Monday, May 30, 2011

Las Damas de Apoyo speak out

Crispina Xiomara Duquesne

Sonia Garro Alfonso

Niurkis Rivera Despaigne

Maura Jacqueline Barrera Martinez
Las Damas de Blanco, or Ladies in White, is made up of the wives, sisters and other relatives of political prisoners, most of whom were jailed during the March 2003 government crackdown and have since been released.
Las Damas de Apoyo, or Ladies in Support, was organized to help push the cause of Las Damas de Blanco.
Members of Las Damas de Apoyo generally don't have relatives in prison, but they often join Las de Blanco in the group's peaceful marches, usually held on Sundays along Quinta Avenida en Havana.
I just posted interviews with four members of Las Damas de Apoyo on the Cuba Money Project's Vimeo Channel. The women interviewed include: Maura Jacqueline Barrera Martinez, Niurkis Rivera Despaigne, Crispina Xiomara Duquesne and Sonia Garro Alfonso.
Such groups are important to watch, I think, because they are a measure of the political opposition's strength on the streets.
Some government supporters I've interviewed contend that group members march because they receive payments from U.S.-financed democracy groups.
I asked Las Demas de Apoyo members about that general accusation, which is aired regularly on state-run media, and they said it is false.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Lawmaker: Castro brothers must not become "oil tycoons"

A Florida Republican proposed a law on Friday aimed at deterring Cuba's oil exploration efforts.
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen says she wants to prevent Fidel and Raul Castro from becoming "the oil tycoons of the Caribbean." (Download 14-page bill).
Her proposal would deny U.S. visas to officers of foreign companies that invest $1 million or more in Cuba's oil-drilling efforts.
Also blacklisted would be the officers' spouses, children and representatives.
The proposal would also target shareholders who have a controlling interest in the companies, as well as their spouses, children and representatives.
In addition, the proposal would make it illegal for "any U.S. citizen to help the regime explore for drilling opportunities in Cuban waters."
I wonder if any U.S. citizens have helped produce any components of the oil-drilling equipment and/or rigs that Cuba is using.
A press release from the lawmaker's office read:
In addition to protecting American waters and coastlines, this bill will deny the Cuban regime an opportunity to fill its own coffers with oil money while they continue to oppress and abuse the Cuban people and undermine the security interests of the U.S.
We cannot allow the Castro regime to become the oil tycoons of the Caribbean. I will continue to work with my Congressional colleagues to prevent oil drilling by the Cuban regime, which poses a national security and environmental threat to the United States.
The bill reads:
As of June 2010, eight foreign oil companies had signed agreements with the Cuban regime for the exploration of oil and gas off the shores of Cuba. Repsol of Spain, StatOil of Norway, and ONGC of India are partners in a joint project, while Petrobras of Brazil, PdVSA of Venezuela, ONGC of India, Petronas of Malaysia, and PetroVietnam also have additional concessions, and Sonangol of Angola and CNPC of China were in negotiations for concessions.
As of June 2010, five foreign companies had secured land and marine block concessions from the Cuban regime, including PdVSA of Venezuela, Sinopec of China, Sherritt of Canada, Zarubezhneft of Russia, and PetroVietnam.
A Chinese-built drilling rig, known as the Scarabeo 9, which belongs to Saipem, a unit of Italian oil company ENI SpA, is expected to arrive to Cuba in mid-2011.
A Repsol-led consortium that includes Norway’s Statoil and ONGC Videsh, a unit of India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corp, has reportedly contracted the rig first to drill off of Cuba’s northwestern coast, then will pass it on to other companies with leases for offshore blocks.

Inflatable version of Havana Club

Photo taken at Parque Lenin

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

More photos from Havana International Fair

Frozen peas, fish, lobster and other products displayed at the Havana International Fair in November 2010.

On the web: Tarantula looks for dinner

 A tarantula emerges from a burrow in the backyard of a foreign diplomat in Havana.

Mario Vargas Llosa backs Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá

Mario Vargas Llosa. Photo: The Guardian
Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa supports Oswaldo Payá's candidacy for the Nobel Peace Prize, CubaEncuentro reported Tuesday.
Vargas Llosa said in a letter released Tuesday:
I think the admirable work that Oswaldo Payá has carried out peacefully for many years for human rights and freedom in Cuba, for which he has suffered so many abuses and persecution, has earned the respect and admiration of the entire democratic world.
Vargas Llosa was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2010. The writer expressed his solidarity with the "courageous commitment " of Payá's Varela Project.
Oswaldo Payá
Hear Payá offer his views on U.S. policy toward Cuba and other topics in 30-minute video on the Cuba Money Project's Vimeo channel.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Interview with Frank Calzón

Frank Calzón

I just posted an interview with Frank Calzón, executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba. See the 55-minute interview on the Cuba Money Project's Vimeo channel.
Calzón is one of several people I met during a recent reporting trip to Washington, D.C. Still to come: Interviews with Peter Hakim, president emeritus of the Inter-American Dialogue; Peter Kornbluh, director of the Cuba Documentation Project at The National Security Archive, and others.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Chop, grate and hide secret messages

CIA's coded message

CIA agents hid coded messages in this cutting board, a relic of the Cold War battle between the United States and Cuba. The messages - rows and rows of numbers - were destined for the agency's collaborators in Cuba.
This message - contained in an array of tiny numbers - was meant for Agent Isidro. Cuba's state security apparatus caught on and confiscated the board.

