October 2008

Bush Administration Bogs Down Hurricane Assistance

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Richard Walden and I go back a long way. We worked together to send the first air shipment of private US aid to Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge were routed by the Vietnamese--Thanksgiving 1979.

He had recently founded a rambunctious humanitarian medical aid group called Operation California, and I was director of the Indochina Peace Education Program at the Quaker led American Friends Service Committee.

Fast forward thirty years, and we are both still at it, but now for Cuba, Richard with his renamed Operation USA, and me with the Fund for Reconciliation and Development.

A common thread over three decades is the obscurantism of the Federal bureaucracy, and in particular the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the Treasury Department, and its counterpart in the Commerce Department, which use every trick in their book to do the bidding of their political masters. (Richard notes that the key people in the State Department who initially blocked his licensing for Vietnam and Cambodia were Dick Holbrooke and John Negroponte, at the time Assistant and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Asia.)

In his speech at the General Assembly on Wednesday, the US representative made a big deal of our willingness to help Cuba recover from hurricane damage during his fruitless effort to avoid another humiliating defeat. The reality is more accurately reflected in the account from Richard that follows.

His story drives home the point that if an Obama Administration wants to open a new more rational relationship with Cuba, an essential bureaucratic task is to reform OFAC. A simple first step is to direct it and the Commerce Department to immediately issue a general license for hurricane related help through personal contributions by any American to Cuban family members and friends and for assistance from any recognized US non-governmental organization.

At the end Richard refers to an upcoming fund raiser for hurricane relief featuring Jackson Browne in Santa Monica on November 29th

Jackson’s latest album includes the theme song for the Cuba travel movement, as performed for Colbert Nation:

--John McAuliff
A personal report on how hard it is to help, thanks to the embargo…

I’m just back from Cuba and drove thru Pinar Del Rio, one of the hardest hit provinces from the recent hurricanes.

The need for material “solidarityâ€Â is serious and, as usual, US Government agencies are obstructing rather than facilitating aid.

Operation USA has a Treasury license for travel/monitoring to Cuba to survey distribution of Commerce-licensed humanitarian aid, up to $1.4 million to Havana pediatric hospitals. Hurricane aid requires at least two new licenses. We are sending water purification tablets purchased in Ireland from a major supplier to the UN and NGOs globally. We were promised a quick turnaround by OFAC over a month ago…BUT things have slowed down.

First, we were asked if the water purification tablets have any US supplied component. It turns out the chlorine sold to the Irish company comes from a US chemical company, and that takes us from the realm of just spending cash overseas (via OFAC authority) to trying to estimate what percentage of the final product is US related. OFAC asked us to get a Commerce license for the re-export of the 40% of each tablet which appears to be US supplied to the manufacturer. They actually insisted we get the company to state exactly what percent and what dollar value of each pill is US made. [No company would ever break down for you the percent which is their profit, packaging, raw materials, etc.]

Then Commerce gleefully informed us they can no longer accept paper or faxed license applications as of October. Applications must be electronically filled out and sent BUT each company must have a unique identifying corporate number assigned by Commerce as well as a PIN number for each staff person applying for a license. This goes to a different part of Commerce’s huge bureaucracy and they took three weeks to give us an identifying number and PINS for our staff.

Now, we have the electronic license application in front of us but it requires street addresses for every recipient in Cuba. As we are buying two million tablets which will be distributed in 50 to100 tablet amounts, this is silly. Even getting exact street addresses for six Cuban hospitals in Pinar Del Rio is difficult as Latin American addresses are often squishy.
The Commerce guys also just informed us that they have to send the completed application to the State Dept for review…a one month process.

As we are holding a major Cuba fund raiser in late November in Los Angeles, we may have significant new money to spend for or in Cuba. The US government agencies require specific project budgets for each project even if we are not sending cash to Cuba.

And on and on.

Richard Walden
President and CEO
Operation USA
www.opusa.org

America's Wrong-Headedness on Cuba

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When I find myself nodding in agreement with about 75% of what Jorge Mas Santos, the Chairman of the Cuban American National Foundation, is saying in a critique of George W. Bush's wrong-headed US-Cuba policy, I know the world is changing and sense that South Florida politics may be undergoing a sea change.

I don't agree with Mas' views on regime change in Cuba, but this essay blasts John McCain for status quo-ism and embraces Obama's "flexibility" in thinking through how to turn away from failed policies.

And Sarah Stephens, Director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, has an outstanding piece out today on the human costs of the anachronistic, failed, but painful embargo which most of the world strongly criticizes.

Here is a piece of her Huffington Post essay:

UN Members are now digesting a report compiled by the Secretary-General that measures the impact of our sanctions in chilling detail.

The embargo hurts Cuba's health care system. Last year, it forced Cuban children with heart conditions to wait for needed operations because a US-based firm, Boston Scientific, has refused - as it must, under U.S. law - to sell needed devices to Cuba's William Soler Pediatric Hospital. It prevented the purchase of spare parts for diagnostic equipment used in cancer detection, and delayed the delivery of 3 million syringes for vaccinations against communicable diseases. It forced Cuban medical authorities to buy antiretroviral drugs from secondary suppliers in grey markets, at significantly higher prices - straining an already thin public health budget.

The embargo also takes food off the table in Cuban homes, by blocking the government's access to imported seeds, fertilizers, and spare parts for farm machinery, and by imposing exotic payment rules that add tens of millions of dollars to its bill for importing food from overseas.

