Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Public diplomacy toward Cuba

Paul Hare, former UK Ambassador in Havana, has written a strategy paper for United States “public diplomacy” toward Cuba.

It is to Ambassador Hare’s great credit that he doesn’t limit his scope to political messages and means of delivering them.

He defines public diplomacy as “engaging with Cuban public opinion,” and his recommendations call for concrete U.S. government actions that will send important messages in themselves.

The implicit assumption is that the United States is behind the eight-ball; that many of the Cuban government’s messages about the United States and its policies resonate with the Cuban public. I think he’s right on that score.

His paper, published by Brookings, is here (pdf).

An earlier article by Ambassador Hare is here.

Odds and ends

  • OAS Secretary General Insulza calls on Cuba to head off Guillermo Farinas’ death by satisfying his demand, i.e. by releasing 26 political prisoners so they can attend to their health out of prison.

  • A view of the human rights situation in Cuba from British writer John Keenan, in the Guardian: “Latin American leaders are caught in a trap of their own making, believing that to criticise human rights abuses in Cuba is somehow to support Washinghton's embargo.

  • Catholic News Agency: Christian Liberation Movement leader Oswaldo Paya again calls on Farinas to end his hunger strike.

  • In the Globe and Mail, Alvaro Vargas Llosa asks whether the events in Cuba are headed the way of 1989.

  • The University of Miami did an exercise simulating a crisis in Cuba with scholars playing roles of U.S. officials. The scenario, according to the Herald story: “Just hours after Fidel Castro is buried, brother Raul is killed in a coup. Fighting between army units is reported, and would-be refugees are massing near the U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo.” El Nuevo has a longer version of the story with more detail.

  • AP: Brazil’s minister of health says it’s time to move “from emergency to strategic” aid to Haiti’s health sector, and signs an agreement with Cuba so that the two countries will work together to rehabilitate hospitals and clinics, provide ambulances and equipment, develop a primary care system, support an enhanced vaccination program, and create a center to monitor epidemics.

One in ten visitors

Everyone knows that last September’s elimination of travel restrictions on Cuban Americans led to a travel boom; now some numbers are starting to come in. Estimates cited in these stories from La Jornada and Reuters have Cuban American visits reaching 300,000 in 2010, which would amount to more than ten percent of total visitors to Cuba.

Miami departures were estimated at 20,000, 22,000, and 24,000 in the first three months of 2010.

And there are now about 250 flights per month leaving from Miami, New York, and Los Angeles, compared to 170 per month a year ago.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

On the farm

Some items on agriculture that have been piling up:

  • The world price of sugar was 7 cents per pound in May 2002 when Cuba announced a drastic downsizing of the sector, and it was 27 cents last month (see Table 3 here). This has apparently led the government to consider new ventures with foreign investors who, according to Reuters, would operate mills and provide technical assistance to farmers. The article is silent on whether new mills would be built.

  • Granma reported March 16 on efforts to increase milk production and to promote local supply of milk as an alterative to the state distribution apparatus. In 2007, the article reports, milk producers in five municipalities stopped sending their products to market through the state’s distribution system, instead supplying local hospitals, day care centers, and bodegas directly. Today 89 municipalities are involved in this system, and excluding Havana, 55 percent of bodegas are being supplied directly by local producers.

  • This report indicates streamlining to come in the agriculture sector, but it’s vague: it cites the Minister of Agriculture addressing the need to “relocate the more than 40,000 indirect workers” but offers no detail, and it has him implying that more than 100 unprofitable enterprises will be eliminated. Again, no detail – it could be production units like state farms or livestock operations, or (better) it could be state transportation, warehousing, and distribution enterprises. Cuban Colada translates excerpts here. This article from the Economist says the 100 enterprises are all farms.

  • In meetings around Cuba of ANAP, the “mass organization” for small farmers, the farmers have a question for the government: Why does the state hold on to responsibility for distribution when it can’t meet that responsibility, and food rots as a result when trucks don’t arrive? Reuters report here. There’s more on this in yesterday’s Granma, where participants at an ANAP meeting in Havana province blamed “diabolical” bureaucratic red tape for low pork production. The article doesn’t say exactly what the problems are, but it says that they involve water, planning, veterinary, and health authorities, and they have not been ironed out.

