Thursday, December 17, 2009

Legislation Will Ease Ag Exports

Bill should help exports to Cuba

Dec 16, 2009 9:37 AM, By David Bennett, Farm Press Editorial Staff

Under the leadership of Montana Sen. Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, senators said the department’s interpretation of the phrase “payment of cash in advance” was incorrect and would, contrary to their intent, stymie trade.

Agriculture trade between the United States and Cuba is expected to increase under a provision inserted into the massive appropriations bill for fiscal year 2010.

The provision — Section 619 of H.R. 3288, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2010 — essentially explains how Congress intends the U.S. Treasury Department to interpret a key phrase in legislation passed earlier this year.

Under the leadership of Montana Sen. Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, senators said the department’s interpretation of the phrase “payment of cash in advance” was incorrect and would, contrary to their intent, stymie trade.

“For the second year in a row, Congress has been very explicit in expressing its intentions to the Obama administration about U.S. agricultural trade with Cuba,” said Betsy Ward, USA Rice Federation president and CEO. “Though these directives have been single-year policies, we strongly support them for the ongoing momentum they provide to pass comprehensive U.S.-Cuba trade-and-travel legislation.”

As a measure of what’s at stake, USA Rice says Cuba is potentially a 400,000 to 600,000 ton-per-year market for U.S. rice.

With the blessing of the Obama administration and aimed at easing travel and trade with Cuba, Congress placed three items in the fiscal 2009 omnibus bill. Several of the items had to do with travel to Cuba and one concerned agriculture-related sales.

(For more, see Easing Cuban trade and travel.)

The Obama administration implemented the travel provisions in late summer.

The agriculture trade item wasn’t accepted as easily with the Treasury Department’s vow to continue rules put in by the Bush administration in 2005, requiring Cuba to pay for U.S. agricultural commodities prior to shipment through onerous, third-party transactions. With the newly inserted provision, Cuba will be able to wire payments directly to the United States while commodities are being shipped.

President Obama is expected to sign the bill Dec. 18.

Asked if the earlier objections by some Cuban-American politicians to weakening the trade embargo had eased, one rice industry insider says, “I don’t know they’ve quieted down. They haven’t changed their minds, at all. But this is being done (even though) the opposition is still there.”

Looking at the possibility of a massive increase in agricultural exports to Cuba, “hopefully there won’t be any more shadow dancing or tightrope walking in terms of how Treasury implements this language,” says the insider.

For more on Cuba/U.S. trade, see


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Sen. John Kerry Op Ed Calls for Non-Tourist and All Travel

Open Cuba to U.S. travelers

By John Kerry, special to the St. Petersburg Times

Published Monday, December 7, 2009

For nearly 20 years after the fall of Saigon, the Vietnam War took a less bloody but equally hostile form. The United States and Vietnam had no diplomatic relations. Vietnamese assets were frozen. Trade was embargoed. But in 1995 the United States normalized relations with Vietnam. The Cold War had ended, and we even signed a trade deal with a country where 58,000 Americans had given their lives.

The result? A Vietnam that is less isolated, more market-oriented, and, yes, freer — though it has miles to go.

Yet when it comes to a small impoverished island 90 miles off the coast of Florida, we cling to a policy that has manifestly failed for nearly 50 years.

While our Cuba policy has largely stood still, reality has changed dramatically. Today, the Cuban "threat" is a faint shadow, change is afoot in the Cuban leadership, and — importantly — Cuban-Americans increasingly seek broad, far-reaching interaction across the Florida Straits.

We need a Cuba policy that looks forward, brings our strengths to bear, and builds on what works to help the Cuban people shape their country's future.

Democracy in Cuba rightly remains an American policy goal. But for 47 years, our embargo in the name of democracy has produced no democracy at all. Too often, our rhetoric and policies have actually furnished the Castro regime with an all-purpose excuse to draw attention away from its many shortcomings. We have played to Fidel Castro's strengths, not ours.

Fortunately, we know there is a different strategy that can succeed. The Clinton administration refocused policy around what matters: on the Cuban people, not the Castro brothers; on the future, not the past; and on America's long-term national interests, not the political expediencies of a given moment.

We improved cooperation on issues like migration and fighting drug trafficking. Family travel in both directions skyrocketed, and the regime's portrayal of us as the neighborhood bully was readily debunked. Americans helped repair a synagogue roof, and Baltimore Orioles players visiting Cuba for an exhibition game gave children bats and balls — gestures of American generosity.

As promised, the Obama administration has expanded licenses for Cuban-Americans — albeit only Cuban-Americans — to travel to Cuba. Controls on family remittances, gift parcels and telecommunications transactions have been loosened as well. Mid-level talks about immigration and postal relations have resumed. And we've turned off an Orwellian electronic billboard flashing political messages from our Interests Section in Havana.

These are positive steps, but they are only a start. So what comes next?

First, at a minimum, the administration should reinvigorate people-to-people relations. When announcing expanded family travel, the president said, "There are no better ambassadors for freedom than Cuban-Americans." True, but there are 299 million other Americans whose challenging minds, economic success, love for democracy and solid values make them proud ambassadors as well.

Second, the administration should review the programs that the Bush administration funded generously to substitute for people-to-people diplomacy.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is already considering how best to reform Radio and TV Martí. After 18 years TV Martí still has no significant audience in Cuba. U.S. civil society programs may have noble objectives, but we need to examine whether we're achieving them.

In addition, I am announcing my support for the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act. Nowhere else in the world are Americans forbidden by their own government to travel. Americans who can get a visa are free to travel to Iran, Iraq, Sudan, and even North Korea. This act does not lift the embargo or normalize relations. It merely stops our government from regulating or prohibiting travel to or from Cuba, except in certain obviously inappropriate circumstances.

Free travel is also good policy inside Cuba. Visiting Europeans and Canadians have already had a significant impact by increasing the flow of information and hard currency to ordinary Cubans. Americans can be even greater catalysts of change.

Studies of change in Eastern and Central Europe find the more outside contact a country has, the more peaceful and durable its democratic transition. That's one reason why all of Cuba's major prodemocracy groups support free travel, as do longtime Castro critics like Freedom House and Human Rights Watch. A majority of Cuban-Americans have joined the rest of the country in supporting travel to Cuba by all American citizens.

Today, we have a choice: seek solace in old rhetoric, ignore change and resist it, or mold it and channel it into a new policy to help achieve our goals. After 50 years of failure, it's time to try something new.

John Kerry, D-Mass., is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

© 2009 • All Rights Reserved • St. Petersburg Times

Monday, December 7, 2009

Christiane Amanpour's CNN Interviews on Travel

AMANPOUR: Welcome back.

Fifty years after Fidel Castro declared Cuba a communist state, the US embargo remains. But the Castro brothers retain their iron grip.

It's been a fraught history between the two nations, from the Bay of Pigs invasion to the Cuban missile crisis. But for the first time now, a US president has been elected without making concessions to the powerful Cuban-American lobby.

In a moment, we'll talk to a US congressman who's trying to change American policy on Cuba - Howard Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.


We asked the Cuban government representatives to join us, but they all told us they were not available at this time. We hope that they will in the future.

But right now we're joined here in our studio by Jose Miguel Vivanco, the director of Human Rights Watch Americas Division, which just published a highly critical report on Cuba. And from Washington, US Congressman Howard Berman, who joined us from Capitol Hill and who's been holding those hearings.

Welcome both gentlemen to our program.

Congressman Berman, if I could ask you, what precisely is the point of your hearings? What can you achieve?

REP. HOWARD BERMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: I'd like the Congress to re-examine the ban on travel. Americans can go to a country, Iran, that is developing a nuclear weapon that is the leading state sponsor of terrorism. During the Cold War, we never restricted the ability of Americans to go to the Soviet Union or other Soviet block countries.

I think our current policy interferes with what I consider a fundamental American right, the right of American citizens to travel.

AMANPOUR: And just to be clear, Congressman, if you lift the ban on Americans traveling, in a sense, de facto, the embargo collapses, correct?

BERMAN: No. I think the embargo and the travel ban are two very separate issues. There are all kinds of items - we have an embargo on Iran right now. We don't have a travel ban on Americans going to Iran.


BERMAN: And they're - they're are two separable (ph) issues.

AMANPOUR: All right. Let me turn to Jose Miguel Vivanco who's just come back from Cuba. You've written a highly critical report for Human Rights Watch called "New Castro, Same Cuba." What did you find there?

JOSE MIGUEL VIVANCO, DIRECTOR, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH, AMERICAS: Well, the conclusion is that under Raul Castro, essentially is the same type of repression that has been ongoing in Cuba for 50 years under Fidel Castro is - is very much in place.

AMANPOUR: More specifically?

VIVANCO: Specifically going after anybody who disagrees with the system. You know, in other words, you have a system - a totalitarian system that negates the exercise of fundamental freedoms and rights. No - no free speech, no right to association, no right to, you know, to create a union, labor rights, no political rights to elect, you know, anybody who is not endorsed or official candidate of a.

AMANPOUR: So do you - do you believe that the travel ban should be lifted, for instance, as Congressman Berman says?

VIVANCO: Absolutely. And we submitted, actually, a - a letter to the committee of Chairman Berman, requesting and supporting to - to release the travel ban.

Essentially, our position is human rights conditions are still extremely poor. You know, Raul Castro's record is characterized by massive and gross violations of human rights. The best way to address this problem is by not only lifting the travel ban, but also replacing the embargo with effective pressure that could be exercised essentially multilaterally.

AMANPOUR: Let me play this sound bite from Yoani Sanchez, the notorious now blogger there.


YOANI SANCHEZ, CUBAN BLOGGER (through translator): They threw me in the backseat of the car, upside down. Then a very strong man placed his knee on my chest and I couldn't breathe.

