WASHINGTON - Following the terrorist attacks of Sep. 11, 2001, U.S. President George W. Bush outlined the basis for the so-called 'war on terror', arguing 'if you harbour a terrorist, you're just as guilty as the terrorist.'But many analysts say the Bush administration has ignored its own rhetoric when it comes to anti-Cuban terrorists operating from the shores of south Florida.
According to critics, the U.S. government's moral authority to wage a war on terrorism is severely undercut by the seeming double standard with which it treats terrorist acts directed against the Cuban government as opposed to Islamic terrorism. Though the Bush administration has long maintained that there is no such thing as a 'good terrorist', experts on U.S. foreign policy say that the treatment some of the most notorious Cuban-American terrorists have received from the administration appears to undermine Bush's stated position.
Perhaps the most infamous Cuban-American to be implicated in acts of terror is Luis Posada Carriles, a former CIA operative who is widely believed to have masterminded the 1976 bombing in Venezuela of a civilian Cubana airliner that killed 73 people -- the first act of terrorism targeting a commercial flight committed in the Western Hemisphere. Though he was arrested for the crime in Venezuela and spent nine years imprisoned there, he successfully broke out of prison in 1985 and now lives free, along with alleged coconspirator Orlando Bosch, in Miami, Florida.
In addition to the bombing of the Cuban airliner -- a crime for which Venezuela is still seeking his extradition -- Posada has been tied to a spate of bombings in the mid-1990s that targeted the fledgling Cuban tourism industry. In a rare interview with The New York Times in 1998, Posada openly spoke of having planned the bombings, one of which killed an Italian tourist.
'It is sad that someone is dead, but we can't stop,'' he told the Times, arguing that the bombing was a legitimate act aimed at undermining a totalitarian regime. ''That Italian was sitting in the wrong place at the wrong time.''
In the same interview, Posada readily admitted his intention to assassinate Cuban leader Fidel Castro. 'It is the only way to create an uprising there,' he said.
In 2000, just two years later, Posada and three co-conspirators were arrested in Panama with more than 30 pounds of C-4 explosives trying to do just that as Castro addressed students at the University of Panama. All were pardoned in 2004 in the final days of outgoing right-wing president Mireya Moscoso, a close U.S. ally.
'Posada will truly go down in history as a member of the pantheon of the top 10 most prolific terrorists of our time,' said Peter Kornbluh, an expert on U.S. policy toward Cuba at the National Security Archives.
'That's precisely why [his freedom in Miami] is a challenge to U.S. credibility in its sincerity in the war on terrorism,' Kornbluh told IPS.
It was Cuban counter-intelligence operatives who had infiltrated exile militant groups in New Jersey and Florida that led to the uncovering of the 2000 assassination plot in Panama, says Kornbluh.
Cuban efforts to spy on exile groups in the United States have been a source of tension between the two countries. In 1998, five Cuban operatives -- Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero, RamÃƒÂ³n Labañino, Fernando González, and RenÃƒ© González -- were arrested in Miami, Florida for allegedly spying on the United States.
But according to the Cuban government and critics of U.S. policy toward Cuba, the five operatives were engaged in the type of activity that should be encouraged by the United States as it engages in its own fight against terrorism.
At an event last week, Leonard Weinglass, an attorney for the agents -- who are better known as the 'Cuban Five' -- argued that the tough treatment given his clients exposed hypocrisy in the so-called 'war on terror'. Speaking at the New America Foundation, a centrist Washington think tank, he sought to contrast the treatment of his clients with that of Luis Posada Carriles and other well-known Cuban-American militants.
'The comparison of the cases is incredible,' said Weinglass. While Posada has publicly admitted to engaging in acts of terrorism, Weinglass argued, his clients simply sought to monitor the activities of Cuban-American exile groups that have been linked to previous acts of violence in Cuba -- acts the Cuban government felt U.S. authorities were not doing enough to prevent.
But in June 2001, all five were convicted by a jury in a U.S. federal court in Miami on charges ranging from the use of false names to conspiring to commit espionage and murder. They are currently serving maximum security prison terms ranging from 15 years to two consecutive life sentences.
In 2005, that decision was reversed on appeal by a three-judge panel from the 11th district federal court. Attorneys for the Cuban Five argued that it was impossible for the men to have received a fair trial in the city of Miami, home to hundreds of thousands of Cuban-Americans.
According to Weinglass, jurors in the original case were forced to pass by camouflaged men calling for the death of the Cuban Five as they walked to their cars, making a fair trial impossible.
'They issued a unanimous judgment saying this case presents a 'perfect storm' of prejudice, and they reversed every conviction,' noted Weinglass.
But that ruling was immediately appealed by the Bush administration and overturned just three months later, though Weinglass has pledged to take the case to the Supreme Court.
It was also in 2005 that the Bush administration made the decision to prosecute Luis Posada Carriles for illegal entry into the United States -- several months after he had already publicly returned to Miami -- rather than for any past acts of terrorism.
Observers of the two cases point to the strong influence of Cuban-Americans in the state of Florida as a leading reason for the decision not to prosecute Posada as a terrorist under the PATRIOT Act, while punishing the Cuban Five -- who were never found in possession of any classified information -- to the harshest extent of the law.
Though the trend, particularly amongst younger generations, may be toward some form of engagement with Cuba, analysts say no one gets far in Florida politics unless they back a hardline stance against the Castro government.
In November, a committee led by Massachusetts Democratic Congressman Bill Delahunt investigated the relatively lax treatment given to Posada compared to the Cuban Five. The case prompted Delahunt to question whether the Bush administration is turning a blind eye to terrorists who happen to share the U.S. government's political objectives.
'If we wish to claim the mantle of moral authority that sets us apart among the family of nations, America cannot have two rules for terrorists,' he said.