Special LASA Edition: Colombia Peace Talks and the 2012 Terror List

May 31, 2013

We’re delighted that many of our readers attending the Latin American Studies Association meeting in Washington can enjoy the Cuba Central News Blast as they participate in the conference.  If only about a dozen scholars from Cuba who were supposed to come, but were denied visas by the U.S. State Department, could be among them.

Just days after progress was reported in the Colombia peace process, the U.S. State Department Report rolled out its annual report called Country Reports on Terrorism 2012.

These are not unconnected events.

For months, Colombia’s government has held peace talks, hosted in Cuba, with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, to end a half-century of civil war.  Last weekend, the parties announced a breakthrough agreement on agrarian reform.

As Adam Isacson wrote, this is a “very big deal.”

“This is the fourth time in 30 years that the Colombian government and the FARC (founded in 1964) have sat down to negotiate. And this is the first time that the two sides have ever reached agreement on a substantive topic. Yesterday’s announcement greatly increases the probability that this negotiation attempt will actually be the one that reaches a final accord.”

Tough issues remain unresolved.  As Marco Leon Clarca, a lead negotiator for the FARC, told the Associated Press, “these are not simple themes,” referring to political reintegration, drug trafficking, victim compensation and implementation of the accord, “and for that reason they are on the agenda.”

Months of negotiation lie ahead.  But, after the breakthrough, Colombia and the FARC released this joint statement which expressed their gratitude to Cuba and Norway:

“We especially want to thank Cuba and Norway, the guarantor countries of this process, for their permanent support and for the atmosphere of trust that they foster. The presence of their representatives at the Table of conversations is a fundamental factor for their development.”

With this in mind, let’s turn to the Country Reports on Terrorism 2012.  Year after year, the FARC’s presence in Cuba was a stigmatizing strike against the Castro government.

In the 2006 and 2007 reports, the State Department said:  “The Government of Cuba provided safe haven to members of ETA, FARC, and the ELN…”

In the 2008 report, the State Department said:  “Members of ETA, the FARC, and the ELN remained in Cuba during 2008, some having arrived in Cuba in connection with peace negotiations with the governments of Spain and Colombia. Cuban authorities continued to publicly defend the FARC,” although the report did recognize former president Fidel Castro for calling on the FARC to release hostages.

In the first full year of reporting by the Obama administration, the State Department said in its 2010 Report:

“…the Government of Cuba maintained a public stance against terrorism and terrorist financing in 2010, but there was no evidence that it had severed ties with elements from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)…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 the 2011 Report, the State Department said: “Press reporting indicated that the Cuban government provided medical care and political assistance to the FARC.  There was no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or paramilitary training for either ETA or the FARC.”

In the 2012 Report, the State Department said: “In past years, some members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) were allowed safe haven in Cuba and safe passage through Cuba. In November, the Government of Cuba began hosting peace talks between the FARC and Government of Colombia. There was no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or paramilitary training to terrorist groups.”

In past years?  It sounds like the State Department is walking the cat back.

The peace talks are far from finished.  So, as the two sides get closer, and the plaudits for Cuba’s role as a peace broker grow, this will bring renewed attention to the terror list and add to the growing pressure on the U.S. to drop Cuba from it.

In fact, the case for doing this extends well beyond Colombia and, as the Council of Foreign Relations, anti-terrorism expert Richard Clarke, Congressman Jim McGovern, and, most recently, the courageous Congresswoman from Florida, Kathy Castor, among others, have said, the argument for dropping Cuba from the list is irrefutable.

The president has the authority to change the list at any time.  Although he’s disappointed us before, the State Department’s own case for keeping Cuba listed is shriveling before our eyes.  We could be surprised by hope.

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Holiday Edition: Memorial Day, Obama, and Cuba

May 24, 2013

Dear Friends:

This weekend in the U.S., we celebrate Memorial Day.  Started in 1868, following the Civil War,  this holiday has served as an annual remembrance of the nation’s war dead.  Flowers and American flags are placed at grave sites of service members who were casualties in the nation’s wars.  It was first called “Decoration Day.”

