December 2009

The Medium is Not the Message

photo by Adrian Penn, from Photobucket

Those who believe Cuba likes to keep its northern neighbor at arms' length (or better) by taking provocative actions that short-circuit diplomatic initiatives must be feeling pretty smug about now. With the detention of a US citizen working on a USAID democracy program -- he was finally allowed a visit from US envoys three weeks after his arrest -- followed by aggressive attacks on President Obama's integrity and avowed interest in "a new beginning" with old adversaries by both Cuba's foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez and President Raul Castro, it certainly seems as though Cuba is content to cling to the old relationship.

But the news in the week before Christmas wasn't all bad; those who long for an improvement in the US-Cuba relationship got a few early gifts of hope.

Carlos Varela's ground breaking effort at a very direct kind of music diplomacy (chronicled in the New York Times this week), was a low-key, savvy sequel to his friend Juanes' blockbuster in Havana. Even as Bruno Rodriguez was doing his best Hugo Chavez imitation, Varela emphasized that politicians -- those of his own country included -- often reflect their own interests rather than those of the people they're supposed to serve. Music, perhaps, can help bring people together and motivate them to move their governments. And at times like these, Varela's visit is a welcome sign that genuine human interaction can't hurt the political situation, while policy initiatives frequently go awry.

This reality was also highlighted at another event that week. Baruch College's Ted Henken (author of El Yuma blog)and Carlos Lauria of the Committee to Protect Journalists highlighted a prophetic panel at the Inter American Dialogue on Cuba and New Technologies. (A Department of State panelist canceled at the last minute.)

At a time when bloggers on all sides of the Cuba debate are understandably focused on Yoani Sanchez, Henken and Lauria provided a broader, deeper picture of the blogosphere that is steadly developing in Cuba, its impact on Cubans in the United States, and the feedback loop between them that fosters an ever more lively discourse. Henken quoted the brilliant Catholic essayist Dagoberto Valdez as an answer to those -- like USAID or those who apply for its grants -- who want to assist bloggers and others. "If you really want to help us, I ask you not to help us at all."

The pro-embargo voices are desperate to see a link between the use of social media in Iran and in Cuba as evidence of an uprising. But they only see the aspects that fit their argument. They don't see that the governments of those countries can play the technology game pretty well too. As Henken pointed out, Fidel Castro has launched a second career as the blogger-in-chief, with a steady stream of posts that establishes him as the best-known internet-based communicator on the island. Generation C?

There are also (as Lauria and Henken explained) dozens of other political blogs that function as socialist billboards. The lesson is clear: technology is important, but it certainly doesn't depend on US Government funding sources to reach Cuba. Yoani Sanchez built her computer just like the auto mechanic on her block built his car: by the time-honored Cuban tradition of resourcefulness. The blogosfera has assumed its dynamic and impactful shape because people like Yoani Sanchez were barred from the debate after only a short and incendiary flurry of discussion that she called "the intellectual polemic" and which she describes as an earthquake in Cuba and the spark for her blog and many others. The point is, as Dagoberto Valdez would certainly agree: the ideas are the key, not the medium.

Valdez is the most famous of a large collection of Cuban thinkers who express their ideas through the relatively unfettered Catholic media. In fact, la look at the discussion that plays out in Catholic publications would surprise a lot of those clamoring for more support to US democracy programs. This article isn't exactly punchy, but it is profound.

Uva de Aragon of the Cuba Research Institute of Florida International University reminded the panel that there is a continuing ferment fueled by simple email communication that is reuniting families, former colleagues, friends and acquaintances, some of whom had not been in touch for decades. Much of this communication is personal and apolitical, of course, but much of it also provides for the kind of dialogue that has often been missing between Cubans. It isn't all about the Panfilo moments that embarrass the government; this old school medium also exposes US-based Cubans to lively and consequential discussions that play out in the Catholic press, or through the blogs in Cuba and elsewhere. The point that even the best-intentioned and even obsessive Cuba watchers miss is that Cuba is not so isolated as they imagine, and is in fact alive with debate that is growing beyond her borders. It's been said here before, but it bears repeating: we are not helping advance the debate by spending US tax dollars to smuggle high-tech communications devices into Cuba.

Only in Miami

cow%20on%20a%20beach.jpg / CC BY 2.0>

News flash: The four candidates vying to become the junior U.S. senator from Florida - Charlie Crist, Kendrick Meek, Maurice Ferré, and Marco Rubio - all agree: Cuba: bad. U.S. policy: good. The Miami Herald reports that each candidate supports democracy for Cuba and takes a "tough line" on how to get it.

Could someone please enlighten me, how is this news?

The four candidates all professed their positions at a forum hosted by the U.S. Cuba Democracy PAC, which has donated more than $1 million dollars in campaign cash over the last five years to candidates who back its hard-line, pro-embargo approach to U.S. Cuba policy. (If you want to know more about campaign contributions and how it affects Congressional voting patterns, the watchdog group Public Campaign issued a detailed report here.)

Frankly, the only thing that could have made this event newsworthy would have been for any of the candidates to break away from the pack (or the PAC). But none of them did.

Only in Miami could a politician get away with literally putting the interests of another nation ahead of the interests of our own. Democrat and former Miami mayor Maurice Ferré: "The quest for an open, democratic and free Cuba has to guide all of the United States' actions with respect to Cuba."

Cuban American Republican Marco Rubio took it even farther, waging a war against the very interests of the state he would represent:

[H]ave we arrived at a point in our history when we think that to sell rice and livestock to a tyranny is more important than upholding the founding principles of this country? Are we prepared to say that sending tourists to Havana is more important than many words that the birth of this nation made possible?

Where is the would-be senator who will turn to Rubio and respond:

I understand your frustration with the Castro regime and I share it. But it is our job to protect the jobs and interests of Floridians during this time of economic uncertainty. I don't see how it helps the Cuban people to deny them the best Florida has to offer, so they can buy food instead from China and Brazil instead.

And then, maybe she'd say this too:

And, like you, I hold dear the values of our American democracy. But I don't see how it helps Floridians, or Cubans, for us to follow Fidel Castro's example, and police the movements of our citizens. We cannot help the Cuban people gain more rights by restricting them here in America.

Is the honeymoon over?

AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos

Over the weekend, Cuba's National Assembly met and approved two new Vice Presidents to the Cuban Council of State. Ramiro Valdes, Communications Minister, and Gladys Bejerano, Comptroller, moved into the two slots vacated by the death of Revolutionary leader Juan Almeida in September and the political demise of former economic guru Carlos Lage earlier this year. The promotions came as no surprise. (Though, Bejerano is the first woman to serve as a Vice President in the Cuban Council of State.)

The big news out of the Assembly session was the speech given by Raul Castro, which marked a rhetorical shift in Cuba's wait-and-see approach to dealing with the Obama Administration' policy toward the island nation.

Castro gave the first public government comment on the arrest of an American citizen who was distributing telecommunications equipment on the island as part of a USAID grant. Castro told the Assembly that "the United States won't quit trying to destroy the revolution and bring a change to our economic and social regime." The American contractor, he said, was "working to illegally distribute sophisticated methods of communication to members of the civil society which they hope to form against our people. Of the United States, he added, "They are giving new breath to open and undercover subversion against Cuba."

So does this mean the honeymoon is over?
I suppose that depends on if you thought we were honeymooning in the first place. In the last year, the Obama Administration has restarted a bilateral dialogue on strategic shared interests, and has taken steps to help reunite Cuban families, to lower provocative rhetoric (including the removal of the electronic billboard on the U.S. mission in Havana), and to allow more humanitarian donations and gifts to be sent to the Cuban people. These are all positive changes.

