Involvement of Cuba in Terrorism: 2020-2022 By Jose Arias | Center for a Free Cuba
Center for Free Cuba Open Letter to the European Union Special Representative for Human Rights on the eve of his arrival in Cuba

Involvement of Cuba in Terrorism: 2020-2022

Prepared by Jose Arias*

Prepared for Center for a Free Cuba

July 20, 2022

Introduction

    Cuban involvement with terrorism has been a historical topic with different stages. In 2021, when the United States declared Cuba a state sponsor of terrorism, the topic came up again, and there have been many controversial arguments on both sides of the matter. The period of 2020–2022, therefore, presents an interesting stage in Cuban involvement with terrorism. Cuba has maintained close relations with countries that are directly involved in terrorist attacks and with terrorist groups from Syria, Iran, and North Korea. Cuba has also been proven to hide and help terrorists from different countries, like the United States and Colombia. At least one terrorist group that has an agency in Cuba has been used as a center of operations that take place in Latin America. Co-acting with Venezuela, Cuba presents a big threat to not only Latin American countries but to the United States and the whole world too. Cuba’s position in terrorism is facing a stage in which the country acts as a coordinator who provides information, knowledge, and the logistics necessary to other countries and groups who directly commit terrorist attacks.

Definition 

For a long time now, there has been controversy over the exact definition of terrorism. The United Nations has generated different definitions of terrorism in the last 20 years, which has caused the term to have a certain evolution as the years have passed. In December 1994, the United Nations General Assembly in resolution 49/60 defined terrorism as “criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public.” Ten years later, in 2004, the United Nations Security Council in resolution 1565 defined terrorism as “criminal acts, including against civilians, committed with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury, or the taking of hostages, with the purpose of provoking a state of terror in the general public or in a group of persons or particular persons, intimidating a population or compelling a government or an international organization to do or to abstain from doing any act” (United Nations). Even though many countries have their own definition of terrorism, like the United States or the United Kingdom, the definition that is most used and accepted is the one given by the United Nations Security Council in 2004.

History

The relationship between Cuba and terrorism is not something that appeared from nowhere, it has been evolving and going through different stages during different years. Since the period of 1959–1967, Cuba was involved in different matters that were directly related to terrorism. The country trained Latin American soldiers that were part of guerrillas and then Cuba infiltrated them back to their countries. During this period, Cuba also established relations with the Algerian FLN and even sent them weapons (Cuban Studies Institute, 2020). The situation did not change in the following 20 years. Cuba developed relations directly with terrorism and its relationships with some states like Syria, Palestine, and Yemen. In the early 2000s, Cuba continued its influence in Colombia through terrorist groups like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN).

The most recent history of the relationship between Cuba and terrorism continues to be directly related, especially with Colombia. During 2017, some members of the Colombian group ELN traveled to Cuba to negotiate peace. However, they did not arrive back to Colombia, and Cuba has denied their extradition several times. In 2019, this group (ELN) carried out a terrorist attack in a police academy in Colombia that killed 22 people and harmed more than 65 others; the terrorist leaders were protected by Cuba. The United States government has shown proof in recent years that Cuba supports terrorist groups by giving them housing, medical support, and food (United States Embassy in Cuba, 2020).

Involvement of Cuba in Terrorism 2020-2022: General Data

In recent years, the involvement of Cuba in terrorism has not significantly changed. In the 2020 country reports on terrorism, the United States marked several issues that the Cuban government has been involved in. The United States accuses Cuba of protecting tens of people who have terrorist accusations not only in the United States but also in many more countries in the whole world. Among these people are members of different terrorist groups in the Middle East that have hijacked planes, planted bombs, and kidnapped and tortured members of the United States army. The report also explains how, in 2020, Cuba made no efforts to counter violent extremism and that it has not supported any countries in their fight against terrorism (United States Department of State, 2021). In 2020, the United States designated Cuba as a state sponsor of international terrorism based on all the information that Cuba was protecting terrorists and acting with other countries in direct acts of terrorism (United States Congress, 2022).

