And Justice for Some

We open this week with a story about justice, one that will have special resonance for those who remember victims of atrocity and terror in the 1970s and the 1980s, and for others whose accounts have not yet been settled.

On September 11, a retired Salvadoran military officer with the curious name Inocente Orlando Montano admitted to the crime of lying to U.S. immigration officials.  But Inocente’s guilt involves far greater offenses than living illegally in the Boston area for the last decade.

Colonel Montano is connected to numerous killings, but in particular to one of the most infamous human rights crimes of the many committed during El Salvador’s civil war:  the 1989 massacre of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter. A United Nations Truth Commission investigation of the massacre placed Montano “in all the meetings in which the assassination was discussed, planned, and ordered,” news accounts said. He also was a key player in covering up the role of the military’s high command in the crime.

In May 2011, a Spanish judge indicted twenty suspects in the Jesuit murders, Montano among them.  He is now, finally, at risk of extradition to Spain to face legal accountability for his actions, along with 19 other suspects.  The Center for Justice and Accountability, which filed the case in Spain, tracked Montano down in Everett, MA; Immigration and Customs Enforcement authorities determined that he had lied repeatedly about his past on legal forms to qualify for a temporary protected immigration status offered to those who cannot safely return to their own countries. This protection status was supposed to be for victims, not victimizers.  That he is a few steps closer to justice and a few steps further away from his anonymous unaccountable life is a miracle worth savoring.

And yet, 1500 miles away in Miami a terrorist named Luis Posada Carriles, who also lied his way into this country, continues to walk free.  Posada is identified in declassified FBI and CIA reports as the mastermind of the October 1976 midair bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed all 73 people aboard.  He has openly admitted orchestrating seven bombings of tourist hotels in Havana in 1997 and 1998, killing a 32-year old Italian businessman and wounding 11 others. In November 2000, he was arrested, then convicted and served prison time in Panama for a plot to blow up Fidel Castro and many other people in an auditorium.  After all of this, he made his way into the U.S., entering illegally, and then lied to authorities under oath about how he got here, and about his past involvement in terrorism.  Although the Justice Department prosecuted him for immigration fraud, he was acquitted at a trial in El Paso, Texas, last year.

When he was incarcerated before his trial, ICE officials formally labeled him “a danger to both the community and national security of the United States.” Yet today, that “danger” is free to strolls the streets of Florida. Although the Obama administration has a number of recourses to hold him accountable for his violent past, including extraditing him to Venezuela or designating him a terrorist under the provisions of the Patriot Act and detaining him indefinitely, there are no signs of judicial activity in his case. It is, after all, an election year in which Florida is a significant swing state.

Justice, as well as the credibility of this administration’s commitment to fighting terrorism, requires that action be taken to hold Posada accountable for his many violent crimes. As the case of Col. Montano demonstrates, where there is a will, there is a way. We will have to wait until after November 7th to find out if justice for some will move toward justice for all.

Note: More information on the case of Luis Posada Carriles can be found in this article by Peter Kornbluh published by the Nation and at the website of the National Security Archive.


Developments in the case of Alan Gross: New appeal to the U.N.; Cuba “ready to negotiate”; U.S. says no deal

Judy Gross, the wife of jailed USAID contractor Alan Gross, returned Tuesday from a four-day trip to Cuba to visit her husband, reports the BBC. She said that her husband has lost 105 pounds since his arrest in December 2009, adding that he has developed a mass behind his right shoulder blade, which is not believed to be cancerous, and that he is sufferingfrom degenerative arthritis. Mrs. Gross appeared on several news and radio shows this week (links here and here), where she renewed her call to action by the U.S. government to secure his release.

