Friday, October 30, 2009

The UN vote

A few notes after reading some of the documents and clippings about the UN vote:

  • This annual event is really a demonstration of Havana’s relentlessness when it comes to multilateral diplomacy. The U.S. embargo is a very important theme in its political messaging at home and abroad, and the debate on this resolution raises the issue to a high profile every fall. It forces a discussion in the UN, it forces the U.S. government to address the issue, and the whole event resonates in Cuba, so that Cubans see that virtually the whole world votes “yes” on a resolution that their government proposes. And beyond the vote there’s the resolution’s feature of an annual report (pdf), which results in an annual compilation of governments’ and international agencies’ views on the embargo and its impact.

  • Only Israel and Palau voted with the United States. I have never heard anyone ask an Israeli official for an explanation, but Israel’s vote has always seemed tongue-in-cheek to me – “We’ll vote with the Americans, and we’ll keep on investing in Cuba.”

  • If you’re wondering about the Palau, Australian radio put the question to Sandra S. Pierantozzi, the Republic of Palau’s Minister of State in this interview. The minister refused to tie the vote to Palau’s request for $225 million in U.S. aid over the next 15 years, but she indicated that the U.S. offer of $156 million is “not acceptable for our people.”

  • The two new votes in favor of the resolution are El Salvador (the new FMLN government) and Iraq.

  • Who lost the Marshall Islands? Blame it on the Bush Administration; that country last voted with the United States in 2007 and now abstains.

  • Speaking of forcing the issue, the statements of the State Department spokesman and Ambassador Rice are interesting. The Cuban use of the term “genocide” is way out of bounds and deserved rebuke. And the Obama Administration is right to tout its diplomatic contacts with Cuba and its liberalization of some Cuba regulations. But the shots at “Cold War” rhetoric are kind of funny in defense of a Kennedy Administration policy. Ambassador Rice talked about policies based on humanitarian concern for the Cuban people, holding up U.S. agricultural sales and private humanitarian aid as emblems of our virtue. Let’s hope the Administration, with that concern in mind – not to mention its aversion to Cold War relics – further defines its policies on the kinds of trade that should be permitted and the degree of contact that should be allowed between our societies. Finally, the Administration completely let pass the Cuban contention that the U.S. embargo goes beyond bilateral economic relations and effectively disrupts other countries’ commerce with Cuba.

Odds and ends

  • Bloomberg: The Treasury Department agrees that its policy that blocks Microsoft and Google instant messaging software in Cuba and other countries is dumb, and is convening meetings with other federal agencies to figure out how to undo it. Kudos to the Office of Foreign Assets Control (!) for answering a letter from the public, in this case from the Center for Democracy in the Americas.

  • Miami’s New Times on Robert Kelly, an international man of mystery who says he was recruited by Cuba, then duped the Cubans by working for the FBI. A little craftier than Colonel Simmons, he explains that his complete inability to speak Spanish is actually an asset that helped him fool the Cuban intelligence service.

  • A Boston University forum on Cuba next week featuring Senator Kerry, Congressman Delahunt, and other luminaries.

  • As part of Cuba’s sector-by-sector media campaign in advance of the UN vote, the sports institute claims that Cuba has not been able to receive prize money owed to Cuba for its performance in the World Baseball Classic, AFP reports.

Vigilia Mambisa rides again

Rather than engage in a book burning, Vigilia Mambisa’s Miguel Saavedra got himself what appears to be a nice cordless paper shredder to do justice to Juanita Castro’s new book. The performance art protest was double-barreled, taking place in front of Miami’s Spanish consulate to protest Spain’s diplomacy with Cuba.

The book, he says, is full of “lies that make fun of the Cuban community” in exile, he told EFE.

Speaking of Juanita Castro, Rui Ferreira reports in El Mundo that in 1969 she urged the U.S.government to arrest Cuban exiles before they could embark on an armed expedition to Cuba so they would not “throw away their lives in a useless, romantic gesture.” The report is based on a declassified State Department memo that Rui posts here.

(Photo from Cuaderno de Cuba.)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Odds and ends

  • A Cuban cancer drug is undergoing clinical trials in the United States, EFE reports (English here, Spanish here). Earlier story from McClatchy here.

  • Boston Globe: Hemingway papers from Cuba are now available at the JFK presidential library in Boston. Penultimos Dias links to the library’s inventory of the papers.

Price controls at agros?

AP reports that price controls may be instituted at farmers markets, citing producers, vendors, and consumers who were told by the Communist Party – not the ministry in charge – that the new policy would take effect November 1.

