Monday, April 30, 2007

VCR's and DVD's: Bring 'em on (Corrected)

AFP reports that Cuba has repealed its ban on non-commercial imports of video equipment “of any type.”

Why? Because it is “convenient to eliminate the prohibition” that was in effect since 2002, says the item in Cuba’s Gazeta Oficial, opening the door for travelers to carry the appliances in or for relatives to send them from abroad.

The Finance Ministry’s order does not make clear how VCR’s and DVD players will be taxed, if at all, at the airport. My guess is that they will be taxed, just as baggage of Cuban Americans is taxed at rates that often exceed $100 per suitcase.

The ban on appliance imports always seemed to me to be designed to encourage visitors to buy appliances for their relatives in dollar stores rather than carry them in. Maybe someone calculated that there is more money to be made by charging duties on VCR’s at the airport than by having the state import them, mark them up, and sell them at dollar stores.

[Correction: I stand by my general point about imports of appliances ("electrodomesticos") but reader Karamchand helpfully points out that VCR's and DVD players are not available for sale to Cubans in dollar stores. His comment also touches on customs duties and airport procedures.]

On the move

North of Vinales, 2005

Single-currency talk

An AP report cites the Cuban economy minster, Jose Luis Rodriguez, on the possibility of Cuba creating a single currency and doing away with the dual-currency system where the Cuban peso and the “peso convertible” circulate side by side. (Spanish here, shorter English version here.)

Unification of the currency would open the door to ending the severe inequality of income between Cubans who have hard currency income (57 percent of Cuban households, according to Rodriguez) and those who do not. Increasingly, Cuban media and official discourse are treating this as a major challenge for economic policy.

Rodriguez is not breaking new ground with this statement. He and others have said many times before that currency unification is on the agenda, but they have never indicated when this step might be taken. Right now, Rodriguez says, it is under study. We’ll stay tuned.

More trouble for Posada?

Today’s El Nuevo Herald reports on a government motion to exclude from Luis Posada Carriles’ upcoming trial any information on his connection to the CIA. There's also this interesting tidbit on a New Jersey grand jury proceeding:

“According to a source familiar with the case in New Jersey, the grand jury has worked intensely in the last few weeks, and charges against Posada and other exiles could be presented to a federal court as soon as this week.”

Bush on Cuba

From President Bush’s commencement address at Miami-Dade College, April 28, 2007:

“Some of you still have loved ones who live in Cuba, and wait for the day when the light of liberty will shine upon them again. That day is nearing. The reign of every tyrant comes to an end, yet the desire for freedom is never-ending. In Cuba and across the world, all who struggle for freedom have a friend in the United States, and we will stand with them until that struggle is won.”

These are perfunctory and passive words, but in that the setting is a brief commencement address, I don’t think there is a lot to analyze here. He was in Miami and had to mention Cuba and he did so, as briefly as possible.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Blogs in Cuba

A Cuban press article from earlier this month explains how blogs got started, how they became popular, how they work, and how they have “revolutionized not only the Internet, but also communication in the world by giving voice to those who often don't have one.”

It doesn’t discuss how blogs affect Cuba, or how many Cubans read them or have them.

I have encountered several blogs based in Cuba, some from Cubans who have commented here. My bet is that they will grow in that country’s Internet environment where law and bandwidth conspire against Web access, and where many Cubans use their ingenuity to find a way in spite of the obstacles.


They repair watches, deliver messages, create art, fix locks, drive taxis, obey the law, sell books, provide lodging, serve meals, patch tires, skirt the law, shine shoes, do carpentry, make ice cream, sew clothing, break the law, and more.

And they hustle, keeping their earnings to themselves.

How are Cuba’s entrepreneurs faring these days?

In four words: down but not out.

In about 7,000 words: a report (pdf) based on talks with Cubans from one end of the island to the other.

God Bless America

Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, quoted in the Boise Weekly, April 25:

“All I’m saying to you is that there are a lot of ways to change the world than with muscle. Listen, you give me enough french fries, disco records and Levis, and get rid of the State Department, and we can get rid of the entire diplomatic corps. We can change the world.”

We all get the part about the State Department -- but disco records?

