Florida fire, journalist harassment reflect special U.S. rules for Cuba

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Early on April 27, fire destroyed the Coral Gables, Fla., offices of Airline Brokers, a charter flight provider servicing Cuba and other countries. The Fire Department blamed arson.

A U.S. embassy official in Spain a week later was at the Madrid airport to enforce U.S.- imposed "no-fly" rules. The two incidents point to difficulties in applying the U.S. war on terror to Cuba.

Operating for 30 years, Airline Brokers arranges for seven charter flights a week from Miami and Ft. Lauderdale to Cuba. The company limits Cuba travel to "persons who are generally or specifically licensed to travel to Cuba." Cuban Americans last year made 400,000 trips to the island, reports Andres Gomez of Miami's Alianza Martiana. "The criminal action that destroyed the offices of Airline Brokers is a terrorist act," he adds, "not only against this company but even more important, it's an act of terrorism against the right of all U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba."

Company owner Vivian Mannerud pointed out that as of May 2 public officials in Florida hadn't condemned the arson attack. Local observers see Airline Brokers as singled out because of its role in Cuba travel and because of arrangements it made for 340 Florida residents to be in Cuba on the occasion of Pope Benedict XV's recent visit there.

Terror applied to Cuba and people elsewhere working for decent U.S.-Cuban relations is not new. Earlier, bombings and shoot-ups were endemic on the island. Blame fell on violent counter-revolutionaries there allied to the CIA and on Cuban-American private military groups. Perpetrator and ex-CIA operative Luis Posada  found refuge in Florida. Florida bias and flawed court proceedings led to long prison terms for the Cuban Five, Cuban defenders against terror. The recent incendiary attack recalls earlier attacks on Floridians and Puerto Ricans trying to re-connect with Cuba. An atmosphere stemming from hatred and violent ideology has contributed to impunity.

A signature U.S. policy is thus marked by contradiction: war is waged on terrorism, while violence against Cuba or U.S. friends of Cuba gets a blind eye.

Journalist Hernando Calvo Ospina is familiar with this skewed approach to anti-terrorism. The Colombian native living in French exile flew from Paris to the Madrid-Barajas airport on May 5. There he learned from a U.S. embassy official that his name was "on a list of persons dangerous to the security of his country" and that his Air Europa flight to Havana would leave without him. He learned that "for a few minutes" the flight enters U.S. airspace.

In 2009, Calvo Ospina flew on Air France from Paris to Mexico City. Over the Atlantic, the plane detoured to Martinique unexpectedly to refuel. On arrival five hours late in Mexico City, he learned his presence on the plane had caused the detour. The flight was to have passed over U.S. soil, and he was "unwelcome for reasons of (U. S.) national security."

As a Colombian journalism student in 1985, Calvo Ospina was captured and nearly killed during a joint Ecuadorian-Colombian military operation. First accused and then cleared of links to leftist Colombian insurgents, he remained imprisoned in a Ecuador prison until worldwide pressure forced his release. Reports of guerrilla associations may still resonate with the U.S. government.

His books may also be worrisome to some. In "Cuban Exile Movement, Dissidents or Mercenaries," released in 2000, Calvo Ospina and colleague Katlijn Declercq interviewed Cuban-American leaders. They demonstrated that foreign intelligence agencies paid for anti-Cuban terror actions. The book highlights U.S.-European cooperative attempts to destabilize the Cuban government.

Two years later, in "Bacardi, The Hidden War," Calvo Ospina accused rum company owners of funding U.S. government and Cuban-American efforts to overthrow Cuba's government. He highlighted Barcardi payoffs to secure passage of the 1996 U.S. Helms Burton Law and fund assassination attempts against Cuban government leaders.

In 2010 Calvo Ospina wrote "The CIA Shock Team." According to analyst Pascual Serrano, the author surveys "crimes, coups, conspiracies, invasions, and occupations organized by the CIA [since 1954]. Its great merit is naming the criminals."

Since 1982 the U.S. government has identified Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism. Yet Cuban support for Colombian leftist guerrillas, as claimed, is unproven, Basque insurgents were in Cuba at the request of the Spanish government, and sanctuary for a couple of U. S. Black liberation activists from the 1970s is surely small potatoes.

This policy, as with other regrettable consequences of the U.S. anti-terror war - civilian deaths, funds diverted from social programs, and assaults on constitutional rights - unfolds almost automatically. However the U.S. approach to Cuba is grounded upon stark contradiction, plus a pervasive spirit of vindictiveness.

Photo: flippinyank // CC 2.0

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