Archive for November, 2012

UN once again votes to condemn US embargo against Cuba

November 13, 2012

By Michael Astor, The Associated Press

The U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly to condemn the U.S. commercial, economic and financial embargo against Cuba for the 21st year in a row.

The final tally Tuesday was 188-3, with Israel and Palau joining the United States. The Marshall Islands and Micronesia both abstained. Last year’s tally for the symbolic measure was almost identical, 186-2, with three abstentions.

The embargo was first enacted in 1960 following Cuba’s nationalization of properties belonging to U.S. citizens and corporations. Sanctions against the Caribbean nation were further strengthened to a near-total embargo in 1962.

Speaking before the General Assembly, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez railed against the embargo calling the U.S. policy “inhumane, failed and anachronistic.”

“Keeping this policy in force is not in the national interest of the United States. Quite on the contrary, it harms the interests of its citizens and companies — especially in times of economic crisis and high unemployment — which, according to every poll, are demanding a change of policy,” Rodriguez said. “What’s the point of encroaching on the constitutional and civil rights and the freedom of travel of Americans by preventing them from visiting the Island when they can visit any other place in the planet, including those where their country is waging wars?”

Rodriguez added that although U.S. President Barack Obama had offered a new beginning with Cuba, after the 2008 election, “the reality of the last four years has been characterized by a persistent tightening of the economic, commercial and financial blockade.”

The United States has made clear that although some restrictions on travel and remittances have been eased under the Obama administration it is not prepared to lift the sanctions entirely until the communist-run nation enacts more far-reaching political and economic reforms.

Ronald D. Godard, a senior U.S. adviser for western hemisphere affairs, defended the embargo as a “one of the tools in our overall efforts to encourage respect for the human rights and basic freedoms to which the United Nations itself is committed.”

“Cuba’s resolution seeks to identify an external scapegoat for the island’s economic problems when they are principally caused by the economic policies that Cuban government has pursued for the past half century,” Godard said.

Advertisements

Nefarious details in the Cuban Five case

November 8, 2012

By Saul Landau

I sit on a gray plastic chair, facing a tiny, gray, plastic table and another empty, gray, plastic chair, waiting for Gerardo Hernandez in the visiting room of the maximum-security federal pen in Victorville, California. Next to me, in similar seating arrangements, a middle-aged black man speaks to a woman, presumably his wife; other black men talk to their spouses. Two kids run from the “children’s room” to their Dad to get a caress.

Four guards chatter and observe the visitors and inmates. No contraband must be exchanged and no “excess touching.”

Gerardo emerges, reports to the guards. We hug. Gerardo talks about ideas to force the National Security Agency to release its vectored map of the Feb 24, 1996, shoot down of two Brothers to he Rescue planes by Cuban MIGs. The government charged Gerardo with conspiring to commit murder because he allegedly – the government offered no evidence – passed the flight information to Cuban authorities knowing they would shoot the planes down (how would a Miami-based agent know of high level decisions in Havana?).

The Cubans maintain the MIGs fired their rockets at the intruding planes over Cuban air space. U.S. authorities insist it happened over international airspace. If the NSA map sustains Cuba’s claim then Gerardo, who purportedly delivered the date and time of the fatal flights to Cuban authorities, committed no crime. The prosecutors offered no proof that Gerardo delivered this information. Hollywood would portray the Miami courtroom scene with the prosecutor telling the jury: “I don’t got to show you no stinkin’ proof.”

Indeed, Gerardo’s defense lawyer showed that Basulto, the head of Brothers to the Rescue, had already announced the date of the flights, and several U.S. officials also knew of his plan. The FAA had even advised Cuban authorities of the impending flights. Facts don’t matter when a jury and judge understand that a “wrong” decision could result in their houses getting burned down.

The NSA refused defense attorneys’ subpoenas to deliver their vectored maps during the trial and appeals: “National Security,” the two deadly words not found in the Constitution or the Bible, constituted their reason (excuse) for not delivering the documents. What could force the NSA to comply? We had no answers, but the question will linger.

Other questions still bothered me. What had motivated the FBI to arrest him and his fellow Cuban agents? After all the Cuban agents had fed the Bureau juicy morsels related to terrorist activities, including the location of a boat on the Miami River loaded with explosives. The FBI commandeered the boat before it sailed for Cuba – or blew up in Miami.

