Sunday, April 15, 2007

Time for America to Be Relevant in Cuba

Washington Post Op Ed

By Charles B. Rangel and Jeff Flake
Saturday, April 14, 2007; A19

Several months after Cuba's revolutionary leader fell ill and left public view, Havana has clearly moved into the post-Fidel Castro era. Whether Washington will follow suit is another matter altogether.

Recently the Bush administration has shown new flexibility in foreign policy. Consider: a nuclear deal with North Korea and talks aimed at normalized relations, contact with Syria and Iran, and a stronger push for Israel-Palestine negotiations.

What about Cuba?

Raúl Castro, Cuba's interim president and designated successor, has twice called for U.S.-Cuba negotiations. This offer deserves a positive response. Potentially, we could profit by negotiating increased cooperation on drug interdiction and migration policy, the return of American fugitives residing in Cuba, and environmental protections as Cuba explores for oil in waters near our own.

But more than deals with Cuba, we need a new deal with ourselves on Cuba policy.

For too long, our approach has been guided by electoral considerations. Ever-tightening sanctions have won votes in Florida for both Republicans and Democrats. But these sanctions have done nothing to promote change in Cuba, and they have kept American strengths -- diplomacy and contact with American society -- squarely on the sidelines.

Today, Cuba may be on the cusp of change, and we need to take a fresh look. Raúl Castro, at age 75, is a committed socialist. He has convicted some pro-democracy activists, released others from jail and continued harassment of dissidents. He has also allowed a debate over past repression to open up in Cuba's cultural sector.

He acknowledges that his role is transitional, a bridge to Cuba's next generation, and his greatest interest is to set the stage for socialism's long-term survival.

It is a safe bet that he will seek to accomplish that goal through economic reform. His reformist record dates to the 1980s, and he has Cuban economists busy developing policy options. Dissident Vladimiro Roca calls him Cuba's "number one reformer."

He has raised expectations that he will tackle chronic problems: excessive centralization; broken-down state enterprises that cheat consumers and breed corruption; low farm output; severe income inequality; and a generation of young people that has known nothing but shortage and sacrifice.

An economic opening would deliver political support for Cuba's successor government. And it is the only means to deliver the growth, jobs and higher incomes that can give hope to young Cubans and fair wages to teachers, doctors and others left behind in Cuba's post-Soviet economy.

How should we respond to these possibilities?

The administration should begin by ending its insistence that it will respond only to Cuba's complete conversion to democracy and free markets. Cubans surely would welcome incremental reforms that improve living standards, not to mention economic and political freedom. The administration's all-or-nothing posture is divorced from the reality on which our approaches to North Korea, China, Vietnam and other communist countries are based. It is a formula for irrelevance.

And Congress should increase American influence by building bridges rather than barriers to Cuba.

The administration has all but cut off individual Americans' contacts with Cuba. People-to-people and academic exchanges, family visits, religious and humanitarian programs, and travel by average Americans are nearly impossible -- if not illegal -- today.

President Bush's theory is that reduced travel cuts Cuba's hard-currency earnings and helps to "hasten the end of the Castro dictatorship." But his intelligence agencies certify that the dictatorship is unbothered: Cuban economic growth was 7.5 percent last year.

We should unite around a principle that Democrats and Republicans have long embraced, a principle that aided the West's success in the Cold War: American openness is a source of strength, not a concession to dictatorships.

It is time to permit free travel to Cuba, as provided in legislation we have introduced. Open travel would create a "free flow of ideas" that "would promote democratization," as dissident Oscar Espinosa Chepe wrote shortly after his release from prison in 2004. It would also bring humanitarian benefits to Cubans as family visits increase and travelers boost Cuba's small but vital entrepreneurial sector.

Electoral politics should not prevent us from reaching out to 11 million neighbors who have lived under communism for 48 long years.

Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) chairs the House Ways and Means Committee. Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) led a 10-member House delegation to Cuba in December.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Travel Heats Up on Capitol Hill

Holding the Line on Cuba Trade

Kate Ackley, Roll Call

Monday, Apr 9, 2007

When Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) set up a leadership political action committee in June, the first contribution that rolled in, according to federal filings, came from a committee that is fiercely opposed to Fidel Castro.

Wasserman Schultz takes the same hardline position on Cuba policy, but the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC's donation was notable because it marked a shift in giving patterns. The Cuba Democracy PAC in the 2004 cycle gave just 29 percent to Democrats, but in 2006 it upped that to 44 percent, according to federal election data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

While the idea of opening up trade with Cuba and expanding American travel to the island has supporters and opponents on both sides of the aisle - and from big business groups - advocates of lifting the longtime embargo on the communist country say the Democratic majority will boost their chances of getting what they want.

