Cuba’s Intelligence Masterstroke in Venezuela Reply

Poster of deceased Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez.

By Jose Miguel Alonso-Trabanco, GeoPoliticalMonitor.com

Much has been said about the behavior of Venezuela’s Bolivarian regime, its evolving character, its dramatic economic mismanagement, and the impact it has projected throughout the American hemisphere, including its bilateral ties to Cuba.

At a first glance, it would seem that – based on classical international relations scholarship referents when it comes to assessing national power such as population, territory, natural resources, and sheer economic size – Venezuela is the senior partner. Yet a crucial factor is missing to examine how the balance of power truly works in the dynamic framework of said bilateral relation.

Beyond the evident ideological, political, and diplomatic affinities between the rulers of both countries, the crucial factor that has been overlooked even by most experts is the strong presence and operational intensity of Cuban intelligence agencies in Venezuela. A different picture – one that challenges conventional wisdom – might emerge when one considers this angle.

Such a topic is important considering its deep geopolitical implications. It also raises pertinent questions: What if Venezuela is not necessarily the senior partner after all? The fact that it has not been addressed is perhaps a result of the intrinsically covert nature of intelligence activities. Moreover, both regimes are not precisely known for their compliance with basic transparency standards. In practice, that means relevant and reliable information about it is notoriously scarce. Nevertheless, the analysis of what open sources provide is useful to elaborate a more or less accurate – yet broad – situational assessment.

Profile of Cuban Intelligence Services

According to conventional wisdom, effective foreign intelligence capabilities are usually associated with great powers. The American CIA, the British MI6, the Israeli Mossad, the Russian SVR and the like often come to mind whenever the term is mentioned. Of course, such perception is hardly unjustified. In contrast, Cuba is certainly far from being a great power, yet the reach of its intelligence services must not be underestimated.

The Cuban Intelligence Directorate – known as G2 – was initially trained by the Soviet KGB and the Stasi, the East German Ministry of State Security, the strongest intelligence agencies of the Socialist bloc during the Cold War. Moreover, the resilience that has played a key role in the survival of the Cuban communist regime for six decades can be at least partially attributed to its intelligence services’ abilities to monitor internal dissent, consolidate political rule, and keep at bay external rivals. It is even said that Fidel Castro himself was the target of hundreds of unsuccessful assassination attempts.

It is known that the Cuban intelligence community recruits promising college students, especially from social science programs. Its training and methods are based on the development of professionalism rather than improvisation, unlike other Latin American intelligence agencies. Furthermore, a heavy ideological ingredient promotes a strong morale.

Another aspect worth emphasizing is that Cuban intelligence has not just assumed a defensive position. Actually, it has been remarkably active abroad for decades. For instance, it supported several Marxist insurgencies in Central and South America during the Cold War. It has also managed to infiltrate US national security agencies and Cuban American political groups hostile to Havana’s socialist regime.

Last but not least, Cuban intelligence supported the military involvement of the country’s armed forces in extra-regional operational theatres such as Angola, Vietnam, and even the Middle East during the Yom Kippur War.

In short, despite Cuba’s structural limitations – including its precarious economy – the country’s intelligence services represent a big asset in terms of power projection. In effect, they need to be understood as a substantial force multiplier.

Article continues here: Cubans in Venezuela

 

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Their Men in Caracas: The Cuban Expats Shoring Up Maduro’s Government Reply

From military advisers to aid workers, thousands of Cubans form an information network across Venezuela’s economy

By Paulo A Paranagua, Guardian Weekly

Cuba hopes ally Nicolás Maduro can avoid an election in the throes of an economic crisis. Photograph: Miguel Gutierrez/EPA

Cuba hopes ally Nicolás Maduro can avoid an election in the throes of an economic crisis. Photograph: Miguel Gutierrez/EPA

When asked how many Cubans are working in Venezuela, minister of foreign affairs Elías Jaua cites the 25,000 medical aid workers in the programme launched by the late president Hugo Chávez, adding “about 1,000 sports trainers and 600 farming technicians”. The opposition claims the number is higher, particularly as there are Cuban advisers in all the ministries and state-owned companies.

