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.

Read more here:

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.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Cantaclaro's Insight on Alan Gross and The Five

The following appeared as comments to an excellent post by Phil Peters at the Cuban Triangle

Anonymous said...

Mr. Peters,

I suspect, although the Cubans themselves are a little confused about what they are accusing Alan Gross of, that Alan Gross was arrested because he was attempting to set up a mesh network in Cuba, of the type that the State Department has been developing to use in hostile totalitarian countries that do not allow their population to have permanent or temporary internet access and that, although the efforts to develop such a network in Cuba while Alan Gross is arrested, they will be resumed with more precaution once he is released.

So I believe that this is one additional reason for the Cuban government to refuse to release Alan Gross.

Not only is he their sole negotiation chip for the release of their five cuban spies imprisoned in the US, but while he is imprisoned, the Cuban government is reasonably certain that the US government will not continue to make efforts to provide clandestine internet access to a part of its population.

This is a message to discuss a small part of the problem people may not normally be aware of.

In a series of future ones, if you allow me, I'll try to comment by parts the whole Alan Gross five Cuban spies enchilada.


DECEMBER 4, 2011 1:23 AM

Anonymous said...

The official Cuban government version of events is that:

1- During the nineties the right wing Cubans in the United States were financing a series of terrorist incidents in Havana hotels to scare off foreign tourists and that the US government was not doing anything about it.

2- The Cuban government sent over to the US a series of agents to infiltrate these right wing groups discover their plans and communicate them to the Cuban government so that the terrorist activities in the island could be neutralized.

3- After obtaining sufficient evidence of these activities from his agents, Fidel Castro decided that the Cuban government should contact the FBI and provide them with this information to give the FBI the necessary leads to investigate these right wing groups, verify their criminal activities, prosecute them and put an end to them.

4- Instead of doing this the FBI handed over the information that had been provided by the Cuban government to the right wing Cuban groups in the United States that Castro accused of promoting terrorism.

5- Then, with the active aid of these Cuban right wing groups, the FBI reversed engineered the information to trace back the Cuban government informants infiltrated within these groups.

6- Once located, these Cuban government agents were placed under observation, proof of their activities was gathered and once a sufficient amount was available they were finally arrested and prosecuted.

7- All those arrested accepted they were Cuban agents but stated that they were not in the US to spy on the US government or military but that their sole purpose was to report on the right wing groups financing and promoting terrorist activities inside the island.

8- The US government prosecution on the other hand attempted to prove that they were guilty of more heinous crimes such as spying on the US government and being involved in the plot that resulted in the downing of two planes and the death of four Cuban American Castro opponents on 2/24/1996.

Several very important conclusions that have a bearing on the present imbroglio can be derived from all the ground we have covered so far.

From the Cuban government perspective, the FBI acted in bad faith when it used the evidence about a group promoting terrorist activity that the Cuban government had supplied it to prosecute the informants instead of the perpetrators of a terrorist activity.

What was even more aggravating was that this bad faith action made Fidel Castro look like a snitch to his own subordinates and thus undermined their loyalty to him.

This is a very serious charge on a regime that is held together in by the bonds of loyalty between the charismatic supreme leader and his subordinates.

Fidel Castro and his brother must do their utmost to recover these convicted spies in order to try to regain the full confidence of their subordinates that is needed to ensure their own future political survival in a very hostile world.

This is the reason that they attach so much importance to recovering them.

While they remain in prison, their subordinates have a reason to distrust them and this weakens the monolithic coherence of the Cuban totalitarian regime!

When that trust begins to disappear, such totalitarian regime, based on personal loyalty to a charismatic leader, also starts to crumble.

It is crucial for the regime's survival to regain it as rapidly as possible.

In the next installment I shall talk about the trial and conviction of the Cuban five.


DECEMBER 4, 2011 10:50 AM

Anonymous said...

The official Cuban government line is that the five Cuban agents who were tried on spying charges received excessive sentences for two reasons:

1- The prosecutor pressured other codefendants who turned state evidence into accusing them of crimes they did not commit in order to receive a reduction of their sentence.

2- The Miami venue of the trial exposed the jury to a lot of unfavorable community pressure and made a fair trial impossible.

The first situation might have occurred but there is little proof that it could have had a significant weight in the outcome of the trial.

There is evidence in the court records to indicate that the prosecutor was aware of the weakness of some of the more serious accusations for which he thought there was insufficient evidence and tried to withdraw them but was restricted from doing so by the judge.

So the reason for the severe sentences does not lie in the conduct of the prosecutor but with that of the jury which throughout a very long trial was under the constant influence of a very hostile community opinion.

Indeed in the court records there are jury complaints presented to the judge that their photographs were being taken as they left the court and that their license plate numbers were also being recorded and being published in the communities spanish newspapers.

Moreover, these were constantly making hostile comments against the accused and drumming up community public opinion against them all along the prolongued trial.

When the testimony was concluded, after a very short deliberation, the jury convicted the defendants on all counts including those that the District Attorney had attempted to withdraw because he thought he had insufficient proof.


DECEMBER 5, 2011 12:31 PM

Anonymous said...

With respect to Gross, whatever we might think about the fact that Cuban law restricts people's right to have access to the internet and to be informed, it is a fact that the introduction and distribution of the software and hardware he brought to Cuba had been prohibited and that he broke this law.

Therefore, although this goes against the right of the Cuban population to be informed, the Cuban government had every legal right to convict him for this "crime".

Now the Cuban government is evidently using him as a negotiating chip and is not going to let him go until they get their five agents back.

However, this does not mean that they are proposing a one to five swap.

