Wednesday, January 30, 2013

An Alan Gross reader

In recent weeks a number of new documents have come to light in the case of jailed USAID contractor Alan Gross, mainly thanks to reporter/blogger Tracey Eaton.  Tracey has written a Q&A with lots of basic information on the case; it’s a very good primer for those not inclined to read all the documents below. 

The documents, summarized by Tracey here, are:

---A memo summarizing an August 2008 meeting between USAID officials and Gross’ employer DAI as DAI was embarking on its Cuba project; the memo is written by DAI.

---An October 2009 modification of the contract between DAI and Alan Gross’ company.

---A September 2009 memo by Alan Gross on his Cuba project, which he called “Para la Isla.”

---DAI’s January 2013 motion in court seeking dismissal of Gross’ lawsuit against the company.

Tracey also has a post on USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives, which ran Cuba programs through an office in Costa Rica, now closed.

In addition to all this information, there’s the February 2012 Associated Press story based in part on trip reports submitted by Gross, and my summary of the Cuban court’s sentencia, which is the Cuban government’s rendition of the facts and legal issues in the case.

There’s also the August 2008 USAID contract with DAI, which has a long preamble describing the Bush Administration’s Cuba Democracy and Contingency Planning Program, which derives from that Administration’s Cuba transition commissions.

Finally, everything on this blog about the case is here.

In sum, the new documents have added interesting detail, but no big new departure, to what we know about this story. 

A few comments on the new documents:

·         In the past I have written, based on a U.S. official’s account to me, that Gross was paid $585,000 for his work.  That is not so.  His contracts totaled $590,608, of which he was paid $258,274, Tracey reports, and it is likely that he received another $65,000 before his last trip to Cuba.  The rest was to be paid in later installments.

·         The AP story reported that Gross planned to use a special SIM card in the BGAN satellite Internet equipment that he installed in synagogues in Cuba.  The card, not commercially available, would mask the location of the equipment so it could evade detection by Cuban agencies.  (A normal SIM card would reveal the unit’s GPS location.)  AP’s report generated some controversy, but Gross’ own memo settles the question; he did plan to use such a “discreet” SIM card.

·         Gross’ memo refers to the Jewish community as the “current target group” and in his discussion of “follow-on components” to his program he refers to a “new target group.”  This new group is not identified.  The Cuban court alleged that he discussed providing BGAN equipment to Masonic Lodges in Cuba.

·         The Obama Administration’s practice has been to describe Gross as a humanitarian and not to connect his work for the U.S. government to broader political objectives, much less regime-change objectives.  Secretary Clinton, for example, called him “an American who was passing out information and helping elderly Cubans communicate through the Internet.”  DAI’s motion, in a section titled “The Origin of This Case in U.S. Government Policy Toward Cuba” (p.15), states: “This case arises out of the Cuba Democracy and Contingency Planning Program (the ‘Cuba Program’), a foreign policy program of the U.S. Government.  The Cuba Program seeks to foster changes in the leadership of the Cuban government and to hasten a peaceful transition to democracy in Cuba.”

·         Gross’ memo refers to paid “local support staff” that assisted in his project.  I wonder if one of those was Jose Manuel Collera, who had contact with Gross and others in the USAID program, according to the Cuban court document, and whom the Cuban government revealed in 2011 to be one of its own undercover state security agents.  (According to that document, another USAID contractor phoned Collera immediately when Gross was arrested.)

·         DAI’s memo on its August 2008 meeting with USAID shows the Bush Administration to be in a big hurry to get the program under way in the five months then remaining in the President’s term: “This Administration expects immediate results from this program, definitely before mid Janauary.”  The memo also explains that USAID chose not to classify its Cuba program activities “because USAID wanted to send the message that this is a transparent process. Also, a classified project imposes significant security, documentation burdens, and delays.”

