CFR’s Julia Sweig Continues Role as Havana Spokeswoman 3

In her story on Wednesday’s wrap-up of the second Summit of the Latin America and Caribbean Economic Community (CELAC), Portia Siegelbaum of CBS News included these offerings from Julia Sweig::

“I can’t imagine a return to the old pattern of Washington dominating the Inter-American system. I’d like to imagine that the Obama administration has the imagination and creativity and confidence to adjust to the new Latin America of foreign policy independence and vastly less deference to Washington. The White House has a choice: throw up its hands and opt for a focus on its bilateral relations with individual countries in the region, or try to accommodate the region’s new multilateralism — one that emphatically includes Cuba.”

Siegelbaum also noted Sweig’s claim that during her latest two-week visit to Cuba, she “heard a clear and explicitly stated interest in cooperation with the United States.”

Editor’s Note: For an excellent summary of the role of Cuban Intelligence Officers in forming Julia Sweig’s opinion, see Humberto Fontova’s September 2010 article, Latin-America “Expert” – or Castro Agent?

CFR’s Julia Sweig, Friend of 6 Cuban Spies, Arranged Graham’s Cuba Visit 1

Former Sen. Bob Graham of Florida was in Havana last week on a trip “arranged by Julia Sweig, a Cuba analyst and senior fellow at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations” reported Juan Tamayo in yesterday’s Miami Herald. Graham, now in his late 70s, made his first trip to Cuba as part of Sweig’s “group of environmental and disaster experts.” Sweig has long and public connections with senior officials throughout Cuba’s intelligence and political arenas.

During the visit, Cuban officials told her group Havana was negotiating with foreign nations for oil exploration off the northern coast. Large deposits of crude exist in deep waters off the northern coast the visitors were assured and drilling will certainly resume at some point. Predictably, these same officials informed Graham and the others that easing the US embargo would aid in their efforts. A former Democratic governor of Florida and longtime supporter of Cuba sanctions, Havana was undoubtedly delighted when Graham suggested that a limited exemption for oil efforts was an option.

Editor’s Note: For an excellent summary of the role of Cuban Intelligence Officers in forming Julia Sweig’s opinion, see Humberto Fontova’s September 2010 article, Latin-America “Expert”– or Castro Agent?

CFR OP/ED: Low-Hanging Fruit 1

Author: Julia E. Sweig, Nelson and David Rockefeller Senior Fellow for Latin America Studies and Director for Latin America Studies (Council on Foreign Relations)

Originally published in Portuguese on Folha de Sao Paulo:

In 1823 Secretary of State John Quincy Adams saw Cuba as ripe for the territorial expansion of a United States that needed both to quell factional conflict and mark itself as a world power. Almost 200 years later, Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama stubbornly resist that ‘low hanging fruit,’ not of annexation, but of a foreign policy victory with Cuba.

The contrast with Iran is instructive. First with Hilary Clinton and now with John Kerry, the Obama White House has shown that an international consensus around a mix of diplomacy and collective sanctions can set the stage for potentially meaningful results with Iran. To do so, they have been willing to antagonize Israel and Saudi Arabia, provoke political backlash in the U.S. Congress, including from their own party, and enrage other hardliners for whom no process with Iran, short of the complete relinquishing of its nuclear program and regime change, is enough.

When it comes to Cuba, Washington also benefits from a complete international consensus, albeit on the failure and folly of sanctions, and from favorable public opinion on the merits of a diplomatic process. But the comparison stops there. In short, the White House knows full well that Cuba doesn’t have a nuclear program, it doesn’t support terrorists (in fact it facilitates their incorporation into the democratic process in Colombia’s case), it doesn’t have troops in Africa or guerrillas in Latin America, and it doesn’t permit organized crime and drug trafficking to transit through its waters or across its territory. After 55 years of antagonism, the White House finally seems to understand that the one thing Washington wants from Cuba—some call it control, others call it liberal democracy—is not something that can be coerced from Havana with sanctions.

The only thing Cuba can give today that the United States (sort of) wants is one man, and his last name is not Castro. His name is Alan Gross. This week Gross marks four years in a Cuban military hospital that serves as his prison. Gross was arrested while working for a U.S.-government subcontractor installing advanced satellite equipment as part of Washington’s regime change programs. Because those programs are the jealously-guarded darlings of Robert Menendez, a Cuban-American Democrat who now chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, (and who also opposes the Iran deal), the White House has done little to date but futilely demand Gross’ unconditional release. Yet Obama paid Egypt $5 million for the release of Americans detained while working for the International Republican Institute. He swapped spies with Moscow. He negotiated the release of hikers from Iran and a CIA contractor from Pakistan.

