Maggie Alarcón

Archive for February, 2012|Monthly archive page

“Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone” (John 8:2-11 KJV)

In Asamblea Nacional/National Assembly, CENESEX, Cuba, Cuba/US, Cuban 5, Cuban Americans, Human Rights/Derechos Humanos, Politics on February 27, 2012 at 11:46 am

 

Margarita Alarcón Perea

Famous words one might say. They are also words that although often pronounced out of context, since not always are we referring to a woman committing adultery, have the incredible added plus that they may be applied to practically every scenario in modern life.

I am not a religious person but I do subscribe to much of what is contained in the Bible. I also agree with almost everything that was spoken – or said to have been spoken lest my atheist friends feel betrayed – by Jesus Christ. After all He was the first true revolutionary of modern times.

I heard this phrase once again today during the answers to questions by Professor Salim Lamrani to Dr Eusebio Leal, the head of the restoration project of Old Havana in Cuba’s capitol. Professor Lamrani was asking Leal about Cuba’s human rights record.  Leal, a catholic himself, began his answer with the phrase.  He continued with another phrase often seen on billboards in Havana and all across the country, “of the thousands of children in world living on the streets, not one of them is Cuban.” This phrase is not Biblical, it is actually a sentence used by UNICEF to explain the situation on the island regarding the healthcare, education and general well being of Cuban children. The head of the UNICEF offices here in Havana repeats the same sentence in every interview he gives whether it be about human rights or not.

Every single country in the world violates the Human Rights Charter in one way or another, every single person on the planet has at one given moment of their lives “violated” the rights of another person, whether it be a co-worker, an employee, a parent a sibling a neighbor, a passerby or even ones own children. In all honesty, is it not a violation of ones own child’s rights at the age of seven to force upon them the terrible act of eating peas?

The European Union has chastised the government of Cuba for violating the Human Rights of its citizens because as they say, there is no free press. I guess that makes sense when you look at Rupert Murdochs track record. The government of the United States will repeatedly state that it will not establish normal relations with the government of Cuba until the island abides by US standards regarding Human Rights. Also a logical point, given the island has complete universal health care and education and a much lower per capita percentage rate of its prison population and has never needed affirmative action in order to sustain a rational level of blacks and women in the work force or Universities.

Am I being too ironic? Let’s see who throws the first stone…

!Felíz Día de San Valentín!

In Cuba, Cuba/US, Cuban Americans, Cuban Embargo, Politics, Scarabeo 9, US on February 20, 2012 at 10:38 am

Atardeciendo sobre Scarabeo 9

Margarita Alarcón Perea

Se podía ver a Scarabeo 9 desde mi ventana la otra noche. En la distancia parece un enorme árbol de navidad con luces amarillas y blancas. Eso es con binoculares. Sin ellos parece una inmensa “cosa” en medio de la noche suspendida en el agua.

Y como casi todos las metas inalcanzables, tiene que haber un día despejado o un claro de luna para verla.

Pero el petróleo ya no es una meta inalcanzable.

Vi la plataforma por primera vez hace unas semanas durante una noche estrellada y clara hacia el oeste de la ciudad cuando había llegado a aguas territoriales y estaba estacionada cerca de la Marina Hemingway en la Habana. Esa noche, mientras descansaba cubierta por esas estrellas increíbles, se convirtió en el comienzo de lo que podría bien denominarse el Futuro de Cuba. Scarabeo 9, rodeada de intermitentes luces rojas y verdes indicándole a los marineros la derecha de la izquierda en medio del vasto mar.

Se me hizo un nudo en la garganta. Como he mencionado antes, no es para nada mi fuente preferida de energía, muy lejos de ello. Prefiero tanto más que el uso de los recursos naturales sea dejado en paz y que la tecnología y los gobiernos se concentraran más en hallar fuentes renovables de energía que nos permitiera llevar a cabo las vidas a las cuales nos hemos acostumbrado en este mundo moderno. Eso es lo que deseo para mi hijo y las futuras generaciones.

La otra noche mientras miraba por la ventana a través de mis binoculares rusos estaba eufórica como muchacho en tienda de juguetes. No era la euforia totalmente tonta e infantil, era más la que uno siente bien adentro cuando sabe que algo va a salir bien. Cuando, y uso el termino con obstinación, CUANDO se encuentre petróleo en Cuba tendremos un futuro más cómodo y prospero. Esta isla no tendrá que depender de nada ni de nadie para su subsistencia. Podremos autofinanciar nuestros propios caminos hacia las energías renovables y nuestros hijos se beneficiarán de un futuro mejor que el que tuvimos mi generación y las que me antecedieron. La Habana bailará al ritmo de la conga de la fiebre del petróleo y por primera vez en toda nuestra historia como nación podremos sentarnos a la mesa de negociaciones con algo más que nuestra fuerza moral, cultural y humana, tendremos también, el oro negro que mueve al mundo.

Es imperativo que trabajemos de manera colegiada para que Cuba halle el petróleo que necesita y a la vez pueda preservar y proteger el medio ambiente que rodea la isla. Y hay una sola forma de lograr eso.

Por esto, en este día de San Valentín, quiero desearle a todos un día muy feliz. Un día de amor para todos aquellos que realmente creen que un mundo mejor es posible, para todos aquellos cuyos corazones también se iluminan con la ilusión del futuro porvenir cuando ven las luces incandescentes en el horizonte. Para todos aquellos que creen en el final de la animosidad y el odio, y creen en andar el camino que lleva al respeto, la soberanía y el amor, nada de rencor, estrictamente amor sin fin ni fronteras.

