CubaNews / March 2003
By Larry Luxner
The U.S. Interests Section in Havana complains that its diplomats are being hassled by the Cuban government in order “to frustrate routine business, occupy resources, demoralize personnel and generally hinder efforts to advance U.S. policy goals.”
A three-page declassified memo distributed to members of Congress last month describes various forms of both physical and psychological harassment suffered at the hands of Cuba’s Ministry of Interior. These include everything from pilfered car parts, slashed tires and smashed car windows to unwelcome “messages” like urine and feces deposited in the homes of U.S. diplomats in Havana.
“The harassment begins from the moment USINT personnel and their belongings enter Cuba,” says the cable. “Cuban agents routinely enter U.S. employee residences to search belongings and papers, enter computers and gather other information thought to be useful from an intelligence point of view. Vehicles are also targeted. In many instances, no effort is made to hide the intrusions.”
Juan Hernández Acen, chief spokesman at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, rejected the allegations as totally false.
“This is simply a game to disrupt relations between our two countries and confuse U.S. public opinion every time they begin to favor cooperating with Cuba,” he said, accusing the State Department of conducting “subversive activities” that violate the Vienna Convention.
“It’s a complete fabrication,” added Dagoberto Rodríguez, chief of the Cuban mission in Washington. “It’s not the kind of methods we use. We don’t behave that way.”
At the moment, the U.S. Interests Section employs 51 American officials and 300 Cuban workers. The Cubans must be hired through a government-run agency, Cubalse; U.S. officials say that in order to keep their jobs, they’re required to tell Cuban intelligence everything they see and hear at work.
“USINT personnel can expect to live without privacy for the duration of their time in Cuba,” said the State Department brief. “Electronic surveillance is pervasive, including monitoring of home phone and computer lines. U.S. personnel have had living-room conversations repeated or played back to them by strangers and unknown callers.”
BUGS OF THE ELECTRONIC AND TROPICAL KIND
In one example showing how Cubans tap into the daily activities of U.S. diplomats, presumably through hidden microphones, “shortly after one family discussed the susceptibility of their daughter to mosquito bites, they returned home to find all of their windows open and the house full of mosquitoes.”
Dennis Hays, executive vice-president of the Cuban American National Foundation, said this kind of thing has gone on for years.
“Back in my day, there were attempts at sexual entrapment and other blatant attempts at harassment,” Hays told CubaNews, recalling an incident in the mid-1990s where a human-rights officer, Robin Meyers, was almost run off the road by Cuban officials as she was on her way to meet with dissidents.
In fact, the internal document says the Cuban government still tries to use sexual favors to blackmail married staffers.
VARELA PROJECT ACTIVISTS ALSO HASSLED
A senior State Department official in Washington told CubaNews that the harassment seems to intensify in direct correlation to diplomats’ contacts with Cuban dissidents.
“They have always engaged in a certain level of harassment of our people, but what you see now is a very focused assault on the people most involved in civil-society development in Cuba — those who work on our outreach program,” he said. “In my experience, if the Cubans are angry about something, that means you’re doing something right.”
The official, who asked us not to use his name, said “there’s absolutely no comparson” between the way U.S. diplomats are treated in Havana and the relatively unrestricted lives led by Cuban diplomats in Washington.
“We don’t break into people’s houses or defecate on their toilet seats,” he said. “This is all being done, in my view, only to intimidate our people.”
Meanwhile, the Castro regime is apparently stepping up its harassment and isolation of dissidents affiliated with Proyecto Varela, Cuba’s leading internal opposition movement.
According to a statement released Feb. 11 by Varela Project founder Oswaldo Payá, “a force of some 200 individuals ... directed and organized by Cuban state security personnel are besieging the house of Jesús Mustafa [a Proyecto Varela activist in Palma Soriano, in the province of Santiago de Cuba], terrorizing its occupants with shouts, painting graffiti on the walls, offending and threatening them.”
In recent days, “threats and acts of aggression and repudiation have been orchestrated by state security and the Cuban Communist Party in Palma Soriano,” said Payá.
The political activist called for “urgent action to stop these acts of vandalism and to protect the life and integrity of these peaceful citizens working in Proyecto Varela.”
Payá attributes full responsibility for the acts of repression to “the government of Fidel Castro,” which has “rejected and archived” the Proyecto Varela petition, dismissing the petition presented to the National Assembly in May 2002 as “unconstitutional and technically and juridically flawed."