Saturday, November 24, 2012

Excerpts from suit by Alan and Judy Gross

Case 1:12-cv-01860-JEB Document 2 Filed 11/16/12
ALAN GROSS... and JUDITH GROSS, Plaintiffs, v.

COMPLAINT (excerpts)

since December 3, 2009. Mr. Gross is imprisoned in Cuba due to his work on a project that Defendant United States negligently directed, organized, and oversaw (pp 1-2)

Worse, Defendant DAI, with negligence, gross negligence and willful disregard for Plaintiffs’ rights, failed to take these basic remedial steps because doing so would have delayed or prevented DAI’s complete performance under part of a lucrative contract with Defendant United States, thereby depriving Defendant DAI of significant revenue. Indeed, upon information and belief, Defendant DAI’s business model depends upon obtaining and performing contracts with Defendant United States. Defendant DAI engaged in this behavior – putting profits before safety – (pp 2-3)

21. USAID’s “Cuba Democracy and Contingency Planning Program” (the “Cuba Program”) was developed pursuant to the Helms-Burton Act. 

22. USAID’s Cuba Program was “expressly designed to hasten Cuba’s peaceful transition to a democratic society.” Task Order No. DFD-I-03-00250-00 (“Cuba Task Order”) at B.1.1 One of its objectives is to “[d]evelop and . . . activate plans for launching a rapid-response programmatic platform that will meet USAID’s interest for having and coordinating an on-island presence.Id. (p 9)

66. The Subcontract stated that “[t]he pilot [project] will diminish portions of the information blockage by – on a limited test basis – establishing internet connections using multiple redundant devices in order to improve intra and intergroup communications channels. The pilot will . . . [e]nable target beneficiaries via training to use ICT devices to connect to the internet so that they can have regular and direct contact with each other and with JBDC, as well as enable access to a large volume [of] data and information not previously accessed . . . .” (p 18)

74. Upon information and belief, USAID, and the United States’ diplomatic mission in Cuba, were required to communicate with each other regularly regarding Mr. Gross’ trips to Cuba.

75. Upon information and belief, Mr. Gross was not provided with the same information that Defendants USAID and DAI possessed regarding the specific risks involved in performing this kind of project in Cuba. (p 19)

76. As discussed further below, Defendants DAI and United States breached their duty to protect Mr. Gross from specific risks that Defendants, based on their position, had the unique ability to know. Defendants also ignored Mr. Gross’ own expressions of concern about the Project, opting instead to continue an operation from which Defendant DAI stood to benefit financially and that Defendant United States was committed to ideologically. (p 20)

83. Instead, Defendant United States continued, without any adjustment, the Cuba ICT Project, using Mr. Gross as a pawn in its overall Cuban policy efforts. (P21)

91. A failure by Mr. Gross to complete the work would have jeopardized not only the millions of dollars owed to DAI by USAID on the Cuba Task Order, but, upon information and belief, also would have jeopardized other existing, and future, business generally between DAI and USAID. (p22)

102. In his fourth trip memorandum, Mr. Gross began his section on risk with the following sentence in bold lettering: “In no uncertain terms, this is very risky business.” To illustrate the risks involved, he described an incident during which Cuban customs officials attempted to seize some of his team’s equipment when they arrived at the airport in Havana. Fourth Trip Memo. at 5. He described efforts by Cuban authorities to detect or “sniff out” wireless networks and other unauthorized radio frequency use, especially outside of Havana. . He reiterated that the detection of these networks could result in arrests of his contacts there. (pp 23-24)

117. Notwithstanding the verdict by the Cuban court, Mr. Gross’ activities were entirely lawful under the laws of the United States. (p 26)

129. Mr. and Mrs. Gross likewise have suffered significant economic losses due to Mr. Gross’s wrongful arrest and continuing wrongful detention. (p 30)

139. Defendant United States’ breaches of its duties were a direct and proximate cause of Mr. Gross’ detention and imprisonment in Cuba and the injuries and damages suffered as a result. (p 32)

152. Defendant DAI’s breaches of its duties were a direct and proximate cause of Mr. Gross’ detention and imprisonment in Cuba and the injuries and damages suffered as a result. (p 34)

for full text of the Complaint, download from here

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Thursday, November 8, 2012

Presidential Authority to Lift Most of Embargo

Use 'smart power' to help Cubans
Miami Herald Op Ed 2/24/09

Contrary to popular myth and public misunderstanding, if President Barack Obama wishes to change the U.S. policy toward Cuba, he has ample authority to do so. If he takes charge of Cuba policy, he can turn the embargo into an effective instrument of ''smart power'' to achieve the United States' policy objectives in Cuba.

Obama's leadership is needed to change the dynamic between the United States and Cuba. The status quo is no longer an option. Not only has it failed to achieve its goals; it has tarnished our image in the hemisphere and throughout the world. Waiting for Congress to act will only further delay change. Fortunately, even in the case of Cuba, Congress has not materially impaired this country's venerable constitutional arrangement under which the president has the ultimate authority to conduct our foreign affairs.

Executive authority

Again and again we hear that the embargo can't be changed because the Helms-Burton law codified it. Nothing could be further from the truth. Whether you agree or disagree with the current commercial embargo, the president can effectively dismantle it by using his executive authority. Helms-Burton codified the embargo regulation, but those regulations provide that ``all transactions are prohibited except as specifically authorized by the Secretary of the Treasury by means of regulations, rulings, instructions, and licenses.''

