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The Cuban Triangle



Havana-Miami-Washington events and arguments and their impact on Cuba



Last Build Date: Fri, 20 Apr 2018 14:58:35 +0000

 



Succession time

Wed, 18 Apr 2018 16:37:00 +0000

The departure of Raul Castro and the selection of a new head of state that didn’t fight in the revolution but rather grew up in it, is a momentous event for Cuba. But it is not likely to bring a dramatic change in Cuba’s governance, as many outside Cuba seem to expect just because the Castro presidencies have come to the end of their run. Raul Castro remains until 2021 as head of the Communist Party, where policy is made. The next president, all but certain to be Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel who has now been formally nominated, emerges from the party and political system that has set current policies. A clean break is unlikely – the most likely question is how the next president will manage the process of change that the Raul Castro presidency initiated.And for embarking on that change, Raul Castro’s presidency has been very consequential. He diagnosed Cuba’s economic woes as a threat to the system’s survival, and the party embraced that diagnosis. He led the party to develop and endorse a reform program that is changing Cuban socialism in ways his brother would never have contemplated: a smaller state, more foreign investment, and a substantial private sector. The state has indeed shrunk by more than half a million personnel; the number of private entrepreneurs has more than tripled and the private sector accounts now for one in four workers; private farming is vastly expanded; and foreign investment flows are starting to expand. Policies that were in place when he took office in 2006 – banning Cubans from having cell phone accounts in their own name or staying in tourist hotels, requiring advance government permission to travel abroad, banning the sales of cars and residential real estate, denying nearly all applications for new entrepreneurs to get business licenses – are all gone. Even as the one-party state remains in place, these have to count as human rights improvements. These changes, along with more open U.S. policies and changed attitudes among Cuban emigres, have enabled a transformation in relations with the diaspora. Generations ago, those who left were disdained by the Cuban government and declared themselves exiles. Plenty still choose to stay away, but those who don’t are visiting, buying and improving properties, investing in businesses, and creating millions of avenues of communication and support. This is a quiet, gradual development with strategic significance for Cuba’s economy, politics, and security.The reforms are incomplete and seem stalled. Agricultural reform is half-done, yielding commensurate results. The government itself admits the need to recharge the foreign investment approval process. The dual currency system persists, with ill effects that ripple throughout the economy. The private sector lacks an adequate supply system. New and potentially impactful laws that were put on the agenda a few years ago have not yet seen the light of day: an enterprise law, a law of associations (to establish how religious denominations and private organizations gain legal status), a media law, an electoral law, and constitutional reforms to limit top officials to two five-year terms in office and to downsize the national legislature.Why have the reforms not been fully implemented? Part of the answer surely has to do with their complexity, and to political caution on the part of a government that sees potential dislocation in eliminating family food ration books or changing the monetary system overnight. There is also political resistance based on ideological orthodoxy, reluctance to change that exists in any bureaucracy (especially when the changes reduce the size and authority of government agencies), and discomfort with new inequalities in earnings resulting from a vastly expanded private sector. Cuba’s next president will have to deal with all these tensions, without the benefit of the Castro surname. But absent an unlikely shift in policies that have been approved in two party congresses, the question will remain one of implementation. And the stark fact r[...]



Odds and ends

Wed, 28 Mar 2018 15:59:00 +0000

·      Student Emma Gonzalez is attacked for having a Cuban flag patch on her sleeve at the March for Our Lives. “Idiots” is the right word, from New Times.·      Granma: a deal to bring Cuba’s diabetes drug Heberprot-P to the United States for clinical trials.·      From Larry Press, interesting speculationon future steps in Internet development. In Granma, an outlineof what is being done now (English here).·      Granma: In Fort Lauderdale, a U.S.-Cuba dialogue on oil spill response.·      Cuba’s likely next president calls on the press to, as this articleparaphrases, “stand up to the imposition of a standardized culture that breaks with the historical memory of peoples and fractures identities, also as a method of domination.” Elsewhere, he calls for emphasis on learning English, “in spite of the opposition by some.” [...]



New rules coming for Cuba's entrepreneurs

Tue, 27 Mar 2018 22:44:00 +0000


The news starts about ten paragraphs into this Granma story on a Central Committee meeting on economic policy. New “legal norms” affecting Cuba’s more than 580,000 cuentapropistashave been signed and will soon be issued, and there will be some kind of “training” for them and 30,000 officials, presumably to promote tax and regulatory compliance.
Apart from that, monetary unification remains a high priority, there are plans to continue investing in the industries (construction materials, etc.) that enable improvement of housing stock, and work continues on constitutional reform to make Cuba’s constitution reflect “the principal economic, political, and social transformations” resulting from the last two party congresses. No mention of term limits or new laws governing the election process, comminications media, or non-government entities, all of which have been said to be under consideration.
Reuters story here.



