Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Cuban-American Academics Get Prison For Reporting for Cuba

I was going to write a whole thing about the sentencing of a Cuban-American couple (Carlos and __ Alvarez) for what finally became a charge of "conspiracy to become a foreign agent," but I realized my original posting is still pretty spot on. Yesterday's verdict and release of the (supposedly) most incriminating evidence the US Govt. had against the couple only showed the flimsiness of the case and the apt comparision to "political prisoners" in Cuba.

As I said before the trial: The major difference between the 75 (Cuban "political prisoners") and these 2 is that the Alvarez's were not attempting to undermine the Government that charged them. The 75 were all connected to the US government, had recieved payment, resources or instruction - in order to justify an illegal blockade. If just working for an enemy government is enough to get arrested, then why don't Cuban-Americans understand that is why the 75 are in jail - and 12 million other are not.

The Florida judge said is pretty clearly: "As we know, a good motive is never an excuse for criminal conduct. Their behavior undermined U.S. foreign policy."

The sentencing document was even more explicitt: "Individuals who agree to clandestinely serve as agents of a foreign power, answering to that power and not to the laws of the United States, pose a grave risk.... Gathering information and carrying out tasks as directed by the foreign power, the individuals become instruments of that power's actions and policies in ways they cannot predict and damage the interests of the United States in ways they will never know. The risk is especially great where, as here, the foreign power is one whose interests are inimical to those of the United States."

Let us remember that AGENTS of a country do not have to send messages through encryption. The only thing they have to do is serve the interests of a nation other than their own, whom they have a relationship with. Nearly ALL of those supposed 75 "political prisoners" in Cuba fit that profile. That the US plan involves making up censorship stories by creating "independent libraries" - and not exile political gossip - means nothing.

And for the sake of finality, consider what US Supreme Court case law says about the the conspiring law the Alvarez's were charged under (18/371):For two or more to confederate and combine together to commit or cause to be committed a breach of the criminal laws, is an offense of the gravest character, sometimes quite outweighing, in injury to the public, the mere commission of the contemplated crime. It involves deliberate plotting to subvert the laws, educating and preparing the conspirators for further and habitual criminal practices. And it is characterized by secrecy, rendering it difficult of detection, requiring more time for its discovery, and adding to the importance of punishing it when discovered.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

This post is ridiculous. Even if an enemy government provides people with funding, they did not do anything "wrong." They did not spy on their home country, they simply were imprisoned for having opinions not sanctioned by the government.

That's an abuse of human rights.

To be sure, the US Government has an interest in destabilizing Cuba. Some methods, like the embargo, are overt acts against the government. Other acts, like distributing radios or empowering dissenting voices, only have the result of adding another perspective to the discourse.

Finally, the 75 did not promote "American-sanctioned" points of view. Instead, America supported these individuals who promoted their own personal viewpoints.

Leftside, surely you can't support the imprisonment of people for their viewpoints???

-A Human Rights Lawyer

6:16 PM  
Blogger leftside said...

Your arguement shows an ignorance of the US-Cuba issue and human rights in general. Tell me where there is a human right to be given resources and privleges from any enemy foreign government? Tell me how a country can declare a regime change against another and use civillians as weapons, by paying and providing resources to citizens who rebel?

The law the Cuban 75 were mostly guilty of was implemented in response to the internationally condemned, and probably illegal Helms-Burton Law, which among other devious things, called for the use of Cuba's citizens as pawns in our illegal goals. Cuba was forced to defend itself by making collusion with Helms-Burton illegal. Several countries, including Mexico and Canada also passed laws to protect their citizens from the onerous provisions (foreigners could have been guilty for engaging in commerce with Cuba and the US). Is Cuba just supposed to allow the US Embassy to come in with communications equipment and money to do its illegal business?

And what about the Alvarez couple and the Cuban 5? What damage did they do against the US? Yes they were AGENTS of Cuba (unpaid and acting in free will), but they did nothign against US interests, did not spy and did not dig up anything that was not in the public domain. Aren't they then als also fundamentally political prisoners? Maybe you can explain the distinction?

9:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First of all, let me assure you that I most certainly am not ignorant of the US-Cuba issue, or the US-Latin America issue. It's what I dedicate my life to.

Secondly, I never said that there is a right to be given resources from a government.

Re-read my first message.

The distinction I am drawing between "La Red Avispa" and the 75 is that the 75 were individuals who were trying to establish civic organizations, and the Red Avispa were Cuban agents. There IS a human right to free speech and free assembly. The 75 were exercising that right. If an enemy country supports organizations, it may cast doubt on the credibility of those organizations (that's why many Cuban grasssroots groups refuse US Aid), but there is nonetheless no evidence of wrongdoing by the 75. They were simply speaking their own opinions, and that's why they were sent to prison. The fact that an outside source, or even an enemy, supports those opinions, is ancillary to the fact that these individuals.