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Melena del Sur, 2004


Cuba put a fugitive from American justice on a plane to Miami yesterday. The fugitive, Joseph Adjmi, was arrested at the airport.

From news reports it seems that Adjmi, who was convicted of mail fraud in Tampa but fled to Cuba before he began serving his sentence, had been jailed in Cuba too, “serving an undetermined sentence for unspecified alleged scams apparently similar to the ones he was charged with in Tampa.” When he finished his Cuban sentence, the Cubans apparently decided to be rid of him. There is no indication in news reports that Adjmi was rendered to the United States as the result of a negotiation, or that Cuba asked anything in return.

Adjmi is the second U.S. fugitive returned by Cuba since Fidel Castro left public view last July 31.

Many others remain in Cuba, including cop-killer Joanne Chesimard, who escaped from a New Jersey prison in 1979 and made her way to Cuba in 1986.

Is there anything the U.S. government could do to get Chesimard and others back to the United States?

The 1904 extradition treaty between the United States and Cuba remains in force, but has effectively been a dead letter since 1959. The two countries nonetheless cooperate on specific law enforcement matters, including alien smuggling and drug trafficking. The Bush Administration returned three hijackers to face charges in Cuba in 2003 after receiving Cuban assurances that they would face a maximum sentence of ten years.

In the current state of political relations, it is hard to imagine a breakthrough on important U.S. fugitives. It is impossible to imagine if Washington does not enter talks that might lead to mutual concessions and mutual benefits.

Which is why Joanne Chesimard probably rests easy, unconcerned that her fate will be that if Joseph Adjmi.

A plan from Berlin

Uruguayan ex-president Luis Alberto Lacalle presented a plan “to rebuild” Cuba “once the dictatorship falls” and the country “is headed toward democracy,” according to AFP.

“Plan Marti,” Lacalle said, “has to do with the remaking of a country that will be left destroyed in every sense.” A “great effort will be necessary from the international community and the Cuban community – in exile and within Cuba – for reconstruction,” he added.

The plan itself does not appear to be available online, but statements from Lacalle and other participants appear on the Spanish-language page of Radio Prague.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


This is a letter to the editor of Miami’s El Nuevo Herald, published April 24, 2007, followed by English translation:

Pertenezco a ese grupo de mujeres cubanas que nunca imaginamos durante nuestra niñez y adolescencia que abandonaríamos nuestro país para siempre. Le dijimos adiós muy jóvenes, y hoy en día formamos parte de la tercera edad.

Nuestros mayores murieron esperando la caída del régimen castrista, y nuestra generación, la última depositaria de la memoria de la Cuba republicana, tal parece que tampoco podrá consumar ese anhelo.

Mientras tanto el culpable de todo el sufrimiento se repone de lo que pensábamos era su última enfermedad. El sueño de ver a Cuba libre se va desvaneciendo, los años pasan. ¡Hasta cuándo!

Guaty Marrero, Miami

# # # # #

I belong to that group of Cuban women who never imagined during our childhood and adolescence that we would abandon our country forever. We said goodbye to our country when we were very young, and today we are becoming senior citizens.

Our elders died waiting for the fall of the Castro regime and it seems that our generation, the last repository of memories of republican Cuba, will not be able to satisfy that longing either.

All the while, the one responsible for all the suffering is recovering from what we thought was his final illness. The dream of seeing Cuba free is fading, the years are passing. For how long?

Guaty Marrero, Miami

Guess where?

Hint: the sun is setting.

Tertulia on the Tiergartenstrasse

A conference about “Seeking Common Initiatives” toward Cuba begins in Berlin today.

Similar conferences held in Prague and Costa Rica in recent years turned out to have been funded by the U.S. taxpayer. It would not be surprising if that were the case here too, judging from the participants and the program, and the way it all fits with the international objectives of the 2004 report from the Administration’s Cuba commission.

That report included funding to support “public diplomacy initiatives worldwide, including conferences, small grants, media and public outreach” (p.25); grants to foreign organizations as part of an “effort to discourage tourist travel” to Cuba (p.xvii); “small grants and other assistance to local national groups interested in promoting greater information about U.S. policies toward Cuba and greater national involvement in support of democracy and the development of civil society in Cuba” (p.45); and other activities aimed at “encouraging international solidarity with the Cuban people and promoting democracy” (p.10).

