Sunday, March 31, 2013

Agency takes new strategy toward Cuba

Its name is unwieldy and bureaucratic, but its mission is lofty: to become the world's leading international news agency.
The Broadcasting Board of Governors runs civilian international broadcasting for the U.S. government. It has 50 news bureaus and offices worldwide and employs 3,696 people, rivaling CNN. And its audience is immense: More than 187 million people in 100 nations.
Cuba watchers know the agency for its Miami-based Radio and TV Martí operations. But the BBG has redesigned its strategy over the past two years, boosting efforts to promote Internet freedom and reach Cubans on mobile phones and social networking sites. (See Spanish translation of this post, H/T Que Pasa Miami).
The Obama administration began shifting millions of dollars in Internet freedom programs from the State Department to the BBG in 2011.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Freedom House: No gains in Cuba

Freedom House gave Cuba one of its lowest rankings - 6.5 out of 7 points - in its annual global survey of civil liberties and political rights.
The organization reported a "systematic increase in short-term 'preventative' detentions of dissidents in 2012, in addition to harassment, beatings, acts of repudiation, and restrictions on foreign and domestic travel."
Freedom House said the "estimated effective Internet penetration rate" in Cuba "is less than 3 percent, one of the lowest in the world."
Even so, "an estimated 70 independent, journalistic bloggers" are active on the island.
While some have kept their distance from the political opposition and restricted their activities to the internet, others have faced harassment and detention for supporting dissidents.
Predictably, Freedom House rated Cuba as "not free," with conditions similar to those in Belarus, Chad, China and Laos.
In all, the organization judged 47 nations as "not free."

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Activist: USAID funds "inconsequential" to Cuba

Frick Curry. Photo:
Remittances from the U.S. to Cuba "could be as much as $2 billion a year, although nobody really knows since there is no way to accurately track the money flow," according to Frick Curry, a senior associate at the Center for International Policy in Washington, D.C.
Frick wrote:
In any event, this is an enormous amount of money given the size of the Cuban economy. In a very real sense, Cuban-Americans are making their own policy toward Cuba and are far more important actors than government officials in Washington. The $20 million or so that USAID spends every year on regime change is inconsequential compared to the flow of remittances and the money spent by Cuban-Americans visiting the island.
Curry's opinion appears in a March 28 document called "Promoting Change in U.S. Policy Toward Cuba: A Case Study from a Non-profit Advocacy Group."

Bay of Pigs veterans welcome Yoani Sánchez

Here's the latest press release from Brigade 2606 in Miami:

Communique of Brigade 2506

The Brigade 2506 Bay of Pigs Veterans Association welcomes you to Miami, Yoani Sanchez, a Cuban woman who is a symbol for many, especially those from Cuba who are trying to bring to the people of the island and primarily to the outside world the realities that the current system imposes or denies.

We hope that this encounter with Yoani will create a perspective that delve into all the complexity and the feeling of being Cuban and what we call Cuban, with respect to not only what we deserve but what we must provide.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Quote of the Week

Art by José Fuster
"When you believe in ideas, there’s no need for insults."
- From the blog On Two Shores.

Diplomat: U.S. "immature," wastes tax dollars

Less than six months into the job, Cuba's top diplomat has taken on a higher profile than his low-key predecessor.
Ambassador José Ramón Cabañas Rodríguez spoke at a conference in Georgia last week and plans another talk on April 4 in Washington, D.C.
During his Georgia speech, Cabañas called for an end to the longtime ban on trade with Cuba and said, "After 50 years the U.S. government should treat Cuba as an adult neighbor." He said:
U.S. Cuba policy has almost never been in the hands of responsible politicians or driven by common sense. This was particularly true during the George W. Bush Administration whose obsession for Cuba increased to unthinkable levels.
Cabañas also suggested that U.S. officials remove Cuba from the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism, a designation, he said, "which the international leaders and sober American politicians know is a joke."
Cabañas delivered his remarks at a conference called "The Cuban Embargo: Policy Outlook after 50 Years." The Dean Rusk Center for International Law and Policy at the University of Georgia sponsored the conference.
Panelists included Daniel W. Fisk, who helped write the Helms-Burton Act, Vicki J. Huddleston, former chief the Interests Section in Havana, Canadian economist Arch Ritter and others.
Conservative Cuban-American author Humberto Fontova called it a one-sided gathering, writing on the Babalú blog:
Can somebody find me an instance where the top diplomat of a Terror-Sponsoring regime has proudly headlined as the keynote speaker for a conference of this kind held in the U.S.? I search in utter vain...Would Iran's or Syria's top U.S. diplomats be proudly billed in this fashion at ritzy academic conferences?
Cabañas, the ex-deputy minister of Foreign Affairs in Havana and former ambassador to Austria, replaced Jorge Bolaños Suarez, who retired in October after spending nearly five years in Washington.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Cuba likely target for mesh network

