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Cuba declared that government will start buying dollars and other changeable currencies on Thursday at a price that is approximately 5 times the going rate in an attempt to beat the black market and seize the assets. As according to internet-based online news source El Toque tracker, the most witnessed in the communist dictatorship, Central Bank Chairman Marta Wilson Gonzalez stated on government mainstream tv on Wednesday night that the government financial system had established a new rate of 120 pesos to the dollar, especially in comparison to the authoritative fixed rate of about 20 pesos, and 115 pesos on the grey economy.
The very first step
Gonzalez said that most operations in the state-dominated sector would continue to function at the fixed interest rate that had been in place for some more than two years and that the new price would fluctuate and not pertain to them. Cuba decided to ban dollar in 2020 due to U.S. sanctions, and shortly after, it stopped issuing the general populace changeable money for pesos, claiming it was out of money.
Alejandro Gil, the finance minister, stated in an interview with the head of the central bank on Wednesday that he wanted to restart exchange rates soon, but that the initial step was to take control of the black market.
He claimed that a significant amount of international money approaching the nation today escapes the national banking program’s grasp. The relatively close, resource industry increased 1.3% last year following contracting 10.9% in 2020, slammed by tough new U.S. sanctions, the epidemic, and present rising global pricing for products and transportation. Gil stated that the rebound was continuing, albeit slowly, without providing numbers.
Rising protests due to the shortages
The private sector, that frequently gets foreign cash from tourists, and the institutions will now again receive and convert actual dollars at 120, according to Vidal, unlocks a significant primary hurdle that transfers faced when they were costing 24 pesos.
A succession of enormous blaze blasts that could be witnessed from Havana 75 miles away, a bolt of lightning, and a lasting sulfuric odour. Lightning hit late on Friday, starting a five-day fire at Matanzas’ oil production storage unit. As per Mario Sabines, the town’s administrator, the fires expanded to three additional tanks holding tens of thousands of cubic meters of gasoline over the ensuing weeks “like an Olympic torch.” The inferno wasn’t certainly put out until Tuesday. At that point, it had severely damaged Cuba’s electricity system and resulted in one death and 125 injuries.
The blackouts ensuing
And as the dust settles, there is growing concern that it, along with the ensuing blackouts, may further undermine the “Cuban Revolution,” that is currently undergoing one of the most precarious phases of its 63-year existence. Thousands of Cubans, particularly those living in the remote rural areas, have indeed been enduring hour-long everyday power outages for days. Food spoils rapidly in the August heat, and sleeping is extremely difficult. A 12-hour power failure last July served as the initial catalyst for the enormous protests that followed.
Although the amount of petroleum, gasoline, and heating oil lost in the blaze has yet to be reported by the authorities, Cubans already are preparing for a worsening energy shortage. As Cuba’s South American partner battles to process sufficient petroleum for its own purposes, oil supplies from Venezuela have decreased. It is now more difficult for Cuba to purchase oil on the export business due to the rise in crude prices brought on by the conflict in Ukraine.
Tankers from Venezuela facing sanctions
The majority of the Trump government’s “highest effort” campaign against with the nation continues, notwithstanding Joe Biden’s election-year pledge to undo Trump measures that caused hardship on Cubans and their people. Sanctions continue to be imposed on vessels delivering Venezuelan oil to Cuba. According experts, this makes the island spend more for shipping. The United States provided scientific aid while Venezuela and Mexico dispatched different teams and much more than 100 tonnes of firefighting chemicals.
There are concerns among proponents of the normalisation resumed by President Obama that the Biden administration is “secretly optimistic that the electricity and other difficulties are an exam that ‘the government’ keeps failing,” according to Fulton Armstrong, the most senior consultant on Latin America for the US intelligence agencies.
Well before fire, Jorge Pion, head of the Latin America and Caribbean energy and environment programme at the University of Texas at Austin claimed that his analysis had shown a “complete breakdown” of the area’s electricity system this year.
The U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, rejected complaints in December that politics influenced its decision to award $3.4 million to a human rights group linked to the Cuban American National Foundation.
According to a Dec. 19 story in the Miami Herald, U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., had objected that USAID gave money to the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba, a group associated with the CANF. He said U.S. democracy funds “should be provided only to organizations with strong experience and proven track records” on the island. He said:
It would be a disgrace if the Obama administration broke with tradition and used a penny of that critical funding to reward political cronies.
Mark Lopes, USAID Deputy Assistant Administrator for Latin America, denied the accusations of favoritism. He told the Herald that a “technical evaluation committee” is in charge of picking grant winners.
Politics didn’t play a role in the selection, said Lopes, a former aide to hardline Cuban-American Sen. Bob Mendendez, D-N.J. Lopes said:
The criteria for competing for USAID funds is included in the grant application … This is a technical process based on the merits of the proposals submitted. No political appointee had any role in the selection process.