Now it’s apparently postponed until January 1 due to strong adverse reaction, including from consumers who seem to understand that price controls would threaten supply.

The government would do better to put this policy in the category of those that are studied forever and don’t see the light of day.

When less would have been more

An exchange at yesterday’s State Department press briefing between reporters and spokesman Ian Kelly:

QUESTION: Speaking of the UN, the General Assembly had its annual vote today on the Cuba embargo. You got two people to join you, two countries. Can you remind – (a) remind of what those two countries are, and (b) tell us what you think of the vote?

MR. KELLY: I think one was Palau, Matt. Who was the other one?

QUESTION: I don’t know. I think it – it’s usually, generally, the Solomon Islands.

QUESTION: I thought it was Micronesia.

QUESTION: Or Micronesia.

QUESTION: Or was that about Israel?

MR. KELLY: All right. Well, let me give you the guidance on this. The United States believes it has the sovereign right to conduct economic – its economic relationship with Cuba as determined by U.S. national interests. Sanctions on Cuba are designed to permit humanitarian items to reach the Cuban people, while denying the Cuban Government resources that it could use to repress its citizens. This yearly exercise at the UN obscures the fact that the United States is a leading source of food and humanitarian relief to Cuba. In 2008, the United States exported $717 million in agricultural products, medical devices, medicine, wood, and humanitarian items to Cuba.

QUESTION: Sorry. Wood?

MR. KELLY: Wood.


MR. KELLY: Sanctions is one part of the United States policy approach to Cuba. In recent months, as you know, we’ve reached out to the Cuban people. We’ve taken steps to promote the free flow of information, we’ve lifted restrictions on family visits, and we’ve expanded the kinds and amounts of humanitarian items that the American people can donate to Cuba. We’ve also taken steps to establish a more constructive dialogue with Cuba. We’ve reestablished dialogues on migration, and we’ve initiated talks to reestablish direct mail service. We remain focused on the need for improved human rights conditions and respect for fundamental freedoms in Cuba, and we would need to see improvements in those areas before we could normalize relations with Havana.

QUESTION: But, I mean, you have no opinion on the fact that the rest of the world thinks that this is a bad way to go?

MR. KELLY: Well --

QUESTION: That the whole world – I mean, Palau notwithstanding – excuse me.

MR. KELLY: This – it seems to me to be an annual exercise that --

QUESTION: It’s an annual exercise to tell you that the rest of the world thinks --

MR. KELLY: -- seems to be – kind of has inertia from the Cold War. The suggestion that we’re not assisting Cuba is just false. I mean, we are one of the major providers of humanitarian assistance to Cuba. But we don’t believe that we should – while there are repressive measures in place in Cuba, that we should reward the Government of Cuba by lifting the economic sanctions that could assist the Government of Cuba in its repression of its own citizens.

QUESTION: Well, it seems that the rest of the world thinks that, in fact, if you were to lift the embargo, that could help the repression – lift it.

MR. KELLY: Well, we don’t think it’s time to lift that embargo. The – we will consider that when the Government of Cuba starts to make some positive steps towards loosening up its repression of its own people.

QUESTION: Ian, without getting into a philosophical and – especially a lengthy or philosophical debate about this, you said that this, as an annual exercise, is a Cold War remnant.


MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Well, there a lot of people who would argue that the embargo is a Cold War remnant. I mean, this is the first year that this vote has happened, where you’ve been in this tiny minority that you are – that the U.S. is the only country in this hemisphere not to have diplomatic relations with Cuba.

MR. KELLY: Well, I mean, we – our policy in Cuba is designed to try and move Cuba to doing the right thing towards its own people. And they have not taken the kind of steps to show us that they’re willing to open up their society and open up their economy. And until they do these things, we’re not willing to change our policy. Having said that, we also want to have --

QUESTION: Having said that --

MR. KELLY: -- a productive dialogue.

QUESTION: -- how long has the embargo been in place now?

MR. KELLY: I think it’s been in place almost 50 years.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah.

MR. KELLY: Well, that’s a long time to have a repressive system.

QUESTION: Well, it’s also a long time to have a policy that has produced absolutely no results.

MR. KELLY: Well, we’re – we are looking to try and put our relationship – with Cuba on a more productive path.

Yes, go ahead.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

It's Obama's embargo now (Updated)

The UN General Assembly is set to debate and vote today on a resolution that declares the “necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba.”

It’s not going to be a moment of suspense or high drama – it has passed 17 years in a row, after all, last year by a 185-3 vote.

The passage of the resolution is not likely to change much in Washington or Havana. The Obama Administration will continue to say that change in Cuba will lead to change in U.S. policy, and Cuba will continue to insist that since the United States imposes sanctions on Cuba, the United States should act without precondition.

