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November 30, 2015 / 18 Kislev, 5776
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Posts Tagged ‘Cuba’

Diplomatic Ties with US May Strike Out Baseball in Cuba

Monday, December 29th, 2014

To the dismay of baseball fan Kit Krieger, future travels to Cuba will no longer include get-togethers with ex-Washington Senators pitcher Connie Marrero.

Marrero, who played for Washington from 1950 to 1954, died in Havana last April at age 102, a few months after Krieger’s last visit and three years after Krieger helped arrange for Marrero a $10,000 annual pension from Major League Baseball.

Theirs was a special friendship, one of many forged by Krieger, a Vancouver resident who will return to Cuba in late February — his 30th visit there beginning with a 1997 trip related to his job with the British Columbia teachers federation. That trip spawned a love affair with the country and its baseball scene.

Krieger, 65, would go on to found Cuba Ball, a company bringing baseball-mad tourists to the island nation — a venture begun really to enable himself to visit affordably with groups.

With President Obama’s Dec. 17 announcement on renewing diplomatic relations broken off by the United States in 1961, Krieger sees a double-edged sword: Cuba will emerge from U.S.-imposed isolation, but the country’s professional baseball scene could ultimately disappear, like America’s Negro Leagues following the integration of Major League Baseball.

In the near term, he figures, Cuban baseball will remain unchanged, since the country can hardly be expected to allow foreign teams to poach its premier talent — at least not without hefty payments, as in Japan. Individual players, Krieger adds, are unlikely to risk defecting while knowing that renewed diplomacy could prompt Washington’s lifting of an economic blockade, enabling them to legally sign lucrative contracts abroad.

Following Obama’s announcement, MLB released a statement saying that it will monitor whether the policy shift affects “the manner in which [teams] conduct business on issues related to Cuba.”

Krieger says he sees Cuba as “the largest pool of untapped baseball talent in the world, and no one knows if [the news] will open this pool.” But he fears “the beginning of the end” of a Cuban baseball reality caught in a sweet time warp evoking America of the 1890s. Eventually, Krieger says, Cuban baseball “will become integrated into the international baseball community, which it isn’t now.”

His love for Cuban baseball led him more than a decade ago to join the Society for American Baseball Research, where he recruited like-minded fans for the trips. He’s similarly passionate about family history, frequently conducting research on Jewish genealogy websites. Thanks largely to meticulous records kept by his ancestors, Krieger (his given first name is Ernest) can trace several branches in Poland and Germany back to 1700.

“I can even tell you the name of my grandfather’s mohel,” he quips.

Krieger’s baseball and genealogy interests at times have coincided: His late mother, Ann Kohlberg, grew up in an apartment building at 320 Riverside Drive in Manhattan, across the hall from New York Giants star Mel Ott. Kohlberg’s cousin, Don Taussig, went on to play outfield with the franchise after its move to San Francisco.

While Krieger doesn’t usually seek out Jewish residents or sites while in Cuba, another Jewish traveler, retired professor Oscar Soule, does.

Soule, of Olympia, Wash., who will be traveling with Krieger to Cuba in February, has been to the Caribbean nation five times and makes a point of going to a Havana synagogue on each visit. The draws for him are the baseball games and meetings with government officials, as well as such diamond legends as Omar Linares and Victor Mesa that wouldn’t happen without Krieger.

Marrero, a 5-foot-5 right-hander who posted a 39-40 record in the majors and made the American League’s All-Star team in 1951 at age 40, benefited from Krieger’s attention in his final years as he lost his eyesight and hearing. Krieger solicited notes of appreciation from the aging pitcher’s American contemporaries, all of whom Marrero fondly remembered. More than 90 letters arrived, and scores more for Marrero’s 100th birthday, including from Hall of Famers Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Tommy Lasorda, George Kell and Harmon Killebrew.

Alan Gross to get $3.2M Compensation

Wednesday, December 24th, 2014

Alan Gross, the Jewish contractor freed last week from Cuba, will get $3.2 million in compensation for his five years in prison, Reuters reports.

Gross was arrested and jailed in Cuba while working on a USAid-financed project for company DAI. Cuban authorities sentenced him to 15 years in prison for providing satellite internet equipment to Jews in Cuba.

He and his wife sued DAI and the US government in 2012 for gross negligence.

Gross was freed last week in a prisoner swap as part of the restoration of diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Cuba. He thanked the Jewish community, among others, for its efforts on his behalf during his years in jail.

Obama Negotiated with Cuba ‘Behind Everyone’s Back,’ Lawmakers Charge

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

U.S. President Barack Obama negotiated with Cuba to restore diplomatic relations “behind everyone’s back,” lawmakers charged Wednesday night after he announced the restoration of full diplomatic ties with the island nation.

News agencies in the United States buzzed on Thursday with the details of how Obama accomplished that task in a personal 45-minute telephone call on Tuesday with President Raul Castro. The call followed 18 months of secret talks between the White House and Cuban officials that also involved the highest levels of the Vatican – and Pope Francis himself.

As part of the deal, USAID worker Alan Gross returned from Cuba on a U.S. government 757 aircraft after five years in custody, along with a U.S. intelligence agent who had spent the last 20 years of a life term in prison.

The move, which was carried out without any knowledge of Congressional lawmakers on either side of the aisle, inflamed already hot tempers about Obama’s penchant for doing things on his own. Media commentators and some legislators on Thursday referred to the president as “King Obama.”

The president further exacerbated that anger by saying he was “ending an outdated approach that had failed to advance U.S. interests for decades… The previous approach failed to promote change, and it’s failed to empower or engage the Cuban people,” he said. “It’s time to cut loose the shackles of the past and reach for a new and better future with this country.”

Democratic lawmakers expressed shock and disappointment that the president had spent 18 months negotiating with an “enemy, Communist regime” without even consulting with any other legislator from his own party.

Members of the Cuban immigrant community were incensed that Obama had cut through more than half a century of sanctions and provided a “shot in the arm” to the repressive regime they fled for its brutality.

Castro said the 52-year embargo had caused enormous human and economic damage. He added there was still disagreement on many issues, including that of foreign policy.

Following the announcement, however, the Dow Jones Industrial Average leaped, possibly in response. Media commentators began discussing what the economic implications would be if Congress could not control corporate financial and production flow in and out of Cuba.

Cuba: Rewarding Bad Behavior

Thursday, December 18th, 2014
That would be our POTUS-in-Chief, pulling his

self-defined “right thing to do” out of nowhere (some would make a more anatomical allusion) at a time when Cuba has been busy doing exactly the wrong thing.

First, let us at least rejoice that Alan Gross has been released.  We can be glad for his sake that he is back home with his family.

The rest of the news is not so good.  Obama traded three Cuban spies for Gross and a U.S. intelligence agent, and will open up financial and banking relations to Cuba, besides authorizing travel and reopening a U.S. embassy in Havana:

American officials said the Cuban spies were swapped for a United States intelligence agent who had been in a Cuban prison for nearly 20 years, and said Mr. Gross was not technically part of the swap, but was released separately on “humanitarian grounds.”

In addition, the United States will ease restrictions on remittances, travel and banking relations, and Cuba will release 53 Cuban prisoners identified as political prisoners by the United States government. Although the decades-old American embargo on Cuba will remain in place for now, the president called for an “honest and serious debate about lifting” it.

The concern here is only partly the specific measures taken, however.  The context in which they are being taken is of even greater concern.


Russian officials made two major announcements in the last six months: that Moscow would reopen the sprawling Cold War-era listening post near Havana, at Lourdes; and that Russian forces, now including strategic bombers (an unprecedented feature), would resume operating from Cuba to conduct patrols targeting the United States.

Russia has, in fact, been operating intelligence collection ships from Cuba and sending them on patrols off the southeastern U.S. coast.

Meanwhile, Cuba continues to engage in an illicit arms trade with North Korea, which facilitates the proliferation of arms to terrorist groups and bad regimes round the world.  (See here and here as well.)

Cuba also continues to be deeply involved in the repressions inflicted by Central America’s socialist caudillos on the people of Venezuela, Bolivia, and Nicaragua.  For more than half a century, Cuba has been one of the chief security problems of Latin America.

In the last five years, the nexus between the Castroites and the chavistas (Chavez, his successor Maduro, Evo Morales, Daniel Ortega) has expanded to include – increasingly overtly – Iran.  Cuba’s trade relations with Iran – always, for such nations, largely a cover for arms and intelligence cooperation – have been growing rapidly in the last several years.  (The more warehouses and heavy machinery are ostensibly involved in the commercial trade, the more military-strategic import it typically has.  The transportation sector is one of the best covers for military cooperation.)

China, moreover, has been cultivating increased military as well as trade ties with Cuba in the last few years (see here and here as well), and is reported to have intelligence operatives manning a Cuban listening post in Bejucal.

