The 1968-1973 report "Cuban War Crimes Against American POWs During The Vietnam War" by ex-POW Michael D. Benge, confirms that over 20 American POWs were tortured and murdered by Cuban agents during the Vietnam War.

Michael D. Benge, spent 11 years in Vietnam - over five as a prisoner-of-war (1968-1973). Benge was held in numerous camps in South Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and North Vietnam. He spent 27 months in solitary confinement and one year in a "black box."

The issue of Cubans torturing American POWs in Vietnam has been known for decades, once surviving prisoners reported it to Defense Department officials in 1973. According to Benge’s report, however, the Pentagon kept the lid on the matter because of national security.

Benge’s report quoted Air Force Ace Major James Kasler as saying, "for days in June 1968, I was tortured by [an agent named] ‘Fidel.’" The report describes in gruesome detail what Kasler and other POWs went through at the hands of their Cuban torturers under the names of "Fidel," "Chico" and "García" (also nicknamed "Pancho") who were sent to North Vietnam by Castro’s regime to deal with American POWs.

Kasler said in Time Magazine on April 9, 1971, "at least 15 men" were killed by the Cuban torturers in what became the infamous "Cuban Program."

An emotional hearing was held on November 4 of this year before the House of Representatives Committee on International Relations seeking to re-open a long overdue investigation about the Cuban regime’s involvement in torturing and killing American POWs.

Retired U.S. Navy Captain Ray Vohden and Air Force Colonel Jack Bomar gave chilling testimony on their treatment by three Cuban officials at a Hanoi prison camp known as "the Zoo." They said that one of their colleagues, Air Force Captain Earl G. Cobeil was beaten so badly by the Cuban agents that he lapsed into a coma and subsequently died.

Retired US Air Force Colonel Ed Hubbard, during a press conference last September 8 at Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s Miami office, identified the Cuban torturer known as "Fidel," as Castro’s current Minister of Higher Education, General Fernando Vecino Alegret, corroborated by the fact that he was known to have been in North Vietnam around 1967.

Benge’s report states that the torturers "were part of a Cuban diplomatic contingent assigned to Hanoi's Enemy Proselytizing Bureau, and were directly responsible for the murder and torture of a considerable number of American POWs." And "According to one CIA dispatch, the Cuban Program was conducted at the Cuu Loc PW camp from August 1967 through July 1968.

"There were two other prison camps located near Cuban facilities in North Vietnam where American POWs were held. One, located at ‘Work Site 5’ (Cong Truong 5), just north of the DMZ, was adjacent to a Cuban field hospital that Fidel Castro visited in 1972."

The report continues, "According to the Baltimore Sun (8/15/77), CIA analysts identified two Cuban military attaches, Eduardo Morejón Estevez and Luis Pérez Jaén, who had backgrounds which seemed to correspond with information [on two of the torturers] supplied by returning POWs."

In his recent bestseller, Faith of My Fathers, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), a former POW, also recounted the torture of American servicemen by Cuban agents. McCain, after his return from Vietnam in 1973, identified one of the Cuban torturers by photographs and composite drawings in CIA files.

Benge’s report says that McCain was told that the responsibilities of one of the Cuban torturers included the coordination of the American contingent of the Venceremos Brigade.

According to S. Steven Powell’s 1987 book, Cover Cadre, Inside the Institute for Policy Study, the Venceremos Brigade was an "arm of the DGI [Cuban secret police]" which by 1970 was controlled by the Soviet KGB.

The express purpose of this brigade was to recruit young American activists. Under the guise of going to Cuba to help harvest sugar cane, these Americans were given indoctrination so that in the future they would help the Castro regime’s campaigns in the U.S. to favor his goals and serve as "access to economic, political and military intelligence."

McCain was told that this brigade "was also responsible for funneling Soviet money to the Americans to support anti-war activities."

However, recently, Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA) proudly wrote "Seattle was one of the most ardent supporters of the Venceremos Brigade in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Several of Seattle’s prominent political and business leaders were Venceremos Brigade graduates or supporters."

Another report cited by Benge about the Vietnam War states, "U.S. prisoners-of-war captured in Vietnam were reported transferred to communist prisons in Cuba during later 1965 and throughout 1966.

Some former POWs, angry at the way the US government has handled the Cuban involvement during the Vietnam War, are even considering suing Cuba.

In spite of what is known for decades about the Castro regime’s involvement in vicious and brutal tortures of U.S. POWs in North Vietnam, Congressman McDermott - who in the past several years has been seen attending many Veterans Day events - sent an invitation letter to Castro to visit Seattle.

On July 15, McDermott wrote to Castro, "I am hopeful that your visit will give us an opportunity to educate the American public about Cuba." And, "You will be received respectfully, graciously and warmly."

