Sweden’s affairs in Cuba: a U.S. proxy and Julian Assange

As direct consequence of the allegations leveled against Julian Assange by Anna Ardin and Sofia Wilén, the editor and founder of WikiLeaks has found himself facing the possibility of being extradited from either a Swedish remand prison or prison, to the United States where he will likely be charged under the Espionage Act 1917. In response to this scenario (after a final appeal in the UK Supreme Court against extradition to Sweden had failed), Julian Assange sought (19th June 2012) and was granted political asylum by the Ecuadorean government. Unexpectedly, the U.S. Grand Jury’s indictments are being made to wait.

Back in August 2010, Anna Ardin’s allegations simply decimated Julian Assange’s ability to operate freely at the very moment such options were needed most – during the politically highly charged publishing of the Iraq War Logs and the United States diplomatic cables. When Swedish prosecutors refused to question Julian Assange in England and instead put out a European Arrest Warrant, and as the first evidence of a U.S. Grand Jury investigation emerged, the questions, suspicion and intrigue surrounding Assange’s accusers increased. With little information available about Sofia Wilén and with Anna Ardin’s political ties and instrumental role in events, almost all of this speculation and attention has been directed at her. Ardin’s willingness to give interviews to the press has also fueled debate.

Phillip Knightley (British Press Awards Journalist of the Year), spoke to the Sydney Morning Herald, December 2010, summing up the speculation surrounding Anna Ardin’s motives: “There’s no direct evidence [that Anna Ardin is a CIA agent]. She’s someone they would consider an asset. I do not think she has been recruited for this mission but once she realized she was in this position, she might have known the right people to contact. They are always on the lookout for people with what you might call ‘interesting friends’.” Knightley believes that Ardin’s political activities and contacts within Sweden’s historically dominant SDP party, as well as her activities in Cuba and Miami, fit the model of someone deemed useful to foreign intelligence agencies and also as a valuable resource for Sweden’s small spy agency.

To gain a better understanding of the events that led up to Julian Assange entering the Ecuadorean Embassy and to understand the factual basis of the speculation mentioned above, it is important to review Anna Ardin’s role in the Swedish government’s  activities in Cuba.

Anna Ardin (who also goes by the name Anna Bernardin) visited Cuba four times between 2003 and 2006, becoming involved in the 59 year de facto ‘war’ between Cuba and the United States of America. During this time she worked as intern in the Washington DC Swedish embassy and later worked at the Buenos Aires Swedish embassy as a PR manager.

Ardin was ostensibly visiting Cuba to research her Masters thesis ‘The Cuban Multi-Party System’. Her ‘field tutor’ was Miriam Leiva, a prominent member of the Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White). In 2003, the Cuban government arrested Miriam Leiva’s husband, Oscar Espinosa Chepe, for receiving money from U.S. ‘diplomats’. Espinosa Chepe was writing anti-Castro propaganda for Cubanet and CubaEncuentro, both of which were funded by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which in turn is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), an organisation funded by the U.S. State Department. Espinosa Chepe’s arrest was part of ‘Black Spring’, a crackdown on 75 U.S. funded dissidents involved in ‘destabilization’ / ‘pro-democracy’ activities. The ‘Ladies in White’ consists of the wives and other female relatives of the jailed dissidents.

After Ardin was asked to leave Cuba due to her political activities (in 2006), she traveled to Miami to continue her research, interviewing prominent expatriate Cuban anti-Castro and anti-Communist activists. In her 39-page thesis she does not mention U.S. interventionism in the internal affairs of Cuba, or how this might affect a future multi-party democracy. She does not mention that all of the political parties she explores receive U.S. funding, or the influence and control exerted by the United States upon these groups. The journal sources she cites (she later writes on Cuban affairs for websites funded by USAID, such as Miscelánea de Cuba) are the same U.S. State Department-funded publications that Oscar Espinosa Chepe worked with. These journals are accused by the Cuban government of being part of an ongoing attempt to manufacture, support and finance a U.S.-friendly internal opposition movements in Cuba via a wide range of organisations. The 2004 Democratic Presidential candidate and current U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called the ‘Varela Project’ and other interventions “counterproductive” and stated that dissidents receiving money from U.S. sources, especially from the CIA, were immediately discredited. In 2008, the State Department and USAID trebled previous levels of funding, ‘awarding’ $45.7 million in ‘Cuba democracy’ grants.

