01 May 2009

A Better Way to Approach Cuba

From the Washington Post, Julie Sweig,

The two nations could expand their monthly [Guantanamo] gate talks beyond the issue of perimeter security to include drug trafficking, human smuggling, refugee processing and disaster preparedness and relief. Such confidence-building talks could lead to deeper cooperation, even on human rights and political prisoners.

Next, the United States should invite those same Cuban officers to cross the gates and tour Guantanamo, in part to view evidence of the Navy's stewardship of the natural environment -- a dimension of the American presence that is bound to challenge Cuban preconceptions. Third, hundreds of U.S. and international journalists, lawyers and refugee experts have visited the base in the past few years. Surely we can extend the same courtesy to their Cuban peers.

Finally, the Navy could invite public-health professionals from Cuba, the United States and other countries in the region to the base to develop strategies for cooperation. Proposals to convert the base to a public health research and treatment center date back to the Kennedy White House and have been viewed favorably by Havana ever since, especially in light of Cuba's world-class expertise in infectious and tropical diseases.

We can talk trade later. Right now we need to correct our moral footing, and the best way to start that process is by stepping off the island.

h/t Foreign Policy's excellent Passport blog.

30 April 2009

Obama Continues to Disappoint

'We're interested in a dialogue with Cuba, but I think the international community wants to see some steps from Havana to see, to gauge how serious the government there is,'' state department spokesman Robert Wood said.

Wrong. The international community the United Nations represents wants the U.S. government to end its Economic Embargo against Cuba, not to play footies over telecommunications.

And I'm quite sure that Brazil, India, and China, to name a few, are smart enough to see that our increasing remittances is more of the same effort to humiliate the Cuban government and drive a wedge between Cubans and their government.

Canada, England, I'm not so sure.

I don't know if taking down the Embargo is the right thing to do, but misrepresenting the will of other nations is not.

25 April 2009

Guantanamo Bay as a Signifying Event

In the U.S.A., we often see images of failed buildings throughout the Cuban government's share of the island, which are as often used to signify the Communist Party's incompetence.

But what, then, do the images from Guantanamo Bay signify about the U.S. government? What has the USG done with its share of the island?

Matthew Alexander, who led the U.S. "interrogations team that located Abu Musab al-Zarqawi," confirms what we have all suspected:

As a senior interrogator in Iraq, I conducted more than three hundred interrogations and monitored more than one thousand. I heard numerous foreign fighters state that the reason they came to Iraq to fight was because of the torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay. Our policy of torture and abuse is Al-Qaeda’s number one recruiting tool. These same insurgents have killed hundreds, if not thousands, of our troops in Iraq, not to mention Iraqi civilians. Torture and abuse are counterproductive in the long term and, ultimately, cost us more lives than they save.

And his reply to Dick Cheney:
The fact that Osama bin Laden is still alive is proof that waterboarding does not work. The more important fact, however, is that our policy of torture and abuse has cost us American lives.

But maybe Osama bin Laden was not Dick Cheney's first priority. Frank Rich:

... Maj. Paul Burney, a United States Army psychiatrist assigned to interrogations in Guantánamo Bay that summer of 2002, told Army investigators of another White House imperative: “A large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq and we were not being successful.” As higher-ups got more “frustrated” at the inability to prove this connection, the major said, “there was more and more pressure to resort to measures” that might produce that intelligence.

In other words, the ticking time bomb was not another potential Qaeda attack on America but the Bush administration’s ticking timetable for selling a war in Iraq; it wanted to pressure Congress to pass a war resolution before the 2002 midterm elections. Bybee’s memo was written the week after the then-secret (and subsequently leaked) “Downing Street memo,” in which the head of British intelligence informed Tony Blair that the Bush White House was so determined to go to war in Iraq that “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.” A month after Bybee’s memo, on Sept. 8, 2002, Cheney would make his infamous appearance on “Meet the Press,” hyping both Saddam’s W.M.D.s and the “number of contacts over the years” between Al Qaeda and Iraq. If only 9/11 could somehow be pinned on Iraq, the case for war would be a slamdunk.

If only out of respect for the nobility of the Declaration on Human Rights, President Obama needs to drop the Human Rights complaint against Cuba.

h/t Andrew Sullivan

14 April 2009

Obama's First Mistake on Cuba

Michelle Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Michelle Obama,

I am embarrassed and profoundly disappointed by your husband’s decision to frame his changes in our Cuba policy in terms of Human Rights, while exacerbating the grotesque, social inequality on the island by allowing an increase in remittances to Cubans privileged enough to have relatives in America.

I write to you because the professional people informing him on this issue are obviously a lost cause.

There are two important facts they ignore or do not sufficiently consider: (1) Only a small percentage of black Cubans have familial connections to the USA.

And (2), except for those black Cubans working within Cuba's security apparatus, of those black Cubans without a connection to a hard currency, i.e. the overwhelming majority, they are by and large working the physically hardest and lowest paying jobs in the country.

For example, as of April 2009, a government seamstress must sew 400 pairs of pants per day to earn nine CUban Pesos (CUP), twenty-four of which are required to buy one CUban Convertible (CUC), the currency to which the remittances will likely be converted since dollars won't buy most consumer goods.

In other words, it will take the Cuban seamstress about eight thousand days to earn what her no-doubt white counter-part with a familial connection to the US may now receive from one relative’s visit.

Or put another way, the Cuban Cuban seamstress will have to sow 3.5 million pairs of pants to earn as much as what her American-connected counter-part can receive in one day.

Clearly, the President’s new policy is not one that is consistent with a nation that values rewarding work over idleness, but nor is it consistent with one that values equality.

So to whatever extent President Obama genuinely believes his new remittance and travel policies will help the Cuban people, his good intentions will be lost on those black Cubans who will in turn see white Cubans get richer simply because they have generous relatives in America.