Joe Garcia, former director of the CANF, told the Cuba Money Project that Diaz-Balart and other hardline lawmakers have gotten their way for years as USAID grants have been steered to groups they favor. They are upset now, Garcia contends, because a grant went to an organization they don’t support.
Days after the Herald story was published, former Senate staffer Fulton Armstrong called on the U.S. government to clean up USAID’s Cuba programs and negotiate the release of Alan Gross, an American subcontractor who is imprisoned in Cuba.
In a letter published in the Miami Herald on Dec. 25, Armstrong wrote:
As USAID subcontractor Alan P. Gross marked his second year in a Cuban prison for carrying out secret “democracy promotion” operations, White House spokesman Jay Carney demanded his immediate release and gloated: “Cuban authorities have failed in their effort to use Gross as a pawn for their own ends.”
The message is simple: Gross is our pawn, not the Cubans’. The administration’s signals throughout the Gross affair have been clear. To Havana, it’s been “no negotiation.” To Gross, “tough luck.” And to Americans who think our 50-year Cuba policy should be reviewed, it is, “Don’t hold your breath.”
When a covert action run by the CIA goes bad and a clandestine officer gets arrested, the U.S. government works up a strategy for negotiating his release. When a covert operator working for USAID gets arrested, Washington turns up the rhetoric, throws more money at the compromised program, and refuses to talk.
Armstrong, a former CIA analyst, knows about covert operations. He also spent three years as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s lead investigator into the political operations of the State Department and USAID in Latin America. He wrote:
Like the other millions of dollars we have spent to topple the Cuban government, these programs have failed even to provoke the regime, except to arrest Gross and hassle people who have accepted assistance from other on-island operators.
Our policy should be based on what’s effective at promoting the U.S. national interest — peaceful, democratic and evolutionary change — not engaging in gratuitous provocations.
Fulton Armstrong’s letter drew a quick response from Mark Feierstein, USAID’s assistant administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean, and Michael Posner, the State Department’s assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor. They complained that Armstrong’s letter “contains several errors.” In a letter published Jan. 4 in the Miami Herald, they wrote:
Most important, the U.S.-backed activities in support of democracy and human rights in Cuba aren’t secret, covert or classified. The State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development regularly brief Congress, and program descriptions are posted on both websites. The programs, which began during the Clinton administration and are comparable to international efforts in support of democracy elsewhere provide humanitarian support to dissidents and their families, strengthen civil society and facilitate the flow of information to, from and within the island. Early on in the Obama administration, we instituted new oversight measures to help ensure the maximum effectiveness of taxpayer dollars in these competitively awarded programs.
As President Obama has said, “The people of Cuba deserve the same rights, freedoms and opportunities as anyone else.” Instead, the article urges acceptance of the Cuban regime’s laws, many of which are inconsistent with international norms and prohibit Cubans from exercising human rights such as freedom of expression and assembly. Such appeals would have been dismissed out of hand when dealing with authoritarian regimes of the past in Latin America.
As we continue our work in support of the internationally recognized human rights of the Cuban people, the United States continues to call on Cuban authorities to immediately release Alan Gross, a USAID subcontractor who has been unjustly detained for more than two years for helping Cubans access the Internet.
Earlier, on Dec. 2, the Cuban mission to the United Nations issued the following statement about Gross:
Alan Gross is not in prison because he was assisting the Jews in Cuba to connect to the Internet. All synagogues in Cuba have access to the Internet; they have had it before Alan Gross visited Cuba.
Alan Gross was tried in observance of all guarantees; he was tried because he violated Cuban laws while implementing a covert program financed by the U.S. government and aimed at disrupting the constitutional order in Cuba. During his visits to Cuba, Gross never told the persons he contacted that he was working for a U.S. government program.
The undercover activities conducted by Alan Gross in Cuba constitute crimes in many countries of the world, including in the United States.
The Cuban government has conveyed to the U.S. government its willingness to find a humanitarian solution to the Gross case on reciprocal basis.
On Dec. 23, Cuban authorities announced they were pardoning 2,900 prisoners, but Gross wasn’t among them.
Also in December, the subcontractor’s wife, Judy Gross, stepped up her efforts to secure her husband’s release, protesting outside the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C. She said in a statement:
To receive news in the middle of Hanukkah that the Cuban authorities have once again overlooked an opportunity to release Alan on humanitarian grounds is devastating. Our family is simply heartbroken.
In Havana, the Associated Press reported that two Jewish leaders met with Gross to celebrate Hanukkah. They lit candles, ate potato pancakes and passed around chocolate coins.
