Monday, April 23, 2012

The Left loves and excuses him just like they did Stalin

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The hit teams that carried out Castro’s vendettas

   Fidel Castro makes a surprise appearance at the sixth Communist Party Congress in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday April 19, 2011. One of his darkest secrets was the existence of a team of assassins under his personal control.
Javier Galeano / AP
Fidel Castro makes a surprise appearance at the sixth Communist Party Congress in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday April 19, 2011. One of his darkest secrets was the existence of a team of assassins under his personal control.
Assassination operations had always been Fidel’s personal bailiwick. None could be conducted that he did not authorize and help plan. The means for carrying out this most sinister of secret Cuban capabilities were always decentralized and rigidly compartmentalized. It was not scruples that concerned Fidel but the need for airtight deniability.

The Cubans used DGI-controlled illegals, surrogates of other nationalities, as executioners. They carried out some of the most sensitive missions overseas, especially against high-visibility, well-protected targets. Death squads drawn from Latin American terrorist and revolutionary groups beholden to Cuba could be relied on, deniability compounded by degrees of separation. Carefully screened, the foreign assassins were trained at secret Cuban bases, learning to kill in gangland-style hits, elaborately orchestrated paramilitary operations, commando strikes and sly poisonings.

In the most sensitive operations, when even greater deniability was desired, Fidel did rely on carefully screened Cubans. In the 1970s and 1980s, according to Aspillaga, a super-secret four-man squad of assassins reported exclusively to Castro. In our meetings, Aspillaga described two of Fidel’s secret assassins. One he knew in the 1980s was nicknamed “El Chiquitico,’’ the Little One. Another was familiar to him only as “El Chamaco,’’ the Kid. In one of our recorded interviews, Aspillaga said of Fidel, “When he chooses someone, he takes his personality and dominates you . . . he controls you mentally. That’s what he did to those four assassins.’’ They had been molded and brainwashed, Aspillaga believed, into blindly loyal killing machines.

I asked him for examples of their handiwork.

Fidel, he said, “had generals in Bolivia, who were involved in Che’s death, killed.’’ CIA analysts had come to that conclusion years before Aspillaga defected. Four Bolivians — two generals, an army captain, and a peasant — who had materially contributed to the demise of Castro’s lieutenant Che Guevara were assassinated, for all appearances, by death squads. Another general, Rene Barrientos, the popular president of Bolivia when Che was killed, died himself a year and a half later in an unexplained helicopter crash.

In the late 1960s, we CIA desk analysts knew nothing about Castro’s personal team of assassins and, frankly, little about his compulsion for lethal revenge. But the number and pattern of the killings of the Bolivians, Fidel’s obvious motive, and the professionalism of the executions all suggested official Cuban involvement. These were not the kinds of mysterious deaths that could have been explained away as heart attacks, suicides, or accidents. We had no doubt that the Bolivians had been murdered by killers intent on avenging Che.

The first to die after Barrientos was Honorato Rojas, a subsistence farmer in the Bolivian backlands where Che’s insurgency had struggled for a toehold. At first Rojas assisted a band of guerrillas commanded by one of Guevara’s lieutenants, agreeing to guide them through the tangled terrain. But a Bolivian army officer persuaded him to betray the strange, bedraggled intruders, most of them Cubans. On Aug. 31, 1967, Rojas led the guerrillas straight into a killing ambush at the confluence of two swift rivers. A half dozen of Guevara’s dwindling band were killed instantly, and others were captured. It was one of the decisive skirmishes in the lopsided Bolivian conflict and was followed five weeks later by Che’s capture and execution.

Rojas’ betrayal was key to the failure of the entire revolutionary endeavor; the ambush he arranged eliminated a third of Che’s force. In July 1969, Rojas paid the ultimate price for his treachery. The luckless peasant was gunned down by unknown assailants claiming to be members of a Bolivian revolutionary front.

The next target was Roberto Quintanilla, a Bolivian army intelligence officer who played a role in Che’s failure. He was murdered in Germany in 1971. The best known victim was Gen. Joaquin Zenteno, commander of the army division that pursued Che. Zenteno was shot in Paris in May 1976 while serving as his country’s ambassador. The previously unknown Che Guevara Command claimed responsibility; it was never heard from again. Two weeks later another general, Juan Jose Torres, a top Bolivian staff officer who had ratified the order for Che to be executed, was murdered by an Argentine death squad. All the cases quickly went cold.

General Zenteno was doubly anathema to Fidel. Assisting him in his hunt for Che were two Cuban exile contract CIA operatives, both veterans of the earlier clandestine wars across the Florida Straits. They were well known to Cuban intelligence. In his memoirs, Felix Rodriguez admitted participating in an assassination plot against Fidel in 1961, and he believes he was targeted for death by Castro after Che’s execution. Gustavo Villoldo, the second Cuban exile advisor to General Zenteno, also published memoirs, and told me that he was targeted for death on three different occasions by Cuban operatives, most recently in 2003 during a visit to Bolivia.

Arranging for the executions of defectors, traitors, worthy enemies, and even an occasional foreign general was commonplace in Fidel’s nearly 50-year career in office. Targeting serving and former heads of states was a more daring undertaking.

