HOME Let Cuba Live - News Update for July 2008
By Tom Whitney July 28, 2008
In June, months after reports surfaced that $500,000 the so-called Center for a Free Cuba took from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) was missing, that agency temporarily suspended all its programs providing money and support for government opponents in Cuba. USAID's 2008 budget for Cuba projects totaled $45 million. USAID was responding to a directive from Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Frank Calzon, head of the Center for a Free Cuba, attributed Berman’s action to bias stemming from opposition to President Bush’s Cuba policies. USAID reported last week that stepped-up monitoring of its 11 Cuba programs revealed misuse of over $11,000 by the Group in Support of Democracy, another Cuban American funding conduit.
Newly appointed Felipe Sixto, formerly associated with the Center for a Free Cuba, was forced to resign on March 20 from his position as Special Assistant to President Bush for Intergovernmental Affairs because of a possible role in the disappearance of the half-million dollars. The Justice Department is investigating.
Responding to pressure from White House and USAID, Berman announced July 22 his acquiescence in the unfreezing of USAID Cuba monies. A funding suspension remained in effect for the two groups accused of irregularities.
The Cuban American National Foundation published a report in May, covering a 10-year period, demonstrating that less than 17 percent of money appropriated for destabilization efforts in Cuba ever arrived on the island, the rest having been waylaid in Florida to pay for academic programs and expenses of exile groups. An earlier audit by the congressional Government Accountability Office led to similar findings.
Frank Calzon is an issue in Florida's 25th Congressional District between incumbent Mario Diaz-Balart and former Miami-Dade Democratic Party Chair Joe Garcia, who also served as executive director of the Cuban American National Foundation. Garcia has found it useful to accuse established Cuban American politicians of viewing the largesse from Washington that feeds anti-Cuban projects as patronage.
On a July 23 television talk show, wrangling between Garcia and Calzon over the missing half million dollars became so heated—especially after Garcia talked about theft—that Calzon cut off the discussion by barging out of the studio.
Part of the mix is a July 15 report from the Government Accountability Office alleging that Florida-based radio and television broadcasting to Cuba is funded through federal no-bid contracts worth more than $1 million. Rep. William Delahunt (D-Mass.), chair of a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee, had requested the investigation. He told the Miami Herald that the U.S. propaganda broadcasts "have been plagued by allegations of mismanagement and corruption, inefficiencies, and ineffectiveness."
By Tom Whitney
At dawn on July 26, 1953, Fidel Castro, a young lawyer, told a group of young people, "Comrades, within a few hours, we will either succeed or be defeated. But regardless of the outcome, listen well, comrades, this movement will triumph."
Losing would be acceptable. "The action will serve as an example to the people of Cuba, to raise the flag and continue forward." They lost. Of the 134 rebels who attacked the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba, regional headquarters for the Cuban Army, and 30 more who fought in Bayamo, 78 were killed.
Eight years later, on July 26, 1961, Fidel Castro spoke at the first mass celebration of the day designated as the beginning of the revolution that took down the tyrannical and corrupt Batista regime. Since then the holiday has begun the night before with neighborhood parties throughout the island. A city is selected to host the day’s major rally.
On that first occasion, Fidel Castro spoke of struggle "to give to the men who had nothing, everything, and everything for a man is bread, bread to nourish him and bread to nourish his mind—knowledge." The theme of the battle of ideas thus emerged.
Struggle then, and now, meant defense against "direct and indirect attacks organized against us by the imperialist government of the United States. For this reason we, the Cubans, must have nerves of steel." Fidel Castro’s long speech was replete with history, analysis, and ideals, but above all else, it signified combativeness.
The revolutionary government, Castro explained, results from "a long process of struggle, the culmination of a great desire of all of our people, who began to struggle in the past." The notion of the long haul is one that would resonate.
Or so it seemed 50 years later, on July 26, 2003. That year President Castro delivered the main speech of the day at the Moncada Barracks, now a school and museum. To remind Cubans of prerevolutionary horrors, he quoted from his famous "History Will Absolve Me" speech given as legal defense at the trial following the Moncada attack.
In the speech, Castro again referred to "six hundred thousand Cubans without work ... five hundred thousand farm laborers who work four months of the year and starve the rest." Castro noted "retirement funds embezzled," "wretched" housing, "productive land in foreign hands," "starving children" and "mass murder of so many thousands of children."
Fifty years later, Fidel Castro catalogued the social achievements of the revolution he led. For one such as the present author, a Cuba watcher then for almost 50 years and present in the audience that day, this was icing on the cake. History was unfolding in front of me.
But—surprise—history did not stop. Fidel Castro castigated the European Union for sanctioning Cuba that month, withholding its scant humanitarian aid. (The sanctions had been imposed in response to the jailing earlier that year of 75 counterrevolutionaries convicted of taking U.S. money. They were lifted this year.)