What’s new is the political symbolism, the statement that the embargo now belongs to President Obama. That is a point the Cuban government likes to make internationally, reminding foreign governments that change has not reached all parts of U.S. foreign policy and that the embargo, with many of the elements added by President Bush, remains intact under President Obama.

A UN report compiling statements from governments around the world and international agencies is here (pdf), and a CNN Spanish interview with Cuba’s ambassador in Washington is here.

[Update: It was 187-3 with two abstentions; Israel and Palau joined the United States in voting “no,” while Micronesia and the Marshall Islands abstained. AP coverage here. Statement of U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice here.]

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

"Safe house" torture

According to La Jornada, Mexican officials report that during the past year they have returned 79 Cubans who were brought illegally to Mexico by alien smugglers, and that the incidence of Cuba-to-Mexico alien smuggling is down in the year since the Cuba-Mexico migration agreement went into effect.

Meanwhile, Granma published the horrible accounts of Cubans who were smuggled to Cancun and tortured when the smugglers realized that the required $10,000-per-head payment was not forthcoming. Four who suffered this ordeal were rescued by Mexican authorities and returned to Cuba. The article is titled, “The American Dream Could Have Cost Them Their Lives.” Prensa Latina has a short English version of the story.

Environmental talks under way (Updated)

Following up on a visit to Washington last month by Cuban environmental officials, the Environmental Defense Fund has a team in Cuba this week discussing marine conservation.

The EDF press release sees these talks as a sign that greater cooperation in environmental protection may be in store, and I hope that’s the case. Marine issues are the place to start, since our proximity and the prevailing currents make it so that our two countries effectively live in the same marine environment.

According to EDF, the talks will cover “ways to eliminate overfishing, protect coral reefs, conserve coastal areas, and tap potential ocean energy.” Not to be alarmist, but there’s another issue that could be added to the agenda: emergency preparedness. If you look at a map and examine the currents, the effects of an oil spill in the waters off Cuba’s northwest coast would become a Florida problem in a matter of days. That issue should be discussed if, as they should, the two governments someday initiate talks on environmental protection.

[Update: Reuters reports from Havana that the meeting of U.S., Cuban, and Mexican marine scientists are planning joint Gulf of Mexico research projects.]

Odds and ends

  • The writings of dissidents Miriam Leiva and Oscar Espinosa Chepe are compiled here.

  • In this story by the Herald’s Jordan Levin, Puerto Rican singer Olga Tanon reflects on the experience of performing in Cuba at the Juanes concert: “With all the respect in the world for Cuban exiles that have suffered tremendously, I think it's time to change.”

  • The blog DCist reports on a gas leak that caused the partial evacuation of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington last week. D.C. firefighters responded, but not all were allowed in.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Obama's message, via Madrid

A Sunday story in Madrid’s El Pais relies on “diplomatic sources” to reconstruct an October 13 conversation between Prime Minister Zapatero and President Obama. With Spanish foreign minister Miguel Moratinos about to visit Cuba, the paper reports that Obama asked Spain to carry a message to the Cuban government: reform at your own pace, but this is the time to start, and as you do more, so will we.

Cuban Colada translates part of the El Pais article, and an Administration official confirmed to Reuters that the President “suggested that Moratinos urge the Castro regime to take steps to reform and improve human rights.”

Juanita's not-so-secret revelation

Fidel Castro’s sister Juanita, who left Cuba in 1964 and built and sold a pharmacy business in Miami, collaborated with the CIA.

That’s the secret, heavily promoted by Univision, that is revealed in her new book. It comes at the end of this video, and apparently she will expand on the revelation in other interview segments that will air this week.

But this is old news according to reporter Rui Ferreira, now writing for Spain’s El Mundo. The Associated Press reported it in 1964, and rogue CIA agent Philip Agee reported it in his book in 1975. See his story and another comment on his blog.

The Herald story is here.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Odds and ends

  • “We felt citizens of the world” – Yoani Sanchez on the Juanes concert, in Poder360 magazine.

  • AP: Santiago Alvarez was released from jail after serving time for refusing to testify in the case of Luis Posada Carriles, and El Nuevo Herald has an affectionate photo essay of his return home.

  • Cuban Colada: Cuba’s Septeto Nacional has U.S. visas and will perform in the Bronx next month.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Chapman in NYC has a story about Aroldis Chapman, the Cuban southpaw and national strikeout leader who has arrived in New York to start looking for contracts – with video of his World Baseball Classic appearance against Australia.


