U.S.-Cuba Relations May Be Thawing 1

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) reaches out to shake hands as he welcomes Uruguay's President Jose Mujica (L) before their meeting in the Oval Office in Washington May 12, 2014.  (REUTERS/Jonathan Erns)

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) reaches out to shake hands as he welcomes Uruguay’s President Jose Mujica (L) before their meeting in the Oval Office in Washington May 12, 2014. (REUTERS/Jonathan Erns)

By STRATFOR Global Intelligence

A breakthrough in U.S.-Cuba relations may be in the offing. On June 14, Uruguayan President Jose Mujica delivered a letter from U.S. President Barack Obama to Cuban President Raul Castro, according to Uruguayan media June 20, containing an offer to begin talks on a variety of issues, most prominently Washington’s longstanding economic embargo. According to Uruguayan media, Obama had asked Mujica to help him improve relations with the island nation when Mujica was in Washington in mid-May. If the report is true, the transaction could be the first step toward reconciliation.

Cuba certainly has its reasons for entertaining such an offer. The country’s main benefactor, Venezuela, may no longer be in a position to support the Cuban economy. In fact, Venezuela is in the throes of a protracted economic crisis, which is owed partly to declining oil production. Since Cuba depends heavily on Venezuelan oil exports, it may soon have to look elsewhere for its energy needs. Castro was supposedly interested in Obama’s offer, provided that it did not necessarily impose conditions on Cuba, but given the situation in Venezuela, Castro would demand that the embargo be lifted in any negotiations.

Normalized ties would also benefit the United States, which is concerned with Russia’s attempts to improve relations with Latin America. Though the Cold War is over, Washington still does not want any country, let alone Russia, to establish too strong a presence in a country as geographically close as Cuba. That Havana is so close to Caracas may also help the United States make some political overtures to the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, though Venezuela’s future stability and willingness to engage the United States largely depends on Maduro’s political support and the country’s economic conditions. However, Cuba’s influence in the Venezuelan military and intelligence organizations could facilitate future communication between Washington and Caracas.

Still, domestic considerations will delay any potential reconciliation between Cuba and the United States. Under the 1996 Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, lifting the embargo and ending sanctions requires U.S. congressional approval, which hinges on a variety of issues, including human rights improvements and the election of a new government in Havana. Obama cannot simply approve an agreement to normalize relations with Cuba.

In any case, an agreement would have to be agreed upon by both sides — no small feat, given the decades of animosity between the two. In the United States, improved public opinion toward ending the embargo would help future negotiations, but opposition lawmakers could impede the government’s efforts. For its part, Cuba has been liberalizing its economy slowly for nearly four years, and the concerns some Cuban leaders have over opening up an erstwhile closed country could delay the pace of any talks.

Of course, both countries have ways of moving the negotiations forward if they wish. These include possible prisoner exchanges. In fact, Obama has already reportedly asked Cuba (via Uruguay) to release Alan Gross, a U.S. citizen held in Cuba since 2009 for subversive activity. Discussions over the release of prisoners would be a strong sign that a larger negotiation is imminent.

 

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NPR Interviews Cuban “Official” Josefina Vidal – Fails to Acknowledge Her Spy Employment 2

Directorate of Intelligence (DI) Officer Josefina Vidal

Directorate of Intelligence (DI) Officer Josefina Vidal

 Cuba Maintains U.S. Embargo Is Harsh Financial Persecution

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

An NPR team spent last week in Cuba. This week, we are in Miami. It has given us a glimpse of both sides of one of the most enduring diplomatic standoffs. While in Cuba, we met up with the veteran diplomat who is Havana’s point person in that standoff. Her name is Josephina Vidal. She’s director of U.S. relations for the Cuban government. [emphasis added] We were brought into a small sitting room just off the lobby in the Foreign Ministry to chat. And I began by asking Vidal about President Obama and Raul Castro greeting each other at Nelson Mandela’s funeral back in December. Was it more than just a handshake?

JOSEPHINA VIDAL: This is what educated civilized people normally do, even though we haven’t had diplomatic trade and normal relations for more than 50 years now.

