Cuban Military is in Syria; Can Havana’s Spies be Far Behind? 5

Castro_KhruCuba is Intervening in Syria to Help Russia: Its Not the First Time

By James Bloodworth in The Daily Beast:

Reports that Cuban forces are now fighting in Syria follow a long history of the Castro brothers working closely with their patrons in Moscow.

Not for the first time Cuban forces are doing Russia’s dirty work, this time in Syria. On Wednesday it was reported that a U.S. official had confirmed to Fox News that Cuban paramilitary and Special Forces units were on the ground in Syria. Reportedly transported to the region in Russian planes, the Cubans are rumoured to be experts at operating Russian tanks.

For President Obama, who has staked his legacy on rapprochement with America’s adversaries, the entrance of Cuba into the bloody Syrian civil is one more embarrassment. Russia, Iran and Cuba—three regimes which Obama has sought to bring in from the cold—are now helping to prop up the regime of Bashar al-Assad, ruler of a fourth regime he also tried in vain to court early on in his presidency. Obama has been holding his hand out in a gesture of goodwill to America’s adversaries only for them to blow him a raspberry back in his face—while standing atop a pile of Syrian corpses.

Yet for seasoned Cuba-watchers the entrance of the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces into the Syrian civil war is a surprise but hardly a shock. A surprise because Cuba was forced two decades ago to curtail its military adventurism by a deteriorating economy (the Cuban military has been reduced by 80 per cent since 1991).

Largely thanks to the involvement of Cuban troops in the fight against Apartheid South African in Angola in the 70s and 80s (not to mention the more recent medical “missions” to disaster-stricken parts of the world) Cuba has gained something of a reputation for internationalism. At one point the Cuban presence in Angola reached 55,000 soldiers, inflicting a defeat on South African forces which helped precipitate the end of Apartheid. “The [Cuban army’s] decisive defeat of the aggressive apartheid forces [in Angola] destroyed the myth of the invincibility of the white oppressor,” Mandela told the Cuban leader on a visit to Havana in 1991.

In recent years Angola has lent the Castro regime a romantic penumbra which says that, for all its faults, the Cuban revolution is on balance progressive (watch the film Comandante by the ludicrous Oliver Stone to get a sense of what I mean). Yet while everyone remembers Cuban heroics in Angola, few remembers Cuban terror in Ethiopia.

Feature continues here: Cubans in Syria


Socialist Newsweekly Publishes Story on Convicted Spy’s Service in Angola Reply

‘I’m Proud of What our Lieutenant Did And of What he Continues to do Today’

By Martin Koppel & Tom Baumann, The Militant, Vol. 77/No. 13, April 8, 2013

HAVANA—Sgt. José Luis Palacio Cuní served from 1989 to 1991 as a squad leader in a 12-man reconnaissance platoon in Cabinda, the northernmost province of Angola. The platoon was led by Lt. Gerardo Hernández Nordelo, today known around the world as one of the Cuban Five. Hernández is serving two life sentences in a U.S. penitentiary on trumped-up charges of conspiracy to commit espionage and murder.

Hernández and Palacio were among the 375,000 Cubans who volunteered for military duty in Angola between 1975 and 1991. The Cuban internationalists fought alongside the armed forces of the newly independent nation of Angola—which had just overturned nearly five centuries of Portuguese colonial rule—to defeat repeated invasions by the armed forces of the South African apartheid regime and its allies.

The Militant spoke with Palacio at a Feb. 21 presentation in Havana of the book The Cuban Five: Who They Are, Why They Were Framed, Why They Should be Free.

Today Palacio is a member of the Communist Party of Cuba and a refrigeration mechanic who works in a cold-storage warehouse in Pinar del Río, western Cuba. He recounted his Angola experiences in a 2006 interview first published in the Pinar del Río newspaper Guerrillero. That interview—“Twelve Men and Two Cats: With Gerardo Hernández and His Platoon in Angola”—is reprinted in The Cuban Five, published by Pathfinder Press.

Accompanied by Sergio Abreu, president of the Pinar del Río branch of the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP), Palacio traveled to Havana to attend the February 21 book presentation. The translation from Spanish is by the Militant.


MARTÍN KOPPEL: You were 28 years old when you left for Angola, a member of the UJC [Union of Young Communists] at that time. What did Cuba’s internationalist mission in Angola mean for you?

JOSÉ LUIS PALACIO: I’m proud that this book about our five heroes brings together the experience we lived through in Angola.

Angola was the best school we could have gone through. We saw conditions there that don’t exist in our country anymore. It made us prouder of the Cuban Revolution and strengthened us in our fight to defend the revolution today. The Cuban mission helped Angola defend its independence. It brought the end of apartheid closer. It showed we’re internationalists who will fight for a just cause anywhere in the world.

Many of us were just kids when we went to Angola. We knew little about the world. Over the years we’ve developed as revolutionaries and realize how much that mission helped us. It certainly helped me. And it helped Gerardo too.

I was sad when I first heard the news that my lieutenant Nordelo, as we affectionately called him, was imprisoned in the United States. But I’m proud of what he did, of what he is doing today. It’s an inspiration. He knows I’ll always be in the front trenches alongside him, in every cause we’re fighting for in the world. When the history of humanity is written, there will have to be a page for the five Cuban heroes. They’re internationalist heroes, world heroes.

KOPPEL: What can you tell us about Gerardo from your experiences working with him?

