He Now Hunts Cuban Human-Rights Abusers In The U.S. Was He Once An Offender Himself? 3

Juan Antonio Blanco, director ejecutivo de la Fundación por los Derechos Humanos en Cuba. (Courtesy: Miami Herald)

By Nora Gámez Torres, ngameztorres@elnuevoherald.com 

Juan Antonio Blanco — the academic, activist, and executive director of the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba — recently announced an initiative to unmask and deport Cuban human-rights abusers now living in the United States. He declared that the drive was not “a witch hunt” against people just because of their political beliefs or affiliations with political organizations on the island.

What Blanco didn’t say: He once belonged to the Rapid Response Brigades, which were created by Fidel Castro in the 1990s to repress dissidents and contain popular unrest.

“I myself am a member of the Rapid Response Brigades in my building,” Blanco said during a conference in the United States in 1993, after he had broken with the Cuban government.

The brigades were organized along paramilitary lines and have been frequently deployed by the government to repress the dissident Ladies in White and other opposition groups. In 1994, Brigade members, along with police and military members dressed in civilian clothes and armed with clubs and steel rods, cracked down on a large Havana protest known as El Maleconazo, which gave way to the mass departures of the Balsero Crisis.

“It’s true that there have been cases where such encounters have gotten out of hand. I joined the brigade precisely because I think it is important to make sure that there will be no excesses or abuses,” Blanco added in 1993, according to the book “Talking About Revolution,” which was written by activist Medea Benjamin and based on conferences that Blanco held in several U.S. universities at the time.

Twenty-five years later, Blanco still finds it difficult to explain his statements.

“I did not belong to a Rapid Response Brigades unit,” he initially told el Nuevo Herald during a telephone interview. “The most that I recall participating in was one time when there was a protest against a neighbor in my building, and what I did was precisely to block any abuses against that person. What I did was to break up the activity.”

“I say there [at a 1993 conference] that I am a member because I belonged, not because I signed anything or was involved in anything,” Blanco said. “Sadly, the way that I was talking about that at that time, well, you evidently seize on that now and you take it out of context, and that doesn’t help.”

Feature continues here:  Devoted Spy to Human Rights Champion?

 

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Director of National Intelligence Tells Congress: Russia, China, Iran & Cuba Pose Greatest Espionage Threat to US 2

General James R. Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI)

General James R. Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI)

In testimony yesterday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, General James R. Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, said (in part):

Moving to counterintelligence, the threat from foreign intelligence entities, both state and nonstate, is persistent, complex, and evolving. Targeting and collection of US political, military, economic, and technical information by foreign intelligence services continues unabated. Russia and China pose the greatest threat, followed by Iran and Cuba on a lesser scale. As well, the threat from insiders taking advantage of their access to collect and remove sensitive national security information will remain a persistent challenge for us.”

Complete testimony here:  DNI Testimony

Critics Fear Cuban Consulate in Tampa Would Become a ‘Spy Hotbed’ 5

Though diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba are warming, some in Tampa say establishing a Cuban consulate here would be a big mistake. ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE PHOTO

Though diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba are warming, some in Tampa say establishing a Cuban consulate here would be a big mistake. ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE PHOTO

By Howard Altman | Tampa Tribune Staff

TAMPA — As civic leaders from both sides of Tampa Bay jockey to host a Cuban consulate, a small group of naysayers sees a darker side to the prospect — one rooted in continuing Cold War tensions and the island nation’s reputation for superior espionage operations.

A consulate “will be Cuba’s headquarters for intelligence operations in Tampa and Florida,” says Evelio Otero, a retired Air Force colonel who served at both U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command. “It will be a spy hotbed.”

The focus for Cuban spies would be Centcom and Socom, says Jim Waurishuk, a retired Air Force colonel who served as deputy director of intelligence for Centcom.

Otero and Waurishuk belong to a small group called “No to Cuban Consulate in Tampa,” which, as its name indicates, is opposed to having an outpost of the Castro government in the Tampa area.

