This weekend’s New York Times ran the first part of an explosive two-part series on Cuba. Its headline reads: "Key Cuba Foe Claims Exiles Backing." [includes rush transcript]
According to the Times, a Cuban exile who has waged a campaign of bombings and assassination attempts aimed at toppling Fidel Castro says that his efforts were supported financially for more than a decade by the Cuban-American leaders of one of America’s most influential lobbying groups.
The exile, Luis Posada Carriles, said he organized a wave of bombings in Cuba last year at hotels, restaurants, and discotheques, killing an Italian tourist and alarming the Cuban government. Mr. Posada was schooled in demolition and guerrilla warfare by the Central Intelligence Agency in the 1960s.
- Ann Louise Bardach, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair magazine. Over the years, she has been known for her interviews with such reclusive figures as Fidel Castro and Subcommandante Marcos.
- NY Times: "Life in the Shadows, Trying to Bring Down Castro" (must have free account to access)
- 11/20/97 Pacifica Network News–"Bombs in Havana"
- Pacifica’s Cuba Conversations
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: A powerful Cuban American exile group denied yesterday that it or its late chairperson had financed a Cuban exile operative linked to bombings and other violence against Cuba’s president Fidel Castro. The Cuban American National Foundation dismissed as lies a New York Times article that quoted the operative, Luis Posada Carriles, as saying he had received money from the late CANF leader, Jorge Mas Canosa, to finance his activities. The CANF was responding to a two-part series in the New York Times that ran on Sunday and Monday.
The first piece of this explosive series on Sunday was headlined, "Key Cuba Foe Claims Exiles’ Backing." It went on to say, "A Cuban exile who has waged a campaign of bombings and assassination attempts aimed at toppling Fidel Castro says that his efforts were supported financially for more than a decade by the Cuban-American leaders of one of America’s most influential lobbying groups.
"The exile, Luis Posada Carriles, said he organized a wave of bombings in Cuba last year at hotels, restaurants and discothèques, killing an Italian tourist and alarming the Cuban Government. [Mr.] Posada was schooled in demolition and guerrilla warfare by the Central Intelligence Agency in the 1960’s."
Joining us now is the journalist who wrote that piece, who over the years has reported quite extensively on Cuba and other parts of the world, Ann Louise Bardach. She joins us now by telephone. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Ann.
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: Hi.
AMY GOODMAN: Good to be with you.
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, these articles are quite something. You wrote them with Larry Rohter. First of all, tell us how you got in touch with Luis Posada.
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: Through several intermediaries. You know, this is sort of the usual procedure. I had read his book, Los Caminos del Guerrero (The Paths of the Warrior). Actually, Larry Rohter and I had written another story on May 5th about four men who had been captured in a boat off of Puerto Rico, and one of them was from Union City, and I had been interviewing him. His name is Angel Alfonso. And he asked me if I had read this book. And I hadn’t. And he talked about the book and Luis Posada, and that got me kind of interested.
So I got the book. And Larry and I each got copies and read it, and kind of, you know, stunned by some of the things we read in it, and then just made a few inquiries, the way one normally does, and I used some people who are kind of Venezualan-based. And one of them knew him quite well. And sure enough, he returned this man’s phone call and wanted to do — in fact, wanted to do the interview, said, "He wanted to see you." So Larry and I went down to the Carribean.
AMY GOODMAN: And you don’t want to say where you actually saw him.
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: No.
AMY GOODMAN: Why do you think he agreed to speak to you? He is not known for speaking to journalists.
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: I must tell you, I don’t have a clue. I know that the Miami Herald and some terrific reporters there had been trying for a very long time to get an interview with him and hadn’t succeeded. And, I mean, I have written a bit about this area, but so has Larry Rohter. So I just — you just — I don’t know if it was happenstance or circumstance or whatever it was. I think it was a combination of several things. I think with the death of Jorge Mas Canosa, there’s a big void and big vacuum in this region of the exile community. And there’s also some scuttlebutt in Miami that he was a little sore with that particular group. There had been some financial arrangements that had ceased, and — I don’t know. You know, I’m sure it was a confluence of several elements. It’s never usually one thing.
AMY GOODMAN: Ann Louise Bardach is our guest. And we’re going to spend the hour with her, because based on these two articles, a lot of activists around the issue of Cuba, who have been focusing on it since the revolution of 1959, have for a long time believed — many felt that they had evidence of the nature of the opposition to Fidel Castro, particularly in this country, certain aspects of that opposition, particularly talking about the Cuban American National Foundation of Miami. Now, I do want to say at the beginning of this interview that we called them. We asked them to join us today, as well as calling the State Department, because of allegations Luis Posada made about years of working with the Central Intelligence Agency and the FBI. And both said that they would not come on with us. So we are continuing this interview with Ann Louise Bardach, so we can just look at this one man’s life, as he has told it to you. And I should ask, why do you believe him?
