Friday, October 26, 2007

Time Magazine on Bush speech

Time Magazine

Thursday, Oct. 25, 2007
Keeping Up the Hard Line on Cuba
By Tim Padgett/Miami,8599,1676501,00.html

Few would argue that democracy and human rights are as rare in Cuba as meat and modern appliances. That was duly underscored on Wednesday when President Bush invited the relatives of jailed Cuban dissidents to the State Department for his first policy speech on Cuba in four years. But any expectation of a major policy shift was dissipated after listening to the President. Bush simply gussied up some of the same old bromides — "The socialist paradise is a tropical gulag" — that have marked U.S.-Cuban relations for decades.

Bush reiterated his hard stance against lifting the 45-year-old U.S. trade embargo on Cuba if the seriously ill Fidel Castro, as expected, is succeeded by his brother Raul, who already runs the government. Predictably, Fidel said Bush's speech reflected the U.S.'s desire to "reconquer" Cuba. And the Castro brothers aren't exactly cowed by these traditional verbal assaults. They have thrived on it in the past: heated U.S. rhetoric usually bolsters their image at home as the island's anti-Yanqui defenders. With plenty of material support from Hugo Chavez in Venezuela (about 90,000 barrels of oil per day on highly favorable finance terms), the embargo, though still onerous, is not as painful as it once was.

As a result, critics of Bush's Cuba policy argue his address simply helped preserve rather than undermine Cuba's nebulous status quo. And they're urging Washington again to consider stepped up contact with Raul Castro — widely regarded as more pragmatically flexible than Fidel — as a more effective means of jump-starting a democratic transition. "President Bush is right when he says this is a unique moment in Cuba, but he's missing that moment," says Jake Colvin, director of USA Engage in Washington, which favors moves like lifting the ban on U.S. travel to Cuba — something even most Cuban-Americans in Miami now favor, and which many Cuba watchers suggest the Castros actually fear. Bush insisted that engaging Cuba now would just give "oxygen to a criminal regime." But, argues Colvin, "American citizens have always proven the best ambassadors of freedom and democracy."

Bush may also be alienating the very people he is reaching out to by suggesting Washington will be Cuba's post-Castro arbiter. In the eyes of ordinary Cuban citizens, that is perceived as surrogacy for the Miami Cuban exile community — whose anti-Castro hardliners, with their dreams of resurrecting a pre-Castro Cuba, are as disliked by many Cubans on the island as the Castros themselves are.

What's more, by attaching his Administration to Cuba's dissidents so publicly, Bush may actually compromise the position of the Castro critics who remain on the island, whose credibility often rests on being seen as a movement independent of the Miami exiles. In past interviews with TIME and other media groups, Oswaldo Paya, an engineer who is the most prominent of Cuba's dissidents, says he is uncomfortable whenever the White House tries to coopt him and his colleagues. He says it simply makes their goals more difficult to achieve.


My letter to the editor response:

The completely counterproductive character of President Bush's speech on Cuba is demonstrated by the Cubans printing half of it in Granma and putting him on TV for 15 minutes.

Congress must be pressed to restore now the right of all Americans to travel freely to establish people to people contact with Cubans.

(Readers should consider signing our letter to Congressional leaders and call or write their own Representative and Senators. )

The Presidential candidates must also be challenged to say what they will do if elected. Dodd and Kucinich have called for ending all travel restrictions; Obama, Richardson and Edwards favor only ending restrictions on travel by Cuban Americans. Clinton has embraced the Bush policy rather than that of her husband. Paul is the only Republican who favors ending travel restrictions.

Newsday Column Response to Bush Speech

Bush's hardline Cuba policy buys Castro more time
James Klurfeld

Newsday, October 26, 2007

OK, we all understand what President George W. Bush was really up to in the speech he gave on Wednesday about Cuba.

In asserting that Cuba would have to change its government before the United States would end its decades-long economic embargo of the island, he was really saying: We are about to enter a presidential election year, and Cuban-Americans who continue to favor a hard-line U.S. approach are an important voting bloc in a swing state like Florida.

But that doesn't mean that Bush's policy makes any sense. It doesn't. In fact, his policy doesn't make any more sense now than the policy of isolation followed for the past 40-plus years by both Democratic and Republican regimes. And there are at least some indications that even some in the Cuban-American community are beginning to realize that a policy of active engagement, of allowing U.S. citizens to visit Cuba - not to mention opening trade and cultural relations - might well have more impact on forcing change in Cuba than the stale, old policy of isolation.

"Life on the island will not improve," said Bush, "by exchanging one dictator for another. It will not improve if we seek accommodation with a new tyranny in the interests of stability."

The president was referring to the fact that Fidel Castro's brother, Raul, seems to have been running the country ever since Fidel took seriously ill last year. Bush said he was ready to allow cultural and information exchanges with Cuba ... but the regime had to show it was embracing democratic principles first. And he called for an open rebellion by the Cuban people.

This not only smacks of the Yankee arrogance that has been so repugnant over the years to many in Latin America, especially Cubans of all political stripes, it's a policy that has its priorities exactly wrong. If we learned anything from the fall of communism in Eastern Europe in the late 1980s and 1990s, it was that exposure to Western principles of openness and free markets were critical factors in eroding the already discredited Communist regimes there. Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev says in his autobiography that one of the greatest influences on his own thinking came from his travels to Western Europe and Canada before he took power.

This principle is so self-evident that Bush's rhetoric sounds like a "Saturday Night Live" parody of a Red-baiting pol from decades ago. Calling on the Cuban people to throw out the Castro brothers and establish a democratic regime as a prerequisite to a U.S. opening is stunningly wrong-headed.

I traveled to Cuba some years ago (before Bush took office, when it was easier to do) and found that the people there didn't need to be told that the Communist revolution had been a bust. You could see it in the dilapidated roads and infrastructure, in the lack of adequate housing, in young people's thirst for knowledge about the outside world and access to the Internet, in their private disdain and quiet mockery of Fidel himself.

After the Soviet Union fell and could no longer prop up Castro's government with huge subsidies, the regime almost went under. It was only by loosening state economic control that it was able to survive. That's when Western European countries and others, including China, began to make large economic investments in Cuba - investments that U.S. companies have missed out on.

The argument isn't about whether we should have any admiration for Castro's Communist Cuba. That verdict has already been made by history, and it's thumbs down. The question is how to best bring about change.

I came away from my trip believing that the Castro brothers would never really accept U.S. offers for a better relationship because they know such exchanges would only speed their demise and their failed system's reformation.

Now I imagine the brothers are applauding Bush's hard-line speech. It's just what they need to stay in power a little longer.

Copyright © 2007, Newsday Inc.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Newshour: Noriega vs.Kornbluh

President Bush Outlines Cuban Policy Initiatives

President Bush proposed a new policy plan Wednesday to push for a democratic transition in Cuba, but he declined to lift an economic embargo on the nation. Two policy analysts assess the state of U.S.-Cuban relations.

KWAME HOLMAN: Fidel Castro is 81, ailing, and temporarily has handed power to his brother, Raul, who has promised to keep Cuba on its communist course. But today, President Bush laid out his program to push forward a transition to democracy in Cuba.

In his first major address on Cuba policy in four years, Mr. Bush criticized the Castro regime, but said there were stirrings for change.

GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: As we speak, calls for fundamental change are growing across the island. Peaceful demonstrations are spreading. Earlier this year, leading Cuban dissidents came together for the first time to issue the Unity of Freedom, a declaration for democratic change.

KWAME HOLMAN: And he said it was time for the U.S. and other democracies to encourage that change.

GEORGE W. BUSH: Now is the time to support the democratic movements growing on the island. Now is the time to stand with the Cuban people as they stand up for their liberty. And now is the time for the world to put aside its differences and prepare for Cuba's transition to a future of freedom and progress and promise.

KWAME HOLMAN: The president asserted that the U.S. provided Cuba with more than $270 million in privately raised aid last year and was ready to do more. Mr. Bush offered three specific ideas: expanded Internet access to Cuban students; and an invitation to Cuban youth to join a Latin American scholarship program; he also called for the creation of an international fund to help a democratic Cuba build a free-market economy.

