On Warriors Cold and Happy

Here at Cuba Central, we explore all points of view and publish our news summary minus the kind of invective that discourages so many of us about debating ideas that matter.

So, when a group across town bridled at being labeled “Cold Warriors” for, as they put it, opposing “Cuba’s dictatorship,” that made us stop and wonder if they had a point.

It’s very hard to argue the proposition that U.S. policy toward Cuba and all of Latin America was and is based on thinking straight out of the Cold War playbook.

As Thomas Carothers wrote in his book, In the Name of Democracy, “After World War II, the overriding concern of the United States in Latin America became fighting communism, or more specifically, trying to prevent the emergence of left-leaning governments and seeking to oust the ones that did emerge.”

In fact, the U.S. did work to topple governments as it did in Guatemala and Chile, as the National Security Archives documented again this week, with new revelations about Henry Kissinger and the coup against Salvador Allende, and stopped leftist parties from winning democratic elections in places like El Salvador.  Even as the Cold War waned, that is what U.S. policy did.

Much of this has subsided in the hemisphere; except, most notably, in Cuba, where normal trade and diplomatic relations with the U.S. remain suspended.  Where operations -–overt or semi-covert -– are still underway (ask Alan Gross).  Radio and TV Martí, costly broadcast operations jammed by Cuba’s government and hardly heard by any Cubans, are still housed alongside Radio Free Europe.  It’s all stuff of the Cold War, with the occasional spot shine and sheen of social media to give it a modern glow.

Back in the 1950s, Bob Welch, founder of the John Birch Society, made headlines when he called President Eisenhower a “lackey,” and a “conscious, dedicated agent of the communist conspiracy.” Senator Joseph McCarthy accused opponents of siding with the enemy and appeasement.  A Mandarin Chinese term, to kowtow, or knock one’s head, was repurposed to disparage Americans who disagreed with protecting Taiwan and isolating China.

No surprise then that those who defend the hardline against Cuba so often take Cold War rhetoric out of cold storage for use in the debates of today.  Like when the director of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting declared that Cardinal Jaime Ortega was a “lackey” of the Cuban government after the Cardinal facilitated the release of scores of political prisoners.

Or when Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart said in an op-ed, “Since he took office in January 2009, President Obama has pursued a policy of appeasement toward the totalitarian Cuban dictatorship.”  Or when former Rep. David Rivera double-dipped his pen in Cold War ink and called attempts by the Obama administration to free Alan Gross “Efforts at appeasement and kowtowing to the Cuban regime.”

Such word games over who is wearing a Cold War label would have struck our friend Saul Landau, a happy warrior, funny.  Before he succumbed to bladder cancer this week at age 77, Saul liked to say, “Cancer, smancer, as long as I have my health.”

In a week that marked a string of emotional milestones – the 40th anniversary of the coup in Chile, the 15th anniversary of the arrests of the Cuban Five, the 12th anniversary of 9/11 – Saul’s death in a sad but strangely exquisite way, followed the arc of his singular life.

He produced 40 films and 14 books.  He was a poet and an investigative journalist.  He wrote a detective novel at the end of his career and a play for a mime troupe at the beginning.  The New York Times says his activism was triggered during college in Wisconsin where he joined a club “which advocated the recall of Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin over his demagogic attacks on people he accused of being Communists.”

In 1968, after he produced his documentary, “Fidel,” premiers of the film in New York and Los Angeles were cancelled after firebomb attacks on the theaters.

He won an Emmy Award and a George F. Polk Award for his documentary, “Paul Jacobs and the Nuclear Gang,” which recounted how the health effects from a 1957 nuclear test were covered up.

His colleagues at IPS called him “a fearless human rights activist,” and for good reason.  After documenting the election of Salvador Allende as president of Chile, he befriended Orlando Letelier, the country’s ambassador to the U.S., who he then helped save after Gen. Pinochet overthrew Chile’s democratically-elected government and tossed Mr. Letelier in jail.

The coup unleashed a torrent of torture, disappearances, and death in Chile, and the murderous hand of the Pinochet government reached all the way to Embassy Row in Washington.  As Phil Brenner told us, “when Pinochet’s thugs repeatedly threatened his life –- after demonstrating their seriousness by killing Orlando Letelier and Ronni Karpen Moffitt in 1976 –- Saul persevered in unearthing the evidence that led to their convictions and imprisonment.”

