CubaBrief: Biden reviewing Trump’s listing of Cuba as terrorism sponsor. A partial summary of the Castro regime’s history of terrorism

Reuters is reporting that the Biden Administration is reviewing the Trump Administration’s re-designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism.

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Cuba’s communist dictatorship has a record of training, arming, and sponsoring terrorists that stretches back to the earliest years of the regime, and should have placed it on that list when it first came into existence in 1979, but was most likely kept off because of political considerations involving the Carter detente with Havana.

Cuba was first placed on the list of state sponsors of terrorism on March 1, 1982, less than three months after the US State Department confirmed that Havana was using a narcotics ring to funnel both arms and cash to the Colombian M19 terrorist group then battling to overthrow Colombia’s democratic government. This was less than three years after the terror sponsor list, started under the Carter Administration, came into existence.

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In 1966 the Tricontinental Conference was held in Havana, and the Organization for the Solidarity of the Peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America (OSPAAL) was founded to support anti-American revolutionary and terrorist groups around the world. The Castro regime was directly responsible for much of the wave of international terrorism that impacted the world in the 1960s and 1970s.

Cuba’s dictatorship explicitly views terrorism as a legitimate tactic to advance its revolutionary objectives. In 1970 the Cuban government published the “Mini Manual for Revolutionaries” in the official Latin American Solidarity Organization (LASO) publication Tricontinental and translated it into many languages, written by Brazilian urban terrorist Carlos Marighella, which gives precise instructions in terror tactics, kidnappings, etc. and translated into numerous languages which were distributed worldwide by the Cuban dictatorship. There is a chapter on terrorism that declares, “Terrorism is a weapon the revolutionary can never relinquish.”

This manual is still circulating today and Havana has trained terrorists that targeted the United States and other countries in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s with acts of violence with the objective of altering political behavior. John Hoyt Williams in a 1988 article in The Atlantic reported: “In the Arab world some 3,000 [Cuban advisers] can be found in Libya and Algeria, among other things training terrorists and Polisario guerrillas.”

On May 29, 2015 the Obama Administration removed Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. However, the underlying reasons Cuba had first been placed on the list had not changed, but was driven by the White House’s desire to normalize relations with the Castro regime as a legacy project, and what was perceived as an easy “win.” It was a politicized decision, but not the only one taken during that Spring and Summer of 2015 regarding Cuba that negatively impacted international U.S. legitimacy.

On July 27, 2015 the White House continued its drive to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba by whitewashing Havana’s record on human trafficking. The State Department upgraded Cuba’s status after 12 years from Tier 3 to Tier 2 in its Trafficking in Persons Report, but there had been no improvement. Melysa Sperber, director of the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST) expressed both her surprise and concern that these were “blatantly political decisions” by the Kerry State Department that would “have a really detrimental impact on both the integrity of the report and progress in the global fight to end modern slavery.”

There is also hostility to the existence of the terror sponsor list in the business community. Business interests in the United States have a long history of hostility to unilateral sanctions against regimes engaged in behaviors that Americans find reprehensible.  Since 1997 they have joined together in USA Engage to target policymakers, opinion leaders and shape public opinion in order not only to gut and end sanctions against rogue regimes but to also prevent individual victims from taking human rights abusers to court under the Alien Tort Statute.

Robert L. Muse, writing a critique of Cuba’s redesignation as a state terror sponsor, made this argument on February 25, 2021 in a piece in Global Americans where he highlights the law that empowers victims of terrorism:

“A country that is designated a State Sponsor of Terrorism may be sued under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act for “extra-judicial” killings and personal injuries if it was (i) designated as a sponsor of terrorism at the time of the killing or personal injury and (ii) the victim was a U.S. citizen at the time of death or injury. More than USD $4 billion has been awarded by Florida courts against Cuba as a result of lawsuits that plainly do not meet the subject matter jurisdictional requirements of the statute. Interest on those awards under Florida law is an astonishing 11 percent per year until satisfied, according to §55.03 of the Florida Code.”

