Oct 25, 1998
Adolf Hitler's long shadow extended over many of West Germany's post-war political leaders, especially after the Cold War brought a premature end to the de-nazification program. In the name of economic and political stability, the Allies struck deals with many of Hitler's supposedly less despicable accomplices, deals that shaped the Kohl era.
Kohl himself was not implicated in the crimes of World War II. He counted himself lucky to have been under military age -- 15 years old -- when the war ended. Like many young Germans, he belonged to the Hitler Youth. But he shoulders no personal guilt from the war.
The same is not true for many of Kohl’s financial backers. Kohl was one of the Christian Democrats who benefitted from secret ties to former Nazi industrialists, the same men who assisted Hitler's rise to power in the 1920s and '30s.
Indeed, if the West had not relented on its German de-nazification program, Kohl might never have climbed to the pinnacle of national leadership, let alone come to dominate German politics for the past 16 years.
Through his career -- and his hushed connections to Hitler's old allies -- Kohl personified an ambivalent political class which, on one level, denounced the atrocities of the Holocaust while, on another, protected some of the business executives who benefitted from Jewish slave labor.
Kohl owed much of his political ascendance to one corporate giant which refused to pay reparations to wartime slave laborers, the powerful holding company known as the Flick Group. During his tenure, Kohl also rejected demands for slave-labor compensation through a government fund.
Yet, amid the laudatory press accounts of Kohl’s career, little has been written about these shadowy connections, how in the early 1970s, the Flick Group and other conservative industrialists tapped Kohl, then a little-known regional governor, for leadership of the Christian Democratic Party.
Forty years earlier, the Flick Group’s founder, Friedrich Flick, had been a pillar of the pre-war German steel industry and a bankroller of the Nazi Party. Flick was part of Heinrich Himmler's exclusive Circle of Friends, a group of wealthy Germans who made annual donations to Hitler's SS. [See Robert Wistrich’s Who’s Who in Nazi Germany.]
The financial backing helped Hitler consolidate political control over Germany and begin the persecution of European Jews. The money also earned Flick the opportunity to tour the Dachau concentration camp, presumably to view the source of his labor force. Through World War II, Flick kept his plants humming with the forced labor of some 48,000 workers. Four out of five of Germany’s slave laborers died. [See Wistrich.]
After the war, some industrialists stood trial along with Hitler’s political and military elites. At Nuremberg, the Allies sentenced Flick to seven years in prison for abusing slave laborers. But the Allies were not as harsh as they could have been. They let Flick retain one-third of his industrial holdings.
Soon, Washington was more worried about the rise of international communism than the residue of German fascism. With the start of the Cold War, the United States curtailed the de-nazification program in the name of stability. In 1950, John McCloy, U.S. high commissioner for Germany, granted Flick clemency and released him.
A free man, Flick set to work rebuilding his business empire. As the West German economy rose from the ashes, Flick bought interests in hundreds of firms, including major shares of Dynamit Nobel and Daimler-Benz.
His old connections and new investments transformed him, again, into a man of immense wealth and power.
But Flick could not fully escape his past. His surviving slave laborers and the descendants of those who died were demanding reparations for the wartime work at his plants and at other factories where Flick now was a major shareholder.
The Conference of Jewish Materials Claims approached Flick on behalf of 1,300 claimants. They sought $1.5 million from Dynamit Nobel, which then was 80 percent owned by Flick. As cited by Benjamin Ferencz in his book, Less Than Slaves, Dynamit Nobel subsidiaries had used war-time slave labor from Buchenwald and Dachau provided by the SS at the company's request.
Flick representatives negotiated with the Claims Conference for six years. McCloy, the former high commissioner, even returned to Germany in 1969 to help hammer out a settlement. But McCloy faced an unyielding Flick Group executive named Eberhard von Brauchitsch.
At one pivotal negotiating session, Ferencz wrote, "McCloy had been up late the night before [meeting with Flick representatives] and his stomach was upset. ... Von Brauchitsch pounded out his legal argument ... that the rejection of the claim was justified. ... What [McCloy] recalled most vividly was that during ... the von Brauchitsch tirade [McCloy had to] run out of the room several times to vomit."
Despite McCloy's determination, the final answer from Flick's negotiators was no. Flick was no longer a penitent who needed McCloy's mercy.
Just as Flick quickly had regained his form as a business tycoon, he also reestablished himself as a political kingmaker. The Flick Group was pouring money into the coffers of the Christian Democratic Party.
By the time of his death in 1972 at the age of 90, Flick left $1 billion to his playboy son and passed on to his corporate heirs a powerful network of political and financial influence.
When Willy Brandt's Social Democrats defeated the Christian Democrats in 1972, von Brauchitsch was among the West German industrialists who engineered a changing of the guard in the Christian Democratic leadership. The old Christian Democratic leader, Rainer Barzel, stepped down -- and into a lucrative post at a Frankfurt law firm. Barzel managed to earn $700,000 in legal fees from the Flick Group for what Der Spiegel depicted as phantom services.
The choice to replace Barzel was a little-known regional governor, named Helmut Kohl. Overnight, Kohl was a national figure.
In the years that followed, Kohl and Barzel returned the favors for their corporate patrons. According to Der Spiegel, Barzel exploited his political contacts to pass on inside scoops to Flick executives. Then, in 1976, at the Flick Group's urging, Kohl put Barzel in charge of a key legislative commission on national finances.
