Thursday, April 30, 2009

“Dialogue is not foreign policy”

Here’s an essay contributed by Paul Hare, the British Ambassador in Cuba from 2001 to 2004, with some friendly advice for the Obama Administration as it formulates its policy toward Cuba. To sum up: “To make plays in foreign policy you have to be on the field.”

Odds and ends

  • What to do with the Guantanamo naval base? The Council on Foreign Relations’ Julia Sweig visited and has some ideas.

  • A look at how a Miami congregation of the Church of Christ, and others, relate to Cuba, and the possibilities they see with the Administration’s lifting of restrictions on Cuban Americans.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Cuba, diplomacy, and U.S. security

My testimony in a House hearing today on Cuba security issues.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

RFK on Cuba

Last week I noted an op-ed by former Maryland Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend that told how her father, Robert F. Kennedy, favored ending all travel restrictions to Cuba.

A reader commented, with good reason, that this is the same RFK that led Operation Mongoose, a covert action campaign that used sabotage in Cuba and other actions to bring about the overthrow of the Castro government.

It turns out that RFK’s recommendation on travel, contained in this memo (pdf), came in December 1963 during the Johnson Administration, about a year after the operation had been suspended. Kennedy, the U.S. Attorney General, was clearly in a different frame of mind. He believed that ending travel restrictions was “more consistent with our views of a free society” and would head off an “increasingly embarrassing” situation where student groups would travel to Cuba and the government would have to prosecute them.

But he also wanted “special regulations” that would require Americans to have the State Department validate their passports for travel to Cuba. That, he said, would allow the U.S. government to block the travel of “suspected saboteurs.”

Fidel Castro liked the article, by the way (Spanish here, English here).

Monday, April 27, 2009

Odds and ends

  • El Nuevo Herald reports declining numbers of Cubans entering the United States without a visa in the first half of fiscal year 2009.

  • “It is all about the people, not the regime.” An op-ed by Carlos Saladrigas of the Cuba Study Group supporting the end of travel restrictions on all Americans.

  • The Miami Herald reports on a discussion of this book on the use of Che Guevara’s image. A review from former Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega is here.

  • Daily News: A documentary on the return to Cuba after 46 years of pitcher Luis Tiant.

  • In El Tono de la Voz, a discussion of the draft Cuba resolution of the Latin America Studies Association. It’s about U.S. diplomatic relations with Cuba, but it “urges the United States and Cuba to permit…travel by Cubans to the United States to attend conferences and by U. S. academics to attend scholarly conferences in Cuba and academics from Cuba to teach and lecture in the United States.”

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Cuba talks in the offing

The New York Times: The Obama Administration is talking to Cuban diplomats in an effort to set an agenda for talks on migration, drug interdiction, and other security issues. The Administration is also looking into increased cultural and academic exchanges, the Times reports.

These are good moves that indicate that while the Administration is rightly pressing for Cuba to improve human rights practices, it is not setting preconditions for talks or other actions that can serve U.S. interests. If the Administration keeps going and treats Cuba not as any other country, but as Administration of both parties have treated other communist countries, it will be a big step forward.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Telecom possibilities

I and others were asked to comment on the Obama Administration’s telecom opening to Cuba by the Inter-American Dialogue’s daily publication, Latin America Advisor. Our comments are in this issue (pdf). Note the comment by former U.S. Ambassador and former AT&T executive Cresencio Arcos, who focuses on competition policy issues and Cuba’s very high rates. He advises companies who might strike deals to enter the Cuban telecom business to treat them “as a ‘Sicilian’ marriage: before marriage both eyes should be wide open, after marriage you only close one.”

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The veto threat is gone

This interesting exchange between Congressman Jeff Flake and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing marks an important policy change.

President Bush threatened to veto virtually any relaxation of Cuba sanctions. Yesterday the Secretary of State said:

“As you know, the embargo is part of our law. I mean, a President cannot lift the embargo. That has to be done by an act of Congress. If the Congress decides that’s in the America’s best interest, obviously the Administration will abide by that.”

Odds and ends

  • Reuters reported yesterday on a new Central Bank regulation limiting cash transactions of foreign companies, and reports today on the apparent reason: a liquidity crunch that is getting critical.

  • Frank Calzon calls for a dialogue in Cuba among “bishops, young communists, human rights activists, bureaucrats, the army, political prisoners, dissident writers and professionals and independent labour activists.”

  • In the Washington Post, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend looks back at the views of her father, former Attorney General Robert Kennedy, on travel to Cuba, and hopes President Obama adopts his position that “travel restrictions are inconsistent with traditional American liberties.”

Old Havana street entertainment

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

What now?

After a week in which President Obama announced new Cuba policy measures and discussed Cuba policy at the Trinidad summit, where do things stand?

In terms of the Obama policy: The President has delivered on his campaign promise regarding Cuban American travel and remittances. He signaled openness to other changes, saying “we are not dug in into policies that were formulated before I was born.” And he has reiterated his interest in talks with Cuba.

Whether there will be talks is another matter.

President Obama says Raul Castro’s statement from Venezuela last week, that Cuba is willing to talk with the United States about all issues including human rights, is a “sign of progress.” (Actually, except for the explicit mention of “political prisoners,” I thought it was a reiteration of a longstanding Cuban position, but it was a direct respons to Obama.) He said he is prepared “to have my Administration engage with the Cuban government on a wide range of issues – from drugs, migration, and economic issues, to human rights, free speech, and democratic reform.”

