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Cuba From the Other Side

Posted on Apr 8, 2011

By Karen Lee Wald

I first learned of Keith Bolender’s book “Voices From the Other Side: An Oral History of Terrorism Against Cuba” when the author reached out to me after reading an article I’d written on Luis Posada Carriles in The Rag blog. The article, “The Puppies That Got Away,” was based on an interview with a woman who almost became a victim, along with three children she was caring for, in one of the hotels Posada’s thugs bombed in 1997. The title came from the coded message used by one of Posada’s hired killers in an earlier bombing that destroyed a passenger plane in flight, killing all aboard. The telephone message was “A bus with 73 dogs went over a cliff and all perished.”

Bolender thought I might be interested in his book, an oral history, like mine, taken from many of the survivors of the 50-plus years of terrorism against Cuba waged by the United States and Cuba’s former ruling class.

I was.

I thought it would be helpful if people who are always hearing and reading about the “repression of dissidents” in Cuba and jump to their defense could also hear the other side: what happened to the thousands of people whose lives were affected by the actions of terrorists from inside and outside the country. I thought it would put a human face on the statistics regarding the material and human damage caused by counterrevolutionaries and mercenaries who are euphemistically called “dissidents” or “anti-Castro militants.”

“Voices From the Other Side” does this. But it also does a great deal more.

As expected, the first chapter gives an overview of the multiple forms of terrorism carried out against Cuba in what Bolender calls “the unknown war.”


book cover


Voices From The Other Side: An Oral History Of Terrorism Against Cuba


By Keith Bolender


Pluto Press, 224 pages


Buy the book

He talks about “the bombs have that destroyed department stores, hotel lobbies, theatres, famous restaurants and bars—people’s lives.” He talks about the first airline bombing in the history of the Western Hemisphere, and also reminds readers of “the explosion aboard a ship in Havana Harbor, killing and injuring hundreds.” He tells readers about the 1960s attacks on defenseless rural villages and homes, of “teenagers tortured and murdered for teaching farmers to read and write.” He reminds us of the biological terrorism (the dengue fever epidemic) “that caused the deaths of more than 100 children.” And he adds new elements for those of us used to thinking of terrorism solely as shooting and bombing by referring to the “psychological horror that drove thousands of parents to willingly send their children to an unknown fate in a foreign country” (Operation Peter Pan).

This kind of overview has been done before by authors such as Jane Franklin. What Bolender adds here is the lifelong effect terrorist activities have had on the survivors—those left with hearing loss, stitched-up wounds and such, but, even worse, lifelong emotional scars. Survivors who tell of being nervous and jumpy 20, 30 or more years after being in a room where a bomb went off. And the other kinds of “survivors”: mothers and fathers who for decades mourn the needless deaths of their children; siblings and children of those who were cut up, castrated and lynched by “anti-Castro militants,” or went screaming to their fiery deaths in an airplane that was already in pieces before it crashed into the sea.

I want these stories to be in the hands of those well-meaning people who ask, “Why does the Castro government repress dissidents?” I want these people to understand what terrorists have done that makes Cubans today so unable to give them the free rein they demand to carry out their actions.

Bolender explains in the very beginning:

Since the earliest days of the revolution, Cuba has been fighting its own war on terrorism. The victims have been overwhelmingly innocent civilians. The accused have been primarily Cuban-American counter-revolutionaries—many allegedly trained, financed and supported by various American government agencies.

And he explains that throughout the island of Cuba “it is hard not to find someone who doesn’t have a story to tell of a relative or friend who has been a victim of terrorism. The personal toll has been calculated at 3,478 dead and 2,099 injured.” This, of course, is something few on the outside realize, and he talks about why we don’t hear or read about it, about the political/ideological justification for so much cruelty. But he also talks about the real reasons—acknowledged by numerous U.S. administrations—for U.S.-backed and -financed terrorist acts against the island, information that is every bit as important as the humanization of the victims.

Preceded by a well-researched and evocative introduction by Noam Chomsky dealing with the history of and reasons for U.S. policy toward this upstart island nation that would dare to remain outside the grasp of U.S. hegemony, Bolender goes on to give readers a better understanding of Washington’s Machiavellian policies toward Cuba.

He starts off simply, with the well-known fact that “[s]ince the earliest days of Fidel’s victory, America has obsessed over this relatively insignificant third-world country, determined to eliminate the radically different social-economic order” that Castro’s revolution brought about. He describes the various excuses Washington has used since the earliest days of the Republic to justify its attempts to maintain dominance over the island nation.

“America at various times has portrayed Cuba as a helpless woman, a defenceless baby, a child in need of direction, an incompetent freedom fighter, an ignorant farmer, an ignoble ingrate, an ill-bred revolutionary, a viral communist” during the two centuries of the Monroe Doctrine. This history in and of itself is useful for those not already familiar with it.

