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Reporters Without Shame

by Jean Guy Allard Thursday, Mar. 17, 2005 at 8:08 PM

This article from Sept. 2004 details how the founder of Reporters Without Borders, Robert Menard, was paying Cubans to write negative stories about their country -- and making a profit for himself.

This interview brings up several important questions:

Who was paying Robert Menard to buy negative stories about Cuba? Given his close ties with Cuban exiles in Miami, which Granma documents, and the fact that most of the millions of dollars spent by USAID and the NED to destabilize Cuba go to the exiles' myriad organizations, it would not be unreasonable to assume that Menard was being paid by these State Department agencies through his exile contacts. On January 14, 2005, the NED formally granted Reporters Without Borders nearly ,000 -- a small amount which doesn't explain the group's obsession with Cuba over the past several years. Finally, given the 2003 roundup of 70 paid Cuban dissidents, is it possible that Menard helped send some of these people to prison by encouraging Cuban journalists to work for him and serving as paymaster for the US government? If so, is his relentless campaign to free them the result of a guilty conscience or did he cynically set them up to be the fall guys in another anti-Cuban propaganda campaign?

Diana Barahona

09-09-2004

A Cuban counterintelligence agent infiltrates Reporters Without Borders: "I was the first representative of RSF in Cuba"

By Jean Guy Allard

Granma Internacional

In an exclusive interview given to the authors of The Robert Menard Dossier -- Why Reporters Without Borders Obsesses About Cuba, Nestor Baguer Sánchez-Galarraga explains how Ménard recruited him and later gave him a laptop computer, following a procedure identical to those used by all of the "honorable correspondents" of the CIA involved in recruiting and information-supplying operations. At the time Baguer was president of the Association of Independent Reporters...serving the cause, since he was agent Octavio of the Cuban counterespionage services.

Below we reproduce this revealing interview.

-How did you get in contact with Ménard?

-They heard about the Association of Independent Reporters of Cuba, and that I was the principal dissident reporter. First they made contact through the family of a person who was in jail and who knew me. I said that I was willing to work but I asked what the conditions were. Then they came to Cuba. A surprise visit.

-When Ménard appears in Havana on September 20, 1998, did he visit you at your house?

-No. He was never at my house; instead we met at that third house, located at 21st and G Street, with the people who had established contact with us. Ménard was waiting there with his assistant (Régis Borgeat).

-How did that conversation develop?

-They told me that they needed to talk with me privately and that we were going for a ride. They had a car downstairs, and we went out to drive around the Vedado neighborhood.

-He didn't want to talk in that house?

-No. He wanted to go out in order to talk freely. He wanted to be in his vehicle to do it. He insisted there not be any witnesses to what he would be talking about with me.

-Why?

-He doesn't trust anyone, it seems.

-Who was driving the car?

-His assistant. A younger man than he. Ménard and I were sitting in back.

-Did you speak in Spanish?

-Yes. He speaks a lot of Spanish.

-Who was speaking with you?

-Mostly Ménard, although the other one was also participating.

-Did they record the conversation?

-Not that I saw.

-How was he dressed?

-He was well-dressed. Elegant.

-How did he present his aims?

-He presented that to me like a matter of defending freedom of the press. Everything was for freedom of the press "around the world." That they were an international organization to protect journalists around the world. He said that he was sponsored by many large French companies that gave him money to carry out this work. That there were people in France who were interested in that.

People say that Ménard is an authoritarian type who doesn't care to share. He had come to give instructions. He would not listen. He had come to say what needed to be done.

-Was RSF already attacking Cuba from France?

-Of course. What he wanted was for it to come directly from here. It seems that before it was being supported from Miami. But he wanted to have his source from Cuba so it would be more believable.

-Did he seem to have a lot of money?

-To be staying at the Hotel Nacional and renting a big luxury car, that costs some dollars per day.

-How long did this ride last?

-About an hour. He doesn't give me the computer but rather has me go to a park and then sends his assistant to hand it to me.

-Where was that?

-At the park on 21st between J and K. The big park there.

-How did it happen?

-They called me and they told me that I should be at that place at a certain time.

-Was anyone there when you arrived?

-There was no one there.

-And what did you do?

-I sat down on a bench and then his helper arrived, he handed the computer to me. It was small, a laptop. And he left. That was it.

-Does that seem, in your opinion, like the behavior of intelligence services?

-Logically. It has nothing to do with journalism.

-Are meetings in parks something common in Cuban journalism?

-Absolutely. Here you never have to go to a park for this work.

-Nor lock yourself in a car so there won't be any witnesses?

-No.

-The normal thing would have been for him to come by your house?

-Of course. He had my phone number.

-And they acted like they were used to working that way?

-Yes.

-As if they were agents with some intelligence agency?

-Exactly.

-He had never traveled to Cuba?

-Never.

-And what did he know about Cuba?

