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Offensive in Congo to affect hundreds of thousands -U.N.
World Bulletin/News Desk
To read the article on the World Bulletin website click here
The warning came after the U.N. Security Council approved the offensive against the FDLR, some of whose members were involved in Rwanda's 1994 genocide
Tens of thousands of civilians are likely to be forced to flee their homes during a planned offensive by Congolese and United Nations forces against Rwandan Hutu rebels entrenched in eastern Congo, a U.N. agency has warned.
The U.N.'s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in planning documents seen by Reuters that attacks on the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) would affect hundreds of thousands of people.
The warning came after the U.N. Security Council approved the offensive against the FDLR, some of whose members were involved in Rwanda's 1994 genocide, which failed to meet a Jan. 2 deadline to disarm and surrender.
OCHA said the resulting spillover of violence would quickly overwhelm Congo's weak local capacity, forcing international donors to step in. Around a million people were displaced during the last major offensive against the FDLR in 2009.
Having been at the heart of two decades of violence, an estimated 1,400 Hutu fighters remain entrenched in eastern Congo's east, where the state has little control. The rebels were accused of targeting civilians in response to the 2009 operations.
After defeating M23 rebels, which numbered more than 5,000 fighters, in 2013, U.N. and Congolese troops are under pressure to neutralise remaining insurgents in the mineral-rich zone.
Last week, U.N. and government troops attacked Burundian rebels in eastern Congo in what U.N. officials described as a preparatory operation ahead of the broader offensive.
OHCA expects at least 368,000 people in North Kivu province and 118,000 in South Kivu to be affected by fighting, while rebels fleeing west into Oriental province could affect a further 90,000 civilians.
Operations targeting the FDLR are also complicated by disagreements between the African nations spearheading the U.N. force, with some countries reluctant to target the FDLR due to frosty relations with Rwanda.
African nations are due to discuss the operations on Jan. 15 and 16 in Angola.
By Sudarsan Raghavan December 29 at 3:30 AM
CLICK HERE TO READ THIS ARTICLE ON THE WASHINGTON POST WEBSITE
KIVUYE, Congo -- The Rwandan militia commander showed up moments after I arrived in this village deep in the eastern Congo. He was barely more than a teenager, a youth in lizard-colored fatigues and cap affixed with a red star, clutching a walkie-talkie. But he was called Major Hamza. And his authority was clear. He demanded to know who I was.
Bernard Kamanzi, the top government official in Kivuye, mumbled: I was an American journalist. He waited nervously as Major Hamza digested this information. Then, without a word, the commander turned and left the hut.
“The FDLR now controls the village,” explained Kamanzi, referring to the Rwandan ethnic Hutu militia that has plagued this country for years.
Earlier this year, I had spent a few months in this hill-top hamlet chronicling how Africa’s deadliest war was playing out two decades after Rwanda’s genocide spilled over into Congo. Back then, a merciless warlord had just fled Kivuye after months of terrorizing the community. The villagers -- impoverished farmers living in plywood shacks, and displaced people in nearby camps -- continued to suffer in many ways. But there was a sense of hope.
Last month, I returned to see what had happened since then. It was soon clear that the villagers’ lives, once again, were ordered by men with guns.
[Related Story: In Congo, trapped in violence and forgotten]
In the two decades I’ve crisscrossed sub-Saharan Africa, mostly writing about conflict and misery, I have never seen a country as maddeningly frustrating as the Democratic Republic of Congo. With vast quantities of gold, diamonds and copper, and lakes and rivers to hydropower up the continent, it should have been Africa’s economic engine – not one of its poorest and most hopeless corners. Today, it’s a cautionary tale of how conflict, graft and poor governance strangle a society.
The last time I felt hope for Congo was in the 1990s. I followed rebel leader Laurent Kabila and his army in 1997 as they traveled on foot through thick jungles, in rickety canoes, and on rusting planes to reach the capital Kinshasa, where they overthrew the corrupt U.S.-backed dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. But Kabila ultimately proved little different from his predecessors. And over the years, I would meet new populations of scarred Congolese, their lives broken by a succession of conflicts.
As I walked around Kivuye this time, I was searching for even a sliver of optimism in Congo’s depressing narrative. But in my heart I knew it would be difficult to find.
Back in the spring I had spent days at the village's ill-equipped health clinic. There were no doctors, and it had been two years since the four nurses were paid. Now, as 2014 came to a close, the situation was even worse: the head nurse, Augustin Bazamanga, had resigned. Medicine shortages had deepened. A pass-the-cup effort around the village to raise funds for the clinic had failed to produce enough money.
Then there was Nyiramana Nzabomimpa, a villager I met in March. She had been forced back then to carry her severely malnourished 2-year-old child, Sifwe, on an eight-hour walk to the nearest hospital for treatment. The toddler nearly died on the journey. On this latest visit, I learned that Nzabomimpa had hiked to the hospital again, this time bearing the little girl’s sick twin, Rachel.
When I found them at the hospital, in the town of Mweso, Rachel was on the brink of death, her flesh peeling from malnutrition. Her mother told me that Sifwe, too, was showing signs of malnutrition again, but Rachel’s condition was more severe. “I couldn’t carry them both,” she explained, as she held Rachel on a hospital bed.
The doctor assured me Rachel would survive, and for a moment I felt happiness.
But later I saw Eugenie Shamdwe, a rape counselor in the town of Kitchanga. She had treated over a dozen women in April, several of whom told me in excruciating detail how they were gang-raped by Congolese army soldiers near Kivuye. Afterwards, U.N. monitors also interviewed the women. Since then, however, none of the perpetrators have faced trial or questioning.
“This is what usually happens in Congo,” said Shamdwe.
Meanwhile, the Ebola crisis in West Africa has taken an unexpected toll here. The aid agency Doctors Without Borders wanted to expand its presence in this area, but found itself with a shortage of physicians because of the needs in Liberia and Sierra Leone, said Ellen van der Velden, the agency’s chief in North Kivu province.
Ultimately, I found a silver lining in the most unexpected source: Kivuye’s new rulers.
The United States has designated the FDLR -- the French acronym for the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda – a terrorist entity, because of its record of committing rape, torture and other atrocities. Some of its leaders helped perpetrate the genocide in Rwanda two decades ago.
In Kivuye, though, the militia keeps a low profile. Unlike other groups of fighters, its members don’t impose taxes or beat residents, though they conduct patrols and force Kamanzi to provide intelligence on U.N. and Congolese army movements. And the militia is protecting the village from one of the most brutal warlords who ever ruled over it, Kasongo Kalomo. The FDLR militiamen now consider him an enemy -- because they believe neighboring Rwanda is bankrolling him to fight them. They will prevent him from seizing Kivuye again.
But the village still faces the threat of war.
Col. Bigirabagabo, the warlord who last traumatized Kivuye, remains at large, connected to well-armed regional militias. Then there is Kasongo, who still exerts power in the region. I found him at his family’s wooden shack outside the town of Kashuga. He lives in plain sight, off a main road, his fighters nearby. U.N. peacekeepers, known by the French acronym MONUSCO, and the Congolese army know where he lives.
“The FDLR wants to create problems,” said Kasongo menacingly. “The Congolese people are tired of them. If MONUSCO can’t stop them, I will.”
The U.N. Security Council has issued an ultimatum to the FDLR fighters to lay down their weapons by January – or face a military onslaught by a U.N. peacekeeper combat force.
“The environment remains volatile,” said Capt. Oscar Marquez, the Uruguayan company commander of U.N. peacekeepers based in the town of Kitchanga.
He could have been describing any patch of the eastern Congo.
As I left Kivuye, I wondered if this is as good as it gets. With U.N. forces stretched thin, and unable to adequately protect civilians, and with the government largely absent, is the best an eastern Congo village can hope for is rule by an armed group that doesn’t brutalize them?
The residents of Kivuye expect even this gain to vanish. They worry that they will be trapped in the cross fire if the FDLR doesn’t meet the January deadline and the United Nations follows through on its threats. “Bullets don’t choose if you are Congolese or Rwandan,” said Kamanzi.
Sudarsan Raghavan has been The Post's Kabul bureau chief since 2014. He was previously based in Nairobi and Baghdad for the Post.
US co-opted Cuba's hip-hop scene
to spark change
By DESMOND BUTLER, MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN, LAURA WIDES-MUNOZ and ANDREA RODRIGUEZ Dec. 11, 2014 1:01 AM EST
(For the full article on the AP website, click here)
HAVANA (AP) — For more than two years, a U.S. agency secretly infiltrated Cuba's underground hip-hop movement, recruiting unwitting rappers to spark a youth movement against the government, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.
The idea was to use Cuban musicians "to break the information blockade" and build a network of young people seeking "social change," documents show. But the operation was amateurish and profoundly unsuccessful.
On at least six occasions, Cuban authorities detained or interrogated people involved in the program; they also confiscated computer hardware, and in some cases it contained information that jeopardized Cubans who likely had no idea they were caught up in a clandestine U.S. operation. Still, contractors working for the U.S. Agency for International Development kept putting themselves and their targets at risk, the AP investigation found.
They also ended up compromising Cuba's vibrant hip-hop culture — which has produced some of the hardest-hitting grassroots criticism since Fidel Castro came to power in 1959. Artists that USAID contractors tried to promote left the country or stopped performing after pressure from the Cuban government, and one of the island's most popular independent music festivals was taken over after officials linked it to USAID.
The program is laid out in documents involving Creative Associates International, a Washington, D.C., contractor paid millions of dollars to undermine Cuba's communist government. The thousands of pages include contracts, emails, preserved chats, budgets, expense reports, power points, photographs and passports.
The work included the creation of a "Cuban Twitter" social network and the dispatch of inexperienced Latin American youth to recruit activists, operations that were the focus of previous AP stories.
"Any assertions that our work is secret or covert are simply false," USAID said in a statement Wednesday. Its programs were aimed at strengthening civil society "often in places where civic engagement is suppressed and where people are harassed, arrested, subjected to physical harm or worse."
Creative Associates did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
At first, the hip-hop operation was run in Cuba by Serbian contractor Rajko Bozic. His project was inspired by the protest concerts of the student movement that helped undermine former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic in 2000. Nine years later, Bozic headed public relations for Serbia's EXIT Festival, an annual music event that had grown out of the student movement.
Contractors would recruit scores of Cuban musicians for projects disguised as cultural initiatives but really aimed at boosting their visibility and stoking a movement of fans to challenge the government.
Bozic spoke to the AP earlier this year but declined to talk about the Cuba program.
The slender Serb homed in swiftly on Los Aldeanos, a hip-hop group frustrated by official pressure and widely respected by Cuban youth for its hard-hitting lyrics.
"People marching blind, you have no credibility," the group rapped in "Long Live Free Cuba!" ''Go and tell the captain — this ship's sinking rapidly."
Creative used a Panama front company and a bank in Lichtenstein to hide the money trail from Cuba, where thousands of dollars went to fund a TV program starring Los Aldeanos. It would be distributed on DVDs to circumvent Cuba's censors.
Then the Colombian rock star Juanes announced a September 2009 concert in the heart of Havana. Creative managers held a two-day strategy session on how to persuade Juanes to let Los Aldeanos perform with him.
It didn't happen, but Juanes publicly thanked the rappers after the concert and was photographed with them. The contractors were pleased; they believed this kind of public support by a major celebrity would protect Los Aldeanos from state pressure.
In a statement Wednesday, a Juanes spokesman, John Reilly, said that the concert had no political agenda and that "Juanes and the other organizing artists did not have any knowledge" of what others did.
Later the month of the concert, Los Aldeanos' charismatic front man, Aldo Rodriguez, was detained for illegal possession of a computer.
Xavier Utset, who ran the program for Creative, saw the arrest as a "perfect test" of whether raising Aldo's profile would keep out of jail.
In the end, a relative of Aldo's phoned Silvio Rodriguez, himself a legendary singer. Rodriguez, in an AP interview in Havana, said he called a friend in Cuba's Culture Ministry and asked for the computer to be returned. If there was a problem, he told the friend, "tell them I gave them the computer as a present."
"Evidently he did what I said," Rodriguez said. "I never imagined that a program like this could exist ... When you find out you could be surrounded by a conspiracy, it's shocking."
At one point, the contractors approached a government sex education institute run by President Raul Castro's daughter, Mariela, to be part of the EXIT Festival in Serbia, even as its organizers were running the anti-Castro hip-hop operation. One contractor said it would be "mind blowing" to be working with the president's family.
Mariela Castro told the AP that her institute sent two representatives to the festival but didn't build deeper ties because the festival "didn't have anything to do with the work we were doing."
Contractors paid $15,000 to underwrite an arts and music festival put on by the family of Pablo Milanes, the famed singer of "nueva trova" music and a man with close government ties. Their secret aim was to seed "the minds of festival organizers with new ideas" and persuade them to send "high-impact messages" to the audience, read one report.
Milanes' daughter, Suylen Milanes, said government officials showed up the day before the festival and warned her that she was associating with unsavory characters. They even showed her copies of Bozic's emails, which they called suspicious, she recalled. Her father declined to comment.
Clearly, Cuban officials had figured out what was going on.
Bozic was detained coming into Havana with equipment, including a potentially incriminating memory stick, generating anxiety among the contractors. He cut his trip short and other contractors were told he wouldn't be returning soon.
Then, Cuban authorities detained a photographer working with Adrian Monzon, the only Cuban who documents show knowingly worked for Creative Associates on the hip-hop program. State security then interrogated Monzon, a video jockey. He told Creative that the Cuban authorities were worried about Bozic and suspected links to the CIA.
Four months later, Los Aldeanos left Cuba for their first trip off the island to perform at the EXIT festival in Serbia. On the side, they were the unwitting recipients of leadership training meant "to focus them a little more on their role as agents of social mobilization," wrote Utset, a veteran of Cuban pro-democracy efforts.
Monzon was detained again returning to Havana in April 2011, his computer and a memory stick seized. When they were returned, he realized they contained a document with the names of two Creative Associates managers.
It was a devastating blow.
Monzon and Utset did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Aldo would only say that his "conscience is clear." While Bozic spoke with AP about his work with the EXIT festival, he did not respond to requests for comment on his Cuba work.
In August 2010, Los Aldeanos took the stage at Rotilla, one of Cuba's largest independent music festivals. Before a crowd of about 15,000 people, they lacerated government officials by name and taunted the police.
"The police instead of making me hate them, inspire pity, because they are such sh--- eaters they don't even realize they are victims of the system. Viva Cuba libre," Aldo's partner rapped.
Within months, a USAID contractor told his handlers that the Cubans said USAID had infiltrated the festival, and soon enough, the Cubans took it over. .
In the end, Los Aldeanos moved to South Florida after complaining that the Cuban government made it impossible for them to work in their own country. Their most recently published lyrics are softer-edged.
In slickly produced videos, Aldo plays with dogs and children, making only scattered political references as he raps about helping people love each other, and making the world a better place.
Documents on USAID program: http://apne.ws/1B2vAys
Associated Press writer Desmond Butler reported this story from Washington and Belgrade, Michael Weissenstein and Andrea Rodriguez reported in Havana and Laura Wides-Munoz reported from Miami.
Desmond Butler: https://twitter.com/desmondbutler
Michael Weissenstein: https://twitter.com/mweissenstein
Laura Wides-Munoz: https://twitter.com/lwmunoz
Andrea Rodriguez: https://twitter.com/ARodriguezAP
We had a great shoot last week in Miami! Thank you so much to the Alvarez family for their patience during in the last 3 years, and being so gracious in sharing their story about our grandfather, Francisco (Panchito) Alvarez. We got a couple more interviews, as well as some "Cuban flavor" (aka, dominoes playing).
Thank you also to David Tunon and his family, for traveling all of the way from Orlando, and letting us film their meeting with Cuban-exile pilot Juan Peron. David lost his dad in the Congo in 1965, and in the past year has started to finally put the pieces together about his father's plane crash so many years ago (mostly through Juan Peron's first-person account, since he was one of the last people to see David's father alive). Thanks also to Cuban-exile pilot Reginaldo Blanco who allowed us to film his meeting with my father about his experience during the Stanleyville Operation in 1964 in the Congo.
Lastly, thanks to a great crew: Amanda Spain (Producer) and Eve Cohen (Director of Photography)
To view the article on Boston Globe's website, click here
By Bryan Bender Globe Staff December 02, 2014
WASHINGTON — In a secret meeting held in late 1963, a top US diplomat was “particularly interested” in Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy’s views about implementing another blockade of communist Cuba, which new intelligence suggested may have shipped arms to guerrillas in Venezuela.
Kennedy, who was still mourning the assassination a few weeks earlier of his brother, President John F. Kennedy, was not present for the session of the so-called “Special Group” that he chaired to coordinate covert operations. The sensitive discussion was recounted to him in a confidential memo from a top aide.
“What measures are we capable of taking and what measures should we take?” Justice Department official John Nolan asked Robert Kennedy in the Dec. 9, 1963 memo, which remained classified until an appeal for its release filed by the Globe was recently granted.
But how exactly — or even whether — Kennedy responded to the query is not revealed.
Despite steps by the National Archives and Kennedy’s heirs to make public dozens of boxes of the attorney general’s “confidential” and “classified” files, numerous memos, reports, and other correspondence have been removed pending review by the CIA and military branches, according to researchers and government archivists. They cited the need to protect national security.
That has included some files about the Special Group’s deliberations between September and December 1963, a highly sensitive period before and after President Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas on Nov. 22, when concerns were highest that a foreign power or CIA-backed Cuban exiles might have been involved or had knowledge about the assassination.
For decades the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Dorchester, which is part of the National Archives, and the Kennedy family wrangled with historians and journalists who were anxious to glean new insights from some 60 boxes of unopened RFK files covering his term as the nation’s top law enforcement officer from 1961 to 1964.
That time frame covers a critical period of the Cold War in which the younger Kennedy played an influential role as confidant to the president and overseer of covert plots, including attempts to overthrow Cuba’s president, Fidel Castro.
The controversy over the files appeared to have been settled in 2012 and 2013, when the boxes were opened so “the public will benefit from exploring these documents,” as the chief archivist of the United States, David Ferriero, put it at the time.
But as the yearlong effort by the Globe to win the release of a relatively innocuous two-page memo illustrates, many files are still withheld, which has frustrated researchers and specialists on the government classification system.
“This document contains not a single substantive secret — no names of CIA agents; no sources and methods, no cryptonyms of actual covert operations — nothing that would warrant it being withdrawn and withheld from the file to begin with,” said Peter Kornbluh, a senior analyst and head of the Cuba Documentation Project at the National Security Archive at George Washington University, after reviewing the newly released Nolan memo to Kennedy.
He added: “The fact that the document was withheld in its entirety is an indication of how flawed and arbitrary the secrecy system remains.”
The Kennedy Library, where the former attorney general’s files have resided for more than four decades, was required by a 1973 agreement to get permission from Robert Kennedy’s heirs before making the documents available.
That permission was granted in 2012. But many files contained secret government documents and the national security agencies that originally classified the information retained the ultimate authority to release them.
The JFK Library has not estimated how many files in Robert Kennedy’s attorney general papers are being withheld, according to director Tom Putnam. But he acknowledged that a “good number” of documents have been withdrawn.
Putnam said in an e-mail that the library has “opened as many documents as possible in order to open the material to researchers. . . . Other documents that could not be declassified by our in-house staff have been sent to the various agencies that have equity in the documents.”