GREENE: As far as we know, the two governments aren’t even communicating about two cases that are really important to them. An American named Alan Gross was in Cuba as a USAID contractor. He was arrested for bringing communications equipment into the country, and now he’s in a Cuban prison serving a 15-year sentence. Meanwhile, three Cuban agents convicted of spying in the United States are also serving long sentences in a American prisons. They’re part of the so-called Cuban Five who are seen as heroes in Cuba. The U.S. government views these cases as fundamentally different, but Josephina Vidal says she sees the potential for some kind of deal.

VIDAL: This is what we have been saying to the United States for almost two years now. It is important to understand that Alan Gross came to Cuba, not because we invited him to come, he came to Cuba to implement a program of the United States government. That’s the reason why we tell the United States government that we need to sit down in order to talk about both our cases.

GREENE: And have any conversations started over those two cases at all?

VIDAL: Feeling responsible for our people and trying to look together for the best solution acceptable for both of us and that respond to our concerns. This is what I can say now.

Feature continues here:  Interview With Spy Josefina Vidal

Editor’s Note:  As longtime readers of Cuba Confidential are aware, Vidal was thrown out of the US in 2003 as part of a massive expulsion of Cuban diplomat spies. She was subsequently appointed to “official” duties as head of US relations within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

NPR’s handling of this interview begs the question, if a CIA officer were expelled from Cuba and the US then appointed her as head of the State Department’s Office of Cuban Affairs, would the media be so forgiving of her spy employment?  I think not……

How Cuba’s State Security Welcomed Me on Returning to Havana Reply

Terminal 2 of the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana. (Courtesy:  Havana Times)

Terminal 2 of the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana. (Courtesy: Havana Times)

By Isbel Diaz

HAVANA TIMES – After participating in the congress of the Association of Latin American Studies in Chicago, I returned home to Cuba this past June 20th, following a one-month stay in the United States. I arrived at terminal 2 of Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport to be received by Cuban State Security agents. Customs officers then proceeded to take away my cell phone and other belongings.

I was detained at the airport for three hours and all of my personal belongings were meticulously inspected. The officials were chiefly interested in all of the documents I carried with me and all electronic devices that could store information.

As such, in addition to my phone (which stored all of my personal contacts and private notes), two external hard disks and their cables, two cell phones I had brought my nephew and my boyfriend as gifts and an SD memory with family videos were confiscated, even though the authorities didn’t know what their contents were and didn’t even take the trouble of asking.

All of these devices were classified as items for personal use by the customs authorities themselves – the number of items didn’t exceed the limit established by Resolution 320 / 2011, which establishes what imports are of a commercial nature, nor did their respective prices surpass the limits established in the Value List published under Resolution 312 / 2011.

It is therefore quite evident that these confiscations are the result of the arbitrariness and excessive monitoring that all Cubans with free-thinking postures that are critical of the country’s socio-political reality are subjected to.

The fact that Lt. Colonel Omar, a well-known State Security officer, came in and out of the premises, reveals that the reasons behind this incident are clearly political.

I was given absolutely no explanation as to why my belongings were being confiscated. I was only referred to the customs resolution that empowers these officials to retain what they see fit. The contents and scope of the said resolution were not explained to me either.

What was explained to me were the reasons they confiscated several of the documents I carried with me. According to the Confiscation and Notification document, they “tarnish the country’s morals and customs.” The documents in question were:

–  Historian Frank Fernandez’ classic El anarquismo en Cuba (“Anarchism in Cuba”), a book the author had sent to the Cuban Anthropology Institute (as the dedication he had handwritten attested to). Fernandez had learned that a group was studying the issue at the institute and he wanted to contribute to the work with his research on Cuba’s workers’ and anarcho-syndicalist movements.

Article continues here:  State Security   

 

Cuba Overhypes Literary Nomination of Castro Apologist Reply

Stephen Kimber

Stephen Kimber

By Chris Simmons

The headline of Prensa Latina’s press release is impressive:  Book About The Cuban Five is Finalist for Literary Award in Canada.”

