Tuesday, August 26, 2008

GOP platform draft released

Here’s the section on Cuba in the draft GOP platform (it’s on page 9 of this 48-page pdf):

The other malignant element in hemispheric affairs is the anachronistic regime in Havana, a mummified relic from the age of totalitarianism, and its buffoonish imitators. We call on the nations of Latin America and the Caribbean to join us in laying the groundwork for a democratic Cuba. Looking to the inevitable day of liberation, we support restrictions on trade with, and travel to, Cuba as a measure of solidarity with the political prisoners and all the oppressed Cuban people. We call for a dedicated platform for transmission of Radio and Television Marti into Cuba and, to prepare for the day when Cuba is free, we support the work of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba. We affirm the principles of the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, recognizing the rights of Cubans fleeing Communist tyranny, and support efforts to admit more of them through a safe, legal, orderly process.

My guess is that the “dedicated platform” for Radio/TV Marti means another plane full of transmitters that will fly figure 8’s in the U.S. airspace just south of the Florida Keys, beaming its signals southward. Didn’t we buy one of those babies already, and isn’t it called “Aero Marti?” Do they mean a ship? The S.S. Marti?

As for the statement about the “principles of the Cuban Adjustment Act,” which is fanciful at its core, I wonder why something this obscure would be included in a platform. It could be that there’s a worry that those in the party who want to restrict immigration might want to end the “dry foot” policy, i.e. stop admitting Cubans who arrive without visas and with no claim to refugee/asylee status. As best as I can tell, that would be an unfounded worry.

Then there’s the call to admit more Cuban immigrants through “a safe, legal, and orderly process.” We now admit about 20,000 per year that way, plus about half that amount by other means. I wonder how many immigrant visas a McCain administration would want to grant each year. (The effect would be stabilizing for the “anachronistic regime.”) This is the only call for increased immigration in a platform that mainly treats the subject with seal-the-borders, anti-amnesty language.

Finally, it took me a while to notice through the gonzo rhetoric that this platform language says nothing, in terms of goals or actual policies, about acually bringing democracy to Cuba. There’s no mention of Cuba’s opposition. It anticipates Cuba’s “inevitable day of liberation,” as if that will just come about, dialectically I suppose. The embargo is described as an act of solidarity, not a tool of pressure. Talks with our Latin American and Caribbean neighbors is a nice idea, but the talks would be short because we disagree fundamentally, and they treat Cuba as we do China and Vietnam.

Not much new here.

At Cuaderno de Cuba, some comments from Alejandro Armengol.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

"Along the Malecon"

A promising new Cuba blog has appeared, Along the Malecon. It’s written by Tracey Eaton, who served as the Havana correspondent for the Dallas Morning News when it had a bureau open. He now teaches journalism. Tracey is a great reporter and his first few posts give a sense of the stories he will draw upon. Beyond the written word, I hope he’s also generous with his terrific photo archive, built during years of traveling around the island.

Sen. Martinez' "notion"

Florida Senator Mel Martinez was on the Diane Rehm Show on Monday, and gave an interesting interview about his childhood in Cuba and other topics. He took a call from a listener who complained that as co-chair of the Administration’s Cuba commission, Martinez was responsible for the 2004 policy that limits family visits to once every three years, and allows visits to immediate family only. The Senator’s answer:

“The fact of the matter is that a difficult policy was instituted about family travel because, as you may know, a lot of people were coming from Cuba under the Cuban Adjustment Act, which allows Cubans, the only people in the world right now, I think, that can come to the United States, illegally essentially, and then be adjusted as legals just by the mere fact that they touch shore, the wet foot dry foot policy which I don’t frankly agree with. But the Cuban Adjustment Act also says that the reason why that they can do that is because of fear of persecution. Well, those same people who were coming in recent days and recent years were returning to Cuba repeatedly, and so if you arrive and say. “Please harbor me here because if I return to Cuba I have a reasonable fear of being persecuted,” I’m not going to be treated, the Cuban government is going to do something to me. But then in a matter of few months you go back and forth travel back and forth constantly, as so many people are doing, it really makes a sham out of that whole notion.”

Well, it certainly would make a sham of that “notion,” if indeed it existed in the law. But it doesn’t.

In fact, the Cuban Adjustment Act doesn’t even contain the word “persecution.”

By using the phrase “reasonable fear of being persecuted,” Senator Martinez implies that Cubans who come to America are refugees, because that’s what you have to demonstrate to get refugee status. But very few are: 2,922 last year, and 3,143 in 2006. (The only sense in which Cuban immigrants are all refugees is that they are all eligible for benefits that the U.S. government extends to refugees.)

