Cuban Counterintelligence Plays Hardball with Journalists
Cuban Counterintelligence Plays Hardball with Journalists / Iván García
Ivan Garcia, 17 April 2017 — Money is no object. When it comes to
thwarting, harassing and repressing intellectuals or journalists, there
are always enough funds in military’s coffers to write a blank check.
Solid numbers are hard to come by but, according to conservative
estimates, Cuba’s special services and armed forces account for roughly
35% of the nation’s paltry GDP.
There is never a shortage of fuel, guesthouses, vacation homes, medical
clinics or surveillance equipment for monitoring alleged
It is mistakenly believed that the top priority of the Special Services
is the fragmented domestic opposition, which can never turn out more
than a few followers for any public gathering. Meanwhile, the brave
fighters at the barricades are kept in line by punches, karate chops and
detention in damp, filthy jail cells.
The real danger for the government, and for counterintelligence as well,
are high-level officials. “They are like laboratory guinea pigs, always
under observation. Their phone calls, internet traffic, contacts with
foreigners, sexual preferences and personal tastes are monitored. They
cannot escape electronic surveillance even in the bathroom,” says a
former intelligence officer with experience listening in.
As in the German film The Lives of Others, people with meaningful
positions in government, the armed forces, international trade and the
foreign ministry are under tight scrutiny. The next most heavily
monitored group of individuals — more closely monitored even than
dissidents — are those in the world of arts and letters and the sciences.
“The method for dealing with outspoken opposition figures is to
intimidate them, pressuring them with physical and psychological abuse,
or simply incarcerating them. We know how they think. But individuals
such as writers, musicians, scientists, researchers and
government-employed journalists are like a knife with two edges. Many
are silent dissidents. They often lead double lives. In assemblies,
government offices and newsrooms they appear to be loyal to the system.
At home they are budding counterrevolutionaries,” observes the former
According to this source, agents are well-trained. “They focus on
managers, officials and employees of important state institutions.
Recent graduates of the Higher Institute of the Ministry of the Interior
are assigned to dissidents and independent journalists. They are more
adept at using physical and verbal violence than intellectual arguments.”
In my twenty-years working as an independent journalist, State Security
has summoned me for questioning five or six times. On other occasions
the interviews were more casual. A guy would park his motorcycle outside
my building or near my house, as though he were a friend, and calmly
chat with me or my mother, Tania Quintero, who now lives in Switzerland
as a political refugee and who was also an independent journalist.
He said his name was Jesús Águila. A blond, Caucasian young man, he had
the air of an Eton graduate. When he became annoying, as when he would
call or visit us to discuss our case or would harass my sister at work,
Tania would threaten him with a ceramic mug and he would flee the scene.
One afternoon in the late 1990s I was questioned at a police station by
a high-ranking, rather refined official. Then, on an unbearably hot
morning in 2010, I was questioned at a branch of Special Troops near the
Reloj Club on Boyeros Avenue by officials from Military Counterintelligence.
The site where I was interviewed was an interrogation cubicle located in
a holding area for inmates. I had written a couple of articles for the
Americas edition of the Spanish newspaper El Mundo on meddling by senior
military officers in businesses and corporations. According to my
interrogators, the Cuban armed forces did not like the image these
articles created of military institutions. In a hollow threat, they told
me that I could charged with violating a law — I do not remember which
one — against disrespecting the “glorious and undefeated revolutionary
But ultimately it only amounted to intimidation. For six years they did
not bother me. They denied me access whenever I tried to cover something
at which operatives from State Security were present but they never
detained me. Then, three weeks ago, they questioned a few of my friends
whom they suspected of being sources for my articles.
I wrote one piece in which I said that, if they wanted to know anything
about me, they could call me in for questioning. Apparently, they read
it because on April 4 they summoned me to appear the next day at a
police station in Havana’s Lawton district.
There I encountered two pleasant, mixed-race and educated young men. I
cannot say much else about them. I told them that what is needed — once
and for all and by everyone — is open dialogue, to acknowledge the
opposition and to try to find a solution to the national disaster that
is Cuba today by following the path of democracy. While the officers did
not promise tolerance, they did remain silent.
Three days later, one saw the flip side of the coin. As had happened for
ninety-seven Sundays, a mob dressed in civilian clothes was incited by
State Security to stage a verbal lynching of the Ladies in White House
near the police station in Lawton where I had been questioned.
From January to March of 2017 the political police made 1,392 arrests
and in some cases confiscated work materials and money from independent
journalists and human rights activists.
They harass people with little rhyme or reason. A group of reporters
from Periodismo del Barrio (Neighborhood Journalism), an online journal
which focuses on environmental issues and vulnerable communities, or a
neo-Communist blogger like Harold Cardenas are as likely to be targeted
as an overtly anti-Castro figure like Henry Constantin, regional
vice-president of the Inter-American Press Society.
With ten months to go before Raul Castro hangs up his gloves, the
Special Services’ game plan is poised to undergo a 180-degree
turnaround. Using its contacts, it could establish a channel of
communication between dissidents and the government, which could serve
as a first step towards the ultimate legal resolution of Cuba’s
But I fear that democracy is not one of the Cuban regime’s top priorities.
Source: Cuban Counterintelligence Plays Hardball with Journalists / Iván
García – Translating Cuba –