Cuban Exiles & Watergate: Opening a Can of Worms

September 25, 2007

"Sir, I was not there [in Watergate] to think. I was there to follow orders, not to think. As they sat in front of their television sets on May 24, 1973, and heard Bernard Barker testify before the Senate Watergate Committee, millions of Americans must have won- dered: Where do people like this come from? Barker and his Watergate colleagues were not just "crazies," nor did they just happen to come together for the Watergate break-in. Rather, they were part of a team deliberately assembled by the U.S. government more than a decade ago, to carry out official U.S. policies and assignments. Barker and his colleagues on the Watergate team were products of a very special environment: the Cuban exile community in Miami, home of thousands of Cubans who left their country after the Revolution in 1959. A primary fact about the residents of this community for the last ten years has been their determination to reverse history and re-take Cuba. Thus, Cuban Miami is characterized by a pervasive, almost tangible hatred for Revolutionary Cuba, a right-wing, fanatic anti-communism, and an atmosphere of plotting and intrigue. Moreover, its position in the U.S. and its fanatic desire to get back Cuba at any price has made this community a perfect tool of any supposed or real benefactor. As one observer described it, The very circumstances that drove the Miami Cubans to emigrate welded them into a fierce anti-Communist force, eager to perform any serv- ice, go to any length, undertake any mission that would strike a blow against international communism. ' Initially, of course, the benefactor of that community was the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which organized the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. Subsequently, the CIA and other U.S. official and private interests have been able to manipulate individuals and organizations in that community to do their dirty work, by promising (or even hinting) that this would help them regain Cuba. This had reduced the Cuban exiles to a position of servility, and helped earn them the name "gusanos"-"worms." What was initially a community of exiles was quickly shaped into a political tool when, in the spring of 1960, President Eisenhower authorized the CIA to train an army of exiles for a 1961 invasion to "free" Cuba from Communism. (Actually, the Bay of Pigs was not the first such U.S. operation in Latin America: it followed very closely the model of the U.S. intervention in Guatemala seven years earlier, and it involved many of the same officials, especially at high levels of the CIA and State Department, and including Watergate conspirator E. Howard Hunt.) The story of the Bay of Pigs invasion is well known to most Americans. What has not become public knowledge are the activities of certain members of the Bay of Pigs team after the failure of the invasion. Although the invasion team ceased to operate formally as a unit, it remained alive for ten years through personal friend- ships, business ventures, and continued plots and raids against Cuba. In 1971, under White House supervision, these old relationships bore fruit in a series of operations in Latin America and the U.S., including the Watergate break-in. Let us see how these ties were built up and led to the events of 1971-72. After the Bay of Pigs invasion, a number of the participants (including some of the Watergate team) received training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina in 1963, and became members of the organization Ex-Combatientes Cubanos de Ft. Jackson. This organization and its members engaged in direct actions to combat leftist causes in the U.S. and eventually collaborated in the Watergate break-in (see below). The liaison between this organization and the CIA was James McCord, who had also been involved in the Bay of Pigs. 2 The gusano team was also held together by certain key individuals, such as Manuel Artime. Artime had been the CIA-designated chief civilian commander for the Bay of Pigs and "golden boy of the CIA." After the Bay of Pigs failed, Artime masterminded a second invasion which also failed and became involved in several subsequent anti-Cuba plots based in Central America. He remained a central figure in the Miami Cuban community, developing business ties with Nixon's friends Bebe Rebozo. Artime was very grateful to Watergate burglar Bernard Barker for having smuggled him out of Cuba in 1960; in return, one source maintains, Artime promised in 1961 to make Barker sports czar of the "liberated" Cuba. 3 (Before the Cuban Revolution, Barker had worked for Batista's secret police. After the Bay of Pigs, Barker, like his friend Artime, remained active in anti-Castro operations in the U.S., and at the same time became quite wealthy, engaging in business deals with such figures as Bebe Rebozo.) Also, perhaps as a result of the Artime-Barker tie, in February, 1973, when Barker and three of the other Watergate defen- dants were in legal and financial trouble, it was Artime who helped distribute "hush money" to their lawyers and families and helped organize a defense fund. Even more significant was Artime's friendship with opera- tive E. Howard Hunt. (Hunt had been the CIA's representative to and coordinator of the Cuban Revolutionary Council in