Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Budget for Cuba programs: As clear as mud

President Barack Obama on Friday signed a bill to keep government agencies afloat until Wednesday, giving lawmakers and the White House more time to wrangle over the $1.1 trillion federal budget.
I skimmed some budget documents this morning to try to figure out what it all means for State Department programs targeting Cuba. The short version of the story is that it doesn't appear that lawmakers have decided how much to spend on democracy promotion programs in fiscal 2016, which began on Oct. 1. At least I couldn't find any public documents spelling it out.
Senate and House appropriations bills have proposed spending from $15 million to $30 million on Cuba programs in fiscal 2016, but none of the proposals have been put into law.
In June, the House Appropriations Committee approved a bill that would had the National Endowment for Democracy, or NED, the State Department and the Agency for International Development sharing $30 million in Cuba democracy funds.

Friday, December 11, 2015

U.S. and Cuba to resume direct mail

From the State Department:
The United States and Cuba reached an understanding December 10 during discussions in Miami to re-establish direct postal services between the two countries through the implementation of a pilot plan for the transportation of mail. The plan will provide for mail flights between the two countries several times a week, rather than routing mail through a third country. Details will be finalized in the coming weeks.

The U.S. delegation was led by Lea Emerson, Executive Director for International Postal Affairs at the U.S. Postal Service, and the Cuban delegation was led by Cuban Ambassador to the United States Jose Ramon Cabanas Rodriguez.

For further information, please contact WHA Press at WHAPress@State.Gov.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Alan Gross: Cuba work "didn't seem so dangerous"

Alan Gross
American development worker Alan Gross says it was like something out of a Humphrey Bogart movie. He had been snatched from his hotel room in Cuba and taken to a police station, where someone who looked like a doctor gave him a pill. Gross told "60 Minutes":
So I took the pill. He gave me a juice box and as I’m drinking the juice box, swallowing the pill, he says, ‘that’s right, that’s right, drink, drink.' And I thought I was in an old Humphrey Bogart movie. And they took me to a hospital, they took my clothes they gave me these striped pajamas.
You can see the interview on "60 Minutes." It was Gross's first interview since his release from prison five years ago and it's worth watching. A transcript is below:

THE NEW OPENING TO CUBA WOULD NOT HAVE HAPPENED WITHOUT AN OLD FASHIONED SWAP. CUBAN SPIES WERE BEING HELD IN U.S. PRISONS. AND THE CUBANS WERE HOLDING AN AMERICAN NAMED ALAN GROSS. GROSS WAS A U.S. GOVERNMENT CONTRACTOR WHO WAS SETTING UP INTERNET CONNECTIONS IN CUBA. BUT THE CUBAN GOVERNMENT SAID HE WAS A SPY. IT HAS BEEN NEARLY A YEAR SINCE GROSS BECAME THE LYNCHPIN FOR THE DIPLOMATIC BREAK-THROUGH. BUT WHY WAS HE THERE? AND WHAT WERE HIS YEARS IN PRISON LIKE? THIS IS THE FIRST INTERVIEW WITH THE LAST PRISONER OF THE COLD WAR.

(GROSS) They threatened to hang me. They threatened to pull out my fingernails. They said I'd never see the light of day. I had to do three things in order to survive, three things every day. I thought about my family that survived the Holocaust. I exercised religiously every day And I found something every day to laugh at.

(PELLEY) Did you think in those early days, "Boy, the U.S. government's going to get me out OF here in the next week or so."

(GROSS ) Oh, I absolutely did for the first two weeks. And then I said to myself, "Where the hell are they? Where are they?" I didn't have any idea I'd be there for five years. I knew I was in trouble. I knew I was in trouble.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

U.S. Embassy in Havana spends $5.7 million

U.S. Embassy expenses in Cuba
The U.S. Embassy in Havana earlier this month reported spending $15,085 for hotel rooms in Cuba. Records didn't list the names of the hotels.
The U.S. Embassy - and former U.S. Interests Section - has reported spending some $5,714,788 in Cuba since 2010. More than 17 percent went for "miscellaneous items." Named items included everything from screws and grinding machines to gardening tools and gymnastic or recreational equipment.