At any rate, after all the signals back and forth (see here and here), which include many references to the ball being now in Cuba’s court, there’s a key issue that hasn’t been defined. That is, is the Obama Administration ready to start talks with Cuba, or does it require some gesture on Cuba’s part before talks could begin?

I guess we’ll find out in the coming weeks.

In the midst of all this, Fidel Castro issued a commentary (English here), one of a series of post-summit commentaries, accusing President Obama of misinterpreting what Raul Castro said in Venezuela. Fidel didn’t at all make clear how Obama supposedly misinterpreted Raul’s words. Maybe that’s the subject of a separate article.

Monday, April 20, 2009

New report on Cuba policy options

If the United States decides to engage with Cuba, what are the options?

That question seems to be more timely now than a week ago, and I’m pleased to say that my colleague Anya Landau French has been working on the answer for the past six months.

The result is “Options for Engagement: A Resource Guide for Reforming U.S. Policy Toward Cuba.” It’s a detailed work that examines 14 areas of U.S. policy, from trade, travel, and property claims to Radio Marti and the USAID program. In each area, it explains the policy context, the legal foundations, and options that Congress and the Administration could exercise – big steps and small – if a move toward engagement is in order.

The report is available here (pdf, 50 pages).

I hope this paper will be a resource for anyone interested in the Cuba policy debate, regardless of one’s views. U.S. policy toward Cuba is not simply about a single decision regarding “the embargo.” Adapting the policy means coming to terms with five decades of laws, executive actions, and government spending programs that constitute our unique foreign policy toward our unique neighbor.

Charles Krauthammer, off the reservation

From Fox News last Friday:

“It was said in the 50’s that the way to win the cold war with Russia was to send squadrons of B-52s and drop nylon stockings on the Soviet Union. We actually won the cold war in a different way. But with Eastern Europe, we won it with openness, the Helsinki process.

“So it’s arguable which is the most effective. We have had 50 years of an embargo on Cuba, but the grip of the Castros and the army and the party is so strong that it hasn’t worked. So I’m agnostic on this.

“If Obama wants to try openness, that’s good. What he has done now is not a total openness, like Helsinki, but what he has done is to make a gesture, which is to allow some increased commerce and travel, and what he's waiting, appropriately, for is a response, which would mean seeing that the Cubans release some political prisoners.

“If he gets a response, I think he ought to make a further gesture, and if, ultimately, it ends up with openness, that's a tack we ought to try. I don’t think any of us should have an ideological commitment to a tactic. Whatever works in liberating Cuba, I think we ought to try.”

More from the summit

  • From an Administration official’s background briefing in Trinidad (h/t Capitol Hill Cubans blog):

“Look, I think what we are is at a beginning, an initiation of a new process. The President has been clear that our goals are to see a democratic Cuba. He’s also been clear that there are many issues that we have that we could discuss with Cuba – human rights being one of them – but there are other issues that relate to just the nature of a relationship between two countries in the same hemisphere. Migration, for instance, is a big issue that I don’t believe we’ve had recent talks with Cuba about.”

“…earlier this week President Obama announced the most significant policy changes toward Cuba by the United States Government in decades. And we are continuing to look for productive ways forward because we view the present policy as having failed. You are all familiar with the Administration’s general view that engagement is a useful tool to advance our national interests and our goals of promoting human rights, democracy, peace, prosperity, and progress. So we have seen Raul Castro’s comments. We welcome this overture. We are taking a very serious look, and we will consider how we intend to respond.”

  • Fidel Castro, referring in a new commentary to President Obama’s comments on Cuban doctors and their overseas missions:

“Obama spoke of the military power of the United States that can help in the fight against organized crime, and the importance of the U.S. market. He also recognized that the programs that the Cuban government carries out, such as sending medical contingents to Latin American and Caribbean countries, can be more effective than Washington’s military power when it comes to winning influence in the region.

“We Cubans don’t do it to win influence; it is a tradition that began in Algeria in 1963 when Algeria was fighting against French colonialism, and we have done it in dozens of countries of the Third World.”

  • President Uribe of Colombia says, “The Colombian government considers it necessary to begin the process of completely reintegrating Cuba.” And Brazil’s foreign minister says it would be “very difficult” for there to be another Summit of the Americas without Cuba.

Odds and ends

  • A Wall Street Journal editorial chides President Bush for tightening visit and remittances rules, applauds President Obama for repealing them, says Obama should drop the embargo and call on other countries to speak out for freedom in Cuba.

  • A new blog, Capitol Hill Cubans, by Mauricio Claver-Carone, director of the organization Cuba Democracy Public Advocacy.

  • A New Jersey state senator calls on President Obama to condition normalization of relations on the extradition of JoAnne Chesimard, a convicted murderer who escaped prison in New Jersey and lives in Cuba. His letter is here (pdf).


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Obama remarks in Trinidad

Excerpts from President Obama’s press conference at the end of the Trinidad summit:

“Over the past few days, we’ve seen potential positive signs in the nature of the relationship between the United States, Cuba and Venezuela. But as I’ve said before, the test for all of us is not simply words, but also deeds. I do believe that the signals sent so far provide at least an opportunity for frank dialogue on a range of issues, including critical areas of democracy and human rights throughout the hemisphere.