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: Well, I think that’s a good question. I think you have to decide. You know, he has given inconsistent answers over his lifetime and at different times. Yesterday, the Foundation had a press conference in Miami, and evidently in the middle of the press conference a reporter ran through — I wasn’t there, but based on what people tell me, a reporter from Univision ran through, saying they had a videotape of him recanting, and there were like three questions. It was a very peculiar interview that was supposedly was not done with the Foundation. But the tape was delivered there right away, in which he said, no, he didn’t say this, and, no, he didn’t say that, and, no, he didn’t say that. So I gathered they kind of rustled him up to make some quick denials. It was just three or four questions, but basically he did say he didn’t —- I think he said something about Jorge Mas Canosa did not pay for the -—
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’ll talk about some of the things he said in the interviews [inaudible] piece, after people understand what it is that he told you. Why don’t you give us a sketch of Luis Posada’s life? And I should also add, in these extensive pieces that you did on Sunday and Monday in the New York Times, based on the interviews with Luis Posada, you also interviewed a number of other people and had National Security documents, as well, so it’s not just based on the conversation with him. But tell us how Luis Posada Carriles got his start.
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: Well, he was born in Cienfuegos in Cuba — that’s sort of the south-central area near Trinidad — from a kind of upper middle class family. He went to the University of Havana. He was in college, in fact, with Fidel Castro, who was a few years older than him. He has some interesting recollections about Castro. He said he wasn’t at all political until the revolution.
And at that point, there’s something quite interesting in his family. He was the only member of his family to leave. The rest of the family were pretty ardent Fidelistas — his parents, his two brothers and a sister. One of the funniest CIA documents that we got, you know, with the file that the National Security Archive helped arrange for us, was that I think the CIA — somebody asked him to try to recruit his brother, Ricardo, and I guess there was sort of a — there was a lame attempt that backfired.
He was really one of the first people out of Cuba into the, you know — what do you want to call it? —- among the counterrevolutionary group. I think he was among the early CIA recruits. I think that’s fairly evident. He went to Fort Benning, Georgia, and was trained for Bay of Pigs, and he speaks about how every day for seven years he stood side-by-side next to Jorge Mas Canosa. Also with him there was Felix Rodriguez, who would emerge later as the key person in the Iran-Contra. And, in fact, Fort Benning is a very interesting breeding ground. So basically -—
AMY GOODMAN: Felix Rodriguez was not only a key person in the Iran-Contra scandal, but he was one of the last soldiers —
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: Che Guevara.
AMY GOODMAN: — right, to see Che Guevara alive.
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: Right. He was among the last to interrogate Che Guevara before he was executed by the Bolivian police.
AMY GOODMAN: And stood with President Clinton as he signed the Helms-Burton Act.
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: Yes. Well, they all have. Not Luis Posada, who’s been a fugitive, but the other two, certainly. But anyway, he went — you know, after the debacle of the Bay of Pigs, he just basically has devoted his whole life — he’s sort of been basically the military wing of the whole Cuban — the really militant Cuban exile movement.
I think it’s very important that people understand — you know, people talk about Cuban exiles like it’s this huge monolithic element. There’s many groups in the Cuban exile movement. You know, there’s left, right, middle, up, down, whatever. To say that — you know, there’s just not a monolith. And so, among the — you could say — the militant right, Luis Posada has had sort of a heroic stature for all these assassination attempts, all these bombings, etc.
His fortunes really plummeted when, in 1976, he was arrested with Orlando Bosch and two Venezuelans for blowing up Cubana airline that killed 73 people, mostly civilians, including the national fencing team of Cuba, most of them teenagers. It was tied to him, because at that point he was running a security agency in Venezuela, and two of the men who worked for him were captured in Barbados, right actually they had allegedly planted the bomb, and evidently they confessed and they said they worked for Posada. He denies his involvement, but the CIA files and extensive interviews indicate otherwise.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, you talk about how before the bombing of the Cuban airlines in 1976, he was in Venezuela working with a security firm. But in your timeline in the New York Times, 1967, you say he moves to Venezuela and with CIA help takes a job as chief of operations of the country’s security police.
