The book is an accessible way to learn about this little remarked upon area of US aggression. It is a timely reminder that, despite its colossal resources and power, America cannot guarantee the fulfillment of its imperialist aims.
Keith Bolender, Voices From The Other Side (Pluto 2010), 224pp.
Keith Bolender’s Voices From The Other Side uses personal accounts to document the history of American terrorism against Cuba. Bolender takes us through terrorist acts committed by America through anti-Castro militant organisations since the Cuban revolution in 1959. There are two introductory chapters, one by Noam Chomsky and one by Bolender which focus on the strategic reasons why America has so targeted Cuba and of the groups behind the acts. America has tried to control Cuba since their War of Independence against Spain in 1898. It felt Cuba to be important as a base from which to project its power into the rest of Latin America. Since the revolution it has acted so aggressively against Cuba because, as Nixon’s National Security Council stated, if they lost control in Cuba, they would loose the ability to control Latin America, and therefore ‘to achieve a successful order elsewhere in the world’.
After the revolution, anti-Castro exiles fled to Florida and set up militant organisations such as Alpha 66, Omega 7 and Commandos F4 in Florida. America suggested actions, helped finance these groups and allowed them to operate with impunity. The most infamous members, Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles were behind the bombing of a Cubana Airlines flight in 1976, which killed all 73 passengers on board. They were trained by the CIA and currently live freely in Miami.
Each chapter then introduces the details of specific acts or types of terrorism, with individual testimonials then describing the personal impact. Acts include the bombings of a munitions ship and department stores, murders of teachers during the Cuban Literacy Campaign, and the killing of volunteers showing commercial films to rural residents in the 1960s. Attacks took place on defenceless villages in the 60s and 70s and there were hotel bombings in the 1990s.
One chapter focuses on the belief that America carried out biological terrorism through intentionally introducing viral agents such as Swine-flu in 1971, resulting in 500,000 pigs being destroyed, and the Dengue-2 virus in 1981 which killed more than 100 children. Another describes ‘Operation Peter Pan’ which took place from November 1960 to October 1962. Officials in Miami worked with the Catholic Church in Cuba to fabricate rumours directed to the middle and upper classes that the new government wanted to take their children under state control. They convinced parents to send their children overseas, promising them a counter-revolution would take place within six months. The counter-revolution never happened, but this operation resulted in 14,000 children being sent abroad, alone, to unknown fates, with many never seeing their families again.
The book was informative, but the personal accounts from all these events did not, in the end, have the impact they were clearly intended to have. The purpose of the book was to create an oral history of those affected by American terrorism and to give a human face to those living in Cuba. The individuals do describe the social, emotional and psychological impact of the acts, and their overwhelming desire for justice. However, individuals were described in such a sentimentalised way that it felt as though any agency was being stripped away.
The chapter ‘The Cuban National Identity’ did attempt to give the people’s own political analysis, but through the idea that defiance and self-determination is uniquely Cuban. This is a narrowly nationalist, rather than particularly revealing explanation. A concluding chapter would have been welcome to give a wider analysis on how Cuba has managed to defy America’s aggression and on the parallels between America’s actions against Cuba and the War on Terror.
After fifty years of travel restrictions, economic blockade, propaganda war and terrorist acts, America has still not won. The Cuban people will not let America control their country, just as the Iraqis and Afghans will not let America and its western allies take control. As one individual eloquently explained:
‘What right do they have to tell another country what leaders it should have, what right do they have to tell another country what social, political and economic system they should have? And what right do they have to conduct such aggression, such terrorism, against that country?’
Internal and international pressure will continue to expose imperialist aims to dominate the world.