Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Across the fenceline

An American Catholic Archbishop who serves as Archbishop for the Military Services, Timothy Broglio, visited the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo and left the base to celebrate mass in the city of Guantanamo. He also visited Santiago and the shrine of the Virgen de la Caridad in El Cobre, just outside Santiago. Cuba’s Catholic bishops conference reports that the Archbishop, speaking “perfect Spanish” in his Guantanamo homily, expressed “the American people’s affection for you.” He also said that many of the military personnel on the base had wanted to accompany him across the fenceline to visit monuments and gravesites in the places where, “with the blood of both peoples,” the struggle for Cuban liberty was carried out. “We ask God that one day we can worship without separation.” (H/t Cubaencuentro).

Applause for the coup

The coup in Honduras is a little off topic, except that Cuba has joined the rest of the hemisphere’s governments in condemning it. (See this guide to the events in Honduras from the Council of the Americas.)

Nonetheless, I understand that people don’t like Hugo Chavez and his style of governance, and that recent events in Honduras look like the first reel of the movie that has played in Venezuela.

I understand that Chavez and his allies in other countries have figured out that the way to advance an authoritarian agenda is not head-on, but rather to get elected legitimately and start eroding democratic institutions and violating democratic norms from the inside. I understand that using referenda to end constitutional limits on presidential re-election, or on term limits, is a big part of this agenda. (Although Colombia’s President Uribe, no leftie, has chafed against term limits too.) I understand that President Zelaya, nearing the end of his term, was pressing to change the constitution to allow his re-election, starting with a nonbinding referendum, and that his efforts were rejected in Honduran courts.

What I don’t understand is how the Honduran military’s resolution of this situation – putting troops in the streets, seizing broadcast media, grabbing the President in his pajamas and putting him on a plane to Costa Rica – has earned so much applause on the right in the United States. Is a B-movie military coup the only tool or a legitimate tool to counter the advance of Chavez-style leftist politics in this hemisphere?

Odds and ends

  • A new law permits Cubans to work two jobs, and permits students to work part-time. EFE coverage in English here, Granma’s announcement here.

  • Radio Marti: Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen says the Honduran military “respected the constitution” in removing President Zelaya from power. The Martinoticias website also reports on the Obama Administration’s rejection of the coup, Cuban dissidents’ criticism of it, and Senator Mel Martinez' statement that any interruption of the constitutional order is unacceptable.

  • Bill Ratliff of the Independent Institute and the Hoover Institute calls for the end of the embargo.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Lage and Perez Roque: the Movie

Now we know why Cuban authorities gave out so little information, apart from a terse announcement and a cryptic Fidel Castro reflection, when Vice President Carlos Lage and Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque left their jobs last March.

They were making a movie.

Two movies, actually, one three hours long and one six hours long, covering the demise of Lage, Perez Roque, party international relations chief Fernando Remirez, Otto Rivero, an official who was responsible for the Fidel initiative called the “Battle of Ideas,” and Carlos Valenciaga, a member of the Council of State and private secretary to Fidel Castro.

The movies haven’t been released, but they were covered in Spanish-language newspapers, whose Havana correspondents have spoken to Cubans who have seen them, and the three sets of accounts coincide. The videos have apparently been shown to top leaders, and then to Communist Party militants, to show where the dismissed officials went wrong. Each report says there is strict security at each showing of the videos; the audience is required to check cameras, cell phones, and even pens at the door.

The articles from La Jornada are here and here, from El Pais here and here, and from La Vanguardia here. The Herald’s Cuban Colada summarizes here.

Among the many details in the video, according to the reports:

  • Two key figures, both now under arrest, are Conrado Hernandez, a Cuban national who represented Basque businesses in Cuba, hosted Lage and Perez Roque at his Matanzas farm where their talks were recorded, and admits on tape that he had worked with Spanish intelligence; and Raul Castellanos Lage, a physician and cousin of Carlos Lage.

  • Castellanos is captured on tape saying it would have been “a service to la patria” if Vice President Machado Ventura had been allowed to die when he was treated for heart problems.

  • Raul Castro confronted Lage, Perez Roque, Rivero, and Remirez with accusations at a March 2 Political Bureau meeting, portions of which are included in the video. Twenty members are present, but only Raul questions the four. He asks about favors given to Hernandez; Lage ordered that a river be diverted at Hernandez’ farm, and Perez Roque gave him a diplomatic passport.

