Monday, November 5, 2018

TV Marti Soros program, subtitled

Here’s a friend’s translation of the TV Marti program on George Soros.

Three errata: at 3:50 it should be “Popper’s liberalism” (reference to Karl Popper); at 9:08 the word “NSA” was omitted from the presentation of Madsen; at 12:08 it should be “exercise of eight months.”


Sunday, November 4, 2018

Mr. Regalado adapts

The U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), Radio/TV Marti which oversees the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB), is investigating the TV Marti Soros program, and from this Herald story we learn it’s a 10-day investigation.

While the investigation proceeds, OCB Director Tomas Regalado has been commenting and seemingly trying to find safe political ground.

He began by half-embracing the program, saying that Judicial Watch is a “good source” but should not have been the only source, and that the program fell short because it was “not precise” and lacked “balance.” As if the program contained an actual story that was not properly told.

By last Wednesday he was saying the program “looks like an anti-Semitic report” and he made the ridiculous suggestion that the Radio/TV Marti staff needs diversity training.

In his statement yesterday, he flatly called the program anti-Semitic and called for “ethics and standards training,” which presumably includes the basics of journalism.

I suppose it’s good that Regalado is adapting. The program was produced and aired before he assumed his duties, but his initial reactions to it set a terrible example for his newsroom.

He also told the Herald – again, before the investigation is complete – that two people, and two people alone, are responsible for this fiasco. They were “the only two people who had anything to do with the report coming out on the air,” he said. That statement strains credulity and looks like an effort to limit and isolate the damage. Fire two people, case closed, everybody moves on.

Regalado also told the Herald another interesting detail. Reporter Isabel Cuervo, he says, did no on-camera interviews for the program. That means that Cuervo lied on the Levantate Cuba program when she said that she herself interviewed Lia Fowler, whose comments appeared to be from a Skype interview. (I would post the clip but TV Marti removed it from YouTube, and appears to be purging everything on its website and elsewhere that refers to the Soros program.)

Meanwhile, Senator Menendez wrote to the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) to set some expectations for the investigation and to demand information. Good for him.

You're welcome, Vladimir

It was apparent that some of the video material in the TV Marti Soros program was drawn from other sources. Some, it turns out, was lifted from an RT program and included on the TV Marti broadcast, without attribution.

I’m referring to comments by Michele Steinberg, editor of a magazine affiliated with Lyndon LaRouche. She is interviewed extensively in this Spanish-language RT program about Mr. Soros, titled “Who is George Soros Really?” Part of her interview with RT and other footage from the RT program appear in the TV Marti program, with the RT logo erased from the screen.

If you want to see for yourself, the RT footage here at 4:20 was clipped and used by TV Marti here at 5:26.

The RT program features Ms. Steinberg’s discussion of the links between Mr. Soros and the Rothschilds. So two of three people cited in the TV Marti program turn out to be exponents of one of the oldest anti-Semitic tropes in the world.

As a friend points out, the U.S. government used Russian anti-Semitic propaganda to make American anti-Semitic propaganda for broadcast to Latin America.

"Anti-Semitism and clear bias" at TV Marti...

...a statement in Spanish and English from the director of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, Tomas Regalado, on the Radio/TV Marti website.

Monday, October 29, 2018

"Apparent misconduct" at TV Marti...

…and an investigation launched by the body that oversees Radio/TV Marti, the U.S. Agency for Global Media. A forthright statement from its CEO, John Lansing, was issued today.

TV Marti and "balance" (link restored)

Tomas Regalado, director of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting that houses Radio and TV Marti, is a rare Trump appointee who strongly opposed President Trump’s candidacy. He was mayor of Miami and before that, a prominent radio journalist. Recalling a feature of his own radio program, he has brought a fact-checking feature (Detector de Mentiras) to the Martis’ website.

