January 2013

Is Obama Acting Pragmatically in the Alan Gross Case?

The worst managed issue between Cuba and the United States during Obama and Raul Castro’s first terms has been the detention of USAID subcontractor Alan Gross, who has been imprisoned in a Cuban military hospital since December 3, 2009. Shirking the first requirement of pragmatism, namely “facing the facts,” the Obama Administration has created its own fictional narrative that contradict even its own documents now available to the public.

Gross is an American international development expert who entered Cuba as a non registered foreign agent. As a USAID subcontractor, his mission was to create a wireless Internet satellite network based on Jewish community centers that would circumvent Cuban government detection. The USAID program was approved under section 109 of the Helms-Burton Act, a law committed to regime change in Cuba.

As Cuba Lifts Its Travel Ban, Three Things the U.S. Should Do

Beginning today, the Cuban policy of requiring citizens to obtain an invitation to visit abroad and permission from domestic authorities to exit the country, is no more. This is a profoundly significant change. Given that Cubans will still need to procure visitor or immigrant visas to most other countries and most without family abroad will have a hard time coming up with the money for the trip, it won’t likely cause a rush for the exits. But the new rules pave the way for a new relationship between country and citizen, and between those who stay and those who have left. The door will now remain open between each, both emotionally and financially.

Though millions of Cubans can now, in principal if not in practical terms, leave the island as they sit fit, there are exceptions for national security and other reasons, and it remains to be seen how Cuban authorities intend to apply them. Last week we learned that Cuban doctors – in whom the Cuban government invests much and expects to return the investment either at home or abroad (on behalf of the Cuban government which contracts them out) – will in fact be free to travel under the new rules. But will critics of the government be free to come and go? The more broadly these new rules extend to Cubans, the more pressure it could put on the United States to change its migration policies toward the island.

If optics matter, we may soon see the administration use its executive authority to further loosen its own restrictions on Americans’ travel to Cuba (to the extent it can). Yes, you might have heard, Americans must seek  permission from the U.S. Department of Treasury in order to be allowed to use our passports to travel to Cuba. The irony of the U.S. “[welcoming] any reforms that allow Cubans to depart from and return to their country freely,’’ as a State Department spokesman put it last week, without doing the same for our own population, will now be painfully obvious.

But it’s not just about optics. It’s about opportunity and the political space to seize it. These Cuban travel reforms provide the Obama administration with an historic opportunity to end our open-door migration policy for Cubans that with every passing year becomes more untenable – especially in a political cycle likely to see action on immigration reform. No other nationality on Earth enjoys the benefits Cubans do, including the right to step foot on U.S. soil illegally and qualify for a green card one year after doing so, and collecting generous adjustment benefits at taxpayer expense to boot.

Havana Trumps Washington

[Assistant Secretary of State] Jacobson also noted that the Universal Declaration on Human Rights requires governments to recognize their citizens’ right to travel freely, a right “that we have certainly long sought for Cuban citizens along with all others in the world.”
“So it is a good thing that it is being announced, that some of the restrictions on Cubans to travel hopefully will be reduced, if not done away with,” she added.
                 Miami Herald, 10/20/12
For sure, and doesn't that apply to Americans as well?
There is no right to travel freely when our citizens are denied for explicitly political reasons the right to travel to Cuba.
Secretary Jacobson's October statement was linked two months later to a comprehensive analysis of implications of Cuba's liberalization of travel by Mimi Whitfield published on Friday by the Miami Herald.
Two implications she did not note::
1) It is long past time for the US to suspend or repeal the Cuban Adjustment Act.  Cubans who claim political asylum must meet the same case by case requirements as other nationalities. 
In the interim Cubans who enter with a legal visa must be deemed ineligible to claim permanent residence.

Kerry's Cuba Sanity


One would have to go back to John Quincy Adams, who served in the U.S. diplomatic service from the age of 17, to find a predecessor better pedigreed than John Kerry to lead the U.S. State Department. The son of a diplomat, Kerry is a war veteran, senior senator, and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Few experiences have had greater influence on Kerry’s foreign policy views than his decades-long relationship with Vietnam, where Kerry served as a swift boat captain during the Vietnam War.

Kerry’s experience in Vietnam, where visceral ideological attitudes prevailed over rational analysis, prompted the future senator to advocate for a more realistic course for U.S. policy. A decorated veteran, John Kerry became a spokesman for veterans against the war. He learned that to promote U.S. values and interests requires awareness of the relative nature of power and the force of nationalism in the post-colonial world.

Eight New Year's Resolutions


Why not?  
I might as well put it all out there in the tradition of at least dreaming 2013 will bring a better world.  After all change happened very quickly with Viet Nam once President Clinton made the decision and took the political risk.
 I have paired related steps in both countries, without meaning to imply equivalence or reciprocity.
Please respond, or suggest your own resolutions in the comment space below.
1)  Go!
Make a first or follow-up visit to Cuba in 2013.  Join an existing program or work with FfRD to create your own (examples below)
2)  Maximize travel!
President Obama should use his authority to grant general licenses for all categories of purposeful non-tourist travel, eliminating OFAC's politicized stranglehold and special preferences for Cuban Americans, universities and religious organizations.  At the same time he must permit all travel agents, tour operators, commercial airlines and ferry services to handle authorized travelers, not only 250 licensed Travel Service Providers and charter companies.  [on line petition here]  Cuba should encompass in its opening of travel  currently proscribed professions (see resolution 5) and "dissidents".  
3)  Remove secondary impediments to trade!
Both governments can easily eliminate administrative obstacles to beneficial commerce.  The White House can remove Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism and allow its international use of the dollar.  Cuba can drop the 10% fee on dollar/CUC exchange and end restrictions on the self-supporting  El Cabildo dinner theater of Opera de la Calle [background here] and tour group use of private restaurants and bed and breakfasts.
4)   End foreign imprisonment and exile!
The US and Cuba need to resolve in a spirit of mutual respect humanitarian problems that are a legacy of decades of  hostility and distrust, including citizens imprisoned by the other country for government funded missions and those exiled with political asylum.
5)  Build educational exchange!
The US ought to respond to Cuba's elimination of exit visas by encouraging educational institutions to offer scholarships for graduate and undergraduate study and high school exchanges through agreements with Cuban counterparts.  Cuba ought to authorize its tertiary and secondary institutions  nationwide to participate.  Both governments must stipulate that the right to permanent residence in the US under the Cuban Adjustment Act does not apply to those entering legally with visas or applying at US embassies in third countries.  Fulbright fellowships ought to be granted in both directions.
6)  Collaborate on  shared agendas!
Both governments can implement their rhetoric in favor of growth of the non-state sector.  The US can exempt from the embargo their purchases of our tools, raw material, expertise and inventory and our import of their products. Cuba can create channels for private trade and publish proscribed rather than permitted categories of self-employment and cooperatives.
7)  Create space for change!
The political relationship will be transformed through normalization of diplomatic and civil society links.  The US must unambiguously acknowledge the legality and sovereignty of Cuba's government (despite criticism of policies and structure) and Cuba must affirm the right of its citizens to publicly dissent if they are not subsidized from abroad.  USAID and other democracy funds that support regime change and political opponents should be transformed into Cuban approved programs to assist growth of the non-state agricultural, cooperative and business sector consistent with national law and regulations.. 
8)  Rebuild the OAS for everyone!
Both countries can make the OAS a vehicle for full hemisphere collaboration by the US dropping its virtually unsupported position that Cuba must retroactively meet political criteria to resume its seat and by Cuba reconsidering its stance that the OAS is still little more than an instrument for US hegemony.