Cuban American “terrorism” overlooked

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Many historians “have largely ignored” or played down “Cuban American terrorism in the 1960s and 1970s,” a Temple University scholar writes. Yet “the wave of terror unleashed on parts of the United States during the 1970s, especially, was arguably the most serious and impactful in U.S. history, fully on par with Gilded Age anarchism, Vietnam-era radicalism, and 1990s right-wing militia bombings.”
Alan McPherson wrote:

Between 1974 and 1976, the most intense phase of Cuban American terrorism, U.S. authorities tied 113 major bombings in the United States to Cuban exiles. By another count, over two hundred major and minor bombings rocked Miami alone in those same years, with thirteen bombs exploding in a single, terrifying 48-hour period.

Alan McPherson

McPherson is the Thomas J. Freaney, Jr. Professor of History and Director of the Center for the Study of Force and Diplomacy at Temple University in Philadelphia. His paper, “Caribbean Taliban: Cuban American Terrorism in the 1970s,” was published online on Oct. 25.

He writes that the FBI once considered Miami to be America’s “terrorist capital.” He wrote:

In fact, in 1974, Cuban exiles accounted for 45 percent of all terrorist bombings on the planet. There were also several homicides of a political nature in Miami and New Jersey.

In his paper, McPherson focuses on two militant groups: the Cuban Nationalist Movement, or MNC, and Alpha 66. Beliefs driving both groups were:

  • A tale of ongoing betrayal by well-defined enemies
  • An imagined return to power
  • A civilizational mission shaping the future

McPherson wrote:

Together, those ideological elements created a compelling case for non-violent Cuban Americans to support the militants in their midst or to accommodate them. Community support, in places such as Miami and New Jersey, proved crucial for sustaining what can credibly be labeled the Caribbean Taliban.

He says the MNS had around a dozen active members and was based in Union City, New Jersey. He writes:

Its most spectacular mission was the car-bombing of leftist Chilean exile Orlando Letelier in 1976. Alpha 66, meanwhile, a much larger organization claiming sixty-three chapters in 1977, conducted dozens of violent missions against the government and civilians in Cuba meant to sabotage the Revolution.

The CIA once supported many of the militants, but they were generally not loyal to Washington, McPherson wrote.

Many exiles felt almost as betrayed by the U.S. government as they did by Castro. Even while funded and trained by the CIA, many undertook their own operations or carried out operations after the agency cancelled them.
Disillusioned exiles created Alpha 66 and proudly thereafter claimed to have “absolutely no ties to the CIA.”
The Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter administrations pursued détente with the Castro regime, letting down the Cuban Americans even more.
From a prison cell, Guillermo Novo once wrote an open letter to “the exiled Cuban” claiming that he would not ask for a reduced sentence because he could not stoop to beg for mercy from a traitorous U.S. government. Using the classic idiom of just war, he added, “I am nothing more than a soldier for the Fatherland.”

Guillermo Novo. Photo: Latinamericanstudies.org

Members of MNC and Alpha 66 called themselves nationalists. McPherson wrote:

…Their nationalism was one that embraced tenets of the right—rabid anti-communism, the sanctity of private property, the worship of family and tradition, rigid social order, and the primacy of the (Catholic) Church: “familia, municipio, y estado,” Guillermo Novo once pledged. Family, town, and state.

Novo led the MNC and has been linked to several high-profile incidents, including a 1964 bazooka attack at the United Nations in New York. See “Guillermo Novo: Freedom fighter or lawbreaker?
Cuban nationalism are themes of such blogs as El Nuevo Acción, which paid tribute to Novo and others on Nov. 14:

Many of these Nationalists are no longer with us, unfortunately they have died. A large part of the Cuban nationalists suffered imprisonment in the United States, Venezuela, Mexico and other countries.
THE CUBAN NATIONALISTS ARE A RARE SPECIES OF CUBANS, THEY BELIEVE IN CHRIST, LOVE COUNTRY AND FAMILY.
Long live Christ the King. Long live the Homeland. Long live Nationalist Cuba.

McPherson says a common MNC greeting, “Cuba above all,” was “eerily similar to the Nazi Deutschland über Alles.” He wrote:

Given such rhetoric, it was no accident that the MNC found ideological allies among Chile’s Pinochet and his neofascist youth supporters such as Fatherland and Freedom. The MNC even dressed in uniforms and berets—probably meant to suggest the masculinist militarism of U.S. Army Special Forces, but equally reminiscent of fascist youth.

Guillermo Novo. Photo: Latinamericanstudies. org.

Many Cuban-Americans were sympathetic to the MNC and Alpha 66. McPherson wrote:

In 1972, Alpha 66’s Nazario penned an open letter asking potential supporters for $10 donations, hoping to collect $10,000. In exchange, Alpha 66 would conduct “attacks” on Cuba that would result in “at least one coup each month” for the next half-year. Ten years later, the same year Alpha 66 organized a “festival of children’s art,” the Miami City Commission voted a $10,000 grant for it. When the Miami Herald editorialized against the funds, the “Military Chief” of the group shot back: “Alpha 66 is not a terrorist organization” like the KKK or the Palestinian Liberation Organization. He cited ties to the community — the voluntary nature of its participants, its many delegations, the use of funds for harboring refugees — as evidence. Alpha 66, therefore, was fully mainstream while conducting violent political non-state actions.

The FBI accused the MNC of extorting businesses to obtain contributions. McPherson wrote:

The FBI reported that “businessmen” in Union City established a network which would collect money in the form of ‘taxes’ from all segments of the Cuban community who were able to contribute and then divide the money between the various groups they supported. The businessmen would not necessarily sanction or direct specific anti-Castro activities; however, their ability to provide financial support probably gave them, at a minimum, indirect control over the various groups.
The bureau suggested that such extortion netted $100,000 per year. Some owners did give enthusiastically, and some helped direct the groups’ missions.

McPherson says there are differences between the Taliban and Cuban-American extremists, but there are also strong parallels. He writes:

Cuban Americans felt betrayed by allied governments and entitled to head their own. They imagined a morally purified society as their ideal and they garnered massive support from the communities they either inspired or terrified. Overall, the label of “Caribbean Taliban” is apt and serves to communicate that the terrorism of Cuban Americans in the 1970s was no laughing matter.

You will be able to learn more about the Caribbean Taliban in McPherson’s 2019 book, “Ghosts of Sheridan Circle: How the Letelier Car Bomb Brought a Terror State to Justice,” to be published by the University of North Carolina Press.

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