The idea that Cubans who travel to Cuba are breaking a pledge they made to gain entry, is unfounded. When Cubans come without visas, all they need to do to gain entry is to say they are Cuban. Then they are admitted (“paroled”) not because the law requires it, but because U.S. Administrations have decided they want to. The Cuban Adjustment Act only comes into play a year later, when their status is adjusted.

Senator Martinez isn’t the first to use this bottom-of-the-barrel argument. Setting aside its total inaccuracy, it’s beyond me why he and others find it politically compelling. When the Administration’s 2004 family sanctions were announced, the argument was that the travel and remittance restrictions would cut Cuba’s hard currency flows.

I guess that one wore out.

Or maybe it’s hard to look a Cuban American in the eye and say that even though Cuba’s economy is growing, and Chavez is delivering tons of oil to Havana, and other countries are providing aid and credits, it’s all on you, pal – we had to stop you from sending money to your aunt because we’re hastening the end of the dictatorship, and the money you send her will keep Castro in power.

Las Morenas, artists of suspense

Cuba came from two sets down to stun China” in women’s volleyball this morning, the official Olympics website reported. Cuban media called it a “heart attack-inducing” match, which it certainly was if you were rooting for Las Morenas del Caribe against the reigning Olympic champs.

Cuba went deep in a hole by losing two (18-25, 14-25), won one 25-23, then another 32-30 (the heart attack part, saving about seven match points in a row), and took the fifth 15-13. The Chinese coach took the loss with a very sportsmanlike smile, no doubt admiring the grit and heart those Cuban women displayed. Wow.

[Granma photo.]

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Peregrine diplomacy

The Vermont baseball team made it to Cuba, the Bush Administration having set aside the objections of Rep. Diaz-Balart to the issuing of their travel license. Reuters reported on the first day of the trip, where the Peregrines won one and lost one against two Cuban teams. If you follow the link, there’s a gallery with more photos.

[Reuters photo.]

Odds and ends

  • Cuba supports the Russian position in the Ossetia/Georgia crisis, citing the “false claim that Georgia is defending its national sovereignty,” and saying that Georgia’s move in Ossetia was made “in complicity with the U.S. government.”

  • Cuban human rights monitor Elizardo Sanchez issued his semiannual report on human rights practices. There’s a small drop in the political prisoner population, and the trend toward fewer long-term imprisonments and more short-term detentions (640 in the first half of 2008, 325 in 2007) continues. Reuters covers it here. Cuban Colada links to it here.

  • If you’re interested in following Cuba’s teams in the Olympics, Granma has a day-by-day roundup of its stories. Here’s one on Cuba’s women’s volleyball team, which beat the United States yesterday and is looking ahead to taking on China. The links to the daily roundup are in the sidebar.

Friday, August 8, 2008

The southern route to la Yuma

The Herald’s Cuban Colada has the latest figures on Cubans entering the United States via the Mexican border: 7,267 in fiscal year 2005, 8.639 in 2006, 11,487 in 2007, and 8.829 in 2008, with two months left in the fiscal year, which ends September 30. By comparison, the United States admits about 20,000 Cubans annually, in various visa categories, through the U.S. consulate in Havana.

Cuba and Mexico have been negotiating a migration accord, and according to La Jornada, talks will resume this month with an eye to signing an agreement in September. An apparent sticking point, the article says, has to do with repatriation: Cuba is reportedly willing to accept those that arrive in Mexico directly from Cuba, but is not willing to accept those that travel to Mexico from third countries. The article says that Cubans arriving from third countries are “the largest part of the flow of illegal migrants from the island.”

Part of the flow of Cuban migrants to the United States, both through Mexico and directly across the Straits, involves smuggling operations, This Herald story tells how the Feds are cracking down on these operations in south Florida. And it shows how the smugglers operate; in one case, smugglers demanded payment from a Miami family before they would turn over the relatives they had brought from Cuba. They now face charges for both alien smuggling and hostage taking.


Odds and ends

  • A week after announcing a trip to Cuba where he sought a meeting with Raul Castro, Senator Specter announces that it won’t happen; he’s told that there was not sufficient time to arrange his visit.

  • The Herald reports today on Lt. Col. Simmons’ allegations, with a sidebar on Simmons and the other players in the story.

