Cuba – ‘operatives’ or simply civic activists?

If there are two things that inspire me it’s a ramped up, over-the-top, scurrilous AP story about democracy promotion and a Broadway musical–especially a Rodgers and Hammerstein production, writes Christopher Sabatini, editor-in-chief of Americas Quarterly and senior director of policy at the Americas Society and Council of the Americas:

So, here is my adaptation of the classic Sound of Music,  “My Favorite Things,” based on the recent series of articles published by AP on USAID’s democracy program in Cuba.  The non-bracketed, italicized parts are sung to the music of “My Favorite Things.”  

Calling USAID agents,

when they’re just bureaucrats.

 [As in the Zun Zuneo story, where it refers to “agents of the US government, working in deep secrecy..”   USAID officers are not agents.  They may be poorly dressed, overly earnest bureaucrats. But agents?  No one describes them that way--except AP.]….

Referring to Gross,

on a top “secret mission.”

 These are a few of my favorite words!

 When deadline calls,

when the editor barks,

when I’m feeling down,

I simply pull out,

some of my favorite words,

and then I don’t feel so…bad.

Saying “deployed,”

when sent would  be better.

 [As in the first sentence of the August 4 AP story which says that the U.S. agency “deployed” Latin American youth to “work undercover” when they hadn’t been trained in the dangers of “clandestine operations.”   You deploy the military; I’m not sure you deploy activists to an island by sending them there. But wow, that sounds great, doesn’t it?  They’ve definitely deployed a great verb.  I bet it was those “agent” ideas to do that.]  

Using “assignment”,

and “guise” and “recruitment.”

[In the August story, the authors claim that Costa Rican and Venezuelan activists had an “assignment” to “recruit” Cubans for “anti-government activism” under the “guise of civic programs” with “security codes.”  Unfortunately, all the quotes above are mine, not APs, indicating that this inflammatory language was not in the actual documents they FOIA’d, leading one to conclude that they must have come from the AP reporters‘ fevered creative writing.  Sweet!]

Referring to activists,

by calling them “operatives.”

[…Several times the August 4 article describes the people USAID sent to Cuba who were working for NGOs as “operatives” for no apparent reason--though at one point it says they “posed as tourists” (please see my last blog post on that.)]….. 

[In the August 4 report, there are also other sloppily used terms like “bankrolling” (why not funding, except for the fact that bankrolling sounds illicit?), “blowing their mission” or the description that the HIV workshops were “supposed to offer straightforward sex education.”  [emphasis mine] or that the workshops were a “recruiting ground”  for “ginning up opposition” or “stirring unrest.”   Democracy programs the world over work with community groups to help them gain civic tools and experience; that doesn’t make them subversive, just useful.]…. 


Cuba: religious freedom violations continue to rise

cuba relig repress

Pastor Esmir Torreblanca standing in the ruins of his church and home. Photo: CSW.

The Cuban government continues to repress religious believers and its Office of Religious Affairs, responsible for official permits to worship, continues to monitors and harasses churches, according to a new report from the widely-respected, UK-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide. The well-documented report, which covers a period of 19 months ending in July of this year, includes details of the destruction of churches and notes that the Office of Religious Affairs is an official organ of the Cuban Communist Party, writes Frank Calzon, Executive Director of the Center for a Free Cuba.

Religious leaders say that if there is a need for supervision of the churches, it should be done by the government, and not by an arm of the ruling Party. This unique situation was alluded to by Pope John Paul II when he visited Cuba and called on the authorities to set aside “antiquated structures.”

The report calls on the European Union, the United States government, and other governments around the world not to ignore both religious repression in Cuba and the fact that “over the past decades the Castro regime has proved adept at sleight of hand tricks to convince the international community that it is committed to improvements in the human rights situation. Its approach to religious freedom has been no different.”

“Despite government claims of increased respect for religious freedom, reported violation of religious freedom in Cuba continued to increase dramatically,” CSW says. The report entitled “Cuba: Religious Freedom” says that “government agents continued to employ more brutal and public tactics than witnessed in the first decade of the millennium.” Christians in Cuba continue to report varying levels of discrimination in educational institutions and in their places of employment,” CSW says.

