, you know, make propaganda out of that rescue operations. It was a very intelligent operation, because, you know, it was premised on a—on a team that appeals to humanitarian feelings of the people—rescuing rafters, saving lives.

And at the beginning, they grew up, you know, out of the support from the people in Miami. But then, after 1995, when the immigration agreements were signed off between Cuba and the United States, they resorted to invading the Cuban airspace, going—or, flying Havana, launching things. And they started to develop some other plans, which even included the use of some explosive to plant in Cuba. So, they began really dangerous. By 1995, they were already trying to do some different things than the ones they had done at the beginning. And, you know, those were the activities I was reporting on.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about Basulto talking about a weapon they had to test in the Everglades?

RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: Well, that was presented as evidence on the trial. He devised a weapon which would be like a flare. Let’s go back to the beginning, because even when he was saving lives, he—he called me once, and he asked for my advice to introduce some explosives in Cuba. It was in 1994—I mean, 1992, sorry. His idea back then was to blow up some power lines. You know, back then, in 1992, the economic situation in Cuba was really hard, and we had blackouts every day. So, maybe he decided that he could do something to make those blackouts more common. And he was already devising a scheme to introduce in Cuba with his airplanes some explosive to be planted on the power lines. But that was back in 1992.

Then, after that, he was involved in some plots to buy some leftover military Russian planes. I remember he was trying to buy an L-39, which was a Czechoslovakian military training plane. He was trying to buy a MiG-23, which was a Soviet-built plane.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about how you came to be arrested in the United States?

RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: Well, it’s a long process, but I’m going to make it short. By the middle of 1998, there was an opportunity for the two governments, Cuba and the United States, to work together against terrorism. An FBI delegation had visited Havana for some days in June of that year. And before they left Cuba for the United States, they assured the Cuban government that they would do something about the voluminous information that had been given to them on terrorist activities against Cuba, based mainly in Florida. And three months after that meeting, all of a sudden things changed, and the FBI raided our homes, and we all were arrested on September 12th, 1998. They put us in solitary confinement for a year and a half. And then, the whole story started to develop.

[-] 3 points by LeoYo (5909) 10 years ago

AMY GOODMAN: What was your time in jail like, in prison for 15 years? How were you treated?

RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: Well, I would say there were two stages. In Miami, they did everything in their power to break us down. They put us in solitary confinement. They kept us in a hole for a year and a half. They used the conditions of confinement to prevent our access to the evidence of the trial, which is one of the grounds why the United Nations group on arbitrary detentions rejected the trial, by the way, and also Amnesty International. They used my family also to punish me. They didn’t allow me to see my daughters, for some reason they came up with. And it applied only to me, because nobody else in that building had that limitation. So, I could say—I will like to say, but they were very brutal during our time in Miami.

But, well, after that, you go, you know, to the normal—when you go to Pennsylvania, you’re not anymore. And that’s one of the reasons that we say the trial couldn’t be held in Miami, because once you leave Miami, then you are a normal person again.

AMY GOODMAN: And where are the other members of the Cuban Five, the four who are still in prison? One about to be released—is that right?—in February.

RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: Yes. Fernando, he should finish his sentence in February next year. And I hope he comes right away to Cuba, because he’s not a U.S. citizen, so he should be deported from the U.S. And then is Antonio, who is still four years away. Ramón is already—is still 11 years away, which is—it would be a crime to keep him in jail. And then Gerardo, who is still dealing with one life sentence.

AMY GOODMAN: And where are they all in prison?

RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: Well, they’re scattered all over the United States. Antonio, he went to the prison where I’m at now, Marianna. Fernando is in Arizona in a prison, in an immigration prison, I believe low-level prison. Ramón is in Ashland in Kentucky, I believe it is. And Fernando is in—Gerardo is in Victorville in California.

AMY GOODMAN: What gives you hope that they will be released before their term? I mean, for example, Gerardo is in prison—what is it—right now on two life sentences?

RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: Well, my main hope is that the nature of the trial is too murky, is too perverse, to withstand the pressure of the best people in the world. I believe that this injustice, this trial, is going to go down in history as one of the worst example of what they call U.S. justice. And I hope that the U.S. government, little by little, is going to feel that the weight of this injustice is costing them more than the solving the problem.

AMY GOODMAN: You were already jailed, because it was in June of 2001 that you were convicted. You were in jail at the time of the 9/11 attacks, right? September 11, 2001. And I’m wondering about your thoughts at the time. I mean, before that, the deadliest airline terrorism in the hemisphere was 1976, was the downing of the Cubana airliner in Venezuela that took out the entire Cuban Olympic—that took out the Cuban Olympic fencing team, killed 73 people on board. Ultimately, Posada Carriles was convicted in absentia by Panama, who lives in Miami. Your thoughts on what happened then, that kind of what is called terrorism, and where you were, in prison?

RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: Well, my first reaction was shock. Of course, nobody can forget that day. I was in my cell, and all of a sudden somebody called me: "Look at this!" And, you know, I just walked out of the cell, and there was a TV set, and the first plane had already hit the first tower. So I was—you know, I thought that it was an accident at first. So we were talking about that accident, how it happened, whatever. And then, all of a sudden I saw the second hit, and I just couldn’t believe it. And, of course, it was—it was shocking. I was moved by all those—I can never forget those people having to jump from buildings. It’s something that you don’t wish would happen to anybody. And, you know, the first reaction was just the shock of—at something so horrible.

And then you have to think a little more about that. And, well, I believe—on my elocution to the judge, I talk about it a little bit. I believe that as long as somebody believe that there are some good terrorists and some bad terrorists, terrorism is going to be there. And it’s a pity because, as I said to the judge, and you can be a capitalist, you can be Jew, you can be a Catholic or a Muslim, and be a good person. But a terrorist is a sick person; it’s not a good person. And for me, the fact that some people, like my prosecutors, for example, believe that some terrorists deserve to be protected and some don’t, I mean, is a—I can’t believe that in the 21st century this is happening yet.

AMY GOODMAN: And what was your reaction to those who said that Cuba shooting down the Brothers to the Rescue plane, February 24th, 1996, killing four members of Brothers to the Rescue, was a terroristic act?

RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: I don’t see—I mean, the definition of "terrorism" doesn’t go that far. Terrorism, although I know—I acknowledge the definition is too politically sometimes, politically motivated, but my definition is that it is a—it’s the imposition of violence indiscriminately to instill fear among the surviving people. And I don’t see how it fits what happens on February 1996. We are talking about a guy who was trying to be a terrorist, who all of a sudden discovered that he’s a humanitarian, and he creates an organization. He’s flying for years in front of the Cuban coast without any incident at all, while he is saving rafters. Cuba doesn’t interfere on his activities. And all of a sudden he decides that he can break into the Cuban airspace, do whatever he wants in Cuba, and he even starts devising plans to introduce explosives in Cuba and to introduce weapons in Cuba using those planes. And, I mean, anybody would accept that defending the country against those actions is an act of sovereignty.

AMY GOODMAN: René González, the only freed member of the Cuban Five. He was released October 2011, returned to Cuba last April after being jailed in the United States for 13 years. We were speaking to him in Havana. When we come back, Ricardo Alarcón, former president of the Cuban National Assembly, also Cuba’s former foreign minister. We’ll talk about his meetings with the FBI, why Cuba called the FBI to Havana to meet. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 1 points by Nevada1 (5843) 10 years ago

US bombed a mental hospital, killing eighteen people.

[+] -6 points by drinkbrondo (-71) 10 years ago

Liberals always have a soft spot in their hearts for vicious communist dictators ...like Castro. Longingly hoping ...someday....we could have one here in America.