Comité Nacional por la Libertad de los Cinco Cubanos

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The Five Cuban Prisoners - Defending Against Terrorism

Speech delivered at Liberty Hall, Dublin, Ireland

by Philip Agee
Nov. 20, 2007
Reprinted from

Good evening. As you know, I am here* to discuss the case of the five Cuban intelligence agents imprisoned by the United States government since 1998, now in their 10th year in prison. But first a word about Latin America generally. A movement started with the election of Hugo Chavez as President of Venezuela in 1998 that has become as important, in my opinion, as the wars for Latin American independence from Spain two hundred years ago led by Bolivar, San Martin, Sucre and others. It is a movement for national liberation that now includes Evo Morales, President of Bolivia, and Rafael Correa, President of Ecuador and their supporting political parties---a movement primarily to end the power of the traditional oligarchies and United States influence. All three of these South American Presidents advocate, and are taking measures, like constitutional reform, to end capitalism and to build a socialism for the 21st century. It's a wave of change unthinkable only ten years ago, and I see no way the United States can stop it. The irony is that all three Presidents took power through free and fair elections, something the United States has been preaching for years, although in practice honoring more in obstruction and destruction as in Chile in the early 1970's. And all three revolutionary movements look to Cuba as their example and express great admiration for Fidel.

As a former CIA officer who worked against Cuba in the 1960's, I've taken a special interest in the case of the Miami Five from the day their arrests were announced. These men were sent to Miami to collect and transmit to the Cuban intelligence service information on plans for terrorism against Cuba. We should keep in mind that since the Cuban revolution overthrew the U.S.-backed Batista dictatorship at the end of 1958, nearly fifty years ago, almost 3500 Cubans have been killed and a little more than 2000 permanently injured in thousands of paramilitary and terrorist operations against Cuba organized mainly in the United States. We should also keep in mind that in supporting Bastista, the United States was assisting a regime that institutionalized political repression, including torture, and murdered an estimated 20,000 Cubans between 1952, when Bastista staged a military coup, and the end of 1958, when the revolutionary movement led by Fidel Castro forced Batista to flee.

The CIA was in charge of operations against Cuba from the 1950's on, with assistance from the U.S. military. These were the years when I was in the CIA, and in the 1960's I was in charge of operations against Cuba in two Latin American countries, Ecuador and Uruguay, and I also worked against Cuba in Mexico. These operations were political, not terrorist or paramilitary, and were designed to induce Latin American governments to break diplomatic and commercial relations with Cuba. They were part of the successful U.S. government program to isolate Cuba and to squeeze the country's economy, hoping it would turn people against the government if they got desperate enough for lack of food and other things. Declassified documents show that the Eisenhower administration at the highest level was considering the assassination of Fidel and other leaders even while they were still fighting the Bastista regime in the mountains. Since then Cuban security has counted more than 600 plots to kill Fidel.

In Miami starting in 1959 after the Revolution took power, the CIA developed a small army equipped with ships and aircraft that attacked Cuba for years. In the words of Richard Helms, former CIA Director, giving testimony to the U.S. Senate in 1975, "We had task forces that that were striking at Cuba constantly. We were attempting to blow up power plants. We were attempting to ruin sugar mills. We were attempting to do all kinds of things in this period. This was a matter of American government policy." I don't think one could find a clearer admission of U.S.-sponsored state terrorism by one of its organizers. One operation of note is the sabotage of the French freighter Le Coubre in March 1960. It had brought Belgian arms to Havana in violation of U.S. attempts to impose an arms embargo on Cuba. The first explosion killed the crew and stevedores, and a second explosion killed the fire brigade and miltia who were trying to put out the fire. Altogether at least 75 people were killed and 250 injured in this CIA sabotage/terrorist operation. Another CIA operation is the burning down of Havana's leading department store, El Encanto, just before the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. I had shopped there on my first trip to Havana in January 1957. At the same time the CIA was establishing counter-revolutionary networks on the island and infiltrating teams of terrorists and saboteurs.