“One thing that I thought was interesting – and I knew this in a more abstract way but it was interesting in very specific terms – hearing from these leaders who when they spoke about Cuba talked very specifically about the thousands of doctors from Cuba that are dispersed all throughout the region, and upon which many of these countries heavily depend. And it's a reminder for us in the United States that if our only interaction with many of these countries is drug interdiction, if our only interaction is military, then we may not be developing the connections that can, over time, increase our influence and have – have a beneficial effect when we need to try to move policies that are of concern to us forward in the region.

“Look, what I said and what I think my entire administration has acknowledged is, is that the policy that we’ve had in place for 50 years hasn't worked the way we want it to. The Cuban people are not free. And that's our lodestone, our North Star, when it comes to our policy in Cuba.

“It is my belief that we’re not going to change that policy overnight, and the steps that we took I think were constructive in sending a signal that we’d like to see a transformation. But I am persuaded that it is important to send a signal that issues of political prisoners, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, democracy – that those continue to be important, that they're not simply something to be brushed aside.

“Now, I think that as a starting point, it’s important for us not to think that completely ignoring Cuba is somehow going to change policy, and the fact that you had Raul Castro say he’s willing to have his government discuss with ours not just issues of lifting the embargo, but issues of human rights, political prisoners, that’s a sign of progress.

“And so we’re going to explore and see if we can make some further steps. There are some things that the Cuban government could do. They could release political prisoners. They could reduce charges on remittances to match up with the policies that we have put in place to allow Cuban American families to send remittances. It turns out that Cuba charges an awful lot, they take a lot off the top. That would be an example of cooperation where both governments are working to help Cuban families and raise standards of living in Cuba.

“So there are going to be some ways that the Cuban government I think can send some signals that they're serious about pursuing change. And I'm hopeful that over time the overwhelming trend in the hemisphere will occur in Cuba, as well. And I think that all of the governments here were encouraged by the fact that we had taken some first steps. Many of them want us to go further, but they at least see that we are not dug in into policies that were formulated before I was born.”

Friday, April 17, 2009

Everyone is talking about talking (Updated)

The Cuban government surely doesn’t like the idea that President Obama is seeking changes in its internal policies, and the U.S. government surely doesn’t like Raul Castro’s reiterated offer to free dissidents – and to send them and their families to the United States – in exchange for freeing the “Cuban Five.”

But yesterday, in advance of a hemispheric summit that will in significant measure be about the one country that is not invited, both sides were talking about dialogue with each other. This AP roundup of the day’s signals senses a potential turning point.

President Obama got the ball rolling in a press conference in Mexico. He said that the actions he took on Monday are “a show of good faith on the part of the United States that we want to recast the relationship” with Cuba. (AP video here, transcript here.) He went on:

“Having taken the first step, I think it is very much in our interest to see whether Cuba is also ready to change. We don’t expect them to change overnight. That would be unrealistic, but we do expect that Cuba will send signals that they are interested in liberalizing in such a way that not only the U.S.-Cuban relations improve but so that the energy and creativity and the initiative of the Cuban people can potentially be released. We talk about the ban on U.S. travel to Cuba, but there’s not much discussion of the ban on Cuban people traveling elsewhere and the severe restrictions that they are under. I make that point only to suggest that there are a range of steps that could be taken on the part of the Cuban government that would start to show that they want to move beyond the patterns of the last fifty years.”

In a press conference in Haiti, Secretary of State Clinton said:

“We stand ready to discuss with Cuba additional steps that could be taken, but we do expect Cuba to reciprocate…We would like to see Cuba open up its society, release political prisoners, open up to outside opinions and media, have the kind of society that we all know that would improve the opportunities for the Cuban people and for their nation.”

And in Caracas, Cuban President Raul Castro noted:

“We have sent word to the U.S. government in private and in public that we are willing to discuss everything – human rights, freedom of the press, political prisoners, everything…We’re willing to sit down to talk as it should be done, whenever…I’m confirming it here today: If they want the freedom of those political prisoners, who include some confessed terrorists, Guatemalans and Salvadorans who were tried and sentenced…free our prisoners and we’ll send them to you with their families and whatever they want – those so-called dissidents and patriots.”

Video of his remarks are at Penultimos Dias.

If a change in Cuban human rights practices is a U.S. precondition for talks, then it seems that these words and offers will remain just that. On the other hand, if the Obama Administration is willing to start talks, Raul Castro is clearly willing to hear U.S. criticisms.

In that case, the missing piece would seem to be a U.S. indication that it is ready to start.

That would be a matter of political will for the Obama Administration, which is committed to pursuing “tough, direct diplomacy without preconditions with all nations, friend and foe.”

Or maybe Cuba could start a nuclear program, or borrow one for a few days. In the case of Iran, the Obama Administration is not pressing for political change, and is dropping the precondition that Iran suspend its nuclear programs as a condition for talks.

I remain convinced that the most practical place to start would be talks on migration, drug interdiction, and environmental protection. Both sides have an interest in these neighborhood issues. There is already cooperation on migration and drugs, and Cuba’s interest in offshore oil drilling gives the United States a strong reason to talk about the environment. None of these issues poses a political minefield for either side, and modest results could be achieved in the near term. Such talks would give the United States an opportunity to press its concerns about human rights in a face-to-face setting – provided that we are willing to hear Cuba’s complaints too. And if these talks identify other areas worth pursuing, so much the better.