He goes onto mention a number of cases involving Cuba, but fails to mention the case involving the families of the four men killed in an act of state terrorism on February 24, 1996. In Alejandre v. Republic of Cuba, 996 F.Supp. 1239 (S.D.Fla. 1997), a federal district court awarded the families of three of the four occupants of the “ Brothers to the Rescue” planes shot down by Cuba in 1996 a total of $187.7 million in damages against Cuba.

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This was a premeditated act of state terrorism by Havana. Two Cuban intelligence agents infiltrated Brothers to the Rescue, providing information to the Castro regime on the group, disinformation to the FBI, and their Cuban spy ring leader, Gerardo Hernandez warned the two infiltrated agents not to fly during a four-day period that included the day of the premeditated attack. Six days before the attack a Cuban pilot saw Cuban MiGs rehearsing the shoot down.   On February 24, 1996 at 3:21pm and 3:27pm two Brothers to the Rescue planes were shot down by two Cuban MiGs over international airspace killing four. Two more MIG’s chased a third plane to within three minutes of downtown Key West, but that plane made it back and provided critical information on what had occurred.

Within moments of the shootdown, allegations were immediately generated that Brothers to the Rescue had involved itself in “paramilitary activities against the government of the Republic of Cuba.” Juan Pablo Roque, who had defected the day before, and arrived in Cuba through Mexico, claimed that they had been planning to introduce

anti-personnel weapons to blow up high-tension plants. This cover story collapsed when the third plane returned to Key West.

The four men killed were: Armando Alejandre Jr, a child who arrived with his parents from Cuba in 1960, Carlos Costa, born in Miami Beach in 1966 and Mario Manuel de la Peña, born in New Jersey in 1971 the children of Cuban exiles. Pablo Morales was born in Cuba in 1966, raised there and was saved by Brothers to the Rescue when he was 26 years old while fleeing the island on a raft. Two were from Havana, one was from New Jersey and the other from Miami Beach.

Because Cuba was on the list of state terror sponsors, the families of these victims were able to get a measure of justice through the courts. It seems that the full context of Cuba’s involvement in terrorism is rarely discussed.

On May 17, 2012 the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere in the U.S. Congress’s Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing on “Cuba’s Global Network of Terrorism, Intelligence, and Warfare.” Among the experts who spoke at the hearing was Mr. Christopher Simmons, founding editor of Cuba Confidential, an online blog and source for news on Cuban espionage worldwide. He is an international authority on the Cuban Intelligence Service and retired from the Defense Intelligence Agency with over 23 years of experience as a counterintelligence officer, and played an important role in the capture of Ana Belen Montes.

It is a mistake to underestimate the Cuban intelligence services. They planned and carried out the shootdown and also arranged to shape public opinion afterwards. Defense Intelligence Agency analyst Ana Belen Montes facilitated a meeting between U.S. government officials and retired U.S. Navy admiral Eugene Carroll on February 23, 1996 to relay recent threats by the regime that provided Admiral Carroll a lot of television interview time on February 25 to place the Cuban government in a more favorable light and place the blame for the shoot down on the victims. U.S. counterintelligence officer Scott W. Carmichael in his book True Believer describes how they thought this was an “influence operation“- a covert attempt to influence public opinion. Her behavior raised questions that led to Montes being uncovered as a high ranking Cuban mole in the heart of the Pentagon in 2001.

Mr. Christopher Simmons at the 2012 hearing mentioned above explored the Cuban government’s involvement in terrorism.

Transitioning to the issue of terrorism, Havana takes a three-tier approach to its involvement in terrorism: Regime-directed, regime-supported, and finally, alliances with state sponsors. For regime-directed activities we’re looking at specifically bona fide acts of terrorism, Cuban Intelligence Service targeting of the U.S. war on terrorism, and “Active Measures.”
Moving on to regime-supported activities, this focuses on aid to any of the 40 groups the State Department currently lists as Foreign Terrorist Organizations. Cuba currently has relations with four of those groups: Hezbollah; the Basque Fatherland and Liberty also known as ETA; and two Colombian groups, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the National Liberation Army. Regarding state sponsors of terrorism, that definition is self explanatory and I’ll continue to move right along.”

Too many Cuba experts overlook that the regime in Havana and most of its leadership have been in power since 1959, and they did try to push the world to nuclear Armageddon. This spooked the Soviet Union at the time.

