Friday, August 19, 2011

State sponsor of obfuscation

The State Department’s annual terrorism report, a long, informative report, was issued yesterday.

Ours is the only government that issues report cards on the rest of the world: on human rights practices, on efforts to stop human trafficking, on anti-terrorism efforts. Many people and governments around the world find this U.S. practice somewhere between tedious and arrogant. Congress mandates the reports, the Administration complies.

All the reports are informative, and I have always thought the human rights report to be pretty objective.

I haven’t read the entire terrorism report this year, and I don’t doubt that its information is solid.

I did pay attention to the part that is diplomatically most important, the “state sponsors of terrorism” section, since it amounts to an accusation by our government that other governments are promoting the killing of civilians, to be blunt about it. This section is simply bizarre.

Four countries get the “state sponsor” designation.

The reports on Syria and Iran allege that these governments provide direct political and material support, including providing weapons, to terrorist groups.

The Sudan report indicates that the government works to fight terrorism and cooperates with others in doing so, despite limited capabilities and information.

The Cuba report chides Havana for not severing ties to Colombia’s FARC, but maintains that the contact is “limited” and “there was no evidence of direct financial or ongoing material support.” It cites “media reports” that ETA members are present in Cuba; no mention of any activity. “Cuba did not sponsor counterterrorism initiatives or participate in regional or global operations against terrorists in 2010,” the report says. It does not mention Cuba’s longstanding offer to engage in talks on anti-terrorism matters, nor does it say whether Washington views this offer as serious. Cuba is not mentioned in the review of terrorism in our hemisphere, except for this: “In July, Venezuelan officials arrested and extradited the Salvadoran Francisco Chavez Abarca in connection with the bombings of Cuban hotels in 1997.”

In other words, two of the “state sponsors” are actually sponsoring terrorism, two are not.

North Korea was taken off the list for reasons having nothing to do with terrorism, so it is beyond me why Sudan would remain on the list, given the good efforts the report describes. In Cuba’s case, it seems clear that the evidence is not there, but the Administration doesn’t feel like taking the political heat it would face if it tried to remove Cuba from the list. It is also bizarre to see Cuba and Sudan on the list, and Venezuela not, given what the report says about Venezuela.

The report explains that countries remain on the list until they meet the statutory requirement for removal. Fair enough. But it’s also fair for readers overseas to see the inconsistencies and judge the U.S. approach to be political, and less than serious. That hardly helps the cause of fighting terrorism.

For a contrary view, here’s Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Rep. Rivera's do-over

Rep. David Rivera apparently thought twice about his bill and plans to change it and re-introduce it, the Herald reports.

The new bill will only affect Cuban Americans who travel to Cuba. It’s hard to get into detail because the Herald story is imprecise and Rivera has issued no explanation of his bill, nor is the new legislative language available.

The Herald says that the new bill will require the government “to rescind the adjusted state of Cubans who return to the island before they obtain their U.S. citizenship.” If “rescind the adjusted state” means revoking Fulano’s legal permanent resident status if he travels to Cuba before becoming a citizen (about five or six years), then Fulano would would presumably return to the status of a parolee. If Rivera’s intent is that Fulano could not then apply for a green card again, then Fulano would be unable to travel again, and unable ever to become a citizen and vote.

The message seems to be this: If you come, you have to wait at least five years before returning to Cuba. If you wait, and become a citizen, then you can vote and travel back to Cuba. If you travel to Cuba before becoming a citizen, you will never travel again to any country, you will never become a citizen, and you will never vote.

Otherwise, welcome to America!

[Note: An earlier version of this post erroneously stated that Ninoska Perez, an important figure in the Cuban American community, opposes the bill. Not so.]

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Don’t travel, don’t vote, and if you never come that’s fine too

It’s hard to find a starker sign of the divide in the Cuban American community than a bill introduced recently by Rep. David Rivera. It’s el exilio vs. the immigrants, and it’s getting ugly.

It goes beyond recent efforts by him and Rep. Diaz-Balart to limit Cuban American travel to once every three years.

Rep. Rivera wants to delay the process whereby Cuban migrants become legal permanent residents. Under his bill (H.R. 2771) they would be eligible to apply for “green card” status five years after arriving in the United States, as opposed to the one-year wait that is in effect today.

The impact would be to keep Cuban immigrants in “parolee” status for an extra four years, during which they would not travel to Cuba.

A second, harsher impact would be a four-year delay in eligibility for voting. When all works well, citizenship comes five years after the green card. Rep. Rivera would add four years to the wait for green card eligibility, which means an extra four-year wait for citizenship and voting eligibility.

All in all, it’s an effective if indirect scheme to block travel by recent immigrants, which most of us regard as none of anyone’s business, much less the government’s, and to delay their attaining citizenship and participating in elections, which most of us regard as something beautiful, the culmination of an immigrant’s decision to come here and become part of our country.

Only in Miami.

Monday, August 15, 2011

USINT on Alan Gross, January 2010

From a January 6, 2010 cable from USINT Havana on detained American USAID contractor Alan Gross, weeks after his arrest:



5. (S/NF) President Raul Castro himself was the first Cuban official to have acknowledged the arrest. (The only other public statement by officials or in the official press was a January 6 remark about his treatment by National Assembly President Alarcon in response to questions from the press.) Theories about the arrest abound, from an attempt to force high-level attention from Washington a la North Korea, to a move to counter the blogger movement (see paragraph 7). However, at his National Assembly speech on December 20, President Castro linked the detention to U.S. democracy programs on the island, deriding the very notion of a Cuban "civil society" (Ref C). Whether that was Castro's intent or not, the arrest has chilled the atmosphere for democracy programs in Cuba, especially those that hinged on unfettered and hassle-free travel to the island. Thus, the arrest has already served the interests of the authoritarian ruling class. It is not clear how the GOC intends to exact more mileage from the arrest, but if theories about the elder Castro are accurate, he could throw a gigantic wrench in the relationship if he insists on holding the man as a bargaining chip.

The cable makes reference to 09 Havana 772, an undisclosed cable that provides an account of a consular visit with Mr. Gross.

More recent releases here.