Rumor of Cuban presence in Syria was ‘disinformation,’ expert says

An unconfirmed report that Cuban troops had landed in Syria to fight against opponents of President Bashar al-Assad on behalf of the Russian government was described in Moscow as “disinformation” and “information warfare” by the vice president of the Russian Society of Friendship with Cuba, Air Force Maj. Gen. Mikhail Markovich Makaruk (in photo above.)

The general’s comments, published Friday (Oct. 23) by the newspaper Pravda, were in response to a rumor floated last week by the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies (ICCAS) and disseminated by anti-Cuban media outlets.

Jaime Suchlicki
Jaime Suchlicki

[For background in Progreso Weekly and a commentary on ICCAS’ director, Jaime Suchlicki, click hereFor a commentary in Spanish in Cubainformación TV, click here.]

From the start, the unsubstantiated rumor met with general incredulity. A Cuban Embassy spokesman in Damascus called it “absurd, a huge nonsense,” according to the Sputnik news agency. The same spokesman told the Novosti news agency that the rumor was “just cretinous.”

“I have serious doubts about the veracity of the item in question,” said Ivan Konovalov, director of the Center for Strategic Conjuncture, quoted by the Free Press agency in Moscow. No Russian Defense Ministry official deigned to give credibility to the rumor by commenting about it.

Spokesmen for the U.S. State Department and the White House declined to comment because of the unverified nature of the allegation. Major U.S. newspapers ignored it for the same reason.

Gerardo Peñalver Portal
Gerardo Peñalver Portal

Finally, in a blunt one-sentence statement issued Oct. 17, the director general of Bilateral Affairs of the Foreign Ministry of Cuba, Gerardo Peñalver Portal, “categorically denie[d] and refute[d] the irresponsible and unfounded information about the alleged presence of Cuban troops in the Syrian Arab Republic that some press media have echoed.”

In this week’s Pravda interview, Makaruk, an expert on Cuban affairs, called the rumor “a preemptive strike” from the anti-Cuban lobby in Miami, intended to dissuade Cuba from aiding Russia in its support for the Assad government, now confronting oppositionists and Islamic zealots.

“The Cuban Army is combat-ready,” the general said, but after years of neglect by the government of Russian President Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s, “its logistical status leaves much to be desired. The army needs retooling,” he added, suggesting that international military engagements by Cuba would be unwise at this time.

On other subjects, Makaruk said that the United States’ effort to normalize relations with Cuba is so far limited only to protocol gestures. Washington opened an embassy in Havana and removed Cuba from its list of countries that support terrorism, he said, but it has not lifted its economic blockade or repealed a law that denies access to foreign ships that have previously visited Cuban ports.

Thus, the so-called “normalization” is nothing but an imitation of improved relations, the general said. Washington’s plans are to “extend its tentacles to find someone to install in power [after Ra˙l Castro departs] and then do everything possible to tear Havana away from Moscow.”

That strategy won’t work because Cuba and Russia are strategic partners, even if Cuba establishes relations with the United States, he added.

Makaruk believes that Russia should increase its presence in all of Latin America and mentioned “a large Russian-speaking diaspora in Argentina and Uruguay.” Such an outreach “does not require large investments but can provide large returns,” he told Pravda.


2 Responses to Rumor of Cuban presence in Syria was ‘disinformation,’ expert says

  1. Incredible! Cuban troops are being deployed in Syria, to fight alongside Russians. Since October 14, this message has been flying through the world and surely Botox sales must have boomed with all the raised eyebrows. True, the Castros are audacious. But would Raul Castro, overseeing a crumbling regime, and with his oil producer, Venezuela, in
    crisis, and looking to the U.S. for salvation, really deploy his troops with Putin to save Assad?

    Fox News cited the denial of Gerardo Penalver, a Cuban Foreign Ministry senior official. I lso noticed when the news hit the Syrian embassy, the Russian journal Sputnik likened the story to “Russia sending troops to Madagascar to cope with lemurs.”

    Finally the source was clarified — none other than my husband’s former colleague at
    the University of Miami, distinguished Bacardi professor Jaime Suchliki, head
    of the school’s Institute of Cuban and Cuban American Studies [ICCAS]. Suchliki’s institute has also reported at least seven times in the last several years the death of Fidel
    Castro. If nine lives is the limit, two to go. Suchliki’s tendency to hyperbole
    is not the only bone I pick with him, however. There’s a much bigger one to chew on and herein hangs a fascinating tale that has taken 20 years to be told. Moreover, both
    bones are linked as the reader will see.