At the end of February the student leader Gaby Arellano tried to present a petition to the Cuban ambassador in Caracas. “We will not allow Cubans to interfere in our affairs any longer,” she said. “We don’t want them to go on controlling the media, directing military operations or indoctrinating our children.” Teodoro Petkoff, a leftwing opposition figure, is not convinced Havana exerts that much influence. “Such claims play down the responsibility of the Chavistas for what’s going on,” he says.

Defence specialist Rocío San Miguel believes Cuba really does influence policymakers in Venezuela. She recalls the way Chávez’s illness was managed, his hospitalisation in Havana clothed in secrecy, and the transfer of power to Nicolás Maduro (pictured), who was educated in Cuba. “Cuban officers attend strategic planning meetings for the armed forces,” she says, basing her claim on insider sources.

“It’s not a myth, it’s the reality,” says General Raúl Baduel, minister of defence under Chávez and now in custody at the Ramo Verde military prison. The Cubans have modernised the intelligence services, both the Sebin (Bolivarian National Intelligence Service) that reports directly to the president, and military intelligence. They also set up a special unit to protect the head of state.

Furthermore Cubans have computerised Venezuela’s public records, giving them control over the issue of identity papers and voter registration. They have representatives in the ports and airports, as well as supervising foreign nationals. They took part in purchases of military equipment and work on the Maracaibo airbase.

“All Cuban ‘internationalists’ have had military training and must, if required, fulfil combat duties,” San Miguel asserts. “Cubans form an information network which keeps Havana up-to-date on shifts in public opinion,” says political observer Carlos Romero.

Feature continues here:  Their Men in Caracas

Cuban Spy Arrives in Venezuela 1

Convicted Spy Rene Gonzalez (Courtesy:  PRELA)

Convicted Spy Rene Gonzalez (Courtesy: PRELA)

René González was imprisoned for 13 years

El Universal

René González, a Cuban spy regarded as hero of the Cuban revolution, arrived on Monday in Venezuela. Venezuelan Minister of Foreign Affairs Elías Jaua welcomed him at Maiquetía airport. González is one of the five individuals imprisoned in 1998 by US authorities for spying of anti-Castro groups in Florida. According to the Cuban government, the group was on counter-terrorist duty. González was sentenced to 13 years in prison and three years on parole. González visited the Cuartel de La Montaña, the site that holds the remains of late President Hugo Chávez. There, he met with Venezuelan Vice-President Jorge Arreaza.

Venezuelan Ex-Intelligence Chief Eliecer Otaiza Killed 1

Eliecer Otaiza backed Hugo Chavez's coup attempt on 4 February 1992

Eliecer Otaiza backed Hugo Chavez’s coup attempt on 4 February 1992

(BBC) A former chief of Venezuela’s intelligence service, Eliecer Otaiza, was killed last Saturday, officials have revealed.

Maj Otaiza, a friend and ally of the late president Hugo Chavez, was shot dead outside the capital, Caracas.

President Nicolas Maduro said police would investigate the “suspicious” circumstances of his death.

Maj Otaiza was elected in December as local councillor for the governing PSUV party for the Libertadores area.

Police said the motive for his killing was not yet clear.

The body was discovered on Saturday on the outskirts of the capital with four bullet wounds, said Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres.

The minister added that the major was found without any documents which is why it took police until Monday to identify the body, which had been taken to a local morgue.

He said the subsequent discovery of Maj Otaiza’s stolen and bullet-riddled car led them to suspect the body was that of the councillor.

Maj Otaiza had last been seen leaving a friend’s house on Friday night.

Ties that bind

He was a close friend of the late Venezuelan leader, Hugo Chavez, and backed his 1992 abortive coup aimed at deposing the then-President Carlos Andres Perez.

He was shot four times on 27 November 1992 during an attempt to storm the Miraflores presidential palace, but survived.

Mr Chavez dedicated a chapter in one of his autobiographical books to the major and his role in what the former president called his “Bolivarian Revolution”.

