The Cuban Regime Erases ‘Barbarroja’ from State Security History

Manuel Piñeiro died in strange circumstances while preparing his autobiography

Comandante Manuel Piñeiro, known as ‘Barbarroja’ / La Pupila Asombrada

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Izquierdo, 26 March 2024, Havana — This Tuesday, not a single official newspaper alluded, in the eulogies dedicated to the anniversary of State Security, to its most famous founder, Commander Manuel Piñeiro, known as Barbarroja. On the other hand, there are many tributes to the “true heroes of silence” – such as centenarian Julio Camacho Aguilera and Abelardo Colomé Ibarra, two incombustibles – and reports of numerous awards to active agents in various provinces.

This was the case of a group of ten G2 officers in Sancti Spíritus who received medals for their work as “outstanding combatants” in surveillance at the local level. Of those decorated, only three colonels “with high responsibilities” in State Security allowed themselves to be photographed and identified. In a speech by Julio Jiménez, from the provincial bureau of the Communist Party, there were quotes from Fidel and Raúl Castro, in addition to Ramiro Valdés, but Piñeiro was also omitted.

Crossed out of official history and having died in suspicious circumstances – an alleged accident while driving his own car– in 1998, Fidel Castro’s spy chief also did not find his place in the delirious history of the regime’s counterintelligence published by Cubadebate and the official state newspaper Granma, which seeks its antecedents in none other than the War of Independence of 1895. Back then, a certain “agent Luis” received instructions from José Martí to develop “original methods” to outwit Spanish intelligence.

 Having the Military Leader leave the Sierra Maestra unharmed was “the most important mission” of a group of agents who, in the long run, constituted the Rebel Intelligence.

After multiple historical ramblings – which also turned Julio Antonio Mella and Carlos Baliño, among others, into spies – Cubadebate insists that State Security meant, in its origins, the security of one man: (Fidel) Castro. That the leader left the Sierra Maestra unharmed was “the most important mission” of a group of agents who, in the long run, constituted the Rebel Intelligence and its “peasant observation service,” in charge of interrogating guajiros (rural farmers) suspected of collaborating with Fulgencio Batista.

Although Barbarroja – who was part of the column led by Fidel Castro himself and then by his brother Raúl – had a leading role, before and after 1959, in the creation of Cuban espionage bodies, the regime’s role in the infiltration of Batista’s troops.

The Cubadebate text alludes to other “protagonists” of the State Security foundation, such as René de los Santos Ponce, Camilo Cienfuegos – to whom it attributes the dismantling of Batista’s espionage bodies – and Ramiro Valdés, Prime Minister of the Interior, of whom Piñeiro was vice minister.

The regime describes Havana’s Columbia Camp as an “idyllic residence surrounded by trees” where Castro’s spies set up their headquarters, later moved to the centrally located Fifth Avenue in the Miramar neighborhood of Havana, under the command of Colomé Ibarra.

After multiple historical ramblings, Cubadebate insists that State Security meant, in its origins, the security of one man: (Fidel) Castro 

In the eyes of Granma, the Army and State Security are “twin brothers” of the regime, “under the direct attention of Fidel and Raúl.” It asserts that 108 Cuban spies have died in the exercise of their profession and that thousands more have neutralized “terrorist plans” and “subversive activities” within the Island.

The writing concludes with a warning. State Security currently remains “vigilant”, especially on social networks and “especially” around young people. Infiltrators, alleges Granma, quoting Fidel Castro, “have the very bitter task of passing themselves off as counterrevolutionaries to serve the Revolution.”

This past February 8, Cuban Television very discreetly premiered a documentary by Rebeca Chávez dedicated to Piñeiro. The audiovisual piece, titled I’m Still Barbarroja, was not published – as is usual with the content of its programming – by the Educational Channel on YouTube.

Chávez, to whom Cuban counterintelligence has previously offered unpublished recordings (those of the self-incrimination of poet Heberto Padilla, for example), used fragments of an interview that Barbarroja gave to CNN in 1997, shortly before he died. The material describes Piñeiro’s role in the kidnapping of several US Marines – the so-called Anti-Aircraft Operation of 1958 – and alludes to the time he received training from the KGB, under the false name of Celestino Martínez, in the Soviet Union.

State Security continues “keeping a close watch” currently, above all on social networks and “especially” near young people.

Videos of the former head of the Departmento América of the Communist Party had not appeared on national television since 2023, when cultural commissioner Iroel Sánchez tried to rehabilitate him on his program La Pupila Asombrada for the 25th anniversary of his death. His biographical sketch published by the official encyclopedia Ecured – another Sánchez project – suggests that he stepped away from political life in 1997 to undertake “with great intensity and enthusiasm” an autobiography that has never been published.

The son of wealthy Galicians – his father was the manager of the Bacardí Rum Factory – he studied at Columbia University, in New York, and collaborated with Castro from the beginning of the July 26 Movement. Bloodthirsty during the trials against former officers of Batista’s Army, starting in the 1960s he took to sowing guerrilla movements throughout Latin America and Africa, devised from Havana.

He was close to senior officials of the German Stasi and the Soviet KGB, whose structure inspired the Cuban State Security. The official version of his death states that he “crashed into a tree while driving to his house, in the middle of an episode of diabetes.” The “loss of consciousness” occurred while he was returning from a reception at the Mexican Embassy in Havana, although Ecured omits the party, and insists that he had previously participated “in a tribute and commemoration” to the second Eastern Front.

Translated by Norma Whiting


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