Thursday, March 29, 2007

Nebraska Governor Told Cubans Would Buy More

Official says if embargo were lifted, Cuba would spend more on U.S. products

Updated 03/28/2007 11:03:11 PM CDT from Kearney (Nebraska) Hub

HAVANA (AP) — Cuba has spent $108 million so far this year on American food and agricultural products and associated logistical costs, but would have spent far more if not for Washington’s 45-year-old embargo, a top official said Tuesday.

Pedro Alvarez, director of the island’s food import company, Alimport, made the announcement as he signed agreements to purchase an additional $15.75 million worth of wheat and pork from Nebraska producers. He said Cuba spent $560 million on U.S. food and agricultural products and associated shipping and other costs last year, and more than $2.2 billion since December 2001.

The embargo prohibits most American travel and trade to Cuba, but a law passed by Congress in 2000 permitted Fidel Castro’s government to directly purchase U.S. farm goods on a cash-only basis. Havana at first rejected the measure, but began taking advantage of it in late 2001.

Alvarez said that if the embargo were lifted, U.S.-Cuba trade in goods and services — including tourism — could balloon to $21 billion in the first five years.

“Alimport keeps the door open to American exporters, but sadly their own laws prohibit doing business with Cuba,” he said.

Even though America is the island’s leading source of food and agricultural products, Alvarez said Cuba can never be sure Washington will allow its country’s exporters to make good on contracts they sign with Havana. He said U.S. powdered milk and other perishables had spoiled on ships in Cuban ports because American authorities held up cash payments sent from the island.

“Even though American companies are efficient in providing their products, there continue to be too many uncertainties for us,” he said. “We never know when a shipment is going to be held up and that can’t be.”

Despite his complaints about U.S.-Cuba policy, Alvarez was careful not to say Cuba would consider severing all trade relations with the United States.

“I haven’t said that. I said this uncertainty has made increased growth in sales more difficult and that this uncertainty has placed U.S. producers at a complete disadvantage with relation to Cuba,” he said.

Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, in Havana to help negotiate Tuesday’s agreements, was making his third visit to Cuba since taking office a bit more than two years ago.

He said that “in spite of the challenges between our two countries, and how we export products down here, we intend to increase the number of Nebraska products sold.”

During a ceremony to sign the contracts, Heineman sat in a chair behind a small American flag, while officials placed a miniature Cuban flag in front of Alvarez.

U.S. medical supplies have been legally exported to Cuba since 1992, and Heineman said that state officials began initial discussions to allow Nebraska companies to tap into that market.

“We look forward to additional agreements in the future,” Heineman said.

Cuba Open to US Oil Investment

Minister: Cuba open to American investment in oil ventures, but blocked by U.S.

The Associated Press
Tuesday, March 20, 2007

HAVANA: Cuba is open to American companies that want to join the communist country's new oil-drilling ventures but any such deals are being blocked by Washington, the minister overseeing energy matters said Tuesday.

Basic Industry Minister Yadira Garcia said exploratory drilling in the Gulf of Mexico should start to yield profits by 2011.

"A lot of American companies have been coming, they know about our studies ... but we are not the ones limiting them," Garcia told reporters at an international gathering on earth sciences.

Garcia said it was "a good moment" for Washington to let American oil companies invest in the Cuban market. Currently, a long-standing U.S. trade embargo prohibits most American trade and investment with the communist-run island.

In effect for more than four decades, the U.S. embargo bans virtually all trade between the two countries except for the sales of American food and medicine to the island.

Companies from Norway, India, Malaysia, Spain and Venezuela are among those that have already reserved blocks for petroleum exploration under production-sharing agreements with Cuba.

The U.S. Geological Survey has reported that the North Cuba Basin off the island's coast holds a substantial quantity of oil — 4.6 billion to 9.3 billion barrels of crude and 9.8 trillion to 21.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

U.S. Senators Larry Craig, a Republican from Idaho, and Byron Dorgan, a Democrat from North Dakota, earlier this month introduced a measure containing a provision to allow U.S. oil and natural gas companies to work in Cuban waters.

But a Senate bill already has been introduced that seeks to punish companies that invest in Cuban drilling near Florida. U.S. Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban-born Republican from Florida, has pledged a similar measure in the House.

Ed Perkins On Travel

Congress reconsiders ban on Cuba travel

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Cuba -- long off-limits to ordinary U.S. tourists -- may once again become an enticing vacation option. Last month, Reps. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., submitted a bill that would require the administration to allow U.S. citizens to visit Cuba and allow U.S. travel agencies to book them; a similar bill was subsequently filed in the Senate. Both bills reportedly enjoy bipartisan support.

Although the measures represent a potentially major policy change, final implementation is by no means certain. U.S. policy toward all things Cuban has been largely controlled by the Republican power structure in Florida, which is responsive to the fiercely anti-Castro exile community. It remains to be seen whether Congress can come up with enough votes to pass a final bill, and if it does, whether the president will sign it.