Some 66 senators now back negotiations with Havana over Gross. Obama won Florida with 50 percent of the Cuban-American vote. What, exactly, is the President waiting for?

This article appears in full on CFR.org by permission of its original publisher. It was originally available here.

The Castros’ Captive: Why Appeasing Havana Won’t Free Alan Gross 2

By Frank Calzon in Foreign Affairs (magazine)[a CFR publication]

In “Our Man in Havana,” R. M. Schneiderman suggests that Alan Gross will not be freed from his Cuban prison unless the U.S. State Department shuts down its programs supporting democracy and human rights in Cuba. This conclusion is faulty, if not utterly ridiculous. Gross, who worked for a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) contractor, is serving a 15-year jail sentence for trying to help Havana’s Jewish community connect to the Internet, an act most of the world does not recognize as a crime. In 2009, Gross was seized just before he was scheduled to fly home to the United States and held for 14 months before any charges were filed against him. Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson has aptly described him as a “hostage.”

What seems to gall Schneiderman is not Gross’ imprisonment, but rather that Congress mandated the democracy-promotion program in Cuba in the first place. Schneiderman characterizes the U.S. government’s continuation of such programs as a failed opportunity to do away with “the antiquated politics of the Cold War.” He is correct that the programs are modeled on those that successfully cracked the Iron Curtain and that, after the collapse of European communism, were wholeheartedly endorsed by Lech Walesa, Václav Havel, and others. But he is wrong to call the program “antiquated” when Cuba remains a Stalinist-style state. The programs’ fundamental goal remains to break through the Castro regime’s control of information that isolates the Cuban people and keeps them in bondage.

That the democracy-promotion program annoys the Cuban regime does not make it a failure of U.S. foreign policy. In fact, there is no evidence to support Schneiderman’s claim that canceling the program would have freed Gross or produced other tangible benefits. The author recounts a 2010 conversation between Fulton Armstrong, a senior adviser to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and “high-level Cuban officials.” Armstrong is quoted as telling the Cubans that the democracy programs were “stupid.” He continued, “We’re cleaning them up. Just give us time, because politically we can’t kill them.” Armstrong then asked, “Will this help you release Alan Gross?” to which he believes the Cubans said yes. This misses the fact that when it comes to Cuba, only two people are empowered to say yes — Raúl and Fidel Castro. And the Castros have a long history of biting any hand of friendship extended to them.

Indeed, even though Congress placed a hold on funding for the democracy program in 2010, Gross was tried and sentenced in March 2011. Washington may have had other reasons to think Cuba would be releasing Gross, but he did not come home with either former President Jimmy Carter nor Richardson, both of whom traveled to Havana.

By now, this story should be all too familiar. As president, Carter attempted reconciliation, establishing the U.S. Special Interests Section in Havana and making efforts at establishing some form of diplomatic relations. Castro’s response was to export thousands of prison inmates and patients from insane asylums to Florida, to send Cuban troops to fight a war in Angola in support of Soviet interests, and to assist anti-American insurgencies in Central America. Later, when U.S. President Bill Clinton again sought to improve relations, Fidel ordered two unarmed, civilian American aircraft shot down over the Straits of Florida in international waters. In response to U.S. President Barack Obama’s attempts to reduce the animosity between the two countries by easing trade restrictions and lifting limits on remittances, Raúl Castro — who has taken over for Fidel — not only ignored the president’s suggestion that Cuba reduce its taxes on remittances but also jailed Gross.

Gross is not the only person who has been punished for supporting human rights on the island. The regime has detained and expelled many visitors who dared to meet with dissidents. Among them were the current foreign minister of the Czech Republic; a cabinet secretary from Spain; Dutch, German, and European parliament members; journalists; and human rights activists. Gross’ imprisonment — set against the background of the continued repression of Cubans, the harsh punishment meted out to dissidents, and the refusal to allow prison inspections by international organizations — should serve as a wake-up call to those proposing unilateral concessions for the sake of normalization with Havana. Appeasement does not discourage the bad behavior of dictators; it emboldens it.