The links between Miami-based anti-Castro Cuban-American organisations and the U.S. government’s Central Intelligence Agency forms one of the darkest episodes in U.S. history; the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba by a counter-revolutionary militia trained and funded by the CIA, the Cuban missile crisis blow-back and the tangled horror of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

In Miami, Ardin interviewed the CIA counter-revolutionary militant Lino Fernándezaka Ojeda. Fernández and five hundred of his men were captured while awaiting a CIA air-drop one month before the invasion at the Bay of Pigs.

In Cuba, Ardin interviewed Manuel Cuesta Morúa, a leader of Arco Progresista (Progressive Arc Party), who in several interviews has described working with Ardin and the Swedish Social Democrats. It also seems that Ardin may have caused Cuesta Morúa various difficulties not dissimilar to those experienced by Julian Assange several years later:

And, strangely for us, Anna supports that accusation. I say strangely because she was the person receiving the expense reports of the small cash assistance they were giving us. Two or three groups of young people linked to the group that she headed came to Cuba between 2003 and 2005, up to twice a year. They brought the economic aid and took the reports. Then they informed us by e-mail, or in their next visit, of their assessment: always positive. The last economic aid was brought over by Anna herself in mid-2005. Later on, other people came over, took the reports and everything went well. Suddenly, after having acknowledged that all the reports were fine, Anna seemed to forget this and jumped on a Cuban Government report about us [misinformation from the Cuban government, constructed to damage the reputation of the Cuban Social Democratic movement], which was poorly and hastily written, which could not stand up to serious analysis, where I appeared as the villain of the story.

At this point I was surprised by two things: first, the lack of positive response to the institutional analysis we had convened – and which we carried out in the end – and second, her attempt to recruit other members of the European democratic left for her destroying venture – in which she succeeded to some extent. Her attitude was certainly an ironic setback for me, as I used to defend our relationship with the Swedish Social Democrats on the grounds that their political culture was exemplary; that is, based on strict adherence to the rules and on full respect for the word given. And behold, it was precisely a Swede who came to demolish these long-cherished theoretical certainties. But of course a philosopher among the Scythians cannot change the latter into philosophers. So I do not claim that a particular Swede represents the whole of Sweden. So my connection with her broke, if I remember correctly, in October 2006, following this rather odd behavior.

Why would a Social Democrat do this? For the same reason that a person who sees others as platforms for the deployment of their psychological world and their personal ambitions would act. Anna Ardin is yet another proof of why one should never underestimate the psychological motivations behind people’s actions. Every time we see a disproportional reactive behavior  we should stop to analyse the rationality (or lack thereof) they show in their behavior  And that’s the case with Ardin, not taking into account her constantly changing ideology.

Strictly rational motives are not always behind people’s behavior. I think her behavior was the combined product of psychological projection, Eurocentric impulse, personal ambition and unrestrained desire for fame – also linked to the frustration generated by disappointments. When frustration cannot be controlled, a desire to destroy the cherished object is activated. Assange’s lawyer said something along those lines when asked his opinion on Ardin’s motives in a recent interview with El País.

In political terms, this means that she could not find a way to explain in Sweden that her work in Havana was in trouble, and at the same time she felt powerless to control what we were doing. I see her as a less ideologically-minded version of Alan Woods (the latest of Hugo Chávez’s British neo-Marxist pseudo-advisers, who believes he knows better than Venezuelans themselves what suits them best – without leaving Europe). And as I come from a tradition that sees any attempt to dictate (coming from without or within) our aims and direction, like an unwanted old-fashioned oddity; Ardin could not comprehend the message and she burst whilst trying to bust us. She then proceeded on a strange itinerary: from a supposed Christian Socialism, she derived in a story of sexual explosion made public and morbidly exploited. A true revelation of personality inconsistencies.

