Objections to the U.S.’ Cuba Internet Task Force

The original post about the U.S. establishment of the Cuba Internet Task Force (CITF) set forth the objections from Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba, and two Cuban journalists (Sergio Gomez and Randy Alfonso Falcón) and another post focused on the Cuban Government’s objections to the CITF.

Now other objections have been registered by Cuban and other sources

Cuban Objections

Cuban objections came from representatives of its independent media and more from journalists Sergio Gomez and Randy Alonso Falcon.

Cuban Independent Media [1]

The day before the CITF’s inaugural meeting, Reuters reported from Havana that there are now “a handful of web-based news outlets in recent years in Cuba in the wake of the expansion of internet and broader social and economic freedoms. . . .These new outlets have been tolerated as long as they are not ‘counter-revolutionary’” and “have been chipping away at a half-century state monopoly, offering independent reporting and winning prestigious journalism prizes.”

Several representatives of these independent media, according to Reuters, have expressed opposition to the CITF.

Elaine Díaz, 32, in 2015 founded Periodismo de Barrio which focuses on the environment. She said, “We are not just talking about something that heightens tension in the country’s political situation but . . . [the CITF] could also damage the credibility of the independent media.” She added that “her outlet would refuse any money that the Trump program might award because in Cuba, people who receive aid from the U.S. government are branded mercenaries. These media are called independent, and that means independent of Cuban authorities as well as any other government.”

José Jasán Nieves, 30, director of El Toque, an online platform that focuses on entrepreneurship and citizenship, offered this comment. The CITF was “damaging us by giving arguments to [Cubans opposed to the independent media] … who are trying to link us to the enemy to minimize our presence in Cuban society.” Trump’s new policies were damaging the normalization of relations initiated by the Obama Administration.

Miguel Alejandro Hayes, 22, who writes for the outlet La Joven Cuba (The Young Cuba), said, “Trump’s policy is aimed at destruction: toppling the Cuban government. We don’t agree with that,” as elaborated in its open letter complaining to the State Department.

Sergio Gomez [2]

Gomez provides two additional comments.

In the first he says, “Although the State Department tries to camouflage its . . . [CITF] as a philanthropic project to improve access to the network of networks in . . .  [Cuba], the list of participants in the first [CITF] meeting . . . betrays its true intentions.”

One participant, the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, “is the umbrella of Radio and TV Martí, two relics of the Cold War designed to issue enemy propaganda and carry out psychological operations against Cuba. Millions of dollars of American taxpayers have been wasted in the failed projects of this organization, [which has been] subjected to several audits for corruption scandals and embezzlement.”

Another participant, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), ”is the public arm of the CIA and financier of subversive projects against Cuba such as ZunZuneo and Commotion, whose disclosure by the press was a shame for the US authorities due to its ineffectiveness and violation of international laws.”

“If we take into account the history of those who make up . . .  [CITF], nothing good can be expected.”

The second offering from Gomez with Iramsy Peraza Forte as co-author states that “the U.S. has been using communications technologies to attack Cuba ever since the age of shortwave radios and the emergence of television.” Indeed, “From psychological warfare propagated by the mass media to unconventional warfare, which has been adapted to the internet age, Cuba has been a test site for U.S. schemes designed to overthrow governments which do not respond to its interests.”

They then provide a list starting from March 17, 1960, of 14 U.S. schemes  to do just that in Cuba before the CITF. Here are the ones specifically involving the Internet:

  • In 2004, the “Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba . . .is created . . . to identify additional ways to hasten an overthrow of the ‘Cuban regime.’” It proposes  to ‘encourage willing third-country governments to create public access Internet facilities in their missions in Cuba” and to expand “‘the distribution of information and facilitate pro-democracy activities,” and “‘greater access to these types of equipment’ in order to do so.”
  • In 2006 the “Cuba Fund for a Democratic Future was created, providing 24 million USD worth of funding for anti-Cuban propaganda, including online initiatives.”
  • In February 2006 the State Department  “creates the Global Internet Freedom Task Force, specifically aimed at ‘maximizing freedom of expression and free flow of information and ideas’ in China, Iran and Cuba.”
  • In December 2009 “U.S. citizen Alan Phillip Gross [is] arrested [in Cuba] for bringing illegal communication devices into Cuba as part of a USAID program. In March 2011 Gross was [convicted and sentenced by a Cuban court for violating Cuban law] to 15 years imprisonment.” On December 17, 2014, Gross was released from prison and returned to the U.S. “following the announcement of a process of rapprochement between the two countries.”
  • In March 2011 Cuban officials discovered and stopped the U.S. “Operation Surf,” which “consisted of smuggling equipment and software into the country to install illegal antennas to access the internet.”
  • In April 2014 USAID financed the launch of ZunZuneo, which “was designed as a messaging network similar to Twitter through which thousands of Cubans [eventually] would receive “political content aimed at inspiring Cubans to organize mass demonstrations akin to ‘smart mobs’ to destabilize the country.”
  • Also in April 2014 the U.S. “Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB) which oversees Radio and TV Martí, launched a service similar to ZunZuneo.”
  • In September 2016 OCB “organized the ‘ . . . [for] independent” journalists from the island and digital innovators and activists who support the use of new technologies to bring about a regime change in Cuba.”