Cuba at one time was a highly popular winter vacation destination for U.S. travelers, especially from the Northeast. If you've ever seen "Guys and Dolls," you'll remember that an important element of the plot involved Sky Masterson's bet that he could con the lady from the Save-a-Soul Mission into an evening in Havana (which he did). Until Castro took over the government in 1959, Cuba offered three main appeals to U.S. visitors: a wide-open Havana, with casino gambling and easily available prostitution, both with reputed strong connections to organized crime; the more sedate allure of history, culture and cuisine; and fabulous Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean beaches -- most notably Varadero, about 70 miles east of the capital.

I vaguely remember my parents taking me to Cuba for two weeks when I was 10 or 11, just before World War II. I don't remember much of Havana, but I do remember staying at the only hotel in Varadero, a ramshackle two-story wooden structure. After the war, I clearly remember big-time tourism to Cuba, including nonstop flights from New York to Havana and from Miami to Varadero.

When Castro took over -- and expropriated property owned by U.S. corporations and individuals -- the U.S. reaction was to clamp down on tourism to Cuba. The Bay of Pigs incident resulted in increased restrictions.

Despite losing the U.S. market, Cuba pushed ahead with tourist developments aimed at other visitor sources. Varadero, in particular, has been built up, largely with European-based hotels, into a beach resort complex rivaling those on Spain's Mediterranean coast. Dozens of planeloads, mainly charters filled with visitors from Canada and Europe, arrive there every week: For a look at the development, check out the Web site of Canadian tour operator Sunquest ( Other Cuban beach centers, too, boast world-class tourist accommodations and resorts.

My guess is that if U.S. travel restrictions are lifted, your initial options will be package tours that include air, hotel and transfers. I suspect the Cuban government won't want too many individual U.S. tourists roaming around unsupervised.

Some of you probably believe the United States shouldn't do anything to help Cuba's economy, even through ordinary tourism. You may well continue to hold that belief if Castro dies within the next year or so -- apparently, a distinct possibility. I'm not going to argue with you. But I'm equally sure that lots of other U.S. citizens would welcome a new destination option for warm-water winter vacations, especially one so close. If you're in that camp, keep your eyes on the news -- Cuba may well be available soon.

E-mail syndicated author Ed Perkins at

This article appeared on page E - 3 of the San Francisco Chronicle

State Department Perspective

Fidel Castro still controls Cuba: U.S.

Wed Mar 21, 2007 5:31PM EDT
By Arshad Mohammed and Sue Pleming

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Convalescing Cuban leader Fidel Castro is still in control of the country and repression has increased during the rule of his younger brother Raul, a top U.S. diplomat said on Wednesday.

"Fidel Castro remains a ... controlling political presence," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon said in an interview at the Reuters Latin American Investment Summit.

Castro stepped down last July 31 after undergoing emergency intestinal surgery, but Shannon said Cuba's human rights record has since deteriorated as the government appeared to be trying to fend off any push for change.

"One thing that we have noted during this transfer-of-power period is that repression has increased," he said. "It's very important for ... these new governors -- if you want to call them that -- to show that they are in control and that they can manage the regime and that they can manage the Cuban state and that they cannot challenged."

Castro is thought to have suffered from diverticulitis, or inflamed bulges in the large intestine, though his exact condition is a state secret in Cuba.

The last significant Cold War player to defy the United States, Castro handed power to his brother Raul when he stepped aside almost eight months ago.


While Raul Castro has voiced a willingness to talk to the United States, Shannon suggested the United States would consider such a dialogue only as Cuba moved toward peaceful, democratic change.

"There is nothing new on that front because ... since Fidel Castro remains this ... controlling presence it means that Raul and the people around him are kind of frozen. There is not a lot that they can do," said Shannon, the top U.S. diplomat for Latin America.

He said Washington wanted to see clear signs of change, including a release of political prisoners.

"Any positive step would be welcome ... We have made it clear that our engagement will be determined by change in Cuba and that the degree to which the Cubans show a willingness to take positive steps, we'll respond to it," Shannon added, without saying how such steps would be rewarded.

There is a move in the U.S. Congress to ease some travel and possibly some trade restrictions against Cuba. Such efforts have, however, failed in the past.

Washington broke off diplomatic relations with Havana in 1961, two years after Fidel Castro seized power in a revolution and turned Cuba into a Soviet ally.

Communications were restored with the opening of low-level diplomatic missions called interest sections in 1978. But a strict U.S. embargo remains in place.

Shannon said the United States was looking for additional ways to boost the opposition in Cuba but this was difficult.

"It's a difficult period for the opposition because they don't know what direction the Cuban regime is going to stake out for the future," he said.

He also said countries that have relationships with Cuba, such as Canada and Spain, should underscore to Havana the need for change.

© Reuters 2006. All rights reserved.

