WaPo OP/ED: A ‘Hard Hand’ in Venezuela 2

By Washington Post Editorial Board

ANY DOUBT that new Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro is taking his cues from Cuba should have been dispelled by events over the weekend. As Mr. Maduro huddled with the Castro brothers in Havana and recommitted Venezuela to the heavy subsidies that keep the Cuban economy afloat, his functionaries back in Caracas made two announcements: first, that a promised audit of the questionable election that ratified Mr. Maduro as the successor to Hugo Chavez would be perfunctory, excluding the materials that the opposition says would show evidence of fraud; and second, that a 35-year-oldU.S. filmmaker arrested last week on ludicrous accusations of espionage had been criminally charged.

The dog-eared Castro playbook calls for distracting the public at times of crisis with crude anti-Americanism — and taking hostages who can be used for leverage with Washington. For more than three years, Cuba has been holding Alan P. Gross, a Bethesda-based contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development, on patently false espionage charges, in the hope that he can swapped for five confessed Cuban spies imprisoned or paroled in the United States.

Now Mr. Maduro has his own “gringo,” as he called him: Timothy Tracy, a Hollywood-based documentary maker who spent several months interviewing Chavez militants and opposition students before he was abruptly arrested at the airport last Wednesday. Unlike Mr. Gross, who was hired by USAID to deliver Internet equipment to Cuba’s Jewish community, Mr. Tracy was not working for any U.S. agency, as the State Department quickly made clear. Friends described him as a naif who barely speaks Spanish.

Mr. Maduro and the regime’s propaganda apparatus are nevertheless portraying him as a sinister secret agent who was financing “violent groups” to provoke “a civil war.” That, claimed Interior and Justice Minister Miguel Rodriguez, “would lead to the intervention of a foreign power to bring order to the country.” Fear of a U.S. invasion? Another Castro cliché.

The real danger in Venezuela is not that an Obama administration unwilling to provide leadership in Syria would make any serious attempt to prevent Mr. Maduro’s consolidation of power. It is that Mr. Maduro will follow up on his jailing of an innocent American with a full-scale crackdown on the opposition. Government spokesmen have taken to calling Henrique Capriles, who challenged Mr. Maduro in the presidential election and demanded an audit of the results, a “fascist murderer”; the prisons minister said she has a cell waiting for him.

On Saturday, authorities arrested a retired general, Antonio Rivero, who — no surprise — is known for his denunciations of Cuban infiltration of the Venezuelan military. Mr. Maduro keeps promising he will soon apply “mano dura,” or a hard hand — a phrase that has been a favorite of Latin strongmen ranging from Anastasio Somoza to Augusto Pinochet.

Mr. Maduro and his Cuban tutors will likely watch to see if there is any substantial response from the Obama administration or other South American governments to the seizing of Mr. Tracy. If there is not, don’t be surprised to see Venezuela’s jails filled by Mr. Capriles and other political prisoners.

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Convicted Cuban Spy Offers to Renounce US Citizenship 1

San Fran Chronicle: Ex-Cuban spy offers to renounce US citizenship

MIAMI (AP) — A convicted Cuban spy offered Monday to renounce his U.S. citizenship if a judge will allow him to finish serving a probation sentence in Cuba. Rene Gonzalez was recently permitted to visit Cuba for two weeks following his father’s death and is due back May 6. His lawyer said in court papers that Gonzalez, 56, is willing to renounce his citizenship while in Havana at the U.S. Interests Section, but only if he can serve his remaining months of probation there.

Gonzalez, who has dual Cuban and U.S. citizenship, “does not wish to run afoul of any of this court’s orders and rulings,” attorney Philip Horowitz wrote. “He will not seek to renounce his citizenship without this court’s permission.” U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard issued no immediate ruling. The Miami U.S. attorney’s office has previously opposed allowing Gonzalez to complete his three-year probation term in Cuba because he would be beyond the reach of a U.S. court’s ability to enforce it.

