Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Economist: Bye-Bye Embargo

Foreign investment in Cuba

Bye-bye embargo?
Nov 22nd 2007 HAVANA
From The Economist print edition

Getting ready for a post-Castro bonanza

THE American businessman at this month's international trade fair in Havana was full of excitement about the communist island's investment prospects as its long-serving president ails. “It's a perfect storm,” he enthused: “Fidel will soon be gone, and a Democratic president will be in the White House. Bye-bye embargo!”

Few of the foreign investors who have spent years struggling to make money in Cuba, caught between American trade restrictions, communist bureaucracy and preferential deals for key allies such as China and Venezuela, see it quite so simply. But even the most jaded are wondering whether things might be looking up. Hopes have been raised by news of a huge deal in the making. It could be the shape of things to come.

After two years of negotiations, plans are moving forward for Dubai Ports World, a partly state-owned company in the United Arab Emirates, to invest $250m in converting the decrepit port in Mariel, just west of Havana, into a modern container facility. A formal feasibility study has been commissioned.

The choice of Mariel, one of the closest points in Cuba to the United States, is significant. The port is best known as the setting for a massive boatlift in 1980 when, over a period of six months, 125,000 Cubans set off in flimsy rafts as Fidel Castro turned a temporary blind eye to those wanting to leave his poor one-party state. They were picked up and taken to the United States by a flotilla of American yachts.

Mariel appeals to international port operators for the same reason—its proximity to the United States. “This deal isn't just about getting goods to Cuba,” said one analyst who had studied the project. “It's about getting into the US market.” American ports are close to capacity, and environmental restrictions make any big expansion of existing terminals unlikely. In a post-embargo world, Mariel, which is expected to be open for business by 2012, would be a well-positioned hub. Goods could be transferred from the big container ships arriving at the port to smaller vessels which could then reach dozens of harbours in the southern United States.

Dubai Ports World refuses to comment on the deal. But there can be little doubt that the company is eager to gain a foothold, if not actually in the United States, then as close as possible to it. Last year it was forced to abandon plans to operate six big ports in the United States after Congress expressed security concerns. Although the United Arab Emirates is considered a close American ally, two of the hijackers involved in the September 11th 2001 terrorist attacks were UAE nationals.

Does Cuba's acceptance of the Mariel project mean that the country's top brass is beginning to plan seriously for the day when the American embargo might end? That might appear premature, given that the Bush administration has explicitly ruled out unrestricted trading with a Cuban government under Raul Castro, Fidel's brother and presumed successor, and that only one American presidential candidate (Chris Dodd, a Democratic outsider) has called for a complete end to the embargo.

All the same, there is evidence that Cuban officials do believe that the days of the bloqueo (as they refer to the embargo) are numbered. The Cuban ministries that deal with foreign investment, known by their Orwellian abbreviations of MINVEC and MINFAR, have recently been putting the word out to foreign investors that tenders are welcome for a raft of projects. Theme parks, super-yacht marinas, golf courses, even airlines—all apparently geared to a future American market too—feature prominently on the list.

An end to the embargo could provide a bonanza to investors with assets in Cuba that would appeal to American corporations. The paltry returns from, say, a share in a Havana hotel would be dwarfed by the value that could be realised by selling that stake to an American hotel chain. “That's the game plan,” admitted one Havana-based businessman. “But,” he added, “so is patience.”

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Spadoni on Dissidents; Christian Science Monitor Op Ed

Op Ed, Christian Science Monitor

How not to bring liberty to Cuba
Praising only hard-line dissidents ignores a wider pool of reformers.
By Paolo Spadoni
from the November 20, 2007 edition

E-mail Print Letter to the Editor Republish digg

Winter Park, Fla. - When President Bush awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet earlier this month, he honored the jailed Cuban dissident by calling his example "a rebuke to the tyrants and secret police of a regime whose day is passing." Two weeks earlier, Mr. Bush gave a rousing address on the cause of Cuban freedom for an audience that included prominent Cuban exiles and families of jailed Cuban dissidents, saying, "I join your prayers for a day when the light of liberty will shine on Cuba."

Such tributes make for good rhetoric, but it's not clear, to say the least, that they aid the cause of reform in Cuba. In fact, Bush's excessive attention to a handful of poorly organized hard-line dissidents ignores the new internal dynamics at play in Cuba since Fidel Castro relinquished power to his brother Raul more than a year ago. By focusing only on those dissidents who, like the White House, virtually reject all policies perpetuated by the Cuban regime, the administration is foolishly disregarding the will of many Cubans who favor a more moderate course of action by advocating economic changes within the existing socialist framework.

To varying degrees, both radical dissidents and reformers who prefer to work within the system support changes that would move Cuba toward the adoption of democratic practices. The crucial issue is that the latter group, encouraged by a national debate on economic reforms launched by Raul Castro, is more likely to influence developments than the radicals.

In spite of this reality, Bush refuses to reach out to those Cubans who are gaining clout in demanding meaningful changes. As noted by dissident economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe, "change in Cuba will never be radical and happen overnight like President Bush said."

What explains Bush's flawed and myopic policy toward Cuba? It has little to do with what happens in Cuba and much to do with domestic politics.

In March 2003, just a week after Fidel Castro ordered a massive crackdown that resulted in 75 dissidents being jailed, the White House eased conditions under which Cuban Americans could travel to Cuba and raised the amount of remittances that the US authorized visitors could carry to the island. But in June 2004, in the middle of his reelection bid, Bush again strengthened restrictions on Cuban American travel and remittances 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. Since then, Bush has intensified his hostile policy and rhetoric against Cuba with measures and speeches ill-suited to stimulate democratic changes on the island but well received by hard-line segments of both the Cuban exile community and the Cuban dissident movement.

Labeling the recent power shift in Havana a continuation of "autocracy," the Bush administration has vowed to maintain restrictive measures aimed to deny hard currency resources to the Castro government and provide increasing financial support to dissident groups. It appears almost irrelevant that several Cuban dissidents, often portrayed as US-backed "mercenaries" by the island's authorities, have described Bush's policy approach as counterproductive and actually favor lifting the embargo.

In effect, Bush's stance on dissidents seems to be carefully crafted to appeal to opposition figures in Cuba whose views are closely aligned with the position of Cuban American hard-liners.

In his remarks from the Rose Garden in October 2003, Bush condemned Castro's crackdown on internal dissent and praised "brave" dissidents Oscar Elias Biscet and Marta Beatriz Roque for their struggle for freedom. He made no mention of Osvaldo Payá, leader of the pro-democracy Varela Project, who one week earlier took the dramatic step of delivering 14,000 signatures to Cuba's National Assembly, calling for democratic reforms within the island's system. Unlike Payá, neither Biscet nor Roque support the Varela Project, and both agree with Bush that the embargo should be maintained.

In his emotional speech before dissidents last month, Bush unveiled new plans for Cuba and received a standing ovation from the audience. But reactions from dissidents in Havana, apart from Roque's commending words, were mostly negative. Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo, a former Cuban revolutionary who later spent 22 years in prison, described the situation better than anyone else by saying, "as usual, US policy toward Cuba has been kidnapped by elitist groups that are a minority in exile."