The Flick Group also built up its political chits in the Free Democratic Party, which was the junior partner in the Social Democrats’ ruling coalition.
According to handwritten notes by von Brauchitsch -- which later were obtained by German prosecutors -- the Flick Group enriched two finance ministers from the Free Democrats, Hans Friderich and Count Otto von Lambsdorff. The ministers had waived $175 million in taxes which the holding company should have paid on its 1974 sale of Daimler-Benz stock to Deutche Bank, for 20 times the purchase price.
Von Brauchitsch's diary also indicated that the Flick Group's generosity may have extended to Kohl. "I intend to fit out Herr Kohl exactly as we did the other gentlemen," the diary read.
Kohl later admitted to legislative investigators that he accepted secret Flick Group payments totaling $53,000 from 1977-79. But he claimed that he deposited the money in the Christian Democratic treasury.
The German press reported that the sums were nearly four times that amount, but no funds were traced to Kohl personally. The so-called "Wassergate" affair was soon forgotten.
In 1982, the Free Democrats -- apparently lured by the lucrative relationships available from thriving German industrialists -- abandoned the coalition with the Social Democrats. Kohl's Christian Democrat prevailed in the next election and formed a coalition with the Free Democrats.
Kohl's Cold War attitudes fit neatly with President Reagan's obsession with the Evil Empire. In 1985, in one of the most controversial actions of Reagan's presidency, Kohl persuaded Reagan to mark the 40th anniversary of the World War II armistice with a visit to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and the cemetery at Bitburg.
At Bitburg, Reagan joined in paying homage to German dead who included 47 members of the dreaded SS.
That same year, the Flick Group cashed out its astounding growth arising from post-war investments which were cobbled together by convicted war criminal Friedrich Flick. Deutsche Bank purchased the Flick Group for $2 billion. Only later did the bank pay surviving Dynamit Nobel slave laborers their long-awaited back pay, $2 million.
In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell and Kohl rushed to reunite the two Germanies. His hasty actions and rosy promises have been blamed for Germany's current economic morass. The troubles include 20 percent unemployment in the East, a jobless rate that has sparked a rise in neo-Nazi "skinhead" violence against foreign-born workers.
On the issue of Nazi-era slave labor, Kohl remained adamant in rejecting proposals for a government-sponsored fund. Kohl argued that Germany already had paid tens of billions of dollars in reparations for the Holocaust and that enough was enough. [NYT, Oct. 20, 1998]
In September, Social Democrat Gerhard Schroeder finally ended Kohl's long reign. Schroeder won the national election by offering vague promises to resolve Germany's economic problems.
Since the election, however, Schroeder has moved to resolve class-action lawsuits stemming from the slave-labor issue. Schroeder arranged meetings with top industrialists to review options for settling the disputes.
The companies include such giants as the auto manufacturers, Daimler-Benz and BMW; the electronics giant Siemens; and chemical firms, such as Hoechst and BASF. They reportedly fear the suits could result in vast court-ordered compensation plus severe damage to corporate images.
Volkswagen already has announced a $20 million fund to settle claims by its former slave laborers.
With Kohl’s departure, Germany finally might be able to close this dark chapter of its history and exorcise one more ghost from Adolf Hitler’s fascist era.
Operation Condor comes home to roost Behind Pinochet's arrest is his role in a network of terror | By Jerry Meldon | published in the Boston Globe Oct 25 1998
When British authorities nine days ago entered the London hospital suite where retired Chilean general Augusto Pinochet was recovering from back surgery, he knew they were not there to wish him well. He may have guessed that their arrival was linked to Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon's probe into state-sponsored murder in the early years of Pinochet's 17-year dictatorship in Chile. But Pinochet, 82 and a senator for life in his homeland, did not imagine that authorities wanted to question him about Operation Condor.
That Spain's prosecuting judge might shine a light on that dark chapter of history has intelligence agents sweating from Cape Horn to northern Virginia.
What is already in the history books is appalling enough: a bloody 1973 coup in Chile was encouraged by Washington and led by Pinochet against Salvador Allende, the Socialist president. In the aftermath, Pinochet's forces rounded up, imprisoned, tortured, and murdered thousands of suspected Allende supporters -- including US and Spanish citizens. Instead of demanding justice, US officials offered support by restoring previously suspended aid.
Having silenced his domestic foes by the end of 1975, Pinochet set his sights upon those in exile. He decided to enlist the cooperation of fellow rightist dictators in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay. Operation Condor, named for the bird that crosses the Andes, formalized a collaboration for the purpose of assassinating exiled opponents.
Phase Three of Operation Condor was "the formation of special teams from member countries assigned to travel anywhere in the world to non-member countries to carry out `sanctions' -- including assassination -- against Condor enemies . . ." according to a top- secret US Senate Foreign Relations Committee report obtained in 1979 by columnist Jack Anderson.
"One `Phase-Three' team is charged with drawing up the Condor `hit list' in a particular country. Then a second team is dispatched to locate the targeted victims and conduct surveillance on them. Finally a third team, drawn from one or more member police agencies, is sent to carry out the `sanction' decided upon."
