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Is the Era of U.S.-Backed Anti-Castro Terrorism Over? Reflections on Restored Ties Between Nations

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Hundreds of dignitaries from Cuba and the United States gathered in Washington on Monday to mark the reopening of the Cuban Embassy after being closed for more than five decades. We speak to Congressmembers Raúl Grijalva and Barbara Lee; actor Danny Glover; former U.S. diplomat Wayne Smith; attorneys Michael Smith and Michael Ratner, who co-authored “Who Killed Che?: How the CIA Got Away with Murder”; Phyllis Bennis and James Early of the Institute for Policy Studies; and others.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The great Cuban musician Silvio Rodríguez, one of hundreds of people outside the Cuban Embassy on July 20th—that was Monday—2015, as the Cuban flag was hoisted for the first time in front of the Cuban Embassy as it opened for the first time in 54 years. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. That’s right, well over 600 dignitaries, politicians, activists from Cuba and the United States gathered in Washington Monday to mark the reopening of the Cuban Embassy there after being closed for over half a century. We turn now to some of their voices. I began by speaking to Arizona Democratic Congressmember Raúl Grijalva of the Tucson area.

REP. RAÚL GRIJALVA: We begin an important diplomatic step today, normalization to follow. Lifting the embargo needs to be done. And discussions about returning land to Cuba that is rightfully theirs—Guantánamo—needs to follow. But today, I think, marks a growing-up day for the United States, where we are going to act like adults in our own hemisphere, quit being punitive with Cuba. And the Cuban people have endured. I visited there two months ago, and their resilience and their strength is unbelievable.

AMY GOODMAN: Guantánamo, will it close?

REP. RAÚL GRIJALVA: I think it’s rightfully—there was a seizure, and it’s been a military base. It’s been a—continues to be a prison. That is rightfully Cuban land, and in the long agenda, it’s got to be returned.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Barbara Lee of the greater Oakland, California, area is here. Your thoughts today?

REP. BARBARA LEE: Ah, well, this is what change is all about. And I think our president really, you know, stepped up. He understood the importance of having normal diplomatic relations between our two countries. And I think this is a great day. I was actually here in Washington, D.C., in 1977, when this became the interest section. And I’ve been to Cuba many, many times, over 20-some times, trying to get to this point, in terms of the small efforts that I’ve been mounting. So I’m very happy. We have a long way to go to lift the embargo and allow for full travel—

AMY GOODMAN: What’s it going to take?

REP. BARBARA LEE: Getting our legislation passed. We have legislation that would end the embargo, and we’ve got to get members of Congress to vote for it. And you know how that is. But we’re going to keep working on that. And we’ll see that day, too.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think Guantánamo will be closed?

REP. BARBARA LEE: I don’t know. I think all issues are on the table. And that’s what the beauty of having diplomatic relations brings. I mean, you have to be able to discuss all of the issues—Guantánamo, the Cubans have a host of issues, America has a host of issues. But we can’t even talk—until today. So, this is great.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Smith and Michael Ratner, they, in addition to being illustrious attorneys, are the co-authors of the book, Who Killed Che? And what’s the subtitle?

MICHAEL SMITH: How the CIA Got Away with Murder.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about your feelings on this day.

MICHAEL SMITH: I can’t tell you how happy I am. I’ve been dreaming of this ever since I became a socialist in college 50 years ago. The United States was defeated here. They thought they could isolate Cuba for 50 years. They tried. They not only assassinated Che, but they tried to assassinate Fidel. They isolated Cuba from the rest of the countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. The tables were turned on them. Last year, the Panamanians, which is not a left-wing government, told the United States, “Unless you allow Cuba to come to the Summit of Americas, you don’t have to come. We want Cuba.” And the United States started thinking, “We’ve got to switch tactics.” It’s not like they’re still not trying to restore Cuba to the capitalist empire, but they’re not doing it in the old ways.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Ratner, your thoughts today?

MICHAEL RATNER: Well, Amy, let’s just say, other than the birth of my children, this is perhaps one of the most exciting days of my life. I mean, I’ve been working on Cuba since the early ’70s, if not before. I worked on the Venceremos Brigade. I went on brigades. I did construction. And to see that this can actually happen in a country that decided early on that, unlike most countries in the world, it was going to level the playing field for everyone—no more rich, no more poor, everyone the same, education for everyone, schooling for everyone, housing if they could—and to see the relentless United States go against it, from the Bay of Pigs to utter subversion on and on, and to see Cuba emerge victorious—and when I say that, this is not a defeated country. This is a country—if you heard the foreign minister today, what he spoke of was the history of U.S. imperialism against Cuba, from the intervention in the Spanish-American War to the Platt Amendment, which made U.S. a permanent part of the Cuban government, to the taking of Guantánamo, to the failure to recognize it in 1959, to the cutting off of relations in 1961. This is a major, major victory for the Cuban people, and that should be understood. We are standing at a moment that I never expected to see in our history.

