Friday, February 26, 2010

Odds and ends

  • La Jornada: Following the death of prisoner Orlando Zapata, Cuba’s Catholic Church calls for dialogue and calls upon the government to “take adequate measures” so such a death cannot be repeated.

  • Cuban Colada translates some of the church statement cited above, and also has more extensive quotes from Raul Castro yesterday, and a Cuban government statement on medical attention given to Orlando Zapata before his death.

  • CNN: an exchange between Senator Menendez and Secretary Clinton regarding the USAID Cuba program.

  • Remember this case of a Briton who showed up at Washington’s Folger Shakespeare Library with a 17th century book, claiming he obtained it in Cuba? He goes on trial in June in Britain and just entered a not guilty plea. AP story here.

A call for solidarity

Dissident economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe has distributed this call (pdf) for fasting and Bible readings next month as a way of “demanding that human rights, which are inalienable for all human beings, be respected for the people of Cuba.” It is signed by Oscar Elias Biscet, Julio Cesar Galvez, Regis Iglesias, and Angel Moya, and includes names but not signatures of Normando Hernandez and Ricardo Gonzalez. All are among the 75 opposition and human rights activists arrested and sentenced in the spring of 2003, and all are in the Combinado del Este prison now. Espinosa Chepe is also among the group of 75 but was released provisionally in November 2004 for health reasons.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

New bill to boost exports, end travel restrictions

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson has introduced a bill that, he says, “increases the ability of our farmers to sell their products to Cuba just like they do with our other trading partners.”

It contains three provisions: an end to travel restrictions; a definition of the “cash in advance” requirement so that Cuba’s payment is required before Cuba takes possession of goods, rather than before they leave a U.S. port; and permission for Cuba to wire payments for U.S. agricultural exports directly to U.S. banks rather than through third countries, as is current practice.

I think it’s a pretty safe bet that these changes would result in increased American farm exports to Cuba. The reasons are discussed here – but scratch the part about private credit, because this bill does not go that far.

Here is the text of the bill, Chairman Peterson’s statement, and a Minneapolis Star-Tribune report on it.

Odds and ends

  • AP: The renovation of the port of Mariel, a project that Dubai Ports World was studying a few years ago, is being carried out with Brazilian aid. During his visit yesterday, Brazil’s President Lula visited Fidel Castro and said he is “exceptionally well.”

  • CQ Politics takes an objective look at the open seat created by the Diaz-Balart resignation/switcheroo.

  • Cuban Colada notes the anniversary of the 1903 agreement that gives the United States use of “lands necessary for coaling or naval stations” at Guantanamo, Cuba.

Orlando Zapata, R.I.P.

Month after month, much of the discussion on this blog has to do with the how the United States and other countries deal with Cuba. In that debate, there are legitimate positions in favor of different degrees of engagement or sanctions, but I don’t think there’s a legitimate position that ignores the cause of human rights in Cuba.

We are reminded of that by the death of Orlando Zapata, 42, a prisoner of conscience who was serving a 36-year sentence and saw a hunger strike as his only recourse, a statement of last resort. His body lost the battle yesterday at a Havana hospital.

Cuban President Raul Castro was cited by Reuters as saying the following: “We regret it very much. That’s the result of relations with the United States…We didn’t murder anyone, here no one was tortured. That happens at the Guantanamo base, not in our territory.”

It’s not clear to me how a death of a prisoner in Cuban state custody, or his incarceration in the first place, can be blamed on the United States. Either is beyond imagination, as it would be for the United States to shirk responsibility and accountability for prisoners it holds at Guantanamo or anywhere else.

Here are editorials from Madrid’s El Pais and the Miami Herald, and a statement from Amnesty International.

The El Pais editorial chides Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero for making only a vague statement about Zapata’s death yesterday. Zapatero has now called on Cuba to release all political prisoners, as reported in a news story in the same paper.

El Pais goes on to report that Zapata was buried in Banes in eastern Cuba at 7:00 this morning, under such tight security that the town resembled “a town taken by the Japanese army in the Philippines,” in the description of human rights monitor Elizardo Sanchez. Also: “The Cuban government advised foreign correspondents – the majority of whom are waiting a year for renewal of their press credentials – not to travel to Banes to cover the burial, which was treated with silence by their colleagues in Cuban media.”