But the president said he would not lift the decades-old U.S. economic embargo or travel restrictions to Cuba. President Bush then made a direct appeal to the Cuban people.

GEORGE W. BUSH: To those Cubans who are listening, perhaps at great risk, I would like to speak to you directly. Some of you are members of the Cuban military or the police or officials in the government. You may have once believed in the revolution; now you can see its failure.

When Cubans rise up to demand their liberty, the liberty they deserve, you've got to make a choice. Will you defend a disgraced and dying order by using force against your own people, or will you embrace your people's desire for change?

To the ordinary Cubans who are listening, you have the power to shape your own destiny. You can bring about a future where your leaders answer to you, where you can freely express your beliefs, and where your children can grow up in peace. And you can carry this refrain your heart: Su dia ya viene llegando. Your day is coming soon.

KWAME HOLMAN: Castro, for his part, published an essay Tuesday accusing President Bush of threatening "humanity with World War III."

Putting a face on Cuba's struggles
JIM LEHRER: And to Margaret Warner.

MARGARET WARNER: For more on the president's latest Cuba initiative, we turn to Roger Noriega, who served as assistant secretary of state for Latin America and ambassador to the Organization of American States earlier in the Bush administration. He's now a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

And Peter Kornbluh, director of the Cuba Documentation Project at the National Security Archive, a group that pushes to declassify and publish secret U.S. government documents. He is also author and editor of several books on Latin America.

Welcome to you both.

Roger Noriega, you were in the audience today at the White House. What is President Bush trying to accomplish with this speech?

ROGER NORIEGA, American Enterprise Institute: Well, I think, first and foremost, the president is putting a human face on the tragic reality of Cuba today. Castro is a relic, but his regime is still a reality for seven million Cubans who live in oppression. And it was his idea to have, for example, the wives of Cuban prisoners of conscience there for all the world to see and to highlight that this is a human cost.

The second thing I think he wanted to do in a very dramatic fashion is challenge the diplomatic corps to get on the right side of history, that it's never too late to be on the side of the Cuban people.

MARGARET WARNER: You're talking about now the countries that do have relations with Cuba?

ROGER NORIEGA: Exactly, the many countries. He singled out Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary for doing good things to help and challenged, really, the others to step forward and, at this crucial hour, be more proactive in supporting the efforts of the Cuban people to reclaim their future.

MARGARET WARNER: But what was he trying to do with the Cuban people when he says, "You can shape your own future"? I mean, is he calling for an armed rebellion or a sort of Velvet Revolution, a la Eastern Europe?

ROGER NORIEGA: I think he's calling on them to decide and reminding them that this is the time to do so, to step forward, to claim their country and their future. And it is for them to decide how to do that and remind them that there is international solidarity for their cause and that the cause of freedom is really on the right side and has momentum in the world and they need to be part of that future.

Analyzing the dissident movement
MARGARET WARNER: So, Peter Kornbluh, how did this strike you as a plan, or a game plan, or a blueprint for pushing post-Castro Cuba in a more democratic direction?

PETER KORNBLUH, Cuba Documentation Project: You know, what struck me was how the president talked the big talk but really wielded a very, very small stick and how ineffectual and somewhat unrealistic his proposals were and his view of what's going on today in Cuba is.

There is no significant dissident movement to support. There is no overthrow or regime change coming over the horizon in Cuba. For the last year-and-a-half, this administration has sat on the sidelines, while an actual transition from Fidel Castro to his brother, Raul, has taken place and taken place rather dramatically, tranquilly and smoothly, with no mass exodus, no fragmentation of the regime itself.

MARGARET WARNER: What tells you, though, that there isn't the prospect that when Castro actually dies, Fidel Castro actually dies, that there would be sort of a mass outpouring, a demand for change?

PETER KORNBLUH: If that was going to have happened, it would have happened last August, a year ago August after Fidel transferred power. Fidel Castro may or may not be dying, but it's clear that his regime is still rather strong.

The economy is growing. They have new very strong relations, economically and politically, with Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. China is investing in Cuba. There really is no sign of instability. And so everything that the president said today and the proposals that he made really aren't going to strike a chord inside Cuba or with the international community, for that matter.

Siding with the Cuban people
MARGARET WARNER: Do you have countervailing evidence that, in fact, there is a sort of ripe environment there for this call?

ROGER NORIEGA: Well, the evidence is all around us. It's all around the globe. And the president reminded people that there are those who bet against freedom and they turned up on the wrong side of history. There are those who said that the Soviet Union was sturdy and strong and resilient. And five or six years later, it was gone.

But I wouldn't want to bet against or be accused of betting against the aspirations of the Cuban people to win their freedom. We need to be proactive; I think that is true. And we need to be helpful.

But there is a group -- there is not this tranquil transition going on. There is an effort by Castro to sustain the regime even after Fidel's death. And that is really a violent reality for seven million Cuban people. And I don't think we should be sanguine about that.

I think we should be on the side of the Cuban people. We should be encouraging the international community to be more active, to communicate with the island, to challenge the regime, to bring about real change. They probably won't do so, but hopefully, when the Cuban people stand up, people like my friend here and people around the world and in other capitals will say, "No, we're going to be on the right side of history. We're going to be on the side of the Cuban people as they claim their legitimate freedoms."

MARGARET WARNER: Now, of course, in the meanwhile, he was not suggesting any change in American policy. That is, the trade embargo will continue. And, Peter Kornbluh, he said to start trading with Cuba would just enrich the regime. Is he right?

PETER KORNBLUH: Well, the embargo is what stands in the way of the United States having any leverage or influence in Cuba for the future. If we had normal relations with Cuba, we would have trade, we would have cultural exchanges. We would have the things that we had with the Soviet Union and with the Eastern Bloc countries when those changes took place there.

And other countries have trade with Cuba, and other countries are in there in a dialogue and with the Cuban people. I think the rest of the world is out in front of the United States. And the United States has essentially been relegated to the sidelines of this issue because of its policy.

ROGER NORIEGA: Well, I think the president made very clear that we're not going to make unilateral concessions to revive a regime that's breathing its last, dying breaths. And I think it just doesn't make any sense, if it ever did, to make unilateral concessions to the one guy who is the obstacle to political and economic freedom for the people.

U.S. influence in Cuba
MARGARET WARNER: But what about Peter Kornbluh's point that it diminishes the U.S. ability to have leverage?

ROGER NORIEGA: Oh, I think the U.S. is the most influential country in the world from the standpoint of Cuba. The president made that point to the military leaders, the would-be repressors. He made the point to the Cuban people that this is the time for a national reconciliation and to their oppressors: If you get in the way, it would be a tragedy, for one thing, if one more drop of blood, of Cuban blood, is shed in the service of this failed Fidel Castro, this project of Fidel Castro's, and they will be held accountable.

Those are the sorts of messages and the message that we will use our leverage, economic and political relations, as an incentive to reform and a reward to people who bring about real change in Cuba.

MARGARET WARNER: What did you make of that message to the military and government and police?

PETER KORNBLUH: Well, I thought it was an effort by the president to divide the Cuban military, to try to get them to peel off from the regime. I thought his call to the Cuban people to kind of take these matters into their own hands was almost exhorting them to rise up and then telling the military not to shoot them if they did.

President Bush said very clearly: We're on the side of democracy, not on the side of stability. And that puts the United States perhaps on the side of instability and fomenting instability in Cuba, which will lead to violence and bloodshed that nobody wants to see that and that U.S. policy has the opportunity to prevent, if bridges are built with Cuba in the foreseeable future.

MARGARET WARNER: But you said earlier you don't really think that the Cuban people are going to rise up.

PETER KORNBLUH: I do not see that happening, unless the United States puts its mind to instigating instability in Cuba.

MARGARET WARNER: All right, we have to leave it there. Roger Noriega, Peter Kornbluh, thank you both.



My on-line comment to Kwame Holman lead-in to the segment

Lead-ins don't leave a lot of space for nuance, but I would ask you to reexamine this language: " his brother, Raul, who has promised to keep Cuba on its communist course".

If you have a chance, take a look at the coverage of the process underway in Cuba today, as reported in the Economist, Reuters, and, even more amazingly by the Cubans themselves.

