Articles, Opinions, and Papers

July 2018
Caimanera, Cuba (CNN)It's one of the most isolated places on an already isolated island.
April 2017
CARAMBOLA, Cuba -- A Cuban military plane crashed into a hillside Saturday in the western province of Artemisa, killing eight troops on board, the government said.
More than a dozen retired military officers are urging the Trump administration to keep normalizing relations with Cuba to strengthen U.S. national security interests.
March 2017
Although Cuba sits in close proximity to Caribbean drug lanes and the U.S. market, the U.S. State Department’s annual narcotics control report found that it’s not a major consumer, producer or transit point for illegal narcotics, and drug consumption on the island remains low.
Hundreds of U.S. forces are rehearsing a migrant crisis this week at the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, a massive multimillion dollar drill that envisions the United States capturing huge numbers of people in the Caribbean bound for the United States — and how the military, State Department and Homeland Security would collaborate on handling it.
November 2016
The Cuban government has announced it will hold five days of nationwide military exercises to prepare for "a range of enemy action".
February 2016
Washington (CNN)The Cuban government has returned a missing U.S. missile sent to Europe for training but inadvertently shipped to Cuba, a State Department official said.
"I eat breakfast 300 yards from 4,000 Cubans who are trained to kill me," sneered Guantánamo base commander Marine Col. Nathan R. Jessup, Jack Nicolson's character in the hit movie A Few Good Men.
A colonel in Cuba’s Ministry of the Interior led a Havana delegation that met with U.S. officials in Miami this week on ways to battle human trafficking and migration fraud during a session at the office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
January 2016
WASHINGTON -- A dummy U.S. Hellfire missile was mistakenly shipped from Europe to Cuba in 2014, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.
October 2015
"A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes," quipped humorist Mark Twain, repeating an old adage. The report that Cuban troops had deployed to Syria to drive Russian tanks in support of the Bashar al-Assad's government swept across conservative social media like a firestorm earlier this month after the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami posted it, citing no sources whatsoever.
HAVANA (Reuters) - The Cuban government on Saturday denied what it called an "irresponsible and unfounded" report that it had sent troops to Syria in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
January 2015
Washington (CNN)Just over a month after the release of American aid worker Alan Gross from a Cuban prison ushered in a new era between Washington and Havana, the relationship is facing a new chill.
July 2014
Russia and Cuba have agreed on returning a Soviet intelligence facility in Lourdes near Havana to Russia for use, Kommersant business daily wrote Wednesday.
June 2014
When Raúl Castro became president of Cuba in his own right in 2008, he replaced most of his brother Fidel's cabinet with ministers of his own choosing. In March 2009, he announced a sweeping reorganization of the government bureaucracy, replacing nine veteran ministers and firing Fidel's proteges, Carlos Lage, the de facto prime minister, and Felipe Pérez-Roque, the foreign minister. By 2012, across 26 ministries, only three of Fidel's appointees were still in office. Raúl's new ministers came from the ranks of experienced professionals, a number of them from the armed forces.
July 2012
MOSCOW - Russia is talking to Cuba, Vietnam and the Indian Ocean island country of Seychelles about housing Russian navy ships, the nation's navy chief said in remarks reported Friday.
November 2011
HAVANA (AP) - State media says President Raul Castro has named a close confidante as Cuba's new defense minister.

An announcement read on Tuesday's nightly newscast said Leopoldo Cintra Frias, who joined Castro and his brother's rebel movement in his early teens and has been a soldier ever since, w
September 2011
Cuba’s next Armed Forces Minister will be an old comrade-in-arms of Raúl Castro. Or a younger man whose selection will hint at the island’s future leadership. Or a hardliner who will not hesitate to crush street riots.
February 2011
Nineteen eighty-nine was a good year for freedom. Only in China did the Communist Party crush the protestors who slowly took possession of Tiananmen Square from April 14 on. When the tanks and soldiers rolled in on June 3-4, there was hardly any concrete to be seen on the square. Up to 1,500 people were massacred.
April 2010

