November 2008

Brookings Blueprint for Obama and Congress


The Brookings Institution is as mainstream and prestigious as you get on the Democratic leaning side of Washington think tanks.

Its President is Strobe Talbott, a leading foreign policy adviser in the Clinton Administration and a long time friend of our former President and of our prospective Secretary of State.
Talbott served on Brookings' Partnership for the Americas Commission. On Monday he hosted a C-Span broadcast public presentation of its remarkable report entitled "Rethinking U.S.–Latin American Relations: A Hemispheric Partnership for a Turbulent World".

Their first recommendation on Cuba "that should be implemented immediately by the US government":

* Lift all restrictions on travel to Cuba by Americans.

Many of the proposals made in its Cuba section are not new to experts in bilateral relations, but their source is. The Commission, half from the US and half from Latin America and the Caribbean, eschews the usual judgmental rhetoric and focuses on addressing problems with a Hemisphere impact. The co-chairs are Ernesto Zedillo, Former President of Mexico and
Thomas R. Pickering, Former U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs.

If the Obama Administration and Congress want a blueprint for how to proceed with Cuba, this is it.

Go here for the full text, Cuba section pp 28-30

A streaming video of the presentation can be seen on the C-Span archives and will be available on the Brookings website.

Overview:and recommendations below:
"The last section addresses U.S. relations with Cuba. Though this issue is of a smaller order of magnitude than the other four areas, it is addressed here because Cuba has long been a subject of intense interest in U.S. foreign policy and a stumbling block for U.S. relations with other countries in the hemisphere.

The report puts forward these recommendations for the next U.S. administration and Congress:

U.S.–Cuban relations:

* Lift all restrictions on travel to Cuba by Americans.

* Repeal all aspects of the “communications embargoâ€Â (radio, TV, Internet) and readjust regulations governing trade in low-technology communications equipment.

* Remove caps and targeting restrictions on remittances.

* Take Cuba off the State Department’s State Sponsors of Terrorism List.

* Promote knowledge exchange and reconciliation by permitting federal funding of cultural, academic, and sports exchanges.

* Provide assistance to the Cuban people in recovering from natural and human-made disasters.

* Encourage enhanced official contact and cooperation between U.S. and Cuban diplomats and governments.

* End opposition to the reengagement of the international community with Cuba in regional and global economic and political organizations.

* Work with the members of the European Union and other countries to create a multilateral fund for civil society that will train potential entrepreneurs in management and innovation."

Rice, Obama & Clinton


What should we make of Jim Hoagland’s semi-complimentary report that Secretary of State Rice proposed,

“moving toward a better diplomatic relationship with Cuba by upgrading the existing U.S. interests section in Havanaâ€Â?

It is not a bad thing that Secretary Rice tries to initiate a different approach to Cuba. It's more useful than former Secretaries of State seeing the light after they leave office (e.g. George Schultz and Madeline Albright now call for an end to the embargo).

However, upgrading the Interests Section won't matter much unless it abandons non-diplomatic intervention in support of regime change advocates.

More useful would be a change in Bush Administration policy re private initiatives to help Cuba recover from three hurricanes. All Americans should be given a general license to visit and donate funds to assist relatives and friends. US NGOs should be free to send humanitarian and reconstruction aid without time consuming and cumbersome Treasury and Commerce Department licenses.

The same step could be taken by the incoming administration. Obama already called for a hurricane related suspension of limits to Cuban American visits, remittances and aid packages, although that will be superseded if he keeps his pledge to completely end their restrictions. As with travel, it ill befits a post-racial administration to deny the same right to all Americans and to private aid agencies because of ethnicity or national origin.

Should Hillary Clinton become Secretary of State, she brings baggage on Cuba. Clinton's campaign strategy was to align closely with Bush travel restrictions and to place unacceptable preconditions on negotiations. During Bill Clinton’s administration, her Cuban-American sister in law was an active and influential opponent of reform in US policy toward Cuba.

