Anyone following the news in recent times cannot be unaware of the wave of progressive change sweeping Latin America and the Caribbean. For many lonely years Cuba held high the torch through its exemplary programs to provide universal health care and education, both gratis, along with world class cultural, sports and scientific achievements. Although you won’t find a Cuban today who says things are perfect, far from it, probably all would agree that compared with pre-revolutionary Cuba there is a world of improvement. All this they did against every effort by the United States to isolate them as an unacceptable example of independence and self-determination, using every dirty method including infiltration, sabotage, terrorism, assassination, economic and biological warfare and incessant lies in the cooperating media of many countries. I know these methods too well, having been a CIA officer in Latin America in the 1960´s. Altogether nearly 3500 Cubans have died from terrorist acts, and more than 2000 are permanently disabled. No country has suffered terrorism as long and consistently as Cuba.
All through the years, beginning even before taking power in 1959, the Cuban revolution has needed to have intelligence collection capabilities in the U.S. for defensive purposes. Such was the fully justified mission of the Cuban Five, jailed since 1998 with long sentences after conviction for various crimes in Miami where they had no chance for a fair trial. Convictions were for conspiracy to commit espionage to murder. Nevertheless their sights were exclusively set on criminal terrorist planning in Miami for operations against Cuba, activities ignored by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies. They neither sought nor received any classified U.S. government information. Their cases are still on appeal, and will be for years to come, but their completely biased convictions rank with the legal lynching in the 1920’s of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, the anarchist immigrants, as among the most shameful injustices in U.S. history. Freedom for the Cuban Five should be the cause of everyone for whom fairness, human rights and justice are important, both in the United States and around the world, joining in the activities of the 300 Free the Five solidarity committees in 90 countries.
Current U.S. policy with its means and goals can be found in the nearly 500-page 2004 report of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba together with an update published in 2006 that has a secret annex. A fundamental goal, the same in 2007 as I remember it was in 1959, is isolation of Cuba to keep this bad example from spreading, and the current policy, if successful, would mean no less than Cuban annexation to the U.S. and complete dependence, in fact if not in law, as Cubans rightfully claim. Other fundamental goals from 1959 are still, nearly 50 years later, to foment an internal political opposition and to cause economic hardship in Cuba leading to desperation, hunger and despair. It is no exaggeration to call these goals genocidal.
Yet, U.S. economic warfare of nearly 50 years against Cuba hasn’t worked even though the Cubans who keep book estimate its cost at more than $80 billion. After the Cuban economy’s free fall in the early 1990’s, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, it began to recover in 1995. By 2005 growth was 11.8% and in 2006 it was 12.5%, the highest in Latin America. Some sectors have surpassed their development levels of the late 80’s, before the collapse, and others are nearly back. Cuba’s exports of services, nickel, pharmaceutical and other products are booming, and try as it may, the U.S. has not been able to stop this.
In the end U.S. efforts to isolate Cuba have also totally failed. In September 2006 Cuba was elected, for the second time, to lead the Non-Aligned Movement of 118 countries, and two months later, for the 15th consecutive year, the United Nations General Assembly voted to condemn the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba, this time 183 to 4. In 2007 Cuba has diplomatic or consular relations with 182 countries. Havana meanwhile is the site of seemingly endless international conferences on every imaginable theme with thousands of people from around the world attending. And not least, Cuba in recent years has been hosting more than 2 million foreign tourists annually at its world-class resorts. Far from isolating Cuba, the U.S. has isolated itself.
More than 30,000 Cuban doctors and health workers are saving lives and preventing disease in 69 countries, many in the most remote and difficult areas where few or no local doctors will go. Meanwhile 30,000 young foreigners from dozens of countries are studying medicine in Cuba on full scholarships. All were selected from areas lacking doctors, and all are committed to return to these areas in their home countries to practice.
In education the Cuban literacy program known as “Yes I can” has been adopted in nearly 30 countries on five continents where thousands more Cuban volunteers are teaching. Through this program, in Spanish, Portuguese, English, Creole, Quechua and Aymara, some 2 million people have learned to read and write, most of whom continue their education afterwards through a variety of other programs.
Thanks to these international assistance programs, Cuban prestige and influence, and international solidarity with Cuba, have never been greater. It was to defend these worthy programs that the five Cubans, unjustly convicted, went to Miami in the 1990’s.
Then in 1999 came Hugo Chavez, the U.S.’s latest worst nightmare in the region, admittedly following the Cuban example in Venezuela, with its enormous income from petroleum, to establish what he calls a Socialism for the 21st Century with a foreign policy of regional integration under his innovative Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, ALBA, excluding the United States altogether. The program is already underway through institutions such as Mercosur in trade, Petrocaribe, Petroandino and Petrosur in the energy sector, the Banco del Sur in finance, and Telesur in electronic media.
