Thursday, June 30, 2011

Is Fidel Castro in the picture? (updated)

Colegio La Salle in Santiago de Cuba

I posted this photo in Jun 2010 and was under the impression that it shows Fidel Castro and his classmates at Colegio La Salle. I thought that I spotted Fidel Castro in the back row.
A reader - a former La Salle student who says he's in this picture - tells me the photo was taken in 1957 and Castro isn't in it because he was already in the Sierra Maestra. Any other LaSalle students recognize the photo?

July 2 update:
Several more readers say they doubt Castro is in the photo. Emilio Ichikawa, an accomplished cyber-sleuth, dug up a second La Salle photo, below. As you can see, Castro is wearing a dark school uniform, very much unlike what students are wearing in the photo above. This is an official photo that appears on the Cuban embassy's website in Hungary.
Despite all that, I am sticking with my guns. I went through my photos to try to find out when I shot that top picture. It turns out I took the photo at the Castro family ranch in Biran, where Fidel, Raul and Ramon were all born. The photo was on the wall of a room in the house and it was said to be of Fidel Castro and his classmates.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Frutabomba y Granma: Breakfast?

A Cuban man carries a frutabomba and a Granma newspaper. At first I thought he had an avocado. A reader pointed out that it is a frutabomba. That is the preferred term for the fruit in Havana because papaya refers to female genitalia.

Friday, June 24, 2011

What was vote on travel amendment?

This copy of the Mario Diaz-Balart amendment shows it was approved by a voice vote. Anyone know what the vote was? Anyone vote against it?

Cuba Study Group: Amendment hurts Cuban families

Cuba Study Group Director Thomas Bilbao
Here is a Cuba Study Group statement on Mario Diaz-Balart's amendment, which would restore Bush administration travel restrictions:

Washington, DC- The Cuba Study Group today issued the following statement in reaction to an amendment offered yesterday by Representative Mario Diaz-Balart to an appropriations bill, which would restrict the ability of Cuban-Americans to visit and help their families in Cuba:

“It is unfortunate that Representative Mario Diaz-Balart continues to use the suffering of Cuban families as a weapon in furthering a failed policy aimed at the Cuban regime.

At a time when the Cuban government has found it necessary to implement reforms, and Cubans are increasingly becoming independent of the state, Representative Diaz-Balart’s efforts only add to the isolation and suffering of the Cuban people and make a democratic transition on the island less likely.

Democratic transitions from authoritarian rule in Eastern Europe, apartheid South Africa and even the Arab Spring we are now witnessing, have proven that contact with the outside world has played a crucial role in promoting those changes. In none of these successful cases, did the U.S. restrict contact between U.S. civil society and those nations.

We reject Representative Diaz-Balart’s efforts to use the suffering of Cuban families as an instrument of a policy, which has failed to yield any positive results for over 50 years. The Cuban revolution has brought enough suffering to Cuban families and policymakers should offer a U.S. policy that stands in sharp contrast to it, not one that contributes to that suffering in hopes of maintaining the status quo or furthering a sterile policy.”

The House Committee on Appropriations approved Representative Diaz-Balart’s amendment in a voice vote yesterday. The amendment repeals regulatory changes enacted by President Obama in April of 2009 and return to the policies of January 2009, when President George W. Bush enacted the most severe restrictions on travel to the island.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Text of Diaz-Balart amendment

Mario Diaz-Balart with Cuban activists. Photo: Diaz-Balart Flickr Photostream
AMENDMENT to Financial Services Appropriations Bills
Offered by Mr. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida

Page 128, after line, insert the following (and re designate the subsequent section accordingly):

Sec. 901. Any Amendments made after January 19, 2009, to the regulations set forth in sections 515.560 (a) (1), 515.560 (c) (4) (i), 515.561, and 515.570 of title 31, Code of Federal Regulations,
are hereby repealed, and such regulations are restored and shall be carried out as in effect on such date, notwithstanding any guidelines, opinions, letters, Presidential directives, or agency practices
relating to such regulations issued or carried out after such date:
Provided, That any references in such sections 515.561 to the regulations set forth in section 515.560 (c)of such Code shall be considered to be references to such regulations as in effect on January 19, 2009.

SUMMARY: This languages removes the Obama's administration changes to regulations regarding family travel to Cuba and family remittances to Cuban nationals, and replaces them with the regulations the were in place during the Bush administration.

Specifically with this amendment, “family” would be limited to immediate family members who could travel once per every three years, for a maximum of 14 days. Remittances to family members would be
capped at up to $300 per quarter.

Obama's current regulations allow unlimited family travel and unlimited family remittances, and define “family” much too broadly as including “any individual related to that person by blood, marriage,
or adoption who is no more than three generations removed from that person or from a common ancestor of that person.”

Text courtesy of Emilio Ichikawa

Just $8,500 in pro-embargo money to House committee

Below are the members of the House Committee on Appropriations, which approved an amendment Thursday to tighten travel restrictions to Cuba.
I was curious to see how much money members received from the pro-embargo U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC in 2010. Not much as it turns out - a total of just $8,500.
You can scroll down to see which five members received campaign contributions from U.S.-Cuba Democracy, according to OpenSecrets.


* Harold Rogers, Kentucky, Chairman
* C.W. Bill Young, Florida
* Jerry Lewis, California
* Frank R. Wolf, Virginia
* Jack Kingston, Georgia
* Rodney P. Frelinghuysen, New Jersey
* Tom Latham, Iowa
* Robert B. Aderholt, Alabama
* Jo Ann Emerson, Missouri
* Kay Granger, Texas
* Michael K. Simpson, Idaho
* John Abney Culberson, Texas
* Ander Crenshaw, Florida
* Denny Rehberg, Montana - $3,500.
* John R. Carter, Texas
* Rodney Alexander, Louisiana
* Ken Calvert, California
* Jo Bonner, Alabama - $1,000.
* Steven C. LaTourette, Ohio - $1,000.
* Tom Cole, Oklahoma
* Jeff Flake, Arizona
* Mario Diaz-Balart, Florida
* Charles W. Dent, Pennsylvania
* Steve Austria, Ohio - $1,000.
* Cynthia M. Lummis, Wyoming
* Tom Graves, Georgia
* Kevin Yoder, Kansas
* Steve Womack, Arkansas
* Alan Nunnelee, Mississippi


* Norman D. Dicks, Washington
* Marcy Kaptur, Ohio
* Peter J. Visclosky, Indiana
* Nita M. Lowey, New York
* José E. Serrano, New York
* Rosa L. DeLauro, Connecticut
* James P. Moran, Virginia
* John W. Olver, Massachusetts
* Ed Pastor, Arizona
* David E. Price, North Carolina
* Maurice D. Hinchey, New York
* Lucille Roybal-Allard, California
* Sam Farr, California
* Jesse L. Jackson, Jr., Illinois
* Chaka Fattah, Pennsylvania
* Steven R. Rothman, New Jersey
* Sanford D. Bishop, Jr., Georgia
* Barbara Lee, California
* Adam B. Schiff, California - $2,000
* Michael M. Honda, California
* Betty McCollum, Minnesota

Pro-travel activist: Time to "get political"

Antonio Martinez says the House Committee on Appropriations vote today to return Cuba travel rules to the Bush era is "an example of the rules of Washington D.C. and a wake-up call to the pro-travel side to get political."
Politics are dictated by votes and money. They are the currencies that drive the issues. It is the currency the pro-embargo side uses effectively. It is also the currency the pro-travel side has not used.
Everything else is just talk. If you don't agree with what happened, make a contribution to the U.S. Cuba Now Political Action Committee.
Martinez is treasurer of the U.S. Cuba Now PAC. The all-volunteer group is holding its first fund-raiser in New York City on July 15.

