Posts Tagged ‘Washington’

Six Lessons for Obama on How to Improve Relations With Cuba

October 1, 2014


The president knows US policy has been a failure. Here’s how he can make a breakthrough, in the little time he has left.
William M. LeoGrande and Peter Kornbluh
The Nation

“We’ve been engaged in a failed policy with Cuba for the last fifty years, and we need to change it,” Barack Obama declared as a presidential candidate in 2007. Just last November, Obama reiterated to his Cuban-American supporters in Miami: “The notion that the same policies that we put in place in 1961 would somehow still be as effective…in the age of the Internet and Google and world travel doesn’t make sense.” For six years, President Obama has been saying that US policy toward Cuba needs to change, but for six years he’s been unwilling to take the political risk of sitting down at the negotiating table with the Cuban government to make it happen.

Despite rampant rumors in Washington that administration officials at the “highest levels” want to break the stalemate in relations, no major breakthroughs have occurred. If Obama really wants to revamp fifty years of failed policy, he’d better act soon, because time is running out.

To his credit, Obama’s policy of expanding connections between US and Cuban societies has been hugely successful. In 2009, he lifted virtually all restrictions on Cuban-American travel and remittances, leading to a rapid expansion of both. In January 2011, after the midterm congressional elections, he reopened educational travel for non-Cuban Americans, restoring the broad people-to-people travel category that President George W. Bush had abolished.

But when it comes to state-to-state relations, Obama’s Cuba policy has been much less forward-leaning. Washington’s dialogue with Havana has been limited to minor issues of mutual interest: Coast Guard search and rescue, oil-spill containment, restoration of direct postal service. Clearing the underbrush on such secondary matters could build confidence for talks on the central issues dividing the two countries, but thus far the political will to make that leap has been lacking.

Obama can’t dodge the Cuba issue much longer. The Seventh Summit of the Americas, scheduled for Panama next spring, will force Cuba to the top of the president’s diplomatic agenda. Washington blocked Cuban participation in the first six summits, on the grounds that the participants had to be democracies. At the last summit in Cartagena, Colombia, however, the Latin American heads of state warned Obama that there would be no seventh summit unless Cuba was included. Despite US objections, on September 18, Panamanian foreign minister Isabel Saint Malo traveled to Havana and issued a personal face-to-face invitation to President Raúl Castro.

Castro, who took over from his ailing brother Fidel in 2006, has already indicated that Cuba will attend. Obama now faces a decision: either participate in a summit that includes Cuba, or else boycott it and do enormous damage to US hemispheric relations. Early signals from inside the administration suggest that Obama will participate.

As the summit approaches, the real issue will be whether the administration treats Cuban participation as a domestic political problem to be finessed or as a diplomatic opportunity to break the bilateral stalemate. Conservatives in Congress and in Obama’s foreign-policy bureaucracy will push the president to confront Raúl Castro at the summit in a way designed to irritate bilateral relations rather than improve them. Obama should resist that pressure and use the multilateral context of the summit as an opportunity to launch a sustained dialogue with Cuba—to finally make the breakthrough in policy that he has been talking about for the past six years.

If Obama decides on the latter course, there are a number of lessons he can learn from his ten predecessors, all of whom had some experience talking with Cuba. The lessons outlined below are adapted from our new book, Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations Between Washington and Havana.

* * *

Lesson One: Even at moments of intense hostility, there have always been reasons and opportunities for dialogue.

In the midst of the 1962 missile crisis, John F. Kennedy sought to open a channel of communication with Fidel Castro. At the height of the wars in Central America, Ronald Reagan sent secret envoys to test Cuba’s willingness to de-escalate, and later negotiated a settlement of the conflict in southern Africa that led to Namibian independence and the withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola. Henry Kissinger (under President Gerald Ford) and Jimmy Carter both opened talks with Cuba in hopes of normalizing relations. Bill Clinton reached agreements that finally normalized Cuban immigration to the United States, ending periodic migration crises.

The profound restructuring of the Cuban economy that Raúl Castro has begun makes rapprochement with the United States especially attractive for Cuba. An opening to US trade, investment and tourism would facilitate Cuba’s economic transition. Castro has repeatedly expressed, publicly and privately, his interest in opening a dialogue on all issues dividing the two countries. The current historical moment appears especially auspicious.

* * *

Lesson Two: Cuban leaders instinctively resist making concessions to US demands, but they are willing to take steps responsive to US concerns so long as those steps come at Havana’s initiative.

During the 1970s, Fidel Castro repeatedly refused to negotiate away Cuban solidarity with ideological comrades in Latin America or Africa in return for better relations with Washington. After the Cold War, when US demands about Cuban foreign policy were replaced by demands that Cuba become a free-market, multiparty democracy, Havana reacted with indignation, insisting that this was an affront to its hard-won sovereignty.

