A disturbing article from the Trinidad Express (available here) about the US take on Cuba's relationship to the Summit of the Americas was posted on Friday on the Miami Herald web site.
I am hoping that former ambassador to Venezuela Jeff Davidow who is coordinating our government's preparations was misquoted or misconstrued, and that this Administration is not still living in a state of denial:
"We do not believe that Cuba is a topic of discussion at this summit,..The policy of the United States on Cuba is that we hope that the Cuban people will someday be able to share the same kind of democracy that the people of Trinidad have,..Obviously, Trinidad is free to work on its own relationship with Cuba as all countries are. However, I think it would be very unfortunate if the topic of Cuba were to become the principal issue at this summit and detract attention from the other important things you and I have been talking about -energy, poverty, crime...We do not believe that Cuba should be at the summit because the summit is for the community of democratically elected heads of state. I don't think anybody in Trinidad would argue that Raul Castro was democratically elected."
Leaving aside the reality that Cuba has something important to contribute to the three topics Davidow cites, Vice President Biden claimed in Chile that, "the time of the United States dictating unilaterally, the time where we only talk and don't listen is over". How then can we peremptorily rule off the agenda a problem that everyone else in the Hemisphere believes is the principle obstacle to the US regaining a positive role?
The Obama Administration's commitment to listening is hollow and risks becoming a new form of Bush style patronizing if we are tone deaf to what everyone is saying and continue to be self-righteous and insular about the superiority of our political ideology.
Press reports on Friday are to be warmly welcomed that President Obama will fulfill his campaign commitment to unlimited Cuban American travel and remittances, but that is not sufficient for the Summit. As Brazil's Foreign Minister told the Washington Post in preparation for the meeting between Presidents Lula and Obama:
"I think we would certainly encourage dialogue, encourage the end of isolation," Amorim said, adding that ending restrictions on travel and sending money back to Cuba would not be enough. "I think something bigger has to be done," he said.
Lula is far from alone, as documented in an invaluable summary by Phil Peters here and in fact will be the more tempered critic of the US in Trinidad. A bold but unlikely step by the Administration is to say now that for the sake of universality it welcomes Cuba's participation in the Summit. This would take the wind out of the sails of harsher opponents and free the US from the defensive tone of Davidow and Biden.
As I wrote here earlier in the week, should the President open non-tourist travel to Cuba, as predicted in the Washington Post on Monday, that would help create a positive atmosphere for the Summit, as well as be an essential step toward Congress restoring a fundamental human right at home.
A more direct way for the President to address the strong demand that we end our embargo is to also announce a hurricane relief related six month humanitarian suspension of the embargo to enable sale and donation of construction and agricultural supplies and equipment.
The exclusion of Cuba from the Fifth Summit of the Americas is not helpful in achieving
improved respect for human rights in Cuba.... The absence of Cuba, the only country to be excluded, will diminish attempts to find regional solutions to regional problems. --Amnesty International (full statement here)
Two compelling essays raise harder questions that need to find their place on the Obama agenda:
Attorney JosÃƒÂ© Pertierra cites a 1979 precedent of mutual gestures leading to the release of prisoners held by the US and Cuba that offers a model to bring humanitarian relief to the Cuban 5 and the Black Spring 54. His article appears in the current issue of Progresso Weekly, which is also a good source of insight into Cuba's discussion of reform.
A new book from the very mainstream Brookings Foundation, The Obama Administration and the Americas, features a chapter on historical, legal and political reasons for return of the Guantanamo Bay territory to Cuban sovereignty. It can be ordered here.
It does not gainsay the importance of today's and Thursday's press conferences on the Senate and House bills to end all travel restrictions to note the more immediate consequence of this paragraph in yesterday's Washington Post story:
"Although the decision is not yet final, Obama is expected to further loosen remaining travel restrictions for all Americans by the time he goes to the April 17-19 Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, senior administration officials said. Such restrictions were first imposed in 1961 and have been progressively tightened since then*. Removing all sanctions requires congressional action, but one senior official said that Treasury has wide leeway to ease the licensing requirements that limit travel."
If this is a trial balloon, no doubt the Cuban American rejectionists and allies in the House and Senate are doing their best to shoot it down. Folks in Congress and among Obama's supporters who want the Administration to use its authority to open the door as wide as possible to people-to-people exchange should find a way to assure the "final decision" is favorable.
