Alan Gross has been in prison for two years. His case, like that of the Cuban Five, should be resolved compassionately during the coming Christmas / Chanukah / New Year holiday.
Phil Peters, a former Foreign Service officer has written in an excellent Cuban Triangle blog post
"In effect, the U.S. message is that its agents are free to operate at will on Cuban territory and Cuban authorities have no right to intervene.
Call that what you will, but it is the direct opposite of an effort to free Alan Gross."
Alan's wife has identified the only path to freeing her husband:
Judy Gross also is raising the volume on her criticism of the Obama administration and the apparent unwillingness of anyone on either side of the Florida Straits to sit down and have constructive discussions that would secure her husband's release.
"The State Department has put in a great deal of hours on the case, I'll say that," she said, but she added that the Obama administration "has kept their hands off of it."
"At least publicly," she said. "I've not heard from them once." …
The Cubans need a graceful way to let her husband go, Judy Gross said, and the politics of U.S.-Cuba relations haven't made that easy.
"There's some very powerful vocal people in the Congress who are not favorable to sitting down and negotiating anything with the Cubans," she said. "If you don't negotiate, you don't get anything."
A self-employed vendor of sunglasses in Havana
“The Cuban government has said that it wants to transition, to loosen up the economy, so that businesses can operate more freely. We have not seen evidence that they have been sufficiently aggressive in changing their policies economically”
President Obama in first meeting with Hispanic journalists, September 12, 2011
"But there is a basic, I think, recognition of people’s human rights that includes their right to work, to change jobs, to get an education, to start a business. So some elements of freedom are included in how an economic system works. And right now, we haven’t seen any of that."
President Obama in second meeting with Hispanic journalists, September 28, 2011
The Obama Administration has minimized the significance of economic reforms underway in Cuba, a part of its rationalization for limiting change in bilateral relations. Leaving aside the counterproductive illogic of that position as policy, it is disturbing to think they really might be so woefully misinformed.
Some of the personnel in the US Interests Section in Havana have a cold war political bias that may affect their reporting, but some don't. It may be that staff in the National Security Council are still giving disproportionate weight to the perspective of the old guard in Miami, but surely others in the White House read the US and international press!
Whatever the reason, ignorance will be less of a defense after publication last week of an excellent comprehensive report by Collin Laverty issued by our colleagues at the Center for Democracy in the Americas. "Cuba’s New Resolve: Economic Reform and its Implications for U.S. Policy" , available on line here.
May Day parade poster for the Cuban 5, Havana 2011
In a meeting with Hispanic journalists on September 12th, President Obama, referring to Bill Richardson’s trip to Cuba, said:
"Anything to get Mr. Gross free we will support".
Israel has shown the US how to do it.
If it can exchange Staff Sgt. Gilad Shalit for 1,027 Palestinians, including 315 serving life sentences, why is it so hard for the Obama Administration to release five Cuban intelligence operatives, one imprisoned for life, in return for USAID subcontracted operative Alan Gross?
President Obama can make the first humanitarian gesture by letting Cuban operative Rene Gonzales serve his probation in Cuba, under the supervision of the US Interests Section--if that is required. President Castro can respond with a humanitarian gesture of giving probation to USAID subcontractor Alan Gross, under the supervision of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington.
Part of a bilateral negotiated arrangement should be the release of the remaining four imprisoned Cuban intelligence agents.
Cuba can respond in like manner, sending four prisoners to the US. If there were any still held as prisoners of conscience, they deserve priority. Otherwise the four can be persons convicted for politically motivated acts of violence, the new cause of the Ladies in White. It is not too big a stretch as Cuba generally regards all anti-regime actions as being motivated if not funded by the US.
Cardinal Ortega could be asked to serve as the intermediary to assure both sides act in good faith.
Each country regards those imprisoned by the other as heroes and exponents of unimpeachable values. Similarly each country believes those it holds have been legitimately convicted and sentenced under its laws in the defense of national security and sovereignty.
Prime Minister Netanyahu has provided an example of what it means to be serious rather than rhetorical.
Should Obama be equally courageous, he can expect blatant hypocrisy in response.
