Sunday, February 25, 2007

Arrests in Miami on Travel Related Charges

Posted on Fri, Feb. 23, 2007

Feds shut down Cuba travel scheme, arrest 2

Federal authorities charged two Florida men in a scheme to violate Cuba travel restrictions through travel licenses for fake churches.

Two Florida men allegedly concocted a scheme to get around the restrictive Cuba travel ban by creating bogus churches and applying for licenses under the name of God that allowed thousands of travelers to visit the communist island nation.

The federal government wasn't fooled for long.

On Thursday, authorities filed a criminal complaint in Fort Lauderdale federal court against David Margolis, 75, of Fort Lauderdale, and Victor Vazquez, 42, of Winter Garden. The pair is accused of conspiracy to violate Cuba-related travel regulations. Vazquez is also alleged to have made false statements in applications for religious travel licenses to Cuba.

Fort Lauderdale attorney Richard Rosenbaum, who is representing Margolis, said his client has never been in trouble with the law and plans to ''vigorously'' defend himself against any charges against him.

Neither Vazquez nor his attorney returned calls for comment.

Under the 43-year-old Cuba trade embargo, U.S. citizens and residents are prohibited from traveling to Cuba. Among the exemptions: those traveling for religious purposes. To make the trip, they must obtain a religious license from the federal government and arrange plans with a travel agency.

Enforcement of the travel ban is not uncommon, but authorities have recently stepped up investigations of travel agencies.

The case against Margolis and Vazquez is the first criminal prosecution of Cuba travel violations since formation in October of a special team of federal and local law enforcement investigators to root out breaches of the embargo.

The Cuban Sanctions Enforcement Task Force was credited Thursday by senior federal law enforcement officials with piecing together the case against Margolis and Vazquez.

In an arrest affidavit, investigators said the two men obtained religious licenses from the federal government and supplied the licenses to several travel agencies, including one in Hialeah. Those agencies then charged travelers -- more than 4,500 in all -- a $250 fee to use the falsely-obtained license.

None of the travelers is likely to be prosecuted, federal officials said.

U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta said the special task force and the case itself underscores the U.S. government's commitment to tightly enforce the embargo. ''Vigorous enforcement of economic sanctions against the Cuban regime is important to help hasten a transition to democracy on the island,'' he said.

Alicia Valle, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Miami, said Vazquez and Margolis had made initial appearances in Fort Lauderdale federal court.


An affidavit in the case, submitted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agent Daniel Flores, said the feds first learned of the alleged fraud in January 2006.

According to Flores, the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, which administers the embargo, found that Vazquez and Margolis had obtained licenses ''under false pretenses'' for churches that did not exist -- stretching back to March 2004.

The agency, the affidavit said, received one of the first applications for a Cuban religious-travel license on March 25, 2004, from Vazquez on behalf of the First Church of Christ in Winter Garden, near Orlando. They got the license within a week.

At some point, the agency became suspicious and launched an investigation. When confronted, Vazquez claimed that all trips were proper.

He said he had organized 15 trips under the religious license, taking no more than five to 15 people per trip to Cuba. He also said he had traveled to Cuba about 15 times per year, according to Flores' affidavit.


But in fact, it said, investigators later learned that Vazquez had traveled 45 different times over the two-year duration of the license, averaging two trips a month.

Investigators also found that more than 2,000 people had traveled to Cuba between March 2005 and April 2006 under the First Church of Christ license.

Delving deeper, investigators discovered the two men had applied for religious licenses through nonexistent churches in Alabama, Colorado and Oregon, setting up mailboxes to receive correspondence.


The alleged scheme finally came to an end on Dec. 13 when investigators separately questioned both men at Miami International Airport upon their return from Cuba.

Margolis readily admitted that the church to which the license was issued ``did not actually exist.'

''You have me dead to rights,'' Flores quoted Margolis as saying in the affidavit. He added that he just wanted to have his own license for Cuba travel and that Vazquez had assisted in preparing the application.

Cuba orders Tribune reporter out

By Phil Rosenthal
Tribune media columnist
Posted February 22 2007, 6:49 AM EST

Chicago Tribune foreign correspondent Gary Marx, who has been based in Havana since 2002, was told Wednesday by Cuban officials his press credential will not be renewed and he can no longer report from there.

"They said I've been here long enough and they felt my work was negative," Marx said. "They did not cite any examples.''

The decision on Marx comes at a critical time for Cuba, with longtime leader Fidel Castro's age and health setting the stage for possible transition.

Marx was one of only among a handful of permanent correspondents for U.S.-based news organizations in Havana. CNN and the Associated Press also have Cuba bureaus.

A reporter for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel will continue to staff the Tribune Co. bureau, and the Cuban government told Marx it would welcome an application from a new Chicago Tribune correspondent. That might take time to process, however, and new rules for reporters entering Cuba initially require the renewal of papers every 30 days.

"We're very disappointed and concerned by the news that the Cuban government has decided to not renew our correspondent's credentials and has asked him and his family to leave the island," said George de Lama, Chicago Tribune managing editor for news.

"Gary Marx is an accomplished, veteran journalist who has consistently given our readers accurate, incisive and insightful coverage from Cuba, working under sometimes difficult conditions," said de Lama, who helped establish the Tribune Co. bureau, which opened in Havana in March 2001. "We remain committed to coverage of Cuba and its people, and we are assessing our options of how to proceed."

Officials told Marx he had 90 days to leave the country. He told them he and his wife have a 10-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son whose school year ends in mid-June and that they were planning to leave Cuba after that anyway. "They said they would be flexible," he said.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Letter Published NY Times Travel Section

New York Times Travel Section Letters



To the Editor:

Regarding Caren Osten Gerszberg’s “In Cuba, Finding a Tiny Corner of Jewish Life” (Journeys, Feb. 4): Some religious organizations do slip through the eye of the Bush Administration needle, but many do not. Secular entities ­ including students, museums, cultural exchanges, alumni groups, lawyers, scientists, architects, sports teams and humanitarian programs ­ have seen even the constrained ability to visit Cuba granted by the Clinton Administration totally sacrificed for Miami votes during the 2004 and 2006 elections.

If bipartisan legislation (H.R. 654) spearheaded by Representative Charles B. Rangel, is passed by Congress and survives an anticipated veto threat, all Americans can regain their right to travel freely to Cuba this year.

John McAuliff
Irvington, N.Y.

Mr. McAuliff is the executive director for the Fund for Reconciliation and Development, located in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.

Religious groups feel cut off from Cuba

Posted on Wed, Feb. 14, 2007

Religious groups in the United States and Cuba have complained that strict U.S. policies make it difficult to build bridges of faith across the Florida Straits.


A wing under construction at St. Brendan Catholic School in Miami harbors a pile of goodwill -- some of it withering in the dank humidity -- that was meant to be delivered to Cuba's needy.

Donated diapers, baby formula, wheelchairs, even Christmas decorations are stacked from floor to ceiling.

But for almost two years, the Archdiocese of Miami has had little face-to-face contact with Catholics in Cuba, a byproduct of tightened travel restrictions for religious organizations imposed by the U.S. Treasury Department.

Rev. Fernando Heria, St. Brendan's pastor and an archdiocese spokesman, said the Cuba-bound goods sometimes expire or rot, so the archdiocese tries to give perishable goods to Miami's needy before they go bad.

The church would send the aid with Catholics who traveled to the communist island or ship it with their humanitarian license, which expired in 2005, Heria said.

''Whenever we limit the flow of communication between people, it serves to alienate us, as opposed to unite us,'' Heria said.

The archdiocese sent about 50 clergy and laypeople a year to Cuba under its religious license but now sends fewer than five. The Catholic umbrella organization had a religious travel license for a decade, but the Treasury Department has yet to answer the diocese's request to renew the license, Heria said.

U.S. Jewish groups would drop in on Cuba's biggest synagogue, Beth Shalom, up to three times a month, bringing care packages stuffed with matzoh crackers, school supplies, and nonprescription drugs for Cuba's Jewish community of about 1,500.

The visits have tapered off to six or seven a year, and donations have dried up, said William Miller, head of Beth Shalom in Havana.

''We've had months without a single group from the United States visiting,'' Miller said in a telephone interview from Havana. ``Being part of the Jewish community means helping your fellow man, and we feel punished for being part of Cuban society.''


