December 30, 2018

Mariana, María and Antonio Maceo

[What follows is a fictional account of one of the greatest chapters in Cuban history. It was created for a writing class at the California Institute of Integral Studies about ten years ago. Although it is a true story, some of the facts have been pulled out of thin air. Essentially that’s all that the Cuban rebels had in the mid-19th century. All dates given are as accurate as history allows.]

In his battles against the Spanish Empire, Cuban leader Antonio Maceo suffered 24 battle wounds, some of them nearly fatal. But this is not a story about him, although he features prominently in it. This is the story of how his mother, Mariana Grajales, and his wife, María Cabrales saved his life repeatedly during the Ten-Year War (1868-78).
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When María Josefa Eufemia Cabrales
y Fernández was born in San Luis, Oriente Province (March 20, 1842) the idea of a free Cuba was growing quietly among the black and white people of Oriente Province.
The following year Marcos Maceo and Mariana Grajales y Cuello entered into a common law marriage. Their first son, Antonio, was born two years later.
The Maceo family ran a couple of farms and generally stayed out of the way of politics and controversies. But Antonio had a natural curiosity and an easy ability with people, and there was no way to escape fate.
On February 16, 1866, just less than two years before Cuba’s first war for independence began, Antonio Maceo married María Cabrales. They moved into a house in the Maceo family farm (La Esperanza), and their first daughter was born in November of that year.
Like many free black Cubans, the Maceo family lived what we’d now call a multi-racial existence, with black and white friends and the bonds that came from opposing the Spanish Empire and dreaming of a free Cuba, where Cubans could decide their fate and finally eliminate the imposed racism of an aging empire.
The war began with the Grito de Yara (Cry of Yara – on October 10 1868), in which Carlos Manuel de Céspedes and other landowners in Oriente Province freed their slaves and declared their freedom from Spain.
The first clash with Spanish troops came two days later, at Yara. The rebels were victorious, and that night they had dinner at the Maceo home in Mujabuabo. The family was all there, including María and her newborn daughter, Maceo’s mother (Mariana Grajales) and father (Marcos), five brothers, two sisters and various children.  
Before most of the Maceo men left with the rebels to fight for Cuban independence, Mariana spoke; “Everyone, parents and children, kneel before Christ, the first liberal man who came to the world, and swear to free the country or die for her.”
In A History of Cuba and its relations with The United States, Volume 2, historian Philip S. Foner wrote: “Indeed, as a passionate patriot and foe of the Spaniards, this Negro woman, Mariana Grajales, one of the outstanding women in Cuba’s revolutionary history, swayed her entire family to the cause of independence.”
As the rebels rode away, Mariana looked at her daughter in law María, who held her newborn baby as her husband faded into the distance with the other black and white Cubans. The women shared a sad look. “I’m not as tough as her,” thought María.
The Spanish Captain General (a combined military/civil title for the ultimate ruler of the country in the absence of the Spanish king or queen) was surprised that the Cubans were able to put up such a good fight.
The Cubans were unstoppable, even with limited weapons, untrained soldiers and a largely inexperienced leadership. Once the rebels began to distinguish themselves, the Captain General began to pay close attention to the insurrection.
One man in particular had begun to stand out on the battlefield because of his courage, intelligence, and knowledge of the terrain. As a result, Antonio Maceo’s family had to leave their property and join the war effort. The youngest brother, Rafael, became the first casualty. He was captured and quickly executed.
María and Mariana soon found themselves in the roles of impromptu nurses and doctors and all around medical troubleshooters in the battlefield. As soon as the rebels could assemble a hospital, both women were among the most principal members.
Mariana stood apart as being particularly tough and solid, and María maintained as best she could, holding in her emotions and getting the job done.
On May 22, 1869, Antonio Maceo received his first of 24 wounds. María and Mariana were surprised to see him, but they nursed him back to health and he returned to action within a week. Maceo and Maria’s two daughters died a few weeks later of cholera. The long war was just beginning.
The Maceo brothers received their share of wounds during the first five years of the war, and many would joke that Antonio’s heroism was due to the fact that he could spend time with his wife when wounded. It wasn’t a particularly good joke.
One rainy afternoon there were many more wounded and dying coming in to the makeshift hospital than they could care for. One of the young wives could not easily accept her role as nurse. “He was just alive,” she cried. “He was just alive…” Frozen from the sight of a dead young man in front of her, another woman cried that she knew the deceased.
María approached the group. “This one’s already dead. That one needs your help, now.” The woman hesitates. “I know this man… I know this man…”  She’s frozen. Mariana steps in. “There’s no time for tears here. If you skirts can’t handle it get out and let the rest of us do our jobs.” She turned towards her daughter in law María, who was already attending to the wounded soldier. “That’s my girl,” she thought secretly.
The war got rougher, and many rebels died. The hospital had to be moved frequently, as the Spanish Empire was not about to easily let go of her one remaining foothold in the new world.
María and Mariana were proudest of their men when they were freeing slaves.  They heard the stories from the wounded soldiers they helped heal.
