Vladimir Putin sharply made it clear that his country does not plan to restart electronic intelligence operations at the “Lourdes” base near Havana. That was predictable. Getting in bed with the Castros again makes no sense at all.
The espionage installations created in Cuba in 1964 were abruptly shut down in October 2001 by order of Putin himself. That act was not forgiven either by Fidel Castro or the old KGBists with a nostalgia for communism, like Putin’s former chief, Gen. Nikolai Leonov, who said so in an interview some years ago.
In August 1991, the KGB plotted a political-military coup to liquidate Mikhail Gorbachev and his reform policies. Twenty-four hours after the subversive act began, Vladimir Putin, a lieutenant colonel in the KGB, resigned his post and stood by Boris Yeltsin, the man who forced the coup to collapse.
Although Putin was not very important in the intelligence community, his former comrades saw him as a traitor, but on Yeltsin’s side he was a good recruit to the Russia in retreat from its Bolshevik past.
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Almost a decade later, on Dec. 31, 1999, Yeltsin, ill and an alcoholic, resigned the presidency, leaving his disciple, Vladimir Putin, at the helm of the Russian Federation, with the secret task to cover his back and defend him from the (well-founded) accusations of corruption.
The two together had wreaked havoc at home. They buried the old Soviet Union, dissolved the Communist Party, privatized the productive apparatus and stuffed it with cronies, renounced collectivism and central planning and transformed the intelligence services.
Yeltsin and Putin knew that Fidel Castro was an unrepentant Stalinist. And they knew it because when Cuba’s interim ambassador to Moscow, Jesús Renzoli, defected and fled to Finland with the help of Costa Rican diplomat Plutarco Hernández, he revealed that some of the conspiratorial talks to restore the Marxist-Leninist dictatorship in the Soviet Union had been held at the Cuban Embassy in Moscow.
Nevertheless, the Lourdes base remained open during the decade of Yeltsin’s administration. But Putin, shortly after assuming power, shut it down, and he did it so suddenly that Fidel and Raúl Castro learned of the new Russian leader’s decision from the press, a harsh blow to the vanity of both personages.
Raúl was the more disillusioned. Of the two brothers, he had always admired Russia more, to the degree that he covered the entrance to his office with pictures of Soviet marshals and military leaders. He even stated, in the sham trial that the brothers organized to murder Gen. Arnaldo Ochoa and three other officers, that he, Raúl, was in reality “a Caribbean Russian.”
So, what do Raúl Castro and Vladimir Putin want in this stage of relations between the two countries?
The Cuban is looking for weapons to restock his rusty arsenal of 1980s vintage, for electrical power plants, for a line of credit and investments in the elusive search for offshore oil. As guarantee, he offers the Venezuelan petrodollars — his permanent source of financing — because he has nothing to export to Russia, not even Cuban doctors, who are not needed and little respected in Russia.
The Russian, for his part, is looking around for markets for his trinkets, especially weapons, to which end (and this is a reflection by shrewd Bolivian politician Sánchez Berzain) he’d do well by coming to terms with Raúl Castro, because Castro is the godfather of Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Ecuador and maintains excellent relations with Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay.
Although poor, disoriented and shabby, Raúl, paradoxically, is the manager of the circus and the tamer of the dwarfs.
Many years ago, when I met Boris Yeltsin, I heard him express his fear that the KGB might paralyze his heart with some radio waves that produced fibrillations. Yeltsin was no friend of Castro.
I don’t know if Vladimir Putin has controlled his former comrades or if he thinks that the danger is over. Nor do I know what he really thinks of the two Castro brothers, but I suspect that it’s nothing good.
It was in Moscow, around that time, that I heard an expression full of contempt toward Cuba and Third-World communism: “revolutionary beggary.” Putin wants nothing to do with that any longer.