But the well-funded anti-Castro community - and its Democratic supporters such as Wasserman Schultz - has retooled its advocacy and fundraising to put the brakes on any change in policy. And lobbyists on both sides say the backdrop of the presidential race could affect whatever Congress actually does on Cuba.

Mauricio Claver-Carone, a member of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC and executive director of the lobbying group Cuba Democracy Public Advocacy Corp., said when it comes to freshman Members, his group frames the debate as a human rights issue.

"I'm excited. New Members and new minds are a great thing," Claver-Carone said. "Especially people that come from the midlands and all they hear is the farm bureaus saying we need to lift the embargo. So it's great to be able to tell our side of the story."

Claver-Carone said his side looks to leaders on the issue such as Wasserman Schultz, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and newly elected Cuban-American Rep. Albio Sires ( D-N.J.) to woo their fellow Democrats.

"The Cuban government engages in gross human rights violations," said Wasserman Schultz, who said that as a Jewish person she feels a kinship with Cubans living under the Castro regime. "We should not be engaging in trade or allowing free travel back and forth to a country that abuses its people." (Currently Castro's brother, Raul, is serving as acting president because of Fidel Castro's health problems).

Wasserman Schultz said she arrived at that opinion long before the campaign contributions rolled in, and she added that her position is out of respect for human rights, not political necessity. Her Democrats Win Seats PAC has not publicly been linked to her, but she confirmed her connection with it in an interview last week and said it was set up to support Democratic candidates.

The DWS is one of numerous PACs that Members have set up to collect additional cash from supporters that they can dole out to other candidates. Members do not need to disclose their affiliation with the PACs. The U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC has given a total of $22,000 to Wasserman Schultz's leadership PAC and campaign committee. The anti-Castro PAC also has given to numerous other leadership PACs, including those of Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) and House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.).

Claver-Carone said his message to Democrats - who seek to improve labor standards in trade agreements with other countries - is that Cuba's labor standards are not up to par. "That's a very compelling argument," he said.

Frank Calzon, chairman of the Center for a Free Cuba, has picked up that theme, too. "The way Cuban workers are treated in Cuba, they have a lack of collective bargaining and a prohibition on striking," said Calzon, who does not want the embargo lifted until the Cuban government changes. He said the Cuban government provides diplomatic support to anti-Israeli lobbying interests. "The people who want to change policy on Cuba don't want to talk about those things," he said.

Mavis Anderson, a senior associate with the Latin America Working Group, said her organization wants to expand trade and travel relations between the United States and Cuba. She said committee chairmen such as House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel ( D-N.Y.), who has introduced a bill to lift the travel ban for all Americans, have altered the landscape because GOP leaders and committee chairmen were strongly pro-embargo.

"That's why we feel that with Congress and the chairpeople being pro-engagement rather than isolationist, we feel we have a real chance," Anderson said.

The U.S.-Cuba Democracy group, she added, has donated significantly to Democrats and Republicans "and they have a very tenacious lobbyist" in Claver-Carone. "I think they have very energetically stepped it up both in their fundraising and Hill work," she said. "The pro-engagement side doesn't have that kind of old money behind it."

Kirby Jones, the founder and president of the U.S. Cuba Trade Association, which represents groups and companies such as Cargill and Perfected Foods Corp. that want to expand trade with Cuba, said his group is lobbying for several bills this Congress including the bipartisan one backed by Rangel that would open up Cuba to all U.S. travelers and an energy measure that would allow exploration in Cuban waters.
"Our premise is normalization of commercial relations between Cuba and the U.S., free and open trade and commerce," Jones said. The current Congress has changed the landscape of this debate dramatically, he added. "When Cuba bills passed in the past, the leadership, especially [former Rep. Tom] DeLay (R-Texas), would never allow it or they struck the Cuban language out of the conference committee."

Calzon said when it comes to political clout, his big-business opponents such as Jones' group and its members have plenty. "People say the Cuban-American community is strong, but at the same time, the most important obstacle to normalizing trade is not Miami but Havana," Calzon said.

The U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC has gotten its share of criticism from the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which last year filed a complaint against the PAC with the Federal Election Commission. CREW alleged that one of its contributors is a foreign national and that a nonprofit organization is inappropriately funding Claver-Carone's lobbying group and the operations of the PAC.
Claver-Carone said that as far as he knows the complaint still is under review by the FEC. But, he said, "We register and dot our i's and cross our t's."