The more spectacular Condor operations are easy to identify. The one that hit closest to home was the 1976 car-bomb murder in Washington, D.C., of Orlando Letelier, once a foreign minister to Allende, and his US assistant, Ronni Moffitt. An FBI investigation established that the double homicide was carried out by anti-Castro Cubans on the payroll of Pinochet's intelligence service, DINA. Only when Pinochet relinquished power 15 years later did a Chilean court convict former DINA head Manuel Contreras of ordering Letelier's murder.
But the homicidal collaboration did not always involve Chile. That same year, 1976, the body of left-leaning former Bolivian strongman General Juan Torres was found in Argentina, near Buenos Aires. He had been blindfolded and shot behind the ear and in the neck, reportedly on orders of the rightist who deposed him, General Hugo Banzer. Garzon's plan to interrogate Pinochet should unsettle not only Banzer but also the Bolivians who last year elected him president.
The trans-Andean hit squads also targeted civilians. According to prosecutor Garzon's arrest warrant, the program of Pinochet and his fellow despots to systematically eliminate opponents, militant and peaceful alike, constitutes genocide. The evidence -- which includes a 1991 report of Chile's National Truth and Reconciliation Commission that identifies 2,300 Chilean victims of state-sponsored torture, disappearances and homicide -- supports Garzon.
Garzon's case will focus on 94 people who fell victim to Operation Condor between 1976 and 1983. All died or disappeared at the hands of Chile's military junta leaders and Argentine collaborators. Most were Chileans living in Argentina.
Direct evidence of Condor's dark reach was discovered in December 1992 when a Paraguayan judge accompanied educator and former political prisoner Martin Almada -- whose wife died of a heart attack when her phone rang and she listened to a tape recording of her husband's screams -- to a police station outside Asuncion to locate Almada's police file. Instead they discovered a mountain of documents since dubbed the "horror files" that detail decades of repression under Paraguayan strongman General Alfred Stroessner and US intelligence cooperation with Paraguay -- as well as actions carried out under Operation Condor.
And then there's the case of Gustavo Edison Inzaurralde, who in 1973 fled to Paraguay from Uruguay after being arrested and tortured there for belonging to a militant antigovernment group. As reported by Argentine journalist Stella Coloni, Paraguayan authorities arrested Inzaurralde just as he was about to fly to Stockholm. Instead of joining his pregnant wife in Sweden, he was handed over to the Argentine military and "disappeared."
The Clinton administration, to its credit, has sent Britain files on Pinochet and Chile -- although they are unlikely to contain information embarrassing to Washington. Nonetheless, alumni of the Central Intelligence Agency's Western Hemisphere division cannot be pleased with the inquiries of prosecutor Garzon. According to the book "Hidden Terrors" by A. J. Langguth, a former New York Times reporter, the CIA arranged Argentine and Uruguayan collaboration on surveillance of exiles, and introduced the Argentines and Uruguayans to Brazilian death squads who eliminated them.
With Condor coming home to roost, Pinochet has plenty of company among the uncomfortable.
Sep 26, 1998
Dirty secrets as Germans go to the polls | By Jerry Meldon | published in the Boston Globe Sep 26 1998
As Germans go to the polls tomorrow to choose between Chancellor Helmut Kohl and front-running Gerhard Schroeder, trans-Atlantic jousting over Holocaust reparations will be the last thing on voters' minds. Campaign speeches have focused on the faltering economy, not the $1.25 billion that Swiss banks will hand Holocaust survivors or the $75,000 per slave laborer for which German firms are being sued.
Amnesia regarding 1933-1945 is not new. But in Helmut Kohl's case it's a godsend. For Kohl owes his rise to power to a corporation that refused to compensate its Nazi-era victims, corrupted both Kohl and his party, the conservative Christian Democratic Union, and is now owned by Deutsche Bank, a target of the recent slave laborer lawsuit.
Indeed, Schroeder's silence on a potential source of profound embarrassment to Kohl makes clear just how deeply the guilt denial runs.
It was the holding company known as the Flick Group that bribed two consecutive finance ministers and other members of the CDU, including Helmut Kohl. Its founder, Friedrich Flick, was already a pillar of the German steel industry in the 1930s when he bankrolled Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. He was sentenced at Nuremberg to seven years in prison for using 48,000 slave laborers, 80 percent of whom were worked to death. But John McCloy, US high commissioner for Germany and future head of both the Ford Foundation and Chase Manhattan Bank, granted Flick clemency in 1950. Flick then proceeded to rebuild his empire, buying into hundreds of firms, including major interests in Dynamit Nobel and Daimler-Benz. Flick became the fifth- richest man in the world before dying in 1972 at 90, leaving $1 billion to his playboy son while stubbornly refusing to hand his former slave laborers a pfennig.
Several years prior to his death, the Conference of Jewish Materials Claims had approached the Flick Group on behalf of 1,300 claimants, seeking $1.5 million from Flick's subsidiary Dynamit Nobel, which then claimed annual sales of $250 million. Former high commissioner McCloy, perhaps out of guilt, agreed to represent the Claims Conference. But managing director Eberhard von Brauchitsch, representing Flick, refused to give an inch.
Ironically, the meticulous handwritten notes of the same von Brauchitsch, two decades later, convinced prosecutors to indict finance ministers Hans Friderich and Count Otto Lambsdorff, both of the CDU, for bribery. Flick had paid the two off for waiving $175 million in taxes the conglomerate should have been assessed following its sale of Daimler-Benz shares to Deutsche Bank.
