Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Updates on Pinar del Rio and Matanzas

Hurricane Ian

EMERGENCIA POR HURACÁN IAN

Junto a otras instituciones ecuménicas y a través del Consejo de Iglesias de Cuba, se hizo un donativo a los damnificados por el huracán Ian, de la provincia Pinar del Río
Junto a otras instituciones ecuménicas y a través del Consejo de Iglesias de Cuba, se hizo un donativo a los damnificados por el huracán Ian, de la provincia Pinar del Río

Early response

HURRICANE IAN EMERGENCY

19 October, 2022

Together with other ecumenical institutions and through the Council of Churches of Cuba, a donation was made to the victims of Hurricane Ian, from Pinar del Río province.

Together with other ecumenical institutions and through the Council of Churches of Cuba, a donation was made to the victims of Hurricane Ian, from Pinar del Río province.

Accompanying and providing solidarity aid to those most in need is one of the main motivations and objectives of the CCRD-C. In recent days our country, mainly the western territory, has been greatly affected by the passage of Hurricane Ian, which left disastrous consequences, material and spiritual, in the lives of many people.

From the cyclonic alert stage, the Emergency Committee was activated in our institution, which monitored the trajectory of this meteorological phenomenon and put all our departments and premises safe.

The Center joined the solidarity call of the Council of Churches of Cuba (CIC), in support of so many people who are suffering right now in Pinar del Río. Our donations were transported there. In addition, we cooperate with financing the account that was activated to help the victims monetarily.

 We are here to serve, to always provide our support to those who are needed.

https://www.ccrdcuba.org/

https://www.facebook.com/ccrdcuba/


Tax deductible contributions can be made in the US through the Fund for Reconciliation and Development  https://tinyurl.com/donateFRD


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* "U.S. will provide $2 million of hurricane aid in Cuba" by Karen De Young, Washington Post, October 18, 2022 https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/10/18/biden-cuba-hurricane-ian/

* "10 days later, Cubans still recovering from Hurricane Ian"  by Andrea Rodriguez, Associated Press   https://apnews.com/article/hurricanes-health-caribbean-covid-storms-848c52622a1e03a50b93a5013be0df72

* "Disaster diplomacy: Why Biden should rush to help Cuba after Hurricane Ian" by Professor William LeoGrande, Responsible Statecraft https://responsiblestatecraft.org/2022/09/30/disaster-diplomacy-why-biden-should-rush-to-help-cuba-after-hurricane-ian/

* Letter from Representatives Lee, McGovern and Meeks calling for US humanitarian aid to Cuban victims of Hurricane Ian https://lee.house.gov/news/press-releases/chairs-lee-meeks-and-mcgovern-issue-statement-regarding-humanitarian-assistance-to-cuba-following-hurricane-ian

John Kavulich sees the situation in Pinar del Rio as an opportunity for US investment and financing and for sale of privately produced tobacco to the US.                                                                          *I"mpact Of Hurricane Ian Upon Privately-Owned Tobacco Plantations In Cuba Opportunity For U.S.-Origin OFAC-Authorized Direct Investment And Direct Financing?  ­ U.S. - Cuba Trade and Economic Council, Inc."

* "We appreciate humanitarian assistance offer made by the US. This material contribution that is worth 2 million USD, channeled through the International Federation of Red Cross, will add up to our recovery efforts in support of the victims of the ravages caused by #HurricaneIan" Tweet by Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez.