  • Dayron Robles, a 110-meter hurdler on the Cuban Olympic team, joins other athletes signing a letter to Chinese President Hu calling on China to respect human rights and “to ensure that human rights defenders are no longer intimidated or imprisoned.” (H/t Penultimos Dias)

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The smears continue

Lt. Col. Chris Simmons was on the Babalu Radio Hour last night, and the first thing that his interview made clear is that he doesn’t like the way his credentials and job history are being discussed.

“There has been some confusion caused intentionally by a small cabal of misguided but enthusiastic others,” he said, who are trying to “cast aspersions.”


He doesn’t like the word “former,” but that’s what I was told when I called a Defense Intelligence Agency spokesman: “former employee.” It turns out he worked there until last December. He is now an Army reservist, on active duty, working as an intelligence officer. He says his “area of specialty is counterintelligence,” although from the way he phrased his answer, it sounds like he’s not assigned to counterintelligence duties now. From the bio on his website, it seems he spent eight years working on Cuba matters, ending in 2004. And in a stern “legal” section of his website, he warns his that his readers “should neither rely nor act upon any of the information contained in these pages and, if you choose to do so, it will be entirely at your own risk.” Fair enough.

It would never occur to me to question whether Simmons has spent a career in intelligence; that’s obviously the case. (His interview includes lots of interesting nuggets, about Cuba’s signals intelligence capabilities and other matters.)

His status in the government arouses curiosity because it has been reported about a dozen different ways in news articles, and because – as would occur to most intelligence professionals – it is rare in our country that anyone in our government who does not exercise prosecutorial power, would step out to accuse Americans of specific crimes.

Which Simmons did again last night, with gusto.

So here’s the deal: “I welcome the opportunity,” Simmons says, to back up his charges, which he says are based on a professor’s articles, and by his talks with former Cuban intelligence operatives. If people feel then have been defamed, they can “take me to civil court, sue me for defamation, and I will parade my evidence in front of the world.”

He “can’t speak for” the Justice Department, Simmons says, but he does exactly that: “And the court case will go from civil case to a criminal case very quickly, and the people accused will find themselves being charged by the government” for espionage, working as an unregistered foreign agent, or tax evasion if they were paid by the Cuban government and did not declare that income.

“You don’t have to believe me,” Simmons says. “If you don’t believe me, take me to court and make me prove it.” Until then, he will presumably keep his notes of conversations with Cuban defectors to himself. Meanwhile, we should defer to his judgment, because according to Simmons, “when it comes to intelligence issues those areas are best left to counterintelligence officers.”

How is this anything other than a smear campaign carried out by a uniformed officer of our military?

[Discussion of Simmons’ appearance on A Mano Limpia last week is here.]

Democratic platform draft released

The draft of the 2008 Democratic Party platform has been released, and includes the following section on Latin America and the Caribbean:

Recommit to an Alliance of the Americas

We recognize that the security and prosperity of the United States is fundamentally tied to the future of the Americas. We believe that in the 21st century, the U.S. must treat Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean as full partners, just as our neighbors to the south should reject the bombast of authoritarian bullies. An alliance of the Americas will only succeed if it is founded on the bedrock of mutual respect and works to advance democracy, opportunity and security from the bottom- up. We must turn the page on the arrogance in Washington and the anti-Americanism across the region that stands in the way of progress. We must work with close partners like Mexico, Brazil and Colombia on issues like ending the drug trade, fighting poverty and inequality, and immigration. And we must build ties to the people of Cuba and help advance their liberty by allowing unlimited family visits and remittances to the island, while presenting the Cuban regime with a clear choice: if it takes significant steps toward democracy, beginning with the unconditional release of all political prisoners, we will be prepared to take steps to begin normalizing relations.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Odds and ends

  • Lt. Col. Simmons didn’t impress former Cuban political prisoner Nicolas Perez, who wrote in today’s El Nuevo Herald. He can’t quite figure Simmons out, and wonders if he is, among other things, settling scores between federal agencies, trying “irresponsibly to promote his book,” or promoting “an electoral agenda.” He says Simmons claims there are Cuban agents among the staff of Miami’s Versailles restaurant, something I had missed. Regarding Simmons’ charges against Marifeli Perez-Stable, Perez asks why he singles her out “in this Miami of a million inhabitants, where 950,000 sympathized and cooperated with the Cuban revolution,” and where people who were “until yesterday” ministers, military officers, functionaries, and torturers in Cuba, are on the radio and television constantly.

  • The Czech Republic, one of the few reliable partners of the Bush Cuba policy, broke ranks in June. Now, Costa Rica: President Arias calls on the United States to take the first step toward normalized relations by returning the naval base at Guantanamo to Cuba.

