Monday, February 28, 2011

Minint uncovers two of its own agents (Updated)

For the first time since 2003, the Cuban government has revealed the identities of agents it had placed in and around the dissident movement.

A new Cuban television documentary shows, as Prensa Latina puts it, that two Cubans “inserted themselves into the circles of the counterrevolutionary groups and were able to show United States plans to attempt to destabilize the country from within.”

The documentary revealed the identities of the two government agents, Moises Rodriguez and Carlos Serpa. Serpa’s activities were more recent and get more prominent coverage. He acted as an independent journalist, regularly covering demonstrations of the Damas de Blanco in Havana.

The documentary featuring Rodriguez and Serpa is on YouTube in two parts, and for everyone’s convenience there’s a version with English subtitles: part 1 and part 2. Juventud Rebelde has an interview with Serpa, also with an English translation, here.

To state security, Serpa is known as agent Emilio. The interview is headlined, “There will always be an Emilio,” which I suppose Cubans can take as a sentimental statement, or as a warning.

In the interview, Serpa lists his activities. He was National Coordinator, Julio Tang Texier Cultural and Civic Project; Director, Ernest Hemingway Independent Library; Director, Union of Free Journalists of Cuba, which he describes as having six members; Representative of Brigada 2506; Correspondent, Misceláneas de Cuba; Spokesman and Director, Frente Nacional de Resistencia y Desobediencia Cívica; and National Liaison for “presumptive opposition governments,” an operation run from Puerto Rico.

About the dissidents, the documentary asserts that they don’t represent anyone, they are guided from abroad, they are interested in money, and they are interested in leaving Cuba by claiming they are persecuted and getting a U.S. refugee visa. Many have argued that the refugee program drains the country of opposition activists, but an interior ministry official in the documentary argues that it fuels dissident activity. Refugee applicants, her argument goes, need to show a record of activity and government repression against them.

I’ll note two items in the documentary. In part 1, there is a scene (16:25) where the Damas de Blanco arrive at a prison gate and the leader, Laura Pollan, reports by cell phone that the prison guards are running toward them. The camera shows otherwise. In part 2, Serpa speaks to the camera (4:00) as if addressing a small group. He says he is going to manufacture a news story on Radio Marti. He calls Radio Marti and claims he was detained, threatened, and released. The story aired on Radio Marti last May 4; the documentary claims it aired 90 minutes after the phone call. Serpa uses the episode to argue that Radio Marti does not verify reports that come from single sources.

Other videos: Serpa appearing by phone on the Miami program A Mano Limpia with Oscar Haza, December 11, 2009, to describe repression against the Damas de Blanco, and his on-the-scene audio report, same subject, December 9, 2009, to the Directorio Democratico Cubano in Miami (video here).

Yoani Sanchez writes about her contact with Serpa, English here.

As in previous cases of other agents posing as activists or independent journalists, there was an apparent effort to build Serpa’s credibility by showing that the government was after him:

  • A Cubanet interview in 2002 with Serpa, following news that Serpa had been “the victim of acts of repression.” The interview was conducted by Manuel David Orrio, himself a state security agent who masqueraded as an independent journalist until 2003.

  • A Cubanet report from 2002 on the arrest and “psychological tortures” applied to Serpa.

  • A Cubanet report from 2003 on a “late-night visit [to Serpa] from political police agent Vladimir Rodes La O,” who threatened Serpa with a 20-year prison sentence.

  • A Cubanet report from 2010 about Serpa’s tribulations in trying to get film developed at a “Foto-Servi” store. According to reporter Aliomar Janjaque Chivaz, the manager told Serpa: “This establishment belongs to the Ministry of Interior and we will not permit you to develop photographs where the counterrevolutionary Damas de Blanco appear.” Serpa, Janjaque reports, said the manager’s statements were “ridiculous and desperate.”

[Juventud Rebelde photo of Serpa with U.S. diplomat Michael Parmly]

Update: An interview with Moises Rodriguez, agent “Vladimir,” appears in the March 1 Granma.

The documentary without English subtitles is here: part 1 and part 2.

Several of the Damas de Blanco think Serpa wasn’t really an agent – he was a dissident who got cold feet (Europa Press).

