CubaBrief: Is Havana covering up its military presence in Ukraine?

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, left, and Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez attend a wreath-laying ceremony at the Jose Marti monument in Havana. Putin began a Latin American tour aimed at boosting trade and ties in the region.

Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez today launched a smokescreen to misdirect attention from their support for Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine. It is reminiscent of another launched by Havana in 1989 that became known as the Ochoa affair.  Agents of influence will now mobilize to advance Havana’s spin, and call for giving the 64-year-old military dictatorship the benefit of the doubt. During the Ochoa affair, the Castro regime had Ana Belen Montes firmly embedded at the Pentagon in the Defense Intelligence Agency both spying for Havana, and manipulating U.S. policy, and media coverage towards Cuba. The failure to recognize what the dictatorship in Cuba continues to do to flood the United States with cocaine, is a factor that is costing lives. In 1999, the year when Washington intensified sharing intelligence and cooperation with Havana on “anti-narcotics” efforts 3,186 U.S. citizens died of cocaine overdoses. In 2021, after 22 years of this “cooperation” 23,513 died in 2021.

It now appears that with regards to Ukraine, the Castro regime seeks to carry out the same type of campaign. Although Cuba is a totalitarian dictatorship with centralized control, and an effective police state — one is now to believe that the Cuban government was not aware of  “a human trafficking network originating in Russia that has been recruiting Cuban citizens to fight on behalf of Russia in Ukraine.” The claim made in today’s official statement by Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez that “Cuba is not part of the war in Ukraine” does not pass the smell test for several reasons.

It is worth reviewing what Havana has been up to in addition to the visible presence of Cuban soldiers fighting in Ukraine to back Moscow’s illegal war, and the statements made by young Cubans shipped abroad.

  • On October 12, 2022 at the UN General Assembly Cuba was one of the 35 countries that abstained, and its ally Nicaragua was one of the 5 that voted against a resolution condemning the Russian Federation’s annexation of four Eastern Ukraine regions.

  • On September 16, 2022 Cuba was one of seven countries voting “no” at the UN General Assembly together with Belarus, Eritrea, Nicaragua, North Korea, Syria, and Russia. This “no” vote was to silence Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky from delivering a pre-recorded address at the UN General Assembly.

  • On September 15, 2022 “Russian top propagandist Vladimir Solovyov urged for the establishment of an international coalition with countries” that included Cuba, Iran, Nicaragua, North Korea, Syria, Serbia, and Venezuela for its war against Ukraine.

  • On April 7, 2022 Cuba, Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, Syria, and Vietnam, were among those who voted against suspending Russia from the UN Human Rights Council ( 93 voted to suspend, 24 against, and 58 abstentions.)

  • On March 2, 2022 Cuba and Nicaragua abstained from the vote condemning the Russian invasion at the United Nations General Assembly. ( 141 votes to condemn the invasion, 5 against and 35 abstentions).

  • Euronews reported on February 24, 2022 that “only Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Syria supported the Russian recognition of independence for the occupied regions in Luhansk and Donetsk.”

  • The Cuban government is spreading Russian propaganda both domestically and internationally defending Putin’s invasion, and repeating Moscow’s talking points.

  • Cubans dissenting from this official line on the island have been arrested.

  • Cuba has taken part in Russia’s International Military Exercises that in 2022 were held in Venezuela and Iran.

 There is a track record in other countries of Cuban troops sent into foreign conflicts to advance Russian interests in Angola, Ethiopia, and elsewhere. Ukraine is not the first.

Now comes the tricky part. Why is Havana now seeking to conceal its military presence in Ukraine? Until now the EU has been unwilling to leverage its position as Cuba’s top trade partner, and all of its development assistance has gone to fund regime entities. Could this be changing as a result of Havana’s backing of Moscow’s ambitions in Ukraine?

