Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Visitor from China, Cuba's # 2 Trading Partner

China's Hu strikes deals in Cuba

Members of Cuba's Chinese community gather at the airport to await Mr Hu's arrival
Member of Cuba's Chinese community were on hand to greet Mr Hu

President Hu Jintao of China is set to meet Cuban leader Raul Castro later in the day as part of his multi-stop tour of the US and Latin America.

The two nations are agreeing multiple deals on trade and loans as China bid to strengthen its links with Latin American and Caribbean nations.

Mr Hu was met at the airport by senior Cuban officials and cheering members of the local Chinese community.

Cuban TV broke into Monday's nightly news to go live to Mr Hu's arrival.

China is now Cuba's biggest trading partner after Venezuela, with bilateral trade at $2.3bn (£1.5bn) in 2007.

And across Latin America, China has seen its trade climb from $13bn in 2000 to more than $100bn in 2007.

"My visit is aimed at increasing friendship and co-operation between our two nations, and working together with our Cuban comrades to build a promising future," Mr Hu said in a statement.

Loans due

Throughout the Cold War Cuba was traditionally a much firmer ally of the Soviet Union than China, but that changed when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, leaving Cuba almost bankrupt, says the BBC's Michael Voss in Havana.

China offered Cuba soft loans to help it through the difficult 1990s, and these loans are now beginning to come due.

Restructuring their repayment is likely to be one topic on the agenda when the two leaders meet on Tuesday, our correspondent says.

Other agreements already signed or set to be signed reportedly include Chinese purchases of nickel and sugar from Cuba, Chinese-backed energy prospecting in Cuba, and other deals in education and health.

Mr Hu arrived in Cuba from Costa Rica, where he signed co-operation and investment agreements and discussed setting up a free-trade agreement between the two countries.

He will travel on from Cuba to Peru where he will attend the Apec (Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation) summit in Lima on 21 and 22 November.

But China is not the only power interested in securing greater access to the raw materials and other resources that Latin America offers. President Hu will be followed next week by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, whose tour of the region includes a visit to Cuba.

Cuban critique

Although both Cuba and China are run by Communist parties, they have pursued very different economic models.

China has adopted market economics while Cuba still has a command system with most of the economy under state control.

On Monday, Cuban state newspaper Granma praised the Chinese model but highlighted "an unequal distribution of wealth in the country, marked difference between city and countryside and the erosion of the environment".

When Mr Hu last visited Cuba in 2004 Fidel Castro was still in charge of the country.

His younger brother, Raul Castro, officially took over the presidency in February 2008 and has introduced some reforms.

Raul Castro saw China as a potential model for Cuba to follow, says BBC regional analyst Emilio San Pedro.

China, a modern-day economic powerhouse in a world of financial uncertainty, sees Cuba with its need for investment and political support as an important ally in its long-range plans to strengthen and expand its ties with the rest of Latin America, he adds.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Lula Expects Raul at Summit in Brazil

Raul Castro to attend December summit in Brazil: Lula

HAVANA (AFP) — Cuban President Raul Castro will attend a summit in Brazil in December, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said here Friday, marking the Cuban leader's first international trip since taking over from brother Fidel Castro two years ago.

"We are pleased to learn that finally his excellency will travel to Brazil to participate in the first meeting of Latin American and Caribbean nations, without interference from any other power," Lula said during an inauguration ceremony for a Brazilian business venture in Havana.

If the visit is confirmed by Havana, it would mark the first foray outside the island nation by Castro, 77, since taking the reins of power from Fidel Castro in July 2006 when the elder leader underwent intestinal surgery.

Raul Castro officially succeeded his ailing 82-year-old brother last February when Fidel announced ahead of an election that he was stepping down, after staying in power for nearly 50 years despite a US trade embargo in full force since 1962.

Lula is friends with Fidel Castro and he had not ruled out a meeting with the Cuban leader before departing for Brasilia at 3:30pm local time (2030 GMT).

The Brazilian president arrived in Cuba on Thursday and held talks with Raul Castro, to whom he "renewed the invitation" to visit Brazil and help with the first-ever integration and development summit for Latin America and the Caribbean on December 16 and 17 near Salvador de Bahia, according to an official statement.

The text hailed the "positive developments in bilateral relations" in several fields as well as a sharing of mutual regional and multilateral interests.

Economic and commercial ties between the two countries were given a boost with Lula's first visit this year to Cuba, in January, and when a senior official visited in May to firm up 10 business agreements.

According to official Cuban figures, bilateral trade rose to 450 million dollars in 2007, making Brazil Cuba's second largest trading partner in South America after Venezuela.


Friday, October 31, 2008

Ibero American Summit Urges End of Embargo

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) -- Latin American leaders are urging the United States to repeal its 47-year-old trade embargo against Cuba.

The leaders say the "unilateral" embargo is unacceptable and harms the Cuban people.

The leaders made the statement on Friday, the final day of the IberoAmerican Summit in El Salvador.

The move came after the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday asked the U.S. for the 17th year in a row to lift the embargo.

The U.S. has no diplomatic relations with Cuba and lists the country as a state sponsor of terror.

The embargo, imposed in 1962, has been tightened during President Bush's two terms.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

LA Times Blasts the Embargo

From the Los Angeles Times


The useless Cuba embargo

America's economic sanctions on Cuba, now 50 years old, are a failure.

October 29, 2008

Among New York's rites of autumn -- the marathon, the rainbow of leaves in Central Park, the sudden profusion of wool overcoats -- a new one has emerged at the United Nations. In each of the last 16 years, the General Assembly has voted to condemn the United States for its embargo of Cuba. This year's ceremonial vote takes place today, and if it's anything like last year’s, it will be overwhelming. Only Israel, the Marshall Islands and Palau stood with the U.S. in the 184-4 tally last October.

Washington doesn't and shouldn't design its laws around U.N. opinion, but it's instructive to learnwhat even this country's closest allies think of the Cuban embargo. Colombia, one of only a handful of Latin American countries whose government remains firmly pro-U.S., stated in a U.N. report on the issue that it "thinks this kind of action should stop and that member states should move ahead with building relations of friendship." In the same report, the European Union said that it and its member nations "have been clearly expressing their opposition to the extraterritorial extension of the United States embargo."

More astonishing than our willingness to raise the ire of nearly the entire world with our embargo is that it has survived this long in the face of overwhelming evidence of its failure. For 50 years, this country has been trying to produce regime change on the island by strangling it economically. Last we checked, a Castro was still in power, and even the economic devastation wrought by the two worst hurricanes in Cuba's history weren't spurring mass popular uprisings. U.S. sanctions worsen poverty and its attendant ills but only strengthen the Castro regime, which can blame all of the country's problems on Washington rather than addressing their true cause -- Havana's misguided economic policies.

The presidential election offers a rare opportunity for change. John McCain favors business as usual with Cuba, but Barack Obama believes that Cuban Americans should have unrestricted rights to travel to the island and send remittances. It is absurdly contradictory to allow Americans to travel freely to Iran and Venezuela, which are genuine security and economic threats, but not to Cuba, which poses no threat at all. U.S. ideals would be more influential if Cubans were more frequently exposed to them by American visitors; our interference with remittances, meanwhile, hurts only the poor.

Cuba is an anti-democratic country with little respect for human rights, and its leaders must be held to account. But targeted sanctions that punish the regime without punishing the people would be far more effective than the blunt instrument of an embargo. Obama's proposals don't go far enough, but they're a good start.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Europe - Cuba Restore Full Relations

EU formally renews ties with Cuba

By Michael Voss
BBC News, Havana

European Commissioner Louis Michel and Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque shake hands in Havana (23 October 2008)
Mr Michel said the Cuban government had agreed to resume political dialogue

The EU and Cuba have formally restored ties, five years after the EU imposed diplomatic sanctions on the island following mass arrests of dissidents.

European Commissioner Louis Michel said the accord he signed with Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque was "a turning point for EU-Cuban relations".