The soldiers in this army have been selected almost entirely from among the Cuban exile community living in Florida with historical ties to the Batista dictatorship. They were trained by the CIA in explosives and sabotage. But there has never been any sign that the CIA ended its links with these people. Various Miami-based organizations appeared through the years with names like Brigade 2506 (the defeated CIA invasion force at the Bay of Pigs), Alfa-66, Omega-7, CORU, Comandos L, Brothers to the Rescue and Comandos F-4, just to name a few. Over the years some would disappear and others appear, but the main organizations are still operating today, planning and attempting strikes against Cuba. One of their principal sources of funding is the Cuban American National Foundation founded early in the Reagan administration and funded by the U.S. government. Since their defeat at the Bay of Pigs in 1961 the purpose of their terrorist operations has been to inflict pain on the Cuban population, but more important, they hoped their activities would provoke armed conflict with the United States and a US invasion of Cuba. Their plan has been to use the US military to overthrow the Cuban government, set themselves up as an interim government and begin the process of rewriting the Cuban constitution and reversing the revolutionary changes Cuba made through the years.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990's, the Cuban exile extremists in Miami were certain of the imminent collapse of the Cuban Revolution. Indeed overnight Cuba lost 85% of its foreign trade, and its economy contracted by 35%. That was the beginning of what they call the Special Period in Time of Peace, but there really was no peace for them. The terrorist organizations in Miami intensified their operations against Cuba in the 1990's with attacks from the sea and hotel bombings, one of which killed an Italian tourist in 1997. These terrorist activities were violations of U.S. law, but U.S. law enforcement authorities, including the FBI, did not stop them.

Why? In my opinion it's because the CIA has never ended its involvement with these terrorist groups. In Miami the Agency has close liaison with the FBI and local police, and all they have to do is ask for hands off these organizations and nothing will be done. For me there is no other explanation for the impunity with which these terrorists have broken U.S. law over so many years and continue to do so. Today the two worst CIA-backed terrorists in the Western Hemisphere live free and untouched in Miami: Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles. In their long history of terrorist operations, I'll just mention one: the bombing of the Cuban commercial airliner in 1976 that they planned together in Caracas. The plane crashed after takeoff from Barbados killing all 73 passengers on board. The Venezuelan government has asked the U.S. for Posada's extradition to continue his trial for the bombing that was interrupted by his suspiciously well planned escape from a Caracas prison in 1985. Soon after that escape he continued working for the CIA, this time in El Salvador in the aerial re-supply operations for the CIA's contra terrorists in Nicaragua. The current Bush administration refuses to respond to the extradition request, in violation of a long-standing treaty with Venezuela, for the obvious reason that with his long CIA history he simply knows too much.

I don't want to give the impression that all, or even a majority, of Cuban-Americans in Miami are violence-prone or agree with the terrorists. The community has changed over the years with new generations born in the United States and the deaths of many in the first waves of exiles in the 1960's whose motives were political. But at least since the 1980's Cuban immigrants to the U.S. have been largely motivated by economic reasons and have no serious quarrel with the Cuban Government. Some in the community are heroic figures who have steadfastly opposed the extremists despite threats and bombs. One of these is Francisco Aruca, a Miami radio commentator and promoter of travel to Cuba by Cuban exiles. Another is Jose Pertierra, a Washington D.C. lawyer who specializes in immigration and human rights and represents Venezuela in its request for extradition of Posada Carriles. Still another is Andes Gomez, leader of the Antonio Maceo Brigade that takes Cuban-Americans to Cuba for work projects like harvesting or construction. All of these and many others favor an end to the blockade and normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba.

The Cuban government defended itself over these years with the intelligence and security forces they had begun to develop even before the fall of the Batista dictatorship. They sent their agents to the U.S. and other countries, sometimes with documentation as citizens of other countries, in order to penetrate the anti-Cuban terrorist organizations and obtain advance information on terrorist planning. In this context of thirty years of attacks against Cuba, the five imprisoned intelligence agents were sent to Miami in 1990. During the next eight years they penetrated certain of the terrorist organizations and sent reports back to Havana. Then in June 1998 the Cuban government naively invited the FBI to send a delegation to Havana to receive a dossier on Miami-based terrorism, thinking the information would be used by the FBI to take action against the terrorists. The dossier included texts, recordings, videos and details on the activities of 40 terrorists. Some of this information came from the Miami Five. The FBI said it would respond quickly but they never did. Instead they used the information to identify or confirm suspicions about the Five, and three months after the Cubans gave them the information, in September 1998, the FBI arrested all five men. All of them were put in solitary confinement at the time of their arrests in harsh conditions known as "the hole" and kept there for 17 months despite prison regulations that allow "the hole" only for prisoners who cause trouble and for a maximum of 60 days. The purpose, of course, was to break their will and induce testimony of one against the others. It didn't work.

Now the main point I want to make. It is the question of why the White House, and Bush in particular, decided to impose such harsh prison treatment, which continues today, and to get the word to Judge Lenard that the longest possible prison terms should be imposed. Don't think for a moment that she acted independently in sentencing the Five. She knew perfectly well what the White House wanted. So the question is: why the Bush decision to treat these men in this way? I think there are several reasons.

First, they are trying to instill fear and paralysis in other Cuban intelligence agents working to defend Cuba right now in the United States.