Hopefully Clinton (and Obama) will pay attention to former Secretary of State Albright’s advice in her book Memo to the President Elect.

"We need a policy towards Cuba that is free from the political wrangling of the previous half century. The embargo may have served a purpose originally, but it has outlived its usefulness. It currently has no international support and little function except to provide a convenient justification for Havana's repressive policies. The United States has no license to dictate Cuba's future, and heavy handed attempts to do so will only sabotage those inside Cuba who are working for democracy and human rights. Our approach should be one of friendship towards the island's people and support for increased contacts between our two countries at every level. Cubans do not need us to point out that Castroism is an insufficient answer to the demands of the global economy. In the post-Fidel era, they will inevitably have to adjust. Let us encourage them to do so through increased political openness, but let us also deprive Castro's successors of the excuse of yanqui bullying." p 176

Readers who wish to encourage the President-elect to meet his rendezvous with history on Cuba can do so on the Obama transition site Presumably someone will notice articulate personal comments by his campaign supporters and a total will be kept of what issues are roiling the grass roots.

Another way to express your opinion is by joining an on-line letter and by sharing this link with friends and colleagues.

--John McAuliff

(picture, no doubt a photo shop montage, borrowed from

China, Russia & Brazil


Visits to Cuba by China’s President (seen here in 2004), Russia’s Prime Minister and Brazil’s President illustrate that the Obama Administration delays at its peril setting a bold new course on Cuba. Even the Bush Administration in its final months may be having second thoughts.

Reuters reports that during a two day stopover,

“Chinese President Hu Jintao agreed to put off some of Cuba's debt payments and gave the island $80 million for hospital modernization and other projects…China is Cuba's second largest trading partner after Venezuela at $2.3 billion in 2007.â€Â

Next up in Havana is Russia's Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev who is reported by Reuters to have both economic and strategic goals, in part to counter the Bush Administration’s adventurist policies in countries that were part of or dominated by the former Soviet Union.

Closer to home,

“Brazil will offer Cuba financial aid for industry, energy and infrastructure projects during a December visit by communist President Raul Castro …We'll discuss the production of buses, building roads, as well as oil investments," Marco Aurelio Garcia, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's foreign policy adviser, told Reuters.

Obama might ponder the implications of a remark made during the recent visit to Cuba by Lula, our non-Chavez role model, about his invitation to Raul

"to participate in the first meeting of Latin American and Caribbean nations, without interference from any other power."

--John McAulliff

Obama's Choice on Cuba


The struggle to influence the direction of the Obama administration on Cuba is underway.

A good article by Carol Williams in today's LA Times quotes Jake Colvin, Al Fox and myself about prospects for change by the new administration.

I developed the same ideas at greater length in an op ed in Sunday's Sun Sentinel

The contrary effort to influence Obama was expressed in Myriam Marquez' column in Sunday's Miami Herald. She boasts of CANF's influence and distorts Obama's position on family travel. She also echoes the CANF critique of US democracy funding, that it is not deployed effectively enough for purposes of subversion.

"With Democrats in control of the White House and Congress, the Cuban American National Foundation is sitting pretty after wandering the political wilderness for eight years....With Obama's win CANF is positioned to have immense influence on Cuba policy. What to expect? An aggressive policy to get more money to the opposition in Cuba....The U.S. embargo toward Cuba will rightly stay. The 2004 Bush restrictions on travel and remittances will go. Returning to the pre-2004 rules would mean Cuban Americans could travel once a year to see family instead of once every three years, and remittances could go up to $3,000 a year -- instead of the current $1,200 -- and open to all family members."

In fact, every Obama campaign statement about Cuba and the Democratic Party platform position clearly pledge "unlimited family visits and remittances" , not only return to the pre-2004 formula.

As far as I know, Obama has not spoken to the controversy over "democracy" funding, other than the skepticism expressed by his votes against TV Marti in 2005.