In her Herald column today, Marifeli Perez-Stable discusses the lack of a healthy, hefty and far-reaching political center in Cuban political culture, and she notes with well-founded pride a project she led, where a task force at Florida International University tackled the issue of Cuban national reconciliation.

The project is described here and the report, concise and well worth reading, is here (pdf).

It was a diverse group that shied away from no issue and addressed “national” in all its dimensions – within Cuba, between Cuba and Cubans outside, within Miami, within Cuban families. It’s the best examination of the subject I have seen.

How could reconciliation be accomplished? Many on both sides are not interested in it, not now, maybe not ever. One way to envision it is to wait for some future moment with a big commission and a big pronouncement, but that might require a long wait. What is attractive about ending travel restrictions – in both directions – is that it allows those Cubans who are interested to get started now.

A columnist goes too far

I have noted Juventud Rebelde’s surprising coverage of economic issues several times (see here and here and here).

It now seems that one of its writers has gone a little too far; a fascinating October 16 column by reporter Jose Alejandro Rodriguez was on the newspaper’s website but was taken down; you can read it here thanks to blogger Jorge Ferrer.

Rodriguez, writing from the point of view of a committed socialist, sounds like a reporter would anywhere as he complains about restrictions on his newspaper’s ability to do its job. Information is a “reporters’s duty and a citizen’s right,” he says, and Cubans need information now more than ever. He complains that Cuban officials refuse interviews on important subjects, even when they have been covered in international media, and he complains that information suffers from the same “excessive centralization of our economy and our society in general.” The Herald’s Juan Tamayo translates other excerpts here.

Odds and ends

  • Cuban Colada has the story of the Spanish businessman who was freed pending trial in Cuba this week.

  • Pedro Campos, described as a retired Cuban diplomat in the English-language Havana Times website, writes a critical examination of the debates taking place in Cuban workplaces. He also writes at this Spanish-language site that I hadn’t seen before, “Bulletins of Participatory and Democratic Socialism.”

  • AFP: Venezuela and Nicaragua take some shots at the U.S. embargo of Cuba in an OAS meeting, and the U.S. representative fires back.

  • Reuters: Freed dissident Nelson Aguiar describes his prison conditions, thanks the Spanish government for interceding on his behalf, and calls on his own government to release all political prisoners.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Cuban Americans: end travel restrictions

A new Bendixen poll shows a 59 percent majority of Cuban Americans supporting unrestricted travel to Cuba by all Americans. Only 29 percent are opposed. Among Cuban Americans who arrived here before 1980, 48 percent are in favor compared to 32 percent of that group when polled in 2002.

Thanks to Rui Ferreira for posting the poll results.

Spain advances its diplomacy with Cuba, and wants to bring Europe along

Spanish foreign minister Miguel Moratinos concluded a visit to Cuba and took heat from Spain’s opposition party and dissidents in Cuba for meeting with government officials only. He had not come “to meet with any particular segment of Cuban society,” he told AP.

Apparently he did have human rights on the agenda, though. El Pais reports that coincident with Moratinos’ departure, Nelson Alberto Aguiar Ramirez, one of the 75 dissidents jailed in 2003, was released from jail; a second dissident, Onelio Lazaro Angulo, who had been out of jail since 2005, was given permission to leave Cuba; and Elsa Morejon, wife of jailed dissident Oscar Elias Biscet, was also given permission to leave Cuba. In addition, Spanish businessman Pedro Hermosilla was released from jail pending trial on charges of bribery.

Moratinos had a three-hour meeting with Raul Castro, and “found in President Castro a commitment to reform, to advance the process of reform in the whole country, to improve the economic situation of Cuba,” he told Reuters. “Today he reiterated his will to continue the process.”

Moratinos indicated that when Spain takes the EU presidency next January, a “priority goal" will be to replace the EU Common Position regarding Cuba with a new bilateral agreement. To prepare the groundwork for that, Moratinos envisions a series of minister-level meetings between Cuba and EU representatives, beginning next February.

Spain is also increasing its aid to Cuba to 35 million Euros per year.

Odds and ends

  • New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin visited Cuba to learn about disaster response, prompting Florida Senate candidate Marco Rubio to take a shot at “Hurricane Fidel” in National Review Online.

  • Orlando Sentinel: Recent immigrants from Cuba are prominent in the Florida indoor marijuana growing business.

  • Blunder time: Spain’s ABC reports that Cuba has rejected the U.S. offer to ease restrictions on diplomats’ movements, citing a Herald article that reports only that Cuba has not responded.