DescriptionAmount
FUEL OILS$1,206,315
MISCELLANEOUS ITEMS$1,004,695
OFFICE SUPPLIES$395,823
AIR CONDITIONING EQUIPMENT$388,690
KITCHEN EQUIPMENT AND APPLIANCES$181,113
FUELING SERVICE$140,608
WATER PURIFICATION EQUIPMENT$101,650
GENERATORS & GENERATOR SETS ELECT$97,946
HARDWARE, COMMERCIAL$95,195

Cuban migration crisis worsens


ACABO DE RECIBIR ESTE VIDEO: Cubanos tumban la cerca de la fro...
!!ULTIMA HORA!!..... ACABO DE RECIBIR ESTE VIDEO: Cubanos tumban la cerca de la frontera de Nicaragua y cruzan!!!!!
Posted by Mario Vallejo on Sunday, November 15, 2015
Nicaragua on Sunday accused Costa Rica of provoking a humanitarian crisis when it let Cuban migrants cross into Nicaragua. See statement in Spanish below:
El Gobierno de Reconciliación y Unidad Nacional de la República de Nicaragua denuncia ante la Comunidad Internacional, los graves hechos que han significado violación de nuestro Territorio Nacional e ingreso forzoso de miles de inmigrantes irregulares de nacionalidad cubana.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Cruz family tales: "Inspirational fire" or hot air?

Rafael Cruz
According to the New York Times, Sen. Ted Cruz and his father, Rafael, have embellished stories about their family's experiences in Cuba. The paper reported:
MATANZAS, Cuba — Since he was a boy, Senator Ted Cruz has said, all he wanted to do was “fight for liberty” — a yearning that he says was first kindled when he heard his father’s tales of fighting as a rebel leader in Cuba in the 1950s, throwing firebombs, running guns and surviving torture.
Those stories, retold by Mr. Cruz and by his father, Rafael, have hooked Republican audiences and given emotional power to the message that the Texas senator is pushing as a contender for the party’s presidential nomination...
But the family narrative that has provided such inspirational fire to Mr. Cruz’s speeches, debate performances and a recently published memoir is, his father’s Cuban contemporaries say, an embroidered one.
I dug into the same story during the summer of 2013. I, too, wondered whether Rafael Cruz was exaggerating his exploits. Parts of his version of events seemed implausible. I reported the story for about a week, but couldn't nail it down.
Times reporter Jason Horowitz managed to track down some former friends of Rafael Cruz. They told Horowitz that Cruz had belonged to the youth brigade of the 26th of July Movement in Matanzas, but did little but march in protests.
Defenders of the Cruz family were quick to attack the Times for its expose (See "New York Times Partners with Castro Regime to 'Smear' Ted Cruz").
I wasn't out to smear anyone. I just thought it would be an interesting story. I found a man who had gone to school with Rafael Cruz in Texas. He remembered Cruz as a pro-Castro activist who talked about smuggling guns to Cuba for the revolution.
I went to Cuba to try to find others who knew Cruz, but didn't have much luck and dropped the story.

I did locate two Havana residents who remembered Rafael Cruz's father, Rafael Bienvenido Cruz y Díaz.
Gladis Susen, who was 75 when I interviewed her in 2013, said Bienvenido Cruz managed an appliances store near El Capitolio in Havana.
Bienvenido Cruz "was a beautiful person," Susen said. She said she bought a television and a sewing machine from him.
Customers paid him in cash and if they didn't have enough money, he offered them credit.
Susen said she last saw Bienvenido Cruz in 1960. He was visiting the sanctuary at El Cobre near Santiago de Cuba.
Cruz's former appliance store near El Capitolio is now a cafeteria, above.
Another Havana resident who knew Bienvenido Cruz told me the elder Cruz also ran a store along Calle Neptuno. That location was in ruins when I saw it in 2013.
While trying to learn more about the Cruz family history in Cuba, I hit a wall. I had more questions than answers. Did Rafael Cruz move from Matanzas to Havana at some point? How important was Havana to the family's story? Was the family wealthier than Rafael Cruz has let on? How often did family members return to Cuba after the revolution? When did the family turn against Castro?
Calle Neptuno appliance store in ruins
I wanted to hear Rafael Cruz tell the story, so I went to an event in Tampa where he was speaking. I introduced myself to him in a hotel lobby before the event. I told him I had been to Cuba and had talked to people who knew his father. I said I had photos and video that he might be interested in seeing. He said he had to rush to a meeting, but I thought he'd see me afterward. I mean, wouldn't you be curious about your homeland, your old neighborhood?
Apparently not.
When I approached Cruz again, I heard him tell an assistant something like, "No, I am not talking to that guy."
I got the impression that if I had been someone who knew nothing about Cuba, he would have gladly shared his exploits. But I had been to the island. I had talked to people who knew his father. And, I suspect, that was a red flag for Rafael Cruz.

