Monday, January 21, 2013

WNU #1160: Documents Describe US “Transition Plans” for Cuba

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1160, January 20, 2013

1. Cuba: Documents Describe US “Transition Plans”
2. Honduras: Are “Model Cities” Back on the Agenda?
3. Mexico: US Plans to Train Commandos for “Drug War”
4. Mexico: Victims’ Movement Calls for US Gun Control
5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Caribbean, Haiti

ISSN#: 1084 922X. Weekly News Update on the Americas covers news from Latin America and the Caribbean, compiled and written from a progressive perspective. It has been published weekly by the Nicaragua Solidarity Network of Greater New York since 1990. It is archived at For a subscription, write to Follow us on Twitter at

*1. Cuba: Documents Describe US “Transition Plans”
New information about the inner workings of the Cuba Democracy and Contingency Planning Program (CDCPP)--a multimillion-dollar program administered by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) ostensibly to promote democracy in Cuba—were made public on Jan. 15 when a major USAID contractor filed program-related documents in federal court in Washington, DC. The documents are being used in an effort by Maryland-based Development Alternatives Inc (DAI) to win the dismissal of a $60 million lawsuit against it and USAID by the family of US citizen Alan Gross, a DAI subcontractor now serving a 15-year prison sentence in Cuba for his work there for the CDCPP [see World War 4 Report 8/6/11). The DC-based research group National Security Archive posted the documents on its website on Jan. 18.

The papers include a May 8, 2008 solicitation by USAID for bids on a $30 million CDCPP project and a memo by DAI describing an Aug. 26, 2008 meeting between USAID and DAI representatives. The CDCPP is intended to “[s]upport the [US government’s] primary objective of hastening a peaceful transition to a democratic, market-oriented society” in Cuba, the USAID officials explain in the documents. The US has “between five to seven different transition plans” for Cuba, including “plans for launching a rapid-response programmatic platform.” “CDCPP is not an analytical project; it’s an operational activity,” officials noted, and it requires “continuous discretion.” However, the USAID didn’t classify the project, in order to maintain the appearance of transparency; as a result, project documents can be made public.

Gross won a contract with DAI to distribute communication devices to members of Cuba’s Jewish community as part of the CDCPP project. Cuban authorities arrested him in December 2009 on charges of “acts against the independence or integrity of the state,” and he has been imprisoned ever since. Currently he is poor health and is being held in a military hospital, although the nature of his illness is in dispute. “[M]y goals were not the same as the program that sent me,” Gross told National Security Archive analyst Peter Kornbluh during a meeting at the hospital last Nov. 28. Gross called on the administration of US president Barack Obama to resolve his case and other bilateral issues through negotiations.

Analysts have questioned the claimed purpose of Gross’s mission. “[T]his isn’t simply a matter of supplying equipment to the tiny Jewish community in Cuba,” José Pertierra, a DC-based attorney who has represented Venezuela in its extradition request against Cuban-born former US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) “asset” Luis Posada Carriles [see Update #1075], told the Mexican daily La Jornada. The purpose was “to establish an alternative network of dissidents used in the interests of the US,” he said, adding that “this is illegal in Cuba and in all the countries in the world—no sovereign government accepts a foreign power involving itself in internal activities aimed at promoting regime change.”

Pertierra said he would like Gross to be freed on humanitarian grounds, but he contrasted the case with the 2001 convictions in US federal court of five Cuban men (widely known as the “Cuban Five”) on charges of spying against the US [see Update #993]. “Gross’s program had the intention of destabilizing Cuba,” according to Pertierra, who is active in work for the release of the five Cubans. “The Five didn’t have the objective of destabilizing the US; instead, they were working to prevent acts of terrorism against Cuban launched from and protected by the US.” (National Security Archive Electronic Briefing 1/17/13; Along the Malecón blog 1/17/13; LJ 1/20/13)

*2. Honduras: Are “Model Cities” Back on the Agenda?
Juan Orlando Hernández, the president of Honduras’ National Congress, introduced a bill the evening of Jan. 14 to create Special Development Regimes (RED), semi-autonomous jurisdictions that proponents say would attract international investment and stimulate the country’s economy. The proposed special regions are similar to the “model cities,” autonomous zones to be managed by North American corporations, that Hernández and Honduran president Porfirio (“Pepe”) Lobo Sosa pushed for last year; these were called Special Development Regions (RED), with the same acronym as the new entities. The Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) ruled the earlier proposal unconstitutional on Oct. 17 [see Update #1148].

The new proposal would include 12 types of special zones: international finance centers, international logistics centers, autonomous cities, special economic zones, international commercial courts, special investment districts, renewable energy districts, zones with their own legal systems, special agro-industrial zones, special tourist zones, industrial mining zones and industrial forest zones. Hernández claims the new bill responds to the CSJ’s October ruling by keeping the zones under the national court system and by requiring referendums before establishing or changing the zones. He is pushing to have the new law passed by Jan. 25, before the end of the current congressional session; since the bill includes constitutional changes, it needs to be approved in two successive sessions. (El Heraldo (Tegucigalpa) 1/15/13; Honduras Culture and Politics blog 1/16/13)

There also seems to be a renewed interest in “model cities” in the US. National Public Radio (NPR) ran a segment on Jan. 4 describing model cities as a way “you could cure all your country's ills by just...starting over” [ellipses in the original]. “[P]oor countries could invite richer countries to found and run ideal ‘charter cities.’ It’s not colonialism, [US economist Paul] Romer explains, because the poor countries are asking for help.” (NPR 1/4/13; Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) Americas Blog 1/15/13)

The new legislation might face a somewhat more sympathetic CSJ, since the National Congress removed four of the court’s 15 justices and appointed replacements for them on Dec. 12—a maneuver that opponents said was unconstitutional. The new justices took office on Jan. 3 under heavy police guard as demonstrators protested the changes in the CSJ. However, the replacement of four justices wouldn’t be enough to change the lopsided October ruling, which was approved by 13 justices. (EFE 1/3/13 via

The authors of the Honduras Culture and Politics blog write that the old law is very different from the new one and is simply intended to help out rich Hondurans, not to revive the model cities plan. They cite Honduran analyst Raul Pineda, who said, in the blog’s paraphrase, “that the reason this law is being rushed through is the urgent need for some in the oligarchy who owned or speculatively purchased lands they expected to be appropriated under the unconstitutional model cities law to sell those properties for financial reasons.” (El Heraldo 1/15/13; Honduras Culture and Politics 1/16/13)

*3. Mexico: US Plans to Train Commandos for “Drug War”
Citing documents and interviews with several US officials, Kimberly Dozier of the Associated Press wire service reported on Jan. 17 that the US military’s Northern Command (Northcom) has a new special operations headquarters in Colorado, to be used “to teach Mexican security forces how to hunt drug cartels the same way special operations teams hunt al-Qaida.” A Dec. 31 memo signed by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta transformed the Northcom special operations group into the new command headquarters, which will be led by a general rather than a colonel. The staff will increase from 30 to 150.

According to Dozier, this is the latest effort by US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) head Adm. Bill McRaven “to migrate special operators from their decade of service in war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan to new missions.” SOCOM “has already helped Mexican officials set up their own intelligence center in Mexico City to target criminal networks, patterned after similar centers in war zones built to target al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Dozier wrote. Mexican military, intelligence and law enforcement officers have reportedly visited SOCOM facilities at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, and Mexican officials also visited a SOCOM targeting center at the Balad air base in Iraq before the US troop withdrawal in 2011, according to a former US official.

