The daily independent global news hour Democracy Now (today's program)
presented today an exclusive with Rene Gonzalez (video)
, former Cuban intelligence agent and freed member of the Cuban Five and Ricardo Alarcon (video)
, former foreign minister of Cuba and past president of the Cuban National Assembly.
Rene Gonzalez Photo: Bill Hackwell
Democracy Now presented today an exclusive with René González, former Cuban intelligence agent and freed member of the Cuban Five:
I'm Amy Goodman, with a Democracy Now! exclusive. We turn now to René González, the only freed member of the Cuban Five. He was released in October of 2011. He returned to Cuba in April of this year after being jailed in the United States for 13 years. I recently spoke to him from Havana via Democracy Now! video stream. I began by asking him why he came to the United States to investigate militant Cuban exile groups.
RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: Well, for my generation Cubans, it was part of our development or common experience to have seen people coming from Miami raiding our shores, shooting at hotels, killing people here in Cuba, blowing up airplanes. So, we were really familiar with the terrorist activities that the Cuban people had been suffering for almost four years back then. So it wasn't hard for me to accept the mission of going there and monitor the activities of some of those people, who had been trained by the CIA in the '60s. Some of them had participated in Bay of Pigs. Some of them had gone then-after that, had gone to South America as part of the Operation Condor. And if you look at the history of those people, you can see their link to the worst actions of the U.S. government, be they Iran-Contras-even the Kennedy assassination plot was linked to them. So, it wasn't hard for me to accept the mission and to go there to protect the Cuban people's lives, and that's what I did.
AMY GOODMAN: What were some of the groups that you and your colleagues came to infiltrate? What were their names, and what specifically did you know they were doing in Miami?
RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: Well, if we are talking about that, we should start by Luis Posada Carriles, who's still in Miami. He's living there under the protection of the U.S. government. Posada Carriles has a long story of terrorism against not only Cuba, but also even in the United States. He was responsible for the blowing up of the Cubana airliner in 1976 in Venezuela. And later on, when we were in Miami, he was also organizing the bombs which were placed on the hotels in Havana. But it's not only him. I mean, he doesn't work alone. The sad part is that he was being paid for by the Cuban American National Foundation, which is a legal organization linked to the Washington establishment, an organization which has a lobby in Washington, which has paid for the election campaigns of guys like Ileana Ros or Lincoln Diaz-Balart. And those people were paying these terrorists-that terrorist to put bombs in Havana in 1997. So that's an example of the whole scheme that we were facing there.
And, of course, there were some other people, like José Basulto, who founded Brothers to the Rescue, but before that he had a long history of terrorism against Cuba. We had Orlando Bosch, who together with Luis Posada Carriles, was involved in the plot in Venezuela to blow up the Cubana airliner. And we have, for example, the Novo Sampoll brothers, who were linked to the assassination of Orlando Letelier in Washington with a car bomb. So the list is long, but those are the-those were the people we were watching on, and that was our mission there.
AMY GOODMAN: How did you make it from Cuba to Miami? Explain how you came up.
RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: Well, I was a pilot here in Cuba. So I was flying with the skydiving operations here for sports operations. And, well, I took a chance and stole a plane, and I landed in Key West. Of course, I had been born in the United States, so when I landed there, I showed my birth certificate, and then they allowed me to go back to my family's house. And then I ended up with Brothers to the Rescue, which was the first organization that I infiltrated there. And the rest was just linking up with all those people and, you know, going from one group to another to find out their plots against the country.
AMY GOODMAN: And what most surprised you about what you found in the linkages of these groups, from Brothers to the Rescue? Talk about what Brothers to the Rescue was doing and who was supporting them and what you were reporting back to Cuba.
RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: Well, as I told you, Brothers to the Rescue was founded by-I mean, he's a main celebrity, I would say he was-José Basulto, was a young guy trained by the CIA during the Bay of Pigs invasion. But he was part of what was called back then the infiltration teams. So it wasn't only him, but a bunch of guys from the infiltration teams, they were the ones who created Brothers to the Rescue. Initially, it was-I would say it was more of a psych-op operation. They tried to incite people to leave Cuba by boats or rafts, and then they would pretend that-let's say, they would rescue some of them and, you know, make propaganda out of that rescue operations. It was a very intelligent operation, because, you know, it was premised on a-on a team that appeals to humanitarian feelings of the people-rescuing rafters, saving lives.
