Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Tom Gjelten on Cuba

NPR has an interview with journalist and author Tom Gjelten on the eve of tomorrow's historic anniversary of the Cuban Revolution. Gjelten is a long-time US correspondent from Cuba and shares his thoughts about Cuban history, Cuban exiles, and a possible new relationship between the US and Cuba.

Here's some excerpts:

"If you take the fact that we now have a Democratic Congress, a Democratic President, a new leader in Cuba, we have the ingredients for a possible real revision for US policy. But, I think, over the next four years, the chances of some real changes in US policy towards Cuba, and let's also hope some changes in Cuba's attitude towards the United States, may come... And so, I think, in order for there to be true change, we're giong to need to see a change of attitude on both sides."


"But, I do think that with Fidel Castro now disappearing from the scene, Raul Castro 77 years old, with Barack Obama as [US] President, with the world changing, I think change is gonna come slowly in this relationship... and within I say five to ten years were gonna see a totally different relationship between the United States and Cuba."

[Photo by Reuters]

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Cuba Wars

With the 50 year mark of the Cuban Revolution approaching (January 1st), I'm taking the time to read what Cuba experts are saying, gather my thoughts about US-Cuba relations, and see in what direction Mambi Watch will go in the new year. I've been busy as well with other things, but I hope to post new material soon.

In the meantime, PRI's The World recently released an audio interview with Daniel P. Erikson, senior associate for U.S. policy and director of Caribbean programs at the Inter-American Dialogue, concerning his new book The Cuba Wars: Fidel Castro, the United States, and the Next Revolution.

According to the summary, Erikson's book is based on "more than a dozen trips to Cuba since 2001 and more than fifty interviews of major players in Washington, Havana, and Miami." I have not read the book yet, but the reviews are enticingly good, and the PRI interview is excellent. Here's some quotes:

"Well, I think that the rationale for the [economic] sanctions [towards Cuba] has changed over time... when the Cold War ended in the early 1990s, then the [US] rhetoric really began to shift much more towards democracy and human rights and trying to bring an end to the Castro government.

"Unfortunately, however, the sanctions have not been particularly effective in trying to hasten some form of political change in Cuba. I think, if anything, they've probably done the opposite. I would argue that isolation from the United States has actually been one of the core political strategies of the Cuban government that has allowed it to stay in power for decades."

[Click here for the PRI interview, and here for a slightly extended online version.]

Friday, December 19, 2008


Pay a visit to Phil Peter's Cuban Triangle blog. He's got great news updates concerning Cuba, and has recently linked to an excellent article he wrote for Real Clear World. It's a must-read.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Militants Behind Chris Simmons

Last night, Henry Gomez of the Babalu blog posted a statement from Omar Ortega, attorney from Dorta & Ortega P.A.. The statement alleges that Dorta & Ortega will represent Chris Simmons in a defamation lawsuit filed against him on Thursday.

Earlier this year, Chris Simmons publicly accused several individuals in Miami of being "agents of influence" or former spies for the Cuban government. He appeared on local Spanish-language radio and television. Silvia Wilhelm was among the accused and has now sued Simmons for defamation, seeking damages in excess of $75,000. Wilhelm has retained the legal services of Bruce Rogow, law professor at Nova Southeastern University.

Rogow has a very impressive record in law, which contrasts starkly with the short history of Dorta & Ortega. And, one certainly must wonder why Simmons has chosen (or has been appointed) these services. But, if one looks carefully, behind Chris Simmons and Dorta & Ortega stand some of the most militant Cuban exiles of Miami.

Rey Dorta and Omar Ortega serve under the law firm of Marcell Felipe. Marcell Felipe is not only a recent donor to the US-Cuba Democracy PAC (a long time advocate of the US embargo), but he also belongs to the board of directors of the Cuban Liberty Council (CLC). In fact, as early as September, Felipe was voted Executive Director of the CLC.

The CLC recently criticized Nobel Peace Prize winner Oscar Arias after he commented that a democratic transition in Cuba would "hopefully come with the least amount of intervention from Washington and the Cubans in Miami because, otherwise, it will become more complicated."

The CLC responded with a letter that misinterpreted Arias' comment as "exclusion," which was not the case. The letter was signed by Marcell Felipe, Executive Director, and Ninoska Perez Castellon, member of the CLC Executive Committee.

Ninoska Perez Castellon is a militant Cuban exile that believes a violent overthrow of the Cuban government is justified, and also invited Chris Simmons repeatedly on her television AND radio show where Simmons made all his controversial accusations.

It seems that those now defending Simmons are the the same ones who benefited from his accusations. What a surprise.

[Photo above of members of the Cuban Liberty Council]

[OK, now I take a break.]

In the Meantime...

Gonna take a little break from posting.

In the meantime, check out the revamped website of the so-called "Bay of Pigs Museum and Library." I had written about this project last year and found out that the original vision and title was for a "Cuban Exile Museum and Library." If you look at the website, the title is very appropriate.

Some parts are still under construction, yet they are ready to receive donations online. As far I know, this project has not been officially approved for construction. But, why delay on the future prospect of receiving 10% off at the gift shop with a $50 donation?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Chris Simmons Goes to Court [Updated]

He was asking for it, so he got it. Frances Robles of the Miami Herald is reporting that Chris Simmons, the so-called "spyhunter," is being sued in Miami.

"[Silvia] Wilhelm, executive director of Puentes Cubanos and the Cuban American Commission for Family Rights, filed a defamation suit against Simmons seeking more than $75,000."

We'll see how things turn out. If Simmons loses, he could face other lawsuits. Robles quotes another person who was allegedly defamed by Simmons:

"I'm glad Silvia is doing this,'' said FIU Professor Lisandro Pérez, who said he is considering also filing suit against Simmons for calling him a spy. "Suing for defamation is an onerous process and would take a great deal of money and time. You have to prove you are not a spy."

[Excellent analysis on Chris Simmons' accusations over at the Cuban Triangle blog by Phil Peters.]

[Photo by C.M. Guerrero]

[Update: Alejandro Armengol, writer for El Nuevo Herald, has posted the official complaint on his blog, Cuaderno de Cuba. And, according to Wilfredo Cancio Isla of El Nuevo Herald, there are two other persons, presently unnamed, also considering taking legal action against Simmons.]

[Update: Henry Gomez of the Babalu blog has posted a statement from the law firm that will allegedly represent Chris Simmons in court, Dorta & Ortega, P.A.:

"By bringing this lawsuit Ms. Wilhelm has not only given a greater forum for Mr. Simmons to discuss the facts which lead to Mr. Simmons’ statements but more importantly opened Ms. Wilhelm to direct questioning by Mr. Simmons representatives concerning all the allegations which she claims to be false."]