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: Yeah, that’s an interesting development. I think what happened is, there’s some — after Bay of Pigs, you know, they all gave up that the U.S. army would, or U.S. government would do an overt strike and just land in Cuba. They weren’t going to repeat Bay of Pigs. So what they did is a lot of operations, the most famous, I think, being, you know, Mongoose. And Mas Canosa was a founding member of a group called RECE, which was Cuban Representation in Exile. And they funded a lot of these paramilitary things. And we found the CIA files on that, as well as Mas Canosa himself did testify before Congress to that effect.
Posada got this incredible job running — being chief of operations DISIP, which is Venezualan intelligence. He really started being there from like ’64 on, and by ’67 he was their chief. And really, he was hired for his anti-communist ire, and one of his big things was purging the country of guerrillas, leftwing guerrillas who he believed were Castro-financed — may very well have been. And he also spread out through the region. So he got an incredible reputation as a guerrilla fighter. As he says in the story, "All communists are the same. All are bad. All are evil."
So — and he certainly won himself a huge amount of enemies. And one of the great ironies of his life is — he pointed out — is that Douglas Brava, one of the guerrilla leaders, and another one — I think his name is Teodoro Petkov —- anyway, two of the big guerrilla leaders of that period are both in power now in Venezuela. So, his fortunes have changed dramatically. And then, later, of course, he worked on Iran-Contra and fought against the Salvador guerrillas -—
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’ll talk about some of what he did later on, which is also very significant, and talk about the Guatemala aspect of this story, as well as his links to both U.S. intelligence agencies, the CIA and the FBI, and to Jorge Mas Canosa, which is what the Cuban American National Foundation held its news conference about yesterday, decrying your allegations and also, well, I think it’s fair to say, roughing up your fellow reporter there, Larry Rohter. It was quite a raucous scene at the Miami news conference yesterday. You are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! Our guest is Ann Louise Bardach, and she has co-written a two-part series in the New York Times on the life of Luis Posada Carriles, who is what some might call the U.S. government’s favorite Cuban terrorist. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: As we go through this two-part series in the New York Times on a key Cuba foe who claims that he has exiles’ backing in terrorist activities over a 40-year period, going back to the Cuban revolution. His name is Luis Posada Carriles. Well, that’s one of his names, because he actually goes on four passports, one of them being American. And his life is partially laid out in these pages, as a result of a conversation, extremely rare conversation — he has refused to speak to journalists for many years — that he had with two New York Times reporters, Larry Rohter and Ann Louise Bardach. And we are joined by Ann Louise Bardach, on the phone with us now. Also, in terms of background on Ann, she was one of the few journalists to get an extensive interview with Fidel Castro, which ran in Vanity Fair, where she is a contributing editor, in 1994. Again, Ann Louise Bardach, our guest for this hour.
You talked about Operation Mongoose. Alexander Hague, the former chief of staff, spoke on Nightline in December, talking about Operation Mongoose. It didn’t get a lot of headlines, but if we were talking about any other country, it may well have, as he said, "In Operation Mongoose, we blew up bridges, people died." They ran mothership operations through the Central Intelligence Agency. What was Luis Posada’s role in Operation Mongoose, this wave of terror against the state of Cuba?
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: Well, he actually denies being involved with specific — with Mongoose, and he said he was pretty much a rogue person who got CIA help, as opposed to being part of the — that he devised his own particular operations. He admits to the attempt on the one in Chile, when Allende was president in ’71, the assassination attempt on Castro then, which was a very close call, by the way. That was about as close as it got for Castro. I think what they had were Venezuelan photographers there and who had gotten press clearances, and one of them was supposed to kill him. And I think it was only a lack of nerves that prevented that.
And then, as recently as '95, on Cartagena at the Colombian summit, he had another one similar to, I think, using photographers. And then, of course, last year you had the wave of bombings. But he's pretty much been a freelancer, I guess is the way, where he runs his own operations and where he’s in charge, not so much that he’s a player among others. I think he became quite disillusioned after Bay of Pigs, when he’s not in control.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s talk about his relationship with U.S. intelligence, and then we’ll go to Jorge Mas Canosa, that has been so explosive for the Cuban American National Foundation, saying he received more than $200,000 from the Cuban American leader, who has had close ties to many American presidents, coming right up through President Clinton, giving enormous campaign contributions. But first, to U.S. intelligence and that relationship. You talked about his relationship with the CIA with him in Venezuela. He broke out of jail after the Cubana Airlines —- after blowing up the Cubana -—
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: Ten years later.
AMY GOODMAN: — and when he broke out of jail, do you believe that the CIA had a role in that breakout?
