Iván García,9 April 2017 — They did not put a Makarov pistol to his head or torture him with electric prods. Let’s call him Josué. (The names in his article have been changed). He is a guy who wears American-made jeans, listens to jazz by Winton Marsalis on his iPhone 7 and is a diehard fan of LeBron James.
He used to work at a gasoline station. One day earned the equivalent of fifty dollars, enough to have some beers at a Havana bar with his buddies. “One of my friends was an opponent of the regime and two were independent journalists,” says Josué. “That wasn’t a problem for me. I had known them for years and they were decent, trustworthy people. We talked politics but, when we just hanging out, we usually talked about sports or our daily lives,” says Josué.
One morning two officials from the Department of State Security (DSE), dressed as civilians and riding motorcycles, showed up at his door. “They wanted to ’have a friendly chat’ with me. They asked if I would collaborate with them, if I would pass on information about my dissident friends. When I refused, they threatened to charge me with embezzling state funds.”
“’We know you are stealing gasoline,’ they said. ’Either you work for us or we’ll press charges.’ At first, I went along with it but only passed along false information or said that my friends didn’t tell me anything about their work activities. Then they suggested I infiltrate the dissident movement. I refused. In the end I quit my job at the gas station. So now they hassle me constantly and come up with any excuse to arrest and detain me at the police station,” say Josué.
For Sheila, an engineer, the modus operandi is familiar: “First, they tried to blackmail me, accusing me of having an extra-marital affair with a dissident. When I told them, ’Go ahead; do it,’ they changed tactics and said they were going to charge me with harassment of foreigners and prostitution because I have a European boyfriend.”
One of the objectives of Cuban special services is to “short-circuit” the connections that so many of the regime’s opponents, such as independent journalists, have with official sources. “They are in a panic over the possibility that dissidents and independent journalists are building bridges and establishing networks of trust with employees and officials at important state institutions. That’s why they are trying to poison the relationships dissidents and journalists have with relatives, friends and neighbors,” claims an academic who has received warnings from the DSE.
According to this academic, “The DSE will use whatever weapon it can to achieve its goals. These include blackmail, psychological pressure, a person’s commitment to the party and the Revolution, and threats of imprisonment for criminal activity, which is not uncommon given that some potential informants work in the financial or service sector and often make money by defrauding the government. State Security does not need to torture its informants. A system of duplicity, widespread corruption and fear of reprisal are enough to accomplish the objective: to isolate the opponent from his circle of friends.”
Yusdel, an unlicensed bodyshop repairman, recalls how one day an agent from State Security told him, “If you want to keep your business, you have to inform on your stepfather,” a human rights activist. “They’re pigs,” says Yusdel. “It doesn’t matter to them if you betray one of your relatives. If you refuse, you are besieged by the police.”
For Carlos jail is a second home. “Once, when I was a serving time at Combinado del Este prison, a guard asked me to intimidate another inmate, who was a dissident. ’Punch him, do whatever it takes. Nothing will happen to you.’ In exchange for this, they were going to give me weekend passes. I said I wouldn’t do it. But there are common criminals who are all too willing to do this shit,” says Carlos.
The pressure to become a “snitch” is greater when a government opponent or an alternative journalist is inexperienced. Because the dissident community is made up of groups of pacifists and because it operates openly, it is easy for counterintelligence to infiltrate it and blackmail dissidents, who can easily break down or crack under psychological pressure.
With eighteen years’ experience in the free press, a colleague who has known fake independent journalists such as the late Nestor Baguer and Carlos Serpa Maceira says that ultimately they became informants “because of pressure exerted on them by State Security.”
A professor of history who has been subjected to bullying by an agent believes, “The revolutionary/counterrevolutionary rhetoric was inspiring in the first few years after Fidel Castro came to power, when those who supported the revolutionary process were in the majority. Now, those who collaborate do not do it out of loyalty or ideology. They do it out of fear. And that makes them vulnerable and unreliable citizens. Not to mention that the professionalism of the current DSE officers leaves much to be desired. Some agents seem marginal and very intellectually unstable.”
To achieve its objective, Cuban counterintelligence resorts to extortion of would-be informants. And in the case of the opposition, to physical violence. If you have any doubts, just ask the Ladies in White.