President Barack Obama spoke on the eve of the Memorial Day weekend at the National War College on U.S. counter-terrorism strategy.

The speech, available in full here, is summarized in a New York Times editorial The End of the Perpetual War, which reads in part:

For the first time, a president stated clearly and unequivocally that the state of perpetual warfare that began nearly 12 years ago is unsustainable for a democracy and must come to an end in the not-too-distant future.

Of course, no counter-terrorism speech by a U.S. president, even one about dismantling some of the dangerous policies his administration inherited from its predecessor, would be complete without a list of interventions, swords and ploughshares, which will remain active parts of U.S. foreign policy going forward.

But, of critical interest to us, Mr. Obama also said the following:

  • Now is the moment to ask hard questions about the nature of today’s threats and how we should confront them, because what we do affects our standing in the world and our vital interests in the region.
  • He warned that “Unless we discipline our thinking, our definitions, our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don’t need to fight, or continue to grant Presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states.”
  • He quoted James Madison, our fourth president, who said “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”
  • Most of all, he defined the current threat as “lethal yet less capable al Qaeda affiliates; threats to diplomatic facilities and businesses abroad; homegrown extremists. This is the future of terrorism.”

Tellingly, in a speech that ran to nearly seven-thousand words and defined the future of counter-terrorism policy, President Obama never mentioned “Cuba”.  Not once.

And yet, this is the same President Obama who decided to keep Cuba on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list for the thirty-first consecutive year.  The same president who – we are now told – is excluding from entry into the United States some of Cuba’s most important scholars so they cannot attend a meeting of the Latin American Studies Association in Washington next week.  Some states of perpetual war, as George Orwell might have said, are more equal than others.

Just a year after Decoration Day was first celebrated, African-Americans in Baltimore turned out for a demonstration.  As the Baltimore Sun reported, “A procession including the Sons of Gideon, Lincoln Rangers and the Hannibal Club formed in downtown Baltimore and marched to the cemetery under the banner held aloft by Capt. William H. Butler that proclaimed, ‘Give us equal rights and we will protect ourselves.’”

By turning out to remind their city of the wartime sacrifices by all soldiers, black and white, they expressed their democratic faith in an effort to make their country better.

On the eve of this Memorial Day, we simply express the hope that when the subject of Cuba and the terror list next arises, President Obama will remember the remarks he delivered at a time when he set politics aside and apparently said what he actually believes.

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Settling with Alan Gross, DAI Changes Its Tune, If Not Its Talking Points

May 17, 2013

On Thursday, Development Alternatives, Inc. (DAI) agreed to make a secret financial payment to Alan and Judy Gross to settle the lawsuit the couple filed against it last year.

DAI lured Alan Gross with a lucrative contract to smuggle banned satellite communications equipment into Cuba on a mission that left him serving a 15-year prison sentence.

The settlement applies to the Beltway contractor and not its codefendant, the United States.  This agreement – Tracey Eaton makes the text available here – is sealed and confidential.  But, the lawsuit has already yielded significant disclosures about U.S. regime change programs in Cuba and the settlement marks a new phase for DAI.

DAI’s profile was raised a few weeks after the arrest, when James Boomgard, its chief executive, insisted in an interview that Alan Gross had done nothing wrong.

“It’s such an innocuous, innocent thing.  I’m not a Cuba expert,” he said, “but other people who understand the politics of this are puzzled as well.”  He went on to say that Gross never met with dissidents and that “there are no satellite phones involved.”

This was a curious, call it Freudian, assertion, which Boomgard should have known to be untrue.

As Desmond Butler wrote in his groundbreaking piece USAID contractor work in Cuba detailed, Alan Gross was bringing in satellite consoles known as BGANS, satellite phones, and other forms of equipment to Cuba, that was the point of this long-standing DAI project, and as he said in a trip report filed before his last trip and capture, it would be “problematic if exposed.”

