Cuba and Spain: corruption, drugs and espionage

Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage Dávila visited Spain, trying to improve the bilateral political and economic climate. However, this trip took place in the midst of a difficult situation: a scandal that is about to break open concerning drug trafficking and the laundering of money between the two countries. In the last few weeks, articles have appeared in the press about two incidents that affect the bilateral relationship: First, the discovery and confiscation in Colombia of a ship containing 7.5 tons of cocaine, consigned to two Spanish businessmen who have business interests in Cuba. Second, the admission by the Spanish government that their intelligence service had been penetrated by Cuban agents. Officials in both countries have said very little about these events. All this is taking place while Havana and Madrid are putting the final touches on plans for the visit to Cuba of King Juan Carlos later this year. Spain is one of Cuba's largest international trade partners, with an estimated turnover of $600 million per year.

Here in Washington, the White House is being pressed by some members of Congress to reveal what the US government knows about the drug traffic in Cuba. Early this month, the Department of State admitted that during 1998 Cuba had increased its drug traffic. The White House seems to be hesitant about what it knows about the Cuban narco-connections and the Cuban narco- traffickers residing in Cuba and filling positions in a worldwide trafficking network. "To open the Pandora's box at this time could be a disaster for Cuba and the United States." Remarked a high source in the Clinton administration. "We don't want to be blamed for what is going to happen in Cuba."

The controversy surrounding Cuba and its narcotic.s traffic have reached a point that Congressmen Dan Burton (R-Ind.) sent a strong letter to drug czar General Barry R. McCaffrey, implying that President Clinton's administration was covering up the illegal operations of the Cuban Government. McCaffrey said, among other things that he was "insulted" by the tone of the letter. On February 10, 1999, the State Department spokesman characterized Burton's stand as "outrageous." On the other hand, Colombian General Jose Serrano, of the Colombia National Police is facing a situation similar to that of his American counterpart. Sources close to Serrano assured me that the leak to the press on December 3, 1998 about the confiscation of a shipment of cocaine bound for Cuba was "vox populi" (the voice of the people) coming from sources in the Colombian police. "Everybody knows in Colombia that Cuba is the sanctuary of guerillas and drug dealers from Latin America" commented another source close to Serrano. "The gringos don't want to talk about what everybody knows: Cuba is in the narcotics traffic up to its neck," commented a Colombian diplomat, adding "we share all this information with the DEA and the CIA, and they have everything we know concerning Colombia and Cuba."


For several months, the Center of Studies, Information and Defense (CSID), the Spanish intelligence Service, has been busy watching the activities of Cuba, its diplomats and agents who operate in Spain. According to the Spanish, the total number of Cuban agents and diplomats in the country is more than 200. Due to the close political and commercial ties of Cubans inside and outside the island, Spain keeps a sharp eye on everything related to Cuba. In addition to their regular diplomatic and consular missions in the United States and Cuba, the Spanish intelligence services have sources in commercial, tourism and press services. Cuba conducts its intelligence activities through the Directorate of Intelligence based within the Ministry of Interior. Cuba also keeps dozens of agents in Spain and Miami to monitor the activities of Cuban exiles.

The main objective of Cuban intelligence activity in Spain, politics aside, is in the area of trade, tourism and the investments of Spaniards in Cuba. In spite of the apparent good relationship between Madrid and Havana, the Spaniards keep a close watch on Cuban agents in Spain. In 1986, Prime Minister Felipe González sent a strong note of protest to Havana due to an attempted kidnaping of a Cuban defector from the streets of Madrid by Cuban agents. The government of Spain suspects that since 1986 Cuban agents had penetrated the Spanish intelligence services. Sources familiar with the Spanish government informed me that the Spanish intelligence services submitted a comprehensive study of the activity of Cuban agents in 1986. I have not seen this study, and do not know the consequences that may have followed from this document.