In his diary, Von Brauchitsch also wrote: "I intend to fit out Herr Kohl exactly as we did the other gentlemen." In fact, as part of an earlier deal, Von Brauchitsch had instructed the CDU to promote Kohl from regional governor to head of the party. In 1982 he successfully ran for chancellor. Kohl admitted to Bundestag investigators that he had accepted secret Flick payments totaling $53,000 but insisted he had deposited the money in the CDU treasury. No judicial action was taken against Kohl despite his legal obligation to report such gifts.
The Flick Group also escaped unscathed. In 1986, Deutsche Bank purchased it for $2 billion. Though soon thereafter the bank agreed to pay surviving slave laborers a total of $2 million. Today it is among the companies being sued for $75,000 for each laborer.
During this summer's election campaign, Kohl successfully forced his opponent, Social Democrat Gerhard Schroeder, to explain why Lower Saxony, the state he has governed for eight years, has the highest unemployment rate in Western Germany. Changing the subject while outflanking Kohl on the right, Schroeder -- who sits on the supervisory board of Volkswagen, another target of the slave laborer lawsuit -- began criticizing Kohl's support for a plan to build a Holocaust memorial in Berlin.
So whatever the result of tomorrow's election, don't expect the amnesia to end soon.
Dirty secrets as Germans to to the polls | by Jerry Meldon | Published in The Boston Globe on September 26, 1998
As Germans go to the polls tomorrow to choose between Chancellor Helmut Kohl and front-running Gerhard Schroeder, trans-Atlantic jousting over Holocaust reparations will be the last thing on voters’ minds. Campaign speeches have focused on the faltering economy, not the $1.25 billion that Swiss banks will hand Holocaust survivors or the $75,00 per slave laborer for which German firms are being sued.
Amnesia regarding 1933-1945 is not new. But in Helmut Kohl’s case it’s a godsend. For Kohl owes his rise to power to a corporation that refused to compensate its Nazi-era victims, corrupted both Kohl and his party, the conservative Christian Democratic Union, and is now owned by Deutsche Bank, a target of recent slave laborer lawsuit.
Indeed, Schroeder’s silence on a potential source of profound embarrassment to Kohl makes clear just how deeply the guilt denial runs.
It was the holding company known as Flick Group that bribed two consecutive finance ministers and other members of the CDU, including Helmut Kohl. Its founder, Friedrich Flick, was already a pillar of the German steel industry in the 1930s when he bankrolled Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. He was sentenced at Nuremberg to seven years in prison for using 48,000 slave laborers, 80 percent of whom were worked to death. But John McCloy, US high commissioner for Germany and future head of both the Ford Foundation and Chase Manhattan Bank, granted Flick clemency in 1950. Flick then proceeded to rebuild his empire, buying into hundreds of firms, including major interests in Dynamit Nobel and Daimler-Benz. Flick became the fifth-richest man in the world before dying in 1972 at 90, leaving $1 billion to his playboy son while stubbornly refusing to hand his former slave laborers a pfennig.
Several years prior to his death, the Conference of Jewish Materials Claims had approached the Flick Group on behalf of 1,300 claimants, seeking $1.5 million from Flick’s subsidiary Dynamit Nobel, which then claimed annual sales of $250 million. Former high commissioner McCloy, perhaps out of guilt, agreed to represent the Claims Conference. But managing director Eberhard von Brauchitsch, representing Flick, refused to give an inch.
Ironically, the meticulous handwritten notes of the same von Brauchitsch, two decades later, convinced prosecutors to indict finance ministers Hans Friderich and Count Otto Lambsdorff, both of the CDU, for bribery. Flick had paid off the two for waiving $175 million in taxes the conglomerate should have been assessed following its sale of Daimler-Benz shares to Deutsche Bank.
In his diary, Von Brauhitsch also wrote: “I intend to fit out Herr Kohl exactly as we did the other gentlemen.” In fact, as part of an earlier deal, Von Brauhitsch had instructed the CDU to promote Kohl from regional governor to head of the party. In 1982 he successfully ran for chancellor. Kohl admitted to Bundestag investigators that he had accepted secret Flick payments totalling $53,000 but insisted he had deposited the money in the CDU treasury. No judicial action was taken against Kohl despite his legal obligation to report such gifts.
The Flick Group also escaped unscathed. In 1986, Deutsche Bank purchased it for $2 billion. Though soon after the bank agreed to pay surviving slave laborers a total of $2 million. Today it is among the companies being sued for $75,000 for each laborer.
During this summer’s election campaign, Kohl successfully forced his opponent, Social Democrat Gerhard Schroeder, to explain why Lower Saxony, the state he has governed for eight years, has the highest unemployment rate in Western Germany. Changing the subject while out-flanking Kohl on the right, Schroeder – who sits on the supervisory board of Volkswagen, another target of the slave laborer lawsuit – began criticizing Kohl’s support for a plan to build a Holocaust memorial in Berlin.
So whatever the result of tomorrow’s election, don’t expect the amnesia to end soon.
Jun 24, 1998
Uncle Sam's Favorite Terrorists | By Jerry Meldon and Robert Parry | published in Consortium News June 24, 1998
The Cold War ended nearly a decade ago. Pope John Paul II prayed last January for an end to the 37-year-old U.S. trade embargo of Cuba. And the Pentagon in May finally acknowledged the obvious: that Cuba's emaciated army is no threat to the security of the United States or any other nation in the Western Hemisphere.