Ex-general: Cubans involved in Chavez's military

April 23, 2010

AP- Ian James, Miami Herald

CARACAS, Venezuela -- A former Venezuelan army general on Thursday denounced what he called the widespread involvement of Cuban troops in President Hugo Chavez's military. Former Brig. Gen. Antonio Rivero, who used to head the government's emergency management agency, said his decision to retire from the army this month was motivated mainly by "the presence and meddling of Cuban soldiers" in Venezuela's armed forces. He told reporters that Cubans are now involved in training troops, including courses for snipers, and are also playing a role in intelligence, weapons, communications and other areas. There was no immediate reaction from Chavez's government. Rivero's televised remarks add to claims by government critics that Cuban advisers and operatives hold various positions in the government and military. Opposition politician Julio Borges demanded earlier this month that the government provide information about Cubans working for the government, saying "never before in our history have we allowed citizens of another country to assume key posts associated with national security." Borges said without providing details that Cuban advisers are now working at high levels in ports administration, telecommunications, immigration, the police, the electrical sector and the key oil industry. As director of the emergency management agency, Rivero used to be the voice of the government in responding to disasters including plane crashes and floods. He was replaced in that post in 2008 after five years and returned to his army duties. Rivero said in his infantry division there were "classes like the one for snipers" where Cuban soldiers and personnel provided training. He said Cubans were also involved in teaching military doctrine at the command level, and are also in divisions like military engineering. Cubans, he said, are now placed "at a high level in vital areas of national security." Rivero also denounced the "politicization" of the military, including the slogan soldiers now repeat when saluting: "Socialist homeland or death!" Among other complaints, he condemned Chavez's enlistment of supporters in a growing civilian militia and said it's improper for the president, a civilian, to wear a military uniform as Chavez often does. Chavez, a former paratroop commander, has made Cuba his closest ally since he took office in 1999. He often visits Fidel Castro, calling him a mentor, and has praised Cuba as a "revolutionary democracy." Venezuela has also become a key economic benefactor to Cuba, sending the island about 100,000 barrels of oil a day on preferential terms in exchange for the services of thousands of Cuban doctors, whose work in free clinics has helped boost Chavez's political support. During a speech to Cubans in that medical mission last week, Chavez told the crowd: "Cubans, I tell you speaking from the heart, I feel like I'm from Cuba now. I feel like I'm one more Cuban." During a meeting in Caracas this week, neither Chavez nor Cuban President Raul Castro publicly discussed details of Cuban advisers' other government roles. The Cuban president said before leaving on Wednesday that he is pleased relations are growing stronger. Increasingly, Castro said, "we're the same thing." .
March 2010

U.S. report: Cuban media seldom fault military's role in economy

March 25, 2010

Juan Tamayo, El Nuevo Herald

Cuba's government-run news media regularly praises the armed forces as a model of efficiency, yet seldom mentions their powerful role in the island's crippled economy, according to a U.S. intelligence report. Raúl Castro has been increasingly presenting himself as a civilian leader, the report added, appearing less frequently in his army general's uniform and more often in suits or guayaberas. The report was issued Feb. 26 by the Open Source Center (OSC), a U.S. intelligence community branch that monitors foreign news accounts. It was not publicly released, but a copy was obtained and published by Secrecy News, a Federation of American Scientists program on government secrecy. Cuba's military, widely viewed as the most respected official institution on the island, controls an estimated 60 percent of the country's economy, hard hit by the global financial crisis, hurricane damages and domestic failures. Many of its top officers have studied business administration abroad, and the management system it uses in its own enterprises in areas such as tourism is portrayed in Cuba as a model to be followed. The OSC analysis noted, however, that while Cuba's official media frequently praised the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), it made little mention of the military's leading role in the economy. ``State media portray the military as a model of collective and individual performance [and] regularly find fault with civilian agencies and workers .... but coverage of the military is generally ... silent on the subject of FAR involvement in the Cuban economy,' the report noted. The state media in 2009 ``had only one mildly critical report on the military: a call for improved living conditions for active duty soldiers,' added the report, titled ``Cuba -- Military's Profile in State Media Limited, Positive.' One Radio Rebelde broadcast on Sept. 2 directly contrasted what it called the FAR's immediate response to the three hurricanes that devastated Cuba in 2008 with the ``slow pace of civilian-led recovery work,' according to the OSC report. ``There's a disconnect here. They have a pretty large phalanx of military people running the economy,' yet they're spared blame for the economic crisis, said Brian Latell, senior research associate at the University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies. ``Maybe it's another reflection of the ... dysfunction of the regime.' The OSC report added that Castro was ``atypically visible and engaged' during the Bastión military exercise in November, ``but more commonly he presents himself as a civilian rather than military leader.' ``Castro appeared in uniform in about one-fourth of his media appearances during 2009, down from just over a third in 2008,' according to the report, and he ``generally meets foreign visitors wearing a suit or a more casual guayabera.' Castro gave up his job as minister of defense and became president ofCuba in early 2008, replacing his ailing brother Fidel, although the Havana media still refers to him often as ``General Raúl Castro.' Other top military officers, such as Defense Minister Gen. Julio Casas Regueiro, his three three vice ministers and the commanders of Cuba's three regional armies, had a ``largely ceremonial presence in state media, where the military receives limited but overwhelmingly favorable coverage.' Their names appeared in the media less often last year than in 2008, but that's probably because several were promoted in 2008, according to the OSC report. Vice Defense Minister Gen. Leopoldo Cintra Frias was the most visible military leader in 2009, mentioned 17 times in the media, according to the report, and was the only one reported to have traveled abroad.
November 2009