Problematic indeed.  Unlike the ten spies rolled up and exchanged for spies in Russian prison in 2010, or Raymond Davis, the CIA contractor in Pakistan, freed from prison by payments of “bereavement money” after he murdered two motorists in the street, Mr. Gross has been left sitting in prison for more than three years as some Members of Congress cautioned U.S. officials not to negotiate for his release.

Late last year, the Gross family filed a $60 million law suit against DAI and the United States and accused the defendants of negligence, gross negligence, and the willful disregard of their rights.

In the case of DAI, the family argued when they sent him to Cuba with satellite network communications gear, they didn’t warn him of the risks, protect him from the risks, educate or train him to reduce the risks, and they didn’t stop him from returning to Cuba when they knew he was in danger, because it would have cost DAI a lot of money under their rich regime change contract.

For Mr. Boomgard, who once cooed, “helping people is all that Alan has done in Cuba and elsewhere,” this must have been more than he could bear.  $60 million is a lot of money.

So, DAI, rather aggressively went into court demanding the suit be dismissed because, frankly, Alan Gross wasn’t their problem.  DAI argued it had no duty to protect Alan Gross from the injury he suffered due to his confinement.

DAI claimed it enjoyed “sovereign immunity,” and like the federal government, it could not be sued. Without such immunity, contractors like them could never find pawns like Alan Gross to do their risky business in Cuba.  Ruling against DAI would put the court in a position of undermining the foreign policy of the United States.

This is what they said in January.  By May, they changed their tune; except, of course, so far as Jim Boomgard is concerned.

“We have been clear from day one that Alan’s safe return to his family is our first priority,” he said Thursday in a joint statement with Judy Gross.  “Settling this litigation allows us to work together on that overriding goal.”

Although the settlement includes a non-disclosure agreement between the Gross family and DAI, Peter Kornbluh of the National Security Archive is hopeful that more information could come out.

“Alan Gross himself deserves credit for indirectly admitting, through this lawsuit to the extensive illicit operations he was involved in and exposing the false representations of the Obama Administration about what he, DAI and USAID were doing.  If the State Department doesn’t settle, perhaps Gross’s lawyers can force the release of even more damning information about this controversial U.S. effort to roll back the Cuban revolution.”

That said, we may never know what really made DAI decide to settle.  But here’s a clue.

Two years ago, the company was named a “Top Innovator” in a global poll of international development professionals.

Accepting the award, Dr. James Boomgard effused, “it’s an honor to be recognized for the fresh thinking and resourcefulness we try to bring to the world’s development challenges.  As employee-owners, we have a very personal stake in the ideas, products, and services we are bringing to the marketplace in service of that mission.”

It’s always about the Benjamins.  The settlement undoubtedly saved DAI lots of money, but they won’t tell you how much.  It’s a secret.

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A Mother’s Day Message for President Obama and Vice President Biden

May 10, 2013

Earlier this week, Vice President Biden said Cuba had made some “small encouraging signs of change,” but that the administration still wants to see “real change.”

Unsurprisingly, this didn’t make headlines.  It’s a little sad but it’s not news that their two-year-old message about Cuba, “your change isn’t big enough,” still permeates the administration’s talking points.

They must have decided, if it worked for President Obama in September 2011, “We have not seen evidence they have been sufficiently aggressive in changing their policies economically,” to just keep repeating the message, even if the point they are making really isn’t so.

You might ask, what does any of this have to do with Mother’s Day?  We were just getting around to that.

To its credit, the administration has spent part of the last four years advocating for women to be equal partners in more just, prosperous, and more effectively governed societies.  It was just last week when Treasury Secretary Lew said:  “The facts are clear: empowering women is not only a question of equity, it is simply smart economics.”

The State Department has been all in, too.  They tweet about women.  They herald investment in women-owned enterprises as “one of the best ways to achieve economic, financial, and social impact.”  They have created a partnership program to expand women’s political and economic participation.