Having been closely involved in the process of normalization of US-Vietnam relations and the self-transformation in communist Vietnam since the Sixth Party Congress in 1986, I find interesting analogies to what I am now observing in my work for normalization between the US and Cuba, and the economic and social reform process to which Raul has opened the door.

The tragedy of President Bush's speech is that it is driven by one part anachronistic ideology and one part domestic South Florida interest group politics. He has crippled both our understandiing and our potential positive impact on what is actually going on in Cuba today.

Either the President or the Congress need to quickly end travel restrictions, preferably for all Americans, but at least for the kind of family and purposeful people to people exchanges that existed in the late Clinton and early Bush administrations.

Unfortunately this topic was not fully addressed in an otherwise illuminating segment.

Baltimore Sun editorial

Same old, same old
October 25, 2007,0,2570875.story

When President Bush suggests, as he did yesterday, that the Cuban people should rise up against their despotic leader, he conveniently ignores the fact that U.S. policy toward Cuba has done little to spur a revolt. Decades of isolation - and his administration's toughening of the policy - haven't lessened Fidel Castro's hold on power or diminished the influence of his brother Raul, now serving as the de facto president since Mr. Castro took ill a year ago.

Indeed, the only Cubans who have benefited from U.S. policy are the thousands of refugees who are given a free pass to live here.

Mr. Bush's speech at the State Department was aimed at personalizing the plight of the Cuban people, and it was his first public response to the transition of power under way there. But it was no more than the same tough talk in support of the economic embargo against Havana, promotion of democracy efforts in the country, and a pitch to the international community to stand with the U.S. against the Castro regime.

For all his bluster, there is little he has done - and little he can do - to advance democracy, promote regime change or improve the daily lives of Cubans who remain on the island. (And the reality is that despite U.S. support for dissident groups in Cuba, democracy remains a distant ideal there.)

All of that would require an overhaul of U.S. foreign policy toward Cuba, which Mr. Bush is not about to attempt. And without a drastic change, the succession of Mr. Castro's brother seems inevitable, which leaves little hope for reform and even less for revolution, although Mr. Bush's attempt to include Cuba's military and police in a new Cuba does show that the administration can learn from its mistakes.

Mr. Bush's proposal to establish a "Freedom Fund for Cuba," a vehicle to rebuild the country's failing infrastructure with dollars from the U.S. and international community, was appealing. But it, too, is tied to a democratic transition, which wrongly assumes Mr. Castro's successor would move in that direction on his own, just to receive the funds.

A new administration, whether Democratic or Republican, should take up the idea and use it as an entree to direct talks. The next White House can't continue to ignore the leadership in Havana, even if the votes of Cuban-Americans depend on just such a myopic course.

To simply tweak the present policy would be a mistake for the United States and its interests in the region - and an affront to the Cuban people.

Copyright © 2007, The Baltimore Sun

Travel Ban Ignored

Americans flouting U.S. travel ban to see "forbidden fruit" of Cuba
Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 10/21/07

Barack Obama would lift restrictions on visits by Cuban Americans to the hemisphere's only communist country if elected president.

A growing chorus of Democratic and Republican lawmakers would go even further, loosening the U.S. embargo enough to allow all Americans to travel to Cuba.

But thousands of U.S. tourists already travel to Cuba behind Washington's back, and many say being sneaky is part of the fun.Some are scrambling to get to the island while Fidel Castro is still alive, fearing the U.S. government could scrap the travel ban once he's gone and bring profound change to Cuba.

"The fact that you're not supposed to be there, that was the top for me," said Amit, 29, a New York City native who visited Cuba in September 2006, shortly after the 81-year-old Castro fell ill and ceded power to his younger brother.

"I was like, "It's time to go,' " said Amit, who asked that his full name not be published to avoid U.S. fines. "You just don't know what Cuba will be like after Castro's gone."

Traveling to Cuba is not illegal for Americans, but provisions of the Trading With the Enemy Act prohibit spending money here without authorization." If caught, unauthorized U.S. tourists can face civil fines of up to $55,000, though many settle for smaller amounts.

Since January 2006, 19 Americans have paid fines for sneaking to Cuba.

Obama would like to do away with tighter restrictions imposed by U.S. President George W. Bush in 2004 that limited educational and religious travel and reduced trips by Americans with family on the island to one every three years.

The U.S. Treasury Department issued 40,308 licenses for family travel last year, almost all to Cuban Americans, and the Cuban government counts these travelers as Cubans, not Americans.

Separately, Cuba said 20,100 Americans visited the country through June of this year, almost all presumably without U.S. permission.

Other than family members, the U.S. government granted permission 491 times for people involved in religious, educational and humanitarian projects. Some other Americans — including journalists and politicians — can come without licenses, though few do.

Cuba said about 37,000 Americans not of Cuban origin came in 2006 — down from the more than 84,500 it reported in 2003, before the latest restrictions.

The American Society of Travel Agents recently estimated that nearly 1.8 million Americans would visit in the first three years following an end to the travel ban.

"We wanted to get here before all the other Americans come and ruin it all," said Bridget, a 20-year-old from Minneapolis, Minnesota, who wandered Old Havana's colonial streets with her friend Erik in August. They wouldn't give their last names.

"It's forbidden treasure," said Erik, also from the Twin Cities. "It will be so Americanized in a few years. Just like Cancun," where U.S. franchises from Hard Rock Cafe to Hooters tend to drown out Mexican culture.

Some Americans sail to Cuba, but most fly through Canada, Mexico, the Bahamas or Jamaica. Cuban tourist cards can be purchased at third-country airports and customs officials usually stamp only these loose-leaf visas, not the permanent pages of U.S. passports.

Traveling to Cuba is not as easy as punching dates into an Internet site. Travelocity recently agreed to pay $182,750 in fines for booking nearly 1,500 flights between the United States and Cuba from 1998 to 2004. The company says it fixed technical glitches and no longer lets such trips go through.

Charles Rangel on Cuba

CONTACT : Emile Milne 202 225-4365 October 25, 2007


The President today sided against the Cuban people and chose instead the tried and tired policies of the past. Not a fresh or novel idea was proposed, just a reiteration of longstanding − and long-failing − hardball tactics that have done nothing to promote democracy on the island. By rejecting a new direction, the President again delivered a course of raw meat to the most extreme opponents of the Castro government.

The Administration has shown a remarkable lack of foresight in its dealing with Cuba. Still mired in 1960's thinking, it waits for Fidel Castro's death to be the catalyst for democratic change, all while his brother, Raúl, consolidates power and influence. The President's attempt to play catch up − hurling age-old threats and intimidation − won't be more effective now than it has been for the last 50 years. Instead of idly preparing for Castro's death, we should be cultivating good will in Cuba, so that we can be active players when the head of state finally changes.

But the President appears committed to failure. The trade embargo has been a godsend to a Cuban government that uses it as a scapegoat for its errors. The failed strategy of the embargo has drawn ire from both religious leaders and political dissidents on the island, because it makes their fight for democracy that much harder. It has increased the influence of Hugo Chavez in appointing the U.S. as the enemy of Latin America. It has weakened our credibility in the War on Terrorism by defending terrorists such as Luis Posada Carriles, whose plots have killed innocent people.

Here at home, the policy stifles trade opportunities for American businesses seeking to sell in Cuba. It prevents Americans from travelling there, but allows free access to communist China and Vietnam. It encourages Americans to break the law and go to Cuba through a third country at exorbitant expense.

The cruelest aspect of the President's policy is ignoring the pain of separated Cuban families. No one suffers more than our Cuban-descendent brothers and sisters when travel is limited to one trip every three years, and emergency trips − even those relating to a dying relative − are outright barred. Even Cuban Americans who support the trade embargo are vehemently against a policy that divides their families.

The President announced an initiative allowing non-governmental organizations and faith groups to send computers to Cuba. But at the same time, needed clothes, medicines, and medical supplies donated by organizations like Pastors for Peace are considered contraband. He announced a program allowing for Cuban children to participate in a scholarship program in the U.S. But at the same time, he prevents American students and college researchers from studying there. He announced the creation of an international freedom fund, directed towards assisting Cuba's transition to democracy. But allowable remittances sent by Cuban Americans to their families on the island have been drastically reduced.