On the presidential side, Claver-Carone said his organization's focus primarily is on Congress, but he said that with few exceptions - such as Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) - the presidential hopefuls from both parties have not indicated support for lessening sanctions. Even former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a GOP presidential candidate, "had the right intentions" when he botched a Spanish phrase to Cuban Americans, Claver-Carone said. "I'm sure that Mr. Romney has learned from that slip-up," he added.

Ignacio Sanchez, a lobbyist at DLA Piper who represents General Cigar - whose Dominican-made brands include Partagas and Punch - said presidential candidates in the Senate will be able to use the chamber as a platform to define their positions going into the election.

"Any candidate who has a vote is not going to come out in favor of lifting the embargo because it could cost them votes in Florida," said Sanchez, a Cuban American whose cigar client does not support lifting the embargo absent a free-market economy in Cuba.

But Florida voters are not the only interests competing for presidential candidates' attention on the Cuba issue. Agriculture companies and the tourism industry are mounting pressure on the other side. "How the candidates in office navigate those three competing interests will be very important to how they're perceived in the community," Sanchez said.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Self-restoration of Old Havana

Tourism is restoring the buildings of Old Havana

Miami Herald- Mike Williams

March 21st, 2007 - It's one of the hemisphere's architectural treasures, but in a country of scarce resources, saving the crumbling buildings of Old Havana might easily have been overlooked.
Instead, Cuba has slowly but steadily restored some of the oldest -- and most gorgeous -- buildings in the Americas. The innovative plan has also funded social programs and housing reconstruction, making it a model for historic districts around the world, experts say.

''It's a self-financing, self-sustaining model,'' said Herman Van Hooff, a United Nations cultural official based in Havana. ``It's an integrated vision of restoration and providing services to the population. It has matured into a model with valuable concepts for other places.''

The unique part of Cuba's plan has been its strategy of restoring old hotels, restaurants and buildings to attract tourists and then using tourism revenue to fund more restoration, along with social programs and housing renovation, one of Cuba's most pressing problems.

But the work hasn't been without its challenges.

One of the biggest problems facing planners is also a main source of Old Havana's charm: The district's narrow streets are packed with people, with some 66,000 residents crammed into an area of less than 1.5 square miles.

Water and sewer lines are in poor condition, and some buildings have already collapsed. On many streets, visitors see crumbling facades, leaning walls and teetering roofs propped up with wooden scaffolding.


But families continue living in even the most dilapidated buildings. Old men play dominoes on street corners, younger men tinker under the hoods of ancient cars and housewives hang wash from wrought-iron balconies, pausing to peer at the busy street life below.

Small wonder that few of the residents want to leave. The district's charm -- and the opportunity to make money from the thousands of tourists strolling its streets -- are powerful attractions.

Planners have responded by constructing new apartments in refurbished old buildings, allowing many families who want to stay in the district to remain. The pace is slow, but as the tourism infrastructure has expanded, more revenues are being channeled into social programs. While only 57 buildings were restored between 1981 and 1993, nearly 300 were refurbished between 1994 and 2004.

Belkys Collaza is one resident who has moved out of a decaying building and into a spacious new apartment provided by the Cuban government at low cost.

''We couldn't be happier,'' said Collaza, 39. ``In the old apartment we had seven people with two bedrooms and it was falling down. Here we have three bedrooms for four people, and best of all, we are still in Old Havana.''

Havana's roots stretch back to the early 1500s, when its deep, protected harbor made it the perfect spot to assemble the famous treasure fleets that took New World gold and silver back to Spain.

By 1750, the city was a thriving commercial and government center with striking buildings in the baroque and neo-classical styles. Expansion continued during the 1800s as Cuba became a rich sugar and tobacco colony.


But Old Havana -- the city's district next to its port -- began a long decline as the rich built mansions on the city's outskirts and new business districts cropped up.

Restoration efforts date back to the 1930s, but the work was poorly funded. Even after Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution, Cuba's focus was on developing agriculture and raising living standards for the rural poor. Old Havana continued to deteriorate, despite the efforts of the Office of the Havana Historian.

While the district was officially declared a protected national monument in 1978 and designated as a World Heritage Site by the United Nations in 1982, only a few dozen buildings were restored in the 1980s.

A new setback came in the early 1990s with the collapse of the Soviet Union, which for decades had provided billions in subsidies to Cuba.

But Cuba turned to tourism to revive its economy, and Old Havana became a key part of the plan.

Félix Alfonso, a Cuban historian involved in the project, admitted that Old Havana's complete restoration will take decades. But he's encouraged that the enterprise is financing itself and keeping the residents in the district they love.

''I think what makes the restoration unique is that it's an example not of gentrification, where the rich buy and restore buildings while the poor are moved out,'' he said. ``Our historical center is remaining a place where people live and work.''