El Granma, un yate a la deriva

In Cuba, Cuban Embargo, Economics, History, Social Justice on February 16, 2012 at 2:39 pm

 

 

Durante el discurso por el 1ro de mayo del año 2000, el entonces presidente Comandante Fidel Castro Ruz dijo: “Revolución es sentido del momento histórico; es cambiar todo lo que debe ser cambiado…; es emanciparnos por nosotros mismos y con nuestros propios esfuerzos…; es defender valores en los que se cree al precio de cualquier sacrificio…; es no mentir jamás ni violar principios éticos; es convicción profunda de que no existe fuerza en el mundo capaz de aplastar la fuerza de la verdad y de las ideas…, es luchar por nuestros sueños de justicia para Cuba y para el mundo, que es la base de nuestro patriotismo, nuestro socialismo y nuestro internacionalismo”. Fueron posiblemente las palabras más exactas para definir lo que deberia ser el camino a seguir para esta contienda que es la Revolución Cubana, contienda que tenemos que ganar todos los que creemos en ella como proyecto social digno y humano. Este articulo de Fernando Ravsberg, pone en blanco y negro mucho de lo que menciona Fidel en sus palabras y por ello le estoy agradecida al autor. – MAP

Fernando Ravsberg

tomado de Cartas desde Cuba

¿Confiaría Ud. en un médico que le diagnostique un gravísimo cáncer y a renglón seguido le diga que además tiene acné, recetándole únicamente y con urgencia mascarillas faciales para eliminar esos desagradables granos en el rostro?.

Esa es la sensación que despierta el artículo de Granma sobre la crisis del transporte (1), donde se menciona una vez la falta de piezas de repuesto, dedicando el resto del texto a la limpieza del bus, los grafitis en las paredes y el volumen de la música ambiental.

Como siempre las críticas se las lleva el ciudadano de a pie, los que trabajan en la empresa de autobuses y los usuarios. Ni una sola mención directa a los funcionarios que no garantizan los repuestos a tiempo, provocando una escasez artificial.

A nadie se le ocurriría cuestionar la prohibición de fumar en los buses pero ese no es el problema esencial y cuando uno lee el Órgano Oficial del Comité Central del Partido Comunista de Cuba (PCC) espera que los temas sean tratados con una mayor profundidad.

Es verdad que los dirigentes del transporte se niegan a dar entrevistas, yo mismo llevo meses tratando de conversar con ellos y veo como me dan largas evitando un encuentro donde calculan que habrá preguntas difíciles de responder.

Pero esas negativas no justifican que los periodistas nos dediquemos a dar peroratas sobre el “acné” porque eso es justamente lo que persiguen los que intentan apartar a la prensa, para evitar el escrutinio público de sus manejos y desaciertos.

Es nuestra responsabilidad seguir investigando de forma paralela, profundizar en un diagnóstico que le permita al país descubrir el tipo de cáncer que padece y las razones que lo provocan, pasos imprescindibles para encontrar un tratamiento efectivo.

En lugar de eso, el Granma prefiere utilizar al cubano de a pie como chivo expiatorio, lo que parece una incoherencia en un medio de prensa que se proclama portavoz de una “revolución de los humildes, para lo humildes y por los humildes”.

El Granma usa al cubano de a pie como chivo expiatorio de todos los problemas que hay en el país.

Escriben que el pueblo espera como un pichón que el Estado lo alimente pero no explican que el modelo de socialismo cubano no los dejaba volar. Denuncian a los taladores de árboles callando que no hay donde comprar una mísera tabla.

El país en pleno espera información sobre la corrupción en las telecomunicaciones, -estafas millonarias con tarjetas y con el cable telefónico submarino- pero los periodistas priorizan la historia de unos chicos que robaron un par de teléfonos públicos.

Acusan a los carretilleros del desabastecimiento pero no se atreven a mencionar la ineficiencia del ministerio de agricultura. Ahora dedican un artículo completo a los problemas del transporte sin osar investigar por qué están parados cientos de buses nuevos.

Tienen la tranquilidad de que la gente no les puede responder, silencian incluso a revolucionarios indignados. La periodista y profesora universitaria, Elaine Díaz, demuestra en su blog (2) que la censura a las cartas de los lectores es lo que mejor funciona en el periódico.

Nadie en Cuba es tan ingenuo como para pedirle imparcialidad ideológica o neutralidad política a un periódico que se define como “órgano oficial” del partido de gobierno pero eso no lo exonera de cumplir con otras normas profesionales y éticas.

Uno esperaría encontrar en sus páginas reportajes serios y profundos, analíticos, con un tratamiento multifacético de los temas, abordados con honradez y con valentía para enfrentarse, al menos, a los que sabotean las políticas del PCC.

Se podría aspirar a que sigan las orientaciones de la máxima dirección de la organización que dicen representar, la cual ya les dijo que el periodismo que hacen no sirve y los convocó a pelear contra el manto de silencio que protege a la corrupción.

Sin embargo, difícilmente lograrán avanzar rogando a Raúl Castro que obligue a los funcionarios a dar información y usando la Conferencia del PCC como muro de las lamentaciones. Decía José Martí que “los grandes derechos no se compran con lágrimas”.

