Cuban Officials Touring St. Petersburg This Weekend as They Eye Consulate Location
By Paul Guzzo, Tampa Bay Times Staff Writer
Tampa has the historic and cultural link to Cuba, but it might be St. Petersburg that lands the first Cuban Consulate in the United States in more than five decades.
Alejandro Padrón, Cuba’s consular general from its embassy in Washington, D.C., and his second in command, Armando Bencomo, were in St. Petersburg on Saturday and took a tour of its real estate assets that was led by Dave Goodwin, the city’s director of planning and economic development.
Such a tour did not take place in Tampa.
“They have some interest in our city and they want to get to know more about it,” said Joni James, CEO of the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership, which along with the University of South Florida’s Patel College of Global Sustainability sponsored the delegation’s trip.
“We are happy to help them learn what a great place it would be to have a consulate.”
Kanika Tomalin, the deputy mayor of St. Petersburg, described the tour as “pretty comprehensive” but did not provide specifics on where they visited.
“They will understand what the city can offer their goals,” she said.
There is competition between Tampa and St. Petersburg to host the Cuban Consulate.
The Tampa City Council, Hills- borough County Commission and Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce have voted in favor of bringing the consulate to their community.
The chamber also sent a delegation to Cuba in May 2015.
Each has heavily promoted that Tampa and Cuba share a connection dating to the founding of Ybor City in the late 1800s by immigrants from the island nation.
Later, Tampa was a staging ground for Cuba’s War of Independence against colonialist Spain. And with Cuban tobacco, Tampa would go on to become Cigar City.
But the St. Petersburg City Council voted for a consulate to open in that city as well.
The St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership also sent two delegations to Cuba in the past year and welcomed one from the island nation to its city in December.
Feature continues here: Will St Pete Become Havana’s Newest Spy Base?
Editor’s Note: When the United States ended diplomatic relations with Cuba in the early 1960s, the Castro regime had been conducting its espionage operations from a network of over two dozen consulates and Prensa Latina (news agency) sites from coast to coast. Since the theft of US economic, political and military secrets provides one of the largest revenue streams flowing the regime, Havana dearly wants its “diplomatic” spy network back to further increase its espionage effectiveness and drive down costs.
By Justin Rohrlich, Vice News
March 25, 2016 | 11:50 am
Sarkis Yacoubian swore he was just a businessman, but the state security agents holding him in a Havana interrogation room called him a spy.
It was July 2011, and Yacoubian, then 51, had been working in Cuba for nearly two decades. An Armenian-Canadian born in Beirut, he owned a trading company called Tri-Star Caribbean, which imported emergency vehicles, mining equipment, and auto parts for Cuba’s state-run industries.
About eight months before his arrest, Yacoubian says, a regime official visited Tri-Star’s Havana offices a handful of times — “Let’s call him ‘the Colonel,'” says Yacoubian, who claims not to recall the man’s name. The Colonel said that Cuba wanted to buy a fleet of BMWs, and asked Yacoubian to arrange it. The government’s wish list: sixteen 5-series sedans for the rental market and diplomatic use, and an armored X5 SUV for Cuban president Raul Castro’s personal motorcade. Yacoubian, knowing the contract could lead to many more, agreed to deliver the cars to Tecnotex, a state-owned conglomerate under the purview of the military run by Castro’s son-in-law, Colonel Luis Alberto Rodriguez.
The problems, however, started almost immediately. The government had previously been working with Eric Soulavy, a BMW dealer based in Venezuela who had run into financing problems. Yacoubian says a BMW rep got in touch with him and said that he needed to buy out Soulavy’s contract with BMW, which still had one year remaining. (A spokeswoman for the auto company said it does not comment “on the behavior of third parties as a matter of principle.”)
Yacoubian says he was at that point contractually obligated to deliver the vehicles to the Cubans, so with his “back to the wall,” he began negotiating with Soulavy. Yacoubian says they agreed to $800,000, with an initial transfer of $100,000. Soulavy, who is now a real-estate developer in Key Biscayne, Florida, says he doesn’t recall the exact amount he received from Yacoubian, but remembers charging him “something for the tools and parts we had invested in that business.”
