Rosa Miriam Elizalde and Luis Báez Hernández, “THE DISSIDENTS”: Cuban State Security Agents Reveal the True Story. Havana: Editora Política [firstname.lastname@example.org], 2003.
This is an important and persuasive book. It should be brought to the attention of all those who are inclined to support Cuba but are not fully informed about the “dissidents” who were tried and imprisoned by the Cuban government in 2003. “Progressive Cuba-bashers,” to use Richard Levins’s apt term, mistakenly believe like David Finkel, writing in the September/October 2004 issue of Against the Current that those who were imprisoned were victimized “for non-violent expression of views the regime can’t tolerate.” This is not the case, as this book proves.
In his speech given at the book’ s launching, which is printed as the introduction to the English edition, Felipe Pérez Roque, Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, observed that “the so-called ‘dissidents’ in Cuba are a creation of the aggressive policy of the US government…and form part of the strategy to obtain, through pressure and blackmail, the condemnation of Cuba in the [UN] Commission on Human Rights, which can then be used as justification for the blockade.” While tolerated for years, it was only after Bush made “pre-emptive war” against Iraq and, without a sense of irony, labeled Cuba “terrorist” and put it high on its list for “regime change” that the “dissidents” were arrested for provocation and subversion not for “non-violent expression of views the regime can’t tolerate” and brought to justice. Their efforts to build a network to overthrow Cuban socialism to “aid in the transition,” as US legislation authorizing money (some $20 million so far under the 1996 Helms-Burton Act) delicately puts it¾were thwarted by agents of Cuban State Security.
This book, however, is not just the sworn testimony of those who infiltrated the US- financed movements. It contains numerous photographs and documents supporting their statements. These clearly constitute hard evidence for any court of law. Many of the documents are on official US stationery. In all, we have here a compelling case that the movements constituted foreign-financed efforts at destabilization rather than a genuine internal opposition. In addition, the book contains thumbnail biographies of a number of counterrevolutionaries and terrorists now in Miami who are still making mischief in Cuba.
The eight Cuban State Security agents interviewed in “The Dissidents” had all surfaced as prosecution witnesses at the 2003 trials in Havana, thus blowing their covers as “dissidents” and making this book possible. These eight are the cream of the Cuban revolution and the counterparts to the Cuban Five, their comrades, also members of Cuban State Security, long imprisoned in the US for infiltrating and reporting on the activities of counterrevolutionary groups in Miami.1
The interviews were done in a week’s time by two award-winning Cuban journalists: Luis Báez Hernández, 78, of Havana (a war correspondent during the Bay of Pigs invasion), and Rosa Miriam Elizalde, 38, of Sancti Spiritus (a columnist and then assistant director of Juventud Rebelde, the author of two books on prostitution, and currently director of the online publications www.cubasi.cu and www.antiterroristas.cu).
Agent Miguel, one of the people interviewed, joined the Cuban Democratic Socialist Current (CSCD) in 1992 and then, on instructions from Cuban State Security, the Cuban Association of Independent Journalists (APIC). There he found a “crazy world of gossip and intrigue.” He was given a computer and paid $100 a month from sources in Miami and given instructions by the counterrevolutionary Cuban American National Foundation and by Charles Shapiro, head of the Cuba desk at the US State Department. He was also directed by Judith Bryan of the US Interest Section in Havana.
Judith Bryan gave Miguel “precise instructions and supplies” to carry out his work. ‘Just to give you an idea of how intense this relationship was,” reported Miguel, “between early 2002 and March 2003, when my true identity was revealed, I went to the Interest Section 21 times.” He had an open pass to go in and use their email and their computers. The Interest Section personnel asked him for “information on the economy, on the personal lives of our leaders, and on the socio-political situation. We were given instructions to use our articles as ‘independent journalists’ to attack the government.” He was asked by Elizalde and Báez whether he had any regrets. He answered that in his guise as a top independent journalist, ‘I had the trust of the head of the Interest Section…and thought that there was still a lot more that I could do, but I am disciplined and understood the reasons [to surface]. Of course, in personal terms, I feel a huge relief.” Why? “Can you imagine just how badly someone can want to be himself?”
Agent Odilia Collazo Valdés took the name “Tania” in honor of Tamara Bunke, Che’s comrade in arms who was ambushed and killed in Bolivia in 1965 by US-trained, supplied, and guided Bolivian Rangers of General Barrientos’s military dictatorship. For fourteen years Agent “Tania” worked for Cuban State Security. She led a double life as the elected President of the Cuban Pro Human Rights Party in 1991. It was one of the main “dissident” groups on the island, and her testimony at the trials, she says, was considered “one of the most devastating depositions ever heard in the Supreme Court.”
In 1988 “Tania” was the mother of two young children and managed a general store. State Security approached her asking her to join the small Pro Human Rights Party, which she reluctantly did, eventually building it nationwide. Three years later she was elected its president. “I was the only activist in the party who had a phone. So in 1991 I became the spokesperson on the national executive… My home became the scene of anti-government plotting and there were a lot of frictions, because I’d taught my children from an early age to love the Revolution, and they didn’t understand this sudden change.”
Initially “Tania” was sent her instructions from the Pro Human Rights Party in Miami “until one fine day I started getting them directly from the US Interest Section,” specifically from Timothy Brown, who cared for her and confided that he was in the CIA. He wanted her to survey the attitudes of people in Havana on the “embargo,” which Cubans more accurately call the “blockade.” “We invented all the information, from one end of the city to the other,” avoiding even numbers because “odd numbers were more convincing.”
