Cuba’s Tourism Thaw With the U.S. Has Been Great News for Its Military 2

passengersAndrea Rodriguez, Associated Press

At the height of Cuba’s post-Soviet economic crisis, a man with the obscure title of city historian began transforming Havana’s crumbling historic center block by block, polishing stone facades, replacing broken stained glass and repairing potholed streets.

Over a quarter century, Eusebio Leal turned Old Havana into a painstakingly restored colonial jewel, a tourist draw that brings in more than $170 million a year, according to the most recent available figures. His office became a center of power with unprecedented budgetary freedom from the island’s communist central government.

That independence is gone. Last month, the Cuban military took over the business operations of Leal’s City Historian’s Office, absorbing them into a business empire that has grown dramatically since the declaration of détente between the U.S. and Cuba on Dec. 17, 2014.

The military’s long-standing business wing, GAESA, assumed a higher profile after Gen. Raul Castro became president in 2008, positioning the armed forces as perhaps the prime beneficiary of a post-detente boom in tourism. Gaviota, the military’s tourism arm, is in the midst of a hotel building spree that outpaces projects under control of nominally civilian agencies like the Ministry of Tourism. The military-run Mariel port west of Havana has seen double-digit growth fueled largely by demand in the tourism sector. The armed forces this year took over the bank that does business with foreign companies, assuming control of most of Cuba’s day-to-day international financial transactions, according to a bank official.

“GAESA is wisely investing in the more international — and more lucrative — segments of the Cuban economy. This gives the military technocrats a strong stake in a more outwardly oriented and internationally competitive Cuba deeply integrated into global markets,” said Richard Feinberg, author of “Open for Business: The New Cuban Economy.”

Castro has never publicly explained his reasoning for giving so much economic power to the military, but the armed forces are widely seen in Cuba as efficient, fast-moving and relatively unscathed by the low-level payoffs and pilferage that plague so much of the government. Economic disruption also is viewed as a crucial national security issue while the government slowly loosens its once-total hold on economic activity and renews ties with its former Cold War enemy 90 miles to the north.

While U.S. President Barack Obama has said détente was meant partly to help ordinary Cubans develop economic independence from a centrally planned government that employs most of the island’s workers, the Cuban government says the U.S. should expect no change in Cuba because of normalization with the U.S.

The takeover of Old Havana shows how the Cuban government is, so far, successfully steering much of the peace dividend into military coffers.

The announcement nearly two years ago that the U.S. and Cuba were restoring diplomatic relations set off a tourism boom with Old Havana at its epicenter. The cobblestone streets are packed with tourists browsing souvenir stands, visiting museums and dining in trendy private restaurants. World figures and celebrities from Madonna to Mick Jagger to Pope Francis and Obama have all visited. Hotels are booked well through next year.

AP Story continues here:  US Tourists Finance Repression

 

A Cautionary Lesson For America: “In Tourist-Deluged Cuba, Canadian Firms Are Noticeably Absent” Reply

Stephanie Nolen

Stephanie Nolen

Stephanie Nolen  — The Globe and Mail

HAVANA – The cobbled streets of Old Havana are choked with tourists these days: sweaty, sunburned tourists from the United States, most of them, who make the rounds of the small hotels in the morning to beg and plead. But it does little good: There isn’t a room – or, often, a café table or a taxi – to be had. The tourists just keep coming – arrivals are up 62 per cent this year. But the city’s limited tourist infrastructure is bursting at the seams.

“It’s a big problem,” said Omar Everleny, an economist at the Centre for the Study of the Cuban Economy in the capital. “Havana is 100 per cent full.” The U.S. visitors have seized on new freedom to visit since the United States and Cuba normalized relations a year ago this week, but they are still mostly restricted to Havana. Yet beyond the capital, in the beach resort mecca of Varadero or the keys to the north, occupancy is also near-full, and there is a huge unmet market for beachfront rooms, sailboat slips and villas. A much-heralded process of economic reform is under way in Cuba, and foreign investment laws were made significantly more favourable for investors earlier this year – and yet the level of building pales in comparison to the size of the demand, in tourism and other sectors.

That’s due in part to the U.S. embargo, which remains firmly in place despite a year of détente. The ongoing tight control of all major economic activity by the state, and the still-strangling bureaucracy, means everything happens slowly.

But many people here – both Cubans and the handful of foreigners based in the country on behalf of international firms – express surprise that Canadian companies, in particular, aren’t a bigger presence, taking advantage of the lull before the looming U.S. storm, to build on their historical edge.