While technically true, it’s the best lie of omission I’ve read in a long time.  Yes, Castro propagandist Stephen Kimber’s latest book was nominated for the Evelyn Richardson Award to the Best Non Fiction Book. However, this annual award is limited to writers on the tiny island of Nova Scotia, on Canada’s Atlantic Coast. The winner receives a 2000 dollar cash prize. Additionally, competition for the local award isn’t exactly fierce, given the province’s population of just 940,000 inhabitants.

While this Canadian island has been blessed with some amazing writers, Kimber is not one of them – nor for that matter can his writings be seriously considered non-fiction.

Editor’s Note: To our PRELA colleagues, your propaganda efforts would be enhanced by improved Quality Control efforts — a lot of errors in that press release. You may want to consider hiring a better translator and proofreader…..immediately.

After Mother’s Death, Jailed American Alan Gross Visited by Wife in Cuba 1

Judy Gross, the wife of jailed US contractor Alan Gross, after arriving in Cuba Tuesday to visit her husband and plead with Cuban government officials to release him from prison. Gross is serving a 15 year sentence for importing banned satellite communications equipment to the island.

Judy Gross, the wife of jailed US contractor Alan Gross, after arriving in Cuba Tuesday to visit her husband and plead with Cuban government officials to release him from prison. Gross is serving a 15 year sentence for importing banned satellite communications equipment to the island.(CNN)

By Patrick Oppmann, CNN

(CNN) — The wife of imprisoned U.S. State Department contractor Alan Gross traveled to Cuba Tuesday as part of her ongoing effort to free her husband.

Judy Gross did not talk to a CNN reporter outside Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport, and she and Gross’ attorney quickly boarded a bus provided by the Cuban government.

Last week, Gross’ mother died after a long fight with cancer, Gross’ attorney, Scott Gilbert, said.

The Cuban government refused Gross’ request to travel to the United States to say goodbye to Evelyn Gross before she died. Gross had promised that after seeing his mother he would return to his prison cell at a military hospital in Havana.

“We would like to convey our heartfelt condolences to his relatives,” Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs official Josefina Vidal said in a statement. “It is necessary to clarify that neither the Cuban penitentiary system nor the U.S. penitentiary system provide the possibility for inmates to travel abroad, no matter the reason.”

Gross, 65, is serving a 15-year sentence for bringing satellite communications equipment to Cuba as part of his work as a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development. He was convicted in March 2011.

U.S. officials said Gross was merely trying to help Cubans bypass the island’s stringent restrictions on Internet access and have said his imprisonment is one of the major obstacles to improved relations with Cuba.

In April, Gross embarked on a hunger strike to protest his continued imprisonment. He later said he was suspending his hunger strike after his mother pleaded with him to begin eating again.

Since his arrest, Gross has suffered a slew of health problems, his attorney said, and lost more than 100 pounds.

“Alan is confined to one room, 23 hours a day.” Gilbert said during an interview with CNN in April. “He spends his day there in pajamas, he’s fed meals in his room. He’s let out for an hour a day, to exercise an hour a day in a small, walled courtyard where you can barely see the sky.”

Cuban officials have said they want to negotiate Gross’ case with representatives of the United States in conjunction with the fates of three Cuban intelligence operatives serving lengthy sentences in U.S. prisons.

But U.S. officials have called that effort blackmail and said the cases are separate matters because Gross was not working as a spy in Cuba.

The diplomatic impasse is taking its toll on Gross, Gilbert said.

“The White House has yet to engage on this issue; we need the president to make this a priority. Without that, Alan will die in Cuba,” Gilbert said.

Editor’s Note:  Josefina Vidal left the US in May 2003 as part of a mass expulsion of Cuban diplomat-spies. Despite her departure, she continues to insist she is not a career staffer with Havana’s primary foreign intelligence service, the Directorate of Intelligence (DI).

Arnaldo Ochoa — a Problem For Castro Brothers 25 Years Ago 4

Arnaldo Ochoa in 1989 (Courtesy: Miami Herald Archives)

Arnaldo Ochoa in 1989 (Courtesy: Miami Herald Archives)

Castro’s fears led to a revolutionary hero’s execution and drunken binges by his brother Raúl, according to a former security officer.