The scarcity of Bibles and other religious literature is due to “harsh government restrictions on the import of Bibles and other religious materials and a lack of access to printing infrastructure in the island.” The organization says that it has received “sporadic reports of violent beatings of Protestant Pastors and lay workers in different parts of the country.”

“Week after week, scores of women were physically and violently dragged away from Sunday morning services by state security agents,” and in many parts of the island, particularly in rural areas “the government has destroyed church properties.”

“On 2 July 2014 Cuban government agents including state security and Cuban Communist Party officials, destroyed a church and home affiliated with the Apostolic Movement in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba. The unannounced demolition of the Establishing the Kingdom of God Church began at 6am while the owners of the home and their young children were sleeping inside.”

“They arrived and violently broke down the front door which was locked, the police entered with batons alongside a group of men carrying machetes. They began to destroy and occupy the properties of the pastor and the church,” according to Pastor Marcos A. Perdomo Silva, a church leader.  

“Photos taken at the scene show uniformed officers directing a bulldozer leveling the area where the church and home stood… Pastor Esmir Torreblanca, his wife, and his two children aged two and seven were left homeless…The following Sunday, members of the church met at the site for open air worship.” 

Frank Calzon is Executive Director of the Center for a Free Cuba.

Cuba, human rights and Latin America’s ‘meaningless multilateralism’

cubasantiestabanAs the U.S. experiences a surge in Cuban rafters aiming for Florida, a Costa Rican human rights group is disputing an Associated Press report that its activities in Cuba were covertly designed to foment a revolution against the communist regime, according to InterAmerican Security Watch:

Fernando Murillo, founder and CEO of Fundacion Operacion GAYA Internacional (FundaOGI), accused the AP in a statement of “manipulat[ing]” information about the group’s HIV-prevention workshop in Cuba. The AP reported on Monday that the workshop was part of a “clandestine operation” overseen by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) with the goal of “ginning up rebellion” on the island.

“[The AP] manipulated information in order to make it look like FundaOGI had instructions to set up cultural and artistic activities in an undercover way for destabilizing ends, which is totally false,” Murillo said.

Additionally, other defenders of the USAID program have raised concerns RTWT

Over the past decade, the United States’ influence in Latin America has declined, notes a leading analyst.

At the same time, China and India have emerged as important markets for the region’s exports. (China has become Argentina and Brazil’s largest export market, and the second-largest market for Chile, Peru, and Venezuela), Christopher Sabatini writes for Foreign Affairs:

There is also an ideological aspect to the region’s rebalancing. Washington’s free market economic model lost favor among South Americans after it was widely (though wrongly) blamed for stagnating economies and growing income disparity. Since then, many Latin Americans have wanted to create a new global economic and diplomatic order, one in which the United States does not play a dominant role.

The first attempts to bring such an order about were led by leftists, including former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, then President of Cuba Fidel Castro, and future Bolivian President Evo Morales. In 2004, Chavez and Castro created an explicitly anti-American bloc called the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas (ALBA) to promote the integration of Latin America as a counterpoint to the United States and its plans to create a free trade area of the Americas. By contrast, Brazil’s more calculating diplomatic elites encouraged the creation of organizations that shared ALBA’s goals of reducing U.S. involvement in the region but were less stridently ideological, capable of attracting moderate governments as well as leftist ones, and ultimately containing their Bolivarian neighbors’ more anti-globalization vision. Brazil sponsored the creation of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) in 2008 and, with Mexico, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) in 2011, with the stated goal of promoting regional solidarity and independence. Brasilia still largely underwrites both groups.

