Cuba OKs US air marshals on commercial flights Reply

air-marshallby Tribune News Service

MIAMI—Cuba will allow US air marshals on regularly scheduled commercial flights between the two countries, island authorities announced on Friday.

Josefina Vidal, director of the Cuban Foreign Ministry’s department for the United States, posted on her Twitter account that an “arrangement on the deployment of air marshals onboard airlines was amended to make it applicable to scheduled flights.”

The US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) confirmed the agreement in a statement on Friday.

“With regard to Federal Air Marshal Service [FAMS] coverage on flights to/from Cuba, TSA has an arrangement in place for charter and scheduled commercial flights,” the statement said. “As a general matter, to protect the operations and efficacy of our Federal Air Marshal program, TSA does not provide specific information about when or which flights are covered by our air marshals, as that could potentially compromise security.”

The twin announcements eliminate a confrontation between the Obama administration and members of Congress over the security of flights to and from Cuba.

The TSA admitted in mid-September that no federal air marshals were aboard the regularly scheduled commercial flights to Cuba that started in late August.

Sen. Marco Rubio, Republican-Florida, and other Congress members quickly accused the Obama administration of lying because TSA officials had declared earlier that a bilateral agreement for the air marshals would be in place by the time the flights started.

As the controversy continued, the House Committee on Homeland Security approved a measure to suspend the regular flights until the TSA certified that Cuban airports met all security requirements. The measure was submitted by Rep. John Katko, Republican-New York, chairman of the subcommittee on transportation security.

Cuba’s Foreign Ministry also announced that representatives of the two countries had met in Washington on Wednesday to discuss “the security of the flow of people and goods between the two countries, and mutual concerns about cyber security.”

Officials from the Cuban Ministries of the Interior and Transportation, as well as the Customs Department took part in the meeting, along with US officials from the Departments of State, Justice and Homeland Security.

Representatives of both government also gathered in Washington Friday for the fourth round of meetings of the Bilateral Commission, to review progress on issues of “shared priority,” such as cooperation on commercial flights, public health and the fight against drug trafficking.

Editor’s Note:  Career Directorate of Intelligence (DI) officer Josefina de la C. Vidal left the US in 2003 when 14 Cuban spy-diplomats were declared Persona Non Grata. Among the spies officially expelled was her husband, First Secretary Jose Anselmo Lopez Perera. A First Secretary at the Cuban Interests Section like her husband, Vidal “voluntarily” returned to Cuba.  Long known to US Intelligence as a spy, Vidal and another spy-wife left with their spouses, bringing the total to 16 Cuban spies removed from the United States. This is believed to be roughly half of the Cuban spy-diplomats then serving undercover in Washington and New York. For the last several years, she has served under shallow cover as head of the North America portfolio in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX). She remains one of Havana’s premier experts in US affairs, but her expulsion will likely continue to limit her spy career until her retirement.

Expelled Spy Feigns Outrage at Claims of Alleged US Operations Against Havana 1

Directorate of Intelligence (DI) Officer Josefina Vidal

Directorate of Intelligence (DI) Officer Josefina Vidal

By Chris Simmons

Josefina de la C. Vidal, director for North America within the Cuban Foreign Ministry, yesterday denounced allegations of low-level intelligence operations by Washington.

Vidal’s criticism followed recent Associated Press claims that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) sent Latin American youth to assist on-island dissidents. “These facts confirm that the U.S. government has not ceased its hostile and meddling plans against Cuba,” stated Vidal.

The AP assertions have already been discredited by USAID as “sensational” and “wrong,” as well as by Cuban dissidents cited in the AP story. Nonetheless, Vidal continued her laughable outrage, claiming “The U.S. government should end once and for all its subversive, illegal and undercover actions against Cuba, which violate our sovereignty and the will expressed by the Cuban people to perfect our economic and social model and to consolidate our democracy.”

Directorate of Intelligence (DI) officer Vidal departed Washington in May 2003 after the US declared her husband — First Secretary Jose Anselmo Lopez Perera — and 13 other Cuban spy-diplomats Persona Non Grata. First Secretary Vidal, also known to the US as a intelligence officer, “voluntarily” returned to Cuba. The husband-wife spy team was chosen for expulsion, in part, because Washington knew Havana historically withdraws the spouse of any expelled spy.