"Respect Our Suffering" [Updated]

El Nuevo Herald has a gallery of photos of tonight's protest at the Carlyle Theater in Miami Beach. According to the captions, the film screening about the life of Ernesto 'Che' Guevara was private and invited the director, Steven Soderbergh, and other main actors, including Benicio Del Toro.

[Update: Juan Carlos Chavez of El Nuevo Herald reports on the protest and finds that among those he interviewed, no one had seen the "Che" film. About 100 protesters were reported to have attended. Video of the protest is included.]

[Update: Video and photo journalist Carlos Miller has more on the protest, and discusses the real number of protesters who attended.]

Mayor Calls Che Film a "Slap in the Face"

This morning on Spanish-language radio station WWFE (670 AM), Miami Beach Mayor Matti Bower called in to express her disapproval over a controversial film being screened this evening.

Mayor Bower was on the phone with Cuban exile activist Ruby Feria this morning, and mentioned that she was shocked when she heard that a "Che" film in Miami Beach would be shown this evening.

"Honestly, it gave me a shock when I found out this was happening. The last thing I thought was something like this to occur."

But, Mayor Bower, who was born in Cuba, added that she is opposed to stopping the scheduled screening of the film, and reminded everyone that "in a free country like this one, censorship is not acceptable..."

"Because we come from a country where there is censorship in art, in words, in religion, and censorship in though, and I wish never to fall into something like that."

Mayor Bower assured protesters that she will join them tonight at the Carlyle Theater because the screening of the film was a "slap in the face." She also stated: "I will fix this the best way I can because it is not fair that they do that [screen a film on Ernest 'Che' Guevara] without us being prepared."

Radio host Ruby Feria said that she "will excuse this instance with the promise to work so that in the future this will not happen again."

[Audio of Interview, MP3]

Radio Mambi Says Poll is Bogus

Early this morning on Radio Mambi ("La Noticia y Usted" show), hosts Armando Perez Roura and Ninoska Perez Castellon charged that a recent poll on Cuban-Americans is "bogus."

The poll conducted by the Brookings Insititution, the Cuba Study Group, and the Insititute for Public Opinon Research found that a majority of Cuban-American in Miami are opposed to current US policy towards Cuba. [Full report here.]

Radio Mambi believes the results are fake because they do not represent the recent electoral victory of Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario and Lincoln Diaz-Balart of South Florida. All three are adamant supporters of current US policy towards Cuba.

Ninsoka Perez Castellon, host of Radio Mambi, recently told the Miami Herald:

"I am tired of these polls that mean nothing... The point is that three Congress members who support the embargo were elected by an overwhelming majority of the people. The reelection of these Congress members tells me that this sample is not a majority. I don't believe this poll."

Today, she accused the poll of producing fake results. Armando Perez Roura, programming director of Radio Mambi, also made the same allegation.

These are serious charges being directed at the three organizations that helped conduct this poll, and the first time that I know of such charges being made by the hosts of Radio Mambi.

Last year a similar poll was conducted by the same organizations, but such charges were not made.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Who's Silencing Who? [Updated]

Earlier today, the Babalu Blog (Alberto De la Cruz) posted information about Thursday's protest at the Carlyle Theater, Miami Beach. De la Cruz links to a Spanish news website (Net for Cuba) with an official press release by "The Cuban Committee in Exile," and provides an English translation. The link also directs readers to a series of videos showing a Spanish-language documentary called "Guevera: Anatomy of a Myth."

According to De la Cruz: "We encourage all who can attend to do so. We cannot allow revisionists to silence our voices and insult the memories of the tens of thousands that died at the hands of this assassin and his thugs."

Who's silencing Thursday's protest?

On the contrary, the current letter campaign targeting city and county officials in South Florida (which I posted about yesterday) is aimed to STOP the screening of this supposed "Che" film in Miami Beach. As Ruby Feria described it, the film screening would amount to a form of "terrorism." And, most likely, this means that some Cuban exiles hope that the film NEVER screens anywhere in South Florida because, as the Cuban Committee in Exile put it, "premiering such a movie in a city like Miami, full of victims of this black chapter suffered by our community under the bloody dictatorship of the Castros is a repugnant offense and a show of utter disrespect to the Cuban-American community."

So, who's trying to silence who?

In fact, De la Cruz also links to an earlier post by Humberto Fontova, Babalu Blog's favorite author, where Fontova suggests that perhaps banning the film in Miami wouldn't be a bad idea. He wrote:

"John Cusacks movie 'Max' about the young Hitler was due for release when the Jewish Defense League and Anti-Defamation League campaigned to have it banned from private venues.... Given the local demographics, can you imagine a 'Max' showing at this same The Carlyle Theater?"

In the past, I've described Humberto Fontova as a propagandist, and this quote only further supports that description. In this case, Fontova has intentionally left out what occured AFTER some Jewish organizations protested the "Max" film. Furthermore, what resulted in that case could provide an interesting lesson for Cuban exiles who plan to protest on Thursday.

In 2002, director Menno Meyjes released his film "Max," a fictional story based on a young Adolf Hitler, which soon met protests from prominent Jewish organizations. Humberto Fontova is correct in stating that groups like the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) protested the film, but I cannot find any information that states they wanted the film banned. Anyway, upon the movie's release, the ADL had soon changed their position AFTER they viewed the film.

ADL's national director, Abraham Foxman, wrote:

"While some people will find it offensive, 'Max' does not glorify Hitler in any way, offering an accurate and realistic portrayal of Hitler the monster that certainly does not lend itself to a sympathetic view. The film shows a man strongly influenced and motivated by his anti-Semitism and likewise offers a realistic portrayal of the rampant anti-Semitism of the period."

A few months after, Morris Casudo, regional director of the San Diego Office of the Anti-Defamation League, said:

"Although I said I would not have voluntarily seen this movie, having seen it I think it's a powerful portrayal of a society in extremis being led by the most extremist elements, and so I would encourage people to see that film, it's chilling, frightening, discomforting, disturbing but so is life. I think this film is valuable in showing a society that was being torn apart."

Even one Jewish publication gave a very objective review of the film. But, Humberto Fontova doesn't want these facts to be known. They obviously don't support his goal to advocate anger and distress among the Cuban exile community. And, unfortunately, Alberto de la Cruz is just perpetuating these negative feelings.

While I don't oppose the planned protests for Thursday at the Carlyle, I think all persons planning to demonstrate should be properly informed about the "Che" film before they go. Maybe the film has some value, as the ADL discovered about the film they initially protested. But, banning the "Che" film would have serious consequences for our free society, which depends on the sharing of various points of view.

