Archive for March 26th, 2015

Frankenstein in the mirror

March 26, 2015

Zanahoria-y-Garrote-01

Entitled “Espacio para el debate”, last March 18th Cuban newspaper Granma announced the creation of a blog platform named Reflejos. The service, using the tool WordPress, had at the time 3416 blogs — the platform managers confirmed to the paper.

Five days later, including Saturday and Sunday, reviewing Reflejos’ directory, I found 3849 blogs registered on different topics. It showed an evident increase at the rate of 100 blogs daily. The platform advantages —.cu domain that allows people with no Internet access to manage it as well as visibility from anywhere in the world— have been attractive to lots of people.

However, such a phenomenon has gone unnoticed by international media, which is always keeping an eye on freedom of expression in Cuba, especially with regards to Information and Communications technologies. Perhaps this is a sign of how much they care about democracy and the right to freedom of expression in those they name “ordinary Cubans”.

The very same international media paid different attention to the private paper created by Yoani Sanchez in a neighborhood of Havana, supported by a great sum of money and important technological back-up. Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson, U.S. officer in charge of negotiations with Cuba, visited her last January and it showed that international media is well informed about the priorities of the State Department and it is not coincidence that Ms. Sanchez has been named Vice-president of the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) —association of media moguls allegedly pointed to be at the service of CIA.

Nonetheless, Reflejos’ luck may change soon. Yoani Sanchez has placed the contents of her millionaire company with eleven employees, on the platform of personal blogs.
yoani
The presence of Ms. Sanchez’s Reflejos in the blog is not an exercise of individual freedom of a citizen who exercises a right of opinion in conditions of equity—which would be a legitimate practice— but the imposition of a systematic practice of lying for money —backed by the greatest power on Earth. Roberta Jacobson herself has admitted privately: the United States is a “barrier to connectivity in Cuba”.

Reflejos will likely grab all the headlines and not because the thousands of Cuban people who express their viewpoints there, or the abusive act with which Frankestein invades, rather for the way the little monster created in the laboratories of media war describes everything happening there.

We will know about it with the same objectivity with which she reported the false “beating”, the false interview to Obama, hunger strikes that ended in dinner parties, or the police assault to a church in Havana that never happened, the firing against a diplomat car with a grass mower, or the many deaths of Fidel. And these events are only the 1% of all Yoani’s journalistic prowess. Nevertheless, she has been awarded several prizes.

As a matter of fact, it is not about giving access to information unavailable for Cuban citizens —if we can call this practice “to inform”. I remember I gave out some opinions to the AP as a result of Yoani’s debut as a newspaper director. These opinions were never published. I said Yoani Sanchez and some of her assistants linked to the so-called Cuban twitter in the organization Raices de Esperanza met Joe Biden, U.S. vice-president, the same day the scandal of ZunZuneo flared up. Biden added:

I have seen that websites hostile to the Cuban government like that of Yoani are visible here, as well as newspapers such as El Nuevo Herald, Diario de Cuba, or the exclusive space recently opened by the BBC with a similar profile named Voces desde Cuba. Similarly, it is true that others managed or funded by the government of the U.S. like Radio and TV Marti, and ZunZuneo itself are not. It would be nice if the AP asks Biden about his relationship with all those projects, where there is lots of money from American taxpayers involved, so Cubans ended up watching nothing.

An AP newswire added: “Strategic documents procured by the AP show that Sanchez is one of the personalities that according to organizers could place her microblog in twitter through the messaging platform of ZunZuneo”.

It is hard to amplifying this thriving U.S. government investment in Cuba, with a surplus of workers and without reported incomes, lying systematically, acting fraudulently and with no journalistic work ethic, whose leader has been labeled by Wikileaks as the most popular worker for a U.S. embassy; instead, it is easier to silence the individual standpoint of almost 4,000 Cubans. But this is not democracy. It is understandable if we take into account that those who pay are the same who bombarded Yugoslav television.

Written by Iroel Sanchez, CubaSí
March 25, 2015
Cubasi Translation Staff

U.S. Radio and Television Broadcasts to Cuba at Crossroads

March 26, 2015

dwkcommentaries

In 1983 the Cuban American National Foundation, a once-monolithic lobbying group of Cuban exiles, helped persuade the Reagan administration to establish Radio Martí, which started broadcasting from Miami to Cuba in 1985, and TV Martí began in 1990. [1]

For most of its 30 years, the Martí services have been known for their anti-Castro, one- dimensional slant and advocacy. As a result, the Cuban regime has been very hostile to these services. It has made them illegal and often blocks their reception on the island.

The Martís, with a budget of $27 million, also have U.S. critics, including former American diplomats in Cuba. These critics “have considered them taxpayer-funded relics controlled by Cuban exiles that too often slide into propaganda, which has damaged their credibility.” In addition, “reports by congressional staff members and federal agencies, like the Inspector General for the State Department, have delivered stinging assessments” of Martí…

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US Treasury List Revision Not Linked to US Cuba Policy Change

March 26, 2015

NYC Havana Blog

US Treasury List Revision Not Linked to US Cuba Policy Change

HAVANA, Cuba, Mar 25 (acn) The revision by the US Treasury of a blacklist of entities and individuals linked to Cuba was described as routine with no relation to the recent changes in Washington´s policy towards Cuba.

