by Marcelo Fernandez-Zayas



Washington, D.C.
October 25, 2001



It is no secret that Cuba has been in bed with Iraq and other hostile Muslim states for more than 30 years. In the past, this relationship was overlooked. After September 11, nothing is ignored, and everything is scrutinized and analyzed. How did Cuba's love affair with Iraq begin? The affair probably began as a feature of the general strategy of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara to gain recognition and stature among the satellites and third-world clients of the Soviet Union. A "bad boy" posture would have carried little political risk and set Cuba above the pack as an active supporter of Soviet foreign adventures. While it is not easy to pin down distinct elements of Cuban strategy at that time, it is not difficult to identify a major implementer: Dr. Rodrigo Alvarez Cambra.

Who is this man? Alvarez Cambra began his international career in early 1965 at age 30 as a medical doctor in the small Cuban guerrilla army formed by Che Guevara in an attempt to make a second Cuba out of Congo.

This young Cuban doctor was virtually unknown in his country. The son of a Spanish immigrant raised in a middle-class Havana family. Alvarez Cambra was born in 1935 and his father died when Rodrigo was still a child.

Although he graduated from the Havana University medical school, he was not a public figure until he surfaced in Congo Brazzaville in one of Che Guevara' guerrilla bands. This Congo trip started his career in international activities, and provided at the same time an introduction to French language and culture. While there, he met his future wife, Cristina Hauville, a young French woman living with her family in Brazzaville.

By 1968, the young doctor was in Paris doing graduate work in medicine. While in France, he learned the language, became familiar with French culture and began a second career as a Cuban intelligence agent. The myth of Che Guevara was starting to grow in those days. The French student revolt was underway, and the political parties of the left saw the Cuban Revolution as a role model and an icon to be venerated. A few years later, Carlos Ilich Ramirez Sánchez, nicknamed the Jackal, began to terrorize Europe. It is not known with clarity whether Alvarez Cambra and Carlos knew each other. Some observers believe that it is almost impossible that they missed each other. Both men had many things in common and worked in the same Paris environment, and for the same country: Cuba.

However, unlike his late leader, Che, Alvarez Cambra did not give up his medical career. In Paris he continued to improve his skills as an orthopedic surgeon. He did, however, become involved in Arab politics. Maybe by chance, and a natural attraction to adventure, rather than by design or orders from his Cuban intelligence superiors. As he became more proficient in the French language he turned more of his attention to the Arab culture.

In 1978, we find him in Havana as an established and well-known surgeon and well-enough placed in Cuban government ranks that he received a visit of dignitaries from Iraq. A very credible witness we interviewed reported that Saddam Hussein was among the visitors to the house of Dr. Alvarez Cambra. I recall that Havana was hosting an international youth festival at the time and taking great pains to honor numerous foreign delegations. Saddam was then Vice President of his country, but was not noted among the dignitaries from Iraq. Saddam reportedly had a problem with one leg from a wound suffered years before.

Knowing that the Cuban press had not reported a visit by Saddam to Havana, I repeated the question to this exceptional witness. The answer was an unequivocal "yes," it was Saddam Hussein. This is the first time I have heard of his quiet trip to Cuba.

Two years later, Hussein took complete power in Iraq. And Dr. Alvarez Cambra later visited him there. Apparently, this visit was medical rather than political. Dr. Alvarez Cambra operated on Hussein and fixed his leg problem.

The visits of the Cuban doctor to the Iraqi leader continued over the years. Castro and Hussein used Dr. Alvarez Cambra as their personal emissary. Exchanges of presents took place between the dictators. Castro sent to Hussein a Cuban parrot, cigars and a rare specimen of a banana tree developed in Cuba. Among the flow of gifts, Saddam made presents to Castro and his doctor of black Mercedes sedans, expensive rugs and money. Dr. Alvarez Cambra obtained Iraqi international help to Cuba. It is not known what kind of personal messages are going via Dr. Alvarez Cambra between the two leaders. However, US intelligence sources have seen the Cuban Intelligence Service (DI) as a provider of intelligence to the Iraqi government. Is Hussein involved in the last terrorists attacks against the US? Is it Cuba also involved? Up to now nobody can answer this question with concrete evidence. Maybe, the answer is buried inside the most secret files of the intelligence services of the world. My sources up to now are not providing concrete evidence one way or the other. Cuba is known to have advanced very much in the development of chemical and biological agents. It is known also that Cuba has strong ties with Iran and Iraq in this field, but it is difficult to establish with certainty that a terrorist connection exists among these nations.

However, there is not doubt that Dr. Alvarez Cambra should be in a position to know some answers. This Cuban physician is emerging as a fascinating figure in the present world crisis. He knows well the Arab radical world. He personally knows Castro, Hussein, Muamar Kaddafi, other heads of state and principal figures of the Islamic world.

