Wednesday, February 7, 2018

United States Cuba Relations: US State Department Internet Task Force Meeting February 7, 2018

Thank you for the opportunity to present public testimony at today's hearing. I am a Foreign Affairs Principal and Chair of the Latin America Practice at Gotham Government Relations with offices in New York and Washington DC.  I am also the founder and Chief Editor of the USCubaPolitics.com blog which has been in existence since 2009.  I also appear today as someone who with both accuracy and precision, predicted and published on May 2, 2012, a blog post entitled "The Freedom of Alan Gross and the Cuban Five", the historic event that occurred with the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba on December 17, 2014.  http://www.uscubapolitics.com/2012/05/united-states-cuba-relations-freedom-of.html
 I have always maintained that our embargo and sanctions against Cuba are counterproductive and neither in the best nor strategic interests of the United States.  The fact that our relations with Cuba are always determined by the domestic politics of the State of Florida and Hudson County, New Jersey has not served our country well.  These policies are fear based and have not, do not, and will not, inspire the changes that I believe most of us would like to see. 
History bears this out, and yet now we are here again looking at how to promote internet access in Cuba?  This is another misguided policy attitude rooted in the fear that Cuba will never change, so somehow we must force that change.  Paradoxically, Cuba is a country who fears that it will change too quickly and somehow lose itself in that inevitable process.  Both countries are mistaken.  Because change is inevitable and constant.  But we can only address the United States’ role in the matter here.
If we want to promote internet and the free flow of information, then our conduct should reflect that proposition by congruency of our behavior.  How is promoting internet access and free flow of information possible as long as there are travel restrictions, a trade embargo and sanctions?  The power of the market demands for information should drive that process, not a political decision.  We were just beginning to make progress when we experienced the reversal in policy last year on June 6, 2017. 
Then we have to ask why Cuba when one-third of the world's population lives under authoritarian rule and much of it with internet restrictions and the free flow of information.  Yet there is no task force like this on other countries. Why? So let's not kid ourselves or even those constituencies in Florida or New Jersey that this Task Force is actually going to open up the internet in Cuba. 
What we should be doing through normal travel, trade, and engagement is to keep pointing out the benefits of the robust and open exchange of information and access to the internet.  Similarly, if Cuba ever aspires to host world-class sporting, science, and entertainment events, even an Olympics in the future, for example, they will need to have a world class internet infrastructure. 
We need to be speaking to the possibilities the Cuban people will have when the number of computers owned by Cubans and internet hi-speed connectivity are no longer luxuries, but an integral part of their society and education.  None of that is possible through this Task Force. 
What we can also do as other countries are doing is allow Cubans to visit, study, and work as authorized abroad.  That is an avenue that opens the information world to Cubans.  Cubans I have spoken with visiting here and elsewhere point out their amazement and pleasure of being able to access the internet at hi speeds, low cost, and without burdensome regulations.  They take those experiences home with them, and that also reflects how a change will come to Cuba in that regard.  But we cannot even do that while we have a skeleton-staffed Embassy and Consulate in Havana and Cubans now have to gamble the costs of travel to Colombia to roll the U.S. Consular appointment dice to see if they can get a visa to visit the United States.  The United States and Cuba should be working together to unravel the mystery of the sonic injuries that is evidently the issue there. 
We need to resolve the outstanding issues that frustrate both countries from having the proper complement of diplomatic and consular staff to serve the people efficiently and in a timely fashion.
In conclusion, my recommendation is that this Task Force report back to the President that the best way to help promote internet access in Cuba is through facilitating normal trade and travel relations and lifting the embargo.  Everything else we have tried in the past has failed.  It is time for us to get back to the future.
Thank you.