In that address, Bush proudly claimed that "the dissidents of today will be the nation's leaders." He also noted, "And when freedom finally comes, they will surely remember who stood with them."

In reality, the future Cuban leaders will probably not be those identified by Washington and, unfortunately for the United States, they will indeed remember who helped them and who did not.

• Paolo Spadoni is a visiting assistant professor in the department of political science at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Ag Sales at Havana Trade Fair

Cuba buys $300 mn in food products at trade fair

Havana, Nov 11 (EFE).- Cuba purchased more than $300 million worth of food
from Canadian, Chinese, Venezuelan and U.S. companies, among others, during
the 25th Havana Trade Fair that ended this weekend, officials said.

Some 1,425 firms from 53 countries took part in the fair, which ended on

The head of Cuban state-owned food importer Alimport, Pedro Alvarez, told
Efe that the island's purchases of food products would total between $1.6
billion and $1.7 billion this year, representing an increase of nearly $600
million over the past four years.

Alimport's purchases at the Havana Trade Fair reached some $301 million, of
which contracts with U.S. firms totaled about $106 million, "a figure much
smaller than in the previous year," Alvarez said.

"The blockade is directly harming U.S. companies due to all the limitations
that their government imposes on them by way of a complex system that does
not allow exports or travel and forces us to buy from them in cash," the
Cuban official said.

Washington has maintained a trade embargo against the island for more than
four decades.

The embargo was put in place in 1962 and, since then, 10 U.S. presidents
have supported it hoping it would lead to regime change in Havana, taking
the position that any cash infusion into Cuba, whether via tourism,
remittances or business dealings, only rewards and prolongs the life of the
communist government.

In 2003, President George W. Bush's administration tightened the embargo.
Except for certain exceptions, the United States prohibits the travel of
U.S. citizens to Cuba and, since 2004, Washington has restricted
Cuban-Americans to one visit every three years. Those who violate the law
are subject to fines and possible prison terms.

Alvarez said that despite the obstacles posed by U.S. regulations, 203 U.S.
businessmen took part in the fair.

The U.S. firms taking part in the fair are "efficient and competitive
suppliers," but due to the restrictions imposed by the embargo "they become
uncertain" sources of goods, Alvarez said.

Since food sales started in 2001, "they have remained stagnated by the
embargo, which is seriously harming U.S. companies," the Cuban official

"The common denominator among U.S. businessmen has been total rejection of
the measures imposed by their government," Alvarez said.

He cited as examples the agreements signed for the purchase of 25,000 tons
of wheat from Nebraska and chicken from suppliers in Alabama, as well as
deals for corn and soy products.

Cuban purchases of U.S. food products totaled some $560 million in 2006,
Alvarez said.

Since food sales began in December 2001, Cuba has cut deals totaling more
than $2.2 billion with U.S. firms.

The Alimport chief said Cuba also signed deals at the Havana Trade Fair with
companies from Canada, China, Vietnam, Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil, Italy,
Spain and France.

The contracts with Canada totaled some $140 million and covered the purchase
of wheat, peas and powdered milk, while the island agreed to purchase
200,000 tons of rice from Vietnam for more than $90 million, the Cuban
official said.

Cuba agreed to purchase feed from firms in Mexico and the Dominican
Republic, as well as supermarket products from Spanish suppliers, Alvarez

"We are negotiating the fundamentals for food for the first third of the
year, from January to April, and, on an exception basis, some transactions
up to May or June (of 2008)," the head of Cuba's state-owned food import
firm said.

The Havana Trade Fair drew 997 foreign companies and 428 Cuban firms, as
well as 19 official delegations and 36 chamber of commerce delegations.

Spain, with more than 80 companies attending, was the largest foreign
exhibitor, the Trade Office in Havana said.

Some 45 percent of Cuba's foreign trade is with other countries in the
Americas, while Europe, Asia and the Middle East account for about 26
percent of trade.

Cuba's main trading partners are Venezuela, China, Spain, Canada, Italy and
Brazil, accounting for around 70 percent of the island's foreign trade. EFE

Orlando Sentinel Calls for End of Embargo Again,0,4204551.story
A wink-wink on embargo
Our position: The hypocrisy on Cuban trade should end by totally lifting sanctions.
November 13, 2007

The great hypocrisy of the U.S. trade embargo with Cuba came into fine focus last week, when more than 100 American businesses showed up at the Havana International Fair.

Business is good for the U.S. and its amigos. Sales from American farmers to Cuba have risen to more than $500 million per year. The legal loophole, put in play by the U.S. government, is that all transactions have to be made in cash.

It's time to stop the hard-line charade put on by the Bush administration and try to broker a plan to ease trade restrictions. Even Republicans like Gov. Dave Heineman of Nebraska favor expanding trade relationships.

Isolation hasn't worked for nearly 50 years. Time to try another approach.

Copyright © 2007, Orlando Sentinel

Saturday, November 10, 2007

US Companies at Havana Trade Fair,0,915417.story

South Florida
Florida firms hold out for Cuba trade
By Ray Sánchez

Havana Bureau

November 10, 2007


Cuba's most significant trade event concludes today, although the number of U.S. companies in attendance this year dropped 30 percent to 100.

But executives representing 16 Florida firms were there again this year, about as many as attended when American food executives began participating in the fair in 2001. Cuban trade was an investment in the future, they said, even as the Bush administration tightens financial sanctions and sales dwindle.

"The biggest companies in America are here: Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland and Perdue," said John Park Wright IV, a livestock baron from Naples whose family has traded cattle with Cuba since the 1850s. "All that Cuba needs is here."

In 2000, the U.S. Congress allowed agricultural sales to Cuba as an exception to the trade embargo imposed in 1962. The law allowed food to be sold directly to the island on a cash basis.

Cuba expects to sign nearly $450 million in contracts with firms from the United States and 52 other countries, exceeding the $432 million in deals completed at the 2006 fair. The island's top trade partners are Venezuela, China, Spain, Canada, Italy and Brazil.

Sales of U.S. food have totaled $1.8 billion since 2001, but business peaked at $392 million in 2004. That year, the Bush administration enacted new rules making contracts harder to fulfill by requiring payment before shipment. Sales dropped to $351 million in 2005 and $337 million last year, according to the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. International Trade Commission.

Still, Florida executives peddling everything from lumber to fresh vegetables to shipping services said the state stood to gain the most if trade restrictions were eventually eased.

Arthur Savage, president of a Tampa-based shipping company that has been delivering food to Cuba for five years, said he and other Florida shipping companies doing business with Cuba already have plans to re-establish ferry service to Havana.

"We have vessels that can perform that service today," he said. "That's no secret. Everybody in the shipping business is looking at re-establishing those ferries. They just can't because of the Helms Burton Act," which strengthened the U.S. embargo and prevents the United States from normalizing economic relations as long as the Castro brothers are in power.

Wright, who is related to Savage and shared a booth with him at the trade fair, declined to comment further. "We don't want to tip our hand," he said.

