Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Cuban dissidents ask U.S. to lift travel, aid limits

Cuban dissidents ask U.S. to lift travel, aid limits


Four of Cuba's most prominent dissident groups are calling on the Bush administration to lift at least some restrictions on travel to the island and direct U.S. aid to pro-democracy groups there, saying the restrictions "in no way help" their struggle.

The dissidents' statement was intended to support the Miami organizations that handle some of the U.S. aid but wound up causing a stir, particularly among hard-line exile groups that support the travel restrictions. It also raised a question of whether the administration would still push its plan for an extra $80 million to aid an opposition that disagrees with its principal policies.

The six-paragraph statement released over the weekend comes in the wake of a Government Accountability Office report that questioned oversight and spending in $65 million by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) for Cuba democracy programs.

The report showed that some agencies in Miami which send goods such as medicine to dissidents also made questionable expenditures on items such as Godiva chocolates or Gameboys for dissidents' kids.

"We deem it very important to achieve a greater efficiency in the use of said [USAID] funds," the statement said. "We believe that one possible way to achieve this would be the elimination of a series of existing restrictions on the shipment of aid and travel to Cuba, which in no way help the struggle for democracy we wage inside our country.

"We hope that the errors committed will be corrected and that a greater amount of aid will reach the pro-democracy activists, so we may advance with greater speed toward the economic, political and social freedom of our motherland."

The statement was signed by prominent opposition leaders Martha Beatriz Roque, of the Assembly To Promote Civilian Society, Gisela Delgado Sabión, of the Independent Libraries Project, Elizardo Sánchez, who heads the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, and Vladimiro Roca, of the Social Democratic Party of Cuba and spokesman for All United.

Roque's signature was by far the most surprising because of her long-standing support for travel restrictions. Roque is controversial even among Cuban dissidents, particularly for her hard-line stances and close relationship with Cuban-American legislators.

Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, a strong supporter of Bush's Cuba policies, noted that Roque has sent several letters to Congress supporting the 2004 regulations that tightened travel and remittances by Cuban-Americans to the island.

"I have questions to ask about this statement," he said. "It's confusing."

Roque acknowledged that the statement was an about-face for her, but said she signed it because overall it supports continuing the USAID assistance. Other dissident groups oppose the help, saying it gives the Cuban government a way to portray them as hired guns.

Sending U.S. government cash directly to dissidents is currently banned. Seventy- five dissidents were jailed three years ago in a roundup of what the Cuban government considered "mercenaries."

"Sometimes you have to take a position, because the other positions are worse," Roque said by phone from Havana. "This is not my position. I signed it, because the people signing it are the closest to my position."

The signers were unclear as to whether they were calling for lifting all the travel restrictions -- which also ban all U.S. tourist trips -- or just the tighter restrictions introduced in 2004 that cut back Cuban-American family reunification visits from once a year to once every three years.

Delgado, whose husband is a political prisoner, said she wants the entire ban on both U.S. tourism and family reunification visits lifted.

"We live in a closed society and we don't think the doors should be closed even more," she said in a phone interview. ‘‘What we need is an opening."

Roca agreed: "The travel restrictions have not provided results. They have hurt the opposition more than the government."

Sánchez said he believed that the group's intention was to oppose the 2004 limitations, not the ban on U.S. tourism. He said lifting the 2004 restrictions would help dissidents because more Cuban-American travelers could bring suitcases filled with medicine and food, rather than waste U.S. taxpayer money on expensive shipping.

A recent Miami Herald investigation found agencies spent large parts of their funding on expensive shipping fees.

The opposition groups' statement puzzled even Juan Carlos Acosta, their representative in Miami, whose spending was criticized in the GAO report.

"Originally the idea was to speak the truth of our efforts for many years," Acosta said. ‘‘. . . But the way it was put together, any member of the press would read it as they want to lift the embargo and any American should be able to travel to Cuba."

The U.S. Interests Section in Havana said they had no reaction to the statement.

"They don't make the policy," said spokeswoman Demitra Pappas. "That is determined elsewhere, and our policy hasn't changed."
Miami Herald translator Renato Pérez contributed to this report.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Cuban-American storms Miami Herald

Posted on Fri, Nov. 24, 2006

Miami Herald
Man arrested after long standoff at Miami Herald building


After a 3 ½-hour standoff at The Miami Herald building, Miami police this afternoon arrested a man who claimed to be armed and had barricaded himself in the office of the top editor of El Nuevo Herald.

The standoff ended at about 2:20 p.m. and apparently without violence, police said.

Employees identified the man as El Nuevo Herald cartoonist Jose Varela.

They said the incident began around 11 a.m., with Varela appearing agitated and demanding to see El Nuevo Herald's executive editor, Humberto Castelló. Varela appeared to be armed with a handgun, employees said, but it was not known if the gun was real.