Otero, born in Puerto Rico to a Cuban father, was head of Centcom’s coalition intelligence center and chief of intelligence operations forward in Qatar. His father was the first voice in Telemundo and a founder of Radio Martí, broadcasting U.S.-funded information to Cuba.

Waurishuk dealt with Cuba during his military career, including a stint as the senior intelligence officer on the White House National Security Council staff focusing on the island nation. This marks his first foray into the contentious world of Cuban-American politics.

They say their “no consulate” group consists of about a dozen people pushing officials in Tampa and St. Petersburg to reject calls to host the first Cuban consulate in the U.S. since the nation embraced Communism more than five decades ago.

Their effort includes lobbying Hillsborough County commissioners to vote against a resolution supporting a Cuban consulate in Tampa, perhaps Ybor City — a launching point for Cuban revolutions that ousted the Spanish and later brought Fidel Castro to power.

The Hillsborough County resolution has yet to come up for a vote.

But the city councils in both Tampa and St. Petersburg already have adopted resolutions inviting a Cuban consulate to their communities.

Feature continues here: Cuban Spying

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did Cuba Target Senator Menendez? 3

U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J. (Record - file photo) U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J.

U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J. (Record – file photo)

Fed Agent Lied About Menendez Meeting, Lawyers Say

By ABBOTT KOLOFF, staff writer | The Record

EXTRACT: Menendez’s attorneys said in court papers filed Tuesday that they anticipate disclosing “classified information” at trial about a “foreign service” that planted allegations against the senator “to discredit him for his foreign policy and national security views.” Last year, The Washington Post reported that the Central Intelligence Agency provided the Justice Department with information that the tip could have been connected to the Cuban government. Menendez, the son of Cuban immigrants, has been a vocal critic of President Obama’s decision to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba.

A federal agent gave false testimony to a grand jury to make it appear that meetings about a drug reimbursement policy were focused only on helping a wealthy Florida eye doctor win a multimillion-dollar Medicare billing dispute, attorneys for Sen. Bob Menendez said in court papers filed late Thursday.

The filing was made to bolster a request to have corruption charges dropped against the New Jersey Democrat and the doctor, Salomon Melgen, and came in response to prosecutors’ saying in papers filed more than a week ago that the senator is trying to rewrite history about his advocacy for Melgen, a longtime friend.

The attorneys alleged that prosecutors gave grand jurors bad instructions about what constitutes corruption, failed to screen them for bias, leaked information that compromised the defense, and were “preoccupied with sex” by focusing on issues related to Melgen’s girlfriends and an investigation of underage prostitutes that turned out to be groundless.

Prosecutors have said they may call Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Kathleen Sebelius, the former secretary of the Health and Human Services Department, to testify about a meeting they had with Menendez.

According to Menendez’s attorneys, Sebelius has said Reid and Menendez spoke to her during the meeting about how a drug reimbursement policy “was unfair to health providers.” According to court documents, a health official told the FBI that the senators were “not there to talk about a particular case; they were there to talk about policy.”

Article continues here: Did Cuba Target Menendez?

 

Memorias inquietas: De cuando Fidel Castro mandó a vigilar a su amigo George McGovern 1

Fidel Castro maneja el jeep donde viaja el senador George McGovern durante una visita a Cuba en mayo de 1975.(Courtesy: cafefuerte)

Fidel Castro maneja el jeep donde viaja el senador George McGovern durante una visita a Cuba en mayo de 1975.(Courtesy: cafefuerte)

Por Juan Reynaldo Sánchez*

Tal vez el ex candidato presidencial demócrata George McGovern nunca lo supo, pero su visita de amistad en 1975, la primera de las ocho que realizaría a la isla, fue especialmente trabajada por la inteligencia cubana para penetrar su círculo íntimo.

