July 05, 2006
Terrorist's Best Defense
By Jane Franklin
If you’re a Cuban-American caught redhanded in illegal activities, there’s a great defense these days. Just claim that you’re trying to kill Fidel Castro or overthrow the Cuban government. Proclaim that you’re just loyally carrying out the policy that Washington has pursued ever since the Cuban Revolution. You might even threaten to subpoena government documents and officials. Or you could threaten to start revealing secrets about the government’s terrorist activities.
For example, in 1997, four Cuban-Americans—Angel Manuel Alfonso Alemán, Angel Hernández Rojo, Juan Bautista Márquez, and Francisco Secundino Córdova--were on their way from Miami to assassinate Fidel Castro upon his arrival on Margarita Island in Venezuela for an Ibero-American Summit meeting. When their boat had mechanical problems, the Coast Guard arrived and became suspicious, suspecting drugs, because the men gave conflicting answers to routine questions about where they were headed and for what purpose. A search by the Coast Guard revealed, among other military materiel, two .50-caliber sniper rifles--long-range, armor-piercing weapons. Then Alfonso blurted out that the guns were to kill Fidel Castro and that he was planning to shoot Castro’s plane when it landed. In this instance, the Coast Guard did not look the other way. All four were arrested. On August 25, 1998, they were indicted with three other Cuban-Americans--José Antonio Llama, José Rodríguez Sosa, and Alfredo Otero--on charges of conspiring to assassinate President Castro. But they need not have worried about getting convicted. Before their trial, Alfonso’s lawyer threatened to demand access to every CIA and FBI document about decades of plots to kill Fidel Castro. The prosecutor then decided that Alfonso’s confession would not be used as evidence because its legality was so vague, he said, that it could pave the way for an appeal of convictions. That of course paved the way for no convictions at all. The fix was in. The lawyer’s threat to base the defense on Washington’s record of terrorism worked. All six defendants were acquitted on December 8, 1999, by the jury in Puerto Rico. (Márquez had been separated from the others because he was arrested in Miami before the trial for smuggling cocaine.) Now, seven years later, one of those defendants, José Antonio Llama, who was a member of the Board of Directors of the Cuban American National Foundation at the time of his arrest, is describing in public how he and other leaders of CANF in 1992 had created a paramilitary group to kill Castro and overthrow the Cuban government.
Meanwhile, on September 12, 1998, less than three weeks after the indictment of the seven terrorists, the FBI arrested a group of Cubans who were in Miami to collect information about precisely this kind of terrorist plot.
Although the Cuban-Americans were acquitted, five Cubans--Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González, Ramón Labañino, and René González--who were trying to prevent such terrorism remain in prison to this day. On April 14, 2006, another Cuban-American, this one from Upland in southern California, was found with an arsenal, a huge arsenal of 1,571 guns that includes one of those .50 caliber sniper rifles, Uzi submachine guns, handguns equipped with silencers, live hand grenades, a rocket launcher, and even a gun that looks like a walking cane. As the police searched his house in an affluent neighborhood, Robert Ferro immediately started explaining to investigators that he is a member of Alpha 66, which has a history of hundreds of attacks against Cuba. Alpha 66 denies he’s a member, but Ferro’s defense is that his weapons were for overthrowing Castro. He told agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that his Alpha 66 group has a hundred members ready to invade Cuba. As Fidel Castro remarked, Ferro had almost as many weapons as the mercenaries who invaded Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. In 1992 Ferro was accused of running a paramilitary camp to train people for such an invasion. He was convicted then of possession of five pounds of C-4 plastic explosive and sentenced to two years. Now he is charged with three counts of possessing unregistered firearms and two counts of being a felon in possession of firearms. Investigators lean toward the theory that his claims about Alpha 66 are a cover story for sales of illegal weapons, but Ferro is sticking to his guns, so to speak. The Los Angeles Times reported that Ferro said, “Those guns I had were very sophisticated weapons. It was for a fight. I was just trying to mimic what President Bush has done in Iraq, bring freedom to the country.” He added, “I don’t know why I’m in trouble for that.”
The most notorious terrorist in the Western Hemisphere, Luis Posada Carriles, currently “in detention” in El Paso, Texas, is also wondering why he’s in trouble. Posada definitely has a bona fide defense for carrying out terrorist acts as an agent of the U.S. government, and Washington is concerned about what Posada might disclose.
Thus he is not charged with any of his terrorist crimes even though he is currently wanted in Venezuela on charges of blowing up a Cuban civilian jetliner, killing all 73 people aboard. He is not charged with bombings in Havana in 1997 that killed an Italian businessman and wounded several other people even though he bragged to New York Times reporters that he was the mastermind of that bombing campaign (see front-page stories July 12 and July 13, 1998). Posada became a CIA agent in 1960. He kills with impunity because, as he told those reporters, he has worked closely with both the CIA and the FBI. He said, “The CIA taught us everything—everything….They taught us explosives, how to kill, bomb, trained us in acts of sabotage.” But the only charge against him in Texas is for entering this country without inspection, a minor charge for which he was detained last year.
Posada is requesting U.S. citizenship and has filed a habeas corpus petition asking for release from detention. Posada’s lawyer has an aggressive strategy for his client: After Posada escaped from a Venezuelan prison in 1985, he went to El Salvador where he helped deliver aid to U.S.-sponsored contras trying to overthrow the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. At the time such aid was against the law, but some of Washington’s highest officials were behind those unlawful activities, including sales of illegal guns and drugs. Posada’s lawyer is threatening to subpoena some of those officials, including Col. Oliver North, who directed supply operations from his office in the Reagan White House. One reason that Jorge Mas Canosa, then the chair of CANF, put up the money for bribing Posada’s way out of that Venezuelan prison in 1985 was Mas Canosa’s fear that Posada would start talking about what he knew. Mas is dead but the current threat of subpoenas must have some people in Washington and Miami wishing they could shut this guy up permanently. It’s bad enough that José Antonio Llama is telling what he knows, but that is nothing compared to what Posada could tell.
Historian Jane Franklin is the author of Cuba and the U.S. Empire: A Chronological History.
E-mail Jane Franklin: firstname.lastname@example.org