The Open Technology Institute has created an open-source tool that would allow democracy activists in Cuba and other nations to build independent wireless networks.
The institute, or OTI, announced on March 13 that it was releasing its first developer's version of the tool, called Commotion, which can be used to create a mesh network.
Mesh networks, originally designed for military applications, allow activists to operate independent of central authorities' communication infrastructure.
The OTI is part of the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C.
The U.S. Agency for International Development in September 2012 gave the foundation $4.3 million for a three-year Cuba project. The foundation has not disclosed details of the project, which OTI is managing.
OTI said on its website that it has been working to develop an open-source mesh network tool. It stated:
As recent events in Egypt and Tunisia have illustrated (and Myanmar demonstrated several years prior), democratic activists around the globe need a secure and reliable platform to ensure their communications cannot be controlled or cut off by authoritarian regimes.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Uncle Sam hurls yet another pitch

U.S.-financed 'esquina caliente'
Good news, sports fans. The 2013 Major League Baseball season begins on March 31, marking yet another opportunity to try to overthrow Cuba's socialist government with baseball.
The Office of Cuba Broadcasting on Feb. 26 paid Major League Baseball Properties Inc. $70,800 for broadcast rights for 2013, records show.
That will allow Radio/TV Martí to broadcast games to Cuba, starting with Sunday night's game between the Texas Rangers and the Houston Astros.
The taxpayer-financed Office of Cuba Broadcasting has paid $562,950 for MLB broadcast rights since 2005, according to
Rights cost $60,000 per year from 2005 to 2009, $63,000 in 2010 and 2011, and $66,150 in 2012.
The baseball season runs through Sept. 29.

Note: This article was shared with the Center for Democracy in the Americas as part of a six-month collaborative project with non-profit group. See more about our collaboration here.

Respect and tolerance

Yoani Sánchez in New York
I respect the different opinions on the embargo. Why? Because they are born out concern for Cuba. There are people who believe the embargo will help Cuba become more democratized. There are also those of us who believe Cuba will become more democratized without it. But all of us agree that we want democracy in Cuba.
- Yoani Sánchez, Cuban blogger

Saturday, March 23, 2013

USAID leaves heavy lifting to contractors

George M. Guess
The U.S. Agency for International Development "has essentially become a government contracting agency" and relies on such private companies as DAI "to design and implement its largest and most complex projects," former DAI official George M. Guess said.
Lawyers for jailed development worker Alan Gross interviewed Guess as part of their $60 million lawsuit against DAI.
Guess, a senior public administration specialist at DAI from December 1993 to November 2004, said in a March 15 statement that USAID depended on private companies to carry out its projects:
This reliance includes the contractor's ideas, judgments and decisions on subcontracting and project details in-country. While those judgments and decisions are usually subject to oversight and final approval by USAID, it is typically the contractor's responsibility to initiate, manage, and execute them accordingly.
Even more startling to me was this statement, from Guess:
USAID has little or no in-house capacity to design and implement the many different broad policy programs and objectives it is required to carry out.
USAID and the State Department have a combined budget of some $51.6 billion. This is a sprawling bureaucracy with billions of dollars and many thousands of employees, yet it evidently does not have in-house capacity to carry out all its projects.
So it lets private enterprise - which is even more secretive than the government - manage these vital projects.
DAI comes out a winner. USAID set aside $324,519,704.62 for the company in fiscal 2012.