  • The Herald’s ombudsman does a long and careful examination of allegations against columnist Marifeli Perez-Stable and concludes: “Unless her critics can come up with something firm, their accusations border on paranoia and slander.”

The right to travel

Blogger Yoani Sanchez last week was denied permission to travel to the United States to receive a Columbia University journalism award, so she recorded this video message for the awards ceremony. She was also profiled in the New York Times.

Yoani posted a recording of her visit to the immigration office, where she let the lady at the counter know exactly what was on her mind:

Yoani’s episode brings to mind the tribulations of Rockwell Kent, an American citizen who was refused a passport, and thereby denied his ability to travel abroad, because the State Department deemed him to have a “consistent and prolonged adherence to the Communist Party line.” He took his case to the Supreme Court in 1958, and he won when the court found that no law gave the State Department the authority to act as it did. “We must remember that we are dealing here with citizens who have neither been accused of crimes nor found guilty,” Justice Douglas wrote in the majority opinion.

I argue in favor of an end to U.S. restrictions on travel to Cuba for many reasons, including that they infringe on Americans’ rights.

In Cuba, the idea of ending restrictions on travel abroad has been debated, but seems to be going nowhere. Yoani seems optimistic that her son will be able to travel without restriction when he grows up; I hope she’s right, and sooner than that.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

No good deed...(Updated)

El Nuevo Herald’s Wilfredo Cancio did some digging into the story I noted yesterday about two Baptists detained October 3 in eastern Cuba while en route to Guantanamo province.

His story in today’s paper reports that they were carrying about $4,000 in loal currency and remain in custody pending investigation. It cites documents from the Santiago provincial prosecutor: “Without authorization of the competent authority in the country, [they] set off to bring about the financing and formation of various farms for food and animal production in approximately 21 small producers through the Baptist Church, calling this Fishermen’s Project.”

Ok, so maybe they didn’t follow procedures with regard to foreign donations, foreign investment, agricultural regulations, and who knows what else. But can someone consult the editor of Granma and see if these farmers and their church get points for not sitting around waiting for the state to solve their problems?

[Update: El Nuevo Herald reports 10/20 that the men were released without charges.]

Odds and ends

  • From Mambi Watch: Miami’s Comandos F-4 is busy in Honduras in support of the Micheletti government, according to an article the group’s leader wrote in a Spanish magazine.

  • Frank Calzon asks whether President Obama’s foreign policy is “cloaked in pragmatism but devoid of passion for freedom and human rights,” and cites Cuba and other cases to make his point. At the Havana Note, Anya Landau French responds that many human rights defenders in Cuba and here support U.S. policies of engagement with Cuba.

  • Oh crikey…a little flap in Australia over a legislator who traveled to Cuba and whose trip report to Parliament is missing.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Get to work, and I don't like your attitude

Granma editor Lazaro Barredo writes that the libreta de abastecimiento, Cuba’s household food rationing book, made sense in its time but can now give way to a system where only the needy receive food subsidies. He says it’s one aspect of a state paternalism, combined with an attitude on the part of many Cubans that the state will provide everything, that needs to be left behind. The rest of his message is that everyone need to join the debate about how to make the country more productive, and everyone needs to work harder.

It’s perfectly rational to subsidize the needy and not the entire population. But after 50 years of socialism where the state has dominated the economy and regulated Cubans’ efforts to provide for themselves, can you blame Cubans for expecting a lot from the state?

Odds and ends

  • Veteran Latin American correspondent David Adams is leaving the St. Petersburg Times, another bad sign of the state of the news business, and in David’s case a real loss for readers. Here’s his last piece, on the Cuban American youth group Raices de Esperanza and its support for the Juanes concert. “They gambled on Juanes and they won big,” said Carlos Saladrigas. “It is quite understandable that young people would see music as a bridge between people,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

  • Luis Armando Pena Soltren, the accused hijacker who just returned to the United States after spending 40 years in Cuba, entered a not guilty plea in court yesterday. The New York Times reports that he had been talking to U.S. diplomats in Cuba for several years about his return.

  • AP: A U.S. company says it has the green light from the U.S. government to lay a fiber optic cable to Cuba, but it has no deal with Cuba to do so. Meanwhile, Venezuela claims it is about to start work on its cable link to Cuba. An official expressed hope that the Venezuela-Cuba cable will be operational in two years; previous reports estimated that it would be functioning next year.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Governor Richardson speaks

Governor Bill Richardson spoke in Washington last Friday about U.S. policy toward Cuba, and C-Span has the appearance on video. His basic view seems to be that both sides need to act, U.S. travel restrictions should end, and it would be good in the near term to focus on small humanitarian steps by each side that generate confidence. He spoke a little flippantly about his and others’ past talks about release of political prisoners. He noted that Cuba is not interested in unilateral releases now; it wants to release political prisoners in exchange for the return of the Cuban Five.

