Will Pollard, Gross Follow in Wake of Ostreicher? 2

By Jacob Kamaras, JNS.org

WHILE an air of mystery surrounds the details of Jewish businessman Jacob Ostreicher’s return to US soil after being held for more than two years in Bolivia, the involvement of legislators and a high-profile celebrity in his case may shed some light on the conditions that could lead to the freedom of other high-profile Jewish prisoners, such as Jonathan Pollard (US), Alan Gross (Cuba) and Ilya Farber (Russia).

Ostreicher, a 54-year-old Brooklyn native, traveled to Bolivia in December, 2010 to oversee rice production and was arrested in June, 2011 on suspicion of money laundering and criminal organization.

No formal charges were ever brought against him, but he spent 18 months in prison before being released on bail in December, 2012, after which he remained in Bolivia under house arrest.

News of Ostreicher’s escape from Bolivia broke Dec. 16, and little was known about the circumstances of his return to America until actor Sean Penn told the Associated Press on Dec. 18 that he was with Ostreicher following a “humanitarian operation” to free the Jewish businessman “from the corrupt prosecution and imprisonment he was suffering in Bolivia.”

In May, Penn testified about Ostreicher’s situation in a hearing before the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), one of the leading advocates in Congress for Ostreicher’s release, had arranged the hearing and on Dec. 17 thanked Penn “for his tireless work to free Jacob.”

Bill Richardson — the former governor of New Mexico and US Ambassador to the UN — said in a recent conference call with reporters that, like the rest of the public, he doesn’t “have all the circumstances of [Ostreicher’s] escape” from Bolivia.

But Richardson attempted to explain the conditions that may have led to Ostreicher’s freedom, citing a meeting he had with Bolivian President Evo Morales a year ago as an example of the “quiet diplomacy” he and other key officials engaged in on Ostreicher’s behalf.

Richardson also said that in the efforts to bring about Ostreicher’s release, there was “intensive public pressure by many Jewish organizations” that was “very effective.”

“What needs to happen in successful releases is a combination of public pressure and private diplomacy,” Richardson said. “Those combinations in many cases are the roots for success.”

ON Dec. 10, Richardson wrote a letter to President Barack Obama …..

Story continues here: Will Pollard, Gross Follow in Wake of Ostreicher?

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Cuban Ally’s Dangerous Plunge 1

Bolivia’s Descent Into Rogue State Status

The country is a hub for organized crime and a safe haven for terrorists.

Mary O’Grady, Wall Street Journal

In the years after a brutal 10-year Soviet occupation, Afghanistan became a petri dish in which a culture of organized crime, radical politics and religious fundamentalism festered—and where Osama bin Laden set up operations.

Now something similar may be happening in Bolivia. The government is an advocate for coca growers. The Iranian presence is increasing. And reports from the ground suggest that African extremists are joining the fray.

Bolivian President Evo Morales, who is also the elected president of the coca producers’ confederation, and Vice President Alvaro García Linera, formerly of the Maoist Tupac Katari Guerrilla Army, began building their repressive narco-state when they took office in 2006.

Step one was creating a culture of fear. Scores of intellectuals, technocrats and former government officials were harassed. Many fled.

Seventy-five-year-old José Maria Bakovic, a former World Bank infrastructure specialist, was targeted but refused to yield. As president of the highway commission from 2001-06, he had developed a bidding system for road construction to reduce corruption. This stymied Mr. Morales. Bakovic was twice imprisoned and appeared in court more than 250 times for alleged administrative crimes, according to people familiar with his case.
Nothing was ever proven.

In early October, prosecutors summoned Bakovic to La Paz for another grilling. Cardiologists said the high altitude would kill him. The government overrode their objections, effectively issuing a death warrant. He went to La Paz on Oct. 11, had a heart attack and died the next day in Cochabamba.

With the opposition cowed, President Morales has turned Bolivia into an international hub of organized crime and a safe haven for terrorists. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has been expelled. United Nations data show that cocaine production is up in Bolivia since 2006 and unconfirmed reports say that Mexican, Russian and Colombian toughs are showing up to get a piece of the action. So are militants looking to raise cash and operate in the Western Hemisphere.

The Tehran connection is no secret. Iran is a nonvoting member of the “Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas” ( ALBA ). Its voting members are Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela.