The man in the front seat was hitting me in my back and pulling my hair. He said, "Yoani, this is it," and, at that moment, I thought I was going to die.


AMANPOUR: Congressman Berman, does that kind of - of testimony from inside Cuba, what you've just heard about the Human Rights Watch's rather scathing report, does that make it more difficult for you as you're holding these hearings?

BERMAN: I think it makes our case more compelling.

AMANPOUR: How's that?

BERMAN: Because the Cuban dissidence, the people - the brave people in Cuba who are standing up to this despotic regime, they want more contact with Americans. They want Americans coming to Cuba. They believe this will help bring down the wall that separates the government from its own people.

Our whole history with Eastern Europe and - and Russia, Americans traveling there meant American contact with dissidents, promoting American values, bringing to the people of these countries, as they would to the Cuban people, the story of what - of what freedom and liberty are really like.

AMANPOUR: Congressman Berman, as chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, what do you see happening in your committee in Congress regarding the Cuban issue? Is sentiment shifting away from this - this embargo?

Certainly, Cuban Americans, by a vast majority, want the embargo lifted and certainly the travel ban lifted.

BERMAN: Well, you make a very good point. The - there is a change of position going on within the Cuban-American community. More and more of them realize the futility of the travel ban in terms of achieving our shared goals, and in addition we now have something like 175, getting close to - getting close to half of the members of Congress co-sponsoring the legislation to repeal the travel ban.

There is no doubt that we are in a much better situation now than we were, even a few years ago, not because of anyone being enamored with Castro. We - we stand, I think, united in a bipartisan way against his repressive policies. But because we believe that the Cuban people and the American people will be better off.

AMANPOUR: The Cuban government often says that these repressive measures are in place to defend against a hostile United States. Do they have a point?

VIVANCO: Well, they have (ph) - using that, manipulating the US foreign policy of isolation. That's why - that is one of the reasons why we believe it's necessary to change the policy.

The policy of isolation that is essentially a policy of regime change, because that is what Washington has been trying for almost 50 years. Regime change is rejected by the - the rest of the world. Nobody in Europe agree with the US. Nobody in Latin America. No - no - there is not a single, you know, solid democracy in the world that is supporting regime change and isolation against the - the Cuban government.

So that's why it's important to build up a multilateral coalition that has the political power and the moral authority to exercise an effective pressure on the Cuban government.

AMANPOUR: Congressman Berman, again, to you also, the Cubans often justify whatever policy they have as standing against hostility from the United States. Do they have a point? And how can you promote change? It's obviously not going to come from outside, like regime change. How can you promote change there, if that's what you're seeking?

BERMAN: Well, I'm not - I'm not here to say that getting rid of the travel ban will meet the immediate change in - in the regime. But my - in my heart of hearts, I believe that Castro does not want the travel ban to be repealed. He loves using American policy as a scapegoat for his own repression and for the terrible economic conditions the Cubans now live under. We are serving his purposes by our current policy.

AMANPOUR: And do you believe that this will get through Congress and get through the Senate? What do you believe?

BERMAN: I think it has a better chance than it's had since the policy was formulated.

AMANPOUR: All right. Thank you very much, indeed, Congressman Howard Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Thank you very much, indeed. And Jose Maria (ph) Vivanco, thank you very much indeed for joining us.

And when we come back, we will speak to two who've just been there, including a European commissioner who met with the country's leader and also a former US State Department official who's also just returned from Cuba. That's when we return.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The worst impact of the embargo is on food and problems with medicine. There are things we simply can't get because of the embargo.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I wish they would fix everything because I have family in the United States - my brother, cousins. Speaking for myself, I personally have more hope in Obama than in any other American president that there has been.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Cuban people don't have anything against the American people, if you know what I mean, and we need to have relationships with them, just like with the rest of the world.


AMANPOUR: That was the view from the streets of Havana just a few hours ago. And joining me now, two people who've just returned from Cuba, Karel de Gucht, European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aide, and Lawrence Wilkerson, co-chairman of the US-Cuba Policy Initiative, now at the New American Foundation and former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Both of you gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us.

Let me go to you, Mr. de Gucht. Can you just tell me - look, it's clear that the embargo has not worked, but also your policy of constructive engagement has not worked. What are you proposing now as a way to change what's happening in Cuba?

KAREL DE GUCHT, EU COMMISSIONER FOR DEVELOPMENT: First of all, the European Union does not support an embargo on Cuba. But you're right that also our policy of engagement up to now can show very little results.

We have come to the conclusion that most obviously pressure on this regime is not going to automatically change it. And that's why we have a policy to engage and also to engage in a way that we support directly the Cuban people.

For example the - after the hurricanes, we - we come in with help. We are helping to restructure the - the agricultural sector in - in Cuba, which is - this is primarily poorly managed (INAUDIBLE) with big state enterprises. We want to have subsistence agriculture.

So we try to engage with them and - and hope that over time the regime will change.

Now, the question is.

AMANPOUR: So, you're hoping.

DE GUCHT: . is there a way to make a change.

AMANPOUR: Basically you're hoping that it's going to collapse from within?

DE GUCHT: No, I've - I've never said that I - I hope that it collapses from within. I'm not talking about regime change. I think that should not be the purpose of our political actions.


DE GUCHT: But then, of course, we - we need the political courage to look at all the element of the discussion, and one of the elements that has not yet been mentioned in - in this program is the case of the Cuban Five.

It's obvious that if you want to negotiate on the liberating - the liberation of - of the all the political prisoners, then you have to talk also about all of the problems, included, I think, the Cuban Five.

AMANPOUR: OK. Let me ask.

DE GUCHT: . including the embargo and then I think we could come to a political result.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask Lawrence Wilkerson.

You've just come back from Cuba as well. Did you meet with any of the leaders there? What is your proposal for promoting change there? You also were talking about engagement, right, Mr. Wilkerson?

LAWRENCE WILKERSON, US-CUBA POLICY INITIATIVE: That's correct. And let me say first that I agree with Chairman Berman that this issue before us right now is full travel. And that's not an issue about Cuba, that's an issue about the rights of American citizens, and it's unconstitutional that we restrict them from traveling to Cuba.

Furthermore, we have a tyranny of the minority in this country right now. That is to say Cuban-Americans can visit Cuba, a very small minority, while the majority of Americans can't. That's unconstitutional. We need to change that.

AMANPOUR: Right. But the point is not about America's constitutional rights. It's about - it's about Cuba, right? I mean, it's about everybody except the United States thinking that the embargo has been ineffective.

Do you believe the embargo should be lifted?

WILKERSON: The embargo has been a colossal failure. The embargo has done nothing but isolate the United States of America.

AMANPOUR: Should it will lifted?

WILKERSON: There is a lot of Latin American leader. It should be. There is not a Latin American leader from Luis Inacio da Silva in Brazil to Stephen Harper in Canada who hasn't made it one of his talking points with the American president for some time now to lift the stupid, idiotic embargo.

It makes no sense. We need to move towards normalized relations.

AMANPOUR: So how do you promote change, or do you not promote change? Do you just have relations with this - with this government and wait out the Castro brothers until the end of their natural lives?

WILKERSON: Well, it's - it's quite clear that Raul and Fidel are not going to live that much longer. Isolated the way we are now on our side of the Florida Strait, we will have zero influence over what replaces the Castros.

I do not think that 50 years of failure is testimony to the reason we should continue it. We need to adopt a new policy. That policy needs to be a policy of engagement, so that we can have more impact on raising the standards of living of the average 11.5 million Cubans and so that we can be around when the change does, inevitably, occur.

AMANPOUR: OK. Let me just put this sound bite up from Representative Connie Mack, who obviously opposes Chairman Berman's travel ban hearings here.


REP. CONNIE MACK (R), FLORIDA: This is a Castro bailout, Mr. Chairman, a bailout for beating, a bailout for oppression, a bailout for rape, a bailout for torture, a bailout for corruption, a bailout for tyranny.

Mr. Chairman, going sightseeing to view political prisoners will not bring democracy to Cuba.


AMANPOUR: OK. I want to go to you, Mr. de Gucht, because it looks like Europe and certainly this - the Spanish EU presidency that when they take over the leadership, you want to remove Cuban rights from the so-called "Common Position." Why would you do that? What effect would that have?

DE GUCHT: Well, simply because we think that the Cubans have a point. We have relations with a lot of oppressive regimes and - and we have a special regime for Cuba. It makes no sense singularizing them. I think we should stop the singularizing but also be much fervor (ph) on what we expect them to do in the future.

Another remark I would like to make, if - if you permit me to do so, is - is that the idea that if the Castros physically were to disappear, which is going to happen sooner or later with everybody of us, by the way, that all of a sudden the regime would change. I don't think that's true. I'm just (INAUDIBLE).

AMANPOUR: Mr. Wilkerson, last question to you. What do you think President Obama could do more than he's doing already? We've already established that he's not in hoc (ph), so to speak, to the Cuban-American lobby and the majority of Cuban-Americans want the embargo lifted.

What should the president of the United States be doing now?

WILKERSON: This may surprise you. I like what he's doing. He's moving very slowly, very incrementally. He's got a lot of other things that are far more important on his plate from Afghanistan to health care, and I like what he's doing. At low levels right now, we're having talks on immigration, on postal service and other matters like that, and I think he's moving as fast as he can.

AMANPOUR: Thank you very much indeed. It looks like it is moving, certainly compared to what was going on over the last several years.

Both of you gentleman, thank you very much for joining us and we'll continue to look at this issue.

And we have something special for you from Cuba when we come back - a side of Havana and the rest of the island that you may not normally see.


