Monday, April 4, 2011

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Carter Lobbies for Castro's Spies

By Mary Anastasia O'Grady in the Wall Street Journal:

Jimmy Carter Lobbies for Cuban Spies

Why lend legitimacy to the Castro brothers?
They say that Cuba is a place where time stands still and it certainly seemed that way last week when Jimmy Carter arrived in Havana to fraternize with the Castros. The image of the 86-year-old American ex-president wearing a wide smile as he disembarked from a jet to meet with the regime bigwigs was déjà vu all over again.

For more than three and a half decades the world's most famous peanut farmer has toiled to get the island's repressive military dictatorship more respect from the U.S. This trip was no different. Agence France Press reported that it was undertaken at "Havana's invitation" and "aimed at improving U.S.-Cuba relations." Fidel praised Mr. Carter as "brave and serious."

It is obvious why the dictatorship sought out Mr. Carter. The list of individuals—no fair counting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Kim Jong Il or Chris Dodd—who are willing to lend legitimacy to one of the 20th century's most disastrous revolutionary experiments is shrinking fast. The former president is, as they say, useful.

We may never know why Mr. Carter agreed to be used. But we do know how he was used: On Wednesday, before he left Havana he went on Cuban television to argue for the release of the five Cuban spies known as "the wasp network," who are now serving time in U.S. prisons.
This is a new low for Mr. Carter—and not only because it demonstrates complete disregard for the American criminal justice system.

The dangers that Cuban agents operating inside the U.S. present to Americans are well established. Treating their crimes lightly will only increase the nation's exposure to serious risk.
Initially, hopes were high that Mr. Carter would be able to win the release of Alan Gross, a U.S. Agency for International Development contractor who was taken hostage by Cuba in December 2009. The 61-year-old American had apparently brought hardware to members of the island's tiny Jewish community so that they could access the Internet. He has been sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Yet once Mr. Carter was on the ground in Havana, he announced that he was not there "to take [Mr. Gross] out of the country." He did visit him and recommended that he be set free. That could still happen. Mr. Gross is in frail health and back home in Maryland both his mother and his daughter are fighting cancer. Rumors abound that he will be given a humanitarian pardon.

Cuba no doubt will spin an early release of Mr. Gross as evidence of its goodwill toward the world. But for now it's hoping to get more than international kudos. One objective seems to be the exchange of its American prisoner for the "wasps."

Gerardo Hernández, René González, Antonio Guerrero, Ramón Labañino and Fernando González Llort were all arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on Sept. 12, 1998. Five others in the network were arrested the same day but accepted plea bargains in exchange for acting as witnesses for the prosecution.

The FBI had collected plenty of its own evidence. It had used the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and court warrants to investigate the group over a period of three years. Mr. Hernández, who is serving two life sentences, was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder in the Cuban Air Force downing of two civilian aircraft flown by Cuban exiles from Florida in 1996. Four Americans died. The prosecution also showed that the "wasps" had sought to infiltrate U.S. military installations and to discover unprotected points along the Florida coast where arms and explosives could be brought into the country.

Because Cuba is so poor, its American advocates like to say that it presents no threat to U.S. national security. But this ignores Cuban espionage. In 2002 Defense Intelligence Agency analyst Ana Belen Montes, the highest ranking U.S. intelligence operative ever to be charged with spying for Cuba, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Her arrest, 10 days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, was rushed because she had the potential to pass sensitive information about the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan to enemy agents.

Americans still don't know how much damage Walter Kendall Myers, an analyst working in intelligence and research at the State Department, and his wife, Gwendolyn Myers, also an employee at State, inflicted on the U.S. over the 30 years that they spied for Cuba. The couple was recruited by the Cuban Mission to the United Nations in New York, a notorious hothouse of Cuban espionage.