In testimony before the House Committee on Homeland Security in July, global security specialist Joseph Humire described Iran’s interest in ALBA: “Iran understood that the wave of authoritarian populism known as ’21st Century Socialism’ that was sweeping through the region offered the Islamic Republic a permissive environment to carry out its global agenda against the West.” Bolivia is fertile ground.

Iran may have put up some or all of the money to build a new ALBA military training facility outside of Santa Cruz. According to Mr. Humire, the Iranian Embassy in La Paz is “reported to contain at least 145 registered Iranian officials.” There is also Bolivian support for radical Islamic converts like the Argentine Santiago Paz Bullrich, a disciple of Iranian cleric Mohsen Rabbani and the co-founder of the first Shia Islamic association in La Paz.

Iran may be using its Bolivian network to smuggle strategic minerals like tantalum (used to coat missiles), Mr. Humire told Congress. It may even be smuggling people. Unconfirmed but credible reports describe high officials ordering the issuance of I.D. cards and passports to numerous young, fit “turks”—a slang term in South America for Middle Easterners. One witness told a Bolivian source of mine (who asked to remain anonymous for reasons of safety) that the foreigners were Iranians but not diplomats.

In late September, according to the Bolivian daily La Razón, Bolivia’s prospective consul to Lebanon was detained by Bolivian officials for allegedly trying to smuggle 392 kilos of cocaine to Ghana.

Thanks to steady cocaine demand, the Bolivian economy is awash in cash. Africa lies on the major transit route for European-bound cocaine. That may explain the increased sightings of Somalis, Ethiopians and South Africans in Santa Cruz, an unlikely place for African migration. In April, the partially burned body of a mutilated black man was found near the Brazilian border, suggesting a drug deal gone bad. An unusual marking was carved on the victim’s right thigh, as if villains wanted to be sure to get credit for the brutality.

Within days the Spanish daily ABC reported on a Spaniard, also tortured with a carving on his leg, found in the same area. I learned from a source who did not want to be identified that the victim allegedly told police that the black man who had died was his friend and was African. According to my source, a witness said the dying man also murmured the words “al-Shabaab,” the name of the Somali terrorist group.

One Bolivian I know claims that at Mr. Morales’s 2006 inauguration he saw Mohamed Abdelaziz, secretary general of the separatist Polisario Front, which has carried on a long conflict with Morocco.

North Africa is becoming a hotbed of violence. There are rumors of insurgent and terrorist alliances. If Mr. Abdelaziz was indeed in La Paz, it raises further questions about Bolivia’s foreign policy.

Write to O’Grady@wsj.com.

For NSA Leaker Snowden, Venezuela or Elsewhere? 3

By Carol J. Williams, Chicago Tribune

As fugitive National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden weighs his asylum options, he should be familiar with the name Luis Posada Carriles.

Both Venezuela and Cuba want to get their hands on the 85-year-old Posada, accused of orchestrating the 1976 terrorist bombing of a Cuban airliner in which all 73 on board died. The U.S. government has for years refused a Venezuelan extradition request for Posada, a Cuban-born Venezuelan citizen who lives in the supportive Cuban exile community of South Florida that applauds his longtime mission to kill former Cuban President Fidel Castro.

U.S. administrations back to the Nixon era have turned a blind eye to — and at times encouraged — Posada’s anti-communist militancy, partly to court the Cuban exile constituency that can sway swing-state Florida in presidential elections. But faced with the prospect of bringing former NSA contractor Snowden to justice and putting an end to the embarrassing disclosures of U.S. government surveillance, President Obama could make the political calculus that delivering Posada to Caracas would be a fair exchange.

Even if Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro fulfills his offer to protect Snowden, analysts point out that Maduro won’t be in power forever. And Snowden, 30, is almost certain to outlive the leftists’ shaky grip on the leadership in politically turbulent Venezuela. Maduro is one of three Latin American leaders to offer Snowden asylum and an escape from the diplomatic no-man’s land in which he has been living for 18 days at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport. Presidents Evo Morales of Bolivia and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua have also said Snowden would be welcome to shelter in their countries.

Cuban President Raul Castro, brother of the revolutionary leader that Posada has targeted for decades, has made sympathetic noises about Snowden’s plight. But Havana has stopped short of offering a haven for Snowden, who is accused of leaking classified information.