But old obsessions die hard, as the United States again finds itself serving as a base for terror attacks against Cuba. In the past year, American soil has been used for staging commando raids reminiscent of an earlier era of assassination plots against Fidel Castro and sabotage against Cuba's economy.
Like those older operations, the new attacks have targeted both Castro personally and civilian economic facilities inside Cuba. In spring and summer 1997, a dozen or so bombs rocked Cuban hotels and restaurants. Last fall, an alleged Castro assassination plot failed when a yacht carrying the would-be attackers nearly sank off Puerto Rico.
The bombers apparently sought to scare away European and Canadian tourists who have been flocking to the Caribbean island in record numbers. Last Sept. 4, bombs exploded at three hotels on the Havana waterfront -- the Copacabana, the Chateau and the Triton. At the Copacabana, an Italian businessman named Fabio diCelmo was hit in the throat by debris and died.
After the Sept. 4 bombings, Cuban police broke the case. They arrested Raul Ernesto Cruz Leon, a member of a Salvadoran stolen car ring who admitted his role in the terror campaign. Since then, the mastermind has been identified as CIA-trained Cuban exile Luis Posada Carriles, with money for the operation traced to Miami and New Jersey.
Yet, despite evidence of U.S. connections to the conspiracies -- and a federal criminal investigation that is reportedly under way into the assassination plot -- this dramatic story of politics and terrorism has drawn only spotty and often ambivalent coverage in the American news media.
When the Miami Herald reported that Posada, a renowned anti-Castro extremist, was implicated in the hotel bombings, a headline made light of his reputation as a painter as well as a terrorist. "Exile conspirator's art is on canvas, in bomb plots," a headline read. [MH, June 7, 1998]
During the bombing spree last year, other U.S. press outlets mocked Cuban charges of American complicity and incorrectly framed the story as evidence of internal divisions within Castro's government. A Journal of Commerce story even pondered whether "the dastardly deeds" were the work "of the Cuban government willing to harm its own economy so it has an excuse to crack down." [July 15, 1997]
A St. Petersburg Times story saw the attacks as a sign of Castro's decaying government. "The bombings, and Cuba's apparent inability to catch the perpetrators, are attracting the attention of political analysts and security experts who say Cuba may be witnessing the first signs in decades of a home-grown terrorist assault against the Fidel Castro regime."
That same article quoted leaders of the influential Cuban-American National Foundation as denying a hand in the bombings, but declaring solidarity with "any act of internal rebellion" against Castro. "We don't consider these actions as terrorism because people fighting for liberty cannot be limited by a system that is itself terrorist," declared CANF president Francisco Hernandez. [St. Petersburg Times, Sept. 5, 1997]
Last summer, the Clinton administration also disparaged Cuba's assertions about a U.S. role. But in recent months, the administration has clammed up about the mounting evidence that American territory, in fact, did serve as a logistical base for both the bombing attacks and an assassination plot against Castro.
A federal criminal investigation is focusing quietly on secret links between armed terrorists and the CANF, including its president, Francisco Hernandez. The New York Times reported that Hernandez and another CANF leader have been informed that they are targets of a probe into the 1997 assassination plot against Castro. Such a warning often precedes an indictment. [NYT, May 5, 1998] The CANF, a 50,000-member political powerhouse in the Cuban-American community, appears to be implicated in supporting Posada as well.
But only luck put the current wave of anti-Castro terrorism into focus. The federal criminal investigation started last Oct. 27 when a Miami-based cabin cruiser, named "La Esperanza," was foundering off Puerto Rico and radioed for help. The Coast Guard responded and escorted the yacht to safety.
The Coast Guard grew suspicious because the four Cuban exiles on board insisted they were on a fishing trip, although the fishing gear was still in plastic wrap. They also claimed they had sailed the 900 miles from Miami in a single day, an impossible trip.
Suspecting drug smuggling, federal authorities searched the yacht. Under a loose plank, they found a hidden compartment containing a cache of military supplies: ammunition, fatigues, night-vision goggles, sophisticated communications gear, tripods and two .50-caliber semi-automatic rifles capable of firing flat-trajectory bullets one mile.
According to a U.S. Custom investigator, crew member Angel Alfonso Aleman blurted out that the weapons were his and that they were intended for Castro's assassination. The crewman later denied making the confession, but the yacht's navigational coordinates were set for Margarita Island near Venezuela, where Castro was expected for a summit of Latin American leaders.
The political sensitivity of the case escalated when authorities discovered that one of the rifles belonged to CANF president Francisco Hernandez. "La Esperanza" was owned by Jose Antonio Llama, a Bay of Pigs veteran who sits on the CANF Executive Committee.
The assassination case -- and the earlier string of bombings -- suggest that some anti-Castro Cubans again are turning to violent tactics, similar to those employed by Cuban exiles and their CIA sponsors in years past. Since its founding in 1981, the CANF officially has favored a strategy of using its money and voting power to force tougher anti-Castro policies, while eschewing violence.
