Thursday, December 30, 2010

Parmly: Secrecy necessary - "Otherwise it's anarchy"

Below is a translation of a recent interview with Michael Parmly, former chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana.

The original interview was published in French and appeared in the Swiss newspaper, Le Temps.
Michael Parmly could not remain indifferent to the publication of thousands of documents from the U.S. State Department by the site Wikileaks. He headed the U.S. Interests Section in Havana from September 2005 to July 2008 and has signed numerous cables sent from Cuba to Washington that the daily El País published mentioning him by name. In a cafe in Nyon, a few days after these revelations, we received Michael Parmly. He recently retired after working for the U.S. Mission in Geneva. "The documents prove that we have principles, ethics,” noted the diplomat, whose grandmother, a Cuban, had left the island in 1920 to marry an American general. “But Julian Assange broke the law by publishing confidential telegrams. Every business has its rules and is entitled to its secrets. Otherwise it's anarchy. Or voyeurism."

A cable of March 16, 2007, signed by Michael Parmly, describes how Fidel Castro fell gravely ill aboard a plane that carries him from Holguin in eastern Cuba in Havana in July 2006, shortly before turning over power to his brother Raul. He has diverticulitis and a perforation of the large intestine, and the plane makes an emergency landing. According to the document, Fidel refuses to undergo a colostomy. And intervention of another kind is made by his regular doctor, but it fails. The colon is infected and Fidel must undergo a new operation and loses 18 pounds.

The former head of the U.S. Interests Section, located along the Malecon, Havana, had a practice of involving fifty Americans present in Cuba in the work of information to the Department of State. He fears that some will be identified: "Contrary to what some publications suggest, I wrote 1 to 2 percent of the cables. It was important for me that the staff write. It was a form of learning. I personally did not write the cable on the health of Fidel. It is the work of someone who had contacts with hospitals and physicians. I hope she is never identified. "

Wikileaks threatens, in the opinion of Michael Parmly, the quality of work that diplomats perform on the island. "For us, the opinion of the 11.2 million Cubans count. I believe in pointillism. (Note from Along the Malecon: Merriam-Webster’s defines this as “the theory or practice in art of applying small strokes or dots of color to a surface so that from a distance they blend together.”)

"Diplomats from the U.S. Interests Section and have established numerous contacts with the public, dissenting or not.”

At his residence, Michael Parmly, who the Cuban authorities had tried in vain call a "pariah" to cut off access to the population, received more than 800 people, ordinary Cubans, dissidents, but also government officials, even if it was much rarer.

At the U.S. Interests Section, a secure room with a computer was available to Cubans who registered. A dozen visitors who have not complied with the conditions of using this "library" were once banned electronic access. A fact which provoked the ire of some dissidents, Vladimiro Roca and Elizardo Sanchez. The two came to meet with Michael Parmly. These discussions have been published in the WikiLeaks documents. "These are two international figures. The damage is limited. If it is instead a family man, little known, appears in a footnote, he could suffer the consequences of his life. I would also be very unhappy if the many conversations I had with blogger Yoani Sanchez should be released," notes the former U.S. official.

The diplomat has even been invited by the head of a Committee of Defense of the Revolution (CDR). "He asked me if he could go there. I could see no objection. We had to listen to the Cuban people," insists Michael Parmly, who had the support of the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and has attracted interest from President George W. Bush during a meeting in the Oval Office.

"The Wikileaks published documents may discourage Cubans from talking to us. The capital may be less informed. Intimidated, the diplomats could censor themselves. If I had known of Wikileaks, I would have reduced the production of documents in half. An effort to lower the level of classification was undertaken. Now, the secret will again be reinforced."

Cubans have read the first time the U.S. cables and have published several on the site Cubadebate. Havana believes that these documents prove the policy "imperialist" Washington. But the Cuban government censors the cables on the health of Fidel and Raul Castro's request to the White House to create a special channel of communication. As for Michael Parmly, he now poses a question: "Will Julian Assange publish the diplomatic documents of Iran and North Korea? Is there a hidden agenda?"

Source of photo:

Posada Carriles: Evidence from Cuba is tainted

Luis Posada Carriles

If U.S. prosecutors use any evidence from Cuba against Luis Posada Carriles, his lawyers say they'll argue that the Cuban government has a history of falsifying and making up evidence.
The anti-Castro militant is scheduled to go on trial on perjury and other charges on Jan. 10 in El Paso. Evidence from Cuban authorities implicates Posada Carriles in a string of Havana bombings that killed an Italian man in 1997.
In a six-page document filed today, his lawyers warn that they may introduce evidence that the "political will" of the Castro brothers has corrupted Cuba's judicial system and, therefore, any testimony from Cuba is unreliable.
In the document, the lawyers give notice that they may discuss at trial:
  • Evidence of The Cuban Spies, "The Wasp Network" and the downing of the two Brothers to the Rescue planes. For instance, the GOC provided falsified evidence of the coordinates of the shoot down in order to show that the shoot down had occurred over Cuban territorial waters. The GOC provided to the defense testimonial, documentary and physical evidence that were admitted during the trial. The evidence consisted of handwritten onionskin layovers of radar locations showing that the actual place of the shoot down was over Cuban waters and a black box device that was pristine condition after the explosion on the aircraft indicating the location of the shoot down.
  • Evidence of the 2004 arrest in Cuba, summary trial and execution three days later of three Afro Cubans who had commandeered a boat at gunpoint to escape from Cuba.
  • Evidence of the 2006 arrest in Cuba, detention, summary trial of 75 independent journalist and sentencing to long prison terms known as the "Black Spring."
  • Evidence of the July 13, 1994, tugboat incident in Cuba where 37 people, including 10 children, were intentionally drowned by the GOC after being rammed by two steel frigates and its occupants hurled into the sea where they were drowned by strong water cannons from Cuban Coast Guard vessels. The defense may call witnesses who were on the vessel and/or who lost relatives who will testify regarding the threats and intimidation and drugging applied by the GOC officials to survivors at Villa Marista prison to change their stories for the international press and for a show trial in Cuba.
  • Evidence of the long history of summary executions of the GOC’s political enemies throughout the island but in particular at the Cabana prison in Havana during the early years of the Revolution.
  • Evidence regarding the 1989 overdose death of Cuba’s Interior Ministry Officer, General Jose Abrahantes, who was detained and died mysteriously of a heart attack while in a Cuban prison within days after stating that high level GOC officials were involved in or authorized drug trafficking during the Ochoa trial.
  • Evidence of the trial in Cuba of Major General Arnaldo Ochoa, who was thereafter executed by a firing squad.
  • Evidence of the trial in Cuba of Batista era pilots during the early days of the Revolution who fought against Castro. In particular, the Defendant may introduce evidence regarding the trial of Sosa Blanco in Cuba. The pilots were acquitted at trial. Castro was incensed. He declared the verdicts null and void and ordered a retrial before judges that he named. During the second trial, the pilots were all found guilty in a one-day trial. Some were executed others were sentenced to long prison terms.

The $6 million man: Jaime Suchlicki

Jaime Suchlicki has been very adept at securing federal grants over the years. The Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami received more than $6 million in U.S. government grants under Dr. Suchlicki's leadership from 2002 to 2010, federal audits show.
The institute has been one of the top recipients of federal grants related to Cuba. See more details at Where the $ goes, a new page at the Cuba Money Project.
I am compiling information on U.S.-government funded programs related to Cuba, and it makes sense to list the top recipients. So I'm starting with the ICCAS, and I'll move on to other organizations from here.
I am using data from federal audits to come up with these numbers. I'll add information from other sources - which sometimes conflicts with the audits - as I develop the website.
I want to give readers a sense for what happens to U.S. government money destined for Cuba. Feel free to send me suggestions, ideas, documents and reports related to these U.S. government programs.
And please let me know if you see any information on the website that needs to be corrected or clarified. My goal is to produce accurate and factual information that readers will find useful whether they agree with these programs or not.

