Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Odds and ends

  • Granma published the text of the foreign investment law today.

  • In the Mariel economic zone, as in foreign investment projects in general, workers are hired and paid through an employment agency.  Payment is made in hard currency, the agency keeps most of the money and pays the workers a normal Cuban wage.  Foreign businesses then make side payments to the workers to raise their wages and productivity, which is why jobs with foreign businesses are sought-after.  Trabajadores reports that in the Mariel economic zone, the agency will no longer have a “revenue-collecting” function and will pay workers 80 percent of the wage negotiated between the foreign business and the agency.

  • Reuters on Cuba’s new private non-farm cooperatives; more than 450 are now operating in the program’s “experimental” phase.

  • Granma: the new labor code makes Good Friday a holiday in Cuba, this week and permanently.

  • A granddaughter recounts an interview that her grandfather Clark Hewitt Galloway conducted with Fidel Castro in 1959.

  • Dodger phenom Yasiel Puig’s flight from Cuba was harrowing, and still is so, recounted in detail by Los Angeles Magazine in English and Spanish.


“The government of the Islamic Republic is clearly an adversary, but it is also a rational actor…the United States must make clear that we do not seek to overthrow the Iranian regime.  Iranian paranoia on this issue is virtually limitless and understandably so.  In 1953, the American and British intelligence services ousted a democratically elected Iranian prime minister, an episode that very few Americans remember and no Iranian will ever forget.”

– Former Ambassador Ryan Crocker, dean of the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M, advocating negotiations with Iran in the New York Times last November

Friday, April 11, 2014

Alan Gross suspends his hunger strike

His announcement today:

Alan Gross Suspends Hunger Strike at his Mother’s Urging, Announces There Will Be Further Protests to Come

From prison in Havana, Alan Gross spoke to his attorney, Scott Gilbert, and declared that he is suspending his fast as of today. He dictated the following statement to Gilbert:

“My protest fast is suspended as of today, although there will be further protests to come. There will be no cause for further intense protest when both governments show more concern for human beings and less malice and derision toward each other.”

Gross’s family and friends have been very concerned about his health and have asked him to end his fast. Gross explained to Gilbert that he is suspending his fast today because his mother asked him to stop. She will be 92 years old on April 15, the first day of Passover.

Gross has been imprisoned in Cuba for four years and four months. He has asked President Obama to personally intervene to help bring him home.


“What Cuba needs is to free up the raising of cattle and the sale of milk and beef by prĂ­vate farmers, and to permit them to buy the necessary supplies directly from foreign suppliers who operate in Cuba, without government intervention.  You will see that within five years the problem of milk will be solved.”

– from a comment signed “Elsa Beltran,” one of many on Granma’s story on the hike in the price of powdered milk

Thursday, April 10, 2014

AP follows up on ZunZuneo

Countering USAID’s contention that there was no political content on its ZunZuneo “fake Twitter” program for Cuba, AP reports on documents containing draft messages intended to be sent to cell phones in Cuba; see here and here.  The contractor hired to write the messages said, “I do political humor. Everything I do is politics even if it is humor about politics.”

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Alan Gross calls for help (Updated)

Jailed USAID contractor Alan Gross announced that he has begun a hunger strike, blaming both governments for his predicament and calling for President Obama to work for his release. 

If his move is prompted by reports that the United States is considering the release of the spy Jonathan Pollard to encourage Israel-Palestine peace talks and, separately, five Taliban prisoners to obtain the release of one U.S. soldier, one can hardly blame him.

Here is the statement announcing the hunger strike, released by the firm SKD Knickerbocker, including an afternoon update at the top:

For Immediate Release
April 8, 2014

Update on Alan Gross

From prison in Havana, Alan Gross spoke to his attorney, Scott Gilbert, on Tuesday afternoon. Gross said that he ate his last solid food on Wednesday evening, April 2nd.

On Thursday, April 3rd, he said he learned about USAID’s ZunZuneo program. Alan said the “Cuban twitter” effort “was the final straw for him” and prompted his decision to go on a hunger strike.

He has not eaten since, though he is drinking water. So far, he has lost about 10 pounds.

“When I asked him how long he planned to continue the hunger strike,” said Gilbert, “he said, ‘as long as it takes.’”

Gross has been imprisoned in Cuba for four years and four months. He has asked President Obama to personally intervene to help bring him home.


For Immediate Release
April 8, 2014

USAID Contractor Alan Gross Begins Hunger Strike
From Havana Prison Calls for Resolution of "Shameful Ordeal"

Washington, D.C. - Alan Gross, the USAID subcontractor imprisoned in Cuba for the last four years and four months, launched a hunger strike last week protesting the inhumane treatment to which he has been subjected, calling on both countries to "resolve this shameful ordeal" so he can return home.

Said Gross: "I began a fast on April 3rd in protest of the treatment to which I am subjected by the governments of Cuba and the United States.  I am fasting to object to mistruths, deceptions, and inaction by both governments, not only regarding their shared responsibility for my arbitrary detention, but also because of the lack of any reasonable or valid effort to resolve this shameful ordeal. Once again, I am calling on President Obama to get personally involved in ending this stand-off so that I can return home to my wife and daughters."

Last week, the Associated Press revealed that USAID created a "Cuban Twitter" program called ZunZuneo shortly after Gross was arrested in Havana. During an interview with NBC's Andrea Mitchell, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who chairs the appropriations subcommittee that funds USAID, called the program "dumb" and said that covert operations should not be conducted through USAID. USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah will testify today before Leahy's subcommittee.

Scott Gilbert, the lead attorney representing Gross, said that USAID's actions with ZunZuneo put Gross's life in greater jeopardy.

"Once Alan was arrested, it is shocking that USAID would imperil his safety even further by running a covert operation in Cuba," said Gilbert. "USAID has made one absurdly bad decision after another.  Running this program is contrary to everything we have been told by high-level representatives of the Obama Administration about USAID’s activities in Cuba.”

Since Gross, 64, was arrested and imprisoned, he has lost more than 110 pounds. He is confined to a small cell with two other prisoners for 23 hours a day, and the lights remain on 24 hours a day. He is in failing health. He faces another 11 years in prison.

Gross was arrested during his fifth trip to Cuba on behalf of USAID. He was sent there to help the Jewish community in Havana gain access to the Internet, which the Cuban government declared unlawful.

Gross's wife, Judy, said she fears that her husband will not be able to endure his confinement much longer. "I've been begging our government for more than four years to bring Alan home," said Judy Gross. "I'm worried sick about Alan's health, and I don't think he can survive much more of this."