Expelled Spy Josefina Vidal in Talks With Senior State Dept Official 1

Directorate of Intelligence (DI) Officer Josefina Vidal

Directorate of Intelligence (DI) Officer Josefina Vidal

Top Cuban and U.S. Diplomats Meet in Washington

(Radio Havana Cuba) The U.S. Undersecretary of State for Latin America, Roberta Jacobson, has met in Washington with the Director for North America of the Cuban Foreign Ministry, Josefina Vidal.

Neither side has revealed the contents of the meeting, although observers say that the shutting down of consular services at Cuba’s diplomatic representation in Washington might have topped the agenda of the meeting. Since February, Cuba’s diplomatic mission in Washington has been forced to stop all consular procedures after M&T Bank of Buffalo, New York, closed the accounts the mission used to deposit the consular fees it collected. An official statement by Cuban diplomatic representatives said that the island hasn’t been able to find a bank based in the U.S. that assumes its accounts “due to restrictions derived from the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States on Cuba.” M&T Bank has never explained why it closed all the accounts it handled for Cuba, including some for Cuba’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York City, as well as other countries. United States and Cuba maintain regular contacts at the technical level to discuss specific issues such as migration and postal services, but are not comparable to Vidal‘s visit to Washington, which is a high-level diplomatic dialogue.

Editor’s Note: Vidal departed Washington in May 2003 after the US declared her husband and 13 other Cuban spy-diplomats Persona Non Grata. Among the seven spies expelled from the Cuban Interest Section was her husband, First Secretary Jose Anselmo Lopez Perera. First Secretary Josefina de la C. Vidal, also known to the US as a Cuban Intelligence Officer, “voluntarily” returned to Cuba.

The husband-wife spy team was chosen for expulsion, in part, because Washington knew Havana historically withdraws the spouse of any expelled spy.

Expelled Spy Josefina Vidal Resumes Lead in US-Cuba Migration Talks 3

US-Cuba migration talks to be held Wednesday in Havana

By Juan O. Tamayo, JTamayo@elNuevoHerald.com

U.S. and Cuban government officials will meet in Havana on Wednesday for the second round of migration talks since the Obama administration resumed the contacts in July, according to well informed sources.

The U.S. State Department had no immediate comment but last summer said the talks do not represent a change in U.S. policy toward the island and are consistent with Washington’s efforts to ensure safe migration between the two nations.

President George W. Bush suspended the migration talks, held twice a year since 1995, in 2003. The Obama administration resumed them in 2009 but suspended them again after Cuba arrested U.S. government contractor Alan P. Gross on Dec. 3, 2009.

The talks resumed again on July 17, 2013 in Washington, without any official explanation of why they had been suspended or why they were starting up again.

The second round will start Wednesday in Havana, according to sources who asked for anonymity because they were not authorized to make the information public. There was no indication of how many days they would last.

Under U.S.-Cuba migration accords in 1994 and 1995 — which followed the 1994 exodus of more than 30,000 people on homemade rafts — Washington promised to issue at least 20,000 migrant visas to Cubans per year. The two nations also agreed to meet periodically and work toward “safe, legal and orderly migration.”

The U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana issued 24,727 immigrant visas in the fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30, 2013, a dip compared to 26,720 in FY2012, according to U.S. government figures. The number of tourist visas issued in the same period more than doubled, from 14,362 to 29,927.

An El Nuevo Herald report on Dec. 9 estimated that at least 44,000 Cuban migrants arrived in the United States, both legally and illegally, during the 12-month period, the highest total in a decade.

State Department spokesman William Ostick noted in July that continuing to “ensure secure migration between the U.S. and Cuba is consistent with our interests in promoting greater freedoms and increased respect for human rights in Cuba.”

Those talks were led by Eduard Alex Lee, then acting deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, and Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, the Cuban foreign ministry director general for U.S. affairs.

Resumption of migration talks was widely perceived as part of an Obama administration effort to make improvements around the edges of U.S.-Cuba relations, largely frozen by Gross’ continued imprisonment.

After the July meeting, U.S. officials repeated their call for the release of Gross while Cuban officials continued to complain that friendly U.S migration policies for Cubans are luring away island citizens.

