What the FARC is going on in Cuba?

August 31, 2012

What the FARC is going on in Cuba?  And what does it mean for President Obama and the crowd of hardliners in Congress we call the Cold War warriors?

We figured something was up last Sunday, when former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe accused current president Juan Manuel Santos of holding secret peace talks with FARC rebels in Cuba, according to Colombia Reports. “This is incomprehensible,” said Uribe during a speech in the northern Colombian city of Sincelejo, “security deteriorating while the government is negotiating with the FARC terrorist group in Cuba.”

President Santos, who had initially dismissed the allegations as “pure rumors,” confirmed on Monday that the Colombian government has not only been negotiating with the FARC in Havana but that the two parties had agreed to restart formal peace talks, which had collapsed in 2002.

According to foreign sources, here and here, the deal was broken on Cuban soil with help from Venezuelan, Cuban, and Norwegian officials, and the talks are scheduled to commence in Oslo on October 5th. Santos also extended an invitation to the National Liberation Army (ELN) to participate.

Reuters reported that “U.S. President Barack Obama is aware of the process and is in agreement.”

We can’t know now what this breakthrough means for Colombia, although we surely hope it leads to peace.  What we do know is this: Cuba’s contribution to the Colombia deal undercuts a key rationale for U.S. sanctions against the island – with implications both for the anti-Cuba hardliners in Congress and the president himself. The irony is that it was Uribe, a staunch Cold warrior, who helped bring the talks to public attention.

Cuba has long been accused by the U.S. of harboring FARC members. These allegations are one of the State Department’s main justifications for designating Cuba a State Sponsor of Terrorism. The fact that Cuba has been providing neutral ground for a peace agreement between the two parties, however, creates serious problems for the State Department’s rationale for listing Cuba as a state sponsor of terror.

It’s also a blow to the Cold War warriors who use Cuba’s presence on the list to fuel their rhetoric and to oppose any relaxation of U.S. policy. When the Republican Party adopted its foreign policy platform in Tampa, it called Cuba’s government “a mummified relic of the age of totalitarianism (and) a state-sponsor of terrorism.”

The Colombia breakthrough also has implications for President Obama.

When his administration argues in public that having the FARC in Havana is a cause of keeping Cuba on the terror list, even as Mr. Obama approves in private a peace process brokered in Cuba to have the FARC and Colombia sit together to make peace, it damages our nation’s credibility – not just in Latin America but everywhere the U.S. encounters resistance to our policies against terrorism.  It’s a contradiction crying out to be addressed.

And it’s also a terrible position for the winner of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize who was, after all, honored by the Norwegian Nobel Committee “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”

Early in his administration, President Obama should have taken Cuba off the list as he has been advised so often.  He should not have relisted Cuba every year since.

As naïve as it may be to suggest he act in this election year to remove them, he should consider this:  If the Colombian government has the courage to sit across the table to negotiate peace with the insurgency in its civil war, his administration should at least have the nerve to tell the Cold War warriors in Congress that the facts have changed and he’s removing Cuba from the terror list.

We’re reasonably certain that the hardliners are the only ones who will really care, and their offense will be drowned out by the applause of those who will appreciate a show of guts and the recognition of reality.

Read the rest of this entry »

River(as) of Cash

August 24, 2012

There is no bigger supporter of democracy or free and fair elections in the U.S. Congress than Representative David Rivera (FL-25).  You don’t need to ask him.  He’ll tell you.

In April, he condemned President Santos of Colombia for discussing how Cuba could be admitted to the next Summit of the Americas, saying “I think it’s a very dangerous, slippery slope that we get into if presidents start talking about redefining democracy.”

In June, he honored the Cuban American Patriots and Friends for their efforts in favor of a free and democratic Cuba and presented them with a flag flown over the United States Capitol

In July, he denounced President Obama for dismissing Venezuela as a security threat and told him in a letter he signed to “recant” his statement for “all nations who cherish freedom and democracy.”

In August, he posed for a picture with The Assembly of the Cuban Resistance, in conjunction with the International Republican Institute and his allies in Congress, to salute “Pro-Democracy Movements in Totalitarian States.”

Wait for it….

But this week, Rep. Rivera has been implicated in an election scandal for trying to rig the Democratic primary in his Congressional District so that he could face a weaker opponent in the November election.  Did someone say, free and fair?

