Sunlight is the Best Medicine: Cuba and the Stasi

I often find discussions about Cuba frustratingly polemic. On one side are the demonizers, who see everything the Cuban government does as evil, even if it’s providing free healthcare, education, or inculcating equality as a value in Cuban society that is not going to be erased by any infusion of capital.

On the other side are the romanticizers, who  have such tight blinders on that they cannot see anything wrong with anything the Cuban government does. They refuse to admit that the central management system in Cuba suffers from severe bureaucratism, and they rationalize away the human rights abuses that certainly do take place on the island with a Bush-like excuse of, “we’ll they’re under constant threat, so they have to take tough security measures.” What, so it’s OK to torture somebody if you’re a Cuban government official but not if you’re a Bush Administration one?

Really, the only way we’re going to get a better perspective on any of this is to get rid of the idiotic embargo and restore full diplomatic relations between the two countries. That’s when the dirty laundry will also come out. Like Cuba’s relationship with the Stasi.

Today’s Miami Herald is reporting on some research done by an exile who was held in the Stasi prison in East Germany and then sent back to Cuba. He’s poured through thousands of documents and uncovered some quite interesting information. I normally take a lot of this kind of stuff with a grain of salt, but the information he’s uncovered can’t be explained away.

”Well, how was it?” asks Vázquez, a Cuban exile who was jailed in one of these very Stasi cells in 1987, when East Germany was under communist rule, and now leads tours through the prison-turned-museum.

More importantly, he has found hundreds of East German government 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 security agencies.

Vázquez says he found the MININT is ”almost a copy” of the repressive 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.

From how to bug tourist hotel rooms to an intriguing mention of the 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.

I’d say the Stasi were a model of efficiency in State repression, so the degree of coordination suggests that Cuba’s state security model is extremely effective and efficient as well.

Here’s how the guy started investigating all of this:

But in 1987 Vázquez helped a visiting Cuban musician escape to Canada. He was arrested, interrogated for one week at the Stasi prison and then deported under armed guard to Cuba.

After several days at a Havana jail he describes as a ”medieval” experience, spent in ‘filthy, tiny cells with nothing to cover oneself with, listening to prisoners’ screams,” he was freed but blacklisted from most jobs.

He later married a German citizen, returned to Berlin in 1992 and in 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.

And now he’s putting the finishing touches on his report, ”The 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.

”I want to provoke a change,” he says. “When a security system has 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.

This is not to say that everything was a rosy collaboration between the two sides:

But Stasi-MININT relations were not always warm.

Vázquez said the Stasi frequently criticized its Caribbean counterparts for being disorganized, carelessly leaking information to American spies and failing to master the use of secret codes.

”It was a cultural confrontation: the Cubans were one way — not punctual, for example — and the Germans were the opposite,” Vázquez said.

So, what could happen if we got rid of the embargo?

Well, a couple of more points about that. The embargo doesn’t just hurt everyday Cubans, it prevents US from being exposed to Cuba’s rich culture and wonderful, gregarious people, and from opportunities to invest there; it lets the Cuban government off the hook for its poor management practices; and, most importantly, it is an immoral act that makes everyday Cubans suffer by exacerbating shortages and making products that are available very expensive.

If we got rid of the embargo and reestablished diplomatic relations with Cuba, the sheer number of people who would enter Cuba would help cause change all by itself. But as the information above suggests, that change would also at least begin to shed a small ray of light on some aspects of the Cuban government’s repressive apparatus.

Right now, we are coping with a terrible government of our own, which, as a superpower, has wreaked havoc around the world. We will be trying to shine the disinfecting light of the sun on the Bush Administration for years to come. As the opening of East Germany demonstrated, it is possible to have peaceful openings with other countries, which themselves, in the process of opening up, will have to come to terms with the abuses that their governments meted out to their own populations.

The sooner we can re-establish relations with Cuba, the sooner positive, peaceful change can start to happen. And the sooner we can start to beam some light into areas that are currently in the shadows.

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    • oculus on November 4, 2007 at 8:20 pm

    (1) Hope you’ve seen “The Lives of Others” about the Stasi; great movie;

    (2) As you know, tourists from the U.S. are mostly forbidden by U.S. government to visit Cuba; however, tourists from the rest of the world are able to visit and do visit; what no bourists are able to do, if the Cuban government is aware of it, is sit about and chat with Cubans about life in either place;

    (3) Lots of foreign investment in Cuba at present; Havana Viejo has been so gentrified it could be any Spanish colonial tourist quarter in Europe;

    (4) I’m reading The Boys form Delores, by Patrick Symmes; author tracks down many of the Jesuit school [in Santiago] classmates of the Castro brothers; author points out that despite the purported embargo, U.S. agriculture persuaded U.S. Congress to permit huge increase in the amount of food U.S. agra-business is permitted to sell to Cuba;  also in the book, a discussion of possible successors to Fidel Castro; author says that at one time Fidel mentioned Elian Gonzalez as his possible successor!

    (5) When one of the Dem. presidential candidates sd. he favored lifting the embargo, BTD/Armando agreed with this position.  This was on TalkLeft; and 

    (6) Castro regime was perfectly capable w/o the Stasi of figuring out how to torture and imprison indefinitely those who disagreed with Castro regime; see Che Guevera, who was in charge of prisons in Cuba before he took off for Bolivia; he was merciless; how he retains the “hero” mystique is imcomprehenbile.

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