If you view these changes as a good faith quantum leap on the U.S. side, you might think that the Cubans are just looking to blow up our progress. Plenty of Cuba watchers believe that Cuba does not want engagement with the United States, and will do anything to sabotage real progress.

But I'm not convinced that this is about sabotage, because I truly don't think there was much progress to sabotage. Don't get me wrong, I think that if the Obama Administration wanted a "new beginning" with Cuba, it had to begin by rolling back everything the Bush Administration did to strain the relationship. But merely rolling back some (and by no means all) of the Bush Administration's more antagonistic policies toward Cuba, and not addressing the fundamental tensions in the policy, does not a "new beginning" make.

President Obama's Cuba policy, if you can really point to one, shares two crucial elements with the Bush Administration. First, it continues to lay out - publicly - conditions for Cuba to meet (didn't Candidate Obama eschew preconditions?). These conditions have everything to do with Cuba's internal governance, and we know perfectly well the Cuban government will not accept them, and least of all at the outset of negotiations when nothing is really on the table. There is certainly plenty to criticize about Cuban governance, but was it not this President who, at the Summit of the Americas in April, said he would not carry out a policy of interference in other countries?

But in fact, we continue to interfere in Cuba. This Administration continues to fund efforts to bring about the governance changes in Cuba that the United States wishes to see. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that these efforts are not only ineffective, but that they may in fact be counterproductive to the efforts of Cubans who are trying to create more political space for themselves in Cuba. Cuban dissident Miriam Leivia made this case forcefully when the Bush Administration stepped up USAID funding for democracy building in Cuba.

More to the point, how can two countries engage in a good faith dialogue - or a "new beginning" - when one of those countries is actively trying to supply and grow opposition within the other country's borders?

So, no, I don't think the honeymoon is over. But that's because I think it has yet to begin.

Carlos Varela Unplugged at New America


So often the conversation about Cuba turns on our two governments, and leaves out the people in between. So, today, it was a real pleasure to think about people, and how music speaks to and through them.

The New America Foundation's U.S. Cuba Policy Initiative, together with the Center for Democracy in the Americas, hosted a conversation featuring songwriter and musician Carlos Varela, one of Cuba’s most celebrated nueva trovadors. This was Varela's first trip in the U.S. in more than a decade.

Pulitizer Prize-winning commentator and Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson and Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times senior writer Tim Golden joined Varela. In 2004, Robinson published Last Dance in Havana: The Final Days of Fidel Castro and the Start of the New Cuban Revolution. Golden covered Cuba during the mid-1990’s when about the only thing Cubans had left to consume (and weren’t importing from the Soviet Bloc) was music.

Carlos Varela is a truly gifted poet – and what makes his work so interesting is that from one song (or CD, he’s got 8) to the next, he can treat such varied subject matter with equal subtlety, depth and grace, from love, to God, to politics and everything in between. The audience got to have a very personal conversation with Varela, talking about the "mystery" of how a Cuban musician can get on the air and make a living without leaving, equality and merit in Cuban society, waiting for President Obama (and not the other way around), and about a country hungry for meaning and connection in art. The discussion, and the music, are both well worth seeing here.

Something Carlos said about being a musician, and a fan, in Cuba struck me. Perhaps because Cubans don’t have CD shops every 100 meters, his fans really pay attention to and spend time with his lyrics. That’s important when your work relies so heavily on allegory, innuendo and metaphor.

I found myself wanting to ask some of the questions that many Americans start with: Do they play you on the radio? What does it mean that Cuban authorities gave you an exit permit? What does it mean that the U.S. authorities gave you the visa? (Megastar Silvio Rodriguez was not so lucky when Pete Seeger invited him to his 90th birthday party this summer.) Have you censored yourself to get along in Cuba? Do you resent these questions? Because clearly, you’ve had to walk the line and you’ve walked it with grace and power. You’ve stayed in Cuba and you do say a lot - especially to Cubans looking for catharsis. (That reminds me, can you play the one about the son of William Tell? You know, the one that is so obviously about Cuba's youth's impatience with Fidel?) Are any of my questions right on the money, or are they tiresome outsider questions that objectify Cuban art and life on the island?

In the end, I didn’t ask those questions. New America billed the show as a conversation where music and politics intersect – but frankly, I do enough talking and thinking about politics and policy already. Sometimes, it's just nice to just let art be art, and figure out the answers, whichever they might be, for yourself.

Cuba News Roundup

campesino%20in%20havana.jpg / CC BY-SA 2.0>

We here at The Havana Note like to read the news and then give our take on it. But sometimes, we're just going to bring you the news....

Over the last two years, Raul Castro's government has instituted reforms in the agriculture sector to help cut Cuba's costly food import bill. When the reforms began, half of the island's arable land lay idle, while the state imported two-thirds of the country's food consumption. Reuters reports on the ways that reforms seem to be paying off, with some 70,000 members of agricultural cooperatives acquiring leases on vacant land parcels. Farmers are also receiving vouchers they can redeem in hard-currency stores for fencing, feed and equipment. But much remains to be done to maximize production and distribution, including improving transportation and storage, and addressing a lack of fertilizer and pesticide.

Less progress on another crucial front: housing. AP reports that Cuba has fallen far short of its already scaled back goal for new housing construction - reaching just 60% of its goal for 2009, or 20,000 housing units. Four years ago, Fidel Castro spotlighted the need for more housing, and set the target at 100,000 homes for the year. And that was before 100,000 homes were damaged or destroyed in the unlucky 2008 hurricane season, when four - count them - hurricanes plowed through the island.

On Wednesday, Cuban officials in Havana "meeting" via videoconference in Washington, DC with travel industry representatives estimated that the U.S. economy is losing $1.1 billion in business associated with travel to Cuba. Officials said U.S. airlines are losing $600 million in revenue, which travel and booking agents are losing $300 million annually, and other service industries, such as food and beverages, lose $200 million annually in sales they could be making if Congress lifts the U.S. ban on travel to Cuba. The Business week story is here.

From the American People

As more details unfold about the detention of a US citizen in Cuba it becomes clear that the Obama Administration formula that "we've done our part, now it's Cuba's turn" is open to debate.

I'm assuming we can take the news reports at face value, and that the American in question was in fact arrested carrying out his duties for DAI under a project financed by USAID and the Department of State. If you are the Obama Department of State, you have to ask yourself if sprinkling a few cell phones and laptops around Cuba was really worth the effort -- not to mention the safety and well being of a civilian contractor who may not have had any idea what he was getting himself into. Yes, cell phone penetration in Cuba is the lowest in the western hemisphere. And yes, Cuba has harassed and imprisoned democracy advocates. To conclude that therefore the best course of action for USAID or the Department of State is to work on increasing the number of cell phones and laptops in Cuba is like adding two and two and getting five. It's like looking at Cuba but seeing Poland, circa 1981.

For starters, due to reforms in Cuba and in the United States, more Cubans can get their own cell phones. The Institution of Engineering and Technology provides a helpful perspective on telephony in Cuba, pointing out that although internet access is severely limited, an increasing percentage of Cubans are able to get cell phone contracts with the help of relatives abroad. Up to 60 percent of Cubans receive remittances from family in the US or elsewhere, and the Cuban telecommunications company ETECSA expects to sell 1.4 million new lines in the next five years.

