John Kerry Celebrates US Embassy Opening With Expelled Cuban Spies 4

John Kerry, Gustavo Machin, Josefina Vidal, Jose Ramon Cabanas By Carlie Kollath Wells, | The Times-Picayune U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry greets members of the Cuban delegation inside the newly opened embassy, at the end of a flag raising ceremony, in Havana, Cuba, Friday, Aug. 14, 2015. Kerry is accompanied by Gustavo Machin, Cuba's deputy chief of North American affairs, left, Cuba's Josefina Vidal, director general of the U.S. division at Cuba's Foreign Ministry, second right, and Jose Ramon Cabanas, chief of the Cuba mission in Washington D.C., right. (AP Photo/Ismael Francisco, Cubadebate)

John Kerry, Gustavo Machin, Josefina Vidal, Jose Ramon Cabanas

By Carlie Kollath Wells, | The Times-Picayune
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry greets members of the Cuban delegation inside the newly opened embassy, at the end of a flag raising ceremony, in Havana, Cuba, Friday, Aug. 14, 2015. Kerry is accompanied by Gustavo Machin, Cuba’s deputy chief of North American affairs, left, Cuba’s Josefina Vidal, director general of the U.S. division at Cuba’s Foreign Ministry, second right, and Jose Ramon Cabanas, chief of the Cuba mission in Washington D.C., right. (AP Photo/Ismael Francisco, Cubadebate)

Editor’s Note: Cuban’s intelligence services have long perceived the US as a hapless, bumbling giant. Instances like this – Kerry with career Directorate of Intelligence (DI) officers Gustavo Machin and Josefina Vidal – reinforce Havana’s institutionalized contempt. Machin and Vidal were both thrown out of the US for engaging in espionage against the United States.

Critics Question Sources for AP Report on Cuba Democracy Program 1





Say sources had political agenda to undermine U.S. policy

By Daniel Wiser, Washington Free Beacon

Critics are raising questions about the Associated Press’s recent report on a U.S. program to foster civil society in Cuba and have accused the news organization of cooperating with sources who have a political agenda against U.S. policy toward the island.

The AP recently reported on the program that sent Spanish-speaking youth to Cuba to help build health and civil society associations, which the news organization described as a “clandestine operation” with the goal of “ginning up rebellion.” Human rights groups involved in the program criticized the report and said it mischaracterized the nature of the civil society projects.

Defenders of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) program say the AP has been less than forthright about the sources for its reporting. They also allege that the AP obtained information and documents from longstanding critics of U.S. policy toward Cuba’s communist government.

The anti-Castro website Capitol Hill Cubans alleged that the key source for the AP’s reporting on both the civil society program and a separate project, an attempt to develop a Twitter-like social media service for Cubans, was Fulton Armstrong. Armstrong is a former Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) staffer and senior intelligence analyst for Latin America.

Armstrong told the Washington Free Beacon in an email that although the AP contacted him, he was not the main source of information and documents. “The AP’s reports are pretty obviously based on documentary evidence provided by insiders concerned about the regime-change programs,” he said, adding that he was never fully briefed on what he called USAID’s “clandestine, covert operations.”

“Because the SFRC had investigated these scandalously run secret programs during my tenure on the Committee staff, and because my boss (Chairman [John] Kerry) was concerned enough to put a hold on the programs for a while, I was logically among the dozens of people to be called by the AP reporters,” he said.

Armstrong has long raised the ire of U.S. officials and activists advocating a tough line against the Castro regime. Foreign policy officials in the George W. Bush administration attempted to reassign Armstrong from Latin American intelligence after arguing that he was “soft” on threats from Cuba, according to a 2003 report by the New York Times.

Feature continues here:  Critics Question Credibility of AP Sources


‘A Couple of Possibilities’ on Alan Gross Case, Kerry Tells Diaz-Balart Reply

By Progreso Weekly

Excerpt from John Kerry’s testimony Wednesday (March 12) to a House subcommittee on the federal budget. Asked about efforts to release USAID subcontractor Alan Gross, now held in Cuba, Kerry said:

“I have been meeting repeatedly, particularly in the last few months, on the Alan Gross issue. In fact, I met with his family just a couple of weeks ago and we — I am not going to go into it here, but I will tell you that we are very focused on a couple of possibilities on how we might try to approach that. We really want to get him back because obviously we don’t think he’s that well, and he’s wrongly in prison as far as we’re concerned, obviously. So, it’s a major priority for us, and the White House likewise. The White House has been very involved, we’re working together in initiatives to try to do this. We hit a stone wall in a couple but we’re continuing to try to do that. And I have a couple of ideas that I hope will work. So, we’ll see what happens.”

