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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Baseball in Cuba: Changeups or Regime Change?

March 29, 2013

With the start of regular season Major League Baseball on Monday, it’s a fitting moment to talk about the sport which has bound the U.S. and Cuba together since the 19th century.

Like everything else, baseball couldn’t escape the politics and propaganda that have surrounded the relationship over the last three centuries.

Even the story of how baseball got to Cuba is in dispute.  Some say it began when a Cuban named Nemiso Guillo, attending school in Mobile, Alabama, returned home in 1864 (others say 1871) with a bat and baseball in his trunk.  Another credits U.S. sailors bringing the game to Cuba aboard an American naval vessel.  While we in the U.S. claim that Abner Doubleday, a Union general in the Civil War, invented the game, indigenous people in Cuba and neighboring islands played batos, “a bat-and-ball game,” before the region was colonized.

What is not in dispute is how fast baseball became part of the whirl of commerce, culture, and exchange between our two countries.

In the 1870s, Esteban Bellan, a third baseman, became the first Cuban to play professionally in the U.S. Cuba founded the first baseball league outside of North America in 1878. American players debuted for Club Colón the following year. Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Josh Gibson, and Satchel Paige are among the Americans who toured and played in Cuba, while star players born and raised on the island made their mark on the game in the U.S. for decades prior to the Cuban revolution.

But, engagement and exchange ended with the embargo. Cuba’s government, fearing the sport had been corrupted by professionalism, instituted an amateur league, forcing players to undergo significant cuts in pay.  As the Soviet Union collapsed and Cuba entered the Special Period, players started a stream of defections, to enjoy the benefits of major league contacts, which have continued to this day.  This year, 60 Cuban players started the spring competing for positions on U.S. teams for the season starting next week.

Like the ping pong diplomacy used to “open” dialogue with China, baseball was considered a bridge for restoring dialogue with Cuba.  Exhibition games planned during the Ford administration were cancelled due to reports of Cuban troops in Africa. More successfully, the Baltimore Orioles, after three years of lobbying by owner Peter Angelos, played two match-ups with the Cuban National Team; they tied the series one game apiece, during a period of relaxed restrictions under President Bill Clinton.

That was too much for Members of Congress like Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen who, according to Lars Schoultz’s epical history, That Infernal Little Cuban Republic, declared “with every pitch, the belief of the Cuban people that the United States would never engage their oppressor will be eroded slowly.  With every swing, the hopes of political prisoners and dissidents for solidarity from the superpower 90 miles away will gradually be shattered.”

With the election of George W. Bush, baseball returned to being a political tool.  His administration tried to block Cuba from playing in the World Baseball Classic, preventing the world from watching Cubans take on U.S. big leaguers, which the New York Times called “one of the Classic’s most entertaining aspects.”

According to White House press secretary Scott McClellan, what bothered the Bush administration was not the Cubans’ prowess but, “Our concerns were centered on making sure that no money was going to the Castro regime, and that the World Baseball Classic not be misused by the regime for spying.”

The crisis was solved when Cuba agreed to donate its proceeds to Hurricane Katrina relief.  This was apparently enough to satisfy President Bush, even if whatever Cuban spying he feared took place nonetheless.

In 2013, Cuba participated in the World Baseball Classic without incident. By liberalizing Cuba’s travel and migration policies, President Raúl Castro has made it easier for Cuban baseball players who defected to play for U.S. teams to come to the island and visit their families, as José Contreras did in January.  His return demonstrated that times have changed.

But, other things, like U.S. policy, sadly remain the same.  This February, the U.S. taxpayer-funded Office of Cuba Broadcasting, paid $70,800 to renew its annual agreement with Major League Baseball, Along the Malecón reports, allowing Radio and TV Martí to broadcast games in Cuba, as they have since 2005.

Rather than providing the feed directly to Cuba’s state television and radio network, the U.S. government prefers delivering baseball broadcasts over channels relatively few Cubans can hear (as a 2010 study by the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations showed), whose director, Carlos García-Pérez, last year signed an editorial that referred to the leader of the Cuban Catholic Church, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, as a lackey of the Castro regime.

This is baseball not as diplomacy but as propaganda. We need a fresh start.

As Louis Pérez argued this week in Bradenton Herald, that fresh start could include full restoration of travel rights for Americans to visit the island, and removing Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terror.  Rep. Kathy Castor (FL-14) called last week for ending the embargo entirely.  While that is pretty courageous for a Member of Congress from Florida, it puts her together with Cuban dissident Yoani Sánchez (who, coincidentally is visiting Miami at the same time as President Obama is visiting the city).  She has called for exactly the same thing.

Any one of these ideas would be better than the regime change policies we have now.  But old habits die hard.  With Easter and the beginning of baseball just days away, the U.S. still can’t keep its mitts off of Cuba.

This week, in Cuba news… Read the rest of this entry »