In response, Cuba’s government has repeated that it is “ready to negotiate” Gross’s case, reports the Associated Press. In a media statement, head of the Foreign Ministry’s Office of North American Affairs Josefina Vidal said: “Cuba reiterates its willingness to talk with the United States government to find a solution in the case of Mr. Gross and continues to await an answer.” Vidal denied assertions by Gross’s wife that her husband’s health is deteriorating, claiming that “his health continues to be normal and he exercises regularly.”
Under new representation by Jared Genser, a D.C.-based international human rights attorney, the Gross family appealed his case on August 7th to the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, arguing that Gross’s detention “was punishment for exercising his fundamental right to freedom of expression, and his trial failed to meet the minimum standards required for a fair and impartial trial.”
Jared Genser expressed skepticism in Vidal’s statement, suggesting that Vidal “convey through diplomatic channels a clear proposal to initiate meaningful discussions with the United States to secure Alan’s release.” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Neda Brown also argued that Cuba has not shown a serious willingness to negotiate, and urged Cuba’s government to release Gross as a humanitarian gesture, reports the Associated Press.

In the past, the U.S. rejected Cuba’s proposal that the two countries perform a prisoner swap, releasing Gross in exchange for the “Cuban Five,” five Cuban intelligence agents currently imprisoned and on parole in the U.S.

Senators Feinstein and Grassley issue report on U.S.-Caribbean anti-narcotic efforts

U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D- CA) and Charles Grassley (R- IA) released a bipartisan report, “Preventing a Security Crisis in the Caribbean,” which recommends strategies for the Obama administration aimed at enhancing security and anti-drug trafficking efforts in the region.

In a separate section, Senator Feinstein outlines a number of reasons why the U.S. and Cuba should improve their cooperation on anti-drug efforts, and lists different ways cooperation could be accomplished.
The report highlights Cuba’s success at cutting down drug trafficking on and around the island since implementing Operación Aché in 1999. It also comments on the usefulness of limited cooperation between the U.S. Coast Guard and Cuba’s Coast Guard to-date. The BBC (in Spanish) also reported on this dynamic, saying that if traffickers manage to cross the maritime border to U.S. waters, Cuba’s Coast Guard alerts U.S. authorities so that they can continue pursuit. This video (in English) from the BBC documents Cuba’s process in finding and disposing of drugs dumped by traffickers when they are approached by Cuba’s Coast Guard.

20 American students begin classes at Cuba’s Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM)

Twenty first-year students from the United States will join 104 American students – and thousands of students from around the world – who are currently studying at Cuba’s Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM), reports the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization.  Entering students will begin with Spanish and pre-med classes before commencing their 6-year program, which will focus on “primary and preventative care, family medicine and all the standard medical specialties.” Cuba began accepting students from the United States in 2001, and 68 have graduated to date.


Blackout strikes western Havana from Sunday night into early Monday morning

Millions of Cubans experienced a mass power outage as electricity went out throughout central and western Cuba on Sunday night, around 8PM local time, reports the Associated Press. The blackout lasted about five hours, with most power restored by early Monday morning. According to a note released by the National Electrical Union of the Ministry of Basic Industries, the outage was caused by the failure of a main transmission line. The note detailed that the power outages were the result of an “interruption” in a 220,000-volt line located between Ciego de Avila and Santa Clara, reports Reuters. According to the release, the Electrical Union has launched an investigation into the causes of the outage.

Martha Beatriz Roque, a prominent Cuban dissident, launches group hunger strike

Martha Beatriz Roque, a well-known dissident in Cuba, began a hunger strike on Monday along with 12 other dissidents, reports the Associated Press.  Strikers have demanded the release of Jorge Vásquez, in jail since 2011 for a minor, non-political crime. They say Vásquez should have been released Sunday, after his sentence was completed. By Wednesday, the total number of dissidents involved in the hunger strike had increased to 25, reports Europa Press. Roque, who is a diabetic, has stopped taking her medicine and reportedly appeared weak three days into the hunger strike, according to the Associated Press. She has vowed to continue strike, refusing any medical attention. Cuba’s government has not commented.

Cuba takes steps to save agricultural cooperatives

Cuba’s government has approved a plan to provide autonomous farming cooperatives with new financing sources and greater autonomy from the government, reports Fox News Latino. In the past, state companies have chosen supervisors, made business decisions, and mapped cooperative production plans, restricting the decision-making powers of individual cooperatives.