As Cuban vice president Carlos Rafael Rodríguez said to US diplomats in 1978, “I can assure you that we would never decide anything as a function of a precondition imposed by the United States. The pride of small countries, which can even push them to make the wrong decision at times, and their feelings of dignity and sensitivity must be borne in mind.” Yet Fidel Castro released over 3,000 political prisoners in response to President Carter’s human-rights policy, in hopes of advancing the process of normalizing relations.

In 2010, Raúl Castro reached an agreement with Cuban Archbishop Jaime Ortega to release most of Cuba’s remaining political prisoners, knowing that this was an issue that Obama had mentioned as an impediment to better US-Cuban relations. He then asked the archbishop to carry a message to Washington that he was serious about wanting to improve relations.

Rather than list demands about how Cuba has to change before Washington will consent to improved relations, US policy-makers should simply take note of Cuban behavior and react appropriately when Havana acts in ways that are responsive to US concerns. Even without explicit linkage, it is possible to initiate a virtuous circle of positive action and response.

* * *

Lesson Three: Cuban leaders have had a hard time distinguishing between gestures and concessions.

“Tell the President he should not interpret my conciliatory attitude, my desire for discussions, as a sign of weakness,” Fidel advised in a secret message to Lyndon Johnson in early 1964. The Cubans worry that even small steps on their part may be misinterpreted in Washington as weakness, as has happened more than once. Thus, Cuba wants the United States to take not just the first step toward reconciliation, but the first several.

To make matters worse, Havana discounts US gestures that serve Washington’s interests. In 1975, Ford and Kissinger decided not to oppose the decision that year by the Organization of American States to lift sanctions against Cuba, hoping Cuba would take it as a gesture of good faith. Havana instead saw it as Washington merely trying to cut its diplomatic losses in Latin America. In 2009, when Obama decided not to oppose the repeal of the 1962 OAS resolution suspending Cuba, Havana had the same interpretation. When he lifted limits on Cuban-American travel, Cuban leaders regarded it as a political debt to the Cuban-American community, not a a gesture to Cuba.

Washington, for its part, has wanted Cuba to take significant steps to give the White House political cover from domestic critics by showing that a policy of engagement pays dividends. When US gestures fail to elicit significant reciprocal steps from Havana, the White House risks looking soft. This worry preoccupied Kissinger, Carter, Clinton and Obama, making them reluctant to undertake the kind of dramatic moves that might have broken the Alphonse-Gaston stalemate.

Both sides need to adjust their behavior. Washington, as the more powerful player, should be willing to take bolder initial steps. Havana, for its part, needs to acknowledge and respond positively to those steps, even when they also serve other US interests.

* * *

Lesson Four: An incremental approach to normalizing relations has not worked.

Kissinger tried it. Carter tried it. Clinton thought about trying it, albeit without much enthusiasm. Obama started to try it, but set unrealistic conditions.

Incrementalism has three fatal flaws. First, it is slow. Confounding issues are likely to arise that disrupt the process of building mutual confidence, making further progress difficult. Examples include Cuba’s interventions in Africa during the Cold War; the rafters migration crisis and the Brothers to the Rescue shoot-down during the Clinton administration; and Cuba’s arrest and imprisonment of USAID contractor Alan Gross during the Obama administration.

Second, incremental steps don’t fundamentally change the relationship and are therefore easily reversed. Gerald Ford lifted the embargo on trade with Cuba by subsidiaries of US corporations in third countries; the 1992 Cuban Democracy Act reimposed it. Carter lifted the ban on travel to Cuba; Reagan reimposed it. Clinton relaxed restrictions on people-to-people exchanges; George W. Bush reimposed them, and Obama relaxed them again.

Finally, although gradualism seems politically safe because each incremental step is small and therefore ought to be less controversial, an incremental approach prolongs the political fight with domestic opponents in Washington, who are no less vociferous in opposing small steps than large ones. Every incremental step gives them a new opportunity to halt the process, and they only need to win once.

The alternative is a bold stroke that fundamentally changes the relationship (even if it doesn’t resolve every issue) and leaves opponents facing a fait accompli. Nixon’s trip to China is the paradigmatic example.

The Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996 (a k a Helms-Burton) wrote the economic embargo into law, which makes it impossible for a US president simply to normalize US-Cuban relations by himself. However, Obama has wide latitude to authorize exceptions to the embargo and use his other executive powers to significantly improve relations with Havana—including his constitutional authority to send and receive ambassadors.

* * *

Lesson Five: Domestic politics is always an issue on both sides.