But just watching Wright hobnob with some of the island's most powerful men at Havana's international trade fair was a snapshot of U.S.-Cuba trade.

He talked with Roman Catholic Cardinal Jaime Ortega about supplying dairy cows for a new seminary. He presented an award from Florida cattlemen to Fidel Castro's older brother, Ramon, 83, an old friend and lifelong rancher.

He met with Commander Guillermo Garcia Frias, who saved Castro's life in the Sierra Maestra, to discuss a deal to artificially inseminate about 3,000 Cuban heifers with Brahma bull semen from Texas.

Still, other Florida business people are struggling with obstacles to doing business in Cuba raised on both sides of the Florida Straits. Marcela Jimenez of Gulf South Forest Products, based in Fort Lauderdale, said more American firms stayed away this year.

"Many firms don't have the patience and the staying power that is needed because of all the restrictions and licenses," said Jimenez, whose business has exported about $3 million worth of electrical poles and lumber to Cuba in three years. "A lot of time is wasted."

Cuba, for instance, is not permitted to pay U.S. firms by wiring money directly to American banks. Payments must be sent to Europe in euros, converted into dollars and wired to the United States by a European bank. U.S. shipments don't sail until payment arrives.

"People are losing hope," Jimenez said. "We've been waiting for changes, but we get tighter and tighter restrictions."

Cuba analyst Phil Peters of the Lexington Institute, a Washington-area think tank, said Cuba appears to have lost hope that U.S. agricultural firms would lead the political fight to end the embargo and travel restrictions.

"American agriculture opposes the embargo but does not work against it, for reasons that have to do with simple self-interest," Peters wrote in his Web log this week. "This has been the case more than ever this year, with the farm bill under consideration in Congress, and with billions in crop subsidies, disaster payments and other government benefits in play."

Wright predicted that business with Cuba would pick up after President Bush leaves office.

"Without question, a new administration and a new president will change the policy between the U.S. and Cuba for the better," he said.

Ray Sánchez can be reached at

Copyright © 2007, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Friday, November 9, 2007

Miami Herald Supports Travel and Remittances

Miami Herald Editorial

Posted on Wed, Nov. 07, 2007

More remittances, travel for a free Cuba

Slowly but surely, change is coming to Cuba. Even Cuban teens are risking arrest to wear plastic bracelets stamped cambio (change). Now is the time for the United States to do its part to follow the advice of the late Pope John Paul II for the world to ''open itself to Cuba.'' The U.S. government should lift harsh restrictions on travel and remittances to the island to encourage more people-to-people contacts and support for Cubans pushing for democracy.

Castro's fantasy

Fissures among the communist regime's ruling elite are becoming more evident. Last week at the United Nations, Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque said that Cuba was ready to renounce ''its sovereignty'' to ''join a grand bloc of Latin American and Caribbean nations.'' The comment may reflect Fidel Castro's fantasy, now adopted by Venezuela's Hugo Chávez, of a ''revolutionary'' empire. But it contradicts years of nationalist fervor fanned by the regime.

More telling is that the minister's remarks weren't published in Cuba's official press. This could be a sign of divisions between Castro loyalists and those who favor Fidel's brother, Raúl, the provisional ruler since Fidel became ill last year. Other signs suggest many within the official ranks may be fed up with the totalitarian system that offers no better future.

This is why President Bush was correct in his recent speech on Cuba to encourage Cubans in the military, police and government to strive for reconciliation and democratic change. After nearly 50 years of dictatorship, Cubans deserve better than cosmetic economic reform without human rights.

The U.S. government should do more to break the regime's imposed isolation of the Cuban people. How will civil society grow without outside resources and contacts? How will Cubans, including government and military officials, overcome their fear of change?

More family travel and cultural and academic exchanges would open a world of information and supportive contacts for Cubans on the island. More remittances would help sustain political prisoners as well as Cuban democrats stripped of jobs. This would allow Cubans to compare democracy and free markets to the regime's alternative.

Isolation a tool

President Bush should take the advice of experts like Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa, who lived the transition to democracy in Eastern Europe, and most Cuban dissidents including hard-liner Martha Beatriz Roque. All push for more openings, travel and contact with Cuba. It is no accident that Cuba and North Korea are the longest-lasting dictatorships left. Both have used isolation to keep people enslaved.

After Fidel Castro dies, Cubans will have a chance to shape their destiny. Opening up to Cuba now will encourage a transition to freedom.

Unpublished letter to the editor

To the Editor,

I hope that the President or Congress follow the Miami Herald's advice and quickly restore remittances and travel to Cuba by Cuban Americans and for the purpose of non-tourist people to people exchanges.

In order to avoid bureaucratic delays by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, a general license should be established for all Cuban Americans and for IRS recognized not-for-profit 501c3 organizations. Visas should also be granted so American educational institutions can bring Cuban counterparts to the US.

This will enable the American student, religious, cultural, sports, professional, humanitarian and community groups that were active in the later Clinton and early Bush years to rapidly renew their diverse contacts in Cuba.

Many news accounts and documents emerging from Cuba suggest that a serious discussion is underway among the population and political leaders about needed economic and social reforms. Our country is far more likely to understand what is really taking place and to have a positive influence by interaction than by isolating ourselves from this process.

A positive initiative from Washington on travel is far more likely to encourage reform tendencies in Havana than provocative threats of instability and calls for military disloyalty.

Nearly 500 Americans, including representatives of exchange and humanitarian organizations, have signed a letter to Congressional leaders in support of family and purposeful travel. It can be seen at

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Eugene OR editorial Against Bush Speech

Open doors to Cuba

Published: Monday, November 5, 2007

Eugene, OR Register-Guard


The Fidel Castro era will soon end in Cuba. Some believe it ended when Raul Castro, Fidel’s 76-year-old brother and designated successor, took over everyday management of the country for his ailing brother.

The United States is uniquely positioned — geographically, economically and historically — to promote democracy in post-Castro Cuba. Yet President Bush perversely clings to the same failed U.S. policies that after 45 years have failed to bring about democracy — or any other positive change — in Cuba.

In a recent speech, the president once again rolled out the treadworn mantra that the best way to bring freedom to Cuba is by continuing the U.S. economic embargo and by convincing Europe and Latin America to impose similar sanctions. While Bush held out the promise of eventual debt relief, loans and grants to the Cuban government, he made clear such measures are off the table until Cuba allows free speech and open elections.

Bush called on officials in Cuba’s government and security services to “rise up” against the Castro regime and to demand democratic reforms. It’s an exhortation that’s unlikely to win the hearts of Cubans who deeply resent the U.S. embargo and Bush’s wrongheaded efforts to make it more difficult for Cuban-Americans to assist or visit their families on the island.

The decades-long policy of isolation has inflicted great pain and suffering on the Cuban people, and it has strengthened Castro’s grip on power by fueling the nationalist sentiment on which he thrives.

Raul Castro understands how to play the nationalist card, as well. His foreign minister, Felipe Perez Rogue, denounced Bush’s speech as “equivalent to the reconquest of Cuba.”