Cuba military exercise guards against US invasion

November 27, 2009

AP- Paul Haven, Miami Herald

HAVANA -- Cuba's armed forces launched three days of intense military exercises across the island Thursday, a mobilization that state-controlled media says is designed to guard against an American invasion. Americans focused on a U.S. military assault more likely are thinking about how President Barack Obama will pursue war in Afghanistan - not Cuba. But the siege mentality of the Cold War hasn't faded on the island, where the communist government continues to warn about imperialist aggression and the menace from the north. The exercises, which run through Saturday, are the first since President Raul Castro took over from his brother Fidel in February 2008 - and since relations between Havana and Washington began to thaw somewhat under Obama. The U.S. leader has loosened financial and travel restrictions on Cuba. The two countries have begun negotiations on restarting direct mail service, and there is talk of future cooperation on counter-narcotics and disaster relief, among other things. More than the specifics, officials on both sides speak of a new tone between Havana and Washington that has made further progress a possibility. But the rhetoric connected with Thursday's mobilization - dubbed "Bastion 2009" - displayed none of that new warmth. Radio Rebelde said the attack was aimed at "confronting a possible aggression by North American imperialism." The state-run newspaper Granma called the mobilization the largest and most important in more than five years. The exact number of troops involved are not known, but past exercises have involved hundreds of thousands of people - both uniformed and civilian. "The current political-military situation that characterizes the confrontation between Cuba and the U.S. government has made these strategic exercises a necessity of the first order," said an article on the Radio Rebelde Web site. All Cuban media is tightly controlled by the government. Analysts say Cuba is more concerned with sending a message to those who would seek to destabilize the country than with an actual military assault. "I don't think it is so much that they expect an invasion or anything like it," said Hal Klepak, a Cuba military expert and professor emeritus at the Royal Military College of Canada. "I think what they worry about is disorder in Cuba of any kind that would lead to blood in the streets." Such a show of force is particularly important, Klepak said, given the open question of who would succeed Fidel and Raul Castro, aged 83 and 78, and because of Cuba's current economic difficulties. But he said a fear of outside agitation is not far-fetched given America's long history of intervention in Cuba and the strong anti-Castro feelings of some in the exile community. In 1961, U.S.-backed Cuban exiles launched the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion against Fidel Castro's fledgling communist government. A year later, the world came to the brink of nuclear Armageddon after the Soviet Union stationed missiles on the island, and the United States insisted they be removed. Washington has maintained an economic embargo on Cuba for 47 years. Obama has said he would like to see Cuba's government enact social, political and economic reforms. But he has categorically ruled out a military invasion, most recently in written comments made last week to Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez. The military exercises began in the 1980s and have taken place sporadically since then, most recently in 2004. They were meant to be held in 2008, but had to be canceled because of the need to use the armed forces to help rebuild after several large hurricanes hit the island, causing billions of dollars in damage.

Drills to guard against `aggression'

November 27, 2009

AP- Paul Haven, Miami Herald

HAVANA -- Cuba's armed forces launched three days of intense military exercises across the island Thursday, a mobilization that state-controlled media says is designed to guard against an American invasion. Americans focused on a U.S. military assault more likely are thinking about how President Barack Obama will pursue war in Afghanistan -- not Cuba. But the siege mentality of the Cold War hasn't faded on the island, where the communist government continues to warn about imperialist aggression and the menace from the north. The exercises, which run through Saturday, are the first since President Raúl Castro took over from his brother Fidel in February 2008 -- and since relations between Havana and Washington began to thaw somewhat under Obama. The U.S. leader has loosened financial and travel restrictions on Cuba. The two countries have begun negotiations on restarting direct mail service, and there is talk of future cooperation on counter-narcotics and disaster relief, among other things. More than the specifics, officials on both sides speak of a new tone between Havana and Washington that has made further progress a possibility. But the rhetoric connected with Thursday's mobilization -- dubbed ``Bastion 2009' -- displayed none of that new warmth. Radio Rebelde said the attack was aimed at ``confronting a possible aggression by North American imperialism.' The state-run newspaper Granma called the mobilization the largest and most important in more than five years.
August 2009

