The Nation’s “Meet The Spies” Tour 3

by Elliott Abrams, Council on Foreign Relations

Travel to Cuba is a new fad, helped by the changes the Obama administration has made in U.S. policy. It’s easy now for almost any group to go there, under the guise of some educational program or purpose.

But travel to Cuba has long been a practice for American leftists, who have seen the Castro regime not as a brutal oppressor of human rights but as a beacon of light in the Hemisphere. No democracy, free expression, freedom of the press, free trade unions? Who cares, after all? The thrill of visiting the communist island has been too much to resist.

Still, there was usually a pretense that the visitors were not there to celebrate the regime. But not in the coming visit organized by The Nation, the old leftist magazine. Its September trip includes many of the staples, according to The Nation’s invitation letters. The trip will feature:

museum tours with eminent art and cultural historians; seminars and lectures featuring renowned Cuban economists, government officials, community activists, physicians, and urban planners; exclusive concerts with popular jazz artists, troubadours, and folk musicians; performances by students of Cuba’s internationally acclaimed ballet institutes; visits to artist’s colonies and studios; guided tours of Old Havana, the Latin American Medical School, and the University of Havana; and visits to many other inspiring locales and events.

No surprises there. But actually I left out a key clause in that paragraph. The trip will also include:

a meeting and discussion with the Cuban Five, the intelligence agents considered national heroes after spending many years imprisoned in US jails.

This is pretty remarkable. The Nation describes the tour as “a particularly inspiring and extraordinary time to experience the people, politics, culture, and history of Cuba in a way few ever have before.” In a way few Americans ever have before? Now, that’s true enough: how many American get to meet with and celebrate people who spied against our country and were convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage and conspiracy to commit murder? How many Americans want to?  Due to their actions four Americans died, in a Brothers to the Rescue plane shot down in international airspace. But the frisson of meeting people who actually—the Cuban government has admitted this—were intelligence agents and were convicted of spying on the United States is so wonderful that it is worth the $5,550 per person fees for the tour.

Feature continues here: The Nation’s Spy Tour


Al Jazeera Interview With Cuban Spy: ‘I will do it again if I have to’ 3

After spending 16 years in US prisons, Gerardo Hernandez shares his remarkable story behind his liberation.

Cuban intelligence officer Gerardo Hernandez was a central character in the frosty relations between Cuba and the United States.

His return to Cuban soil on December 17, 2014 marked a dramatic new beginning for both countries.

After 16 years in US prisons, he was given a hero’s welcome, and remains defiant and loyal to his government.

In 2001 he was convicted by a Miami court and handed down two life sentences for sending intelligence back home to Cuba.

The court said his actions assisted in the murder of Cuban exiles – in the shooting down of two planes – who were attempting to overthrow the Castro government.

He was a spy, but Hernandez, and the other members of the so-called “Cuban Five” spies captured on US soil and now released, have been declared national heroes by Fidel Castro and were decorated by Cuban president Raul Castro earlier this year.

All this time he had been separated from his wife Adriana Perez, yet, to the surprise of many she was nine months pregnant when he returned to Cuba in 2015. What hadn’t been revealed was that in an unusual diplomatic gesture of good will, officials on both sides had worked to send Hernandez’s sperm to Panama, so that the couple could have a child through artificial insemination.

Hernandez’s surprise release, and the story involving his wife and their baby, which may never have been born, was a key ingredient in secret negotiations leading to a historic agreement to end more than half a century of hostilities between the US and Cuba.G

Now, for the first time, Hernandez and his wife share the story of his imprisonment and release, Perez‘s experiences, how Hernandez posed as a Puerto Rican graphic artist in the US before his capture and how their child was conceived in a diplomatic move, as they talk to Al Jazeera in Havana, Cuba.

“Cuban Five” Hailed as Heroes in Caracas 1

The Cuban Five played a central role in the murder of four members of the humanitarian search-and-rescue group,  "Brothers to the Rescue" members

The Cuban Five played a central role in the murder of four members of the search-and-rescue group, “Brothers to the Rescue”

By Jim Wyss,

The five Cuban spies recently released from U.S. custody spent a second day in Venezuela being hailed as heroes and bestowed with honors.

On Tuesday, President Nicolás Maduro honored the men at the National Pantheon, where South American liberator Simon Bolivar is interred, saying that they helped stop “dozens” of U.S. attacks on Cuba, including the bombing of hotels and the killing of foreign tourists.