Odds and ends

  • Blogger Yoani Sanchez is informed by Cuban immigration authorities that she will not receive permission to travel to New York to accept a journalism prize.

  • Menawhile, a justice ministry advisor and others spoke in favor of ending some policies affecting Cuban emigrants – the seizure of their property, the requirement that they maintain a Cuban passport to travel home – and said that normalized relations with the United States would help Cuba reform these and other practices. One of the panelists complained about “legislative inertia.” AFP Spanish story here.

A fugitive returns

Luis Armando Pena Soltren, a man who hijacked a plane to Cuba in 1968 apparently in the name of Puerto Rican independence, returned to the United States and was arrested at JFK airport in New York. He had been in Cuba since 1968 and according to this report in the London Times, decided he wanted to come back to the United States to see his family. If the Cuban government had a role in this besides allowing his departure, it isn’t clear. U.S. prosecutors said last month that they expected his return “shortly.” FBI press release here. An ABC News look at fugitives in Cuba here.

If Pena did indeed return voluntarily, it’s hard to see this as a sign that more fugitives will be coming. Cuba has a record of returning some fugitives and common criminals, but not people such as Pena who committed crimes in service of radical political causes.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Odds and ends

  • Reuters: Coast Guard interceptions of Cuban migrants were down sharply in the fiscal year ended September 30.

  • Another profile of the Angels’ Kendry Morales, this one from USA Today.

  • In advance of the UN General Assembly debate on the resolution condemning the U.S. embargo, the Cuban foreign ministry publishes a report on its effects.

  • I don’t have the Taylor Branch book on President Clinton, but this Newsweek article says he termed the embargo on Cuba a “foolish, pandering failure.”


From the comments on the post below:

“We the exiles and the children of exiles know in our hearts that ‘our’ Cuban culture dies with us. We love a place that only exists in our hearts, memories, pictures and YouTube videos. The immigrants (who we help, the second they land here) sadly have nothing in common with us except their birth place. It is truly heartbreaking.”

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

If they’re gonna vote for Obama and travel to Cuba, let ’em stay in Cuba

Hans de Salas del Valle of the University of Miami’s Cuba Transition Project and Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies has written a remarkable paper on Cuban immigration to the United States. He makes no policy recommendations but makes it pretty clear that he wants to see far fewer Cubans coming to America.

El Nuevo Herald covered it today and provides a link to the paper itself; Alejandro Armengol comments in his blog here.

The paper is remarkable because it is so political, even partisan in its approach. It’s even more remarkable because it is a blunt appeal to resentment of immigrants that one sees made against immigrant communities, but never within an immigrant community.

But there’s the rub – because in de Salas’ view, “post-Soviet Cuban migrants” don’t fit in the community, el exilio historico. They travel back and forth to Cuba, they “will increasingly break with the historic Cuban-American exile community’s conservative principles and allegiances” and “could transform the once Republican bastion of Cuban Miami into a new Democratic enclave.”

I’m all for reviewing U.S. policy toward Cuban immigrants, which is an anomaly in more ways than one can count. If you believe in the embargo as an instrument of pressure, it takes away that pressure by giving discontented Cubans a way out. The “dry-foot” policy, which is not required by law, allows Cubans who arrive here without a visa to come right in even if they have no basis for asylum or refugee status. The quick, nearly automatic admission of nearly all Cubans makes a mockery of the “state sponsor of terrorism” designation. The policy extends immigration privileges to people who were born and lived their lives outside Cuba, but have Cuban parents. It gives Cuban doctors serving on missions abroad a pass to come to the United States, even if they could remain without trouble in a country of first asylum. It allows Cubans who apply to immigrate on the basis of family unification to come on an expedited basis, an option not available to other nationalities. And, as de Salas documents (partially), it gives Cuban immigrants the package of government benefits that go to refugees, even though the vast majority of Cuban immigrants do not have refugee status. Given all that, de Salas seems alarmed that so many Cubans come each year, legally and otherwise – but if those policies were in place toward any other nearby country with economic troubles, wouldn’t the result be the same?

Here’s the partisan part: In de Salas’ paper, there are just two villains behind these policies: Presidents Clinton and Obama. But the U.S.-Cuba migration accords, negotiated by President Clinton, were maintained and observed by President Bush. And the benefits and privileges listed above have sat pretty well with Cuban Miami’s “conservative principles and allegiances,” to say nothing of the fact that they have been supported by Miami Congressional representatives and paid for by Administrations and Congresses of both parties.