But through most of his years in power, Fidel played by his own vengeful rules. At least four sitting or former presidents of Latin American countries were the targets of meticulously planned Cuban “black’’ operations. Probably other such operations left no traces.

Knowledgeable exile sources have told me that Fidel for years had his predecessor, Fulgencio Batista, marked for execution. The old dictator, living in exile in Portugal and Spain, was the target in 1973 of an elaborately rehearsed Cuban plot.

Fidel’s plan was not to assassinate him but to snatch, or kidnap, him alive. It would be a Cuban version of the justice meted out to Nazi mass murderer Adolf Eichmann, who was kidnapped by Israeli intelligence in Argentina and convicted in a show trial in Jerusalem in 1961. Cuban commandoes and DGI operatives were ready to seize Batista from the walled compound near Lisbon where he lived or when he ventured out. He would be drugged, smuggled to Havana — probably on a Cuban merchant vessel — displayed and humiliated before a revolutionary tribunal, and then executed.

I learned of this previously untold conspiracy from a ranking DGI defector. Now living in the United States under an assumed identity, he learned of the Lisbon plot from another senior DGI officer with knowledge of what was in the works. “The plan was ready to be implemented,” he told me. “We had a squad of illegals set up in a safe house, ready to seize Batista and take him to Cuba . . or assassinate him if the plot could not be fulfilled. It was elaborately planned.’’ Ironically, Batista died of natural causes during a vacation at a Spanish resort town in August 1973 shortly before the operation was to take place.

The savage Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo was another early example. He was a genuine tyrant from almost any perspective. Trujillo authorized the torture and merciless killing of his opponents. The grudge Fidel held, however, was due to Trujillo’s sponsorship of a clumsy coup attempt against him in August 1959. Castro even then — his first summer in power — was running double agents, one of whom kept him informed of Trujillo’s conspiracy. And Castro, I was told by a DGI defector, plotted unsuccessfully to strike back with an assassination.

For Castro, however, there were no more deserving objects of his wrath than two of modern Latin America’s most reviled dictators. Also both generals, Anastasio Somoza, the durable Nicaraguan dictator, and Augusto Pinochet, the Chilean president from 1973 until 1989, were for years high on Fidel’s most wanted list.

Somoza, commander of Nicaragua’s National Guard before inheriting the presidency in 1967, had done much to earn Fidel’s wrath. Working with the CIA, he had provided training facilities and an air base for the Bay of Pigs brigade in 1961. Two years later he allowed an exile group to train and launch sabotage attacks on the island form a base on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast. Somoza’s was the kind of mercenary belligerence that Castro cannot forgive.

The DGI mounted the first serious attempt against the dictator in 1964. But it was not until 16 years later that a perfectly executed commando operation succeeded in assassinating the former Nicaraguan leader. The armored car in which he was being chauffeured in the streets of Asunciòn, Paraguay, was incinerated in a coolly calibrated bazooka attach on Sept. 17, 1980.

Jorge Masetti has written about it. Masetti was the son and namesake of a fallen Argentine guerrilla leader who had been close to Che. Following in his father’s footsteps, the younger Masetti was for years a roving DGI warrior and operative. After defecting in 1990, he described Somoza’s murder. It was a precision attack, conceived, planned, and practiced to perfection at a secret base in Cuba.

The executioner “knelt in the middle of the street,’’ according to Masetti. “His shot hit the mark dead center, but the projectile was a dud. And then, amid the ensuing crossfire . . . he calmly reloaded and made the second shot that killed Somoza. The guerrillas then hastily withdrew according to plan.’’ Masetti knew them; they were a group of Argentine terrorists, DGI illegals.

With Somoza gone, Pinochet rose to the top of Fidel’s demonology. Leader of the September 1973 coup that overthrew fervid Cuban ally Salvador Allende, the Chilean president would proves less vulnerable than the exiled Somoza. There may have been other failed attempts, but the one that came closest to success occurred in September 1986.

It was a paramilitary operation similar to the one against Somoza, conducted in 1986 at the curve of a road in the outskirts of the capital of Santiago with an arsenal of heavy weapons. Two Cuban defectors — former top DGI operative Jose Maragon and Lazaro Betancourt, a commando and sharpshooter — know details of the meticulously planned attack. They told me the guiding Cuban hand was common knowledge in their intelligence circles.

Betancourt was familiar with the failed attempt because it was used as a case study in his commando training. His instructor had prepared the Chilean terrorists who conducted the assault. They were members of the Manuel Rodriguez Patriotic Front, one of South American terrorist groups the DGI used for special operations that could not easily be traced back to Cuba.

No Cubans participated. but the planning and training had all been done at the Cuban base. Cuban Special Troops delivered the Vietnam-era American weapons used — aboard a vessel of the Cuban fishing fleet — to an isolated spot on Chile’s northern Pacific coast.

The Guardian newspaper in London described the assault as “dramatically cinematic in its execution.’’ Pinochet’s heavy armored vehicle came under a rain of machine-gun fire and was jolted by at least one grenade explosion. Reportedly bazookas and rocket launchers were also used. The dictator, accompanied by his young grandson, was slightly wounded but went on to serve another three years in office. Five of his bodyguards were killed. and 11 others were wounded. All the attackers managed to flee safely back to Cuba.

Give the left here the opportunity and they would do exactly the same to their opposition.

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