The President's Favourite Terrorists
- terrorist cells in Florida
In the first of a two part series, Jim Carey investigates a recent spate of government appointments in the US which reveal a Bush family partiality for international terrorists living in America.
12th February 2002
In January this year, a man instrumental in securing the release of one of the world's most prolific terrorists was appointed as America's new Asst Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere. In the same month, the woman who helped secure an extraordinary pardon for a terrorist with more individual atrocities to his name than Osama Bin Laden was appointed as Bush's spokesperson on human rights. It may sound like satire but the reality is proving more bizarre.
Much of the US Senate doesn't want Otto Reich anywhere near government let alone as Assistant Secretary of the State for the Western Hemisphere. He is the only presidential nominee to be refused twice by the Senate without even a vote. So, invoking a presidential privilege, George W Bush's selection of Otto Reich whilst the Senate was in recess in January was canny. In his new position Reich will oversee US diplomatic relations with Latin America and has the kind of CV to send shudders down the spines of those who recall the United States lamentable record of clandestine interference in South and Central American politics.
Originally born in Cuba, Otto Juan Reich was the director of the Latin American division of the ominously misnamed Agency for International Development (AID) during the Reagan administration. According to declassified documents, former US Attorney General and general adviser to AID, John R Bolton, described the organisation as "a subsidiary of the CIA which serves to promote political and economic interest of the federal government through financial assistance programs abroad." Bolton is now George W Bush's Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security.
AS US AMBASSADOR TO VENEZUELA AT THE TIME, OTTO REICH WAS INSTRUMENTAL IN APPLYING POLITICAL PRESSURE FOR THE RELEASE AND ACQUITTAL OF A KNOWN SERIAL TERRORIST.
Between 1983-1986, Reich was selected by the veteran CIA agent and propaganda specialist, Walter Raymond, to run the notorious Office of Public Diplomacy (OPD), a covert psychological and media spinning unit which reported to Colonel Oliver North at the National Security Council. Raymond described the OPD's role as selling to the US "a new product- Central America". At Reich's request, the Pentagon supplied the OPD with a detachment of specialists from the US Army's Fourth Psychological Operations Group to carry out the OPD's propaganda war in Latin America. Working closely with the CIA, directed at the time by George Bush Snr, the ODP created a multitude of false news stories to garner congressional support for the right wing Contra guerilla's in Nicaragua. Its now infamous news mongering included stories suggesting the Soviet's were arming the Sandanista's with MIG fighters, and that the Sandanista's were providing dissenting US journalists with sex slaves. Reich was notorious amongst journalists for ringing up reporters at odd hours and shouting at them for not pushing the pro-Contra line. A 1987 review of the OPD activities by the US Comptroller General concluded that Reich had engaged in "prohibited, covert propaganda activities designed to influence the media and the public to support the administration's Latin American policies.....beyond the range of acceptable agency public information activities." Many still classified documents will undoubtedly reveal more of Reich's activities at the time but the declassified material is incriminating enough. Despite these indictments, however, no action was taken against Reich. In fact Reich was rewarded with the post of US Ambassador to Venezuela in 1986 and it was here that he had his most emphatic association with blatant terrorism.
Ten years before Reich's appointment as Venezuelan ambassador, a DC 8 Cubana Airlines passenger plane exploded over Barbados with the loss of 73 lives. A few unidentifiable bodies were found in New York but the rest of the murdered passengers, which included several Guyanese students and the entire Cuban fencing team, had disintegrated in the explosion. Two Venezuelan mercenaries subsequently confessed to planting two bombs on the Trinidad to Barbados leg of the flight before leaving the plane at Barbados. Barbados' police commissioner subsequently declared before an investigative committee into the tragedy that the two Venezuelan mercenaries had confessed to being employed by the CIA. The director of the CIA at the time was George Bush snr. The US government claimed the mercenaries were lying.
"WE MUST LOOK ON TERRORISM AS A UNIVERSAL EVIL, EVEN IT IS DIRECTED TOWARD THOSE WITH WHOM WE HAVE NO POLITICAL SYMPATHY." - US ASSOCIATE ATTORNEY GENERAL, JOE WHITLEY, 1989.
Extensive investigations further indicated that the two masterminds behind the bombing were Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch, two Cuban exiles trained by the CIA at Fort Benning, Georgia and residing at the time in Venezuela. Despite pressure from the United States, a tenacious Venezuelan magistrate instigated proceedings against the two men, both of whom had previous involvement in a long list of terrorist activities including bombing Cuban hotels and consulates. Bosch had been given a ten year prison sentence in the United States in 1968 after firing a bazooka at a Polish ship moored in Miami harbour and sending terrorist threats to the governments with Cuban trade links including the UK. However he remained in prison for only four years before release in 1972, and then violated his parole by leaving the US in 1974. Evidence gathered by the FBI at a later date confirmed Bosch as a leading member of "various anti-Castro terrorist organisations", with the number of individual terrorist bombings and assassinations in which he had direct involvement numbering over 50. Evidence presented at their trial in Venezuela revealed that Posada Carriles and Bosch had been contacted both before and immediately after the airline explosion by the two Venezuelan mercenaries who confessed to the crime. Details of Cubana flights had also been found during a search of Posada Carriles' home in Caracas.