Cubana: Antiques in the air?

A Cubana Tu-204 at the MAKS Airshow in 2007. Credit: Wikipedia
More American tourists are traveling to Cuba these days and some are climbing aboard Cubana de Aviation flights.
Using data from AirFleets.net, the Motley Fool listed the fleet age of top 15 airlines in the U.S.  I added Cubana to the list, below, so you can see how it compares to U.S.-based airlines.
  1. Virgin America -- 5 years
  2. Spirit Airlines -- 5.2 years
  3. Republic Airways -- 5.5 years
  4. JetBlue -- 7.4 years
  5. Frontier Airlines -- 8.2 years
  6. Alaska Air -- 9.6 years
  7. Hawaiian Airlines -- 10 years
  8. AirTran -- 10.9 years
  9. SkyWest -- 11 years
  10. Southwest Airlines -- 11.7 years
  11. US Airways -- 12.1 years
  12. American Airlines -- 13.6 years
  13. United Airlines -- 13.6 years
  14. Cubana -- 15.8 years
  15. Delta Air Lines -- 16.9 years
  16. Allegiant Travel -- 22 years
These are estimates based on data reported to AirFleets.net and other websites that track information on aircraft.
Some of the information that is reported to aircraft tracking sites isn't accurate.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

$5.4 million to unnamed contractors

See interactive graphic
The Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees Radio & TV Martí, reported spending $12,348,883 for artists, writers, journalists and performers in fiscal 2015, which ended on Sept. 30.
About 44 percent, or $5,439,269, went to unnamed foreign contractors.


Vendor NameAction Obligation ($)
MISCELLANEOUS FOREIGN AWARDEES$5,439,268.55
APPLIED MEMETICS LLC$618,170.00
PIMIENTA, ALBERTO$126,550.00
CAMPBELL, EDWIN GLENN$113,450.00
BERT KLEINMAN PROGRAMMING INC$108,000.00
ORLANDO GONZALEZ ESTEVA$103,885.00
BALLSAL TV PRODUCTION CORP.$94,494.00
MABUSU, JOHN TANZA$91,000.00
CHARLES PRODUCTIONS US, INC.$89,800.00
SONY ELECTRONICS INC.$84,500.00
SERRANO, WALDO J$77,700.00
OSTROWSKI, DOUGLAS J$68,900.00
HUMPHREYS, MARK$67,976.59
DIAZ, LIZANDRA$67,000.00
MARTINEZ, RAFAEL JAVIER$66,325.00
REYES GONZALEZ, ADRIEL$66,240.00
GARCIA, JUAN J ALMEIDA$66,040.00
SERGUEEV, VLADIMIR$65,325.00
LOPEZ, RENE$65,034.00

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Quote of the day

Jesús Marzo Fernández
From former Cuban government economist Jesús Marzo Fernández:
According to official statistics, there are four analysts in Miami for each recognized dissident in Cuba, not including the dissident-analysts who live in Miami.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

$11 billion pie

The U.S. Department of Defense led in spending
U.S. government agencies reported $11,169,450,490 in spending to the Federal Procurement Data System in fiscal 2015, ending Sept. 30. That was a fraction of the total spent. Cuba-related spending is one of many needles in the haystack.
See interactive graphic representing 2,878,735 contracts.