The new plan has financial provisions to liquidate the debt of the cooperatives and boost their capitalization, although it states that beginning in 2013, they will receive no funding from the government budget. The number of autonomous agricultural cooperatives has decreased significantly from 2,519 in 1994 to only 1,989 in 2012. Cuba’s government has taken several steps toward the revival of agriculture and increased production, considered top priorities, as Cuba presently spends more than $1.5 billion a year to import 80% of the food consumed on the island.

Cuba struggles with economic growth and foreign investment

Market-oriented reforms have not produced significant progress toward the government’s goal of increasing foreign investment, reports Reuters. The National Statistics Office said this week that national investment by Cuba and its foreign partners totaled 4.3 billion pesos in 2011 – only 100 million more pesos than 2010 – and about 15.9% of GDP. According to Omar Everleny, an economist at the University of Havana, Cuba’s average investment rate of 13% is much less than the Latin American regional average of 23%. In a presentation obtained by Reuters, Everleny said that Cuba needs to “sustain a higher rate of investment” in order to bring significant growth, improve infrastructure, and raise the standard of living.

A diplomat from a “friendly Latin American country” interviewed for the article stated that despite promises of reforms, Cuba’s government maintains several policies that deter potential investors, including its insistence in holding a majority stake in all joint ventures. Another diplomat said that an agreement signed three years ago had not made progress, blaming bureaucratic hurdles and complications from Cuba’s dual-currency system.

Cuba’s sugar company to invest 62% of revenues in new technology

In order to modernize Cuba’s sugar industry, Azcuba will invest 62.34% of its income from exports on new equipment and technology, the Cuba Standard reports. Azcuba is a state holding company that consists of 13 provincial sugar companies and operates 56 sugar mills and 850 sugarcane farms. The ailing sugar industry reached an all-time low in 2009, with 1.1 million tons of sugar harvested, compared with 8 million tons in the 1980s. Current measures to improve sugarcane yields include re-opening 10 more sugar mills by the 2015 sugar harvest.


Cuba’s government denounces attack against U.S. diplomats in Libya

In a statement (in Spanish) from Cuba’s Foreign Affairs Ministry the government condemned the attack against the U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya, stating that it opposes violence against diplomats “in all places, under all circumstances,” reports the AP.  Venezuela’s government also responded to the attack’s, stating:

In transmitting its condolences to the family and friends of the victims, the Venezuelan government manifests its repudiation of this act of aggression, which violated the territorial sovereignty of the United States and the immunity that protects all diplomatic missions.

Around the Region

Former Salvadoran military official admits to lying to US immigration officials

Inocente Orlando Montano, former Salvadoran Vice Minister for Public Security, pled guilty to three counts of immigration fraud and three counts of perjury committed during his entry process into the U.S., reports the AP.  Montano’s lawyer will argue for less than the two year sentence set by government guidelines at the hearing on December 18th.

The plea could result in his extradition to Spain where he would face charges for colluding in the murders. Human rights activists are hopeful that an extradition warrant could come while Montano is serving the sentence for the immigration offenses.  U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock has said he will consider evidence regarding Montano’s motive for entering the U.S. and lying on immigration forms.

Clashes between Chávez and Capriles camps in the lead-up to elections

Violence broke out between supporters of president Hugo Chavez and opposition candidate Henrique Capriles on Wednesday in the town of Puerto Cabello, reports the Associated Press. A Capriles campaign truck was torched and both sides threw rocks at each other, leading to at least 14 injuries. Roadblocks had been set up in the area by supporters of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, as the Capriles campaign moved into an area with stronger support for Chávez.

While the Capriles campaign blames Chávez supporters for the violence, Chávez’s campaign manager argued that it was in fact the state police, controlled by a governor who opposes Chávez, who attacked supporters and started the violence. Additional links and information can be found at the Pan-American Post.

