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)