Friday, June 26, 2009

Welcome FP Cuba Blog!

There's a fantastic new blog about Cuba and U.S.-Cuba relations. It comes from the Foreign Policy Association and its blog network, "the largest network of global affairs blogs online." It doesn't have a specific name, but we can call it the Foreign Policy Cuba Blog. It is authored by Melissa Lockhart who seems to have an excellent background on the subject.

It's gonna be very exciting to have the FP Cuba Blog on the blogroll (check out yesterday's post on a French research student in Cuba), and make sure you pay a visit and read her older posts (which go back to February 2009).

Here's a post that provides a good indication of where the blog stands on some issues:

"The point is not that the United States is right and Cuba is wrong, nor that the political/economic system the United States has is perfect (far from it) and Cuba must emulate it. Pointing fingers like this results in a stalemate where everyone is wrong, or else no one is.

"Let’s be clear: a country like the United States, which over recent years has allowed torture, unjust war and financial disaster to occur, does not deserve our lauding at the expense of giving attention to those failures. Nor, therefore, does Cuba deserve praise for its health and education system if praise is given without recognition of the country’s economic, social and political shortcomings, not to mention its holding of political prisoners and treatment of dissidents*."

*[Link provided by FP Cuba Blog author.]

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Tougher Times Ahead

According to the latest reports, "the World Bank said the global recession this year will be deeper than it predicted... The world economy will contract 2.9 percent...Unemployment is on the rise, and poverty is set to increase in developing economies, bringing with it a substantial deterioration in conditions for the world’s poor."

In the video above, the BBC reports on the latest cutbacks in Cuba which will make daily life much harder than before. The Cuban Triangle blog recently mentioned that conserving energy is a current priority for the Cuban government, hence the cutbacks on air-conditioning and public transportation.

In these tough times, you can certainly expect some Cuban exile groups to become more aggressive in their campaigns to support the Cuban opposition. Earlier this week, some exile groups revealed their latest campaign effort called "We Are All Resistance." It is a campaign effort that first began in 2006, and initially described as "Non-Cooperation."

Thursday, June 18, 2009

TV Marti Under the Microscope

Yesterday, the U.S. House Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight heard important testimony concerning the effectiveness of TV Marti, the U.S.-funded television broadcast aimed at Cuba. (In 2006, TV Marti began transmitting from AeroMarti [photo] costing Americans at least $5 million annually.)

In sum, TV Marti is not reaching a significant or discernible audience inside Cuba, and its transmission should be terminated due to its weak signal. Instead, other options to reach a broader Cuban audience should be considered (such as satellite or internet), and an assessment of a reformed Radio and TV Marti (operating with a smaller budget) should be scheduled.

Jess T. Ford, one of the directors of the International Affairs and Trade department of the Government Accountability Office (GAO), submitted before the Subcommittee a report [PDF] stating that the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB), which operates Radio and TV Marti, has trouble finding a good measure of their audience in Cuba, but telephone surveys nonetheless report a very small audience (less than 1% of the population).

"Due to the U.S. government’s lack of access to Cuba, OCB has difficulty obtaining nationally representative data on its audience size. In addition, decision-makers have limited information to help assess the relative success or return on investment from each of OCB’s various transmission methods... Specifically, less than 1 percent of respondents to [International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB)] telephone surveys since 2003 reported that they had watched TV Marti during the past week. Notably, results from the 2006 and 2008 telephone surveys show no increase in reported TV Marti viewership following the launch of AeroMarti and DirecTV broadcasting in 2006."

Tim Shamble [PDF of testimony], President of the American Federation of Government Employees, Local 1812, representing membership employees at the OCB, agreed that TV Marti transmission is the main problem and held reservations for changing the programming at OCB:

"Regular terrestrial television transmission was never a very good option for TV Marti... A better option would be to keep the long form news and information programming, eliminate terrestrial television broadcasting and use the savings to invest in newer technologies to deliver the video produced."

(Only recently, since late last year, has Radio and TV Marti started uploading video on YouTube for example.)

