Activist worries Russians are recruiting Cuban mercenaries to fight against Ukrainians

Cuba’s ‘relationship with Russia is a matter of life and death,’ Cuban American activist in Miami says

MIAMI – On Monday, the Cuban government reported that law enforcement on the island was working to “neutralize and dismantle” a human trafficking ring.

The Cuban officials also announced that although the trafficking of Cubans was related to the Russian war in Ukraine, Cuba as a nation was “not part of the war in Ukraine.”

The Ukrainian parliament had already reported that they were “watching” how Cuban diplomats were supporting the Russian aggression “in the international diplomatic arena.”

“For them, the relationship with Russia is a matter of life and death,” Orlando Gutiérrez-Boronat, a Cuban American who has long opposed The Communist Party of Cuba, said about the Cold War alliance.

Ukrainian soldiers move an injured woman to an ambulance after a Russian shelling attack on the food market in the city center of Kostiantynivka, Ukraine, Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023. Dozens of people were killed and dozens more were wounded Wednesday when Russian shelling struck a market in a city in eastern Ukraine, officials said. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

The Intercept reported on Wednesday that a Telegram user had leaked what appeared to be e-mails from a Russian military officer about a recruiting operation that involved a least 100 Cuban mercenaries.

The Moscow Times recently reported that Russian recruiters were using Facebook and VKontaktek to encourage Cubans to join the fight in Ukraine, and a Russian newspaper reported in May that there were Cuban mercenaries who had signed contracts with the Russian armed forces in exchange for citizenship.

“Criminal proceedings have been initiated against people involved in these activities,” a Cuban official wrote in the statement released on Monday.

During a meeting with Cuban American exiles in Miami’s Little Havana, Gutiérrez-Boronat, a pro-democracy activist in Miami-Dade County who was born in Havana and holds a University of Miami doctorate in international relations, said on Thursday that such a collaboration shouldn’t come as a surprise.

People clear the rubble of a destroyed market after yesterday's rocket attack in the city center of Kostiantynivka, Ukraine, Thursday, Sept. 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Gutiérrez-Boronat said Cuban exiles who know how the island’s government operates said that they don’t believe the human trafficking report.

“When they’re caught in criminal activity they blame one of their own,” Gutiérrez-Boronat said alleging there was a cover-up.

Gutiérrez-Boronat shared a video showing people alleging to be Ukrainians who were asking Cubans to avoid supporting the Russian attack and photos of the Cubans accused of fighting as mercenaries.

“This video clearly shows the extent of the recruiting operation,” Gutiérrez-Boronat said adding that Cuban participation is “shameful.”

A Ukrainian serviceman shouts to paramedics in front of bodies killed after a Russian rocket attack on the food market in the city centrer of Kostiantynivka, Ukraine, Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

The U.S. has been supporting Ukraine since Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24, 2022, and has committed over $30.4 billion in security assistance, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Kyiv on Wednesday when he announced additional aid had increased the U.S. commitment to over $43 billion.

“The assistance includes an additional $175 million in drawdown authority that will provide significant support for Ukraine’s air defenses,” Blinken said adding that it also includes another $100 million in military financing and $300 million to support law enforcement.

On Thursday, The Pentagon described the new Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative as $600 million in contracts with defense companies for weapons systems to help defend Ukraine. President Joe Biden, who is campaigning for reelection, has also been asking Congress to approve $21 billion in additional aid.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, tours farmland in Yahidne, Ukraine, that's being cleared of unexploded ordinance on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2023, at a site where a building reportedly used by Russian forces to store ordnance exploded. (Brendan Smialowski/Pool via AP)

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About the Authors:

In January 2017, Hatzel Vela became the first local television journalist in the country to move to Cuba and cover the island from the inside. During his time living and working in Cuba, he covered some of the most significant stories in a post-Fidel Castro Cuba. 

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.