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