From the Bay of Pigs to the Bay of Tweets

Yesterday, The John F. Kennedy Library posted a “JFK in History” piece to mark the 53rd anniversary of what it called “a botched invasion at the Bay of Pigs on the south coast of Cuba.”

The invasion was a CIA covert operation with the goal of overthrowing the Castro government.  Kennedy was determined to conceal U.S. support for the operation and, as the entry explains, the “landing point at the Bay of Pigs was part of the deception.”  In the days before April 17th, the operation was exposed, American support for the invasion was revealed, and the small army composed largely of Cuban exiles was defeated.

It is no accident of history that ZunZuneo, the faux “Cuban Twitter” program revealed this month by the Associated Press, has been ridiculed in headlines as “The Bay of Tweets.”  Fifty-three years later, the United States is still engaged in activities to overthrow Cuba’s government, and still misusing the dark arts of government secrecy and deniability to obscure them, with consequences so familiar, it is as if a new generation of public officials has arrived at positions of power ignorant of their own country’s history.

In the 1970s, The Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, led by Senator Frank Church, was formed to review a series of efforts to overthrow foreign governments, spy on U.S. citizens, and conceal those activities from the Congress and the American people.  Time and again, the Committee invoked the Bay of Pigs as evidence of the damage that is inflicted on our national security and the U.S. system by excessive reliance on secrecy.

As the Committee wrote in its final report:

“The task of democratic government is to reconcile conflicting values…Reliance on covert action has been excessive because it offers a secret shortcut around the democratic process.  This shortcut has led to questionable foreign involvements and unacceptable acts…Finally, secrecy has been a tragic conceit.  Inevitably, the truth prevails, and policies pursued on the premise that they could be plausibly denied, in the end damage America’s reputation and the faith of her people in their government.”  Final Report, Page 16.

Following the report, Congress established a more formal system of oversight over intelligence activities and strengthened the legal requirements for the White House and executive branch agencies to report intelligence activities and covert actions.

Fast forward from the Bay of Pigs and the Church Committee to ZunZuneo, and you can see why some reporters are following the scandal so closely and why experts like Professor Bill LeoGrande have directly challenged repeated government denials that the program was covert:

“USAID’s ZunZuneo program meets the two key definitional attributes of a covert action: it was intended to influence Cuban politics, and the U.S. government’s role was intentionally hidden.”

In the earlier stages of the story, USAID flatly denied that ZunZuneo had any intent to influence Cuba’s politics.  As the AP reported, when Senator Patrick Leahy asked administrator Rajiv Shah whether its goal was to “influence political conditions abroad” or “to encourage popular opposition to the Cuban government,” Shah replied “No, that is not correct.”

Once AP published patently political text messages from ZunZuneo that contradicted Dr. Shah’s testimony, the State Department started ducking questions at its daily briefing from reporters asking for an inventory of the text messages.

Indeed, on April 9April 11April 14, and April 17, when reporters asked questions like “How goes the USAID review of these allegedly political text messages?,” the answer from the State Department has been Nothing new to report today,” “I would encourage you to check in with my colleagues at USAID,” and, “I don’t have any updates from here. I know they’re looking into it.”

Such evasions can’t really work when the facts point so strongly to covert actions that should have been reported to the Congress.  As Peter Kornbluh explained in an interview to Jeremy Bigwood:  “Zunzuneo had all the components of a classic covert action: shell companies, off-shore bank accounts, managerial cutouts, multinational locations, the goal of regime change, and, of course, the hidden hand of the United States government.”

Therefore, as Bill LeoGrande writes, “under the law (50 U.S. Code § 3093 (a)), [it] required a presidential finding and notification of the Congressional intelligence committees. Those obligations do not appear to have been met.”

And so we have our Bay of Tweets: another covert action, another effort to conceal the truth from the American people, another deceit in our endless mission to bring democracy to Cuba.

But, more than lies lie in the balance.  As Gary Hart, a member of the Church Committee, wrote a few years ago:

“A democracy that violates the rights and privacy of its citizens and conceals its activities from them edges dangerously near something other than a democracy.  The most radical of our founders, Thomas Jefferson, held that the best guarantor of the American republic was the good judgment and common sense of the American people, a people fully informed of the activities of its government on their behalf.”


USAID contracts indicate ZunZuneo project involved “classified” work

According to documents obtained by Al Jazeera, a $1.5 billion USAID contract signed in 2008 with Creative Associates International (CAI) included “classified” work, and CAI held a “secret level security clearance.” According to a story published by the Associated Press earlier this month, CAI was the USAID contractor carrying out the ZunZuneo “Fake Twitter” project in Cuba. According to Al Jazeera, the documents, accessed via a Freedom of Information Act request by investigative journalist Jeremy Bigwood, indicated that ZunZuneo was managed by the Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI). The contract states:

“Even the best-intentioned assistance can be ineffective if the situation is not ripe for change. OTI cannot create a transition or impose democracy, but it can identify and support key individuals and groups who are committed to peaceful, participatory reform.”