This means that the president's power remains unfettered. He can instruct the secretary to extend, revise or modify embargo regulations. The proof of this statement is that President Bill Clinton issued new regulations for expanded travel and remittances in order to help individuals and grow civil society.

Obama will have to modify Office of Foreign Assets Control regulations to fulfill his campaign promise to increase Cuban-American travel and remittances. If he wants to reproduce the more open conditions in Cuba that led to the ''Cuban Spring'' of 2002 and Oswaldo Payá's Varela Project, he could reinstate people-to-people and educational travel. By a simple rule change, he could also speed the entry of life-saving medicines from Cuba, rather than subjecting them to delays from cumbersome OFAC licensing procedures.

Since 1992, U.S. law -- the Cuban Democracy Act -- has sought to expand access to ideas, knowledge and information by licensing telecommunications goods and services. Yet, in practice, regulations are so strictly interpreted that the United States in effect is imposing a communications embargo on Cuba. To lift it, the president can authorize a general license for the donation and sale of radios, televisions and computers. In addition, rather than helping Cuban state security keep Yoani Sánchez and others off the Internet, the Obama administration could make Internet technology readily available so that any barriers to communications would be clearly the fault of the Cuban government, and not ours.

Environmental concerns rate high with the Obama administration. So it might open bilateral discussions, exchange information and license the provision of scientific equipment to improve the health of the ocean and success of commercial fisheries.

The United States Geological Survey estimates that the North Cuba Basin holds 5.5 billion barrels of oil and 9.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves. If the president wishes, he can instruct the secretary of the treasury to license U.S. companies to explore, exploit and transport these resources that we and the region so badly need.

Failed policy

After a half-century of failed policy, there is enormous support in the Cuban-American community for initiatives that will improve the well being and independence of the Cuban people. What they didn't know -- but know now -- is that there is no reason they can't reach out to the Cuban people and still retain the embargo as symbol of their concern about the Cuban government's failure to live up to international norms of human rights, democracy and transparency.

Vicki Huddleston is a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution and former chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. Carlos Pascual is vice president of the Brookings Institution. They are co-directors of the Brookings project on U.S. Policy Toward a Cuba in Transition.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Alan Gross from his own reports

AP IMPACT: USAID contractor work in Cuba detailed

Originally published: February 12, 2012 10:41 AM
Updated: February 12, 2012 5:23 PM

By The Associated Press  DESMOND BUTLER (Associated Press)

WASHINGTON - (AP) -- Piece by piece, in backpacks and carry-on bags, American aid contractor Alan Gross made sure laptops, smartphones, hard drives and networking equipment were secreted into Cuba. The most sensitive item, according to official trip reports, was the last one: a specialized mobile phone chip that experts say is often used by the Pentagon and the CIA to make satellite signals virtually impossible to track.

The purpose, according to an Associated Press review of Gross' reports, was to set up uncensored satellite Internet service for Cuba's small Jewish community.
The operation was funded as democracy promotion for the U.S. Agency for International Development, established in 1961 to provide economic, development and humanitarian assistance around the world in support of U.S. foreign policy goals. Gross, however, identified himself as a member of a Jewish humanitarian group, not a representative of the U.S. government.

Cuban President Raul Castro called him a spy, and Gross was sentenced last March to 15 years in prison for seeking to "undermine the integrity and independence" of Cuba. U.S. officials say he did nothing wrong and was just carrying out the normal mission of USAID.

Gross said at his trial in Cuba that he was a "trusting fool" who was duped. But his trip reports indicate that he knew his activities were illegal in Cuba and that he worried about the danger, including possible expulsion.

One report says a community leader "made it abundantly clear that we are all 'playing with fire.'"

Another time Gross said: "This is very risky business in no uncertain terms."
And finally: "Detection of satellite signals will be catastrophic."

The case has heightened frictions in the decades-long political struggle between the United States and its communist neighbor to the south, and raises questions about how far democracy-building programs have gone -- and whether cloak-and-dagger work is better left to intelligence operatives.

Gross' company, JBDC Inc., which specializes in setting up Internet access in remote locations like Iraq and Afghanistan, had been hired by Development Alternatives Inc., or DAI, of Bethesda, Maryland, which had a multimillion-dollar contract with USAID to break Cuba's information blockade by "technological outreach through phone banks, satellite Internet and cell phones."

USAID officials reviewed Gross' trip reports and received regular briefings on his progress, according to DAI spokesman Steven O'Connor. The reports were made available to the AP by a person familiar with the case who insisted on anonymity because of the documents' sensitivity.

The reports cover four visits over a five-month period in 2009. Another report, written by a representative of Gross' company, covered his fifth and final trip, the one that ended with his arrest on Dec. 3, 2009.

Together, the reports detail the lengths to which Gross went to escape Cuban authorities' detection.

To avoid airport scrutiny, Gross enlisted the help of other American Jews to bring in electronic equipment a piece at a time. He instructed his helpers to pack items, some of them banned in Cuba, in carry-on luggage, not checked bags.
He once drove seven hours after clearing security and customs rather than risk airport searches.

On his final trip, he brought in a "discreet" SIM card -- or subscriber identity module card -- intended to keep satellite phone transmissions from being pinpointed within 250 miles (400 kilometers), if they were detected at all.