“Hector Pesquera,” replied Gerardo. He became the Agent in Charge of the Miami Bureau and immediately focused his attention away from the terrorists and onto the anti-terrorists. After the jury handed down guilty verdicts at the trial of the Cuban Five, Pesquera proudly boasted to a Miami radio station that “he was the one who switched his agents’ focus from spying on the spies to filing charges against them.” (See, Stephen Kimber, “What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of the Cuban Five”, an e-book from Amazon)

Indeed, Pesquera persuaded Justice officials to refocus attention from exile terrorists in South Florida and onto the Cuban intelligence agents who had penetrated the terrorist groups. The case ‘never would have made it to court’ if he hadn’t lobbied FBI Director Louis Freeh directly.” (Kimber, p. 286)

Ann Bardach reinforced the view of Pesquera’s key role in turning the FBI from investigating terrorists to investigating anti-terrorists. Bardach and Larry Rohter wrote two stories in the New York Times in July 1998, in which Posada Carriles, a notorious Cuban-American terrorist admits his mastermind role in a series of bombings in Cuba to discourage foreign tourism. One of these bombing killed a young Italian tourist whose father is suing the United States for sponsoring terrorism.

Bardach told me about her surprise when Pesquera answered her question on Posada by saying “lots of folks around here think Posada is a freedom fighter.” Pesquera, friendly with ultra right exiles, terminated the investigation of Posada, and shredded his file. Even as Pesquera focused the FBI on destroying the Cuban agents web, thus reducing the Bureau’s information supply on terrorism, 14 of the 19 participants in the 9/11 attacks trained in the area without FBI scrutiny. Pesquera seemingly escaped scrutiny for his apparent lapse. (“Trabajadores,” May 22, 2005)

Gerardo and I switched subjects to Alan Gross’ interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. Gross, convicted in Cuba of activities designed to undermine the government, which AP reporter Desmond Butler documented, whined about his life in prison, the food, his window had bars on it and he had only been able to receive visits from U.S. Senators, Members of the House, Foreign Presidents, religious groups and a day with his wife. He complained conditions in the Havana military hospital were downright prison-like.

Worse, ignoring Desmond Butler’s reporting and former National Security Council official Fulton Armstrong’s devastating op ed in the Miami Herald (Dec. 25, 2011), he proclaimed his innocence, insisting he only wanted to help the Jewish community get better internet access. For this he smuggled in equipment (documented by Butler) and got paid almost $600,000 from a company contracted by USAID. And Blitzer, who should win the journalism award for best stenographer, didn’t ask him about any of the facts Butler and Armstrong had raised.

We hugged goodbye. Gerardo raised a triumphant fist before returning to his cell. I walked into the dry desert wind, to the car and the road, down 5,000 feet and 40 miles to the Ontario, California airport with a chance to think about justice and injustice, again.

Saul Landau is an Institute for Policy Studies fellow. His WILL THE REAL TERRORIST PLEASE STAND UP and FIDEL are available from cinemalibrestudio.com,

from PROGRESO WEEKLY

Cuba and the Hurricane–important overview

November 5, 2012

As the U.S. tries to recover from the impact of Hurricane Sandy on our shores, Cuba is facing an immense humanitarian tragedy, with long-term implications for its economy, food security, and its future.

Sandy hit Cuba last Thursday, October 25th, staggering the Eastern side of the island with the knock-out punch of a Category 2 hurricane.  Winds gusted in excess of 108 miles per hour.  According to preliminary estimates, the storm killed 11 Cubans and caused more than $2 billion in losses.

The UN said the storm damaged at least 180,000 homes, affecting more than one million people, and ruined crops across nearly a quarter-million acres of farmland.  State-run media said damage to homes in the provinces of Santiago and Holguin was actually higher.

The Associated Press reported that Santiago de Cuba, the island’s second largest city, most directly affected by Hurricane Sandy, lost power and running water for days.  The wire service quoted reports in the Communist party newspaper Granma of “severe damage to housing, economic activity, fundamental public services and institutions of education, health and culture.”