As IPS recalled, his last film, “Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up?” tells the history of U.S.-Cuba relations through the lens of the Cuban 5.

Year after year, Saul followed the courage of his convictions and then a long list of academics and activists, experienced and emerging, inspired by his work, followed him.

Peter Kornbluh of the National Security Archive wrote us, “He was a rare combination of political activist, philosopher provocateur, storyteller, movie maker and modern revolutionary. Perhaps most important, he taught me and others to ‘stir the waters,’ and he set a standard of energy, commitment, and action for us to follow.”

Andres Pertierra wrote in The Nation, “Saul Landau changed my life.  I will never forget him.”

A powerful lesson of the Cold War is captured by the phrase “blowback.”  In Scripture, it is the message of ‘you reap what you sow’.

As Saul demonstrated time and again in his work, when you support coups, when you march your own soldiers into a test zone to watch a nuclear blast, these things have consequences, and can boomerang. And so he said we must act.

A few years ago, a dozen generals wrote President Obama and sounded just such a theme:

“The current policy of isolating Cuba has failed, patently, to achieve our ends …. When world leaders overwhelmingly cast their vote in the United Nations against the embargo and visit Havana to denounce American policy, it is time to change the policy, especially after fifty years of failure in attaining our goals.”

As Saul might have said, Cold Warrior, Cold Smorrior.


OFAC levies $39,501 fine on Miami fuel company for Cuba flights

World Fuel Services Corporation, based in Miami, will pay nearly $40,000 in a settlement with the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) for allegedly providing services for 30 unlicensed flights to Cuba, as well as for violating U.S. sanctions on Iran and Sudan, reports Cuba Standard. According to a U.S. Treasury Department statement, two U.S. subsidiaries of the company provided “coordination services” for the flights, which took place between 2007 and 2009. According to the Department, this is the company’s first OFAC violation.

OFAC says it will not allow Cuba ferries or cruise boats

The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has clarified that licensed people-to-people travel to Cuba cannot take place aboard a ferry or cruise ship, reports Café Fuerte. Jeff Braunger, director of OFAC’s Cuba licensing division, stated that “Licenses granted by OFAC for people-to-people exchanges do not authorize travel to and from Cuba, either from the U.S. or a third country, via boat, including cruises.” He further clarified that rules require that people-to-people travel to the island take place via plane, adding that the department has no plans to approve other means of travel. Once in Cuba, travelers may use various means of transportation on the condition that travel does not take up time dedicated to educational and exchange activities.

Key Pentagon vacancies further stall Obama’s promise to close Guantánamo

A senior envoy position to oversee the transfer of detainees from the prison at Guantánamo Bay remains unfilled, reports the Miami Herald. President Obama announced the position at an address at the National Defense University in May, creating a new position “whose sole responsibility will be to achieve the transfer of detainees to third countries.” The Pentagon also lacks a replacement for William K. Lietzau, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs, who resigned in July, reports Miami Herald.

Last week, we discussed an article by Michael Parmly, the former U.S. envoy in Havana, who lays out the case for the return of Guantánamo Bay from the U.S. to Cuba’s government.


It’s not just doctors: Cuba sharing water expertise abroad

Inés María Chapman, president of Cuba’s National Institute of Hydraulic Resources (INRH), is expected to sign an agreement while in South Africa this week to send eleven hydraulic experts to that country, reports Cuba Standard. The agreement is part of an attempt by the institute to diversify Cuba’s international service exports, increasing sales of consulting and engineering expertise. Cuba sent two groups of experts to South Africa under a previous agreement from 2001-2007. According to the INRH, the institute currently has 47 Cuban water experts working in Angola, ten in Venezuela, and eight in Algeria.

Mexico’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs visits Cuba

José Antonio Meade, Mexico’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs, arrived in Cuba Wednesday for meeting with officials including Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez, reports AFP. This is the first high-level visit to the island from Enrique Peña Nieto’s government. Peña Nieto’s party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), has historically had strong ties with Cuba’s government. After 2000, when conservative Vicente Fox was elected President of Mexico, relations between the two countries chilled. This visit reflects a continuation of diplomacy since last year’s visit by former President Felipe Calderón intended to reinvigorate relations.

Amnesty International calls for release of Iván Fernández Depestre

Amnesty International issued a statement on Thursday calling for the release of Iván Fernández Depestre, who was arrested during a public event by Cuban authorities on July 30th of this year for “dangerousness.” Fernández Depestre is now on hunger strike, and Amnesty International has adopted him as a “prisoner of conscience.”


