RELATIONS BETWEEN THE UNITED STATES AND CUBA
IN THE NEW STAGE OF THAW:
COMMON SENSE OR IRRESPONSIBLE HASTE?
Carlos Alberto Montaner
Interamerican Institute for Democracy
Miami, June 4, 2015
To Prof. Guillermo Lousteau
Seven final warnings about Obama's new Cuba policy
This is one of those rare cases where it's best to begin from the end. These papers are intended to swiftly outline the state of relations between the United States and Cuba since 1959, so as to analyze the new Cuba policy announced by President Barack Obama and Gen. Raúl Castro in December 2014.
This path leads me to formulate seven warnings. They are neither recommendations nor conclusions. They are observations that emerge naturally from the history I shall relate shortly.
Let me list them:
The first warning is that the government of the Castro brothers maintains in 2015 exactly the same vision of the United States that it had when the guerrillas came to power in January 1959.
To them, the huge and powerful neighbor and its purported predatory practices in the economic field are at the root of mankind's basic problems.
Because they read little and observe poorly, they continue to believe that the Third World's calamities are due to the ill will of the developed nations and most especially to the United Nations, with its perverse terms for an exchange and its inclement exploitation of the resources of poor nations.
The second warning, a consequence of the first, is that that regime, wholly consistent with its beliefs, will continue to try to affect the United States negatively in all instances that present themselves.
Yesterday, it placed itself under the Soviet umbrella. In the post-Soviet era, it built the foundation for the São Paulo Forum and later for the circuit known as 21st-Century socialism, which extended to the countries of the so-called ALBA. Today, it allies itself firmly with Iran and is lining up with the Sino-Russian side in this new and dangerous Cold War being gestated. To the Castros, anti-Americanism is a moral crusade that they'll never renounce.
The third one is that the Cuban dictatorship has not the slightest intention to begin a process of liberalization that might allow political pluralism or freedoms, as these are known among the world's most developed nations.
Opposition democrats are tolerated so long as their movements and communications can be regulated and watched by the political police.
The regime perfectly dominates the techniques of social control. Aside from the conventional police to keep the opposition in check, it has at least 60,000 counterintelligence officers under the MININT  and tens of thousands of collaborators. To them, repression is not a dark and shameful behavior but a constant and patriotic task.
The fourth is that the economic system being erected by Raúl Castro has not been conceived to nurture a civil society, a society that someday will magically overthrow the dictatorship. Instead, it is a model of Military Capitalism of State (MCS), whose backbone consists of the Army and the Ministry of the Interior, institutions that control most of the country's productive apparatus.
Within that scheme, as can be surmised from the words of official economist Juan Triana Cordoví. the State (in reality, the military sector) reserves for itself the management and exploitation of the country's 2,500 medium and large businesses, leaving to the self-employed entrepreneurs a large number of small activities that it doesn't care to sustain.
Contrary to the thinking in Washington and among the nongovernmental Cuban sectors that support those economic reforms, Raúl Castro and his advisers assume, correctly, that the self-employed entrepreneurs will be a source of stability for the Military Capitalism of State, not because of ideological affinity but because they don't want to lose the small privileges and advantages they gain.
The fifth one is that the Castro brothers' regime is not at all interested in propitiating the enrichment of foreign businessmen. They despise the capitalists' zest for profiting, which they find repugnant, although they themselves practice it discreetly, somehow.
Investments from abroad will be welcome only and solely if they contribute to strengthen the Military Capitalism of State that they are forging. To the Cuban government, those investments are a necessary evil, like someone amputating his own arm to save his life.
If anybody thinks that that regime will permit the emergence and growth of an independent entrepreneurial fabric, it's because he has not taken the trouble to study the writings and speeches of the officials of the regime or even to examine their behavior.
Real-estate investor and renowned millionaire Stephen Ross  was absolutely right when, after returning from a trip to Cuba, he declared that he had not seen on the island the tiniest serious opportunity to do business. In reality, there is none, except in those activities that provide a clear profit for the government or those that are absolutely indispensable for the survival of the regime.
It is obvious that the Castros' priority is to cling to power and not develop a vigorous entrepreneurial fabric that will bring Cubans out of misery. To explain their shortfalls, they have created the alibi of revolutionary austerity and criticism of consumerism (people's attraction to “junk”) as a heroic and selfless form of confronting poverty.
The sixth warning is that, in the face of this depressing picture of abuse and insistence on the usual blunders, Washington's rejection of containment and its substitution by engagement (plus cancelling the objective of trying to promote a regime change, as Obama announced in Panama) is a dangerous and irresponsible hastiness that will harm the United States, encourage its enemies, dishearten its allies and affect very negatively the Cuban people, who desire freedoms, real democracy and an end to their misery.