John Bolton on Cuba

Fri, 23 Mar 2018 04:49:00 +0000

John Bolton, President Trump’s new national security advisor, has some history on Cuba.In the year before the United States launched the 2003 Iraq war, which was predicated on erroneous (and some would say politicized) intelligence assessments about Iraq developing weapons of mass destruction, John Bolton was trying to make the same allegation about Cuba.The problem was that Bolton’s allegation about Cuba – that it had a biological weapons “program” – was not supported by the U.S. intelligence community. When State Department analyst Christian Westermann corrected a 2002 Bolton speech draft to reflect then-current assessments, Bolton tried to have the analyst relieved of his duties. To his credit, Westermann and his superiors held firm. (See coverage here and here.)Later, in 2004, the U.S. intelligence community re-assessedthe Cuba situation in light of the Iraq debacle. The new assessment noted the obvious – that Cuba, with its substantial biotechnology industry, had the technical capacity to engage in weapons research – but held that the intelligence agencies’ unanimous view was that “it was unclear whether Cuba has an active biological weapons effort now, or even had one in the past.”Apart than that, he has conventional views on Cuba among many Republicans. When President Obama announced his opening to Cuba, he calledit an “unmitigated defeat for the United States...an economic lifeline to the regime precisely at the time when we should be increasing pressure.”[...]



A wholesale market!

Sat, 17 Mar 2018 17:06:00 +0000

Granma reportsthat the first wholesale food market has opened in Havana, fulfilling a longstanding policy commitment to create wholesale supply outlets for the growing private sector. For now, the clientele will be restricted to non-farm cooperatives (former state restaurants converted into private cooperatives). Later, it will serve entrepreneurs renting space in state facilities, and it makes no mention of serving the thousands of private paladares and cafeterias that also need access to these supplies – not to mention their customers who would appreciate lower prices, and Cuban consumers who don’t enjoy seeing entrepreneurs at their local food store buying 12 cases of beer or 10 kilos of cheese at a time.Every time the subject comes up, Cuban officials speak of the need to move gradually, and they express worry about the cost of excess inventories in their retail system (for example, hereand hereand here). So it’s not surprising that stores will only open in other provinces after this one in Havana is in a state of “optimal functioning,” an official explains in the article.But it’s a start.[...]



Another Elian?

Fri, 16 Mar 2018 19:02:00 +0000


The elements are all there in this Heraldreport: the child is in the United States, the mother deceased, the father in Cuba and described in the press as the mother’s husband, he wants custody and a Miami relative has it temporarily. One difference is that the child, born in the United States, can become a U.S. citizen by birth and a Cuban citizen by parentage. Another difference may be that the father would rather live here than there; from the Herald story, it seems that a visa application was in the works.

The Elian case turned into a political battle, but what mattered in the end was the principle – which the U.S. government asserts all around the world when American parents are separated from their kids – that if a minor child has one fit parent, then parent and child should be united.

We’ll see how this one turns out.



The transnational opposition

Thu, 08 Mar 2018 18:57:00 +0000

“Cuba se transnacionalizó” in recent years, a friend of mine said, referring to all the cross-border activity that before was rare or impossible but is now routine: Miami Cubans investing in businesses and real estate in Cuba; Cubans maintaining roots, livelihoods, and legal residency inside Cuba and out; emigrants returning to start businesses; etc., etc. I thought of this when I saw today’s news about an eventin Havana organized by dissident Rosa Maria Paya, who lives in Florida since 2013, admittedas a refugee. She returns to Havana from time to time to engage in politics or to tend to the family home, a sort of visiting dissident. She is far from the first in Cuban history to engage in political activism from abroad – it’s a tradition that spans centuries, with activists over the years reflecting the possibilities of their time. Whether it’s possible to move beyond media events and gain traction as a political leader with occasional visits is an open question, but times are changing, and we’ll see. Cuba’s political opposition, such as it is, is transnational now.Here’s Reuterson the Cuban government blocking some foreign participants from attending the event, and here’s Prensa Latinagloating about it.[...]



An opening to apps developers? (Updated)

Tue, 06 Mar 2018 16:19:00 +0000

[...]



