Fernando González, one of five Cuban agents charged with espionage by the US government in 1998, returned to Cuba on Feb. 28 after serving out a 15-year term in US prisons. Released from the federal correctional center in Safford, Arizona, on Feb. 27, González landed around noon the next day at Havana's José Martí International Airport, where he was met by Cuban president Raúl Castro. The Cuban government insists that its agents, who are widely known as the "Cuban Five," were never spying on the US and that their goal was only to gather information on terrorist plots by right-wing groups based in the Miami area.
Some 56% of US adults support normalizing relations with Cuba or engaging more directly with the island's Communist government, according to an opinion poll released on Feb. 10 by the Atlantic Council, a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, DC. Support for normalization was at 63% among Florida residents, significantly higher than in the country as a whole, while 62% of Latinos backed normalization. Even among Republicans the majority, 52%, wanted to improve relations; the number was 60% for Democrats. The poll, which claimed a 3.1% margin of error, was conducted in January among 1,024 US adults; the pollsters were Paul Maslin, who has polled for Democratic candidates, and Glen Bolger, a three-time winner of the "Republican Pollster of the Year Award."
Colombia’s Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón announced Feb. 4 that an investigation will be opened into claims of eavesdropping on both government and rebel delegations to ongoing peace talks with the FARC guerilla group. The revelations were published in weekly Semana the day before. Based on 15 months of reports from an unnamed inside source, Semana concluded that a Colombian military intelligence unit funded and coordinated by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) monitored the text messages and e-mails of representatives of both the government and the FARC involved in the Havana peace negotiations. Under the code name "Andromeda," the military's Technical Intelligence Battalion, or BITEC 1, operated a "gray chamber" to monitor the intercepted communications underneath a bar and restaurant in Bogotá, according to Semana. Opposition lawmaker Iván Cepeda dismissed the investigation, saying that only Pinzón himself could have ordered the eavesdropping, and that he should resign immediately. (Colombia Reports, Feb. 4)
The US State Department, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch joined Jan. 28 to condemn the Cuban government's detentions of dissidents to keep them away from a Havana summit of hemispheric leaders. According to rights activists in Havana, an estimated 100 pro-democracy activists have been briefly detained or put under house arrest for the two-day summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), which ends Jan. 28. Thirty dissidents were detained when they gathered in Santiago de Cuba as Cuban ruler Raúl Castro was giving his opening address to the summit. CELAC is supposed work towards economic integration of its 33 member states. Dissidents were planning two "parallel summits" this week to discuss human rights and other issues. Argentine activist Gabriel Salvia was deported by Cuban authorities when he arrived in Havana to join the parallel summit. "It is unacceptable to not to be able to do in Cuba what can be done in any other country that belongs to CELAC," Salvia said on his Twitter page.
The New York-based nonprofit Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO) announced on Jan. 6 that the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has recommended ending the group’s 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status. Founded in 1967 by the late Rev. Lucius Walker, IFCO is the first national foundation in the US controlled by people of color. It is probably best known as the sponsor of Pastors for Peace, which for the past 22 years has organized the US-Cuba Friendshipment Caravan, an annual shipment of humanitarian aid to Cuba; Pastors for Peace has also provided such aid for Nicaragua, Haiti and other countries.
Obama's notorious handshake with Raúl Castro at the Nelson Mandela memorial in Johannesburg yesterday is prompting requisite outrage from all the predictable quarters—beginning with Florida's Republican Congressional delegation. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen called the handshake "nauseating and disheartening," while Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, also the offspring of Cuban immigrants, said "the president's friendly demeanor with Raúl Castro is reflective of his policies to the Castro regime and every other terrorist dictatorship." Sen. Marco Rubio said Obama "should have asked [Castro] about those basic freedoms Mandela was associated with that are denied in Cuba." (USA Today)
The United Nations (UN) General Assembly voted 188-2 on Oct. 29 to condemn the 53-year-old US economic embargo of Cuba. This was the 22nd year in a row that the General Assembly has passed a resolution rejecting the US policy. Israel and the US were the only countries to oppose the resolution, which was presented by Cuba; last year Palau backed the US, but this year it abstained, along with Micronesia and the Marshall Islands. US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki defended the US position, saying: "We don't feel that this annual debate in the United Nations does anything to add to or advance a constructive discussion about these issues." Unlike Security Council resolutions, those passed by the General Assembly have no binding force.
After being detained for a day or two by Panamanian authorities on a request from Interpol, retired US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) station chief Robert Seldon Lady was released on July 19 and placed on a plane bound for the US. In 2009 an Italian court sentenced Lady in absentia to nine years in prison for the Feb. 17, 2003 kidnapping of Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, an Egyptian-born Muslim cleric and suspected terrorist also known as Abu Omar, on a street in Milan. Although 22 other US citizens were convicted in the kidnapping case, Italy has only been seeking Lady, who headed the CIA's Milan station; the others received lighter sentences that don't warrant extradition requests under Italian law.