Doing fine, thanks, just took a break. Lots of catching up and digging out to do, including many Wikileaks cables now that the whole trove is out. To get started, the latest in the case of jailed USAID contractor Alan Gross.
Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson is in Cuba to seek Mr. Gross’ release. He has traveled there before to work on U.S.-Cuban relations, but this time Richardson was invited by the Cuban government, Gross’ lawyer told AP. The State Department made a statement of support.
Richardson apparently spent a day talking to Cuban officials and was not granted permission to visit Mr. Gross, whom he now labels a “hostage.” Lodged at the less-than-austere Hotel Nacional, Richardson has begun a war of wills with the Revolution by declaring that he will not leave Cuba until such a visit is granted.
Separately, and earlier, Mr. Gross’ lawyer released of some of his testimony at trial to AP. He said he had been a “trusting fool” and “I was used.” “Used” how and by whom is not clear.
Speaking of Wikileaks, here’s the December 28, 2009 account of U.S. diplomats’ first visit to Mr. Gross in jail. He told the U.S. diplomat that Cuban “officials ‘knew everything’ before he was taken into custody and had asked for details of all his
activities, i.e., the projects and companies he had worked for in the 54 countries he had travelled to during his 30-year career.” He also reported that his personal effects included a “CitiBank password decoder,” whatever that is.
Finally, a CNN report quotes a USAID official describing the Obama Administration’s thinking about Cuba democracy programs.
The programs are “not about regime change,” the official says. Fair enough; no one would claim that Alan Gross’ activities would topple the Cuban government. But the program is funded by a U.S. law that aims explicitly to change the political order in Cuba. If we write such things in U.S. law – even if for political purposes, even if we don’t take them seriously – we can hardly expect that the target government will treat it lightly. If we don’t take it seriously and if we want to remove Cuba’s pretext, we can always repeal the law.
The programs are neither clandestine nor covert, the official says, because USAID doesn’t “do intelligence.” You can say that again! I have described them as semi-covert, because they are overt here and attempt to be covert there (or “discreet” in USAID’s term). Operationally, that is an absurd proposition.
“We don’t use Cuban law as a guide to these kinds of efforts,” the official says. That’s a good thing in a sense, but the issue is not the validity of Cuban law. The reason why the State Department advises Americans to comply with foreign laws is not because they have been judged to be valid, or been judged at all. It’s because if you get thrown in jail, you are subject to the foreign law and the foreign judicial system and its standards. That’s the practical problem you face regardless of whether the foreign law is just like ours, or incomprehensible to us.
That, of course, is why USAID explicitly warns grantees who participate in its Cuba program.
What I wonder is how the Cuba program affects USAID globally. USAID works cooperatively, reaching agreements with foreign governments and carrying them out in the open. The message here is that our principles and interests matter more than their sovereignty, even as regards our activities in their territory. That is of course a near-universal (and rarely stated) view among governments, even Cuba’s; it’s why governments create foreign intelligence services. But economic assistance agencies?