The embassy decision: keep it small

Fri, 02 Mar 2018 18:51:00 +0000


So here’s Secretary Tillerson’s verdict: the U.S. Embassy in Havana will operate with a staffing level “similar to” the minimal presence we have now, and diplomats will not be accompanied by family. Right now there’s no political section, no economic section, no human rights officer, and a consulate that handles American citizen emergencies but issues no visas (except for health emergencies and officials). There is still no conclusion as to what happened; maybe things will change when investigations conclude. The travel warning remains intact. In the meantime, private sector engagement will continue – regular travelers, exchanges, business visits – while we wait for the government to sort things out.

Regarding the scientific articlecited yesterday, here’s a worthwhile (and plain English) discussionby two of its authors.



Odds and ends

Thu, 01 Mar 2018 19:07:00 +0000

·      Just in: an academic paperthat speculates on the possible cause of the sounds heard by U.S. diplomats in Havana, but not on the cause of the harms.·      Cuba turns to SES Networks of Belgium to expand its connection to the global Internet and to improve connectivity internally. The contract is described in the company’s press release and in Granma.·      Dissident Eliecer Avila, on extended stay in the United States, praises the U.S. health care system after his first child was born in a Virginia hospital. Medicaid covered all the costs.·      From Max Boot’s new biography of the CIA’s Edward Lansdale, an excerpt on Operation Mongoose and the “remote, romantic myth” of creating a Cuban opposition movement from the outside. It turns out that Lansdale hated the Cuba assignment and wanted out the whole time.·      A sharply written first-person article in Granma on a section of Cuba’s central highway in Villa Clara that is in disrepair and causing fatal accidents.·      A new anglicism, “buldoceada,” in a Granma story about the war against marabu. The Real Academia doesn’t recognize it, but it means “bulldozed.”·      In Cubadebate, a progress report on the Mariel economic zone.·      As we debate Russian interference in the 2016 election, Granma scoffs that we’re getting a taste of our own medicine.[...]



The Havana health mystery, clear as mud

Mon, 26 Feb 2018 14:58:00 +0000

It’s no fault of reporters and investigators that as they generate more information on the Havana health mystery, we no greater understanding of what happened to U.S. diplomats, much less how it happened.This ProPublica piece by Tim Golden goes far beyond any other journalistic account, describing the sequence of events in Havana, the U.S. Embassy’s reaction, and apparent disagreement between the FBI and the CIA. Golden reports on an aspect that until now has not been covered:  the experience of the Canadians in Havana, which affected fewer people and is apparently different than that of the Americans. His article makes clear that U.S. reluctance to collaborate with Cuban investigators is based on suspicion that Cuba may be the perpetrator. He also reports that the FBI consulted an insect expert at Barry University in Florida whose assessment was that the recordings made in Havana sounded “like cicadas,” which is kind of funny considering the snickering that greeted the same statement when Cuban investigators made it. An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) gives the results of the authors’ review of the medical records, and basically describes patients with concussion-like symptoms but no concussion. Or, in their words, they “appeared to have sustained injury to widespread brain networks without an associated history of head trauma.” Neither the symptoms nor the circumstances were uniform across the 21 affected persons, and among those who reported sounds, they described different kinds of sounds, from high-pitched squeals to the repetitive thud you experience when driving fast with a car window slightly open. The authors discount the hypothesis of “mass psychogenic illness.” A summary in Science magazine is here.Oddly, the article says that the diplomats were exposed to “an unknown energy source” without offering evidence that this is the case. In the podcast cited below, one of the authors avers that the “energy source” concept was merely their “best guess.” An accompanying JAMA editorial is a somewhat easier-to-read guide to a case where a “unifying explanation for the symptoms…remains elusive.” The concussion analogy, it says, “may be unnecessary as many of the symptoms described also occur in other medical, neurological, or psychiatric conditions.” The “similarities among the 21 cases,” it argues, “merit consideration of a common medical, environmental, or psychological event as the potential cause.”The Guardian sums up the science debate in this article and in this very useful 30-minute podcast, where one of the JAMA authors, a skeptical scientist, and a Cuban investigator are interviewed. Dr. Douglas Smith of the University of Pennsylvania, one of the JAMA authors, says that “almost all” of those affected reported hearing sounds, “a range of audible phenomena.” He adds that the authors “do not think that the audible phenomenon caused any kind of injury to the brain,” and the “audible phenomenon was more a side effect of something else.” If the psychogenic hypothesis interests you, you will want to listen to Dr. Robert Bartholomew, starting about 10 minutes in.Meanwhile, the State Department has formed an “Accountability Review Board” to investigate the matter; these boards are established by regulation to conduct “thorough and independent review of security-related incidents” in diplomatic missions.Good luck to them. But as the State Department leadership approaches a decision on the future posture of our Havana embassy, now with a skeleton staff and a chief of mission on a short-term assignment, it seems increasingly possible that the investigations may yield nothing that clarifies what happened, how it happene[...]



