Cuba on the ‘Terror List,” a Prison Visit for Alan Gross, a Final Word for Debra Evenson

It is both untrue and a travesty to paint Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism as the United States government did in its annual report on the subject this week.

For twenty-nine years, Cuba has appeared on the list, which comes with considerable economic and diplomatic costs.  It disqualifies Cuba from economic assistance, punishes Cuba for engaging in legal trade and financial transactions, and deprives Cuba of access to modern technology by way of exports, to name but a few.

Most of all, the list stigmatizes Cuba – not everywhere, but certainly in the United States and elsewhere in the world where our country’s word is respected and the terrorist label stings and stays.

Terror exists in the world; both the U.S. and Cuba have experienced it, and the purpose of the list is to get perpetrators to stop and to enlist other nations in a global effort to get them to do so.

This activity took on special meaning for the U.S. after September 11, 2001, but it also should have come with a greater responsibility to use the list seriously and not use it to play domestic politics on a higher and more fraught stage.

Other nations listed in the State Department’s Country Report on Terrorism, including Iran and Syria, are said to provide “financial, material, and logistical support” for terror groups.  Iran is cited for arming the Taliban in Afghanistan and supporting militants in Iraq who kill American forces; Syria for supplying terrorist groups in Lebanon and Palestinian militants aligned against Israel.

So why is Cuba on the list?

As the Congressional Research Service reports, Cuba did support revolutionary movements and governments in Latin America and Africa in the 1980s, but stopped supporting insurgencies in 1992 after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Since then, as the Council on Foreign Relations said last year, “intelligence experts have been hard pressed to find evidence that Cuba currently provides weapons or military training to terrorist groups.  In 1998, a comprehensive review by the U.S. intelligence community concluded that Cuba does not pose a threat to U.S. national security, which implies that Cuba no longer sponsors terrorism….In the 2008, Country Reports on Terrorism, the State Department reported that Cuba ‘no longer actively supports armed struggle in Latin America and other parts of the world.”

At this stage, the case for Cuba’s inclusion is flimsy to non-existent.

The State Department reports, for example, that Cuba denounces U.S. counterterrorism policies, and has not “severed ties with elements from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and recent media reports indicate some current and former members of the Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) continue to reside in Cuba. Available information suggested that the Cuban government maintained limited contact with FARC members, but there was no evidence of direct financial or ongoing material support. In March, the Cuban government allowed Spanish Police to travel to Cuba to confirm the presence of suspected ETA members.”

If this is the core of the problem, what do Spain and Colombia think?  Former President Jimmy Carter put that question directly to those countries’ ambassadors to Cuba when he visited the island in March of 2011.  This is what President Carter said in his trip report:

We raised a question about the terrorist list, and the Ambassadors from Spain and Colombia said they were not concerned about the presence of members of FARC, ETA, and ELN in Cuba. Indeed, they maintained that this enhances their ability to deal more effectively with these groups. In fact, ETA members are there at the request of the Spanish government (our emphasis).

President Carter, as Peter Kornbluh reported in the Nation, also told the press that U.S. and Cuban intelligence were currently “cooperating” in counterterrorism efforts against Al Qaeda.

In other words, as Wayne Smith, former Chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana writes, “there is absolutely nothing in this year’s report which would in any way suggest that Cuba is a ‘state sponsor of terrorism.’” In fact, there are national interest arguments for removing the designation, and acknowledging their cooperation.  As Smith says, “That the U.S. continues to keep it on the list despite this total lack of evidence simply diminishes our own credibility.”

There is a process for getting Cuba off the list.  One option, as CRS writes, is for the President to submit a report to Congress that says the listed government has changed policies, stopped supporting acts of terrorism, and provides assurances that it will not do so in the future.

We don’t know whether Cuba, given the politicized nature of this process, wants to offer this guarantee, but doing so would certainly test the Obama administration’s commitment to running an honest war against terrorism.  We’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt, and we’d like to see the machinery start to run to remove Cuba from the list.

Here in the U.S., we will soon commemorate the tenth anniversary of the attacks of 9/11, a good opportunity for us to demonstrate both by our deeds and our words that we do take the cause against terrorism seriously and responsibly.