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Thursday, January 4, 2018

United States Cuba Relations: Game of Sounds

We repost in its entirety, with thanks to the excellent and objectively focused Blog dwkcommentaries.com its post of today that reports an interesting development and asks salient questions both countries should be answering:

American Teens Hear Strange High-Pitched Sound at Havana Airport

On December 31, 2017, an American father in his 40’s and his son and daughter, ages 15 and 14, were at Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport. Around 2:00 p.m. they were waiting to board their return Delta flight to Atlanta.
The teens asked their father what was making the annoying high-pitched noise. The father, however, heard nothing and asked them if they could tell the direction of this noise.  They could and tracked the sound to a green box on a wall near the ceiling of the departure area. The teens also said the device gradually changed the pitch to where it was inaudible and then it gradually came back to the pitch where they could hear it.
Here are the father’s photographs of that device in the upper right of the airport wall and of a closeup of the device showing a label with the words “toscano” and “Zoonic” and images of an insect, reptile, rodent and bird.

A quick Internet search revealed that it is an “ultrasound animal repeller” that “makes the stay of birds, reptiles, and rodents uncomfortable” by emitting “vibrations of high frequency (ultrasounds), alternating between ranges for different animals, so that they will never nest.”
In addition, the device’s Installation and Operating Instructions (in English) state that it has a “micro-switch with two positions, HIGH and LOW. . . . Normally better results are obtained in LOW (frequency) position, but may be bothered [bothersome?] for persons. It is recommended [to] use this position when usually not working [with] any person[s] around.”
The device’s manufacturer apparently is Toscano , which describes itself as an “electronics development & manufacturing” firm in Sevilla, Spain.
By all indications, this device is not manufactured with the intent to cause harm to humans. Some, but not all, of its sounds are audible and annoying to some people, but not others. The audibility of the device is not constant given that it gradually changes pitch to go beyond the hearing range and then it gradually comes back to the range.
This report raises many questions pertaining to the medical problems experienced by some U.S. and Canadian diplomats in Havana that by some accounts are caused by sonic sounds [1] These questions include the following:
  • How many of the devices have been sold to persons in Cuba?
  • What persons in Cuba bought the devices?
  • Where have they been installed in Cuba?
  • Who installed them?
  • Who maintains them?
  • Have any of these devices been installed in or near the U.S. or Canadian embassies or their diplomats’ residences or Hotel Nacional or Hotel Capri?
  • How difficult would it be for a single device to be obtained by an individual or entity in order to harass American/Canadian diplomats?
  • Are the devices in need of calibration and recalibration?
  • If they are not susceptible to malfunction, then why are they audible to only some people and not others?
  • Are the devices capable of producing health problems?  (Either in their normal state or altered?)
  • Did the U.S., Canadian or Cuban government notice these devices in their investigations?  If so, what did they conclude?
[1]  The medical  problems of the U.S. diplomats in Havana have been discussed in many previous posts that are listed in the “U.S. Diplomats Medical Problems in Cuba, 2016–” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.
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Monday, January 1, 2018

United States Cuba Relations: 2018 Back to the Future

The USCubaPolitics.com returns to activity this year given the results of the 2016 election and the reversal in U.S. Cuba relations in 2017.

Latest US Treasury Sanctions Regulations on Cuba. https://www.treasury.gov/resourcecenter/sanctions/Programs/Pages/cuba.aspx 

This year however, what we propose to do to stimulate debate and dialogue is to simply ask poignant and critical questions on both sides of the issue as news develops and breaks.  These are questions for both American and Cuban politicians, policymakers in both countries to confront.  Hopefully we'll get answers or the lack thereof will expose hypocrisy, incongruency, and or political expediency inherent in the positions taken by the parties.  We will respect Anonymity requests when posting too.

We invite you to get involved and submit questions you would like to be asking both countries.  Whatever your views, we look forward to the day that the United States and Cuba will have normal trade, travel, and constructive relations again.  The American and Cuban peoples deserve to have this and much more between them as two nations and neighbors in the Western Hemisphere. 
Happy New Year.  Feliz Año Nuevo... ...read more ⇒