Extract From Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 2/21/2014 1

Q: This is about Cuban American prisoners that I emailed you about. Our National Press Club group had a session at the Cuban Interest Section the other night, on the 19th. I ask (sic) the chief or the ambassador, José Cabañas, what it would take to free Alan Gross from a Cuban prison. Whether he is guilty or innocent, that’s irrelevant. Later he said to me, what about the three remaining prisoners in U.S. jails? Now, he said, he’d like to talk to somebody in the White House about this situation. He calls it a human rights situation. He doesn’t want to call it a prisoner swap or a prisoner exchange. He doesn’t appear to want to go through the Swiss. So my question is, are there any direct talks going on to try to resolve this human rights situation? Would the U.S. be willing to have —

MR. CARNEY: Well, we are very concerned about Alan Gross. We’ve expressed very clearly that he ought to be released immediately and we’ve made that view clear to the Cuban government. And we work on this issue all the time. I don’t have any conversations to read out to you, but it remains a concern of ours that we are focused on.

Q: But will the U.S. change policy and talk directly to Cuba about this?

MR. CARNEY: Again, we have conversations all the time that make very clear our views on this matter and I don’t think it is a mystery at all to the Cubans that we believe he ought to be released immediately.

Q: What about releasing Cuban prisoners?

MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to get involved in a negotiation with another country from the podium. What I can tell you is our view is unequivocal.

Courtesy: NewsRoomAmerica.com

Ex-Gov. George Ryan Seeks Release of American Held in Cuba 2

By Michael Sneed, Chicago Sun-Times.com

Our man in Havana?

Former U.S. government contractor Alan Gross, who fears his government has ignored his plea to be freed from a tortuous four-year stint in a Cuban jail cell, has a new champion.

To wit: Former Gov. George Ryan, who was the first U.S. governor in 40 years to lead a trade delegation to Cuba and was promised a Cuban memorial by then-Cuban leader Fidel Castro for doing so, is now petitioning for the release of Gross.

Sneed has learned that Ryan, who was released earlier this year after serving more than five years in a federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., after a conviction on corruption charges, met recently with Rodney A. Gonzalez Maestrey, a member of the Cuban Interests Section of the U.S. State Department, to petition for the release of Gross.

“Gross is elderly and sick, his mother and daughter now have cancer, and I agree with U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, the man’s release is a matter of grave urgency,” said Ryan, who lost his wife, Lura Lynn, to cancer while he was in prison. Ryan claims he met Maestrey (sic) over lunch recently at the Union League Club to discuss Gross, who was charged with selling contraband satellite equipment to Cuban dissidents.

Gross reportedly was working on a U.S. government-funded project setting up Internet connections in Cuba. His family claims he was working to help Jewish groups set up Web access. Just recently, Gross, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison, sent a personal letter to President Barack Obama on the fourth anniversary of his incarceration, expressing fear that his government had “abandoned” him.

Ryan said he took advantage of an invitation to lunch “with the Cuban ambassador” while he was in town on tourism business “with men who had helped us in Cuba.”

Ryan dined with Fidel Castro twice in the past. “It was Castro who set up my subsequent meeting with Nelson Mandela when I led a trade mission to South Africa in 2000,” Ryan said. “I just thought maybe I could help in some way by getting a message to the Castro government somehow.”

Ryan now joins a bipartisan group of 66 U.S. senators seeking the release of Gross.

Durbin weighed in on the Gross case on the Senate floor last December, after a visit with the government contractor. “This man is not a threat to the sovereignty of the Cuban government, as they claim,” Durbin said then. “He’s a good man with good intentions, an honest man who just wants to come home to his family . . . Holding Alan Gross as a political hostage is the wrong way to solve any problem between our two countries.”

Stay tuned.

Editor’s Note: Rodney Amaury González Maestrey is a Third Secretary at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, DC.

