Wednesday, November 28, 2012

More on the Alan Gross case

After the lawyer for jailed USAID contractor Alan Gross alleged that he has a cancerous growth on his back that Cuban medical staff are leaving untreated – “misdiagnosed” by Cuban doctors, his wife alleged – the Cuban government has responded with a statement (English here) saying that he does not have cancer.  American diplomats in Cuba were presented the results of an October 24 biopsy – performed on that date because Mr. Gross had previously refused to have one performed – that showed negative results.

The Cuban statement also said that Gross’ weight is “normal” and he engages in a “voluntary regimen of systematic physical exercise” that, together with “a balanced diet of his choice,” has eliminated “his previous condition of obesity.”

Gross’ lawyer, Jared Genser, responded today with a complaint that Cuba had released information on his client’s medical condition that should be treated confidentially.  (Genser himself had no compunction about releasing last month a report on Gross’ medical condition written by a U.S. doctor who had not examined him.)

Here are stories from AP and the New York Times.  Also, an AP article from yesterday on a visit made to Mr. Gross by a U.S. physician who is also a rabbi, another from Global Post, and a ridiculous article by Professor Jaime Suchlicki of the University of Miami.

Several of these articles mention a lawsuit that attorneys for Mr. Gross filed against the U.S. government seeking compensation for his suffering based on the government’s alleged negligence.  Today’s Times story includes this:

Scott Gilbert, one of the Gross family’s lawyers, said the case could be especially damaging for the State Department and DAI if the discovery process produces more examples of unqualified and ill-prepared contractors sent to Cuba. He said the suit would draw attention to the American government’s pro-democracy effort, which Mr. Gilbert described as “flawed in conception” and “completely messed up” in execution.

The main complaint in the lawsuit is here (pdf).  Some points of interest:

·         It sets out very clearly (p.9) that the USAID program derives from the Helms-Burton law and is geared toward changing the political order in Cuba. 

·         It cites elements of USAID manuals that discuss counterintelligence training (p.11).

·         It claims that the U.S. Interests Section and USAID were supposed to be communicating with each other regarding Mr. Gross’ trips (p.19).  What I understand from U.S. officials is that at the time of the arrest, U.S. diplomats in Cuba had no idea who he was or what he was doing, and that only after this episode was a mechanism established whereby the State Department would be informed when USAID operatives were going into Cuba.

·         Beginning on page 20, it reviews Mr. Gross’ trips to Cuba, noting that in each instance he came home, he warned his employer (DAI, a USAID contractor based in Maryland) about the risks inherent in his activity (perceived by him and the Cubans with whom he was working), those warnings were ignored, he was often urged by DAI to get on with the program, he returned to Cuba, and DAI continued making money from the program.

Interesting reading. 

Of course Mr. Gross was making plenty of money too, and it sort of jumps off the page that the lawsuit assigns responsibility to everyone but Mr. Gross for the trips that he himself made to Cuba, even after perceiving the dangers.  It should also be noted that while Mr. Gross was issuing his warnings, he also continued his modus operandi of traveling to Cuba along with American Jewish delegations and having unwitting members of those delegations carry some of his equipment.  Not a nice guy.

The lawsuit seeks payment of damages from DAI and the U.S. government, and it is clearly part of a strategy to press the Obama Administration to negotiate for Mr. Gross’ release.  In that vein, the lawyer’s threat to use the discovery process to disclose lots if information about USAID’s Cuba activities give the Administration heartburn.  As for the contention that the government was negligent, I don’t know if I have ever seen a USAID document about the Cuba program that does not warn of the risks involved in its Cuba operations, and some even state explicitly that the program violates Cuban law.

More background: on the Cuban case against Mr. Gross; on the U.S. government’s handling of the case (here and here) and everything I have ever posted on the case here.

Saturday, November 10, 2012


“I saw him just a few weeks ago and he said to me he feels absolutely deserted, he feels like he’s been left in a foreign country to rot.  He was there working on a government contract.  The United States sent him to Cuba on a government contract and they are finding it too difficult to sit down with the Cubans and get a dialogue started, and that’s very disappointing to me and obviously to Alan.”

