Ann Louise Bardach, award-winning investigative journalist who has reported on Cuban-Miami politics for more than fifteen years. Her latest book is titled Without Fidel: A Death Foretold in Miami, Havana, and Washington. She is also the author of Cuba Confidential and editor of The Prison Letters of Fidel Castro and Cuba.
Luis Posada Carriles is accused of masterminding the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed all seventy-three people on board, and he has publicly admitted ties to a series of hotel bombings in Cuba in 1997. In 2000, he was arrested in Panama City for plotting to blow up an auditorium where Fidel Castro would be speaking. Despite his record, Luis Posada Carriles is currently living freely in Miami. He is awaiting trial in Texas early next year on charges of immigration fraud and lying to authorities about his involvement in the hotel bombings. A new book by award-winning investigative journalist Ann Louise Bardach provides an insider’s view on the case against Posada. Bardach first interviewed Posada in 1998 for the New York Times in one of his only in-depth interviews. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Newly declassified CIA documents reveal Cuban militant and former CIA operative Luis Posada Carriles volunteered to spy on violent Cuban exiles in Miami who were organizing to attack Fidel Castro’s government, even as he was deeply involved in helping them.
In the files, the CIA also appeared confident that Posada was a moderate force who would not embarrass the agency or the United States. Posada’s CIA handler writes in a 1966 memo that Posada, quote, "is not a typical kind of ‘boom and bang’ individual. He is acutely aware of the international implications of ill-planned or overly enthusiastic activities against Cuba."
The documents were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by the National Security Archive. Peter Kornbluh, the director of the Archive’s Cuba Documentation Project, said, quote, "The documents show Posada has a long history of trying to ingratiate himself with the CIA, perhaps attempting to buy himself a degree of protection as he engaged in a career of terrorism," he said.
AMY GOODMAN: Posada is accused of masterminding the 1976 bombing of the Cuban airliner that killed all seventy-three people on board. He has publicly admitted ties to a series of hotel bombings in Cuba in ’97. In 2000, he was arrested in Panama City for plotting to blow up an auditorium where Fidel Castro would be speaking.
Despite his record, Luis Posada Carriles is currently living freely in Miami. He’s awaiting trial in Texas early next year on charges of immigration fraud and lying to authorities about his involvement in the hotel bombings.
A new book by award-winning investigative journalist Ann Louise Bardach provides an insider’s view on the case against Posada. Bardach first interviewed Posada in 1998 for the New York Times in one of his only in-depth interviews. The book also takes an in-depth account of the life-threatening stomach illness that nearly killed Fidel Castro and a look at Cuba’s new president, Castro’s brother Raul. It’s called Without Fidel: A Death Foretold in Miami, Havana, and Washington.
Ann Louise Bardach joins us now in our firehouse studio. She has reported on Cuban-Miami politics for more than fifteen years. Her previous books are Cuba Confidential and The Prison Letters of Fidel Castro. She teaches global journalism at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Welcome to Democracy Now!
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: Thanks, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to have you with us. Start off with that latest news about Luis Posada Carriles. You have been embroiled not only in reporting on him, but in his case you’ve been subpoenaed for information.
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: Yes, I’ve had so many subpoenas since 2005 that my husband suggested we have a mailbox that says "subpoenas only." No kidding. And the trial begins in March.
We had a victory last week — the New York Times
, myself and my co-writer on the series, Larry Rohter — because Posada’s attorneys subpoenaed — requested every hard drive, every tape, every piece of paper, I mean, just about everything the New York Times building, myself, private files, Larry Rohter’s, etc. It was this — this is what happens when they bring reporters in, subpoena reporters into these amazing cases. Fortunately, the judge denied that. But it was — believe me, we were very uncomfortable until that decision came down. I remain under subpoena to testify, and I’m praying for [inaudible] to get me out, or Eric Holder.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what happened.
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: What happened was, of course, I co-authored the 1998 series in New York Times on Luis Posada. It was in the middle of an investigative series on all kinds of exile militant groups. Posada — I got very lucky. I made a few contacts. I had never thought in a thousand years he would say yes. I made contacts through my old colleagues at Vanity Fair. And lo and behold, I had a message on my answering machine from Luis Posada, basically saying, you know, “Ven aqui” You know, “Come down here to” — well, I guess where I ended up meeting him was Aruba. I think he contacted me from Salvador. And we had this miraculous interview, in the sense that he had never given an interview. And it became two of those five parts in the New York Times and, you know, ran on page one, and it attracted a huge amount of attention.
