Cuba Replaces Spy-Diplomat Who Directed US Relations Within Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs 2

DI Officer Josefina Vidal

Cuba Replaces Official Who Led Talks to Resume Ties with U.S.

HAVANA, Feb. 12 (Xinhua) — The Cuban government has replaced Josefina Vidal, head of U.S. relations at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who chaired the island’s delegation during the talks to restore formal ties with the U.S.

A government statement published on Monday announced that Vidal‘s position will be taken by the “experienced diplomat” Carlos Fernandez de Cossio.

“Fernandez de Cossio is one of the most complete Cuban diplomats,” said Johana Tablada, the deputy head of U.S. relations, on Twitter.

A former ambassador to Canada and South Africa, Fernandez de Cossio already held this position at the U.S. office during the 1990s, at a time of great tension between Washington and Havana.

According to the statement, Vidal handed over her duties to Fernandez de Cossio on Feb. 9 after a formal ceremony.

“In her almost 12 years at the Directorate-General of the U.S. Office, Josefina Vidal carried out her complex job with efficiency, talent and sensibility,” read the statement.

Josefina Vidal was considered the Cuban face of the long process of negotiations that concluded in the restoration of U.S.-Cuba diplomatic relations in August 2015.

After 54 years of political enmity, respective embassies in Havana and Washington were re-opened, and former president Barack Obama visited the Caribbean nation in March 2016.

However, relations have soured once again since President Donald Trump promised to roll back formal ties “in search of a better deal with Havana.”

Thus, Fernandez de Cossio returns to his previous office in similar conditions to those he had to deal with two decades ago.

The statement did not clarify what functions Vidal will be taking on.

Editor’s Note: Career Directorate of Intelligence (DI) officer Josefina Vidal, expelled from the US in 2003, is one of Havana’s premier experts in US affairs. Numerous accounts of her DI service can be found in the Cuba Confidential archives.

DI officer Johanna Tablada concluded her tour as Cuba’s ambassador to Portugal in late 2017. She is suspected of being assigned to Department M-I, the elite element focused on targeting the US intelligence community, universities, and Congress.

EXCLUSIVE: Senior Cuban Spies Leading “Normalization” Talks With US 12

Josefina Vidal

Josefina Vidal

Gustavo Machin

Gustavo Machin

Josefina Vidal Expected Choice as Cuban Ambassador to US

By Chris Simmons

Two career Cuban spies, Josefina Vidal Ferreiro and Gustavo Machin Gomez, will lead this week’s migration and normalization discussions with the United States. The pair are members of Cuba’s primary foreign intelligence service – the Directorate of Intelligence (DI), and serve as Director and Deputy Director, respectively, of the North American Division in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX).  This is Machin’s second time in the Division, having served as Deputy Chief in 2003 and Division Chief from 2004-2005.

As Havana’s lead “diplomats” on U.S.-Cuban relations, they handled the Alan Gross negations, the return of three of Havana’s jailed spies, and the artificial insemination of DI officer Adriana Perez O’Connor (wife of freed spy Gerardo Hernandez). Perez herself was a member of the Wasp Network – the largest Cuban spy ring ever known to operate in the US. Incidentally, when details are eventually released regarding the Obama administration’s secret talks to restore US-Cuba relations, Vidal and Machin will undoubtedly be at the center of events.

From the DI’s perspective, MINREX’s North America Division is now seen as a de facto wing of the spy service. This assignment is so important that three former members were appointed to ambassadorships. Now we are witnessing the unprecedented return of Ambassador Gustavo Machin to serve as Josefina Vidal’s deputy. Given this pattern of events, I think it’s fairly safe to say Vidal is Raul Castro’s choice to be the first Cuban Ambassador to the United States.

Espionage Backgrounds

Little is publicly known about Vidal’s espionage career.  In May 2003, the US expelled 14 Cuban diplomats for espionage. Seven diplomats were based at the Cuban Mission to the United Nations and seven at the Interests Section. Among the seven Washington-based spies declared Persona Non Grata was First Secretary Jose Anselmo Lopez PereraHis wife, First Secretary Josefina Vidal, also known to the US as a Cuban Intelligence Officer, voluntarily accompanied her expelled spouse back to Cuba.

Previously, Vidal’s lone known success was her support to the influential Council on Foreign Relations (CFR); in particular, Julia E. Sweig, a CFR Senior Fellow and Deputy Director of the Latin America Program. In her book, Inside the Cuban Revolution: Fidel Castro and the Urban Underground, Sweig profusely thanked six Cuban spies for assisting her with her research. The six intelligence officers were Jose Antonio Arbesu, Ramon Sanchez Parodi, Fernando Garcia Bielsa, Hugo Yedra, Jose Gomez Abad and Josefina Vidal.

The son of a revolutionary hero, Gustavo Machin Gomez, was expelled in November 2002 in retaliation for the Ana Belen Montes case. In 2003, he was Deputy Director of MINREX’s North America Division and Chief the following year. In 2006, he was appointed Cuba’s first ambassador to Pakistan, where he is believed to have targeted US counterterrorism operations in the region. He then returned home to head the International Press Center before his current assignment.