Baby steps: Sharing tweets with the opposition (updated)

Here we go - Cuban Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel joined Twitter and in less than 24 hours he and Yoani Sánchez struck up a conversation.
Update: Diario de Cuba reported later that it appears the Twitter account is a fake.
The pro-government El Blog de Yohandry published a photo of Díaz-Canel with other government supporters and the statement:
Well, I have to announce to my fans that @Diaz_Canel is a fake account. I encourage friends to report this spam.
Whoever is running the account denied it was a hoax, saying:
My Twitter account is authentic. We'll be talking about social networks on the Mesa Redonda (Round Table) on Monday the 25th.

Photo gallery: Yoani Sánchez in New York

Here is an album of 150-plus photos from Yoani Sánchez's trip to New York.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Blame game: DAI, USAID, Alan Gross

DAI is at 7600 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda, Md. Photo: Google StreetView
Maryland contractor DAI argues that it had "little authority" over American development worker Alan Gross while he carried out a perilous democracy project in Cuba.
Gross's lawyers say DAI is simply trying to evade its responsibility. In a motion filed this month in U.S. District Court, they state:
...DAI professes deep concern over Plaintiff Alan Gross’s incarceration in Cuba, while simultaneously seeking to avoid any responsibility for the fact that it put him there. In doing so, DAI seeks to cloak itself with immunities and other protections that have no applicability to DAI as a private company, and that, indeed, have no place in this case at all. Seemingly lost on DAI is a very basic tort concept: DAI repeatedly sent someone to do a job for which DAI knew he was ill-prepared, without even the most basic education, training, or warnings. Ultimately, DAI’s Motion rests on erroneous factual and legal premises, and thus the Motion should be denied.
Gross and his wife, Judy, sued DAI for $60 million in November 2012. The contractor has asked Judge James E. Boasberg to dismiss the case.
On March 15, Gross's lawyers - Barry I. Buchman, Scott D. Gilbert, Natalie Baughman and Emily P. Grim - filed a 57-page motion asking Boasberg to throw out DAI's motion.

DAI's new media initiative

Rock 'n' roll
Below are excerpts of a 2008 document that describes the democracy project that Maryland contractor DAI was carrying out in Cuba.
Appendix A - Statement of Work 
DAI is supporting a Washington, D.C. based project focused on promoting democratic governance in Cuba (hereinafter referred to as the "CDP Program"). Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the goal of the program is to hasten Cuba's peaceful transition to a democratic society. There are strong indications that Cuban civil society is becoming increasingly vibrant and active. Given that media may play a pivotal role in strengthening civil society and contributing to an increase in democratic norms, the CDP Program will include an integrated media and public information strategy to play a constructive role in hastening transition or mitigating possible crises.

The secret files of Alan Gross

A drawing from a confidential Alan Gross memo
Alan Gross envisioned setting up satellite Internet connections for Cuban Jews in Havana and six other provinces, then expanding his effort to include as many as 30,000 Masons at more than 300 lodges across the country.
Cuban Jews had "strategic value" in the democracy project because of their religious, financial and humanitarian ties to the United States, Gross said in an October 2008 memo filed this month in U.S. District Court.
Jewish synagogues were a "secure springboard through which information dissemination will be expanded," Gross wrote in the 27-page memo to his former employer, DAI, a federal contractor in Bethesda, Md.
The memo and other documents filed this month in U.S. District Court give new details about the original scope of the multimillion-dollar project, which was designed to go far beyond helping Jews connect to the Internet as the State Department has repeatedly suggested.
Gross, 63, and his wife, Judy, are suing DAI for $60 million, saying that the contractor failed to prepare Gross for his risky mission, resulting in his capture in 2009. DAI has denied the accusation and says it isn't to blame for the subcontractor's jailing.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Yoani in Washington

Marco Rubio, Yoani Sanchez and Bob Menendez in Washington, D.C.
Photo: Office of Sen. Marco Rubio