The simplest is by sending a message to Valerie Jarrett, Assistant to the President for Public Liaison, via her web page here. Personalize and expand this text:
As a first step to improve relations between the US and Cuba, the President should use his existing authority to provide general licenses for unlimited travel by Cuban Americans (as promised during the campaign) and for non-tourist people to people exchanges, including for educational, religious, humanitarian, cultural, and sports purposes.
Send a copy to Thomas Shannon, Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, U.S. Department of State, 2201 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20520, or by fax to 202-647-7095
If the Administration follows through, diverse non-tourist visits will take place in late spring and summer, contributing to mutual understanding and confidence building essential to successful bilateral negotiations, and energizing knowledgeable grass roots support for Congress to end all travel restrictions.
For a fuller account, read the just published newsletter of the Fund for Reconciliation and Development here.
* In fact, President Carter ended all travel restrictions and President Clinton liberalized those reimposed by President Reagan.
Florida Senators Martinez and Nelson
Everyone who seeks normal relations between the US and Cuba is justifiably celebrating the one-two punch of the Cuba language in the Omnibus Appropriations bill and the OFAC regulations to implement it as the first step toward restoring freedom of travel to everyone. While Cuban Americans have not yet achieved the unlimited travel and remittances promised by candidate Obama, they have regained the ground stolen by President Bush in 2004.
The Treasury DepartmentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s fast action through OFAC is a more significant indicator of where the Administration is heading than the fig leaf that Secretary Tim Geithner provided the two rejectionist Democrats, Senators Menendez and Nelson, so they could vote for cloture.
It is worth reading his letters carefully as they affirm that a larger change is coming.
We are, however, currently reviewing United States policy toward Cuba to determine the best way to foster democratic change in Cuba and improve the lives of the Cuban people. Your views and the views of others on Capitol Hill will be important to that review, and the President remains committed to consulting with you as we consider changes to Cuba policy. (Texts here posted by Jake Colvin.)
Of course Senators Menendez, Martinez and Nelson will be consulted, but not more than other Senators like Kerry, Lugar and Dodd. A further encouraging note was in a Miami Herald story:
''The guidance issued yesterday by the Treasury Department was issued pursuant to a law passed by Congress,'' White House spokeswoman Gannet Tseggai said Thursday.
''The president was not involved in the drafting of that provision, and it does not take the place of his own review of family visits and family cash remittances,'' she added.
Americans who care need to add their weight to the Administration's discussion so the President does not stop at family travel. A Citizens' Appeal for engagement with President Obama on Cuba can be seen here in the just posted newsletter of the Fund for Reconciliation and Development.
The extent to which the other side is in a state of aggressive denial can be seen in a leaked internal memo from the US-Cuba Democracy PAC
the mobilization of Democratic Members of Congress, and their aggressive outreach to the White House and Leadership on this issue has made it clear to the Obama Administration that there is a very vocal majority, bipartisan coalition in Congress that opposes even the slightest changes to current policy
Also possible is that the White House concludes that there are a few unreconcilables so married to narrow sectarian interests that they are ready to expose their Party and President to a week of diversionary and politically costly debate about embarrassing Congressional earmarks and ballooning deficits.
While some advisers may counsel accommodating them to avoid future problems, others will note that once the President changes travel policy to the maximum non-tourist level, that issue is over as a direct White House concern. The bitter end opponents can't do much beyond grumbling to their donors and their shrinking piece of the Florida and New Jersey community,
The tactic of putting the Cuba language in the Omnibus Appropriations bill foreclosed amendments in the House, but gave disproportionate power to two Democrats in the Senate whose votes prevented cloture. The reverse will apply to the stand alone full travel bill. There should not be a major problem in obtaining subcommittee and committee approval and assembling sixty Senate votes to end travel restrictions, but the House will afford more difficult terrain at all stages.
I am of mixed feelings about how Secretary Geithner addressed the precedent setting creation of a new general license category for the marketing or agricultural and medical products. OFAC has not yet published regulations in this area but his intent is clear and reasonable:
"regulations promulgated pursuant to that provision will seek to ensure that only travel for credible sales of food and medical products is authorized."
The problem lies in implementation.
"Any business using the general license will be required to provide both advance written notice outlining the purpose and scope of the planned travel and, upon return, a report outlining the activities conducted, including the persons with whom they met, the expenses incurred, and business conducted in Cuba."