  • Throughout these documents, there is awareness on everyone’s part of the risk that Mr. Gross’ program would be detected by Cuban intelligence.  For example, DAI’s memo indicates a “point of emphasis” in USAID’s briefing on the program: that “creativity” is needed “in the face of opposition from the Cuban state – one anchored in the past and resistant to change – while protecting the security of participants and change agents.”  There is a legal argument about responsibility and alleged negligence, and there’s a political argument as to whether the risks should have been assumed in the first place, but there’s no doubt that all knew of the risks.  Mr. Gross, according to the cable from U.S. diplomats in Havana reporting on their virst visit to him, said that “Government of Cuba officials knew ‘everything’ before he was taken into custody and had asked for details of all his activities, i.e., the projects and companies he had worked for in the 54 countries he had travelled to during his 30-year career.  He asked the Consul General if there were other Americans in the same situation, i.e., other American citizens entering Cuba on the same type of program who had been detained.”

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


CNN’s Patrick Oppman reports on the visit to Cuba of currently unsigned MLB pitcher Jose Contreras, his first trip home in ten years, enabled by the Cuban migration law that went into effect this month.

Odds and ends

  • CELAC, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, just concluded a summit meeting in Chile where EU heads of state also participated.  The body, which excludes Canada and the United States, named Raul Castro president for the next year (Granma, Herald).  In the summit’s final declaration, the countries in attendance “firmly reject” the U.S. embargo and the Helms-Burton law (see paragraph 6).  Chile’s president met Raul Castro and asked for Cuban cooperation in a political murder case; the 1991 assassination of a Chilean senator who served in the Pinochet government, and whose assassins are alleged by some in Chile to be living in Cuba (AP, La Segunda).

  • Herald: Pedro Alvarez, former head of the Cuban food importing agency Alimport, is now flipping houses in Tampa.

  • Café Fuerte on the Cuban community in Ecuador and Ecuador’s decision to make it harder for Cubans to travel there by requiring them to get a letter of invitation by someone who assumes responsibility for them during their stay.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Is the Cuban Adjustment Act in play?

Senator Marco Rubio, who is among the Republicans seeking consensus on a comprehensive reform of U.S. immigration policy, said last week (Café Fuerte) that it is “impossible” to treat this issue “and not talk about whether or not there should be changes in the Cuban Adjustment Act.”

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, interviewed by Café Fuerte, said something similar.

So there may be a debate after all over the treatment of Cubans under U.S. immigration policy.

But apparently it will be a debate where Rubio and Ros-Lehtinen misrepresent that policy and the conduct of their constituents who take advantage of it.

Rep. Ros-Lehtinen argues that we need a law that prohibits Cuban immigrants who enter the United States by availing themselves of the Cuban Adjustment Act from returning to Cuba for visits.  “One can’t affirm that one would be persecuted for political reasons in Cuba and, at the same time, return for visits.”

Senator Rubio said, “If people come to this country seeking exile and then they are traveling to Cuba 10 or 12 times a year, then it makes it difficult for us to go back to Washington and justify the special status that Cubans have…this does put the Cuban Adjustment Act in danger.” 

The idea that Cubans admitted under the Cuban Adjustment Act “affirm that one would be persecuted for political reasons in Cuba” or “come to this country seeking exile” (whatever that means) is simply false. 

Rubio and Ros-Lehtinen are accusing their constituents of being hypocrites, based on a claim that these immigrants have never made. 

There are two categories of immigrants – refugees and asylees – who are admitted to the United States by claiming a fear of persecution if they were to return home, and after the United States judges that claim to be well founded.  If these people are admitted and then return home, they may face a legal problem because they effectively invalidate their claim of fear of persecution.

But very few Cubans enter the United States by claiming that they fear persecution if they were to return to Cuba. 

In 2011, only 2,954 Cubans were admitted as refugees or asylees.