Following the money with FOIA's help

Thanks to Phil Peters at The Cuban Triangle for mentioning my new website, the Cuba Money Project.
I added a new feature to the website this week. It's a FOIA tracker, which you can use to follow the progress of my requests for documents under the Freedom of Information Act.
I sent off my second FOIA this morning. I requested details about the companies that sought contracts under the USAID's Cuba Democracy and Contingency Planning Program in 2008.
The contracts were worth up to $30 million over a three-year period. Development Alternatives, Inc., or DAI, received the main contract, the Miami Herald reported in December 2009. DAI then hired Alan Gross, who has been in custody in Cuba for more than a year.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

FOIA request on $3.65 million pro-democracy program


I filed an initial Freedom of Information Act request today to learn more about one of the State Department's latest pro-democracy programs. I made the request as part of an investigative reporting venture called the Cuba Money Project.
I plan to make public all FOIA requests that I file so that readers can track their progress and send me any suggestions. You can read the letter below (click to enlarge) or download the PDF.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Cuban agent continues to fight life sentence

An imprisoned Cuban agent's 2001 conviction should be thrown out because his trial attorney "failed to present a legally relevant case," his lawyers say.
A Miami jury convicted Gerardo Hernandez of conspiracy to commit murder for supplying information to the Cuban government that led to the Feb. 24, 1996, shootdown of two civilian planes.
Cuban fighter jets shot down the planes over international waters, killing four U.S. citizens, members of the group Brothers to the Rescue.
Hernandez' lawyers - Thomas Goldstein, of Washington, D.C., and Richard Klugh, of Miami - contend that trial attorney Paul McKenna tried to prove the shootdown was lawful, a legal strategy that made it impossible for him to defend his client.
In an Oct. 12 document filed in U.S. District Court in Miami, Goldstein and Klugh say:
The government was required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Hernandez conspired with Cuba with the knowing intention of advancing a plan to commit murder—an unlawful killing with malice aforethought — regardless of whether a substantive offense ultimately occurred. In other words, Hernandez was on trial for what he purportedly agreed to do. But Hernandez’s lawyer mistakenly believed that Hernandez’s freedom instead rested upon demonstrating that the shootdown that occurred was in fact lawful.
In other words, counsel endeavored to prove that the actions of others were in fact lawful. This fundamental misconception influenced counsel’s every effort, and prevented him from taking essential steps in defense of his client. In short, Hernandez’s lawyer was his worst enemy in the courtroom. Because the Constitution cannot tolerate a conviction obtained under such circumstances, Hernandez’s conviction and sentence must be vacated.
The lawyers argue that Hernandez should not have been convicted unless prosecutors proved that:
  • There was a conspiratorial Cuban plan to shoot down the planes in an unjustified, unlawful manner
  • Hernandez knew of the unlawfulness of the plan
  • He willfully agreed to the commission of such an unlawful killing as something that he specifically intended to bring about, with substantial certainty that murder would occur.
Prosecutors have until Jan. 31 to respond to the lawyers' motion. Hernandez, 45, is serving a life prison term at Victorville federal prison, 85 miles northeast of Los Angeles.
For more information about the case, see The Miami Herald's Dec. 26 story.

Jimmy Carter asked U.S.-Cuba documents to be released

Screenshot showing Jimmy Carter's request

In 2002, former President Jimmy Carter asked the State Department to release previously declassified documents on U.S.-Cuban relations, according to a listing of declassification reviews.
Carter made at least 39 additional requests for the declassification of State Department documents in the 1990s. His requests were granted, which I imagine then allowed Carter to make public and write about the documents without violating any secrecy laws.
The State Department listing doesn't give details about the documents.
I came across Carter's requests in a massive 1,400-page PDF, which was posted on the GovernmentAttic website in October. I am preparing Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, requests in connection with my research into U.S. government programs in Cuba. (See Cuba Money Project for details about that). Scanning FOIA logs and reading letters of others who have made FOIA requests gives me some insight into how these things work.
The State Department PDF shows a log of declassification reviews performed from 1974 to 2010. You can download the 77.5 MB document from this GovernmentAttic page.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Carlos Andres Perez dead at 88

Five-page CIA intelligence report

Carlos Andres Perez, who provided protection to Luis Posada Carriles Orlando Bosch in the 1970s, has died in Miami at the age of 88, the Associated Press reports.
Andres Perez was a controversial figure who went to jail on corruption and other charges. I interviewed him some years ago while he was under house arrest at a posh residence that was perched on a hill overlooking Caracas.
This declassified secret CIA intelligence report quotes a source saying that Andres Perez protected Posada Carriles Bosch after the Cuban exile went to Venezuela following the bombing of a Cuban airliner.
The non-profit National Security Archive in Washington, D.C., obtained the report.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Cuba Money Project launched

What is the U.S. government accomplishing in Cuba? Promoting democracy? Burning up tax dollars? Or maybe a little of both?

For more than a year, I've been kicking around the idea starting a website aimed at taking a closer look at U.S. government programs in Cuba.
I've wondered what has happened to the hundreds of millions of dollars that the U.S. government has spent over the past 15 years or so. Are we just throwing away money? Or are U.S. officials helping to establish a society where Cubans can enjoy basic freedoms that most people in the Western hemisphere take for granted?
With those questions in mind, I launched the Cuba Money Project website this week. It is an independent investigative journalism project based in Florida. Its mission is to become a leading source of information, analysis and opinion about U.S. government-financed Cuba programs.
Here's how I describe it on the website:
Cuba Money Project strives to remain independent. It does not seek to take sides, undermine the pro-democracy movement in Cuba or endorse socialism.
The project’s goal is to provide factual information that could prove to be useful to a range of people, from American taxpayers curious about what has happened to hundreds of millions of dollars spent on Cuba programs in recent years to Cubans wondering about U.S. government activities on the island.
I welcome your help in making the Cuba Money Project a source of factual information, analysis and opinion.

Wikileaks: Cuba leaks are a trickle

As of this morning, Wikileaks had released just 3/4 of a percent - or 1,896 - of the 251,287 U.S. embassy cables that it says it has.
The released documents include:
  • About 6 percent - or 30 - of the 507 cables issued by the U.S. Interests Section.
  • About 3 percent - or 62 - of the more than 2,000 cables tagged Cuba.
Wikileaks has been releasing the cables for 26 days, including today. It has released an average of 73 cables per day. At that rate, it will take nine years and 131 days to release the remaining 249,391 documents.
Even though only a fraction of the Cuba documents are out, I've had trouble keeping up.
Finally, this morning, I belatedly added links to Wikileaks documents posted on this blog over the past three weeks. Apologies to readers for not doing that sooner. Links are vital, I know.

USAID-funded group pressured Spain on rights abuses in Cuba

This 2004 cable discusses a USAID-funded group in Spain, Cuba en Transicion.
The NGO's director, Rafael Rubio, told U.S. political officer Ricardo Zuniga that he was going to urge the government of Spain to:
  • Raise the public profile of the regular EU-Cuban opposition exchanges the GOS has pledged to activate in Havana.
  • Create public space in the Spanish Embassy in Havana for civil society, similar to the USINT Havana media center.
  • Distribute books and information materials to Cuban citizens, including both political and non-political literature.
  • Create an official Spanish "human rights officer" position in Havana to act as a POC for democracy activists and for human rights NGOs overseas.

Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
04MADRID4827 2004-12-22 14:02 2010-12-17 21:09 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Madrid

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.


E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/22/2014

Classified By: Political officer Ricardo Zuniga; reason 1.4 (D)

¶1. (C) Summary. On 12/21, Poloff met with Rafael Rubio, head
of the Spanish NGO "Cuba en Transicion" (Cuba in Transition),
a human rights organization dedicated to raising public
awareness in Spain about human rights abuses in Cuba. Rubio,
who generally works with the Popular Party (PP) but has also
sought to expand his links to the Socialist Party, said that
his organization is pressing the GOS to take concrete
measures in support of Cuban civil society, "since the only
concrete measure they've taken so far is to exclude
dissidents from national day events." Rubio said that,
despite public claims of a victory for Spanish policy in
Brussels, the GOS has opened the door for NGOs such as his to
lobby for higher-profile EU support for the Cuban opposition.
He has made little headway with Socialist Party leaders,
some of whom cling to a romantic vision of the Cuban
revolution, and is now focused on influencing the MFA. Rubio
said he is perplexed by the UK's support for easing EU
measures against Cuba and asked about the importance of Cuba
in GOS-USG relations. Poloff responded that Cuba is an
important issue at the highest levels of the USG and that
Spain's change in tack towards the GOS over the last year had
not helped bilateral ties. Rubio's organization is small,
but working with allied NGOs, it may manage to rein in
Socialist desires to further ease Spanish and EU policy
towards Cuba. End Summary.


¶2. (C) Cuba in Transition is a small, but well-connected NGO
( that is unusual in that it has no
Cuban exiles in its membership. It receives a small USAID
grant through the Washington-based Center for a Free Cuba.
Rubio said he has attempted to work through the Socialist
Party (PSOE) before approaching the government. His
objective is to sensitize PSOE to the massive scale of Cuba's
repression in an effort to eliminate a lingering sense of
political affinity for Castro among some elements of the
Socialist Party. He has made little headway, primarily
because the PSOE remains wary of publicly criticizing the
Castro regime and because the Socialists have determined that
so-called "moderate" dissidents Gutierrez Menoyo and Manuel
XXXXXXXXXXXXX are the only dissidents worth listening to.
Rubio said the "moderates'" message of working with the
Castro regime to encourage gradual change was seductive to EU
left wing parties such as the PSOE (NOTE: PSOE has brushed
aside dissident suspicions that xxxxxxxxxxxx is in fact a
Cuban Government agent. END NOTE.) Rubio said he was taken
aback to hear PSOE members criticize Project Varela leader
Oswaldo Paya as "too conservative" and as "a tool of the
Miami exile community," especially given Paya's well-known
differences with Miami groups. This echoes PSOE comments to
a visiting National Democratic Institute representative that
Paya's anti-abortion stance and good relations with former
President Aznar had alienated the PSOE.

¶3. (C) Rubio said he had inundated Spanish Ambassador to Cuba
Carlos Saldivar with information regarding GOC abuses for
many months. He believed he had managed to at least get
Saldivar, a former Spanish Communist Party member, to
question his preconceptions about Castro. However, Rubio
said Saldivar "remains a Marxist in his basic world view" and
may be fundamentally incapable of conducting an objective
evaluation of conditions in Cuba.


¶4. (C) Having determined that the PSOE is not likely to veer
from its cautious stance towards aiding the opposition,
Rubio has gone directly to the Socialist Government. He
recently approached the MFA to encourage them to take
specific steps to comply with Spain's claim that it intends
to ramp up contact with the dissidents to offset their
dis-invitation from EU national day events. Specifically,
Rubio is urging the GOS to:

- Raise the public profile of the regular EU-Cuban opposition
exchanges the GOS has pledged to activate in Havana.

- Create public space in the Spanish Embassy in Havana for
civil society, similar to the USINT Havana media center.

- Distribute books and information materials to Cuban
citizens, including both political and non-political

- Create an official Spanish "human rights officer" position
in Havana to act as a POC for democracy activists and for
human rights NGOs overseas.

¶5. (C) Rubio said he had told MFA DG for Latin America Javier
Sandomingo that the opposition could not accept having its
relations with the EU downgraded, since this implied that
Europe did not consider the activists to be legitimate
political actors. Rubio asked Sandomingo to support a human
rights conference he is trying to organize in Madrid two days
prior to the January 31 review/approval by EU foreign
ministers of the COLAT experts recommendation to modify the
EU restrictive measures. The goal of the conference would be
to provide concrete recommendations to the EU on how to
structure assistance to Cuban civil society, based on the
EU's experience supporting democracy activists in other


¶6. (C) Rubio expressed his consternation that the UK had
"turned its back" on Cuba's human rights activists, saying it
was inconceivable to him that a country with the UK's
tradition of support for human rights would have agreed to
weaken EU measures against the GOC given the lack of progress
in Cuba. With respect to the U.S., he asked whether the Cuba
issue was a genuinely important issue in bilateral relations
with Spain. Poloff replied that Cuba was a very important
matter to the USG and that we were very skeptical regarding
Spain's current approach. While we have good working
relations with the GOS on many issues, Cuba developments were
not helping the bilateral relationship.


¶7. (C) Rubio's close association with the opposition PP
complicates his efforts to influence the ruling Socialists.
He is aware of this and focuses on basic human rights issues
in order to avoid becoming ensnarled in the politics
surrounding Spanish policy towards Cuba. Cuba in Transition
is a small organization with limited objectives, but its
members are genuinely committed to the issues and are capable
of keeping Cuba human rights in the public eye. The best we
may be able to hope for over the near term is that activists
such as Rubio will manage to keep alive the domestic debate
over Cuba policy, preventing the GOS from going too far in
easing pressure on Castro.

Condoleezza Rice in 2008: Real change needed in Cuba

From a U.S. embassy cable written after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with Spanish Ambassador Jorge Dezcallar on Sept. 16, 2008:
The Secretary stated she remains unconvinced of the sincerity of minor post-Fidel changes in Cuba. She emphasized the need to make real change, as opposed to cosmetic ones. For example, Cubans should have access to cell phones and the Internet. The Ambassador countered that GoS doesn't think that changes in Cuba since Raul's ascent to power have been cosmetic. He denied that Raul is another Fidel, but warned against being too heavy-handed and "scaring him off, or he will be even more difficult."

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Judge to Posada Carriles: The show must go on

A federal judge today denied defense lawyers' request for a delay in the trial of Luis Posada Carriles, but reserved the right to sanction prosecutors for their late delivery of evidence.

In a document filed today, U.S. District Court Judge Kathleen Cardone wrote:
Upon due consideration, the Court finds that a continuance is unwarranted and the Motion should be DENIED. However, the Court recognizes that the government’s tardy delivery of this very large number of materials may cause hardship for Posada’s defense at trial.
Posada Carriles is accused of perjury and other charges. His trial is set to begin Jan. 10 in El Paso.