Mr Perez Roque welcomed its respect for the island's political independence.

It will now receive 2m euros ($2.6m) of emergency hurricane recovery aid, with 30m euros ($38.9m) available next year.

An EU delegation will return to Cuba in November to determine the needs and priorities for the financing to be made available in 2009.

Political dialogue

The two recent hurricanes which swept through Cuba in late August and early September - Ike and Gustav - caused billions of dollars worth of damage.

Yet Cuba's communist authorities refused all offers of aid not just from the US but the EU as well - a sign of just how strained relations had become.

Residents drive a horse cart through a flooded street in Batabano, Cuba (11 September 2008)
Two recent hurricanes that hit Cuba caused billions of dollars of damage

Now following a signing ceremony in Havana, Cuba and the EU have agreed to resume co-operation.

A joint declaration, signed by Cuba's foreign minister and the European commissioner for development and humanitarian aid, calls for respect for Cuba's political independence and non-intervention in its internal affairs.

However, according to Mr Michel, the Cuban government has agreed to resume political dialogue in which "no subjects will be taboo".

This should open the way for future talks on issues such as democracy, human rights and political prisoners.

Mr Michel also announced an aid package of up to 30m euros for hurricane reconstruction.

How to deal with Cuba is one area where Europe and the United States have substantial differences.

Since Raul Castro took over the presidency, following his brother Fidel's retirement due to ill health, EU policy has been to try to develop a dialogue with Cuba in the hope of influencing change.

But the Cubans demanded that the EU formally lift the diplomatic sanctions which it imposed in 2003, following the mass arrest of dissidents. The sanctions were suspended in 2005, but only eliminated altogether at the EU summit in June.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Estimates Increase of Cuban Oil

20bn barrel oil discovery puts Cuba in the big league

• Self-reliance beckons for communist state
• Estimate means reserves are on a par with US

A worker walks at an oil rig in Havana, Cuba

A worker walks at an oil rig in Havana, Cuba. Photograph: Enrique De La Osa/Reuters

Friends and foes have called Cuba many things - a progressive beacon, a quixotic underdog, an oppressive tyranny - but no one has called it lucky, until now .

Mother nature, it emerged this week, appears to have blessed the island with enough oil reserves to vault it into the ranks of energy powers. The government announced there may be more than 20bn barrels of recoverable oil in offshore fields in Cuba's share of the Gulf of Mexico, more than twice the previous estimate.

If confirmed, it puts Cuba's reserves on par with those of the US and into the world's top 20. Drilling is expected to start next year by Cuba's state oil company Cubapetroleo, or Cupet.

"It would change their whole equation. The government would have more money and no longer be dependent on foreign oil," said Kirby Jones, founder of the Washington-based US-Cuba Trade Association. "It could join the club of oil exporting nations."

"We have more data. I'm almost certain that if they ask for all the data we have, (their estimate) is going to grow considerably," said Cupet's exploration manager, Rafael Tenreyro Perez.

Havana based its dramatically higher estimate mainly on comparisons with oil output from similar geological structures off the coasts of Mexico and the US. Cuba's undersea geology was "very similar" to Mexico's giant Cantarell oil field in the Bay of Campeche, said Tenreyro.

A consortium of companies led by Spain's Repsol had tested wells and were expected to begin drilling the first production well in mid-2009, and possibly several more later in the year, he said.

Cuba currently produces about 60,000 barrels of oil daily, covering almost half of its needs, and imports the rest from Venezuela in return for Cuban doctors and sports instructors. Even that barter system puts a strain on an impoverished economy in which Cubans earn an average monthly salary of $20.

Subsidised grocery staples, health care and education help make ends meet but an old joke - that the three biggest failings of the revolution are breakfast, lunch and dinner - still does the rounds. Last month hardships were compounded by tropical storms that shredded crops and devastated coastal towns.

"This news about the oil reserves could not have come at a better time for the regime," said Jonathan Benjamin-Alvarado, a Cuba energy specialist at the University of Nebraska.

However there is little prospect of Cuba becoming a communist version of Kuwait. Its oil is more than a mile deep under the ocean and difficult and expensive to extract. The four-decade-old US economic embargo prevents several of Cuba's potential oil partners - notably Brazil, Norway and Spain - from using valuable first-generation technology.

"You're looking at three to five years minimum before any meaningful returns," said Benjamin-Alvarado.

Even so, Cuba is a master at stretching resources. President Raul Castro, who took over from brother Fidel, has promised to deliver improvements to daily life to shore up the legitimacy of the revolution as it approaches its 50th anniversary.

Cuba's unexpected arrival into the big oil league could increase pressure on the next administration to loosen the embargo to let US oil companies participate in the bonanza and reduce US dependency on the middle east, said Jones. "Up until now the embargo did not really impact on us in a substantive, strategic way. Oil is different. It's something we need and want."

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Oppostion to travel restrictions grows from 56% to 68%

Zogby/Inter-American Dialogue - 2 October 2008


Now that Fidel Castro is no longer officially in power in Cuba, 60% of likely voters believe the U.S. should revise its policies toward Cuba – even more believe all U.S. citizens should be allowed to travel to Cuba (68%) and that U.S. companies should be allowed to trade with Cuba (62%). In a Zogby Interactive survey conducted in July 2007, slightly more than half (56%) of Americans said the U.S. should remove travel restrictions and end the embargo on trade to Cuba.

  • More Obama supporters favored revising US policies toward Cuba (84%) than McCain supporters (35%). Forty-seven percent of McCain supporters thought all US citizens should be allowed to travel to Cuba, and 40% thought US companies should be allowed to trade with Cuba.

For content, contact: James Bosworth at Inter-American Dialogue at jbosworth@thedialogue.org or 202-463-2565.

For methodology, contact: Zogby International Communications Director Fritz Wenzel at 315-624-0200 ext. 229 or 419-205-0287 or fritz@zogby.com.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

USA Today Calls for Lifting Embargo

Our view on Foreign policy: Cuba embargo support slips

Hurricanes offer opening to lift ineffective ban on trade, travel.

Before Hurricanes Gustav and Ike barreled into the USA, they devastated much of Cuba. With about half a million homes destroyed or damaged, many Cubans are in dire need of help. Food shortages are expected to get worse, as the double whammy wiped out a third of the island's crops.

A U.S. rush to the rescue? Not exactly, but the storms have at least produced a small break from the counterproductive U.S. isolation of Cuba. For the first time since the United States imposed a draconian trade embargo 47 years ago, it offered $5 million in direct aid and allowed $8 million in private aid donations. U.S. officials described the moves as unprecedented. Predictably, though, the Castro regime said no. (Dictator Fidel Castro has stepped aside because of illness, leaving his brother Raul in charge.) "Our country cannot accept a donation from the government that blockades us," Fidel Castro, who remains a domineering presence, wrote in the communist party's daily newspaper.

That's typical. Castro has long blamed the United States for all of Cuba's woes, using the embargo as Exhibit A.

The tactic still works in Cuba, but support for the embargo appears to be shrinking here. As the decades of embargo have worn on, and new generations have been born, opinion polls have found Cuban Americans increasing split on the embargo. Despite the conventional wisdom that it's political suicide in Florida to oppose the embargo, many younger Cuban Americans are less keen than their elders to press for restrictions — and to vote against a candidate who wants to lift them. U.S. public opinion more broadly is in favor of lifting the embargo.

One idea that has been put forward is to abolish restrictions that prevent Cuban-Americans from sending more than $300 every three months to immediate family members or making more than one trip every three years. That makes so much sense that even some hard-line Cuban American groups, normally cheerleaders for new restrictions, are for it.

It has long been plain that the embargo has utterly failed in its original purpose of removing Fidel Castro. As important, the United States is hurting itself. The continued embargo is driving Cuba into the arms of anti-American regimes that are more likely to bolster, not end, the island's dictatorial tendencies. Russia, for example, has sent plane loads of aid. Venezuela has been helping prop up the Cuban economy with cheap oil. Many U.S. farmers say they have been hurt by the restriction. Lifting it could help stem a potential new tide of refugees fleeing to the USA if the hurricane devastation drives them to try the dangerous crossing.