The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, which oversees licenses for religious travel, tightened the regulations after some groups took advantage of loopholes.

''OFAC became aware that a number of large organizations were abusing their religious travel licenses by soliciting participation beyond their own organizations for trips to Cuba, yielding less control of the travel groups and their activities in Cuba,'' said OFAC spokeswoman Molly Millerwise in an e-mail. The policy was changed in fall 2004, ''in hopes of eliminating such abuses,'' she said.

Before the restrictions, OFAC issued broad licenses that did not limit the number of travelers. Now, umbrella organizations that represent several churches or religions are limited to taking 25 people per trip every three months and must provide OFAC a list of travelers a year in advance.

However, individual congregational churches or synagogues are not limited in the number of trips or travelers, Millerwise said.

''The individual congregations more often know the individuals and are directly involved in planning . . . religious activities in Cuba,'' she said.

Baptist, Presbyterian, Jewish and other religious leaders say the restrictions for umbrella groups are an affront to religious liberty.

''I believe the reinterpretation of the existing religious laws directly restricts my right as an American to practice my religion,'' said Joe Irwin, spokesman for the United Church of Christ's Southeast Pennsylvania Region. ``I think it's offensive, and actually quite scary to Americans that suddenly their right to practice their religion is controlled by the government.''


U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a proponent of current U.S. policy toward Cuba, said some groups that were traveling to Cuba with religious licenses had other agendas.

''Authentic religious travel is permissible under the current Cuba travel guidelines, and some of the groups advocating the loosening of these rules are actually against the embargo as a whole,'' Ros-Lehtinen said in an e-mail through her spokesman. ``They allege that they are prevented from going to the island, but some of the trips may be more oriented toward tourism under the guise of a religious mantle.''

The Miami Herald reported in February 2005 that several Santeria groups were abusing their licenses to take tourists to Cuba. After the report, OFAC sent letters to dozens of organizations, warning them not to abuse travel privileges, and announced investigations into alleged wrongdoing.

Members of several groups said they believe OFAC cracked down because they had been vocal against U.S. policy toward Cuba.


''The State Department, which oversees the Cuba policy and directs Treasury and OFAC, favors particular congregations and particular denominations who, in our opinion, have more of the political bent that is acceptable to the State Department,'' said Mavis Anderson, a senior associate at the anti-embargo, nonprofit Latin America Working group. ``Some denominations have taken strong positions against the embargo [and] are therefore not favored in traveling to Cuba.''

OFAC would not provide the list of groups that have licenses or those that have been suspended. Officials said the regulations are applied even-handedly to all groups.

Rev. Patricia Lloyd-Sidle, Caribbean liaison for the Presbyterian Church (USA), said the new restrictions make it difficult to plan trips because providing travelers' names a year in advance is unrealistic, and changing the list can bring months-long delays.

''It's extremely frustrating because it's hard to sort through what the spirit and letter of the law is trying to achieve,'' she said.

The restrictions have crippled religious organizations' ability to carry out disaster relief in Cuba, said Antonios Kireopoulos, an associate at the National Council of Churches, which advocates against the embargo.

Stan Hastey, executive director of the Alliance of Baptists, said his group used to coordinate travel for 200 to 300 people a year to Cuba from 20 Baptist churches in the Southeast. He says now, fewer than 100 people a year go from about 10 churches.

Hastey said his religious license was suspended in 2005 because OFAC said some of the churches he represented were not following travel guidelines. Three of five churches OFAC singled out have since obtained new religious licenses, he said.

''What the Treasury Department has done over the past two years is systematically curtail travel by the three principal groups of U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba: Cuban Americans, religious institutions and academic institutions,'' he said. ``Frankly, it has worked. In each of these three major categories, the number of citizens traveling there has been drastically curtailed.''

Ground shifting under U.S. isolation of Cuba

Diverse interests and ordinary Americans, including exiles, are increasingly pushing for normalized relations.
By Carol J. Williams
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

February 18, 2007

MIAMI — Opposition to restrictive U.S. policies on Cuba has been mounting for more than a decade, but it may have reached critical mass with recent power shifts in Havana and Washington.

With Democrats in control of Congress and 80-year-old Fidel Castro having transferred power to his brother Raul while he recovers from a grave illness, a course change may be ahead.

Polls suggest most Americans want better relations with the island. Farm and energy interests would like to trade and invest in Cuba. A raft of legislation to change trade and travel restrictions has been introduced in Congress this session. Even many who have fled Cuba say it's time to end the standoff.

"The majority of the Cuban community in Miami supports the betterment of relations with Cuba, especially with regard to ending travel restrictions," said Andres Gomez, a Miami free-speech activist. "There is a will to be able to help relatives, even if we oppose certain aspects of life on the island."

The committee aims to mobilize the hundreds of thousands of Cubans who have arrived since 1980 and who reject the isolation strategy adopted by exiles who fled after the 1959 revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power.

Antonio Zamora, a Bay of Pigs veteran who has parted ways with anti-Castro militants, has formed a group that is pursuing normalized relations. "That we are not engaging with Cuba is very damaging to our future and to the possible influence we can have in Cuba," Zamora said.

Raul Castro has said Cuba would be open to talks on improving relations, but the White House has spurned the offers.

"It's an ongoing missed opportunity," says Glenn Baker, Cuba policy director at the World Security Institute think tank in Washington. "If they're available for dialogue, getting together and talking, even if they talk past each other for some of that time, I still think it's a useful exercise."

President Bush would probably veto any measure to engage with Cuba, but lawmakers and lobbyists believe there is sufficient support to override a veto or attach policy changes to legislation Bush must sign.

"Congress is energized. I think the various constituent groups are energized," said Kirby Jones, a consultant on trade and business with Cuba. Farmers want to sell more produce, oil companies want to explore Cuba's gulf deposits, and the travel industry anticipates a million U.S. visitors to Cuba the first year it is legal.

"What has changed is that we are in the majority — and by 'we,' it's important to underscore that it's not Democrats or Republicans or liberals or conservatives, but 'we' meaning those who would like to see a change in policy," Jones said, noting that much of the legislation proposed since Congress convened last month enjoyed bipartisan support and could sidestep a veto.

The Cuba Reconciliation Act sponsored by Rep. Jose E. Serrano (D-N.Y.) proposes to lift the 45-year-old trade embargo. Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.) has submitted a bill to rescind restrictions on Cuban Americans' visits to family on the island, now limited to once every three years.

Also on the table are moves to allow any U.S. citizen to travel to Cuba, to remove tight limits on money and goods Cuban Americans can send to their families, and to ease the payment process for agricultural sales to Cuba.

The barrier most likely to fall first, say Cuba-watchers, is the limit on visits to parents, siblings and children. "It's a policy that's reduced American influence on the island to almost nothing as dramatic changes are occurring," Delahunt said.

"The crazies in Miami overplayed their hand when they put in that once-every-three-years restriction. Nobody supports that," said Albert Fox, a Tampa businessman who heads the Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy.

Though few see even the slightest flinch in the administration's posture, Fox says Cuba policy has "dropped down a few notches" in importance to a White House beset with bigger foreign policy headaches. He predicts the U.S. Treasury Department, which licenses travel to Cuba, will begin approving more applications.

Recent actions, though, confirm a status quo. The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control denied permission for a U.S. cycling team to compete in Cuba this month. It refused to license a humanitarian and educational mission planned for June. The State Department recently nixed visas for Cuban academics to take part in a University of Connecticut symposium on the post-Soviet era.

The Miami Herald editorial page, long a voice for militant anti-Castro exiles, published an editorial that stated: "The U.S. government is blowing its best chance to encourage a peaceful transition in Cuba by holding fast to counterproductive restrictions on travel to the island."

Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) is working to get the travel ban lifted. He says that more contact between Cubans and Americans will erode misconceptions about U.S. life that the communist regime has fostered.

U.S. citizens apparently want change too. In a recent Associated Press-Ipsos survey, 62% wanted diplomatic relations restored with Cuba; 40% said they would like to vacation there. A December Gallup poll found similar sentiments.

Opportunities to get into Cuba's booming tourism and natural resource markets are also driving the push for change. A bill exempting U.S. oil exploration in Cuba from the embargo was submitted last year by Sen. Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho), and is expected to be brought before the new Congress. The measure has bipartisan support and the backing of the oil lobby.