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: I actually don’t. I think that by '76, especially based on the files, the classified files, they had pretty much — the CIA, it seems to me, were pretty sour on him in the ’70s, because of Cubana. I think that the CIA believed that he was responsible for the CIA downing and didn't believe his denials, and that that was just a pretty big pill for them to swallow, even though that was their business at that time.
AMY GOODMAN: It is significant that he denies blowing up the plane, but does own up to doing other things.
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: Yes, it is. I don’t know. But there have been other case —- times with other reporters, where he has kind of indicated he did do it. I’ve looked into it pretty extensively, and I think we quote a CIA analyst who was working on that case at that time, and he said there were no other suspects. Certainly -—
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Orlando Bosch.
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: Well, Bosch was — I mean, Posada and Bosch. The funny thing is, is that Bosch has always been quite proud of it. In fact, he is said to have given an interview shortly after he was arrested in Venezuela, I think, with a young American reporter, and actually said that he did it. And people in Miami have reported having private conversations with him, in which he has said that, as well.
I was looking at an interview he did with a Miami reporter, and, you know, he called it a legitimate action of war and defended it and very much demonized the people who were aboard the plane and called it the young fencing team, you know, agents of Castro, etc., who, you know, because — anyway, they basically, you know, deserve to die. Or, you know — and then, anyway, we went on at great length. I asked Posada about that, and he said to me, he said, "Bosch is always saying he did it." He knows it. And he said, "But he didn’t."
But, you know, the truth is very, very elusive in this world. This is a very dark, shadowy world. But the concurrence of opinion I’ve had from everybody I’ve spoken to over the period is that they did get the right people, although Venezuelan justice is a very peculiar mercurial thing. Bosch eventually won some acquittals. I don’t think Posada did, but the other two, their other two friends actually confessed, I think, at one point. But, you know, in Venezuela you are guilty until proven innocent, which is the case in many Latin American countries. Most Americans are not aware of this. So you can stay in jail for many, many years without ever being proven, and that’s one of the problems why they have such rioting in Venezuelan jails. Anyway, so I’m just saying, there never was a final definitive verdict, mostly owing to the peculiarities of Venezuelan justice.
AMY GOODMAN: Ann Louise Bardach, what about his relationship — what about Luis Posada Carriles’s relationship with the U.S. intelligence agencies, with the FBI and the Central Intelligence Agency?
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: What he said was — I had shown him his Iran-Contra report, which was done by two FBI agents, and one name was blacked out. And he pointed to it, and he said, "Oh, Jorge did this." And he was referring to an FBI agent named Jorge Kaczynksi [sic] or George Kaczynski [sic] out of the Miami office. And he then said, "Do you know Jorge?" very eagerly, and he said, "He’s a great guy and an old friend." And I was quite taken back by that, because he clearly evinced that — you know, there was no — it was so spontaneous. It was clear it was a relationship. And I just thought that was quite odd that, you know, somebody who’s a fugitive from justice, because he has been a fugitive ever since he escaped from prison, would have such a kind of cozy — you know, this was his point of view. God knows what the other, his friend, thought. But he spoke of him with so much affection, and I thought that was a little odd.
The FBI, you know, really for weeks and weeks refused to comment, and finally, the night before we were going to run the story, they came out and said that they didn’t have a — you know, they only met twice. But then Posada said, he said, "You know, Jorge’s going to retire this year." Now, that’s — you know, that’s sort of a personal — that’s something you wouldn’t know if you hadn’t had contact in ten years, you know, what somebody’s retirement plans are. So there’s definitely a grey area, and it suggests a lot, but we don’t know. We don’t know what agent Kaczynski [sic], what he was doing, if he was working with informers or confidants. I think at one point they said that — I’m not sure. They make a big difference between informers and confidants.
Now, Luis Posada has a history of being an informer. And, in fact, when he got on very dicey ground with the CIA, one of the things that just stunned all of us was that we saw that, according to the CIA files, when they were getting ready to cut him loose, he actually informed on his good pal, Orlando Bosch, and said that Bosch was going to try to kill Salvador Allende’s nephew. I mean, that’s quite a stunner. So, I guess the moral of the story is there’s no [inaudible] among this group here. I mean, although you must understand that this man is usually charming and entertaining. He’s a kind of well-known Casanova, great marksman. He’s sort of very James Bond-like.
AMY GOODMAN: You talk about his involvement with Iran-Contra. On October 7, 1986, a Contra re-supply plane is shot down, and the operation is exposed. It’s quickly disclosed that the Cuban carrying the passport, "Ramon Medina," is actually Posada. What role did "Ramon Medina" play?