Here's how On Two Shores described it:
Just yesterday, Yoani and Orlando (Luis Pardo) finally made their way to Washington DC, where Yoani met and posed for a wonderful photo-op in front of the Capitol steps with Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart, and Joe Garcia. The fact that this meeting took place in such a public fashion was HUGE. This is the first time we have ever seen Ileana and Mario publicly carouse with a fierce advocate for lifting the US embargo. Ileana said about the meeting:
"Our goals remain the same and there is unity in the cause. We disagree on how to reach that goal and it has been that way and will continue."
Mario Diaz-Balart, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Joe Garcia and Yoani Sanchez. Photo: Joe Garcia's Facebook page

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

My interview with Yoani Sánchez

The non-profit Florida Center for Investigative Reporting today published a story I wrote about Yoani Sánchez and her New York visit. Here it is in English and in Spanish.
My report includes a slideshow and video footage of a short interview I did with Sánchez on the day she arrived to the United States.
The video is posted both on the FCIR website and Vimeo (there is improved audio on the Vimeo version).

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Yoani Sánchez: "Difficult times are ahead for Cuba"

Yoani Sánchez touted the wonders of the flash drive in New York
Acclaimed Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez praised the power of the Internet to protect democracy activists from repression and help transform Cuba. She told supporters in New York:
Technology didn’t just change the life of this little person here with you now. Technology is changing people’s lives.
Sánchez left the island in February and is on an 80-day swing through Europe and the Americas. She traveled this morning to Washington, D.C., where she plans to meet with lawmakers.
"I'm not going to ask for anything," Sánchez said in New York before reaching the nation's capital. "Change in Cuba must come from inside Cuba."
Cuban writer and artist Coco Fusco said Sánchez "spearheads the most significant cultural and political movement to emerge in Cuba in the past decade."
Supporters of the Cuban government repeatedly accuse Sánchez of somehow being an invention of the U.S. government, an accusation she denies.
Asked what motivates her in the face of such criticism, Sánchez told Along the Malecón in an interview:
I am very stubborn. Ever since I was a little girl I have been stubborn. If I wanted to do something, I followed through to the end.
Sánchez began her blog, Generación Y, in 2007. Since then, some 50 opposition bloggers have joined her on the DesdeCuba website. She said:
Having a blog in Cuba is the easiest way to get into trouble.
But she has no plans to stop now, saying:
There’s no return to silence.
Sánchez told an audience in New York that she came to the U.S. is "weave bridges not with cloth, but with megabytes."
Already, many Cubans communicate via Twitter even though they don't have Internet connections. Sánchez said:
I calculate that 120,000 people use Twitter from their mobile phones not connected to the Internet to send messages from the island to the world.
Some Cubans learn about happenings in their own neighborhood thanks to news and information that is sent out via Twitter, later to return to the island "like a boomerang," Sánchez said.

She urged her supporters to take flash drives, used laptops and other equipment to Cuba if they visit and said:
Let’s work together, with technology as an ally, for a better Cuba.
Luis Miguel Rosales, a blogger who supports the Cuban government, contends that secret "Yankee masters" are financing Sanchez's world tour, which he describes as "a real circus."
Anti-Castro activists scoff at such thoughts and say they expect Sánchez will be applauded in Washington and in Miami, where she plans appearances in early April.
Alberto de la Cruz, managing editor of the popular Babalú blog in South Florida, said:
Alberto de la Cruz
I believe Yoani will receive a warm welcome in both Washington and Miami. Outside of the mob the Cuban Interests Section in Washington D.C. will no doubt organize to carry out an act of repudiation on her when she arrives, I believe she will be very well received in our nation’s Capitol. And in regards to the rumors of protests against her in Miami by Cuban exiles, it seems to me they are overblown or exaggerated. I believe everyone will be surprised by how well Yoani will be received in South Florida.
Asked if he had any general reactions to Sánchez's trip abroad, de la Cruz said:
So far, Yoani’s tour has gone pretty much as I expected. The rocky start in Brazil with her less than eloquent answer to the Cuban 5 question notwithstanding, Yoani has expressed her views on other issues regarding Cuba as effectively as she has done in the past. Considering the Castro dictatorship’s extensive intelligence network, it is no surprise she has had pro-Castro mobs waiting for her at every stop, including New York City, to carry out acts of repudiation. I will say her calm and witty responses to them so far have been noteworthy and impressive.
Will the blogger's travels influence social and political change in Cuba?:
I would like to believe Yoani’s world tour will help raise awareness of the human rights violations taking place in Cuba and that will force some type of social and political change on the island. We will have to wait and see what happens. But I do believe the work she is doing – along with the impressive work of Rosa Maria Paya and Berta Soler in Europe – is effectively moving the public conversation on Cuba in the right direction. Between all of them, we may very well see some positive effects on the island, if not in the short term, perhaps in the mid or long term.
Yoani Sánchez with Cuban-American writer Mirta Ojito
While in New York, Sánchez answered dozens of questions during appearances at Columbia Journalism School, New York University and the New School.
She said she stopped believing in the Cuban revolution years ago.
I think I always realized I didn’t live in a revolution. I decided as a teen-ager that everything was a lie.
Some Cuban government supporters counter that Sanchez and other opposition figures don’t appreciate the education and health care they've received in Cuba.
Sanchez replied, “Why should we have to be silent to have that?”