Castelló, who was not in the building as the incident began, told police that Varela apparently took over his office and trashed it, including a cartoon of the executive editor that Varela had drawn.

El Nuevo Herald is a Spanish-language newspaper published by The Miami Herald Media Co. Its newsroom is located on the sixth floor of The Miami Herald's main building along Biscayne Bay in downtown Miami.

Most employees were evacuated from the building, though some staffers remained in the Miami Herald's fifth floor newsroom to cover the story.

Shortly after the incident began, several people who work on the sixth floor heard police knocking on doors, telling everyone to leave.

''I was in the bathroom,'' said Pamela Vinson. ``I ran outside and saw that everyone had left. I left my purse, my phone, my keys. I couldn't even go home if I wanted to.''

Said another employee: ``I thought it was a joke.''

People with company identification badges were allowed to return to work around 3 p.m.

Varela's motive was not clear.

During a brief interview with a Miami Herald reporter, Varela threatened to commit violence. Some of what he said seemed confusing and disjointed.

''You are speaking with the new director of the newspaper and I'm here to unmask the true conflicts in the newspaper,'' Varela told the reporter. ``They laugh at exiles here. There are problems with payment.''

Tensions have flared in recent weeks between the two newsrooms and between some members of the Cuban American community and the Miami Herald, but it was unclear if those issues played a role in Friday's event.

While barricaded in the office, Varela twice telephoned Miami attorney Joe Garcia, who had represented him in a condominium dispute several months ago. Garcia said that Varela declared his intention to take control of the newspaper.

Garcia said Varela told him in Spanish that, ``Now they're going to have to deal with the truth.''

Garcia also said that Varela told him he had a gun, but said that he didn't intend to hurt anyone nor himself.

When Varela called and said that he would demand that editor Castelló be fired and that he was the new editor in charge of the newsroom, Garcia said he thought that the cartoonist was joking.

''He's really a comedian, so I figured he was putting me on,'' Garcia said.

The first call was relatively brief, Garcia said. The second lasted more than 15 minutes in which Varela sounded distraught about recent events at the newspaper and he said he believed that Cuban exiles were not treated sympathetically.

Many members of South Florida's Cuban American community and some staffers of El Nuevo Herald have been angered by recent Miami Herald coverage of Radio and TV Martí, U.S. government broadcasting operations that seek an end the communist regime of Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

Some of those stories have focused on payments received by several El Nuevo staffers and freelancers for work they conducted for Radio and TV Martí.

Garcia quoted Varela asking, ''How is it Cubans must suffer all the time?'' But it was not clear to what extent -- if any -- the recent tensions played into the incident.

Another employee said Varela walked in and started talking to employees. Then he began ordering women out ''for their own security,'' the employee said.

About 12 to 15 workers inside the newsroom were present, employees said. El Nuevo Herald employees have been instructed not to talk to other reporters.

Hundreds of Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald employees were milling in the newspaper's parking lot as a steady stream of workers left the building. Many were speaking on cellphones, reassuring loved ones that they were all right.

In July of 2005, The Miami Herald building was the scene of another highly publicized incident involving a distraught man and a gun.

Arthur Teele Jr., a former Miami city commissioner facing a fraud trial and upset over reports about his personal life that appeared in another publication, shot himself to death in the lobby of the building shared by the newspapers.

Herald staff writers Noah Bierman, Elinor J. Brecher, Susannah A. Nesmith and Nicole White contributed to this report.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Battle over Cuban songs ends on a flat note

Battle over Cuban songs ends on a flat note
A legal dispute failed to determine who owns the song rights from Cuba's golden age of music.

A U.S. music company lost its bid for rights to more than a dozen songs from the golden age of Cuban music, ending a six-year legal battle against the island's government in a London court.

After a protracted legal dispute that included moving the entire trial to Havana for a few days to take testimony there, a British judge decided last week not to give New Jersey-based Peer Music rights to 14 songs -- but he didn't give the rights to the Cuban government music publishing company either. The litigation was considered a critical test case that could have affected up to 600 of Cuba's most cherished oldies.

Having successfully fought off Peer's claim, the Cuban music publishers declared themselves winners in the case. It is likely to result in more litigation, since it is still unclear who has full rights to each song.

''We didn't get the brass ring,'' said Peter Jaegerman, senior vice president of Peer Music USA.

Peer Music signed up scores of Cuban artists in the 1930s and '40s, but the Cuban government canceled the contracts after Fidel Castro took power. For years, the U.S. embargo prevented the music company from paying royalties, and the money sat in bank accounts.

With the success of the Buena Vista Social Club, interest in the Cuban classics swelled and everyone from the Cuban government to music companies rushed to dust off aging contracts and royalty deals.

In 2000, Peer sued the German company Termidor, which had registered hundreds of Cuban songs in England on behalf of the Cuban state music company, Editora Musical de Cuba, known as EMC.