Mr. Carter should stick to doing personal favors for his "personal friend"—those were his words for Fidel while in Havana, according to Europa Press. When a six-hour meeting with the old tyrant is followed by a Carter announcement expressing doubts about the trial that led to the conviction of spies and a promise to speak with President Obama about a pardon for them, its hard to see him as anything but a shill for Cuba's military dictatorship.

Why the Castros Love Carter

UPDATE: The Carter Center has just released its official report on the former President's trip to Cuba. Please note the cursory mention (if it can even be called that) of his last-minute visit with dissidents and former political prisoners. It's as if they didn't even exist -- which is exactly what Carter (channeling Castro) would like you to believe.
In 2002, pursuant to former U.S. President Jimmy Carter's first trip to Cuba, Fidel Castro infamously lauded that:

"I'd say that he was the best [U.S.] president of all those I've known."

As Carter departed Havana last Wednesday, General Raul Castro repeated a similar line:

"He has been the best U.S. President."

So why are the Castros so infatuated with Carter?
Because during his presidency, the Castros were able to play Carter like a fiddle. And after his presidency, it has been more of the same.
As you may recall, during his time in office (1977-1981), Carter essentially normalized relations with the Castro regime. He set up Interests Sections in D.C. and Havana, allowed unfettered tourist travel and even permitted trade through third-country subsidiaries. (A good reminder for those that criticize the embargo in holistic terms).

Easing sanctions was actually an anomaly for Carter, as he was one of the most sanctions-prone Presidents in U.S. history.
The problem was that Carter mostly applied sanctions based on his ideological bias -- dictatorships of the right got sanctioned, while those of the left were embraced.

And what did Castro do with Carter's embrace?
He used it as a green-light to embark on military adventures throughout Africa and Central America, which cost thousands of lives and countless suffering.

But that's not all. When Castro's regime was plagued with domestic unrest -- Carter was there to extend an escape valve, which would become known as the Mariel boat lift.

As if that weren't enough -- since Carter was so kind to relieve the regime's domestic pressures, Castro also took the opportunity to infiltrate his criminals and narco-traffickers amongst the majority of decent Cubans that were simply searching for freedom.

Yet, Carter still believes Fidel to be his "old friend."

So now, as the Castro brothers face the gravest economic, political and social crisis of their rule, they invite their favorite U.S. President back to the island.
And after three days of loading up on talking points from the Castro brothers (with a brief recess at the very end to talk with a group of dissidents -- who were curiously urged to be discrete by Carter's aides beforehand), he proceeded to regurgitate all of Castro's talking points.

For those impressed that Carter met with dissidents at the very end of his visit -- consider that he did so at the last minute, only for an hour and right before he delivered remarks on Cuban state TV.

In other words, he checked a box while knowing exactly what he was going to say from two full days of "briefings" with the Castro brothers and their minions.

He didn't even have time to "ponder" on the dissident's views.

Of course, one can't help feel disappointed by his failure to call for the freedom of the Cuban people or to challenge the brutal oppressors to respect the universal human rights he claims to champion.

But no one should have been surprised.

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Cuban Intellectual Expelled After Attacking Corruption

Posted on Jul 3, 2010
Universidad de la Habana
Esteban Morales, a professor at the University of Havana, has written extensively on Cuba’s relations with the U.S.
Cuba’s Communist Party has reportedly expelled an esteemed intellectual, Esteben Morales, for writing a “bombshell article” accusing senior officials of corruption. Morales was stripped of his membership in the party and has since disappeared from public view. —JCL
The Guardian:
Esteban Morales is said to have been “separated from the ranks” of the party over a bombshell article, which accused senior officials of looting the state before it crumbled.
The Playa Municipal branch of the party has stripped Morales of his membership and the historian, a frequent commentator on state television, has disappeared from public view, the Havana Times reported.
Morales broke taboos with an article in April that criticised unnamed, greedy apparatchiks. “It has become evident that there are people in government and state positions who are preparing a financial assault for when the revolution falls,” he wrote on the website of the state National Artists and Writers Union of Cuba.