Matt Herrick, USAID spokesman, told Al Jazeera that the language in the contract regarding “secret” security clearance is standard:

“Requiring partner clearance is a safeguard required in many government contracts as part of a wide-ranging federal government program that ensures government contractors and their staff have the proper controls in place to safeguard government infrastructure and information.”

USAID maintains that the ZunZuneo was “discreet,” not covert or confidential. For more information on ZunZuneo, see last week’s Cuba Central News Blast.

To sign CDA’s petition requesting that the Obama Administration end USAID’s dangerous, wasteful and counterproductive regime change program in Cuba, click here.

U.S. grants record number of non-immigrant visas to Cubans

The number of non-immigrant visas that the U.S. granted to Cubans increased 27% this year, reports Café Fuerte. The U.S. granted 19,500 visas to Cubans for family, professional, and business visits during the first half of fiscal year 2014. More than 90% of visas granted during this period were five-year, multiple-entry visas, which the U.S. began offering to Cubans in August 2013.

Cuba reformed its immigration policy in October 2012, ending the requirement of exit visas and allowing any Cuban with a passport and a visa to the accepting country to travel abroad.  As the Associated Press reported in January, more than 185,000 Cubans took advantage of the reforms before the end of 2013, with about 66,000 visiting the U.S. during that period.  The relaxation contributed to a liberalization of the visa policy here in the U.S.

Between January and March the U.S. also granted 11,250 immigrant visas to Cuban citizens. A spokesperson for the U.S. Interests Section in Havana stated: “With regard to immigrant visa processing we are well above the level required to meet the annual figure of 20,000 set by the migration agreements.”

U.S. “Sanctions On Shopping” extend to Cuban embassy staff in Jamaica

Cuba’s government has protested the decision by PriceSmart Jamaica, a U.S. subsidiary, to suspend club memberships for employees of Cuba’s embassy in Kingston, reports Reuters. A letter announcing that the memberships would be cancelled was sent from the general manager of PriceSmart Jamaica to the embassy on March 17th, reports The Gleaner. The letter stated: “The United States government prohibits our parent company and, therefore, us here in Jamaica from making sales to or transacting business with citizens of Cuba (who do not have permanent residency here or possibly another country).”

As we noted in March, similar measures have been taken toward Cuban diplomats in the Dominican Republic and El Salvador.


French Foreign Minister travels to Cuba

Laurent Fabius, France’s Foreign Minister, traveled to Cuba last weekend to meet with President Raúl Castro, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez, and Cardinal Jaime Ortega, reports Al Jazeera. Fabius stated:

“We want to strengthen our ties with South America and particularly with Cuba. …Europe also wants to (strengthen ties) and from that we are going to be able to talk about economic, cultural, political and international issues. … Of course, we have different points of view on certain issues, which doesn’t stop us from exchanging perspectives and moving forward.”

Fabius said that during a “long conversation” with President Raúl Castro, the two reportedly discussed politics, human rights, and Cuba’s economic reforms. Throughout his stay in Havana, Fabius discussed political and economic ties with Cuba. He has expressed interest in expanding France’s business ties to the island and stated, “There are many French firms already here, but it’s necessary that this presence is strengthened and our Cuban friends agree.” There are currently around 60 French firms operating in Cuba. Prior to the visit, Rodríguez and Fabius met in Paris in March to discuss Cuba-EU negotiations. The last high-level French diplomat to visit Cuba was the late Claude Cheysson, who went to the island over 30 years ago when he served as Foreign Minister.

President Raúl Castro meets with Salvadoran President-elect Salvador Sánchez Cerén

Cuba’s President Raúl Castro and El Salvador’s President-elect Salvador Sánchez Cerén met over this past weekend, reports La Prensa Gráfica. Also present at the meeting were Cuba’s First Vice President Miguel Díaz Canel and Minister of Foreign Relations Bruno Rodríguez. Sánchez Cerén was accompanied to the island by his wife Margarita Villalta and Manuel Melgar, who will be the Private Secretary to the President in the incoming Sánchez Cerén Administration. The meeting was reportedly to discuss prospects for strengthened bilateral relations between the two countries.

Ties between El Salvador’s government and Cuba were cut off in 1961, but were renewed in June of 2009 following the election of FMLN candidate Mauricio Funes in El Salvador.


