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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Women at Work in Cuba

December 7, 2012

Hello Friends,

This is Lisa writing from the Cuba Central team. This past week, Sarah Stephens, CDA’s executive director, and I  took a delegation of 22 women on a people-to-people trip to Cuba.  We worked in collaboration with the Women Donors Network, an organization of philanthropists from across the U.S. Our goal was to introduce them to some of our closest friends in Cuba – the people with whom we have been closely engaged on our latest report: “Women’s Work: Gender Equality in Cuba and the Role of Women in Building Cuba’s Future.”

This publication focuses on Cuban women and the issues of gender equality on the island; the real, measurable progress for women and children in areas like health, education, and legal rights, and the gap that still exists between their aspirations for equality and the reality of their everyday lives.

The book will be published at the beginning of next year (watch this space for news!). On one of our final evenings in Cuba, we held a celebration to mark the completion of the book, which brought together many of the women who have contributed to this project over the past several years. They included:

Antonia Díaz, a professor who leads the CUAM (Catedras Universitarias del Adulto Mayor), a program run through universities, which provides continuing education courses for the elderly. Antonia works to promote healthy, active lifestyles for the elderly, and to increase respect and awareness about “abuelidad,” which I can only translate as “grandparenthood”. Antonia proudly introduces herself as a very happy 91 year old.

Barbara Perez Casanova, a small business owner, or cuentapropista. In October 2010, Barbara, 26, was among the first to apply for a license to work in the private sector after its opening to new categories of business.  She runs a small storefront in a self-employment zone, selling shoes and clothing. Barbara says that cuentapropistas are still facing an uphill battle, as they deal with inspectors, high taxes, and difficulties in acquiring the products to sell. However, she enjoys the independence that comes with running her own business, and has been able to save up some money to invest in fixing up her house.

Magia López, a rapper in the group Duo Obsesíon, and Sandra Álvarez, psychiatrist and specialist in race and gender issues. Magia and Sandra both live in the community of Regla, across the bay from Havana. Regla is a working-class, predominantly Afro-Cuban neighborhood. Magia and Sandra both work to raise awareness of societal problems relating to race and gender – they see their criticisms as essential to improving their country. Sandra maintains a blog, entitled “Negra cubana tenía que ser” (It had to have been a black Cuban woman), where she addresses these issues openly. Magia uses hip hop music as her medium, like in this song, “Los Pelos,” which expresses pride for her natural hair. We also highly recommend this video, a rap song in homage to Cuban mothers, featuring Magia’s mother-in-law.

This trip was a true lesson in the power of human interaction. As trip leaders, Sarah and I were consistently inspired by the interactions we saw taking place before us. They were a reminder of how much these women – from such seemingly different countries and situations – share in common.

What has been so often missing from the debate in our country about Cuba is our shared humanity. It is our hope that policymakers, academics, and advocates in our country are inspired by these women as well.

We arrived back in DC refreshed and eager to continue our work, breaking down the barriers that have been imposed between the people of our two countries. We appreciate your accompaniment and continued support in the work that we do.

Antonia Diaz

Antonia Díaz, speaking at CDA’s book celebration

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Members of our delegation with new friends in Cienfuegos

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Our delegation in Regla with Sandra Álvarez and some of our other hosts

Lisa Ndecky Llanos
Program Manager
Center for Democracy in the Americas

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Double Talk at State and Doubling Down on USAID’s Regime Change Strategy

November 30, 2012

We report on a flurry of activity concerning the case of Alan Gross, just days before the third anniversary of his arrest in Cuba, an event marked at a press conference in Washington this morning by his wife Judy Gross, understandably disconsolate, with his lawyer, Jared Genser, by her side.

Together, they said the Obama administration had failed to pursue vigorous diplomacy sufficient to secure his release.  He feels “dumped and forgotten” by the U.S. government, Mrs. Gross said, like a soldier left to die.  The lawyer’s message to the U.S. government was also direct:  “You sent him there; you have an obligation to get him out.”

In fact, they laid blame at the feet of both governments for being obstacles to the settlement of his case.  They said the Cuban government, which publicly calls for direct negotiations to address his case and the captivity of the Cuban Five, was either unable or unwilling to talk.

But they also made a special point of noting that the Obama administration had actively sought and won the release of Americans imprisoned abroad, and said the administration should pick an envoy close to President Obama, with full White House support, to go to Cuba and negotiate Alan Gross’s release.

Significantly, they called his captivity an obstacle to improvements in U.S.-Cuba relations, and urged both parties to work for his release.  In saying so, they parted company with the most ardent embargo supporters, who warn the Obama administration not to negotiate for his release.

As Senator Bob Menendez said this week in an interview with the New York Times “I’m not into negotiating for someone who is clearly a hostage of the Cuban regime.” Judy Gross correctly diagnosed the hardliner’s position as a surefire recipe for continuing his captivity for years.  “He is a pawn of these very radical right-wing Cuba haters, for lack of a better word, who don’t want to see any changes happen, even to get Alan home.”

