The Intelligence Blunder of the Decade


face-palm-640x427Cuba and the U.S. spent a year and a half secretly negotiating the normalization in their diplomatic relations through a Canadian back-channel. A year. And a half.

Still, when it was announced this morning, the Venezuelan state seemed caught totally off-guard. State media went into deer-in-the-headlights panic mode, defaulting to silence for hours on end while the story made huge global headlines.

All signs point to the Venezuelans being completely out of the loop, to the point that they were still staging anti-gringo, visa-burning mass rallies last weekend!

Think about that, Chavismo just spent a decade bankrolling the dictatorship in Havana and even so when the Cubans make a decision that changes the game, they don’t feel they need to make even a courtesy call to Caracas so they can at least get their public information lines sync’d up. It’s humiliating!

But it’s not just that the Cubans didn’t tell us, it’s that we didn’t find out on our own. Can you think of another piece of intelligence of greater strategic value to the chavista state than this one? And they just missed it?

It’s staggering that SEBIN didn’t know this was coming down the line. Staggering!

Nicolás Maduro can’t fart in bed without a G2 intelligence report landing on a desk somewhere in Havana. But the Castro Brothers can completely reorient Cuba’s entire geostrategic stance after an 18 month negotiation without anyone in Caracas catching wind of it? Really?!

Chamo, I nominate SEBIN for the hotly contested prize of Biggest Waste of Money in Bolivarian Venezuela.

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  1. ME thinks you have been caught off guard sir. Venezuela and Cuba were in the thick of it Venezuela being the other back door channel. They have sidelined the right wing of both communities pulling the wool over their eyes and the rug from under their feet.

  2. The question here is: What if maduro knew it in advance?, what could he do anyway?.

    Since chavez’s death, maduro laid his balls carefully into Castro’s grip. Is not that uncommon to see him flee to cuba overnight just to “coger linea de Raul”.

    You can assure a thing: Nico doesnt sleep “like a baby” any longer, today events raised the bar one fuckups too many.

    • At least, Quico opens the door (and more importantly, the windows ’cause, phew, the smell) to the notion that Maduro may have, in a sense, in a way, contributed to this development.

      Just like the flap of a butterfly (or a little bird) over the Amazon River can grow into a typhoon over Asia, a fart from Maburro in Miraflores can grow into the winds of change sweeping Washington DC and La Havana closer together.

      Who knows ? According to chaos theory, everything is possible, even that. And Maburro knows a lot about chaos. He seems to attract it like no other.

  3. I am not sure about your hyperbole re SEBIN being the biggest waste of money (since there are a lot candidates out there for that dubious honor). But what I am certain about is that when you become accustomed to having everything done for you (Cuba calls all the shots, we just pony up the cash) being prepared to make your own decisions is not going to be your strong point.

    I guess that silver lining in all this is that this administration and all of its minions have once more proved that they are in fact incompetent fools and not machiavellian geniuses that are sticking to a plan foreseen years ago. Although we’ll see people here in this comments section saying that we are stupid for believing that Maduro and Co. are imbeciles, and praising their fine intelligence. That fact that our opposition is mostly made up of morons doesn’t make chavistas any smarter than they actually are.

  4. Well, if Sebin is a state security service basically run by Cubans at the top, advising and all, this is what you would expect. If they had known, they certainly would have repurposed the rally on Sunday, all about Obama-imperialist.

  5. Imagine you’re a fairly senior officer in the FANB. Let’s say you have a routine administrative decision to take, regarding maintenance of equipment or suchlike. And you know .. because this has come up before .. that your decision will have to be approved by a Cuban. Now, you’ve been told that the presence of Cuban personnel in the barracks is a measure of the profound revolutionary solidarity between two pueblos hermanos. But you’ve also noticed that your government and your army have just been wrong-footed by these self-same Cubans, who apparently take all the intelligence they can get and provide precisely nada in return. Which also means your own intelligence services have either been effectively dismantled or totally subverted. And you are taking orders from an occupying force. How is that going to make you feel? Just thinking out loud.

