In late 1995, two men, Rene Gonzalez and Juan Pablo Roque, joined “Brothers to the Rescue,” (BTTR) a Miami-based organization which – using civilian aircraft – patrolled the waters of the Florida Straits, looking for Cuban refugees who were fleeing Castro’s “socialist paradise” on poorly built rafts.
While claiming solidarity with BTTR and the Cuban exile community, Gonzalez and Roque were actually spies for the Cuban government, assigned with – among other tasks - infiltrating anti-Castro groups in Florida. The two managed to penetrate the leadership of the BTTR, eventually gaining access to their sensitive flight schedules, which were then passed on to their handler in Florida, Gerardo Hernandez. In February 1996, Hernadez relayed the information to Cuban intelligence headquarters in Havana via shortwave radio, which quickly responded, warning its agents not to board BTTR flights in late February. On February 24th, Cuban MiG fighters intercepted two BTTR planes and destroyed both of them, killing four people. Cuban intelligence radioed a congratulatory message to its agents, praising them for their “decisive” role in the murder.
Gonzalez (codenamed Castor) and Roque (German) were both members of the “Wasp” network, a 14-member unit of Cuban spies based in the U.S. which carried out a multitude of espionage activities on behalf of Havana. These actions included compiling dossiers on officers assigned to the U.S. Southern Command, along with surveying military installations throughout Florida. Castro’s agents also threatened prominent exiles and acted as provocateurs, in order to tarnish the image of anti-Castro groups in Miami. In 1998, the FBI discovered the spy ring, capturing ten of its members, the other four having fled back to Cuba. Five of those arrested were charged with manslaughter and conspiracy to commit murder, along with other espionage related crimes.
The 2001 trial quickly became a circus of pro-Castro propaganda, thanks in large part to the actions of Leonard Weinglass, lawyer for “Wasp” ringleader Gerardo Hernandez. Weinglass, a veteran leftist activist, has a lengthy track-record of defending radical terrorists such as members of the Symbionese Liberation Army and cop-killer Mumia Abu Jamal. He had also visited Cuba as a guest of Castro himself in 1968. Due to his hysterical fear of the “anti-Castro bias” which supposedly ran rampant in south Florida, the jury did not include a single Cuban-American (imagine the outcry if any other race has been purposefully excluded from a jury). Not withstanding Weinglass’ abhorrent charade, the five main members of the network were all convicted, with Hernandez receiving a life sentence due to his part in the murder of the four BTTR aviators.
However, on August 9, 2005, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided, inexplicably, that the trial had indeed been biased against the defendants, irregardless of the government’s extensive – not to mention racist - “precautions” taken to ensure an impartial jury. Joining Weinglass in elation over the circuit court’s finding was the Cuban government, which had been funding a massive international campaign to engineer the release of its agents. The faces of the five men adorned T-shirts and Havana billboards, while news of their successful appeal was deemed newsworthy enough to break into regularly scheduled Cuban TV programming. On August 14th, Castro contacted the five men by telephone, telling them “Stay firm. You are heroes among heroes.”
Also expressing solidarity with the convicted murderers was the familiar cohort of pro-Castro acolytes who seem ever-ready to tow Havana’s party line. Their opinions were best expressed in an August 31st letter addressed to U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. In the joint letter, the over 600 signatories did not argue with the fact that the men were Cuban agents, but suggested that – despite the reams of evidence to the contrary – the five were simply “infiltrating the extremist Cuban American groups in the south of Florida in order to obtain information about terrorist activities directed against Cuba.” The signatories also complained that “for the past seven years, these five young men have been held in maximum security prisons,” conveniently ignoring the fact that officials consider them high risk inmates because of their extensive training in explosives and other small arms. Finally, the communiqué calls for the “immediate liberation” of the Cuban agents.
The letter is signed by – in addition to the hundreds of lesser known Castro apologists – Noam Chomsky, Danny Glover, Howard Zinn, and Harry Belafonte. The links between these four veteran leftists and Fidel Castro are as extensive as they are disturbing. Zinn, during his lengthy career as a historian, has had little to say concerning the political oppression experienced by Cuban’s living under the Castro regime, even suggesting that Cuba “had no bloody record of suppression." Glover is a public admirer of Cuba’s communist government, while Chomsky has led efforts to better publicize Cuba’s “wondrous” health care system. For his part, Belafonte often brags of his personal friendship with Fidel, frequently visiting the island and escorting its officials on international trips.
Less well-known but no less delusional signatories included Ramsey Clark, Tariq Ali, and Desmond Tutu. The letter also featured the signatures of five Nobel laureates, including Wole Soyinka, a Nigerian writer who met with Castro in 2001 and praised his “passion for Africa and Cuba.” Oscar Niemeyer, a world-renowned Brazilian architect who admires the written works of Stalin and felt the fall of the Soviet Union was a “tragedy” also signed, along with Pulitzer-Prize winning novelist Alice Walker, who once compared the civil rights movement to the 1959 communist revolution in Cuba.
The fact that these figures would express solidarity with a pro-Castro cause is hardly a surprise, as their ties to Cuba’s communist government are long-standing and well-documented. What makes this case particularly troubling, however, is that this support is proffered on behalf of five men who, at the very least, violated the critically important espionage laws of the United States.
In their letter to the Attorney General, the signatories state that the imprisonment of the five Cuban agents is “extremely painful for them and their families.” Such sympathetic comments were never extended, however, to the families of Mario de la Pena, Carlos Alberto Costa, Armando Alejandre, Pablo Morales, the four members of Brothers to the Rescue who were brutally murdered by Castro on February 24, 1996.
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