Saturday, November 27, 2010

Activist: Washington isn't doing enough for Cuban dissidents

Mauricio Claver-Carone. Photo: Poder

Mauricio Claver-Carone, editor of the blog Capitol Hill Cubans and board member of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, said USAID programs in Cuba "are still functioning. They're doing what they're supposed to do, according to law."
But Washington doesn't appear to be carrying out the programs with the same vigor and enthusiasm as occurred during the Bush administration, he said.
I’m more concerneed about what is the message that our diplomats are getting, and basically the message that they’re sending in Havana. At the end of the day, their execution of U.S. policy has a big impact.
Claver-Carone said he respects the fact that "there is a very tenuous situation" in U.S.-Cuba relations "due to the incarceration of Alan Gross."
U.S. officials are trying to carry out pro-democracy programs while trying to free Gross, he said.
It's a fine line. There's a balancing act they need to follow. They need to be careful not to isolate and marginalize all of Cuba's dissidents. At the end of the day, they are taking these enormous risks we can't even fathom.
On Nov. 24, the Daily Caller accused the Obama administration of pursuing a policy of "aggressive niceness" toward the socialist government.
The website quoted Cuban dissident Juan Carlos González Leiva as saying he believes that officials at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana no longer welcome dissidents.
The Daily Caller - founded by journalist Tucker Carlson and Neil Patel, former chief policy adviser to Vice President Cheney - quotes González as saying:
Now there is disdain, and bad treatment. Also there is lots of reluctance, lots of disinterest — no interest in working with the dissidents now. Before, never.
I had been working very closely with the Department of Press and Culture of the Interests Section and with the office of human rights. I had a strong friendship with all of the officials who passed through. It is really inconceivable the extents of disdain and humiliation and poor treatment on the part of the officials towards the Cuban dissidents.
Claver-Carone said:
The message they are sending on the ground is that they don’t care about Cuba’s dissidents anymore and that’s music to the regime’s ears.
Officials at the Interests Section rarely give interviews to the press, and so it's difficult to get their point of view.
A source I can't identify - someone who is knowledgeable about U.S. programs in Cuba - found the Daily Caller story puzzling:
Assuming Juan Carlos was quoted correctly (and you never know…) it’s unfortunate if he has this general perception.
Officials spend a "huge amount of time and effort...supporting civil society issues," the source said.
I’m sure there are personality and stylistic differences, as there always are when there is a change in staff.
But officials have not changed their "support posture for civil society," the source said. Officials are working to broaden engagement, "particularly in the cultural arena. "
Claver-Carone said it is difficult to know just what the U.S. Interests Section does. He said:
They think no one's watching. There is no kind of accountability.
He believes Interests Section employees have a "counterproductive mentality."
They are kind of pushing their own agenda. They think everything is OK. We don’t want to push any buttons. We don’t want to upset anyone. We don’t need any more problems.
He believes U.S. diplomats ought to take a more aggressive approach. Diplomats ought to welcome dissidents to the Interests Section in Havana, so they can use the Internet. Their attitude ought to be:
Yeah, the regime doesn't like that, but that's too bad.
Instead, Claver-Carone contends, Interests Section employees have a "new mentality" and believe that if the socialist government objects, then U.S. officials ought to back off. He said they figure:
Let's not push their buttons so much.
But that is a "huge disservice" and "marginalizes dissidents," he said.
I've heard that some Cuban dissidents feel more comfortable with Eastern European diplomats. Thank God for Eastern European diplomats.
Claver-Carone said he doesn't believe USAID should use private contractors to carry out pro-democracy programs because "it's not cost effective." He added:
I don’t think they are adept in dealing with countries like Cuba. Cuba is a closed society. Cuba is not Pakistan. It's not Afghanistan. It's not Egypt.
Cuba is not semi-authoritarian. It's a closed totalitarian state. You’re being watched, particularly as a foreigner, at all time. If you don’t know how to operate in that environment, you create dangerous situation.
In cases like Cuba, there are plenty of NGOs, and folks that have done this for years that have great expertise. They know to work on the ground in Cuba without overexposing themselves. And they’re passionate about this. That’s what they do well.
Contractors at the end of the day not cost effective. They’re good people. I’m not stereotyping them. But they’re a business. They don’t look at this as a cause. They don’t look at this as a mission. They see this as development work on a global scale as opposed to work that is part of the pro-democracy movement.

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