Like Venezuela, Cuba has unresolved diplomatic issues with the United States. Four of five Cubans convicted of espionage in 2001 remain in U.S. prisons serving long terms for spying on anti-Castro exile groups like those aligned with Posada. Getting back the “Five Heroes,” as they are known in Cuba, has been a cause célèbre for the Castro regime. Also, the Cuban government holds U.S. citizen Alan Gross, convicted two years ago of illegally importing and installing telecommunications equipment in Cuba without government approval.

Although the possibility of trading the four remaining spies for Gross has presumably been considered, the White House might be more keen to get Snowden, whose leaks have continued since he outted himself as the source of revelations that the NSA gathers data on billions of phone calls, emails and texts worldwide.

Experts familiar with the thorny relationships between Washington and leftist-ruled Latin American countries see Snowden’s security in Venezuela as potentially short-lived. “The first thing he has to ask himself about any country he’s considering for asylum is what do they want from the United States and what leverage does the United States have over them,” said Peter Kornbluh, a senior analyst on Latin America at the National Security Archive, an independent documentation research center in Washington.

Venezuela wants Posada extradited, said Kornbluh, who has extensively researched the Posada case. “But on the other hand, coming to a deal with the United States for a swap like that would undermine the nationalist credentials of a country that stood up and agreed on principle to let him come.” The open question, Kornbluh said, is how much Maduro wants to move toward the political center and court better U.S. ties to shore up an economy in crisis despite enviable oil wealth.

Charles Shapiro, a former U.S. ambassador to Venezuela who is president of the Institute of the Americas, says he takes the Latin American leaders at “face value” in their offers of asylum. What is more perplexing, he said, is how Snowden could travel from Moscow to Caracas without the plane entering U.S. or allied airspace.
White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Tuesday that the Obama administration has conveyed “to every country that might be considered a destination for Snowden” that he should attempt to travel nowhere other than to the United States.

Miguel Tinker Salas, a professor of Latin American history at Pomona College, sees little prospect of Maduro swapping Snowden for Posada. But he points out that Maduro won a narrow victory over opposition candidate Henrique Capriles in an April election to succeed President Hugo Chavez, who died in March. And opposition leaders have vowed to organize a recall of Maduro within three years, opening the possibility of regime change in the near future. Snowden would be better served taking asylum in Bolivia, Tinker Salas said, as Morales appears more firmly in power and less susceptible to U.S. pressure than the other Latin American leaders who have put out the welcome mat.

Snowden was offered asylum by Morales on Saturday as the Bolivian president vented his outrage over an incident last week in which four European countries denied his plane entry into their airspace because of rumors that Snowden was on board. “That was a slap in the face of everybody in Latin America” that has spurred a fresh anti-imperialist frenzy in the region, said Daniel Hellinger, an international relations professor at Webster University in Missouri.

“There is little doubt that it will set back relations between Venezuela and the United States, which had been showing signs of improvement,” Hellinger said. “I do not think Maduro will use Snowden as a pawn at all. More dangerous for Snowden is the prospect, given the close election in April, that Maduro might be recalled within a few years.”

Cuba’s Raul Castro Criticizes U.S., Backs Allies on Snowden 2

By Marc Frank

HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuban President Raul Castro on Sunday backed offers of asylum by Venezuela and other Latin American countries to fugitive U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden and criticized the United States for what he described as bullying other nations. Castro, speaking behind closed doors to Cuba’s National Assembly, said Venezuela and other countries in the region have the right to grant asylum “to those persecuted for their ideals or struggles for democracy, according to our tradition,” according to the official Prensa Latina News Agency. Foreign journalists were barred from the parliament meeting. Castro’s remarks were his first public comment on the Snowden affair.

Cuba over the years has given refuge to various U.S. fugitives it considers political refugees, most notably members of the Black Panthers group decades ago.

Communist-run Cuba’s leftist allies Bolivia, Venezuela and Nicaragua have stated that their doors are open to Snowden. Castro did not say if Cuba had received an asylum request and what the country’s position would be if it does. Snowden, 30, is believed to be holed up in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo international airport and has been trying to find a country to give him sanctuary since he landed there from Hong Kong on June 23.

There are no direct commercial flights between Moscow and Venezuela’s capital, Caracas, and the usual route involves changing planes in Havana. It is not clear if Cuban authorities would let him transit. There was no sign of Snowden aboard the flight to Havana on Saturday.