Rather than stick to outdated political games, the United States should deprive the Cuban regime of its scapegoat and lift the embargo. Castro's attempts to hold the United States responsible for his country's woes could then be exposed for what they are: an attempt to shift blame. And millions of Cubans can both be helped and start seeing a different truth from the Castro brothers' insistence that the U.S. is the author of all that goes wrong in Cuba.

Posted at 12:21 AM/ET, September 29, 2008 in Foreign policy general - Editorial, USA TODAY editorial


Sunday, September 21, 2008

Larry Wilkerson's Righteous Rant

It's National Security, Stupid

Let's chalk up the losses of late in Latin America:

We're being tossed out of Venezuela.

We're being tossed out of Bolivia.

We're despised in Argentina.

Nicaragua looks favorably on Russia's move into Georgia.

Honduras and Guatemala hold their noses when they deal with us.

We're barely tolerated in Mexico and puzzled over in Brazil, the real looming giant of Sudamérica. In fact, the best leader in the Western Hemisphere, Luiz Ignácio Lula da Silva, just ignores us most of the time because to him, I'm sure, we are indecipherably stupid.

The Chinese are going to drill for oil within 60 miles of the coast of Florida; Russia just landed Tu-160 Blackjack strategic bombers in Venezuela and contemplates building a space launch facility in Cuba; and an international consortium, led by Dubai Ports World, is studying plans to build one of the largest container processing facilities in the Western Hemisphere in Mariel, Cuba. Its throughput capacity will rival or surpass Los Angeles.

The U.S. record in Latin America is just short of an abysmal failure. (And one suspects that if the Cheney/Bush administration actually had a policy­other than neglect and drugs­the record would be worse.)

In January 2009, what should the new president do about this failure in our own backyard?

The very first action should be to lift the embargo on Cuba and treat that nation just as we do other nations with repressive to partly-repressive regimes that are showing signs of accommodating the needs of the 21st Century­countries from China and Vietnam to Albania and Georgia.

Establishing more or less normal relations with Cuba­after more than a century and a half of paternalistic-imperialistic behavior toward Havana­would be such a stunning signal to the rest of Latin America, that all manner of positive changes throughout the hemisphere might be possible in its shadow.

Once Latin American leaders, from Chavez to Lula, see that the U.S. is serious about Cuba, they will have to get serious about the U.S. Chavez, for example, will have a major plank of his anti-Americanism jerked right out from under him. Lula will have to consider that we may­may, I say­have just regained our composure and our senses.

And in Cuba, there will be a cautious and growing recognition that the future may be a lot brighter than had been thought, particularly now that three hurricanes have ravaged that island nation and it needs a lifting of the embargo, not a hand-out, to recover its footing.

Moreover, unlike almost any other foreign policy challenge now confronting the U.S.­Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, or the Israeli-Palestinian situation, for examples­an opening to Cuba will cost the economically-struggling U.S. not a single dollar. Not a single dollar.

The rewards of such an opening, however, are huge: a completely new outlook from our entire hemisphere, from Toronto to Buenos Aires; a sensible policy with an island nation 90 miles from Florida and with many blood-ties to the U.S.; and an opening through which, hopefully, can pour new, positive and productive bilateral and regional relations with nations in our own backyard.

Only a fool would resist.

-Lawrence Wilkerson


Monday, March 10, 2008

Lee Hamilton Calls for End of Embargo

March 10, 2008, The Indianapolis Star


Lee Hamilton

1st step toward change for Cuba: End embargo

The end of Fidel Castro's rule provides an opportunity to ease the pain of a half-century-long repressive era in Cuban history. Fidel's younger brother Raul's ascension could mean a Cuban opening is on the horizon.

At age 76, whether Raul Castro is a reformer or not will not change the fact that Cuba is entering a prolonged transition period away from one-man, and now dynastic, rule.

The United States wants a free, democratic and prosperous Cuba, but we need the right policies to help Cubans. Real change can begin soon, and we should be trying to influence it. There are two broad options for U.S. policy toward Cuba.

The United States can press on with its 46-year embargo in hopes of finally inspiring a popular revolt against the communist regime. This option insists that Cuba embrace democracy before the U.S. re-establishes bilateral ties. Or it can opt for engagement in hopes of promoting a gradual and peaceful end to one of the Cold War's last lingering conflicts.

My view is that beginning to normalize our relations with Cuba would help, not hinder, those in Cuba who want a change of political direction.

As far as the embargo goes, its major benefactors have been politicians seeking support in this country and anti-American leaders overseas in need of talking points -- not the Cuban or American people. The embargo has failed to achieve regime change in Havana, the Cuban people continue to suffer under a repressive regime, and, furthermore, it has alienated our Latin American allies.

But ending the embargo is hardly a solution in and of itself. Though its repeal would allow Cubans and Americans to trade, invest and travel, we must recognize that Cuba is a closed and repressed society, one that Fidel Castro increasingly victimized throughout his dictatorial rule starting in 1959. The hesitancy with which ordinary Cubans have discussed their country's future in the last few weeks illustrates the constant fear Castro's police state has instilled.

As we have seen in other countries subjected to despotic rule, the wounds of tyranny are deep, and we cannot treat them brazenly. Also, Raúl Castro and his elite chums will not go to bed tonight communist revolutionaries and wake up Jeffersonian democrats tomorrow morning. Deng Xiaoping and the Chinese may be more likely economic role models. Change will be gradual.

Certainly, we can engage in informal, unofficial exchanges with a country 90 miles from our border that shares some of our cultural fixations, like baseball, as those who followed the World Baseball Classic in 2006 know.

Building up an economic relationship could also pay dividends. The recent pandemonium in Havana resulting from rumors of a shift away from Cuba's failing dual-currency system reveals Cuba's present economic dysfunction. Raúl Castro himself has critiqued a bloated and inefficient public sector, with government salaries unable to cover the costs of living. Commerce is more likely than isolation to inspire positive change.

We could relax the travel ban. Academic exchanges would be welcome too, allowing university students to establish bonds that could form the foundation of a new era of Cuban-American amity.

Cuba remains a communist country, and its governing ideology is irreconcilable with the universal ideals of liberty and self-government. Cuba eventually will need to dismantle communism's failed institutions --this is not something America can, or should try to, initiate.

It is time for responsible, relaxed, non-interventionist approaches in our policy toward Cuba. With so much talk of change in politics this year, our relationship with Havana is an obvious example of where it is necessary, realistic and high time.

Hamilton is the director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C., and director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He served as a U.S. representative from Indiana from 1965 to 1999.

My response.

Hurrah for Lee Hamilton.

Hoosier voters can help bring about the beginnings of change in US policy by choosing Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination.

He favors unrestricted travel and remittances by Cuban Americans as a first step and is prepared for negotiations with Cuba's leaders with no preconditions.

Hillary Clinton's position is virtually the same as George Bush's.

Read here what they said in the Austin debate.


John McAuliff

Shortrige High School 1960

(now living in Tarrytown NY)

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Anti-Cuba Florida Democrats Undermine Party


Posted on Sat, Mar. 08, 2008
Democrats torn between party, GOP friends


Party leaders have tapped Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz to raise money and coach candidates in a high-stakes, aggressive bid to expand the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives.

But as three Miami Democrats look to unseat three of her South Florida Republican colleagues, Wasserman Schultz is staying on the sidelines. So is Rep. Kendrick Meek, a Miami Democrat and loyal ally to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

That wasn't the case just two years ago when the pair flouted a long-standing Florida delegation agreement to not campaign against colleagues and vigorously backed Ron Klein in his winning bid to oust veteran Republican Rep. Clay Shaw.

This time around, Wasserman Schultz and Meek say their relationships with the Republican incumbents, Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and his brother Mario, and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, leave them little choice but to sit out the three races.