Link to Story:

La Alborada Disses Shannon

The following from the newsletter of the Cuban American Alliance Education Fund is a skeptical interpretation of State Department comments that can be found, along with my more optimistic assessment at

He's Back

La Alborada - March 29

Yes, we mean Fidel. Yesterday's Granma published an article by him on the US inititative to increase the production of ethanol as a substitute for gasoline. He warned of the consequences for poor countries of abandoning food production to raise crops for ethanol in order to allow the rich countries to maintain their level of energy consumption.

The news was on Internet immediately. Some agencies reported the fact of the article, without the text; others published the text, or a contextualized summary of it; and others tried mockingly to downplay it. Still, it's there, evidence that Fidel's health continues to improve, as various Cuban officials have been saying. Evo Morales predicted that he might be seen in public in April.

That is the message, as much as the observations about energy and its sources.

Different audiences will receive it differently. President Bush's commission for annexation, in particular, will see in it a way to explain its total failure to anticipate the peaceful transfer of power that is taking place on the island. Its 2006 report predicted confidently that upon "Fidel Castro's incapacitation, death, or ouster" there would be civil disturbances and uprisings calling for an intervention by the US. The report conjured up Civil War images of desolation like those in Gone with the Wind, with smoke rising from the fields and wounded soldiers and beggars wandering aimlessly about. In this narrative, the North again was called upon to lead a Reconstruction of the South, and it accepted nobly.

Nothing of the sort happened, despite the very obvious incapacitation of the Cuban president. The experts on the Commission, including Condoleeza Rice, showed that they knew very little about Cuba. Their prediction hardly touched reality; their detailed and expensive plans were irrelevant.

After having revealed that Fidel had terminal cancer (which he did not) and repeatedly declaring his imminent death (some even insinuated that he might no longer be alive), they realized that such announcements only undermined the premises of the commission’s report. If all that was true, why were the Cubans not rising up and not calling on the US to intervene?

As the Cuban leader's heath improved, they saw the plausible way out: the problem was that Fidel's incapacitation came short of death, and, in fact, he was not really incapacitated! If that had been the case, then the prediction would have been true. A week ago, a leading State Department official declared that Fidel was still in charge. The headline for a number of news agencies was "U.S. recognizes that Castro continues to exert control over Cuba." The policy was right all along, was the implication. It's just that the facts had been misperceived, because Cuba is "opaque."

The official, Thomas Shannon, specified that "the transfer of power had occurred in terms of managing day-to-day government" but that the new leadership was "unable to define itself independent of Fidel Castro." He tried to make this very clear: "I think we're kind of in this period of almost suspended animation, that there is expectation of change in Cuba but it's not happening, and it's not happening because Fidel Castro is not a day-to-day presence, but he's still a controlling presence."

So there we have it: Kind of in a period of almost-suspended animation, change is still expected but it's not happening because Fidel is not there but he's in control.

Talk about opaque. That's not clear enough to represent an official assessment, let alone justify a foreign policy.

It sounds like the Administration is back to hoping for, or planning for--and this time specifically--death or ouster. But, in the meantime, it will continue its failed and counterproductive policy of 45 years, never mind the public opinion polls, the restive Congress and governors, the disaffected agro-industrial and other commercial interests, and the UN General Assembly.

Because, who knows, maybe something will kind of fall into place sometime.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Conference of Catholic Bishops Opposes Travel Ban


WASHINGTON— The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is urging Congress to pass legislation that would end travel restrictions to Cuba and encourage more contact between Cuban and American citizens.

In a letter sent to Rep. Charles B. Rangel of New York, Bishop Thomas G. Wenski of Orlando, Fla., chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Policy, commended Rep. Rangel, Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona and other lawmakers for sponsoring H.R. 654, a bill that would allow travel between the U.S. and Cuba.

“The USCCB has for many years consistently called for relaxing the sanctions against Cuba,” Bishop Wenski said. “These policies have largely failed to achieve greater freedom, democracy and respect for human life. At the same time, our nation’s counterproductive policies have unnecessarily alienated many in the hemisphere who should be our friends and allies, and brought needless hardship on the Cuban people. It continues to be our position that the goals of improving the lives of the Cuban people and encouraging democracy in Cuba will best be advanced through more rather than less contact between the Cuban and American people.”

Bishop Wenski described the travel restrictions on Cubans living in the U.S. as particularly objectionable. “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,” he said. “It is an inhumane policy that does no honor to our country. These most recent restrictions have increasingly made more difficult and onerous the legitimate travel of academics, journalists, religious leaders and other U.S. citizens to the island.”