Maduro also blamed the media for describing the men as “spies,” saying news agencies, including Reuters, Associated Press, AFP and EFE were “machines of media manipulation.”

“They declare war when there needs to be war and they pardon and turn people into angels when they need to be pardoned and turned into angels, even if that person is the world’s biggest murderer,” he said.

The five men were convicted in 2001 of infiltrating South Florida military installations and spying on the exile community. They were also linked to the 1996 shoot-down of two Brothers to the Rescue planes that killed four exile pilots over the Florida Straits.

The last imprisoned members of the spy ring were released in December as Washington and Havana began rapprochement talks. Their release coincided with Cuba’s freeing of USAID contractor Alan Gross. The men are expected to be in Venezuela — Cuba’s closest ally — through Saturday.

Heroic Homecoming For Cuban Agents Brings Speculation About Future in Politics 6

The "Cuban Five," which includes Ramon Labanino (top left), Gerardo Hernandez (top right), Fernando Gonzalez (bottom left), Antonio Guerrero (bottom right) and Rene Gonzalez (center), have become part of the new political intrigue in Cuba. (Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters)

The “Cuban Five,” which includes Ramon Labanino (top left), Gerardo Hernandez (top right), Fernando Gonzalez (bottom left), Antonio Guerrero (bottom right) and Rene Gonzalez (center), have become part of the new political intrigue in Cuba. (Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters)

By Nick Miroff, Washington Post

MEXICO CITY — Since their return to Havana last month after 16 years in U.S. federal prison, the remaining three members of the spy ring known as “the Cuban Five” have been a frequent presence on state television. Wherever they go — visiting universities or attending outdoor concerts in their honor — they are celebrated as “Heroes of the Republic.”

They speak with a confidence and a candor unusual among Communist officials of their generation, who rarely veer off-script or show emotion. Despite their years behind bars, the men are relatively young, at least by Cuban leadership standards.

And with each public appearance, more Cubans and Cuba-watchers wonder what role the five, and especially ringleader Gerardo Hernández, might play in the country’s political future.

Although several of them had not set foot on the island in 20 years, Havana’s ceaseless international campaign to free the men has arguably made them the most recognizable faces in the Cuban government after the Castros. A generation of Cuban schoolchildren has grown up memorizing their names and biographies.

Hernández, 49, was serving two life sentences plus 15 years when he was freed as part of the prisoner swap for a long-jailed CIA mole in Cuba that also triggered the release of Alan Gross, an American government subcontractor.

Sent by Havana to infiltrate anti-Castro groups in Miami, Hernández was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder, having passed along information that Cuba used in the 1996 downing of two civilian planes operated by the exile group Brothers to the Rescue, killing four.

“We dreamed about this moment for so long,” Hernández told Cuban television soon after his arrival, choking back tears. “The only thing that lifted our spirits was the thought of coming home, to be with the Cuban people again.”

“It was worth it,” he said.

The agents have said nothing specific about their plans. But when the Obama administration agreed to send them back, it possibly gave Cuba more than a group of intelligence operatives.

“We don’t know yet what they’ll do, but they return with tremendous prestige,” said Aurelio Alonso, a member of the small Havana civil society organization Cuba Posible, which advocates gradual reforms. “So far, they’ve demonstrated an extraordinary level of political maturity.”

Feature continues here:  Cuban Spies

Editor’s Note:  The Washington Post is incorrect in reporting the Wasp Network was created “to infiltrate anti-Castro groups in Miami.” It actually targeted US military bases, the FBI, the Miami Herald, local and national political figures, and other groups.

Baltimore Sun Commentary: Maryland Delegation Should Petition for Release of Cuban Five 1

Two U.S. senators who traveled to Cuba are extremely disappointed they're returning without Maryland's Alan Gross.

Two U.S. senators who traveled to Cuba are extremely disappointed they’re returning without Maryland’s Alan Gross.

By Kurt L. Schmoke

In 1999, I accompanied the Baltimore Orioles on their historic trip to Havana, Cuba. This marked the first time since 1959 that a Major League Baseball team played in Cuba. Many of us hoped that a baseball game involving teams from the United States and Cuba might be a precursor to normalized diplomatic relations the way a ping-pong match signaled a change in U.S. relations with China. Unfortunately, those hopes were not fulfilled.

see how life had changed since the Orioles’ visit. What I learned was that, on a people-to-people basis, the citizens of Cuba and the United States desire close ties and normal business relations, but the governments of our two countries remain stuck in Cold War-era political battles. Although both Cuban and American doctors are in West Africa fighting the Ebola crisis, such cooperation remains the exception rather than the rule.