  • On February 23, 2008, the day before the National Assembly formally elected Raul Castro president and Machado Ventura first vice president, the Political Bureau of the Communist Party met to make the nominations. All in attendance, including Lage, were told to keep the nominations secret. Lage went from the meeting to a party on the rooftop terrace of the Ambos Mundos hotel, which was ostensibly to celebrate the wedding of Castellanos to the woman with whom he had been living for a decade, but in reality was to celebrate Lage’s nomination to the post of first vice president. A disappointed Lage broke the secret to those in attendance. Later he used a relief pitcher’s metaphor when he told Valenciaga by phone, “They didn’t hand me the ball.” Raul Castro described the scene, saying that what was to be a party “changed to an atmosphere of mourning.” Perez Roque was furious, and vowed to oppose Machado’s nomination in the National Assembly the next day, which he did not do.

  • Conrado Hernandez left the party and informed Spanish contacts of the Machado nomination. The result is that Madrid knew of Machado’s selection before the National Assembly received the nomination or acted on it.

  • In September 2006, Carlos Valenciaga held a raucous birthday party in the same Council of State building where Fidel Castro was living through the worst of his illness, “between life and death,” according to Raul.

A viewer told El Pais that the video has two objectives: to expose espionage, and to demonstrate that the accused “were disloyal, permitted abuses, and nurtured ambitions of power.” The government and party seem to be betting that viewers will absorb that message and agree with the removal of Lage, Perez Roque, and Remirez, rather than identify with the disappointment that these elites of Cuba’s next generation, promoted by Fidel and Raul to their top jobs, felt when they thought their moment had come.

Odds and ends

  • Cuba is condemning the coup in Honduras and says that its ambassador in Tegucigalpa was “beaten” by Honduran soldiers. The ambassador, along with those of Venezuela and Nicaragua, was reportedly with the Honduran foreign minister when soldiers “broke into the place where they were” and detained them. Prensa Latina story in English here. “The place where they were” was later identified by Fidel Castro as the foreign minister’s home. The New York Times covers the coup here, and the region’s unanimous rejection of it here.

  • Reuters reports on the low penetration of phone and Internet service in Cuba, based on new data released by Cuba’s statistics office.

Sunday, June 28, 2009


“If they swear in Micheletti, or Peleletti or Gafetti or Goriletti, we will overthrow him.”

– Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, June 28, referring to Roberto Micheletti, who was indeed sworn in as President of Honduras after military forces seized President Zelaya and put him on a plane to Costa Rica.


Friday, June 26, 2009

The hole in the Bush strategy

The Bush Administration never used the term “regime change” with regard to Cuba, but its intentions (“transition,” “hasten the end of the dictatorship,” etc.) were always clear enough. President Bush’s beefed-up sanctions backed up those intentions, but his maintenance of longstanding U.S. immigration policy toward Cubans went in the opposite direction, and was one of several factors that made me believe that his intentions were more rhetorical than real.

The reason is simple: our exceptional immigration policy toward Cubans tells them that if they want to come to the United States, they will be admitted even if they have no visa, and once they arrive they will receive federal benefits. One can argue that this makes sense on humanitarian grounds, but the policy and the message it sends strongly undercuts any impetus toward political change. In effect, it encourages Cubans who are discontented and want to do something about it, to leave their country rather than stay and work for change.

The details of this policy, including the federal benefits, are explained in an excellent report (pdf) published last month by the Congressional Research Service. It gathers lots of useful data; for example, in fiscal year 2008, 49,500 Cubans became legal permanent residents, 4,100 were admitted as refugees after being processed at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, 11,278 were admitted after appearing without a U.S. visa at a port of entry (Laredo, Texas for the vast majority), 3,351 were apprehended by the Border Patrol, mostly in coastal areas, and 2,199 were interdicted at sea.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Odds and ends

  • Herald: Another day, another set of indictments for $100 million in Medicare fraud, another set of suspects that has fled to Cuba.

  • Spain may extend the period of applications for citizenship under its “ley de nietos” for another year, according to this article in Spanish from Europa Press. Under that law, children and grandchildren of Spanish emigrants are applying for citizenship, and in Cuba and some other Latin American countries, demand is high. In Spain’s consulate in Havana, 325 applications are being received by appointment every day, a pace that will continue through the end of next year. Presumably, Cubans who hold Spanish passports will be able to use those passports to travel to the United States without getting a visa, since Spain is under the visa waiver program. Another benefit, when these new Spanish citizens reach retirement age, is a monthly stipend under Spain’s program of “pensiones asistenciales.”

  • EFE: Cuba announces that it has developed a new variety of plantain plant that grows no taller than two meters and will better survive hurricanes; the first harvest is expected in July.

Iran Through Cuban Eyes

A fascinating essay by Penultimos Dias’ Ernesto Hernandez Busto at RealClearWorld.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Odds and ends

  • EFE: a new report says Cuba’s population is stagnant and will decrease by 100,000 by 2025.

