Friday, August 30, 2013

Odds and ends

·         Fidel Castro was moved to take pen to paper in yesterday’s Granma by the Russian newspaper story that suggested that Cuba bent to U.S. pressure and denied permission to NSA leaker Edward Snowden to enter Cuban territory.  Fidel doesn’t deny that Cuba said “no” to Snowden, but he says it’s a “lie” that U.S. pressure was the reason.  My hunch is that at a time when Snowden was looking for a way our of Moscow and the U.S. government wanted no government to accommodate him, Cuba judged decided for its own reasons that Snowden would be nothing but a headache.

·         Tracey Eaton notes USAID’s new on-line system for reporting grant information and posts this list of Cuba grants.  One small transaction involves Freedom House replacing “the existing travel clause in its entirety with the new travel clause.”

·         National Review on the father of Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who in his youth “linked up with Castro’s guerrilla groups and supported their attempts to overthrow Batista,” and came to regret it.

·         In recently released Nixon White House tapes, our 37th President talks with his staff about the FBI investigation of the Watergate break-in, where his campaign’s burglars entered the headquarters of the Democratic Party.  He wonders why the FBI director doesn’t cooperate in steering the investigation in a way favorable to the White House (“What’s the matter with Pat Gray,” he asks).  He urges the squelching of a line of investigation involving Cuban Americans in Miami, saying the FBI should be told it would “open the whole Bay of Pigs thing up again.”

·         A document on the U.S. intelligence budget leaked to the Washington Post summarizes counterintelligence priorities – Cuba is included, but so are allies and U.S. aid recipients such as Pakistan and Israel: “To further safeguard our classified networks, we continue to strengthen insider threat detection capabilities across the Community. In addition, we are investing in target surveillance and offensive CI against key targets, such as China, Russia, Iran, Israel, Pakistan, and Cuba.”

Menos mal

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Paya case in Spanish courts

The widow and daughter of Oswaldo Paya filed a legal action in a Spanish court alleging that Paya’s death was a “murder” and a “crime against humanity.”  They charge that a Cuban government car drove Paya’s car off the road on July 22, 2012 when driver Angel Carromero was taking Paya, fellow dissident Harold Cepero, and Swedish political activist Jens Aron Modig from Havana to Santiago. 

The action, called a querella, is directed against two Cuban military officials.  Paya’s Spanish citizenship enables it to be presented in Spanish court.  They ask the court to take testimony from themselves, Carromero, Modig, four witnesses in Cuba, associates of Paya in Spain, and finally from Spanish and Swedish party activists whom they say received messages from Carromero and Modig after the crash.

It is not clear whether the matter will proceed; this Radio Marti report says that the court has handed the matter to a prosecutor, “who will decide whether or not the querella is to be admitted.”

The querella alleges that the Cuban trial that found Carromero guilty of vehicular manslaughter was a “farce” intended to paint the crash as an accident caused by negligence on Carromero’s part.  The government’s purpose, it charges, was “to do away with the Christian Liberation Movement and also to eliminate the possibility that any dissident movement would receive aid from abroad, which would cause the disappearance of any current or future ideological threat to the dictatorial regime that governs the island.”  (BBC, El Mundo)

Carromero was convicted in criminal court in Bayamo last October.  (The sentencia from this Cuban trial is described here and here; the full document doesn’t seem to be on the web.)  He returned to Spain last December under a Cuban-Spanish agreement that allows convicts to serve out their sentence in their home country.  Carromero remained silent for months.  Finally in March, with Paya’s associates chiding him for remaining silent, he gave statements to the Washington Post editorial page in which he alleged for the first time that a government car had driven him off the road.  He stayed away from Spanish media.

Modig has consistently said that he was asleep and remembers nothing about the crash.

Carromero is now speaking out, accusing the Cuban government of killing Paya and Cepero.  He began with this interview with El Mundo, saying that “I am just one more victim of the Paya case,” which takes some considerable cheek considering that he is alive and two Cubans are dead.  He said that Modig “has declared that he remembers nothing” ever since they were in the hospital together in Bayamo.  He mentions being sedated in the Bayamo hospital, but he does not make reference, as he did according to numerous press accounts last January, to having to recompose his memories because of long-lasting memory-inhibiting drugs allegedly administered to him in Cuba.  He also repeats that when he asked Paya about the car that was behind them, Paya told him it was “de la comunista” and he should ignore it.  (If anyone knows what that means, or has ever heard a Cuban use that phrase, I’m all ears.)

When he spoke later to the Herald, Carromero added that in the Bayamo hospital, he gave a statement to the effect that he was driven off the road, and signed that statement, only to be pressed into changing it by officials who slapped him and told him that he risked a long time in jail if he didn’t change his story. 

