Monday, April 19, 2010

Business Letter Supporting Ag and Travel Legislation

April 13, 2010

The Honorable Collin C. Peterson
U.S. House of Representatives
2211 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515-2307

Re: H.R. 874, To Allow Travel Between the United States and Cuba

Dear Congressman Peterson:

We write to express our strong support for H.R. 874, which would remove restrictions on U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba.

The United States should immediately remove travel restrictions and allow Americans to act as ambassadors of freedom and American values to Cuba. From farmers and manufacturers to human rights and religious groups, as well as a large and growing number of Cuban Americans,the American people recognize the unfairness and incongruity of restricting travel to Cuba. It is simply wrong that American citizens cannot travel freely to Cuba but are not restricted by the
United States from traveling to places like North Korea and Iran.

Current policies towards Cuba have clearly not achieved their objectives. Without the support of our allies and the larger international community, U.S. sanctions serve only to remove the positive influences that American businesses, workers, religious groups, students and tourists have in promoting U.S. values and human rights. Sanctions are also blunt instruments that generally harm the poorest people of the target country rather than that country’s leaders.

This is certainly true of the U.S. ban on travel to Cuba. The United States continues to lose influence by voluntarily isolating its citizens from Cuba. Far from providing leverage, U.S. policies threaten to make the United States virtually irrelevant to the future of the island.

We support the complete removal of all trade and travel restrictions on Cuba, and believe that Congress has a unique opportunity to take a step forward to end nearly 50 years of isolation from the Cuban people by passing H.R. 874. We urge your support for this important piece of legislation. Continuation of the status quo could leave the United States isolated from the Cuban people for another generation.


Coalition of Service Industries
Emergency Committee for American Trade
Interactive Travel Services Association
National Foreign Trade Council
National Retail Federation
Organization for International Investment
U.S. Chamber of Commerce
U.S. Council for International Business

Rep. Mike Honda Op Ed Calling for End of Embargo

Time to lift the embargo on Cuba

Few know that Cuba, infamous for its socialism, cigars and salsa, was recently the United States' largest rice export market and is the fifth largest export market in Latin America for U.S. farm exports. Cuba holds $20 billion in trade with America over a three-year term. Our economy could benefit mightily from better relations, yet we alienate this potential ally.

When I traveled to Cuba with a congressional delegation, it became clear that the embargo is imprudent politically, economically and socially. Everyone we met with -- U.S. and Cuban government officials, trade organizations, journalists, cultural attachés, foreign diplomats and rural farmers -- confirmed this point.

Politically, now that Latin America stands beside Cuba -- as evidenced by diplomatic reinstatements with holdouts El Salvador and Costa Rica -- and the reintegration of Cuba into the Organization for American States and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CLACS) -- the United States risks ruinous relations with countries who see the blockade as backward. The United States is already marginalized: CLACS explicitly bars U.S. participation.

The impact of this Latin tack towards insularity is not insignificant. Consider grandstanding by Brazil's President Lula da Silva, who rebuffed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's efforts to bring Brazil in on Iran sanctions while courting Cuba's leadership. Lula, capitalizing on Cuba's appetite for growth, proposed investments in industrial, agriculture and infrastructure projects, including ports and hotels, and an agreement with Brazil's oil company.

We will see more of this. The Cubans are seeking suitors. Like the Bank of the South, Latin America's attempt to wean countries off U.S. institutions like the World Bank, the longer we keep Cuba at arm's length, the more likely Brazil and others will take our place. The longer we keep Cuba listed as a state sponsor of terrorism, an allegation roundly criticized by diplomats, the more we risk the credibility of our national security regime and reputation in the region.

Economically, the case for cooperation is even clearer. Despite the trade embargo, there is some engagement. Cuba continues to be reliant on U.S. agriculture. Since 2002, we have been Cuba's largest supplier of food and agricultural products, with Cuba purchasing more than $3.2 billion worth of products since 2001.

This agricultural reliance is in jeopardy, which puts American farmers at risk. In 2008, U.S. food imports to Cuba totaled $712 million, declined to $533 million last year and are declining this year. Cuba, having witnessed strong economic growth in the early 2000s at 11 and 13 percent, is now struggling to make ends meet, slipping below 2 percent in 2009. Beyond foodstuffs, other natural resources offer potential for partnership. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates nine billion barrels of oil are available in Cuba, plus an estimated nine billion cubic meters of natural gas. The Cuban government cites higher oil numbers, at 20 billion barrels. Either way, there's money to be made, and Cubans welcome participation. While the United States disengages, countries like Brazil, Russia, Venezuela and China are talking. We are clearly missing investment opportunities.