By Juan O. Tamayo

JTamayo@ElNuevoHerald.com

Fidel Castro was so afraid of a revolt in Cuba’s most elite paramilitary unit that he ordered his motorcade to avoid driving past its base, his top bodyguard at the time says. Raúl Castro was so depressed that he was going on drunken benders and soiling his pants.

Cuba’s top military hero, Gen. Arnaldo Ochoa, had been executed by firing squad for drug smuggling. And a longtime member of Fidel’s innermost circle, Interior Minister José Abrantes, was in jail awaiting trial for failing to stop the trafficking.

That summer 25 years ago posed one of the toughest challenges ever for the Castro brothers — to show that their top deputies had trafficked drugs without their consent, and to avert a backlash from other soldiers who believed the Castros were lying.

“That was the drop that overflowed my glass,” said Juan Reinaldo Sánchez, 65, who served 17 years on Fidel’s personal security detail and now lives in Miami. “That he would send to the firing squad a man who was a true hero.”

Ochoa, 59, was Cuba’s top military icon. He was a veteran of campaigns in Angola, Venezuela, Ethiopia and Nicaragua, had won the country’s highest honor, Hero of the Revolution, and sat on the Central Committee of the Communist Party.

Nevertheless, he was executed on July 13, 1989, along with three senior officers of the Ministry of the Armed Forces and Ministry of the Interior (MININT), after a military court convicted them of drug smuggling and treason.

Ochoa was not plotting to overthrow Fidel, as was rumored at the time, said Sánchez, who in 1989 stood at Fidel’s elbow as keeper of the diary of the Cuban leader’s daily activities. Ochoa did not have the troops or the means to carry out a coup, he added.

But evidence presented at their trial showed that Ochoa and the three others who were executed — Antonio de la Guardia, Jorge Martinez and Amado Bruno Padron — had arranged cocaine shipments through Cuba and to the United States for Colombia’s Medellin cartel.

Abrantes, one of Fidel’s oldest and closest aides, a former head of his security detail and a general, was arrested later with six other MININT officers for failing to stop the drug traffic and corruption. He died of a heart attack in 1991 while serving a 20-year prison sentence.

Fidel had approved Abrantes’ involvement in drug trafficking, Sánchez alleged. And Raúl, then minister of defense, had approved Ochoa’s involvement. Military Counter-Intelligence (CIM), which reported directly to Raúl, had to have known of Ochoa’s activities, yet no CIM agent turned up at either trial as defendant or witness.

 Feature continues here: General Arnaldo Ochoa

Burned Spy Denies Cuban Role in Human Trafficking 1

Directorate of Intelligence (DI) Officer Josefina Vidal

Directorate of Intelligence (DI) Officer Josefina Vidal

On Friday, the State Department released its annual report on human trafficking, placing Cuba on a blacklist of 23 “human trafficking countries.” In response, Josefina Vidal, director-general of the US department with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, responded “The Cuban government rejects categorically as unfounded this unilateral move offending our people,” noted the Chinese news agency Xinhua. “Cuba has not requested the US assessment, nor needed recommendations from the US, a country with the gravest problem of trafficking children and women in the world,” Vidal went on to claim.

According to Xinhua, the regime newspaper – Granma – categorized the US report as “manipulative” and “politically motivated.”

Editor’s Note:  Vidal left the US in May 2003 as part of a mass expulsion of Cuban diplomat-spies. Despite her departure, she continues to insist she is not a career staffer with Havana’s primary foreign intelligence service, the Directorate of Intelligence (DI).

Internet Foils Disinformation Operation Regarding Funeral For Mother of Alan Gross 5

Spy vs spyBy Chris Simmons

Cuba’s once world-class propaganda operations suffered another self-inflicted blow late yesterday, this time by expelled Spy Josefina Vidal, who continues to serve undercover as director of the US Division within Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Vidal issued a press release claiming Havana is unable to award Gross a humanitarian visa for the funeral because “…neither the Cuban penitentiary system nor the US penitentiary system provide the possibility for inmates to travel abroad, no matter the reason…”

Before crafting this poorly conceived propaganda piece, Mrs. Vidal and her DI brethren should have searched the internet, where they would have found this Associated Press story on convicted Wasp Network spy Rene Gonzalez from April 12, 2013:  Judge approves Cuban spy visit home.

