Archive for May 9th, 2013

The Cuba Embargo: A Fork on the Road

May 9, 2013


Fernando Ravsberg*
The periodical of Cuba’s Catholic Church, Espacio Laical (“Secular Space”), has criticized a group of Cuban dissidents who, during a tour abroad, called on the United States to maintain the economic embargo it has imposed on the island for over fifty years.

Many Cuban dissidents support Washington’s policy of economic pressure but avoid publicly expressing this within Cuba, where the majority condemns the so-called “U.S. blockade”.

During a recent international tour, however, a number of them have spoken in favor of the embargo. These dissidents include around 20 of the island’s most renowned bloggers, the Ladies in White and the Human Rights Commission.

The editorial published in Cuba’s catholic journal, titled “A Fork on the Road” (“Senderos que se bifurcan”), criticizes these dissidents because they “insist on asking major centers of power around the world to destabilize the Cuban government, and to take measures that can do profound harm to the people of Cuba.”

The aim of the embargo, which is to “deprive Cuba of money and supplies, to reduce its financial resources and real wages, cause hunger, desperation and the overthrow of the government.” (1), had been established in official U.S. government documents as early as the 1960s.

In view of this, it is understandable that the Cuban Catholic Church and Vatican should oppose these measures, whose severe social costs are evident. It is a posture the Church has maintained, in fact, since the times before it established closer relations with the Cuban government.

The proposal advanced by the Catholics is complicated, because it calls for a space where Cubans with different conceptions of patriotism can debate their positions. Reaching an agreement regarding who fits into this category, and who are to be excluded from it, will not be an easy task.

Espacio Laical acknowledges that “Cuba has to change in many ways” and expresses its gratitude towards individuals and institutions committed to such change, but adds that “the key figures behind these changes cannot be the centers of power of certain powerful and influential countries.”

The periodical affirms that “the majority of Cuban patriots” appeal to those who wish to help Cuba not to become “conspirators who are willing to lead us down uncertain roads, which have not been traced by the express will of the people.”

In addition to expressing support for the US embargo, Cuban dissidents have requested additional material aid. Relations between the United States and the island’s dissidents, bloggers and human rights organizations would appear tainted by the US $20 million which Washington destines to financing their activities every year.

In a confidential cable published by Wikileaks (cable # 202438, sent on April 15, 2009), the U.S. diplomatic chief in Cuba, Jonathan Farrar, acknowledged that Cuban dissidents “were more concerned about getting money than about taking their proposals to broader sectors of Cuban society.”

The Church also appears to have lost faith in the opposition. In recent years, it has built tighter links with the Cuban government, gained spaces for its evangelization work and promoted measures of immense social impact, such as securing the release of all political prisoners and 3,000 common inmates.

In a way, Cardinal Jaime Ortega has become a kind of privileged interlocutor of President Raul Castro, and the two are building relations of trust which are putting behind decades of mutual misunderstanding and aggression.

It is within the context of these relations that Espacio Laical calls for greater understanding “between Cubans with different conceptions of patriotism”, so that others do not “manage to impose a new model which responds to partial interests or, worse, to hijack the country’s destiny.”

The majority of Cubans believe that the embargo is responsible for many of the economic difficulties they have had to live with. Photo: Raquel Perez

The Church periodical thinks it possible that “together, and with the people’s active participation, we can fashion a new social model for Cuba, with the aim of adjusting it to the nation’s pressing demands, a model that is the true expression of the general will.”

The proposal advanced by the Catholics is complicated, because it calls for a space where Cubans with different conceptions of patriotism can debate their positions. Reaching an agreement regarding who fits into this category, and who are to be excluded from it, will not be an easy task.

Deciding what criteria define a “patriot” will be a difficult process indeed, but it seems likely that the Cuban Catholic Church and government already agree on one thing: that public condemnation of the US economic embargo on Cuba is one of these criteria.