AMANPOUR: Cuba is one of the most musical countries in the world, and that is the Buena Vista Social Club which helps send Cuban music global.

But listen to the new sound that our Morgan Neill found coming out of Havana these days, and meet the man who's making it.


MORGAN NEILL, CNN HAVANA BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): Aldo Rodriguez of Los Aldeanos - in English, The Villagers - is part of Cuba's underground hip hop movement. He lays down basic tracks in his bedroom on an old computer. He says distribution is hand to hand on homemade CDs, copied over and over.

His lyrics are direct, and they don't pull punches. For example, in the song "Ya Nos Cansamos" (ph), which translates roughly as "We're Fed Up," you'll find this verse...

ALDO RODRIGUEZ, CUBAN HIP-HOP ARTIST (through translator): They're always saying everyone is equal, but you tell me if the doorways are falling down in the generals' houses. Of course in Cuba all the hospitals are free. But who do they treat better, the officials or me?

NEILL: "It's not anything bad," he says, "It's just the truth, and the people aren't used to hearing it.


AMANPOUR: Aldo Rodriguez says that he's got nothing against his government, but he also says that he will not be silent. "I'm young and I've got a right to express myself," he says.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Human Rights Watch Supports End of Trade and Travel Bans

HRW: We favor an end to the travel ban

On the eve of a House committee hearing on the U.S. travel ban to Cuba, a Human Rights Watch official went on record as saying that his organization believes "lifting the travel ban represents an essential step towards ending a U.S. policy that has failed for decades to have any impact whatsoever on improving human rights in Cuba."

In a letter to the chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Rep. Howard Berman (D-Ca.), José Miguel Vivanco, director of the HRW's Americas Division, pointed out that HRW had just issued a report critical of the Cuban government and then made the following points:

"Efforts by the U.S. government to press for change by imposing a sweeping ban on trade and travel have proven to be a costly and misguided failure. The embargo imposes indiscriminate hardship on the Cuban population as a whole and has done nothing to improve the situation of human rights in Cuba.

"Rather than isolating Cuba, the policy has isolated the United States, enabling the Castro government to garner sympathy abroad while simultaneously alienating Washington's potential allies.

"There is no question: the Cuban government bears full and exclusive responsibility for the abuses it commits. However, so long as the embargo remains in place, the Castro government will continue to manipulate U.S. policy to cast itself as a Latin American David standing up to a U.S. Goliath, a role it exploits skillfully.

"Ending the travel ban is a step in the right direction toward reforming this failed policy, and Congress should act swiftly to pass the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act.

"...Human Rights Watch recommends that the U.S. government replace its failed embargo policy with a more effective, multilateral approach. Our report lays out a proposal for the United States to work with allies in the European Union, Canada, and Latin America to forge a new coalition that will exert targeted pressure on the Raúl Castro government to release all political prisoners."

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Rep. Berman and Sen. Lugar Call for End of Travel Embargo

Lift the ban -- let Americans visit Cuba

Miami Herald
Posted on Tue, Nov. 17, 2009

U.S. law lets American citizens travel to any country on earth, friend or foe -- with one exception: Cuba. It's time for us to scrap this anachronistic ban, imposed during one of the chilliest periods of the Cold War.

Legislation to abolish restrictions on travel to Cuba has been introduced in both chambers of Congress. And on Thursday the House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing examining the rationale for the travel ban.

This ban has prevented contact between Cubans and ordinary Americans, who serve as ambassadors for the democratic values we hold dear. Such contact would help break Havana's chokehold on information about the outside world. And it would contribute to improving the image of the United States, particularly in Latin America, where the U.S. embargo on Cuba remains a centerpiece of anti-Washington grievances.

While opponents argue that repealing the travel ban would indicate approval of the Cuban human rights record, many human rights organizations -- among them Freedom House and Human Rights Watch -- have called for abolishing travel restrictions.

There is no doubt that Raúl Castro's government continues to ban most political activity not controlled by the Cuban Communist Party. Opposition parties are illegal, virtually all media remain state controlled, and Cuba has the highest number of political prisoners of any country in the Americas. But isolation from outside visitors only strengthens the Castro regime.

U.S. travelers' dollars, furthermore, could aid the underground economy and the small self-employed sector permitted by the state, strengthening an important foundation of independence from Cuba's authoritarian system.

Travel ban defenders view sanctions as leverage over the Cuban government and their abolition as a concession. But over the last five decades, it has become clear that isolation will not induce the Castro regime to take steps toward political liberalization. Conditionality is not leverage in this case.

Our current approach has made any policy changes contingent on Havana, not U.S. interests, and it has left Washington an isolated bystander, watching events on the island unfold at a distance.

Finally, while travel restrictions are contrary to our foreign policy interests, they also impede the right of Americans to freedom of speech, association and to travel. Sometimes a travel ban may be necessary, but nothing about the Cuba situation today justifies such an infringement on our basic liberties.

The Obama administration has already made a move in the right direction by lifting restrictions on travel and remittances for Cuban-Americans and opening the way for greater telecommunications links with the island.

It is now time for the Congress to take the next step for all Americans.

Sen. Richard G. Lugar, R-Ind., is the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Rep. Howard L. Berman, D-Calif., is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Monday, November 16, 2009

PAC Shifts Votes

Posted on Mon, Nov. 16, 2009
Money talks: Report links donations, Cuba embargo support
Lesley Clark | McClatchy Newspapers

last updated: November 16, 2009 11:20:13 AM

WASHINGTON — Supporters of the U.S. embargo against Cuba have contributed nearly $11 million to members of Congress since 2004 in a largely successful effort to block efforts to weaken sanctions against the island, a new report shows.

In several cases, the report by Public Campaign says, members of Congress who had supported easing sanctions against Cuba changed their position — and got donations from the U.S.-Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee and its donors.

All told, the political action committee and its contributors have given $10.77 million nationwide to nearly 400 candidates and members of Congress, the report says.

The contributions include more than $850,000 to 53 Democrats in the House of Representatives who sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi earlier this month opposing any change to U.S.-Cuba policy. The average signer, the report says, received $16,344.

The top five recipients of the embargo supporters' cash: Miami's three Cuban-American Republican members of Congress, 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain and New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, whose parents fled Cuba before his birth.

The report comes as defenders of the embargo fend off efforts to repeal a decades-old ban against U.S. travel to Cuba. Proponents of greater engagement with Cuba contend that they have the votes, and a hearing on the issue is scheduled for Thursday before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Critics of U.S.-Cuba policy long have suggested a link between campaign contributions and policy. Public Campaign — which advocates for public financing of political campaigns — says the contributions raise questions about the role that money plays in lawmakers' decision-making.

"The pressure they get to raise money plays heavier in their decisions than it ought to," said David Donnelly, the national campaigns director for Public Campaign. "We think this is a damning pattern. We think these are good people caught in a bad system. If members of Congress have to spend too much time raising money, they have to listen to people who give money."

The director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, Mauricio Claver-Carone, defended the contributions as support for lawmakers who side with Cuban-Americans who think that easing sanctions against Cuba will only benefit the Castro regime.

"I will not apologize for the Cuban-American community practicing its constitutional, democratic right to support candidates who believe in freedom and democracy for the Cuban people over business and tourism interests," Claver-Carone said. "Unions help elect pro-union candidates. The Chamber of Commerce helps elect pro-business candidates. AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) helps elect pro-Israel members. Who are we supposed to help? Pro-Castro members?"

Public Campaign looked at the Cuba committee because of a seeming disconnect between congressional votes and public opinion polls that suggest most Americans support lifting a ban on travel to Cuba, Donnelly said.

"On this issue there appears to be a clear distinction between what the American public appears to want and what some in Congress are advocating," Donnelly said, pointing to a World Public Opinion survey in April that found 70 percent of Americans support travel to Cuba.

Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who backs greater engagement with Cuba, said the report wasn't a surprise.

"I don't know how else you can explain how our current policy has survived for so long without yielding any meaningful results; it's all politics," Flake said.

The report says that at least 18 House members — including several from agriculture-rich districts — received campaign contributions from the PAC or its donors and switched their positions on Cuba, from voting in favor of easing travel restrictions to voting against any efforts to soften the embargo.

Rep. Mike McIntyre, D-N.C., said his changed views came from humanitarian interests and concerns about oppression in Cuba. He said he spoke with Florida Republican Reps. Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart about their family's experience in Cuba under Fidel Castro.

"I thought, 'This is not right, and it's not humanitarian, and it doesn't promote democracy and I'm not going to support someone who is repressive and evil,' " McIntyre said. "Yes, I changed my vote. That's the reason I changed: the horrors they suffered."

"They're really savvy people," Lars Schoultz, a professor of political science at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and the author of "That Infernal Little Cuban Republic: The United States and the Cuban Revolution," said of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC. "They know one vote is one vote. They scratch around and see who might be open to their way of thinking."

Claver-Carone, who started the PAC in 2003, said agricultural and business interests had heavily lobbied members of Congress before the committee was in operation.

"The farm lobby came in and they were telling people, 'Cuba is like Costa Rica,' " Claver-Carone said. "We came in and started telling people, 'Hey, here's what's really happening in Cuba.' "

Though hard-line embargo supporters traditionally have been considered Republicans, the report shows the PAC shifting contributions to Democrats as they assumed control of the House and Senate in 2006.

In the 2004 election cycle, the PAC gave just 29 percent to Democrats. By 2008, the Democrats' share was up to 59 percent.

(Barbara Barrett and David Goldstein contributed to this article.)


