Press Freedom: How a so-called human rights agency is really a tool of the United States
Campaign News | Wednesday, 8 September 2004
Cuban journalist who infiltrated group speaks out
NESTOR BAGUER: ‘I was the first RSF representative in Cuba’
BY JEAN-GUY ALLARD-Special for Granma International-
IN an exclusive interview with the authors of Le Dossier Robert Ménard - Pourquoi Reporters sans frontieres s’archane sur Cuba (The Robert Ménard Dossier - Why Reporters sans Frontieres is venting its anger on Cuba), Néstor Bageur Sánchez Galárraga explains how the head of RSF Robert Ménard recruited him and then presented him with a laptop computer, an identical procedure used all over the world by the “honorable correspondents” of the CIA in recruitment operations and in order to provide information.
Baguer was then president of the Independent Journalists’ Association but also, unknown to Menard and his US sponsor, he was agent Octavio from the Cuban counterespionage agencies.
Here is his revealing interview.
How did you get in contact with Ménard?
They had heard of the Independent Journalists’ Association in Cuba. And that I was the main dissident journalist. They first made contact through the family of a person who was in prison and who knew me. I said that I was available to work but asked what the conditions were. Then they came to Cuba. As a surprise.
When Ménard appeared in Havana on September 20, 1998, did he visit you at home?
No. He never came to my home, we met at a third house on 21st Street and G, with the people who had established the contact between us. Ménard was there with his assistant (Régis Brogeal).
How did the conversation develop?
They told me that they needed to talk to me in private and that we were going to go for a drive. They had a car downstairs, and we went for a drive all round the Vedado neighborhood.
He didn’t want to talk in the house?
No. He wanted to go out to talk in peace. He wanted to be inside his vehicle to do that. He insisted that there should be no witness of what he was going to talk about.
He seemed as if he didn’t trust anyone.
Who was driving the car?
His assistant. A guy who was younger than he was. Ménard and I were sitting in the back.
Were you talking in Spanish?
Yes. He speaks quite good Spanish.
Who was talking with you?
Mostly Ménard, although the other one also spoke.
Did they record the conversation?
From what I could see, no.
How was he dressed?
He was dressed well. Very elegant.
How did he present his objectives?
He presented them to me as a matter of defending press freedom. It was all about freedom of the press “throughout the world”. That theirs was an international organization to protect journalists throughout the world. He said that he was sponsored by large companies in France that gave him money to carry out this work. That there were people in France who were interested in that.
They say that Ménard is an authoritarian type of person who doesn’t like to share. He came out to give instructions. He didn’t listen. He came to tell me what had to be done.
Was RSF already attacking Cuba from France?
Of course. What he wanted was that it should come directly from here. It would seem that before they received all their information from Miami. But he wanted to have his source in Cuba so that it would be more credible.
Did he seem like someone with money?
To stay at the Hotel Nacional and hire a big car, a luxury one?that costs a lot of dollars day by day.
How long did the ride last?
About an hour. He didn’t give me the computer himself but gave me a time to wait in a park and then his assistant brought it to me.
Where was this?
On the park on 21st between J and K. The big park that’s there.
How did it happen?
They called me and told me to be there at such and such a time.
Was anyone there when you arrived?
No, there was no one.
What did you do?
I sat down on a bench and then the assistant arrived. He gave me the computer. It was small, a laptop. And then he left. Nothing more.
In your opinion, is this in line with the conduct of the intelligence services?
Of course. It has nothing to do with journalism.
Are these meetings in parks a normal procedure in Cuban journalism?
Not at all. You never need to go to a park in that way here.
And you don’t have to shut yourself inside a car so that there are no witnesses?
Not at all.
Would it have been normal to go to your house?
Of course. He had my telephone number.
And did he act as though he was used to behaving in that way?
As if he was an intelligence service agent?
Had he ever been to Cuba before?
And what did he know about Cuba?
Nothing. He had been in Cuba for two days. What would he have known about Cuba? For example, he talked about a racial problem. That there were racist people in Cuba, which is true, but racism exists in every country in the world. But in Cuba there’s no policy of racism because there are equal opportunities for all races. As opposed to the United States.
How long did he stay in Havana?
I think that he stayed here a week. He didn’t see anyone else as far as I know.
How did you maintain contact with Ménard?
By phone. His assistant called me from France. I spoke more with his assistant Régis then than with Ménard.