If the policy is a tangled mess, it’s a bipartisan mess, and it’s one that could not have come into being without the support of Miami’s representatives.

As for resentment, de Salas claims that Cuban immigrants cost too much in government benefits, their “demographic effects will overwhelm South Florida’s low-wage service-oriented labor market,” they will “strangulate” South Florida transportation, and aggravate unemployment.

He says not a word about immigrants’ contributions to the U.S. economy.

He doesn’t match Benjamin Franklin’s famous denunciation of German immigrants in the 18th century – “Not being used to Liberty, they know not how to make a modest use of it” – but de Salas writes this:

“A political bonus for Havana will be the influential role of post-Soviet Cuban immigrant voters in Florida who may turn out in even larger numbers for Obama and the Democrats in the 2010 and 2012 elections after a seismic shift to the left among Cuban-American voters in November 2008, when 47 percent of the Cuban electorate in Florida voted for Obama. In so doing Castro’s own rebellious ‘children of the Revolution’ may paradoxically constitute a highly influential constituency in U.S. presidential politics which, while furthering their own collective self-interest in traveling freely and remitting financial resources to relatives in Cuba, will also serve Havana’s purposes by bolstering prospects for the unilateral lifting of the U.S. embargo and normalization of relations before the end of Obama’s expected second term in office, which Cuba will do everything possible to support.”

The paper’s sense of alarm is driven by the contention that President Obama’s policies will cause higher levels of Cuban immigration.

More will come, the argument goes, because they know their visits home will not be restricted. To the contrary, one could speculate that fewer will come because under the Obama policies, Cubans will feel less isolated from their family members abroad and will receive more economic support from them.

This paper is one researcher’s opinion, so it probably says little about the future of an immigration policy that has been settled for years. But it draws a sharp line between earlier generations of exiles and more recent immigrants, and its message to newcomers from the island is pretty clear: Not only do we not agree with you, we don’t want to see you here.

Odds and ends

  • As the UN General Assembly debate on the U.S. embargo nears, Cuban media are getting to work, writing that American sanctions cause losses to agriculture, public health, and the phone system.

  • The National Security Archive publishes documents on Luis Posada Carriles’ activities in 1965 and 1966, when he was a CIA informant and the agency saw him as a good candidate for a job in the Cuban government “should the present government fall.”

  • From Penultimos Dias, a story in the Spanish newspaper El Mundo on Spanish shipwrecks in Cuban waters, and studies of them carried out by Havana’s Office of the Historian.

  • Actor Alec Baldwin says the Obama Administration made a mistake in denying permission to the New York Philharmonic to travel to Cuba with donors.

A "brief history..."

...from Politico's Matt Wuerker.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Odds and ends

  • BBC: Two months after the policy change, no Cuban post offices have been equipped to give Cubans full Internet access. Reporter Fernando Ravsberg chalks it up to the “slowness that is typical of the Cuban bureacucracy.” In his story, he follows a Cuban who gets full web access by paying for it at the Hotel Nacional, and he notes that Cuban bloggers are using these hotel facilities to run their blogs.

  • AFP finds a woman who sells pizza and ice cream from her house on Obispo street, and whose business is booming since the nearby finance and internal commerce ministries closed their cafeterias.

  • The LA Times profiles first baseman Kendry Morales, who hit .306 this season with the Angels and is headed with his team to the playoffs against Boston.

  • Reuters: Cuba publishes statistical reports showing a 30 percent cut in tobacco acreage.

  • A bit of history: the 1965 testimony of Fidel’s sister, Juanita Castro, before the House Un-American Activities Committee. (H/t Penultimos Dias.)

  • AP: Singer Omara Portuondo has a U.S. visa and will perform in California later this month.

  • Senator Dorgan, displeased with the Treasury Department’s decision regarding the New York Philharmonic’s travel license, wants the agency “to think straight just a bit.” Cuban Colada reports that orchestra officials will try again, and tells us the program that would have been played.

  • USA Today: Charles Hill, an American fugitive in Cuba, looks at prospects for normalized relations and what it would mean for him.

Cuba on Obama: “positive,” but “extremely limited”

That’s the verdict of Cuba’s foreign minister, Bruno Rodriguez, on the Obama Administration’s approach to Cuba so far, delivered last week at the UN General Assembly.