A bill submitted by Rep. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) aims to ease the payment regimen for agricultural sales to Cuba, which have been legal since 2000, but have been stifled by bureaucracy. USA Rice Federation spokesman David Coia says there is potential for U.S. rice producers to triple last year's $40 million in sales to Cuba if trade and travel barriers are lifted.

Daniel P. Erikson, Caribbean analyst for the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in Washington, says the exiles and the White House are digging in because the scenario they planned for hasn't happened. "The administration has spent all its time planning for the collapse of communism. There's no Plan B," he said.

The five Cuban American members of Congress steering U.S. policy on Cuba do not see a need to shift tactics. "The Castro brothers have done nothing to merit better treatment by the generous spirit of the American people," said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.).

The State Department's Cuba transition coordinator, Caleb McCarry, adds: "This is the time to maintain our policy and to continue to press for genuine changes in Cuba."


Thursday, February 8, 2007

OFAC Makes US Look Ridiculous

No room at the Hilton: Cubans find US trade ban stretches to Oslo,,2005898,00.htmlv

· Norwegian unions protest global effect of embargo
· Booking would have caused chaos says hotel

Duncan Campbell
Monday February 5, 2007
The Guardian

An Oslo hotel, owned by the US Hilton chain, refused a booking by a Cuban trade delegation to the city's travel fair last month because of the US embargo of the communist Caribbean island.

The Hilton group is also banning Cuban delegations from all of its hotels around the world as are other American hotel companies, a Hilton spokeswoman in London told the Guardian yesterday.

"We are a US company," said Linda Bain, vice-president for communications at the group. "The dilemma we face is that [if we took a booking from a Cuban delegation] we would be subject to fines or prison and if anyone [from the company] tried to enter the US, they would be arrested." She said they were now seeking clarification of their position from the US government.

Norwegian trade unions and anti-racist organisations complained about the Scandic hotel's actions and are now moving union conferences elsewhere until the policy is changed.

"It is not allowed by law in Norway to discriminate on grounds of gender, religion or nationality," said the deputy leader of the Norwegian Union of Municipal and General Employees, Anne Grethe Skaardal. "It is unacceptable for the US to dictate to the whole world."

The hotel ban is just one of the latest of many similar actions prompted by the US embargo of Cuba.

Last month freelance journalist Tom Fawthrop, who has written for the Guardian and the Economist, was puzzled that he had not been paid for an article in the Sydney Morning Herald that he had written about the Cuban health service. On enquiring what had happened, he received this message from Citibank Global: "Due to US sanctions, your payment was stopped for the following reason - reference to Cuban doctors. The Office of Foreign Asset Controls is requesting clarification. Please advise details of Cuban doctors and also purpose of this transaction."

Last year, Ann Louise Bardach, the American journalist and author who wrote the book Cuba Confidential, was also puzzled that she had not received payment for consultancy work on the Channel Four Film, 638 Ways to Kill Castro. She took the matter up with the production company in London and it transpired that the payment had indeed been sent but had been held up in the US because the word "Cuba" appeared in reference to the payment.

When the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, based in north London, needed to buy a new office computer they approached Dell, whose headquarters are in Texas. The order was placed and accepted but a few days later they were contacted by Dell seeking information about the destination of the computer. They explained that it was for use in London offices. Dell then wanted to know about the organisation's funding and the names of their executive members. The campaign decided to take their custom elsewhere.

"The fact that the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, a UK based NGO, are restricted from buying a Dell computer for use in our north London offices, illustrates the far reaching effects of a blockade that is increasingly imposing US bigotry and absurdity onto the lives of UK citizens," said Rob Miller of Cuba Solidarity.

The hotel ban has also operated in different parts of the world. Last year, the Mexican government fined the Sheraton Maria Isabel hotel in Mexico City around £60,000 for expelling 16 Cuban guests.

Last night the Labour MP Colin Burgon contacted the foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, to ask her to issue a "robust rebuttal" to the hotel ban.

The Labour MP Ian Gibson, the chairman of the group, described the ban as "small-minded". A vote on the embargo at the UN last year showed that 183 countries oppose it and four (the US, Israel, Palau and the Marshall Islands) support it. The embargo, which is supported by the Bush administration, is opposed by opposition groups in Cuba which describe it as counter-productive. A growing number of US politicians also seek to have the embargo lifted.

Debate on Means of Economic Reform

Cuban economists are busy studying ways to rev up one of the world's last communist-run economies, a step encouraged by acting President Raul Castro since he took over from his ailing brother six months ago.

The debate is focused on how to make Cuba's inefficient command economy more productive and take advantage of newfound financial buoyancy in foreign exchange earnings.

"There is consensus on our goals: more popular participation, the country's development and a better material and spiritual life," China expert and economics professor Evelio Vilarino told Reuters this week at a globalization conference. "Where there is no consensus is on how best to achieve that."

In a series of end-of-the-year speeches, Raul Castro expressed frustration with bureaucracy, demanded answers to declining food output, urged Cuba's press to be more critical and authorized a study of socialist property relations.

Cuban economist and agriculture expert Amando Nova said agriculture reforms of the early 1990s -- when Cuba divided state farms into worker cooperatives and legalized private produce markets -- stopped halfway.

"We need farmers to participate more in production and price decisions, to be able to purchase inputs and in general enjoy more autonomy from the state," said Nova, who is involved in a report on agriculture commissioned by the government.

Similar reports are being prepared on other sectors of the economy where the state dictates most output and prices in exchange for inputs and credits.

Many experts view Raul Castro, 75, as more pragmatic than his brother and believe he could steer Cuba's 90 percent state-run economy toward one that resembles the more open Chinese model.


Luis Marcelo Yera of the National Economic Research Institute, a member of the panel looking into property relations, said Cuba is taking a path closer to one of his favorite Japanese sayings.

"Adapt, don't adopt -- we can adapt the best experiences but not adopt another's model," he said.

Marcelo said the panel was "looking at better defining property under socialism ... because experience has demonstrated it has many problems functioning."

Cuba's foreign exchange earnings have nearly doubled over the last two years, thanks mainly to the export of medical and other services to Venezuela and record-high nickel prices.

Economic growth has sped up to three times its pace at the start of the decade when Cuba was pulling out of the economic collapse that followed the collapse of its former benefactor, the Soviet Union, in 1991.

Nevertheless, the state has run into problems investing the revenues through its more than 3,000 state-run companies. The economy also suffers from chronic disorganization, bad accounting, poor quality, lax discipline and graft.

The head of parliament's economic commission, Osvaldo Martinez, told Reuters the debate over economic policy probably would be taking place even if President Fidel Castro were not too ill to govern.

"We are not talking about the Chinese model, but a Cuban model, the best way forward given Cuba's possibilities, realities, resources and problems," Martinez said.

Some Cuban economists believe that only by adopting China's model of a capitalist market under communist political control, or at a minimum by decentralizing and developing private cooperatives and markets in nonstrategic sectors, can internal production be improved.

Others say any opening would provide the United States with a chance to topple the socialist system.

Agriculture specialist Nova said taking steps to loosen the economy would not threaten his sector.

"Decentralization and more autonomy would result in more production and food security, consolidating our economy and making us less vulnerable," he said.

By Marc Frank

February 8th 2007

(c) Reuters 2007.

62% favor ties with Cuba; 40% would vacation there

Posted on Thu, Feb. 08, Miami Herald


U.S. public's feelings mixed on CastroMost Americans dislike Fidel Castro, an AP poll indicated, but they also think diplomatic relations with Cuba should be restored.
Associated Press
WASHINGTON - In nearly equal measure, Americans say they don't like Cuban President Fidel Castro but do want the United States to reestablish regular diplomatic relations with the communist island nation after 46 years of estrangement.

Less than half of those polled think Cuba will become a democracy after the 80-year-old revolutionary leader dies or permanently steps aside. However, 89 percent in The Associated Press-Ipsos poll say they think Cubans will be better off or about the same when Castro is gone.

''It's probably not very likely in the short term,'' Kelly Shanley, 29, of North Haven, Conn., said of prospects for a democratic shift. ``I just hope for the citizens of Cuba that it's something that's realized in the next few decades.''