Gross is serving a 15-year prison sentence in Havana for giving Cuban Jews sophisticated communications equipment, paid for by the U.S. government in what Cuban officials regard as a thinly veiled effort to topple the communist government.

Obama administration officials insist that there can be no significant warming of U.S.-Cuba relations unless Gross goes home. Havana has offered to swap him for four convicted Cuban spies in U.S. prisons, but Washington has rejected that deal.

Editor’s Note: Vidal departed Washington in May 2003 after the US declared her husband and 13 other Cuban spy-diplomats Persona Non Grata. Among the seven spies expelled from the Cuban Interest Section was her husband, First Secretary Jose Anselmo Lopez Perera. First Secretary Josefina de la C. Vidal, also known to the US as a Cuban Intelligence Officer, “voluntarily” returned to Cuba.

The husband-wife spy team was chosen for expulsion, in part, because Washington knew Havana historically withdraws the spouse of any expelled spy.

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, https://cubaconfidential.wordpress.com/2012/05/09/banished-spies-led-cuba-us-talks-on-alan-gross/

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.

Expelled Senior Spy Assails Washington’s Unchanging Foreign Policy 2

Cuba Criticizes President Obama, Says Island is Changing While US Policy is Not

AP Updated: Friday, February 1, 2:58 PM

HAVANA — A senior Cuban official sharply criticized U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday for suggesting Cuba was stuck in the past, saying the only anachronistic element of the relationship is Washington’s half-century-old economic embargo.

Josefina Vidal, the head of the Foreign Ministry’s North American affairs division, said Obama was poorly informed if he thought Cuba had not changed in recent years. She said her country has always been willing to negotiate improved relations with the U.S.

“It’s unfortunate that President Obama continues to be poorly advised and ill-informed about the Cuban reality, as well as the sentiments of his own people who desire normalization of our relationship,” Vidal said in a statement sent to foreign media on the island. She said Cuba was “changing and advancing,” a reference to economic and social reforms enacted in recent years under President Raul Castro.

In an interview with the Spanish news channel Telemundo broadcast Wednesday, Obama said his administration is open to better ties but that “it’s got to be a two-way street.” He said Cuban jails are still filled with political prisoners and that the island’s leaders are clinging to a failed model. “It’s time to join the 21st century,” he said. “It’s one thing to have cars from the 1950s. It’s another thing when your whole political ideology .. is 50 years or 60 years old and it’s been proven not to work.”

In recent years, Cuba has allowed for limited capitalism and legalized the real estate market, among other reforms, while insisting the changes did not constitute a break from its socialist model. Among the measures getting the most attention was last month’s lifting of a longstanding requirement that islanders ask the government’s permission to travel abroad.
Dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez’s request for a new passport was granted on Thursday. Last year she was denied a “white card,” or exit permit, when she tried to travel to Brazil for a film festival, something she says has happened to her about 20 times in recent years. “Visas for (hashtag)Brazil and for the (hashtag)Schengen agreement nations arranged, they will be delivered to me next week,” Sanchez said on Twitter on Friday. The “Schengen area” is a region in Europe within which there are little or no border or visa controls between Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Germany and France.

But Sanchez and others bemoaned the denial of passports to two other government opponents. Dissidents Angel Moya and Jose Daniel Ferrer were turned down under a clause that lets the government withhold travel papers to people facing legal cases, or for reasons of national security or public interest. The men were among the 75 activists jailed in the 2003 “black spring” crackdown on dissent. While they were later freed, their release was conditional and technically are still serving long sentences.

Mixed in with the mutual recriminations between Obama and Vidal were the usual conditional affirmations of openness to dialogue. In her rebuttal of Obama, Vidal says America “can always count on the willingness of the people and government of Cuba to work to advance bilateral relations.” Obama, in his Telemundo interview, said that he could foresee improved ties during his second term if Cuba meets him half way.

Editor’s Note: Josefina de la C. Vidal Ferreiro left the US in May 2003 when her husband, Jose Anselmo Lopez Perera; and 13 other spy-diplomats were thrown out of the United States. Vidal and Maria Cristina Delgado Suarez (wife of expelled spy Raul Rodriguez Averhoff) both left the country voluntarily. That said, both women were known to US authorities as Cuban intelligence officers and this fact played into the selection of their husbands for expulsion.