Floridas elite casts menacing glance at Cuba

News Analysis

Despite a growing number of Floridians, including Cuban Americans, who want normal diplomatic relations with Havana, the Sunshine State has long been a base of foul schemes against the Cuban Revolution.

A story in Miami’s El Nuevo Herald dated June 22 describes right-wing terrorist plotting against Cuba among the upper echelons of Miami’s exile community.

Two years ago, Jose Antonio Llama told the Herald that in 1992 he joined other leaders of the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF) — a purportedly peaceful lobbying group — to create a military wing of the organization. The mission of the new force was to kill Fidel Castro and otherwise sow terror in socialist Cuba.

Llama and 15 “named conspirators” bought a cargo helicopter, 10 small remote-control airplanes, seven boats, explosives and ammunition. The 40-foot speedboat Midnight Express would take then-CANF President Jorge Mas Canosa to Cuba as soon as Fidel Castro was gone. Llama borrowed money to loan $1.47 million for the purchases.

In 1997 the U.S. Coast Guard stopped Llama’s Esperanza yacht off Puerto Rico, crewed by four of the group and loaded with guns and ammunition. One of them blurted out they were headed for Margarita Island off Venezuela to assassinate Fidel Castro, who was attending a diplomatic summit there. All five were acquitted two years later.

Jose Antonio Llama is now bankrupt. He accuses his former associates of disposing of the unused equipment and keeping the proceeds. By talking to the newspaper, Llama hoped to gain public support in his fight against the CANF. Recently he’s been handing out pamphlets in Miami detailing his claims. He expresses no regrets over his preparations for terror.

Intrigued, the Cuban newspaper Granma reported Llama’s story on June 21. El Nuevo Herald was forced to publish what it knew the next day.

An additional wrinkle is that the current CANF leadership (Mas Canosa died in 1997) accuses the associated newspapers El Nuevo Herald and the Miami Herald of validating “a longstanding defamation campaign” against them “orchestrated by the Castro regime.”

The Granma story cited Cuban documents used in the trial of five Cuban nationals, widely known today as the Cuban Five, who sought to frustrate right-wing terrorist schemes emanating from Miami. The documents characterized the CANF as a terrorist group, and described how Rene Gonzalez, one of the five, was asked to monitor CANF’s menacing activities.

As compensation for his courageous efforts to save both Cuban and U.S. lives, Gonzalez, along with his four comrades, continues to languish in a U.S. prison.

But there’s more going on in Florida than plans for violence. Business people there would replace Cuba’s socialist revolution with unbridled market rule.

That was the message at a June 14 conference in Miami titled “A Future and Free Cuba — Opportunities and Threats for Florida.” Miami’s Chamber of Commerce sponsored the event.

Speakers were confident that a capitalist takeover of Cuba is imminent. Business owners, managers and publicists envisioned favorable prospects for service, trading and investment sectors in Florida, along with dangers awaiting Florida’s agriculture and tourism.

Andy Gomez, provost at the University of Miami, regarded Cuba’s high literacy rate and good schools as potentially useful to Florida entrepreneurs. A consultant took note of Cuba’s “superior transportation infrastructure,” but foresaw problems in a Cuba with only 800 gas stations and very few private car owners. Massive investment will be needed in “ports, electricity plants and other infrastructure,” he said. Increased trade with Cuba and travel would lead to expansion of Florida ports and changes to Miami Airport.

Such dreams by would-be capitalists have been floated before, but have come to naught.

To defend its socialist revolution, Cuba relies upon ideas — of social justice, equality, solidarity and an end to exploitation, oppression and war. The notion of “people before profits” has spread has sunk deep roots among the population. Cuba’s extraordinary achievements in health care, education and culture have won it broad, solid support both domestically and internationally.

Nonetheless, Cuba remains vigilant in the face of provocations from Florida and Washington. And Cuba’s leaders speak up for those who defend it from such attacks: hence their call for worldwide days of action in September and October calling for the release of the Cuban Five.

We in the U.S. can do no less. Mark your calendar for a Sept. 23 demonstration in Washington for the freedom of the Cuban Five and for an end to terrorism. And work to defeat Bush’s clones in Congress this November, as a step toward rejecting torture, lies and violations of international law.