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.