Cuba amendment called "vindictive" and "anti-family"

Here's another take on the proposed amendment - a joint statement by the Latin America Working Group and the Washington Office on Latin America:
Today the House Appropriations Committee voted in favor of an amendment to—once again—divide Cuban-American families from their relatives in Cuba.

The amendment was offered by Representative Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) to the FY 2012 Financial Services Appropriations bill. It directly repeals the announcement made by President Obama early in his administration to allow unlimited family travel and remittances for Cuban Americans, which delivered on a campaign promise.

If the amendment passed today becomes law, it would affect all of the Cuban Americans that traveled to Cuba in the past year—an estimated 400,000 according to travel services providers. This would move the policy regulating Cuban-American travel back to the harshest years of the Bush Administration, which were enacted in June 2004 and were in place until the Obama announcement in April 2009. Cuban Americans would only be permitted to visit their families in Cuba once every three years, with a limited definition of what constitutes family, and no humanitarian exceptions. Remittances would also be limited, upon which many Cubans on the island depend to survive under the serious economic hardship the country faces.

“Today we saw a member of Congress abuse his seat of power by attaching a vindictive amendment to a must-pass bill,” said Ashley Morse, Program Officer at WOLA.

Activist: Cuba travel amendment "cruel" and "bizarre"

Here is a Center for Democracy in the Americas statement on the proposed measure to restrict travel to Cuba:

Washington, DC –The House Committee on Appropriations adopted by voice vote an amendment offered by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (FL-21) to prevent most travel by Cuban Americans to visit their families on the island and severely restrict financial support to Cubans by all Americans.

The amendment was added by the committee to the FY 2012 Financial Services Appropriations bill.

If passed by both Houses of Congress, and signed into law by the President, it would cap family travel and financial support to average Cubans at the restricted levels imposed by President George Bush in 2004.

Commenting on the committee action, Sarah Stephens, executive director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, said: “This cruel amendment will divide Cuban families, prevent sons and daughters from gathering for funerals or family health crises on the island, and strip away financial support at the precise moment when economic reforms on Cuba make it possible for Cubans to live more independent lives by forming businesses. The bizarre message of this amendment – ‘Mr. President, rebuild those walls’ –stands Ronald Reagan on his head, and makes the hatred by some in Congress of the Cuban government more important than family values. It should not become law.”

Early report: Lawmakers propose tightening Cuba travel and remittances rules

Mauricio Claver-Carone of Capitol Hill Cubans is reporting the news:
The House Committee on Appropriations has adopted language in its must-pass FY'12 Financial Services Appropriations bill, which funds the Treasury Department, to repeal the Obama Administration's regulations on Cuban-American travel and remittances and restores the reasonable caps and limitations in existence prior to April 2009.
This effectively eliminates the single largest source of revenue for the Castro regime and sends a strong message that its brutal repression -- including the taking of an American hostage since December 2009 -- is unacceptable.
See my interview with Claver-Carone which took place before today's developments.

Lobbyist: Obama is "bailing out" Cuba

Maurcio Claver-Carone
WASHINGTON – Mauricio Claver-Carone, one of America’s most prominent pro-embargo lobbyists, gives Barack Obama mixed reviews for his approach toward Cuba.
Americans should be proud, he said in an interview, that the U.S. government hasn’t supported the Cuban government’s repression of dissidents and others who seek change.
The problem, he said, is that Obama loosened restrictions on travel and remittances so much that he’s “bailing out the regime at the worst possible time.”
Claver-Carone, 35, doesn’t object to Cuban-Americans traveling to Cuba for humanitarian purposes.
Obama’s “biggest mistake” was allowing Cuban-Americans to visit the island as often as they want, he said.
Some of the travelers have only been in the United States for a year, he said. They emigrate to the U.S. and start collecting government welfare checks. They stay for a year, then begin traveling back to Cuba, where they spend much of their time – and their money.
“You can’t be a refugee and then in a year and a day, go back to the source country. That’s a problem. We can’t have our cake and eat it, too.
“Going to Cuba 10 times a year isn’t humanitarian. Our taxpayers are paying for a welfare state within a welfare state.”
He also objects to Obama administration rules making it easier for anyone – not just Cuban-Americans – to send money to Cuba.
He said his single biggest criticism of Obama’s Cuba policy is the “unlimited nature” of the rules on travel and remittances.
“I disagree with the overall policy changes,” he said.
Claver-Carone sits on the board of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, which supports a tough stance against the Cuban government. He also edits a blog called Capitol Hill Cubans. He said he often finds himself writing blog posts when most other people are sleeping.
But, he said, “It’s worth every sleepless night.”

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Someone invaded Cuba! Wait, it's us!

Hillary Clinton spoke Tuesday at a memorial service for former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, who died on June 4 at age 80.

Clinton recalled a story that Eagleburger told last month about one of his early jobs as a Cuba analyst in the State Department's intelligence bureau. Clinton said:
One morning in 1961, he came to work early and discovered that something big had happened in Cuba overnight, what we now know was the start of the Bay of Pigs invasion. And Larry thought it was his job to try to report on what was happening insofar as he could figure it out.

So he collected up all the facts available and he wrote up his analysis. Someone, he wrote, was trying to overthrow the Castro government and they were going to fail. (Laughter.) A few hours later, he discovered who was supporting the invasion, senior officials of the United States Government, and he discovered how they felt about his analysis. (Laughter.) He was summoned to the White House, and for several hours he was chewed out by one big shot after another.

Monday, June 20, 2011

State Department announces $4.1 million in Cuba grants

Below is the State Department's latest request for proposals from organizations interested in carrying out democracy work in Cuba.
This request covers $4.1 million in fiscal 2010 funds, part of the $20 million that Sen. John Kerry froze on April 1 because he had questions and concerns about the programs.
The State Department on March 31 sent Congress a notice discussing how it planned to spend the $20 million.
This new request for proposals adds some detail on ways that $4.1 million of the $20 million in funds would be allocated.
According to the request, the money would be spent on the following:
  • People with disabilities - $200,000
  • Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, or LGBT - $300,000
  • Professional journalists - $600,000
  • Artists, writers, poets and bloggers - $600,000
  • Social inclusion, improvement of living standards - $1 million
  • Conflict resolution, promoting peace in civil society - $300,000
  • Legal associations - $700,000
  • Human rights documentation - $427,024
Below is the full announcement:

Uncovering secrets in tangled U.S.-Cuba history

From left, Peter Kornbluh, Joyce Battle, Malcolm Byrne and Tom Blanton of The National Security Archive. Photo: Kevin Clark/Washington Post

Peter Kornbluh has a passion for dusty attics and basements. He’s like one of those weekend foragers looking for forgotten treasures. But he’s not after antiques or folk art. He has spent 25 years searching for old government documents - classified documents that help explain the U.S. government role in such historic events as the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Kornbluh is a senior analyst at The National Security Archive, a non-profit research institute in Washington, D.C. And he believes that decades-old government documents can help influence the course of events, even today.
“One can use history to make push toward a different future,” he said.
And that’s particularly true in the case of U.S. policy toward Cuba, he said.
“You have an anachronistic policy that's stuck in a time warp, and so the history of the Bay of Pigs, of the Missile Crisis, the assassination attempts against Castro, the embargo, the secret dialogue between the two countries, all that history is still relevant.”
Kornbluh directs the Archive’s Cuba Documentation Project, aimed at obtaining and publishing classified documents related to Cuba.
“The work on Cuba not just simply a historical exercise, but an effort to use history to make history. That’s what motivates me. Still-secret documents on these many episodes in U.S.-Cuba relations can influence change in those relations in the future.”
U-2 plane
Scholars, policy experts and public officials benefit from the Archive’s work, he said.
“I think that it's important for the American public to know what happened in the past, and why. I think it's important that we know from the Cuban side what happened in the past and why. So we work very hard in my office to bring the Cubans and their own documents into the information pool on this whole bilateral and multilateral history.”
In 2001 and 2002, Kornbluh helped organize conferences in Cuba that brought together major players in the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Bay of Pigs invasion. (See "Love-sick crabs stir up trouble on Cuba's Pink Highway")
“We're urged the Cubans to open their own archives to some extent they did on the Missile Crisis and the Bay of Pigs. At one point, Vice President Jose Fernandez came to me with their first volume of declassified documents. He said - We made a rubber stamp – Declassified - just for these documents.”

