Breaking News: Cuban Ambassador Makes “Off-the-Record” Appearance at “Target-Rich” University 3

Ambassador José Ramón Cabañas Rodríguez is currently scheduled to be at Georgetown University from noon through two p.m. to speak at the Ambassador Series, hosted by the school’s Center for Latin American Studies (CLAS). Georgetown is a longtime target of Cuban Intelligence, a fact documented by well-respected Directorate of Intelligence (DI) defector Jose Cohen in his 2002 publication, El Servicio de Inteligencia Castrista y la Comunidad Academica Norteamericana (See:
el-servicio-de-inteligencia-castrista-y-la-comunidad-academica-norteamericana). Havana regularly seeks opportunities to “spot and assess” sympathetic individuals from among Georgetown’s students to develop the next generation of “penetration” agents within the U.S. government.

CFR Hosts “Unannounced” Presentation With Chief of Cuban Interests Section 1

On Wednesday, January 25th, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in Washington DC hosted an unpublicized presentation by the Chief of the Cuban Interests Section, Ambassador José R. Cabañas. The agenda for Havana’s Ambassador called for an update on Cuba’s economic and social model. Cabañas addressed more than 40 guests on what the Interests Section referred to as “ the process of transformation going on on the island…” (sic). The event, reportedly attended by members of the U.S. academic, political, business and media world, took the form of a dialogue, moderated by Julia Sweig, a self-professed friend of half a dozen Cuban Intelligence Officers. According to an internet posting by the Interests Section, “The well-known scholar made an introduction and posed central questions, opening the floor for the audience to address specific concerns.”

Curiously, the nearly two-hour discussion from January 25th is not listed on the CFR’s roster, Past Meetings, but was belatedly “advertised” by the Cuban Interests Section on Tuesday, January 24th: Lo mas reciente en noticias

Salvadorans Allegedly Rally for Cuban 5 1

Havana’s Prensa Latina (PRELA), long-known for its collaboration with Cuba’s Intelligence services, is reporting a Cuban 5 rally occurred in the Salvadoran town of Izalco (west of the capital of San Salvador). The gathering allegedly consisted of “political, religious and solidarity organizations.” According to Havana, “before the demonstration, a religious ceremony was held on the street to demand the release of the Cuban Five and pray for the health of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Protesters also demanded an end to the blockade against Cuba for more than fifty years by the U.S.”

PRELA cited its information source as the “Salvadorian Coordinator of Solidarity with Cuba.” The date and time of the event was not disclosed. Likewise, a photo was not provided nor was information on the size of the crowd. In fact, the only mention of attendees was a statement that unspecified members of the local Mayor’s office attended, as did former guerillas with the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN).

Cuban Comrade Now a House-Flipping Capitalist Savant 1

High-level defector Pedro Alvarez Borrego has become a house flipper extraordinaire. Some question the source of his stake money.

By Juan O. Tamayo,

TAMPA — Pedro Alvarez Borrego, a top Cuban government official who oversaw the nation’s $1.5 billion-a-year food-importing enterprise, is living the American Dream in Tampa a mere two years after he defected. Alvarez has bought and sold at least eight homes worth a total value of nearly $600,000 and opened a management company, official records show. He has also reportedly become a consultant on how U.S. businesses can enter the Cuba markets. Yet mystery lingers over exactly how the 70-year-old could buy so much real estate so soon after his arrival from Cuba, where he was under criminal investigation in a kickback-for-imports scandal at Alimport, the state monopoly for food imports.

Before his hasty defection, his job at Alimport made him the powerful main negotiator of contracts with chomping-at-the-bit U.S. exporters that hit a record of $711 million in 2008 and turned the United States into Cuba’s fifth-largest trade partner. Today, Alvarez, one of the top Cuban defectors in recent memory, is trying to keep out of the public eye and enjoy the good life — a neighbor said he drives a red H3 Humvee — even as some anti-Castro activists in Tampa complain that he may be living off corrupt money. The man who answered an El Nuevo Herald call to the telephone number Alvarez has given in official U.S. documents said he was a different Pedro Alvarez. “I am just a simple carpenter. Do you have any jobs for me?” he said before he laughed and hung up.

An economist, Alvarez was named to head Alimport in 1998 and was perfectly positioned in 2000 when the U.S. Congress authorized the cash-only sale of agricultural products to Cuba under the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act. Cuba was suddenly awash in U.S. visitors looking for sales contracts — including several dozen Congress members, six governors and a who’s who of the leading agriculture companies known as Big Ag. “He single-handedly said yes and no to billions in sales,” said John Park Wright IV, a Naples, Fla., businessman who signed several cattle deals with Alimport. Cuba’s global food imports hit $1.6 billion in 2011, according to official Havana figures. And in 2003, Alvarez masterminded the controversial scheme under which Alimport pressured U.S. politicians and exporters to sign written pledges that they would lobby the Congress to ease economic sanctions on the island. The pledge might have technically made them agents of the Cuban government, though no one was prosecuted.