Peer argued that its contracts dating back to the '30s and '40s should be honored and that Termidor and EMC had illegally registered the 14 disputed songs. It asked the judge to declare Peer the rightful owners.

The first phase of the trial determined that Cuba could not unilaterally cancel Peer's contracts. Once that was decided, EMC sought to void the contracts, arguing that Peer misled the musicians by getting them to sign unfair deals over a few ``pesos and a bottle of rum.''


The case wound up moving to Cuba for a few days last year to get the testimony from elderly composers and their heirs. The case exposed the messy complications that result when dollars are at stake, memories are fuzzy and the average monthly wage hovers at about $15.

One witness testified that her signature on a Peer contract must have been copied because it said she was composer Manuel Corona's widow -- even though that would have made her 120 years old. She was actually his niece. Others said they signed papers they did not read, and one witness said he was a composer's only heir when in fact there were 10.

An 87-year-old composer testified that he never got a dime -- until they showed him canceled checks he signed, court records show.

Peer's representative in Cuba wound up accused of collaborating with an American company against the interests of the Cuban government. Former Peer rep Isabel Cordova, a Cuban lawyer who specialized in copyright issues, fled Cuba in 2002 to avoid a prison sentence and now lives in Miami.

''These composers were going hungry. Not one of them had a color TV or a refrigerator less than 50 years old,'' Cordova told the Miami Herald. ``I feel extraordinarily satisfied with the work I did. If I have one regret, it's that I should have dedicated every minute of my life to helping them more.''

She said the charges that Peer cheated the composers were taken out of context, considering the cost of living 60 years ago when the deals were signed.

Ultimately, the judge agreed, saying Peer's deals were standard for the time period and the company in fact paid $2.5 million in royalties to the artists once the U.S. embargo against Cuba was amended to allow it.


But the judge said he was unwilling to declare anyone the rightful owner of the songs because he feared setting a precedent in a case where so many more songs were potentially at stake, Peer's Jaegerman said.

''It was disappointing, but at the same time, it was an enormous vindication of the company,'' he said. 'Now they will never win on this `two drinks and a peso' folklore. We were really fighting a government here. They really wanted that money.''

EMC lawyer Graham Shear declined to comment.

More Fallout from Herald Marti story

Fiedler: Reporter “Blood” Libeled By Sister Paper
Filed under: Uncategorized

More shake-out from the Marti story, the recently published Hoyt Report , and Oscar Corral’s recent series on USAID’s Cuban missions. Miami Herald Editor Tom Fiedler informed his staff today that today’s El Nuevo Herald, which is published in the same building and owned by the same McClatchy company as the Miami Herald, libeled reporter Oscar Corral, who broke the story in August.

In an e-mail to the entire newsroom with the subject line “Truth to power,” Fiedler wrote that a freelance columnist committed a “blood libel” against Corral in today’s version of the Spanish-language newspaper. He wrote that he’s investigating who the columnist is and how “how such an outrageous character defamation” was allowed to occur.

I have found the column in question on the El Nuevo Herald web site, but am not sure if it has been altered since Fiedler’s e-mail was sent. The writer is Nicolas Perez Diaz-Arguelles.

UPDATED: Here is the pertinent passage from the Diaz-Arguelles column as translated by New Times receptionist Julia Hallon:

It is also suspicious that Oscar Corral appears to be the bad guy in the picture again. And the question is if Max Lesnick and his friends from [Cuban intelligence agency] DGI of the Cuban government are behind Oscar Corral, which could be or not be true? Who is the highest ranking Miami Herald executive that is behind Oscar Corral? A second foolish question. What are the MacClatchy Company owners waiting for to put out the fire that the Miami Herald provoked in the Cuban Exiles?

So the slightly shaded allegation in El Nuevo Herald is that Corral is a Cuban spy (and it might be noted that McClatchy is misspelled — not a very smooth move considering it’s the newspaper’s owner). And there is an inference that a high executive at the Herald is also working for Cuba. With tripe like that published under the company’s own banner, it’s easy to see why Fiedler would be so steamed.

The entire Fiedler e-mail comes after the jump.

From: Fiedler, Tom
Sent: Wednesday, November 22, 2006 12:09 PM
To: .MIA Newsroom
Subject: Truth to power
Importance: High

Oscar Corral’s stories questioning the spending of public dollars in programs here under the guise of restoring freedom to Cuba have struck the nerves — and threatened the wallets — of powerful people in this community who have access to the Spanish-language media, including, sadly, the opinion page of El Nuevo Herald. Today a freelance columnist, in an attempt to justify allowing these businesses to feed at the public trough, committed a blood libel against Oscar directly and this newsroom indirectly.

I don’t know at this point who this columnist is or how such an outrageous character defamation was allowed; I will get back to you if and when I have something to share. But I do know that we will respond in the best traditions of journalism — by supporting Oscar in continuing to report this story wherever it leads and by publishing our findings in the columns of The Miami Herald.


