Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    Fidel Castro is dead – He leaves behind a dysfunctional legacy

    Fidel Castro is dead: He leaves behind a dysfunctional legacy BY ALFONSO CHARDY achardy@MiamiHerald.com During the almost five decades that Fidel Castro ruled Cuba, he steadily boasted of his revolution’s achievements in health, education and welfare. Yet Castro’s critics insist that the pillars of those achievements were hollow from the start, and crumbling by the […] Continue reading

    Contributions to a dictionary of late Castroism

    Contributions to a dictionary of late Castroism BORIS GONZÁLEZ ARENAS | La Habana | 6 Mayo 2016 – 7:59 am. It was not difficult to foresee that Castroism, due to the way in which it had become a reflection of the political practices and personality of Fidel Castro, would slip into a deep crisis when […] Continue reading

    What we know about Cuba’s economy

    What we know about Cuba’s economy BY DREW DESILVERLEAVE A COMMENT Two-thirds of Americans favor an end to the decades-long U.S. trade embargo on Cuba, a January Pew Research Center study found, and the two nations reportedly are making progress on re-establishing diplomatic relations. As the communist government continues to slowly reform Cuba’s economy, American […] Continue reading

    The Economic Impact of Obama’s Measures

    The Economic Impact of Obama’s Measures / 14ymedio, Luis R. Luis Posted on February 10, 2015 14ymedio, LUIS R. LUIS, Washington, 13 January, 2015 — The measures announced by President Barack Obama will have a moderately positive effect on the economy of Cuba. Preliminary estimates of additional revenue to be generated by these measures place […] Continue reading

    Poverty in Cuba increases as government slashes social spending, expert says

    Posted on Saturday, 02.08.14 Poverty in Cuba increases as government slashes social spending, expert says BY JUAN O. TAMAYO JTAMAYO@ELNUEVOHERALD.COM The reforms pushed by Cuban ruler Raúl Castro are necessary to fix the country’s economy, but are eroding social services and have not led to increased productivity, economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago said Saturday. Social services accounted […] Continue reading

    Castro wants money, not a dialogue

    Posted on Sunday, 04.14.13
    CUBAN EMBARGO

    Castro wants money, not a dialogue
    BY FRANK CALZON
    frank.calzon@cubacenter.org

    Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez died, and Raúl Castro is searching for
    "investors" in Cuba. Chávez spent billions of Venezuela's petro-dollars
    shoring up Cuba's economy but Venezuela's new leaders may not be as
    beneficent. Venezuela may cut off its Cuban subsidy, just as new Russian
    leaders did after the Soviet Union's demise.

    American taxpayers are at the top of Castro's list, but can the Cuban
    communist government cash in on its years of political theater
    proclaiming itself the victim of American economic aggression while
    running its own economy into the ground and training and financing
    anti-American insurgencies around the world?

    Perhaps it can, given that the collective U.S. memory is rather short if
    not wholly forgiving.

    Earlier this year, Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy visited the Cuban dictator
    and returned home saying this is the time "to overcome continuing
    obstacles" and " to improve relations" because that would be in the
    "best interests of both countries." The senator means well, but his
    statements cry out for a more detailed appraisal of U.S.-Cuban relations.

    The real questions are: Improve relations for what purpose? And under
    what conditions? It might be in America's best interests to improve
    relations with North Korea, Syria and Iran too, but the obstacles
    standing in the way are similar to those in Cuba. There is no quid pro
    quo their leaders are willing to offer.

    Granted that while in Cuba, Sen. Leahy managed to wrangle permission
    from Gen. Castro to visit Alan Gross, a subcontractor with the
    U.S.Agency for International Development, who is serving a 15-year
    prison sentence. Gross after-the-fact "crime" was giving a laptop
    computer and satellite telephone to a Jewish organization seeking access
    to the Internet.

    Gross is innocent and also quite ill. Amnesty International reports he's
    lost more than 100 pounds in prison, and he has developed a growth that
    may be cancerous. Havana won't allow an American physician chosen by his
    family to see him.

    There are others. Amnesty International says that Calixto Martinez, a
    Cuban independent journalist — a reporter not working for state-run
    media — was jailed when he went to Havana's international airport to ask
    about a shipment of cholera medication sent by the World Health
    Organization. He has not been charged nor had a trial. Havana does not
    want tourists to hear about a cholera outbreak.

