May 2003

Defend Cuba Against Counterrevolution,
External and Internal!

Decades of U.S. Biowarfare Against Cuba

In May 2002, the U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control, John Bolton, made a speech at the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation accusing Cuba of having “at least a limited offensive biological warfare research and development effort.” He also claimed Cuba had “provided dual-use biotechnology to other rogue states,” and called on Cuba to “fully comply with all of its obligations under the Biological Weapons Convention” (BWC). This is pretty rich coming from the U.S., which the summer before walked out of a meeting to strengthen enforcement provisions of the BWC. But the threat was clear: Bolton’s speech was ominously titled, “Beyond the Axis of Evil,” and in it he threatened that states that do not “renounce terror and abandon weapons of mass destruction…can expect to become our targets.” Like Iraq. A spokesman for the Cuban Interests Section in Washington labeled this attack “a big lie and a big slander.”

Bolton is a rabid right-winger and protégé of ultra-conservative former senator Jesse Helms. But he was not off on a tangent of his own. The same accusation against Cuba was made two months earlier in Congressional testimony by Carl Ford, the undersecretary of state for intelligence and research. This is the first time the U.S. has charged Cuba with developing chemical/biological arms. Washington offered no proof of its allegations, and when challenged, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer retreated into nebulous talk of “concerns.” That did not stop bioweapons “expert” Judith Miller from writing a scurrilous piece in the New York Times (7 May 2002) retailing the trumped-up claims and quoting unnamed “administration officials” who said the U.S. “believes that Cuba has been experimenting with anthrax.” The Center for Defense Information published an article skewering Bolton, titled “Cuba: Bioweapons Threat or Political Punching Bag?” (22 May 2002). Even former U.S. president Jimmy Carter dismissed the politically motivated charges during a visit to Cuba’s famed biomedical research center.

What is true is that Cuba has become a world leader in biotechnology research and production. Cuban researchers at the Finlay Institute and the Western Havana Scientific Pole have produced a number of important new drugs, including a meningitis vaccine, a vaccine for hepatitis B and medicines for treating diseases afflicting the impoverished populations of “Third World” countries which are typically ignored by the profit-driven multinational giants of “Big Pharma.” Cuba’s investment in scientific education (it has 2 percent of Latin America’s population and 22 percent of the region’s scientists) could potentially reap large export earnings in desperately needed hard currency.

As Washington tries to tighten the screws on the four-decade-old embargo on Cuba in an attempt to strangle the country economically, the U.S. wants to shut down this key industry. This bureaucratically deformed workers state has been a prime target of Yankee imperialism in its drive to “roll back” the Cuban Revolution and to spike revolutionary struggle throughout the hemisphere. Trotskyists defend Cuba against counterrevolution, external and internal, while fighting for workers political revolution to replace the Castro bureaucracy, with its nationalist outlook, by a revolutionary internationalist workers government dedicated to extending the revolution throughout South, Central and North America and the Caribbean.

While accusations of biological warfare by Cuba are utterly bogus, a typical Cold War “disinformation” campaign, the United States government has a long history of using biological and chemical warfare against the Caribbean island nation. In 1961-62, the CIA’s infamous “Operation Mongoose” sought to cause sickness among sugar cane workers by spreading chemicals on the cane fields. U.S. agents repeatedly contaminated exported Cuban sugar. The CIA later admitted that during the 1960s it undertook clandestine anti-crop warfare “research” targeting a number of countries under its MK-ULTRA program, but claimed its records had been destroyed. At the end of the decade, as Castro tried to mobilize the population to bring in ten million tons of sugar, in addition to the regime’s rampant bureaucratic snafus the CIA sabotaged the harvest by seeding clouds to cause torrential rains in nearby provinces while leaving the cane fields parched (see William Blum, Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II [Common Courage Press, 1995]).