  • Republican Governor Sonny Perdue of Georgia will lead a trade delegation to Cuba in June.

Monday, March 29, 2010

USAID, building people-to-people links – for foreigners

This is really special.

USAID’s recently issued summary of its plans for the next $20 million to be spent on its Cuba programs notes a $2.5 million expenditure to promote “‘people-to-people’ linkages between non-traditional civil society actors on the island and NGOs in the region.”

This is part of a program run by USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives. The idea is that the program “identifies emerging leaders and groups” in Cuba and builds linkages between them and counterparts abroad.

Americans used to travel to Cuba under licenses for people-to-people programs, at no expense to the taxpayer, but the Bush Administration ended licensing in that category in March 2003, and the Obama Administration has not restored it.

So now we are spending government money to build people-to-people contacts between Cubans and foreign nationals, while we continue to bar people-to-people programs that American civil society would carry out for free.

I doubt that the Obama Administration has consciously linked these two threads – funding foreign “people-to-people” links to Cuba, while continuing the severe Bush limits on those programs, student programs, and many more for Americans. But maybe it should link them. If the point is to build contacts with Cubans, why not look first at what Americans and American institutions would do for free, unencumbered by USAID’s political baggage, if Treasury regulations permitted them to do so?

Regarding that $20 million, the Washington Post editorial page broke the news that Senator Kerry has put a “hold” on its disbursement. (AFP quotes some dissidents supporting such a review.) The same editorial cites government officials saying that the USAID program is now spending “less on political operations outside” of Cuba.

Finally, Congressman Van Hollen released a letter calling for the release of his constituent, Alan Gross, who was detained in Cuba while working on a USAID contract.

Odds and ends

  • Spain’s ABC reports that Martha Beatriz Roque is about to acquire Spanish citizenship, and her relatives in the Canary Islands are thinking of bringing her there for medical care.

  • The New York Times reviews Pilar, a little Cuban restaurant in Brooklyn. Sounds like a winner.

  • The Herald reports on a U.S. government assessment of the portrayal of the Cuban military in Cuban media.

  • Paul Crespo puts his hat in the ring in the GOP primary for the Congressional District being vacated by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart.

Farinas' turn for the worse

Guillermo Farinas, continuing his hunger strike, gave a detailed report on his medical condition last Friday (Cuban Colada translates here), and today AFP has his mother reporting that he is “on the verge of a major complication that will put his life in danger.”

The Spanish government has offered to take him to Spain by air ambulance according to El Pais. The article says Farinas responded that he would go if he were assured in advance that he could return to Cuba.

In solidarity, there were marches in New York and Los Angeles yesterday. Herald report here.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Obama and Cuba

I wrote an article on President Obama and Cuba for Palabra Nueva, the monthly journal of the Archdiocese of Havana, and it appears in the March issue. English version here (pdf).

President Obama speaks out

President Obama issues a statement saying that “Cuban authorities continue to respond to the aspirations of the Cuban people with a clenched fist,” and calls for “an end to the repression” and the “immediate, unconditional release of all political prisoners.”

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Damas' week

A week of daily protests for the release of political prisoners by the Damas de Blanco ended on Sunday. It was “unprecedented,” according to Mauricio Vicent of El Pais, who described the daily pattern: “mass, a march through the streets, a spontaneous acto de repudio from the indignant people, a police cordon to protect the women, all organized to perfection.”

The protests, marking the anniversary of the 2003 arrests of 75 dissidents and independent journalists, came just after the death of Orlando Zapata and coincide with the hunger strike of Guillermo Farinas, who is seeking release of 26 political prisoners with health problems. If Farinas dies, dissident Felix Bonne has said he will start a hunger strike of his own. It all adds up to a cascade of public opposition activity that hasn’t been seen in some time.

