Leaked documents discuss Cuban spies, US concerns
CARACAS, Venezuela – Cuban intelligence agents have deep involvement in Venezuela and enjoy direct access to President Hugo Chavez, the U.S. Embassy said in a 2006 diplomatic cable that was classified as secret.
The document was among several posted online Tuesday by the newspaper El Pais of Spain as a growing list of sensitive U.S. government messages were released by WikiLeaks.
The Jan. 30, 2006, cable from then-U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield said that "Cuban intelligence officers have direct access to Chavez and frequently provide him with intelligence reporting unvetted by Venezuelan officers."
Similar claims have been raised previously by Chavez's critics, but U.S. officials have not publicly aired such concerns.
"The impact of Cuban involvement in Venezuelan intelligence could impact U.S. interests directly," the report said. "Venezuelan intelligence services are among the most hostile towards the United States in the hemisphere, but they lack the expertise that Cuban services can provide. Cuban intelligence routinely provides the (Venezuelan government) intelligence reports about the activities" of U.S. government officials.
The embassy cable also said Venezuela's DISIP domestic spy agency "may be taking advice from Cuban intelligence on the formation of a new intelligence service." The DISIP has since been replaced by the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service, named after independence hero Simon Bolivar — the inspiration of Chavez's socialist-inspired Bolivarian Revolution movement.
"Cuban intelligence officers train Venezuelans both in Cuba and in Venezuela, providing both political indoctrination and operational instruction," the report said, without citing sources. The cable said U.S. officials believed Cubans were training and advising Chavez's military security detail, but said American diplomats at the time had "no credible reports of extensive Cuban involvement in the Venezuelan military."
It also said there were reports that Chavez's brother Adan, then the Venezuelan ambassador to Cuba, "may profit illicitly from the loan process" while Venezuela was financing food imports through a Havana branch of the Industrial Bank of Venezuela.
There was no immediate reaction from the Venezuelan government to the leaked documents.
Chavez, who has welcomed thousands of Cuban doctors to Venezuela along with military advisers, has made no secret of his close ties to Cuba's communist government. He has said his mentor Fidel Castro once told him that the thousands of Cubans in Venezuela would come to his defense and fight if ever needed.
Before the latest files were released, Chavez said Monday that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton should resign over the WikiLeaks revelations and that the documents show the U.S. government is a "failed state."
He praised WikiLeaks for exposing espionage and back-stabbing tactics by American diplomats. "The empire was left naked," Chavez said.
The latest documents posted online by El Pais reveal meticulous reporting by American diplomats on subjects from Venezuela's health care system to the government seizure of several banks.
They also describe U.S. officials' concerns that embassy staff were being spied on.
A secret memo dated Jan. 28, 2010, discussed a biannual counterintelligence meeting "to review current threat levels and countermeasures." It says that the embassy faced a high espionage threat and that officials discussed the need for strict security policies, including in the use of BlackBerry phones.
The memo said U.S. officials believed tht Venezuelan intelligence agencies "are controlled by the Cuban Intelligence Service" and that they "have the capability, means and desire to monitor and target Embassy staff."
In other released documents, U.S. diplomats said they believed there are leftist rebels in Cuba belonging to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. And they said that in one private conversation in November 2009, Brazilian Defense Minister Nelson Jobim "all but acknowledged presence of the FARC in Venezuela."
According to an earlier memo from the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia in February 2008, Jobim told then U.S. Ambassador Clifford Sobel "that the Brazilian government shared the Ambassador's concern about the possibility of Venezuela exporting instability."
It added that Jobim "believed that President Chavez has been saber rattling to distract from internal problems," but he also advised the U.S. diplomat "that isolating Venezuela would lead to further posturing from Chavez and a greater risk of spreading instability among neighboring countries."
In Venezuela, meanwhile, U.S. diplomats were working to improve the image of the United States. A classified 2008 report describes a "strategic communications plan," in which the embassy requested support from the Department of Defense to "influence the information environment within Venezuela."
"The strategy's goal is to counter the active and deliberate campaign by the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (BRV) to instill in the population a negative perception of the US," the report said, noting that the image of the U.S. among Venezuelans had fallen from a pre-Chavez level of 65 percent approval to a historic low of 31 percent.
American diplomats also attempted to provide a detailed portrait of Chavez's personality and motivations. One 2004 confidential cable reported on a conversation with Chavez's former lover Herma Marksman.
"Marksman stated that Chavez is loyal to no one and does not have true friends. If he has a problem, he will only confide in his brother, Adan, whom she characterized as a communist, and Cuban leader Fidel Castro," the cable said.
It concluded that "Chavez's unwillingness to trust others ... likely contributes to his government's failure in executing many of his initiatives."