From the beginning, there have been people in both capitals interested in improving relations and those opposed. In the 1960s and ’70s, US opposition came mostly from cold warriors inside the foreign-policy bureaucracy. In the 1980s, ’90s and beyond, it came mostly from conservative Cuban-Americans. The end of the Cold War reduced the first obstacle; changing demographics in the Cuban-American community have gradually eroded the second, as demonstrated by Obama’s success in the 2008 and ‘12 elections. Today, US opposition comes mainly from conservative Republicans and a handful of Democratic members of Congress whom Obama has been unwilling to confront.

Fidel Castro made a successful political career at home and abroad portraying himself as a David doing battle with the imperialist Goliath. But Raúl Castro has chosen a different path. Whereas Fidel took a certain satisfaction in defying the United States and exploited US hostility to rally nationalist sentiment, Raúl has focused on Cuba’s domestic problems. Anti-US diatribes feature much less prominently in his speeches, and he attributes Cuba’s economic problems to the shortcomings of Cuban policy rather than the embargo. If Fidel was motivated to maintain an acrimonious relationship with Washington for domestic political reasons, Raúl is not.

In short, while domestic politics has been an obstacle to better relations in the past, the climate for progress in both capitals is better today than it has been in decades.

* * *

Lesson Six: Cuba wants to be treated as an equal, with respect for its national sovereignty.

As Fidel said to Carter administration diplomats Peter Tarnoff and Robert Pastor in 1978, “Perhaps it is because the United States is a great power, it feels it can do what it wants…. Perhaps it is idealistic of me, but I never accepted the universal prerogatives of the United States. I never accepted and never will accept the existence of a different law and different rules.” Washington, on the other hand, has long felt entitled to do whatever realpolitik demands.

In late 1959, Havana responded to a diplomatic protest from Washington with a long recitation of the history of US domination of the island, concluding: “The Cuban Government and the Cuban people are anxious to live in peace and harmony with the Government and the people of the United States…but on the basis of mutual respect and reciprocal benefits.” This theme has echoed across a half-century of US-Cuban relations. Raúl Castro has repeated the same point over and over in offering to negotiate differences with the United States.

Yet treating Cuba with the respect due a sovereign nation has been the hardest thing for Washington to do. The long history of Cuba’s subordination to the United States before 1959 has weighed on the minds of policy-makers on both sides of the Florida Strait.

Policy-makers in Washington need to accept that Cuba in the twenty-first century will never again be the subordinate Cuba of the nineteenth and early twentieth. Policy-makers in Havana need to trust that reconciliation with the United States is possible without putting at risk Cuba’s national independence, which they made a revolution to secure.

In a century when the most pressing problems transcend national boundaries, near neighbors cannot afford perpetual hostility. With every passing day, Cuba and the United States become ever more closely intertwined: as Cubans buy wheat from US farmers in the Midwest; as Cuban and US citizens travel more freely back and forth; as Cubans and Cuban-Americans knit back together the cultural, financial and family ties severed after the revolution in 1959.

The history of dialogue between Cuba and the United States since then demonstrates that it is not only possible to replace sterile hostility with reconciliation, but that such a course of action will serve the vital interests of both nations.

José Martí, whose eloquently expressed suspicions about US imperial designs on Cuba inspired Fidel Castro’s nationalism, nevertheless saw the possibility of a relationship based on equality. A few months before his death in 1895, Martí wrote: “There is that other America, North America, that is not ours, and whose enmity it is neither wise nor viable to encourage…. However, with firm propriety and an astute independence, it is not impossible—and indeed it is useful—to be friends.”,

Cuba, United Sates, Something is moving – By Ignacio Ramonet

July 5, 2014


In the book recently released on her experiences as Secretary of State during the first mandate (2008-2012) of U.S. president, Barack Obama, entitled “Difficult decisions”, Hillary Clinton makes an important statement about Cuba: “At the end of my mandate I asked President Obama to reconsider our embargo against Cuba. It fulfills no function and hampers our projects with Latin America.”
For the first time a personality aspiring for the presidency of the United States publicly said that the blockade imposed by Washington – for more than fifty years – against this island in the Caribbean has “no function”. In other words, it has not managed to subdue this small country in spite of all the unjust suffering it has caused in its population. Most importantly, Hillary Clinton mentions two factors: first it breaks the taboo of saying in a loud voice what everyone knows in Washington: the blockade is not worthwhile. And, second, and most important, she declares now that she is preparing to open her Democratic candidacy for the White House; that is to say, she is not afraid to say this – against the policy of Washington toward Cuba for the last half a century – is a handicap for her in this electoral battle she has ahead of her for the elections of November 8, 2016.
If Hillary Clinton maintains the unconventional position it is, in the first place, because she takes up the challenge without fear of the harsh criticisms directed at her by her Republican adversaries, furiously hostile against all changes regarding Cuba in Washington; and, in the second place, and mostly because she does not ignore U.S. public opinion that has evolved regarding this subject and where there is a majority today who favor ending the blockade.

