In the decades following the July 1959 revolution, Cuba faced a murderous terrorist campaign waged from Miami and South Florida by its exiled elite. Granted a free hand by successive U.S. administrations, it was responsible for the death and injury of almost 5,600 innocent civilians1. In a familiar case of blowback, the groups responsible were largely drawn from veterans of the CIA-trained Bay of Pigs fiasco.
From the very beginning in 1959, most of the exile operations were being waged under CIA and White House auspices via southern Florida and other bases in the Caribbean1. CIA agent David Atlee Philips aka Maurice Bishop, who co-ran the 1953 Guatemala coup, arranged the founding of Alpha 66 and guided its activities, which included the shoot-up of fourteen wood-homes in Boca de Sama village in 1971 (killing 2 and injuring 8, while damaging the local kids’ school)2 and . By 1973 the organisation had become a liability and was dropped by the CIA2, but its attacks against Cuba continued as Washington let them operate freely from bases in Miami and Florida.
Similar groups such as Omega 7, perhaps the most lethal of all in terms of bombings and assassinations both in Cuba and the U.S., were also given a free hand. This included the introduction of various biological agents into Cuba during the early 80s, including a Dengue-2 epidemic between June and November 1981 that afflicted 300,000+ victims across the island and killed over a hundred children2.
Orlando Bosch (left) and Luis Carriles Posada (right)
The most notorious Cuban terrorists, Luis Carriles Posada and Orlando Bosch, arranged the 1976 bombing of a Cuban jetliner, murdering all 73 people onboard. Files declassified in 1978 showed how the CIA directed Posada’s activities between the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis. According to far more sensitive records, the Agency directed Posada to “establish a training camp for guerrilla ops against Castro”4. “The CIA taught us everything”, Posada said. “…explosives, how to kill, bomb, trained us in acts of sabotage”4.
By 1976, Posada had become a liability and the CIA dropped him3. But despite being informed of his involvement in the 1997 hotel/restaurant bombings, U.S. law enforcement took no action against the notorious mass murderer5. He was done briefly for lying to immigration agents, while the Bush II Administration refused to extradite him to Cuba and Venezuela for fear that they would be tortured. He died peacefully on May 23 2018.
Operation Mongoose: “the terrors of the earth”
Robert Kennedy: “No time, no money, effort or manpower is to be spared”
Kennedy’s botched invasion of Cuba (‘the Bay of Pigs’) was an international embarrassment for the US. As an internal source recounts, Kennedy had indicated to his brother Robert that “the final chapter had not been written – it’s got to be done and will be done”6. To quote Noam Chomsky:
At the first cabinet meeting after the failed invasion, the atmosphere was “almost savage,” Chester Bowles noted privately: “there was an almost frantic reaction for an action program.” At an NSC meeting two days later, Bowles found the atmosphere “almost as emotional” and was struck by “the great lack of moral integrity” that prevailed. The mood was reflected in Kennedy’s public pronouncements: “The complacent, the self-indulgent, the soft societies are about to be swept away with the debris of history. Only the strong . . . can possibly survive,” he told the country…Kennedy was aware that allies “think that we’re slightly demented” on the subject of Cuba, a perception that persists to the present.
To lubricate the island for a second invasion (ultimately aborted by the presence of Soviet nukes on the otherwise defenceless island), he approved Operation Mongoose, an RFK-run and U.S. Army-trained1 sabotage campaign against Cuban ships, fishing boats, sugar mills, power plants, petrochemical facilities, oil refineries, warehouses, urban transportation and department stores: in a nutshell, “sabotage and more sabotage, place bombs, create fear, and carry out terrorist plans, so that agitation will engulf the country and the government will have to carry out a violent repression with much bloodshed which they can then use in their propaganda throughout Latin America”6.
Theoretically the world’s biggest terror operation (at least until Reagan’s terror policy in Central America), this elaborate campaign proved deadly: on March 13 1961, a CIA gunboat attacked an oil refinery in Santiago de Cuba, killing 27-year-old Rene Rodriguez Hernandez and seriously injuring 19-year-old Roberto Ramon Castro. A further 50+ people died when the CIA bombed the Citorro chemical plant on April 27 1962. Four months later, US planes escorted a group of armed vessels in their deadly assault on the Chaplin Theatre and a selection of homes in the Miramar neighbourhood of Havana4.
The 1963 proposals included the “placing of incendiary devices and/or explosives with suitable time delay within the hull or cargo to disable or to sink Cuban vessels and/or damage their cargos while at sea” and “introducing abrasive or other damaging materials into the propulsion, communication and other systems of the ship to inactivate the ship”7.
In September of that year, the U.S. Army Department confirmed a successful demolition beneath La Isabela harbour. Mongoose agent Bradley Ayers recounts the operation:
The single-track line [of the railway bridge] carried large amounts of freight and produce between the inland city of Sagua la Grande and the port of Isabela. It was one of the key supply lines in the central part of the Communist island. The commando force was to blow up the bridge and destroy telephone and telegraph lines running adjacent to the tracks6.