Pre and post trip notification requirements are an annoyance and are hard to independently verify, except in cases of egregious public violation. A more relevant control is inherent in the nature of a general license, i.e. it applies to a category of people based on who they are and the reasonableness that travel is consistent with their professional or avocational identity.
OFAC may be tempted to apply a similar formula to grant general licenses for other forms of non-tourist travel like educational, religious and humanitarian. This requirement would be petty and unnecessary but is preferable to a time consuming and politicized vetting process of applications for specific licenses. (More on general vs. specific licenses here )
Senator Dodd pushed back arguing this novel restrictiveness of the meaning of a general license violated the intent of the new law in a letter posted by Phil Peters.
Obama's campaign statements on unlimited and unrestricted travel vs. how Sen. Nelson mischaracterized them during the Omnibus debate can be seen here
Yesterday in the Senate debate on the Omnibus Appropriations bill Bob Menendez (D, NJ) delivered a long and impassioned speech against Cuba. Any policy change we can imagine had a condition attached which would make it a non-starter in Havana. In the case of even family travel he took a position reflective of his long links to hard liners in Miami.
In exchange for more frequent visits from Cuban-American families who bring money and resources to the island, let us insist that the Cuban regime permit those who want to travel to Cuba and visit human rights activists, democracy activists, independent journalists, and other civil society advocates, be given visas as well.
He threatened that the Cuba language, "put the Omnibus bill in jeopardy".
After he spoke, Senator Reid took the floor, expressing warmly his long association with Menendez:
As the distinguished Senator from New Jersey knows, I have locked arms with Congressman and now Senator from New Jersey for many years. In fact, my votes in years past have not always been in the majority, but they have always been something I felt comfortable doing and still feel comfortable doing.
I appreciate the statement made by my friend from New Jersey. I am committed to work with him to see what we can do to resolve the injustice that is taking place 90 miles off the shore of America and, once and for all, give those people who live in Las Vegas--people do not realize the largest number of Cuban Americans live in Florida, next is New Jersey, and, surprisingly, next is Nevada.
I worked with my friends there, Tony Alamo and many others, over the years to try to bring justice to an unjust system. I appreciate very much the statement made by my friend from New Jersey. I look forward to working with him on all other issues.
Reid did not say he would support Menendez' goal of stripping the Cuba language from the bill. A news story says Bill Nelson, Florida's Democratic Senator, favors inclusion of the Cuba language
Amendments will be accepted for debate, but the Democrats may try to vote down all of them in order to get the bill adopted by Friday and avoid its return to the House.
However, if Menendez and Martinez succeed in blocking the Cuba language with Reid's help, this bodes ill for a stand alone Cuba travel bill. It also could have a negative effect on the Administration's interagency policy review.
[Look here for the Cuba language. See below for my previous posts on the Omnibus bill.]
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t come here to do the same thing we have been doing or to take small steps forward. I came to provide the sweeping change that this country demanded when it went to the polls in November.Ã¢â‚¬Â
--President Barack Obama, radio/internet address 2/28/09
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Obama's leadership is needed to change the dynamic between the United States and Cuba. The status quo is no longer an option. Not only has it failed to achieve its goals; it has tarnished our image in the hemisphere and throughout the world. Waiting for Congress to act will only further delay change. Fortunately, even in the case of Cuba, Congress has not materially impaired this country's venerable constitutional arrangement under which the president has the ultimate authority to conduct our foreign affairs.
Again and again we hear that the embargo can't be changed because the Helms-Burton law codified it. Nothing could be further from the truth. Whether you agree or disagree with the current commercial embargo, the president can effectively dismantle it by using his executive authority.Ã¢â‚¬Â
--Carlos Pascual and Vicki Huddleston, Miami Herald Op Ed
If President Obama brings the same boldness to international problems as he shows domestically (above quote), and if intellectual and policy expertise matters, his AdministrationÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s interagency review of US relations with Cuba will be a breakthrough--and receive a warm welcome. (A compilation of studies and statements released in the past year can be found here.)
Last week began with a compelling letter from Senator Richard Lugar and far reaching recommendations from senior Foreign Relations Committee staff member Carl Meacham. (pdf here) It concluded with an eminently practical road map to normalization drawn up by a diverse group under the sponsorship of the Brookings Institution.
