Thursday, March 22, 2012

Flattery from the State Department

   I don't usually post entire reports or articles, but this is an exception.  It is the 2012 International Narcotics Control Strategy  Report by the United States Department of State.  I'll follow the report with some comments of my owns.

2012 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR)
March 7, 2012

A. Introduction
Cuba is located between some of the largest exporters of illegal drugs in the hemisphere and the U.S. market. Drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) frequently attempt to avoid Government of Cuba and U.S. Government counter drug patrol vessels and aircraft by skirting Cuba’s territorial waters. Bilateral interdiction efforts and GOC intensive police presence on the ground have limited the opportunities in or around Cuba for regional traffickers.
The goals of Cuba’s counternarcotics enforcement effort are to reduce the available supply of narcotics on the island and to prevent traffickers from establishing a foothold. The Cuban Border Guard (TGF) maintains an active presence along Cuba’s coastal perimeter, primarily to deter illegal emigration, but also to conduct maritime counter-drug operations and coastal patrols. Cuba’s domestic drug production remains negligible as a result of active policing, stiff sentencing for drug offenses, very low consumer disposable income and limited opportunities to produce illegal drugs, either synthetic or organic, in quantity. Cuba’s counternarcotics efforts have prevented illegal narcotics trafficking from having a significant impact on the island.
Cuba is party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention.
B. Drug Control Accomplishments, Policies, and Trends
1. Institutional Development
In 2011, Cuba continued “Operation Hatchet,” their multi-agency counternarcotics strategy. Led by the Ministry of Interior, “Operation Hatchet” includes the efforts of Cuba’s ministries of Armed Forces, Judicial, Investigations, Public Health, Education and Culture, and the Border Guard. The combination of forces is intended to reduce supply through vigilant coastal observation, detection and interdiction, and reduce demand through education and legislation. The Cuban government’s extensive domestic security apparatus and tough sentencing guidelines have kept Cuba from becoming a major drug consuming country. The Government of Cuba did not publicize new counternarcotics legislation policy initiatives or related budget increases supporting such measures in 2011.
Cuba continues to demonstrate a commitment to fulfilling its responsibilities as a signatory to the 1988 United Nations Convention based on adherence to the Convention’s Articles. Cuba criminalized drug related offenses as outlined in Article Three; including 39 judicial agreements with partner nations regarding judicial proceedings and extradition. Furthermore, in accordance with Article Nine, the Government of Cuba continued to exhibit counternarcotics cooperation with partner nations. The Cuban government reports having 32 counterdrug bilateral agreements and two memoranda of understanding (MOU) for counterdrug cooperation. Cuba regularly participates in international counternarcotics conferences, such as the United Nations’ Heads of National drug Law Enforcement Agencies (HONLEA), and submits quarterly statistics on drug interdictions and seizures to the United Nation’s International Narcotics Control Board.
The Cuban government is a party to the 1961 UN Single Convention as amended by the 1972 Protocol, the 1971 UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances, the 1988 UN Drug Convention, the UN Convention against Corruption, the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, and its Protocol Against Illicit Manufacturing of Trafficking in Firearms and The Barbados Plan of Action of 1996. Cuba is not party to the Caribbean Regional Maritime Agreement which opened for signature in 2003. The 1905 extradition treaty between the United States and Cuba and an extradition agreement from 1926 remain in effect. In 2011, these agreements were not employed to hand over fugitives. Instead, bilateral arrangements were made to have the fugitives detained and deported from Cuba and directly placed in the custody of the receiving nation for further prosecution.
2. Supply Reduction
Major transshipment trends did not change from 2010. During calendar year 2011, the GOC reported a total of 9.01 metric tons of illegal narcotics interdicted (including 8.3 MT in wash-up events), a 360% increase from the previous year’s 2.5 (MT). Government anti-drug forces reported disrupting three smuggling events and captured six traffickers (3 from the Bahamas and 3 from Jamaica). Statistics on arrests or prosecutions were not made available.