March 20, 2007

Supporters of Travel Ban Also Active

Posted on Mon, Mar. 05, 2007

Battle over Cuba policy heats up


WASHINGTON - Rep. Albio Sires gets personal when he asks fellow lawmakers to reject efforts to ease economic sanctions against his native Cuba. ''I just tell them about my story,'' says the New Jersey Democrat.

Sires, who spent the first 11 years of his life in the town of Bejucal near Havana, tells them how, after Fidel Castro took over, English-language books were burned and he was forced to march in parades toting a Czech-made submachine gun.

Sires' pitch is growing all the more important as opponents of U.S. sanctions on Cuba are stepping up their efforts to ease them, hoping that with Fidel Castro ailing and Democrats running Congress, their chances of victory will improve.

Keep the sanctions in place until the Castro government makes significant political and human-rights reforms, Sires tells his fellow Congress members.

The 56-year-old lawmaker says he has made this pitch to most of the 55-member freshman legislative class, underscoring the kind of determined lobbying by Cuban-American legislators and allies that have made them confident they can beat back critics of U.S. policy toward Cuba.

Sires is the new kid on the block, a first-time lawmaker joining more seasoned veterans of Cuba-policy battles -- Miami Republican Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario and Lincoln Díaz-Balart and Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Pembroke Pines -- in leading a campaign in the House to stay the course on Havana.

Mel Martinez, R-Fla., and Bob Menendez, D-N.J., are carrying the load in the Senate. Sires holds the House seat once held by Menendez.

Sires and Wasserman Schultz, together with other pro-sanctions legislators, have drawn up lists of lawmakers and their positions on Cuba. Those who are new to the issue or undecided get a full briefing, with Sires focusing on the freshmen. Others who have voted against easing sanctions in the past are pulled aside for a brief chat to make sure their position hasn't changed.

Sires and Wasserman Schultz belong to the Cuba Democracy Caucus, created in 2004, which brings together 18 House members and seven senators, with more expected to join in the coming weeks, Wasserman Schultz says.

Caucus members say the group is more active than ever, sending out letters to colleagues, explaining their positions on Cuba.

Wasserman Schultz and other caucus members believe that they can win the legislative battles this year, but they recognize that the fight will not be easy.

The office of Rep. Lincoln Díaz-Balart counts six Cuba-related bills filed since January, including proposals that would lift restrictions on Cuban-American travel to the island and facilitate agricultural exports. One initiative that would lift a ban on U.S. tourist visits to Cuba got more than 70 co-sponsors.

Mavis Anderson, with the Latin America Working Group, an advocacy organization that pushes for more engagement with Cuba, says supporters of a tough position on Cuba have lobbied aggressively, but she believes that the tide is shifting.

''I don't think they can roll over the majority, which really sees the ineffectiveness and incorrectness of this policy,'' she said.

Supporters and opponents of U.S. policy on Cuba say that repealing restrictions on Cuban-American travel, widely criticized as separating families, stands the best chance of succeeding.

''Opponents are doing their best to pull the heartstrings of members,'' said Wasserman Schultz. While sharing those concerns, she said, ``we try to explain the complexity of the issue. . . . For most of my colleagues, it requires an education.''

Supporters of sanctions say a policy change now would let Fidel's brother Raúl Castro consolidate his hold on the government and remove any incentive to make changes.

Mauricio Claver-Carone, the Washington director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee, which lobbies to keep the sanctions, compares the moment with the final stretch of a marathon.

''Potentially, we have 50 yards left,'' he said of Fidel Castro's ailment. ``If you're going to change your shoes in those last 50 yards, you have to feel 150 percent sure that those shoes are not going to cramp you up.''

The pro-sanctions group is also adjusting its message to the reality of a Democratic majority in Congress, focusing on human-rights and labor abuses by the communist government.

''I think we win once we tie it to the abuse of human rights, once we tie it to the freedom to express yourself, once we call for election, for the release of political prisoners on the island,'' Sires told The Miami Herald.

Democrats have been holding up several free-trade agreements on the grounds that they don't do enough to protect the rights of foreign workers. Yet many of those Democrats also want more trade with Cuba -- an apparent contradiction alleged by Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez in a recent speech.

Sires says some members of Congress are receptive to his pitch. Others from districts that have gained from trading more with Cuba express some doubts.

''Like anything else,'' Sires said, ``you just have to work it.''

Monday, April 2, 2007

New Poll Affirms Change in Cuban American Views

Posted on Mon, Apr. 02, 2007

Fewer support sanctions on Cuba


A new poll released Monday shows that growing numbers of Cuban Americans in Miami-Dade oppose U.S. restrictions on travel to the island and favor more contacts with Havana.

