Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Monday, September 26, 2011

"This dramatic snub of me"

Those are the words of former New Mexico Governor and would-be diplomat Bill Richardson in a CNN interview (click the link and scroll down) with an admiring Wolf Blitzer, where Richardson explains his abortive mission to Havana to free jailed USAID contractor Alan Gross.
The governor was “stunned” and “flabbergasted” when he was informed that Gross would not be released to him, there would be no prison visit, and no meeting with President Raul Castro. This, after a “delightful” three-hour lunch with Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, and after Cuban officials (in Richardson’s telling) had invited him to Havana and given him reason to believe that some bargaining might be possible.
Hence the Governor, ego intact, saw it as a “dramatic snub of me.”
Richardson added to the drama by saying Cuba holds Gross as a “hostage,” and by issuing a theatrical ultimatum – that he would stay in Cuba until permitted to visit Gross – from which he retreated in less than a week. He also publicized his mission before arriving in Cuba and by updating the press on his feelings while there.
Cuba’s foreign ministry issued a statement asserting that Gross’ release “was never on the table during the preparations for his trip, which was made clear to Mr. Richardson as soon as he raised it.” The government also didn’t appreciate the word “hostage” or the ultimatum. (CBS, Prensa Latina)
Richardson advisor Gilbert Gallegos responded by giving AP a more detailed account of the mission. Before the trip, Gallegos said, “It was incredibly clear to Governor Richardson that the Cubans this time were at the point where they were ready to negotiate.” Also: “He offered them eight to ten areas where he, where Governor Richardson, felt the relationship could be improved going forward.” Gallegos told AP that Richardson’s list included drug enforcement, environmental protection, and disaster response.
Sources tell me that the list included the “state sponsor of terrorism” designation, wives’ visits for the five Cuban intelligence agents jailed here, collaboration in oil spill prevention and mitigation, ending the program that grants U.S. immigrant visas to Cuban doctors who leave medical missions in third countries, reduced funding and changes in USAID Cuba programs, extradition of Luis Posada Carriles, an unspecified opening in the telecommunications sector, and more.
Notwithstanding Gallegos’ statement that the ideas were Richardson’s alone, I’m also told that there was ambiguity in the presentation, so it was not clear if these were things that Richardson would recommend, or that the United States would do or would simply discuss once Gross were home.
On September 20 President Obama distanced the Administration from Richardson. He “is acting as a private citizen,” the President said, and “does not represent the U.S. government in his actions there.”
That cleared up any ambiguity about Richardson’s list, and it affirmed the long pattern in U.S.-Cuba relations where the two nations have turned down offers of third-party mediation.
Hence Richardson was capable of negotiating little more than his next meal at the Nacional.
Miffed, the governor engaged in antics that killed any chance of Cuba releasing Gross. Calling Gross a “hostage” was to accuse the Cuban government of a crime. It made his release less likely. It eliminated the possibility of a visit where a humanitarian request is made and simply granted.
Mr. Gross deserves much better than this kind of bumbling.
With this episode done, Foreign Minister Rodriguez visited the New York Times and hinted at talks that might involve Mr. Gross and Cuba’s five intelligence agents jailed here.
U.S. politics being what they are, it’s hard to imagine much payoff there. But it’s an interesting hint nonetheless; both sides set aside the results of the respective legal processes and agree to reciprocal humanitarian actions.
When Russian spies were caught and charged here last year, they were swapped and sent home within days. In this case I’m not holding my breath.

El Che, lighting every path

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Spy stories

If you were distracted by Governor Richardson’s bumbling, you may have missed the return of Lt. Col. Simmons, the ex-DIA operative who speaks about Cuban intelligence matters.

Using the Freedom of Information Act, he has pried loose the diplomatic note that the State Department presented to Cuba in 2003 to expel eight Cuban diplomats based in Washington. Our friend Mauricio has it here.

The note politely says that the diplomats’ activities were “deemed sufficiently detrimental to the security interests of the United States,” which the eight surely saved in their personnel file back home.

The release is accompanied by anonymously sourced charges (Herald, Diario de Cuba) that the diplomats were gathering intelligence on U.S. military operations to pass to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. It would be interesting to know more about that, if it is true.

At the time, the FBI spoke otherwise; see coverage from the late Chris Marquis in the New York Times here and here. From the latter story:

Bureau officials said there was no specific espionage event that touched off the action, adding credence to Cuba’s charge that the expulsions were part of a new political strategy.

“It was not our recommendation to take this action at this time,” said a senior F.B.I. official. The decision to expel Cubans was made “at the highest levels” in the State Department and the White House, and the policy makers then turned to the bureau for names of intelligence operatives, said the official, who asked not to be named.

Cuba's oil, a local issue in Florida

The Florida KeysReporter newspaper reports that Repsol will wait until hurricane seasonends and then start drilling, probably in December.

Meantime, an editorialin Investors Business Daily supports Cuba’s oil drilling in the Gulf, but makesthe loopy observation that Cuba’s economic zone extends “virtually to KeyWest.” Actually, Cuba’s waters beginhalfway between Key West and the Cuban coast. The drilling site is 16 miles from the Cuban shore, 28 miles from U.S.waters, and 80 miles from the Florida Keys. The well will be in 1800 meters of water.

The U.S.-Cuba maritime border isdescribed in detail in this StateDepartment document (pdf) and there’s a map on the last page.

The NewYork Times and GlobalPost covered the visit to Havana of former EPA chief William Reilly, whotalked with Cuban officials about emergency preparedness.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Odds and ends

  • A great project: Jazz at Lincoln Center bassist Carlos Henriquez organized a wind instrument donation for Cuban music students and went to Havana with $250,000 worth of instruments.  He was joined by four string instrument repairmen.  (AP, Granma)
  • Mauricio Vicent, the long-serving Havana correspondent for El Pais, is often accused (unfairly, I think) of bias in favor of the Cuban government.  That government had a different idea (unfairly, I think) and yanked his press credential, allowing him to remain in Cuba but not to write (AP).  El Pais slams the decision in an editorial, as does the Committee to Protect Journalists.
  • AFP: There are more than 300 private gyms operating in Havana, officials told state media.  I describe two here and here.
  • This article in Granma points out the value of cooperatives, which have operated in Cuban agriculture for 50 years.  A sub-headline singles out food service as a sector that could benefit most from from the application of the cooperative model.  But before we start seeing neighborhood cafeterias and restaurants converted into cooperatives, there’s an obstacle.  The article points out that Cuba’s constitution limits cooperatives to the farm sector.
  • The Damas de Blanco, founded as a group of women protesting on behalf of jailed family members, will now become a political organization standing up for human rights and democratic change, leader Laura Pollan told Radio Marti.  Meanwhile, AP’s Andrea Rodriguez assesses the “crossroads” at which the Damas and other dissidents stand, and their challenges in connecting with the public.
  • Juventud Rebelde explains how smart phone payments can make cash, coin, and credit card obsolete.

As did many others

“Mrs. Kennedy describes how he cried in his bedroom, head in hands, over the debacle of the attempted invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in 1961 by Cuban exiles opposed to Fidel Castro andtrained by the Central Intelligence Agency.”

The New York Times on recently released interviews with former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, referring here to President Kennedy