Blogger posts possible images of Cuban-U.S. exercise

August 5, 2009

Carol Rosenberg, Miami Herald

A South Florida blogger read about the annual exercise between the Cuban and American military at Guantánamo and posted photos he says illustrate the below-the-radar collaboration. One of the pictures shows a Cuban military helicopter dropping water on what appears to be an area adjacent to the airstrip at the remote U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba. Another shows American sailors from the base hospital in what appears to be a mock medical treatment drill on a rocky bit of territory just inside Cuba. A now-abandoned U.S. Marine Corps barracks is clearly visible in the background. The blogger is Luis Domínguez, a Cuban-born Miamian who runs http://cubaaldescubierto.com, Cuba Uncovered. His name may be familiar to Cuba watchers as the man who earlier this year posed as a Colombian woman to lure one of Fidel Castro's son into an internet flirtation. Domínguez, who has studied the Cuban military for years, said he read about the exercise on July 20 in The Miami Herald. So he dug around archives of photos from Cuba he had pulled off the web through the years and found the images illustrating earlier cooperation. A U.S. military source familiar with the recent exercises but not authorized to speak about them said the photos appeared to be several years old. One shows a Cuban armed forces photographer with a old-fashioned film camera, but Cuban military media working with the Frontier Brigade, which guards the Cuban side, now carry state-of-the-art digital equipment. Another shows a Cuban helicopter with older-style camouflage paint. The cooperation, as portrayed in the photos, appears to show what Navy commanders have long described as a ``benign relationship' across a once acrimonious fenceline made famous by the Hollywood hit, A Few Good Men.
October 2008
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia will offer to share its air defence expertise with Cuba when a military delegation visits the Caribbean island this week, Interfax news agency reported on Monday. "The Russian and Cuban military will exchange experience in organising tactical air defence and in training officers," Interfax quoted Russian Land Forces spokesman Igor Konashenkov as saying. The two sides will "discuss the prospect of training Cuban servicemen at the tactical air defence academies and training centres in Russia, using upgraded Russian-made military hardware," Interfax quoted him as saying. The delegation, led by the chief of Russia's tactical air defence headquarters, Lieutenant General Alexander Maslov, will also look at "ways to strengthen relations between the Russian armed forces and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba," Konashenkov was quoted as saying. The delegation will be in Cuba from Monday until November 3, Konashenkov was quoted as saying. Reuters could not immediately reach Konashenkov for comment. In 1962, Cuba became the focus of the deepest crisis of the Cold War after the Soviet Union installed missiles there, prompting a standoff with Washington. The island's government remains hostile to the United States. In the past few months, Moscow has stepped up contacts with both Cuba and Venezuela, another South American critic of the United States. (Reporting by Conor Sweeney; Editing by Caroline Drees).
July 2008

Castro: Defense is priority

July 28, 2008

Miami Herald- Will Weisset (AP)

SANTIAGO, Cuba -- President Raúl Castro warned Washington that Cuba would stay focused on defense regardless of who wins November's presidential election. But he failed to announce more changes to the communist system during a major address Saturday night. Castro, a four-star general, instead highlighted the past in a 48-minute Revolution Day speech to thousands of supporters in front of the Moncada military barracks, where rebels led by his brother, Fidel, launched an attack 55 years ago and planted the seeds for the 1959 Cuban revolution. 'When we attacked the Moncada, none of us dreamed of being here today,' Castro told the crowd in Santiago, 535 miles southeast of Havana, the biggest city in Cuba's eastern half. He warned of more economic austerity for the already poor island in the face of rising food prices, but also used the speech to command Communist Party leaders to put Cuba's house in order and fulfill promises they make to the people. MESSAGE TO U.S. And he put the United States, which also hoped for greater change under his regime, on notice. 'We shall continue paying special attention to defense, regardless of the results of the next presidential elections in the United States,' Raúl said. Perhaps showing his age, the 77-year-old president ended the speech by mistakenly dedicating the 59th anniversary of the Moncada attack to his brother, Fidel. He then laughed at himself, noting that this year actually marked the 55th anniversary of the event. It was at a commemoration of this anniversary two years ago that Fidel Castro was last seen in public. He underwent emergency intestinal surgery shortly afterward and has only appeared in official videos and photographs since. The Moncada attack was a disaster, with many assailants killed and most of the rest captured. But it launched a movement that brought Fidel Castro to power when President Fulgencio Batista fled the country in 1959. Since taking office five months ago, Raúl Castro has made changes his older brother long opposed -- opening more fallow state lands to private farmers, legalizing cellphones for ordinary citizens and allowing some workers to seek legal title to their homes. Some Cubans hoped he would use the speech to ease restrictions on international travel or announce other incremental reforms, but none came. While both Castro brothers were born in Cuba's east, Raúl, five years younger than Fidel, seems happiest there. 'Raúl is a man of the people and Santiago is full of his people,' said Elizabeth Trumpeta, 42, an administrator at a government shoe repair shop who lives across the street from Moncada. FIDEL IS HAILED Yet Fidel Castro -- not Raúl -- is featured on Revolution Day posters affixed to houses and businesses across Santiago. With a broad grin, he hoists a rifle skyward before a picture of the Moncada barracks, now a museum attracting more than 100,000 visitors annually. The crowd chanted 'Fidel! Fidel! Fidel!' and 'Long live Fidel!' throughout Saturday night's speech. Some Cubans say their hopes for change under the new government are fading. 'There are a lot of people on the street who talk about change, but we haven't had even one economic or political reform that counts, nothing we hoped for with Raúl,' said Oswaldo, a 69-year-old retired construction worker. He declined to give his last name, saying, ``Being able to openly criticize things is something else we can only hope for.' .
March 2008