Prosecutor seeking long prison sentences in corruption case

Prosecutors are seeking long-term prison sentences for an ex-minister and a Chilean businessman, after a provincial court in Havana found them guilty in a corruption case apparently designed to show the limits of translating power and influence into business in Raulista Cuba.
A long-term sentence for Alejandro Roca Iglesias, 75, who was minister of food industries from 1976 to March 2009, would send a strong signal to Cuban officials with material ambitions. Max Marambio was absent, fighting the court proceedings from Chile; he was represented by a court-appointed defender.
If prosecutors have their way, Roca will get 15 years of prison, while Max Marambio, 63, former part-owner of the Alimentos Río Zaza joint venture, would get 20 years, offical daily Granma reported. The court ruled that Roca was guilty of bribery and “acts harming economic activity or commerce,” and Marambio of bribery and falsification of business documents, according to the Communist Party newspaper. Initially, Marambio was also accused of fraud and embezzlement. Sentencing is expected “in the coming days.”
Roca Iglesias

The brief Granma news item didn’t provide any details about the case. According to rumors, Roca made considerable bank deposits abroad from illicit commissions. A son of Roca’s works for Marambio in Chile.
The government shut down Río Zaza, which produced and sold processed food products in Cuba to the tune of $100 million a year, early last year and took back Marambio’s house in Havana. As of October, two Río Zaza executives were imprisoned in relation to the investigation, according to Marambio, but the government hasn’t released any information regarding other pending cases.
A Havana court indicted Marambio in May 2010, after a one-year investigation. The governments’ efforts to get Marambio to appear before a court have been published by official media, but this is the first time official media mentioned Roca’s case.
The Chilean businessman, a political insider in Cuba during the 1970s and 80s, has not returned to the island since fall 2009. He filed legal proceedings against Cuba before the court of arbitration of the Paris-based International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) in October 2010.
“The central objective of this legal action is the unrestricted defense of my honor, that of my collaborators, and of all people who have cooperated with, and trusted in, the entrepreneurial project Río Zaza,” Max Marambio wrote in a press release about his ICC case in October. He explained the ICC was the forum for disputes indicated by the Cuban government to foreign investors, adding that the ICC offers the necessary neutrality to “fight a conflict built on unfounded and libelous accusations.”
Marambio claims that part of the accusations stem from his paying generous benefits to Cuban employees.
Shortly after he filed the ICC case, the government asked Interpol to issue an international arrest warrant for Max Marambio. It also published a summons for Marcel Luis Marambio, Max’s younger brother and a vice president of the holding company that controlled Río Zaza.
“I will go through this process with serenity, prudence and firmness,” Marambio said in the October press release. “I will do this maintaining the same feelings of admiration and respect towards what has been the Cuban Revolution, with the certainty that the truth is always revolutionary and always ends up winning, if it is defended with solidity and conviction.”
Marambio is one of the few foreigners who made it into Cuba’s inner circles of power under Fidel Castro. Since the 1990s Marambio, a former student leader in Chile, body guard of President Salvador Allende, member of Cuba’s special forces, and founding chief executive of the Cimex holding — today Cuba’s largest business conglomerate — used his close relationship with the Cuban government to build a thriving business.
Roca lost his long-term post in March 2009, the same time as Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque and Vice President Carlos Lage, both of whom had been close to Fidel Castro.
(Image: RIA Novosti)

Today Picture...

Carter in Cuba amid heightened US-Havana tension

Former US President Jimmy Carter

Former US President Jimmy Carter (C) gets into a car upon landing at Havana's international airport. Carter, 86, is visiting the communist-run island at the invitation of the Cuban government for talks to help improve strained relations between Washington and Havana.… Read more »
(AFP/Adalberto Roque)

Cuba claims ex-Reuters boss helped CIA

Cuban state-television on Monday accused a former bureau chief for the Reuters international news agency of arranging a meeting on a darkened Havana street between an undercover Cuban agent and a U.S. diplomat who the program claimed was really a CIA operative.
The program, dedicated to uncovering supposed plots against Cuba, featured a professor and little-known dissident named Raul Capote, who described himself as "Agent Daniel," the Cuban intelligence agent who purportedly took part in the meeting.
Capote said he attended a reception with Reuters' then bureau chief, Anthony Boadle, at the German Embassy, without giving a date. The two left the party by foot two hours later, walking through the quiet Havana night, he said.
"We walked I don't know how many blocks, until we arrived at a dark place where a car was parked. There was a shadow inside, a man," Capote said. He said it was Mark Sullivan, a diplomat at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana in 2006-2008 who the program accused of being a CIA agent.
The program showed a picture of Boadle and said he served as a liaison between Capote and the CIA. It added that during Boadle's "stay in Cuba from March 2002 through 2008 he published reports favoring local counterrevolutionaries and the interests of the United States and the European Union."
Capote said that in time he began working with the CIA himself — though he was in fact a double agent. U.S. officials he took to be members of the CIA asked him his opinion on Cuban politics and eventually gave him a satellite phone to use to communicate, he said.
The Reuters office in Havana had no immediate comment, nor was there any reaction from the U.S. Interests Section, which Washington maintains instead of an embassy. Cold War enemies Cuba and the United States have had no formal diplomatic relations for a half century. The Cuban government also declined to comment.
Boadle currently works for Reuters as an editor in Washington.
The program, called "Cuba's Reasons," is shot in the style of a real-crime drama, with a mix of grainy secret footage, creepy music and stylized dramatizations. Cuba has been broadcasting episodes of it focusing on what it considers Washington's "cyberwar" against the island since shortly before the trial of U.S. government contractor Alan Gross.
Gross was given a 15-year sentence in March after being convicted of illegally bringing communications equipment into Cuba while working on a USAID-funded democracy program.
While Cuban state-run media often denounce the foreign press as being biased, it is unusual to single out individuals or make such a serious and public accusation.
In recent months, Cuba has denied press accreditation for a number of foreign journalists and has pushed for them to stop working on the island.
In February, the Communist Party newspaper Granma carried an article denouncing The Wall Street Journal for an editorial that drew parallels between Cuba and Egypt, where a popular uprising forced former President Hosni Mubarak to step down.
The editorial was published days after Cuban media lashed out at CNN's Spanish-language channel for reporting that an opposition demonstration was going to take place in Havana. The protest never occurred.
Cuban state cable TV providers in January removed CNN's Spanish service from a package of channels provided mostly to hotels, foreign companies and diplomats on the island, though no reason was given.


Japan nuke plant dumps radioactive water into sea

Japan turns to bath salts in leak Play Video Reuters  – Japan turns to bath salts in leak
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Prefectural government's employees monitor amount of radiation on the ground of an elementary school in Fukushima, northern Japan Tuesday, April 5, 20 AP – Prefectural government's employees monitor amount of radiation on the ground of an elementary school …

