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

 

Russia Highlights Cuba’s Role As Most Loyal Ally in Western Hemisphere 4

Los presidenteS Raúl Castro y Vladimir Putin durante la visita del mandatario ruso a Cuba en 2014. Foto: AP.

Los presidenteS Raúl Castro y Vladimir Putin durante la visita del mandatario ruso a Cuba en 2014. Foto: AP.

[Cuba] is not only a strategic partner, but [Russia’s] most loyal and trustworthy ally in the Western Hemisphere.    

— Nikolai Sofinski, sub-director for Latin America at Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Cuba Debate (see below)

Relaciones estratégicas entre Moscú y La Habana no responden a coyunturas, afirma cancillería rusa

Las relaciones estratégicas entre Rusia y Cuba pasaron por una prueba y no responden a coyunturas, afirmó este viernes en Moscú una fuente del Departamento de América Latina en la cancillería del país euroasiático.

El subdirector Nikolai Sofinski ratificó el carácter de prioridad a los vínculos con la isla en la política exterior rusa, durante un panel dedicado a una actualización sobre el desarrollo socio-económico de Cuba y a la cooperación bilateral.

Sofinski definió a la nación antillana no solo como socio estratégico, sino el aliado “más fiable y seguro en el hemisferio occidental”, y no es una definición coyuntural, puntualizó el funcionario ante un grupo de investigadores del Instituto de América Latina, de la Academia de Ciencias de Rusia.

Enfatizó que las relaciones bilaterales pasaron por una prueba, que revalida esa asociación estratégica, y tienen grandes perspectivas, aseguró.

Valoró la interacción dinámica de los dos países en la arena internacional a instancias de diversos foros y el apoyo cubano manifiesto públicamente en contra de la ampliación de la OTAN cerca de las fronteras rusas, las sanciones ilegítimas unilaterales y los intentos de glorificación del nazismo, entre otros asuntos de la agenda global.

El subdirector del Departamento de América Latina de la cancillería consideró que existen amplias posibilidades de colaboración, al identificar al sector de la salud como un área en la que Cuba podría apoyar a Rusia.

Para el embajador Emilio Lozada las premisas de esa alianza ruso-cubana descansan en los sólidos lazos de hermandad y de amistad que fueron restablecidos el 8 de mayo de 1960.

Lozada destacó la constancia de unas estrechas relaciones entre los dos pueblos y gobiernos, la cual demuestran la intensidad de los contactos bilaterales al más alto nivel, con una particular dinámica entre 2009 y 2015, puntualizó el diplomático.

Recordó el Embajador la dimensión histórica de la visita del presidente ruso, Vladimir Putin, a La Habana en julio de 2014 para los vínculos bilaterales, y la presencia del mandatario cubano, Raúl Castro, en las celebraciones en Moscú del 70 aniversario de la Victoria, el 9 de mayo de 2015, además de sus tres visitas a este país.

Cubadebate

 

 

“Former” Spy to Advocate for More Trade With Havana at December’s “US-Cuba Legal Summit” in New York 3

Former Spy Arturo López-Levy

Former Spy Arturo López-Levy

By Chris Simmons

On December 1st, the US-Cuba Legal Summit 2015 will convene at the University Club in New York City. Featured speakers include lawyers, a single US government official, pro-trade advocates and self-professed “former” Directorate of Intelligence (DI) spy, Arturo Lopez Levy.

Its published agenda insists “The U.S. Cuba Legal Summit looks to provide a platform for U.S. in-house counsel to investigate the legal system in Cuba with a sharp eye to potential pluses and minuses when opening lines of communications.” Which begs the question, why is Castro lackey Arturo Lopez Levy a panelist?

The real name of this faux “scholar” is Arturo Lopez-Callejas, the name he was known by for over 30 years. Additionally, he acknowledges his spy career in his book, Raul Castro and the New Cuba: A Close-Up View of Change. In the spirit of open disclosure, I hope attendees are advised that Lopez-Callejas is a nephew-in-law to Cuban dictator Raul Castro. More specifically, he is the first cousin of Castro’s son-in-law, Brigadier General Luis Alberto Rodriguez Primo Lopez-Callejas. General Rodriguez heads the Enterprise Administration Group (GAESA), placing him in charge of Cuba’s entire tourism sector.