In other words, the sanctions we aim at Cuba's government actually hit and hurt the health and diet of the Cuban people instead.

But the embargo is more than a bilateral matter between Cuba's government and ours. US law reaches companies and countries across the globe in an effort to bend their policy to our will, rallying the rest of the world to Cuba's side

Brazil calls our policy a violation of international law. Mexico condemns the embargo as an abandonment of diplomacy. Colombia, our closest ally in the region, says of the US embargo "this kind of action should stop." The European Union, now negotiating directly with Cuba on human rights, objects to the extra-territorial reach of our sanctions. China calls on us to negotiate our differences directly with Cuba. Russia - without a trace of irony - refers to the embargo as "a remnant of the cold war."

It is no wonder that last year's sanctions vote went against America 184-4. Only Israel, Palau, and the Marshall Islands stood with us. Every one of our European allies, Canada, Japan and Australia, and nearly all of Latin America (save El Salvador, which was absent) deserted us. It will happen again this year. Already, close to one-hundred fifty countries filed statements with the Secretary General for this year's debate that bear witness to our isolation.

The funny thing about Israel voting with us on the embargo is that Israeli interests are managing citrus groves in Cuba.

-- Steve Clemons publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note

Hialeah Dirty Tricks

Whether its declaring Cuba a state sponsor of terror, disenfranchising thousands of voters, or consorting with federally-convicted terrorists, politics in South Florida are full of sharp elbows and illicit activity. So it is little surprise to see this report come out of Hialeah, Florida, home of a large Cuban American population: the dirty tricks brigade are starting up operations in South Florida. From the Miami Herald via Politico.com:

"Three Hialeah voters say they had an unusual visitor at their homes last week: a man who called himself Juan, offering to help them fill out their absentee ballots and deliver them to the elections office. p> "The voters, all supporters of Democratic congressional candidate Raul Martinez, said they gave their ballots to the man after he told them he worked for Martinez. But the Martinez campaign said he doesn't work for them.

"Juan ''told me not to worry, that they normally collected all the ballots and waited until they had a stack big enough to hand-deliver to the elections department,'' said voter Jesus Hernandez, 73. 'He said, `Don't worry. This is not going to pass through the mail to get lost.' ''

"Hernandez said he worries his ballot was stolen or destroyed. He and two other voters told The Miami Herald that the man was dispatched by a woman caller who also said she worked for Martinez. But the phone number cited by the voters traces back to a consultant working for Martinez's rival, Republican congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart." Read the rest here.

Of course, this tale is but a symptom of a problem that affects our foreign policy more broadly. As former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski writes in his book, Second Chance,

Increased congressional dependence on costly and almost permanent campaigning is the root cause of this trend. The high expense of TV campaigns has turned targeted funding support (or opposition) into a crucial instrument for gaining influence. This explains the growing role of Israeli-American, Cuban-American, Armenian-American lobbies and others, all highly effective in mobilizing financial support for their political causes.

The Constitution grants Congress the authority to regulate commerce with foreign nations. This is not at issue, and is, on the whole, a wise distribution of authority. What is at issue, however, is the extent to which modern Congressional campaigning has become dependent upon contributions from individuals and PACs, distorting elections themselves and subsequently the legislation passed by Congress.

Taking Your Rhetoric Seriously

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Between principle and practice, the Democratic Party approach to Cuba needs some clarification.

It's platform plank on Cuba begins:

We must turn the page on the arrogance in Washington

yet concludes

presenting the Cuban regime with a clear choice: if it takes significant steps toward democracy, beginning with the unconditional release of all political prisoners, we will be prepared to take steps to begin normalizing relations.

Contrast that with the BBC's report of the basis for EU-Cuba normalization

A joint declaration, signed by Cuba's foreign minister and the European commissioner for development and humanitarian aid, calls for respect for Cuba's political independence and non-intervention in its internal affairs.

When the UN votes on the unilateral US embargo of Cuba next week for the seventeenth time, it is likely to replicate last year's near unanimity, a number which has grown steadily. Ironically citizens of our only significant supporter, Israel, are big investors in Cuban property development and manage the country's largest citrus plantation.

The larger significance of the vote for our international standing was reflected in the inaugural address of the President of the General Assembly, Rev. Miguel D’Escoto, on September 16, 2008:

At the United Nations, the word “democracyâ€Â is becoming increasingly empty, with no real meaning or substance. Take for instance, the 45-year-old United States embargo against Cuba. Even with a majority as overwhelming as 184 votes to 4, this patently unjust and universally repudiated embargo remains firmly in place. If the opinion of more than 95 per cent of the membership of the United Nations can be so casually ignored, of what use is this General Assembly? This is a question that deserves some thought. How can we be content to say that we have democracy simply because we have the “one nation, one voteâ€Â rule? What good are votes if they can be ignored or have no real consequence?

***************

Update:the on-line letter urging a suspension of restrictions on travel, remittances and aid by all Americans in order to provide hurricane assistance to Cuba has topped 1000 signatures. You can add your name and view the eloquent comments from very diverse sources here.

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Cuba and the EU Restore Ties

Putting an end to five years of strained relations, Cuba and the European Union signed a cooperation agreement today in Havana, AFP reports.

The development is yet another foil to the failed U.S. policy of isolation and regime change. The EU, with higher and more consistent human rights standards than the U.S., has recognized that the best course for influencing this island nation of 11 million 90 miles off Key West, is one of engagement.