En vez de seguir esperando la benevolencia de los funcionarios para obtener la información podrían acudir a la gente sencilla, a los trabajadores e incluso de los dirigentes conscientes que estén dispuestos a darla de forma oficiosa.

Pronto los estudiantes de periodismo escalarán el Turquino (3). Puede resultar divertido escenificar antiguas guerrillas pero si la nueva generación aspira a ocupar un lugar protagónico tendrá que ser capaz de librar sus propias batallas.

Y para semejante aventura no hace falta arriesgar la vida como lo hacen algunos colegas en otras latitudes, basta con estar dispuesto a perder el cargo y el trabajo en el intento de hacer un periodismo profesional, honorable, ético y valiente.

(1) http://www.granma.co.cu/2012/02/10/nacional/artic06.html

(2) http://espaciodeelaine.wordpress.com/

(3) El pico más alto de la Sierra Maestra, símbolo de la guerrilla de Fidel Castro.

Nacieron al mundo

In Cuba, Cuba/US, Cuban 5, Human Rights/Derechos Humanos, Poesía, Poetry, Politics, Social Justice, US on February 16, 2012 at 1:24 pm
Pudiera la cárcel maniatar amores
Más jamás pudiera apresar anhelos
Pudiera la cárcel secuestrar el cielo …
Pero nunca el vuelo de CINCO razones
Con alas de fuegos Pudieran la cárcel reprimir los besos
Pero no la boca que clama y no miente
Decretar la noche negra y largamente
Más llegará el día que anuncie el regreso
De cinco inocentes
Allá la justicia de crueldad se enferma
Pasan los cerrojos sombras homicidas
Maquillan con oro la burda mentira
Pero a estas verdades persiguen y apresan
Quien paga ese tiempo de la vil condena
Que aplicaron togas con almas vacías
No hay Dios que perdone tanta felonía
Que premia rencores y aplasta inocencias
 -Impúdica afrenta a la luz del día-
Más, si en esa cárcel con rabia sus nombres
Quisieron quebrarlos con odio profundo
Pensando un silencio y olvido rotundo
Se han equivocado, pues desde esa cárcel
Nacieron al mundo
Lázaro García mayo-08

Happy Valentine´s Day!

In Blockade, Cuba, Cuba/US, Cuban 5, Cuban Americans, Cuban Embargo, Economics, Environment, Miami/Cuba, Politics, US on February 14, 2012 at 2:06 pm

Photo credit: Reuters.

By Margarita Alarcón Perea

You could  see Scarabeo 9 from my window the other night. From a distance it looks like a huge Christmas tree with yellow and white lights in the distance. That’s with binoculars. Without them, it looks like a huge shinny “thing” in the dark of night out there in the water.

Like nearly most unfeasible goals, there has to be a clear day or night for one to see it.

But oil is no longer an unfeasible goal.

I first saw the platform one clear starry moonless night out west of the city when it arrived on national waters and was stationed off the Marina Hemingway in Havana. On that night, resting beneath a blanket of incredible stars was the beginning of what could well be deemed Cuba’s Future.  Scarabeo 9, surrounded by red and green lights flickering intermittently signaling to sailors which way is left and which right in the vast open sea.

I saw it then for the first time and my heart skipped a beat. As I have mentioned before, oil is not by any account my favorite energy source, far from it. I would so very much prefer, the use of natural resources be left alone and for technology and governments to concentrate on renewable and less contaminating sources to enable us to have the electrical power we all need to survive in the modern world. This is what I want for my son and for future generations.

The other night as I looked through my Russian binoculars I realized I was giddy. Not Jed Clampet giddy, but more the kind of silly happiness you have when you know deep in your heart that something good is going to come of this. When, and I use the term insistently, WHEN Cuba strikes oil we will have a better more comfortable future. No more will this island have to depend on others for its subsistence, we will be able to finance our own roads towards sustainable and renewable energy sources and our children will have more to look forward to than what my generation and those before me had. Havana will be dancing the oil fever conga and we will for once in our history actually be able to sit down at the negotiating table with more on our plate than just the manpower and profound intellect that this country has to offer today.

We so need to work together to enable Cuba to find the oil it needs and at the same time preserve the natural environment that surrounds the island. And there is only one way to do that.

So today, on Valentine’s Day, I want to wish everyone, a very happy day. A day of love for all those who truly believe a better world is possible, for all of those whose heart also lights up for the future when they see shinning bright lights on the ocean’s surface. For all those who also believe this could be the beginning of the end of hatred and animosity, and the opening of new doors of understanding, respect, sovereignty and love, no more hate, just simple unabated love.

Love Letter/Carta de amor

In Cuba, Cuba/US, Cuban 5, Politics, Social Justice, US on February 13, 2012 at 2:22 pm

From  Adriana Pérez to  Gerardo Hernández

My love, Valentine’s Day is around the corner and once again we are apart; every year we repeat the same phrase, this year will be the last!

I wish to wake by your side and hold you the way lovers do, and I envy them all so.  A right that has been taken from us for so very long; over fourteen years without kissing you, touching you, making do with your voice over the phone, -when you can-, a postcard or some gesture thanks to your wonderful creativity and the solidarious support of those who lend their help to us unveil a wondrous smile.

Going through papers and old pictures I found the last ones we took on my birthday in January of 1998 and I couldn’t but recall how happy we were then, how our eyes revealed it all.