Cuba’s relationship with terrorism comes from its anti-American ideology, which it shares with other countries. Of all those countries, Cuba has something that no other country has, which is a strategic location, namely the proximity to the United States. Over the past three years, Cuba has provided all over the world a highly effective human intelligence network that has been able to find vulnerabilities in the security of many different countries. Furthermore, Cuba has been shown to be interfering with and intercepting US communications. All the information and knowledge that Cuba acquires is shared with some of its allies, which include countries like Iran and Syria (Liberty First, 2021). The international community has said several times that Cuba plays a different role in terrorism. “Cuba does not get involved in terrorism directly; it outsources it” (Schamis, 2021). Normally, terrorist acts do not happen in Cuba or are done by Cubans. The Caribbean country uses third-party actors that are normally its allies to carry out terrorist attacks. Schamis compares Cuba with Amazon: “it does not produce them, but it provides all the logistics, data, and knowledge necessary to do them.”

Cuba´s Influence in Latin America

Venezuela

    Venezuela is Cuba’s direct “partner” in Latin America, and their relationship has supported more terrorist acts than anyone can imagine. Many different types of weapons and military personnel are sent and received in Venezuela, with some remaining in the country and others returning to Cuba. Most of the trades are done with states that are also sponsors of terrorism, like Iran and North Korea. In addition, Nicolas Maduro is in power thanks to all the support that has been given by Cuba and their relations. Members of FARC and ELN use Venezuela and Cuba as two ways to travel and to hide when necessary, and they receive full support from both governments. There have also been many people that believe that Venezuela has reported as dead some members of the ELN (which are not dead) so they can continue their terrorist operations silently (Wall Street Journal, 2021).

    In Venezuela, the leaders of the opposition agree that the links that the government has with terrorist groups are dangerous for the entire continent. Juan Guaidó, who is the leader of the opposition in Venezuela, mentioned that Venezuela not only hides terrorists but it also functions as a center for operations of these groups; he mentioned that the country is obviously linked to Cuba, which is a provider of information, data, and knowledge. Guaidó mentioned that Venezuela just declared one of the FARC leaders as dead; he encouraged the Colombian government to make sure of this because there is a high chance that Venezuela is hiding this leader (El Nuevo Herald, 2022).

Colombia

Cuba has been one of the biggest Colombian nightmares when fighting terrorism. The country has received details that Cuba has been hiding Colombian members of FARC and ELN for more than ten years now. The terrorist attack on the police academy aggravated the situation. Victor Orlando, Israel Ramirez, Juan Astroza, and Nicolas Rodriguez are only four examples of leaders of the ELN that are based in Cuba now. The Colombian government has tried several times to extradite them, but the Cuban government has not responded to any of the notifications (DDC, 2021). “The leaders of that organization who are in Cuba must be extradited. I ask the Cuban government the question: Why do they keep silent when the ELN claims these facts, knowing that several members of the central command are in Havana? Remaining silent in the face of this is an unfriendly gesture with Colombia, and we do make that call,” said the Colombian President, Ivan Duque (El Universal, 2021).

In 2022, Colombia faced elections, which made the problem more complicated. FARC and ELN were involved in more than five terrorist attacks in just the first four months of 2022. The main reason is that they have been trying to scare the government even before it takes power. The Colombian press has repeated several times that most of the attacks were planned in Cuba by all of those hidden by the Cuban government (El Colombiano, 2022). Colombia has tried to threaten Cuba several times by saying that the relationship between the two countries is at stake and that sanctions will be imposed if Cuba denies the extradition of the terrorists. However, Cuba is still silent about the topic and Colombia has not imposed sanctions.

Bolivia 

    Relations between Cuba and Bolivia improved when Evo Morales was in power from 2006 to 2019. Morales’ credibility decreased over the years, and he was accused of terrorism and financing terrorism when he completed his term as president. The charges come from when Morales lost credibility in 2019. A phone call was used as proof where Morales is heard saying phrases like “Don’t let food enter the cities, we are going to blockade, a real fence,” and “Now they expel me from Bolivia, and there is a blockade until we win” (Ruiz, 2020). One of the countries where Morales immediately left the country in order to avoid prison is Cuba. There have been many rumors that have not been proven that Morales went to Cuba in order to plan a socialist strategy to get back the power he lost in Bolivia and that the Cuban government was going to be a key ally and strategy planner for this. The Cuban government was asked many times about the topic, and they were completely silent about it (On Cuba News, 2019). Even though the reason for Morales’ visit is not clear, it does prove that Cuba harbors people with terrorism charges.