In the middle of January 1999, the Spanish newspaper La Razón reported that Spanish intelligence services had been penetrated by the Cuban Department of Intelligence (DI). It is known that several Spanish intelligence officers have been arraigned, but the government has not revealed their names. The scandal apparently originated in an accusation by the Spanish businessman, Fernando Molina, against José Fernández, one of his associates in the hotel and tourism business in Cuba.

I have learned that for more than three years the Spanish government has watched closely those that invest in or who have business in Cuba, motivated by suspicions of drug trafficking and the laundering of money from the drug trade. This vigilance intensified last summer, when a delegation of Cuban government officials visited Spain, in a delegation headed by Cuban Minister of tourism Osmani Cienfuegos Gorriarán, an intimate friend of president Fidel Castro. Cienfuegos is considered the person who directs and manages the Cuban drug traffic and the laundering of money through the Ministry of Tourism.


This man is one of Castro's closest friends. 68 years old, and an architect by trade, Osmani is the son of Spanish communists exiled to Cuba. Early in his youth, he joined the Cuban communist Party as a student at the University of Havana. A younger brother, Camilo, was nne of the most popular commandantes who fought in the Sierra Maestra with Castro. Camilo disappeared mysteriously on October 28, 1959, when he was flying a small civilian plane from the city of Camagüey to Havana. His plane vanished without trace in one of the most curious episodes of the Cuban revolution. His disappearance motivated intense speculation among the Cuban people. Many alleged that he was the victim of a bomb placed in his plane by a faction of the Cuban communist party. At the time of his death, Camilo occupied the third highest position in the Cuban revolutionary leadership, after Fidel Castro and his brother Raúl. Camilo was the chief of the Cuban armed forces, and his popularity was surpassed only by that of Fidel. I am not sure about his political thinking, although I know that he criticized members of the Cuban Communist party on numerous occasions.

At the beginning of the Cuban revolution, Osmani Cienfuegos was virtually unknown outside of the University of Havana. At that time, he had the rank of Captain in the Cuban Revolutionary Army. Osmani has held several important positions in the Cuban government. He first came to public attention during the failed invasion at the Bay of Pigs, April 17, 1961, when his name was associated with a tragic event that took place there. Osmani was charged with mistreatment of prisoners, following his order that more than 100 captured men be taken to Havana in a sealed trailer. More than a dozen men died of asphyxiation during the trip.

Osmani is married to Marcia Leiseca, a person who has occupied several high government positions and still retains great influence in Cuban government circles. The personal friendship of Osmani and Fidel has saved his political career. In his younger years, he lived a fairly dissolute life, due to the influence of alcohol and drugs. He found himself several times the subject of public scandal and encounters with the police. However, since Osmani enjoyed the absolute trust of Fidel Castro, Fidel extricated his friend from trouble many times. Presently, Osmani occupies the powerful Minister of Tourism post, with wide-ranging power, and reports directly to Fidel Castro. President Castro recognizes the entrepreneurial skill of Osmani and jokingly says that "his petit bourgeois mentality has made him a success in commercial enterprises."

Miguel Brugueras, who works directly under Osmani Cienfuegos, is a key man in this business. Brugueras is a very skillful and experienced person. He has survived major crises and purges. Brugueras was personally selected for the position of Ambassador to Panama by Manuel Piñero Lozada (nicknamed Red Beard), the head of the Americas Department, an intelligence operation within the Cuban Communist party. In Panama, Brugueras became a close personal friend of President Manuel Noriega, and the official conduit between Castro and Noriega. Brugueras accompanied Noriega on the Panamanian President's undisclosed trips to Cuba, and attended with him intimate parties and cock fights outside of Havana. Among the functions of Brugueras was the establishment of enterprises in Panama to launder Cuban drug money and to finance clandestine Cuban intelligence operations.

