Archive for February 17th, 2012

Our Man in Havana, or, the Strange Case of Alan Gross

February 17, 2012

Jeffrey Goldberg – The Atlantic

It’s quite a weird story, the arrest and conviction of an American government contractor, Alan Gross, by Cuban authorities for the crime of “undermining the integrity” of the state, and it’s just gotten weirder, thanks to the investigative work of the AP’s Desmond Butler. Gross is an American Jew who was sent to Cuba by a U.S. Agency for International Development-funded contractor to supply Cuba’s tiny Jewish community with communications equipment. The ostensible purpose of this mission was to help connect the 1,500 or so Jews still in Cuba with their brethren outside the country. The Cubans suspect something far more dastardly. The truth is…. not entirely clear.

Read Butler’s whole report, which appears to prove that Gross was not the “trusting fool” he portrayed himself to be, but that instead he knew the dangers of smuggling in advanced communications equipment into a closed, Communist-run country. Nevertheless, it’s fairly obvious, at least to me, that the Cubans should release Gross on humanitarian grounds. Whether or not Gross understood the danger, Butler makes it clear that this is not Jason Bourne we’re talking about here. Of course, the Cubans are interested in seeing the so-called “Cuban Five” released on humanitarian grounds, so the two countries are at an impasse (a sixty-year-old impasse, in fact.)

Here are three observations about the Gross case:
1) In general, it’s a fine idea for the United States to advocate for freedom in un-free countries.
2) In general, it’s a bad idea to have USAID contractors carting around sensitive communications equipment in countries aligned against the U.S. that don’t share our particular free-speech sensitivities. Better to leave that work to the CIA. Even better would be to end the American travel ban and embargo on Cuba, which would allow Cubans to meet ordinary Americans (and play with their technology!) and come to understand the superiority of openness.
3) This AID-funded mission put the Jews of Cuba in a bad spot. I would argue for such missions if the Jews of a given country were either persecuted or cut off from the world, but the Jews of Cuba are neither. In fact, the Jews of Cuba are probably more wired to the rest of the world than their non-Jewish compatriots, not only because their synagogue have Internet connections, but because they receive delegations of Jews from the U.S., Canada, Mexico and elsewhere almost weekly. When I was in Havana in 2010, the president of the Jewish community, Adela Dworin complained to me that she has a warehouse brimming over with cans of gefilte fish brought by well-meaning Jewish delegations. And there is no anti-Semitism to speak of in Cuba. I don’t know anyone who disagrees with this basic assertion (and I didn’t just take Fidel’s word for it.) So Gross’s mission, on many levels, was ill-advised, and, given its outcome, tragic.

Frei Betto: the Cuban Revolution is an evangelical work

February 17, 2012

Excerpts from Frei Betto’s words

THERE was a time – I have been coming to Cuba for more than 30 years now – when there was talk of emulation, after rectification, and now, of guidelines. If Stalin was still prevailing, Cubans would be called “rectificationists.” But many people do not realize that here changes are not made along the lines of Lampedusa – changing things to leave everything as it is – changes are made to improve this social work of the Revolution which, from my point of view, is a not only a political or ideological work, but evangelical.

Frei BettoWhat does the evangelism of Jesus mean? It means giving food to the hungry, health to the sick, shelter to the homeless, occupation to the unemployed. This is in the words of the Gospel. That is why I say it is a transcendental work.

On many occasions those of us in progressive movements are not doing what the Cuban Revolution is doing, an examination of our consciences, our self-criticism. Why are there no progressive movements in the world, with the exception of those of Latin America? Faced with the crisis in Europe, what proposals do we have? There is talk of the Wall Street occupation, which is a movement of indignation, but many people do not realize that Wall Street means “the street of the wall,” and while this wall remains standing, our indignation is not going to result in anything. It is going to be good for us, not for the people.

Two things are fundamental, and these two things have been practiced in the Cuban Revolution. First: having a project, not solely indignation. Having a proposal, goals. And, secondly, popular roots, contact with the people. Gramsci said, “The people have experiences, but on many occasions do not understand their situation.” We, as intellectuals, understand the reality but we do not experience it.

Cuba is the only Latin American country which had a successful revolution, as recently there were other revolutions in Nicaragua and other countries, but the most successful is this one. Because it is not a revolution like the one in Europe, which was a bewigged socialism, which came from the top downward. Not here, this one is of hair, from downward to the top – I was going to follow the hair equation for a little while, because Zuleica (Romay, president of the Cuban Book Institute) has short hair, Abel (Prieto) has long hair and Fidel has a balance – and virtue lies in the middle.

I am calling attention to this: we have to undertake a self-criticism, ask ourselves about our social insertion in relation to political mobilization and what project of society we are creating together with the peoples, together with the indignados, campesinos and unemployed. 

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