Visits to Cuba by ChinaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s President (seen here in 2004), RussiaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Prime Minister and BrazilÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s President illustrate that the Obama Administration delays at its peril setting a bold new course on Cuba. Even the Bush Administration in its final months may be having second thoughts.
Reuters reports that during a two day stopover,
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Chinese President Hu Jintao agreed to put off some of Cuba's debt payments and gave the island $80 million for hospital modernization and other projectsÃ¢â‚¬Â¦China is Cuba's second largest trading partner after Venezuela at $2.3 billion in 2007.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Next up in Havana is Russia's Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev who is reported by Reuters to have both economic and strategic goals, in part to counter the Bush AdministrationÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s adventurist policies in countries that were part of or dominated by the former Soviet Union.
Closer to home,
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Brazil will offer Cuba financial aid for industry, energy and infrastructure projects during a December visit by communist President Raul Castro Ã¢â‚¬Â¦We'll discuss the production of buses, building roads, as well as oil investments," Marco Aurelio Garcia, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's foreign policy adviser, told Reuters.
Obama might ponder the implications of a remark made during the recent visit to Cuba by Lula, our non-Chavez role model, about his invitation to Raul
"to participate in the first meeting of Latin American and Caribbean nations, without interference from any other power."
The struggle to influence the direction of the Obama administration on Cuba is underway.
A good article by Carol Williams in today's LA Times quotes Jake Colvin, Al Fox and myself about prospects for change by the new administration.
I developed the same ideas at greater length in an op ed in Sunday's Sun Sentinel
The contrary effort to influence Obama was expressed in Myriam Marquez' column in Sunday's Miami Herald. She boasts of CANF's influence and distorts Obama's position on family travel. She also echoes the CANF critique of US democracy funding, that it is not deployed effectively enough for purposes of subversion.
"With Democrats in control of the White House and Congress, the Cuban American National Foundation is sitting pretty after wandering the political wilderness for eight years....With Obama's win CANF is positioned to have immense influence on Cuba policy. What to expect? An aggressive policy to get more money to the opposition in Cuba....The U.S. embargo toward Cuba will rightly stay. The 2004 Bush restrictions on travel and remittances will go. Returning to the pre-2004 rules would mean Cuban Americans could travel once a year to see family instead of once every three years, and remittances could go up to $3,000 a year -- instead of the current $1,200 -- and open to all family members."
In fact, every Obama campaign statement about Cuba and the Democratic Party platform position clearly pledge "unlimited family visits and remittances" , not only return to the pre-2004 formula.
As far as I know, Obama has not spoken to the controversy over "democracy" funding, other than the skepticism expressed by his votes against TV Marti in 2005.
Yet Marquez assumes he will follow CANF's line that,
"the rules need to change so that money and equipment can reach the opposition -- just as it did during the Cold War for the Polish Solidarity movement."
She seems oblivious to both Cuban and Eastern European history. Poland and other communist regimes on the periphery of the Soviet Union were externally imposed and sustained. The Solidarity model is totally irrelevant to Cuba which is why many people who took advantage of the opening offered by Mikhail Gorbachev believe the US embargo and travel restrictions are counterproductive--and vote against them in the UN every year.
Vietnam and China are better analogies to Cuba. Whether admired or disliked, their revolutions were internally created and managed and have evolved on their own terms to market economies and greater personal freedom. (The US expresses criticism of their human rights records and political systems but does not presume to intervene in domestic debates.)
Sending direct aid to opposition personalities in Cuba hopelessly compromises their nationalist credentials and makes them vulnerable to prosecution as agents of a hostile foreign power, not unlike the attitude the US took to members of the US Communist Party in the 1950s. Buying into CANF's semi-soft regime change thesis also makes no sense if the new administration wants to develop the trust and mutual respect that are essential for successful negotiations.
CANF and others in Miami presume they should be part of any negotiations between Washington and Havana, but that is pure poison to serious talks. It would be like Bill Clinton inviting Nguyen Van Thieu and Nguyen Cao Ky to be part of the US-Vietnam normalization discussions. (Much after the fact Ky made his peace with Hanoi and has been back to Vietnam several times, to the great dismay of Vietnamese American extremists who still dominate community politics here.)
The full range of Cuban American opinion should be listened to by the new administration: the unconditional engagement voices, the soft intervention groups, and even the no-dialog forces. However, none of them should be given weight beyond their numbers in the whole US population and in the spectrum of public opinion which favors ending all travel restrictions by 2 to 1.
--John McAuliff www.ffrd.org
Preliminary election returns suggest President-elect Obama has a greater range of maneuver on Cuba than anticipated.