What's the sense of the United States -- and the Catholic Church -- helping to strengthen a Military Capitalism of State, a foe of freedoms including economic freedom, a violator of Human Rights that perpetuates in power a collectivist dictatorship that has destroyed Cuba and today contributes to destroying Venezuela, because it cannot show anything other than what it has done for 56 years?
The seventh warning is that the democratic opposition has never been more fragile and less protected than today, despite the impressive number of dissidents and the heroism they display. It has never been more alone.
Why would anyone take that opposition into account when the United States has renounced regime change and is willing to accept the Cuban dictatorship without demanding anything in exchange?
The United States has renounced indicating to Havana clearly that true change begins at the moment when the top level of the dictatorship accepts that the first step is to dialogue with the opposition and admit that societies are pluralistic and harbor differing points of view.
What argument can be wielded now by the silent and always cowed reformists in the regime to ask -- sotto voce -- for political and economic changes from the Castros' government when nobody else demands them?
In sum, Obama has made a serious mistake by separating himself from the policy followed by the 10 presidents, Democratic and Republican, who preceded him to the White House.
Nobody can state by decree that his enemy has suddenly turned into his friend and has begun to think along one's lines. That's childish.
It is not a question of criticizing Obama for having essayed a new policy. The problem is that it is a bad policy.
Now, let's begin the story
On Dec. 17, 2014, President Barack Obama and Gen. Raúl Castro simultaneously announced a new type of relations based on the United States' abandonment of the policy of isolation and economic pressure maintained since 1960 by ten U.S. presidents, Republican and Democratic.
It was the end of the strategy of containment and its replacement by a sort of “engagement,” to use U.S. diplomatic parlance.
On May 29, 2015, the government of the United States eliminated Cuba from the short list of nations that support terrorism. It was the first obstacle to the granting of the concessions demanded by the Raúl Castro regime. That opens the way to:
• the eventual end of the embargo, when Congress repeals the law that keeps it in place;
• the authorization to U.S. travelers to spend their money on the island;
• the return of the Navy base at Guantánamo;
• the shutdown of the programs aimed at trying to change the Cuban regime by peaceful means, among them the Radio and TV Marti broadcasts.
• It also facilitates the possibility that Cuba may gain access in the future to the BID, the FMI, the BM or any other credit institution that today shuts its doors to Cuba.
Everything will happen in due course.
The Cuban regime has demonstrated that the persistent use of its hard-working and disciplined agents of influence, plus the perseverance in maintaining their political strategy, will eventually bring fruit. In sum, Raúl Castro has gained a very important political battle without moving one inch in the direction of freedom and democracy.
Why does the United States unilaterally renounce those measures against the Cuban dictatorship without demanding anything in exchange? It is worthwhile to examine this, dispassionately.
In my judgment, it is a change of course in U.S. policy that will hardly be revoked, at least during the Obama administration. But, even if the next president were a Republican, I doubt very much that the measures implemented by the current government of the United States will be substantially modified.
In any case, Barack Obama offered a reason. He said that those measures had not produced any results in more than half a century. I suppose he was referring to the fact that they had not overthrown the regime. To this he added a personal circumstance: he wasn't even born when the U.S. imposed the embargo.
Obama did not claim that his new policy would achieve that. On the contrary, in Panama, a few weeks later, he stated that his new policy was no longer aimed at trying to change the island's communist regime. Logically, that means that he was revoking the anti-Castro measures because Washington's objectives had changed.
To summarize, the United States, resigned to coexisting with a communist dictatorship in the neighborhood, was abandoning in Cuba the policy of containment and was adopting the strategy of engagement. Something that, of course, was consistent with the administration's general vision of relations with Latin America.
Systematically, and for many years, Washington has chosen to ignore the furious attacks by Hugo Chávez, Nicolás Maduro, Rafael Correa and Daniel Ortega, or the allusions by Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
Also, I suspect that the temporal element -- the time elapsed since Eisenhower decreed the first anti-Castro measures -- allowed him some distance from the issue of Cuba and the natural hostility toward that communist dictatorship cultivated by the presidents who preceded him.
In any case, as a principle, I think it's dangerous for a U.S. head of state to invoke the factor of “elapsed time” to judge some political measures.
Fortunately, Republicans Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr. maintained the strategy of contention set in motion by Democrat Harry S. Truman 40 years before they came to power.
If they had given in to the pressures to abandon it, as demanded by many European leaders who were fascinated by Willy Brandt's Ostpolitik -- Germany's version of engagement -- maybe the Soviet Union would still be standing, threatening the world.
One of the greatest U.S. bastions is the continuity of its institutions and the measures of government. President Obama is the 44th president of the United States, a country that has had the same Constitution since 1787 and whose first president was elected in 1789.