When Mother Jones wrote last Friday about the TV Marti program that smeared George Soros, Regalado responded directly: “Judicial Watch is a good source, but having said that, it should not have been the only source. The two part series was not precise and did not have on the record sources to balance the story…To be fair and to show that we in the new administration are committed to journalistic integrity, the stories have been pulled out of the digital page, not because we want to hide anything, but because we want to be transparent if we say that the story did not have the required balance, then it should not be on the air.” By “new administration” he means his own stewardship because he started in his job shortly after the Soros program aired.

It is good that he responded personally and critically. But while he stands up for “journalistic integrity,” he whitewashes the problems with the program. A few things need to be pointed out.

“Judicial Watch is a good source,” Regalado says, but what is he talking about? One of the strange aspects of the program is that the narrator repeatedly mentions Judicial Watch but no one from that organization is quoted, none of its work is cited, none of its people appear on camera. (Fox News, by the way, dumped Judicial Watch’s research director last weekend for statements about Soros’ secret control of the State Department, but the organization is a “good source” for Radio/TV Marti.)

This idea that the program lacked “balance,” additional sources, or on-the-record statements misses the mark. What it lacked was truthful information to support its wild assertions – for example that Soros was the “architect” of the financial crisis in 2008 and that he is now making money from his political activism. Or, as persons quoted in the program assert, that he financed Gorbachev, has destabilized countries, and seeks to undermine democracies and turn Latin American countries into satellites of Cuba. Reporting a series of blatant falsehoods is not remedied by “balance.” You don’t have to be a journalist to realize this.

The program was thoroughly promoted by TV Marti. For example, there’s the Levantate Cuba morning program, where host Maite Luna interviews Isabel Cuervo, the narrator of the Soros program who claims to have conducted the “investigation” of the subject matter.

The passage beginning at 5:06 here and in the clip above is emblematic. (Sorry for the audio, it's my own recording of the video that was pulled from the government site.) At this point they are running an excerpt from the Soros program. Over scary sound effects, the narrator explains that Soros spends millions in “hundreds of countries” and is “accused thus of influencing, with his fortune, in their political and social destinies, in order to later take out revenue in the millions.” (Accused by whom, she doesn’t say.) Lia Fowler then appears very briefly on camera saying it is “much easier to work with a dictator than in a democracy and an open market.” Then with Fowler no longer on camera, the narrator attributes to her the idea that “behind the magnate is a hidden craving for global power.” Then the narrator mentions Soros’ support for communications media and nongovernmental organizations on five continents and says: “Latin America does not escape his spell.” During this, on the screen are images of a wall being spraypainted, street demonstrations, a burning effigy of President Trump, and a line of masked demonstrators hurling projectiles. The excerpt ends; back in the studio, the host Maite Luna says that Soros engages in philanthropy, “but he is also very dangerous, that he is giving and offering money where it can end up being a danger – that government – for the society.”

This is not journalism, it is a smear; none of the accusations are supported. No “balance” can improve it. Worse, it touches on all the themes that have been central to anti-Semitic screeds throughout history.

I assume that many of the journalists at Radio/TV Marti are repulsed by this program and the stain it puts on their organization and U.S. international broadcasting. Neither Radio/TV Marti nor its governing body have addressed a word to their audience, to say nothing of Mr. Soros. The silence is deafening.

Friday, October 26, 2018

“George Soros, the multimillionaire Jew” (video link restored)

Radio and TV Marti, the U.S. government’s Miami-based broadcast operation to Cuba, joined the anti-George Soros gang with a series of broadcasts last June.

A 15-minute program is here (original video was pulled from the government site; this is an inferior recording.) It was edited into two segments and presented on the TV Marti newscast, where the anchor began his lead-in to Part I with the phrase, “George Soros, the multimillionaire Jew of Hungarian origin…”

The program repeatedly mentions the U.S. organization Judicial Watch, but it doesn’t clearly cite any of its work. If you search, you see that Judicial Watch is concerned about U.S. aid agencies funding foreign organizations that are also supported by Soros, in Colombia and elsewhere.