    The trouble for Jiri started when he developed a close relationship with the late Jorge Mas Canosa, [hereafter Jorge] the chairman of the Cuban American National Foundation [CANF]. Jorge’s CANF supported a hard line U.S. policy towards Cuba and generously funded
    Suchliki’s institute. But Jorge also began giving grants to Jiri’s ISEES.

    In 1985, after a decade teaching and supervising a Soviet and East European M.A. program for intelligence officers at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate Schoolin Monterey, Jiri won a national competition for a tenured, full professorship at the University of Miami. Unfortunately, Jiri ignored prior warnings about the faculty feuding endemic to the Graduate School of International Studies [GSIS]. His predecessor, Carl Jacobson, also warned him Suchliki had helped to organize his firing, jealous of his State Department grant.

    “You need Glasnost here Comrades!

    At the University of Miami, Jiri soon founded the Institute of Soviet and East European Studies [ISEES]. Like Suchliki’s Cuba-oriented institute, it was part [GSIS]. However, one
    of Jiri’s specialties was the Soviet-Cuban relationship – also Suchliki’s turf.
    Editor of two scholarly books, Conflict in Nicaragua, and U.S. Intervention
    in Grenada, and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, Jiri had
    served as a principle witness for Henry Kissinger’s 1983 Bi-partisan Commission
    on Central America.

    Meanwhile, the school’s pro-Castro leftists –were not pleased with the Jiri-Jorge friendship, particularly GSIS’s late Associate Dean, Enrique Baloyra. A member of the editorial board of Arieto (p. 20) “a magazine supported by the Castro government,” Baloyra tried to steer
    students away from Jiri’s classes.

    Then, shortly before the U.S. election of 1988, Castro, with the Reagan administration’s tacit support, agreed to receive a delegation of U.S. leading experts on Cuba. Center-right Jiri was the only non-leftist aboard. At the conference, Jiri presented a paper entitled
    “United States and Cuba; Castroika vs Perestroika,” later published in the “Miami Herald.” Opening a Pandora’s Box, he also declaimed to dozens of Cuban and Caribbean leftists, “Comrades you need glasnost here.”

    Silence. Pin drop! Then Jiri was suddenly rescued by two Soviet scholars who suggested “glasnost is a good thing.” They were not applauded, and when the U.S. delegation met with the late Cuban Vice President, Carlos Raphael Rodriguez, he made it abundantly clear
    he did not agree with Jiri and the Russians. Whoa! Jiri had discovered a Soviet-Cuban schism!

    Suchliki ExposesAnti-Valenta Coup

    Jiri’s trip to Havana only intensified an ongoing GSIS power struggle over policies towards Cuba and the USSR. Jiri was supported by Dean Moss, but both hardliner Suchliki, known in Havana as “Neanderthal,” and Baloyra, dubbed “Progressive,” deeply resented Jiri’s Havana trip. Why had they not been selected? Meanwhile, Miami’s staunchest hardliner on
    communism, Jorge, became highly interested in Jiri’s tale of a schism. “Looks like I’ll have to become a lobbyist in Moscow,” he quipped.

    In 1988, Miami was the most anti-communist city in the Union. Communist visitors were welcomed with riots – once even a bazooka. Yet Jorge wasn’t joking as he asked Jiri, “Will you help me organize a dialogue with the Russians at your institute?” Jiri was happy to oblige, “If you protect me,” he replied. Said the CANF chairman, “I already have. You are still alive.”

    Jorge couldn’t protect Jiri from everything. A decade later, CANF treasurer Feliciano Foyo,
    a friend of Jeb Bush, would recall to Jiri and me what Suchliki told Jiri and some
    GSIS supporters at his home in August 1990. Not only Jiri, but the late Ted Rubel, Sanford Ziff, and Elsa Eaton, were shocked to learn that Baloyra had urged Suchliki’s help in organizing a political coup against Jiri. Suchliki had taken notes. Baloyra had picked
    an appropriate time for a coup — Dean Moss had just been hospitalized with a heart
    attack. Baloyra hoped he would be the new caudillo. Then Suchliki read his notes at a faculty meeting, embarrassing Baloyra. Jiri was relieved and thought of Suchliki as “a brother.”

    But the anti-Valenta plot was still to thicken. Baloyra was joined by Vendulka Kubalkova, born in Czechoslovakia like Jiri, an expert on Marxism and Leninism. For the rest of this story, please go to

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