From Guantánamo to Key West: Fresh thinking on Cuba

If you are looking for news accounts of Diana Nyad’s swim across the straits, or the still-grounded airplane that can’t fly or broadcast news to Cuba, but can still waste taxpayers’ money, scroll down.

But, if you’re ready for some fresh thinking about U.S. policy toward Cuba, look here.

In a soon-to-be published report, Michael Parmly, former chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, Cuba, offers a detailed plan for addressing the problem of detainees imprisoned at Guantánamo. It deals with migration and refugee resettlement issues, and maintains the Navy’s presence in the Caribbean, while returning to Cuba rightful ownership of territory that’s been under U.S. control for over a century.

Parmly, a veteran U.S. diplomat, served in Cuba during a tumultuous period, when President Bush tried to terminate travel to the island by Cuban Americans, and ramped up regime-change efforts on the island.

The crucial theme sounded in the report centers on the sovereign rights of the Cuban people. Saying that the issue of Guantánamo “goes far beyond the question of the detainees,” Parmly writes: “If we want to be truly democratic about the question, the owners are the Cuban people. Yet they have never been asked their opinion.”

After he establishes the historic foundation for Cuba’s right to the territory, Parmly offers a thoughtful solution for adjudicating the cases of the detainees in ways that protect U.S. security and that, in his view, live up to U.S. obligations on human rights and international law.

Getting there requires diplomacy. Here, Parmly relies on his experience working on the negotiation of the Panama Canal Treaties and his insight into Cuba’s current leadership. He believes that President Raúl Castro would negotiate an agreement in Cuba’s interests that achieves these results.

The case he presents – founded on U.S. economic, foreign policy, and national security interests – complicates the lives of hardline exiles, who argue that Guantánamo should remain a U.S. possession until Cuba’s government is replaced. It will also be controversial for those who have long objected to U.S. conduct of what the previous administration called the global war on terror.

In other words, he suggests infusing fresh, creative thinking into a policy that has been frozen in the amber of its own ineffectiveness two decades after almost everyone celebrated the end of the Cold War.

Mr. Parmly’s paper, published by the Fletcher School of Diplomacy, will be available online later this month in a special edition of Fletcher Forum, marking the school’s 80th anniversary.

In 2009, CDA interviewed Dr. Peter G. Bourne, the Special Assistant on Health Issues during the Carter Administration, about the status of Guantánamo, and former president Fidel Castro’s vision for turning the naval base into an international medical center. The interview is available here.


Florida will not enforce law banning government contracts for companies with Cuba ties

The state of Florida has announced that it will not enforce a law which bans state government agencies from entering into contracts with companies that have business ties to Cuba and Syria, the Miami Herald reports. A preliminary injunction against the law had been in place since June of 2012, following an appeals court ruling which deemed it unconstitutional. Florida’s Department of Transportation has opted not to contest that ruling, which creates a permanent injunction on the law taking effect. Florida taxpayers will reimburse Odebrecht $500,000 in legal fees, reports the Miami Herald.

The law, passed last year, would adversely affect companies like Odebrecht USA, which is working on a multi-million dollar project to strengthen wharves in the Port of Miami. Odebrecht USA is a subsidiary of the Brazilian-ownedcorporation which has invested heavily in development projects in Cuba, including the expansion of the Mariel port.

The law was originally championed by state Senator René García and Rep. Michael Bileca, receiving near-unanimous support by Florida state lawmakers. Though Florida Governor Rick Scott initially acknowledged the law’s likely unconstitutionality, he came under fire for doing so and in the end vowed to defend it, reports Miami Herald. Odebrecht USA challenged the constitutionality of the law, with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and U.S. Telecom Association filing briefs in support. According to Jim Moye, an Odebrecht attorney, the decision applies to all Florida state agencies. He added,

“The federal government is going to continue to establish whatever it believes is the proper relationship with Cuba… Our client will continue to comply with the laws in that regard. It’s not for the state or local governments to attempt to set the parameters for the relationship with Cuba.”

Diana Nyad completes swim from Cuba to Key West on fifth attempt

Long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad became the first person to cross the treacherous 103-mile stretch between Cuba and Key West, Florida without a shark cage, reaching a cheering crowd on the beach Monday after nearly 53 hours in the water, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Completing the swim has been a lifelong dream of Nyad’s, whose first attempt was 35 years ago. With her previous efforts repeatedly foiled by jellyfish and temperamental waters, it wasn’t until her fifth attempt that the 64-year old was able to make it the whole way.

