Intelligence Activities to Cuba.
By Meghan Clyne | NY Sun
Staff Reporter of the Sun January 26, 2005 | The chummy relationship
between President Chavez and Cuban dictator Fidel Castro seems to be
growing even closer. Venezuela is outsourcing to Cuba two important
government functions: publicizing the regime abroad, and secretly
policing it at home.
On December 22,Venezuela enacted a law granting Cuban judicial and
security forces extensive police powers within Venezuela, Miami's El
Nuevo Herald reported Sunday. Under the new code, Cuban officials are
allowed to investigate, seize, detain, and interrogate Venezuelans and
Cubans living in the Bolivarian Republic. Suspects taken into Cuban
custody in Venezuela could be extradited to the island and tried there
without any assurance that they would be returned to Venezuela.
Allowing officials in Mr. Castro's dictatorship authority to conduct
police operations in Venezuela, reported the Spanish-language Herald,
has raised concern that Venezuela is no longer safe for the 30,000
Cubans living there, especially members of the anti-Castro opposition.
To Cuban-American Otto Reich, who has served at the State Department and
as the American ambassador to Venezuela under President Reagan, the new
law also bodes ill for Venezuelan sovereignty.
"Cubans are running Venezuelan intelligence services, indoctrinating and
training the military - and now this," Mr. Reich told The New York Sun
on Monday. "Whoever heard of one country allowing another country to
have police powers? It's one thing to have extradition; it's another to
have this," Mr. Reich added.
The executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba, Frank Calzon,
said: "There are accords and agreements between countries all the time,
but this one bypasses what's left of Venezuela's judicial system." His
group is trying to discover more about the new law's specifics and its
implementation, but in the meantime, Mr. Calzon said, "this cooperation
between Chavez and Castro is certainly a matter of concern."
"At the very least, this is an effort to intimidate Cubans abroad to
remain silent and abstain from speaking out against the Cuban
government," Mr. Calzon added. He said that the Castro regime has a long
history of intimidating Cuban expatriates to quell dissent and silence
truth-telling about oppression in the country. Mr. Calzon should know:
In April 2004, a Cuban delegate to the United Nations in Geneva attacked
Mr. Calzon, knocking him unconscious after Mr. Calzon had testified at a
meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Commission.
To a Cuba and Latin America scholar at the Heritage Foundation, Stephen
Johnson, Venezuela's outsourcing of political-policing powers to Cuba is
further evidence of Mr. Chavez's tenuous connection to his people.
"The problem that Chavez faces is that he can't trust ordinary
Venezuelans; he has only about a 30% approval rating ... and even within
his own government, there are a lot of people he'd like to smoke out,
either put behind bars or neutralize," Mr. Johnson said.
"Putting in these Cubans, who he can trust, does that," Mr. Johnson
Mr. Reich agreed that the new law is an expression of great confidence
in Cuba on the part of Venezuela's president.
"The inner ring of the personal security for Chavez consists of Cuban
secret service, instead of Venezuelans. Chavez actually trusts the Cuban
government to protect his life more than he trusts his own people, which
tells you something about the state of affairs in Venezuela," Mr. Reich
If the Cuban police presence eases Mr. Chavez's mind, it also eases the
burden on his pocketbook. The security officials would be part of a much
larger labor force dispatched by Mr. Castro to Venezuela throughout Mr.
Chavez's presidency. Mr. Johnson estimates that some 27,000 Cuban
doctors, teachers, sports trainers, intelligence and police officers,
and other workers are currently in Venezuela, sent by Mr. Castro to help
Mr. Chavez replicate in his own country many of the social and political
structures of the Cuban regime.
This, said Mr. Johnson, is "essentially slave labor - it's a lot cheaper
than getting Venezuelan loyalists to do it." He estimates that the
workers receive about $15 to $20 a month from the Cuban government.
The one perk for Cubans sent to toil abroad was the increased ease of
escape: Mr. Johnson said that in 2004, an estimated 500 to 1,000 of
these laborers defected and left Venezuela. But because of the new law
increasing Cuba's surveillance and policing authority in Venezuela, "of
course that venue would be closed," said Mr. Calzon.
While the Castro-Chavez cooperation may be less than beneficial to
Venezuelans and Cubans, it is a sweet deal for the latter's communist
leader, sources familiar with the region said.
In exchange for the assistance Mr. Castro's regime has provided Mr.
Chavez - ostensibly to help the Venezuelan president improve his
country's educational and healthcare systems - Cuba receives roughly
80,000 barrels of oil a day at significantly reduced prices and on very
generous credit terms, Mr. Johnson said.
Mr. Calzon said that the oil deal is evidently profitable to Cuba beyond
simply receiving a valuable commodity at below-market prices. In a setup
very similar to one Castro enjoyed with the Soviet Union, Mr. Calzon
said, a portion of the Venezuelan oil bypasses Cuba entirely and is
resold immediately on the world market, with Mr. Castro pocketing the
The financial rewards of allying with oil-rich Venezuela may explain, in
part, why Cuba is helping the Bolivarian Re public with another
important task: international publicity.
The Cuban mission to the United Nations has been sending out speeches
and other remarks by Mr. Chavez on its e-mail list, and the Web site of
its Ministry of Exterior Relations contains remarks by Mr. Chavez, and
other materials highlighting Cuban-Venezuelan friendship, on its
By serving as a positive mouthpiece for Venezuela, said Mr. Johnson,
Cuba is "probably trying to make it clear that there's a symbiosis
between the two countries, which is very much more important to Castro
than it is to Chavez at this point."
For the Cubans, securing Venezuelan good favor and largesse is
essential, added Mr. Johnson, because the communist nation "is having a
hard time right now - Cuba owes a lot of money to a lot of different
countries, and it has had its credit suspended in Europe and Latin
America and elsewhere."
According to Mr. Reich, it is Venezuela that stands to benefit from
"The Cuban government has a lot more experience in propaganda," Mr.
Reich said. "Chavez is relatively new at it; and the Cubans are experts
- they've had 45 years at it, and the best training the Soviet Union was
able to provide," the former ambassador said.
Mr. Johnson added that the Cuban mission's e-mail list has an audience
far beyond the United Nations. It reaches "solidarity movements in other
countries, particularly in the developing world ... and sends a signal
that Venezuela is a supporter of Cuba's type of government and
revolutionary dream," he said.
To terrorist movements like FARC and ELN in Colombia, and Shining Path
in Peru, Cubans are saying, "If you have a friend in us, you have a
friend in Venezuela," Mr. Johnson added.
Repeated calls placed to the Venezuelan Embassy, the Venezuelan
Information Office, and the Cuban mission to the United Nations were not
While the association with Cuba may improve Venezuela's image among
Latin American revolutionaries and terrorists, it does little to curry
favor with Americans, whose opinions about Venezuela has worked doggedly
to reshape and improve.
A spokesman for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs at the State
Department, Gonzalo Gallegos, said that the department has "consistently
called attention to the fact that we do not believe that it is a good
thing that a democratically elected leader would want to have such close
ties to the only nondemocratic leader in the region."
But if the close ties may harm Venezuela's efforts to improve its image
in America, Mr. Castro sees the relationship as improving his image in
the rest of Latin America, said Mr. Johnson. "I believe Castro is
looking at his own mortality, and seeing Chavez as someone who will
carry the torch for him, and his kind of government, in Latin America,"
the scholar said. "And he sees his revolutionary dream succeeding in
Venezuela and spreading off from there, even though chances are it may
fade and be reversed in Cuba over the coming years."
February 15, 2005