Yet Marquez assumes he will follow CANF's line that,

"the rules need to change so that money and equipment can reach the opposition -- just as it did during the Cold War for the Polish Solidarity movement."

She seems oblivious to both Cuban and Eastern European history. Poland and other communist regimes on the periphery of the Soviet Union were externally imposed and sustained. The Solidarity model is totally irrelevant to Cuba which is why many people who took advantage of the opening offered by Mikhail Gorbachev believe the US embargo and travel restrictions are counterproductive--and vote against them in the UN every year.


Vietnam and China are better analogies to Cuba. Whether admired or disliked, their revolutions were internally created and managed and have evolved on their own terms to market economies and greater personal freedom. (The US expresses criticism of their human rights records and political systems but does not presume to intervene in domestic debates.)

Sending direct aid to opposition personalities in Cuba hopelessly compromises their nationalist credentials and makes them vulnerable to prosecution as agents of a hostile foreign power, not unlike the attitude the US took to members of the US Communist Party in the 1950s. Buying into CANF's semi-soft regime change thesis also makes no sense if the new administration wants to develop the trust and mutual respect that are essential for successful negotiations.

CANF and others in Miami presume they should be part of any negotiations between Washington and Havana, but that is pure poison to serious talks. It would be like Bill Clinton inviting Nguyen Van Thieu and Nguyen Cao Ky to be part of the US-Vietnam normalization discussions. (Much after the fact Ky made his peace with Hanoi and has been back to Vietnam several times, to the great dismay of Vietnamese American extremists who still dominate community politics here.)

The full range of Cuban American opinion should be listened to by the new administration: the unconditional engagement voices, the soft intervention groups, and even the no-dialog forces. However, none of them should be given weight beyond their numbers in the whole US population and in the spectrum of public opinion which favors ending all travel restrictions by 2 to 1.

--John McAuliff

Contradictory Florida Results Enable Obama


Preliminary election returns suggest President-elect Obama has a greater range of maneuver on Cuba than anticipated.

How much of his substantial statewide margin of victory in Florida (see below) can be attributed to support from Cuban Americans who crossed over from McCain because they shared only his cautious position on family travel? All three Democratic contenders lost who advocated a partial reform of travel similar to Obama's, suggesting that was not as decisive an issue in the exile community as many hoped.

Does that mean that Obama might have done as well in Florida if he had advocated all travel, or even an end to the embargo? Do exit polls and analysis of the Presidential vote in Miami-Dade Congressional districts offer more insight?

Certainly Obama will owe nothing to the three hard line Cuban American Republicans returning to Washington. However, they and the Democracy PAC money will still play a strong role in the House and on key committees. Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and other Florida politicians with state wide ambitions will remain leery of offending the organized Cuban American constituency.

A common sense US policy on Cuba even more clearly means removing it from special interest nationality politics, as the Executive Branch is better able to do than Congress, especially when the next Presidential election is four years away. We would still lack diplomatic relations and maintain unilateral embargoes against China, Vietnam and Cambodia if change had depended on the approval of their exile communities in the US.

Sequential actions by the White House and Congress can reinforce each other and create an atmosphere for fundamental common sense change in US-Cuba relations. The crucial first step is for the incoming Administration to follow the window opening logic of its campaign commitment to unrestricted Cuban American travel.

It must reject discrimination in the right to travel based on ethnicity or national origin and enable the broadest non-tourist travel possible under existing legal authority, as favored by two-thirds of Americans.

--John McAuliff

Florida Statewide

Obama / Biden 4,073,207, 50.9%
McCain / Palin 3,872,553, 48.4%
difference 200,654

District 18

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen 137,817, 57.7%
Annette Taddeo 100,929, 42.3%

District 21
Lincoln Diaz-Balart 132,861, 57.8%
Raul L. Martinez 97,184, 42.2%

District 25
Mario Diaz-Balar 127,059, 52.8%
Joe Garcia 113,495, 47.2%

Florida Department of State
Division of Elections

2008 General Election

(may not include absentee or provisional ballots)
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