Is State now prepared to see a difference between Raul and Fidel, either really or for the sake of convenience? Does this create space for a new policy when Fidel is not present, or at least definitively not in charge, in contrast with past juvenile pronouncements that Raul was "Fidel light"? Is there in the works a non-"regime change" road map to more normal relations?

CUBA EMBARGO: LEAN MEAT (Palm Beach Post editorial)

Palm Beach Post


27 March 2007

The Palm Beach Post

Few U.S. foreign-policy initiatives have come with more contradictions than
the trade embargo against Cuba, and even fewer have been more ineffective.

For 45 years, the United States has tried to bring down Fidel Castro through
economic isolation. Castro has remained in power because, almost since its
inception, the embargo has been a political prop that empowers American
politicians, not the Cuban people.

While the embargo has remained a failure, it has grown as a fraud. Most
Americans probably had no idea, before reading the story in Monday's Post,
that the United States is Cuba's No. 1 food supplier. This year, American
farmers will ship more than $300 million worth of beans, rice, corn, canned
foods and chicken to the island. Corporate executives, lawmakers and state
governors have streamed in and out of Havana looking for deals since 2000,
when Congress authorized cash-only sales of food.

The Bush administration has done its part to play the Cold War charade by
toughening restrictions on travel and cargo. Cubans can buy more Coca-Cola
than ever, but they can't see their exiled relatives as often. Forget
soybeans. Our biggest export to Cuba is hypocrisy.

Protest of Travel Restrictions in Miami

Dozens protest Cuba travel restrictions
By Elias E. Lopez

McClatchy Newspapers


MIAMI - A small crowd of mostly Cuban exiles gathered on a sidewalk Saturday to express frustration with the Bush administration's restrictions on traveling to the communist island to visit family.

The protest is part of a stepped-up effort to ease the restrictions after federal lawmakers in Washington filed legislation that would allow Cuban-Americans to visit the island at will and lift a general Cuba travel ban for all American citizens.

"It's crazy and it's criminal," said Manuel Rey, 51, who has an uncle and cousins in Havana. "It's an erroneous policy that makes no sense."

On Jan. 25, Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., submitted a bill that would lift the general travel ban. Six days later, Rep. Bill Delahunt, D-Mass., and Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill., filed legislation to permit Cuban Americans to visit Cuba anytime they want.

The restrictions, adopted in 2004, have been credited by the administration with keeping badly needed hard currency out of the hands of Fidel Castro's regime.

But on Saturday demonstrators carried signs and chanted slogans against the rules that limit family visits to once every three years, with no humanitarian exceptions for family emergencies. The measures also do not include aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins on the list that qualifies as family.

One of the groups involved in organizing Saturday's demonstration, the Association of Christian Women in Defense of the Family, said in a statement last week that "now, more than ever, is the time to act" because Congress is considering bills to ease travel restrictions.

"It's very cruel; I have my father in Cuba. He's 92. I wish I could visit him more," said Rosa Reyes, 69, president of the association, during the protest staged near the offices of Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla. - a staunch supporter of the restrictions.

Another demonstrator held up a bullhorn and led the crowd chanting: "Ileana respeta, con mi familia no te metas!" - "Ileana respect, don't mess with my family."

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement last week urging Congress to pass legislation that would end Cuba travel restrictions. The statement said Bishop Thomas Wenski of Orlando, chairman of the U.S. Bishops' committee on international policy, praised lawmakers seeking an end to the restrictions. Wenski spent many years working in Miami-Dade.

"No one should be prevented from visiting a dying relative or attending a loved one's funeral simply for having traveled to Cuba once in the previous three years," Wenski said in the statement.


© 2007, The Miami Herald.

Embargo? U.S. is main food source for Cuba

Monday, March 26, 2007


HAVANA -- Since 2003, one country has been the main supplier of food to Fidel Castro's Cuba: the United States.

Surprised? You have good company.

Many Americans think their government's 45-year-old embargo blocks all trade with the Communist government, but the United States is the top supplier of food and agricultural products to Cuba. In fact, many Cubans depend on rations grown in Arkansas and North Dakota for their rice and beans.

Since December 1999, governors, senators and House members from at least 28 states have visited Cuba, most to talk trade. They keep coming: Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman was flying in Sunday with a farm delegation. Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter of Idaho plans a visit next month.

Washington's sanctions choke off most trade with Cuba, but a law passed by Congress in 2000 authorized cash-only purchases of U.S. food and agricultural products and was cheered by major U.S. farm firms like Archer Daniels Midland Co. interested in the untapped Cuban market.

Cuba refused to import one grain of rice for more than a year because of a dispute over financing, but finally agreed to take advantage of the law after Hurricane Michelle in November 2001 cut into its food stocks.

Since then, Cuba has paid more than $1.5 billion for American food and agricultural products, said John Kavulich, senior policy adviser at the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council of New York.