Matanzas Oil Fire

* "Cuba’s enormous blaze fuels fears of instability even as flames are doused" by Ed Augustin https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/aug/10/cuba-fire-government-power-cuts

* "Did U.S.-Cuba dysfunction prevent a quicker end to the Matanzas oil fire disaster?" by Tim Padgett https://www.wlrn.org/news/2022-08-19/did-u-s-cuba-dysfunction-prevent-a-quicker-end-to-the-matanzas-oil-fire-disaster

* Letter from FFRD to USAID https://cubapeopletopeople.blogspot.com/2022/08/letter-to-usaid.html


Broader National & Bilateral Focus

* "Inflation, blackouts and collapsing peso pile pressure on Cuban govt" by Marc Frank   https://www.reuters.com/article/cuba-economy/inflation-blackouts-and-collapsing-peso-pile-pressure-on-cuban-govt-idINL1N31C2T7

* "Did the Cuban government request help from the U.S. because of Hurricane Ian?" - Progreso Weekly   Interviews with Jesús Arboleya and Manuel R. Gomez

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Democracy Programs: Depends on Whose Ox is Gored

 An unresolved and deep conflict between the US and Cuba is the expenditure of at least $20 million dollars per year for democracy programs in Cuba, largely through grants from USAID.   They were documented by The Cuba Money Project.  It no longer exists but many of the ground breaking posts can be found here    https://web.archive.org/web/sitemap/http://cubamoneyproject.com

It is illegal for US candidates to accept  donations from people who are not US citizens.  The controversy of Russian influence still dominates debate about the first Trump campaign.  Yet very few American politicians question the legitimacy of covert interference in Cuba's social and political life.  USAID is accepted and plays a positive role in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia because its programs are public and negotiated between the governments.   The fundamental difference is that the US, despite many disagreements about human rights and democratic practice in all three former enemies does not aspire to regime change.

The following interview with a Cuban Deputy Foreign Minister, article about Russian political interference worldwide and discussion of US opposition to China's government funded Confucius Institutes illustrate the inherent hypocrisy in our democracy programs.  My solution is at the end.

   --John McAuliff


Cuba slams US funding to “promote democracy” as illegal

By Dave Sherwood

 

HAVANA, Sept 2 (Reuters) - Cuba slammed U.S. funding for "democracy promotion" programs as interventionist and illegal, aimed at toppling the government just as the island nation faces its worst economic crisis in decades, the country's Vice Foreign Minister said on Friday.

The Biden Administration in July announced a call for applications to award up to $6.25 million to nongovernmental organizations and individuals as part of a decades-long program authorized by U.S. law to "promote peaceful, nonviolent democratic change in Cuba."

Vice Foreign Minister Carlos Fernandez de Cossio told Reuters in Havana that the programs - which over several decades have spent upwards of $200 million on Cuba-related projects - in fact leverage foreign funding to foment unrest on the island.

"In any nation, this is illegal," he said, noting the United States has legislation against people who act as foreign government agents.

"That is precisely what the United States is trying to promote in Cuba today," he said.

The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) call for applications warned of the challenges and risks of working in Cuba, and said recipients "will not serve as an agent or act under the direction of USAID."

De Cossio's allegations come as the island nation suffers its worst economic crisis in decades, with widespread blackouts and hours-long lines for such basic supplies as food, fuel and medicine.

Cuba has long blamed the U.S. Cold War-era embargo and financing of dissidents for its economic and social woes, but De Cossio said the most recent U.S. funding for pro-democracy groups was specifically crafted to topple the communist-run government.

"They (the U.S) are depressing the standard of living of the population and at the same time pouring millions of US taxpayer dollars into urging people to act against the {Cuban} government," De Cossio told Reuters.

The United States called for applications from groups that would provide humanitarian assistance for persecuted individuals and for those "empowering Cubans through access to information."

The deputy foreign minister's statements on Friday follow the first high-level talks between the two countries in four years, at the time characterized as constructive by the long-time foes.

Relations have nonetheless remained tense, with the United States and human rights groups accusing Cuba of stifling free speech and wrongly imprisoning protesters following widespread anti-government rallies on the island last July 11. Cuba has denied those allegations.

Reporting by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Josie Kao

https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/cuba-slams-us-funding-promote-democracy-illegal-2022-09-02/


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Russia Secretly Gave $300 Million to Political Parties and Officials Worldwide, U.S. Says

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By Edward Wong

  • Sept. 13, 2022

WASHINGTON — Russia has covertly given at least $300 million to political parties, officials and politicians in more than two dozen countries since 2014, and plans to transfer hundreds of millions more, with the goal of exerting political influence and swaying elections, according to a State Department summary of a recent U.S. intelligence review.