(1) Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958 – 1960, Volume VI, Cuba, United States Government Printing Office, Washington 1991, p. 885

(*) An authorized Havana Times translation of the original posted in Spanish by BBC Mundo

Political calculus keeps Cuba on U.S. list of terror sponsors

May 9, 2013

! cuba-terrorismo

By Carol J. Williams
From Los Angeles Times

Cuba’s communist leadership was quick to send condolences to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings and to reiterate to Washington that it “rejects and condemns unequivocally all acts of terrorism.”

Once a key supplier of arms and training to leftist rebels in Latin America, the Castro regime long ago disentangled itself from the Cold War-era confrontations. Havana now hosts peace talks between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia that it once supported and the U.S.-allied government the insurgents battled for years.

Havana still gives refuge to a few fugitive radicals from the Black Panthers and Basque insurgents, and two years ago a Cuban court convicted 64-year-old development specialist Alan Gross on spying charges for attempting to install satellite equipment without government permission.

But nothing that Cuba has done suggests its government is plotting harm against Americans, national security experts say. And they criticize as counterproductive the State Department’s decision, disclosed this week, to keep Cuba on its list of “state sponsors of terrorism.”

“We ought to reserve that term for nations that actually use the apparatus of statehood to support the targeting of U.S. interests and civilians,” said Juliette Kayyem, a former assistant secretary for intergovernmental affairs at the Department of Homeland Security and now writing and lecturing on national security in the Boston area. “Yes, Cuba does a lot of bad things that we don’t like, but it doesn’t rise to anything on the level of a terrorist threat.”

On Wednesday, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said the administration “has no current plans to remove Cuba” from the list to be released later this month. The island nation that has been under a U.S. trade and travel embargo since shortly after revolutionary leader Fidel Castro came to power in 1959 is in the company of only Iran, Syria and Sudan in being branded with the “state sponsor” label.

Kayyem laments the “diluting” of the terrorist designation based on political or ideological disputes.

“We work with a lot of countries we don’t like, but the imprimatur of ‘terrorism’ has a ring to it in a way that can be harmful to us,” she said.

Collaboration between the United States and Cuba on emergency planning to respond to the mutual threats posed by hurricanes, oil spills and refugee crises are complicated by the set of trade and financial restrictions that comes along with the “state sponsor” censure, Kayyem said.

“There are some real operational impediments when we have a system that begins with ‘no’ rather than ‘why not?’ ” she said of the legally encumbered contacts between Havana and Washington.

Politicians who have pushed for a continued hard line against Cuba cheered their victory in getting the Obama administration to keep Cuba on the list. U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a South Florida Republican whose efforts to isolate and punish the Castro regime have been a central plank of her election strategy throughout her 24 years in Congress, hailed the State Department decision as “reaffirming the threat that the Castro regime represents.”

Arash Aramesh, a national security analyst at Stanford Law School, blamed the continued branding of Cuba as a terrorism sponsor on politicians “pandering for a certain political base.” He also said President Obama and Secretary of State John F. Kerry have failed to make a priority of removing the impediment to better relations with Cuba.

“As much as I’d like to see the Castro regime gone and an open and free Cuba, it takes away from the State Department’s credibility when they include countries on the list that aren’t even close” to threatening Americans, Aramesh said.

Political considerations also factor into excluding countries from the “state sponsor” list, he said, pointing to Pakistan as a prime example. Although Islamabad “very clearly supports terrorist and insurgent organizations,” he said, the U.S. government has long refused to provoke its ally in the region with the official censure.

The decision to retain Cuba on the list surprised some observers of the long-contentious relationship between Havana and Washington. Since Fidel Castro retired five years ago and handed the reins of power to his younger brother, Raul, modest economic reforms have been tackled and the government has revoked the practice of requiring Cubans to get “exit visas” before they could leave their country for foreign travel.

There was talk early in Obama’s first term of easing the 51-year-old embargo, and Kerry, though still in the Senate then, wrote a commentary for the Tampa Bay Tribune in 2009 in which he deemed the security threat from Cuba “a faint shadow.” He called then for freer travel between the two countries and an end to the U.S. policy of isolating Cuba “that has manifestly failed for nearly 50 years.”