The $340 million in exports in 2006 represented a drop of about 3 percent from 2005, which was down from nearly $392 million in 2004. Kavulich said the decline was caused mostly by generous subsidies and credits from Venezuela and China.

But the United States remains on top. Its main exports to Cuba include chicken, wheat, corn, rice and soybeans -- much of it doled out to Cubans on the government ration.

The United States also sends Cuba brand-name cola, mayonnaise, hot sauce and candy bars, as well as dairy cows.

Kirby Jones, founder of the U.S.-Cuba Trade Association in Washington, said Cuba's food import company Alimport has an entire department dedicated to American purchases.

Jones was in Cuba this month with Arkansas chicken exporters, Nebraska bean growers and officials from the Port of Corpus Christi, Texas.

"Hundreds and hundreds of American executives have come down here," he said. "[Cuban officials] know how to talk to us."


Delaware May Start Trade with Cuba

(AP) - March 25, 2007 - Delaware is looking to start trading with Cuba. In 2001 the federal government made it legal to sell medical supplies and agricultural goods to the Cubans.

Delaware Agriculture Secretary Michael Scuse says a trade mission two weeks ago by his department found a big market for one of the state's poultry industry.

Scuse says apples, soybeans and wheat are some other products that could be making their way from the first state to Havana ports in the very near future.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

U.S. should engage Cuba's next leaders

By DeWayne Wickham

[Wickham's column is distributed by Gannett News Service.]

More than six months after Cuban President Fidel Castro “temporarily” ceded power to his brother, Raul, this country appears to be running on autopilot.

Tourists from Canada and Europe fill the rooms of upscale hotels in the Old Havana section of Cuba's capital. At night, there are few empty seats at restaurants in the once-fashionable neighborhoods of Vedado and Miramar.

The Galiano shopping district in central Havana has a steady flow of Cubans. Some have money to spend in the “dollar stores” that offer high-priced consumer goods. But most are there simply to window shop or buy whatever they can afford in the poorly stocked pesos stores where most Cubans shop.

The food shortages, the power blackouts, the desire for a better conditions and the widespread disdain among Cubans for the long-running American economic embargo are all part of the matrix of life in this country.
The Cuban people are a resilient lot. Despite all that ails their country — and the list is long — they have life expectancy and literacy rates equal to those in the United States, and a lower infant mortality rate, according to the 2007 CIA World Factbook.

Castro, the world's longest ruling head of government, may be in failing health, but that hasn't put this nation in a tailspin, as many in Washington and Miami had hoped. Cuba's government is in transition. But for most of the country's 11.4 million people, Castro's slow exit from power has brought few changes.

While the Bush administration has created a commission to plot how to “hasten” Cuba's transition to a democracy, Cuban leaders call that effort wishful thinking — and political pandering to Cuban Americans.

“The Cuban revolution is completely transcendental,” Ruben Remigio Ferro, the head of Cuba's Supreme Court, told me. “The revolution is bigger than Fidel. It won't end when Fidel's life ends.”

Remigio, 52, is part of the Cuban power structure that American politicians and anti-Castro Cubans rarely acknowledge. For them, Cuba and Castro have been synonymous for nearly half a century. But this country's political structure actually has many layers from which its next leader, looking beyond Fidel and Raul Castro, likely will emerge.

One of them is Ricardo Alarcon, the National Assembly president who told me that Cuba's enemies are wrong to believe that this country will come unglued after Castro leaves the political stage. Cuba, he says, already has successfully weathered that power shift.

“It was already proven when Castro gave power to Raul more than six months ago,” Alarcon said. “The only noise, the only turbulence, was in Miami. ... The fact is that he (Castro) is recovering pretty well and the country is continuing to function pretty well without any interruptions due to his absence.”

Alarcon is one of several members of Cuba's governing hierarchy who is believed to be a potential successor to the Castro brothers. Others who are often mentioned are Carlos Lage, the country's economic czar, and Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque. These aren't household names in Washington, but they ought to be.

In 1960, C. Wright Mills wrote that most of what people were reading about Cuba in the U.S. press “is far removed from the realities and the meaning of what is going on in Cuba today.” His book, “Listen, Yankee: the Revolution in Cuba,” criticized America's ignorance of the island nation.

Forty-seven years later, his charge still resonates.

Few U.S. news organizations have bureaus in Cuba. That's despite the impact that U.S.-Cuba relations have on domestic politics in the United States (notwithstanding efforts by a succession of U.S. presidents to squeeze the economic life out of Cuba).

While media organizations routinely cover the few Cubans who steal away in small boats for the United States, they fail to report on the thousands allowed to fly into exile each year under an immigration accord reached between the two countries in the early 1990s.

This warped coverage allows politicians in Washington — and Cuban activists in Miami — to demonize Castro's regime. And with a leadership change in Cuba looming, it's allowed them to delude Americans into believing the Bush administration has a role to play in this transition.

Cuba is approaching an important crossroad. Control of its government will soon pass from its revolutionary old guard to a new generation of leaders. The United States should seek to engage, not enrage, those leaders.

