The Rev. Jackson’s Cuba sojourns

June 26-27, 1984, Havana, Cuba --- Jesse Jackson smokes Cuban cigars with Fidel Castro during a controversial visit to Havana in June 1984. Jackson, a candidate for President of the United States, caused a stir in the U.S. government and press by visiting with the Communist leader. --- Image by © Jacques M. Chenet/CORBIS
The Rev. Jesse Jackson and Fidel Castro, June 1984

Jesse Jackson is such a patently unsavory creature – a shameless race hustler, an inveterate shakedown artist, a hardcore anti-Semite (remember “Hymietown”?), a sleazy player posing as a man of the cloth – that his coziness with the Castro government should hardly seem a surprise. Yet it’s important that this aspect of his slimy character not be lost in the mix.

27 Aug 1984, Havana, Cuba --- Original caption: Reverend Jesse Jackson (L) is seated next to Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro during negotiations for the release of a group of prisoners to Jackson. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS
Jackson and Castro, August 1984

For one thing, unlike other useful Castro stooges, Jackson hasn’t just visited the island prison once or twice. Over the decades, he’s been there so many times – and met Castro so many times – that it’s hard to come up with an exact count. On a couple of these visits he attempted to secure the release of political prisoners, but any objective observer of his career would find it difficult to see these supposedly humanitarian efforts as anything other than cynical bids for attention, power, and positive PR. They were, in any event, clear breaches of the Logan Act of 1799, violation of which is a felony. (In addition to Cuba, Jackson was able to persuade the governments of Syria, Iraq, and Yugoslavia to release prisoners at various points in the 1980s and 90s – actions they presumably took because his involvement enabled them to receive very prominent and very positive press in the U.S. while making the U.S. government itself look impotent.)

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Jackson and Castro, 1993

Anyway, here’s a brief overview of Jackson’s Cuba adventures. In 1984, while he was running for President, he flew to Havana, where Fidel Castro welcomed him at the airport and, according to BBC correspondent Alastair Cooke, was treated “as if he were already president of the United States.” Giving a speech at the University of Havana, he shouted “Viva Fidel!” and “Viva Che Guevara!” He raised his fists: “Long live our cry of freedom!” During that trip, Castro praised Jackson as “brilliant” and “sincere,” a man full of “honesty” and free of “demagoguery.”

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Okay, he didn’t really say that, as far as we know. Jackson at the Hotel Nacional in Havana, 2013

Jackson didn’t return home alone: he took back with him to the U.S. sixteen American and seven Cuban political prisoners whom Castro had released as a sort of gift for the good reverend. (Castro himself said that he had made the gesture “as a result of Rev. Jackson’s visit. I did it for him and for the people of the United States.”) 

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Alastair Cooke

Upon their arrival at Dulles Airport, one of the released Cuban prisoners, Andres Vargas Gomez, an anti-Castro activist who’d been incarcerated for 21 years, spoke to reporters. He didn’t have kind words for either Castro or Jackson. “To go to Cuba to join in a moral offensive with Fidel Castro,” he said, referring to Jackson, “is more than morally offensive, it is a moral offense.” Cooke called the prisoner release “a very small price that Castro has to pay for helping to advertise among his people, and other Central American peoples, the fact that here is an actual candidate for the presidency of the United States, who is as much against the Central American policies of the detested Reagan as they are.” Jackson, pronounced Cooke, had been “used”; he was “a patsy” who’d made it “all the harder” for the U.S. government to improve relations with Cuba.

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Jackson at a religious service in Havana, September 2013

Oh, and let’s not forget that this patsy, this serial violator of the Logan Act, this man who shouted “Viva Fidel!” at the University of Havana in 1984 became, in the 1990s, the Clinton Administration’s house preacher. During the Lewinsky crisis, he reportedly prayed with Hillary and gave Bill “emotional solace and political advice” (not necessarily in that order). In 2000, President Clinton actually presented this champion of Castro’s dictatorship – who as recently as 1993 had vacationed in Havana and hung with Castro – with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The award citation stated that Jackson “has preached a gospel of hope, unity and responsibility and has helped establish common ground across lines of race, class, gender, nationality and faith.”

U.S. civil rights activist Jesse Jackson (C) walks at the National hotel in Havana September 27, 2013. REUTERS/Enrique de la Osa
Back at the Hotel Nacional, 2013

In September 2013, Jackson went to Cuba yet again. He wanted, he declared, to try to secure the freedom of Alan Gross, an American who’d been imprisoned there since 2009.  This time, however, Castro didn’t deign to meet with him; perhaps he’d decided that Jackson’s star was on the wane and his Logan Act violations were no longer the front-page news they’d once been. (Gross was finally released last December.) But Jackson’s time wasn’t wasted: during the same visit, he met with leaders of FARC, the far-left Colombian terrorist group, and gave a talk advocating actions against the U.S. economic blockade. 

Jackson claims to be delighted at the restoration of full diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba. But is he? When every American can legally travel to Cuba, who’s going to care anymore when he makes the trip?

Yet more chavista thugs

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Ramón Rodríguez Chacín

Yesterday we started out on a little tour through the swamps of chavista criminality. First up was Hugo Carvajal, a longtime pal of Hugo Chávez who served as his main conduits to the FARC terrorist group, with which the Bolivarian regime enjoyed very friendly relations.