Alan Gross’s Wife on US-Cuba Impasse 3

By Tracey Eaton

HAVANA TIMES — Forget South Florida politics, negotiate with the Cubans and find a way to bring Alan Gross home. That’s what Judy Gross told me earlier this week.

Her husband has been in jail in Cuba for more than four years – 1,521 days, to be exact. And she said she is angry and frustrated that the U.S. government doesn’t do more to secure his freedom. She said: ”…It’s been way, way too long and our government is responsible for Alan being there and I just can’t believe that they can’t do anything about it. Sometimes I wonder if there’s some kind of motive behind it. Not to be paranoid, but it just blows my mind still that they don’t even mention Alan’s name.”

Gross reiterated her call to President Obama to step up efforts to free her husband. Asked about Secretary John Kerry’s recent request that the Vatican help out, Gross said:
”…it’s really Secretary Kerry’s job to free Alan, not the Pope. So instead of asking the Pope, I think Secretary Kerry should work on it.”

Judy Gross also faulted the Cuban government for jailing her husband in 2009, but expressed admiration for the Cuban people. ”I really love Cuba and I hope to keep going back under different circumstances. The people are so friendly…”

See more at: Alan Gross’s Wife on US-Cuba Impasse

Alan Gross And The Vatican: Could The Keys Of St. Peter Unlock A Cuban Jail Cell? 1

By Tim Padgett, WLRN [Radio – Miami/South Florida]

Can the Vatican free Alan Gross in Cuba? It helps first to consider how the Roman Catholic Church freed itself in Cuba.

Cuba has seen surprising turns in recent years. Fidel Castro handing the communist dictatorship to his younger brother Raúl. Raúl decreeing capitalist reforms to save the communist dictatorship.

But perhaps most unexpected has been the sudden rise of the Cuban church as the first and only alternative institution to the Cuban revolution. In fact, a half century after Fidel banished thousands of priests and nuns from the island, the rebounded Catholic Church is arguably the one non-communist entity in Cuba that Raúl trusts today.

The church brokered the release of more than 100 Cuban dissidents in 2011. The church is helping Raúl implement his economic changes – including, as odd as it sounds in Marxist Cuba, M.B.A. classes. “At this point,” says Jorge Duany, director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University, “the Catholic Church has one of the strongest institutional bases in Cuba and has been very successful at talking directly to the Cuban government.”

All of which makes a move by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry last week seem smart. During a stop in Rome, Kerry announced he’s asked the Vatican to help negotiate the release of Gross, the 64-year-old State Department contractor who just finished four years of a 15-year prison term in Cuba for subversion.

Feature continues here: Alan Gross And The Vatican: Could The Keys Of St. Peter Unlock A Cuban Jail Cell?

Kerry Appeals to Vatican to Help Free American Jailed in Cuba 2

By Daniel Arkin, Staff Writer, NBC News

Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday called on the Vatican to help secure the release of an American contractor who has been jailed in Cuba for nearly five years.

“I raised the issue of Alan Gross and his captivity, and we hope very much that there might be able to be assistance with respect to that issue,” Kerry said.

Gross, 64, was arrested in late 2009, after being accused of smuggling sophisticated satellite and other telecommunications equipment to Cuba’s tiny Jewish community. Gross has said he was only trying to increase internet access in Cuba.

But he was convicted by a Cuban court in March 2011 of crimes “against the independence and territorial integrity of the state” and sentenced to 15 years behind bars. Cuba deems the U.S.-backed technological program subversive.

The arrest hampered a brief and historically unusual period of detente in U.S.-Cuba relations after President Barack Obama took office and promptly eased restrictions on travel and remittances to the island for Cuban-Americans with family in Communist Cuba.

Kerry — the first Catholic U.S. secretary of state in more than three decades — visited the Vatican en route to Kuwait to hold talks with a top aide to Pope Francis: Secretary of State Archbishop Pietro Parolin.

The Vatican has relatively healthy diplomatic ties to Cuba. Pope Francis’ predecessors — Pope Benedict and the late Pope John Paul — both made historic voyages to the country.

Kerry: U.S. is “Currently Engaged” in Talks to Free Alan Gross 1

By Juan O. Tamayo,

The Obama administration is “currently engaged” in behind-the-scenes discussions to win the release of U.S. government subcontractor Alan Gross, jailed in Cuba for the past four years, according to Secretary of State John Kerry.

Kerry, who engaged in another secret effort to free Gross in 2010, made the largely unnoticed remarks Tuesday at a news conference in NATO headquarters in Belgium, after he was asked about U.S. citizens detained in Cuba, Iran and North Korea.