Write Wickham at

Fact Sheet on Travel to Cuba (1958-2007)

The Fight for the Right to Travel to Cuba Fact Sheet / Chronology

The U.S. has had restrictions on travel to Cuba for most of the past 40 years. While the Constitutional right to travel was technically won in a 1958 Supreme Court decision, the U.S. government and others have tried to prevent us from traveling through a variety of legal, extra legal, and illegal means. Since the beginning, people have fought back vigorously and continuously for our right to travel to Cuba.

In the 1950’s the US government attempted to curtail our right to travel through passport controls (either by not issuing a passport to certain persons – Paul Robeson was the most famous) or – when that method failed to survive court challenges – by listing countries in the passport which were ‘invalid’ for travel. When this method also failed in court, the government switched from ‘travel controls’ to ‘currency controls’. The current restrictions on travel to Cuba come under the Treasury Department - and not the State Department- because they have to do with the spending of money by US citizens, residents, and corporations. Of course, these ‘currency controls’ are just a back door method to restrict our right to travel.

Kent v Dulles - Freedom to Travel established as a Fifth Amendment guarantee.

Jan 1 U.S. backed dictator Batista flees. Victory of the Cuban Revolution
October American Society of Travel Agents Convention takes place at Hotel Nacional in Havana. Plane piloted by CIA agents and originating in Florida strafes Havana killing 2 and wounding 45.

US restricts travel to Cuba via passport controls. African American journalist William Worthy challenges the passport controls and wins in 1964.

US restricts travel to Cuba via currency controls under the general US economic blockade. Student groups travel to Cuba 1962, 1963 and 1964. Leaders indicted and case goes to Supreme Court in 1967.

Justice William.O..Douglas writing for Supreme Court majority:
“Freedom of movement is the very essence of our free society…Once the right to travel is curtailed, all other rights suffer. “
“The right to know, to converse with others, to consult with them, to observe social, physical, political, and other phenomena abroad as well as at home gives meaning and substance to freedom of expression and freedom of the press.”

Student and civil rights activists initiate an educational solidarity project to defy the restrictions and cut sugar cane side by side with Cuban workers. More than 8,000 people since then have traveled with the Venceremos Brigade in yearly contingents without ever requesting a license from the government.

Center for Cuban Studies organized to bring academic and cultural groups to and from Cuba. Center is bombed in 1973. 1199 Hospital Workers union hall also bombed for exhibition called ExpoCuba and a worker is injured.

Miami Airport bombed in response to US policy change allowing third country subsidiaries of US companies to do business with Cuba

Cubana Airline offices are bombed throughout Latin America
Oct 6 Bomb explodes on Cubana civilian flight taking off from Barbados killing all 73 passengers. CIA-trained bomber Orlando Bosch is now an honored member of the Miami community openly supported by the first President Bush and his sons. CIA-trained bomber Luis Posada escapes from prison in Venezuela and later helps CIA efforts to supply Nicaraguan Contras in the 1980’s. In the 1990’s, Posada says he received funds from leaders of the Cuban American National Foundation to coordinate the bombing of hotels in Cuba. Sentenced in Panama for ‘arms violations’ related to a 2003 assassination plot against the Cuban President, currently in jail in El Paso, TX, for ‘illegal immigration’ violations.

President Jimmy Carter lifts the restrictions on travel.
Young Cuban Americans in the Brigada Antonio Maceo travel to Cuba as an act of friendship and reconciliation.

- 600 young people from the US attend the World Youth Festival in Havana
- Meeting in Havana, representatives of Cubans living abroad in the United States, Spain, Puerto Rico, and Mexico establish a Dialogue with the Cuban Government. Cuban American leaders establish the Committee of 75 and travel agencies are initiated to coordinate the travel of Cuban Americans to visit their relatives. 125,000 do so in the next year and regular charter service is established between Miami and Havana.

Carlos Muniz, president of Viajes Varadero travel agency in Puerto Rico, and member of the Committee of 75, is assassinated in San Juan. Eulalio Negrin, another member of the Committee of 75, is assassinated in Union City, NJ

President Ronald Reagan re-imposes the travel restrictions.
Law firm of Rabinowitz, Boudin, Standard, Krinsky and Lieberman – which had originally litigated the Kent v Dulles suit in 1958 - brings suit on behalf of Professor Ruth Wald, the Center for Cuban Studies, and other plaintiffs to end the restrictions, a case finally lost by a 5-4 Supreme Court decision in 1984. The majority rule that foreign policy concerns of the executive branch could override our Fifth Amendment right to travel.

Subpoenas demanding the names of all Marazul Tours clients who had traveled to Cuba is fought and won by the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Lawyers Guild, and the National Conference of Black Lawyers.

Marazul is bombed and would be bombed again in 1989 and 1996. Mackey International, Airline Brokers Company and other travel agencies in Miami are also bombed over these years.