Gonzalez is one of the so-called Cuban Five convicted of spying on exiles in Florida and attempting to infiltrate military installations and political campaigns. They are hailed as heroes in Cuba, which claims they are victims of political persecution. One Cuban was convicted of murder conspiracy for the 1996 downing of a “Brothers to the Rescue” plane by Cuban fighter jets. The group dropped pro-democracy leaflets in Cuba and helped Cuban migrants trying to reach the U.S.

Gonzalez was released from prison in 2011 after serving about 13 years. He has been living at an undisclosed location in the United States. His wife and daughters live in Cuba.

U.S. Seeks Extradition of Alleged Cuban Spy Living in Sweden 1

WASHINGTON, April 26 (UPI) — U.S. officials say they are stepping up efforts to extradite an alleged Cuban spy they charge convinced a federal clerk to give up national secrets for decades. Justice Department officials want to arrest Marta Rita Velasquez, 55, an American born in Puerto Rico who they say recruited Ana Belen Montes to give U.S. secrets to Cuba, the Chicago Tribune reported Friday.
Velasquez, who was indicted in 2004 for conspiracy to commit espionage, has been living in Sweden since 2002. Her indictment was sealed until recently after U.S. officials learned Velasquez knew of the charges.

Under a treaty with Sweden, espionage is considered a “political offense,” so the U.S. cannot ask Stockholm to extradite her. By publicizing the indictment, Washington hopes the Swedes will feel pressure to return her to the United States. Montes is serving a 25-year sentence for espionage. At the time of her arrest, she worked at the Defense Intelligence Agency. The women met in the early 1980s, officials say, while Montes was a clerk at the Justice Department. Velasquez allegedly used her political connections to get Montes a position at DIA in 1985.

Unsealed Indictment Charges Former U.S. Federal Employee with Conspiracy to Commit Espionage for Cuba 1

Defendant Allegedly Helped Cuban Intelligence Service Recuit and Insert Spy into U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency

U.S. Department of Justice April 25, 2013 • Office of Public Affairs (202) 514-2007/ (202) 514-1888

WASHINGTON—A one-count indictment was unsealed today in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia charging Marta Rita Velazquez, 55, with conspiracy to commit espionage, announced John Carlin, Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security; Ronald C. Machen, Jr., U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia; and Valerie Parlave, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office.

The charges against Velazquez stem from, among other things, her alleged role in introducing Ana Belen Montes, now 55, to the Cuban Intelligence Service (CuIS) in 1984; in facilitating Montes’s recruitment by the CuIS; and in helping Montes later gain employment at the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). Montes served as an intelligence analyst at DIA from September 1985 until she was arrested for espionage by FBI agents on September 21, 2001. On March 19, 2002, Montes pleaded guilty in the District of Columbia to conspiracy to commit espionage on behalf of Cuba. Montes is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence.

The indictment against Velazquez, who is also known as “Marta Rita Kviele” and as “Barbara,” was originally returned by a grand jury in the District of Columbia on February 5, 2004. It has remained under court seal until today. Velazquez has continuously remained outside the United States since 2002. She is currently living in Stockholm, Sweden. If convicted of the charges against her, Velazquez faces a potential sentence of up to life in prison.

According to the indictment, Velazquez was born in Puerto Rico in 1957. She graduated from Princeton University in 1979 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and Latin American studies. Velazquez later obtained a law degree from Georgetown University Law Center in 1982 and a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, D.C., in 1984.

Velazquez later served as an attorney advisor at the U.S. Department of Transportation, and, in 1989, she joined the State Department’s U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) as a legal officer with responsibilities encompassing Central America. During her tenure at USAID, Velazquez held a top secret security clearance and was posted to the U.S. Embassies in Nicaragua and Guatemala. In June 2002, Velazquez resigned from USAID following press reports that Montes had pleaded guilty to espionage and was cooperating with the U.S. government. Velazquez has remained outside the United States since 2002.

