President Obama’s trip to Cuba is historic, not just because it is the first visit of a U.S. President in 88 years, but because it has ushered in a new era of a much more cordial relationship between the two adversarial nations. The Cuban people have been kept isolated and oppressed under the iron fist of El Jefe Fidel Castro for nearly 50 years. The U.S. embargo on Cuba, imposed since 1960 has been a propagandist’s dream come true and Castro has played it to maximum benefit, blaming the U.S. for all of Cuba’s economic and societal woes. Raúl Castro, Fidel’s brother, replaced Fidel as the Cuban President in 2008, allowing for the door to finally be opened, albeit by only a crack, to try and start a market economy which, if successful, will eventually lead to greater freedoms for the Cuban people.
President Obama, in his last year in office, is searching for ways to secure his legacy. The plus/minus ledger on his term in office must include Obama’s expanded drone program, targeting and killing U.S. citizens overseas, Obamacare, the creation of a public/private healthcare system that over time will fail and the broken promise to close the Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp. The present bitterness between Cuba and the U.S. will have to be overlooked in order for a process to start that eventually might lead to normalized relations between the countries. In talks with Raúl Castro during his visit, Obama will undoubtedly bring up human rights abuses and the jailing for political purposes in Cuban prisons, to which Castro will call out Obama on the treatment of detainees in the Guantánamo Bay Detention facility. One thing that Obama will not bring up to his Cuban counterpart however, would be the fact that U.S. citizens, William Morales, Victor Gerena and Charles Hill are American fugitives that fled to Cuba to avoid lengthy prison terms in the U.S.
William Morales made bombs for the Puerto Rican terrorist group, Armed Forces of National Liberation (F.A.L.N.). The final one that he made, blew up in his hands, resulting in the loss of his fingers and one eye. The group was credited with a series of bombings in New York City in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Morales was caught at the time of his mishap, convicted and sentenced to 29 to 89 years in state prison and 10 years in federal prison. Morales escaped custody and made his way to Cuba where he still resides.
Victor Gerena is wanted in the U.S. for a 1983 $7million Wells Fargo robbery, used to fund Los Macheteros, a group seeking the independence of Puerto Rico from the U.S. The group’s actions included the blowing up of eight National Guard jets, the attacking of two federal courthouses and the killing of two U.S. sailors. The F.B.I. believe Gerena is living in Cuba.
Charles Hill is another fugitive from the U.S. In 1971, Hill, along with two other members of the black power militant group, Republic of New Afrika, hijacked a plane from New Mexico to Cuba to avoid capture after the shooting death of a New Mexico State Police officer. Hill has lived in Cuba since the incident, under the protection of the Cuban government.
Cuba is not the only government sheltering fugitives from justice. The U.S. is harboring Luis Posada Carriles, a terrorist according to the F.B.I., who was convicted of involvement in the bombing of Cubana flight 455 in 1976 that killed 73 civilians. Posada was paid as a C.I.A. operative in Nicaragua and El Salvador in the 1980’s during the Reagan administration’s Dirty Wars in Central America. Posada was arrested in Panama in 2000 with 200lbs of explosives, to be used in an attempt to assassinate Fidel Castro who was visiting Panama at the time. In late 2004 Posada was pardoned by Panama and since 2005 he has been living in the U.S., a free man despite the efforts by Cuba and Venezuela to have him extradited to their countries to face trial for acts of terror.
These fugitives, in the U.S. and in Cuba, are used as pawns by their respective governments. In the game of propaganda, brinkmanship and international posturing, peace, justice and the rule of law always suffer. Cuba has started to open the door to let in an enemy that has been, for almost 60 years, bent on the destruction of the Castro regime. Seeking revenge for Castro’s overthrow of the U.S. backed dictator Fulgencio Batista’s government has fueled American actions for 6 decades. Obama has taken the first step, it will be up to his successor to determine if the progress will continue.
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