And at the beginning, they grew up, you know, out of the support from the people in Miami. But then, after 1995, when the immigration agreements were signed off between Cuba and the United States, they resorted to invading the Cuban airspace, going-or, flying Havana, launching things. And they started to develop some other plans, which even included the use of some explosive to plant in Cuba. So, they began really dangerous. By 1995, they were already trying to do some different things than the ones they had done at the beginning. And, you know, those were the activities I was reporting on.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about Basulto talking about a weapon they had to test in the Everglades?
RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: Well, that was presented as evidence on the trial. He devised a weapon which would be like a flare. Let's go back to the beginning, because even when he was saving lives, he-he called me once, and he asked for my advice to introduce some explosives in Cuba. It was in 1994-I mean, 1992, sorry. His idea back then was to blow up some power lines. You know, back then, in 1992, the economic situation in Cuba was really hard, and we had blackouts every day. So, maybe he decided that he could do something to make those blackouts more common. And he was already devising a scheme to introduce in Cuba with his airplanes some explosive to be planted on the power lines. But that was back in 1992.
Then, after that, he was involved in some plots to buy some leftover military Russian planes. I remember he was trying to buy an L-39, which was a Czechoslovakian military training plane. He was trying to buy a MiG-23, which was a Soviet-built plane.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about how you came to be arrested in the United States?
RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: Well, it's a long process, but I'm going to make it short. By the middle of 1998, there was an opportunity for the two governments, Cuba and the United States, to work together against terrorism. An FBI delegation had visited Havana for some days in June of that year. And before they left Cuba for the United States, they assured the Cuban government that they would do something about the voluminous information that had been given to them on terrorist activities against Cuba, based mainly in Florida. And three months after that meeting, all of a sudden things changed, and the FBI raided our homes, and we all were arrested on September 12th, 1998. They put us in solitary confinement for a year and a half. And then, the whole story started to develop.
AMY GOODMAN: What was your time in jail like, in prison for 15 years? How were you treated?
RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: Well, I would say there were two stages. In Miami, they did everything in their power to break us down. They put us in solitary confinement. They kept us in a hole for a year and a half. They used the conditions of confinement to prevent our access to the evidence of the trial, which is one of the grounds why the United Nations group on arbitrary detentions rejected the trial, by the way, and also Amnesty International. They used my family also to punish me. They didn't allow me to see my daughters, for some reason they came up with. And it applied only to me, because nobody else in that building had that limitation. So, I could say-I will like to say, but they were very brutal during our time in Miami.
But, well, after that, you go, you know, to the normal-when you go to Pennsylvania, you're not anymore. And that's one of the reasons that we say the trial couldn't be held in Miami, because once you leave Miami, then you are a normal person again.
AMY GOODMAN: And where are the other members of the Cuban Five, the four who are still in prison? One about to be released-is that right?-in February.
RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: Yes. Fernando, he should finish his sentence in February next year. And I hope he comes right away to Cuba, because he's not a U.S. citizen, so he should be deported from the U.S. And then is Antonio, who is still four years away. Ramón is already-is still 11 years away, which is-it would be a crime to keep him in jail. And then Gerardo, who is still dealing with one life sentence.
AMY GOODMAN: And where are they all in prison?
RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: Well, they're scattered all over the United States. Antonio, he went to the prison where I'm at now, Marianna. Fernando is in Arizona in a prison, in an immigration prison, I believe low-level prison. Ramón is in Ashland in Kentucky, I believe it is. And Fernando is in-Gerardo is in Victorville in California.
AMY GOODMAN: What gives you hope that they will be released before their term? I mean, for example, Gerardo is in prison-what is it-right now on two life sentences?
RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: Well, my main hope is that the nature of the trial is too murky, is too perverse, to withstand the pressure of the best people in the world. I believe that this injustice, this trial, is going to go down in history as one of the worst example of what they call U.S. justice. And I hope that the U.S. government, little by little, is going to feel that the weight of this injustice is costing them more than the solving the problem.