Being a free slave in Cuba wasn’t an easy life. Their choices were to join the rebels in battle, or to run and hide in the hills. Many slaves had never held a weapon in their hands before. Many of the women served in hospitals, others were runners, or carriers, able to blend into a city or town, bring or pick up rebel news, and move on. Those who were captured in this capacity were tortured, raped and killed.
The war didn’t get any easier for María, who felt that she could not handle things as well as her tough mother in law.  But everyone else seemed to think that she handled things well enough. She could be counted on to do the things that today a trained and well-equipped professional would do. And the few times when she had to pick up a rifle and fight for her wounded, she did that too, quite well.
It is said that on more than one occasion the women treated the very Spanish soldiers they had fired at in battle.
But it was Mariana’s name that was becoming legendary, although few outside the rebel circles could identify her. She was often described as the mother of the bravest soldiers the island had yet produced.
After her husband (Marcos Maceo) was killed in battle (his dying words to his son Antonio were: “I hope I’ve been good to Mariana…”) her bravery and devotion became legendary.  Historian Philip Foner, in his book, Antonio Maceo, describes the scene of Marcos’ funeral; "Mariana Grajales, living incarnation of Cuban patriotism, cried out to the youngest of her sons, still a little boy: 'and you, stand up tall; it is already time that you should fight for your country.'"
On August 6, 1877, Antonio Maceo received his most serious wound in the war so far. His close friend and doctor, Félix Figueredo, did not expect him to survive. General Gómez asked for volunteers to take care of Maceo. Antonio’s brother, José, and Dr. Figueredo were the first to volunteer, and soon they picked about a dozen others from a much larger share of volunteers. Their mission was to move Maceo to safety and guard him during the recovery period.  The first task was to stabilize him on a stretcher and move him away from the battle.
Within a few days, María joined the small band of rebels, and at about that time pursuit from the Spaniards began.
The word had spread among the Spanish troops that Maceo had been killed in battle. But eventually they learned from a re-captured slave that he was being treated in the hills. The Captain General ordered that Maceo’s death was the highest priority, and his capture, if possible, would be the second priority.
A frantic search began, with Spanish troops forming small bands of soldiers that could move easily through the hills and mountainous terrain of Oriente Province. They were so close during those hot days of mid-August that the rebels were unable to start fires for cooking, and could not trust anyone they met, as Spanish spies had been promised gold and other rewards for Maceo’s death.
On various occasions María and Chucha, an ex-slave who had known the Maceos since before the war, had to carry Maceo’s stretcher while José and Felix fought off the enemy hand to hand, preventing them from firing the weapons that would warn others.  Sometimes bullets would whiz by, and other times the hand-to-hand combat came close enough to touch.
On August 13 Dr. Figueredo wrote to General Gómez that in spite of his earlier estimate that Maceo could not survive, he now appeared to be out of serious danger. That was a completely medical assessment, not a military one.
The Spaniards were closing in, even as the rebels went deeper into the woods, or higher into the mountains. “We could hear them breathing,” wrote Figueredo. Maceo was still on a stretcher, and had to be carefully moved by two people, generally María and one of the other freed slaves.
On one sunny morning Chucha gave everyone a hug, said goodbye and left the camp. It didn’t take long before a Spanish guard stopped her. She pretended to have been frightened by the rebels and gave false information which would lead them away. It was a dangerous move; if the Spaniards had not believed her, they may have killed her on the spot, or they might have brought her with them to make sure she was telling the truth. She was lucky, and they let her go.
They must have believed her, because for the next few days the rebels were able to enjoy the kind of peace and quiet, they hadn’t seen in a while. Some of the locals brought them cooked meat, bread and beans, and news that Captain General Martínez Campos himself had ordered a column of 3,000 men to surround the area. They wouldn’t be able to stay there much longer. The locals promised not to disclose Maceo’s location.
María cried in secret. There was no way they could outdistance a mobile army of 3,000 men.
The siege began within a week, and for a two-week period the chase was relentless, as a small group of soldiers that included 2 women (María and an ex-slave girl liberated by Maceo) fought a running battle that almost devastated them. Some historians, Foner included, have referred to this as one of the greatest moments in Cuban history.
At the end of this period, it was María and the ex-slave girl who suggested a Cuban version of the “Kansas City Shuffle.” Dressed in the rags of slave women, they ran towards the Spanish forces and warned them of “wild rebels” in the area. They described larger forces than were actually there and suggested a direction they might take.  This was a similar “story” to what Chucha had done a few weeks earlier, but the troops were different. The women were escorted off the hills to the edge of town and released.
On September 27, less than two months after receiving his terrible wounds, Maceo was able to mount his horse (Guajamón) and gallop away in a "cloud of dust and smoke."
Three days later he was safe in San Miguel with María, Marianna, his brother, and other members of his escort. It was one of the few dinners they were able to have together in about a decade.