He said Maj Otaiza, then a lieutenant, tried to spring him from a prison in Yare, where Mr Chavez had been sent after the coup attempt.

“He came into the prison masquerading as a woman, and he looked really ugly, by the way,” Mr Chavez wrote.

Mr Chavez recalled how he sent the lieutenant away “to work on the outside for the revolution”.

Maj Otaiza later formed part of Mr Chavez’s personal guard and was named director of the national intelligence service in the early years of Mr Chavez’s presidency.

Venezuela has one of the highest murder rates in the region and few homicides are ever solved.

Anger about the lack of security and high crime rates, as well as frustration with Venezuela’s poor economic situation have led to mass protests against the government over the past months.

Las Relaciones Desmedidas Reply

Una mujer con la cara pintada de la bandera cubana frente a la embajada de Cuba en Venezuela. / Juan Barreto (AFP)

Una mujer con la cara pintada de la bandera cubana frente a la embajada de Cuba en Venezuela. / Juan Barreto (AFP)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Todo empezó con 29 agentes que llegaron en 1997 a ayudar a Hugo Chávez
  • Ahora miles de cubanos trabajan y controlan la Administración pública venezolana
  • Prohibo tener amigos venezolanos

By Cristina Marcano, El Pais Internacional

Cuando el doctor Janoi González aterrizó en el aeropuerto internacional Simón Bolívar, de Venezuela se sintió como si no hubiera salido de Cuba. “No había un solo venezolano, la estructura estaba dirigida por cubanos”, afirma refiriéndose a una parte de la zona bajo control militar conocida como Rampa 4, de exclusivo uso oficial. El experto en radiodiagnóstico, natural de Pinar del Río, entró al país un mediodía de diciembre de 2012 sin que sus documentos fueran revisados por autoridad venezolana alguna. “No hay chequeo de migración. Unos funcionarios cubanos te dan unas palabras de bienvenida, vivas a Chávez y a la revolución, y te ponen un cuño [sello] en el pasaporte”. Ese sello dice: “Válido solo Cuba Venezuela.”

Janoi González es uno de los miles de cooperantes enviados por La Habana a Venezuela y, como muchos de ellos, se vio sometido a unas pésimas condiciones de trabajo y a una vigilancia aún más estrecha que la que normalmente sufre en su país natal. “Se cobraba una basura: 1.200 bolívares [entonces 200 euros según el cambio oficial y 50 en el mercado negro]”. Carecía de libertad de movimientos y vivía hacinado. Al principio tuvo que compartir con seis personas una habitación de 20 metros cuadrados en un motel de Guanare, la capital agrícola de Venezuela. Luego, en la cercana Acarigua, eran “17 en cinco habitaciones, con un solo baño”, detalla por teléfono desde Estados Unidos, adonde escapó en 2013.

Si se observa detenidamente el mapa de América, Cuba luce como una pequeña lengua, un jirón de tierra que pareciera flotar a la deriva. Nada más lejos de la realidad. Anclada en una vieja dictadura comunista, la isla ha tenido claro dónde encontrar dólares para mantenerse a flote. En los últimos 15 años, esa lengua de 108.000 kilómetros cuadrados, con una de las economías más atrasadas, ha logrado saciar su apetito en Venezuela, un país nueve veces más grande, tres veces más poblado y con enormes recursos; entre ellos, las mayores reservas de crudo del mundo.

La Habana recibe diariamente de Caracas más de 100.000 barriles de petróleo en condiciones preferentes, que paga con trabajadores de la salud. Además, obtiene inversiones directas, créditos blandos, subsidios y millonarios contratos como intermediario de importaciones venezolanas de alimentos, bienes y equipos a terceros países.

http://internacional.elpais.com/internacional/2014/03/28/actualidad/1396026665_272257.html

Anti-Government Marchers in Caracas Slam Cuban ‘Invader’ 1

(AFP) Caracas — Hundreds of anti-government protesters marched against Cuban meddling in Venezuela’s domestic affairs.

Under the late elected socialist revolutionary leader Hugo Chavez, Venezuela forged tight ties with Cuba, becoming its closest regional ally and economic mainstay of the Americas’ only communist regime.