Read more here:

CFR’s Julia Sweig, Admitted Friend to 6 Cuban Spies, Highlights Cuba’s “Reforms” 3

Talking to Cuba

Interviewee: Julia E. Sweig, Director for Latin American Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
Interviewer: Robert McMahon, Editor,

The Cuban government’s easing of travel restrictions this month marks another sign of its commitment to reforms and changing sentiments in Havana, says Julia Sweig, CFR’s director for Latin American Studies. Washington should seize on such moves, she says, to initiate a new dialogue and begin solving the many problems impeding normalization of ties between the countries–such as the case of detained U.S. citizen Alan Gross–and U.S. influence in the region. “There are geostrategic reasons within the region, leaving apart the bilateral relationship, why it makes a great deal of sense for a strategy of rapprochement with Cuba,” Sweig says.

Cuban authorities this month eased a fifty-year-old travel restriction by allowing Cubans to travel with just a passport, and permitting lengthy stays away. How significant is this?

This is a major step for Cuba domestically, for the Cuban economy, for Cuba in the world, and for Cubans living on and off the island. On the domestic front, this has been one of the most significant sources of unhappiness for the Cuban public, to not be able to travel freely. And what the Cuban government did when it announced this was explain that this is an attempt to bring Cuba in line with other countries. Cubans now need a visa still from the countries they want to visit, and they have to buy their plane tickets, but unlike the previous era, they won’t risk losing their property or their residence status. They can travel abroad as economic migrants, come and go, live for a while abroad in the United States, presumably, go back and invest in their businesses, have two residences–really a huge potential economic boon for the country.

In an interview with a year ago, you said the United States now had a willing partner for normalization of ties with Havana but was failing to read the signals. Is this step one of those signals?

This step is largely a domestic, reality-based policy decision. But there are knock-on effects that Washington could conclude suggest that Havana is taking another step in building a more open society and boosting the human rights of its population. If Washington chose to take this as a sign of greater freedom granted by the government to its citizens, it could surely be digested in that way. But I don’t think pleasing Washington is the prime motivation.

How should we read Cuba’s parliamentary elections scheduled for February 3?

As another big demographic and political development: some 67 percent of the candidates for 612 spots are completely new picks, and of these, more than 70 percent were born after 1959. Women comprise 49 percent of the candidates, and Afro descendents 37 percent. Cubans will be asked to check yea or nay from this new list–so it’s not a direct competition between candidates. But if you want to understand where the successors to Fidel and Raul may come from, I’d look closely at the new group that comes in next month.

These elections also tell us something about decentralization: the municipal and provincial deputies are going to have a lot more power to tax and spend than ever before–on everything but health, education, and the military, as I understand it–while the new National Assembly may well start passing a lot more laws than before, to implement a slew of economic, legal, and governance reforms that are under way or coming down the pike. Finally, Ricardo Alarcon, who served as National Assembly president for the last nineteen years, before that as UN ambassador, and who for decades has taken the lead on U.S.-Cuban relations, will not appear on the electoral slate.

Washington continues to point to what it says is the biggest impediment, which is the case of Alan Gross, the U.S. citizen who U.S. officials said was in Cuba to help with Internet access; Cubans say he was subverting the state. He continues to languish in Cuba. How to resolve this issue?

Well, like governments resolve issues, they get in the room and they talk. And they put the issues on the table that are connected indirectly and intrinsically to that particular issue. By the way, the DAI (Developments Alternative International), which was Alan Gross’s employer, just released the contracts (PDF) between DAI and Alan Gross, and there is a lot of information in there about the equipment that Gross brought down there and reasons why he was bringing that equipment. And that will just, unfortunately, reinforce the sense that this wasn’t just benign development or benign Internet assistance.

This was part of a program funded by the U.S. government intended to destabilize the Cuban government, and the documentation really clearly shows that. And the lawsuit, now that the Gross family has filed against the State Department, also says that USAID should have trained Gross in counterintelligence. So, the way to stop this Alan Gross issue from becoming a political Frankenstein is to get in the room and settle a number of issues, including the Gross issue, including the Cuban 5 issue [five Cuban intelligence agents arrested by federal authorities in Miami in 1998 on charges of espionage], including other bilateral issues.

Some see the case of Alan Gross as playing into a narrative that the Cubans are using this case for leverage and are not genuinely interested in justice or in properly handling this case. How do you respond to that perspective?

