Human Rights in Cuba

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Posted on Wednesday, 12.01.10
WikiLeaks cables on Cuba show links to terrorists from Colombia, WikiLeaks cables on Cuba show links to groups from Colombia and — such as the ETA and ELN — that have been characterized as terrorists. BY JUAN O. TAMAYO

Cuba allows Colombian and Spanish groups branded as terrorists to rest and get treatment on the island, but the groups are unlikely to plan attacks while there, according to a U.S. diplomatic cable made public by WikiLeaks.

The cable also touches on corruption, Cuba’s penetration of groups, the Catholic church, the potential for street protests and Havana’s strong intelligence capabilities.

The cable on the Colombian and Spanish groups, sent by the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana on Feb. 27 of last year, is notable because Cuba is on the U.S. list of “state sponsors of terrorism,” along with Iran, Sudan and Syria.

“We have reliable reporting indicating the presence of ELN, FARC and ETA members here in Havana. That said, they are unlikely to conduct terrorist operations in Cuba,” noted the report, signed by mission chief Jonathan Farrar.

The ELN and FARC are leftist Colombian guerrilla groups, and ETA is a Basque separatist movement. The State Department and the consider the three to be terrorist groups.

Cuba has long provided safe haven to some “demobilized” ETA members, with Spain’s approval, and to ELN leaders who held peace talks in Havana with the Bogota government. But Colombian and Spanish news media this year reported allegations of operational contacts between the ETA and FARC in Cuba and .

The cable noted that the specific activities in Cuba of the three groups “are largely unknown but Post [the mission] was able to corroborate that ETA members assisting the FARC had spent time in Cuba.”

“Reporting also indicates that the GOC [government of Cuba] is able to influence the FARC. The Cuban Communist Party International Department (PCC/ID) has close relationships with the Clandestine Communist Party of Colombia [PCC] which serves as the political wing of the FARC, and to some extent the ELN as well,” the report added.

The Cuban government allows the FARC, ETA and ELN “to enjoy R&R [rest and recreation] in Cuba and receive medical care and other services,” it added. But “there is little chance of any operational activity given the need for safehaven.”

More broadly, the cable noted, “we have seen no evidence that the GOC allows hostile intelligence service to plan terrorist, anti-U.S. operations in Cuba.”

“Conventional wisdom in the diplomatic community is that the GOC is anxious to avoid giving the United States a rationale to conduct counterterrorism operations against it,” the report noted.

The cable was written by the security officer at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana in reply to a query from Washington asking dozens of questions about the local security situation.

Cuba’s security services “are professional and capable . . . They are highly effective at penetrating networks on the island and actively pursuing individuals they believe to be terrorists,” it noted. “One must note that the GOC believes opposition groups in Cuba are terrorists sponsored by the United States.”

Apparently responding to a query about possible anti-U.S. protests in Cuba, the cable noted that the government “maintains almost total control over all organizations on the island.”

“The most autonomous large organization is the Catholic Church, which wields limited autonomy. Any group demonstrating against the United States would be doing so at the GOC’s behest, or at a minimum with their approval.”

Referring to possible “impromptu protests,” the cable noted that some had been reported and added: “It is conceivable but not likely that one of these demonstrations could escalate to and spread to other parts of the city and/or country.”

It also reported in Havana were “ubiquitous but appear to have limited training and outdated equipment” and noted that a previous report “claimed evidence of criminal elements obtaining weapons.”

“Corruption in Cuba is an accepted means of survival. The average Cuban makes about $18 a month, and low and mid-level police officials earn similar salaries,” the cable noted. “In short, Cuban law enforcement is confronted with serious and widespread corruption.”

“Some things that are considered corrupt in the United States such as conflict of interest, double dipping and influence peddling are integral parts of Cuba’s standard operating procedures,” it added.

Another cable, made public by WikiLeaks Wednesday, was sent by the U.S. Embassy in Venezuela shortly after ’s emergency surgery in 2006. The cable suggests Washington should warn Hugo Chávez against intervening in Havana in case of a succession dispute.

The cable, sent by Caracas embassy just after Castro’s surgery, noted reports that Chávez had wanted to fly quickly to Havana “but the Cubans waved him off, fearing that his presence would undercut their efforts to convey a sense of normality.”

While it predicted that Cuba-Venezuelan relations would remain close, the cable warned that Castro’s illness could deprive Chávez of “a proven crisis manager, which may increase Chávez’s vulnerability.” And if there was a “power struggle” in Cuba, it added, the “increasingly intrusive” Chávez might try to back his own candidate and perhaps even “consider intervening militarily” in Cuba.

“As noted in previous email traffic, Embassy suggests that this may be an apt time to warn the BRV [Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela] against intervening in Cuba,” the cable concluded.

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