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

More on USAID...

…at I’m done for now.

Defending the USAID program

A group of Congressmen have suggested that in its response to the detention of USAID contractor Alan Gross in Cuba, the Administration is trying to appease the Cuban dictatorship,” and they urge the Administration to demand his immediate release.

Separately, I have found that if you examine the USAID program’s legal foundations and Cuba’s reaction to the program in Cuban law, one gets accused of “practically justifying the detention, assuming the judicial perspective of a totalitarian regime.” That charge was aimed at me at Penultimos Dias, as if citing a position and adopting it are the same thing.

Mr. Gross’ problem is that the Administration, Congress, USAID, and his employer sent him to carry out a project in Cuba. That means he’s in Cuba’s legal jurisdiction. It would be nice to examine some other country’s “judicial perspective,” but since he’s in hot water in Cuba, Cuba’s would seem to be the one that applies if our interest is to get him out of jail and to evaluate the U.S. government program that put him in this position.

Demanding his release is a fine idea, but that requires the State Department to make the demand face-to-face to Cuban officials. No one likes a situation where a USAID contractor is stuck in a communist legal system and our diplomats have to make a case for his release. We can assign blame to the Cuban government – fair enough, it arrested him – but the U.S. government and Mr. Gross’ employer would seem to be responsible for putting him in this mess in the first place.

I continue to believe that the best hope for Mr. Gross is that Cuban authorities come to the conclusion that they have made their point, and he can be released on a humanitarian basis. Let’s hope that happens.

But I am concerned that a public relations campaign executed last week with regard to his case may have worsened his predicament. I would say the campaign was done on Mr. Gross’ behalf, but it seems more a political defense of the USAID program than an effort to win his release. I hope I’m wrong. (See Reuters article, a fact sheet from a public relations firm, and this video from Mrs. Judy Gross.)

Some have speculated that Cuba arrested Mr. Gross to gain a bargaining chip for the Cuban Five, who are serving long sentences in U.S. jails.

Maybe so. But for now, the more salient connection seems to be that the Cuban Five were convicted of charges including operating here as unregistered foreign agents. Cuba admits that its agents were operating here but argues, among other things, that they should be pardoned because their intentions were good, they were really just fighting terrorism. That argument has gone nowhere in our government.

Last week’s campaign made the case that Mr. Gross’ intentions and activities were good. That argument is likely to go nowhere in the Cuban government.

I’m as much in favor of free satellite Internet service as the next guy, but as a practical matter – regardless of one’s views of the Cuban government, Cuban law, or Mr. Gross’ activities – assertions that the United States government has the right to run programs of its choosing in Cuba are not likely to unravel the predicament in which Mr. Gross finds himself.

Why? Because – and let’s note that people on my side of this debate are not usually the ones who have to drag this little factoid out – Cuba is a one-party state, guided by Leninist principles and defended by the closest thing to the Stasi that has ever existed in this hemisphere.

Those assertions about good U.S. intentions do, however, make for a defense for the USAID program.

What is Mr. Gross’ predicament?

Read the post below, and connect the dots yourself.

Alan Gross' predicament

“We tell all Americans all over the world 24 hours a day that you are subject to the laws of the country where you find yourself.”

– U.S. consul general in Port-au-Prince Donald Moore, regarding the case of Americans detained by Haitian authorities after they attempted to bring Haitian children in their custody to the Dominican Republic, February 1, 2010

“It’s their country. The judgment is really up to the Haitian government.”

– State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley on the same case, February 2, 2010

“It would be highly unusual for the secretary of state to intervene in a case involving the judicial process of another country.”

Mr. Crowley responding to a lawyer’s appeal for Secretary Clinton to involve herself in the same case, February 11, 2010

“This is not the first time that unregistered foreign agents have sought to do their nations’ bidding in our backyard, in disregard of our laws and our sovereignty.” … “Today's guilty verdict and the prior guilty pleas by three other defendants in this case should serve as a strong warning to others who operate illegally in the United States on behalf of foreign governments.” … “When unregistered foreign agents believe that they can operate on our soil with impunity and disregard for U.S. laws, it undermines the national security of our country and the safety of our citizens. This case demonstrates our resolve in ensuring that activities conducted in the United States are free from illegal foreign influence.”