What is the impact?

Internationally, it’s clear. Whereas one year ago the governments of Latin America and the Caribbean were unanimously pushing President Obama to end the embargo, today’s events have put the President of Brazil on the defensive and elicited statements of concern (or stronger) from the governments of Mexico, Costa Rica, and Chile – plus one from the UN Secretary General.

A more concrete impact could be the derailing of Spain’s effort to change European Union policy toward Cuba during the first six months of this year, during which Madrid holds the EU presidency. This situation is hard to read – the issue had not yet been joined in the EU and no Spanish proposal has yet come to light. EFE is reporting, with no quotes and no sources cited by name, that Spain has already decided to abandon this effort. I have seen nothing on-the-record from the foreign ministry.

Inside Cuba, we have seen another set of actions showing Cuba’s bloggers moving beyond on-line commentary to public activism, this time in solidarity with Farinas and the Damas de Blanco. See this post from Claudia Cadelo, in addition to the numerous items from Yoani Sanchez that appear at Penultimos Dias.

Whether there will be lasting political effect, I’m not so sure.

This analysis by Ernesto Menendez-Conde at Diario de Cuba points in that direction, saying that the government miscalculated and that Zapata’s death, “far from scaring the dissidents, energized them and expanded their political space.” The comments that follow include some contrary views.

This comment by the BBC’s Fernando Ravsberg, “Suicide as a political weapon,” is also worth reading, as are the comments that follow.

Finally, if you like trying to figure out what is on the Cuban government’s mind by deciphering the messages and coverage in Cuban media, these two videos show how these events are being presented to the Cuban public: from the Mesa Redonda and from the nightly news program.

Odds and ends

  • AFP: In response to a student’s question, Raul Castro gives a positive assessment of his brother’s health.

  • AP: Aroldis Chapman leaves a Reds spring training game with back problems.

  • The Herald runs an op-ed and links to a longer paper by Gayle McGarrity, a Jamaican who has spent years in Cuba, examining attitudes toward race in Cuban government and society.

La Rampa

Monday, March 22, 2010

Farinas, sticking with it

The German news agency DPA reports (in Spanish only) on a phone interview with hunger striker Guillermo Farinas in Santa Clara. Farinas said that an Interior Ministry officer visited him in the hospital yesterday to urge him to abandon his hunger strike. He declined, insisting on his demand that 26 dissidents be released from jail to attend to their health problems. The two ended up talking baseball, Farinas said.

Odds and ends

  • Missed this from last week: a meeting between U.S. and Cuban officials in Santo Domingo, at the level of the Secretary of State’s chief of staff and a Cuban deputy foreign minister, to discuss Haiti relief. Reuters report here.

  • Reuters: The American cruise industry, especially a guy from Royal Caribbean, has a snooty attitude about passenger port facilities in Cuba.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Quakes in eastern Cuba

A 5.6 magnitude earthquake occurred yesterday shortly after 2:00 p.m., centered 30 miles south of Guantanamo. It was followed about an hour later by a 4.8 magnitude quake 20 miles south-southwest of Guantanamo. Granma reports that the first quake was felt in Santiago, Guantanamo, Granma, and Holguin, and Reuters reports minor damage in Guantanamo.

If you want to follow seismic activity in the eastern Cuba/Hispaniola/Jamaica region, bookmark this map from the U.S. Geological Survey.

The image above, also from USGS, is the “shake map” of the first quake, showing where it was felt.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Obama's embargo

Another victory for American foreign policy: Innospec, a chemical company, pleaded guilty to a series of charges including a Cuba embargo violation – sales of fuel additives by a former Swedish subsidiary. Wall Street Journal story here; the Export Law Blog covers the legal angle and provides this link to the company’s voluntary disclosure of the Cuba violation.

This is reminiscent of a prosecution a few years ago of an American who violated the embargo by arranging export of water purification chemicals through Canada.

The message to American companies is that the Obama Administration means business when it comes to embargo enforcement.