As one might expect, Cuban media are trashing the conference; here’s a not-very-witty example in English.

Setting that spat aside, the conference agenda asks some good questions, including whether there is a need for international cooperation, and if it is possible for Europe, Latin America, and the United States to unite behind a common approach toward Cuba.

We weren’t invited, but let’s discuss it anyway.

My view is that a common approach is not necessary, and it’s impossible in any event.

Look first within Europe itself: Spain’s recent move (discussed in the fourth item here) was a sort of declaration of independence from the idea of a common European approach. Spain apparently wants contact, lots of it, and across all sectors in Cuba. Others agree. The Czechs and others want a return to diplomatic sanctions that would have the effect of cutting off contact with Cuban officials. If Spain and others keep contacts open, including dialogue with officials that includes human rights issues, while others adopt a different posture until human rights practices improve, why is that a bad thing?

Then there’s the fundamental issue of whether to isolate Cuba or to expose it to contact with foreign societies.

On that score, Europe is united; no government has proposed ending exchanges or unrestricted travel by its citizens, much less a commercial embargo.

But that’s where the United States separates itself from the pack. Its sanctions policy is broad, immutable, not subject to discussion.

What about agreement on specific initiatives, while leaving larger disagreements aside?

Here it is possible that other governments may take initiatives that coincide with U.S. goals. But to be effective, they will have to frame their policies independently and in their own terms. The Administration’s concept of “transition,” as presented in its lengthy reports, has proven unpalatable even to Cubans who oppose their government. Such independence would not be a bad thing, either.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Sculptor and spectator

Paseo del Prado, 2005

Boyd vs. Posada

In the case of Luis Posada Carriles, no major figure in the Administration has stepped to a podium to explain the government’s approach, much less to put the Administration’s treatment of a man it calls a “terrorist mastermind” into the context of the Global War on Terror.

The explainer-in-chief is Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd, who presents the government’s immigration charges as the tough and appropriate solution. From an AP report:

"We intend to prosecute him on criminal charges, and we‘ve made that abundantly clear," said Dean Boyd, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington. "And we expect him to appear in court on May 11."

On a Washington radio program, WAMU-FM host Kojo Nnamdi twice asked Boyd why the Administration has not used the authority of the Patriot Act to keep Posada in detention. Both times, Boyd ducked the question.

On that same program, a lawyer representing the Venezuelan government claimed that if Posada is convicted on the immigration charges, the customary sentence for each count would be a few months, and Posada might serve little to no time in jail if the time he has already spent in detention is credited against his sentence. Do any readers have a view on that?

More coverage, and more comments from the beleaguered Boyd, from David Adams in the St. Petersburg Times here.

The prison door swings both ways

The recent releases of Hector Palacios, Rene Gomez Manzano, Jorge Luís García Pérez, and other Cuban opposition activists from jail are welcome developments. But lest anyone think that there has been a change in heart in the Cuban government, two dissidents have been sentenced in secret trials in the past week, one having been arrested, tried, and convicted in a single day.

This is in contrast to the trials that followed the arrest of 75 dissidents in 2003, in which the government argued that the opposition is a creation of the U.S. government. One former dissident living in Miami tells the Herald that these recent actions are a sign of Fidel Castro’s return to power. The Herald’s grim roundup is here, AFP's report is here.

On second thought....

The U.S. intelligence community has a new assessment of Fidel Castro’s health. No longer saying that his death is “months, not years” away, a senior intelligence official says he “can’t rule out” a return to power in some degree.

Reuters covers the official’s remarks here, the Miami Herald here.

To my mind, even if Castro returns with a diminished workload, spending only a few hours a day in the office, the impact would be to kill any prospects for new policy directions as long as his few hours a day involve checking off on all major strategic decisions.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Carmichael vs. Carmichael

I have written elsewhere about True Believer, Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) investigator Scott Carmichael’s account of the probe of Cuban spy Ana Montes.