The type of SIM card used by Gross is not available on the open market and is distributed only to governments, according to an official at a satellite telephone company familiar with the technology and a former U.S. intelligence official who has used such a chip. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the technology, said the chips are provided most frequently to the Defense Department and the CIA, but also can be obtained by the State Department, which oversees USAID.

Asked how Gross obtained the card, USAID spokesman Drew Bailey said only that the agency played no role in helping Gross acquire equipment. "We are a development agency, not an intelligence agency," he said.

Cuba's communist government considers all USAID democracy promotion activities to be illegal and a national security threat. USAID denies that any of its work is covert.

Gross' American lawyer, Peter J. Kahn, declined comment but has said in the past that Gross' actions were not aimed at subverting the Cuban government.
Cuban authorities consider Internet access to be a matter of national security and block some sites that are critical of the government, as well as pages with content that they deem as counterrevolutionary. Most Cubans have access only to a severely restricted island-wide Intranet service.

Proponents of providing Internet access say it can undermine authoritarian governments that control the flow of information to their people. Critics say the practice not only endangers contractors like Gross, but all American aid workers, even those not involved in secret activities.

"All too often, the outside perception is that these USAID people are intelligence officers," said Philip Giraldi, an ex-CIA officer. "That makes it bad for USAID, it makes it bad for the CIA and for any other intelligence agency who like to fly underneath the radar."

Even before he delivered the special SIM card, Gross noted in a trip report that use of Internet satellite phones would be "problematic if exposed." He was aware that authorities were using sophisticated detection equipment and said he saw workers for the government-owned telecommunications service provider conduct a radio frequency "sniff" the day before he was to set up a community's Wi-Fi operation.

U.S. diplomats say they believe Gross was arrested to pressure the Obama administration to roll back its democracy-promotion programs. The Cuban government has alleged without citing any evidence that the programs, funded under a 1996 law calling for regime change in Cuba, are run by the CIA as part of an intelligence plan to topple the government in Havana.

While the U.S. government broadly outlines the goals of its aid programs in publicly available documents, the work in Cuba could not exist without secrecy because it is illegal there. Citing security concerns, U.S. agencies have refused to provide operational details even to congressional committees overseeing the programs.

"The reason there is less disclosure on these programs in totalitarian countries is because the people are already risking their lives to exercise their fundamental rights," said Mauricio Claver-Carone, who runs the Washington-based Cuba Democracy Advocates.

USAID rejected the notion that its contractors perform covert work.
"Nothing about USAID's Cuba programs is covert or classified in any way," says Mark Lopes, a deputy assistant administrator. "We simply carry out activities in a discreet manner to ensure the greatest possible safety of all those involved."

The U.S. National Security Act defines "covert" as government activities aimed at influencing conditions abroad "where it is intended that the role of the United States Government will not be apparent or acknowledged publicly."

USAID's democracy promotion work in Cuba was spurred by a large boost in funding under the Bush administration and a new focus on providing communications technology to Cubans. U.S. funding for Cuban aid multiplied from $3.5 million in 2000 to $45 million in 2008. It's now $20 million.

Gross was paid a half-million dollars as a USAID subcontractor, according to U.S. officials familiar with the contract. They spoke only on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the case.

USAID head Raj Shah said democracy promotion is "absolutely central" to his agency's work. The Obama administration says its Cuba programs aim to help politically repressed citizens enjoy fundamental rights by providing humanitarian support, encouraging democratic development and aiding the free flow of information.

U.S. officials say Gross' work was not subversion because he was setting up connections for Cuba's Jewish community, not for dissidents. Jewish leaders have said that they were unaware of Gross' connections to the U.S. government and that they already were provided limited Internet access. USAID has not said why it thought the community needed such sensitive technology.

Asked if such programs are meant to challenge existing leaders, Lopes said, "For USAID, our democracy programs in Cuba are not about changing a particular regime. That's for the Cuban people to decide, and we believe they should be afforded that choice."

Others disagree.

"Of course, this is covert work," said Robert Pastor, President Jimmy Carter's national security adviser for Latin America and now director of the Center for Democracy and Election Management at American University in Washington. "It's about regime change."

Gross, of Potomac, Maryland, was a gregarious man, about 6 feet (1.8 meters) and 250 pounds (113 kilograms). He was hard to miss. He had bought a Rosetta Stone language course to improve his rudimentary Spanish and had scant knowledge of Cuba. But he knew technology. His company specialized in installing communications gear in remote parts of the world.

Gross' first trip for DAI, which ended in early April 2009, focused on getting equipment in and setting up the first of three facilities with Wi-Fi hotspots that would give unrestricted Internet access to hundreds of Cubans, especially the island's small Jewish community of 1,500.

To get the materials in, Gross relied on American Jewish humanitarian groups doing missions on the island. He traveled with the groups, relying on individuals to help bring in the equipment, according to the trip reports.

Three people briefed on Gross' work say he told contacts in Cuba he represented a Jewish organization, not the U.S. government. USAID says it now expects people carrying out its programs to disclose their U.S. government funding to the people they are helping -- if asked.

One of Gross' reports suggests he represented himself as a member of one of the groups and that he traveled with them so he could intercede with Cuban authorities if questions arose.

The helpers were supposed to pack single pieces of equipment in their carry-on luggage. That way, Gross wrote, any questions could best be handled during the X-ray process at security, rather than at a customs check. The material was delivered to Gross later at a Havana hotel, according to the trip reports.

