Maggie Alarcón

Posts Tagged ‘Jewish Community in Cuba’

Paul Ryan’s Cuban Conversion

In Alan Gross, Blockade, CAFE, Cuban Americans, US on September 27, 2012 at 12:46 pm

By Douglas Bloomfield 

Originally posted in The Jewish Week

In politics, where you sit often determines where you stand.

Up north in Wisconsin’s largely rural First Congressional District, Rep. Paul Ryan told his constituents it was time to end the trade embargo on Cuba. “If we think engagement works well with China, well, it ought to work well with Cuba. The embargo doesn’t work. It is a failed policy.” As for those who wanted to tighten the embargo, not ease it, “I just don’t agree with them and never have.”

That was then, this is now.

Down south in Florida this weekend he recanted and said he’d had an epiphany.  What changed his mind?  He’s now running for vice president and campaigning in the rabidly anti-Castro Cuban-American areas of south Florida, critical to  Republican hopes of winning that battleground state.

Like Mitt Romney’s 180 turns on abortion, health care, guns and so many other issues, he attributes the shift to an evolution in his thinking, but the reality is both are just tailoring their views to appease extremists in their party.

Ryan said he changed his mind from what he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel a decade ago as a result of his “friendships” with some of Florida’s leading anti-Castro Republicans.  Thanks to them, he said, he now knows “just how brutal the Castro regime is.”  No explanation where he’s been for the past 50 years.

And what about Ryan’s old views on Cuba?  Not only has he renounced them but has assigned them to Barack Obama and labeled them “appeasement.”  Actually, the Obama administration has consistently renewed the trade embargo that Ryan once opposed and now supports, but what apparently Ryan and his friends see as appeasement is the easing of restrictions on family visits and cultural exchanges and rules that make it easier to send money to loved ones in Cuba.

This financial help from visitors and families abroad enables Cubans to purchase luxuries like soap and razors not included on their ration cards.

On my visit to Cuba earlier this year on a Jewish Heritage mission, many Jewish leaders I met with expressed fear that such exchanges, which have been so important in supporting the country’s small and often poor Jewish community, would be cut off by a Romney administration.

They rely on American visitors bringing suitcases filled with such “contraband” as pencils, paper, crayons and toys for children, clothing, vitamins, medicine, books, Judaica and cash contributions.

I saw firsthand how people-to-people exchanges were diminishing anti-American feelings.  A frequent visitor told me that signs around Havana that once blazed revolutionary slogans are now promoting tourism.

Reverting to the old Bush-era restrictions, as Romney and Ryan want, would not harm the Castro regime but would set back the progress being made by current cultural exchanges and would be harmful to the country’s small Jewish community.

Alan Gross vs. the Cuban Five?

In Alan Gross, CAFE, Cuba/US, Cuban 5, Cuban Americans, Cuban Embargo, Israel, Miami/Cuba, Politics, US on May 20, 2012 at 2:15 pm

May 23, 2012 – Ron  Kampeas,  Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Washington

From The Jewish Exponent

Advocates for Alan Gross, who is serving prison time in Cuba, say that talk of a trade for five Cuban spies is a non-starter. But they acknowledge hopes that the Obama administration will consider lower-level concessions in exchange for Cuban considerations for the jailed American.

Insiders say that Gross’ advocates want the U.S. government to consider, among other things, more family visits for the “Cuban Five,” agents who were arrested in 1998 and convicted in 2001 on espionage-related charges, and the permanent return home for the one among them who is now out of jail and serving probation.

The Cuban government recently came closer than ever to making explicit that the fate of the Cuban Five factors into its considerations of whether to release Gross, the State Department contractor who was convicted on charges stemming from his efforts to connect Cuba’s small Jewish community to the Internet.

Gross, who is Jewish and from Potomoc, Md., was arrested in 2009 and sentenced last year to 15 years.

“We have made clear to the U.S. government that we are ready to have a negotiation in order to try and find a solution, a humanitarian solution to Mr. Gross’ case on a reciprocal basis,” Josefina Vidal, the top official in the Cuban Foreign Ministry handling North America, said in a May 10 interview on CNN.

Vidal would not offer specifics, but prompted by interviewer Wolf Blitzer, she said the Cuban Five were a concern. “Cuba has legitimate concerns, humanitarian concerns related to the situation of the Cuban Five,” she said.