These are some of the big, important things that have been going on with Cuba in the time period that ought to affect our decisions about Cuba.  If we’re going to go down the path of normalizing relations with Cuba, each and every one of these things should be on the table.   The payoff from pursuing this course should be – explicitly, and up front – a set of verifiable commitments from Cuba to not continue in these activities which are prejudicial to the United States and the security of the Western hemisphere.

Alan Gross Credits Jewish Efforts for His Release From Cuba [video]

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

Newly released from prison in Cuba, Alan Gross thanked his wife, his lawyer, the Jewish community, President Obama and numerous others in helping secure his freedom.

Speaking at a news conference Wednesday in Washington, Gross opened his statement with a Hanukkah greeting and a thank you to the president.

“Chag sameach,” he said. “What a blessing to be a citizen of the United States of America. Thank you President Obama for everything you have done today.”

He credited the advocacy by his wife of 44 years, Judy Gross, and his lawyer, Scott Gilbert, for getting him out of prison. He also thanked the Jewish community.

“To the Washington Jewish community, Ron Halber in particular and his staff at the Jewish Community Relations Council, all of the executive directors, staff and volunteers of participating JCRCs, federations, synagogues, schools, and other Jewish, Christian and Muslim organizations nationwide, God bless you and thank you,” Gross said. “It was crucial to my survival knowing that I was not forgotten. Your prayers and actions have been comforting, reassuring, and sustaining.”

In a deal that American officials said was technically separate from Gross’ release, the United States and Cuba agreed to exchange the three remaining incarcerated members of the “Cuban Five,” a Florida-based spy ring, for an American spy held in Cuba for 20 years and whose identity remains a secret.

It came, too, as the United States and Cuba agreed to re-establish full diplomatic ties that were severed in early 1961.

Gross, a Jewish-American who had been in detention in Cuba for five years of a 15-year term for crimes against the state, originally went to the island nation to do contract work for the U.S. government and help connect Cuban Jews to the outside world.

He suffered health problems during his imprisonment, and in his statement referenced his significant weight loss and the loss of some teeth.

“Ultimately, the decision to arrange for and secure my release was made in the Oval Office. To President Obama and the NSC staff, thank you,” Gross said. “A judicious lesson that I have learned from this experience is that freedom is not free.”

Gross expressed fondness for the Cuban people, saying they were not responsible for his ordeal and that he is pained “to see them treated so unjustly as one consequence of two governments’ mutually belligerent policies.”

He hailed Obama’s announcement that Havana and Washington now would resume diplomatic relations.

Alan Gross Freed From Cuban Jail

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

After 5 years in jail, Cuba has released Alan Gross. His release was part of a prisoner exchange between Cuba and the U.S.

AP reports that this is part of normalizing full diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba, and the US will open an embassy in Havana in a few months.

From Wikipedia:

Alan Phillip Gross is a U.S. international development professional.

In December 2009 he was arrested while in Cuba working as a U.S. government subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) as part of a program funded under the 1996 Helms-Burton Act.

He was prosecuted in 2011 after being accused of crimes against the Cuban state for bringing satellite phones and computer equipment (to members of Cuba’s Jewish community) without the permit required under Cuban law.

After being accused of working for American intelligence services in January 2010, he was ultimately convicted for “acts against the independence or the territorial integrity of the state” in March 2011. He was released from Cuban prison on December 17, 2014.

Fears Grow that Alan Gross Will Die in Jail in Cuba

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

American-Jewish contractor Alan Gross completed his fifth year in prison in Cuba on Tuesday, one-third of a 15-year prison term for “crimes against the state, and his wife fears he will not survive much longer.

Gross, 65, of Potomac, Md., was leaving Cuba when he was arrested in December 2009 for setting up Internet access for the Jewish community there as a contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement issued Tuesday evening that Gross continues to suffer an “unjustified imprisonment in difficult conditions in Cuba.”

“We reiterate our call on the Cuban government, echoing foreign leaders and even Cuba’s allies, to release Alan Gross immediately,” Harf said in a statement.

Gross reportedly is in ill health and has lost more than 100 pounds since his incarceration, and has suffered from painful arthritis.

Gross’ wife Judy said in a statement released Wednesday that “Alan is resolved that he will not endure another year imprisoned in Cuba, and I am afraid that we are at the end.”

Cuba has expressed an interest in negotiating a trade of Gross for three Cubans who are jailed in the United States on espionage charges, an idea which the Obama administration has rejected.

In August, Gross said he could no longer take life in prison and reportedly said goodbye to his family.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/fears-grow-that-alan-gross-will-die-in-jail-in-cuba/2014/12/03/

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