Encounters of the Third Kind with Cuban State Security

Artists being arrested by police in Havana for protesting in front of the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television on July 11, 2021. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yunior Garcia Aguilera, Madrid, 4 October 2023 — Those of us who have been a target of the State Security often make two serious mistakes. On the one hand, we overestimate them. They are not the X-Men. They do not have all the latest technology nor are they omnipresent. Their officers come off as increasingly clumsy, ill-prepared, with a progressive decline in cultural awareness. That feeling that you can’t even trust your pillow because they know every time a leaf moves in Cuba, that is a myth they themselves perpetuate in order to paralyze us. It’s not as though their gears operate like those of a Swiss watch — they’re more like those of the National Energy System — no matter how much some government minister beats his chest on TV claiming otherwise.

But neither should we make the mistake of underestimating them. State Security’s founders were trained by the KGB and the Stasi. They inherited manuals and techniques whose effectiveness still stand the test of time. They have penetrated and control every grassroots organization in the country, which is really their greatest strength. From the Federation of Cuban Women to the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, from the National Artists and Writers Union to the National Association of Small Farmers, from the labor unions to the Federation of University Students. Every day these organizations report their findings to State Security and act as its eyes, ears and fists.

They have penetrated and control every grassroots organization in the country, which is really their greatest strength

The first time I was “interviewed” by a counterintelligence official was in Holguín, shortly after firing off fifteen questions, which automatically made me a target. I learned from others that the aforementioned individual had been ordered to approach me, though he himself admitted to feeling unprepared. So he spent a few weeks visiting the Provincial Council for the Performing Arts, getting a crash course in drama that, if we’re being honest, didn’t help him much.

His first words were: “We know you’re not collaborating but we would still like to know what you’re doing because we have lots of collaborators around you.” Apparently, I was on a list of young opinion makers and they wanted to warn me that they were watching me closely, trying to stoke fear, paranoia and paralysis in me. But they chose the wrong officer. The man’s lower left eyelid quivered, his words sounded scripted and he seemed eager to be done with his uncomfortable mission as quickly as possible. Instead of working like an anesthetic, it had the opposite effect.

They did not make the same mistake twice. After November 27, they sent Yordan, a cross between U.S. basketball legend Michael Jordan and Cuban wrestler Mijaín Lopez. The guy was over six-and-a-half-feet tall. Standing in front of my house, putting on his scariest face, he told me that I could not leave until he decided I could leave. I have to admit that, this time, the guy was convincing. But State Security also didn’t want to run the risk of him scaring me to the point it radicalized me.

At that time, I still had all the naivetee of someone who had not yet looked into the eyes of Satan. So, a few hours later, they sent in the “good cop.” This time they chose an officer who had been trained overseas, who had more self-confidence and a less limited vocabulary. He said his name was Rodrigo and he took the opportunity to compliment me in an effort to boost my ego. All the while, he was ripping to shreads all the other known activists. He then deployed the “you’re not an enemy, you’re just confused” strategy.

Although at first I swore not to touch anything on that table, eventually I gave into hunger

Later came my first abduction. They took me to one of those houses with curtains on all the walls (and cameras behind them). On the table before me lay all the things that were in short supply in the stores: coffee, cans of soft drinks, candies, even shellfish. Actually, they asked me almost nothing. Again, they just talked bad about everybody and left me alone for long periods of time. Although at first I swore not to touch anthing on that table, eventually I gave into hunger.

I have often asked myself what exactly that scene was all about. What was up with the shellfish? What tidbits were they looking for? I later realized that they just wanted some visuals for their files. If, at some future point, they had to take things further and I publicly accused them of physical violence, all they would have to do would be to take out those videos of me eating shrimp. They know how the mind of the average Cuba works. They knew that, upon seeing those images on national television, some people would say, “I want them to torture me too!”

State Security officials often use several categories to classify their victims: possible agents, willing or unwilling collaborators, confused revolutionaries or incorrigible revolutionaries. They also take into account your ability to influence people and the types of people who could be motivated to follow you. There is a particular approach for each case. But when it comes to good-natured, kind or helpful people, you get the same rough treatment. It doesn’t matter if you are an intellectual or a dock worker.

Once they have made the decision to destroy you, they will do it one step at a time. Possibly, you will first be subjected to cyber attacks. They will accuse you of being a mercenary because money was added to your cell phone account from overseas. Then there will be the disrupted internet, the interrogations, the home surveillance. They will disparage you at your school, at your workplace, to friends and family, and especially to other activists. They will look for ways to exploit egos, jealousies, prominence, and human misery. If you are having an impact online, they will ask TV newscaster Humberto Lopez or the Con Filo lap dogs to tear you apart on the small screen. That will be accompanied by acts of repudiation and a guard permanently stationed at your front door to keep you from leaving the house.

If you are having an impact online, they will ask TV newscaster Humberto Lopez or the Con Filo lap dogs to tear you apart on the small screen

With me, in particular, they resorted to an alleged Afro-Cuban curse. They decapitated two pigeons on my metal fence and smeared feathers, blood and dirt across the doorstep. Several housing department and electric company inspectors also came to visit, allegedly because of complaints of illegal activities that they were never able to prove. Then the public prosecutor’s office will threaten you with sentences that could amount to decades in prison for crimes such as “subversion.” By this point, you are clearly the enemy. And they will try to annihilate you.

There are five ways of finishing you off. Turn you into a non-person, someone with no friends, no family, no internet, no freedom of movement. Fry your brain, making you anxious, paranoid, single-minded, extremist and spouting rhetoric so radical that you elicit no empathy. Force you into exile, where it does not matter if you continue posting online because, if you are not there, you are not relevant. Throw you into prison, where some will advocate for you but the vast majority will get on with their business. And finally, kill you. Cuba’s recent history has no shortage of “accidents,” after which nothing happened.

Cubans have two options. We could act the Swedes, avoiding everything that could happen to us and leave the problem to our children, who would be the ones to take the risk later. Or we could swallow our fear and try to do what we have to do as a generation. It doesn’t matter that hundreds of us have failed before. Someone could do it right and that person could be you.


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