Randy Alonso Falcon [3]

In CubaDebate, Randy Alonso Falcon attacked the CITF premise that Cuba has subnormal access to the internet and information. He asserts, “there are more than 4 million Cubans who access the internet services through various means, among them tens of thousands of students, professors, health workers, journalists, scientists and other workers who receive free connectivity by virtue of their professional needs.”

Moreover, according to Falcon, “Cuba was the fastest growing country in social networks last year, according to the  Digital in 2017 Global Overview report . [It] highlights the growth of new users in the networks-with more than 2.7 million new users and 365% increase over the previous year-and the use of mobile phones to access social networks had 2.6 million new users and an increase of 385%.” Falcon also provides graphics to emphasize the rapid growth in Cuban access to the internet.

“Much remains to us to advance in the utilization of the new technologies, and especially in his better [means] to attain productivity and economic efficiency; but it will not be with Trump’s interventionist and subversive plans that we will achieve it. Political disposition, created talent, unity of action, culture and knowledge, will be our best weapons in that sovereign walk along the roads of the Internet. Without fear, with amplitude, with better contents and greater connectivity, but without naiveties.”

Other Objections [4]

Alan Gross, the previously mentioned U.S. citizen who was arrested, convicted and imprisoned in Cuba for illegally bringing communications equipment to the island, has objected to the CITF.  “My first response was ‘Are you kidding me?’ We are supposed to learn from our mistakes. I learned the hard way that it’s illegal to distribute anything in Cuba that’s funded in full or part by the U.S. government. Until the government of Cuba wants the kind of assistance United States is capable of providing, the United States shouldn’t be doing stuff there.” 

Cuba expert Ted Henken at Baruch College in New York, author of Freedom House’s annual report on Cuba, said, “”The solution proposed by the Trump administration is perhaps even worse than the disease. It will likely empower not the independent media or citizens but only the Cuban government to more easily justify the unjustifiable – more control and repression of independent media and unmediated access to information.”

Conclusion

The CITF is based upon the false and illegal premise that the U.S. unilaterally may and should decide what Internet services Cuba or any other country should have and then take unilateral steps to provide those services and equipment. Instead the U.S. should politely ask Cuba or any other country whether there was any way the U.S. could assist in improving their Internet service.

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[1] Reuters, Cuban Independent Media Say No Thanks to Trump Free Press Initiative, N.Y. Times (Feb. 6, 2018).

[2] Gomez, Operational Force on the Internet Against Cuba: the same as always with the same objectives, Granma (Feb. 7, 2018); Peraza Forte & Gomez, Internet wars: U.S. plans to  overthrow the Cuban Revolution with new technologies, Granma (Feb. 8, 2018). Many of the previous U.S. covert efforts to promote regime change in Cuba have been discussed in posts listed in the “U.S. Democracy Promotion in Cuba” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries–Topical: CUBA

[3] Falcon, US Special Group for the Internet meets to draw the digital guidelines of subversion (+Inforgraphics and Video), CubaDebate (Feb. 7, 2018).

[4] Reuters, Ex-Cuba Prisoner Gross Criticizes U.S. Plan to Foster Internet on Island, N.Y. Times (Feb. 4, 2018); Reuters, Trump Task Force on Expanding Cuba Internet Meets for First Time, N.Y. Times (Feb. 7, 2018). 

Subdued Commemoration of Second Anniversary of U.S.-Cuba Rapprochement    

December 17, 2016 was the second anniversary of Presidents Obama and Castro’s joint announcement that their two countries had embarked on the path of normalization and reconciliation. The U.S. commemoration of this date was subdued. The White House held a small gathering that was not widely publicized .The Cuban government, on the other hand, apparently did not hold any such event. But two Cuban publications published sketchy comments on the anniversary.

White House Commemoration[1]

On December 15, the Obama Administration hosted a private gathering across the street from the White House at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. President Obama did not attend, but did send a letter to the 20 or so attendees encouraging them “to carry forward the work of strengthening our partnership in the years ahead.”

The gathering was addressed by Benjamin Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor; Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the acting U.S. ambassador in Havana; and three high-level officials from the U.S. Commerce, State and Treasury departments. Another speaker was

José Ramón Cabañas, the Cuban Ambassador in Washington. Also in attendance were U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont and U.S. Representative Kathy Castor of Tampa, Florida, both Democrats.