There were no significant changes in Cuba’s overall counternarcotics strategy or operations in 2011. Domestic production and consumption of illegal drugs remained very limited, and Cuba concentrated its counternarcotics supply reduction efforts by preventing illegal smuggling through Cuban territorial waters, rapidly collecting reported narcotic wash-ups, and preventing tourists from smuggling smaller amounts of narcotics into the country. The Ministry of Armed Forces and Ministry of Interior’s combination of fixed and mobile radars, coupled with visual and coastal vessel reporting procedures make up an effective network for detecting illegal incursions of territorial air and sea by narcotics traffickers. The Cuban government attempts to interdict vessels or aircraft suspected of narcotics trafficking with Cuban assets. At sea, Cuba has had increasing success. Cuba continues to share go-fast vessel information with neighboring countries, including the United States, and has had increasing success in interdicting go-fast vessels. In 2011, Cuba reported 45 real-time reports of “go-fast” narcotics trafficking events to the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG). TGF’s email and phone notifications of maritime smuggling to the U.S. have increased in quantity and quality, and have occasionally included photographs of the vessels suspected of narcotrafficking while being pursued.
Overseas arrivals continue to bring in small quantities of illegal drugs mostly for personal use, although the extent of this problem remains unknown. The Ministry of Interior conducts thorough entry searches using x-rays and trained counternarcotics detection canines at major airports. Government officials detained 20 tourists, compared to 123 in 2010, for attempting to smuggle small quantities of narcotics into Cuba.
To combat the limited domestic production of marihuana, Cuba set up “Operation Popular Shield” in 2003 to prevent any domestic development of narcotics consumption or distribution of drugs, remained in effect and netted over 9,830 marijuana plants and 1.5 kilograms of cocaine, compared to 9,000 marijuana plants and 26 kilograms of cocaine in 2010.
3. Drug Abuse Awareness, Demand Reduction, and Treatment
The combination of extensive policing, low incomes, low supply, and strict drug laws (involving up to 15-year prison sentences) have resulted in very low illicit drug use in Cuba. There are nationwide campaigns aimed at preventing drug abuse, and the quantity of existing programs for the general population appears adequate given the very low estimated numbers of persons addicted to drugs in Cuba. The National Drug Commission, headed by the Minister of Justice, with representatives from the Attorney General’s office and National Sports Institute, remains responsible for drug abuse prevention, rehabilitation and drug policy issues in Cuba.
According to the Cuban government, the Ministry of Health operates special drug clinics, offering services ranging from emergency care to psychological evaluation and counseling to treat individuals with drug dependencies. There are no programs specializing in drug addiction for women and children. The Government runs three substance abuse clinics that cater to foreigners, and the Catholic Church runs a center to treat addiction in Havana.
The Cuban government occasionally broadcasts anti-drug messages on state run media and operates an anonymous 24-hour helpline. In addition, Cuba reports the dangers of drug abuse are a part of the educational curriculum at all levels of primary and secondary schools.
4. Corruption
Cuba has strong policies in place against illicit production or distribution of narcotic or psychotropic drugs or other controlled substances, and laundering of proceeds from illegal drug transactions. Cuba reports a zero tolerance for narcotics-related corruption by government officials and claims there have been no such corruption occurrences in 2011.
C. National Goals, Bilateral Cooperation, and U.S. Policy Initiatives
Cuba and the United States share a mutual interest in reducing drug flows in the vicinity of the island, and in 2011, Cuba maintained a significant level of cooperation with U.S. counternarcotics efforts. Although the United States does not maintain formal diplomatic relations with Cuba, there are respective Interests Sections in Havana and Washington, DC. In Havana, the U.S. Interests Section (USINT) has a USCG Drug Interdiction Specialist (DIS) to manage and coordinate counternarcotics efforts with Cuban law enforcement officials. The United States does not provide any narcotics-related funding or assistance to Cuba.
On a case-by-case basis, the USCG shares tactical information related to narcotics trafficking and responds to Cuban narcotics related information on vessels transiting through Cuban territorial seas suspected of smuggling, or tactical information on drugs interdicted within Cuban territory. Cuba also shares real-time tactical information with the Bahamas, Mexico and Jamaica. Bilateral cooperation in 2011 led to multiple at-sea interdictions.
The Cuban government presented the United States with a draft bilateral accord for counternarcotics cooperation, which is still under review. Structured appropriately, such an accord could advance the counternarcotics efforts undertaken by both countries.
D. Conclusion
Cuba continues to dedicate significant resources to preventing illegal drugs and illegal drug use from spreading on the island, so far successfully. The technical skill of Cuba’s Border Guard, Armed Forces and police give Cuba a marked advantage against DTO’s attempting to gain access to the Caribbean’s largest island. Greater communication and cooperation among the U.S., its international partners and Cuba, particularly in the area of real-time tactical information-sharing and improved tactics, techniques and procedures, would likely lead to increased interdictions and disruptions of illegal trafficking.

