Cuban Agent Speaks Out
The increasing radicalization and anti-Americanism in Latin America represents a significant and challenging trend in the region. Fidel Castro has been recognized by many of the leaders of this movement as their mentor and/or symbol. Since 1990, when the Foro de Sao Paolo(1) was created under Castro’s auspices, the Cuban regime has devoted significant effort and resources in supporting pro-Cuban and anti-American leaders in the region. Without completely renouncing the violent road to power, Castro began, during the 1990s and the beginning of this century, to support leaders he approved of both at the local and national levels. He saw significant possibilities in the democratic atmosphere prevailing in the region to bring anti-American allies of the Cuban regime to power.
While some aspects of support, such as the huge contingent of doctors in Venezuela, are well-known, an interview with Delfín Fernández(2), also known as “Agente Otto,” former Cuban security official and close Castro associate, revealed tangible details of some lesser-known tactics of influence.
Mr. Fernández, who operated for many years under the alias of “Agente Otto,” discussed a number of the tactics utilized by the Castro regime to shore up political influence in Latin America. Cash contributions were commonly used, and were not necessarily limited to ideological allies: Fernández personally delivered briefcases full of cash totaling US$4 million in cash to León Febres Cordero, the president of Ecuador from 1984 to 1988 and leader of the right-wing Social Christian Party. Another cash delivery by Fernández in the name of the Cuban government was to support Ivan Blasser, a young, promising businessman in Panama, who was a 2004 presidential candidate for the small National Union Party (PUN). Much of the cash given by the Cuban government was used in the late eighties for social programs in a campaign to make Blasser more palatable and recognizable to lower income Panamanians.
Some of the less overt support rendered is not monetary in nature, but are offers of personal protection. Perhaps due to Castro’s early recognition of the possible strategic importance of a friendly government in Caracas, Fernández reports that after the failed coup attempt in Venezuela in 1992, Hugo Chávez was given asylum in a protocol house in Havana. As Chávez’ political star rose, so did the Cuban commitment to his safety. The personal security of the present president of Venezuela is guaranteed by Cuban personnel; his bodyguards and top security advisors have been sent from Havana to Caracas.
More recent strategic allies are receiving the same support. At the recent inauguration of Evo Morales in Bolivia, a prominent Colonel from Cuban security services was part of the personal security contingent of Bolivia’s president which is staffed by Cubans.
While Castro has been supporting favorable candidates in democratic elections, the long-held dream of exporting violent revolution has remained throughout these years. Fernández reports that some of the most notorious terrorist groups in the hemisphere and beyond received technical, financial, and logistical support from the Cuban government. Fernández confirmed that the FARC, a leftist terrorist group involved in the longstanding civil war in Colombia, has received plane loads of arms from the Cuban government to continue their struggle.
He also confirmed that Sub-Comandante Marcos, the masked separatist leader in the southern state of Chiapas, Mexico, has received monetary support from Cuba. Fernandez also explained that a facility exists in Guanabo, in the outskirts of Havana, dedicated to the training of terrorist groups such as the above-mentioned FARC of Colombia, the Shining Path of Peru, ETA of Spain, the Macheteros of Puerto Rico, and others. This covert support in Latin America expands Cuba’s influence and is another layer to a complex strategy of leverage and political protection.
Fernández mentioned a common practice in Cuba of surveillance and maintenance of detailed files on foreign businessmen who visit Cuba. Special security personnel are assigned to visiting businessmen to supervise their activities and to attempt to influence them or, if necessary, to compromise them to later extract statements or information needed by the Castro regime. Similar tactics are utilized for other important visitors to the island.
(1) The Foro de Sao Paolo is a regional conference that periodically brings together political parties of the Latin American left to coordinate strategies that counteract neoliberal influence and to oppose the United States. Members include the Communist Parties of numerous Latin American countries, the Sandinistas of Nicaragua, and the Tupamaros, an Uruguayan armed leftist group now recognized as a legal political party.
(2) The interview was conducted at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies (ICCAS) at the University of Miami on January 24, 2006. Participating in the interview were Brian Latell, Senior Research Associate and Eric Driggs, Research Associate at ICCAS. Fernández was a member of Fidel Castro’s personal security contingent and conducted the personal business of the Castro brothers. He defected in Spain in 1998 and currently resides in Miami. The information provided are the statements of Mr. Fernández and do not necessarily represent the point of view of ICCAS or the Cuba Transition Project (CTP).