Let's say that an American citizen gets paid $500 from Al-Qaeda to put up a blog on how great Mohammed is. That's it. Should that American citizen go to jail? I don't think it's clear that he rightfully should, because the person did nothing wrong. He just received a contribution, but did not support terrorists. In reality, they would be thrown in jail, but in the end, did that person do anything wrong???

The Red Avispa people were actually spies employed by the Cuban government, giving the Cuban government intelligence on American activities. They WERE being paid (although not that much, considering the average market rate for spies worldwide). But they were being paid. Re-check your facts.

These cases require different analyses. The two cases are vastly different. Frankly, I don't understand how you could possibly conflate the two.

Finally, receiving radios simply provides people access to information. Maybe if there were less barriers to information in Cuba (embargo, travel ban, government censorship), this wouldn't be a problem. All people should have access to info, and it should not be criminalized.

9:59 AM  
Blogger leftside said...

First I have to disagree that the Alvarez's were (paid) agents of Cuba. This much harsher charge was dropped precisely because no evidence was shown that payments were made. They claim they got nothing, were not Fidelistas, nor even leftists. They were trying to "build bridges" by currying favor in Cuba and Miami.

Let me give you another case as comparision. Do you know the name Susan Lindauer? She was arrested for "spying" because she apparently took some money (for expenses) from Iraqis and then had the nerve to write a letter to a cousin in the White House and have a meeting with an FBI agent. "Free speech" right? No, as you must well know, there is no absolute right to free speech when you break the law doing it.

You acknowledge that many Cuban groups do no work with US or US funded organizations. But they are saying anti-regime things and doing all sorts of asseblies and political work. But they are all free. The only one's in jail are those who broke the law. We have a law against taking any money from "terrorist states" (so I can not take $1 from the Cuban government without being thown in jail - they are laughably still on that list while Saudi Arabia and Colombia are not). Cuba has a more relaxed law, but basically to the same effect (there has to be intent of subversion or regime change along with the money or resources).

If you want to argue both our laws are flawed and the result of our terrible history, fine. But I have not heard you say that yet. It should also be said that the blame for the sour relationship is 30 years of US state sponsored terror operations against that country. Now that terror is no longer in vogue, we use "civil society." The CIA's work with these groups in countries like Cuba, Haiti and Chile is well documented.

With your Al-Queda example, you make my point. I am not making moral judgements on those who take money. But I am making a legal argument, that it is different that a typical "free speech" argument. You admit you or I would go to jail for taking money from any of our enemies.

As for the radios, I mentioned them because those in the know say that the radios are a big part of the classified "secret annex" of the latest "Plan for Transformation." That is, the radios are devices to be used at the critical moment to organize an imaginary counter-revolution. Yeah a radio is just a radio usually, but like many things, in the hand of our Government Cuba has a legitimate reason to worry.

That is why this all goes back to normalizing relations. Cuba and the US would have no need for laws you and I may not like. But we are not there yet.

12:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Clearly, I am arguing that both the US and Cuba's laws are flawed.

But it's very one-sided to say that the blame falls solely on the US. Both the US and Cuba have done very harsh things and to only blame the US only undermines your credibility. If you want to favor a socialist economic system, that's wonderful. But to ignore or justify one side's guilt over the other is not realistic.

Human Rights law and priciples are what inform my judgment, not the law of the countries. I argue that, as signatories to international human rights treaties, both the US and Cuba are in violation due to their overly harsh criminal justice systems.

Furthermore, the Red Avispa people were paid; if you like, I can find a citation for you. Moreover, they were instructed and guided by the Cuban government, whose intelligence is probably the third or fourth best in the world, after the US (CIA), Russia (FSB, formerly KGB), and Israel (Mossad). They did the bidding of the Cuban intelligence agency; the 75 were autonomous.

The 75 were simply trying to create civil society. They were not trying to advocate violent overthrow of the government, they were simply trying to exercise their right to speak freely and criticize the government, in favor of reform. That, in and of itself, is not wrong... do you agree, leftside?

The fact that they received $ from the US to do this, what they had been doing all along... does that change your opinion, leftside, as to whether their actions are right or wrong?

In my opinion, my moral judgment, the 75 are simply trying to express alternative viewpoints. The fact that they were funded by the US never changed their message, and never were they a mouthpiece for the US. The US found that supporting alternative viewpoints would promote its own goals, but the 75 were free to speak what they wished.