  • Wired: Cuba as a potential IT outsourcing powerhouse.

  • From London Metropolitan University, a new issue of the International Journal of Cuban Studies, including an interview with Britain’s current ambassador to Cuba, sketches of Cuba from a former ambassador, and a 1963 essay on the socialist revolution and the roots of Cuban nationalism.

  • The distribution of idle farmland in Matanzas province “is not going well,” Granma reports. About 5,000 applications for land have been approved, more than 7,000 are in process, and 4.6 percent of applications have been denied so far.

  • Cuban National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon says an exchange of jailed dissidents for the Cuban Five should be possible because the dissidents “committed the same offense as the five compañeros, being agents [of the United States], albeit to do different things.”

  • Spain’s La Vanguardia visits Havana’s Calle G, Avenida de los Presidentes, where 20-somethings hang out en masse on weekend nights, and the scene “begins around nine o’clock and stretches toward dawn.”

  • The Herald’s Cuban Colada translates excerpts of an article in ABC (Madrid) on the goings-on at the Matanzas farm of Conrado Hernandez. Hernandez, reportedly in detention, is a Cuban who worked for Basque businesses in Cuba and reportedly hosted Carlos Lage and Felipe Perez Roque for some relaxed weekend get-togethers – with microphones.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The world's economic downturn, and Cuba's

The grim news about Cuba’s economy continues. The message of a Juventud Rebelde article, recounting interviews with officials and university economists, is that things remain tough: the Cuban diet will be affected, there is less liquidity, investment plans are being cut, tourism and remittances are likely to decline, and international credit will be harder to obtain. The economists urge cutting red tape that is slowing the distribution of unused farmlands and “changing the work incentive system” throughout the economy. But again the strongest message seems to be an exhortation to conserve energy and other resources so as to reduce Cuba’s import bill.

In El Pais, a foreign business executive says things “are worse than ever,” and he hasn’t been able to transfer dollars from his Cuban bank account since January. A diplomat tells the paper that some foreign businesses have started to limit supplies to their Cuban operations because they can’t repatriate their earnings.

A bright spot: South Africa is negotiating the forgiveness of Cuba’s bilateral debt, a Cuban minister announced, while a visiting South African cabinet minister thanks Cuba for the medical education nearly 300 South Africans are receiving in Cuba, and for the work of “302 Cuban specialists” in housing and other projects in South Africa.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Welcome to the club, Barney

Orbitz CEO Barney Harford thinks Americans should be able to travel to Cuba without restriction, and he’s doing something about it. Orbitz started a website where you can sign a petition and send messages to the White House and your representatives in Congress.

Harford makes his argument in this article where he notes:

“In 1971 the U.S. State Department lifted the ban on travel to China. Later that year the U.S. ping-pong team made the first visit to China by a U.S. sports team since 1949. A year later President Nixon took a few momentous steps off an airplane in Beijing and talked about ‘the week that changed the world.’ These early moves laid the groundwork for turning a closed, hostile relationship into the most important economic and diplomatic relationship in the world today.”

One might add that the Nixon Administration’s moves were taken because they were seen to be in our national interest, and they weren’t conditioned on changes in communist China’s behavior. China’s economic reforms started toward the end of the 1970’s.

At any rate, Harford is taking some heat for his position, and because (God forbid) he would make money if increased travel to Cuba were to translate into more business for Orbitz.

The Heritage Foundtion took a shot at him here, which reminded me of a compilation of Cuban views of this issue that I put together last time Heritage joined this debate.

And National Review’s Jay Nordlinger weighed in too, pointing out with good reason that Cubans too deserve the right to travel as they wish. Even as he asks, “Why would anyone want to visit a state that no inhabitant is allowed to leave?,” Nordlinger recognizes that there’s another side to the argument. It was voiced at times the venerable founder of his magazine, William F. Buckley, who himself visited Cuba and opposed U.S. sanctions. Samples of his views are here and here.

Buckley wasn’t alone among conservatives. President Nixon, architect of the China policy, called for an end to the Cuba embargo in his last book, Beyond Peace. And as early as 1995 a Wall Street Journal editorial said it “somehow seems a failure of imagination” to keep the embargo in place.

Anyway, welcome to the club, Barney. If you want to sign his petition, go here.

Odds and ends

  • Sources tell Reuters that an offshore oil drilling platform has been found and will soon be on its way to Cuba. Drilling could therefore be only months away. This platform follows the exploratory drilling by Spain’s Repsol in 2004, with apparently promising results.

  • The Herald: the State Department “is looking to confirm dates” for migration talks. In Cuba, National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon gives an interview to AP and says that Cuba wants to talk about more than migration.