Another program under ALBA is Operación Milagro (Operation Miracle) for offering free eye surgery to people unable to afford it for cataracts, glaucoma, diabetes and other vision problems. It began in 2004 as a joint Cuban-Venezuelan effort to bring Venezuelans by air to Cuba cost free for operations. Within two years 28 countries of Latin America and the Caribbean were participating, and operations restoring sight numbered 485,000 of whom 290,000 were Venezuelans. Jet liners loaded with patients come and go from Havana everyday, but by early 2007 thirteen modern eye clinics were being built in Venezuela, and several had already performed thousands of operations there. Other clinics were being established in Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras and Haiti, all with Cuban planning and staffing. The ten-year goal of Operación Milagro is to restore sight to 6 million people of Latin America and the Caribbean, and the program is expanding to Africa.
The Cuban example of so many years, and now Venezuela, have also recently inspired the peoples of Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Nicaragua to elect progressive leaders. Most have rejected the 1990´s “Washington Consensus” and the neo-liberal model along with determined U.S. efforts to establish a hemispheric free trade zone. All are developing grassroots social and economic programs, each in its own way, aimed at improving the quality of life for all, especially the long-excluded majorities of their populations where this injustice prevailed. Although achievements in Cuba continue to shine, the torch of revolution in the region has effectively passed from the towering figure of Fidel, ailing at eighty, to Chavez, a military man and teacher inspired by Simón Bolívar and José Martí.
Reflecting on these new hopes for hundreds of millions in such a vast region, one cannot avoid recalling the old professor, Próspero, addressing his class for the last time in Ariel, the classic essay by José Enrique Rodó, still read by students in Latin America. In borrowing from The Tempest, and urging his students to follow the soaring spirit of virtue and good, represented by Ariel, and to reject the crass materialism of the U.S. personified by Calibán, Próspero drew a contrast between Latin American idealism and the United States that is as valid today as in 1900 when the essay first appeared.
While Latin America is fast moving in progressive directions, almost unimaginable less than ten years ago, in contrast the United States, at least since the Reagan era, has been moving step by step toward a Fascism for the 21st Century. And the pace has quickened in the last six years of Republican government under George W. Bush with passage of the Patriot Act under emergency circumstances just after the attacks on the Twin Towers in September 2001, and then adoption in 2006 of the Military Commissions Act, both with substantial support from Congressional Democrats. Other legislation supports this trend.
The U.S. Federal Government now has legal powers to secretly monitor one’s communications, whether by telephone, ordinary mail, e-mail, or fax, plus your bank accounts, credit cards, the web sites you visit, and the books you buy or read in libraries. Torture, secret prisons, kidnapping, and jailing indefinitely without trial or recourse to courts through habeas corpus—all are now legal. So is “extraordinary rendition” whereby U.S. captives are delivered to other governments where they will likely be tortured and possibly assassinated. Investigations by the European Parliament have identified around 1200 secret CIA flights carrying these people through European airports to secret prisons. To qualify for this treatment, anyone in the world, U.S. citizens and any others, only need be designated by the government as an “illegal enemy combatant” whose only definition is someone who has “purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States.” Hostilities or a hostile act can be interpreted as almost anything that opposes U.S. policies, from a speech expressing solidarity with Cuba to a picket line protesting the war in Iraq. If an “enemy combatant” ever gets a trial, it will not be by a jury of peers but by a U.S. military court that can use hearsay and evidence obtained under torture.
These powers reminiscent of the Nazi regime are not just a global U.S Sword of Damocles waiting to fall on perceived enemies. The full range of repression has been going on since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 with plenty of evidence coming from the prisons and concentration camps of Bagram, Abu Graib and Guantánamo as well as from testimony of various released innocents swept up in the process. It is an on-going worldwide application of fascist power in a non-defined, nebulous “war on terrorism” that has no end or geographical limits. Since September 2001 the Bush government has given one specious reason after another for what it believes are the motives of Islamic terrorism, never admitting that it is a reaction and resistance to U.S. imperial policies, starting with U.S. support for Israel’s continued occupation and colonization of Arab lands and Israel’s refusal to return to its borders before the Six-Day War in 1967.
By 2006 the U.S. had designated some 17,000 people around the world as “enemy combatants,” according to press reports. Combine this repression with gargantuan contracts to private U.S. firms, as in Iraqi security and “reconstruction,” along with forcing the Iraqi government, always with eyes on the prize, to contract highly prejudicial 30-year “production sharing agreements” to American and British oil majors, excluded from Iraq before the invasion, plus historic lows in trade union power, and you have the marriage of government and corporate power that Mussolini, who invented the word in 1919, described as the essence of fascism. The one bright spot are the recent indictments of 13 CIA people in Germany and 26 others in Italy for kidnapping and other violations of their laws. They will never be brought to trial, of course, but the indictments are refreshing developments.
Protection of terrorists who serve U.S. interests is still another feature of American Fascism of the 21st Century. There are many examples, especially among Cuban exiles, but two stand out from the others: Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles. Both have long, well-documented pedigrees as international terrorists, but one of their joint crimes was historic: the first bombing in flight of a civilian airliner in the Western Hemisphere. It was Cubana flight 455 that on October 6th, 1976 exploded just after takeoff from Barbados killing all 73 people on board.