And if you get a free radio, you can tune it to any radio station that you want. Honestly, you can't be arguing AGAINST press freedom??

12:32 PM  
Blogger leftside said...

Yes please, locate a citation that says the Alvarez's were paid. Everything I've read is to the contrary...

We're spinning our wheels a little, so lets go deeper. I am a strong defender of human rights, but I take issue with mainstream groups that only focus on certain human rights (civil, economic and political) and ignore social and cultural rights (equal health care, education, right to housing, to access the arts, to retain cultural identities, etc.). I also take issue with folks who insist on looking at human rights in a vaccum, as if history and politics are meaningless.

I agree that the only crime most of the Cuban 75 committed was working with a foreign government, or their subsideraries. Their "work" was not "wrong" if you look at it in a vacuum. But there was no vacuum. There was a coordinated effort in the US and Miami to fabricate an "independent library" movement - for obvious reasons (the Libertad Act of 96 sets the funding and USAID's does the work). This, despite the fact that Cuba's regular libraries are some of the best in the region - and nothing is censored. So is Cuba supposed to sit and allow this massive propoganda offensive to remain - one which reinforces a blockade, affects votes and attitudes everywhere from the US Congress to human rights lawyers like yourself? The US does not have much left against Cuba, so it must manufacture things. That there are Cubans willing to open their homes to books (but rarely to the public) in exchange for money is not suprising, but are their countrymen supposed to allow people to become rich through this?

Are you aware of the CIA's role in the recent revolutions" in Serbia, Ukraine, Georgia, etc? This is the way we operate now to get what US elites think is important enough to meddle. The more you see this over and over (Haiti, Venezuela), the more you realize "civil society" is not always what it seems. Therefore it is not always worthy of praise and defense.

It is a sad state of affairs that the US has injected itself into this world, poisening the once pristine well of non governmental organizations. But that is what we have today. That is why many countries are now forced to ban foreign funding of NGOs.

The 75 may never have changed their viewpoint to fit their US masters, but maybe they did. What is more relevant is that they were able to reach a broader international audience and mesh with strategic US objectives.

Again radios should be benign, but when a Government has a "secret annex" of a Plan for Transition that includes the radios as part of the secret plans, the radio is no longer just a radio. It becomes a tool of counter-revolution. Besides Cubans all already have radios...

4:55 PM  
Blogger leftside said...

By "mesh with strategic objectives" I mean that the US chooses who to fund. Far more popular regime opponents that advocate internal dialogue and reform get ignored by Washington (and critized in Miami). While those of the most radical stripe, and those willing to work within our strategic objectives towards regime change get funded, thereby imbalancing the array of political forces in terms of US interests. That is simply not acceptable to ANY country. Would the US allow Cubans to come to this country to staff health clinics in our ghettos? Would the US allow Cuban money to help teach reading and writing to our illiterate? Of course not - though most countries in the region gladly take Cuban assistance. Why? Because it would work in Cuba's advantage to highlight our terrible health and education, ie. their strategic objective. Why should any country be different?

5:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agreed, let's go deeper. Of course I'm aware of the CIA's role, come on. Give me some credit here.

First, where we agree. I completely agree that there are many types of human rights. In Cuba, certain rights are respected, and others are not. Same goes for the US.

Instead of defending Cuba and attacking the US, or vice versa, be objective. I try to be, myself.

I think it's fantastic that there's universal health care, high literacy rates, etc. in Cuba. That's stellar. But there are other areas in which Cuba can, and should improve. E.g., multiparty elections, criminalization of food rationing laws, and government censorship.

Is IFLA/FAIFE affiliated with the American Libraries Association? Because the ALA is a notoriously biased organization in favor of Castro. If you'll look at the overwhelming majority of Human Rights report from reputable NGOs, (Amnesty, HRW, Reporters without borders), you'll see that it's quite clear that there is extensive government censorship. Not only that, it's in the Penal Code. I'd be suprised if you had the Wealth of Nations or something along those lines in a Cuban library. So, perhaps this reports says that there is press freedom, but the vast majority of human rights organization, as well as the people I've met in Cuba, all corroborate that there is government censorship, on pain of prison.

When I was last in Cuba, I spoke to a government official about political prisoners, and about their rights. They insisted there were no political prisoners. When pressed, she said, "oh, you mean counterrevolutionaries? Well, they have no rights. So there is no violation of human rights!"


So, look. My point is not the US is better than Cuba, or Cuba is better than the US, it's that each country has its own mess to clean up.

Instead of taking one side over the other, why not take the side of fundamental principles of freedom, and speak out against injustices on both sides?

8:40 AM  

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