– Judy Gross, wife of jailed USAID contractor Alan Gross, in the second part of an interview on the radio program Latin Pulse; part one here

Friday, November 9, 2012

Calle Ocho failed to deliver for the GOP

As recently as 2000, the Cuban-American community broke 3:1 for Republican presidential candidates.  Today it’s an even split, as three exit polls from this week’s election show:

  Fox News: Romney 50-Obama 47
  Bendixen & Amandi: Romney 52-Obama 48
  Edison Research: Obama 49-Romney 47

This is a new political reality that takes away Calle Ocho's special attraction to Republicans; it is no longer the center of a large, reliable bloc of single-issue voters in a tight swing state who vote for the most pro-embargo candidate.

This is such a harsh reality that some are pretending it’s not there.  Our friend Mauricio attacks Bendixen, ignoring the fact that his results line up with those of other pollsters.  At Babalu they are accepting the polls at face value, citing their own observations of their changing community and of course insulting those who think and vote differently; see here and here.  Ana Navarro, a sharp Miami-based analyst, tweets that the Miami-Dade math just can’t add up if Cubans were split 50-50. 

Unless there’s a new math.

The Republican Party is embarking on a big after-action report on Tuesday’s election results, including examination of the Romney debacle with Latino voters, the Washington Post reports.  There will be separate focus groups of Cuban American voters, which would be lots of fun to watch.

I wonder what the pro-Obama Cuban Americans will say.

Some may identify with other Latinos, opposing Republican immigration policies and repulsed by the Republican discussion of immigration issues and immigrants.

I doubt they will complain about immigration policies that affect them.  Cubans alone have the closest thing to an open door that exists in our immigration policy.  They get 20,000 immigrant visas a year at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana.  They are admitted to the United States when they come here without a visa, whether arriving on a beach or appearing at the Mexican border.  If they have been living comfortably outside Cuba for years, they are admitted anyway.  And they are given government benefits when they arrive.  Since the Bush Administration, we even admit people who are born outside Cuba to Cuban parents, i.e. people who have no Cuban nationality at all.

Some may speak up for their right to travel to Cuba and to help their relatives, a right that the United States would not dream of restricting for any other immigrant group.  Except that Mitt Romney would have done precisely that.  In Cuba’s new context, that would mean cutting off a line of support that is capitalizing lots of new private businesses on the island. 

I also wonder what lessons the Republicans will draw.  It seems pretty plain that the old Bush/Romney line gets Republicans about half the Cuban-American vote, and the Obama line gets about half for the Democrats.  And by the way, Obama’s half is growing.

In May 2010, now-U.S. Senator Marco Rubio said he opposed President Obama’s Cuba policies because they bring too much hard currency to Cuba.  He gave another reason that has nothing to do with U.S. interests; that a policy of unrestricted family visits “threatens the exile status of the Cuban community.”  “How do you argue that you’re an exile,” he asked, “when exile is supposed to be people that can’t return for political purposes?”

Well, many Cuban Americans call themselves exiles and many consider themselves immigrants.  One difference is that the immigrants seem to mind their own business while the exiles want to regulate everyone’s contacts with the island.  To date, the Republicans, the party of personal freedom, family values, and free enterprise, are siding with the exiles.

Senator Rubio, our friend Mauricio, and others claim that Cubans are refugees, which is nonsense.  In 2011, the United States admitted 2,920 refugees from Cuba and 34 asylees – that is, people who were admitted based on stating a well founded fear of persecution if they were to return to Cuba.  Refugees account for about 10-15 percent of Cuban immigration.  This is not to say that other Cuban immigrants had no problems in Cuba, or that they like the system there.  But they are not refugees.

Going back to the math, and why we may be seeing a new electoral math, here are the numbers of Cubans who obtained legal permanent residency in the past ten years, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

2002                28,182
2003                9,262
2004                20,488
2005                36,261
2006                45,614
2007                29,104
2008                49,500
2009                38,954
2010                33,372
2011                36,261

More on all this from Fabiola Santiago in the Herald; in the Wall Street Journal, “Cuban-Americans Move Left;” and in the Financial Times, “Cuban-Americans Stun Republicans.”