There’s a gap emerging between the book itself and Carmichael’s statements on his south Florida book tour.

The book tour is turning out to be a lot more juicy than the book.

Half the reason I bought the book was to learn about how Montes came to be a spy. Carmichael treated that subject in a single sentence, explaining that she was recruited while working as a Freedom of Information officer at the Department of Justice and attending graduate school at night. That’s it.

Now, I hear that Carmichael is saying that Cuban agents guided her career, coaching her from the Department of Justice to her job at DIA. That did not make it into the book.

Another reason to buy the book was to learn about the damage she surely caused to U.S. security, but an affidavit (pdf here) that the FBI submitted in court tells more than Carmichael’s entire book. Carmichael lists cases where Montes could have betrayed military plans and intelligence: the 1990 U.S. intervention in Panama, the wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua, a 1987 attack that killed an American soldier in El Salvador, the liberation of Kuwait. But in each case Carmichael writes that he does not know if she did so.

Now Carmichael is turning against his colleagues. He tells the Miami Herald that Cuban intelligence “has the American government thoroughly penetrated,” another claim that didn’t make it into the book. Yet his fellow counterintelligence officers are indifferent, he says, seeing Montes as “an isolated case.” Apparently he hopes that his book and tour will help him win his own argument inside the U.S. government.

Carmichael-on-tour also told the Herald that Montes “participated in every significant policy decision on Cuba for nine years.” Presumably, that means 1992-2001, which is a neat way for Carmichael to smear the Clinton Administration. But Montes, as an intelligence analyst, would have had to elbow her way to the policy table, and if she was a player in policy decisions, one has to wonder why that fact didn’t make it into Carmichael’s book.

Are we to believe that she was part of the secret negotiations of the Clinton-era migration accords – negotiations that were kept secret even from the State Department’s Office of Cuban Affairs? Did she advise President Clinton to sign Helms-Burton in 1996?

Carmichael’s book is a good account of his own investigation. Admirably, he is donating his share of book proceeds to the family of the American soldier killed in combat in El Salvador.

Miami is the natural place for him to promote his book. But the more time he spends there, the more Carmichael veers toward politics, using his authority as a U.S. government official to add speculation and, in the case of Montes’ involvement in policy decisions, misinformation to the concrete but limited information in his book.

The narrow focus of True Believer was reason enough to hope for another book – or a declassification of the intelligence community’s study of this case – to tell the full Ana Montes story. Now Carmichael’s book tour adds another, and it grows day by day.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

South of Baracoa, 2005

Desde la Farola

Dirty Little Commies on the Upper West Side

In what can only be described as un tremendo acto de repudio, the blogosphere and some editorial writers came out in force this past week to condemn a group of Manhattan high school students from the Beacon School and their teacher, Nathan Turner, for taking a trip to Cuba.

The group could not get a license to travel to Cuba for educational purposes because, alas, the Administration stopped licensing educational travel for high school students in 2004.

Mr. Turner reportedly organized the trip on his own and booked flights via the Bahamas, evading U.S. law. Agents of our Department of Homeland Security stationed in the Bahamas airport were alert, however, and the group may now be fined by the federal government.

“CLUB RED,” blared the New York Post’s headline. Immediately commentators leaped to the conclusion that Mr. Turner was a loony lefty because Cuban revolutionary posters hang in his classroom.

So what if he was?

I’ll disclose that I believe that Americans should have complete and unfettered freedom to travel to Cuba. I don’t believe in limiting that freedom to people who think like me, and I believe that my freedom is only secure if everyone else’s is too, especially those on each end of the political spectrum.

I don’t support breaking U.S. law. But if this group did violate the law, they violated a law that – setting aside whether it is just or not – is patently incapable of accomplishing its foreign policy purpose, which the Administration describes as denying Cuba a flow of hard currency to the degree that we will hasten change in Cuba’s political order or, short of that, starve the Cuban government of the resources it needs to engage in political repression. (Ironically, the only way to sell that proposition is to make sure Americans cannot see Cuba for themselves.)