In this interview on Spanish television, Carromero says that various cars had followed his car, when one finally drove it off the road when he was going about 60 kilometers per hour.  Carromero said he is “sure” that Paya and Cepero were alive after the accident, although he doesn’t seem to have said in any interview that he saw them alive.
The basis seems to be his statement to El Mundo that a priest and nurses told him that Cepero and Paya were both “admitted” to the hospital in Bayamo. 

In this interview (with audio), Carromero starts by asking listeners “to realize that everything that happened, happened to a young person of 26 years of age.”  He said that he knows Paya was alive because a priest called the hospital from Madrid to say that all four in the car “were in the hospital.”

In an interview with a Spanish radio station, Paya’s brother Carlos claims that Modig’s statement that he remembers nothing is “a lie.”  Asked why Modig would lie, Paya said, “He has his reasons.”  He said he has talked with Modig, and Modig’s memory is “very selective.”  Paya says that Modig sent a text in Swedish after the accident saying, “literally, Angel tells me that a car drove us off the road.”

There’s much more if you care to sift through the statements of Carromero, his friends, and Paya’s family and associates.

Whom to believe?

Like me, you may be recalling the great movie about reasonable doubt, 12 Angry Men, that boiled down to Henry Fonda peppering his fellow jurors with the question, “Isn’t it possible?”

Isn’t it possible that Cuban government operatives drove Carromero off the road, intentionally or because someone who was assigned to follow got too close?  Yes, it is.

It’s also possible that a Swedish Christian Democrats wanted to help Cuban dissidents by sending Modig, who speaks no Spanish; they needed a Spanish speaker, and to their great misfortune they got the jejune Carromero, whose driver’s license was in the process of being revoked and who, at the wheel in a grueling, day-long drive across Cuba, made a mistake that cost two dissidents their lives.

To date the Paya family’s case has not been strong, suffering from piecemeal presentation, Carromero’s months of silence and his weak performance since, and Modig’s assertion that he remembers nothing in a car that was allegedly being followed, harassed, and rammed while he supposedly slept. 

If the querella proceeds in Spanish courts, it may shed light on parts of this story, especially since Carromero has only faced light and sympathetic questioning in his Spanish media interviews.  Apart from the witness testimony and evidence presented, it would be interesting to see whether Cuban evidence and the Cuban verdict come into play, whether Cuba would cooperate in what would essentially be a re-trial of the Bayamo proceeding, whether the Spanish government plays a role or takes a position, and what procedures and standard of proof would be used to reach a judgment. 


·         Spanish law professor Enrique Gimbernat argues that if Spain vacates the Cuban sentence against Carromero, it will harm the Spanish national interest because other countries will no longer honor agreements with Spain whereby Spaniards who commit crimes abroad are permitted to serve out their sentences at home.    Carromero responded by saying that the Spanish government signed a memorandum with Cuba reserving the right to pardon him, requiring only that Spain inform Cuba of that act.

·         In CubaEncuentro, Alejandro Armengol supports additional investigation of the case and cuts the Cuban government no slack.  He goes on to explain the Spanish political context of Carromero’s statements.  Carromero has been championed by and strongly supports Partido Popular leader Esperanza Aguirre, a party rival of the politically troubled Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.  Armengol suggests that Aguirre may have unleashed Carromero at a moment when his statements would cause the most damage to Rajoy.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Odds and ends

  • Herald: The UN is awaiting an invitation to Havana to talk to Cuban officials about the North Korean freighter with weapons aboard.

  • More reporting from the Herald on the scam whereby immigrants fake Cuban origin, complete with forged Cuban birth certificate, to get the fast-track treatment and federal benefits that only Cubans receive.

  • How does Cuba handle the human rights question?  Check out this infographic from the state news agency AIN.

  • NPR interviews Arturo Sandoval, the Cuban trumpet virtuoso who will soon be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  He tells how he was touched by Dizzy Gillespie (who himself was influenced by Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo).

  • In El Mundo, Rui Ferreira reports on Miami families who send their kids to spend summer vacation with family in Cuba.  There’s another story to be written about those who go to Cuba for medical care.

  • Diario de Cuba assembles an all-Cuban dream team of ballplayers playing both on the island and here.

  • El Pais: After lots of back-and-forth, Brazil is going to contract for the services of 4,000 Cuban doctors.  More from Global Post.

  • From the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, a cholera warning for travelers.

  • TIME’s Tim Padgett, writing in the Herald on Daniel Shoer Roth, who is writing a biography of the late Bishop Agustin Roman.

New digs

I have started the Cuba Research Center, a new nonprofit organization where I’ll continue my work on economic and political issues related to Cuba and U.S.-Cuba relations. 

The website is here, and with the kind permission of the Lexington Institute it contains all the studies I published there over the years. 

Nothing will change on this blog except that the pace will pick up again, and there will be cross-posting of some items with the website, such as this speculation about the all-important subject of baseball.