How much of his substantial statewide margin of victory in Florida (see below) can be attributed to support from Cuban Americans who crossed over from McCain because they shared only his cautious position on family travel? All three Democratic contenders lost who advocated a partial reform of travel similar to Obama's, suggesting that was not as decisive an issue in the exile community as many hoped.
Does that mean that Obama might have done as well in Florida if he had advocated all travel, or even an end to the embargo? Do exit polls and analysis of the Presidential vote in Miami-Dade Congressional districts offer more insight?
Certainly Obama will owe nothing to the three hard line Cuban American Republicans returning to Washington. However, they and the Democracy PAC money will still play a strong role in the House and on key committees. Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and other Florida politicians with state wide ambitions will remain leery of offending the organized Cuban American constituency.
A common sense US policy on Cuba even more clearly means removing it from special interest nationality politics, as the Executive Branch is better able to do than Congress, especially when the next Presidential election is four years away. We would still lack diplomatic relations and maintain unilateral embargoes against China, Vietnam and Cambodia if change had depended on the approval of their exile communities in the US.
Sequential actions by the White House and Congress can reinforce each other and create an atmosphere for fundamental common sense change in US-Cuba relations. The crucial first step is for the incoming Administration to follow the window opening logic of its campaign commitment to unrestricted Cuban American travel.
It must reject discrimination in the right to travel based on ethnicity or national origin and enable the broadest non-tourist travel possible under existing legal authority, as favored by two-thirds of Americans.
Obama / Biden 4,073,207, 50.9%
McCain / Palin 3,872,553, 48.4%
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen 137,817, 57.7%
Annette Taddeo 100,929, 42.3%
Lincoln Diaz-Balart 132,861, 57.8%
Raul L. Martinez 97,184, 42.2%
Mario Diaz-Balar 127,059, 52.8%
Joe Garcia 113,495, 47.2%
Florida Department of State
Division of Elections
2008 General Election
UNOFFICIAL ELECTION NIGHT RETURNS
(may not include absentee or provisional ballots)
Page Generated: 11/5/2008 1:55 AM
Richard Walden and I go back a long way. We worked together to send the first air shipment of private US aid to Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge were routed by the Vietnamese--Thanksgiving 1979.
He had recently founded a rambunctious humanitarian medical aid group called Operation California, and I was director of the Indochina Peace Education Program at the Quaker led American Friends Service Committee.
Fast forward thirty years, and we are both still at it, but now for Cuba, Richard with his renamed Operation USA, and me with the Fund for Reconciliation and Development.
A common thread over three decades is the obscurantism of the Federal bureaucracy, and in particular the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the Treasury Department, and its counterpart in the Commerce Department, which use every trick in their book to do the bidding of their political masters. (Richard notes that the key people in the State Department who initially blocked his licensing for Vietnam and Cambodia were Dick Holbrooke and John Negroponte, at the time Assistant and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Asia.)
In his speech at the General Assembly on Wednesday, the US representative made a big deal of our willingness to help Cuba recover from hurricane damage during his fruitless effort to avoid another humiliating defeat. The reality is more accurately reflected in the account from Richard that follows.
His story drives home the point that if an Obama Administration wants to open a new more rational relationship with Cuba, an essential bureaucratic task is to reform OFAC. A simple first step is to direct it and the Commerce Department to immediately issue a general license for hurricane related help through personal contributions by any American to Cuban family members and friends and for assistance from any recognized US non-governmental organization.
At the end Richard refers to an upcoming fund raiser for hurricane relief featuring Jackson Browne in Santa Monica on November 29th
JacksonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s latest album includes the theme song for the Cuba travel movement, as performed for Colbert Nation:
A personal report on how hard it is to help, thanks to the embargoÃ¢â‚¬Â¦
IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m just back from Cuba and drove thru Pinar Del Rio, one of the hardest hit provinces from the recent hurricanes.
The need for material Ã¢â‚¬Å“solidarityÃ¢â‚¬Â is serious and, as usual, US Government agencies are obstructing rather than facilitating aid.
Operation USA has a Treasury license for travel/monitoring to Cuba to survey distribution of Commerce-licensed humanitarian aid, up to $1.4 million to Havana pediatric hospitals. Hurricane aid requires at least two new licenses. We are sending water purification tablets purchased in Ireland from a major supplier to the UN and NGOs globally. We were promised a quick turnaround by OFAC over a month agoÃ¢â‚¬Â¦BUT things have slowed down.
First, we were asked if the water purification tablets have any US supplied component. It turns out the chlorine sold to the Irish company comes from a US chemical company, and that takes us from the realm of just spending cash overseas (via OFAC authority) to trying to estimate what percentage of the final product is US related. OFAC asked us to get a Commerce license for the re-export of the 40% of each tablet which appears to be US supplied to the manufacturer. They actually insisted we get the company to state exactly what percent and what dollar value of each pill is US made. [No company would ever break down for you the percent which is their profit, packaging, raw materials, etc.]
