By Alexander Nixon, MA
Beyond the importance of telling a story that is mostly unknown in the United States but certainly needs telling, Keith Bolender's Voices from the Other Side: An Oral History of Terrorism Against Cuba, offers a refreshing counter-narrative for the Miami-driven discourse about Cuba being an island of oppression. According to Bolender's central thesis, the very same people who criticize the oppression of the Cuban government are, in fact, responsible for it.
In Voices Bolender cites the following quote by St. Ingatius Loyola: “in a besieged castle, all dissent is treason” (p. 17). As a New Yorker, who lived through the September 11th attacks, this quote describes the irrational hysteria occurring in the wake of that cataclysmic day. Since that terrible time, even the most progressive people among us accept the random backpack searches in the MTA by police or the unsolicited pat-downs at airports. Most agree that some freedom can be sacrificed for security.
According to testimonials recorded by Bolender, after 1959 and the events that followed, Cubans similarly, have sacrificed liberty for security. An interview with Emilio Comas, for example, argues that the problematic relationship between security and freedom explains precisely the absence of opposition parties in Cuba.
"Once the terrorism and the blockade [U.S. Embargo] ends, then we can breathe and find out what we want from our society. Americans and the dissidents confuse the concepts of liberty and concepts of democracy regarding human rights. What government would allow a demonstration that has been supported by a foreign government, one that publicly says it wants to overthrow our system? Would the United States allow an opposition movement inside the US that was financed and supported by Al Qaeda?" (pp. 205-6).
Some might ask if the successive post-1959 acts of terrorism against Cuba by CIA-trained Miami exile groups might be regarded as comparable to Al Qaeda acts of terrorism on the United States. The firsthand testimonials about the ominous threats of terror from the neighbor to the North suggest that Cubans, indeed, were and have remained fearful of terrorist attacks.
Mr. Bolender provides many accounts about CIA-trained Cuban exiles who injured or killed hundreds of Cubans over the fifty years following the Revolution. His Cuban interviewees, none of whom were associated or connected with the government, discuss bombings, biological attacks, sabotage of a Cubana airline, and psychological warfare. According to these accounts, all of the attacks are traced back to the CIA's Operation Mongoose and to exile groups such as Alpha 66. In addition, the testimonials support claims of terrorist acts organized by Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch against ordinary Cubans because of citizen submission to communist rule.
Noam Chomsky notes in his Introduction to Bolender’s book that the siege of the Cuban castle had begun long before Castro’s Cuban Revolution. Beginning with the Spanish-American War, US foreign policy is as much to blame for Cuba's "siege mentality" as are the CIA-trained exile groups,. In effect, the Monroe Doctrine opened the door for US imperialistic designs that would culminate in the Spanish-American War of 1898. From that point on, Cuba's sovereignty and independence depended on US hegemony. Cuba might have gained independence from Spain but under the Platt Amendment in 1901, that independence was translated into US- protectorate status. Since then, Cuban sovereignty and national self-determination have been subjected to US foreign policy and our economic interests.
This lopsided relationship was exacerbated by the Cold War and the prevailing Domino Theory about political stabilization in the western hemisphere. According to Bolender, Kissinger and other policy-makers did not want Cuba's revolution to be an example for Latin American countries to follow.
Therefore, after inheriting Eisenhower's enmity for Cuba's defiance of US hegemony, Kennedy made ousting Castro central to his policy towards Cuba. Consequently, the CIA trained and funded Cuban exile groups that continued their terrorism long after the US government's zeal for killing Cuba gave way to lassitude. As Voices demonstrates, this reign of terror continued well into the 90s.
Bolender argues that the "castle under siege" notion by the US since 1901 and after 1959 serves to explain the lack of transparency and lack of opposition parties’ criticism leveled by Miami exile groups in their unending statements of condemnation.
"The resultant siege mentality and unconditional demand for patria (unity) has driven the government into implementing security policies that have curtailed certain civil rights, nurtured and individual culture of suspicion complete with a language of political code, and has cultivated a sense of fatalism and black humor that marks much of the modern [Cuba] identity" (p. 203).
Recently, Mr. Bolender visited the Center for Cuban Studies to discuss his book with author Michael Smith and Sandra Levinson, the Center’s Director. Note that video from the discussion can be seen below.
Much of their discussion revolved around the sabotage of the Cubana airline flight, the acts of terrorism directed against civilian targets, and the Cuban Five. Because few Americans are familiar with the acts of terrorism described by Bolender and his interviewed Cubans, Voices from the Other Side: An Oral History of Terrorism Against Cuba provides an important and valuable record.
It also illuminates the effects of violence on a country's sense of psychological security and how, when a country is threatened, the relationship between freedom and security becomes distorted. On this point, I doubt few Americans who were around during and after September 11th would disagree.
You can purchase a copy of Bolender's Voices at a discounted rate from The Center for Cuban Studies. Email us at
to obtain a copy.
Alexander Nixon is the Organization Development Coordinator for the Center for Cuban Studies / Cuban Art Space. He has a BA from Stanford University in Latin American Studies and Fine Arts and an MA from NYU in Latin American Studies.
DISCUSSION WITH KEITH BOLENDER, MICHAEL SMITH, AND SANDRA LEVINSON CONTINUES (PART 3)
DISCUSSION WITH KEITH BOLENDER, MICHAEL SMITH, AND SANDRA LEVINSON CONTINUES (PART 4)
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