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Activists seek classified Bay of Pigs report

Sign in Cuba recalls Fidel Castro's victory at Bay of Pigs
For nearly six years, researchers have been trying to force the CIA to release its secret history of the failed Bay of Pigs operation.
Now, finally, the CIA may be poised to release a “substantial” amount of the documents, court records show.
The National Security Archive, a non-profit research institute in Washington, D.C., sued the CIA in April over its refusal to release a report entitled, “Official History of the Bay of Pigs Operation.” (Download six-page complaint).
Former CIA Chief Historian Jack B. Pfeiffer wrote the five-volume report over nine years, from 1974 to 1983. The Archive said:
It is based on dozens of interviews with key operatives and officials and a review of hundreds of CIA documents. …It is, by definition, the most important and substantive CIA-produced study of this episode.
On June 13, the CIA asked for 60 days to further review the documents and discuss “a possible resolution to this case.”
U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler in Washington, D.C., granted the extension on June 14.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Mitchell P. Zeff, who represents the CIA, wrote that the agency “expects to complete its review” of the documents “in the next four to six weeks” and has “an eye toward making a substantial release” of documents.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

USAID is hiring

USAID needs managers for its Cuba programs, but hurry - the deadline for applications closes at 11 a.m. today.
Pay range: $89,033 to $136,771.
Applicants must be U.S. citizens who are able to obtain a "secret" security clearance.
See details at the Cuba Money Project.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Yoani Sanchez and the absent-minded camera operator

Watch to end to see Yoani Sanchez and her husband, Reinaldo Escobar, in Havana's Parque Central. Higher resolution version of video on Vimeo.

I put the Panasonic camera on a tripod, pointed it toward famed Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez and hit the "record" button.
At least I thought I hit the record button.
Instead I turned off the camera. Just brilliant. And I didn't realize my mistake until after the interview.
At the other end of the bench: Yoani Sanchez
All this helps explain why my interview with Sanchez was shot from such a peculiar vantage point - the end of a park bench. That's where I had perched a second camera, a Sony HDR-SR11 I bought used on eBay, just in case the first camera failed to record any images.
I have to admit I am a klutz with a camera sometimes.
Paul Prewitt, a professional TV and video producer in Daytona Beach, was kind enough to lend me the Panasonic AG-DVX100A for the Cuba trip. He reviewed my tapes when I got home and was quick to point out a few little problems - like, uh, let's see, failing to focus the camera. Raising the tripod too high - or too low. Messing up the exposure.
Once I saw the tapes on a TV monitor, I saw he was right.
Shooting video is harder than it looks.
I have more experience with still photography, but even then I can't please everyone.
A few years ago, after I published a photo of the sister of one of the five Cuban agents imprisoned in the United States, a defender of the agents sent me a huffy email.
He accused me of picking the least flattering photo possible to make the woman look bad.
What a ridiculous accusation, I replied. I had picked the best photo, not the worst.
I want to my interview subjects to look good whether I'm shooting stills or video.
I think it's terrible when some journalists or propaganda artists search for images that make someone look bad just because they might disagree with them.
I am grateful to people who give me their time. I don't care what side of the issue they're on. I try to show respect and produce images that show them at their best.
Over the past several weeks, I've been posting videos on the Cuba Money Project's Vimeo channel. I was disappointed to learn that the digital video tapes I used for two interviews - one with dissident Vladimiro Roca and the other with Juan Francisco Sigler Amaya, brother of former political prisoner Ariel Sigler Amaya - were worn out and did not produce intelligible images and sound. I am going through my notes and the videos to see if there's anything from the interviews that I can salvage, but I won't be posting videos of those, unfortunately. Apologies to Vladimiro and Juan Francisco.
A fragment of the damaged tape from the Vladimiro interview.
Later this summer, I hope to return to Cuba to try my luck with video again. I want to capture a wider variety of opinions than what I have so far.
I plan to take the Sony camera. It still works even though it fell almost 10 feet onto concrete while Raul Castro was speaking in July 2009 (See YouTube video of crash).
I'll poke around on eBay for a back-up camera in case the Sony suffers operator failure.
All I have to do is keep the darned camera in focus.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Interview with Ernesto Hernández Busto

Just posted: An interview with Cuban writer Ernesto Hernández Busto, who runs the popular blog, Penúltimos Días.
See the 44-minute video and many others on the Cuba Money Project's Vimeo channel.
The interview took place in Miami.

Expert: Cuba is "one or two steps" from humanitarian crisis

Peter Hakim
Peter Hakim is no fan of the Castro brothers, but can understand if they’re “a little frustrated” over the tepid U.S. response to the Cuban government’s freeing of political prisoners and economic reforms.
Hakim, president emeritus of the Inter-American Dialogue, a research center on Western Hemisphere affairs in Washington, D.C., said Cuban officials “think they've made some pretty big gestures, the kinds of gestures that successive American governments have asked for. They thought they were putting something really valuable on the table and that the United States would match it.
“It’s sort of like the story of the kid who was told by his father to go to his friend's tailor to make a bar mitzvah suit. He's a very good tailor. The father says - Offer him only half of what he asks for because he overcharges. The kid goes to the tailor and the tailor says - I'll make you a beautiful suit, a beautiful pair of pants, for $20.
“The kid says - $10.
“The tailor says - I can't do it for $10. But since I’ve known your father for so long, I'll do it for $10.
“The kid says - $5! And this goes on for a while. The tailor finally says - OK, I'll do it for nothing.
“The kid says - Two pairs of pants!
“That’s the way the Cubans are feeling.”
Hakim said he wants to be clear he does not sympathize with leaders of the socialist government.
“Let me get on the record, they are the SOBs in many respects. They’ve they've screwed up that country so badly.
“I get a kick when I read some of the stuff that comes out from the Left about how Cuba does so well on these educational exams, and they have the highest rate of high school graduation of any country in Latin America. I say – that’s great, but what are they being trained for? To be clowns on the streets? To do sugarcane work?
“I mean, it's tragic. Cuba is a great place to grow up until you begin to think and read. Life is very close to the margin. Diets are very bad, I think.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Going nowhere: The solitary walks of Alan Gross

Alan Gross
Alan Gross walks in a circle inside his prison cell every morning before breakfast. He figures he logs five miles a day and considers himself to be “quite buff,” having shed 94 pounds since Cuban authorities jailed him in December 2009.
“He’s working hard at keeping himself healthy and fit,” human rights advocate Sarah Stephens said.
Stephens led a delegation that visited Gross on June 9 at the Cuban military hospital where he is serving a 15-year sentence for crimes against the socialist government.
Sarah Stephens. Photo: CDA
Stephens is director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, or CDA, a Washington, D.C., organization that opposes U.S. policy toward Cuba. She had been seeking permission to see Gross since authorities arrested him for bringing high-tech communications gear into Cuba as part of a U.S. Agency for International Development program.
“I think that it was important that we were granted a visit,” Stephens said in an interview. “It means something. It's not like he's about to be released, but I think we really have to take seriously the progress that can be made by non-official actors, people who care on both sides.”
If nothing else, such visits help “keep the conversation going” and address “Alan's desire not to be forgotten.”
Other members of the delegation included Jane Harman, a former Democratic lawmaker and now president of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; Donna Brazile, a Democratic Party strategist; and David Dreyer, a CDA staffer and former Deputy White House Communications Director for President Bill Clinton.
Gross, 61, an international development worker based in Maryland, told the visitors he was anxious to be freed, but “he clearly hasn’t lost his sense of humor,” Dreyer said in an interview.
“He has a marvelous sense of humor. He said to Donna Brazile that he had a prediction that if Sarah Palin got the nomination (for Republican candidate for president), that it was likely that she would pick a superbly qualified person to be vice president. And Donna said - well, why do you say that? And he said – that’s because when Sarah Palin quits in the middle because she's gotten a better offer, she'll want to be sure that the country's in good hands.”
Dreyer said Gross also asked how the Washington Redskins were doing, and chatted with Brazile about seafood since “she’s from New Orleans and wanted to talk about seafood and all things related to it.”
“He reminisced about eating seafood at Clyde's restaurant in Washington with his wife and how much he enjoyed that.”
Gross expressed deep concern about his family. Both his mother and one of his daughters are battling cancer.
“He told the story about his mom, who was on the phone with him and said that she was losing faith. He had counseled her to write the word ‘faith’ on a piece of paper and to put it in her pocket so faith would always be with her.”

