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Anti-Israel activists behind Columbia University protests trained in Cuba for years

Cuban intelligence has spent decades inciting radical leftist organizations to spread hatred toward the United States and Israel

Activisrts from the U.S. traveled with the People’s Forum and met with Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel on May Day, or International Workers’ Day on May, 2023
Activisrts from the U.S. traveled with the People’s Forum and met with Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel on May Day, or International Workers’ Day on May, 2023 | Estudios Revolución

May 7, 2024 9:00am

Updated: May 13, 2024 11:26am

Some of the anti-Israel protests taking place at U.S. college campuses, including the recent demonstrations at Columbia University, have been supported by organizations that traveled to communist Cuba to receive resistance training, an ADN investigation has uncovered.

ADN’s investigation coincides with a recent Sunday report published by the New York Post that revealed a radical NYC based organization known as The People’s Forum familiarized anti-Israel activists with Black Lives Matter protest techniques just hours before they stormed Hamilton Hall at Columbia University, and that the group was incited by Manolo De Los Santos–a radical activist organizer with deep ties to communist Cuba.

De Los Santos, who has long been the subject of past ADN investigations, has a lengthy, storied history of working with some of Cuba’s top communist party leaders including its president, Miguel Diaz-Canel.

This past weekend the former seminarian turned radical leftist activist urged pro-Palestinian Columbia student protestors to “give Joe Biden a hot summer” and criticized Columbia's “Zionist” administration for wanting to “resemble its masters in Israel.” He praised demonstrators for “deciding that resistance is more important than negotiations” and incited protesters to “make business as usual in this country unsustainable.”

Hours after Monday’s meeting was convened, dozens of protesters broke into and illegally stormed into Columbia University's Hamilton Hall, seizing control of the university building in a standoff with education officials–the culmination of decades of Cuba promoting anti-Israel sentiment within U.S. based radical leftist organizations–and De Los Santos was credited for recreating “the summer of 2020,” a reference to the Black Lives Matter violence that besieged northern U.S. cities after the death of Minneapolis resident George Floyd.


The People's Forum: Sympathies to Communist China, Cuba and Hamas

The People’s Forum is known for having sympathies to the Chinese and Cuban communist parties, and describes itself as “an incubator of movements for the working class and marginalized communities,” and has been a cornerstone of anti-Israel protests since Hamas' attack on the Jewish state on Oct. 7, 2023. 

One day after Hamas' attack on southern Israel, TPF organized a protest in Times Square where attendees celebrated the terrorist organization and waved signs with anti-Semitic slogans and images.

According to a New Lines investigation conducted by journalist and foreign influence researcher Alexander Reid Ross, TPF's operations are largely made possible by a $12 million donation from pro-China tech mogul Neville Roy Singham, through the People's Support Foundation (PSF).

New Lines also reported that Singham is in a relationship with Code Pink co-founder Jodie Evans who also serves on PSF’s board, which occupied the Venezuelan embassy in D.C. to protest against opposition leader Juan Guaidó, and organizes pro-Cuban regime initiatives in the U.S.

Manolo De Los Santos: A TPF leader who was “based out of Cuba for many years”

The group’s co-executive director, Manolo De Los Santos, is longtime researcher at the Marxist Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research and was “based out of Cuba for many years,” where he “worked toward building international networks of people’s movements and organizations,” according to his biography at the anti-Israel group Black Alliance for Peace.

At least since 2016, De Los Santos has been documented in Cuba with delegations of U.S activists received by the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP), whose current director was prosecuted and convicted by the U.S. for espionage as part of the infamous WASP network in the 1990s.

Cuban intelligence Officer (DGI) Juan Reyes-Alonso has said that about 90 percent of ICAP personnel are thought to be DGI-affiliated, according to a 2009 Washington Times column by DIA officer Chris Simmons. 

Manolo was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. His family moved to the South Bronx, New York when he was five years old. He first visited Cuba in 2006 with the organization, Pastors for Peace. Pastors for Peace is a member of the National Network on Cuba (NNOC) in the United States, a coalition of U.S groups who support the Cuban regime.

Grupos de activistas en Estado Unidos que forman parte de la Red Nacional con Cuba (NNOC, por su siglás en inglés)
Grupos de activistas en Estado Unidos que forman parte de la Red Nacional con Cuba (NNOC, por su siglás en inglés) | Gráfica de ADN América con datos de NNOC

He later studied in Cuba at the Matanzas Evangelical Seminary in the area of Marxist-driven liberation theology on the island, an ideology that former Romanian intelligence officer Ion Mihai Pacepa says was created by the KGB “to enroll Latin leaders” in the Soviet Union’s espionage operations.

Inspiring Marxist revolution and race riots in the U.S.A.

While in Cuba De Los Santos also represented the U.S. based radical leftist Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO)

Founded in 1967 by the Reverend Lucius Walker, Jr. and a number of fellow progressive church leaders and activists, the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO) is an ecumenical agency whose mission is “to help forward the struggles of oppressed people for justice and self-determination” through its “support of community organizing.”