AMY GOODMAN: You were already jailed, because it was in June of 2001 that you were convicted. You were in jail at the time of the 9/11 attacks, right? September 11, 2001. And I'm wondering about your thoughts at the time. I mean, before that, the deadliest airline terrorism in the hemisphere was 1976, was the downing of the Cubana airliner in Venezuela that took out the entire Cuban Olympic-that took out the Cuban Olympic fencing team, killed 73 people on board. Ultimately, Posada Carriles was convicted in absentia by Panama, who lives in Miami. Your thoughts on what happened then, that kind of what is called terrorism, and where you were, in prison?
RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: Well, my first reaction was shock. Of course, nobody can forget that day. I was in my cell, and all of a sudden somebody called me: "Look at this!" And, you know, I just walked out of the cell, and there was a TV set, and the first plane had already hit the first tower. So I was-you know, I thought that it was an accident at first. So we were talking about that accident, how it happened, whatever. And then, all of a sudden I saw the second hit, and I just couldn't believe it. And, of course, it was-it was shocking. I was moved by all those-I can never forget those people having to jump from buildings. It's something that you don't wish would happen to anybody. And, you know, the first reaction was just the shock of-at something so horrible.
And then you have to think a little more about that. And, well, I believe-on my elocution to the judge, I talk about it a little bit. I believe that as long as somebody believe that there are some good terrorists and some bad terrorists, terrorism is going to be there. And it's a pity because, as I said to the judge, and you can be a capitalist, you can be Jew, you can be a Catholic or a Muslim, and be a good person. But a terrorist is a sick person; it's not a good person. And for me, the fact that some people, like my prosecutors, for example, believe that some terrorists deserve to be protected and some don't, I mean, is a-I can't believe that in the 21st century this is happening yet.
AMY GOODMAN: And what was your reaction to those who said that Cuba shooting down the Brothers to the Rescue plane, February 24th, 1996, killing four members of Brothers to the Rescue, was a terroristic act?
RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: I don't see-I mean, the definition of "terrorism" doesn't go that far. Terrorism, although I know-I acknowledge the definition is too politically sometimes, politically motivated, but my definition is that it is a-it's the imposition of violence indiscriminately to instill fear among the surviving people. And I don't see how it fits what happens on February 1996. We are talking about a guy who was trying to be a terrorist, who all of a sudden discovered that he's a humanitarian, and he creates an organization. He's flying for years in front of the Cuban coast without any incident at all, while he is saving rafters. Cuba doesn't interfere on his activities. And all of a sudden he decides that he can break into the Cuban airspace, do whatever he wants in Cuba, and he even starts devising plans to introduce explosives in Cuba and to introduce weapons in Cuba using those planes. And, I mean, anybody would accept that defending the country against those actions is an act of sovereignty.
AMY GOODMAN: René González, the only freed member of the Cuban Five. He was released October 2011, returned to Cuba last April after being jailed in the United States for 13 years. We were speaking to him in Havana. When we come back, Ricardo Alarcón, former president of the Cuban National Assembly, also Cuba's former foreign minister. We'll talk about his meetings with the FBI, why Cuba called the FBI to Havana to meet. This is Democracy Now! We'll be back in a minute.
and Ricardo Alarcon, former foreign minister of Cuba and past president of the Cuban National Assembly. "If President Obama is really interested in [projecting] a more positive image of U.S. policy abroad, if he is interested in improving relations with Latin America, he better listen to what many governments in Latin America have been telling him: simply, free the five," Alarcón says.
Jailed in the U.S. for espionage, the Cuban intelligence agents known as the Cuban Five say they were in fact monitoring violent right-wing Cuban exile groups, not spying on the United States. Ricardo Alarcón, Cuba's former foreign minister and, up until earlier this year, president of the Cuban National Assembly, has been one of the Cuban Five's most vocal supporters. Alarcón joins us from Havana to discuss the meetings between Cuban authorities and the FBI in Cuba and the threat posed by militant exiles. "If President Obama is really interested in [projecting] a more positive image of U.S. policy abroad, if he is interested in improving relations with Latin America, he better listen to what many governments in Latin America have been telling him: Simply, free the five," Alarcón says.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: "El Dulce Abismo," "The Sweet Abyss," performed by Cuban singer Silvio Rodríguez during a concert in honor of the Cuban Five at Havana's Karl Marx Theater in September. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report, with a Democracy Now! exclusive.
One of the most vocal supporters of the Cuban Five has been Ricardo Alarcón. Up until, well, earlier this year, he was the president of the Cuban National Assembly. He is also Cuba's former foreign minister. He joined René González in the interview I did with him via Democracy Now! video stream in Havana. I asked Ricardo Alarcón to talk about meetings Cuban authorities had with the FBI in Havana to talk about the threat posed by the militant Cuban exile groups here in the United States.