“Where has my springtime gone? Where is the hidden sun that my garden has forgotten, that has left a wilted soul?”,  as the song goes.

I found myself dreaming you were free, back home with me, and in a strong embrace I begged you never to leave me again. “Oh time come quickly!”,  as you often say.

Because of this, on this day of happiness, romance and gifts I have nothing better to offer you than my future, you are already the owner of my present and my past.

Happy Valentines Day!!!

Please, come back soon, I need you, I love you.  
Your Bonsai,
February 7th, 2012

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________

De Adriana Pérez a Gerardo Hernández

Amor, se acerca la fecha de los enamorados y una vez más continuamos separados; todos los años decimos lo mismo, ¡este será el último!

Deseo despertar a tu lado y abrazarte como lo harán la mayoría de las parejas, de las que hoy siento envidia. Derecho que nos han arrebatado por mucho tiempo; más de catorce años sin besarte, sin tocarte, conformándome solo con oír tu voz en una llamada, cuando se puede, una postal o algún detalle gracias a la creatividad que te caracteriza y al apoyo solidario de quienes brindan sus esfuerzos por arrancarnos una sonrisa de felicidad.

Revisando unos papeles y fotos me detuve en las últimas que nos tomamos el día de mi cumpleaños en enero de 1998 y no pude dejar de pensar en lo felices que estábamos y éramos en ese entonces, nuestros ojos lo decían todo.

“¿Dónde está mi primavera? ¿Dónde se ha escondido el sol que mi jardín olvidó, que el alma me marchitó?”, como dice la canción.

Me descubrí soñando que ya estabas libre, de vuelta en casa junto a mí, y en un fuerte abrazo te pedía que no volvieras a dejarme sola. ¡Llega tiempo!, como sueles expresar.

Por eso en este día de felicidad, romance y regalos no encuentro mejor obsequio para ti que ofrecerte mi futuro, porque ya eres dueño de mi pasado y de mi presente.

¡¡¡FELICIDADES!!!

Por favor, regresa pronto, te necesito, te amo.
Tu Bonsai,
7 de febrero de 2012

Alan Gross: USAID Contractor Work in Cuba – Detailed

In Alan Gross, Cuba, Cuba/US, Cuban 5, Human Rights/Derechos Humanos, Politics, US on February 13, 2012 at 12:25 pm
 
 
By DESMOND BUTLER Associated Press
Version en español Cartas de Cuba
WASHINGTON February 13, 2012 (AP)
 
Piece by piece, in backpacks and carry-on bags, American aid contractor Alan Gross made sure laptops, smartphones, hard drives and networking equipment were secreted into Cuba. The most sensitive item, according to official trip reports, was the last one: a specialized mobile phone chip that experts say is often used by the Pentagon and the CIA to make satellite signals virtually impossible to track.

The purpose, according to an Associated Press review of Gross’ reports, was to set up uncensored satellite Internet service for Cuba’s small Jewish community.

The operation was funded as democracy promotion for the U.S. Agency for International Development, established in 1961 to provide economic, development and humanitarian assistance around the world in support of U.S. foreign policy goals. Gross, however, identified himself as a member of a Jewish humanitarian group, not a representative of the U.S. government.

Cuban President Raul Castro called him a spy, and Gross was sentenced last March to 15 years in prison for seeking to “undermine the integrity and independence” of Cuba. U.S. officials say he did nothing wrong and was just carrying out the normal mission of USAID.

Gross said at his trial in Cuba that he was a “trusting fool” who was duped. But his trip reports indicate that he knew his activities were illegal in Cuba and that he worried about the danger, including possible expulsion.

One report says a community leader “made it abundantly clear that we are all ‘playing with fire.’”

Another time Gross said: “This is very risky business in no uncertain terms.”

And finally: “Detection of satellite signals will be catastrophic.”

The case has heightened frictions in the decades-long political struggle between the United States and its communist neighbor to the south, and raises questions about how far democracy-building programs have gone — and whether cloak-and-dagger work is better left to intelligence operatives.

Gross’ company, JBDC Inc., which specializes in setting up Internet access in remote locations like Iraq and Afghanistan, had been hired by Development Alternatives Inc., or DAI, of Bethesda, Maryland, which had a multimillion-dollar contract with USAID to break Cuba’s information blockade by “technological outreach through phone banks, satellite Internet and cell phones.”

USAID officials reviewed Gross’ trip reports and received regular briefings on his progress, according to DAI spokesman Steven O’Connor. The reports were made available to the AP by a person familiar with the case who insisted on anonymity because of the documents’ sensitivity.

The reports cover four visits over a five-month period in 2009. Another report, written by a representative of Gross’ company, covered his fifth and final trip, the one that ended with his arrest on Dec. 3, 2009.

Together, the reports detail the lengths to which Gross went to escape Cuban authorities’ detection.

To avoid airport scrutiny, Gross enlisted the help of other American Jews to bring in electronic equipment a piece at a time. He instructed his helpers to pack items, some of them banned in Cuba, in carry-on luggage, not checked bags.

He once drove seven hours after clearing security and customs rather than risk airport searches.

On his final trip, he brought in a “discreet” SIM card — or subscriber identity module card — intended to keep satellite phone transmissions from being pinpointed within 250 miles (400 kilometers), if they were detected at all.