The announcement also came with a considerable sweetener to this nation devastated by the 2008 hurricane season: 2 million euros in immediate assistance and promises of at least 25 million euros more in 2009.

This will make next week's vote at the U.N. General Assembly, condemning the U.S. policy of embargo and the extraterritorial sanctions embodied in the Helms-Burton Act, even more lonely for the United States. It is quite a prominent dismissal of American interests, something the Europeans do only with considerable deliberation and cause.

It seems to me it is a good time to apply General Colin Powell's eponymous doctrine to U.S.-Cuba policy. Here is one version of that doctrine, designed to help the nation's leaders determine whether the United States should go to war. Full-scale economic embargo is generally seen as the last step the United States takes before war, and as far as I understand, we do not currently have and have never undertaken any other peacetime embargo of this scope. Even Iran, which many believe today posts one of the greatest threats to American interests, does not suffer the extent of sanctions that Cuba does.

But I digress. Here is the Powell Doctrine:

1. Is a vital national security interest threatened?
2. Do we have a clear attainable objective?
3. Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed?
4. Have all other non-violent policy means been fully exhausted?
5. Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement?
6. Have the consequences of our action been fully considered?
7. Is the action supported by the American people?
8. Do we have genuine broad international support?

Recognizing that numbers four and five do not apply to an economic embargo, it seems to me that for all these questions, the answer is a resounding no. There is no vital national security interest threatened, we do not have an attainable objective (though regime change certainly is clear), the costs have not been analyzed and therefore the consequences are harming U.S. interests in the Hemisphere and around the world, the policy is supported only by a minority of voters in Florida and New Jersey, and finally, no one, save for Israel, Palau and the Marshall Islands, supports us.

It's time for common sense to once again rule on Cuba policy. The EU's message could not be clearer.

A Call for Science Diplomacy

My colleague Dr. Michael Clegg, who is foreign secretary of the National Academy of Sciences, co-authored a great op-ed in the most recent edition of the journal Science. Here's a link to the free summary.

Clegg notes that this year marks the 150th anniversary of the two oldest scientific associations in the Western Hemisphere, the National Academy in the U.S. and the one in Cuba. Clegg traveled to Cuba in September, just before the hurricanes.

Clegg's co-author is his Cuban counterpart, Dr. Sergio Jorge Pastrana, the foreign secretary of the Academia de Ciencias in Cuba. Together, they talk about the many areas where Cuban and American Scientists would benefit from a relaxation in the restrictions on scientific exchange.

Restrictions on U.S.-Cuba scientific cooperation deprive both research communities of opportunities that could benefit our societies, as well as others in the hemisphere, particularly in the Caribbean. Cuba is scientifically proficient in disaster management and mitigation, vaccine production, and epidemiology. Cuban scientists could benefit from access to research facilities that are beyond the capabilities of any developing country, and the U.S. scientific community could benefit from high-quality science being done in Cuba. For example, Cuba typically sits in the path of hurricanes bound for the U.S. mainland that create great destruction, as was the case with Hurricane Katrina and again last month with Hurricane Ike. Cuban scientists and engineers have learned how to protect threatened populations and minimize damage. Despite the category 3 rating of Hurricane Ike when it struck Cuba, there was less loss of life after a 3-day pounding than that which occurred when it later struck Texas as a category 2 hurricane. Sharing knowledge in this area would benefit everybody.

Change is coming to the U.S.-Cuban relationship. The question is only in the pacing of that change. Either way, scientific exchange and the unofficial diplomacy that comes from it will be a critical piece of the infrastructure of success. The National Academy linkages that Dr. Clegg is part of is a good preliminary move, and follows in the spirit of U.S. scientific exchanges with the Soviet Union, China, Iran, Syria, and North Korea. The reason these contacts are especially important is that scientists, with their preference for evidence and reason over ideology and rhetoric, can build the kind of relationships that official diplomacy needs to be successful over the long term.

Now is the time to increase those exchanges and make the institutional linkages durable.

20 Billion Barrels: Another Gamechanger for Cuba

For those of us arguing for a change in U.S. policy towards Cuba based on a realist calculation of American interests, Cuba's announcement that the geology in their territorial waters could contain up to 20 billion barrels of crude oil certainly tips the scales. Whether the estimate is accurate or not, the sooner we change course, the better.

Consider the situation. Last month, Cuba was devastated by three hurricanes that ripped up the island's housing, infrastructure, and destroyed one-third of its crops. It was the worst hurricane season in memory, with more than a quarter of the population displaced at one point. Based on an internal food security assessment that I recently completed, the Cuban people are now surviving on Government rations which may run out in December, well before Cuban agriculture bounces back by February or March. While some ministers of the Cuban government have denied the possibility of a mass famine, others have been steadily preparing for the worst. While I now discount the possibility for an October surprise, it is still more than possible that on January 20, 2009 televisions in Miami will have a split screen: one watching the new U.S. president sworn in while the other chronicles severe hunger in or even mass migration from Cuba.

I believe that the threat of widespread famine is actually driving the release of these geological assessments at this time. Whether true or not, Cuba's only way to avoid a famine event is to increase imports of food, for which Cuba desperately needs foreign credit. The prospects of future oil revenues, I hazard, are being put up as collateral for a country whose other export industries: tobacco, sugar cane (and the rum it produces), citrus, and even nickel have been hard-hit by the storms.