    But, back to the benefits of lifting what remains of the U.S. embargo
    against the Castros' dynasty: Cuba is broke and has suspended payments
    to many creditors.

    There is no ban on American companies selling foodstuffs or medicines to
    Cuba, which they do on a "cash-and-carry" basis. But Washington won't
    provide credit to Cuba, i.e., absorb the loss if the regime fails to pay
    its suppliers. Thus American companies selling to Cuba get paid and
    American taxpayers aren't on the hook when the regime fails to pay what
    it owes.

    Individually, Cubans have no "purchasing power" to speak of. The
    government is the island's only "employer" and pays workers the
    equivalent of $20 a month. Except for cigars, Cuba now has very little
    to sell to anyone. For 200 years, the engine of Cuba's economy was its
    sugar industry. It is now in shambles due to "state planning."

    Lastly, the United States lists Cuba as a state-sponsor of international
    terrorism. It does so, despite the best efforts of Ana Belen Montes, a
    high-ranking Defense Intelligence Agency analyst, who presented Havana
    as peace-loving and no threat to anyone. Montes was a spy for Cuba. She
    pleaded guilty and is now in a federal penitentiary. Her "reports" are
    still used by Castro's advocates.

    It is difficult to improve relations with dictatorships that deny human
    rights, ban labor unions and abuse and jail peaceful dissidents for
    talking about democracy. Visiting members of European parliaments have
    been arbitrarily arrested in Cuba.

    President Obama tried unilaterally to extend a "hand of friendship"
    without success. Today Havana wants money, not a meaningful dialogue
    that might lead to a "transition."

    Like Sen. Leahy, I wish things could be different, but that requires a
    demonstrable Castro initiative to change the nature of his rule in Cuba.

    Frank Calzon is executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba in
    Washington.

    http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/04/14/3340674/castro-wants-money-not-a-dialogue.html Continue reading

    The secret Cuba files of Alan Gross

    The secret Cuba files of Alan Gross
    March 23, 2013
    By Tracey Eaton (alongthemalecon.blogspot.com)

    HAVANA TIMES — Alan Gross envisioned setting up satellite Internet
    connections for Cuban Jews in Havana and six other provinces, then
    expanding his effort to include as many as 30,000 Masons at more than
    300 lodges across the country.

    Cuban Jews had "strategic value" in the democracy project because of
    their religious, financial and humanitarian ties to the United States,
    Gross said in an October 2008 memo filed this month in U.S. District Court.

    Jewish synagogues were a "secure springboard through which information
    dissemination will be expanded," Gross wrote in the 27-page memo to his
    former employer, DAI, a federal contractor in Bethesda, Md.

    The memo and other documents filed this month in U.S. District Court
    give new details about the original scope of the multimillion-dollar
    project, which was designed to go far beyond helping Jews connect to the
    Internet as the State Department has repeatedly suggested.

    Gross, 63, and his wife, Judy, are suing DAI for $60 million, saying
    that the contractor failed to prepare Gross for his risky mission,
    resulting in his capture in 2009. DAI has denied the accusation and says
    it isn't to blame for the subcontractor's jailing.

    Cuban authorities arrested Gross in December 2009. He was convicted of
    crimes against the state and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

    His 2008 memo said U.S.-based humanitarian organizations that take
    computers and other supplies to Jews in Cuba could be useful in DAI's
    democracy project. One possible implication is that these groups could
    be used, perhaps unwittingly, to shuttle equipment to Cuba, although
    Gross doesn't explain in detail what he had in mind.

    He writes that Cuban Jews and later Masons could help DAI establish an
    information and communications technologies "foothold."

    These groups are likely targets for successfully establishing a
    low-profile ICT foothold. Both have extended organizational networks and
    communities throughout the island and both are connected and/or have
    strong institutional relationships with US faith-based and humanitarian
    organizations that frequently sponsor Island missions.

    In his proposal to DAI, Gross proposed setting up Internet sites at 12
    Jewish synagogues in the provinces of Havana, Villa Clara, Cienfuegos,
    Guantanamo, Granma, Camagüey and Santiago de Cuba. Some 1,800 men, women
    and youth were members of the synagogues. They were the initial target
    of the democracy project. Gross wrote:

    Members of the primary target group will be able to help train members
    of the secondary target group in the event of a follow on project.