When spies become diplomats

March 11, 2008

Miami Herald- Chris Simmons

Since the earliest days of the Castro regime, the Cuban government has used diplomatic cover for its spies. Among them are Félix Wilson and José Imperatori, both of whom served at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C. Historically, this practice is generally reserved for either the United States or for sympathetic regimes and close allies. However, the choice of René Mujica Cantelar as Cuba's ambassador to the United Kingdom highlights a disturbing new trend. London is a close U.S. ally and, more important for Havana, a primary U.S. ally in the global war on terror. During extensive discussions during the past months, two former Cuban intelligence officers who are now in the United States identified Mujica as a deep-cover spy in Cuba's foreign-intelligence service, the Directorate of Intelligence (DI). Mujica spent his earlier years in U.S. posts. He served at the Cuban Interests Section in 1977-1986 and then at the Cuban Mission to the United Nations (CMUN) in 1990-93. Juan Antonio Rodríguez Menier -- who served with the DI's predecessor, the Directorate General of Intelligence (DGI), for 28 years -- noted that both of Mujica's U.S. postings carried the rank of first secretary. Historically, the DI uses senior diplomatic positions only for its higher-ranking officers. Additionally, Mujica is apparently highly trusted by Raúl Castro, given that his CMUN assignment followed a devastating 1989 restructuring and downsizing of the DGI into the DI. In the wake of the 1989 arrest and execution of Division Gen. Arnaldo Ochoa, Castro and the Ministry of the Armed Forces took control of the Interior Ministry (MININT). Army Corps Gen. Abelardo Colome Ibarra became the interior minister and conducted a massive purge. Armed forces officers loyal to Castro replaced hundreds of MININT/DGI officers who were jailed, fired or retired. After a few years back at DI headquarters, Mujica was transferred to Europe, where he spent six years as ambassador to Brussels (1996-2002) and another three as deputy director of the Europe Division. There, he worked for better E.U.-Cuban relations and recommended the E.U. rethink its position on Cuba. Mujica sees signs of warming European-Cuban relations but fears that E.U. enlargement may slow rapprochement since some new pro-American members tend to take a hard-line position. Since his posting to London, Mujica is focused on stronger bilateral relations with the United Kingdom. He is a strong and vocal critic of Bush administration measures intended to hasten the end of the Castro brothers' rule, including tightened restrictions on family visits and remittances from Cuban Americans -- funds now critical to the regime's survival. According to former DI officer Juan Reyes-Alonso, Mujica's diplomat postings were intended to improve his cover for intelligence missions. Now, he enjoys the best of both worlds. As a deep-cover DI officer, he does not meet with regular DI assets like traditional intelligence officers at an embassy. This has kept him 'off the radar' of foreign counterintelligence services and their surveillance teams. As a result, he is living the dream of DI officers and diplomats -- he has little direct supervision and enjoys considerable freedom of movement. Mujica's presence marks an unsettling pattern in Havana's use of spies as ambassadors. Its increasing tendency to target U.S. neighbors, close allies and nations that serve as bases for U.S. operations in the War on Terror is a concern. In these situations, the presence of an ambassador-spy guarantees that the DI will always have the necessary diplomatic protections to accomplish its mission. Regrettably, America's allies have done little or nothing in the face of this new intelligence challenge. Chris Simmons is a career counterintelligence officer and an expert on Cuban intelligence..
February 2008

Will the military support reform?