DI officer Johanna Tablada preceded Machin in his second tour as Deputy Division Chief before her appointment as ambassador to Portugal.  She was suspected of being assigned to Department M-I, the elite element focused on targeting the US intelligence community, universities, and Congress.

Eduardo Martinez Borbonet previously assisted Vidal as a Counselor in the North America Division.  In November 2011, two weeks after a landslide victory propelled longtime Havana-ally Daniel Ortega into a controversial third term, he became Havana’s ambassador to Nicaragua.

In late December 1998, First Secretary Martinez Borbonet was expelled for his involvement in the South Florida based Wasp Network.  The diplomat-spy served at the Cuban Mission to the United Nations (CMUN), the traditional hub for Havana’s US-based espionage operations. He had arrived approximately eight years earlier as a lowly Third Secretary.




American Jailed in Cuba to Get Checkup by U.S. Doctor 2

By Patrick Oppmann, CNN

Havana, Cuba (CNN) — A U.S. State Department contractor jailed in Cuba will be allowed to receive a medical exam from a U.S. doctor, a Cuban government official told CNN Wednesday.

The family of Alan Gross, 64, for months had asked that they be permitted to send a doctor to examine the Maryland native who is serving a 15-year sentence for bringing to Cuba banned communications equipment as part of a U.S. government-funded program to promote democracy on the island.

Gross’ family said that he has lost more than 100 pounds since his incarceration in 2009 and that a mass on his shoulder may be cancerous.

The Cuban government countered that Gross receives medical care from Cuban doctors at the prison hospital where he is being held and that he is in good condition for a man his age.

Jared Gensler, an attorney for Gross, declined to comment on the Cuban government’s allowing Gross to receive a visit from a U.S. physician or when the visit would take place.

The change in course comes as Cuba has intensified its campaign to secure the release of Cuban intelligence agents serving lengthy prison sentences in the United States.

Cuban officials argue that the men infiltrated hardline Cuban-exile groups to prevent terrorist attacks on the island.

But U.S. prosecutors called the men spies, and they were convicted in 2001.

Four of the agents remain in U.S. federal prison. The fifth man, Rene Gonzalez, returned to Cuba last month after serving 14 years in prison and on supervised release.

Gonzalez, who was born in Chicago, renounced his U.S. citizenship last month as part of a deal that allowed him to return to the island and not serve a final year of supervised release in the U.S.

Cuba will continue to push for the four other agents’ release, Gonzalez said in a news conference in Havana Wednesday.

“We have hope that if the American people know about the case, the facts, they will put pressure on the White House for a solution,” Gonzalez said.

Last year, Cuban officials said they wanted to negotiate the jailed agents’ case along with Gross’.

“The ball’s in their court,” said Johana Tablada, subdirector of the department that oversees U.S. affairs at Cuba’s Foreign Ministry. “We are waiting on the U.S. government’s response.”

But U.S. officials have rejected calls for a prisoner swap, instead arguing that Gross did not spy during his visits to Cuba and should be released immediately.

“Hopefully, a solution can be found that is mutually beneficial,” said Kenia Serrano, president of the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples, a Cuban organization working to secure the agents’ freedom. “All the families involved have suffered greatly.”

Editor’s Note: Several Cuban spies, including Josefina Vidal Ferreiro and Johana Tablada de la Torre serve in the North America Division in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX). Their assignments, respectively, are Division Director and Division Deputy Director. Both woman have been involved in the handling of Alan Gross since 2009. (See Cuba Confidential post, Banished Spies Led Cuba-US Talks on Alan Gross, May 9, 2012,

Josefina Vidal remains Havana’s lead official regarding U.S.-Cuban relations and is highly visible on this issue. Comparatively little is publicly known about Vidal. In May 2003, the US expelled 14 Cuban diplomats for espionage. Seven diplomats were based at the Cuban Mission to the United Nations and seven at the Interests Section. Among the seven Washington-based spies declared Persona Non Grata was First Secretary Jose Anselmo Lopez Perera. His wife, First Secretary Josefina de la C. Vidal, also known to the US as a Cuban Intelligence Officer, voluntarily accompanied her expelled spouse back to Cuba. Her affiliation among Havana’s five intelligence services remains unclear.

In contrast, reporting on Johanna Tablada is so extensive it is attached here as a separate file: Activities of Cuban Spy Johanna Tablada.

DGI officer Jesus Raul Perez Mendez was director of the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP) before his July 1983 defection. According to the New York Times, ICAP “arranges and supervises visits by Americans to Cuba and maintains contacts with native-born Cubans in other countries.” The Times also cited a State Department spokesman who claimed ICAP was suspected of having an intelligence collection mission in support of the DGI.

The Directorate General of Intelligence (DGI) was the foreign intelligence wing of the Ministry of the Interior. Following a 1989 reorganization, this service became known as the Directorate of Intelligence (DI).

More recently, a former DI officer reportedly that ICAP is not a DI entity per se, but that it was overwhelmingly influenced by the intelligence service. The highly-reliable émigré claimed ICAP was penetrated by a small cadre of bona fide DI officers, aided by a large staff of agents (i.e., collaborators). As a result, roughly 90% of ICAP was thought to be DI-affiliated.