The close bilateral alliance, which includes military and security cooperation, is still pursued under President Nicolas Maduro’s year-old government.

At least 28 people have been killed and 400 injured in the student-led protests that began February 4 in western Venezuela and spread to Caracas and other cities.

Oil-rich Venezuela has seen almost daily anti-government demos as tens of thousands of people vent their rage over the soaring violent crime rate, spiraling inflation and a lack of basic household goods like toilet paper.

Clad mostly in white T-shirts, marchers waved signs such as “Cuba get out of the Armed Forces,” “Get out Cuban spies” and “If we keep this up, we will be the Castrocuban Republic of Venezuela.”

Marchers were called out to the streets by the Popular Will, an opposition organization led by Leopoldo Lopez. He has been jailed since February 18.

The chanting throngs, sounding noisy horns, tried to march on the Cuban Embassy to rally.

But authorities blocked them from getting to their target, and demonstrators headed to La Carlota military airfield instead.

The bilateral alliance also includes energy, food, defense and health care.

Manuel Rangel, 24, waved a banner with a portrait of Cuban revolution icon Fidel Castro: warning “Get out Invader!”

“We completely reject Cuban involvement in our affairs, of the Castro brothers in our Armed Forces and in our institutions,” the university student said.

Some analysts say there are Cuban advisers and Cubans taking part in Venezuela’s security. Caracas does not comment on the claims.

Cash-strapped Cuba depends almost entirely on Venezuela’s largesse billed as solidarity aid to keep afloat its ailing, Soviet-style centrally managed economy.

Cuba’s top hard-currency earning export is the $6 billion Havana earns each year from sending its medical staff overseas on government contracts.

On the defensive, Maduro said: “I repudiate the entire nazi-fascist campaign that these right-wing cave-dwellers are waging against the Cuban people,” promising to bring ties even closer to Havana.

– Venezuela, Cuba’s neighborhood ATM –

Unless Cuba can pinpoint and exploit the oil reserves it believes it has, and fast, Havana must depend on its Venezuelan economic lifeline to survive.

Maria Godoy, a 50-year-old homemaker, said “Cuban military presence in Venezuela also is to blame for the (deadly) repression at demonstrations” here.

But people are mainly on the streets, Godoy said, because of the economic crisis in a country that has increasingly centralized its own economy.

“We’ve been fighting on the streets for a month. So how has the government improved anything?” she asked. “It hasn’t. Everything is worse. There is nothing on supermarket shelves.”

Workers from the subsidized foods program held a pro-government protest.

“We will defend Chavez’s legacy. It is sacred. The fascist right-wing will not plunge the country into chaos,” one told state television.

– Debate about a debate –

Meanwhile, opposition figure Henrique Capriles, who lost to Maduro in last year’s elections, said he was discussing with the government some format to hold a debate about the current crisis.

Government-controlled media do not feature such debate.

Maduro, often criticized as being rather low on charisma, then shot back on state media that Capriles “has no character, and is two-faced. If someone wants to come for talks, they should do so with respect for the president. If they don’t want to, then to hell with them, damn it.”

Capriles responded to Maduro, who has called for dialogue on the crisis, on Twitter.

“You are pitiful… You quiver at the very idea of a debate. You have painted yourself into a corner,” Capriles said.

Venezuela: As Protests Grow More Violent, Should Neighbors Weigh In? Reply

Members of the Union of South American Nations meet today to discuss the crisis in Venezuela. With at least 21 dead amid antigovernment protests, will Venezuela get further regional backing?

By Sibylla Brodzinsky, Correspondent / Christian Science Monitor

(SAN CRISTÓBAL, VENEZUELA) As violence intensifies in Venezuela amid month-long antigovernment protests, concern over instability in the oil rich nation is demanding the attention of the region. But Venezuela’s neighbors, many of which have integrated economic or security interests with this South American country, are wary of angering Caracas, which has rejected any interference in its domestic unrest.

At least 21 people have died and hundreds more have been wounded in protests against the government of President Nicolás Maduro. Protesters say they are exercising a legitimate right to voice dissent while the government claims it is part of a US-backed plan to destabilize the country.