Where the history gets more interesting is when this researcher uses quotes from U.S. leaders to show both why and how Washington attempted to get rid of Fidel’s revolution:

Richard Nixon, who, Bolender notes, “was one of the first to promote the theme of preventing the revolution from infecting others,” commented in 1962 on the need to “eradicate this cancer in our own hemisphere.” Nixon’s comment reminded me of an explanation offered years ago by a Cuban-American friend of mine, Tony Llanso: “The Cuban Revolution is like crab grass growing in your back yard. You have to pick crab grass because it spreads.”

But it was one particular “how” that I found intriguing. Bolender shows the vicious cycle of increasing repressive measures by the U.S. as Cuba increased its reforms on behalf of the poor majority of its citizens. This quickly—and intentionally—escalated to terrorism on the part of the United States against its tiny but audacious neighbor. And here Bolender is worth quoting at length:

As the rhetoric increased, terrorist acts were formulated and carried out. In partial response to the terror and other hostilities, the revolution became increasingly radicalized.

From the start, policy makers knew terrorism would put a strain politically and economically on the nascent Cuban government, forcing it to use precious resources to protect itself and its citizens. It was to be part of the overarching strategy of making things so bad that the Cubans might rise up and overthrow their government. Terrorism was the dirty piece of the scheme, along with the economic embargo, international isolation and unrelenting approbation.

American officials estimated millions would be spent to develop internal security systems, and State Department officials expected the Cuban government to increase internal surveillance in an attempt to prevent further acts of terrorism. These systems, which restricted civil rights, became easy targets for critics.|



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drbhelthi's avatar

By drbhelthi, April 14, 2011 at 2:40 pm Link to this comment

“- - the Cuban situation which is one of the most complicated ones if
not the most complicated one, in the Western Hemisphere.” MK Ultra

I have no doubt that you are correct about Cuba being complicated. 
However, I do not understand how it could be the most complicated one
in the western hemisphere, compared to what´s going on and what´s not
going on in the U.S.A.

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Napolean DoneHisPart's avatar

By Napolean DoneHisPart, April 14, 2011 at 12:09 pm Link to this comment

How about if folks would let the Cubans work out what is happening in Cuba… and everyone else can SHUT UP!  Empire has left its mark on that island for far too long, and the LAST thing the Cubans need is some non-Cuban’s advice.

I’m 100% Cuban, my folks came to Amerika during the political change, yet Empire still rules and Castro made grave mistakes, though it seems he started with decent intentions ( consider Napoleon after the power went to his head ).

This is similar to non-Jews and non-Palestinians arguing and giving their two cents and blind opinion without knowing the truth of the matter.

Brainwashing has occurred in Cuba, where the students have been taught that Castro is God… and atheism is rampant.. who wouldn’t be?... being told that some bearded blow-hard arrogant man is God?

There is so much obfuscation, I wonder if any bit of truth will ever seep out of mainstream media, TD included.

A step towards the truth in regards to the middle east issue I mentioned can be seen here.. yet, the truth cannot be absorbed in short media bites…. all sides must be considered…

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MK Ultra's avatar

By MK Ultra, April 14, 2011 at 11:59 am Link to this comment


If you have something meaningful to say, please do so without ranting, portraying superiority and showing your ignorance.  If you want to know something ask, attacking, berating and insulting people will never get you anywhere.  Surely, with a mouth as big as yours, you can do that, can’t ya?

And, here, ladies and gentlemen, is the perfect example of a gringo who read a book which was written by someone who happened to find Cuba in the map one morning after waking up with a hangover from drinking rum the night before and now, he is convinced that he too is an expert on the subject.

Sad, sad, sad.  Very, very sad.  And the reason why I dislike the left every bit as much as I dislike the right.  They all suffer from the same superiority complex, the same ignorance and have the same disrespect for anyone who isn’t him/herself.  What a sad lot y’all are.

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By Rae, April 13, 2011 at 7:39 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

MK Ultra -
You can surely understand how contemptible I find
your comments, which can only be dismissed as
irrelevant rantings. If you have something meaningful
to say, please do so in language that is illustrative
beyond “a piece of shit.” I might add that living for
three or four months in Cuba “as Cubans do” might not
at all be informative about the secretive actions of
the CIA. If the situation in Cuba is one of the most
complicated in the western hemisphere, why not
enlighten us rather than “farting in our general
direction”, which is not at all instructive except,
perhaps, to expose your childishness.