  • The UN Human Rights Council picks its new president, Miguel Alfonso Martinez, a Cuban law professor and former foreign ministry spokesman. [Correction: the post is president of an advisory committee, not of the council itself.]

Sugar rebound

Reuters reports that Cuba’s sugar industry is reporting increased production of sugar and other products for the first time since the industry’s downsizing a few years ago. That includes alcohol production – but a ministry official who spoke to reporters was not bullish about “ethanol” and would not mention the word. I wonder if there’s an area of clearer comparative advantage for Cuba’s economy that is off limits for political reasons.

[Photo of a sugar mill in Jovellanos, in the process of dismantling.]

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Plaza de la Catedral

Odds and ends

  • El Nuevo Herald reports that a passenger bound for Cuba was nabbed by federal agents in the Miami airport last March with $16,738 in his carry-on bag. He said the envelope came from a travel agent, for delivery to her mother in Cuba.

  • The Cuba Transition Project at the University of Miami announces that two videoconferences with Cuban dissidents and independent journalists are available for viewing on its website, under “New/Relevant.” It would be nice if the U.S. Interests Section would put the rest of its videoconferences on its website, rather than keep them in the closed circle of U.S. officials, Cuban participants, and Cuban spooks who tuned in too.

Lunch (with fly)

The bear in the palm trees

What is going on in Russia’s relationship with Cuba?

Clearly, NATO expansion, and now U.S. plans to deploy ballistic missile defenses in Europe, have not made Moscow happy. So we’re seeing a variety of signals that carry the same message: You play on our periphery, we’ll play on yours.

Some of the signals have fizzed out. The talk of Russian long-range bombers in Cuba has been dismissed by the Russian defense ministry, and by the newspaper that published it in the first place. (And what military sense would it make anyway to have long-range bombers sitting on runways so close to the United States?)

But there are other signals, such as these in a Pravda story yesterday, from Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov, president of the Academy of Geopolitical Sciences:

“It is an open secret that the West has been establishing a buffer zone around Russia during the recent years, getting European, Baltic states, Ukraine and the Caucasus involved in the process. The expansion of the Russian military presence abroad, particularly in Cuba, could become a response to US-led activities.”

In the same article, Ivashov discussed the visit of Russian security council official Nikolai Patrushev to Cuba (which Ivashov called “the island of freedom”) and got more specific:

“There are convenient bays for reconnaissance and battleships and a network of so-called forward staging posts in Cuba. We can resume the operation of the radar center in Lourdes upon the agreement of the Cuban administration. A shipment of new radar equipment will be necessary for it, though.”

What does Cuba think of all this? According to Russian media, not much. Cuban Colada notes a Russian media report that the Castro brothers are not pleased with talk of Russian military moves in Cuba, without their being consulted. The same report quotes an unnamed Cuban official saying Havana is “unlikely to revive military cooperation.”

The Bush Administration, meanwhile, continues to react coolly. Here’s the State Department spokesman in yesterday’s briefing: “We don’t see dealing with the Cuban Government as particularly productive. However, we understand that other countries will have bilateral relations as they seem fit.”

So what does Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin mean when he says, “We need to rebuild position in Cuba and other countries?” For now, the two sides are talking in public about economic and political relations, as this Granma article outlines. And the Russians even talked about taking into account Cuba’s views on Latin America as it develops its own commercial relations, developing “a sort of tripartite cooperation,” the Russian Vice President said in Havana.

One can’t dismiss the military talk lightly. But my guess is that the Russians’ loud talk is designed to make a political point to Washington – and in a year’s time, we will see Russia more involved in Cuba’s economy, based on commercial interests and not a new aid/subsidy relationship.

And my guess is that the military talk will remain just talk.

For Cuba to admit a new Russian military presence would be to change radically the strategy behind its step-by-step renovation of its diplomatic relationships, from Europe to the Vatican to Brazil and China. That strategy has brought political and economic benefits, it promises reduced dependence on Venezuela, and it conveniently spotlights the marginal position the United States holds in the Cuba equation today.

It’s hard to imagine a cost-benefit equation that would cause Havana to abandon that strategy. Russia is not offering handouts, certainly nothing approaching the Soviet subsidy that amounted to about a fourth of Cuba’s national income. Many Cubans, in any event, look on the Soviet period as one of dependence, something they would like to leave behind.

