Thursday, March 31, 2011

President Carter's visit

President Carter had a very full 48 hours in Cuba – walking tours, interviews, press conferences, meetings with Raul Castro, Fidel Castro, dissidents, bloggers, Alan Gross, diplomats and international organization representatives in Havana, Cardinal Ortega, the Jewish community, and more. He says he hopes to return soon with all 36 members of his extended family.

As in his 2002 visit, he demonstrated that it’s possible to engage directly with top Cuban officials and at the same time to advocate for human rights. He gave a press conference and an interview on Cuban television, the transcripts of which are printed on pages 3-5 of today’s Granma (see here).

He began the press conference by referring to conversations he had about the upcoming Communist Party Congress and the many changes that are now being made to the policy document that will be under discussion. He said (my translation):

“I hope that in the future this can be added to those documents, that there be complete freedom for all Cubans to express themselves, to meet, and to travel, according to international human rights standards that apply in Cuba.”

He also called for an end to the embargo, removal of Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, the release of Alan Gross (“a man I believe to be innocent of being a serious threat to the Cuban people and government”), and the release and return of the Cuban Five (“according to American law”).

Senator Menendez sent a letter expressing “grave concern” about President Carter’s visit, and Congressman David Rivera all but accused Carter of acting as an agent of the Cuban government. So the school of thought that holds that if you’re not 100 percent with me, you’re with my foreign enemy, is alive and well.

Alan Gross remains in Cuban jail, and President Carter said he was told before the trip that Gross would not be released to him. We don’t know whether Carter attempted to get him released, whether he had any cards to play, and if so, what reaction he got.

In this interview on CNN Spanish, Elizardo Sanchez recounts that Carter met 23 opponents of the Cuban government in two sessions; the second session was with ten just-released political prisoners. BBC notes that the 23 did not include some leaders of the disidencia tradicional, such as Marta Beatriz Roque, Vladimiro Roca, René Gomez, Héctor Palacios, Manuel Cuesta, and Jose Luis García (Antúnez).

The Herald rounds up the visit and the Herald’s Cuban Colada blog transcribes and translates Raul Castro’s comments at the airport after Carter’s departure, which included this:

“We are ready, but, as we have always said, without subordination to anyone, simply in equality of terms, ready to discuss everything they want – and what we want. That’s our position. We have waited years and years; we’re willing to wait just as many years. I’m sure it will be thus. There can be no subordination like before. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have made a revolution.”

Friday, March 25, 2011

President Carter en route to Cuba (Updated)

With the news that former President Carter is on his way to Cuba, here’s an excerpt of his speech from his 2002 visit that was televised in Cuba and that ran in Granma:

“Cuba has adopted a socialist government where one political party dominates, and people are not permitted to organize any opposition movements. Your constitution recognizes freedom of speech and association, but other laws deny these freedoms to those who disagree with the government.”

Update: Carter has been told not to expect USAID contractor Alan Gross to be released during his trip, Reuters reports. A brief note in Granma says the “excelentísimo” Carter will have a meeting with President Raul Castro.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Obama: Cuba has made prisoner "gestures"

From a Herald story on an exclusive interview with President Obama:

“We have expanded remittances, we expanded travel, we have sent a strong signal to the Cuban people,” Obama said. “The Cuban government made some gestures about releasing political prisoners and starting some market-based economies with small business opportunities. (But) we haven’t seen as much follow-through as we would like.”

Obama said that Cuban authorities must take some “meaningful actions,” but was not specific when I asked what would be the minimum measures Cuba should take to improve bilateral ties.

Obama did not mention the case of Alan Gross, the U.S. contractor who was sentenced to 15 years in prison this month for taking telephone equipment to Cuba, but other U.S. officials have asked for his immediate release in recent days.

Of all the descriptions of Mr. Gross’ activities and his trial, “15 years in prison for taking telephone equipment to Cuba” takes the cake.

Alan Gross' trial, and many others (Updated)

  • Progreso Weekly has an account of the legal defense of Alan Gross at trial, written by a Havana author who names no sources and doesn’t even indicate whether he witnessed the trial. He predicts an appeal. Update: A less rosy view of the defense is found in this essay in Spanish at Penultimos Dias by Camilo Loret de Mola, who formerly practiced criminal defense in Cuba.

  • At the Posada trial, reporter Ann Louise Bardach gave six days of testimony, her interviews of Posada for the New York Times apparently being of pivotal importance in the prosecution’s case. She expressed her grave misgivings about testifying here. Today’s Herald story concludes: “In cross-examination, Bardach said Posada did not say he was the proud author of the bombings, but a passage in the transcript shows that Bardach asked the exile militant if he was ‘proud’ of the bombings because ‘they went pretty successfully.’ Posada’s answer: ‘Yeah.’”

  • Granma notes that the trial of former food industry minister Alejandro Roca for corruption charges is awaiting a verdict. Prosecutors are seeking a 15-year sentence. Chilean businessman Max Marambio was tried for similar charges in absentia, and prosecutors want 20 years for him.

  • Herald: Gerardo Hernandez, one of the Cuban Five, is seeking a new trial by arguing that his defense attorney mounted an incomplete, ineffective defense. The story includes a link to Hernandez’ affidavit.

  • A Miami New Times blogger says the Cuban Five should experience the judicial system back home.