Thursday, March 31, 2011

U.S. companies involved in top-secret work

At least 37 U.S. government contractors in Cuba from 2000 to 2009 have been involved in top-secret work somewhere in the world, Washington Post and FedSpending records show.
In July 2010, the Washington Post identified 1,931 companies that do top-secret work on behalf of the U.S. government (See the Post’s Top Secret America database).
FedSpending records show that at least 37 of those firms also have been contracted for jobs – though not necessarily secret work – in Cuba.
It appears that most or all took place as part of multimillion-dollar upgrades to the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, or GITMO, after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
See the Cuba Money Project for more information.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Twitter activist: "Toppling dictators is something I really like"

Stephanie Rudat talks about the value of Facebook's Causes platform as a way to bring about political change (see video).

Social networking activist Stephanie Rudat is pulling together an elite international team aimed at helping Cuban bloggers and others carve out their own future in Cuba.
She is enthusiastic about using cutting-edge technology to empower people to bring about non-violent revolutionary change.
Rudat especially likes taking on authoritarian governments. She says in one interview, "Toppling dictators is something I really like."
Please see the Cuba Money Project for a story about her invitation-only Cuba summit in Panama in April.
Text-only version of story is here.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Carter visit: A graceful way out of the Alan Gross fiasco?

Jimmy Carter and Fidel Castro in May 2002. See more photos
Jimmy Carter's visit to Havana next week can only help Cuba's socialist government.
Carter will likely:
  • Say something positive about the release of dozens of political prisoners in Cuba in recent months.
  • Call for an end to U.S. sanctions against Cuba.
  • Criticize the U.S. AID programs that sent Alan Gross to jail in Cuba.
  • Ask Cuban authorities to free Gross.
If that scenario plays out, Cuban authorities could then release Gross sometime soon as a favor to Carter, who has been a friend to Cuba.
That way, Gross's release would be a magnanimous humanitarian gesture, not a concession to the U.S. government. And Cuban authorities wouldn't have to deal with the Gross fiasco anymore. They would not have the burden of such a high-profile prisoner and they could move on.

Otto Reich testifies in Posada Carriles trial


Otto Reich is testifying today at the perjury trial of former CIA operative Luis Posada Carriles.
The Associated Press reports:
Reich is expected to testify about the alleged pro-Cuba bias of reporter Ann Louise Bardach.
Bardach was working for The New York Times when she interviewed Posada about 1997 bombings in Cuba. She testified that she and Posada remain amiable and that she's no communist sympathizer.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

$600,000 in hurricane funds diverted to democracy programs?


Federal spending records show that $600,000 in hurricane relief funds went to programs aimed at boosting civil society in Cuba. I am looking into whether that kind of diversion of funds is standard procedure or something out of the ordinary.
Please see story at the Cuba Money Project.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

U.S. government will spend $30 million for Internet freedom projects

Boys along the Malecon

Grants of $500,000 to $8 million each are up for grabs for Internet freedom projects in Cuba and other countries, a State Department notice says. In all, about $30 million is available. Please see details at the Cuba Money Project.
Also, a State Department employee today said the agency plans to deny my Dec. 28, 2010, request for information about private contractors who applied for $3.65 million project aimed at expanding Cuban civic participation and leadership.
I asked the employee to provide a written justification for the denial because I plan to file an appeal. I'll post updates at the Cuba Money Project's FOIA Tracker as I have more details in case there are any Freedom of Information Act experts out there who would like to give me any tips.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Cuba denounces U.S.-funded "destabilizing plans"


Cuban officials at the United Nations on Tuesday said the U.S. government is waging a "cyber-war" aimed at undermining the socialist government.
Cuban officials said in a statement:
The U.S. Government maintains unchanged its policy of subversion and interference in Cuban internal affairs, and its priorities of promoting internal counterrevolution and destabilizing activities, while strengthening the blockade and seizure of Cuban commercial and financial transaction all over the world.

