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17
Noviembre

Secretary of State John Kerry and the American ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, have praised the work of Cuban doctors dispatched to treat Ebola patients in West Africa. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently sent an official to a regional meeting the Cuban government convened in Havana to coordinate efforts to fight the disease. In Africa, Cuban doctors areworking in American-built facilities. The epidemic has had the unexpected effect of injecting common sense into an unnecessarily poisonous relationship.

And yet, Cuban doctors serving in West Africa today could easily abandon their posts, take a taxi to the nearest American Embassy and apply for a little-known immigration program that has allowed thousands of them to defect. Those who are accepted can be on American soil within weeks, on track to becoming United States citizens.

There is much to criticize about Washington’s failed policies toward Cuba and the embargo it has imposed on the island for decades. But the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program, which in the last fiscal year enabled 1,278 Cubans to defect while on overseas assignments, a record number, is particularly hard to justify.

It is incongruous for the United States to value the contributions of Cuban doctors who are sent by their government to assist in international crises like the 2010 Haiti earthquake while working to subvert that government by making defection so easy.

American immigration policy should give priority to the world’s neediest refugees and persecuted people. It should not be used to exacerbate the brain drain of an adversarial nation at a time when improved relations between the two countries are a worthwhile, realistic goal.

The program was introduced through executive authority in August 2006, when Emilio González, a hard-line Cuban exile, was at the helm of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Mr. González described the labor of Cuban doctors abroad as “state-sponsored human trafficking.” At the time, the Bush administration was trying to cripple the Cuban government. Easily enabling medical personnel posted abroad to defect represented an opportunity to strike at the core of the island’s primary diplomatic tool, while embarrassing the Castro regime.

Cuba has been using its medical corps as the nation’s main source of revenue and soft power for many years. The country has one of the highest numbers of doctors per capita in the world and offers medical scholarships to hundreds of disadvantaged international students each year, and some have been from the United States. According to Cuban government figures, more than 440,000 of the island’s 11 million citizens are employed in the health sector.

Havana gets subsidized oil from Venezuela and money from several other countries in exchange for medical services. This year, according to the state-run newspaper Granma, the government expects to make $8.2 billion from its medical workers overseas. The vast majority, just under 46,000, are posted in Latin America and the Caribbean. A few thousand are in 32 African countries.

Medical professionals, like most Cubans, earn meager wages. Earlier this year, the government raised the salaries of medical workers. Doctors now earn about $60 per month, while nurses make nearly $40. Overseas postings allow these health care workers to earn significantly more. Doctors in Brazil, for example, are making about $1,200 per month.

The 256 Cuban medical professionals treating Ebola patients in West Africa are getting daily stipends of roughly $240 from the World Health Organization. José Luis Di Fabio, the head of the W.H.O. in Havana, said he was confident the doctors and nurses dispatched to Africa have gone on their own volition. “It was voluntary,” Mr. Di Fabio, an Uruguayan whose organization has overseen their deployment, said in an interview. “Some backtracked at the last minute and there was no problem.”

Some doctors who have defected say they felt the overseas tours had an implicit element of coercion and have complained that the government pockets the bulk of the money it gets for their services. But the State Department says in its latest report on human trafficking that reported coercion of Cuban medical personnel does “not appear to reflect a uniform government policy.” Even so, the Cuban government would be wise to compensate medical personnel more generously if their work overseas is to remain the island’s economic bedrock.

Last year, the Cuban government liberalized its travel policies,allowing most citizens, including dissidents, to leave the country freely. Doctors, who in the past faced stricter travel restrictions than ordinary Cubans, no longer do. Some 20,000 Cubans are allowed to immigrate to the United States yearly. In addition, those who manage to arrive here in rafts or through border crossing points are automatically authorized to stay.

The Cuban government has long regarded the medical defection program as a symbol of American duplicity. It undermines Cuba’s ability to respond to humanitarian crises and does nothing to make the government in Havana more open or democratic. As long as this incoherent policy is in place, establishing a healthier relationship between the two nations will be harder.

Many medical professionals, like a growing number of Cubans, will continue to want to move to the United States in search of new opportunities, and they have every right to do so. But inviting them to defect while on overseas tours is going too far.

14
Noviembre

Several celebrities posted statements backing violent opposition groups yet have said nothing about missing 43 students in Mexico.

Diosdado Cabello, President of the Venezuelan National Assembly, has pointed out the silence of international artists around the issue of the missing 43 Mexican students as proof that the “SOS Venezuela” campaign was clearly staged operation to discredit the Venezuelan government.

In February of this year, violent opposition groups began a wave of action across Venezuela in order to force the exit of the democratically-elected President, leading to 43 deaths.

The wave of violence saw the arbitrary closure of streets, the creation of fatal barricades, and civilians and members of security forces attacked. Some went so far as to hang wire across streets in an effort to decapitate those who passed, killing a number of people.

These violent groups attempted to portray to the world that Venezuela was a country rife with violence and instability. They worked to paint the government as repressive, despite the fact that violence was unleashed by these opposition groups.

In response, several international celebrities, such as Juanes, Jared Leto, Ricardo Montaner, and Alejandro Sanz, amongst others, made statements in support of the violent groups. U.S. Actor Kevin Spacey posted on his blog a statement in support of the ultra-right wing Venezuelan Leopoldo Lopez, accused of being behind the violence. Singer Madonna even accused the Maduro government of fascism, despite the proven ties between the violent opposition groups and fascist sympathizers.

Appearing on Venezuelan TV, Cabello accused these artists of giving the world a distorted picture of what was happening in Venezuela.

Cabello has called on these artists to also make a statement regarding the missing students. Despite purporting to stand for peace, Cabello explained that they have been silent on the disappearance of the 43 Mexican students from the Ayotzinapa teachers' school.

Efforts by the right-wing opposition groups to destabilize the country have not abated, only a week ago Cabello released a recording on his television program that revealed a plots to undertake a coup in the country.

 

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14
Noviembre

He is being held responsible for the murder of six persons, including three Ayotzinapa students, and the probable manslaughter of 43 others.

A federal judge on Thursday formally charged the former mayor of Iguala, Jose Luis Abarca, with manslaughter against six persons, including three Ayotzinapa students, and for the probable murder of the 43 missing students. The fate of the disappeared students has yet to be confirmed.

Abarca has been accused of masterminding the attack against the Ayotzinapa students in Iguala, in the southern state of Guerrero, on the night of September 26 and the early morning of the following day, when six persons were killed by municipal police and masked gunmen, whom then apparently abducted 43 other students whose whereabouts are still unknown.

Soon after the tragic incident, Abarca and his wife, Maria de los Angeles, fled from the state and remained hidden until November 4, when they were arrested by police in a house in the southern Mexico City neighborhood of Iztapalapa.

The couple has been accused of having close ties with various drug trafficking gangs, including that of the violent Beltran Leyva brothers and of the local United Warriors, which has been accused of abducting the 43 Ayotzinapa students, killing them and burning their remains to ashes.

Mexico's Attorney General, Jesus Murillo, recently announced that based on the confessions of three United Warriors gang members that are under arrest, the 43 students were dead. He also reported that two of the bags in which their burnt ashes were deposited had been found and sent to Austria to be analyzed.

According to Mexican news outlet Milenio, a federal judge looking into the case is contemplating charging Abarca with kidnapping in the case of the 43 missing students.

Federal authorities have said that the former Iguala mayor is responsible for masterminding the attack against them, their abduction and most possibly, their assassination.

The Ayotizinapa student case has sparked national and international protests and condemnations.

Demonstrations in Mexico have turned violent in connection with the 43 missing students, as families, students, activists and supporters throughout the country have joined in the outrage to demand justice and pressure the government to fulfill its pledges to guarantee security of the people and reduce violence in a country where there are over 22,000 cases of enforced disappearances that have not been resolved and where over 100,000 peopled have died since former President Felipe Calderon declared the “war” on drugs in 2006.

03
Noviembre

Nearly five years ago, authorities in Cuba arrested an American government subcontractor, Alan Gross, who was working on a secretive program to expand Internet access on the island. At a time when a growing number of officials in Washington and Havana are eager to start normalizing relations, Mr. Gross’s continued imprisonment has become the chief obstacle to a diplomatic breakthrough.

There is only one plausible way to remove Mr. Gross from an already complicated equation. The Obama administration should swap him for three convicted Cuban spies who have served more than 16 years in federal prison.