[Photo above of Miguel Saavedra of Vigilia Mambisa, who attacked counter-protesters in Miami, 2007]

[Update: You can view copies of the letters sent to Miami Beach Mayor Matti Bower here and (in Spanish) here. Both demand city officials to take a position to support or oppose the film screening. ]

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

"Che" in Miami Beach

Word is that the Byron Carlyle Theater on Miami Beach is screening Steven Soderbergh's new film about Ernesto 'Che' Guevara this Thursday. The film recently picked up a distributor (IFC) which is planning special screenings this month in select cities and preparing a national theatrical release early next year. Some Cuban exile organizations had gotten word of the supposed screening this Thursday and are planning protests.

I couldn't find any information online to confirm this screening, but according to those who are planning the protest, the film is being screened this Thursday around 6pm at the Carlyle. Spanish-language radio station WWFE 670 AM ("La Poderosa") has begun running regular announcements of this protest, telling listeners to stay tuned for official instructions at 10am Thursday.

Earlier today on La Poderosa, radio host Ruby Feria let listeners in on what has been planned so far. Feria is an established activist in local exile politics. This past June, Feria appeared publicly before the press protesting Barack Obama's Presidential campaign advisors (associated with the Elian Gonzalez affair). She told the press:

"Barack Obama represents a very dangerous alliance with the Castro regime."

Today, Feria told listeners that letters of protest have been sent to the Mayor of Miami Beach, Matti Bower, and to all Miami-Dade County Commissioners, including the Mayor, Carlos Alvarez. Feria is hoping to receive responses by Thursday. According to Feria, the letters are asking these government officials for explanations behind Thursday's screening, and if they are aware of the offensive nature of the "Che" film. (In 2002, the Byron Carlyle Theater was bought by the City of Miami Beach for $1.7 million, and re-opened in 2004. The funding came from city and county grants.)

Feria told listeners that the screening of the "Che" film would be a "monumental travesty and represent an insult" to the Cuban exile community. For those that don't know, some Cuban exiles in Miami view Ernesto 'Che' Guevara as a vicious murder and terrorist, or as Val Prieto from the Babalu blog once put it: "a murderous false prophet with a pretty face." But, it is only recent that books have been published in English raising the debate over the brutal nature of Guevara. Some examples being 2006's "The Che Guevara Myth" and 2007's "Exposing the Real Che Guevara."

Thus, Feria is being patient for answers from city and county officials, which she is certain she will receive by Thursday morning. But, she also made it very clear that her hope is that the film will not be shown at the Carlyle. Feria compared the film to a form of terrorism that has the potential to breed hate and destroy the principles that unite the community. "Terrorism has many forms...this is one of them," she said. One source has also posted an e-mail sent out by a local exile organization, UMAP, asking recipients to e-mail the Miami Beach Mayor to stop the screening on Thursday. The Mayor of Miami Beach happens to be Cuban, yet very progressive.

Vigilia Mambisa, who sees the film as a "provocation of the castro-communist tyranny" is already organizing a caravan to leave the Versailles Restaurant in Little Havana and head to the Carlyle one hour before the presentation.

Thursday is looking to be very interesting. The Mayor of Miami Beach, Matti Bower, certainly has a complex matter to consider. Changing venues to a private theater could be difficult on such short notice, and stopping the screening altogether could have serious legal consequences. Ruby Feria at one point proposed a public debate before the showing, and perhaps an exchange of contrasting viewpoints before the film may provide a reasonable outlet.

But, if the city does not become proactive, then the protest can become an unpredictable affair. Vigilia Mambisa and other exile organizations will most certainly show up in significant numbers, and perhaps groups like the Bolivarian Youth will show up as well, as they did in 2005 in defense of another "Che" movie [photos here]. And, things can go downhill from there.

Concerned Miami Beach residents should e-mail Mayor Matti Bower and share your thoughts about how this event could be handled, and if you support or oppose the screening of this "Che" film.

[Recent protests involving Vigilia Mambisa can be read about here and here.]

Monday, December 1, 2008

Freedom for Arocena

Last week, when Pres. Bush released his list of pardons and commutations, some Cuban exile militants were upset to see that Eduardo Arocena [photo] was not on that list. On Spanish-language radio, some expressed their hope that Arocena would be pardoned by the Thanksgiving holiday, but now some are worried that Arocena might spend the rest of his life behind bars.

It was Friday afternoon, July 22, 1983, when FBI agents arrested Eduardo Arocena on suspicion that he was the leader of a terrorist organization called Omega-7. More than a year later he was found guilty and given a life sentence for several serious charges, including murder. Before being sentenced, Arocena told to the judge:

"[The US government] knows that I am an anti-communist till death and will continue to be until the last days of my existence. More than anything, I shall continue fighting for the liberation of my homeland until the final days of my life. And they won't, nor anyone will, prevent me from continuing to do so...

"[The US government] says I am a terrorist. If fighting for my country, and sacrificing everything the way I have, is to be a terrorist, then I am a terrorist...

"I regret nothing. Your honor, do your duty, for I have done mine

This past July marked 25 years since the arrest of Eduardo Arocena, and Cuban militants in Miami believe that he has paid for his crimes and should be released. But, since July, several different arguments have been given to release Arocena from federal prison.

First, it should be noted that the Campaign to Free Eduardo Arocena is NOT seeking a Presidential pardon for Arocena (despite its repeated uses of the word "pardon"), but rather a commutation of his sentence. This is the wording of the official letter that was sent to the Office of the Pardon Attorney.

The use of the word "pardon" (in Spanish "perdon" or "indulto") serves as propaganda for Cuban exile militants to send the message to the public that Arocena's past actions should be officially vindicated by the US government. This is the real motivation behind the campaign, regardless of the hidden fact that Arocena does not qualify for a Presidential pardon.

"Humanitarian reasons" have been argued in asking for a "pardon." But, concerns that Arocena's "health is failing" runs contrary to a 2007 Department of Justice report that says he is in good physical and mental health. Even if his health is truly of concern, it is not mentioned in the official letter to the US Pardon Attorney, nor on the official online petition. And, neither does his wife, Miriam, mention Arocena's failing health in a recent interview with the Miami Herald.

Miriam Arocena has appeared repeatedly on Radio Mambi to speak out for the release of her husband. Her main argument is that Eduardo is imprisoned in the state of Indiana, which is too far from his family in Miami. She has stated that it is very expensive for the family to go visit her husband, and that in the past 25 years she has only seen him 8 times. While this is a reasonable argument to relocate Arocena closer to Miami, I doubt it is sufficient to grant someone a "pardon."

Nevertheless, a commutation of Eduardo Arocena's life sentence is possible in the sole hands of the President. As P.S. Ruckman Jr., expert on executive clemencies, has noted, "[t]here are no rules" when it comes to the power of the President to grant clemency. Arocena can be freed by Christmas if Pres. Bush so decides.