My thoughts......

   Being a U.S. government report, this certainly is quite flattering towards Cuba.  In our press, as well as in Cuba, much is made about the topic of corruption in Cuba, of course in different ways with different intentions, but it is interesting to take note that there was no corruption in Cuba during 2011 as far as narcotics go. 

   Throughout the report, there is plenty of evidence that Cuba is a country which strives to prevent and combat the scourge of drugs.  It seems to be covering all of its bases with policies to help addicts, punish offenders, and combat trafficking. 

   The most important part of the report is in the conclusion.  "Greater communication among the U.S., its international partners and Cuba, particularly in the area of real-time tactical information-sharing and improved tactics, techniques and procedures, would likely lead to increased interdictions and disruptions of illegal trafficking." 

   I would assume that a new and open relationship between Cuba and the United States would not only be beneficial in fighting against the drug trade, but huge gains could be made by both countries in other fields such as health care.  There are drugs that are inaccessible to many Americans due to the imposition of the embargo.  And there are certain medical equipments that could be obtained in Cuba that are now not able to be obtained.  The embargo is an impediment, not only to Cuba's development and its people, but it deprives Americans of life saving medications. 

   It's time to move beyond the counterproductive, special project for the Miami right wing, policy towards Cuba.  It's time to not only revisit things such as the Cuban Adjustment Act, but the embargo, Helm-Burton, and Torriceli Acts.  It's time for Washington to open up.  

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Differing Similarities

   Having the Pope visiting Cuba next week will be a positive experience for the Catholics who live there.  Not only will it be an experience for only those who live on the island, but a number of people from the United States will be travelling there to witness the event.  Many of these plans are being arranged or aided by the Catholic Church in Miami and Archbishop Wenski of that city.

   Of course as all things relating to Cuba are politicized, the media and certain personalities have done what they can to politicize the Pope's trip.  The usual extremists in South Florida have expressed their dismay with the event, powerless to do anything about it.  They are also powerless when it comes to convincing many of the Cubans on this side of the straits that they shouldn't want to travel to the island.

   In the weeks leading up to the Pope's visit, all that these individuals and the press have been able to do is attempt to create more bad publicity for the island than they usually do.  The most interesting and absurd event took place the other day when a group of individuals decided to enter a church in Havana and stay there demanding the Pope's attention.

   Perhaps realizing the unlikelihood of having the Pope as an audience, their demands evolved.  They decided on demanding the release of individuals that they and other "dissident" groups like to consider political prisoners.  The weakness of their case is that the individuals who they call "political" prisoners are actually people who have committed violent acts and are not considered "prisoners of conscience" by anyone serious.  If these people committed violence for political aims, most places would consider them terrorists!  But having so few issues to rally behind, these folks decided to make this their cause.