USAID has long relied on visitors willing to carry in prohibited material, such as books and shortwave radios, U.S. officials briefed on the programs say. And USAID officials have acknowledged in congressional briefings that they have used contractors to bring in software to send encrypted messages over the Internet, according to participants in the briefings.

An alarm sounded on one of Gross' trips when one of his associates tried to leave the airport terminal; the courier had placed his cargo -- a device that can extend the range of a wireless network -- into his checked bag.

Gross intervened, saying the device was for personal use and was not a computer hard drive or a radio.

According to the trip reports, customs officials wanted to charge a 100 percent tax on the value of the item, but Gross bargained them down and was allowed to leave with it.

"On that day, it was better to be lucky than smart," Gross wrote.

Much of the equipment Gross helped bring in is legal in Cuba, but the volume of the goods could have given Cuban authorities a good idea of what he was up to.

"Total equipment" listed on his fourth trip included 12 iPods, 11 BlackBerry Curve smartphones, three MacBooks, six 500-gigabyte external drives, three Internet satellite phones known as BGANs, three routers, three controllers, 18 wireless access points, 13 memory sticks, three phones to make calls over the Internet, and networking switches. Some pieces, such as the networking and satellite equipment, are explicitly forbidden in Cuba.

Gross wrote that he smuggled the BGANs in a backpack. He had hoped to fool authorities by taping over the identifying words on the equipment: "Hughes," the manufacturer, and "Inmarsat," the company providing the satellite Internet service.

The BGANs were crucial because they provide not only satellite telephone capacity but an Internet signal that can establish a Wi-Fi hotspot for multiple users. The appeal of using satellite Internet connections is that data goes straight up, never passing through government-controlled servers.

There was always the chance of being discovered.

Last year, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee asked about clandestine methods used to hide the programs and reports that some of them had been penetrated.

"Possible counterintelligence penetration is a known risk in Cuba," the State Department said in a written response to AP. "Those who carry out our assistance are aware of such risks."

Gross' first trip to Cuba ended in early April 2009 with establishment of a communications site in Havana.

He went back later that month and stayed about 10 days while a site was set up in Santiago, Cuba's second-largest city.

On his third trip, for two weeks in June 2009, Gross traveled to a city in the middle of the island identified by a U.S. official as Camaguey. He rented a car in Havana and drove seven hours rather than risk another encounter with airport authorities.

Gross wrote that BGANs should not be used outside Havana, where there were enough radio frequency devices to hide the emissions.

The report for Gross's fourth trip, which ended early that August, was marked final and summarized his successes: wireless networks established in three communities; about 325 users; "communications to and from the U.S. have improved and used on a regular basis." He again concluded the operation was "very risky business."

Gross would have been fine if he had stopped there.

In late November 2009, however, he went back to Cuba for a fifth time. This time he didn't return. He was arrested 11 days later.

An additional report was written afterward on the letterhead of Gross' company. It was prepared with assistance from DAI to fulfill a contract requirement for a summary of his work, and so everyone could get paid, according to officials familiar with the document.

The report said Gross had planned to improve security of the Havana site by installing an "alternative sim card" on the satellite equipment.

The card would mask the signal of the BGAN as it transmitted to a satellite, making it difficult to track where the device was located.

The document concluded that the site's security had been increased.

It is unclear how DAI confirmed Gross' work for the report on the final trip, though a document, also on Gross' company letterhead, states that a representative for Gross contacted the Jewish community in Cuba five times after his arrest.

In a statement at his trial, Gross professed his innocence and apologized.

"I have never, would never and will never purposefully or knowingly do anything personally or professionally to subvert a government," he said. "I am deeply sorry for being a trusting fool. I was duped. I was used."

In an interview with AP, his wife, Judy, blamed DAI, the company that sent him to Cuba, for misleading him on the risks. DAI spokesman O'Connor said in a statement that Gross "designed, proposed, and implemented this work" for the company.

Meanwhile, the 62-year-old Gross sits in a military prison hospital. His family says he has lost about 100 pounds (45 kilograms) and they express concern about his health. All the U.S. diplomatic attempts to win his freedom have come up empty and there is no sign that Cuba is prepared to act on appeals for a humanitarian release.

Follow Butler
The AP Investigative Team can be reached at investigate(at)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Julia Sweig Overview for Council on Foreign Relations

The Frozen U.S.-Cuba Relationship

Interviewee: Julia E. Sweig, Nelson and David Rockefeller Senior Fellow for Latin America Studies and Director for Latin America Studies, Council on Foreign Relations

Interviewer: Brianna Lee, Production Editor,

February 28, 2012

Fifty years after the United States enacted an embargo on all trade and commercial transactions with Cuba, relations between the two countries remain at a standstill. Julia E. Sweig, CFR's director of Latin American studies, says the Obama administration has prioritized domestic politics over foreign policy in its relationship with Cuba, even as Cuban President Raul Castro has been "moving in the direction of the kind of reforms that every administration over the last fifty years has called upon Cuba to make." The case of American USAID contractor Alan Gross, currently serving a fifteen-year prison sentence in Cuba (CubanTriangle) on charges of attempting to upend the regime through a U.S.-authorized democracy promotion program, has also heightened tensions, she says. Meanwhile, Sweig adds, Cuba is strengthening ties with global powers like Brazil, as well as the Catholic Church, as the Castro administration seeks to open up new economic and social spaces for its citizens.