The type of SIM card used by Gross is not available on the open market and is distributed only to governments, according to an official at a satellite telephone company familiar with the technology and a former U.S. intelligence official who has used such a chip. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the technology, said the chips are provided most frequently to the Defense Department and the CIA, but also can be obtained by the State Department, which oversees USAID.

Asked how Gross obtained the card, USAID spokesman Drew Bailey said only that the agency played no role in helping Gross acquire equipment. “We are a development agency, not an intelligence agency,” he said.

Cuba’s communist government considers all USAID democracy promotion activities to be illegal and a national security threat. USAID denies that any of its work is covert.

Gross’ American lawyer, Peter J. Kahn, declined comment but has said in the past that Gross’ actions were not aimed at subverting the Cuban government.

Cuban authorities consider Internet access to be a matter of national security and block some sites that are critical of the government, as well as pages with content that they deem as counterrevolutionary. Most Cubans have access only to a severely restricted island-wide Intranet service.

Proponents of providing Internet access say it can undermine authoritarian governments that control the flow of information to their people. Critics say the practice not only endangers contractors like Gross, but all American aid workers, even those not involved in secret activities.

“All too often, the outside perception is that these USAID people are intelligence officers,” said Philip Giraldi, an ex-CIA officer. “That makes it bad for USAID, it makes it bad for the CIA and for any other intelligence agency who like to fly underneath the radar.”

Even before he delivered the special SIM card, Gross noted in a trip report that use of Internet satellite phones would be “problematic if exposed.” He was aware that authorities were using sophisticated detection equipment and said he saw workers for the government-owned telecommunications service provider conduct a radio frequency “sniff” the day before he was to set up a community’s Wi-Fi operation.

———

U.S. diplomats say they believe Gross was arrested to pressure the Obama administration to roll back its democracy-promotion programs. The Cuban government has alleged without citing any evidence that the programs, funded under a 1996 law calling for regime change in Cuba, are run by the CIA as part of an intelligence plan to topple the government in Havana.

While the U.S. government broadly outlines the goals of its aid programs in publicly available documents, the work in Cuba could not exist without secrecy because it is illegal there. Citing security concerns, U.S. agencies have refused to provide operational details even to congressional committees overseeing the programs.

“The reason there is less disclosure on these programs in totalitarian countries is because the people are already risking their lives to exercise their fundamental rights,” said Mauricio Claver-Carone, who runs the Washington-based Cuba Democracy Advocates.

USAID rejected the notion that its contractors perform covert work.

“Nothing about USAID’s Cuba programs is covert or classified in any way,” says Mark Lopes, a deputy assistant administrator. “We simply carry out activities in a discreet manner to ensure the greatest possible safety of all those involved.”

The U.S. National Security Act defines “covert” as government activities aimed at influencing conditions abroad “where it is intended that the role of the United States Government will not be apparent or acknowledged publicly.”

USAID’s democracy promotion work in Cuba was spurred by a large boost in funding under the Bush administration and a new focus on providing communications technology to Cubans. U.S. funding for Cuban aid multiplied from $3.5 million in 2000 to $45 million in 2008. It’s now $20 million.

Gross was paid a half-million dollars as a USAID subcontractor, according to U.S. officials familiar with the contract. They spoke only on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the case.

USAID head Raj Shah said democracy promotion is “absolutely central” to his agency’s work. The Obama administration says its Cuba programs aim to help politically repressed citizens enjoy fundamental rights by providing humanitarian support, encouraging democratic development and aiding the free flow of information.

U.S. officials say Gross’ work was not subversion because he was setting up connections for Cuba’s Jewish community, not for dissidents. Jewish leaders have said that they were unaware of Gross’ connections to the U.S. government and that they already were provided limited Internet access. USAID has not said why it thought the community needed such sensitive technology.

Asked if such programs are meant to challenge existing leaders, Lopes said, “For USAID, our democracy programs in Cuba are not about changing a particular regime. That’s for the Cuban people to decide, and we believe they should be afforded that choice.”

Others disagree.

“Of course, this is covert work,” said Robert Pastor, President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser for Latin America and now director of the Center for Democracy and Election Management at American University in Washington. “It’s about regime change.”

———

Gross, of Potomac, Maryland, was a gregarious man, about 6 feet (1.8 meters) and 250 pounds (113 kilograms). He was hard to miss. He had bought a Rosetta Stone language course to improve his rudimentary Spanish and had scant knowledge of Cuba. But he knew technology. His company specialized in installing communications gear in remote parts of the world.

Gross’ first trip for DAI, which ended in early April 2009, focused on getting equipment in and setting up the first of three facilities with Wi-Fi hotspots that would give unrestricted Internet access to hundreds of Cubans, especially the island’s small Jewish community of 1,500.

To get the materials in, Gross relied on American Jewish humanitarian groups doing missions on the island. He traveled with the groups, relying on individuals to help bring in the equipment, according to the trip reports.

Three people briefed on Gross’ work say he told contacts in Cuba he represented a Jewish organization, not the U.S. government. USAID says it now expects people carrying out its programs to disclose their U.S. government funding to the people they are helping — if asked.

One of Gross’ reports suggests he represented himself as a member of one of the groups and that he traveled with them so he could intercede with Cuban authorities if questions arose.

The helpers were supposed to pack single pieces of equipment in their carry-on luggage. That way, Gross wrote, any questions could best be handled during the X-ray process at security, rather than at a customs check. The material was delivered to Gross later at a Havana hotel, according to the trip reports.