But Cuban entrepreneurs or “cuentapropistas” – and especially female small business owners – are rarely offered a seat at any of these tables.  That’s not a big surprise either – if they are not willing to admit that economic reform is happening at scale in Cuba, where the biggest changes in its economic model are taking place since 1959 – it wouldn’t occur to them to reserve a seat for a Cuban.

That’s a shame.  Paradoxically, what is happening in Cuba – with men and women leaving the state payroll for jobs in the non-state sector –happens to be consistent with the oft-stated desire by the U.S. for greater independence of the Cuban people.  It’s easy for us to talk about.  But, they are the ones who are taking great risks, taking on new and unfamiliar responsibilities, and making a leap at a disruptive time in Cuba’s changing economy.

A lot of these businesses fail, as do small businesses here in the U.S.  But, when they succeed, as an entrepreneur named Barbara told us in our report about the future of gender equality in Cuba, Women’s Work, exciting things can happen:

“My life has improved over the last several years with the possibility of working as a cuentapropista….More than anything, the benefit of being a cuentapropista is the ability to manage your own decisions. I can decide how to invest, what hours to work, whether I want to offer specials and other decisions regarding how to manage the business. In other words, I’m my own boss and I suffer the consequences, but also reap the benefits of my decisions. Moreover, economically, there are few, if any, jobs in the state sector that can compare with cuentapropismo when it comes to salaries. I’ve been able to save a little money, invest in fixing up my house, buy my daughter what she needs and put food on the table. In the end, I’m a more independent woman. My husband and I help each other but we both contribute and I don’t have to rely on him.”

It would be nice, but only a start, if the President and Vice President credited Cuba’s government with making the changes it has, and then recognized that women like Barbara actually exist.

But they could go even further.  The administration should end the backlogs and delays that cause many people-to-people groups and research institutions to wait for months to hear back on renewals and new applications, so that more Americans could visit Cuba and utilize the services in the growing private sector, helping to empower individual Cubans, just like their talking points say.  If Miriam Leiva’s White House petition is any test, steps like these would be warmly welcomed in Cuba.

They could also facilitate the flow of capital to entrepreneurs in Cuba by allowing imports of products made by Cubans working in small businesses and cooperatives.  They could stop freezing financial institutions with the fear of fines for engaging in legal transactions with individuals and institutions in Cuba.  They could make projects that help women in Cuba eligible for remittances under the president’s 2011 policy.

In fact, there’s a lot of serious progress that could be made if they included Cuba, Cubans, and Cuban women in their vision of a more just world built on gender equality.

It’s a thought for Mother’s Day and we hope they think about it.

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Breaking News: René González of the Cuban Five Renounces Citizenship, to remain in Cuba

May 3, 2013

Just before we hit send, there was an important development in the case involving René González, a member of the Cuban Five.

González, who was permitted by U.S. District Court Judge Joan Lenard to travel to Cuba for two weeks under strict conditions pursuant to his probation, will renounce his citizenship and remain in Cuba. González becomes, as the Havana Times reported, the first of the five Cubans to return and reside in Cuba following their convictions.

González, who served a 13-year sentence, was allowed to return to Cuba on April 22 to attend a service for his father who died at age 82.

But, González, a U.S. citizen, is permitted under the laws of the United States to renounce his citizenship to a consular official while visiting a foreign nation.  The court has the power to modify his probation accordingly, and enable González to serve the remainder of his term in Cuba without reporting to the court.

Attorneys for González filed a motion to modify his probation, to remove a requirement imposed by the court that he return to the U.S. by May 6th, clearing the way for him to renounce his citizenship and stay in Cuba.

The U.S. Department of Justice told the court that it would not oppose González’s request, and the “Government indicated that ‘the FBI has concluded that the national security interests of the United States are furthered if the defendant…does not return to the United States.”

That led Judge Lenard to issue an order today modifying his probation and allowing him to renounce his U.S. citizenship and not return.

According to the Associated Press, González is thrilled but wants a chance to review the judge’s decision.  “First I have to read the order,” he said. “If the order is real, it will be a great relief to me.”