McGovern había perdido la carrera por la Casa Blanca ante Richard Nixon en 1972, apostando en su agenda de política internacional por una normalización en las relaciones con el gobierno de Fidel Castro. En 1974, su rival tuvo que renunciar a la presidencia tras el escándalo de Watergate, que involucró a varios exiliados cubanos. Y un año después, McGovern decidió visitar Cuba en plan de acercamiento y fraternidad, en mayo de 1975.

Por esos días me encontraba preparándome para ingresar en la escolta personal de Fidel Castro y estaba cursando la Escuela de Especialistas en Seguridad Personal. A cuatro alumnos de la institución nos dieron la misión  de servir de escoltas a McGovern y otros colegas suyos del Senado de Estados Unidos que visitaban cuba con mucha discreción; nada de noticias en los medios oficiales cubanos.

Fue así que trabajando con esta delegación norteamericana presencié el intento de penetración de la inteligencia cubana a los amigables visitante.

En el Hotel Tropicoco

McGovern y sus invitados habían solicitado al gobierno cubano hospedarse en un hotel alejado del centro de la ciudad de La Habana. Se escogió y se propuso el hotel Tropicoco en la playa Santa María del Mar, al este de la ciudad. Además, como medio de transporte se utilizó un ómnibus de turísmo con el objetivo de que durante los recorridos que los invitados realizarían por la isla estuvieran todos localizados en el mismo vehículo, pudiendo conversar unos con otros y brindarles a las comodidades a bordo de bar, servicios sanitarios y camareros.

Sin embargo, el objetivo fundamental de la inteligencia cubana, encabezada por el Coronel Ramírez y  el oficial Carlos (seudónimos utilizados) del Departamento América del Norte, ubicado en el edificio de Línea y A, en el Vedado, era que ambos, con fachada de funcionarios del Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores (MINREX), también pudieran intercambiar, oír y obtener información sobre los integrantes de esta delegación.

Nosotros, los oficiales de la seguridad personal, viajábamos en otro automóvil, un Ford negro y también con matrícula del MINREX, vestidos en ropa de civil.

Las habitaciones del segundo piso del Hotel Tropicoco, donde alojó la comitiva estadounidense, estaban totalmente cubiertas con micrófonos y equipos de grabación. Para ello se instaló un puesto de mando del KT (chequeo telefónico) en la oficina de la administración del hotel, a la cual solamente tenían acceso los oficiales de la inteligencia y los de la seguridad personal; ningún otro personal, ya fuera el administrador ni otro empleado tenía acceso a este local. De manera que todo lo que los senadores, así como sus secretarios y ayudantes conversaran en privado sería grabado.

La belleza inclina

Pero la actividad de inteligencia iba mucho más allá. Entre los cubanos que fueron designados para atender a la delegación visitante había una traductora cubana de cualidades muy especiales. Se trataba de una muchacha preciosa, con un cuerpo escultural y todos los atributos para cautivar las miradas masculinas, y el Coronel Ramírez no perdió tiempo para trazar una estrategia. Ideó proponer a sus superiores un trabajo de acercamiento de la bella traductora  a los senadores, y  si algunos de ellos mostraba interés en ella, pues entonces se desplegaría algo más que un trabajo de acercamiento y se implementaría una actividad  de  penetración si fuera posible.

Feature continues here: cafefuerte

 

Miami Herald OP/ED: Alan Gross Should Not Be Swapped For Cuban Spies 1

Alan Gross began his fifth year as a prisoner of Cuba’s unjust “justice” system last week, a symbol of the continuing estrangement between that island nation and the United States, and, more important, the fundamentally unchanged nature of the governing regime.

Gross, for anyone who needs reminding, is a 64-year-old husband and father who was surprisingly detained in December of 2009 by Cuban authorities. He was summarily tried and sentenced to 15 years in prison for the “crime” of delivering a portable computer and a cellphone to Cuba’s small and isolated Jewish community, an action not normally considered a crime except by a handful of repressive regimes around the world, including, of course, Cuba.

