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Waking Up To Cuba
Thursday, January 12, 2006   By: Juan Paxety

The spies and recruiting

The US press seems to be waking up slightly in recognizing the arrests of two spies at Florida International University points to a problem. Forbes Magazine says:

The arrest of two academics on charges of spying for Cuba was a stark reminder that more than a decade after the fall of the Soviet Union, the Cold War still rages between Fidel Castro's communist government and the United States.

"Maybe this is just the tip of the iceberg that we're seeing here," said Juan Clark, a Miami-Dade College sociology professor who specializes in Cuba. "I think Castro has been able to potentially infiltrate as many people as they wanted."

Carlos Alvarez and his wife, Elsa, have been charged with spying for Cuba for 30-years. As Forbes points out, they are the latest in a long line of people accused of spying for fidel.

Prominent cases in the past few years include the Wasp Network, a group of 16 operatives accused of trying to infiltrate U.S. military posts and spy on Cuban exiles, and that of Ana B. Montes, a former U.S. defense analyst who pleaded guilty in 2001 to spying for Cuba for 16 years. The U.S. government has also expelled numerous Cuban diplomats on suspicion of spying, most recently ordering 14 to return home in 2003.

Some of those cases involved military and intelligence secrets, including Pentagon contingency plans for Cuba and profiles of senior U.S. officials. But much of the spying involves Cuban exile groups in Florida that fiercely oppose Castro and work to promote democracy and dissent in Cuba.

One of the more, well, puzzling aspects of the case is the claim that the Alvarez's were supposed to recruit young people. But three government sources tell reporters that there is not evidence that they did any recruiting. Cubanet has that story.

But three U.S. government sources say they have no evidence Elsa and Carlos M. Alvarez accomplished that part of their mission. The husband and wife confessed last summer that they were asked to become recruiters, but their known help to Castro was limited to collecting information about exile groups, the sources said.

Moreover, the indictment against the FIU couple does not accuse them of any recruiting activity despite widespread speculation among exile leaders and some media reports.

The Alvarez's did, however, organize trips to Cuba for students and other people, and the report seems to indicate they were presented a controlled, positive view of life in Cuba. For instance, the story of Uvi Shabbel of Pembroke Pines who went to Cuba in 2000 when she was in her mid-30s. She says there was no recruiting, but -

''The purpose was to kind of put us in a room at the University of Havana to talk about what are our similarities and what are our differences,'' said Shabbel, who was born in the United States to Cuban parents.

Shabbel said the program linked people with similar jobs so they could compare their lifestyles more closely. Shabbel, a teacher, linked with a Cuban teacher.

She called the experience -- which also included touring Old Havana and other popular sites -- life-changing because she could see and touch her ancestral homeland for the first time and better understand her identity. Alvarez moderated the discussions and helped students translate for each other if they had trouble expressing their ideas, Shabbel said. Outside the classroom, the Cuban students were more candid about the many ironies they faced living on the restrictive and impoverished island, she said.

When a high school football player is brought to a college, shown the facilities, presented with positive images of the school and given the company of female students at the school who show the young man the hospitality he can expect if he signs up, the NCAA calls that a recruiting trip. How is that different that what Alvarez arranged?



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