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Alpha 66 threats: New theatrics by inept militants

February 27, 1994

"Those who dare ignore our new appeal will tremble with fear at the violence of our actions."

That ominous little valentine was mailed from Alpha 66, the militant anti-Castro group, to an organization that ships humanitarian supplies to Cuba.

Alpha 66 doesn't want food and medicine sent to the island. The letter was a warning. The FBI says it's investigating.

Nothing will come of it. Nothing ever does. Few, least of all Fidel Castro, "tremble with fear" at the mention of Alpha 66. The group is good at threats, but not so good at actual terrorism.

Sincerity isn't the issue; competence is. Alpha 66 is famous for botching missions. If Barney Fife were a freedom fighter, this is the bunch he would join.

On Feb. 6, several Alpha commandos found themselves adrift in an 18-foot outboard off Miami. The boat carried an impressive cache: shotguns, AK-47s, pistols, a .50-caliber machine gun and 25,000 rounds of ammunition.

Everything one would need for a seagoing assault on Cuba—except a boat mechanic.

In a now-familiar scenario, the disabled vessel was towed to port by bemused Coast Guardsmen, who took away the group's weapons. Alpha 66 later provided the press with differing versions of the "mission," all heroic.

Who knows what they were really doing. The notion of loading an arsenal on a puny 18-footer and heading for Cuba is almost too absurd to be believed. Doing it on a Sunday, when the waters off Key Biscayne are full of innocent boaters, is just plain reckless.

Granted, it's tough to maintain credibility after decades of paramilitary actions that could charitably be described as ineffective. Remember the mock invasion of Elliott Key, when armed Alpha 66-ers wound up captured by park rangers?

Episodes like that don't help the cause. The urge to vindicate one's self with new dramatics must be tempting. Plans abound, but the execution remains flawed.

Thirteen months ago, the Coast Guard grabbed a load of arms, including grenade launchers, from an Alpha 66 boat off Cuba. Last May, Customs agents followed another craft with engine trouble to a marina in the Middle Keys, where they confiscated grenades, pipe bombs and heavy weapons.

Perhaps the group needs to invest less on weaponry, and more on boat maintenance.

Another weak spot is public relations. After the embarrassing bust in May, Alpha leaders declared that the boat had been on a "military mission" against targets in Cuba. That would be a major violation of U.S. law.

So, at trial, the story changed from one of patriotic bravery to one of ignorance. Lawyers for the commandos said their clients had no clue how the guns and explosives got stowed aboard their fishing boat. A Key West jury believed them.

Confusion also occurred last fall, after Alpha 66 warned that it would begin taking violent action against foreign tourists in Cuba.

The U.S. State Department condemned the manifesto and threatened federal prosecution. Alpha leaders asserted that attacks against visitors in Havana would be carried out not by Alpha's Miami wing, but by secret sympathizers on the island. As if that made it all right.

That the FBI tolerates such silliness proves that it doesn't take the group too seriously. But suppose a steering cable breaks on an explosive-laden Alpha 66 vessel, sending it crashing into innocent boaters in Government Cut. Given Alpha's checkered history, the scenario is not so farfetched.

The feds should either prosecute these guys, or buy them brand new Evinrudes.


Keep goodwill afloat at sea: Sink INS piracy October 24, 1993 | Kick Ass: Selected Columns of Carl Hiaasen | The other rafters suffer with silence August 21, 1994