Cuba acted with honor on that awful September day.  Its government condemned the attacks quickly; and it offered medical assistance to the victims and to give U.S. planes access to Cuban airspace and airports when they could not land here –offers our government would not accept.

These deeds – and the clear factual record – show Cuba deserves better than the continued painting it receives from our antiterrorism brush.  It’s time to get Cuba off the list.

This week in Cuba news.

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

Cuba again grants access to Alan Gross for CDA delegation member Rep. Barbara Lee 

Earlier this month, the Center for Democracy in the Americas (CDA), publisher of the Cuba Central News Blast, hosted a delegation of three U.S. Members of Congress to visit Cuba.  During our stay on the island – which included government meetings, visits with civil society, and encounters with Cubans in their homes – Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-9) was granted permission for a humanitarian visit with Alan Gross, the imprisoned U.S. contractor.

In June of this year, members of a CDA delegation spent two hours with Mr. Gross, as reported here.

Congresswoman Lee has conscientiously followed the Gross case and visited him on an earlier trip to Cuba this year.

Alan Gross was arrested in Cuba in December 2009 and convicted fifteen months later for distributing satellite communications equipment and laptops to Cubans under a USAID program devoted to “regime change” in Cuba.  His fifteen year sentence was affirmed by Cuba’s Supreme Court earlier this month. CDA has called for Mr. Gross’s release on humanitarian grounds.

Representatives Sam Farr and Lynn Woolsey also participated in the CDA delegation.

Comments about the Gross case appeared in the Washington Post earlier this week.

First people-to-people group visits Cuba

The first trip by Americans traveling to Cuba under a people-to-people license has embarked to the island, USA Today reports. Travel service provider Insight Cuba, whose people-to-people license was approved in late June, is planning more than 130 such trips in the next year. Other service providers have reported high interest among Americans looking to participate in these trips. The U.S. Treasury Department has so far approved licenses for 35 organizations to arrange trips for Americans to visit the island on non-tourist programs.

Ellen Creager, a travel writer and one of the participants in the inaugural people-to-people trip has been blogging about her experiences, including political meetings, a visit to the agricultural town of Viñales, and a tour of a maternity hospital. She laments the trade restrictions that prohibit her from bringing back any souvenirs from Cuba.

People-to-people travel to Cuba was first legalized by the Clinton administration in 1999, but taken away in 2003 under President Bush. President Obama reauthorized people-to-people travel in a directive issued in January of this year. According to the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which administers economic sanctions for the Treasury Department, such trips require that “all participants will have a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities that will result in meaningful interaction between the travelers and individuals in Cuba.”

Huffington Post writer Ronen Paldi recently penned a post in which he warns potential travelers to make sure that their trips are fully legal under new laws and reminding readers that while this form of travel has opened the door to Cuba, such trips are still highly regulated and have strict requirements.

U.S. Rep. Rivera introduces bill to make travel to Cuba a barrier to citizenship

Florida Congressman David Rivera has authored legislation which, if passed, would amend the Cuban Adjustment Act to discourage Cubans recently arrived in the U.S. from visiting Cuba, reports the Miami Herald.

The Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA), passed in 1966, offers U.S. residency and a path to citizenship for Cubans who emigrate to the U.S. and live here at least 366 days. “The Castro dictatorship is hoping for a lifesaver with increased travel,” stated Rivera, “This bill will hopefully throw it an anchor.”

As Phil Peters explains in his Cuban Triangle blog, the wording of the bill is in flux, but the intent is to slow the process of citizenship to newly arrived Cuban émigrés’ (whose voting patterns deviate from Miami’s preferred hardline).

Criticism of the CAA has increased in recent years, especially among older members of the Cuban exile community who complain that Cubans escaping to the U.S. are predominantly doing so because of economic interests, not to flee persecution. “The original intent of the CAA was to provide status to Cuban refugees because they were not able to return to Cuba” said Rivera, “We have to do something about those who avail themselves of an act designed to protect them from persecution and then travel back to the persecuting country in an obvious abuse of the law.”