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MK Ultra's avatar

By MK Ultra, April 13, 2011 at 5:46 pm Link to this comment

Whenever I want to know the truth about something and, in particular a highly controversial topic such as this one which is tried and decided in the court of public opinion, I invariably turn to…hmmm…a book written by a gringo who has never, ever lived in the situation he purports to be an expert in and is trying to capitalize (read as ‘make money’) out of.  Having been born and raised in Cuba and being only to read thru the first two paragraphs before I hurled my lunch, I know that anything a gringo had to say about Cuba, whether its in favor or against, is nothing but a crock of shit.  Before someone sets out to proclaim themselves as an expert on a subject and write books trying to tell them others what to think, it would be refreshing and honest, if they lived the situation first.  And I also don’t mean, a weekend visit at a resort getting laid by a jinetera or, like Michael Moore, a government tour-guided of a facility for propaganda purposes but, man up, take a backpack and fill it with a couple of change of clothes, leave your electronic gadgets and your American dollars behind and hitch hike the island.  Live as the Cubans do for 3 or 4 months, then, come back, write about it and then, but only then, will I listen to what you have to say.  In the meantime, I fart in your general direction because, like the rest of your lot, you know absolutely nothing about the Cuban situation which is one of the most complicated ones if not the most complicated one, in the Western Hemisphere.

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Napolean DoneHisPart's avatar

By Napolean DoneHisPart, April 12, 2011 at 11:23 am Link to this comment

Does anyone find ‘the truth’ on Truth Dig?

Only perhaps from the responding participants, not so much the TD authors nor those profiteering from the solicited publications….

In this world of lies, finding the truth of any matter is truly an art form in itself.

Yet, there is this Truth which brings clarity, and allows its adherers to ‘see’ through the lies:

Yeshua answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

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drbhelthi's avatar

By drbhelthi, April 11, 2011 at 4:50 pm Link to this comment

Pure propaganda ?
Much of the info correlates well with the testimony of Colonel John Stockwell.

John Stockwell was a former administrator in the CIA, and high-level insider in numerous illegal, USGOV activities, until he decided to go straight. For over twenty-five years he has informed the US Citizenry and the world of the unconscionable activities of the CIA, a major secretive tool misused by the “USGOV leadership” to create terrorism in 3rd world countries. Occasionally in Russian territories, the U.S. and Germany.  But, consistently in Cuba since the 1960s. 

John Stockwell has openly revealed the demonic activity of GeorgeH.W. Bush Sr. in his cover-ups for CIA terrorism, and increasing the black budget of the CIA.  Perhaps, the Chronicles of Chip Tatum reveal inside specifics on GHWBushSr somewhat better.

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By renhunt, April 10, 2011 at 4:00 pm Link to this comment

This book is pure propaganda. But it’s propaganda that is anti Capitalism, so I like it.

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By ridum, April 10, 2011 at 9:03 am Link to this comment

As an individual that “benefited” from the corporately inspired attack/terrorism against the revolution, I have to admit it puts me in an odd situation. I came to the US at 3 years old (40ish years ago) and was given a free pass. I have ALWAYS hated the cuban-american power-structure that I grew up hearing about. They ALWAYS seemed like any other fascist that is only concerned about power. My parents were always anti-castro, ignoring the simple fact that, unfortunately this life is ALWAYS a decision between who is the less evil, NEVER who is not evil. Depressingly, it took me some years to understand that my “free pass” was associated to this evil. So, what does one do in this situation…..well a better person would have taken a path filled with integrity, I, alas, decided that the evil is so pervasive that I might as well drink myself into oblivion…..big ups to the folks that think they can make a microgram of difference….

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By Nic108, April 10, 2011 at 5:42 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Lefty apologists for left fascist regimes like Castro’s Island Gulag are one of the reasons I left the Left.

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ChukLitl's avatar

By ChukLitl, April 9, 2011 at 2:51 pm Link to this comment

It is an international effort (not necessarily a conspiracy, it only needs like minded people working toward like goals) to increase repression & control the masses. Whether the ruling elite will be nationalist or religious varies. Any form of extremism will work, communism, anticommunism, Jihadi, Crusader. Just terrorize everyone into believing that they need protection. Inspiring repression elsewhere, in hopes of fomenting rebellion, is an odd twist on this ancient tactic.

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By ardee, April 9, 2011 at 5:22 am Link to this comment

It is helpful to remember that we are subjected to non-stop propaganda, disinformation and a skewed view of our domestic and foreign realities here in the “land of the free”.

This campaign of disinformation is far wider than most realize and includes those like GRYM at the lowest levels as well as the bias in our media and in our legislatures.

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By Rae Aston, April 8, 2011 at 7:54 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Here again is a serious contradiction. You are
promoting a serious book, yet asking us to buy it from
Amazon, a powerful capitalist organization. Have you so
quickly forgotten the throughly anti-democratic actions
of Amazon re: Wiki-leaks? From another perspective, if
one buys the e-book from Amazon one must have an amazon
e-reader (Kindle). I have a different e-reader. What am
I to do? Asking me to deal with Amazon is tantamount to
asking me to participate in the capitalist society.
Those who do not oppose the miasma of capital become
its instruments.

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