Given the almost limitless demand in the global market for oil and the long time horizons on which oil investment is made, I have little doubt that major consuming countries like China and India would hesitate long to begin negotiations with a quick package of sovereign credit to ensure their nation's ability to access those oil reserves once they are more conclusively "proven."

There are other dynamics at play as well. This large a field, should it be proven, would be among the world's largest non-tar-sands fields. It would end Cuban dependence on Venezuela for both energy and cash, making Cuba politically independent for the first time in its history. In which direction would it go? Without having to please anyone but its customers, and assuming oil prices remain high, how would it invest its pool of sovereign wealth? Would it remain aligned with Chavez? Would it expand its third-world medical provision or would it return to exporting revolution?

Yet an outcome that, because of the embargo, excludes U.S. and, indeed, Western investment, is still second best for Cuba. Cuba's tourist industry is still and will remain a major source of national income. Allowing Chinese and/or Indian oil exploration and development companies to drill comes with a significantly increased risk of spoiling Cuba's beaches and territorial waters. As the pollution reports ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics showed, China has put industrial output well ahead of the environment and human health. While certainly not 100 percent safe, the much more advanced drilling technology, and the deep-water drilling technology necessary for the Cuban fields, is largely controlled by Western firms who are restricted by Helms-Burton.

It is also bad for the United States. For a whole host of reasons, the United States needs to turn the page with Latin America and Cuba is the first step. Brazil is a rising power, Venezuela is a rising problem, and lasting solutions to our immigration problem will only come from sustainable development in the region, creating a market to which the U.S. will want access.

Fifty years of embargo have not worked as a tool for changing Cuba's regime or politics. Twenty billion barrels of oil conclusively ends the right wing fantasy that has kept the sanctions in place. Financially and therefore politically independent, American influence over Cuba will come from proximity, exchange, trade, and respect. It is best that we shift policy gears so that these more legitimate ties that bind have a chance at forestalling a further turn away from a productive rapprochement between our two countries.

Whatever way you slice it, the utility of the U.S. embargo to Cuba, already in negative territory, just lurched further into the red. Now the question is how to help Cuba become more like Norway and less like Venezuela. For that, our embargo is precisely the wrong policy.

Now the pathway is clear. The U.S. needs to lift the embargo one way or another, to help Cuba get through the hunger coming this winter. Let Cuba spend its oily credits right here in the U.S. of A. We then need to make a decisive policy shift after a new President takes office. If the oil estimate is a bluff, the Cuban people can judge their government's ability to manage the country with massive foreign debts and without the ready-made excuse of the embargo. If the oil really is there, the U.S. needs to encourage Havana to become a tropical Oslo, not a second Caracas.

Miami Herald Endorses Obama, cites difference in Cuba Policy with McCain

Not the first reason given, but worth noting from a paper that is extremely sensitive to Cuban American opinion:

"Closer to home, Sen. McCain strongly supports Bush administration policies on Cuba. Sen. Obama also supports the embargo, but would be more likely to dissolve recently imposed restraints on travel and remittances to Cuba."

Full text here

However, the Herald backed hard line anti-travel Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart. His Democratic challenger, Joe Garcia also favors travel for Cuban-Americans. The Herald did endorse Raul Martinez over Lincoln Diaz-Balard*, noting only that both advocated a "free Cuba", although Raul supports family travel while Lincoln does not. Like Obama, both Garcia and Martinez are so far silent about the human right of the rest of us to freedom of travel.

Related question: Senator Bob Menendez and Representative Debbie Wasserman-Schultz made a quick pivot after the primaries to support and speak for Obama. Are they also embracing his commitment to unrestricted Cuban American travel and remittances, and unconditional negotiations with Cuba's leaders?

I noticed an intriguing quote in a Herald article by Beth Reinhard

''This was one of the best receptions I got,'' Menendez said in a telephone interview from Washington. ``The economic message that Obama is delivering is falling on receptive ears among those who in the past were driven more by ideological issues, like Cuba.''

Does characterizing Cuba as an "ideological issue" suggest that Menendez is moving away from his past hard line position?

--John McAuliff

* A previous version of this post mistakenly said that the Herald had endorsed Lincoln Diaz-Balart.

McCain Feels Heat for Links to Cuban Terrorists


Sen. John McCain with Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Roberto Martin Perez

It's a bit of political Karma, really. Wednesday night in the last of the 2008 presidential debates, Senator John McCain spent an awful lot of time attacking Senator Barack Obama for his ties to Bill Ayers, a former member of the Weather Underground Organization, a radical group that split off from Students for a Democratic Society in the late 1960s and early 1970s executed a riot and bombing campaign across the country. Obama served on a bi-partisan school reform board with Ayers ten years ago. Here's the exchange.

Now, in the heat of the final days of the election, it seems that the media are giving Senator McCain's own connections to convicted domestic terrorists, in this case Cuban-American terrorists, some equal time.

Yesterday, writing in Slate, Anne Louise Bardach, wrote this piece: "The GOP's Bill Ayers? The McCain campaign has its own questionable connections to bombers and assassins."

I'm proud to say that the Havana Note and our friends at the Cuban Triangle, were on this story when it broke out of Miami.