“Canadian companies could and should take advantage of the fact that they can be here already and know Cuban institutions,” said Raul Rodriguez, a researcher with the Centre for Hemispheric and United States Studies at the University of Havana. “Why aren’t there more Canadian infrastructure companies, more interests, given that there are more than one million Canadian tourists?”

“There should be a Tim Hortons in Varadero,” he added.

Feature Continues Here: Canadian Businesses Avoid Cuba

 

 

The Castros Just Want the Embargo Lifted 4

FidelTranslated by Capitol Hill Cubans

Roberto Alvarez Quinones is a Cuban journalist who spent over 25-years in Castro’s state-run Granma newspaper, as an economic commentator. He also served stints at the Cuban Central Bank and the Ministry of Foreign Trade.

By Roberto Alvarez Quinones in Diario de Cuba

The Castros do not want normalization, just the embargo lifted

The Castro brothers have always understood U.S. presidents and the intricacies of political power better than the Americans have comprehended the Cubans. In Washington they still can’t fathom why the two brothers and their military junta don’t want friendly and harmonious relations with the U.S., but rather for the embargo to be lifted, and to receive loans and tourists from the north with bulging wallets. Simple as that.

With the Venezuelan crisis deteriorating by the minute, an end to the embargo has become urgent for the Castro regime. But having politically cordial and normal relations with Washington is not in their best interest. Hence, they will do everything possible to prevent them, or to sabotage them, even if the “blockade” (a military term that has nothing to do with a unilateral trade embargo placed by one country on another) is lifted.

The dictatorial elite’s view is that “too much” rapprochement with the US would generate great internal and external trouble, as it would mean “betraying” its history as an anti-American leftist leader in Latin America. But, above all, it could undermine the regime’s Orwellian control over all of Cuban society. People on the island feel would be less fearful of demanding more freedoms if the “Empire” were a strong ally.

The gerontocracy of “historical” commanders is not prepared – nor do they want to be – to grapple in a civilized way with the political, ideological, economic, cultural and psychological “contamination” that could spring from a close relationship with the U.S. The training of the Castro regime’s nomenklatura has always been based on the opposite: visceral confrontation with the “imperialist enemy.”

Castro’s Manifest Destiny

In reaction to U.S.-made rockets fired at a farmer’s house in the Sierra Maestra by Batista dictatorship aircraft on June 5, 1958, Fidel Castro wrote a letter to Celia Sánchez setting forth the Manifest Destiny of his revolution: “When this war is over, for me a much longer and greater war shall begin: that which I will wage against them. I realize that this will be my true destiny. ”

That war did not end with the reopening of embassies in Havana and Washington. And it will not end as long as the island is ruled by Castro and the commanders who joined the anti-U.S. crusade conceived by their leader. There will be no close relationship between Cuba and the United States until there is a new “de-ideologized” political leadership on the island.

Feature continues here: Castros Despise Normalization

 

How Obama’s Cuba Deal Is Strengthening Its Military 1

PoliticoCastro’s Real Heirs are the Generals, and They’re Going to Make a Bundle From Normalization

By James Bruno, Politico Magazine

In the hit 1992 movie A Few Good Men, Jack Nicholson’s fictional Colonel Jessup famously declares: “I eat breakfast 300 yards from 4,000 Cubans who are trained to kill me.” The Cuban officers I met never gave me that impression. As the State Department’s former representative to negotiations with Cuba’s military, I can tell you that our discussions were typically convivial and constructive. And today, President Barack Obama’s initiative to normalize relations with Havana has presented the United States with a truly mind-boggling prospect: Our most reliable partner on that long-isolated island is probably going to be the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias, Cuba’s military establishment.

And soon they’re going to be making a lot of money.

The Communist Party of Cuba may constitute the country’s political leadership, but it is seen increasingly as an anachronism by the population and after Fidel Castro, 88, and Raúl Castro, 83, pass from the scene, the party may too. Cuba’s legislature, the National Assembly of People’s Power, is a rubber stamp appendage of the party and likewise held in low popular esteem. Civilian agencies have proven inept and sclerotic in managing government programs. The powerful Ministry of Interior is widely feared as the blunt instrument of oppression, but it too is likely to be swept aside eventually by the tide of change. And more than a half-century of authoritarian single-party rule has stunted civil society and held the Catholic Church in check.