''At the end of the day, we need a member who isn't going to pull any punches, who isn't going to be hesitant,'' Wasserman Schultz said.

The decision comes as Democrats believe they have their best shot in years to defeat at least one of the Cuban-American incumbents with a roster of Democrats that include former Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez, outgoing Miami-Dade Democratic party chair Joe Garcia and businesswoman Annette Taddeo.

But Wasserman Schultz and Meek say their ties to the three Republicans are personal as well as professional: Both served in the state Legislature with Mario Diaz-Balart and say they work in concert with all three on South Florida issues.

Wasserman Schultz has also played a leading role in persuading the new Democratic majority to sustain the economic embargo against Cuba and has established close ties to the staunchly pro-embargo U.S.-Cuba Democracy political action committee, which has contributed thousands to Wasserman Schultz and Meek's campaigns.

Both Democrats can be ultra-partisan: Meek, a member of Pelosi's 30-Something Working Group, is a familiar face late night on C-Span, hammering Republicans and the Bush administration. He has served as vice chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, traveling the country to raise money on behalf of Democratic candidates.

And Wasserman Schultz, for the second election cycle in a row, co-chairs the campaign committee's Red to Blue program, which raises money for and provides strategic advice to top Democratic House candidates.

The national party, enthusiastic about the three Democratic challengers, has not yet selected Red to Blue participants. But Wasserman Schultz has already told the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee that if any of the three make the cut, another Democrat should be assigned to the race.

''It needs to be somebody who can roll up their sleeves,'' Wasserman Schultz said. ``I'm just not that person; it's just too sensitive for me.''

She said the situation is not unprecedented. For years, members of Florida's Congressional delegation agreed to refrain from campaigning against each other -- a pact that serves to foster goodwill among lawmakers and potentially bring more federal dollars to Florida. It also can provide incumbents with a measure of protection against challengers.

''It's quite a quandary for Debbie,'' said Miami-Dade Commissioner Sally Heyman, a former legislator who roomed with Wasserman Schultz in Tallahassee. ``They've developed this working relationship that has them entirely united on South Florida issues. But Debbie has to maintain or enhance the majority or she's no longer in a position to help us.''

Meek also has told national party leaders that he won't play a role in the races. He and his mother, former Rep. Carrie Meek, are close to Martinez, the former Hialeah mayor. But Meek said the ties between his family and the Diaz-Balarts are deeper.

''I wish Raul the best,'' Meek said. ``As a Democrat, I hope he succeeds. This is the only race I wouldn't get involved in. It's just something I can't do.''

Martinez, whose strained relations with the three GOP incumbents are legendary, played down the pair's decision, noting that politics creates odd allegiances.

''I understand the dilemma they have, and I respect it,'' Martinez said. ``Everyone has to do their own thing, and I'm going to do my own thing for my race.

''If they lived in the district,'' he quipped, ``I would only ask them to quietly vote for me.''

Joe Garcia notes such nonaggression pacts are ``part of why progress is so difficult in Washington. The status quo is hard to move. But when all of this is said and done, we're going to be elected by people who live in the disticts we're running in.''

The three challengers have all been endorsed by former Florida Gov. Bob Graham. Meek said he's confident they'll prosper without a boost from the House members.

However, Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the Rothenberg Political Report, which tracks political campaigns, said the lack of support from top Democrats could make donors leery.

''Debbie Wasserman Schultz is a favorite of leadership, somebody on the move,'' Rothenberg said. ``When somebody like that doesn't want to be a major player in taking on a Republican, that's a signal.''

Yet Rothenberg says the situation is not without precedent: He noted several Republican and Democratic senators from the same states honor nonaggression pacts.

Both Meek and Wasserman Schultz have benefited from a close affiliation with the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, which since its founding in 2003 has contributed $22,000 to Wasserman Schultz's campaign committee and $10,500 to Meek's.

Wasserman Schultz said the PAC support played no role in her decision, but she acknowledges she's closer to the Republican incumbents on Cuba issues than she is to the Democratic challengers, who favor easing restrictions on family travel to the island.

Wasserman Schultz has courted the Cuban-American community since she came to Washington: As a freshman legislator, she helped found the Cuba Democracy Caucus, a bipartisan group of pro-embargo legislators that works to thwart efforts to ease the embargo. She worked last year, Ros-Lehtinen says, ''like a tiger'' to help quash a push to ease travel and trade restrictions, delivering pro-travel advocates one of their biggest losses.

''When she and [Rep. Albio Sires, a Cuban-American Democrat from New Jersey] work within their party and get 65-66 votes to join us, that has made all the difference,'' Lincoln Diaz-Balart told a group of Cuban-American exiles at a recent press conference. His brother, Mario, introduced Wasserman Schultz as ``an incredible advocate who has taken the cause of a free Cuba as her own.''

A day later, Wasserman Schultz and Ros-Lehtinen lavished compliments on each other at a Washington luncheon with visiting Miami-Dade commissioners. ''I can't say enough good things about Ileana Ros-Lehtinen; she has been my friend since I was first elected to office,'' Wasserman Schultz said, noting that she relied on Ros-Lehtinen's advice to help her balance the demands of elected office and motherhood.

''She's cultivated this enormous political capital, and that's a lot to risk embracing those not entirely in line with her views,'' suggests Mauricio Claver-Carone, a director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC.

The Democratic trio is unlikely to count on another lawmaker: Sires, who like Martinez and Garcia, is a Cuban-American Democrat.

''I'm concentrating on my own race,'' said Sires, who acknowledged close ties to the three Republicans. ``What binds us together is this issue of Cuba. I respect how they have fought for Cuba all these years.''


My comment:

Representatives Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Kendrick Meek are betraying confidence Democratic party leaders have put in them and embarrassing their party.

Only Wasserman Schultz knows whether obsessive hostility to Cuba, her personal friendships, $22,000 in campaign contributions or state wide ambitions are trumping her responsibility as co-chair of Red to Blue to win new Democratic seats that are essential for Iraq, tax bills and other closely fought votes. The demographics of her district which is less than 5% Cuban American certainly don't mandate such a hard line single issue position.

If there is a re-vote in Florida, will Senator Clinton align with the "neutral" position of two key supporters or lend real support to Raul Martinez, Joe Garcia and Annette Taddeo? She might recall that the Diaz Ballarts and Ros-Lehtinen were energetic and consistent supporters of Senator McCain. Whether she or Obama is the nominee, it will be in their interest to have the three Cuban American Republicans preoccupied with their own races.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Cuba, Iran travel rules are a trip

By Randy Schultz

Editor of the Editorial Page

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Which country does the United States government believe poses a greater threat to the United States: Cuba or Iran?

Which country is it easier for United States citizens to visit: Cuba or Iran?

The answers are Iran and Iran. Yes, Iran. Suspected-of-concealing-a-nuclear weapons-program Iran. Wipe-Israel-off-the-map Iran. The Holocaust-never-happened Iran. Aiding-terrorists-in-Iraq Iran. Axis-of-Evil Iran.

If you're an American and you'd like to visit Iran, however, the American government won't stand in your way. The State Department will warn you, strongly, about anti-American sentiment. The U.S. doesn't have diplomatic relations with Iran, so if you get in trouble you're probably on your own. The department especially will warn Iranian-Americans that they might not be able to leave when their visit is over because Iran does not recognize dual citizenship.

But travel to Iran is legal for Americans. You can book it online: American Airlines from Miami to New York, then Turkish Airlines to Istanbul and on to Tehran's Imam Khomeini International Airport, named for the leader of the Islamic revolution that took power in 1979 and held 53 Americans hostage for 444 days between November 1979 and January 1981. Fare: $1,500.