“In the case of Mr. Gross, we’ve had any number of initiatives and outreaches over the last several years and engagement with a number of different individuals who have traveled to Cuba, met with people individually there and elsewhere,” Kerry said.

“And we are currently engaged in some discussions regarding that, which I’m not at liberty to go into in any kind of detail,” he added, declining further comment on a case that has become the key roadblock to improved U.S.-Cuba relations.

“With respect to the number of American citizens who are being held in different places …we have been engaged behind the scenes — which is often the way these issues are best managed — in every single case in order to try to secure the safety of those people, and in order ultimately to be able to secure their release,” he said.

“The bottom line is that we have raised these issues not just in Korea — North Korea, not just in Cuba, but also with respect to a number of Americans who are held in Iran,” he concluded. “And I have personally raised those names and those individuals with my counterpart as well as in other ways. And we are hopeful that in each case, at some point we will be able to win their freedom and have them rejoined with their families.”

The State Department did not immediately reply to El Nuevo Herald request for an explanation of the secretary’s remarks.

Kerry did not identify the other party or parties in the “discussions” to free Gross, 64, a Maryland development specialist man serving a 15-yerar prison sentence in Havana for delivering sophisticated communications equipment to Cuban Jews.

He was convicted of endangering the island’s national security because the equipment was paid for by the U.S. Agency for International Development as part of a pro-democracy program. The Cuban government regards the USAID programs as part of an effort to undermine and even topple its communist system.

Feature continues here: Kerry: U.S. is “currently engaged” in talks to free Alan Gross

Analysis: Cuba, U.S. Take Steps Toward Rapprochement but Complicated Road Lies Ahead 1

Popular support growing for end to embargo, diplomatic stalemate dating to 1959.

Javier Galeano, The Associated Press

HAVANA, Cuba — They’ve hardly become allies, but Cuba and the U.S. have taken some baby steps toward rapprochement in recent weeks that have people on this island and in Washington wondering if a breakthrough in relations could be just over the horizon. Skeptics caution the Cold War enemies have been here many times before, only to fall back into old recriminations but there are signs that views might be shifting on both sides of the Florida Straits.

The countries have held talks in the past week on resuming direct mail service, and announced a July 17 meeting on migration issues. A U.S. federal judge in May allowed a convicted Cuban intelligence agent to return to the island. Cuba informed the family of jailed U.S. government subcontractor Alan Gross this month it would let an American doctor examine him, although the visit has apparently not yet happened. Cuban President Raul Castro has also ushered in a series of economic and social changes, including making it easier for Cubans to travel off the island.

Under the radar, diplomats on both sides describe a sea change in the tone of their dealings. Only last year, Cuban state television was broadcasting grainy footage of American diplomats meeting with dissidents on Havana streets and publicly accusing them of being CIA frontmen. Today, U.S. diplomats in Havana and Cuban Foreign Ministry officials have easy contact, even sharing home phone numbers.
Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s top diplomat for North American affairs, recently travelled to Washington and met twice with State Department officials, a visit that came right before the announcements of resumptions in the two sets of bilateral talks that had been suspended for more than two years. Washington has also granted visas to prominent Cuban officials, including the daughter of Cuba’s president.

“These recent steps indicate a desire on both sides to try to move forward, but also a recognition on both sides of just how difficult it is to make real progress,” said Robert Pastor, a professor of international relations at American University and former national security adviser on Latin America during the Carter administration. “These are tiny, incremental gains, and the prospects of going backwards are equally high.”

Among the things that have changed, John Kerry has taken over as U.S. secretary of state after being an outspoken critic of Washington’s policy on Cuba while in the Senate. U.S. President Barack Obama no longer has re-election concerns while dealing with the Cuban-American electorate in Florida, where there are also indications of a warming attitude to negotiating with Cuba.

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Is the Huff Post Becoming “Granma USA?” 1

It’s Time to Delist Cuba

By Arturo Lopez Levy in the Huffington Post

Each spring, the U.S. State Department releases a report indicating which countries the United States considers “State Sponsors of Terrorism.” Currently the list consists of four countries: Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria. This year, John Kerry’s ascent to U.S. Secretary of State generated a discussion about taking Cuba off the list. Given Kerry’s generally reasonable position on Cuba in the past, it was perhaps not surprising that he considered this option.

Nonetheless, on May 1, the U.S. State Department announced that Cuba would remain on its list. It’s a serious mistake.