He wanted to give the interview, as I understood it, because he had orchestrated this bombing campaign in Havana in ’97 in order — for two stated purposes: to drive foreign investors out of Cuba and to scare people from going, so that the funds that Castro and Cuba, which is so cash-strapped, so dependent upon tourism, it would dry up, and then, consequently, Castro would fall. OK? This is a man who’s had a fifty-year career of various ways to take out Castro. So they finally decided, we’ll attack tourism, and then people will — the pipeline will end, will end it, the economic pipeline. And so, he wanted some publicity, because the Cuban government — you know, they’re very shrewd, very — you know, best security agency, intelligence agency probably in the world. And initially, they weren’t reporting what was going on, because they did not want the tourists to know. They did not want the foreign investors to know we’re having bombs going off here. So, initially they were keeping things low-key. And then Posada was getting kind of angry about this. The Cubans know how to play hardball. And so, he wanted some publicity, because, you know, what did we do this for, if people don’t get the word? So what better place than the New York Times? So he had his own agenda.
I think he also wanted to say, you know, “There’s another side to the story. Let me tell you the story of la lucha, the struggle for Cuba. Let me tell you about, you know, my whole family still in Cuba. I’m the only one who left. I have a sister who’s in the — who’s a colonel. I have two brothers. Let me tell you my side of the story, and let me tell you why — you know, let me tell you why a million — whatever it is — over a million people have left this country.” And so, it was part of that and to give the best spin possible, because, you know, of course he was charged in the bombing of the first civilian airliner in the history in our hemisphere. Before 9/11, a plane went down in 1976. It was a civilian airliner, and it was mostly young Cuban athletes. So he had wanted to put his spin out.
And the problem is, is that the Bush administration really didn’t want to do anything about this, because they have a whole history with the exiled militant groups. And there was a whole — a lot of relationships between Jeb Bush, when he was governor, and that even go back to the father, George Bush, when — actually, the one year — a lot of people say, “What on earth was George Bush, Sr. doing at the CIA in 1976?” He was in, and he was out. He was, what, there fifteen months. If you look at it, it was really only distinguished by one thing. And that was unprecedented bombings by Cuban exile groups throughout Latin America, Miami, culminating in the Letelier killing. And it was not until we had the murder of the Chilean former ambassador in Washington, DC that George Bush and the CIA said, “Wow, this is getting a little out of control,” and then we started to see some pullback.
JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d like to — you mention in the book that the Bush family had investments in Cuba before the revolution?
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: Isn’t that interesting? No one has ever stumbled over this one.
JUAN GONZALEZ: I found that fascinating. But I also wanted to ask you, in the chapter that I found most intriguing was the one on the pediatrician and the exterminator, which deals a lot with Carriles. But you talk in there about how he had actually — prior to the bombing of the airliner, he had been recruited into the Venezuelan secret service —-
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: DISIP.
JUAN GONZALEZ: —- with the knowledge of the CIA.
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: Absolutely.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Could you talk about that a little?
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: Alright, well, this is very shadowy. And if you get confused, you wouldn’t be the first one. The CIA was a very different organization in the ’60s and ’70s than it is today. In fact, it led to a lot of Senate hearings, and things were changed. But the CIA that Luis Posada — Luis Posada gets involved in the CIA before Bay of Pigs. He is living in Havana. He is recruited probably by David Atlee Phillips, people — famous people, E. Howard Hunt, all of these names that became quite celebrated, who were working out of Havana immediately after the revolution to try to sabotage the new government or regime, whatever you want to call it. And Posada worked inside Havana, then got out in the early ’60s, immediately went into Fort Benning, Bay of Pigs.