McDermott’s warmth for Castro overlooks the fact that his tyranny is the longest and cruelest in the history of the Americas. And that Castro’s regime caused the death of 86,000 Cubans. In addition, his military interventions in Latin America, Africa and other places have caused thousands of deaths and brought misery to millions.

With this record at hand, McDermott has the audacity to invite Castro and to say that he will be received in Seattle "respectfully, graciously and warmly", this to the greatest violator of human rights in our hemisphere.

I wonder how the former POWs who survived Castro’s Vietnam torturers "Fidel," "Chico" and "García" feel about McDermott’s statements.

According to the October issue of the U.S. Cuba Policy Report, "In September, leaders of the Seattle-Cuba Friendship Committee, Chris Pforr, Doug Barnes and Chris Laroche hosted Cuban officials Félix Wilson Hernández and José Imperatori given the possibility Castro may attend the WTO [World Trade Organization] meeting."

The U.S. Cuba Policy Report says, "Attendance by Castro at the WTO meeting in Seattle is dependent upon approval by the State Department which must grant a visa as has been done in the past by the Clinton Administration when approval was granted for a visit to New York during the 50th United Nations anniversary held in October 1995."

In the past, the Clinton Administration’s State Department has granted visas to Castro’s thugs. For example: Eduardo Bernabé Ordaz, M.D., on September 1997 and May 1999, notorious director-for-life of Mazorra, a mental hospital documented in the 1991 book The Politics of Psychiatry in Revolutionary Cuba by Charles J. Brown and Armando Lago, to use heavy doses of psychotropic drugs and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) to punish human rights and pro-democracy activists.

The September issue of the U.S. Cuba Policy Report says that currently, the State Department is considering granting a visa to Fernando García Bielsa to work at the Cuba Interests Section in Washington, D.C. García Bielsa, according to U.S. records revealed by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms, is "a notorious Cuban intelligence operative, known for his support of terrorism and espionage [throughout Latin America and the Caribbean]."

Karen Howard, from Washington State, outraged by the possible visit of Castro to Seattle during the WTO meeting, November 30 through December 3 of this year, contacted McDermott’s office on November 8.

She asked if the current revelations of Cuban torturers in North Vietnam might change his mind about his personal invitation to Castro. But she was told that "he does not intend to rescind the letter."

On November 17, for this article, I called McDermott’s Washington D.C. office and asked the same question as Ms Howard. The answer given by Legislative Assistant Christopher Dumm was, "Not at all." When I asked why, he said, "This is an excellent opportunity to reassess our policy toward Cuba."

Apparently, as the record shows, McDermott is an unrepentant fanatic of Castro. We know of his admiration of the infamous Venceremos Brigades, his apparent disregard for the POWs victimized by Castro’s torturers and profound disregard for Cuban’s suffering, by supporting their oppressor. Or is he just desperate for the publicity he would certainly get for rubbing elbows with Castro? The press is sure to cooperate!

In opposition to McDermott, Donald Trump said recently in Miami that to get rid of Fidel Castro's dictatorship, the United States must retain its economic embargo of Cuba. "He's been a killer, he's a criminal, and I don't think you should reward people who have done what he's done.''

Commenting on McDermott’s adamant inflexibility, Ms. Howard said, "Don’t we owe it to our veterans not to reward dictators who ignore the Geneva Convention and send mercenaries to beat and torture American POWs?

The hypocrisy in Seattle is reaching alarming proportions. The officials at the University of Washington, in an outrageous act of insensitivity to Castro’s victims are inviting Castro to speak on December 2 in their 1,200-seat Meany Hall. They plan to simulcast Castro’s speech over the university cable access channel and to Kane Hall on campus.

I wonder if Richard McCormick, UW President, in the name of freedom of speech, would also invite Augusto Pinochet, David Duke or Adolf Hitler to speak to the students and faculty of his university.

It is no secret: Castro is the darling of and is very well entrenched in the influential U.S. academic left who, in spite of Castro’s known criminal record, continue with their blatant insults directed at his victims. This situation as of late is becoming increasingly classifiable as hate crimes against Cubans because of their dislike of their oppressor.

What’s next? Will the UW proudly display Castro’s swastika: "Socialism or Death!"?

When Castro’s control of Cuba is finally over and the atrocities are publicized for the world to see, many people and institutions in the U.S. will have to run for cover in shame. Since these people and institutions have been warned for years about the crimes and they refuse to listen, relationships will be strained for years to come.

Do not forget that over a million victims of Castro have been living as exiles in the U.S. for decades and are witnesses of this hypocritical conduct.


Agustín Blázquez with the collaboration of Jaums Sutton

Mr. Blazquez is the Producer/Director of the documentaries

ABIP 1999

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