The project directors were Carlos Pascual, Vice-President and Director of Foreign Policy Studies at Brookings (a rumored prospect for an important State Department post), and Vicki Huddleston, Visiting Fellow and former head of the US Interests Section in Havana (a member of the State Department transition team). Membership ranged from pro-engagement professors, a scholar at a prominent conservative think tank, and former European ambassadors--to a Cuban American denounced by Havana as a terrorist.
From the preface, which suggests how large a departure this is from the hostile rhetoric and policy of the previous Administration and much of the past five decades:
It should be understood that a policy of critical and constructive engagement -- while having as a goal evolution to a peaceful and democratic Cuba -- does not promise an overnight metamorphosis. It is a process, a pathway with various detours and obstacles that over time arrives at its destination. It will take Cuban cooperation to achieve a real improvement in relations, but we should not publicly link the initiatives to specific actions of the Cuban government.
The road map was divided into short, medium and long-term initiatives. Go on line here to review the whole list because their achievement step by step constitute a practical road map to full normal relations. Following are selected points which I found particularly positive:
Ã¯ÂÂ® Remove all restrictions on family and humanitarian travel to Cuba.
Ã¯ÂÂ® Permit and expand specific licenses for people-to-people travel for educational, cultural and humanitarian purposes -- all travel permitted under law.
Ã¯ÂÂ® Allow all Cubans who meet requirements of U.S. immigration law to travel to the United States.
Ã¯ÂÂ® Provide licensing for providers of U.S. government and private assistance in order to advance the goals of U.S. policy identified in this report.
Ã¯ÂÂ® License Cuban state and non-state entities to access satellite and broadband communications networks.
Ã¯ÂÂ® Review the evidence to determine if Cuba should continue to be listed as a state sponsor of terrorism.
Ã¯ÂÂ® Conduct a review of the purpose, content and implementation capacity of the new contracts awarded to private companies and non-governmental organizations during the last months of the Bush Administration
Ã¯ÂÂ® Encourage and fund a wide variety of educational exchanges and scholarships that promote understanding and provide training in diverse fields such as arts, economics, and journalism.
Ã¯ÂÂ® Allow licenses for U.S. companies to participate in the development of Cuban offshore oil, gas and renewable energy resources.
Ã¯ÂÂ® Work with Congress to restore Executive Branch authority over travel to Cuba.
Ã¯ÂÂ® Reach mutually acceptable solution for restoring Cuban sovereignty over the territory of Guantanamo Bay.
Huddleston told the Miami Herald that the position on travel restrictions reflected differences within the group. Returning travel authority to the executive is a step back from most similar policy documents and pending legislation to end all obstacles to American visits although it could amount to the same thing. Internal differences may also be the reason for the counterproductive stipulation of specific rather than general licenses for people to people travel which requires OFAC bureaucratic vetting and forces trips within groups. There is no direct reference to ending the embargo, but nor is there endorsement of making that step conditional on actions by Cuba. Lifting the embargo could be implied by the final recommendation:
Ã¯ÂÂ® Achieve full diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba.
The road map contains a welcome dramatic departure from similar reports by calling for the return of the territory of Guantanamo Bay. This might reflect that all Cubans, whether leaders in Havana or alienated exiles, share a view that US control of the base compromises their countryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s sovereignty, was forced on them as a classic unequal treaty, and is the sole surviving provision of the shameful Platt Amendment.
I don't agree with every recommendation, or with the premise that any country should have a "goal" for another, but the Obama Administration could do far worse than adopt this road map as its own.
The House voted 245-178 on February 25th to pass the Omnibus Appropriations bill.
As summarized by Lesley Clark and Frances Robles in the Miami Herald, it will
* Prevent the U.S. government from spending any of its budget enforcing 2004 rules that keep Cuban-Americans from visiting their homeland more than once every three years.
* Create a general travel license for Americans who sell food and medical supplies to Cuba.
* Let Cuba pay for the American products it buys in cash when they arrive in Havana. Current law forces Cuba to pay upfront before products leave U.S. ports.
* Require the U.S. Treasury Department to issue a report showing how much of its staff and funding is spent on enforcing the ban on travel to Cuba.
Robles today diminished its significance by leading with a more cynical but possibly accurate view that the bill
tweaked U.S.-Cuba policy,making it easier for Cuban Americans to get away with illegally traveling to the communist country
The only Cuba related intervention during the debate came from Miami hard liner Lincoln Diaz-Ballart. However instead of denouncing the travel and agricultural provisions, he just wanted to be sure that $20 million of Cuba "democracy" funding that largely benefits his supporters in Miami was still in the bill. Rep. Nita Lowey, the manager of that part of the legislation, reassured him that his pork was safe.