- Cuba Democracy Bill (Torricelli Bill) passed by Congress to further restrict travel and increase the effects of the economic blockade as Cuba’s economy bottoms out in the wake of the collapse of her trading partners in the socialist world.
- Pastors for Peace initiates the first of annual US-Cuba Friendshipment Caravans demanding the right to travel to Cuba to deliver humanitarian supplies and refusing, on principal, to apply for ‘permission’ from the US government. In 1993, Pastors for Peace mounts a 23 day hunger strike and world wide campaign which wins the release of a school bus and supplies. In 1996 participants risked their lives in a 94-day Fast for Life successfully demanding the release of 400 computers.
- In a series of attacks coordinated by Luis Posada (see above) bombs explode at a number of Cuban hotels resulting in the death of an Italian tourist.

Global Exchange and many other organizations launch the Freedom to Travel challenge sending eight delegations without licenses for the next three years. The government responds by freezing Global Exchange’s account.
The former head of the US Interests Section in Havana, Wayne Smith, initiates a similar campaign bringing unlicensed academics to Cuba beginning in 1994.

Freedom to Travel Campaign v. Newcomb: 9th Circuit Court rules the court will not intervene in foreign policy decisions and maintains travel restrictions.
Helms Burton Bill tightens and codifies travel restrictions giving only Congress the power to eliminate them.

900 unlicensed young people defy the restrictions to attend the World Youth Festival in Havana, in the largest single travel challenge. No one is fined.

- Pope John Paul II visits Cuba and calls for an end to the restrictions and US economic blockade.
- 5 Cuban agents who had been sent to the US to monitor the activities of groups in Miami who were attacking Cuba – are convicted of being unregistered Cuban intelligence agents and conspiracy and one is also convicted of conspiracy to commit murder (re the shootdown of 2 ‘Brothers to the Rescue’ planes in 1996). Information passed on from the 5 to Cuba – and from Cuba to US authorities – included imminent threats to the charter flights between Miami and Havana.

President Clinton modifies restrictions allowing increased travel – but only under licenses.

Hundreds of universities, colleges and high schools, professional and cultural organizations, religious institutions and groups, and thousands upon thousands of individuals flood the Treasury Department with applications for travel - many enlisting the aid of their congressional representatives. Over 750 universities and colleges receive licenses.

Nethercutt Amendment allows limited food and medicine sales to Cuba, but also further codifies travel restrictions.

The House of Representatives votes to withhold funds for the enforcement of the travel restrictions.

*OFAC (Office of Foreign Assets Control) fines more than 100 travelers $1000 each. OFAC fines 74-year grandmother $8500 for bicycling in Cuba. Hundreds of others have cases pending before OFAC.
*350 Cuban Americans meet in Florida to demand a new Cuba policy and an end to the restrictions.
*Over 150 citizens and elected officials representing 37 cities and 17 states met with their counterparts in Cuba as part of the US-Cuba Sister Cities Association Conference. In response, OFAC sends Requirements to Furnish Information (subpoenas) to members of the US-Cuba Sister Cities Association alleging they organized an “illegal” conference in Cuba. OFAC also threatens to fine the secretary of the Seattle-Cuba Friendship Committee for merely posting a notice on a web site about the meeting in Havana.
*Nobel Peace Prize recipient and former President Carter travels to Havana for discussions with the aim of a new Cuba policy and calls for ending the travel restrictions as a first step.
*National Summit on Cuba – sponsored by the American Farm Bureau, Americans for Humanitarian trade with Cuba, the World Policy Institute, USA*Engage, and other conservative, centrist and liberal organizations – meet in Washington and call for ending the restrictions.

● In 2003, approximately 220,000 people from the US traveled to Cuba, 180,000 ‘legally’ under licenses (including 110,000 visiting relatives and 35-40,000 under now eliminated People to People Educational Exchange licenses) and around 30,000 without permission (i.e. licenses) from the government.
● March 24: OFAC announces elimination of People to People Educational Exchange licenses, the second largest category (after family visits) of Americans traveling to Cuba – and affecting some 40,000 travelers annually.
● Jul: 200 people travel to Cuba without a license in a Travel Challenge organized by Pastors for Peace Friendshipment Caravan and the Venceremos (We Shall Overcome) Brigade.
● Aug: US prevents Grammy-nominated Cuban musicians from traveling to the ceremonies.
● Sep 9 + Oct 23: House votes 278 to 188 and Senate 59 to 36 to remove funding of the enforcement of travel restrictions.
Congressional leadership eliminates these amendments from final bill sent to the President.
● UN votes 179 to 3 against the US embargo of Cuba, the highest vote in the 12 years the resolution has been debated.
● Oct 10: President Bush announces a further crack down on travel to Cuba: Between Nov 10 and Jan 10, over 500 agents of the Department of Homeland Security are specially trained to interrogate over 44,000 legally licensed passengers on flights to Cuba; several religious licenses revoked, many are denied.
● Dec 29: Head of Cuba Desk at US State Department says legal travel to Cuba must now be ‘focused and
directed and aimed at US policy goal to achieve a rapid transition” in Cuba.