Granma newspaper posted an article noting that the decision by the Treasury to remove dozens of companies and individuals from its black list of “specially designated nationals” has been mirrored with exaggerated fanfare by international media.

The US Department of the Treasury on Tuesday announced the removal of dozens of Cuban companies and individuals from a blacklist of what it describes as supporters of terrorism and traffickers of narcotics.

Some of the companies withdrawn from the US list are in the area of tourism, such as cruise lines and tour operators. The blacklisted companies or individuals are prohibited from doing any business in the US.

However, the article published on Granma newspaper insists…

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Cuba Meets with European Union and Russian Ministers

March 26, 2015

dwkcommentaries

This week Cuban leaders have held meetings in Havana with the foreign ministers of the European Union and Russia.

European Union-Cuba

A previous post examined the recent history of Cuba’s relations with the European Union (EU), including their negotiations on improving relations in 2014 and earlier this month. Another set of such negotiations or meetings took place in Havana on March 23-24 with the EU’s [1]

The most recent meetings were with the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini.

EU +Castro

She met with Cuban President Raúl Castro and Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla. Also present were Stefano Manservisi, Mogherini’s chief of staff; Herman Portocarero, EU Ambassador to Cuba; and Rogelio Sierra Diaz, Cuba’s Minister and Deputy Foreign Minister. (To the left is a photograph of Mogherini and Castro.)

In addition, Magherini met with the President of the National…

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The president in his labyrinth

March 26, 2015

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by René Gonzàlez Sehwerert –

A story by Reuters gives an account of the process which would have taken to the events on last December 17th, whose impact on the relations Cuba-United States is impossible to foresee. Assembled with fragmentary information, from several sources, it is probably a partial approach to a portion of a more rich and complex history, told mostly by one of the parties and adorned with inferences from the writers.

It has probably the virtue of being the first attempt to take up the process, at least on what refers to the options and tribulations of the American administration. It is to be expected that many more attempts will be helping to complete this puzzle, which with all certainty would make a good movie script.

It is because of this quality that we offer it to the readers, even though it is only a part -probably on some degree inaccurate- if a bigger story.

Insight – How Obama outmaneuvered hardliners and cut a Cuba deal

BY WARREN STROBEL, MATT SPETALNICK AND DAVID ADAMS

WASHINGTON/MIAMI Mon Mar 23, 2015 10:43am IST Reuters – The December breakthrough that upended a half-century of U.S.-Cuba enmity has been portrayed as the fruit of 18 months of secret diplomacy.

But Reuters interviews with more than a dozen people with direct knowledge of the process reveal a longer, painstakingly cautious quest by U.S. President Barack Obama and veteran Cuba specialists to forge the historic rapprochement.

As now-overt U.S.-Cuban negotiations continue this month, Reuters also has uncovered new details of how talks began and how they stalled in late 2013 during secret sessions in Canada. Senior administration officials and others also revealed how both countries sidelined their foreign policy bureaucracies and how Obama sought the Vatican’s blessing to pacify opponents.

Obama’s opening to Havana could help restore Washington’s influence in Latin America and give him a much-needed foreign policy success.

But the stop-and-start way the outreach unfolded, with deep mistrust on both sides, illustrates the obstacles Washington and Havana face to achieving a lasting detente.

Obama was not the first Democratic president to reach out to Cuba, but his attempt took advantage of – and carefully judged – a generational shift among Cuban-Americans that greatly reduced the political risks.

In a May 2008 speech to the conservative Cuban-American National Foundation in Miami, Obama set out a new policy allowing greater travel and remittances to Cuba for Cuban-Americans, though he added he would keep the embargo in place as leverage.

“Obama understood that the policy changes he was proposing in 2008 were popular in the Cuban-American community so he was not taking a real electoral risk,” said Dan Restrepo, then Obama’s top Latin America adviser.

Six months later, Obama was validated by an unexpectedly high 35 percent of the Cuban-American vote, and in 2012 he won 48 percent – a record for a Democrat.

With his final election over, Obama instructed aides in December 2012 to make Cuba a priority and “see how far we could push the envelope,” recalled Ben Rhodes, a Deputy National Security Advisor who has played a central role in shaping Cuba policy.

Helping pave the way was an early 2013 visit to Miami by Obama’s top Latin American adviser Ricardo Zuniga. As a young specialist at the State Department he had contributed to a 2001 National Intelligence Estimate that, according to another former senior official who worked on it, marked the first such internal assessment that the economic embargo of Cuba had failed.

He met a representative of the anti-Castro Cuban American National Foundation, and young Cuban-Americans who, according to one person present, helped confirm the waning influence of older Cuban exiles who have traditionally supported the half-century-old embargo.

But the White House wasn’t certain. “I don’t think we ever reached a point where we thought we wouldn’t have to worry about the reaction in Miami,” a senior U.S. official said.