The message to the Cuban people is that because of our differences with their government, the United States will make it more cumbersome and expensive for that government to get what it needs, even from sources outside the United States, to generate power and purify water.


“Our fondness for Cuba does not make us forget that human rights are the first priority.”

– From a statement issued by socialist legislators in Chile, quoted in today’s Herald story on this week’s protests of the Damas de Blanco

Odds and ends

  • Juventud Rebelde: China’s ambassador in Havana announces grants and no-interest loans (amounts not specified) to support hydroelectric power projects, “supplies for the education sector,” additional technical assistance for aquaculture, and Chinese language instruction.

  • EFE: Cuba’s foreign investment minister acknowledges that Cuba faces “big difficulties” with regarding international credit and will continue working to pay money owed to companies that trade with Cuba and had their accounts froze. He spoke at a meeting of a Spain-Cuba business council where the Spanish side spoke of the need for “regeneration of confidence.”

  • AP: A replica of the 19th century slave ship Amistad is sailing to Havana.

  • Mambi Watch is beginning to plow through newly available Miami News archives from the 1960’s.

  • A Cuban website takes a shot at the United States for treatment of street protests, using photos of a California demonstration against public education budget cuts (h/t Cuban Colada).

  • Reuters: A guilty plea in a 1968 airliner hijacking from Luis Armando Pena, who took refuge in Cuba for 41 years and returned to the United States last October.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A covert action anniversary

Granma’s lead on-line article marks the 50th anniversary of President Eisenhower’s “Program of Covert Action Against the Castro Regime,” and says that “decades later, the intention to destroy the Cuban Revolution remains latent in the United States government.”

A short, excerpted version of the now-declassified 1960 document is here, noting that the “first requirement is the creation of a responsible, appealing and unified Cuban opposition to the Castro regime.” A re-typed copy of the whole thing (with just a few parts blacked out) appears as an annex to a CIA post-mortem on the Bay of Pigs operation, beginning on page 161 (pdf).

In the U.S. government it’s forgotten, irrelevant, ancient Cold War history. In the Plaza de la Revolucion it’s a foundation document for a 50-year public campaign that attempts to discredit all domestic opposition as the creation of a foreign power.

Odds and ends

  • In an interview with Foreign Policy magazine, Anne Louise Bardach talks about Cuba’s leadership, now and in the future.

  • Al Kamen of the Washington Post writes about an effort by Senators Menendez and Nelson (Florida) to discourage Congressional staff from traveling to Cuba, and notes that the Senators themselves have traveled to less-than-democratic countries.

The Damas de Blanco, undeterred

The Damas de Blanco held a demonstration marking the anniversary of the 2003 arrests of 75 dissidents, and it was broken up by Cuban security forces.

These are tactics we have seen before: a government reaction to show it controls the streets, and short-term detention instead of long-term imprisonment.

Herald story here; BBC has a one-minute video here showing the women chanting “Zapata vive” and being packed onto a bus; Penultimos Dias has a long roundup of news coverage and photos and a quote from Bertha Soler indicating that they were taken to the home of leader Laura Pollan, and have every intention of continuing their protests. Cuban Colada notes a Cuban complaint that U.S. and other diplomats are accompanying the women, engaging in “provocation.”

Monday, March 15, 2010

Odds and ends

  • “Why Are Florida Cubans Lukewarm On Rubio?” The National Journal’s political blog asks that question about soaring GOP Senate primary candidate Marco Rubio – and has figures showing that they are not yet showing him the money.

  • “In the months following the revolution, Cuba seemed less an island than an endless sea of triumphant celebration.” That’s former Soviet foreign correspondent Leonid Kamynin, in the first of a series of articles being published by Russia’s RIA-Novosti news agency marking the upcoming 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations with Cuba.

  • The Herald’s Juan Tamayo recaps the Shakespeare book caper; if Raymond Scott is a thief, he’s the most quotable thief to come along in a long time.

  • Two ways to use Cuba as a political football: from the right to bash President Obama (with the author using a pseudonym), and from the left to bash defenders of the U.S. prison at Guantanamo.

