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.
Amnesty International has issued a statement protesting the charges brought against Edward Snowden under the US Espionage Act. "No one should be charged under any law for disclosing information of human rights violations by the US government," said Amnesty's international law director Widney Brown. "Such disclosures are protected under the rights to information and freedom of expression." Snowden (now without a valid passport) is apparently at the Moscow airport, awaiting a flight to (depending on the account) Ecuador, Venezuela or Cuba. There is a delicious irony to countries usually portrayed as authoritarian offering refuge while the ostensibly "democratic" United States is thusly chastised. "Regardless of where Snowden ends up he has the right to seek asylum," said Brown. "Even if such a claim failed, no country can return a person to another country where there is a substantial risk of ill-treatment. His forced transfer to the USA would put him at great risk of human rights violations and must be challenged."
In a sharp reversal of its previous policy, the US government has decided to let René González, one of five Cuban men convicted of espionage in 2001, serve out the remainder of his probation in Cuba. González, a US citizen of Cuban origin, was released in October 2011 after spending 13 years in prison, but US officials initially turned down his request to serve his remaining three years' probation in Cuba. In 2012 the US let him visit the island for two weeks to see his brother, who was ill, and in April this year he was allowed another visit to attend the funeral of his father, who died on April 1. On May 3 US district judge in Miami Joan Lenard granted González's request to stay in Cuba; she said the US Justice Department now had no objection to the arrangement. Apparently the only condition was that he would need to renounce his US citizenship.
Why now? On May 2—the 40th anniversary of the New Jersey Turnpike gun-fight that landed her in prison—the FBI made veteran Black Panther Assata Shakur the first woman on its "Most Wanted Terrorists" list, doubling the reward for her capture to $2 million. Shakur is in exile in Cuba, and Cuba's own right-wing exiles in Miami have campaigned for her extradition. But it's the NJ State Police that seem to have brought the pressure, with Trenton putting up the extra million dollars. "She continues to flaunt her freedom in the face of this horrific crime," State Police superintendent Col. Rick Fuentes said at a press conference, calling the case "an open wound" for troopers in New Jersey and around the country.
Dissident Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez, who has won world fame with her Generación Y webpage, spoke March 15 at a conference entitled "The Revolution Recodified: Digital Culture and the Public Sphere in Cuba," at New York University. One lone protester stood across the street from the auditorium overlooking Washington Square Park, while the hall was filled with hundreds, all eagerly engaged. Sánchez opened with the assertion that digital technology is "bringing about a democratic, pluralistic Cuba," opening a new space in a country where "the press is a private monopoly of the Communist Party." She said a "slow, timid process of opening dissent from below" is underway, emphasizing that it is neither a reform imposed by foreign designs, nor the "formal limited reform" being advanced by the regime. She explicitly repudiated notions of militant opposition, saying she rejects the "cycle of violent revolution."