Cuba to include cuentapropistas in official tour packagesprivate farmers may now sell directly to tourist sector

Cuba’s Ministry of Tourism will begin promoting private sector offers in its tour packages, including lodging, excursions, and restaurants, reports EFE. Private businesses such as paladares (private restaurants), and casas particulares (bed-and-breakfasts), have boomed following a government decision to legalize 181 categories of non-state enterprise. José Manuel Bisbé, the Ministry of Tourism director, stated that the ministry is in the process of contracting with businesses they have identified as having “excellent service.”

Building on a 2011 reform that allowed cooperatives to contract directly with the state tourism sector, individual private farmers in Cuba will be permitted to do the same beginning in late October. An article published in Granma states that the incorporation of the private sector in Cuba’s tourism industry is part of an effort to increase the quality and variety of services and goods offered to tourists, and to reduce dependence on imports.

The new measure, published in Cuba’s Gaceta Oficial, states that these sales will be subject to a 5% government income tax, reports the Associated Press. Since 2009, more than 170,000 private farmers have been granted long-term leases to land, as a part of the island’s agricultural reform efforts, Cuba Standard reports.

Low nickel prices hit Cuba’s revenues

A Cuban radio station reported that nickel revenues for the first half of 2013 were $90 million, falling 26% below expectations, according to Reuters. The report largely blamed the shortfall on low international prices for the mineral. The announcement was made as Luis Torres Iribar, First Secretary of the Communist Party in the province of Holguín, visited Cuba’s two nickel plants, which are both located in the municipality of Moa in that province. Nickel is one of Cuba’s biggest export products and sources of foreign cash.

Last year, Cuba closed its oldest plant in the town of Nícaro. Cuba has announced plans for a new ferronickel plant, a joint venture with Venezuela, but construction for that plant has been put on hold.

Yellow Ribbon campaign held to free the remaining four of the “Cuban 5”

A campaign of commemoration took place in Cuba  this week marking the 15th anniversary of the arrests  of the “Cuban Five,” reports Reuters. René González, the only of the five who has completed his sentence, and is now living in Cuba, led the public effort to urge release of his imprisoned companions. Cubans in yellow clothes tied ribbons to lamp posts, trees, buildings and houses to show support for freedom for the remaining four. A music video with an all-star cast of Cuban musicians singing “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Ole Oak Tree” has been airing regularly, reports the Associated Press.

Cuba to hold conference on sugar industry, seeks diversification

Cuba’s Research Institute of Sugarcane Byproducts (ICIDCA) will host the 12th International Congress of Diversification in Havana from October 14-18, reports Cuba Standard. The Congress will host some 300 delegates from 15 countries, to discuss opportunities for sugarcane derivatives such as biofuels, alcohol, animal feed, and sugarcane bagasse. A recent Granma article quoted ICIDCA president Luis Gálvez, who stressed Cuba’s need to diversify its sugar industry.

Around the Region

Chile commemorates 40 years since 1973 coup

September 11th marked the 40th anniversary of the 1973 coup d’état that overthrew Chile’s democratically-elected president Salvador Allende, beginning a 17-year dictatorship under General Augusto Pinochet. Ariel Dorfman, who at the time was an advisor to President Allende, reflects on the turn of fate that saved his life – a last-minute switch that placed a dear friend, rather than himself, at the presidential palace on that fateful morning.

Chilean national television broadcast never before seen images of repression, from the military dictatorship that ensued, on a weekly show, Chile, The Forbidden Images. Peter Kornbluh for The Nation reflects on current Chilean politics and how Chileans are facing their difficult history through this anniversary, and reflects on the role of the U.S. in Chile’s coup.

The Chilean news site Cooperativa has a gallery of photographs taken this week, in which a thousand people laid down in the streets of Santiago to represent those who were “disappeared” during General Pinochet’s rule.

Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) approves funds for El Salvador

The second round of Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) funding for development projects with El Salvador entitled FOMILENIO II, was approved by the MCC board this week, reports La Prensa Gráfica. If approved by the Senate, the program would bring $277 million of U.S. dollars in investment to the country. After Senate approval, the Salvadoran Legislative Assembly would then review the deal. El Salvador’s President Funes stated that “this news not only fills us with optimism, but it also confirms the strategic alliance that El Salvador’s government has with the government and the people of the United States.” Today, U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy made statements on the MCC funding approval, urging El Salvador’s government to “act decisively” to address concerns about strengthening the judiciary and rule of law, as well as concerns about the environment and protecting the livelihoods of coastal communities.