Throughout, the program’s cheesy sound effects are like those used in horror movies when the villain begins reaching for the knife.

Some notes on the 15-minute program:

0:20 –Narrator Isabel Cuervo makes her first reference to Judicial Watch: “George Soros has his eye on Latin America. But Judicial Watch, a legal research group in the United States, has its eye on Soros, and on what it views as his lethal influence in undermining democracies.”

0:40 – The narrator says that Soros uses his business profits “to finance anti-system [political] groups that fill his pockets.”

1:10 – The narrator makes a reference to Soros’ infamous, lucrative 1992 bet against the British pound, and continues: “It is said that Soros made billions of dollars manipulating the fall of Asian currencies in 1997. And he was the architect of the financial collapse of 2008.”

1:40 – The narrator calls Soros a “generous philanthropist” active in more than 100 countries, then cuts to Lia Fowler, described on the screen as a “former FBI agent,” who says: “And the things that he finances around the world do nothing more than to destabilize countries, cultures…”

2:10 – The narrator calls Soros a “non-practicing Jew of flexible morals.”

3:30 – The narrator discusses the work of Soros’ Open Society Foundation, noting that “some” – she doesn’t say who – describe it as “a façade for investing and looting countries.”

Thursday, August 23, 2018

New Cuba travel advisory

The State Department has downgraded its Cuba travel advisory, urging travelers to exercise “increased caution” and no longer recommending that Americans “reconsider” travel to the island.

In the advisory, the State Department continues to say that “attacks” against U.S. diplomats took place in Cuba even though officials have arrived at no explanation for the harms that befell our personnel. Diplomats at multiple posts in China reported similar symptoms, but no attacks have been alleged there.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

A conviction in Havana with "due process" (Updated)

To its credit, the Trump Administration has maintained law enforcement cooperation with Cuba, holding regular dialogues and even building on some of the work of its predecessors. This fits with its border control/homeland security emphasis, and it surely rubs some of its political supporters the wrong way.

We now have details on the most notable instance of this cooperation, thanks to this Miami Herald story on the conviction of a defendant for a 2015 murder in Palm Beach. What is unusual is that while the crime took place here, and local prosecutors amassed evidence against the accused, the trial took place in a Cuban court, with Cuban prosecutors presenting evidence gathered in Palm Beach.

This is apparently due to the fact that the defendant, a Cuban national, was arrested in Cuba at the request of the United States through Interpol, but the Cuban government would not turn him over because of his Cuban nationality.

At some point, Cuba offered and the United States agreed to “transfer the prosecution” to Cuba, as the Herald puts it (on this part of the story, no details have emerged). A conviction was obtained in late May, and the convict is serving 20 years in a Cuban jail.

There has never been a case such as this, where U.S. authorities provided evidence that allowed Cuban prosecutors to bring a case in Cuban court for a crime committed outside Cuban territory – and in so doing, confiding in the Cuban judicial process to render a fair verdict.

To make it explicit, the Justice Department told the Herald something you would never expect from a Republican Administration: “The defendant was provided the procedural and due process rights afforded to criminal defendants under Cuban law, to include the right to counsel and cross-examination, and to review the evidence against him.”

The U.S.-Cuba Memorandum of Understanding on law enforcement, signed just days before President Obama left office, expresses a mutual intention to collaborate in the prosecution of a list of specific crimes and of “other transnational or serious crimes under jurisdiction of the Participants” (see Section III.1).

It’s hard to imagine a new, full-blown U.S.-Cuba extradition agreement that would replace the 1904 treaty that has never been abrogated, but has been a dead letter for six decades. In this case, with its very particular circumstances, the cooperation arrangements now in place yielded a result.