The Havana health mystery

Wed, 17 Jan 2018 20:06:00 +0000

[...]



Obama's Cuba doctrine...

Thu, 26 Jan 2017 05:57:00 +0000


…and why President Trump should stick with it. An article of mine in The American Conservative.



Odds and ends

Tue, 17 Jan 2017 14:46:00 +0000

·      Cuba and the United States agreed on a framework for cooperation on law enforcement (terrorism, drugs, human trafficking, contraband, etc.), but did not release a text. Announcements here (U.S. and Cuba). Meanwhile, the Bergen Record editorializes that Trump should not reverse Obama’s policies but he should press hard for the return of fugitive Joann Chesimard.·      A magnitude 4.5 quake shooksoutheastern Cuba, ·      Miami’s ABC affiliate WPLG opens a bureau in Cuba. ·      What it’s like to hijack a plane and live the rest of your life in Cuba.·      APon a fine effort by universities and libraries to preserve parish records that record births and other information about Cubans centuries ago, including the slave population. In Cuban parishes, you can see the old registries in separate books, one for blacks only.[...]



More on the immigration action

Mon, 16 Jan 2017 16:47:00 +0000

·      What makes Cubans the chosen people of U.S. immigration policy is not just that they have been admitted without a visa, but that they also receive U.S. government benefits that are extended to no similarly situated immigrants of any other nationality. These benefits are described in this superb series from the Sun Sentinel, based on reporting from Florida and Cuba. The phenomenon of Cubans coming to the United States, qualifying for the benefits, and returning to Cuba to live off the benefits has surely grown since Cuba’s immigration laws changed and made back-and-forth travel much easier. By all means blame the beneficiaries for taking advantage of U.S. programs, but elected officials are abusing the taxpayer by legislating this gravy train in the first place. President Obama’s action last week is an indirect solution, but Congress would do well to make refugee benefits available to refugees only – as Senator Rubio and Congressman Curbelo, to their credit, propose.·      Senator Rubio’s statement, once you get past the obligatory shots at President Obama, actually supports the action the President took last week. He says it’s important to be sure that potential refugees and asylees have an opportunity to have their claims heard, but he does not oppose the heart of Obama’s action, which is to return Cuban migrants who arrive without a visa. He refers to “abuse” of the system, which based on some of his past statements means Cubans who arrive, acquire residency, then travel to Cuba – just like immigrants from other countries who visit home, but in Rubio’s mind it’s an abuse because Cubans are supposed to act like exiles, as if they are refugees who fear returning to Cuba. In 2015, 1,527 Cubanswere admitted to the United States with refugee status. Senator Rubio does oppose Obama’s action on the Cuban doctor program and sounds optimistic that Trump will reverse it.·      If you’re wondering what the U.S.-Cuba joint statement (pdf) means when it refers to returning Cubans who came through the port of Mariel and others, it’s explained in the New York Times.[...]