USAID has long relied on visitors willing to carry in prohibited material, such as books and shortwave radios, U.S. officials briefed on the programs say. And USAID officials have acknowledged in congressional briefings that they have used contractors to bring in software to send encrypted messages over the Internet, according to participants in the briefings.

An alarm sounded on one of Gross’ trips when one of his associates tried to leave the airport terminal; the courier had placed his cargo — a device that can extend the range of a wireless network — into his checked bag.

Gross intervened, saying the device was for personal use and was not a computer hard drive or a radio.

According to the trip reports, customs officials wanted to charge a 100 percent tax on the value of the item, but Gross bargained them down and was allowed to leave with it.

“On that day, it was better to be lucky than smart,” Gross wrote.

Much of the equipment Gross helped bring in is legal in Cuba, but the volume of the goods could have given Cuban authorities a good idea of what he was up to.

“Total equipment” listed on his fourth trip included 12 iPods, 11 BlackBerry Curve smartphones, three MacBooks, six 500-gigabyte external drives, three Internet satellite phones known as BGANs, three routers, three controllers, 18 wireless access points, 13 memory sticks, three phones to make calls over the Internet, and networking switches. Some pieces, such as the networking and satellite equipment, are explicitly forbidden in Cuba.

Gross wrote that he smuggled the BGANs in a backpack. He had hoped to fool authorities by taping over the identifying words on the equipment: “Hughes,” the manufacturer, and “Inmarsat,” the company providing the satellite Internet service.

The BGANs were crucial because they provide not only satellite telephone capacity but an Internet signal that can establish a Wi-Fi hotspot for multiple users. The appeal of using satellite Internet connections is that data goes straight up, never passing through government-controlled servers.

———

There was always the chance of being discovered.

Last year, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee asked about clandestine methods used to hide the programs and reports that some of them had been penetrated.

“Possible counterintelligence penetration is a known risk in Cuba,” the State Department said in a written response to AP. “Those who carry out our assistance are aware of such risks.”

Gross’ first trip to Cuba ended in early April 2009 with establishment of a communications site in Havana.

He went back later that month and stayed about 10 days while a site was set up in Santiago, Cuba’s second-largest city.

On his third trip, for two weeks in June 2009, Gross traveled to a city in the middle of the island identified by a U.S. official as Camaguey. He rented a car in Havana and drove seven hours rather than risk another encounter with airport authorities.

Gross wrote that BGANs should not be used outside Havana, where there were enough radio frequency devices to hide the emissions.

The report for Gross’s fourth trip, which ended early that August, was marked final and summarized his successes: wireless networks established in three communities; about 325 users; “communications to and from the U.S. have improved and used on a regular basis.” He again concluded the operation was “very risky business.”

———

Gross would have been fine if he had stopped there.

In late November 2009, however, he went back to Cuba for a fifth time. This time he didn’t return. He was arrested 11 days later.

An additional report was written afterward on the letterhead of Gross’ company. It was prepared with assistance from DAI to fulfill a contract requirement for a summary of his work, and so everyone could get paid, according to officials familiar with the document.

The report said Gross had planned to improve security of the Havana site by installing an “alternative sim card” on the satellite equipment.

The card would mask the signal of the BGAN as it transmitted to a satellite, making it difficult to track where the device was located.

The document concluded that the site’s security had been increased.

It is unclear how DAI confirmed Gross’ work for the report on the final trip, though a document, also on Gross’ company letterhead, states that a representative for Gross contacted the Jewish community in Cuba five times after his arrest.

In a statement at his trial, Gross professed his innocence and apologized.

“I have never, would never and will never purposefully or knowingly do anything personally or professionally to subvert a government,” he said. “I am deeply sorry for being a trusting fool. I was duped. I was used.”

In an interview with AP, his wife, Judy, blamed DAI, the company that sent him to Cuba, for misleading him on the risks. DAI spokesman O’Connor said in a statement that Gross “designed, proposed, and implemented this work” for the company.

Meanwhile, the 62-year-old Gross sits in a military prison hospital. His family says he has lost about 100 pounds (45 kilograms) and they express concern about his health. All the U.S. diplomatic attempts to win his freedom have come up empty and there is no sign that Cuba is prepared to act on appeals for a humanitarian release.

What “The Sun” shines on Cuba

In CELAC, Cuba, Cuba/US, Latin America, OAS/OEA, Politics, US on February 11, 2012 at 1:40 pm

From the Financial Times February 14, 2012

by John Paul Rathbone

February is the month of balmy summer days in Latin America, although the season of beach holidays hasn’t stopped a delicious diplomatic storm from brewing.

At the heart of the thundery electrostatic is the perennial problem. Will Cuba attend the “Summit of the Americas” this April?

This is more than recondite politics. It is drama. If Cuba does attend, then the world will enjoy the unique spectacle of a US President sharing the same podium as one of the Castro brothers.

If it doesn’t, well that would be because Cuba again does not meet the democratic requirements of the Organisation of American States.

The stakes – if you can call them that – are growing.

Ecuador – junior member of the Venezuela and Cuba- sponsored regional grouping, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (or ALBA, which recently brought the world these words of support and respect for the Bashar Al-Assad regime in Syria) – has said Cuba should be allowed to attend. Furthermore, if Cuba isn’t invited, then ALBA should boycott the Summit, where 34 heads of state are otherwise supposed to attend.