    The secondary – or follow on- target included members of 319 Masonic
    Lodges in Cuba. An infographic Gross submitted to DAI also cites "youth,
    women and Afro-Cubans."

    Gross said in court documents he was coordinating some of his activities
    with the Pan American Development Foundation, or PADF, another
    organization that had received U.S. government funds to try to hasten
    Cuba's transition to democracy.

    Cuban agents wound up infiltrating PADF's operation in Cuba. One of the
    organization's main contacts, José Manuel Collera Vento, former head of
    the Freemasons fraternal organization in Cuba, turned out to be an
    informant for Cuban State Security (See interview with Collera, also
    known as Agent Gerardo).
    José Manuel Collera Vento

    José Manuel Collera Vento

    At the time, Gross headed a small company called JBDC . He worried about
    the Cuban government's counterespionage efforts and was especially
    concerned about the fate of his contacts in Cuba's Jewish community.

    The 2008 memo underscored the need for secrecy:

    All information on this page is considered highly confidential and is
    not to be disclosed or reproduced for distribution without the expressed
    written permission of JBDC, LLC. Failure to comply with this could lead
    to irreparable harm to certain parties on the island.

    In court documents, Gross's lawyer said DAI's biggest concern was
    figuring out who would replace him if he could no longer carry out the
    project.

    A one-page memo from DAI to Gross stated:

    Given your concerns regarding your ability to remain on the island,
    please indicate in writing your contingency plan in the case that you
    are unable to continue working on the island for whatever reason. Who
    will take over to see the project to completion?

    Gross replied that if he were to become "persona non grata" on the
    island, his company, JBDC, would pick a new leader. He wrote:

    We have several (3) excellent candidates with whom we have worked for
    more than five years on field information projects. In the event that
    the project director becomes PNG, a JBDC decision will be made
    concerning who will resume field leadership with the confidence that DAI
    will approve. A key aspect in this decision will mainly involve
    availability.

    The U.S. Agency for International Development had awarded DAI a contract
    worth $28 million to carry out the democracy project in 2008. The
    company asked Gross to join the effort and told him he was project's top
    subcontractor.

    Gross and others transported satellite Internet gear to Cuba and
    installed it at synagogues in Havana, Camagüey and Santiago de Cuba. He
    never reached his goal of setting up Internet sites in 12 communities in
    seven provinces. Nor is there evidence that he expanded his project to
    include Masons.

    Gross did travel to Cuba to begin the project's second phase, but was
    arrested as he tried to leave the island.
    Will Recant

    Will Recant

    Gross was traveling alone at the time and his company was largely a
    one-man operation.
    However, while pursuing the DAI subcontract in 2008, Gross said a
    "community development associate" would assist him at the start of the
    project. Gross wrote that William Recant:

    …is considered a trusted party by the community. He has an excellent
    understanding of the on-the-ground nuances of political and
    organizational life on the Island, as well as a keen grasp on how to get
    things done there.

    Recant is the assistant executive vice-president of the American Jewish
    Joint Distribution Committee, or JDC, touted as "the world's leading
    Jewish humanitarian assistance organization."

    Editor's note: I left a message with the JDC requesting comment and
    haven't yet heard back from the organization.

    Recant's biography says he: erves as the senior staff person regarding
    all of JDC's non-sectarian and disaster relief programs. In this
    capacity, he coordinates projects relating to the rescue, relief, and
    renewal of Jewish communities worldwide and develops non-sectarian
    programs. Will is also the Desk Director for Latin America and Europe
    Community Development at JDC headquarters in New York, which involves
    him in the effort to relieve the Argentinean community in crisis.

    Excerpts of Gross's 27-page memo are below:

    Revised Technical Response to Request for Proposal No. CDP-01 New Media
    10-08 CDP New Media Initiatives

    1. Project Summary

    JBDC, LLC designed and developed an in-country pilot project called
    "ICTs Para la Isla." This pilot project will train a segment of an
    identified primary target group on the use and maintenance of currently
    available off-the-shelf terrestrial and non-terrestrial information and
    communication technologies (ICTs).

    The primary target group identified for this purpose will benefit from
    the use of these ICTs by gaining greater access to information that is
    presently highly restricted and difficult to obtain.

    The group will further benefit from this pilot project by gaining the
    ability to distribute this information to and communicate with the
    larger organization communities throughout the island.