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: Well, what happened — now, this is an interesting thing, where it has certainly raised the specter of the CIA or the FBI, you know, what did they know. He escapes from prison, and in a matter of weeks he’s in Salvador working for Felix Rodriguez. And if I recall correctly, he says that Felix gives him a new identity and a passport saying "Ramon Medina." Now, Felix, at this point, is working for the United States government, running the Contra re-supply, in direct violation of the law, and suddenly, you know, we have Luis Posada going from prison and being a fugitive to basically running the Contra re-supply. And that was his new identity, because he was a fugitive and he was wanted.
And for many years, he lived as Ramon Medina. In fact, when Cruz Leon, the young Salvadoran, was captured for the bombings in Havana last year, I think that’s what he said. He said, "I work for Ramon Medina." And his mother told the Mexican police, or at least it was in a Mexican article, she said, "Oh, no. My son could never be involved in such a thing. He works for a very respectable company, a private security company in Salvador. He works for a man named Ramon Medina."
AMY GOODMAN: Now, Luis Posada has four passports, he tells you.
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: Oh, at least.
AMY GOODMAN: One of them is a U.S. passport.
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: You also talk about whether he comes in and out of the United States, this man who takes pride in a series of bombings just in the last year in Cuba, which would certainly, by most people’s standards, put him on a terrorist list, that you would think he would be picked up by the U.S. government. Does he come into the United States? And who issued him his passport?
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: I think there’s no question about that, because for one thing, he told me that he met Angel Alfonso, who was the man of the Aguadilla boating incident. He met Angel, who he calls "La Cota," he said, in Miami in '91. And then later he changed it. He said, "Oh, no. It had to be ’81." Well, ’81 he was in prison, so he couldn't. He didn’t get out of prison until '85. Listen, the stories vary, and people should understand that, that he has told different things at different times. What we're publishing in the New York Times on Sunday and Monday is what he told us.
But, you know, one can find inconsistencies at different statements he said throughout his life, although most of what he told us — or not most, but a large portion of it, you can actually find in his book. And, in fact, particularly that’s what led us along the lines of the foundation of Mas Canosa, because it actually says in the book that he gets visits from Alberto Hernandez, who’s the current chairman of the Cuban American National Foundation. At another point, he says, "I sent for Gaspar Jimenez from Miami." And Gaspar works for — to discuss his escape. And Gaspar Jimenez works for Dr. Hernandez. I mean, you can find — Feliciano Foyo, the treasurer. All these names are mentioned repeatedly through the book — Mas Canosa — and about these relationships.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s talk about these relationships. Yesterday, again, a news conference in Miami. The powerful Cuban American exile group stood up for themselves and for their late chair, Jorge Mas Canosa. It was a raucous news conference. They shouted at your co-writer on these two pieces, Larry Rohter, and called him a liar. Mas Canosa’s son was there, Jorge Mas Santos, and he said there’s absolutely no truth to any of the allegations that were made in that story. Mas Santos said his father knew Posada decades ago, but did not sustain any relationship with Luis Posada, did not fund any of his activities, and had no contact nor supported what Luis Posada stands for and represents. Explain what it is that Luis Posada said about his relationship with Jorge Mas Canosa and the Cuban American National Foundation.
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: Well, he said without reservation that he was close friends and, you know, good relations with many of the leaders. He never said that he’s on the foundation or on the board or a director or anything like that. He never talked about an official capacity, but he’d just tell what a warm, affectionate relationship he had with Jorge Mas Canosa, how long he had known him.
He told an interesting story about knowing the man, a man named Torres, who had first hired Jorge Mas Canosa, and we just didn’t have the space to run it, but about how Torres had hired him and Torres had a company called Torres y Iglesias, and I think they had met through RECE, and how he once met with them when they getting along so beautifully, and a year later Torres came to him and was in tears and said, "I loved Jorge like a son. Now he’s stolen everything." And, you know, of course, Mas Canosa ended up getting the Church and Tower Company. I believe he paid $50,000 for it. And Posada told the story about how Torres told him how badly betrayed he felt by Jorge Mas. And, of course, Mas Canosa then translated the name of that company to Church and Tower, which is what Torres y Iglesias means in Spanish. And that became the cornerstone of his multi-million-dollar empire.
He talked about Alberto Hernandez, he talked about Pepe Hernandez, who’s the president, the first one being the chairman, and about Feliciano Foyo and how they go back all the way to Guatemala, and about how, when he needed money, you know, Jorge would give him money and that that’s how he — the way he put it, he said Jorge was in charge of everything. He controlled everything — big, little, small. Sometimes, he said, $5,000, $10,000, $20,000, although he said — he said, Jorge didn’t ever want to know the details of what he did with the money.