“The reality is much worse than what you can see in the pictures or on TV,” said President Raúl Castro, who witnessed the storm’s aftermath.  “Santiago is a moving sight,” he said, “it looks like a bombed city.”

The scope and size of the tragedy is so broad, that Cuba postponed a nationwide military drill, The Bastion 2012 Exercise, until the first half of 2013.

Instead, President Castro said “what was needed now was to ‘make a detailed plan for the recovery of the regions (affected by the hurricane) and make a collection of all the resources they may need’.”

News accounts portray utter devastation.  Earlier this week, one Cuban wrote “The sight of women, elderly individuals and children sifting through debris to salvage whatever was left of their belongings was simply heartbreaking.”

In an interview with AP, Berta Serguera, an 82-year-old retiree said, “It’s indescribable.  The trees have been shredded as if with a saw. My mango only has a few branches left, and they look like they were shaved.”

Cuba, which already buys over 80 percent of its food from suppliers abroad, is facing a food security nightmare.  According to the BBC, first Vice President, Jose Ramon Machado said one of the biggest problems facing the government was guaranteeing food supplies for the people in the affected areas in the coming months.

According to AFP, the United Nations is reporting “The toll on the farm sector will have major repercussions around the country.”  It added, “Sugar cane was the single hardest hit followed by plantain and bananas, vegetables and other basic crops” such as beans.

Reuters said the storm decimated the country’s coffee crop, leaving behind between “20 percent and 30 percent of the crop on the ground, damaged processing centers and roads and felled thousands of trees upon plantations as it pummeled the Sierra Maestra Mountains, where 92 percent of the crop is grown.”

Cubans accustomed to protections afforded by the nation’s storied civil defense system were reported to be shocked by the number of deaths, even though its procedures undoubtedly kept the death count from climbing higher.  At least fifty-two were lost in nearby Haiti.

“This is one of the most severe hurricanes to hit Eastern Cuba. Despite very good preparedness on the part of Cuban authorities, people were  less prepared because the storm followed an unusual trajectory, and directly affected the city of Santiago de Cuba -which is not usually in the path of Caribbean hurricanes,” said Christina Polzot, CARE’s Representative  in Cuba. “The Cuban Government coordinated the evacuation of 343,230 people, many of which remain seeking shelter with extended family, which creates significant over-crowding in these homes.

According to numerous reports, a recovery effort by Cuba’s government is underway.  Prensa Latin said brigades of engineers and builders from provinces throughout Cuba were making progress in recovering electricity and communications.  By Wednesday, “phones and electricity were gradually being restored with the help of workers brought in from other regions. In Holguin, 73 per cent of customers had the lights back on.”

In the meanwhile, when Santiago de Cuba was able to reopen its international airport on Tuesday, “one of the first arrivals was a Venezuelan aid flight carrying 14 tons of food,” and the government in Caracas announced that hundreds of tons more would be flown to Cuba as well as Haiti, also hard-hit by the storm.  Bolivia has committed to sending 120 tons of humanitarian aid, as well.

But, there is no minimizing what lies ahead for the Cuban people. “The secretary general of Caritas Cuba said it will take years for the eastern section of the country to recover from Hurricane Sandy.”

Crops can take years to recover and homes years more to rebuild.  And Cuba’s economy is very short of cash.

There is an unfortunate irony to this.  Four years ago, Cuba suffered devastating blows from storms named Gustav, Ike, and Paloma which inflicted $10 billion in damage to housing and agriculture.

In 2008, U.S. policy barred Cuban Americans from rushing to the island to offer solace and assistance to their families.  President Bush imposed a regulation limiting family travel and cutting down on the financial assistance Cubans living here could offer Cubans there.  And, of course, there was the embargo which meant that another generation of Cubans watched their powerful neighbor to the north do nothing while they suffered and more distant countries rushed to their aid.

The good news is that President Obama lowered the gates on family travel in 2009 and by changing the rules enable Cuban Americans to visit the island and provide financial support to their families without limit.

Now, members of Cuba’s opposition are urging the government to eliminate taxes and fees which they say could inhibit Cuba’s access to relief supplies. It is important to note that such customs duties are only levied on items sent from person to person. Lifting them temporarily could cause an influx of goods onto the black market to be sold at high prices to those in need. Conversely, donations sent through established organizations are not subject to duties and these resources will be distributed free of charge and in an orderly and prioritized fashion.