In 1968, the IFCO helped establish Operation Connection, which dispatched teams of activists into American cities that had been struck by race riots, “to open dialogue and work through alternatives to violent confrontation.” 

The IFCO has served as a fiscal sponsor for numerous activist organizations including the Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition, a group that advocated for the liberation of Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal an activist convicted of the 1981 murder of Philadelphia policeman Daniel Faulkner. 

In 2018, after living in Cuba, De los Santos assumed the role of founding director of the NYC based People’s Forum, a group that identifies itself as “serving as a movement incubator for working-class communities to foster unity across historic lines of division both domestically and internationally.” 

He has been traveling to Cuba since at least 2009, and has been prominently featured in the Cuban-regime press for almost a decade. Reports indicate that back in the U.S he organized rallies in the U.S. to support the Cuban regime and that he is a staunch admirer of Fidel Castro. 

“Fidel for us is a great example,” he said in 2016. “I wish all leaders were like him, and many of them had the dignity and integrity of the Commander.” 

De los Santos has also expressed admiration for former Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chávez, recalling multiple times when the late leader returned to power after a coup attempt against him in 2002.

“It's always good to remember how the Venezuelan people defeated a U.S.-backed coup and returned Chavez to power in less than 3 days!" De Los Santos wrote on social media in April.

In July 2022, Cuba’s president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, received De los Santos and executive director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, Vijay Prashad with the aim of "elaborating a new consensus, based on theory and according to the different experiences of social movements and countries, on the path of socialism."

In May 2023, over 300 activists from the United States, who traveled with the People’s Forum to the island, met with Cuban-appointed president Miguel Diaz-Canel, as reported by Cuban-state press (Granma). Palestinian flags were visible in the pictures of the meeting.

U.S.-based activists visited Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel in the Palace of the Revolution on May 1, International Workers’ Day
U.S.-based activists visited Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel in the Palace of the Revolution on May 1, International Workers’ Day | Estudios Revolución

“Our commitment upon returning,” De los Santos said during an interview, “will not only be to raise our voice, but to organize a different political project in the United States, and we will always be by Cuba’s side.” 

In April 2023, another coalition of 150 American activists had previously traveled to the island to "exchange" with "grassroots activists" in Cuba, according to Liberation News. 

This delegation remained in Cuba for 10 days and was organized by the International Peoples' Assembly (IPA) and included leaders from organizations such as Black Men Build, Black Lives Matter Grassroots, the Palestinian Youth Movement, the Party for Socialism and Liberation, the People’s Forum, among others.

This meeting occurred months after Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian visited Cuba and met with President Miguel Díaz-Canel on February 5th. According to a statement from the Islamic Republic's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, they discussed "issues of mutual interest and international topics." Then, on February 25th, a Hamas delegation publicly visited the Cuban Ambassador in Lebanon.

Hamas reported that its delegation consisted of Hamas representative to Lebanon Ahmad Abdul Hadi and Head of the Hamas Political and Media Relations Office Abdul Majeed Al-Awad, according to the Counter Extremism Project.

For decades the Cuban regime has been training radical groups in the United States under the auspices of ‘solidarity movements,’ such was the case of the Weather Underground, a militant antiwar organization, in the late 1960’s.

In February 2023, De Los Santos, spoke in Havana during one of the intermissions of the sessions of the First International Meeting of Theoretical Publications of Leftist Parties and Movements that took place in Cuba at the Casa de las Américas.

The Palestinian pro-Cuba connection

This year, Cuba held a second theoretical meeting. Among the panelists at the meeting was Watam Jamil Alabed, whom Granma identifies as a “young Palestinian doctor,” but who studied in Cuba and is the representative in Cuba for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), designated as a terrorist organization by the European Community, the United States, and Israel.

NGO Monitor has documented the PFPL role in the Oct. 7 attacks. 

According to the Center for a Free Cuba, “Havana under the Castro regime, has trained and provided logistical support to Palestinian guerrillas and terrorists beginning in the early 1960s, and continues to do so to the present day.” 

Convicted Cuban spy, Gerardo Hernandez Nordelo with FPLP representative, Watam Jamil Alabed
Convicted Cuban spy, Gerardo Hernandez Nordelo with FPLP representative, Watam Jamil Alabed | Prensa Latina


This Monday, De Los Santos was using its social media to promote a Havana-based rally in support of Palestine. Watan Jamil Alabed, a representative of the PFLP, was also present at the meeting. The PFLP is responsible for a string of attacks on Israeli civilians and is closely allied to both Hamas and Hezbollah. Students from the NYU encampment sent videos to Havana expressing their gratitude for its support.

During the pro-Palestine protest in Havana, Jamil Alabed said: “The students are in the vanguard and they believe in the victory of our cause, because they know that to fight for Palestine is to fight for the world.”

He was followed by Shaquille Fontenot, a co-chair of the National Network on Cuba (NNOC) in the United States. She demanded that President Biden “stop spending money on wars and use it on health and the desperately needed building of affordable homes for our people.” 

The NNOC, is an umbrella of more than 72 Cuban regime solidarity groups in the U.S that Mr. De Santos has been linked in the past to anti-Israel protests.