The largest of these enterprises was Promotora S.A. This corporation owns properties in different parts of the world, including a large ranch near the Mexican city of Monterrey. This location was personally selected by the famous Colombian writer and Nobel Prize winner, Gabriel García Marquez, to be used by Fidel Castro in case of "an emergency" in Cuba. The reason for this location is that it close to a large Mexican property owned by the writer himself. Promotora S.A. is the legal owner of the property. Also, Promotora S.A. owns Banco Financiero Internacional de Cuba (the Cuban International Financial Bank). In official Cuban government circles, it is rumored that Miguel Brugueras made a fortune selling Panamanian entrance visas to Cubans who wanted to leave the country. Reported price for one visa was $1,000. According to Panamanian sources, general Noriega "rewarded" the Cuban Ambassador with the gift of 5,000 entry visas to Panama.

I have learned that the Spanish authorities are very interested in the person of Javier Ardizones, a Cuban official of the Ministry of Tourism who travels frequently to Spain, particularly, the resort city of Marbella. Before his assignment to be an assistant of Cienfuegos, Ardizones was the Cuban Ambassador to Italy. Ardizones is the former president of the organization of luxury hotels in Cuba, known as the Hotel Enterprise Gran Caribe. This organization is now headed by a son of Fidel Castro, Alexis Castro Soto del Valle. Ardizones, who has the reputation of a gentle person with a gift for words, established a close friendship with Jesus Gil, Spanish real estate entrepreneur, politician, and Mayor of Marbella. Gil was arrested recently in Spain on a charge of misappropriating funds. Ardizones and Cienfuegos were the key officials who paved the way for Gil to invest in hotels and other Cuban ventures.

Gil and his associates allegedly began "laundering money" from the illicit business of narcotics trafficking and began to invest in hotels in Cuba, especially on the small island off the south shore of central Cuba, known as Cayo Largo (Long Key). Visitors to this island describe it as a paradise, where all transactions are conducted in dollars. The hotels on Cayo Largo provide luxury suites at rates lower than elsewhere in Cuba and other Caribbean locations. These low prices motivated managers of other hotels in Cuba, many owned by other Spanish enterprises, to complain to Castro in late 1995 about the unfair competition from the operators on Cayo Largo.


At the beginning of the 1990's, a group of Spanish businessmen, joined by oneVenezuelan, organized the Oasis Corporation. This firm was organized to build hotels and to promote tourism to Cuba. The investors concentrated their investments in Cayo Largo, but they also invested in other parts of Cuba, including the famous resort beach of Varadero on the north shore of the island near the city of Matanzas. The group rented or bought several properties in Varadero for tourism. The best-known property was Cuatro Palmas, a large residence that had belonged to deposed Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. This property was renovated and expanded. The other Veradero property was called Arenas Blancas (White Sands) a residence that formerly belonged to a rich Cuban businessman named Azqueta.

The Cuban officials who worked for the Oasis group belonged to what is known in Cuba as " The Cemetery of Elephants," a collection of former high officials of the Castro regime who "live the sweet life" on Cayo Largo. These officials travel often to the Mexican resort beach of Cancun, Mexico City and the Dominican Republic, where they reportedly spend large sums on clothing and the latest electronic equipment. I have been informed that in Mexico this group had good connections with friends of former Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari. These friends of Salinas reportedly paid for the hotels for the Cubans and made arrangements for their banking business in Mexico. The Oasis group investors often traveled to Cuba without having to pass Cuban customs formalities. They reportedly carried large quantities of cash in suitcases. These funds were delivered to Cuban government officials. How could this cash payments not raise suspicions? Apparently, the Minister of Tourism, Osmani Cienfuegos did not object to this practice, and facilitated the movement of the money within the Cuban bureaucracy, according to a senior Cuban official familiar with these transactions.

Around 1995, the Oasis Group faced a crisis. Several factors may have contributed to this, but the main one was corruption within the group itself. Cuban government officials associated with the group lived "the good life" with no attempt to hide their good fortune. Their friends talked about clandestine trips abroad. Above all, it is known that the Spanish executives of the enterprise fought among themselves. The Cuban intelligence services gave repeated warnings to Cuban leaders that this laundering of money was attracting the attention of the Spanish authorities. Castro, upset over the international implications of this business, especially the risk of damage to relations with Spain, ordered Osmani Cienfuegos to disband the Oasis Group and to act more discretely in his operations. But the damage had been done. Authorities in Spain already had developed a clear picture of the activities of the Oasis Group executives and their connection to the Cuban intelligence services.