If the President really wants to promote democracy in Cuba, he will lift the embargo against travel by U.S. citizens to Cuba. I believe there would be no more effective way to evidence the difference between Castro's failed economy and the potential for a better life than returning Cuban-Americans who can testify to their own experience.

Unfortunately, today is just another day in a string of days since 1959 that playing electoral politics in Florida wins out over enacting sensible policy. It appears that changing course in the face of failure is something this Administration simply will not do.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Florida Travel Trial: Phony Religious Licenses

Two to be sentenced for Cuba travel ban violation



Posing as men of the cloth, businessman Victor Vazquez and his wealthy friend David Margolis flew back and forth to Cuba by cleverly exploiting a religious loophole in the long-standing travel ban to the communist island nation.

But on the afternoon of Dec. 13, 2006, a team of U.S. Treasury and Customs agents finally caught up with them upon their return to Miami International Airport.

When asked about the Fort Lauderdale waterfront home that he used as a ''church'' to obtain his religious license, Margolis admitted, ``You have me dead to rights.''

Vazquez, at first defensive, admitted he assisted Margolis in preparing his application and that ''he knew the church did not exist,'' agents said.

Vazquez, 40, of Delray Beach, and Margolis, 76, of Fort Lauderdale, would soon become the nation's first defendants to be charged with illegally obtaining religious travel licenses to get around the 44-year-old travel ban to Cuba.

Vazquez, who had obtained five such licenses illegally, profited by selling his permits to thousands of Cuban Americans seeking to dodge restrictions that became even tighter under the Bush administration.

Last month, a court presentencing report said Vazquez sold the use of his licenses to 6,500 travelers -- estimating the government's ''loss'' and his ''gain'' at $975,000. His attorney, Celeste Higgins, called it a ''reckless estimate.'' She said the government suffered no loss and Vazquez pocketed between $120,000 and $400,000, citing his plea deal.

Vazquez and Margolis, who recently pleaded guilty, will be sentenced Friday and Monday, respectively, in Miami federal court. Vazquez could face up to three years in prison for conspiring to defraud the U.S. government. Margolis, convicted of a lesser charge of filing a false government application, faces up to six months but could get probation.

The year-long investigation -- which also led to the conviction of Vazquez's ex-wife and a Hialeah travel agent -- revealed a profitable scheme that allowed thousands of Cuban Americans to shuttle to and from the island. It has spawned other investigations by a U.S. attorney's task force targeting violators of the trade embargo against Cuba.

In the case of Vazquez and Margolis, it was all done in the name of God -- at least on paper.


The case against Vazquez began in January 2006 when investigators with the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control found an extraordinary number of people had traveled on his permits -- and many of them didn't live anywhere near his licensed ``churches.''

Such licenses represent one of the few exemptions that allow travel to Cuba under the U.S. trade embargo. They gained greater value in 2004 after President Bush imposed new rules allowing only one trip to Cuba every three years to visit an immediate family member.

Federal agents discovered that Vazquez obtained religious travel licenses from the Treasury agency ''under false pretenses,'' according to a criminal complaint filed in February by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Agents learned that Vazquez, who was living with his ex-wife Kekalani Vazquez in Winter Garden in Central Florida, had first applied for a religious license in March 2004. The application sought the license under The First Church of Christ, using the Vazquez's residence as its address.

The religious information was false.

Treasury officials estimated that more than 2,000 people traveled to Cuba on Vazquez's religious license through April 2006, when it expired. Vazquez took 45 trips to the island himself, the ICE complaint says.

That's when Margolis entered the picture.

On March 17, 2006, Vazquez turned to his friend to apply for a religious license for travel to Cuba on behalf of Assumption Church of Christ. Margolis signed the application, listed his $1.7 million waterfront home on Middle River Drive as the church's address and noted that it ''has 2,954 members and four directors,'' according to the complaint.

His lawyer, Richard Rosenbaum, said his client made five trips to Cuba with the license, but didn't do any religious work.

''They weren't going over there to research churches,'' Rosenbaum said.

Vazquez fabricated four other phony ministries with bogus addresses in Florida and elsewhere to apply for religious licenses for travel to Cuba. He also enlisted his ex-wife in the scheme. Kekalani Vazquez recently pleaded guilty and faces up to six months in prison.

More than 4,500 people paid up to $200 to travel on three of Vazquez's religious licenses between April 2006 and January 2007, the ICE complaint said.

Among the local travel agencies that handled the arrangements was Super Cuba Travel of Hialeah. One of its sales people, Yury Rodriquez, pleaded guilty this summer.

His attorney, Hugo Rodriguez, no relation, said 1,010 people used Super Cuba to travel under Vazquez's religious license. Vazquez charged between $120 and $200 for the use of his permit. All that money went to him, the lawyer said.

''There was no loss to any victim or the government,'' Rodriguez said, estimating that his client made $20,200 in fees for booking the Cuba flights with a carrier. He faces up to six months' imprisonment.

During their illegal trips, Vazquez and Margolis seemed more interested in romance than religion.

Vazquez, who is living under house arrest with his mother in Delray Beach, got married last year to a young Cuban woman who is trying to come to the United States, court records show.

''He became an additional member of our family. To such an extent that on the day he proposed marriage, neither I or my family hesitated in accepting,'' his bride, Dayana Betancourt Mojena, 21, wrote in a letter to the federal judge presiding over the case.

Margolis, a Fort Lauderdale real estate mogul with serious heart problems, made arrangements for his Cuban girlfriend to come to South Florida in September.

''He became enamored with a 27-year-old woman in Cuba,'' said Margolis' lawyer, Rosenbaum. ``She's living with him now.''

Rosenbaum said both men, who had met years ago when Vazquez was a tenant in one of Margolis' South Florida shopping centers, did humanitarian work while they were in Cuba.

Vazquez also looked for business opportunities in a post-Castro Cuba.


From my letter to the author:

The article did not mention a question that was raised in the early coverage of their arrest: what is being done about or to the people who consciously and dishonestly used this illegal route to Cuba.

Related to that is the question of whether the red line that was crossed by the defendants was profit making exploitation.

There is at least a suspicion that lots of other religious trips that are organized for Cuban Americans are a thinly veiled cover for family travel. So far OFAC and the US attorney seem to turn a blind eye. This stands in marked contrast to the denial of licenses to well established religious groups that overtly or implicitly criticize the archaic travel restrictions.

There is a rumor in Washington that the Bush Administration recently debated whether to tighten restrictions by enforcing them against the less than religious travelers, or to loosen them to allow more frequent family travel. A possible motive is the potential cost Miami Cuban American Republican hard liners and their party are paying in voter support.

My own interest is that at a time when Cuba is obviously going through a leadership change and serious nationwide discussion of economic policy, it is not only vindictive but stupid to maintain any travel restrictions, but most obviously those imposed by OFAC for partisan political reasons on family and purposeful (non-tourist) travel in 2003-2004.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Hemingway House vs OFAC

Sea of tension cuts off a trove
Hemingway's Cuban home remains off-limits to U.S. fans and preservationists.
By DAVID ADAMS, Latin American Correspondent
Published October 8, 2007


HAVANA - The July 5, 1960, edition of Newsweek magazine sits on a low table near the favorite chair of one of America's literary greats.

"Can Anybody Stop Kennedy?" the cover reads.

The magazine is like everything else in this house that was Ernest Hemingway's residence for 21 years - almost exactly as the author left it.

It was here between 1939 and 1960 that Hemingway wrote some of his most famous works, including For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea.

Yet it remains off-limits to American tourists due to the four-decades-old U.S. economic embargo against Cuba's communist government.

"It's the most amazing place. It's as if Hemingway just walked out of the house to go down the street for a case of cold beer for the evening's visitors," said Thomas Herman, a Boston attorney for the Hemingway Preservation Foundation, which is seeking permission from the U.S. government to help Cuba preserve the property and its contents.

* * *

Hemingway never lived anywhere longer than this hilltop villa overlooking Havana, known as Finca Vigia, or Lookout Farm.