Florida lawmaker: Lift the hold on Cuba funds

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-FL, struck back Wednesday, urging Sen. John Kerry to unfreeze $20 million in democracy funds for Cuba.
She said:
U.S. democracy promotion programs in Cuba advance our foreign policy goals of helping to bring freedom to the Cuban people and to facilitate a transition to democracy. It is regrettable that Senator Kerry would block continued funding for these efforts.

Senator Kerry has suggested that U.S. democracy promotion programs provoked the Cuban regime into wrongfully imprisoning a U.S. citizen who was helping the Cuban people overcome the dictatorship’s censorship. I believe this demonstrates a lack of understanding of the brutal nature of the Havana tyranny. It is my hope that Senator Kerry will reconsider his position.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

$21 million in Cuba grants up for grabs

U.S. Interests Section
Non-profit organizations and institutions of higher education are eligible to apply for $21 million in new Cuba grants.
The U.S. Agency for International Development will award the money.
The application deadline is July 18.
See details at the Cuba Money Project.

Leaks, Freedom House and reader complaints

Daniel Calingaert. Photo: Freedom House
Today I'm following up on Juan Tamayo's June 10 story in Miami Herald saying that Freedom House is returning $1.7 million in democracy funds to the U.S. government.
Freedom House officials complain that the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, is now asking for too much information about how the money is spent.
They told the Herald they are worried that information about people involved in their Cuba programs could wind up in the hands of the Cuban government.
Daniel Calingaert, deputy director of programs at Freedom House, told the Herald:
We take very seriously the need to be accountable for these programs. (But the USAID requests for information are) not just onerous. They really raise the risk of what we do, especially in the age of Wikileaks.
If any readers would like to share their views on the Freedom House development, please comment on this post. Or drop me an email.
My latest story on the USAID in Cuba appeared in Spanish today in CubaEncuentro. See
"Afirman que programas de EEUU en favor de democracia funcionan en Cuba."
I've gotten two complaints for using the term democracy programs. Cuba expert Nelson Valdes wrote:
Why do you insist in calling the US subversive programs - "democracy programs" [without the quotes]?

Monday, June 13, 2011

New story about Cuba Money videos

Thanks to Ellery Biddle for her story about the Cuba Money Project's Vimeo channel. See the piece on Global Voices.
Biddle is the creator of half-wired, a blog about culture, politics and technology in Cuba.
Her bio says she studied for a semester at la Universidad de la Habana in 2004 and has been intrigued by Cuba ever since.
She is a graduate student at the University of Chicago at the Center for Latin American Studies and The Harris School of Public Policy Studies.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Cuban-American is new president of investigative reporters group

Havana-born Manny Garcia has been named president of Investigative Reporters & Editors, or IRE.
Some 4,500 journalists belong to IRE, which was founded in 1975. I joined more than 800 journalists at the four-day conference, which ended today in Orlando.
Garcia is executive editor of El Nuevo Herald. For more information about his selection as IRE president, see the Miami Herald story.
An IRE blurb on Garcia says:
He is a former metro editor, special projects editor, courts and cops editor and member of The Miami Herald's I-team. Garcia was a key reporter and writer in The Herald's 1999 and 2002 Pulitzer Prize-winning investigations. He and Jason Grotto shared a 2004 IRE Award for their project "Justice Withheld."

Friday, June 10, 2011

Ros-Lehtinen presses Kerry on Cuba funds

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Photo: Foreign Policy
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-FL, today said she hoped that Sen. John Kerry would lift his hold on $20 million in funding for democracy programs.
Ros-Lehtinen, who is chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said:
U.S. democracy promotion programs in Cuba advance our foreign policy goals of helping to bring freedom to the Cuban people and to facilitate a transition to democracy. It is regrettable that Senator Kerry would block continued funding for these efforts.
Senator Kerry has suggested that U.S. democracy promotion programs provoked the Cuban regime into wrongfully imprisoning a U.S. citizen who was helping the Cuban people overcome the dictatorship’s censorship. I believe this demonstrates a lack of understanding of the brutal nature of the Havana tyranny. It is my hope that Senator Kerry will reconsider his position.
Earlier, on May 24, Ros-Lehtinen sent a letter to Secretary Hillary Clinton expressing her support for democracy programs in Cuba. She wrote:
There is no question that the need and importance of these programs remains vital in today’s Cuba. Despite recycled reports of reform, the Havana regime continues to wage a daily war of oppression and brutality upon the Cuban people....
It is not spring breakers and sex tourists whom are raising awareness and deepening solidarity with the people of Cuba. Rather, it is the targeted approach of U.S. democracy promotion programs which helps the voice of the Cuban people to grow stronger each day.
The struggle of the Cuban people is no less deserving of our support than the peaceful activists we stood by in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, South Africa, and today in the Middle East and North Africa.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

How involved should U.S. be in Cuba's democracy movement?

U.S. Interests Section employee Kathleen Duffy
The images here show members of Las Damas de Blanco after a Sunday march in Havana in July 2010.
Kathleen Duffy, an employee of the U.S. Interests Section, showed up that day to support Las Damas. A 3-minute video on the Cuba Money Project's Vimeo channel shows Las Damas members chanting, "Liberty! Liberty! Liberty!" Afterward, they gather briefly in a nearby park, where Duffy greets and chats with the protesters.
Cuba's Catholic Church had just announced that Cuban authorities planned to release 52 political prisoners, all those remaining in jail from the Black Spring crackdown in 2003.
Some people find it entirely appropriate that the U.S. government support Las Damas, particularly at such a momentous time for the group. Others object, saying U.S. officials should not get involved in Cuba's internal affairs.
The debate over the U.S. role in Cuba is timely because $20 million in democracy funds for the island remains hung up in Washington. Juan Tamayo described the political fight in Wednesday's Miami Herald.
Sen. John Kerry placed a hold on the $20 million on April 1, saying he wouldn't allow the funds to be released until the State Department answered his questions about the programs.
Read a summary of the State Department's answers here.
A congressional source told me that Kerry wants to cut the funded amount from $20 million to $15 million.
That position angers democracy advocates who say that the U.S. government does not do enough for opposition groups in Cuba.