3:49 pm
Comments »

That’s a poor and incomplete translation. I think this is better:
It’s also suspicious that Oscar Corral should reappear in the role of the bad guy. And the point of all this is not to wonder whether Max Lesnick and his friends at the Cuban government’s DGI are behind Oscar Corral, which may or may not be true, but rather, what high-ranking executive at the Miami Herald is behind Oscar Corral? Another stupid question: How long do the owners of the McClatchy Company think El Nuevo Herald can keep putting out the fires caused by The Miami Herald in the Cuban exile community?

Cubans still getting used to Fidel's silence

Cubans still getting used to Fidel's silence

By Jeff FranksWed Nov 22, 2:05 PM ET

A silence has settled over Cuban political life that ordinary Cubans find at once disconcerting and a big relief.

After decades of delivering long and frequent speeches, Cuban leader Fidel Castro has virtually disappeared while recovering from surgery and been replaced by his much more reticent brother Raul.

Now Castro's diatribes no longer interrupt regular programming on Cuban television and he does not hold center stage in the national limelight.

Castro, 80, has not been seen except for a few photographs and videos since announcing on July 31 that he had an intestinal operation and put Raul temporarily in control of the communist country he has run since a 1959 revolution.

Cubans say they are not sure what to make of it.

"He was the person who defined everything for us. Now nobody is saying anything, which makes me wonder what is going to happen next," said security guard Ernesto Valdares, 34.

"There are no speeches, nothing. It's very different," said a woman who would only give her first name, Dora.

Many people in Cuba quickly tell a visitor that they are "Fidelistas," or Fidel Castro supporters. But in the same breath they deny any interest in politics. They vow eternal support for Fidel Castro and say Raul does not inspire the same passion because he lacks charisma.


But even some Fidelistas admit that Castro's silence has its good side.

"To tell you the truth, it's a relief not to have him talking so much. He was on television all the time," said Dora.

In contrast, Raul Castro has kept a low profile, only occasionally showing up at public events and keeping his comments, if any, brief.

Analysts speculate that Raul Castro, 75, is staying in the shadows out of deference to his brother and because he is a behind-the-scenes technocrat by nature. He has been Cuba's defense minister since 1959 and is credited with building the military into one of the country's most efficient institutions.

What follows this period of peace and quiet is the question of the hour in Cuba.

A clerk in a Havana clothing store, who gave only Ernesto as his name, said he expects everything to go on as before, whether Fidel Castro dies or recovers.

"The people on top don't want anything to change. They're doing well," he said.

But Valdares said he thinks a new government will be compelled to do something to improve Cuba's creaking economy, where the average Cuban makes the equivalent of just $15 a month and needs government food rations to get by.

"I'm very proud to be a Cuban and I'm happy with the way things are, but we need more money. If Raul takes over for Fidel, he'll have to make some changes," he said.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

TV Martí Executive Indicted

Miami Herald - Posted on Sat, Nov. 18, 2006

TV Martí executive indicted
A senior TV Martí executive was accused of receiving $100,000 from a company that does business with the federally financed broadcaster.

A federal grand jury indicted a senior TV Martí executive, accusing him of taking more than $100,000 in kickbacks from a company that was doing business with the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, which oversees the Martí operation, prosecutors said Friday.

Jose M. Miranda, nicknamed ''Chema,'' received the money from Perfect Image Film and Video Productions, a vendor that was doing business with TV Martí, according to a federal statement.

''Miranda was accepting these monies during the same time that he approved requisitions and invoices for services rendered by Perfect Image to TV Martí,'' U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta said.

Miranda said in Spanish Friday night ``I haven't even talked to my lawyer. I can't say anything.''

Miranda is also charged with ``making false representations to the U.S. government, in that he falsely reported no outside income in financial disclosure reports.''

OCB Director Pedro Roig, who has run the radio and television operation since, could not comment.

Jorge de Cardenas, a marketing consultant for OCB, said Friday night Roig ``discovered [the scheme] and an investigation began. There are other people involved.''

The four-count indictment alleges Miranda falsified financial disclosure forms in 2002, 2003, and 2004. If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison per count.

''In each of these financial disclosure reports, the defendant represented that he had no sources of income other than his United States government salary, when in fact he had received income from Perfect Image during those years,'' prosecutors said.

Joe O'Connell, a spokesman for the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees OCB, said Miranda had been placed on administrative leave and faced suspension without pay until the case is resolved.

Miranda earns $103,000 yearly at OCB, federal records show.

O'Connell described Miranda as a ''high ranking'' official at OCB who had worked there since 1992, and said OCB ''developed information about Miranda's activities'' in 2005 and referred the matter to the board that oversees the Martí operation. The board alerted the Inspector General, who turned the matter over to the Justice Department, O'Connell said.