The survey showed 55.2 percent of those polled favor ''unrestricted'' travel to Cuba, though a majority of those registered to vote opposed the option, and support for the embargo was at the lowest level since the survey was launched in 1991.

The results also show a community divided in opinions on Havana depending on the year of arrival, skeptical that a quick change will happen on the island, and attitudes that seem contradictory: A narrow majority favors a U.S. invasion of Cuba, but a bigger majority supports a restoration of diplomatic ties between Havana and Washington.

The latest poll was conducted by Florida International University, with funding from the Cuba Study Group, a moderate Cuban-American group based in Washington, and FIU's own Cuban Research Institute. The Brookings Institution, a Washington nonpartisan think tank, was part of the organizing team.

The FIU poll is unique because it is the eighth such poll in 16 years, and organizers have tried to ask questions consistent over time to get a clearer picture of how attitudes are evolving.

The latest survey also is the first since the Democratic Party seized control of Congress, which is expected to tackle several initiatives to ease U.S. sanctions on the island before its August summer recess. The poll also comes as the presidential race for 2008 is off to an unusually early start, with candidates beginning to define their position on Havana with an eye on the crucial South Florida constituency.

Carlos Saladrigas, co-chairman of the Cuba Study Group, called the timing of the survey ``critical.''

The Cuba Study Group has been doing its own separate polls of the community since 2002 but decided to work with FIU this time. ''By polling, we have given a voice to the broader Cuban-American community not necessarily heard through self-appointed spokespersons in the past,'' Saladrigas told reporters at a briefing ahead of the poll's release.

Several previous polls also have shown that Cuban-American attitudes are changing, especially among the more recent arrivals from Cuba, compared to the older exiles who generally favor stronger sanctions.

''People are seeing and recognizing the need to take a new path,'' said Carlos Pascual, the vice president and director of foreign policy studies at The Brookings Institution.

By unveiling the numbers in Washington, the group hopes to target U.S. government officials and other opinion leaders.

''This is a national policy issue . . . with much of the work that needs to be done here in D.C.,'' Brian Cullin, a spokesman for The Brookings Institution, said in an e-mail.

Brookings is organizing several private and public discussion groups on the poll, with the head of the Organization of American States José Miguel Insulza and the top U.S. diplomat for Latin America Thomas Shannon expected to attend the private sessions.

FIU surveyed 1,000 Cuban Americans in the Miami-Dade area for the poll, which has a margin of error of 3.2 percentage points. Two out of every three Cuban Americans polled are U.S. citizens, and of those, 66 percent identified themselves as registered Republicans.

The results were criticized by supporters of the sanctions as a ''push poll'' where the questions are phrased to influence results.

Ana Carbonell, the chief of staff of Miami Republican Rep. Lincoln Díaz-Balart, said her office has other surveys that show a majority of Cuban Americans only support lifting sanctions if Havana meets some minimal conditions in return, like scheduling free elections and freeing political prisoners.


'This is another one of those annual `push polls' done by those who want to unilaterally ease sanctions to benefit the Castro regime, with a business interest,'' she said.

But the poll's organizers say the FIU questions have been broadly the same since 1991, so the trends are relevant.

The embargo is still backed by a 57.5 percent majority, but less than the 66 percent who backed it three years ago. Twenty-nine percent said they favored lifting the embargo without any preconditions, 8 percent would only do so after Fidel Castro died, and 11 percent would hold out until both Fidel Castro and his brother Raúl are gone. Thirty-five percent would wait and until the political and economic system changed in Cuba.

One of the poll's key results involves the restrictions on travel to Cuba. In 2004, the Bush administration cut back Cuban-American visits to the island to once every three years instead of once a year. The administration also has stepped up enforcement of the ban on U.S. tourist travel to Cuba.

Sixty-four percent of respondents said they would like to return to the travel rules before 2004, and 55.2 percent said they favor ''unrestricted'' travel to the island -- a reversal from 2004, when 53.7 percent said they opposed unrestricted travel to Cuba. The phrasing of the question included all U.S. nationals as well as Cuban Americans.

But among those registered to vote, 57.7 percent opposed allowing unrestricted travel, though a 52 percent majority favored returning to the way things were before 2004.

In keeping with other surveys, the responses vary widely depending on how long those polled have lived in the United States. For instance, only 34.4 percent of those who arrived 1974-1984 favor unrestricted travel, against 67.1 percent of those that arrived 1985-1994.


