The Guardian 23 March, 2005
US welcomes terrorists
Thursday, August 24, 2004, Opa-Locka airport, Miami. Three of the continent's most dangerous terrorists land in their private Lear jet to hearty applause from a delegation of Cuban-American mafiosos. ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents assure them a pleasant welcome and that they would soon be settled in their homes.
Friday February 25, 2005, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the Archbishop of Havana, arrives at Miami International Airport on a charter flight with a diplomatic passport from the Vatican in his possession and a multiple entry visa: he is brusquely questioned by ICE agents and taken to an office where interrogators attempt to open a "dangerous persons" file on him.
The three terrorists are not unknown: Gaspar Jiménez Escobedo, murderer of Cuban worker Artaignan Díaz Díaz, in Mexico; Pedro Crispin Remón Hernández who killed Cuban diplomat Félix García Rodríguez on the streets of New York; and Guillermo Novo Sampoll who took part in the assassination of former Chilean Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier, just to mention one section of his lengthy criminal record.
They arrived from Panama where they were imprisoned for having attempted to blow up an amphitheatre. Worse still: Jímenez left the United States with a stolen and false US passport, as well as being a fugitive from Mexican justice where he was due to serve another 12 years imprisonment.
According to Miami's El Nuevo Herald, Cardinal Ortega Alamino was detained for three hours in the airport by two immigration officials who questioned him over his passport and the reasons for his visit to the US: "They wanted to open a dangerous persons' file that began with a series of questions he refused to answer", he later confirmed in a communiqué to the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba.
Denying that the prelate had been the victim of mistreatment, a spokesperson from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) commented to the newspaper: "He was treated like everybody else." And this is correct [except for the terrorists — ed]. Everyone is complaining how disastrous things are at Miami airport which, in just the last few days, has been overtaken in terms of passenger numbers by its rival, Orlando airport.
Sandbags and machine guns
Categorised as the worst in the US, Miami airport went one step further into decline in January 2004 with the news of a series of new security measures that are now seriously affecting users. For Cuban-American passengers, this decision has added to a whole series of intimidation measures declared by the Bush government with the sole objective of satisfying the fanaticism exacerbated by mafia leadership in Miami.
"I have recently seen sandbags and machine gun nests in the corridors of Miami airport, as well as armoured personnel carriers on the runway", recalled a young Spanish visitor recently, on his return from the United States and talking to one of his country's dailies. "That's not normal. It's nothing like in any airport in Europe."
The security requirements laid out by Washington are costing the US airline sector some US$100 million a year in international passenger taxes, according to a recent investigation by the Bloomberg financial press agency.
"The US measures to protect the borders have resulted in more interrogations and security controls, causing delays amongst passengers connecting to other countries. Since August 10, 2003, the Security Department has demanded visas costing US$100 for passengers in transit from the majority of countries outside of Western Europe, Australia and Japan", stated the agency.
A change in travel trends demonstrates that international passengers have responded to the tightening of restrictions. "People are trying to avoid the US", affirmed Ana Villalobos, tourism attaché for the Costa Rican embassy in London. Villalobos was stopped by an agent in Los Angeles airport in 2003. Seeing stamps from Egypt and Turkey in her passport, she was interrogated by immigration officials.
Spain's Iberia Airlines has stopped using the international airport at Miami as a base for Latin American destinations because of the enormous delays over security issues, explained Bruce Durm, deputy operations director at Miami airport, to Bloomberg. Iberia, which used to transport 250,000 passengers a year through Miami airport, has cancelled one of its two daily flights from Madrid and all connecting flights to Latin America in favour of direct flights from Madrid.
A colonel watches over you
Some months ago, Admiral James M Loy, head of transport security with DHS, announced the nomination of Colonel Richard B Thomas as chief security official at Miami airport. Colonel Thomas was a senior intelligence official with the US Army prior to working in Miami.
Colonel Thomas' level of dedication has already been shown through the overwhelming vigour with which the users of South Florida's main airport are checked. For Cuban-Americans who arrive from their country of origin, the "treatment" is doubly fierce.
El Duende, the well-known commentator from Radio Miami, described the treatment of people travelling to the island with this warning: "A group of Treasury Department officials, dressed in Army combat uniforms, will bombard you with questions and searches. The individuals in question, with faces like street thugs, are only seeking to make passengers nervous, lying in wait for them with intimidating interrogations over the number of times they have travelled to the country and how much money they have in their pockets, which they force them to empty in order to prove that the passenger is telling the truth."
The Treasury agents are so fierce that they even questioned Ana Tomé, a Spanish "mule" for the Aznar government who was "accidentally" discovered with US$75,000 in her suitcase after a recent visit to members of the Miami mafia, from those who handle the dirty funds of the US Agency for International Development and the National Endowment for Democracy.
Anecdotes such as these come in their hundreds: Adriana Vidal from Buenos Aires, was arrested last year and charged with trafficking 65lbs of cocaine … thanks to a label bearing her name that had been wrongly placed on a suitcase that was not her own.
The peak of hysteria came when it became known when the Mafioso Canal 23 revealed how José Victorero, a member of the Cuban Unity executive, head of the Tactical Combat Group and linked to several anti-Cuban terrorist groups, boasted how members of his organisation were "watching" passengers on flights to Cuba at Miami airport.
Meanwhile, there have been spectacular demonstrations of hysteria: David Rivera, representative for this city at the Florida House of Representatives and a "close buddy" of Condeleezza Rice, appeared in person in the airport waiting room to shout insults at passengers whilst distributing propaganda pamphlets.
In an Internet discussion group, one individual recalled how he saw — in that well-guarded airport — one person "shouting at some poor elderly people who were going to Cuba that they were going to be locked up." And more recently, representatives of this same security system have been seen "taxing" passengers US$100 for them not to carry out a complete check their luggage.