The time to normalize U.S. relations with Cuba will come only when Havana begins taking steps toward democracy and a free-market economy and reconsiders its alliances with North Korea, Syria, and other U.S. adversaries. Releasing Gross would be one indication that Cuba is ready to change. Obama ought to tell Raúl Castro that the United States holds him personally responsible for Gross’ well-being. Similarly, policy decisions that have increased and allowed remittances and encouraged American tourists to travel to the island can be reversed and revisited. Cuba has always played hardball, and if Castro’s government wants to continue its ways, the United States is not without rackets.

CFR’s Castro Apologist Foresees Free Economy Within Five Years 2

The Post-Castro Era Is Today

Author: Julia E. Sweig, Nelson and David Rockefeller Senior Fellow for Latin America Studies and Director for Latin America Studies

January 30, 2013, Folha de Sao Paulo

The post-Castro era in Cuba has arrived. But its main architect is Raul Castro. His reform agenda does not have the formulaic recitations of a political science textbook or the guidelines of an IMF structural adjustment program. No multiparty elections. No Starbucks, Walmart, or Burger King. Not much independent media. But little by little Cuba is undergoing a significant transformation in the basic expectations Cuban citizens have of the state, and vice versa. Lula’s visit this week may focus on Venezuela, but all around him Cuba is becoming a freer, more open, and yes, more democratic society.

Earlier this month, a new law took effect that eliminates restrictions on travel for almost everyone: Cubans no longer need pay exorbitant fees or await the “tarjeta blanca”—state permission—to travel. Now, they need only a visa, like the rest of the world. And if they want to live and work abroad, Cubans will no longer lose their property or residence status: a big step forward for freedom and human rights, and a potential economic boon as well.

Business and profit are no longer dirty words. Senior officials project that with new laws and regulations empowering small businesses, within five years fully 50 percent of the economy will be in private, non-state hands. Under the new rules, individuals and cooperatives can now hire employees, obtain bank financing, procure inputs from wholesale markets, and turn a profit. There are myriad problems for sure: but these are increasingly of a practical, not ideological nature, more about the need to build capacity and experience, whereas before the private sector was viewed as a necessary evil. Now this new space has legitimacy and legality.

A progressive tax system is also taking shape. This is not a mere technical adjustment. With the new decentralization, state and municipal government will raise and spend their budgets from tax revenue collected at the base, with the federal government paying a much reduced slate of costs—mainly education, health and defense. Cubans are used to getting everything for free. The notion that they will work, pay taxes, and receive health, education and a pension but not much more, represents a radical political shift.

Next month Raul Castro begins his second and very likely final five-year term as president of the Cuban republic. The slate of candidates represents a big demographic and political step forward. Some 67 percent of the candidates for 612 seats are completely new picks, and of these, more than 70 percent were born after 1959. Women comprise 49 percent of the candidates and Afro descendants 37 percent. Cuban voters will be asked to check yea or nay from this new list, so it’s not a direct competition. But if you want to understand where the successors to the post post-Castro era may come from, I’d look at this new group.

CFR Hosts “Unannounced” Presentation With Chief of Cuban Interests Section 1

On Wednesday, January 25th, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in Washington DC hosted an unpublicized presentation by the Chief of the Cuban Interests Section, Ambassador José R. Cabañas. The agenda for Havana’s Ambassador called for an update on Cuba’s economic and social model. Cabañas addressed more than 40 guests on what the Interests Section referred to as “ the process of transformation going on on the island…” (sic). The event, reportedly attended by members of the U.S. academic, political, business and media world, took the form of a dialogue, moderated by Julia Sweig, a self-professed friend of half a dozen Cuban Intelligence Officers. According to an internet posting by the Interests Section, “The well-known scholar made an introduction and posed central questions, opening the floor for the audience to address specific concerns.”

Curiously, the nearly two-hour discussion from January 25th is not listed on the CFR’s roster, Past Meetings, but was belatedly “advertised” by the Cuban Interests Section on Tuesday, January 24th: Lo mas reciente en noticias

CFR’s Julia Sweig, Admitted Friend to 6 Cuban Spies, Highlights Cuba’s “Reforms” 3

Talking to Cuba

Interviewee: Julia E. Sweig, Director for Latin American Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
Interviewer: Robert McMahon, Editor, CFR.org

The Cuban government’s easing of travel restrictions this month marks another sign of its commitment to reforms and changing sentiments in Havana, says Julia Sweig, CFR’s director for Latin American Studies. Washington should seize on such moves, she says, to initiate a new dialogue and begin solving the many problems impeding normalization of ties between the countries–such as the case of detained U.S. citizen Alan Gross–and U.S. influence in the region. “There are geostrategic reasons within the region, leaving apart the bilateral relationship, why it makes a great deal of sense for a strategy of rapprochement with Cuba,” Sweig says.