But what happened with the CIA is some of these guys, even then — as I said, things were getting a little out of control. And these guys were not entirely just doing exile militant activities. There seemed to be a pattern where there were a little couple sidelines that made the CIA uncomfortable, like drug dealing, and so that it was —-
JUAN GONZALEZ: And the CIA was aware that Carriles was involved with -—
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: Posada Carriles, yeah, he was — they were —- well, they had indicated -—
JUAN GONZALEZ: With criminal types and with some drug —-
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: Yes, yes. Yeah, other elements that made them a little nervous. So they were more than happy to say, “Fine. Set yourself up with DISIP, Venezuelan intelligence under Carlos Andres Perez. And you know what? It’s like a sister group, a sister organization, anyway.” Some people say, well, it’s almost like DISIP did rendition for the CIA back then. So if things were really a little too hairy, they could turn to DISIP and say, “You know, we got a little problem down there. You know, there’s some guerrillas over there. We have some characters over here. You wouldn’t mind checking this out in Colombia.” So there was a certain amount of symbiotic relationship. DISIP truly was the wild west. And it is out of DISIP that -— which was entirely run in the 1970s by Cuban exiles.
JUAN GONZALEZ: He recruited more Cubans.
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: Orlando Garcia, Orlando Bosch. The famous figure is Mono Morales, “Monkey,” El Mono. And these guys were real characters. I mean, these guys — El Mono was informing for Venezuelan intelligence, the CIA, the DEA, the FBI, and Miami-Dade intelligence, and, no doubt, the Cuban intelligence organ DGI. This was at — I call this period Casablanca on the Caribbean. These guys had so many balls in the air. And remember, this is a period of tremendous amount of narcotics trade coming out of Latin America. This is the discovery of cocaine. Everything came through Caracas. So — and you know what they say about Miami. Miami was built on the — you know, its renaissance came out of, you know, those wild, woolly drug years.
AMY GOODMAN: Last question on Luis Posada Carriles, back to our intelligence agency and him on the CIA payroll, the US government trying to get you to testify against him, their own asset. Explain.
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: Disgraceful. Well, what happened was, very few people write about this area that I write about. And in Miami, there are some very good reporters, but it’s very limited journalism, because there’s a lot of kind of quiet complicity between the Miami media, Miami justice. You can only go so far, if you have — if you want to have a long-term career, or even long-term health in some instances. So I was always fascinated that this guy acted with so much impunity, because he was legally, technically a fugitive. And yet, we knew he was slipping in and out of the country. We knew he had run — been a main central player in Iran-Contra.
So when I heard that he had slipped into Miami, through my sources, and he was being seen at Versailles and various famous watering holes in Miami, and I heard that he was there, I wrote one of my pieces in the Washington Post “Outlook,” which I often write, saying, “Our man is in Miami. Has anyone noticed that a man who’s a fugitive, who’s done eleven years for the shoot-down of a Cubana plane, who’s suspected in this case, in this case — has anybody in law enforcement noticed that he’s living a very public life? I think he’s about to buy a condo. And he’s on the no-fly list.” So I wrote this piece in the Washington Post “Outlook.”
Well, you know, if it was in Miami, they probably wouldn’t have paid any attention to it. Well, that was just too much. So the next time Posada gives one of his press conferences, they came in, and they arrested him. But not like a normal person. He was arrested and given a golf cart, and then he was taken away.
And then, what happened is — what I learned, the most shocking thing I learned, and it’s in part two of Without Fidel, is I learned, through one of my sources or several of my sources in the Miami FBI, that in the summer of 2003, the Miami FBI took their files on Posada, they decided to close the case. They got the — they had to get the OK from the US attorney, Marcos Jimenez, who was very, very active in the Bush-Gore recount, a lawyer down there. He became US attorney. And they had to get his OK, and they had to get the OK of the special agent in charge and the supervisor of the FBI. And they decided to close the case, which green-lighted the destruction of five boxes of evidence and files on Luis Posada in the summer of 2003. Agents who worked on it were staggered. It took them twenty years to put this stuff together, in some cases.
I found out about this. I called up the spokesperson, and I said, “I’ve heard that you’ve closed the case and cleaned out the bulky,” which is what it’s called, “and you’ve shredded it.” She says, “Well, that’s routine. We shred everything.” I said, “Can you tell me why you closed this particular case?” And she said, “It was just a routine housecleaning. You know, the bulky was just getting too filled up with storage materials.” So I said to her, “You know, did it occur to you that instead of making room in the bulky by destroying the evidence and the files of the most famous, notorious figure to ever come through South Florida, that maybe you could have taken some of those carjacking cases from the ’80s that were closed?” And then she said, “Oh.” She said, “Well, you know” — she says, “No one knew where he was. Who knew where he was? He just disappeared.” I said, “Well, you know, that’s not really quite true, because he was just arrested in Panama for the attempted assassination of Fidel Castro. He was in prison. That’s where he was. It was on the front page of most papers.” She said, “Oh.” And I said, “Well, I have a few more questions,” I said, “why this case was chosen, of everything, to do the housecleaning.” This is what happened. This is what needs an obstruction of justice investigation.