New York Daily News Uses “Former” Cuban Spies as Unattributed Sources in “Handshake” Coverage 1

The recent article by Albor Ruiz “Obama-Castro Handshake More Than Just a Gesture” used former Cuban Intelligence Officers Jesús Arboleya and Arturo López-Levy as central sources in the feature. However, Ruiz failed to identify either man as a former spy, instead referencing Arboleya as a “Cuban writer and political analyst” and López-Levy as a “Cuba expert and Political Science professor at the University of Denver.”

Editor’s Note: Colonel Jesus Arboleya Cervera was identified by intelligence service defector Jesus Perez Mendez in 1983. Years later, Arboleya’s intelligence service was further corroborated by convicted spy Carlos Alvarez.

Arboleya served as a Second Secretary at the Cuban Mission to the United Nations in New York City before transferring to the Washington-based Cuban Interests Section. During his US tour, Arboleya was the architect of the 1970’s US-Cuba normalization drive, which almost succeeded in 1977 following the formation of a group of prominent Cuban-Americans who called themselves the Committee of 75. Although headed by respectable Cuban-Americans, including two clerics and several businessmen, the Committee was inspired by the DGI, (then) Cuba’s primary foreign intelligence service. According to Senate testimony of March 12, 1982, at the time, Arboleya may have been the longest serving DGI officer in the United States.

Arturo Lopez-Levy is a self-professed “former” Intelligence Officer in Havana’s dreaded Ministry of the Interior (MININT). He is also a relative of MININT Col. Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas, Raul Castro’s son-in-law and head of GAESA, the regime’s business monopoly.

Cuba Indefinitely Suspends Consular Services in U.S. 1

By Alfonso Chardy, Chardy@elNuevoHerald.com

In a startling move, the Cuban government’s diplomatic mission in Washington announced Tuesday that it was suspending consular services until further notice — in effect no longer issuing passports or visas for travel to Cuba.

The decision will upend the thriving travel business to Cuba that has seen hundreds of thousands of Cuban-Americans and Cubans who live in the United States taking frequent trips to the island to visit relatives. In addition, almost 100,000 other U.S. citizens have traveled to Cuba on so-called “people-to-people” trips under rules relaxed by the Obama administration.

Among the three million visitors to the island in 2012, about 476,000 were Cuban Americans and Cuban residents of the United States who said they were visiting relatives. Another 98,000 were registered as members of people-to-people programs in which travelers engage in specific educational or cultural activities that cannot involve tourism. Tourist travel to Cuba remains prohibited.

The State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

But an executive of one of the oldest Cuba travel companies in Miami, Marazul Charters, said the decision constitutes a ”crisis” in the industry because it comes as travel agencies geared up for the heavy year-end travel season.

Armando García, president of Marazul Charters, said, however, that the crisis may be a temporary problem — but only if the issue is resolved. The Cuban Interests Section in Washington blamed the problem on a decision by the bank that managed its accounts to stop providing the service and the diplomatic mission’s inability to find a replacement bank.

Garcia also noted that travelers who already have valid passports and visas will have no trouble traveling to Cuba. But he added that he had no way of knowing how many people ultimately will be unable to secure travel documents.

A longtime Cuba expert in Miami said the suspension of consular services likely will reduce not only trips to Cuba, but also revenue the Cuban government derives from travelers.

“This will reduce travel to Cuba,” said Jaime Suchlicki, director of the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies. “It will also reduce income for the Cuban government and make some people happy and other people unhappy.”

Suchlicki was referring to the divided opinions among Cuban-Americans and others. Many Cuban-Americans favor travel to Cuba to see family members, but others oppose it. They argue that the more travel the more income the Cuban government earns, eroding the goals of the trade embargo. There are also groups that seek an end to the tourist travel prohibition.

The surprise announcement comes just weeks before travel to the island was expected to pick up for the year-end holidays and only days after two officials from the Cuban Interests Section in Washington traveled to Miami to meet quietly with companies that handle travel between the island and the United States.