    • What do they care? If they are fairly senior officer in the FANB, they get plenty of perks that the rest of Venezuelan doesn’t get. Special stores with no lines, huge salary increases, shortcuts through the bureaucracy whenever they need to, plenty of opportunities to make money through bribes and smuggling routes, etc.


  6. Provocative topic, but I think you stopped a bit short. SEBIN as part of the Regime is if anything a G2 asset, meaning it is unlikely in a position to turn the tables on Cuba. As I digested today, two things came to mind (and you rightly seek out one of them), first the lack of any coordination. As so called Strategic allies go, the Cuban decision not to give a heads up, is up there with the raid on Abbottabad and speaks volumes in itself. The second and one I think CC should explore is what does this rapprochement ‘mean’? I doubt that the embargo falls in exchange for a USAID worker and a Cuban national (regardless his values as an intelligence asset) there needs to be more to make this politically possible or passable, and the Congressional reaction today points to that being the case (They made more noise on immigration than the end 50 years of conservative principle? Whats up with that?). Further it speaks, at least to me, as yet another ominous message about the view from Havana regarding the reliability of their golden goose over the coming months/years.

      • I’m not suggesting that this was an off the cuff reaction to the price of oil, you’re right this was in the works long before that. What I am saying is that during the past 18 months all developments out of Venezuela point towards an eventual sunsetting in the BVR’s ability to maintain its underwriting of the Cuban economy (you have been saying as much for far longer than that). So my question Francisco is – ‘To what extent did uncertainty in Vzla contribute to Cuba engaging, and what were they willing to give to get there?’ because if you hear Obama carefully this is not all carrot, but some very carefully unmentioned sticks.

          • I’m prone to agree with Aquiles.

            Yes, this may have been going on for 18 months, as noted by Aquiles, since about the time of the death of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, but the Cubans have such a degree of penetration at this point at every level, that they had to see the eventuality of Venezuela’s collapse long before anyone else would have seen it, outside the chavista inner circle…and of those folks, some of them may not have believed it then, or now.

            So Cuba sees oil supply increasing and outpacing demand over the intermediate term along with a strengthening global economy even as they are tied to a faltering and unsustainable Venezuela. The question becomes less about jumping ship at all as it does about timing of said jump.

            Its April 14th and you are on the Titanic and you know there’s a big iceberg in the ship’s immediate future. Do you wait until the ship is sinking to find a lifeboat, or do you plan out your exit strategy well in advance?

            You know what’s really scary? How bad does your economy have to be to scare off the biggest leech and have them make peace with a long-standing enemy? What does that tell you about the size of the iceberg and its proximity?

          • And, just for kibitzing purposes:

            Between this and the Chinese quasi-rescission on their oil4billions deal, Venezuela has some real contra signs that are completely unrelated to the markets and this should make those bonds that much more appealing for folks like Venetrader.

          • Perhaps the event driving the discussion was the death of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named with the result of Maduro at the help. It’s not hard to imagine the Cubans saying “Oh shit….. with Maduro as president we need to starting expanding our circle of friends.”

      • “Cuba and the U.S. spent a year and a half secretly negotiating the normalization in their diplomatic relations through a Canadian back-channel. A year. And a half.” What i like about this whole thing is that timing-wise, they started actually talking right after Chavez died. I wonder when Cuba started making subtle overtures, and when they made that decision….right after they got a proper diagnosis on Chavez? Was that the trigger?

      • my take through the rear-view mirror: for 16 months oil was above $100/bbl. But those in the higher echelons of the US oil industry and in the US government were already seeing the bigger picture: US oil supplies were gaining strength, while the oil infrastructure kept crumbling in Vzla as its (relatively hush-hush) output lowered and piglets kept sucking on the sow’s teat without providing much in return. The business model was appalling. It was a matter of time before US oil supplies shifted the political economies of OPEC — and the pricing.