  • More on the Wednesday TV Marti hearing: links to witnesses’ statements are here.

  • Journalist Kirk Nielsen, veteran of past Cuba spy trials, looks ahead to that of the Myers.

  • The State Department’s annual report on human trafficking, another of the reports where Congress requires the Executive to pass judgment on the rest of the world, has been issued. Judge the section on Cuba for yourself. It says that Cuba views “U.S. attempts to engage officials on trafficking issues as politically motivated.”

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

On TV Marti

Here's a statement of mine on TV Marti for a hearing being held today in the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Odds and ends

  • The EU Council reviewed Europe’s policy toward Cuba and decided that “political dialogue with Cuba should be pursued and deepened on a comprehensive, equal and result-oriented basis,” with “high priority to the principles of democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms.” The resolution is here (pdf), AFP coverage here, and Radio Marti covers the story via two dissidents with differing opinions (story here, with audio link).

  • What to do with the Guantanamo naval base? Drake Bennett discusses some long-range ideas in the Boston Globe.

  • Along the Malecon cites Lonely Planet’s description of Trinidad, “a kind of Varadero in reverse” because there’s so much contact between visitors and locals. About 300 families rent rooms in their homes to visitors.


Monday, June 15, 2009

China sees silver lining in Cuban economy

Before rounding up the economic news from Cuba, which isn’t too good these days, let’s start on the bright side.

In China, they seem to be optimistic about economic reform in Cuba, or maybe they’re trying to nudge the process along. At least that seems to be the message from this article from Beijing’s Xinhua news agency, which sums up a recent essay by Gramna editor Lazaro Barredo like this: “The Cuban government announced that it will soon make ‘inevitable’ reforms in the country to tackle the international economic crisis.”

I didn’t quite get the same message from Barredo’s essay. The (run-on) sentence that caught Xinhua’s eye was as follows: “These days numerous tense analyses are taking place throughout the government apparatus that will carry forward inevitable readjustments and that will not be impossible to overcome if, along with the incentive of citizen mobilization, businesses accomplish an in-depth review of their inventories, we know what reserves we can count on so as to work with what we have for the rest of the year and thus avoid imports, and all budgeted activities are aware that in every workplace we should fight against wasteful tendencies.”

To me, that’s not exactly a call for reform, much less an “announcement.” It sounds more as if Barredo is exhorting everyone to work harder and setting the stage for belt-tightening. “One of the things that the difficult economic situation most demands is that we confront that spendthrift mentality,” Barredo said in the same essay. His other essays in recent weeks have driven home the same message.

If the Chinese know something we don’t know, so much the better. But so far, as the effects of the world economic crisis continue to pile up in Cuba, it appears that outside the farm sector where results are mixed, reform is not on the menu.

So what about the economic news?

  • Reuters, June 14: “Cuban factories are closing down and production is being cut at other workplaces as the international financial crisis weighs on the import-dependent Caribbean island, the official media said on Sunday.” This article is based on a long Juventud Rebelde article that details closings and slowdowns in Cuba’s industrial sector.

  • AFP, June 10: Power is being cut, use of air conditioning is being limited, and rations of some basic staples are being cut by a third or more.

  • EFE, June 12: The budgets of regional government entities and some economic sectors are being cut by six percent.

  • La Jornada, June 10: Cuba, a net importer of oil, has turned to selling some of its domestic production to address a hard currency cash crunch. The oil would otherwise be used to generate electricity, presumably to avoid blackouts.

  • Reuters, June 9: Cuba is seeking new terms on its foreign debt, seeking to roll some over and to restructure other bonds.

  • Reuters, June 1: Cuts are everywhere: in urban bus service, in intercity train service, in lunches provided in workplaces, in the economy ministry’s 2009 economic growth forecast for Cuba (cut from six percent to less than three percent), and in imports of meat from U.S. producers.

  • Reuters, May 26: Cuba’s 2009 foreign exchange income could drop by about one fourth, about $1 billion, due mainly to lower nickel prices and declining tourism income.

  • Finally, there were the reports last month that the salary reform initiated more than one year ago and intended to give every Cuban worker a flexible pay scale that rewards productivity, is moving very, very slowly toward implementation. Articles from Reuters here and La Jornada here, and the Bohemia articles that broke the story are here and here.

And in the agriculture sector, where sound steps have been underway since last year to distribute idle lands and increase private farming, the Cuban media is reporting problems.

This article in Juventud Rebalde reported last month that farmers are doing their part, vastly increasing tomato production, but hundreds of tons of tomatoes from the recent harvest rotted due to lack of transport by the state agency that is supposed to collect the crop and bring it to processing centers. One cooperative is suing that agency for 146,343 pesos for 2,610 quintales of tomatoes (a quintal is a 100-pound unit of measure).