Milanes urges for more freedom of expression in Cuba

Pablo Milanes, one of Cuba’s best known singer-songwriters, is scheduled to perform in Miami for the first time on August 27. Following the announcement of his concert, members of the Cuban-American community in Miami criticized the show, and some announced plans to protest. A self-described “progressive, tolerant, left-wing revolutionary,” the 68-year-old Grammy award winner is a controversial figure among Cuban Americans.

In a phone interview with El Nuevo Herald, Milanes stated he would like to see more freedom of expression in Cuba, especially the right to protest. This interview with the Herald is representative of a recent shift in rhetoric, in which Milanes has offered criticism of the government. Milanes stated, “Every human being has the right to protest, and, what’s more, has the duty to say what he thinks.” On the subject of economic reforms currently taking place in Cuba, he stated, “When one thinks of the reforms, you think they’re going to come united with a series of freedoms, such as freedom of expression, but it’s not happening like that.”

In a post on her Generation Y blog, Cuban blogger Yoaní Sánchez, who admits she is not a fan of his music, remarks that after she was arrested for unveiling a political banner at one of Milanes’ concerts, the singer advocated on her behalf with local police so that she would not have to spend the night in jail.

French shipping company sanctioned by OFAC for trade with Cuba

The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has fined CCA, a Norfolk, Virginia subsidiary of the French shipping company CMA CGM, for doing business with Cuba, Iran, and Sudan, reports Cuba Standard.

According to the official OFAC release, the company accepted payments on 28 occasions for shipping services provided to the sanctioned countries, amounting to around $400,000. Therelease also said that the shipments may have included agricultural products and pharmaceuticals, which would have been eligible for a license under the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement of Act of 2000.  Details about what was included in the shipments, or how many of the shipments were to Cuba, were not released.

German Entrepreneurs sue PayPal for closing accounts selling Cuban goods

“More than ten” German entrepreneurs have sued the online payment service, PayPal, for removing several accounts selling Cuban goods, Cuba Headlines reports. PayPal is employed internationally as a means of online payment. One entrepreneur, Silke Wolf, says the action has personally cost him 60% of his business.

Legal representatives of the businesses state that the U.S. embargo should not have any effect on transactions taking place in the European Union. The Munich Court, where the case is being heard, will decide whether American firms are required to abide by the Cuban embargo laws on an international stage.
Final volumes of CIA documents regarding the Bay of Pigs invasion are released
In the wake of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by Peter Kornbluh and the National Security Archive last April on the 50th anniversary of the invasion, the CIA disclosed this week the last of the requested documents recounting the failed Bay of Pigs offensive that occurred in1961.

The release includes 4 of 5 volumes of a report prepared by Jack Pfeiffer, an internal CIA historian, on the invasion. The fifth volume of the report remains classified.
U.S. Coast Guard officer in Havana is middle man for diplomatic relations

According to a WikiLeaks cable obtained by McClatchy Newspapers, a U.S. Coast Guard official has served as a successful interlocutor between the U.S. and Cuba in the areas of migration and counter-narcotics efforts, the Miami Herald reports. According to the cable, the Coast Guard has maintained a so-called Drug Interdiction Specialist (DIS) based in Havana since 1998, and that position has unofficially evolved into a point of diplomatic contact, UPI reports.
Hemingway Bar to open in the Cuban Interests Section

The Atlantic reports that a new bar will open inside the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C. this October, to be named Hemingway Bar. The bar will be invite-only, and include exhibits about American author Ernest Hemingway’s twenty years living in Cuba. As no money is allowed to exchange hands between U.S. and Cuban nationals due to the current embargo, drinks at the bar will be free. The public diplomacy move uses Hemingway as a symbol of shared cultural heritage of the U.S. and Cuba.

Al Kamen of the Washington Post also covers the story.  For an insider’s look at Hemingway’s home in Cuba, visit the photo gallery of the Center for Democracy in the Americas.

 

IN CUBA

Reports of police actions against Ladies in White 

Members of the dissident group Ladies in White, or Damas de Blanco, in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba, have reported that for the past four weeks their Sunday marches have been met with police violence, the Miami Herald reports. This week, attacks allegedly occurred when a truck carrying nine members of the group was stopped outside of the city and some of the women were forcibly taken from the vehicle and put into patrol cars, impeding them from participating in the march. Another seven members were detained in the city before reaching the church where the demonstration was to commence.