February 1, 2008

Miami Herald- Frank Calzon

What will Cuba's armed forces do when the all powerful dictator, Fidel Castro, dies? How will the military exert its influence? Will it play a role in the future? Support democratic reforms? End the communists' monopoly on power? The questions are intriguing because under Fidel's iron fist, Cuba's military spent years fighting in the proxy wars of Africa for the interests of the Soviet Union and against those of the United States. Cuba's monothematic official line is: ``There is absolute unity and unquestionable loyalty within the armed forces, which will defend the revolution with their blood against any challenge to its absolute economic and political control.' To quell disturbances Cuba's special forces, under the command of Gen. Enrique Lusson Battle, are stationed in Havana to quell any disturbances. In his late 70s, Lusson Battle is part of the gerontocracy still occupying Cuban leadership positions. He failed miserably as minister of transportation in the 1980s, but is close to Raúl Castro. '¡Para siempre!' The idea that the existing order simply goes on ``forever' because people don't want any changes is mantra in Cuba. It is also fiction. It defies history and logic to think that every officer is ready to put his life on the line to prevent change, that none harbor ambitions of their own and that all Cubans even those yet to be born subscribe to the status quo. No doubt, there are officers and soldiers dissatisfied with life in Cuba who favor a democratic transition. They can name officers who were executed or are serving long prison sentences on trumped up charges. They wince at government's use of thugs to beat up dissidents. They are few, but enough to be feared by the regime they serve. There are also the 'realists' -- officers who believe that if the single-party rule survives Fidel's death, the regime can regain the public support it once had. Their problem is a government that stakes its legitimacy on orchestrated, one-candidate elections that guarantee the Communist Party 90 percent of the vote. Hugo Chávez lost the Venezuela plebiscite and survived, but the military realists in Cuba believe that they could not survive a close or losing vote, so they argue against any opening and for greater repression. Things remain the same In the past, Cuba's military looked at Raúl Castro as a guarantor of its interests, someone who would discard ideology to achieve results. Yet since Fidel turned the government over to him, Raúl has produced no reforms to reduce the risk that the army will find themselves in a confrontation with the Cuban people. No one today suggests that if Raúl were in charge, 'things would be different.' He is in charge, and things are not different. Cuban soldiers are not a caste separate from the Cuban people. Most do not relish firing on unarmed protesters. Many have relatives abroad. The government has not kept its promises of a better life to the thousands who fought in Castro's African expeditions. The demise of Fidel will be a psychological turning point for the military, just as it will be for other Cubans. There is also that generational divide. Cuba's generals are much older than their troops. They are the veterans of the 1950s guerrilla struggle, and their lives are directly tied to the Castro brothers. But the lower ranks view of the regime mirrors that of the general population. It is the young officers who have suffered most because of Castro's disastrous policies. They feel the future belongs to all Cubans, not just communist ideologues, and given an opportunity will challenge orthodoxy and advocate change. Experienced managers Cuba's military, as a class, has had greater contact with the outside world than other Cubans and has today the most experienced managers, albeit in Cuba's controlled economic environment. Some of these officers noticed and studied the transitions in Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, South Africa, maybe even those of Chile, Portugal and Spain. So the questions remain: Will the military rise to challenge the gerontology, take control and avoid confrontation by introducing political and economic reforms? What will Cuba's military do? Frank Calzon is executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba in Washington, D.C.
May 2007

Officer slain by Cuban draftees is honored

May 5, 2007

Miami Herald- Frances Robles

A medal for bravery was awarded posthumously Friday to the Cuban lieutenant colonel taken hostage and killed by AWOL draftees, as he was laid to rest with military honors, the Cuban media reported. Lt. Col. Víctor Ibo Acuña, a communications officer, was killed early Thursday when two soldiers who had deserted their military base hijacked the city bus he was riding in. BUS HIJACKING The conscripts forced the bus to Havana's José Martí Airport, and marched the hostages aboard an empty airliner. Once in the cabin, an unarmed Acuña, 41, was shot four times when he tried to prevent the hijacking, the Cuban government said. He left behind a wife and two daughters, ages 9 and 5. The two deserters were subsequently captured. They and a third soldier on Sunday fled their military base in Managua, southeast of the airport, the Cuban government said. In their bold escape attempt, they stole two AK assault rifles and killed another soldier guarding the base. One of the deserters was captured with help from the community in a massive manhunt that followed. The man told authorities that the purpose of the escape was to flee the island, the Ministry of Interior said in a statement. U.S. POLICY BLAMED The statement, published in today's Cuban newspapers, blamed U.S. immigration policy for encouraging Cubans to migrate illegally. Acuña, credited for 'heroically trying to avoid this terrorist act' was buried with full honors in a Pinar del Río funeral. Photos published by the province's Guerrillero newspaper showed a flag-draped coffin flanked by soldiers wearing fatigues, white gloves and black armbands. 'This is a very painful moment for my family,' his brother Isidoro Acuña told the Spanish news agency EFE. Translator Renato Pérez contributed to this report..