Chosen people no more

Fri, 13 Jan 2017 22:34:00 +0000

Ok fine, let’s get back to it.The end of the wet foot-dry foot policy ends Cubans’ status as the chosen people of U.S. immigration policy. Until yesterday, they were admitted when they show up at the border with no visa, put on a path to legal permanent residency, and given a package of free government benefits (Medicaid, food stamps, education assistance) that no other nationality gets. If you like the idea of a fair and even-handed immigration policy – something that I as a fan of legal immigration think we should maintain – this change is long overdue. Cubans, few of whom come here as refugees, had no reason to receive that package of federal benefits that is intended for refugees. And Cubans who intend to immigrate will now have to do so through the processes and timetables that apply to everyone else.Here’s the joint announcement of the two governments, the Obama statement, a Cuban foreign ministry press conference, and a Homeland Security fact sheet.This is not the end of Cuban immigration, far from it. The U.S. commitment under the 1994/1995 immigration accords to issue 20,000 immigrant visas each year remains in effect, and we could do more. Cubans have the rare opportunity to apply for refugee status in the U.S. consulate in Havana (which amounts to a few hundred per year), they can apply elsewhere if they are outside Cuba, and they can seek asylum at the U.S. border. Yesterday’s announcement may not even end all illegal immigration by Cubans. Yes, those who show up at the border will be returned. But there are other groups: those who arrive with visas and overstay, then seek legal permanent residency; or those Cubans who acquire Spanish citizenship, enter on a Spanish passport, then seek legal permanent residency. The Cuban Adjustment Act remains on the books and still allows the executive to “adjust” the status of Cubans who have been on U.S. soil for one year by giving them permanent residency. Yesterday’s announcement was silent on this question.The Administration’s announcement drew a hoary condemnation from Senator Menendez (it will “tighten the noose the Castro regime continues to have around the neck of its own people”).But it’s surprising that those who support the embargo as an instrument of pressure on the Cuban people and the Cuban government do not support this step. If your goal is to apply pressure to force political change, it makes no sense to maintain an open-door immigration policy that invites dissatisfied Cubans to get up and leave. The new policy is good for U.S. border security, because it will stem a flow of tens of thousands of illegal migrants per year and likely free up enforcement resources. It is good for countries from Ecuador to Mexico that have had to care for these migrants. And inside Cuba, it certainly puts a greater onus on the government to press ahead with economic reforms – those on the books now, and perhaps new ones – that can create jobs for those who have been leaving Cuba in search of basic economic opportunities. As for the incoming Trump Administration, its views on this are anyone’s guess. But candidate Trump did address the issue in an interview last February. When asked if the special treatment for Cuban migrants is justified, he responded: “I don’t think that’s fair. I mean, why would that be a fair thing? … You have people that have been in the system for years [waiting to immigrate to America], and it’s very unfair when people who just walk across the border, and you have other people that do it legally.”Sounds like Obama did him a favor.[...]



Recognition

Mon, 20 Jul 2015 11:28:00 +0000

The critics do have a point. Cuba got something today: recognition that the socialist government in office in Havana since 1959 is in fact the governing authority in Cuba. One wonders how Fidel Castro feels about it. He reactedto the December 17, 2014 announcements with the grumpiness to which his age entitles him, saying he is not against peaceful solutions even though he does not trust the United States. Nonetheless, he huffed, “The President of Cuba has taken the pertinent steps according to the prerogatives and powers granted him by the National Assembly and the Communist Party of Cuba.”I also wonder if he thinks back to his April 1961 speech, when he couldn’t envision that “the imperialists” could ever change their spots:“Because what the imperialists cannot forgive us is that we are here, what they cannot forgive us is the dignity, the integrity, the bravery, the ideological strength, the spirit of sacrifice and the revolutionary spirit of the Cuban people. That is what they cannot forgive us, that we are right under their nose and we made a socialist revolution right under the nose of the United States!”I don’t know about forgiveness, but there they are, still right under our nose, and they have been recognized. So there.But did we lose anything? For those who think that the past policies were successful or productive, or the only morally correct posture toward our socialist neighbor, we have lost a great deal. Pass the smelling salts, please.For the rest of us, it’s a rational path, it has nothing to do with approval, and it’s no more radical than Nixon’s relations with China or Reagan’s with the Soviet Union.And let’s be clear that for decades, our policies have been tantamount to formal recognition anyway. We have had a diplomatic mission in Havana since 1977, housed in our old embassy building. We, the imperialists, have more diplomats accredited there than any other country. We negotiated agreements on migration and other matters. We have collaborated on drug enforcement, search and rescue, transfers of prisoners, and other matters, with our diplomats dealing directly with each other. This relationship carried on even during the George W. Bush Administration, and has long amounted to de facto recognition of the Cuban government. Today it changes to full legal recognition. What matters more than that legal formality is the opportunity before us, and what both nations make of it.[...]