Since his arrest, Gross has lost more than 100 pounds. He suffers from degenerative arthritis and his health continues to deteriorate. Even worse is the emotional toll that four years of incarceration and separation have taken on him and his family. For these reasons, and because his severe punishment is in no way commensurate with his alleged transgression, he should be released immediately and unconditionally.

On the anniversary of his arrest, Gross’ wife, Judy, made a dramatic plea for President Obama to “do whatever it takes to bring Alan home.” The Obama administration, for its part, has said, without releasing details, that it is holding behind-the-scenes talks with the Cubans on the topic, even though officials have repeatedly called for his release without the need for negotiations.

Unfortunately, the Cuban government has other plans. Where the rest of the world sees a victim of an arbitrary and unfair government, Cuba’s leaders see a human pawn that can be used to advance their own selfish political objectives.

The regime said last week that it was ready to hold talks over Gross’ freedom, but that any such dialogue must include the situation of the four imprisoned spies who have been held in this country since 1998. In fact, the Cuban government has repeatedly declared that it would be prepared to exchange Gross for the four so-called “anti-terrorist fighters” in U.S. jails.

The Obama administration would be wrong to give in to this blackmail because the two cases are totally distinct. Alan Gross is a hostage; the Cubans committed espionage. The four Cuban spies (a fifth was released after completing his sentence and now lives in Cuba) were sentenced for spying not on Cuban exile organizations, but on U.S. military installations and for their part in the downing of airplanes belonging to Brothers to the Rescue in 1996.

Gross, in contrast, was arrested when he was sent as a private contractor by USAID with equipment that could be used by Cuba’s tiny Jewish community to connect to the Internet. The Cubans were involved in espionage activities that had fatal consequences. Alan Gross was part of an effort to increase the freedom of communication _ which may be a crime in Cuba, but not in the rest of the civilized world. The two cases could not be more different.

Gross’ wife has pleaded that he should not be left to die in prison. Releasing him would be the humanitarian thing to do, especially considering he committed no crime. It’s up to the Cuban government to demonstrate that it’s capable, just this once, of doing the right thing.

Grounded TV Marti Plane A Monument to the Limits of American Austerity 3

By David A. Fahrenthold, Washington Post

CARTERSVILLE, Ga. — At an airfield in rural Georgia, the U.S. government pays a contractor $6,600 a month for a plane that doesn’t fly.

The plane is a 1960s turboprop with an odd array of antennas on its back end and the name of a Cuban national hero painted on its tail. It can fly, but it doesn’t. Government orders.

“The contract now is a ‘non-fly’ ” contract, said Steve Christopher of Phoenix Air Group, standing next to the plane. “That’s what the customer wants.”

The airplane is called “Aero Martí,” and it is stuck in a kind of federal limbo. After two years of haphazard spending cuts in Washington, it has too little funding to function but too much to die.

The plane was outfitted to fly over the ocean and broadcast an American-run TV station into Cuba. The effort was part of the long-running U.S. campaign to combat communism in Cuba by providing information to the Cuban people uncensored by their government. But Cuban officials jammed the signal almost immediately, and surveys showed that less than 1 percent of Cubans watched. Still, when Congress started making budget cuts, lawmakers refused to kill the plane.

But then they allowed across-the-board “sequestration” cuts. And there was no more money for the fuel and pilots. So the plane sits in storage at taxpayer expense — a monument to the limits of American austerity. In this case, a push to eliminate long-troubled programs collided with old Washington forces: government inertia, intense lobbying and congressional pride.
The result was a stalemate. And a plane left with just enough money to do nothing.

“It’s hard to state how ridiculous it is” that the plane is still costing taxpayers money, said Philip Peters, an official in two Republican administrations and now the president of the Alexandria-based Cuba Research Center. Peters said the plane’s broadcasts had “no audience. They’ve been effectively jammed, ever since their inception. And rather than spend the money on something that benefits the public . . . it’s turned into a test of manhood on Capitol Hill.”