Barack Obama: Cuba must take "meaningful action"

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama join Chilean President Sebastián Piñera and his wife Cecilia Morel during the welcoming ceremony at La Moneda Palace in Santiago, Chile.
Photo credit: White House

Here's what Barack Obama said Monday about Cuba during his trip to South America:
Let’s never waver in our support for the rights of people to determine their own future — and, yes, that includes the people of Cuba. Since taking office, I’ve announced the most significant changes to my nation’s policy towards Cuba in decades. I’ve made it possible for Cuban Americans to visit and support their families in Cuba. We’re allowing Americans to send remittances that bring some economic hope for people across Cuba, as well as more independence from Cuban authorities.

Going forward, we’ll continue to seek ways to increase the independence of the Cuban people, who I believe are entitled to the same freedom and liberty as everyone else in this hemisphere. I will make this effort to try to break out of this history that’s now lasted for longer than I’ve been alive.

But Cuban authorities must take some meaningful actions to respect the basic rights of their own people — not because the United States insists upon it, but because the people of Cuba deserve it, no less than the people of the United States or Chile or Brazil or any other country deserve it.

Full transcript
Fidel Castro's response is here, in Spanish.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

USAID: Slices of the Cuba pie

Click here for larger interactive version of pie chart, which shows the recipients of USAID grants related to Cuba

Who really likes slogging through tables and Excel files anyway? So I am creating pie charts and other graphics to help follow - and visualize - the trail of U.S. tax dollars in Cuba.
I'll try to make the charts more useful and interactive as time goes on, and I'll post the data here, on the Cuba Money Project website.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Posada Carriles: "My conscience is very clean"

Note from Luis Posada Carriles to Ann Louise Bardach. Source: Bardachreports.com
Luis Posada Carriles said he knew and supported Fidel Castro before the triumph of the 1959 revolution, but later turned against him.
Communism is "a former of evil," Posada Carriles told journalist Ann Louise Bardach in a June 17, 1998, interview.
A transcript of the interview was filed in the trial against Posada Carriles in U.S. District Court in El Paso.
Prosecutors accuse the anti-Castro militant of perjury, immigration fraud and other charges.
In the 1998 interview, Posada Carriles said he had met Castro in Havana before the revolution and thought of him as a "gangster" because he ran around with people who were always armed.
Castro was "a crazy guy" back then, Posada Carriles told Bardach, who has been testifying this week in the defendant's trial. "Everybody had guns."
Bardach asked Posada Carriles how many times he has tried to kill Fidel Castro. When he would not answer, Bardach spoke into the tape recorder:
He doesn't want to answer...He's sighing...He's laughing...He's rolling his eyes...He's rubbing his eyes...He's laughing...
Posada Carriles never answered the question, at least while the tape recorder was on.
He told her he sleeps very well - "like a baby."
"Why?" she asked.
"Because my conscience is very clean."

Cuba summit set for April in Panama

Vanessa Fuentes, CEO of Absot Marketing

Ernesto Hernandez Busto of Penultimos Dias wrote a post today about a summit for "elite movement leaders" interested in helping Cuban activists use the Internet and digital technology to create political change in Cuba.
Applications are now being accepted for the summit, which is called {think}CUBA and takes place in Panama over three days from April 11 to 15.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Breakdown: $31 million in Cuba-related USAID expenses

Chart shows top five recipients of USAID grants from 2007 to 2010. Source: USAspending

Here are some additional details on USAID's Cuba-related expenses found on the USAspending.gov website.
I've now identified $31,375,546 $29,592,283 spent from 2007 to 2010. Cuba programs during that time totaled some $94,250,000.
The recipients of grants and contracts are below.
I was intrigued by several items. Among them:
  • On Jan. 26, 2011, several changes were made to USAID's contract with Creative Associates International. Among them: Creative's base for its Cuba operations was moved from Costa Rica to Washington, D.C. I wonder why this change occurred. Did the White House pressure USAID to refrain from conducting covert operations from a third country?
  • On April 12, 2010, USAID signed a $300,000 contract with DMP Group to perform an audit of the agency's Cuba program. I am filing a Freedom of Information Act request to try to obtain a copy of the audit.
  • In 2008 and 2009, at least two contracts were changed to allow direct cash disbursements to recipients in Cuba. There has been some debate over the pros and cons of direct cash aid.

Information on the $31 million in USAID Cuba-related expenses are below (Download 7-page PDF of the information). In the coming weeks and months, I plan to flesh out some of the details here and on the Cuba Money Project website.

Transaction Number # 1
Recipient: CREATIVE ASSOCIATES INTERNATIONAL INC.
SWIFT II Task Order awarded to Creative Associates International
for DCH/OTI's Cuban Civil Society Support Program
September 29 , 2008
$6,500,000


$16.6 million in Cuba grants listed

A government website has data on 11 USAID grants related to Cuba. These grants were awarded from 2008 to 2010, and total $16,624,647. That is about 20 percent of the money that USAID set aside for Cuba programs during that time period.
See a breakdown on the 11 grants at the Cuba Money Project. Background on the government website - called USASpending.gov - is here.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Author: Up to $40 million spent to prosecute Posada Carriles

A collage of snapshots taken from Ann Louise Bardach's website, Bardach Reports
Prosecutors have spent $25 million to $40 million to prosecute Luis Posada Carriles, journalist Ann Louise Bardach says in a story published today in Foreign Policy magazine.
The anti-Castro militant's legal team has spent "likely half that," writes Bardach, who is scheduled to take the stand today in El Paso as a key government witness against Posada Carriles.
In the Foreign Policy piece, Bardach says being forced to testify "has now brought me into the middle of a case I want nothing to do with."
Lawyers are expected to grill her about a series of stories about Cuban exile militants that she co-authored in 1998.
Bardach says her "forced participation" is an affront to the First Amendment and may discourage some sources from talking to journalists in the future.
Already, she writes, the case has taken a toll on her personal life. Some critics, she says, have called her everything from "Fidel Castro's lover" to a "pot-smoking lesbian."

Monday, March 14, 2011

More than $55,000 in underwear for Gitmo


The U.S. government spends a ton of money in Cuba, most of it at Gitmo. But more than $1 million found its way into Cuban government companies from 2000 through May 2009, federal expense records show.
Much of the money went for food, fuel and housing. It's unclear if any dissidents or bloggers received money.
The Gitmo expenses are a bit more intriguing because some of them seem so bizarre. Among my favorites:
  • $27,780 for screws
  • $24,322 for badges and insignia
  • $55,704 for men's underwear and pajamas
  • $69,650 for women's clothing
Other purchases were more sobering, and included guns, spy equipment, intelligence services, and maintenance or repairs to below-ground structures or tunnels.
For more information, please see the Cuba Money Project.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

$2.7 billion to company that hired Alan Gross

The Maryland company that hired Alan Gross won more than $2.7 billion in contracts from the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, from 2000 to the third quarter of 2009, federal statistics show.
See details at the Cuba Money Project.
Also new today:
  • I filed two more Freedom of Information Act requests seeking information about U.S. democracy programs. FOIA letters 3 and 4 are here.
  • I also reworked the Cuba Money Project website after a reader in Cuba told me the site was timing out before loading. Apologies to anyone who had trouble accessing the site. It should be running more smoothly and loading much faster than before.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Alan Gross can appeal 15-year sentence


Cuban authorities on Friday sentenced American contract worker Alan Gross to a 15-year prison sentence for allegedly taking part in a "subversive" U.S. government project "to destroy the Revolution."
Gross can appeal the sentence, said a government statement that began circulating earlier today. The statement said:
The Board of Crimes against State Security of the Provincial Court of Havana on Friday imposed a penalty of 15 years imprisonment to U.S. Philip Alan Gross, for the crime of "acts against the independence or territorial integrity of the State."

In reaching its decision, the court took into account the numerous witness evidence, forensic and documentary practiced in the trial, particularly those presented by the prosecution, which showed the direct involvement of U.S. contractor in a subversive project of the Government of the United States to treat to destroy the Revolution, through the use of information communications systems outside the control of the authorities to promote destabilization plans against various social sectors.

