Cuba: 52 Years of the Same Old Bad Behavior
By Tania Mastrapa l July 26, 2012
The Cuban regime has been conducting a public relations campaign in the past couple of years promoting its so-called economic reforms in an effort to attract foreign investment and, more importantly, foreign loans that the regime has no intention of paying. An ironic year of a respectful and solemn papal visit and a push for gay rights, while dissidents are routinely beaten, merits an overview of what exactly, if anything, has changed in Cuba and if there is any reason for the U.S. to continue to soften its policies.
Over half a century after violently taking over the Cuban government the Castro regime not only endures, it also continues to repress its citizens and undermine the United States. In the early years, the Bay of Pigs invasion was a humiliating disaster courtesy of the Kennedy administration. The U.S. was threatened with nuclear missiles pointing from Cuba courtesy of the Soviets. In fact, Fidel pushed the Soviets toward a nuclear war with the U.S. He did not care if Cuba was obliterated as long as the U.S. was destroyed. Cubans, Americans and other foreigners lost their private property. Cubans, both domestic and exiled, and Americans have never been compensated for the confiscations. These claims are now worth billions of dollars.
Cuba has long provided safe harbor or “political asylum” for fugitives from United States justice. Most notorious of these is Joanne Chesimard a.k.a. Assata Shakur of the Black Liberation Army, who along with two partners shot and murdered a New Jersey State trooper. Already a wanted criminal at the time, she received a life sentence only to escape from prison two years later. She resides in Cuba under the protection of the Communist regime. Another U.S. fugitive, Robert Vesco, accused of securities fraud surfaced in Cuba in 1982. In 1996 when he ceased to be of financial use the Cuban authorities arrested him. He died in prison shortly thereafter of lung cancer. In 2008, a billion dollar South Florida Medicare scam revealed that the mostly 1990s Cuban immigrants involved fled to the island with their “earnings,” when they realized the Feds were watching. In 2012, federal investigators uncovered an international money-laundering scheme rooted in South Florida that involved stolen Medicare money ending up in Cuban banks. Financial swindles are hardly unusual for those who allegedly fled Communist countries. In 2010 a criminal network of Soviet origin fraudsters who had conducted a $163 million dollar Medicare scheme were arrested in the U.S.
The banking industry, ING Bank N.V. in particular, has come under fire for illegally moving billions of dollars through the U.S. financial system for countries like Cuba and Iran. Ronald C. Machen, U.S Attorney for the District of Columbia, said these illegal activities “undermine the integrity of our financial system and threaten our national security.” Curiously, the Cuban regime, along with Communist apologists and supporters worldwide, blame the U.S. embargo for the island’s woes. The regime’s possession of billions of dollars denied to its people undercuts the spurious U.S. policy blame game.
Cuba's Ministry of the Interior (MININT) is brutal, effective and relentless. The Stasi provided supplies, support and training for MININT. The Cubans not only emulated the East German model, they surpassed it. The successful recruitment of Cuban agents within the U.S. intelligence community has resulted in high profile arrests such as Ana Belen Montes and the Myers husband and wife team. Montes, the top Cuba analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency, manipulated our government’s perception of the Communist regime’s capabilities, provided the Cuban regime with classified U.S. military information and identified four U.S. intelligence agents working undercover on the island. Arrested in 2002, she received a 25-year prison sentence. As a State Department official granted Top Secret security clearance in 1985 and TS/SCI clearance in 1999, Kendall Myers and his wife Gwendolyn Steingraber Myers (without security clearance) served as illegal agents of the Cuban regime for almost thirty years. Gwendolyn particularly enjoyed switching grocery carts with Cuban intelligence agents to turn over information. Kendall usually committed Top Secret State Department information to memory to then pass on to his handlers. The regime awarded the couple an evening with Fidel Castro and medals for Kendall. In 2010, Kendall received a sentence of life in prison without parole and Gwendolyn a mere six-and-a-half years.
Another, far less publicized, activity of the Cuban regime is its art forgery and looting industry. Since the early days of the revolutionary regime “authorities” looted private properties amassing jewelry, stamp collections, sculptures, artworks and other valuables. Artworks in particular have surfaced in museums abroad and in U.S. auction houses and galleries. The market for Cuban art was largely domestic before the revolution. The presence of these pieces in the U.S. and abroad indicates a demand possibly based on the belief that Cuban artwork will become very valuable in the future. Responding to this demand, state-run art schools train students in creating forgeries. Several foreign buyers have spent a significant amount of money on pieces they likely believed were looted originals but turned out to be fakes.
This past year has witnessed a whirlwind of questionable events. Just before the Pope's visit, dissidents who hoped to air their grievances to His Holiness were harassed and detained in record numbers. The Pope ignored them and instead visited with Fidel. Raul Castro’s daughter Mariela visited the U.S. and campaigned for gay rights and for the release of the so-called “Cuban Five” - convicted Cuban spies. Mariela also said if she were American she would vote for Obama. The regime has proposed exchanging the Cuban Five for Alan Gross. Gross visited Cuba to help the small Jewish community gain access to the internet. He was arrested in 2009 and in 2011 he received a fifteen-year prison sentence for crimes against the state. Dissident Oswaldo Paya, recipient of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, died in a mysterious car accident on July 22, 2012. The two survivors reported they were rammed into repeatedly by another car and eventually hit a tree - a claim denied by authorities. It turned out that two weeks earlier Paya had been involved in a similar incident. He was a thorn in the regime’s side and a critic of the Catholic Church’s hierarchy for collaborating with the Communists. Several days after Paya’s death, Raul Castro declared he was available to work out Cuba’s differences with the U.S. - as equals. Nothing about the Cuban regime is equal to that of the United States. Feigning our equality or even similarity would be the final straw in Cuba’s long history of manipulating the United States.
Tania C. Mastrapa, Ph.D. is a Research Professor in Cuban and Latin American Studies at the Institute of World Politics. Ms. Mastrapa is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.