Granma’s editor offers context behind Helms-Burton

By Diana Barahona

July 19, 2008

La Habana – The offices of Granma, are neither large nor elegant. They have the Spartan look one expects of the “Official Organ of the Communist Party of Cuba.” Granma is the least pretentious national daily in a world full of pretentious newspapers. On Friday it devoted one of its sixteen pages to Fidel’s reflection and another to the text of decree No. 259, signed by President Raúl Castro, dealing with the distribution of unused land for agricultural production. This may not seem like big news, but with the new prioritization of food security and incentives offered, many ordinary people are interested in taking up farming.

The paper’s editor-in-chief, Lázaro Barredo, is also a member of the National Assembly. His office has a brightly colored painting of Che Guevara, and a poster-sized reproduction of a letter Fidel wrote to his comrade-in-arms Celia Sánchez in 1958. The letter’s content reflects Barredo’s interest in Cuba’s security in the face of U.S. aggression: “Upon seeing the rockets they fired at Mario’s house, I have sworn to myself that the Americans are gong to pay dearly for what they are doing. When this war ends, for me a much longer and greater war will begin: the war that I am going to wage against them. I realize that that is going to be my true destiny.”

Barredo had written an editorial celebrating the death of Jesse Helms (R-NC), in which he said that the senator “felt a profound hatred for the Cuban Revolution […] and supported all the actions undertaken by the U.S. administration to overthrow it and assassinate Commander-in-Chief Fidel Castro.” When we met, he asked if we were familiar with the events leading up to the passage of the 1996 Helms-Burton Act, which tightened the economic blockade against Cuba.

At the time Barredo was vice president of international relations in the National Assembly. What eventually became Helms-Burton began to wind its way through Congress in the beginning of 1995, pushed by the usual suspects from South Florida. According to Barredo, Clinton didn’t want the law to pass because it sanctioned European governments and transnational corporations doing business in Cuba.

Because of this reluctance, Miami extremists saw the need to create an international incident to force passage of the law and formed Brothers to the Rescue, headed by José Basulto.

Basulto claimed in an interview on Miami channel 41 ten years later – Dec. 6, 2005 — that he had received his training in terrorism from the CIA. He was recruited for Operation 40, a CIA death squad organized to follow up the Bay of Pigs invasion with political assassinations, and in the same program admitted to firing a 22 mm gun at a Havana hotel on Aug. 24, 1962 – an attempt on Castro’s life.

Brothers to the Rescue proceeded to violate Cuban airspace 25 times with small planes. These were not isolated incidents; the 1990s were a decade of renewed aggression against Cuba with a total of 108 terrorist acts, including 16 attempts on Fidel’s life and eight attempts to assassinate other Cuban leaders, according to undercover agent Percy Alvarado Godoy, who infiltrated the Cuban American National Foundation. In particular, on July 13, 1995, Brothers to the Rescue attempted to penetrate Cuban waters with a flotilla of 11 boats, six planes and two helicopters. One of the planes dropped pamphlets over Havana. Basulto’s associate, Arnaldo Iglesias, testified in the trial of the five Cuban heroes that in1995 he and Basulto had experimented with throwing home-made bombs from an airplane in the area of Opa-locka Airport in Miami.

In January 1996 Barredo was meeting with Rep. Bill Richardson, and at the same time Ricardo Alarcón was meeting with two other U.S. representatives. Alarcón instructed him to bring Richardson to Alarcón’s meeting, and they all sat down to express the great concern of the Cuban government over the repeated violations of Cuban territory. Cuba communicated these concerns to the Clinton administration many times, but all he did was to revoke the group’s pilot’s licenses, Barredo said.

February 24, 1996 was a carnival day, with crowds of people out at the Malecón. When the Cuban defense forces learned that three planes had left Miami and were headed for Cuba, the pilots were warned that they had violated Cuban airspace and ordered to return. The Cuban government has a recording of the entire communication and according to Barredo, one hears the voice of Basulto “laughing nervously” and ordering the other two planes to continue towards Havana while he and Iglesias turned around and headed back to Miami. The two planes were shot down by Cuban MIGs, setting off a crisis during which Clinton rejected a proposal to fire missiles at different targets in Cuba.

Clinton signed the Helms-Burton Act soon after with even stronger provisions. According to Barredo it principally codified the blockade, so that no president would be able modify it without going to Congress. Clinton also expropriated frozen Cuban assets and began to budget money for anti-Castro groups. Those trade restrictions and millions of dollars for the civil society mafia continue to this day.

Diana Barahona recently earned a BA in journalism from California State University – Long Beach, where she was disruptive, disrespectful and had an agenda, according the chair of the journalism school. She is now studying sociology at California State University – Fullerton.

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