The State Department immediately rejected such reciprocity. “There is no equivalence between these situations,” Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokeswoman, said in remarks to the media the day after the interview. “On the one hand, you have convicted spies in the United States, and on the other hand, you have an assistance worker who should never have been locked up in the first place. So we are not contemplating any release of the Cuban Five, and we are not contemplating any trade.

“The continuing imprisonment of Alan Gross is deplorable, it is wrong, and it’s an affront to human decency. And the Cuban government needs to do the right thing,” she said.

On background, a source apprised of the dealings among Gross’ advocates, the U.S. government and the Cubans says that Gross’ advocates are willing to press for visits by the wives of two of the Cuban Five, Rene Gonzalez and Gerardo Hernandez. The United States has refused visas multiple times for the women, and Amnesty International has taken up their cause.

Another possible “give,” according to the source: a permanent return to Cuba for Gonzalez, who is out of jail and serving probation in the Miami area. It’s not clear what the Cubans would offer in return for such concessions, but it is likely they would draw protests from the Cuban-American community, including among stalwart pro-Israel lawmakers, such as Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the powerful chairwoman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, who has rejected any leniency for the Cuban Five.

Ronald Halber, who heads the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington and has directed much of the national activism on Gross’ behalf, said he understands the “intensity” of the Cuban-American community’s response, but said that Obama also should take into account the national interest.

“I do not believe that U.S. policy to Cuba can be held hostage by the Cuban community in Miami,” he said. “It’s American national interests that are at stake. They should be part of the conversation, I understand the intensity, although this intensity is more among the older generation, not the younger generation. Our government has to do what is in our interests.”

Gross’ family and his advocates in the organized Jewish community emphasize their agreement with Nuland’s premise: There is no equivalency between a contractor installing and training others in the use of communications equipment and five spies believed to be instrumental in the 1996 shooting of two small aircraft leafleting Cuba with pro-democracy messages, resulting in the deaths of four Cuban-American activists.

Three of the five were sentenced to life and one to 19 years. Gonzalez, sentenced to 15 years, was released last year on a three-year probation.

“We’re not in a position to negotiate that and I don’t think the U.S. government is inclined to do so,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the community’s foreign policy umbrella.

Instead, he said, “we are continuing to press the case in various fora directly and indirectly.”

That included the Presidents Conference’s recent requests that Pope Benedict XVI raise Gross’ plight during his March trip to Cuba.

Gross, who is held in a medical facility, has been visited by family, friends and Jewish leaders. He is allowed weekly calls to the United States.

Most recently he spoke with leaders of the JCRC of Greater Washington to thank them for leading U.S. advocacy on his behalf.

Gross, his family and his advocates want him to make a two-week visit to his 90-year-old mother, who is dying of cancer in Texas, after which he has pledged he will return to Cuba.

His family had voiced support for allowing Gonzalez to return home for two weeks to visit his brother. Gonzalez made the visit in March and has since returned.

Vidal said the two concessions were not equivalent.

“The cases of Mr. Gross and Mr. Rene Gonzalez, I have to tell you, are different,” she told CNN. “First, Mr. Rene Gonzalez, who is one of the Cuban Five, he served completely his term until the last day. Rene Gonzalez was not detained and was not imprisoned for attempting against U.S. national security.”

Those are the charges against Gross; Cuba says the Cuban Five were guilty only of spying on groups it considers as extremist and not on the U.S. government.

Cuba maintains that Gross’ activity on behalf of the Jewish community was a cover for installing sophisticated communications equipment. Gross has said the equipment is freely available in U.S. electronic goods outlets and online.

Halber of the Washington JCRC noted a new openness to Cuba under the Obama administration, which has facilitated travel between the two countries. President Raul Castro’s daughter, Mariela, is attending a conference this week in San Francisco.

Halber said the primary fault lies with the Cuban government for attempting to leverage Gross’ freedom to secure concessions for the Cuban Five.

“He is a man who is being used as a hostage, who is being used as a pawn,” Halber said. “The Cubans are using a man as a bargaining chip to get back five correctly convicted folks who committed crimes on U.S. soil.”

Time to clean up U.S. regime-change programs in Cuba

In Alan Gross, Blockade, Cuba, Cuba/US, Cuban 5, Cuban Americans, Cuban Embargo, Human Rights/Derechos Humanos, Miami/Cuba, Politics, US on December 27, 2011 at 12:03 pm

… the beauty of agreement…

BY FULTON ARMSTRONG
fultona1@yahoo.com

As USAID subcontractor Alan P. Gross marked his second year in a Cuban prison for carrying out secret “democracy promotion” operations, White House spokesman Jay Carney demanded his immediate release and gloated: “Cuban authorities have failed in their effort to use Gross as a pawn for their own ends.” The message is simple: Gross is our pawn, not the Cubans’.