So it’s a kind of vague area, and we very carefully worded the story, as you can see, that he got money from leaders of the foundation. We don’t say he got money from the foundation, because it wasn’t at all clear where the money — you know, if it was personal — and we said that very explicitly in the story, whether it was personal funds, business funds or whatever. He just said he received cash payments, and various people would deliver that, identified one of these people. And like that.
AMY GOODMAN: And while this is very significant, because Jorge Mas Canosa’s always been very careful when it comes to the Cuban American National Foundation to separate the Cuban American National Foundation from violent activities, saying they support nonviolent change in Cuba, although they did not condemn the series of bombings that Luis Posada has taken credit for that took place in Cuba last year, but it’s very significant if, in fact, Jorge Mas Canosa — if what Luis Posada is saying is true, that Mas Canosa gave him money — Mas Canosa well-known for giving U.S. president after U.S. president campaign so-called contributions. We’re talking to Ann Louise Bardach, and she is the co-author of two pieces in the New York Times on Sunday and Monday, two very large pieces — I mean, each piece is a couple of pages in the New York Times — based on two days of conversations in a walled Caribbean compound with Luis Posada Carriles. This is a man who is known by many in this country as one of the leading Cuban terrorists. He, himself, boasts about the string of bombings he has been involved with, talking about it being, you know, part of what he believes in. That’s bringing down Fidel Castro, something that he has yet to do. We’re going to come back to our conversation with Ann Louise Bardach in just a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: Our guest is Ann Louise Bardach, who is a contributing editor to Vanity Fair magazine, did one of the rare extensive interviews with Fidel Castro in 1994 and has a two-part series in the New York Times of Sunday and Monday of this week on a man, Luis Posada Carriles — one of his names — who is responsible for, well, by his own account, a series, or I would say a terror campaign against Fidel Castro’s Cuba. Ann Louise Bardach, would you say that’s a fair description of what Luis Posada boasts about?
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: The bombing campaign of last summer of ’97?
AMY GOODMAN: Yes, among the issues he has been —
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: Oh, yeah. Among many other things. He talked about current operations, and he talked about something, he said, in the next month or two will be very exciting news. And he made a cryptic remark about the answer lies in Africa, that, you know, there will be help from Africa on the way.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you describe what Luis Posada looks like today?
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: Well, he was once a very handsome, daring do guy, but he’s now — you know, he’s 70, for one thing. He used to have a very strong chin, but in 1990 he was — a near-death assassination attempt, and I think twelve bullets went through him, and some through the jaw that nearly severed his tongue. So his jaw and chin had to be completely reconstructed, and so he lost an inch on his chin. And he speaks with — it’s kind of a crushed gravelly sound, almost — I mean, somebody described it to us like a deaf-mute. And, you know, he’s kind of, you know, for his age and everything, somewhat dapper, what he’s been through.
AMY GOODMAN: The reason I ask for that description, having survived that assassination attempt, is, he is a figure that is easily identifiable.
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: I would think so. I saw him on Univision last night wearing a big beard, which looked kind of ridiculous and didn’t do much to really, you know, disguise him. You could see from the top. I thought he took a pretty big risk, because, of course, from the mouth up, you could see pretty much who he was. He still has a lot of hair, but he’s showing his age in certain places.
AMY GOODMAN: He’s 70 years old now?
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: What?
AMY GOODMAN: 70 years old?
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: He turned 70 in February. Somebody said we should call this piece, you know, jokingly, you know, "Grumpy Old Terrorist," you know.
AMY GOODMAN: Did he say more about what these plans are in the next month, where he says Africa will be a part of it?
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: He just said that — you know, he makes these cryptic remarks and that he’s in touch with various operatives. You know, he says that he has sources inside Cuba and sources outside. And, you know, the sad thing is many people are desperate for change in Cuba, so he does have support in various segments of the exile community. You know, mostly he’s an icon in the far right militant group, but for people who are kind of despaired about there being change, or when will there ever be elections, or whatever, you know, he has some appeal to even that kind of middle-right people who just want to see any change occur down there.
AMY GOODMAN: You know, it’s interesting that the Cuban American National Foundation was so adamant in their news conference that there’s never been any support for Luis Posada, in terms of financial support. The piece you did in the Times of May, "A Plot on Castro Spotlights a Powerful Group of Exiles," talks about a case we hear almost nothing about, but again, if it was against another country, we would hear a great deal about it: a group of men caught off a boat, a cabin cruiser called La Esperanza, near Puerto Rico, they are found with a cache of weapons. When they’re caught, one of the men, Angel Alfonso Aleman, is quoted as saying to the U.S. customs investigator who searched the ship, "These weapons are mine. The others knew nothing about them. I placed them there myself. They are weapons for the purpose of assassinating Fidel Castro." And when you trace these weapons back, they go to officials, leaders in the Cuban American National Foundation.