Russia has probably given even more that has gone undetected, the document said.

“The Kremlin and its proxies have transferred these funds in an effort to shape foreign political environments in Moscow’s favor,” the document said. It added, “The United States will use official liaison channels with targeted countries to share still classified information about Russian activities targeting their political environments.”

The State Department document was sent as a cable to American embassies around the world on Monday to summarize talking points for U.S. diplomats in conversations with foreign officials.

 

Ned Price, the State Department spokesman, confirmed at a news conference on Tuesday that the findings on Russia were the result of work by U.S. intelligence agencies. He added that Russian election meddling was “an assault on sovereignty,” similar to Russia’s war on Ukraine. “In order to fight this, in many ways we have to put a spotlight on it,” he said.

The State Department cable and release of some of the intelligence findings amount to an initial effort by the Biden administration to use intelligence material to expose the scope of Russian interference in global political processes and elections, and to rally other nations to help combat it.

U.S. intelligence agencies have determined that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election in favor of Donald J. Trump, the Republican candidate who defeated Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee. Its methods included the use of cyberoperations to spread online disinformation. U.S. intelligence officials also found that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia authorized a campaign to try to hurt the candidacy of Joseph R. Biden Jr. when he ran for office against Mr. Trump in 2020.

The new document says that a range of Russian agencies and individuals carry out the global operations, including the Federal Security Service and other security agencies, as well as business figures.

The document named two men, Yevgeny Prigozhin and Aleksandr Babakov, both close associates of Mr. Putin, as involved in the influence or interference campaigns. In April, the Justice Department charged Mr. Babakov, who is also a Russian lawmaker, and two other Russian citizens with conspiring to violate U.S. sanctions and conspiring to commit visa fraud while running an “international foreign influence and disinformation network to advance the interests of Russia.”

The Russians pay in cash, cryptocurrency, electronic funds transfers and lavish gifts, the document said. They move the money through a wide range of institutions to shield the origins of the financing, a practice called using cutouts. Those institutions include foundations, think tanks, organized crime groups, political consultancies, shell companies and Russian state-owned enterprises.

The money is also given secretly through Russian Embassy accounts and resources, the document said.

In one Asian country, the Russian ambassador gave millions of dollars in cash to a presidential candidate, the document said. U.S. agencies have also found that Russia has used false contracts and shell companies in several European countries in recent years to give money to political parties.

“Some of Russia’s covert political financing methods are especially prevalent in certain parts of the world,” the document said. It added, “Russia has relied on state-owned enterprises and large firms to move funds covertly across a number of regions including Central America, Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, and on think tanks and foundations that are especially active across Europe.”

As of last year, the document said, a Russian business figure was trying to use pro-Russian think tanks in Europe to support far-right nationalist parties. The document warned that in the coming months, Russia might use its “covert influence tool kit,” including secret political financing, across broad swaths of the globe to try to undermine the American-led sanctions on Russia and to “maintain its influence in these regions amid its ongoing war in Ukraine.”

Although U.S. intelligence agencies have been studying Russian global election interference and influence for years, the intelligence review was ordered by senior administration officials this summer, U.S. officials said. Some of the findings were recently declassified so they could be shared widely. The review did not examine Russian interference in U.S. elections, which intelligence agencies had been scrutinizing in other inquiries, a U.S. official said.

Officials say one aim of the U.S. campaign to reveal details about Russian political interference and influence is to strengthen democratic resilience around the world, a pillar of President Biden’s foreign policy. Administration officials are focused on ensuring that nations that took part in last year’s Summit for Democracy, which Mr. Biden held in Washington, can buttress their democratic systems. The administration plans to convene a second summit soon.

The State Department summary listed measures that the United States and partner nations could take to mitigate Russia’s political interference campaigns, including imposing economic sanctions and travel bans on known “financial enablers” and “influence actors.”