Bosch and Carriles, both of whose CIA careers began around 1960, planned the bombing in Caracas and provided the explosives to two Venezuelans recruited by Posada. These two were discovered, convicted, and sentenced to long prison terms. Not so with Bosch and Posada who were protected by then-Venezuelan President Carlos Andrés Pérez who has his own history of working with the CIA. Although they were both arrested and tried separately in Venezuelan courts as the intellectual authors of the crime, neither was convicted.
Bosch was found not guilty and released in 1988, returned to Miami but was arrested for an old parole violation. The Justice Department then ordered his deportation as an “undesirable” and as “the most dangerous terrorist” of the Western Hemisphere. But Jeb Bush, son of then-President Bush, persuaded his father in 1990 to quash Bosch´s deportation order. Since then Bosch has lived freely in Miami where he gives television interviews in which he makes every effort to justify terrorism against Cuba.
For his part Posada’s trial in Venezuela never ended because in 1985 he escaped from prison, fled the country, and soon turned up in El Salvador working in the CIA’s Contra terrorist operation against Nicaragua. When this ended he stayed underground in Central America and from the early 1990´s organized more terrorist operations against Cuba. In 2005 he was arrested in Miami for illegal entry to the U.S., and although he admitted to the New York Times to terrorist bombings of hotels and other tourist facilities in Cuba, in one of which an Italian tourist died, he has only been indicted for lying to the FBI and in his request for naturalization. The Bush administration refuses to certify him as a terrorist so that he can be tried as such, at the same time ignoring Venezuela’s extradition request as a fugitive from justice, alleging absurdly that he might be tortured there. His treatment suggests that he will eventually be pardoned by Bush, perhaps on Christmas Eve of 2008 just before leaving the White House, just as his father on Christmas Eve of 1992 pardoned former Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger and various CIA officers for crimes in the 1980´s Iran-Contra scandal, thus precluding their trials scheduled to begin the following month.
One need not dwell on the obvious. The conviction of the Miami Cuban Five for their anti-terrorist efforts, in contrast with the official protection of terrorists like Bosch and Posada, speaks volumes on the U.S. as the pre-eminent state sponsor of international terrorism.
The major disguise used to cloak this U.S. program of worldwide aggression from the 1980´s to the present has been “promotion of democracy,” a hypocritical claim used ad nauseum by Presidents, Secretaries of State and others that has never fooled anyone. It has always been clear that the “democracy promotion” programs of the National Endowment for Democracy, the State Department, the Agency for International Development and associated foundations and agencies are nothing more that attempts to foment and strengthen internal political forces in countries around the world that will be under U.S. control and will protect and cater to U.S. interests. Their origins are in the CIA’s political operations starting in the 1940´s, and they have included the overthrow of democratically elected governments and the institution of unspeakable repression as in Brazil in 1964 and Chile in 1973 to name only two of many examples.
To be sure there has been, and is, important and worthy resistance in the U.S. to this developing fascism both within Congress and among private organizations and individuals. But it has been mostly isolated attempts of a defensive and rear-guard nature, with little mention in the corporate media. Bills have been introduced in Congress to ease or end the economic blockade of Cuba, to amend the worst of the repressive laws, even to impeach Bush and Cheney, but they seem unlikely ever to prevail or become law. The two parties, actually competing branches of a one-party state, have simply adopted ever more extreme measures to maintain their monopoly of power.
Even the judicial system, once perhaps the last hope for enforcing the Constitution, has been riddled with neo-conservatives who ignore it. Take only the appeal of the Miami conviction by the Cuban Five. The original three appellate judges of Atlanta’s 11th Circuit issued a compelling 93-page unanimous decision upholding the defense position that no fair trial of self-admitted Cuban agents was possible in Miami’s prevailing anti-Cuban atmosphere and that the trial venue should have been moved. Nevertheless the other 10 judges of the Circuit voted to hear another appeal en banc and then unanimously overturned the first decision with only two of the original three judges voting against (the third had retired). That 10 of the 13 Circuit Court judges would uphold Miami as a place where Cuban agents could get a fair trial is a good example of how morally and intellectually corrupt the federal judiciary has become.
So these are grim days indeed for the United States and by extension for its allies, starting with its junior partner, the U.K., and extending through NATO. There have been other periods of shameful repression in the U.S., like the years following World War I, but never with a global reach like this.
Predictably U.S. prestige around the world, what there ever was of it, has disappeared, replaced by contempt and scorn. Testimony to this is the repudiation of Bush and what he stands for expressed by so many thousands in the streets protesting his presence as he currently travels around Latin America attempting to lure five countries away from regional integration. What a contrast with the enlightened, idealistic, and progressive social and political movements now flowering in Latin America!
Havana, March 2007
Philip Agee, 72, was a CIA secret operations officer in Latin American from 1960 to 1969. He is the author of the best-selling Inside the Company: CIA Diary (Penguin Books, 1975) plus other books and articles. Deported in 1977 by the U.K and four other NATO countries, he has lived since 1978 with his wife in Hamburg, Germany. He travels frequently to Cuba and South America for solidarity and business activities, and in 2000 he started an online travel service to Cuba: www.cubalinda.com.