Bush’s comments were intended to play to his conservative base, but he should reconsider. Unlike their parents, many younger Cuban-Americans do not share an unqualified loathing for the brothers Castro and do not identify with conservatives.

The president also should recognize that the rest of the world has abandoned economic sanctions as a useful tool to bring about democratization. When the United Nations recently voted to oppose U.S. sanctions against Cuba, only three nations — the Marshall Islands, Palau and Israel — stood with the United States in opposition.

The time has come for a fresh approach to Cuba, one that emphasizes diplomacy and contact with American society — and that recognizes that U.S. openness is a sign of strength, not weakness. Opening a free flow of commerce, tourism and culture would do far more to make Cuba an open society than clinging to failed isolationist policies.

Congress should find ways to forge ties with Cuba. Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., has introduced legislation that would permit free travel to Cuba, a move that would foster a free flow of ideas and spur democratization.

Congress also could offer to dial down the trade embargo in exchange for release of political prisoners and other incremental steps toward democratic reform.

The United States should replace its failed policy of isolation with one of engagement that encourages Cuba’s inexorable transition from dictatorship to democracy.

Sixteen Year Record of UN Vote Against the Embargo

1992 59-2 (US, Israel)
1993 88-4 (US, Israel, Albania, Paraguay)
1994 101-2 (US, Israel)
1995 117-3 (US, Israel, Uzbekistan)
1996 138-3 (US, Israel, Uzbekistan)
1997 143-3 (US, Israel, Uzbekistan)
1998 157-2 (US, Israel)
1999 155-2 (US, Israel)
2000 167-3 (US, Israel, Marshall Islands)
2001 167-3 (US, Israel, Marshall Islands)
2002 173-3 (US, Israel, Marshall Islands)
2003 179-3 (US, Israel, Marshall Islands)
2004 179-4 (US, Israel, Marshall Islands, Palau)
2005 182-4 (US, Israel, Marshall Islands, Palau)
2006 183-4 (US, Israel, Marshall Islands, Palau)
2007 184-4 (US, Israel, Marshall Islands, Palau)

Weakness of Dissidents

In Cuba, dissidents say opposition groups are weak
Sun Nov 4, 2007 3:02 am (PST) South Florida,0,3656630.column

Ray Sanchez

Cuba notebook

November 4, 2007


More than 200 people had mobilized for the late September protest demanding freedom for political prisoners. But state security agents intercepted many of the dissidents outside the capital and detained them for hours.

"People were picked up on roads; others were prevented from leaving their homes," said Martha Beatriz Roque, 62, one of the organizers. An economist by profession, Roque has pushed against the Castro government for 17 years and served two prison terms for her efforts.

In the end, only eleven people attended the peaceful demonstration outside Cuba's Justice Ministry. It quietly fizzled when police loaded the demonstrators on a bus and drove them home.

More than a year after Fidel Castro fell ill and ceded power to brother Raul, dissident groups on the island lack the strength and organization to force political change, analysts in the United States and dissidents on the island said. The opposition is not only infiltrated by state security but also hampered by conflicting views on how to bring about economic and political change and a widespread belief they're paid agents of the United States.

"In some cases, the dissidents have enormous dislike and distrust for one another," said Frank Mora, a Cuba expert at the National War College in Washington, D.C. "When I hear people outside Cuba talking about dissidents or pro-democracy activists or agents of change, I don't see that as being the reality on the ground in Cuba."

With about 300 dissident and human rights groups nationwide, the opposition has competing views on whether members of the current communist government should have a say in a post-Castro Cuba. In addition, some dissidents oppose the U.S.-imposed economic embargo and travel restrictions against Cuba, while others favor the current hard line.

"The entire weight of the opposition together, including the pro-democracy and human rights movements, is not enough to confront the regime politically," said veteran rights activist Elizardo Sanchez of the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation.

Washington doesn't share that view. On Oct. 24, in his first major policy speech on Cuba in four years, President George Bush suggested that the opposition was prepared to rise up against the Castro government.

"The dissidents of today will be the nation's leaders tomorrow,” and when freedom finally comes, they will surely remember who stood with them," Bush said.

Many of the island's leading dissidents gathered at the U.S. Interests Section to hear Bush's speech live, but dissident Manuel Cuesta deliberately stayed away. A member of a social-democratic group that favors dialogue with the current government, Cuesta instead waited until the next day to read a full transcript of the speech that a friend had quietly pulled from the Internet. "In Cuba, there are things that shouldn't be done in order to advance your cause," he said. "I try to avoid the Interests Section when it comes to political matters."

Cuban authorities characterize dissidents and other government critics as mercenaries and counterrevolutionaries paid by Washington to undermine Castro's socialist system. Contact with the U.S. Interests Section only underscores that suspicion.

Cuesta, a 44-year-old historian, called the Bush speech "a lot of wishful thinking."

"Bush never used the words peaceful or dialogue or reconciliation," he said.

Cuesta and other dissidents said the opposition has not fully recovered from a three-day government crackdown in March 2003, when 75 dissidents were rounded up and jailed. Sixteen of the original 75 have since been released for medical reasons.

No clear opposition leader has emerged with the influence to marshal widespread support. Cuba also lacks strong civil groups like those in communist-era Poland. There, the Solidarity movement joined a powerful Roman Catholic Church and labor unions to topple the government.

Disarray among Cuba's opposition was underscored after the July 31, 2006, announcement that Fidel Castro was transferring power to younger brother Raul. Cuesta said dissidents learned a hard lesson: they were woefully unprepared to reach a Cuban public that knew little about them.

"We were caught with our pants down," he said. "Many opposition leaders call for free and democratic elections right now. But if Raul Castro decided to hold an election in, say, six months, the opposition wouldn't capture a municipal seat."

Ray Sanchez can be reached at

Cuban Foreign Minister on Bush Speech, UN Vote

AP Interview: Cuban foreign minister says country is prepared if Bush chooses to attack

The Associated Press
Tuesday, October 30, 2007

UNITED NATIONS: Cuba's foreign minister warned U.S. President George W. Bush on Tuesday that if the United States wants to bring about regime change by force in Cuba, his country is prepared.

The conflict will not only jeopardize Cuba's stability but U.S. stability as well, Felipe Perez Roque said in an interview with The Associated Press.

"We are not threatening and we never bluff," he said. "We respect the United States, but we demand respect for ourselves, and we would defend our country from an attempt to have foreign aggression."

He said Bush's first major policy speech on Cuba in four years, in which the president challenged the international community to help the people of the communist island shed Fidel Castro's rule and become a free society, indicated the president might be prepared to use force.

"Bush said in last week's speech that "the operative word in our future dealings with Cuba is not stability. The operative word is freedom." Perez Roque singled out the "irresponsible phrase."

"If that is the expression of the decisions that the president may be planning to make, it would be very dangerous both for Cuba and for the U.S., because if that's the expression of the attempt to bring about a regime change by force in Cuba, that will clash with the resilience of the Cuban people, and the people are prepared," Perez Roque said.