The rest were admitted because U.S. policy is to grant about 20,000 immigrant visas a year to Cubans, or because they showed up at the border or made it to a U.S. shore (10,452 last year), or otherwise arrived without an immigrant visa and were “paroled” in pursuant to the Cuban Adjustment Act, which puts them on the path to a green card a year later. 

That’s 30,000 Cubans who entered last year without stating a claim to persecution. 

Senator Rubio has made no legislative proposal.  Rep. Ros-Lehtinen seems to follow the idea put forward by former Rep. David Rivera and echoed recently by some flamboyant Cuban-American groups who warned that a “red super-Mariel” may result from Cuba’s new migration law.  She talks of restricting travel of Cuban immigrants, adding a new U.S. restriction on the free movement of people at a time when Cuba’s 50-year restrictions are falling by the wayside.

It’s a great idea to debate this part of U.S. immigration policy, but someone else had better lead it.

For more, including comments by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, see this article in El Nuevo Herald.

Carromero callado

Diario de Cuba’s recent editorial called on Spanish Partido Popular activist Angel Carromero to speak in public about the car crash last July where he was driving and dissidents Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero were killed.  It also called on the family to provide whatever evidence it has for its assassination theory, and to provide text messages it claims to have received rather than just make reference to them. 

That’s a reasonable thing to ask if you want to settle the matter – but not to Rosa Maria Paya, Oswaldo’s daughter, who fired back, saying it’s wrong to make demands of victims rather than the executioner.  She has since apologized.

Carromero remains silent; he appeared at a public ceremony and said nothing to the press. 

Meanwhile, Spaniards are questioning the political patronage that places people like Carromero, who has no college degree, in nice government jobs with vague duties at a time when many are suffering economically.

Carromero’s political associates are silent too, no longer talking about his need to get his memories in order before speaking out.

Carromero and his companion Aron Modig – who has said all along that he was sleeping and has no memories to reconstruct – are out of danger and face no impediment to speaking out.  No one has backed up the insinuation that their car was rammed and run off the road – not Carromero and Modig, nor the Paya family, nor Paya’s political associates, nor the Spanish and Swedish political parties that sent two young activists on an “assistance” mission that resulted in the death of two Cubans. 

What could Carromero possibly remember now that he could not recall since last July, or in the weeks since his return to Spain?  And what can we conclude from this collective silence, other than that it was a one-car accident, as Carromero said in Cuba?

Odds and ends

  • The Raul Castro government continues the tactic of short-term detention of political opponents, Tracey Eaton reported in detail in USA Today, and the number of political prisoners reported by human rights monitor Elizardo Sanchez rose in 2012 (Herald).

  • The U.S. Interests Section in Havana is running a contest based on questions about the United States.  Answers are submitted by text message.  Of those who answer correctly, five winners are chosen at random, and their prize is $11 of credit on their cell phone account.  (H/t Emilio Ichikawa)

  • En route to making a serious point – that U.S. interests would be better served by ending restrictions on travel to Cuba – Senator Jeff Flake made a brief quip in a hearing yesterday about the hypothetical impact of U.S. students on spring break in Cuba.  Senator Bob Menendez got on his high horse to deliver a rebuke, invoking democracy advocates in Cuba.  Most of them, of course, oppose government travel restrictions everywhere because they have hated those imposed by their own government for so long.  (CNN)

Thursday, January 24, 2013


“I am Cuban and a resident of the United States.  I am 66 years old and receive a pension of $1,400.  I have two children in Cuba who have never wanted to leave the country and I would like to live out my old age with them.  So I am thinking seriously, in light of the new changes in migration law, of beginning to take the necessary steps to return to my loved ones.  My question is the following: Would I have to pay tax on my pension?  If so, which I view as natural and I am in agreement, what would the procedure be and what would be the percentage?”

– a question signed by Edel Gonzalez presented to Cuban tax authorities, who answered questions about the new tax law in an on-line forum and in the comments section of this article in Juventud Rebelde.