On December 17, 2014, as Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro simultaneously announced that the USA and Cuba would restore diplomatic relations, two small planes landed at Andrews Air Force Base and Havana carrying to their freedom U.S. intelligence service contractor Alan Gross and three Cuban spies, respectively.
The three Cubans were part of the “Cuban Five”—five intelligence agents who in the early 1990s were part of the ‘Wasp Network’ sent to the USA to infiltrate extremist Cuban-American organizations in Miami and, after their capture in 1998, were sentenced in March 2001 to prison terms ranging from 15 years to a double life term plus 15 years for leader Gerardo Hernández. (Two of the five, René González and Fernando González, served their sentence and were released. Five other Cuban spies confessed, arranged plea bargains, and served only three years in prison before being released into the U.S. Federal Witness Protection Program.)
To Cubans (and virtually any unbiased, free-minded person who has studied the case) the harsh, politically motivated, sentences were an outrage, invoking protests from around the world.
Sadly, very few Americans were ever aware of the plight of the incarcerated Cuban intelligence agents.
Sad because there is more to the tale—far, far more—than meets the eye.
In his recently released and cinematically vivid book, The Last Soldiers of the Cold War: The Story of the Cuban Five, Brazilian journalist Fernando Morais lays the truth bare in admirable journalistic fashion.
As a Cuba expert, I’ve been intimately familiar with the case of the ‘Cuban Five’ since their incarceration. I’ve sought out the truth by listening to viewpoints from both sides of the Florida Straits. I’m still open to new evidence that may sway me away from my conclusion that the conviction was a vast injustice. Thus, I signed petitions favoring their release. And I educated my tour group participants while in Cuba as to who were the ‘Five Heroes’ whose faces, and pleas to “end the injustice,” were posted in hotel lobbies, restaurants, and street billboards throughout the island.
The American public deserved, and deserves still, to know too.
Morais proves himself a superb detective as he exhaustively sleuths and brilliantly weaves together the minutest strands of this real-life spy thriller.
The story is fascinating. It may also leave you furious!
Why? Because throughout the 1980s and 90s, violent anti-Castro groups in Florida carried out hundreds of terrorist attacks on Cuba, including high-speed boat runs to machine-gun tourist beaches… the bombing of civilian airliners… and the planting of bombs in Havana’s hotels. At home, they assassinated individuals inclined toward rapprochement with Cuba, and/or bombed or otherwise attacked their homes and offices.
They did so with impunity.
The FBI was essentially powerless to stop them because they were protected by Florida’s powerful political elite.
Sound like fiction? Far from it. Here’s Castro-hating Cuban-American Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (hover and click for a YouTube video), former Chairperson of the House Foreign Relations Committee, speaking in support of the “freedom fighters” and calling for the assassination of Fidel Castro! When the FBI arrested the Wasp Network, she and Miami Congressional Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (nephew-in-law to Fidel Castro; we’re talking Hatfield to McCoy) were the first persons informed of the operation’s success.
The main perpetrator of the terrorist acts was Luis Posada Carriles, who admitted on tape to journalists Larry Rohter and Ann Louise Bardach to masterminding the hotel bombings, which killed Italian tourist Fabio di Celmo. (Rohter’s and Bardach’s five-piece report was published in the New York Times.)
The bombings, claims Carriles, were bankrolled by the Cuban American National Foundation—the principal political lobbying group for anti-Castroite Cuban Americans.
Carriles and his associate (and fellow former CIA-operative) Orlando Bosch, who successfully plotted the bombing of Cubana Aviación airliner on October 6, 1976, that killed all 73 on board, have stated that they consider all tourists to Cuba “legitimate” targets for “supporting the Castro dictatorship.”
Morais paints a lurid picture not only of the perfidy of this group, but of the huge sacrifice made by the ‘Cuban Five’ in their determination to infiltrate the radical exiles and prevent terrorist acts against Cuba. Indeed, they foiled several plots, including a 1994 attempt to bomb the Tropicana cabaret nightclub, in Havana.
When, in 1998, Fidel invited the FBI to Havana and opened the Cuban intelligence agency files to U.S. law enforcement in the hope that the FBI would arrest Carriles and other Cuban-American terrorists, instead the FBI agents returned to the USA and took down the Wasp Network.
Meanwhile, Luis Posada Carriles–a wanted fugitive–still walks free in Miami.
At least justice has finally been served to the ‘Cuban Five,’ whose trial in Miami, thought Robert Pastor (former U.S. diplomat and member of the National Security Council) in the New York Times, was “about as fair as the trial of an Israeli intelligence agent in Tehran.”
Oddly, Morais never tackles the question of how the FBI was able to identify the Cuban Five and begin its surveillance as early as 1995….
On December 17, the plane carrying Alan Gross (convicted by Cuba in 2009 of espionage) also brought home Rolando Sarraff Trujillo, a double agent working within Cuba’s Directorate of Intelligence who had provided the information that tipped off the CIA and FBI to the Wasp Network. Sarraff was convicted by Cuba in 1995 and sentenced to 25 years in prison.