The indictment alleges that, beginning in or about 1983, Velazquez conspired with others to transmit to the Cuban government and its agents documents and information relating to the U.S. national defense, with the intent that they would be used to the injury of the United States and to the advantage of the Cuban government.

As part of the conspiracy, Velazquez allegedly helped the CuIS spot, assess, and recruit U.S. citizens who occupied sensitive national security positions or had the potential of occupying such positions in the future to serve as Cuban agents. For example, the indictment alleges that, while Velazquez was a student with Montes at SAIS in Washington, D.C., in the early 1980s, Velazquez fostered a strong, personal friendship with Montes, with both sharing similar views of U.S. policies in Nicaragua at the time.

In December 1984, the indictment alleges, Velazquez introduced Montes in New York City to a Cuban intelligence officer who identified himself as an official of the Cuban Mission to the United States. The intelligence officer then recruited Montes. In 1985, after Montes’ recruitment, Velazquez personally accompanied Montes on a clandestine trip to Cuba for Montes to receive spy craft training from CuIS.

Later in 1985, Velazquez allegedly helped Montes obtain employment as an intelligence analyst at the DIA, where Montes had access to classified national defense information and served as an agent of the CuIS until her arrest in 2001. During her tenure at the DIA, Montes disclosed the identities of U.S. intelligence officers and provided other classified national defense information to the CuIS.
During this timeframe, Velazquez allegedly continued to serve the CuIS, receiving instructions from the CuIS through encrypted, high-frequency broadcasts from her handlers and through meetings with handlers outside the United States.

This case was investigated by the FBI’s Washington Field Office and the DIA. It is being prosecuted by Senior Trial Attorney Clifford Rones of the Counterespionage Section in the Justice Department’s National Security Division and Assistant U.S. Attorney G. Michael Harvey of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.

The charges contained in an indictment are merely allegations, and each defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.

Woman Indicted in Cuba Spy Case is in Sweden and Out of U.S. Reach Reply

By Jim Popkin, Thursday, April 25, 8:30 PM

The Justice Department on Thursday announced the indictment of a former State Department employee for allegedly spying on behalf of Cuba, but it is unable to arrest her because she lives in Sweden, a country that does not extradite citizens accused of espionage. Marta Rita Velazquez, 55, a graduate of Princeton University and Georgetown University Law School, was indicted nearly a decade ago for conspiracy to commit espionage. Velazquez lives in Stockholm and is aware of the charges against her, the Justice Department said. But the extradition treaty between the United States and Sweden does not allow extradition for spying. “Espionage is considered a ‘political offense’ that, therefore, falls outside the scope of Sweden’s extradition treaty,” said Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd. Swedish officials declined to comment on the announcement of the indictment.

A grand jury in Washington originally indicted Velazquez in 2004, but the charges remained sealed until Thursday. “Velazquez has continually remained outside the United States since 2002,” the Justice Department said, frustrating U.S. attempts to arrest her. The United States notified Velazquez that she was under suspicion in December 2011. Attempts to reach Velazquez on Thursday evening for her response to the indictment were unsuccessful.

Law enforcement sources said that the FBI first learned about Velazquez in late 2002, after the debriefings of Ana Belen Montes, a former Defense Department analyst who pleaded guilty to spying for Cuba for 17 years. Montes told investigators that she met Velazquez while they were graduate students at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington and that Velazquez helped recruit her as a spy. “Velazquez would and did foster and maintain a close personal friendship with Ana Belen Montes in order to facilitate the recruitment of Montes to serve as an agent of the Cuban Intelligence Service,” the indictment states. Velazquez once mailed Montes a letter saying, “It has been a great satisfaction for me to have had you as a friend and comrade. . . . I hope our relationship continues outside the academic sphere.”