The origin of the sanctions
To properly judge the measures of government imposed against the Cuban dictatorship since the Eisenhower administration, it is important to know why they were dictated and why they were enforced since by ten presidents, Republicans and Democrats.
From that point on, it will be reasonable to ask what has changed to justify their modification, or whether what's happening is a strategic mistake that borders on irresponsibility.
Why did the sanctions begin?
Evidently because the regime of Fidel Castro had, since 1959, adopted a policy contrary to the interests, strategy and ideals of the United States and all the pro-Western governments, regardless of whether they were dictatorships or democracies.
To Havana, it made no difference to try to overthrow the dictators Somoza and Trujillo or the democrats Rómulo Betancourt, Manuel Prado and Arturo Ilía. It made no distinction.
In the midst of the Cold War, that policy simultaneously affected all of Washington's allies, because it was directed against what we call the West and at the time was described as “the free world,” led by the United States since the end of World War Two.
The United States' vast and elaborate policy of contention, from the Marshall Plan to the creation of NATO, passing through the Korean War, would have made no sense if Washington folded its arms in the face of the pro-Soviet government that emerged in Cuba after the flight of dictator Fulgencio Batista.
That was the position of Ike Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush (Sr.), Bill Clinton and George W. Bush (Jr.)
It might be said that this was due to the electoral weight of Cubans in Florida, but that's not true. The Cubans, who account for barely 4 percent of the votes in Florida, were not represented in Congress until the 1980s and had nothing that could be called a “lobby” until the administration of Ronald Reagan, when Jorge Mas Canosa created the Cuban-American National Foundation.
It was different then; Cold War rules applied. They were the “rules of engagement” (ROE) of that impassionate confrontation that existed between 1945 and 1989.
During that time, the United States had kept the USSR and communist China from seizing Greece and Turkey, Taiwan (Formosa), South Korea, and probably Italy and France, countries that had the most powerful communist parties in Europe.
It was in the nature of things and because of strategic consistency that the U.S. tried to keep Moscow from nurturing an aggressive ally 90 miles from its shores, capable of deploying nuclear missiles that could reach their targets in a matter of minutes.
There was no doubt as to what was happening. In December 1961, Fidel Castro, recanting his own previous statements, declared in defiant tones that he had been a Marxist-Leninist since his youth and that he would remain one until his death. So far, he has fulfilled that commitment zealously, even after the collapse of the USSR and the total discredit of collectivism as an economic formula to organize society.
Evidently, there has never been a leader more stubbornly convinced of the virtues of communism and the criminal and pernicious conduct of the United States, a country that he has decided to fight until his dying breath.
Of course, Fidel Castro's statement served to draw a reaction from the U.S. but only confirmed what was already obvious.
Before December 1961, the White House, the House and the Senate, even a great many in the press, had realized, correctly, that a government viscerally anti-American, anti-market and pro-Soviet had installed itself in Cuba.
By the time that Castro publicly admitted his ideological affiliation, more than one year had elapsed since the end of the debate on the nature of Castroism, and nobody halfway informed ignored what was happening in Cuba.
Finally, on March 17, 1960, Eisenhower signed an executive order aimed at trying to liquidate the regime that had emerged in Cuba. All his efforts to get along with his neighbor had failed. This time, it wasn't another picturesque Latin American revolutionary whom reality would eventually tame.
Trying to dislodge Castro from power was not an act of imperial arrogance but, I insist, a consequence of the Cold War. Spanish-born Soviet Gen. Francisco Ciutat de Miguel, a KGB man assigned by Moscow to advise the Cuban Armed Forces, had been living in Cuba for two weeks when Eisenhower signed the executive order against Castroism.
Ciutat used the pseudonym Ángel Martínez Riosola and was nicknamed “Angelito” -- Little Angel -- by Fidel Castro himself. He had arrived discreetly in Havana on March 5 of that year. Other comrades of his had preceded him in the task he had been assigned.
The vision and ideological mission of Cuban communists
Why did the Castro government ally itself with Moscow? Bold and delirious as it may seem coming from an impoverished sugar-producing island in the Third World, the objective was to destroy the United States, because Fidel Castro and a few of his communist collaborators, profoundly and fanatically ignorant, who had just triumphed -- against every prediction -- over Batista's dictatorship, had been conquered by the Theory of Dependency and blamed the private system of economics, the market, and the United States for all the ills that afflicted mankind.
At that moment, and I fear that until today, they firmly held two fundamental beliefs: the North American neighbor was primarily responsible for all the ills of the planet, and -- a concealed belief -- communism gave them the best excuse to remain in power permanently.