AMY GOODMAN: Bruno Rodríguez, the foreign minister of Cuba, gave a rousing speech inside the embassy. Talk about what he said still needs to be accomplished. He wasn’t exactly celebrating a total victory today.

MICHAEL SMITH: No, because things still aren’t normal.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Smith.

MICHAEL SMITH: The United States is still spending $30 million a year trying to subvert the Cuban government. They still illegally are holding Guantánamo. And they still have—and this is the most important thing, because it’s costing Cuban people $1.1 trillion in funds to develop their country—they still have the blockade. So, unless those three things are changed, you’re not going to have a normal situation.

MICHAEL RATNER: Let me tell you, as someone said to me here, if Obama wants to solve Guantánamo and the prisoners at Guantánamo, give it back to Cuba. There will be no prisoners left in Guantánamo. Easy way to do it, satisfy the Cubans, satisfy Guantánamo. Let it happen now.

Think about Cuba’s place in history, when we think about it for young people, not just for the fact that it leveled a society economically, gave people all the social network that we don’t have in the United States, but think about its international role. You think about apartheid in South Africa, and the key single event took place in Angola when 25,000 Cuban troops repulsed the South African military and gave it its first defeat, which was the beginning of the end of apartheid. It had an internationalism that’s just unbelievable. And I remember standing in front of—in the 100,000 people in front of a square in Havana in 1976. I was on a Venceremos Brigade. And Fidel gave a speech, and he said, “There is black blood in every Cuban vein, and we are going into Angola.” I’m telling you, I still cry over it.

WAYNE SMITH: I’m Wayne Smith. I was third secretary of embassy in the U.S. Embassy in Havana in 1978—I’m sorry, 1958. And I was there until we broke relations in January of 1961. So I was there when we pulled the flag down. Now here I am when we pull the flag up.


WAYNE SMITH: All these years later. Thank God, it’s come to this.

AMY GOODMAN: Describe what happened then in 1961. It was President Eisenhower, is that right?

WAYNE SMITH: We broke relations with Cuba. They loaded us all on a bus, took us to the port and put us on a ferry to take us up to Washington—not to Washington, I’m sorry, to the United States. So, that was it. We got on the ferry, and most of us were very sad that we were breaking relations, but, well, these things happen.

AMY GOODMAN: Did you think you’d be back pretty soon?

WAYNE SMITH: Yeah, we all did. We thought we’d be back in a couple of years.

AMY GOODMAN: How many times—

WAYNE SMITH: Couldn’t possibly be 54 years.

AMY GOODMAN: How many times did the U.S. attempt to assassinate Fidel Castro?

WAYNE SMITH: I don’t have any idea. I was not in the CIA, thank God. But they did attempt to assassinate. That’s for sure.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think is most important, especially for young people, to understand about this day in U.S. relations with Cuba?

WAYNE SMITH: That our policy did not work. We refused to dialogue with Cuba. We tried to overthrow Castro—Bay of Pigs and all that. And then we had the embargo and a refusal to negotiate. That accomplished nothing. Look, it was totally counterproductive. As we began this policy in early 1960, Mexico was the only Latin American country that did not have diplomatic trade relations with Cuba. By 2014, the United States was isolated. Obama has switched to a new policy of engagement and dialogue. That might answer our—that might achieve something. The old policy did not. It was totally counterproductive. OK.

KARLA RAMOS: My name is Karla Ramos, and I’m with the FMLN, Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional, the leftist party from El Salvador. And I’m here to celebrate with the people of Cuba. I think this is a big day for Cubans and for U.S. citizens, too. We dreamed for a long time to see this, to see the end of this very cruel embargo that the U.S. have done. If Cuba made it with no resources at all for 50 years, we can do it, too. In El Salvador, now that the FMLN is in power, we struggle for that. We are struggling to have the best education system, to have the best medical system, to have—to end poverty. And I think this struggle inspire us and motivate us to continue this struggle and to continue fighting with human rights, to people’s rights, to end poverty and to end hunger.

Cubans are great. I think what they’re doing for the Cubans in Cuba are also wonderful things that we don’t see here in the U.S. or in El Salvador, like free education, like zero infant mortality, best medical treatment. Even rich people, U.S. citizens go to Cuba to get medical treatment. So, they have done a lot of great things. And Cubans never stop supporting us. Cubans never stop giving us all the political and the social support to the people, not to the government, but to the people. We had a lot of natural disasters in El Salvador, and the doctors from Cuba were always there to support us, to help us. We also—they also gave us a scholarship for students who started medicine in Cuba, who are now good, great doctors providing the best medical services in El Salvador. So, we’re very grateful with Cuba for all the things that they have done for us.

ROBERTO VILLARROEL: [translated] I am Roberto Villarroel. I’m from Bolivia. I have been here for 15 years. I’m president of the Coalition of Popular Movements of Washington. We are here supporting the new relations, the new diplomatic phase between the United States and Cuba. But we are happier for Cuba, because after 50 years of political and economic strangulation, now they’re going to be free once again, free with their people, free with the people of the world, free with all the popular movements of the world, free like the Vatican, free like all other countries of Europe, free like everyone. Today is a day of happiness.

