Cuba’s terror nexus
Sean Durns, Washington Examiner
Cuba's Castro regime did more than reorient the country's entire economic, social, and political systems. It birthed an activist foreign policy that saw the little nation play a large role in the world—the effects of which we are still living with today.
The Castro government uses its spy service -- the Dirección de Inteligencia (DI), formerly the Dirrección General de Inteligencia (DGI) -- to project power far from Cuban shores. Like its Soviet forebears, under whose auspices it was created in 1961, Castro's intelligence services bolstered terrorist groups.
This was part of the dictatorship's decision to tie itself to the so-called "Palestinian cause," that is, the destruction of the Jewish state of Israel. Indeed, upon his death in November 2016, Palestinian leaders hailed regime founder Fidel Castro as a "comrade" in the fight against "imperialism, Zionism, racism and capitalism," according to a statement by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a U.S.-designated terror group.
The PFLP had good reason to mourn Castro's death. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union sought to portray Zionism as racist and imperialist in order to curry favor in the so-called Third World. The intelligence agencies of Soviet client states, such as the East German Stasi and the Cuban DGI, actively participated in this effort.
The 1967 Six-Day War, in which Israel successfully defended itself against an attack from massing Arab armies, was a watershed moment—and not only in the Middle East. The Jewish state's victory led to the decline of Arab nationalism and the rise of Islamism. It also led to a public change in Cuban foreign policy.
For the first time, Cuba condemned Israel at the United Nations and, not for the last time, compared Israel's defense to an "armed aggression…in the Nazi manner." This antisemitic canard of equating the Jewish state to the most infamous persecutors of Jews was a common Communist propaganda trope. It remains a favorite of anti-Israel activists to this day.
By 1973, Havana had severed relations with Israel. Two years later, Cuba was one of only three non-Arab governments to sponsor the Soviet-backed United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3379, declaring Jewish self-determination to be "a form of racism and racial discrimination."
Working in the shadows, the DGI served Havana's political objectives.
Blessed with KGB largesse, the DGI helped train and arm a generation of Palestinian operatives, including those in the PFLP and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Under the guidance of its first chief, Manuel Piñeiro Losado, aka "Redbeard," Castro's spy service began to achieve global reach.
An estimated "several hundred Palestinian terrorists" received training in Cuba in the 1970s, according to the CIA. Cuban advisers worked with the PLO in Algiers and Damascus and helped train other terrorists "around the world at PLO training camps in Lebanon in the 1970s and early 1980s." In 1978, a report in The Economist, a U.K.-based magazine, noted that Cuban personnel were operating in Syria—even seeing action with Syrian tank crews in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
With DGI guidance and involvement, Cuba funneled materials and men to Syrian leader Hafez al-Assad, who, like his son and successor Bashar al-Assad, aided terror organizations. Rachel Ehrenfeld, a terror analyst, has highlighted how the DGI "helped introduce the PLO into Angola" during the 1970s. Subsequently, the group "operated for many years in Africa and in Central America, where it has been able to recruit and train guerrillas and find a market for arms." This was a big shift from the DGI's early years in the 1960s in which, as the historian Piero Gleijeses has noted, it "had no African department" and top Stasi operative Markus Wolf described the organization as "wet behind the ears."
Although heavily dependent on its Soviet benefactor, Cuba nonetheless displayed independence from Moscow. For example, Castro's security apparatus continued to support the PFLP long after the USSR quit backing the group in the late 1970s. According to Ehrenfeld, Israelis fighting terrorists in Southern Lebanon in the early 1980s discovered "Cuban training manuals, marked "muy secreto" (very secret), detailing how to conduct military operations, including blowing up high-power electric transformers and railway stations," among other targets.
Old habits die hard. According to a September 9, 2011, US State Department cable, the DI has allowed Hezbollah—the Iranian-backed terror group that calls for Israel's destruction and has murdered U.S. personnel—to establish "an operational base in Cuba, designed to support terrorist groups throughout Latin America."
Cuba has also maintained its propaganda war against Israel. Havana has long been the de facto power behind the Committee for the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP), a U.N.-related body and Cold War relic that continues to lead anti-Israel initiatives under diplomatic guise.
In a December 2015 speech, Fidel's brother and successor, Raul, applauded former President Barack Obama's initiative to remove Havana from a U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. He simultaneously decried Cuba's listing while also acknowledging "we have undertaken certain acts of solidarity with other peoples, who may be considered terrorists."
Such audacious duplicity has served the Castro regime well.
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