At the hearing of the trial, the defendant admitted having been used and manipulated by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which is subordinate to the State Department and funded DAI, the contractor on behalf of which Gross came to Cuba.
Philip Alan Gross may appeal the sentence before the Court for Crimes against State Security of the People's Supreme Court.
Photo credit: the Associated Press

Friday, March 11, 2011

OFAC adds seven new Cuba service providers

The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, or OFAC, updated the list of Cuba service providers for Cuba.
You can download the 31-page PDF from the Treasury Department's website or from this Google site.
Newly authorized Cuba service providers include:
  • Cuba Va Travel, Inc.
  • Arkadys Travel Logistics, Inc.
  • Claudia Community Services, Inc. 
  • Travel Express Services, Inc. 
  • 011-Conexion Corp.
  • Villa Cuba Tours Incorporated as Kimm Corporation
  • Cubazul Travel Services, Inc.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Wild plot: Surfboards disguised as satellite dishes in Cuba

Cuban authorities say those involved in the alleged plot recruited this young man

U.S.-financed activists evidently disguised satellite dishes as boogie boards as part of a plan to set up an illegal communications network in Cuba, said a Cuban electronics technician who was involved in the alleged plot.
State-run Cuban television reported the story Monday night. See links to video and photos at CubaDebate and related article in Granma (in Spanish). A few highlights are below:
To Cuban state security, the agent was Raúl, and to his purported U.S. handlers, Alejandro.
His real name was Dalexi González Madruga, who said he began working as an agent because he thought he was being "used" and pushed into taking part in a plot that "went against my principles."
Others supposedly involved included Marcos, a friend of González who traveled frequently to Spain; Robert Guerra, a staffer at Freedom House; and "Barry," a blond foreigner.
González said as he met these characters, he felt like he was being drawn into something out of an espionage thriller.
He said he could have profited from the deal, but decided it wasn't worth it. He was quoted as saying:
As the events unfolded, I realized that they wanted to use me and I simply would not lend myself for a that type of activity. So I became Alexander to the enemy, and Raul for State Security of my country.
I won't do anything that goes against my principles. I can have my business, monetarily speaking, but as a person, I would have lost something that is worth more. And for me, yes, that's priceless.
González said he met Marcos in 2007. Marcos said he wanted to use the satellite dishes to set up an Internet network in case "something happened." It wasn't immediately clear what that something was.
In 2008, González said he met Barry. He introduced himself with code words. "How's the surf in the south of France?"
With those words, González knew he was his contact, someone that CubaDebate said could be an American agent.

Robert Guerra: Tweet link

CubaDebate said published only one photo, above, of Guerra. He directs the Internet Freedom Project at Freedom House, which receives U.S. government funding.
The Miami Herald's Cuban Colada blog said Guerra is one of the founders of Privaterra, a Toronto-based group "that works with nongovernmental organizations to assist them with issues of data privacy, secure communications, information security, internet governance and internet freedom." Two more photos of Guerra are below, and photos of González follow.



Dalexi González Madruga displays the boogie boards that can be converted into satellite dishes. Photos of "reconstruction" of events by Ismael Francisco.








Sunday, March 6, 2011

Alan Gross legal fund: IPS fixes error

Source of screenshot: Cambios en Cuba

March 7 update:
An IPS reporter said the press service was wrong about the $2.6 million and has deleted references to it. An inadvertent translation error led to the mistake, the reporter said.

March 6 post:
Inter Press Service said today that U.S. officials are spending $2.6 million to defend Alan Gross, the American contractor found guilty on accused* of taking part in a "subversive project" aimed at toppling Cuba's socialist government.
The IPS claims officials are using funds from a $20 million budget that the State Department set up to pay for democracy programs in Cuba in 2010.
A reader questioned the IPS report and said the press service might have mixed up some numbers. The company that hired Gross, DAI, had a $2.6 million government contract. That same dollar amount, the reader noticed, somehow became the amount the U.S. is spending to defend Gross in the IPS article.
The reader said he believes the report must be inaccurate, and I think he's probably right.
I sent IPS an email asking if the agency has any documents or other information to support the claim. I'll post additional information if I get it. IPS reported the same claim in a March 4 story.
* Phil Peters of the Cuban Triangle blog points out that Gross has not been found guilty - yet.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

First photo of Alan Gross since his jailing

The Associated Press captured the first photo of Alan Gross since his jailing. His family says he has lost some 90 pounds since his jailing in December 2009. Credit: The Miami Herald's Cuban Colada

Judy Gross in Cuba with the family lawyer, Peter J. Kahn. Credit: Cuban Colada

Alan Gross's Cuba contact helped set up computer lab in Santiago


William Miller, the Jewish computer tech who admitted meeting with Alan Gross, helped set up a computer laboratory in Santiago de Cuba in December 2009 with the help of ORT, an international charity organization.
Miller's computer skills and contacts in the Jewish community would make him a valuable contact for Alan Gross, now on trial in Cuba for importing illegal satellite communication gear. Miller is the grandson of Jose Miller, who headed the Patronato, the largest synagogue in Cuba, before his death in 2006.
I don't know if Gross's work in Cuba had anything to do with the Santiago de Cuba computer lab. Moving a bunch of old computers to Santiago sure doesn't seem like subversive activity. I haven't seen any evidence that Gross had contact with Cuban dissidents or opposition figures, so where's the threat to the Cuban state?
ORT's website said the computer laboratory in Santiago would be used for IT training and English-language education. The computers were to be available to: 60 Jews in Santiago, 80 in Guantanamo province and 32 in Granma province.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Alan Gross and Cuba's Jewish community: The plot thickens

In July 2010, Adela Dworin, a leader of the Jewish community in Havana, distanced herself from Alan Gross, the U.S. government contract employee who went on trial in Cuba today.
Reports that Gross was working with a Jewish group in Cuba was troubling, Dworin told me in Havana.
"We are interested in Jewish culture. What interest would we have in espionage or improving our access to the Internet? Why? I don't think any Jewish organization in the country is mixed up in that," she said.
Dworin added that it's possible she met Gross, but she didn't remember him.
"From October to May, we get hundreds and hundreds of Jewish religious visitors," she said.
A Cuban source who spoke on condition of anonymity questioned Dworin's version of events today and said Dworin knew Gross.
"Adela Dworin herself knew Gross. Perfectly," the source said.
I haven't reached Dworin to hear her side of the story. I have met with her a few times over the years. She has always been kind, gracious and generous with her time. She and other leaders of the Jewish community try hard to steer clear of political controversies. If Dworin did "forget" meeting Gross, in kind of a Reagan-esque fashion, perhaps it is her way of staying out of a political mess.
The American contractor evidently was doing some kind of work with ORT, a Jewish educational network, the source said.
ORT's Cuban subsidiary closed three months ago. "It was for them, apparently, that Gross prepared the (Internet) network connection," the source said.

Top 10 reasons why USAID's Cuba programs are controversial

Cuba Money

In Cuba, the case against Alan Gross is black and white. He went to the island with fancy satellite gear as part of a broader U.S.-government-financed effort to undermine the socialist regime.
But in the United States, the pro-democracy programs that sent Gross to Cuba are not at all black and white. They are complicated, somewhat mysterious programs, charged with politics and tainted with shades of grays.
Here are 10 reasons why the U.S.-funded Cuba programs are intriguing and controversial:
  1. Some programs are semi-covert or treated as clandestine. Normally, the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, wants the world to know of the agency's work. Agency-financed programs are proudly emblazoned with the USAID logo, but that's not so with Cuba programs. Private contractors working in Cuba have a blanket waiver on the usual branding requirements. They're allowed to hide the fact that USAID is footing the bill.
  2. They are mysterious. USAID doesn't publicize details of agency-funded operations in Cuba. Some people have tried to obtain information, but without much success. Dana Lubow, a librarian at LA Valley College, told me she filed some 400 Freedom of Information Act requests to try to obtain more information, but got "virtually nothing" in return.
  3. They are lucrative, to some people at least. The U.S. government has spent some $150 million on Cuba-related pro-democracy programs since 1996, when such programs were authorized under Section 109 of the Libertad Act. That doesn't include $20 million requested in the fiscal 2012 budget.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Backgrounder on Alan Gross as he goes to trial in Cuba