In Cuba, he said, more than 90 percent of the 11.5 million people support "the genuine revolution" that began in 1959 when Castro toppling dictator Fulgencio Batista.

The only "freedom" that Cubans can imagine Bush pursing, Perez Roque added, "would be similar to the one he has taken to Iraq" where the war has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.

"An attempt to bring about a change in regime in Cuba is going to jeopardize not only Cuba's stability, but also the stability of the United States because then a conflict would be unleashed very close to their shores," Perez Roque warned.

The history of the Cuban revolution is to defend the country against outside forces, he said.

"We cannot be intimidated. we cannot be misled, and the fact must be accepted that we are a sovereign, independent nation," he said.

Perez Roque was interviewed shortly after the U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to urge the United States to end its 46-year-old trade embargo against Cuba. The vote in the 192-member world body — 184 to 4 with 1 abstention — was the highest in 16 years for the resolution.

Calling it "an historic victory," the Cuban minister said it was the international community's answer to Bush's speech and showed global support for "the Cuban right to be an independent nation, to be respected in its right to self-determination."

Even though the resolution is not legally binding, Perez Roque said the vote "has a very important ethical and moral meaning" and strengthened "our resilience and our decision, really, to resist and finally to defeat the blockade."

In his speech, Bush mentioned neither Fidel nor his brother, Raul, by name. Raul Castro has been the island's interim ruler since July 2006 while the 81-year-old Fidel recuperates from ill health.

But Bush said "the dissidents of today will be the nation's leaders" after the Castro era, and he told the Cuban military: "You may have once believed in the revolution. Now you can see its failure."

The U.S. has no diplomatic relations with Cuba, lists the country as a state sponsor of terror, and has long sought to isolate it through travel restrictions and a trade embargo, which has been tightened over Bush's two terms. This year, the U.S. stepped up enforcement of financial sanctions, which Perez Roque strongly denounced.

The Bush administration sees Castro's failing health as an opening for change. Little is different under Raul Castro, 76. Bush said in his speech that the U.S. will make no accommodations with "a new tyranny."

Perez Roque called Bush's statements "the expression of the failed policy of the United States towards Cuba," which was demonstrated by the total lack of support for the U.S. in Tuesday's vote.

Bush "should put aside his arrogance and humbly recognize" that the U.S. is isolated, and "he should also rectify his policy that causes hardships and suffering to the Cuban people."

"Cuba doesn't pose a threat to the U.S. Cuba is a country that would like to have normal relations with the United States. Our leaders have stated so publicly. However, we have just received more blockade and more aggressions from the current president of the U.S," he said.

Perez Roque said he would like the next U.S. administration to sit down with the Cuban government and negotiate improved relations.

"I would like it to be that way, but I'm not dying with anxiety to see it happen," he said.

"But if the next administration persists on following (the) wrong policy of blockade and aggression against Cuba, then you will also find us there prepared, and you will crash head-on into our resistance," he warned.

Perez Roque said Fidel Castro is continuing his recovery, and met with him last Friday to discuss his General Assembly speech — "and he made some useful suggestions in my statement to make it better." But he said he could not speculate on whether Fidel would return to power soon.

As for Raul Castro, Perez Roque said despite being demonized by some of the media, the acting president "has a great deal of moral authority in Cuba" because of his role in the revolution, and "a lot of sympathy and a great deal of support among the Cubans."

"The Cubans feel that they are close of Raul, as they've been with Fidel, and in Cuba it was no surprise that with Fidel's disease, Raul was called upon to take over," Perez Roque said.

Asbury Park Editorial on Bush Speech, UN Vote

U.N. vote adds to Cuba embargo tale
Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 11/5/07

Seven days after President Bush called on the world's nations to "make tangible efforts" to support his campaign to undermine the government of Cuban leader Fidel Castro, he got a resounding answer.

On Oct. 23, 184 of the United Nations' 192 member countries voted to condemn the U.S. embargo of Cuba — an economic stranglehold that's been in place for nearly half a century.

Only delegates from the United States, Israel, Palau and the Marshall Islands voted against the nonbinding resolution. Micronesia abstained. Albania, El Salvador and Iraq didn't bother to vote.

Imagine that. The Bush administration couldn't even get Iraq to back the embargo.

The U.N. vote marked the 16th consecutive year the world body has proclaimed its opposition to the embargo. But this year's vote was the most telling. It came in the wake of a major policy address Bush gave on Cuba in which he said the ongoing transition of power from Fidel Castro to his younger brother Raul is unacceptable.

"Life will not improve for Cubans under their current system," Bush said. "It will not improve by exchanging one dictator for another. America will have no part in giving oxygen to a criminal regime victimizing its own people. We will not support the old way with new faces, the old system held together by new chains."

Cuba, Bush said, "is a tropical gulag."

So why did the vast majority of nations — including all but one of this country's closest allies — support a call for ending the embargo? Because it's a bad idea that has only gotten worse with age. What started out as a prohibition against Americans traveling to Cuba and a ban on U.S. companies doing business there has morphed into something even more troubling.

In 1996, Congress passed the Helms-Burton Act, which imposes a steep fine on Americans who travel to Cuba without permission and allows the U.S. to levy sanctions against foreign firms doing business there. That's right, we've made it illegal for companies in other countries to do business in Cuba. While this law has proven difficult to enforce, it has outraged most of the world's governments.

Consider this as well: More than a few nations believe the only "tropical gulag" in Cuba is the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay. It's there, near Cuba's southeastern tip, that the Bush administration has held hundreds of foreign terrorism suspects for years without charges.

Back in June, former Secretary of State Colin Powell — whom the Bush administration used to make the case for war in Iraq before the United Nations — said the Guantanamo Bay prison should be closed.

"Essentially, we have shaken the belief that the world had in America's justice system by keeping a place like Guantanamo open," Powell said.

That it hasn't been closed makes Bush look like a hypocrite for condemning the Castro government for jailing Cuban dissidents.

Powell's condemnation of the terrorist prison comes four years after the Senate and House voted to ease the embargo against Cuba. At the time, both bodies were controlled by Republicans.

The legislation was pushed by farm-state Republicans. The embargo prevents American farmers from selling most of their products to Cuba's 11 million people. The legislation was derailed by Republican congressional leaders.

The point here is that Bush has little support for his Cuba policy among Democrats or members of his own party — or the world in general.

Instead of trying to get others to embrace his failed Cuba policy, Bush should forge a new one. He should end the ban on Americans traveling to Cuba and allow American firms to do business there.

UN Votes 184 - 4 Against Embargo

Overwhelming UN support to end US embargo on Cuba

UNITED NATIONS (AFP) — The UN General Assembly on Tuesday [October 30] voted overwhelmingly for the 16th year in a row to demand an end to the crippling US trade embargo against Cuba, despite Washington's pledge to keep it in place.

By a vote of 184 in favor, it reiterated its "call upon all states to refrain from promulgating and applying laws and measures (such as those in the US embargo) in conformity with their obligations under the Charter of the United Nations and international law."