 

The department also recommended that countries coordinate intelligence sharing, improve foreign investment screening, strengthen investigative capabilities into foreign financing of political parties and campaigns, and enforce and expand foreign agent registration rules.

It said governments should also expel Russian intelligence officers found to be taking part in related covert financing operations.

The State Department said in the summary that it was urging governments to guard against covert political financing “not just by Russia, but also by China and other countries imitating this behavior.”

Julian E. Barnes contributed reporting.

 https://www.nyti mes.com/2022/09/13/us/politics/russia-election-interference.html


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Controversy in the US About Chinese government funded Confucius Institutes

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_Confucius_Institutes

The Confucius Institute (CI) program, which began establishing centers for Chinese language instruction in 2004, has been the subject of criticisms, concerns, and controversies during its international expansion.

Many such concerns stem from the CI's relationship to Chinese Communist Party (CCP) authorities, giving rise to criticisms about undermining academic freedom at host universities, engaging in industrial and military espionage, surveillance of Chinese students abroad, and attempts to advance the Chinese government's political agendas on controversial issues such as Taiwan, and human rights in China and Tibet.[1][2] Additional concerns have arisen over the institutes' financial and academic viability, teaching quality, and relations with Chinese partner universities…..

 In August 2020, the United States Department of State designated the headquarters of the Confucius Institutes in the U.S. as a "foreign mission" of China.[158][159][160]

As of 2022, all of the Confucius Institutes located on SUNY campuses were closed because federal research funding was jeopardized. The 2021 National Defense Authorization Act is the act that could restrict federal research funding to universities that host Confucius Institutes.[161]

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confucius_Institute#Criticism_and_controversies

Confucius Institutes are used as a form of "soft power" by the Chinese government in which it spends approximately $10 billion a year on CIs and related programs to exercise these initiatives.[10] Chinese Communist Party (CCP) general secretary Xi Jinping in 2013 stated that the intentions are to "give a good Chinese narrative".[11] Being affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of Education, CIs have received increasing skepticism over its censorship of content taught, such as topics related to individual freedoms and democracy, TaiwanTibet and Xinjiang…..

 In the short time-frame of their rapid expansion, the institutes have been the subject of much controversy. Criticisms of the institutes have included administrative concerns about finance, academic viability, legal issues, and relations with the Chinese partner university, as well as broader concerns about improper influence over teaching and research, industrial and military espionage,[56][57] surveillance of Chinese abroad, and undermining Taiwanese influence.[58] There has also been organized opposition to the establishment of a Confucius Institute at University of Melbourne,[59] University of Manitoba,[60] Stockholm University,[61][62] University of Chicago[63] and many others. More significantly, some universities that hosted Confucius Institutes decided to terminate their contracts. These include Japan's Osaka Sangyo University in 2010;[64] Canada's McMaster University and Université de Sherbrooke,[65][66] and France's University of Lyon in 2013;[35] the University of Chicago, Pennsylvania State University, and the Toronto District School Board in 2014,[67][68][69] the German Stuttgart Media University and University of Hohenheim in 2015,[70][71] and Vrije Universiteit Brussel and University of Kansas in 2019…..

  A U.S. law passed in 2019 that prohibits universities hosting Confucius Institutes from receiving funding for Chinese language studies from the Department of Defense led to more closures of Confucius Institutes. Unable to obtain a waiver from the Department of Defense, Indiana University, the University of Minnesota, the University of Rhode IslandSan Francisco State University, the University of OregonWestern Kentucky UniversityArizona State University, the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and San Diego State University closed their programs in 2019.[105][106][107][108] In 2020, the University of Maryland also announced the closure of its Confucius Institute, the oldest one in the U.S.[109]


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Message to Samantha Power from John McAuliff


To: Samantha Power 
Subject: USAID democracy programs

Dear Ms. Power,


I hope you have seen this story from Reuters about USAID democracy programs in Cuba.  Deputy Foreign Minister de Cossio who was interviewed is a serious and balanced person.  His point about the US attitude on the receiving end can be seen in the concern about Chinese government funded Confucius Institutes on US campuses.




