Considered a Caribbean playground until 1959, when Fidel Castro seized Havana and established a Communist regime, Cuba was transformed from a resort island into a major regional military power, equipped and trained by the Soviet Union. An attempt in 1961 to recover power by landing émigré troops at the Bay of Pigs proved disastrous and served only to enhance Castro’s increasingly totalitarian grip on the depleted population.
Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev’s decision to deploy intermediaterange ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads on the island led to the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, but the subsequent negotiations for their removal included a guarantee of nonintervention from Washington, which effectively ensured Castro’s survival for more than 40 years as the world’s longest-serving Communist leader. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992, Moscow terminated economic aid to Cuba and withdrew from the intercept station at Lourdes, leaving the People’s Republic of China to equip and run it.
Having established himself in power, Castro created the Dirección General de Inteligencia (DGI) in 1961 as part of the Ministry of Interior, under Manuel Pineiro Losada, who was replaced in 1969 by José Mendez Cominches. As the DGI developed, KGB general Viktor Simenov acted as an adviser, ensuring it would act as a Soviet surrogate, and both organizations collaborated closely when the Central Intelligence Agency renegade Philip Agee visited Havana in 1969 with an offer of information.
The organization’s operations were compromised in March 1970 by the defection of Orlando Castro Hidalgo in Paris and of Maj. Florentino Azpillaga Lombard, a DGI officer based in Prague who defected in June 1987 to Jim Olsen, the CIA station chief in Vienna.
Azpillaga had turned up unexpectedly with his teenage girlfriend at the U.S. embassy, demanding resettlement in return for information about DGI operations. He was able to reel off the names of many CIA case officers, proving that their sources had been skillfully managed double agents and thereby proving his bona fides. By the time he had arrived in the United States, having been flown out of Austria in a black operation, the CIA had been persuaded that virtually all its Cuban assets were double agents.
In 1982 a senior officer, René Rodriguez Cruz, was convicted of dealing drugs, and in July 1989 Luis Barreiro resigned as the DGI’s director, having been implicated in a cocaine-importation ring.