Still, as this administration comes to an end, some militants are growing concerned. Immediately after the release of last week's pardon and commutation list, writers at the militant blog Nuevo Accion wrote:

"Everything indicates that [Pres.] Bush with give one last slap in the face to [us] free Cubans before leaving the White House."

On a more positive note, the Campaign to Free Eduardo Arocena, who is boasting of having sent 60,000 petition letters to the President, also published a response showing confidence that Arocena will receive his "gift" by Christmas:

"We are certain that this will happen, since in his [the President's] hands is the way to reciprocate this community who worked so hard and diligently to make him President on two occasions, and who arduously supported [Senator] McCain until the end. It's time that he reward us with that Christmas gift [for Eduardo Arocena]."

It's shameful to see how some people can easily debase the special powers of the Executive as simple quid pro quo.

Anyway, it should be clear to most readers that Cuban exile militants see Eduardo Arocena as the "patriotic ideal." His "pardon" or release by the President would be exploited by militants in Miami to officially vindicate their belief in violence as a legitimate method in their cause to free Cuba. This would be a harmful message for South Florida, or for any civil society.

While I personally believe that Eduardo Arocena has spent sufficient time in prison, the decision to release him should not come from the sole discretion of the President, but rather from honest "humanitarian reasons." Arocena's release from prison should be part of a larger human rights campaign to address the unfair conditions of the more than 100,000 persons serving life sentences in US jails and prisons, and more than 30,000 of those serving life without parole. [Read 2004 Report, PDF]

This is the humanitarian cause that Arocena's freedom should belong to, and not the militant propaganda that serves to "confront international communism." If Arocena is soon freed, he should be forced to renounce violence publicly. Otherwise, Miami's civil society (whatever remains of it) will suffer an unneccessary setback.

[A recent and excellent article on Eduardo Arocena by Tim Elfrink for the Miami New Times.]

[El Nuevo Herald online poll showing 59% of readers opposed to the release of Eduardo Arocena from prison.]

[Miami Herald editorial from 1985 concerning the imprisonment of Eduardo Arocena.]

Monday, November 24, 2008

9 Ways to Improve US-Cuba Relations

Congratulations to the Brookings Institution on their recent report aimed at US policy towards Latin America (even though I disagree on some points), and especially towards Cuba.

Brookings' report for significant change in US-Cuba relations is premised on repeated calls to meet "global challenges" in the Latin Region through "hemispheric partnerships." Furthermore, "Cuba has long been a subject of intense interest in U.S. foreign policy and a stumbling block for U.S. relations with the hemisphere’s other countries, the members of the [Brookings] Commission felt it necessary to address the issue here."

Its a very interesting read throughout, and fully available online [PDF]. The policy recommendations towards Cuba are below (hard-liners prepare yourselves).

- Lift all restrictions on travel to Cuba by Americans. The ability of Americans to travel to Cuba would allow for better understanding, promote small businesses, and provide information to the Cuban people.

- Repeal all aspects of the 'communications embargo' (radio, TV, Internet) and readjust regulations governing trade in low-technology communications equipment. This would encourage the transfer of information and a freer flow of ideas.

- Remove caps and targeting restrictions on remittances. These financial measures would help get resources directly into the hands of ordinary Cubans, empowering them, improving their standard of living, and reducing their dependence on the state.

- Take Cuba off the State Department’s State Sponsors of Terrorism List. This classification is widely deemed to be factually inaccurate. There has been no evidence in the past decade to maintain this classification for Cuba, and top U.S. military leaders have called for the country’s removal from the list.

- Promote knowledge exchange and reconciliation by permitting federal funding of cultural, academic, and sports exchanges. In parallel, U.S. nongovernmental organizations should be encouraged to establish ties with their Cuban counterparts and enhance grassroots dialogue.

- Provide assistance to the Cuban people in recovering from natural and human-made disasters. It would also allow the licensing of construction and other goods needed to support postdisaster recovery efforts.

- Encourage enhanced official contact and cooperation between U.S. and Cuban diplomats and governments. The U.S. government should propose a twelve-month period of intense dialogue, targeted at the exchange of defense attachés and the appointment of ambassadors. Military-military and civilian-military contacts should be fostered. Respectful and cordial relations would be resumed by allowing the Cuban Interests Section in Washington access to U.S. policymakers and expect reciprocity in Havana.

[I can hear Chris Simmons' head spinning in his office right now.]

- End opposition to the reengagement of the international community with Cuba in regional and global economic and political organizations. Cuba should be allowed to participate in relevant seminars, and the international financial institutions should be allowed to conduct fact-finding missions in Cuba.

- Work with the members of the European Union and other countries to create a multilateral fund for civil society that will train potential entrepreneurs in management and innovation. Providing capital to establish small businesses that improve the livelihoods of large segments of the population could increase the demand from within Cuba for expanded economic freedoms
and opportunities for advancement.

Whew! I recommend the full report [PDF]. The US-Cuba policy recommendations begin on Page 28.

[Video Presentation available, courtesy of C-Span.]

Debate at USA Today

USA Today has posted a debate on the US embargo towards Cuba. The editors have made their argument against the embargo, and Radio Mambi's Ninoska Perez-Castellon argues for. Below is a brief summary.

USA Today argues:

"The embargo has failed embarrassingly in its original intention of removing communist dictator Fidel Castro from power and triggering a rush to democracy... Over the longer term, the new administration would do better to model Cuba policy on longstanding U.S. policy toward China. U.S. leaders have long held that engaging with China is the best way to foster more political freedoms. An Obama administration would still need to pressure the Castro regime hard to release political prisoners and allow more human rights...Relationships between nations, as in extended families, are shaped by history. When the reasons for old antagonisms are lost in the mists of time and are counterproductive, probing new approaches makes sense."

Perez-Castellon argues:

"There seems to be a renewed interest in lifting the embargo and normalizing relations with Cuba... To do so, would mean that the countless crimes committed by [the Cuban government] would be ignored and, what is worse, the existing ones would become acceptable... The fact is that for the embargo or the additional sanctions to be lifted, certain steps must be taken: Respect for human rights, the release of all political prisoners and free and democratic elections. It's the Cuban regime that must change, not U.S. policy."

In a nutshell, Perez-Castellon is saying that we should continue waiting for changes inside Cuba. How long we should wait is not stated. But, those who are familiar with Perez-Castellon's past comments know that she means the US should tighten sanctions further (maybe intervene militarily) and THEN we wait for a sign of weakness for the US to take advantage of.

On a related note, the Brookings Institution just released their recommendations concerning US policy towards Cuba. So far it looks GREAT. I will be reading them and posting them in a moment.