Not too much is known about the private dealings of Dr. Alvarez Cambra. However, there is abundant data of his intellectual and professional achievements. There is no question about his dedication, knowledge and prestige in the medical field. His professional success and love for his career has enabled him to invest part of his private fortune in the hospital he directs in Havana. He has invented and patented orthopedic devices which can be acquired in the US. In the spring of 2001, he visited the United States to attend medical meetings. He maintains personal and business contacts with medical and other colleagues in the US and France - where his former wife Cristina has lived since 1994. He is a frequent traveler, and lives a quiet and intensely- dedicated professional life in Havana. In addition to his medical practice and teaching duties at the university, he reportedly spends many nights reading the latest medical literature. It is said that he has an extensive collection of works by Wilfredo Lam, the famous and internationally admired Cuban painter - and a former patient.

This modern medical, diplomatic and intelligence figure personifies a bona-fide story of success in many fields. When the real history of the present international drama is written, it will be interesting to see where Dr. Alvarez Cambra will fit in. If one were writing novels, he could easily appear as a central figure in many interesting plots.


The case of the alleged Cuban spy Ana Belen Montes continues in suspense. The terrorist attack on New York and Washington prompted her arrest and obscured also the case of A.B. Montes. This is one of the most daring and important cases of cloak and dagger in the history of the US. The FBI, that maintained A.B. Montes under close surveillance at the time, moved quickly to send her to jail. A.B. Montes, 44, was the head of the Cuban desk at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). A very sensitive position in the secret corridors of Washington. A female mole in the brain of the military American establishment.

Due to the terrorist attacks of September 11, the American press has pretty much ignored to this startling case. If this case had occurred in normal times, its magnitude and importance would keep it on the front pages for days. Many top figures at the Pentagon might have found their career prospects severely diminished after embarrassing hearings on Capitol Hill.

It is known that Montes was working for Cuba, at minimum, for the past five years. The conduct of spies always leaves fingerprints that show in their behavior or display of emotions. Did no one notice any changes in her attitude or behavior? There are many questions that beg for an answer. Did her friendship with many questionable Cuban experts go unnoticed? Did anyone even look into her studies, her friends and professors at the university?

It is easy to have 20/20 vision after the fact. Let's look at the Department of Defense and anticipate future questions. Everybody in counter-intelligence is wary of being called paranoid. But counter-intelligence is a career where a good dose of paranoia is welcome. Is this dose high enough at the Pentagon? I assume that at some point or other Montes went through a polygraph test.

That's the rule. How many times in her tenure was she tested? If she passed the tests, we have to assume that they are very deficient or, perhaps, not given often enough. If she passed the test or tests we may be dealing with somebody highly trained.

Where did she receive the training? This question is followed up with a second one. Trained in the US or overseas, and for how long? Questions like these will have to be answered during the investigation. The case of A.B. Montes will show also that those who seemed wedded to the slogan "Cuba is not a threat," and may have been influenced by the alleged Cuban agent, were too gullible. That might be excusable for ordinary people or soft-hearted academics, but not for senior members of the Pentagon journalists in the Washington press corps.

Nobody knows enough about the case of A.B. Montes. Cuba scored a point and made a costly mistake to show the world that it aimed high and deadly. Everything is fine until you are caught. In today's world nobody can claim to be considered an insignificant David. If you aim to kill your size is irrelevant. On the other hand, the USA, made a bigger mistake to be a careless Goliath.


On October 17 Moscow announced that by the end of the year it will close its electronic observation base at Lourdes, Cuba. This base of 28 square miles that lies sixty miles south of Havana was built in 1964. Its purpose was to spy on the United States. During the Reagan presidency, I remember hearing Col. Oliver North say at a White House briefing that a US intelligence intercept revealed that the Russians at Lourdes were requesting more translators from English into Russian because they could not cope with the abundant White House telephone traffic they were monitoring.

During Desert Storm in 1991, the Lourdes base intercepted military information that reached Hussein supposedly via Fidel Castro. At one point no telephone conversation in the East Coast of the US was safe from Lourdes. Finally, the US conditioned some aid for Russia on the closure of the base.

In the meantime, Russian President Vladimir Putin evaluated the Cuban situation. Putin's conclusion: Castro is never going to pay his debts to Russia. It costs a lot of money to maintain the base and its estimated 1500 persons and their family. Above all, the technology of the base is obsolete.

Putin's solution: Lets get out of Cuba and make our departure appear to be a present to President George W. Bush. Prognosis: Until the last Russian staffer gets out of Cuba safely, let's negotiate with Castro to smooth the feathers of his gigantic ego.


In today's climate of crisis, Cuban exiles have never been as close to having the capability to hurt Castro badly, and perhaps fatally. Travel is down dramatically, and Cuba is hurting from a severe drop in the flow of remittances from exile Cubans to their relatives on the island. This is not due to a planned strategy of Castro's enemies. It just has happened.

Washington is waiting to see the relative political strengths of (traditional and older) Cuban exiles vs. economic Cuban immigrants in the US. Up to now, there is no planned, consistent and imaginative campaign to persuade Cubans not to aid their enemy with money transfers and eager travel to the island. Washington is disappointed by the lack of vision of Cuban exile organizations and any realistic understanding of their own power. Exile organization leaders seem to have ignored any thought of exercising leadership that would involve a campaign to educate the Cuban-American community and to urge community members to restrict money transfers and to cut back on large-scale travel to the island.

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