PALACIO: The first thing I remember about Gerardo as a leader is that he treated us like brothers. He was always concerned about the men he was responsible for. He had the ability to sense when you had problems, if you were sad or troubled. “What’s the matter? You feel bad?” he’d say. “Are you getting any letters from home? What’s going on?” He paid attention to detail. “We’re going on patrol. Did you clean your rifle? Do you have your ammunition?” He was always on top of everything.

Nordelo never raised his voice. He never mistreated anyone. If you didn’t understand something, if you did something the wrong way, he didn’t get mad. He’d explain it again. “Try it this way, do it that way,” he’d say. Until you knew it well. Until you could handle any task. In the army there are always officers who are very formal in their approach, or who have a sharp temper. But not Nordelo. He was outgoing, good-humored. He never made anyone stand at attention while he chewed them out. When he wanted to tell you that you’d done something wrong, he’d say:

“Hey, pinareño [native of Pinar del Río], come over here. Listen, man, this is what you did and it was wrong. What’s up? Be sure not to do it again.”

“No lieutenant, I won’t do it again. I promise.”

“Fine. Let’s go play some baseball.”

That’s the way he was. That’s why we respected him.

Nordelo loved to draw cartoons. He loved to read. And he especially liked to encourage others to read—reading opens the mind, he’d say. “If you don’t want to go to school, don’t go. But read. You’ll get a better understanding of things.”

Story continues here:

Editor’s Note: The Militant prides itself on being “A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people.”

The Castros’ Captive: Why Appeasing Havana Won’t Free Alan Gross 2

By Frank Calzon in Foreign Affairs (magazine)[a CFR publication]

In “Our Man in Havana,” R. M. Schneiderman suggests that Alan Gross will not be freed from his Cuban prison unless the U.S. State Department shuts down its programs supporting democracy and human rights in Cuba. This conclusion is faulty, if not utterly ridiculous. Gross, who worked for a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) contractor, is serving a 15-year jail sentence for trying to help Havana’s Jewish community connect to the Internet, an act most of the world does not recognize as a crime. In 2009, Gross was seized just before he was scheduled to fly home to the United States and held for 14 months before any charges were filed against him. Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson has aptly described him as a “hostage.”

What seems to gall Schneiderman is not Gross’ imprisonment, but rather that Congress mandated the democracy-promotion program in Cuba in the first place. Schneiderman characterizes the U.S. government’s continuation of such programs as a failed opportunity to do away with “the antiquated politics of the Cold War.” He is correct that the programs are modeled on those that successfully cracked the Iron Curtain and that, after the collapse of European communism, were wholeheartedly endorsed by Lech Walesa, Václav Havel, and others. But he is wrong to call the program “antiquated” when Cuba remains a Stalinist-style state. The programs’ fundamental goal remains to break through the Castro regime’s control of information that isolates the Cuban people and keeps them in bondage.

That the democracy-promotion program annoys the Cuban regime does not make it a failure of U.S. foreign policy. In fact, there is no evidence to support Schneiderman’s claim that canceling the program would have freed Gross or produced other tangible benefits. The author recounts a 2010 conversation between Fulton Armstrong, a senior adviser to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and “high-level Cuban officials.” Armstrong is quoted as telling the Cubans that the democracy programs were “stupid.” He continued, “We’re cleaning them up. Just give us time, because politically we can’t kill them.” Armstrong then asked, “Will this help you release Alan Gross?” to which he believes the Cubans said yes. This misses the fact that when it comes to Cuba, only two people are empowered to say yes — Raúl and Fidel Castro. And the Castros have a long history of biting any hand of friendship extended to them.

Indeed, even though Congress placed a hold on funding for the democracy program in 2010, Gross was tried and sentenced in March 2011. Washington may have had other reasons to think Cuba would be releasing Gross, but he did not come home with either former President Jimmy Carter nor Richardson, both of whom traveled to Havana.

By now, this story should be all too familiar. As president, Carter attempted reconciliation, establishing the U.S. Special Interests Section in Havana and making efforts at establishing some form of diplomatic relations. Castro’s response was to export thousands of prison inmates and patients from insane asylums to Florida, to send Cuban troops to fight a war in Angola in support of Soviet interests, and to assist anti-American insurgencies in Central America. Later, when U.S. President Bill Clinton again sought to improve relations, Fidel ordered two unarmed, civilian American aircraft shot down over the Straits of Florida in international waters. In response to U.S. President Barack Obama’s attempts to reduce the animosity between the two countries by easing trade restrictions and lifting limits on remittances, Raúl Castro — who has taken over for Fidel — not only ignored the president’s suggestion that Cuba reduce its taxes on remittances but also jailed Gross.

Gross is not the only person who has been punished for supporting human rights on the island. The regime has detained and expelled many visitors who dared to meet with dissidents. Among them were the current foreign minister of the Czech Republic; a cabinet secretary from Spain; Dutch, German, and European parliament members; journalists; and human rights activists. Gross’ imprisonment — set against the background of the continued repression of Cubans, the harsh punishment meted out to dissidents, and the refusal to allow prison inspections by international organizations — should serve as a wake-up call to those proposing unilateral concessions for the sake of normalization with Havana. Appeasement does not discourage the bad behavior of dictators; it emboldens it.

The time to normalize U.S. relations with Cuba will come only when Havana begins taking steps toward democracy and a free-market economy and reconsiders its alliances with North Korea, Syria, and other U.S. adversaries. Releasing Gross would be one indication that Cuba is ready to change. Obama ought to tell Raúl Castro that the United States holds him personally responsible for Gross’ well-being. Similarly, policy decisions that have increased and allowed remittances and encouraged American tourists to travel to the island can be reversed and revisited. Cuba has always played hardball, and if Castro’s government wants to continue its ways, the United States is not without rackets.