The administration’s signals throughout the Gross affair have been clear. To Havana, it’s been “no negotiation.” To Gross, “tough luck.” And to Americans who think our 50-year Cuba policy should be reviewed, it is, “Don’t hold your breath.”

When a covert action run by the CIA goes bad and a clandestine officer gets arrested, the U.S. government works up a strategy for negotiating his release. When a covert operator working for USAID gets arrested, Washington turns up the rhetoric, throws more money at the compromised program, and refuses to talk.

For three years, I was the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s lead investigator into the political operations of the State Department and USAID in Cuba and elsewhere in Latin America. The Cuba programs — designed to identify, organize, train and mobilize Cubans to demand political change — have an especially problematic heritage, including embezzlement, mismanagement, and systemic politicization. Some program successes costing millions of taxpayer dollars, such as the creation of a network of “independent libraries,” were grossly exaggerated or fabricated.

An oversight committee’s mandate is to ensure that funds — about $20 million a year but surging to $45 million in 2009 — are used effectively and in a manner consistent with U.S. law. State and USAID fought us at every turn, refusing to divulge even basic information about the programs, citing only a document of vague “program objectives.”

The programs did not involve our Intelligence Community, but the secrecy surrounding them, the clandestine tradecraft (including the use of advanced encryption technologies) and the deliberate concealment of the U.S. hand, had all the markings of an intelligence covert operation. We never requested the names of their on-island operatives, but program managers claimed that “people will die” if we knew the names of even U.S.-based “partner” groups.

The programs were not a secret in Cuba. The Cuban government had them deeply penetrated. We did not know who Alan P. Gross was — indeed, the State Department vehemently denied he was theirs after his arrest, and even some of our diplomats in Havana thought he was working for CIA. But it was clear that the Cubans had been on him. Cuban television has shown video of other contractors in action on the island.

Only Gross can say what he knew about Cuban law as he carried out his $585,000 contract, including five visits to Cuba. He has said that he was “duped.” We confirmed that State and USAID had no policy in place to brief individuals conducting these secret operations that they are not legal in Cuba, nor that U.S. law does not allow unregistered foreign agents to travel around the country providing satellite gear, wide-area WiFi hotspots, encryption and telephony equipment and other cash-value assistance.

Administration policy is that Cuban recipients not be told the origin and purpose of the assistance — unless they ask directly. Some Cubans can guess, of course, but the implications of non-disclosure, especially as new programs target children as young as 12, are significant in a country that expressly outlaws receiving U.S. funds.

USAID has emerged as a covert warrior to undermine anti-U.S. regimes worldwide — without the burden of accountability imposed on the Intelligence Community. The regime-change focus of the programs is explicit: Rather than fund them under education and cultural authorities, the Bush and Obama administrations have insisted on citing authorities in the Helms-Burton “Libertad Act” prescribing a post-Castro future for Cuba.

Fixes have been repeatedly proposed to increase efficiencies and steer funds to help the Cuban people improve their lives, such as by taking advantage of the incipient economic adjustments that Raúl Castro has begun — to help people help themselves, not just organize and mobilize them for protests. USAID’s firm reaction has been that the programs are not to help Cubans live better lives today but rather help them demand a better future tomorrow. Regime change.

Like the other millions of dollars we have spent to topple the Cuban government, these programs have failed even to provoke the regime, except to arrest Gross and hassle people who have accepted assistance from other on-island operators. Our policy should be based on what’s effective at promoting the U.S. national interest — peaceful, democratic and evolutionary change — not engaging in gratuitous provocations.

Rhetoric and actions that prolong the prison stay of an innocent American apparently duped into being a pawn in the U.S. government’s 50-year effort to achieve regime change in Cuba are counterproductive. It’s time to clean up the regime-change programs and negotiate Alan P. Gross’s release.

Fulton Armstrong has worked on the Cuba issue on the National Security Council during the Clinton administration and later as National Intelligence Officer for Latin America and senior advisor on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/12/25/v-fullstory/2559755/time-to-clean-up-us-regime-change.html#storylink=fbuser#storylink=cpy