Obviously they are willing to negotiate and are willing to throw in other political prisoners to close the deal.

The Obama administration, on the other hand, seems to be in a lose lose situation in an election year.

If it does not get Alan Gross back it will probably loose part of the Jewish vote and part of the vote of the rest of the electorate because it will be accused by its Republican opponents of being weak and allowing itself to be pushed around by a third world dictatorship.

On the other hand, if it swaps the five Cuban agents for Gross, it will keep the Jewish vote but loose part of the Cuban vote and part of the vote of the general population because its opponents will accuse it of giving in to blackmail from a weak third world country dictatorship.

Since the Jewish vote is more important to the Obama administration than the Cuban vote, which is predominantly Republican anyway, the Democratic administration will probably want to strike a deal with the Cuban government that will allow Gross and the five Cuban agents to return to their countries before next year's November election.

However, it can not afford to make a one for five deal because this would give credence to the blackmail accusation and cost it votes among the non Jewish and non Cuban electorate.

Thus it is forced to attempt to get some other goodies to even the basic one for five deal deal to give less weight to the blackmail accusation and allow it to save face with the voters.

What those other goodies will be is what is probably being negotiated under the table at present by both governments at present.

The Cubans are probably willing to throw in two Cuban Americans accused of an armed invasion of the island, several Cuban convicted CIA agents, other Cuban political prisoners and even two Salvadoreans convicted of participating or planning terrorist activities that took place in Cuba.

The problem is many of these other possible assets, given their rap sheet, might not be palatable to the US government.

However, something will probably be finally worked out before the November 2012 Presidential Elections.

The timing of the swap will probably depend on the convenience of the Obama administration.

The Cuban government is probably ready to carry out the swap at anytime since it will strengthen its public support and will open the door to new negotiations that could ease the effects of the US embargo.

The deal will probably take place much earlier and further away from November of 2012 if the Obama political advisors expect the net effect on voters to be unfavorable for the democrats and closer to the date of the elections otherwise to allow the results to be less harmful in the first case or more beneficial in the second for the Obama administration.


Thursday, December 8, 2011

National Council of Churches Cuba Trip

U.S. churches will continue to press
for Cuba-U.S. normalization, Kinnamon says

After 53-year embargo, NCC churches ‘live in hope’ of reconciliation

by Jerry L. Van Marter
Presbyterian News Service

HAVANA, Cuba ― The National Council of Churches in the U.S.A. (NCC) will continue to press for normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba, an end to the 53-year-old U.S. embargo of Cuba and release of the “Cuban Five” held in U.S. prisons, NCC General Secretary Michael Kinnamon told a packed press conference here Dec. 2.

Kinnamon, speaking at the conclusion of a week-long visit by 15 U.S. religious leaders, told the crowd of Cuban and international journalists “we come not as politicians or diplomats but as religious leaders. Our first responsibility is to pray for the leaders of both countries and we will … but our churches represent 50 million Christians, so we believe we have some influence and we’ll use it.”

Everyone the delegation spoke with ― from Cuban President Raul Castro to the head of the U.S. government’s Cuban Interest Section here, John Caulfield ― expressed the desire to end the embargo. “The question,” Kinnamon said, “is how to get there.”

Castro, Kinnamon said, “insisted that everything is on the table. All the Cubans require, he told me, is that talks be held in an atmosphere of mutual respect.”
Kinnamon said he and Castro discussed “small steps” that can be taken: cooperation on drug and human trafficking in the Caribbean, coordinated air traffic control (communication about the 50 weekly flights currently operating between the U.S. and Cuba is done by telephone, not electronic tracking), weather monitoring and improved telecommunications.

The chances of even small steps to improve Cuba-U.S. relations “are complicated in an election year,” Kinnamon conceded, “but I am a person of faith so I always live in hope,” adding that “since 1968 the position of the NCC (on normalization) has been strong and consistent, taken out of our faith position of reconciliation.”

The NCC will continue to press for a review of the sentences ― anywhere from 20 years to life ― levied against the Cuban Five, who were convicted of espionage in the U.S. even though they were monitoring the activities of Cuban expatriate counterrevolutionaries plotting against the Cuban government.

Numerous international human rights organizations have branded the sentences ― four of the five have been imprisoned for 13 years; the fifth, Rene Gonzalez, was “freed” this fall to stringent “supervised release” and is not allowed to leave Florida ― unjust. Kinnamon said “they should not have been tried.”

Of more immediate concern to the churches, Kinnamon said, is the ability of family members to visit the imprisoned Cubans, at least two of whom are U.S. citizens. Two of the wives and all of the men’s children have never been allowed to visit them in prison. “We ache with them for this situation that weighs so heavily,” he said.

Kinnamon said he also raised with Castro the situation of American Alan Gross, who has been held in a Cuban prison for more than a year for allegedly smuggling illegal telecommunications equipment onto the island. “[Members of the NCC delegation] met with Alan Gross and talked about his sense of being unjustly accused and about his concern for his family, several members of which are seriously ill, including his daughter with cancer,” Kinnamon said.

“I raised the Alan Gross case with President Castro,” Kinnamon said. “I am not here to pass judgment but I care about him as a person ― the humanitarian issue.”

Kinnamon said that while political and human rights discussions occupied some of the delegation’s time, “the primary purpose of our visit has been to be in communion and conversation with our church partners here in Cuba.” Kinnamon praised the Cuban Council of Churches, saying that “U.S. churches need the Cuban churches in order to feel whole and complete.”

In times of economic transition in Cuba and “economic tensions” in the U.S., “it is the call to the churches of both countries to offer a word of hope in response to the anxiety and fear in both countries.”

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