"Re-Thinking" US Policy Towards Cuba

The Brookings Institution today is releasing a new report and recommendations for US policy towards Latin-America, including Cuba. The report is titled "Re-Thinking US-Latin American Relations: A Hemispheric Partnership for a Turbulent World."

Yesterday, the Miami Herald printed an op-ed by the Co-Chairs of the report, Ernesto Zedillo and Thomas Pickering, giving readers an exciting summary of the report's recommendations, especially concerning US policy towards Cuba. Today's New York Times (by Mark Landler) adds to the excitement by giving reader's additional details on the recommendations concerning Cuba policy.

According to the op-ed by Zedillo and Pickering:

"U.S.-Cuba relations is an area where urgent reform is needed... we recommend reorienting U.S. policy toward greater economic, cultural and technological engagement with the island. These policies are meant to empower the Cuban people to bring about political change from within and on their own terms. We call for an end to restrictions on travel, remittances and communications, as well as for measures to reengage Cuba in international bodies."

Landler of the New York Times writes:

"Among the most striking recommendations is a near-total reversal in policy toward Cuba. The report advocates lifting all restrictions on travel by Americans, promoting more contacts with Cuban diplomats and taking Cuba off the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism."

(The Center for International Policy has been a strong opponent against Cuba being on the US list of state-sponsors of terrorism. Read their reports on the subject here.)

Concerning US policy towards Cuba, the Brookings report is looking to be very exciting. Once it is available online, I will post the recommendations here. (The Brookings report was compiled by members of the Partnership for the Americas Commission.)

It should also be noted that earlier this year the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) also published their own policy recommendations for US-Latin America relations, including Cuba. This report, titled "US-Latin America Relations: A New Direction for a New Reality," made similar recommendations for "reformulating [US] diplomatic efforts" with Cuba. In it they argued that...

"The time is ripe to show the Cuban people, especially the younger generations, that an alternative exists to permanent hostility between these two nations and that the United States can play a positive role in Cuba’s future."

The CFR report recommended:

- Permit freer travel to and facilitate trade with Cuba. The White House should repeal the 2004 restrictions placed on Cuban-American family travel and remittances.

- Reinstate and liberalize the thirteen categories of licensed people-to-people 'purposeful travel' for other Americans, instituted by the Clinton administration in preparation for the 1998 papal visit to Havana.

- Hold talks on issues of mutual concern to both parties, such as migration, human smuggling, drug trafficking, public health, the future of the Guantanamo naval base, and on environmentally sustainable resource management, especially as Cuba, with a number of foreign oil companies, begins deep-water exploration for potentially significant reserves.

- Work more effectively with partners in the Western Hemisphere and in Europe to press Cuba on its human rights record and for more democratic reform.

- Mindful of the last one hundred years of U.S.-Cuba relations, assure Cubans on the island that the United States will pursue a respectful arm’s-length relationship with a democratic Cuba.

- Repeal the 1996 Helms-Burton law, which removed most of the executive branch’s authority to eliminate economic sanctions. While moving to repeal the law, the U.S. Congress should pass legislative measures, as it has with agricultural sales, designed to liberalize trade with and travel to Cuba, while supporting opportunities to strengthen democratic institutions there.

Both the CFR and Brookings recommendations may have a stronger policy impact in the new Obama Administration. (The Bush Administration has made it clear that it shall not make any changes to its US-Cuba policy.) Also, these new recommendations coincide more with the attitudes of the internal oppposition movement in Cuba, as I have posted about before.

Let's hope the new adminstration will listen.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Breath of Hope

Cuban dissident, Miriam Leiva, last week wrote an article published by El Nuevo Herald. In it, she congratulates all Americans who participated in the recent Presidential election and sees the political process as an "aspiration" that she hopes to fulfill in the future for Cuba.

Concerning President-elect Barack Obama, Leiva writes that a "breath of hope emerged" ever since Obama proposed to lift travel sanctions on Cuban families. But, Leiva goes a bit further too.

"The free flow of visitors and the sending of remittances and packages would be in agreement with respect for human rights, that which the Cuba government is much criticized for violating, as well as being direct help to the most needy and promote the sharing of democratic ideas essential at this time, when urgent changes are needed in Cuba under the worst political, economic and social crisis in its history.

"But contacts should also be open to all people of North America. Tourism and academic, cultural, scientific and athletic exchanges should be commonplace. This doesn't mean the exporting of North American lifestyle [to Cuba], which perhaps the Cuban government would charge, but rather of natural ties between people that should have never been prevented."

[Full article in Spanish]

Fidel Castro Diaz-Balart

The name certainly sounds odd, but it's real. Certainly, Miamians know well that the Diaz-Balart's (Reps. Mario and Lincoln) show nothing but disdain for Fidel Castro. (They have their reasons.) But, some may not know that there's a bloodline running through the rivalry.

Yesterday, the press was treated to a rare public meeting between son Fidel (aka Fidelito) Castro Diaz-Balart and his mother Mirta Diaz-Balart (Photo). Mirta was married to the famed Revolutionary leader Fidel Castro Ruz in 1948, they had their first and only child, Fidelito, the following year. Mirta is aunt to Lincoln and Mario.

According to El Nuevo Herald, Mirta, 80, was visiting Havana, Cuba on Friday in time for a recent international conference on nanotechnology. Fidelito was participating as a speaker. The article also reports that Mirta was in Cuba in July 2006, around the time Fidel Castro underwent surgery (an event which later resulted into the eventual transfer of power to his brother Raul).

To see both, mother and son, together in public was a rare event. (Cuban leader Fidel Castro was eventually divorced and had several other children from a different marriage.)

The story on how Fidel Castro and Mirta Diaz-Balart met before the Revolution can be read in Ann Louise Bardach's book Cuba Confidential (very entertaining book), Chapter 2, which is fortunately available online. Here's a pic of the young couple.

[Photo by AP/Ismael Francisco]

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


John McCauliff, executive director of the Fund for Reconciliation and Development (FFRD), has an excellent article on the Havana Note website. McCauliff makes some very important points and clarifications concerning Obama's stated policy towards Cuba and those that may have misinterpreted it.

"Sending direct aid to opposition personalities in Cuba hopelessly compromises their nationalist credentials and makes them vulnerable to prosecution as agents of a hostile foreign power, not unlike the attitude the US took to members of the US Communist Party in the 1950s. Buying into CANF's semi-soft regime change thesis also makes no sense if the new administration wants to develop the trust and mutual respect that are essential for successful negotiations.

