My title page contents

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Sorry Mr. Assayas and Mr. García Bernal: Wasp Network plotted terrorism and caused deaths of innocents

Setting the record straight.

There is a buzz on the internet, about the Wasp Network, a film about the Cuban spy ring implicated in the Brothers to the Rescue shoot down. No one that we know has seen the movie, but there is already calls for a boycott on social media.

Whether one wishes to boycott the movie or not is a personal decision.  However, we do believe that it is important to set the record straight.  

The Wasp Network engaged in espionage: its primary objective was to spy on US military facilities, it also planned to smuggle arms and explosives into the United States, it provided information that led to the extrajudicial killings of four innocent Americans, infiltrated two nonviolent exile groups and carried numerous other activities, but will focus on these for the sake of brevity.



The film's director Olivier Assayas in a press conference for the movie made a blanket statement about the Cuban exile community that was slanderous.  Gael García Bernal at the same press conference made the false claim that "they were not going somewhere else to kill someone ... they are spies that are trying to stop violence ... there is something unique about the real story that highlights the act of love that made them do this." He also claimed that they "were proven innocent." They weren't.

Here are the facts.

The Wasp network was made up of over forty officers and agents, four escaped to Cuba when the FBI began rounding them up on September 12, 1998. Ten were captured, and five of them pleaded guilty and cooperated with the prosecution. 


Alejandro Alonso, Linda Hernandez, Nilo Hernandez Mederos pled guilty and were all sentenced to seven years in prison. Joseph Santos Cecilia pled guilty and got four years in prison and Amarylis Silverio Garcia de Santos pled guilty and was sentenced three and a half years in prison.

They are unpersons in Cuba.  

The remaining five spies, Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero, Ramón Labañino, Fernando González, and René González, who had refused to cooperate with U.S. authorities or plead guilty went on trial and the evidence against them was overwhelming.  

Gerardo Hernández was found guilty of espionage and murder conspiracy and sentenced two life terms to be served consecutively; life for Antonio Guerrero and Ramón Labañino; 19 years for Fernando González; and 15 years for René González.

The Cuban "WASP" spies arrested in 1998 used coded material on computer disks to communicate with other members of the spy network.

Their primary objective was "penetrating and obtaining information on the naval station located in that city." They communicated about "burning down the warehouse" and sabotaging Brothers to the Rescue equipment. They had been instructed to identify who would be flying aboard the Brothers to the Rescue planes at certain times.

Mr. García Bernal speaks of a radical act of love, but fails to mention it because he was not looking at what Brothers to the Rescue were doing.

In February of 1991 news accounts of the death by dehydration of 15-year-old Gregorio Perez Ricardo, a rafter fleeing Cuba, as U.S. Coast Guard officials tried to save his life shocked the moral imagination of several pilots. 

This was not an isolated event. Academics Holly Ackerman and Juan Clark, in the 1995 monograph The Cuban Balseros: Voyage of Uncertainty reported that “as many as 100,000 Cuban rafters may have perished trying to leave Cuba.” Anecdotal evidence documents that some of them were victims of the Cuban border patrol using sand bags and snipers against defenseless rafters. 

It was within this context that on May 13, 1991 Brothers to the Rescue was founded with the aim of searching for rafters in the Florida Straits, getting them water, food, and rescued. In December of 1993 Brothers to the Rescue inaugurated their permanent hangar naming it after Gregorio.


Coretta Scott King and Brothers to the Rescue's Jose Basulto
Brothers to the Rescue by November of 1995 was collaborating with the Florida Martin Luther King Institute for Non-violence and took part in the King Day parade in 1996. 

On February 8, 1996 The Miami Times reported “that this group has come around to the belief that change can be brought about in Cuba in the same way that it was brought about by Dr. King in the United States.” 

The Miami Times concluded in the editorial “Spreading King’s Message” that “in throwing Dr. King's principle into the volatile mix of Cuban exile politics, Brothers to the Rescue is showing a willingness to be creative.”

They risked their lives in the Florida Straits to rescue Cuban rafters and at the same time Brothers to the Rescue challenged the Cuban exile community to abandon both the failed violent resistance and appeasement approaches in order to embrace strategic nonviolence.  This path followed the way of Martin Luther King Jr. with both civil disobedience and a constructive program. What was the end result? Brothers to the Rescue saved more than 4,200 men, women, and children ranging from a five-day old infant to a 79 year old man, and rescued thousands more during the 1994 refugee crisis.



One year after the July 13, 1994 tugboat massacre in which 37 men, women and children were killed Cuban exiles organized a flotilla to travel in a civic non-violent manner to the spot six miles off the Havana coastline where the "13 de Marzo" tugboat had been attacked and sunk to hold a religious service for the victims. The Brothers to the Rescue overflight of Havana, where they dropped bumper stickers in Spanish that read "Comrades No. Brothers" was in response to Cuban gunboats ramming the lead boat of the flotilla
 


Brothers to the Rescue also served as a bridge between a nonviolent civic movement inside of Cuba and an exile community seeking a different approach. Cuban dissidents announced on October 10, 1995 the intention to hold a national gathering of the opposition in Cuba on February 24, 1996. The coalition of over a 160 groups named themselves the Cuban Council. Brothers to the Rescue in an open and transparent manner sent $2,000 of privately raised assistance to this coalition on February 13, 1996. In the days leading up to February 24 over a 180 dissidents were imprisoned in a nationwide crackdown.
 