Kathleen Duffy

Kathleen Duffy greets Laura Pollan, leader of Damas de Blanco
Laura Pollan

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

From now on, I'll ask the questions

Lourdes Ubieta
Ricardo Brown and Lourdes Ubieta host a news show called "A Dos Voces" from noon to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday on Actualidad 1020 AM in Miami.
That's 15 hours they've got to fill every week. And it must have been a slow news day today because at precisely 1:45 p.m. they called me to talk about Cuba.
I am happy to oblige, of course, but at times like these I think - Hey, I should be interviewing you.
I mean, I try to understand the Cuba story. I read other blogs when I'm not busy with my day job. I watch Cuba videos. I read studies, reports, articles, etc. But trying to understand Cuba can be a daunting task, and there are a lot of people who know more about the country, its politics and its tumultuous history than I do.
I am an outsider looking in. There are Cubaphiles and bloggers out there who live this complicated, many-layered story 24/7. Let them be the "experts."
I'm content to be the interviewer. Nearly three years after starting this blog, I appreciate straightforward, just-the-facts journalism more than ever.
More important than my two cents are what other people think. And I find that I learn something new in every interview that I do.
Over the past year or so, my goal has been to interview a wide range of people who are passionate about the fate of Cuba. I am researching democracy programs in Cuba with help from the Pulitzer Center in Washington. I want to get a range of views, from believers in the revolution to those who'd like to see the Castro brothers take a hike.
Since May 1, I've been posting video interviews on Vimeo. You can see them here.
I've gotten a few scattered complaints about the people I've chosen to interview - Why did you interview him? Why did you talk to her?
The best advice I've gotten came from a Cuban blogger. He said:
Try to do more interviews.
So that's what I plan to do.
I haven't achieved the balance or variety I want in the interviews I've done so far. To be sure, this is a work in progress.
Ricardo Brown
As for today's radio show, well, my fleeting appearance lasted 15 minutes. Venezuelan journalist Lourdes Ubieta wasn't around, so Cuban-born host Ricardo Brown dutifully fired off several questions about Cuba.
I did my best to answer, but all the while I was thinking - Hey, I should be interviewing you.

Frank Calzon: Obama shows weakness over Cuba

Article in Spanish on CubaEncuentro. Video of interview.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Cuban officials complain that President Obama continues hard-line policies aimed at weakening the socialist government.
Frank Calzon, executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba in Washington, has a sharply different view.
He believes Obama’s decision to loosen travel and remittances restrictions to Cuba in April 2009, then again in January, has only prolonged the life of the socialist government. He said:
I don't think the American policy is aggressive at all. The president has gone out of his way to allow Cuban-Americans to go to Cuba (and to allow them to send money to the island). But I am sorry to say that those efforts by the president are probably interpreted by some key figures in Havana as a weakness.
And whenever the U.S. shows weakness - or makes a concession, Cuba responds with a hostile act, the latest being the jailing of Alan Gross, Calzon said.
I assume that the president sees that imprisonment as a slap in his face after having done so much to try to reach an accommodation. The Cuban government doesn't understand what the word compromise is. The Cuban government believes that it is all or nothing - all for them and nothing for the others.
Calzon said the U.S. must be willing to take a stronger stand, like a child defending himself from bullies who want his lunch money.
If you let them take it away from you, you'll be giving away your lunch money every day. That something that American diplomats should take to heart.
Castro understands force. I think the administration should get tougher with the regime.
His recommendation?
When someone like Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez is denied a visa to travel outside the U.S., American authorities should refuse entry to "any of these folks that the Cuban government would love to send to the United States to badmouth the United States."
Eventually, Calzon said, the U.S. will have a list of hundreds of Cubans who are waiting for permission to travel to attend conferences or artistic events.
Why should Cuban musicians, basically Cuban government musicians, be singing and dancing in New York while an American remains in prison in Cuba?
At one point when Fidel Castro understands that there are 2,500 of these people who cannot travel to the United States, he might decide that it's worthwhile allowing Mr. Gross to come home.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Twitter queen could be next assistant secretary of state

U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Kristie Kenney is likely to replace Arturo Valenzuela as assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Yahoo! News reporter Laura Rozen wrote last week.
Kenney is prolific on Twitter. She had sent out 4,735 Tweets and had 18,484 followers as of a few seconds ago.
Ernesto Hernandez Busto, creator of the Penultimos Dias blog, also reports that Kenney's appointment is likely.
Rosen wrote that House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking Democrat Rep. Howard Berman recommended committee senior staff member Peter Quilter for the job.
Berman, in a letter to President Obama, wrote:
I am writing to request respectfully that you give the utmost consideration to nominating Peter Quilter, a senior member of the Foreign Affairs Committee staff, to the position of Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs. He is someone who can manage well American relations with the region while being an exceptionally strong advocate for the vision of change and partnership outlined by Pres. Obama.
Kenny is the former U.S. ambassador to the Philippines and Ecuador. Her husband is diplomat William Brownfield, the former U.S. ambassador to Colombia.
Kenney's Twitter page reads: "The real me. Nothing official, just my thoughts :)"
Among her recent Tweets:
  • Great victory for Li Na at the French Open!! You go girl.
  • Bought the wrong memory for the computer :((. Sigh. Thanks 4 all the good suggestions.
  • Thoughtful conversation about politics ended when my moody kitty strolled in. Kitty decided enough chatter.Time 4 all attention to cat
  • time to dust off your singing skills. Karaoke time?!
  • Good morning! iPhone is fixed, sun is out and I am about to have breakfast w a very respected civil society leader. Good start to a Friday
  • Aargh. iphone on the blink. Can tweet only when at desk. Don't expect to hear much from me until iphone fixed.
  • NBA finals Game 2 tomorrow. Will it be the Heat or the Mavs?? I'm sticking with the Heat.
  • Good discussion today with some very plugged in folks. New insights, thoughtful perspectives. Thanks very much - you know who you are.
  • good for you. I have never smoked but my Dad did and we were all happy when he quit :)
  • I am definitely a morning person :))
  • About to have coffee with some civil society folks. Very independent thinkers. Eager to hear their thoughts.
  • Enjoyed a coconut-mango smoothie for breakfast. So good. Starts my day with a smile

Valenzuela is leaving the State Department to return to teaching.

Pulitzer Center features latest two stories on democracy programs

Thanks to the Pulitzer Center in Washington for posting my latest reporting on democracy programs in Cuba. The stories are timely in light of the newly disclosed State Department memo responding to Sen. John Kerry's questions about the programs.

Beyond fake boogie boards: Promoting democracy in Cuba
It was a novel plan: Disguise satellite dishes as boogie boards. Smuggle them into Cuba and set up a mobile Internet connection free from socialist government control.
"The internet works VERY RAPIDLY!" a technician told his Cuban contact while explaining the set up. "...You may use Skype, Yahoo video + voice... Next week we will be talking FOR FREE!"
But Cuban authorities say they were onto the plan from the beginning, and the improvised communication system wound up in the hands of Cuban agents, thwarting the U.S.-financed effort.
Three years later, U.S. democracy programs in Cuba have been redesigned and improved, their supporters say. And they are operating on the island, despite a 20-month delay in new funding and political fights over their effectiveness.
The U.S. Agency for International Development and the State Department have set aside more than $94 million for the democracy programs since 2007, budget figures show. The programs form a key part of President Obama's bid to promote democratic change in Cuba, something 11 successive American presidents have failed to do.
"I think the programs are important," said Mauricio Claver-Carone, a leader of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, which supports hard-line policies against the Cuban government. "No program is perfect. But I think we have seen continuous improvement." (continue reading on Pulitzer Center website)

Cuba Pro-Democracy Programs: Leave it to the CIA?
U.S. democracy programs in Cuba might be more effective if the CIA managed them instead of the State Department or the Agency for International Development, some congressional staffers say.
"These programs are not classified programs, but they are clandestine programs, which means that for purposes of transparency they have some real issues you've got to work through,” said a Capitol Hill source who is knowledgeable about the programs.
"If we were to give the $20 million to the CIA, this would work a lot better because then they could put it in the hands of professionals who actually do this stuff."
(continue reading on Pulitzer Center website)

Summary of State Department-John Kerry Q&A

I posted a summary of the State Department-John Kerry Q&A, along with a few comments.
Read the summary here or download summary in a three-page PDF. The full version is here.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Exclusive: State Department responds to Sen. Kerry's questions about USAID in Cuba

On April 1, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., announced that he was holding up $20 million in funds for democracy programs in Cuba because he had questions and concerns about USAID activities in Cuba.
The State Department's answers to Kerry's questions are below. The State Department declined to provide all of the information that the senator requested. Even so, my sense is that this kind of information contributes toward a greater understanding of these programs. That is in the public interest and boosts the transparency surrounding these programs.

