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). 

Positive Developments for Improved U.S.-Cuba Relations

Two recent developments implicitly have endorsed my strong suggestion for the U.S. to rescind its designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” and to seek reconciliation with Cuba.

Colombia-FARC Negotiations

President Juan Manuel Santos

Over the last week the President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, has announced that this October his government will enter into new negotiations with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) seeking to end their long civil war.

Santos said that holding such talks is well worth the risk of failure because an end to the conflict would not only would end bloodletting, but also bring a “peace dividend” of up to 2% additional economic growth a year to the country’s economy.

The initial negotiations will take place in Norway and then move to Havana, Cuba. The President said that support for such negotiations by Venezuela and Cuba has been crucial in helping the two sides to reach agreement on conducting the negotiations.

Cuba’s role in this positive development for Colombia and the whole western hemisphere shows the absurdity of the U.S. designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” on the ground, in part, that some members of the FARC have been living in Cuba.

Former President Carter Calls for Improved U.S.- Cuba Relations

Jimmy Carter

 

On September 6th, former President Jimmy Carter said the next U.S. president should act forcefully to improve relations with Cuba. He also called for Cuba to be removed from the U.S. State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.

 

 

The Persistence of the Inquisition

The Inquisition was a phenomenon limited to fifteenth and sixteenth century Spain. Correct? Not so says Cullen Murphy in his new book, God’s Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World and in the Atlantic Magazine’s excerpt of the book, Torturer’s Apprentice. So too does Adam Gopnik in a recent New Yorker essay about this and related books, Inquiring Minds: The Spanish Inquisition revisited.

As Gopnik puts it,  the Inquisition is “an institution as deeply rooted in modernity as the scientific tradition that it opposed. Its fanaticism, its implicit totalitarianism . . ., its sheer bureaucratic brutality  . . . make it central to who we are and what we do. Its thumbprint is everywhere. . . .” What happens at the U.S. base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba is only one of the recent examples. Another example is the close parallels of the Spanish Inquisition’s interrogation manuals and the current U.S. manuals about “enhanced interrogation.”

Gopnik also criticizes scholars who allegedly delve into the minutia of the Spanish Inquisition and in the process lose the forest for the trees: Benzion Netanyahu (the father of the Israeli Prime Minister), Henry Kamen and Eamon Duffy.

According to Gopnik, history needs to be done with “historical imagination,” which is the “ability to see small and think big.” Without such imagination, the historian “risks a failure of basic human empathy.”  For studying and writing about the Spanish Inquisition, this means, he says, that the historian must imagine “the horror of being burned alive.”

The persistence of the practices of the Inquisition unfortunately continues to be demonstrated by the news of the day. Minneapolis’ Center for Victims of Torture has treated over 23,000 victims over the last 24 years. A similar program at New York City’s Bellevue/N.Y.U. Program for Survivors of Torture recently reported that in its “20 years of examining torture victims, we have seen few as traumatized as the several Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and black site (secret prison) detainees whom we evaluated.” And the European Court of Human Rights recently decided that under the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the U.K. could not deport a radical Muslim cleric to Jordan because there was a “real risk that evidence obtained by torture will be used against him.”

We also have seen in the following prior posts the persistence of torture and the efforts to stop such conduct:

  • the negotiation and adoption of a multilateral treaty against torture (the International Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment);
  • the U.S. first and second reports to the Committee Against Torture;
  • the U.S. adoption of the Torture Victims Protection Act (TVPA);
  • the U.S. federal court lawsuit under the TVPA over the torture, rape and murders of the four American churchwomen in El Salvador;
  • the criminal cases in Spain under the principle of universal jurisdiction against U.S. officials for alleged torture of detainees in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and for  authoring legal memoranda allegedly justifying torture;
  • the granting of asylum to a Salvadoran for having been tortured in his home country and who came to Minnesota to be treated at the Center for Treatment of Victims of Torture; and
  • the jurisdiction over torture as part of crimes against humanity (Art. 7(1)(f)) and war crimes (Art. 8(2)(a)(ii), 8(2)(c)(i)) for the International Criminal Court and other international criminal tribunals.