Older arrivals are more likely to be U.S. citizens and therefore more likely to vote. Throughout the survey, registered voters tended to favor a tougher stance toward Havana.

Overall, 62 percent said they back food sales to the island, up from 54.8 percent in 2004.

U.S. food exports to Cuba have been allowed since 2001, and the United States is now the fourth-largest exporter to Cuba. Similarly, slightly more than half -- 51.3 percent -- of those polled say they want to establish diplomatic relations with Cuba. Havana and Washington have only ''Interests Sections'' that act as quasi embassies.

Few Cuban Americans believe the island will see a rapid transition toward a democracy. Only 17 percent said changes will happen in less than a year and 45.9 percent expect changes in the 2-5-year period.

Two out of every three Cubans also favor establishing a national dialogue between the Cuban government, dissidents and exiles.

In 1991, slightly fewer than half favored such a dialogue.

For executive summary and full report on poll, go to

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Travel to Cuba debate divides exile community

Posted on Sun, Apr. 01, 2007 Miami Herald


The U.S. travel ban to Cuba incites passions at both ends of South Florida's political spectrum. But having U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake, who hard-line exiles consider an adversary, sitting on a stage in the heart of Little Havana Saturday marked a first.

Flake, a libertarian Republican from Arizona who has traveled to Cuba four times and has pushed Congress for years to end the travel ban, took part in a debate over the travel ban Saturday at the Tower Theater. He sought to make a case that banning travel to the communist island is counterproductive and against America's democratic ideals.

Florida International University professor and Cuba scholar Lisandro Pérez echoed the argument, asking what had four decades of a trade embargo accomplished.

Two prominent Cuban Americans -- radio host and University of Miami professor Paul Crespo and Hialeah City Council President Esteban Bovo -- countered that opening Cuba to American tourists and allowing Cuban Americans to visit family on the island more often than once every three years would only strengthen Fidel Castro and his brother Raúl's control.
The mood in the jam-packed Tower Theater was reminiscent of the many decades of demonstrations and discussions about U.S. relations with Cuba: tense, heartfelt and often loud.

Tempers flared here and there, and moderator Michael Putney of WPLG-Channel 10 and several panel members had to remind the crowd to keep calm.

The debate, hosted by the American Civil Liberties Union, foreshadowed what could be a battle in the Democrat-controlled Congress over proposed legislation to ease restrictions.

Crespo said travel isn't the issue. ''It's about the embargo against Castro. We want to keep that money out of Castro's hands,'' he said of tourist dollars, adding that most people will travel there for leisure and not academic or humanitarian reasons.

Bovo agreed, saying that the conditions that drove so many from Cuba are still present. ''Castro has ignored pleas from the left and right to open that society,'' he said.

Pérez argued that a policy which keeps families separated is ''morally reprehensible,'' and that it just doesn't work.

Flake said that while any travel, from anywhere, would inevitably send some funds Castro's way, it would also do good by making it harder for him to isolate his society. ''I think Cuban-American families are perfectly capable of making these decisions for themselves without the intervention of Congress,'' he added.

During a question-and-answer period Miguel Saavedra, founder of the anti-Castro group Vigilia Mambisa, asked Flake if, during any of his four trips to Cuba, he brought up the issue of human rights.
''Every time,'' Flake replied.

``Either verbally or in writing, I've asked them to release prisoners.''
During the question-and-answer period two audience members became so angry and disruptive they had to be escorted out by police.

Luis Zúñiga, a Radio and TV Martí executive and former political prisoner, reminded Flake and Pérez that, even if the travel ban were lifted, ''the regime has the power to decide who will travel to Cuba'' and that many, such as himself, still won't be able to go.

''If they put restrictions, that's their problem,'' Flake said, adding that it should be beneath the United States to restrict Americans' freedoms.
Pérez agreed. ``Let's not put U.S. policy at the level of the Cuban government.''

After the debate, Flake attended a luncheon and campaign fundraiser where the board of directors of the Cuban Committee for Democracy awarded him the Juan Gualberto Gómez Award.

Several recent polls have shown that Cuban Americans are split on whether to end Bush's three-year limit for family travel, a limit that has drawn fire from some in the religious community.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops recently issued a statement urging Congress to end travel restrictions to the island.
Orlando bishop Thomas Wenski, chairman of the U.S. Bishops' committee on international relations, commended lawmakers who seek to lift the restrictions.

''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 that statement, adding that the policy does no honor to the country.

© 2007 Miami Herald Media Company. All Rights Reserved.