The Miami Herald reported “Rodriguez, married to Castro’s oldest daughter, Deborah Castro Espín, is widely viewed as one of the most powerful and ambitious men in Cuba — smart, arrogant, frugal and a highly effective administrator of GAESA.” Retired Herald reporter Juan Tamayo also noted that Deborah Castro’s brother is Alejandro Castro Espín, Castro’s chief intelligence advisor.

Congratulations to Summit officials for a thorough vetting process. I’m sure Lopez-Callejas would never exploit such a lucrative opportunity to personally enrich his extended family and sustain a regime to which he pledged his life.

Wanted Terrorist Seen as Symbol for U.S.-Cuban Differences 1

It was a murder on the New Jersey Turnpike – stunning violence near the New Brunswick exit. Now, decades after Black Liberation Army leader Joanne Chesimard was sentenced for the 1973 killing of a state trooper, escaped prison, and surfaced in Cuba in 1984, she is first and foremost among the estimated 70 American fugitives harbored there whose apparent flouting of U.S. law is fuel for critics of recent efforts to restore U.S.-Cuba relations.

In December, 54 years after America severed diplomatic relations with Cuba, Presidents Obama and Raul Castro proposed a renewal of ties. “We view any changes in relations with Cuba as an opportunity to bring [Chesimard] back,” said New Jersey State Police Col. Rick Fuentes, “and stand by the reward” for her capture.

Read entire feature here:  Philadelphia Inquirer

 

 

Expelled Spies Continue Leadership Role in U.S.-Cuba Normalization Talks 5

Directorate of Intelligence (DI) officer Josefina Vidal

Directorate of Intelligence (DI) officer Josefina Vidal

U.S. and Cuba Meet for Talks to Fully Restore Diplomatic Ties

By Randal C. Archibold, New York Times

MEXICO CITY — The United States and Cuba are closer than ever to reaching an agreement to fully restore diplomatic relations and reopen embassies, officials in both countries said as negotiators met Thursday in Washington for another round of talks to iron out remaining details and discuss possible dates.

The move toward full diplomatic relations broken decades ago during the Cold War has been seen as a key step toward ending hostilities and normalizing ties with a historic opponent that once agreed to allow Soviet nuclear missiles on its soil and repelled an invasion by American-backed insurgents.

Yet progress toward full diplomatic relations has not gone as swiftly as initially hoped in December, when President Obama and President Raúl Castro of Cuba first committed to restoring ties in a surprise announcement.

Now, with a number of obstacles out of the way or close to it, particularly for the Cubans, the talks have reached the most optimistic point after four rounds of conversations in Havana and Washington.

“I’m trying not to sound too Pollyannaish,” said a senior State Department official, who was granted anonymity to speak candidly about closed-door diplomatic matters. “But I do think we’re closer than we have been in the past, and I think my counterparts are coming up here with a desire to get this done.

“But equally,” the official added, “we have certain requirements that we need met, so we just have to see whether we can get there in this round of talks. I certainly hope so.”

Gustavo Machin, a top Cuban diplomat who has been part of his country’s delegation at the talks, told reporters in Havana on Monday, “We don’t see obstacles but rather issues to resolve and discuss.”

The governments closed their embassies after President Dwight Eisenhower broke diplomatic relations on Jan. 3, 1961, in response to a demand by Cuba’s new leader, Fidel Castro, that the American Embassy staff be significantly reduced. Mr. Castro called the embassy a spy outpost, part of an American plot to topple the Communist government he installed after the 1959 revolution.

Feature continues here:  Spies Lead Talks

Editor’s Note:  Josefina Vidal and Gustavo Machin, both undercover members of the Directorate of Intelligence (DI), are suspected of being Department M – I (US Targets) officers. The elite staff of this Department handles penetrations of the US Intelligence Community, Congress, other Federal agencies, and academia.  

The Laughable Duplicity of “Former” Cuban Spy Arturo Lopez-Levy 12

Former Spy Arturo López-Levy, now believed to be in his 8th year as a doctorate candidate.....