Monday, November 9, 2015

More on origins of "El Paquete"

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post called "U.S. Infiltration of El Paquete?" To follow up on that, below is the first part of an El Nuevo Herald piece that ran on Nov. 11, 2012. It discusses efforts to boost the free flow of information in Cuba through the distribution of USBs and other devices.
The article, by Juan Carlos Chavez, was written in Spanish and quotes an enterprising man named Jorge Utset.
Jorge Utset y un grupo de expertos en computadoras trabajan afanosamente todos los fines de semana en una misión tan ingeniosa como arriesgada: expandir el flujo de la información libre de censura a Cuba mediante el envío de unidades USB, discos compactos y tarjetas de memorias SIM para teléfonos celulares.
Cada unidad contiene un meticuloso y amplio “paquete” de más de una veintena de sitios electrónicos, blogs y portales de noticias en línea que las autoridades cubanas bloquean consistentemente en la isla con el propósito de frenar a las voces opositoras y seguir controlando con mano dura el monopolio de las noticias.
“Siempre estamos buscando formas para que la gente común tenga acceso a la información”, dijo Utset, un cubanoamericano radicado en Miami.

Homeland Security contracts in fiscal 2015

Homeland Security contracts
The Department of Homeland Security reported $4,808,596,632 in contracts in fiscal 2015, which ended on Sept. 30, 2014. See interactive graphic.

VendorAmount ($)
HUNTINGTON INGALLS INCORPORATED$519,443,915
UNISYS CORPORATION$144,301,645
GEO GROUP, INC., THE$141,607,663
DEFENSE SUPPORT SERVICES LLC$134,836,495
MYTHICS, INC$102,049,098
CSI AVIATION SERVICES, INC.$89,492,926
BOLLINGER SHIPYARDS LOCKPORT, L.L.C.$88,822,196
LOCKHEED MARTIN AERONAUTICAL SYSTEMS SUPPORT COMPANY$70,689,766
INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS MACHINE$70,223,309
CORRECTIONS CORPORATION OF AMERICA$68,232,485
ESCGOV$66,841,683
G4S SECURE SOLUTIONS (USA) INC$65,653,442
AKIMA GLOBAL SERVICES, LLC$59,365,448
INGENESIS INCORPORATED$56,213,313
GENERAL DYNAMICS C4 SYSTEMS, INC.$48,575,958
NORTHROP GRUMMAN TECHNICAL SERVICES, INC.$48,314,060

Sunday, November 8, 2015

USAID grants in fiscal 2015

USAID grants
Below are $10,619,190,871 in grants that the U.S. Agency for International Development reported in fiscal 2015, which ended on Sept. 30, 2015.

RecipientTotal Funding Amount
WORLD FOOD PROGRAM $1,045,880,347
WORLD BANK OFFICE OF THE PUBLISHER $848,023,879
MISCELLANEOUS FOREIGN CONTRACTORS $623,750,261
MISCELLANEOUS FOREIGN CONTRACTORS$340,717,237
WORLD BANK OFFICE OF THE PUBLISHER$339,945,064
UNITED NATIONS CHILDREN'S FUND $307,190,017
JHPIEGO CORPORATION $208,239,246
GAVI ALLIANCE SECRETARIAT $200,000,000
WORLD FOOD PROGRAM$199,249,106
FHI 360 $190,574,713
WHO / OMS $153,335,508
INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR MIGRATION $146,741,289
FOOD AND AGRICULTURE ORGANIZATION OF THE UNIT$135,602,194
R T I INTERNATIONAL $125,458,713
SAVE THE CHILDREN $112,211,954
JSI RESEARCH AND TRAINING INSTITUTE,INC. $108,448,369

USAID contracts in fiscal 2015

USAID contracts
Below are $4,816,629,474 in contracts that the U.S. Agency for International Development reported in fiscal 2015, which ended on Sept. 30, 2015. Among those on the list are Development Alternatives, Creative Associates International and International Relief and Development, all which have carried out Cuba-related contracts.

ContractorAmount
PARTNERSHIP FOR SUPPLY CHAIN MANAGEMENT, INC$727,160,280
CHEMONICS INTERNATIONAL, INC$424,918,501
JOHN SNOW INCORPORATED$408,923,783
DEVELOPMENT ALTERNATIVES, INC.$260,245,806
AECOM INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT, INC.$140,764,872
ARD, INC.$128,765,042
MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS INTERNATIONAL, INC.$121,733,633
RESEARCH TRIANGLE INSTITUTE$106,219,533
DOMESTIC AWARDEES (UNDISCLOSED)$96,147,803
CHEMONICS INTERNATIONAL INC$79,608,022
PAE GOVERNMENT SERVICES, INC.$75,147,354
ABT ASSOCIATES INC$74,120,354
INTERNATIONAL RESOURCES GROUP LTD.$71,944,475
ABT ASSOCIATES INC.$69,527,915
MORGANTI GROUP, INC., THE$56,350,972
CAMRIS INTERNATIONAL INC.$54,465,293
TETRA TECH ES, INC.$54,243,143