Honduras presidential election approaching

As November’s presidential elections in Honduras approach, the Honduras Culture and Politics blog has published a breakdown of polling data for the race. The two polls used for their analysis vary significantly, though both show Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, the wife of ousted president Mel Zelaya, in the lead.

One poll finds that 80% of those surveyed plan to vote in this election, though Honduras typically has a voter turnout of around 50-55%. Both surveys indicate that the winner is likely to get far less than 50% of the votes; according to one poll, there are five candidates that each garner more than 10% of the vote, while Castro leads with a mere 28%. The blog notes that such a weak mandate could potentially create difficulties for governance. Finally, the Christian Science Monitor provides an analysis as to what policy could look like under Xiomara Castro.

Venezuela officially leaves OAS’ American Human Rights Convention

Venezuela’s government has officially left the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, reports Reuters. Venezuela’s exit of the two OAS-affiliated human rights bodies does not represent a departure from the OAS itself, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights intends to continue monitoring human rights issues in Venezuela, according to an interview given by Emilio Álvarez Izaca, Executive Secretary of the IACHR published in El Universal.

The late President Hugo Chávez was highly critical of the OAS’ human rights bodies. As we reported in Caracas Connect, Chávez suggested that new regional bodies such as UNASUR and CELAC should establish new institutions.

Recommended Reading

Angling for a better relationship with Cuba, Susan Cocking, Miami Herald

Marty Arostegui, a Coral Gables-based fishing enthusiast, works to promote recreational angling – the sport of fishing with a rod and line – in his native Cuba. Although he “has no wish to debate the politics of U.S.-Cuba relations”, he does feel that “time has passed…there are other ways to bring about change that don’t involve a constant state of antagonism.”

Diana Nyad’s important message of friendship with Cuba, Manuel R. Gómez, Washington Post

Noting the lack of media attention given to the underlying message of Diana Nyad’s swim from Cuba to Key West- a message of peace and friendship – CDA Board Secretary Manuel Gómez writes in the Washington Post, “(…) the United States is stuck in a “regime change” policy that has failed for more than 50 years. It is ironic that the same edition of The Post also carried a front-page story [“An airplane, and political crosswinds”] describing the obscene waste of money that keeps a plane ready to carry out a “mission” — to combat communism by broadcasting U.S.-run TV into Cuba — that has failed since it began in the 1990s.”

Cuba: Doing it your way, Damien Cave, The New York Times

NYT’s Travel section details the ways Americans are able to get into the island nowadays: family visits, religious affiliation, professional research, study abroad programs, people-to-people tours, and even “embargo flouting.” For those who have traveled to Cuba, here is something to which one can refer their friends each time they are asked, “But isn’t that illegal?”

Cuba’s Capitolio: Ink wells v. Internet points, Sarah Rainsford, BBC

Sarah Rainsford reports on the restoration process for Cuba’s iconic Capitolio building, which, once completed, is expected to house Cuba’s National Assembly, while remaining open to the public. The Capitolio, similar in appearance to the U.S. Capitol building,was built under the presidency of Gerardo Machado from 1925-1931 by a U.S. construction firm. Rainsford reports that many locals in Havana feel that the restoration of historic buildings is important: “It’s definitely worth restoring,” argues Roberto Gregorio. “Not only the Capitolio, but many buildings in Cuba. It’s urgent.”

Trades and Businesses of Old Make a Comeback in Cuba, Fernando Ravsberg, Havana Times

Fernando Ravsberg reports from Havana on the developments in burgeoning self-employment on the island in the last 5 years. He illustrates that private enterprise stems far beyond the scope of the roughly 200 different government-issued cuentapropismo licenses. With a gradual everyday growth in resources circulating among the population, Cubans have found a way to fill even the quirkiest of niches — from luxury doggie daycare to birthday party jump-houses.

How do we learn to hate Cuba?, Henry G. Delforn, Havana Times

Henry G. Delforn looks into the extent of “hatred” toward Cuba by Cuban Americans, particularly in the case of Florida Senator René García and his push for a since-overturned, unconstitutional, law that would have prohibited Florida-based companies from bidding on state contracts if they have done business in Cuba. Delforn notes that cases like this are not only financially costly, but showcase a “useless hate” toward “countries that they don’t even know.”

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