Update: Orlando Bosch out of the woods, for now

Orlando Bosch during the presentation of his memoirs on Dec. 9 in Miami

Cuban exile Orlando Bosch was feeling better today, two days after he was rushed to the hospital.
"He's very good now," said his wife, Adriana Bosch. "A nurse is tending to him right now."
Bosch was assisting her husband, 84, and was unable to provide additional details this morning.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Posada Carriles wants to postpone his January trial

Lawyers for Luis Posada Carriles asked Tuesday that the trial set to begin Jan. 10 be delayed.
They say they need time to study records showing the cause of death and autopsy of
Fabio Di Celmo, an Italian tourist killed in a Sept. 4, 1997, bombing at a Havana hotel. In a document filed today, the defense lawyers wrote:
A continuance is necessary in order to afford the defendant an opportunity to challenge this evidence with expert testimony, without which the undersigned cannot effectively represent the Defendant. Although a continuance of this cause will undoubtedly inconvenience the Court and the Government has advised defense counsel it opposes a continuance, the Defendant is not incarcerated and the Government will not be
prejudiced by a delay indeed resulting from their lack of diligence.
Posada Carriles' lawyers seek the services of a forensic pathologist named Ronald Wright, who divides his time between South Florida and Tennessee. His fee: $500 per hour for depositions; $400 per hour for consulting; and $4,000 for autopsy exams.
Wright said in a letter to Posada Carriles' lawyer that he won't have time to analyze all the Di Celmo evidence by Jan. 10:
As we have worked together before, I remind you that information concerning my practice of forensic pathology can be obtained at including my CV, my rate schedule and cases I have testified in for the past 14
As to assistance in the defense of your client, I can start today, but the volume and probable complexity of the records concerning the treatment, death and autopsy of Fabio Di Celmo present real time constraints which make analysis impossible by the start of trial on 2011 January 10.
I am prepared to travel to Cuba, should you and/or your client require it to assist with the depositions of various witnesses. However, I have two hearings and one trial prior to the Christmas holidays, and one trial after, so it will be hard to schedule prior to the start of the trial.

Judge: No Cuba trip for prosecutors

A federal judge on Tuesday denied prosecutors' request to travel to depose witnesses in the perjury trial of Cuban exile Luis Posada Carriles.
Prosecutors wanted to take statements from Otto Rene Rodriguez Llerena and Francisco Chavez Abarca, both of whom have accused Posada Carriles of involvement in a string of bombings in Havana in 1997 and 1998.
In a ruling filed today, U.S. District Court Judge Kathleen Cardone wrote:
Upon due consideration, the Court finds that no exceptional circumstances exist nor do the interests of justice require taking these depositions in this case. The government’s request is onerous and untimely as it comes very late in this case...Further, the depositions are to take place in Cuba, a country which has no formal diplomatic relations with the United States, and has previously refused defense counsels’ requests for permission to visit as part of their preparation for this case.
Prosecutors had said they hoped to "take the depositions in the presence of the Court by transmitting the proceeding by video link."
Cardone said she found the request to travel to Cuba unusual, particularly since the Cuban government had not said whether the prosecutors would be granted access to the witnesses, who are in prison.

Florida lawmaker: Castro brothers are "thugocrats"

U.S. Rep. Connie Mack, R-Fla., on Tuesday was named chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere. He said in a statement:
I’m truly honored to be named Chairman of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee and to continue my work on addressing the pressing issues facing the region.
With freedom and free markets under continuous assault by thugocrats like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and the Castro Brothers in Cuba, the United States must remain committed to countering the influence of these socialist leaders in the region. We must also work with our allies in the hemisphere to eradicate terrorist organizations like the FARC, keep a watchful eye on the dangerous ties between Russia, Iran, and Venezuela, and build relationships based on our shared goals of freedom, security, and prosperity.
I look forward to working with Chairman Ros-Lehtinen, the other Subcommittee Chairmen, and the entire Committee on improving U.S. foreign policy and preserving freedom around the world.
The incoming Foreign Affairs Committee Chair, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, applauded Mack. She said:
Congressman Mack does not hesitate to call a dictator a dictator, or, as is his preferred term, a “thugocrat.” Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales, and Rafael Correa are all placing democracy under siege in Latin America, and I am happy to have Connie standing up to their tyrannical advances as Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere.
Mack is the great-grandson of Cornelius McGillicuddy, Sr., better known as Connie Mack, the late great baseball player.
The lawmaker's wife is Mary Bono Mack, the former wife of Sonny Bono, who was killed in 1998. She is also a member of Congress.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Breaking news: Orlando Bosch rushed to hospital, "quite critical"

Orlando Bosch, then and now
Orlando Bosch, 84, has been rushed to a South Florida hospital.
"A doctor is treating him now," his wife, Adriana Bosch, said Monday afternoon.
"His state of health is quite critical," said Angel De Fana, a friend and fellow Cuban exile.
Bosch looked frail on Dec. 9 when he unveiled his memoirs in Miami, but he managed to speak briefly to some 150 to 200 people who turned out to see him (see video).
Bosch recalled his days as a student activist in Cuba. And his friends painted him as a Cuban patriot, not a terrorist, and denied that he was the mastermind behind the 1976 bombing of a Cuban passenger airliner.
Friends helped Bosch off the stage after the presentation. On his way out, he ran into an old friend, Luis Posada Carriles, also accused of involvement in the bombing.
The two hugged, spoke briefly and posed for a few pictures. Then friends led Bosch to a waiting car.

Update: Orlando Bosch out of the woods, for now

Coverage of the Bosch memoirs:

Dec. 14 - Orlando Bosch: Guns in the garage
Dec. 14 - Bosch supporter: Most of planted bombs, took up arms
Dec. 13 - Orlando Bosch speaks to supporters in Miami
Dec. 13 - Slideshow of Bosch photos
Dec. 13 - Friends and family rally around Orlando Bosch
Dec. 12 - Orlando Bosch denies he's a killer
Dec. 10 - New photos of Orlando Bosch book bash
Dec. 9 - Orlando Bosch hasn't hurt a soul, his friends say

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Cuban officials "bombard" USINT with calls for greater law enforcement cooperation

This 2009 cable discusses the possibility of increase cooperation with Cuba on law enforcement issues.

Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09HAVANA172 2009-03-17 15:03 2010-12-16 21:09 SECRET US Interests Section Havana


DE RUEHUB #0172/01 0761536
P 171536Z MAR 09

S E C R E T HAVANA 000172


E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/17/2029

Classified By: com jonathan farrar for reasons 1.4 (b) & (d)

¶1. (S) Summary: On 9 March 2009, the United States Coast
Guard Drug Interdiction Specialist (DIS) stationed at the
United States Interests Section in Havana, Cuba (USINT)
attended a routine working meeting with Cuban Ministry of
Interior (MININT) officers, including one Cuban Border Guard
Colonel (COL) and two officers from the MININT Directorate of
International Relations (one Lieutenant Colonel (LTCOL) and a
Major (MAJ)). All three officers are regular DIS contacts
with whom he has met approximately thirty times since the
DIS's arrival in country in August 2008, including two
multi-day law enforcement-related excursions. Topics
discussed on 9 March included a recent marijuana wash-up in
Holguin Province, and suspected migrant smugglers currently
being detained by the Government of Cuba (GOC).

¶2. (S) On 9 March, the DIS received four requests for
information from MININT. Of note was a request on forty-five
subjects suspected of being involved in organized Cuban
migrant smuggling and currently being detained in Cuba, and a
recent marijuana wash-up on Cuba's north coast in Holguin
Province. Following the working portion of the meeting, the
DIS was asked by the MININT MAJ whether he believed the
proposed legislation in the U.S. congress that would permit
Cuban Americans to travel to Cuba more frequently would pass.
Attempting to gauge the current readiness level of the Cuban
economy for increased tourism, DIS in-turn asked the officers
whether Cuba was ready for an increased flow of American
tourists, to which the COL responded that Cuba was never
averse to Americans traveling to Cuba; rather, it was a
policy initiated and brought on by the United States, not
Cuba. The meeting ended a few moments later, and the DIS
departed the MININT protocol house.

