Missing Opportunities, But Still Momentum
Demonstration against Supreme Court inaction on the Cuban 5 at USINT in Havana
Two recent events have demonstrated that key leaders in Cuba and the US are determined to create a new more rational relationship where differences are accepted if not approved (as with other nations that have non-American values and systems of government).
At the same time, both countries contain powerful forces that are psychologically and politically committed to the status quo. Whether they are fearful of losing the current and potential power the present impasse affords them or of giving opportunities to still hostile adversaries, they must be patiently listened to and then ignored for relations to improve.
Most recently, the President of CubaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s National Assembly, Ricardo Alarcon, expressed profound disappointment that the Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal of the Cuban 5 (spies to us, national heroes to them) but made clear this would not derail efforts to improve bilateral relations.
in Havana, the head of Cuba's parliament said the Supreme Court's decision won't jeopardize negotiations with Washington, even though the Cuban government considers the denied appeal ``a great insult.''
Similarly US officials have confirmed that the case of alleged espionage by Kendall and Gwendolyn Myers will not short-circuit diplomatic progress, despite predictable exploitation of the incident by opponents of change.
''I'm surprised State is still pushing for a hasty reinstatement of the talks,'' Florida Sen. Mel Martinez said. ``There are legitimate concerns about the extent of the recent espionage uncovered by the FBI. What's the rush to conduct talks with the Cuban regime when we still don't have a full damage assessment of the regime's covert efforts?''
However, I must admit to personal frustration with the overcautious approach on both sides to available practical and substantive steps forward.
The US has liberalized considerably its policy of granting visas for Cubans to come here for academic, cultural and professional reasons but oddly still refuses to remove Bush era bureaucratic obstacles to similar trips by Americans to Cuba.
Cuba readily issues visas to Americans for tourism through travel agents and at airport counters but not for more meaningful Ã¢â‚¬Å“officialÃ¢â‚¬Â encounters. (The latter visa is virtually indispensable for meetings with persons in the state sector, including professors, professional counterparts and government administrators.)
Cuba could also afford to be a bit more generous with exit visas, especially for students admitted to non-political US educational programs. (Hopefully when Congress with Presidential support ends all travel restrictions for Americans, Cuba will respond by terminating the requirement of a Ã¢â‚¬Ëœwhite cardÃ¢â‚¬Â for departing Cubans.)
Most amenable to influence by the American people is the Obama administrationÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s postponement of granting licenses for unrestricted travel for educational, religious, humanitarian, cultural, sports and other people-to-people visits.
It has been more than two months since the President reaped overwhelming domestic and international approval by ordering unlimited travel and remittances for Cuban Americans. Yet the implementation regulations have still not been issued by OFAC. Nor have we seen the educational travel that key foreign policy adviser Denis McDonough embraced on behalf of candidate Obama at the NAFSA conference in Washington a year ago, foreclosing summer and fall programs.
A growing number of Americans are voting with their feet and ignoring illegitimate and unenforceable travel restrictions. Pastors for Peace, the Venceremos Brigade and the US/Cuba Labor Exchange will return from Cuba in early August, having once again undertaken public civil disobedience for humanitarian or solidarity reasons. These are important symbolic actions, but are a drop in the bucket of unlicensed travel which is estimated to be around 40,000 persons a year.
The Obama administration finally needs to decide whether it or Senator Bob Menendez is in charge of Cuba policy. Menendez channels on Cuba the reactionary Republican Jesse Helms, rather than the progressive Democrat he is on other issues. He notoriously held up the supplemental appropriations bill for days, a politically costly tantrum that alienated Senate colleagues and the Administration, because of minor Cuba family and agricultural export provisions.
Menendez is also reported to have blocked educational and other non-tourist provisions from the announcement of family remittances and travel. His threat to cut US funding to the OAS pushed the Secretary of State into a potentially embarrassing misinterpretation of the OAS Cuba resolution. He held up confirmation of two key science advisers and apparently is against the appointment of Cuban American Carlos Pascual to be ambassador to Mexico. (PascualÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s sin was co-chairing a Brookings Institution project that proposed a creative road map for relations with Cuba.)
A certain amount of impatience is now deserved, especially from Obama supporters, who expected far more than they have gotten to date on change with Cuba.
Tens of thousand of people have signed the Orbitz travel petition to the President and Congress. It takes less than a minute here
The Office of Public Engagement needs to receive messages on its web site from lots more of us that the President must allow non-tourist travel without further delay and support legislation to end all restrictions.
A travel flyer can be downloaded here for local printing and distribution.