Looking up

Friday, March 12, 2010

Export talk, export action

President Obama elaborated yesterday on his National Export Initiative to double U.S. exports within five years. His speech lays out his plans, and I hope he succeeds, although he is starting by throwing some already negotiated trade agreements out the window with this rhetorical slop:

“We’re going to strengthen relations with key partners, specifically South Korea, Panama, Colombia, with the goal of moving forward with existing agreements in a way that upholds our values.”

Meanwhile, the House Agriculture Committee heard testimony on a bill designed to boost farm exports to Cuba, and Senator Klobuchar introduced a Senate companion bill. Here’s coverage from, and statements from witnesses are posted here.

The bill under discussion ends U.S. travel restrictions, changes the “cash-in-advance” requirement for agricultural sales so that payment is required before cargo is delivered in Cuba as opposed to before leaving a U.S. port, and allows Cuba to make its payments by direct wire transfer to U.S. banks instead of through a third country. It doesn’t change the statutory requirement that Cuba pay cash in advance for U.S. agricultural products.

There are many steps the President’s new “Export Promotion Cabinet” could take to increase exports to Cuba, on its own or by supporting legislation in Congress. It could focus on agriculture, or it could make openings in other sectors, just as the President did last year by allowing a few types of telecommunications deals with Cuba for the purpose of expanding access to information.

My earlier comments on the agriculture issue are here.

Odds and ends

  • The European Parliament voted 509-30 to adopt a resolution that “condemns the avoidable and cruel death of the dissident political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo after a hunger strike of 85 days.” Cuba’s National Assembly shot back with a statement (English text here) asserting, among many other arguments, that Zapata had “refused to eat despite all warnings and the intervention of Cuban medical specialists.” El Pais has a story on the making of the European resolution.

  • EFE: Cuban human rights monitor Elizardo Sanchez says that contrary to government assertions, his organization’s research shows that there are “hundreds of political and common prisoners” whose state of health justifies release from prison as stipulated in Cuban law.

  • Sugar production is down (AP) and nickel production up (Reuters).

  • Europeans have their own debates about policy toward Cuba, but what passes for the “hard-line” sector there is quite different than ours, and has never shown interest in cutting off trade, travel, or investment. The latest reminder is this interview with Jorge Moragas of Spain’s opposition Partido Popular, which regularly gives the Spanish government grief over its Cuba policies. Moragas praises Spain’s investors in Cuba and says: “This presence of foreign companies, and especially Spanish investment, can play an interesting role when the country starts a framework of a constitutional process and transition to democracy.”

Thursday, March 11, 2010

House hearing today

Today the House Agriculture Committee will hold a hearing on a bill introduced by its chairman, Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, to increase farm exports to Cuba by changing two of the regulations governing those exports and by ending all restrictions on American travel to Cuba. The witnesses are all from agricultural organizations.

The hearing may or may not make history, but it has already generated a new argument for keeping U.S. policy toward Cuba as is. Our friend Mauricio at Capitol Hill Cubans is arguing that an embargo against Iraq in 1988 could have prevented two wars, and the “farm lobby” is to blame.

You can read it yourself, but I’ll note that Mauricio doesn’t quite get right a State Department memo that he cites. The memo is about government trade credits, not about whether or not to trade with Iraq, and rather than showing that the “appeasers” won, it simply shows that Secretary Shultz, with less than a month before the end of the Administration, deferred the issue to the next Administration to give it “a free field.”

Good story, though.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Pilot project time

Cuban economic policy seems to be in the pilot project phase.

Last fall, one pilot project was announced – the closing of workplace cafeterias in four ministries in Havana, as the first step toward closing them nationwide to save $350 million annually.

But when economy minister Marino Murillo said in his December 21 speech to the Cuban legislature that the government is undertaking “experiments…to lighten the state’s burden in the provision of some services,” it was a mystery where the experiments were, and what they were about.

Foreign journalists in Cuba are starting to figure it out and have reported on a few of these experiments, none of which have been announced and many of which are taking place out in the provinces.