The White House quietly proposed back-channel talks to the Cubans in April 2013, after getting notice that Havana would be receptive, senior U.S. officials said.

Obama at first froze out the State Department in part due to concern that “vested interests” there were bent on perpetuating a confrontational approach, said a former senior U.S. official. Secretary of State John Kerry was informed of the talks only after it appeared they might be fruitful, officials said.

Cuban President Raul Castro operated secretly too. Josefina Vidal, head of U.S. affairs at Cuba’s foreign ministry, was cut out, two Americans close to the process said. Vidal could not be reached for comment.

The meetings began in June 2013 with familiar Cuban harangues about the embargo and other perceived wrongs. Rhodes used his relative youth to volley back.

“Part of the point was ‘Look I wasn’t even born when this policy was put in place … We want to hear and talk about the future’,” said Rhodes, 37.

“THE CUBANS WERE DUG IN”

Obama’s people-to-people Cuba strategy was complicated by one person in particular: Alan Phillip Gross.

The U.S. government had sent Gross, a USAID contractor, on risky missions to deliver communications equipment to Cuba’s Jewish community. His December 2009 arrest put Obama’s planned “new beginning” with Cuba on hold.

The secret talks were almost derailed by Havana’s steadfast demand that Obama swap the “Cuban Three,” a cell of Cuban spies convicted in Miami but considered heroes in Havana, for Gross.

Obama refused a straight trade because Washington denied Gross was a spy and the covert diplomacy stalled as 2013 ended.

Even as Obama and Castro shook hands at the Johannesburg memorial service for South African leader Nelson Mandela, the situation behind the scenes did not look very hopeful.

“The Cubans were dug in … And we did kind of get stuck on this,” Rhodes said.

Rhodes and Zuniga spent more than 70 hours negotiating with the Cubans, mostly at Canadian government facilities in Ottawa.

By late spring 2014, Gross’ friends and family grew alarmed over his physical and psychological state. The White House and the Cubans knew that if he died in prison, repairing relations would be left to another generation.

With Gross’ mother, Evelyn, dying of lung cancer, the U.S. government and his legal team launched an effort to convince the Cubans to grant him a furlough to see her.

That bid failed, despite an offer by Gross’s lawyer Scott Gilbert to sit in his jail cell as collateral.

But a turning point had occurred at a January 2014 meeting in Toronto. The Americans proposed – to the Cubans’ surprise – throwing Rolando Sarraff, a spy for Washington imprisoned in Cuba since 1995, into the deal, U.S. participants said.

The White House could claim it was a true “spy swap,” giving it political cover. But it took 11 more months to seal the deal.

Castro did not immediately agree to give up Sarraff, a cryptographer who Washington says helped it disrupt Cuban spy rings in the United States.

And Obama, stung by the outcry over his May 2014 exchange of five Taliban detainees for U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, was wary of another trade perceived as lopsided, according to people close to the situation.

He weighed other options, including having the Cubans plead guilty to the charges against them and be sentenced to time served, according to the people.

Gilbert worked with the Obama administration, but urged it to move faster. From his vantage point, the turning point came in April 2014, when it became clear key Obama officials would support a full commutation of the Cuban prisoners’ sentences.

“TEARS IN OUR EYES”

The last puzzle piece slid into place at a Feb. 2014 White House meeting with lawmakers including Democratic Senators Patrick Leahy and Sen. Dick Durbin.

Obama hammered home his opposition to a straight Gross-Cuban Three trade, two people present said. Durbin, in an interview, said he “raised the possibility of using the Vatican and the Pope as intermediaries.”

Pope Francis would bring the Catholic Church’s moral influence and his status as the first pontiff from Latin America. It was also protection against harsh critics such as Cuban-American Sen. Robert Menendez.

Leahy persuaded two Catholic cardinals to ask Francis to raise Cuba and the prisoners when he met Obama in March. The Pope did so, then wrote personal letters to Obama and Castro.

“What could be better than the president being be able to tell Menendez or anybody else, ‘Hey, The Pope asked me?’” a congressional aide said.

The deal was finalised in late October in Rome, where the U.S. and Cuban teams met separately with Vatican officials, then all three teams together.

Rhodes and Zuniga met the Cubans again in December to nail down logistics for the Dec. 17 announcements of prisoner releases, easing of U.S. sanctions, normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations and Cuba’s freeing of 53 political prisoners.

Gilbert was aboard the plane to Cuba that would bring Gross home. Landing at a military airfield, Gilbert met Cuban officials who had been in charge of Gross for five years. “Many of us from both countries had tears in our eyes,” Gilbert said.

Castro and Obama, whose Cuba policy still faces vocal opposition from anti-Castro lawmakers, will come face to face at next month’s Western Hemisphere summit in Panama. Aides have dared to imagine that Obama could be the first U.S. president to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge in 1928.

“We’re in new territory here,” Rhodes said.

(Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle, Anna Yukhananov, Lesley Wroughton and Mark Hosenball in Washington, and Dan Trotta in Havana. Editing by Jason Szep and Stuart Grudgings)
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