That would hold out the prospect of a similar fiasco to the 2005 Summit, when a protest rally, partly organised by the Argentine hosts, saw Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez round on a trade deal that was subsequently approved by 29 other countries.

This time round, a similar boycott would produce collateral damage for the Summit’s hardworking but embarrassed Colombian hosts. More importantly, it would be a snub for the US. Why?

Because the OAS is the sole regional forum where the US still has a voice, and a walkout by Ecuador, Venezuela et al would show that even this forum no longer counts. A case of “adios” to the gringos.

There is all sorts of fun to be had wondering how, or if, this thorny issue might be resolved.

One possibility: Cuba does attend, but walks into a firestorm of criticism about human rights and lack of elections. (Forget it: the Castros haven’t remained in power for 50 years for nothing.)

Another possibility: Raul Castro turns up on the beach at Cartagena for his April holiday anyway, and sidles into the meeting. (Unlikely.)

A third: Cuba attends as just an observer, like Spain and Portugal, which would annoy both Havana and Washington in equal measure, but might give everyone else a laugh.

The problem with this meaningless membership debate, diverting as it might be, is that it masks the real question, and hijacks the real issue. Indeed, it is a diversion.

The real issue the region should be talking about is regional integration – which indeed is the Summit’s main theme. And the real question is why Cuba doesn’t meet the OAS guidelines? (The answer is not just because the US wishes it so: when Cuba was invited to enter negotiations with the OAS in 2009, Havana said it didn’t want to.)

Still, the best defence against criticism is often attack. Indeed, looking at it all from London, the affair is somewhat reminiscent of News International staff’s protests about the heavy-handedness of the police investigation into its Sun newspaper about possible phone-hacking. The Sun’s protest may be valid but is really just a smokescreen for the bigger question: why is there an investigation in the first place?

Embargo de EEUU hacia Cuba conmemora medio siglo de política exterior fallida.

In Blockade, Cuba, Cuba/US, Cuban Americans, Cuban Embargo, Economics, History, US on February 10, 2012 at 11:58 am

Táctica de guerra fría solo sirve para castigar al pueblo de Cuba

 

English original here The New York Daily News

8 de febrero, 2012         

Por Albor Ruiz

Ayer créanlo o no, se cumplieron 50 años del embargo económico de los EEUU contra Cuba.

No debemos desearle un feliz cumpleaños.

El eje central de lo que aparenta ser la política de EEUU hacia Cuba, es una sobra en mal estado de la era de la guerra fría, no ha sido una historia de éxito.

“En cinco décadas le ha hecho daño al pueblo cubano, dañado los intereses de los EEUU y no ha logrado su objetivo,¨ según el tanque pensante Oficina de Washington para América Latina.

Dirigido a derrocar el gobierno comunista de Fidel Castro, el embargo condenado año tras año por las Naciones Unidas fue impuesto por el presidente Kennedy en 1962, luego de la derrota humillante el año anterior de la invasión apoyada por la CIA de Playa Girón.

Sin embargo, medio siglo después, la revolución sigue en el poder y ahora en manos del hermano menor de Fidel, Raúl quien es el presidente. El único éxito del embargo ha sido dificultarle la vida al pueblo de Cuba..

En estos tiempos donde Cuba se embarca en un profundo proceso de transformación político y económica hay una pregunta que exige respuesta: por cuánto tiempo más tendremos esta política obsoleta?  

“El bloqueo” como le llaman en Cuba ha sido el embargo más largo y crudo contra cualquier otro país de la historia actual, y  posiblemente sea la política exterior más fallida que haya conocido el mundo.

Aunque la política del embargo básicamente se mantiene intacta el Presidente Obama flexibilizó algunas de las restricciones de viajes hacia la isla. El resultado inmediato son la muestra de la necesidad de una política hacia Cuba con más luces..

El año pasado , los cubano americanos se aprovecharon de las nuevas regulaciones de Obama e hicieron más de 400.000 visitas a la isla. Esto conjuntamente con la encuesta de la Universidad Internacional de la Florida (FIU) donde se expone que el 46% de los cubano americanos se oponen al embargo, apuntan a que existe un cambio en la actitud de la comunidad y su relación con su patria.

“En este 50 aniversario y a pesar de las incertidumbres de la campaña electoral actual hay esperanza,” dijo Arturo López-Levy, cubano –americano  experto en estudios Internacionales y sobre Cuba en la Universidad de Denver. “Existen motivos estructurales que justifican una actitud optimista.¨

“Luego del retiro de Fidel Castro resulta difícil comprender como es que la política de EEUU hacia Cuba  continua siendo un reo de la mentalidad de la Guerra Fría,¨ añadió.

Igualmente, las reformas económicas que se suscitan en Cuba le están abriendo el apetito a los hombres de negocios en los EEUU, dijo López-Levy. Y estos cambia el balance de las fuerzas en los EEUU y su política domestica respecto a Cuba. The U.S. should not attempt to isolate Cuba but should promote economic reform on the island as it has done in other countries.

López-Levy considera que esto es lo que traerá consigo una expansión de derechos civiles, mejores condiciones de vida, más libertad de viajes y mayor acceso a la información.

“Hay una razón más para ser optimista,” dijo López-Levy. “Cuando comenzó el embargo Cuba se encontraba aislada del resto del mundo, pero ahora, debido a su condición de irracionalidad, es la política de los EEUU hacia Cuba la que está aislada.”

