This is a big time for celebration in Cuba. Three of the five men known in Cuba as heroes fighting United States terrorism were released from prison and returned to their families. To understand the true significance of their release means exploring the history of U.S.-backed terrorism against Cuba, a history widely unknown within the United States. President Obama and mainstream media have not only failed to mention this history, but have perpetuated the narrative of the Cuban five as spies, a necessary narrative for undermining the five men’s work in combatting U.S.-sponsored terrorism both in Cuba and within the U.S. This narrative frames Cuba as responsible for the 50-plus years of failed relations between the island and the U.S., serving to justify the United States’ aggressive and inhumane policies against Cuba (e.g. the economic blockade).
After a 1998 arrest during which no weapons or plans against the U.S. were found, the FBI told the five men—Gerardo HernÃ¡ndez, Nordelo, RamÃ³n LabaÃ±ino Salazar, RenÃ© GonzÃ¡lez Sehwerert, Fernando GonzÃ¡lez Llort and Antonio Guerrero RodrÃguez—that if they admitted to “conspiring” against the U.S., they would receive less harsh prison sentences. The men refused, and as a result were placed in solitary confinement for 17 months. They then faced a trial in Miami, the most anti-Castro city in the U.S., which was accompanied by a government-orchestrated media campaign that sought to portray the Cuban five as terrorists and spies. Conviction was a foregone conclusion.
To understand the Cuban five’s mission means looking at the history of U.S. government and CIA plots to destroy, subvert and overthrow the revolutionary Cuban government. U.S. business interests suffered great economic losses in the wake of a revolution that nationalized banks and limited the acre-size of farms. Prior to the revolution, U.S. business owned 80% of services, 40% of the sugar industry and 50% of railroad transport in Cuba. Cuba was an American neo-colony. The revolutionary government undertook measures to increase the quality of life and salaries for the majority of Cubans after a brutal Batista dictatorship (backed by the U.S.) that left poor people and people of color without jobs and a means of survival. Starting with the signing of the Agrarian Reform Act of 1959, the U.S. government decided that the Cuban government had to be replaced. The motive was to prevent these revolutionary ideas from spreading to other Latin American countries where U.S. business interests could not afford to be threatened.
After the humiliating defeat of the Bay of Pigs invasion, known in Cuba as the first imperialist defeat in the Americas, President Kennedy increased attacks against Cuba. Prior to Bay of Pigs, the CIA led the attacks; now they were to be integrated into U.S. policy. On Nov. 3, 1961 Kennedy approved Operation Mongoose led by General Edward Landsdale. Lansdale openly declared that the objective of Mongoose was to impede the ability of the Cuban government to provide for its people, and thus to encourage the Cuban people to resent their government.
There is a long list of U.S. state-sponsored and CIA-led terrorism against Cuba. Some of the most notable attacks include:
- In 1961 the CIA opens a new station in Miami. With $50 million a year funding, 300 American officials oversee thousands of Cuban exiles working toward subverting the Cuban government through propaganda.
- In 1976, Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles, two Cuban exiles, bomb a civilian aircraft. The explosion kills all 73 people on the plane, including the entire teenage Cuban national fencing team. The men worked for CORU, a Cuban-exile organization trained by, and given weapons and explosives by the CIA. Posada continues to work on attacks both within Cuba and the U.S. The U.S. refuses to extradite either of the men, and Luis Posada Carriles continues to live in Miami to this day.
- 1981: A Cuban-exile group under CIA leadership introduces Type II dengue into Cuba. Since then, the potentially fatal illness has affected more than 344,000 people. In 1984 a member of Omega 7, another exile group under CIA leadership, says the intention was to sicken as many people as possible.
- Between 1959 and 2001 there were 634 documented attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro.
- In 1997, CIA-funded Cuban exile groups bomb several Havana hotels in an effort to disrupt Cuba’s growing tourist industry.
The propaganda within the U.S. must be seen in the context of this terrorism. Continuing to call the Cuban five “spies,” failing to acknowledge the history of U.S. terrorism against Cuba and continuing to frame Cuba as a communist dictatorship serves to perpetuate a false narrative rooted in imperialist ideology.
Since the day the revolution triumphed in 1959, Cuba has had to be on the defensive against the richest, most powerful country in the world. Cuba is an anti-imperialist nation at its core, and will not give up its values and identity, despite all the propaganda, U.S. attacks and demands for “good relations.” Cuba’s insistence on ending the blockade and refusing to move forward under Washington’s conditions should be seen as part of the larger, continuing struggle against imperialism. The liberation of the Cuban five, despite all the work that still needs to be done, represents a victory for people and communities all around the world fighting for justice and liberation.