Yoani Sánchez with Cuban-American writer Mirta Ojito
She also criticized those who promote a “theme park” view of Cuba, with 1950s-era American cars and a poor, but happy populace. That hurts the democracy movement, she said.
Sánchez said opposing the Cuban government is difficult work. She said state security agents are sophisticated and use many methods, including near-constant surveillance, to try to control and monitor dissidents, bloggers and independent journalists.
She believes agents sometimes use geolocation equipment to find her mobile phone and track her movements.
Cuban officials portray themselves as David in a fight against Goliath - the U.S. government. But the reality, she said, is that ordinary Cubans are like David when challenging their all-powerful Cuban government.

Sánchez said in the interview that she hopes to start an independent digital newspaper in Cuba later this year.
It is my dream. It’s the dream of my life. Why? I love information. I would love to be in an editorial department and watch how the vertigo of life becomes a web page, how it becomes a headline, how it becomes an interview. I love that.
Asked where she sees herself in five years, Sánchez said:
I see myself in a room, at a table, debating with a lot of energy and many arguments what news to put in the newspapers, or what photo to use on the cover. That's how I see myself.
As for Cuba, she said:
Difficult times are ahead for Cuba.
But some things will have changed in five years, she said. Cuba's revolutionary leaders - including Raúl Castro and his brother Fidel - will be older or no longer on the scene.
I don't think, really, that the government that's in power can maintain control of Cuba in the way that it does now.
And though there may be tumultuous times ahead, she said:
I think it will be a better Cuba.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Yoani Sanchez: Digital revolution will take time

Yoani Sanchez in New York City
I am heading back to Florida this afternoon after covering Yoani Sanchez's trip to New York City. On Friday night, I watched as the Cuban bloggers' supporters swarmed around her after hearing her speak, reaching out to touch her and kiss her on the cheek.
She had been acquainted with some of her big fans in the virtual world, but now she was meeting them for the first time in the real world, triggering hugs and whoops of delight.
Yoani Sanchez tweets during her appearance at New York University.
The blogger's connection with her online audience is close and passionate, and several of her supporters were near tears, their voices trembling, when talking to her for the first time.
It was clear that Sanchez's supporters in New York City far outnumbered her critics. I saw only a few hecklers.
Many people see Sanchez as a symbol of hope. And the blogger's travels to the U.S. and other nations will likely help strengthen the international network of digital activists who seek peaceful democratic change in Cuba.
Sanchez told her supporters to be patient. Change won't come from one day to the next, she said.

