February 2012

Cuba and the Inter-American System: From the San Pedro Sula Resolution to the VI Summit of the Americas.


In 2009, in San Pedro Sula, the OAS General Assembly demonstrated a shift in the balance of power among the countries of the hemisphere in regards to Cuba by repealing the sixth resolution of 1962 meeting in Punta del Este. The OAS recognized that it was anachronistic to exclude Cuba from the OAS for being "Marxist" or for its relations with an alleged "Sino-Soviet axis" when the Soviet Union does not exist and the People’s Republic of China is an associate member of the Inter-American Development Bank. The resolution was in consonance with the expressed unanimous rejection by the American countries of the US embargo against Cuba, which was declared only six days after the Punta del Este resolution.

By linking the end of Cuba's exclusion to the OAS democratic requirement of membership in the same resolution, the 2009 compromise separated the repeal of the 1962 resolution from the process of Cuba's reinstatement to the inter-American system, which now depends on a dialogue between the OAS and Cuba, at the request of the latter. However, the inertia of the status quo in Havana and Washington has halted any progress and has placed a time bomb at the door of the VI Summit of the Americas to be held in Cartagena de Indias.

U.S. Can End Summit of the Americas Stand-off Over Cuba

It’s never easy to sit at the same table as someone with whom you have deep disagreements, especially when you believe that someone shouldn’t even be at the table.   President Obama could find himself in that position at the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia this April.  President Obama and thirty-three other heads of state from around the region, all members of the Organization of American States (OAS), are expected to attend the summit.  But several countries have threatened to boycott the summit if Cuba is not invited.  The showdown over the possible attendance of Cuba’s Raul Castro – or the possible boycott by Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and several Caribbean nations if he is not invited – will be a test of America’s ability to lead and build consensus within the region.  But it doesn't have to be a crisis of conscience.

Three years ago, the Obama administration faced a similar situation at an OAS meeting in Honduras.  The hemisphere stood united (minus the United States) to revoke Cuba’s 1962 suspension from the OAS, ready to dispatch with bygone, Cold War era divisions.  But while the United States chose not oppose revocation of Cuba’s suspension, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton successfully argued that Cuba must not be automatically readmitted with full rights of participation and voting:

"The member nations of the OAS showed flexibility and openness today, and as a result we reached a consensus that focuses on the future instead of the past: Cuba can come back into the OAS in the future if the OAS decides that its participation meets the purposes and principles of the organization, including democracy and human rights."

The administration’s willingness to compromise on Cuba may have hurt it among staunch anti-Castroites at home.  But it mended fences with a skeptical and polarized region that wanted unity more than anything else.   Three years later, the region remains divided.   Rather than refocus countries on hemisphere-wide concerns, the Summit itself is now in jeopardy over what to do with Cuba.  The U.S. must now choose: either insist that Cuba not attend (and cause half a dozen other member states to boycott), boycott the meeting itself, or suffer Cuba’s inclusion as an observer to the summit.

AP Report: Alan Gross Knew the Risks in Cuba

Readers of The Havana Note have surely had their fill – and more – of the case of Alan P. Gross, the USAID subcontractor arrested in Cuba in December 2009, and now serving a 15 year sentence for crimes against the Cuban state.   So I hesitate to write even one more word on a subject so thoroughly discussed, at least on these pages.   But an investigative report by the Associated Press’s Desmond Butler brings key, new details to light that beg a second look if for no other reason than because they change the light in which the U.S. has portrayed the case that has managed to bring U.S.-Cuban relations to their lowest point since the George W. Bush administration.

In the more than two years since Gross’s arrest, Cuban authorities have shared little information publicly on the case (though they have insinuated more than once that he was a spy), while the U.S. government has insistently cast Gross as an American humanitarian aid worker wrongly incarcerated for activities that would be legal anywhere else in the world.  (Actually, they wouldn't be legal anywhere else in the world, and certainly not in the United States, where we don't take kindly to unregistered foreign agents roaming around our country.)

Those of us who follow U.S.-Cuban affairs closely shook our heads and wondered why the Cubans hadn’t picked up an American contractor for USAID before.  That's because the USAID Cuba program is authorized under a 1996 U.S. law seeking regime change in Cuba, and in 1998 Cuba responded by criminalizing cooperation with that law (by disseminating or accepting funds or materials, for instance by the U.S. government). 