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November 14, 2018

Master-Blaster Runs Bartertown

Sometimes I see Cuban history everywhere I look. Lately I’m also finding present-day gloom-and-doom in the sci-fi films of the past.
In Road Warrior, Beyond Thunderdome (1985), the third installment in the Road Warrior Film Series and the least popular of the four, a two-person-bad-guy known as Master-Blaster calls for an energy embargo on Bartertown. Blaster turns a lever and the electricity stops running, sending the town into instant darkness.

Master is the brain of Underworld, an underground energy plant that harnesses methane gas from pig shit and converts it into the town’s electricity. Blaster is the body; a muscle-bound monstrosity “driven around” by Master, a short, disfigured man of unusual intelligence and unlimited cruelty. Together they’re undeniably powerful and inhumane, somewhat like a ruthless President with puppet-like control over a wimpy Congress.
Master wants everyone in Bartertown to know that HE’S in charge, that HE’S smarter than everyone and, with Blaster at his command, stronger. Together they symbolize the high cost of rebuilding a civilization that’s already been destroyed once by human conflict.
Who Runs Bartertown?
When Tina Turner’s Aunty Entity is forced to admit over loudspeakers that “Master-Blaster runs Bartertown,” Master is pleased.
What there is of civilization returns to the dusty dessert town only after Master chooses to lift the embargo. And that’s all it takes to soothe a madman and the monster he controls; acknowledge his grandness. Bow to his authority. Let him know he’s “the best.”  If only for the moment.
Master’s reason for making Entity grovel in public is to show Max that he must follow orders or Blaster will crush him with total impunity; Max is told to disable the explosive device in the vehicle stolen from him, now in Master’s possession.
Max is new in town, but he soon realizes that Master-Blaster runs Bartertown the same way Trump runs Congress and the same way that past U.S. Presidents used to run Cuba. They do what they want. They don’t understand the meaning of “no.”
Aunty Entity knows that without the big Blaster, the small Master would be easy to control. And it just so happens that Max could use a job.
The dice… are rolling!
For those of us that pay attention to the news, those that vote and those that refuse to, the dice ARE rolling right now. We can see it in the many distractions and political side-tracking… The pig-killer serving a life-sentence in Bartertown’s energy-producing pig farm recognizes this in Max; the dice are rolling.
After Max refuses to kill Blaster in Thunderdome, the power of Aunty Entity and her supporters turns against him.  Deep down they’re just as brutal as Master-Blaster but subtler and more resourceful, and they can’t allow Blaster to live another day.
Now Max must face their impartial wheel of justice.
Bust the Deal, Face the Wheel
It’s almost as if writers Terry Hayes and George Miller channeled a future President’s divisive slogans and simplistic legalisms… if it works in 2018 to control the masses, why wouldn’t it work in a post-apocalyptic world ruled by an ex-hooker?  Will a near-future Supreme Court approve of a Bartertown-style wheel of justice for enemies of King Trump?
After the wheel condemns Max to “Gulag” he’s fortunate to find himself in Cuba… I mean he’s fortunate to be discovered dying in the vast dessert by a community of idealistic children bound by hopeful dreams of peace and survival.
In Bartertown, immigration priorities were articulated early on by The Collector: “People come here to trade, make a little profit, do a little business. If you have nothing to trade, you’ve got no business in Bartertown.” They could have been spoken by Jeff Sessions around the time of the border-child heists of 2018.
The young Cubans, however (I don’t know what else to call these children of the desert) share whatever vaccines and locally-grown veggies they have on hand and nurse Max back to health. He doesn’t realize immediately that this is what he’s been looking for since he lost his family in the first movie; a reason to live… something to care about.
These young Cubans may not have a record-player on which to play their one record, but they have a caring and nurturing culture that Bartertown could learn a thing or two from.  They think that Max is their Fidel Castro… or, as they call him, Captain Walker.
Max tries to explain that he’s not their Captain Walker. But maybe, in the end, it will turn out that he is.
If only we could find our Captain Walker (John Kerry? Elizabeth Warren? Joe Bidon? Person to be named later?) before our country becomes the Bartertown it’s headed for… If only our Captain Walker could pop his head out of the fog and say to us; “don’t worry, young Americans, I’m here!”
Learn More About Bartertown

March 27, 2018

FrankenBolton, Man of Action

John Bolton was played by the Son of Frankenstein. 

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March 21, 2018

John Bolton is Back - Be Very Afraid

On May 6, 2002, less than a year after 9/11, Undersecretary of State John Bolton embarked on a campaign that claimed Cuba was developing “bio-weapons” to use against the U.S.  
In the same speech, at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, he linked Cuba to countries such as Libya, Syria, Iraq, Iran and North Korea, and suggested a cooperative relationship between them. He offered no additional details about the types of weapons in question or timeline.
This was, of course, a giant lie with no basis in fact. No documents or photographs, or reports of any kind. The latest State Department report on global terrorism, issued the previous week, included 47 lines of text on Cuba, out of 177 pages. The section on Cuba did not include one word about bio-weapons or biological warfare.
Bolton just pulled the idea right out of his ass and threw it in the wind.
At the time, many feared that President G.W. Bush was about to take a more accommodating stance towards Cuba, and ex-President Jimmy Carter was about to embark on a historic visit (May 12-17) to the island. The first visit by a U.S. President since 1959.
For what seemed like long weeks, Bolton kept pushing the idea of Cuba’s collusion (my word) with other terrorist-friendly states against the U.S.
When members of the State Department refused to sign off on Bolton’s statements, he went after them personally and fiercely, which had not been the norm at the time and created an “unsafe” work environment. But he persisted in repeating and expanding the statement.
Eventually, President G.W. Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell ordered him (several times) to stop making those unprovable statements about Cuba.
I can imagine G.W. on the phone: “Shut up, Bolton. Just shut up! You’re embarrassing us! Everyone knows you’re lying for God’s sake! There is no evidence OR suspicion. You don’t know how to do this. You should just let our Cubans and the CIA handle this sort of thing. They’re good at it. Been doing it since Bay of Pigs…” Maybe it’s Josh Brolin I’m imagining.
The main goal of the anti-movement continues to be a “rear-guard action” against the possibility of dialogue between the two countries. Dialogue is a frightening thing to a hate movement. It can lead to clarification and understanding and the discovery of common ground.
This was simply Bolton playing a “terror card” against Cuba. No truth required.
The recent “sonic attacks” seem like another timely maneuver. The State Department has issued a travel warning even though no tourist has ever been harmed and Cuba is still considered one of the safest places in the world for Americans to visit.
Prior to the Cuba statements, Bolton was “certain” that Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction” even after it was proved that they didn’t have any. It was later reported that he had more than a willing hand in our misunderstanding of collected evidence.
And yet on May of 2005, President G.W. Bush nominated Bolton for U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., but a Republican-majority Senate refused to confirm him, TWICE! (2005 & 2006)
At the 2nd hearing, high-ranking State Department officials testified about Bolton’s abusive behavior and his insistence that they support his point of view regardless of the facts. An open letter from a contractor claimed aggressive and sexually insulting behavior. When she was brought before Congress for an interview, she said Bolton even insulted her weight.
Still, days after Congress adjourned for the summer in 2006, G.W. appointed him to the job regardless of Congressional approval. A bold Trumpian move from Jeb’s little brother, a man that can no longer be identified as the worst U.S. President of modern times.  
Way back in 1994, Bolton showed us his true ideology; he joked about knocking down the top 10 floors of the 39-floor UN building, claiming that it wouldn’t make “a bit of difference.” In the same speech he said, “There’s no such thing as the United Nations, just an international community that occasionally can be led by the only real power left in the world, and that is the United States.”
Imperial enough for the U.S. of Trump?