As clashes mount, and as reports of violent tactics by protesters, government forces, and third-party, pro-government militias increase, observers are asking if it is time for the international community to unite in encouraging concrete steps toward calm in Venezuela.

The handful of countries that have spoken out in recent weeks – calling for peace and talks – were met with Venezuelan reactions that ranged from cutting off all diplomatic ties (Panama) to kicking out embassy staff (the US) to stern warnings (Colombia and Chile).

Last week, the DC-based Organization of American States (OAS) convened at the behest of Panama to discuss the problem and issued a lukewarm statement supporting the Venezuelan government. Today, the foreign ministers of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) have called an emergency meeting – encouraged by Venezuela – to address the growing conflict.

The meeting of only South American leaders, a forum initiated by former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in 2008, is expected to release a statement of support for President Maduro.
Venezuela’s decision to sever diplomatic relations with Panama last week after it called for the OAS gathering sent a clear message to neighbors, says Julia Buxton, a Venezuela expert at the Central European University.

“It was a warning shot to other countries not to meddle in what Venezuela considers internal affairs,” Ms. Buxton says.

Article continues here: Venezuela: As protests grow more violent, should neighbors weigh in?

The Roots of Venezuela’s Disorder: Russia and Cuba are Reaping What They’ve Sown in Latin America 2

By Mary Anastasia O’Grady, Wall Street Journal

On Wednesday, as Venezuelan strongman Nicólas Maduro was promising more repression to crush relentless student protests, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told reporters that Moscow plans to put military bases in Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba. A few days later a Russian spy ship arrived in Havana harbor unannounced.

The usual Cold War suspects are back. More accurately, they never left. Former KGB officer Vladimir Putin is warning President Obama that Russia can make trouble in the Americas if the U.S. insists on solidarity with the Ukrainian people. Meanwhile, Latin America’s aging Marxists are lining up behind Mr. Maduro, successor to the late Hugo Chávez.

Russia and Cuba are finally reaping the benefits of the revolution they have long sown in Latin America. Any chance of defeating them requires setting the record straight about how Venezuela got so poor.

Venezuelan politicians sold left-wing populism like snake oil for decades before Chávez came to power in 1999. They demagogued entrepreneurs and indoctrinated the masses with anti-businesses propaganda. From the earliest days of the Cuban revolution, Castro was a hero in Venezuelan universities where Cuban-Soviet propaganda flourished. By the 1960s school children were being weaned on utopian collectivism. The brainwashing intensified when Chávez opened Venezuela to Cuban proselytizers.

Through it all, the politically connected got rich, including the chavistas. But today a large part of the population believes that business is underhanded and greedy. This is why escaping the noose of totalitarianism is going to be difficult. The culture of liberty has been nearly annihilated, and even if Mr. Maduro is overthrown, that culture must be rebuilt from the ground up.

To be sure, social media makes it harder to put a smiley face on tyranny than in the 1980s. Back then a doctrine like sandinismo could be marketed by Cuba and Russia to naïve Americans as the salvation of the Nicaraguan poor even while the Sandinista army burned Miskito Indian villages and arrested banana-selling peasants as speculators in the highlands.

Today word gets around. A Feb. 18 cellphone image from the Venezuelan city of Valencia—of a young man carrying the limp body of 22-year-old Genesis Carmona after she was shot in the head by Maduro enforcers—has gone viral as an emblem of the repression.

Story continues here: The Roots of Venezuela’s Disorder: Russia and Cuba are Reaping What They’ve Sown in Latin America

If Fredo Corleone Ruled Venezuela … Or Does He? 1

By Roger F. Noriega, Miami Herald

Imagine if The Godfather character, Don Vito Corleone, died and left his hapless son, Fredo, in charge of the family business. That is essentially what happened in Venezuela when the caudillo Hugo Chávez died last year and Nicolás Maduro took power. As a result, the inevitable economic collapse and raging internal power struggle in that nation will have very grave consequences for the stability and security of the Americas.