On June 7, Juventud Rebelde reported that an experiment will begin August 1 in two provinces – the city and province of Havana – to improve the collection, transport, and sale of food. Under the new structure, the paper reports, the agriculture ministry will be out of this business, and will be supplanted by 23 financially independent state enterprises, which will make contracts with producers and handle transportation. In the article, a farmer complained that his cooperative has not been permitted to make a contract for direct sales of vegetables to “an organization” that wanted to do so. But an official explained that under the new structure, the cooperative will be able to make such contracts after its obligations to the state enterprises have been met. We’ll see how it goes.

Where does this leave things? Well, if there’s an optimistic reading, it’s not the one in Xinhua that seems to add pro-reform tendencies to articles in Granma. It would be that Raul Castro is starting with agriculture and will get to other sectors when agriculture is done. He certainly has identified agriculture as a priority.

A more realistic reading, I think, would be that not even the pressure of a global economic slump has shaken the Cuban government from a very deliberate approach to economic reform.

As I have written before, I think the moves in agriculture are interesting not because they create free-market agriculture on our terms – as if we ourselves had free-market agriculture! – but because they are expanding the reach of private farming in Cuba, and expanding incentives in that sector. Other sectors, if they get to them, will take time. Would that Lazaro Barredo would fill us in on the government’s thinking on that.

Odds and ends

  • Reuters: The U.S. Supreme Court today declined to take the case of the Cuban Five.

  • Physician Hilda Molina, who broke with the system 15 years ago and has sought permission to travel to Argentina to visit her family there, finally got permission and traveled last weekend. She told La Nacion that 15 days ago when her mother was hospitalized, she wrote another letter to the Council of State and pledged that if permitted to leave, she would return. AP coverage here.

  • Two additions to the blogroll at right, both in Spanish: the return of Herejias y Caipirinhas by former El Nuevo Herald reporter Rui Ferreira, BBC correspondent Fernando Ravsberg’s Cartas desde Cuba.

  • The Luis Posada Carriles trial is delayed until next February; Herald story here.

  • Fernando Ravsberg of the BBC’s Spanish service (which would do such a service if it were to translate his “Cartas desde Cuba” blog into English) writes about those Cubans who have hard currency income – some with enough to send money to help family abroad.

  • In the Washington Post, Peter Carlson looks back at an imaginative episode in American diplomacy, when President Eisenhower wanted a game-changer in U.S.-Soviet relations and invited Nikita Khrushchev for a September 1959 visit.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Odds and ends

  • A new nugget in the Myers case: the judge’s order (pdf) denying bail to the couple indicates that in 1996 and 1997, the FBI intercepted messages from Cuba referring to these agents by their code names, 202 and 634. Only later, apparently, did the FBI establish their identities. (See pages 7 and 8.)

  • The Cuban American community of Phoenix, Arizona – who knew? – is gearing up to do more travel to Cuba to visit family, the Arizona Republic reports. From the anecdotes I have heard, the relaxation in regulations that occurred earlier this year – permitting family visits annually instead of every three years – has spurred an increase in travel, and it’s anyone’s guess how volume will be affected when the Obama Administration’s April policy decision is finally implemented, allowing Cuban Americans to travel without restriction.

  • In this interview in El Pais, OAS Secretary General Insulza looks back at the repeal of the “archaic” 1962 resolution that suspended Cuba. He says he doesn’t believe that “one resolution is capable of producing immediate changes in Cuba,” but it “contributes to creating a different atmosphere on the island.” He is not worried about U.S. Congressional threats to the OAS’ funding.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Cuba's spies and our interests

Two Americans are arrested and charged with spying for Cuba, and there are calls for the Obama Administration to stop any developments in relations with that country.

I’m reminded of other big espionage cases and the responses that followed from the United States and other countries.

Like when it was discovered in 1985 that the Soviets had placed listening devices throughout the U.S. Embassy building in Moscow while it was under construction – “It’s nothing but an eight-story microphone plugged into the Politburo,” Congressman Dick Armey said – or that in 1987 the Soviets had compromised a U.S. Marine guard at our embassy in Moscow. The Reagan Administration of course responded by breaking off diplomatic relations, President Clinton restored them, only to break them off again when it was discovered that the Russians had bugged a conference room in the State Department.

Or when the United States arrested Jonathan Pollard in 1987. Pollard was working as a naval intelligence analyst, and he was also passing military and intelligence information to Israel. We all remember that the United States downgraded diplomatic relations and cut off economic and military aid to Israel for several years.