"CANF and others in Miami presume they should be part of any negotiations between Washington and Havana, but that is pure poison to serious talks

[Full Article]

Also, take the time to go to the FFRD website. It's been improved and enhanced with several useful links concerning US Cuba relations. Cheers to the FFRD.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Undeniable Shift [Updated]

While Babalu blog's Henry Gomez combs (almost obsessively) South Florida, trying to figure out how Cuban-Americans voted last Tuesday, the shift in political attitudes is apparent.

Today, the Miami Herald is reporting the polling data:

"According to [Bendixen and Associate's] exit polls, Obama won 35 percent of the Cuban-American vote in Miami-Dade County, nearly 10 points higher than Kerry's showing in 2004. Within that community, the generational difference was stark. For example, 84 percent of Miami-Dade Cuban-American voters 65 or older backed McCain, while 55 percent of those 29 or younger backed Obama."

But, if you are skeptical of polling data, then just go to Little Havana and see for yourself.

Once Sen. Barack Obama was declared the winner on Tuesday night, a crowd of Obama supporters gathered in Little Havana. And, it was not just anywhere in Little Havana, it was right across the street from the Versailles restaurant (!), home to the so-called Cuban "intransigent."

Watch the video here, courtesy of Univision. (Interestingly, the reporter in the video interviews two Cuban residents who fully support Sen. Obama, despite being unable to vote. Also, the video shows an apparently upset crowd right in front of Versailles.)

Those that don't see the "shift," don't want to see.

[Photo above of Obama celebration in front of Versailles Restaurant]

[Update: Carlos Miller's blog has the scoop and an excellent link to more photos of this particular celebration in front of Versailles.]

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Congratulations Barack Obama

Yesterday was a memorable and historic day. Congratulations to Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Joseph Biden.

Regarding US international relations, I share the hopes of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations. Here he is, in his own words, because I couldn't have said it better.


As Secretary-General of the UN, I look forward to working with the new administration to fulfill our common goals and enormously important objectives. This is, I believe, an historic opportunity.

During the campaign, I remember the President-elect speaking eloquently and with passion about "change you can believe in." He spoke about a "new era of global partnership" and building "bridges of cooperation with the UN and other nations."

"No country has a stronger stake in a strong United Nations," he said. And he added, if I may quote some more, "True partnership requires sharing the burdens of development and diplomacy, of progress and peace. It requires partners who listen to one another, learn from each other and, most important, trust each other."

I am confident, today, about future relations between the United Nations and the United States. I am confident that we can look forward to an era of renewed partnership and a new multilateralism.

[Entire comments here]

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

May the Best Candidate Win

Good luck to both candidates on this very exciting Election Day. May voters have chosen wisely and to the best of their abilities. Even after elections are over, there is still a long road ahead.

Concerning US-Cuba relations, here are the candidates in their own words.

Sen. John McCain:

"If I'm elected President, I won't meet unconditionally with the Castro brothers, while they keep political prisoners in jail, stifle free media and block free elections in Cuba. When I am President, we are going to pressure the Cuban government to free their people. The day is coming when Cuba will be free." (Oct. 17, 2008)

"I would increase [funding to] Radio Marti, increase TV Marti, increase the condemnation of this dictatorial regime. But, if you're asking me if I will send in troops for military action... I don't know." (March 21, 2007)

Sen. Barack Obama:

"I support the eventual normalization [with Cuba]. And it’s absolutely true that I think our policy has been a failure. I mean, the fact is, is that during my entire lifetime... you essentially have seen a Cuba that has been isolated, but has not made progress when it comes to the issues of political rights and personal freedoms that are so important to the people of Cuba. So I think that we have to shift policy. I think our goal has to be, ultimately, normalization. But that’s going to happen in steps. And the first step, as I said, is changing our rules with respect to remittances and with respect to travel... the Bush administration has done so much damage to American foreign relations that the president [must] take a more active role in diplomacy than might have been true 20 or 30 years ago.

"Because the problem is, if we think that meeting with the president [of the United States] is a privilege that has to be earned, I think that reinforces the sense that we stand above the rest of the world at this point in time. And I think that it’s important for us in undoing the damage that has been done over the last seven years, [and] for the president to be willing to take that extra step." (February 21, 2008)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Losing His Touch

As usual, I was listening to Radio Mambi (the highest rated AM station in South Florida) yesterday and waiting to hear what Armando Perez Roura had to say in his daily radio commentary, Tome Nota. (The title translates more or less to "pay close attention," but literally means "take notes." Perez Roura is Radio Mambi's programming director, and perhaps the most popular voice in Miami of the militant Cuban exile.)

Lately, hosts on Radio Mambi have been warning their listeners of the potential danger of electing Sen. Barack Obama this November. Callers have been calling in to repeat those concerns, and in a nutshell they all seem to share a common conclusion about Sen. Obama: he's part of a worldwide communist conspiracy to destroy the United States. This assertion would undoubtedly have strong resonance within the mostly Republican Cuban exile community, but I don't think that propaganda works anymore.

Years of polling data about the Cuban community in Miami show that attitudes have changed, including their policy options against the Cuban government. Recent polling of three important congressional districts in South Florida [18th, 21st, and 25th], which are composed of mostly Cuban residents, show that younger Cubans may be distancing themselves from the traditional militant position. The results show that the 18 to 44 age group in each district is far more likely to vote (by an average margin of 27%) for the Democratic candidate, Barack Obama, who has voiced a new diplomatic strategy towards the Cuban government.

Nevertheless, Radio Mambi seems to remain unchanged with their military strategy to free Cuba from the evil clutches of "communism." There should be no doubt that self-proclaimed "intransigents" like Armando Perez Roura only see a military solution for Cuba. But, seeing that attitudes are changing in Miami, militant exiles, like Perez Roura, sound more and more removed from reality with every passing day.

Take yesterday's Tome Nota for example.

Armando Perez Roura begins by praising Colombian President Alvaro Uribe for the recent news of a freed FARC hostage, Oscar Lizcano. Ever since the Colombian army successfully killed a top FARC leader last March in a controversial military operation inside Ecuador, Cuban exile militants have been cheering for the Uribe administration. Perez Roura repeated his mantra yesterday that "these elements [of the FARC] can only be stripped of power by force."

But, if you are familiar with his speeches, when Perez Roura says "these elements" he really means terrorists, communists, socialists, democrats, etc. They're all somewhat the same to him, like Hugo Chavez, or Barack Obama.

Recently in Miami, former Venezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez was honored by some former Cuban political prisoners. Telemundo51 was there for an interview and recorded him calling for the violent overthrow of current Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Telemundo51 probably already knew what Carlos Andres Perez was gonna say, since he said it before publicly in 2004. But, Telemundo51 attempts to keep the militant spirit alive in Miami by rebroadcasting those comments, which only encourages militants like Armando Perez Roura, who yesterday quoted the exiled former Venezuelan president.