Her relations with Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the Vice-consul who requested the survey, came to a head. “He was a very cold man, a real tyrant, who always looked down his nose at us.” “Tania” told him, “Look, I’m out there in the streets with State Security on my tail day in and day out. You should respect us; this is our country [etc.]. After that, whenever I went to the Interest Section, they called me in first, ahead of all the other counterrevolutionaries sitting there waiting to talk to him. That’s how I got in with them.”
During the nine years of her US-approved Presidency of the Pro Human Rights Party, she was in contact with the counterrevolutionaries in Miami “by radio, over the internet, and by phone. Agent “Tania,” like Miguel and many others, had a pass to use the facilities of the Interest Section at any time. Until her cover was blown, not only did she appear on numerous radio shows but she wrote denunciations. “Those reports on human rights violations in Cuba, the ones the Interest Section sent to the State Department, were written by me.” She learned to use a computer at the Interest Section and, in her role as an “independent journalist,” wrote about social, political, and economic problems, as well as the situation of prisoners. She went all over the island and was asked to locate problematic political situations. When she did, she escorted Interest Section personnel to those places and told them who to get in touch with.
The cash came from Miami, from Frank Hernández Trujillo and Democratic Action, arriving via Western Union or delivered by a “mule” who came from Miami and got a commission for the delivery. Like the others, she got fancy meals at the Interest Section and “all sorts of gifts.” She met with officers of other embassies, including the “especially cooperative” Spanish and German, as well as other diplomatic missions of the European Union, Poland, Canada, and some Latin American embassies. There she was instructed to inform the diplomats of human rights violations, “so that this wasn’t seen as something done solely by the Americans, or the people at the Interest Section in particular. The idea was to convince them that the denunciations were coming from us, the Cubans.”
Philip Agee, in an important article published in Socialism and Democracy [S&D #34], described how the US and groups like NGOs under its control campaigned to push various dissidents forward, often getting them international recognition. “Tania” reported that she “saw this myself from inside the Interest Section. All the awards originally came from there and were bestowed upon nobodies who were transformed into ‘generals without armies.'” Money for them came through NGOs or from Miami.
The Varela Project is one of the main avenues the US uses to subvert Cuba. “Tania” knew its leader, Oswaldo Payá, quite well. Although he is presented by the “dissident journalists” as an average Cuban, he takes his family to the beach in a nine-passenger Volkswagen. “In his living room, where he receives diplomats, foreign correspondents, and other visitors from abroad, he has old furniture and a Russian television set. He puts on a real show. But in the rest of the house, he has every modern convenience you can imagine in a very comfortable home.” Payá had stable ties to the Cuban American National Foundation as well as to the Interest Section. “Tania” “was a witness, sitting at the same table with him and Vicky [Victoria Huddleston, head of the Interest Section before the current James Cason], when she personally instructed him to seek support for the Varela Project in the European Union, primarily in the embassies of Belgium and Germany and especially Spain….” Huddleston and Cason appear often in the book directing the “dissidents.”
In an interview in Disidente magazine (published in Puerto Rico and promoted by the Interest Section), Huddleston was interviewed and “denied official accusations of alleged funding given to dissidents by US diplomatic officials on the island, and stated that this was a ‘fabrication of the Cuban state.'” “The dissidents,” she stated, “are fighting for their ideas and their beliefs, not for any salary we might pay them. I never even gave them a suggestion.” “Tania” spoke of the scene when gifts were given out at the Interest Section. “It was a free-for-all, like breaking a piñata. People descended like vultures on the gift bags and trays of prawns and lobsters, to the point where the actual diplomatic corps got nothing to eat. When the gift bags and food appeared, protocol went out the window. It was like a feeding frenzy among sharks. In the end, James Cason reorganized the receptions; there was one bag per person and that was that.”
Agent “Tania” ends her interview with an extraordinary account of her relations with her father, a man of humble origins, a sponge fisherman who served 33 years in the Cuban Navy. He defended Cuba at the Bay of Pigs but was placed in Cabana prison as a “political prisoner.” She visited him every three months and learned that he was known as “a hardliner’s hardliner. He had been convicted of conspiring with some of his fellow Navy members, stripped of his rank, and treated as a traitor to the nation.” “Tania’s” father would pass her notes in secret and then take them back and hide them under his dental plate. “In his notes he always told me never to stop loving the revolution.” Confused, she later asked her contacts at State Security about her Dad. They told her nothing, “that there were things that couldn’t be discussed. My mother and brothers and sisters had no answers either. As far as they were concerned he was a traitor to his country. Full stop.” “Tania” persisted in asking her officials about him. “He told me, ‘Odilia, you’re going to have to keep this secret close, because it could cost you your life. Your father was one of us.’ We both wept.” Her father went to prison to keep tabs on the counterrevolutionaries. He had told no one. He came out of prison in 1969 after serving six years and died in 1988. He took his secret to his grave.
The United States has coveted Cuba since Thomas Jefferson’s presidency. John Quincy Adams declared it was only natural for Cuba to fall within the US orbit. The US invaded Cuba in 1898 and occupied it for four years in order to prevent its independence. It was not until 1959 that Cuba broke free of US neo-colonialism.
The Cuban revolutionaries, through their educational system, their superior health care, their ecological consciousness, their housing and employment policies, and above all, their internationalism, have shown that another world is possible. That’s what scares the United States and that’s what should motivate our solidarity.
The Cuban people, Felipe Pérez Roque observes, “have been obliged to overcome our initial innocence, and this book is above all a testimony to the epic efforts of a people defending their right to self-determination.” At stake here is no less than “whether or not Cuba can be an independent country.”
Reviewed by Michael Steven Smith
National Lawyers Guild and Brecht Forum
1. On the Cuban Five, see selections from their court-statements, in S&D #32, and the article by attorney Leonard Weinglass, in S&D #34; also www.freethefive.org.