Miami for the Bay of Pigs operation, and served with the CIA in many Latin American countries both before and after the invasion until 1970.) Artime shared an apartment with Hunt at one time, and became godfather to one of Hunt's children. Thus, it is not so surprising that, after Hunt went to work for the White House in 1971, he tried to recruit Artime for a special "mission" in Panama. Specifically, in 1971, the White House felt that Panama's military president Torrijos was not being sufficiently cooperative with the U.S. on control of the drug traffic and on the Panama Canal negotiations. Thus, according to former Presidential counsel John Dean, White House officials were considering assassinating Torrijos. Artime19 told Watergate investigators that this mission, described to him by Hunt, was to be carried out after Nixon's re-election in 1972. The mission was never carried out; but Panamanian officials took it seriously enough to interrupt the Canal negotiations. Equally important was the Barker-Hunt tie. During the Bay of Pigs, Barker worked directly under Hunt, disbursing funds to the participants and coordinating with the invasion force. After the invasion failed, Barker and Hunt invested together in unsuccessful real estate ventures in Nicaragua, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. 4 Barker told the Senate Watergate Committe that, as the link to the CIA and to official power in Washington, Hunt represented "liberation" to the Cuban exiles. Concretely, according to one close observer of Hunt's career, in 1964 he was assigned by the CIA to coordinate a second Bay of Pigs operation, which included an attempt to assassinate Castro. This plan, which also involved Barker and Watergate figure James McCord, was abandoned in 1965 because the U.S. intervention in the Dominican Republic took precedence. 5 s Having maintained these ties, after Hunt was hired by Presidential aide Charles Colson as a "Special Consultant" to the White House in July, 1971 (he knew Colson from the Brown University alumni association), he turned to his old friends and admirers in Miami to organize a team of operatives. Hunt had conveniently reestablished contact with Barker in the spring of 1971 at a Bay of Pigs reunion. In the late summer of 1971, Hunt persuaded Barker and in turn the other Cubans to undertake these operations by depicting them as a further step toward "liberating" Cuba. These missions included the following: -The September 1971 break-in into the office of Dr. Lewis Fielding, psychiatrist for Daniel Ellsberg, involved the Hunt- recruited team of Barker, Eugenio Martinez, and Felipe de Diego, another Bay of Pigs veteran. (At the time of the Watergate break-in, Martinez, an employee of Barker's real estate firm, was still on contract to the CIA and received $100 a month from the CIA, supposedly to interview new Cuban arrivals in Miami. However, writer Andrew St. George, who is knowledgeable about the intelligence community, claims that Martinez was actually a CIA informant who had infiltrated the Watergate team. 6 ) -In 1972, the Cubans participated in a series of demonstra- tions designed to link the McGovern campaign to leftist groups and to disrupt anti-war actions. Another exile and Bay of Pigs veteran, Reinaldo Pico, stated that he was part of a team (one participant called it a "vigilante squad"' 7) "that planned strong-arm activities against 'hippies' and 'traitors' in various parts of the country." Pico, together with his old associates, including Barker, Sturgis, Martinez, and Gonzalez, flew to Washington in May 1972 to disrupt an anti-war demonstration at J. Edgar Hoover's funeral. Several weeks later, the same group returned to Washington, presumably to disrupt other anti-war demonstrations; actually they spent their time helping install bugging devices at the Democratic Party Watergate headquarters. -Prior to the Democratic National Convention in Miami, Barker and Frank Sturgis, who had been friends for years, had been attempting to organize exile demonstrations "for the purpose of embarrassing the [Democratic] Party." 9 (Sturgis, whose real name is Frank Fiorini, was an old "soldier of fortune," who had first fought with Castro, then defected from the Cuban Revolution and participated in the Bay of Pigs for the CIA. Following the invasion, he became extremely active in anti-Castro raids, through such organizations as the International Anti-Communist Brigade. Several aspects of Sturgis' career are of special interest. When he lost his U.S. citizenship by working for Castro, Florida's Senator George Smathers came to his aid. Following the assassination of President Kennedy, Sturgis was questioned by the FBI because of his suspicious activities. 