I’ll also confess that I even find it appealing that people from the left, even the wacko left, travel to Cuba. Cubans surely cringe at some of the things they say, but Cubans are not naïve and know that the hard left does not represent majority U.S. opinion. I also like the message Cubans get about real freedom when they see that we do not restrict speech, not even speech by Americans on foreign soil in praise of a government like Cuba’s.

Of course, we don’t know what Mr. Turner did or said on his excursion.

But assume the worst: that he presented nothing but sympathy for the Cuban government and subjected his students to nothing but indoctrination by Cuban officials. The commentators unanimously assumed that these young Americans – dumb, malleable, uncritical, and innocent – would swallow those messages hook, line, and sinker.

Which makes me wonder if any of the commentators actually know an American teenager, or has ever tried out the phrase “Because I said so!” on an average American teenager. Good luck.

An editorial in Investor’s Business Daily deserves the off-the-deep-end award in this episode. In a newspaper more jam-packed with information than any on earth, the editorial puts no information behind its assertions that the students received only a “phony dog-and-pony show of the regime,” that they were “endangered,” that Mr. Turner had no “serious interest in educating youths,” and that to enter Cuba, “one has to disclose huge amounts of personal information to Cuba's spy agency.”

And then the editorial wonders:

“How did Turner contact Havana? What was his real aim? He’s part of a vast network of labor unions, Marxist organizations and activist groups that supply Cuba its agents here.

“A fine isn't enough; we need to look a lot closer at him – and others.”

Which leaves me with no comment at all.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Lage's April 5 speech

This newsletter opens with a comment on what seem to be the dampened prospects for significant economic policy change in Cuba. Having just read the speech Carlos Lage gave April 5 to the Union de Jovenes Comunistas, I wouldn’t change a word.

Lage continues the pattern of identifying problems with great clarity, but without pointing to policies that will solve those problems.

He opens by recognizing that the current generation of Cuban youth grew up in the “special period,” a time of economic dislocation:

“You were born or grew up when electricity went off ten hours or more each day, medicines were lacking, there was dramatic scarcity of food, and transportation was barely functioning on the streets, including in the capital.

“These circumstances changed our people’s life substantially, engendered bitter contradictions, brought about the expansion of vices and privileges that had been overcome by our revolutionary work, weakened social equity, and salaries stopped being a just compensation that could provide for the needs of daily life.”

He went on to call for continuation of the Battle of Ideas, “intense political activity” and “a genuine cultural life” that will yield “generations of youth immune to the siren song of capitalism, to the shop-windows of consumerist societies, and to the banalities of of the system whose values we reject.”

Taking Lage’s speech and other statements into account, going all the way back to Fidel Castro’s speech at the University of Havana in 2005 when he asked whether a revolution could destroy itself from within, there seem to be three lines of attack.

First, greater discipline and law enforcement, which we see through the social workers at gas stations, the new labor discipline regulations, etc.

Second, the ideological work to which Lage nods in his speech, which to my knowledge is the first prominent mention of the Battle of Ideas since Fidel’s illness.

Third is an option that has been identified but not employed: policy change to attack the root causes of low wages, low output, pilferage of state goods, widespread resort to black market activity, etc. The announcement that the study of state enterprises will deliver results “within three years” is a good indication that the study is on ice. I would love to be wrong on this score.

If there’s a positive note to take from Lage’s speech, it is his clear acknowledgement that salaries in large segments of the Cuban economy are not enough to provide for daily needs.

Good politicians usually don’t make speeches about deep social problems without eventually getting around to discussing solutions. And Cuba’s income inequality is not a problem that can be solved by discipline, exhortation, ideology, or regulation.

Your comments

I’m pleased to see comments appearing on the blog.

One writer from Cuba left a very interesting comment on the current church-state issues, and wondered if it is permissible to comment here in Spanish, to which my response is por supuesto que si, todos son bienvenidos en cualquier idioma. Another writer asked me to post in Spanish from time to time. Maybe there will be occasion for that, and we’ll have to see if my Spanish drives away more readers than it attracts.

I'm also happy to receive comments by e-mail:

Becada, calling home

Havana province, 2006

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Posada free on bail (Updated)

Luis Posada Carriles is free on bail, headed to house arrest in Miami pending his trial next month on immigration charges. (Update: Conditions imposed on him by the government are here.) He may well end up in jail again if he is convicted and sentenced.