An 18-month opportunity begins

Wed, 15 Jul 2015 22:44:00 +0000

Next Monday, the Cuban Embassy will open in Washington, to be followed later this summer by the Stars and Stripes going up at the U.S. Embassy in Havana.Two remarkable events, and both will soon seem ordinary.After all, we have nearly 300 embassies and consulates around the world, including in many countries with problematic human rights records or a lack of representative democracy.Or to take two examples, records of territorial aggression.The Communist Chinese are literally building islands in the Pacific to extend their territorial and maritime reach – an innovation, to say the least, in geopolitics and international law. The Russians, with Soviet “salami tactics” still in their genes, used plainclothes special forces to take a piece of a sovereign neighbor’s territory (the entire Crimean peninsula) for themselves, and have been contesting big chunks of eastern Ukraine ever since.No one, not even those feeling faint at the thought of full diplomatic relations with Cuba, has suggested that we break relations with China or Russia, much less that our embassies in those places connote approval of those governments or their conduct.Of course they don’t, because diplomatic recognition has nothing to do with approving of a foreign government, or even liking it. It is a means of communicating, nothing more – to represent our interests, deliver information, ask questions, express disagreement, seek cooperation, address disputes. That is why Senator McCain happily welcomed the head of that country’s Communist Party to his office last week, “proud of our nations’ vital partnership.” It’s why Senator Rubio celebrates trade with China, telling CNN last year, “We welcome a China that’s richer and more prosperous, because that’s a potential trading partner, customers for our products and services.” These and others who criticize President Obama on Cuba are big supporters of engagement everywhere else. They can only sell their moralistic line on Cuba by basing it on standards that they themselves apply nowhere else, hoping that no one bothers to notice and compare. Or they try to sell a strategic argument based on the 50-year delusion that the Cuban government is on the verge of collapse and hence any change in U.S. policy gives it a new lease on life. (Recent examples here and here, and a useful retrospective here.) This amounts to strategic malpractice, overestimating the impact of Cuba’s economic difficulties and ignoring nearly everything else about the country’s politics. But it creates a nice pretext for economic sanctions in perpetuity.Thankfully, President Obama doesn’t buy any of that. He is ending policies that have arguably strengthened the Cuban government politically and weakened its domestic opposition, and that in fact have limited American influence in Cuba by limiting contact by our government and our people.Instead, he’s putting Cuba in the mainstream of our foreign policy. We will communicate through a regular embassy and begin to seek areas of mutually beneficial cooperation. Cabinet ministers will travel back and forth. If commercial interests line up, U.S. exports will expand far beyond agricultural products – and with some movement on the Cuban side, U.S. exporters can help to build a supply chain for the increasingly large and diverse private sector that is essential to Cuba’s economic reform. American travelers will continue to grow in number, and links between our societies will grow in sports, culture, science, education, health, and other fields. U.S. airlines will set up normal, cheaper flights that travele[...]



More on the President's December 17 actions

Wed, 24 Dec 2014 18:28:00 +0000

From the White House: the President’s December 17 statement, a fact sheet, and a background briefing by officials that explains the measures and the secret talks between White House and Cuban officials.The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times on property claims, an issue whose resolution will one day be part of full economic normalization.Senator Patrick Leahy, the Senate’s President pro tempore, met twice with Raul Castro in Cuba and pushed the Administration both to resolve the prisoner issues and to fix our policy. His veteran Appropriations Committee advisor, Tim Rieser, held everyone’s feet to the fire and stayed close to Alan Gross, especially after Gross decided to stop receiving visits from U.S. diplomats. Their efforts are profiled in the New York Times and Politico. In November 2013, after the secret U.S.-Cuba talks had begun, Senator Leahy was joined by 65 other Senators in this letter to the President, urging him to take “whatever steps are in the national interest” to achieve Mr. Gross’ release.Pope Francis pushed both sides to negotiate; Huffington Post reports on this Argentine’s history with Cuba.President Reagan’s speechwriter Peggy Noonan supportsthe President’s Cuba actions.In an incoherent editorial, the Wall Street Journal reiterates its 20-year-old position that the U.S. embargo should be lifted unilaterally but attacks President Obama for doing far less. It welcomes the release of Alan Gross and the U.S. spy, but says that the United States should never “dignify Castro’s regime by sitting down at a negotiating table,” as if such a result could have been obtained in any other way. The paper’s editors themselves received Fidel Castro for a nice, dignified lunch at their own conference table in 1995. I guess that was different, or the late editor Bob Bartley was a commie. The lunch is shown briefly in this video.Don’t tell Senator Rubio – 81 percent of Americans agree with his view of Fidel Castro, but 63 percent support full diplomatic relations with Cuba and 55 percent want the embargo ended in a new CNN poll.[...]



Quotable

Mon, 22 Dec 2014 14:23:00 +0000

“We have firm convictions and many concerns about what is happening in the United States with regard to democracy and human rights and we agree to talk about any matter, on the basis that I explained, about all that they may wish to discuss about here, but also about the United States…In the same way in which we have never proposed that the United States change its political system, we will demand respect for ours.”     – Raul Castro, addressingCuba’s legislature December 20[...]