We've passed the fifty-year mark of the breakdown of diplomatic ties between Cuba and the United States. Where do we stand now? Is normalizing relations even remotely on the table on either side?

Let me start by talking about three geographical points on the map that are relevant to the answer. In Washington, the Obama administration, consistent with the approach of the Bush administration, has made a political decision to subordinate foreign policy and national interest-based decisions to domestic politics with respect to its Cuba policy. There is a bipartisan group of members of Congress--Democrats and Republicans, House and Senate--who represent Florida, a state where there are many swing votes that deliver the electoral votes for any president. Those individuals not only deliver votes, but they deliver campaign finance, and generally make a lot of noise, and that combination has persuaded the White House that reelection is more of a priority than taking on the heavy lifting to set the United States on the path of normalization with Cuba for now.

"Brazil is clearly stepping into a space where the United States should be, and the United States has made a decision to watch as that happens."

The second point is what's happening in Cuba. It's not realistic to expect the United States to undertake a series of unilateral moves toward normalization; it needs a willing partner. I believe we have one in Havana but have failed to read the signals. Raul Castro has now been in office since the beginning of 2008. Raul holds the reins on both foreign policy and domestic policy, and, domestically, the politics of implementing a fairly wide range of economic and political and social reforms are his priority. In a deal that was coordinated with the help of the Cuban Catholic Church and Spain, he released all of the political prisoners in Cuba. He also is taking a number of steps that imply a major rewriting of the social contract in Cuba to shrink the size of the state and give Cuban individuals more freedom--economically, especially, but also in terms of speech--than we've seen in the last fifty years. He has privatized the residential real estate and car market[s], expanded much-needed agrarian reform, lifted caps on salaries, and greatly expanded space for small businesses. He also is moving to deal with corruption and to prepare the groundwork for a great deal more foreign investment. He's moving in the direction of the kind of reforms that every administration over the last fifty years has called upon Cuba to make, albeit under the rubric of a one-party system. There's a broad range of cooperation--neighborhood security in the Gulf of Mexico, as Cuba has just started drilling for oil, counternarcotics, and natural disasters--between the two countries that is still not happening, and that gives me the impression that the United States has been unwilling to take "yes" for an answer and respond positively to steps taken by Cuba.

The third geographic part of the story is south Florida. When they're polled, the majority of Cuban-Americans say that the embargo has failed, and support lifting the travel ban or loosening the embargo or some steps along that continuum of liberalization and normalization. The one most significant step that Obama did take when he took office was to eliminate the restriction on Cuban-American travel and remittances to Cuba. Cuban-Americans are now voting with their feet. If you go to the Miami airport, you will see thirty, forty flights to Cuba a week just out of Miami. Cuban-Americans are now investing in their families' small businesses on the island. The politics of this are strange because we are told by the Obama administration that we can't rock the boat of the Cuban-American vote, but those very voters are in fact demonstrating that they support a radically different set of policies than, in fact, the Obama administration has supported.

The ongoing case of USAID contractor Alan Gross (AP) has stoked tensions between the United States and Cuba. At the heart of the matter is the U.S. democracy promotion program that authorized Gross' travel to Cuba. What impact does this case have on U.S.-Cuba relations?

Precisely because we have no overarching framework for diplomacy in place and no political will to establish it for now, the Alan Gross case casts a huge shadow over U.S.-Cuban relations. The heart of the issue is the context in which those [pro-democracy] programs were being implemented. We have a full-blown economic embargo with extra-territorial dimensions that are felt in the banking and finance world--a very comprehensive and well-enforced sanctions program. The democracy programs sound very mom and apple pie--USAID has them around the world, its officials will tell you. But having them in Cuba is an extraordinary provocation. They were inherited from the previous administration's concept of regime change, and under Obama, they remain largely intact. The programs are purposely kept secret from the American public. There is no public information about the private and not-for-profit subcontractors in the United States and around the world, and Cuban institutions and individuals who may be targets of the programs are likewise not told they are part of such U.S. government programs. The democracy promotion programs have been deliberately politicized in order to provoke, and they have succeeded in provoking.

What's key is the context. There's been no real diplomacy; there's no negotiating framework that I've seen for a very long period of time, and again, that has to do with domestic politics. It's very hard to understand otherwise why this guy's still in jail. The United States has repeatedly asked the Cuban government to release Gross unilaterally, with no commitments on our end. Asking for unilateral gestures, having rebuffed or ignored or failed to read the signals from Cuba, has created this impasse. Having said that, there can be a diplomatic, humanitarian solution, and I see no value to keeping Gross in jail and hope he will be released as soon as possible. But we will need real diplomacy and a framework for negotiating a range of issues both countries care about.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff paid a visit to Cuba recently, and it looks like Cuba's trying to formulate ties with an influential, rising Latin American power. How does this burgeoning relationship between Cuba and Brazil affect Cuba's relationship with the United States.?

Brazil is a regional power and a global power; it plays in a number of spaces well beyond Latin America. In the last couple of years it undertook some major investments, and those investments will grow in Cuba--in infrastructure, in agriculture, in perhaps energy as well, and others. Brazil is clearly stepping into a space where the United States should be, and the United States has made a decision to watch as that happens.

How does Cuba's human rights situation complicate the relationship between those two countries?