History has a lot to do with it.  The United States has been trying to either destabilize Cuba, assassinate its leaders, starve its people into rebellion or similarly isolate and punish the island nation for more than fifty years.  Both sides have broken faith on previous attempts at rapprochement.  And so working in Cuba, even in the most transparent of cases, is not a simple assignment. 

Judy Gross, Alan Gross's wife, suggested last year that Gross’s employers at Development Alternatives Inc. underplayed the threat to Gross if he were caught by Cuban authorities, implying that Gross wasn’t totally unaware of the potential consequences of his actions.   But Gross’s own trip reports make clear he understood the risks he was taking.  “This is very risky business in no uncertain terms,” he wrote in one of his trip reports. 

Cuba Embargo Hits 50: Twisting the Half-a-Century Away

The U.S. embargo turned 50 years old this week.  It probably won't surprise most folks to learn that the night before President John F. Kennedy signed a total U.S. embargo of Cuba into force, he asked an aide to buy 1,000 Cuban cigars (just to be safe, the aide got 1,200).  Surely Kennedy would have been shocked to learn that his massive stockpile would run out long before his embargo would; just days before his assassination, Kennedy had approved a secret meeting to take place in Havana between a senior U.S. diplomat and Castro.  But the meeting never took place, and Kennedy's embargo has remained a fixture now for half a century.  Over at the Daily Mail, Lee Moran offers perspective on this week's milestone:

"When the embargo began, American teenagers were doing The Twist, the U.S. had yet to put a man into orbit around the Earth and a first-class U.S. postage stamp cost just 4 cents."

A Clash of Generations: U.S. 50 Year Old Embargo Meets Scarabeo 9


By Arturo Lopez-Levy and Jonathan Benjamin-Alvarado

Scarabeo 9, the semi-submersible oil rig contracted by the Spanish company Repsol completed its journey from Singapore to Cuba. Repsol’s rig will explore Cuba’s exclusive economic zone, an area in the Gulf of Mexico of about 112000 square kilometers. Oil exploration in the zone is being contracted to several foreign companies such as Venezuela’s PDVSA, Malaysia’s Petronas, and Vietnamese PetroVietnam.  Cuba’s Ministry of Basic Industry estimates the oil reserves in the zone are between 5 billion to 9 billion barrels of oil. CNN GPS host Fareed Zakaria referred to Cuba’s total oil potential as between 5 billion and 20 billion barrels of oil. 

The start of the oil exploration will not derail Raul Castro’s reform program. At a minimum, oil will not come from the offshore wells soon enough, while the reforms are needed immediately. The Cuban government needs to create jobs for the million and half workers that are supposed to leave the government sector in the next two years as part of the reforms program proclaimed last April by the Cuban Communist Party in its VI Congress. It must also alleviate critical situations of poverty in the five most eastern provinces, where unrest has been rising. With or without oil, the Cuban economy sorely needs to develop an environment in which businesses and individuals feel confident to invest.

President Rousseff goes to Cuba: Towards a more effective Brazilian policy.


Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff's visit to Cuba has generated considerable debate. Some question the appropriateness of the presidential visit after the death of Wilmar Villar while others go further by criticizing what they identify as appeasement and under emphasis of human rights in Brasilia's relationship with Havana. It is obvious that Brazil's policy is not as effective as could be and that new initiatives could increase Brazil’s impact on Cuba's reform process. That said, it is important to recognize the merits of the policy designed by the Itamaraty in light of Cuba's political liberalization, rather than democratization, and the inherent synergy between a transition to a mixed economy and the expansion of rights and freedoms.

Brazilian policy toward Cuba is not one-dimensional. It implies a convergence of economic interests and strategic regional leadership with values ​​from a Brazilian left committed to democratic governance. The Brazilian Foreign Ministry also employs a combination of principles of international law. As emphasized by then-President Cardoso during the democratic crisis in Peru 2000 and Venezuela in April 2002, state sovereignty is not a shield to violate human rights but as a principle should be respected. That position is reflected in the critical distance that Brazil, since its own transition to democracy, has taken toward the U.S. policy of confrontation aimed at forcing a regime change in Cuba.