And now he’s back, folks. And he may be our next National Security Adviser. Imagine the options he’ll present to the President.
Is there a better fit for the Trump White House? Aside from the fact that Trump is on record as disapproving of Bolton’s gentlemanly moustache, (warning: That was not a joke.) they appear to have much in common.
Trump, Bolton and the anti-Castro movement make an ideal threesome; they improvise their facts when existing ones don’t support their plans. They invent willful lies with no shame. And all easily resort to abusive verbal insults:
·       Bolton called the State Department analyst that would not sign off on his claims a “Munchkin” and tried to get him transferred.
·       Anti-Castroistas still call everyone that disagrees with them a variation of communist. Consider the may words used constantly to describe Castro: despot, tyrant, etc.
·       Trump is the undisputed insult King, with classics such as Little Marco, Crazy Bernie, Mr. Magoo, Lying Ted, Crooked Hillary, Low Energy Jeb, Crazy Jim Acosta, Crazy Megyn, Psycho Joe, Little Rocket Man… Here’s a Wikipedia page that lists most the President’s nicknames for his opponents: ( ).

After leaving the Bush administration in December 2006, there was no place in politics for Bolton. I still recall that Bill Maher was kind to him (May 29, 2009 –Unfortunately I couldn’t find the show on Bill Maher’s You Tube page). Eventually he started showing up regularly on FOX News as a commentator, where he’s advocated a military first strike against North Korea.
Much like President Trump, Bolton is an old-fashion male. He enlisted in the Maryland National Guard in 1970 (to avoid going to the war in Viet Nam) but has always supported wars as a way to solve problems and further his agenda. Especially wars against non-whites.
In a COMMENTARY for the Wall Street Journal (February 28, 2008) Bolton wrote, “It is perfectly legitimate for the United states to respond to the current ‘necessity’ posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons by striking first.”
In December 2013, he suggested on FOX News that Edward Snowden “should swing from a tall Oak tree…”
In a New York Times editorial (March 26, 2015) Bolton said, “The inconvenient truth is that only military action… can accomplish what is required. Time is terribly short, but a strike can still succeed.”
Do you think he would support a military invasion of Cuba if it was brought before him as a possibility? Or a new massive campaign of targeted sabotage and murder?
As people with brains and conscience leave the White House at high speed, the Year of Bolton seems to be looming...
Time to be very afraid. The dark ages are crawling back, right into the digital age.