Which leads me to wonder if the Administration views this as a special action for this specific case, or if there is a policy decision that could lead to similar actions in the future. If it’s the latter, and if Cuba is on board, it could lead to trials of Medicare scammers who have fled to Cuba.

The State Department’s July 10 statement made a brief reference to this case, and I wrote about it here.


The Palm Beach Sherriff’s office issued a statement saying that county prosecutors traveled to Cuba to work with Cuban prosecutors, and one of its detectives testified at the Havana trial. It is the first time that “a Cuban citizen was put on trial in Cuba for a murder committed in the United States,” the statement says. 

And in another Florida case, this one involving vehicular manslaughter, a Cuban witness was allowed to provide video testimony from Cuba, where he exculpated the defendant and inculpated himself (Herald).

Friday, August 3, 2018

"Private property" in the constitution

Before and since the proposed new Cuban constitution (pdf) was released, there has been lots of talk about how it “could permit owning private property,” as a Washington Post editorial put it.

Sure enough, it deals with private property – but not exactly in that new-dawn-of-private-property way, which wouldn’t make sense because it is already permissible for Cubans to own private property, as we use the term. The vast majority of Cuban homes are owned outright with property titles and since 2011, residential properties are bought and sold on the open market. Many but not all individual farmers own their land and homes outright. Cars are owned and traded. Personal effects, of course, are privately owned.

What the new constitution does is to enumerate different kinds of property – and among these, to draw a distinction between personal property and private property. (See paragraphs 93 and 94 in the text linked above.)

The distinction is immaterial to a capitalist but significant to Marxists, and it goes like this: “personal property” refers to personal effects that have no economic purpose, while “private property” is defined as private ownership of means of production.

Hence a socialist constitution that stresses the state’s predominant economic role will also enshrine this concept of property, and with it the private sector’s role in the economy.

A narrow way to view this is that the constitution is catching up with reality, because private entities, both individuals and cooperatives in farming and other sectors, already own their means of production.

Another way to view it is as a more solid legal foundation for future legislation governing the private sector, such as the pending laws on enterprises and cooperatives.

If, that is, the Cuban government decides to take advantage of it when it comes time to write those laws.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The proposed new constitution

Cuba’s National Assembly hashed through and approved the draft of a new constitution last weekend, its discussion guided by Homero Acosta, a sort of Publius-without-the-pseudonym who chaired the group that researched and studied constitutional issues and produced the draft. His day job is executive secretary to the Council of State.

Acosta’s title-by-title discussion of the draft is summarized briefly in Granma and can be seen in two long videos here and here.

The draft has not yet been published, and there are, according to Acosta, more than 50 new “norms” that will have to be legislated to accompany it once it is approved.

Starting with the presidency, what’s clear is that with the Castro era ended, the Cuban leadership has decided that it wants no one older than 60 assuming that office, it wants no one in it for more than two five-year terms, and it wants executive functions distributed between a president and newly created prime minister.

These conditions would have ended Fidel Castro’s presidency in 1986 and prevented Raul’s altogether.

Beyond that, not much is clear. Why was it decided in the first place that a prime minister is needed? Will the president’s power be limited, or will the prime minister be sort of a minister of the presidency who handles day-to-day functions such as overseeing executive agencies? Will the prime minister be subordinate to the president? Perhaps the full text will answer these questions when it is published. Perhaps they will be answered once a prime minister is in office. Or perhaps we will be guessing for years, because this is a political system where very little is known about high-level decisionmaking, and there’s no evidence that this is likely to change.

In the meantime, note that the incumbent president is second-in-command of the Communist Party and the prime minister is not; the president nominates the prime minister; the president can propose legislation and the prime minister cannot; the president has the power to promote and remove high-ranking military officers and the prime minister does not; the president has exclusive pardon power; and changes in the composition of the cabinet are initiated when the prime minister proposes changes to the president. In addition, there are unspecified powers that rested with the Council of State that now go to the president. None of this fits the thesis that the new structure is intended to clip the president’s wings.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

A win for the control freaks

Cuba has legalized the operation of private bars where a maximum of 50 customers can enjoy alcoholic beverages “in their natural state or in cocktails,” and there can be recorded music, or live performances as long as the artists are hired in full compliance with Ministry of Culture regulations.

