Iran, Cuba and Venezuela have developed a close and cooperative relationship against the U.S. and in support of terrorist groups and states. The three regimes increasingly coordinate their policies and resources in a three way partnership aimed at counteracting and circumventing U.S. policies in the Middle East and Latin America. Within this relationship, Cuba plays a strategic role in terms of geography (proximity to the U.S.), intelligence gathering (both electronic eavesdropping and human espionage) and logistics.
In addition to its proven technical prowess to interfere and intercept U.S. telecommunications, Cuba has deployed around the world a highly effective human intelligence network. The type of espionage carried out by Ana Belén Montes, the senior U.S. defense intelligence analyst who spied for Cuba during some 16 years until her arrest in 2001, has enabled the Castro regime to amass a wealth of intelligence on U.S. vulnerabilities as well as a keen understanding of the inner-workings of the U.S. security system. Such information and analysis was provided to Saddam Hussein prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq and is being provided to a strategic ally like Iran. While one may argue that factors such as Iran’s limited military capabilities and sheer distance diminish any conventional concerns, one should expect that Tehran, in case of a U.S.-Iran conflict would launch an asymmetrical offensive against the U.S. and its European allies through surrogate terrorist states and paramilitary organizations. In such a scenario, Cuban intelligence would be invaluable to Iran and its proxies and Cuban territory could be used by terrorist groups to launch operations against the U.S.
In specific terms Cuba has not abandoned its support for terrorist groups and states:
- Cuba directly and through Venezuela continues to provide intelligence to Hamas and Hezbollah.
- Two Arab Shiites, Ghazi Nasr Al din and Fawzi Kanaan have set-up shop in Caracas, Venezuela under the protection of the Venezuelan government. Working in coordination with the Cuban government, both are active in promoting Hezbollah and Iranian targets in South America and against the U.S. They fundraise for Hezbollah; facilitate travel for Hezbollah activists to Venezuela and through Venezuela to other countries. This is all part of the strategic alliance between Venezuela, Cuba and Iran. There are also reports that they have smuggled narcotics and terrorists to the U.S. through Mexico and arms and explosives under Iranian diplomatic cover.
- Cuban military officers are acting as liaison between Venezuelan military and the narco-guerrillas of the Colombian FARC. Cuban General Leonardo Ramon Andollo, Chief of Operations of the Cuban MINFAR (Ministry of the Armed Forces), visited Venezuela and has acted as a go between the Cuban and Venezuelan military involved in drug trafficking. (1)
- Current and former members of Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA), a Basque terrorist organization continue to reside in Cuba. While some of these terrorists are on the island as part of an accord between the Cuban and Spanish governments, others are hiding in Cuba, fugitives of Spanish justice.
- The FBI estimates that Cuba has provided safe harbor to dozens of fugitives from U.S. justice who live on the island under the protection of the Castro regime. Some of these fugitives are charged with or have been convicted of murder, kidnapping, and hijacking, and they include notorious killers of police officers in New Jersey and New Mexico, most prominent among them Joanne Chesimard, placed by the FBI in 2013 on the “Most Wanted Terrorist List.”
- Last summer the Castro regime was caught smuggling weapons out of Cuba on a North Korean vessel in violation of UN sanctions. Cuba lied to the international community about the content of the vessel. The official UN Report on “Cuba-North Korea Illegal Weapons Trafficking,” published in March 2013, revealed “a comprehensive, planned strategy to conceal the existence and nature of the cargo.” The Report concluded, contrary to Cuba’s allegations, that “some, if not all, of the consignment was not expected to be returned to Cuba.”
- In February 2014 former Cuban intelligence official, Uberto Mario, described how the Castro regime is training Venezuelan “Tupamaros,” pro-Maduro groups who violently attack Venezuelan students.
- Warranting special mention are the outstanding U.S. indictments against Cuban Air Force pilots Lorenzo Alberto Pérez-Pérez and General Rubén Martínez Puente, the head of the Cuban Air Force, who in 1996 shot down two unarmed civilian American aircraft over international waters in the Florida Straits. That act of terrorism, ordered by Fidel and Raul Castro, killed four men, three of them American citizens.
- On January 24, 2014 the Castro government decreed that it would now begin to freeze bank assets affiliated to Al-Qaeda in Cuba. The Castro regime tacitly admitted that they had been facilitating financing of terrorism.
- “Hezbollah in Cuba,” the Hamas-funded Turkish “charity” known as IHH continues to operate in Havana. IHH is a member of the “Union of Good,” an umbrella organization that financially supports Hamas.
- On October 19, 2013 Iran’s new President emphasized that “the Islamic Republic of Iran and Cuba can play a significant role in international organizations. Tehran and Havana share common viewpoints on major international issues.”
- On January 15, 2014 Cuban First Deputy Minister of Foreign Trade described Iran as a “strategic partner” of Cuba.
- In 2012, in testimony to the U.S. Senate, Director of National Intelligence, James R. Clapper, revealed that Iranian officials at the highest level are now more willing to conduct an attack in the U.S. “He also added that Iran’s Supreme leader Ali Khameni was “probably aware of this planning.”
- On November 13, 2013 “Prensa Islamica” published an article on the growing Cuba-Iran relationship. The article explains that Cuba has shared with Iran its “vast knowledge on intelligence” and has discussed cooperation “on electromagnetic weapons capable of sabotaging enemy communications.”
In an attempt to obtain unilateral concessions from the U.S., Gen. Raul Castro’s regime has toned down some of the violent anti-U.S. propaganda of older brother Fidel. Yet the commitments to and interrelationships with anti-American terrorist groups have not disappeared. They have taken a more sophisticated approach; many times using proxies such as Venezuelan supporters.
The U.S. should do well to remain alert and vigilant. Cuba’s proximity to the U.S. makes the island an ideal platform for hostile acts against the U.S. In the event of conflict with Iran and/or North Korea, two allies of Cuba, the Castro regime may be called upon to support its allies.
(1) See Pedro Roig, “Venezuela-Cuba Military Cooperation and the Narco-Terrorsit Connection.” Cuba Focus. March 18, 2014.
**Foreign intelligence services have provided information for this report.
*Jaime Suchlicki is Emilio Bacardi Moreau Distinguished Professor and Director, Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami. He is the author of Cuba: From Columbus to Castro, now in its fifth edition; Mexico: From Montezuma to NAFTA, now in its second edition and the recently published Breve Historia de Cuba.
This article was originally posted as part of the Cuba Transition Project.