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September 14, 2017


An accountant by trade at the time of Batista’s fall, Veciana was recruited in 1959 by a man he knew as “Maurice Bishop” and ushered him into a world of espionage, sabotage and murder.
Veciana willingly embraced the anti-Castro resistance, and was “trained” into what became his new life; “I became an irresponsible risk taker,” he admits. (pg. 87)
Among the principles of espionage that he was taught (pg. 63-64):
-           Always maintain a double personality, disguising your real activity
-           Use whatever is necessary in your battle plan. Your enemy is perverse by nature and will not hesitate to use whatever means necessary against you.
-           Be bold in your objectives. Anything is possible if you plan well enough.
To become an effective secret agent, Veciana would also need to learn that “people are his tools, and his targets. They are to be used as means to his ends. If your interests align, they’re allies. If they have no interest, they’re instruments. If they oppose your interests, they’re enemies.” (pg. 72)
Bishop pushed the idea that “if you need them, you use them. You just have to find their weaknesses. Everyone has one. That’s the key.” (pg. 72) Bishop found Veciana’s weakness; a seething hate for Fidel Castro.
The world of espionage became exciting and mysterious to Veciana, even as he contemplated the potential cost to his family. “Commando teams and submarines are the stuff of Hollywood films,” Bishop said. “You need to be aware that your only shields are your own intelligence and your ability to deceive.” (pg. 75)
“Bishop had told me to embellish, exaggerate, outright lie if I wanted to, all for the sake of making our belligerence seem more capable, and more threatening.” (pg. 117)
Veciana’s first major success was Operation Pedro Pan, a misinformation campaign resulting in 14,000 Cuban children being sent to the U.S. for fear that “Castro” was about to remove them from their homes.  This was his first “act” and it became but one element of the larger CIA plan for the invasion (at Bay of Pigs).  
Despite his better judgement, Veciana says at age 88 that he would do this again. And yet, the following paragraph shows more conscience and humanity than you’ll see in any of his associates.
“It had not been my intention to divide families. I am sorry for those who were hurt. My goal had been only to deepen the discontent with the government, to sow more instability, and, hopefully, to create the conditions for its downfall. I succeeded in the first two; I failed in the last.” (pg. 92)
From the early days of 1960, anti-Castro “sabotage and attacks... came by ground, on the water, from the air,” writes Veciana. (pg. 93)
“Bishop contended that the fundamental purpose of a clandestine operative was to cause psychological or economic sabotage. Sometimes, that required bombs.” (pg. 93)
Many of the terrorist bombings that took place in 1960 were planned by Veciana; the bomb at the Cantabria bar, the bomb in the America Theater, in the cafeteria of the Flogar Department Store in mid-Havana, the New Year’s Eve arson fire at La Epoca, other arson fires at a tobacco warehouse, at the El Encanto department store, and more.
In true CIA fashion, Veciana planned and organized and supplied and sat back… he didn’t ever blow up anything, attempt to shoot anyone or get his hands dirty.
“I abandoned the propaganda tactics Bishop had taught me in favor of more direct, and violent, means. I was never what we in Cuba call a ‘man of action.’ Not direct action, anyway. I remained behind the scenes, using my administrative skills to organize and plan these violent disruptions. I built small cells of resistance fighters and discovered a talent for strategizing I never knew I had. (pg. 94)
“I became a terrorist.” (pg. 94)
After an aborted attempt on Castro’s life (with a bazooka) Veciana relocated to Florida in October, 1961. Sometime later he was instructed by Bishop to organize a new effort, so Veciana founded Alpha 66 with Eloy Gutiérrez Menoyo, “one of the bravest men I have ever known, a simple, soft-spoken man who let his actions speak more loudly than any words ever could.” (pg. 110) This was one of the first anti-Castro para-military groups. They operated with varying degrees of CIA support (& funding) and the FBI looking the other way through the rest of the 1960s. Their operations included sabotage, terrorism, assassination attempts and violent intimidation of Castro sympathizers.
People were organized. Plans were made. Weapons were procured. Shots were fired. People died. People were wounded. Things burned. Stories were told. Ships full of men made their way in the dark, and so on. But in the real world, the Cuban government was never more than annoyed by Alpha 66. Eventually Menoyo “invaded” Cuba, got caught right away and went to jail for 20 years.