The events surrounding the February 24, 1996 Brothers to the Rescue shoot down began weeks in advance with the dictatorship planning out the shoot down and using its spy networks to obtain information to carry out this act of state terrorism while blaming the victims in the media coverage.

Jose Basulto with Rene Gonzalez and Juan Pablo Roque.
It was a conspiracy to destroy Brothers to the Rescue while at the same time taking attention away from a crack down on a national gathering of the democratic opposition in Cuba. This was taking place in the midst of a profound crisis for the Castro regime following the collapse of the Soviet empire in 1991 and a warming relationship in 1994 between the Clinton administration and the Cuban dictatorship that included secret joint military exercises

However, none of this changed the brutal nature of the Cuban dictatorship in how it dealt with Cubans on the island or the continuing hostility of the Castro regime for the United States

Two Cuban intelligence agents infiltrated Brothers to the Rescue, providing information to the Castro regime on the group, disinformation to the FBI, and their Cuban spy ring leader, Gerardo Hernandez warned the two infiltrated agents not to fly during a four-day period that included the day of the premeditated attack. Six days before the attack a Cuban pilot saw Cuban MiGs rehearsing the shoot down.  

On February 24, 1996 at 3:21pm and 3:27pm two Brothers to the Rescue planes were shot down by two Cuban MiGs over international airspace killing four. Two more MIG’s chased a third plane to within three minutes of downtown Key West, but that plane made it back and provided critical information on what had occurred.

Within moments of the shootdown, allegations were immediately generated that Brothers to the Rescue had involved itself in "paramilitary activities against the government of the Republic of Cuba." Juan Pablo Roque, who had defected the day before, and arrived in Cuba through Mexico, claimed that they had been planning to introduce anti-personnel weapons to blow up high-tension plants. This cover story collapsed when the third plane returned to Key West.
Martyred on February 24, 1996
The four men who were killed represented all aspects of the Cuban diaspora: Armando Alejandre Jr, a child who arrived with his parents from Cuba in 1960, Carlos Costa, born in Miami Beach in 1966 and Mario Manuel de la Peña, born in New Jersey in 1971 the children of Cuban exiles. Pablo Morales was born in Cuba in 1966, raised there and was saved by Brothers to the Rescue when he was 26 years old while fleeing the island on a raft. Two were from Havana, one was from New Jersey and the other from Miami Beach.

The Brothers to the Rescue shoot down case in the U.S. courts 
U.S. courts found the Cuban government guilty of premeditation in the February 24, 1996 shoot down. Family members of the four men have over the past twenty years pursued and continue to pursue justice. They have had concrete results.

  1. On November 14, 1997 U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King found Cuba guilty in civil court of planning the shoot down before the actual attack, and noted that there had been ample time to issue warnings to the Brothers to the Rescue aircraft if these had been needed. 
  2.  A jury in criminal court presided by U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard on June 10, 2001 found Cuban spy Gerardo Hernandez guilty of conspiracy to commit murder because of his role in providing information to the Cuban government on the flight plans of Brothers to the Rescue. 
  3. On August 21, 2003 a U.S. grand jury indicted the two fighter pilots and their commanding general on murder charges for the 1996 shoot down. Indictments were returned against General Ruben Martinez Puente, who at the time headed the Cuban Air Force, and fighter pilots Lorenzo Alberto Perez-Perez and Francisco Perez-Perez. The defendants were charged with four counts of murder, one count of conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals and two counts of destruction of aircraft. They are still at large.

There has been a lack of political will on behalf of several White Houses to pursue justice in the premeditated, extrajudicial murders of these four men.

The Obama administration commuted the double life sentence of Gerardo Hernandez, the one man actually imprisoned for conspiracy to commit murder in the Brothers to the Rescue shoot down on December 17, 2014 setting him free and returning him to Cuba.  
Nevertheless, the families of Armando, Mario, Carlos and Pablo continue their struggle for memory, truth, and justice on behalf of their loved ones. This means “the indictments of the military officials involved, from Raul Castro, Minister of the Armed Forces, down the military chain of command” and documenting what happened.
The excerpts of the press conference released on the internet make a travesty of this episode, and raises concerns among many that the movie will demonize those who saved thousands of lives while celebrating those who conspired successfully to murder four humanitarians and deal a powerful blow against a nonviolent movement.

What was broken up in South Florida on September 12, 1998 was a terror spy network with plans to damage property and kill persons with the objective of planting terror. The network achieved part of their objective in providing information that led to four extrajudicial killings. 

George Orwell could have cited the so-called "Cuban Five" campaign and the press conference for the Wasp Network as examples of newspeak on the order of "War is Peace" only that it in this case it declares "Terrorism is Anti-Terrorism" "Lies are Truth", "Terrorists are Heroes", and "cold blooded murder is a radical act of love."  

Shame on them. 

2 comments: