Sunday, March 25, 2012

USAID shields Freedom House

The U.S. Agency for International Development this month refused to release key details of Freedom House activities in Cuba from January 2000 through December 2007.
USAID released its 1999 contract with Freedom House along with 11 supplemental agreements, but redacted the majority of the program descriptions that would give details of the non-profit organization's activities in Cuba.
I requested the documents under the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA. In its March 16 response, USAID cited a FOIA exemption that covers "trade secrets and commercial or financial information" that is "privileged or confidential."
The exemption is vague enough to shield just about any information from public view. In this case, USAID uses the exemption to keep secret:
  • The strategic objectives of Freedom House.
  • Its past successes and lessons learned in Cuba.
  • The group's techniques for monitoring the efficiency of its Cuba Democracy Program, or CDP.
  • The identities of aid recipients and partners in Cuba.
  • The activities of its partners in Cuba.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Havana architect visits Flagler College


Cuban architect Madeline Menéndez García spoke Friday at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Fla. She has been involved in the conservation efforts in Havana.
Menéndez García visited Flagler College along with Rafael Fornés, who has taught at the University of Miami's School of Architecture since 1994, and Teófilo Victoria, who has been a visiting professor at Cornell and Harvard universities.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Lawmaker: Send more money to Cuban dissidents

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen on Tuesday accused the U.S. Agency for International Development of steering tax dollars toward programs that support the Cuban economy at the expense of aid to political prisoners and the internal opposition.
Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican, spoke at a hearing about USAID funding priorities in the Western Hemisphere. She said:
...the Obama administration’s policy of concessions towards the Castro brothers has not yielded any measureable change for democracy. And I am deeply concerned about the Department of State’s and USAID’s growing funding for programs that promote the Castro brothers’ sham economic reforms, at the expense of funding for important programs that do support Cuban political prisoners and the growing internal opposition.

Elizardo Sánchez

Transcript of interview with Elizardo Sánchez, a veteran human rights activist in Havana. See video.

Bueno, eh, en condiciones bien difíciles esta supervivencia, pero tratándose de disidentes, es decir básicamente defensores de derechos humanos y opositores políticos, lo más importante para todos es el tema de la libertad; o sea la necesidad de disfrutar de libertades como en cualquier país civilizado, o sea como en Costa Rica o en Chile o en Suecia. Es decir pensamos que los cubanos en primer lugar tenemos derecho a todos los derechos.

Ahora ¿cómo logramos sobrevivir los disidentes? Yo llevo 43 años en la resistencia frente al régimen totalitario y es el ejemplo que tengo más cercano, por eso te pido disculpa de mencionarlo, y en lo años que he estado en prisión o sin empleo he logrado vivir gracias a la ayuda de nuestra familia en el extranjero, básicamente en Estados Unidos.

La mayoría de los disidentes reciben de alguna forma ayuda de familiares o amigos en el extranjero porque existe una gran emigración de cubanos después que se instaló este gobierno. También hay últimamente organizaciones no gubernamentales que ayudan a ciertas agrupaciones al interior del país de manera modesta. O sea de forma tal que es posible hacer un trabajo o ayudar a otros…

Por ejemplo nosotros hemos recibido miles de euros procedentes de ONGs europeas para comprar medicinas. Cuando compramos esas medicinas siempre recibimos una factura comercial en las farmacias (aquí te la estoy mostrando), en las farmacias que tiene el gobierno, que venden por cierto las medicinas muy caras y a las cuales no tiene acceso la población. Dice: Cubanacán Turismo y Salud, Corporación de Turismo y Comercio Internacional, Hospitales y Clínicas Internacionales.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Airborne over Alamar

A Cuban boy flies a remote-controlled toy helicopter in Alamar. It's great fun until the helicopter needs to be recharged. It can cost a Cuban worker a day's wages or more to buy the AA batteries needed for a single flight.





See more photos after the jump.

Judge: Convicted spy can visit Cuba

Roberto and Rene Gonzalez when they were children
Convicted spy Rene Gonzalez can return to Havana for two weeks to visit his dying brother in Cuba, a Florida judge ruled Monday.

Judge Joan Lenard set the following conditions, taken verbatim from the court order:
  1. Defendant must obtain all necessary permission, licenses, and/or clearance from the United States Government, including the Department of State and Department of the Treasury, separate and apart from this Order.
  2. Defendant shall submit to his probation officer a written, detailed itinerary of his travel, including flight numbers, routing, location, and contact information, as well as copies of all necessary clearances and licenses obtained from the United States Government.
  3. Rene Gonzalez
  4. During his absence from the district of supervision, Defendant shall report telephonically to his probation officer as directed by his probation officer.
  5. The terms of Defendant’s supervised release shall remain otherwise unchanged, and Defendant must return to the United States and to the district of his supervised release within two weeks of departure.
The convicted agent's brother, Roberto Gonzalez, has been diagnosed with lung and brain cancer.
The former agent's lawyer, Phil Horowitz, said in a statement:
On behalf of the Gonzalez family, I would like to thank the court for recognizing the humanitarian nature of this request. This will allow René to be there for his brother as Roberto was there for René.
U.S. Rept. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-FL, had opposed the visit to Cuba, calling Gonzalez a threat to U.S. security.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Ismael Sené

Transcript of interview with Ismael Sené, a retired Cuban government official and baseball historian. See video.

Mira, yo no conozco a nadie que me hable de TV Martí, de Radio Martí. Yo me parece que se oye muy poco radio, radio, Radio Martí no la ha visto nadie nunca yo creo, yo tengo un amigo que de vez en cuando le ha entrado por ahí, pero le entra sin voz y pá eso porque vive en un edificio frente al malecón, pero radio Martí no se oye la gente.

Yo nada más oigo hablar de Radio Martí hace unos años tu oías a la gente hacer comentarios de radio Martí lo que decía radio Martí.

Pero ahora solamente quizás cuando el beisbol, cuando la serie mundial de beisbol es cuando alguna gente oye, busca la información. Aquí a la gente le sigue gustando el beisbol es general, sigue el beisbol norteamericano, y entonces la gente busca información por Radio Martí, pero en la serie mundial de pelota, es cuando único yo oigo hablar de que la gente oye hablar de un lanzador y estaba aquí que oye el guajiro Peña a no se quien, pero ese es el único momento que tu oyes hablar de radio Martí aquí.

Rosa Báez

Transcript of interview with Rosa Báez, who runs a pro-government blog called La Polilla Cubana. See video.

Si, mira, eh, hay un primer error general diría yo para la concepción que se tiene sobre Cuba fuera del país, el primer error es medir a Cuba con los parámetros que se mide el resto del mundo, Cuba es un , una cosa sugenirís en todos los sentidos pudiéramos decir eh, no pueden medir a Cuba eh, en los aspectos por ejemplo de la supuesta democracia o no, de los partidos o no y específicamente en el caso del Internet la gente se queja, el extranjero de que los particulares no tienen acceso a internet.

Cuba le ha dado producto de todas las limitaciones que tiene para Internet un acceso privilegiado a las personas que realmente necesitan internet, internet es una cosa muy linda, muy cómoda, pero en este país primero hay que privilegiar que tenga internet, que tenga correo electrónico un médico a que tenga un particular cualquiera que lo que quiere es pasar un correo electrónico a sus familia, cosa muy normal, muy lógica, muy agradable.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Secrecy and accountability at USAID

I went to the Newseum in Washington, D.C., today and attended a panel on whistleblowers and the press.
I want to learn more about accountability in the federal government as I continue to examine U.S.-government financed democracy programs in Cuba.
I don't get the sense that there is a great deal of accountability in the USAID and State Department programs in Cuba. Maybe there's internal accountability, but the agencies are not accountability to the public. They aren't accountable to taxpayers who pay the bills.
If there were accountability, USAID would have released more than a heavily redacted 10-page document when I requested the results of an audit that cost at least $1.47 million.
USAID cites important concerns, including the protection of USAID employees and contractors. But then the agency goes overboard in shielding from the public all but the most basic facts of USAID operations in Cuba.
There should be a middle ground, a greater level of accountability that helps American citizens better understand whether taxpayer-funded programs in Cuba are efficient and effective.
Government employees are understandably reluctant to talk to reporters about any shortcomings in their agencies. Talking to a journalist can be career suicide.
Whistleblowers have fewer protections than they did a decade ago, panelists said during the discussion today at the Newseum today.

Martha Beatriz Roque (with English subtitles)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Two Freedom House-USAID contracts destroyed

The Agency for International Development, or USAID, said it cannot release two contracts that the agency had with Freedom House. The reason: The records have been destroyed.
I requested the contracts and others under the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA. USAID said:
Those contract files were destroyed according to Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) 4.805, Storage, Handling, and Disposal of Contract Files.
I have the right to appeal the ruling. Anyone have any thoughts on that?
Since December 2010, I have sent USAID and the State Department more than 100 letters requesting documents related to U.S. government democracy programs in Cuba. So far, I haven't gotten much in return.
The oldest pending FOIA request that I've filed is 1 year and 1 day old. See more about the FOIA requests here.



Photos from Castro book presentation

 Here are some photos from Wednesday's panel discussion on Fidel Castro's new book, "It is our duty to struggle." These were taken at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C.













Fidel Castro's new book



Here are video clips from a panel discussion about Fidel Castro's new book, "It is our duty to struggle." The discussion took place March 14 at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C.

Iván García (English subtitles)

Monday, March 12, 2012

The French fry argument

Bobby Fuller
An ex-Marine named Bobby Fuller ventured into Cuba in 1960 after his family's land was confiscated.
Rebels captured him, charged him with counter-revolutionary activities, placed him before a firing squad and killed him, court records show.
Years later, his sister, Jeanette Fuller Hausler, sued the Cuban government to try to obtain Cuban assets to compensate for her loss.
I was digging through federal court records and came across a 2010 document related to her case. I am not going to get into the complicated legal cases here, but want to share a quick anecdote (from p. 12 of document):
An AT&T lawyer, Albert L. Frevola, was explaining why he didn't think Hausler should be able to garnish AT&T payments to Cuba for long-distance phone service between the U.S. and Cuba. He said:
And here, what they're doing, it's really no different than if I went to the first window at McDonald's to buy french fries. And between going to the first window and second window where I'm paying the money, somebody who has a judgment against the Idaho potato manufacturer wants to grab my money and say, I'm entitled to 50 cents of that, because that's how much money McDonald's owes to the Idaho potato manufacturer. 
Well, I don't have a relationship with the Idaho potato manufacturer. I have a relationship with McDonald's. And you can't garnish my money. You might be able to garnish McDonald's money, but not my money. And so that's what they're trying to do. And they haven't cited a single case to say that they can do that, because they can't.
That's not what the law allows.

Prosecutor: Convicted spy still a threat

Caroline Heck-Miller. Photo: AP
A convicted Cuban spy now on supervised parole in the U.S. shouldn't be allowed to travel to Cuba for two weeks to visit his dying brother because the FBI is worried he "may meet and consult with Cuban intelligence officials," prosecutors said in a document filed Monday.

René González wants to visit his brother, Robert, a lawyer who has a malignant brain tumor and other life-threatening health problems.

Caroline Heck-Miller, an assistant U.S. attorney, asked District Court Judge Joan A. Lenard to deny the request. She wrote:
The United States appreciates the humanitarian nature of the request being made by the defendant...
Nonetheless, the United States opposes the defendant’s request, based on FBI security concerns. There is concern that, during the requested trip to Cuba, Gonzalez may meet and consult with Cuban intelligence officials and personnel with the purpose or result of furthering Government of Cuba interests, contrary to the interests of the United States, upon the defendant’s subsequent return to the United States.

Weight-detection stairs, a genuine porceline throne and more


Someone sent me these prize winners earlier today.





Friday, March 9, 2012

Manuel David Orrio, a.k.a. Agent Miguel (part 2)

Transcript of part 2 of interview with Manuel David Orrio, also known as Agent Miguel. See video.

Bueno en verdad no puede hablarse de que yo haya hecho un testimonio en particular contra tales o cuales disidentes. Yo participe como testigo en los juicios contra Raúl Rivero, Ricardo González. Era un juicio y un segundo juicio que era contra Manuel Vázquez Portal, Edel Jose Garcia, Jorge Olivera y Julio Cesar Gálvez.

Mi testimonio estaba centrado específicamente en el tema del financiamiento, que después la fiscalía quizás preguntó algo sobre si los había visto en una reunión con norteamericanos, si los había, si habían participado conmigo en banquetes, recepciones, etc., si es verdad eso lo testifique, pero el centro de mi testimonio era el tema del financiamiento de Estados Unidos que no tenía que ver específicamente con tal o cual disidente, si no con un sistema de financiación, propiamente dicho.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Cuba scholar: U.S. policy irrational

Arturo López-Levy. Photo: Education-Portal.com

U.S. policy toward Cuba is plagued with "irrationality and double standards," according to Arturo López-Levy, a researcher at the University of Denver's Josef Korbel School of International Studies. In an interview with Education-Portal.com, López-Levy said:
The Helms-Burton Act dictates unacceptable conditions to Cuban sovereignty and even disrespects Cuban civil society by not asking the informed consent of all Cuban partners for the programs of USAID. The U.S. cannot encourage a democratic environment for academic exchanges if it says it seeks respect for human rights in Cuba but then curtails the rights of its own citizens to travel to Cuba and implements policies that violate international law.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Kony 2012



I wonder if anyone is looking at re-engineering the Kony 2012 idea and applying it to Cuba. The video is dramatic and effective. At the same time, it's important to point out that its sponsor - Invisible Children - has been harshly criticized. Charity Navigator gives it two of four stars for accountability and transparency. See rating.

Invisible Children hasn't yet allowed an independent auditor to look at its books, according to the blog Wesleying. The blog says:
Invisible Children admit that only 31% of the funds they raised in 2011 actually aided the cause they advanced. In the group’s expense reports, millions of dollars are spent annually on expenses such as “Compensation Costs,” “Fees and Licenses,” “Entertainment,” “Film Costs,” and $1,074,273 for just travel fees for the three filmmakers who head the organization. Altogether, just $2.8 million out of the $8.9 million they spent in 2011 made it to their charity program.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Freed Cuban spy trapped in the U.S.

Havana doctors: Grim prognosis for brother of convicted spy
Roberto González, a lawyer in Havana, is in imminent danger. He was recovering from lung cancer treatment when doctors discovered a malignant brain tumor and life-threatening circulatory problems.
Roberto González
His brother, René, is desperate to see Roberto González one last time. But he can't just hop on a plane.
René González was convicted in the notorious Wasp Network spy case in 2001. He served 13 years of a 15-year sentence before being freed in October 2011.
As part of his three-year supervised release, González must get permission from the court or his probation officer to travel to Cuba.
His lawyer, Philip Horowitz, filed a four-page motion on Feb. 24 asking that District Court Judge Joan A. Lenard allow González to travel to Havana for two weeks to see his brother. (See Cuban doctors' report on González in Spanish and in English). Lenard hasn't yet responded, according to online court records consulted today.
President Bill Clinton nominated Lenard to the district court in 1995. In 2009, she reduced the sentences of two men convicted in the same Cuban spy case that sent González to prison for 15 years.
But in September she denied René González' request to modify his sentencing agreement to travel to Cuba. In a four-page ruling, she wrote:
The Court finds that Defendant’s Motion is premature. ... Some amount of time on supervised release needs to pass before the Court is able to properly evaluate the characteristics of the defendant once he or she has been released from prison or whether there is a continued need to protect the public from further crimes.
René González
Prosecutors had argued that González was a potential threat and needed supervision. In a 13-page document, they wrote:
The serious nature of his offenses as part of a conspiracy to defraud the United States and to operate as the covert agent of a foreign power; his expressed lack of remorse; and his stated commitment to continue doing what he feels necessary to “improve” the United States all reflect the wisdom and necessity for the court’s original sentence, including three years of supervised release with special conditions designed to protect public interests to the maximum allowed. This is especially so because Gonzalez is a United States citizen, with the ability to remain in, or to travel and return to, the United States in the future, including once his supervised release ends.

Beautiful plaza, peculiar statue



This is Friar Junípero Serra with a Juaneño Indian boy, according to Wikipedia.

This statue struck me as a bit creepy, given all the pedophile priests out there. I wonder if pedophile priests were around at the end of the 16th century when the church was built.