One hears statements from some government officials about a willingness to begin a new era of diplomatic relations the way a new era seemed to begin in U.S.-Soviet relations with the destruction of the Berlin Wall. However, there always seems to be a roadblock erected just as the parties move forward. The current roadblock involves the imprisonment in Cuba of Maryland resident Alan Gross and the imprisonment in the United States of a group known as the Cuban Five. I believe that the Maryland delegation to Congress may hold the key to opening the prison doors for all these men and subsequently opening a new era of diplomacy for these two countries.

Alan Gross, a 65-year-old from Montgomery County, was arrested in Cuba in 1999 while working on a contract sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development to increase Internet access in small communities across the country. The Cuban government alleged that his work entailed acts detrimental to the Republic of Cuba (essentially labeling him a spy) and sentenced him to a term of 15 years. He has served four years. His friends and supporters indicate that he is in very poor health, having lost about 100 pounds while incarcerated.

The Cuban Five are, in fact, intelligence officers sent to Miami in the 1990s to collect information on local anti-Castro groups allegedly engaging in activities that violated U.S. law, including acts of violence designed to bring down the Castro regime. Although the U.S. government received evidence supporting those allegations, U.S. prosecutors targeted not the groups in question but instead the five Cuban intelligence officers. The government chose to prosecute the Cuban Five in — of all places — Miami.

Opinion continues here:  Schmoke

New York Times OP/ED: A Prisoner Swap With Cuba 2

 Supporters of Alan Gross across from the White House last year. Credit Paul J. Richards/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Supporters of Alan Gross across from the White House last year. Credit Paul J. Richards/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Leer en español (Read in Spanish) »


Nearly five years ago, authorities in Cuba arrested an American government subcontractor, Alan Gross, who was working on a secretive program to expand Internet access on the island. At a time when a growing number of officials in Washington and Havana are eager to start normalizing relations, Mr. Gross’s continued imprisonment has become the chief obstacle to a diplomatic breakthrough.

There is only one plausible way to remove Mr. Gross from an already complicated equation. The Obama administration should swap him for three convicted Cuban spies who have served more than 16 years in federal prison.

Officials at the White House are understandably anxious about the political fallout of a deal with Havana, given the criticism they faced in May after five Taliban prisoners were exchanged for an American soldier kidnapped in Afghanistan. The American government, sensibly, is averse to negotiating with terrorists or governments that hold United States citizens for ransom or political leverage. But in exceptional circumstances, it makes sense to do so. The Alan Gross case meets that criteria.

Under the direction of Development Alternatives Inc., which had a contract with the United States Agency for International Development, Mr. Gross traveled to Havana five times in 2009, posing as a tourist, to smuggle communications equipment as part of an effort to provide more Cubans with Internet access. The Cuban government, which has long protested Washington’s covert pro-democracy initiatives on the island, tried and convicted Mr. Gross in 2011, sentencing him to 15 years in prison for acts against the integrity of the state.

Early on in Mr. Gross’s detention, Cuban officials suggested they might be willing to free him if Washington put an end to initiatives designed to overthrow the Cuban government. After those talks sputtered, the Cuban position hardened and it has become clear to American officials that the only realistic deal to get Mr. Gross back would involve releasing three Cuban spies convicted of federal crimes in Miami in 2001.

In order to swap prisoners, President Obama would need to commute the men’s sentences. Doing so would be justified considering the lengthy time they have served, the troubling questions about the fairness of their trial, and the potential diplomatic payoff in clearing the way toward a new bilateral relationship.

The spy who matters the most to the Cuban government, Gerardo Hernández, is serving two life sentences. Mr. Hernández, the leader of the so-called Wasp Network, which infiltrated Cuban exile groups in South Florida in the 1990s, was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder. Prosecutors accused him of conspiring with authorities in Havana to shoot down civilian planes operated by a Cuban exile group that dropped leaflets over the island urging Cubans to rise up against their government. His four co-defendants, two of whom have been released and returned home, were convicted of nonviolent crimes. The two who remain imprisoned are due for release relatively soon.

Feature continues here: NYT Seeks to Reward Cuban Hostage-Taking






Obama May Free Cuban Spies And Terrorists 3

The Cuban Interests Section in Washington, DC

The Cuban Interests Section in Washington, DC

By Cliff Kincaid,

Just a few blocks from the White House, in the basement of a black Baptist church, the chief of the Cuban Interests Section plotted with former terrorists and members of the communist Workers World Party this past week to convince President Obama to release communist spies and terrorists from American prisons.