For years, the house was virtually forgotten, except by Cuba's cultural authorities who diligently protected it. A joint U.S.-Cuba restoration effort was launched in 2002 and is now backed by a growing group of Hemingway devotees, including Republican presidential candidate John McCain, writer Norman Mailer and Sopranos star James Gandolfini.

Restoration work began in February 2005 after the U.S. Treasury Department granted a two-year license, allowing U.S. conservation experts to visit Cuba.

But the travel license ran out, leaving the project only partially completed. In August, the foundation submitted a request for a new license, which the Treasury Department appears unwilling to grant.

"Under the Cuba sanctions program, we are prohibited from licensing anything that promotes tourism in Cuba," said Candice Pratsch, Treasury Department spokesperson for the Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, which covers embargo issues.

* * *

Hemingway enthusiasts say it would be a tragedy to allow politics to undermine the preservation of his colorful Cuban legacy.

"It has been fascinating to watch the collaborative efforts of the Cuban and American technical experts over the past couple of years - from initial skepticism, to a very close and fruitful professional relationship," Herman said.

"I don't know of a similar Cuban-American collaboration at this high level that currently exists. It really transcends the difficult politics of the moment."

Cubans feel a strong affinity for Hemingway. Choosing to live outside the city away from Havana's social elite, made him a man of the people in their eyes.

"There are still old people who remember seeing him walking in the streets around here. Cubans identify Hemingway with Cuba," said the museum's director, Ada Rosa Alfonso.

The modest but elegant one-story bungalow sits on 21 acres overgrown with mango and guava trees about 10 miles outside Havana. Hemingway's famous 40-foot fishing boat, the Pilar, rests in dry dock in a garden by the pool. The house contains most of its original furniture and decorations, as well as Hemingway's personal library of 9,000 books, magazines, manuscripts and letters.

* * *

The campaign to save the house began when U.S. anthropologist Jenny Phillips visited the house in 2001. The building she found had a leaky roof and mold throughout the walls.

She also found a literary treasure, unavailable to scholars outside Cuba.

She created the Hemingway Preservation Foundation and in 2002 Cuba agreed to allow U.S. experts to help restore and digitally copy the author's papers.

But the Treasury Department refused to issue a license permitting financial collaboration. A narrow permit, for technical assistance only, was eventually granted.

"It was a very specific project to conserve and digitize the documents," said Walter Newman, director of Paper Conservation at the nonprofit Northeast Document Conservation Center in Andover, Mass. Newman made several trips to the island, providing advice on treating the documents with de-acidifying agents.

* * *

Today, the house is almost fully restored, paid for entirely by the Cuban government, and the manuscripts and letters are conserved and copied. But much more work remains to be done, said Herman, including preserving Hemingway's heavily annotated books, magazines, photos and scrapbooks.

The Pilar still needs work, as does the pool area. Most in need of repair is the termite-infested guesthouse and garage, which currently houses the museum's stiflingly hot office.

The foundation has raised about $350,000, including grants from the Ford and Rockefeller foundations, to fund travel and the professional services of experts.

Cubans still have a hard time understanding how the American government can stand in the way.

"It's absurd, illogical and stupid," said Alfonso, the museum's curator. "This isn't a question of politics. It's about a literary figure who left his footprints here."

David Adams can be reached at

A peek inside

-While the interior of Finca Vigia is closed to the public, visitors can peer through open windows into the rooms via a walkway that wraps around the outside.

-A large bullfighting poster hangs on one wall in the living room, alongside stuffed animal heads from hunting trips to Africa. Original bottles of Old Forester bourbon and Cinzano vermouth stand at arm's length from Hemingway's chair.

-Books line shelves in most of the rooms, including the bathroom. At one end of the main room is Hemingway's old RCA record player still in working order, next to a large collection of LPs, from Bessie Smith to Bach.

-Hemingway liked to entertain. Errol Flynn dined at his table. Cary Grant slept on the sofa, and Ava Gardner famously skinny-dipped in the pool.

-Hemingway wrote his books standing up in his bedroom, the only air-conditioned room in the house. His Royal typewriter is there. Materials for his research lie strewn over the bed.

-One room is reserved for cats. There were 60 of them in and around the house. Hemingway kept four cows to provide milk for them. Hemingway also had four dogs, Black, Negrita, Linda and Neron, who are all buried in marked graves in the garden.

-In the bathroom, Hemingway scribbled his weight every day on the wall. By the time he left Cuba for medical treatment in 1960, the wall shows he had lost almost 50 pounds. He committed suicide a few months later in his house in Idaho.

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Sun-Sentinel Report on Grass Roots Discussions,0,2090475.story

South Florida
Cuba may be considering a more market-driven economy
By Ray Sánchez

Havana Bureau

October 8, 2007


Two dozen theater workers recently sat around a sun-splashed garden cafeteria in the Vedado neighborhood. They had been summoned by bosses to discuss Cuba's economic woes.

Skeptics abounded. "Why ask us what we think when nothing ever changes?" grumbled one worker.

A manager opened the three-hour meeting reading excerpts from a speech Raúl Castro delivered on July 26, criticizing the state bureaucracy, low salaries and poor agricultural production.

Some theater workers were emboldened hearing Castro had publicly ridiculed the failings of the system.

"Somebody got up and said, 'I simply want to eat steak and I can't afford to on my salary,'" recalled José, a 42-year-old stagehand who asked that his full name not be used.

"Others got up and said their $12-a-month salaries got them through the first three days of the month," he said. "The rest of the time they had to steal or do whatever else was necessary."

The grass-roots discussions, which were also tried in the late 1980s and mid-90s, auger a more market-oriented approach to an economy that is growing in some sectors but has yet to result in higher income for workers. It is a policy Raúl Castro has long embraced and his brother Fidel long rejected, according to analysts both here and abroad.

"Consensus doesn't mean everybody agrees with everything," said Rafael Hernández, editor of Temas — Issues in English — a scholarly quarterly published in Havana about Cuba's political and economic scene. "It means there is a basic acceptance of the rules of the political game and objectives of the system. You cannot enrich that consensus simply by allowing people to talk. You have to deliver results."

The debate has generated proposals long considered taboo: expanding private agriculture and small enterprise, decentralizing the economy, extending private ownership to other sectors, boosting foreign investment and increasing incentives to workers to boost productivity.

"The fact that now no topics are considered to be outside the scope of the discussion reveals a willingness to listen," Hernández said. "Some people are skeptical. But the fact that the meetings are happening and the discussions are lively indicates that most people think this is worth it."

Philip Peters, a Cuba expert at the Lexington Institute, a think tank in suburban Washington, D.C., said Raúl Castro's interim government has forced itself to take up economic reforms in the coming year.

"Cuba is engaged in an economic policy debate of potentially great consequence," Peters wrote in the institute's "Cuba Policy Report" in late September. "Fidel Castro started this debate, but the longer it goes on the more it seems to follow a path that he would not have planned. ...

"There is consensus that something must be done — for both political and economic reasons," Peters wrote.

The grass-roots meetings, which take place at work sites, union offices and neighborhood watch groups throughout the island, are not the first of their kind. Similar discussions were held in the late 1980s, Hernández said. The collapse of Cuba's longtime benefactor, the former Soviet Union, brought them to an end in 1991.

During the economic crisis that followed the loss of Soviet subsidies, similar public discussions began in 1993, before the implementation of economic reforms that included legalization of the U.S. dollar. The government retreated from the liberalized policies and discussions in 1996 because they strayed from socialist ideology and undermined political control.

"Cuban politicians know very well that people expect change and improvement in their lives," Hernández said. "They can't ignore these expectations."

At the gathering of theater workers, people complained about food prices, inadequate transportation, and the inability of Cubans to travel freely. Still, many doubt the meetings will result in significant reforms.

"Honestly, I don't expect major changes," said Juan, a 44-year-old set builder, who did not want to give his full name. At least, the meetings give the public an escape valve. We talk. They listen. Nothing changes."

Ray Sánchez can be reached at

Copyright © 2007, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Rangel vs. Diaz-Balard on CNN

"We've never had a worst foreign policy, trade policy or even an international policy than what we have with Cuba....It is shameful that you think that six people should dominate our trade and foreign policy with any country." --Rep. Charles Rangel

Clash Over Cuba

Wolf Blitzer

3 October 2007

CNN: The Situation Room

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've never had a worst foreign policy, trade policy or even an international policy than what we have with Cuba.