In an unrelated incident, Henrique Capriles has fired a top campaign leader for allegedly accepting bribes, reports the Associated Press. While Capriles has distanced himself from the scandal, the supporter in question, Juan Carlos Caldera, has defended himself, claiming that the video was staged.

The new truth about the gang truce, Carlos Martínez and José Luis Sanz, El Faro (In Spanish)

El Faro, the online journal, has just published an article revealing important information based on its investigation into the origins and evolution of El Salvador’s historic gang truce. The article provides previously unreleased information about the government’s involvement in the truce, the roles of the negotiators and other actors, and the reasoning behind decisions taken by the government leading up to and following the announcement of the truce.

The article is only available in Spanish. An analysis in English will be included in this month’s El Salvador Update written by Linda Garrett, CDA Senior Analyst for El Salvador. To receive the updates in your inbox, send an email to:

Recommended Reading

Indecision time: Never rapid, Raúl Castro’s reforms seem to be stalling, The Economist

“When Raúl Castro, Cuba’s president, gave his latest big speech, to a meeting of the National Assembly in July, he repeated his stock response to those who urge him to move faster with reforms to his country’s stagnant state-run economy. Change, he said, would progress ‘without haste, but without pause’. But many on the island are questioning whether the reforms—officially called “updating”—have indeed paused.”

While Miami burns… Obama and Cuban-American politics, Arturo López-Levy, openDemocracy

“In this year’s election, half of Cuban-Americans who are eligible to vote either came from Cuba after 1994 or grew up in the United States. Unfortunately, the White House is passing up the opportunity to hold a rational discussion of Washington’s policy towards Cuba.”

Treasury tightens trips to Cuba amid complaints, Juan Tamayo, Miami Herald

“An Obama administration “revision” of the regulations on “people-to-people” trips to Cuba, after months of complaints about too much salsa dancing and too many mojitos, has begun to disrupt the tours for American travelers.”

Plan for Cuban Ballet School A Dance of Art, Politics , Nick Miroff, NPR

“A radical proposal to restore one of Cuba’s most important architectural landmarks is rekindling a 50-year-old controversy. At the center is ballet superstar Carlos Acosta, who left the island and went on to a lead role in London’s Royal Ballet. Acosta wants to return to the island and restore an abandoned ballet school with help from one of the world’s most famous architects. But the proposal has opened old wounds from the school’s past and stirred a debate about the future of Cuba’s state-sponsored cultural model.”

Hope for Peace in Colombia: Reasons for Optimism, Awareness of Obstacles, Adam Isaacson, Washington Office on Latin America

“It is official now. For the fourth time in 30 years, and the first time in 10 years, the government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla group have launched a negotiation that will attempt to end Latin America’s longest armed conflict. On September 4, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos confirmed that, after more than 6 months of exploratory talks in Havana, Cuba, the government and guerrillas had agreed on a framework for more formal negotiations. These negotiations will begin during the first half of October (most likely the 8th) in Oslo, Norway, and move later to Havana.”

Recommended Viewing

Why is Cuba on the U.S. list of State Sponsors of Terrorism?, Latin America Working Group

“Since 1982, Cuba has remained on the U.S. list of State Sponsors of Terrorism which is designated by the U.S. State Department. The Latin America Working Group wanted to understand how Cuba has remained on this list and what it would take for Cuba to get off of this list. We also took to the streets of our nation’s capital in Washington D.C. to ask everyday people about this list that seriously impacts our relationship with Cuba.”

Buzz and bother as Cuba’s children go back to school – in pictures, Ramon Espinosa, The Guardian  

Ramon Espinosa captures this year’s round of children in Havana going back to school.

Russian tourists invade Cuba, CNN

“Cuba is experiencing a Russian invasion – but of a purely cultural kind.  According to the Cuban government, tourism from Russia has more than doubled in the last two years, an influx tour guides say has as much to do with Russian nostalgia for Cuba as it has to do with instability in favoured Russian vacation spots caught up in the Arab Spring.”

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