   After refusing to leave the church for some days despite the church officials asking them to, the church asked the authorities to intervene to bring this situation to an end.  Nothing terrible happened to these people, they left the church in a matter of a few minutes and didn't face any sort of prosecution or anything.  Everything went peacefully and the situation was over. 

   Here is where things are interesting.  This event was treated in our press as if there was some sort of outrageous reaction by the church and the police involved.  Like I said, things ended peacefully.

   According to the Miami Herald, "The operation to end the occupation of the Minor Basilica of the Church of Our Lady of Charity in downtown Havana was specifically requested by Cardinal Jaime Ortega, Archbishop of Havana, according to a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Havana, Orlando Marquez.

A statement released shortly after the dissidents were extracted from the church and published Friday in Granma, the Cuban’s Communist Party’s paper and website, said the 13 repeatedly refused to evacuate despite “unilateral’’ requests from church officials and others.
“For this reason” the cardinal asked government authorities to “invite” the occupants to leave the church, the statement said, adding that the Cardinal was assured the dissidents would be safe once outside the church.

The group, which entered the church Tuesday, was demanding the release of political prisoners, Internet access, free speech and discussion of a road map for building the rule of law in Cuba.
The statement said that the eviction took place at 9 p.m. Thursday and lasted 10 minutes.

“The 13 occupiers were invited to leave the church and offered no resistance. The officers who executed the operation had assured the church that they would not carry weapons, would move the 13 people to a police station and then would take them home. Authorities also gave assurances that they would not be prosecuted,” the statement said."

   This became a major story over the course of a few days.  Let's take a look at another situation and how it was handled in England recently.

  According to the Guardian, "Police and bailiffs moved in to begin clearing the Occupy London encampment in the early hours of Tuesday morning. Activists protesting against the financial and banking elite were told by bailiffs that they had five minutes to pack their tents and leave or they would be obstructing a court order.

Dozens of activists started clearing away tents and belongings, but others began building a barricaded enclosure using wooden pallets and debris.

Hundreds of police officers with riot helmets ready by their sides and dozens of bailiffs in yellow vests waited alongside rubbish lorries and watched the eviction."

   Ok.  If people are engaged in civil disobedience, they are often times expecting this sort of outcome.  But why is it that the show of force by the police in a country that is not Cuba not questioned in the same manner that the police in Cuba are?  Comparing the two situations, we know that the police in Havana treated the people who refused to leave in a manner that appears to be a lot less intimidating that the way the London police chose, but we are supposed to feel that somehow the police in Cuba are oh so repressive and horrible.  Seems like that's the image that our press tries to create for us as we read about Cuba. 

   This is an example of how our press chooses to report on Cuba.  Rarely are things put in to context, as if Cuba existed in a bubble and there would be no way to compare its actions and decisions with those of other countries.  Given the number and size of the protests that have sprung up all over the world during the past year, it seems ridiculous to compare the small number of actions in Cuba by mainly people who are in constant contact with the U.S. Interests Section's officials and news agencies which are historically hostile towards Cuba.  These things lend credibility to the idea that much of the information we receive about Cuba through our press and government officials are designed to misinform us about the situation in Cuba.  This is something more easily done by limiting our ability to travel to the island and see things for ourselves.  Many of the athletes and groups of travellers who have been able to get to the island, come back with a much different perspective than what they had expected.  They get to see Cuba as it is, with its blemishes and imperfections, but also for its positive aspects also.  This must be what those people who so vehemently oppose opening travel and relations fear the most, losing control of the ability to dominate what we know about Cuba.



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Saturday, March 10, 2012

A Needed "Adjustment" to the Cuban Adjustment Act

   Joe Cardona, in the Miami Herald, asks the question "Time to revisit the Cuban Adjustment Act?"  I have an answer for him.

   Go ahead and revisit the Cuban Adjustment Act. While you're at it, eliminate it.