Then Commerce gleefully informed us they can no longer accept paper or faxed license applications as of October. Applications must be electronically filled out and sent BUT each company must have a unique identifying corporate number assigned by Commerce as well as a PIN number for each staff person applying for a license. This goes to a different part of CommerceÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s huge bureaucracy and they took three weeks to give us an identifying number and PINS for our staff.
Now, we have the electronic license application in front of us but it requires street addresses for every recipient in Cuba. As we are buying two million tablets which will be distributed in 50 to100 tablet amounts, this is silly. Even getting exact street addresses for six Cuban hospitals in Pinar Del Rio is difficult as Latin American addresses are often squishy.
The Commerce guys also just informed us that they have to send the completed application to the State Dept for reviewÃ¢â‚¬Â¦a one month process.
As we are holding a major Cuba fund raiser in late November in Los Angeles, we may have significant new money to spend for or in Cuba. The US government agencies require specific project budgets for each project even if we are not sending cash to Cuba.
And on and on.
President and CEO
Between principle and practice, the Democratic Party approach to Cuba needs some clarification.
It's platform plank on Cuba begins:
We must turn the page on the arrogance in Washington
presenting the Cuban regime with a clear choice: if it takes significant steps toward democracy, beginning with the unconditional release of all political prisoners, we will be prepared to take steps to begin normalizing relations.
Contrast that with the BBC's report of the basis for EU-Cuba normalization
A joint declaration, signed by Cuba's foreign minister and the European commissioner for development and humanitarian aid, calls for respect for Cuba's political independence and non-intervention in its internal affairs.
When the UN votes on the unilateral US embargo of Cuba next week for the seventeenth time, it is likely to replicate last year's near unanimity, a number which has grown steadily. Ironically citizens of our only significant supporter, Israel, are big investors in Cuban property development and manage the country's largest citrus plantation.
The larger significance of the vote for our international standing was reflected in the inaugural address of the President of the General Assembly, Rev. Miguel DÃ¢â‚¬â„¢Escoto, on September 16, 2008:
At the United Nations, the word Ã¢â‚¬Å“democracyÃ¢â‚¬Â is becoming increasingly empty, with no real meaning or substance. Take for instance, the 45-year-old United States embargo against Cuba. Even with a majority as overwhelming as 184 votes to 4, this patently unjust and universally repudiated embargo remains firmly in place. If the opinion of more than 95 per cent of the membership of the United Nations can be so casually ignored, of what use is this General Assembly? This is a question that deserves some thought. How can we be content to say that we have democracy simply because we have the Ã¢â‚¬Å“one nation, one voteÃ¢â‚¬Â rule? What good are votes if they can be ignored or have no real consequence?
Update:the on-line letter urging a suspension of restrictions on travel, remittances and aid by all Americans in order to provide hurricane assistance to Cuba has topped 1000 signatures. You can add your name and view the eloquent comments from very diverse sources here.
Not the first reason given, but worth noting from a paper that is extremely sensitive to Cuban American opinion:
"Closer to home, Sen. McCain strongly supports Bush administration policies on Cuba. Sen. Obama also supports the embargo, but would be more likely to dissolve recently imposed restraints on travel and remittances to Cuba."
However, the Herald backed hard line anti-travel Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart. His Democratic challenger, Joe Garcia also favors travel for Cuban-Americans. The Herald did endorse Raul Martinez over Lincoln Diaz-Balard*, noting only that both advocated a "free Cuba", although Raul supports family travel while Lincoln does not. Like Obama, both Garcia and Martinez are so far silent about the human right of the rest of us to freedom of travel.
Related question: Senator Bob Menendez and Representative Debbie Wasserman-Schultz made a quick pivot after the primaries to support and speak for Obama. Are they also embracing his commitment to unrestricted Cuban American travel and remittances, and unconditional negotiations with Cuba's leaders?
I noticed an intriguing quote in a Herald article by Beth Reinhard
''This was one of the best receptions I got,'' Menendez said in a telephone interview from Washington. ``The economic message that Obama is delivering is falling on receptive ears among those who in the past were driven more by ideological issues, like Cuba.''
Does characterizing Cuba as an "ideological issue" suggest that Menendez is moving away from his past hard line position?
* A previous version of this post mistakenly said that the Herald had endorsed Lincoln Diaz-Balart.
One of the confusing aspects of Cuba to those who only observe it from a distance is that its people are both impoverished (in consumer goods) and wealthy (in health and education), a developing country (in the agriculture sector, housing) and a donor of humanitarian aid (doctors).