His Democratic soul mate, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (photo above), also spoke but her comments were entirely in favor of the bill, skewering its Republican opponents. Not a word did she utter about the dastardly Cuba language .
The bill was debated under a no amendments rule so there was not much they could really do to challenge its content.
The test comes very soon in the Senate where Majority Leader Reid said he wants to complete work on the legislation by the end of next week when stopgap funding runs out. Senators have privileges that could allow travel opponents Martinez and Menendez to hold the bill hostage if the Cuba language stays in.
As reported by Bill Gibson in his Sun-Sentinel weblog
Florida Senator Mel Martinez this afternoon threatened to block a big spending bill that would ease restrictions on Cuban-American travel to visit relatives in Cuba....
Martinez, a Republican, said he would object to consideration of the bill. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a procedural move that would force the billÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s supporters to round up 60 votes to overcome delays that would kill it, a modern form of filibuster.
The bill returns travel for Cuban Americans only to the less restrictive formula of the Clinton Administration, annual visits to a normal definition of family that includes cousins, nieces, nephews, aunts, and uncles. However it does so by blocking enforcement of existing law and regulations rather than by changing them.
An Associated Press story suggests that the travel may need to go through third countries:
Tessie Aral, owner of ABC Charters in Miami, said that because of the way the measure is written, she worries individuals won't be prosecuted for traveling to Cuba, but companies arranging the trips may be targeted.
"This is not what President Obama promised," Aral said. "If it only stops enforcement, I still can't sell you a ticket knowing I'm going to break a law."
The leading voice for the campaign on behalf of family travel in Miami went further in an editorial in Progresso Weekly pressing President Obama to keep the promise of his campaign and the Democratic Party platform for unlimited Cuban American travel and remittances:
in our opinion, the Cuba travel piece should be removed completely from the Omnibus Bill making the rounds in Washington, DC.
Finally, what we would like to stress to the president is that every time a family member dies in Cuba, alone; a son, daughter or nephew sits in the hospital with little hope of seeing a loved one who lives in the U.S.; every minute that passes while family members are kept apart for political reasons, is yet another black mark on one of the most un-American and cruel pieces of legislation passed in this country over the last 20 years.
Methods of agricultural sales also are normalized by dint of preventing expenditure of funds for enforcement of politically motivated obstructions created by the Bush Administration. On the other hand, travel for the purpose of sales of agricultural and medical products received a general license, i.e. no application necessary.
Reuters saw the economic implications this way
The legislation approved by the House does not lift the overall embargo. But it would prohibit the Treasury Department from enforcing Bush administration rules requiring payment of cash in advance for agricultural sales to Cuba.
Analysts believe that U.S. rice sales to Cuba will soar if the provision becomes law. Rice sales declined every year after the cash-in-advance rules were imposed in 2005, because Cuba could turn to Vietnam -- a country with which it has close ties -- for rice on easier terms.
Lawyers will sort out the exact implications. The crucial element is that implementation will be by officials in the Treasury and Commerce Department answering to a different more pro-engagement political drum. Before they expire on September 30th, all provisions will probably be supplanted by more fundamental change available through executive orders and notices in the Federal Register or by new legislation.
The BBC went to the core of the issue:
The measures announced in the US bill represent a first move in broader efforts to ease the US trade embargo and end travel restrictions for all Americans.
However the path is not certain report Clark and Robles:
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, who backs the current restrictions, said she believes the travel measure wouldn't pass on its own, because most Republicans and about 80 Democrats are opposed.
Winning the battle begins in the Obama Administration whose allies and supporters must insist to the White House and to Tom Shannon, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, that vision and boldness be the product of the interagency review, including general licenses for all non-tourist people to people travel.
The question is still in play, as the Miami Herald also reported today
Cuba watchers say it's unclear whether he will lift restrictions not just for Cuban Americans, but for American academics, church groups and others as well. Key administration posts in charge of such decisions have yet to be filled.
The link changed for Sen. Lugar's excellent letter calling for a new policy and Carl Meacham's far reaching report after the final text was issued, although the PDF appears to be the same version as the draft.
The House debate on the Omnibus Appropriations bill has begun on C-SPAN.com or TV
(and can be viewed later in its archive).