As a result, eternal vigilance against torture is necessary. In the U.S., for example, various religious groups have banded together in a National Religious Campaign Against Torture. Its statement of conscience says, “Torture violates the basic dignity of the human person that all religions, in their highest ideals, hold dear. It degrades everyone involved — policy-makers, perpetrators and victims. It contradicts our nation’s most cherished ideals. Any policies that permit torture and inhumane treatment are shocking and morally intolerable.”

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The U.S. Should Pursue Reconciliation with Cuba

U.S. reconciliation with Cuba is in the U.S. national interest. Cuba poses no threat to the U.S. Reconciliation would help improve the lives of many Cubans now living on the margin. Reconciliation also would advance U.S. economic and other interests.

I will explain why I reach these conclusions. Then I will set forth what I see as the topics to be addressed in the necessary bilateral negotiations to reach the reconciliation goal along with a process to facilitate such negotiations.

Why U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation Is in the U.S. National Interest

First, Cuba poses no threat to the U.S.

Our population of 313.2 million is over 28 times larger than Cuba’s of 11.1 million. Our economy of         $ 14.62 trillion is 254 times as large as Cuba’s of $57.5 billion. Our annual defense expenditures of $593.6 billion is over 270  times larger than Cuba’s of $ 2.2 billion, and Cuba’s military equipment suffers from lack of replacement parts while we all know about U.S. military capabilities’ exceeding the rest of the world combined. And our land mass is over 88 times larger than Cuba’s (9,827,000 sq. km. vs. 111,000 sq. km.). (These comparisons are based on public statistics published by our CIA.) [1]

Yes, Cuba is one of four countries on the U.S. list of “state sponsors of terrorism,” but such designation is not justified.[2] Furthermore, there is absolutely no reason why the stated reasons for the U.S. designation of Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism” could not be successfully addressed in a good faith negotiation between the two countries.

Second, Cuba’s regrettable human rights violations are understandable and could be more successfully addressed in direct negotiations between the two countries.

Yes, Cuba has committed violations of human rights, as illustrated by the most recent U.S. State Department Human Rights Report on Cuba.[3] As a human rights advocate, I deplore these violations.

Yet given the long-standing U.S. hostility towards Cuba and the immense U.S. superiority in economies and militaries, it is understandable why Cuba has harshly treated what we call “dissidents.” Remember the U.S. usurpation of Cuba’s war for independence from Spain in the late 19th Century and our making Cuba a de facto U.S. protectorate in the early 20th Century. Remember too the U.S.-supported invasion of Cuba’s Bay of Pigs in 1961, and the Cuban missile crisis of 1963 and the CIA plots to kill Fidel Castro. The U.S. embargo of Cuba has now lasted for nearly 52 years. Most recently the U.S. Government’s Commission on Assistance for a Free Cuba set forth a U.S. blueprint for taking over Cuba.[4] In short, Cuba has many legitimate reasons to be afraid of the U.S.

And we should know from our own history since 9/11 that societies and governments tend to clamp down on civil liberties when they fear outside interference or attacks.

Cuba’s human rights record is often used as another justification for U.S. continued hostility towards Cuba and the maintenance of the embargo. Yet, I submit, this has been a failed strategy, and there is no reason to suspect that continuation of this hostility will bring about a change in Cuban human rights.

Instead, good faith negotiations between the two countries aimed at normalization of relations, I believe, hold more promise for improving human rights in Cuba.

Third, normalizing U.S. relations with Cuba would be in the economic interests of the U.S.

Prior to the recent global financial and economic turmoil, Cuba had the highest economic growth rate in Latin America. This was due in substantial part to increasing world prices for two of its exports, nickel and cobalt. Exploration for oil off the north coast of Cuba is now proceeding. Cuba needs to import many agricultural products. Foreign tourists (mainly Canadians and Europeans) enjoy Cuba’s beautiful beaches and resorts.