González was convicted for acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government, conspiracy to act as a foreign agent and to defraud the United States.

González, along with Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, and Fernando González, were arrested in 1998, for their roles in efforts to track Miami groups who, according to Cuba’s government, were responsible for terror attacks against the island.

The case of the Cuban Five has been a significant obstacle in U.S.-Cuba relations.  As Peter Kornbluh wrote in The Nation last month:

“The Cubans are holding US subcontractor Alan Gross, now in his fourth year of incarceration for illicitly attempting to set up a satellite communications network in Cuba as part of the US Agency for International Development’s Cuba Democracy and Contingency Planning Program. And the United States is holding the ‘Cuban Five,’ who include four Cuban spies, now in their fifteenth year in prison for conducting espionage operations, mostly against exile groups with violent pasts…Raúl Castro has called for mutual ‘humanitarian gestures’ to resolve these obstacles to improved bilateral relations.”

This case is controversial in the U.S. and complicated for domestic political reasons in both countries.  The decision by Judge Lenard, available here, may not bring relief to the families of Alan Gross or other members of the Five who remain in prison in the U.S., but it is a welcomed development in any case.

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

Cuba to remain on State Sponsors of Terrorism List

The State Department has missed its April 30th deadline to file its Country Report on Terrorism, and it is now expected to be released in late May.  Cuba watchers hoped the report would reveal a decision to drop Cuba from the state sponsors of terror list. According to The Hill, a State Department spokesperson indicated that release of the report is not used as a vehicle to announce decisions to add or drop countries, and that Cuba when the list is published will retain its designation.

But, as the Miami Herald reported, that does not rule out the possibility that at any time in the future, the U.S. government can decide that Cuba should be removed from the state sponsors list.

On a related matter, Joanne Chesimard, a fugitive living in Cuba, was added this week to the FBI’s list of Most Wanted Terrorists.  Chesimard, a former member of the Black Panthers and the Black Liberation Army, who goes by the name Assata Shakur, escaped from prison in 1979, and received asylum in Cuba in 1984.  She was convicted of murder in the 1970s for her role in a shootout which left a New Jersey state trooper dead.

Although the Associated Press reported that Cuba does not have an extradition treaty with the U.S., according to the website of the U.S. Department of State, such a treaty is in place.  While the countries cooperate on fugitive cases from time to time, they rarely observe the treaty.

Although the issue of fugitives plays no statutory role in determining whether a country is a state sponsor of terror, the U.S. government said in last year’s report, “The Cuban government continued to permit fugitives wanted in the United States to reside in Cuba and also provided support such as housing, food ration books, and medical care for these individuals.”

59 in Congress sign letter urging Obama to end travel restrictions to Cuba

Representative Sam Farr (CA-20) sent a letter signed by 59 Members of Congress to President Obama urging the administration to expand the right of Americans to travel to Cuba.  Their proposal would build on Obama’s decision in 2011, which restored people-to-people travel, and allow all categories of permissible travel to Cuba be carried out under a general license. In a press release Farr points out that “there are no better ambassadors for democratic ideals than the American people” and that “a pragmatic policy of citizen diplomacy can be a powerful catalyst for democratic development in Cuba.”

The full text of the letter is available here.

Seasonal flights to resume between Tampa and Holguín, Cuba

The Tampa International Airport (TIA) announced that after a three-month hiatus, seasonal flights to Holguín, Cuba, will resume in June, reports the Tampa Bay Times. Until February of this year, TIA had offered five flights to Cuba each week, but discontinued two because of low demand and stiff competition.

IN CUBA

Over 2,000 of Cuba’s state-owned businesses now in private sector

Since 2009, over 2,000 formerly state-owned businesses in Cuba have been leased to private management, reports EFE. The initiative to shift the management of state-operated businesses began as an experiment with barbershops and hair salons in 2009. Since then, the changes have grown to include 47 economic activities, employing over 5,000 people. The shift gives employees of the formerly state-operated businesses the ability to manage the business and set prices, while collectively handling the costs of rent and utilities. Employees have some complaints, such as tax burdens and a lack of wholesale markets where businesses can buy supplies. However, both the government and workers have acknowledged that this new arrangement has improved service, reduced absenteeism, and increased employee salaries.