The 192-member assembly again urged "states that have and continue to apply such laws and measures to take the necessary steps to repeal or invalidate them as soon as possible in accordance with their legal regime."

Like last year, four countries -- the United States, Israel, Marshall Islands and Palau -- voted against the resolution and one, Micronesia, abstained.

Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque immediately hailed the vote as a "splendid victory" coming less than a week after US President George W. Bush vowed to keep in place the US sanctions, which were imposed 45 years ago against the communist-ruled island following the failed Bay of Pigs invasion by US-backed Cuban exiles.

"As long as the regime maintains its monopoly over the political and economic life of the Cuban people, the United States will keep the embargo in place," Bush said.

"I think the president's remarks stand," US national security council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said Tuesday in reaction to the UN vote.

The margin of support for ending the embargo has grown steadily since 1992 when 59 countries voted in favor of the resolution. The figure was 179 in 2004 and 182 in 2005.

Addressing the Assembly ahead of the vote, Perez Roque said the economic and trade sanctions were having a crippling effect, and estimated Cuba had suffered losses of "no less than 222 billion dollars," based on the US dollar's current value.

The blockade "has never been applied with as much ferocity as in the past year," he said, noting that Washington even barred US companies from providing Internet services to Cuba and was denying Cuban children access to needed medication.

And he later told AFP that the vote was "the expression of the virtual universal rejection of the policy of blockade and aggression which Bush, like no other US president, has applied toward Cuba."

He said ailing Cuban President Fidel Castro "followed the (UN) debate live and was the main architect of this victory because he embodies like no-one else the will of Cubans to be a free people despite the embargo and the aggressions we have suffered."

The 81-year-old Castro has been sidelined from power since he underwent gastrointestinal surgery in July 2006. His brother Raul Castro, 76, is serving as interim president.

Ronald Godard, the US State Department's senior advisor for Latin American affairs, blamed the communist regime for the country's woes.

"Cuba's problems derive not from any decision of the United States, but from the embargo on freedom that the Cuban regime has imposed on its own people," he said.

"We call on the international community to join together in demanding that the Cuban government unconditionally release all political prisoners as the essential step in beginning a process that restores to the Cuban people their basic human rights," he told the assembly.

Several speakers denounced the embargo slapped on Cuba on February 7, 1962 by the US administration under the late president John Kennedy.

Egypt's UN envoy, Maged Abdelaziz, said the Non-Aligned movement "reiterates its deep concern over the widening of the extra-territorial nature of the embargo against Cuba and rejects the reinforcement of the measures adopted by the US government aimed at tightening the embargo."

Pakistan's deputy UN ambassador Farukh Amil, speaking on behalf of another grouping of 130 nations, called for greater dialogue and cooperation to "contribute greatly not only toward the removal of tensions, but also promote meaningful exchange and partnership between countries whose destinies are linked by history and geography."

Speaking on behalf of the European Union, Portuguese delegate Jorge de Lemos Godinho said: "we express our rejection of all unilateral measures against Cuba which are contrary to commonly accepted rules of international trade, and repeat our view that the lifting of the US trade embargo would open Cuba's economy to the benefit of the Cuban people."

Lou Perez Op Ed on Bush Speech

News Observor, Raleigh, NC

Point of View: Published: Oct 31, 2007

Reshaping Cuba from Washington

Louis A. Perez Jr.

CHAPEL HILL - President Bush's reaffirmation of his position on Cuba last week serves to remind us of the continuing short-sightedness of U.S. policy. It defies logic.
With Vietnam and Libya, the United States establishes diplomatic relations and expands trade and aid agreements as a policy of constructive engagement to promote democracy; with Cuba the United States maintains political pressure and increases economic sanctions as a policy of punitive isolation in the name of promoting democracy.

And it is precisely that isolation -- of the United States -- that bodes ill, for the government denies itself access to Cuba at a time of change on the island.

The long-awaited transition in Cuba has begun. But political change in Havana has elicited no policy change from Washington. The president's speech last week indicates that he intends to "stay the course" in regard to Cuba. The embargo has assumed a life of its own: Its very longevity serves as the principal rationale for its continuance.

To paraphrase the Otis Redding lyric, the United States has been embargoing Cuba for too long to stop now.

But the president's comments bode ill for other reasons. The administration that will not speak to the Cuban government now presumes to speak to and on behalf of the best interests of "the Cuban people." In the weeks following Fidel Castro's illness in 2006, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice assured Cubans directly that "all of you must know that you have no greater friend than the United States of America." Bush last week also reassured Cubans that "the American people care about you."

These warm well-wishes are received with blank incredulity in Cuba, for they come from an administration that has single-mindedly adopted measures designed to worsen the conditions of daily life for the very people for whom it professes to "care about."

The United States insists that the embargo is not directed against the Cuban people, but rather against their government. In fact, the people have borne the full brunt of punitive sanctions.

The embargo, after all, was conceived with the intent to politicize hunger as a means to foment popular disaffection, in the hope that Cubans, driven by want and motivated by despair, would rise up against their government.

"The only foreseeable means of alienating internal support is through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship," a State Department memo insisted as early as 1960, and advocated measures "to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government."

The United States appears to have adopted the stance that it is OK to punish the Cuban people for their own good. Not a good way to win friends and influence people in Cuba.

Bush's speech, further, implies a far more insidious intent. The president appears to be inciting Cubans to rebellion.

"You have the power to shape your own destiny," he exhorted. How this would be achieved was not made clear, except that the president also addressed the Cuban armed forces, and suggested portentously: "When Cubans rise up to demand their liberty ... you've got to make a choice." And the choice? To "defend a disgraced and dying order by using force against your own people" or "embrace your people's desire for change."

The phrase "using force against your own people" provides insight into the meaning of the president's intent. Is this what the Cuba policy of the United States has come down to: inciting Cubans to rebellion and warning the armed forces against suppressing rebellion?

The administration's policy belies its claim to desire agency for the Cuban people. It plans unilaterally for the future of a "post-Castro" Cuba, apparently untroubled by the total exclusion of the people who live there. When it comes to the matter of the future of Cuba, the participation of the Cubans who live in Cuba is deemed unnecessary: hardly reassuring to Cubans who are exhorted to shape their own destiny.

Without the political will to engage a Cuban government in transition, it is not certain that the Bush administration possesses the moral credibility to engage the Cuban people. It would perhaps best serve the interests of both countries for the United States to show respect for the Cuban people by acting on the premise that Cubans in Cuba know what is in their best interest.

(Louis A. Perez Jr. is the J. Carlyle Sitterson professor of history and director of the Institute for the Study of the Americas at UNC-Chapel Hill. He is the author of the forthcoming book "Cuba in the American Imagination.")

Springfield Mass editorial on Bush speech

Editorial in The Republican, Springfield, Massachusetts

Embargo of Cuba a historic failure
Sunday, November 04, 2007
The United States has its hands full with the war in Iraq, the continued threat of terrorism and Iran's nuclear ambitions.

So what did President Bush want to talk about recently when he spoke at the State Department in Washington?

Fidel Castro and democracy in Cuba.