My sources inform me that perhaps one of the Oasis Group members was feeding the Spanish government full reports of the group's activities. I know that for at least two years the US DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) knew of the activities of the Oasis Group and their dealings with Mexico. For a long time, the Cuban drug traffic and intelligence in Spain was run from the Cuban Embassy in Madrid, directed by Colonel Eduardo Araoz, who later was recalled to Cuba. Colombia announced in early December 1998, the confiscation of a large amount of cocaine hidden in a ship consigned to two Spanish businessman.s resident in Cuba, José Royo Llorca and José Anastasio Herrera Campos. This announcement caused panic in Havana official circles. The two Spanish businessmen were not on Cuban soil when the scandal broke. Castro, in a recent public appearance personally gave details of the case. However, all he did was to let the Cuban people know what the Colombian authorities had already revealed: that before the Colombians apprehended this shipment of drugs bound for Cuba, four previous shipments had been sent via Jamaica to the same consignees in Cuba. Based on the amount of drugs confiscated in Colombia, it is estimated, that a total of 30 tons of cocaine had reached Cuba already through these Spanish businessmen (an amount estimated in the thousands of millions of dollars).

The earlier shipments of drugs to Cuba were re-exported to the northern Spanish city of Vigo. Funds for the Colombian transactions of these two citizens of Spain were handled by the Panamanian branch of Banco de Bilbao Vizcaya, a leading Spanish bank. In fact, Castro revealed in his announcement only what US and Spanish intelligence services (and some members of the press) already knew.


We should expect that some members of the US congress will request an investigation of Cuban involvement in narcotics trafficking. At the same time, if it can be proved that some of this cocaine reached the United States, we should expect efforts to indict the Cuban officials and others responsible for this traffic. On the other hand, it is expected also that the Cuban government will try to find a scapegoat, as they did in 1989, in the case of General Arnaldo Ochoa and his three associates who were executed in 1989.

I have been told that the Cuban government has privately admitted the existence of this drug traffic, alleging that these illegal acts were done "without the knowledge of the Commandante, who will crack the whip on corrupt officials." We cannot talk about the existence of a cover-up of this situation by the Clinton administration. However, some members of the Congress have complained that the State Department and the DEA are "not forthcoming."

This developing scandal is just in its early stages. The Spanish government will have to perform a high-wire act in stormy weather to avoid scandal. On the other hand, the minimal information released from Cuba has given no satisfaction to the experts. All ships that enter or depart from Cuban ports are examined with a magnifying glass by customs agents and state security officials.

Osmani Cienfuegos and his associates in the Ministry of Tourism report directly to Fidel Castro. It is not feasible for the Commandante to claim that he was uninformed, as he did in the 1989 case of General Ochoa. In addition, there are too many people outside of Cuban involved in this case to rule out that none of them might cooperate with the authorities of their own countries. Many Colombian drug organizations have been infiltrated by agents of the US DEA. This information network may be able to throw some light on the case of Cuba. It is known that the US and Cuba have an informal agreement of cooperation on drug issues. But a Colombian diplomat told me that "what the Cubans are doing is only informing on those activities that they are unable to control," noting that "the US may have fallen into a Cuban trap."

Further unfolding of this scandal seems to be inevitable, since there are members of the Senate and the House who are asking incisive questions of the administration. "I think that everything will eventually come to the surface. Don't forget that we are approaching elections," concluded a knowledgeable Senate source.

I have learned that Congressman Dan Burton is digging deep into this case, and that he may hold hearings to clarify the issue.


Marcelo Fernández-Zayas

Mirando a Cuba

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