American activist Calla Walsh, a co-chair of the NNOC was arrested last year for attacking the offices of an Israeli company in New Hampshire. The former Disney actress and her associates were recently indicted in February by the New Hampshire Justice Department for spray-painting the building, smashing windows, and setting off incendiary devices. 

Ms. Walsh has also reportedly traveled to Cuba for years with the Venceremos Brigade.

According to the FBI, Cuba’s intelligence apparatus played a significant role in setting up the Venceremos Brigades. The federal law enforcement agency has said the Brigade’s objective “is the recruitment of individuals who are politically oriented and who someday may obtain a position, elective or appointive, somewhere in the U.S. government, which would provide the Cuban government with access to political, economic and military intelligence.”

Ms. Walsh has previously promoted the infamous “Mapping Project” on social media, which lists the names and addresses of nearly 500 institutions in Massachusetts, many of them linked to the Jewish community or Israel. Additionally, she has shared online that “there is no ‘peaceful solution’ under military occupation” for Palestinians.

Other U.S based activists connected with anti-Israel groups in the U.S have also been traveling to Cuba for “exchanges” and “workshops.”

Promoting pro-Palestinian antisemitism within the radical Black community

Onyesonwu Chatoyer, who is on the National Coordinating Committee of the Venceremos Brigade and the All African People’s Revolutionary Party (A-APRP) in the U.S said “There has never been a moment where we questioned the necessity of a struggle to smash Zionism,” referring to A-APRP and other “Black revolutionary movements.”

About her trips to Cuba, Chatoyer has said: “Participating in the Brigade for just two weeks provided me with several years’ worth of political growth. It is a remarkable opportunity for leadership development and political education and the building of political maturity. 

Getting as many U.S. organizers as possible to participate in work-based solidarity delegations to Cuba would produce a qualitative leap forward in the organizing of movements for justice in the U.S. and to the global movement to end the U.S. blockade and U.S. attacks against the Cuban revolution.”

Since 2024, the A-APRP have been building work study circles across the state of Florida, “recruiting organizers we have been working in coalition with to participate in the next contingent of the Venceremos Brigade, and organizing seminars, webinars, workshops, and any kind of educational space.”

Onyesonwu is also a member of the Black Alliance for Peace, a group that has been organizing anti-Israel meetings across campus and claims to have led an “International Coalition” condemning Israel.

On Oct. 11, the Black Alliance for Peace, a self-described human rights-focused group led by former Green Party vice presidential candidate Ajamu Baraka, released a statement condemning “the murderous assault on occupied Palestine” committed by “the illegal Zionist settler-colonial, apartheid state” and declaring “that a colonized people have a right to resist occupation and fight for self-determination by any means necessary!” according to the ADL. 

Onyesonwu Chatoyer, an editor of the Marxist publication “A Hood Communist,” was part of a “delegation that attended and presented at The Second International Meeting of Theoretical Publications of Left Parties and Movements in Havana, Cuba, along with co-editor, Erica Caines. 

At that meeting was also present, Watan Jamil Alabed, representative of The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). The PFLP has also been involved in some of the “seminars” with Columbia University students. 

In April, Khaled Barakat, a senior member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) spoke to members of the Columbia University Apartheid Divest Group in a 2 hour seminar called “”Resistance 101,” according to the New York Post. 

Barakat has also participated in forums with ICAP discussing how “Palestine, Cuba & Venezuela are at the frontline of anti-imperialist struggles.”

Cuba and the Democratic Socialists of America

Cuba has one of the most sophisticated intelligence services and regularly conducts influence campaigns in the U.S. One such group that has promoted U.S. protests with close Cuban ties is the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), which has been running candidates in local elections to oust mainstream, moderate Democrats. 

The DSA's ties with Havana are so prevalent, that its New York chapter even held a soccer match in May 2023 with Cuba’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations.

Cuba’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations has been a longtime hub for Cuban intelligence to recruit agents of influence and future assets. Still, the FBI’s New York field office has 12 counterintelligence squads dedicated to Russia, it only has one for Cuba, according to a recent report published by the Wall Street Journal

In September 2019, two members of New York Cuba’s Mission were expelled from the U.S. for conducting influence campaigns, according to the State Department. 

“The Department of State notified the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs that the United States requires the imminent departure of two members of Cuba’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations for abusing their privileges of residence,” the State Department wrote in a statement.

A few months before an unnamed representative of the Cuban Mission in New York was at an event at the People’s Forum on a panel discussion supported by several anti-Israel groups such as the National Lawyers Guild International Committee, which provides legal support to Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movements. 

Other groups organizing rallies are chapters of the Peace Action Network, such as the Massachusetts Peace Action Network (MAPA) which have also taken activists to Cuba on “solidarity trips.”

Among the U.S. groups supporting the protests, those who have included "young leaders" in delegations to Cuba to learn about revolutionary movements include The Palestinian Youth Movement (“PYM”) and the Party for Socialism and Liberation.

Executive Editor

Gelet Martínez Fragela

Gelet Martínez Fragela is the founder and editor-in-chief of ADN America. She is a Cuban journalist, television producer, and political refugee who also founded ADN Cuba.