“Former” Spy Arturo López-Levy

By Chris Simmons

The Huffington Post disgraced itself again yesterday with another propaganda piece by admitted “former” Directorate of Intelligence (DI) officer, Arturo Lopez-Levy. His feature, Why Senator Rubio’s Lies Matter,” condemned the Senator for a lack of ethics. Lopez-Levy attacked Rubio for having lied when he claimed his family fled the left-wing dictatorship of Fidel Castro when in reality they fled the right-wing dictatorship of General Fulgencio Batista. The “former” spy said this deception “shined a spotlight on the senator’s moral character.” Lopez-Levy then proceeded to make the outrageous claim that conservative Cuban-Americans (including Rubio) are former Batista supporters.

As ludicrous as Lopez-Levy’s statements are, the real hypocrisy is the layers of lies in which he has encased his own persona. The real name of this perpetual doctoral candidate (now believed to be in his 8th year of studies) is Arturo Lopez-Callejas. After all, this is the name he lived by for over 30 years in Cuba. The faux scholar also now denies his spy career, although he acknowledged his patriotic service to Fidel in his book, Raul Castro and the New Cuba: A Close-Up View of Change.

He also – innocently I’m sure – forgot to tell readers he is Raul Castro’s nephew-in-law. More specifically, he is the first cousin of Castro’s son-in-law, Brigadier General Luis Alberto Rodriguez Primo Lopez-Callejas. Rodriguez leads the Enterprise Administration Group (GAESA), placing him in command of Cuba’s entire tourism industry. According to the Miami Herald, “Rodriguez, married to Castro’s oldest daughter, Deborah Castro Espín, is widely viewed as one of the most powerful and ambitious men in Cuba — smart, arrogant, frugal and a highly effective administrator of GAESA.”  Herald reporter Juan Tamayo also noted that Deborah Castro’s brother is Alejandro Castro Espín, Castro’s chief intelligence advisor.

So to recap, the man who lies about his true name, his career, his family ties, and the privileged life he led in Cuba now has the cojones to question the integrity of another person?  Seriously????

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

How a Canadian Businessman Lost Everything in Cuba Reply

Sarkis Yacoubian

Sarkis Yacoubian

By Jeff Gray, The Globe and Mail [Canada]

Canadian businessman Sarkis Yacoubian only knew his Cuban interrogator – the Cubans call them “instructors” – as Major Carlito. When they first met in the dim basement of the Havana house where security agents had initially imprisoned Mr. Yacoubian in July, 2011, he says Major Carlito greeted him by grabbing his own crotch.

“If you are expecting that the Canadian embassy is going to come to your help, this is what they are going to get,” Mr. Yacoubian, 54, says his captor warned him. Then, he says, Major Carlito accused him of being a spy, an accusation that would eventually be abandoned before the Canadian was convicted by a Cuban court of corruption charges and expelled last year.

His story, and that of Toronto-area businessman Cy Tokmakjian, who was released from incarceration in Cuba last month after a similar corruption trial, are cautionary tales for would-be investors in Cuba.

However, some say the historic Dec. 17 announcement of Canada-brokered talks to normalize Cuba’s relations with the United States – plus recent moves by leader Raul Castro to liberalize the economy – still has Canadian investors and entrepreneurs interested in the Communist-ruled island.

Despite Major Carlito’s threat, the Canadian embassy did closely monitor’s Mr. Yacoubian’s status as he spent two years in jail before facing any formal charge. And the ambassador attended Mr. Yacoubian’s 2013 trial, which saw him sentenced to nine years in prison and fined $7-million for corruption, tax evasion and doing “economic damage” to Cuba.

Mr. Tokmakjian, 74, spent more than three years in prison. Two of his Canadian employees who had been blocked from leaving Cuba were also recently freed. His Concord, Ont.-based Tokmakjian Group reportedly had a $90-million-a-year business on the island importing vehicles and construction equipment. His assets in Cuba were seized. Mr. Yacoubian, a former employee of Mr. Tokmakjian’s who broke away from his boss to build what he said was a $20-million-a-year business in Cuba bringing in similar products, says all of his assets on the island were also seized.

Article continues here: Sarkis Yacoubian

For World’s Democracy Campaigners, Obama’s Cuba Move Means Crackdowns 9

Cuban repressionBy The Investors Business Daily‘s Editorial Board

President Obama claimed his move to normalize relations with Cuba was a means of nudging the military dictatorship toward democracy. He was wrong. The regime is cracking down on dissent harder than ever.