The Cuban government petitioned for the pair's extradition but US pressure proved sufficient to keep them in Venezuela where their lengthy trial proceeded amidst much political acrimony. During this time several bomb attacks took place against Venezuelan targets carried out by anti-Castro terrorist groups evidently in support of Carriles and Bosch. The son of one of the presiding judges was also shot dead.
Then in August 1985 Posada Carriles bribed a prison guard and escaped. No one knows for sure how he came to have enough money to do this after nine years in a Venezuelan prison, though the Cuban government say they have evidence the Cuban American National Foundation in Florida channelled $50,000 down to the country via Panama.
"FOR THIRTY YEARS BOSCH HAS BEEN RESOLUTE AND UNWAVERING IN HIS ADVOCACY OF TERRORIST VIOLENCE." - US ASSOCIATE ATTORNEY GENERAL, JOE WHITLEY, 1989
Within hours of his escape, Posada Carriles reappeared in El Salvador after receiving help from another notorious Cuban exile and CIA employee, Felix Rodriguez. Rodriguez is the man who interrogated Che Guevara on behalf of the CIA after his capture in Bolivia. To this day he still wears the Rolex watch he took from Guevara's wrist prior to his execution. Rodriguez had been placed in El Salvador by Donald Gregg, national security advisor to the then Vice President George Bush snr. Once in El Salvador he immediately became involved in the transport of weaponry to the Contras in Nicaragua. Operating with false ID in the name of Ramon Medina, he worked alongside Rodriguez to supply weapons to the Contras and was paid $3000 a month plus living expenses by the CIA. All these facts came to light in the heavily censored FBI report into the Contra arms scandal, although it was never conclusively proven that George Bush himself had knowledge of the network. Posada currently resides in a Panamanian jail after being caught attempting to assassinate Fidel Castro in Panama in November 2000.
Carriles' co-conspirator for the Cubana airplane bombing, Orlando Bosch, languished for another two years in his Venezuelan prison cell before Otto Reich came to his rescue. As the US Ambassador to Venezuela at the time, Otto Reich was instrumental in applying American pressure to acquit Bosch of his bombing charges, although much of the key documents relating to his involvement remain classified. Reich's attempts proved successful at both countering Cuba's petition for extradition and securing Bosch's eventual release after eleven years in prison. Bosch immediately made an attempt to return to the US but, having skipped parole in 1974, was legally a wanted man. Declassified documents show Otto Reich made strenuous but unsuccessful efforts to secure Bosch a visa back into the US. In February 1989, Bosch travelled to the US without documentation and was immediately arrested. After serving three months in a Florida prison he was then released and immediately detained by the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (INS).
"THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT, UNDER NO LEGAL COMPULSION BUT CONSPICUOUS POLITICAL PRESSURE, HAS LET [A TERRORIST] OUT, WINNING CHEERS FROM LOCAL POLITICIANS - AND SQUANDERING AMERICAN CREDIBILITY ON THE ISSUE OF TERRORISM." - NEW YORK TIMES
Bosch then applied for political asylum in the US, saying that Castro was out to kill him. In considering his case the US Associate Attorney General in George Bush's administration, Joe D Whitley, refused to toe the Bush line and was unequivocal in the reasons for rejecting Bosch's asylum application: "For thirty years Bosch has been resolute and unwavering in his advocacy of terrorist violence. He has threatened and undertaken violent terrorist acts against numerous targets.....he has repeatedly expressed and demonstrated a willingness to cause indiscriminate injury and death." Attorney General, Dick Thornburgh further described Bosch as an "unreformed terrorist".
However, despite the emphatic rejection and subsequent order for immediate deportation issued by the Attorney General's office, Bosch never left the country. In August 1989 Congresswoman, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a vehement anti-Castro politician based in Florida, met with President George Bush snr and secured Bosch's release from detention. The meeting was organised by Ros-Lehtinen's campaign manager at the time, Jeb Bush, the then president's son, the current president's brother and presently the governor of Florida seeking re-election. Audaciously, just a year later on July 20 Bosch received a complete presidential pardon from George Bush snr just before he left the White House in 1990. Long after the horse had bolted, the Los Angeles Times stated that "in hindsight that decision looks abysmal" (LA Times Nov 2001). At the time of the pardon, however, only the New York Times voiced any dissent, describing the decision as "a startling example of political justice. The Justice Department, under no legal compulsion but conspicuous political pressure, has let him out, winning cheers from local politicians - and squandering American credibility on issue of terrorism".