Cuban authorities this month eased a fifty-year-old travel restriction by allowing Cubans to travel with just a passport, and permitting lengthy stays away. How significant is this?

This is a major step for Cuba domestically, for the Cuban economy, for Cuba in the world, and for Cubans living on and off the island. On the domestic front, this has been one of the most significant sources of unhappiness for the Cuban public, to not be able to travel freely. And what the Cuban government did when it announced this was explain that this is an attempt to bring Cuba in line with other countries. Cubans now need a visa still from the countries they want to visit, and they have to buy their plane tickets, but unlike the previous era, they won’t risk losing their property or their residence status. They can travel abroad as economic migrants, come and go, live for a while abroad in the United States, presumably, go back and invest in their businesses, have two residences–really a huge potential economic boon for the country.

In an interview with CFR.org a year ago, you said the United States now had a willing partner for normalization of ties with Havana but was failing to read the signals. Is this step one of those signals?

This step is largely a domestic, reality-based policy decision. But there are knock-on effects that Washington could conclude suggest that Havana is taking another step in building a more open society and boosting the human rights of its population. If Washington chose to take this as a sign of greater freedom granted by the government to its citizens, it could surely be digested in that way. But I don’t think pleasing Washington is the prime motivation.

How should we read Cuba’s parliamentary elections scheduled for February 3?

As another big demographic and political development: some 67 percent of the candidates for 612 spots are completely new picks, and of these, more than 70 percent were born after 1959. Women comprise 49 percent of the candidates, and Afro descendents 37 percent. Cubans will be asked to check yea or nay from this new list–so it’s not a direct competition between candidates. But if you want to understand where the successors to Fidel and Raul may come from, I’d look closely at the new group that comes in next month.

These elections also tell us something about decentralization: the municipal and provincial deputies are going to have a lot more power to tax and spend than ever before–on everything but health, education, and the military, as I understand it–while the new National Assembly may well start passing a lot more laws than before, to implement a slew of economic, legal, and governance reforms that are under way or coming down the pike. Finally, Ricardo Alarcon, who served as National Assembly president for the last nineteen years, before that as UN ambassador, and who for decades has taken the lead on U.S.-Cuban relations, will not appear on the electoral slate.

Washington continues to point to what it says is the biggest impediment, which is the case of Alan Gross, the U.S. citizen who U.S. officials said was in Cuba to help with Internet access; Cubans say he was subverting the state. He continues to languish in Cuba. How to resolve this issue?

Well, like governments resolve issues, they get in the room and they talk. And they put the issues on the table that are connected indirectly and intrinsically to that particular issue. By the way, the DAI (Developments Alternative International), which was Alan Gross’s employer, just released the contracts (PDF) between DAI and Alan Gross, and there is a lot of information in there about the equipment that Gross brought down there and reasons why he was bringing that equipment. And that will just, unfortunately, reinforce the sense that this wasn’t just benign development or benign Internet assistance.

This was part of a program funded by the U.S. government intended to destabilize the Cuban government, and the documentation really clearly shows that. And the lawsuit, now that the Gross family has filed against the State Department, also says that USAID should have trained Gross in counterintelligence. So, the way to stop this Alan Gross issue from becoming a political Frankenstein is to get in the room and settle a number of issues, including the Gross issue, including the Cuban 5 issue [five Cuban intelligence agents arrested by federal authorities in Miami in 1998 on charges of espionage], including other bilateral issues.

Some see the case of Alan Gross as playing into a narrative that the Cubans are using this case for leverage and are not genuinely interested in justice or in properly handling this case. How do you respond to that perspective?

Well, they are interested in using the case as leverage. President Obama, at the first Summit of the Americas he attended, pledged to open a new chapter in U.S.-Cuban relations and acknowledged that the embargo and U.S. policy had failed. Then he left in place the very policies he had inherited from George W. Bush. Some call them democracy promotions; some call them regime change–explicitly designed to destabilize Cuba. Which is very, very consistent with the bipartisan approach to Cuba over the last fifty years.

Story continues here: http://www.cfr.org/cuba/talking-cuba/p29879

Editor’s Note: For an excellent summary of the role of Cuban Intelligence Officers in forming Julia Sweig’s opinion, see Humberto Fontova’s September 2010 article, Latin-America “Expert”– or Castro Agent?