Breaking News: Jury declares Posada “not guilty” on all counts.

Moments before we planned to send you our weekly news summary, the astonishing and dispiriting news crossed the wire that Luis Posada Carriles had been acquitted by a federal jury on all charges relating to his illegal entry into the United States in 2005.

If champagne corks are popping in some quarters in Miami, faces are glistening with tears in households from Havana to Montreal.  It is in those cities where many of the victims and survivors of his terrorist activities live, where hopes for America’s justice system, despite decades of bitter experience, continued to be expressed.

The evidence seemed incontrovertible especially against someone so brazen.  He had, after all, confessed to the bombings in Havana that took the life of Fabio Di Celmo, on audio tape.  He had, after all, snuck into the United States and then called a press conference to announce that he arrived.  He had, after all, denied these things to federal agents, with hope of remaining here in America.

We cannot imagine how crushing this news is to Livio Di Celmo whose brother was killed in 1997.  He was outraged that Posada was being prosecuted for perjury and obstruction rather than the violent act that had taken the life of his brother who was, as Posada is heard to say on tapes played in court without a hint of remorse, “in the wrong place at the wrong time.”  Now the Di Celmo family must see Posada – prosecuted only for immigration violations – go free.

Nor can we fully appreciate how this will go down in Cuba, which continues to be labeled by our government as a state sponsor of terrorism.

The verdict puts our country in a terrible position.  As Peter Kornbluh of the National Security Archive observed this afternoon, “This is a disaster, for the U.S. legal system, the credibility of the U.S. campaign to fight international terrorism, and for U.S.-Cuban relations. Most of all it is an insult to the families of Posada’s many victims who hoped this trial would afford them a small modicum of justice for the loved ones lost to his acts of terrorism.”

Kornbluh, who has documented evidence against Posada over the last decade, said, “Having presented a comprehensive case that Posada was involved in acts of international terrorism the U.S. government must now exercise the post 9/11 laws it has to deal with situations like these.”

This would be a good step.  We can only hope the Department of Justice is listening.

In other news:

  • The U.S. State Department has just released its annual, global review of human rights for 2010, which includes a thirty-page chapter deploring conditions in Cuba.
  • Paradoxically, the strongly worded report was released as the largest group of political prisoners freed since July 2010 was being welcomed to Spain.
  • Senator John Kerry, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, acted affirmatively and courageously in blocking distribution of $20 million in “democracy promotion” funds, the same program that landed Alan Gross in jail.  Kerry has the good sense to ask whether these programs work.
  • The Cuba Study Group issued a comprehensive report urging a relaxation of U.S. sanctions to enable more credit to flow to Cubans interested in starting small businesses.
  • Jimmy Carter’s visit to Cuba – chronicled in the Carter Center’s report on the trip – continues to reverberate.
  • Bill Clinton praises Cuba’s role in helping Haiti recover from last year’s earthquake.

And, in a final word, we recognize Ambassador Luis Gallegos, Ecuador’s ambassador to the U.S., now persona non grata thanks to the contretemps over WikiLeaks.

This and more, this week in Cuba news…

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

U.S. State Department Issues Human Rights Report Scoring Conditions in Cuba

As thirty-seven former Cuban political prisoners and their relatives arrive in Madrid, the largest group to be received in Spain since last year’s release agreement, the U.S. State Department issued its annual report on global human rights conditions, including a thirty-page chapter deploring human rights conditions in Cuba.

The report, which includes assessments of conditions in prisons, political rights, access to justice, freedom of religion, and the treatment of women, Afro-Cubans, and sexual minorities, covers calendar year 2010.

The report covers the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, the hunger striker who succumbed to a fast early in 2010; acts of repudiation, including specific incidents against the Ladies in White; conditions faced by criminals and political prisoners in the nation’s jails; the inability of the UN Rapporteur on human rights to make an independent review of conditions in Cuba; and the absence of democratic freedoms.

The State Department does acknowledge the roles of Cuba’s Catholic Church and the Cuban Council of Churches, the government’s decision to grant them improved access to prisons and the right to hold services for prisoners, the broadcast of Easter Mass, and the untrammeled right of priests to criticize the government in sermons.  It also credits the Catholic Church with negotiating the agreement that led to the release of all remaining political prisoners from the 2003 round-up of dissidents, but neglects to mention the role played by Spain in helping to broker the deal by directly engaging with the Government of Cuba.