Prosecutors’ statements released by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Miami after the November 2008 conviction of a Venezuelan national for “operating as an illegal agent of the Venezuelan government in the United States.” Three others had already entered guilty pleas. On U.S. soil, they had attempted to carry out a Venezuelan government scheme to make it appear that a Florida individual, rather than the Venezuelan government, was the source of a suitcase of cash donated to an Argentine political campaign.

“Whether Castro leaves Cuba in a vertical or horizontal position is up to him and the Cuban people. But he must and will leave Cuba.”

– Senator Jesse Helms, quoted by TIME magazine upon introduction of the Helms-Burton bill, February 20, 1995

“This is the beginning of the end for Fidel Castro…in a few years, there will be freedom, democracy, and human rights in Cuba, and we’ll all go down there and have a good time.”

– Congressman Dan-Burton, quoted by AP upon the bill’s passage, March 13, 1996

“For the purposes of this Act, a transition government in Cuba” and “a democratically elected government in Cuba…does not include Fidel Castro or Raul Castro.”

“Notwithstanding any other provision of law…the President is authorized to furnish assistance and provide other support for individuals and independent nongovernmental organizations to support democracy-building efforts for Cuba, including the following:

(1) Published and informational matter, such as books, videos, and cassettes, on transitions to democracy, human rights, and market economies, to be made available to independent democratic groups in Cuba.

(2) Humanitarian assistance to victims of political repression, and their families.

(3) Support for democratic and human rights groups in Cuba.”

– Excerpts from the Helms-Burton Act of 1996

“The USAID ‘competitive task order in support of the Cuba Democracy and Contingency Program,’ issued May 8, 2008, discussed what it envisaged. The program ‘is expressly designed to hasten Cuba’s peaceful transition to a democratic society,’ the contract task order says.

“‘Component I – managed off-island until further notice – will consist of an estimated $12 million for the Grants under Contract mechanism as well as have the capacity to respond if USAID is asked to bolster its assistance to consolidate Cuba’s anticipated market and democratic transition,’ it continues. ‘Illustrative program areas include breaking the information blockade with technological outreach through phone banks, satellite internet and cell phones.’”

– From a report in Politico on USAID’s contract with Alan Gross’ employer, DAI

“He 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 [pursuant to the Helms-Burton law] faces a sanction of three to eight years in prison…”

– Excerpt from Cuba’s Law 88, a response to the Helms-Burton law, which it describes as having the goal of “breaking the internal order, destabilizing the country, and liquidating the Socialist State and the independence of Cuba.” The Cuban government used Law 88 to convict 75 dissidents in lightning trials in 2003.

“Alan was helping Cuba’s tiny Jewish community set up an Intranet so that they could communicate amongst themselves and with other Jewish communities abroad, and providing them the ability to access the Internet.”

– From a fact sheet about Mr. Gross distributed last week by a Washington public relations firm


– A U.S. official’s reference to this gizmo, when asked by yours truly what equipment Mr. Gross was providing.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Odds and ends

  • Along the Malecon reports that the Luis Posada Carriles trial has been postponed pursuant to a sealed prosecution motion, and 90 percent of filings to date are secret.

  • At Global Post, Nick Miroff looks at television viewing habits in Cuba, where state television “is politically biased and often tedious, [but] hardly a drab, droning monotony of pro-Castro propaganda.” The irrelevance of TV Marti shines through.

  • An American conservative goes to Cuba and comes back with this opinion, which he wrote in a letter to the Cleveland Plain Dealer: “If we want to get communism out of Cuba, end the embargo.” Speaking of American conservatives,

  • Mining Weekly notes a Cuban television news report that says that the joint Cuban-Venezuelan project to activate the Camarioca nickel plant, a mothballed Czechoslovak project from COMECON days, is moving forward. In 2005, there were announcements that China would be the partner in this project and in a Camaguey nickel mining venture, but China ended its involvement without fanfare.