Deserving of mention alongside Carvajal is Ramón Rodríguez Chacín, who held two cabinet positions under Chávez, served as his intelligence chief, and is now governor of the state of Guarico. Although he co-founded the Comando Específico José Antonio Páez (CEJAP), an elite force purportedly established to quell FARC and another Colombian guerilla group, ELN, he (along with Carvajal) acted as the top middleman between Chávez and FARC, with whose leaders he has close friendly relations. One source described him in 2009 as having been “Chávez’s personal liaison to the senior FARC leadership since 1994, when Chávez and Rodríguez Chacín met in Colombia with several members of the FARC’s directorate to forge a political alliance.” The U.S. has called Rodríguez Chacín FARC’s “main weapons contact” in the Venezuelan government, and has even said that he tried at one point to arrange a quarter-billion-dollar loan to the terrorist group. Between 2002 and 2007, he “traveled frequently under at least four false identities (but with legal Venezuelan passports and identity documents) to countries like Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, Paraguay, Bolivia, Brazil, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Mexico.”

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With Maduro

There’s more. Rodríguez Chacín helped Chávez plot “Operation Knockout,” a plan “to instigate a coup attempt against his government in order to justify declaring martial law and crushing his political opponents.” In the 1980s, he played key roles in a cold-blooded operation in which 42 people were killed and in the brutal massacre of fourteen fisherman in the town of El Amparo. As of 2009, he was “believed to be the military commander of the Bolivarian Liberation Front (FBL), a nominally all-Venezuelan Marxist guerrilla (militant) group which operates in Border States like Apure, Barinas and the Andes region.”

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José Vicente Rangel

Then there’s José Vicente Rangel Vale, a sometime journalist who went on to hold two cabinet positions under Chávez before becoming his Vice President. Not only was he a good pal of the caudillo; he’s also a fan of the Cuban Revolution, and back in the day encouraged friendly relations with Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi.

A few random items from his CV. With Chávez, he hatched plans to – among other things – kidnap a union boss, assassinate opposition leaders, and “organize fake terrorist attacks.” He was behind the 2004 car-bomb explosion that killed public prosecutor Danilo Baltasar Anderson, who’d threatened to expose Rangel’s involvement in an extortion network.

rangel3Once, when riots were taking place in Caracas, a reporter who’d just witnessed them – and was still coughing from the tear gas – was told flatly by Rangel that there were no riots. “That, dear reader,” wrote journalist Francisco Toro after Rangel’s departure from the Vice Presidency, “was José Vicente Rangel. That was his modus operandi: untrammeled contempt for his former profession, barely concealed delight at the way power allowed him to piss all over the truth, to flaunt his ability to lie and lie again, ever more outrageously, without anyone being able to hold him to account for it.”

In recent years, Rangel has been active as a TV and print journalist – or, more accurately, as a vigorous promoter and propagandist for the Maduro regime. On July 10, he turned 87. Maduro tweeted his congratulations, thanking Rangel for his loyalty “to the People, to Chávez, and to the Socialist Revolution.”

 

Those chavista stooges

Back in May, we took a little stroll through a rogues’ gallery of Venezuelan bolifuncionarios. We covered quite a bit of territory, but we’ve felt guilty ever since for having omitted some pretty important names. This was unfair of us: the guys we overlooked are, after all, among the scummiest of chavistas, and are more than deserving of a nod of recognition.

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Hugo Carvajal in Aruba

Take Hugo Armando Carvajal Barrios, who last year was sent by President Nicolás Maduro to the Dutch island of Aruba to serve as Venezuelan consul general there. On July 22, he was arrested on a U.S. warrant.

Why the arrest? The previous year, Carvajal had been indicted in Florida on conspiracy to traffic cocaine. But this was only a relatively minor item on his long and colorful rap sheet. As head of DGIM, Venezuela’s military intelligence agency, under Chávez, Carvajal oversaw a broad range of atrocities. He took money for providing weapons, shelter, and logistical support to terrorists and drug traffickers belonging to FARC, the Colombian rebel group. He took money from another drug cartel that supplied most of America’s cocaine. He carried out “witch hunts” in the Venezuelan armed forces, torturing members of the military who were suspected of disloyalty to the regime. He ordered the torture and murder of a DEA informant. He ordered the torture and murder of a Colombian army captain and corporal who’d entered Venezuelan territory in search of FARC guerillas. Along with other top Chávez officials, he had his hand in several assassinations. The news website Infobae has called him “the symbol of chavista corruption.”

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Carvajal with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro

While Carvajal was at DGIM, Henry Rangel Silva, who is now governor of the state of Trujillo, was head of DISIP, the national intelligence agency, the two men collaborated with FARC and ELN on drug smuggling, extortion, and kidnapping operations. “Protecting drug trans-shipments,” stated one 2009 source,

is one of the most lucrative criminal enterprises in which Carvajal and Rangel Silva are involved….Carvajal and Rangel Silva reportedly charge the FARC and other Colombian drug traffickers about $1,500 per kilo to protect drug shipments transiting through Venezuelan territory by land, air or water….in 2007 the roughly 189 metric tons of FARC-owned cocaine which transited through Venezuela represented potential profits of up to $283.5 million for the organized crime gangs run by Carvajal at DGIM and Rangel Silva at DISIP – assuming all of this cocaine received official protection, which is not necessarily the case.

As for kidnapping, hoods working for Carvajal and Rangel Silva provided “protection and surveillance services” for FARC and ELN, sold them “financial intelligence on potential abduction targets,” and in some cases took part personally in abductions and contract murders. Of the 537 reported kidnappings in Venezuela in 2008, the FARC and ELN were believed to be responsible for about 75%, for a potential profit of as much as $450 million.

Alas, Carvajal didn’t end up in an American court of justice. Under pressure from the Venezuelan government, he was released only six days after his arrest on grounds of diplomatic immunity. The Netherlands did, however, declare him persona non grata on Dutch territory, and flew him back to Venezuela.

More tomorrow.