Senator Kerry delays USAID Cuba funding

Senator John Kerry (MA), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has put a hold on $20 million for USAID “democracy promotion” funding in Cuba requested by the Obama administration, Politico reports. Kerry, in an announcement posted on the committee’s website, stated:

We all hope the Cuban people achieve greater freedom and prosperity in the future consistent with their aspirations, and I have applauded the Administration’s commitment to expand people-to-people contact between our two countries.  There is no evidence, however, that the ‘democracy promotion’ programs, which have cost the U.S. taxpayer more than $150 million so far, are helping the Cuban people.  Nor have they achieved much more than provoking the Cuban government to arrest a U.S. government contractor who was distributing satellite communication sets to Cuban contacts.  Before this $20 million is committed, a full review of the programs should be undertaken and the Administration should consult with the Congress.  The GAO, which has investigated fraud and abuse in these programs in the past, is already undertaking another investigation at my request into the legal basis and effectiveness of these operations.

Kerry’s announcement followed notification from USAID of plans to dedicate the $20 million in 2010 funds to continuing programs in Cuba. USAID’s controversial “democracy promotion” funding in Cuba has been the source of several corruption scandals, and is viewed by Cuba’s government as a threat to the nation’s sovereignty.

Senator Robert Menendez (NJ) released a statement criticizing his committee chairman’s decision to delay the funds for review, arguing:

Democrats in Cuba are deserving of the same support and solidarity that we provided to dissidents in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union and that we continue to send to peaceful activists in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

In the trip report on his recent visit to Cuba, former President Jimmy Carter, who called upon Cuba’s government to release Alan Gross, made clear that these programs, funded under the Helms-Burton law, are designed to weaken and overthrow the Castro regime, an activity the United States has undertaken for more than a half-century without success.

Rep. Betty McCollum suggests Radio and TV Martí be part of cut package

As the federal government considers budget cuts and faces an impending shutdown if an agreement is not reached by midnight today, Rep. Betty McCollum (MN-4) introduced a bill this week titled “An Act to Stop Wasting Taxpayer Money on Cuba Broadcasting.”  The bill would end funding for Radio and TV Martí – media outlets funded by the U.S. and operated by the Office of Cuba Broadcasting with the intent to provide news and information to Cuba’s people from the coast of Florida to Cuba.

Only one to two percent of the 11 million people in Cuba actually listen to or watch the Martís’ programming, but Radio and TV Martí have cost U.S. taxpayers more than $500 million since the program’s inception in the 1980s.

Cuba’s government jams the Martís’ transmissions, and the U.S. has responded by offering the signal through the Internet, satellites, and sophisticated aircraft flying above the Caribbean.  But the audience size has not grown.

The Government Accountability Office found in 2009 continuing evidence of bad management, low employee morale, and allegations of fraud and abuse.

The Council on Hemispheric Affairs also ran an opinion piece this week in support of cutting the programs: “Radio and TV Martí Should be Prime Targets for Budget Cutters.”

For additional information on Radio and TV Martí, John S. Nichols offered a statement before a June 2009 hearing in the Subcommittee of International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight, titled “TV Martí has virtually no audience, violates international law, and should be closed.”

U.S. urged to support Cuba’s nascent private sector
A joint report by The Cuba Study Group, Americas Society/Council of the Americas, and the Center for Financial Inclusion urges the relaxation of U.S. sanctions to support the growth of small enterprises, the Miami Herald reports.

Recommendations contained in the 48-page white paper, if adopted by the United States, would depart from the intent of strangling Cuba economically, and instead better equip small businesses in Cuba’s private sector with the capital they need to flourish and grow.

The report explains the economic reform process currently underway in Cuba, the decision by Cuba’s government to expand space for its private sector to create non-state employment opportunities for Cuba’s people, and the challenges Cuba faces, including the absence of wholesale markets and meager access to investment capital for Cuba’s prospective entrepreneurs.

The report contains a number of proposals in areas like microcredit finance that could help Cubans meet these challenges, but recognizes that decisions made by Cuba will be decisive in determining the success of the reforms.

A copy of the report is available for download here.

Bill Clinton recognizes Cuba’s work in Haiti

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who serves as special envoy of the UN Mission to Haiti, expressed his appreciation this week for the work that Cuba has contributed to Haiti’s recovery efforts in the medical field, the Cuban News Agency reports.

Clinton’s words were communicated to Bruno Rodríguez, Cuba’s Foreign Minister, by Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos during a session of the UN Security Council. The president of Colombia, the country which holds the rotating leadership position of the Council during the month of April, made his remarks as Rodríguez finished his speech before the council.

