CRACKDOWN IN HAVANA
Cuba diverts dissidents' phone numbers in pope crackdown
A number for the Cuban Interior Ministry was used to block calls to
dissidents while Pope Benedict XVI was on the island.
By Juan O. Tamayo
Cuba's Interior Ministry doesn't have to be subtle when it represses
dissidents. In charge of the communist-ruled country's domestic
security, it can do just about anything it wants.
But its brazenness hit a high this week when one of its telephone
numbers was openly listed as being part of the crackdown that blocked
the cellphones of hundreds of dissidents during Pope Benedict XVI's
Cellphones affected clearly showed that calls to the dissidents were
diverted to 204-1234, a Havana number listed to Unit 9456-3 of the
Interior Ministry, known as MININT, at the corner of 60th and 19th
Avenues in the western district of Playa.
United 9456-3 was listed as a branch of a MININT office building in
Linea and Paseo Avenues in the Vedado district, a block or two from the
main headquarters of the ministry's Intelligence Directorate, similar to
the Soviet Union's KGB.
Neighbors reported the Linea and Paseo building holds offices for
counterintelligence and state security agents — the political police,
according to Calixto Ramon Martínez, the independent journalist who
broke the story Friday.
Martinez and Roberto de Jesus Guerra, members of the independent
Hablemos Press news agency, said they had confirmed the diversion in
their own cellphones and those of 16 other dissidents whose service had
been restored as of Friday.
El Nuevo Herald confirmed the number 204-1234 is listed to Unit 9456-3
in a digital list of sensitive Cuban government telephone numbers that
was obtained by journalists and others last year. Repeated calls to that
number went unanswered.
Cuban authorities in the past have blocked the cellphones of individual
or groups of dissidents when important events took place, presumably to
keep the opposition activists' information from reaching supporters and
The cellphones of Reina Luisa Tamayo and several supporters, for
instance, were blocked after Cuban police beat and detained them in 2010
when they tried to pray at the grave of her son, former political
prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo.
With ETECSA, the government's telecommunications monopoly, in charge of
Cuba's entire telephone system, calls to the blocked cells resulted in
recorded messages that the line was busy or the cellphone was out of range.
And there was never any hard evidence of MININT's dark hand. Until Thursday.
That's when 27-year-old Reiniel Biset Morales noticed a strange little
arrow in the screen of the cellphone of his mother, Rosario Morales, a
member of the dissident Ladies in White.
Her phone, like those of several hundred other dissidents and
independent journalists and bloggers across the island, was blocked from
early Monday until late Thursday, unable to make or receive calls for
the three days that Pope Benedict XVI was in Cuba.
Calls to the blocked cells during last week were answered mostly with
recorded messages that the number did not exist.
"For the whole time the pope was here, every time we dialed, the phone
said 'call failed' " Biset, himself a dissident active in the Committee
for Racial Integration, told El Nuevo Herald. "Then I noticed this
little arrow that was not there before."
Looking in the phone's menu, he learned the arrow meant calls were being
diverted, and then saw that they were being sent to the 7-204-1234. The
number 7 is the code for Havana.
"Everything that went into that cellphone was diverted to that number"
MININT and the Ministry of the Armed forces, or MINFAR, are considered
the two most powerful government branches on the island because they are
in charge of protecting the nation from external and internal threats.
MININT runs the Directorates of Intelligence, which spies abroad, and
Counterintelligence, which protects the island from foreign spying. It
also has a branch that controls dissidents, sometimes known as the
"Confrontation Office" or the General Directorate for State Security.
Even the Fire Department comes under its control.
The MINFAR has its own intelligence and counterintelligence sections,
and the Communist Party of Cuba is believed to have its own intelligence
branch, though much reduced from the 1960s and '70s.
The list of sensitive Cuban telephones included several hundred numbers,
or about three pages' worth, for the building at Linea and Paseo,
according to Luis Dominguez, a Miami blogger who obtained the list last
year. Only some of those numbers were assigned to Unit 9456-3, Dominguez
Hablemos Press has published several important news stories, and
Dominguez has made public some of the numbers on the sensitive list,
like the home phones of Raúl Castro's daughter Mariela and Vice
President Jose Ramon Machado Ventura.