ESTELA VÁZQUEZ: My name is Estela Vázquez. I’m an executive vice president of 1199 SEIU. And I am here representing 400,000 members of 1199 that are celebrating, along with all the peace-loving people worldwide, the re-establishment of relations between Cuba and the United States. This is the culmination of 54 years of struggle. And it was gained on the terms of the Cuban people, with mutual respect and without imposing conditions on Cuba. So we welcome this re-establishment of relationship.

AMY GOODMAN: Why is this important to your union membership?

ESTELA VÁZQUEZ: Because it’s a question of human rights. It’s a question of respect for the self-determination of the Cuban people. And our union has been, for 54 years, calling for the end of the blockade, normalization of relations, freedom for the Cuban Five. And finally, we see the achievement today.

PHYLLIS BENNIS: My name is Phyllis Bennis from the Institute for Policy Studies. This is an amazing first step. It’s only a first step, but it’s hugely important symbolically to see the Cuban flag finally flying over their embassy, like a normal embassy, here in Washington. I’m not much of a flag waver, not my country, not anybody’s country, but to finally see this as a normal embassy, this is huge. For half a century, for five decades, we have seen the U.S. trying over and over again to overthrow the regime. “Regime change in Cuba” has been the mantra of one U.S. government after another, one U.S. president after another. Finally, that’s beginning to change.

For decades, we have seen Cuban terrorists in this country, anti-Castro terrorists, who, among other things, assassinated my colleagues in 1976, Orlando Letelier and Ronni Moffitt, just a few blocks from here on Sheridan Circle, with a car bomb, in what was then the worst act of international terrorism here in the United States—approved by the United States, allowed by the United States. And it was at the behest of the U.S.-backed junta in Chile. The first time I went to our annual memorial at the spot where they were killed, just a few blocks from here, on Embassy Row, Sheridan Circle—you could walk from here in 10 minutes—and I looked at the plaque right at the spot where they were killed, and it had their birth dates and the date of their death. I was exactly Ronni Moffitt’s age. We were nine days apart. And I realized that Ronni and I were like the same person. So, it’s a very powerful thing for me to see that—knowing that it’s not going to happen again.

This is the beginning of the U.S. normalizing relations with Cuba, so that anti-Castro Cubans, whatever they want to do, will no longer have the support of the United States State Department, the United States government, in carrying out their terrorist acts. When Cuban exiles shot down a plane over the Bahamas, a plane that had taken off from Venezuela, with—killing 73 people, including the entire Cuban youth fencing team, a nine-year-old child—it was all civilians—it was an act of global terror that was—and the guy who was responsible for it still is living in Miami without any accountability. This is the beginning of ending that. It’s not the end, but it’s the beginning of ending that.

JAMES EARLY: My name is James Early. I’m a member of the board of the Institute for Policy Studies.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re here on this day, a historic day at the Cuban Embassy. In fact, you’re about to drive Danny Glover away, so you’re in your car, but you’re sitting in front of a now-open Cuban Embassy with a flag flying high. Talk about the significance of this.

JAMES EARLY: Well, my first thought is Operation Truth, which was the word of Fidel Castro when he was here in 1959. He said, “This is an operation of truth. We carry the weight of the Cuban revolution.” This flag is a manifestation of the achievements of the Cuban revolution, and, in that context, its failures and its errors, which it is self-determined to deal with, now with hopefully less interference externally from the United States, so that they can get on with their internal negotiations of a democracy inside Cuban socialism. I say that because when I listened to the foreign minister, Bruno, today, he was very clear, he was very precise, that this is an achievement of the Cuban socialist revolution.

AMY GOODMAN: Can we end where we began today, with just one last comment? We spoke to your passenger earlier this morning, before the flag was raised, and his name is Danny Glover.

DANNY GLOVER: As I moved through the crowds, I saw Wayne Smith there. Wayne has been a long advocate. And I saw others who had been there. Senator Leahy was there, and those who had been advocates to what is happening and what the possibilities are. And I think—I think we all have to do our work. There’s so much more work that we have to do as citizens. And to begin that and begin there, we have to engage the Cubans. We have to understand. We have to know that there’s a new history that’s being written at this particular moment. And there are going to be some changes in the way we think about it and see Cuba, you know? We’re going to be—we’re going to—they’re going to do things their own way, and we know that from the past, you know? James has been talking about the issue of Afro descendants for 40 years. I’ve been talking for it about 20 years now. And the thing is about it, we’ve had to pull and push, and pull and push, and even though that pull and push, we felt it was productive. You know, this gives us another opportunity to talk about the things that we talk about, relating Ferguson, relating Black Lives Matter, relating all that’s happening here to young people here.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s actor, activist, director Danny Glover, among more than 600 people at the Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C., yesterday, Monday, July 20th, 2015, the day the Cuban Embassy was opened in Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Embassy was opened in Havana, Cuba, for the first time in 54 years. To see all our coverage of Cuba over the years, you can go to This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.

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