Naturally, this is not an ideal solution. Many US observers would be happier if Cubans had the economic wherewithal and personal sovereignty to purchase their own cell phones and start chatting with whomever they wanted to call about whatever they felt like talking about. But, you would think that most people had become aware that Cuba is determined to run things a different way, and those that aren't happy with that should perhaps adapt their approaches, if not their goals. The organic process of slow reforms may not work to bring about the change they'd like to see, but that's not really the issue: the critical thing is that it doesn't appeal to those who are focused on changing the Cuban regime first and sorting everything else out later. The real problem is that the regime-change-first advocates have always been the main constituents of US programs to foster democracy in Cuba.

But there's another problem with the program: access. The fact is that even with laptops and cellphones, a Cuban user would still need an operational environment where you can use such devices to connect to others on the island and information sources abroad. But that is not the environment found in Cuba, as should be elementary to those that plan and implement US democracy programming. Whatever you think about this reality, it sort of commands attention.

It isn't as if there is no research in this area: Evgeny Morozov, a Fellow with the Open Society Institute, argues that actually, social networking media have contributed very little to mobilize democracy activists. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, the internet had minimal impact in the well-publicized 'color revolutions' of Europe, and it did little to mobilize democracy activists in Iran during the reform campaign waged around the recent elections in that country. It isn't that the internet is useless: Morozov argues that the internet can facilitate communication to democracy supporters outside the country. It just doesn't do a lot for democracy activists inside the country.

But, as noted above, this is not surprising if you consider that our so-called democracy programs in Cuba have always been designed with Americans in mind, not Cubans. Maybe the GAO evaluation of our democracy assistance has resulted in a change in some of the ways these programs are implemented, but the basic idea, driven by extreme partisans in the US Congress, is the same. Just as in the case of the enthusiastic support in certain US circles for Radio and Television Marti -- despite the fact that according to the GAO report fewer than one percent of Cubans tune in -- one has to ask: do the constituents of these programs live in Cuba, or the United States?

That's why it is no big obstacle to the pro-embargo crowd that so many prominent dissidents actually oppose the embargo, and especially the ban on travel (which would probably accomplish so many of the goals of the DAI program). But now is no time to start basing your strategy and tactics on mere facts.

To the man with a hammer, every problem is a nail. Take Senator LeMieux. Fresh from his success in protecting the ample budgets of Radio and TV Marti (ignoring the fact that these programs are so unappealing that almost no Cubans bother to hear or see them), he concludes that that because Cuba arrested a US citizen for distributing cell phones, the program is necessary. Wouldn't it be wiser to conclude that we should at last lift the travel ban and let our citizens -- the bearers of our patrimony of freedom -- bring those values to Cuba? Isn't that better than paying some contractor to do it? Maybe Sen. LeMeiux just likes to spend money.

Senator Menendez to Turn Down NJ Transportation Funding (Next Year)

Photo credit: Carly/Hoboken Now

On Friday afternoon, right before he voted to send the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2010 to President Obama’s desk, Senator Bob Menendez, a Cuban American from New Jersey, threatened to vote against it because of a provision that would facilitate U.S. food sales to Cuba:

. . . [T]he process by which these changes have been forced upon this body is so deeply offensive to me, and so deeply undemocratic, that I have no intention – no intention - of continuing to vote for omnibus appropriations bills if they are going to jam foreign policy changes down throats of members, in what some consider "must pass" bills.â€Â

Senator Menendez wanted to be clear, so he reiterated the threat and put his colleagues "on notice" that (though he was about to vote in favor of this particular bill), in the future, if any of them add Cuba provisions, count him out.

What’s all the fuss about? I’ll just warn you now, it’s much ado about nothing.
The Senator from New Jersey’s beef is with a provision in the bill - which appropriators first passed and posted for public viewing online July 9 of this year - that would clarify that when paying for U.S. food exports, Cuba must pay cash prior to taking title or control of the goods.

You see, despite our near total embargo on Cuba, Congress did make an exception in 2000, and authorized cash in advance food sales to Cuba. And, though Fidel Castro initially balked at the stringent terms of sale (“not one grain!â€Â), he later changed his mind. And that is how the United States became Cuba’s 5th largest trading partner (how’s that for irony?).

But in 2005, over objections from farmstate lawmakers, the Bush Administration narrowed the definition of “cash in advanceâ€Â for these sales (to require Cuban payment before shipment instead of before delivery, which, buyers and sellers warned would lead to unrelated legal tangles, and make the U.S. a less reliable supplier). As a result, U.S. agriculture exports to Cuba suffered. Since then, farmbelt lawmakers have been pushing to recover and increase U.S. market share in Cuba - all the more crucial this year, with U.S. farm income down by 38%.

Senator Menendez asserts that allowing Cuba to pay cash in advance of delivery instead of shipment amounts to a subsidy to the Cuban government, implying it offers credit on which Cuba will surely default. But it is quite the opposite, since the law still clearly prohibits any U.S. credit for Cuba. The senator predicts that Cuba won't pay U.S. farmers for their product when it is rescheduling debts with other creditors, but so far, Cuba has never missed a payment to U.S. exporters.

But let’s leave aside questions of accuracy. Query instead, is Senator Menendez truly serious? If he was so worried about the democratic process, why not insist on a vote to strip the offending provision? (Unless you know and won't like the outcome?)

Threatening to vote against millions in critical funding for your homestate every time Congress includes Cuba policy reforms on a must-pass bill is a mighty big - and lopsided - risk to take. Especially when your state’s list of projects in the bill-you’re-about-to-vote-against looks like this:

Transportation -- $212,105,000
• $200,000,000 for construction of the ARC Tunnel
• $800,000 for Passaic and Bergen County Intermodal Facility improvements
• $974,000 to Bergen County for a Specialized Bus Transit program
• $400,000 for the planning and design of the Hudson Bergen Light Rail Jersey City Bayfront Extension
• $300,000 for a traffic signal improvement project in Union City
• $1,948,000 for improvements to I-280 interchange in Harrison
• $1,948,000 for rail and station improvements at Newark Penn Station
• $487,000 to Newark for the North Broad Street Redevelopment project to include parking facilities, road improvements, bike lane developments, and streetscape improvements near the Broad Street Station and Military Park
• $1,250,000 for the Route 22 Sustainable Corridor Plan that would redefine an 8-mile section of Route 22 in Bridgewater Township and Somerville Borough from a high-speed arterial highway into a suburban boulevard design
• $300,000 to North Plainfield for downtown pedestrian and streetscape improvements
• $500,000 for construction of high-level platforms at the South Amboy Intermodal Station
• $974,000 for the Route 27 Renaissance 2000 Project to address long standing congestion and safety problems and support revitalization efforts of Franklin Township, New Brunswick and North Brunswick
• $500,000 for the construction of improvements at the intersection of Route 72 and East Road in Stafford Township
• $487,000 for the design and construction of improvements to a key North Camden gateway: 7th Street from Linden Street to Elm Street
• $487,000 for land planning, design, environmental remediation, and park and infrastructure development in the North Camden and Cramer Hill communities
• $750,000 for the rehabilitation of the Short Line Rail in Salem County
Economic Development and Low-Income Service Improvement -- $2,724,800
• $779,200 for renovations and improvements at Eva’s Village Kitchen and Recovery center in Paterson
• $400,000 for the remediation of a brownfield in Jersey City
• $194,800 for renovations of a senior citizen center in East Orange
• $400,000 for renovations at the Friendly Fuld Early Childhood Facility in Newark
• $250,000 to stabilize and rehabilitate the eroding banks of the Irvington Branch of Lightning Brook in Union Township
• $200,000 to 180 Turning Lives Around to construct and equip a domestic violence shelter in Monmouth County
• $250,000 for area renovation and remediation of the Bordentown Township Light Rail Transit Center
• $250,000 for the rehabilitation of buildings as part of the ongoing downtown revitalization in Hammonton
Job Training-- $375,000
• $275,000 to Beth Medrash Govoha to expand a job training initiative
• $100,000 to Covenant House New Jersey for education and job training services for formerly homeless youth in Covenant House residential centers
Health Care Facilities and Services-- $8,600,000
• $750,000 to Atlantic Health – Morristown Memorial Hospital for emergency department expansion and renovation
• $200,000 to AtlantiCare Special Care Center for facilities and equipment
• $100,000 to Autism New Jersey for a patient navigator project that will develop a system to assist individuals, families, and professionals impacted by autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) navigate the service delivery system in New Jersey
• $250,000 to the Bacharach Institute for Rehabilitation for facility improvements and equipment for the Sleep Disorders Center
• $300,000 to Bergen Regional Medical Center for facility renovations and equipment
• $500,000 to Community Medical Center for facility improvements and equipment at the J. Phillip Citta Regional Cancer Center
• $200,000 to Cooper Health System for emergency department expansion at Cooper University Hospital
• $125,000 to Essex County for a diabetes prevention and management program for severely mentally ill adults
• $100,000 to the Friends of the Congressional Glaucoma Caucus Foundation for the New Jersey Mobile Eye Care Screening Initiative
• $500,000 to Holy Name Hospital for facility improvements and equipment for the Holy Name Hospice Care Program
• $300,000 to JFK Medical Center for a digital mammography system at the JFK Breast Care Center
• $100,000 to Meridian Health for emergency department renovations and expansion at the Ocean Medical Center
• $100,000 to the Metropolitan Family Health Network for equipment upgrades at the Breast Imaging Mammography Center
• $500,000 to Monmouth Medical Center for expansion to the emergency department
• $300,000 to Newton Memorial Hospital for facility improvements and equipment
• $350,000 to Palisades Medical Center for emergency department renovations
• $300,000 to Saint Barnabas Health Care System Foundation for health information technology
• $600,000 to Saint Clare’s Health System for facility improvements and equipment for Emergency Medical Services (EMS)
• $500,000 to Shore Memorial Hospital for facility improvements and equipment for the hospital’s Surgical Pavilion
• $600,000 to Somerset Medical Center for an electronic medical records initiative
• $350,000 to St. Francis Medical Center for facility improvements and equipment for the emergency department
• $950,000 to St. Mary’s Hospital for facility improvements and equipment
• $400,000 to Trinitas Health Foundation for facility improvements and equipment at the Trinitas Center for Regional Education
• $225,000 to Zufall Health Center for facility improvements and equipment for the Hunterdon Family Dental Center
Social Services -- $2,087,000
• $225,000 to the Jewish Family Service of Somerset, Hunterdon and Warren Counties for the Somerville Aging-In-Place program
• $300,000 to Jewish Family Service of Central New Jersey for their Aging-In-Place program
• $150,000 to SingleStop USA for the SingleStop facility in Essex County which provides tax credit access, legal assistance and financial counseling services
• $312,000 to Somerset Hills School District Cultural Tolerance Education Initiative
• $400,000 to the Somerset Home for Temporarily Displaced Children’s Bridge House transitional and permanent housing program
• $200,000 to UJA Federation of Northern NJ for their Aging-In-Place Demonstration Project
• $100,000 to United Jewish Communities for MetroWest New Jersey for their Independent Aging Initiative.
• $400,000 for Wynona’s House for a child sexual abuse intervention program
Education -- $3,050,000
• $300,000 to the Bloomfield Board of Education to help provide alternative education for academically-challenged students
• $550,000 to Caldwell College for equipment and curriculum development for Caldwell’s Autism Clinic program
• $500,000 to Farleigh Dickinson University for curriculum development and equipment for the Latino Education program
• $300,000 to the Morris Museum for their science education program
• $100,000 to the New Jersey State Library Talking Book and Braille Center for equipment for its awareness campaign
• $300,000 to St. Peter’s College for equipment and technology
• $400,000 to Union County College for curriculum development in clean energy jobs education and training
• $100,000 to Voices of September 11th for a 9/11 living memorial digital archive
• $350,000 to Warren County Community College Foundation for facility improvements and equipment for its Health Education and Professional Development Center
• $150,000 to the West New York Board of Education Alternative Fuel Education Program
Law Enforcement Technology -- $7,950,000
• $1,000,000 to the New Jersey Institute of Technology to for the ongoing development of technology to safeguard handguns from unauthorized use based on biometric identification
• $240,000 to Pompton Lakes for police and emergency services interoperability equipment upgrades
• $900,000 to Bergen County for a county-wide public safety radio communication system
• $200,000 to Hackensack for police and emergency services communication upgrades
• $500,000 to East Rutherford for police communication infrastructure
• $500,000 to Newark for interoperability equipment at the Emergency Operations Center
• $400,000 to Newark for an initiative to assist returning offenders to productively integrate back into society
• $450,000 to Orange for public safety information technology
• $200,000 to Irvington Police Department for a Computer Aided Dispatch/Record Management System (CAD/RMS)
• $650,000 to Union City for law enforcement technology
• $100,000 to Bayonne for law enforcement technology
• $1,000,000 to Summit for a regional police and emergency management interoperable communication network and facility
• $500,000 to Woodbridge for an interoperable law enforcement trucked digital radio system
• $610,000 to Trenton for a gunshot location system, radio communication upgrade, and a youth violence and gang prevention program
• $200,000 to the City of Camden for equipment at the Camden Police Mobile Communication Center
• $500,000 to Camden County for a county-wide interoperability system
Mentoring/Youth Development -- $4,500,000
• $200,000 to Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services in Teaneck for a child abuse prevention program

• $250,000 to All Saints Community Service and Development Corporation Jubilee Center in Hoboken to support and expand programs for children touched by violence.
• $300,000 to Jersey City Housing Authority for a drug elimination program
• $250,000 to Housing Authority of Plainfield for an after school and summer gang prevention initiative
• $500,000 to Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office for a SPEAK UP Hotline Outreach and Public Education program. SPEAK UP is a national hotline (1-866-SPEAK-UP) for students to anonymously report weapon-related threats in their schools and communities
• $400,000 to the USA Swimming Foundation for a Regional Youth Development program in Asbury, Bayonne, Jersey City, Newark and Plainfield
• $500,000 to Community YMCA in Middletown for a gang prevention program
• $500,000 to 180 Turning Lives Around in Hazlet for a child and teen violence reduction and treatment program
• $400,000 for Big Brothers Big Sisters Foundation of New Jersey for a mentoring initiative
• $350,000 to D.A.R.E. New Jersey for a middle school drug prevention and safety program
• $100,000 to the New Jersey Department of Children and Families for child forensic interviews at child advocacy centers throughout the state
• $250,000 for the Brick Township Police Athletic League after-school and kids camp program
• $200,000 to Generations Incorporated in Lindenwold for a youth mentoring program
• $50,000 to Crossroads Program in Willingboro for a youth gang prevention program
• $250,000 to KidsPeace for a therapeutic foster care program in Cumberland County
Science, Environment -- $1,450,000
• $250,000 to Monmouth University for the Resilient Urban Community and Ecosystem (RESCUE) Initiative to support the ongoing integration of water quality monitoring with other observations to provide relevant data that can be used by state and local environmental officials, water resource and water utility managers, recreational boaters, fishers and swimmers, coastal and estuarine managers and watershed managers
• $200,000 to the Delaware River Basin Commission for an enhanced flood warning system along the Delaware River
• $1,000,000 to the Partnership for Mid-Atlantic Fisheries for a multi-state multi-institutional partnership that will use academic, recreational and commercial fisheries resources to develop targeted science initiatives to improve the assessment and management process