Yacoubian says the buyers at Tecnotex were also asking him to take a $1,000 loss on each car, but “you don’t tell Raul Castro no.” Still, Yacoubian wasn’t doing the deal out of fear — he estimated the foothold the deal was gaining him could one day be worth up to $250 million.
Instead, he was accused of plotting to kill Castro.
Feature continues here: “A Series of Razors”
The Tampa Tribune’s recent editorial, “Get behind consulate effort,” is an interesting read, mostly because of its total lack of understanding of US national security and Castro’s Cuba. For example, the feature claims “warnings by several former military officials that the local Cuban consulate would become a hotbed for espionage seem to us overwrought.” It then concedes that Havana undoubtedly DOES collect against MacDill Air Force Base, but proposes that a consulate would actually “make it easier to keep tabs on Cuban officials.”
It seems the Tribune is speaking out of both sides of its mouth. Just last month, it ran a story highlighting several Cuban espionage operations in the area. Now it insists adding more spies – this time based out of consulate – would make it easier to find them.
What the paper meant to say is finding spies hidden among a consulate’s diplomats is easier then finding them operating somewhere within the greater Tampa/St Pete metropolitan area. That point is true – and totally irrelevant. Operationally, the local Cuban spy networks already in play would avoid contact with any of their diplomatic facilities because of the inherent risks. These covert spies – when caught – go to jail – as did many members of Cuba’s Wasp Network, a branch of which was headquartered in Tampa. Diplomat-spies are different, as immunity precludes their arrest.
Furthermore, who will monitor these new Cuban spies? I suspect local counterintelligence entities are already busy hunting down other clandestine networks run by the Russians, Chinese, Iranians, Cubans, ISIS, etc. What will local politicians say when these unmonitored Cubans are later caught conducting economic espionage against local businesses?
Havana’s acquisition of a Hellfire missile should remind everyone that US secrets are for sale around the clock. Cuba’s intelligence services would welcome the opening of a Tampa consulate – but only as a tool augmenting a very lucrative revenue stream.
ESPIONAGE was suspected after it was revealed a high-tech US missile was accidentally shipped to Cuba.
A Lockheed Martin Hellfire missile was mistakenly shipped from Europe there in 2014.
It was supposed to go from France to Florida, but ended up in the Caribbean country under suspicious circumstances.
The dummy missile is a laser-guided, air-to-surface missile that weighs about 45kg (100lb). It can be deployed from an attack helicopter such as the Apache or an unmanned drone such as the Predator.
There are worries that the advanced technology could be passed on from Cuba to US rivals such as Russia or North Korea. In the wake of North Korea’s supposed H-bomb test, US officials say that they are trying their best to retrieve the missile.
Communist Cuba experienced a diplomatic thaw with Washington in July last year after more than 50 years of hostilities. But an embargo barring US trade and travel to the Caribbean island is still in place. And Cuba, made famous by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, still has a dire human rights record.
Stephanie Nolen — The Globe and Mail
HAVANA – The cobbled streets of Old Havana are choked with tourists these days: sweaty, sunburned tourists from the United States, most of them, who make the rounds of the small hotels in the morning to beg and plead. But it does little good: There isn’t a room – or, often, a café table or a taxi – to be had. The tourists just keep coming – arrivals are up 62 per cent this year. But the city’s limited tourist infrastructure is bursting at the seams.
“It’s a big problem,” said Omar Everleny, an economist at the Centre for the Study of the Cuban Economy in the capital. “Havana is 100 per cent full.” The U.S. visitors have seized on new freedom to visit since the United States and Cuba normalized relations a year ago this week, but they are still mostly restricted to Havana. Yet beyond the capital, in the beach resort mecca of Varadero or the keys to the north, occupancy is also near-full, and there is a huge unmet market for beachfront rooms, sailboat slips and villas. A much-heralded process of economic reform is under way in Cuba, and foreign investment laws were made significantly more favourable for investors earlier this year – and yet the level of building pales in comparison to the size of the demand, in tourism and other sectors.