1 0 More recently, Sturgis was re- vealed to have been part of a 1968 anti-Castro plot which turned out to be a cover for a conspiracy to smuggle stolen cars out of the U.S." -Another target of the gusano "team" was Vietnam Vet- erans Against the War (VVAW). Pablo Fernandez, a member of the Cuban exile community with close ties to the Watergate burglars, and a former CIA operative became an informer and agent provocateur for the Miami Police Department, at- tempting to trap VVAW into buying machine guns; the idea was to "produce a charge of conspiracy" against VVAW, according to one Miami police officials 2 Barker and Sturgis were also attempting to recruit provocateurs for the two 1972 Conventions in Miami, with the goal of discrediting VVAW. -Over the weekend of May 13-14, 1972, following the Hoover funeral, Sturgis, Gonzalez, Martinez, and other Cuban exiles were involved in a burglary of the Chilean Embassy in Washington, rifling the files of the Ambassador and other Embassy officials, and photographing documents. Three Chilean diplomats in New York were also the victims of such break-ins. In connection with these New York events, a staff memo to the Senate Subcommittee on Multinational Corpora- tions stated: We ... learned from highly reliable government sources that the Watergate defendants were re- ported to have been "working out of the Taft Hotel" in New York City, that the Cuban com- munity knew they had worked together on CIA jobs over a number of year, and that Sturgis and Hal Hendrix of ITT's public relations department had known each other for years.... Government and non-government sources alike have told us that the Cuban exile community has a pool of talent used at one time or another by a number of federal agencies for missions of questionable legal- ity inside and outside of the U.S.3 The existence of this "pool of talent" cannot be seen, in and of itself, as an explanation for this series of operations, culminating in the Watergate break-in. By themselves, low-level operators such as Barker, Sturgis, and even Hunt, could not have had much impact on American domestic politics or foreign policy. They have been cultivated, sponsored, and used by official U.S. agencies primarily the CIA, and top govern- ment officials, including President Nixon and some of his closest advisers-the men who gave the orders that Barker and the others followed.20 Men arrested while burglarizing the Democratic June 7,1972: fimn left, Eugenio Martinez, Frank Sturgis and Virgi1io Gonzalez. Nixon's ties to the Cuban exile community date back to the late 1950s. Nixon himself, as Vice President, had been one of the main advocates of the Bay of Pigs invasion when it was planned during the Eisenhower Administration (just as he had been in the 1954 U.S. intervention in Guatemala), and was, according to Hunt, the "White House Project Action Officer" for the Cuban operation.14 As Vice President Nixon's Assistant for National Security Affairs and liaison to the CIA, General Cushman, monitored the Bay of Pigs for him and knew its "The greatest danger is that conspiratorial operations abroad lead to the same process at home." -Anthony Lewis,New York Times columnist, May 24, 1973 organizers such as Hunt. Thus, when Hunt needed "technical assistance" for the Ellsberg operation in 1971, it was conven- ient to go to Cushman, by then Deputy Director of the CIA. Colson too is said to have known Hunt and McCord from the Bay of Pigs days.s 5 Thus, the fact that many members of the Bay of Pigs team surfaced ten years later in the service of Nixon's reelection campaign and performing other political chores for Nixon is no accident. At a more general level, even beyond Nixon, it is clear that the Watergate break-in was not an isolated incident, but rather must be seen in the context of the countless U.S. inter- ventions, coups, and counterinsurgency campaigns thoughout the world and especially in Latin America. By the late 1960s, this type of operation had become standard political practice for the American ruling class; politics became a form of special warfare. Once the techniques of sabotage, assassination, burg- lary, military intervention, and the existence of "teams" to carry out these techniques had become an accepted and necessary element of U.S. policies abroad, what was to prevent those same methods from being applied to domestic politics? E. Howard Hunt expressed eloquently this lesson of American politics when he told the Senate Watergate Committee on September 25, I cannot escape feeling that the country I have served for my entire life and which directed me to carry out the Watergate entry is punishing me for doing the very things it trained and directed me to do. Susanne Jonas NOTES 1. Horace Sutton, "The Curious Intrigues of Cuban Miami," Saturday Review/World, September 11, 1973, pp. 24-25. 2. New York Times, June 23, 1972: Richard Sprague, "The June 1972 Raid on Democratic Party Headquarters," Computers and Automation, August 1972, p. 33. 3. Fred Cook, "The CIA," The Nation, June 24, 1961, p. 564. 4. "Special Issue-Nixon and the Election," NACLA's Latin America and Empire Report, October 1972, p. 24; New York Times, July 2, 1972. 5. Maxine Cheshire in the Washington Post, October 7, 1973, summarizing the new book by Tad Szulc about Hunt, The Spy Compulsion (Viking Press: 1973). 6. Andrew St. George, "The Cold War Comes Home," Harper's, November 1973, p. 82. 7. Washington Post, May 26, 1973. 8. New York Times, March 19, 1973. 9. Washington Post, June 25, 1972. 10. Washington Post, June 25, 1972. 11. Miami Herald, September 2, 1973. 12. Sutton, op. cit., p. 28; Washington Post, May 26, 1973. 13. Jack Anderson, San Francisco Chronicle, March 8, 1973. 14. Richard Sprague, "President M. Nixon, the Bay of Pigs, and the Watergate Incident," Computers and Automation, January 1973, p. 34.

Tags: Nixon, Cuban exile community, lobbying

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