Making connections on terrorism

Charged with possessing deadly weapons, Santiago Alvarez of Florida plea-bargained, dodged a potential 50-year sentence, and now goes to jail for four years. Alvarez, like some other right-wing Cuban Americans, has paid for, organized and carried out deadly attacks against Cuba.

It seems highly likely that Alvarez’s activities and his light sentence are related. The U.S. government, complicit in anti-Cuban terrorist assaults, protects people like Alvarez.

His arsenal and the 1,500 rifles found last April in the possession of Californian Robert Ferro are signs that dangers still exist for Cuba. Ferro said his purpose was war against Cuba and that the U.S. government knew.

Options for a small island nation to protect its sovereignty and people’s lives are limited. Knuckling under was not one of them, at least for five Cuban men incarcerated in U.S. jails for eight years now. To protect Cuba, Gerardo Hernando, Francisco Gonzalez, Ramon Labinino, Rene Gonzalez and Antonio Guerrera went to Florida, joined private terrorist groups, and reported on what they learned in hopes of preventing more terrorist attacks.

In appalling contrast to Alvarez’s slap on the wrist, the Cuban Five experienced pretrial abuse, a biased trial and cruel and disproportionate sentences. Two of them received 15 and 19 years for failing to register as foreign agents. Three were sentenced to life in prison for conspiracy to commit espionage. Hernandez received a second life sentence for conspiracy to commit murder.

They paid the cost for standing in the way of U.S.-sanctioned terror. They were never accused of spying, or of harming U.S. agencies, installations or personnel.

U.S. hypocrisy on terrorism is, of course, nothing new. But now there is a new outrage, and it relates to Luis Posada Carriles, arch-terrorist and former CIA functionary. Official Washington has turned a blind eye to his bombings of an airliner and hotels, his assassinations and his attempted murder of Fidel Castro.

Posada, a citizen of Venezuela and Cuba, arrived in Miami last year, conveyed from Cancun, Mexico, on Alvarez’s yacht. He’s been in jail, but charged only with illegal entry. Murder and mayhem are off the table, as is Venezuela’s request for extradition so that his interrupted trial for the airliner bombing might resume.

A federal judge ruled Nov. 4 that Posada must go free by Feb. 1 because deportation, the usual fate for “illegal” immigrants, is not an option. No country will take him in. But world opinion may keep the Bush team from turning him loose. A criminal investigation reportedly is under way.

That’s a problem: his FBI files are empty, and new evidence of cozy relations with U.S. officials has come to light. Author Ann Louise Bardach has recently reported that in 2003 Miami FBI chief Hector Pesquera authorized the destruction of evidence on Posada requested by Panamanian prosecutors. Evidently Pesquera and his Miami intimates wanted to protect the terrorist, then in a Panama jail, from further investigation. Posada had been in jail there since 2000, when police unearthed his and others’ assassination plot against the Cuban president.

Pesquera had also headed up the prosecution team in the case of the Cuban Five.

The action of the FBI chief seems to have added a heavy dose of corruption to the steady dose of terrorism handed out to the Cuban people. Cuba’s supporters and defenders of the Cuban Five can only be outraged.

Outrage, loud and clear, surely helps to build support for the Five. Yet the movement to free the Five is still not large enough to achieve mainstream visibility. What else can be done?

Many who might join in the fight for the five prisoners are heavily involved in other issues. The movement is divided, and many don’t see the connections.

Here’s a modest suggestion: Focus on threads common to the good causes, particularly common factors that explain and diagnose.

The conversation could turn to ideas like class conflict, or the necessity for capitalism to exploit and expand, or more. From there it’s a short step to naming the names: imperialism in the world and capitalism at home. The message comes across that a blow against one manifestation of an unjust system is a blow on down the line. Thus empowered, activists can realize that fighting for the Five is part of a larger struggle, that work for the Five doesn’t detract from but rather is part of causes like opposition to the U.S. occupation in Iraq or work toward universal health care.

Making these connections, many more can join in this cause with enthusiasm.

W.T. Whitney Jr. (atwhit @ megalink.net) is a retired pediatrician active in the Cuba solidarity movement in Maine.