E. Germans drew blueprint for Cuban spying
A once-jailed Cuban exile's research reveals how East Germany exported
its repressive Stasi security system to Cuba, where it lives on today.
BY MICHAEL LEVITIN
Special to The Miami Herald
In the cavernous underground jail once run by East Germany's notorious
Stasi security agency, Jorge Luís Vázquez leads a visitor into a dank,
tiny, pitch-black cell, then slams the iron door shut.
and light returns.''Well, how was it?'' asks Vázquez, a Cuban exile who was jailed in oneof these very Stasi cells in 1987, when East Germany was under communist rule, and now leads tours through the prison-turned-museum.
documents on Stasi relations with Cuba's own feared Ministry of the
Interior, known as MININT, and is nearly finished writing what may well
be the most thorough report to date on the links between the two
Stasi security system, exported by East Germany to Cuba in the 1970s and'80s, and that the ties between the two organizations run far deeper
than previously known.
hallucinogenic LSD, the degree to which the Stasi trained and provided
material and technical support to the security arm of Fidel Castro's
regime had a sweeping and harsh impact on Cuba.
systems for eavesdropping — for example, at what height on the wall to
install microphones, which color wallpaper provides the best
concealment, and which shade of lighting for the best video recordings.
better organized, protected and sped up the Cubans' processing of
security information. It delivered one-way mirrors used for
interrogations and provided equipment to fabricate masks, mustaches and
other forms of makeup so that when the Cubans sent out covert agents,
''they went in dressed with wigs, false noses — the works — credit of
the Stasi,'' Vázquez says.
one that exists today in Cuba,'' he says. “What MININT learned from the
Stasi has not been forgotten. On the contrary, [the strategies and
techniques] are alive today despite the fall of the Berlin Wall.''
public life in East Germany can be seen in this year's Oscar-winning
film The Lives of Others, the tale of a Stasi officer's inner conflict
as he protects a dissident playwright whose apartment has been
thoroughly bugged by the Stasi.
East Berlin, the Stasi — short for Staatssicherheit, or State Security
– succeeded through surveillance, intimidation and torture in becoming
one of the most feared intelligence agencies in the world.
employees and 350,000 collaborators in a country of 17 million.
East Germans learned that there had been 986 documented deaths at the
prison and discovered 112 miles worth of files on their fellow citizens.
tour of the museum, known as the Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen memorial.
speaks, learned German while a teenage student in one of Cuba's language institutes.
there, and from 1982 to 1987 lived in Karl-Marxstadt, now Chemnitz.
conversations with people about the daily hardships in Poland, Hungary
and Czechoslovakia darkened his views of communism. It was Moscow, he
says, that “traumatized me the most, seeing the political and economic
disaster of communism.''
He was arrested, interrogated for one week at the Stasi prison and then
deported under armed guard to Cuba.
experience, spent in 'filthy, tiny cells with nothing to cover oneself
with, listening to prisoners' screams,'' he was freed but blacklisted
from most jobs.
1996 got to see his file in the Stasi archives. He began his research in
2002 and has dug up hundreds of files, read through thousands of pages
of official documents and published dozens of articles in Miscellanea, a
Swiss-based Cuban exile magazine.
Havana-Berlin Connection: State Secrets and Notes on the Collaboration
between the Stasi and MININT.'' He is now looking to publish the
Spanish-language report in book form.
its own prisons, judges, lawyers and interrogators and no one controls
them, as in Cuba, then the state security is what's sustaining the
Communist Party, and repression is what's sustaining the Cuban regime.
for its collaboration with the Stasi.''
1988 to better facilitate eavesdropping. Before that, in 1981, it
modernized MININT's printing press to enable better, faster production
of party propaganda — and false passports used for espionage and
subversion, Vázquez says.
International Airport in Havana, installing cameras, migration control
booths and state-of-the-art X-ray equipment that mirrored identically
the security methods in East Germany.
widen the Cuban secret service's intelligence gathering. Vázquez's study reveals that in 1985, Operation Palma Real, a cooperative action of ''electronic espionage'' by German and Cuban agents, resulted in
valuable interceptions of U.S. telephone and telegraph communications
from the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo, Cuba.
abroad to subvert other governments, teaching observation, espionage and interrogation techniques that considerably expanded Cuba's impact onconflicts ranging from Central America to Africa, according to the
documents Vázquez has gathered.
developing world — from Angola, Ethiopia and Mozambique to Nicaragua,
Guatemala and El Salvador,'' as Cubans passed on the methodology and
technology to others, he said.
MININT's supply department formally requesting from the Stasi some 360
doses of the hallucinogenic. The document does not explain its use.
for being disorganized, carelessly leaking information to American spies and failing to master the use of secret codes.
punctual, for example — and the Germans were the opposite,'' Vázquez said.
if needed, a technique used in East Germany, did not work in the hot and humid tropics, according to the documents that Vázquez located.
made perhaps more effort than any other Soviet Bloc country to open up
the security files kept on its citizens, and face the dark questions
that still haunt its past.
others, from Poland to Bulgaria, to do similar investigations'' across