Castro has appeared to be in failing health for six months and has temporarily shifted power to his younger brother Raúl. Rumors have been rampant about his ailments and how long he can survive.

The poll suggests the Cold War animosity that has defined U.S.-Cuba relations for nearly a half-century may be fading. Although U.S. administrations from left to right have called Castro a dictator and a tyrant and have spent millions trying to undermine him, 27 percent of poll respondents said they hadn't heard enough about Castro to form an opinion.

The poll showed 64 percent of respondents had a very or somewhat unfavorable opinion of Castro, the revolutionary leader who has said he will be a Marxist-Leninist until the day he dies.

''He hasn't done much for his country. The country has not progressed,'' said Shiraz Damji, 61, of Woodland Hills, Calif.

Castro got slightly better reviews from younger people -- 60 percent of those under 35 had an unfavorable view of Castro while 66 percent of older people felt that way -- and younger people were more likely to reserve judgment about him. Among people 18-34, 35 percent said they don't know enough about Castro to have an opinion, while 24 percent of those 35 and older said that.

Even so, a large majority of people -- 62 percent -- said the United States should reestablish diplomatic ties. The scant contact between the two countries is now handled through Switzerland or via low-level diplomatic offices called interests sections.

The U.S. cut off diplomatic ties with Cuba in 1961, two years after Castro led an armed revolution that drove out U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista. Decades-old trade and travel embargoes made it illegal for U.S. businesses to trade in an economy they once dominated. Few Americans have visited Cuba.

Nearly half of those polled, 46 percent, said they would not be at all interested in vacationing in Cuba. Forty percent of those polled said they would be interested in vacationing there if a long-standing travel ban were lifted.

The poll of 1,000 adults was taken Jan. 30-Feb. 1 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Cuba's young radicals may be losing luster

By Gary Marx
Tribune foreign correspondent
Published February 8, 2007

HAVANA -- Six months after ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro temporarily ceded power, young hard-liners linked to Castro have all but disappeared from public view as economic czar Carlos Lage -- a moderate reformer -- has seen his profile grow, diplomats and analysts say.

Notably absent from the spotlight since Castro handed authority last July to his younger brother, Raul, are Otto Rivero, Hassan Perez and other young radicals collectively known by diplomats and some Cubans here as "the Taliban."

The so-called fourth-generation revolutionaries were promoted to key positions by Fidel Castro but may not fit into Raul Castro's priorities, suggesting less focus on ideology and international affairs, and more on governing efficiently.

A member of Cuba's powerful Council of Ministers, Rivero, 38, was selected by Castro in 2005 to run the massive social investment program under what the Cuban leader described as his "Battle of Ideas." It was a campaign designed to boost revolutionary fervor and return to socialist orthodoxy in this impoverished nation.

With Castro's blessing, Rivero and his young advisers spent hundreds of millions of dollars a year in state funds to build and repair hospitals, health clinics, schools, recreational facilities and other projects. In doing so, Rivero often wielded more power than government ministers.

Impaired by corruption

But the effort was hampered by corruption and inefficiency, and in recent months Raul Castro stripped Rivero and other young ideologues of much of their authority and returned power to various ministries.

"They have lost the kind of power that Fidel gave them to go everywhere giving orders and saying what should be done," said a Havana-based diplomat who asked not to be identified.

"The ministries have returned to their logical role. Raul wants an effective organization," the diplomat said.

One Cuban official who has benefited from the realignment of power is Carlos Lage Davila, 55, a pediatrician who is credited with implementing limited reforms that rescued Cuba's faltering economy in the 1990s.

Diplomats noted that Lage was chosen to give a prominent speech during Fidel Castro's delayed 80th birthday celebrations in December.

And last month, Lage -- secretary of the executive committee of the Council of Ministers, a top policymaking body -- led a high-level delegation to Venezuela to sign economic accords that further cemented ties between the two leftist nations.

A second envoy said he recently spotted Lage playing racquetball at the exclusive Club Havana, quipping that the brilliant economist is preparing for his enhanced role in the spotlight as Cuba's unofficial prime minister.

"He looked like a politician trying to get into shape and polish his image," the envoy said.

At the same time, the role has diminished of Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque, 41, the former personal secretary of Fidel Castro, analysts say.

Before Fidel Castro's illness, Perez Roque was the second-most visible leader in Cuba after the commander in chief himself. He often spoke at political rallies and appeared as Castro's heir apparent.

"He was clearly more prominent than any minister of foreign affairs in any other country," said the Havana-based diplomat. "He was the maximum interpreter of Fidel Castro's ideas. Now, he is just the minister of foreign affairs."

Although Fidel Castro ruled unchallenged for nearly a half-century and talk of his death was long taboo, the Cuban leader prepared the nation's leadership, if not the nation itself, for this moment.

Shortly after the revolution's triumph in 1959, Fidel Castro named Raul Castro, a top commander during the revolutionary war, as his successor. Cuban authorities also developed a detailed succession plan.

In addition to calling up army reserves and flooding the country with police and security agents, Fidel Castro named Raul Castro to head a small governing council that includes Lage, Perez Roque and longtime Communist Party loyalists Esteban Lazo Hernandez and Jose Ramon Machado Ventura. Also aiding Raul Castro are several top generals.

Not only was Rivero omitted from the inner circle but so, too, was Hassan Perez, a 29-year-old communist youth leader whose national profile soared following the battle over Elian Gonzalez, the Cuban boy rescued at sea, brought to the U.S. and returned to Cuba in 2000.

Analysts say Raul Castro's steps to reorganize the government are logical given that he is a different leader from his older brother, who is likely never to return to power.

Raul eschews spotlight

While Fidel Castro consolidated authority in his own hands and used his charisma to push the country in whatever direction he chose, Raul Castro avoids the spotlight, delegates responsibility and, above all, demands results.

"The government now is institutionally focused," said Daniel Erikson, head of Caribbean programs at the Inter American Dialogue, a Washington policy group. "It's not going to be a cult of the personality."


Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Delahunt and Flake: Polar opposites unite against Cuba policy

Posted on Tue, Feb. 06, 2007

U.S. Reps. Bill Delahunt and Jeff Flake are an odd couple who disagree on just about everything -- except changing U.S. policy on Cuba.


WASHINGTON - It's hard to find common ground between Reps. Jeff Flake and Bill Delahunt -- except on how the United States should deal with Fidel Castro's regime.

The Republican Flake, 44, a Mormon with beach-boy looks, represents Mesa, a solidly Republican Phoenix suburb. An ardent backer of free trade and small government, Flake was first elected in 2000, when he beat three other Republicans in a primary by campaigning as the most conservative of the lot.

The silver-haired Delahunt, 65, is Catholic and an unabashed liberal. A Democrat, he represents Massachusetts' sprawling South Shore district, which includes the hyper-rich islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket.

Flake says he and Delahunt are the ''ideological bookends'' of the Republican and Democratic parties.

But they share a passionate rejection of U.S. policy toward Cuba, and their dogged persistence has made them de facto leaders of the congressional camp opposed to U.S. sanctions on Cuba.

And now the unlikely duo is stepping up their crusade to ease the sanctions through a host of amendments, bills and hearings. They have tried this before, but the context is vastly different now: Democrats control Congress, President Bush is on the defensive and Castro is gravely ill.

Dan Erikson, a Cuba analyst with the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in Washington, D.C., says that under a Republican Congress, Flake and Delahunt were confined to the ''role of provocateurs,'' with little practical impact. Now, he says, the obstacles to lifting sanctions ``are dramatically reduced.''

Delahunt and Flake argue that after more than four decades, the sanctions have failed to bring down communist rule on the island, and have reduced U.S. influence there and angered allies. They want the Bush administration to open talks with Havana, and are in a position to push their views.


As of Jan. 23, Delahunt chairs the powerful International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight Subcommittee of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. He has pledged to investigate U.S. aid to promote democracy in Cuba.

Flake, who sits on the same subcommittee, plans to offer legislation that would allow U.S. oil companies to provide services and supplies for exploration in Cuba waters. He has also offered legislation -- with influential New York Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel -- to lift the ban on U.S. citizens and residents making tourist trips to Cuba and wants to make it easier for the Cuban government to pay for U.S. imports.