$7 billion in contracts

Nearly $7.4 billion in contracts
The State Department and USAID in fiscal 2015 had a combined budget of $46.2 billion, which included a $5.9 billion contingency fund for "extraordinary activities," which included operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria and Somolia.
The State Department reported $7,396,606,555 in contracts for fiscal 2015, which runs from Oct. 1, 2014 to Sept. 30, 2015. See interactive graphics here and here.

Cuba y sus vecinos

Arnold August
Canadian author Arnold August will be in Havana on Nov. 19 for the presentation of his book, "Cuba y sus Vecinos. Democracia en Movimiento."
The English-language version of the book, "Cuba and its Neighbours. Democracy in Motion," was published in 2013. The Spanish version came out earlier this year.
The reception is scheduled for 3 p.m. Nov. 19 at the Instituto Cubano de Amistad con los Pueblos along Calle 17 in Havana's Vedado neighborhood.
August is based in Montreal. For more information about his work, see his website.

Cuba's Cadillac sub


A July 2014 video of an old Cadillac turned submarine is causing a stir on Facebook. Some people call it an ingenious method of escape. Others say it was created as a work of art.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Cuba Study Group tax records

On Oct. 31, El Nuevo Herald published a story about the role of the Cuba Study Group in pressing for a change in U.S. policy toward Cuba.
The story discussed whether the Cuba Study Group should be considered a lobbying organization rather than a non-profit group.
The latest tax record I could find for the CSG says that the group's primary tax-exempt purpose "is to educate the public on the alternatives available in connection with the possible transition of the government of the Republic of Cuba."
The document states:
The organization studies and proposes projects and ideas that promote and facilitate non-violent change in Cuba, leading to democracy, an open society, a market-based economy and the reunification of the Cuban nation. The organization conducts public opinion surveys, undertakes academic research, promotes debate and holds conferences. The purpose of each of these activities is to promote a greater understanding of the repressive regime currently in power in Cuba and the social and ethical issues to be faced by those who desire to encourage a peaceful transition in Cuba, as well as promoting debate at all levels of society regarding possible alternatives and their consequences.
Membership dues finance the CSG. The group reported $1,360,176 in income from 2008 through 2012, according to the organization's 2013 records.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Enemy combatant trials at GITMO

Soldiers pose in front of Camp Justice. Credit: Army Sgt. Carmen Gibson
The Office of Military Commissions will seek intelligence analysts and security specialists to assist with case preparation of enemy combatant trials at the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
Responses are due today at 4 p.m. Details are below:

Solicitation Number:
HQ003416R0138
Notice Type:
Sources Sought
Synopsis:
Added: Oct 19, 2015 1:22 pm
As part of its market research, WHS is issuing this RFI to determine if there exists an adequate number of qualified contractors. The Government may use the responses to this RFI for information and planning purposes. The draft work statement may vary from the work scope in a final PWS included in any Request for Proposals/Quotes (RFP/Q). A brief description of the performance work statement is below.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

U.S. official: No plans to change Cuban Adjustment Act

Alejandro Mayorkas in Havana. Photos: Homeland Security

A news release from the Department of Homeland Security:

HAVANA – Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, the highest ranking Cuban-American in the Obama Administration, traveled to Cuba October 27-30 to meet with senior Cuban government officials.

While in Cuba, Deputy Secretary Mayorkas met with leaders in the Ministries of Interior, Transportation, and Foreign Relations. The meetings took place in a cooperative and positive atmosphere that focused on enhancing cooperation in customs and border protection and exploring new areas for collaboration. “This has been a very productive trip - building relationships of mutual respect with our Cuban counterparts, with an initial focus on trade and travel security. As a Cuban-American, it is a great honor to further President Obama’s policy and build stronger relationships with the Cuban people,” said Deputy Secretary Mayorkas. “I believe that engagement with Cuba is in our interest, and will improve the lives of the Cuban people,” said Mayorkas.