Here’s how one news organization put it: “Congressman David Rivera of Miami-Dade, already the target of a federal tax evasion probe, may face more scandal, and possible criminal charges, after an investigation by CBS4′s News Partner, The Miami Herald.”

Florida held its Congressional primaries on August 14th.  Rep. Rivera won his party’s nomination for reelection and Joe Garcia got the Democratic nod to run against him.  To win, however, Mr. Garcia unexpectedly faced a newcomer in his primary, Justin Lamar Sternad, who was employed as a front desk clerk at a hotel.  Even more unexpectedly, Mr. Sternad was able to finance 11 targeted campaign mailers.  How did he get the resources?

The Miami Herald says Mr. Rivera funneled the money to pay for a “sophisticated mail campaign” that campaign vendors say he orchestrated.  One of them, a former FBI agent named Hugh Cochran, said that Rivera asked him to create a voter list that was then used in the mailers by Sternad’s campaign for a total cost of $43,000.  The funds for this effort, at times delivered in envelopes stuffed with hundred dollar bills, were not reported, as required by law, before the primary on August 14.   One recipient said, “I never saw so much cash.”

Sternad’s de facto campaign manager was a campaign operative, Ana Alliegro.  In her Twitter account, she describes herself as “Republican Political Guru and Conservative Bad Girl,” arguably an odd choice to run a Democratic campaign. The Herald reports that she also made cash payments for mailers going out to voters from Sternad’s campaign.

One election law practitioner we consulted wanted to learn more about what is being investigated, but theorized that if a candidate was ‘secretly’ funding a federal campaign he might be exceeding election law contribution limits.

As expected, Mr. Rivera “strenuously denied the allegation” and the Herald also carried the obligatory “declined comment” from one of the mail vendors.  But this looks awfully bad.  The FBI and the Miami-Dade police are investigating.  As the Herald reported:

A candidate or conspirator who knowingly and willfully “falsifies, conceals, or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact” in a federal election can face up to five years in prison, according to federal law.

Given his rhetoric, this leaves Rep. Rivera in a criminally exposed, if not a terribly awkward position.  So, we’ll close by quoting Ms. Alliegro from her tweet dated August 16th:

“Those that live in glass houses should not throw stones :-)”

Read the rest of this entry »

Ryan’s Conversion on the Road to Havana

August 17, 2012

Rep. Paul Ryan flip-flopped on Cuba.  Before voting to support the embargo in 2007, he opposed sanctions and spoke passionately against them.  Now, the Romney campaign and its supporters in Florida have gone to great lengths to reassure their conservative Cuban American base that Ryan isn’t the Cuba contrarian now that he appeared to be less than a decade ago.  That’s the end of the story, but not the moral of the story.

First, let’s be clear: Romney’s position on Cuba, and U.S. foreign policy toward Cuba should he be elected president, was never in doubt.  On January 30, 2012, Governor Romney told a campaign rally in Florida:

If I’m fortunate enough to become the next president, it is my expectation that Fidel Castro will finally be taken off this planet.  We have to be prepared, in the next president’s first or second term, it is time to strike for freedom in Cuba.

This tough rhetoric was buttressed by a ten-step white paper on Cuba that calls for reinstating restrictions on travel and remittances, and taking other strong measures to toughen an already tough policy.  This all-in commitment won Mr. Romney the support of Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart last year, and it is unthinkable that the addition of any vice presidential running mate would have caused him to dilute a position which started with the assassination of Fidel Castro.

Second, let’s be clear that Congressman Ryan opposed the embargo for a part of his Congressional career and supported unrestricted travel to the island. This is not to say Ryan didn’t feel strongly about conditions in Cuba as he saw them.  In a speech delivered before the Congress, excerpted here in the Cuban Triangle, he called Cuba a “brutal totalitarian regime.”  But he went on to say:

…it has been a bedrock principle of American policy that travel is a device that opens closed societies.  American travelers are our best ambassadors.  They carry the idea of freedom to people from communist countries.  There is no reason to make this exception for Cuba.

Mr. Ryan also told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel in 2002, that Cuban-Americans “have their reasons” for supporting the embargo “and they’re very passionate about their reasons, I just don’t agree with them and never have [emphasis added].”

But after voting against the embargo as recently as 2004, something changed, and Ryan has supported the embargo ever since.

Members of Congress change their minds all of the time.  But what interests us is this.  Despite Ryan’s plain-spoken references to totalitarianism and his clear opposition to the embargo, the whitewashers of history felt they needed to explain his transformation further in ways that undermine his image as a principled, passionate intellectual.