“We both come from the same country and we both have the same goals. You play for the Reds, your family, but also for that Cuban flag where you come from. The U.S. provides all the opportunity and it’s unbelievable, but your home country represents your roots. That’s where we bond, over the Cuban blood in our veins.”

— Cincinnatti Reds first baseman Yonder Alonso speaking about his new teammate Aroldis Chapman, quoted in this story on

Friday, February 19, 2010

Migration talks end (Updated)

Reuters: The State Department says the U.S. delegation called for the release of jailed USAID contractor Alan Gross during talks that took place in Havana today. The talks reviewed the migration accords that have been in force since the Clinton Administration and provide for twice-yearly consultations to examine how they are working.

A public relations campaign directed at U.S. media was undertaken this week on Mr. Gross’ behalf; more on that later.

Cuba’s statement at the end of the talks is here at the Havana Note.

When the State Department’s statement referenced in the Reuters story appears on the web, I’ll post it.


The State Department’s statement is here.

The U.S. delegation apparently met a group of dissidents on Friday after the talks ended, drawing a sharp complaint from the Cuban foreign ministry (LA Times story here). Later, National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon told EFE that Cuba’s complaint doesn’t mean that Cuba wants to stop talks on migration or other matters.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Migration talks (corrected)

The State Department spokesman’s announcement:

“Today, U.S. and Cuban representatives will meet in Havana to discuss implementation of the U.S.-Cuba Migration Accords. The discussions will focus on how best to promote safe, legal, and orderly migration between Cuba and the United States. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Craig Kelly will lead the U.S. delegation, which includes representatives of the agencies involved in managing migration issues.”

Correction: The State Department corrected the announcement to reflect the fact that talks will take place Friday, not today.


“I believe that these economic restrictions − an ‘embargo’ to some and a ‘blockade’ to others − represent a blunder in American policy toward Cuba. Far from suffocating the ruling class of the Island, these trade restrictions create material difficulties for the population and feed the radicalization of the ideological discourse inside Cuba. The embargo has been an argument to justify the unproductive and inefficient state-run economy, including the total ruin of various sectors. Worse than that, it has been used to support the maxim, ‘in a country under siege, dissent is treason,’ which contributes to the lack of freedoms for my fellow citizens.

“In its nearly 50 years, the ‘blockade’ has done nothing to limit the material arsenal of our authorities, not one of them has ceased to enjoy their privileges. An example is the issue of Internet access. They have always blamed the restrictions on Internet access on the fact that the United States has not allowed Cuba to connect to its underwater cable. The victims of these restrictions are ordinary Cubans; we have had to postpone our enjoyment of the World Wide Web, while the police, the censors and the official media seize the few kilobytes of access available to the whole country.

“When Barack Obama authorized American telecommunications companies to negotiate with their Cuban counterparts, this alibi for limiting the use of the Internet fell apart. Unfortunately, the government of Raul Castro has ignored his proposal and we continue to be the ‘Island of the Disconnected.’ But on this issue, at least, it is obvious to all that the responsibility does not rest entirely on external forces, but also on internal political will.

“…[W]e have to put aside the idea that relations between peoples are shaped in the halls of governments and the corridors of foreign ministries. Between the United States and Cuba there is a shared history, kinship and culture that do not depend on agreements between our respective administrations. For example, a linguistic detail illustrates the Island’s sympathy with our neighbors to the north; we never use the word ‘gringos’ with all its negative connotations, rather we use the word ‘yumas’ which is much more friendly.

“Our nation is no longer contained within a single territory; there are Cubans in every part of the world, and especially on the other side of the Florida Straits. As a result, our destiny is indissolubly tied to the United States. With due respect for our sovereignty, with more collaboration, more cultural exchanges, more citizen solidarity and fluidity of communications, both peoples would benefit. For this reason I support an immediate opening to allow all Americans to travel to Cuba, the end of the ‘blockade,’ the end of the damaging hostilities of the Cold War, and in particular the complete elimination of anything that limits contact between the citizens of both countries.”