The jist is this, Senator Joe Lieberman, the head of the hard-right Cuban Liberty Council Roberto Martin Perez, and Representative Lincoln Diaz-Balart, all active advisers and surrogates of the McCain Campaign, are arguing that a number of Federally-convicted domestic terrorists, with long lists of bombings, assassinations, and lawlessness, should have their sentences commuted or their convictions pardoned.

What is especially disturbing to me is that Sen. Lieberman has carried the commutation request for Eduardo Arocena, the leader of Omega 7, a group that set off a string of bombings in the New York City metro area that triggered the creation of the nation's first-ever joint counter-terrorism task force. Yet Sen. Lieberman is the current chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, responsible for domestic counterterrorism. Oh, and many of his constituents work and play in the places Arocena bombed, like Lincoln Center, JFK Airport, and Madison Square Garden.

Senator McCain is said to be thinking about Sen. Lieberman for a cabinet position, should he win the election. Lincoln Diaz-Balart is his senior adviser for Latin America. Roberto Martin Perez has narrated McCain campaign ads.

Senator Obama has denounced the acts of Bill Ayers unequivocally. It was the right thing to do. Now it is time for McCain, Lieberman, Diaz-Balart and Martin Perez all to denounce their terrorists. If McCain's advisers cannot, they should be fired by the Campaign, and, should Senator McCain become president, be excluded from his administration.

There should be no place in the U.S. government for supporters of terrorism. Both campaigns should be able to agree on that.

A Beautiful Night at RFK

Saturday night I sat in RFK Stadium and watched the U.S.-Cuba soccer game. Unlike the tight game in Havana in early September, this one was a runaway with the U.S. team scoring six goals to Cuba's one. But as Clint Dempsey, the only scorer in the Havana game said of that game, it was "a hard-fought, good game."

More than 20,000 fans watched, with a sprinkling of Cuban flags demonstrating there were a few Cuban fans in attendanceâ€â€one group so high up in the "nose-bleed" section that only the constant beat of their drum could be heard. Chants of "USA, USA", however, drowned out what small contributions the Cuban fans were able to make, though they labored on valiantly. The group of about eight directly in front of my wife and me could not even seem to get the Cuban team members on the field to acknowledge that they were holding a Cuban flag overhead, waving it wildly to attract their attention. And by the fourth U.S. goal, it was clear the Cuban team was demoralized, perhaps having started that let-down process when two of their players apparently defected before the game even got underway.

My wife remarked early on when the game seemed to be a bit tighter and the Cubans had just answered the second U.S. goal with one of their own, making the score two to one, "I hope the Cubans win." My wife is a soccer fan but did not realize that the FIFA schedule was at stake and, so, felt only sadness for the Cubans who, she saidâ€â€and perhaps quite correctlyâ€â€probably had not even eaten properly in the last few weeks since hurricanes Gustav and Ike savaged their island ruining much of the food and fruit crops.

When my wife spoke that sentiment, however, what I thought immediately was quite different. What I thought was "better magnanimous in victory than ugly in defeat….". I was considering what I had recently seen in Wisconsin and Minnesota as Sarah Palin and her gang worked up the vitriol and hatred of the Republican "base" in the ongoing presidential campaign. Suppose, I worried, such ugliness were unleashed here, in RFK Stadium, if the U.S. team lost to Cuba?

I quickly put that thought behind me though as I recognized the obvious: this was a U.S. soccer crowd. Most of the people in this stadium could probably think and, even better, think fast, accompanied by fancy footwork and inexhaustible energy. Similarly, I realized that I was looking at almost every ethnic and racial possibility in the world as I glanced around the seats nearbyâ€â€Latino, African, Arab, Indian, Asian, Muslim women with head scarves, and others. This was not a lily-white pocket of Minnesota or Wisconsin, Alabama or Mississippi. This was America.

I also realized that none of the people in the stadium likely cared a whit for the U.S. embargo against the tiny little country whose team members struggled valiantly on the field before them, under the klieg lights of the world's greatest power. Were it in these Americans' collective power, they would eradicate in a nanosecond such a barrier to friendship. Indeed, some of the most belly-deep, stadium-filling cheering had erupted when the two teams had initially taken the field, side by side, each player led out by a small soccer-attired child who walked hand-in-hand with his or her much taller team member.

So, friends everywhere in the fight to change U.S.-Cuba policy, it is America to whom we should appealâ€â€to all the people across this great land, some 270 million I'm convinced (all but the "base" of the Republican Party and a few connected Democrats, all of whose numbers shrink further every day), who truly believe in freedom and democracy, who do not use such ideas to hide their tyrannies behind, and who are ultimately going to sound the death knell of "the stupidest policy on earth."

-Lawrence Wilkerson

Insight from Inside: A Cuban View of the Migration Risk

One of the confusing aspects of Cuba to those who only observe it from a distance is that its people are both impoverished (in consumer goods) and wealthy (in health and education), a developing country (in the agriculture sector, housing) and a donor of humanitarian aid (doctors).

In some ways the most shocking aspect of the last hurricane was that seven people died, so well organized is Cuba's alarm and evacuation system. Similarly, while the documented destruction left by four tropical storms is extensive, recovery efforts are reported to be moving ahead with assistance coming from many countries other than the US.

Accordingly, it is hard to judge what the effect of the storms will be. I share these observations from a personal letter I recently received from Havana. --John McAuliff

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Amigo,

There is no doubt that a worsening of economic and social conditions in Cuba will provoke an increase in legal and illegal immigration, mainly to the US. It can get out of hand, but not easily.