According to federal records obtained earlier this year by The Miami Herald through a Freedom of Information Act request, the OCB paid at least $239,000 to Perfect Image from 2001 to 2006.

Perfect Image is among dozens of companies that have been contracted by the OCB over the past few years to provide services ranging from production to journalism content, federal records obtained show.

Since 2001, OCB has paid at least $3.3 million to outside vendors.

Corporate records show Perfect Image Video Production is located in the Doral area and names Antonio Perez as its president. Perez could not be reached Friday night.

Herminio San Roman, who ran OCB from 1997 to 2001, said he did not know of the alleged scheme.

''If there's much more corruption inside Radio and TV Martí, they should go after everyone,'' San Roman said. ``The mission [at TV Martí] is a pure mission, providing information to an enslaved country. But within that mission you have people. And once you have people, you have good people, and people who turn out not to be so good.''

Herald staff writers Alfonso Chardy and Dani McClain contributed to this report.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Cuba thwarts U.S. efforts to help dissident

Miami Herald
posted on Thu, Nov. 16, 2006

Cuba thwarts U.S. efforts to help dissidents
The United States has spent $7 million to teach Cubans journalism and English and to educate children of dissidents. But the efforts have fallen short.

John Virtue crammed everything a reporter needed to know into a clandestine workshop for independent journalists in Havana four years ago. But he just couldn't squeeze in the ethics lessons.

Manuel David Orrio, a student with a limp, eagerly volunteered to teach the ethics class for Virtue, director of Florida International University's International Media Center.

On March 14, 2003, Orrio taught the course at the Havana home of then-U.S. Interests Section chief James Cason. Four days later, the Cuban government launched its biggest crackdown on dissidents and independent journalists in years. Seventy-five were imprisoned -- including 26 independent journalists.

Among the communist regime's star witnesses: Orrio, who was really a Cuban agent.

''He'd been under cover, an independent journalist for 12 years,'' Virtue said.

FIU is among a handful of American universities that have received more than $7 million in the past decade from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to train Cuban journalists, teach Cubans English, study property-rights issues and educate the children of dissidents at U.S. colleges.

But USAID's academic effort has fallen short of its mark, according to federal records, university reports and interviews with dozens of academic and U.S. experts. For example:

• FIU has received $1.6 million from USAID since 1999 to train journalists. As many as 214 students have taken a 2 ½-hour workshop or correspondence course or video conferencing. As of August, only four Cubans have completed all the required courses.

• Georgetown University has received $400,000 in scholarship grants to teach at least 20 Cuban students. USAID promised $400,000 more for other scholarships. In three years, Cuba has allowed only one student to leave for Georgetown.

• Loyola University in Chicago received a $425,000 grant from USAID in 2004 to teach English to Cubans on the island. It has yet to teach anyone under that program. Loyola suspended the program after its Cuban partners objected to the USAID connection.

• Creighton University in Nebraska received a $750,000 grant from USAID last year to study Cuba's confiscation of properties and create a model tribunal for property claims after Fidel Castro dies. Some Cuba experts say it's a waste of money -- because Creighton had no experience in Cuba-related property-rights research.

''I just want an opportunity for Cubans to come here, back and forth,'' said Adolfo Franco, the director of USAID's program for Latin America and the Caribbean. ``But you know what? The standard should be applied across the board in a fair way and not dictated by the Cuban government.''

Although its academic successes are few so far, USAID stands to garner up to $10 million more, thanks to the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba II, a group convened by President Bush and headed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez.

The commission has recommended spending $80 million more in the next two years for humanitarian aid, education, exchanges and scholarships for Cubans studying in the states.

Peter Orr, the first director of USAID's Cuba program, said USAID funding to universities is a waste: ``If you really don't want to achieve anything with the money, you throw money at a university who says we're going to have an exchange program, and they go ahead and give the grant, even though anybody who knows anything about Cuba knows it won't work.''


Throughout the seven years that FIU has tried to train journalists, the Cuban government has routinely blocked educators from visiting the island. Virtue, who held classes in Havana just once, tried to train Cuban students in third countries -- only to have the Cuban government withhold exit visas.

FIU resorted to training by mail, and now also video-conferencing from the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, where independent journalists attend a live session.

''I think we have shown good results for it,'' Virtue said.

Among the successful graduates is Claudia Márquez, who left Cuba two years ago for Puerto Rico and runs her own website and publishes stories on other Internet sites.

Said Márquez -- one of the four independent journalists who completed the program after studying journalism, ethics and investigative reporting: ``It was a huge opportunity, and I appreciate it very much.''

But some of the would-be Cuban journalists say the program can be frustrating.

''I know many colleagues from the independent press in Cuba who registered [for the FIU course], sent in their work and nothing ever happened,'' said Juan Gonzalez Feble, an independent journalist in Havana, in a recent telephone interview. ``We never heard from them again.''