BLITZER: Is it time to lift the embargo or is Fidel Castro finally on the ropes? You're going to hear two very different views.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A congressman makes a powerful case for the U.S. to keep the heat on Cuba.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have a dictator who is on his deathbed and who has had absolute and total power for almost 50 years.


BLITZER: We're going to have a red-hot discussion about Castro's Cuba and whether it's time for the U.S. to lift sanctions and travel restrictions.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

As part of CNN's uncovering America series, we're taking a closer look at some of the issues affecting the Latino community. Many Hispanic Americans have very definite and diverse opinions about U.S. policy toward Cuba. And so does the United States Congress. Some lawmakers insist the time is right to ease sanctions against the communist nation. Others say that would be a huge mistake. And joining us now Democratic Congressman Charlie Rangel of New York and Republican Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart of Florida; gentlemen thanks very much for coming in.

And Charlie Rangel, let me start with you. You're the more senior member of this panel. Why do you believe it's time now to go ahead and lift the restrictions, lift the embargo, try to normalize relations with Cuba?

REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: It was the time 45 years ago. The truth of the matter is that we have farmers anxious to sell chickens and pork and rice and beans and open up the markets. And so it's good for our farmers. We have a restriction on the fact that Cuban Americans and others cannot visit Cuba. This has been for over 40 years. We cannot even -- they can't send money to try to help their relatives in Cuba. And, lastly, they can only visit once every three years. So, if they have a relative that's dying, they've got to time the death. This policy is really cut out for a handful of people in Miami and it's the tail wagging the dog. We've never had a worst foreign policy, trade policy or even an international policy than what we have with Cuba.

BLITZER: All right, Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart, why do you disagree?

REP. LINCOLN DIAZ-BALART (R), FLORIDA: Well Mr. Rangel first misstated some of the details of our policy. But let's focus on the principle aspects here. First of all, we are keeping billions of dollars from that communist terrorist dictatorship. And I'm sure that the family of Sergeant Greg Fronius, who was killed in El Salvador in 1987 by a Cuban planned mission, a Green Beret who was training the Salvador armed forces at the time or our forces who were killed fighting the Cubans in 1983, when our forces invaded and liberated Grenada, the relatives of those killed I'm sure would agree that it's a good idea to keep billions and billions of dollars from that communist terrorist dictatorship.

When that regime had $6 or $7 billion a year from the Soviet Union, precisely -- Angola, Nicaragua and El Salvador, and so many other places, were hit with direct terrorism from that regime.

BLITZER: All right...

DIAZ-BALART: So we're keeping billions of dollars from that regime.
And then, now that the dictator is finally on his death bed, it's important that we retain...

BLITZER: All right...

DIAZ-BALART: ...leverage so that the political prisoners -- that's what we're -- that's what our policy says.


DIAZ-BALART: ...the embargo goes away tomorrow if all political prisoners -- and when all political prisoners are freed; political parties, labor unions and the press are legalized; and free elections are scheduled. Which of the three conditions do the Cuban people not deserve?

BLITZER: All right, Congressman Rangel?

RANGEL: Let me tell you one thing. First of all, he never said that Cuba or Castro has killed anybody. Indeed, the record is clear that we tried to kill him. But when he starts talking about...

DIAZ-BALART: How about the brothers to the rescue who were murdered over international space?
Didn't Castro kill them?

RANGEL: Let me talk about communists. You know, you try...

DIAZ-BALART: What were -- how about that Vietnam veteran killed by Castro in 1995?

RANGEL: Could I -- could I finish?

DIAZ-BALART: No, no...

RANGEL: Let's talk about...

DIAZ-BALART: ...but you said that Castro hasn't killed anybody.

RANGEL: Castro...

DIAZ-BALART: How could you say that...

RANGEL: Let me tell you...

DIAZ-BALART: ...when a Vietnam veteran was killed by Castro...

RANGEL: Please, don't be..


RANGEL: Please, don't be. You can be emotional, but don't be rude. The fact is that we do business with Vietnam and they're responsible for at least 60,000 Americans being killed. We do business with North Korea and China -- tens of thousands of Americans that are have been killed. So we do business with Vietnam, with North Korea, with China -- and he's going to tell me that we should be fearful of the communist, Castro? It's absolutely ridiculous. It is true that Castro had no business shooting down pilots that were flying over Havana, violating all of American laws...

DIAZ-BALART: ...the international air space.

RANGEL: They were unarmed so and he shouldn't have shot them down. But the truth is they shouldn't have been flying over Cuba in the first place...


RANGEL: ...according to our laws.

DIAZ-BALART: When they were shot down, there were shot down...

RANGEL: Well, there's...

DIAZ-BALART: ...and it was...

RANGEL: Whatever.

DIAZ-BALART: was over international air space.

RANGEL: I agree with you.

DIAZ-BALART: Secondly...

RANGEL: But tens of thousands of Americans...


RANGEL: ...have been killed by communists that we do billions of dollars of business with.


RANGEL: And you're going to tell us that we should...

DIAZ-BALART: And the same...


BLITZER: Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart, let me just...

BLITZER: Let me just point out...


BLITZER: ...that not only does the United States do billions of dollars worth of business with these other communist regimes, but it is now seeking most favored nation trading status for a lot of them, as well.

DIAZ-BALART: Well, first of all, every -- every instance and every geographical and historical situation in the world, obviously, merits a particular policy. I happen to disagree with our policy of enriching the communist regime in China. I think we're going to regret that in 10 or 20 years. But what we're talking about right now is that we have people in prisons because of their beliefs in Cuba -- 90 miles away from the United States. It's one of a handful of remaining states that are classified as state sponsors of terror. And you have a dictator who is on his death bed and who has had absolute and total power for almost 50 years.

BLITZER: All right...

DIAZ-BALART: And what our policy is saying is liberate all political prisoners, legalize political parties and the press and labor unions...


DIAZ-BALART: ...and schedule free elections. And the question is, obviously, when that personal -- absolute personal totalitarian dictator disappears from the scene...


DIAZ-BALART:'s going to be -- and is finally approaching...

BLITZER: All right...

DIAZ-BALART:'s going to be critical...

BLITZER: Go ahead.

DIAZ-BALART: ...for those political prisoners...


DIAZ-BALART: have that leverage for a democratic transition.

RANGEL: OK. You're repeating yourself. The fact of this is that the embargo has not proven to be effective. We and Israel are the only ones that respect the embargo. Every other country is doing business with them. And I'm telling you, the people in Florida -- your constituents who want to visit, who want to send money to their parents to help them out -- you are not telling me that by punishing them that you're helping to get rid of this Castro dictator.

BLITZER: Well, hold on.

RANGEL: I can't believe that. (CROSSTALK)

DIAZ-BALART: First of all, with regard...

BLITZER: Congressman Lincoln Diaz, I want you to respond to that. But also respond to Senator Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential candidate. He wrote recently in "The Miami Herald," he wrote this. He said: "Cuban-American connections to family in Cuba are not only a basic right in humanitarian terms, but also our best tool for helping to foster the beginnings of grassroots democracy on the island. Accordingly, I will grant Cuban-Americans unrestricted rights to visit family and send remittances to the island."
A lot of Cuban-Americans in Florida and elsewhere, congressman, would like that.

DIAZ-BALART: It's interesting, Wolf, because we are six Cuban- American members of Congress -- four Republicans, two Democrats; four members of the House, two senators. And we have great disagreements on partisan issues, as you can imagine. On the issue of Cuba -- and, obviously, we represent the overwhelming majority of Cuban-Americans, the six of us. We represent the overwhelming amount of Cuban-Americans in the country. And we face, obviously, our constituents every two years at the polls. The six of us -- the Cuban-Americans of both parties -- are one on the issue of Cuba.
So if you talk to any of the six of us -- and, obviously, we represent the overwhelming majority of Cuban-Americans and those people who Mr. Rangel now -- and Mr. -- as Mr. Obama now in his -- the -- that piece that he wrote that you mentioned, Wolf -- they seem to be so concerned about. It's the six of us...

BLITZER: All right...