Castro denounced U.S. threats of economic sanctions against any country that harbours Snowden and also denounced this week’s incident in which some European countries banned Bolivian President Evo Morales’s plane from their airspace on suspicion that it was carrying the former U.S. National Security Agency contractor. “These actions demonstrate we live in a world in which the powerful feel they can violate international law, violate the national sovereignty of other states and trample on the rights of citizens,” he said, accusing the United States of employing a “philosophy of domination.” Castro downplayed Snowden’s revelations of secret U.S. spy programs, stating Cuba had been one of the countries most spied upon on the planet. “We already knew about the existence of these systems,” he said, as he closed the parliament meeting.

Today in History: Spy Ring Established to Support Che Guevara’s Bolivia Expedition 3

November 18, 1964:  Haydee Tamara Bunke Bider, an East German-woman-turned-Cuban spy, arrived in La Paz using the alias, Laura Gutierrez Bauer. Later built into the mythical figure “Tania the Guerrilla,” her mission was to lead an intelligence network to be created in La Paz.

Indicative of the priority given to Che Guevara’s Bolivia mission, Havana assigned Juan Carretero Ibanez as her case officer. At the time, Carretero led the Latin America Department of the MININT’s Technical Vice Ministry. In Bolivia, “Tania” successfully entered into the political, cultural, and media circles of Bolivian society during the dictatorship of General Rene Barrientos.

This Month in History: Cuba Laid Foundation to Destabilize Bolivia 2

Cuba’s re-engagement with Bolivia began in October 1982 when Havana sent a delegation to the inauguration of President Hernan Siles Zuazo. According to Washington Times correspondent Jay Mallin Sr., by late 1983, dozens of Cuban intelligence personnel were in country training, organizing, and arming local guerilla groups. Mallin also identified two America Department (DA) officers at the Cuban Embassy in La Paz:  Charge d’affaires Angel Brugues Perez and Political Counselor Manuel Basabe. Brugues led the DA’s operations in Bolivia. He was widely reported in the Latin media to be highly experienced in coordinating revolutionary affairs.

Editor’s Note: The America Department (DA) was the name used by the intelligence wing of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party from 1974 to the late 1980s or early 1990s. The DA was heavily involved in supporting revolutionaries and terrorists, but has since become more focused on political intelligence operations. This service is now called the America Area of the International Department of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC/ID/AA).

Breaking News: “Retired” Spy to Lecture at New York University 3

The City University of New York (CUNY) has invited José Raul Viera Linares to speak on Thursday, September 27th its Graduate Center. The espionage history of this retired Directorate of Intelligence (DI)  officer follows:

According to declassified CIA reports, in June 1961, the Bolivian government asked Havana to recall Chargé d’affaires Mauro Garcia Triana for interfering in Bolivia’s domestic affairs. On June 24, José Viera Linares arrived in La Paz from Santiago as the interim Chargé. He served in this position until General Directorate of Intelligence (DGI) officer Ramon Aja Castro arrived in mid-March 1962. Considerable animosity developed between the two and Viera Linares was demoted to the less prestigious position of Cultural Affairs attaché. In mid-October 1963, Bolivia expelled Viera Linares for his role in an espionage operation against its Foreign Office.

In 1964, Viera Linares was assigned to run the spy service’s “Colombia Desk.” By 1968, he served as a First Secretary at the Cuban Mission to the United Nations. Little is known about his activities from the end of his CMUN tour until August 1981 when he served as the Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs.

By 1986, Viera Linares was a First Vice Minister at the Ministry of Foreign Affiars (MINREX).  He became the Deputy Foreign Minister in 1990. He held this position through at least 2006.

Contrast this information with the “official” storyline provided in the CUNY ad:

Cuba   Today:

Change   to Remain Unchanged?

José Viera Linares
Former Cuban Diplomat and Policy AdviserDate: Thursday, September 27, 12:30 PM
Location: The Graduate Center, Skylight Room
365 Fifth Avenue (@34th Street)

“Change to Remain Unchanged?”, a lunchtime conversation with José Raúl Viera Linares on the evolving process of reform in Cuba. Viera served as First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1981 to 1990, often participating in cabinet meetings, and represented Cuba at high level international conferences. He received a Law degree from Havana University, a Certificate of English studies at Lousiana State University, and a Certificate of Studies of Property Rights in Cuba from the Union of Cuban Lawyers.