Even a North Korea visit is OK

If you want to visit Cuba, though, forget it, in most cases. Unless you fit into one of a few categories - related to journalism or education - Americans can't go. If you have family in Cuba, you can go only once every three years. Here are the State Department rules:

"Regulations require that persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction be licensed to engage in any travel-related transactions pursuant to travel to, from, and within Cuba. Transactions related to tourist travel are not licensable. This restriction includes tourist travel to Cuba from or through a third country such as Mexico or Canada. U.S. law enforcement authorities have increased enforcement of these regulations at U.S. airports and pre-clearance facilities in third countries. Travelers who fail to comply with Department of Treasury regulations could face civil penalties and criminal prosecution upon return to the United States."

How weird is that? You can visit a country half a world away that just a few months ago was being talked up as the next place the U.S. would invade. But you can't visit a country less than an hour by plane from Florida that threatens the United States about as much as Puerto Rico, which is part of the United States.

What about North Korea, the third country in Mr. Bush's Axis of Evil? The North Korea that has built several nuclear weapons on Mr. Bush's watch and whose leader the president called "a pygmy"? The U.S. government encourages Americans to register with the U.S. embassy in the Chinese capital of Beijing. Otherwise, have a great trip.

Acting as though it's still 1962

It all seems even more ludicrous, now that Fidel Castro has given up direct control after 49 years - and nearly 10 U.S. presidents. America has diplomatic relations with Vietnam, which killed nearly 60,000 Americans. America always had diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union, which had thousands of nuclear weapons aimed at us. America has diplomatic relations with countries that are as totalitarian as Cuba.

With Cuba, though, we live in a time warp. Diplomatically, it's 1962, when Americans watched three channels on Philco televisions, Sam Walton was opening his first Wal-Mart and the Beatles were releasing their first single, when singles weren't just downloads. It's missiles pointed at the United States from 90 miles away. More to the point, it's Cuban-American voters who still consider themselves exiles, and their Florida supporters in Congress.

Just compare the State Department language. Iran is "a constitutional Islamic republic with a theocratic system of government where ultimate political authority is vested in a learned religious scholar, the Supreme Leader." But Cuba is "a totalitarian police state, which relies on repressive methods to maintain control. ...The regime is strongly anti-American yet desperate for U.S. dollars to prop itself up."

It was in our interest to recognize, while strongly disagreeing with, the Soviet government, even during the most polar moments of the Cold War. It would be in our interest to recognize, while strongly disagreeing with, the Cuban government. Which poses a greater threat to the United States: A 50-year-old failed policy, or a new attitude?


Randy Schultz is editor of the editorial page of The Palm Beach Post. His e-mail address is schultz@pbpost.com

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Terrorism probes still haunting Posada at 80

Posted on Tue, Feb. 26, 2008

Miami Herald

Luis Posada Carriles, the anti-Castro Cuban militant, celebrated his 80th birthday this month at an undisclosed location in Miami, but many serious legal and political questions about his alleged crimes as a younger man still loom as large as ever.

In New Jersey, Posada is the ''target'' of a federal grand jury investigation into the series of 1997 tourist-site bombings in Havana, his attorney Arturo Hernandez confirmed to The Miami Herald. Posada has denied any involvement in the bombings.

In Washington, Posada's alleged role in the bombing of a 1976 Cuban airliner that killed 73 people is being revisited by a Democratic lawmaker from Massachusetts who plans to hold congressional hearings on the matter in the spring.

And Posada's immigration status remains an issue with the Justice Deparment, which is pressing its appeal of a Texas judge's decision to dismiss an indictment that charged the Cuban with lying about his 2005 entry into the United States.

Indeed, everyone seems to have something to say about the former CIA-trained explosives expert who remains a freedom fighter in the minds of some and an international terrorist in the eyes of others.

Posada isn't talking to the media, but his attorney says the octogenarian is an innocent man in poor health who wants to spend the rest of his life in Miami among family, friends and exiles.


Perhaps Posada's most serious legal challenge is in Newark, N.J., where a federal grand jury, now in its third year, is weighing whether to indict Posada on conspiracy charges for the killing of an Italian tourist in a 1997 hotel bombing in Havana.

Justice officials won't comment, but they have a fax and other documents showing that Posada allegedly coordinated $3,200 in wire transfers from Cuban exiles in New Jersey to co-conspirators in Central America for the bombing campaign. Also, FBI agents have questioned jailed bombing recruits in Cuba and key witnesses in the United States and Central America familiar with Posada's alleged mission to disrupt the Cuban tourism industry.

One potential witness -- a notable writer who coauthored a 1998 New York Times series on Posada's history of violent activities against former Cuban leader Fidel Castro -- said she received grand jury subpoenas but has not testified before the New Jersey panel.

The series was based on her six-hour interview, most of it tape-recorded, with Posada in which he admitted to masterminding the Havana tourist-site bombings.

''They do not need me,'' author Ann Louise Bardach said.

Rep. William Delahunt, a Massachusetts Democrat, is more than willing to enter the political fray.

But Delahunt's interest has nothing to do with the 1997 bombings. He's interested in Posada's alleged role in the bombing of a 1976 Cuban airliner that killed 73 people, including members of the Cuban national fencing team.

Posada was acquitted by a Venezuelan military tribunal. While awaiting a retrial by a civil court in Venezuela, Posada escaped from prison in 1985.

Delahunt, annoyed by the government's lack of response to Venezuela's extradition request to try Posada, has drafted a resolution calling on the administration to urge the United Nations to create an ad hoc tribunal to prosecute him. He also plans to hold more public hearings on Capitol Hill.

''You cannot talk about a war on terror while Posada is still running around [South] Florida,'' said Caleb Rossiter, one of Delahunt's top aides.


But Posada has supporters in Washington, mainly Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican from California.

In defending Posada, Rohrabacher points out that a 1977 taped interview by a New York-based journalist reveals that he never admitted to planting the airliner bomb.

In a Jan. 30 letter to a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee, Rohrabacher said testimony by journalist Blake Fleetwood was inconsistent with the reporter's own tapes.

Fleetwood said Rohrabacher has distorted his statements. In an e-mail to The Miami Herald, Fleetwood wrote: ``There is no doubt in my mind, from what Posada told me during my interview, that Posada was deeply involved in the conspiracy that culminated in the planting of the bomb and the deaths of 73 innocent civilians.''

Hernandez denied that his client was involved in any way and dismissed allegations of terrorism.
``He's not a terrorist. He's never been a terrorist.''


Unpublished Letter to Miamii Herald

To the Editor;

Re: http://www.miamiherald.com/548/story/433488.html

It is often said that terrorism lies in the eyes of the beholder.

Real horrific crimes are committed, but political identification too often clouds moral judgment.

Think of Northern Ireland, Israel, Palestine, Sri Lanka, even 9/11. One man's villain is another man's hero.

Venezuela and Cuba demand extradition from the US of Luis Posada Carriles as a terrorist and the US justifies the anachronistic listing of Cuba as a terrorist state because it has given asylum to Joanne Cheismard. Brothers to the Rescue planes were shot down by a country protecting its sovereign air space or as wanton murder.

After 49 years, it's time to stop. Terrible inhumane things are done by both sides in war, revolution and counter-revolution, with the noblest of self-proclaimed intentions.

Cuba has a new leader, as soon will the US. They must show the courage to bridge 90 miles with a spirit of mutual respect. After a long conflict, wishing that the other were different is normal. However, setting preconditions for talking, insisting that the antagonist must first change itself to become an acceptable interlocutor, means one is not serious about solving problems.

John McAuliff

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Congressional Letter re Castro Retirement

February 19, 2008

The Honorable Condoleezza Rice
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
Washington, D.C. 20520

Dear Secretary Rice,

The decision by Cuba’s government to choose new leadership should be the occasion for a tough-minded review of U.S. policy.

President Castro has departed from his office voluntarily. An orderly succession has occurred in Cuba, without violence or upheaval. The Cuban government, under a new leadership, is reportedly already considering changes in the economic arrangements on the island to give the Cuban people a long-sought improvement in their living standards.

For five decades, U.S. policy has tried economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation to force changes in Cuba’s government. These developments demonstrate that the policy has not worked. Allies and adversaries alike have rejected our approach and instead engage the Cuban government directly on diplomatic issues and make billions of dollars in economic investments on the island, making it even less likely that our sanctions will ever achieve their stated purpose.