Delahunt introduced a bill that would lift restrictions on Cuban-American visits to the island -- limited now to once every three years. The Massachusetts lawmaker says he believes all U.S. citizens should be allowed to travel to Cuba, but he has settled on this ''modest'' proposal because he ''understands how passionate'' Cuban Americans are about Castro. At any rate, he says, the mood in Miami is shifting on sanctions, and he thinks his proposal will be well received.

Critics say Delahunt and Flake are pandering to a ruthless dictator, and that negotiating with Castro's designated successor, his brother Raúl, would only lend legitimacy to his rule.

''Recognizing Raúl Castro as the de facto leader would be an act of infamy,'' said Roger Noriega, a former assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs. 'Raúl's hold on the military is shaky, and it is based almost entirely on his perception that he can `do business' with the gringos and keep the ball in the air for the regime's cronies.''

Flake and Delahunt ''don't realize that any perception of weakness from the Democratic Congress . . . only makes Raúl look for ways to simply hang on to power until the '08 elections in the hope that a Democratic president wins, and together with a Democratic Congress comes to [Cuba's] financial rescue,'' said Mauricio Claver-Carone, a Washington lobbyist for the U.S.-Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee.

Flake's and Delahunt's passion for Cuba seems odd. Their districts don't have commercial stakes in Cuba or large populations of Cuban Americans.


As it turns out, their involvement is more personal, going back many years.

Flake first became intrigued by Fidel Castro when he did missionary work in Southern Africa, where Cuba had active military involvement. As executive director of a democracy promotion group in the late 1980s, he dealt with Namibian independence leaders who spurned communism but revered Castro for his support of their cause.

''They loved the man,'' he told The Miami Herald.

He does not share their reverence, he says, and on his five trips to Cuba since getting elected, he has met with many Cuban officials but, when offered, declined to see Castro.

Flake, who hopes to move up to the Senate someday, seems to relish his role as a maverick. He has opposed his party's hard-line stance on immigration and criticizes his colleagues for allowing government spending programs to balloon out of control. For this, his office says, he was dumped in mid-January from his seat on the House Judiciary Committee.

Delahunt first went to Cuba in 1988 as a Massachusetts district attorney. A human rights group took him to visit jailed dissidents and push for their release. It happened a year later.

Ever since then, he has been ''fascinated'' by the U.S.-Cuba relationship, Delahunt told The Miami Herald. He has met with Castro so often he has lost count.

''About 10 times,'' he ventured.

Delahunt bristles at the notion that he is insensitive to the plight of political prisoners in Cuba. He considers himself a friend of dissident leaders like Oscar Espinosa Chepe, and he worked behind the scenes to try to secure their release from prison.

But, Delahunt adds, if human rights were the only guidepost for foreign policy, ``we would not be importing oil from Saudi Arabia.''

Flake and Delahunt led a 10-member congressional delegation to Cuba last month. Media hype was high given speculation that Castro was dying. They reported back that all is quiet on the island.

''What was surprising,'' Delahunt said recently, ``was that there was nothing surprising.''

Flake says the post-Fidel Castro transition is under way and the U.S. government should therefore begin a debate on ``where our policy goes from here.''

He says the Cuba policy contradicts Republican principles that more trade and engagement help the cause of democracy. He criticizes U.S. financial aid for Cuba democracy efforts as a ''jobs program'' for South Florida, and Radio and TV Martí broadcasts as ''over the top'' and ``beneath us.''

Flake says that, in the end, events in Cuba will drive what happens in Washington.

Castro's demise, he said, will make it ''easier to make bigger steps'' in Washington to change policy.

Miami Herald staff writer Oscar Corral contributed to this report.

Comment: Rep. Delahunt and Flake are cosponsors of Rep. Charles Rangel's bill, HR 654, to end all travel restrictions. Some observors believe 654 actually has a better chance of passage as it is not discriminatory and can unite all sectors of American society who want to regain their freedom to travel.

Cuban Intellectuals Challenge Conservative Old Guard

Posted on Sat, Feb. 03, 2007

In the first sign of internal dissent in Cuba since Fidel Castro ceded power six months ago, intellectuals held a forum to discuss government censorship in the 1970s.


One by one, Cuban artists and intellectuals in Havana did something unprecedented this week: They stood before the government and criticized a particularly harsh era of censorship -- out loud and in the open.

Perhaps even more surprising than the conference held Tuesday to discuss a dark period of Cuban cultural oppression was what happened outside: a protest by those shut out of the invitation-only event. Also out loud and in the open.

''I don't know how important it can be, but what's true is that I have never seen anything like that in Cuba,'' Cuban writer Ena Lucía Portela told The Miami Herald in an e-mail. ``It was rudimentary, passionate, incoherent, but it was the closest thing to freedom of expression I have seen in this country in my entire life.''

In a move that Cuba experts say signals a significant shift in Cuban domestic policy, the government led by interim President Raúl Castro appears to be cracking open the door to debate. After Castro publicly asserted he was open to discussion, and later convened a committee to study flaws of socialism, experts say there has been a clear changing of the guard in Cuba, one that allows at least controlled discussion.

In the first sign of internal dissent since Fidel Castro ceded power six months ago, intellectuals furious over the television appearances of 1970s-era government officials responsible for a crackdown on intelligentsia convened a conference to discuss it. But while the event was an extraordinary display of criticism, opponents of the Castro brothers point out that the conference was not open to the public, suggesting that the steps the government has taken toward discussion are small and wobbly.


The flare-up was triggered when Cuban TV ran a laudatory profile last month of Luis Pavón Tamayo, the former chairman of the National Culture Council. Pavón's five-year reign was dubbed the ''The Gray Quinquennium'' -- The Five Gray Years -- for its record of arrests and censorship.

A flurry of e-mails condemning the TV appearances swept Cuba's cultural community, leading to a rare statement by the artists' guild published in the state-controlled newspaper, Granma, which denounced the TV shows.

''The act established a turning point that we hope will be irreversible,'' writer Reynaldo González, winner of the 2003 National Literary Prize, said in an e-mail to The Miami Herald. ``And it has created an echo that will be difficult to stifle, even if someone tries to do so.''
A magazine editor convoked a conference led by writer Ambrosio Fornet and attended by Culture Minister Abel Prieto to debate the topic. But tickets were given only to some 450 people.


Reports from Cuba say young writers who were not invited protested outside.

Portela, 34, wasn't invited, and viewed the conference as a white-wash. ''A half-century of lies is not something that can change overnight,'' she said.

Former Cuban political prisoner Manuel Vásquez Portal agreed, saying it was nothing but a political ploy aimed at identifying dissenters.

''Look, Raúl Castro is a soldier. Soldiers don't debate. They order,'' said Vásquez, a former independent journalist. ``If he wants to debate, he'd free prisoners of conscience and invite them to debate.''

Prieto did not return e-mails requesting comment. Fornet sent a copy of his speech, in which he acknowledged that today's young Cubans don't know about the Pavón period -- because nobody ever told them.

''When evoking the Gray Quinquennium, I feel that we're plunging headlong into something that not only deals with the present but also projects us forcefully into the future,'' Fornet said, 'even if only because of what [Spanish philosopher Jorge Ruiz de] Santayana said: `Those who don't know history are condemned to repeat it.' That danger is precisely what we're trying to conjure here.''

Florida International University Professor Uva de Aragón said the fact that the event took place shows Cuba is changing.

'The first time I heard Raúl say `open to discussion,' I knew Fidel was no longer in control,'' she said. ``It should not be that much surprising. They must realize things are coming to an end. I think at this point, intellectuals figure they have nothing to lose.''

Miami Herald translator Renato Pérez contributed to this report.

Comment: The author, or his editors, are caught between recognizing that an important event took place but not wishing to grant its significance in the process of internal reform underway in Cuba. It at least seems possible that the seats available in the hall were reserved for those directly affected by Pavon's repressive policies which would have excluded today's younger writers. I honestly don't know but I do recognize negative spin when it is in play.

Miami Hard Line Reps back McCain for President

In the first big endorsement from the nation's biggest battleground state, Florida's three Cuban-American members of Congress announced Wednesday that they will back Republican Sen. John McCain for president.

