Archive for May 28th, 2013

A Chat with a Cuban Agent Back from Miami

May 28, 2013

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(Rene is considered a hero in Cuba. As we were preparing to do our interview, we could not go a block without someone stopping him to pay their respects. Photo: Raquel Perez)

Fernando Ravsberg*

On September 12, 1998, the FBI dismantled a network of Cuban spies who had been monitoring anti-Castro groups based in Miami. A number of these spies negotiated with the prosecution to have their sentences reduced, but five refused to do so. Their convictions, which included life sentences, were the most severe.
One of these five Cuban men was pilot Rene Gonzalez, recently released from a US prison, following nearly 13 years of incarceration and another nearly two years on parole. Now back living in Cuba, he agreed to talk to me about his life as an agent, his activities in the United States and his time in prison.

Why did you agree to go the United States and act as a spy there?
-I am part of a generation of Cubans who grew up under the threat of terrorist actions against the country. I’ve never forgotten the hijacking of Cuban fishing vessels and the murder of their crews, which were often perpetrated by terrorist groups based in Miami. I was one of the millions of people who attended the massive gathering held in honor of those who were killed off the coast of Barbados, in the terrorist bombing of a Cuban airliner. So, when I was asked to do this, I didn’t hesitate. I felt it was my duty as a patriot.

Is it ethical to spy on another country?
-I believe it is ethical to defend yourself when you are being attacked and that was what I set out to do. The most powerful nation in the world has attacked us for many years and we have the right to defend ourselves, provided we do no harm to the American people. At no point was it our intention to do anyone any harm, we merely exercised our right to defend ourselves.

When you lead that kind of double-life, you probably also meet good people along the way. Did you feel you were betraying those people at any point?
-The human element can complicate things. In all of these groups, you find good people who actually believe in what they’re doing, or people who are manipulated or harbor prejudices. You learn to recognize them, to identify those who are good people and those who are not. You realize that many of these people would have stayed on board (with the Revolution) under different circumstances and you begin to treat them with the kindness that they deserve.
I don’t want to mention any names, so as not to cause anyone any trouble over there, but I met people who had been officials in Batista’s army, elderly people, and I’m still like a son to them, just as they are like parents to me.

What kind of information were you after? It’s my understanding some of you were operating in a military base.
-One of us was at a military base. He was divulging public information, he never had access to anything classified and never looked for it. His job was to compile as much publicly available information about the Cayo Hueso base as he could, because the base is a place where you can pick up signs of a possible terrorist attack against Cuba.

What did the others do?
-Gerardo was in charge of coordinating the network’s activities. I had infiltrated several organizations: Brothers to the Rescue (Hermanos al Rescate), Democracy (Democracia), United Liberation Command (Comando de Liberación Unido) and others. I went through quite a number of different groups, because anyone who needs a small plane for their operations also needs a pilot and I was available.
On the subject of Brothers to Rescue, Gerardo is accused of causing the deaths of its four pilots. Did you actually have anything to do with that?
We had nothing to do with that. I would say that the most audacious thing the prosecution did to politicize the trial was to present the charges of the Brothers to the Rescue incident. Gerardo can’t even be accused of murder; he can only be accused of conspiracy to commit murder, that is, working with others, the government of Cuba, in this case, to commit murder, which would lead to the illicit death of a person not living in Cuba. Neither of the two charges could be substantiated.

Why were the sentences so severe then?
-It’s something that goes beyond these incidents; it’s the profound hatred towards Cuba they feel. I would go as far as saying it’s an act of revenge, for Cuba’s endurance. The US government has an unhealthy obsession with Cuba, an obsession that is responsible for the irrational policies of the last 50 years.
The sentences are irrational. They reveal that the prosecution is subservient to the terrorists who run Miami. The FBI chief himself boasted of having ties to those individuals.
If this is the case, why did the Cuban government provide the FBI with the information that led to your capture?
In 1998, Gabriel Garcia Marquez acted as a kind of liaison [for President Fidel Castro] to approach two FBI officials and offer them our cooperation in the fight against terrorism. These officials were given a folder containing evidence. But it wasn’t the information Cuba offered them which led to our capture. The evidence suggests that we were already under investigation at the time.
I also think that, ethically speaking, the fight against terrorism ought to unite our governments, over and above our ideological differences. I am for cooperation with other governments in this sense.

Were you given an opportunity to negotiate? Why did you refuse to?
-Yes, of course. They also offered us good deals. One had his sentence reduced to 5 years, and he was being charged with the same crime as Antonio Guerrero, that is, they would have sentenced him to life in prison. It’s hard for some people to turn down an offer like.
You have to debase yourself as a person. When you’re offered a deal, the US prosecutors tell you that, if you don’t lie in court and if you refuse to do what you’re told, you’re going to rot in jail. You have to decide whether to lie or not.
And you know you’re being used to accuse your country of espionage and attack it, to gather false evidence against Cuba. A Cuban agent confirming everything the prosecutors claim about Fidel, about the Cuban government, about Raul, would have been used to put together such evidence.
So, we’re talking about two very important factors, your dignity as a human being and Cuba’s defense. We went on a mission knowing it could cost us our lives, not just a prison term, and we did it to protect the Cuban people.