But with its founder, Jorge Mas Canosa, dying of lung cancer last year, the group appears to have grown impatient and switched to more aggressive tactics. In Miami, there was speculation that the Castro assassination plot might have been an attempt to fulfill Mas's deathbed wish of outliving his longtime nemesis. But Mas died on Nov. 23, at age 58, having failed in his dream of ending Castro's rule of Cuba.
The CANF had no comment about the reported criminal investigation.
The discovery of Posada's role in the 1997 bombing attacks added more fuel to the politically incendiary mix. Posada was a CIA-trained intelligence operative who had been jailed in Venezuela on suspicion of masterminding the mid-air bombing of a Cuban civilian airliner in 1976, killing 73 people.
In 1985, with the reported help of Miami-based Cuban-Americans, Posada escaped from prison. He traveled to Central America where he joined Oliver North's secret Nicaraguan contra supply operation. After that White House activity was exposed in fall 1986 -- along with Posada's connection -- Posada fled to Guatemala.
In Guatemala City, Posada was wounded in a shooting but recovered. In his 1994 memoirs, The Ways of the Warrior, Posada recounted how his friends in the CANF paid the $22,000 hospital bill. As Posada hopscotched among Central American cities, he continued to be supported by Miami-based Cuban exiles, who contributed to Posada's welfare by paying top dollar for his paintings.
Posada also appears to have benefitted from the Cuban-American community's political clout. Though his whereabouts were exposed in 1986, the U.S. government took no noticeable action to help bring the accused fugitive terrorist to justice. Not surprisingly, once he recovered from his wounds, Posada returned to his long-held passion for anti-Castro terrorism.
In 1994, Posada reportedly plotted to assassinate Castro during a trip to Cartagena, Colombia. Posada and five cohorts reached Cartagena, but the plan flopped when security cordons prevented the would-be assassins from getting a clean shot at Castro, according to a Miami Herald article by Juan O. Tamayo and Gerardo Reyes. [MH, June 7, 1998]
Another Posada plan to use Honduras as a base for commando attacks against Cuba fell through in 1994 after four Cuban exiles met in Miami with Pinel Calix, head of Honduran military intelligence, the Herald reported. The Cubans apparently distrusted the corrupt Honduran military and Pinel Calix reportedly was unimpressed with the Cubans.
In the same article, the Herald detailed Posada's role in the 1997 bombing campaign against popular Cuban hotels and restaurants. The story cited documentary evidence that Posada arranged some payments to conspirators from accounts in the United States. "This afternoon you will receive via Western Union four transfers of $800 each ... from New Jersey," said one fax signed SOLO, one of Posada's aliases.
Much of the Herald story, however, focused on the mishaps of the clumsy conspirators who used diapers and shampoo bottles to smuggle plastic explosives from Guatemala to Cuba for another round of bombings scheduled for last fall. "The plan was a bust," the Herald stated. "The explosive was apparently old and failed to explode in tests."
The Herald noted that Posada was disappointed even with the results of the earlier explosions. To minimize panic, Cuba's government-controlled press had given the bombings little notice. "If there is no publicity, the work is not useful," Posada lamented.
But the Herald observed that the bombings had one unintended benefit. They touched off rumors in Havana and elsewhere that the explosions reflected a split inside Castro's security forces and a possible challenge to Castro's leadership. The speculation seeped into the U.S. press coverage and ended only last September when Cuban police arrested Posada's Salvadoran collaborator.
Posada's bombing spree and the muted U.S. reaction to it reveal anew Washington's ambivalence toward acts of terrorism that are useful to American geopolitical aims. For nearly four decades, the United States has tolerated and even sponsored acts of political violence against Cuba, with the goal of bringing down the Castro government by nearly any means necessary.
In line with that strategy, U.S. presidents from Dwight Eisenhower to Bill Clinton have granted the anti-Castro Cubans leeway that few other violent movements have enjoyed. That's partly because the CIA recruited thousands of Cuban exiles into the shadow war, a strategy that has always skated on the edge of state-sponsored terrorism.
Recently declassified U.S. documents reveal that Kennedy administration planners dreamt up a wide range of violent schemes to justify an invasion of Cuba in the early 1960s. Brig. Gen. Edward G. Lansdale, chief of the CIA's Operation Mongoose and one of President Kennedy's favorite officers, drafted the top-secret plans and presented them to the Joint Chiefs of Staff on March 1, 1962.
One of the schemes was a "Remember the Maine" incident in which "we could blow up a U.S. warship in Guantanamo Bay and blame Cuba," the memo stated. "We could develop a Communist Cuban terror campaign in the Miami area, in other Florida cities and even in Washington. ... The terror campaign could be pointed at Cuban refugees seeking haven in the United States. We could sink a boatload of Cubans enroute to Florida (real or simulated)."
Another standby plan, called Operation Dirty Trick, proposed blaming Castro if John Glenn's Mercury space flight crashed. The manufactured story of Cuban sabotage would generate fierce public anger as well as political demands for invading Cuba, the planners thought.
Though the Joint Chiefs endorsed Lansdale's plots as "suitable for planning purposes," it is not clear how far the planning went. They did mesh, however, with other conspiracies, some involving the Mafia, to murder Castro or, at least, to arrange his public humiliation. [For more details, see NYT, Nov. 19, 1997.]