En realidad, recalca, Cuba tiene relaciones diplomáticas con 33 de los 34 miembros de la OEA. La única excepción son los Estados Unidos..

Además, la mayoría de los aliados de los EEUU, incluyendo al Reino Unido y Canadá, tienen relaciones normales con la isla y están estudiando estrategias para aumentar las relaciones y no disminuirlas, según la Oficina de Washington para América Latina.

La ironía estriba en que el embargo lo que ha logrado es servir para excluir a los EEUU de participar en un verdadero proceso de cambios que ocurren en Cuba, plantearon en el tanque pensante.

Ayer, el embargo contra Cuba cumplió 50 años. Mejor no le deseamos felicidades.

aruiz@nydailynews.com.

An American Girl in Cuba

In Politics on February 9, 2012 at 2:22 pm

 

 

 

By Lili Boyle reblogged from Huffington Post

Simply put, I love Cuba. No, I am not a communist or a socialist, and I have nothing but love for my country, America. But my biased perceptions of Cuba were broken when I got the chance to explore Cuba and immerse myself in Cuban culture. This past June, I was lucky enough to gain the opportunity to visit Cuba through a student visa. I traveled throughout the island with other students from my school. Our eclectic group had diverse backgrounds with hometowns stretching from Olympia, Washington to Wheeling, West Virginia to my home of Pacific Palisades. As we were getting to know Cuba, we also got to get to know each other better.

Exploration was the cornerstone of our trip; we got the chance to explore the entire country, even inland areas such as Vinales, which is famed for its mogotes, which are large limestone formations that date back to the Jurassic period. We adventured in Cienfuegos, which is renowned for its Cuban architectural achievement and in Trinidad, which is the best-preserved colonial city in Cuba, just to name a few. The two weeks of our trip seemed endless during the duration of our stay, but now looking back, our time in Cuba was too short — even ephemeral. The majority of our time was spent in the historic capitol, Havana. The city of Havana has starkly juxtaposed elements ranging the beautiful architecture to the loud, littered streets. Havana is haunted by the ghost of its colorful and ritzy past. Glamour glints under the aged buildings and the aged society. Havana really does look like a picture from the 1950′s — the dated cars may have been preserved well, but society, not so much. Havana is a city of youth, somehow living in a microcosm of a quondam culture, prevented from evolving. Ration books, a relic of age-old communism that most Cubans used to buy goods, were just eliminated by Raul Castro this past April. Cuba is truly frozen in time, from the peeling paint on the buildings, the empty stores, to the changeless society. Cuba is still a country of extreme paucity — even soap is seen as a luxury. In essence, Cuba is completely beautiful yet eroded. There is tremendous beauty hidden underneath 50-some years of weathering.

We truly experienced all the facets of Cuban culture. My friend was warned by a Cuban family friend before we went to Cuba that we would only experience the “Disneyland version of Cuba.” I can assure you that statement is false. Wherever we went, the highs and lows of Cuban society were clearly illustrated; we saw the beauty, the poverty, the arts, the decay, the hospitality and the biases.

Throughout the entire experience, the gap between America and Cuba was somewhat tangible and worth documenting, but the most palpable illustration of the differences between our societies was seen when visiting the Martin Luther King Junior Center. The center provided a service to Cuban youth similar to our Boys and Girls Clubs. We spent about five hours with the children, learning from each other and communicating in broken English and Spanish.

It was shocking to me how content and happy the Cuban children are with their lives in the restricting and anti-capitalist microcosm that is Cuba. Their parents receive only 1/163 of what our parents make, yet they are not resentful or unhappy about that in any way. Unlike American children, they are not greedy and they have never been on the quest of trying to have more than someone else. When I asked the children if they wanted or even needed anything from America, they replied that they didn’t need anything, that they were happy and content with their lives in Cuba. They repeated again and again, “Yo estoy contento!” Then again, when we gave out the gifts that we brought for them, it was like Christmas in June! The kids were so kind and appreciative. On their own, they carefully and kindly divided the gifts so each kid got something that they loved.

Through talking to the kids at the center, I realized that we are all truly all the same. Even though we may be slightly separated by the embargo, a clear consequence of our feuding countries, our similarities are palpable. The wealth gap between our nations is insanely large; American workers, on average, receive $3261 each month and the preponderance of the Cuban population earns about only 20 American dollars per month. Even with this vast discrepancy, the Cuban children really are just like American children. They gabbed about their crushes on Justin Bieber, how much they love Hannah Montana and their jealousy of Justin Bieber’s girlfriend, Selena Gomez. They sang me “Baby” and a myriad of Hannah Montana songs including “Nobody’s Perfect.” They use dated cell phones and they even dress in a similar fashion. They even speak some English! The disparity between our children and these children lies only in the fact that the Cuban children have less, much less than the American children, and how they are completely content with that.

Before I had to leave the MLK center, we all exchanged contact information. I feel so lucky that I have been able to have an email exchange with Melissa since I left Cuba last June. Every email she reminds me that she is still “estoy contento” and that she doesn’t need anything from America, but she is thankful that I asked. My connection to my friendships in Cuba has lasted, providing a thread that ties our feuding countries together. I hope that Melissa and I will continue to maintain this valuable connection throughout our lives. But my deepest hope is that children of America realize how good we have it and that we shall forever be “estamos contentos” with our fortunate (and democratic!) lives.

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