State Department Responses to Chairman Kerry Questions Regarding CN 11-050

1) The CN as currently drafted provides insufficient information on program participation, content and execution. Please provide the Committee with a list of specific contractors and sub-contractors and a detailed description of how each identified objective will be achieved.

The FY 2010 foreign assistance funds for Cuba were notified consistent with the State Department’s format for country notifications worldwide. Implementers for funds marked “TBD” will be selected via full and open merit-based competition that solicits proposals addressing each particular program topic.
We support a wide range of activities on the island that strengthen civil society groups, raise awareness about human rights issues, and increase the free flow of information to, from and on the island of Cuba. We also provide humanitarian assistance, including food stuffs and medicines, to political prisoners and their families. Our programs respond to the interests and needs of Cuban groups and individuals. Despite the restrictions placed upon them by their own government, Cuban citizens continue to ask for more technical and material support to increase their ability to network and communicate with each other.

2) State and AID stated last year that the CN under discussion at the time (FY09 CN) was “transitional” and reflected the beginning of an evolution of program content to reflect Obama Administration policies and priorities. Please identify the points in the new (FY10) CN that reflect a “transition” in either policy, program content, or policy implementation.

In her July 2010 speech at the Community of Democracies Forum in Krakow, Secretary Clinton pointed to civil society as a key partner not only in the advancement of human rights and fundamental freedoms, but also for overall political and economic progress. Our Cuba programs seek to empower organizations to transform shared interests into common actions, enabling them to freely determine their own future.
Based on consultations with Congressional staff, we continue to look for new areas for programming that furthers the Administration's foreign policy goals for Cuba. The FY10 CN includes new programmatic ideas, such as including LGBT groups and addressing disability rights, as well as programs to mediate conflict. In addition, we are shifting greater emphasis to directly support Cubans on the island as opposed to activities involving people outside of Cuba. This focus on the island supports our efforts to reach broader segments of the Cuban population, while deepening the direct impact of the programs.
The FY10 CN includes program themes addressed in previous CNs, such as access to uncensored information, documentation of human rights abuses, and capacity building for groups to organize around a particular issue of their choosing. We are seeking to engage with the broadest swath of Cuban civil society, including groups that with whom we have not worked in the past. Given the increased use of technology to communicate and organize on the island, we see technology as areas of opportunity for further progress, using best practices and lessons learned from previous programming. Given the State Department’s assessment of restrictions on freedom of expression in Cuba, we believe this area to be one of particular opportunity in Cuba, as it has proven to be effective around the world.

3) State Department representatives have briefed Committee Staff regarding the severe budget constraints imposed on Latin American programs. Please provide the Committee a complete list of programs for which State and USAID requested funding in Latin America that have suffered cutbacks or suspension while the Cuba “democracy promotion” funding was restored from the FY09 level of $15 million to the proposed FY10 level of $20 million. Please indicate how these priorities were arrived at during the budget crunch.

The FY 2010 level for Cuba foreign assistance is consistent with the FY 2010 Appropriations Act (PL 111-117) Statement of Managers. State and USAID anticipate that they will be able to solicit proposals to compete the requested amount allocated for FY10 should Congress release the funds by June 1.
The Administration’s 2012 request for U.S. foreign assistance, including the Western Hemisphere, is contained in the 2012 Congressional Budget Justification, which details requested funds by country and by program, as well as prior year comparison levels. U.S assistance to the Western Hemisphere, including as described via the CBJ request, supports overall U.S. policy goals for the region: expanded social and economic opportunity; citizen safety for all; effective democratic governance; and a clean energy future. The FY 2012 CBJ Western Hemisphere Overview, pages 710-715, further details how U.S. foreign assistance programs support these regional policy priorities.

4) During the discussions last year, State and AID stated that the ongoing dialogue with Committee staff provided a solid foundation for consultations on the new (FY10) CN. This point was reiterated when the new Assistant Administrator for LAC assumed his position. Why did consultations not take place?

Prior to final approval of the FY09 CN, the Administration engaged in extensive conversations with Members of Congress and staff. In the lead-up to the FY10 CN, the Administration held over a dozen discussions with Members and staff in both parties and in both Chambers regarding the direction of the programs. In addition, there have been numerous telephone and in-person consultations between USAID and State Department representatives and the four primary committees of jurisdiction in Congress.
USAID and the State Department. We have also taken several steps to ensure that partners are aware of the security risks of operating in Cuba.
Congress will continue to have a voice in Cuba programs, as they do in all foreign assistance programs, and we see its contributions as integral to achieving U.S. foreign policy objectives.

5) Cuban media and other reports claim that the “Section 109” programs are heavily penetrated and influenced by Cuban counterintelligence and that at least some previously trusted contacts and aid recipients were in fact Cuban intelligence officers. The reports also compromised the existence of at least one front organization for operations directed from a Central American country. Please provide the Committee with a thorough assessment of the damage caused by these alleged penetrations of the programs, or, if warranted, a certification that no aspect of the programs has been compromised. In the damage assessment, please include any conclusions reached in the investigation regarding the value and effectiveness of the clandestine tradecraft, including the use of “mules” to transport materials and covert communications, used by contractors and grantees, and sub-contractors and sub-grantees. If clandestine tradecraft is indeed necessary for executing the programs, then why are the operations not better conducted by the intelligence community? In addition, please identify all steps that State and AID have taken to prevent more taxpayer funds and cash-value goods and services from reaching the Cuban intelligence services. If necessary to fully respond to this question, please submit to classified annex.

The Administration’s democracy programs in Cuba are carried out in a discreet manner to ensure the greatest possible safety of all those involved. These programs are comparable to what we and other donors do to support democracy and human rights in repressive societies all over the world.
Possible counterintelligence penetration is a known risk in Cuba. Those who carry out our assistance are aware of such risks. Nevertheless, participation by Cubans in current programs remains active, and we continue to receive requests for additional assistance. For example, USINT’s material donation program, and other programs carried out in an intentionally transparent manner, have not seen a major, negative impact on participation as a result of alleged counterintelligence penetration and continue to be oversubscribed.
Because the Cuban government arbitrarily arrests and detains citizens who try to exercise basic freedoms, U.S. assistance programs in Cuba are carried out discreetly. Unfortunately, given these circumstances, we are not always able to publicly convey the details and impact of our programs.
We continue to improve management and oversight in order to ensure the proper use of taxpayers’ resources. For example, USAID hired an accounting firm to provide Financial Compliance Reviews of all recipients of USAID funds for Cuba programs. These reviews are similar to a full audit, and in many ways are more detailed. These reviews help to ensure that resources provided to our implementing partners are being used for the purposes intended through detailed examination of procurement practices, expenditures, as well as compliance with applicable regulations. This firm has reviewed all USAID Cuba programs.

6) During discussions last year, State and AID representatives provided a series of assurances – in the form of “explanations and clarifications” – regarding how the FY09 and subsequent CNs would be implemented. Those assurances relating to increased oversight were formalized in an exchange between the Chairman and the Secretary. Please provide a detailed rundown of each step taken to improve oversight. Please list which steps have not been implemented and explain why.