   The reason people like Mr. Cardona and Rep. Rivera want to tinker with it is because the results are embarrassing. People take advantage of it. Why wouldn't they? They can avoid the hassles of going through the normal immigration process; some waits for visas for some countries are over twenty years.  Sure, they fudge a little bit when they say that they are seeking asylum, but that only bothers the anti-Cuba group because what these "refugees" do show the Adjustment Act to be preposterous. Actual people who have sought asylum don't happily travel back to the place of their persecution, as the Cubans here do. It's not a secret that these people weren't fleeing persecution, it's obvious enough. Plus the situation causes others to see the unfairness of the immigration policy that allows this option for Cubans only.

   The "chatter" around the coffee shops in Miami about this issue shows that there exist great divisions within the Cuba community. We have the old guard, who is stuck on Kennedy's decision not to launch a war during the invasion of the Bay of Pigs. On the other hand, we have the growing number of people who came to the U.S. for economic reasons, not political ideology. They are younger, fresher, and have a much more close connection with the island. That is why they support more openness and a large number don't support the hurtful policies of the U.S. They are some of the same people who suffered the effects of the economic strangulation of their homeland which the old guard supported wholeheartedly, and still does. So naturally, they are less concerned with what image is projected by the Cuban Adjustment Act, they simply used it to their advantage.

   The pro-embargo, pro-isolationist, pro-living in the past, pro-provocation crowd now wants to remedy the situation. Why? How? Not by recognizing that the people claiming political asylum are actually coming for economic reasons, but by leaving in place the opportunity for the mirage to continue so they can continue to claim that there continues to be a flow of persecuted people from Cuba. They want to clean up parts of the mess that their propaganda has produced so they want to impose restrictions to travel for those who have taken advantage of the law.  It certainly has become hard for them to claim that these people are real asylum seekers when the supposed refugees return so quickly and so often without the slightest fear of running into a problem.

   The hard liners like to have and tout the statistics showing that there is a steady steam of asylum seekers leaving Cuba.  For this reason they want to leave the Cuban Adjustment Act in place.  They just can't figure out how to explain that these asylum seekers can freely and willingly return to the place of their supposed repression. It's quite a pickle that these hard liners have gotten into! As they evolve their rationale for maintaining the embargo and all of the silly policies and government handouts that go along with the provocative policies against Cuba, such as Radio Marti and the numerous "democracy programs" that they prosper from, they choose to ignore the obvious, that the policy is wrong.
   How weak their position is if all they can come up with is continuing the Adjustment Act but not allowing people to travel back if they want to. Just let the "refugees" test their luck. If they really believed that they would face a problem upon their entrance to the island and choose to go anyway, then that is their choice. But as we can see they don't worry to much about that possibility since they are often eager to return for visits.  And who wouldn't want to visit and help their relatives that they moved away from.

   What these people like Rep. Rivera and Mr. Cardona don't have the strength to admit is that the whole political asylum thing is a myth. The policy should be abandoned.  In doing so we shouldn't retroactively punish those who took advantage of this foolish policy created to create an illusion. We should simply stop pretending that Cubans are any different than the rest of the people trying to relocate to find a better economic situation. We should grant asylum to the people truly seeking it for real reasons, from anywhere, but maintaining this special law just for Cubans is beyond ridiculous.
   As for the Cubans in this country, the quickest way to contribute to a better situation between your new home and your homeland is to register to vote and clear out these disgruntled relics in our government and elect some people who are genuinely concerned with improving relations.

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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

"Ruthless Dictatorship"

   The editorial section today in the Miami Herald, once again blessed us with a gem of an opinion.  This time the opinion was offered by one of the writers/ editors at the Miami paper, Fabiola Santiago.  She goes on about the Mass held this past Sunday in Havana by Cardinal Jaime Ortega and how he included prayers for the health of Hugo Chavez and his recovery after removing a cancerous tumor.