This leaves the FAR. Under Raúl Castro’s leadership from 1959 until he succeeded brother Fidel as president in 2006, the now 60,000-strong military has been widely considered to be Cuba’s best managed and stablest official entity. Furthermore, it has never been called upon to fire on or suppress Cuban citizens, even during the so-called Maleconazo protests in 1994, and most observers believe the FAR would refuse any orders to do so.

For years our discussions with the FAR have focused on cooperating on practical matters: avoiding tensions along Guantánamo Naval Base’s 17-mile perimeter, collaborating on firefighting and working out arrangements for the return of Cuban citizens who were picked up at sea while trying to escape their country. In contrast with our stiff exchanges with the North Koreans at Panmunjom, these monthly encounters tend to be productive, constructive and amiable.

Read more: Politico

Former DGI Officer Identifies 17 Castro Spies 6

DGI officer and Ambassador, René Ceballo Prats

DGI officer and Ambassador, René Ceballo Prats

Cubans Involved In Peru-Based Espionage Operations During The 1970s & 1980s

By Chris Simmons

General Juan Velasco Alvarado came to power as part of a junta that overthrew the Peruvian government in October 1968. In July 1973, Velasco’s leftist government established diplomatic relations with Cuba. A declassified Cuban government cable later identified the General as one of its intelligence agents. Velasco remained in power until late August 1975 when he was deposed by General Francisco Morales Bermudez, his prime minister.

Former Dirección General De Inteligencia (DGI) officer Enrique García Diaz served on the “Peru Desk” at DGI headquarters during this period. During an interview, he explained that three other officers also worked the “desk:” Eulalia Sardain (codenamed “Mayra”), René Ceballo Prats (“Ibrahim”) and Ismael Cruz Arce (“Jose Luis”). Two additional DGI officers who worked with García Diaz on Peru issues were Juan Pedro Gonzalez (“Giraldo”) and Jose Francisco Molina Mauri (“Ivan”).

According to media reports, René Ceballo Prats later led Cuba’s Embassy in Nicaragua as chargé d’affaires starting in 2009. He now serves as Cuban Ambassador to Lebanon.

The CIA’s 1983 global directory of Cuban officials provides the names and positions of 21 Cubans posted to Havana’s Embassy in Peru.  In a review of these personnel, García Diaz identified the following nine diplomats as Cuban intelligence officers or collaborators.

Counselor Jorge Pollo Garcia (“Osvaldo”). DGI Centro chief. According to Garcia Diaz, Pollo’s espionage career began in 1961 with the Illegal Department. Pollo reportedly served briefly in Japan in 1970 before his reassignment to Chile as the Deputy Centro Chief. Following his subsequent tour in Peru, Pollo became chief of the Southern Cone “desk,” overseeing this region’s spy operations. Several years later, he led the upgrade of Cuban intelligence operations in India from a one-man “pointe” to a full-blown Centro. He may have later served in Bolivia before becoming chief of staff for Jorge Valdés-Saldaña Risquet, a member of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party. Media reports later cited Pollo as a Cuban diplomat in Guatemala in the early 2000s.

Consul General Ricardo Cruz Fernandez. DGI.

1st Secretary Maria Consuelo Ramiriz de Martinez. DGI.

Attaché Angel Moriaga Diaz. DGI Code Clerk.

Commercial Attaché Fidel Diez Tornes. García Diaz characterized this former colleague as the best DGI Case Officer (i.e., spy handler) in Peru.

Prensa Latina (PRELA) Correspondent Ruban Alayon Sanchez (“Lorenzo”). DGI.

Prensa Latina (PRELA) Correspondent Gustavo Carballosa (“Gaston”). DGI. According to García Diaz, Carballosa wrote the daily intelligence report for the Peruvian President.

Prensa Latina (PRELA) Correspondent Manuel Robles Sosa. America Department (DA). Europa Publications’ South America, Central America, and the Caribbean 2003 listed him as the PRELA representative in La Paz, Bolivia. Subsequent PRELA coverage seems to show him active at least through late September 2012.

Prensa Latina (PRELA) Correspondent Gerardo Torres. DGI Collaborator.

García Diaz recalled three additional intelligence officers not on the CIA list. They were:

  • Manuel Martinez Galan (“Manolo”), the husband of Maria Consuelo Ramiriz. García Diaz cited Martinez as the first DGI Centro Chief in Lima.
  • Eduardo Torres Ravelo. DGI. Open source publications referenced Torres Ravelo as a Cuban diplomat in Chile during the Allende years.
  • Prensa Latina (PRELA) Correspondent Sergio Medina (“Sergito”). DGI. García Diaz noted that Medina also served in Colombia at one point. The CIA’s 1983 roster listed Medina as one of several PRELA correspondents in Venezuela.