The Department of Homeland Security is responsible for securing flows of people and ensuring the security of trade between the United States and other countries. Deputy Secretary Mayorkas highlighted that there is no change in U.S. immigration policy and the Administration has no plans to alter the Cuban Adjustment Act. Safe, legal, and orderly migration from Cuba to the United States and the full implementation of the existing migration accords with Cuba is a top priority for the United States.

Monday, November 2, 2015

$5 million for entrepreneurs

The Department of State is sponsoring a $5 million program to help train 250 entrepreneurs from Cuba and other nations in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The entrepreneurs will take part in a five- to six-week program aimed at boosting their work and forging lasting ties with their counterparts in the U.S.
Some 30 of their counterparts from the U.S. will travel to Latin America and the Caribbean to continue working with the fellows on individual or joint projects.
Applications for the Special Professional Fellows Program for Latin America and the Caribbean are due Dec. 28. See details here.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Mixing academics and activism

Jaime Suchlicki. Photo: YouTube
Cuba On-Line Inc. began in 1999 as a modest $300,000 program to send newsletters to Cuba. It soon blossomed into a $5 million project aimed at reaching out to dissidents and human rights activists and helping to "foster the transition to democracy," according to documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
University of Miami history professor Jaime Suchlicki led the program, which was financed by the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID.
On Oct. 8, 2011, I asked USAID for contracts related to the program. The agency replied on Sept. 30, 2015, sending me 94 pages of documents.
Suchlicki proposed the program on Aug. 27, 1998, the documents show. He called it the Democratic Information Project. It was not his only enterprise. Suchlicki was also - and still is - director of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, or ICCAS.
In December 2010, I reported that the U.S. government had given the institute more than $6 million since 2002, according to federal audits. (I wanted to update that number today, but the Federal Audit Clearinghouse was offline and isn't expected to be back up until December. Federal officials took the site down in July after activists linked to the group Anonymous hacked it and posted the phone numbers, usernames and passwords of thousands of users, Federal Times reported.)
Suchlicki received an additional $5,340,000 for Cuba On-Line from 1999 to 2007, contract records show. More details about that are below.
First, a word about Suchlicki. The professor drew some controversy earlier this month when the institute said it had received information that Gen. Leopoldo Cintra Frias, head of the Cuban Armed Forces, had visited Syria and was leading Cuban military personnel in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The institute said:
The Cuban military contingent will be primarily deployed in Syria manning Russian tanks provided to Assad by the Russians. It will also operate as a military force against ISIS and other opponents of the Assad regime.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Dissidents face uphill fight

Danilo "El Sexto" Maldonado
The graffiti artist jailed for 10 months after he painted the names “Fidel” and “Raúl” on two pigs said today he isn’t backing down.
“Art is my life and I can’t breathe without a life,” said Danilo Maldonado, also known as “El Sexto.”
“Of course I’m going to continue doing what I do – rebellious art,” the 32-year-old artist told Along the Malecón.
El Sexto’s release from jail on Oct. 20 was a fleeting victory for democracy activists, but they continue to face intense pressure from Cuba’s security forces.
The number of physical attacks against dissidents and democracy activists in September jumped to 93, from 21 in August, a 342 percent increase, according to the independent Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation in Havana.
Security police also carried out at least 882 arbitrary detentions in September, the highest number since June 2014, the commission reported on Oct. 5.
Ladies in White along Quinta Avenida in Havana
Many of the arrests were aimed at preventing democracy activists from attending events with Pope Francis, who had called for a “revolution of tenderness” while visiting Cuba in September.
“Before and during the visit of Pope Francis, Cuba's government unleashed a veritable wave of political and social repression, with a toll of at least 353 preventive arrests of peaceful dissidents to prevent them from participating in mass rallies with the pope,” the commission said.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Loose ends

U.S. authorities in December freed three spies*, paving the way for a new relationship between the United States and Cuba.
The Obama administration pardoned Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero and Ramón Labañino and they returned to Cuba, where they were welcomed as heroes.
A man who played a key role in the spy ring has yet to be pardoned. He is Juan Pablo Roque, a Cuban agent who hastily returned to the island before the FBI swept in and arrested the other spies.
Juan Pablo Roque
Roque remains a fugitive, unable to travel back to the U.S. for fear of being arrested.
Court records show that Roque, also known as German, has two pending charges:

  • Conspiracy to defraud the United States, and
  • Impersonating agents of foreign governments.