Business & Politics
In that over-heated climate of anti-Castro scheming, hard-core paramilitary operatives rubbed shoulders with supposedly non-violent political leaders. Mas Canosa, for instance, built his "closest links to the American intelligence community [through] two of the CIA's most effective and lethal operators," Felix Rodriguez and Posada, according to a lengthy Mas biographical article in Esquire. [Jan. 1993]
Mas and Posada each joined Representacion Cubana en Exilio, which congressional investigators later linked to the CIA. An FBI report identified Mas as one of its leaders, who supervised anti-Castro propaganda and planned military raids on Cuba. He allegedly once handed Posada $5,000 to blow up a ship in the Mexican port of Veracruz.
But Mas channeled his energies into building a thriving business, too. In 1971, he borrowed $50,000 and bought a small construction company which he renamed Church and Tower. He got a break when Southern Bell contracted with his firm to lay cable and erect telephone poles, the first step toward a personal telecommunications empire worth an estimated $100 million.
Mas's focus on business drew complaints from some of his old comrades that he was insufficiently militant. When an explosion shattered the legs of a newsman who had criticized terrorism, Mas felt threatened enough to start carrying a gun and driving an armored car.
But Mas also helped out Cuban exiles implicated in terrorism. When Jose Dionisio Suarez Esquivel was connected to the 1976 car bomb that killed Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier and his co-worker Ronnie Moffitt in Washington, Mas defrayed Suarez's legal bills. Mas also contributed to the attorney fees for Guillermo and Ignacio Novo, two other exiles accused in the Letelier/Moffitt murders.
After the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, Mas saw a new opening for his political ambitions. With White House blessing, Mas launched the Cuban-American National Foundation as a political force to support aggressive anti-Castro legislation and policies. Mas rapidly emerged as the Cuban exile to see in the hotbed of Miami politics, a kind of modern caudillo.
The Reagan administration collaborated with Mas despite his strong authoritarian streak. "He would lash out at anyone who appeared soft on Castro," observed Alvin A. Snyder, who was a senior USIA official in the 1980s. Mas demonstrated his clout when the Cuban Museum of Arts and Culture in Miami auctioned works by some Cuban artists who were selected by museum director Ramon Cernuda for their talent, not their political views.
"Jorge Mas saw this as subversive behavior and publicly threatened to use his Washington connections to have Cernuda 'investigated'," Snyder wrote in his book, Warriors of Disinformation. "Customs officials raided Cernuda's home and office and seized some 200 paintings whose importation they claimed had violated the trade embargo against Cuba."
Through a variety of projects, the Reagan-Bush administration funnelled millions of dollars to CANF. One of the biggest boondoggles was a $20 million-plus-a-year scheme to beam U.S. propaganda -- as well as TV programs such as "Alf" and "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" -- to the people of Cuba. Called TV Marti, the project never succeeded in breaking through simple Cuban jamming procedures, but continued because few Washington politicians dared to challenge Mas's political clout.
Politically savvy, Mas also understood the need to feather both the Republican and Democratic sides of his Washington nest. In 1992, when Bill Clinton emerged as a likely winner against George Bush, Mas raised $300,000 for the Democratic contender at a single lunch.
Four years later, running for re-election, President Clinton recognized the political advantage in placating the potent Cuban-American voting blocs in the swing states of Florida and New Jersey. Clinton got his chance when Cuban pilots shot down two unarmed Cessna planes flown by exiles who ignored warnings against buzzing the Cuban shoreline. An outraged Clinton threw his support behind the hard-line Helms-Burton embargo bill.
But this year, Clinton has seen reasons to lighten up on Cuba. First, Pope John Paul II visited the island and urged an end to the punishing embargo. Then, on May 6, the Pentagon issued a report declaring that Cuba's military was no longer a threat to its neighbors. Its size had been cut by 50 percent and its readiness had been reduced by a lack of supplies. The Cuban military is now "a stay-at-home force that has minimal conventional fighting ability," the report said.
So, with Cuba a toothless relic of the Cold War, Mas dead and his CANF veering toward violent extremism, Clinton is faced with a new challenge. He can demonstrate U.S. intolerance of any terrorism launched from American soil while opening economic doors to Cuba -- or he again can turn a blind eye toward the exile violence and continue the economic stranglehold.
Clinton's choice could mark either an end to a long era of U.S.-Cuban hostility, or it could be one more chapter in Washington's near-four-decade determination to crush Fidel Castro, with the ends justifying the means.
May 11, 1998
Now, the other shoe is falling. The inspectors general of the CIA and the Justice Department are completing investigations that will clear the CIA and the Justice Department of wrongdoing. The results of those investigations were leaked out in mid-December, but scheduled releases of the actual reports were postponed. The delays meant that the supposed findings could get major media play without any examination of the underlying facts.
According to the Justice Department, Attorney General Janet Reno requested a delay in that report's release for "law-enforcement reasons." Department officials would not specify what those reasons were, but apparently there is fear that the report contains information that might jeopardize an ongoing federal criminal case.
A broader CIA investigation into the question of Nicaraguan contra connections to the drug trade -- outside CIA control -- continues. But it is unclear how much information the spy agency will divulge, especially given the mainstream media's eagerness to put the issue to rest.
Those, like Webb, who challenged the official orthodoxy on the CIA's innocence have paid dearly. Webb was pushed into resigning his job, a purge made official with an announcement by the Mercury News on Dec. 12. Reached at his home in California, Webb said he is working on a book about his experiences.
