The Latell Report-May 2015
(www.miscelaneasdecuba.net).- The Latell Report analyzes Cuba's
contemporary domestic and foreign policy, and is published periodically.
It is distributed by the electronic information service of the Cuba
Transition Project (CTP) at the University of Miami's Institute for
Cuban and Cuban-American Studies (ICCAS).
Fidel's Mariel Crimes Revisited
Juan Reinaldo Sanchez Crespo was one of the dozen or so defectors from
Cuba's intelligence and security services I interviewed when
researching Castro's Secrets. We met on a number of occasions in Miami
after his arrival from Cuba in 2008. He confirmed for me that Fidel had
ordered an assassination attempt in London against Florentino Aspillaga,
a ranking defector from Cuban intelligence. Sanchez made it clear,
nonetheless, that he was saving his best recollections for his own book.
First published in France, "The Double Life of Fidel Castro," has been
worth the wait.
For seventeen years, as Castro's chief bodyguard and trusted factotum,
Sanchez was close to the Cuban throne. He witnessed and recorded
sensitive conversations, was ordered to compile obsessively detailed
records of Fidel's activities, coordinated his security and travel,
vacationed with him, and accumulated a remarkably textured understanding
of the commander in chief.
Sanchez worshipped Fidel, even after being demoralized by the trial and
execution of general Arnaldo Ochoa and three others in 1989. Yet in 1994
the faithful bodyguard was imprisoned. He says it was only because
Castro no longer trusted him after a brother fled Cuba on a raft to
Miami. After two years in prison and ten unsuccessful attempts to do the
same, Sanchez boarded a smugglers' boat and fled.
With the collaboration of Axel Gylden, a prominent French journalist,
Sanchez has penned a scathing account of his years in Castro's
entourage. It is filled with surprising details of the Cuban dictator's
hypocritically regal life style. An island retreat, so exorbitantly
lavish that only a select few have been invited to experience it, has
been kept secret from the Cuban masses. Sanchez reveals that Castro also
had at his disposal another twenty homes, a luxurious yacht, an
ultra-modern private hospital, and even compatible blood donors
recruited to be at the ready whenever he might need a man-to-man
Sanchez confirms past Cuban government support for international
terrorism and drug trafficking. He tells of how members of the terrorist
Spanish Basque ETA "were welcomed with open arms by Fidel." They taught
bomb-making, a skill then shared with Latin American guerrilla groups.
Although it has scarcely been in doubt, Sanchez confirms that Puerto
Rican terrorist Victor Manuel Gerena –on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted
Fugitives list since 1984— is in Cuba. After stealing more than $7
million from a Wells Fargo armored car terminal in Connecticut in 1983,
he was covertly exfiltrated to Havana in a series of Cuban intelligence
The enormous costs of protecting Castro form a leitmotif that runs
through this smoothly written memoir. Sanchez tells of being dispatched
with a briefcase full of dollars to purchase homes in Harare, Zimbabwe
before a visit by Fidel. The one where Castro briefly stayed was
extensively remodeled for him, including the addition of an underground
air raid shelter.
Such extraordinary measures were standard through Fidel's decades in
power. I learned from another defector that when Castro visited the
United Nations in 1995, and stayed overnight in New York, he brought
along with him in the Cuban delegation an elevator repairman. The man
stood ready to extricate Fidel should the elevator in the Cuban
diplomatic mission malfunction. When it did, I was told that Fidel
kicked furiously on the door until the old man brought along for just
such an eventuality quickly accomplished the necessary fix.
For me, Sanchez's most appalling indictment of Fidel concerns the
chaotic exodus of more than 125,000 Cubans in 1980 from the port of
Mariel. Most who fled were members of Cuban exile families living in the
United States. They were allowed to board boats brought by relatives and
to make the crossing to South Florida.
But many of the boats were forcibly loaded by Cuban authorities with
criminals and mentally ill people plucked from institutions on the
island. Few of us who have studied Fidel Castro have doubted that it was
he who ordered those dangerous Cubans to be exported to the United
States. He has persuaded few with his denials of any role in the incident.
Yet Sanchez adds an appalling new twist to the saga. We learn that
prison wards and mental institutions were not hurriedly emptied, as was
previously believed. Sanchez reveals that Castro insisted on scouring
lists of prisoners so that he could decide who would stay and who would
be sent to the United States. He ordered interior minister Jose
Abrahantes to bring him prisoner records.
Sanchez was seated in an anteroom just outside of Fidel's office when
the minister arrived. The bodyguard listened as Fidel discussed
individual convicts with Abrahantes.
"I was present when they brought him the lists of prisoners," Sanchez
writes, "with the name, the reason for the sentence, and the date of
release. Fidel read them, and with the stroke of a pen designated which
ones could go and which ones would stay. 'Yes' was for murderers and
dangerous criminals; 'no' was for those who had attacked the
revolution." Dissidents remained incarcerated.
A number of the criminal and psychopathic marielitos put on the boats to
Florida went on to commit heinous crimes --including mass murder, rape,
and arson. Among the many despicable acts Fidel Castro committed over
the years, his decision to facilitate that violence stands in a sordid
class by itself.
Brian Latell is the author of Castro's Secrets: Cuban Intelligence, the
CIA, and the Assassination of John F. Kennedy (Palgrave Macmillan,
2013). A former National Intelligence Officer for Latin America, he is
now a senior research associate at the Institute for Cuban &
Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami.
Source: The Latell Report-May 2015 - Misceláneas de Cuba -