State Department reports from the last decade have provided no substantive evidence to justify keeping Cuba on the list. In fact, the country’s inclusion is based on dubious allegations. The reports allege that Cuba has provided medical treatment and refuge for terrorist groups from the FARC in Colombia to the ETA in Spain. However, the reports do not acknowledge that the governments of both countries have expressed appreciation for Cuba’s cooperation in this arena.

The reports mention some fugitives from American justice who live in Cuba, but neglect to say that the United States stopped honoring the 1904 extradition agreement between the two countries in early 1959. Cuba has sent back most U.S. fugitives and has generally recognized the validity of U.S. courts, but has occasionally offered asylum to people it considers victims of “political persecution,” including former Black Panther Assata Shakur, accused of killing a New Jersey highway trooper in 1973.

Shakur’s asylum in Cuba has precedent in international law, as well as in decisions by U.S. Courts not to equate all violent political acts to terrorism. Her case constitutes a reason to raise the issue diplomatically and negotiate a new bilateral extradition treaty, but it is not sufficient motive to keep Cuba on the list. It is no coincidence that those Cuban-American politicians who demand that Cuba unilaterally return these few U.S. fugitives are the same ones who have advocated providing refuge for anti-Castro terrorists like Luis Posada Carriles–who in 1976 was responsible for a bomb that took 73 lives (including the Cuban national fencing team) on a Cuban civilian plane. Posada lives freely in Miami.

The Bush administration removed North Korea from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism in 2008 as part of a larger diplomatic strategy to shut down the country’s nuclear program. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice explained the thinking behind that decision in No Higher Honor, her recently published memoirs. The list, she wrote, was supposed to single out “countries that supply a terrorist organization with training, logistics, or material or financial support. Technically, the North Koreans should have already been removed from the list much earlier; there had not been, at the time, any known terrorist incident involving Pyongyang for two decades.” Using Rice’s same substantive criterion for determining whether a country belongs on the list (no terror incident involving the country in question for twenty years), it is very difficult to argue that Cuba should be there.

Confronted with this double standard and the lack of evidence for keeping Cuba on the list, some defenders of the Obama administration’s decision to keep Cuba on the list simply reply that Cuba is not as important economically or strategically as South Florida is electorally. Yet these self-proclaimed political realists miss an important reality. The Cuban-American community, including the majority of those who oppose Castro, has changed. For most Cubans who came to the United States in the last two decades, the inclusion of their country of origin in the terrorism list is not only unfair, but also an obstacle to promoting changes on the island that could take place through exchanges between Cuba and the United States.

Defenders of including Cuba on the list point to Cuba’s imprisonment of Alan Gross, an American citizen who was arrested for his participation in a United States Agency for International Development regime change program on the island. They also claim that Cuba violates human rights and point to an increase of short-term detentions of Castro’s opponents during the last year.

Yet these actions have nothing to do with the congressional mandate to create a list of States Sponsors of Terrorism under the 1979 Exports Administration Act. Mixing these unrelated issues only demonstrates that the list has become a pretext to punish the Cuban government. This situation feeds into the Cuban government’s narrative that its revolution is under siege, and that because the island is a victim of U.S. double standards and hostility, it has to adopt emergency measures. Using the list in this way is therefore not only inconsistent, but also counterproductive.

If the goal is to provide anti-Castro militants a venue for psychological catharsis, there are other ways for them to vent their frustrations. The State Department already has a mechanism for reporting human rights violations all over the world. The UN Human Rights Council is in the process of evaluating Cuba this year, and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has indicated that the Gross arrest is unfair.

The misuse of an otherwise effective foreign policy tool should give pause to responsible members of Congress and the Washington intelligence community. First, it dilutes America’s multilateral anti-terrorist efforts by taking eyes and dollars away from where the real threats are. Second, it sends the wrong message to countries such as Iran and Syria and the groups they sponsor by diminishing both the substantive and political impact of being listed. Third, it weakens the case for monitoring countries such as Iran, whose presence on the list is more easily justified. In short, including Cuba undermines the credibility of the list itself, and has a corrosive effect on U.S. leadership in world.

Characterizing Cuba as a terrorist state–and more generally implying that the island in any way poses any threat to U.S. security–hinders the United States’ ability to develop a strategic vision for post-Fidel Cuba. The list encourages hostile actions against Cuba in American courts, thereby aggravating conflicts and blocking new exchanges. The island is a country in transition that is carrying out market-oriented economic reforms without changing its centralized, one party system. This situation calls for policies of engagement completely different from those required for dealing with a terrorist threat.

Editor’s Note: Arturo Lopez Levy is an admitted “former” intelligence officer and close relative of the Castro family. A prolific writer, Castro apologist, and de facto agent of influence, his efforts have been well covered by Cuba Confidential, Babalu blog, and Cuba expert Humberto Fontova.