Virtue said many of the students may have sent in assignments and paperwork to be evaluated, but Cuban agents probably confiscated their work.


Because FIU's International Media Center is funded by USAID, it is not allowed to pay journalists in Cuba with government funding for their work, a policy that frustrates the program's directors. The center also edits work produced by independent reporters on the island and looks for publications outside Cuba to publish those reports.

''Many of the people dealing with Cuba, including many in the government, find it very frustrating not to be able to pay the journalists,'' Virtue said.

''It's great that the U.S. is helping the people of Cuba to achieve democracy,'' Feble said. ``They have to remember that the theater of operations is the island of Cuba. It's not Miami.''


The University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies has received more money than any other academic institution to promote democracy in Cuba, about $2.5 million.

The program has produced several forums and about 35 research papers on what a post-Castro Cuba might encounter.

Roger Noriega, former undersecretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, said the USAID program should focus on groups that are helping people inside instead of academic studies.

''Frankly, I'm less interested in studies,'' Noriega said. ``My experience has been that these stacks of materials end up on people's bookshelves.''

The Cuba Transition Project, as the UM grant is named, is headed by UM professor Jaime Suchlicki. He has been a key player in the USAID strategy to try to democratize Cuba, managing more U.S. pro-democracy money than any other person as of 2005 -- more than $7 million since 1999.

About $5 million of those funds went to Cuba OnLine, a venture that published a newsletter, Sin Censura -- Without Censorship -- and specialized in mailing anti-Castro material to the island.

Part of Suchlicki's salary at UM is reimbursed with federal funds from the Cuba Transition Project; he also received a $2,000 monthly salary from USAID-funded Cuba OnLine, a program he said expired in September. And he hosts a show called Opiniones on Radio Martí, for which he is paid $100 a show, earning about $18,000 the past three years, federal records show. Suchlicki said he began the program after he was paid between $1,000 and $2,000 as a subcontractor for a consultant, Herbert Levin, hired by the Office of Cuba Broadcasting to analyze proposed programming changes.

''Nobody is going to buy me for $100 or $1,000. I'm an independent thinker,'' Suchlicki said.


In Washington, Georgetown University had picked 20 Cuban students out of almost 400 applicants for scholarships, but only one has attended -- because the Cuban government won't let anyone else leave the island to study.

Georgetown spokesman Erik M. Smulson said in an e-mail that the 20 students were chosen ``on the basis of their leadership potential and academic aptitude.''

Georgetown has spent about $112,000 of the $400,000 for the one student's expenses, plus administrative costs of the program. A typical Georgetown student spends $48,000 a year to attend. The rest of the grant is still active, Smulson said.

USAID and Georgetown refused to provide copies of the grant application or to name the student.

Franco, the director of USAID's program for Latin America and the Caribbean, said the agency should not cease trying to give scholarships to Cuban students because the government doesn't let students out.

''The [proof] of the pudding in here is that the government of Cuba is scared to death to give an opportunity to the Cuban people to come to the United States and return to Cuba,'' Franco said.


At Loyola University in Chicago, government and university officials in 2004 hailed the signing of a two-year, $425,000 USAID grant, for an exchange program for Cuban students called the ``Henry Hyde Program of People-to-People Development.''

Attending the ceremony: U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., a Loyola alumnus and chairman of the House International Relations Committee, and Franco.

The goal: teach English as a second language to people in Havana.

Loyola's Cuban partners refused to participate because Loyola was getting U.S. government money -- even though the Chicago school pledged that its program was apolitical. By April 2005, Loyola dropped the program but kept the grant in hopes of reviving the program.

When there was no U.S. government money involved, students at the Jesuit university taught English for two-week intervals at Centro LaSalle, a Catholic center in Havana.

Loyola and USAID refused to provide copies of the grant application. Hyde didn't return phone calls and e-mails seeking comment.


At Creighton, USAID gave the law school in Nebraska a $750,000 grant last year to study the issue of property restitution for Cubans who lost land to Castro's revolution. USAID's Franco graduated from Creighton Law School.

USAID spokeswoman Jessica Garcia said Franco did not influence the award. She also said the agency seeks grant applications, and a government interagency committee reviews, ranks and recommends applicants.

''Creighton won the award through the competitive [bidding] process,'' Garcia said in an e-mail. USAID would not specify what other institutions bid for the grant.

A Government Accountability Office audit released Wednesday said, ''the USAID Assistant Administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean authorized the negotiation of awards for both unsolicited and solicited proposals.'' The audit also said USAID's Cuba program office, which is overseen by Franco, ``recommends USAID democracy assistance awards.''

Creighton Law School Dean Pat Borchers acknowledged the university had no experience in Cuba property research but said the school is qualified to produce the report. Two of Creighton's seven grant researchers speak fluent Spanish, Borchers said. He said he wrote a law school case book that included ''materials'' on the 1996 Helms Burton law, which governs U.S. policy toward Cuba. And some in the research team also have experience in conflict resolution law, Borchers added.