He just wasn’t talking to the right people.  As Univision reported a few days ago, Governor Romney “explained that Ryan changed his position after meeting with South Florida lawmakers Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Lincoln Diaz-Balart.”

He was naïve, as Capitol Hill Cubans explains here:

“Upon arriving in Congress, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) was an unconditional free trader. Thus, Ryan initially opposed sanctions towards practically any country in the world, including Castro’s Cuba. To his credit, Ryan’s position has evolved over the years, as he learned of the brutal realities of the Castro brothers.”

He was unschooled, as Rep. Ros-Lehtinen picks up the song here:

“Paul has spent time learning the true nature of the Castro regime….”

He had to grow up, as former Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart explains:

“He was a free-trader and we explained to him the human-rights and terrorist record of the Cuban dictatorship,” Diaz-Balart said. “His record ever since is one of a strong supporter for freedom in Cuba. He is a strong ally.”

Poor Mr. Ryan:  For the hardliners, it wasn’t enough that he changed his mind.  Governor Romney and his supporters had to recast the Ryan story into a parable of how the Florida delegation took someone into a backroom – who was thought to be brainy, principled, and above common politics – and got him to overcome his passion for free trade and see the realities of Cuba that they wanted him to see.  How humiliating.

There are three million Floridians over the age of 65, among whom many probably take strong exception to the Ryan plan on Medicare.  They will never have that kind of chance to argue their case.

What more do we need to know about why our country remains stuck with such a dumb and counter-productive policy toward Cuba – to the great detriment of their citizens and to us?


New tax break for Cuba’s farmers

As a part of its new tax code, Cuba will suspend taxes on farmers for two years who are working on previously idle state land, reports AFP (in English here). The announcement was made in an article about the new law in Granma, which was passed by the National Assembly at its meeting in July, but has not yet been released publicly.  According to the article, the suspension of taxes can potentially be extended to four years for farmers who take over land that requires extra work before it can be cultivated; for example, in areas overtaken by the invasive Marabú plant.

The article states: “With these special tax regulations, the country seeks to stimulate national production, substitute imports, and increase exports.” Under these same goals, Cuba’s government has distributed 1.4 million hectares of idle state land to some 163,000 farmers since 2008, and recently began offering credit – previously unheard of on the island – to small farmers. The new tax law is expected to be released in its entirety this month, and will enter into effect in January 2013.

This week, The Cuban News Agency also reported success in direct sales by farmer cooperatives and private farmers to the tourism industry, which was made legal in December of 2011. According to Hanois Sánchez, an official with the National Small Farmers Association, local cooperatives and farmers closed contracts with twelve hotels in the Jardines del Rey tourist center on Cayo Guillermo to sell vegetables and other produce.

Stores that sell in CUCs now accepting Cuban national currency

Cuba’s government has implemented an experimental plan to allow Cubans to use their debit cards, which hold their salaries and pensions in national currency, to make purchases in stores using hard currency, or convertible pesos (CUCs), reports CubaNet. Stores operated by state export/import corporation CIMEX, such Carlos III in Havana, announced that the cards would be accepted by any hard currency store with card reading machines, and that prices would be exchanged at the steep official rate of 25 national pesos for one CUC.

Not many Cubans have been rushing to use this new service. Cuban salaries average around 300 pesos per month, and according to a cafeteria worker at the Carlos III store: “Until now almost nobody has used this system because if they pay 100 pesos for a hamburger and 25 for a beer that would consume more than a third of their monthly salary.”

Last week, the government released a list of set prices for more than a hundred staple products sold in hard currency stores.

Woman in Camagüey reportedly dies of dengue

Café Fuerte has reported that a woman died of dengue in the central city of Camagüey, though the report has not been confirmed independently, according to the Associated Press.  According to a hospital employee quoted by Café Fuerte, the city was put on red alert at an August 8th meeting of the Office of Provincial Public Health. The AP reports that state media has warned of high concentrations of mosquitoes and provided information on the eradication of breeding pools, but that there is a “low perception risk” among Cubans.

The presence of dengue-carrying mosquitoes has been detected in a total of 98 municipalities in Cuba, reports Mercopress; however, the level of infestation in 75 of those municipalities hasn’t reached the point of disease transmission. The Pan American Health Organization has warned that dengue transmission in the Americas has increased in recent years, despite government efforts to combat the mosquito-borne disease. PAHO says that in 2011 over 1 million cases and 719 dengue-related deaths were reported.

