Part 1 of The Empire's Pawns, an episode from Cuba's Reasons (Part Two below)
It is 10 December 2010 and the damas en blanco (Ladies in White) are holding a small protest outside the Combinado del Este jail in Cuba. Laura Pollán – de facto leader of the damas en blanco – is relaying a live commentary of events to Miami-based Radio República via mobile phone:
We have arrived without any problem at El Combinado. We are right at the entrance. Many guards are running at us.Pollán is being filmed by Carlos Serpa Maceira (right), spokesperson for various counter-revolutionary groups, reporter for Radio Marti and lynchpin of the dissident movement in Cuba. As Radio República’s listeners fear for her safety, Serpa pans to the prison’s entrance revealing the truth behind Pollán’s frightening report – there are no charging guards.
Despite this, Pollán’s words – without confirmation or verification – are reproduced ad infinitum by anti-Cuban media in Miami and the news spreads like wildfire throughout reputable Western media agencies – such as Reporters Without Borders. Within the click of a button, Pollán’s falsified account becomes uncorroborated fact. That’s how easy it is to organise a propaganda campaign against Cuba.
In Cuba’s Reasons, a fascinating five part series recently broadcast on Cuban television, however, Serpa – along with a number of other high-profile dissidents – is revealed as an undercover state operative collecting information on America’s insidious fabrication and manipulation of counter-revolutionary groups. Serpa’s secret filming at El Combinado is just one exposition of the lengths groups will go to manufacture lies to undermine the Cuban revolution. The series, Cuba’s Reasons, explores the dissident movement – sparsely populated by obsequious mercenaries – and illustrates that the United States’ strategy of subversion has evolved as the agitation for a post-Castro Cuba has been intensified.
For over fifty years, the American government has sought to undermine the Cuban revolution either overtly – through actions such as the Bay of Pigs invasion – or covertly – through the funding and co-ordination of terrorist groups and counter-revolutionary organisations. Since the 1990s, however, there has been a tactical shift in American foreign policy as work traditionally done by the CIA is now carried out by seemingly independent Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). This change was encouraged and crystallised by the Torricelli Act of 1992 but the apparently autonomous NGOs continue to receive funds from federal government.
USAID was created by President John F Kennedy as a Latin American Marshall Plan and – in close association with the US Interests Section – aims to promote the fragmentation of Cuban society, organise opposition and market a negative image of Cuba internationally.
NGOs such as the Miami Medical Team Foundation, the Pan American Development Foundation and the Atlas Economic Research Foundation – all major recipients of USAID funds – are focussed on organising a national network of people to take charge in Cuba post-Castro. On a recent visit to Cuba, I met one of the undercover agents, Professor Raul Capote of the University of Pedagogical Sciences, and he spoke of how American NGOs fund scholarships abroad in places like Mexico to train the next generation of Cuban leaders. The situation parallels the States’ training of Chileans in Chicago School economics prior to the downfall of Salvador Allende’s government. Furthermore, when Fidel Castro fell ill, Capote was invited to the US Interests Section and told about the possibility of an uprising in Havana led by Dr Darcy Ferrer. Capote was asked to write an appeal calling for the support and unity of all Cubans. As history tells us, Cuba remained united in its support for the revolution.
As explained in Cuba’s Reasons, other NGOs – such as ECHO-Cuba – disguise their subversive intentions with allegedly humanitarian aid. ECHO-Cuba – ostensibly a Christian aid agency – has close links with Caleb McCarry (below, co-ordinator of the “Bush Plan” which sought to replace Castro) and was named in American documents as an organisation that could actively participate in the island’s democratic transition. It seems somewhat hypocritical that the US government is purportedly providing funds for aid but, at the same time, maintains an illegal and cruel blockade which denies Cubans basic resources.
All of this clandestine work is done without any democratic legitimacy and typifies American foreign policy throughout Latin America. For instance, one of the undercover agents featured in the series, Jose Manuel Collera, was approached by Otto Reich to recruit influential counter-revolutionary leaders in Venezuela to undermine the Chavez government.
America’s illegitimate interference aims to promote the image of a large, vibrant and diverse opposition movement but, as Serpa’s experience shows, this impression is largely illusionary:
I am a manufactured dissident. My case is an example of how it is possible to make it appear internationally that a ‘great’ opposition exists here and a proliferation of anti-Castro groups … I’m national coordinator of the Julio Tang Texier Civic Cultural Project, I’m the director of the Ernest Hemingway independent library and also the director of the Union of Free Cuban Journalists, I’m the spokesman of the National Civic Resistance and I’m the spokesman of the National Civic Resistance and Civil Disobedience Front and a member of its board of directors.US foreign policy is predicated on providing powerful incentives to foment counter-revolution and arrange provocations against Cuba. The damas en blanco are supposedly demanding the release of their relatives but, as Serpa contends, “they are a spearhead handled from abroad against the Cuban revolution” and receive payment from NGOs such as the Cuban-American National Foundation every time they organise a demonstration. Furthermore, European embassies – including Poland, the Netherlands, Czech Republic and Germany – have encouraged the undermining of Cuba’s sovereign government by providing resources, office supplies and internet access to dissident groups.
The situation is further complicated by the US Interest Section’s Refugee Program which offers further inducement to invent and exaggerate opposition. According to Serpa, anyone wanting to leave Cuba “has to provide evidence to the Refugee Section that they are being harassed by the Cuban government, they invent ‘arguments’ in order to obtain a visa”. As a result, wannabe economic migrants are obliged to reinvent themselves as active counter-revolutionaries and Serpa was frequently asked by members of the damas en blanco to provide evidence of their dissident activities for the Refugee Program so they could leave Cuba:
They were always chasing up photographs showing them on their demonstrations because the Program demands that of them … all the women who go there take photos … and that’s a strong testimony for the US Interest Section.According to Moisés Rodríguez, another undercover agent, the independent journalists, human rights activists and oppositionists are not motivated by a love of Cuba but “they are all servile annexationists and mercenaries. They always have two things in mind: number one, to receive money; and number two, to leave Cuba”.
This highlights the inherent contradiction at the heart of US policy towards Cuba. On the one hand, they are urging people to emigrate to demonstrate the lack of support for the revolution but, on the other hand, they don’t want counter-revolutionaries they have created to leave because then they will be left without any protagonists with whom to execute their subversive plans.
Therefore, the domestic counter-revolution in Cuba is neither an authentic nor spontaneous phenomenon but rather the expression of the anti-Cuban policy encouraged by the United States through a network of groups, institutions and organisations. This subversive strategy seeks to create local hotbeds of tension, fabricate leaders and portray the misleading image of an organised local opposition in Cuba. The campaign seeks to isolate Cuba through the distortion of its reality, accusing the Cuban government of violating human rights and democratic freedom. In truth, it is American imperialism – through a thinly-veiled shroud of supposedly independent NGOs – which is seeking to undermine a sovereign government whilst reinforcing a barbaric and unjust blockade.
This article was originally written for CubaSi magazine