Let us allow Ernesto Che Guevara to define the vision of the Revolution in one of his key speeches, given that what he transmitted was exactly what Fidel Castro believed and proposed to carry out.
I quote Guevara in his speech “Message to the peoples of the world through the Tricontinental”:
“In the end, we must take into account the fact that imperialism is a global system, the last stage of capitalism, and needs to be defeated in a grand worldwide confrontation. The strategic objective of that struggle must be the destruction of imperialism. The role assigned to us, the exploited and backward peoples of this world, is to eliminate the bases of sustenance of imperialism: our oppressed nations, from which they extract capitals, raw materials and cheap labor and to which they export new capital -- instruments of domination, weapons and all kind of articles, plunging us in an absolute dependency. The fundamental element of that strategic objective, then, will be the real liberation of the peoples; a liberation that will be accomplished through armed struggle in most cases and will have, in America, almost unavoidably, the property of becoming a socialist revolution.”
This vision and mission, intended to destroy the United States via the domination of its allies, began to develop exactly from the very start of the Cuban revolution, as Havana dispatched guerrillas to Panama, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Bolivia, while it trained or supplied subversive groups in Peru, Argentina and Uruguay.
At the same time, in accordance with its particular vision of society's problems, the communist dictatorship that had installed itself on the island affected the material interests of the United States by confiscating a large number of properties owned by Americans.
If they thought, like the Marxists did, that private ownership of the means of production was the origin of injustice and poverty, and believed that the Americans were the most rapacious capitalists, it became clear that they would deprive the Americans of their properties. To the revolutionaries, more than a confiscation, seizure was a recovery.
At that time, because of proximity and historic affinity, Cuba was one of the nations with the largest number of U.S. investments. Therefore, all of them were expropriated without compensation.
Consequently, with its economic sanctions the United States was not trying unilaterally and with impunity to change the Cuban regime in an act of imperial arrogance.
It was a response to what Cuba was trying to do against the U.S. giant, when, in the same decade and supported by the Soviets, the island encouraged, trained and gave economic resources, arms and explosives to certain violent Afro-American separatists and to Puerto Rican independence activists, and even created an institution called the Tricontinental  to try to subvert order throughout the world.
From Soviet communism to the São Paulo Forum
Broadly speaking, the Castro brothers' alliance with Moscow lasted three decades, during which the main task of the Cuban government -- and the one most enjoyed by El Comandante -- was to fight on all fronts to achieve supremacy in its political project and defeat “Yankee imperialism.”
To achieve this, Castro had no scruples allying himself with (among others):
• characters like Libya's Muammar al-Qaddafi, an unhinged criminal ;
• the Guinean dictator Francisco Macías, accused of murdering from 30,000 to 80,000 people in a population of barely 300,000 ;
• Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini, who had replaced the Shah with an Islamic theocracy;
• and even with Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, as related by Escobar's lieutenant “Popeye” and later confirmed by architect Juan Escobar, Pablo's son, in his memoirs.
The only condition required to gain the support and appreciation of “the Cubans” was for their allies to be clearly and functionally anti-American or for them to be willing to affect the interests of the hated country.
Nevertheless, beginning with Lyndon Johnson, all the tenants of the White House tried to smooth things over with Fidel Castro, asking him, however, to stop intervening militarily or clandestinely in the affairs of other countries, both in Africa and Latin America. But in all cases they found that the Cuban dictator was not willing to give an inch in his leitmotif: to fight the United States and forge a world dominated by communist ideas.
By the end of 1979, Fidel Castro felt that his objective was close to fruition, as he told Venezuelan historian Guillermo Morón.
At that time, Cuban arms had triumphed in Angola and Ethiopia; the Sandinists, led by the Cubans, had seized power in Nicaragua, and the Comandante himself presided the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries, after steering that institution into a wholly pro-Soviet course, against the will of personages like Tito of Yugoslavia.
However, in Moscow, the successive and sudden deaths of Leonid Brezhnev (1982), Yuri Andropov (1984) and Konstantin Chernenko (1985) brought Mikhail Gorbachev to power in 1985. Gorbachev was an apparatchik willing to save the communist regime through a profound decentralizing reform -- perestroika -- accompanied by a greater degree of transparency and criticism of the government's performance -- glasnost -- a prescription suggested by theoretician Aleksandr Yakovlev, who at one time was his principal advisor.
What did Fidel Castro do in the face of this new course? An enemy of change and a profoundly conservative man, he correctly predicted the debacle that followed in the USSR. Somehow, the Comandante intuited that the model that he had learned and received from the Soviets to impose upon the Cubans could be maintained only through the control of the political police and the population's fear of reprisals.