Government releases foreign investment law

Cuba’s government has published the full text of its new foreign investment law which was passed in the National Assembly on March 29th, reports Progreso Weekly. Granma, Cuba’s Communist Party official newspaper, wrote: “Law 118 supports the decision of conceiving foreign investment as a source development in those activities that are of interest for the nation.”

As the Associated Press and Cuba Standard report, this law will replace the foreign investment law of 1995, and provides:

  •  Ownership by foreign investors of 100% of a venture (previously 49%) but they will receive smaller incentives than if they chose to enter into joint ventures with the state or independent cooperatives
  •  An automatic reduction to 15% on taxes applied to profits (about half the current rate) and exemptions from tax payments for the first 8 years for investors who enter into joint ventures;
  •  Property guarantees for investors and the opportunity to invest in real estate for proposed upscale condominiums and apartments via “administrative concession”;
  •  Cubans living abroad will now be able to invest in ventures on the island (although Cubans living in the U.S. are restricted due to the U.S. embargo);
  •  The Council of the State will approve projects involving non-renewable natural resources, public services and the “exploitation of goods in the public domain”;
  •  The elimination of the labor tax;
  •  Expediting the approval of foreign investment for minor ventures;
  •  Aside from technical issues, Cuba’s government can only reject foreign investment projects if they “affect the defense and national security, the heritage of the nation, and the environment.”

Foreign companies will still be required to hire employees through a local employment agency as providing new jobs for Cubans is a goal of Cuba’s economic reforms.

With this new law, Cuba hopes to increase foreign investment on the island in order bolster its economy with hard currency and improve growth. The law will go into effect on June 27th, 90 days after it was approved. For more details, see past issues – March 28th and April 4th – of the Cuba Central News Blast.

Mariel Special Development Zone employees to receive special salaries

Ana Teresa Igarza, a chief executive of the Mariel Special Development Zone (ZEDM), says that ZEDM workers will receive 80% of what companies pay Cuba’s state employment agency, reports Cuba Standard. Igarza also indicated that salaries will be negotiable between the company and the agency, and that workers will receive salaries at a special exchange rate before currency unification is complete. Under the new foreign investment law, firms may hire an unlimited number of foreign workers, and can also contract self-employed Cubans through the state employment agency.

Cuba has announced that currency unification is a priority for the government, and certain adjustments are already being implemented, including special exchange rates for export and import industries. For now, foreign companies will pay Cuba’s employment agency in hard currency convertible pesos (CUC). ZEDM employees will receive their salaries in Cuban Pesos (CUP) at a rate of 10 CUP to 1 CUC. The current exchange rate is 24 CUP to 1 CUC. Igarza also stated that ACOREC, the company which organizes the contracting of Cuban employees for Cuban businesses, will not be geared toward generating profit for the government, which she says will “motivate the investor …because they don’t have to pay as much and motivate employees as well because they will receive more of the salary that is generated, which will also incentivize productivity.”

Igarza indicated that there are currently, 15 new ZEDM projects being negotiated with companies from Spain, Russia, Italy, China, and Brazil, reports Café Fuerte.

Last week, Cuba’s Ministry of Transportation published and put into effect regulations governing the use, development, management and provision of maritime services at the Port of Mariel. The regulations stipulate that businesses must adopt spill-prevention measures and natural disaster contingency plans and that Cuba’s government may suspend businesses that do not comply with the environmental regulations.

Good Friday named official holiday

Good Friday will be celebrated as an official national holiday in Cuba after the new Labor code, passed in December, goes into effect in June, reports EFE.

As occurred during the last two years, the Labor and Social Security Ministry issued a resolution declaring offices closed April 18 for Good Friday 2014. According to Café Fuerte, this is the first time Cuba’s official Communist Party newspaper, Granma, referred to the holiday using its religious name, Good Friday (“Viernes Santo”).

Cuba’s Catholic Church also made an announcement that state television would broadcast the Palm Sunday services held in the Havana Cathedral on Wednesday. Last year, state television broadcasted Cardinal Jaime Ortega’s Good Friday services. The holiday was designated as a holiday for the first time in decades in 2012 following the visit of Pope Benedict XVI.

Cuba to host LGBT conference

The 6th regional conference of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association for Latin America and the Caribbean (ILGA-LAC) will be held May 6-10 in Havana and Varadero, Cuba, reports El Nuevo Herald. Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX) and state travel agency Havanatur are co-sponsoring the event, which is expected to draw 400 “activists, experts and representative leaders of the LGBTI movement.” ILGA-LAC’s website states:

“As the host country of the VI Regional ILGALAC Conference, Cuba is not exempt from the problems faced by LGBTI communities of the region, notwithstanding the humanistic nature of the Cuban Revolution… [T]he fight against sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination in the country can been seen to have more repercussions and achievements recently.”