Well, they are interested in using the case as leverage. President Obama, at the first Summit of the Americas he attended, pledged to open a new chapter in U.S.-Cuban relations and acknowledged that the embargo and U.S. policy had failed. Then he left in place the very policies he had inherited from George W. Bush. Some call them democracy promotions; some call them regime change–explicitly designed to destabilize Cuba. Which is very, very consistent with the bipartisan approach to Cuba over the last fifty years.

Story continues here:

Editor’s Note: For an excellent summary of the role of Cuban Intelligence Officers in forming Julia Sweig’s opinion, see Humberto Fontova’s September 2010 article, Latin-America “Expert”– or Castro Agent?

Prolific “Former” Spy Continues His Pro-Castro Influence Operations Reply

Alan Gross and the U.S. Pragmatism Deficit

Courtesy: Foreign Policy in Focus (FPIF) – a program from the left-leaning Institute for Policy Studies

By Arturo Lopez-Levy, January 25, 2013

Beltway foreign policy analysts frequently praise the Obama administration for its “pragmatic” approach to world affairs. In dealing with Russia, China, or the economic crisis, the current White House has won plaudits for rejecting more ideological schools of thought in favor of evidence-based, flexible solutions.

A pragmatic approach to foreign policy is by nature flexible, responsive to changes in the target country, clear in its interests and goals, and creative in its implementation.

In short, it’s everything the Obama administration’s approach to Cuba isn’t.

To be sure, in his first term, Obama showed pragmatism by eliminating travel restrictions that had only caused resentment on the island, in the Cuban-American community, and among academic, religious, and humanitarian constituencies in the United States. But after criticizing the Bush administration’s dogmatic policies of isolation, the Obama administration has adjusted course only at the margins.

In Its own universe

The worst managed issue between Cuba and the United States since 2009 has been the detention of USAID subcontractor Alan Gross, who has been imprisoned in a Cuban military hospital since December 2009. But instead of facing the facts, the Obama administration has created its own fictional narrative of the controversy, which contradicts even its own publicly available documents.

Alan Gross is an American international development expert who entered Cuba five times as an unregistered foreign agent. A USAID subcontractor, his mission was to create a wireless Internet satellite network based out of Jewish community centers to circumvent Cuban government detection. With the Cuban government well aware of the U.S. role in seeding the Stuxnet virus that nearly derailed Iran’s nuclear program, this was a huge red flag.

The USAID program was approved under section 109 of the Helms-Burton Act, a law explicitly committed to regime change in Cuba. Gross’ actions were covert. He never obtained the informed consent of the Cuban government or the Cuban Jewish community, which has always expressed opposition to the Helms-Burton law—particularly its attempt to politicize religious communities as tools to promote opposition groups.

Moreover, Gross didn’t know Cuba and didn’t speak Spanish. He was in over his head.

All this is well known, but Washington maintains that Gross was in Cuba as part of regular humanitarian programs. The United States insists that the international community simply misunderstands the Helms-Burton law, pretending that it’s about anything other than undermining Cuba’s sovereignty. USAID claims that Cuban civil society, religious groups, and even dissidents who criticize the Helms-Burton approach are mistaken. The Helms-Burton law helps them; they just don’t realize it.

A confidential document from a USAID task force associated with Gross’ work indicates a pattern of consistent misinformation. At the top of a list of go-to sources of information on Cuba, the program recommended the “Babalu” blog, an irrelevant website managed by rabid pro-embargo elements. The blog has called President Obama a “Marxist tyrant” and has also taken aim at Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and various Cuban Americans who disagree with the editors’ McCarthyism. The fact that President Obama’s own USAID recommended Babalu as a reliable source of information is in itself grounds for closing the program until some adult guidance is guaranteed. Only on that planet was Alan Gross appropriately warned about the risks associated with his mission.

Story continues here:

Admitted Former Spy Calls For Alan Gross Negotiation 1

By Arturo Lopez-Levy 23 January 2013

The case of Alan Gross, an American development expert sentenced by Cuba to fifteen years in prison for “acts against the independence or the territorial integrity of the state”, is the latest instalment (sic) in the tense story of Cuba-US relations. Negotiating is the only way to break the cycle.

Last year, in the Foreign Affairs Committee of the US House of representatives, Rep. David Rivera (R-FL) demanded that Wendy Sherman, undersecretary of state for political affairs, reveals whether the US somehow tried to negotiate with Havana, the release of Alan Gross. Mr.
Gross is an international development expert who worked for a contract of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and is serving a fifteen year prison sentence in Cuba, condemned for participating in acts against Cuban sovereignty and political integrity.

Gross entered Cuba five times as a non-registered foreign agent. His mission, as a USAID subcontractor, was to create a wireless Internet network that would circumvent Cuban government detection. The USAID program was approved under section 109 of the Helms-Burton Act, a law committed to regime change in Cuba. Gross’ actions were covert. He never obtained the informed consent of the Cuban Jewish community, which has always expressed opposition to the Helms-Burton law, particularly its attempt to politicize religious communities as tools to promote opposition groups.