¶3. (S) After departing, DIS, LTCOL, and MAJ initiated a
side-bar conversation and the DIS once again asked (and
clarified his earlier travel-related question) whether or not
Cuba was prepared for a significant influx of American
tourists should policy permit such a change. The MAJ was
quick to respond in the negative and pointed out that Cuban
airports were not prepared to accommodate a large influx.
The LTCOL stated that should maritime ports be utilized for
ferries or cruises, they too are not prepared or equipped to
handle an increase in passengers and the logistics that
accompany them. Both agreed that this will require a
significant amount of time to rectify. While the LTCOL
appeared optimistic that this issue was one that would be
improved, the MAJ was visibly frustrated with the issue; he
stated that Cuba has previously prepared for an increased
flow of Americans only to have the United States government
turn around and prohibit travel to the island.

¶4. (S) DIS told both officers that an increase in American
travel to Cuba would bring about a litany of issues,
including matters that will have to be handled by USINT's
American Citizen Services section as well as Cuban and US law
enforcement agencies. DIS stated that the GOC may have to
work more closely with such agencies as the Drug Enforcement
Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S.
Marshals Service, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Immediately following this statement, the MAJ stated, in an
agreeable fashion, that the GOC will also have to work with
the Central Intelligence Agency on matters related to

¶5. (S) DIS used this line of conversation as a segue to
float the idea of greater USINT Regional Security Officer
(RSO) involvement in law enforcement issues as opposed to the
DIS handling nearly all exchanges. Both MININT officers
were amenable to the idea and stated that they are willing to
work with the current USINT RSO on law enforcement-related
matters. The MAJ stated that increased law enforcement
cooperation outside the bounds of the existing MININT-DIS
relationship will inevitably push both sides into a position
where they are forced to work together on mutually-concerning
issues, thereby opening the door to other forms of

¶6. (S) DIS asked what it would take to setup a meeting
among MININT, DIS, and RSO, and the MAJ stated that a
diplomatic note should be sent to the Cuban Ministry of
Foreign Relations (MINREX) to request said meeting. The
side-bar concluded after approximately thirty minutes.

¶7. (S) Comment: MININT and MINREX (during Cuban migrant
repatriations) continue to bombard the DIS with statements
encouraging the United States to cooperate on matters related
to law enforcement, specifically counternarcotics and illegal
migration. Most, if not all, migrant repatriations bring the
DIS into direct contact with an official from MINREX's North
American Division. MINREX officers inevitably raise the need
for greater dialogue between the United States and Cuba, and
seem to believe that counternarcotics and migration issues
are a viable, potential conduit for increased U.S.-Cuba
collaboration. DIS believes this continued LE cooperation
message from the GOC to the DIS is part of a concerted effort
to increase dialogue with the United States via an already
established working-level relationship.


Cuban youth tell U.S. officials their hopes and fears

February 2008 cable about Cuban youth. Michael Parmly writes that young people want the Cuban government to stop trying to control every aspect of their lives.

Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08HAVANA168 2008-02-20 19:07 2010-12-16 21:09 CONFIDENTIAL US Interests Section Havana

DE RUEHUB #0168/01 0511954
O 201954Z FEB 08

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 HAVANA 000168




E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/18/2017

Classified By: COM: M.E. Parmly : For reasons 1.4 b/d

¶1. (C) Summary: In two meetings Cuban youth groups said
young people see that they have a historic opportunity to
create a change in their country. However, they report
widespread fear among the population. They state that Cuban
youth want change but are unclear as to what exactly these
changes would entail. After the government has subjected them
to intense indoctrination for years, the young people have
only a vaguest ideas about how the various forms of
democratic government work and how market economies function.
The idea that unites most of Cuban youth is the desire to be
able to make choices. Youth report massive and increasing
police harassment of Cuban youth, whether political involved
or not. There are significant differences in opinion on how
strong the opposition is based on whether the young people
are affiliated or not with specific opposition groups. Youth
groups report that their biggest problem is the ability to
distribute information. Many of the young people do not
support the US embargo, but this policy does have some strong
defenders. End Summary.

¶2. (C) Pol off held a meeting of young people at his house
on XXXXXXXXXXXX attended by 29 people, mostly between
the ages of 17 and 25 with a few older members of some
organizations. Some belonged to civil society organizations but
several were not members of any specific organization. On
XXXXXXXXXXXX hosted at his residence a group of 19 members
Of XXXXXXXXXXXX This group included several active university
students. It is especially notable that XXXXXXXXXXXX has more
success engaging in dialogue university students from the eastern
part of the country than from any other region. XXXXXXXXXXXX
has recently gathered more than 5000 signatures to demand autonomy
in the higher educational system and the reopening of the Villanueva
Catholic University. The students stated that their interest was not
specifically for the restoration of Catholic education but rather for a
return to Cuba's rich cultural tradition of private universities.

¶3. (C) Both groups discussed a recent incident where a
student at a College of Computer Science sharply questioned
Ricardo De Alarcon, President of the Cuban National Assembly.
Some members of XXXXXXXXXXXX expressed that this
episode indicates that students were more willing to speak up.
On the other hand, everyone of the other group of 29 young
people thought that this was a staged incident put on by some
members of the government to embarrass Alarcon. No one in
this group could answer why the government would want to
publicize the very issues that the group had already listed as
the things that most anger ordinary Cubans, namely, the lack
of basic goods and the preferential treatment given to foreigners.
However, this consideration did not dissuade any of the young
people from their conspiracy theories.

¶4. (C) Another split between the groups was that the
XXXXXXXXXXXX students represent that practically no
one in Cuba supports the government, while the unaffiliated
youth maintain that many people support the regime, beginning
with their own parents. This group stated that the government
operates a very effective propaganda apparatus and many people
simply have no other source of information. One person
described the process of disenchantment with the government
as "the slow lifting of a veil." All of the youth believed that they
had a historic opportunity to institute change because of the
passing of authority from Fidel Castro and due to what they
perceive as confusion within the government. However, the
group at the meeting of XXXXXXXXXXXX told Pol off that
Cuban young people in general don't have a clear picture of
what a change would mean. They said that they have only the
most rudimentary idea of how various democratic governments
are structured and how market economies work. They said that
even above all Cuban youth want choice and the ability to end
government control over every aspect of their lives.

¶5. (C) Many of those present expressed that young people are
the number one target of increased repression by police and
state security officials. They said that youth are harassed
for a whole host of reasons, most of them unrelated to
politics. They said young adults are constantly stopped in
the streets and when their ID card shows an address other
than Havana, they are forcibly shipped back to their
hometowns with a warning never to return. Several black
youths stated that there are many neighborhoods where the
police practice racial profiling and threaten with arrest any
Afro Cuban youth hanging out in the street. XXXXXXXXXXXX
aid that they recorded during 2007 in Havana 3000 incidents of
young homosexuals fined or detained for simply congregating in
the street and 12 cases of young homosexuals sentenced to prison
for two to four years under the law of "dangerousness" simply
because they returned to a park that they were told to stay away
from. Nearly everyone in the room had a story about being
threatened recently by the police. The group said police
harassment occurs at all times of the day in every part of
the country.