– Yoani Sanchez, interviewed by fellow blogger Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo; interview published at; h/t El Yuma

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Odds and ends

  • Veteran New York Timesman Stephen Kinzer writes about returning to “a different Cuba” after 25 years, where people complain out in the open

  • AFP: Cuba and Spain will continue talks on human rights on Thursday in Madrid.

  • The Toronto Star takes a long look at Cuban baseball’s talent drain. In passing, it cites this report that a Boston Red Sox executive was in Cuba.

  • It’s good to have a reporter in the neighborhood; Tracey Eaton digs up the details on the Key West-Havana windsurfer story. Nothing to do with Cuba, but this sea journey is a lot more interesting.

Obama and engagement

This New York Times news analysis is a rare instance of Cuba policy being discussed as part of the mainstream of foreign policy. In this instance, it has to do with its place in the Obama Administration’s approach to engagement.

The quotes from White House officials are all blind, but the Administration’s view seems to be that it has reached out to Cuba, Cuba hasn’t reciprocated, and the Administration deserves credit.

Also, this assertion, which seems based a bit on wishful thinking: “…White House officials insist that at least Mr. Obama has not given Cuban leaders the opportunity to hold up the United States as a convenient target.”

Comments, please

Ok, we’re back in the comment business.

I’ll do what I said I didn’t want to do, which is to moderate comments as they come in. That means that reader comments will be published with a delay.

If you don’t like the idea that I’m going to be the arbiter, well I don’t like it either. But among the alternatives – zero comments, free-for-all with insults and more, or moderated comments, I’ve settled on this one.

Monday, February 15, 2010

“The passions and the hatreds have to end”

That’s a quote from retiring Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart in this Herald column by Myriam Marquez. You figure it out.

Meanwhile, here are two views of his decision not to seek re-election and his brother Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart’s decision to switch districts in the 2010 election: from the Herald’s political writer Beth Reinhard, and from Rui Ferreira writing in Spain’s El Mundo.

19th century regulation vs. 21st century technology

Returning to the U.S. government’s blocking of open source software sites and instant messaging applications to people in Cuba, here are two items:

  • An explanation from open-source software site of why it has to comply with U.S. law.

  • A comment from Computerworld magazine editor Sharon Machlis that notes the impossibility of these sanctions achieving their intent. She points out that people in sanctioned countries have long been barred from contributing to open-source sites, and now they are barred from downloading from them too.

There is something quaint about the U.S. bureaucracy issuing orders like this, as if it were banning the export of a specific commodity from a small territory with three easily controlled points of entry and exit, each with a little customs house checking every wagon or cart that goes by.

The Internet is a little different. If governments in sanctioned countries want something that’s on the web, a U.S. government order that blocks IP addresses in those countries is not going to stop them from getting it. They have embassies all over the world, right?

The blocking of IP addresses will affect individuals with no connection to the government.

This, at a time when the Secretary of State has made a speech on Internet freedom declaring that the United States stands for a “single Internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas.”

And consider this: USAID pays contractors to go to Cuba to provide satellite Internet service to Cubans, but for those Cubans who have access already, U.S. sanctions tell them they can’t get Microsoft Instant Messenger or open-source software.

We’ll give it to you, but if you want to help yourselves, forget it.

Odds and ends

  • Reuters: The Bolshoi performs in Havana for the first time in 30 years.

  • Things look very different from a distance: As the Russian foreign minister visits Havana, here are Russian views of Cuba’s place in the world, and Moscow’s and Washington’s relations with Cuba.

  • Former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez says that an open and secure Internet can “help lead the world from these troubled times into a new age of peace and prosperity.” He also says that detained USAID contractor Alan Gross was assisting “Jewish nonprofits in setting up Internet access for [Cuba’s] Jewish community.”

  • Cuban Colada takes us through an article in Granma that explains how recent bread shortages coincided with a period of increased bread production. With a link to the original.

  • Granma: U.S. sanctions thwart a French windsurfer’s plan for a Key West-Havana trip. English version here.

Good morning

Friday, February 12, 2010

Who benefits?