And more recently, there was the case of the Chinese presidential airplane, a Boeing 767 that had been refitted in the United States. When the Chinese government discovered in 2001 that listening devices had been placed throughout the aircraft – even in the headboard of the presidential bed – they kicked our ambassador and half our diplomatic staff out of Beijing, and relations went into a deep freeze for five years.

CORRECTION: The espionage stories above are all true, as the links will show. The parts about the governments’ responses, I made those up.

In fact, President Reagan was under pressure to put relations with Moscow in the deep freeze, but he resisted firmly. As TIME reported in 1987:

But Reagan and Shultz would not accede to a Senate resolution calling for the Secretary to postpone his Moscow trip until security problems were resolved. Shultz conceded that the espionage throws a “heavy shadow” over U.S.-Soviet relations. But Reagan declared, “I just don’t think it’s good for us to be run out of town.” The Administration’s priority, he told the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, is the “pursuit of verifiable and stabilizing arms reduction.” The President even repeated his invitation to Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev to come to the U.S. for a summit: “The welcome mat is still out.”

Cuba’s intelligence services are good at what they do, they are patient, they play for the long term, and as this AP story points out, their modus operandi makes it particularly difficult to find their agents. The accused spies Walter Kendall Myers and Gwendolyn Myers (profiled here in Saturday’s Washington Post), who have pleaded not guilty, did not work on Latin America and their friends have been quoted saying they can’t recall them ever talking about Latin America. Kendall Myers apparently helped Cuba through his job as a high-ranking State Department intelligence official covering Europe – a post where he had access to intelligence products of all kinds, including those about Cuba. The most interesting information I have seen is in the criminal complaint (pdf) on the Herald’s website. The New York Times reported on Saturday that the Myers were under investigation for three years, but I have seen no reporting that explains what triggered the U.S. government’s suspicions.

Cuban espionage against the United States (and, one presumes, U.S. espionage against Cuba) is a fact of life.

So is the fact that Cuba is a next-door neighbor, like it or not. Cuba is a source of migration to the United States and has been the source of migration crises, its territory can be used to smuggle drugs to the United States, and it’s a place where in the years ahead, offshore oil drilling could go wrong and the Gulf Stream would turn a Cuban spill into a Florida beach disaster in about four days.

Either it’s in our interest to ensure that migration from Cuba is safe and legal, or it’s not. Ditto for drug interdiction and protecting the marine environment. It’s fair to debate, if the Obama Administration one day proposes collaborating with Cuba on these subjects, whether the Administration’s ideas will produce results. But like it or not, the only government with which to engage on these issues is in Havana.

Declining to engage with Cuba on specific issues that affect U.S. national interests – as President Reagan demonstrated when he defended his engagement with the Soviets – will do nothing to stop Cuban espionage, but it would ensure that we leave those interests unattended. The only defense against the world-class intelligence service of this neighboring country is relentless counterintelligence.

Friday, June 5, 2009

New spy case

A Washington couple arrested for a 30-year run spying for Cuba; details here, and the Herald has the criminal complaint here (pdf).

The OAS, bringing people together

“…this rotten institution”

- Fidel Castro, May 8

“…this sham of an organization”

- Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, June 3

“Bury the pestilent cadaver.”

- Granma, May 29

“The OAS is a putrid embarrassment.”

- Congressmen Lincoln and Mario Díaz-Balart, June 3

Odds and ends

  • Central Bank President Francisco Soberon has resigned. His replacement is Ernesto Medina, head of the Banco Financiero Internacional. Soberon managed a monetary policy that kept the Cuba peso’s value relatively stable, about 20-25 to the dollar, ever since it spiked to about 150 to the dollar in the early 1990’s. The announcement of his resignation said he resigned at is own initiative and had worked “with loyalty and honesty,” as did “the majority of the ministers who were replaced last March.” Reuters story here. La Jornada discusses the change in light of the current liquidity crisis here.

  • Reuters: National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon, leader of Cuba’s delegation in previous rounds of migration talks, says the two sides are “in contact” and adjusting their calendars to prepare for a new round.

  • AP: Venezuela allocates $70 million to lay the undersea fiber optic cable to Cuba.

  • They outfitted a foam raft and headed for the United States and reached…the shore by the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. AP has a story and photos.

Waiting for Mass to begin

Thursday, June 4, 2009

OAS and Cuba: What next?

The first thing to note about the OAS action in Honduras regarding Cuba is that it is exactly what Secretary General Insulza suggested at the Trinidad summit in April. The 1962 resolution was repealed, and the issue of Cuba’s return was left for another day – or, as Insulza put it in an interview in May, “A rusted lock has to be taken off, and later we open the door.”

Cuba’s return is not automatic. The resolution provides that Cuba would have to ask to return, and then a “process of dialogue” would take place “in accordance with the practices, purposes and principles” of the OAS.