Almost since the arrival of Gorbachev to power, Fidel Castro became a bitter enemy of perestroika. He prohibited the publication in Cuba of Gorbachev's book, “Perestroika,” and suggested that the Russian president was influenced by the CIA. He even bet that Stalinism would return to power, hand in hand with the KGB.
That certainty was not intuition but “informed judgment.” He knew it because of his old and close relations with Gen. Nikolai Leonov, the KGB's deputy chief and an active member of the conspirators, and because much of the plot to get rid of Gorbachev was hatched in the Cuban Embassy in Moscow, as revealed by Jesús Renzoli, Cuba's former interim ambassador to Moscow, after he deserted in 1991.
What did Fidel Castro do after the sinking of the USSR, the dissolution of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the transformation of almost all communist satellites in Europe into liberal democracies that today are part of the European Union and the end of the huge Soviet subsidy?
Did he try to accommodate to a post-Soviet world and promote some sort of smooth and reasonable transition to democracy that might save the Cubans from the misery they faced after the disappearance of European communism?
None of that. Fidel declared repeatedly that Cuba would sink into the sea before it would abandon Marxism-Leninism; he decreed the beginning of an interminable “special period” that has lasted until today; allowed some reforms in order to survive while warning that “now is the beginning of socialism,” and, along with Lula da Silva, assigned himself the task of picking up the rubble of the pro-communist and anti-American organizations that still remained in the world and building with it a new Internationale that he called “the São Paulo Forum.”
It was the largest amount of anti-Yankee communism allowed by circumstances after the disappearance of the USSR.
The difficult 1990s and the São Paulo Forum
Throughout the 1990s, the Cuban revolution continued to be rabidly communist and anti-American, without even sparing another demographic attack against the nearby foe, the third lunge in the history of the process: the first one was Camarioca in 1965  and the second was Mariel  in 1980, each named after the port utilized to board the rafters.
In 1994, for the third time, Fidel Castro unleashed the “balserazo,” which dumped into the Straits of Florida tens of thousands of desperate emigrants eager to reach the United States. About 34,000 rafters were temporarily settled in the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay until their admission to the United States.
Previously, 41 people, 10 of them children, died while trying to flee from Cuba in a wooden tugboat called 13 de Marzo, which sank after being rammed by Interior Ministry vessels.
In 1996, the Cuban Air Force downed two unarmed civilian planes operated by Brothers to the Rescue  over international waters, killing several U.S. citizens and a resident of the United States. Brothers to the Rescue was an organization that sent its planes to fly over the Straits to sight and help rescue Cuban rafters.
Two years later, in 1998, ten Cuban spies belonging to the Wasp Network  were arrested in South Florida. Five of them refused to collaborate with the authorities and served several years in prison until President Obama, claiming to free Alan Gross, an American held in Cuba for helping members of the Jewish community to improve its Internet connectivity, gave in to Havana's pressure and freed the three spies who had not yet served their full sentences.
The other five spies, willing to collaborate with the FBI and U.S. justice, revealed the various missions in which they engaged. In addition to spying on anti-Castro Cuban organizations and Cuban-American federal legislators, they attempted to penetrate the U.S. Southern Command, the MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, the Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, and the Naval Air Base at Key West (Boca Chica), which they did manage to infiltrate.
U.S. counterintelligence concluded that the military information gathered by the Cuban services was sold by Havana, or exchanged for other favors, to enemies of the United States -- Iraq, North Korea, Iran -- creating considerable damage.
At that time, the U.S. counterintelligence apparatus seriously suspected that the Cuban government had “moles” in the Pentagon and the State Department and even had agents of influence in the U.S. Congress, as revealed by some top-level defectors who had served in the Cuban Armed Forces and the Interior Ministry.
Eventually, a few days after the attack by Islamic terrorists against the Twin Towers and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, the FBI arrested Ana Belén Montes, a high-ranking official at the Defense Department's intelligence section, who had spied for the Cuban government for 16 years.
Ana Belén Montes was the U.S. government's senior analyst of Cuban affairs and evaluated the danger that Castroism represented for Washington.
In addition to reporting to Havana all the efforts by U.S. intelligence to collect information on the island -- a task that led her to exposing some of her colleagues operating in Cuba -- her mission as a Castro spy consisted of minimizing the dangerousness of the Cuban regime and defending the end of the economic sanctions decreed by the U.S. government.
In 2009, three years after Raúl Castro assumed the presidency of Cuba, the FBI arrested Walter Kendall Myers  (born in 1937) and his wife, Gwendolyn. Kendall Myers worked in the State Department and taught at Johns Hopkins. He was a high-ranking functionary. Both were accused of spying for Cuba for the previous 30 years. As part of a deal with the prosecution, he was sentenced to life imprisonment, she to 81 months' incarceration.