In his speech, Rodríguez outlined Cuba’s medical aid in Haiti, reporting that the medical brigade had tended to almost two million patients since the earthquake, about a third of them victims of the cholera epidemic.  However, Rodríguez lamented that interest has decreased since the initial acts of solidarity that followed the earthquake, and that some of the promised funds have not been delivered.  He also argues that the Mission to Haiti should be overseen by the UN General Assembly and not the Security Council.

Mail service re-established from Cuba to the U.S.

Cuba’s government announced this week that it will re-establish mail service to the United States, though only letters and small packages will be accepted.  Mail service between the U.S. and Cuba was suspended in the 1960s, but limited service through third countries resumed in 2009, following talks between U.S. and Cuban officials.  All deliveries were suspended in November 2010, however, following the U.S.’s increased security measures after a failed terror attack involving packages mailed from Yemen.

According to Granma, “Correos de Cuba’s decision to re-establish mail service to [the U.S.] responds to flexibility in security measures announced by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration for all nations belonging to the Universal Postal Union.”

Officials have indicated that the ban on packages will stay in effect, with an 18-ounce maximum weight for mail going to the U.S, reports AP. All mail en route to the United States will continue to be delivered through third party nations. U.S. and Cuban officials have met periodically for talks regarding the possibility of direct mail service, but the governments have yet to reach an agreement.

ACLU looks into cancellation of Miami concert that was to feature Cuban musicians

On Wednesday, April 6th, the Miami chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) expressed concerns over the cancellation of a concert that was to take place on April 9th. According to the Miami Herald, the concert, the “Fuego Cuban Music Worlds Festival,” was cancelled by the owners of the Homestead Miami International Speedway, where the show was to occur. Organizers have alleged that the festival was cancelled because of opposition expressed by some Cuban exiles who do not want artists supported by the Cuban government performing in the United States, reports AP.

The ACLU has filed a civil suit alleging that the event’s cancellation violates the organizers’ right to free speech.

Local officials were involved in shutting down the concert, with Miami Date County Commissioner Lynda Bell saying: “We understand free speech and will defend free speech but not when public facilities and public funds are being utilized.”  The President of the Miami ACLU, John de Leon, responded by stating: “That’s exactly the arena in which the first amendment operates: in public arenas, public venues and when public dollars are involved. … Commissioner Bell has the right to protest the presentation — criticize, condemn the concert — but not participate in her official capacity with shutting it down.”

Cuban TV series accuses reporter of collaborating with CIA; Reuters issues strong denial

On, Monday April 4th, the latest weekly installment of the documentary series Cuba’s Reasons released a new chapter in which Anthony Boadle, formerly Reuters bureau chief in Havana, is accused of operating as a liaison between a Cuban agent and a U.S diplomat, reports Granma.  The allegation was strongly denied by Reuters.

The Cuban government claims that Raul Capote, a Cuban agent acting undercover, was recruited by Boadle to meet with U.S diplomat Mark Sullivan, who was on the island for two years (2006-2008) working at the American diplomatic mission.

Capote claims that after his initial meeting with Sullivan he began working directly with the CIA, communicating with them by satellite phone (which the CIA provided).

The Cuban government went so far as to claim that during Boadle’s “stay in Cuba from March 2002 through 2008, he published reports favoring local counterrevolutionaries and the interests of the United States and the European Union.”

However, Mr. Boadle is not mentioned again after the account of the initial meeting and there was no evidence given to support the allegations made against him, reports the AP.

The allegations were quickly denied by Erin Kurtz, a spokesperson for Thomson Reuters, the company that owns the Reuters news agency, stating, “Reuters refutes the allegations of the report, and stands firmly on its 160 years of accurate and unbiased reporting in Cuba and around the world.”

Cuba’s state media often denounces the foreign press as being biased, but, according to the Associated Press, it is “unusual for it to make such a serious accusation, and it gave ambiguous evidence to back it up.”

IN CUBA

Drilling in the Gulf

Cuba’s Ministry of Basic Industries (MINBAS) announced this week that they would move forward with drilling five offshore wells in the Gulf of Mexico this summer in search for oil, AP reports.  Manuel Marrero, a MINBAS official, made the announcement during this week’s Earth Science Conference on the island, stating, “We are moving forward to the drilling phase. We are all very hopeful about finding large deposits of oil and gas.”