Hence the resolution, approved by consensus, was crafted to allow all to claim victory.

The Obama Administration sees the “practices, purposes, and principles” clause as a clear reference to the OAS Democratic Charter, and believes the hemisphere’s democratic principles were defended. Until recently, says the National Security Council Latin America chief Dan Restrepo, OAS members “would have supported a three-line resolution lifting the 1962 resolution and allowing Cuba to automatically return to the OAS.” Now, he argues, “for Cuba to return to the organization, the organization has to agree that Cuba is abiding by the same rules that everybody else is abiding by. That is a historic achievement.”

Other OAS members note that the 1962 resolution was repealed unconditionally. “Today the Cold War has ended,” Honduran President Jose Manuel Zelaya said. With El Salvador’s restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba on Monday, the entire region except the United States now has formal ties. And the 1962 resolution that suspended Cuba for its “adherence” to Marxism-Leninism and its “alignment” with “the communist bloc” is gone. A few nights ago, Zelaya joked on CNN that if 1962 standards were to be applied today, the United States would have to be expelled from the OAS, given its ties to Russia and China.

What happens now?

Cuba controls the timetable, since the resolution stipulates that any further action would be triggered by a Cuban request. Cuba reiterated last night that it “Cuba has not asked and does not want to return” to the OAS, according to a statement read on the Mesa Redonda television program.

If Cuba one day changes its mind, the entire debate over conditions for its re-entry – sidestepped in Honduras by the resolution’s compromise language – will then be revived, and we will see exactly how much OAS member states see the Democratic Charter as an impediment to seating Cuba.

The answer may be: Not much.

In the same interview cited above, Secretary General Insulza said, “If you ask me whether Cuba meets the requirements of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, I could name seven or eight countries that do not meet them.” And Brazilian President Lula da Silva – whom President Obama called “to press for help in ending the impasse” in Honduras, according to the New York Times – says it’s possible to find a “common denominator” to permit Cuba’s return, and he’s “optimistic that in the coming months we are going to find a solution.”

Secretary of State Clinton’s statement is here. The Herald has audio of comments by Assistant Secretary of State Tom Shannon here. Cuban Colada has a roundup of Congressional and other reaction.

AFP Spanish reports that at the OAS meeting, a U.S. delegate complained that no English version of the resolution was available 11 hours after it was approved, leading the Honduran foreign minister to plead for patience and to note, “There are some who have waited 47 years.”

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

OAS resolution text

Here's the text of the OAS resolution adopted today:


RECOGNIZING the shared interest in the full participation of all the member states;

GUIDED by the purposes and principles of the Organization of American States embodied in the Charter of the Organization and its other fundamental instruments related to security, democracy, self determination, non-intervention, human rights, and development;

CONSIDERING the open-mindedness that characterized the dialogue of the heads of state and government at the Fifth Summit of the Americas, in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, and that in that same spirit the member states wish to establish a revitalized and ample framework of cooperation in hemispheric relations; and

BEARING IN MIND that pursuant to Article 54 of the OAS Charter, the General Assembly is the supreme organ of the Organization,


1. That Resolution VI, adopted on January 31, 1962 at the Eighth Meeting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, which excluded the Government of Cuba from its participation in the Inter-American System hereby ceases to have effect in the Organization of American States.

2. That the participation of the Republic of Cuba in the OAS will be the result of a process of dialogue initiated at the request of the Government of Cuba, and in accordance with the practices, purposes and principles of the OAS.

Barack Herbert Walker Jefferson Obama (Updated)

Ok, it’s an unfair headline. Very unfair.

President Obama has been in office four months, the challenges he inherited at home and abroad are huge, and he hasn’t had time to put his mark on every aspect of every policy he inherited from Presidents Bush, Clinton, and Bush.

But there will come a time when an absence of decisions will turn inherited policies into Obama policies.

The case of Cuba and Microsoft’s Instant Messenger is a case in point.

Last week it came to light that Microsoft blocked the use of its chat program by users in Cuba and other countries under U.S. economic sanctions. The company explains the action in this note, saying it acted at the behest of the Treasury Department. Cuba complained about Microsoft’s restriction of Cubans’ use of the Internet, and the irony wasn’t lost on this British website, which summed up: “That is our job, comrade.”

If anyone can explain why it would be a bad thing for Cubans to use this program, I’m all ears.

Treasury’s action certainly doesn’t fit the Obama Administration’s expressed desire to encourage more communication with and within Cuba. Clearly, it was taken by a bureaucracy on auto-pilot. This is one more reason for the Obama Administration to conduct a full-scale review of Cuba policy, as the Secretary of State promised in her confirmation process.