It would be a far more effective contribution to democracy in Cuba if the embargo were ended and the natural influences of unrestricted tourism, investment, cultural exchanges and trade were allowed to play out.


Hard-liners in both countries would lose leverage on their respective governments, including the Cubans who characterized President Obama's initiatives as a Trojan Horse.  Regrettably Trump's maximum pressure policies confirmed their suspicion.- and the Biden Administration has done far too little to undo the damage.


I could make a proposal to USAID, perhaps in partnership with an organization like the Institute of International Education, to set up a broad two way exchange of academics, business, lawyers, professionals, athletes, artists, etc.  One commonality between our two countries is the array of associations and conferences that provide a natural point of entry.


The critical factor is that the design of the program and the choice of participants must be the joint responsibility of representatives of both countries.   Inevitably for the first few years, Cuban participants will be carefully vetted for reliability.  However my expectation is that as trust is developed, the parameters will widen.  Cuban attendance in the annual congress of the Latin American Studies Association is a useful example.


Regards,


John McAuliff


P.S.  Our petition to you regarding aid to Matanzas is growing slowly but steadily  https://sign.moveon.org/petitions/help-matanzas-recover


Saturday, August 20, 2022

Letter to USAID

 



                   Fund for Reconciliation and Development

                   64 Jean Court, Riverhead, NY  11901

                   1 (917) 859-9025   jmcauliff@ffrd.org   www.ffrd.org

 August 15, 2022

 Ms. Samantha Power

Director
US Agency for International Development


Dear Ms. Power,

We are about to launch a petition to urge USAID to provide assistance to Cuba to recover from the horrendous oil fire at Matanzas.   
Help Matanzas Recover | MoveOn

It is unconscionable and counterintuitive that the US did not send immediate help to stop the fire.  The provision by the State Department of a phone number to obtain technical advice prompted expressions of gratitude from Deputy Foreign Minister Fernandez de Cossio and President Diaz-Canel.  (see below)

Cuba was ready to welcome direct timely assistance from Resolve Marine Group and the Hope for Cuba Foundation as authorized by OFAC, but the idea died because no US disaster assistance funding was made available.

If the US had responded quickly with its unequaled capability, the explosion of the third and fourth tank could have been avoided,  In addition we squandered the opportunity for a positive change of US-Cuba relations with potential consequences internally in both countries and in bilateral relations.  Instead, average Cubans and intellectual and cultural leaders who are known critics of their own government now despair of the US.  (see below)

It is not too late to bring to bear US expertise and traditional generosity.  Cuba faces a massive need for clean up and salvage in Matanzas.  Resolve Marine Group and Hope for Cuba Foundation are revising their proposal to meet the current situation so an easy and credible path for US engagement will soon be on offer. 

Some critics say the uncharacteristic Biden Administration inaction in the face of a neighbor's natural disaster is because it cares more about votes in Florida.  Others claim the US government regards Cuba's loss and additional disruption of electric generating capacity as a good thing because they will add to public discontent and contribute to prospects for regime change.  I cannot accept such cynical interpretations but lack evidence to the contrary.

I am writing to you not only because USAID is a logical source of assistance through the US private sector, but also because of your eloquent, historic and applauded speech to the UN when the US abstained on the embargo vote.   Cuba today is essentially the same as when you spoke.  The encouraging growth of civil society and widening of public debate of that era were reversed in reaction to the Trump Administration's harsh regression in bilateral relations.   

My personal view, based on more than sixty trips to Cuba in the past twenty-five years, is that the wide scale protests of July 11, 2021, were affected by Biden’s continuation of Trump's maximum pressure campaign through denial of remittances and travel.  I also believe the harshness of Cuban repression and subsequent prison sentences are consequences of the unexpected undiminished perceived threat from the US.