[Update: “We have seen Raul Castro”s comments and we welcome his overtures,” Secretary Clinton said in Santo Domingo today. Reuters story here.

OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza has long said that he wants to debate the Cuba issue and discuss Cuba’s readmission to the inter-American system. Now he is getting specific, telling reporters today that he wants the OAS to repeal the 1962 resolution that suspended Cuba’s membership.]

Odds and ends

  • Cuba should be brought back into the OAS, Secretary General Insulza tells the Herald. But does Cuba want in? Seems not – “The OAS has to disappear,” Raul Castro says.

  • Variety: Senator Menendez’ defense of Cuba sanctions draws opposition from Hollywood donors to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which Menendez heads.

  • Columnist Michael Kinsley takes a scientific look at the embargo, and says we should drop it.

  • Computerworld: U.S. telecom companies uncertain about what the Administration’s measures mean for business opportunities.

  • The New Yorker’s Jon Lee Anderson says President Obama has “effectively kicked the ball for ‘change’ back to los hermanos Castro; until now, the onus was on him.”

President Calderon on Cuba

Mexican President Felipe Calderon, in his press conference with President Obama yesterday:

“I would not pretend to give advice or suggestions to President Obama on this matter or any other. Let me just say what I personally believe – or rather what I believe about the Cuban reality. The question that has to be posed rather is whether the U.S. embargo on Cuba has worked. The reality is that the embargo has been there long before we were even born, and yet things have not changed all that much in Cuba. I think we would have to ask ourselves whether that isn’t enough time to realize that it has been a strategy that has not been very useful to achieve change in Cuba.

“I do think – I share fully the idea we do not believe that the embargo or the isolation of Cuba is a good measure for things to change in Cuba. On the contrary; the reality that we see there is that the reality has not changed. And it’s because of internal factors, mostly, of course, but also because of external reasons, such as the embargo. Because of that, the Cubans have become impoverished.


Mexico is a good friend of Cuba, and Mexico is also a good friend of the United States. We want to be a good friend of Cuba and of the United States. We want both things. And we know that one day, the day that these principles we believe in prevail, that day we will be able to be neighbors, the three of us – the United States, Cuba and Mexico.

“What are the principles we believe in? Democracy, human rights, but also liberty, property, trade, free trade, free economy. And I think as long as those principles can function and bring benefits to the Cuban economy, then things can begin to change. We cannot change anything that has already taken place in the past, but I am certain that as heads of state, we can do a lot to try to make a different future, both for the world, both for our countries, and also in relation to Cuba.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Odds and ends

  • On Bergenline Avenue, the Calle Ocho of the north (Union City and West New York, NJ), Cuban Americans were receptive to President Obama’s actions. New Jersey Senator Menendez and Rep. Sires were less so.

  • Reuters on Cuba’s trade balance: It’s in deficit, it’s big, and getting worse.

  • Fidel Castro has written 18 “reflections” so far this month. Have they thought about setting up a blog for him?

Obama, Clinton on Cuba measures

President Obama said the following about Cuba in a CNN interview:

“What we’re looking for is some signal that there are going to be changes in how Cuba operates that assures that political prisoners are released, that people can speak their minds freely, that they can travel, that they can write and attend church and do the things that people throughout the hemisphere can do and take for granted…And if there is some sense of movement on those fronts in Cuba, then I think we can see a further thawing of relations and further changes.”

And Secretary of State Clinton spoke to the Herald about the Trinidad summit. She said, “We’re continuing to explore ways to further democracy in Cuba and provide the Cuban people with more opportunities but we haven't made any further decisions yet.” Asked about the disparity in treatment between Cuban Americans and other Americans, she responded:

“That’s part of our policy review. Our first goal was to reverse the Draconian rules imposed by the Bush administration, which took away privileges that had been available for a long time. And obviously we think Cuban Americans have special roles to play as serving as ambassadors of freedom and helping the Cuban people understand the opportunities that democracy would bring.”

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Federal court nixes Florida anti-travel law

From the Timing is Everything Department: A Florida law aimed at reducing travel to Cuba was declared unconstitutional today in federal court. The “Sellers of Travel Act,” sponsored by Florida state Representative David Rivera, targeted the charter companies that provide flights to Cuba, requiring them to post a $250,000 bond, ten times the amount required for other travel agencies. Presumably, the cost would be passed on to consumers, and higher ticket prices would result in less travel, and perhaps fewer travel agencies.

The law was thrown out on the grounds that it usurps the federal government’s role in the conduct of foreign policy and the regulation of interstate and foreign commerce. “The fact that [Rivera’s] criticism of Cuba’s oppressive regime is well-founded is simply not the point,” Judge Alan Gold wrote in his decision. “What is the point is that the Florida Legislature may not impose exorbitant financial requirements (unrelated to consumer protection needs) and excessive penalties…in a desire to preclude travel to Cuba (and other designated countries) without running afoul of the United States Constitution.”

The decision is here (scroll to “ABC Charter, Inc et al v. Bronson”), and the Herald’s coverage is here.

Reactions to Obama's travel measures

  • Fidel Castro writes that just before the White House press conference, the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Tom Shannon, called in the chief of Cuba’s Interests Section in Washington, Ambassador Jorge Bolanos, to talk about the Administration’s new measures. “Nothing that was discussed was different than that which was explained on CNN,” Fidel wrote. Excerpts are translated at Cuban Colada.