According to EFE, the Ladies in White group in Havana reported that an attempt to organize a protest denouncing the alleged attacks in Santiago was stopped by a large group of government supporters.

U.S. news organizations operating in Cuba have not published similar reports or photos of these events to date.
Tourism revenue up 13%, noted increase of domestic tourism in the beach city of Varadero

According to Cuba’s National Statistics Office (ONE), tourism revenues nationwide are up 13% in the first half of 2011 compared with the same period last year, EFE reports.  Revenues climbed from 874.5 million dollars in 2010 to 990.4 million dollars in the first half of 2011.   The number of tourists visiting the island has also increased 10.6%, with 1.5 million foreign tourists visiting the island in the first six months of the year. The largest group of foreigners visiting Cuba comes from Canada, followed by the UK, Italy, France and Spain.

As Cubans take vacations throughout the month of August, state newspaper Granma has reported an increasing number of Cuban tourists in the beach destination of Varadero. The article states that of the 22,000 tourists renting rooms in the area, 5,000 are national tourists, making Cubans the second largest group visiting Varadero, after Canadians.

Velio Barrera, head of the Ministry of Tourism’s marketing and communications office in the province, noted that there was an unpredicted increase of Cuban tourists in the months of July and August, mainly coming from Havana and the island’s central provinces. Barrera credited this increase with efforts to stimulate the development of national tourism through special offers that make it possible for Cubans to take advantage of Varadero’s tourism infrastructure, which accounts for 35% of the island’s hotel capacity.

Telephone company executives arrested on corruption charges

Several senior executives of state telecommunications company Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba SA (ETECSA) have been arrested on charges of corruption, Reutersreports. In addition to those arrested, Maimir Mesa, the company’s president, and most of its vice presidents have been at least temporarily suspended.

ETECSA is one of Cuba’s largest enterprises, with annual revenues over $500 million. This investigation is the latest in President Raul Castro’s campaign to fight corruption and other white-collar crime, which have seen the arrest of dozens of high-level officials at state-run enterprises on the island.

According to the article, ETECSA is undergoing two separate investigations, one regarding its cell phone business and the other involving a submarine laying fiber optic cable from Venezuela to Cuba. The laying of the cable was completed this February, but it is not yet operative, with the activation date pushed back from July to September or October, Havana Times reports.

Same sex marriage and anti-discrimination efforts in Cuba

Last Saturday, Wendy Iriepa, a transgender woman, married Ignacio Estrada, a prominent dissident and gay rights activist, in what many people are calling Cuba’s first “gay marriage,” BBC reports.

Iriepa is legally a woman under current law, which made the marriage legally possible. She underwent a sex change operation in 2007 as a part of a pilot program for the government to provide such procedures to citizens free of charge. The program was spearheaded by Mariela Castro, director of the National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX). Free sex-change operations were adopted as a national program in 2008.

Meanwhile, Ms. Castro has called for an investigation into sexual discrimination by the Cuban state during the 1960s and 1970s, according to this published (Spanish language) report.

Reps. Barbara Lee, Sam Farr, and Lynn Woolsey visited with Ms. Castro during their recent trip to Cuba organized by the Center for Democracy in the Americas.
Fidel Castro turns 85, does not attend celebrations

On August 13th, Fidel Castro celebrated his 85th birthday. A gala held in Havana, “Fidelidad,” included performances by Omara Portuondo and more than two dozen other musical acts.

Former president Castro himself, having made very few public appearances since his illness in 2006, was not in attendance, reports CNN. According to Hugo Chavez’s Twitter, Castro spent his birthday in the company of the Venezuelan president, who was in Cuba for cancer treatment.

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

Cuba seeks oil spill agreement with Mexico

Cuba’s government and state oil enterprise CubaPetróleo (Cupet) are reportedly seeking to reactivate a mutual-aid oil spill agreement signed in 199 with Mexican state oil company Pemex, Cuba Standard reports. This announcement comes in advance of an oil drilling platform arriving in Cuba later this year to begin drilling for oil in Cuba’s waters in the Gulf of Mexico.