This plane is a last remnant of a long, weird experiment in television broadcasting across the Straits of Florida. The plan was to broadcast uncensored news and commentary on a station named for Cuban patriot José Martí. The hope was that something boundless — American disdain for the communist regime of Fidel and Raúl Castro — could overcome something fixed. Which was the laws of physics. Much of Cuba was simply too far over the horizon to get a strong-enough TV signal from aircraft flying in U.S. airspace.

Still, the effort moved ahead. “I am convinced that TV Martí will succeed,” then-Sen. Ernest “Fritz” Hollings (D-S.C.), a major supporter, said in 1989. “Castro likes to tout his revolutionary credentials,” Hollings said. “But he cannot begin to match the revolutionary potential of television.” As it turned out, he could. The first broadcast of TV Martí was March 27, 1990. It came in clear in Havana for about 20 minutes. Then the American signal — weakened by distance — was jammed by Cuban broadcasts on the same channel.

Editor’s Note: In 1988, longtime television director-writer-editor Jose Rafael Fernandez Brenes jumped ship from a Cuban merchant vessel in Canada. To all appearances, Fernandez was at sea to develop a television program about Cuba’s merchant marine. While his media background was legitimate, Fernandez was also a DGI agent sent to undermine the US government’s establishment of TV Marti. After his faked defection, Fernandez met with his Case Officer in New York City. Afterwards, living under the guise of a refugee, he interviewed with Radio Marti. At the time, Radio Marti was one of Havana’s most pressing foreign policy concerns.

Within months, he held a government job. From 1988 through 1991, Fernandez helped establish and operate TV Marti, the federal entity that broadcasts news and information to Cuba. In March 1990, TV Marti began broadcasting and was surprised to find its signal immediately jammed by Havana. Fernandez had secretly provided Havana with the technical data and frequencies needed to effectively block TV Marti’s signal. The US learned Fernandez’s true identity when he returned to Cuba in 1991 told his story to a Cuban newspaper.

To capitalize upon its espionage success, Cuba’s Communications Ministry invited domestic and foreign journalists to attend a ceremony marking Havana’s jamming of TV Marti. Leftist US journalist Ron Ridenour attended the event and was actually selected to give the order to jam TV Marti. Within minutes of going on the air, Havana had neutralized TV Marti.

Mirta Rodriguez Praises Pastors for Peace Solidarity 2

(Escambray – Cuban News Agency) A meeting between relatives of the Cuban Five and members of the Pastors for Peace Friendship Caravan, reaffirmed the solidarity between the two peoples, in favor of the release the antiterrorist fighters. Present at the meeting, held at the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP), were Mirta Rodriguez, mother of Antonio Guerrero, and Elizabeth Palmeiro, wife of Ramon Labañino, as well as Gail Walker, daughter of late U.S. Reverend Lucius Walker and current co-director of the movement.

During the meeting, in which a group of young Belgians of the organization Christians for Socialism participated, Rodriguez expressed her gratitude for the solidarity and courage of those who have supported the cause of the five antiterrorist heroes since the beginning. Likewise, she stressed the importance of continue spreading the issue, particularly now, when it has been demonstrated that the U.S. government paid journalists so they lied in everything related to this judicial case.

Along with Antonio and Ramon, Gerardo Hernandez and Fernando Gonzalez continue to be in U.S. prisons, while Rene Gonzalez could return to his family in Cuba after 13 years and one month in prison, a year and a half of supervised release, and the relinquishment of his U.S. citizenship. Also during the meeting, Gail Walker reiterated the commitment of the Caravan members of maintaining a continuous struggle with respect to the cause of The Five, and expressed the pride that participating in such honorable battle represents for them.

Tamara Hansen, coordinator of Communities of Vancouver in Solidarity with Cuba, commented about the importance of consistency in the struggle for the return of these fighters to their homeland and spoke about the activities carried out in Canada in favor of their cause.

Editor’s Note: According to several former members of the Directorate of Intelligence, Cuba’s foreign intelligence service, Pastors for Peace has been a key religious target for decades.