A close-up view

Friday, May 20, 2011

BRAC: Cuba's political police of the 1950s (updated)

A BRAC badge on display in a Havana museum

BRAC stands for Buró de Represión de Actividades Comunistas or Bureau for the Repression of Communist Activities.
The agency fought against supporters of Fidel Castro in the 1950s.

May 23 update: Pedro Pablo Bilbao provides useful context and background about BRAC in a post on Emilio Ichikawa's website. He wrote:
It should be clear that ALL agencies of the Batista dictatorship did battle against Fidel Castro, from the assault on the Moncada (July 26, 1953) onwards, because Castro declared war against the Batista dictatorship.
There's no reason to single out BRAC as an anti-Castro force, Bilbao wrote. He said:
By contrast, Marilu Uralde Cancio points out that the BRAC had its "priority levels within the opposition: first the Communists, against which it carried out thousands of investigations and blamed for any strike or sign of protest, second, the 'Authentic Party,' whether or abstainers or insurrectionaries, and finally, the Orthodox Party."

CIA director's last visit to Cuba? 56 years ago

Allen Dulles visited Cuba in April 1955 and "complained about the danger posed by the Cuban communists."
Dulles headed the CIA from 1953 to 1961. He considered Fulgencio Batista, then president of Cuba, to be an ally in the fight against communism.
Below is a letter Dulles wrote to Batista on June 12, 1956:
Allen Dulles
Dear Mr. President:

It is with great regret that I have not been able to revisit your great Republic and renew our discussions on matters of mutual concern. As I am sure you will understand, we have been extremely occupied of late, but I shall come to Cuba at the first opportunity.
In the meantime, I am sending my Inspector General to continue discussion with you of our mutual problems. You may be assured, Mr. President, that you may speak to him as you would to me. He is one of our very senior and most widely experienced officers, and has my complete confidence.
Please accept, Mr. President, the renewed assurances of my highest and most distinguished consideration.


Allen W. Dulles

The inspector general Dulles was referring to was Lyman B. Kirkpatrick Jr., who visited Cuba in 1956 and at least one more time - in 1958 - when he reportedly told Batista it was time for him to step down.
Kirkpatrick died in 1995 at age 77. His obituary in the New York Times said:
As inspector general, he had the job of investigating some internal agency actions that were criticized years later, including the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961.

In 1953, for example, he investigated the death of Frank R. Olson, an Army biochemist who died while using L.S.D. in an agency experiment. Mr. Olson plunged to his death from the Hotel Statler in New York on Nov. 28, 1953. The C.I.A. hid the truth about his death and his involvement in the drug experiment from his family until 1975, when it was disclosed in news reports.

Mr. Kirkpatrick never testified publicly about the Olson case, but he reportedly recommended that the agency employees who gave Mr. Olson the drug be disciplined. They were not.
Source of Dulles illustration: Wikipedia

Cuba interviews coming soon (unless world ends)

I got back today from Washington, D.C., where I interviewed Cuba experts, congressional staffers and others about U.S. government democracy programs and policy toward Cuba. It was an interesting and productive trip. Thanks to everyone who helped out. I'll post interviews and stories as soon as I can.
Of course, if the world ends at 6 p.m. on Saturday as some people predict, all the interviews will be destroyed in the furious earthquakes, fire and destruction that will soon follow.

"OMG! It's the Apocalypse," read the sign of one shaggy-haired woman spotted walking the streets of the capital with some like-minded friends.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Homemade silencer made from deodorant can

Deodorant with a bang

I wonder what this would fetch on eBay - a silencer taken from anti-Castro combatants after the 1959 revolution.
The silencer was made for a pistol. It was on display at a Havana museum.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Cruise ship encounters flimsy raft north of Cuba

 Hope, air and what looks like duct tape kept this craft afloat

A 1,020-foot cruise ship on May 1 rescued nine Cuban rafters who were struggling aboard a precarious leaky craft caught in choppy seas.
Desarraigos Provocados posted a remarkable series of photos that were evidently taken from the Navigator of the Seas ship at about 3 p.m. on May 1. I don't know who shot the pictures.
The 140,000-ton cruise ship was located about 45 miles north of Havana when crew members spotted the rafters, including eight men and one woman, according to a narrative posted on Desarraigos Provocados. After the Cubans boarded the cruise ship, a Coast Guard vessel came to pick them up for transport to Key West.
Under U.S. policy, such migrants have the opportunity to apply for political asylum. American authorities wind up returning a majority of them to Cuba under the so-called wetfoot-dryfoot policy, which says if you make it to land you can stay in the U.S., but if you are captured at sea then you must return to Cuba.
(Download PowerPoint slideshow containing photos and description, 7.5 MB)