¶6. (C) The XXXXXXXXXXXX did feel that despite a lot of
fear there is potential for a large scale student movement in
favor of autonomy for the universities and academic freedom.
The other group stated because of fear of expulsion, and the
present of a large number of willing government
collaborators, the universities were the last place to expect
the emergence of a large scale, activist youth movement.
XXXXXXXXXXXX, expelled from university for refusing
to participate in a demonstration against a dissident, said that
despite many problems with poor physical facilities and bad
food, conditions at the universities have improved recently
due to large scale Venezuelan investment. Many of the
unaffiliated youths stated that the potential for explosion
is in the high schools, where senior students not placed on a
university track see themselves with little to lose. Citing
an incident on February 1 where a 17 year old novice teacher
threw a chair and killed a 12 year old, members of this group
told numerous stories of the lack of teachers and the
assignment of young, barely trained teachers, with neither
the knowledge nor temperament for dealing with students, who
are close enough in age to be their peers. They said that
there are numerous instances of physical abuse of students,
pedophilia, sexual harassment, and solicitations of bribes to
change grades. In many instances teachers play an
educational program on television for the classes and do not
attempt otherwise to instruct the students. XXXXXXXXXXXX
l stated that she goes to many schools where the walls are
crumbling, the building is infested with insects, the furniture is
broken and there is no food to feed the children. Many of the
youths stated that parents are very frustrated with the lack of
response from the school authorities. As part of the "lifting
of the veil" phenomenon, many parents are now questioning the
value of much of the education system such as mandatory
participation in "patriotic" activities and military training
over the weekends and forced labor picking coffee or fruit
in the countryside for a month and a half during the school year.

¶7. (C) Youth groups agree that their biggest problem is
getting out information which is now largely word-of-mouth.
There were several complaints that the outlets devoted to
Cuba news are nearly completely focused on the traditional
dissident movements. Many participants in the meetings
expressed admiration for several long standing opposition
leaders but clearly said that neither they nor the Cuban
exile community represent the thoughts of Cuban youth.

¶8. (C) On 13 February there was a vigorous discussion of
the US embargo. The vast majority thought that the embargo
was a bad idea. Many had stories about how meetings with
actual Americans had positively changed their opinions about
the US. Several thought that the ending of the embargo would
mean that the GOC could not continue to blame all of the
problems with the economy on the embargo. Five others
vigorously defended the embargo stating that the lifting of
it would be a huge propaganda victory that the GOC did not
earn by any action.

¶9. (C) Comment: Cuban youth is probably the most difficult
group for XXXXXXXXXXXX to contact because of a high
level of fear. It is plain from the sheer number of repressive
incidents reported that this is the group that the government
fears the most and subjects to the most harassment
.There are differences in the opinions of youth about the
possibility of change based on geography and whether the
youths are affiliated with opposition groups. By and large
young people do not know what type of change they are looking
for. Their common desire is for choice, and a release from the
control of the government over every aspect of their lives.
XXXXXXXXXXXX continues to work to expand contact
with youths at every level of Cuban society.

2009 cable: Cuban economy stronger than in the 1990s

This 2009 cable says Cuba is not as vulnerable to economic crisis as it was during the 1990s.
It says the Cuban government sets low expectations, mentioning even the possibility of blackouts, to fend off civil unrest.

Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09HAVANA322 2009-06-04 13:01 2010-12-16 21:09 CONFIDENTIAL US Interests Section Havana

DE RUEHUB #0322/01 1551354
R 041354Z JUN 09

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 05 HAVANA 000322



E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/03/2019

¶B. 06 HAVANA 8017
¶D. 07 HAVANA 761

Classified By: COM Jonathan Farrar for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)


¶1. (C) The combination of new warnings of potential
blackouts, serious liquidity issues, and potential (if not
already) reduced financial support from Venezuela has sparked
rumors on the street and in the international media that Cuba
may be headed toward another "Special Period". The reality
is that Cuba and Cubans are not as vulnerable as they were in
1989 before the end of Soviet subsidies. However, the Cuban
economy remains remarkably dependent on external markets and
access to credit. While the level of foreign reserves is a
well guarded secret, some analysts and USINT contacts believe
the GOC could run out of cash later this year without a
significant change of course. Energy austerity measures
officially began on June 1, starting with state companies and
then potentially moving to households. We expect a reduction
in non-fuel imports as a next step. End Summary

Are We There Yet? No, But...

¶2. (C) The standard of living for Cubans, while still not as
high as twenty years ago before the end of Soviet subsidies,
remains much better than the darkest days of the 1990 to 1993
period when GDP fell more than 35 percent. While we expect
zero to negative GDP growth in 2009 (Ref A), Cuba's latest
challenges have yet to seriously affect the average Cuban.
The GOC blames its current macroeconomic woes on the world
economic slowdown, the U.S. embargo, a particularly
destructive 2008 hurricane season, and general inefficiency
and waste. The GOC is quick to point out that no Cuban will
be evicted for failure to pay a mortgage and Cuban jobs
remain secure while rich countries are experiencing massive
layoffs. Nevertheless, the GOC has previewed other
difficulties that could soon reach Cuban households.

Liquidity Crunch

¶3. (C) Cuba has been in a perennial state of late-payment
for decades; sometimes due to legitimate cash shortages and
at other times simply as a negotiation tactic. Cuba has long
pointed to the crisis of the day to renegotiate short term
official debt, and we can not rule out that the GOC is simply
using the current world economic crisis to improve its cash
position. However, diplomatic contacts agree that Cuba's
current liquidity crunch is much deeper than in recent years.
Foreign companies are waiting three to six months to receive
payment, and some have already agreed to sell their assets
back to the GOC (Pebercan) or restructure their accounts
receivables (Sherritt) into medium to long term government

¶4. (C) The latest holdup appears to be at the banking level,
as Cuban state companies are reportedly making payments on
time but the payment transfers are delayed by the bank for
months before being released to the foreign enterprise.
Alternatively, the funds are deposited in the foreign
company's account for use within Cuba but they are not
permitted to transfer the funds abroad or into a foreign
currency. Initially, Cuban officials blamed the need to
divert resources to assist in the recovery from last year's
hurricanes, but now the main culprit appears to be the world
economic crisis. A reported collapse in all of Cuba's main
sources of foreign currency (nickel exports, tourism,
remittances) and an increase in the quantity and price of
Cuban imports have magnified an already increasing debt
burden. It is clear that the GOC is hemorrhaging cash.
Whether it has reached the crisis point or not is less clear.
Either way, the Cuban banking sector has lost much of the
credibility it had built in recent years, which has led some
to speculate that long time Central Bank President Francisco
Soberon may finally be on his way out.

¶5. (C) CIMEX, Cuba's largest and most diversified holding
company, reported on May 20 that payments for some imports
have suffered delays, but the "will of the country" was to
meet its financial obligations. CIMEX also reported that
remittances were down so far in 2009. CIMEX controls Banco
Financiero International, the most important Cuban bank for
foreign trade related transactions, and the relationship with
remittance providers including Western Union and Canada's
Transcard through Financiera CIMEX. According to Reuters,
the GOC has called government ministries to cut spending by 6
percent and limit imports. European and Canadian diplomats
report reduced exports to Cuba so far this year, especially
for machinery and other non-food items. Ironically, and to
the visible dismay of our diplomatic colleagues, U.S. exports
to Cuba through the first quarter of 2009 were higher than
even last year's historic level. This dismay is heightened
by the fact that U.S. companies are paid on time while others
must wait as reported above. U.S. exports make up much of
the food consumed by Cubans and sold in the income generating
tourist industry, and U.S. law requires payment in cash in
advance. However, there are recent reports that Cuban
purchases of U.S. meat products have been cut through the
rest of 2009.