But meanwhile, expect a minor black eye for the United States in international opinion. That affects our national security because the cooperation we receive in anti-terrorism can suffer if others se e us making an exception for political purposes.

Cuba and Venezuela are making a big deal of this case, as well they should because of Posada’s link to the bombing of a Cuban civilian airliner that departed from Venezuela.

But the problem for the Administration is that if you ignore absolutely everything Cuba and Venezuela are saying, the picture of Posada is still very dark. His own statements and past associations, the statements of retired U.S. investigators, and U.S. government investigative files make it so, as does this statement from U.S. Justice Department spokeswoman Tasia Scolinos last October:

Luis Posada Carriles is an admitted mastermind of terrorist plots and attacks. The Department of Justice believes that Posada is a flight risk and that his release would be a danger to the community.

Who ever heard of a terrorist that the Bush Administration would hesitate to bring to justice for his crimes?

Vitral: Alive, Delayed, Toned Down

Bishop Serpa of Pinar del Rio has now told La Jornada of Mexico that Vitral “will continue appearing, but with delays due to funding limitations and he made clear that it will avoid the ‘aggressiveness’ in the publication’s editorial style.” The article from today’s paper is here. The reporter, Gerardo Arreola, relates some of the bishop’s story – his decades outside of Cuba, his return following the apparent appeal of Pope John Paul II, and his view of church-state relations. This is a story worth following, all across Cuba.

Cuban threat?

A recent article of mine in the Miami Herald addressed the issue of Cuba as a national security threat and set off a discussion over at La Contra Revolucion.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

More on Vitral: Bishop Serpa Speaks

This is a difficult subject.

The last thing I want to do is get close to the criticism of the church that you can find in Miami media, for alleged cowardice or collaboration. I admire the Cuban church; it is the only independent nationwide institution in Cuba, and its good works are far more numerous and consequential than we can see from afar. Overseas critics who say the church is insufficiently courageous might do well to go to Cuba and try their hand.

But the church is a human institution, and Bishop Serpa of Pinar del Rio issued a very, very human statement yesterday, sort of reminiscent of political figures in our part of the world who step to the microphone to “clarify” and do the opposite.

“No one ever spoke of ‘closing’ or ‘terminating’” the diocesan journal Vitral after 13 years of publication, Serpa says, but he has asked that Vitral maintain “the truth based in the gospel and the social doctrine of the church, without falling into aggressive and argumentative expression.” At the same time, his statement doesn’t clarify at all whether Vitral will continue to be published. He also notes that “no one ever spoke of ‘closing’ or ‘terminating’” the Center for Civic and Religious Education, but it has effectively been dissolved, its functions redistributed to other diocesan committees.

The Bishop’s statement has an undertone of sparring with his own laity, and it makes clear that his priority is the core religious mission of the church. He tends to confirm the rumors I first heard last December in Havana, that the arrival of a new bishop meant that the diocese’s civic and educational activities would be reduced.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Cuban spy Ana Montes

Here’s a review of the book on the Ana Montes spy case by the Defense Intelligence Agency’s counterintelligence officer who led that agency’s investigation.
In brief, it’s an interesting read, but if you are looking for new information on the burning questions in this case – how Montes was recruited and what damage she did in her 16-year espionage career – you will not find it in this book.

What next for Posada? (Updated)

UPDATE: On April 17 an appeals court in El Paso cleared the way for Posada to be released on bail. The Justice Department says it is reviewing its options.

Luis Posada Carriles, 79, has been a human hot potato since he arrived on U.S. soil in 2005.

Given his background in terrorism and related activities – the Bush Justice Department calls him an “admitted mastermind of terrorist plots and attacks” – he can’t be set free without damaging the credibility of U.S. anti-terrorism policy. To fail to “bring him to justice” would be to create an exception for one terrorist, undermining what Administration supporters call the “moral clarity” of anti-terrorism policy and giving other countries a future excuse for creating similar exceptions for political reasons. On the other hand, if the Administration finds a way to make him face trial for terrorism charges it will face political heat in Miami from those who see him as a freedom fighter notwithstanding his attacks on civilians.