Officials at the White House are understandably anxious about the political fallout of a deal with Havana, given the criticism they faced in May after five Taliban prisoners were exchanged for an American soldier kidnapped in Afghanistan. The American government, sensibly, is averse to negotiating with terrorists or governments that hold United States citizens for ransom or political leverage. But in exceptional circumstances, it makes sense to do so. The Alan Gross case meets that criteria.

Under the direction of Development Alternatives Inc., which had a contract with the United States Agency for International Development, Mr. Gross traveled to Havana five times in 2009, posing as a tourist, to smuggle communications equipment as part of an effort to provide more Cubans with Internet access. The Cuban government, which has long protested Washington’s covert pro-democracy initiatives on the island, tried and convicted Mr. Gross in 2011, sentencing him to 15 years in prison for acts against the integrity of the state.

Early on in Mr. Gross’s detention, Cuban officials suggested they might be willing to free him if Washington put an end to initiatives designed to overthrow the Cuban government. After those talks sputtered, the Cuban position hardened and it has become clear to American officials that the only realistic deal to get Mr. Gross back would involve releasing three Cuban spies convicted of federal crimes in Miami in 2001.

In order to swap prisoners, President Obama would need to commute the men’s sentences. Doing so would be justified considering the lengthy time they have served, the troubling questions about the fairness of their trial, and the potential diplomatic payoff in clearing the way toward a new bilateral relationship.

The spy who matters the most to the Cuban government, Gerardo Hernández, is serving two life sentences. Mr. Hernández, the leader of the so-called Wasp Network, which infiltrated Cuban exile groups in South Florida in the 1990s, was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder. Prosecutors accused him of conspiring with authorities in Havana to shoot down civilian planes operated by a Cuban exile group that dropped leaflets over the island urging Cubans to rise up against their government. His four co-defendants, two of whom have been released and returned home, were convicted of nonviolent crimes. The two who remain imprisoned are due for release relatively soon.

A three-judge panel on the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit overturned the convictions in August 2005, ruling that a “perfect storm” of factors deprived the five defendants of a fair trial. The judges found that widespread hostility toward the Cuban government in Miami and pretrial publicity that vilified the spies made it impossible to impanel an impartial jury. The full court later reversed the panel’s finding, reinstating the verdict. But the judges raised other concerns about the case that led to a reduction of three of the sentences.

One of the judges, Phyllis Kravitch, wrote a dissenting opinion arguing that Mr. Hernández’s murder-conspiracy conviction was unfounded. Prosecutors, she argued, failed to establish that Mr. Hernández, who provided Havana with information about the flights, had entered into an agreement to shoot down the planes in international, as opposed to Cuban, airspace. Downing the planes over Cuban airspace, which the exiles had penetrated before, would not constitute murder under American law.

Bringing Mr. Hernández home has become a paramount priority for Cuba’s president, Raúl Castro. Cuban officials have hailed the men as heroes and portrayed their trial as a travesty. Independent entities, including a United Nations panel that examines cases of arbitrary detentions and Amnesty International, have raised concerns about the fairness of the proceedings. The widespread view in Cuba that the spies are victims has, unfortunately, emboldened Cuba to use Mr. Gross as a pawn.

For years, officials in Washington have said that they would not trade the Cuban spies for Mr. Gross, arguing that a trade would create a false “equivalency.”

But a prisoner exchange could pave the way toward re-establishing formal diplomatic ties, positioning the United States to encourage positive change in Cuba through expanded trade, travel opportunities and greater contact between Americans and Cubans. Failing to act would maintain a 50-year cycle of mistrust and acts of sabotage by both sides.

Beyond the strategic merits of a swap, the administration has a duty to do more to get Mr. Gross home. His arrest was the result of a reckless strategy in which U.S.A.I.D. has deployed private contractors to perform stealthy missions in a police state vehemently opposed to Washington’s pro-democracy crusade.

While in prison, Mr. Gross has lost more than 100 pounds. He is losing vision in his right eye. His hips are failing. This June, Mr. Gross’s elderly mother died. After he turned 65 in May, Mr. Gross told his loved ones that this year would be his last in captivity, warning that he intends to kill himself if he is not released soon. His relatives and supporters regard that as a serious threat from a desperate, broken man.

If Alan Gross died in Cuban custody, the prospect of establishing a healthier relationship with Cuba would be set back for years. This is an entirely avoidable scenario, as Mr. Obama can easily grasp, but time is of the essence.

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