It doesn't seem to be complicating it at all. Rousseff--given her own history of having spent three years in jail and being tortured in the 1970s and having worked to make human rights more of a domestic and foreign policy--her presidency has quite a bit of standing with respect to talking to any government, including the Cuban government, about human rights. She was criticized by her own public, especially in the media, a great deal for choosing to have those discussions with Cuba privately. But I would suggest that having a public, browbeating, rhetorical approach has almost always backfired for major heads of state when dealing with Cuba, and if you look at the success that the Catholic Church and the Spanish government had around the political prisoner release, that success derived from a basic fundamental degree of respect, cooperation, and engagement as the framework for the relationship.

The Pope is set to make a highly anticipated visit to Cuba in March. What's the significance of this visit?

Pope John Paul II went to Cuba in 1998, and that was very significant because that was just a few years after a new constitution in Cuba had affirmed the right of religious believers to hold senior positions in government. In the decade-plus that's transpired since, the Catholic Church under Archbishop Jaime Ortega has become the most important provider of social services outside of the state. It has started its own business school; it has opened space for itself and for others for publications, opinion, and debate; it has worked in concert with the Cuban government, especially with Raul Castro, on a very nationalist project of building a more open society in Cuba. This Pope is a different person than Pope John Paul, and it's highly anticipated, but he's coming at a time when already there is substantial change under way in that country. The visit will help the Cuban Catholic Church create space for itself and continue to create space for itself, and signal to the Cuban government that it's an institution that can be relied upon to support the kinds of reforms that the government itself wants to make happen.

It's important to note that the Pope's going to Mexico on this trip, and Mexico's population of practicing Catholics is proportionally much bigger than Cuba's. In Cuba, the syncretic religions are widely practiced. The Catholic Church is an incredibly important institution, but it would be a mistake to think of Cuba the way we do Mexico, as a predominantly Catholic society.

Raul Castro held the First National Conference of the Cuban Communist Party last month. What was he hoping to accomplish?

This conference was preceded by a Party congress in April 2011, and you have to think about both in tandem. The biggest take-away from the Party conference was the formalization of term limits for senior officials in the Cuban government, both elected and appointed. That's a very significant step forward in terms of political reform, given that many of the top leaders in the politburo are over sixty-five and have been working in those positions or other senior positions for their entire careers. It's also an important sign to the junior people who are building their political careers that they're not going to be permanent.

"Political party space, like having a multi-party system, that's not the top priority for Cubans. But what is a top priority is having the opportunity to make good for themselves."

The broader consequences of the congress and the conference were for Raul to continue a process that has been pretty slow and difficult of building a consensus among the longtime beneficiaries of the status quo that the status quo needs to change. One key thing for the Communist Party is to get the Communist Party out of day-to-day government. The party is supposed to be a political party, sort of ideological ballast, but it isn't supposed to be running ministries or having the kind of major role bureaucratically and politically that it's had over the last fifty years.

The other piece is to institute accountability and transparency within the institutions of governance themselves. That process means a radical overhaul of the way things have happened for the last fifty years.

How strong is the Cuban society's desire to move beyond the one-party system?

It's very strong. Public opinion is complicated because on the one hand, Cubans want change and they want much more space--economic space, speech space. I would say political party space, like having a multi-party system, that's not the top priority for Cubans. But what is a top priority is having the opportunity to make good for themselves with the wonderful education they have and to run businesses and to have the state get out of the way, while continuing to provide the basic social services that the entire population has benefited from and gotten so accustomed to.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Prominent Conservative Wants Big Change in US Policy

Mort Zuckerman: Time for U.S. to Review Its Cuba Policy

Raul Castro has succeeded Fidel and is reining in the all-pervasive Cuban government


January 12, 2012

It is past time to change our policy toward Cuba. For over 50 years, the United States has been obsessed with the Cuba of Fidel Castro's time. So much so that many of the circumstances that animate our conversations and views of Cuba today seem to be drawn from the 20th century. They are a throwback to the days when Cuba was a menacing outpost of an aggressive Soviet Union. Admittedly, it's hard to forget the days of the October 1962 Cuban missile crisis. We forced the removal of those missiles, then sought to punish and bring down the Castro regime by a trade embargo (and some madcap covert schemes).

For over 49 years those policies have failed. And they are inappropriate for the Cuba of today. About 70 percent of Cubans were born after the original revolution. They are pressuring the state to get out of their way.

Since a chance meeting with Fidel Castro many years ago, I have had hours of conversation with him over many visits, including one a few weeks ago. Castro has overcome several bouts of serious illness. As he put it, "Nobody thought I would get through my illness, but here I am at work." And so he is, but he is playing a different role. The most critical change is that his brother, Raúl Castro, has succeeded him as president in a transition marked by a noteworthy degree of stability.

Fidel is certainly at work and active and still an inspiration for Cubans. They respect and admire him for establishing an excellent system of free healthcare; an improved educational system; and a relatively colorblind, multiracial society in which most of the institutionalized racism against blacks and mulattoes has been eliminated. They also take pride in the way he stood up to America.

He was teased a number of years ago that if he had been a slightly better baseball pitcher and made it to the major leagues, Cuba and the United States would not have had years of conflict. Castro's response was, "I was a good pitcher, but I am a great revolutionary." He is still involved, for as he has said, "Revolutionaries do not retire." But Fidel's role today is that of the senior statesman concentrating on the international stage, long a key interest for him, rather than the head of state on the domestic stage.