According to the indictment, Velazquez, who was born in Puerto Rico, introduced Montes to a Cuban intelligence officer in New York, escorted her on a clandestine trip to Cuba for “operational training” and helped her obtain employment with the Defense Intelligence Agency. Montes would go on to lead a distinguished career at DIA as a top Cuban analyst, winning awards, briefing the Joint Chiefs of Staff and helping to soften U.S. policy toward Cuba, all while reporting reams of classified information back to Havana. Montes, the subject of a cover story in Sunday’s Washington Post Magazine, was described by her lead debriefer as “one of the most damaging spies in U.S. history.”

Velazquez went on to work for the U.S. government, too, first at the Transportation Department and then for 13 years as a legal officer with the State Department’s U.S. Agency for International Development. During her tenure with USAID, Velazquez held a top secret security clearance and was posted to U.S. embassies in Nicaragua and Guatemala. She exchanged encrypted messages with Cuban operatives while at USAID, the indictment states, and traveled to Panama for an operational meeting. She resigned from USAID in June 2002, after Montes’s arrest but months before Montes pleaded guilty to espionage and began cooperating with law enforcement officials. Like Montes, Velazquez received training in Cuba on how to receive coded instructions from Havana on shortwave radio, how to fake her way through gov­ernment-administered polygraph examinations, and how to travel incognito to Cuba using fake passports and disguises, the indictment states.

Popkin is a writer living in Washington.

Memos from the Mountains – A Foreign Policy Perspective 1

The Cuban Connection, by Don Liebich

During my recent trip to Cuba I had the opportunity to meet with Johana Tablada, the Deputy Director of the North American Department of the Cuban Foreign Ministry. Ms. Tablada had served in the Cuban Interest Section in Washington, D.C. for a number of years and with her youth, engaging personality and fluent, slangy American English; she was a popular figure on the lecture circuit around the U.S. and an effective public relations spokesperson for Cuba. The right wing Cuban émigré community testified to her effectiveness by accusing her of being a Cuban spy. (Emphasis added). (See here) https://cubaconfidential.wordpress.com/2012/11/13/today-in-history-senior-spy-targeted-church-two-washington-universities/

Ms. Tablada explained that she had had two largely sleepless days as she had tried to unravel the messy case of Joshua and Sharyn Hakken, who had kidnapped their two children from their maternal grandparents in Florida, who had legal custody, and fled on a small sailboat. After encountering bad weather in the Florida Strait, the boat ended up docked at Marina Hemingway outside of Havana. Needless to say, the arrival in Cuba of a boat from the U.S. attracted the attention of Cuban Security who immediately put the couple under surveillance.

In cases like this, the default position for the Cuban government is to respect the rights of the parents. However, as Ms. Tablada explained, for Cubans, the welfare of the children trumps everything. She explained that she understood that American family law is complicated and it took some time to receive the appropriate documents from U.S. authorities in order insure that the grandparents had legal custody. Once this hurdle was crossed arrangements were made to return the family to authorities in Florida. There was, however, one glitch. The children wouldn’t leave without their dog. Ms. Tablada said “I have spent the last six hours looking for the dog. The good news is that we found the dog and everybody parents, kids and dog are on their way back to Miami.”

While the U.S and Cuba have no formal relations, there is a lot of cooperation on issues such as immigration, counter-terrorism, drug interdiction and search and rescue. Hopefully, this episode can be a small step toward normalizing U.S. relations with our neighbor to the south. The odds are slim, however, as demonstrated by Florida Cuban-American Congresswoman, Ileana Ross-Lehtinen who issued her usual helpful statement: “Unfortunately, these parents and these poor children, these innocent ones, will now be in a country where there are no laws, there is no redress, and that has been a refuge for fugitives and wanted criminals for many years,”

Editor’s Note: My sincere thanks to Don Liebich, the author of this sorely misguided blog posting, for accusing me of being part of the “right wing Cuban émigré community.” I’ll take that as a compliment.