The Mexican government hasn’t expressed an opinion on Northcom’s plan to help with its “war on drugs,” but Agnes Gereben Schaefer of the California-based Rand Corporation intelligence group told Dozier that Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto would probably support the plan. “He has talked about setting up a paramilitary force...made up of former military and police forces, which he has described as more surgical” than the current effort, Schaefer said. At least 50,000 Mexicans have died in the wave of violence that followed the militarization of anti-narcotics efforts that former president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa started at the beginning of his 2006-2012 administration. (Miami Herald 1/17/13 from AP)

In a Jan. 18 blog post, Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) researcher Adam Isacson noted that the new development “signals a closer relationship” between the US military and Mexico’s National Defense Secretariat (SEDENA) under President Peña; the Mexican military has traditionally been suspicious of the US. “[A]s Special Forces units leave Afghanistan ahead of the 2014 drawdown, there will be many more of them available for training and other missions in Latin America,” Isacson wrote. “The pace of Special Forces deployments—low-profile, under the radar, mostly for training, but also serving other purposes, like intelligence-gathering—is very likely beginning to pick up throughout the hemisphere.” (Just the Facts blog 1/18/13)

*4. Mexico: Victims’ Movement Calls for US Gun Control
On Jan. 14 Mexican poet and human rights activist Javier Sicilia and Mexican political scientist Sergio Aguayo Quezada brought the US embassy in Mexico City a letter signed by 54,558 people calling on US president Barack Obama and other officials to stop the flow of smuggled firearms from the US to Mexico. “Our country is bleeding to death,” the letter read, referring to the violence that followed the militarization of the “war on drugs” by former president Felipe Calderón  Hinojosa (2006-2012). “More than 60,000 Mexicans were murdered during the Calderón administration. In the first month of [current president] Enrique Peña Nieto, December 2012, 755 people were executed. The majority of them died from wounds caused by weapons obtained in the US.”

The signers asked for the US government to enforce its existing prohibition on the export of assault weapons to Mexico; to expand the current mandate for the reporting of sales of assault weapons in the US border states; and to improve the analysis of arms trafficking routes and other available information, including arms identified in criminal complaints and in the government’s weapons database, to help identify arms vendors who supply smugglers. Sicilia heads the Movement for Peace With Justice and Dignity (MPJD), a movement focusing on victims of Mexico’s “drug war”; Sicilia founded the group in 2011 after the murder of his own son, apparently by gang members [see Update #1143]. The signatures were gathered by Civic Alliance, an organization that Aguayo founded in the 1990s to monitor elections; the Civic Proposal Investigation and Training Center; and two US-based organizations, the Washington Office on Latin América (WOLA) and Global Exchange. (SDP Noticias (Mexico) 1/14/13)

Sicilia and Aguayo also presented the embassy with a letter criticizing Harvard University’s decision to grant a fellowship to former president Calderón at its John F. Kennedy School of Government [see Updates #1154, 1155]. They called Harvard’s action an insult to the victims of the “drug war.” (Reforma (Mexico) 1/14/13 via

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Caribbean, Haiti

How the Walmart labor struggle is going global (Latin America)

Argentine Farm Sales Raise Questions of Land Speculation By Soros

The Privatization of Chile's Sea

Battle of Reports Sustains Bolivia’s TIPNIS Conflict

Ecuadorean Tribe Will 'Die Fighting' to Defend Rainforest

Colombian Peace Talks Resume Between the Santos Government and the FARC

Colombia: FARC ends unilateral ceasefire

Colombia: ELN abducts gold prospectors

Chiquita Republic: United Fruit in Colombia

The Guardian vs. the Conventional Wisdom on Venezuela

Democratizing the Media: An Interview with Carlos Ciappina (Venezuela)

DEA back to Venezuela?

Honduras: deadly DEA raid —again

NPR Examines One Side of Honduran “Model Cities” Debate

A New Scenario in Guatemala: Challenges for Social Movements and Cooperation  

Mexico: Voices from 'Below and to the Left' Say it's the Time of Hope and Action for Movements

Lopez Obrador’s New Challenge (Mexico)

Colonialism and the Green Economy in Chiapas: Villagers Defy Pressure to Forfeit Farms for Carbon-Offset (Mexico)

Guerrero Community Police Denounce Attempts to Use Citizen Uprising to Divide and Militarize Their Region (Mexico)

The Struggle for Ciudad Juárez's Heart and Soul: An Experiment in Filmmaking (Mexico)

Women March for Lives (Mexico)

Three Years Later: Three Answers to Haiti's Predicament

UN’s Muñoz Misses the Point (Haiti)

Canadian Aid to Haiti Tied to Mining Interests

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