Alan Gross
Alan Gross goes to trial on March 4 in Cuba. Some pro-Castro supporters are convinced that he is an American spy. It will be interesting to see if Cuban authorities have evidence to support that claim.
Anything is possible, to be sure. But I believe Gross is just what he said he was: an international development worker from Maryland.
The 61-year-old may not have spoken Spanish or been terribly familiar with Cuba. But he was not naive and had decades of experience working under difficult and sometimes unsafe conditions in Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq and other nations.
His for-profit company was A.P. Gross & Company, Inc., and his non-profit firm, Joint Business Development Center, Inc. Websites for the companies - AP Gross - and JBDC - are no longer in operation.
Cuban authorities accuse Gross of crimes against the Cuban state, and prosecutors have recommended a 20-year sentence.
Below is background on his case, which some readers may find useful as he goes to trial.
The New York Times reported his arrest on Dec. 11, 2009. The paper said an unidentified U.S. government contract worker had been detained in Cuba on Dec. 5, 2009.
In the months that followed, the date of the arrest was frequently reported as Dec. 4 or Dec. 5. But his wife, Judy Gross, said in a Nov. 7, 2010, letter to the Miami Herald that the actual date was Dec. 3.
Raul Castro first mentioned the arrest publicly on Dec. 20, 2009, but didn't identify Gross. U.S. officials also refrained from identifying Gross. And while his identity was not publicly known, someone began wiping clean or disabling links to his company websites.
The New York Times reported the jailed man's identity on Jan. 12, about a month after the paper's initial scoop.
I was curious about his background and used the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine to retrieve archived pages from the websites of Gross's companies.
I also dug up a JBDC corporate statement that gave details of Gross's work to establish Internet connections in remote regions of the world.
The statement said:
In the last several years, JBDC has integrated more than 100 satellite terminal installations with local networks, enabling Internet voice, data and video communications.
JBDC provides narrowband to broadband Internet connectivity via satellite. This package includes the dish antenna, electronics, installation, 24x7 network management, with monthly access fees that are scalable to meet customer needs.
Interestingly, the statement also lists Cuba as one of the countries where he was doing work. If he were a spy, would he have listed Cuba?
Judy Gross said her husband is desperate to get home to see his family, including his courageous daughter, Shira, who is battling breast cancer (See her blog, Cancer for my 26th Birthday).
Judy Gross wrote:
Upon learning of our 26-year-old daughter’s breast cancer diagnosis, Alan has been consumed with anguish and a desperate yearning to be home by her side. In an Aug. 7 letter that was submitted to Cuban President Raúl Castro, Alan wrote, “If the Government of Cuba does not recognize this desperate humanitarian need, then perhaps it would release me on the good faith that I would return to Cuba at the first possible moment in order to conclude my case.”
Alan’s offer may sound laughable to most, but I know it to be sincere. After all, this is the man who, in an unlikely duo with one of his captors, plays Guantanamera on a harmonica. He is the man who, while incarcerated in Cuba, has drafted an economic recovery plan for the Cuban people. Those of us who know Alan well know of his love for Cuba, especially its music and people.
In an October letter, Alan wrote to me: “I keep thinking about the late 1960s when we had our own spirit of revolution, how idealistic we were. I am happy that I was able to maintain my idealism, which is why — I suppose — I remained active in international development for so many years while my work acquaintances became younger and younger.
“Despite my circumstances and my Cuban experience, I do not hate Cubans — I only hate what is happening to me.”
Before this fateful trip, Alan had visited Cuba several times and never been in trouble. When Alan arrived in Havana, he declared to the Customs authorities what he was bringing into the country. Alan’s only wish was to help Cuba’s tiny Jewish community gain access to the Internet so that they could be in touch with each other and with Jews around the world.

A Facebook page demanding that Alan Gross be released is here.

Links to early posts I wrote about the case in December 2009 and January 2010 are below.

2009
Dec. 12, 2009 - U.S. contractor detained in Cuba
Dec. 14, 2009 - Who is the mystery employee detained in Cuba
Dec. 14, 2009 - U.S. government outsources work in Cuba
Dec. 15, 2009 - Cuba programs buried under a pile of acronyms
Dec. 15, 2009 - U.S. government consultants have included iRevolution blogger
Dec. 15, 2009 - Plotting Cuba's digital revolution
Dec. 16, 2009 - State Department: U.S. aims to help Cubans "communicate globally"
Dec. 20, 2009 - Raul Castro to U.S.: Cease all provocations
Dec. 23, 2009 - Fighting over money, politics and the fate of Cuba

2010
Jan. 12, 2010 - American jailed in Cuba is finally identified
Jan. 13, 2010 - Contractor's company evidently has worked in more than 50 nations
Jan. 13, 2010 - U.S. contractor left a photo trail
Jan. 13, 2010 - JBDC Statement of Corporate Capabilities
Jan. 13, 2010 - Jailed man not interested in "meddling" in other nations' internal affairs
Jan. 13, 2010 - American has managed U.S. government development projects
Jan. 13, 2010 - Jailed American looks like a Beltway insider
Jan. 13, 2010 - Headline: "American Jew Held in Cuba as American Spy"
Jan. 13, 2010 - Satellite link to the Internet may have been heart of jailed man's mission
Jan. 13, 2010 - Ex-State Department official: Pro-democracy work in Cuba fraught with peril
Jan. 19, 2010 - Photos of Alan Gross

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Miami group announces $75,000 Cuba grants


Evangelical Christian Humanitarian Outreach for Cuba, Inc., announced today that it is offering grants of up to $75,000 to groups that would promote religious freedom in Cuba.
Government grants provide most of ECHOcuba's funding. The group received more than $3 million in government grants from 2004 to 2009, tax records show. Please see the Cuba Money Project for additional details.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Cuba: Only nation where U.S. bans mingling with locals

Photo credit: State Magazine

Havana was listed as "Post of the Month" in the October 2007 issue of the State Department's monthly magazine.
Foreign Service officers give their vision of Havana, which is timely in light of a Feb. 27 incident in which pro-Castro supporters harassed and insulted American diplomat Lowell Dale Lawton after he showed up to watch an anti-government demonstration (See YouTube video).
The authors of the State Magazine stories are identified as Ramón Negrón and John Vance. They say living conditions in Cuba are difficult, but point out that Foreign Service officers who work out of the U.S. Interests Section, or USINT, often ask to extend their stay.
Some foreign journalists also complain about Cuba. A Cuban diplomat once told me he didn't understand that, saying that journalists always have their gripes, but they don't want to leave the island.
No doubt, American diplomats in Cuba have a tougher time than most journalists. When I was in Havana in November 2010, a Foreign Service officer told me that Cuba is the only country in the world where U.S. diplomats are not allowed to fraternize with local residents.
Negrón and Vance mention that fact, writing:
Being a U.S. diplomat in Havana has long meant living under difficult circumstances. Listening devices in all USINT spaces, vehicles and homes mean one can never escape Cuban government scrutiny. The pervasive intelligence-gathering effort directed at USINT has garnered Havana the dubious honor of being the U.S. government’s sole nonfraternization post.
Download State Magazine's entire October 2007 issue (52-pages, 3.7 MB). Or see below for excerpts from the magazine's two stories about Cuba:

U.S. officials want $4 million more for Cuba-related operations

U.S. officials are seeking an additional $4 million for Cuba-related expenses in Washington, D.C., and Havana under the State Department's proposed budget for fiscal 2012. See details here.
The amount of money for pro-democracy programs remains the same at $20 million. That's a tiny fraction of the overall $3.5 trillion federal budget.
I figure that for every $1 million spent under the 2012 budget, just $5.60 would go to Cuba pro-democracy programs. More on that here.