Wednesday, February 27, 2013


“I never thought that my existence would be so prolonged, or that the enemy would be so clumsy in his hateful profession of eliminating adversaries that are committed to fighting.”

   Fidel Castro before the National Assembly last Sunday

Read these guys

Long overdue, I just added On Two Shores to the blogroll, written from Miami with a perspective from both sides.  For one example of why they’re worth reading, see this examination of a recycled Jaime Suchlicki argument on why the United States should maintain restrictions on Americans’ travel to Cuba.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The generational transition begins

Cuba’s line of presidential succession changed today with the naming of Miguel Diaz-Canel, 52, as First Vice President of the Council of State. 

He replaces Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, 82.  In his speech in the National Assembly today, Raul Castro said that Machado Ventura suggested that he relinquish his post “in favor of the promotion of the new generation.”

This is the first time that a next-generation figure has been in the top level of Cuba’s leadership since the departure of Carlos Lage in 2009, and the first time that a next-generation figure has occupied the post of first vice president, which is first in line of succession. 

Diaz-Canel, trained as an engineer at the University of Villa Clara, has been increasingly visible in recent years, most recently attending the CELAC summit in Chile with Raul Castro and representing Cuba at the Caracas ceremony last month that marked the beginning of Hugo Chavez’ new term in office.

Raul Castro confirmed that this will be his last term, and he called for constitutional reform that will set a two-term limit and a maximum age for the government’s top posts.

The main task of Raul Castro’s presidency has been to fix an economy that, in his view, would put Cuba’s socialist project at risk if it were not fixed. 

He has been promoting next-generation figures in a number of posts, and he has admitted that this process has gone too slowly.  With today’s move he has put in Cubans’ sight the day when the government will be led not by a figure who fought in the 1959 revolution, but by one who grew up in it. 

Step by step, this old soldier has been preparing for the day when he will leave his post, and he has now picked the one who will relieve him.

AP story here.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A talk with Raul

AP: Members of a U.S. Congressional delegation visited jailed USAID contractor Alan Gross during a three-day visit that concluded yesterday.  The delegation was led by Senate President pro tempore Patrick Leahy and included three other senators and two House members.  The entire group kept a low press profile.  There was a three-hour meeting with Raul Castro.  Cuban media coverage was front-page and just-the-facts.

"State sponsor" no more?

The Boston Globe’s Bryan Bender reports that the State Department is considering removing Cuba from the list of “state sponsors of terrorism.”

If true, it’s a sign of fresh thinking and common sense at the State Department. 

Secretary Clinton, like President Clinton, seemed to treat Cuba issues in large measure according to the political calculation that won President Clinton the White House.  To wit, to erode the Republican advantage on national security issues by taking positions wherever possible that would leave no enemies on the right. 

That meant, in the case of Cuba, letting stand the “terrorist” designation that has been specious for years and that has devalued the U.S. voice on terrorism issues by showing the world that we were happy to make a nonsensical annual statement about Cuba for domestic electoral purposes.

The Calle Ocho line is that removing Cuba from the list would be a unilateral concession to Havana – an argument that adds another layer of absurdity.  If you did something stupid like batting one-handed for, say, a few decades, would you refuse to bat two-handed because to do so would be a concession to the other team?

Also, consider this: If the U.S. government and Calle Ocho really thought Cuba were a terrorism sponsor, would we be admitting every Cuban who arrives on a U.S. shore or border crossing, processing them within days, giving them quick access to public assistance and a path to a green card in one year?  Would we not worry that some might be sent to harm us?

Ending the designation would make the U.S. voice on terrorism more serious, and it might make others take our Cuba policy more seriously because it would be more based on legitimate criticisms. 

It will also reduce financial sanctions that are tied to the “state sponsor” designation; those sanctions harm Cuba’s economy by raising country risk, the cost of doing business, and the cost of credit.  So be it.  If there’s a national security case to be made about Cuba, or a need for additional political criticisms or economic sanctions, let it be made based on evidence rather than repeating an accusation that has not been valid for years.

Odds and ends

  • Canadian foreign minister John Baird visited Cuba last week, showing how a democracy can engage with Cuba and, in some cases, disagree with its government at the same time.  Imagine that.  (CBC, Globe and Mail, Juventud Rebelde)

  • After about five minutes in Brazil, Yoani Sanchez is calling for an end to the U.S. embargo and the release and return of the Cuban Five.  How long before they call it a provocaciĆ³n in Miami?  There, she is slated to receive Miami-Dade College’s presidential medal in recognition of her human rights advocacy.  (See EFE, EFE again, El Nuevo, and Babalu’s translation of her remarks.)  Update: She tweeted last night that when she was speaking about the Cuban Five, it was with “tremendous irony” that was lost on her audience in Brasilia (and, apparently, everywhere else).  She also implied that the U.S. should get out of the Guantanamo naval base.

  • IPS: Novelist Leonardo Padura on Raul Castro’s five years as President.

  • Prensa Latina has a brief item on the upcoming selection by the National Assembly of the Council of State’s membership and officers, which will determine the line of succession in Raul Castro’s second term.

  • Yahoo Sports on Cuba’s selection for the World Baseball Classic.

  • Trabajadores: The 2012 rice harvest set a production record.

  • Prensa Latina: Chipping away further at heavily subsidized goods and services provided to the public, the Cuban government announces that water rates will go up.