RICARDO ALARCÓN: Well, there were several meetings, in fact. René was referring specifically to one that took place in Havana in July 1998, after some private exchanges between the two countries, the two governments, including President Clinton and a very well-known writer, García Márquez, who served as a go-between between us and them. They came down here, and they got a lot of information-recordings, videos, details of terrorist plots, and the addresses, the phone numbers, everything-so much that at the end of the meeting, the FBI officials thanked Cuba and said that they will need some time to process, though, that information, and they will go back to us. They never went back to us. They did act against the five, clearly to help to protect the terrorists. That is the substance of this process, of this trial.
AMY GOODMAN: Ricardo Alarcón, so the information that you, the Cuban government, gave to the FBI in 1998, they used that to track down René González and the other members of the Cuban Five?
RICARDO ALARCÓN: No. No, I don't think so. What happened is this. According to the indictment, the FBI, they knew already the activities of the five, what they were doing. And that is a very interesting point. They knew what they were doing, and they didn't act against them-for a very simple reason: What they were doing was nothing against the interests, the real interests, of the United States. They were not threatening their security. They were not posing any harm or any damage to your people and your society. What happened is that when they got that information, remember that the guy, when he said-before saying goodbye in Havana in July 1988, told us that they will need some time to process that information. I am sure that the very first thing that they did was to get in touch, in contact with a local FBI in Miami to check that information, to process the thing. And when they knew that, they tried-they tried to act against the five to divert the attention, to stop the possible cooperation between the two governments, and that was the beginning of this story. The person, the FBI agent or officer in Miami at that time, had been publicly recognizing that it was for him a very difficult task to persuade their chief to act against the five, probably because some people in Washington remember that they were talking to the Cubans precisely around those terror facts. There is an excellent book that was recently published in Canada by Professor Stephen Kimber, What Lies Across the Water, which had a very well-documented description of those days and what happened. And I think that it's very useful in answering that question that you asked me.
AMY GOODMAN: Cuba also handed over videotapes and audiotapes that were tapes of Luis Posada Carriles talking about his terror campaign, as well as tapes of his accomplices. You gave that to the FBI as part of your proof that this kind of campaign was being targeted against Cuba?
RICARDO ALARCÓN: Yes. And more than that, in those very days, the 12 and the 13 of July, 1998, on the front page of The New York Times, Luis Posada Carriles appeared, interviewed by some, well, U.S. journalist, and there, he did recognize spontaneously. He said that he was responsible for every terrorist act taking place in Havana in those days. More than that, he said who was paying him for that. And he referred to the National-Cuban American National Foundation and Mr. Mas Canosa at that time. All that was front page in The New York Times.
AMY GOODMAN: What request do you have of President Obama, Ricardo Alarcón?
RICARDO ALARCÓN: I think that it's very simple. The case can be solved very easily, simply with a stroke of his pen ordering the release of the four brothers that continue to be in prison. He can do that. He knows that perfectly well. He had-it's not so difficult, Amy. They have been 15 years in prison. Against them, apart from minor violations of papers, whatever, there are two main charges. Conspiracy to commit espionage, which according to the court of appeals in Atlanta unanimously was wrong, was unconstitutional, was unlawful, the sentence imposed against three of the five on that count-that's why they ordered a resentencing. And that's why Antonio and Ramón got out of the maximum security prisons and are now at a lower-level prison and without a life term. The other count, conspiracy, again, to commit murder. The president, Obama, only needs to look at what the U.S. attorney general office wrote in May 2001 recognizing that that was impossible to demonstrate that charge and asking for the modification of the indictment in order not to have that accusation, because they were going to lose. They have two arguments: a federal appeals court saying that there was no espionage and the U.S. attorney general office recognizing that they couldn't prove the other allegation, the other supposed crime. And those four individuals have been in prison for 15 years, on two counts that the prosecutors, in one case, or a court of appeals, in the other, have recognized that were unfounded.