After that “success,” the U.S. moved on to introduce African swine fever to Cuba in 1971. This was the first outbreak of swine fever in the Western Hemisphere. As a result of the epidemic, Cuba was forced to slaughter the entire pig population (some 500,000 animals), eliminating the supply of pork, a staple of the Cuban diet. When Cuban government spokesmen first accused Washington of unleashing the biological attack, U.S. officials dismissed this with a wave of the hand. However, six years later, following the post-Watergate Congressional investigations of skullduggery by U.S. intelligence agencies, a New York paper reported that a “U.S. intelligence source” told the paper that  “he was given the virus in a sealed, unmarked container at a U.S. Army base and CIA training ground in Panama with instructions to turn it over to the anti-Castro group” (“CIA Link to Cuban Pig Virus Reported,” Newsday, 10 January 1977). The article explained in detail how the virus was transferred from Fort Gulick to Cuba.

A decade later, the U.S. introduced a virulent strain of dengue fever in Cuba, as a result of which 273,000 people on the island came down with the illness and 158 died, including 101 children. An article in Covert Action (Summer 1982) detailed U.S. experiments with dengue fever at the Army’s Fort Detrick chemical/biological warfare center and its research into the Aedes aegypti mosquito which delivers it. The article noted that only Cuba of all the Caribbean countries was affected, and concluded that “the dengue epidemic could have been a covert U.S. operation.” Two years later, a leader of the Omega 7 gusano (Cuban counterrevolutionary) terrorist group, Eduardo Victor Arocena Pérez, admitted (in a Manhattan trial in which he was convicted of murdering an attaché of the Cuban Mission to the UN) that one of their groups had a mission to “carry some germs to introduce them in Cuba to be used against the Soviets and against the Cuban economy, to begin what was called chemical war” just before simultaneous outbreaks of hemorrhagic dengue fever, hemorrhagic conjunctivitis, tobacco mold, sugar cane fungus and a new outbreak of African swine fever (Covert Action, Fall 1984).  

These are only a few of the most spectacular and best documented cases of U.S. biological warfare against Cuba. James Banford in his book Body of Secrets (Doubleday, 2001) revealed that while the Pentagon was refining plans for a biological strike on Cuba, in “Operation Northwoods” the U.S. military developed plans to fake incidents to cause popular outrage. These included shooting people on American streets, sinking refugee boats on the high seas and blowing up a U.S. ship in Guantánamo. These was no mere contingency plans. They were drawn up by rabidly anti-Communist general Lyman Lemnitzer, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at the suggestion of U.S. president (former general) Eisenhower, and were signed by all of the service chiefs. But they pale in comparison with the operation code-named “Marshall Plan,” which was to have been unleashed if U.S. forces invaded Cuba at the time of the 1962 missile crisis.

The plan was to attack all of Cuba with incapacitating agents, in a biological strike that would affect millions of Cubans. The scientific director at Fort Detrick said that one alternative considered was spraying Cuban troops with lethal botulinum toxin, arguing that this would be “a good thing” since it would save American lives in an invasion. Judith Miller, who reported this plan in her book Germs: Biological Weapons and America’s Secret War (Simon & Schuster, 2001), says that it involved a “cocktail” of two germs and a biological toxin producing extreme nausea, fevers of up to 106 degrees Fht. (close to what produces comas and death), Venezuelan equine encephalitis and Q fever. “Teams at Pine Bluff [the main U.S. chemical weapons plant] made thousands of gallons of the cocktail, enough to fill a swimming pool,” Miller reports. The head of Pine Bluff argued, “We could move our forces in and take over the country and that would be it.”

The Fort Detrick director argued that there was “a humane aspect” to the plan, because it would reduce the number of casualties from fighting. The plan was to spray from East to West, to take advantage of the prevailing trade winds, and blanket Havana. And this “humane” U.S. biological warfare would “only” kill 1 to 2 percent of the Cuban population. Given the island’s population of roughly 7 million at the time, this means the Pentagon was planning to kill between 70,000 and 140,000 Cuban civilians. Actual fatalities would probably have been far higher. When Harvard biologist Matthew Meselson learned of the plan, he went to his former colleague McGeorge Bundy, the evil genius of the Vietnam War who was U.S. president John Kennedy’s national security advisor. Bundy promised that the Marshall Plan would be kept out of the war plans. But according to Miller, “In fact, the germs stayed in the war plans, former officials said.”

And the U.S. government dares to accuse Cuba of possible biological warfare!

Defend Cuba against bloodthirsty Yankee imperialism! n

Read also: For Revolutionary Defense of Cuba! (May 2003)

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