In 2010, the FBI arrested a dozen of Soviet agents who operated in U.S. territory, specifically in New York. Among them were two people who moved in Hispanic circles: Peruvian-born Vicky Peláez  and her husband, a self-described Uruguayan named Juan Arias, who was in reality a Russian citizen named Mikhail Anatolyevich, with links to the KGB.
Vicky Peláez was what is called an agent of influence. She wrote in the New York newspaper El Diario-La Prensa. Her mission was to present the point of view of Cuba, Venezuela and the rest of the countries in the 21st-Century Socialism movement. Today, after being expelled from the United States and being forced to renounce U.S. citizenship, she works in Peru for a Russian publication.
Waiting for time and decay to put an end to Castroism
Why did the United States -- at a time when Boris Yeltsin's Russia had discreetly approved of military action against the island -- not react against its neighbor, intent on creating serious problems?
No Latin American government in the history of the hemisphere had ever behaved so aggressively against the United States.
• None had confiscated U.S. property without some sort of negotiated compensation.
• None had attacked countries allied with the United States, with whom the U.S. had an explicit commitment of assistance in accordance with the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (ITRA).
• None had ceded its territory to the Soviets to deploy nuclear weapons capable of threatening the security and even the survival of the United States.
• None had exhorted Moscow to launch a preventive nuclear strike against U.S. territory.
• None had established a base to spy on communications in the United States, as the “Lourdes” base  did for many years.
• None had plotted with local subversive elements, giving them training and money to try to overthrow the government.
• None had given asylum and protection to murderers and convicted criminals, American and Puerto Rican.
• None had removed thousands of murderers from prisons to dump them on U.S. shores, knowing that they would commit horrendous crimes, as happened during the Mariel exodus.
• None had planted spies and recruited high-ranking officials in the United States' structure of power to learn the Pentagon's military moves, to find out Washington's policy and to disinform U.S. authorities about the true purposes of Cuban policy.
Yet the United States, during both the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations -- the first two U.S. governments following the disappearance of the USSR -- chose to maintain the measures of contention without resorting to violence, hoping that the natural erosion of a decrepit regime, added to the deep economic crisis created by the loss of Soviet subsidies, might end up provoking changes on the island similar to those that happened in Eastern Europa.
This U.S. stance was manifested in two laws. The first was the Cuban Democracy Act, known as the Torricelli Law, passed in 1992 at the end of George Bush Senior's term, and the second, passed in 1996, was the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, or the Helms-Burton Law, signed by President Clinton after the downing of the Brothers to the Rescue planes, precisely to respond to an aggression from the Cuban government without having to recur to military measures.
It was the smallest possible reprisal in response to the clamor of public opinion, which viewed as a symptom of extreme weakness the possibility that Washington might fold its arms after a major attack perpetrated by a weak and discredited enemy.
From the São Paulo Forum to Chávez, 21st-Century socialism and ALBA
Hugo Chávez was elected in Venezuela in late 1998 and was sworn in in January 1999.
Chávez had been practically abducted by Fidel Castro since the first time they saw each other in 1994, when the Cuban dictator invited him to deliver a lecture at the University of Havana.
At that time, Chávez was an anti-American, nationalist, putschist military officer, an admirer of Peru's Velasco Alvarado and Muammar al-Qaddafi, convinced of the virtues of a type of leftist fascism advocated by Argentine ideologist Norberto Ceresole, who proposed a type of government ruled by a military chieftain supported by an amorphous mass that followed his orders blindly.
Fidel Castro convinced Hugo Chávez that Ceresole's ideas were wrong, that Islamic fascism was not adequate for remaining in power. The right method of government was the Cuban way, learned from the Soviets but without traitors like Gorbachev.
Besides, Chávez didn't have to copy the Cuban model to the letter to replicate the way to attain power. All he needed was to adopt anti-Americanism as his leitmotif and the never-to-be-renounced Dependency Theory, which Fidel Castro -- incapable of rectifying and impervious to experience and common sense -- had not renounced.
Fidel was willing to help Chávez reach the presidency, placing at his disposal economic resources, above all the enormous apparatus of Cuban intelligence -- more than 600 officers perfectly trained, with support networks in all of the countries in the continent, forged over 40 years at the time. Among them were the best political operators in Latin America.
Venezuela was an immensely rich country and the conditions were ripe for Chávez to gain power through elections. Once in Miraflores Palace, he could carefully disassemble the democratic system of government by taking over the institutions and emptying their contents.
Meanwhile, the United States, which did not ignore the relations between Venezuela and Cuba, convinced that it was the only superpower on earth and that it was impervious to any damage those fractious and colorful neighbors might inflict, chose to ignore the alliance being gestated.
