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Panel Review: Film and Presentation on the Cuban Five

Chomsky Discusses Forty Years of U.S. Aggression Towards Cuba

By Nikhil Nadkarni

Noam Chomsky Presents Panel on Terrorism and Film Showing on the Cuban Five


Wednesday, Feb. 8, 7 p.m.

On the night of September 12, 1998, FBI agents raided the homes of five Cuban men living in Florida and placed them under arrest, charging them with espionage and conspiracy. Convicted in an extremely controversial trial, the men received life terms and, despite much outcry, remain in jail today. Are these men really conspirators? Or are they merely victims of the latest U.S. aggression towards Cuba? Their plight and the controversy surrounding it are the focus of “Mission Against Terror,” a documentary by Irish filmmaker Bernie Dwyer. Dwyer recently held a screening of the film at MIT, in conjunction with a panel discussion on U.S.-Cuba relations led by MIT’s famed political writer Noam Chomsky.

A large assortment of people, who filled 10-250 to its capacity of 450, were fascinated as “Mission Against Terror” examined the story behind the Cubans’ imprisonments, and they leaned forward with anticipation as the several eloquent panelists discussed forty years of aggression between the U.S. and Cuba. The panel consisted of Chomsky, Dwyer herself, and Father Geoffrey Bottoms, a British national who is leading a movement to free the five.

Back in the 1960s, the CIA trained dozens of right-wing groups in Miami to carry out subversive activity in Cuba, according to the panelists. Today, it is said, the remnants of those groups continue to sneak into Cuba to carry out hotel bombings and other terrorist activities. In the ’90s, the Cuban government, in an attempt to prevent further terrorism, sent the five men to Miami to infiltrate the right-wing groups. These men committed no crime, according to the film, but were jailed for espionage and conspiracy. Their trial was held in Miami, notorious for anti-Cuba sentiment, and it is said that the defense lawyers were denied access to important evidence. Despite much advocacy from humanitarian groups, the five were also denied basic visitation rights in prison, and have not seen their families in the past seven years. However, after a great deal of activism, a retrial has been granted and will begin, in fact, this very week.

“Mission Against Terror,” approximately forty minutes in length, provides a thorough understanding of the plight of the so-called Cuban Five. Much of the film’s beginning revolves around an interview with Philip Agee, former CIA agent and notable dissenter, as he discusses the subversive activities that the CIA planned in the 1960s. The movie then moves to the Cuban Five and the ’90s, when right-wing, Miami-based groups bombed Cuban hotels and the Tropicana nightclub. While it is unclear if the CIA still supports these groups, the ties of the U.S. to such violent crime are shown to be shady. The film notes, for example, the case of Orlando Bosch, the mastermind behind the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner. Bosch took refuge in the U.S., received a presidential pardon from George H.W. Bush, and today lives as a free man in Miami.

In studying these cases, the film does an excellent job of investigative journalism. With respect to more than a few aspects, however, it starts to falter. Some of the conversations are subtitled in English, and others are subtitled in Spanish. The film also transitions choppily, so that it’s not always clear what trial they are talking about, and it sometimes goes into detail on an irrelevant side story. In the end, however, it educates the viewer about the Cuban Five. It studies the unfairness of their trial, their prison conditions, and the successful activism that got them out of solitary confinement. The film provokes outrage, and in that it achieves its purpose.

After the film, the panelists answered questions posed by the audience. Chomsky, with extreme eloquence, devoted extensive time to speak about the forty years of aggression the U.S. expressed towards Fidel Castro’s Cuba. He noted that America, in a Monroe Doctrinesque way, could not stand to have a Western Hemisphere country that wasn’t under its thumb. As he put it, “successful defiance is not acceptable.” When it comes to the pursuit of cornering, isolating, and otherwise undermining Cuba, he noted, “the fanaticism is extreme.”

Father Bottoms, one of the few who have been allowed to visit the Cuban prisoners, also proved to be an excellent panelist, speaking calmly and convincingly about ways to educate the world about political prisoners. He also did not balk at bashing his homeland, saying that Britain has long treated Ireland the same way as the U.S. treats Cuba. The third panelist, Dwyer, spoke passionately about the right-wing Miami-based groups that have continually harassed Cuba.

Much of the crowd was in its 40’s or 50’s, and, among the students, very few MIT undergraduates could be seen. Across all these groups was a perceptible liberalism, with many long-haired guys and dreadlocks in sight. With any luck, the panelists and film have converted this political sentiment into grassroots activism.