In some ways the most shocking aspect of the last hurricane was that seven people died, so well organized is Cuba's alarm and evacuation system. Similarly, while the documented destruction left by four tropical storms is extensive, recovery efforts are reported to be moving ahead with assistance coming from many countries other than the US.
Accordingly, it is hard to judge what the effect of the storms will be. I share these observations from a personal letter I recently received from Havana. --John McAuliff
There is no doubt that a worsening of economic and social conditions in Cuba will provoke an increase in legal and illegal immigration, mainly to the US. It can get out of hand, but not easily.
In previous situations, Boca de Camarioca in the 60Ã¢â‚¬â„¢s, Mariel in the 80Ã¢â‚¬â„¢s and the last one in the mid 90Ã¢â‚¬â„¢s, always the Cuban authorities had, in some justified way, allowed it to go on until the US authorities were forced to some kind of agreement. But it was always first provoked by rigid US policies that did not take in consideration the consequences of such policies.
I think that the Cuban Government and Party have the means and political tools to avoid such a situation today, but it is obviously a possibility.
As you have been probably able to watch, the destruction in Pinar del RÃƒÂo, HolguÃƒÂn and Las Tunas, but not only in these provinces, has been enormous and it has hit private houses in the worst way. Just as much, it also hit agricultural production and electrical energy infrastructure.
There is already a certain scarcity of sweet potatoes (bonitato), malanga (I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know the name in English), bananas and plantain, fresh pork and goat meat and others basic food in the Ã¢â‚¬Å“agromercadosÃ¢â‚¬Â and it will get worse. There is also a problem in the CUC ("dollar") stores to get cooking oil (you can only get soya oil), tomatoe paste, canned fish and meat, frozen chicken, cheese and fresh meat.
The only solution is a rapid recuperation of agricultural production. The private agricultural sector is the main producer, but can not do it by itself, It is needed that the state farms under their various forms of organization increase production, something they have been unable to do in 50 years, without huge investment in machinery, fertilizers, insecticides and other inputs that are no longer available.
As the destruction is shown by TV, people get surprised to see how poor the houses were before the hurricanes, and slowly everybody is starting to realize that it will take decades to bring housing to, even, the previous poor situation.
An immediate political result of the destruction is the solidarity and unity of purpose that brings among the people. This is probably true in every country. In Cuba it is even more so, as the Government and Party had created a solid organization that includes more and more people to people solidarity, to confront hurricanes and heavy rains. Also because of the quick and effective response to start reconstruction, that includes, even, cultural groups with well known artists performing in the more severely affected areas. Of course the limited resources are the main problem.
But, is difficult to predict how the mood will change as the reality of an even poorer country, with even more economic and social problems, takes hold slowly of people's minds.
So, yes it is almost certain that there will be an increase of emigration. Whether it will be massive and illegal, depends of many factors. Of course the impact of a limited in time lift of the embargo, or the increase in remittances and traveling, will help to avoid that this problem gets out of hand.
As has happened in the past, I doubt the US Administration will take in consideration the consequences of their fanatic anti-evolution policies. Even without massive emigration, it is always safer for you not to provoke problems to your neighbor that can affect you in the long run.
The Presidential debate tonight (if it happens) is supposed to focus on foreign policy and will be moderated by Jim Lehrer of PBS. Here are two questions that probably won't get asked.
1) US help to victims of four tropical storms and hurricanes in Cuba is limited by the long conflict between our countries. Should the President for humanitarian reasons temporarily suspend political and legal obstacles to:
--direct help from all private citizens to relatives and friends;
--large scale assistance from non-governmental organizations
--the sale of food and building materials; and
--travel to support such help?
2) How do you resolve a conflict between national policy goals and special interest swing state/ethnic politics? Both of you ignore national polls favoring normalization of US-Cuba relations and campaign as though votes in Florida are all that matters, though you have different takes on which Cuban American views are most important. Wouldn't a real change in policy toward Cuba, like ending all restrictions on travel, be in greater harmony with our Hemisphere and help rebuild our international reputation?
There is a another chance
On October 7 a Town Hall debate will be moderated by Tom Brokaw at Belmont University in Tennessee. All questions will come from the audience or be drawn by the moderator from the internet.
Betraying our own values
''The United States, in the past, has acted honorably and quickly in response to hurricanes in Central America, tsunamis in Indonesia and earthquakes in Pakistan: they come in first, with the most resources and without conditions,'' said Frank Mora, a Cuba expert at the National War College in Washington.
''That has not been the case for Cuba. It's embarrassing and shameful that politics has inserted itself at a time when so many Cuban people on the island are suffering,'' Mora said.
Miami Herald, 9/17/08
Almost 1000 Americans from diverse backgrounds have called for suspending political limits on assistance to hurricane victims http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/Cubafloodaid/