Consequently, we often heard the phrase that defined that view: “Venezuela is a nuisance, not a danger.” In any case, Venezuelan oil continued to flow toward the United States.
In April 2002, the alliance between Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez was inextricably sealed. It was then that the Venezuelan Army officers staged a coup against Chávez. It was reversed 72 hours later.
That episode convinced Chávez that he could trust only the Cubans, a realization that pushed him totally into the arms of dictator Castro, who, by that time, had assumed the dimension of a true ideological father.
For his part, Fidel saw Chávez as the ideal heir to continue the anti-imperialist struggle that he refused to renounce. Both leaders then began to think about uniting the political destiny of their countries and appointed a panel of jurists to study the way to accommodate the legislations of both nations.
In December 2005, Carlos Lage, then first vice president, said in Caracas that Cuba had two presidents, Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez. In August of that year, Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque had delivered in that same city, at the Teresa Carreño Theater, a speech in which he explained the vision and mission of the Havana-Caracas axis.
Because it is an official text that went through the hands of Fidel Castro and the Party's ideologues before being read by Pérez Roque, it is required reading for an understanding of the vision and mission of the revolution at that time and, in my opinion, right now. Those who wish to read it will find it at:
According to the Cuban document read by Pérez Roque, titled “The Defeat of Imperialism Worldwide Is Possible,” the traitors in the USSR had forgotten the mission of liberation that they had vowed to carry out, but that important role would be played thereafter by the Cuban and Venezuelan revolutions, united for the benefit of the world's poor. This, inevitably would lead them to a confrontation with the United States.
Pérez Roque, at the time the spokesman for the Cuban government, using similar but better organized words, was repeating Fidel Castro's 1962 speech titled “The Second Declaration of Havana,” and Che Guevara's “Create One, Two, Three, Many Vietnams,” delivered in 1967 to the Tricontinental Conference. The Cuban revolution, like the Bourbons, was incapable of learning and forgetting.
From summer 2006 to winter 2014
As we know, in July 2006 Fidel Castro fell gravely ill and handed the baton to his brother, Raúl, on a temporary basis.
That provisional basis kept extending with every health crisis that befell the Comandante, until in February 2008, after some single-party elections, the National Assembly of the People's Power elected Raúl Castro president of Cuba, as formally prescribed by law, by right of the post he had held temporarily.
In his first speech, General Castro made it clear that Fidel would continue to be the source of inspiration of the revolution and assured his listeners that Fidel would continue to be consulted on all important matters, most especially those related with foreign policy, something that apparently has been done religiously.
In addition, Raúl declared that he would remain in that post for only two terms, i.e., for one decade ending in 2018. That year, he (born in 1931) would be 87 years old, which may make him the oldest dictator in history.
If we add the two years of temporary rule, Raúl Castro would have spent 12 years as head of State and Government. Except for his brother Fidel, the general would be the person to have held those posts for the longest consecutive time in the history of an independent Cuba.
What has changed in Cuba's foreign policy with relation to the United States during Raulism?
The Cuban government continues to assist Venezuela with its enormous intelligence apparatus. According to all reports, Nicolás Maduro was picked by Hugo Chávez at the suggestion of the Cuban government. Maduro, a union leader with scant importance in the labor apparatus, had taken a course at the Cuban Communist Party's Ñico López school for cadres and was trusted by Havana.
The governments of the countries of the so-called 21st-Century Socialism (Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua) hold on to the vision and the behavior prescribed by Felipe Pérez Roque's 2005 speech, although he and Lage were separated from power in March 2009 for reasons that suggest a “softening” vis-à-vis the foe. The ambiguous formula used by Fidel was the following:
“The honey of power, for which they sacrificed not at all, awakened in them ambitions that led them to an unworthy role.”
What did the unworthiness consist of? Were they planning some rectification of Castroism's radical and anti-Western course? Did they come to the same conclusions as former Foreign Minister Roberto Robaina who, after frequent trips abroad, may have discovered how harebrained, prejudiced and counterproductive were Castro's justifications for establishing a collectivist tyranny?
I go on with the list.
• Cuba maintains its alliance with the radical Islamists, giving unconditional support to Iran, to whom Cuba helps forge an alliance with the most radical nations, all of them clients of Havana, and creates a circuit of support that includes Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua, countries visited by then-president Ahmadinejad. Fidel Castro's 2001 statement in Iran that Havana and Teheran would bring the Yankee imperialists to their knees was not an idle threat.
• Cuba supports and enables the Palestinians who seek the destruction of the State of Israel. The government of Raúl Castro wastes no diplomatic opportunity to attack Israel, a practice joined enthusiastically by Venezuela. In one of his vocal outbursts, Hugo Chávez even cursed Israel publicly. In the past, a brigade of Cuban tanks fought against Israel.