What impact will the departure of Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart have on the Cuba debate in Congress? He has been an effective, hard-working advocate for his hard-line views on Cuba policy, and he has gained seniority in the House. As a result his departure will definitely be felt, although others will continue to advocate for the positions he holds, and in terms of votes on Cuba policy in the House, the numbers won’t change.

Or will they?

This would be a straightforward story of a resignation in a safe GOP district were it not for the decision of Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart to leave his district and run in the one Lincoln is vacating.

Former Democratic campaign operative Giancarlo Sopo says that Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart is “being run out of the district because it's changing.” Democrats say their registered voters now outnumber Republicans in Mario’s District 25 (see the numbers at the Herald’s politics blog). Mambi Watch notes Mario’s declining share of the vote in that district: 65% in 2002, 58% in 2006, and 53% in 2008. Newsweek wraps these developments into trends that favor Florida Democrats in a year that isn’t shaping up to be favorable for Democrats nationwide. And the domain name has been registered, Miami New Times reports.

So far, Democrats seem happy to have the open seat in District 25 rather than 21, and Republicans aren’t saying a whole lot, which leads to the guess that they may be less happy.

Now back to the impact on the Cuba debate and a big, big hypothetical.

If the Democratic candidate were to be Joe Garcia, and if he were to win the election, it’s important to note that Garcia, formerly with the Cuban American National Foundation, is not an advocate of lifting the embargo. To my knowledge he does not advocate ending travel restrictions on Americans. What he did support in last year’s campaign was the measures that President Obama has now implemented with regard to Cuban American visits and remittances. Were he to be elected, the numbers might not change on major votes, but the Cuban American delegation in Congress would change; its consistent unity on all aspects of Cuba policy would probably end. There would be one member who embraces the younger generation that travels to Cuba and connects with Cuba, and is willing to look critically and practically at policies that have been in place for decades. That might be more important than a change in the numbers.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Diaz-Balarts: one moves out, one moves over (Updated)

Politico reports that Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart will announce this afternoon that he will not seek re-election this year.

More interesting, CongressDaily reports that his brother Mario, the incumbent Congressman in a neighboring Miami district, will leave his district and seek re-election in Lincoln’s district.

Lincoln Diaz-Balart won his 2008 race in District 21 by a 58-42 percent margin over former Hialeah mayor Raul Martinez, while Mario Diaz-Balart won a 53-47 percent victory over former Miami-Dade Democratic Party chair Joe Garcia in District 25.

Senator McCain carried both districts in 2008; the margins were 51-49 in District 21 and 50-49 in District 25.

Update: The Sun-Sentinel has the full statements of both Congressmen, confirming that Mario will run in Lincoln’s district. It’s too early to handicap a District 25 race between, say, Joe Garcia and state legislator David Rivera, but the resignation/switcheroo creates an open seat in a district slightly less favorable to Republicans.

The Cuban threat

I looked at the Director of National Intelligence’s “Annual Threat Assessment” (pdf) to see how Cuba is described, and this headline jumped out at me: “Venezuela: Leading Anti-US Regional Force.”

I wonder how Fidel Castro feels about that.

Regarding Cuba, there is no discussion at all of Cuba as a military or terrorism threat.

The Cuba section assesses the chances of a “sudden Cuban mass migration attempt” – they are “low” – and says Cuban intelligence watches “U.S. activities for insight into our operations and intentions globally.” Also: “Cuba maintains intelligence liaison relationships with a number of US adversaries and competitors.”

Odds and ends

  • Foreign Policy magazine’s The Cable blog: Cuba policy “continues to be managed, but not radically rethought inside the administration.”

  • AP: Cuba’s imports of food from the United States were down 26 percent last year.

  • Europa Press: 200 graduates of Cuba’s Latin American Medical School from 24 countries assemble in Havana and deploy to Haiti.

  • AP: Radio Marti and the Voice of America are sharing resources in Miami and beginning joint production of a half-hour news program.

  • From the Guardian, a look at Cuba’s ballet dancers, their “world-class” training and technique, and the limitation that “cultural isolation” places on their development.

Friday, February 5, 2010

50 flights a week

ABC News has this report on Cuban American family visits, and the approximately 50 flights per week from Miami to Havana. These flights are filled with the constituents of the legislators who are fighting to prevent Americans in general from having the right that Cuban Americans now have, to travel without restriction to Cuba. God bless America.