In previous situations, Boca de Camarioca in the 60’s, Mariel in the 80’s and the last one in the mid 90’s, always the Cuban authorities had, in some justified way, allowed it to go on until the US authorities were forced to some kind of agreement. But it was always first provoked by rigid US policies that did not take in consideration the consequences of such policies.

I think that the Cuban Government and Party have the means and political tools to avoid such a situation today, but it is obviously a possibility.

As you have been probably able to watch, the destruction in Pinar del Río, Holguín and Las Tunas, but not only in these provinces, has been enormous and it has hit private houses in the worst way. Just as much, it also hit agricultural production and electrical energy infrastructure.

There is already a certain scarcity of sweet potatoes (bonitato), malanga (I don’t know the name in English), bananas and plantain, fresh pork and goat meat and others basic food in the “agromercadosâ€Â and it will get worse. There is also a problem in the CUC ("dollar") stores to get cooking oil (you can only get soya oil), tomatoe paste, canned fish and meat, frozen chicken, cheese and fresh meat.

The only solution is a rapid recuperation of agricultural production. The private agricultural sector is the main producer, but can not do it by itself, It is needed that the state farms under their various forms of organization increase production, something they have been unable to do in 50 years, without huge investment in machinery, fertilizers, insecticides and other inputs that are no longer available.

As the destruction is shown by TV, people get surprised to see how poor the houses were before the hurricanes, and slowly everybody is starting to realize that it will take decades to bring housing to, even, the previous poor situation.

An immediate political result of the destruction is the solidarity and unity of purpose that brings among the people. This is probably true in every country. In Cuba it is even more so, as the Government and Party had created a solid organization that includes more and more people to people solidarity, to confront hurricanes and heavy rains. Also because of the quick and effective response to start reconstruction, that includes, even, cultural groups with well known artists performing in the more severely affected areas. Of course the limited resources are the main problem.

But, is difficult to predict how the mood will change as the reality of an even poorer country, with even more economic and social problems, takes hold slowly of people's minds.

So, yes it is almost certain that there will be an increase of emigration. Whether it will be massive and illegal, depends of many factors. Of course the impact of a limited in time lift of the embargo, or the increase in remittances and traveling, will help to avoid that this problem gets out of hand.

As has happened in the past, I doubt the US Administration will take in consideration the consequences of their fanatic anti-evolution policies. Even without massive emigration, it is always safer for you not to provoke problems to your neighbor that can affect you in the long run.

un abrazo

On Day One

Remarks, as delivered, by Colonel Lawrence B. Wilkerson, USA (Ret), the Visiting Pamela Harriman Professor of Government and Public Policy at the College of William and Mary, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on 26 September 2008, at the Conference on "The United States and Cuba: Rethinking Engagement" sponsored by the Institute for the Study of the Americas.

Thank you for that very kind introduction. And thank you to Lou Pérez and to Shelley Clarke and to all the wonderful, warm people at the University of North Carolina and at the Institute for the Study of the America's for such a superb and warm welcome that we have all experienced. And for an extremely well-run conference.

I must do a little due diligence at the start and say that I am a lifelong Republican. I'm a conservativeâ€â€an Edmund Burke conservative. Not one of the radicals such as we have in this country calling themselves conservatives today.

Being a Burkeian conservative means I believe that the best that has been thought and said and done in human history should be conserved and that it should be amended and altered only when there is positive practical proof that it should be.

Please remember these points about me while I speak what I am about to speak. I place my patriotism and my devotion to my country beneath no one's. After 31 years in the U.S. Army, I feel I have the bona fides to say that.

[PAUSE]

The Beijing Olympics are over.

The world came to China, some of its athletes broke a great many records, none succumbed to environmental poisoning, and the world went home again.

All this in the world's most populous and in many respects still most coercive communist nation.

Butâ€â€a nation of 1.3 billion souls alive with capitalism.

Destructive, invasive, corrosive, avaricious, polluting, corrupting capitalism. But capitalism.

Of course I must admitâ€â€again, there has to be due diligence hereâ€â€that in its overall injurious effects it may not be as bad as American capitalism!

A little after the Beijing Olympics, on Saturday, September 6, the U.S. soccer team went to Cuba.

We won, one to zip.

The defeated host was another communist country but, alas, only with 11 million soulsâ€â€and, as geostrategic realities would have it, those 11 million souls occupied an island that lay at the mouth of the Gulf of Mexico along sea lines of communication that are critical to the U.S. Gulf Coast and all its wealth and productive and shipping capacity. And oh yes, it also lies only 90 miles from the coast of the sometimes U.S. state of Florida.

And compounding matters terribly, none of those 11 million souls, reportedly at least, was awash in capitalism. At least not the destructive, invasive, corrosive, avaricious, polluting, corrupting capitalism of China.

Or of America.

Cuba's capitalism, such as it is, is slow, creeping even, and aimed at better food production, attracting foreign investment, making money for the military, refurbishing Habana Vieja, and NOT corrupting la revolución.

The U.S.-Cuba soccer game, I should add, took place between two hellacious hurricanes: Gustav which had just passed through doing extensive damage to Cuba in its western provinces and on the Isle of Youth, and Ike which was at the time lurking in mid-Atlantic getting ready to strike the Dominican Republic, Haitiâ€â€poor, poor Haitiâ€â€and then Cuba.