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: That’s right. The president. Pepe Hernandez is the president of CANF. He owned the one rifle, registered to him. And the other one is a man named Johnny Poe [sic], who is actually a good friend of Posada’s and very close also with Hernandez and a member of the brigade, etc.
AMY GOODMAN: And the man who said that they had these on board and they were heading to kill Castro, his lawyer warned in an interview that, should the Justice Department try his client, he said, "We will go after the government very strongly" and "attack their hypocrisy." Brandishing a sheaf of declassified CIA documents about government efforts to overthrow the Cuban leader, he complained, "For 30 years they tried to kill Castro. Now they say others can’t do the very same thing they were doing." What about this group who was found off the coast of Puerto Rico, headed to kill Fidel Castro, they said, with these very close ties to the Cuban American National Foundation? In fact, the boat itself, the cabin cruiser, whose name was it registered in?
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: I think it’s Llama, Antonio Llama, who’s also on the executive. He’s one of the executive directors. He’s in the inner circle of the foundation, as well, one of the executive directors, if I recall correctly at this moment. We’re all waiting to hear about the superceding — what’s called the superceding indictment, which is going to come out of Washington. We believe that the prosecutor — with the help of the FBI’s research investigators, we believe that the prosecutor has urged their higher-ups in Washington, you know, out of the Violent Crimes and Terrorism Division, to file indictments about the other parties. We heard from the lawyers for Pepe Hernandez, who’s the president of the foundation, that he did receive a target letter, as did, I guess, the man who owned the boat, if I recall correctly at this moment. But we’ve been waiting for weeks and weeks and weeks, and the decision, I guess, is going to be Janet Reno’s, whether to go forward.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, talk about the Cuban American National Foundation’s role in U.S. politics, because that’s really what makes this all so significant.
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: Well, they have been the most decisive voice in policy. Jorge Mas Canosa just about wrote the whole American policy, I mean, you know, to be somewhat facetious, but he was definitely a big part of our policy from Reagan onwards. In fact, it was Reagan who set him up with Radio Marti and then Television Marti, and really almost to the exclusion of other voices. That’s been the complaint in the exile community, is that the foundation, which is certainly welcome to their opinion, is the prevailing belief, has excluded other opinions from being expressed. And that’s dominated the debate. Jorge Mas and his group wanted isolation, sanctions, embargos, all that, and believed that as the only way to change Cuba. And obviously there’s other points of view, but rarely have we seen them expressed within our own foreign policy.
AMY GOODMAN: You say that Janet Reno has to make a decision about this latest group of alleged terrorists —
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: Yes, well, that will be her — it will be the Justice Department, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s right — who said that they were aiming to kill Castro when he was going to meet with other Latin American leaders on Margarita Island off of Venezuela. Janet Reno, the attorney general who hails from Miami.
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: That’s correct. Well, yes. I mean, everybody has quite an interesting thing. I mean, she was never particularly known as being very zealous when she was in Miami. There’s a wonderful comment in our story, I think, by Robert Blakey, which surprised us all. I’m paraphrasing now, but he said, "You know, I went through all these FBI files, and I saw all this stuff. And I thought, you know, 'My God, why hasn't anyone done anything about this?’"
I mean, the files are, you know, just lurid in detail, lurid about the allegations and charges. I mean, you see there’s one point a plot to kill Henry Kissinger. There’s plots to kill so many, you know, well-known people and, of course, lesser known people, as well, that are continuously discussed in the CIA and FBI documents. So it is quite surprising that there’s been so little — I guess that’s an expression of the ambivalence of the policy. That’s certainly been the complaint. In fact, when we called the FBI in New Jersey, of course we assumed that they had a copy of the letter about the — what we were writing about and the fax that Posada had sent with the various people in New Jersey who were sending him money.
AMY GOODMAN: This was Union City, New Jersey.
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Rightwing Cuban exiles.
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: That faxed letter, we just assumed and called the FBI, and I think the spokeswoman said, "I gotta tell you quite frankly, this is the first we’re hearing about this. There’s no investigation going on." Now, this is a year after that letter surfaced and was made available to the FBI in Miami. So you would think that it would have at least floated up to New Jersey to where various parties live.