The political clout of the Cuban American community in South Florida and more recently Havana’s refusal to release Gross have kept any warming between the Cold War adversaries at bay.

It’s a matter of political priorities and trade-offs, Aramesh said. He noted that former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton last year exercised her discretion to get the Iranian opposition group Mujahedeen Khalq, or MEK, removed from the government’s list of designated terrorist organizations. That move was motivated by the hopes of some in Congress that the group could be aided and encouraged to eventually challenge the Tehran regime.

“It’s a question of how much political cost you want to incur or how much political capital you want to spend,” Aramesh said. “President Obama has decided not to reach out to Cuba, that he has more important foreign policy battles elsewhere.”

A foreign correspondent for 25 years, Carol J. Williams traveled to and reported from more than 80 countries in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America.

It’s Time to Delist #Cuba

May 9, 2013


By Arturo Lopez-Levy, May 7, 2013

Each spring, the U.S. State Department releases a report indicating which countries the United States considers “State Sponsors of Terrorism.” Currently the list consists of four countries: Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria. This year, John Kerry’s ascent to U.S. Secretary of State generated a discussion about taking Cuba off the list. Given Kerry’s generally reasonable position on Cuba in the past, it was perhaps not surprising that he considered this option.

Nonetheless, on May 1, the U.S. State Department announced that Cuba would remain on its list. It’s a serious mistake.

State Department reports from the last decade have provided no substantive evidence to justify keeping Cuba on the list. In fact, the country’s inclusion is based on dubious allegations. The reports allege that Cuba has provided medical treatment and refuge for terrorist groups from the FARC in Colombia to the ETA…

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‘I want to be with you at the beach in September’

May 9, 2013


by Stephen Kimber

An excerpt from What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of the Cuban Five, to be published in August 2013 by Fernwood Publishing.
Editor’s Note: One of the things we tend to forget about clandestine intelligence agents is that their world really is clandestine. They can’t even tell their families or closest friends what they’re doing. When René González “stole” a plane and “defected” to the U.S. in 1990, Cuban authorities told his wife Olga he was a traitor. It took four years of pleading and cajoling — still without telling her the complete truth — before René was able to win her back.

In honour of René Gonzalez’s final return to Cuba last month and of Mother’s Day, here’s a short excerpt from my book focusing on that period when René was still trying to convince Olga to join him in Miami.

Miami, May 24, 1994

“Remember I want to be with you at the beach in September and I am not losing hope. I am sending you a very big kiss and a lot of love. From your dear husband waiting impatiently with open arms to close around you in the most tender and loving hug.”

René González looked again at the words he’d just written. It had been three years, five months and 16 days since his “defection” — three years, five months and 16 days since he had last seen Olga and their daughter Irma. Despite the time that had passed, René could still feel the righteous sting from that first letter Olga had written him. It had arrived about a month after he’d landed in the United States. He’d gone to Miami for a weekend visit. His grandmother telephoned from Sarasota. “You have a letter,” she said. “From Olga.” René had rushed back, excited, eager, tore open the letter and… found himself “torn apart.”“I wish you luck in your new future,” Olga had written, “but it will not be with me.”

For the next week, he had wandered aimlessly, “like a zombie,” trying to come to terms with what those words meant. On the one hand — the hand that had willingly come to the United States to perform a patriotic mission for his homeland — René was proud of her “most dignified, moving and strong response to my defection.” He had expected nothing less. But on the other hand — that hand that desperately missed his wife, the hand that wanted to watch his little girl grow up in front of him — he was devastated.

But he refused to give up. It wasn’t in his nature. Even as he had gone about the tasks at hand — finding a job, a car, a place to live, befriending fellow exiles, joining anti-Castro groups, working as a roofer for a year in post-Hurricane Andrew Florida to earn money for his flight instructor licence, volunteering as a pilot with José Basulto’s Brothers to the Rescue group, trying to set up his own flight training school — he continued to write, to call Olga through friends, to plead for forgiveness, for the chance to reunite their family once again.