  • Rep. Bill Delahunt applauds the Administration’s measures and says they “reduce the need for wasteful efforts like the plane that circles around Cuba to broadcast TV Marti.”

Monday, April 13, 2009

Obama's package to carry to Trinidad

In my view, the actions announced by the White House today are humanitarian, unsustainable, small-bore, a kind of inoculation, and a question mark. Let me explain:

  • Humanitarian. The end of travel and remittance restrictions on Cuban Americans deserves applause. It’s the treatment that Cuban families deserve from the U.S. government, allowing those who with to visit and send help to do so, and respecting the right of the rest not to do so. At a humanitarian level, it will bring great benefits to many Cuban families that receive visits and support from relatives in the United States. If, as seems likely, it results in significantly increased travel to Cuba, it will bring an injection of purchasing power that will raise the incomes of Cubans who rent rooms in their homes or drive private taxis, and it will bring others into those businesses. Considering that Cubans are now allowed to visit and stay in hotels, it will probably bring more income to Cuba’s state tourism businesses too.

  • Unsustainable. President Obama’s action probably makes the rest of our Cuba travel policy unsustainable. Most Americans will remain under the Cold War regulations administered by the Treasury Department. Meanwhile, Cuban Americans will be a separate class, able to travel to Cuba and send money at will, which in practice will mean that some will go for a weekend, at times for vacation. President Obama is also changing the character of remittances. Today, $100 per month is enough to buy some household basics. Now, for some, unlimited remittances will mean small-scale investment – money for a brother to buy a car that will serve as a taxi, for a family to buy a new house, for a cousin to get all the equipment he needs to make his little farm work, for an aunt to renovate an apartment and create a separate room that she can rent out. I’m all for honoring the rights of Cuban Americans to do these things. Leaving aside the White House’s “best ambassadors for democracy” rhetoric, I would just say that the rest of the country has rights too, and the rest of Americans aren’t chopped liver.

  • Small-bore. Today’s action – affecting travel and remittances, telecommunications equipment and services, and gift parcels – was dramatic because it changes eight years of movement in the opposite direction. But it still leaves President Obama with a 90 percent-Bush Cuba policy. (Candidate Obama said that policy amounted to “tough talk that never yields results.”) Beyond Cuban Americans, it does not address the issue of broader contact with American society, whether from tourists, universities, professional associations, churches, synagogues, or other parts of our civil society. Nor does it address diplomacy, and the President’s spokesmen repeatedly dodged questions about what kind of dialogue the Administration might seek with Cuba. Presumably, these and other issues – TV Marti, the USAID program, etc. – remain part of the policy review that the Administration is conducting. In today’s press conference, the President’s spokesmen seemed to avoid foreclosing future options.

  • Inoculation. The President’s press secretary said that today’s announcement was “in no way…done to quell so-called pressure” from leaders who have called for a new U.S. policy toward Cuba, and who will meet President Obama at a summit this week. Ok. We’ll see how it plays at the Trinidad summit.

  • A question mark. The telecommunications provisions will have to play out. The full package of measures was framed in language that is not likely to play well among the Cuban political leadership, which would have to approve commercial agreements for new fiber optic links to the Internet or roaming agreements for U.S. cell phone carriers.

Obama kills regulations on Cuban American travel, remittances

President Obama is delivering on his campaign promise to end restrictions on Cuban American travel and remittances, or as one of his aides said, he is taking “the U.S. government out of the business of regulating contact between members of separated Cuban families.”

He is also repealing President Bush’s absurd restrictions on the contents of gift parcels, and opening up regulations to allow greater access to telecommunications. Lots of details remain to be filled in.

Herald story here.

Summit previews

  • From the Wall Street Journal: The Administration “won’t duck” the Cuba issue, an official said, and may have three items to show a change in direction: liberalized Cuban American travel and remittaces, a return to licensing cultural and educational programs, and resumption of migration talks with Cuba. At the same time, the Administration “wants Cuba to take steps toward democracy before it is reintegrated into the Western hemisphere's economic and political institutions,” the Journal says.

  • From a roundup at Encuentro: Brazil’s President Lula will discuss Cuba at the summit, but gently, and Brazil expects Cuba to be a topic of strong discussion at the OAS General Assembly in June.

  • The OAS Secretary General says no one should push President Obama on Cuba policy, and the place for a Cuba discussion will be the OAS meeting in June.

Sunflowers at the market

The Posada indictment

Along the Malecon has a good summary and discussion of the Posada case, including a timeline of the current case and a link to the new indictment.

As has been reported, the April 8 indictment includes new charges that Posada committed perjury about past terrorist activites. That earned him a charge (Count 3) of impeding a federal investigation involving international terrorism. Two other counts tell you that the government is prepared to show that Posada “had been involved in soliciting other individuals to carry out” the 1997 bombings in Cuba (Count 1), and that he “had arranged to send and sent an individual named Raul Cruz Leon to Cuba to transport and carry explosives into Cuba to carry out said bombings in 1997” (Count 2).

Meanwhile, Mambi Watch reports on a Miami Spanish-language tv station’s poll on the case.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Odds and ends

  • A sign of the times: “This is a time of opportunity. We’re not talking about sitting down for negotiations, but reducing a tone of confrontation and making this about the Cuban people.” – Francisco Hernández, president of the Cuban American National Foundation, quoted in today’s Herald.

