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

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Los hilos de la inteligencia venezolana en las manos de La Habana 2

Antonio Maria Delgado

adelgado@elnuevoherald.com

El general venezolano había trabajado minuciosamente en la elaboración del plan de seguridad a ser implementado durante la cumbre presidencial de la CELAC realizada en Caracas en diciembre del 2011. Para ello había esbozado diferentes anillos de protección que involucraban la participación de cientos de militares y policías que debían resguardar a los presidentes, jefes de Estado y ministros de los 33 países miembros.

Pero cuando fueron a entregar el plan en la Dirección General de Contra Inteligencia Militar (DGCIM), el representante cubano conocido como “Coronel Alcides” tenía otra cosa en mente.

“‘No, eso no va’. Fue todo lo que dijo antes de desmontar todo el plan”, dijo un oficial venezolano que habló bajo condición de anonimato. “Y cuando nos dimos cuenta, los tres primeros anillos de seguridad eran cubanos”.

Y es que Alcides junto a otro puñado de agentes cubanos de alto rango, son quienes dictan la pauta en materia de seguridad en el país petrolero, impartiendo órdenes a oficiales venezolanos como si fuesen sus superiores y controlando todas las palancas y botones de la represión.

Según los testimonios de oficiales venezolanos, agentes castristas hace ya algún tiempo que dejaron de ser simples asesores para jugar hoy un papel preponderante en el resguardo de la Revolución Bolivariana, encargándose de tareas que van desde el diseño de doctrinas y esquemas operacionales hasta la gestación de estrategias para espiar y desarticular a los adversarios.

Es una sumisión institucional en la práctica, que ha colocado al régimen de Cuba en control de muchas de las operaciones de represión ejecutadas actualmente en el país , dijeron los militares y agentes de inteligencia venezolanos que conversaron con El Nuevo Herald bajo condición de anonimato.

“Los cubanos toman decisiones dentro de la Dirección General de Contra Inteligencia Militar. Se le presta mucha atención a las sugerencias y comentarios que ellos hacen. Y ellos son los que gestionan los planes y diseñan la forma de acción que va a tomar la contrainteligencia con grupos opositores, estudiantes, en contra de todo”, dijo uno de los oficiales entrevistados.

“Son ellos los que dictan la forma de acción y ante todo, los métodos que se van a adoptar en cada caso”, agregó.

Según el oficial, el personal de inteligencia cubano juega un papel muy activo en el monitoreo de los distintos sectores del país y en particular de los dirigentes políticos considerados como adversos al proceso revolucionario en medio de la crisis de legitimidad que enfrenta el régimen de Nicolás Maduro.

Especial interés recae sobre el sector militar, donde decenas de oficiales han sido detenidos e interrogados en los últimos días bajo sospecha de que podrían ser desleales al nuevo líder de la Revolución Bolivariana.

Funcionarios de seguridad cubanos, con amplia experiencia en las operaciones de control social, llevan tiempo asesorando al gobierno bolivariano a pedidos del fallecido presidente Hugo Chávez, quien en sus últimos años de gobierno demostró tener más confianza en el personal cubano que en sus propios compatriotas.

Read more here: http://www.elnuevoherald.com/2013/05/20/1480131/los-hilos-de-la-inteligencia-en.html#storylink=cpy

Falling Short in Understanding Cuban Intelligence: Part I in a Series 5

In “Cuba’s Intelligence Machine,” the newly released assessment by The University of Miami’s Cuba Transition Project, Dr. Brian Latell provides a breezy and very readable summary of Cuban Intelligence with two notable exceptions:

  1. The primary mission and target of Cuban Intelligence is incorrect.
  2. The number of Cuban operations known to have been destroyed/degraded by US Counterintelligence is grossly understated.

Today, I will address the first issue.   In “Cuba’s Intelligence Machine,” Latell claims the United States is “the raison d’être” of Cuban intelligence, according to still another experienced defector I interviewed.” 

In reality, the primary target of the Castro regime’s intelligence services are the Cuban people.  The core mission of its five-service Intelligence Community remains regime protection.    Maintaining domestic stability in support of government continuity is the overriding concern.  This is consistent with other totalitarian regimes and characterized by its two Counterintelligence services dominating the manpower of Cuba’s Intelligence Community.  The collection of intelligence on foreign enemies has remained second to domestic control and monitoring of the Cuban people.

Historically, Castro’s foreign intelligence services focused on the collection of intelligence on foreign enemies. Throughout the Cold War, these services were also viewed as primary tools “to export the Revolution.”  Currently, the United States is the regime’s sole foreign target. 

According to defector Juan Antonio Rodriguez Menier, the General Directorate of Counterintelligence (DGCI) [now called simply the Directorate of Counterintelligence (DCI)], has remained the most important intelligence service in revolutionary Cuba.  According to the Library of Congress, at its peak, the DGCI/DCI numbered 20,000 personnel.  However, as the Castro regime consolidated its domestic controls, the DGCI/DCI drew down.  At the time of Rodriguez Menier’s 1987 defection, its manpower had declined to roughly 3,000 personnel.  

Likewise, during the Cold War, the Cuban Military’s Counterintelligence service (CIM) was reportedly as large as the DGCI/DCI.  However, during the 1990s, armed forces manning was slashed by an estimated 53 percent.  This likely led to similar manpower cuts in the CIM.  Despite these losses, according to defectors and émigrés, the CIM still reportedly numbers several thousand personnel. 

In stark contrast to Havana’s robust Counterintelligence organizations, its three foreign intelligence services, the Directorate of Intelligence (DI), the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DIM), and the intelligence wing of the Cuban Communist Party number less than 3,300 total personnel.

Latell’s error has been to focus overwhelmingly on the DI, rather than examine Cuba’s entire “intelligence machine.”  Additionally, his research is further undermined by excessive reliance of DI defectors.  The US has been blessed with an abundance of Cuban defectors and émigrés, many of which can and have provided ample insights into the inner workings of regime intelligence.  This information is further enhanced by intelligence provided by defectors from Cuba’s Cold War allies.   Successful US Counterintelligence investigations and operations have also produced a veritable treasure trove of information on Havana’s “intelligence machine.”  For example, government holdings from the Wasp Network alone are said to number roughly 100,000 pages. 

Brian Latell has devoted his life to providing valuable insights into regime dynamics in general and the Castro brothers in particular.  That said, when it comes to Cuba’s spy services, I fear he has stepped outside his realm of expertise.

See his assessment, “Cuba’s Intelligence Machine,” here:  The July 2012 Latell Report