Bush repeated his support of the U.S. embargo against Cuba, which has been in place since 1961.

He appealed to the nations of the world to stand with the United States against the oppressive Castro regime.

And he asked the international community to contribute to a Freedom Fund for Cuba to promote democratic reform in the island nation.

Given his low popularity ratings in the world and the failure of U.S. policies in Iraq, it is unlikely that many nations will rush to help Bush in this cause.

In fact, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution on Tuesday calling for an end to the embargo, as it has done each year for the past 16 years. The vote was 184 in favor and four opposed.

The next administration, whether it is Democratic or Republican, should end the embargo and lift travel restrictions.

The Bush administration and eight other administrations before it have argued that the embargo would force Fidel Castro to change his evil ways and allow economic reforms that would eventually lead to a more democratic government. This policy has failed for more than four decades, and it's time for the U.S. to show that it has learned from its mistakes.

Castro has felt no pain, at least not pain caused by U.S. policy. In fact, he has used the embargo to demonize Bush and other presidents, to distract his own people from the abuses and failures of his oppressive government and to strengthen his hold on power.

Castro and his brother Raul, in charge while Fidel continues to recover from gastrointestinal surgery last year, probably wish Bush would talk about Cuba every week.

If the U.S. wants to see change in Cuba, it will first have to make some changes itself.

Vatican Secretary of State to Visit

Cardinal Ortega announces visit to Cuba by Vatican Secretary of State

Havana, Oct 30, 2007 / 11:23 am (CNA).- The Archbishop of Havana, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, has announced that Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, will visit Cuba in January of 2008.

Cardinal Ortega said the visit would “revive the spirit of the presence of John Paul II in Cuba in 1998.” It will also be recognition of all that the Pope’s visit meant and a chance to live that moment again in order to continue in that same spirit that must continue to grow.”

He recalled that Pope John Paul II’s visit to Cuba helped “open new possibilities” for the Church’s mission in that country, and at the same time “contributed to improving Cuba’s image in the world.”

Cardinal Ortega said relations between the Church and the State in Cuba “are good, but they could be better.” He noted that on the feast of Our Lady of Charity on September 8, the Church was given access to nine radio stations “in prime time” to broadcast a message from the Cuban bishops and to invite the public to processions and other public Church events.

In addition, he said, in some dioceses the Church is being allowed greater access to prisons for prison ministry. “This is going to spread, it’s a plan that’s going to continue,” he added.

Cardinal Ortega stressed, however, that the possibility of the Church having its own media outlet is still “an aspiration” and that talks are on-going with the government in this regard. “Education is a more difficult matter, but it is something the Church cannot renounce,” the cardinal said.

Georgie Anne Geyer on Bush speech


Georgie Anne Geyer
Tue Oct 30, 6:09 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- Turn directly to the south and cup your ear toward Cuba. You might just hear some mysteriously evocative new messages flying back and forth between Havana and Washington.

In fact, there has not been a better chance for forging a truly workable, if not creative, relationship between the two quarrelsome nations since 1959, when Fidel Castro came to power and everything shut down. But is anybody here listening? One fears, particularly after President Bush's hostile speech last week, that instead of rewriting history at this unique turning point, we are in danger of repeating it.

A discerning observer might think, at a classic moment of change like this in Cuba, that wise American leaders might tread carefully, speak softly and hide their sticks behind new intentions. One might dream that we could be on the watch for wise diplomatic openings to use to our advantage after 48 years of alternating deadly silence with explosive violence in the straits.

Look first at the lineup on one side: An extremely ill Fidel voluntarily "retires" in the summer of 2006 before his 80th birthday, naming "little brother" Raul, no kid himself at 76, to power. A collective leadership, including top leaders of the Communist Party and younger, more worldly generals, many of whom have traveled and grasped the realities outside Cuba, is established.

In only this first year, Raul is daring: He not only allows, but encourages, a genuine debate over Cuba's 90 percent state-owned economy. He even talks of opening negotiations with the United States -- and "in a civilized fashion"!

Small but real examples of the changes: Under Raul, the state has raised $25 million in payments to milk and meat producers, is filling the empty streets with new Chinese buses, and is even talking about opening the economy to foreign investment.

In a brilliant piece in the summer issue of The Washington Quarterly, former CIA top Cuba analyst Brian Latell, author of the informative "After Fidel," pointed out that "the first months of Raul's provisional government augured well for continuity and stability," in part because "any serious instability would delegitimize the successor regime in its infancy."

Most important, Latell also argued convincingly, "in a departure from Fidel's standard rhetoric ... the new regime is admitting that the country's economic problems are SYSTEMIC, the results of corruption, inefficiency and overly rigid central planning. Internal scapegoats and the U.S. economic embargo are no longer incessantly being blamed. ... Previously persecuted groups ... are beginning to see in Raul the makings of a Communist reformer" and "a man of methodical creativity."

But then, Raul has always been different. Unlike his messianic and Machiavellian older brother, Raul is highly organized, an expert at military management and a man whose mind is more open to the world than his brother's.

And in a country where the numbers of youth are gaining, researchers have found a direct correlation between the young and support for democratic and economic changes. In fact, in an amazing recent survey conducted by the congressionally mandated International Republican Institute (IRI) in Cuba by Central American pollsters, nearly three-quarters of the 584 Cubans surveyed said they would like "to vote to decide who succeeds Fidel Castro as president." Indeed, a stunning 83 percent of Cubans believe that transformations toward a market-based economy would "improve their lives."

Meanwhile, one hears that the irreplaceable but still hidden Fidel is writing "editorials" about the world. One would think that he might leave us poor ink-stained wretches to our own business, but, no!

What would seem obvious to any thoughtful observer or analyst is that, given this new situation and handed these new possibilities, the United States, with its complicated history of intervention in Cuba, should effectively do nothing. Let these changes work themselves out. Make it appear that the United States is willing to gradually build a new and mature relationship with the Cuban people. In short, stop interfering!

Instead, President Bush's recent speech on Cuba exceeded even his speeches toward Iraq in terms of ire and insults. Washington would help the "new Cuba," the president said, with Internet access, with computers, with scholarships -- but only if Cuba met American conditions like total freedom of speech, action and political processes.

The civilian brigades of Cuban doctors who are serving around the world? Bush urged them to desert those contingents. The Cuban military, which has been proud of its service to Cuba? Bush disdainfully and high-handedly told them: "There is a place for you in a free Cuba."

Seldom has one heard a speech so insulting to another people -- and, therefore, so incapable of reaching the desired conclusion.

So here we are again -- still without the faintest idea of how to deal with a tiny but obstreperous island that has caused us an inordinate amount of trouble over the entire 20th century. One does not have to be pro-Fidel or anti-American to see that this is hardly the way to wean the old Castroite Cuba away from the dictatorships of the past.

Orlando Sentinel Calls for End of Embargo


Ease isolation
Our position: The U.S. needs to find approach to Cuba without an embargo.

November 1, 2007

Cuba and the United States are like an old dysfunctional couple that refuses counseling. They seem better cast on the set of Jerry Springer, going after each other's throats.