DIAZ-BALART: ...who represent the overwhelming majority of them. And we are -- from both parties -- totally united in saying that until the political prisoners are released.

RANGEL: It's shameful.

DIAZ-BALART: And political parties -- and it's -- no, and what's shameful is to not stand with the Cuban people and their right to free elections.

RANGEL: It is shameful to think that six...

DIAZ-BALART: Now, now, now, now, now...

BLITZER: Hold on. Hold on. Let Charlie Rangel...

DIAZ-BALART: Now, now, I think...

BLITZER: Let Charlie Rangel respond. Go ahead.

RANGEL: It is shameful that you think that six people should dominate our trade and foreign policy with any country. I don't care what your background is, it has to be what's in the best interests of the people of the United States and not what's in the best interests of your constituents...

DIAZ-BALART: And what I...

RANGEL: ...who violently oppose what you're doing.

DIAZ-BALART: Oh, oh, oh, oh...

RANGEL: But it's shameful that you would say that our secretary of state, our president, our trade representative -- to go to four Cuban-Americans in the House to dictate America's policy. That is constitutionally and morally wrong.

DIAZ-BALART: Well, you know, what's interesting is that we hear so many arguments here.
Number one, that our constituents disagree with us. I think there will be...


DIAZ-BALART: Very well. Who are the constituents who can vote for us, the six of us?
So, if that's the case, then it would seem that every two years our constituents, being in such disagreement with us, it would be manifested at the polls.


DIAZ-BALART: Number two...

RANGEL: I think that...

DIAZ-BALART: Number two...

RANGEL: I think that probably...

DIAZ-BALART: Number two, please...

RANGEL: That probably...

DIAZ-BALART: Please, let's not...

RANGEL: That probably...

DIAZ-BALART: Please let's not be -- talking about rudeness. Please, if you could have...

RANGEL: That probably is going to happen.

DIAZ-BALART: If you can give me a chance to speak.


DIAZ-BALART: With regard -- as I started saying -- as I started saying when we started this -- this conversation, when the regime in Cuba had an equivalent amount of what it would receive only from mass U.S. tourism alone -- which was $6 or $7 billion a year, what did that terrorist regime do? It killed our G.I.s in Grenada. It killed Sergeant Fronius in El Salvador. It sponsored terrorism throughout this hemisphere and much of the world.

BLITZER: All right...

DIAZ-BALART:'d better believe that it's in the interests of the United States to deny billions of dollars from a regime and have a policy that calls for free elections and the liberation of all political prisoners...

BLITZER: All right...

DIAZ-BALART: a country that's 90 miles away.

BLITZER: Well, we're...

DIAZ-BALART: It is in the interests of the United States to not fund a terrorist regime 90 miles away.

BLITZER: Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Charlie Rangel debating here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

[1) Family remittances are still permitted, but they are limited in amount and in recipient, i.e. now they can only go to immediate family members such as parents, children, not aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, etc. I think grandparents and grandchildren are also OK.

2) Israel votes with the US at the UN in support of the embargo. but they don't participate in it. The largest citrus operation in Cuba is Israeli managed (by the former head of Israeli intelligence) and Israelis are big investors in property development.

3) Regarding Diaz-Balart’s claim that the US must abide by the position of the six Cuban Americans in Congress, a recent Florida International University poll suggests they do not represent their constituents on this issue. Moreover, if the US had waited for Chinese Americans and Vietnamese Americans to agree, we would still have trade embargoes and no diplomatic relations with either country. Misleading and self-interested Iraqi exile politics contributed to the disaster there just as obeisance to the views of hard line Cuban Americans damage the US reputation in the rest of Latin America. –John McAuliff]

Neo conservative Magazine Article Favors End of Family Travel Restrictions

After Fidel

With Castro fading fast, it's time to rethink U.S. policy toward the Cuban regime and give hope to a beleaguered people.

by Mario Loyola

Weekly Standard 10/15/2007, Volume 013, Issue 05

Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutiérrez, who fled the Cuban Revolution at the age of six in 1960, is the Bush administration's point man on Cuba policy. He is often asked whether the U.S. embargo is working. "My answer is an emphatic yes," he recently explained. "The embargo has denied Castro resources." Maybe so. But it has also supplied the Castro regime with two things it vitally needs: isolation and a foreign enemy who is not a real threat.

For decades the United States has maintained a policy of complete ostracism of Cuba--no travel, no trade, no remittances, no diplomatic relations. This has not cut the Castro regime off from resources: Cuba receives as much aid from Venezuela's Hugo Chávez as Israel gets from the United States. The policy has accomplished little except to protect the Castro regime from the outside influences that proved fatal to communism in Europe. And it is increasingly poisonous to the interests of the United States.

President Bush gave a clue to why this policy survives in his 2007 State of the Union speech when he said, "We will continue to speak out for the cause of freedom in places like Cuba, Belarus, and Burma." Miami representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen gave the president a beaming thumbs-up, not stopping to think that what defines these three countries as a group is not the repressiveness of their governments (he could then have mentioned China or Saudi Arabia) but rather their strategic irrelevance.

Few Americans are old enough to remember that Cuba was once modern and vibrant, a powerhouse of cultural influence. Modernity was the reason for the revolution. Castro's initial base of support was among the urban middle class--university students, professionals, and small-business owners who wanted democracy. What they got was a cataclysm.


The current U.S. policy towards Cuba was born in the elections of 1960. Castro had been in power nearly two years. Reports of kangaroo courts and summary executions carried live on television horrified the American public, while Castro's fratricidal consolidation of power--along with sweeping seizures of foreign-owned property and military support from the Soviet Union--awoke Washington to a near menace.

In October, John F. Kennedy, the Democratic nominee for president, accused the Eisenhower administration (and by implication his opponent, Vice President Richard Nixon) of permitting the creation of "Communism's first Caribbean base" and allowing Castro to arm himself to the teeth with Soviet weapons. Nixon convinced Eisenhower to react sharply, and, on October 19, the president imposed an embargo on all trade with Cuba. With an indifference that would become characteristic of Washington's attitude, the secretary of commerce, Frederick Henry Mueller, remarked, "If it pushes them into trade with the Communist bloc, that's just too bad." In January, Washington broke off diplomatic relations.

In the months that followed, Castro dramatically increased the seizure of private property and criminalized the free press. When the archbishop of Santiago publicly protested, Castro turned on the church and confiscated all property held by religious organizations. For my grandfather, a pharmacist in the eastern seaside town of Manzanillo who had delivered medicines to Castro's guerrillas in the Sierra Maestra mountains, this was the final straw. Along with hundreds of thousands of his countrymen, he and his family fled to the United States. Betrayed by their former hero, these Cubans would hate Castro with an enduring passion. They would remain implacably opposed to any relaxation of the U.S. embargo.

After the Bay of Pigs invasion failed in 1961, Castro slammed the door shut on the exodus. The transformation of Cuba into a prison was now complete, with two sets of walls--one erected by Castro to keep everyone in and the other erected by Washington to keep everyone and everything out. Cuba's people began their lonely journey into the endless calamities of Castro's dictatorship.


Cuba would now be shaped by Castro's personal--and often sadistic--caprices. When the guerilla leader Huber Matos, the comandante of Camagüey province, attacked the drift towards communism in 1959, Castro sent Matos's best friend to arrest him. (Convicted of treason, Matos spent 20 years in jail.) Castro had no patience for dissent and was always willing to contradict the consensus of his advisers, just to show them that he was in charge. That same summer, a revolutionary tribunal in Santiago acquitted 57 air force officers of the former regime. Castro traveled to the province and personally reversed the verdict, arguing that technicalities could not get in the way of the "revolutionary conscience." The officers were executed en masse by machine gun.

In his 1992 memoir Before Night Falls, a horrifying and brilliant chronicle of the Cuban Revolution's first two decades, Reinaldo Arenas recalls that by 1961 basic foodstuffs had disappeared from the markets. Cubans would travel to the new collective farms "begging to buy eggs and chicken; some offered to pay any price for a chicken, but they were denied because a farm 'of the people' couldn't sell to individuals." In 1959, Cuba's per capita GDP was among the highest in Latin America. Just ten years later, Castro's ruinous policies--incompetent even by Communist standards--had made Cuba one of the poorest countries in the world.
Castro's solution was more dictatorship. As Walter Lippmann observed in The Good Society (1937), the organizing principle of a Marxist society is not Marxism but militarism. In 1965 Castro launched a plan to increase the sugar harvest to 10 million tons of sugarcane in 1970. Arenas was among the hundreds of thousands of Cubans driven into the field to work the harvest.

