Alejandro Chafuen, Forbes
The communists celebrated after President Obama announced his decision to remove Cuba from the list of countries that support terrorism. Josefina Vidal, head of the North American section of the Cuban Foreign Ministry and Havana’s leader of the current negotiations with the United States, praised the “just decision” and stated that “Cuba condemns, rather than supports, terrorism.”
Cubans have a talent to twist the meaning of words. They label Carlos Alberto Montaner, the noted writer and freedom champion, as a terrorist for his student activism -confronting the communists at age 17. The same Cubans honor the FARC, a Colombian terrorist military organization as the “Colombian People’s Army.” For General Raul Castro’s regime speaking and writing in favor of the free society is terrorism. Supporting a group who kills soldiers of a democratic Colombia is combatting terrorism.
Nevertheless, one can make a case that to accomplish its strategic goals Cuba is spending less effort in training and providing intelligence for traditional terrorism. Why use terrorists when you can use foreign bureaucrats? Do not be confused, these bureaucrats still terrorize. Ask any opposition leader in Cuba. Exiled Venezuelan businessman and publisher Luís Henrique Ball notes that articles praising Obama’s decision fail to state that “Cuba’s version of the Stasi, the feared G2, has not been dismantled and that, unlike Germany in 1989, the Communist Party regime is still in power.”
Venezuela, the native land of Mr. Ball receives permanent advice and guidance from Cuban intelligence services. I know students, politicians, civil society leaders, and businessmen, who have been and continue to be terrorized by the regime. They never know when the next knock on the door is going to be a trip to an obscure jail. They never know when an order of a corrupt subservient judge will send their company to bankruptcy or ban them from leaving the country.
For those whose families have been victims, and for some of us who have been close to victims of communist terrorism, the topic is real, and the scars and impressions last a life time. Ruthie Ballon, whose father was killed by Peruvian terrorists, tells me “each day I wake up, and before opening my eyes I pray that it was all just a nightmare, and that he was not tortured and killed.” Mrs. Ballon is president of Peru’s Families of Terrorism Victims (Afavit) and is disheartened by how victims are being ignored by world leaders when dealing with past terrorism.
Communist terrorism in Latin America was inspired and trained in Cuba, with frequent trips to the specialized “schools” in the Soviet Union. Cuba also acted as the banker, especially with the help of Czechoslovakia, and even of major Swiss banks who preferred to look the other way.
At the peak of the oil boom, analysts estimated that Venezuelan subsidies to Cuba reached $13 billion per year. In one of the most successful operations, the Argentine terrorist group, Montoneros, netted $60 million in 1974. That would be over $300 million in today’s dollars. They kidnapped brothers Jorge and Juan Born, businessmen and heirs to a fortune. The money ended up in Cuba, and then, after a short laundering stop via Switzerland, it was parked in the Central Bank of Czechoslovakia. The Cubans also acted as couriers and bankers for other South American terrorists groups, such as the Uruguayan Tupamaros. That was then. Today, if the Cubans need money, or if leftists want funds to subvert other governments, they can ask Venezuela to send them cheap oil, Argentina to provide cheap foreign exchange to one of their crony companies, and ask Brazilians for a big bribe for an infrastructure project. Why bother with killings? They are too dramatic. Bombings? Too messy. Bureaucrats will do.
Seeing the pictures of President Obama, in what appears to be calm and cordial talks, with one of the leaders of a country with a long record of training, protecting, and providing intelligence to terrorists, is depressing and appalling. Dictator Raúl Castro has not announced that he would open the country to free elections, respect freedom of speech, trade and commerce. He boasts that the United States is changing its attitude towards Cuba and asking for very little in exchange. Few days ago Raúl said that “they [the Cuban communist party] controls the timing of the process and discussions with the United States.”
Pope Francis’ apparent friendly meetings with Raúl Castro also raise concerns. During the Pope’s upbringing in Argentina, at the dawn of the Cuban revolution, part of the Catholic “right” praised Cuba for its opposition to “Yankee Imperialism.” But soon after, most distanced themselves when Cuba passed to the orbit of Soviet Imperialism. Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo (1912-2012), a noted intellectual from the “right,” and the father Msgr. Sánchez Sorondo, the second highest Argentine in the Vatican, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, was a case in point. Like Jorge Bergoglio, now Pope, they could side with Peronism, but not if subservient to a foreign power. Now that the Soviet Union does not exist and its rulers seem more interested in mammon than Marx, it is easier for nationalists to make peace with Cuba. The thousands of victims of terrorism, such as Ruthie Ballon, hope that Pope Francis will show at least similar sensitivity to them than to the Castros and their minions. Most have lost hope in Obama.
The impact of the new policy toward Cuba in U.S. politics will not be much. Terrorism only attracts considerable attention when it affects the United States or one of its major allies. When it impacts Latin America, it garners very little consideration. Most in the United States have little understanding and less personal experience of living in countries that confronted terrorist threats. Once the decision was made to establish new ties with the Cuban communist regime, most analysts expected that the Obama administration had already decided to remove it from this ominous list. Given his overture to Iran, whose terrorist attacks were much more serious than any Cuban supported effort in these last two decades, it came as no surprise. If George W. Bush removed North Korea from the list, with no positive effect, Obama seems to have the right try to repeat the same failed policy.
After the demise of the Soviet Union and the great reduction in the number of communist countries, there was a change in tactics. The Global Terrorism Database shows a dramatic decrease in the level of terrorism in areas of Cuban influence. The most troubled spot is Colombia. There were major improvements during the presidency of Alvaro Uribe (2002-2010), but fears of escalation remain. One of the arguments to delist Cuba was that it was hosting the peace talks between Colombia and the FARC. Yet, just hours after the announcement of the delisting, FARC terrorists killed three Colombian soldiers.
The western world experienced a great reduction in communist inspired terrorism. In Latin America, the left-wing summits during the late 1960s and ’70s recommended and planned urban terrorism. In the ’90s they were replaced by the meetings of the Foro de São Paulo, which helped bring several former players in terrorist and extremist movements to power in Argentina, Brazil, Nicaragua, Uruguay, and major allies in Bolivia and Ecuador.
Most of the millennials in the United States have only heard of the terrorism produced by radical Islam. They have seldom seen the words Cuba and terrorism side by side. Obama and those who pushed for this policy are safe with the millennials and can also count for some support from a segment of the “blame the United States first” branch of the libertarians which sees Cuba’s plight mostly as a consequence of U.S. imperialism. There are also some who are optimistic that increased trade, even if it will be crony trade, will create openings in the communist system. I share part -a small part- of that optimism. Better relations might lead to better monitoring. Some, however, go even further and state that during all these years of the Castro dictatorship, the United States has been the aggressor and Cuba the victim. I share none of that.
At least three major contenders for the Republican nomination have credibility with freedom loving Cubans. Two of them, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz even have Cuban blood. During the Clinton administration, Jeb Bush led a Republican Commission for the Transition in Cuba. I was part of that commission which concluded that despite a few economic reforms, Cuba remained a totalitarian state. Despite its changing approach to the support of terrorism, Cuba still remains a totalitarian enclave. Delisting North Korea did not work. Freeing the Cubans and the continent will require a much more clear and balanced strategy coming from world leaders and their advisors.
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