President Obama and Ricardo Zuniga
Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs
National Security Council
President Obama took such an historic and heroic step on December 17th when he announced the normalization of relations with Cuba that it feels ungrateful to be critical of the implementation of his policy last week.
You can see my analysis of the travel part of the new regulations from the Office of Foreign Assetts Control (OFAC) here.
Ironically, after the initial announcement I spent a lot of time trying to convince the media that they were understating the sea change wrought by the White House, The best story was by Mimi Whitefield in the Miami Herald.
I got some of it right, the end of the special status of People to People licenses and of Travel Service Providers. However, I apparently misinterpreted the official announcement (fact sheet here, Presidential speech here.)
General licenses will be made available for all authorized travelers in the following existing categories: (1) family visits; (2) official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; (3) journalistic activity; (4) professional research and professional meetings; (5) educational activities; (6) religious activities; (7) public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; (8) support for the Cuban people; (9) humanitarian projects; (10) activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; (11) exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials; and (12) certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines.
"Educational activities" includes people to people, so it seemed clear that people to people would encompass a general license for individuals, those who do the actual traveling.
Instead, by the time the regulations came from OFAC on January 15th, the bold promise had shrunk to a general license only for the organizations that send travelers -- not for the travelers themselves.
Authorized trips are expected to be led by the organization and to have a full-time schedule of activities in which the travelers will participate
President Obama’s press conference on Cuba today was rooted in the facts (our policy hasn’t worked), grounded by moral imperative (we shouldn’t try to push the Cuban people toward their own economic collapse) and guided by pragmatism (greater openness is good for both our peoples).
Today, the president announced that that the U.S. will take steps to re-establish diplomatic relations. He plans to reopen a U.S. Embassy in Havana, and to send high level officials to the island, both of which will go a long way to addressing U.S. interests more directly and urgently than we’ve been able to do in more than 50 years. (The Canadian government hosted talks between the U.S. and Cuba and even Pope Francis played an instrumental role in brokering the deal.) And, the president announced that he will direct Secretary of State John Kerry to examine Cuba’s presence on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism. Here President Obama emphasized he should be guided by “the facts and the law,” both of which plainly point to Cuba being removed from the terrorism list this spring. (There is an abundance of information on this point, but one quick starting point would be the terrorism section of this report I authored in 2009.)
I know what you're wondering: how can President Obama have announced such a dramatic new policy toward Cuba today when there is a sweeping embargo on the island that was actually codified into law by the 1996 Helms-Burton Act? Very simple: because Helms-Burton codified a collection of regulations on commerce with Cuba (which included expenses incident to travel) that had been put in place by President Kennedy, and modified over time by later presidents. It codified the regulation of commerce, but it left intact each president's authority to tighten or loosen those regulations.
President George W. Bush used his presidential authority to tighten, and even to loosen, various regulations, including those dealing with travel, remittances and technology transfer (cell phones). President Obama used that same authority to loosen regulations on Cuban Americans' travel to the island 5 years ago. No one questioned his authority to do this; rather, a discussion ensued over whether the Cuban American community would punish him for the move. In fact, the community responded with unprecedented support; voting both with their feet, traveling to the island, and in the voting booth, where a record number - half - of Cuban Americans voted for a Democrat for president in 2012.
Progresso Weekly has published an optimistic assessment of how Charlie Crist can regain the governorship of Florida as a Democrat, an important contest for Americans who want more rational relations with Cuba.
It is worth considering whether a breakthrough by President Obama with Havana could help by demonstrating that Crist's call for a new approach to Cuba was realistic and relevant. Obvious White House options are opening travel with a general license for all purposeful travelers, not just Cuban Americans; movement toward normal relations; and suspending anti-private enterprise aspects of the embargo.
Raul Castro, Barack Obama, Bob Menendez, Marco Rubio, Ileana Ros-Lehtinenm, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Mario Diaz-Balart or Joe Garcia?
All of the above!!!! But especially the last six.
"I've never seen Alan in such bad shape during all the years that the Cuban government has kept him," [Judy Gross] said in a statement. "Our daughter, Nina, was unprepared to see how gaunt and physically frail her father has become. And his decision to say goodbye to us was wrenching."......attorney Scott Gilbert said. "He's lost most of the vision in his right eye. His hips are failing and he can barely walk. He has stopped all attempts to exercise. Alan's emotional deterioration has been severe, and his mother's lingering and painful death has only accelerated this."
Alan went to Cuba on behalf of our government. His immediate release from prison in Cuba and return to the U.S. must be a priority for our nation. Indeed, we believe this is a moral imperative. Our communities are gravely concerned that Alan continues to languish in a Cuban prison nearly five years after his arrest.We ask, with all respect, that you take whatever steps are necessary to ensure a prompt end to Alan’s, and his family’s, continuing nightmare.
The Presidents of Russia, India, Brazil, China and South Africa
at the BRICS meeting in Brazil
The visits of the leaders of Russia and China to Cuba prompted a fair amount of media attention. One long time analyst asked me whether such outside support would make it less likely Cuba could reach an understanding with the US.
I consulted with knowledgeable friends in Havana who shared my view that this would not be a factor.
Cuba's reasons for seeking mutually respectful, i.e. non-interventionist, relations remain the same. Russian and Chinese trade and assistance will help growth, but they cannot overcome US damage to Cuba's economy from the embargo and interference with European banks. Russia and China also cannot remove the stultifying impact on domestic politics of constant meddling and regime change pressures by the omnipresent neighbor. They have worth as diplomatic tokens in bilateral negotiations but probably are not as important as the pressure on Washington from countries in the Hemisphere in the run-up to the Summit of the Americas, as reported by Xinhua, but ignored in the US media.
The majority of country delegations attending the 44th general assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) [in Montevideo] agreed Thursday [June 5] that Cuba should take part in the regional bloc's next summit to be held in Panama next year...At a meeting of the bloc's Summit Implementation Review Group ( GRIC), Panamanian* Foreign Affairs Minister Francisco Alvarez De Soto proposed Cuba be invited to attend the summit.
A report that Russia will reopen a Havana base that eavesdropped on U.S. communications from Key West to Washington has triggered fresh warnings of Moscow’s expansionism and predictions of a continued freeze in U.S.-Cuba relations.
State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki declined comment Wednesday on the Kommersant report, saying that neither Moscow nor Cuba had confirmed it. “I would … naturally have nothing to add on alleged Russian intelligence facilities,” she said.
The Foreign Policy blog ran a provocative essay on July 1st by Dr. Stephen Walt, Professor of International Relations at Harvard University, "Democracy, Freedam and Apple Pie Aren't a Foreign Policy" which can be read here. It has provoked a number of thoughtful as well as knee jerk comments. My own follows, hopefully the former:
President Jose Mujica of Uruguay Meets with President Obama at the White House
A just issued letter to President Obama does not go as far as it might, but because of the VIP character of the signers it is a significant step in the process of inducing the White House to finally move forward. http://www.supportcubancivilsociety.org/
Its policy recommendations, with those I find especially interesting underlined:
Expand and safeguard travel to Cuba for all Americans
Advisers to the White House on faith-based issues, including ones involving the Catholic Church, said the two may discuss topics such as the U.S.-led Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and the pope’s May visit to the Holy Land, the U.S. embargo of Cuba, Syria and the plight of religious minorities around the world.