The only thing that can be done-that should be done, and the only suggestion that I would make to President Obama, is to do what for 200 years many presidents have done, time and again: to withdraw the accusation or to consider the ending the punishment, deciding simply to get those people out of jail, right now, unconditionally. Nothing will happen against him. He will not lose anything. He will gain a lot. If President Obama is really interested in projected a more positive image of U.S. policy abroad, if he is interested in improving relations with Latin America, he better listen to what many governments in Latin America have been telling him: Simply, free the five.
AMY GOODMAN: What message, René González, do you have-what message, René González, do you have for the American people and for the American government, particularly President Obama?
RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: I would start with the American people. I believe-I mean, I was born there. I have family there, good people, people who don't-of course, they don't have my political opinions, but they supported me all the way since I was arrested. They supported my wife. They supported my daughters. And they are good Americans, like a lot of Americans that I met. I met good people everywhere. I met good officers in jail, people who were professional, who were decent. I met good people who was in prison, but they weren't bad people. And I would say to all those people, to the American people, that we have more in common than separates us, that we should live together as neighbors, relate to each other through the things that make us human beings, through the things that unite us as people, and that it's been too long for the two countries to be separated by politics.
As to the U.S. government, to listen to a whole continent that is telling them to change their relations with Cuba, to sit down with the Cuban government and talk about everything. The Cuban government has said that again and again. And I believe it's time the U.S. government, for Obama, if he wants to leave a legacy as a president in the continent, to sit down with Cuba, and a lot is going to change, both with Cuba and with Latin America.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you about the legacy of the award-winning journalist, filmmaker, author, professor, Saul Landau. He died last month at the age of 77. Saul made more than 45 films, wrote 14 books, many about Cuba. His most recent film, Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up?, was an exposé on the U.S. support for violent anti-Castro militants. Saul appeared on Democracy Now! last year and said this.
SAUL LANDAU: I went to Cuba in 1960 when I was a student, because I was curious. I was curious to see how a guy who was so disobedient, Fidel Castro, and his other revolutionaries were going to last. I didn't think they could, and I went out to-I went down to Cuba to check it out. And I met people my age who were running government ministries and sleeping three hours a night and using a lot more of their brains than I was using. And I was impressed by watching people making history. And I think, like many other people who went down there at the time, this place seemed really different, that they were going to make a different kind of a revolution, and it was going to have its impact. And I think it did have its impact on the world. But that's how I got there in the first place. And pretty soon, I was working to stop the United States from invading Cuba, like a lot of people who had gone down there.
And the first-one of the first talks I gave was in New York City at Town Hall. And as I came out, a guy tried to cut me on the back with a razor, a Cuban exile. I guess he took freedom of speech more seriously than I did.
AMY GOODMAN: And that was Saul Landau. And, of course, his latest film, Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up?, about the Cuban Five. If you could each comment on the significance of Saul Landau's work?
RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: Well, I will say that Landau, Saul Landau, is-he was among the best on the American people. He was honest. He was courageous. And I believe that we're going to miss him a lot. We live-we live in a difficult world, difficult times, and I believe that we need a lot of Saul Landaus.
AMY GOODMAN: Ricardo Alarcón, if you could comment?
RICARDO ALARCÓN: Saul and I were very close friends since our student years, when he came first in the early '60s to Havana. And I learned to respect him and admire him. And I think that his approve demonstrated that-the quality of the virtues that exist in the American people of love and solidarity, and also how a human being can be honest in their intellectual work, which was what Saul did in his entire life, not just on Cuba. He made excellent coverage of the Cuban revolution, but also remember what he did concerning the Letelier assassination and facing the risks of those terrorists. By the way, the same guys who did many things against us in Miami were also those who assassinated Orlando Letelier, and in front of everybody in the courtroom, Mr. Novo Sampol, addressing to Saul, said, "You are next." And nothing happened. Mr. Novo Sampol continues working on organizing terror acts and is still now the security chief of the Cuban American National Foundation. Saul Landau will always be the best example that you can-that we can-that it's possible to have a different relationship between the U.S. and the rest of the world, that it is in the best interest of the American people to not to pretend to be the policeman of the world, not to dominate others, but to live in accordance with the values that represent the best of America. And Saul was perhaps a super demonstration of that.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Ricardo Alarcón, who until earlier this year was president of the Cuban National Assembly. He joined René González. They were speaking from Havana, Cuba. You can go to our website to see my extended interview with the late filmmaker, Saul Landau. He died on September 9th of cancer. You can also see all of our coverage of the Cuban Five over the years.