As Hillary Clinton, there are a group of fifty important business persons[i], former high ranking U.S. citizens of different political and intellectual tendency, who know that the President of the United States does not have the right to lift the blockade. It does not depend on the Government but, instead, on the Democratic and Republican majority in Congress who have just asked Obama, in an open letter[ii], to use his executive right to “introduce more intelligent changes” in its relations with Cuba and approach Havana since, they point out, public opinion favors this change.

Actually, a survey made last February by the Atlantic Council Research Center reported that 56% of U.S. citizens want a change in Washington’s policy towards Havana. And, more significantly, in Florida the state with higher sensitivity regarding this subject, 63% of its inhabitants (62% Latinos) also want an end to the blockade[iii]. Another more recent survey made by the Cuban Research institute of the International University of Florida, demonstrated that the majority of the Cuban community in Miami[iv] ask that the blockade against the island be lifted (71% of those interviewed say that the embargo “has not functioned” and 81% would vote for a strategists who promotes the re establishment of diplomatic relations between both countries)[v].

And it is that, contrary to the hopes after the election of Barack Obama in November of 2008, Washington maintained immobility in its relations towards Cuba. Shortly after assuming his position as president, Obama announced in the “Summit of the Americas” held in Trinidad and Tobago, in April of 2009 – that he would give relations with Havana a “new direction”. But he limited himself to mere symbolic gestures: he authorized U.S. citizens of Cuban origin to travel to the Island and send certain amounts of money to their families. Later, in 2012, he adopted new measures, but also with scarce reach: he permitted religious groups and students to travel to Cuba, he allowed U.S. airports to receive charter flights to the Island and extended the limit of remittances that Cuban-Americans could send their families. That is very little in relation to the formidable legality that separates both countries.

Among the differences is the case of “The Five” that has moved international public opinion[vi]. Those agents of Cuban intelligence arrested in Florida by the FBI were carrying out missions against anti Cuban terrorism and condemned in a political trial typical of the cold war (authentic legal lynching) to high prison terms; condemned to such unjust penalties when “The Five” committed no act of violence nor sought information regarding United States security. The only thing they did, running mortal risks, was prevent attacks and save human lives.

Washington is not coherent when it claims to combat “international terrorism” and continues to support anti Cuban terrorist groups in its own territory[vii].

Without going farther, last April authorities of the Island arrested a new group of persons linked to Luis Posada Carriles[viii], once again departing from Florida to commit attacks.

Also not coherent when they accuse “The Five” of anti American activities that never existed while Washington continues to interfere in internal affairs of Cuba and support a change of the political system.

This again was demonstrated with the recent revelations of the “ZunZuneo[ix]” affair. That false social network of an agency of the State Department[x] created and financed covertly between 2010 and 2012 intending to cause protests similar to the “revolution of the colors” or of the “Arab spring” or the Venezuelan “guarimbas” to give the White House a pretext to demand a political change in Cuba.

All this demonstrates that Washington continues with a reactionary attitude against Cuba, typical of the cold war, a period that ended a quarter of a century ago…Such archaic clashes with the positions of other powers. For example, all the States of Latin America and the Caribbean, whatever their political orientation, have lately strengthened their ties with Cuba and denounce the blockade. This was evident last January, in the Summit of the Latin American and Caribbean Community (CELAC) meeting, precisely, in Havana. Washington suffered a new snubbing last month in Cochabamba (Bolivia) during the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) when Latin Americans – with a new show of solidarity with Havana – threatened not to attend the next Summit of the Americas that is scheduled to be held in 2015 in Panama, if Cuba is not invited to participate.

For its part, the European Union (EU) decided, last February, to abandon the so called “common position” in relation to the Island imposed by José María Aznar in1996, then president of the government of Spain to “punish” Cuba rejecting all dialogue with the authorities of the Island. But this action was sterile and failed. Brussels recognized it and has begun now negotiations with Havana to reach an agreement of political and economic cooperation. The EU is the first foreign investor in Cuba and the second trade partner. In this new spirit several European ministers have already visited the Island. Of these, last April, Laurent Fabius – first French foreign affairs minister to visit the Caribbean nation in over thirty years – who declared that he aimed to “promote alliances between companies of both countries and support French societies that wish to develop projects or settle in Cuba”[xi].

And it is that, contrasting the immobility of Washington, many European foreign affairs ministers observe, with interest, the changes being produced in Cuba promoted by Presidente Raúl Castro in the framework of the “up date of the economic model” and in the guidelines defined in 2011 in the 6th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (CCP) for important transformations in the economy society. Particularly, the recent creation of the Special Zone of Development of the port of Mariel and approval last March the new Law of Foreign Investment has promoted a large international interest.