Veciana continued his work as an anti-Castro operative for Bishop, this time in Puerto Rico, spying on groups that sought independence for their island. These groups were always blamed on Castro. Veciana was happy in San Juan. He ran a successful business and made good money.
Then, suddenly, Bishop shows up to warn him that he’s been found out. A bomb explodes and Veciana survives unhurt, but the attempt is blamed on pro-independence Puerto Ricans supplied and trained by Castro.
After Puerto Rico, Veciana is left with little choice but to accept Bishop’s offer of a job as an USAID advisor to Bolivia’s Central Bank. His task includes killing “the myth of El Che. Or at least to stop it from growing.” (pg. 138) He was not successful at this.
“USAID is just a front for the CIA. It put people like me in positions where they had a good reason to be asking a lot of questions, learning a lot about the internal workings of foreign governments and corporations, and developing valuable connections.” (pg. 137)
When the Cuban government announced that Castro would visit Chile, Bishop saw another opportunity to eliminate the tiresome dictator.  “It would be a chance to redeem myself,” wrote Veciana. “I had carried the shame for my failure for so long.” (pg. 158) In case you’re wondering, the “shame” he refers to is not being able to kill Castro.
Bishop insisted that “it” must be blamed on exiles, not the CIA. “It was important to recruit Cubans, and not just to give the CIA its plausible deniability. Exiles had the motive. Their hearts would be in it. That, I believe, was vital. They would be willing to commit. I wanted dedicated men, not mercenaries.” (pg. 160)
Bishop “was talking about something that subsequently turned out to be an all-too-common practice for the agency, ‘plausible deniability.’ It also sounded extremely similar to the kind of thinking that had led to the Bay of Pigs disaster.” (pg. 113)
They would try to kill Castro during a press conference. It wasn’t difficult to surmise this would be a suicide mission.
“The weapon of choice had to be small enough to fit inside a fully operational television camera, to remain hidden until the assassins were close enough, and to fire one or more shots, point blank, into Fidel’s throat and head.” (pg. 153)
Veciana became obsessed with this to the point where he put his family at risk.    
“My desire to kill Castro had consumed me. I was willing even to risk my children for that one purpose.” (pg. 154) The long drive he took with his family from Bolivia to Chile, with weapons hidden in the car, was meant to be a vacation. “This was the path to my future, the way to clear my past—the way to rid the world of Fidel Castro.” (pg.154)
While recruiting Alpha 66/Bay of Pigs alumni for the job in Chile, the fact that someone would have to trade their life for Castro’s becomes a factor (again). Veciana is told that “I have children. I have responsibilities. I can’t just go and give my life, no matter what it would accomplish.” (pg.161) But he keeps looking, never offering his own life in trade for Castro’s.
The two men chosen for the task, from El Poder Cubano, eventually find a last-minute way out. Castro’s safe, again, which angers Veciana and Bishop, and this is where they part ways; Bishop orders the murder of the 2 hitmen that aborted the Castro assassination.
“Kill them,” he said. “Make examples of them.” (pg. 173)
But Veciana refused.  “No,” I said. “I won’t. I don’t have the arrogance to order a man’s death when I stood at a safe distance, nowhere near the danger he faced.” (pg. 174)
 “I didn’t know it then, but that was the end for Bishop and me.” (pg. 174) (They did meet a few more times.) Within a few months his work in Bolivia ended, and he returned to Miami.
No longer having Bishop as a resource/instigator did not dissuade Veciana from pursuing his independent efforts against Castro. On his own, he planed an attempt against Ramiro Valdés, “one of the key figures in Castro’s government and one of the most hated among exiles.” (pg. 176). 
This ended in disaster when Veciana’s hitman, Juan Felipe de la Cruz, accidentally blew himself up in his Paris hotel room.  Around that time, in Miami, Veciana was arrested on “trumped up” drug trafficking charges. He implies this was done by Bishop, and their brief meeting is less than friendly.
Eighteen years after that first Bazooka attempt to kill Castro in Havana was aborted, Veciana is ready to do it again. This time in New York City, during a visit to the United Nations.
This was known by the FBI, yet Veciana was ready to go through with it, if not for the fact that his own daughter, now a journalist, had been assigned to cover Castro’s visit and may have been near him at the time of the attempt.  
Even if willing to trade the lives of other people’s daughters, most anti-Castro Cubans would not trade the lives of their own daughters.
This marked the end of the road for Veciana’s attempts on Fidel.  