By refusing to acknowledge that member states had a moral and legal responsibility to respect human rights, these organizations are weakening the region’s democratic norms — norms that the region’s previous multilateral groups had tried to uphold, notes Sabatini, the senior director of policy at the Americas Society and Council of the Americas (AS/COA) and founder and editor-in-chief of the hemispheric policy magazine Americas Quarterly:

For all its many flaws, the Organization of American States (OAS), founded in 1948, had by the early 1990s finally established an effective consensus to meaningfully protect democratic norms — long a stated goal of the organization but often honored more in the breach than in practice. From monitoring the elections that helped create peace in war-torn Central America in the 1990s to making a stand against the authoritarian governments of the Dominican Republic in 1995 and Peru in 2000, when it organized collective denunciations of clearly stolen elections, the OAS proved that it was not afraid to stand up to recalcitrant governments when they violated basic political standards. Unfortunately, the new regional organizations, lacking the requisite legal authority and political power, don’t follow this precedent. Quite the opposite: by explicitly endorsing the sovereignty of the state, they have eroded individual rights and international norms.


Aid civil society for a ‘Cuba without shackles’

cuba - civil rightsOver the past 30 to 40 years, Latin America has experienced a series of political transitions to governments chosen by the people, open to information, and to democracy. This has since been the policy of the United States toward Latin America, says Jaime Suchlicki, Director of the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies.

The United States’ strategy toward Cuba is the same it employed in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Cuba is an enemy state; it supports terrorism, traffics in humans disguised as humanitarian programs that send reluctant doctors, nurses and workers overseas. Cuba is a friend of Iran, Syria, North Korea, Russia, and, of course, Venezuela.

To assume that the United States will change its policies without first obtaining concessions from Cuba shows a lack of understanding of international relations. For the U.S. to change its Cuba policy, Cuba has to change too…..The issue at hand is that the Cuban regime refuses to provide concrete and real concessions. But then again, no totalitarian government is willing to offer concessions that lead to their demise such as uncensored Internet access, open political processes, or free elections.

For example, in Chile General Pinochet was willing to carry out a popular referendum which he lost and as a consequence opened the democratic process. General Raul Castro’s government is not willing to do so……

What does the Cuban government want? Raul Castro’s government wants:

  1. The unilateral ending of all travel restrictions.
  2. Access to more credits to purchase products in the U.S. and in other countries.

Yet Cuba has not repaid credits provided by Venezuela, France, Spain, and even the former Soviet Union, among other countries. Cuba is not willing to open the political process, allow uncensored Internet access, or change the political system in exchange for these concessions.

Cuba is not isolated; instead it has partnered all over the world with its allies Venezuela, China, Russia and Iran. The Castro brothers do not want the U.S. involved in Cuba’s internal affairs.

Let’s take a look at the efforts from outside of Cuba to promote real change. We have to begin by remembering during the Cold War, the U.S. promoted several activities in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union:

  1. Radio Free Europe
  2. Smuggling information inside Russia, and Eastern Europe
  3. Support for Poland’s Solidarity movement
  4. Support for Poland’s Catholic Church.

In fact, I do not recall any Eastern European exile saying, “I want all restrictions lifted so I can invest in Poland,” or “I want to send more packages there,” or “I want more tourists to travel to Poland because they are going to change the system.”

To those who think American tourism is going to change Cuba, I propose to open a travel agency to send tourists to North Korea. No one thinks that tourists will make a difference there so why would they make a difference in Cuba?……

Another important topic that should be discussed and publicized is the exploitation of the Cuban worker by the State and by foreign companies. Cubans are modern day slaves of foreign investors and the Castro government. Foreign companies pay the Cuban government in hard currency and the government pays the workers in convertible pesos, keeping 90% of the foreign payments.

Why doesn’t the United Nations or the American government condemn this practice? Why don’t they point out that only fair skinned Cubans are hired by foreign companies? Or that white, not black, Cubans receive most of the Cuban-American remittances? Or where are the programs that are supposed to help black Cubans?

We should use our resources to help Cubans inside the island, to help the civil society, penetrate the political systems and provide information. …I find it ironic that some Cuban-American entrepreneurs that have made money in the U.S., and benefited from a free society, rule of law and democracy, are embracing insignificant economic changes in Cuba, in the hope that it will lead to a political change; even when it means engaging with the current system.

Cubans have to have control over their businesses and freely choose their government. It is the people that should choose their own representatives, in free elections, Cuba’s future political system. We must have a vision of a democratic Cuba. It does not matter if it takes 10 or 20 more years. I may not see it but my children will.