   I'm not going to comment on people's religious beliefs.  To each his own.  I really couldn't care less about if or what religion a person decides to follow.  But I will say that the suggestion made by Fabiola Santiago, that "Sometimes, as happened Sunday in Havana, that prayer reaches our ears in Miami and rattles our faith, breaks our hearts." if hearts are broken because of a prayer for someone's health to be bettered is heartbreaking to some in Miami, it is a reminder of the lack of respect for humanity that some in Miami's right wing Cuban community show.  These twisted individuals who feel that giving the key to Hialeah to the air plane bomber, Luis Posada Carriles, is a good thing, somehow feel that praying for the health of Venezuela's president is offensive and heart breaking.

   These right wing, anti-Cuban people are not in the least concerned about the well being of the people of Venezuela.  They really couldn't care less about the leadership of Venezuela or any other country as long as they would lend a hand at isolating the Cuban people.  But since Hugo Chavez decided that solidarity with the Cuban people would be his country's path, he is now an enemy of the powerful anti-Castro elite in South Florida. 

   She finds it cynical that such a mass would take place on the island based on the idea that decades ago "all but prohibited religious worship".  Even if this were the case then, it isn't now and religious worship does take place, so much so that the Pope will be visiting Cuba later this month.  As opposed to opening her mind and accepting the way things are now, she traps herself by the outdated logic prevalent in those that search for ways to rationalize the United States' policy of trying to isolate Cuba.  Countless errors have been made in Cuba since 1959, just as mistakes are made by every government in the world, but there has been nothing more harmful to the Cuban people than the laws supported by the extremist in Miami.  They have been willing to find any mechanism possible to attempt to cause as many hardships for ordinary Cubans over the past five decades, ironically professing their love for those same victims of their policies. 

   "Sometimes a prayer sounds less like a prayer and more like a political move."  This is how Fabiola Santiago describes the prayers offered for Chavez.  Yet she imagines that if the Pope were to decide to visit the so-called dissidents, the ones who have countless connections with the anti-Cuba group in Miami and U.S. government officials, that it wouldn't be a "political move" meant to please the spectators in South Florida.  Political is the description offered by Mrs. Santiago of Cuba's government as a "ruthless dictatorship" who, according to her and others in Miami, causes the suffering of the Cuban people.  She fails to recognize even once the effects that the embargo and all of the corresponding laws have on the "suffering" Cuban people.  Under what she describes as a ruthless dictatorship, the Cuban people go to sleep every night peacefully knowing that not one child on the island goes without a place to call home.  Under the "ruthless dictatorship", health care is a right, not a commodity, which all people have including the actors/dissidents who receive their financial support from groups who are openly enemies of the system which guarantees that right.  Under the "ruthless dictatorship", people can study as long as they'd like, free of charge, because the "ruthless dictatorship" puts an enormous emphasis on education and, like health care, doesn't view education as a commodity.

   Just to be clear, the definition of ruthless is having or showing no pity or compassion for others.  The tens of thousands of Cuban doctors who have gone to the farthest corners of the earth on international missions can be considered functionaries of some sort of the "ruthless dictatorship".  The children who suffered from health problems from the meltdown at Chernobyl and were saved and offered free care by Cuba's medical system may find it interesting that some folks consider the Cuban government ruthless. 

   To me, ruthless is a term better used to describe those who fatten themselves up thanks to the inability to fight the gluttonous urge to indulge on the foods so plentiful in countries not blockaded by more powerful ones, while they point to the fact that such food choices aren't readily available on the island, choosing to conveniently ignore one of the reasons for the situation, their own policies.  Ruthless is a man with half of a chin, who walks freely in Hialeah although he helped mastermind the blowing up of a civilian airliner and says that he sleeps like a baby.  Ruthless are those who are willing to intentionally separate families, by outlawing travel to Cuba. 

   But then again, ruthless is nothing more than a term used by Fabiola Santiago to describe something that she doesn't like.  She can use it however she wants to, but too many people understand the true meaning of the word to find sympathy for the people she speaks for, the extremists in Miami.


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