The charges were filed on Sept. 23, 1998. Most of the records in his case file are sealed (see docket).
I wonder what, if anything, will become of the charges against Roque? Should they be thrown out now that the other spies have been freed? Or should Roque remain in limbo?

After this post was published, a reader sent me this email:

You wrote: "U.S. authorities in December freed three spies."
From a legal standpoint this is not accurate. The Cuban 5 did not spy on the US government, rather they spied on private citizens involved in illegal activities. Moreover, the information they gathered was then supplied to the US government.
Here is a definition of what constitutes espionage in the US. Espionage in the US, as defined by law, involves:
Espionage, commonly known as spying, is the practice of secretly gathering information about a foreign government or a competing industry, with the purpose of placing one's own government or corporation at some strategic or financial advantage. Federal law prohibits espionage when it jeopardizes the national defense or benefits a foreign nation (18 U.S.C.A. § 793). Criminal espionage involves betraying U.S. government secrets to other nations.
The whole document can be found here.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

U.S. infiltration of El Paquete?

A friend asked me today if I knew who is behind "El Paquete Semanal," the weekly package of movies, TV shows, YouTube videos, songs and news items that are distributed via USB flash drives all over Cuba.
I told him I didn't know.
My friend wondered if Jeff Kline might have - or have had - something to do with El Paquete.
On Sept. 30, 2013, the Office of Cuba Broadcasting gave Kline's Pinyon Foundation a $450,000 contract to produce "self-help videos." Could that be connected to El Paquete? my friend asked.
Kline's LinkedIn profile says he has produced "media and created media distribution platforms...to inform, inspire and educate." The profile states:
In most cases I have created teams of people from within the cultures being served - Hispanics, Palestinians, etc. who then create their own media within their own cultural context to inspire and empower others to share their own ideas for a positive future based on universal human values...
Is Kline's profile describing El Paquete? my friend asked.
I don't know. But I wonder what became of the purported self-help videos that Kline was going to produce. Has anyone seen them? Do they even exist? Were the videos a cover for another mission?

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Cuban satire revised

On Aug. 27, the Broadcasting Board of Governors sent out an appeal for a comedy team with a proven ability to make fun of Cuban politicians and public figures.
The team would produce 10 comedy sketches aimed at skewering Cuba's political elites, no doubt including Fidel Castro and his younger brother, Raúl.
Today, the BBG revised its announcement, making no mention of plans to lampoon public figures in Cuba. Instead, the agency says it wants to "parody events in the daily lives of Cubans on the Island" and "use humor to entertain, engage, educate and enlighten audiences in Cuba."
The BBG oversees Radio & TV Martí. The agency's new announcement said it is seeking a comedy show that would:
provide some lighter fare to go along with the news and information relevant to Cuban’s daily lives provided by the Marti’s in their regular programming.
The show will ideally be 3 segments with accompanying commercial breaks followed by a formal close with a total running time between 26 and 30 minutes. It should also be easily transferrable to online and mobile platforms so fans can consume content in ‘snackable’ short form segments. 
Changing the language of the notice won't satisfy all critics, and the taxpayer-financed shows still may wind up targeting Cuban leaders.
Whatever the case, the BBG's handling of what would seem to be a simple announcement has been erratic.
Update: The BBG revised the announcement on Oct. 22 and again on Oct. 23.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Taxpayer-funded Cuban satire still alive

The U.S. government-financed Broadcasting Board of Governors today re-issued its request for "uniquely funny, ironic, satirical" television shows targeting Cuban officials and other personalities on the island.
The BBG did not explain why it cancelled its original announcement before re-issuing its call for a team able to produce 10 comedy sketches that parody "public figures, politicians, government officials, entertainers, as well as recognizable members of Cuban civil society groups who are active in the political and civil sphere and widely known throughout the Island."
The deadline for proposals is now 2 p.m. Oct. 30. Today's announcement is below:

Solicitation Number:
BBG50-Q-16-1015MD

Notice Type:
Combined Synopsis/Solicitation

Synopsis:
Added: Oct 19, 2015 1:49 pm
Title: PURCHASE ORDER NON-PERSONAL SERVICE

Synopsis:
This solicitation announcement, BBG50-Q-16-1015MD is prepared and posted in accordance with Federal Acquisitions Circular (FAC) 2005-83, Effective 01 Oct 2015. In accordance to FAR Subpart 5.1 is to notify potential Offers for a competitive request for quote, solicitation, issued by the Broadcasting Board of Governors, International Broadcasting Bureau, Voice of America (BBG/IBB/VOA.