Mariela Castro, President Raúl Castro’s daughter, is the head of CENESEX and is a strong advocate for LGBT rights in Cuba. Cuba’s Parliament passed legislation in December 2013 to protect individuals from workplace discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation.

Recommended Reading

USAID’s Twitter Trojan Horse, Sarah Stephens, Huffington Post

Sarah Stephens, CDA’s Executive Director, discusses why the USAID Cuban Twitter scandal is so captivating to the American public – its secretive, deceptive nature – and how the scandal could have been avoided: “Our country never needed a Twitter Trojan Horse to get more information to Cubans. Many of the information restrictions they face – the loss of contact with Americans banned from traveling to the island, or  restrictions  that stop Cuban students from accessing global education courses on-line – are imposed by our government, not theirs. This means, of course, the information blockade made in America can also be lifted by America.”

Obama and Cuban Twitter, Julia E. Sweig, Council on Foreign Relations

Julia Sweig argues that President Obama and his administration’s “liberal lexicon of ‘promoting democracy’ or ‘strengthening civil society’” is merely a continued elaboration of President Bush’s overt regime change policies toward Cuba.

Cuba looks to cooperatives to slow rise of capitalism, Marc Frank and Rosa Tania Valdés, Reuters

Reuters reports on the growing numbers of cooperatives in Cuba, which the government has favored as a means of finding balance between Communism and capitalist reforms. Two cooperatives are featured – one which has seen success and one which is floundering – but the authors find that many of Cuba’s cooperatives today fall in the middle of this spectrum.

Cubans hungry for Internet revolution on the Communist island, Sarah Rainsford, BBC News

Cubans in Havana speak with Sarah Rainsford about their strong desire for increased internet access on the island. The article discusses some of the ways in which internet access and email communication have opened up, noting Cubans are still eager for more access.

Free Alan Gross – And the Cuban Five! Arturo López Levy, Foreign Policy in Focus

Arturo López Levy argues that both members of the Cuban Five and Alan Gross must be freed, noting that “Gross will be released only as a result of a diplomatic compromise.” Rather than engage in “semantic nonsense” about whether or not Gross was a spy, the Obama Administration should take diplomatic action and reach a compromise.

U.S. Still Attacks Cuba, 53 Years after Bombing Airports Orlando Oramas León, Prensa Latina

In the wake of revelations about USAID’s subversive Cuban Twitter program, Prensa Latina takes a look at the 53rd anniversary of the U.S. financed and armed fleet which bombed Cuban airports in an effort to make it seem like a political uprising was taking place – a prelude to the its Bay of Pigs invasion.

Cuban doctors in eye of Venezuelan hurricane, Andrea Rodríguez, Associated Press

The Associated Press argues that Venezuela’s reliance on Cuban physicians for free health services has helped provoke some of the ongoing unrest in the country.

Family, friends of U.S. contractor held in Cuba plead for U.S. to do more to secure releaseBarnini Chakraborty, Fox News

The family, friends and legal team of U.S. contractor Alan Gross have continued efforts to push the U.S. government to negotiate with Cuba on his case. The article says its “unclear to what lengths [the U.S. government] have gone to pursue his release.”

State restrictions continue to inhibit Cuba-related research, Quincy J. Walters, The Oracle

Quincy J. Walters explains how Florida state restrictions on university funding to Cuba widens knowledge gaps and negatively impacts academic research at the University of South Florida. To read a student’s account on how similar U.S. restrictions lead to the cancellation of a Cuba study abroad program at Towson University, see here.

MLB’s Next Giant Headache: Cartels, Gangsters, and Their Cuban Superstars, Peter C. Bjarkman, The Daily Beast

Bjarkman writes about reports of shady dealings undertaken in order for Cuban MLB stars to reach the United States, most recently seen in the case of Dodger star Yasiel Puig, and implications for both U.S. policy and Major League Baseball. He writes: “Busy of late burying the aftermath of a “steroid era” that seriously threatened legitimacy of the game’s record books, MLB moguls may now be staring at an even more serious challenge to the sport’s ethical integrity.”

Recommended Listening

What ‘Life In The New Cuba’ Is Really Like, NPR

NPR’s All Things Considered chronicles Julia Cooke’s new book on post-Fidel society in Cuba, “The Other Side of Paradise: Life in the New Cuba.”

2 Responses to From the Bay of Pigs to the Bay of Tweets

  1. […] Tunisia. The news follows recent revelations about other USAID projects on the island, namely the ZunZuneo “fake Twitter,” an SMS service that obtained Cubans’ phone numbers without their permission, […]

  2. […] recently reported on Cuba’s ongoing economic reforms to attract foreign investment.  Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign […]

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