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Nine prisoner releases announced

One, Diosdado Gonzalez Marrero, is listed by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience and will apparently remain in Cuba; the other eight are not on Amnesty’s list and will go to Spain. The announcements from the Archdiocese of Havana follow:



En continuidad con el proceso de liberación de prisioneros, se informa que se ha dispuesto la excarcelación de:


Orlando Márquez Hidalgo

La Habana, 26 de febrero de 2011



En continuidad con el proceso de liberación de prisioneros, se informa que otros ocho (8) serán excarcelados próximamente. Ellos son:









De esta forma suman setenta y ocho (78) los prisioneros que han aceptado la propuesta de salir de la prisión y trasladarse a España.

Orlando Márquez Hidalgo

La Habana, 26 de febrero de 2011

Friday, February 25, 2011

More on the Alan Gross trial

CBS News finds a member of the Cuban Jewish community at the Vedado synagogue that says he had contact with Alan Gross. The man seems to be preparing to testify at trial.

CubaNet reported that Alan Gross would be represented at trial by Cuban attorney Ramon de la Cruz Ochoa, but Diario de Cuba contacted him by phone and he said it’s not so.

Reuters interviews Mrs. Gross, who says the family feels as if it is living “a curse.”

Senator Rubio's nanny state

This video of Senator Marco Rubio’s questions to Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela is interesting on several levels – the first being that it shows once again that there is no conservative principle that does not fly out the window where Cuba is concerned.

Senator Rubio’s view of the national government is so expansive that he thinks it should be in the business of assuring visitors to Cuba that “nothing bad will happen to them.” Here he presses the State Department:

“Is the Department of State prepared to assure American citizens that if they go to Cuba they will be able to talk to whoever they want, do whatever they want – within the civil law I mean, obviously you can’t violate civil law – but they will be able to talk to anybody they want including someone like Sara Fonseca, they will be able to go there and actually tell people about the outside world, talk to dissidents and that they will not get in trouble? Are we prepared to assure people that if they travel to Cuba nothing bad will happen to them?”

The idea, I guess, is that our government should stop Americans from traveling to countries where visitors do not have complete freedom to do as they please – rather than allow American travelers to make that decision for themselves.

Nanny state, anyone?

Second, he seems to draw a distinction between Cuban laws that visitors should observe without question – “the civil law,” as he puts it – and others that they should not. Which begs the question: If other countries have laws barring unauthorized activity in their territory on behalf of foreign governments, on which side of the line would those laws lie?

Third, he uses Alan Gross’ predicament to argue against expanded travel to Cuba. He starts by asking whether the State Department will issue travel warnings for Cuba.

It turns out that the State Department does provide travel advice for those who go to Cuba. This page from the State Department’s website contains tips on crime and personal security and lots of other information. There’s also a less-than-crystal-clear warning – not for the average traveler, but for those working on U.S. government programs:

“Cuba’s Law of Protection of National Independence and the Cuban Economy contains a series of measures intended to discourage some types of contact between foreign nationals and Cuban citizens to prevent and discourage opposition to the Cuban Government.”

That is a reference to a Cuban law against distribution of resources “that come from the United States government, its agencies, subordinates, representatives, functionaries, or private entities” pursuant to the Helms-Burton law, which is where the funds for Mr. Gross’ program are authorized.

As early as 2003, public USAID documents warned “Cuban citizens and Cuban NGOs as well as U.S. individuals and organizations participating in the program” that they are at risk because of that Cuban law.

On top of that, I’m told by a U.S. official that USAID contracts themselves fully incorporate this warning.

The State Department page also has this note:

“Although Cuba issues visas upon arrival to American citizens, all travelers to Cuba, including religious workers, should have the appropriate type of visa and, if required, specific authorization from Cuban authorities.”

So there is a “travel warning” after all.

But what Senator Rubio appears to be doing is to try to make Alan Gross appear to be a regular American traveling in a private capacity, when in fact he was working for the U.S. government.

If you ignore that distinction, then you can argue that President Obama has acted recklessly in permitting more non-tourist travel, as if Americans who travel on their own account are being placed in predictable danger by his new policy.

All of this adds up to another reason for the Senator to meet his own constituents and other Americans right at his home town airport, Concourse G, any day of the week. Plenty of Americans help churches in Cuba without incident. They bring resources to churches, family, and friends, including money and appliances and laptops. They understand the risks and decide on their own what to do.

If you dig into this enough, it is not travel by private Americans that seems reckless, but rather the program that sent Alan Gross to Cuba.