So they — having destroyed their files, they then turned to the media, fourth estate. Well, I literally got a phone call from somebody at the FBI saying, “Do you mind if we look into your FBI files on Luis Posada?” I said, “Well, don’t be ridiculous. I got them from you.” And he said, “Well, as a matter of fact, we just can’t seem to find them.” And I thought he was joking, until I found out that this had happened.
So, how deeply — it’s a horrible thing when reporters are asked to testify. It doesn’t matter whether they’re guilty or innocent or evil or bad or whatever they are, because when sources realize that reporters are going to have to testify against them in court, they’re not going to speak to reporters anymore. And it’s particularly distressing after the government destroyed their own evidence, to then say, “Well, we don’t have it on us, so we’ll bring a reporter in.”
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Ann Louise Bardach. Her book is Without Fidel: A Death Foretold in Miami, Havana, and Washington. We’ll be back with her in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: Our guest is Ann Louise Bardach, author of Without Fidel: A Death Foretold in Miami, Havana, and Washington. Juan?
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, I’d like to shift the discussion from Miami to Havana, if we can, for a moment, because you’ve spent obviously a lot of time in Cuba, as well, and had a chance, at different points, to interview Fidel Castro and some of the other leaders. How you see the situation now with Raul Castro in charge in Cuba? Will there be any significant — or what have been the significant changes so far, if you can give us a quick —-
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: In terms of the actual government?
JUAN GONZALEZ: Right.
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: This transition has been seamless. It’s been in the works for a long time. It’s funny -— when I interviewed Fidel Castro in, I guess, ’93, ’94, he said to me, and he was talking about his death and how it didn’t make any difference, and he talked about whether a shark ate him — you know, he said to me, “Don’t think for a moment, if something happens to me, and I’m gone” — because he liked to do deep-sea fishing, he kept saying it was a possibility a shark could get him — and he says, “Don’t think for a moment that this country will stop for a moment.” He says, “The transition is established. It will be seamless.” And we didn’t use it, but I know — in Vanity Fair, when I was working there, Vanity Fair, for that interview, I thought, “What is he talking about?” And sharks eating him, he didn’t care, his death, what was going to happen to him. He was absolutely right. Occasionally Fidel Castro actually tells you the truth. Not often. But in this case, he was absolutely telling me the truth. It was seamless.
He almost did die on July 27th, 2006. Anybody else would have died, and certainly I would have died; according to surgeons who worked on him, it’s a miracle he’s alive. He said he was going to die. And for a long time he was hovering between life and death, and much closer to death. He had a very serious surgery. He has what a lot of surgeons in this area call malignant diverticulitis. It’s not cancer, but it actually can take you out faster than cancer. He had a history of diverticulitis. It’s actually what killed his father. The abdomen and the guts in the Castro — that’s the weak part of the Castro family — Raul, too. And he got — it got seriously infected, sepsis. He developed peritonitis. He wanted a certain surgery, because he did not want to have a colostomy bag. He demanded that the surgeons do a resection, put — take out the whole colon and then put the pieces back. Very risky if you’re fifty years old. And he gambled hard, and he lost. And God knows how long he was unconscious for. We haven’t found that out. Needed multiple surgeries, had multiple cases of peritonitis. He will never be the same man.
That said, I have some friends who saw him just last week. He’s much thinner, but he’s at home, living at his home in Punto Cero with his wife Dalia Sotto del Valle. You know, a lot of the — he’s doing a lot of the retired grandfather. He’s a thin man. He uses a cane. He has never recovered from just the injuries from the fall in 2006. And he has good days, and he has bad days. He’s attached — he has the colostomy apparatus. He may also be needing dialysis. Very frequently when you have such massive losses during surgery like that, you can have kidney failure. We don’t know. But he is not the man he was, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be around. Remember Ariel Sharon? He’s still with us.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, on that note, I want to thank you for being with us, Ann Louise Bardach. Her book is just out now. It’s called Without Fidel: A Death Foretold in Miami, Havana, and Washington.
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