Voices From The Other Side: An Oral History Of Terrorism Against Cuba
Keith Bolender (Pluto Press, London)
by Stephen Wilkinson
Sept. 21, 2010
Reprinted from Morning Star (U.K.)
The heinous record of terrorism committed against Cuba since the beginning of the Cuban revolution is a topic that is not widely discussed.
This is a pity, because if it were then a greater understanding of the policies of both the Cuban government and the United States might be made possible.
This new book will go a long way to help provide that understanding. It's a valuable resource for researchers interested in creating a balanced history of the last 50 years.
Voices From The Other Side is a collection of testimonials comprising some 75 interviews with individuals who have been either injured themselves or suffered the loss of friends and relatives.
The author, Canadian academic Keith Bolender, is a former community newspaper editor and freelance reporter for the Toronto Star who now teaches on Cuba. He is regarded as an expert commentator on United States foreign policy and US-Cuban relations. He has had experience of working in Cuba as a media contact for Cuban information and culture.
With an introduction by Noam Chomsky that expertly contextualises the testimonies that follow, Bolender examines a bloody and criminally overlooked history from a subjective point of view.
It makes for illuminating reading. There have been more than 1,000 acts of terrorism committed against Cuba since 1959 and more than 3,000 Cubans - more than the number of victims on September 11 2001 in New York - have been killed, with thousands more injured.
The most infamous incident took place on October 6, 1976, when Cubana Airlines Flight 455 was blown up in mid-air.
All 73 passengers on board were killed, including members of the Cuban fencing team returning home from a tournament in Venezuela. The Cuban-born perpetrators of this act, Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch, both trained by the CIA, have long been recognised as the masterminds of the bombing and still live free in Miami today.
Among the interviews that of Haymel Espinosa Gomez, daughter of Flight 455 co-pilot Miguel, stands out. Also interviewed is Jorge De La Nuez, who was five years old when he lost his father in the flight.
Now 40, he still remembers vividly the sense of betrayal when his mother told him he'd never see his father again - that somehow he did something wrong and that his dad was punishing him by not coming back.
Other chapters cover the bombing campaign against tourist spots in 1997 that injured dozens and killed the Italian tourist Fabio de Celmo.
Nicolas Rodriguez Valdes was the barman at Cuba's most famous cafe, Bodegita del Medio, when a bomb blew out the top floor of the Havana restaurant in September 1997.
While no-one was killed, dozens, including Nicolas, were severely injured. Remarkably just moments before the explosion, Rodriguez agreed to have his picture taken with a tourist who later turned out to be Ernesto Cruz Leon, the Salvadorian mercenary arrested and convicted for planting the bomb.
The book also offers a detailed case as to why it is almost certain that the US was behind a Dengue outbreak in Cuba in the 1980s that killed 100 children.
In fact, Cuba has suffered a variety of biological terrorism over two decades. One case related here is that of Ana Elba Caminero, who was living in a suburb near Havana airport when she was faced with the horror of seeing her two daughters, Janet and Isnaviz, become ill with a headache, fever and aching bones.
She relates how both soon started vomiting blood. A day later six-year-old Janet died. On the same afternoon Janet was buried the mother had to visit the hospital to comfort Isnaviz, who was aware her younger sister had just died of the same disease she had.
Fortunately, a few days later the 12-year-old recovered and Cuban authorities were able to identify the infection as Dengue 2, a strain that had hitherto been unknown in the country.
Later epidemiologists showed that the spread pattern of the disease as it occurred in the island was in a line that followed what might have been the path of an overflight. They concluded such a pattern could not have been caused naturally.
Another chapter deals with the horrific treatment of youngsters who took part in the country's literacy campaign of the early 1960s. A dozen young Cubans were captured by counter-revolutionary bandits and tortured and killed simply because they were teaching farmers to read and write.
Manuel Ascunce was 16 years old on November 15 1961. He was giving a lesson to Pedro Lantigua, 30 years his senior, when counter-revolutionaries broke into Pedro's home. Ascunce and Lantigua were taken into a nearby forest, where they were slaughtered. The teenager was beaten, stabbed more than 14 times and hung from a tree while still alive.
The book interviews the survivors of an attack in which an entire village Boca de Sama on the northern coast of Cuba was terrorised in late 1971. Two residents were killed, eight others wounded.
The Pavon family survived, but during the attack a number of 50-calibre bullets smashed through their house, one hitting 15-year-old Nancy. The bullet shattered her right foot, leaving it hanging by the tendons.
Desperate, the family stumbled into the darkness. After hours of terror evading the bandits, they were finally able to reach the safety of a neighbour's house.
In a brief final chapter, Bolender also examines terrorism's contribution to the development of a siege mentality in Cuba that he suggests has pervaded its national security policy and foreign relations, particularly with the United States.
The policy has led to the government having to send agents to the US undercover in order to ferret out information on future attacks. As an example Bolender recounts the story of the Miami Five, who are still serving long jail terms in the United States after being falsely convicted of espionage in Miami in 1998. The hypocrisy of the US authorities in ignoring their plight is simply breathtaking.
The crimes that have been committed by terrorists against Cuba and its citizens are indeed terrible but at the same time, as the witnesses in this book illustrate, edifying.
Their stoicism and the resolve of the people interviewed here is quite remarkable and even for the most sceptical quite possibly inspiring.
Take for example one of the witnesses interviewed, Ramon Torreira, who was a victim of the infamous Peter Pan episode related by Bolender in which 14,000 Cuban children were separated from their parents and sent to the US in the early 1960s.
He says: "The impact of American aggression has been to help drive the Cuban national identity and sense of independence ... it has played an important part in the community of our people, in our defence of social rights and our desire for sovereignty."
If the acts were intended to weaken the revolution they have in fact had the opposite effect.