My comment:

For an analysis of how pro-embargo PAC money has been directed to members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, go to

For data on the PAC money received by Democratic signers of the anti-travel letter to Speaker Pelosi, go to

The PAC’s anti-Obama pro-Jeb Bush position can be seen at

The general impression is that the money for the PAC is largely from conservative Republican Cuban Americans in the Miami area. However as far as I know, there has not been a serious analysis of the donor list and what their motives may be. Public information about all donors can be found at

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Text of Letter from Anti-Travel Democrats

November 3, 2009

Speaker Nancy Pelosi
Office of the Speaker H-232, US Capitol
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Madam Speaker:

With Cuba being the subject of much media attention in recent days, we write to reaffirm the strong support within the House Democratic Caucus for maintaining current United States policy towards Cuba.

As you know, current US policy as codified under the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act of 1996, conditions the lifting of any trade, travel, and financing transactions with the Castro regime, on its unconditional release of political prisoners; recognitions and respect of the fundamental human, civil and political rights of the Cuban people; legalization of independent civil society groups, including journalists, political parties and labor unions; and democratic reforms leading to free and fair elections.

Under the Libertad Act of 1996, Congress also committed to empowering Cuba's courageous human rights and pro-democracy advocates in their struggle against oppression. With that commitment, Cuba's pro-democracy movement has grown exponentially and — in a country where the totalitarian regime controls all national media, writing "counter-revolutionary" articles for foreign websites can lead to a 20-year prison term, and Internet access is restricted to 1.3% of the population — has demonstrated tremendous resiliency.

For these reasons, reneging on our commitment would help to strengthen the Cuban regime's censors and do a grave injustice to those brave Cuban civil society leaders that challenge the regime's brutal repression on a daily basis. Any legislation that would seek to ease or lift sanctions, in disregard of these conditions in law, would send a devastating message to Cuba's opposition movement and legitimize an ailing dictatorship.

President Obama has honored his campaign promise to ease regulations on family travel and remittances, but has stated that he supports remaining sanctions. Specifically, the President said "My policy toward Cuba will be guided by one word: libertad'... the road to freedom for all Cubans must begin with justice for Cuba's political prisoners, the right of free speech, a free press, freedom of assembly, and it must lead to elections that are free and fair. That is my commitment."

President Obama has demonstrated his support for the remaining sanctions by word and deed. As evidenced by his signing an extension of the Trading with the Enemy Act towards Cuba, which authorizes restrictions on travel to Cuba.

Perhaps most importantly, the President has said he will maintain the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba until the Cuban government shows progress on human rights and democracy. We could not agree more.

A dictatorship and state sponsor of terrorism that has no regard for civil rights, religious freedom, open media, or any of the democratic ideals that we cherish, cannot be rewarded with legislation in Congress that would remove US sanctions and subsidize the Castro regime's human rights abuses.

We salute the President's vision for U.S. policy towards Cuba, and it is our strong belief that any effort to upend the President's agenda would undermine the goal that he shares with so many House Democrats — fostering respect for justice and freedom in Cuba.

Madam Speaker, thank you for your kind attention to this matter. We look forward to working with you to ensure that we honor the values that embolden our democracy, and that the Cuban government honors its obligations to its people.

Clipping File: US-Cuba Democracy PAC and the Republican Party

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Some Cuban-American circles have pressed to maintain U.S. restrictions [on family travel] because of their antipathy for Fidel Castro and his brother, Raul, who replaced him as leader after Fidel became ill. "How do you help people speak out about human rights violations if you're basically extending the dictatorship abroad?" said Mauricio Claver-Carone, director of U.S. Cuba Democracy PAC.


POSTED: Thursday, December 21, 2006

Mel Martinez anoints fellow Republican Jeb Bush the first Cuban-American governor of Florida during a meeting of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy Pac at the Biltmore Hotel.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- It was a who's who of Cuban-Americans on Wednesday at the Biltmore Hotel, with special recognition for outgoing Gov. Jeb Bush.

U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., applauded Bush "for having been our friend, for having been on the side of freedom and for always having been someone who understood and loved the Cuban-American community, so much so that I today gave him the title of the first Cuban-American governor," he said.

Bush, in his formal remarks, gladly accepted the title.

"If Bill Clinton can be the first African-American president, I can be the first Cuban-American governor of the state of Florida," Bush said to laughter and applause.

Politicians from near and far praised Bush, who is nearing the end of his eight-year term. Even U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., showed up. He urged political leaders to act as a voice for Cubans and voiced his support for the Cuban embargo.

"Trading with Castro is not the way to bring about democratic change in Cuba," Brownback said.

The real reason for Bush, Brownback and everyone else's appearance was the cause of a free Cuba and concern for U.S. policy.

"The problem is not between the United States and Cuba," former Deputy Secretary of State Otto Reich said. "The dialogue that has to take place is between the Cuban government and the people of Cuba. Once that dialogue has taken place and the people of Cuba have had their liberties restored by that government, which is fully capable of restoring it, then the United States would be willing to begin a dialogue with the government of Cuba."

Not that long ago, the only group capable of drawing a crowd with the same type of political clout as the one at the Biltmore on Wednesday was the Cuban-American National Foundation. Now, the loudest voice for Cuban exile politics appears to be the U.S.-Cuba Democracy Pac.

"This group represents the entire community and is genuinely representative of the consensus of thought of the Cuban-American community, and that's why this group is so respected," U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, said.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


"One of the fundamental strengths of our community has always been unity, and that unity has always been at the core of the economic and political success of Cuban Americans," says Mauricio Claver-Carone, the 32-year-old spokesman of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC. "So when your campaign is based on a strategy of ‘divide and conquer,' I personally (don't believe), and our committee personally doesn't believe, that that is particularly helpful, because basically what you're doing is you're showing the world a disunified community."...

...The network was revealed prominently in early March, when two Democratic members of Congress from South Florida, Kendrick Meek and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, told The Miami Herald they will not support Garcia, Martinez and Taddeo in their races against the Diaz-Balarts and Ros-Lehtinen. They couldn't support their fellow Democrats, Meek and Wasserman Schultz said, because of their friendships with the Republican incumbents.

Democratic Party activists were incensed, especially with Wasserman Schultz. She is co-chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's Red to Blue program, which has a stated purpose of finding districts with vulnerable Republicans and replacing them with Democrats. The Democratic activists pointed to another kinship she had with the Diaz-Balarts: the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC. In the past two election cycles, Wasserman Schultz received $22,000 from the committee, and members of the PAC's board of directors gave her another $29,000 in individual contributions, for a total of $51,000. Meek received $10,500 from the PAC.

Wasserman Schultz is hardly alone. Florida's Democratic U.S. senator, Bill Nelson, has taken campaign contributions of about $44,000 from the PAC and individuals on its board of directors.


From March 24 letter to Pres Obama published on Capitol Hill Cubans

However, in regard to Cuban American travel, we are troubled by the explanation in the “Guidance on Implementation of Cuba Travel and Trade-Related Provisions of the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009” that the general license grants “unlimited” lengths of stay in Cuba. We believe that this will serve to channel U.S. taxpayer dollars directly to the regime because retirees and Supplemental Security Income recipients could remain on the island indefinitely while collecting U.S. taxpayer-provided benefits.

Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Debbie Wasserman Schultz

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Kendrick Meek

Mario Diaz-Balart, Albio Sires

Robert Andrews, Frank Pallone


Associated Press, Aug 21, 2007

MIAMI - Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is leaping into the long-running Cuba debate by calling for the United States to ease restrictions for Cuban-Americans who want to visit the island or send money home...

...Mauricio Claver-Carone, head of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, which supports full sanctions, said Obama’s statement could hurt U.S.-Cuban relations at a crucial time.

“I’m sure he’s well intentioned,” Claver-Carone said, but he added that with the death of Castro possibly approaching and the potential for change on the island, such a statement could send the wrong message.

“It entrenches the regime at this historic time,” Claver-Carone said.


Complaint filed against Cuban lobbying group

A watchdog group in Washington has filed a complaint against a Cuban-American lobbying group, which called the allegation a 'political hit job.'

By Pablo Bachelet, Posted on Wed, Nov. 29, 2006

WASHINGTON - A watchdog group has alleged a Cuban-American lobbying organization that favors tougher sanctions against Cuba broke Federal Election Commission regulations by having illegal links to a nonprofit group.

But the U.S.-Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee denied the allegations and noted that the watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which has filed several complaints against it, has received donations from groups opposed to U.S. sanctions on the island.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics filed a complaint in September asserting that several members of the nonprofit Cuba Democracy Advocates Inc. had illegal links to the PAC, which is supposed to operate independently of any other organization.

Leopoldo Fernández Pujals founded two nonprofit U.S. organizations in 2000 to oppose the communist government, using some of the proceeds of his $366 million sale of Spanish fast-food chain Telepizza in 1999, according to the FEC complaint.
Those two organizations eventually became Cuba Democracy Advocates, and Fernández appointed Mauricio Claver-Carone as director and Miami-Dade car dealer Gus Machado as treasurer. Machado then went on to create the PAC and Claver-Carone became its Washington director.

Claver-Carone and Machado, according to the complaint to the FEC, have ''day-to-day operational control'' of both the PAC and Cuba Democracy Advocates.


According to FEC rules, a connected PAC can only raise money from its affiliated organization, but the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC has raised $1.25 million from 3,000 individuals, mostly members of the Cuban-American community.

The group has donated to dozens of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and is widely seen as successfully influencing congressional votes on Cuba sanctions.
Claver-Carone denied the two organizations had done anything wrong, noting that the PAC is run by a 26-member board and a seven-member executive committee, most of whom have no connection with Cuba Democracy Advocates.

''So long as majority of board members do not cross over, there's absolutely no problem whatsoever,'' he told The Miami Herald. "Of the 26 board members, only one crosses over, and that's me.''