    • I don’t think this is really a conservative principle. Cuba is so, so far down on any list of potential concerns to voters, let alone Tea Party voters. It’s just a relic of the past, that was never changed because of fears of upsetting the crucial Cuban-American voters in Florida, as Florida is important for the Presidency and is usually a close contest.

  7. The Castros were smarter than Maduro , they figured ( from past painful experience during the soviet period) that they couldnt rely for ever on the favours of a totering regime or system so they started to prepare for a situation where such favours would in the future be lost. Even without the fall in oil prices it has been clear for a long time now that the finances of the regime were becoming increasingly frail and that it was incapable of preventing its ultimate ruin.

    Maduro thought that oil prices would remain high forever which history tells us is never the case, so it didnt prepare for what might happen. They were blind to the future because they only had eyes for their inmmediate problems . Now the axe is fallen and they have no idea what to do .

    The precipitous fall in oil prices might have hastened the agreement to improve ties. .

  8. The sebin isn’t exactly a waste of money.
    At least for the regime, it’s served them really well lately for what it was planned by chavismo in the first place, to repress and kill dissidents.

    Also, anybody knows about the ball rolling that speaks about the latest commie-facho measure of the stupidity regime?

    This looks a lot like “Yeah, sure, we got stabbed in our asses yet again by our masters, so we’re gonna unload our hatred, anger and vitriol of sheer dumbassery into you, fucking middle-class escuálido fascist fags!”

  9. Longtime reader of this blog, figured I’d step in and talk about this one. Quico, I don’t believe it’s completely accurate to make the case that the Venezuelan government wasn’t aware something was going on between the US and Cuba. Plausible, yes, but basing it only off their dumbstruck reaction today may be premature. I mean, remember, it goes against the narrative of Cuba y Venezuela, amigos para siempre. There’s a lot of incidents that were widely reported that should have perked up their ears. Back in Dec. 2013, Obama shook hands with Raul at Mandela’s funeral. That was way, way out of line for a US president. Back in June, we saw some reports in an Uruguayan paper that Mujica had delivered a letter to Raul while he was in Bolivia at the G200 conference. A couple of months ago there was an unconfirmed report in Spain’s El Pais that the Spanish foreign minister gave a document from the US to Raul while he was visiting there. And then just a couple of weeks ago, Obama admitted in a TV interview that talks had been going on over the issue of Alan Gross. The thing is, this is all just open source chatter. Maduro may be a dumbass on a personal level, but the dude is still the president of Venezuela. If some random bastard like me saw these incidents, I would assume that the president of Venezuela has access to way more detailed information of the things that affect him day to day. The rumorologos in Venezuela are always working overtime, I mean some shit would have to leak out. Maybe he had no idea WHEN it would happen, but I doubt he was completely in the dark. More likely his stupid reaction is just due to the fact that he can’t do anything to stop it. He runs a shitshow country and can’t convince Raul to stay by his side. I mean, what’s he gonna tell the Venezuelan people? Se fue Raul porque todo esta hecho mierda?

    • I cannot believe Maduro would’ve held that “anti-imperialist rally” LAST WEEKEND if he knew this was coming THREE DAYS LATER!…intelligence isn’t just about having some vague notion something might happen at some point, it’s about know when big events are coming so you can prepare, coño…the failure here is being totally unaware about the timing.

      Thx for writing in though!

    • “If some random bastard like me saw these incidents, I would assume that the president of Venezuela has access to way more detailed information of the things that affect him day to day.”

      You’re adorable.

    • When organizations, like Sebin, are populated by dogma driven humans, the results are usually dismal. Now Fidel’s intel units, that’s a whole different story. They are secular agencies, that make accurate connections of info.

    • “what’s he gonna tell the Venezuelan people? Se fue Raul porque todo esta hecho mierda?”