• Ironically, in 1998, Fidel Castro received the Muammar al-Qaddafi International Prize for Human Rights. Later, that award would go to Hugo Chávez, Evo Morales and Daniel Ortega. Cuba's alliance with Libya continued until Qaddafi's death.
• While holding secret talks with Washington over the lifting of sanctions against the Cuban government, Havana maintains military and diplomatic support for North Korea, including the clandestine shipment of arms and warplanes to a country against which the United Nations has decreed an arms embargo. In summer 2013, a ship loaded with war materiel loaded in Cuba was halted and detained in the Panama Canal Zone.
• In March 2015, four months after Obama's and Raúl Castro's simultaneous statements about the end of the United States' policy of contention, a Chinese ship was halted in Colombia carrying 100 undeclared tons of gunpowder bound for Cuba.
Why go on? I repeat the words with which I ended my seven warnings about the new relations between Washington and Havana.
Obama has made a serious mistake by separating himself from the policy followed by the 10 presidents, Democratic and Republican, who preceded him to the White House.
Nobody can state by decree that his enemy has suddenly turned into his friend and has begun to think along one's lines. That's childish.
It is not a question of criticizing Obama for having essayed a new policy. The problem is that it is a bad policy.
1. To understand Fidel Castro's ideas in those (and these) years and his perception of the United States, read The Second Declaration of Havana.
2. The source of this information is the former Cuban intelligence officer Enrique García. but there are others that raise the figure to 100,000. East Germany's STASI, a major reference for Cuban counterintelligence, assigned 89,000 officers plus 179,000 collaborators to control the population. The population-to-agents ratio was 1 to 180. In that case, Cuba would have (as García estimates) 61,000 agents plus a huge number of collaborators.
4. See: http://www.cnbc.com/id/102725159
5. See: Fue Cuba, by Juan Bautista Yofre, Buenos Aires, 2014.
6. A good summary of Fidel Castro's ideological evolution can be found in this article by Valentín Arenas, a classmate of the Comandante:
10. The peak of complicity between Fidel Castro and Qaddafi occurred when the Libyan awarded the Cuban no less than the Qaddafi International Prize for Human Rights:
11. See: Journey to the Heart of Cuba (C. A. Montaner).
12. See: Pablo Escobar, My Father, by Juan Escobar, Planeta, 2015.
13. Told by historian Morón to CAM shortly after Morón's conversation with Fidel Castro.
14. Raúl Castro and Nikolai Leonov met in Vienna in early 1953. Raúl, who was 21 then, had attended a Youth Festival as a guest of the PSP, the party of Cuban communists. Those ceremonies, organized by the intelligence services of the USSR, were intended to identify future collaborators. That was Leonov's first operation as a young agent of the NKVD. They met again in Mexico in 1956, when the Castro brothers prepared the Granma expedition. Leonov was on duty in Mexico, under the cover of a diplomat. Mexican police took from Che Guevara a business card from Leonov. Since then, relations between the Castro brothers and Leonov were very close. At the time the USSR dissolved, Leonov was a KGB general, the KGB's second in command. After the disappearance of the Soviet Union, Leonov became a Duma deputy.
16. In 1965, Fidel Castro carried out his first deliberate migratory aggression against the United States. Called the Camarioca exodus, it consisted of sending 200,000 Cubans to the U.S. via the Freedom Flights. See:
19. The sinking of the tugboat 13 de marzo is perhaps the worst abuse against the population perpetrated by the Cuban political police. The best account of that event appears in:
20. A very personal and accurate account of the downing of the Brothers to the Rescue planes was published by journalist Angélica Mora:
21. The Cuban regime referred to the Wasp Network of Cuban spies as “the five heroes.” In reality, they were 27 and the FBI arrested 10.
23. This account in The Washington Post is the best that has been published about this case:
24. A great description of the Myers spies:
26. For a description, see:
The base was shut down by Vladimir Putin in 2001 but rumors spread in summer of 2014 that talks about its reopening were underway.
29. Ceresole: Portrait and Anti-Semitism: http://zeek.forward.com/articles/116835/
30. The 600 intelligence officers, perfectly trained, have the support of 1,000 military personnel who maintain the support and logistics networks. (Enrique García)
31. Lawyer Osvaldo Dorticós was president in name only (1959-1976) because the authority and the real power were in the hands of then-Prime Minister Fidel Castro. After the Constitution of 1976, copied from the Soviet model, Fidel became President and the post of Prime Minister or Head of Government was abolished. Dorticós committed suicide in 1983 at age 64. The official note attributed his death to an intense back pain. Popular rumor was that he took his own life, disenchanted with the revolution and Fidel Castro, who no longer even received him.