Gross was “in good spirits and fine health, but anxious to get home to his family and disappointed he was not included in a massive prisoner amnesty announced by President Raul Castro last week,” the AP’s Paul Haven wrote.
Jewish leader Adela Dworin told the AP:
His health is very good. He has gained some weight. He’s not fat, but he’s not so thin anymore.
The Cuba Money Project’s five goals for 2011 were to:
- Publish: Post stories and interviews that give dissidents, bloggers, Cuban government supporters, exiles and others the opportunity to voice their opinion on U.S. government-financed programs in Cuba.
- Investigate: Use the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, to pursue documents that shed light on U.S. government programs in Cuba.
- Explore: Travel to Washington, Miami and Havana to interview key sources.
- Enlighten: Tell stories not just with words, but pictures and video.
- Network: Connect with people who work for the U.S. and Cuban governments, government contractors, non-profit organizations, universities and other groups. Seek information and feedback. Tap in to the wisdom of the crowd.
I plan much of the same in 2012. I am not satisfied with the quantity or quality of hard data I’ve found since launching the Cuba Money Project in December 2010. But I appreciate the encouragement I’ve gotten from others who would like to see greater transparency and accountability at the U.S. Agency for International Development and the State Department.
Among my goals for 2012 are to:
- Continue to interview people who have diverse points of view on both sides of the Florida Straits.
- Look for ways to expand the Cuba Money Project.
- Seek additional funding for the project, which received travel grants from the Pulitzer Center in Washington, D.C., in 2010 and 2011.
- Establish a board of advisers.
- Increase interaction with readers and others.
- Update and add to charts and tables showing amounts spent on Cuba projects.
- Improve analysis of existing data.
- File additional FOIA requests with USAID and the State Department.
- Appeal FOIA denials if it appears the government may be violating the law.
The Office of Cuba Broadcasting paid Raul Castro’s former chief of staff $94,600 from April 2004 to June 2008 for “professional services,” federal budget records show. Alcibíades Hidalgo Basulto, the former Cuban ambassador to the United Nations, was Castro’s chief of staff for 12 years. He deserted Cuba in 1993 2002, traveled to Miami and declared that his country had become “a dictatorship.”
Supporters and foes of USAID’s Cuba programs continued in January debating the efficiency of the agency’s democracy-promotion efforts.
On Jan. 16, CaféFuerte published a sentencing document that has new details of Cuba’s case against American subcontractor Alan Gross. (Download 15 MB document here).
The document shows that Cuban spies began tracking Gross in mid-2004 when he traveled to Cuba to deliver a video camera and medicine to José Manuel Collera Vento, former head of the Freemasons fraternal organization in Cuba.
Marc Wachtenheim, left, and Jose Manuel Collera, also known as Agent Gerardo. Photo: Juventud Rebelde
Gross delivered the package on behalf of Marc Wachtenheim, then director of the Cuba Development Initiative at the Pan American Development Foundation, or PADF, which receives funds from USAID.
Wachtenheim told the Herald he couldn’t talk about his Cuba work, but told El Nuevo Herald in an email:
Giving someone a laptop is not a crime anywhere in the civilized world — only punished in countries such as North Korea, Iran and Cuba.
Mark Feierstein saw fit to tweet that on Jan. 26. He is USAID’s assistant administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean.
Feierstein – along with the State Department’s Michael Posner – defended the democracy-promotion programs in Cuba in a letter published Jan. 4 in the Miami Herald. They said the programs were “comparable to international efforts in support of democracy elsewhere.”
The two wrote the Herald in response to a letter published Dec. 25 in which former Senate staffer Fulton Armstrong called Cuba programs deeply flawed.
Anya Landau French, director of the New America Foundation’s U.S. – Cuba Policy Initiative and the editor of The Havana Note, agreed with Armstrong and criticized Feierstein and Posner for their reply. In a Jan. 18 post called “Eyes Wide Shut, USAID, State Double Down on Cuba Programs,” she wrote:
…Their response is another disappointing indication that this administration remains inexplicably committed to a policy of willful ignorance when it comes to Cuba.
Helping Alan Gross to understand Cuban law before he traveled to the island would have better served him. Instead, Feierstein and Posner disingenuously suggest that we can choose not to accept Cuban law. In what other foreign country may a private American citizen flout local national security laws and expect to go free because the United States government thinks it’s an unfair law? Surely Feierstein and Posner can’t be unaware of this advise offered to any traveler on the State Department website: “While in a foreign country, you are subject to its laws.” Or, of the warning USAID gave to grant applicants in 2008 that Cuba might harshly sanction Cubans or foreigners carrying out activities under Section 109 of the Helms-Burton Act.
It’s one thing for U.S. officials, surrounded by unsatisfiable critics on all sides, to quietly grumble about a former colleague’s tough and public critique of a program that doesn’t work but can’t be dumped. But it’s intellectually dishonest – and diplomatically counterproductive to achieving Gross’s release – to come strutting out with a defense that so willfully denies reality.