In its 2006 report, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) noted weaknesses in the awarding and oversight of Cuba grants, while also acknowledging the challenging operating environment in which these programs operate. In the subsequent 2008 audit, the GAO recommended that a number of steps should have been taken to address previously identified concerns with the Cuba programs. In addition to those steps, USAID and State have continued to improve oversight measures. We hold weekly, working-level inter-agency meetings to facilitate discussion on management, administrative, and programmatic issues. On a quarterly basis, USAID hosts a daylong meeting for all State and USAID partners implementing Cuba programs. These meetings address issues that partners raise and facilitate information exchange, ensuring that all partners receive the same information. In addition, day-long, twice-yearly coordination meetings are conducted with State and USAID officials to discuss program activities in greater detail in order to avoid programmatic overlaps. To further ensure transparency and the best value of taxpayers’ resources, USAID and DRL award programs through full and open competition. The solicitations are posted on, among other sites, to facilitate broad distribution of these opportunities. The selection criteria are posted with the online solicitations so that potential bidders understand the criteria on which their proposals will be evaluated, and the selection committees are staffed by USAID and State officials who have extensive experience and knowledge on Cuba.
[we already said this further up]
In addition to these steps, each grantor has taken additional measures to improve oversight. For example, USAID’s Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) Bureau forms Technical Review Committees to review proposed sub-awards not included in the original award. The committee’s recommendations are reviewed by the LAC Deputy Assistant Administrator. Also, during the last two quarterly partners meetings, USAID requested from recipients more detailed information to ensure that on-island beneficiaries do not receive the same resources from multiple USAID partners. DRL continues its worldwide practice of including language in its solicitations and awards referencing the grantees’ obligation to provide, if requested by State, any programmatic and/or financial information requested during the grant period.
Lastly, as stated above, USAID has hired an accounting firm to provide Financial Compliance Reviews of all recipients of USAID funds for Cuba programs. These reviews are similar to a full audit, and in many ways are more detailed. These reviews help to ensure that resources provided to our implementing partners are being used for the purposes intended through detailed examination of procurement practices, expenditures, as well as compliance with applicable regulations. This firm has reviewed all USAID Cuba programs.

7) A number of the assurances relating to the content and approach to various programs were also agreed to verbally during discussions on the FY09 CN. Understanding that some of the ideas required further research and input, and were therefore subject to some adjustment, please describe those adjustments which have been made and which have not, and please explain why the latter were not implemented. Some examples: Why are funds to mobilize protests still listed under “humanitarian” assistance? Why do contractors and grantees still seek to smuggle locally available goods into Cuba, at great personal risk and additional expense? Why are programs focused only on providing assistance for political organizing and political activities and, conversely, why are they proscribed from helping Cubans take advantage of newly available economic opportunities or other educational purposes?

U.S. foreign assistance to Cuba is not used to mobilize protests. With regard to the procurement of materials, we encourage grantees to make every effort to do so on the island to minimize shipping costs.
These programs were conceptualized through intense consultation with Congress and USINT, and feedback from our implementers and other interested stakeholders. Drawing on this feedback, we designed these new programs to strengthen direct engagement with the Cuban people and provide support for grassroots initiatives. Program activities include helping to promote the flow of information to, from and within Cuba; the development of civil society; and humanitarian support for political prisoners and their families.
We will also be targeting new sectors of traditionally marginalized civil society that were not included in previous programs to empower them and build their capacity. These include: Cubans with disabilities, the LGBT community, and those who have been sexually exploited. Programs also provide for dissemination of information about market economies and help foster a better understanding of free markets and related rights, such as freedom of expression and association.
Under the regulations announced by this Administration, increased remittance flows will allow the Cuban people to reduce their dependence on the Cuban state and provide for increased independent economic activity.

8) The Committee Staff again requests comparisons between the funding, substance and modus operandi of the Cuba “democracy promotion” program and those undertaken in other countries. Please include, inter alia, the following: A statement of the bilateral context in each relationship, including the existence (or not) of diplomatic relations, embargoes, travel bans by either side, hostilities, arrests of U.S. citizens, host government notification, intelligence service operational capacity, relations with civil society, and host government local legislation endangering the participation of local participants; a statement of the level of clandestineness and disclosure of the contractor/grantees’ and subcontractor/sub-grantees’ activities in each country; and a summary of policies and practices regarding the training in and use of covert communications techniques such the use of secret codes, steganography, and aliases by contractors/grantees and subcontractors/sub-grantees. In the specific case of Cuba, please explain as well why recipients of U.S. aid under these programs are often not told that it is U.S. assistance provided for the purposes outlined in Section 109.

Globally, in countries such as Belarus, Burma, North Korea, Cuba, Iran, Syria, and Zimbabwe, the U.S. Government responds to autocratic challenges by providing training, materials, and internet and radio platforms and organizational support for civic groups, networks and the media. Support for universal values is a cornerstone of the National Security Strategy of the United States. Those values include the rights of people to speak their mind, assemble without fear, and have a say in how they are governed.
In our solicitations’ selection criteria, we place an emphasis on prior experience, at both the organizational and personnel level, in working in closed societies. We have found that prior experience in similar environments facilitates implementation since there is an understanding of the unique challenges likely to be encountered. We instruct our partners to tell Cuban recipients the source of the assistance when asked.
While seeking to advance and defend universal human rights principles, the USG develops and implements its democracy and governance strategies and program interventions according to the country’s current democratic state, justice system institutions, human rights conditions, quality of governance, and other situational factors, while taking into account each country’s unique history and culture. Still, within broad country categories there is consistency to our strategic approach.
In authoritarian and semi-authoritarian states, the major challenges facing the USG are how to create and maintain political and civic space in the face of a hostile regime that is prepared to use state resources to prevent criticism and meaningful reform. The strategy in these countries is to strengthen democracy and human rights activists outside government by working with democracy and human rights NGOs, watchdog groups, and independent media that are committed to democratic principles and value fundamental freedoms. Ensuring citizens’ access to independent information sources is critical in these environments. When possible, the USG supports pockets of reform within government institutions, such as within the judicial branch, independent electoral or anti-corruption commissions, and/or local governments. The primary strategic focus of USG democracy and governance assistance in these countries is in the areas of human rights and civil society, especially independent media.
Within the foreign assistance domain, our top priority in authoritarian and semi-authoritarian states is invigorating an engaged and dynamic civil society, in particular journalists who represent the voice of civil society, and traditionally marginalized groups, such as minorities and women. For example to empower citizens in closed societies, DRL supports programs which aim to develop the necessary precursors for democratic reform by using new media to inform citizens about human rights and provide them a lens into the outside world. DRL also works to build the capacity of human rights activists, lawyers, and journalists to advocate for human rights by training them on how to defend their rights, including investigating and documenting human rights violations.

9) Please provide, as agreed to last year, the list of metrics used to evaluate the effectiveness of programs and a summary of their application to ongoing programs. Please provide a statement of how the evaluation is conducted (and by whom), how much of the information is verified/verifiable, and how the resulting feedback affects present and future programming. In addition, please identify for the Committee which projects in Cuba are considered most successful, and why, and which have been identified as having limited effectiveness, and why.