So, by the end of his Tome Nota, Perez Roura pieces together his list of "these elements" and concludes that we must...

"remove by force these elements that assume power through the vote and later begin to make 'changes.' They are elected following the rules of the game that exist, and later say they are going to 'change,' and begin changing in order to fulfill the plans they carry concealed. Because all these individuals that talk about 'change' are all alike. Inside they carry the little red worm."

Perez Roura never ceases to amaze me. Within his speech he lumps together the FARC guerillas, Hugo Chavez, and Sen. Barack Obama with inventive desperation. I'm laughing at the creative associations (not to mention the "little red worm"), but how serious is he being? Is Armando Perez-Roura, and other militants, being honestly fearful of Sen. Obama, or are they engaging in pure propaganda?

Whatever the reason may be, there are some important facts missing. Perez Roura praises the Uribe government for the recently freed FARC hostage, Oscar Lizcano, but, according to news reports, the Colombian military had nothing to do with his release. Instead, Lizcano was helped by a FARC deserter. In addition, Lizcano is telling President Alvaro Uribe to "[l]ook for a humane solution as soon as possible" to free all other hostages. He is alerting the Colombian army that FARC rebels are prepared to shoot any hostages that are about to be liberated.

Findings solutions to problems require some grasp of reality. Armando Perez Roura's committment to militancy seems to be losing touch with it.

[The same can be said about writers of the Babalu Blog.]

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Dinner with the Mambises

Just wanted to post this photo before it disappears from the net. Its another wide shot of the table where President Bush sat with SOME leaders of the Cuban exile community earlier this month (October 10th). Before this dinner, he met at the home of Sergio Pino, President of Century Homebuilders of South Florida (longtime Republican contributor). According to Republican officials, Bush raised more than $500,000 on this trip for the Florida Republican Party.

In the photo above are Armando Perez-Roura (far right, no pun intended) and Ninoska Perez-Castellon (in front). Both criticized Pres. Bush in May for not having done what he "should have done" to free Cuba. I wonder if they said the same thing (with the same attitude) to him at the dinner?

Florida Votes

If you haven't heard, there are long lines for early voters in South Florida. There seems to be several reasons for this, some political. Anyway, a large voter turnout is a good sign, but one that may cause concern for our favorite congressional incumbents: Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario and Lincoln Diaz-Balart.

Below I have organized the results of recent polling by local Spanish-language news stations Telemundo51 and Univision23. The Telemundo51 poll used a sample of 300 registered voters in the following questions (margin of error: 5%). The Univision23 poll was conducted by The Metropolitan Center at Florida International University and used a sample of about 400 likely voters (margin of error not provided). All polling was conducted before or near the beginning of October.

What is very interesting of all the data is the number of undecided likely voters. Also, age and ethnicity seem to be a significant factor as well (click on links for more data). One thing I've learned about living in Miami, there's always a potential for a surprise. Below, results show all congressional incumbents leading the race so far.


Telemundo51: 48% - 35%, Undecided 17%
Univision23/FIU: 52% - 27%, Undecided 21%


Telemundo51: 48% - 43%, Undecided 9%
Univision/FIU: 47% - 33%, Undecided 20%


Telemundo51: 43% - 41%, Undecided 16%
Univision/FIU: 46% - 37%, Undecided 17%

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

It's Up to the Undecided [UPDATED]

This week Telemundo 51, one of South Florida's Spanish-language news stations, released interesting polling results about the anticipated Congressional races involving Rep. Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart, and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. According to the results, the road to November will be very suspenseful.


Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen at first glace seems to have a very comfortable lead (48% v 35%) in front of her opponent, Annette Taddeo. But, Telemundo 51 and a recent FIU/Univision poll show a significant amount of potential voters still undecided. In both polls, undecided voters number about 20%!


Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart leads (48% v 43%) in front of his opponent Raul Martinez, but undecided voters make up 9% of respondents.


Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart and his opponent Joe Garcia are almost head to head in this race, Diaz-Balart leading 43% v 41%. But, undecided voters (16%) will certainly name the winner.

It's all very exciting, with less than a month to go until elections. It's important to note that these results come at a time when all candidates above are just beginning their massive media campaigns. These following weeks will be decisive.

Today, all six contenders appeared in a local forum, which the Naked Politics blog attended and provides some details.

The Babalu Blog, who loves to analyze polls, has not reported these findings yet. And Diario Las Americas, a local Spanish-language newspaper that regularly includes columns by Reps. Lincoln or Mario Diaz-Balart, has not reported these findings either. Instead, Diario today posts an article showing support for Ileana, Mario and Lincoln by a Cuban exile organization.

According to the article in Diario, the militant Cuban exile organization "Foro Patriótico Cubano" has endorsed Ileana, Mario and Lincoln for November. The endorsement is signed at the bottom by its members, which include Radio Mambi's Armando Perez Roura and Frank Alonso. Both Perez Roura and Alonso are leaders of the militant organization Unidad Cubana.

----- [Update: Oct. 17] -----

More polling results have been publicized by Univision/FIU. According to the new results, the race between Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart and Joe Garcia is not as close as it seems. Rep. Diaz-Balart leads over Garcia 46% v 37%. This is a larger lead than the one found by polling done for Telemundo51. Nevertheless, the number of undecided voters is almost identical (17%).

Meanwhile, the attack ads in the race between Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Raul Martinez are heating up. Telemundo51 has video of a confrontation between both candidates accusing each other of being the instigator.

In the video, Raul Martinez reveals that he approached Rep. Diaz-Balart and proposed a deal where they could agree to remove certain negative ads. Martinez says that Rep. Diaz-Balart refused to discuss the issue. Thus, Martinez says that he will continue his ads attacking his opponent as "corrupt."

Also in the video, Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart repeats that there is nothing personal about his ads. But, his ads against Martinez have been scrutinized as deceptive.

Raul Martinez has also recently been endorsed by the Miami Herald.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Jose Ramos-Horta on the US Embargo

Jose Ramos-Horta is winner of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize and current President of Timor-Leste. He spoke to the UN General Assembly last week (September 25, 2008) and addressed the US embargo towards Cuba. In his own words...

-----[Excerpt from full speech(PDF)]-----

Timor-Leste is a LDC [Least Developed Country]. However, the Almighty God has bestowed on us some modest oil, gas and other mineral wealth.

While our first obligation is to make use of our oil wealth towards a sustainable development of our country and addressing the immediate needs of our poorest, we are not indifferent to the suffering of our fellow human beings in other parts of the world.


Now in response to several natural disasters that have affected tens of millions of our fellow human beings, Timor-Leste has promptly decided to donate:

1. US$500,000 for the victims of the earthquake that hit the Chinese province of Sichuan;

2. US$500,000 for the victims of cyclone Nargis that hit Myanmar in May 2 to be channeled through the ASEAN Secretariat;

3. US$500,000 for Cuba to assist the victims of cyclones Gustav and Ike, to be channeled directly to the Cuban authorities.