The driver for change in Cuba now is Raúl Castro. The pace of change will be, as he puts it, "without pause, but without haste." To implement his judgment that structural reforms are needed to revitalize Cuba's stagnant economy, he has become the principal architect in abandoning the all-pervasive role of the state and shifting a good part of economic activity to the private sector. Speech is freer. He has called on Cubans to openly air their opinions in the form of numerous town hall-style meetings. He has listened. Policies he announced have ultimately been refined and changed by the process.

He has eliminated excessive bans and regulations, encouraged productivity, and sought to make the government smaller and more efficient. This is a major change from Fidel's totally planned economy to a more market-oriented one, despite the forces of bureaucratic inertia and resistance. For the first time in over five decades, there are new rules that support the legitimization of the private sector. Free-market mechanisms have been embraced, such as self-employment, a new tax code, and liberalized rules on such things as home and auto ownership. Hundreds of thousands of licenses have been granted to Cubans to operate private businesses. A financing mechanism provides credit to would-be entrepreneurs.

Cubans finally have the right to sell and buy their homes. Many Cuban-Americans have been encouraged enough to accelerate the process by sending money to relatives. Cubans are now also allowed to purchase cellphones, DVDs, and other items that were once restricted. All these reforms are helping to change public attitudes; fewer young people want to leave. Not bad for a government that heretofore had followed a centralized communist economic model.

The church has also been positive. It has helped to negotiate the release of political prisoners, now significantly fewer. It has encouraged the move to free markets, providing counseling that reflects the words of the late Pope John Paul II when he called for "Cuba to open to the world, and the world to open to Cuba."
The Cuban-American community in the United States has also changed. Many now believe the embargo should end and the travel ban lifted. This, too, reflects a generational shift. Younger Cuban-Americans, who now outnumber the aging Cuban exiles of the 1960s, have a different attitude. They think of Cuba not in terms of politics and ideology but of family and friendships. Using so-called gift parcels, they are supplying their families in Cuba with tools and other goods for use in small businesses.

President Obama, in tune with these changes, has sought a better relationship with Cuba. He has lifted Bush-era restrictions on family travel and remittances. Last year over 300,000 people took charter flights from Florida to Cuba. Many are from the younger generation, and some no doubt dislike the Cuban leadership and what it represents. But they consider family reunification and support to be their priority. They think that after 50 years, it is time to try something different with Cuba.

The question for Americans is how to relate to the new evolving Cuba. I believe there is wisdom in Henry Kissinger's view. He lived through the grim years as secretary of state, and had said: "It is better to deal straight with Castro. Behave chivalrously," and think in broader terms.

One step to improve our relationship—and advantage America—is to remove the restrictions on exports of agricultural products. All sectors of the U.S. economy would benefit by freeing commodity sales. It would increase our revenues by perhaps $300 million to $500 million a year. Food should not be seen as a weapon but as a way to build a better longer-term relationship between the two countries, as was shown by the experience between East and West Germany.

Our restriction is pointless anyway. Cubans have access to food through imports from countries like Vietnam and China. Our regulations are simply restricting the ability of our farmers and agribusinesses to trade with Cuba while competitors exploit the opportunities to take over the sales we would otherwise have. We don't hesitate to trade with other communist countries. We even offer them credit. It is not very sensible to worry over selling wheat to Cuba and putting that money into the pockets of American farmers. As for restricting travel to Cuba, we have allowed Americans to travel to Iran, China, and Russia.

There is every evidence, moreover, that when we have liberalized intercourse with closed societies, they have become more open, with greater freedoms for their populations. China is a case in point. For this reason, we should be willing to open up Internet access and allow Americans to travel to Cuba.
I recognize there remain serious political issues between Cuba and the United States. The Cubans have jailed Alan Gross, a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development. He was implementing a U.S. government democracy-building program, distributing computers, cellphones, and satellite communication technologies for nongovernmental organizations. The Cuban government interpreted this as a subversive activity and arrested him. This has now become a main obstacle to improving relations.

The Cuban government wants to have any humanitarian release of Gross matched by some degree of reciprocity. One possibility is that the United States would allow a recently released Cuban spy to serve out his next three years of parole in Cuba rather than in Florida. (He was one of five Cuban officers sent here in the 1990s to spy on anti-Castro militant groups. A release of all five is another possibility.)
Whatever the process, quiet diplomacy should be able to resolve such issues and inspire a more positive rapport. The main hurdle is political: A portion of the Cuban-American community takes a very hard-line view of the Castro government and remains a powerful political force in the key swing state of Florida. The attitude of the presidential candidates will be a good test of their vision and diplomatic skills.

We should not try to seal off Cuba from the American influence that has so profoundly changed much of the rest of the world. We cannot bully a country by starvation or deny its people the right to rejoin their families. We can move forward in our relationship with Cuba and still maintain American interests and values.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Insider Critique of USAID Regime Change Programs

Time to clean up U.S. regime-change programs in Cuba


As USAID subcontractor Alan P. Gross marked his second year in a Cuban prison for carrying out secret “democracy promotion” operations, White House spokesman Jay Carney demanded his immediate release and gloated: “Cuban authorities have failed in their effort to use Gross as a pawn for their own ends.”