All or nothing on Cuba? (Op Ed),0,4734714.story?coll=orl-opinion-headlines


Flexibility, responsiveness should guide U.S. policy

Paolo Spadoni
Special to the Sentinel

April 1, 2007

U.S. policy toward Cuba in the post-Cold War era has always had little to do with Cuba and much to do with domestic politics.

Democracy or nothing.

This is, in essence, the current U.S. foreign-policy approach toward Cuba, first laid out in the early post-Cold War years when containment of communism was no longer an issue, and more recently stated by several high-level U.S. officials in the Bush administration.

Washington would be willing to lift the embargo and pursue re-engagement with Havana only if the latter were prepared to hold free and fair elections, respect human rights, release political prisoners, permit the creation of independent organizations, and embrace a market-oriented economic system. In other words, all Cuba has to change is everything it is today.

What are the chances that such a dramatic transformation will happen anytime soon?

Virtually zero.

But Cuba has not remained exactly the same over the past decade and a half. The Castro regime promoted some significant liberalizing economic reforms around the mid-1990s, and its attitude toward internal dissent has alternated between periods of harsh crackdowns to others of greater tolerance. And since Raul Castro became acting president last July, a debate has been taking place at different levels of Havana's government over potential economic changes to the island's socialist system. Last December, Raul even went so far as to propose negotiations with Washington for a normalization of relations.

Not surprisingly, the United States rejected the offer by reiterating that it will consider negotiations only when the Cuban regime opens democratically. Yet, for a country that has severed almost all ties with Cuba and has practically no leverage over developments on the island, putting forward the same rigid conditions for rapprochement that could never be met in the past is not a very effective approach.

Furthermore, U.S. policy toward Cuba in the post-Cold War era has always had little to do with Cuba and much to do with domestic politics. All major U.S. moves to intensify or relax economic sanctions against Havana have occurred in presidential election years, when partisan bidding for Cuban-American votes in Florida takes center stage.

Despite their initial opposition, George Bush and Bill Clinton strengthened the embargo by signing, respectively, the Cuban Democracy Act (or CDA) in October 1992 and the Helms-Burton law in March 1996. Bush changed his mind after Democratic opponent Clinton traveled to Miami in April 1992 and announced his endorsement of the CDA. Clinton had a similar volte-face four years later following the shooting down by Cuban forces of two Cuban exile planes over the Straits of Florida in February 1996.

Under pressure from U.S. farmer groups, Clinton cleared the way for the sale of U.S. food to Cuba in October 2000, but he was not up for re-election. In the meantime, Democratic nominee Al Gore tried to make inroads into the traditionally Republican Cuban-American base by vowing to resist any openings to the Castro government.

Finally, President Bush implemented new restrictions on Cuban-American travel and remittances to Cuba in June 2004 after a group of Cuban-American members of the Florida Legislature warned him that he could lose the support of the exile community if a tougher line against Castro had not been taken. That year, even Democratic contenders Howard Dean and John Kerry reversed their previous anti-embargo stance.

But there's more. Washington's alleged democratic commitment on Cuba often ended up rewarding Castro for bad actions and punishing him for more positive ones.

When Cuba halted its support for revolutionary forces in Africa and Latin America and its special relationship with the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, U.S. authorities tightened the embargo with the CDA. When Castro introduced capitalist-style measures in 1993 and 1994 and began to send timid signals to the U.S. for an improvement of bilateral ties, especially on migration issues, the United States reinforced its sanctions with Helms-Burton.

On the other hand, when Cuba's economic reforms virtually came to a stop in the late 1990s, the U.S. lifted some restrictions on agricultural trade with Havana. In 2003, following the long-term imprisonment of 75 dissidents and the execution of three hijackers in Cuba, both the Senate and the House voted overwhelmingly to lift the travel ban to the island.

In order to influence Cuba's future direction, Washington should adopt a more flexible policy that establishes realistic conditions for re-engagement, responds to changes in Cuba, and serves the interests of the United States, not those of domestic groups that are willing to pursue their narrow goals regardless of the behavior of the Castro government.

Otherwise, the current all-or-nothing approach on Cuba will likely continue to achieve just nothing.

Paolo Spadoni is a visiting assistant professor in the department of political science at Rollins College in Winter Park. He wrote this commentary for the Orlando Sentinel.
Copyright © 2007, Orlando Sentinel

My Comment:

While I agree with Paolo's central point, he misstates John Kerry's position. I don't think Kerry had ever spoken in favor of ending the embargo so he did not reverse his position. He had supported freedom of travel before his campaign and repeated that position during it, including in a statement buried in his web site. What was disappointing is that although he stood by his good position on travel while campaigning in Florida, he did not aggressively challenge Bush on the issue--which I think would have won him votes in Florida and elsewhere.