-Nothing. He had been here two days. What could he know about Cuba? For example he spoke about a racial problem. It's true that Cuba has people who are racists, but that exists in every country in the world. But in Cuba there are no racist policies, since there is equality of opportunities for all races. The opposite of the United States.

-How long did he stay in Havana?

-I believe that he stayed a week. He didn't see one other person that I know of.

-How did you stay in contact with Ménard?

By phone. His helper would call me from France. I was then talking more with Régis than with Ménard.

-Was he the one directing your activities?

-Yes.

-Did he ask for any particular topics?

-He told me exactly what he wanted me to talk about. They indicated the topics.

-Régis communicated with you every week?

-Almost every week. Long calls because I had to transmit my copy. I would read the news and he would record it. And then he would give advice.

-Advice?

-Régis would scold me saying I was too soft. I would tell him that I wasn't used to saying certain words. I have a level of cultivation and I'm not used to saying certain things, even to an enemy. They would ask me why I didn't call Fidel Castro a murderer. I would tell him that I had to respect authority so they would let me continue. But he pushed me to say that Fidel Castro was a murderer, that he was this and that. He never achieved this with me and that led to a very tense relationship.

-Did he ever get angry?

-At the end, yes. He was upset. And he broke it off and they appointed another person as representative because he said that I wasn't aggressive enough. And he gave me as an example others who would send news that was nothing but falsehoods. That there were so many people on a hunger strike and it was a lie. There wasn't anyone on a hunger strike. Once some tried to have a strike, I went to the place personally, at the Santo Suárez housing. I entered suddenly at a time they weren't expecting me. And I found people cooking chicken soup. It was all a lie.

-Where were your news stories published?

-I never found out since he never sent me clippings, anything. Only once did they send me a magazine, made by them.

-Did he ask for information about national defense?

-Yes. He wanted to know if I knew about disgruntled people in the Army, in the Police. He was interested in knowing that.

-RSF acted like a press agency?

-Exactly. Like a press agency and not like the association they pretend to be. They would collect their material and they would say that they distributed it in different newspapers, in the United States as well as Europe. That is they acted like like a press agency. Not at all like defenders of journalists. Moreover, they would create many agencies at that time -- I learned of "agencies" which were the father, the mother, and the son -- and they wanted to cover everything.

-Did he talk to you about money from the start?

-Of course. He would talk about "helping." That they "helped" the journalists who helped them with those campaigns "for the good of the free press of the world." He didn't talk about amounts.

-And how did this money appear?

-Through a banking agency thanks to the Transcard card. They would notify me that they had made a transfer and I would go to pick up the money with my own [card]. They would send something every month. They would send me mine and what I had to give to the others. They would send money through my intermediary to those they offered jobs to. Those who suited them. Because if that wasn't the case, they simply wouldn't accept them. And the more the lies, the more they accepted your work. The more exaggerated the lie, the more they accepted it from you.

-What monthly amounts are we talking about?

-One hundred fiftly, two hundred dollars. They would send me 100 dollars every month. Others they wouldn't. Some got only five dollars a month!

-It seems like very little.

-Of course, he was doing great business. A fantastic business that must have netted him thousands of dollars. He would say that he was going to help. But he didn't help anyone. He would demand a job and pay for it. That's not help. That's a business. With Ménard there's never something for nothing. It came to a point where I was nauseated by so much dishonesty and the way some would steal from others. The money would arrive for the group and the head of the group would take the money and disappear.

-To what degree did the AIS (American Interests Section -- the U.S. diplomatic representation in Cuba) feel at that time that you were trustworthy?

-I had a pass to enter the AIS any day at any time, with two more people. Since I was a graduate of a U.S. university, they thought it was easier to deal with me than with any other Cuban. I had lived in New York and I knew the United States very well and had a lot of friends there.

-Do you speak English fluently?

-I speak it as well as I speak Spanish. When I would meet with them and there was, besides Cubans, some U.S. congressman, they would ask for a translator for the Cubans. They would say to me: "No Baguer, speak English, we'll translate into Spanish."

-When did this relationship with the AIS begin?

-In 1998 I was in contact with the head of culture, Gene Bigler. I had gone to the AIS to look for information. He knew that I had lived in the United States and that I was a journalist. He introduced me to his boss, Joseph Sullivan.

-After he learned about your role, what happened? Were there some unforseen reactions?

-I have received at least a dozen death threats.

-In what way?

-Anonymous. By phone.

-From here?

-No, from abroad. From Cuban Americans.

-How did your relationship with the AIS end?

-The day after my work as an agent was disclosed, I called Mr. Cason, the AIS chief, on the phone to say hello. But when I identified myself he yelled: "I don't want to know anything!" And he hung up. He didn't appreciate the call.

-What is your opinion of Ménard?

-To me he's a criminal. Really. Because he deceives the whole world. Saying that he wants freedom of the press. What kind of press freedom is it when he tells you what he wants you to say? But that was what Reporters Without Borders would demand. Lies. Writing anything at all, even though it couldn't be proven.

###

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