In a two-page statement, the Cuban Interests Section in Washington blamed ……

Read more here: Cuba Indefinitely Suspends Consular Services in U.S.

Media Adds New Details to Cuba’s Targeting of Terry McAuliffe 1

Analyst: Terry McAuliffe Likely Spied Upon During Cuban Visit

VA Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Traveled to Cuba in 2010

By Lachian Markay, Washington Free Beacon

A former U.S. counterintelligence officer claims Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic candidate for Virginia governor, was likely spied on by Cuban intelligence services during a 2010 visit to Havana.

McAuliffe visited Cuba to promote Virginia’s agricultural exports. He convinced the regime to allow imports of Virginia apples, poultry, soybeans, and wine, the Washington Post reported.

McAuliffe met with Jorge Bolaños, a retired Cuban spy who now heads the Cuban Interests Section in the United States, ahead of the trip. The bureau is the communist nation’s diplomatic outpost in Washington, D.C. and experts believe it houses members of the nation’s clandestine services.

McAuliffe would later attend a party hosted by Bolaños at the Cuban Interests Section.

His meeting with Bolaños prior to the Havana junket likely triggered increased attention from the Directorate of Intelligence, Cuba’s spy agency, during the trip, according to Chris Simmons, a former top U.S. Army counterintelligence official specializing in Cuba.

“Given the Directorate’s intimate understanding of the American political arena, it undoubtedly awarded McAuliffe a level of attention fair beyond normal business travelers since his return to politics was virtually assured,” Simmons wrote last week.

Bolaños is officially “retired,” Simmons noted, but he reportedly “maintained close ties with staff members of two of Cuba’s five spy services as well as the Superior Institute of Intelligence (ISI), where the regime’s civilian intelligence officers are trained.”

Simmons boasts in his online bio that he was “deeply involved with the majority of U.S. Counterintelligence successes against Cuba” from 1996 to 2004.

“You can take what he says to the bank,” Humberto Fontova, a Cuban-American author who is critical of the Castro regime, said of Simmons’ analysis.

“This is old hat,” Fontova told the Washington Free Beacon in an email, noting that he documented instances of Cuban espionage involving high-profile American officials in his book, The Longest Romance: The Mainstream Media and Fidel Castro.

Fontova pointed specifically to quotes from Cuban intelligence officers who say they were tasked with eavesdropping on famous Americans.

“My job was to bug visiting American’s hotel rooms […] with both cameras and listening devices. And famous Americans are the priority objectives of Castro’s intelligence,” Cuban intelligence defector Delfin Fernandez told Fontova.

Story continues here: Analyst: Terry McAuliffe Likely Spied Upon During Cuban Visit

Cuba Swaps Out Spy-Counselors in Argentina 1

Expelled from the US in November 2002 for espionage, Intelligence Officer Carlos Augusto Suanes Flexas is in Buenos Aires as the Counselor Officer. He can be reached at consejero@ar.embacuba.cu. Cuba’s MINREX lists no direct phone number for this particular “official.” He replaced Intelligence Officer Oscar Redondo Toledo, who had been declared Persona Non Grata by the US in November 2002 in retaliation for the Ana Montes case. He had been a First Secretary at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington at the time.

After his forced departure from his posting as a Second Secretary at the Cuban Mission to the United Nations, Suanes Flexas was assigned as 1st Secretary at Cuba’s (then) eight-man Embassy in Nicaragua. He appears to have arrived in the spring of 2006.

U.S.-Cuba Mail Talks Spark Speculation of Wider Outreach 1

By Guy Taylor, The Washington Times

The announcement that U.S. and Cuban officials will hold landmark talks this week toward restarting direct mail service between the two nations prompted a mix of reactions on Monday on whether the Obama administration plans a broader outreach to the Castro regime in the president’s second term.