That’s due in part to the U.S. embargo, which remains firmly in place despite a year of détente. The ongoing tight control of all major economic activity by the state, and the still-strangling bureaucracy, means everything happens slowly.
But many people here – both Cubans and the handful of foreigners based in the country on behalf of international firms – express surprise that Canadian companies, in particular, aren’t a bigger presence, taking advantage of the lull before the looming U.S. storm, to build on their historical edge.
“Canadian companies could and should take advantage of the fact that they can be here already and know Cuban institutions,” said Raul Rodriguez, a researcher with the Centre for Hemispheric and United States Studies at the University of Havana. “Why aren’t there more Canadian infrastructure companies, more interests, given that there are more than one million Canadian tourists?”
“There should be a Tim Hortons in Varadero,” he added.
Feature Continues Here: Canadian Businesses Avoid Cuba
8:19 AM PST 11/28/2015 by Jonathan Holland, The Hollywood Reporter
An Argentinean doc about an American double agent in the 80s and 90s.
At giddying speed, Crazy Che strips back,the life and times of Bill Gaede, a driven American who during the 80s and 90s dealt in industrial espionage: first for Cuba and the Soviet Union, and then for the U.S. Anyone who’s ever suspected that the spying game is just that — an elaborate way for certain kinds of driven people to keep themselves entertained — will find their suspicions confirmed by a documentary that’s just as fast and frenzied as its distinctive hero.
Digital surveillance may mean that the days of the good old, raincoat-wearing, fast-thinking spy, of which Gaede is definitely one, are numbered, which makes Crazy Che, with its 80s cassette tapes and handicams, a bit of a nostalgic homage too. Festivals should warm to a well-put together package with no pretentions other than to properly tell a good yarn.
The original intention of directors Iacouzzi and Chehebar — whose radically different last film was about a plague of Patagonian beavers — was to shoot a doc about Argentinean scientists working abroad. But when they came across the unlikely figure of Gaede – now a physics professor working in Germany, and working on his theory of the universe – they understandably changed their minds.
In his 20s, Gaede became seduced by the high ideals of Communism and Castro, and decided to supply them with technical information about integrated circuitry produced at the large Silicon Valley company where he worked. Rarely has the manufacture of microchips been filmed as excitingly as it is here.
He was invited to Cuba to meet Castro, but that never happened — instead, the poverty he saw in Havana disillusioned him with communism. Falling in with the likes of Jose ‘Pepe’ Cohen and Roland (sic) Sarraf Trujillo (recently released from jail following the Cuban thaw and referenced by President Obama himself in one of the film’s final sequences) Gaede did an about turn and started supplying classified Cuban info to the FBI with the aim of overthrowing his former hero Castro. Gaede doesn’t seem to care much who falls, but it all ended for him with 33 months in jail.
Review continues here: Crazy Che
By Chris Simmons
Last weekend, Mayor Rick Kriseman met with Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX) officials to ask them to choose St. Petersburg as the home of the first Cuban Consulate on US soil in 54 years. Expelled Directorate of Intelligence (DI) officer Gustavo Machin Gomez, serving under the shallowest of “covers” as the MINREX Deputy Director for American Affairs, met with the mayor for about 90 minutes. The son of a revolutionary “hero,” Gustavo Machin was declared Persona Non Grata and expelled from the US in November 2002 in retaliation for the Ana Belen Montes spy case.
Tampa philanthropist David Straz Jr., part of the mayor’s delegation, told the Tampa Tribune the trip was an “absolute success.” Straz serves on Tampa’s Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation, the pro-normalization group sponsoring the trip. “St. Petersburg City Council Chairman Charlie Gerdes, Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin and Chief of Staff Kevin King” also made the trip to Cuba.