Military thwarts hijacking attempt from Cuba to U.S.

May 4, 2007

Miami Herald- Nancy San Martin

A Cuban military officer and a soldier were killed in an unusual spree of violence that began when three draftees deserted their base and then tried to hijack a plane to the United States, the Cuban Interior Ministry said Thursday. Two of the deserters, who were captured, killed an army lieutenant colonel they took hostage in Thursday's failed hijack attempt at Havana's José Martí International Airport, the ministry said in a statement. They and a third conscript, captured sometime earlier, had killed a soldier and wounded another when they deserted Sunday from their military base and made off with two AK-47 assault rifles, the statement added. Residents around the airport reported an intense gun battle around 4 a.m., but the statement made no mention of any such exchange of gunfire. The incidents were the first confirmed outbreak of violence within the military since Fidel Castro fell ill in July and ceded power to his brother, Defense Minister Raúl Castro. In December, three draftees allegedly opened fire during an uprising at a prison near the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba and killed two superior officers, but the government has not confirmed that. Still, U.S. experts on the Cuban military said they doubt the outbreaks point to any political cracks within the island's security forces. The Interior Ministry statement said the two conscripts captured at the airport had hijacked a bus with several passengers -- apparently including the lieutenant colonel -- guided it to the airport and entered a plane that had no crew or passengers. 'Once inside the airplane, the murderers killed one of the hostages, Revolutionary Armed Forces Lt. Col. Víctor Ibo Acuña Velásquez, who even though he was not armed, tried heroically to avert this terrorist act,' it said. The statement added that the 'effective and coordinated action of the security forces allowed the frustration of the aims of the kidnappers and the preservation of the lives of the other hostages.' It did not specify whether anyone else was injured in the attempted hijacking. Havana blamed the events on U.S. policies that it said encourage illegal Cuban migration. 'The responsibility for these new crimes lies with the highest-ranking authorities of the United States, adding to the long list of terrorist acts that Cuba has been the victim of for nearly half a century,' the statement said. Human rights activist Elizardo Sánchez said in telephone calls from Havana that he had reports that relatives of the two conscripts played a role in their capture. It was not clear what role the relatives played. Sánchez and media reports from Havana said the three conscripts had deserted from the Managua military base, some 15 miles southeast of the airport, which houses an elite armored unit and serves as a training facility. Military counterintelligence officers had been distributing 'wanted' leaflets showing photos of the three and identifying them as Alain Forbus Lameru, 19; Yoan Torres Martínez, 21, and Leandro Cerezo Sirut, 19, all from eastern Camagüey province. The leaflets said they were armed and dangerous. Witnesses shown on Miami television said at least two of the AWOL soldiers, armed with AK-47s, hijacked the A-9 bus from Santiago de las Vegas, near Managua, to the neighborhood of El Cotorro, near the airport, and used it to ram through an airport gate and onto the tarmac. The bus drove right up to a commercial plane parked on the tarmac and the men went in, demanding to leave the island, the witnesses said. They added that Cuban military personnel fired tear gas into the plane and a gun battle ensued. 'We heard a lot of shooting,' one resident of the Rancho Boyeros neighborhood near the airport told El Nuevo Herald by telephone Thursday morning. ``We are all very nervous.' The Interior Ministry statement made no direct mention of any operation to stop the hijacking, any shootout or use of tear gas. There were no confirmed reports of other injuries during the attempted hijacking. Progreso Weekly, a Miami-based website sympathetic to Havana, reported the hijackers shot Acuña in the pilot's cabin. Security forces then rushed in and rescued the hostages amid a gun battle. Some hostages and one of the hijackers were wounded, it added, giving no sources for the information. The three captured deserters will likely face the death penalty, news reports said. Media reports from Havana identified the airplane as a Boeing 737 operated by the Spanish Hola Airlines. Passengers arriving in Miami on a flight from Havana Thursday afternoon said security at José Martí Airport was tight but that they saw no other signs of the bloody event. 'There was much more security than normal. It was clear that they had had a problem, but they didn't say anything,' said Caridad, an older woman who declined to give her last name. ``They wouldn't let people who were not traveling into the airport.' On Dec. 20, three conscripts working as guards at the El Manguito prison just outside Santiago reportedly opened fire on their superior officers during a prison escape attempt, killing two officials. They were captured later. Despite the similarities between the December incident and this week's, experts on the Cuban armed forces said they believe the events seem isolated and do not indicate a problem within the island's security forces. 'This does not demonstrate or show a pattern of discontent,' said Frank Mora, a professor at the National War College in Washington who studies the Cuban military. ``It does not demonstrate a political problem or break in the military institution.' Conscripts are required to serve at least two years. 'Usually, those who are doing this are not people of certain means or political influence,' Mora said. Conscripts, estimated at least 65,000, are usually involved in an array of duties -- from agricultural work to security. They earn a small monthly stipend and are provided with housing and food. Miami Herald staff writers Luisa Yáñez and Casey Woods and El Nuevo Herald staff writer Wilfredo Cancio Isla contributed to this report..
April 2007