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The hardliners' last hurrah

My beloved and estranged Republican Party has a problem with the Latino vote that is clear in the results of yesterday’s election.  The Latino share of the electorate is growing, the white vote is shrinking proportionately, and the GOP is relying on that shrinking white vote while its anti-immigrant message and policies alienate Latinos and many others.

Cuban Americans have long been the only reliably Republican segment of the Latino electorate.  When you add the fact that the hard-line Cuban vote is located mainly in the important state of Florida, and the fact that it generates considerable campaign donations for the Republican Party, it has earned a favored position in Republican politics.

But this is changing.  Look at Miami-Dade County, where the Cuban vote is concentrated, with a population that is 65 percent Latino: Al Gore won 53% of the Miami-Dade vote in 2000, John Kerry won 53% in 2004, President Obama won 58% in 2008 and 62% yesterday.

In yesterday’s Florida exit polls, the Cuban vote split evenly: Obama 49-Romney 47 (NBC News) and Romney 50-Obama 47 (Fox News).  The rest of Florida’s Latino vote went for Obama, 68-32.

So there are problems for Republicans.

First, the old reliable hard-line Cuban Americans are no longer capable of delivering a majority of their own community’s votes for the GOP.  The community is changing.  Half of Cuban Americans – Obama’s Cuban Americans – are either not single issue “anti-Castro” voters, or they support the President’s policies that give them the freedom to decide how often they can visit their families in Cuba and how much money they can send to support them.  Who would have imagined that President Obama could liberalize Cuba policies and increase his Miami-Dade margin by four points?  The Cuba policy that Governor Romney proposed – reverting to Bush policies that limit visits to once every three years and remittances to $100 per month – is incapable of making this situation better for the GOP, and can only make it worse over time.  Each year for the past four years, an average of 39,521 Cubans have become legal permanent residents of the United States.  These are not people who are 80 years old, who left Cuba in 1960, and have no connection or affection for those they left behind.

Second, the Republican hard-line approach on Cuba is irrelevant to the real Republican problem, which is to address Latinos not of Cuban descent.  These are people who live under the normal set of immigration rules, not the ones that apply to Cubans whose illegal immigrants are welcomed and given government benefits and a quick path to a green card as soon as they arrive.  In fact, when Republicans emphasize their affinity with Cuban immigrants, they underscore their distance from the life that all other Latino immigrants live every day.  This is why Senator Rubio is so overrated as a Republican emissary to Latinos nationwide – he supports the open-door policy with free government benefits for his own, and opposes it for everyone else.

With all respect to Governor Jeb Bush, the Republican problem with Latinos is not a problem of “tone,” it is one of policies that are harsh and convey disrespect, to put it mildly.

Republicans need to have a debate about immigration, and if they start one – or even if they do not – the hard-line segment of the Cuban American community will find that it no longer holds a favored position.  Calle Ocho is losing its ability to deliver votes.  It is less powerful in Miami-Dade and less important in Florida.  And in the issue that matters for Republicans, connecting to Latinos nationally, it has no role to play at all.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Helping Sandy's victims in Cuba

To support post-Sandy assistance delivered by Caritas Cubana, the nationwide Catholic charity that has a long-established disaster relief program, here’s a reliable option.  Yoani Sanchez lists Cuban e-commerce sites as a way to get items to people quickly. 

Odds and ends

  • Cuba’s foreign ministry has denounced the “interference in the internal affairs of Cuba” allegedly taking place at the U.S. Interests Section.  Statement here, AP story here.

  • The exploration carried out by Venezuela’s PDVSA in Cuba’s Gulf waters yielded no “possibilities of commercial exploitation,” Cuban state oil company CUPET said in a statement.  Reuters reports that the rig will now leave Cuba.

  • An interview with Alejandro Castro Espin, son of Raul Castro.

  • On the late Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo, some good comments were left on this post.

  • Herald: A former Interior Ministry official in charge of prisons in Santa Clara now lives in Miami, and local attorneys are questioning the decision to admit him to the United States.  He defends his record and says he was retired 14 years when he applied to immigrate.