The Cuban Five Condemn Boston Attacks 2

Washington, Apr 22 (Prensa Latina) The five anti-terrorist Cuban fighters unfairly held in US prisons expressed their solidarity with the US people in the wake of bomb attacks occurred a week ago at the end of the Boston Marathon, killing three people and wounding another 180. “With extreme consternation and sorrow we could see the images of the attacks in Boston, which caused the loss of lives of innocent people and considerable material damage,” says a message from Ramon Labanino released today on behalf of him and his four comrades Antonio Guerrero, Fernando Gonzalez, Rene Gonzalez and Gerardo Hernandez, all known as The Cuban Five and given harsh sentences for monitoring anti-Cuban actions by Miami-based terrorist groups.

Labanino, sentenced to 30 years in prison, said that the Cuban people knows very well the terrible scourge of terrorism and “understands and supports the US people and feels their sorrow.” He said “it is time for all of us to unite and wipe out this terrible evil in our societies. We have always been and will always be against terrorism, all kind of terrorism.”

Editor’s Note: Cuba’s intelligence services have a long history of terrorist acts against the United States, from its failed “Black Friday” attack in New York City and continuing with the support of numerous US-based terrorist groups from the 1960s through the 1980s, for example, the Weather Underground Organization (WUO).

The most dangerous US terrorists sustained by Havana were two Puerto Rican terrorist groups; the Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN) and the Boricua Popular Army (EPB). In testimony before a US Senate subcommittee, Dr. Daniel James claimed that Havana’s Directorate General of Intelligence (DGI), working through Filiberto Ojeda Rios, created FALN in 1974.

From 1980-1986, Puerto Rican terrorists conducted 55% of all domestic terrorist acts in the US. By the time these groups ceased their terrorist activity and moved to non-violent activism, they had killed more Americans and destroyed more property than any international terrorists in US history, with the exception of Al Qaeda’s 1994 and 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

More recently, after 9/11, Cuba flooded US Embassies around the world with provocation agents whose mission was to degrade and disrupt US Intelligence efforts supporting the war on terror. Details can be found in the Sun-Sentinel article, “Embassy Walk-ins Were Cuba Spies Sent To Mislead U.S., Experts Say,” http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/2009-10-20/news/0910190393_1_cuban-intelligence-cuba-experts-cuban-agents

The Terrorist List, and Terrorism as Practiced Against Cuba 2

BY Keith Bolender, Guest Scholar at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs

Of all the components to the United States hostile strategy against Cuba, nothing raises the ire of the Castro government more than its inclusion on the State Department’s list of states that sponsor terrorism. The designation is seen by Havana as an impediment towards improving relations and as a cruel hypocrisy that provides political cover for Washington to justify the imposition of economic penalties along with the perpetuation of anti-revolutionary propaganda.

There is an opportunity to eliminate that stumbling block in the next few weeks, if newly appointed Secretary of State John Kerry decides to recommend Cuba’s deletion from the list to President Obama. Kerry has until the release of the State Department’s annual terror report on April 30 to make the determination of whether Cuba will remain on the terrorist list. High ranking Cuban officials are closely watching this development, indicating the removal could offer an opportunity to re-engage with the United States. [1]

The history of Cuba’s controversial inclusion goes back to 1982, the same year Iraq was taken off the list by the Reagan administration. Besides Cuba, only Sudan, Iran, and Syria continue to be labeled as state sponsors of terrorism. North Korea was dropped in 2008, while Pakistan, long the home of Osama Bin Laden and recognized as a haven for Islamic terrorists, has never been considered. Saudi Arabia, where the majority of the 9/11 terrorists came from, is looked upon as a staunch ally of the United States.