Recognition

Mon, 22 Dec 2014 14:20:00 +0000

Well, the President certainly knows how to turn the page, and good for him. In his action last week he abandoned two tenets at the heart of American policy for the past five decades: that it somehow served U.S. interests to withhold full diplomatic relations from Cuba and to pressure that nation through economic sanctions.In the first instance, his actions match his words: our governments have agreed to negotiate the relatively minor steps needed to establish embassies and to exchange ambassadors.In the second, there’s a gap. President Obama made clear his view that our policy is wrong at its core: “It does not serve our interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse…we should not allow U.S. sanctions to add to the burden of Cuban citizens that we seek to help.” Yet when it comes our economic sanctions – which are not the main cause of Cubans’ economic difficulties, but which certainly add to them – he left the core of our policy intact, easing sanctions in limited ways by using only a fraction of his executive authority. It would seem that more action is possible in the next two years.These actions came at the end of an 18-month negotiation that produced, as the governments presented it, an exchange of three jailed Cuban agents for a Cuban who had spied for the United States, and Cuba’s unilateral release of Alan Gross. Many Americans have run for their scorecards to figure who won, producing what seems to me to be a sterile discussion that involves not so much two sides of a debate but rather two completely incompatible frames of reference. If you liked the 50-year policy and wanted to preserve it for use as leverage in a negotiation a year or 50 from now, then there is no justification for change absent a regime change in Cuba. If you thought the policy was counterproductive, then correcting it is not a “concession” to anyone; it’s simply a favor to ourselves. I’m in the latter camp. I’ll have more to say about the economic impact, the President’s authority, the diplomatic future, and the wonderful debate that the President has unleashed especially among Republicans.For now, there’s the question of recognition, and the discussion of it reflects how far removed our Cuba policy has been from norms and practices used in the rest of our foreign policy.Since the Carter Administration, we have recognized Cuba in the sense that we have had diplomatic relations. Our mission in Havana, called an interests section and legally a part of the Swiss embassy, is in our old embassy building, as is the Cubans’ in Washington. Now we will have full diplomatic relations, which will involve calling it an embassy, changing the sign outside, and eventually making the person in charge a United States Ambassador to Cuba. But recognition occurred long ago.Diplomatic recognition means that one state recognizes that another controls a national territory and carries out government functions within it – no more. There is no moral or political approval attached to the idea of establishing a Havana embassy, any more than our embassy in Beijing expresses approval of Chinese communism, or the embassy in Riyadh indicates support of Saudi human right practices.Only in the case of Cuba, amid Senator Rubio’s fainting spells, is it necessary to explain all this. The American policy of non-recognition, followed by three decades of less-than-full diplomatic relations, is a vestige of the 1960’s and 1970’s when nearly all the American Republics, as the term went,[...]



Obama and Cuba

Wed, 17 Dec 2014 01:08:00 +0000

In The American Conservative, an article of mine on Obama's opportunity.



Quotable

Sat, 13 Dec 2014 03:23:00 +0000

In Diario de Cuba, a reader comments on an essay by Carlos Alberto Montaner:“Consult the many testimonies published by Cubans who were victims of procedures used by State Security to obtain information and you will realize two things: 1) that procedures less serious than those used by the CIA in its interrogations are characterized as torture; and 2) that the State Security agents that have used those procedures deny systematically that such procedures constitute torture.”Montaner, in his essay:“Supposedly, the prevailing values in the United States are those that consecrate compassion and respect for the integrity of the individual. One expects fascism, Nazism, or communism, which justify anything in the service of their bloody utopias, to resort to torture, but not a liberal democracy.”[...]