The Washington Post, September 5, 2023


Cuba says human traffickers luring citizens to Russia’s war on Ukraine

By Sarah Dadouch and Mary Beth Sheridan

September 5, 2023 at 2:00 p.m. EDT

Cuba has identified a human trafficking network originating in Russia that has been recruiting Cuban citizens to fight on behalf of Russia in Ukraine, the Cuban Ministry of Interior said.

The government said it already detected and neutralized attempts at such recruitment, targeting citizens residing in both Russia and Cuba, and has initiated criminal proceedings against those involved, but did not offer details.

“Cuba has a firm and clear historical position against mercenarism,” Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said in a statement on Monday.

Russia has been struggling to shore up its army with recruits since Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a mobilization last fall — a declaration that pushed thousands to flee or hide. Since then, a tough law that makes evading conscription more difficult has been approved, allowing electronic military summonses and travel bans on those drafted.

Both Russia and Ukraine keep their casualty numbers a secret, but a leaked U.S. intelligence assessment from February that surfaced online said U.S. officials believed with “low confidence” that between 35,000 to 42,500 Russian soldiers had been killed by then, and at least 150,500 wounded. Ukraine’s estimated dead were half, and somewhere around 110,000 injured.

In December, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said he expected the Russian military to grow by 30 percent, to 1.5 million service members, including up to nearly 700,000 contract soldiers.

In May, a local Russian newspaper from Ryazan city reported that “several” Cuban citizens had volunteered as contract soldiers in the Russian army, and some hoped to become Russian citizens in exchange for their service.

“Cuba is not part of the war in Ukraine,” Rodriguez said in his statement. “It is acting, and it will firmly act against those who within the national territory participate in any form of human trafficking for mercenarism or recruitment purposes so that Cuban citizens may raise weapons against any country.”

The Wagner Group — a mercenary outfit that had deployed tens of thousands of fighters to Ukraine, many recruited in Russian prisons — threw Russia’s military leadership into disarray earlier this summer, withdrawing from the battlefield and staging a short-lived mutiny against the Kremlin. The situation only added to Russia’s conscription struggles.

Karen DeYoung in Washington contributed to this report., September 4, 2023

Letters: Editorial addressed

By Staff Report

September 4, 2023

Your Aug. 3 editorial, “What if Cuba is rebuilding ties with Russia and China” correctly diagnoses the growing threat of Russia and China in the region, but then asks the question “What if” the Obama thaw had continued.  This is where the question of cause and effect arises.  

On July 5, 2023, Chris Simmons, a former chief of a counterintelligence research branch on the Western Hemisphere at the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, revealed in the Miami Herald that in 1992 China began reasserting itself in Cuba with  50 Chinese officers embedded in a single building within the Bejucal facility, and smuggling arms into the island. 

During Bill Clinton’s thaw with Fidel Castro in 2000, Russia reasserted its position in Cuba. In September 2000,  Clinton shook hands with Fidel Castro at the United Nations, and less than a month later, he eased Cuban sanctions , allowing cash and carry transactions with the Cuban government and military. Cuban-Russian relations had deteriorated throughout the Gorbachev and Yeltsin administrations, but were renewed by Vladimir Putin. In December 2000, Putin flew into Cuba and “said the abrupt rupture of the close alliance between Moscow and Havana a decade earlier was a mistake.

Castro handed over power to his brother Raul in 2006. It was Raul Castro and his son Alejandro Castro that negotiated “the thaw” with President Obama and White House aide Ben Rhodes that was announced on December 17, 2014. When American diplomats traveled to Cuba to negotiate normalizing relations with their Cuban counterparts in January 2015, they were greeted by a Russian intelligence warship that docked the day before

What were the results of Obama’s opening to Cuba? The Cuban military commercial empire expanded substantially during the detente that began on December 17, 2014, until the Trump Administration changed course.  Although Washington had a diplomatic presence in Cuba since 1977, the first U.S. diplomats to suffer serious and inexplicable brain injuries in Cuba occurred under President Obama. Speculation centered on Russian or Chinese actors causing the injuries, with the acquiescence of Cuban intelligence services.