The farm was, in reality, an immense military unit. All those who participated in cutting the sugarcane were young recruits who had to work there obligatorily. To enter one of those places was to enter the last circle of hell. . . . I had seen trials in which young men were condemned to twenty and thirty years in prison for the mere fact that on the weekend, they had gone to visit their families, their mothers, their girlfriends.

The effort proved unsustainable. Sugar production began to decline and never stopped. Today, sunk by the fall of the Soviet Union, food production in Cuba is less than half of what it was in 1959, and the sugar harvest is less than a tenth of what it was then. The economy no longer produces much of anything. Forced labor has been replaced by involuntary indolence. And escape is all but impossible.

Many Cubans are currently serving long prison sentences--generally between 20 and 30 years, often without beds or medical attention--convicted of nothing more than attempting "to exit the national territory illegally." Many were also charged with piracy: By law there is no such thing as a private boat in Cuba, so trying to get across the Florida Straits--even if it's in your own fishing boat--is by the government's definition an act of piracy. And if someone should try to escape punishment by claiming to have been an unwilling passenger on your boat, you would be charged with terrorism, a capital offense.

In April 2003, dissidents seized a local ferry and headed north towards the coast of Florida. They ran out of fuel on the high seas, and Cuban forces brought the ferry back. The dissidents were tried for "terrorism, piracy, and attempt to illegally exit the national territory" in a proceeding that lasted just a few hours. They were executed within days. These horrors are the stuff of daily life in Cuba. As Arenas noted, in a totalitarian society, "Calamities are endless."


After the fall of the Soviet Union, the U.S. government moved to liberalize its Cuba policy. The Clinton administration relaxed some aspects of the embargo and made it easier to travel there. Republicans in Congress fought these moves tooth-and-nail, drafting the Helms-Burton Act to codify the policy of ostracism. Clinton refused to sign it. But, when a pair of American Cessnas were shot down by the Cuban air force in 1996, he reversed course.

Helms-Burton forbids any dealings with Cuba until the regime meets a lengthy wish list of conditions and until both Fidel Castro and his brother Raúl are out of power. The regime has to commit suicide or be overthrown before the United States will deign to have any contact with it. It is the negotiating posture of somebody who has no interest in negotiating.

If the administration were really aiming to end communism in Cuba, it would look to the policies that worked against communism elsewhere. During the Cold War, we had diplomatic relations with every country in the Warsaw Pact. We started extending large loans to the Soviet Union in the 1970s and made trade a cornerstone of China policy from the moment of Nixon's opening. One problem facing the Polish Communist regime in the 1980s was the fact that they owed the West $40 billion and were in desperate need of debt relief.

Worse still, just as American officials knew in 1960 that the embargo would push Cuba further into the Soviet bloc, they are well aware that the present policy is pushing Cuba into the arms of Venezuela and Iran--more unwillingly.


In the exile community, opposition to Castro was for decades absolute and nonnegotiable. Exiles urging dialogue were silenced through intimidation and terrorism. In Miami, bombings and other violent acts against foreign consulates, travel agencies, and radio stations were dishearteningly routine.

For the Cubans who left during the revolution, the island had simply ceased to exist. Growing up, I knew Cuba only in stories and old pictures. But that has changed. For those Cubans who have arrived in the United States in the last quarter-century, who actually had to live under the Castro regime, Cuba remains very much present, and such exiles are now in the majority in America. The 1980 Mariel boatlift brought 140,000 Cubans to Miami, and another 300,000 have followed under a visa program negotiated by the Clinton administration to try to alleviate the refugee crisis.

These exiles know that the problems of Cuba go far beyond Castro. Laritza Diversent, a dissident writing from Havana, recently lamented the "prostitution, delinquency, and corruption that have become indispensable means of subsistence." For the new exiles, Cuba's nightmarish privations weigh more than politics; less than half of them support the embargo. Even among exiles who arrived in the early years of the revolution, there is growing frustration with a policy that has never produced any tangible benefit. Carlos Saladrigas, who escaped Cuba in 1961 and is one of the exile community's most successful businessmen, formed the Cuba Study Group in 2000 to examine policy alternatives.

Saladrigas focuses on the fact that dictatorships need legitimacy. "The Communist regime in Cuba," he explains, "has been able to get legitimacy from two sources: the conflict with the United States and the charisma of Fidel." The United States can eliminate the first one whenever it wants, and the second will soon eliminate itself. Saladrigas notes that Raúl Castro is in a much weaker position than his brother and will have to base his legitimacy on actual results. That will force him towards reform. And, as Lech Walesa likes to point out, the Communist system is unreformable.


Fidel Castro, the immovable ideological core of the Cuban Revolution, is gone from power and will never come back--in a recent interview released by Cuban state television, Castro showed difficulty completing simple sentences. His brother is far less ideological and never contradicts the consensus of his advisers. Meanwhile, behind the aging oligarchs of the Sierra Maestra generation, there is an entire state full of bureaucrats who know that they will live to see the fall of communism in Cuba and have to think about what happens next. Among them are future allies of the United States.

In an echo of perestroika and glasnost, two words have crept into official propaganda in the last year: "change" and "dialogue." The word "change" has become common on T-shirts and in windows across Cuba, and the regime has reportedly launched a wide-ranging and historic "internal dialogue" on all issues. For the regime to admit that people want change and the freedom to talk about it, necessarily empowers public opinion as a force in opposition to party ideology. This is the process that destroyed the Communist political monopoly in Eastern Europe and in no case did it follow the rigid prescriptions of Helms-Burton.

The all-or-nothing approach of U.S. policy is increasing the risk that the transition, when it comes, will be violent. That terrifies Cuba's dissidents--and poses grave risks for the United States. Instability could further radicalize the regime and open more opportunities for Venezuela and Iran. It could lead to another refugee crisis. Most ominously, Cuba could become a failing state, overrun by armed gangs with ties to drug trafficking and international terrorism, as in much of Central America.

The U.S. government should be negotiating for incremental transition, because even the smallest reforms will fuel popular expectations for more change. In 1992, Carlos Lage, then finance minister and now vice president, spent many months in Europe putting together a package of reforms aimed at encouraging small business. Castro balked on ideological grounds (he could not live with the thought that someone in Cuba might make a profit), but now that he is effectively out of power, Lage is likely to want to try again. The United States can help him: allowing Cuba access to microfinancing (even if that also gives the regime access to more resources) and letting American firms import products manufactured by privately owned businesses there.

The United States should encourage the Cuban regime to talk to dissident leaders such as Osvaldo Payá--but we should listen to them, too. Every major dissident group in Cuba has called for the United States to lift the restrictions on travel and remittances for Cuban exiles. That alone could reduce the terrible isolation in which Cuba's dissidents are now struggling.

Making the exile community a bridge to Cuba would also allow U.S. policy to profit from the work that Carlos Saladrigas and others have done to build consensus for change among Cubans and to prepare for the end of communism--and of exile. With its "Pillars" declaration, Cuban Consensus--an umbrella organization of dissident and exile groups including the once hardline Cuban American National Foundation--has created a framework of reconciliation for the post-Castro era. Student groups in the United States, such as Roots of Hope, are already nourishing contacts with Cuba's largely dissident youth.

Castro so thoroughly ruined Cuba as to make it irrelevant. That irrelevance--and the tragic inertia it has injected into U.S. policy--now protect the regime he is leaving behind. Meanwhile, Cubans continue to suffer silently, knowing that sooner or later something has to change.

Mario Loyola is a fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

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[The significance of this article is that the most influential neo-conservative magazine has published an article by a Fellow from a leading neo-conservative think tank who expresses a very negative political perspective from the Cuban American community. Yet the author makes a strong argument from within that context for a change in US policy, and in particular an end to restrictions on family travel. --John McAuliff]