We recounted Posada’s history and the early part of this saga here.

So far, the Administration has managed to square the circle by bringing immigration charges against Posada and detaining him pending trial. No one abroad can say that a terrorist has been set free, and no one in Miami can say that the U.S. government is charging him with terrorism.

This gambit may be nearing the end of its useful life. A federal judge in Texas wants him released pending trial, which would not be unusual for someone facing immigration charges. The Justice Department is appealing the judge’s decision, so far successfully. Posada remains in U.S. custody.

One of the most unusual aspects of this case was revealed last August when the Administration revealed in court that it had asked six countries – Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador – to take Posada in. It is not clear if this was an effort to find a comfortable refuge for Posada, or to put him in a place where he might face extradition. In the event, all six countries declined to take him. If they were confused as to whether they would be “with us” or “with the terrorists” once they accepted Posada, they could hardly be blamed.

One option is to extradite Posada to Venezuela to face charges related to the bombing of the Cuban airliner in 1976, notwithstanding the potential difficulties in obtaining a fair trial there. Venezuela requested Posada’s extradition in June 2005, but the request was not approved. [Note: Venezuelan representatives say the request was not denied either; the U.S. government has never ruled one way or the other.]

The U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela, William Brownfield, stated last week that the United States is willing to enter talks about the extradition request. The Ambassador’s clear implication was that if the text’s defects are fixed, Posada could be extradited. Venezuela’s position is that Washington has never enumerated any supposed defects in its request for preventive detention or its extradition request.

So both sides take the position that extradition is worth discussing and the ball is in the other side’s court.

If this apparent impasse is broken and results in extradition, it means that justice might be served in a crime as horrible as the Lockerbie airliner bombing, and it would mean that the Adminstration has opted to defend its own moral standards instead of its political position among a small sector in Miami.

Vitral’s closure

Vitral, a lay Catholic journal of ideas published by the Center for Civic and Religious Education at the Diocese of Pinar del Rio, ceased publication this month after releasing its 78th issue. The journal was an independent, serious, and critical voice, and obviously a rare one in Cuba’s media landscape. It is one of many educational and charitable projects that have been the pride of many Catholics in Cuba and have brought benefit to Cubans of all faiths.

Vitral’s closure had been rumored since December. A terse and barely credible editor’s note in the final issue explained that lack of resources was the cause.

The more likely explanation involves change in the leadership of the church in Cuba, and possibly in its relationship with the Cuban government. There is a new director of the Conference of Catholic Bishops in Havana, and new bishops have been installed in Pinar del Rio, Holguin, Bayamo, and Santiago. One wonders if Vitral’s closure was a unilateral gesture by the new bishop in Pinar del Rio, Jorge Enrique Serpa, or if it was part of a larger church-state bargain that is being developed there or at the national level.

Juan de Dios Hernandez, an auxiliary bishop in Havana, seemed to imply the latter when he told reporters April 6 that the Cuban state is “slowly coming to understand the role of the church among the people.” The church hopes, he said, that “to the degree possible,” the church’s life and its evangelical mission can be “more and more on the road to normalization.” He added: “I believe that is the state’s hope too.”

Time will tell. For now, the church cannot avoid the impression that it closed an important publication for no reason.

The recently retired bishop of Pinar del Rio, Jose Siro Gonzales, says in an interview that his successor assured him that Vitral’s closure is due to lack of paper, and publication will resume when that is resolved. “To say anything else would be to distort things,” he said.

Time for one more

Is there really a void in the blogosphere’s coverage of Cuba and a need for one more blog on Cuba? There certainly is a void in blogging from Cuba, and all of us who try to understand Cuba will be better off on the day that is remedied.

Meanwhile, this blog will try to add to the Cuba discussion by covering events in Cuba, and also developments in the Havana-Washington-Miami triangle that affect Cuba itself.

Where are we coming from? A good signpost would be the Lexington Institute’s Cuba site. It’s the result of years of travel and research in Cuba (all legal!) and years of sparring in the U.S. policy debate.

For now, I will be doing the posting and in the future I hope to add contributors.

Comments are welcome.