• $9,700,000 for McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey Air National Guard 108th Refueling Wing for facility improvements to the base civil engineering complex
• $7,900,000 for McGuire Air Force Base, United States Air Force for construction of a new base operations and command post facility
• $10,200,000 for Picatinny Arsenal for the second phase of the construction of a ballistic experimentation facility that will provide the capability to prepare weapons and artillery
• $205,000 to Essex County to create a Resource Center for Small, Women and Minority Owned Businesses
• $100,000 to the New Jersey Regional Office of the Cuban American National Council in Union City to provide financial education services to low and moderate income residents of Hudson County and the surrounding area
• $100,000 to the NJ Department of Community Affairs, Division on Women to help women with minimal business experience become successful entrepreneurs.
• $100,000 to Project Ezrah Needs in Englewood to provide financial counseling and employment services
• $271,050 to Rutgers University in Newark for the New Jersey Urban Entrepreneurship Development program that will help to increase the level of entrepreneurship and economic development in urban areas of NJ
• $250,000 to Woodbridge Township to redevelop a brownfields site on Pennval Road and establish a Green Technology Incubator

Inherent Contradictions Cripple US Policy


"obviously, we all hope in the not-too-distant future to be able to see a democratic Cuba, something that would be extraordinarily positive for our hemisphere"

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

One more opportunity lost. Unbidden, the only words the Secretary of State directed to US policy with Cuba during Friday's State Department briefing on Latin America simply dug us deeper into a dead end interventionist ditch. No one asked her or Assistant Secretary Valenzuela about the Administration's policy on non-tourist travel or on legislation restoring freedom to Americans; nor did either volunteer a comment. (James Early of the Smithsonian raised the topic in his dialogue with Assistant Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero but got no response. See it here at 55 minutes in.)

The underlying contradiction of US policy exploded in the New York Times the next day when it was reported that since December 5 Cuba has detained the employee of a subcontractor using USAID funds to help opponents of the government. (Could there be a connection with the postponement of bilateral talks on migration that was announced on December 4?)

The US can and should aspire to improvements in other countries democracies and human rights, as others may comment upon our own money distorted political system, incarceration rate and absence of a fundamental human right to universal health care. However trying to impose values or intervene financially is wrong in principle, distorts internal democratic evolution, and often results in unforeseen blow backs to our own interests and to those whom we seek to help (by fostering illusions of their significance and safety).

For years Congress has been appropriating millions of dollars for the ostensible purpose of encouraging democracy and human rights in Cuba. In reality the money approved by a Republican controlled Congress was mostly pork, intended to benefit Cuban Americans in Miami who (surprise) supported Republican candidates with donations and votes. Much of the money went to the supremely irrelevant Radio and TV Marti. It also funded academic work by the Cuba Transition Project at the University of Miami and others that propagandize Americans against their country of origin. Grants were also made to Cuban American organizations which claimed to be sending assistance to a democratic opposition in Cuba.
This sweet deal ran into trouble when the Democrats took control of Congress. An Appropriations Committee effort led by Representative Nita Lowey to cut back the amount of money was overturned on the floor of Congress, thanks to the votes of Miami PAC influenced Democrats. Representatives Charles Rangel and Bill Delahunt requested GAO reports which focused devastatingly on the corruption of no-bid contracts and misuse of grants. USAID tried to address the problem by channeling the money to an independent contractor.

Some forty million dollars was given to Development Alternatives Inc., a private liberal toned organization with many former USAID staff in its management. DAI in turn offered subcontracts, posting criteria and goals which Cuba and critics of US policy denounced as illegal intervention in the domestic affairs of a sovereign country. (See post by Dr. Nelson Valdez of the University of New Mexico in May 2008.)

DAI and the subcontractor's detained employee are caught in the middle of the fundamental contradiction of the Obama Administration's policy on Cuba. It is real hard to engage a country in dialogue and at the same time overtly seek to overturn its political system, even if you no longer use the term regime change. The program DAI is implementing is a poisonous hangover from the Cuba Transition Project arrogance of the Bush Administration. The preoccupied Obama Administration has failed to address the contradiction, and the President's own rhetoric has been inconsistent.

Carefully parsed words in a statement by DAI President Jim Boomgard may reflect the goals of the USAID grant and serve their purpose with Congress and the US media, but are not likely to do much good with Latin Americans in general, and certainly his most important audience in Cuba.

In 2008, DAI competed for and was awarded a contract, the Cuba Democracy and Contingency Planning Program, to help the U.S. Government implement activities in support of the rule of law and human rights, political competition, and consensus building, and to strengthen civil society in support of just and democratic governance in Cuba

From Havana's perspective, the issue is not simply the burden of fifty years of publicly proclaimed subversion and hostility, but over 100 years of interference and attempted economic and political domination.

DAI will help its subcontractor's employee and the Administration most by simply acknowledging this project was inappropriate and that all future projects in Cuba will follow normal USAID protocol of vetting with the intended recipient country. They should pledge to follow the model of US funded agencies in Vietnam, China and Saudi Arabia and adopt the good practices of allied countries with embassies and aid programs in Cuba like Canada, England and Spain.

With mutual respect, creativity and serious diplomacy by USINT and above board US NGOs, projects might be possible which actually advance long term US goals. For example carefully developed microfinance programs could be acceptable to both countries, as they are in Vietnam.

This is a teachable moment for Americans and Cubans, but it could also be destructive to our shared real interests.

Chris Herz has suggested in a Venezuela blog post from Washington that the subcontractor's employee be held for exchange with the Cuban 5. That may sound outrageous, but could find a sympathetic hearing in a Havana which is becoming disillusioned about the Obama Administration's intentions and priorities. Guilt lies in the eye of each beholder, suspicious of covertly inserted agents of the hostile foreign power that claims only the best of intentions, whether to foster democracy or protect against terrorism.

The stakes are being raised for DAI both in Cuba and Venezuela by Eva Golinger in her blog Postcards from the Revolution where she denounces DAI and the subcontract employee as fronts for the CIA. Golinger can be over the top, but is close to Chavez and read in Cuba.

Hopefully, for the sake of its own international credibility, DAI has an established policy against collaborating with the CIA or serving as a cover, and if so it should be made public. In any case Golinger's unsubstantiated allegations are a red herring. The real issue is DAI's programs and processes with Cuba. For the well-being of DAI's subcontracted employee and others who are being funded from the same source, as well as any hope for change in bilateral relations, a suspension or fundamental reconfiguration of USAID programs for Cuba must take place.

John McAuliff
Fund for Reconciliation and Development


Phil Peters Cubantriangle has an excellent post on this issue.

Cuba, the United States and Human Rights

Photo credit: EFE

Yesterday was International Human Rights Day, and, as would be expected, human rights activists in Cuba organized several events mark the day, inviting press and foreign diplomats to observe and cover the demonstration. Three demonstrations were organized, in one case with as many as 50 activists, and in two other cases, carried out by perhaps less than a dozen. In all three cases, the activists were met and repudiated by protestors who yelled, booed and chanted at and over them.

At one of these demonstrations, one featuring no more than a handful of human rights activists and about 200 of their critics, the counter-demonstrators were seen pushing and hitting people, and CNN ran footage of people being shoved into cars. A foreign diplomat who was there to observe the demonstration was himself surrounded and harassed by the crowd.

As usual, I find myself wondering where U.S. policy fits into this picture.

"They are mercenaries," yelled one demonstrator who did not give his name. "They are paid by the United States of America, the same country that has a blockade on us, who threaten our children, who have killed more than 2,000 Cubans."