Threatened Blackouts

¶6. (SBU) In 2005, Fidel Castro announced that his new Energy
Revolution would put a stop to blackouts in Cuba by the end
of 2006. The GOC took several measures over the next few
years to limit future blackouts (Ref B), including increasing
household electricity bills, swapping out refrigerators and
light bulbs, and importing hundreds of small generators.
Despite these steps, the official press announced on May 22
that "exceptional measures to save electricity shall be
applied throughout the country starting 1 June in an effort
to curb overconsumption, bring every center, municipality,
and province in line with their plan, and prevent power
cuts." The GOC identified 1,700 state enterprises as high
electricity users, 3,000 examples of waste in the public
sector, and four provinces with increasing home consumption.
The GOC is taking extreme measures to prevent countrywide
blackouts. A new austerity plan is being implemented by each
municipality and state enterprise to conserve energy. Local
energy councils are monitoring the daily use of electricity
and local authorities are conducting surprise inspections.
In the first few days of the new plan, provinces have been
strict in their stated intention to shut off a company's
electricity if it exceeds its budgeted allowance. There are
reports that the Holguin province shut off the electricity
for the offices and warehouses of the three nickel plants due
to overconsumption, although the plants themselves continue
to operate.

¶7. (SBU) Although households are not included in the formal
austerity program, the official press has highlighted fines
levied on residents caught rigging electricity meters, urged
personal energy savings, and threatened countrywide blackouts
if the situation doesn't improve. The summer 2005 blackouts
were a serious strain on Cuban households and the possibility
of a return to those days despite years of supposed reform in
the sector has clearly disappointed our Cuban contacts.
Frequent but short-lived power outages already take place on
a daily basis, but many Cubans refuse even to speculate on a
return to scheduled blackouts. Blackouts mean spoiled food,
no air conditioning during the brutal summer months, and no
cooking since the GOC recently swapped most gas stoves with
an electric version from China. According to GOC officials,
the root of this summer's energy crisis is not a lack of
generation capacity (as in 2005) but a shortage of fuel.
Cuba uses much of its own heavy crude oil for domestic
electricity production, but also relies on imports, in
particular Venezuelan deliveries of refined products to power
the (diesel) gas guzzling generators.

--------------------------------------------- ------------
Potential Triggers: Venezuela, Hurricanes, or Insolvency
--------------------------------------------- ------------

¶8. (SBU) Venezuela: In addition to oil deliveries, Cuba and
Venezuelan oil conglomerate PDVSA have significant joint
ventures in Cuba, Venezuela, and other Petrocaribe countries.
Within Cuba, these ventures are focused on building and
expanding oil refining capacity, oil prospecting, gas
production, maritime transportation (crude oil and
byproducts), housing construction, agricultural production,
access to potable water, fishing, and transportation
services. Potential future operations include increasing
storage capabilities, enlarging cargo docks and navigation
channels, and constructing a network of pipelines, roads, and
services infrastructure. Venezuela has taken over from China
a joint venture to build a new nickel plant within three
years. In addition, Cuba and Venezuela are working on a
fiber optic cable with an ever changing completion date,
currently some time in 2010.

¶9. (C) The GOC started hinting that all was not rosy with
its economic relationship with Venezuela when, in an
unusually public display, the front page of the Communist
Party newspaper Granma reported on May 21 that Venezuela
would experience a 50 percent drop in petroleum revenue in
¶2009. The GOC reference to a lack of fuel rather than
generation capacity to explain energy shortages could
indicate either a reduction (or delay) in fuel supplies from
Venezuela or disappointing refining results through the
Cuba/PDVSA joint venture projects. A French diplomat told us
that a French company inquiring about its overdue accounts
receivable from a Cuban bank was told that the bank had to
wait until funds arrived from Venezuela. Cuba is not yet as
dependent on Venezuela as it was on the Soviet Union.
However, a potential loss of even partial support for the
many activities Venezuelan enterprises are now involved in
would severely impact several facets of the Cuban economy. A
reduction of oil shipments in 2010 (Ref C) could bring the
economy to a halt.

¶10. (SBU) Hurricanes: The 2008 hurricane season devastated
many parts of the island (Ref D), but it mostly missed the
foreign income generating regions of Havana (tourism and most
industry), Matanzas (tourism), and Moa (nickel). It also had
only a modest effect on the sugar and tobacco industries.
The 2009 hurricane season, which began on June 1, is expected
to be less severe than 2008. However, one or two hurricanes
that target these regions would cut Cuba's foreign earnings
even further and raise serious questions around Cuba's

¶11. (C) Insolvency: Cuba effectively ran out of reserves in
1992 at the height of the Special Period. At that time,
Cubans experienced extensive cuts in their rations (food,
clothing, electricity, and fuel), a near end to public
transportation, and strict black market crackdowns. Since
the end of the Special Period, Cuba has built up some foreign
reserves, but, as one European diplomat with good ties in the
Cuban banking sector told us, the exact number remains one of
two key national secrets (along with the details of Cuba's
financial arrangement with Venezuela). The Central Bank of
Cuba has implemented strict new measures limiting foreign
currency transactions by foreign companies and further
controlling transactions by state companies. The French
Commercial Counselor expects Cuba to reach bankruptcy or near
bankruptcy by the end of the year.

Is Cuba Better Prepared This Time?

¶12. (C) Cuba's over-reliance on credit to pay for critical
imports and dependence on Venezuela for more than just oil
remain Cuba's primary vulnerabilities. In contrast to 1989,
however, Cuba has diversified both its trading partners and
sources of foreign currency. Whereas the former Soviet Union
represented 80 percent of Cuba's total trade in 1989, Cuba's
top five trade partners in 2007 represented only 60 percent
of total trade (in goods) with Venezuela on top at 20 percent
(followed by China with 18 percent, Canada with 10 percent,
Spain with 8 percent, and the United States with 4 percent).
Detailed 2008 numbers have not been released yet. All of
these partners, with the exception of the United States,
offer Cuba extensive credit. The Spanish Commercial
Counselor told us that Spain is close to concluding a
renegotiation of its short term debt with Cuba. Spain and
Cuba have already agreed on the new structure of the debt
(some cancelled, the rest longer term) and the applicable
interest rate. The only remaining obstacle is how much new
credit Spain will offer Cuba.

¶13. (C) Some of the reforms that helped bring Cuba out of
the Special Period will also provide a cushion for the Cuban
economy today. Even with an expected fall in tourism this
year, Cuba may receive close to 2 million more tourists than
the 340,000 that arrived in 1990. Earlier this year, Cuba
re-started licensing private taxi cabs. Local paladars
(small, private restaurants) frequented by USINT staff remain
profitable self-employment ventures. Although remittances
are reportedly down so far this year, presumably due to the
world economic crisis, money and visits from family members
living abroad remain an important source of income for many
Cuban families. In addition, foreign investors remain
interested in key sectors like hydrocarbons and tourism in
spite of Cuba's liquidity problems, possibly in order to keep
a foot in the door before a hypothetical opening to U.S.
business. Furthermore, the Cuban government is much better
at capturing foreign currency than before 1990 through
customs, fees, taxes, and hard currency stores.

¶14. (SBU) The Special Period is still fresh in the minds of
all Cubans. For most, the problem was not one of income but
rather of a lack of supply. There was simply nothing to buy
and very little provided by the state. As a result, Cubans
have spent the past twenty years learning how to "escapar"
(literally to escape but usually meant to survive) without
relying on GOC assistance. The 2008 hurricanes returned many
families in eastern Cuba, Pinar del Rio, and the Isle of
Youth to desperate conditions with insufficient government
assistance. According to the World Food Program, most
hurricane assistance has now been delivered, so victims will
have to rely on their own efforts for sustenance (see septel
for information on the pending European Community aid package
which includes some humanitarian assistance). The
destruction caused by last year's hurricanes means that some
Cubans don't have as far to fall to reach standards of living
similar to the Special Period.