Observers snickered last week when Maduro, on his way home from a visit to Beijing, canceled his appearance at the United Nations General Assembly in New York citing plots that he said were being hatched against him by me. As I have stated categorically in the past, Maduro’s accusation is untrue. So, why would this wannabe caudillo pass up his first chance to strut on the world stage as Hugo Chávez’s successor? Because his hold on power is threatened back home.

Maduro’s original sin is that he has no legitimacy in the eyes of Venezuelans from across the political spectrum. The traditional opposition contends that he stole the election; many even question his citizenship. But, even a former close associate of Chávez has explained that Venezuela no longer has a “chavista” government, because Maduro owes his allegiance to the Castro brothers.

It is hard to argue with the fact that everything Maduro has he owes to Havana.

Cuban intelligence scouts spotted Maduro as a pliable acolyte decades ago. Maduro was a trusted insider who watched as Cuban doctors mishandled Chávez’s cancer treatment and, according to a recent defector, euthanized him in a Cuban hospital. Havana imposed Maduro as president after Chávez’s death, ignoring the constitutional succession. Cuban technicians engineered Maduro’s electoral victory in April. And Cuban henchmen now are helping to lead a purge of regime officials (particularly those with a military background) whose loyalty is suspected.

Maduro has other problems. Venezuela’s economy is collapsing after 15 years of wanton corruption and mismanagement. Prolonged shortages of the basic staples and recurring massive power outages demonstrate the abject failure of the regime. The country’s once powerful oil sector is devastated and debt-ridden, unable to sustain the social spending needed to placate the very poor. The systematic decimation of the rule of law has made Caracas one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

Of course, Maduro is the last person on Earth to know how to manage this mess. His Cuban advisors have decades of experience on how to wreck an economy but have little to offer when it comes to saving one. Instead, according to regime insiders, they have advised Maduro to blame others for his failures and brace for impact.

Early last month, Maduro alleged that meetings were held in the White House to devise a plan to sabotage the delivery of food, electricity and fuel to bring about the “total collapse” of the Venezuelan economy in October. Maduro knows as well as anyone that an economic catastrophe is headed his way. And he has apparently convinced himself that he can survive the calamity that ensues if he can blame pin the blame on Washington. That has a certain Cuban ring to it.

Part of the plan to brace for impact, according to a senior Venezuelan defector, is an aggressive purge now underway to remove from power anyone who may object to increased repressive measures that may be needed to ride out an economic meltdown. According to this account, the radical and ruthless official Tarek El-Aissami has been charged with uprooting anyone whose loyalty is uncertain. In addition, El-Aissami is being groomed by the Cubans to replace Chávez’s son-in-law, Jorge Arreaza, as vice president of the country.

Many inattentive observers dismissed the late Chávez as a clown, because he wore funny hats, sang ranchera songs and sucked up to Iraqi, Syrian, Iranian and Chinese dictators. However, Chávez knew what he was doing, as he made himself a protagonist on the world stage and a global champion of “anti-imperialism.” He admired Fidel Castro and relied on the old dictator’s advice, but he had the guile and strength to modulate Havana’s dangerous interference. Maduro does not.

Maduro’s rivals within the regime — many of whom were brothers in arms with Chávez — may not wait for the Cubans to kick in their doors. If they act to settle “all the family business,” it is not hard to picture Maduro delivering Fredo Corleone’s desperate protest, “I can handle things! I’m smart! Not like everybody says!”

Roger F. Noriega is a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. He was assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs and ambassador to the Organization of American States in the administration of former President George W. Bush from 2001-2005. His firm, Vision Americas LLC, represents U.S., foreign clients.

Cuba Studies ‘Putinismo’ for Survival Tips 2

If Havana uses a Russian recipe for clinging to power, investors beware.

By Mary Anastasia O’Grady, Wall Street Journal, O’Grady@wsj.com

Vladimir Putin’s op-ed in the New York Times wasn’t a big hit with Americans. But the Russian president does have admirers elsewhere. Some are in the Cuban military, which is rumored to be studying “putinismo.” Would-be foreign investors, take note.