U.S. Reps. Lincoln and Mario Díaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, all Miami Republicans, are taking sides at least one year before Florida's presidential primary. A fast-tracked bill in the state Legislature would bump the primary from March to the last Tuesday in January, possibly making Florida the first state in the South to vote.

McCain's campaign has already tapped a Miami political consulting team who worked for Gov. Charlie Crist's campaign, Carlos Curbelo and Danny Lopez, to organize events and conduct Hispanic outreach.

Ros-Lehtinen and the Díaz-Balart brothers backed different candidates in the 2006 and 2004 Republican primaries for governor and U.S. Senate, so their unified support for McCain carries added punch. They joined a group of GOP donors who met privately with McCain at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables last weekend.

Roughly 40 percent of Hispanic voters, an ever-growing voting bloc, helped President Bush defeat Democratic nominee John Kerry in 2004.

''John McCain is strong on national defense and the security of the homeland, yet at same time he is sensitive to the needs of the nation domestically,'' Ros-Lehtinen said. ``He also understands the threats of the Castro regime.''

The Arizona senator, a prisoner of war in Vietnam, spearheaded efforts to lift sanctions against the communist regime in Cuba (sic, see below). When he ran for president in 2000, he said he would consider easing the embargo against Cuba only if it released political prisoners and changed other repressive policies.

• An article in Thursday's Metro and Broward sections about U.S. Sen. John McCain getting the endorsement of three Cuban-American members of Congress in his campaign for the presidency incorrectly portrayed his position on the embargo against Cuba. McCain, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam, advocated lifting U.S. sanctions against the Vietnamese government. But he has consistently opposed lifting sanctions against the government of Fidel Castro unless it releases political prisoners and changes other repressive policies. The error was made by the copy-editing desk.
Posted on Fri, Feb. 02, 2007 Miami Herald

Friday, February 2, 2007

Miami Herald Supports People-to-People Visits

Posted on Thu, Feb. 01, 2007

Travel restrictions not in our best interest


The U.S. government is blowing its best chance to encourage a peaceful transition in Cuba by holding fast to counterproductive restrictions on travel to the island. Denying a visit to Cuba by the World Trade Center Palm Beach, a not-for-profit group, is a perfect example.

At a time when Cuba's future is uncertain, this U.S. business group could have promoted the virtues of free enterprise and U.S. humanitarian assistance. Instead, the White House's insistence on an inflexible policy snuffed this opportunity for a beneficial people-to-people exchange.

Current travel and trade rules allow U.S. citizens with special licenses to visit Cuba for a variety of reasons, among them educational, religious and humanitarian. WTC Palm Beach planned to take 30 South Florida professionals to establish ties, offer assistance, learn about Cuba and ''familiarize the right people about the positive aspects of trade and industry in our area,'' according to Louis Haddad, WTC Palm Beach's president. This wasn't a trip for people masquerading as an educational or religious group in order to party and drop U.S. dollars in Havana.

Possibility of change

U.S. travelers such as the WTC group carry information to Cubans from abroad and dispel ugly myths about the United States. Doing so makes these visitors the best ambassadors for democracy and free markets in Cuba. When U.S. visitors offer humanitarian assistance, they also help reduce the fear of change among ordinary Cubans and even government officials.

We support the U.S. embargo on commerce with Cuba. But the current restrictions go too far in restricting legitimate travel by Cuban Americans and others, such as WTC Palm Beach. Now that power shifts open the possibility of change in the 48-year-old dictatorship, U.S. policy should encourage, not reject, constructive people-to-people contacts with Cuba.

Miami Herald on Cuban Leadership Changes

Raúl Castro's inner circle hints at the future Cuba

Jan. 31, 2007

Six months after Cuban leader Fidel Castro ceded power, a reformer has been taking on an increasingly prominent role while hard-liners slide.


The latest leader to emerge in Cuba is a pediatrician and economic reformer who's known for biking to work.

Vice President Carlos Lage, a 55-year-old who once served on a medical mission to Ethiopia, became the nation's economic czar in the early 1990s. And now Lage has become one of the few Cuban politicians to stand out as a rising confidant of interim leader Raúl Castro.

Lage's rise -- and the perceived slide of hard-liners close to Fidel Castro, such as Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque -- has marked the six months since Castro ceded power to his brother following surgery for a still undisclosed ailment.

As old-time communist stalwarts and young up-and-comers close ranks in Havana to consolidate power in a not quite post-Fidel Cuba, experts agree that Lage's heightened profile is a sign of a Cuba to come: one under Raúl, where an economic overhaul could be welcomed.

Once on the edges of the Cuban limelight, Lage has represented Cuba at most international gatherings, from presidential summits to inaugurations, and recently headed a top-level delegation to Caracas to sign a string of agreements with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, Cuba's top ally and financial backer.

''Lage is key in all this,'' said Wayne Smith, a former chief of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana and critic of U.S. Cuba policy. ``Lage had been sort of put in the back seat, because he wanted to move ahead with economic reforms and Fidel didn't. Raúl comes in and makes Lage his right-hand man. He's been brought out of the closet, so to speak.''


Lage was credited with pushing state enterprise administrators to increase productivity and keep the economy from collapsing without surrendering socialism after the fall of the Soviet Union. In the early 1990s, he oversaw a series of economic changes that permitted limited and indirect land holdings and small businesses.

They were moves Raúl is believed to have supported, but Fidel curtailed them.

When Fidel announced July 31 that an intestinal ailment had sidelined him and he needed to relinquish power for the first time in 47 years, he assigned his pet projects to six senior officials.
He put energy and finance in the hands of Lage, a member of the Communist Party's ruling Politburo since 1991 and one of the younger members of Castro's inner circle. His son, also named Carlos, is now head of the influential Federation of University Students.
And while he has touted the need for economic changes, Lage by no means wavers in his commitment to socialism.

''Socialism in Cuba is irreversible . . . because with our efforts yesterday and today, we make it irreversible,'' he said in a speech last month. ``In Cuba, there will be no succession; there will be continuity.''


Experts point to Ramiro Valdés as another person who has taken a more important role under Raúl Castro. Although long believed to be Raúl's nemesis, Valdés was named minister of communications, in charge of key sectors such as the Internet.

Although experts wonder whether Raúl Castro named Valdés so he could keep his enemies close, they note that it nevertheless is a sign of closing ranks. As long as Fidel Castro remains alive, analysts doubt drastic changes will take place.

''Differences will not emerge until people start competing for political power. And, at the moment, there is no such thing,'' said Frank Mora, a professor at the National War College in Washington. ``The fact that . . . these two hated guys could come together and hold hands tells you something: in a moment of uncertainty, they will come together.''

Despite the semblance of unity, some Cuban officials do appear to have lost some ground under Raúl Castro.

Experts agree that Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque appears to have taken a lesser role in the past few months. Although he gave a key speech during an international summit in Havana in September, he has not been part of many of the foreign delegations headed by Lage.

The lower profile is important, because Pérez Roque is a key member of Fidel's inner circle. He's among the hard-liners dubbed Talibans for their strict allegiance to communism.

''He was like a son to Fidel,'' said Susan Kaufman Purcell, director of the Center for Hemispheric Policy at the University of Miami. ``He has apparently been pushed aside. Raúl doesn't want totally devoted protégés of Fidel.''

Also playing lesser roles in the past few months have been Ricardo Alarcón, president of the National Assembly, and Young Communists leaders Hassan Pérez and Otto Rivero, Cuba watchers said.

Old-time officials such as Health Minister José Ramón Balaguer and Esteban Lazo and José Ramón Machado Ventura -- to whom Fidel assigned oversight of education -- are expected to keep their assignments but diminish in importance over time.

For now, no one is expecting anything dramatic.

''There's too much uncertainty,'' Kaufman Purcell said. ``Raúl can't really become Raúl until Fidel is gone.''

Foreign Affairs Article by Julia Sweig

Fidel's Final Victory
By Julia E. Sweig
From Foreign Affairs, January/February 2007
Summary: The smooth transfer of power from Fidel Castro to his successors is exposing the willful ignorance and wishful thinking of U.S. policy toward Cuba. The post-Fidel transition is already well under way, and change in Cuba will come only gradually from here on out. With or without Fidel, renewed U.S. efforts to topple the revolutionary regime in Havana can do no good -- and have the potential to do considerable harm.