After the revolution Viera served as a voluntary teacher with the Institute of Agrarian Reform and as manager of a sugar mill. His diplomatic career included postings in Spain, Honduras, Chile, Bolivia, Counselor at the Cuban Mission to the UN (1966-1970), and Deputy Minister in charge of International Organizations. He served as legal adviser to three state companies, concluding his professional work with Inmobilaria del Tourismo (Tourism Real Estate) from 1998 to 2010. Viera and his wife Maria Cecilia Bermudez have translated into Spanish for publication in Cuba two books by Dr. Louis A. Perez, Jr. of the University of North Carolina, _On Becoming Cuban. Identity, Nationality & Culture and Cuba in the American Imagination_. In his talk he will share his entirely personal perspective on Cuba today, the history of his generation, and the impact of US policy today.

PLEASE RESERVE by sending an email to bildner@gc.cuny.edu.

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Editor’s Note: The General Directorate of Intelligence (DGI) was the name previously used by the foreign intelligence wing of the Ministry of the Interior. Following a 1989 “scandal” and reorganization, this service was reorganized and given a new name – the Directorate of Intelligence (DI).

Bolivian President Met With Spy-Wife Adriana Perez Reply

The wife of Wasp Network leader Gerardo Hernandez “met yesterday with President Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia’s Senate, Gabriela Montaño, and most members of the Legislative Assembly”  according to Havana’s Prensa Latina (PRELA).   On Wednesday, her first day in Bolivia, Perez focused on media interviews, as well as and meetings with diplomats and various Bolivian officials.  PRELA reports that today Perez will meet with “Bolivian intellectuals and media directors.”

See related postings:

“Lone Peruvian Official Met With Cuban Spy,” August 20, 2012, https://cubaconfidential.wordpress.com/2012/08/20/lone-peruvian-official-met-with-cuban-spy/

“Spy-Wife in Peru Lobbying For Cuban Five,” August 15, 2012, https://cubaconfidential.wordpress.com/2012/08/15/spy-wife-in-peru-lobbying-for-cuban-five/

“Wife of Jailed Cuban Spy-Master to Visit Bolivia,” August 8, 2012, https://cubaconfidential.wordpress.com/2012/08/08/wife-of-jailed-cuban-spy-master-to-visit-bolivia/

This Date in History: Bolivia Severed Ties With Cuba; Shut Down Embassy Spy Center Reply

August 21, 1964:  La Paz severed ties with Havana in compliance with a July 28th resolution which called on all Organization of American States (OAS) members to end diplomatic relations with Havana.  Bolivia urged Cuban Charge de Affaires Roberto Lasalle and his staff of five diplomatic staffer to depart quickly and quietly. While Bolivia voted against the OAS sanctions, it complied, in part, because of “interference by the Havana mission” in Bolivia’s domestic issues.  According to Cuban Intelligence defector Juan F. Benemelis, Lasalle is an intelligence officer.

Wife of Jailed Cuban Spy-Master to Visit Bolivia Reply

Adriana Perez, wife of convicted Wasp Network ringleader Gerardo Hernández, is travelling to Bolivia this month to lobby support for the Cuban Five.  According to the Cuban News Agency (ACN), she will arrive in Bolivia on August 21 after a three-day stay in Peru.  She will then meet with members of the Bolivia-Cuba solidarity movement, legislators and government officials.  As it has for years, Cuban media used the media opportunity to criticize the United States’ repeated refusal to issue Adriana Perez a visa to visit her husband in jail.  Gerardo Hernández is serving two life terms plus 15 years.

Editor’s Note:  Following the arrests of 10 members of the Wasp Network, Adriana Pérez O’Connor was identified as a Cuban intelligence agent.  Her mission was to courier messages and material between Havana and Miami.  Still in training as a Directorate of Intelligence (DI) asset when the spy ring was beheaded in September 1998, she and her children were deported and permanently banned re-entry visas.  

Like Perez, Olga Salanueva (wife of Cuban 5 spy René González) has also been barred re-entry into the US.  Unlike Perez however, Salanueva was a fully trained spy and actively engaged in espionage against the United States when the  1998 arrests occurred. 

The U.S. allows family members of the other three spies almost limitless visas.  In addition to the long and frequent family visits, Cuban government officials also often enjoy visits with all five inmates.