Authorities consider that there is no contradiction between socialism and private initiative[xii]. And some officials consider that this last (that includes foreign investment) could cover 40% of the economy of country while the State and public sector maintain 60%. The purpose is that the Cuban economy be more compatible with its main partners in the region (Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia) in which there is coexistence between the public and private sector.

All these changes imply, in contrast, the intent of the U.S. administration to self blockade itself in an ideological position of another era. Although, as we have seen, every day there are people in Washington who admit that the position is mistaken, that in policy towards Cuba it is urgently needed to withdraw from international isolation. Does President Obama listen to them?

[i] These business persons are: Ricky J. Arriola, president of the powerful Inktel company; magnates of sugar and Andrés Fanjul of the real estate sector, and Jorge Pérez; businessman Carlos Saladrigas, and oilman Enrique Sosa, as well as other multimillionaires
[ii] Refer to El Nuevo Herald, Miami, 20 May 2014.
[iii] Refer to Abraham Zembrano, ” ¿Se acerca el fin del embargo a Cuba ? “, BBC Mundo, London, 20 February 2014
[iv] In Miami the largest city of Florida there are 650 000 Cuban expatriates.
[v] El País, Madrid, 17 de junio de 2014.
[vi] Last June 4 to 10 the Third Meeting “Five Days for the Five” was held in Washington. It gathered participants from dozens of countries in the world who demonstrated in front of the White House and the Capitol demanding the freedom of the “Five”
[vii] Cuba es uno de los países del mundo que más ha padecido la lacra del terrorismo ; (3500 personas asesinadas y más de 2000 discapacitados de por vida).
[viii] Head of several anti Cuban terrorist groups Posada Carriles is mostly responsible for blowing up a passenger Cubana de Aviacion plane in 1976 that caused 73 deaths. He lives in Florida where he enjoys the protection of U.S. authorities.
[ix] Revelations made by the AP (Associated Press) news agency
[x] United States international Agency for Development (USAID) is an institution that operates under the direction of the Department of State.
[xi] About 50 large French companies are present in Cuba. Most important among these is the Pernod-Richard group that commercializes “Havana Club” rum in the world. As well as Accor groups, Nouvelles frontières, Fram-voyages in the tourism sector, Bouygues in public works, Alcatel-Lucent in telecommunications, Total and Alstom in energy and Air France for air transport, among others.
[xii] It is estimated that there are about 450 000 “independent workers” and small businesspersons in Cuba.

Translation by the Network in Defense of Humanity

Washington DC: Cause of Five Receives New Push Today

June 5, 2014

5 days for the 5

The advocacy of Five today received a boost when two authoritative voices on the subject spoke with reporters in Washington, exposing little-known intricacies of the legal process and shed light on an issue about which the attitude of the media has here been marked by a deliberate distancing.

On Wednesday morning, convened by the International Committee to Free the Five, at the National Press Club, were Stephen Kimber, Canadian professor and author, and lawyer Martin Garbus, who heads the legal team in the case .

Was this the prelude to what will be the Third “5 Days for the 5” in the U.S. capital, where for the third consecutive year, starting tomorrow, people from all over the U.S., along with delegations from Europe, Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean, will meet to discuss the case of the five Cuban anti-terrorist fighters and demand changes in U.S. policy toward Cuba.

During the press conference today, attorney Martin Garbus referred to the use of federal money to pay reporters in Miami, describing it as an action that violates U.S. law and about which, he said, the legal team of Five has asked the government to release documents held nsvk, because “we do not know what is in it, but it’s huge,” he said.

Garbus said the subversive activities of the U.S. government over the print and broadcast media in Miami to get a conviction against the Five “verges on the unthinkable and unprecedented.”

Canadian academic and journalist Stephen Kimber, author of “What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of the Cuban Five,” was critical of the legal process under which the five were prosecuted, while U.S. claimed “Some kind of humanitarian exchange” for these.

The Third “5 days for the 5” runs through June 10 and includes lectures and panel discussions on the future of US-Cuba relations.

The formal opening session of the conference on Thursday will feature the actor Danny Glover, a well-known supporter of efforts for the release of the Five.

(This came from Juan Jacomino at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, DC. Spanish below. Google translation revised by Walter Lippmann.)
Washington DC: Causa de los Cinco recibe nuevo impulso

La defensa de la causa de los Cinco recibió hoy un nuevo impulso cuando dos voces autorizadas en el tema dialogaron con la prensa en Washington, exponiendo interioridades poco conocidas del proceso legal y arrojando luz sobre un asunto acerca del cual la actitud de los medios aquí ha estado marcada por un deliberado distanciamiento.