Mr. Gross didn’t know Cuba and didn’t speak Spanish. Gross loved Cuban music but that is hardly a qualifier for the type of covert mission he was recruited for by Development Alternatives Initiatives (DAI), a contractor for the US government. A clear indication of the lack of professionalism of the USAID Cuba program is its recently declassified listof go-to sources of information about Cuba headed by the website Babalu Blog. You don’t need to be a Cuba expert to realize that the Babalu blog is hardly eduational (sic) on Cuba but disseminates right wing propaganda against every Cuban American or American who disagrees with its writers’ McCarthyism. Accordingto Babalu Blog, for example, President Obama is a “Marxist tyrant” in the “Stalin-Mao-Castro tradition”.

Questioning the Obama administration, Republican congressman Rivera said: “It is outrageous that the Obama administration would be negotiating with a terrorist regime to free an American hostage.”

This policy is correct: the US should not give in to the demands of terrorists. That would only encourage them to take further hostages. But this has nothing to do with Gross or Cuba.

Rivera’s references to terrorism are a manipulation. The State Department has not recorded a single terrorist act sponsored by Cuba in two decades. Recently, Havana hosted another round of negotiations between the FARC guerrillas and the Colombian government of Juan Manuel Santos. The Colombian government not only appreciated Cuba’s facilitation of the conversations but also demanded that Havana be included in the next Summit of the Americas. In Spain, the other country supposedly a target of groups protected by Cuba, the ETA has demobilized and successive socialist and popular governments have thanked Havana for receiving freed commandos of the Basque organization.

Read more here: Alan Gross: Time for a Negotiated Solution

Editor’s Note: Arturo Lopez-Levy is an admitted “former” intelligence officer closely connected to Cuban President Raul Castro. He details some of his spy service in his recent book,
Raul Castro & the New Cuba

Does Castro Control Colombia’s FARC? 1

Posted: 22 Jan 2013 08:13 AM PST, Courtesy — Capitol Hill Cubans

Not even the most purposefully ignorant can today deny that the Castro dictatorship controls Venezuela’s government.

In the same vein, does anyone really believe it doesn’t also control Colombia’s FARC terrorists?

As a reminder, in 2011, the FARC named Timoleon Jimenez, a hardliner known as Timochenko, as its new leader.

Timochenko, who received military and political training in Cuba, has always been considered among the most uncompromising FARC leaders, according to Colombian intelligence services.

Chavez’s treatment and the so-called FARC peace negotiations — both in Havana — are more than mere coincidences. They are about power and control by the Castros. Some habits die hard.

From the Wall Street Journal:

Colombia’s FARC Rebels Blow Up Pipeline

Colombia’s largest rebel insurgency blew up an oil pipeline in the south of the country, an attack that underscored the end Sunday of a two-month unilateral cease-fire declared by the guerrilla group during peace talks with the government that could end five decades of bloody conflict.

An official with state-run oil firm Ecopetrol SA said the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known by the Spanish acronym FARC, were likely behind the attack against the Transandino pipeline, which can transport 46,000 barrels a day and is located in the southern province of Putumayo.

The bombing against the pipeline, which took place Sunday evening, is an opening salvo that marks the end of two months of relatively few military actions by the FARC. The guerrilla group declared a unilateral cease-fire in November during peace negotiations with the government that are taking place in Cuba.

The government has been girding for what it says could be a wave of attacks by the guerrillas designed to strengthen their position in the negotiation table now that the cease-fire is over. Attacks against the country’s shaky oil-transportation infrastructure can be especially damaging to the Colombian economy, which relies heavily on oil exports.

A surge in bombings against oil pipelines is one of the main reasons for why the country’s oil production slowed in 2012 and was unable to keep up with the double-digit growth seen in previous years.

Spy’s Mom Lobbies Peruvians for Release of Cuban 5 2

Cuba’s Prensa Latina (PRELA) has reported that Irma Sehwerert, mother of convicted Castro spy Rene Gonzalez, is visiting Peru. In Lima, she continues her outreach to Peruvian entities and personalities to publicize her version of her son’s espionage career. Predictably, she also lobbied on behalf of the remaining Cuban 5, more specifically, Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labañino, Fernando Gonzalez and Antonio Guerrero.

Irma Sehwerert and other Cuban officials were received at the Congress by legislator Sergio Tejada, of the ruling bloc Gana Peru. There she and pro-Castro allies “presented information on the case of the Five and the need to intensify the international pressure campaign so that U.S. President Barack Obama grants them a pardon,” according to PRELA. The Cuban 5 were arrested on September 12, 1998, after years of espionage efforts against the United States and Florida’s Cuban-American community.