Claver-Carone said the latest complaint is the fourth filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics against his organization, constituting what he called a "political hit job.''


''They're getting money from people that advocate against us,'' he said, citing a $75,000 donation to the watchdog group by the ARCA Foundation, a family-owned foundation, which says on its website that it pursues more social justice and equity. The ARCA group also has donated to groups like the Latin America Working Group and the Lexington Institute -- all opposed to U.S. policies on Cuba.

The FEC decided against prosecuting the group's previous allegations. Claver-Carone says refuting each allegation means paying a law firm between $15,000 and $20,000.

Melanie Sloan, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, denied the group is targeting the Cuba Democracy PAC for political reasons.
''We believe they should follow FEC law,'' she said.


From Capitol Hill Cubans, the PAC's blog

Don't Make the Same Travel Mistake
at 9:30 AM Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Last year, we expressed concern that:

"[Anti-sanctions advocates'] most paradoxical political platform is that 'national reconciliation' between Cuban nationals on the island and those in exile is best pursued by eliminating regulations on Cuban Americans visiting family members in Cuba. Factually, this argument fails to consider that, while most of the exile community in the United States is white, the vast majority of the population and most of democracy's advocates in Cuba are of African or mixed descent and have no family members living in the United States. The result would be a policy that not only creates an underclass among those -- the majority -- without family abroad, but also foments division among Cuba's active and courageous democratic opposition. It would set back rather than advance national reconciliation in Cuba."

- Mauricio Claver-Carone, "Why Travel to Cuba Must be Regulated," The Miami Herald, March 1st, 2008

Yesterday, it was reported:

"Representing 25-odd different groups, black dissidents in Cuba argue that racial disparities on the island are worsened by the Obama administration's recent decision to allow Cuban-Americans to freely send remittances (worth an estimated $1.5 billion yearly) to their relatives. More than 85 percent of Cuban-Americans are white, they say, so the beneficiaries in Cuba of the new remittances policy will also be white."

- Carlos Moore, "Is Black America's Honeymoon with the Castros Over?," McLatchy Newspapers, December 1st, 2009

As regards the future, please keep in mind:

"Whites are clearly preferred in the government controlled and highly profitable tourism industry, from taxi drivers to waitresses and hotel maids. Meanwhile, blacks in Old Havana are continually stopped by police for I.D. checks on suspicion of black market activities."

- Miami Herald Staff Report, "A Barrier for Cuba's Blacks," June 20th, 2007

Therefore, don't make the same mistake by unconditionally allowing tourism travel to Castro's Cuba.

Letter from anti-travel Democrats

More Democrats oppose lifting Cuban travel ban

More than 50 House Democrats sent a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi supporting current Cuba policy, which embargo-supporters say effectively means that a bill to open Cuba to tourists is dead.

The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act would prevent President Barack Obama from regulating or prohibiting travel to or from Cuba by U.S. residents.

But now 53 Democrats in the House have told Pelosi that they oppose lifting the ban, blunting the momentum that proponents of lifting the travel ban have had under a Democratic president and Democratic-led Congress.

``Any legislation that would seek to ease or lift sanctions . . . would send a devastating message to Cuba's opposition movement and legitimize an ailing dictatorship,'' states the letter signed by Florida Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Kendrick Meek, Alcee Hastings and 50 others.

The letter notes that President Barack Obama lifted travel restrictions for those with family on the island, but has said he backs further sanctions against the island.

``It is our strong belief that any effort to upend the president's agenda would undermine the goal that he shares with so many House Democrats -- fostering respect for justice and freedom in Cuba,'' the letter states.

Wasserman Schultz, who helped gather signatures, said the letter is aimed at showing that a number of Democrats oppose easing sanctions against Cuba, a stance that is traditionally associated with Republicans.

``We felt it was important to show that when push comes to shove, the votes aren't there,'' Wasserman Schultz said. ``The number of Republicans opposed combined with these Democrats would seem to spell that it would not be successful.''

Proponents of lifting the travel ban, however, said they've got 180 sponsors to repeal the decades-old ban and said the letter doesn't change the outlook for getting the bill passed.

``We're continuing to gather support,'' said Rep. Bill Delahunt, D-Mass., who has sponsored one of several bills that seek to allow Americans to travel to Cuba.

With 218 votes needed for passage and 258 Democrats in the House, pro-embargo lobbyist Mauricio Claver-Carone said the numbers just are not there.

``Democrats alone can not pass any legislation to unconditionally lift the ban,'' he said.

Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, one Republican who has championed easing sanctions, said the letter suggests backers of the embargo are getting nervous.

Congressional Quarterly Evaluates Prospects for Travel

Nov. 9, 2009 - Page 2580

Exporting Democracy in a Suitcase
By Jonathan Broder, CQ Staff

In a quiet but determined campaign to change U.S. foreign policy, a bipartisan pair of House members is relentlessly pressing fellow lawmakers to support ending restrictions on travel to Cuba and permitting American citizens to visit the island freely for the first time in almost five decades.

Democrat Bill Delahunt of Massachusetts and Republican Jeff Flake of Arizona corner colleagues in their Capitol Hill offices, on planes, at private Washington dinner parties and on the sidelines of public events. Flake even uses his workout time at the House gym to garner support for their bill, dubbed the Free Travel to Cuba Act, which would incrementally remove elements of a sweeping economic embargo first put in place by President John F. Kennedy in 1961.

The congressmen have stepped up their lobbying to seize upon the changing domestic political landscape - in particular a new president whose attitude toward Cuba is less doctrinaire than his predecessors' and a growing desire among younger Cuban-Americans to cast off the Cold War policy of isolation that has defined Washington's tortured relations with Havana for so many years.

"They have really done a full-throttle whip operation," said Mauricio Claver-Carone, who heads U.S.-Cuba Democracy, a political action committee in Hialeah, Fla., that raises money for candidates who want to preserve the embargo. "They are out there on a daily basis. You'd think there was no other important issues out there for them."

Such comments underscore rising concerns among pro-embargo activists and lawmakers as the free-travel measure gains momentum on both sides of the aisle. With the House Foreign Affairs Committee scheduled to hold hearings on the travel ban next week, 53 House Democrats last week rushed a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., affirming their support for retaining the full embargo against the government of Fidel and Raul Castro and warning against lifting or relaxing the sanctions.

Regardless, Delahunt and Flake say they are making headway with their argument that political change will come quicker to Cuba through the island's exposure to American visitors and their ideas. "The current policy has proven to be an abysmal failure," Delahunt said. "What's changed in 50 years? Nothing."

What has changed is the views of many lawmakers and government officials in Washington, and of generations of Cuban-Americans in Florida, New Jersey and elsewhere.

During the administration of George W. Bush, the House voted no fewer than five times to attach amendments to spending bills that would have relaxed limits on travel to Cuba, only to have the language dropped before final passage in the face of Bush's veto threats.

By contrast, President Obama used an executive order in April to remove all restrictions on travel to the island by Cuban-Americans and on their remittances to relatives there. And in a signal to the American business community, he has opened the way for U.S. telecommunications companies to pursue deals in Cuba and begun a dialogue with Havana on immigration issues. Moreover, while the president says he favors leveraging the embargo to push the Castro regime into granting Cubans additional political freedoms, he hasn't threatened to veto any legislation that would relax economic sanctions, including the Delahunt-Flake effort.

No less important to the domestic political equation is the shift in attitudes among Cuban-Americans. Several recent surveys show most Cuban-Americans now say all U.S. restrictions on travel to Cuba should be lifted, and that point of view is even embraced by a majority of the community's older, more hard-line members. One survey, conducted in April by Miami-based Bendixen & Associates, the largest Hispanic polling firm, found that Cuban-Americans favor lifting the trade embargo altogether, in contrast with just a few years ago when a majority was opposed.

Economic conditions in the United States are also driving the anti-embargo campaign. Advocates note that the recession has heightened interest among American farmers and travel companies in doing business with Cuba, and they are sending that message to their representatives in Washington.

Against this backdrop, advocates for opening the doors to Cuba have renewed their push in both the House and Senate, and their congressional opponents are gearing up for a showdown, which could come early next year. Big campaign donations from a small group of die-hard Cuban-Americans indicate it will be a hard-fought battle. Expectations are that the fight will focus first on lifting the travel ban, and there are bills to do so in both chambers. Three other measures have been introduced in the House and Senate that would relax restrictions on trade with the island.

Legislation to remove the travel ban is regarded as having a good chance of passing the House. So far, 179 other lawmakers have signed onto the Delahunt-Flake bill, leaving its list of cosponsors within striking range of the 218-vote majority needed to guarantee House passage.

Congressional aides say a House victory would increase pressure for passage in the Senate, where the chief sponsors of a companion bill, Democrat Byron L. Dorgan of North Dakota and Republican Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming, are working to line up support. And in that event, it is highly unlikely Obama would veto the measure, these aides say.

Still, Senate passage remains a challenge. New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez, a Cuban-American, is leading the opposition to the measure, and he has a critical ally in Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who controls which bills reach the Senate floor.

The Last Cold War Vestige

Just like the iconic 1950s American automobiles that still rumble through the crumbling streets of Havana, relations between Cuba and the United States have been stuck in a time warp since the early days of the Cold War. Indeed, the trade embargo is an icon itself - the last vestige of virulent anti-communism in U.S. foreign policy, still operating some two decades after the Cold War ended.

The distrust between Washington and Havana reaches back to 1960, a year after Fidel Castro took power, when he nationalized all American-owned businesses without compensation. Castro's move prompted Kennedy to sever diplomatic relations with the island nation in 1961 and impose a trade and travel embargo by executive fiat.