Creighton researchers have traveled to Miami to consult experts, Borchers said. One of them is Nick Gutierrez, a local lawyer who has established a niche practice representing people who want their property back or compensation for their loss.

''I think they need some guidance,'' said Gutierrez, who said he met with Creighton representatives at a Cuban American Bar Association conference in June. ``I am surprised that they [Creighton] got it [the grant]. I'm not so surprised when I see that Adolfo Franco from USAID is an alumnus.''

Franco said through a spokeswoman that he ''played no role whatsoever'' in the award.

Gutierrez said Creighton's distance from the exile community can help it come up with a credible report. If such a report came from a South Florida institution, Gutierrez said, ``maybe people would feel it's not completely independent because it might be a mouthpiece for the Cuban exile community.''


Another U.S.-funded organization that helps promote democracy in Cuba -- The National Endowment for Democracy -- won't fund universities because administrative and overhead costs run as high as 65 percent at universities, said NED Vice President Barbara Haig.

''Is there a shortage of research on Cuba? I don't think there really is. It's just very painful to pay that kind of indirect cost rate,'' said Haig, adding that other programs keep administrative expenses at one-third those rates.

Georgetown declined to specify those costs, and Loyola did not respond to an e-mail request. Creighton officials said their program's indirect costs were 42 percent, and FIU's international media program's indirect costs were 24 percent.

Julio Aliaga Pesant, an independent journalist and former University of Havana professor expelled two years ago for his political beliefs, said the U.S. should spend the money inside Cuba.

''I think that with one-tenth of what the U.S. government gives to exterior projects, they'd subvert the government in Cuba if they got it to the right groups and people here,'' Aliaga Pesant said.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Yet another UN embargo vote

Posted on Thu, Nov. 09, 2006

End Cuban embargo, U.N. urges U.S.

Associated Press

NEW YORK - The U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to urge the United States to end its 45-year-old trade embargo against Cuba after defeating an Australian amendment calling on Fidel Castro's government to free political prisoners and respect human rights.

It was the 15th straight year that the 192-member world body approved a resolution calling for the U.S. economic and commercial embargo against Cuba to be repealed ``as soon as possible.''

Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque told the assembly ``the economic war unleashed by the U.S. against Cuba, the longest and most ruthless ever known, qualifies as an act of genocide and constitutes a flagrant violation of international law and the charter of the United Nations.''

Delegates in the General Assembly chamber burst into applause when the vote in favor of the the resolution flashed on the screen -- 183-4 with one abstention. That was a one-vote improvement over last year's vote of 182-4 with one abstention. Joining the United States in voting ''no'' were Israel, Marshall Islands and Palau, while Micronesia abstained.

The assembly voted on the resolution soon after adopting a resolution to take ''no action'' on the Australian amendment, which meant it could not be added to the Cuban draft. That vote was 126-51 with five abstentions.

The proposed amendment stated that the U.S. laws and measures ``were motivated by valid concerns about the continued lack of democracy and political freedom in Cuba.''

It would have had the assembly call upon ``the Cuban government to release unconditionally all political prisoners, cooperate fully with international human rights bodies and mechanisms, respect the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and comply fully with its obligations under all human rights treaties to which it is a state party.''

Castro's health reportedly deteriorating

Posted on Sun, Nov. 12, 2006
Miami Herald
U.S.: Castro's health is deteriorating

Associated Press

WASHINGTON - The government believes Fidel Castro's health is deteriorating and that the Cuban dictator is unlikely to live through 2007.

That dire view was reinforced last week when Cuba's foreign minister backed away from his prediction the ailing Castro would return to power by early December. "It's a subject on which I don't want to speculate," Felipe Perez Roque told The Associated Press in Havana.

U.S. government officials say there is still some mystery about Castro's diagnosis, his treatment and how he is responding. But these officials believe the 80-year-old leader has cancer of the stomach, colon or pancreas.

He was seen weakened and thinner in official state photos released late last month, and it is considered unlikely that he will return to power or survive through the end of next year, said the U.S. government and defense officials. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the politically sensitive topic.

With chemotherapy, Castro may live up to 18 months, said the defense official. Without it, expected survival would drop to three months to eight months.

American officials will not talk publicly about how they glean clues to Castro's health. But U.S. spy agencies include physicians who study pictures, video, public statements and other information coming out of Cuba.

A planned celebration of Castro's 80th birthday next month is expected to draw international attention. The Cuban leader had planned to attend the public event, which already had been postponed once from his Aug. 13 birthday.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Posada deadline set

Decision time on Cuban's detention
The U.S. government has until Feb. 1 to prosecute Luis Posada Carriles, wanted abroad in a jet bombing case.