Relations Between Cuba and Hezbollah

Hezbollah is a Lebanese-based political party and militant group that emerged from Lebanon’s civil war. Most recently, Hezbollah has strengthened its relations with Iraq and Syria, where it has acquired more power in recent years (Robinson, 2022). During Hezbollah’s time, the group has participated in several questionable acts, which is the main reason it is considered a terrorist group by the majority of the international community. The United Kingdom, Germany, Israel, the Arab League, and the United States are among those that consider Hezbollah a terrorist group. From planting bombs and hijacking airplanes to training terrorists and murdering political leaders, Hezbollah has caused danger in the whole world (National Counterterrorism Center).

Among Hezbollah’s allies, there is Cuba, which, in conjunction with Venezuela, helps Hezbollah to have operations in Latin America. In fact, the Lebanese terrorist group has a center of operations in Cuba, and it has been running for more than ten years now. Hezbollah operates in Latin America in cooperation with Iran, Cuba, and Venezuela in order to attack all the vulnerabilities that the democracies have and, therefore, destabilize them. During many disturbances in countries like Ecuador, Chile, Bolivia, and Colombia, Cubans are often found leading the groups and committing crimes. When they have been incarcerated, they have admitted working with the Cuban government as well as with Hezbollah (Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba).

Hezbollah’s cooperation with Venezuela and Cuba was seen this year (2022) in South America. There was an airplane found in Buenos Aires, Argentina that belonged to the Iranian forces but worked under the Venezuelan regime. The crew of the plane was found to be 11 Venezuelans and seven Iranians, most of them with strong links to international terrorism. The most worrying aspect is that the plane was in Paraguay and Ecuador some days before it landed in Argentina. The crew was suspected of arms trafficking and working for Hezbollah; the crew moved so easily within Latin America due to coordination with Venezuela and Cuba, who provided all logistics (Loaiza, 2022). The governments of Latin America have called for emergency meetings to discuss the topic because it seems that this was not the first time it happened in recent times. The situation did not end there. The Paraguayan intelligence service found shocking data about one of the crew members. The President of Paraguay, Mario Abdo Benitez, stated that their intelligence agencies discovered that one of the crew members traveled to Cuba to undergo facial change surgery so that he could not be recognized and continue with his operations. The situation brought up concerns that the Cuban government is working really closely with terrorist groups like Hezbollah and that the country is directly involved with terrorism (Loaiza, 2022).

Cuba Relations with Other Countries that Support Terrorism

In January 2021, Cuba was officially designated (again) as a state sponsor of terrorism by the United States. There are only three more countries with the same designation, which are: North Korea, designated in 2017, Iran, designated in 1984, and Syria, designated in 1979 (United States Department of State, 2022). In 2020, when rumors arose that Cuba might be categorized again by the United States as a state sponsor of terrorism, the Cuban government affirmed strictly that they have nothing to do with terrorism or other states under the same denomination. Those affirmations raised the concern that it might be true that Cuba is one of the very few countries in the world that has great relationships with the other three state sponsors of terrorism.

North Korea

Cuba is one of the few countries that has more than a bilateral relationship with North Korea, the Cuban government affirms that it is more of a friendship relationship. In fact, in 2020, there was a big ceremony in Cuba to celebrate 60 years of diplomatic relations between both countries. The importance of the countries’ shared military relations was highlighted during the ceremony, and they encouraged other nations to see the values and commitment of both socialist nations (Tamayo, 2020). The relationship between the two countries is as strong as the motivation to violate an embargo established by the United Nations. In 2006, the U.N established that “Member States must prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale, or transfer to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, through its territory or by its nationals.” Cuba violated it several times by sending helicopters in exchange for underwater war technology. The violations were several times seen and denounced by many people, and the Cuban government even tried to bribe the former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli, which did not work (Cabrera Perez, 2021).

Iran

    The relationship between the Cuban and Iranian governments has been a really close one. But since both countries have the same “enemy”, the relationship has increased in many different ways. Both countries have more than 12 agreements now, most of which are in terms of intelligence, exchange of information, and collaboration (Giambertoni, 2021). In 2021, Iran sent two military ships that were presumed to contain military weapons, and their destination was Cuba and Venezuela. Both countries kept silent at the time. The United States denounced these ships and warned both Latin American countries that sanctions would come if they received the weapons. On the other hand, Iran believed that it was normal to have military ships in the Atlantic but refused to confirm its destination or purpose (14ymedio, 2021). The truth that comes from this is that Iran has clear connections in Latin America. Cuba and Venezuela will support them no matter what.