That same year, the United States backed Cuban exiles in an abortive attempt at Cuba's Bay of Pigs to seize back the island. Fearing another invasion, Castro allowed the Soviet Union to bring in nuclear missiles. That led to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, when Washington and Moscow came their closest to nuclear war. In a last-minute deal, the Soviets agreed to withdraw their missiles from Cuba in exchange for the removal of U.S. nuclear missiles based on the Soviet border in Turkey.

Since then, several U.S. presidents have tightened sanctions on Cuba, and Jimmy Carter used his powers to relax the embargo. In 1996, however, following Cuba's downing of two aircraft flown by U.S.-based Cuban exiles, an outraged GOP-led Congress enshrined the trade embargo in law, making it permanent and requiring enactment of a new law to change it in any substantial way.

Congress has reversed this policy only once, and in the most limited of ways. In 2000, after Hurricane Michelle devastated Cuba and Havana requested help to cope with the storm's aftermath, Congress cleared legislation that permitted the sale of food and medicine to Cuba but barred public or private U.S. financing of Cuba's purchases. The measure also cemented into law the executive order that restricted travel to Cuba.

Later in 2005, Bush tightened the rules for such sales, requiring Cuba to pay for U.S. food shipments before they had even left port. Cuba also wasn't permitted to send its payments directly to U.S. banks, requiring instead transfers through third countries.

While the Delahunt and Dorgan bills would only lift the travel ban, measures introduced in the House by Kansas Republican Jerry Moran and New York Democrat Charles B. Rangel and in the Senate by Montana Democrat Max Baucus and Indiana Republican Richard G. Lugar would go further, relaxing the regulations for trade payments that Bush ordered.

Anti-embargo lawmakers and advocates argue that the travel ban has failed to bring about any of the democratic changes in Cuba that congressional hard-liners demanded when they voted to make it law in 2000. If anything, they note, the ban has provided Raul Castro, who took over power from his ailing older brother last year, with an excuse to blame the United States for the island's economic woes.

Ever since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union and the withdrawal of its economic subsidies to Havana, Cuba's economy has been struggling. It has the third-largest nickel reserves in the world, bringing in $2.7 billion in export earnings in 2007. But world nickel prices have dropped more than 40 percent amid the global economic downturn, severely curtailing the island's biggest export. Hurricanes have seriously damaged the island's sugar production, and Cuba must depend on cheap oil from its ally, Venezuela.

Tourism is now the country's biggest source of hard currency, bringing in almost $3 billion annually. Foreign investments, primarily from Spain, have added hundreds of millions of dollars, and remittances from Cubans living in the United States have yielded more than $1 billion annually. That figure is expected to increase with Obama's order lifting limits on such payments.

The embargo and travel ban have also isolated the United States diplomatically from the rest of the world. It's the only country that still imposes an economic boycott on Cuba, which is only 90 miles from U.S. shores.

"We scream that we want Cuba to change, but at the same time, we cut off contact," said Phil Peters, a Cuba expert at the conservative Lexington Institute. "That doesn't work in foreign policy."

As if to underscore that conclusion, the U.N. General Assembly voted last month for the 18th straight year to condemn the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba. The vote was 187-3, with only Israel and Palau, a Pacific island nation of just 21,000 people, supporting the United States. Yet even Israel has strong economic ties with Cuba.

Moreover, travel advocates say, the large number of Americans - not only tourists but scholars, professionals, church groups and sports teams - who would go to Cuba if the ban were lifted would produce an explosion of human contact that would overwhelm the ability of Cuban authorities to control it and inevitably liberalize Cuban society.

"Let the Castro brothers deal with spring break once or twice, and we'll see how much control they still have," Flake said.

Meanwhile, Flake and other lawmakers who want to remove travel restrictions stress that the political significance of the shift in attitudes among Cuban-Americans cannot be overestimated. The community's support today for lifting the restrictions contrasts sharply with the days when older, more conservative Cuban exiles, known as historicos, dominated the community and led demonstrations that called for even tougher policies toward Cuba.

"They used to have parades, and they would be shaking their fists and their voices would be trembling on street corners," recalled Frank J. Guarini Jr., a seven-term House Democrat from New Jersey who retired in 1992. He was succeeded by Menendez, who later was appointed to the Senate in 2006. "But today, the younger generation is not as emotionally involved with the issue as their parents and grandparents were."

Indeed, Marco Rubio, the 38-year-old Cuban-American running for the 2010 Republican nomination for an open Senate seat in Florida, isn't campaigning on the embargo at all. A campaign spokesman said Rubio, who was born in Miami, supports the embargo. But in Rubio's campaign appearances, "it just hasn't come up," the spokesman said.

Lugar, who wrote Obama earlier this year urging greater engagement with Havana, agrees that it is time for an overall change in U.S.-Cuba policy. "Our whole protocol of sanctions has not worked to bring down the Cuban government or modify the power of Cuba in any substantial way," he said.

Driving such calls for change, especially among Republicans, is the potential for increased trade. With all of the obstacles that have been put in the way, U.S. food and pharmaceutical sales to Cuba earned a paltry $712 million in 2008. But with a relaxation of travel and trade restrictions, that figure is bound to grow, Lugar says. "This is a very good time for public diplomacy," he said. "And it can occur very profitably for Americans though trade in food and medicine."

Another issue that could break in favor of free-travel advocates is the questionable legality of Obama's decision to change policy and permit Cuban-Americans to travel freely to Cuba while denying that right to others. "Obama has created a situation where there is one class of Americans that has no restrictions whatsoever, while the rest of us are still under Cold War restrictions," the Lexington Institute's Peters said. "That's a little hard to sustain."

Growing Concern on Right

Advocates for maintaining a tight embargo minimize the support that Delahunt and Flake have gathered for their bill. For example, Claver-Carone argues that the avowed supporters of the Delahunt measure are essentially the same lawmakers who supported a 2007 amendment to a five-year reauthorization of farm programs that would have relaxed Bush's restrictions on Cuban payments for U.S. food shipments. That amendment was rejected, 182-245. "All the cosponsors of the Delahunt bill are within that 182," Claver-Carone said. "So there are no new faces."

But a comparison of the names of the supporters of both measures suggests the pro-embargo crowd may be overly optimistic. While the numbers are roughly the same, Claver-Carone's claim doesn't acknowledge a number of freshman lawmakers who have signed on as cosponsors. Moreover, Flake says he has won the support of an unspecified number of lawmakers who had opposed earlier legislative bids to remove the Cuba travel restrictions. Because they don't want to advertise their change of heart, Flake said, they are not signing on as cosponsors and will quietly vote for it when it reaches the floor.

Quarterbacking opposition to lifting the travel ban is Menendez, who strongly believes that it remains an effective tool that denies badly needed dollars to the Castro regime.

"Sitting on a beach smoking a Cuban cigar or sipping a Cuba Libre doesn't promote democracy and human rights," the senator said. "I would say to those who say travel is the silver bullet to change the Castro regime, then why is it that the millions of visitors from all over Europe, Canada, Mexico and Latin America have not created one iota of democratic change or a greater respect for human rights inside of Cuba?"

In addition to his passion for the fight, Menendez also wields power with Obama as an important Democratic vote on such issues as a health care overhaul and with his colleagues in his role as one of the chief campaign strategist and fundraisers in the run-up to the 2010 midterm election as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Menendez has been able to attract generous donations from hard-liners in the Cuban-American community, a group that historically has directed most of its money to Republicans. According to a report coming out this month by Public Campaign, a nonpartisan campaign finance watchdog group, a Cuban-American financial network that opposes any weakening of trade and travel restriction on Cuba donated $145,700 to Menendez's campaign organization during the first eight months of this year - more than five times the amount raised from the pro-embargo network in 2006.

"That's a dramatic shift," said David Donnelly, Public Campaign's national campaign director. He said the shift in contributions to Democrats was evidence the group is worried it could lose this fight in the Senate.

And Dorgan has little doubt that if his bill, which now has 33 cosponsors, comes up for a vote, it will pass comfortably. "There is a critical mass now that understands the need to lift travel restrictions and move forward with a different strategy," he said. "I don't think this is going to be a razor-thin margin. Of course, our problem is getting it up on the floor."

That might actually be a big problem. Menendez has a strategic supporter in Reid, who is the gatekeeper for all legislation that reaches the floor. "Sen. Reid remains concerned about political freedoms and human rights in Cuba and continues to support the embargo," said Jim Manley, his chief spokesman. Manley declined to speculate whether Reid would bring up the free-travel bill. "He's always interested in hearing views of senators on this topic," he offered.

Dorgan and Enzi also may face trouble earlier in the legislative process. Their bill awaits action by the Foreign Relations Committee, whose chairman, Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry, hasn't made up his mind yet about how he will vote on it. Until then, said Kerry spokesman Frederick Jones, it is unclear when the committee will consider the bill.

Obama Hangs Back

Some advocates for lifting the travel restrictions fear that a lack of active support from the Obama administration may be hindering their effort.

"It's very disappointing," said Theodore Piccone, deputy director of foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution, which issued a report in April that recommended a U.S. policy of engagement toward Cuba that de-emphasizes the importance of public reciprocal gestures by Havana. Obama's insistence that the Castro regime publicly make concessions to the United States in return for Obama's lifting of travel and remittance restrictions on Cuban-Americans "gives Havana too much control in deciding the pace of change," Piccone said.

Philip Brenner, a Cuba expert at American University, warns the administration should not expect responses from Havana that would encourage Obama to put his weight behind the free-travel legislation.

"The Cuban government hasn't figured out how to deal with any influx of U.S. investment and tourists," said Brenner, who is allowed to visit Cuba as an academic. "They need investment and tourism. But they're desperately afraid that it will overwhelm them."