To make matters worse,  Raúl Castro presided over a military parade in Havana on January 1, 2017 to mark the 58th anniversary of the communist revolution, with troops chanting: “Obama! Obama! We’d like to confront your clumsiness, cleanse you with rebels and mortar, and make you a hat out of bullets to the head.”

Not normal.

John Suarez
Executive director
Center for a Free Cuba
Falls Church, VA.

European Interest, July 18, 2023

Time to suspend agreement with Cuban regime

By European Interest

PHOTO BY: Anna Fotyga Biuro Poselskie @AnnaFotyga_P

In the midst of the EU-CELAC summit in Brussels, representatives of three European Parliament groups joined Rosa María Payá today to denounce the Cuban authorities’ support of Russia in the war of aggression against Ukraine, and the continuous violations of human rights that must lead to the suspension of the political cooperation agreement between the European Union and the regime.

MEP Antonio López-Istúriz (EPP Group), MEP José Ramón Bauzá (Renew Europe Group), and MEP Anna Fotyga (ECR Group) joined Rosa María Payá (Cuba Decide) and Erik Cartelle (Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba) in a joint press conference today.

The group addressed the important role that Cuba is playing by supporting Russia in the aggression against Ukraine. They highlighted another key takeaway of the recent resolution (RC-B9-0311/2023), approved by the European Parliament: the call for the European Union to trigger Article 85(3)(b) of the PDCA to request an immediate meeting of the joint committee holding the Cuban regime accountable for its violations of Universal Human Rights, which is an essential element of the agreement.

The press conference took place in the European Parliament at the same time as the EU-CELAC summit was taking place in the European Council. The presence of Miguel Díaz-Canel, whose name is mentioned in the aforementioned resolution as one of the individuals that should be sanctioned for his participation in crimes against humanity, was denounced by Rosa María Payá.

“The presence of a Cuban dictator at this summit is an embarrassment for the European Union. The Cuban regime is the gateway for Russia and China to Latin America and a strategic ally in the invasion of Ukraine. Allowing the Cuban repressors to become brokers between the EU and CELAC is to place Europe at a disadvantage. We encourage the European Union to suspend the EU-Cuba agreement not only because of the innumerable atrocities that the regime continues to commit against its people, but also for the best interests of European citizens”.

Antonio López-Istúriz, from the EPP Group, stated: “Today, three different European groups have gathered here, because despite the fact that we have significant and minor differences, we are all steadfast defenders of freedom and democracy. If the EU-CELAC summit doesn’t publish a resolution condemning the Human Rights situation in the region and the Russian aggression towards Ukraine, we can all consider this summit as a failure.”

“The EU cannot remain passive in the face of the violation of the political dialogue agreement with Cuba. We demand that Article 85 be activated and that the dictatorship be held accountable. The Union’s policy towards the Island must be fundamentally revised, because the Cuban people must be free. Free from hunger, torture and oppression. They must be free of Díaz Canel. Oswaldo Payá’s legacy is strong, and we will work to see it accomplished”, declared José Ramón Bauzá,

“As a Pole, the entirety of my public life is linked to the Solidarity movement, the fight against the communist regime in Poland. Therefore, I am not surprised by the appalling information about political murders committed by the communist regime in Cuba, which unfortunately reminds me of cases from the past in Poland under communism, as in the case of Father Jerzy Popiełuszko and others. I am strongly convinced that the communist regime in Cuba has no future. Sooner or later, the necessary changes towards the democratisation of Cuba will take place”, added Anna Fotyga, ECR spokesperson for foreign affairs.

The conference took place a day after European Parliament President Roberta Metsola received Rosa Maria Payá who expressed gratitude for the last resolution and encouraged President Metsola to continue advocating for individual sanctions against those in power in Cuba.

euro.ESEuro, July 14, 2023

The regimes of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua veto the presence of Zelensky at the EU-CELAC Summit

Strong pressure from the regimes in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua resulted in the Council of the European Union confirming that Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelensky will not attend to the European Union (EU) – Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) Summit, which will be held between Monday and Tuesday in Brussels.