Our policy leaves us without influence at this critical moment, and this serves neither the U.S. national interest nor average Cubans, the intended beneficiaries of our policy. A complete review of U.S. policy is clearly in order now. This would send a useful signal to the Cuban people that we intend to engage with their government in new and positive ways, and also provide a new hearing for U.S. policy in many places around the region.

After fifty years, it is time for us to think and act anew.


List of 104 Bipartisan Signatories

James P. McGovern (MA)
Jo Ann Emerson (MO)
Bill Delahunt (MA)
Jeff Flake (AZ)

Neil Abercrombie (HI)
Tammy Baldwin (WI)
Xavier Becerra (CA)
Marion Berry (AR)
Judy Biggert (IL)
Sanford D. Bishop, Jr. (GA)
Earl Blumenauer (OR)
Leonard Boswell (IA)
Rick Boucher (VA)
Lois Capps (CA)
Michael E. Capuano (MA)
Yvette D. Clarke (NY)
Wm. Lacy Clay (MO)
Stephen Cohen ((TN)
John Conyers, Jr. (MI)
Jim Cooper (TN)
Jerry Costello (IL)
Elijah E. Cummings (MD)
Danny K. Davis (IL)
Lincoln Davis (TN)
Susan A. Davis (CA)
Peter DeFazio (OR)
Diana DeGette (CO)
Rosa L. DeLauro (CT)
Michael F. Doyle (PA)
Keith Ellison (MN)
Rahm Emanuel (IL)
Bob Etheridge (NC)
Sam Farr (CA)
Bob Filner (CA)
Chaka Fattah (PA)
Bart Gordon (TN)
Raúl M. Grijalva (AZ)
Luis Gutierrez (IL)
Jane Harman (CA)
Maurice D. Hinchey (NY)
Michael Honda (CA)
Steve Israel (NY)
Jesse L. Jackson, Jr. (IL)
Sheila Jackson-Lee (TX)
John Lewis (GA)
David Loebsack (IA)
Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX)
Timothy V. Johnson (IL)
Marcy Kaptur (OH)
Dale Kildee (MI)
Carolyn C. Kilpatrick (MI)
Ron Kind (WI)
Dennis Kucinich (OH)
Ray LaHood (IL)
Barbara Lee (CA)
Carolyn B. Maloney (NY)
Jim Matheson (UT)
Doris Matsui (CA)
Betty McCollum (MN)
Jim McDermott (WA)
Michael McNulty (NY)
Gregory Meeks (NY)
Michael Michaud (ME)
George Miller (CA)
Dennis Moore (KS)
Gwen Moore (WI)
James P. Moran (VA)
Jerry Moran (KS)
Jerrold Nadler (NY)
Richard Neal (MA)
James L. Oberstar (MN)
John Olver (MA)
Ron Paul (TX)
Ed Pastor (AZ)
Collin C. Peterson (MN)
Earl Pomeroy(ND)
David Price (NC)
Jim Ramstad (MN)
Charles B. Rangel (NY)
Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA)
Bobby L. Rush (IL)
Linda Sánchez (CA-39)
Loretta Sanchez (CA-47)
Jan Schakowsky (IL)
Allyson Y. Schwartz (PA)
José E. Serrano (NY)
Christopher Shays (CT)
Louise McIntosh Slaughter (NY)
Adam Smith (WA)
Vic Snyder (AR)
Hilda L. Solis (CA)
Pete Stark (CA)
John Tanner (TN)
Ellen O. Tauscher (CA)
Mike Thompson (CA)
John Tierney (MA)
Edolphus Towns (NY)
Tom Udall (NM)
Nydia Velázquez (NY)
Diane E. Watson (CA)
Henry A. Waxman (CA)
Anthony Weiner (NY)
Peter Welch (VA)
Lynn Woolsey (CA)

Thursday, February 14, 2008

State Agriculture Officials Urge Change is Cuba Policy

Ag Chiefs Urge Action on Cuba TradeUSAgNet - 02/14/2008


The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture called on the Bush Administration Wednesday to interpret the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act as broadly as possible, to enable U.S. companies to compete with other countries in Cuba.

"Our trade policy with Cuba is completely inconsistent with respect to our relations with other countries," said North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson, the president of NASDA. "Cuba is a major potential market for U.S. products, especially agricultural products, but our efforts to increase trade there are severely restricted by our own federal government."

Johnson leads a 12-member trade North Dakota trade delegation to Cuba next week. The policy amendment, offered by Nebraska Agriculture Director Greg Ibach, was adopted unanimously.

NASDA is comprised of the commissioners, secretaries and directors of the 50 states and four U.S. territories. Johnson was elected president of the group last September, and will host the national conference in Bismarck in September.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Nationally Signifcant Election: Raul Martinez vs Lincoln Diaz-Balart

Posted on Wed, Jan. 23, 2008 Miami Herald

Candidates Martinez, Díaz-Balart start swinging


The race for the congressional seat of South Florida Rep. Lincoln Díaz-Balart quickly turned nasty Tuesday after former Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez, a Democrat, formally announced he was challenging the 15-year Republican incumbent.

Díaz-Balart's camp questioned Martinez's ''integrity'' and accused him of being willing to make ``unilateral concessions to the Cuban dictatorship.''

Florida Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer blasted Martinez for ''corruption and indecency'' -- allusions to Martinez's 1991 conviction for alleged extortion, which was reversed on appeal -- and his use of profane language while denouncing Greer for criticizing Hillary Clinton's presence at a fundraiser last year at the ex-mayor's home.

Announcing his candidacy at Hialeah City Hall, Martinez vowed he would not be intimidated by Díaz-Balart.

One of Martinez's advisors, meanwhile, called Greer ''irrelevant'' and branded as false the charge that Martinez would make concessions to Cuba.

The heated tone of the campaign was not surprising. The race pits two powerful and prominent Cuban-American leaders in a district that has seen little or no opposition to Díaz-Balart since he won the congressional seat in 1992.


Among the supporters who surrounded Martinez, 58, at city hall were former Hialeah Police Chief Rolando Bolaños and City Council Members Carlos Hernandez, Jose Caragol, and Luis Gonzalez -- all Republicans.

Notably missing was Martinez's protégé and current Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina, also a Republican. Martinez said more GOP supporters will come out soon.

When asked about his ability to reach voters outside Hialeah, in a congressional district that includes Miami Lakes, Miramar, and Pembroke Pines and stretches south to Kendall, Martinez said he has reached out to local leaders.

``I've spoken to many of the leaders in Broward County who have said they will support me.''

Martinez also is counting on one of Florida's most popular Democratic leaders: Bob Graham, former U.S. senator and governor.

''Who better to have on your side than Bob Graham?'' Martinez told the enthusiastic crowd in Hialeah.

The Democratic Party, which wrested control of Congress from the GOP in 2006, considers this race crucial to expand its power. The challenge will be whether Martinez, who held public office in Hialeah for almost 30 years, can raise the money needed to run a competitive race beyond the City of Progress.

Martinez already has met key Democratic leaders to strategize.

''Mayor Martinez will bring his experience of getting things done for Floridians to Congress, fighting for children's healthcare, finding solutions to the housing crisis and keeping and creating good jobs in South Florida,'' said Kyra Jennings, spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in Washington.


Those goals were echoed by one Martinez supporter at his announcement. ''The party doesn't matter, what matters is someone who will bring changes,'' said Ileana Quintana, 60, who identified herself as a Cuban-American Republican.

Shortly after the announcement, Díaz-Balart's supporters came out swinging.

They hammered away at Martinez's record in Miami federal court where he was indicted in 1990 and convicted of extortion and racketeering in 1991. The conviction was overturned on appeal, two subsequent trials ended in hung juries and a federal prosecutor ultimately dropped the charges.

But Díaz-Balart, in his statement, did not let the matter drop. He noted Martinez was never acquitted.