Still, the new government reports whenever issued seem likely to pour just one more layer of cover-up on top of an already thick foundation. Over the past half century, the federal government -- and the Washington news media -- have never accepted what appears as obvious fact to many outsiders: that CIA covert actions and drug trafficking go together like horse and carriage, like hand and glove, like Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee.
You might use this article as a guide for reading between the lines of whatever official words are uttered in the new government reports and press stories that follow.
The first test will be whether the new government reports face up to the seamy history. In particular, look for any reference to two heroin-stained covert operations: in Indochina in the 1960s and '70s and in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Both were well documented by Alfred McCoy in his landmark book, The Politics of Heroin.
The second point of reference will be how the reports finesse the overwhelming evidence of Nicaraguan contra-connected cocaine trafficking. This unsavory reality was documented ad nauseam in "Drugs, Law Enforcement and Foreign Policy," a 1989 Senate Foreign Relations report based on hearings chaired by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.
The new reports also might have some difficulty explaining past admissions by frank senior government officials. Gen. Paul F. Gorman, head of the U.S. Southern Command, acknowledged in 1984 that "substantial evidence links drugs, money and arms networks in Central America. The fact is, if you want to go into the subversion business, collect intelligence, and move arms, you deal with drug movers."
Gorman knew what he was talking about, situated as he was in Panama City, next door to Gen. Manuel Noriega, who had been recruited by CIA director William J. Casey and Lt. Col. Oliver L. North to help the contras. Noriega, of course, is now incarcerated in federal prison for drug trafficking.
While Noriega helped the contras from the south, the Honduran military and other drug-connected friends pitched in from the north. One was Juan Ramon Matta Ballesteros, whose rap sheet dates back at least to 1970 when he was arrested at Dulles Airport on drug-related charges and was sentenced to five years in prison. Matta escaped before spending a year behind bars.
By 1975, Matta had linked Mexican and Colombian traffickers, giving a major boost to the fledgling cocaine industry. Three years later, Matta financed a coup d'etat by the military in his native Honduras, a putsch that transformed the banana republic into a transit point for northbound white powder.
By 1983, Matta had been identified in a U.S. Customs report as a Class I DEA violator. He also was linked by the DEA to an airline with the acronym, SETCO, that was run by "American businessmen dealing with Matta [and] smuggling narcotics into the United States."
Despite such lineage, SETCO was hired as "the principal company used by the contras in Honduras to transport supplies and personnel ... from 1983 to 1985," according to the Senate Foreign Relations report. Then, despite Matta's tie to the 1985 murder of star DEA agent Enrique Camarena in Guadalajara, Mexico, the State Department in 1986 renewed SETCO's contract to supply the contras.
Matta is now serving dual life sentences for murder and narcotics trafficking. You might look his name up in the indexes to the new government contra-cocaine reports. [For more details from a non-government source, see Cocaine Politics by Peter Dale Scott and Jonathan Marshall.]
Another name worth checking out is that of Syrian-born Manzer Al-Kassar, who boasts a similar drug resume -- and a relationship with the U.S. government.
Reader's Digest reported in 1986 that Al-Kassar had supplied arms and explosives "for terrorist operations in France, Spain and Holland" and sold "silencer-equipped assassination pistols, rockets and other weapons" to Libya, Iran, South Yemen and Lebanon." The article also linked Al-Kassar to heroin deals involving up to 100 kilos (220 pounds). Two years earlier, the DEA had classified Al-Kassar as a major drug trafficker.
Yet, when the Reagan administration's Iran-contra operations were exposed in 1986, the ledgers of Oliver North's "Enterprise" revealed that it had paid $1.5 million for contra arms shipments to the same Manzer Al-Kassar. See how that is explained.
Then, there's the more recent case of former Venezuelan Gen. Ramon Guillen Davila. A year ago, Guillen was indicted on charges of shipping up to 22 tons of cocaine to the United States between 1987 and 1991. According to the Miami Herald, Guillen was the CIA's most trusted man in Venezuela and the senior official collaborating with the CIA on narcotics control.
Guillen claims the CIA knew all along what he was doing. To date he has successfully resisted extradition, but an accomplice, Adolfo Romero Gomez, was convicted in Miami last October on cocaine trafficking charges. A key witness testified that he overheard Romero and Guillen discussing deals with the Cali cartel.
You might check, too, to see how the new reports deal with DEA agents who tried to blow the whistle during the 1980s. Just as the contra-connected drug trade was heating up, the Reagan administration closed the DEA office in Honduras. But from Guatemala City, DEA agent Celerino Castillo III began investigating reports of illegal drug activity at the Ilopango air base in El Salvador, the home of North's contra resupply operation.
As Castillo describes in his autobiography, Powder Burns, his reports on the drug trafficking of contra suppliers were initially ignored. Later, they were criticized for grammatical errors. Then, he was told to stay away from El Salvador and threatened with charges of improper conduct. Finally, after receiving threats against his family, he quit.
Another curiosity -- given the CIA's 50 years of covert activities, often side by side with drug traffickers -- is the absence of a single publicly known criminal charge against a CIA officer for succumbing to the temptation to accept a bribe or to abuse the job's secrecy by aiding and abetting a drug shipment.
Perhaps, the new government reports -- whenever the American citizenry is allowed to peruse them -- will explain how the CIA found and recruited individuals of such exemplary character.
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