Cyclones Gustav and Ike, that brought thorough devastation to the Caribbean, ruined the Cuban economy. The material losses are staggering with initial estimates totaling at least US$5 [billion].

We have almost 700 East Timorese medical students in Cuba and over 140 are studying medicine in our National University with Cuban medical instructors. In addition, there are almost 300 Cuban doctors working in our country distributed through all districts and sub-districts. Cuban adult education specialists assist us in adult literacy campaign benefiting thousands of adults. The costs of these programs are covered almost entirely by Cuba.

While I commend the US and any country that stands for universal democratic values and provide moral support for those promoting democracy in their own country, I submit that punitive measures imposed on poor developing countries for the perceived sins of their leaders cannot be morally justified.

As a friend to the US, I humbly appeal to the next US Administration and Congress to lift the embargo on Cuba. Such a gesture would be an honourable one and my admiration for the US would only increase. As it is, as I witness the impact of US sanctions on a small developing country and its refusal to provide assistance to Cuba following the devastation caused by cyclones Gustav and Ike, my heart bleeds in sorrow and my admiration for the US seriously diminishes.

In this regard, I wish to reiterate our most heartfelt sympathy and solidarity with the people of Haiti and others in the Caribbean region that were affected by the recent natural disasters.

The Embargo

In 2005, a book by political science professors Patrick J. Haney and Walt Vanderbush was published concerning the US embargo towards Cuba. It was called "The Cuba Embargo: The Domestic Politics of an American Foreign Policy."

In my opinion, the book provides an excellent summary and analysis of the dynamic politics behind the US embargo (an interest of Haney and Vanderbush going as far back as 1999). But, I bring attention to the book now because of the authors' prescient conclusions made three years ago.

Haney and Vanderbush believed that a Democratic Presidential win in 2004 would signal the "last hurrah" for the US embargo against Cuba. While their hopes in 2004 never materialized, this year's election gives new life to their conclusions and may prove them right in the end.

I highly recommend Haney and Vanderbush's book, and you can read large excerpts at Google Books.

----- [Excerpt from pp.169-170] -----

It is at least possible that a Democratic candidate could do better in Florida by arguing for small changes to the embargo, as younger Cuban Americans are less wedded to the hard embargo, and as the state's non-Cuban Hispanic vote increases rapidly. At the very least, that would seem a more promising approach than giving the appearance of pandering to the Cuban Americans. A Democratic presidential candidate might take a more nuanced postion on the embargo - in favor of more travel, continued family remittances, and no limits on the sale of food and medicine to Cuba, perhaps, while maintaining diplomatic isolation and other elements of the economic embargo, particularly prohibiting the import of Cuban goods to the United States - and find that there is a net gain in Florida, much less the rest of the country.

Finally, some have suggested that this may be the last presidential election during the era of the Cuban embargo... As we have discussed, the politics of Cuba policy, to the extent that they have a trend line, seem to us to be moving away from the embargo for a variety of economic, political, institutional, and electoral reasons. This election may be the last hurrah for embargo hard-liners as they hold out the prize of Florida's electoral votes, or the embargo may go out with a whimper at some future point. But, however it ultimately recedes, the days of the strong U.S. embargo of Cuba are numbered in large part because the political dynamics set in motion in the 1980's have come of age in ways that have undermined presidential control over the embargo, and the embargo policy itself.

Friday, September 26, 2008

After the Hurricane (Part 2)

It's been almost one month since Cuba was hit by a Category-4 hurricane named Gustav. The devastation brought upon the island nation was estimated at $5 billion by the Cuban government. Cuban President Raul Castro noted that "never in the history of Cuba" had such destruction been caused by a passing hurricane. The US-funded Cuba Transition Project described the aftermath as "perhaps the worst natural disaster in the past half-century."

But, as Americans view the devastation in the nearby region, no official US aid has arrived inside Cuba. The Cuban government has repeatedly rejected US aid. The US refuses to negotiate any terms with the Cuban government which could bring millions of dollars of relief.

Yet, this stalemate should come to no surprise to those who are familiar with US-Cuba relations for the past half-century. And recalling their long-standing conflict since 1959 is a tragic lesson whose events should cause a rare sadness among the most hopeful.

After the hurricane, some behave like nothing happened.

Earlier this week, Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez made it clear to reporters that despite Cuba's efforts to recover from Gustav, economic pressure to achieve regime change is still a priority (just like the last 50 years):

"We don’t want to give them a lot of breathing room at a time where we believe change will happen."

The Economist magazine last week reported on the dire Cuban situation, and they specified what kind of "change" Sec. Gutierrez may have in mind:

"Hurricanes Gustav and Ike could increase pressure on Raúl Castro to accelerate reforms to loosen the island’s centrally-controlled economy, much as his brother, Fidel, was forced to do in the early 1990s after the collapse of Cuba’s subsidized trade with the Soviet Union."

The Cuban government as well positioned itself to condemn the US embargo (as it has for the past 50 years). But, this time at the risk of denying much needed relief aid to the victims of hurricane Gustav. Blogger Yoani Sanchez of Generation Y asked herself some important questions that many Cubans may be asking themselves at the moment:

"What is the priority of the Cuban government? Political principals or the welfare of those who have lost everything?"

But, as the UN General Assembly gathers in New York, it looks like the Cuban government may have intentionally rejected US aid in an effort to again highlight US economic sanctions against Cuba, sanctions which have been repeatedly condemned by the majority of nations at the UN.

Given the public remarks of some of the nations so far, the UN General Assembly may again condemn the US embargo, perhaps with greater force than before. Hopefully, the US will listen and consider lifting the US economic sanctions.

Nevertheless, the US government has not done enough beyond just making presentations of relief aid to Cuba. It is still time to begin a dialogue with Cuba, and also to negotiate.

When Cyclone Nargis hit Burma in May of this year (causing the death of tens of thousands), the US government made real efforts to convince the Burmese military junta to allow delivery of American relief aid. The US sent the head of US Pacific Command to the Burmese capital of Rangoon, where "the highest-level military contact between the two countries in decades" took place.

The US Treasury Department even relaxed its sanctions by issuing one general license to NGO's delivering aid to Burma. NGO's delivering aid to Cuba are still required to obtain TWO licenses.

The US must make more efforts to dismantle their diplomatic barriers to Cuba. They should follow the recent bi-partisan recommendations of the Council on Foreign Relations, seize the opportunity to normalize relations with Cuba, and join multilateral objectives in achieving a free Cuba.

Or, are we just going to wait for the next big one to hit?