    The initial target group will also participate in a monitoring and
    evaluation process with which they will become familiarized as part of
    their technical training. Identification of a secondary target group for
    a follow on project will be confirmed prior to the conclusion of the
    first pilot. Members of the primary target group will be able to help
    train members of the secondary target group in the event of a follow on
    project.

    2. Country Context

    2.1 General County Context

    For nearly five decades, two principal issues have heavily impacted on
    the island's ability to make informed choices: 1) blocked or very
    limited access to information, and 2) closely monitored and blocked
    communications between pro-democracy groups. This also applies to the
    general public at large. While these groups represent a foundation for a
    future free island, they have not been able to communicate effectively
    with their constituents nor with each other.

    We now have the ability to transmit, access and communicate information
    on a large scale through the use (albeit discreetly) of specific
    off-the-shelf technologies. The free world is able to and does take
    advantage of these technologies. Through effective use of current
    information and communications technologies (ICTs), the potential to
    help bring about and support social change on the island sooner rather
    than later will increase.

    At this specific juncture, change in domestic policies is highly
    anticipated on the island, as is concern about change. Consequently, any
    effort to introduce new technologies must be done with sensitivity.

    2.2 Specifically, as related to Project Activities

    2.2.1 ICTs Para la Isla – Pilot will help to change the status quo when
    it comes to accessing and communicating information. The Pilot will
    build upon JBDC experience in order to help develop systems that will
    hasten a transition to democracy through informed choice. This objective
    will be advanced by diminishing the information and communications
    blockade. More specifically, the Pilot will, on a limited test-basis,
    accomplish the objective of introducing specific devices that will
    enable greater direct access to information and communications and
    improve intra- and intergroup communications channels.

    2.22 The intent is for JBDC to utilize to the fullest extent possible
    its findings from previous island work and hands-on practical ICT
    experience, as well as its international development experience in more
    than 50 countries.

    3. Problem to which the Project is Responding

    Access to the Internet is available on the island, however it is highly
    limited, highly monitored and general use is highly restricted. Hotel
    access for 1 hour of use costs approximately 25 percent of an
    individual's average monthly income on the island. It is conventional
    thought that as of 2004 less than 2 percent of the island's population
    had real information access through the Internet. Most Islanders lack
    the ability to access information that is readily available through the
    Internet from websites that many in the free world take for granted.
    With the advent of legal cellular/mobile telephone use, new
    opportunities exist for multi-modal information dissemination.

    4. Project Strategy

    4.1 Justification of Strategy

    This Pilot activity will lay a practical groundwork that will facilitate
    and enable the better management of larger-scale and more comprehensive
    transition-to-democracy initiatives by building ICT networks. Employing
    multi-modal devices will help mitigate logistics risks (e.g., signal
    blockage). Real-time testing and verifying which technologies work best
    in the field for specific and varying purposes will be instrumental for
    this as well as numerous other future transition activities.

    4.2 Goal

    The successful implementation of this Pilot project will identify
    practical ways to develop and reach a larger pro-democracy constituency.
    It will help insure the transfer and conveyance of information by
    initially establishing Internet connectivity at more than 1 location on
    the island.

    The following graphic illustratively shows how improved information
    flows can be used. Based on previous work done on the Island and through
    ongoing professional relationships, JBDC will work initially with and
    through the Island Community and later with the Masons. These groups are
    likely targets for successfully establishing a low-profile ICT foothold.
    Both have extended organizational networks and communities throughout
    the island and both are connected and/or have strong institutional
    relationships with US faith-based and humanitarian organizations that
    frequently sponsor Island missions.

    4.3 Primary Target Beneficiaries1

    The primary target beneficiaries affiliate with a specific faith-based
    group comprised of 1,800 women, men and youth. This group is organized
    into 12 communities throughout the Island:

    Adath Israel
    Caibarien
    Camaguey
    Campechuela
    Centro Sefaradi
    Chevet Achim
    Cienfuegos
    Guantanamo
    El Patronato
    Sancti Spiritus
    Santa Clara
    Santiago de Cuba

    There is strategic value in identifying this specific group because:

    Possible Internet access sites have already been identified.
    The size of the group is manageable in the context of project
    implementation.
    The group has direct and indirect links to other communities on the
    island with significant populations.
    It is linked to other faith-based groups nationwide.
    It receives meaningful financial and other support from
    non-governmental sources in the US.
    It is currently and legally developing a youth computer lab with
    non-governmental outside support that could become a very helpful
    information distribution portal; while this facility is considering
    highly likely to serve as a future Internet portal, it has too much
    visibility. However, its participants can serve as important technical
    resources that will help keep the Pilot up and running following initial
    implementation.
    The group could be given technical assistance to develop – among
    other initiatives – a 12-community intranet through which written
    educational and faith-based material can be cost-efficiently
    distributed. As the 12-community intranet is developed, information
    (text, sound, and video formats) can be downloaded from 1 Internet site,
    then distributed via the community's intranet.
    Numerous missions from around the US visit the Island annually and
    bring many critically needed commodities, such as medicines, computers,
    books, etc. Many such faith-based congregations and organizations
    sponsor island missions, such as:

    - "Island" Health Network
    - "AJJDC"
    - "Island" Connection
    - Solidarity
    - The "Island"
    - American Mission
    - BB Center for Public Policy "Island" Relief Project
    - Individual US congregations

    This target group is thought to be a secure springboard through which
    information dissemination will be expanded. It is also a community to
    which JBDC has longstanding relationships in a very broad but
    low-profile context.

    Secondary Target Beneficiaries to be confirmed for a Pilot "Phase II"

    Approximately 30,000 Masons are organized through 319 Masonic Lodges
    nationwide. As of 2004, these lodges were situated as follows: (Editor's
    note: This document contains misspellings of city names and scattered
    other punctuation errors. The mistakes are left intact to preserve the
    document's original form).

    Matonces 28
    Campo 29
    Ciudad Havana 111
    Santiago 19
    Pinar del Rio 17
    Ville Clara 30
    Sacti Spiritus 11
    Cien Fuegos 14
    Ciego del Avila 8
    Camaguey 14
    Las Tuna 6
    Holguin 14
    Granma 10
    Guantanamo 7
    Isla de la Joventud 1

    Although not as closely managed as is the organization of primary target
    group on the island, the Masons also represent an organized mechanism
    through which information can be disseminated. Identifying possible
    Internet access sites will be accomplished during the first mission.

    JBDC will identify a specific segment of this secondary target group
    prior to the conclusion of the Pilot in the event of a follow-on.

    Key personnel lists Gross and William Recant, Community Development
    Associate. The document states Recant is:

    an intermittent consultant/employee who has directed more than 50
    faith-based, humanitarian and community development missions to the
    island. Throughout his career he has initiated, implemented and managed
    many humanitarian and community revitalization programs in more than 30
    countries, such as in the Former Soviet Union, Ethiopia, China, Rwanda,
    and in particular on the island.

    He has significant credibility within the target group and well beyond
    he is considered a trusted party by the community. He has an excellent
    understanding of the on-the-ground nuances of political and
    organizational life on the Island, as well as a keen grasp on how to get
    things done there. Dr. Recant holds both a Master's Degree and Ph.D. in
    Political Science.

    Relevant Past Performance

    Specific information concerning island activities is contractually
    restricted. What can be shared, however, is that JBDC has implemented an
    on-island assessment that discovered ways in which direct text
    communications could be established between the US and Islanders.

    The primary objective of this project was to explore what opportunities
    existed to use relatively inexpensive communications technologies that
    could be used to convey information by voice and data. JBDC discreetly
    field tested access and use of cellular text messaging from the island
    and investigated prospects for the use of other internet-related
    technologies. Strategic information obtained from this effort will be
    updated during the first field visit.

    1 Both Primary and Secondary target groups have viable communities
    appropriate for this purpose. However, all equipment logistics from the
    US to the Island will be more secure with the Primary target group.?"

    http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=90070 Continue reading

    Wife of imprisoned U.S. contractor in Cuba says she has renewed hope of his release

    Posted on Tuesday, 12.18.12 CUBA Wife of imprisoned U.S. contractor in Cuba says she has renewed hope of his release Judy Gross, whose husband has been detained in Cuba for three years, said the United States should negotiate with Cuba to free him.... Continue reading

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    The Perverse Path of Repression

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    The Impact of Cuba’s New Customs Regs

    The Impact of Cuba's New Customs Regs September 19, 2012 Alberto N. Jones HAVANA TIMES — Official statements describe the Cuban Customs Office as "the country's first line of defense, responsible for preventing the entry of harmful ma...

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