This is a trivial aspect of Cuba’s new small business regulations, and like many over the years it legalizes something that has been going on already.

But it makes you think back to March 1968 when Fidel Castro railed against private bars and other businesses during his Ofensiva Revolucionaria (see speeches here and here). He professed shock that there were 955 bars in Havana. He disclosed that undercover investigations found that 72 percent of their patrons “maintain an attitude contrary to our revolutionary process” and 66 percent “are anti-social elements.” He didn’t like other private businesses either, nor the people who ran them. His speeches often included the descriptor “lumpen.”

So he closed virtually all Cuba’s remaining private businesses, tens of thousands of them, including all the bars, because of a perception that they weren’t needed and they engendered the wrong kind of thinking.

So if you root for the privados, 1968 is the low point in the Cuban government’s long struggle to figure out how much private property and private enterprise are to be permitted in the socialist system.

And 1968 is why Cuba had just a few thousand private businesses when it opened up trabajo por cuenta propia in 1993, and it’s why when Raul Castro took office a decade later and took a fresh look at the economy, he noted that the government was unnecessarily and badly running state enterprises to provide almost every service: repair services of all kinds, worker cafeterias, beauty and barber shops, etc.

No one ever made a speech that explicitly threw the thinking of 1968 out the window, but that is what happened when small enterprise regulations were significantly liberalized in 2010. Individual entrepreneurship has since quadrupled in Cuba, from about 150,000 to nearly 600,000, now comprising 12 percent of a labor force where about one in three persons is employed outside the state. These entrepreneurs are essential sources of job creation, tax revenue, and services. Their bed-and-breakfasts sustain tourism centers such as Trinidad and Vinales where hotel capacity is minimal. They are in every city and dusty small town, with the common characteristic that they improve family income, usually quite a lot.

The new regulations (linked here), a package of new norms signed by Raul Castro and various ministers between February and July, are advertised as “updating, correcting, and strengthening” trabajo por cuenta propia.

Actually, “controlling” might be a better word.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

“New bilateral cooperation” in law enforcement

Well this is interesting, and good news: The United States and Cuba held a fourth set of talks in Washington on law enforcement, after which the State Department’s statement mentioned “new bilateral cooperation that resulted in the conviction of a Cuban national who murdered an American citizen and who had fled prosecution in the United States.” Cuba’s statement was less specific, referring to cooperation that has enabled the “prevention of crime and the prosecution of violators of the law.”

For some time there has been discussion in Havana of a person who fled to Cuba after being accused of committing a murder in Miami. After talks between the two governments, the story goes, it was decided that the person would be tried in Havana; he was tried with evidence provided by U.S. authorities, and was convicted in May. I have found no confirmation of these details, nor any court documents. But with the U.S. statement, it seems that the story is starting to come out.

There are several points of interest here.

Law enforcement cooperation has been going on for decades, mainly involving drugs and alien smuggling cases. The Obama Administration brought greater structure and regularity to these contacts, and the Trump Administration has continued this process and built on it, noting that “new bilateral cooperation” made the conviction possible.

It would be good to get legal records or some official account of the legal process in Cuba to see how U.S. evidence was employed in the prosecution, and how the defense functioned. Also, is it possible under Cuban law for a Cuban to be tried in Cuba for a crime committed abroad, or was it necessary to bring charges for related crimes committed in Cuban territory?