LA Times
By Carol J. Williams
Times Staff Writer

November 7, 2006

MIAMI — He has admitted to bombing Havana hotels, served time for plotting to assassinate Fidel Castro and for more than 20 years was a fugitive from charges of blowing up a Cuban airliner.

But 17 months after Luis Posada Carriles was arrested and sent to a Texas immigration lockup, U.S. officials have declined to label him a terrorist or charge him with a crime. On Friday, a federal judge in El Paso gave the U.S. government until Feb. 1 to bring a case against Posada or the reputed bomber will be freed.

He has become a political liability for the Bush administration in its declared global war on terrorism.

As a veteran of nearly five decades of covert operations in Latin America, including the Bay of Pigs invasion, clandestine Cold War actions and the Iran-Contra affair, Posada knows where Washington's bodies are buried.

If Posada, 79, were to be prosecuted, he probably would seek to defend himself against any criminal charges by arguing that his violent actions were on behalf of his CIA masters.

His Miami lawyer, Eduardo Soto, alluded to his client's past collaboration with U.S. intelligence services as he pressed the Cuban militant's unsuccessful quest for political asylum.

"A public trial of Luis Posada would certainly reveal embarrassing details on the degree to which U.S. covert operatives used terrorism as a tool in the 1960s," said Peter Kornbluh of the independent National Security Archive at George Washington University.

Kornbluh has compiled declassified CIA and FBI evidence of Posada's role in the 1976 plane bombing, near Barbados, of a Cuban airliner in which all 73 on board died. Among the documents in the archive's online dossier is one recently obtained through Freedom of Information Act litigation that shows Posada informed his CIA minders of the plot to blow up the airliner three months ahead of the attack.

The administration has avoided bringing a criminal case against Posada, who enjoys strong support among Miami's politically powerful Cuban exiles, by handling him like any other immigration offender and simply seeking his deportation.

Posada returned to Florida in March 2005, reportedly on a fellow exile's shrimp boat sent to fetch him from an island off the Yucatan Peninsula. He'd made his way there six months after being pardoned by outgoing Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso in August 2004 after serving four years for attempting to kill Castro at a Panama summit in 2000.

Moscoso's clemency decree for Posada and three U.S. militants was seen as a favor to the Bush administration in a presidential election year when the Cuban exile vote in Florida was vital.

Posada moved about Miami with impunity, despite indignant demands for his extradition by Cuba and Venezuela, where he is a naturalized citizen. Authorities arrested him two months after his arrival when he invited journalists to his Miami residence for a news conference.

A federal immigration judge in El Paso, where Posada has been held since May 2005, ruled last year that he should be deported to a country other than Venezuela or Cuba, which want to try him for the jetliner bombing. The federal government has spurned those countries' extradition requests, contending Posada would be at risk of torture or execution.

The State Department approached at least six friendly foreign governments to take Posada, but Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, Panama, Costa Rica and El Salvador all refused. The Mexican government later said it would hand Posada over to Cuba if he reentered Mexico.

Soto argued in August that U.S. authorities couldn't hold Posada indefinitely after abandoning efforts to send him abroad. U.S. Magistrate Norbert Garney agreed, and recommended in September that Posada be released.

In October, the Justice Department urged the court to keep Posada in jail.

"Luis Posada Carriles is an admitted mastermind of terrorist plots and attacks. The Department of Justice believes that Posada is a flight risk and that his release would be a danger to the community," said spokeswoman Tasia Scolinos.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement then notified Posada that the government had decided to prolong his detention because of concerns that his release "would have serious foreign policy consequences," according to an agency statement.

Under anti-terrorism powers claimed by the administration, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has only to ask Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzalez to brand Posada a terrorist to keep him locked up while the government pursues criminal action, said David Sebastian, Soto's paralegal on the case.

Much as the administration can indefinitely detain terrorism suspects at Guantanamo without legal recourse or formal charges, it can hold Posada on grounds that he poses a national security threat. The Justice Department missive makes clear that the administration considers him a terrorist but has yet to pursue that formal designation.

Soto has filed a writ of habeas corpus challenging the government's continued jailing of Posada on the immigration violation. That move presents a dilemma for the administration: It could be forced to let a man they call a terrorist walk free or prosecute him and risk public airing of some of Washington's darkest secrets.

U.S. District Judge Philip Martinez on Friday gave the administration the Feb. 1 deadline to prosecute or release Posada.

Neither the State Department nor the Justice Department would say what, if any, actions were being taken to ensure Posada remains in detention.

Posada's fellow militants launched a petition drive demanding that the administration release him before today's election or risk losing support for GOP candidates from among the anti-Castro constituency.

"Some of us vote for President Bush. Others, like me, vote against him because he doesn't do anything for Cuba," said Juan Torres Mena, a vice director of the Brigade 2506 Bay of Pigs veterans association.

"Those fighting against communism are in jail now," he said. "Before we were freedom fighters. Now we're terrorists."