  • Reuters: Cuba reports that its state-run nickel plants are close to operating at a loss, with prices down 80 percent since 2007.

The Cuba "distraction"

President Obama’s summit coordinator doesn’t want next week’s Trinidad summit to be “distracted by the Cuba issue.” Fair enough – but if the Obama foreign policy is about “listening” to friends and allies, as Vice President Biden says, and if the entire democratic hemisphere is calling on Washington to change its approach to Cuba, how to avoid the “distraction?”

Here’s a suggestion: by listening, and also responding.

President Obama has expressed willingness to enter some kind of diplomacy with Cuba, so he could define what he means by that, and announce an intention to talk with Cuba about controlling migration and drug trafficking, and protecting the maritime environment. He could open up contacts between our societies, beyond his apparent intention to remove all restrictions on Cuban American travel. And he could make clear that everything else is under review, as his Secretary of State has said.

On that score, there’s some new fodder – and plenty for President Obama to listen to – from a group of Cuban dissidents who just sent President Obama a letter. It was released to the press by Hector Palacios, one of the 75 arrested in 2003 and later released for medical treatment. It was signed by the groups Todos Unidos, Unidad Liberal de la República de Cuba, and Agenda para la Transición, although a member of the latter group, Vladimiro Roca, distanced himself from it.

The letter:

  • Supports “maintaining or broadening diplomatic contacts with the totalitarian dictatorship,” with the warning that the Cuban government’s aim is to keep itself in power and “to flout the good faith of democratic nations.”

  • Says TV Marti’s signal “simply does not reach Cuban homes.”

  • Says, regarding the USAID Cuba program, that “if the government of the United States cannot guarantee in advance that the aid to promote democracy in Cuba really arrives…in our country, then it will be better to withdraw those funds and use them for other purposes.”

Palacios also said the signers favor ending the U.S. embargo, but this step is “not a priority now.”

AP’s coverage of the letter is here, and EFE’s is here.

"What will the party militants think?"

Generacion Y blogger Yoani Sanchez wrote a commentary on the expectation that “an avalanche” of Americans will be traveling to Cuba, and relations may normalize:

The Seven Passing by Thebes

The visit of seven members of the United States Congress to our country has intensified expectations about an avalanche of American tourists. The owners of rooms for rent calculate the potential earnings and the taxi drivers dream of those chewing gum who leave generous tips. At Terminal Two in Jose Marti Airport some have already arrived, confident of the early relaxation of travel restrictions to Cuba. People have nicknamed these early visitors "the brave ones"; I don't know if it's for the risk they've assumed in the face of the laws of their country or because of their audacity in coming to an Island where, according to the official version, they're "the enemy."

The expected "normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States" must occur mainly between the two administrations. At the level of the people, we've been in agreement for some time, it's only our leaders who fail to realize it. Our Nation is bi-territorial, given the large number of compatriots living in the United States. Hence, the Cuban side is more interested in the relationships flowing on both sides of the Straits of Florida. However, it seems that Obama will take the first step, not Raul.

I have difficulty calling to mind a single day in these last fifty years without the warning that the powerful neighbor was thinking of invading us. What will happen with the slogan, "Cuba Si! Yankees No!", with the imported shout of "Gringos" when we are all greeting them here cordially, the "yumas"? Most of the political speeches of the last fifty years would become anachronistic and there wouldn't be any "boogeyman" with which to frighten schoolchildren. What will the party militants think if they're ordered to accept those whom, until recently, they hated. How can David look good in the photos if, instead of the stone and the slingshot, he sits down to talk to Goliath.

Curiously, I don't see anyone on the streets upset in anticipation of these changes. The nervousness is only among those who have used the confrontation to stay in power. Rather, I observe the joy, the hope, the slight impression that the distance between Miami and Havana might become smaller and more familiar.

After reading the wires for the past few days, it sort of jumps out at you that her commentary doesn’t condemn the Congressional delegation for visiting Cuba or for failing to meet dissidents. When it comes to money from American travelers, it focuses on earnings that individual Cubans, not the government, will gain. It supposes that an American opening to Cuba, through diplomacy and travel, will be politically difficult for the Cuban government.

Maybe we should file this one under “the distance between Cuba and Miami.”

Santa Maria del Rosario

Thursday, April 9, 2009

New charges, new trial for Posada

Luis Posada Carriles is back in hot water. He was set to be tried on immigration fraud charges in 2007, but the indictment was dismissed when the judge found fault with the prosecution’s work. Another court ordered a new trial, and Posada’s lawyers tried to block it – but last month the U.S. Supreme Court agreed that the new trial should proceed.

Now the charges will be different. An indictment handed up yesterday charges Posada again with lying in connection with his citizenship application, but it also charges him with obstructing a U.S. investigation into “international terrorism” and lying in response to questions about the 1997 hotel bombings in Havana. Posada has been connected to the hotel bombings and to the 1976 bombing of the Cubana airliner in Barbados.

I’ll leave it to legal minds to figure out how, and in which country’s courts, Posada might be held to account for those actions.

But it was an odd situation for this man, whom the Bush Administration’s Justice Department called an “admitted mastermind of terrorist plots and attacks,” to have been charged only with immigration violations – by a government that was conducting a “global war on terror,” at that. Yesterday’s indictment is a step forward.