Memos from the Mountains – A Foreign Policy Perspective 1

The Cuban Connection, by Don Liebich

During my recent trip to Cuba I had the opportunity to meet with Johana Tablada, the Deputy Director of the North American Department of the Cuban Foreign Ministry. Ms. Tablada had served in the Cuban Interest Section in Washington, D.C. for a number of years and with her youth, engaging personality and fluent, slangy American English; she was a popular figure on the lecture circuit around the U.S. and an effective public relations spokesperson for Cuba. The right wing Cuban émigré community testified to her effectiveness by accusing her of being a Cuban spy. (Emphasis added). (See here)

Ms. Tablada explained that she had had two largely sleepless days as she had tried to unravel the messy case of Joshua and Sharyn Hakken, who had kidnapped their two children from their maternal grandparents in Florida, who had legal custody, and fled on a small sailboat. After encountering bad weather in the Florida Strait, the boat ended up docked at Marina Hemingway outside of Havana. Needless to say, the arrival in Cuba of a boat from the U.S. attracted the attention of Cuban Security who immediately put the couple under surveillance.

In cases like this, the default position for the Cuban government is to respect the rights of the parents. However, as Ms. Tablada explained, for Cubans, the welfare of the children trumps everything. She explained that she understood that American family law is complicated and it took some time to receive the appropriate documents from U.S. authorities in order insure that the grandparents had legal custody. Once this hurdle was crossed arrangements were made to return the family to authorities in Florida. There was, however, one glitch. The children wouldn’t leave without their dog. Ms. Tablada said “I have spent the last six hours looking for the dog. The good news is that we found the dog and everybody parents, kids and dog are on their way back to Miami.”

While the U.S and Cuba have no formal relations, there is a lot of cooperation on issues such as immigration, counter-terrorism, drug interdiction and search and rescue. Hopefully, this episode can be a small step toward normalizing U.S. relations with our neighbor to the south. The odds are slim, however, as demonstrated by Florida Cuban-American Congresswoman, Ileana Ross-Lehtinen who issued her usual helpful statement: “Unfortunately, these parents and these poor children, these innocent ones, will now be in a country where there are no laws, there is no redress, and that has been a refuge for fugitives and wanted criminals for many years,”

Editor’s Note: My sincere thanks to Don Liebich, the author of this sorely misguided blog posting, for accusing me of being part of the “right wing Cuban émigré community.” I’ll take that as a compliment.

Today in History: Cuban Intelligence Targeted Minnesota Business Leaders & Students 2

November 24-26, 1997:  Johanna Tablada and Felix Wilson, spy-diplomats assigned to the Cuban Interests Section, met with business executives and college students in Minnesota.  During their first night, the Cubans attended a dinner meeting with executives from 11 Minnesota companies, including several of the state’s biggest corporations. Hosted by Minneapolis lawyer Larry Koslow, the business dinner reviewed the economic situation in Cuba and nurtured non-binding business deals to commence after the embargo ends. During the following two days, Tablada spoke with students at the University of Minnesota.

Today in History: Senior Spy Targeted Church & Two Washington Universities 1

November 13, 1996:  Johanna Tablada spoke at both the University of Washington and Seattle University. Predictably, she also lectured in at least one Seattle-area church. Tablada provided Cuba’s perspective of the impact of US sanctions and the gains of the Revolution. She continued the myth of the Revolution’s major increase in literacy and universal health care and carried on Havana’s false claim of a sharp decline in infant mortality. Her appearances were part of a three-day visit sponsored by the Seattle Cuba Friendship Committee.

Related Posts:

“Today in History:  Senior Spy Targeted Academic Conference,” October 12, 2012,

“This Date in History:  Spy Outreaches in Chicago and Nicaragua,” July 27, 2012,

“Banished Spies Led Cuba-US Talks on Alan Gross, May 9, 2012,

Today in History: Senior Spy Targeted Academic Conference Reply

October 12, 2001:  Johanna Tablada met with educators from the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers (NAFSA) during their weeklong academic conference on Cuban history in Havana. Tablada briefed them while serving undercover as a member of the North America Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX).

Related Posts: 

“Spy Outreaches in Chicago and Nicaragua,” July 27, 2012,

“Banished Spies Led Cuba-US Talks on Alan Gross, May 9, 2012,

This Date in History: Spy Outreaches in Chicago and Nicaragua 2

27 July 1996:  Intelligence officer and Interests Section Third Secretary Johanna Tablada spoke at a bookstore in Chicago.  The next day she spoke at a Chicago picnic honoring the Cuban Revolution hosted by the Venceramos Brigade.

July 27, 1979:  Manuel “Redbeard” Pineiro attending the meeting restoring relations between Cuba & the Sandinista-led Nicaragua.  The presence of this legendary spymaster demonstrated the significance afforded the relationship.   Pineiro remained in Nicaragua during the first several months of the Sandinista regime.  According to the New York Times, Sandinista officials privately characterized Pineiro’s role in the Sandinista victory as “indispensable.”