Stephen Wilkinson, a Cuba scholar in London, criticized the U.S. government’s approach in Cuba. In a Jan. 11 post, he wrote:
For those who have known about these operations for some time, Armstrong’s forthright words are a breath of fresh air, but he fails to mention another stark fact that is even more reason for the U.S. to stop wasting taxpayers’ money: Gross was easily caught.
The truth is that the network of dissidents that is supplied and financed by these operations is deeply infiltrated by Cuban double agents. The Cuban government knows exactly who are behind the projects. Whether or not their agents are ‘duped’ or knowing participants, the likelihood is that there will be more cases such as that of Alan Gross, unless the U.S. changes tack.
On Jan. 14, Phil Peters, a Cuba expert at the non-profit Lexington Institute, also faulted USAID’s tactics. He wrote:
It doesn’t matter what you or I or Alan Gross or Feierstein or Posner think of Cuban law or USAID’s way of operating. What matters is that USAID has chosen a style of operation in that environment that puts its operatives in predictable danger, and when things go sour, its response is to whine in public and defend the program rather than help get the guy out. Again, if your kids want to become covert operatives, send them to the CIA, not to this crew.
The American’s release from jail would be a “major step” toward improved U.S.-Cuba relations, but right now Gross is the “fly in the ointment,” French journalist Salim Lamrani.
In a Jan. 17 article, Lamrani wrote:
Clearly, Alan Gross violated the law. Of that there can be no doubt. On the other hand, he seems to have done little harm. His continued incarceration results in no important benefits to the U.S. His release, on the other hand, could be a major step toward improved U.S.-Cuban relations, especially if in the process he were prepared to apologize for his actions.
Lamrani contends that American officials should consider releasing Cuban agents jailed in the U.S. in exchange for Gross’s freedom.
The sentencing document said Gross supplied Cubans with three laptops, three satellite phones and 13 Blackberry phones.
The jailed man’s lawyer told the Miami Herald that the document shows he was not subverting the Cuban government. Lawyer Peter J. Kahn said the document
is further confirmation of what we have said all along — the Cuban authorities cannot point to any action … intended to subvert their government.
All this document evidences is that it was the USAID program that was on trial in Cuba.
Postscript: For a detailed analysis of the Gross sentencing document, see Peter’s follow-up Feb. 2 article entitled, “The Alan Gross “sentencia” summarized.”
Here’s a snapshot of that article from Peters’ blog, called The Cuban Triangle:
In brief, the Cuban court held that Gross was working on a project that he designed, that he described in his own papers as focused on political objectives and contributing to the Bush Administration’s regime change objectives; that he imported and installed three satellite Internet/Wifi systems for Cuba’s Jewish community, never representing himself as working for a U.S. government program; that those communications systems were chosen because they do not operate on the Cuban communications network; that he traveled to Cuba five times in one year, carrying some equipment himself and enlisting unwitting Americans who were traveling to Cuba for religious exchanges to carry the rest; that he was going to be assigned to repair a satellite communications system that another USAID grantee had installed; and that he had a discussion – at Cuba’s Hotel Nacional, of all places – about installing satellite communications systems for Cuba’s Masonic Lodges.
If just half of that is true, the real question becomes: Is there a more surefire scheme for sending an American into Cuba to get arrested?
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., said Friday that he opposes USAID’s plans “to spend another $20 million for ‘democracy promotion’ programs in Cuba” and called for a review of the programs.
Mauricio Claver-Carone, editor of the Capitol Hill Cubans blog, criticized that move.
The problem is that the Administration has already consulted with Congress — and Congress has already voted to approve and appropriate the FY2010 budget.
Furthermore, the last time Cuba democracy programs specifically came up for a vote, they were overwhelmingly approved in a Democratic-led House by a vote of 254-170.
Thus, Chairman Kerry is inappropriately (and selfishly) equating his own personal views with the entire U.S. Congress.
Kerry’s full statement said:
We all hope the Cuban people achieve greater freedom and prosperity in the future consistent with their aspirations, and I have applauded the Administration’s commitment to expand people-to-people contact between our two countries. There is no evidence, however, that the ‘democracy promotion’ programs, which have cost the U.S. taxpayer more than $150 million so far, are helping the Cuban people. Nor have they achieved much more than provoking the Cuban government to arrest a U.S. government contractor who was distributing satellite communication sets to Cuban contacts.
Before this $20 million is committed, a full review of the programs should be undertaken and the Administration should consult with the Congress. The GAO, which has investigated fraud and abuse in these programs in the past, is already undertaking another investigation at my request into the legal basis and effectiveness of these operations.