Enrique García Diaz defected in March 1989 while based in Ecuador. According to a March 2, 1994 feature by the Canadian Press (news agency), García Diaz had served with the DGI since 1978, handling Cuban agents in Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia. (Note: The Canadian Press article is available via Lexis/Nexis).

An intelligence-affiliated “diplomat” – understandably not identified by García Diaz because he served outside the Ministry of the Interior (MININT) – would be the Cuban Military Attaché, Colonel Manuel Bravo Yanez. While not every military attaché is a Case Officer (i.e., spy-handler), they are – at a minimum – overt intelligence collectors reporting to the Ministry of the Armed Forces (MINFAR).

Author’s Note: Given my knowledge of Mr. García Diaz, I have no reason to doubt the reliability of his information on this topic. In addition:

  • The status of DGI code clerk Angel Moriaga Diaz was confirmed by another highly reliable former DGI officer.
  • Declassified US government reports substantiated the DGI service of Luis Ismael Cruz Arce. This officer first served at the Cuban Consulate in Mexico City around August 1966 before being transferred to the one-diplomat Consulate in Tampico by 1970.
  • A declassified CIA report from Oct 17, 1969 identified Manuel Martinez Galan as a DGI officer. Author Jonathan Haslam also characterized Martinez as DGI, attributing his information to a London-based Cuban defector. In contrast, in 1972, internationally known newspaper columnist Jack Anderson identified Martinez, then a 1st Secretary in Santiago, as head of the DA’s Chile-based operations. A decade later, the CIA listed Martinez as a 1st Secretary at the Cuban Embassy in Moscow.

 

Arnaldo Ochoa — a Problem For Castro Brothers 25 Years Ago 4

Arnaldo Ochoa in 1989 (Courtesy: Miami Herald Archives)

Arnaldo Ochoa in 1989 (Courtesy: Miami Herald Archives)

Castro’s fears led to a revolutionary hero’s execution and drunken binges by his brother Raúl, according to a former security officer.

By Juan O. Tamayo

JTamayo@ElNuevoHerald.com

Fidel Castro was so afraid of a revolt in Cuba’s most elite paramilitary unit that he ordered his motorcade to avoid driving past its base, his top bodyguard at the time says. Raúl Castro was so depressed that he was going on drunken benders and soiling his pants.

Cuba’s top military hero, Gen. Arnaldo Ochoa, had been executed by firing squad for drug smuggling. And a longtime member of Fidel’s innermost circle, Interior Minister José Abrantes, was in jail awaiting trial for failing to stop the trafficking.

That summer 25 years ago posed one of the toughest challenges ever for the Castro brothers — to show that their top deputies had trafficked drugs without their consent, and to avert a backlash from other soldiers who believed the Castros were lying.

“That was the drop that overflowed my glass,” said Juan Reinaldo Sánchez, 65, who served 17 years on Fidel’s personal security detail and now lives in Miami. “That he would send to the firing squad a man who was a true hero.”

Ochoa, 59, was Cuba’s top military icon. He was a veteran of campaigns in Angola, Venezuela, Ethiopia and Nicaragua, had won the country’s highest honor, Hero of the Revolution, and sat on the Central Committee of the Communist Party.

Nevertheless, he was executed on July 13, 1989, along with three senior officers of the Ministry of the Armed Forces and Ministry of the Interior (MININT), after a military court convicted them of drug smuggling and treason.

Ochoa was not plotting to overthrow Fidel, as was rumored at the time, said Sánchez, who in 1989 stood at Fidel’s elbow as keeper of the diary of the Cuban leader’s daily activities. Ochoa did not have the troops or the means to carry out a coup, he added.

But evidence presented at their trial showed that Ochoa and the three others who were executed — Antonio de la Guardia, Jorge Martinez and Amado Bruno Padron — had arranged cocaine shipments through Cuba and to the United States for Colombia’s Medellin cartel.

Abrantes, one of Fidel’s oldest and closest aides, a former head of his security detail and a general, was arrested later with six other MININT officers for failing to stop the drug traffic and corruption. He died of a heart attack in 1991 while serving a 20-year prison sentence.