En la mañana de hoy miércoles, convocados por el Comité Internacional por la Liberación de los Cinco, comparecían en el National Press Club de esta ciudad Stephen Kimber, profesor y autor canadiense, y el abogado Martin Garbus, quien encabeza el equipo legal en el caso.

Era este el preludio de lo que será la Tercera Jornada “5 días por los 5” en la capital norteamericana, donde por tercer año consecutivo, a partir de mañana, personas de todas partes de los EE.UU, junto con delegaciones de Europa, Canadá, América Latina y el Caribe, se reunirán para examinar el caso de los Cinco luchadores cubanos contra el terrorismo y demandar modificaciones en la política de EE.UU. hacia Cuba.

Durante la conferencia de prensa hoy, el abogado Martin Garbus se refirió a la utilización de dinero federal para el pago a periodistas en Miami, acción que describió como violatoria de la ley norteamericana y acerca de la cual dijo que el equipo legal de los Cinco ha pedido al gobierno que libere los documentos que posee, pues “lo que aún no sabemos es enorme”, aseguró.

Garbus expresó que el accionar subversivo del gobierno estadounidense sobre los medios impresos, radiales y televisivos de Miami para obtener una condena contra los Cinco “raya en lo inconcebible, y no tiene precedentes”.

El académico y periodista canadiense Stephen Kimber, autor del libro “What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of the Cuban Five”, fue crítico del proceso legal bajo el cual fueron procesados los Cinco, al tiempo que reclamó de EE.UU. “algún tipo de intercambio humanitario” para estos.

La Tercera Jornada “5 días por los 5” se extenderá hasta el 10 de junio y contempla conferencias y paneles de discusión sobre el futuro de las relaciones Estados Unidos-Cuba.

La sesión de apertura formal de la Jornada este jueves contará con la presencia del actor Danny Glover, conocido partidario de los esfuerzos por la liberación de los Cinco.

Senior diplomats from Cuba and the U.S. meet in the State Department

May 16, 2014


Under Secretary of State for Latin America, Roberta Jacobson, met
Thursday in Washington with the director of the North Division of
the Cuban Foreign Ministry, Josefina Vidal America, confirmed the
State Department .

The two governments have already publicly expressed interest in
normalizing relations in a gradual process, but for the moment
have not seen concrete steps.

A spokesman for the U.S. Chancellery merely confirmed that the
meeting between diplomatic occurred in the morning , but neither
side disclosed the contents of the meeting.

United States and Cuba maintain regular contacts at the technical
level to discuss specific issues such as immigration laws and
postal activities, but these are not comparable to Vidal ‘s visit
to Washington, which is a high-level diplomatic dialogue .

Since November last year, the Cuban Interests Section in
Washington lacks banking services, as U.S. or foreign banks
operating in the United States refuses to accept the management
of their accounts because of the legislation .

The State Department has said on several occasions that it was
helping the Cuban delegation to find a bank to manage their
accounts, but at the moment the problem remains unresolved.

It is unknown whether Vidal ‘s visit to Jacobson served to
address this issue or the situation of American Alan Gross was
arrested in Cuba since 2009 for distributing telecommunications
equipment that the Havana government considered non-commercial .
Washington has publicly called for Cuba to release Gross ” for
humanitarian reasons” .

The Cuban government has reiterated its readiness to conduct ”
high-level contacts ” to address the situation of Gross and three
Cuban agents arrested in U.S. for spying on radical members of
the Cuban -American community .
Publicado el jueves 15 de mayo del 2014
Diplomáticos de alto nivel de Cuba y EEUU se reúnen en el
Departamento de Estado

Google translation.
Revised by Walter Lippmann.

Add your Voice to the Third “5 Days for Cuban 5” in Washington D.C.

April 10, 2014

_5-in-washington (1)

It will take less than a minute to add your name by going to the following link,

Voices from all over the United States are joining together to ask President Obama to change over fifty years of unjust U.S. policy towards Cuba. One of the pivotal points in this widening discussion is to find a solution to the case of the Cuban 5 prisoners held in the United States for more than 15 years. To be part of the dialogue that is taking place in the United States, the International Committee for Freedom of the Cuban 5 is again organizing five days of activities in Washington, D.C., from June 4th to June 11th, 2014.

Activities will include:
•Visits to Congress with Parliamentarians from other countries.
•2-Day Conference on U.S. Cuba Relations and the case of the Cuban 5.
•Cultural events.
•A Rally in front of the White House calling for the freedom of the Cuban 5 and the end of the unilateral U.S. blockade against Cuba.


Add your voice by visiting the following link:,

This week of activities in Washington will bring together personalities from the U.S. and abroad, including jurists, parliamentarians, writers, intellectuals, activists and religious people to call for the freedom of the Cuban 5, five men unjustly imprisoned in U.S. prisons for defending their country Cuba against terrorism.