Is it really possible that the DI can’t even pull off a simple disinformation mission anymore without tripping over itself? Unbelievable! Ironically, readers will also note that the AP story is proudly displayed on the website by the National Committee to Free the Five.

Mother of Alan Gross, American Contractor Jailed In Cuba Since 2009, Dies At 92 Reply

Alan Gross outside the courthouse in Havana, Cuba, in a March 5, 2011, file photo. (AP)

Alan Gross outside the courthouse in Havana, Cuba, in a March 5, 2011, file photo. (AP)

Fox News Latino

The mother of Alan Gross, the U.S. government subcontractor who has been in a Cuban jail since 2009, and who begged to be able to see her as her cancer worsened, has died.

Evelyn Gross, 92, passed away on Wednesday in Plano, Texas after battling lung cancer.

Even as she battled her illness, the woman pleaded with her son to end a hunger strike to protest his imprisonment.

Gross was arrested in Cuba while working to set up Internet access.

The Maryland man had been working covertly in Cuba as a subcontractor for the U.S. government’s Agency for International Development.

Gross, who is serving a 15-year sentence, asked to see his mother before she died and had promised to return to Cuba if he had been allowed to visit.

When he began a hunger strike this year, his mom persuaded him during a phone call to end it.

Her death inspired renewed condemnations of Cuba from critics of the communist government’s prolonged jailing of Gross.

“Evelyn Gross loved her son dearly, and it’s a shame on the Castro regime that she had to spend the final years of her life pleading for his freedom,” said U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican whose family is from Cuba.

“This is a tragic example of just how cruel and heartless the Castro regime is. No son and no mother deserve the fate that Alan Gross and his mother faced over the last five years,” Rubio said. “We should work for his immediate unconditional release and  ensure that this already tragic story can at least end with Alan Gross’ freedom and reunification with his surviving family.”

Ric Herrero, executive director of CubaNow, assailed the Cuban government for refusing to extend the Gross family the kind of flexibility the United States did to a jailed Cuban spy who asked to be allowed to see a dying relative.

“Her passing is made all the more tragic by the fact that Alan had asked for a furlough to visit her before she died, which the Cuban government coldly denied,” said Herrero in a statement. “By denying his request, particularly after a U.S. court granted a furlough to Cuban spy Rene Gonzalez to visit his dying brother in 2012, the Cuban government has only lived up to the expectation that they have no sincere intention to improve relations with the U.S.”

Editor’s Note: The sentence “The Maryland man had been working covertly in Cuba as a subcontractor for the U.S. government’s Agency for International Development” is incorrect. The USAID effort to bring internet to the Jewish community was neither covert nor secret. 

Cuban Spy is Now ICAP Vice President 1

icapSPECIAL by Arnaldo M. Fernandez

Fernando González-Llort has been just appointed as Vice President of the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples, better known by its Spanish acronym ICAP. Although it is not subordinate to the Directorate of Intelligence (DI), ICAP is an intelligence front with a long history since its creation in 1960, with a large pool of collaborators at the service overseen by a small team of ICAP-embedded DI officers.

After graduating in the Higher Institute of International Relations (1987), González-Llort took part (1987-89) at the Cuban military campaign in Angola. Back in Cuba, he was trained to carry out spying operations in the U.S. and was part of the so-called Wasp Network dismantled by the FBI in 1998. He was sentenced to 19 years of imprisonment in 2001 and re-sentenced to 17 years, 9 months in 2009.

González-Llort was released on February 27, 2014, and immediately engaged with René Gonzalez (released October 7, 2011) in the agitprop campaigns for the freedom of the three members of the spy ring still in prison.

On March 29, 2014, González-Llort spoke before the Cuban National Assembly, praising the efforts and constant support of the Cuban government and the Communist Party. He also lauded the agitprop campaigns undertaken by the International Committee for the Freedom of the Five and ICAP.