Cuba’s government has designated a total of 59 offshore blocks, each covering 2,000 square kilometers, in waters located in its Exclusive Economic Zone.  It is engaging in partnerships with foreign investors to explore the blocks for oil.  According to Reuters, geologist Gonzalo Zamora of the Spanish oil company Repsol, which will drill first, expects the arrival of a state-of-the-art drilling platform by the end of the summer.  According to Zamora, the company plans to drill one exploratory well and continue drilling if that well is successful.

Also this week, as Mexico and U.S. officials met in Mexico City to discuss issues of drilling safety, Cuba was excluded from the conversation due to limits put in place by U.S. policy, the Houston Chronicle reports.

For more information about Cuba’s plans to drill in the Gulf of Mexico and how U.S. policy is at odds with the U.S. national interest, see this recent report published by the Center for Democracy in the Americas.

Price of cooking oil rises 11.6% unexpectedly

The price of cooking oil rose without previous announcement this Tuesday. The spike became markedly noticeable in the markets of Havana where the AFP found that the price of one liter of soy oil rose from $1.10 to $1.15 USD, a 5% increase, while one liter of Cuban-made sunflower-seed oil rose from $2.15 to $2.40 USD (up 11.6%), and one liter of imported oil increased in price from $2.40 to $2.60 USD (up 8.3%). The changes in price of this staple product will significantly affect Cuban citizens, whose average salary in Cuba is $20 a month. The price hikes will also affect those who recently opened private restaurants who already struggle to find affordable goods as there is no wholesale market for ingredients.

This year’s sugar harvest to remain stable, new use for the Marabú tree

According to government projections, this year’s sugar production is expected to be comparable to or slightly higher than the 2010 harvest, AP reports.

Last year’s harvest was about 1.1 million tons, and marked what the government reported as the poorest harvest since 1905.  Cuba’s government, as part of its economic reform program, aims to increase domestic food production.  Responding to last year’s decline, Cuba’s government replaced its then-sugar minister, and deployed more than 60 new combines from Brazil to increase productivity.  Sugar Ministry expert Osiris Quintero commented on the new machines and added that the sugar industry is open to foreign investment.

Additionally, Cubans have found a use of the Marabú tree, a weed that grows abundantly throughout the island and has large thorns which discourage farmers from cutting it down. Radio Rebelde reports this week that the wood from this tree is now being carbonized and sent abroad, mostly to Europe. According to the Miami Herald, “the density of [this] wood makes it desirable for the production of charcoal for home heating. And the smell of its smoke makes it acceptable for grilling and barbecuing.”  Production this year is expected to rise to 20 tons; last year the initiative earned $3.2 million.

Cuba’s government continues to introduce new measures to move forward the agricultural reform that President Raúl Castro began when he took office in 2008.  Executive Secretary of Cuba’s Program for Urban Agriculture and Agro-ecology Nelson Campanioni stated this week that the goal is to guarantee to every Cuban 300 grams of vegetables and 30 grams of fruit per day, through the use of animal labor and without the use of pesticides, AFP reports.

Economic Reform: Mining for opportunity
Iván Martínez, the Vice-Minister of MINBAS, has announced that new licenses will be granted for self-employed workers to mine independently in order to extract small volumes of minerals that they need, EFE reports. Martínez stated: “They would be licenses that would allow, for a period of no longer than one year, (the extraction of) small volumes, but that the self-employed would be the ones who develop these projects.” The measure is intended to increase the production of necessary materials like brick, stone, sand, and other construction supplies.

Five ousted from Sancti Spiritus provincial assembly in anti-corruption drive

In recent days, the province of Sancti Spiritus has been the target of an anti-corruption drive being carried out by Cuba’s government.  Five officials have been fired, and the Head of the Assembly, Diana Companioni Blanco, has stepped down amid the corruption scandal.

According to the Miami Herald, those implicated were all fired for misuse of power and the diversion of resources for monetary gain though formal charges have not yet been filed. While there is no evidence of her involvement in illegal activities or misuse of power, Companioni Blanco resigned and “admitted her responsibility for not adequately heeding the warnings made about deficiencies in the [Assembly’s] operations detected by the provincial government and for the lack of vigilance, exigency and control she should have exercised,” reports Granma.

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

Thirty-seven prisoners released, sent to Spain with their families

Cuban authorities released thirty-seven “political prisoners” and authorized them to fly to Spain with their family members on a charter plane hired by the Spanish government specifically for the occasion, BBC reports. The release of these prisoners comes less than two weeks after the release of the last of the group of political prisoners that had been in jail since a 2003 roundup. This release brings the total of former prisoners that have been exiled to Spain since July of last year to 115.