      No, he’s gonna hold a rally and say the opposite, so that at least he can keep up the illusion of consolidated power.

  10. What you are seeing is Cuba deciding that Venezuela is no longer necessary to the Cuban economy. Venezuelan oil is no longer “cheap” when compared to world markets, and who knows how longer can it even be counted as a reliable supplier. Put another way, Cuba has milked the Venezuelan cow dry, so it now needs another source of milk.

  11. It’s nice to see Uncle Sam choosing to drop sanctions on Cuba after more than half a century. Sanctions have never served their original purpose, but they did have serious side effects. They didn’t liberate Cuba from the Castros, they’ve collectively punished Cuban people to poverty and isolation.

    Furthermore, it doesn’t make much sense to sanction Cuba for its human rights abuses when your largest trading partner is China, your primary source of oil is Saudi Arabia, and when you give military aid to Egypt, Israel and Thailand.

    Some people in the Cuban American community in Miami might be angry over this decision, but they’re a dying breed anyway.

    I think this is a mixed blessing for the chavistas. It’s an embarassing diplomatic coup that chips away any remaining international influence they might have had, but it also means Cuba is weaning itself off free Venezuelan petroleum. That actually might give Maduro some room for maneuver vis-a-vis domestic economic policies. We’ll have to wait and see the implications of this event.

    • “…but it also means Cuba is weaning itself off free Venezuelan petroleum”
      Dreaming is cheap, I dare to say those SoBs will keep sucking as much oil dollars as they can, they’ve just put the other hand in the other side of the pool, so when Venezuela implodes under the chavismo plague, the island doesn’t risk their own caracazo when everything falls apart..

    • Javier, you are also a dying breed. If Maduro killed your family and stole your stuff maybe you would feel otherswise. But you know better.

  12. Hey, what happened to the “Diosdado Had No Clue” nonsense that you just posted? Looks like Quico had no clue, actually, as there wasn’t anything in the Diosdado piece to indicate that he was unaware of what was happening in U.S.-Cuban relations.

  13. it’s impossible that Maduro was unaware about everything when people like Dilma Rousseff clearly knew it and repeated like dozens of times that the end of the embargo was close.

    There are like hundreds of sources available:

    On January this year a commie Brazilian site had an article on “Why Brazil was correct to invest in Cuba”, and in the middle of the article there is a “government source who didn’t want to be identified” claiming that to build a port there was justifiable because the embargo “won’t last long”. And because the port is “just 150 km away from the largest market in the world”.

    Again, on January!

    Deutsche Welle has now published an article claiming that Brazil was investing in Cuba because they knew what would ensue, reforcing what the “government source who didn’t want to be identified” said on January earlier this year.

    I mean, governments interact, if Dilma knew it, Maduro obviously knew it too, I don’t believe for one second that Maduro was in the blind on this.

    This Maduro’s bizarre circus against the US is for internal consumption only, and it has probably worked the way he had expected to. He would have done it anyway.

    • BTW, to not report on a particular sensitive matter does not mean that the state media was “caught totally off-guard” nor that it has entered “panic mode”, but rather that the bigwigs at the Venezuelan government thought that it would not be strategically smart to make headlines on it (period).

      Seriously, if the Chavistas were as dumb as some of you think that they are, they wouldn´t be ruling the country since 1999, right?

      • Yes, Marc, as we’ve seen here, the Quico and Phil Gunson types have a tendency to just believe whatever they think would be most embarrassing to the Chavistas. That’s not to say that these guys never make worthwhile points but rather that one must often take what they have to say with a grain of salt.

      • “Seriously, if the Chavistas were as dumb as some of you think that they are, they wouldn´t be ruling the country since 1999, right?”

        The capos are the smart ones, the base, “de a pie” folks are dumb as rocks.