We’d like to see the U.S. government act. It should punch a hole in the embargo, for at least six months, and authorize the sale of emergency building materials to Cuba for home construction. This wouldn’t be charity or cost taxpayers a dime. Legislation to make this change has already been drafted.  In fact, it was introduced in 2008 by Representatives Delahunt (D-MA) and Flake (R-AZ) when Cuba was last pummeled by storms.  But, of course, it died in committee, while American policy makers pretended not to notice that Cubans were suffering.

A friend of ours said at the time, “the test for all governments in a situation like this is to put politics aside and to do what has to be done in every possible way to help people.”

We don’t have to wait for the White House or the Congress to recover their conscience.  We can make donations to Cuba ourselves.  It’s time for US to be good Samaritans.

from CubaCentral, For more information, check out the CDA website.

Illegal, interventionist, offensive and provocative actions of the U.S. in Cuba

November 3, 2012

Imagen de muestra

( U.S. Interests Section in Havana )

Ministry of Foreign Affairs Statement

THE U.S. Interests Section in Havana continues to function as the general staff in charge of implementing the government’s policy of subversion toward Cuba, which has as one of its principal goals the fabrication of an opposition movement challenging the legitimate Cuban government and fomenting internal destabilization, in order to provoke a ‘regime change’ in the country.

As has been previously denounced, over the last years, the Interests Section has continued to carry out illegal activities, which are far removed from the accepted functions of a diplomatic mission. Its personnel are promoting, advising, instructing, training, financing and supplying their mercenaries with technology. Diplomats from this office continually incite these individuals, who respond to the interests of the U.S. government against Cuba in exchange for monetary compensation, to carry out provocative activities, mount media campaigns distorting the country’s reality and to challenge Cuba’s constitutional order.

In its attempt to play a decisive role in the impossible task of turning these mercenaries into a credible internal opposition movement, the Interests Section channels funds from the U.S. budget and government financed material aid to support the internal subversion business.

In its efforts to interfere in Cuba’s internal affairs, the Interests section has gone so far as to assume training tasks, establishing illegal internet connections and networks to provide training and offer courses to people, with the objective of their acting against the interests of the Cuban state in a flagrant violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, Cuban law and the very agreement which led to the establishment of the Interests Sections.

In Cuba, as in many countries, the agreement of the Cuban state and the approval of the Ministry of Higher Education are required to impart educational programs or offer courses. Authorization and an operating license from the Ministry of Information, Technology and Communications are also needed to provide Internet service. The Interests Section has no such permission to provide these services, which it does without the consent of Cuban authorities, making them illegal.

It is unacceptable and cynical that the type of programs promoted by the Interest Section, which are moreover incompatible with the purpose of a diplomatic mission, are undertaken by the country which by law, and according to decisions made by its government, maintain an openly hostile policy and blockade meant to defeat and destroy the Revolution, which, among other effects, restricts educational, cultural, academic, scientific and sporting exchanges between the two countries and prevents Cuba from accessing the dozens of underwater Internet cables which surround the island.

There is undisputable evidence that the illegal activities undertaken by the Interest Section are financed by official U.S. government funds, millions of dollars of which are allocated annually by the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development, in virtue of section 109 of the Helms-Burton Act, which has as its explicit objective a change in Cuba’s political, economic and social system.

These subversive actions, in addition to the tightening of the economic, commercial and financial blockade, the increasingly vindictive attacks on Cuban financial transactions, and the utilization of new pretexts to avoid Cuba’s proposal to hold a serious, respectful dialogue between the two countries based on equal terms, which Cuba has reiterated, demonstrate that the current U.S. administration is not truly committed to moving beyond the worst Cold War practices and policies, nor has it curtailed efforts to force our country to submit to its demands.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs denounces the illegal, interventionist, offensive and provocative actions of the U.S. Interests Section and demands an end to its continual incitement of actions intended to subvert the constitutional order which the Cuban people have legitimately and freely chosen.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs reiterates that Cuba will not leave itself open to intervention and will use all legal means available to defend the sovereignty it has won and ensure that the people and laws of Cuba are respected.

Havana, November 1, 2012


%d bloggers like this: