Tuesday, October 30, 2007

“Micronesia abstained.”

One could argue that today’s vote in the UN General Assembly declaring the “necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba” was a great victory for Cuban diplomacy, or a great defeat for President Bush a week after he called on the world to “put aside its differences” over U.S. policy toward Cuba.

But this is the sixteenth time in a row that the resolution has passed. It is not as momentous as it once was.

To me, what is noteworthy in the vote – 184-4, with Micronesia the lone abstention – is that many U.S. allies used to abstain, and today they did not. Not the Europeans and Australians who spoke during the debate in favor of human rights and the liberation of prisoners, not the Poles, Czechs, and Hungarians whom the President singled out for praise last week. The Israelis voted against the resolution apparently as a courtesy, because they trade with Cuba and invest there.

After sixteen rounds, the drama may be gone, but the vote is a very objective reminder that apart from the United States, Palau, and the Marshall Islands, no country – not even allies who explicitly share the President’s goals of democratic reform – agrees that the United States is right to try to isolate Cuba, much less undertakes policies of its own to that end.

A Reuters report is here.

(Photo of Cuban foreign ministry.)

Come on in

Here’s an example of the uniqueness of American immigration policy toward Cubans. Cubans who live in Venezuela, including those who were born in Venezuela to Cuban parents who went to Venezuela after 1959, are able to come to the United States and get on the path to U.S. residency, according to this Herald article. This is the result of a U.S. government decision last August to admit anyone who can prove Cuban parentage, even if they were born in a third country and have that country’s citizenship. According to a lawyer quoted in the article, the decision has “opened the doors not only to the sons and daughters of Cubans in Venezuela, but also to those living anywhere else in the world.” Increasing numbers of Venezuelans are going to the Cuban consulate in Caracas to obtain documents proving their Cuban parentage, and apparently they don’t have to make any claim of persecution or wait in line for a family reunification visa; Cuban parentage is enough.

Odds and ends

  • Next Monday, President Bush will award the Medal of Freedom to jailed Cuban dissident Oscar Elias Biscet. From the White House statement: “Oscar Elias Biscet is a champion in the fight against tyranny and oppression. Despite being persecuted and imprisoned for his beliefs, he continues to advocate for a free Cuba in which the rights of all people are respected.”

  • Ron Paul on Cuba: for him, the issue boils down to letting Americans make their own decisions. H/T: Stuck on the Palmetto.

  • Missed this one from last week: Cuban Air Force General Rafael del Pino, who defected in 1986, on the symbiosis between hard-liners on both sides of the Straits.

  • Here’s a link to an article that a friend sent to me; it’s by former Salvadoran FMLN guerrilla leader Joaquin Villalobos, who is now – what else? – a consultant on international conflict resolution. It appeared in Madrid’s El Pais last month. The article doesn’t have a lot to do with Cuba, but it does show how the world around Cuba has changed as the guerrillas who fought with Cuban and Soviet support in the 1970’s and 1980’s have moved to other pursuits. Villalobos disparages today’s violent left in Latin America, describing a “lumpenización” whereby today’s fighters are tied more to criminality than ideological motives. According to consultant Villalobos, the “greatest danger in the Cuban transition is not a war between Cubans, but that organized crime would take control of the island.”

  • If this was a baseball blog, I would write about 500 words on Alex Rodriguez’ vile attempt to upstage the Rockies and the Sox by announcing his “I want more money” contract decision in the middle of Sunday night’s World Series game.


Monday, October 29, 2007

Dental pain

Juventud Rebelde published an article yesterday on the problems of dentistry in Cuba based on an investigation by a team of reporters who visited clinics in six provinces across the island.

The article is here, and a Reuters report in English is here.

The majority of the clinics visited had shortages of personnel, and the reporters also found clinics that lacked equipment, materials, and even running water.

One dentist said she sometimes relies on patients who have cars to go to the warehouse to get the supplies she needs, and she sometimes takes it upon herself to distribute supplies to clinics in her municipality.

The reporters also found patients who resorted to “private clinics” where they paid for services. The top dentistry official in the Ministry of Public Health, interviewed by the reporters, admitted that this practice occurs, and he said that eight dentists had been fired in the past two years for it.

The official also concurred with the reporters’ findings that Cuba’s dentists – there is one dentist for every 1,049 Cubans, the article says – are not evenly distributed, leaving some areas under-served. He said that when thousands of dental personnel now in training begin to practice their profession, the Cuban public will be better served and Cuba will be able to “maintain cooperation with other nations” – an indirect admission that shortages are caused at least in part by dentists serving abroad.

The article is similar to a series that appeared a year ago in Juventud Rebelde, documenting problems in state enterprises.

Odds and ends

  • Fix your bookmarks: In a new format and with a new design, the indispensable Penultimos Dias re-launched yesterday. Url: http://www.penultimosdias.com/

Parque Central

Friday, October 26, 2007

Odds and ends

  • In today’s Herald’s story on Cuba’s decision to put the Bush speech in Granma and Cuban television, dissident Vladimiro Roca says, “In the past, they would summarize speeches or quote the parts they liked that suited their purposes…I’ll tell you this: Something is behind this. If I only knew what.”

  • At Penultimos Dias, Ernesto checked out Radio Marti’s web coverage of the speech, found “stone age” technology, and wonders what the station does with its money.

  • Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, in calling for the President to give Oscar Elias Biscet the Medal of Freedom, compared Biscet to “Colonel” Antonio Maceo. Manuel Tellechea reacts to the demotion, and to the comparison.

  • The Economist on prospects for economic reform in Cuba: an expectation that the government’s first moves will come in late December. El Pais says Cuba is “at a crossroads,” and notes that Cuban media have not covered the recent debate and the the ideas for change that came from it.

Plaza de Armas

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Faith, heaven, earth, and Cuba

If we were truly seeing “the dying gasps of a failed regime” in Havana, as President Bush said yesterday, then it might be possible to interpret his speech as something other than an expression of his deep personal faith that change is coming to Cuba.

But as former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan wrote after the President’s second inaugural where he stated the “ultimate goal of ending tyranny” worldwide, “this is not heaven, it’s earth.”

And in Cuba’s little corner of this earth, it’s hard to discern the gasping government and the teeming opposition that would be poised to bring the President’s vision of change into earthly reality any time soon.

To be sure, there are human rights violations and there is opposition in Cuba, and beyond the formal opposition there is a widespread desire among Cubans, extending even into the communist party and spoken out loud, for profound change. And there is something else that the President ignored: a government that has a tiger by the tail, saying it too wants change, taking the public’s pulse, feeding expectations, studying options, figuring out what to do. As a result, the big question in Cuba today is how Raul Castro will govern, and whether he will deliver on the expectations he himself has raised.

One can’t fault the President for giving a visionary speech or for attempting to put political reform front and center at a time when the possibilities of economic reform are more prominent in public discussion.

But contrary to the Secretary of State’s view last May that Cuba has a “very nascent and fragile democratic opposition that is beginning to arise,” President Bush seemed to place Cuba’s opposition on the ramparts and spoiling for a fight, so much so that he thought it was time to tell Cuban soldiers and police that they will face a decision about “using force against your own people.” If they decide not to use force, they have now been assured by the President – of the United States – that there is “a place” for them “in the free Cuba.”

The President certainly did not try to dissuade Cubans from taking to the streets; he made clear that what matters to him is the final result of freedom, and if that comes at the expense of stability, that’s not a problem.

The President directed himself to those in Cuba who might be listening “perhaps at great risk.” Cuban officials, smarter than the average bear, apparently took about two minutes to call the President’s bluff. They ran 1,800 words of the speech in today’s Granma (pdf), and 15 minutes of it on Cuban television last night.

Which means one of two things: that everyone who reads Granma in Cuba today will be arrested by sundown, or that officials calculated that it serves their political interest for Cubans to know what the American President says about their country.

Why would that be? Here are a few guesses: to discredit the President’s assertion that they are weak; to highlight the President’s vision of possible violence and his indifference toward instability; to amplify his assertions that Cubans have no sense of community, that they cannot legally gather in groups of more than three, or that they cannot change jobs or houses; and generally to allow the President’s words to increase Cubans’ fear of radical change.

Before the speech, I thought the President was looking for a way to turn the page and start a new discussion about Cuba with U.S. allies. (Indeed, he did call for “the world to put aside its differences,” which is easy for him to say, since the “differences” are generated by his own policy.) But rather than diplomacy, his real interest seemed to be to draw moral distinctions between a United States bathed in virtue and other democracies whose conduct will “shame” them in the future.

The President concluded by leaving Cubans with “a mission.” His message seemed to be, in sum, “I have done what I can, and what I have done will not change Cuba; it is time for you to act.” The dying, gasping, failed regime ensured that his message was heard from one end of the island to the other. Now it’s up to the Cuban people to decide what to do with the new mission assigned to them.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Bush speech preview #2

The following is an excerpt from a White House briefing given this evening by a senior Administration official regarding the President’s speech tomorrow:

And he will then say that now is the time to stand with the democratic movements and the people of Cuba; now is the time to put aside the differences that have existed amongst the international community, and we need to be focused on how we're prepared -- we, the international community are prepared for Cuba's transition. He will acknowledge and thank three countries specifically for their efforts to stand with Cuban pro-democracy forces -- the
Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland. He will call on other countries to follow suit and to make tangible efforts to show public support for pro-democracy activists on the island -- such things as interacting with pro-democracy leaders, inviting them to embassy events, encouraging their country's NGOs to reach out directly to Cuba's independent civil society.

Turning back to the
U.S. support for pro-democracy activists on the island, he will note that the U.S. Congress has approved his -- the President's request for additional funding to support Cuban democracy efforts. He will thank the members of Congress for this bipartisan support and urge them to get the law -- or the bill to him that they approved -- get the bill to him so that he can sign it. They will also urge members of Congress to show our support and solidarity for fundamental change in Cuba by maintaining our embargo until there is fundamental change in Cuba.

He will note that the regime does use the embargo as a scapegoat, but that Presidents of both countries have understood that
Cuba's suffering is a result of the system imposed on the Cuban people. It is not a function or result of U.S. policy, that the only thing that trade will do is further enrich and strengthen the regime and their grip on the political and economic life of the island.

He will note then that the United States over the years has taken a series of steps to try to help the Cuban people overcome the suffering; that we have done things such as opened up as a place of refuge the United States; that we've tried to rally other countries; that we have authorized private citizens and NGOs to provide humanitarian aid to the island. And it's to the point that the
United States is one of the, if not the largest, providers of humanitarian aid to the Cuban people in the world.

He will note that for us the objective has been -- the objective is to get aid directly into the hands of the Cuban people, and that the heart of our policy, the essence of our policy is to break the absolute control the regime holds over the material resources that Cubans need to live and prosper.

He will then announce some initiatives that the
U.S. is prepared to take now to help the Cuban people directly if the Cuban regime will allow it to happen, if the regime will get out of the way. One initiative will be to -- one initiative he will announce is that the United States government is prepared to license NGOs and faith-based groups to provide computers and Internet access to Cuban students, and here we would like to be able to provide this to a Cuba in which there are no restrictions on Cubans on Internet access -- so that we would look at expanding this category of getting more computers with Internet access capability to the island, if Cuba's rulers end their restrictions on Internet access for all Cubans.

Excuse me, I apologize, a little tired here.

The next initiative is that we are prepared to invite Cuban young people into the scholarship program, Partnership for Latin American Youth. This is an initiative the President originally announced in March that was hemisphere-wide. He is going to extend a specific invitation to have Cuban youth participate in this, and again call upon the
Cuba's rulers to allow Cuban youth to freely participate.

The President will then make the point that life will not improve for Cubans under the current system. It will not improve by exchanging one dictator for another, and it will not improve in any way by seeking accommodation with a new tyranny for the sake of stability. He will note that our policy is based on freedom for
Cuba; our policy is not stability for Cuba, it is freedom, and that the way to get to a stable Cuba is through the Cuban people being given their freedom and fundamental rights.

To help bring about that reality, the President will ask Secretary of State Rice and Secretary of Commerce Gutierrez to pursue an effort to develop an international freedom fund for
Cuba. They will be asked to go work with international partners and to look at how we can -- how we, the international community, can work together to be prepared to assist Cubans as they transition to democracy. But a key to this is going to be at a point at which there is a transitional government in place that respects fundamental freedoms -- freedom of speech, press, freedom to form political parties, the freedom to change their government through periodic multiparty elections. And also key to this is going to be the government that releases political prisoners, and which no longer imprisons or represses individuals who exercise their conscience freely, and frankly, where the shackles of dictatorship are removed.

The President then will note that the speech is being carried by a number of media outlets, some of which are reaching the island. And he will, for a moment, deliver a message to members of the Cuban regime, especially members of the Cuban military and the security apparatus. He will note that they are going to face a choice, and the choice is, which side are they on, the side of Cubans who are demanding freedom, or are they going to face the choice of having to use force against a dying -- force against their own -- their fellow citizens against a dying regime. And he expresses the hope that they will make the choice for freedom, and that -- and note that they will have a place in a democratic
Cuba for those who support Cuba's democratic evolution.

He will then address a comment to the ordinary Cubans who are listening. He will say to them that they have the power to change, and/or to shape their destiny; that they are the ones who will bring about a future where Cuban leaders are chosen by them, where their children can grow up in peace and prosperity. He will remind them that over the years there have been many so-called experts that have said that change would never come to certain spots in the world, that there would always be totalitarian in Central and Eastern Europe, or there would always be authoritarianism in Spain or Chile, and that has not been the case; that there you had a case in which the people understood that they could shape their own destiny. Cubans can do the same. And at that point he will pretty much end the speech.

Will Fidel run?

Via Penultimos Dias, a clip from Spain’s El Pais (pdf) where Cuban balladeer Silvio Rodriguez, on tour in Spain, is quoted saying, “I believe – thinking out loud, I don’t know anything – that Fidel will not present himself as a candidate.”

Take it for what it’s worth. But if he does not stand for election to the National Assembly, he is effectively resigning, because that is the only path for election to the Council of State.

Bush speech preview

In today's press briefing, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino raises the curtain a little on the Cuba speech that the President will deliver tomorrow:

First of all, it is true that soon the decades-long debate about our policy towards Cuba will come to a time when we're going to have an opportunity here, when Castro is no longer leading Cuba, that the people there should be able to have a chance at freedom and democracy. That opportunity is coming. The President will call on the world to come together and to support the people of Cuba in their growing support for democracy in the region.

One of the things the President will talk about is that the Cubans are prohibited by their government from participating in things that all of us have come to take for granted -- owning a business, or having access to the Internet. And these are things that can help provide for freedom and hopefully for the future of democracy, if they could lay the groundwork for people to be able to have their own business and to be able to educate themselves and have access to the outside world.

And the President has talked about Cuba in standalone speeches three times before: May 18, 2001, May 20, 2002, and October 10, 2003. This is a time for the President to remind people of our commitment to support the Cuban people's aspirations for freedom.

Monday, October 22, 2007

What will the President say?

President Bush will make a Cuba policy speech at the State Department on Wednesday, AFP reports. According to the President’s spokesman, he will discuss ways “to help the people of Cuba.”

We’ll see what that means. Meanwhile, here’s what I’ll be watching for.

First, it will be interesting to see how the President describes the situation in Cuba. When Fidel Castro first fell ill, President Bush thought a turning point had arrived and declared that Cubans were engaged in an “effort to build a transitional government” – but that turned out not to have been the case. Then, after many uneventful months with Castro remaining offstage, the President envisioned a potential turning point on the day when “the good Lord” takes Fidel Castro away. But I think that train has already left the station, in that Cubans have assimilated Fidel’s absence already, and his death or resignation is not likely to be a shock to the political system. The most intriguing story in Cuba today is the possibility of reform from within; we’ll see if the President addresses that, and if so, how.

Second, how will President Bush describe American capacity to influence Cuba? The release of the Administration’s 2004 commission report marked the high-water mark of Administration confidence in that regard; it claimed that its sanctions, beefed-up broadcasting, and aid to the Cuban opposition would “accelerate” the downfall of the Cuban government. One official also stated that there would not be a succession in Cuba, and that the United States would not permit one to occur. Since then, that kind of talk has largely subsided, although Secretary Rice did say in July that “we’re not going to tolerate the transfer of power from one dictator to another.” What will be the President’s ends, what will be his means, and will they be connected to each other?

Third, how will the President try to influence Cuba? With the “transfer of power” that Secretary Rice envisioned basically complete, it’s clear that the 2004 measures are not very consequential. As a result, the Administration has turned to asking other countries to join in a call for democracy in Cuba, or perhaps to work together in other ways. So maybe the President will have something to announce along those lines. Or maybe he will offer carrots of some type – an extension of the (backfired) approach in his two commission reports, which held out the prospect of U.S. aid as an inducement to change. Or maybe he will backtrack on his 2004 measures and ease restrictions on Cuban American visits and remittances.

There are rumors that the President will pursue that last option, and that he discussed it recently with some leaders in Miami.

I doubt it.

Another possibility, also the subject of rumors, is that the President will offer to modify U.S. sanctions if Cuba takes certain steps toward democratic reform.

It wouldn’t be the first time he has tried this; in May 2002 he offered to ease sanctions if Cuba held fair elections that year. That offer was perceived as a softening of policy, a retreat from the long list of conditions that the Helms-Burton law sets forth before any easing of U.S. sanctions can occur. The result, to put it mildly, was a lot of criticism from Miami.

But I can see the Administration trying some version of this offer in today’s context, especially if its priority is to forge a common approach with other countries. The point would be to soften the U.S. approach, or to appear to soften it, in order to gain international support, reduce the distance between Washington and its allies on Cuba policy, and put the United States in a better position from which to influence Cuba itself. Not to mention putting Washington in the position of taking the initiative, and attempting to put the issue of political reform front and center.

We’ll see.


Friday, October 19, 2007

IRI releases Cuba poll

The International Republican Institute released a survey of Cuban public opinion (pdf) today in a press release datelined Vilnius, Lithuania and with a document that lists the author as the organization “Solidaridad Espanola con Cuba.” IRI says that interviews for the survey were done in 14 of 15 Cuban provinces between September 5 and October 4, 2007, and it claims a four-point margin of error.

The IRI materials don’t say who did the poll, but a spokesman says it was done by a professional survey research firm.

In a question where respondents were asked to name, without prompting, the “biggest problem in Cuba,” economic issues predominate: 66 percent named salaries, prices, food, the embargo, transportation, or housing, and 18 percent said the biggest problem is lack of freedom or the political system.

By a three-to-one margin, survey respondents were not optimistic about the government’s ability to solve the problem they cited, and when asked what kind of government could solve the problem, 42 percent didn’t answer.

Other questions showed a belief that political and economic change would improve conditions in Cuba, and 74 percent agreed that Cubans should vote to select Fidel Castro’s successor.

Asked whether Cuba resembles other countries, 90 percent said, no, it’s unique. They got that right.

The survey says that nine percent of Cubans have access to e-mail and Internet, an additional 27 percent have access to e-mail alone, and ten percent use cell phones.

These are selected comments; for the full document – a summary of results, not the poll itself – follow the link above.

The survey raises another question. If two U.S. government grantees, IRI and Solidaridad Espanola con Cuba, can send pollsters to Cuba, why does the U.S. government’s own Radio and TV Marti rely on surveys of émigrés in Miami to measure their audiences?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A real race?

If, as is often said, the Cuban American community is changing so much and moving away from the hard-line position, then why do Miami voters return three hard-line Cuban American representatives to Congress every two years?

A pretty good question.

Or you could ask: If there’s so much moderation, why don’t the Democrats take advantage of it by fielding and funding strong candidates to run in those three Congressional districts?

This year, maybe they will.

The Hill (a newspaper that covers the legislative branch) has some good reporting on the long, hard look national Democrats are giving those three races. A sign that the party is serious is that it is running radio spots now to press Reps. Diaz-Balart, Diaz-Balart, and Ros-Lehtinen to vote this week to override the President’s veto of the “SCHIP” health care program.

Former Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez (who seems like a guy who’s a lot of fun when he’s mad) tells reporter Ian Swanson that he is leaning toward running against Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart. He is well known and has been on the ballot; if he’s well funded it would make for a real race.

Centro Habana

Odds and ends

  • Some time ago I linked to an article by independent journalist Jaime Leygonier where he wrote critically of Cuba’s opposition and its strategy. He heard from a few readers and elaborates here.

  • New customs regulations set conditions for importation of car parts and engines by Cubans traveling abroad and show that the bureaucracy’s imagination is alive and well – parts for the traveler’s car only, and with the approval of Customs and the traveler’s boss. Regulations issued last April covered those who receive shipments of auto parts from someone outside Cuba.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Cuba-Venezuela agreements

From Reuters, a report on economic agreements signed by Cuba and Venezuela; oil exploration on land and offshore, telecommunications, nickel, fisheries, construction, tourism are included. Granma’s summary in English is here.

A plant to upgrade heavy crude oil would increase the value of the Cuban crude from the north coast east of Havana, and a “regasification” plant would enable Cuba to use liquid natural gas from Venezuela.

There’s also a plan to create a joint venture for the “construction and subsequent exploitation” of a hotel on Cayo Paredon Grande, which would be a departure from the recent practice of building hotel with Cuban capital and operating them under Cuban ownership with management contracts with foreign hotel companies.

Cuban media headlined these agreements as a sign of “integration.” In Mexico’s La Jornada, Gerardo Arreola points out that Cuban officials did not react to Hugo Chavez’ concept of “a confederation of republics.” Chavez was on Cuban television for nearly eight hours over the course of two days, Arreola reports. In his analysis the coverage of Chavez’ visit carried the message that the Cuba-Venezuela relationship is “anchored to political institutions,” is tied to “the next generation of Cuban leaders,” and “does not depend on the close relationship between Chavez and Fidel.”

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

"So much paranoia"

I’m not going to defend Yoani Sanchez of Generacion Y because she doesn’t need defending. The work on her blog, and the work of Yoani and her colleagues at the on-line magazine Consenso, speak for themselves.

This item expresses respect for Yoani’s work and goes on to call her motives and her work into question because she left Cuba with her son and then returned, and because her blog seems to be “great publicity for Raul’s media campaign.”

Two rebuttals: from Ernesto at Penultimos Dias, succinctly, “Who gains from so much paranoia?” And from Alex at Stuck on the Palmetto, a longer explanation of why “not every Cuban wants to leave the island.” (Or, he might have added, why it is not a crime for a Cuban who has a choice to opt to stay in her own country.) All of which prompted Val Prieto at Babalu to comment, very indirectly.

Some time ago I went to Yoani’s building, went up its remarkable elevator, and met her, her husband, and her son. I learned, among other things, that she learned HTML, uses the computer and Internet access that’s available, created a blog, launched it and had a Web-based platform for her own opinions – all, apparently, without going outside the law.

If we marvel at the ingenuity and drive of Cubans here and there, why should it be impossible to believe that one in eleven million would achieve that?

Or that she and others would decide that for them, the way to do good things for Cuba is to stay in Cuba, and get busy?

Monday, October 15, 2007

More on the Mexico route

The New York Times advances a story that the Herald broke weeks ago, with lots of new detail on the way U.S.-based smugglers have adapted to Coast Guard interdiction efforts by bringing Cubans to Florida via Mexico, as opposed to directly across the Straits. It’s reminiscent of the way drug traffic from the Andes shifted years ago in response to Caribbean interdiction, moving west to the Central American “land bridge.”

Fast boats, satellite phones, easy coastlines, safehouses with rice and black beans, flights from southern Mexico to the U.S. border, coaching on what to say at the U.S. border post – it’s all there. Then this:

“Some Mexicans are even getting ideas from the Cubans. A trade is developing in Cuban identity documents and some savvy Mexican migrants are now practicing Cuban accents and rehearsing dramatic stories they intend to tell United States Border Patrol agents about the horrors they have suffered in Havana.”

So if they have Cuban documents, a Cuban accent, and a Cuban life story to tell, U.S. agents at the border will have to test knowledge of Cuban Spanish to separate the real Cubans from the pretenders. What word or phrase would you use, that no non-Cuban would ever know?

Wills and sanctions (Updated)

If someone dies in the United States and has heirs in Cuba, how can the heirs receive their inheritance?

That’s the subject of some terrific reporting by El Nuevo Herald’s Wilfredo Cancio that describes some effective, low-profile work taking place in the Cuban and U.S. legal systems to give heirs in Cuba what is due to them.

Thanks to a Miami judge and a 2003 action by the U.S. Treasury Department, a group of U.S. lawyers is handling 1,500 cases and is able to travel to Cuba to work with Cuban lawyers to locate heirs and execute the necessary paperwork. Inheritances designated for Cuban nationals are placed in blocked accounts (the same device used for Cuban government funds on deposit in U.S. banks) and if everything works out, the heir is allowed to receive the inheritance. But not in a lump sum – Treasury allows disbursement according to the same rules that apply to remittances, $300 every three months, sent via Western Union, no matter how large the inheritance.

This policy is certainly better than completely denying heirs access to their money, and all involved deserve applause.

But why not simply tell the heirs, “This is your money, your uncle wanted you to have it, how can we get it to you?” Why should these heirs be subject to U.S. sanctions supposedly directed at the Cuban government?

Update: The article is in the Herald in English today, with the rosy headline, “Despite embargo, Cubans get what is rightfully theirs.”


Cuba's sweet-scented national flower.

Carlos Victoria, R.I.P.

On the passing of Cuban author Carlos Victoria, two appreciations: in Spanish from El Nuevo Herald (where he worked as a copy editor), and in English from Manuel Tellechea here.

Loans for small business

Here’s a positive initiative directed toward Cuba, albeit in a future when policies on both sides of the Straits have changed: the Cuba Study Group’s plan to provide credits and business education for Cuban micro-enterprises. It has nothing to do with sanctions, it is not conditioned on change in Cuba’s political leadership, and it is based on the assumption that Cuba has, as the group’s leader Carlos Saladrigas explains in this interview, a fine educational system and a workforce prepared for entrepreneurship. This would be a larger, formal means of carrying out what many Cuban Americans and others outside Cuba have already done to help Cuban entrepreneurs – a flow of direct assistance that would surely be greater if the Administration were not focused on limiting and controlling contact with the island.

A combination of private and public contributions are contemplated to build the fund for micro-loans, but the main connection to the U.S. government seems to be that Washington would have to get out of the way to let it proceed.

Saladrigas is in Europe drumming up interest in the initiative. I’m sure it’s not his intention, but his initiative provides quite a contrast to the widespread efforts emanating from Washington and Miami to pressure Spain and the rest of the EU on their policy toward Cuba.

Hope it prospers someday.

Friday, October 12, 2007

No energy conference in Mexico

There’s an apparent AP story on the “Hoy Digital” website in the Dominican Republic that has attracted some attention. It announces a conference in Mexico between Cuban officials and U.S. energy executives. It’s an old story about a 2006 conference that is posted in error. I just confirmed with the sponsor, Kirby Jones, who is cited in the article, that there is no new conference.

The 2006 conference was the scene of the famous OFAC battle with the Sheraton Maria Isabel that resulted in the eviction of the Cuban delegation. For the record, my coverage here.

While we’re on the subject of energy, here’s a photo of an oil rig east of Havana with Chinese writing on the sign. Hard to see, but it’s there.

Odds and ends

  • “We seem to have had good cooperation from the Cubans on these law enforcement and drug issues,” a U.S. diplomat tells Reuters, as Raul makes his third rendition of an American wanted on criminal charges here.

  • Gloom and doom, fear and loathing, an ascendant Left, drugs, guerrillas, subversion, a hemisphere going completely down the tubes – and all of this at 5:14 a.m., no less, from our friends at Western Hemisphere. Before or after their coffee, I don’t know. It’s the State Department’s fault.

  • The U.S. government wants Canada to hand over passenger lists and more, 72 hours in advance and then with updates, for flights that depart Canada, cross U.S. airspace, and land in a third country. There are two Cuba angles here: 1) this would be a problem for Americans who go to Cuba via Canada, and 2) if Cuba asked the same of the many U.S. flights that cross Cuban airspace, would Washington agree?

Valle de los Ingenios

Just north of Trinidad.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Two victories for U.S. foreign policy

A Sun-Sentinel report cites a Congressional source saying that 1,000 Cuban medical professionals have entered the United States under the year-old policy (outlined here, pdf, 2 pages) to allow those professionals to get U.S. visas if they are working on medical missions in third countries. Absent that policy, they would have no automatic qualification to come to the United States. The individuals qualify not because of their personal characteristics or because they are doctors – if they were in Cuba this door would not open for them – but because they are deployed overseas in medical missions. I don’t begrudge these people their entry into our country, but it is striking that the Administration’s response to Cuba’s provision of medical services abroad is to try to disrupt it by dangling U.S. visas in front of Cuban doctors all over the world.

Also on the travel front, there’s a Miami Herald story of a phony church with phony clergy that obtained a Treasury license for religious travel under false pretenses. The perps have confessed to everything, apparently. It’s a pathetic story that illuminates the black market that U.S travel regulations have created, and the use of law enforcement resources for what has got to be the most victimless of victimless crimes. In this case about 6,500 people, reportedly Cuban Americans, traveled to Cuba and paid an extra $200 to the phony church for use of its license. Now, we can suppose, they will pay the extra money on airfare to travel through third countries.

More on property

As if 1,000 words below is not enough, here are a few more comments on the property issue as treated in the USAID-funded study by Creighton University. If readers can shed light on these issues, please do.

Lots of papers on Cuba property issues refer to a provision in the U.S. tax code that provided compensation to Cuban Americans for properties they had in Cuba, that were expropriated by the Cuban government. As I read it, Cubans who came to the United States and subsequently had their property in Cuba expropriated were allowed to claim a deduction from U.S. taxes based on that loss. So, in effect, the U.S. government provided at least partial compensation for the Cuban government’s expropriation by reducing the property owner’s U.S. taxes. I see no reference to this in the Creighton study.

Creighton does involve the United States in another way: as financier. It says the “clearly preferred situation would be for a democratic transitional Cuban government to acknowledge the legal claims of the claimants and compensate them via a lump-sum payment if at all possible,” and this could be done if the United States government were to provide a “large returned loan on favorable terms.” So the taxpayer would subsidize credit to the Cuban government in order to pay Americans and Cuban Americans who lost property in Cuba.

Finally, when it comes to the Cuban court to handle Cuban American claims, Creighton says Cuba should agree that “All cases shall be decided on the basis of civil law, particularly as derived from the Spanish Civil Code of 1889.” Does that not mean that the Cuban government would be denied the option of retaining elements of its current laws if it so desires?

Creighton’s treatment of the Cuban American claims issue is based on two elements in contradiction: a finding that there is no basis in international law for the United States to be involved, and a proposal that Cuba agree to create a Cuban court in which the U.S. government would play a large role. It’s a proposal that Cuba cede sovereignty because “Cuban judges lack experience presiding over civil cases,” and because if Cuban American claimants are not satisfied, “their political and economic power” could be used in ways detrimental to Cuban interests. At the right time, Cuban propagandists will have a field day with this.

At work

Etecsa phone company worker, Havana

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Odds and ends

  • From the Village Voice, Miami reporter Kirk Nielsen delivers a detailed report on how the Cuba issue plays in the contest for the Democratic presidential primary. With persistence, he interviewed Bill Clinton, who is not exactly in agreement with candidate Clinton’s Cuba stance.

  • “And I will work with leading exiles like Armando Perez-Roura, whose life and whose continued commitment to Cuban freedom is nothing short of inspiring.” – Governor Mitt Romney, in a March 9, 2007 speech in Miami-Dade

  • Re-reading the 1996 Helms-Burton act, I ran across the declaration that U.S. foreign policy is, among other things, to “bring democratic institutions to Cuba through the pressure of a general economic embargo at a time when the Castro regime has proven to be vulnerable to international economic pressure.” Give it time.

On the international front

Italy apparently joins Spain in breaking from the EU consensus, opting in favor of a “constructive dialogue” and moving beyond the 2003 diplomatic sanctions, which are suspended.

The president of Honduras visits Cuba, talks with Raul Castro, but apparently encounters a snag that prevents signing of a treaty to establish a maritime border with Cuba. This VOA report offers reasons that have nothing to do with Cuba.

With the explicit purpose of offsetting Spain’s position within the EU, a U.S.-sponsored conference in Lithuania will try to get the Baltic states involved in the Cuba issue. Here’s the report from the Radio Marti website.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Una tremenda corte

Imagine that there’s a public policy problem – call it The Problem – that is rooted in actions taken by the U.S. government toward some U.S. citizens 50 years ago.

Imagine that some of those U.S. citizens emigrated, and the foreign government where they reside is now interested in The Problem. The foreign government pays one of its universities to study The Problem. Its study team concludes that there is no basis in international law for devising a “bilateral system” to solve it. It belongs entirely within the U.S. legal system.

So, pursuant to the university’s recommendations, and notwithstanding the fact that there’s no law or treaty that obliges the United States to treat The Problem with any other government, the foreign government proposes that the United States agree:

  • to create a special U.S. court to deal with The Problem, and nothing else;

  • that the court will consist of twelve judges who will be chosen in consultation with the foreign government, that no more than half the judges on this American court will be Americans, and the rest will be foreign;

  • that the United States agree to the foreign government’s ideas about the system of law and the administrative rules to follow;

  • that the chief judge will decide where the court will be based, but that decision shall not preclude the court from holding sessions outside the United States;

  • that once the judges are named, they can only be removed “with the concurrence of both governments,” and if a judge is removed, a new judge can only be placed on the court “with the concurrence of both governments.”

Can you imagine the United States agreeing to such a thing?


Well, maybe you weren’t educated at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska.

Creighton, the alma mater of a former USAID Latin America administrator, got a $375,000 USAID grant to study possible solutions to property claims in Cuba – both those involving U.S. corporations and citizens, and those involving Cubans who later became U.S. nationals. Creighton’s study team consulted lawyers for some of the most prominent Cuban American claimants.

Creighton published its study last week. Creighton will sell it to you for $45.00, or you can get it from the Miami Herald’s website for free (pdf, full report of 280 pages, or 10-page summary).

The court described above is Creighton’s solution to claims of Cubans who later became U.S. nationals. Creighton made clear that because the claimants “were nationals of Cuba when their property was expropriated,” it’s a Cuban issue and there is no international law angle to it. That makes sense, since the properties are located in Cuba, they were owned by Cuban nationals, and the Cuban government took possession.

I don’t want to be too hard on Creighton – its study is thorough, giving a good description of Cuba claims issues and the way other countries have resolved similar issues. It also gives a realistic assessment of the situation in Cuba today: an “apparently orderly succession from Fidel to Raúl Castro” has “already played itself out,” and “the short-term scenario for the island suggests a continued consolidation of the succession.”

Creighton’s study seems to assume that large numbers of Cuban Americans will pursue claims; I think that assumption is dubious. Nonetheless, and notwithstanding the fact that there’s no legal basis for forcing Cuba to resolve these claims, the study argues that Cuban American claimants “should not be ignored.”

Its reasoning is purely political. Cuban Americans, the study says, brought about Helms-Burton, achieved a special immigration status for themselves, assure Radio Marti funding, and “leveraged millions of dollars in federal money to support democracy programming for Cuba.” If claims are not resolved, “their political and economic power could be turned against stabilizing a new government in Cuba, much to the detriment not only of the island, but also to potentially fruitful Cuba-U.S. relations. Thus, the positive aspects of including this group in a broader property claims settlement policy far outweigh the general lack of domestic or international legal justification for doing so.” Not a very flattering portrait of Cuban Americans.

Creighton offers its study as a mere “template” for the U.S. government to use in the future, and it offered a set of detailed potential solutions. And I certainly agree that one day, Cuba will have to address the issue of property claims, and it should do so. Creighton described an ideal solution, not a political or diplomatic strategy.

The problem is that this issue is so politically charged inside Cuba that to handle it the wrong way, or even to discuss it the wrong way, is to set back any chance of resolving it at all.

There are two main problems with Creighton’s proposals. First, unless someone in the Administration rejects them outright – fat chance – they will be viewed in Cuba as if they are those of the U.S. government. And the proposals now join a series of Administration statements that were are made as if Cuban history did not exist, and as if Cuban nationalism did not exist.

Cuba has big problems. Cubans know it, and they talk about them in lots of different ways. But if you are in such a conversation, and you introduce the idea of an American role in a solution, red flags go up, understandably, because the U.S. role in Cuba’s history has not always been benign. Cubans are not necessarily reassured if they know Cuban Americans are the driving force behind a U.S. proposal. And if you use language like Creighton’s – its description of the court to treat Cuban American claims reads like a court order – you have changed the subject completely. Cuban sovereignty, not friendly assistance, is now the subject at hand.

We can be assured that every lawyer in Cuba, and many more Cubans, will soon read about the Bush Administration’s proposals for a Cuban court, half of whose judges must be foreign nationals, and that must be free to come and hold sessions in Miami in order to address claims by Cubans who live there.

It’s easy to assume that because Cuba’s government invokes Cuban nationalism so much, that it is a phony sentiment. But in fact Cuban nationalism long preceded Fidel Castro, and it will long outlive him. A long list of American blunders in Cuba can be traced to a complete disregard of that political fact. Creighton’s scholars, with good intentions, have just published the latest.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Odds and ends

  • From Mario Loyola writing in the Weekly Standard, an interesting critique of the Bush Administration’s approach to Cuba that concludes with a very modest proposal to end restrictions on Cuban American travel to the island. Mr. Loyola, a former Pentagon official, participated in a symposium on Cuba last March in Front Page Magazine, here.

  • “Loyalty to petrified opinion never broke a chain or freed a human soul.” The U.S. Interests Section drops the news-only format of its big electronic signboard, leading with a Mark Twain quote.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Morro, Havana

Odds and ends

  • EFE covers an exchange between students and Cuban foreign minister Felipe Perez Roque. It seems they asked about everything but foreign policy, including what happens “if they lift the [U.S.] embargo and we were to continue with some of the management practices [métodos de dirección] that we have, that are so deficient…”

Thursday, October 4, 2007

More on Perez Roura's plan

Now it’s all cleared up. Unidad Cubana’s Declaración de Miami is now released; it includes the “Concrete Steps” document discussed yesterday, plus a series of further recommendations from Unidad Cubana, plus five points that were agreed upon by the Cuban Patriotic Forum (in Miami) and the Assembly to Promote Civil Society (in Cuba, led my Martha Beatriz Roque), following a talk between Roque and Armando Perez Roura.

Those five points, in summary, call for freeing political prisoners, creating a transition government and a new constitution, recognizing political parties, writing a new electoral law that would allow elections that “guarantee the participation of all the Cuban nation.”

The Unidad Cubana “recommendations” include:

  • A future Cuban government should sue Russia for damages inflicted on Cuba by the Soviet Union during its three-decade relationship.

  • Foreign executives in the tourism industry should be expelled from Cuba.

  • Unidad Cubana will “insist on the prosecution of Cubans who, in exile, dedicate themselves to promoting negotiations with the Cuban enemy.”

  • An investigation should be opened to assemble proof of payments the Cuban government made to foreign journalists in exchange for positive news coverage, and documents should be published; the same goes for foreign government officials who acted “in complicity” with the Cuban government since 1959.

  • Double citizenship should be recognized, and a negotiation should be conducted with the United States to allow retirees to live in Cuba and receive retirement benefits.

What really stands out is the idea of prosecuting Cuban Americans who have advocated negotiation with Cuba. I guess this means that in Cuba in the future, they will create a statute that criminalizes ex post facto the expression of such an opinion while in the United States.

So in the future Cuba that Unidad Cubana envisions, people who expressed a certain opinion on U.S. foreign policy will be prosecuted, the communist party will be illegal, and political parties and private organizations will be required to subscribe to certain principles if they want to operate.

It’s little wonder that Martha Beatriz Roque, after talking with Perez Roura, agreed to join him in re-stating her longstanding position in those five points, but her name appears nowhere near the rest of Unidad Cubana’s ideas. So far, she’s the one showing a grasp of democratic principles.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Odds and ends

  • With one metaphor, Frank Calzon insults everyone living in Cuba today. And warns that while President Bush remains firm, the State Department might flinch at any minute. In English and Spanish.

  • The Miami-based Directorio says that Cuban dissidents – unnamed – have called for a boycott of municipal elections.

Perez Roura's plan

Armando Perez Roura, Miami AM radio king and head of Unidad Cubana, issued a statement on the Radio Mambi website in the name of Unidad Cubana and its constituent groups. It is called “Plan of Concrete Steps for Change in Cuba.”

The statement was to be issued at an event at Miami’s Manuel Artime theater Monday night. But according to press accounts and people who attended, it was not issued there because Mr. Perez Roura said the lighting was bad and he could not read it.

Hate it when that happens.

The Diario las Americas story is here; the Herald’s is here. At Babalu, they posted a nice reflection on the event that didn’t name the speaker, didn’t mention the statement, and seemed to be based on a concern that people would ridicule the event, the audience, and everything.

I hadn’t realized that el exilio vertical, which really, really knows how to dish it out, needs to be handled delicately. But no matter, let’s deal with their ideas, starting with the positive.

The statement calls for a “prohibition on evictions from housing in urban and rural areas.” Good for Unidad Cubana. There is no elaboration, but maybe we can guess at the reasoning. Maybe it reflects the idea that if you deal with Cuba’s property issues by threatening to throw people out of their homes, you encourage people in Cuba to circle the wagons, you reinforce the worst stereotypes of the exile community, and you make change less likely. Note to Secretary Gutierrez: if you are to the right of Mr. Perez Roura, it’s safe to change your position. The Administration would do itself a big favor by disavowing its commission’s vision of Cuban “tenants” being evicted from their homes.

Now for the rest.

The statement is based on the assumption that change is coming soon to Cuba and calls for consensus among all Cubans on steps to take to “avoid last-minute improvisation” when the opportunity to ensure “freedom, justice, and peace” arises.

The statement was released without any sign of support from anyone or any group in Cuba, or even any connection with anyone in Cuba. Maybe the reason is that, among its calls for legal and constitutional reforms; special tribunals to judge military commanders, interior ministry officers, and others responsible for the “Cuban national tragedy;” establishment of an electoral process; and more, it includes a call for the ilegalización permanente – a permanent legal ban – of the Cuban communist party. And also the “re-establishment” of political parties and non-government organizations, but only those “whose programs express respect for private property, a fair market economy, respect for human rights. and a representative, multi-party democratic system.”

This is interesting. Step one in establishing democracy is to ban the existence of a specific political party. That doesn’t say much for Cuba’s future democracy or the confidence of its proponents who issued the statement. And who would certify that parties and private organizations support, for example, a “market economy?” What if a future Cuban party advocates, for example, maintaining complete government operation of health care, education, and other social services? Sounds like socialism to me – so, would that party qualify? Who would decide?

While the Helms-Burton law says that the United States will not recognize as democratic any government that includes Fidel or Raul Castro, it places no such conditions on participants in Cuba’s political debate. It defines a “transition government” in Cuba as one that “has legalized all political activity” – “all” – and sets the stage for elections “with the participation of multiple independent political parties.”

Things are getting interesting in Cuba. Each day seems to confirm again that Fidel Castro will not return to office; the latest sign comes from Bolivian President Evo Morales. Generational change is a certainty, economic reform a distinct possibility, a national debate on economic policy a new and intriguing development. As things stir and possibilities of change loom, the debate outside Cuba is getting more interesting too. Sadly, Unidad Cubana’s statement accentuates its distance from the Cuba of today and, I strongly suspect, from the Cubans who live in Cuba today. Except, that is, those who embrace the idea of regulating speech and banning political parties.