[I trained commando units] to infiltrate Cuba, reach human targets, and assassinate them. Anyone in a senior position in government was fair game, and it reached down to the provincial heads, police chiefs and so on…[Robert] Kennedy was aware of what we were doing down there. It wasn’t a case of the Agency mounting these assassination operations without the knowledge of the Special Group…RFK had a hands-on kind of control of the operations7.
Two months after the La Isabela attack, the CIA confirmed the bombing of a power plant, sawmill and multiple oil storage facilities, while announcing further scheduled attacks “against a large oil refinery and storage facilities, a large electric plant, sugar refineries, railroad bridges, harbor facilities, and underwater demolition of docks and ships*”.
“Remember the Maine”
The sheer number of CIA plots to assassinate Castro are alone extraordinary: 638 by a former Cuban intelligence officer’s account3. They even plotted to bomb/poison him on American soil, namely his New York visit in 1961. To quote Fabian Escalante6:
The head of the so-called Cuban Revolutionary Council, Jose milo Cardona, met with President Kennedy in the White House [in April 1962]. After the meeting Miro Cardona declared that Castro’s days were numbered. At the same time William Harvey, head of the CIA’s “executive action” group, was reactivating the plans with the Mafia and Tony Varona to assassinate Fidel Castro.
1961: Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro delivers historic speech at the United Nations
Inside jobs hardly stopped there: the latest files released in 2016 reveal a CIA scheme to stage a false-flag terror campaign in Miami in order to legitimate the full-scale invasion of Cuba, echoing the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s notorious Operation Northwoods plan to blow up an American ship in Guantanamo Bay so as to provide “a ‘Remember the Maine’ incident”, or to stage “a Communist Cuban terror campaign [in Florida] and even in Washington”.
The Threat of Castroism
While rejected by a flabbergasted White House, such plans reflected Washington’s obsession with Cuba for defying the Monroe Doctrine. To quote Noam Chomsky:
From the timing alone, it is clear that concern over a Russian threat could not have been a major factor. The plans for forceful regime change were drawn up and implemented before there was any significant Russian connection, and punishment was intensified after the Russians disappeared from the scene. True, a Russian threat did develop, but that was more a consequence than a cause of US terrorism and economic warfare.
In July 1961 the CIA warned that “the extensive influence of ‘Castroism’ is not a function of Cuban power. . . . Castro’s shadow looms large because social and economic conditions throughout Latin America invite opposition to ruling authority and encourage agitation for radical change,” for which Castro’s Cuba provided a model. Earlier, Arthur Schlesinger had transmitted to the incoming President Kennedy his Latin American Mission report, which warned of the susceptibility of Latin Americans to “the Castro idea of taking matters into one’s own hands.” The report did identify a Kremlin connection: the Soviet Union “hovers in the wings, flourishing large development loans and presenting itself as the model for achieving modernization in a single generation.” The dangers of the “Castro idea” are particularly grave, Schlesinger later elaborated, when “the distribution of land and other forms of national wealth greatly favors the propertied classes” and “the poor and underprivileged, stimulated by the example of the Cuban revolution, are now demanding opportunities for a decent living.” Kennedy feared that Russian aid might make Cuba a “showcase” for development, giving the Soviets the upper hand throughout Latin America.
In early 1964, the State Department Policy Planning Council expanded on these concerns: “The primary danger we face in Castro is . . . in the impact the very existence of his regime has upon the leftist movement in many Latin American countries. . . . The simple fact is that Castro represents a successful defiance of the US, a negation of our whole hemispheric policy of almost a century and a half.” To put it simply, Thomas Paterson writes, “Cuba, as symbol and reality, challenged U.S. hegemony in Latin America.”
*On December 23 1963, CIA commandos sank the Revolutionary Navy’s LT-385 torpedo boat in Siguanea dock on the Isle of Pines, killing four crewmen.
1. Bradley Earl Ayers, The War That Never Was (Major Books: Canoga Park, California), pages 30 and 39
2. Keith Bolender, Stories From The Other Side: An Oral History of Terrorism Against Cuba (Pluto Press 2010); this is the most comprehensive account to date of this unknown history; to hear a presentation by Bolender and Noam Chomsky, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L_AaFN5FHc8.
3. See http://www.jfk-online.com/daphscavec.html
4. https://www.nytimes.com/1998/07/13/world/bomber-s-tale-decades-intrigue-life-shadows-trying-bring-down-castro.html; according to his Cuban criminal record published in Granma (the official Cuban Communist Party newspaper), he enlisted in Bay of Pigs and, in July 1963 at Fort Benning, received training in demolition, propaganda and intelligence.
5. Bardach and Rohter, “Authorities Knew of Bombing Campaign, Says Cuban Exile”, New York Times 12/07/98
6. https://archive.org/details/FabianEscalanteSecretWarCubaCIA/page/n1; ibid. Bolender
7. ibid. Ayers as quoted in https://nacla.org/news/2016/12/16/cost-covert-operations-cuba