AMY GOODMAN: Interesting also that one of the major proponents of the rightwing Cuban exile community and one who responds most completely to them is the senator from New Jersey, Robert Torricelli, who is the father of this so-called Cuba Democracy Act that increased the stranglehold of the embargo against Cuba.
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: Well, you know, Jorge Mas Canosa and the foundation were usually persuasive on both Republicans and Democrats in Congress, because they gave tremendous campaign contributions, as the article discusses, and that can be, evidently, a persuasive element.
AMY GOODMAN: Ann Louise Bardach, we only have a few minutes, but one of the most compelling parts of this two-article series that you did in the New York Times based on the conversation with Luis Posada was the Guatemala connection. And this ties right into the recent spate of bombings in Cuba against the restaurant and hotel industry that Luis Posada takes credit for. I was in Cuba in December. I was at the Copacabana, which is one of the hotels that was bombed, where the only fatality occurred, and that was of an Italian tourist, whose father still sat there in the corner at the hotel and said he would not leave and wanted to show his support for Cuba. Luis Posada, what did he exactly say? How was this carried out? And what is the connection to Guatemala, in these last few minutes?
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: Well, what he said was that he had taken great pride in planning them so there wouldn’t be a fatality, that they wanted just to create a big scandal, as he said, and a big publicity so people would stop being tourists in Cuba and stop investing and that he thought — you know, he said, "You know, a piece of shrapnel tore off from the bomb and flew 60 yards away." He says, "That tourist was 60 yards away." And then he started laughing. He said, "If that piece of shrapnel had hit him any other place in the body, he would have been fine, but it went right to his jugular, and that was it." And then he said, "You know, what can I say? He was in the wrong place at the wrong time."
But, you know, he thought, you know, one death, you know, were low casualties and that was something to be quite — you know, he was proud of that. You know, he’s —- this is a lifetime soldier. You know, I asked him if he felt bad about the fact that Cruz Leon will probably spend his entire life in prison -—
AMY GOODMAN: The man who was caught in Cuba.
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: Yes. And he said, "No, he did it for the money. He was a mercenary."
AMY GOODMAN: But the man behind it, Luis Posada, was certainly more than that.
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: Yeah. No, and he spoke the same way about the Guatemalans. He says he doesn’t trust the Guatemalans. He said they have no ideology, they’re brutal thugs and that they just kill.
AMY GOODMAN: This is where he got the apparatus for the bombs.
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: Yes. You know, he hires them. He said, you know, his bomb makers were out of the Guatemalan — you know, formerly in the Guatemalan corps of engineers. He said that the army — he knew the Guatemalan army had killed the archbishop, and I said, "Are you sure?" And he said, "Absolutely. Of course, they did."
AMY GOODMAN: In the case of Cruz Leon, though, he said he was only one of his — whatever — soldiers who had gone into Cuba to set off the bombs, that there are others.
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: Yes, but we don’t know how much of that is true, like I’m not attesting to Luis Posada’s veracity, because we do know he tells different stories at different times to different people. But he may want us to think there’s more, or he may want us to think there’s less. He said he was very, very gratified, that he wanted the Cuban government to believe — you know, to sow suspicion and paranoia within the Cuban army, that he had people within the high level of the military.
AMY GOODMAN: Does he have any fear, Luis Posada, that he would be arrested in the United States?
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: You know, it’s a very fuzzy area. He said — you know, obviously he’s a fugitive in Venezuela, because he escaped from prison. So I said, "Well, I guess that puts you on the Interpol list." And he started laughing, and he said, "Well, you know, they didn’t pay their dues, so I’m not on their list." And the way he rationalized it, he says, "I’m not a U.S. citizen, so they have no power over me. And I don’t do my crimes in the United States. I do them outside. And I only do stuff against Cuba. I’m not doing other countries." Though that’s not really true, because he admits to Cartagena, and he admits to Chile and all kinds of other things, but he’s saying he stays away from U.S. targets.
He did say — he said that U.S. authorities could make life very unpleasant for him, that they could turn to Salvador and, say, turn him over. But they never have. He said his big worry today — and it’s in the story — he says they think that the money from my operations comes from the United States. So we asked that, we said, "Well, doesn’t it? I mean, you pretty much have said that." And he said, "Yes." And then he said, "Yes, it’s obvious."
AMY GOODMAN: Well, on that note, I want to thank you very much for joining us. Ann Louise Bardach is co-author of two pieces in the Times of Sunday and Monday on the Cuban exile, Luis Posada Carriles and what he has done over the years, from 1959 through until today, boasts responsibility in the last case of a series of bombings that blew up in hotels and restaurants in Cuba and killed one.
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