You might be tempted to just wave this off as propaganda and hyperbole. It is both of those things. But these are actually two very crucial points on which the failure of U.S. policy turns. The United States does dedicate millions of dollars a year to aiding and publicizing the work of Cuban dissidents, both on and off the island. And during the Bush Administration, as our policy fixated on regime change in Havana, or “hastening the transition,â€Â that aid quadrupled. The more the United States focused on Cuba’s dissidents, the more Cuban authorities did too. Some dissidents, like Miriam Leivia, kept their distance as a result:

Leivia wrote: "According to the [2004 Bush] commission's report, millions of dollars will be allocated to assisting Cuba's dissidents. But this money will only serve as evidence for the Cuban government to crack down on those who receive it. The reality is that the majority of the money will stay in Florida -- and we will go to prison.

Remember that 75 prisoners of conscience from Castro's repressive crackdown in March 2003 were accused of being mercenaries at the service of the United States. The pretext for their arrest was the "workshops" held in the home of James Cason, who runs the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. The majority of dissidents did not participate, but American support for the dissidents, however well intentioned, helped land them in jail."

Bilateral tensions were at a knife's edge back in 2003, and have since eased considerably under new U.S. and Cuban leadership. But the legacy remains of the Bush Administration's singular focus on a small number of Cubans who choose to challenge their government, while the Obama Administration appears willing (from the average Cuban's standpoint) to continue to isolate the rest of the nation.

In addition to its broad ban on travel to the island, the United States continues to maintain an almost total financial and trade embargo on Cuba (and thus, by extension, the Cuban people who live there) - and even penalizes third countries who would do any business at all with Cuba. One ridiculous case in point: just dropped from its website its private Cuban homestay bookings – because it was bought by an American company.

Amnesty International, and other rights groups that consistently criticized Cuba's record on human rights have just as consistently condemned the U.S. embargo due to the adverse impacts it has had on average Cubans:

Amnesty International urges the US government to lift the nearly five–decade long economic and trade embargo against Cuba as it is detrimental to the fulfilment of the economic and social rights of the Cuban people. It obstructs and constrains efforts by the Cuban government to purchase essential medicines, medical equipment and supplies, food and agricultural products, construction materials and access to new technologies.

If you are 50 years old or younger, and you live in Cuba, you’ve lived your entire life under a U.S. embargo of your country. But what if, after 50 years, the United States were to finally engage Cuba – all Cubans, not just a few Cubans? What epithets and slogans would yesterday’s angry counter-demonstrators have to yell at that small band of human rights activists instead? Would they show up at all?

If the United States truly wants to help improve human rights conditions in Cuba, a first step would be to stop contributing to the problem.

If a Tree Falls in the Forest...

Florida's Senator George LeMieux successfully defended Radio and Television Marti's $34 million budget from a major cut yesterday, and the newcomer was greatly relieved. "These programs," he said, "are essential to spreading the message of democracy."

Really? Radio and TV Marti? The programs that, according to the GAO, less than one percent of Cubans tune in to?
Apparently, Sen. LeMieux is unaware of a recent Nuevo Herald story in which leading dissident Vladimiro Roca says, "The [Radio Marti] programming is so bad and so uninteresting to the Cuban people that no one listens to it." (Then again, maybe it isn't the audience in Cuba that the Senator is interested in...)

But let's take the Senator at his word. There are a number of professionally run and popular media programs run out of the Washington offices of Voice of America, and there are plenty of people in Cuba who would enjoy the kinds of programming that the Voice of America broadcasts. Why not do what the Cuba Study Group has suggested: move the Radio/TV operation back to Washington and restore it to a level of quality that would make it relevant? They argue that the $34 million should be spent on a thorough, top-to-bottom review of the program that will result in a high-quality, professional product that people will want to listen to, which is what we have in the rest of Latin America.

Until then, let's at least face the music: We are spending $34 million a year programming for Cuba that doesn't arrive. Undeterred, Congress has agreed that about half of this money should finance broadcasting from -- this is impossible to make up -- an aircraft flying around the island, in an effort to break through the Cubans' efforts to block the signal. Adding insult to injury, that doesn't work either Where are those budget hawks when you need them?

There is an easier way to reach Cubans: let Americans do it for free. Scrap the failed specialty broadcasting from Miami, stop Air Strangelove, and let VOA cover Cuba from Washington. Then lift the travel ban and ask visiting Americans to leave behind their newspapers and magazines. It won't cost us a dime, and it will reach a lot more Cubans.

Kerry's Cuba Policy Review - There's More

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images North America

Along with his Cuba op-ed in the St. Peterburg Times this week, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry published yesterday in the Congressional Record a longer, more historical, and more comprehensive look at where our policy on Cuba has been and where it ought to go. Phil Peters at the Cuban Triangle offers an excellent sum-up here (Peters was particularly struck by Kerry's "conservative" perspective on the utility of continuing bloated, mismanaged government-funded Cuba programs that haven't achieved their goals).

Chairman Kerry's excellent, thoughtful treatment is more than worth the read, if for no other reason than this: he essentially offers up the policy review Secretary Clinton promised the Senate Foreign Relations Committee 11 months ago but, apparently, no one produced.

Kerry's speech offers sober realities: a child who was 10 years old when Fidel Castro assumed power in Cuba is now 60 years old - having spent his entire life under Fidel and walled off from America. Cuba's economic model is "profoundly flawed," he notes, and human rights conditions are "dismal". Are these the results we hoped our policy would produce?

The senator contrasts the Clinton and G.W. Bush administrations' approaches to Cuba. One reached out broadly to Cuban civil society, which benefited broadly. The other one sounds (scary but true) like this:

Unfortunately, the Bush administration shut down most forms of contact and dramatically reduced our interactions to a tightly regulated, government controlled trickle. They tightened licensing procedures, reduced transparency, and put government in the people’s way in what amounted to a unilateral suspension of Americans’ ability to help Cubans shape their future. People-to-people relations were made secretive, filtered, and for narrow objectives. That is the opposite of pro-democracy.

Senator Kerry acknowledges the positive steps the Obama Administration has taken to bring Cuban families closer together, and to begin, in a limited way, engaging the Cuban government on mutual interests.

But clearly, he's impatient for this Administration to undertake a more serious, more comprehensive, and more pro-active approach to Cuba. There's more, much more, to this tortured policy than just family travel and remittances.

What about the millions spent (and quadrupled during the previous 8 years) on democracy advocacy in and out of Cuba? Senator Kerry wonders if the singular emphasis on declared anti-government activists has neglected other important sectors of Cuban society that may also want change and benefit from U.S. engagement. He also suggests the millions spent on the "TV (pronounced "teh-veh) que no se ve" - the TV that no one sees - might not be the brightest investment of U.S. government resources.

Pointedly, Kerry praises President Clinton's "unilateral" (quotation marks are Kerry's, not mine) decision to encourage people-to-people diplomacy - something Clinton did, Kerry emphasizes, "without conditions on Havana." Gosh, I'm sure there's a message in there somewhere for the current Administration, which has wandered several times into that no man's land of 'we're waiting for Havana.'

Finally, the senator makes his case for lifting the U.S. travel ban altogether. He points out that international travelers have already made many Cubans less dependent on their government for subsistence, something American travelers will build on (and to greater effect, considering the political significance inside Cuba of our longstanding policy of isolation).

People can argue about the rate or degree of change American travel may in Cuba and on the Cuban government. (For his part, Kerry harbors no illusions about a quick change in the Cuban leadership.) But Kerry finds it hard to argue, 45 years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, and 20 years after the fall of the Berlin wall, that there is any compelling reason to continue denying Americans the fundamental right to travel wherever we choose.