Cuba celebrates International Worker’s Day

As President Raúl Castro presided over Cuba’s May Day parade in Havana, First Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel led the celebration in Santiago de Cuba, reports ACN.  This year’s theme was “For a more prosperous and sustainable form of socialism” and the late President Chávez of Venezuela was honored, reports Havana Times (article and slideshow).

Victoria Burnett of the New York Times reports on May Day in a changing Cuba, where private sector workers joined state sector workers in the celebrations in Havana.

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

Nicolás Maduro pays official visit to Cuba

Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro visited Havana last Saturday on his first official trip to Cuba since taking office, reports EFE. While in Cuba, Maduro met with President Raúl Castro and took part in the 13th Meeting of the Cuba-Venezuela Intergovernmental Commission. The commission signed 51 bilateral agreements, and pledged to spend $2 billion on bilateral social development programs this year, reports Reuters. The agreements regarding energy management and social programs follow Maduro’s campaign promise to continue the relationship Hugo Chávez forged with Cuba.

Cuba undergoes Human Rights Review at UN

This week, the UN Human Rights Council performed its Universal Periodic Review of Cuba, a process that takes place every four years for each member country. During the review, several governments recommended that Cuba extend an open invitation for visits by UN human rights experts. In response, Bruno Rodríguez, Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Relations, extended a permanent welcome to such experts, on the condition that the purpose of the visits be “non-discriminatory” and impartial, reports EFE.

Rodríguez further stated that “Cuba will never accept a process of regime change,” from UN member countries, specifically referencing suggestions made by the U.S.

Rodríguez presented evidence of Cuba’s advances in human rights, citing the country’s universally accessible education and healthcare systems. His complete statement for the Universal Periodic Review is available here.

According to the Miami Herald, UN Watch, a Geneva-based NGO affiliated with the American Jewish Committee, said Cuba had committed fraud “on a massive scale” to influence the Council’s review of its human rights record.

FAO Director General visits Cuba

On Friday, José Graziano da Silva, Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations arrived in Havana to meet with Cuban government officials, reports Cubadebate. While in Cuba, Graziano will discuss food security programs with officials such as Minister of Foreign Relations Rodríguez; Vice President Marino Murillo; Gustavo Rodríguez Rollero, the Minister of Agriculture; and Félix González Viego, President of the National Association of Small Farmers.

Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment ends contract with Canadian firm Tokmakjian

Cuba’s government has officially ended the operations of Canadian firm Tokmakjian Group, reports Café Fuerte. The conglomerate had operated on the island for the past 25 years, until a 2011 corruption scandal resulted in the closing of the company’s offices in Havana and the arrest of the company’s head, Cy Tokmakjian. Until now, the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment had not taken any major action against the company. Tokmakjian Group’s operations were the second largest of any foreign enterprise on the island, selling mining and construction equipment as well as cars and car parts.

President Raúl Castro has led a nationwide campaign against corruption, which has seen the arrest of several high-level foreign business representatives, as well as Cuban nationals. In a 2011 speech, Castro stated that corruption in Cuba “is equivalent to counter-revolution,” encouraging the government to be relentless in its campaign as corruption “could lead to self-destruction.”

China fulfills Cuba cargo ship order

Shanghai Shipyard Co. Ltd. has delivered the sixth of ten cargo ships that Cuba had ordered from China, reports Cuba Standard. The additional 35,000-ton grain cargo ships are expected to increase Cuba’s maritime trading capacity with nations far from the Caribbean. In addition, the ships will lower the cost of grain shipments to Cuba, which often come at a premium cost due to the sanctions prohibiting ships coming from Cuba to dock at U.S. ports.