Recess time

Granma can't resist

All countries that provide foreign assistance deserve political credit for it, and Cuba and the United States are two that certainly seek credit for it. Nothing wrong with that.

In the Haiti context, I was struck by this article in Granma last weekend that leaped at the opportunity to take a cheap shot at the United States because medical evacuation flights were suspended for a few days. (There were questions about cost and the capacity of Florida hospitals, they were resolved, and the flights resumed.) The final paragraph questions why cost is not an issue in the deployment of thousands of troops to Haiti. Earlier, Fidel Castro had expressed alarm that U.S. troops had “occupied the territory of Haiti.”

I think that people around the world recognize the great contribution of Cuban doctors in Haiti. I also think that Cuban propagandists diminish Cuba’s contribution when they show that for them, Haiti relief efforts are part of a political competition with the United States.

Odds and ends

  • Import substitution marches ahead: A factory in Ciego de Avila is doubling its toothbrush output to 11 million this year.

  • Former Polish President Lech Walesa came to Miami to raise money for the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba and for his own foundation. Earlier, he was in Illinois endorsing a losing candidate in the GOP Senate primary. In Miami, he spoke about his conviction that change is coming to Cuba, and about the importance of values in foreign policy, according to these reports from AP and the Herald. Neither these nor other reports say what he recommended that governments actually do with regard to Cuba policy. I guess you had to be there.

  • Make your own joke: Ramiro Valdes, former interior minister and now a Cuban Vice President and Minister of Information Technology and Communications, arrived in Caracas to lead a special group working on Venezuela’s electricity woes. Opposition parties are getting “fired up,” Reuters reports.

  • Radio Marti: The State Department confirms that migration talks will take place in Havana February 19.

  • From the Havana Note, more on Cuba’s medical efforts in Haiti.

  • If you’re tired of your usual vacation, you can go to North Korea at any time, “not just during the Arirang Mass Games in August and September,” according to the tour operator that offers the service. North Korea is not on the United States’ list of “state sponsors of terror,” but even when it was on that list, it was on the list of Nice Communist Countries to which Americans are permitted to travel.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Cuba’s past is our present.”

– Maria Luisa Morales, one of the demonstrators outside Miami’s Versailles restaurant Sunday night before the Los Van Van concert, quoted in Miami New Times.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Cuba in the Obama budget

The Voice of America is going to eliminate its Croatian and Greek language broadcasts, according to the document listing program terminations and reductions in President Obama’s budget for fiscal year 2011.

But there’s not a word about TV Marti, the U.S. government station that has been on the air nearly twenty years and has no audience in Cuba. Even President Bush’s director of Radio and TV Marti, Salvador Lew, has said that TV Marti “is not seen” in Cuba. I could find no specific numbers for the Radio/TV Marti budget in the White House budget documents because it is folded into a bigger account for international broadcast operations (see here, pdf, page 1224).

Meanwhile, it appears that the President is asking Congress to provide $20 million for USAID’s Cuba democracy program next year (see here, pdf, page 70).

Odds and ends

  • Los Van Van’s concert went off without a hitch last night. The Herald’s Jordan Levin reviews it here. EFE reports on the scene where 200 protestors were outside including “a group of Hondurans.” The Herald says 350-400 were protesting. In El Nuevo Herald, clarinet and saxophone virtuoso Paquito D’Rivera explains why he stayed away from a concert by a band that “has had nothing bad to say about a government that since 1959 has crushed all types of liberties.”

  • Along the Malecon: The prosecution adds detail to its perjury case against Luis Posada Carriles.

  • Canada’s Globe and Mail on American, Cuban, and Venezuelan aid efforts in Haiti: “All wave the flag while delivering assistance.”

  • Diario de Cuba reports that a University of Havana student was expelled because of a Fecebook group he created, either because the group generated debate that went out of bounds, or because it reported on discussions in a Communist Party youth meeting.

  • Granma: National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon closed the “Meeting of Cubans Residing Abroad Against the Blockade, in Defense of National Sovereignty.” In other words, the anti-exilio.