Chairman Kerry throws his support behind Freedom to Travel

Photo credit:

Two weeks before the House Foreign Affairs Committee heard arguments last month for lifting the U.S. travel ban on Cuba, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry was slated to headline a Cuba policy conference at Boston University. But he cancelled, due to Senate votes expected back in Washington.

For anyone who was left wondering where John Kerry stands on Cuba as a result, one need read no further than tomorrow's St. Petersburg Times. In a powerful op-ed, the Chairman announces his support for the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act. He writes:

First, at a minimum, the [Obama] administration should reinvigorate people-to-people relations. When announcing expanded family travel, the president said, "There are no better ambassadors for freedom than Cuban-Americans." True, but there are 299 million other Americans whose challenging minds, economic success, love for democracy and solid values make them proud ambassadors as well.

Second, the administration should review the programs that the Bush administration funded generously to substitute for people-to-people diplomacy.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is already considering how best to reform Radio and TV Martí. After 18 years TV Martí it still has no significant audience in Cuba. U.S. civil society programs may have noble objectives, but we need to examine whether we're achieving them.

Yes, you read that right. U.S. taxpayers pay millions every year to beam U.S. information and influence to the Cuban people over airwaves that literally no one in Cuba can see, when we could bring that information and influence - at no expense to taxpayers - if allowed to travel freely to Cuba. (And by the way, Senator Kerry was being a bit generous when he said TV Marti has no "significant" audience.)

Such an approach, Chairman Kerry argues, fails to play to our own strengths. And though he commends President Obama's first moves to reform U.S. Cuba policy, Kerry considers them a good "start."

The senator saves the highest praise for the Clinton Administration's approach, which he argues "refocused policy around what matters: on the Cuban people, not the Castro brothers; on the future, not the past; and on America's long-term national interests, not the political expediencies of a given moment."

Kerry's assessment offers a roadmap for the current administration - but will they follow? His commentary certainly offers the political space to do so. And if not, the Chairman outlined, too, his own next steps on Cuba policy: lifting the travel ban in Congress.

Listening but not hearing…


“In fact, when it comes to U.S. policy in Latin America â€â€ as events this week in Honduras suggest â€â€ it's often hard to tell if George W. Bush isn't still President…. Coup-happy forces in other Latin American countries can only feel emboldenedâ€Â

Tim Padgett, Time Magazine

As an Obama volunteer in the New Hampshire primary, I had the good fortune to hear him speak at a rally in Keene. It was striking that the theme that absolutely electrified his diverse audience was his pledge to change the relationship of the US to the world.

We believed he would engage internationally in a very different way than had George Bush and by inference many of his predecessors. Because of his unusual heritage and experience, he would be the first post-cold war, post-interventionist President. .

Obama’s supporters obviously were not hearing everything he said, nor, as President, has Obama been hearing what the world is saying.

As deeply as it has disappointed many of his campaign stalwarts, we should have expected last week’s speech on Afghanistan given his frequent campaign contrasts between the good war there with the bad one in Iraq.

At the same time, we were justified in expecting better from his policy toward Latin America. Yet closest to home the White House is proving to be tone deaf, and unable to match its practice to high-minded rhetoric of mutual respect and non-imposition of US political values.

The Obama Administration's decision to embrace the compromised elections in Honduras drives a wedge between the US and the most powerful fully democratic and independent countries of the Hemisphere. It has prompted widespread disenchantment. Poor Tom Shannon; if right wing Republicans in the Senate finally let him be confirmed as ambassador to Brazil he will spend his tenure defending his role in legitimizing the golpistas at the most critical final moment.

How can the US avoid suspicion that Washington either was incompetent at brokering a smooth reversal of the coup or that our goal from the beginning was an anti-left transition managed by old friends in the oligarchy? Venezuela will gain sympathy for its charge that Obama is not such a big change after all.

The bottom line reality is that with two-thirds of the Honduran vote counted, only 49% of those eligible participated, a dramatic drop from the 62% figure spun on election day, and significantly down from the 55% turn-out in 2005. (Reports on actual vote here and here.)

The best non-violent solution I can imagine now is for President-elect Lobo to pledge to fully pardon Zelaya of the phony charges lodged by the coup makers and to make him responsible for organizing an assembly to rewrite the Constitution that was drafted by the last military junta. Otherwise disgruntled conservatives elsewhere in the Hemisphere may conclude that extra-constitutional removal of elected left governments is OK with Washington.

Obama’s policy toward Cuba is an equally distressing example of not hearing. I won’t repeat what I have written in previous blogs about the Administration’s defiant isolationism on the embargo or its unconscionable failure to restore even the semi-adequate Clinton policies on educational, cultural, religious and humanitarian travel. Suffice to say that Obama is paying a needless international price for his slow domestically driven Miami-centric approach to the most egregious example of old style Yanqui bullying.

With foreign policy as with health care, the Administration must be made aware that the patience of its supporters and allies is not limitless and can no longer be taken for granted. I read the message from Obama to Yoani and the comments by Speaker Pelosi as place holders at best and remain skeptical that Congress will adopt travel legislation unless the White House sends a signal.

The message could be private, but the President will only get the international credit he deserves and needs by acting forcefully to enable non-tourist travel and to endorse the pending legislation.

John McAuliff
Fund for Reconciliation and Development


Christiane Amanpour presented two outstanding segments on travel to Cuba in her important Sunday afternoon CNN interview show. Speaking in the first segment were Representative Howard Berman and Jose Miguel Vivanco of Human Rights Watch. In the second segment were Karel de Gucht, European Union Commissioner for Development, and Col. Larry Wilkerson of the New America Foundation.

Transcript of both segments here.

Video of Wilkerson and de Gucht here


Motives for ending travel restrictions are varied. The most articulate proponents of the case that the freedom of Americans is the primary issue come from a libertarian perspective, as well articulated by the CATO Institute. Its December 2 Capitol Hill Briefing with Representative Jeff Flake (R-AZ); Phil Peters, Vice President, Lexington Institute; and Ian Vásquez, Director, Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity is worth watching for itself. Even more so because the Nuevo Herald published an AFP story which completely reversed Flake’s prediction of favorable prospects for passage of the travel legislation in the House. View it here.

Can Secretary Clinton Put Some Points on the Board?

Photo credit: Alex Wong (Getty Images)

It's been a rough few months for President Obama. To say nothing of the domestic policy challenges he's faced, the President has also had setbanks in his foreign policy. From Israel/Palestine, Iran, North Korea, Honduras, and most especially now Afghanistan, he just can't score a win. And these days, friends and foes alike, at home and abroad, are wondering, what happened to the "change" he promised?

Rome wasn't built in a day, but by reading the blogs and watching the 24-hour news networks you'd think it should have been. It's quite a bit early to be writing this Administration's epitaph. As I recall, President Clinton's first year was abysmal enough to usher in a wave of Republicans into Congress with their "Contract with America" the very next year. Surely this team is learning the ropes, and learning from its missteps.

So what can this Administration do to finally get some foreign policy points on the board? The problem with most of our foreign policy challenges is that they either don't matter enough to us (remember that coup in Fiji, how that's working out?) or they matter too much to take real risks (think Israel, Iran, North Korea, China, Afghanistan) with conceivable rewards.

Next week offers Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a modest risk-taking, point-scoring opportunity on Cuba.
On December 11th, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will deliver remarks and take questions at the first Diplomacy Briefing series conference, the focus of which will be U.S. relations with Latin America. We can expect two sticky issues to dominate: Honduras and Cuba. I think we can all agree that there are no points to be scored on Honduras at this stage in the game. (There were no good options, and we missed an opportunity to pick the least bad option.)

