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.

04 March 2009

Senator Robert Menendez

On Wednesday, the Miami Herald reported that in protest of language favorable to thawing relations with Cuba, New Jersy (small state) Senator Robert Menendez was blocking the nominations of the new bosses for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

I trust that you've heard that the planet is undergoing a climate change, a change that is knocking-off plants and animals left and right. These two offices play a critical role in sorting out the facts of what many scientist believe is a critical problem.

To be sure, people are free to weigh the relative importance of the day's issues according to her/his own conscience.

But, if a Senator is going to stall what is widely regarded as critical work, one would think that whatever issue he feels is more important would be listed on his website, at least under his own assertion of important issues & legislation, no?

As of 4 march 2009, though, I found only two pages on his site mentioning the word Cuba, both over a year old, one dead, and other says nothing about about trade or travel :


One can only conclude the Menendez blocking stunt is intended to pander for dollars to the Anti-Castro lobby.

Let it be known, then, that Senator Robert Menendez is the first Democrat out of the block to return to the politics of no-change.

and surprise, surprise: it's about Cuba.

03 March 2009

Miami Herald reporting

The most important reason US audiences are generally so clueless about Cuba and the reason our government keeps getting out maneuvered by the Cuban government is that we listen to "experts" whose only aim is to smear the Cuban government.

And the Miami Herald is nothing but a conduit for the smears:

The Cuban American National Foundation said the moves were reminiscent of Russian Communist leader Joseph Stalin and are ``demonstrative of the regime's desire to place additional control of the government in the hands of the Cuban military.''

''I think this is Raúl definitely trying to put his own stamp on the government,'' said Sandy Acosta Cox, a political analyst at ECHO-Cuba, a Miami nonprofit that offers aid to evangelical churches on the island. ``I think this demonstrates that there were factions within the government: Fidelistas and Raulistas. . . . Positioning key Raulistas in place, especially before the major announcement everyone is anticipating -- Fidel's death -- ensures that there won't be a power struggle between the two factions.''

First of all, everything Raul does puts his stamp on the action, so that tells us nothing.

And everything one Communist government does is going to resemble the next. But CANF wants to make sure we associate the Cuban government with the worst of the worst.

I was in Cuba days before the elections that put Raul in power. At the time, there was a very small chance that the National Assembly might not pick Raul. So I asked people what they thought of Carlos Lage. I heard one cab driver describe Carlos Lage as harsh and undiplomatic.

And I've known that Felipe Perez Roque was a little over the top. So I'm wondering if these two men were replaced to put a softer, more empathetic face on the government.

But don't expect to get much deeper than that from the Miami Herald.

02 March 2009

Changes in high level positions

The BBC reports
that a decision to appoint (presumably) a new cabinet secretary and foriegn minister "...was [according to the Cubans] in line with the president's plan to improve efficiency."

Mr Lage, 57, was replaced as cabinet secretary by Gen Jose Amado Ricardo Guerra - although he kept his job as one of Cuba's vice-presidents.

Mr Perez Roque, 43, who had been foreign minister for 10 years, was replaced by his deputy Bruno Rodriguez.

Other ousted officials include Economy Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez, Finance Minister Georgina Barreiro Fajardo and Labour Minister Alfredo Morales Cartaya.

Four ministries were merged in the reshuffle.

21 February 2009

Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom

MSNBC reports and The Latin Americanist posts,

Colom said Tuesday that "Cuba deserves its own destiny, a destiny that you all built with this revolution of 50 years."

"Defend it," he said, referring to the guerrilla uprising that brought Castro to power on Jan. 1, 1959. "Defend it like you have always done."

Colom's comments drew sustained applause from his Cuban audience.

Like Cubans, Guatemalans harbor a deep resentment toward the United States for past violence. The CIA helped topple the democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz in 1954 and Washington backed a series of hardline military and civilian governments during that country's 36-year civil war, in which 200,000 Guatemalans died or disappeared before peace accords were signed in December 1996.

Ramiro Valdes Menendez

as reported by AP and posted on MiamiHearld.com:

Posted on Fri, Feb. 20, 2009

Cuba makes Ramiro Valdes, 2 others Cabinet VPs

Cuba has promoted revolutionary commander Ramiro Valdes Menendez and two others to the posts of vice presidents of its Cabinet.

Valdes was a leader of the rebel force that brought Fidel Castro to power in 1959. He is a communist hard-liner and former interior minister who has been communications minister since 2006.

Also promoted as Transportation Minister Jorge Luis Sierra and Agriculture Minister Ulises Rosales Toro, an army general.

Cuba's top governing body is the Council of State, which ordered the promotions that were announced Friday in Communist Party newspaper Granma.

Vice presidents of the Cabinet are not considered vice presidents of the country.

16 February 2009

Brandon Neely

Army Private Brandon Neely, who “served as a prison guard at Guantánamo in the first years the facility was in operation” is obviously not sleeping well.

Human Rights lawyer Scott Horton reflects,

[Brandon Neely] describes body searches undertaken for no legitimate security purpose, simply to sexually invade and humiliate the prisoners. This was a standardized Bush Administration tactic–the importance of which became apparent to me when I participated in some Capitol Hill negotiations with White House representatives relating to legislation creating criminal law accountability for contractors. The Bush White House vehemently objected to provisions of the law dealing with rape by instrumentality. When House negotiators pressed to know why, they were met first with silence and then an embarrassed acknowledgement that a key part of the Bush program included invasion of the bodies of prisoners in a way that might be deemed rape by instrumentality under existing federal and state criminal statutes.

Quite apart my revulsion, I cannot understand how the Bush administration could have ordered this sort despicable behavior knowing that it would occur on Cuba, a country where the West was all but convinced that the Cuban government was among the worst abusers of prisoners.

Whatever Human Rights edge we may have thought we had, the Cubans are going to enjoy throwing it back at us.

Those, I suggest, are the negotiations you send self-righteous Hillary Clinton to.

h/t Andrew Sullivan

07 February 2009

'Sphere of Influence"

Binden used the historically significant phrase "sphere of influence." I've read many times US officials use the phrase to affirm their rights in Latin America, especially Cuba:

"We will not recognise any nation having a sphere of influence. It will remain our view that sovereign states have the right to make their own decisions and choose their own alliances," Biden said. "But the United States and Russia can disagree and still work together where our interests coincide and they coincide in many places."

He also talked about Iran, but did not answer Iran's claim that they need to develop their energy supply, which is a valid argument many non-aligned nations make.

I think that there is an opportunity for the UN to develop nuclear facilities on a regional basis in order to meet a baseline for the world, while assuring safety better than we can trust individual governments.

Reuters on Binden via TPM