USAID's junior covert action officers ride again

Thu, 11 Dec 2014 16:34:00 +0000

Thanks to new reporting from the Associated Press, and thanks to cooperation from whoever is providing documents on U.S. government programs in Cuba, we now know of another failed adventure of USAID’s covert action that began in 2009: an attempt to steer Cuban hip-hop into creating “youth networks for social change” and that would constitute a political challenge to the Cuban government. The operation was run by Xavier Utset, who worked for USAID contractor Creative Associates in an office in Costa Rica. The idea was to replicate a Serbian social movement from a decade before that involved youth, music, and anti-Milosevic politics. A Serbian music promoter was hired to work with Cuban rappers. Funding was done through a Panamanian shell company headed by a lawyer in Liechtenstein. The promoter, Rajko Bozic, got to work in Cuba, presenting himself to Cuban artists as someone who works in alternative media and marketing. In the course of the program, only one Cuban was told that the U.S. government was behind it.Pity the USAID spokesman who has to issue statements like this, from yesterday: “Any assertions that our work is secret or covert are simply false.” Covert action is defined in U.S. law as “activities of the United States Government to influence political, economic, or military conditions abroad, where it is intended that the role of the United States government will not be apparent or acknowledged publicly.” Which is precisely what USAID has been doing.But to accept that it’s covert action involves more than semantics. It would imply USAID having to run programs competently, starting with assessments of feasibility that would fall apart as soon as its cast of amateurs were revealed. It would imply coordination, such as stopping Alan Gross from traveling to Cuba with satellite equipment in December 2009, just one month after the Serb Bozic was detained as he entered Cuba with “all of Best Buy on his back,” as a contractor described it to AP. And it would imply a leadership that takes responsibility for operatives who get in trouble rather than issuing drivel like this or this.A few more points:This program was conceived and funded during the Bush Administration and carried out at the beginning of President Obama’s first term. The Obama people seem not to have taken stock of USAID’s operations in Cuba. That non-decision now looms as a big decision with important foreign policy consequences and one man in jail.This program collapsed in part because, like Alan Gross, its operatives traveled to Cuba with laptops that were the equivalent of their filing cabinets, giving Cuban intelligence access to their contracts, program documents, and U.S. government affiliation. This is what I mean by “amateur.” And as with the Alan Gross and ZunZuneo projects, the money was one hundred percent wasted.Through this operation, USAID harmed civil society in Cuba. It gave Cuban security services reason to increase vigilance on hip-hop and other aspects of genuine civil society because they were being targeted by a foreign government’s political programs. The main target, the rappers Los Aldeanos, no longer live in Cuba. USAID compromised an independent Cuban music festival and tried to influence covertly the concert organized by the Colombian artist Juanes. The Cuban confidant now works at a Papa John’s in Miami.It is profoundly disrespectful to Cuban citizens to enlist their participati[...]



Mr. Gross' five long years

Fri, 05 Dec 2014 20:36:00 +0000

You’ve got to hand it to President Bush and his people. They had a policy toward Cuba, they knew what they wanted to do, and they made nearly every instrument of U.S. policy fit their aims. It may have had a few faults at the level of basic strategy, beginning with its perception of actual political conditions in Cuba, but it was a serious policy and it was well explained. President Obama, in contrast, took some positive steps but left much of the Bush approach in place, in some cases without really thinking about it. Exhibit one is Alan Gross, who has now been in jail in Cuba for five years.Mr. Gross, the hapless businessman contracted to work on USAID democracy programs, traveled to Cuba five times during President Obama’s first year to install hard-to-detect satellite Internet systems with WiFi hotspots.By all accounts, Obama officials were not aware of his activities, U.S. diplomats in Havana were not aware that he was in town, and they appear not to have been aware of his activities when they made their first consular visit. (A new task needs to be added to the presidential transition manual: Day One – After CIA covert action briefing, get briefed on USAID covert operations too.)In our first post about Mr. Gross here in December 2009 we called him “Mr. Smith.” Since then, his identity became well known, he was tried and convicted, and Cuba’s version eventually came out, summarized at length here. He gave an interviewto CNN in 2012 where he explained what he was doing: “I was contracted by a company in Bethesda, Maryland to bring some off-the-shelf equipment to test to see if it worked in Cuba. I decided that I would at the same time try to improve the computer system within the Jewish community.” The Herald provides more detail here, and everything on this blog about him is here.With other programs backfiring in Cuba, and with Congressional pressure, USAID seems to have gotten out of the covert operations business in Cuba. The Alan Gross program was a predictable failure, it ended up a complete waste of money except to the Cuban security services who received some nice satellite equipment, and it has cost an American his liberty for the past five years. But to its political supporters it seems a perfect program. Even a catastrophe such as Mr. Gross’ arrest provides a cudgel with which to bash both governments: Cuba’s for arresting him, and the U.S. government for considering any change in our posture toward Cuba as long as he’s in jail.That sounds harsh, but how else to interpret the calls from Senator Menendez and other for Gross’ unilateral and unconditional release, and nothing else? A unilateral release would be wonderful. But in the covert operations business that’s a pie-in-the-sky option when an operative gets caught red-handed, regardless of the virtues we ascribe to his activity. The whole point of operating covertly is to carry out activities that you know the local government opposes, and that can get you arrested. Bargaining becomes a cost of doing business when an operation goes sour – that is, if you have a sense of responsibility to your own operative. This is an alien concept to USAID, which asserts the completely irrelevant point that Mr. Gross is not an intelligence officer, and which believes that its inherent goodness both allows it to engage in covert operations, and to do so in a way where the rules of that game don[...]