The bill contains language on Cuba with several positive aspects that was inserted by Representative Serano with the assistance of Representative Castor. It should be considered a significant forward step that shows how the majority can use the rules to its favor and is upsetting to the hard liners in Florida. Passage helps build momentum for stronger action by the Obama administration and Congress.
It will be interesting regarding prospects for legislation to end all travel restrictions to see whether Sen Martinez can use Senate rules to block the bill, Sen. Menendez (pictured above) gets involved and Sen Reid accommodates him. (See Miami Herald story and on line poll here.)
However if the legislation survives intact, it is only a partial victory. The section on Cuban American travel is non-enforcement language. It does not suspend or reverse the law. Oddly travel for agricultural sales receives a general license but not family or other non-tourist travel. OFAC's politically distorted role in the Bush Administration is also a target.
[Text of Cuba language can be seen here.]
Passage will effectively enable at least annual Cuban American travel for the balance of the fiscal year. However, it does not remove from President Obama the responsibility to use his authority to enable general licenses for all twelve categories of non-tourist people to people travel, including Cuban American, educational, religious, humanitarian, cultural, sports and "support for the Cuban people".
The comment page of the Office of Public Liaison can be used to put all non-tourist travel on the agenda of the interagency review of Cuba policy through this link.
The urgency and importance of making your voice heard to President Obama is reflected in a report yesterday from our friend and colleague in Miami Silvia Wilhelm.
Senator Menendez was on Miami TV right now very positive that the only thing the administration is going to allow is a roll back to the Clinton era family travel and that absolutely NOTHING else is going to move and that if it came down to listening to Lugar or him and others in the community, Obama would listen to him and others.
If I might stretch my blogmate PatrickÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s metaphor two postings back, readers of The Havana Note cannot afford to be wallflowers at the dance between Congress and the White House if they care about its success.
The White House needs to know that real people, especially those who elected Barack Obama, are impatiently tuning their instruments because one month after inauguration the promise of immediate unlimited travel and remittances for Cuban Americans has still to be met.
It should also hear a grace note that Cuban American travel is a humanitarian obligation and not sufficient policy change. Two-thirds of all Americans (including Cuban Americans), 84% of Obama supporters, and virtually all the heads of state who will be meeting the President at the Summit of the Americas want better evidence of change they can dance to.
The ball room is witness to dancers spinning in the opposite direction. Previewing far reaching recommendations by Senator Richard Lugar and a Republican staff report scheduled for release on Monday, Karen de Young wrote in SaturdayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Washington Post
"An administration official said yesterday that it was "not unreasonable" to expect that Obama would ease constraints on family travel and remittances to Cuba before he attends the mid-April Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago."
Ask President Obama for more than a family travel only warm up dance by using this link to the White House Office of Public Liaison.
Congress needs to be likewise induced by constituents to improve its sense of rhythm in order to become a more convincing partner. HR 874 and S 428 require scores of bipartisan cosponsors, an essential objective. But they will take too long to obtain to have much impact in the current interagency review of Cuba policy. (text and current list accessible here )
Calls, faxes and e-mails to your Representative and Senators should include
1) Will you cosponsor HR 874 or S 428 to end all travel restrictions?
2) Will you ask the White House to quickly authorize general licenses for Cuban Americans and other non-tourist travelers?
Shards of glass are being thrown on the dance floor by the hard right US-Cuba Democracy PAC which contributed $753,500 in the 2008 election cycle, up from $569,624 in 2006. This PAC opposes liberalizing family and all other travel.
Its 177 House recipients featured 90 Democrats who received 59% of the funds, including key leaders Berman ($5,000), Clyburn ($10,000 + $5,000), Engel ($7,500), Hoyer ($6,000), Obey ($6,000), Wasserman Schultz ($10,000 + $10,000), and Sires ($10,000).
In the Senate, 9 of 24 recipients were Democrats, most notably Reid ($5,000), Menendez ($2,500 + $5,000) and Nelson ($5,000 + $10,000). The new Senator from New York, Gillibrand, received $9,000 as a House candidate.
You can see the full list, with some surprises, as well as the overwhelmingly South Florida Cuban American donor list here. Such relatively small special interest donations from out of town will have limited effect, and can even be an embarrassment, if counter-balanced by concerned constituents.
An opportunity to discuss how to end travel restrictions will be available in Washington at the March 5-6 consultation and lobby day
Another chance to meet allies is the first annual Cuba Trade Expo Jon Bedard is organizing in Miami March 19-21. Virtually all of the speakers are well known to the advocacy community. Jon is discounting the registration fee for organizations that help publicize the expo.