Coming in the wake of freed U.S. Army deserter Bowe Bergdahl, in a trade for terrorists arranged by the Obama administration, these possible developments cannot be dismissed out of hand.

The conference dramatized how the far-left “progressives,” operating under the direction of Cuba, have calculated that Obama’s last two or so years in office represent the perfect opportunity for their comrades to leave prison with presidential pardons, clemencies, or commutations, and then return to the “struggle,” or “resistance,” in the streets.

The two-day event, the main focus of the “Five Days for the Cuban Five” campaign, was open to the press, enabling this columnist to attend and film the activities of the hard left as they operated under the watchful eyes of José Ramón Cabañas, Chief of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C., and his agents. About 150 people attended the event.

The Cuban Interests Section functions as Castro’s embassy, in the absence of formal diplomatic relations, and operates as a front for the Cuban intelligence service, the DGI.

Even the Obama administration has conceded that the “Cuban Five” were members of a Castro spy network.

Before being appointed to the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan was Obama’s solicitor general and submitted a legal brief in the case. She noted in the brief that members of the “Cuban five” were affiliated with the Cuban intelligence service and the “Wasp Network,” whose purpose included penetrating U.S. military facilities and transmitting information about the facilities’ operations and layout to Cuba, and infiltrating Cuban-American groups.

The brief noted that three Brothers to the Rescue (BTTR) planes made a scheduled flight over the Florida Straits to search for rafters, and that the flight plans were transmitted to Cuba. “When the planes passed the boundary between Miami and Havana air traffic control, which lies in international airspace, they identified themselves to Havana,” it said. “Within minutes, Cuban fighter jets pursued two of the BTTR planes. The Cuban fighters shot down both planes, killing all four men aboard, three of whom were U.S. citizens. Both planes were in international airspace, heading away from Cuba, when they were shot down. Neither plane had entered Cuban airspace.”

Featured speakers at the “Free the Cuban Five” conference included:

  • Linda Evans, a Weather Underground terrorist pardoned by President Clinton. Rafael Cancel Miranda, a Puerto Rican terrorist who opened fire on the House of Representatives in 1954, and was pardoned by President Jimmy Carter in 1979. Cindy Sheehan, the former anti-Iraq War activist who just ran unsuccessfully for California governor on the “Peace and Freedom” party ticket.

Feature continues here:  Obana to Free Spies?

El Salvador President Meets with Two Cuban Spies Convicted in U.S. 1

Salvador Sanchez Ceren celebrates election results / AP

Salvador Sanchez Ceren celebrates election results / AP

  Experts concerned about his willingness to work with U.S. on anti-drug, anti-gang efforts

By Daniel Wiser, Washington Free Beacon

El Salvador’s purportedly moderate new president met this week with two Cuban spies convicted in the United States, raising questions about his willingness to work with U.S. officials on anti-gang and anti-drug efforts.

Salvador Sanchez Ceren met with the spies as well as Cuban President Raul Castro on the communist island, according to a Salvadoran news outlet. The two men, Fernando Gonzalez and Rene Gonzalez (no relation), were members of the “Cuban Five” that were convicted on charges of conspiracy and espionage in the United States and later released to Cuba.

The visit received scant media coverage but could be a sign that the new president will govern as more of a hardline leftist. Ceren, a former Marxist guerilla leader in El Salvador, promised to govern as a moderate before narrowly winning the presidential election in March.

The other three members of the Cuban spy ring are still serving prison terms in the United States. One of them, Gerardo Hernandez, was linked to the deaths of four Cuban exiles in 1996. The exiles were pilots in the Brothers to the Rescue group that aided thousands of Cuban rafters fleeing the island.

Roger Noriega, former assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs during the George W. Bush administration, said in an interview that Sanchez Ceren’s pledge to work together with the United States as a moderate leader now appears to be “pretty hollow.”

“He’s also sort of aligning himself with a failed [Cuban] model obviously in terms of economic policy and totalitarianism, and unrelenting hostility to the United States,” Noriega said. “It bodes very ill for where he wants to take El Salvador.”

A State Department spokesperson declined to comment on Sanchez Ceren’s visit to Cuba and referred the Washington Free Beacon to the Salvadoran government. “We continue to work with the government of El Salvador on our many shared interests, including regional security,” the spokesperson said.

The direction of El Salvador’s government has important implications for U.S. security.