Díaz-Balart also said Martinez ``supports unilateral concessions to the Cuban dictatorship.''


At a recent meeting with reporters and editors of The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald, Díaz-Balart pointed to a recent issue of the liberal CubaNews bulletin, which quoted Democratic activists as saying that this year's strategy is to dethrone the three Cuban-American members of Congress -- Lincoln and Mario Díaz-Balart and Ileana Ros Lehtinen -- because they oppose lifting the U.S. embargo on Cuba or easing travel restrictions.

Martinez maintains he would not seek to weaken the embargo but would push to ease the Bush administration's 2004 travel restrictions. The policy limits Cuban exile visits to close relatives on the communist island to once every three years instead of annually as before.

''The government should encourage family reunification, not interfere with it,'' said Jeffrey Garcia, Martinez's advisor. ``Raul Martinez thinks that families should be able to visit their family members or help them financially.''

Garcia accused Díaz-Balart of focusing excessively on Cuba policy.

''You expect Lincoln Díaz-Balart to call anyone who disagrees with him a communist,'' said Garcia.

Díaz-Balart's camp responded by noting that of nine congressional accomplishments listed in his media statement, eight had nothing to do with Cuba.

They included obtaining immigration status for Central Americans, restoration of supplemental security income for legal immigrants who are elderly, blind or disabled and have little or no income, $100 million for a new U.S. Southern Command headquarters, funding for Interstate 75 in southwest Broward County. and for extending Metrorail to the Palmetto Expressway.


Perhaps one of the most bizarre allegations against Martinez was the one mentioned by Carlos Curbelo, Díaz-Balart's spokesman, who recalled a June 30, 1999 episode in which Martinez punched a young butcher who had been blocking traffic on the Palmetto Expressway during a protest.

The fight, caught on video, played all day on local TV news stations. And Curbelo noted the episode may hit YouTube soon.

More than 400 people had gathered on the expressway to protest the Coast Guard's treatment of six Cuban rafters.

The protest turned violent and seven people were arrested. Bolaños, then Hialeah's police chief, was hit in the head with a rock. Martinez went to the scene after Bolaños called him.

Garcia said Martinez acted properly in defense of his police chief.

''If Lincoln Díaz-Balart does not think we should stick up for our police during a riot, he is once again on the wrong side of the issue,'' Garcia said.


Draft Martinez web site: http://raulmartinez.org/en/index.htm

Will Joe Garcia vs. Mario Diaz-Balart be next in the ring?

Friday, January 11, 2008

Florida Travel Ban Challenged in Court

Ban on travel to Cuba faces challenge
Civil rights activists and university officials argue that the law is unconstitutional.
Published January 11, 2008


TAMPA - Noel Smith used to count on traveling to Havana twice a year to develop the University of South Florida's ties with Cuban artists and art institutions.

A curator at USF's Institute for Research in Art, her work was part of long-standing exchanges between Florida's state universities and academics in Cuba.

Those ties were broken in 2006 when the Florida Legislature passed a law banning the use of state resources for academic travel to the communist island.

"It's been very destructive of our program here," said Smith.

But the Travel to Terrorist States Act is now facing a mounting legal challenge from civil rights activists and state university officials and faculty who argue it is unconstitutional.

"Our academic freedom is being hurt," said Damian Fernandez, vice provost at Florida International University in Miami-Dade County.

The act, signed into law by then Gov. Jeb Bush on May 30, 2006, prohibits professors, students and researchers from using money administered by a public university or college - be it federal or state funds and even private foundation grants - to travel to any country listed as a terrorist state by the U.S. State Department. Besides Cuba, the list includes Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Syria.

The case began when the American Civil Liberties Union in Florida sued the Board of Governors, which oversees Florida's 11 public universities, and the state attorney general intervened on the board's behalf.

Miami District Judge Adalberto Jordan rejected the lawsuit last year. But his decision is being appealed by the ACLU. A ruling is expected next week.

But the Board of Governors, which has begun to assert its autonomy in battles with the Legislature over tuition, transformed itself from defendant to plaintiff. Earlier this month, the Board of Governors filed its own suit, arguing that privately funded academic travel should be permitted.

"The Board of Governors believes the Travel Act's prohibition on the use of non-state funds violates established First Amendment protections," the motion states, while conceding, "The Travel Act, as it relates to the use of state funds, is a proper exercise of Florida's spending power."

It's hard to predict how the judge will rule, according to Bill Kaplan, a lecturer on education and constitutional law at Stetson University College of Law. But the case is potentially precedent-setting because it deals with issues like the boundary between federal and state authority and academic freedom in the face of international terrorism.

"As we're facing these terrorism threats, and as we're becoming increasingly globalized in everything, these kinds of issues are increasingly important," he said.

Strong international study programs are key to a state such as Florida, which has a large foreign-born population and depends on global trade and tourism, faculty members say. FIU's Cuban Research Institute is considered one of the country's top centers for the study of Cuban history, culture and politics, with 40 faculty associates.

"We cannot have a state that is so inserted in the global arena and not have faculty engaging in research in key areas," said Fernandez, who heads FIU's Cuban Research Institute.

Cuba's proximity and historical ties with Florida and U.S. foreign policy make it especially deserving of close academic study. In any political conflict it makes strategic sense to "know your enemy," said Fernandez. "We need to know and have the freedom to find out what is going on."

Rep. David Rivera, a Cuban-American Republican from Miami, defends the law he co-wrote, noting that it was passed unanimously by the Legislature. "Florida taxpayers do not want their money or their publicly funded resources to be utilized for travel to terrorist nations," he said.

University faculty members point out that Cuba-related programs in the state are almost exclusively funded with private money, to avoid controversy.

Riveramakes no distinction between public and private funds "because all of the funds are co-mingled, utilizing infrastructure of the public university system," he said, including secretarial staff, as well as university computers and e-mails.

He insists that the law does not ban professors from traveling to Cuba. Private foundations could directly fund professors, bypassing the universities, he said.

Rivera also suggested university professors could pay for trips to Cuba out of their own pockets.

That is nonsense, says Howard Simon, the ACLU's executive director, noting that major foundations only give money to well-established tax-deductible institutions, not individuals. Simon says the Legislature was "conned" by Rivera's argument that private funds were not affected.

"Now it's up to the federal court to undo the mistake by the Legislature," he said.

Rivera discredits the value of the travel. "A lot of this research is bogus," he said, arguing that Cuba controls who can visit, who they talk to and what information is made available.

University faculty members beg to differ. Research into Cuban agriculture at the University of Florida dating back to 1994 provided highly useful data and information on crops in Cuba until funding stopped, said William Messina, coordinator of economic analysis at the Food and Resource Economics Department. The program won three grants totaling $200,000 from the prestigious John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

"You can't understand what's going on down there if you don't visit the island," added Messina, noting that UF's Cuba researchers have been invited to testify before Congress. "We are the eyes and ears of the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture)," he said.

Fast facts

Who can go

U.S. travel to Cuba is mostly limited to humanitarian and educational groups, journalists and Cuban-Americans. People must be licensed by the U.S. Treasury Department to engage in travel to, from and within Cuba. Tourists cannot receive a license. This restriction includes tourist travel to Cuba from or through a third country such as Mexico or Canada, though this is a popular route for Americans. Specific licenses are granted on a case-by-case basis to religious groups, athletes and people conducting authorized trade.

Sources: Times files, U.S. State Department

© 2007 • All Rights Reserved • St. Petersburg Times

Letter to the Editor

The effort by the Florida state legislature, as by the Bush Administration, to prevent travel to Cuba sacrifices American principles to partisan special interests.

The bottom line is that they are afraid that large scale visits by Americans will provide a more realistic understanding of Cuba as it is today and destroy the cartoon image cultivated by the old guard in Miami.

Such interaction would also encourage the widespread debate of economic and social reform underway in Cuba because it would blunt the sense of an irredeemably hostile US. Internal reforms would spell the end of the hard liners' dreams of the regime's collapse and their return in triumph.