350 Cuban doctors sent to Ghana

As a part of the recently-renewed Ghana-Cuba Medical Service and Educational Agreement, 350 Cuban doctors arrived in Ghana on Wednesday, reports the Daily Graphic. The agreement aims to improve Ghana’s doctor-to-patient ratio, which now stands at one doctor to every 10,000 patients. Ghana matched Cuba’s contribution by sending 250 young Ghanaians to Cuba for medical training. The Ghanaian-Cuban partnership began twenty years ago and is renewed every two years.

Around the Region

U.S. citizen accused of conspiracy against Venezuela’s government

U.S. citizen Timothy Hallett Tracy, arrested in Venezuela last Wednesday, was accused of sowing unrest in the country, reports La Jornada. According to The Guardian, Tracy was in Venezuela as a documentary filmmaker and spent time interviewing people on both sides of the country’s political spectrum. Gloria Stifano, Tracy’s lawyer, clarified that he is the subject of an investigation and so far “nobody has said that he is criminally responsible,” reports El Universal. She also stated that his human rights would be respected, and he will not be imprisoned.

National Electoral Council discloses timeline and procedures for secondary audit

Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) has released a statement outlining a timetable and detailing procedures for a secondary audit of Venezuela’s recent presidential election. The audit was agreed to in response to a formal request by former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles. However, the CNE clarified that some of Capriles’s demands are “impracticable.”

Venezuela’s opposition claims to have lost last month’s election due to massive fraud, prompting the CNE to state, “Anyone who puts forward charges on such a scale must provide a minimum of necessary elements in order to ascertain whether these charges are indeed suppositions of fact.” According to the CNE, the investigation demanded by the opposition into alleged complaints of irregularities in the voting process is not possible given the incomplete documentation it provided which does not clearly indicate “which polling booths; which records; who is involved” and provides no “precision whatsoever regarding possible damage to the vote.”

Bolivia expels USAID

In a May Day declaration, Bolivia’s President Evo Morales announced the expulsion of USAID, reports BBC. Morales said the move is to protest a remark by Secretary of State John Kerry in which he described Latin America as the “backyard” of the United States. USAID’s operations in Bolivia focused on counter-narcotics and military initiatives. Bolivia, along with six of the eight ALBA countries, signed a resolution last June calling for all member states to expel the agency.  For further analysis of the USAID program, see our feature in Recommended Reading.

El Salvador Update: April, 2013, Linda Garrett, Center for Democracy in the Americas

Linda Garrett, CDA’s Senior Policy Analyst on El Salvador, discusses developments that have taken place in El Salvador during the month of April, including President Funes’ visit to Washington, D.C. and his announcement of formalized support for the country’s historic gang truce and peace process.  The update covers developments in the presidential race and in the U.S. trials against former Salvadoran military officials. It also includes a detailed chronology of El Salvador’s (gang truce) peace process, and a map of municipalities that have joined the “Violence-Free Municipalities” program.

If you would like to receive the Monthly El Salvador Update via email, contact: ElSalvadorUpdate@democracyinamericas.org.  

Recommended Reading

Special Feature: Along the Malecón: In Cuba: USAID Flies Into the Cuckoo’s Nest

Investigative journalist Tracey Eaton examines how schizophrenic U.S. policy toward Cuba can be.  Eaton provides examples drawn from USAID’s program there noting that while typical development programs seek to alleviate poverty, USAID’s work in Cuba is framed by legislation whose real goal is “to increase poverty, not reduce it.”

Amid Fealty to Socialism, a Nod to Capitalism, Victoria Burnett, New York Times

Havana’s May Day Parade now acts as a curious metaphor for Cuba’s changing economy, writes Victoria Burnett. Private and government-owned businesses work together and learn from each other, as the inefficiencies of the purely state-run economy are being replaced with a new entrepreneurial spirit within the private sector. The growing number of private sector workers in the parade expressed that participating is a way to show solidarity with all workers on the island, public or private.