● Mar 3: OFAC declares ‘research’ cannot be conducted at Cuban conferences and requires special OFAC permission.
● Apr 29: Associated Press story reveals OFAC has 2 agents assigned to track down money of Osama bin laden and 22 agents assigned to Cuban embargo violations. There were 93 enforcement investigations and $9,425 in fines for terrorism financing violations since 1994; compared with 10,683 enforcement investigations and $8 million in fines for Cuban embargo violations between 1990 and 2003.
● May 6: “Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba” 500 page report calls for peaceful overthrow of the Cuban government and economic system: The recommendations regarding new travel restrictions are welcomed by the President and will go into effect June 30th. They include:
■ Limit family visits to once every 3 years and by individual application for a specific license only 3 years after prior trip. There is no provision included for travel in case of severe illness or accident.
■ Limit definition of family members to immediate family only and limit visit to 14 days.
Reduce per diem allowance for family visits to $50 per day compared with $167 for all other legal visits.
■ Eliminate almost all college and university programs to Cuba which spend less than 10 weeks in Cuba.
■ Eliminate high school programs
■ Eliminate clinics and workshops provision
■ Eliminate the ‘concept’ of ‘fully hosted travel’ (for persons who are fully hosted guests of Cuban institutions or organizations) or and require that all Cuba travel be licensed under general or specific licenses no matter who pays for it. (This new provision directly eliminates the ‘right to travel’ by delinking the rationale of controlling the use of US funds)
● May 14: Largest march in Cuban history protests Commission report calling for Regime Change in Cuba
● May 20: National Day of Protest against the new travel restrictions called by more than 20 national organizations. In Miami, 500 Cuban Americans attend a press conference to announce opposition to the new restrictions.
● July: Administrative law judges begin hearings to impose fines on ‘illegal’ travel to Cuba (thousands pending).
● July 19: Two hundred U.S. citizens assert their Constitutional and democratic rights to travel to Cuba in Travel Challenges sponsored by the Venceremos Brigade, Pastors for Peace, and the African Awareness Association, crossing the border in McAllen, Texas and in Buffalo, New York). Unprecedented media coverage including articles in more than 300 newspapers, and dozens of TV and radio stations.
● November 2nd Vowing intensified attacks on Cuba, President Bush reelected.

● Administrative Law Judges begin issuing financial penalties against unlicensed travelers to Cuba.
● Feb: After appeal, U.S. allows Cuban National Baseball Team to enter the U.S. to participate in the World Baseball Classic but denies visas for 55 Cuban scholars to attend LASA Congress in Puerto Rico.● Conferences (March 5 NYC / April 26+27 DC / June 10+11 Mobile A) demand right to travel to Cuba.
● July: Travel Challenges by Venceremos Brigade, Pastors for Peace, Cesar Chavez Labor Challenge + Seattle Women’s Challenge. Challengers cross the border into the US (Buffalo NY + Texas) on Aug 1. Donated computers are seized by
Customs + 130 Caravanistas and 60 Brigadistas receive OFAC letters demanding information + threatening fines.
● Sep: U.S. judge decides CIA-trained terrorist Luis Posada (see above) will not be extradited to Venezuela to stand trial for the 1976 Cubana bombing.
● $1.5 million in fines are collected by OFAC against unlicensed travelers to Cuba in 2005.

● Feb: OFAC issues Penalty Notices to 8 brigadistas saying travel challengers do “substantial harm to the sanctions
program”. U.S. denies visas for 55 Cuban scholars to attend LASA Congress in Puerto Rico.
● June: Secretary of State Rice releases second report from so-called Transition Commission. President agrees with all recommendations including formation of federal Task Force to investigate bringing criminal charges against those deemed to be organizers of travel challenges.
● Within weeks of travel challenges by the Pastors for Peace and the Venceremos Brigade, all participants receive letters from OFAC demanding information and threatening fines. In four years, more than 600 people have participated in these travel challenges and more than 325 have received OFAC letters. Each challenger has refused to provide any information to OFAC and has demanded a public hearing.
● Bush’s policies are rejected at the polls and Democrats win control of House and Senate. Congressman Jose Serrano calls for change in national Cuba policy.

● HR 674 introduced in the House (January) and S 721 in the Senate (March) to end most travel restrictions to Cuba. A separate bill is introduced to allow unrestricted travel by people visiting their relatives.

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Robert F. Kennedy Favored Travel to Cuba

WASHINGTON -- U.S. travelers today would be free to vacation in Cuba if Robert F. Kennedy had his way back in the 1960s.

Newly released documents from the National Security Archive indicate that when Kennedy was attorney general, he attempted to lift the travel ban to Cuba.