Background materials on the case (not updated to include the text of new indictment, unfortunately) are on the El Paso U.S. District Court’s website. Some of my earlier comments on the case are here and here. Coverage from AP here and from the Herald here.

Generational change

The Cuban American National Foundation, led by the late and formidable Jorge Mas Canosa, was a driving force behind the tightening of Cuba sanctions after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Jorge Mas is known to be responsible for maneuvering then-candidate Bill Clinton to a hard-line position in 1992.

Today the Foundation, now chaired by Mas Canosa’s son, Jorge Mas Santos, is releasing a paper calling for the Obama Administration to repeal President Bush’s regulations that tightened regulation of travel and remittances to Cuba, undertake some modest steps to increase diplomatic contact, and more.

The import, as Professor Robert Pastor comments in the New York Times, is that the Foundation is saying that the embargo, souped up through the years, hasn’t worked. Indeed, Foundation President Francisco Hernandez told the Times that the embargo is now a “symbol,” and “not something that is important.” Which begs the question, why not just get rid of it?

The report isn’t devoid of old-think, however – it calls for a “technological overhaul” of TV Marti, so its signal can reach Cuba. I think the only overhaul that would work is one that eliminates the distance between Cuba and the transmitters; there’s a reason, after all, that you don’t watch television broadcasts from cities 90 miles or more from your home. The Foundation also calls for “enhancing the mission of Radio and TV Marti programming to reach audiences throughout the Western hemisphere.”

[Photo from TV Marti program, “La Oficina del Jefe”]

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

"How can we help President Obama?"

The seven-member delegation from the House of Representatives returned from Cuba yesterday after three of the members had a meeting with Fidel Castro at his home.

The group got high-level attention – the Fidel Castro meeting, four hours with Raul Castro, and coverage in Cuban media.

The meeting with Raul Castro had an “emphasis on the possible future evolution of bilateral relations and economic ties, following the taking office of a new U.S. Administration,” according to the Foreign Ministry’s communiqué.

If there were specific messages delivered in one direction or another, they haven’t been divulged, except that the delegation supports normalization of relations and the Cuban side reiterated its willingness to enter dialogue with the United States as long as its independence and sovereignty are respected. I suppose the delegation’s impact will be determined by the discussions it has with the Obama Administration, which has expressed willingness to enter some kind of diplomacy with Cuba but has made none of the decisions that would be necessary to get talks started.

“We came back carrying an expectation that we would talk to the people who can in fact make change,” Rep. Marcia Fudge told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “They want very much for us to extend a hand of friendship.”

The delegation leader, Rep. Barbara Lee, told reporters in Havana that “all the issues necessary to normalize relations” were discussed.

Rep. Laura Richardson said that Fidel Castro asked, “How can we help President Obama?” But in a commentary following the meeting with the legislators, Fidel Castro referred to a statement by Rep. Bobby Rush – whom Fidel called “an inexhaustible spring of knowledge and maturity” – to the effect that President Obama can improve relations with Cuba, but Cuba should help Obama. Fidel said he asked Rep. Rush about the meaning of that, and he noted that since Cuba is not an aggressor and does not threaten the United States, Cuba has “no option that would permit it to take the initiative.”

The Herald’s coverage of the delegation’s press conference is here; Politico’s is here; AP’s is here; a critical look from the Herald’s Myriam Marquez is here; IPS coverage from Havana is here.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Odds and ends

  • The Wall Street Journal reports that the special benefits of the Cuban Adjustment Act are now being extended to people who were born and lived in third countries – but whose parents are Cuban. 3,400 immigrants were in this category last year.

  • A Fidel Castro commentary reports in detail on the visit of a seven-member Congressional delegation led by Rep. Barbara Lee of California. One of the members said, according to Fidel, that “Obama will change policy toward Cuba, but Cuba should help him too.” The delegation had talks with Raul Castro yesterday; AP coverage here.

  • Former Jesse Helms staffer Marc Thiessen recounts a 1998 conversation in Havana with Ricardo Alarcon in a Washington Post op-ed. Until now, I had thought the most interesting thing about that staff trip was that a Cuban intelligence agent, Ana Montes, had gone along for the ride.

  • The Administration’s coordinator for the upcoming hemispheric summit in Trinidad says it would be “unfortunate” if Cuba were to be a main theme of the meeting, and looks ahead to an announcement of policy changes before the summit. Herald coverage here; AP here.

One from a different city

Monday, April 6, 2009

New move on travel?

President Obama is preparing to end restrictions on travel and remittances for Cuban Americans, according to various news reports over the weekend. If he ends them completely, he will be fulfilling his campaign promise. Reportedly, the plan to announce the move before the Trinidad summit is intended to show some movement in Cuba policy in light of the calls from Latin American and Caribbean leaders for a change in U.S. policy.

Details are scant, and explanation will apparently wait until the official announcement. But AP’s story cites an Administration official: “The intent is to try to test the waters and see if we can get Cuba to move in another direction…One way of getting the regime to open up may be to let people travel, increase exchanges and get money flowing to the island.”

Odds and ends

  • Mary McCarthy, a Canadian citizen who lived in Cuba since 1924, has died in Havana at age 108. She had a fortune in a Boston bank, and only got access to it in 2007 when the U.S. government allowed her to withdraw $96 per month, after suggesting that she move back to Canada – yes, at age 107. Another great moment in U.S. foreign policy. Reuters coverage of her passing here, and of her remarkable life and tribulations in 2007 here. R.I.P.