In what ought to be called Crackdown Tuesday a large group of prominent Havana dissidents — activists, civil society advocates and independent journalists — were arrested as they headed for a pro-free speech soapbox “speaker’s corner” event put on by Cuban performance artist Tania Bruguero, whose group is #YoTambienExijo, or “I also demand.”

Among the arrested were prominent blogger writer Yoani Sanchez; her husband Reinaldo Escobar, who edits 14ymedio.com, an online dissident publication; Eliecer Avila, a prominent democracy activist; and members of the Ladies in White group, mostly wives of political prisoners. Bruguero herself was hauled off by the Cuban secret police and held incommunicado for more than a day until she was released. She said Wednesday they tried to force her to sign a confession, but she refused.

So much for “promoting positive change,” which is what the White House claimed would be the result of its move toward normalization. Fact is, the Castro regime sees normalization of U.S. ties as a green light to step up the barbarism.

It’s not just attacks against high-profile dissidents. The Miami Herald reported earlier this month that the regime rammed and sank a boat of more than 30 refugees fleeing the island, killing one and jailing the men in the group as they were dragged back to shore.

And that underlines the naivete of the Obama administration. “We are separated by 90 miles of water, but are brought together through shared relationships and the desire to promote a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba,” the White House website reads.

Brought together through the desire to promote democracy? Not according to his new partner, dictator Raul Castro, who put on his military uniform and warned Cubans not to get any ideas from this move, defiantly warning that the communism that has so failed the country would remain in place.

There’s little doubt he knows what he’s doing.

Commentary continues here:  Obama Outreach Intensifies Repression

 

 

U.S. Spy in Havana Exposed American Moles 4

An image provided by Cuba shows President Castro, right, Wednesday with members of the ‘Cuban Five’ who were released in a U.S. prisoner swap.  European Pressphoto Agency

An image provided by Cuba shows President Castro, right, Wednesday with members of the ‘Cuban Five’ who were released in a U.S. prisoner swap. European Pressphoto Agency

Intelligence Officer Whom Obama Singled Out for Prisoner Exchange Helped Convict Agents for Cuba in Washington

By Felicia Schwartz , The Wall Street Journal, felicia.schwartz@wsj.com

WASHINGTON—In announcing the prisoner exchange that set up a momentous shift in U.S.-Cuba relations, the Obama administration this week made an unusual disclosure, revealing the existence of a key intelligence agent, and detailing specific cases he helped to crack.

The U.S. informant, identified on Thursday as Rolando Sarraff Trujillo by those familiar with his role, had been convicted and imprisoned in Cuba for nearly 20 years for helping Washington. He was recently freed and flown to the U.S.

Undisclosed before this week was Mr. Sarraff’s secret role as an American operative in Cuba who provided critical information that prompted the 1998 arrests of a group of spies known as the “Cuban Five,” intelligence operatives sent to infiltrate U.S. groups opposed to the regime in Havana.

In remarks at the White House, Mr. Obama, without naming Mr. Sarraff, said that he was “one of the most important intelligence agents the United States has ever had in Cuba.”

In a separate set of prominent U.S. espionage cases, Mr. Sarraff also provided information leading to the detection and conviction between 2001 and 2009 of a group of American government officials for funneling information to Havana, the officials said.

The Americans included the Defense Intelligence Agency’s top Cuba analyst at the time, Ana Belén Montes, and former State Department official Walter Kendall Myers and his wife, Gwendolyn Myers, officials said.

All are still serving prison sentences.

In a speech Wednesday, Cuban President Raúl Castro didn’t name Mr. Sarraff but said he was “a spy of Cuban origin.” He has been widely identified as a former Cuban intelligence officer imprisoned in Cuba on espionage charges since 1995.

Mr. Sarraff was a cryptographer in Cuba’s intelligence service, said Chris Simmons, who headed a unit on Cuba for the Defense Intelligence Agency from 1997 to 2004.

Mr. Sarraff was arrested in Cuba in 1995, was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison in 1996. He had provided information about the codes used by Cuban spies in the U.S. to communicate with Havana, Mr. Simmons said. Cuba typically used shortwave radio to communicate with agents in the U.S., he said.

U.S. officials used the information to decipher communications and identify spies, even long after he was arrested. “Once you have the insight, if you’ve got enough time, money and resources, you can go back and look at everyone,” Mr. Simmons said.

Feature continues here: Roly