This excerpt is taken from Professor Jaime Suchlicki’s presentation during the “Acciones y Opciones para el Empoderamiento de la Sociedad Civil en Cuba” Forum.  This event was hosted by the Foro de Promoción Democrática Continental (FPDC) on June 28, 2014 at Florida International University’s College of Law.

Note: to watch videos of the forum in Spanish visit the Cuba Transition Project (CTP) website at, and click on “New/Relevant.”

*Jaime Suchlicki is Emilio Bacardi Moreau Distinguished Professor and Director, Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami. He is the author of Cuba: From Columbus to Castro, now in its fifth edition; Mexico: From Montezuma to the Rise of PAN, now in its second edition and the recently published Breve Historia de Cuba.

Amid growing dissent, Cuba takes repressive turn

cuba perezPolitical dissent is one the rise in Cuba, says a leading expert.

“If by dissent one means people who are out on the streets demanding a change in the political regime, there’s a lot more than there used to be in the 1980s and 1970s, but there’s not a lot,” according to Harvard University’s Jorge Dominguez. “If by dissent one means they disagree with the policies of the Cuban government on topic x, y, or z and are prepared to say so, that actually happens now with increasing regularity,” he told CNN’s Global Public Square.

Today, Cuban democracy leader, Yris Perez Aguilera, wife of former political prisoner, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez “Antunez,” was received by U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, Bob Menendez (D-NJ), and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) below, Capitol Hill Cubans reports:

The president of Cuba’s Rosa Parks Civil Rights Movement had a clear message for the Congressional Black Caucus.

“They should look closely at Cuba’s Council of State, and see how many black Cubans they find there,” Perez said:

A quick glance at the pictures of Cuba’s top government body on their own website reveals that only eight out of 31 are black, and there’s only one black Cuban in the top echelon constituted by seven vice presidents and President Raul Castro.

While racial figures are hard to come by, mainly because Castro’s own figures distort the island’s ethnic makeup (its latest claim that the black population was 10 percent and the white population 65 percent is risible), visitors report that the population that is black or mixed is now a majority. The Economist put it this way in 2008: “Mr Castro’s Cuba is a sad place. Although the population is now mainly black or mulatto and young, its rulers form a mainly white gerontocracy.”

“Around 75 percent of the people in prison are black,” said Perez. “Black Cubans have no rights.”cuba perez 2

Perez would like to meet with members of the CBC while she’s here in Washington to explain to them Cuba’s realities. ….

“While I was languishing in prison, they paraded around Havana. My sister tried to deliver a petition asking them to come and visit me. They didn’t even accept it,” said Perez, who’s married to Cuba’s best known dissident, Jorge Luís García Perez, known as Antúnez and also as Cuba’s Nelson Mandela. Jorge Perez also constantly suffers imprisonment and beatings at the hands of the regime.

Eight years after General Raul Castro took the reigns as Cuba’s dictator-in-chief due to his older brother Fidel’s illness, he is portrayed by those seeking to normalize relations with Cuba as a reformer,’ but, the facts tell a different story, writes Mauricio Claver-Carone:

If eight years ago, we would have predicted that the Cuban regime under Raul Castro would be resuming military-intelligence gathering operations with Russia at the Lourdes Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) facility near Havana – we would have been dismissed as “Cold Warriors.”

If we would have predicted that the Cuban regime would be caught red-handed smuggling 240 tons of weapons to North Korea – the largest weapons cache discovered since U.N. Security Council sanctions towards the Kim regime were enacted – we would have been derided as instigators.

If we would have predicted that the Cuban regime would wrest political and operational control of the most resource-rich nation in Latin America, Venezuela; that it would undermine that nation’s democratic institutions; and direct a campaign of repression that would result in the arrest, torture and murder of innocent student protesters – we would have been mocked as delusional.

If we would have predicted that repression would rise dramatically in Cuba under Raul Castro; that political arrests would at least triple; that opposition activists Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Juan Wilfredo Soto and Wilmar Villar would be murdered; and democracy leaders Laura Pollan of The Ladies in White and Oswaldo Paya of the Christian Liberation Movement would die under mysterious circumstances – we would have been accused of exaggerating.