The soccer game was the first visit to Cuba by the U.S. team in 61 years. And as the only goal scorer in the game, U.S. player Clint Dempsey, said, "Since the day we got here, everyone has been great. It wasn't bad in any way. Everyone was nice to us and respectful. It wasn't a nasty game. It was just a hard-fought, good game."

Wow!

"It was just a hard-fought, good game."

Would that we could describe our relations with the rest of the world in that way, all the time. No matter who is the ultimate winner.

And to this "hard-fought, good game" those from the U.S. who wanted to root for their team had to come clandestinely.

As the Washington Post reported, "Several American fans entered the country without permission from the US government, using a third country as a travel hub. As long as their passports do not get stamped in Cuba", the Post continued, "…their previous whereabouts will not be detected by US Customs. To remain anonymous, they arrived at the stadium in olive military caps, sunglasses and U.S. bandannas covering their faces."

Wow again!

Americans simply poured into Beijing; they had to sneak into Havana.

What is wrong with this picture?

Well, besides being utterly unconstitutional, blatantly ridiculous, and stupendously stupid, it is costing America immensely.

It is costing us in economic terms, national security terms, and just plain common sense terms.

Worse, it is doing this because our policy toward this island nation is not dictated by economic or security interests but by domestic interests.

And these domestic interests are so narrow and so shallow that if one lived on Mars and was looking down on earth, one must think the American people the dumbest on earth for allowing them to prevail.

And now, now that we have more extensive damage from the second hurricane to ravage Cuba, Ike, we have compounded our folly, offering $100K initially and, then to compound our perfidy even further, $5 million total with so many strings attached that we knew the Cuban government would refuseâ€â€which, I suspect, is what we wanted in the first place.

Lately, and "lately" means the Cheney/Bush administrationâ€â€note the order in which I describe this administration, pleaseâ€â€el coloso del norte has not been doing too well in its own hemisphere:

We've been tossed out of Venezuela.

We've been tossed out of Bolivia.

We're despised in Argentina.

Nicaragua looks favorably on Russia's move into Georgia.

Honduras and Guatemala hold their noses when they deal with us.

The Chinese are going to drill for oil within 60 miles of the coast of Florida; Russia just landed Tu-160 Blackjack strategic bombers in Venezuela and Russia contemplates building a space launch facility in Cuba; PETR VELIKY (PETER THE GREAT), a nuclear-powered Kirov-class cruiser, and three escorts left Severomorsk on Monday headed for joint maneuvers with the Venezuelan Navy; and an international consortium, led by Dubai Ports World, plans on building the largest container processing facility in the Western Hemisphere in Mariel, Cuba. Its throughput capacity will rival or surpass Los Angeles.

In addition, in Moscow today, the Russians gave $1 billion (US) for military aid to Chavez. He's already purchased $2-3 billion of Su-30 Sukhoi fighter planes, M-17 helicopters, and thousands of assault rifles – some of which may have gone to the FARC in Colombia.

We're barely tolerated in Mexico and puzzled over in Brazil, the real looming giant of America del sud. In fact, the best leader in the Western Hemisphere, Luiz Ignácio Lula da Silva, just ignores us most of the time because to him, I'm sure, we are indecipherably inept.

The U.S. record in Latin America is just short of an abysmal failure. (And one suspects that, with the Cheney/Bush administration, if we had a policyâ€â€which we don't, other than neglect and drugsâ€â€the record would be worse.)

What should the new president do about this unprecedented failure in our own backyard?

What should he do ON DAY ONE?

And by that, of course, I mean in the parlance of punditsâ€â€within the first 100 days of his first term of office.

I'll be very clear and very emphatic:

The very first action vis a vis Latin America should be to lift the embargo on Cuba and treat that nation just as we do other nations with repressive to partially-repressive regimes that are showing signs of accommodating the needs of the 21st Centuryâ€â€countries such as China, Vietnam, Georgia, Ukraine, Albania, and others.

Establishing more or less, más o menos, normal relations with Cubaâ€â€after more than a century and a half of paternalistic/imperialistic behavior toward Havanaâ€â€would be such a stunning signal to the rest of Latin America, that all manner of positive changes throughout the hemisphere might be possible in its wake.

And, by the way, if you want to read as good a treatise as there is on that paternalistic/imperialistic American attitude toward Cuba, read That Infernal Little Cuban Republic, forthcoming from the UNC Press, by Lars Schoultz.

The title comes of course from Theodore Roosevelt in one of his more pithy moments which, with that president and man in general, seemed to occur more frequently than with most presidents or men.

Those were different times calling for different men, we say, in our efforts to glorify the American past. And I say, yes, they wereâ€â€and THESE ARE DIFFERENT TIMES CALLING FOR VERY DIFFERENT MEN, AND WOMEN.

That the past is prologue should be as frequently taken as a warning as it is a template for action.

But with so many foreign policy issues of heavy consequence on the president's plate, why focus on Cubaâ€â€or, for that matter, Latin America?

Two very significant reasons at least.

First, our new president, like our current oneâ€â€or, at least partially, as a result of our current one and his Congressâ€â€is going to be mired chest-deep in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. We see only its beginning at the present moment.

Retrenchment, withdrawal from costly overseas endeavors, a pulling in of our many overseas tentacles, if you will, is going to be an utter necessity.

I'm not talking about a return to isolationismâ€â€though sometimes I consider that such a move would be better than playing at being the new Rome, as Cheney and Bush have done for most of their time in office.