A number of known people have already added their names including academic Noam Chomsky, actor Danny Glover, writer and professor Angela Davis, poet Alice Walker, journalist and writer Ignacio Ramonet, Brazilian writer and liberation theology Frei Betto, Ret. U.S. Army Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, author and politician Tom Hayden, former Chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana Wayne Smith, Immigration Attorney Jose Pertierra, co-founder of the United Farm Workers Union Dolores Huerta, former President of the United Nations General Assembly Father Miguel D’Escoto, curator and founder of the Brownstone Foundation Gilbert Brownstone, Attorney Martin Garbus , Mexican anthropologist and writer Gilberto Lopez y Rivas, former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, Mayor of Richmond, CA Gayle McLaughlin, Attorney Peter Schey, Canadian writers Stephen Kimber and Arnold August, former Bishop of Detroit Thomas Gumbleton, historian and writer Piero Gleijeses, Brazilian writer Fernando Morais and many others.

To learn how to get involved and support the Third “5 Days for the Cuban 5” visit:,

If you cannot travel to Washington please consider making a donation:,

Even though René González and Fernando González have been released after completing their entire sentences, now more than ever, we need to unite and double our efforts to insure that the White House will hear the international demand for the freedom of Gerardo, Ramón and Antonio. The Five must be returned to their homeland to be with their families and the people of Cuba.


To learn more about the Cuban 5 visit:

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Bay of Piglets: How the Freemasons Got Caught in a Plot to Topple the Castros

April 10, 2014


By Jeff Stein

t’s an unlikely tale of three cities that begins in Damascus, winds through Washington, D.C., and ends tragically in a Havana jail. Its key characters seem drawn from a Cold War espionage thriller, amateurish spies stuck in yet another feckless plot to overthrow the Cuban regime.

In late November 2010, a Washington, D.C., businessman named Akram Elias traveled to Damascus with a discreet proposal to burnish the image of the Syrian regime in Washington. “It was great seeing you earlier this morning,” Elias, a Lebanese American, wrote to Bouthaina Shabaan, the longtime mouthpiece for President Bashar al-Assad, in an email obtained by WikiLeaks. Only six months earlier, the Obama administration had slapped Syria with sanctions for its support of terrorist groups and for seeking to develop weapons of mass destruction.

Elias gave the Syrians a one-page “communications strategy” right out of the standard lobbyist playbook for clients with severe image problems in official Washington. The idea, of course, was to soften the image of the regime in Washington, perhaps even persuade officials to lift sanctions. Price tag: $22,000 a month, plus expenses—all standard for a PR campaign for a thuggish regime.

What was odd about this one, however, was that while Elias was courting Damascus, he had, according to his Capital Communications Group website, public relations contracts with 18 national security agencies in the Obama administration, including the Justice Department, the State Department, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Department of Homeland Security. But he was also a key player in a long-running campaign by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to undermine another totalitarian regime—in Cuba.

Why Elias? Why Cuba? Because, in yet another odd twist, Elias was a high official in the Freemasons, the centuries-old, secretive Protestant organization with a long history in Cuba, when right-wing ideologues in the USAID decided to take another run at overthrowing the Communist regime.

The Masons are descended from the medieval guilds that built Europe’s cathedrals, and their presence in Cuba dates back to 1763, with the arrival of English and Irish settlers. At the turn of the century, their numbers were bolstered by the arrival of French planters fleeing the Haitian Revolution. A century later, they could count Cuban revolutionaries like José Martí among their brethren. And in the 1950s, according to lore, yet another revolutionary, Fidel Castro, developed a soft spot for the Masons when they gave him refuge in a Masonic Lodge.

The Freemasons survived Castro’s revolution, but he kept them on a tight leash. Still, membership was stable, and with Castro’s gradual retreat from power after 2001, the Masons began to flourish. Today they claim nearly 30,000 members in Cuba.

Elias emigrated from Lebanon to the United States as a teenager in the 1970s. In 1996, according to Freemason publications, he embraced the brotherhood and quickly rose to the leadership of its District of Columbia lodge. In 2002, he made a grand tour of Cuba, the first of several trips as the regime loosened economic and political controls.

The USAID must have seen an opening. Ever since it was invented by the Kennedy administration as a humanitarian relief agency in 1961, USAID’s famous clasped-hands logo has always had a bare-knuckles component, with a mandate to help people “striving to live in a free and democratic country.” During the Vietnam War, its counterinsurgency projects were so intertwined with the CIA’s that they became synonymous.