The CIA, which has purview over many of the withheld files, did not respond to a request for comment.
One category contained the agenda and minutes of the so-called Special Group — its formal name was Special Group (CI), for “counter insurgency” — during the last quarter of 1963.
The Special Group, headed by Robert Kennedy, had purview over covert operations targeting communist infiltrators around the world. As the Nolan memo recounted, on any given day topics ranged from “terrorist operations in Latin America” to new arms being acquired by Viet Cong guerrillas in Vietnam.
Some historians have raised questions about whether withheld documents about the Special Group in late 1963 might contain sensitive new details of anti-Cuba operations and other deliberations taking place around the time of the president’s assassination.
Some key documents from that period were withheld even though most of the Special Group’s agendas and meeting minutes between 1962 and 1964 were opened.
Kornbluh, co-author of the new book “Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana,” was critical of the lack of disclosure.
“The Special Group was in charge of covert operation and the CIA still wants to hide covert operations that happened over 50 years ago from the American public,” he said.
Bryan Bender can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter@GlobeBender.
MIAMI — Nov 23, 2014, 11:12 AM ET By CURT ANDERSON AP Legal Affairs Writer
(For full article on ABC News website click here)
Since the day in 1959 that Cuban government agents blackmailed his father into committing suicide, Gustavo Villoldo has been on an anti-Castro mission that included co-piloting a B-26 bomber during the ill-fated 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, infiltrating Cuba for the CIA numerous times and tracking down Fidel Castro lieutenant Ernesto "Che" Guevara in Bolivia in 1967.
Now, at age 78, Villoldo is fresh off another clash with the Cuban government, this time with a tentative success: He and family members of other two men ? American Bobby Fuller and Cuban Aldo Vera ? each won separate lawsuits in Florida seeking billions of dollars in damages combined from the Cuban government, which defaulted after never responding to the lawsuits.
"Money to me in this case, it doesn't mean anything. My family tragedy is sacred ground," Villoldo said in a recent interview. "I am continuing to fight Castro in a different arena."
The fight now, though, is less with Cuba than it is with the banks where the U.S. Treasury froze Cuban government assets that the families now want to seize. The banks are resisting turning the money over, insisting the U.S. families have yet to prove they should be allowed to seize it.
Earlier this year, Manhattan U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein ruled that the Florida decisions must be honored as attorneys for Villoldo and the others try to get at accounts with ties to Cuba held by the 19 banks, including Bank of America, Barclays Bank, Citibank, Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase.
"The judgments granted by the Florida circuit court in favor of the plaintiffs and against Cuba are entitled to full faith and credit," Hellerstein wrote in an Aug. 22 order.
At stake is as much as $3.5 billion; the families have agreed to share any proceeds they get out of the New York accounts.
Villoldo attorney Andrew Hall, who previously represented Watergate figure John Erlichman and families of sailors killed in the USS Cole terror attack, said the Hellerstein ruling was a watershed moment in the case. The exact contents of the accounts and the account holders are sealed by court order, and the legal question now involves whether the money truly belongs to Cuba.
"That's the battle: Is this Cuba's money or is this someone else's money?" Hall said. "This is the green light that opens the door for us."
In a nutshell, the money was halted by the Treasury Department as it passed back and forth electronically through the New York banks between entities in Cuba and banks in other countries overseas.
Based on the rulings so far, Hall estimated more than $20 million could be paid out by the banks within the next six months. Another $20 million to $40 million, he said, could be obtained depending on upcoming legal decisions on precisely when an electronic funds transfer, or EFT, should be considered Cuban property that could be seized.
In October, the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that EFTs were subject to seizure only if Cuba itself, or a state-owned entity, transmitted the funds directly to the bank. Lawyers on all sides are still sorting out that decision's impact. An attorney for several big banks, James Kerr, suggested that no money be turned over to Villoldo and the other families right away.
By Glenn Garvin, ggarvin@MiamiHerald.com