The Castro regime is an international player, and is not limited to taking actions in Latin America or Spain, although the dictatorship has a heavy presence in both areas, but it also operates in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. In his testimony Simmons described how Cuba sought to undermine U.S. efforts in the war on terror following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the American homeland.

“Moving on to post-9/11, Cuba flooded U.S. Embassies with walk-ins claiming to provide intelligence on the terrorism threat. Of the normal 12 walk-ins we expect from the Cubans every year in the first 6 months they sent in almost 20 walk-ins to tie up U.S. resources. This is a 330 percent increase in  the normal activities.”

This hatred for Americans by the Castro regime hierarchy translates to the death of Americans in Iraq and Central America, and Simmons in his testimony explains how they achieve their aims.

“Transitioning to the Cuban intelligence targeting of U.S. operations in Iraq. In late 2002 through early 2003, Havana provided the Iraqi intelligence with information on U.S. troop movements and associated military activities. Cuba’s high-risk adventurism in this endeavor occurred on the heels of the revelations of the American traitor Ana Belen Montes‘ espionage including her efforts to kill U.S. and host nations’ soldiers during the secret war against leftist guerrillas in El Salvador.”

Consider for a moment that the intelligence they gathered from their networks in the United States obtained information on U.S. operations in Afghanistan that ended up with Al Qaeda.

“From April 2006 into the weeks leading up to the death of Osama bin Laden, Cuba’s mission Embassy in Pakistan was led by one of their premiere experts in the targeting of the United States.  This officer who was thrown out of the United States for espionage is known as Gustavo Ricardo Machin.  It is believed that Machin advised the Pakistani Government and their intelligence services using information supplied via Havana, the massive SIGINT and HUMINT capability we talked about earlier and provided much needed context to the Pakistanis to help them take their own operations against U.S. counterterrorism missions. It is important to understand when talking about Cuba’s collaboration with Pakistan is that the massive penetration of Pakistan’s directorate for intelligence services also makes it almost a certainty that al-Qaeda received information from the Cubans via the Pakistani Government.”

Simmons ended his presentation outlining and summarizing the high profile act of state terrorism that killed four Cuban Americans in an operation conducted on orders from highest levels of the Castro regime.

“Last, but not least, of the highlighted issues, I’d like to address Operation Scorpion which was addressed earlier as a shootdown of Brothers to the Rescue. While this mission on February 24, 1996 predates the other information I discussed, it is important because this act of terrorism involves highest levels of the Castro regime. On February 24, 1996, Cuban MiGs shot down two U.S. search and rescue aircraft in international waters. Code named Operation Scorpion, it was led by General Eduardo Delgado Rodriguez, the current head of Cuban intelligence. It was personally approved by Fidel Castro and supported by Raul Castro, the current President of Cuba. Four Americans were murdered in this act of terrorism.”

In 2013 the Obama Administration began secret negotiations with the Castro regime, and on December 17, 2014 went public and released the remaining WASP network spies, including Gerardo Hernandez who was serving a double life sentence for espionage and murder conspiracy for the killings of Armando Alejandre, Carlos Costa, Mario de la Peña and Pablo Morales in the above mentioned attack.

The Castro regime’s behavior did not change during the Obama Presidency.

According to Daily Mail in  a January 9, 2012  article, Cuban, Iranian and Venezuelan diplomats met in Mexico to discuss cyber attacks and allegedly sought information about servers in nuclear power plants in the United States.

In July 2013, Cuban officials were caught trying to smuggle warplanes, missiles, and technology related to ballistic missile programs hidden under 220,000 bags of sugar to North Korea and lied about it. This was in violation of international U.N. sanctions.

In January 2016, The Wall Street Journal broke the story that in 2014 an inert US Hellfire missile sent to Europe for a training exercise was wrongly shipped on to Cuba. The United States had been asking the Cuban dictatorship to return the missile but it had not done so. It was only after the story broke that a short time later the Hellfire missile was returned.

On February 13, 2016 Vice News reported that in 2011 Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had been warned that the Iranian-linked Islamist terrorist group Hezbollah was setting up an operational base in Cuba to carry out attacks in Latin America that might also involve attacks on American diplomatic posts or banks there.