The global financial and economic turmoil has had a huge negative impact on the Cuban economy. The Cuban government wants to lay off 500,000 public employees (nearly 10 % of the total labor force), leaving them to try to support themselves as barbers, hairdressers and similar occupations. The government also wants to eliminate the food ration card system that provides limited quantities of basic foods at low, subsidized prices. Such changes increase the economic incentives for Cubans to leave the island and somehow get to the U.S.

Our economic embargo of the island deprives our own businesses and farmers from benefiting from trade with the island. In addition, our embargo provides economic opportunities for other countries, and increasingly China, to fill the void.

Fourth, normalizing relations with Cuba would be in the overall interest of the U.S.

The U.S. has many pressing real problems in the world, and Cuba is not one of them. Normalizing our relations with the island would be seen by most people in the world, especially Latin America, as a sign that the U.S. is a mature, rational country.[5]

Topics for U.S.-Cuba Negotiations

I am not a U.S. government employee and thus am not privy to all of our Government’s issues regarding Cuba. As a concerned and informed U.S. citizen, however, I believe that any U.S.-Cuban negotiations would include at least the following subjects:

1. re-establishment of full diplomatic relations;

2. termination of the United States’ embargo against Cuba;

3. termination of the United States’ restrictions on its citizens’ travel to Cuba;

4. compensation by Cuba for expropriated property of U.S. citizens and businesses;

5. emmigration and immigration of citizens between the two countries;

6. enhancement of human rights of Cuban citizens;

7. the status of Cuba’s lease of Guantanamo Bay to the United States; [6]

8. the continued U.S. imprisonment of the so-called Cuban Five;[7]

9. the continued Cuban imprisonment of U.S. citizen, Alan Gross;[8]

10. U.S. fugitives in Cuba;[9]

11. exploration and drilling for oil in the Caribbean Sea between the two countries;[10]  and

12. Cuba’s re-entry into the Organization of American States.

Process for U.S.-Cuban Negotiations

Given the long period of hostility between the two countries and the apparent lack of movement toward negotiations, I believe that the assistance of a neutral third-party mediator would be helpful to both countries. Such a mediator, in my opinion, should be someone who is bilingual in English and Spanish with experience as an international mediator, who is in fact and perceived to be neutral and who has the time (and staff?) to make a major commitment to this process.

Such a mediator indeed could step forward and invite representatives of both countries to participate in mediated negotiations, rather than wait on them to agree on such a process. As a private citizen I unsuccessfully have tried to interest two international organizations in doing just that.[11]

Conclusion

As a result of the above analysis, I strongly disagree with the stated position of the Obama Administration. On May 13, 2011, President Obama said (in Miami), “I would welcome real change from the Cuban government … For us to have the kind of normal relations we have with other countries, we’ve got to see significant changes from the Cuban government and we just have not seen that yet.”[12] He and Secretary of State Clinton previously have made similar statements.[13]

The Administration, in my opinion, is wrong on this policy for two reasons.

First, the U.S. should not insist on another country’s making certain internal changes before even talking about a whole range of issues that need to be resolved in a bilateral relationship. Indeed, this is exactly what the U.S. is advocating for Israel and the Palestinians.

Second, the Administration is wrong as a matter of fact about the changes that have been happening in Cuba over the last 18 months or so. The Cuban government has announced major changes in the economic structures–planning to fire 500,000 public employees and allowing greater private enterprise and economic freedom. Some workers are organizing unions. A small farmers group is calling for an end to the state’s food distribution monopoly. The government is cracking down on corruption. Cuba as a result of an agreement that was brokered by the Roman Catholic Bishop of Havana has released most, if not all, of its political prisoners.


[2]  See Post: The Ridiculous  U.S. Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” (May 20, 2011).

[3]  U.S. State Dep’t, 2010 Human Rights Report: Cuba (April 8, 2011),    http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2010/wha/154501.htm.

