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Larry Wilkerson: The ‘Cuban 5’ spied on Cuban Americans, because they
were a threat to their country

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. Now joining us again is Larry Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s former chief of staff, and we’re discussing a possible new change of course in US policy towards Cuba. Thanks for joining us again.


JAY: One of the outstanding issues has been the Cuban Five. And these are five guys that were essentially, if I understand it correctly, working for the Cuban intelligence network that infiltrated Cuban exile groups in Miami who were planning terrorist activities against Cuba. And anyone that follows this knows there’s quite a history of terrorist attacks on Cuba planned in Florida.

WILKERSON: Posada Carriles. He still lives in Miami, as far as I know.

JAY: So what do you make of this case of the Cuban Five?

WILKERSON: I think it was an egregious breach of justice in our country. I’m not saying that they weren’t guilty of doing things that by the letter of the law are prohibited and require fairly stringent sentences when they’re convicted, but I am saying, as you said, that it was understandable what they were doing, because there are people in Florida who were inimical to the interests of Cuba. And it just violated so many precepts of American law. Take for example a change of venue. They wanted a change of venue, that is to say, legal term for let’s move the trial to someplace other than Dade County or Miami where people aren’t prejudiced before the trial even starts. No, they didn’t get that. They tried them in Miami; they tried them with people who were prejudiced from the start. The circuit court in Atlanta reversed the decision, essentially based on that failure to give them a change of venue, the small group voting. Once the full court review it in Atlanta, they went back and established the decision as it had been previously conceived and issued, and so it didn’t happen. But there are just so many violations of what I would call justice, fair play, in the course of putting these people in prison. And to give someone two life sentences for essentially trying to protect his country against people in Florida? Let me give you an example. Let me tell you how serious this was in my view. When I wargamed Cuba with my Marines and airmen and soldiers and sailors in the early ’90s, when I wargamed it, here’s how the wargame would develop. We would be working with the Florida state police, the Coast Guard, the Navy, local police forces, and we would be cordoning off the state of Florida, from roughly up around Tampa and Orlando, that area in there, down, in order to keep Cuban Americans from going to Cuba and taking machine guns and dynamite and C-4 and other things in a flotilla of about 600 surface craft to try and take over the government. Now, the scenario here was that Fidel Castro would be dying, the Havana government would be in chaos, and what are you going to do. Then the wargame develops. Well, what do we do? We cordone off Florida to keep Americans from violating the troop neutrality act and attacking Cuba. That’s how the wargame would develop because that’s the intelligence we had—we knew they had munitions in southern Florida, we knew they had munitions elsewhere. You may have read recently where the FBI discovered a whole cache of munitions in southern Florida, including dynamite, machine guns, small arms, grenades, all sorts of things, leftovers, if you will, from the CIA training them in the ’60s for the invasion of Cuba. So it was clear to me why these guys would want to come and spy on us or spy on Cuban Americans: because they were a threat to their country. When I went to Cuba my first time—not first time I went, 13 years old with my grandmother, but when I went as an adult, my first time, back in March 2007, I found it actually ironic, funny, I thought, until I realized they were deadly serious, that the first question Cuban leaders would ask me was: when is the 82nd Airborne going to land on José Martí Airport? Yeah. When Alarcón asked me this question, the president of their National Assembly, I had had it asked a few times before, so I looked at him and I said, you guys cannot really believe that we’re planning to militarily strike your country. And he convinced me that they do believe that. So, I mean, we can’t crawl out of our own skin and put ourselves in other people’s shoes. You know, they look up at this huge 300 million El Coloso del Norte, they call it, “the Giant of the North”, and we’re only 19 miles away, and we’ve got this incredible military, we’ve just taken out Baghdad, we’ve just gone to Afghanistan, and we’re talking about regime change, and they’re scared. They’re frightened. I understand why they might have put them here. I’m not trying to condone their actions. But the French have people here too, and the Chinese have people here too, and they’re a lot more of a threat to us, French commercially and the Chinese security-wise in general.

JAY: And we know the Israelis are spying everywhere.

WILKERSON: Yeah, the Israelis spy on us all the time. Yeah. So—.

JAY: And the other piece of the hypocrisy is it was just announced a couple of days ago that Gen. Petraeus is expanding special ops operations all over the Middle East and any country that we think is a terrorist threat. So, as long as you can put the terrorist threat on it, it’s okay to send people inside other people’s borders and spy on them, which is exactly what they’ve accused the Cuban Five of doing.

WILKERSON: And this is another egregious thing, too. They’re on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list, and Cuba hasn’t sponsored a terrorist act in 20-plus years. And we have Posada Carriles, who killed 70-plus Cubans on an airliner he bombed, in Miami, living scot-free.

JAY: Thanks for joining us.


JAY: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End of Transcript

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Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Government and Public Policy

Lawrence Wilkerson's last positions in government were as Secretary of State Colin Powell's Chief of Staff (2002-05), Associate Director of the State Department's Policy Planning staff under the directorship of Ambassador Richard N. Haass, and member of that staff responsible for East Asia and the Pacific, political-military and legislative affairs (2001-02). Before serving at the State Department, Wilkerson served 31 years in the U.S. Army. During that time, he was a member of the faculty of the U.S. Naval War College (1987 to 1989), Special Assistant to General Powell when he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989-93), and Director and Deputy Director of the U.S. Marine Corps War College at Quantico, Virginia (1993-97). Wilkerson retired from active service in 1997 as a colonel, and began work as an advisor to General Powell. He has also taught national security affairs in the Honors Program at the George Washington University. He is currently working on a book about the first George W. Bush administration.