Nyad, who was raised in Florida, stated before departing on Saturday, “I want to be a little part in the relations between Cuba and the United States,” reports Reuters. She also said that she sings “Guantanamera” to herself while swimming toward Florida. José Miguel Díaz Escrich, the Hemingway Marina commodore and a longtime friend of Nyad, said “It’s historic, marvelous…More than the athletic feat, she wants to send a message of peace, love, friendship and happiness … between the people of the United States and Cuba,” reports the Associated Press.

Cubans who arrived during Mariel boatlift still being deported for criminal pasts

Cubans who arrived in the U.S. more than three decades ago are still being deported back to Cuba based on their criminal histories according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), reports Notimex. In 1980, then-president Fidel Castro announced that anyone wishing to leave the island could do so, resulting in some 125,000 Cubans making the journey by sea to Florida. It was later revealed that some of those had been released from jails and mental health facilities. In 1984, a total of 2,746 Cubans with criminal records were included on a list to be returned to Cuba, in an agreement between Castro and Ronald Reagan. According to ICE, of that list 502 individuals remain in the U.S., awaiting deportation. El Nuevo Herald shares the personal story of Marcos Díaz Hernández, who was deported to Cuba on August 7th, leaving behind a wife and two young children.


Spanish court won’t commute sentence in Payá car accident case

A Spanish court has said that it will not commute the sentence of Ángel Carromero, convicted of vehicular homicide in the car crash in Cuba that killed Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero, reports EFE. Carromero was sentenced to four years in prison by a Cuban court, and was sent back to Spain under a bilateral prisoner repatriation accord. Subsequently, he was allowed daytime work release as well as weekend furloughs. However, Spain’s National Court concluded this week that he does not merit a pardon, considering that he is already able to live his life “without any limitations,” and citing his record of driving infractions prior to the crash in Cuba.

Upon returning to Spain, Carromero has claimed that Cuban officials pressured him to take responsibility for the crash. Payá’s family is also separately asking a Spanish court to reinvestigate the crash, and has appealed to the UN to create an international inquiry.

South African parliament urges fulfillment of $41 million aid and loan package to Cuba

The foreign relations committee of South Africa’s parliament has urged the government to implement a $41 million aid and loan package for Cuba that was signed by President Jacob Zuma in 2010 and ratified in September 2012, reports Cuba Standard. As a part of the agreement, the South African government also agreed to cancel $159 million worth of defaulted debt. According to a press release, an official with the Department of International Relations and Cooperation told the parliament that his department intends to “see through” their commitment.

Cuba signs agreement with Ukraine to refurbish vintage biplanes

Cuba has finalized an agreement with Ukrainian airplane maker Antonov and aircraft engine maker Motor Sich to refurbish single-engine biplanes, reports Cuba Standard. Some 140 of the planes were purchased by Cuba between the 1960s and 1980s. According to the agreement, a workshop will be set up in Cuba, and Antonov and Motor Sich, as well as Russia’s Aerosila, will provide new propellers, while Antonov will provide training for technicians and crew if necessary. The planes are used for a range of services in Cuba, including crop dusting and passenger service. It is estimated that the repairs will cost between $700,000 and $900,000 per aircraft.


National Housing Institute estimates 60,000 new homes need to be built each year

Cuba’s National Housing Institute estimates that between 60,000 and 70,000 new houses need to be constructed each year to address the housing deficit, about four times the current rate of 16,000, reports EFE. In 2010 the government estimated a shortage of some 600,000 houses. Harsh weather has added to that- the report indicated that an estimated one million houses have been affected by hurricanes in the past three years, and Hurricane Sandy alone destroyed some 22,000 homes.

Cuba’s government made construction a legal category of self-employment three years ago, and began selling construction materials to the public. This May, the government announced an expansion of a plan that grants credits and subsidies to Cubans to repair and construct homes. According to this week’s report, of the estimated 16,000 homes built per year, between eight and ten thousand are constructed by Cubans in the non-state sector.

Cuba to mark 15th anniversary of Cuban Five arrests

September 12th marks fifteen years since the Cuban Five, Cuban counterintelligence agents working in the U.S., were arrested. Cuba’s international campaign demanding their freedom is commemorating the anniversary with a yellow ribbon campaign, reports EFE, led by René González, who is the only of the five to have completed his sentence, and has since returned to Cuba. Cuban musicians, including Silvio Rodríguez, have released a version of the song “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree,” available here.