In 1976, Veciana went before the United States House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA).
HSCA was established due to public mistrust of the Warren Commission Report, but it ultimately supported the “single shooter” theory. It also clarified that Cuba or anti-Castro Cuban groups had not been involved in the JFK assassination.
 “I had testified in secret before a congressional panel. I told them about the assassination attempts against Castro and about El Che’s diary. I told them about Alpha 66 and about Oswald. And I told them how a man I knew only as Maurice Bishop had been responsible for it all.”
Veciana also testified that at a meeting, three months before JFK’s assassination, he saw “a man who looked like Bishop” talking to Lee Harvey Oswald
Veciana’s handler, Maurice Bishop turned out to be David Atlee Phillips (pictured), the CIA’s Chief of Operations for the Western Hemisphere.  His Bishop identity was known to only a few, but Veciana did not positively identify Philips as his Bishop, though head investigator Gaeton Fonzi already suspected as much.
Eventually the CIA found out about his testimony, and they were not happy about it, as this implicated the CIA in the JFK assassination. (Remember Bishop’s teaching: “If they oppose your interests, they’re enemies.”)
In September 1979, Veciana survived an attempt on his life. Four bullets were fired as he drove his truck, one entered his head, but it didn’t kill him. This was quickly blamed on… you guessed it; Castro.  
“So I kept quiet. I only said enough to let Phillips know that I remembered him introducing me to Oswald in the lobby of the Dallas office building.” (pg. 202)
After the attempt on his life, Veciana said that the man he saw with Oswald might have been somebody else. But in 2014, at a conference for the 50th Anniversary of the Warren Commission Report, he told the whole story for the first time.
In his new book, he writes that “before the House Select Committee on Assassinations finished its work, someone tried to silence me. With a bullet.”   
Not surprising to anyone familiar with the U.S.-Cuba situation, everything that Veciana did was against Castro. All the operations and actions and human tragedy… it was all against Castro. Never against the Cuban people. Bishop was convinced that eliminating Castro was the key to recovering Cuba. Veciana wanted to free Cuba.
The embargo is against Castro. Terrorism, sabotage? It’s OK if it’s against Castro.  
If a good man like Veciana can be drawn into an ideology that embraces murder as a tactic, couldn’t it happen to anyone? Such a metamorphosis is not that rare in human existence, but seems particularly frequent where our former island-colony is concerned.
And yet, Veciana embraces truths that the shrinking masses of anti-Castro supporters traditionally ignore.
He acknowledges that efforts against “Castro” have been a failure, yet he would do it again.  
He freely admits his belief that Luis Posada Carriles “was responsible for the bombing of Cubana de Aviación flight 455 and the deaths of all seventy-eight people on board…” (pg. 9) “It was a terrible thing. I would not have ordered it—all that carnage. I could not have lived with myself if it had come as a result of one of my plans.” (pg.161) Yet there’s no sign of guilt for the collective actions of his faction, or mention of efforts against Cuban-Americans that didn’t believe in a hardline approach.
Veciana recognizes that he’s been a terrorist. Most of those he associated with, Cubans and Americans, would never admit this, calling themselves “cold warriors” or “freedom fighters,” or even “patriots.”
He writes about Chilean President Salvador Guillermo Allende with seeming respect and admiration, even as he describes his own efforts against “Latin America’s first democratically elected Marxist.” (pg. 155) “More and more, I became a courier, delivering cash to Chilean officials and generals collaborating secretly with the United States.” (pg. 156)
There’s some Bin Laden type reasoning in the anti-Castro lobby that nobody wants to talk about. It goes back to the late 1950s… to men like Bishop and Dulles and Eisenhower and Nixon and that whole ideology of empire entitlement (religious entitlement’s second cousin). And it goes back to Veciana and others who suddenly felt a surge of patriotic hate against Castro and were easily manipulated to nurture that hate and turn it into an American sub-culture. And it still exists today in politicians that supported President Trump’s recent hardline turn towards the island.
Then there’s the Kennedy thing.
This is one thing that’s different about Veciana.
Veciana knows he was tricked and manipulated by Bishop (Philips). He acknowledges that the CIA plan was to “con” Kennedy to invade Cuba. But he never openly considers that the first part of Bishop’s plan was to “con” a bunch of Cuban exiles into doing the unthinkable and risking their lives so he could then “con” the President.
“The CIA’s plan, via Maurice Bishop, had always been to put the fight on Kennedy’s doorstep, to force him to take the offensive to end Cuba’s Communist government.” (pg. 112)
Kennedy wasn’t conned. He was assassinated, instead.
Veciana is the only anti-Castro Cuban I know of to express any understanding for JFK:
“I grew to have a more favorable opinion of the young president as the years went by. I began to appreciate the intensity of his efforts to ratchet down the dangers of the Cold War, to bring about the first nuclear test ban, and to lead the United States toward the loftier goals that his successor would proclaim as “The Great Society.” (pg. 119)
To this day, many Cuban-Americans continue to hold resentment towards Kennedy and the Democratic Party, not accepting that the President was conned just as they, themselves, were conned by the CIA. Part of this resentment also stems from the “deal” made between Kennedy and Khrushchev to end the Missile Crisis of 1962, in which the U.S. agreed not to invade Cuba.
 Aside from the various YouTube offerings in which Veciana appears, he’s featured in the 2007 documentary “638 Ways to Kill Castro.” He’s introduced as Cuban Security’s number one target, and is shown walking through one of his four marine stores in Miami, pointing out boating products. He recalls the “bazooka” attempt on Castro… “Nobody’s suicidal,” he says in the film. “I’m not suicidal. I don’t want to die. I have family and children. You need at least a small chance to get away.”
He also discusses the attempt to kill Castro in Chile, while on vacation with his family. “They failed because they weren’t brave enough,” Veciana says of the aborted attempt. His son, also featured in the film, says “he should have hired an Arab. Those guys are not afraid of anything. They’re willing to give their lives away if they have to.”
If it is true, as claimed by Bishop and Veciana and the anti-Castro movement through the decades, that the ends justify the means, what does it mean when 57 years later the end still hasn’t arrived to justify a half-century of terrorism, sabotage, subterfuge and murder?  
This book may help some understand why things don’t change, even why racism persists in the U.S.  
“Trained to Kill” opens a window into a world we should have outgrown long ago; a real old world of cold warriors and spies and terrorists and fanatics. It doesn’t read like an adventure, but like a drama, due to the author’s perspective and honesty, a rare quality for the subject matter. And yet the book only hints at the constant prodding by the CIA of a community hurt and separated… constantly being pushed to extremes, even against the wishes of the U.S. President.
Veciana’s inconsistent moral framework, and his acceptance of generalities required of a terrorist, provides a refreshing look at a turbulent time in our history.  
Would defeating Castro through murder and terrorism have made a better Cuba? Or has the idea just contributed to the dark turn in American politics and culture?
“Antonio Veciana has finally unburdened himself of the secrets of his life,” writes David Talbot in the foreword. Perhaps that’s a good place for the rest of us to start.