A senior EU official made the decision public during a briefing organized by the Council of the European Union, the Argentine media reported. infobae.

One of the spokesmen for the European bloc later said that Zelensky was not invited, given that he already visited the Belgian capital in February and has just participated as a special guest at the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania. Likewise, the official, whose name is not mentioned in the report, recalled that Ukraine is not part of the EU or CELAC.

“This is the first summit with CELAC that we have had in eight years, and the regions are aligned. It is clear the collateral damage in other parts of the world from the Russian aggression, which has caused damage and fragilities, which has created food insecurity and increased inflation. All of this will probably be discussed (at the Summit), but President Zelensky is not going to attend,” the official agent quoted as saying.

This same week the Ukrainian president himself had explained that the Spanish president, Pedro Sánchez, invited him to be part of the Summit, but that several Latin American countries had “blocked” their assistance. The president did not say which countries were.

In the region, the regimes of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua support the invasion of Moscow against the neighboring country, while Brazil has tried to maintain a neutral positiondespite the fact that Brazilian President Lula da Silva ignored his Ukrainian counterpart during the recent G7 summit in May.

For its part, Argentina distanced itself from the decision, indicating that it should be the attending countries that approved or not the presence of Zelensky. For his part, the Uruguayan president, Luis Lacalle, supported the presence of the Ukrainian at the meeting.

According to the Spanish press, Sánchez thought that the imminent Summit could be a good opportunity for the region to understand the Ukrainian version of the conflict. However, the Spanish American States did not agree.

Havana is one of the few governments that did not come out in favor of the main resolutions condemning the Kremlin at the UN General Assembly in 2022 for his invasion of Ukraine: he abstained from voting in March 2022 (demanding the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine); in October 2022 (against the annexation of the occupied Ukrainian regions) and in February 2023 (in support of a “comprehensive, just and lasting” peace in Ukraine).

It further opposed the November 2023 resolution, which stated that Russia should pay reparations to Ukraine for damage caused during the military operation.

In April 2023, it abstained when the United Nations Human Rights Council voted overwhelmingly to extend the mandate of a panel investigating possible war crimes committed since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In May, it voted against a World Health Organization (WHO) resolution in support of the Ukrainian health system. and condemning the attacks against health facilities in that country by Russia.

Havana also voted against the Ukrainian president addressing the UN General Assembly by video in September 2022. Despite this, this intervention occurred.

TASS,  July 6, 2023

EU nixes Zelensky’s invitation to summit after Latin America objects — portal

The heads of Central and Latin American countries, who are to travel to Brussels on July 17-18, insisted on removing all paragraphs on support for Ukraine from the draft final declaration of the event

BRUSSELS, July 6. /TASS/. The leaders of 33 Latin American and Caribbean nations have persuaded the European Union to cancel Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky’s invitation to the upcoming EU-CELAC Summit of Heads of State and Government, the Brussels-based EURACTIV news portal reported on Thursday citing unnamed diplomatic sources.

Besides, the heads of Central and Latin American countries, who are to travel to Brussels on July 17-18, insisted on removing all paragraphs on support for Ukraine from the draft final declaration of the event.

On the eve of the summit, CELAC leaders submitted their counter-proposal to the draft text which they obtained from Brussels on July 4, the portal said. According to one of its sources, they “deleted everything about Ukraine.”

Spain, which presides over the Council of the European Union, has already sent an invitation to Zelensky to participate, but it “was canceled after pushback from Latin American leaders,” EURACTIV said.

According to four diplomatic sources interviewed by the portal, the final draft of the document will be discussed by EU ambassadors “in an effort to salvage a draft communique.” Per the report, there is a chance that no final document will be adopted at the summit.

Earlier, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen pledged to work with every single country in the world to demand that they clearly articulate their stance regarding Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine as well as the rise of China. Moreover, during their latest meeting on June 29-30, EU leaders tasked the External Action Service with engaging in “sanctions diplomacy” to make all countries support the union’s anti-Russian sanctions.