On a personal path from voter registration in Mississippi in the summer of 1964 to the inauguration of an African American President 44 years later, there is much I will celebrate over the next two days in Washington.
How extraordinary that the beginning of real change in US-Cuba relations may be amongst the reasons.
This is what I would expect if President Obama follows his own values and vision.
Cuba policy under Obama predicted to be more open
Once in office, President-elect Barack Obama is likely to do more on Cuba policy than lifting the travel ban on Cubans visiting the island, experts say.
BY LIZA GROSS
Miami Herald, Monday, 01.19.09
President-elect Barack Obama plans to score a few ''easy wins'' on Cuba after he takes office, moving further on Cuba issues than he promised during the campaign, say Cuba observers.
Obama committed during the campaign to allow Cuban Americans to send remittances without restrictions and to travel to the island as often as they like to visit relatives.
His transition team declined to elaborate on Cuba strategy, saying Obama has already addressed it.
But a senior Republican aide in Washington, who recently returned from Cuba, said there are some areas where Obama may go beyond his campaign pledges.
The Obama administration will have a much more relaxed approach to issuing visas to non-Cubans, making travel easier in both directions for academics, artists, scientists and students, said the aide, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak on the record.
He added there will probably be some changes in the regulations on agricultural sales to facilitate payment for merchandise, and that, in general, the new administration will convey the message of more openness in exchanges and discussions with Havana and Latin America.
''Most likely there will not be an end to the embargo,'' the aide said. ``But very likely there will be more than what was articulated.''
full article with lots of denial spin here
Perhaps Havana can find an appropriate responsive gesture, for example a similar partial liberalization of the right of Cubans to travel to the US.
Or better yet, up the ante by ending exit visas altogether as several prominent intellectuals have suggested. (Of course then the US would have to terminate the immigration double standard inherent in the Cuban Adjustment Act wet foot / dry foot policy.)
It is worth noting that uneasy hard liners in Miami have their counterparts in Havana, so the need for creating mutual understanding and trust through wide ranging non-tourist travel is evident on both sides of the Florida straits.
CUBA-US: After Deadlock, How to Resist the 'Siren Songs?'
By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Jan 14 (IPS)
(excerpt) Cuban authorities apparently perceive that a real and enduring easing of relations with the "ideological enemy" poses a major challenge to a society in which 70 percent of the population was born after the revolution, and many are not entirely convinced of the "evils" of capitalism.
If Obama keeps his promise, "a new stage in the ideological battle between the Cuban Revolution and imperialism will be born, and it will be necessary to design a new theoretical and propagandistic conception of our ideas and their origins," Armando Hart, a historic figure in the Revolution led by Fidel Castro, wrote in an article in the official newspaper Granma.
Hart said that up to one million Cubans and their descendants living abroad, as well as foreigners, might choose to visit the island, ushering in "the immense challenge of facing a new era in the cultural fight." He recommended digging deep into the writings of Vladimir Lenin, Karl Marx and Cuban independence hero JosÃƒÂ© MartÃƒÂ to strengthen socialist convictions.
full article here
Steve's justifiable high dudgeon for Secretary-designate Clinton's answers to Senator Lugar passed over a particularly disturbing statement:
... it makes both moral and strategic sense to lift the restrictions on family visits and family cash remittances to Cuba. We do not currently have a timeline for the announcement of such a new policy, and the Obama-Biden Administration will consult closely with Congress as we prepare the change.
Hey guys, as Anita Snow, AP's Havana correspondent wrote:
Obama said during the campaign that immediately after taking office on Jan. 20, he will lift all restrictions on family travel and cash remittances to Cuba Ã¢â‚¬â€ not just roll them back to previous rules that were tightened by the Bush administration.
Let's say your 85 year old grandmother takes seriously ill in Camaguey, and you visited Cuba two years ago. just how long will the timeline mean you need to wait to get to her bedside?
Taking up Steve's central point of prospective discrimination based on national origin, the easy solution is that Obama authorize at the same time general licenses for all twelve categories of codified non-tourist travel including family, educational, religious, cultural, humanitarian, sports and "support for the Cuban people" (full list here)
[More on the problemcatic aspects of the Obama-Clinton spin on Cuban American travel posted earlier here.]