Marc Frank of Reuters reported that beginning last year in Santiago, some new retail outlets started opening, selling items in Cuban pesos that had been sold in hard currency only.

Also in Santiago province, the government is taking a smart new tack – licensing produce vendors, letting them have roadside kiosks, and taxing them instead of chasing them off the highways: “Dozens of small kiosks offering strings of tangerines, grapes, bananas and tropical fruits with exotic names such as Mame, Guanabana and Nispero appear, and the game of cat and mouse suddenly ends.” (ABC/Reuters).

In Camaguey, they are concentrating land grants to private farmers and small cooperatives in a close-in ring around the city, trying to encourage organic production of fruits, vegetables, and livestock. (ABC/Reuters)

And more important for the future of urban employment, there are pilot projects that involve changes in small state enterprises. More than three years ago, a series of articles in Juventud Rebelde pointed out the mess in many repair shops, barbershops, cafeterias, and similar state businesses. Since then, state media have several times quoted economists suggesting that these enterprises be turned over to the workers and converted into cooperatives, and I noted in January that this suggestion has appeared repeatedly in letters to the editor of Granma.

BBC’s Fernando Ravsberg reports that “a group of state beauty shops were converted into cooperatives and their workings were tested for six months.” (Where the shops are, he doesn’t say.) He also reports that a state taxi business has “transformed the state-employee relationship by eliminating the bureaucratic apparatus of other enterprises.” Now, drivers simply rent cabs for a fixed daily fee and pocket their profits. Ravsberg quotes a supporter of these changes speaking favorably of the slow pace, because “if we make a mistake we will take even longer and we will give arguments to those who fear that these transformations could destroy our socialism.”

Reuters has a similar report this week, and adds information on the policy debate, quoting the economy minister saying that the size of the “gigantic paternalistic state” has to be cut back.

All in all, this movement is slow, it’s clearly dominated by a strong sense of political caution, but it seems to be moving in a good direction.

Odds and ends

  • Granma takes note of a Washington conference calling for an end to U.S. restrictions on academic travel and exchange with Cuba.

  • A resolution (pdf) under consideration in the European Parliament regarding the death of Orlando Zapata. (H/t Penultimos Dias.)

  • Cuba’s civil aviation chief, General Rogelio Acevedo, 69, was relieved of his job and “will be assigned other tasks” according to a note in Granma. Acevedo was a combatant in the revolution. Here’s coverage in La Jornada and The New York Times.

  • Cuban Colada: President Reagan’s agriculture secretary, John Block, speaks out in favor of unrestricted travel to Cuba as “an expression of the conservative values that brought me to Washington.”

  • Politico reports on efforts to press for the release of USAID contractor Alan Gross.

Grand balustrade

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Odds and ends

  • Herald: Hunger striker Guillermo Farinas will not take up an offer to go to Spain, preferring to stay in Cuba and carry out his protest. An earlier AP interview with him here.

  • Cuban television is running an eight-part series on the history of attempts on Fidel Castro’s life.

  • Reuters: Beginning in May, visitors to Cuba will be required to buy health insurance to cover the time of their stay. So far, none of the reports say how much it will cost.

  • Herald: “La Entranable Lejania” (“The Closest Farthest Away”), a play featuring both Cuban and American actors, opens in Miami Beach.

Monday, March 8, 2010

A regulatory fix (Updated)

The New York Times reports that under new regulations to be issued today, the government will no longer require U.S. companies to block free downloads of programs and software to users in Cuba and other sanctioned countries.

This is progress; the regulations are catching up to the Secretary of State’s speech on Internet freedom.

These regulations were particularly out of balance considering that under the Obama Administration’s rules governing gift parcels to Cuba, Americans (not just Cuban-Americans) can send laptops to Cubans as gifts with no restrictions on the software or programs loaded on them. But if a Cuban tried to download, U.S. regulations tried to block that. Until today, apparently. Earlier comment here.