If you’re keeping track of the diplomatic contacts between Cuba and the United States, the minister’s speech (in English here, pdf) is a good summary for the record of Cuba’s worldview and its approach to the new U.S. Administration. After listing steps President Obama could take to ease U.S. sanctions using his own authority, Rodriguez outlines a “set of essential topics” for discussion that his government has suggested to the United States. In effect, it amounts to the Cuban government’s agenda for normalization:

  • ending all U.S. economic sanctions;

  • providing compensation for damages caused by the embargo;

  • ending the designation of Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism;”

  • “the abolition of the Cuban Adjustment Act and the ‘wet foot/dry foot’ policy;”

  • returning the Guantanamo naval base;

  • ending Radio and TV Marti;

  • the “cessation of the funding of domestic subversion;” and

  • the release of the “Cuban Five.”

In addition to discussions already started on migration and postal service, Rodriguez says Cuba seeks talks “to establish cooperation to fight drug trafficking, terrorism and human smuggling, to protect the environment and cope with natural disasters.”

This is a pretty far-reaching agenda, and much of it is surely out of reach in any foreseeable political scenario in the United States. Surely the Cuban government judges that some of President Obama’s agenda items are out of the ballpark too.

So the chances of full engagement on each side’s full agenda are about zero. But what would seem to count in the coming months is not whether the two sides will tackle the hardest issues, but whether they will find common ground on the easier ones, and find ways to go on from there.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Odds and ends

  • Q. Who loses in Cuba’s move to close workplace cafeterias? A. Joaquin, described in this article from Cubaencuentro as an “obese cook” who pilfered and sold enough rice, chicken, oil, and flour on the black market to add two rooms to his house. Also enough, as he put it, to help his daughter “have a roof for tomorrow.”

  • Reuters on the problem of doing business in Cuba these days, and getting paid.

  • A Cuba photo essay by New York Times’ David Gonzalez.

Miami changes its mind

Time will tell if Juanes changed anything in Cuba, but it seems his concert changed some minds in Miami.

A pre-concert poll (pdf) of Cuban American opinion, which to its great credit the Cuba Study Group released even though it showed that its own view was a minority view, showed that only 27 percent of Cuban Americans had a favorable opinion of it.

After the concert, a second poll (pdf) now shows that favorable opinion of the concert jumped to 53 percent. The survey also shows that 77 percent of respondents age 50 and higher watched the concert.

One Cuban American who changed his mind about the event was businessman Sergio Pino, who wrote in the Miami Herald that he was “skeptical” of the concert, “believing that somehow the presence of such a prominent artist would provide the Cuban dictatorship with useful propaganda.”

Mr. Pino continued:

“In my opinion the concert was a success. Juanes had good intentions – and they showed. He offered a message of love and unity for all Cubans. He shouted ‘Cuba libre’ more than once, and his song about an island in the middle of the sea, begging for liberty, jerked tears from everyone.

“Juanes opened the door to change; it is time to rethink our strategy. With three Cuban-American members of Congress, and one in the Senate, and many well-meaning Cuban-American leaders of hundreds of different political organizations in exile, it is time for one of them to come forward and unite us behind a new and more effective approach that focuses on the Cuban people first.”

When Mr. Pino addresses the Cuban Americans in Congress, he does so as a very substantial contributor to pro-embargo legislators and the major political action committees that support the embargo.

[TIME magazine photo.]

Thursday, October 1, 2009

GAO on the embargo

The Government Accountability Office has issued a new report on the U.S. embargo; the summary is here, and here’s the full report (pdf). At first glance, it appears to cover the current status of U.S. sanctions, the statutes on which they are based, and options available to the President and Congress to modify the embargo or to end it altogether.

On the culture front

Somehow I find it hard to believe that when the U.S. Interests Section hosted a reception for Cuban cultural figures on Tuesday, it was “the first time in ten years” that dissidents weren’t invited to such a reception, as the BBC reports. (Madrid’s El Pais covers the event here.)

The dissidents aren’t being given the cold shoulder; just a week earlier, 15 dissidents were invited to the Interests Section to talk with a visiting State Department official. Human rights monitor Elizardo Sanchez attended and later compared the Obama Administration’s approach favorably with that of the European Union: “No one else, no European does that.”

Regardless, the real news seems to me to be that the artists attended at all, and that they felt they had a green light from the Cuban government to attend. As one told El Pais, “Before they would call you from the Ministry of Culture to advise you that dissidents were going to go, and you thought about it; now there were no messages.”

El Pais also reports that two Cuban musicians, Zenaida Romeu and Pable Milanes, have been given visas to travel to the United States to perform.

In other news, the New York Philharmonic will not be making its planned late-October performance in Havana. The New York Times reports that the U.S. government was ready to permit the travel of musicians and staff, but not that of donors who were making the trip possible.