Philip Peters, Vice President of the Lexington Institute and blogger at the Cuban Triangle, added anecdotal evidence in support of TV Marti's non-existent audience inside Cuba [PDF of testimony]:

"I cannot recall how many times I have asked Cubans in Cuba, all across Cuba, about TV Marti and have received the same answer: 'No se ve' ('It's not seen'). For years, I have asked diplomats and clergy and journalists who travel regularly around the island, and get the same answer."

Peters also provided excellent alternatives to expensive broadcasts towards Cuba:

"... the flow of information and ideas on the part of individual travelers and our nation’s vibrant civil society – universities, professional associations, humanitarian and religious groups, cultural and sports organizations – would far outweigh the impact of two decades of funds spent on TV Marti."

One specific (and excellent) alternative Peters provides involves Nicholas Negroponte's One Laptop per Child Program:

"The program developed its own laptop, the XO, which costs about $200 and allows users to communicate with each other through a wireless mesh network, so that all users in a local area are interconnected. TV Marti’s 19-year budget would have paid for 950,000 XO laptops for Cuban children."


"It is more likely that the Congress can do far more to increase communication with Cuba by taking away restrictions on American liberties than by taking our tax dollars to spend on government programs."

Finally (saving the best for last), John S. Nichols also testified yesterday. Nichols [bio], in addition to being recognized as an outstanding university professor, has been doing research on Radio and TV Marti since their first transmissions, and has written about them extensively over the years. Most imporantly, he provided yesterday the most convincing testimony on TV Marti's weak signal towards Cuba based on his research from the island:

"The broadcast version of TV Marti is not seen in populated areas of Cuba and, almost without exception, has not been seen since the station went on the air in 1990... The TV Marti signal is very weak after it traverses the Strait of Florida and reaches the Cuban coastline. All the Cuban government needs to do is fill the same channel with its own, low-power signal and the TV Marti signal is disrupted and cannot be seen in the surrounding area."

And concerning, TV Marti's satellite broadcast:

"Surveys by both the U.S. and Cuban governments, in-country reporting by foreign journalists, and anecdotal evidence all indicate that the overwhelming majority of Cubans with access to satellite dish television strongly prefer other programming."

And, about AeroMarti:

"Virtually no one can see the broadcasts from AeroMarti, and Congress' continued investment in that technology is a complete and total waste of taxpayer dollars."

The Marti News website, along with the Voice of America, has already reported on yesterday's Subcommittee hearing. Both news outlets operate under the International Broadcasting Bureau of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. El Nuevo Herald also has the story, but with a very strange headline: "Congressman Launches Attack on TV Marti." Outside of Miami, the same story by Nestor Ikeda has a different (accurate and less hostile) headline. (What's with the editors at El Nuevo Herald?)

Anway, TV Marti seemed doomed from the start, but has been predictably exploited politically in Miami. An excellent book called "Psywar on Cuba" highlights some declassified documents showing how OCB management (Rolando Bonachea) tried to hide the poor numbers found in audience surveys of TV Marti in its first few years of broadcast [Page 296]. Instead, they preferred the use of flawed methodology to produce false audience numbers.

For Miami's Cuban-American political leadership, Radio and TV Marti represents something more than audience numbers, it is a moral obligation, and therefore an exploitable political position. Last year, when local journalist Kirk Nielsen questioned Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart over the effectiveness of Radio and TV Marti, he received ridiculous denials from the Congressman. "The reports aren't what you're saying, though!... They’re actually pretty good!" said Rep. Diaz-Balart to Nielsen. Nielsen then exposes the lie in his article.

Of course, the audience numbers of Radio and TV Marti have to be concealed from the public. Why? Because that's how the Broadcasting Board of Governors judges the effectiveness of its broadcast organizations, including Radio and TV Marti. Then, you must be wondering: how the heck did TV Marti get the extra budget in 2006 for AeroMarti?!

Easy, Pres. George W. Bush promised it to Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart.