How were you treated in prison?
-While on trial, they put us in solitary confinement, in the prison’s punishment ward, and kept us there for 17 months. They were very rough with us, our families were mistreated, I wasn’t allowed to see my daughters, the medical attention we got was lousy. They tried to break us, but we had enough moral fortitude to resist.
Outside Miami, the political aspects of the case aren’t as determining, you’re just another inmate. It also depends on the prison’s security level. It’s crime that Gerardo should be kept in a maximum security prison, because these are very violent places, where very dangerous confrontations between gangs take place.
I was lucky, because I was put in a medium security prison, in the Eastern United States, where there aren’t as many gangs and violent acts are less frequent.

Do you believe that exchanging your comrades for Alan Gross is a fair proposal?
-I don’t know whether “exchanging” is the right word. No one wants to us it, politicians are complicated people. But I think it is, yes. I think all six families would benefit from it. I don’t think any side should have to make a unilateral gesture, it seems absurd, an arrogant suggestion.
I have nothing against Mr. Gross. I believe that politically-motivated crimes should be dealt with a certain degree of benevolence, provided it’s not an atrocious crime, because these are prompted by convictions that deserve respect, whatever these are. I would be pleased to see this matter resolved and above all to see the two governments settle all of the problems they have.

Why do you think the US government doesn’t exchange the Five, as they did with Russian spies?
-Wayne Smith, a former top US diplomat in Cuba, says that Cuba has the same effect on the US government that the full moon has on a werewolf.
Cuba breaks with an entire tradition of domination in the continent, a history which had known no exception until the Cuban revolution, hence their contempt. They hate Cuba for the Bay of Pigs, for the Missile Crisis, for existing and serving as an example for others.
—–
(*) Visit BBC correspondent Fernando Ravsberg’s blog (in Spanish): http://cartasdesdecuba.com/,
this is a HavanaTimes translation

Cuban Journalists for Better Use of the Media on the Net

May 28, 2013

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Cuban journalist are seeking to increase the effectiveness of the use of the social networks as well as the content of their messages.
By: Nelson García Santos
juventudrebelde.cu

Villa Clara.— Cuban journalists gathered in the First Regional Workshop on Cuban Media on the Net, held in Santa Clara, capital of the central province of Villa Clara last week.

Presided over by the head of the Media Department in the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, Roberto Montesinos, the workshop focused on the challenges Cuban journalists face to make better use of the internet when it comes to spreading Cuba’s message to the world.

In order to achieve this, Cuban journalists must create a communication strategy in which they work responsibly and professionally, he said.

The political leader also pointed out that this work should not be taken as just another work task. The work must be effective otherwise it may end up doing more damage than good.

Montesinos called on the journalists to effectively organize, plan and execute all the strategic tools available to them.

Journalist of the written press, radio and television discussed extensively the application of new formulas to increase the quality of the materials broadcast and the effectiveness of the materials released through web platforms, websites, emails, and the profiles on social networks of both media professionals and webmasters.

In this sense, the journalists at the workshop agreed that it is necessary to change the poor intent of many of the messages conveyed by Cuban media and increase the quality of the content.

In the case of the social networks, journalists were invited to go beyond the headlines and make a personal assessment of the topics they are dealing with. Likewise, they were called on to be prepared to debate highly controversial issues.

The delegates from the central provinces of Cienfuegos, Sancti Spíritus, Villa Clara, Ciego de Ávila and Camagüey agreed that they have to make a better use of all the advantages of social networks, especially in attracting new readers.

Attending the workshop were the head of the Ideological Department of the Communist Party in Villa Clara Wilfredo Hernández, and Joaquín Suárez, an official of the Central Committee, who insisted on the need for journalists to dominate the techniques of journalism on the net and share more on the social networks in real time, among other things.

Translated by ESTI

Cuba Expands Public Internet Services

May 28, 2013

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Cuba will expand public internet services next June 4 in some 118 cyber centers operating throughout the country, according to a resolution issued by the island’s Communications Ministry.

The Internet services will be offered in all commercial offices of the Cuban Telecommunications Company ETECSA, which count on Internet rooms. With this aim a total of 118 facilities were set up on the island, particularly in main cities, while other similar facilities will progressively be opened.

The new offer includes Internet navigation and other services, such as international email services under the domain nauta.cu, and according to prices already set under a resolution issued by the Finance and Price Ministry, which was published May 27 on the official Gazette.

The prices of the service depend on the modality picked by users, such as national or international internet access, including email service. In all cases, users will be provided the services only at ETECSA cyber centers.
The expansion of theses services join others that have been operating in over 200 cyber-centers in Cuban hotels, as well as in post offices. The initiative came in after the optic fiber cable connecting Cuba and Venezuela became operational, thus guaranteeing higher quality and stability for local communications, despite the limitations imposed by the US economic, commercial and technological blockade of Cuba.

Although the optic fiber cable improves international communications, which have thus far been established mainly via satellite, it is not a free service; therefore, the expansion of the public internet service has a preliminary cost.

On the other hand, important investment is still necessary to be implemented in order to modernize current technology and expand facilities where the public can connect to the Internet, which includes different alternative actions.

Cuba first connected to the Internet in 1996 and since that point in time it has prioritized its social use, despite the hurdles imposed by the US policy against the island.

Cubanews/lcg/lcg/05-28-13


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