El Salvador is “a major transit country for illegal drugs headed to the United States from source countries in South America,” according to the State Department’s 2014 report on international narcotics control. Illicit drug shipments cost American taxpayers about $193 billion in 2007 for the health care and criminal justice systems, the latest data available.

Article continues here:  El Salvador President Meets with Convicted Cuban Spies


Hijacked Cuban Planes Still Caught in Limbo 2

FILE - In this Tuesday Nov. 12, 2002 file photo, old single engine airplane are seen at a Cuban airport in Los Palacios, near Pinar del Rio, Cuba. Cuban pilot Nemencio Carlos Alonso Guerra stole a small plane, similar to these shown, and flew to Florida with seven relatives. At face value, they are three old planes not worth much more their parts and scrap metal. Stolen from the Cuban government during a six-month period ending in April 2003 - two by hijackers, one by its pilot - all three landed at Key West International Airport, a 116-mile flight from struggling Havana to the gleaming shores of the U.S. (AP Photo/Jose Goitia, File)

FILE – In this Tuesday Nov. 12, 2002 file photo, old single engine airplane are seen at a Cuban airport in Los Palacios, near Pinar del Rio, Cuba. Cuban pilot Nemencio Carlos Alonso Guerra stole a small plane, similar to these shown, and flew to Florida with seven relatives. At face value, they are three old planes not worth much more their parts and scrap metal. Stolen from the Cuban government during a six-month period ending in April 2003 – two by hijackers, one by its pilot – all three landed at Key West International Airport, a 116-mile flight from struggling Havana to the gleaming shores of the U.S. (AP Photo/Jose Goitia, File)














By Christine Armario  (AP) KEY WEST, Fla. — At face value, they are three old planes not worth much more than their parts and scrap metal. Stolen from the Cuban government during a six-month period ending in April 2003 — two by hijackers, one by its pilot — all three landed at Key West International Airport, a 116-mile flight from struggling Havana to the gleaming shores of the U.S.

Fidel Castro repeatedly demanded the planes be returned. Instead, they were seized by U.S. courts to satisfy part of a $27 million judgment won by a Cuban-American woman who had unwittingly married a Cuban spy in Miami.

The story of what happened to the planes in the ensuing years reads like another chapter in the history of stymied, contentious U.S.-Cuba relations, with the new owners unable to get the planes anywhere.

The first of the three planes to land in Key West was a yellow, Soviet-built crop-duster that pilot Nemencio Carlos Alonso Guerra used to fly seven passengers, many of them relatives, to the U.S. in November 2002.

Cuba wanted the biplane back, but a Florida judge agreed with Ana Margarita Martinez that it should be seized and sold to partially pay the judgment she was awarded under an anti-terrorism law. In 1996, her husband, Juan Pablo Roque, had fled back to Cuba after infiltrating the Miami-based anti-Castro group Brothers to the Rescue. The next day, Cuban fighter jets shot down two of the group’s Cessnas over international waters, killing four pilots.

The aging Antonov AN-2 Colt was auctioned at the Key West airport in 2003 and Martinez placed the highest bid, $7,000.

“We had a victory — we got to keep this property of the Cuban government,” Martinez said after the auction.

She hoped to sell it for a profit later but instead gave it to Cuban-American artist Xavier Cortada, who painted half of it with a colorful mural as part of an exhibit commemorating Cuba’s independence.

After the exhibit, Cortada eventually donated the plane to Florida International University, which planned to display it but couldn’t find a building to house it. Today, it deteriorates under tarps on a far corner of FIU’s campus.

Article continues here:  Hijacked Cuban planes still caught in limbo

Cuban Spies “Testify” in Show For Castro Supporters in London Reply

From March 7-8th, an “International Commission” was held in London as part of the “Free the Five” campaign. In a grossly bigoted piece of political theater, alleged expert witnesses, pro-Castro attorneys, and family members of the five spies provided “testimony” before an audience said to number roughly 250 persons. Only claims supporting the immediate release of the failed spies were permitted.

The absurd proceedings included Lawyers for the Cuban 5 parroting their long-running denial that their spy-clients had no connection to the Brothers to the Rescue shoot down. Even more hypocritical was the “testimony” of expelled spies Olga Salanueva, wife of René González, and Adriana Pérez, wife of Gerardo Hernández. Completing this 3-ring circus was the appearance of senior Cuban Intelligence officer, Roberto Hernández Caballero.

I will give them credit — what regime supporters lack in credibility, they certainly make up for in chutzpah!

The highly entertaining Press Release from “Free the 5” can be read here: International Commission in London calls on Obama to free the Five