Rhodes and DeLaurentis touted the administration’s accomplishments and, at different times, got emotional — Rhodes remembering support from Cuban-American friends in the wake of stinging criticism over his work, and DeLaurentis describing his work in Cuba, where he began and might end his diplomatic career, as the most rewarding of his life.

The attendees were Cuban Americans, Cuban government officials and business partners in Washington, including Miami entrepreneur Hugo Cancio, who publishes an arts magazine in Cuba; Felice Gorordo, founder of the Roots of Hope nonprofit; former U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez; John McIntire, head of the Cuba Emprende Foundation; Miami attorney Ralph Patino; Giancarlo Sopo, founder of the CubaOne foundation, and Miami Foundation president and chief executive Javier Alberto Soto.

Another attendee, Ted Henken, a Baruch College sociology professor and Cuba expert, observed, “It was partly a celebration of what has been achieved, and a mourning” for the intense political fight that awaits.”

As Ric Herrero, former head of the pro-engagement Cuba Now group and the current president of Manos Americas, a social entrepreneurship nonprofit, put it, the gathering was “bittersweet. There was just a lot of gratitude toward the administration for their commitment to this cause and to everything they’ve done.” But they all were left with the questions: “What next? Where do we go from here? Because there is no certainty.”

Indeed, a chief concern among attendees was that Trump’s “volatile” personality could ignite a war of words with the Cubans, who have so far kept silent about the president-elect’s Cuba statements. On the other hand, attendees noted, Trump doesn’t have a clear political ideology, and could be more interested in showing up Obama on Cuba by negotiating more concessions.  However, Rhodes said, “We would like nothing more than the new administration to succeed beyond what we did.”

Obama supporters at the meeting thought that Trump had a willingness to keep negotiating with Raúl Castro’s government and that U.S. regulatory changes, following a top-to-bottom policy review, could take time–so long, perhaps, that by then Castro might near his own retirement, scheduled for February 2018.

“We’re living through a lot of uncertainty, but there’s a pretty strong consensus that Trump is going to realize that turning back the clock is going to be very difficult,” said Carlos Saladrigas, president of the Cuba Study Group. “Returning to a failed policy doesn’t make any sense.”

However, at a December 16 “thank You” rally in Ordlando, Flordia, Trump told the crowd, “America will also stand with the Cuban people in their long struggle for freedom. Their support has been unbelievable. The Cuban people. We know what we have to do, and we’ll do it. Don’t worry about it.”[2]

Cuban Observance

No Cuban commemoration event was found in searching Cuban public sources, Instead, two articles on the subject were found.[3]

The CubaDebate article reviewed some of the key things that had happened since December 17, 2014, while reiterating Cuba’s fervent desire for the U.S. to end its embargo (blockade) and to return Guantanamo Bay to the island. It also alleged that President Obama had done “much less than he could, given the broad executive powers that he [allegedly]possesses and that [allegedly] would have allowed him to reduce the blockade to its minimum expression.”

Nevertheless, the article stated, on December 7, 2016, Josefina Vidal of the Cuban government reaffirmed Cuba’s willingness to continue this process and expressed its hope that President-elect Donald Trump will take into account, when he takes office on January 20, what has been achieved” over the last two years.

These same points were essentially repeated in the article in Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba. It also added the following points:

  • Obama had acknowledged for the first time that the U.S. policy of “aggression” [“hostility” would be more diplomatic] against Havana was a failure and had ended up isolating the U.S. itself. It also alleged that the U.S. methods were changing, but not its objective – regime change in Cuba.
  • The U.S. still has a ban on US investment in Cuba, except in the area of telecommunications.
  • The Cuban state sector, where more than 75% of the labor force is employed, remains deprived of selling its products to the U.S. with the sole exception of pharmaceuticals and biotechnology.Also, Cuban imports of goods produced in the U.S. that the state-owned enterprise can make are very restricted.
  • Although several months ago the US approved the use of the U.S. Dollar by Cuba in its international transactions, it has not yet been possible to make deposits in cash or payments to third parties in that currency, due to international banks’ fears of fines by the U.S.
  • The U.S. has not yet ended Radio and TV Marti programs aimed at Cuba.

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[1] Mazzei & Torres, Muted White House celebration marks Obama Cuba anniversary, Miami Herald (Dec. 17, 2016).

[2] Lemmongello, Trump thanks Florida at Orlando rally, Orlando Sentinel (Dec. 116, 2016).

[3] Cuba-US: After two years, much remains to be done, CubaDebate (Dec. 17, 2016); Gomez, The keys of December 17, Granma (Dec. 16, 2016).