Havana’s Classic Taxis Get a Taste of Competition, EFE

For the first time in decades, taxis in Cuba – especially in Havana – are facing increased competition. As the city continues to experience serious transportation problems, a boom in licenses for private taxi drivers has made the competition for customers fierce. Private taxi licenses make up 11% of the 400,000 private licenses registered in Cuba.

Shakur’s addition to Most Wanted Terrorist List reeks of Cuba Lobby desperation, William Vidal, On Two Shores

William Vidal of On Two Shores analyzes the news of the past few months about Cuba’s place on the State Department’s list of State Sponsors of Terrorism; beginning with reports in February that Cuba would be removed from the list and culminating in this week’s announcement that Cuba will remain on the list.

Political calculus keeps Cuba on U.S. list of terror sponsors, Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times

Carol J. Williams examines the political considerations in keeping Cuba on the State Department’s list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, even as national security analysts call the designation “counterproductive,” and note that there is no evidence indicating that Cuba is a national security threat to the U.S.

The Impact of Telesur and Cuba’s Media Crisis, Fernando Ravsberg, Havana Times

Fernando Ravsberg of the Havana Times analyzes the effects of Telesur’s broadcast in Cuba, contrasting the news coverage with Cuba’s national television.

Recommended Viewing

A glimpse inside Cuba’s high security prisons, Sarah Rainsford, BBC

Leading up to Cuba’s Universal Periodic Review at the UN, the government opened several prisons for foreign journalists. Here, the BBC’s Sarah Rainsford gets a rare tour of one of Cuba’s high security prisons.

A FINAL WORD:

THE ROAD FROM NEW YORK TO PHILADELPHIA GETS SHORTER

For some time, the Equality Forum, an organization dedicated to advancing LGBT rights, planned a 2013 summit with Cuba as its featured nation and Mariela Castro, Director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX) as its honored guest.

The summit, being held in Philadelphia, May 2-5, coincided with meetings related to United Nations population policy in New York.  Ms. Castro was granted a diplomatic visa that got her to New York to visit the UN, and she applied for permission from the State Department to go beyond the 25-mile barrier that prevents high-ranking Cubans from moving about the country as freely as diplomats and citizens from other nations are permitted to do in the U.S., so she could attend the summit.

Her request apparently posed too big a dilemma for the decision makers at State.  After all, this is the same Mariela Castro who was recognized in the Department’s 2012 Human Rights Report for being “outspoken in promoting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons,” and who was granted a visa to attend the 2012 Latin American Studies Association conference in San Francisco.

But the 97 miles between New York and Philadelphia was simply too much for the Department to handle.  As the New York Times reported last week, State denied her request “without explanation.”  Understandably so; how could you explain why it’s alright for Mariela Castro to visit Manhattan and discuss population policy but not okay to attend an equality conference down the New Jersey Turnpike to talk about AIDS?

Their position was not sustainable.  It took less than four days for the State Department to change its mind, reverse the decision, and give Ms. Castro permission go all the way to the City of Brotherly Love to speak and receive her award.  CNN reported on the development here.

This made some hardliners very unhappy.  Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27) issued a statement denouncing the decision, “For a person like Mariela Castro to attend a conference on civil rights for lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender people, and to receive an award, is shameful, pathetic and a ruse. The words ‘equality’ and ‘human rights’ don’t exist in the vocabulary of the Castro tyranny.”  Inexplicably, the Babalú website protested the decision by publishing an old picture of Madonna kissing Britney Spears.   They were really upset.

Why? These opponents of engagement with Cuba have never been fans of Mariela Castro, but we suspect that something larger here is at play.

After all, the State Department didn’t give in to the impulse to stick with a decision that made the U.S. bad just to make the hardliners happy.  Instead, it changed its mind.

Think about that.  We know that State is keeping Cuba on the State Sponsors of Terror list for 2013, but the law enables the U.S. government to remove its designation by notifying Congress and reporting the reasons for doing so. It can change its mind.  Maybe State won’t.  But, at least it’s the other side that is going to be up at night thinking they might.