Alan Gross tells all

The Maryland company that sent Alan Gross to Cuba refused to tell him what other subcontractors were working on the company's Cuba project, held secret meetings without him, and wanted him to eventually target not only Cuban Jews, but "African-Cubans, women, youths and other religious groups," Gross said in a revealing sworn statement.
The statement, filed in U.S. District Court, gives the most detailed picture to date of how Gross wound up working in Cuba and what he was trying to accomplish.
Gross and his wife, Judith, are suing the company, a federal contractor called DAI, and the U.S. government for $60 million, saying they sent Gross to Cuba "without even the most basic education, training, or warnings, which ultimately resulted in his detention in Cuba."
Gross said he was excited when DAI asked him to take part in the project, but wasn't close to anyone at the company and recalls that one company official ordered him to remove an Obama sticker from his laptop.
Gross set up satellite Internet connections at synagogues in Havana and two other cities part of an effort to get around the socialist government's communication network.
A DAI official asked if his contacts in Cuba's Jewish community could provide "technical support" as part of his project's expansion to other groups in different parts of Cuba. Gross said:
This made me very uncomfortable.
Cuban authorities jailed him in December 2009 and accused him of crimes against the state. Gross said DAI employee Jack McCarthy called his wife afterward and said someone from the company would be stopping by to retrieve his laptop. Judith Gross said in a sworn statement:
...within one week of Alan 's initial detention, Mr. McCarthy contacted me by telephone and said that DAI would need to take Alan's personal laptop from our home to "wipe" certain information from it for Alan's "protection."
DAI representatives subsequently obtained the laptop from me. Within a week after that, Mr. McCarthy advised me to come to DAI to retrieve the laptop, which I did.
My attorneys and I have not yet been able to determine with any certainty what information DAI deleted from Alan's laptop or what other modifications DAI may have performed.
Gross's full statement is below:


Alan Gross, do hereby state the following facts based on my personal knowledge:


1. I am a sixty-three year-old United States citizen. I have been imprisoned in Cuba since December 3, 2009, for alleged acts against the Cuban Government. Specifically, I was sentenced, after a summary trial, for "acts against the independence or territorial integrity of the State." My sentence is fifteen years.

2. My wife Judy and I have been married for forty-two years, and we have two children, Nina and Shira.

3. I currently weigh 144 pounds. I am 5 feet, 11 inches tall. When I was arrested, my weight was approximately 254 pounds.

Friday, March 15, 2013

No rest for Cuban blogger

Yoani Sanchez, making a flurry of appearances in New York, said, "I'll rest when I'm dead.'

Photographer, writer and activist Orlando Luis Pardo, left, and blogger Yoani Sanchez fielded questions Friday at a press conference at New York University. Cuban-American artist and writer Coco Fusco, right, introduced the two and served as their translator.

Ted Henken, a professor at Baruch College, takes a photo of the crowd at New York University. He is an expert on the Cuban blogosphere and is Sánchez's host in the United States.
After Friday's events at New York University, he tweeted: "Guess where I am and who I'm with...," and posted a photo of Sanchez at the Apple store.

Yoani Sanchez in the USA

Cuban blogger and democracy activist Yoani Sanchez enters the lecture hall Thursday night at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

The crowd was enthusiastic and applauded Sanchez during her appearance.

Several people showed up and spoke out against Sanchez. The blogger called it democracy in action.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

USAID to grantees: Funding cuts possible

The Agency for International Development has told grant recipients that program cuts are possible as the federal government whacks $85 billion from its budget.
A USAID notice reads:
Dear Recipient - As you are likely aware, due to the failure of Congress to reach a deal on balanced deficit reduction to avoid sequestration, the President on March 1, 2013, as required by law, issued a sequestration order canceling approximately $85 billion in budgetary resources across the Federal government for the remainder of the Federal fiscal year.
Aman Djahanbani
As partners with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), we are writing to provide you with timely and clear information about how these unfortunate budget cuts impact us, and in turn what it may mean for funds provided to USAID assistance recipients.
At this time, USAID is taking every step to mitigate the effects of these cuts, but based on our initial analysis, it is possible that your organization's workforce, revenue, and planning processes may be affected. For example, USAID may determine it necessary to reduce current or future funding of your agreement or completely terminate your assistance agreement.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Lawyer: Gross can't collect any money

Screenshot from the Free Alan Gross website
A judge would have to re-write a contractor's insurance policy for it to cover Alan Gross and his wife for losses they suffered after his jailing in Cuba in 2009, lawyers for the insurance company say.
Alan Gross and his wife, Judy, sued Federal Insurance Co. in November for nearly $10 million. (See lawsuit). Federal replied on March 5, reiterating its claim that Gross was a subcontractor who was not covered under the policy that his employer, Development Alternatives Inc., or DAI, had purchased. (See 18-page reply and related exhibit).