Local officials seek to use a consulate, in part, to profit from the global coverage of our evolving US-Cuban relations. Overlooked by city officials is the intelligence threat posed by such a consulate. Tampa, just 20 minutes from St Pete, is home to the Middle East-focused US Central Command as well as US Special Operations Command — both major targets for Cuban spies. The region’s Cuban-American population, third largest in the US, is also targeted. Allowing Havana to post spy-diplomats in the area will actually drive down the cost of its spying against the US – a key concern given the regime’s service as intelligence trafficker to the world. Cuba’s targeting of US political, economic, and military secrets occurs not for defensive purposes, but because these secrets are viewed as a precious commodity to be sold or bartered globally. According to defectors and émigrés, American information is now reportedly among Havana’s top five revenue streams. Weapons shipments from China, oil from Venezuela, cash from Russia and pro-Cuba votes at the United Nations are among the rewards harvested from its espionage. As such, its time our elected officials started taking this espionage threat seriously and stopped pandering to the apartheid dictatorship in Cuba.
PalmBeachPost.com / Filed in: Business
Get ready for another round of “Let’s go do business in Cuba” enthusiasm on Friday. That’s when Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to raise the Stars and Stripes for the ceremonial opening of the U.S. Embassy in Havana.
Before you go rushing into a business venture on the island that was the communist outpost in the Cold War, you might want to have a talk with Ross Thompson at Classified Worldwide Consulting, which has an office in West Palm Beach. Thompson, the firm’s managing director, has a few caveats to share.
In particular, Thompson cautions that Cuba’s foreign investment and business laws present six key challenges that Americans need to think through ahead of time. They are:
- The Cuban government will own a majority stake in the company. A 49-51 percent split is common, but Havana has required a larger share in some sectors.
- Your local workforce will be selected by the Cuban government. This selection may not be based on skill or merit but by seniority or cronyism.
- Cuban managers will be appointed to mirror your handpicked managers, especially if your senior leadership includes Cuban exiles. The Cuban managers will ultimately control many decisions, or influence them, when dealing with your majority partner, the Cuban government.
- Everything in Cuba is heavily influenced by Cuba’s intelligence service, the DGI. You must be very careful to guard your own corporate proprietary information. [Emphasis added]
- Vendors you may work with may be fronts, or “cutouts,” for other foreign intelligence services such as those from China, Russia, Iran or North Korea. The capture and exchange of corporate confidential information is a lucrative business, so guard your files. [Emphasis added]
Feature continues here: Cuban Economic Espionage
BUENOS AIRES – Just like his hero, revolutionary icon Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Guillermo Gaede wanted to travel to Cuba in his teen years, but he could not obtain a visa. Years later, as a Silicon Valley engineer, he found another way to collaborate with Fidel Castro: he became a spy.
In the documentary “El Crazy Che,” Pablo Chehebar and Nicolas Iacouzzi follow Gaede’s unlikely path from a Buenos Aires suburb to service as a secret agent, first for Cuba and then for the United States, and to his time in prison for industrial espionage.
The filmmakers say they stumbled onto Gaede’s story by chance.
“We wanted to film a documentary about Argentine scientists working abroad,” Chehebar told Efe. The search led them to Gaede in Germany, where he has been teaching physics for more than a decade.
After investigating Gaede’s story, the filmmakers abandoned the original project and focused on recounting the story of “this ‘self-made’ man who wanted, in his half-crazy fashion, to be a spy, doing things nobody would imagine,” Chehebar said.
Gaede’s unorthodox approach is reflected in his initial attempts to offer his services to Havana, which involved showing up unannounced at the Cuban Embassy in Buenos Aires and, later, at the Czechoslovakia’s mission in Washington.
On both occasions, he offered to deliver – free of charge – the secret technology for the manufacture of integrated circuits produced by Advanced Micro Devices, his then-employer.
Gaede finally established a link with Cuban intelligence and the data he passed on eventually earned an invitation for him and his wife to visit Cuba for a two-week vacation that would include a meeting with Fidel Castro.
“Bill,” as he is known, tells in the documentary that the visit dealt him “a great disappointment” and demolished his idealistic vision of socialism, prompting him to approach U.S. intelligence services with an offer of assistance to topple Castro.
Article continues here: Crazy Bill Gaede