And so it is now with Cuba. During the George W. Bush administration, Cuban “democracy” programs backed by the USAID grew from $3.5 million to $45 million. Even though Congress slashed their budgets by more than half when Barack Obama took office and scattered them to other agencies, citing “mismanagement,” $60 million to $70 million remained in the pipeline, according to The Miami Herald.

In December 2009, Akram Elias was in Havana for a meeting with Alan Gross, a 63-year-old USAID subcontractor from Maryland. Gross was arrested on the night of December 3, 2009, after supplying advanced Internet communications equipment to Cuba’s tiny Jewish community. He is now serving a 15-year sentence for subversion in Cuba.

According to a document presented by Cuban authorities during his 2011 sentencing, Gross got a call in Washington in November 2009 from Elias, “a former Grand Officer of the Washington Masonic Lodge who is noted for his distinct opposition to the Cuban political system.” Elias expressed interest in the “Cuba democracy program” Gross was running for DAI Inc., a USAID contractor based in Chevy Chase, Md. They agreed to meet for coffee the next day.

“In this meeting,” according to the Cuban court’s sentencing document, “Elias said that he had thought of installing defendant’s system in Cuban Masonic lodges and they decided to meet in Havana in December that year to talk further.” And so they did, at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, on Dec. 2. They “picked up where they had left in Washington with a view to extending the former’s Project to Cuban Masonic lodges.” Things went so well they agreed to meet again the following day, “but this meeting never took place,” according to the Cubans, “because in the evening of December 3 defendant ALAN PHILLIP GROSS was arrested. ” He was “found in possession of two flash drives—one a ‘Micro Center’ and the other a ‘Kingston’—with most of the documents related to defendant’s projects against the Cuban State.”

Cuba’s counterspies weren’t just lucky in this case, the court document would show. They had been onto Gross and the Masons for years. Gross had delivered “a number of items, including a video camera,” to José Manuel Collera Vento, the island’s top Mason, back in 2004, prosecutors said. The Cubans said the camera came from Marc Wachtenheim, who worked for another USAID contractor, the Pan American Development Foundation, a block from the Bush White House. Indeed, Cuban counterspies seemed to know everything the Americans had been doing.

At least one reason why became apparent on April Fools’ Day, 2011, when it was revealed that José Manuel Collera Vento, grand master of the Grand Lodge of Cuba’s Freemasons, was a double agent. “For his subversive actions, on April 1st, 2011, Collera received the highest distinction of the Popular Assembly of Cuba: the Escudo Pinareño,” the Masonic Times sadly announced the following day, adding that he “appears today to be just a puppet of a totalitarian regime.”

A year before Gross’s arrest, experts on the regime say, Cubans already had Internet access and email to the outside world, although the connections were slow. And a year after his arrest, the USAID risked even those fragile freedoms by clandestinely launching a supposedly independent Cuban Twitter-style network, called ZunZuneo, via a web of front companies and foreign servers—a covert action program in everything but name.

Who were they kidding? Not Cuban counterspies, who have been cracking CIA plots like walnuts for decades.

And not Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the panel overseeing the USAID, who called the ZunZuneo caper “dumb, dumb, dumb” when The Associated Press broke it last week.

And maybe “dumb” wasn’t such a bad thing, given the agenda of the planners behind these laughable schemes. “It’s not about being effective,” explains Fulton Armstrong, a top former Latin America expert at the CIA and White House National Security Council. “They know that they’re not going to overthrow the regime. They know that their assets on the island are mostly opportunists…and that the Cuban government has demonstrated that many ‘opposition’ recipients of our aid are actually its agents.”

The U.S. diplomatic mission in Cuba knew Collera was a double agent long before Elias met with him, according to cables obtained by WikiLeaks. Apparently, they never told the USAID. (Elias did not respond to emails and telephone calls asking for comment, and a USAID spokesperson says of him, “We currently have no record of this individual being a contractor being a contractor for USAID.”)

“But the programs’ sponsors also know,” Armstrong tells Newsweek, “that locking policy into regime-change mode, getting feckless clandestine operators and members of the ‘opposition’ in jail, and in general trying to provoke the Cuban government keeps the powerful Cuban-American politicians in Washington on their side.”

Leahy said the USAID had “absolutely not” told him about its clandestine Cuban Twitter app, even though he’s chairman of the Senate panel that writes the agency’s budget. “If I had been,” he told MSNBC, “I would have said, ‘What in heaven’s name are you thinking?'”

On Tuesday Leahy will get to ask just that of Rajiv Shah, the USAID’s administrator, at a hearing of his Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs. As chairman, Leahy can ask anything he wants, for as long as he wants. He might think to ask somebody why Akram Elias is still working with the State Department. Word is, he’s angling to launch a pilot program for international university students, through a State Department contractor.

Newsweek contributing editor Jeff Stein writes SpyTalk from Washington.

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