Sweden has continued to support U.S. interests in Cuba. Oswaldo Payá, founder of the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) and the Varela Project, was killed in a car crash on the 22nd July 2012 at the age of 61. Swedish politician and chairman of the Young Christian Democrats Jens Aron Modig and Spanish politician Angel Carromero Barrios, deputy secretary general of Nuevas Generaciones (the youth wing of Spain’s Partido Popular) were present and survived with minor injuries. As with Anna Ardin, they entered Cuba on tourist visas and later acknowledged that their visit was solely to conduct political work with dissidents. Jens Aron Modig said he first came to Cuba in 2009 to meet and support dissidents, and that on this trip the gave Oswaldo Payá $4,900 for his opposition work and help organizing dissident political youth groups. Henrik Ehrenberg, a spokesman for Sweden’s Christian Democratic Party, said that any cash carried by its members to dissidents was “private money”, and that “quite a number of Christian Democrats” had visited Cuba to show “moral support and solidarity” for Oswaldo Payá’s civil rights movement. Jens Aron Modig said he made the two trips under instructions of the Christian Democrats international department and admitted that “we don’t perform these types of activities in any other country.”

What began as ‘lines of communication’ in 2000 between Cuban dissidents and the Swedish government, had become by 2003 an overt attempt to manipulation of Cuba’s internal political landscape. We can imagine if the roles were reversed; the reaction of Western governments to such indelicate interventions by the unofficial allies of a hostile blockading power. In 2006, the U.S. had become increasingly disenchanted with the Miami-based anti-Castro organisations. Congressional auditors accused USAID of failing to administer properly its program and of having channeled tens of millions of dollars through exile groups, which were wasteful and kept questionable accounts. The auditors concluded that 30% of the exile groups who received USAID grants showed ‘problematic’ expenditures.

The repeated failure of the Miami-based organisations to make any perceivable impact on Cuba’s internal dynamics has clearly led to a change in U.S. strategy. After a period of more restrained activity following the ‘Black Spring’, young Mexican and European politicians acting under the banner of neutrality and activism were once again recruited with their governments’ assent to work as U.S. proxies. And once again, foreign intervention in a climate of siege has proven to be “counterproductive” and set back the process of change.

Sweden’s declared stance of neutrality belies a consistent history of acting either as a proxy for, or in concert with, the United States. From the ‘cold war‘, to the ‘war on terror‘ and military deployments in NATO-led operations, the pattern of an unofficial alliance persists.

The instant that Julian Assange found himself involved with a Swedish government agency, the relationship between Sweden and the United States came into play. The prosecution process was and remains deeply distorted by the gravity exerted by the United States interests. The Pirate Bay trial has also witnessed similar issues.

The motives behind Anna Ardin’s actions are a puzzle to many, including Julian Assange. In terms of the allegations and the reality of events in Stockholm, we already know through the established facts of the case, which exist irrespective of whose account one chooses to believe, that Anna Ardin sought to manipulate evidence (the politician-lawyer Claes Borgström, Anna Ardin’s publicly-financed representative, believes he can explain these actions within a narrative that excludes the political ramifications of WikiLeaks, while focusing solely on the fame of Julian Assange).

Perhaps this manipulation is not only a question of, as Phillip Knightley puts it, “I do not think she has been recruited for this mission but once she realized she was in this position, she might have known the right people to contact”, but also a case of being driven to act by an unmanageable impulsive tendency to use high risk, crude political tactics (as observed by Cuesta Morúa) in service of personal political ambitions.

The truth of Sweden’s relationship with the United States means that acting to please the latter (in the hope of gaining favor and political advancement) will surely please both. Ardin’s work in Cuba – and her knowledge of Cuban / American politics – shows that she would have been keenly aware of this. And yet, beneath both Knightley’s and Cuesta Morúa’s interpretations of Ardin’s behavior, lies her core rationale, which consists of an extraordinarily self-centered and simplistic calculation; that her actions would lead to a personally advantageous outcome.

The profound political and moral illiteracy found in most politicians is seen throughout the ‘Stockholm affair’, which above all else is a tale of individuals and groups – ruled by ambition and emotion, whilst willfully ignorant of risk, complexity and unintended consequences.

Full Manuel Cuesta Morúa interview.

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