Veteran Cuba watchers agreed that the development is unlikely to trigger a wider normalization in relations any time soon. But the notion that the talks — slated forThursday and Friday — could pull Washington and Havana closer than they’ve been in more than half a century prompted a harsh reaction from at least one Republican on Capitol Hill.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican, said that the White House is caving to pressure from Cuban leaders desperate to end trade restrictions frozen since the 1960s.

“The regime is once again manipulating the U.S. administration in this game because it wants us to lift the embargo and make further concessions,” said Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen, a former chairwoman of the House Foreign Relations Committee and a staunch opponent of easing the stand-off that has defined bilateral relations since Cuban leader Fidel Castro agreed to house Soviet ballistic missiles in 1961.

Mr. Castro, 86, stepped down in 2008, and the top post is now held by his 82-year-old brother Raul.

The State Department said Monday that the postal talks will occur well within policy boundaries set long ago by Congress.

The talks will be led by R. Cabanas Rodriguez, the chief of mission at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, and Lea Emerson, the U.S. Postal Service’s director of international postal affairs.

Similar negotiations in 2009 failed to produce an agreement. Separate negotiations on issues such as immigration have been on hold during recent years amid tensions simmering between the U.S. and Cuba over the trade embargo and Washington’s unwillingness to remove Cuba from its official list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Washington has also demanded that Cuba release jailed American subcontractor Alan Gross, who was arrested in December 2009 while working for a U.S. Agency for International Development-funded program. Cuban authorities gave a 15-year prison sentence to Mr. Gross and accused him of illegally delivering satellite phones to individuals in the nation’s Jewish community.

Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen alluded to the case in a statement Monday, asserting that “a U.S. citizen languishes unjustly in a Cuban prison and brave freedom Cuban activists are risking their lives while on hunger strikes to protest the island tyranny.”

Some Cuba policy experts suggested the postal talks could lead to something more ambitious

This is the way diplomacy is conducted,” said Christopher Sabatini, senior director of policy at the Council of the Americas in New York. “The idea some have, that these talks represent a concession, when it fact it will open up precisely the channels of communication we want to have, defies the very notion of diplomacy and the stated goals of our Cuba policy.”

“For the past couple of years, there has been little movement at all — the U.S. has insisted that the unconditional release of Alan Gross was a prerequisite to any action on other issues, and the relationship seemed stuck,” added Geoff Thale, a program director at the Washington Office on Latin America. “But in the last months, we’ve seen small steps on both sides.”

Months prior to Mr. Gross’ December 2009 arrest, President Obama signaled an interest in opening a new era of relations with Cuba. “The United States seeks a new beginning with Cuba,” he said during a speech at the Summit of the Americas held in Trinidad and Tobago that year.

Advocates of such an opening were largely unimpressed Monday by the announcement that postal talks will be held this week. “Any step taken toward expanding the free flow of information and resources from the United States to the Cuban people is a step in the right direction, but it does fall short of Obama’s stated goal of really seeking a new beginning and a new relationship,” said Ricardo Herrero, deputy executive director of the Cuba Study Group, a Washington-based Cuban exile organization.

“There so much more the administration could be doing now to expand the flow of resources and to help empower Cuban society,” said Mr. Herrero, who suggested the administration lift import and export bans on certain goods and services for “private Cuban entrepreneurs.”

“If a private Cuban entrepreneur comes up with an iPhone app, that private Cuban entrepreneur should be allowed to sell that app in the iTunes store,” he added. “The embargo prohibits trade with the Cuban state — with a few exceptions for food and medicine — but this would be trading with private entrepreneurs and that’s a very different set of circumstances.”

Wall Street Journal OP/ED: Cuba Admits Gross is a Pawn 1

Is Washington Negotiating with Havana to Free Imprisoned U.S. Contractor Alan Gross?

By Mary Anastasia O’Grady

Is Washington engaged in a negotiation with Havana to try to free U.S. Agency for International Development contractor Alan Gross from a Cuban jail? If so, what’s on the table?

Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R., Fla.), Albio Sires (D., N.J.), and Mario Diaz-Balart (R., Fla.) didn’t ask exactly these questions when they wrote to the State Department’s Assistant Secretary of Western Hemispheric Affairs Roberta Jackson Monday, requesting a meeting, but there can be little doubt about their concerns.

The letter was prompted by the issuance of a visa last month to Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, Cuba’s director of North American affairs for the Cuban foreign ministry, so that she could meet with Ms. Jackson. It is the second time Ms. Vidal was granted a U.S. visa in just over 12 months. This has raised some congressional eyebrows, and not only because Ms. Vidal’s husband is a former diplomat to Washington who was “declared persona non grata and expelled for his ‘activities hostile to the national security,’” according to the letter.

A larger problem is that Ms. Vidal is a high-ranking member of Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As such, the congressmen pointed out in their letter, “her sole mission is to promote the Cuban regime’s propaganda, undermine U.S. interests, and justify” Cuba’s repression of its own people. “In addition, she has been at the forefront defending the Cuban regime’s unjust holding of a U.S. citizen and harboring U.S. fugitives.”

The implication is that the Obama administration is playing footsie with the Castros. If so, it would seem to be exactly what Ms. Vidal was asking for when she appeared in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on May 10. The CNN host asked, “What would be good for Cuba that could potentially open the door to freeing Mr. Gross?” Ms. Vidal answered: “For Cuba it would be a right to have a response on the part of the U.S. government about its willingness to respond to our proposal to sit down and initiate a negotiation on [the Gross case] and many other matters concerning our bilateral relationship.”

In other words, Mr. Gross is a negotiating chip. Ms. Vidal would not say what Cuba wants in exchange for letting him go, but the release of several Cuban intelligence officers convicted in 2001 of spying on the U.S. is likely on the list.

Not surprisingly, the three Cuban-American congressmen object to negotiating with the dictatorship and are asking, “What was the purpose and intent” of Ms. Vidal’s trip and “what issues were discussed during her meeting with Ms. Jackson?” In addition, they have asked for an “update” on Mr. Gross’s case, which began in December 2009 when he was arrested by Cuban authorities for having brought satellite telecommunications equipment into the country. The 64 year-old is now serving a 15-year sentence in Havana for his “crime.”

For the record, Ms. Vidal also told CNN viewers that Cuba has free elections, political competition and free speech.

State Department Meets With Expelled Spy to Discuss Alan Gross Reply

Castro Regime Official Visits Washington, D.C.

(Capitol Hill Cubans) The State Department has confirmed that Josefina Vidal, a senior Cuban Foreign Ministry official, was in Washington D.C. this week. During her visit, Vidal met with U.S. State Department officials, reportedly including the Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Roberta Jacobson. Among the issues discussed was the arbitrary detention of American development worker, Alan Gross, whose release the U.S. has officially stated remains a top priority.

We commend the State Department for prioritizing efforts to release Mr. Gross. Mr. Gross has been held hostage by the Castro regime since 2009 for helping the island’s Jewish community connect to the Internet. He should be immediately and unconditionally released. However, we also hope the State Department included in its agenda the fundamental right of the Cuban people to live in freedom and the increased repression against them by the Castro dictatorship. Moreover, that any bilateral talks between the U.S. Government and the Castro dictatorship be publicly disclosed.

We make this last point, as yesterday, State Department spokesperson Patrick Ventrell seemed a bit coy during the Daily Press Briefing.

When asked about the meeting between Vidal and Jacobson, Ventrell answered: “I’m not sure if it’s happened. We always raise the issue of Alan Gross and we make our case very clearly and consistently to the Cubans on Alan Gross. But I’ll have to check about details of that meeting.”

Editor’s Note: Josefina Vidal left the US in May 2003 in conjunction with the expulsion of 14 Cuban spies serving under diplomatic cover.