You Tube
Antonio Veciana Interview:
David Atlee Philips AKA Maurice Bishop:
Gaeton Fonzi on David Atlee Phillips:
1977 Mark Lane VS CIA David Atlee Phillips debate, Part 1 of 2:
1977 Mark Lane VS CIA David Atlee Phillips debate, Part 2 of 2:

 638 Ways to Kill Castro 

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September 05, 2017

Elián on CNN

I wasn’t surprised by last week’s new CNN Films’ documentary Elián, which looks at the saga of Elián Gonzalez.

To refresh your memory; just before G.W. Bush’s first historic and trend-setting Presidential election, Elián was found at sea tied to an inner-tube by two American fishermen 3 miles off the coast of Florida. He was turned over to his American family, who refused to hand him back to his father in Cuba. Eventually he was removed at gunpoint by federal agents and returned to his father.  The dispute became a Presidential campaign issue that may have cost Al Gore the election.
At the time, Elián became a revealing showcase for the painful conflict that exists within Cuban-American families and is constantly fueled by our approach to relations with Cuba.
The CNN documentary doesn’t take long to embrace a (mostly) Miami-Cuban point of view. A few minutes into it we’re given a stilted history of U.S.-Cuba relations as a background to Elián’s journey across the Florida Straits. Facts are glossed over as if we’re sitting in a neighborhood bar on Calle Ocho, where even a sudden rainstorm can be blamed on Castro.
Surprisingly, the narrative does mention the hardliner violence and terrorism of the 1960s and ‘70s—by Cubans of one mind (hardline-anti-Castro) to Cubans of a different mind (peaceful relations with Cuba)—which was surprising to see reported at all. And that brief mention may be where any attempt at historical accuracy within this documentary ends.
After all, “Castro confiscated private property and nationalized American-owned oil refineries…” (apparently for no reason) which left us little choice but to swing the hammer. “With Castro drawing closer to the Soviets, the American government punished Cuba with an economic embargo, then it backed an invasion by Cuban exiles at Bay of Pigs.”
WHAT!!?? Did I hear that correctly? “Backed…??” Any mention of who planned, funded, recruited and ran every detail of the operation? Here, the documentary misses a great opportunity to show JFK’s speech in which he assumes responsibility for the invasion.   
These and similar inaccuracies are presented almost casually as background context. “This is the story of a little boy from Cuba whose mother died bringing him to freedom in the United States,” says the narrator (Raúl Esparza) at the beginning, leaving no doubt about the narrative’s point of view. (Did the ghost of Jorge Mas Canosa write the script?)
The show completely avoids discussing Elián’s mother, Elizabet Brotons Rodríguez, the woman who took a 6-year old boy into the Florida Straights without telling the boy’s father. It doesn’t mention that her boyfriend, Lázaro Munero, charged $1,000 per person to most of the passengers, or that he’d served time in a Cuban jail for burglary.  Elizabet’s true reasons and motivations have been rarely explored beyond the realm of blaming Castro, and are not addressed here at all. Her decision to bring her 6-year-old-son on such a journey is described repeatedly as “brave.”
“I survived because of my mom…” says a happy 24-year-old Elián in Cuba, and that’s about where her story ends, except for some claims to her “brave sacrifice for her son…” (I paraphrase)
What the show does well (and by accident) is showcase the cost of our political differences to Cuban families. This is the real price for Cuban independence that families are still paying to this day.
This suffering is clearly seen in Marisleysis’ face… who became attached to Elián and soon became the best case that could be made for keeping him here. Even back then, I felt sure that her feelings were of true love for the boy, not political opportunism or “finders’ keepers” ideology. The same can’t be said for most of those around her.
Since the beginning, young Elián was treated like a prize to be paraded… and you can see on his eyes how uncomfortable this was for him.  Soon his face was on posters and T-shirts, and everywhere he went the media was there.
When it became clear that Elián would be returned to his father in Cuba, the tension rose another notch. In Miami, the crowds took to the streets, stopping traffic and chanting for Elián to stay. The media circus was parked outside Elián’s door, and the police had to close the street.
 “I’m a father, and the boy should be with his father,” says a man on the street who suddenly needs protection from an angry crowd. “You don’t have a clue about what being in a free society is…” he says, “you have no respect for other people’s opinion.”  You can see members of the crowd shouting that he’s a … communist.

As tension and passion rose like a heatwave, the media blitz grew to include Diane Sawyer, The Today Show, Larry King and others. You couldn’t turn on the TV without seeing Elián.
As soon as the story went national, leaders of the anti-Castro movement descended on Elián like vultures. Within days, GMA jumped at the chance to reunite Elián with Donato, one of the fishermen that rescued him. Elián appears in Donato’s arms, not understanding a word that’s being said, as the fisherman refers to the boy as “a gift from God.”   
“I didn’t want to meet anyone,” recalls Elián of those times. “I’m shy.”
In some less-than-subtle ways, this (mostly) right-leaning documentary surgically white-washes the obvious opportunism that Elián’s tragedy provided. Polls at the time already reflected Americans’ willingness to embrace peaceful relations with Cuba, and the 6-year-old became the standard-bearer for the outdated anti-movement. Right after the first commercial break, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is heard saying, “people are literally dying to flee Cuba.”
“We have a role to play in protecting freedom,” says a younger and visibly  decaffeinated George Bush, “and when people risk everything to come, even if they’re a five-year-old kid, they ought to be allowed to stay.” He didn’t mention that our own “left-foot-dry-foot” policy, which he supported, dictates that he be sent back. But it’s often difficult to make sense of a law that is best described with “foot” metaphors. Still, I’d hope that by now somebody has explained to Mr. Bush the difference between making a choice to cross the ocean on a small boat and going where your mom says when you’re six years old.
At various times, little Elián is photographed with an American flag in the hands of Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who flashes a permanent wide smile at the camera as Elián leans away in horror… reminding me of Johnathan Harker’s journal from the third chapter of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
In what may be one of the all-time low points for broadcast journalism, networks played a videotape made by Elián's American family in which the boy, looking at the camera, says he wants to stay in the U.S. He points a finger and tells his dad to “stay or go, but leave me here.” You can decide if the boy looks coached or is being directed during the taping.
CNN’s Elián doesn’t clarify how, after arriving in Cuba, the boy was finally left to have a private life with his father, stepmother and baby brother, ending the media circus that signified his stay with his American family. Sure, at times Castro would pop in, but not for photo ops, though the day of his return is celebrated every year.  
It appears that over time, Castro and Elián developed a real friendship, but the program doesn’t emphasize enough how Castro dragged out the ordeal, perhaps to let the world see his enemies up close.  
It turned out that Cuba loves Elián as much as Elián loves Cuba. He acknowledges that he became “Cuba’s son.” “The Cuban people made me their family, their son,” he says.”
“God wanted him here for freedom,” says Marisleysis early on, “and he’ll get it.”  Later in the show Elián makes an odd reference to seeing Castro as “God.” 
If anything, CNN Films’ Elián stands as evidence of how our sad history with Cuba (and most of Latin America) is not reflected honestly in our culture. The expanded results of our obvious self-deception are now echoed in a bizarre Trump reality that’s dividing our country and challenging our Democracy.
“He’s got no future, no life in Cuba,” says a passionate Miami woman before Elián’s return. Her prediction seems to have been incorrect, which makes Elián much less lovable to Cuban-Americans today. “The real story of what happened is not written anywhere,” says 24-year old Elián. “All that’s left is our memories of the people and how they lived.”

Elián was produced by Jigsaw Productions, Fine Point Films, and provides a great example of a missed opportunity to tell the truth. The topic deserves a more honest and serious approach.

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