Ever since Fidel Castro’s glorious revolution triumphed in 1959, Cuba has been in need of a benefactor. The Soviet Union played that role until it collapsed in the early 1990s. Cuba got another lifeline when Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, elected in 1998, began a state policy of providing it with cheap oil.

Even so, Cubans still live lives of privation. Venezuela’s own fiscal woes are on the rise, which means that the oil subsidies are in jeopardy.

Revolutionary poverty is nothing new. But regime bigwigs in Havana fear that Raúl Castro, who is now in charge, could face serious social unrest when the ailing 87-year-old Fidel passes on. Their challenge is to find ways to feed the island without letting go of power, which might prove fatal for some of them.

The Putin model offers a way out. It permits nominal elections in which the opposition gets some seats in the parliament. On the economic front, Mr. Putin has created a loyal cadre of oligarchs who do business with foreigners.

The former KGB operative can say that Russia is no longer shaped by communist ideology. But behind the scenes, putinismo blends authoritarian political control and crony capitalism to produce a lock on power.

Writing from Russia in April 2012, development economist Deepak Lal described this mix of profits for the politically correct and repression for everybody else. His essay, in the Indian daily Business Standard, explained that “ordinary profit making has been criminalized.” Citing the work of Russian lawyer Vladimir Radchenko, Mr. Lal wrote that “there are three million small and medium-scale business entrepreneurs in jail for economic crimes.”

Mr. Putin is reportedly planning on forming his own personal national guard, Mr. Lal wrote. The Federal Security Service is more interested in running businesses than putting down dissidents and the hoodlums hired to do the job are unreliable. Mr. Lal also briefly described the state’s renewed alliance with the Orthodox Church.

I was reminded of the parallels between Mr. Putin’s Russia and Castro’s promises of reform when former Cuban political prisoner Jorge Luis García Pérez Antúnez visited the Journal’s New York offices this month. The 48-year-old Cuban, who spent 17 years in Castro’s jails, calls claims of political and economic reform there “fraud.”

Mr. Antúnez describes opposition to the regime as widespread and growing. It is not more visible, he says, because the “culture of fear” remains intense. Independent reports from the island say that detentions and violent assaults on opposition groups have been increasing.

As in Russia, Cuba can no longer rely on the armed forces to control government critics. They are busy running lucrative businesses in tourism, retail, cigar manufacturing and air travel. The Castros also seem to have a Putin-style relationship with the Church. Pope Benedict met with the Castros during his 2012 visit to the island while dissidents were carted off to jail for asking to see the pontiff.

Mr. Antúnez says that allowing Cubans to run microenterprises isn’t reducing poverty. Perhaps that’s because when entrepreneurs have succeeded during prior so-called liberalization periods, the regime has accused them of the crime of illicit enrichment.

Foreign investors sometimes don’t seem to fare much better. In an Aug. 13 letter to the Economist magazine, British businessman Stephen Purvis, a former business partner of the regime, described the circumstances surrounding his incarceration in a Cuban jail for 15 months between 2011 and 2012.

Mr. Purvis says he was “accused of many things, starting with revelations of state secrets” but was eventually sentenced for “breaches of financial regulations,” even though Cuba’s central bank had “specifically approved the transactions in question for 12 years.”

He was in prison with “a handful” of other foreign businessmen and says “there are many more in the system than is widely known.” A few are charged with corruption, he wrote, but many face charges of “sabotage, damage to the economy, tax avoidance and illegal economic activity.”

What he didn’t see in prison were his island business peers from Brazil, Venezuela and China. Mr. Purvis asks: “Why is the representative of Ericsson in jail for exactly the same activities as [its] Chinese competitor who is not?” Foreigners doing business in Russia have described a similarly risky playing field.

In May, Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas, who claims to have contact with a number of Cuban military officers from his high school days, told the Miami Herald that they are studying “putinismo” in order to prepare for a transition. “They don’t want to suffer the same fate as the followers of [Libya’s] Kaddafi,” he said.

The Putin model may be the way to avoid that fate. But it’s a far cry from a plan to liberate the nation.