The State Department knew that beginning in November 2016 American diplomats in Havana were suffering brain injuries, but didn’t make it public until August 9, 2017 when CBS News broke the story. This was done, in part, to maintain the illusion that detente was working.

On January 2, 2017 Cuban troops marched in a parade over which Raul Castro presided, chanting that they would repeatedly shoot President Barack Obama in the head so many times that they would make a “hat out of bullets to the head.”

Cuba repeatedly refused Colombia’s requests to extradite ten ELN leaders living in Havana after the group claimed responsibility for the January 2019 bombing of a Bogota police academy that killed 22 people and injured more than 87 others. It is important to remember that the Castro regime trained, armed, and supported this movement and many others like it for decades, and now provides them safe haven in the island.

The question to ask is not why Cuba is on the terror sponsor list, but why it was ever taken off.

Reuters, March 9, 2021

Biden reviewing Trump’s listing of Cuba as terrorism sponsor: White House

By Reuters Staff

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden’s administration is reviewing former President Donald Trump’s last-minute decision to designate Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism but a broader Cuba policy shift is not currently among Biden’s top priorities, the White House said on Tuesday.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the administration is in no rush for major gestures toward Communist-ruled Cuba, despite hopes for a softer approach after Trump rolled back historic Obama-era détente with Havana.

Her remarks provided public confirmation of comments made last week by a senior White House official who told Reuters on condition of anonymity that Cuba policy was not among the top issues that Biden was focused on for now.

“A Cuba policy shift is currently not among President Biden’s priorities,” Psaki told reporters at a daily briefing.

“But we are committed to making human rights a core pillar of our U.S. policy and we are carefully reviewing policy decisions made in the prior administration, including the decision to designate Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism,” she said.

Nine days before Trump left office, his administration announced on Jan. 11 it was returning Cuba to that particular U.S. list, citing its harboring of American fugitives and Colombian rebel leaders and security support for socialist Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

Trump’s move was a further reversal of rapprochement that former President Barack Obama, under whom Biden served as vice president, orchestrated between the old Cold War foes.

Critics said Trump’s decision was highly politicized and not supported by evidence. Trump’s hardline policy was popular among the large Cuban-American population in south Florida, helping him win the state in November though he lost the election.

Eighty U.S. House of Representatives Democrats urged Biden in a March 3 letter to repeal Trump’s “cruel” sanctions on Cuba and renew engagement.

Psaki said one of the guiding principles for Cuba policy would be support for democracy and human rights. She also said “Americans, especially Cuban Americans, are the best ambassadors for freedom and prosperity in Cuba.”

Biden’s advisers previously suggested he could start by loosening up remittances from Cuban Americans and easing restrictions on family travel. But the White House has indicated that such steps may not be coming anytime soon.

From the Archives

Newsweek, February 27, 2016


Why Are Castro’s Worst Crimes Being Erased?

By John Suarez

A picture of former Cuban President Fidel Castro is seen inside a private shop under refurbishment in Havana, February 24. Reuters

A picture of former Cuban President Fidel Castro is seen inside a private shop under refurbishment in Havana, February 24. Reuters

Even before President Barack Obama’s trip to Cuba next month, his administration has looked to rewrite the history of the Castros’ worst crimes. An example of this was in 2014, when the Obama administration commuted the double life sentence of Gerardo Hernández.

Hernández had been in jail for conspiracy to commit murder through his actions related to the 1996 downing of aircraft owned by the anti-Castro nonprofit “Brothers to the Rescue.” Brothers to Rescue is a Miami based organization, formed by Cuban exiles, which advocates against the Castro dictatorship.

The atrocities took place in 1996, when two Brothers to the Rescue planes were shot down by Cuban jets over international airspace, killing four. Two more Cuban fighters chased a third Brothers to the Rescue plane to within three minutes of downtown Key West, but failed to shoot it down.

This plane returned and provided critical information on what had occurred. If it had been shot down, the Cuban government had a cover story in place to justify the shoot-down.

In order to carry out the attack, the Castro regime had a spy, who had infiltrated Brothers to the Rescue, initially pose as a survivor in Cuba to confirm the regime’s story. But this story imploded when the third plane made it back to Florida.

The objective of the Castro Regime was to destroy relief organization while at the same time taking attention away from a crackdown on a national opposition gathering in Cuba.