To assess program effectiveness, the Department of State and USAID employ standard methods and indicators for tracking programs, consistent with our methodologies used worldwide for similar assistance, the impact of which may be less immediately tangible than other assistance areas, such as health programs. In places such as Cuba, where we do not have presence in-country and where the operating environment is restricted, we recognize that it makes such monitoring more difficult.
As a result, we increased communication with those carrying out the programs. For example, USAID has a specific contract to provide additional technical assistance to partners regarding the development and monitoring of metrics to evaluate program impact. In addition, during the regular meetings between partners, tracking and reporting program impact is an ongoing area of emphasis.
The combined efforts of USG programs have been instrumental in raising the international profile of civil society activists, especially bloggers and journalists. This increased attention serves to protect opposition leaders from retribution by Cuban authorities, allowing them to continue disseminating their message and to raise awareness about grassroots issues. Please refer to question eleven for more examples of the program's effectiveness.
In the instances where programs do not produce the desired results, we are able to terminate the funding, adjust the program’s scope of work, or not extend the project. We are also phasing out programs that support activities in third countries as we deemed them less effective to advancing our goals than programs that provide support to Cubans on the island.
One program which sought to conduct parallel opinion polls, one official (i.e., openly and with Cuban government permission) and the other unofficial, encountered serious difficulties that limited its effectiveness and required troubleshooting to avoid cancelling the program. While attempting to conduct the official poll, the Cuban government gave the grantee's on-island partner permission to work on the condition that it not disseminate the survey results. This meant that the partner could not share the information with the grantee, and in effect made it impossible to conduct the open-polling portion of the work plan. In consultation with the partner, State determined that the unofficial polling activity still had enough merit to continue, and thus continued the grant while accepting that the realities of the Cuban operating environment at times require a change to the grant’s scope of work. Although delayed, the on-island partner has since conducted polls and the grantee is currently analyzing the results. Given the delay, the program was extended at no cost based on the prospects of this new methodology, the positive past performance of the grantee, and their proactive consultations with State regarding these particular developments.
Another example of a program which did not produce the desired result is the Cuba Scholarship Program with a U.S. university which USAID shut down early. The original intent of the grant was to award 20 scholarships to Cubans. The refusal of the Cuban government to provide exit visas to the selected scholars made it impossible to meet this goal and the program was terminated. USAID also terminated other programs - including one that focused on studying property rights issues and another program that supported international solidarity conferences which culminated in worldwide events to celebrate Cuba Solidarity Day each May. While these may have been fantastic events in concept, they didn't prove to provide demonstrable impact in Cuba and thus are not the types of programs USAID currently supports.

10) The Committee Staff renews its request for a statement of U.S. policy toward Cuba and how the Cuba programs administered by USAID and the State Department contribute to it. How is U.S. foreign policy better advanced through these programs and not via people-to-people contact promoted by the Administration? Please provide specific examples of those programs that can only be conducted by the U.S. government or its contractors, and why.

Since taking office, President Obama has made clear his commitment to supporting the Cuban people’s desire to freely determine their own future. During the first two years of the Obama Administration, we have taken measures to increase contact between separated families and to promote the free flow of information to, from, and within Cuba – including new measures that will enable more Americans to travel to the island for academic, religious, and people-to-people exchanges. We have also engaged the Cuban government directly on key bilateral matters such as migration and direct mail service.
The democracy programs, which are authorized by Congress, advance U.S. policy toward Cuba by promoting fundamental freedoms for the Cuban people, including the freedom of expression, the freedom to peacefully assemble, and access to information. Our grantees bring to these programs unique expertise working in closed societies and/or with repressive regimes. Program proposals are selected through an open, merit-based competition.

11) State and AID are again requested to please provide the Committee with the research materials laying out the informational and analytical underpinnings for the current approach toward democracy promotion – which neither the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, nor academic entities (except those receiving Section 109 funds), nor the Intelligence Community has judged effective in Cuba. Please provide specifics of what these programs, which have cost more than $150 million so far, have accomplished. In addition, please provide an assessment of the programs’ impact on Cuban participants or recipients of assistance, including the implications for their independence and legitimacy in Cuba now and in the future.

Democracy assistance in authoritarian or totalitarian states such as Cuba is often designed to lay the groundwork for future democratic institutions and, as such, the impact of that assistance can be difficult to measure, particularly at an early stage. Nevertheless, these programs have already made notable achievements. Feedback from program recipients tells us that Cubans depend on our support and have used it in a discreet manner to exercise their fundamental freedoms while maintaining independence and legitimacy.
We have trained hundreds of journalists whose work has appeared in major international news outlets. We have facilitated information sharing into and out of Cuba as well as within Cuba. We have also provided critical humanitarian assistance to political prisoners, their families, and other victims of repression. And, we have made great strides in engaging a broader sector of the population to support them in being more active participants in advocating for the rights in resolving every day issues.
During the past few years, USAID has increasingly focused on building the capacity of civil society. We have observed these groups mature and become increasingly self-sufficient as evidenced by them taking action independent of USG support, for example carrying out community improvement activities, identifying and addressing community needs, or establishing a network with other similar groups in other cities without our assistance. USAID expanded access to social media and access to uncensored information to help Cubans communicate amongst themselves and with the outside world. We’ve trained hundreds of students and young adults in critical thinking, and promoted the contributions that Afro-Cubans have made throughout the country’s history. We trained human rights groups that have documented human rights abuses for submission to international bodies such as the United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. USAID also widely disseminated information on free market economies.
DRL programs have also expanded the space for civil society in Cuba. Several DRL programs work to strengthen the capacity of provincial groups to organize at the national level, such as independent teachers. DRL's support has enabled these groups to hold a series of national congresses in which they elected and installed national leadership, created proposals for education reform, and attempted to present their proposals before the Ministry of Education. A recent program worked to build the capacity of a Cuban group to organize and manage a series of public events designed to expand the space for free expression through music and rap by enabling performers to openly express their views of the Cuban government. Beyond expanding the space for free expression, the program sought to foster a culture of voting among Cuban youth, by which audience members were able to vote for their favorite performers. The success of this program can be seen in the increased participation of Cuban youth across the life of the program. The initial event attracted nearly 200 attendees, while the final event attracted approximately 14,000 with performances by over 40 artists. Despite a large state security presence, the group, using skills learned from program trainings, successfully negotiated with authorities, allowing the final event to take place.
Another recent DRL program conducted an analysis of Cuban laws, finding the legal impediments to democratic elections and suggesting the actions that would be necessary to remove these impediments. The independent Cuban lawyers who conducted the analysis put their findings in illustrated form, a more accessible and popular vehicle for strengthening the knowledge among Cuban citizens on the rule of law, legislative process, and democratic principles. This legal review also prompted local Cuban lawyers to draft a Cuban analysis of the roadmap produced by the DRL grantee. The Cuban lawyers’ response illustrates the independent thinking generated from the work we fund.

12) Please provide State and AID’s assessment of the impact, if any, that the continuation of these programs – at increased funding from 2009 levels – will have on the status of the case of U.S. subcontractor Alan P. Gross. (State Department officials have briefed the Committee that Gross’s 2011 trial primarily served as a venue to put these programs on trial.) What is the likelihood that other contractors and subcontractors will be arrested, and how will State and AID react if this occurs?

The U.S. Congress appropriated $20 million in funding for Cuba democracy programs for FY 2009 and FY 2010. The enacted level for FY 2009 was $15.62 million. As stated previously, our programs provide humanitarian support, build civil society and facilitate the information flow in, out, and within the island. Mr. Gross’s work was consistent with these ongoing efforts.
We continue to press for Mr. Gross’s immediate release. We remain deeply concerned for his welfare and that of his family, and are using every available diplomatic channel to secure his release. The Government of Cuba could release Mr. Gross at any time. Mr. Gross is innocent, and his continued detention is unjust.
Most of the organizations that carry out programs in Cuba have experience working in closed societies. We have made efforts to limit travel by grantees and subcontractors to Cuba in an effort to minimize risks associated with carrying out the programs. Carrying-out democracy assistance in authoritarian or totalitarian states such as Cuba comes with some level of risk. All grantees and contractors are aware of such risks.

13) What exemptions are USG contractors and subcontractors granted to export goods and cash to Cuba that other American citizens, including humanitarian and religious NGOs, are not given? Which goods and what quantities of cash are exempted from the regulations that apply to all other Americans? Under what authority are contractors and subcontractors allowed to travel to Cuba as “tourists” while no other Americans are permitted to do so? Under what kind of general or specific license do they travel?

There are no exemptions for U.S. Government contractors and subcontractors traveling to Cuba, and grantees traveling under the auspices of these programs should declare all goods upon entry into Cuba. Consular officials from the Cuban government determine the type of visa travelers are issued when they travel to Cuba. The Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control determines the type of OFAC licenses under which U.S. citizens travel to Cuba.