The root of the anger and angst is a trade embargo now approaching a half-century. Nobody wants to blink first and make any concessions, all while blindly ignoring the best interests of each country.

It's too late to expect a change of heart from the Bush administration, which recently ratcheted up the pressure on Cuba by dictating reforms.

We expect better from a new administration. It will need to stop pandering to the vocal and politically powerful base of Cuban-Americans. But so far, only Barack Obama has offered a different approach that calls for peaceful political and economic reforms.

Other candidates should have the courage to step forward and face the truth: The embargo hasn't hurt Fidel Castro, while "enforcement" remains a hypocritical joke. How else can you explain Cuba's allocation of $543 million for the purchases of U.S. goods such as corn, wheat, rice and poultry this year?

The embargo plays right into the Cuban leader's hands by providing a convenient boogeyman to blame for Cuba's harsh economic conditions. And who ultimately suffers the most? The Cuban people.

It also empowers countries like Venezuela to gain a stronger influence. Witness $3 billion in Venezuelan oil subsidies in 2006 to prop up Cuba's economy.

The next administration needs to dangle incentives such as access to international trade organizations and lifting the restrictive rules for travel and remittances. Doing so would allow the U.S. to strategically put all the pressure on Mr. Castro or, eventually, his successor.

If the U.S. boogeyman disappears, so does Fidel Castro's leverage. The onus would shift to Mr. Castro to make important concessions to loosen his omnipresent stranglehold.

The U.S. would play its hand by insisting that Mr. Castro ease up on dissidents and address human-rights violations. This issue should be nonnegotiable. Amnesty International has cited the Castro regime for abuses ranging from long-term imprisonment to intimidation, eviction, house arrests and telephone bugging. The organization lists at least 67 prisoners of conscience -- folks like teachers and journalists -- imprisoned in Cuba following trials that were nothing more than dog-and-pony shows.

The new administration can offer sensible compromises in return for reforms in Cuba. How about including Cuba in the Free Trade Area of the Americas, assuming that agreement eventually gets ratified?

It's all about inclusion, not isolation.

The U.S. has been there, done that for nearly five decades. Common sense says it's time for the U.S. to bury the embargo, an ideological dinosaur that lost its roar long ago.

My response:

Your facts are bad about US candidates. Dodd, Kucinich and Paul favor an end to the entire embargo, including travel restrictions. Richardson's position (repeated in a major policy speech on Latin America last week in Los Angeles) is the same as Obama's, unlimited family travel and remittances. Edwards supports only family travel.

Regrettably the editorial is only slightly less self-delusional than the Bush Administration. A unilateral embargo, condemned for 16 years by virtually the entire world, does not offer leverage for anything positive.

The changes you aspire to in Cuba are far more likely if the US simply backs off and shows respect for the country's sovereignty and independence.

We also can't wait until a new Administration gets around to thinking about a new policy on Cuba. The Congressional leadership should take responsibility now.

Second response

After posting, I reread your editorial. On the one hand, we agree, the embargo is stupid and countgroductive. Also that all politically motivated prisoners should be released--from both countries, which includes the Cuban Five.

Where we disagree is your effort to make one contingent on the other.

Bush Speech Echoes Miami Hard Liners

Bush echoed Miamians' words in Cuba speech
The Miami Herald - Posted October 26

by Alfonso Chard

President Bush's Cuba speech Wednesday had been in the works for months -- possibly since July when Raúl Castro offered an ''olive branch'' to the next U.S. president -- but a recent meeting with Miami exiles may have helped hone Bush's tough message to Cuba's communist government.

''He didn't say that he was going to give a speech,'' Ninoska Pérez Castellón, who was among the select group of 10 who met with Bush in Miami on Oct. 12, said Thursday. ``But he said he wanted to know more about the families of political prisoners, and he heard us talk about their plight.''

The group of 10 exiles, including members of Congress, urged Bush to stand firm on Cuba, publicize the plight of political prisoners and pressure nations to follow the lead of the United States and allies like Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic in welcoming dissidents at their Havana embassies.

''It was not a surprise to any of us that he stood firm on his convictions because his policies have always been consistent toward Cuba,'' said Pérez Castellón, director of the Cuban Liberty Council and a talk show host at Radio Mambí 710-AM.

Coming just days after Cuba's one-party elections, more than a year after an ailing Fidel Castro ceded power to his brother Raúl and only days before the United Nations takes its annual vote against the U.S. trade embargo of Cuba, the timing of Bush's Cuba speech raised speculation among some Cuba watchers.

Some thought that Bush might announce a policy shift, possibly relaxing travel restrictions. But people familiar with internal discussions said a policy change was never discussed.

Officials familiar with the discussions, who declined to be identified because they did not want to talk publicly about internal deliberations, said the speech was in the works for months.


During the annual celebration of the start of Cuba's revolution on July 26, Raúl Castro said: ``Whatever new administration emerges [after the 2008 election] will have to decide if it will maintain the absurd, illegal and failed policy toward Cuba, or if it will accept the olive branch that we extended.''

Radio Mambí director Armando Pérez Roura, who heads the exile group Cuban Unity, said he told Bush at the Miami meeting that he worried the U.S. government might consider Raúl Castro's ''olive branch'' a serious offer.

''I said to him that for me he was the last hope of Cubans in exile and that we were concerned by the rapprochement [the Cuban regime] was pursuing, without instituting any change,'' said Pérez Roura. ``Raúl Castro said he was tossing an olive branch, but the same acts of repression have continued against anyone dissenting from official government policy.''

To highlight the plight of Cuban dissidents, the audience at the State Department on Wednesday included family members of Cuban political prisoners jailed in a 2003 crackdown.

Jaime Suchlicki, director of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami, said Bush's choice of the State Department as the speech venue sent a signal to those in the foreign service who may want to soften Cuba policy.

''Certain elements of the bureaucracy may not be following the president's policies on Cuba,'' said Suchlicki, who was not among those who met with Bush. ``They are concerned about mass migration. They want stability in Cuba and are not pushing the envelope for change.''
Bush settled the issue when he said: 'The operative word in our future dealings with Cuba is not `stability.' The operative word is 'freedom.' ''

Others at the Oct. 12 meeting included Remedios Díaz Oliver of the U.S. Cuba Democracy PAC and the Liberty Council: former state Rep. Gastón Cantens, and Florida's Republican Cuban-American lawmakers, Sen. Mel Martínez and Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Lincoln and Mario Díaz-Balart.

Díaz Oliver said that at the meeting Bush also expressed concern about ''the situation in Venezuela,'' where President Hugo Chávez has tightened his alliance with Cuba.


Bush's speech came as Democrats are buoyed by reports that suggest South Florida's once solidly Republican Cuban-American voting block is no longer monolithically GOP. The Miami Herald reported in August that less than half of Miami-Dade county's Hispanic voters are registered Republicans, down from 59 percent less than a decade ago.

National Democrats last week ran radio ads against Miami's three Cuban-American Republicans, marking the first time the party has spent money in the three districts.