Over 2,000 fines issued after outbreak of foodborne illness

Cuba’s Ministry of Health has issued more than 2,000 fines and rescinded over 40 food-handlers permits for self-employed Cubans over failures to meet hygienic standards, reports Juventud Rebelde. Despite these efforts, more than 36 outbreaks of foodborne illness have recently occurred, affecting over 400 people. Officials from the Ministry of Health called on citizens to avoid food that has been left out for too long or has been uncovered.

Census offices open across Cuba

On Wednesday, 1,500 Census offices, employing 15,700 people, opened in Cuba, reports the Prensa Latina.  The last census was in 2002 and the 2012 census will take place between September 15th and 24th. The National Bureau of Statistics expects the population to decline by 0.7% by the end of the decade.  The census will focus on studying trends in Cuba’s decreasing and aging population, and updating information on housing issues that Cubans face after hurricanes in 2008 caused damage to one million dwellings.  The census will also evaluate the status of Cuba’s million college graduates since the 1959 revolution.

Cuban dissident detentions

Cuban dissident Angel Moya and five others were detained in the town of Pedro Betancourt over the weekend, reports EFE. Five were released Sunday night, but Ángel Moya was not released until Tuesday. He said that he was held in a jail located in the swampy and mosquito-infested Playa Larga.

Three dissidents handing out leaflets supporting a human rights initiative were reportedly detained later on Thursday in Havana, reports the Miami Herald. The Herald also reported that Marcelino Abreu Bonora remains in custody after throwing leaflets in the air and shouting anti-government slogans, and that José Daniel Ferrer Garcia has said that six members of his dissident organization were temporarily detained on Wednesday to prevent their attendance at a meeting.

Amnesty International has recently issued a call for the Cuban government to end its “cat-and-mouse game” of arbitrary detentions of dissidents.


Prosecutors to request that Spanish citizen in Payá crash receive 7 years

Cuban prosecutors are seeking a seven-year sentence for Ángel Carromero, a Spanish citizen and the driver of the car in the crash that killed dissidents Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero, reports BBC.  He has been charged with involuntary manslaughter, which carries a sentence of 1-10 years in Cuba, and prosecutors are seeking a 3.5 year sentence for each victim.  The trial date has been set for August 31st in the provincial court of the city of Bayamó. Spanish authorities are hopeful that, if convicted, Carromero would be allowed to serve his sentence in Spain.


Cuban exiles launch fireworks in view of Malecón

A fireworks display was organized by members of the Miami-based Democracy Movement off the coast of Cuba, to coincide with a summer carnival that draws thousands of Cubans to the Malecón, reports AP.  The turn-out for the carnival celebrations was decreased due to heavy rainstorms, but the hundreds of people who came out to celebrate were able to see the fireworks on the horizon.  According to the organizers, the purpose of the display was to inspire the desire for democratic change and increased Internet access in Cuba’s citizens.

Such displays annoy Cuba’s government and are potentially dangerous if vessels enter Cuban waters.  U.S. officials do not support or condone these actions, but do not have the legal authority to stop them from taking place in international waters.  The group previously organized displays for International Human Rights Day and during Pope Benedict’s trip to Cuba.

USAID paid $818 million to unnamed contractors since 2005

Since 2005, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has signed over 12,000 contracts valued in excess of $818 million with foreign and U.S.-based entities whose names it does not disclose.  This according to records obtained and analyzed by Along the Malecon.

The agreements with 8,325 foreign entities totaled $544,759,760, while 4,424 domestic contractors received $274,058,499.  USAID reported that the payments were made for services such as: “security, office supplies, Internet publishing, personal services, public finances, draperies and household furniture,” but did not release the names of the contractors.

USAID leads government agencies, many with much larger budgets, in the number of unnamed contractors it employs, holding 9,158 foreign contracts, compared to 2,278 unnamed foreign contractors employed by the Department of Defense, 251 by the Treasury Department, 85 by the Department of Homeland Security, and 25 by the Department of State. A full list can be found here.

Imprisoned U.S. contractor Alan Gross was paid by USAID to visit Cuba on five occasions where he engaged in regime change activities known to be illegal under Cuban law.