Friday, October 16, 2015

GITMO needs air traffic controller

Guantánamo airstrip
The U.S. Navy is looking for a contractor to handle air traffic control, air terminal services and other duties at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station. (See specifications).
The Navy's Fleet Logistics Center in Jacksonville is evaluating competitive offers for the job.
Here's what the Navy wants:
The Contractor shall provide operational and logistical support for the U.S. Naval forces, Joint services and tenant commands located at U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Operational and logistical support shall consist of all managerial, supervisory, administrative and technical support; equipment, tools, materials and other items and services, (except as specified within the contract as Government-furnished materials, equipment, facilities, services, and training) and other personnel necessary to accomplish Air Traffic Control Operations, Air Terminal Services, Transient Line Services, Ground Support Equipment Maintenance and Ground Electronics Maintenance Services at U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay (NSGB). The contractor shall facilitate on-time aircraft departures and maintain the ability to provide sustained Air Terminal and Ground Handling Services (ATGHS) for a working Maximum on Ground (MOG) capability of one (1) wide-body aircraft or the equivalent thereof...

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Cuba Broadcasting staffer wins journalism prize

José Alpizar
Office of Cuba Broadcasting employee José Alpizar has been awarded the David Burke Distinguished Journalism Award, the Broadcasting Board of Governors announced today.
The awards are "for exceptional integrity, bravery, and originality in reporting."
BBG Chairman Jeff Shell said in a statement:
Our 2015 Burke Award winners represent the best of U.S. international media. These brave men and women have tackled issues of critical importance in some of the most dangerous locations on earth.
BBG CEO John Lansing said:
Every day our journalists overcome seemingly insurmountable odds to bring exceptional reporting to audiences in media-restricted countries. It is with honor and humility that we recognize these outstanding individuals who risk their livelihoods to provide accurate, uncensored information to those who need it most.
Below is background on Alpizar's work, according to the BBG:
Strict media controls in Cuba have resulted in the creation of an underground, secret distribution network for uncensored information. The OCB's José Alpizar champions this vital "hand-to-hand" network. Working directly with Marti reporters and producers and with a list of contacts in Cuba yearning for unbiased news, Mr. Alpizar has, in just two years, grown a small DVD duplication program to a complex distribution system that today boasts 15,000 DVDs a month handed out door-to-door and on street corners across Cuba. In addition to DVDs, Mr. Alpizar has led the way to distributing flash drives carrying gigabytes of not just Marti audio and video content, but also information on research and development of WiFi and over-the-air television signal broadcasts inside of Cuba free from government control. With his transmission engineering skills and unwavering dedication, Mr. Alpizar has singlehandedly nurtured a network of dedicated Cuban citizens to disseminate Radio and Television Marti content throughout the island.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Up to $60 million for school at GITMO

Air Force Tech Sgt. Sonya Faucette reads a story to children in a 3rd grade class at W.T. Sampson School. Photo: Army Staff Sgt. Blair Heusdens
The U.S. Navy plans to replace the W.T. Sampson School at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. The school opened in 1931. It is the Department of Defense's oldest overseas school for dependents of U.S. military personnel.
W.T. Sampson School. Photo: Wikipedia
Prospective contractors interested in the job are tentatively scheduled to visit the site on Wednesday. The Navy expects to award the contract around Jan. 31, 2016. Estimated cost: $40 million to $60 million. (See 724-page document showing specifications).
Students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade attend the school.
It is named after Rear Admiral William Thomas Sampson, whose fleet helped prevent Spanish vessels from leaving the harbor of Santiago on June 1, 1898, during the Spanish-American War. Sampson was later named a U.S. commissioner of Cuba.