There are many obstacles to establishing functioning extradition agreements between the United States and Cuba. Among these are U.S. distrust of Cuba’s court system, and U.S. reluctance to assume a commitment to send persons to a place where they will not get a fair trial. The obstacles are not going away soon, so extradition agreements remain a distant prospect. But in this case, the U.S. side is clearly pleased at a conviction obtained in a Cuban court. Will this be a precedent, and could it lead to action against Medicaid scammers and others who have fled charges in the United States?

In related news, deportations to Cuba are up under Trump, according to New Times.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Luis Posada Carriles, R.I.P.

He certainly was one of “a group of fighters who dedicated their best years to fighting the Fidel Castro regime,” as a Miami television station put it when he was featured on its recent “Legends of Exile” series. He was also someone willing to put his life on the line, and to use violence in service of his ideals, and to direct his violence against civilians – tourists in a hotel at the wrong place at the wrong time, or young Cuban athletes on a plane returning from an international competition – which made him a terrorist too. While many scoffed at the Bush Administration’s failed attempt to nail him on immigration charges, this was more than any U.S. Administration attempted to do. He lived out his retirement in Miami, finding social acceptance in a segment of the community consisting largely of lifelong sedentary revolutionaries who admired a man of action and had no moral qualms about his tactics. He died last Wednesday.

Coverage here from the New York Times, Granma here and here, the Herald, and 14yMedio.

Odds and ends

·      I wrote recently that state employment in Cuba had dropped by more than half million. Actually, it’s double that. See this article by Prof. Ricardo Torres, showing that the state shed 998,000 jobs between 2009 and 2016.

·      Physician Carlos Lage became a vice president of Cuba’s Council of State and served as a quasi-prime minister until 2009 when he and a few others of his generation lost their political footing and were expelled from office. 14yMedio looks at his life now, practicing medicine again at the Policlínico 19 de Abril.

·      Financial Times on Cuba’s drive for foreign investment.

·      It may be that no te importe tres pepinos, but here’s a Twitter thesaurus of Cuban slang.

·      Billboard on the weekly paquete as a music promotion platform.

·      Granma’s “Today in History” feature on the sinking of a German U-boat in Cuban waters during WWII.

·      The new U.S. threats to sanction foreign companies that do business with Iran recall the extraterritorial U.S. sanctions in the Helms-Burton law, former Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt explains, while calling on Europe to resist.

·      Prof. Larry Press rounds up the information on the public record about the views of Cuba’s new President on Internet development.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

And now, a China health mystery

I don’t doubt that U.S. personnel assigned to our embassy in Havana suffered some kind of harm.

But the Trump Administration’s handling of this matter has seemed political to me. Consider yesterday’s news about a U.S. diplomat in Guangzhou, China who suffered symptoms “very similar and entirely consistent with the medical indications that have taken place to Americans working in Cuba,” according to Secretary of State Pompeo.

What was done in response? The State Department issued a straightforward health alert to inform the public about the China incident. It noted that the cause of the diplomat’s symptoms is unknown. The Department did not change its China travel advisory, which tells U.S. travelers to exercise caution due to arbitrary arrests. No U.S. official has referred to “attacks” in China.

The Cuba advisory, on the other hand, is at a higher level on the State Department’s scale – it urges Americans to “reconsider” travel anywhere in Cuba, even though the incidents affected only U.S. diplomats and only in Havana. (Canada saw some of its diplomats affected in Havana; it informed the public but made no similar warning to Canadian travelers.) As in China, the Department has no idea what happened in Cuba, but that doesn’t stop U.S. officials from referring constantly to “attacks” in Cuba. Whereas Cuba’s offer of investigative assistance was treated at arm’s length, Secretary Pompeo announced that our Chinese friends “have responded in a way that is exactly the right response,” and “We’re working together to resolve it.”

Apart from the disparity in numbers, the two situations are similar: communist country, same symptoms, cause unknown. One is being handled normally, with actions that fit the situation and the lack of evidence. Cuba is handled differently because, let’s face it, the Trump Administration has essentially made Senator Rubio the Undersecretary of State for Cuba.