[Update: from the Center for Democracy in the Americas, a request for Treasury to explain (pdf).]

The OAS, still plugging away (Updated)

At the OAS General Assembly, they debated the Cuba issue until 11:00 p.m. and adjourned with no decision.

AFP Spanish reports that a majority supported a measure to revoke the 1962 resolution that suspended Cuba’s membership and open a process of consultations on Cuba’s return, and on the conditions of Cuba’s return, if and when Cuba states that it wants to return to the OAS. A search for consensus will continute today.

Coverage from The Miami Herald here, from the New York Times here.

[Update: AP reports that the 1962 resolution has been repealed.]

Odds and ends

  • Penultimos Dias: the Cuban state enterprise Cubalse, which provides services to diplomatic missions and other foreigners resident in Cuba, has been dissolved.

  • El Nuevo Herald raises doubts as to whether the Cuban Communist Party will hold a congress toward the end of this year, noting that the customary preparations don’t seem to be under way.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Crunch time for the OAS

The only thing that’s clear about the OAS and Cuba is that Cuba doesn’t want in. The third article in a Granma series called the organization a “pestilent cadaver.”

Nonetheless, the OAS General Assembly is about to plow ahead and debate two issues: the repeal of the 1962 resolution that suspended Cuba’s membership, and if that is done, the conditions (if any) under which Cuba would resume full membership.

AP reports that as of last night, there was no consensus among the member states, which is important because while the decision could be made by a two-thirds vote, the organization operates almost exclusively by consensus. That effectively gives each member state a veto. In this case – if proponents of Cuba’s return do not force a vote – it gives the Obama Administration a strong hand in pressing its view (expressed in a resolution (pdf) it proposed las week) that Cuba’s readmission should be tied to meeting conditions in the OAS Democratic Charter.

It would be interesting if the member states were debating a different proposition. Arturo Lopez Levy of the University of Denver kindly contributed this essay (pdf) that provides an interesting review of the history of Cuba and the OAS. He suggests that the 1962 resolution should be repealed, but Cuba should not be re-admitted to full membership now. Instead:

Cuba should be invited to participate in inter-American efforts against terrorism, narco-trafficking, natural disasters, pandemics and other threats. The OAS should also open its civil society forums to Cuban non-governmental organizations and allow Cuban students access to OAS scholarships.

“Likewise, the Cuban government should reevaluate its attitude toward the OAS from a 21st century perspective. Just as it has done with the Pan-American Health Organization in the last four decades, Cuba can benefit from a more active engagement with inter-American institutions in areas such as agriculture, academic exchange, and energy cooperation.”

Sounds like a way to avoid a train wreck in the making.

Odds and ends

  • Reuters: Miami’s Chamber of Commerce looks at the economic impact on the city of an end to the Cuba embargo. Miami cannot afford to sit back and let other communities prepare,” is chairman says.

  • Attorneys for the “Cuban Five” are petitioning for the case to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court; their petition is here and the Justice Department’s argument in opposition is here (pdf).

Monday, June 1, 2009

Time to talk

Cuba delivered a diplomatic note to the State Department Saturday accepting the Obama Administration’s offer to resume semiannual talks to discuss the implementation of the 1994 migration accords, and to discuss resumption of direct mail service between the two countries.

Cuba also wants terrorism, drug enforcement, and hurricane preparedness to be on the agenda. Here’s coverage from The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Reuters.

Secretary of State Clinton said she is “very pleased” by the news, noting that the Administration has “made more progress [in U.S.-Cuba relations] in four months than has been made in a number of years” (which isn’t saying much). She went on: “Greater connections can lead to a better, freer future for the Cuban people. These talks are in the interest of the United States, and they are also in the interest of the Cuban people.”

The talks will give the new Administration a chance to make and present its own assessment of the migration accords. The Bush Administration complained regularly that Cuba failed to grant exit permits to hundreds of Cubans to whom visas have been granted, and that Cuba refuses to permit the United States to conduct a new visa lottery to generate applicants for the immigrant visa program. The last lottery was held more than ten years ago. For its part, Cuba can be expected to argue that the United States’ wet foot-dry-foot policy violates the migration accords because it admits, rather than repatriates, Cubans who arrive in the United States by “irregular” means. The accords were negotiated at a time when thousands of Cubans had come to the United States by boats and rafts; since then the bulk of illegal migration has occurred via alien smuggling.

These talks won’t solve all the differences between Cuba and the United States. But it’s a good development that I hope will give both sides an opportunity to press issues of concern (for the United States, including human rights) in a face-to-face setting and to find other areas in which to work, such as environmental protection.

A statement of mine on talks with Cuba and U.S. national security interests is here.