The United States is far from the determining factor in any of this, except for the fact that our diplomatic absence in a country so close creates a space that others – white hats, black hats, everyone in between – then occupy. But it’s interesting to ask whether, if the United States were engaged in even modest diplomacy with Cuba, this Russian gambit would be occurring at all.

Some good reading on this topic from The National Interest and Financial Times.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Odds and ends

  • Someone should tell Rui Ferreira and his graphics editor that Lt. Col. Simmons’ accusations are NOT FUNNY.

  • Reuters: Eight American students finished a free medical education at the Latin American Medical School in Havana, and graduated last weekend.

  • Why has Granma been running a 1973 Fidel speech, and why did Raul dwell on it in his July 26 speech? Brian Latell takes a stab at an answer in a Herald op-ed.

Vermont-Florida rhubarb

“A Florida congressman has launched a war against baseball. Apple pie may be next.” That’s a quote from “Play Ball,” an editorial in The Rutland Herald, about Congressman Diaz-Balart’s opposition to a Vermont baseball team’s trip to Cuba.

Vermont’s Senator Leahy says the Congressman should “pick on someone his own size.”

It’s not just the ball games, it’s the symbolism, Congressman Diaz-Balart argues: “Sporting events may be interpreted as diplomatic gestures even when they are not meant to be.”

A Herald columnist blithely ignores the strategic issues, writing that he supports the trip and has “arranged with one of the coaches to smuggle me back a box of Cohiba Esplendidos.”

The players are 11 and 12 years old. They are scheduled to depart next Saturday.

[Photo: a weekend ballgame in Havana province, high school age players.]

Cuatro Caminos

Saturday, August 2, 2008

A government smear artist (Updated)

Near the end of his appearance last week on A Mano Limpia on Miami’s Channel 41, Lt. Col. Chris Simmons explains that “we got played” by Cuban intelligence when U.S. agents detained Luis Posada Carriles and when Santiago Alvarez was sent to jail on a weapons charge.

Why? Because these men were top targets of Cuban intelligence.

Never mind Posada’s background or the fact that the Bush Administration itself calls him a terrorist.

Never mind that Alvarez pleaded guilty after machine guns, a silencer, a grenade launcher, and other weapons were found stored on property he owns in Broward County. (He entered the plea, the Herald reported, after a mean-spirited judge rejected a “proposal to include Cuban Americans from Miami-Dade County in the Broward County jury pool.”)

No, we got played because Simmons accuses an FBI informer in the case of being a double agent, and because U.S. law enforcement acted against two people whom Cuban intelligence identifies as enemies.

If Fidel’s for it, I’m against it. With that mindset, Simmons is going to do very well in Miami.

He’s certainly doing well on A Mano Limpia, where host Oscar Haza treated him with the journalistic gentleness we only see when Randy Alonso meets his comandante en jefe. It was less an interview than a chat where the host mainly nudges the guest from one topic to another – guided in this case by the notes from which Simmons read. The program, with a bad voice-over translation, is linked at Penultimos Dias.

In this hour, Simmons smilingly accuses four people of serving as agents of influence for Cuba.

Simmons is a U.S. Army officer. The Defense Intelligence Agency refers to him as a “former employee.” In his spare time he and a collection of former Cuban intelligence officers work at an organization he founded. His bio makes it appear that he worked on Cuba issues for eight years, ending in 2004.

Simmons made his accusations, he said, based on his conversations with former Cuban intelligence officers. Haza, to his credit, did ask if these Cubans might be lying; Simmons said there’s “no possibility” of that. Well, that settles that!

Simmons spoke at most length about Alberto Coll, who was convicted in 2005 of lying on U.S. government forms regarding trips he had taken to Cuba while serving as a professor at the Naval War College. Coll served earlier as an assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, and had taught at Georgetown University. Simmons said that Coll is “absolutely” a Cuban agent.

When Coll faced charges related to that travel violation, rumors abounded that he was being investigated for espionage. Haza asked if Simmons had anything to do with the Coll investigation. Simmons said he would “rather not say.” Haza politely left it at that.

But Simmons insisted that there was more to Coll’s story, even though the prosecutor in the case said on the record to journalist Ann Louise Bardach, that “we recognized this was not the crime of the century, and that’s why we recommended the lowest possible punishment – something we never do.”

Simmons’ Cuban sources tell him that Coll met twice in Havana with Cuban intelligence officers, once in a public restaurant! Simmons said there was an “anomaly” in Coll’s behavior that proves he’s a Cuban agent. What was the anomaly? Simmons didn’t say. Haza didn’t ask.