[Photo by AP]

Friday, June 5, 2009

BUSTED: Agents 202 and 123 [Updated 2]

Fresh from the U.S. Justice Department:

[Excerpts below]

"An indictment and criminal complaint unsealed today in the District of Columbia charge Walter Kendall Myers, 72, a.k.a. 'Agent 202,' and his wife, Gwendolyn Steingraber Myers, 71, a.k.a. 'Agent 123,' and 'Agent E-634,' with conspiracy to act as illegal agents of the Cuban government and to communicate classified information to the Cuban government. Each of the defendants is also charged with acting as an illegal agent of the Cuban government and with wire fraud.

"According to an affidavit in support of the criminal complaint, Kendall Myers began his work at the State Department in 1977, initially serving as a contract instructor at the Department’s Foreign Service Institute (FSI) in Arlington, Va. After living briefly in South Dakota, he returned to Washington, D.C., and resumed employment as an instructor with FSI. From 1988 to 1999, in addition to his FSI duties, he performed periodic work for the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR).

"Kendall Myers later began working full-time at the INR and, from July 2001 until his retirement in October 2007, he was a senior analyst for Europe for INR, where he specialized in intelligence analysis on European matters and had daily access to classified information through computer databases and otherwise. He received a Top Secret security clearance in 1985 and, in 1999, his clearance was upgraded to Top Secret / SCI.

"According to the affidavit, Kendall Myers told the source that he typically removed information from the State Department by memory or by taking notes, although he did occasionally take some documents home. 'I was always pretty careful. I, I didn't usually take documents out,' he said. According to the affidavit, he also acknowledged delivering information to the CuIS that was classified beyond the 'Secret' level. He further stated that he had received 'lots of medals' from the Cuban government and that he and his wife had met and spent an evening with Fidel Castro in 1995.

"The affidavit further indicates that an analysis of Kendall Myers' classified State Department work computer hard drive revealed that, from August 22, 2006, until his retirement on Oct. 31, 2007, he viewed more than 200 sensitive or classified intelligence reports concerning the subject of Cuba, while employed as an INR senior analyst for Europe. Of these reports concerning Cuba, the majority was classified and marked Secret or Top Secret, the affidavit alleges."


Walter Kendall Myers was also a Senior Adjunct Professor of European Studies at the John Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). In late 2006, at a SAIS academic forum on U.S.-U.K. relations, Kendall Myers made some controversial statements, which were soon repudiated by the U.S. State Department.

Now that it's revealed Kendall Myers had "Top Secret" clearance of U.S. intelligence, his previous comments now have a lot more weight than some had previously dismissed.

[Update 2]

A commenter mentioned a recent Washingtion Post article about this case. It's a slightly deeper look into the lives of Kendall and Gwendolyn Myers featuring interviews with friends and neighbors.

The Independent has a story with some quotes from Fidel Castro about the Myers, and a picture of the retired couple.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

"The Cold War has Ended" at the OAS

That's how the President of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, summed it up. Yesterday, members at the OAS took a good step forward towards a new era of dialogue. All members of the General Assembly, including the U.S., were able to agree on a resolution that rescinded an old 1962 decision that suspended Cuba's membership from the organization. (Three months ago, Secretary General of the OAS, Jose Miguel Insulza, originated the idea of annulling this resolution by calling it "obsolete.")

[Original 1962 resolution available in PDF, bottom of page 12.]

While U.S. Secretary of State Clinton was not present yesterday, she had worked with other OAS members on the draft resolution before she left, and approved of the final vote. According to the New York Times (which provides a PDF link to the draft resolution), OAS members and the U.S. had agreed on a "list of conditions" that would follow annulment of the '62 resolution. But, oddly, the NYT does not describe the contents of the "list of conditions."

Instead, the conditions that were agreed upon seem to be general guidelines for the OAS and Cuba, if Cuba decides at some point to initiate its return into the OAS. The guidelines operate as a three-part voluntary process: Cuba must initiate interest in joining the OAS, must agree to a "process of dialogue" with members of the OAS, and adhere to the "practices, proposals and principles" of the OAS. Political analysts believe that pressure from other OAS members made the U.S. drop the explicit preconditions of improving human rights, and releasing political prisoners in Cuba. Also, it is expected that there will be political conflict when members attempt to redefine the "practices, proposals and principles" of the OAS in order to allow Cuba's possible return.