Mrs. Gross pled for her husband’s release on humanitarian grounds, and demanded access by doctors for an independent examination of a mass on his shoulder that the family believes could be cancerous.  For its part, the Cuban government released this week the results of a biopsy conducted October 24th, and an examination by a physician who is also ordained as a Rabbi, who concluded that the growth is not cancerous.

Two weeks ago, attorneys for the Gross family filed a law suit against the U.S. government and his employer, the USAID contractor DAI, seeking $60 million in damages.  In the complaint available here, they concede that his activities were “to promote (a) successful democratic transition” in Cuba and that when he was at risk of detection by Cuban authorities, USAID failed to comply with provisions of the “Counterintelligence Manual” to save him before his arrest.

Mr. Gross knew of the dangers associated with his activities in Cuba, writing in one of the trip reports filed with his employer under the USAID contract, “In no uncertain terms, this is very risky business.”

In light of these facts, it is hard to understand why his legal representatives still argue that all he was doing in Cuba was trying to improve Internet access for the Jewish community.  This benign explanation was long ago overtaken by the facts.

Even so, it is a position that remains front and center in the U.S. State Department’s talking points.  Victoria Nuland, the department’s Spokesperson, responded to a reporter who asked about the Gross case, by saying:

But again, just to remind that this is a guy who’s been incarcerated for no reason for three years and ought to come home.

Alan Gross was given a 15-year prison term simply for the supposed crime of helping the Jewish community of Cuba communicate with the outside world.

Old tropes die hard, especially when the U.S. government decides we can’t handle the truth.  This failure to concede why Mr. Gross was arrested and convicted not only contributes to the lack of movement in his case, but is especially alarming now that we know the Obama administration is doubling down on the program that led to his arrest.

As Tracey Eaton reports in Along the Malecón, the U.S. government “The U.S. government has hired a former CIA agent,” named Daniel Gabriel, “to create and manage a team of at least 10 journalists in Cuba.”  Gabriel’s Linked In profile concludes with this heartfelt endorsement:

“Dan is one of those dream clients you get once in a blue moon: totally risk tolerant, possessed of a voracious appetite for learning, and the drive to turn pontification into action.”

We could not think of a clearer case for why these programs need to end.

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The Paralysis of Analysis and the Politics of Denial

November 16, 2012

As we predicted last week, the United Nations General Assembly approved a resolution condemning the U.S. embargo of Cuba.  This was not, we confess, a very difficult prediction to make, since the U.N. has made this statement for twenty years.  We also predict the U.N. will keep on doing so until the policy changes. In the meanwhile, we enjoyed The Nation’s stellar description of the vote saying the resolution was adopted by a “thumping majority.”  That was good writing.

Here’s something, however, we didn’t anticipate; namely, that people would still be pouring over the presidential election vote in Florida and, at this late date, arguing over what it means.  These are not unconnected events.

Ian Williams, a senior analyst with Foreign Policy in Focus put it this way:

“The UN vote on the Cuba embargo reminds us yet again that U.S. foreign policy is concocted in a bubble detached from the real world, where most nations recognize that the boycott is designed to pander to the most reactionary Cuban émigrés in Florida.”

This is why there is a lot of hand-wringing and hand-waving over who exactly won the Cuban American vote in Florida.  We know that President Obama won the Latino vote nationally, won Florida and, as former U.S. Senator George LeMieux put it, “it even appears that President Obama may have won the Cuban vote in Florida, a previously unimaginable result.”  His thinking was in line with Miami Democratic pollster Bendixen & Amandi International whose exit polls showed Mr. Obama won the Cuban vote, 51-49 percent over Romney.

The Miami Herald also reported, “Obama actually won Cuban-Americans who voted on Election Day itself, taking 53% of their vote compared to 47 percent for Republican Mitt Romney.”  But the Herald, like others, goes on to say that, in the end, “Romney narrowly carried Cuban-Americans, 52-48 percent, which is a decrease for Republicans when compared to 2008.”  Anyhow, as ABC News concluded, “Cuban-Americans (are) No Longer a Sure Bet for the GOP.”

Mauricio Claver-Carone, who runs the Cuba Democracy Public Advocacy Corp., and supported Governor Romney, said these historically high defections were the fault of Paul Ryan, Mr. Romney’s vice presidential nominee, who was against the embargo before he was for it.  That, he said, “created skepticism among some Cuban-Americans and gave them (Democrats) an opening to make a case on economic and social issues.”

This is actually quite clever.  Think about what Mr. Claver-Carone is arguing:  the biggest supporters of a hardline policy, who didn’t think the Romney ticket was hardline enough, voted instead for the candidate Mr. Claver-Carone had previously said was guilty of “unilateral appeasement” of the Castro government.

Will this mean anything for Cuba policy going forward?  It should. If the Cuban-American community that has insisted that the U.S. stick with the embargo policy for five decades is now divided, it will be exposed as a political façade, a Potemkin village, freeing the political system at last to the change the policy.

Back to Mr. Williams:  “Obama, embarking on a second term, and winning Florida despite the Cuban vote, owes them nothing. He should use his influence to call off the embargo and allow free travel to and from Cuba.”

That is an idea that would win a thumping majority not just in the U.N. but throughout our country as well.

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