Already, he says, ordinary Cubans working as taxi drivers for foreign tourists earn more in a month than what a Cuban doctor earns. "So, young people are choosing to become taxi drivers instead of going to medical school and serving the greater good," Brenner said. "A million more American tourists will only further undermine the whole socialist idea of the government providing people with what they need."

Flake suggests that Cuba might resolve such problems by simply abandoning its communist system and adopting the free-market, democratic model. Meanwhile, he says, Americans should be free to travel wherever they want. "If someone is going to limit my travel, it should be a communist government, not the U.S. government," he said.

Lately, Flake has been appealing for congressional support of the free-travel bill by portraying it as a legislative stroke that knocks the ball into Havana's court. He recalls a visit to Cuba several years ago, when he says he half-seriously taunted Cuban officials by telling them of his plans to lift the travel ban. "And if you don't shape up, we'll lift the full embargo," he said he told them.

Congressional aides who focus on the Cuba question predict the House and Senate will pass some kind of legislation to relax the embargo. These aides also say it would be difficult for Obama to veto such a bill, given his repeated calls for greater engagement with the world. Others, including Piccone, say it appears that Obama may have carved out Cuba as an exception to that policy, leaving them baffled. "Engagement is what he campaigned on," he said. "And Cuba is the exception? Why?"

Piccone answers his own question, suggesting it probably has something to do with the politics of Obama's presumed campaign for a second term. He notes that Obama carried Florida last year without the support of the state's powerful Cuban-American community, but his political advisers are fearful he may not be able to repeat that trick in 2012. As a result, he says, they are advising him to keep his distance for now from the Cuba legislation.

Lugar agrees with this analysis. "Many people in his party are saying, 'Fair enough, Mr. President. Maybe put a toe in the water and see what a cautious approach leads to, what sort of reaction will there be from Cuban-Americans, the older types,'" he said. "So he's decided not to plunge into this wholesale, but rather very cautiously."

But Lugar has his own advice for the president. The bills that would lift travel and trade restrictions present the president "a good opportunity to get over a particular patch of history without knowing precisely what the Cuban reaction is going to be," he said. "But from our standpoint, we can be advocates for freer trade, for more human contact. This seems to me to be a good path for the president to take."


The Delahunt-Flake bill is HR 874; the Dorgan-Enzi bill is S 428; the Moran bill is HR 1737; the Baucus-Lugar bill is S 1089; the Rangel bill is HR 1531; Cuba trade, CQ Weekly, p. 1641; U.S. foreign policy, p. 898; trademark disputes with Cuba, p. 520; U.S.-Cuba relations, p. 457; agricultural exports allowed (PL 106-387), 2000 Almanac, p. 2-13; Cuba trade embargo becomes law (PL 104-114), 1996 Almanac, p. 9-6.

Source: CQ Weekly
The definitive source for news about Congress.
(c) 2009 Congressional Quarterly Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Boston University Conference on Cuba Travel

By Pooja Bachani

Published: Monday, November 9, 2009
The Daily Free Press, Boston University

The United States must lift the embargo and travel restrictions enacted in 1962 in order for Cuba to move forward, Cuban and American political leaders said.

Rep. Bill Delahunt, D-Mass., who commented by phone, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Senior Advisor Fulton Armstrong and Carl Meacham, senior foreign policy advisor to Sen. Richard Lugar discussed the fate of the U.S.-Cuba relationship at the School of Management Friday in a panel.

The panel was scheduled to include Senator John Kerry, D-Mass., who was not able to make it due to what Boston University international relations professor Susan Eckstein called “other commitments.” The attendance after the announcement dropped from about 80 to about 50 people and eventually dwindled to about 20.

“We would like to see a liberalization of the people to people exchange, but the current administration is responding very slowly,” Meacham said. “The process mirrors how air is let out of a balloon, very slowly.”

During former President George Bush’s second term, “travel regulations where tightened significantly, with additional restrictions on family visits and educational travel,” according to a Congressional Research Service for Congress report.

“Travel helps open the mind of people to new ideas and it is a great place to start,” Meacham said.

College of Arts and Sciences senior Cari Brennen said she agreed.

“The travel policy is a great place to start building better relations between U.S. and Cuba,” Brennen said. “I would love to go to Cuba from an academic prospective and as a tourist.”

“Lifting the travel restrictions will serve as a catalyst for deeper and further U.S. engagement and will accelerate the engagement process,” Delahunt said.

Delahunt said Congress is moving towards a new way to approach U.S. relations with Cuba.

“We expect a hearing of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the House of Representatives by Howard Berman where he will announce his support for legislation against the ban,” Delahunt said.

Delahunt attributes the slow pace to the Cold War mentality that still plagues Congress.

“I believe we are clearly heading towards a dramatically new relationship with Cuba,” Delahunt said. “We want to reconsider and normalize this relationship.”

Former Canadian Ambassador to Cuba Mark Entwistle said the U.S.-Cuba relationship has never been normal because of the overpowering trade relationship. When American businesses enter Cuba, they enter in a specific context that is loaded with layered history.

“American business leaders need to understand to pursue economic relations without touching on political terms because business in Cuba is highly politicized,” Entwistle said.

Though Delahunt labels himself as “cautiously optimistic” about dramatic policy change, Meacham does not see it in the near future as the Obama administration is facing many different issues at once.

“The challenges that the Obama administration is facing are pretty monumental,” Meacham said. “We have unemployment over 10 percent, health care, immigration and climate change.”

However, Meacham said once the issue is at the top of the agenda in the House, the Senate will follow.

“It is unlikely that the Senate will move towards reform in the short term, but once you get the House on board, the Senate will follow shortly hereafter,” Meacham said.

CAS senior Kelyn Rodriguez said she appreciated the panelists perspective, despite Kerry’s absence.
“I like that they mentioned economics and that they were trying to be unbiased and objective,” she said. “It’s understandable that he was busy, but I’m grateful Delahunt had the decency to call.”

Democratic Representatives Sign Anti-Travel Letter

Democratic Representatives who signed the letter and received donations from the hard line US-Cuba Democratcy PAC [2008 cycle, + = 2010 cycle to date,* = to "affiliate PAC"]

Ackerman, Gary (D-NY) $1,000+$1,000
Adler, John H (D-NJ) $2,500+$2,000
Altmire, Jason (D-PA) $8,000+$1,000
Andrews, Robert E (D-NJ)$7,000
Arcuri, Michael (D-NY) $5,000+$2,000
Baca, Joe (D-CA) $9,000+$2,500
Barrow, John (D-GA) $9,500+$1,000
Bean, Melissa (D-IL) $10,000+$1,000 *$2,500
Berkley, Shelley (D-NV) $5,000+$2,500
Boccieri, John A (D-OH) $2,000+$2,000
Boyd, Allen (D-FL) $1,000+$2,000 *$3,500
Braley, Bruce (D-IA) $8,000+$2,500
Carney, Chris (D-PA) $7,000
Chandler, Ben (D-KY) $5,000
Connolly, Gerry (D-VA) +$2,000
Cuellar, Henry (D-TX) $8,000
Donnelly, Joe (D-IN) $3,000+$1,000
Engel, Eliot L (D-NY) $7,500+$5,000
Foster, Bill (D-IL) $4,000+$1,000
Giffords, Gabrielle(D-AZ)$5,000+$1,000
Hare, Phil (D-IL) $9,000+$1,000 *$1,000
Hastings, Alcee L (D-FL)$4,000+$1,000
Higgins, Brian M (D-NY) $3,000
Hodes, Paul W (D-NH) $8,000
Kennedy, Patrick J(D-RI)$7,000
Kissell, Larry (D-NC) +$1,000
Klein, Ron (D-FL) $10,000
Kosmas, Suzanne (D-FL) +$4,000
Kratovil, Frank M (D-MD)+$1,000
Lipinski, Daniel (D-IL) +$1,000
Maffei, Dan (D-NY) $2,000+$1,000
Marshall, Jim (D-GA) $9,500
McIntyre, Mike (D-NC) $5,000
McMahon, Michael (D-NY) +$2,000
Meek, Kendrick B (D-FL) $5,000 *$4,000
Melancon, Charles (D-LA)$4,000
Miller, Brad (D-NC) $7,000+$1,000
Murphy, Patrick (D-PA) $10,000+$1,000
Murphy, Scott (D-NY)+ $1,000
Pallone, Frank (D-NJ) $4,500
Pascrell, Bill Jr (D-NJ)$2,000
Perlmutter, Edwin (D-CO)$3,000+$1,000
Rothman, Steven R (D-NJ)$1,000
Salazar, John (D-CO) $8,500
Schultz, Debbie W.(D-FL)$10,000*$10,000
Shuler, Heath (D-NC) $7,000
Sires, Albio (D-NJ) $10,000+$5,000
Skelton, Ike (D-MO) $2,000
Space, Zachary T (D-OH) $8,000+$1,000
Wexler, Robert (D-FL) $6,000
Wu, David (D-OR) $6,000+$1,000

Note: key organizer of the letter Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz "in the past two election cycles...received $22,000 from the committee, and members of the PAC's board of directors gave her another $29,000 in individual contributions, for a total of $51,000."