Update: Tracey Eaton dug up the Treasury summary and the 21-page rule. Google’s reaction here.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Odds and ends

  • An energy consulting company reports (pdf) a possible development in the Senate climate change bill – that among a set of provisions being offered by Alaska’s Senator Murkowski to boost oil production, is one that “would exempt American oil and gas companies from the Cuban Embargo.”

  • A 1978 print of a photo of Che Guevara, shot around 1960 by Alberto Korda, went for 6,600 pounds sterling at auction in Gloucestershire yesterday.

  • Reuters: A shortlived program that allowed Cubans with old cars to import newer ones has been cancelled, for reasons unknown.

  • Tracey Eaton digs up recent Etecsa figures on fixed and mobile phone lines and Internet connections in Cuba.

From Calle Agramonte...

...a fire station......and a view of the Capitolio.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

New poll

A new poll of American opinion on relations with Cuba has been released. Its results are different and not as clear-cut as a Fox News poll last year that showed 59 percent support for normalization of relations and 30 percent support for the embargo.

The new Harris poll was performed on-line, not by interview. It has no margin of error attached to it and Harris claims that other survey research firms are misleading to use that term. Herald story here; Harris press release here.

It says 23 percent consider Cuba to be unfriendly and an enemy, a view that increased in prevalence with respondents’ age, and the rest consider Cuba to be either not an enemy or an ally. Regarding President Obama’s lifting of travel restrictions for Cuban Americans, 45 percent say this is too much of an “overture” and 29 percent say it’s not enough. By a 57-17 margin, respondents agree that American business is definitely or probably missing business opportunities.

Thirty-eight percent would like to visit Cuba and 49 percent would like President Obama to go. Maybe he should go, and our thinking will be clearer when he gets back.

Odds and ends

  • Reuters: Exporters to Cuba are offered terms to settle back payments – five years at two percent, take it or leave it.

  • The Economist on U.S.-Cuba relations: “The honeymoon is over before it began.”

  • At Global Post, Nick Miroff looks at the impact of Orlando Zapata’s death.

  • All I can say about this statement from Israel’s foreign minister is that if it had appeared on April 1, we would all be able to make sense of it.

  • Yahoo Sports: a “glut of Cuban defectors” in Major League Baseball.

  • Thanks to a reader for providing this link to a story that corrects earlier news reports, which turned out to be big exaggerations about Cable and Wireless plans to run an undersea cable from Cuba to Jamaica. It would make economic sense compared to the Venezuela idea; maybe less bolivariana but one sixth the distance.

  • A House Judiciary Committee hearing looks at the “Section 211” Havana Club trademark fight that pits Bacardi against Pernod-Ricard.

Answering the mail

It is hard for me to get grumpy about Ernesto Hernandez Busto, who writes the Spanish-language blog Penultimos Dias. Stationed in Spain, he lives about five hours in the future, his radar is always on and pointed in all directions, and his blog is a fine daily resource.

He is not quite in agreement with my views on USAID’s Cuba program and made a few new points yesterday. Not being American and not living here, Ernesto may not grasp the terrible sinking feeling many of us have when we hear the phrase, “Oh, let’s just have the government do it.” Or in this case, when we entrust relations with the Cuban people to a bureaucratic phalanx consisting of 1) USAID and the development-industrial complex, 2) licensing officers at the Treasury and Commerce departments, and 3) two low-to-no-audience government broadcast outlets – because, the government assures us, this is better than allowing American citizens and civil society institutions to act as they please. Unrestricted travel is in line with our concept of civil liberties and with the approach we took toward a number of countries where communist governments dissolved about two decades ago. As for the rest of it, I think it’s pretty apparent I wasn’t comparing Cuba and Haiti, I was noting the advice our government gives to Americans traveling anywhere abroad. And I’ll repeat that to cite foreign law is not to endorse it.