This was happening in the midst of a warming relationship that started in 1994, between the Clinton administration and Castro that included secret joint military exercises.

Hernández was set free by the Obama administration and was returned to Cuba the same day his sentence was commuted. Two days later, on December 19 2014, Obama sought to rewrite the history of the incident, stating in a press conference that “[i]t was a tragic circumstance that ended up collapsing talks that had begun to take place.”

Historical and legal records demonstrate that Obama is wrong.

The Cuban dictatorship planned the attack by using its spy networks in the U.S. to obtain information , which allowed the Castros to carry out this act of state terrorism while also carrying out an influence operation to blame the victims in the media coverage.

On November 14 1997, U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King found Cuba guilty in civil court of planning the shoot down before the actual attack, and noted that there had been ample time to issue warnings to the Brothers to the Rescue aircraft.

A jury in criminal court presided by U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard on June 10 2001 found Cuban spy Gerardo Hernández guilty of conspiracy to commit murder because of his role in providing information to the Cuban government on the flight plans of Brothers to the Rescue.

On August 21, 2003, a U.S. grand jury indicted the two fighter pilots and their commanding general on murder charges for the 1996 shoot-down. Indictments were returned against General Rúben Martínez Puente, who at the time headed the Cuban Air Force, and fighter pilots Lorenzo Alberto Pérez-Pérez and Francisco Pérez-Pérez.

The defendants were charged with four counts of murder, one count of conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals and two counts of destruction of aircraft. They are still at large.

There has been a lack of political will on behalf of the White House to pursue justice in the premeditated murders of these four men, but the indictments remain open.

Family members of the four killed (Carlos Costa, Pablo Morales, Mario De La Peña and Armando Alejandre) have pursued and will continue to pursue justice and have concrete results for their efforts. Unfortunately, they face an Obama administration that is trying to downplay the actions of the hostile Cuban government.

John Suarez is a human rights activist with the Cuban Democratic Directorate.


Washington, D.C.

Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs

July 30, 2003

Cuba: Espionage

The Castro regime has long targeted the United States for intensive espionage activities. Castro himself told CNN in an interview in 1998:

 “Yes, we have sometimes dispatched Cuban citizens to the United States to infiltrate counter-revolutionary organizations, to inform us about activities that are of great interest to us. I think we have a right to do this.”

       — Ana Montes, a Defense Intelligence Agency analyst, confessed to spying for Cuba for 16 years (from 1985 to the time of her arrest on September 21, 2001). Among other highly damaging actions, she gave the Cuban Government the names of four U.S. covert intelligence officers working in Cuba and gathered writings, documents, and materials for unlawful delivery to the Government of Cuba.

     — Seven Cuban spies, the so-called Wasp Network, were convicted of or confessed to espionage or related crimes in June and September 2001. The group sought to infiltrate U.S. Southern Command headquarters. One was convicted for delivering a message to the  Cuban Government that contributed to the death of four fliers from Brothers to the Rescue who were shot down in 1996 by Cuban MiGs in international airspace.

     — An INS official, provided information in 2000 in a sting operation, thereafter passed the information to a business associate with ties to Cuban intelligence. As a corollary to this case, two Cuban diplomats were expelled from the United States for espionage activities.

     — Over a 15-year period from 1983 to 1998, 15 members of the Cuban mission to the United Nations were expelled for espionage activities, including three who were handlers for the Wasp Network in 1998.

   — Cuban spies have also found considerable success penetrating U.S.-based exile groups. A notable example is that of Juan Pablo Roque, a former MiG-23 pilot who defected to the United States in 1992, became a paid source for the FBI, and joined the ranks of the Brothers to the Rescue (BTTR). He re-defected back to Cuba just days after the early 1996 BTTR shoot down, denouncing the exile group on Cuban television and accusing it of planning terrorist attacks against Cuba and Castro.

    — A similar example involves the case of Jose Rafael Fernandez Brenes, who jumped ship from a Cuban merchant vessel in 1988. From 1988-1991, he helped establish and run the U.S. Government-financed TV Marti, whose signal was jammed from its inception in March 1990, due in part to frequency and technical data provided by Fernandez Brenes.