Troops mobilized after Castro's surgery

April 4, 2007

Miami Herald

Interim Cuban leader Raúl Castro has confirmed that a massive mobilization of security forces was ordered after his brother Fidel underwent surgery eight months ago. 'This popular mobilization, in silence, without the least boasting, guaranteed the preservation of the revolution from any attempted military aggression,' he was quoted as saying Friday by the Communist Party's Granma newspaper. Addressing senior military leaders Friday, Raúl Castro said 'Operación Caguairán' -- named after a hard Cuban tree also called 'ax breaker' -- was ordered because he could not rule out that, in the face of his brother's ailment, someone in Washington could ``turn crazy.' Cuba did not publicly reveal the mobilization when it was ordered, just hours after it was announced on July 31 that Fidel Castro was 'temporarily' surrendering power because of the surgery. He remains largely absent from public view eight months later, but is reported to be recovering. The mobilization covered 200,000 Cubans, according to Hal Klepak, a Canadian academic and an expert on the Cuban armed forces who spoke last month at a University of Miami conference on Cuba. Klepak did not explain whether the number was for Aug. 1 alone or a total for rotating call-ups. Raúl Castro said the mobilizations were carried out successfully. Large numbers of uniformed but unarmed soldiers and extra police were visible in the streets of Havana immediately after the July 31 announcement. Granma earlier last week reported that mobilized soldiers had been practicing combat tactics, firing antiaircraft rockets, using computer simulators and sniping, but gave no numbers. 'Never before, except in the times of the Bay of Pigs [1961] and the Missile Crisis [1962] had Cuba undertaken in its national territory such a mobilization of its troops in such a scale,' the newspaper said..
February 2007

2 Cuban army officers killed at jail

February 8, 2007

Miami Herald- Frances Robles

Two Cuban army officers were shot dead when three young conscripts detailed to a prison near the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba tried to help an inmate escape, a dissident Cuban news service has reported. A dispatch by the Agencia de Prensa Libre Oriental (APLO), an independent journalists' group in eastern Cuba, said the incident -- fatal attacks on Cuban soldiers are rare -- took place Dec. 20 at the El Manguito prison. The report said that when three conscripts detailed to the prison headed to the infirmary to subdue their superiors, an officer told conscript Yoelvis Delgado Arvelo to quit fooling around with dangerous weapons. Delgado answered: 'I am not playing. This is the truth,' and opened fire, killing Lt. Oliverio Orozco and 2nd Lt. José Antonio Tamayo, according to the report by APLO member Lisette Bravo. The Miami Herald spoke by phone to Bravo, who wrote the story based on reporting by other APLO journalists. She filed the dispatch to Cubanet, an exile news organization based in Miami. The incident has not been reported in Cuba's state-run media. Bravo's article cited the mother of accused soldier Irán Cabrera León as saying the conscripts would likely face the death penalty. The mother could not be reached by The Miami Herald. The name of the third conscript involved was not known. Havana human rights activist Elizardo Sánchez said he was convinced the incident was true because some of the human rights activists he works with spoke to the family of one of the accused. The families were instructed by the government not to speak to the news media or dissident groups, he added. Sánchez said up to five people have been detained: three soldiers and two inmates. 'It has nothing to do with the opposition or any kind of political project,' Sánchez told The Miami Herald by phone. 'I think it was an isolated incident which reveals, more than anything, the increasing degree of violence in Cuba,' he said. The young soldiers left the prison armed with Soviet-style rifles, but were caught nearby, according to Bravo's report. One inmate was shot and injured by the police. Bravo told The Miami Herald that the inmate had persuaded the soldiers to help him escape with promises of helping them flee Cuba. Cuban conscripts, usually in their late teens, are assigned the least desired jobs and are generally the least disciplined members of the Armed Forces, said National War College Professor Frank Mora, who studies the Cuban military..