Cuban softball players travel to Boston for Friendship Games

For the first time in fifty years, a Cuban softball team will play in the U.S., reports Boston.com.  The senior athletes are traveling to Boston to compete against the EMASS Senior Softball League for the Friendship Games from August 23-30.

Over the past three years, 10 U.S. softball teams have traveled to Cuba to play, but this is the first time a Cuban team will travel to the U.S. American players will be hosting the Cubans in their homes, just as Cuban players did when the U.S. teams visited Cuba. The game will take place at the Robert Cusick Field in Boston Commons.

According to the report, “participants will take a moment of silence to honor heavy weight Cuban boxer Teofilo Stevenson, who won three Olympic gold medals and served as honorary captain of the Cuban softball team until his passing in June.”

Around the Region

Ecuador grants asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange

On Thursday, the government of Ecuador announced that it would grant asylum to Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, reports AP.  The British government said it will not allow Assange safe passage from Ecuador’s embassy where he has been living for the past two months, avoiding  an international arrest warrant demanding his return to Sweden to face charges of rape, sexual molestation and sexual coercion.  The British government has said that it may revoke the embassy’s status so that it may arrest and extradite Assange to Sweden.

U.S. diplomats allowed access to man detained at border entering Venezuela

The U.S. consulate was granted access to the U.S. citizen being held by Venezuelan authorities after he was found crossing into Venezuela from Colombia last week, reports Reuters.  Earlier this week the Venezuelan government reported that the man identified as a U.S. Marine.  U.S. officials they could not provide any more details after speaking with the man “due to privacy considerations.”

U.S. withholds some funding to Honduran police, pending investigation of Chief Bonilla

This week, the State Department placed a hold on U.S. funding for law enforcement projects in Honduras, reports the Associated Press. Funding is not to be given to new Honduran National Police Chief Juan Carlos Bonilla or those working under him until human rights allegations are investigated. Bonilla was implicated in at least three extrajudicial killings or forced disappearances more than a decade ago, and was “tarred with allegations of corruption,” according to a June 1 story published by the Associated Press.

The internal report issued by State Department emphasizes that Honduras still meets the necessary human rights requirements in order to continue receiving aid overall, reports the Pan American Post. The funding hold was in response to a letter signed by over 40 Honduran academics and 300 additional signatories, though the letter pointed strongly to much broader human rights concerns.

The report also states that aid will continue for “special Honduran law enforcement units, staffed by … personnel who receive training, guidance, and advice directly from US law enforcement and are not under Bonilla’s direct supervision, ” an indication that Honduran police forces who have been working with and receiving training from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency are exempt.

Al Jazeera’s Fault Lines recently released an investigation on the controversial DEA-Honduran operations, and the Center for Economic and Policy Research has just released a detailed report on their collaboration. Another controversial security body, known as “Los Tigres,” may also be exempt, reports Honduras Culture and Politics, because this hybrid elite military-police unit reports to different ministries depending on if it is deemed a “time of peace” or “time of emergency.”

Recommended Reading

Cuba: Ups and Downs of Self Employment, Fernando Ravsberg, Havana Times

“The Deputy Minister of Labor and Social Security, Jose Barreiro, explained to us that self-employment in Cuba is a ‘measure adopted while thinking of people coming from the overly staffed government sector as well as others who are not occupationally engaged.’ He was referring to those people who are laid off or are currently unemployed, though government officials always avoid using those terms. Nor do they like to deal with the issue of low wages, even though most people and President Raul Castro consider this a crucial issue.”

About our August 3rd Edition

In our August 3rd edition, we repeated information published in Cuba and the U.S. concerning the circumstances surrounding the accident that killed Oswaldo Payá.  Days later, we received a statement by an official from the National Democratic Institute (NDI) taking strong exception to this report which claimed that a Swedish passenger in the car in which Payá died had met with NDI before he went to Cuba.

The statement said, “Aron Modig did not meet with anyone from NDI before his trip.  What seems clear is that Modig traveled to Georgia (the country) before going to Cuba and while there attended a public event, along with representatives of the youth wing of the local Christian Democratic Party, at which NDI and IRI representatives discussed the political climate in Georgia.”

We appreciate this clarification.

Read the rest of this entry »

Fidel’s 86th Birthday; U.S. and Cuba in the Present

August 10, 2012

On Monday, Cuba’s former president, Fidel Castro, turns 86.  For decades, every milestone he celebrated and every difficulty he encountered was an intense source of interest in the United States.  When illness forced his retirement from office, U.S. officials gave him only a couple of months to live and some in Miami planned a party to celebrate his demise.  Six years later, even as the aging former president has largely faded from view, U.S. policy remains stubbornly Castro-centric.