I would love to see USAID present in Cuba the way it is in the formerly enemy countries with which I have also worked closely, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia; not to mention Peru where I collaborated with USAID as a Peace Corps volunteer.  For that to happen covert ideology-based democracy programs (which we would not tolerate if Russia, Iran or China tried to carry out in the US) must be replaced by public collaborations for academic, cultural, professional and business exchange.  But that is a longer conversation.  Let's move now on the inescapable humanitarian crisis created by the Matanzas fire.

Sincerely,



John McAuliff

Executive Director

 

PS Your ties to Ireland are more immediate than the several strands of my 19th century immigrant ancestry.  However, a July revisit to the Republic and to Northern Ireland reminded me afresh that Ireland experienced England in ways analogous to Cuba's experience of the US.  Perhaps this parallel might also capture President Biden’s attention.

 

 Appreciation in tweets from Cuban leaders for US technical assistance

Carlos F. de Cossio  @CarlosFdeCossio  

Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs


Agradecemos profunamente condolencias y expresiones de ayuda de diversas organizaciones y personas de EEUU con motivo del siniestro en #Matanzas , incluyendo gob EEUU, que ofreció asesoría técnica, propuesta ya en manos de los especialistas para la debida coordinación. #Cuba

Google translate:  We are very grateful for the condolences and expressions of help from various organizations and people in the United States on the occasion of the incident in #Matanzas, including the United States, which offered technical advice, already in the hands of specialists for proper coordination.



Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez  @DiazCanelB


President


Expresamos profunda gratitud a los gobiernos de México, Venezuela, Rusia, Nicaragua, Argentina y Chile, que con prontitud han ofrecido ayuda material solidaria ante esta compleja situación. También agradecemos ofrecimiento de asesoría técnica por parte de EEUU.

Google translate: We express deep gratitude to the governments of Mexico, Venezuela, Russia, Nicaragua, Argentina and Chile, which have promptly offered material assistance in solidarity in the face of this complex situation. We also appreciate the offer of technical advice from the United States.


Push back that followed the tweet from President Diaz-Canel

Was the author a hard liner from Cuba's Party or security services; or a Russian, Chinese or  Miami exile troll.  All would be unhappy with Washington-Havana rapprochement.

@BettyCOM6 Replying to @DiazCanelB

Que bien el apoyo a Cuba que tanto ha ayudado en el mundo. Pero en el caso de EEUU cuidado con la ayuda si viene de la USAID, no podemos permitir que el principal emisor de subversión en Cuba, sea ahora el Salvador. Si quieren ayudar que quiten cláusulas del bloqueo.

Google translate:  How good the support for Cuba that has helped so much in the world. But in the case of the U.S. beware of help if it comes from USAID, We cannot allow the main issuer of subversion in Cuba to now be our saviour. If they want to help let them remove clauses from the blockade.



Opinion from critics of the government

 La Joven Cuba is an on-line independent publication fostering democratic debate in Cuba.  It is distrusted and attacked by official sources and hard liners in Cuba and by the Florida right wing.  It was sympathetic to protestors in July 2021 and published this editorial about Matanzas.

United States Absent: Little support from the White House in the face of the disaster in Matanzas”


https://jovencuba.com/estados-unidos-ausente/

 

Ulises Aquino, the outspoken and widely respected creator of Opera de la Calle, asked me to circulate this statement before the fire was extinguished with the help of Mexico and Venezuela:

This is a message to the U.S. Embassy, to the Government of Cuba, Organizations, Artists and all people of good will.


Matanzas suffers, the entire Cuban people, is suffering a voracious fire that threatens to prolong itself due to the impossibility of having the resources and means to extinguish it. As a Cuban citizen, and also as a citizen of the United States, I feel a duty to insistently and with urgency request of the US government that you put aside all differences, and that you urgently collaborate with the Cuban authorities at this difficult time.

It is not a question of procedures now; it is a crusade for life. Let us show that beyond political differences there is a need for a pure space for our peoples to breathe clean air and the right to life.

To the Cuban authorities, please request the collaboration of the United States officially in the solution of this catastrophe that will leave deep traces in our lives.