President of the OAS General Assembly, Patricia Rodas, called yesterday's vote "historic" and something that "would not have been possible during the Bush administration." [Video of Rodas' remarks.]

President Zelaya of Honduras called the vote a "wise and honorable rectification," and stressed that the consensus reached by all members provided "an example, that in order to make changes and transformation in the world you don't need weapons, you need the help of conscience and dignity." Zelaya also said that the OAS was "starting a new era of fraternity and tolerance." A more controversial comment followed as Pres. Zelaya claimed the new era at the OAS has shown the people of Cuba that "history has absolved [Fidel Castro]."[Video of Zelaya's full speech.]

Representing the U.S. yesterday was Thomas A. Shannon Jr., Assistant Secretary to the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. He told the OAS General Assembly:

"Today’s resolution was an act of statesmanship. Today we addressed and bridged an historic divide in the Americas, while reaffirming our profound commitment to democracy and the fundamental human rights of our peoples. Today we removed an historical impediment to Cuba’s participation in the OAS, but we also established a process of engagement with Cuba based on the core practices, principles, and purposes of the OAS and the Inter-American system.

"It will also be understood as an action that affirms our commitment to build relationships in the Americas based on dialogue and collaboration, and as an agreement that strengthens the OAS as an institution.

"We are not interested in fighting old battles or living in the past. We are committed to building a better future for all of the Americas, by listening, learning, and forging partnerships based on mutual respect. At the same time, we will always defend the timeless principles of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law that animate our societies and serve as a beacon for those around the world who are oppressed, silenced, and subjugated." [Video of full speech, copy of prepared speech.]

These are hopeful words from Sec. Shannon, but only the future will prove if these intentions are honest. Yesterday's vote at the OAS will only motivate members to confront another obstacle from the Cold War, namely the U.S. embargo towards Cuba, and this effort will certainly test the merit of America's new attitude towards its neighbors. It should be noted that the majority of countries in the Latin Region are totally opposed to the U.S. embargo, and that this policy will be the next logical target for the OAS concerning Cuba.

According to a Bloomberg report, "Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said the lifting of the embargo is inevitable." "There’s no explanation today, nowhere in the world, for the embargo to Cuba," said the Brazilian President.

You might call it "obsolete."

[Full video speeches by members of the OAS General Assembly concerning the vote on Cuba.]

[Additional commentary by Phil Peters at the Cuban Triangle blog.]

[Getty Images Photo: U.S. Sec. Hillary Clinton with Pres. Manuel Zelaya of Honduras.]

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Clinton at the OAS

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton arrived in Honduras yesterday to attended this week's meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS) General Assembly.

This year's meeting is significant because the majority of OAS members seem determined on repealing the 1962 resolution which effectively suspended Cuba's membership. Many countries in Latin America now favor Cuba's possible re-entry into the OAS, and U.S. policy towards Cuba seems to be an obstacle in exercising this effort.

While some analysts agree that the 1962 OAS resolution should be rescinded, others, like Sec. Clinton, feel that conditions should be attached beforehand. There is also the possibility that an agreement will not be reached by the OAS this week, but a dialogue (with the help of Brazil) might extend over into next year.

I personally agree wholeheartedly with the position of John McAuliff of the Fund for Reconciliation and Development. His recent post at the Havana Note makes perfect sense:

"Placing special conditions on Cuba’s membership or ducking the issue brands the organization as still too compliant with US domestic political agendas and sustains Fidel Castro’s anti-OAS argument. An extended dialogue about reentry is likely given Cuba’s oft repeated denunciation of the OAS, but such a very useful process can only begin if the 1962 suspension is repealed and it is only up to Cuba to decide if and when it retakes its seat.

"As with the rest of [U.S.-Cuba] policy to date, trying to maintain leverage by incremental change is living in denial and counterproductive. Secretary Clinton should simply abstain if the OAS votes on ending Cuba's suspension without conditions. In that way she demonstrates we are listening and serious about a new collaborative role, even if the Administration is not able politically to join the affirmative vote."

[Additional analysis at the Cuban Triangle blog.]

[Reuters photo: Sec. Clinton with U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Hugo Llorens.]