The absurd rules of the Democratic National Committee have foreclosed the needed debate between Bush-light Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama over taking the first humane step toward a rational relationship with Cuba, ending restrictions on family travel and remittances.

Nevertheless, the voters of Florida could still send a signal.

John McAuliff

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

New Republic article on failed US policy and candidates

The Failed Policy That Won't Die
New Republic, DC - January 2

By Joshua Kurlantzick

Now really is the time to change our stance towards Cuba--but will we do anything about it? Probably not

Normally known for his grandiose statements and public flourishes, two weeks ago Fidel Castro made a momentous announcement relatively quietly. In a letter read on state media, Fidel, who in the summer of 2006 had handed caretaker power to his brother Raul while battling a serious (and still not fully identified) illness, wrote that "my basic duty is not to cling to office, and even less to obstruct the path of younger people." For many longtime Cuba-watchers, this was Fidel's final admission that he would never return to power. "This is it. This is really historic," Cuba expert Brian Latell told The Washington Post.

But even after Fidel's statement, American policy towards Cuba remains unchanged. On December 18, the White House blandly declared, "We're just continuing to work for democracy on the island."(The administration previously said it would not work with Raul.) And realists still believe that, in the run-up to a presidential election where, once again, Florida could be a battleground state, there is no likelihood that policy will change in 2008--or, for that matter, in 2009 or 2010 or beyond. Yet despite the continuing media coverage of Cuban-Americans' political influence, there are real reasons why the U.S. should change its Cuba policy now. And there are real signs that, unlike in the past, Miami Cubans just might be willing to live with a new, more open approach to the island.

For decades, many American politicians and officials resigned themselves to a failed Cuba policy. They understood that it made no sense to continue isolating the island even as Washington pursued close relations with communist nations, authoritarian states, and former enemies--but, hey, they had Cuban-American voters to pacify. President Clinton, for his part, allowed some opening toward the island, permitting greater trade in goods and more people-to-people exchanges. But President Bush, indebted to Miami voters after a 2000 election in which Cuban-Americans helped deliver him the presidency, reversed even this limited détente, cracking down on remittances to the island, travel, and family visits, and appointing a coordinator to map out a supposed transition to democracy on the island. Democrats in Congress, meanwhile, didn't do much at all to oppose Bush's stricter Cuba policies.

In the past two years, though, it has become increasingly obvious that sanctions on Cuba cannot be written off as an absurd but costless policy. As a recent report by the Government Accountability Office revealed, U.S. government agencies have been distracted from essential tasks like combating terrorism by having to spend time trying to find Americans who are illegally traveling to Cuba. As The New York Times reported, according to the GAO, the focus on Cuba has "strained Customs and Border Protection's capacity to carry out its primary mission of keeping terrorists, criminals, and inadmissible aliens from entering the country at Miami International Airport." The report also found the emphasis on Cuba has distracted the Office of Foreign Assets Control, which is responsible for monitoring transactions with nations the United States sanctions, including more dangerous states like Iran. Meanwhile, as in Iran, America's hard-line policy actually has undermined the cause of some Cuban reformers--men and women like Oswaldo Payá who want to bring change to Cuba and who have been tarred by Havana as toadies of Washington. Recognizing this problem, ­Cuban dissidents actually have called on the White House to relax its policy.

Worse, while in the 1990s Cuba had few other friends (having lost its Soviet patrons), today it has become a beachhead for two major American competitors. Havana's deep and cozy relationship with Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez is well known--Venezuela gives Cuba some 100,000 barrels of heavily subsidized oil each day.

But Cuba has also grown increasingly close with China, which has upped its aid to Havana and has hosted Raul Castro numerous times. Witnessing China's staggering growth, Raul, though clearly no democrat, allegedly has expressed a desire to promote some Chinese-style economic reforms in Cuba. If the U.S. refuses any relations with Cuba under a Raul leadership, Beijing will only tighten its links to the island and will probably tap the oil fields off Cuba's coast--potentially fertile ground for American energy firms.

Continuing the isolation of Cuba doesn't even make political sense in America. With new generations of Cuban-Americans growing up removed from the battles of the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Miami community, once thought of as a monolithic bloc, has become more open to the idea of reconciliation with Cuba. As revealed by one poll by the William C. Velazquez Institute, a Latino polling group, most Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade County think the residents of Cuba "should decide when and how the political system in Cuba should be changed." Many Cuban-Americans simply aren't as interested in Cuba as they used to be; the poll found that a majority of Cuban-Americans think "improving the quality of life in South Florida is more important than waiting to change the Cuban government." Another study, by the polling firm Bendixen and Associates, showed that over 70 percent of Cuban-Americans want Washington to negotiate with the post-Fidel government in Cuba if it is willing to cooperate.

Sensing this opinion shift, many prominent Cuban-Americans have been calling for "conditional engagement" with the island that would include more direct American travel to Cuba, and more American investment--all on the condition that the Cuban government increase its respect for workers' rights, creates an independent judiciary, and allows its people greater freedom to start businesses. Even some Republican congresspeople, once loath to contemplate rapprochement with Cuba, have changed their tune: At a recent Senate Finance Committee hearing, Senator Chuck Grassley suggested the U.S. reconsider its bilateral relations with the island.

Unfortunately, most of the leading presidential candidates don't seem to see this future. Though Barack Obama supports changing the relationship with Cuba, Hillary Clinton, who previously said she wanted to continue the economic embargo, has said that she will continue Bush's tough policies. Rudy Giuliani, John Edwards, Fred Thompson, Mitt Romney, and John McCain have all indicated they would continue the current policy. And as Steve Clemons notes, Mike Huckabee, who backed greater engagement with Cuba when he was governor of Arkansas, now says he wants to put more pressure on Havana than the Bush administration did. So, even as Cuba and the world changes, the candidates seem stuck in the past, keeping a shrinking number of Cuban-American voters happy and leaving the rest of us less safe.

Monday, January 7, 2008

PAC Contributions and Anti-Cuba Votes

Of the 66 Democrats who voted against the Rangel amendment on Friday, 51 (77%) had received one or more contributions from the PAC since the beginning of the 2007-2008 election cycle:

Altmire $3,000
Andrews $1,000
Arcuri $2,000
Baca $2,000
Barrow $8,000
Bean $3,000
Berkley $5,000
Boyd $1,000
Braley $6,000
Brown (FL) $5,000
Butterfield $1,000
Cardoza $1,000
Carnahan $4,000
Castor $1,000
Chandler $2,000
Clyburn $10,000
Cuellar $6,000
Davis (AL) $3,000
Donnelly $3,000
Ellsworth $1,000
Engel $5,000
Gillibrand $3,000
Hare $1,000
Higgins $1,000
Hodes $1,000
Hoyer $5,000
Jones (OH) $2,500
Kennedy $1,000
Klein $11,000
Lipinski $1,000
Mahoney $7,000
Marshall $2,000
Melancon $2,000
Perlmutter $2,000
Rothman $1,000
Ryan (OH) $2,000
Salazar $6,000
Schiff $1,000
Sherman $1,000
Schuler $2,000
Sires $10,000
Skelton $2,000
Space $2,000
Wasserman Schultz $10,000
Wexler $5,000
Wilson (OH) $2,000
Wu $5,000

Of the remaining 15, 7 (47%) received one or more contributions from the US-Cuba Democracy PAC in the 2005-2006 election cycle:

Ackerman $6,000
Green (TX) $1,000
Hastings $6,000
McIntyre $5,000
Meek $4,500
Miller (NC) $4,000
Pallone $4,000

Altogether, 58 of the 66 Democrats who voted against the Rangel amendment on Friday (88%) received one or more contributions from the US-Cuba PAC in the last year and a half.

They didn't wait for the 110th Congress to convene either. The US-Cuba Democracy PAC gave out $62,000 after the 2006 general election - again mostly to newly-elected Democrats. That means the PAC gave a total of $384,500 to federal candidates since the 2006 general election.