Around the Region

El Salvador’s Attorney General moves toward investigation into El Mozote massacre

Luís Martínez, El Salvador’s Attorney General has “strengthened” a unit that would investigate crimes against humanity committed during the country’s civil war, reports El Faro. The announcement follows official statements from the Attorney General’s office and the Supreme Court supporting further investigation into the 1981 “El Mozote” massacre, in which over 1,000 people were murdered. It is known as the largest massacre to take place during the civil war. The massacre was carried out by the U.S.-trained Atlacatl Batallion, and has remained unprosecuted as a result of El Salvador’s post-war amnesty laws. However, a space for justice is opening, given the country’s 2000 Supreme Court ruling that grave crimes against humanity are not covered by those amnesty laws.

This year, CDA worked with three graduate students at George Washington University on a research report, which gave an in-depth analysis of the status of El Salvador’s amnesty laws. Their report can be found here.

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

This CDA Monthly Update on El Salvador reports on the results of ex-Colonel Inocente Orlando Montano’s immigration trial and the ongoing developments in El Salvador’s controversial gang truce, and includes analysis of pre-election campaigning for the upcoming presidential elections. If you would like to receive our monthly El Salvador publications via email, please write to:

Venezuela faces widespread blackouts and ConocoPhillips controversy

Massive blackouts affected 70% of Venezuela this week, reports BBC. Power has been restored in most of the country, but reports of blackouts in more rural areas persist. The outages affected the states of Zulia, Lara, Falcon,Tachira, Merida, Miranda, Trujillo, Yaracuy, Cojedes, Aragua, Vargas, Carabobo, as well as parts of Caracas, according to Venezuelanalysis. Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro says they were the result of sabotage, and an investigation is underway. Maduro went on to announce the creation of a security unit to protect the country’s electrical system.

Meanwhile, Venezuela’s government does not accept a recent ruling by the World Bank’s investor arbitration arm, the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), reports the Associated Press. The ruling states that Venezuela’s government “breached its obligation to negotiate in good faith” when compensating U.S.-owned ConocoPhillips for three crude oil projects in 2007. Although ConocoPhillips is seeking $30.3 billion in payment, ICSID did not rule on the amount to be paid, which will be decided at a later point in the arbitration proceedings. At issue is how ConocoPhillips’ assets should be valued – at book or market value, – reports Reuters. Although Venezuela’s government renounced its ICSID membership in January of 2012, Bloomberg reported this January that the country still had 29 cases pending with the arbitration body. Additional background can be found here, and here.

Recommended Reading

Cuba travel a political football, Tampa Tribune

The Tampa Tribune editorial board addresses Congressional legislation aimed at limiting U.S. travel to Cuba which would essentially eliminate “people-to-people” travel. The editorial notes changes taking place on the island, saying “the United States should ease travel restrictions to Cuba, loosening the cumbersome and time–consuming visa process. Political chest pounding only serves to rob Americans of their travel rights and hamper freedom’s progress in Cuba.”

Grounded TV Martí plane a monument to the limits of American austerity, David A. Fahrenthold, Washington Post

The Washington Post examines the latest effigy of farcical U.S. foreign policy experiments: a plane originally purposed for broadcasting a U.S. television station to Cubans that now sits unused in Georgia, running up a taxpayer bill of $6,600 per month. Since its first broadcasts in 1990, which were quickly jammed by Cuban signals, TV Martí has never been able to achieve a reliable presence on the island. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (FL-25) stated: “If it wasn’t important, why would they block the signals? So we know that it’s effective.” The purpose of the program used to be to get the signal to the Cuban people. Now its supporters are saying you can tell it’s working because you can’t see it.

A Chronology of Cuba’s Economic Reform, Phil Peters, Cuba Research Center

Phil Peters, who recently started the Cuba Research Center, brings us an ongoing chronology of Cuba’s economic reforms. The chronology begins when Fidel Castro provisionally delegated power to Raúl Castro in 2006.

A business-friendly Cuba gets a hand from Canada, Stephen Wicary, Globe and Mail

A Canadian journalist writes about his experience living in Cuba and reporting from the island. Wicary moved to Havana after his wife accepted a job as the head of CARE’s international office there. He discusses the policy changes he has witnessed since moving to the island, such as the elimination of the exit visa.

Cubans nostalgic for Soviet era cartoon heroes, Carlos Batista, AFP

TV Cartoon heroes that were popular in Cuba during the Soviet era have reappeared on T-shirts and other paraphernalia. The Cuban clothing designer promoting and profiting from the trend says “These images mean so much to me. They bring my childhood flooding back. That’s what happens to everybody who gets caught up in them.”

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