There are numerous reasons why the Castro government finds its insertion on the list so galling. First are the real economic consequences to the designation. By law the United States must oppose any loans to Cuba by the World Bank or other international lending institutions. Obama administration officials have been using Cuba’s inclusion to make it increasingly difficult for Havana to conduct normal banking transactions that involve U.S. financial establishments, regardless of which currency is being used. Furthermore, the United States has imposed an arms embargo against all parties placed on the list (which the Castro government has experienced since the triumph of the Revolution) as well as prohibiting sales of items that could be considered to have both military and non-military dual use, including hospital equipment. For example, the William Soler children’s hospital in Havana was labeled a ‘denied hospital’ in 2007 by the State Department, bringing with it serious ramifications. Various medicines and technology have become impossible to obtain, resulting in the deaths of children and the inability of staff to properly deal with a variety of treatable conditions. [2] For Cuba, these restrictions are additionally damaging as the island continues to suffer from the comprehensive embargo the United States has imposed since the early 1960s.

On an emotional level, Havana has long drawn attention to the double standard that permits Washington to label others as a terrorist state, all the while ignoring its own culpability in the multiple acts of terror that have been responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent Cuban civilians. This relatively unreported history stretches back to the early months following Castro’s victory over the Batista regime, when the United States was determined to eliminate the Cuban revolution not only through economic and political means, but with violence. Operation Mongoose, a program developed by the State Department under the overarching Cuba Project, coordinated terrorist operations from the period following the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961 to the October missile crisis 18 months later. During this time State Department officials provided logistical and material support to violent anti-revolutionary groups carrying out terrorist activities on the island. The terrors included torturing and murdering students who were teaching farmers to read and write, blowing up shoppers at Havana’s busiest department stores, bombing sugar cane plantations and tobacco fields, killing Cuban fishermen and the innumerable attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro and other top government officials. [3] Historian Arthur Schlesinger reported in his biography of Robert Kennedy that Operation Mongoose was formulated under the Kennedy administration to bring “the terrors of the earth” to the Cuban people. [4] It has been called one of the worst cases of state sponsored terrorism of the 20th century. [5] When Operation Mongoose ended, violent anti-Castro groups based in South Florida, such as Alpha 66 and Omega 7, took over operations, often with the tacit approval and knowledge of local and federal authorities. In 1971, the village of Boca De Samá on the northeast coast of Cuba was attacked, leaving two civilians dead and a dozen more injured. Alpha 66 continues to claim credit for this act of terrorism on their website. [6] A series of biological agents were purportedly introduced into Cuba in the 1970s, harming a number of plants and animals. These biological attacks included an outbreak of swine fever that killed a half-million pigs. Perhaps the worst case was the1981 epidemic of Dengue 2, totally unheard of in Cuba prior to this period. More than 300,000 people were affected within a six-month period. An estimated 102 children died as a result of the disease. Cuban-American Eduardo Arocena, former member of Omega 7, testified in 1984 that he travelled to Cuba in 1980 to “introduce some germs” into the country to “start the chemical war,” —as reported by The New York Times. [7] One of them was Dengue 2.

Read the complete article here: http://www.coha.org/22355/

Cuban Agent Who Penetrated the CIA Dies 1

HAVANA TIMES – Nicolas Alberto Sirgado Ross, the Cuban intelligence agent who penetrated the CIA for ten years and dismantled several of the plots against Fidel Castro, died last Wednesday in Havana, victim of respiratory failure. According to Cafe Fuerte, Sirgado received in 1962 the task of penetrating the CIA with the mission to detect any plans to kill Castro. He gained access to the Agency in late 1966, during a business visit of a Cuban delegation to London. His record as an undercover agent was the basis for the popular Cuban series “En silencio ha tenido que ser,” (It had to be in silence”) aired on national television in the 80s.

Sirgado died at the age of 77. His body was cremated and the funeral was held Friday in Havana.

Editor’s Note: Original Café Fuerte article follows – “Fallece agente cubano que penetró la CIA por 10 años,” http://cafefuerte.com/cuba/noticias-de-cuba/sociedad/2785-fallecio-agente-cubano-que-penetro-la-cia-por-10-anos