Democratic Representatives who signed the letter but did not receive PAC donations:

Grayson, Alan (D-FL)
Pierluisi, Pedro R. (Puerto Rico, non-voting)
Quigley, Mike (D-IL)

Democratic Representatives who received PAC donations and did not sign the letter (some because they are no longer Members of the House)

Berman, Howard L (D-CA) $5,000+$5,000
Boren, Dan (D-OK) $2,000
Bright, Bobby (D-AL) $1,000+$1,000
Brown, Corrine (D-FL) $5,000
Butterfield, G K (D-NC) $10,000
Cardoza, Dennis (D-CA) $1,000
Carmouche, Paul J (D-LA)$3,000
Carnahan, Russ (D-MO) $2,000+$1,000 *$1,000
Carson, Andre (D-IN) $8,000+$1,000
Castor, Kathy (D-FL) $2,000
Cazayoux, Donald (D-LA) $5,000
Childers, Travis W(D-MS)$1,000
Cleaver, Emanuel (D-MO) $1,000
Clyburn, James E (D-SC) $10,000 *$5,000
Dahlkemper, Kathleen (D-PA)+$2,000
Davis, Artur (D-AL) $5,000
Dingell, John D (D-MI) $1,000
Ellsworth, Brad (D-IN) $3,000
Etheridge, Bob (D-NC) $1,000
Gillibrand, Kirsten (D-NY)$9,000
Green, Gene (D-TX) $1,000+$1,000
Griffith, Parker (D-AL) +$1,000
Gutierrez, Luis V (D-IL)$1,000
Halvorson, Deborah (D-IL)$4,000+$1,000
Heinrich, Martin (D-NM) +$2,000
Hill, Baron (D-IN) $2,000
Holden, Tim (D-PA) $1,000
Hoyer, Steny H (D-MD) $6,000
Jones, Stephanie T (D-OH)$3,500
Kirkpatrick, Ann (D-AZ) $1,000+$3,000
Lantos, Tom (D-CA) $5,000
Lujan, Ben R (D-NM)+ $2,000
Mahoney, Tim (D-FL) $10,000
Maloney, Carolyn(D-NY) $1,000
Markey, Betsy (D-CO) +$1,000
Massa, Eric (D-NY) +$1,000
Michaud, Mike (D-ME) $1,000
Mollohan, Alan B (D-WV) $1,000
Murphy, Chris (D-CT) $2,000
Murtha, John P (D-PA) $1,000
Obey, David R (D-WI) $5,000
Ortiz, Solomon P (D-TX) $1,000
Payne, Donald M (D-NJ) $2,500
Peterson, John E (R-PA) $1,000
Reyes, Silvestre (D-TX) $1,000
Rodriguez, Ciro D (D-TX)$2,000
Ryan, Tim (D-OH) $2,000
Schauer, Mark (D-MI)+ $1,000
Schiff, Adam (D-CA) $6,000
Schrader, Kurt (D-OR) $1,000+$2,000
Sestak, Joseph A (D-PA) $1,000
Sherman, Brad (D-CA) $8,500
Stender, Linda D (D-NJ) $3,000
Sutton, Betty Sue (D-OH)$1,000
Wilson, Charlie (D-OH) $4,000+$1,000
Trauner, Gary (D-WY) $1,000
Walz, Timothy J (D-MN) $1,000
Teague, Harry (D-NM) +$1,000

Monday, October 26, 2009

Cuba Central on the Embargo Vote

[On October 28th], the United Nations General Assembly is expected to vote on a resolution condemning the United States embargo against Cuba.

If past is prologue, it will pass resoundingly. The General Assembly has adopted similar measures in each of the last seventeen years; in 2008, by a margin of 185-3. But that was a condemnation of an embargo enforced, energetically and unapologetically, by the administration of George W. Bush. The vote this year takes place for the first time on President Obama's watch, and so has special significance.

The Secretary-General has prepared a public report that catalogues what UN members and UN organizations say about the embargo. That report can be downloaded here.

This document is a powerful reminder that the U.S. embargo is viewed internationally with great seriousness and in ways that are deeply damaging to U.S. interests and our image overseas.

Lest anyone think this policy is only provocative to nations in the non-aligned world, its opponents include Australia, Brazil, China, Colombia, Egypt, the European Union, India, Japan, Mexico, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Russia.

They are plain-spoken in their opposition. Australia reminds us it votes "consistently" against the embargo. Brazil says it is the "Cuban people who suffer the most from the blockade." China says the embargo "serves no purpose other than to keep tensions high between two neighboring countries and inflict tremendous hardship and suffering on the people of Cuba, especially women and children." Egypt and India condemn the extra-territorial reach of our sanctions, which Japan says run "counter to the provisions of international law." Mexico calls these measures coercive. Russia "rejects" the embargo. Nations across the planet have enacted laws making it illegal for their companies to comply.

Our policy is especially controversial in our own hemisphere, where the U.S. alone is without diplomatic relations with Cuba, and where forum after forum - including the Rio Group, the Ibero-American Summit, the Heads of State of Latin America and the Caribbean, and CARICOM -has rejected the embargo and called for its repeal.

Beyond our diplomatic interests, the report forces us to move beyond the stale, political debate in which the embargo is most often framed (where every problem on the island is blamed on either Cuba's system or U.S. policy) and to confront the significant injuries this policy inflicts on ordinary Cubans.

It reminds us:

The embargo stops Cuba from obtaining diagnostic equipment or replacement parts for equipment used in the detection of breast, colon, and prostate cancer.
The embargo stops Cuba from obtaining patented materials that are needed for pediatric cardiac surgery and the diagnosis of pediatric illnesses.

The embargo prevents Cuba from purchasing antiretroviral drugs for the treatment of HIV-AIDS from U.S. sources of the medication.

The embargo stops Cuba from obtaining needed supplies for the diagnosis of Downs' Syndrome.

Under the embargo, Cuba cannot buy construction materials from the nearby U.S. market to assist in its hurricane recovery.

While food sales are legal, regulatory impediments drive up the costs of commodities that Cuba wants to buy from U.S. suppliers, and forces them in many cases to turn to other more expensive and distant sources of nutrition for their people.

Because our market is closed to their goods, Cuba cannot sell products like coffee, honey, tobacco, live lobsters and other items that would provide jobs and opportunities for average Cubans.

This list, abbreviated for space, is actually much longer, more vivid and troubling, as the report documents case after case of how our embargo affects daily life in Cuba. And for what reason? Because it will someday force the Cuban government to dismantle its system? As a bargaining chip? These arguments have proven false and futile over the decades and what the UN has been trying to tell us since 1992 is that they should be abandoned along with a policy that has so outlived its usefulness.

And yet, it is now the Obama administration supporting and enforcing the embargo - still following Bush-era rules that thwart U.S. agriculture sales; still levying stiff penalties for violations of the regulations; still stopping prominent Cubans from visiting the United States; still refusing to use its executive authority to allow American artists, the faith community, academics, and other proponents of engagement and exchange to visit Cuba as representatives of our country and its ideals.

To his credit, President Obama has taken some useful steps to change U.S. policy toward Cuba. He repealed the cruel Bush administration rules on family travel that divided Cuban families. He joined efforts by the OAS to lift Cuba's suspension from that organization. He has opened a direct channel of negotiations with Cuba's government on matters that include migration, resuming direct mail service, and relaxing the restrictions that Cuban and U.S. diplomats face in doing their jobs in each of our nation's capitals.

This is a start, but more - much more - needs to be done. Not because the UN says so, but because our country needs to embrace the world not as we found it in 1959 - or in 2008 - but as it exists today. President Obama can do this. Our times demand that he do so.

From the Cuba Central Newsblast of October 23, 2009
Center for Democracy in the Americas

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Obstacles to Normalizing Telecommunications

Cuba: No deal with US telecoms

Cuba rebuffs key Obama initiative that would have opened the island to better cell phone and internet service.

By Nick Miroff

Published: October 18, 2009 17:11 ET
Updated: October 19, 2009 09:01 ET

HAVANA, Cuba — For years, U.S. mobile phone companies and internet providers have been banned from doing business with Cuba, further isolating one of the least-connected countries in the hemisphere.

So when the Obama administration loosened those restrictions earlier this year, it looked like a tech surge was in store for the communist-ruled island. But after months of silence, Cuba seems to be saying no thanks.

Other outstanding trade and legal grievances need to be resolved before American telecommunications companies are granted access, a Cuban telecom official said Saturday, in a statement that appeared to rebuff one of the Obama administration’s key Cuba policy initiatives.

The White House announced in April that it would provide exemptions from long-standing U.S. sanctions against Cuba’s communist government, so that companies like Verizon, Sprint and AT&T could bring better phone and internet service to the island to “promote the freer flow of information.”

But the Castro government exerts strict control over the island’s communication networks, and American companies would have to reach a deal with the government’s telecom monopoly, ETECSA.

Months passed without a response to Obama’s proposal. But during an official government newscast Saturday, ETECSA international operations director Vivian Iglesias said there were two major obstacles to such a partnership: some $160 million in frozen funds that the U.S. government seized from ETECSA in 2000, and trade restrictions imposed by the 1992 Cuban Democracy Act, which forces Cuba to pay U.S. companies through third countries, incurring additional transaction fees.

“It may seem like the Obama administration has expanded communication possibilities,” said Iglesias. “But we know that unless restrictions like the (Cuban Democracy Act) and others that have been tightened since 1992 don’t change, there can’t be any normal communication.”

Iglesias’ statements were a reminder that a firewall of mistrust remains between two countries split by 50 years of hostile relations and emotional politics.

Previous agreements between U.S. telecom companies and ETECSA went sour in the late 1990s, when U.S. legislators ordered ETECSA’s funds seized as payment to Cuban American families who won a wrongful death judgment against the Castro government after four pilots from a Cuban exile group were shot down in a 1996 dispute.

Iglesias said that money was “stolen” from ETECSA, and hasn’t been paid back.

“The causes that led to the theft of our funds are still in place,” she said. “If those restrictions don’t change, that prevents direct communication between the United States and Cuba.”