Julia E. Sweig is Nelson and David Rockefeller Senior Fellow and Director of Latin America Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. She is the author of Inside the Cuban Revolution: Fidel Castro and the Urban Underground and Friendly fire: Losing Friends and Making Enemies in the Anti-American Century.

OAS Secty Gnrl Urges US-Cuba Talks

U.S.-Cuba talks urged [by OAS SG]


Cuba and the United States should sit down to talk about their relationship without conditions and without making the talks dependent on the death of Fidel Castro, the secretary general of the Organization of American States, José Miguel Insulza, said.'

'If talks can begin later, why not begin to talk now?'' Insulza said Monday in Miami, referring to the readiness for dialogue expressed by Cuba's interim leader, Raúl Castro, during 80th birthday celebration for his ailing brother Saturday.`

`First thing is that [the talks] must be without conditions,` Insulza suggested.

'Maybe, during the conversations, conditions will be set; then someone will say: `In exchange for this, we're willing to grant that,' '' he added.

''To maintain the freeze in which hemispheric relations find themselves, particularly the relations between Cuba and its closest and most powerful neighbor, is not conducive to a good solution,'' Insulza said.

Insulza was in Miami to address the Caribbean-Central American Action, a private organization that promotes development in the Caribbean and Central America.

Press Statement on Congressional Delegation to Cuba


We wish to express our great appreciation for the initiative by ten members of Congress, led by Representative Jeff Flake, and for readiness by officials of the government of Cuba, to open an honest dialog about differences between our countries and opportunities to overcome them.

The Congressional delegation embodies the bipartisan majority that previously voted to end all travel restrictions and the 67% of Americans who favor normal relations with Cuba as reported this past week by Gallup. ("Americans' support for diplomacy with the island nation is higher now than it has been in recent years," Gallup reports, an increase of 12% since 2004.)

US policy has failed to accomplish its goals after more than forty years. Instead of isolating Cuba, we have isolated ourselves from the viewpoints of every other country in our hemisphere and virtually the entire membership of the United Nations. Instead of changing a regime, we have denied to the United States the natural influence that comes from normal economic and cultural ties with a close neighbor.

Local interest-group politics in the United States has been allowed to speak louder than national opinion and national interests.

The Cuban people must decide for themselves the implications of an ongoing peaceful transition of political leadership.

Americans can assist that process by removing artificial barriers and coercive relationships between our nations.

The place to begin is to restore the right of all Americans to travel freely to Cuba to engage in personal and organizational discovery and dialogs of their own.

We must open the doors to unrestricted family reunions as well as visits by foreign affairs and civic organizations, alumni and museum groups, religious and humanitarian networks, high school and university students, sports and cultural enthusiasts, etc. Farmers and business people should be able to investigate freely opportunities for trade and investment now and after the US embargo is ended.

Average grass roots Americans must be able to go to their local travel agent and book a ticket to travel to Cuba to learn about the history, culture, natural attractions and daily life of a close and heretofore forbidden neighbor. They will join two million visitors annually from Canada, Europe and every other country of the world on group excursions, personal walking tours or by renting a car and exploring wherever their interests dictate.

Congress can and must restore the right of all Americans to travel to Cuba in 2007. This is a bipartisan cause, with leaders of reform on both sides of the aisle. However, new Congressional leadership and control of key committees and of the conference process can assure that the will of the majority can now be exercised.

The signers of this statement are a representative sample of the organizations and e-mail networks working at the District and State level, as well as in Washington, to support renewal of an important traditional American freedom that will also serve better our nation's real interests.

Mavis Anderson, Latin America Working Group
Francisco Aruca, President, Radio Progreso, Miami Fl
Hilda Diaz, President, Marazul Charters, Inc.
Delvis Fernandez, Cuban American Alliance Education Fund
Louis Head, Cuba Research & Analysis Group
Andrea Holbrook, Travel Industry Committee on Cuba
Mary Day Kent, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, US Section
Sandra Levinson, Center for Cuban Studies
Pamela Ann Martin, Molimar Export Consultants, Inc.
John McAuliff, Fund for Reconciliation and Development
Kirsten Moller, Global Exchange
Ruben G. Rumbaut, ENCASA US/CUBA
Bob Schwartz, Disarm Education Fund
Wayne S. Smith, Center for International Policy
Melinda St. Louis, Witness for Peace
Geoff Thale, Washington Office on Latin America
Lisa Valanti, U.S.-Cuba Sister Cities Association
Richard M. Walden, President & CEO, Operation USA
Silvia Wilhelm, Cuban American Commission for Family Rights


For further information, please contact John McAuliff

Work phone 914-231-6270
Mobile 917-859-9025

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Palm Beach Post Editorial

New reasons for Cuba opening wash ashore

Friday, January 05, 2007

Cubans don't get many opportunities to express themselves freely. When it happens, Americans need to pay attention.

A Gallup poll released last month found that 47 percent of the 1,000 people surveyed in Havana and Santiago approve of their leaders' job performance; 40 percent disapprove. Gallup researchers described the results as a "fascinating portrayal of a populace living with the paradoxes of a communist regime." Not the least of the paradoxes is that Fidel Castro's approval rating is higher than President Bush's. It isn't that life is great in Cuba; the economy looks as emaciated as El Jefe, and the infrastructure is just as frail. It's more that Cubans remain fiercely defiant to judgments and criticism from the outside.

The United States has spent nearly a half-century helping to cultivate this defiance with a trade embargo and Cold War-era isolation diplomacy. Castro's remarkable longevity stems in part from his ability to transfer blame for Cubans' hardships to U.S. policy. The Gallup poll also found that 44 percent of Cubans considered the U.S. an "ideal partner" for more trade. Yet, the White House continues to sow isolation and reap defiance, to the benefit of the communist regime, and Florida's leading politicians just renewed their vows to the embargo.

In fact, engagement makes more sense now than ever, with Castro's transfer of power to brother Raul. There is common concern between both countries that Castro's death might make the transfer permanent, that could touch off a repeat of the 1980 Mariel boatlift, which brought 125,000 people across the Florida Straits, and the other exodus of rafters from Cuba in 1994.

The size of Cuba's offshore oil deposits is still uncertain, but both countries - and especially the Florida Keys - have a stake in ensuring that the environment is protected before drilling begins in earnest. Last month, a delegation of 10 congressmen met with Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque in Havana and discussed improving communications. Raul Castro has offered to open a dialogue. The countries have much to discuss, and the United States concedes nothing by talking.

Fidel Castro's failing health has created unreasonable expectations, particularly among some exile groups, of imminent democratic reforms in Cuba. Castro, however, has had a leadership structure in place for years to preserve communist rule after his much-awaited death. Raul, as a leader, is Castro Lite but hardly Thomas Jefferson. The idea that a new revolution is on the horizon is wishful thinking.

The United States does have an opportunity to engage and help shape the future in Cuba and throughout Latin America, where socialist regimes are sprouting. Embargo politics outlived its usefulness decades ago.

From the Economist: Cuba In Transition

Jan 25th 2007 MIAMI From The Economist print edition

Pressure is growing for a re-think of policy towards the island

THE fading health of Fidel Castro, coupled with the advent of the new Democratic Congress, means that America is under growing pressure to change its tough stance towards Cuba. Before Christmas, a ten-member bipartisan congressional delegation travelled to that dangerous island for a series of meetings with senior Cuban government officials. “It's a time for change,” says Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, who led the delegation. “There's a new dynamic now.”

Both sides feel it. Since taking over from his invalid brother in late July, Raúl Castro has twice offered to open normalisation talks with America. Each time he has been tersely rejected. The Bush administration says it is not interested so long as either Castro brother is in power. Critics say the administration is ignoring political developments in Cuba, where Raúl is showing signs of a less doctrinaire style of rule. But promoting change in either capital is no easy task. For the past six years the Bush administration has fought off efforts in Congress to soften the embargo, using the Republican majorities there to defeat repeated attempts to alter its terms.
That has now changed. The relevant committees in the 110th Congress are now headed by longstanding critics of the embargo. These include Charles Rangel, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Max Baucus, who heads the Senate Finance Committee. In the Senate Joe Biden of Delaware, a liberal and non-ideologue, has taken over the Foreign Relations Committee.