Yes, the July 26 event serves as an educational forum and an occasion for rededication. But it seemed that day to grab onto the present moment. In Cuba, immediate realities are always on the agenda, and combativeness never far below the surface.
On July 16, Adriana Perez and Olga Salanueva, the wives of Gerardo Hernandez and Rene Gonzalez, were summoned to the US Interests Section in Havana for an interview they had requested, again, in order to get a US visa to visit their husbands held in US prisons.
They had filed their requests in January. After seven months and for the ninth time, Olga has been denied a visa on the grounds that she was deported from the US in November 2000. For the first time, in written, she was declared "permanently ineligible for a visa."
In the case of Adriana, also her ninth try, request is pending an answer. We cannot accept the argument by which they are trying to impede Olga Salanueva's reunion with her husband, nor the deferral of a visa for Adriana Perez.
The US has declared ineligible a woman like Olga, whom it has never been able to accuse of any crime, and, a decade later, it continues trying to defer the encounter of Adriana Perez and her husband.
We will resort to every authority needed. We will not allow a new kind of punishment and cruelty to continue falling on these families.
We, parliamentarians worldwide, ministers, governments, Nobel Prize laureates, the current President of the UN Council on Human Rights, along with the international community, demand from the US Government to grant visas immediately to Olga Salanueva and Adriana Perez.
Jose Pertierra is Venezuela's U.S. lawyer. He is demanding that Luis Posada be returned to Panama to finish out jail time there in connection with an attempt with three others in 2000 to murder former Cuban President Fidel Castro, then in Panama City.
Pertierra wants Panama to issue an arrest warrant for Posada, and Washington to comply. Posada now lives freely in Miami.
The attorney was responding to a unanimous ruling June 30 by Panama's Supreme Court that pardons granted the four by outgoing Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso in 2004 were unconstitutional. Their convictions and sentences stand.
Declassified U.S intelligence documents show that ex-CIA operative Luis Posada, a citizen of Venezuela and Cuba, engineered the bombing of a Cuban airliner in 1976 resulting in the deaths of 73 people. Posada acknowledged to a New York Times reporter that he was responsible for organizing bombings of Havana hotels in 1997 in which an Italian tourist died. Posada's other crimes are legion.
The U.S. government has refused to honor requests from Caracas for Posada's extradition so that judicial proceedings can proceed in Venezuela. With CIA help, Posada walked out of a Venezuelan jail in 1985.
Moscoso, who now lives in Key Biscayne, Fla., pardoned the four criminals at the U.S. government's behest. The move was supposedly intended to cement support in Miami for Bush's re-election that year. The three U.S. citizens among those released from jail returned to Miami as heroes. Posada entered the country illegally in 2005.
Allegations surfaced in 2004 that to encourage Moscoso to fit in with U.S. plans, Miamians raised $4 million to fund her retirement, adding a Lincoln Town Car as part of the deal.
Meanwhile, those who defended Cuba by working to combat murder and mayhem out of Miami remain in U.S. jails. As of Sept. 12, Gerardo Hernandez, Fernando Gonzalez, Rene Gonzalez, Ramon Labinino and Antonio Guerrero will have served 10 years. Three of the five share four life sentences.
Tom Whitney, July 10
Media censorship just doesn't let up in Miami. On June 13, maverick journalist Max Lesnik gave his last broadcast on Radio WOCN where his programs had been heard each weekday for five years.
Francisco Aruca also learned in April that his daily broadcasts of 17 years would end the same day. Both shows have been replaced by sports programming.
The two Spanish-language broadcasters thought they had negotiated new homes for their broadcasts on Miami radio WKAT beginning the following week. But on their last day, Lesnik and Aruca learned that WKAT, owned by the McClatchy news chain, had disowned their contracts because of views that were "too controversial."
Aruca, director of Marazul Tours and the progreso weekly.com web site, was allowed to return to WOCN for a two-hour Saturday morning show.
On talk shows and in news coverage, both broadcasters have long inveighed against the U.S. blockade against Cuba, Bush travel restrictions and what they see as Cuban-American laundering of money from Washington to fund anti government plotting in Cuba.
As a student in Havana fighting the Batista dictatorship, Max Lesnik was a friend of Fidel Castro, whom he visited on frequent trips to Cuba. Dissenting from the revolution on tactical questions, Lesnik, a self-described socialist, emigrated to Florida in 1961. Banned from Miami radio until the 1990s, he experienced death threats and bomb attacks against his magazine Replica. The Cuban government honored his brand of independent journalism by awarding him the Félix Elmuza prize in 2007.
Francisco Aruca, who arrived in Florida in 1962 after escaping from a Cuban prison, is likewise no stranger to violent attacks. Offices of his Marazul tour company, which specializes in Cuba travel, were bombed in 1989 and in 1996. The latter incident took place just weeks after Aruca had resumed radio broadcasting.