Jose Cardenas, a big wheel in the Bush Cuba policy, has weighed in with about a thousand words of holier-than-thou. I won’t belabor the USAID discussion, and I’m happy to have readers consider my views and his side-by-side. His short discussion of human rights organizations is curious, and instructive, and it’s pure bunk. They haven’t been “forced to confront” Cuba’s human rights record, they do that year in and year out. And they have never suggested that U.S. policy is to blame for Cuban abuses. Jose seems irked by the idea that someone could understand the situation in Cuba and at the same time view U.S. policy as misguided; Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Freedom House are all in that category. As for playing into Havana’s hands, I think the gold medal in that category went to the Bush Administration’s Cuba commission. Sadly, its report dismayed dissidents and many other Cubans and was a gift that kept on giving for Cuba’s state security, party propagandists, and everyone in between.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Hell hath no fury...

This could get interesting.

Ana Margarita Martinez, the ex-wife of Juan Pablo Roque, a Cuban agent who bolted Miami and his marriage just before the Brothers to the Rescue shootdown, is seeking to collect on a $27 million judgment she won against the Cuban government. There being no ready source of Cuban government cash laying around within U.S. jurisdiction, she is going after the fees that Miami charter companies pay to the Cuban government for landing rights and services. The charter companies are fighting it in court.

The Miami Herald story is here, and Babalu has the press release issued on Martinez’ behalf.

If Martinez is ultimately successful, it would seem that flights to Cuba would end. On the other hand, this strategy would have been tried before by others holding judgments against Cuba, and would be used to collect from revenues that U.S. phone companies pay to Cuba, or from airlines’ payments for overflight rights, or from cargoes of agricultural products that are loaded at U.S. ports for shipment to Cuba.

In other words, my hunch is that the federal government protects licensed transactions from legal actions of this type, and that courts have upheld that protection. If anyone with knowledge of this area of the law wants to chime in, please do.

Odds and ends

  • TelecomTV, a British web-based news service on the telecom and IT business, says Britain’s Cable and Wireless plans to run an undersea cable from Jamaica to Cuba to give Cuba a new connection to the Internet. Then, C&W hopes to buy out Telcom Italia’s share of Etecsa, the Cuban telecom monopoly provider of wireline and wireless telephony. The talk of a Cuba-Venezuela cable, last noted here (see fifth item) seems to remain just talk.

  • El Nuevo: Aroldis Chapman of the Cincinnati Reds looks forward to pitching in Miami against the Marlins, “in front of so many Cubans.” He also says his control and off-speed pitches are improved.

  • Tracey Eaton on the experience (and the difficulties) of reporting from Cuba. He discusses his own experience and comments on a Herald story on two recent books by reporters who worked there.

  • It’s the thought that counts: El Pais reports that Spain’s prime minister planned to give President Obama a gift of a photo of an African-American who went to Spain to fight on the republican side of the Spanish civil war. The volunteer brigadista traveled to Spain from the United States, but it turns out he was Cuban. His identity is still unknown.

  • In El Nuevo Herald, Paquito D’Rivera gives a welcome of sorts to “my old friend Bobby Carcasses,” the multi-instrumentalist and Cuban jazz pioneer who gave a concert in Miami last Friday night. El Nuevo has photos of the concert and the Herald’s Jordan Levin profiled him here.

More on Zapata (Updated)

The Cuban government is firing back on the issue of the death of Orlando Zapata, naming him in a Granma article (Spanish here, English here) and saying he was a common criminal who entered politics for convenience.

AP reports that Cuban television did a ten-minute news segment that presented interviews with doctors who treated Zapata and hidden-camera footage of Zapata’s mother thanking the doctors.

Here is video of the Cuban television report via the website of El Mundo in Spain. It includes recordings of conversations that Zapata’s mother and, separately, another dissident had with a Miami organization, the Directorio Democratico Cubano. The mother gives a positive account of the medical attention Zapata was receiving. (Update: Here's audio of a response from the mother, Reina Luisa Tamayo.)

Meanwhile, others are starting hunger strikes in protest of Zapata’s death. New York Times report here.

And blogger Reinaldo Escobar pulls back, connects Zapata’s death to other events last month, and asks what it all means. In English at the Huffington Post.

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