The Terrorist List, and Terrorism as Practiced Against Cuba 2

BY Keith Bolender, Guest Scholar at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs

Of all the components to the United States hostile strategy against Cuba, nothing raises the ire of the Castro government more than its inclusion on the State Department’s list of states that sponsor terrorism. The designation is seen by Havana as an impediment towards improving relations and as a cruel hypocrisy that provides political cover for Washington to justify the imposition of economic penalties along with the perpetuation of anti-revolutionary propaganda.

There is an opportunity to eliminate that stumbling block in the next few weeks, if newly appointed Secretary of State John Kerry decides to recommend Cuba’s deletion from the list to President Obama. Kerry has until the release of the State Department’s annual terror report on April 30 to make the determination of whether Cuba will remain on the terrorist list. High ranking Cuban officials are closely watching this development, indicating the removal could offer an opportunity to re-engage with the United States. [1]

The history of Cuba’s controversial inclusion goes back to 1982, the same year Iraq was taken off the list by the Reagan administration. Besides Cuba, only Sudan, Iran, and Syria continue to be labeled as state sponsors of terrorism. North Korea was dropped in 2008, while Pakistan, long the home of Osama Bin Laden and recognized as a haven for Islamic terrorists, has never been considered. Saudi Arabia, where the majority of the 9/11 terrorists came from, is looked upon as a staunch ally of the United States.

There are numerous reasons why the Castro government finds its insertion on the list so galling. First are the real economic consequences to the designation. By law the United States must oppose any loans to Cuba by the World Bank or other international lending institutions. Obama administration officials have been using Cuba’s inclusion to make it increasingly difficult for Havana to conduct normal banking transactions that involve U.S. financial establishments, regardless of which currency is being used. Furthermore, the United States has imposed an arms embargo against all parties placed on the list (which the Castro government has experienced since the triumph of the Revolution) as well as prohibiting sales of items that could be considered to have both military and non-military dual use, including hospital equipment. For example, the William Soler children’s hospital in Havana was labeled a ‘denied hospital’ in 2007 by the State Department, bringing with it serious ramifications. Various medicines and technology have become impossible to obtain, resulting in the deaths of children and the inability of staff to properly deal with a variety of treatable conditions. [2] For Cuba, these restrictions are additionally damaging as the island continues to suffer from the comprehensive embargo the United States has imposed since the early 1960s.

On an emotional level, Havana has long drawn attention to the double standard that permits Washington to label others as a terrorist state, all the while ignoring its own culpability in the multiple acts of terror that have been responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent Cuban civilians. This relatively unreported history stretches back to the early months following Castro’s victory over the Batista regime, when the United States was determined to eliminate the Cuban revolution not only through economic and political means, but with violence. Operation Mongoose, a program developed by the State Department under the overarching Cuba Project, coordinated terrorist operations from the period following the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961 to the October missile crisis 18 months later. During this time State Department officials provided logistical and material support to violent anti-revolutionary groups carrying out terrorist activities on the island. The terrors included torturing and murdering students who were teaching farmers to read and write, blowing up shoppers at Havana’s busiest department stores, bombing sugar cane plantations and tobacco fields, killing Cuban fishermen and the innumerable attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro and other top government officials. [3] Historian Arthur Schlesinger reported in his biography of Robert Kennedy that Operation Mongoose was formulated under the Kennedy administration to bring “the terrors of the earth” to the Cuban people. [4] It has been called one of the worst cases of state sponsored terrorism of the 20th century. [5] When Operation Mongoose ended, violent anti-Castro groups based in South Florida, such as Alpha 66 and Omega 7, took over operations, often with the tacit approval and knowledge of local and federal authorities. In 1971, the village of Boca De Samá on the northeast coast of Cuba was attacked, leaving two civilians dead and a dozen more injured. Alpha 66 continues to claim credit for this act of terrorism on their website. [6] A series of biological agents were purportedly introduced into Cuba in the 1970s, harming a number of plants and animals. These biological attacks included an outbreak of swine fever that killed a half-million pigs. Perhaps the worst case was the1981 epidemic of Dengue 2, totally unheard of in Cuba prior to this period. More than 300,000 people were affected within a six-month period. An estimated 102 children died as a result of the disease. Cuban-American Eduardo Arocena, former member of Omega 7, testified in 1984 that he travelled to Cuba in 1980 to “introduce some germs” into the country to “start the chemical war,” —as reported by The New York Times. [7] One of them was Dengue 2.

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