What I mean is our being constrained by over 50 trillion dollars of private and corporate debt in this country to a more sane, a more sustainable, and ultimately a wiser foreign policy.

And in that light, What cost Cuba?

How many billions of dollars will it cost the U.S. to reverse the foreign policy idiocy of half a century? Indeed, as I alluded to previously, of a century and a half?

How many loans from China, Japan, Germany, the UAE and others will we have to take out to lift the embargo?

Not a single loan. Nada. Zip. Nothing.

It will cost our country absolutely nothing in dollars to lift the embargo, in fact to effect a complete rapprochement with Cuba.

And that's all that Cuba wants. No huge loans. No ineffective USAID teams descending like mosquitoes on their provinces. No U.S. foreign assistance at all.

Just lift the embargo, allow travel, allow money to flow from Cuban-Americans with families and loved ones in Cubaâ€â€allow the normal relations of nations between the colossus and the little island.

So that's the first reason to effect swiftly dramatic changeâ€â€unlike Israel-Palestine, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and a host of other supposedly more serious national security challenges, U.S.-Cuba relations cost nothing to fix.

The second reason for acting positively on Cuba in the first 100 days is more substantive.

By doing so, we open the door to our backyard, our hemisphere, to Canada, to Mexico, to all of Central and South America. We open the door in a way we have never done before.

The Monroe Doctrine was, at times, even when we enforced it, as John Q. Adams implied, in a rowboat in the wake of the British man o'war, enlightened self-interest. Later it became sheer imperialistic arrogance, at its depth in the Cold War even seeing communists everywhere and actually effecting the removal of democratically-elected leaders to thwart the alleged rise of communism. Think Chile, for example.

Even FDR's Good Neighbor policy was, in effect, a call to arms for WWII – not a bad policy, to be sure, but one that would eventually evolve to see tyrants as OK, as long as they were our tyrants. Does Fulgencio Batista come to mind for example?

But today, as in WWII, hemispheric cooperation and solidarity have never been more important but for very different reasons.

If we are to confront the serious challenges of our timeâ€â€and of the future times out to at
least 2050â€â€we must act together.

Whether planetary warming, energy transformation, global terrorism, dwindling water supplies, illicit drug trafficking, high seas piracy, global outbreaks of deadly diseases, coordinating free trade and open markets through the WTO, or a host of lesser regional and global challenges, none can be successfully met by any single nation acting alone.

In that light, look at what a dramatically changed, normal relationship with Cuba would start.

First, to the north Canada would have far less reason to worry that its southern neighbor has lost its mooringsâ€â€a distinct concern our very good friends to the north have harbored these past almost 8 years. A former Canadian prime minister said to me last year, "Larry, we don’t hate Americans, we need you, like you, and appreciate our economic synergies and that your security umbrella extends to us. What we fear is a headless giant in the world." And that former prime minister was right: we lack leadership.

Second, to the immediate south, our Mexican friends would have a similar reaction. Being naturally more wary about us, they would think it a trick initially and wait to see what happened. But as soon as we proved our seriousness by our actions, they would at least begin to believe we had recovered our senses.

In Central America, from Panamá to Honduras, there would be rejoicing and a willingness to reengage with a government that starts off with such a sound and decisive move.

And in South America, a tyrant like Chavez would have at least one of the carpets beneath his feet suddenly removed. The others, I surmise, are soon going to be removed by the people of Venezuela if Chavez doesn’t moderate his increasingly tyrannical ways.

Likewise, where there are South American leaders who increasingly view us as more dangerous than helpfulâ€â€again, there would be motivation on the part of these leaders to rethink and reengage.

Our follow-up with each capital would therefore be very importantâ€â€but that's for another speech. How we could improve all bilateral and regional relations is too complex to enter into here. Cuba would open the door; competent diplomacy and concrete actions would have to follow.

And I have no doubt that with a new man in the Oval Office, a new vice president in the West Wing who adheres to and believes in the Constitution of the United States, a new national security advisor there with him, with new ministers in the key departments, America can make it happen.

We've been down this road before with Europe but never with Latin America.

We've been down this road before with Japan but never with Latin America.

We've been down this road before with South Korea but never with Latin America.

We're traveling down this road today, however imperfectly, with China and India, but we are utterly stalled out in Latin America. Worse, in fact, for we are going backwards.

It is time we developed meaningful, concrete, uplifting policies for our own hemisphereâ€â€and it is time we de-emphasized the talk, the rhetoric, and lived those policies.

Actions are what we require, actions. And lifting the embargo on Cuba and normalizing relations should be the very first act.

Thanks.

The Tide Is Turning

From the Naples (Florida) Daily News, as reported on NapleNews.Com:

"Now that Fidel Castro is no longer officially in power in Cuba, 60 percent of likely voters believe the U.S. should revise its policies toward Cuba â€â€ even more believe all U.S. citizens should be allowed to travel to Cuba (68 percent) and that U.S. companies should be allowed to trade with Cuba (62 percent). In a Zogby Interactive survey conducted in July 2007, slightly more than half (56 percent) of Americans said the U.S. should remove travel restrictions and end the embargo on trade to Cuba."

American citizens are wising up. Too bad their government is so far behind them. Soon, however, like the French ruler looking out the window at the people moving away, Washington is going to have to say: "Wait, wait, I'm coming! Don’t leave me behind." That isn't exactly leadership, but it will have to do.

-Lawrence Wilkerson