But on Cuba, for all of this Administration's ill-advised conditions-based posturing, nothing is yet too far gone. Secretary Clinton doesn't even need to mention Cuba in her remarks to score points, because reporters are bound to ask her two questions: 1) Are you waiting for a response from the Cuban government after you implemented changes to family travel and remittances in September? and, 2) If Congress moves to lift the travel ban would the Administration be opposed?

If Secretary Clinton answers both questions with the equivalent of a no (diplomats never get right to the point, do they?), she sends an encouraging signal both to the Cuban government and to Congress. Hopefully by now, the Secretary understands that the Cuban government will not make any gesture if it is cast as a "response" or a "condition"; only in the absence of explicit expectations should we expect anything at all. With the next round of bilateral migration talks slated for February, now is a good time to send such a message to Cuba.

For its part, Congress is clearly ready to lift at least the travel ban on Cuba (how many bills amass 180 cosponsors, really?). The House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman, Howard Berman, has already put his weight behind lifting the ban. But a signal from the Administration would inspire the sort of boldness and commitment it will take Berman and his allies in Congress to finish the job.

A real opening to Cuba would be an easy way to deliver on the President's promise of "change." And this change would score no fewer than 187 points - the number of countries that voted against this President's Cuba policy back in October.

Mrs. Clinton need not cross the finish line herself to score the points. But one hopes she knows there is no point in repeating the unsuccessful 'you, first!' formulations used over and over again by the previous Administration, which, on Cuba, never added up to anything.

Smart Power: Can we learn from the British Council?

The Royal Ballet performing in Cuba

British Council CEO Martin Davidson and Raoul Shah visited New America this week to talk about smart power. Such power, to paraphrase one of its theorists, Joseph S. Nye, Jr., accrues to a country as the sum of its "culture (when it is attractive to others), its values (when they are attractive and not undercut by inconsistent practices) and [its] policies (when they are seen as inclusive and legitimate)."

The New Yorker's Hendrick Hertzberg, at the time of President Obama's inauguration, heralded this idea as one that would "renew the venerable doctrine of liberal internationalism in a non-stupid way."

To scan the news, you would think the very idea of dialogue was defunct: what has the upstart administration accomplished for all its overtures and openness? To listen to Davidson, though, the idea still has legs. True engagement is harder than mere strategic communications. It is also a "slow burn." And progress (when and if it does come) is difficult to measure. But it is a necessary companion to the instruments of statecraft, and --argued Davidson and Shah-- the surest way to ensure that peace and development cross borders.
The British Council works in over 100 countries, independently of the British Government. Davidson divided some of the more challenging contexts into two categories: isolated countries (like Zimbabwe and Burma) and trust deficit countries (like Pakistan and Iraq). Davidson and Shah have their work cut out for them, but they seem to mean it when they say they're creating opportunities for people to understand each other better in a turbulent world.

What would it look like if we had an American Council, and what would we do in Cuba? The British Council has brought the Royal Ballet to Havana; we put the kibosh on the New York Philharmonic for reasons that only a bureaucrat could really appreciate. The British Council is teaching Cuban English teachers, and has sent a Darwin exhibition on a tour of the island, and provides scholarships so Cubans can study in the UK. What are we doing? Trying, and failing, to bombard Cubans with political messages. Not a whole lot we can be proud of. Is this the best way to share our values? As Davidson and Shah put it, there is a stark difference between cultural relations and mere public diplomacy: in the former you are inviting dialogue, and in the latter you're messaging. We are a long way from going beyond the dueling monologues.

But there's still so much hope. To revisit Davidson's categories: as hard as the US Government has tried to force Cuba into the "isolated" group, we've failed -- Cuba is not really isolated from anyone (in no small part because of the efforts of our closest allies like the UK). And as hard as the Cuban Government continues to try to force Cuba into the "trust deficit" category, they've failed: Cubans love Americans, and vice versa.

That's why the Cuba policy is so frustrating: we have so much that we can build on, even after fifty years of conflict. But we refuse to get out of our own way.

Guest Post by British Ambassador to Cuba Dianna Melrose: A View from Havana


Contrary to what has been suggested on the Capitol Hill Cubans website, I couldn’t agree more with Senator Richard Lugar and Representative Howard Berman's recent assessment that "over the last five decades, it has become clear that isolation will not induce the Castro regime to take steps towards political liberalization." (Miami Herald, Lift the ban, let Americans visit Cuba).

Several excellent reports issued this spring by Senator Lugar, the Lexington Institute, Brookings and others, together with diplomats in Havana agree on this point: attempts to politically isolate Cuba and the economic embargo have not served US strategic interests. They have harmed ordinary people on the island. As dissidents argue, they have given the Cuban government a convenient scapegoat for all the hardships inflicted on their people by tight state control and lack of economic freedoms. Moreover, it is much easier to maintain political legitimacy whilst suppressing fundamental human rights and freedoms, if people on the island are made to feel that their country is under attack.

The Obama administration has already made a positive move in lifting the restrictions on travel and remittances for Cuban Americans. This has been widely welcomed on the island, especially amongst divided families. Members of Cuban civil society and dissidents on the island, with whom we are in regular contact, are hoping for more, most immediately Congress lifting of the broader ban on Americans traveling to Cuba.

Opponents of freeing up travel to Cuba for all US citizens argue that an influx of US tourists would benefit the government, not the people, given heavy state control of the economy. But former political prisoners, like the economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe, Miriam Leiva, the blogger Yoani Sánchez (who recently hit the headlines when she received a letter from President Obama) and many others disagree. They argue that the arrival of thousands of US citizens would put pressure on the government to allow more free enterprise (more family businesses offering rooms to rent, more privately owned “paladarâ€Â restaurants and more taxi licences). The government would have to import more food for the tourism sector, potentially creating new markets for US suppliers. Critics of the government here see it as deeply ironic that, whereas US citizens are unable to visit Cuba without special licences, the US is now Cuba's fifth largest trading partner (primarily because of some $1 billion food imports last year).

People here want change, but they also fear the unknown and what they might lose. Because the vast majority are unable to leave the island, they are also starved of international contacts. If they were able to talk to US citizens, with whom they share so many sporting, cultural and historical links, they could benefit from learning about the civil liberties and economic freedoms which US citizens enjoy. This contact would also help debunk the daily fare of anti-US propaganda they have grown up with in the state-run media.

I witnessed first hand the excitement and joy of hundreds of thousands of mainly young Cubans who crowded into the Plaza de la Revolución for the Juanes concert in September, with its messages of peace and reconciliation and the need for change. Following a very successful tour by our Royal Ballet in the summer, many Cuban friends expressed their deep disappointment that US travel restrictions meant the visit of the New York Philharmonic planned for this autumn was cancelled.

The UK has full diplomatic and trading relations with Cuba and is the second largest source of tourists here after Canada. Changes in US policy towards engagement and dismantling the embargo (including the extraterritorial provisions of Helms-Burton) would be popular with US allies, like the UK, and enable a more joined up multilateral approach to encouraging peaceful democratic change. Together with our EU partners, and the wider international community in Havana, we have decided that isolation is not an effective policy with which to help improve the lives of ordinary Cubans.

We have no illusions that democratic reforms and economic freedoms will happen overnight. This takes us into the difficult terrain of the extent to which moves by the US and others should be conditioned on human rights improvements. I have put this to critics of the government here. Their view was that the US should not condition every move on specific action by the Cuban government because, as they see it, leaving the ball in the Cuban government's court risks the status quo continuing. The main losers would be some 11 million ordinary people on the island.

Dianna Melrose, British Ambassador, Havana 1 December 2009