TOKYO – Workers were pumping more than 3 million gallons of contaminated water from Japan's tsunami-ravaged nuclear power complex into the Pacific Ocean on Tuesday, freeing storage space for even more highly radioactive water that has hampered efforts to stabilize the plant's reactors.
The government has also asked Russia for a ship that is used to dispose of liquid nuclear waste as it tries to decontaminate the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex, whose cooling systems were knocked out by the magnitude-9.0 earthquake and tsunami on March 11. The plant also plans to bring in a floating storage facility.
But these other storage options have been slow to materialize, so the pumping began late Monday. It was expected to take about two days to get most of the less-radioactive water out.
"It was inevitable," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told a news conference Tuesday. "The measure was to prevent highly radioactive water from spreading. But we are dumping radioactive water, and we feel very sorry about this."
Radioactivity is quickly diluted in the ocean, and government officials said the dump should not affect the safety of seafood in the area.
But the stress of announcing more bad news appears to wearing on officials with the plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Co. One official teared up and his voice began shaking as he gave details at a news conference near the plant.
The crisis has unfolded as Japan deals with the aftermath of twin natural disasters that devastated much of its northeastern coast. Up to 25,000 people are believed to have died and tens of thousands lost their homes.
Since the disaster, water with different levels of radioactivity has been pooling throughout the plant. People who live within 12 miles (20 kilometers) have been evacuated and have not been allowed to return.
The pooling water has damaged systems and the radiation hazard has prevented workers from getting close enough to power up cooling systems needed to stabilize dangerously vulnerable fuel rods.
On Saturday, they discovered a leak where radioactive water was pouring into the ocean.
Radiation exceeding the legal limit has been measured in seawater over the past few weeks, though calculating the exact contamination has vexed TEPCO. Japan's nuclear safety agency ordered the utility last week to reanalyze samples; new results released Monday showed unchanged or lower levels of radiation than previously reported.
The less-radioactive water that officials are purposely dumping into the sea is up to 500 times the legal limit for radiation.
"We think releasing water with low levels of radiation is preferable to allowing water with high levels of radiation to be released into the environment," said Junichi Matsumoto, a TEPCO official.
The need to make room for the highly radioactive water became more urgent when TEPCO discovered the extent to which it was leaking into the ocean, Matsumoto said.
Workers need to get rid of the highly radioactive water, but first they need somewhere safe to put it. Much of the less-radioactive water being dumped into the sea is from the tsunami and had accumulated in a nuclear waste storage building.
The building is not meant to hold water, but it's also not leaking, so engineers decided to empty it so they can pump in the more-radioactive water. The rest of the water going into the sea is coming from a trench beneath two of the plant's six reactors.
Also Monday, a spokesman for the Russian nuclear agency Rosatom, Sergei Novikov, told reporters that Japan had requested Russia send it a vessel used to dispose of liquid nuclear waste from decommissioned submarines.
Novikov said Moscow was awaiting the answers to some questions before granting the request.
More water keeps pooling because TEPCO has been forced to rely on makeshift methods of bringing down temperatures and pressure by pumping water into the reactors and allowing it to gush out wherever it can. It is a messy process, but it is preventing a full meltdown of the fuel rods that would release even more radioactivity into the environment.
"We must keep putting water into the reactors to cool to prevent further fuel damage, even though we know that there is a side effect, which is the leakage," said Hidehiko Nishiyama, a spokesman for Japan's Nuclear Safety and Industrial Agency. "We want to get rid of the stagnant water and decontaminate the place so that we can return to our primary task to restore the sustainable cooling capacity as quickly as possible."
Engineers have been using unusual methods to try to stop the more highly radioactive water from leaking into the sea.
An attempt to seal a crack in a maintenance pit discovered Saturday with concrete failed, and clogging it with a special polymer mixed with sawdust and shredded newspapers didn't work, either.
They dumped milky white bath salts into the system around the pit Monday to try to figure out the source of the leak, but it never splashed out into the ocean.
In the meantime, workers plan to install screens made of polyester fabric to try to stop some of the contamination in the ocean from spreading.
Although the government eventually authorized the dumping of the less-radioactive water, Edano said officials were growing concerned about the sheer volume of radioactive materials spilling into the Pacific and would be investigating its effects. It is not clear how much water has leaked in addition to what is being dumped purposely.
Experts said Monday that at this point, they don't expect the discharges to pose widespread danger to sea animals or people who might eat them.
"It's a very large ocean" with considerable powers of dilution, noted William Burnett of Florida State University.
Very close to the nuclear plant — less than half a mile (800 meters) or so — sea creatures might be in danger of problems like genetic mutations if the dumping goes on a long time, he said. But there shouldn't be any serious hazard farther away "unless this escalates into something much, much larger than it has so far," he said.
Associated Press writers Ryan Nakashima, Noriko Kitano and Shino Yuasa in Tokyo, Jim Heintz in Moscow, and AP science writer Malcolm Ritter in New York contributed to this report.