But more important, I believe the decision was vindictive and punitive, totally disproportionate, in retaliation for Cuba's long and successful resistance to the undeclared U.S. terrorist war against Cuba. The historical record runs from the rollup of CIA networks in Cuba in the 1960's, to the Bay of Pigs victory, to the Cuban intelligence recruitment of a CIA secretary in the U.S. Embassy in Ghana in the 1980's, to the many successful Cuban double agents recruited by the CIA in Havana that were described in a 26-part television series in 1987. All this parallels the successful Cuban resistance to the total trade and investment embargo that the United States has imposed worldwide against Cuba since 1960. Cuba calculates the cumulative costs of this embargo, that they call the blockade, at 89 billion dollars. Imagine if that amount of money could have been invested in schools, hospitals, housing and infrastructure like highways and railroads.

The decision on harsh and punitive treatment of the Five is also retaliation for Cuba's successful resistance to the economic free fall in the early 1990's after the collapse of the Soviet Union. I remember how shocked I was then, when visiting Cuba, at how thin my friends were. But they explained to me that food went first to children and old people, and everybody else got only what limited supply was left.

Nevertheless Cuba began an uphill recovery about 1995 and has had a healthy growing economy since then. Last year GDP growth was calculated at 12.5%, the highest in Latin America. In most sectors they are back to the levels before Soviet subsidies ended or even higher. Right now Cuba is carrying out what they call an Energy Revolution that includes replacing incandescent light bulbs for small florescent lights, importing energy-efficient domestic items like refrigerators, pressure cookers and rice makers to replace old ones, and expanding electricity production through fuel-efficient diesel and fuel oil generating units. Blackouts, that in the 1990's could last a whole day, are now few and they don't last very long. And I don't think I have to dwell on the Cuban achievements in universal free health care and education, sports and culture---these are widely recognized.

So Cuba has survived the embargo of 50 years and the crisis of the 1990's, and United States policy toward the island has been a complete failure---a failure continuing in the rest of the region as the current Latin American movements toward socialism and national liberation demonstrate. In the 1970's Cuba began to reverse the isolation imposed by the United States, and now they have diplomatic relations with all of Latin America and the Caribbean and with nearly every other country in the world. They have an extraordinary foreign aid program, that they call cooperation. Between 25 and 30,000 Cuban doctors and other medical personal are scattered around the world saving lives in the most remote jungles and mountains, areas where other doctors won't go. Thousands of Cuban educators are also working abroad, especially in literacy programs using their system known as "Yo Si Puedo," in English Yes I Can. They are applying this system in multiple languages including Aymara and Quechua. They have developed a world-class biopharmaceutical industry and are inventing new vaccines and cures. And on the outskirts of Havana, at the Latin American School of Medicine, they are training thousands of young foreigners as doctors who will return to their home areas to practice.

The United States has done everything in its power, short of carpet bomb the island and launch a military invasion to stamp out this bad example for the rest of Latin. But happily the Cubans from the early 1960's acquired arms and built their defense capacities to the point that an invasion would carry too high a cost in U.S. lives. This continues today to be a deterrent to extremists like Bush and his lieutenants who also have to consider the diplomatic consequences and popular revulsion worldwide that a US invasion would cause.

Cuba's history since 1959 is truly a heroic story, rather like Vietnam: a fight for sovereignty and independence and the right to choose the country's destiny. The Miami Five were taking enormous risks to defend this and the achievements of the Revolution. They did no harm to the security of the United States. Their mission was purely defensive, against terrorism, and they deserve worldwide support. There are now several hundred Free the Five solidarity organizations around the world, all demanding justice---a new, fair trial or their release and their prompt return to Cuba. Everyone here can join in a letter-writing campaign to the United States Ambassador here and to your own government demanding action to correct this injustice. We should never tire in our efforts to achieve justice for these five men, falsely accused, wrongly convicted, and unjustly sentenced.

I know from personal experience how important international solidarity can be. I was deported from five NATO countries under U.S. pressure in the 1970's only because of what I wrote and spoke. If I hadn't had solidarity support I don't know what I would have done. These five anti-terrorists now need ours, and it should be organized and massive. Let's redouble our commitments and efforts. Only mass international solidarity will convince the government in Washington to release these men and let them go back home.

One other very important related matter. The wife of Gerardo Hernandez, Adriana Perez, and the wife of Rene Gonzalez, Olga Salanueva, have not been allowed during these nearly ten years to visit their imprisoned husbands. Seven times the Department of State has denied them visas to enter the country and visit their husbands, most recently in September. This is in blatant violation of their human rights and of recognized prison visiting rights in the United States. Demanding visas for Adriana and Olga should be an important part of any campaign to Free the Five.

Thank you for your attention.

* Philip Agee was forced to withdraw from the event at short notice due to ill health and his address was delivered by Irish actor, Donal O'Kelly.


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