Saturday, December 26, 2009

Raul Castro on the USAID detainee

The Cuban government made its first statement on the detained USAID contractor (see discussion here), and it came from President Raul Castro in his December 21 speech to Cuba’s National Assembly. Excerpts (my translation):

Despite the enormous propaganda campaign undertaken to confuse the world about an apparent willingness to take a new direction in the bilateral dispute, putting forth [as evidence] the repeal of the restrictions on the trips of Cuban émigrés and remittances to their relatives, the truth is that the instruments for the policy of aggression against Cuba remain intact, and the U.S. government does not give up on destroying the Revolution and generating a change in our economic and social regime.


The enemy is as active as ever. A case in point is the detention in recent days of a U.S. citizen, euphemistically labeled as a government “contractor” in statements by State Department spokesmen, who was devoting himself to the illegal distribution of sophisticated satellite communications equipment to “civil society” groups that they hope to set up against our people.

This is not good news for the American detainee, who we’ll again call Mr. Smith.

It would seem to increase the odds that Cuba will apply the law that USAID warned about in 2003 with regard to Cuban citizens and “U.S. individuals and organizations” participating in the USAID program. The law, called Law 88, was passed in response to the Helms-Burton law and repeatedly characterizes that law and its programs as having the goal of “breaking the internal order, destabilizing the country, and liquidating the Socialist State and the independence of Cuba.” It provides a prison term of three to eight years for someone who “distributes or participates in the distribution of financial, material, or other resources that come from the United States government, its agencies, subordinates, representatives, functionaries, or private entities…”

Meanwhile, the Washington Post examines the USAID Cuba program and reports, based on U.S. government sources, that Mr. Smith is a “computer specialist traveling on a tourist visa,” and “was not working with political dissidents but was hooking up members of a community group to the Internet.” One official said his activity would be “extremely innocuous” anywhere else.

Under these circumstances, it may be good that no charges have been filed yet. Hopefully, our diplomats have more time to try to achieve Smith’s release. But it seems clear that on the Cuban side, Smith is viewed not as an ordinary social worker, but as a political operative in a U.S. program to bring down the Cuban government.

Which gets to the real flaw in the program. It is designed around American intentions and ignores the nature of Cuba’s government. It expects a foreign government to collaborate in its own undoing. It’s an overt regime change program that depends on Cuba giving visas to people who come to carry it out. Cuba’s government is the least likely in the world to allow such a project to work.

Maybe it was nice while it did work, but now that an American is in jail it seems to me that the Obama Administration has to decide a few things. Among them: whether this program and this method of operating is the best way to promote its goals in Cuba.

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