Syria

Relations between Cuba and Syria have been ongoing for about 55 years. The official relationship started in the early 70s when Cuba decided to help Syria by sending troops to fight against Israel. The relationship continues in contemporary times. In 2018, the Cuban government sent special forces to Syria with the mission of training local soldiers and recruits in weapons handling and managing various types of equipment. The Middle East media has gone even further by confirming that the Cuban forces also trained them in information systems where data can be found and used as required (Center for Strategic Assessment and Forecasts, 2018). Syrian terrorist groups have been involved in over 20 terrorist attacks around the world since 2018, from the United States and Australia to Niger and Afghanistan. The argument is still the same: Cuba has relations with and gives support to states that directly commit terrorist attacks. Recently, in July 2022, the foreign ministers of both countries held a meeting where they highlighted the importance of “two countries united against one”. It is presumable that the “one” is the United States (SANA, 2022). Both countries have made statements recently thanking each other for the bilateral relations that they have.

Cuban Government Position

On the other hand, Cuba claims that it refuses to work with terrorist groups or to have any involvement with terrorism. In 2017, Cuba condemned all terrorist attacks “no matter the place, the reason or the motivation,” as stated in a document presented to the United Nations (Government of Cuba, 2017). However, every time a Cuban official is asked about the Cuban involvement in terrorism, they prefer to keep silent, or they immediately point out that the only victims of terrorism are the Cubans. “There is a long history of terrorist acts committed by the US government vs. Cuba and the complicity of US authorities with individuals and organizations that have organized, financed, and executed such actions from US territory,” Carlos F. de Cossio, the foreign ministry official in charge of US relations, wrote on Twitter (Merco Press, 2020). Cuba has denied it a couple of times without any valid argument, while other countries have extensively proven the involvement of the Cuban government in terrorism.

Discussion

    There is enough proof to say that Cuba is a state that supports terrorism; its involvement with it has been constant and it has not stopped. Cuba normally acts as a “third party”, providing all the intelligence, knowledge, and logistics so the attacks go well. All these Cuban actions go from training terrorists and giving information about different countries to using the Cuban territory as a terrorist base that plans and executes attacks. Different countries in Latin America are being highly affected by the Cuban actions, in which Colombia seems to be historically the one that presents a bigger challenge. However, the situation is getting worse in countries like Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador. The Cuban and Venezuelan governments’ involvement in terrorism and relationships with countries like Iran, North Korea, and Syria present a huge threat to everyone, especially all Latin American countries. The United States feels threatened by Cuba’s involvement in terrorism. The designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism follows the idea that Cuba could be a threat to the American nation in matters of intelligence, knowledge, and geographic location. The Cuban intelligence agencies are well trained and have learned a lot from past Soviet Union agencies. Even though Cuba has not directly attacked in recent years, the role that the country is playing is potentially more dangerous, and it poses a significant threat to the entire world.

Conclusion

Even though the Cuban government tries to deny it or to act as if they are pure victims, the truth is that Cuba has a direct relationship with terrorism and functions as an actor. The relations that Cuba maintains with states directly involved with terrorism like Iran or Syria, the high number of terrorists that Cuba hides in their country, and the Cuban intelligence giving information and logistics for terrorist attacks are proof that Cuba is still directly related to terrorism. Even though many countries like Colombia and the United States have asked Cuba to cooperate in the fight against terrorism, the island only keeps silent and shows its unwillingness to fight international terrorism. Even though Cuba has not experienced any attacks by itself in the past few years, the position that the country is taking in terms of terrorism is putting the entire American continent at risk, and the alliance that Cuba and Venezuela have is a complete threat to all the American countries that are trying to co-exist peacefully in their own countries.


*Jose Arias is an intern in the Center for a Free Cuba; he is a senior from University at the Ozarks majoring in Political Science with a track on International Affairs. Jose has previously worked in development projects with the United States embassy in his home country Costa Rica. Jose’s interest in International Affairs focuses on the Western Hemisphere.

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