  • The New York Times reports on the fall of Carlos Lage and Felipe Perez Roque, liking it to the case of Conrado Hernandez, the representative of Spain’s Basque regional government, who was detained in Cuba about a month ago. The article is sourced to “Cuban officials.”

  • Fidel Castro: If the United States wants to talk, we’re ready, and besides we don’t “need confrontation to exist, as some fools think.” His commentary here, Reuters story here.

Friday, April 3, 2009

“Don’t put commercial considerations before the political freedom of our people”

The Herald runs a letter from 17 dissidents (pdf) to President Obama, asking that as he reviews policy toward Cuba, he consider a “multilateral international strategy that obliges the Castro regime to open itself to its own people, releasing political prisoners, restoring the civil rights of the Cuban people, and organizing free elections under international supervision.”

Also yesterday, exiled dissident Pedro Pablo Alvarez Ramos called for the United States to end its travel restrictions to Cuba: “We believe that the lifting of travel restrictions will bring about an exchange between the Cuban people and the American people that will redound to the benefit of our people.” Alvarez, an independent trade union leader, was arrested in 2003, sentenced to 25 years in prison, and released in 2008 into exile in Spain. He spoke at an event sponsored by Freedom House and the National Endowment for Democracy.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The travel debate: Cuban voices

The debate over the travel ban is getting rolling with the introduction of legislation to end it in the House and Senate. A House press conference will showcase the legislation today, with 121 cosponsors.

The state-of-the-art argument in favor of the travel ban is stated by the Heritage Foundation’s Ray Walser, who sort of loosely characterizes the views of those of us who favor unrestricted travel. If there’s anyone who believes that the “absence of change” in Cuba is “the fault of the U.S.,” then I’m with Ray on that point – Cuban communism’s longevity is due to internal factors.

An end to travel restrictions will not change Cuba’s political order any more than the sanctions-on-steroids policies of President Bush. But an unregulated flow of American citizens and private institutions will increase American influence in a place where it’s scant today.

Ray’s more interesting point is that “the voiceless Cuban people” deserve to be heard. True that, as they say.

We don’t have polls on this. So one could begin by asking if the Cuban people are introverts by nature and want to be isolated from foreign visitors. Or if any people living under communism has ever wanted that. I don’t think so, on either score.

But we can cite some “voiceless” Cubans, too.

There’s dissident economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe, one of the 75 imprisoned in 2003:

“Democratic countries that wish to help the Cuban people should recognize the existence of a new situation that calls for new thinking. The policy of isolating Cuba and favoring confrontation, practiced for decades by U.S. authorities, should be replaced by mechanisms of contacts, fundamentally with [Cuban] society, without excluding eventual meetings with the Cuban government, as done by the Nixon and Reagan Administrations with the Soviet Union, the countries of Eastern Europe, China, and Vietnam, and now attempted with North Korea. The goal would be to contribute to creating a less tense atmosphere, where it would be difficult for the hardliners to obtain alibis to cultivate false nationalism and to block changes…Immediate steps could be taken such as permitting Cuban Americans to visit the island and help their family and friends economically without restriction…[this step] would make people who receive assistance more independent of the totalitarian state…It would also be very valuable to promote exchanges between the American and Cuban people in all spheres, including cultural, academic, scientific, and sports.”

There’s blogger Yoani Sanchez:

“Change will come not through government agencies but through the citizens and the spread of information and exchange with the outside world.”

Hector Palacios, another of the 75, was quoted as follows by AFP last May:

“Without dialogue, there is no peaceful change,” he opined, before pointing out “a series of points that have to disappear from the embargo,” in his opinion. “First, that Cubans [Cuban Americans] may travel to their country any time they wish, that they may send their family what they want to send, and also that U.S. citizens may visit us…”

Or there’s human rights activists Elizardo Sanchez and Vladimiro Roca, in a May 2003 statement to the Center for International Policy:

“Just as we insist on the right of Cubans to travel, to leave and return to our country freely, a right now denied us, so too do we support the right of Americans to travel freely, including travel to Cuba.”

Or Cardinal Jaime Ortega, in a March 2005 meeting with Congressional visitors:

“Tourism is one of the only things that has brought change to Cuba in recent years, and it has even forced the government to change some of its ways of doing business. It has allowed some people to work with a measure of freedom, such as people who rent rooms to tourists in their homes, and artists who sell to tourists. Artisans have developed a great deal. And the presence of tourists has allowed people to feel that they are not so isolated.”

Or Oswaldo Paya, leader of the Varela Project, interviewed by Germany’s Der Spiegel in April 2003:

“We call on all foreigners who visit our country to show solidarity, hold demonstrations, speak out for an opening in Cuba. We do not want pressures from the United States, much less an intervention…We don’t believe in the effects of the economic embargo, nor have we asked for it.”

While we’re at it, it’s worth looking at the views of Freedom House, which notes, “The United States does not impose similarly restrictive travel sanctions on Americans to other regimes that receive Freedom House’s lowest freedom ratings, including Burma, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan.”

And there’s this from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

My own views are here, prompted by Secretary of State Rice’s spokesman, who in 2007 criticized Cuba’s travel restrictions on its own citizens without a trace of irony. (The only update is to the CIA’s economic growth estimate for Cuba: it’s now 5.3 percent for 2008.)