The conversation in Cuba has changed enormously since Fidel Castro stepped down as president and was replaced by his brother Raúl.  Read the news items that follow:  they are debating how fast and how effectively Cuba is reforming its economy, what are the bottlenecks to expanding non-state jobs, how can Cuba support its aging population as it searches for an economic model that works.  These are ideas worth discussing, and some represent developments worth supporting.

Despite welcome but modest reforms, in areas like travel for Cuban Americans and people-to-people exchanges, President Obama has kept the essential architecture of U.S. policy in place.  The goal remains using diplomatic isolation and economic sanctions to force the Castros from power and to cause Cuba’s economy to fail.  We cannot even directly discuss the human rights or political problems that divide us, because it’s our policy not to sit down and talk to Cuba.

For Fidel Castro, having both countries bound together in antagonism suited his outlook just fine. Six years into his retirement, we find it odd that U.S. policy continues to dance on a string he no longer even holds. On his 86th birthday, that is quite a testament to his longevity.   What it says about U.S. policy is something else indeed.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Trust Gap and the Terror List

August 3, 2012

This is a cautionary tale about the trust gap between Cuba and the United States.

Last March, Cuban dissidents camped out in a church in Havana days before the visit of Pope Benedict XVI and demanded that he met with them to discuss violations of human rights in Cuba.  Once the Pope made it clear that he would not change his schedule, he was denounced by political figures in the United States for indifference to their cause, human rights.

A few months later, the head of Radio and TV Martí, a U.S. government agency, took to the airwaves to deliver personally a stinging attack on Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the archbishop of Havana, whom he called “a lackey” who colluded with the Castro regime.  A copy of the vitriolic editorial was quickly removed from the Marti’s website once the Washington Post publicized it.  Despite Congressional criticism, the U.S. government never apologized or explained the verbal assault against the chief of the Cuban Catholic Church who had helped negotiate the release of political prisoners and arranged for the Pope’s trip.

Was the director of Radio/TV Martí on or off the reservation when he called Cardinal Ortega a lackey?  Why are we paying a government employee to attack the Church when U.S. policy supports the role it is playing Cuba?

Read on.  This week, the Associated Press reports on an editorial and video produced by Cuba’s government about four Mexicans who were detained during the Pope’s visit in March. It says they were “paid, trained and instructed” to stir up unrest during the Pope’s visit by the Cuban Democratic Directorate.  This outfit, according to Tracey Eaton’s blog, Along the Malecón, has been on the payroll of the National Endowment of Democracy (or “NED”), meaning it receives U.S. taxpayer money.

But wait; it gets worse.  Aron Modig, the Swedish politician who was riding with the late Oswaldo Payá when he was killed in a road wreck last week, met with representatives of the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, before coming to Cuba, which are funded by the aforementioned National Endowment for Democracy and USAID.  NED’s president quickly published an opinion column in the Washington Post suggesting the Cuban government was complicit in Payá’s death.

Modig was in Cuba distributing funds to dissidents when the accident took place.  Cuba, according to Anya Landau French, is the only country where Modig’s political party undertakes such activities.  USAID also subsidizes the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, and is responsible for the “regime change” programs that landed its contractor, Alan Gross, in prison.

These things happen in the background, largely invisible until tragedies like the death of Payá or the arrest of an American rise in the headlines.  The U.S. government conducts programs to instigate dissent in Cuba in a semi-covert fashion; conscientious reporters like Tracey Eaton bang their heads against the wall trying to disgorge budgets and other documents using Freedom of Information Act requests (all too often denied); and citizens like us are left guessing when events, often troubling in their appearance, suddenly come to the fore without any context at all.  There is no transparency and no accountability; especially, when neither the Congress, which funds these programs nor the Obama administration, which directs them, has any interest in answering questions like: Is the U.S. really subsidizing protests against the Pope in Cuba using hired agents from Mexico?

In the end, the biggest casualty is trust, leaving it immensely difficult for the U.S. and Cuban governments to engage with each other on issues that matter and should concern us all.  But, of course, that is exactly where the staunchest opponents of engagement want the two governments to be.  They are, in turn, the authors and funders of the covert activities that take place in Cuba without the consent of the governed here in the U.S.

Read the rest of this entry »