THANKS TO THE BRAZEN APPOINTMENTS MADE BY HIS BROTHER GEORGE W, JEB CAN NOW COUNT ON THE FIRM ADVOCACY OF FLORIDA'S MILLION STRONG ANTI-CASTRO CUBAN ÉMIGRÉS.
Since his release from prison, Bosch has gone on the record to defend the bombing of the Cuban airline as "a legitimate act of war". He has also referred to the verbal refutation of terrorism he gave to the Department of Justice to facilitate his release as "ridiculous" and "a farce". "They purchased the chain," he scoffed to reporters, "but they don't have the monkey." Furthermore Ros-Lehtinen, the women who secured Bosch's release from detention in 89, was made George W Bush's spokesperson on human rights at the end of January this year, when she was appointed Chair of the Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights. To cap it all, Lehtinen's legal advisor, Chief of Staff and fellow anti-Castro activist, Mauricio Tamargo, was appointed President of the Federal Legal Committee of the US Justice Department late last year; a position responsible for overseeing all legal issues relating to Cuba, including the future of the American military base, now Camp X Ray, at Guantanamo Bay.
Jeb Bush's jubilation at the high level appointment of these rabidly anti-Castro politicians is clearly understandable. In November this year he will seek re-election as Governor of Florida, the state which controversially handed his brother the presidency in the closest ever US election. Thanks to the brazen appointments made by his brother George W, Jeb can now count on the firm advocacy of Florida's million strong anti-Castro Cuban émigré's and so fend off strong opposition from democratic candidate, Janet Reno, the former Attorney General under Bill Clinton who enraged the anti-Castroists by advocating the return to Cuba of Elian Gonzalez the marooned Cuban boy found floating on a rubber tyre in the Florida Straits. Otto Reich's appointment in particular has spread good cheer amongst the anti-Castroists of Miami. In 1996 Reich and Jonathan Miller, his former colleague at the Office of Public Diplomacy, formed RMA International, a corporate public relations and political lobbying company. RMA International's biggest corporate client is Bacardi Martin Inc, the rum corporation which still maintains close ties to the rich Bacardi family who fled Cuba after the revolution. To this day, the Bacardi corporation pour $millions into anti-Castro groups in Florida. According to public records Reich's company has received more than $600,000 from Bacardi. RMA International also represent British American Tobacco, and, on behalf of the Lockheed Corporation, helped ensure that a 24 year old congressional ban on the sale of high tech military equipment to Latin America was abandoned, paving the way for sales of Lockheed's F16 fighter planes to Chile late last year. Reich is also president of the US-Cuba Business Council, an organisation established with the support of Bacardi in 1993, and the recipients of $520,000 worth of US government aid for its support for the maintenance of the US embargo on Cuba. A lawyer by training, Reich was instrumental in drafting the 1996 Helms Burton Act which penalises any company in the world which trades with Cuba. He also serves on the board of the Center for a Free Cuba which has received over $3 million from the US government to help fund its anti-Castro activities. Conflicts of interest in his new role as the US government's foremost Latin American policy-making position? The United States apparently remains untroubled by the paradoxes and inconsistencies.
Secretary of State Colin Powell describes Reich as an "honourable man" saying he'd "looked at everything [Reich] had done and found nothing untoward". Reich, he asserts is "admirably suited for the job of Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America".
"We think Reich would be a disaster for the hemisphere," says Cuba's parliamentary president, Ricardo Alarcon. "But if the White House would be so stupid so as to destroy the US's relationship with the rest of the continent in one stroke the let them."
In summing up his reasons for refusing political asylum to Orlando Bosch in 1989, Associate Attorney General, Joe D Whitley concluded: "The United States cannot tolerate the inherent inhumanity of terrorism as a way of settling disputes. Appeasement of those who would use force will only breed more terrorists. We must look on terrorism as a universal evil, even it is directed toward those with whom we have no political sympathy."
Today, as Orlando Bosch walks free in Miami and continues to publicly advocate terrorist activity against Cuba, he is no doubt thankful that the Bush family - whose presidential son maintains there is no difference between terrorists and those who aid them - do not share Whitley's consistency.
* In part two of 'The president's favourite terrorists' SQUALL investigates the massive prison sentences given at the end of last year to five Cubans who were themselves investigating terrorist organisations in Florida. We find out why five British MP's are calling for their immediate release. And just exactly why the United States came to be running a military prison for terrorists on Cuban soil.
EXPEDIENT TERROR - the Miami Five - terrorism investigators jailed in US - 25-March-2002