William Delahunt, the Democrat who now heads the oversight panel of the International Relations Committee in the House, has already announced that he will hold hearings shortly into Cuban aid programmes. Other hearings could be held on scandal-plagued Radio and TV Martí, the Miami-based government broadcasting outlets directed at Cuba. A government report has already exposed flaws in aid to Cuba's tiny dissident movement, as well as in funding for anti-Castro projects in the United States.

Critics say all these programmes have done a good job of fuelling the anti-Castro industry in Miami, while having little impact in Cuba. That, of course, has long been the dirty secret of America's Cuba policy. “The administration is not interested in Cuba, it is interested in Calle Ocho,” says Philip Peters, vice-president of the Virginia-based Lexington Institute, referring to the main avenue that cuts through Miami's Little Havana district. Miami's Cuban-American electorate and campaign contributions have long been seen as politically vital, less because of their actual size than because of Florida's perennial importance as a big presidential swing state.
In 2004, though, the Bush administration overreached itself. A presidential “Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba” proposed increasing aid to the dissidents while imposing tight limits on cash remittances to relatives on the island. Cuban-Americans were also restricted to one trip to Cuba every three years, and to visiting “close” relatives only—not including aunts, uncles and cousins.

But the travel and money limits, while popular with some hardliners, are disliked by many Cuban-Americans, especially those who have arrived in the past two decades and still have ties to family on the island. Many now advocate personal contacts as a useful vehicle for change.
Last month, a group of Cuban exile organisations in Miami echoed the call for easing restrictions on travel and remittances. Consenso Cubano issued a report saying that the policy violated “fundamental rights of Cubans”. It was endorsed by the influential, and extremely conservative, Cuban-American National Foundation.

Four prominent dissidents in Cuba also signed a statement in late November asking America to lift its travel restrictions. American laws “in no way help” their struggle, they said. Will George Bush listen? It's not what he's best known for.

Copyright © 2007 The Economist Newspaper and The Economist Group. All rights reserved.

Few Nations Follow US in Condemning Cuba

The Bush administration is campaigning to get more international condemnation of abuses in Cuba. So far, there have been few takers.


WASHINGTON - Shortly after an ailing Fidel Castro handed power to his brother Raúl last summer, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called her Spanish counterpart, Miguel Angel Moratinos.

With Havana seemingly on the edge of change, Rice hoped the European Union would issue a statement urging Cuba to adopt democratic reforms. As the leader on Latin American affairs within the EU, Madrid had the clout to make such a declaration happen, diplomats familiar with the outreach say.

The Spaniards declined.

To this day, the EU and most Latin American democracies have been conspicuously quiet on Cuba despite a stepped-up U.S. effort to garner those kinds of declarations on Cuba. Diplomats and analysts say the silence shows that many nations are both unwilling to be associated with U.S. policies toward Cuba and reluctant to anger Havana by criticizing its communist government.

''The embargo focus of U.S. policy [toward Cuba] has been ineffective,'' said Kenneth Roth, president of Human Rights Watch, a group critical of both U.S. sanctions on Cuba and the island's repressive ways. ``It's driven away natural allies who otherwise might be willing to help promote human rights.''


Bringing international attention on Cuba was a priority for the Bush administration even before Castro temporarily handed power to his brother and six top aides on July 31. A few weeks earlier, a big interagency policy report on Cuba said that Western democracies ``should take a leading role in guiding Cuba on a path . . . to representative democracy.''

U.S. officials with Latin American responsibilities often discuss Cuba on their trips abroad.
The State Department's Cuba Transition Coordinator, Caleb McCarry has traveled to Spain, Finland -- which then held the EU's rotating presidency -- and Germany, which currently holds it.

Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Thomas Shannon has traveled widely in Latin America as well as China, Spain and Canada. And Kirsten Madison, who among other duties oversees the Cuba desk at the State Department, has been to France, Italy and Belgium.
The State Department says it is not only out to convince others on the merits of U.S. policy on Cuba.

''This is not us giving them information only,'' spokesman Eric Watnik said. ``We want to know what they are doing to help the Cuban people and see if we can work together in supporting a democratic transition.''

So far, the administration has little to show for its efforts. Only a handful of formerly communist nations in Central Europe and Costa Rican President Oscar Arias have called for a democratic transition in Cuba. The Cuban foreign ministry later blasted Arias, a Nobel Peace prize winner, as a ``vulgar mercenary.''

The reluctance of other nations to speak out is dismaying Cuban Americans.
U.S. ambassador to Spain Eduardo Aguirre last month told a group of Spanish reporters that he'd ``like the European Union at some time to make a simple statement, that they'd like to see democracy in Cuba.''

Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said many nations are eager to condemn alleged U.S. violations in the Guantánamo Bay prison but unwilling to speak out on the plight of Cuban political prisoners.
''After almost 50 years of this double standard of silence toward Cuba's lack of freedoms, I am not very surprised by the lack of international support,'' she said.


European diplomats interviewed by The Miami Herald, many of whom declined to be identified because Cuba is a delicate subject, say all its members want democracy in Cuba. But some governments like those in Spain, France and England feel that condemning Havana at this time would prompt the communist government to dig its heels rather than embrace change.
The Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the three Baltic states are pushing for a EU pronouncement, the diplomats say. Hungary's ambassador to Washington, András Simonyi, said Europe is ''edging'' towards a common position on Cuba, which he said is a ''special case'' because of its history and its ``present situation.''

''Hungary has a clear view that we have been through a democratic change and, of course, we would like to see as many countries as possible'' take a democratic path.

In Latin America, most big democracies like Argentina and Brazil have long held that they cannot interfere in the internal affairs of another country. Mexico's new conservative President Felipe Calderón has said he will seek to promote democracy in the region, but so far has not mentioned Cuba.

There's also resentment against the U.S. Helms-Burton Act of 1996, which punishes foreign companies that invest in Cuban properties seized from U.S. citizens, as well as the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.

U.S. officials say they understand that other nations oppose Washington's ''tactics'' but that the two sides should work together to achieve democracy in Cuba.

But that's ''not how things work,'' said José Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director for Human Rights Watch. ``They also need to open the whole policy agenda for debate.''

Gallup Poll on Normalization with Cuba

December 15, 2006

Two in Three Americans Favor Re-Establishing Ties With Cuba

Democrats more supportive than Republicans

by Joseph Carroll

A recent Gallup Poll finds two in three Americans endorse the re-establishment of diplomatic ties between the United States and Cuba. Americans' support for diplomacy with the island nation is higher now than it has been in recent years, but Americans have been more likely to support rather than oppose relations for the better part of the past three decades. A majority of both Democrats and Republicans support the idea, although support is somewhat stronger among Democrats.

While Americans support a diplomatic relationship with Cuba, a review of Gallup polling finds that a strong majority of Americans have tended to view the country unfavorably over the past 10 years. Fidel Castro came into power in Cuba in 1959 and shortly thereafter created a one-party communist government to rule the nation. In October 1960, the United States began its embargo against Cuba and in January 1961, the government broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba. More than 40 years later, both of these measures are still in effect.

Diplomacy With Cuba?

Gallup's Dec. 8-10 poll finds that 67% of Americans favor the United States re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba, while 27% oppose this notion. Over the past 32 years, a majority of Americans have consistently said they support establishing diplomatic ties with Cuba, with the exception of one poll conducted in 1996.

In 1974, when this question was first asked, 63% of Americans endorsed the idea of diplomacy between the United States and Cuba. This sentiment dropped some in 1977, with 53% of Americans supporting it. By 1996, Americans were more opposed (49%) than in favor (40%). This poll was conducted shortly after an incident in February 1996, in which the Cuban military shot down two U.S. civilian planes over international waters, killing four people. After this incident disappeared from the headlines, support for re-establishing ties with Cuba started to increase, reaching its high point of 71% in 1999. From 2000 through 2004, public support declined into the mid-50% range, but it has now increased again in the latest poll, to 67%.Public support for re-establishing diplomatic ties with Cuba varies by partisanship. Fifty-nine percent of Republicans support diplomatic ties with Cuba, lower than the 71% among independents and the 69% among Democrats. Over the past 10 years, Democrats have typically been more likely than Republicans to support renewal of a diplomatic relationship. Independents' support usually mirrors the higher level of support found among Democrats

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,009 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Dec. 8-10, 2006. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.