Was it him who was telling you what to do?
Did he ask you to write on particular subjects?
He specified what he wanted people to talk about. They picked the themes.
Did Regis communicate with you every week?
Almost every week. They were long calls because I had to read out my articles. I read out the news and he recorded it. And then gave advice.
Régis reproached me for being too soft. And I told him that I wasn’t used to using certain words. I had a particular level of culture and they asked me why I didn’t call Fidel Castro a murderer. I told them that I had to respect authority otherwise they wouldn’t let me carry on. But he insisted that I call Fidel Castro a murderer, that he was this and that. They never succeeded in making me do this and this made the relationship very tense.
Did he ever get angry with you?
In the end, yes. He was very annoyed. And he broke off the relationship and appointed someone else to be the representative because he said that I wasn’t aggressive enough. And he gave the example of other people who were sending news that was completely false. That there were lots of people on hunger strike and that was false. Nobody was on hunger strike. Once they attempted to begin a hunger strike and I went in person to the place, in the Santo Suárez neighborhood. I went straight inside when they weren’t expecting me. And I found myself with those people and they were making chicken soup. It was all a lie.
Where did they publish this news?
I never knew because he never sent me clippings, never. Only once did they send me a little magazine that they had made themselves.
Did they ask for information about the country’s defense system?
Yes. He wanted to know if I knew any hostile individuals in the army or the police force. He was interested in finding out this information.
Did RSF act as though it was a press agency?
Exactly. Like a press agency and not like the association that it pretends to be. They collected their material and said that they would distribute it to different newspapers in the United States and in Europe. That is, they were acting like a press agency. Not as defenders of journalists, not at all. As well as this, many agencies were being created at that time - I knew of agencies composed of father, mother and son - and they wanted to embrace them all.
Did he talk to you about money from the start?
Of course. He talked about “helping”. That they were “helping” journalists who helped them with these campaigns “for the benefit of the free press throughout the world”. He didn’t mention any amount.
And how did this money arrive?
Through a banking agency using a Transcard card. They told me that they had made a transfer and I would go and pick up the money using my card. Every month they sent me something. They sent mine and some to pass on to other members. They sent me money as an intermediary for people who sent them articles. The articles that they wanted. Because if they didn’t like them, they wouldn’t accept them. Simple as that. And the more lies there were, the more they accepted the work. The more exaggerated the lies were, the more they accepted it.
How much every month are we talking about?
$150, $200. They used to send me $100 every month. Other people no. Some used to receive just $5 a month!
That seems very little.
Of course. He was making good business. A fantastic business for which I’m sure they paid him thousands of dollars. He said that he was going to help. But he didn’t help anyone. He demanded work and he paid for it. That’s not help. That’s a business. With Ménard, everything is an exchange for something else. He arrived at a time when I was sick of all the lies. And how some of them were stealing from each other. Money used to arrive for a group and then the head of the group would take it and disappear.
To what point did USIS (the U.S. diplomatic representation in Cuba) value you as a trustworthy person during that period?
I had a pass to go into USIS any day at any time, with two other people. As I had graduated from a U.S. university, they thought it was easier to make themselves understood with me than with any other Cuban. I had lived in New York, I knew the United States very well and I had a lot of friends there.
Do you speak good English?
I speak it as easily as I do Spanish. When I used to meet with them and in addition to the other Cubans, there happened to be some U.S. congress member there, they used to provide a translator for the Cubans. They used to say to me: “No Baguer, you talk in English and we’ll translate it into Spanish.”
When did your relationship with USIS begin?
In 1998, I was in contact with their cultural attaché, Gene Bigler. I had been to USIS looking for information. He already knew that I had lived in the United States and that I was a journalist. He introduced me to his boss, Joseph Sullivan.
After they found out who you really were, what happened? Have there been any unexpected reactions?
I’ve received at least a dozen death threats.
No, from outside the country. From Cuban-Americans.
How did your relationship with the people from USIS end?
The day after my role as an agent was revealed, I called Mr. Cason, head of USIS, to greet him. But when I told him who I was, he shouted: “No I don’t want to know anything!” And he hung up. I don’t think he appreciated my call.
What is your opinion of Ménard?
For me, he’s a criminal. Truly. because he deceives everyone. Saying that he wants press freedom. What press freedom is there if he tells you what he wants you to say? But that’s what Reporters sans Frontières were demanding. Writing anything even though you can’t prove it.