His cause had been aided — inadvertently and unfortunately — by events unfolding at home. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba’s economy collapsed. There were shortages of everything from electricity to food. People — literally — starved. Olga herself reported their house had been robbed, and everything of value stolen. To make matters worse, the neighbours gossiped, sometimes loudly and pointedly, about René’s “treason.” Irma was old enough to ask questions, so Olga decided to move them to a smaller apartment in another Havana neighbourhood, closer to her parents. But then that building’s stairs collapsed, and they’d been forced to move into a temporary shelter.

Eventually, events and René’s persistence — and, of course, the reality that she still loved and missed the man she had married — wore her down. Olga finally relented. René applied to U.S. Immigration for a visa to bring her and Irma to Florida.

“Speaking of that,” he wrote cheerfully, “I don’t know if I already told you that I received the notice of receipt from Immigration… They tell me that the process should take between 90 and 120 days. I imagine that, within that time, they will have already made an appointment with you at the [U.S.] Interest Section in Havana to see if you are the same in the photograph I turned in… It was difficult for me to let go of that photograph, but it was the only one that more or less fit the requirements they were asking for. Besides, I imagine that it is more pleasant to grant a visa to a woman as pretty as you are than to any other woman. Anyway, I decided to sacrifice such a pretty photograph as long as I could have with me the original who is prettier still. Finally when you are here, I will be able to take hundreds of photos of you.

“As for me,” he continued in the same upbeat, chatty tone, “I am fine. As you must already know, I returned from Mexico… I am processing all the information I got there to start a [flying school] business I think will be successful… If it goes the way I hope, I think I can get a slice of what I have put up my sleeve to make money… With about 10 students, I could be assured of a good salary that would prepare me for when you all arrive.”
He skipped from subject to subject. His grandmother had had to postpone her planned trip back to Cuba because of her husband’s illness, he wrote.

“Speaking of trips to Cuba, I have been thinking about what could be a new alternative for you. Those who leave legally may travel [back to Cuba] a year after their departure. That means once you are here a year, you are free to travel there to visit whenever you want to. Unfortunately,” he added, “I can’t go with you because they would tear me to pieces if I show up there.

“Well, Tuti, I take leave in order to write a letter to your mother-in-law and another one to your daughter… Don’t fail to tell me when they call you at the Interest Section so I know the process is going smoothly.”

Of course René González still couldn’t tell his wife the truth about what he was really doing in the United States. If only.

In December 1996, Olga and Irma joined René in Florida where Ivette would be born. In September 1998, René was arrested and Olga deported back to Cuba. She was not granted a visa to visit him during his 15 years in prisonin the U.S.

5 – 1 = 4

May 9, 2013


( thanks to progresoweekly )

Senior EU official in Cuba to boost bilateral ties

May 9, 2013


A senior European Union (EU) official is in Cuba in an effort to strengthen ties between the 27-nation bloc and the Caribbean island country.

Christian Leffler, managing director of the Americas for the European External Action Service (EEAS), said “there is much to do” but “what is most important is that we are talking and listening, that we talk with Cuba and not about Cuba.”

Leffler, speaking Monday night at an official event marking “Europe Day,” said the goal of his visit was “to celebrate what unites us and to discuss what separates us.”

Despite some differences, Leffler said both sides defend the values they consider universal.

“The past cannot be changed, but we have the power to shape our future. There is political will for that,” the envoy said.

The EU’s policy towards Havana is governed by the so-called “Common Position,” approved in 1996 by EU foreign ministers and designed to encourage a transformation process in Cuba.

Cuba, however, demands full repeal of the “Common Position,” saying it forms part of a policy of intervention and is the main obstacle to expanding cooperation.

The “Common Position” can only be changed by a unanimous vote, and EU countries such as the Czech Republic, Sweden, Britain and Germany have refused to curtail the policy until they see changes in the Cuban government.

( all agencies )

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