In a memo dated Dec. 12, 1963, to Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Kennedy recommended the U.S. “withdraw the existing regulation” prohibiting leisure trips to Cuba.

Kennedy went on to write that freedom to travel to Cuba “is more consistent with our views as a free society and would contrast with such things as the Berlin Wall and Communist controls on such travel.”

The memo, which apparently was written after the Cuban missile crisis, can be read at The memo was highlighted by the Latin America Working Group, a long-time advocate for eliminating the 40-year-old travel ban.

To contact the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to Michael Milligan at

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Cuba embargo's a bust, so why stick with it?

by Albor Ruiz, columnist, New York Daily News, March 4, 2007

Chalk another one up to Washington's tireless efforts to "usher democracy" into Cuba: Don Porter, president of the International Softball Federation, was denied a permit to travel to the Caribbean island by the U.S., according to Around the Rings, the online Olympics newspaper.
Porter was invited to attend last month's Hall of Fame ceremony on the island, the publication said.

"I'd like to know the reason," Porter told the newspaper. He also said that rejecting the application of a sports leader to travel to Cuba could hurt the efforts of the U.S. Olympic Committee "to overcome the loss of influence that we have experienced internationally."
But the democratizing zeal of the Bush administration does not stop at denying a permit to a sports figure. U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutiérrez, a Cuban-American, has been busy lately making it absolutely clear that, when it comes to Cuba, the Bush administration is prepared to stick to its guns, even after almost 50 years of failure.

"The embargo is not the problem or the solution," Gutiérrez, who co-chairs, with Secretary of State Rice, President Bush's Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, said at a press conference. "The problem is the repressive Communist system. The solution is to change the system."

Gutiérrez also said that it would be a "great disservice" for the Cuban people if U.S. policy toward Cuba was changed.

But Sarah Stephens, the well-informed executive director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, disagreed.

"The real disservice to the Cuban people is America's commitment to a policy that has failed to achieve its goals for 46 years," Stephens said. "A policy that disserves the American people by costing them jobs, profits, their right to travel, and their constitutional rights to visit Cuba and meet with Cubans on their island and in their homes."

Not to mention that it is a policy that for 46 years has punished the people it purports to help by making their life harsher and even more difficult for Cuban families on both sides of the Florida Strait to keep in contact with and to help each other.

The Commerce secretary is obviously confused, but not as much as when, on Oct. 25 of last year, during a visit to the Daily News Editorial Board, he said the embargo helped Castro.
When asked why the insistence on "staying the course" with a policy that had failed so dismally for so long, Gutiérrez said that every time there is an opportunity to improve relations, Castro does something to shoot it down.

"The embargo gives Castro an excuse for his failures," Gutiérrez said. "In reality, he doesn't want it lifted."

In other words, Castro loves the embargo. But if that is the case, and the White House wants to get rid of the ailing Cuban leader and his government, shouldn't the embargo be lifted ASAP?
It doesn't make any sense, does it? But because it is all in the name of "ushering democracy into Cuba," every absurdity and contradiction in the book has somehow become admissible.

At present, legislation to restore Americans' right to travel to Cuba is making its way through the House and the Senate. This week Sen. Michael Enzi (R-Wyo.), introduced the Freedom to Travel Act, co-sponsored by a long bipartisan list of senators. A similar bill was introduced on Jan. 24 in the House by Reps. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), and is still adding sponsors from both parties.

Passing these bills would, after 46 years, restore a very much needed measure of rationality to U.S. relations with Cuba.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Hilton Hotels/Europe Confront US Embargo of Cuba

Hilton hotels lift European ban on Cubans

by DuncanCampbell

Friday March 2, 2007The Guardian

The Hilton group yesterday reversed its ban on Cuban delegations staying at its hotels in Europe, and called on Britain and the US to resolve the contentious issue, which arises from the American embargo on the Caribbean island.

The action came after unions and parliamentary groups in Europe announced plans to boycott the organisation after a Cuban trade delegation was banned from a Hilton hotel in Oslo and excluded from the group's hotels throughout Europe.

In a letter sent to the British prime minister and foreign secretary, and the US state department, the Hilton Hotel Corporation said: "As a US-based company, we face a legal dilemma, with a strict ban on trading with Cuba imposed by the US government, and contradictory legislation in the UK making it illegal to discriminate on the grounds of nationality."

Linda Bain, a spokeswoman for the Hilton group, said US sanctions, administered by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, prohibited American companies and their subsidiaries from engaging in any transaction with Cuba.

However, UK law forbade discrimination on the grounds of nationality, and the group could not ask their employees to disobey it.

The Hilton group has now called for a "US-UK bilateral agreement to reform and ease the trade sanctions within the tourism industry ... so that this contradiction between our laws is annulled".
MPs who had challenged the ban welcomed the decision. Colin Burgon, the Labour MP for Elmet, Leeds, said: "It is a real breakthrough for those who want to see fair play for Cuba."