In related news, there has been some disagreement in Spain about how the government and the opposition approach the issue of the freed political prisoners, Europa Press reports. Miguel Ángel Moratinos, Spain’s former Foreign Minister, views these releases as an achievement in Spain’s foreign diplomacy and their support for human rights in Cuba. Opposition Senator Dionisio García Carnero, however, argues that the releases and the negotiations that led to the releases were “humanitarian gestures,” but did not constitute a defense of human rights because they do not attack the existing legislation in Cuba that allows for dissidents to be arrested.

Ramón Jáuregui, Spain’s minister of the presidency told the Spanish Senate that his country has “the greatness and pride of being able to tell the world that it has freed prisoners of conscience from Cuba’s jails,” according to the Miami Herald.

Around the Region:

Rodolfo Pastor Campos: An Inconvenient Truth in Honduras

Former chargé d’affaires of the Embassy of Honduras in Washington Rodolfo Pastor Campos provides an excellent piece of analysis regarding the silence of the U.S. government surrounding Honduras’ crippled democracy, the increased and worrying role of military and police forces, and repression and human rights violations taking place in Honduras.

Ecuador expels U.S. ambassador in WikiLeaks flap; U.S. retaliates

At a news conference this week, Ecuador’s Foreign Minister, Ricardo Patiño announced the expulsion of the U.S. ambassador, Heather Hodges, over a diplomatic cable divulged by WikiLeaks that accuses a newly-retired police chief of a long history of corruption and speculates that President Rafael Correa was aware of it. Patiño stressed that the expulsion was not directed against the Obama administration, and hoped this wouldn’t affect “the cordial relations between our two governments.”

The State Department called the act “unjustified” and described Hodges as “one of our most experienced and talented diplomats.” The U.S. government then retaliated by declaring Ecuador’s ambassador to the U.S., Luis Gallegos, persona non grata.

The Hemispheric Brief provides important background for understanding the dueling expulsions; it dates back to a squabble between the U.S. and Ecuador that began in 2009.  It also offers this revealing fact; “the expulsions mean Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador are all without ambassadors in Washington (and vice versa).”

Interview with Edgardo Lander: The Path for Venezuela cannot be Neoliberalism or Stalinism

Edgardo Lander, a leading Venezuelan writer and thinker at the Trasnational Institute, discusses the challenges facing Venezuelan democracy and the Bolivarian movement.

Recommended Reading:

Trip Report by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, The Carter Center

In the trip report on his recent visit to Cuba, former President Jimmy Carter, who called upon Cuba’s government to release Alan Gross, made clear that these programs, funded under the Helms-Burton law, are designed to weaken and overthrow the Castro regime, an activity the United States has undertaken for more than a half-century without success.

The Inter-American Dialogue’s Marifeli Perez-Stable and Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez react.

El Faro: Online Media and a Response to Violence, ReVista

The bold and distinguished online journalist, Carlos Dada, discusses El Faro’s start as an Internet operation that has grown into a globally-respected news medium that shines a light on El Salvador’s political, security, and social challenges.

Recommended Viewing:

In late March, the Center for Democracy in the Americas led a delegation to Cuba for Members of the U.S. Congress for a fact-finding visit timed just weeks before the upcoming meeting of Cuba’s Communist Party Congress.  The delegation’s photo gallery depicts several of the sights and personalities encountered during this trip.

A FINAL WORD

We’re sad to see Ecuador’s ambassador Luis Gallegos sent packing from Washington, the latest casualty in the WikiLeaks controversy.

In a previous posting, he chaired the UN’s Ad Hoc Committee on a Comprehensive and Integral International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, granting recognition to the struggles and rights of a community that numbers more than 650 million worldwide.  He once said, “Society has to recognize that it should not exclude persons with disabilities. This is a very important group of people, representing ten percent of the world’s population.”

He had a big challenge in Washington, too – representing a small country, fighting alongside a tiny but effective staff, challenging the indifference or biases of policy makers, often facing an army of U.S. lobbyists, on issues ranging from trade to immigration, to the rights of diplomats to the war on drugs, to the grievous environmental damage Ecuador suffered at the hands of Chevron.  He did this and more with a lowered voice, an incisive mind, and an abiding sense of humor, which he needed.

We will miss him.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: