Sunday, February 24, 2013

A heartbeat from the Cuban presidency?

The Cuban parliament on Sunday named Raúl Castro to another five-year term and chose former education minister Miguel Díaz-Canel as his top deputy.
Castro, 81, said he wouldn't seek another term in 2018, making it likely that someone outside the Castro family would lead the country for the first time since 1959.
Díaz-Canel, 52, was appointed a vice president of the Council of Ministers in March. According to his biography:
  • 1982 - He graduated as an electrical engineer.
  • 1985 - He joined Cuba's Revolutionary Armed Forces.
  • April 1985 - He began teaching at the Central University of Las Villas.
  • 1987 - He began working at the Union of Young Communists while continuing to teach, then went on take part in an internationalist mission to Nicaragua.
  • 1989 - He continued working at the Union of Young Communists.
  • 1993 - He was elected first secretary of the Provincial Committee in Villa Clara.
  • 2003 - He was elected to the same position in Holguín province. He was named to the Communist Party's political bureau that same year. Raúl Castro praised his "ideological firmness."
  • May 2009 - He was appointed minister of higher education.
  • March 2012 - He was named vice president of the Council of Ministers.

Below are photos of taken of Díaz-Canel and other Cuban leaders attending July 26 events in 2010 and 2011.

From 2010

See more photos on jump page

Cuba a state sponsor of terrorism?

More than 5,000 people have signed a petition to remove Cuba from the State Department's list of countries that sponsor terrorism.
The Latin America Working Group in Washington, D.C., plans to deliver the petition to:
  • Barack Obama, president of the United States
  • Raymond McGrath, coordinator of Cuban Affairs at the State Department, and
  • Ricardo Zuniga, senior director for the Western Hemisphere at National Security Council
LAWG writes:
What do Cuba, Iran, Syria, and Sudan have in common? They are all on the U.S. government’s list of “state sponsors of terrorism”. Which one seems to be the oddball? Cuba? The presence of Cuba on the list of state sponsors of terrorism symbolizes everything that’s wrong with our approach to Cuba. It’s based on a myth... 
On Feb. 21, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters there are no plans to remove Cuba from the list:
When we did our last review in 2012, we saw no reason to remove it. We will revisit it this year, but — as I said — there’s no plans at the moment.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Note to readers

Bloggers around the world write more than 4 million posts a day, almost 50 per second.
My post on Friday, floating in all that digital noise, caught the attention of Mauricio Claver-Carone, creator of the Capitol Hill Cubans blog.
Mauricio Claver-Carone
He noticed that my post, "Doctor now flying under the radar," was linked to the weekly "news blast" of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, or CDA, which seeks alternatives to U.S. restrictions on travel and trade with Cuba.
CDA staffers wrote on Feb. 8 - and again on Friday - that I am working with the non-profit organization. And Claver-Carone said I should point out that fact to readers of Along the Malecón.
He's absolutely right.
I had cited my new association with the CDA in an updated bio earlier this month, but it deserves a few words here, too.
I am writing a series of articles and sharing them with the CDA as part of a six-month experimental collaborative project with the group.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Doctor now flying under the radar

Sen. Bob Menéndez, left, and Dr. Salomon Melgen
A wealthy Florida doctor facing unsettled accusations that he hosted senatorial sex parties in the Dominican Republic asked the FAA to block his plane's flight activity from public view in air traffic tracking systems.
The FAA granted the request earlier this month, allowing Dr. Salomon Melgen to keep his flight records secret.
Melgen's plane is a 1981 Canadair CL-600 Challenger, with 13 seats and a roomy eight-foot-wide cabin. Among his more illustrious passengers has been his longtime friend, Bob Menéndez, a Cuban-American lawyer who rose from the Union City Board of Education to the U.S. Senate.
Menéndez, 59, won re-election in November and was named chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, putting him in a key position to influence U.S. policy toward Cuba.
But his hard-fought rise in politics has been tainted by claims that he has repeatedly traveled to the Dominican Republic to cavort with prostitutes with Melgen, one of his major campaign donors.
Menéndez denied in a statement that he patronized prostitutes, calling such accusations "false" and "politically motivated."
The FBI is investigating the claims, following the leads of an elusive tipster who goes by the name "Peter Williams."

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A battle for justice, freedom and $10 million

Alan Gross
Lawyers for Alan Gross are fighting for their day in court after a New Jersey insurance company refused to cover any of his losses after he was jailed in Cuba in 2009.
On Nov. 16, Gross and his wife, Judith, sued Federal Insurance Co. for nearly $10 million in U.S. District Court in Maryland. The insurance company on Jan. 4 asked Judge Paul W. Grimm to dismiss the case, saying Gross was a subcontractor who was not covered under the policy that his employer, Development Alternatives Inc., or DAI, had purchased.
Judge Paul W. Grimm
On Feb. 8, Gross's lawyers replied, saying the case shouldn't be thrown out before key evidence is presented. (See 33-page motion).
The lawyers said Gross was clearly covered, but now the insurance company is twisting the words of the policy that it wrote to try to avoid paying. They state:
Federal drafted the Wrongful Detention Policy, and it cannot now run from its own choice of words.
The suit asks for $9,999,000 in damages.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Exploring the secret annex

The world's most famous "secret annex" is tucked behind a bookcase where 13-year-old Anne Frank hid out during the Nazi occupation.
Lesser known is the secret annex to a report describing the U.S. government's Cuba strategy in the post-Castro era.

Pets of the week

For sale along Calle Obispo in Havana.

Friday, February 8, 2013

No Godiva chocolates: Sweet news for USAID

The latest GAO report on the U.S. government’s democracy programs in Cuba faults the State Department for weak financial oversight while commending USAID for progress it has made toward tighter internal controls.
The report says the State Department failed to properly review the internal accounting practices of two-thirds of its contractors for Cuba work from Oct. 1, 2009, through Sept. 30, 2012.
USAID, on the other hand, hired an outside contractor to review its programs and found “questionable charges and weaknesses in partners’ financial management, procurement standards, and internal controls.”
The 58-page report does not name names. It does not say what happened, if anything, to the contractors who submitted questionable expenses. Nor does it give any details about those charges - nothing like the GAO's 2006 report which criticized the taxpayer-financed purchase of such democracy-enhancing items as a gas chainsaw, Nintendo Game Boys, leather coats, a mountain bike, crab meat, cashmere sweaters and, yes, Godiva chocolates.
The lack of any scandalous revelations was no doubt a relief to USAID officials, who said in a memo to GAO:
...we are proud of the continuous progress that USAID has achieved since your previous reports...
Financial oversight measures have led to the identification of $6.8 million in questioned costs. Of those amounts, $5.1 million in questioned costs have been adequately resolved; and $1.7 million in questioned cases are in the process of being resolved. Overall, there was approximately $50,000 in refunded amounts to USAID.
Systematic monitoring and evaluation help us establish targets, monitor progress, and determine ways to improve our programs.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

GAO report on Cuba released


Here's the GAO report, entitled, "CUBA DEMOCRACY ASSISTANCE USAID’s Program Is Improved, but State Could Better Monitor Its Implementing Partners."

GAO report on Cuba programs due out today

Street scene in Havana
A U.S. Government Accountability Office report on U.S. democracy programs in Cuba is expected to be released today. A draft version of the report has been circulating, a congressional source told me last week in Washington, D.C.
GAO has investigated the Cuba programs before. See:
I'm told that this report will again criticize USAID's management of the programs. I don't have any details, but would imagine that the Alan Gross debacle and other issues will be mentioned. (Update: The report is now out. I was mistaken when I said this morning that GAO would criticize USAID management of Cuba programs. The report applauds the agency for advances in its monitoring efforts. It is critical of the State Department's financial oversight, and only mentions the Gross case in passing).