Fidel had approved Abrantes’ involvement in drug trafficking, Sánchez alleged. And Raúl, then minister of defense, had approved Ochoa’s involvement. Military Counter-Intelligence (CIM), which reported directly to Raúl, had to have known of Ochoa’s activities, yet no CIM agent turned up at either trial as defendant or witness.

 Feature continues here: General Arnaldo Ochoa

Miami Herald Ignores Abundant Spy Ties in Coverage of “Cuba Conference” 10

Yesterday’s Herald featured the innocent sounding article, Supporters of Stronger US Relations With Cuba Stage Rare Gathering in Miami. The author, longtime Cuba-watcher Juan Tamayo, wrote “A rare conference of supporters of normalizing U.S.-Cuba relations heard calls Saturday for the Obama administration to allow more travel to the island and remove it from a list of supporters of terrorism.”

The career journalist noted that over 100 people attended the one-day event that offered panelists such as “Arturo Lopez-Levy, a Cuban foreign policy expert at the University of Denver, and Antonio Zamora, a Miami lawyer and member of the Brigade 2506 that invaded Cuba in 1961. He now favors normalizing bilateral relations.”

Conference promoter Hugo Cancio, however, lamented that Washington denied a visa to “invited panelist, retired Havana diplomat Jesus Arboleya, and denied permission to attend the conference to two Cuban diplomats in Washington – First Secretary Juan Lamigueiro and General Counsel Llanio Gonzalez.” Tamayo also spoke with Collin Laverty, a U.S. citizen who works with U.S. visitors to the island, who told him about 90 percent of Americans visiting Cuba are funneled through the Cuban government’s Havanatour agency. (Note: The actual name is Havanatur).

Alarmingly, you could fill volumes with all the intelligence service connections the Herald conveniently omitted. A few of these key facts would include:

Arturo Lopez-Levyin his own book – admitted to having been a spy with Cuba’s Ministry of the Interior (MININT). Likewise, the Herald failed to note the seven-year PhD candidate’s close family ties to Raul Castro’s son-in-law, MININT Col. Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas.

• The banned panelist, Colonel Jesus Arboleya Cervera was identified by intelligence service defector Jesus Perez Mendez in 1983. Years later, Arboleya’s intelligence service was further corroborated by convicted spy Carlos Alvarez.

Arboleya served as a Second Secretary at the Cuban Mission to the United Nations in New York City before transferring to the Washington-based Cuban Interests Section. During his US tour, Arboleya was the architect of the 1970’s US-Cuba normalization drive, which almost succeeded in 1977 following the formation of a group of prominent Cuban-Americans who called themselves the Committee of 75. Although headed by respectable Cuban-Americans, including two clerics and several businessmen, the Committee was inspired by the DGI, (then) Cuba’s primary foreign intelligence service. According to Senate testimony of March 12, 1982, at the time, Arboleya may have been the longest serving DGI officer in the United States.

• The Havanatur office in Miami surveilled Cuban-Americans seeking to visit the island and recruited agents from among them, according to 1981 Congressional testimony. Subsequently, the US Treasury Department identified Havanatur and CIMEX (among others) as Cuban front companies. In the intelligence arena, a “Front Company” is any entity created, controlled, or heavily influenced by a spy service to fulfill espionage missions without its actions being attributed to the host intelligence service.

In March 2004, the US Treasury identified Havanatur as a CIMEX subsidiary. Public records reveal CIMEX’s involvement in everything from weapons purchases for leftist guerillas in the 1980s to more genteel import/export endeavors.

Havanatur, as well as the remainder of Cuba’s tourism sector, is run as a joint venture by the Ministry of the Interior (MININT) and the Ministry of the Armed Forces (MINFAR). For almost 20 years, credible defectors and émigrés have reported that part of the earnings from tourism are channeled back into the operating budgets of these two agencies. As a result, US tourists are actively funding Cuban repression and espionage.

• The entry point for the much heralded “people-to-people” tours is the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP). DGI officer Jesus Raul Perez Mendez was the ICAP director before his defection. So well known is ICAP’s collaboration that in 1983, the New York Times cited a State Department spokesman who said ICAP was suspected of having an intelligence collection mission in support of the DGI.

More recently, former DI officer Juan Manuel Reyes-Alonso reportedly that ICAP is not a DI entity per se, but that it was overwhelmingly influenced by the intelligence service. He further 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.

So the question of the day remains: why is the Miami Herald so adamant about ignoring, suppressing, minimizing or discrediting news on Havana’s spy services?

Editor’s Note: A copy of this post was sent to the Miami Herald as a “Letter to the Editor.”