Though U.S. officials have expressed concern regarding Cuba’s offshore drilling plans, there are currently no public diplomatic efforts to create a similar oil-spill agreement between the U.S. and Cuba as exists between the U.S. and Mexico.

Canada to begin cruise ship route to Cuba

Cuba Cruise, a Canadian operator based in Toronto, has announced a cruise beginning December 4th that will circumnavigate the island, The Globe and Mail reports. The 480-stateroom Louis Cristal ship will sail out of Havana and land in ports including Bahia de Nipe, Cayo Guillermo, Santiago de Cuba, Cayo Caguamas, Cienfuegos, Trinidad and Punta Frances.

According to the Cuba Standard, officials in Cuba’s Ministry of Tourism have been trying since early this year to attract a cruise that would offer around-the-island trips for Canadians. Cafe Fuerte reports that this announcement comes as Cuba is attempting to revive its cruise tourism after British cruise line Thomson Cruises ended operations planned for 2012 in Cuba for logistical reasons.

Around the Region:

Bipartisan letter to President Obama on closing the WHINSEC

On August 15th, 69 Members of Congress, coordinated by Reps. Jim McGovern (MA-3) and John Lewis (GA-5), sent a letter to President Obama urging him to use his executive powers to end all funding of the operations of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC).

In 1999, a bipartisan majority in the House of Representatives voted to close the U.S. Army School of the Americas. The following year, the Pentagon moved to close the School of the Americas, and then opened the WHINSEC in the same location the next day.

Clashes over land ownership in Honduras leave eleven dead

Land conflicts in the north-eastern region of Aguan in Honduras have resulted in the death of eleven people following two separate clashes, BBC reports. Six people were killed on Sunday and the bodies of five more were found on Monday. According to local police, the deaths occurred following the attempt of a group of workers to take over a ranch. The Aguan Valley, which possesses some of the most productive farmland in the country, has suffered increased violence following conflict over land ownership. At least 35 farm workers and guards have died in conflict in the past two years.

Recommended Reading:

Obama owes Jonathan Farrar a defense, Arturo López-Levy, The Havana Note

While it’s not news that another Obama appointee has been blocked by the Senate, Arturo Lopez-Levy writes compellingly in the Havana Note about Jonathan Farrar, who served nobly as chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Cuba, but whose appointment to be U.S. Ambassador to Nicaragua has been stymied by Senators Robert Menendez and Marco Rubio over differences with the administration on Cuba policy.

Bridge to Cuba’s Baseball Past, Peter C. Bjarkman, The New York Times

“Conrado Marrero established himself as the most successful amateur league pitcher in Cuban history during the 1930s and early 1940s, then pitched for five seasons with the Washington Senators. Now the oldest former major leaguer at 100, he has fallen off the radar in North America.”

Time to get closer to Cuba, Dan Smith, The Guardian

“Last month Cuba and the United Kingdom signed a formal declaration to strengthen bilateral co-operation…The move should be welcomed as a positive step – not just by those supporting the Cuban people, but also by those looking to expand British trade relations in Latin America. In order to make tangible change, however, the agreement must be substantiated by positive action – something which has been lacking in previous UK policy towards Cuba.”

Recommended Viewing:

Photos: Cuba’s Television Sets, Simon Lueck, Polar Inertia

“In Cuba, television is the most important communication medium and a national pastime. No matter that the TV sets themselves are outdated, pre-revolution relics imported from America or sets from Russia over fifteen years old; green-hued beasts jimmy-rigged with ancient computer parts and fantastically adorned like religious altars….Whether used for information or as a background for socializing and drinking rum, during broadcast hours, all TVs in Cuba are ON.”

A FINAL WORD

Debra Evenson, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, had an abiding faith in the rule of law and sought to make her country conduct its foreign relations with the same respect for its legal traditions as she had.

Debra died in Chicago this week.  She is mourned by a large and dedicated following in the United States, Cuba, and around the region who admired her dedication to principle and resolve as a lawyer to make her country better by sticking to standards we so often demand of others.

She was a notable force for respectful relations between the U.S. and Cuba, and she will be missed.

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