      • I too sometimes notice this. As much as I personally dislike chavistas (I’ve had many, MANY nasty encounters with Latin American leftists over the years) I notice that there is definitely a black-and-white mentality around there that allows dogma to get in the way of rational thinking. I mean, depending on the day Maduro is either the dumbest person alive and it’s a wonder he can even put his pants on in the morning or he’s a wily operator who shrewdly, subtly and selectively knows whom to repress and how to do so in the most efficient manner possible.

        The truth is that, on a personal level, Maduro is probably an idiot. Even a children’s text like “My Pet Goat” is probably far above him. That being said, he does have a certain level of base cunning (like every Latin American politician) and knows who his friends and enemies are and how to get ahead. I mean, despite his intellectual shortcomings he beat out some other ruthless guys and ended up president. Like Marc said, we like to think he’s so dumb that this Cuba thing caught him off guard. He probably didn’t know when it would happen but a general thawing was evident well before this. I mean, Obama shaking Raul’s hand six months ago is not normal protocol and RET did a good job outlining all the signs earlier up thread. Let’s not let our dislike for this government get in the way of our rational thinking.

    • the difference between the Cuban government informing Dilma and Maduro of their strategy is comparable to someone who will renegotiate their mortgage, and this person can consults on the same level with their brother-in-law who is a manager at the bank and their own 5yo son who was held back in kindergarten and still wets the bed.

    • Marc, the embargo is not over and it’s not going to end. You are confusing things. The embargo is legislature and was stregthened so the president cannot repeal, only congress can. That is staying in this Republican controlled congress. The embargo for us is leverage, for them it means they have no credit. They can still buy their medicines and food with cash. What Obama is doing is loosening business and travel restrictions. You can see the details on the WH website.

      Regarding your original assumption, I will go with FT that Maduro did not know. Nobody knew. This was brilliantly executed. There was hint last week when Bill Clinton talked about exactly this during his Miami summit stay.

      I’m waiting for the analysis from PMB.

    • Marc, you only have to look at how closely guarded it was in the US to see that nobody knew. Dilma? Yeah right. Congress did not know. The Congressional comittees did not know. Rubio did not know. OMG

  14. Since when do people explain their love life to an used condom?

    Bocaranda, who usually knows more than SEBIN, was also caught of base.

    The NYT is already speculating with MLB getting priviledged access to Cuban ballplayers.

    This is all so very funny.

  15. “Chamo, I nominate SEBIN for the hotly contested prize of Biggest Waste of Money in Bolivarian Venezuela.”

    It doesn’t really matter since you people are more forward. They don’t need subtleties like linking your wordpress instance to your google account, for one.

  16. When the Cubans chose Maduro as successor to chabe, they expected him to be the most manipulable figure available within the presidential entourage; he is not necessarily a stupid person, but he doesn’t seem to be as smart as Ramírez, as independent as Diosdado, nor as untrustworthy as Jaua, so in theory he is the best puppet for a puppet government.

    Conspiracy time: it didn’t take long for the newly appointed president to start drifting away from the Cubans and be more and more influenced by… Diosdado and the military? The Boligarchy? The voices in his own head? Whomever it was, those responsible for running the country over the past 15-18 months seem to be waging a war against all common sense, following advice from neither the Cuban or the Chinese or anyone sane, and pretty much winging it with no other strategy than to ransack the country for all it’s got before it all inevitably collapsed.

    So, as the Cubans noticed their grasp loosening and the inevitable clusterfuck that would eventually happen at the hands of Maduro, they started working on Plan B; after all, better to share the riches with the gringos than to accompany a dimwit to the grave.

  17. “Dear Optimist, Pessimist, and Realist,
    While you guys were busy arguing about the glass of water, I drank it!
    The Opportunist”

  18. You’re giving too much credit to SEBIN, it is more a counterintelligence/repressive intelligence agency that a one that can run assets outside venezuela, i really doubt they have even a single liason officer in la Habana, they’re just not prepared for that


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