Thursday, March 7, 2013

U.S. mum on Cuban youth program

Privileged or confidential
The State Department has refused to provide details of a nearly $600,000 program called "Mobilization Initiative for Youth Empowerment in Cuba."
Freedom House, a non-profit organization in Washington, D.C., received $599,952 to carry out the program in 2009.
Records show the program was scheduled to run from March 19, 2009, to March 31, 2010.
I filed a Freedom of Information Act request for records related to the program in October 2011. The State Department responded in February 2013, releasing two documents in full and four with redactions - 12 pages, in all, which you can see here.
The department also withheld one document entirely, citing a FOIA exemption that states "trade secrets and commercial or financial information" is "privileged or confidential" and need not be released. See State Department's letter.
The six remaining documents provide few details on the Freedom House program. Officials redacted information on the program's purpose, scope of work and budget breakdown. Only one sentence about the program was left intact:
This 12-month Freedom House program seeks to encourage freedom of expression and freedom of association in Cuba.
The documents do not explain how Freedom House intended to mobilize youth in Cuba.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Hugo Chavez is dead

Hugo Chavez has died after a two-year battle with cancer, ending the controversial leader's 14-year reign.
Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro announced the news in a televised speech.
Chavez, a former army paratrooper who dreamed of spreading socialism across Latin America, was 58. His government was Cuba's most important economic and political ally. He was close friends with Fidel Castro. And when he needed help the most, he turned to Cuba, where doctors treated him for cancer.
Chavez was a combative and polarizing figure. His supporters said he defended the poor and disenfranchised in Venezuela. Critics accused him of running a secretive and corrupt government, and celebrated each time new rumors surfaced that Chavez was dead.
Washington will not miss Chavez. Raúl Castro will. The oil-rich Venezuelan government provided Cuba with subsidies worth billions of dollars per year.


Was the senator framed?

A Dominican escort now says she was paid to lie about having sex with Sen. Bob Menéndez. The story is complicated. Readers interested in wading into it can download the following documents, all in Spanish:
  • Statement by Vinicio Castillo, a lawyer who outlines what he describes as a plan to discredit Menéndez and the senator's doctor friend, Salomón Melgen.
  • Statement by the escort, named Nexis de los Santos.
  • Statement by Dominican lawyer Miguel Galván, who says that lawyer Melanio Figueroa asked him to help him discredit Menéndez. Galván says he eventually decided not to cooperate with Figueroa.
  • Statement by a Dominican judge who examined the statements.
The Daily Caller, a conservative website that first reported the prostitution accusations, questioned the accuracy of the statements and said Nexis de los Santos is not one of the two prostitutes that it had linked to the senator.
Figueroa, now accused of trying to use a phony divorce case to embarrass Menéndez and Melgen, told the Miami Herald he did nothing wrong. He told the newspaper:
It was a case that I handled for these women and faithfully represented them for what they said.
Figueroa accused Galván of making up new statements to cover up the senator's misdeeds. He told the Herald:
These are lies by Galván. What he is saying is a lie.

Friday, March 1, 2013

The tale of Bob Menéndez

Ten months after Peter Williams emailed a watchdog group, alleging that Sen. Bob Menéndez had engaged in sexual misconduct, the tipster's identity remains a secret.
His - or her - first email read:
My duty as a U.S. citizen obligates me to report what I consider to be a grave violation of the most fundamental codes of conduct that a politician of my country must follow.
That caught the attention of Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, a Washington, D.C., watchdog group dedicated to holding politicians accountable for their actions.
But both Sloan and later the FBI soon grew frustrated with the tipster because he refused to meet in person or even speak by phone.