¶15. (SBU) On May 24, state newspaper Juventude Rebelde
reported on interviews conducted to determine how Cubans see
the effects of the global economic crisis on the country.
Most of the interviewees urged readers to "work harder" and
"soldier on" to help the country through this difficult time.
One retiree said he didn't think this is going to get as bad
as in the worst of the days of the 1990s. Several
respondents said Cubans were better prepared since they have
been trained to live through similar crises. The article
sought to dampen rumors of "catastrophic overtones" including
"no oil, soap, and other staples, (and) that the blackouts
will come back and that they will be long." The GOC and
official press have yet to offer any solutions other than a
call on the patriotic duty of all Cubans to save more and
spend less. Several GOC officials have echoed a 2005 quote
by Central Bank President Francisco Soberon turning the
political motto "Fatherland or Death" into its economic
equivalent of "Savings or Death".


¶16. (C) Daily life for most Cubans remains extremely
difficult primarily due to a backward and mismanaged economy
and the lingering effects of last year's hurricanes. The
summer months promise even more hardship as the world
economic crisis finally makes its way to Cuban households.
Nevertheless, today's Cuban economy is less vulnerable to a
return to the lows of the Special Period thanks to more
diversified sources of income and credits, a more resourceful
Cuban population, and an actual (remittances and travel) and
theoretical (end of the embargo) opening of U.S.-Cuban
relations. By even mentioning the possibility of blackouts,
the GOC is trying to set the expectations of Cubans as low as
they can possibly go without triggering public unrest. If
the GOC can show that Cubans working together can
successfully prevent massive blackouts, then it can at least
show level of competence and socialist pride. Further risks
remain, however, as hurricane season approaches and both
Venezuela and Cuba face their own financial crises.

Cuba might accept U.S. hurricane aid in the future, Minex official said

This 2009 cable says if the U.S. government is going to offer hurricane aid to Cuba in the future, it should do so quietly to avoid embarrassing the Cuban government.
The document adds:
however, the USG should be wary that the GOC may be expecting a blank check, not a calculated offer of pragmatic post-hurricane assistance.

Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09HAVANA559 2009-09-14 10:10 2010-12-16 21:09 SECRET US Interests Section Havana


DE RUEHUB #0559/01 2571036
P 141036Z SEP 09

S E C R E T HAVANA 000559


E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/11/2029

REF: HAVANA 500 & 511


¶1. (S/NF) Summary: On 3 September 2009, the U.S. Coast Guard
Drug Interdiction Specialist (DIS) assigned to the U.S.
Interests Section (USINT) in Havana, Cuba, engaged in a
candid conversation with a Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs
(MINREX) official who provided insight into the possible
Government of Cuba (GOC) response to any USG offers of
post-hurricane assistance to the GOC. End Summary.

¶2. (S/NF) A MINREX officer ("officer") in the Ministry's
North American Division, Rodney, who attends repatriations
somewhat infrequently (DIS has had contact with this official
on approximately 5 occasions- USINT consular officers have
also met this officer on other occasions while attending
repatriations), exchanged pleasantries with the DIS at the
outset of the repatriation. During the boat ride to the
receiving pier, the officer almost immediately directed the
conversation towards what seemed to be a pre-planned
discussion. Offering up the usual &in my personal opinion8
while placing a firm hand on his chest and gesturing towards
himself, the officer stated: "I have been reading a lot of
U.S. press reports about possible U.S. hurricane assistance
and I think the GOC would be willing to accept that
assistance." DIS stated to the officer that that approach
would be different than last year's GOC response to the
multiple USG offers of post-hurricane assistance. The
officer went on to say that "(political) conditions this year
are very different than they were last year this time," an
apparent reference to the recent re-establishment of USINT
access to MINREX (reftels).

¶3. (S/NF) DIS stated to the officer that it was common and
prudent practice to offer a disaster assistance response team
(DART) to locations following natural disasters to assess the
damage and the necessary level and type of assistance. The
officer responded by saying that: "the level of damage to
Cuba during last year's hurricane season was evident and the
team was a precondition to providing post-hurricane
assistance to Cuba; the U.S. should not impose preconditions
and should allow the GOC to determine how assistance is
used." In turn, the DIS responded that the USG is not in the
business of writing blank checks to foreign governments to
which the officer seemed to be at a loss for words. The
officer and the DIS cordially agreed that this was an
ideological difference between both nations, and agreed that
while neither of us wanted to see any hurricane affect Cuba,
should the opportunity arise for the USG to offer hurricane
assistance to the GOC, it would be interesting to see how the
scenario unfolds.

¶4. (S/NF) This officer is a young (29 years old), cordial,
well-spoken MINREX officer who utilizes repatriations as an
opportunity to practice what might already be considered
polished English. He studied economics, is well versed in
international political ideology, and appears to be a
voracious reader. Like his more senior MINREX counterparts,
he makes a point during each repatriation to discuss recent
U.S. press reporting relative to U.S.-Cuba relations, and
uses each repatriation as an opportunity to elicit a response
from the DIS on a wide scope of U.S.-Cuban matters, always
under the guise of being a personal opinion or interest. He
does not balk when given the chance to prop-up and support
the tenets of the Cuban revolution, and especially, in his
government's opinion, the harsh treatment the USG has
afforded the Cuban people throughout the course of the
revolution. He is able to support and speak to the major GOC
talking points (i.e. the embargo, Cuban-Americans, etc.), and
is likely to rise in the GOC.

¶5. (S/NF) Comment: Yet again, MINREX has utilized the DIS and
the repatriation process as a forum to air out a current GOC

focus, and float the idea by a U.S. officer who the GOC is
aware works in the political-economic section at USINT. The
typical "this is my opinion" approach from this MINREX
officer is an opening gesture, whereafter he and each MINREX
officer then communicates a willingness, need, or current
focus of the GOC that they have decided to communicate to the
Mission and USG at large. This may well be a concerted
effort on the part of MINREX to engage in one-on-one
communication, at a relatively low-level, as a circuitous
approach to GOC-U.S. communications in lieu of direct or
over-publicized talks. By communicating in this manner, the
GOC can communicate with the USG, in this case over the issue
of hurricane assistance, and still maintain its public image
and propaganda campaign that lambaste the USG for its
approach towards Cuba. Interestingly, DIS cannot recall any
recent press reporting having to do with possible
post-hurricane assistance to Cuba.

(S/NF) Further Comment: DIS was extremely surprised by the
hurricane assistance-related comments made by the MINREX
officer. Having spent a significant amount of time working
and traveling with Cuban MININT and MINREX officers over the
past year, Cubans are extremely proud people, and almost
never admit that there is a flaw in their system, even when
the flaw is a glaring one. For a MINREX officer to admit
that his country may be willing to accept assistance from the
U.S. should a hurricane ravage this island again, ventures
well beyond the perceived pride level of GOC officials. More
than anything, the GOC does not like to be embarrassed, and
taking handouts from the USG may well be a point of
embarrassment for the GOC should they choose to accept. As
such, any genuine post-hurricane assistance offer should be
extended quietly; however, the USG should be wary that the
GOC may be expecting a blank check, not a calculated offer of
pragmatic post-hurricane assistance. End Comment.