[4]   U.S. Commission on Assistance for a Free Cuba, http://www.cafc.gov. The Commission apparently has been abandoned by the Obama Administration because it is not mentioned on the current U.S. State Department website.

[5]   E.g., Thompson & Romero,  Clinton Aims to Improve Ties with Latin America,, N.Y. Times (May 19, 2011), http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/19/world/americas/19policy.html

[6]  From 1903 through 1933, the annual rent for the U.S. lease of Guantanamo was $2,000 (U.S. gold coins), an amount that was initially seen as generous to Cuba. From 1934 through 1971 it was $3,336 as a result of the U.S. going off the gold standard. In 1972 it was adjusted to $3,676 (due to revaluation of the U.S. Dollar to gold). In 1973, another adjustment for the same reason produced an annual rent of $4,085 which is still in effect today. Thus, for many more recent years the rent is seen as nominal. Moreover, starting in 1960 (soon after the Cuban Revolution took over the island), Cuba has refused to cash the annual rent checks. Thus, for over half a century the U.S. has not paid anything for leasing Guantanamo. (Michael Strauss, The leasing of Guantanamo Bay at 126-37 (Westport, Conn.: Praeger Security Int’l 2009); id. at 214-33 (text of the actual lease agreements).)

[7]  The “Cuban Five” are five Cubans in U.S. prisons after convictions for conspiracy to commit murder; conspiracy to commit espionage; conspiracy to commit crimes against the U.S.; use of false identity and documentation; and being unregistered agents of a foreign government. In Cuba, they are regarded as heroic patriots. A future post will discuss their case.

[8]  Gross is a U.S. citizen who was arrested in Havana in December 2009 and later convicted of illegally distributing in Cuba satellite communications equipment as a subcontractor of USAID.

[9]  E.g., Puerto Rican Nationalist: Not Guilty in Bank Heist, N.Y. Times (May 21, 2011),    http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2011/05/20/us/AP-US-Puerto-Rico-Robbery.html?sq=CUBA&st=nyt&scp=3&pagewanted=print (Puerto Rican nationalist pleads not guilty in 1983 U.S. bank robbery; another suspect in the robbery is believed to be living in Cuba).

[10]  E.g., Howell, Oil Spill Panel’s Chairman Says His Push for Cuba Talks Irked Obama Admin, N.Y. Times (May 17, 2011); Reuters, Cuban Oil Rig Set to Cause Waves in Washington, N.Y. Times (May 17, 2011).

[11]  The two organizations were The Elders, an independent group of eminent global leaders focused on peace building (http://www.theelders.org/elders) and the Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights (http://www.oslocenter.no/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=12&Itemid=29).

[12]  Reuters, Obama wants “real change” in Cuba before Normal Ties (May 13, 2011).

[13] Ariosto, Cuba to free five more prisoners, CNN, Oct. 21, 2010 (Obama said, “I think that any release of political prisoners, any economic liberalization that takes place in Cuba is positive, positive for Cuban people, but we’ve not yet seen the full results of these promises”); Oppenheimer, Obama unwilling to make new gestures to Cuba without action from Havana, Miami Herald (March 23, 2011)(Obama said, “The Cuban government made some gestures about releasing political prisoners and starting some market-based economies with small business opportunities. (But) we haven’t seen as much follow-through as we would like”); Secretary of State Clinton, Remarks at the 41st Washington Conference on the Americas, (May 11, 2011) (Secretary of State Clinton said the U.S. “could do more  [to improve relations with Cuba] if we saw evidence that there was an opportunity to do so coming from the Cuban side because we want to foster these deeper connections and we want to work for the time when Cuba will enjoy its own transition to democracy, when it can look at its neighbors throughout the hemisphere and the people in Cuba will feel that they, too, are having a chance to choose their leaders, choose their professions, create their businesses, and generally take advantage of what has been a tremendous, great sweep of progress everywhere but Cuba.”); Lopez, The “Low Point” in U.S.-Cuba Relations–One Year Later  Havana Note (May 2011).