But what is aggravating about the new policy is that NSC advisor Dan Restrepo knows damn well that these changes (specifically, (1) our attempts to leap the Cuban government to reach “Cuban society” with the remittances, (2) our use of Human Rights vocabulary to frame the issue--astonishingly, enough, while at the same time and according to Brandon Neely having committed a fair share of despicable HR violations on that very island!--and (3) our changes in telecommunication rules) are and will be justifiably interpreted as more of the same old effort to subvert the Cuban government, thus provoking more draconian internal security measures.

If the President thinks this new policy will not exacerbate racial divisions on the island and strengthen internal calls for greater surveillance among the islanders, his judgment is not what I had hoped for.

Now, I can only hope he has something else up his sleeve, such as reviewing the entire policy in terms of the extent to which the Cuban government is in fact an existential threat to the United States, which, as I’m sure you know, Cuba is not, and therefore the whole policy should be scrapped and rewritten.



23 March 2009

Center for a Free Cuba

At least one recipient of the millions the US spends on subverting Cuba has now been convicted stealing taxpayers money.

He thought he deserved a better lifestyle:

Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- A former Bush White House aide was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison on Wednesday for stealing nearly $600,000 from a government-funded program that promotes democracy in Cuba.

Felipe Sixto apologized for stealing from the Center for a Free Cuba, telling U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton that in addition to his own greed and selfishness, he "wanted to provide a lifestyle for my family I could not afford."

That argument from Mr. Sixto didn't sway Judge Walton, who compared him to Bernie Madoff, who has pleaded guilty to ripping off thousands of investors of billions of dollars.

While the situations are different, Judge Walton said Mr. Sixto, like Mr. Madoff, wanted a lifestyle "far above" what he deserved.

"The mentality that brings you before this court is the same," Judge Walton said.

Judge Walton sentenced him to 30 months in prison, three years supervised release and fined him $10,000. Mr. Sixto had asked for home confinement or probation.

Mr. Sixto pleaded guilty Dec. 19 to theft. He acknowledged overcharging the organization more than $579,000 when purchasing radios and flashlights with federal funds. His lawyer said 90% of the money had been paid back to the center, with some of it coming from a mortgage that Mr. Sixto's parents took out on their house.

Judge Walton also criticized Mr. Sixto for accepting a job in the White House, knowing that he had been stealing from the center, an independent institution that receives millions of dollars in USAID funds for rent, travel and equipment such as shortwave radios and laptops.

Mr. Sixto quit his job as a special assistant to President George W. Bush for intergovernmental affairs almost a year ago after learning that the center was beginning legal action against him.

Judge Walton said having employees like Mr. Sixto inside the White House makes people question the honesty and integrity of government officials.

Copyright © 2009 Associated Press

14 March 2009

Balkinization Commentators on the Lease of Lands.

In my effort to sort out the elements of a claim that the U.S. Government breached the terms of its Guantanamo lease--call me old-fashioned, but I think landlords ought to be able to evict tenants who torture people--I put the following question to the commentators on the law blog Balkinization.com:

Can anyone explain to me (a non-lawyer) why the DoD would not have to consider the terms of the lease to build a detention facility, let alone to interrogate combatants captured by non-Naval forces?

To read the replies, click here. My post is about 30 comments down. Balkinization is a monitored website, but the commentators squeeze in some healthy insults nonetheless. And Hank, Joe, and Shaq from Brookline, especially, raise some interesting points.

Russian long range bombers in Cuba?

Russia continues to extract pounds of flesh following Condi's wretched diplomacy:

Zhikharev said Chavez had offered "a whole island with an airdrome, which we can use as a temporary base for strategic bombers," the agency reported. "If there is a corresponding political decision, then the use of the island ... by the Russian Air Force is possible."

Interfax reported he said earlier that Cuba has air bases with four or five runways long enough for the huge bombers and could be used to host the long-range planes.

Two Russian bombers landed in Venezuela last year in what experts said was the first Western Hemisphere touchdown of Russian military craft since the end of the Cold War.

Cuba has never permanently hosted Russian or Soviet strategic aircraft. But Soviet short-range bombers often made stopovers there during the Cold War.

Russia resumed long-range bomber patrols in 2007 after a 15-year hiatus.

Independent military analyst Alexander Golts said from a strategic point of view there was nothing for Russia to gain from basing long-range craft within relatively short range of U.S. shores.

"It has no military sense. The bombers don't need any base. This is just a retaliatory gesture," Golts said, saying Russia wanted to hit back after U.S. ships patrolled Black Sea waters.

More angles from Two Weeks Notice

11 March 2009

SEC. 621, the new travel rule

once again, Cuban-Americans get what they want from the U.S. Congress:

SEC. 620. Section 910(a) of the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (22 U.S.C. 7209(a)) is amended to read as follows:

`(a) AUTHORIZATION OF TRAVEL RELATING TO COMMERCIAL SALES OF AGRICULTURAL AND MEDICAL GOODS- The Secretary of the Treasury shall promulgate regulations under which the travel-related transactions listed in paragraph (c) of section 515.560 of title 31, Code of Federal Regulations, are authorized by general license for travel to, from, or within Cuba for the marketing and sale of agricultural and medical goods pursuant to the provisions of this title.'.

SEC. 621. None of the funds made available in this Act may be used to administer, implement, or enforce the amendments made to section 515.560 and section 515.561 of title 31, Code of Federal Regulations, related to travel to visit relatives in Cuba, that were published in the Federal Register on June 16, 2004.

SEC. 622. None of the funds made available in this Act may be used to administer, implement, or enforce the amendment made to section 515.533 of title 31, Code of Federal Regulations, that was published in the Federal Register on February 25, 2005.