In fact, Simmons never said what Coll actually did as an agent of influence. He said – surprise – that Coll spoke to his superiors after his Cuba trips. Did he disinform them or other U.S. officials? Simmons didn’t say, and Haza didn’t ask.

Similarly, while at the Pentagon, Coll was in a position to “counsel and inform” the Cuban government about U.S. special operations. And throughout his academic career, Coll was in a position to screen students, identifying potential sympathizers whom Cuban agents could later recruit. Did he actually do these things?

You get the idea.

Simmons charges that Gillian Gunn Clissold is a Cuban agent, again without evidence. He identifies her as a Trinity University professor, a job she left years ago. He claims, as if he speaks for the Justice Department, that she was never prosecuted because she’s a British subject, which makes you wonder if he has read a newspaper during the Bush Administration.

Simmons worked in a smear of the Cuban American National Foundation – a long-standing, pro-embargo organization that now favors expanded travel to Cuba, and has drawn hardliners’ ire. He noted that Coll was offered a top job there in 1987, and he expressed his assumption that the Foundation is penetrated by Cuban intelligence, no evidence offered. Say what you will about Simmons, he knows the market segment he’s going for.

Simmons is writing a book with a Miami woman who had a relation with a man whom she did not know to be a Cuban agent, and was abandoned when the agent abruptly returned to Cuba.

I wish him well in that pursuit, but he is showing himself now to be a mediocre smear artist. He portrays himself as an expert on one of the world’s top intelligence services, a service that operates in a language he can’t speak. Simmons trades on his government experience, and on the uniform he wears, to level grave charges against American citizens. He offers no evidence but his own judgment, and conversations he has supposedly had with former Cuban officials. His assertions make for good television in the 305 area code, but they are not backed by anyone in government who has the courage to speak in public.

More important, it doesn’t inspire confidence that our government put a person such as this up against one of the world’s top intelligence services. Watch the program and judge for yourself, but this example jumped out at me. Simmons noted that Coll has the same alma mater, the University of Virginia, as convicted spy Ana Montes, which establishes a “trend” – “certain universities that are associated with Cuban intelligence.”

By my count, there are 20,356 students enrolled now at the University of Virginia. Better get busy, Colonel.

[Update: A reader asked, with good reason, why I discussed only three of the four people whom Lt. Col. Simmons accused of being Cuban agents of influence, omitting Marifeli Perez-Stable. I meant nothing by the omission. Her views on Cuba are in the public domain, and they are critical; moreover, she has openly discussed how her views have evolved. If we are going to go back to the 1960’s and 1970’s to find people whose sympathies or affiliations were with The Revolution, and cross them all off our lists, then we have a lot of crossing off to do – including much of the dissident community in Cuba today. Again, this was a case where Simmons made a charge but failed to say what the accused actually did, in this case about 40 years ago. From a showbiz point of view, readers might want to check the video where Simmons mentions her name, mangling the pronunciation, and Mr. Haza acts extremely surprised even as his producers put her image up on the screen behind him.]

Embargo follies

A senior McCain campaign official has lobbied Congress to ease Cuba sanctions, the liberal blog TPM reports.

John Green, the campaign’s liaison to Congress, was a registered lobbyist for the French firm (and Bacardi nemesis) Pernod Ricard. Green’s registration forms show that he lobbied for a bill that would solve a trademark dispute in Pernod Ricard’s favor, and he also supported bills to end the travel ban, and to end the overall embargo.

Well, at least someone is giving the Senator good advice.

Moving toward the absurd, the InBev/Anheuser-Busch story continues to kick around.

This story of a simple corporate acquisition took on a Cuba angle because InBev, which is acquiring A-B, runs a brewery in Holguin that produces Cristal beer.

This story on Miami’s Channel 41 asks whether the Senator has a “conflict of interest” in the deal. His wife Cindy owns an Arizona Anheuser-Busch distributorship and lots of A-B stock, and as a stockholder would stand to gain from a payout if the deal goes through. (Channel 41 says she would make $2 million, the Wall Street Journal says it’s less.)

The “conflict” is that Senator McCain supports the embargo, and his family income might soon be boosted by a company that does business in Cuba.

So, in the Channel 41 story, a Florida Democratic spokesman enters stage left to needle Senator McCain – he’ll restrict what you send to your abuelita, but he’ll profit from a communist brewery. And from stage right, pitbull lawyer Nick Gutierrez piles on, representing the former owners of the Holguin brewery, raising the issue of “trafficking” in his clients’ property.

Press reports say the Cristal operation accounts for 0.5 percent of InBev’s business.