The message is simple: Gross is our pawn, not the Cubans’.The administration’s signals throughout the Gross affair have been clear. To Havana, it’s been “no negotiation.” To Gross, “tough luck.” And to Americans who think our 50-year Cuba policy should be reviewed, it is, “Don’t hold your breath.”

When a covert action run by the CIA goes bad and a clandestine officer gets arrested, the U.S. government works up a strategy for negotiating his release. When a covert operator working for USAID gets arrested, Washington turns up the rhetoric, throws more money at the compromised program, and refuses to talk.

For three years, I was the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s lead investigator into the political operations of the State Department and USAID in Cuba and elsewhere in Latin America.

The Cuba programs — designed to identify, organize, train and mobilize Cubans to demand political change — have an especially problematic heritage, including embezzlement, mismanagement, and systemic politicization. Some program successes costing millions of taxpayer dollars, such as the creation of a network of “independent libraries,” were grossly exaggerated or fabricated.

An oversight committee’s mandate is to ensure that funds — about $20 million a year but surging to $45 million in 2009 — are used effectively and in a manner consistent with U.S. law.

State and USAID fought us at every turn, refusing to divulge even basic information about the programs, citing only a document of vague “program objectives.” The programs did not involve our Intelligence Community, but the secrecy surrounding them, the clandestine tradecraft (including the use of advanced encryption technologies) and the deliberate concealment of the U.S. hand, had all the markings of an intelligence covert operation. We never requested the names of their on-island operatives, but program managers claimed that “people will die” if we knew the names of even U.S.-based “partner” groups.

The programs were not a secret in Cuba. The Cuban government had them deeply penetrated. We did not know who Alan P. Gross was — indeed, the State Department vehemently denied he was theirs after his arrest, and even some of our diplomats in Havana thought he was working for CIA. But it was clear that the Cubans had been on him. Cuban television has shown video of other contractors in action on the island.

Only Gross can say what he knew about Cuban law as he carried out his $585,000 contract, including five visits to Cuba. He has said that he was “duped.” We confirmed that State and USAID had no policy in place to brief individuals conducting these secret operations that they are not legal in Cuba, nor that U.S. law does not allow unregistered foreign agents to travel around the country providing satellite gear, wide-area WiFi hotspots, encryption and telephony equipment and other cash-value assistance.

Administration policy is that Cuban recipients not be told the origin and purpose of the assistance — unless they ask directly. Some Cubans can guess, of course, but the implications of non-disclosure, especially as new programs target children as young as 12, are significant in a country that expressly outlaws receiving U.S. funds.

USAID has emerged as a covert warrior to undermine anti-U.S. regimes worldwide — without the burden of accountability imposed on the Intelligence Community. The regime-change focus of the programs is explicit: Rather than fund them under education and cultural authorities, the Bush and Obama administrations have insisted on citing authorities in the Helms-Burton “Libertad Act” prescribing a post-Castro future for Cuba.

Fixes have been repeatedly proposed to increase efficiencies and steer funds to help the Cuban people improve their lives, such as by taking advantage of the incipient economic adjustments that Raúl Castro has begun — to help people help themselves, not just organize and mobilize them for protests. USAID’s firm reaction has been that the programs are not to help Cubans live better lives today but rather help them demand a better future tomorrow. Regime change.

Like the other millions of dollars we have spent to topple the Cuban government, these programs have failed even to provoke the regime, except to arrest Gross and hassle people who have accepted assistance from other on-island operators.

Our policy should be based on what’s effective at promoting the U.S. national interest — peaceful, democratic and evolutionary change — not engaging in gratuitous provocations. Rhetoric and actions that prolong the prison stay of an innocent American apparently duped into being a pawn in the U.S. government’s 50-year effort to achieve regime change in Cuba are counterproductive. It’s time to clean up the regime-change programs and negotiate Alan P. Gross’s release.

Fulton Armstrong has worked on the Cuba issue on the National Security Council during the Clinton administration and later as National Intelligence Officer for Latin America and senior advisor on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Grand Valley State University Baseball Team

GVSU to Cuba for baseball, med supplies
Lakers play 6 games in 4 days against Cuban team

Published : Wednesday, 21 Dec 2011, 5:05 PM EST

By Steve Kelso
ALLENDALE, Mich. (WOOD) - Skylar Hoke is a freshman right-handed pitcher for the Grand Valley State University Lakers. When he makes his college debut, it will be in Havana, Cuba.

The Lakers will be only the second team from the United States to play against a Cuban team in Cuba when they travel to the island for a four-game series between January 3-9, 2012.

They'll face a Cuban national university team , but they're also joining forces with First Hand Aid , a Grand Rapids-based organization that has delivered medical supplies to Cuba for more than a decade.

"Every three months we travel down and just bring hundreds of pounds of medical supplies that Cuba cannot get because of the embargo," said First Hand Aid director Marc Bohland. "It cannot be sold to them. It can only be donated."

For GVSU head baseball coach Steve Lyon, it's a dream come true. It's a chance for his team to play against some of the best ball players in the world and an opportunity to build the character of his players as they bind together as a team.

"This is going to be an experience for them, baseball-wise," he said, "but also just culturally and the humanitarian efforts that we are going to be doing while we are there, I think, is an extremely important experience for our guys to have."

Hoke, the freshman pitcher, is not exactly sure what to expect. He's both excited and a little nervous.

"It will make you realize just how much and how special and how fortunate we are to have it here," he said.