Socially, Cubans emphatically embrace the cultural convergences between our countries. Their love of music, art, dance, history and architecture is ubiquitous, drawing 2.5 million tourists annually to Cuba, 800,000 of which are Canadian. If the travel ban was lifted, two million Americans are expected to travel there immediately, and ultimately growing to four million. This is hardly surprising. Havana retains the Caribbean's largest, oldest, and best-preserved Spanish colonial architecture. The city's charm is intoxicating.

We should expand cooperation on education, medicine, science and sports through nonpolitical, people-to-people exchanges. The U.S. president has the authority to return the rules for academic, science, religious and other ``purposeful travel'' so that exchange can flourish again. This is how we rebuild relations.

None of this negates the sobering negatives characterizing U.S.-Cuba relations. Cubans remain poor, irrespective of education (at nearly 100 percent literacy) and healthcare (everyone is covered, for everything). The government is inadequately serving the population, and there is a palpable, public rethink surfacing within society, from government officials to academics to farmers. Reform is coming, though not as soon as, or in the form, the United States prefers.

America's annual $60 million in democracy-building, which is covertly distributed for explicitly stated regime change, exacerbates the problem by goading the government, jeopardizing the safety of reformers and marginalizing the U.S. Interests Section there. The American penchant for positioning Cuba-related communiqués as primarily human-rights reprimands resonates rankly as an inconsistent singling out.

Amid the acrimony, the United States and Cuba are cautiously coordinating on areas of mutual interest, like migration, counter-narcotics and disaster preparedness. The United States must build on this sooner rather than later, before others opt in while we opt out.

Cuba is not the enemy. She may frustrate the American proclivity for democracy promotion, but her behavior is nothing near as nefarious as U.S. allies elsewhere. The time to engage is now. Cubans are increasingly confabbing about reform while we sideline ourselves from the conversation.

Michael Honda is a U.S. congressman from the 15th District in California.

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Monday, April 12, 2010

Secretary of State at University of Louisville

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
University of Louisville
Louisville, KY
April 9, 2010

QUESTION: Thank you, Senator Clinton. Given the fact that probably the Cuban missile crisis may be the greatest example of a deterrent, that’s been almost 50 years ago. Is there any talk within the Department of maybe normalizing relationships with Cuba?

SECRETARY CLINTON: That’s a really – that’s a topic of conversation a lot. I don’t think that there is any question that, at some point, the people of Cuba should have democratically elected leaders and should have a chance to chart their own future. But unfortunately, I don’t see that happening while the Castros are still in charge. And so what President Obama has done is to create more space, more family travel, more business opportunities to sell our farm products or for our telecom companies to compete dealing with common issues that we have with Cuba like migration or drug trafficking. In fact, during the height of the terrible catastrophe in Haiti because of the earthquake, we actually helped some of the Cuban doctors get medical supplies who were already operating there.

So there are ways in which we’re trying to enhance our cooperation. But it is my personal belief that the Castros do not want to see an end to the embargo and do not want to see normalization with the United States, because they would then lose all of their excuses for what hasn’t happened in Cuba in the last 50 years. And I find that very sad, because there should be an opportunity for a transition to a full democracy in Cuba. And it’s going to happen at some point, but it may not happen anytime soon.

And just – if you look at any opening to Cuba, you can almost chart how the Castro regime does something to try to stymie it. So back when my husband was president and he was willing to make overtures to Cuba and they were beginning to open some doors, Castro ordered the – his military to shoot down these two little unarmed planes that were dropping pamphlets on Cuba that came from Miami. And just recently, the Cubans arrested an American who was passing out information and helping elderly Cubans communicate through the internet, and they’ve thrown him in jail. And they recently let a Cuban prisoner die from a hunger strike. So it’s a dilemma.

And I think for the first time, because we came in and said, look, we’re willing to talk and we’re willing to open up, and we saw the way the Cubans responded. For the first time, a lot of countries that have done nothing but berate the United States for our failure to be more open to Cuba have now started criticizing Cuba because they’re letting people die. They’re letting these hunger strikers die. They’ve got 200 political prisoners who are there for trivial reasons. And so I think that many in the world are starting to see what we have seen a long time, which is a very intransigent, entrenched regime that has stifled opportunity for the Cuban people, and I hope will begin to change and we’re open to changing with them, but I don’t know that that will happen before some more time goes by (Applause.)