Ambassador Susan Rice
Today for the twentieth time the US will embarrass itself in the court of international public opinion when the General Assembly votes on our Cuba embargo..
I feel for Susan Rice, our extraordinary Permanent Representative to the United Nations, or the functionary who will carry her water, as they defend the indefensible, fifty years of unilateral and internationally condemned economic warfare against a neighbor for daring to be different.
Presumably we will again have only Israel by our side, its ears burning from hypocrisy. Israel's citizens freely vacation, work and invest in Cuba, unlike the Americans whose lonely hand they hold. The former head of the Mosad intelligence agency for years managed Cuba's largest citrus plantation.
The world does not know whether to laugh at us for our absurdity, despise us for our bullying or pity us because a tiny minority of embittered exiles so easily dominate our foreign policy.
The President can hardly join the near unanimous opposition to US policy, but he could show the decency to abstain.
Mark Lopes, Sen. Menendez ally at USAID
While we wait for President Raul Castro to set an example by releasing Alan Gross for humanitarian reasons, it is worth considering whether President Obama is still capable of the reset of US-Cuba relations that was put on hold while Gross was imprisoned.
Review the Wikileaks publication of a diplomatic cable from Havana to recall the optimistic atmosphere that prevailed on both sides during Bisa Williams’ visit prior to Alan’s arrest.
Can that atmosphere be restored when the bureaucracy of USAID, backed by closely linked Cuban American hard liners in Congress, seems determined to create further provocation, leading to additional arrests and prosecutions? Under pressure, Senators Kerry and Leahy lifted their hold on $21,000,000 for “democracy” funding, sending good money after bad despite the ostensible preoccupation in Washington to end wasteful government expenditures..
USAID’s planned programs almost sound innocent, except that they are designed to carry out the regime change agenda of the Helms Burton law and are part and parcel of fifty years of unremitting economic warfare, as reported by Tracey Eaton in his invaluable Cuba Money Project blog
- $6 million for programs aimed at increasing free expression among youth ages 12 to 24.
- $6 million to expand Internet use and increase access to information.
- $9 million to support neighborhood groups, cooperatives, sports clubs, church groups and other civil society organizations.
Imagine how Americans would feel if an overtly hostile country undertook similar unauthorized projects in our country despite explicit US laws to the contrary. Wouldn't we be morally outraged at targeting children as young as 12?
Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is seeking to use a politically biased evaluation system of sex-trafficking to pressure the Administration to retreat from its important, albeit bureaucratically constipated, opening of purposeful travel.
Ros-Lehtinen wrote Secretary of State Clinton, no doubt seeking to appeal to her well known concern for a pervasive international problem:
I would urge the administration, within all applicable rules and guidelines, to reverse its current policy and suspend all educational and cultural exchanges with the Cuban regime pursuant to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000.
According to U.S. law, “countries on Tier 3 may not receive funding for government employees’ participation in educational and cultural exchange programs.”
The substance of Cuba’s ranking in the trafficking score card is about as real, and is as politically motivated, as the justification for keeping Cuba on the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism. From the State Department report:
Cuba is a source country for adults and some children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Some Cuban medical professionals assigned to work abroad have claimed that their passports were retained as a means of keeping them in a state of exploitation, thus preventing them from traveling freely.* … The scope of trafficking within Cuba is particularly difficult to gauge due to the closed nature of the government and sparse non-governmental or independent reporting…..
Cuba appears to prohibit most forms of trafficking activity through various provisions of its penal code; however, the use of these provisions could not be verified, and prostitution of children over the age of 16 is legal, leaving children over 16 particularly vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation. The government did not share official data relating to Cuban investigations, prosecutions, and convictions of trafficking offenders, including any officials complicit in human trafficking, in 2010 or any other year. The government did not report any anti-trafficking training provided to officials.
The government did not publicize official data on protection of trafficking victims during the reporting period. The government did not report any procedures in place to guide officials in proactively identifying trafficking victims in vulnerable groups (such as people in prostitution) and referring them to available services. The government operates at least two well-regarded facilities for the treatment of children who have been sexually and physically abused. In addition, the government operates a nationwide network of shelters for victims of domestic violence or child abuse, but the government did not verify if trafficking victims received treatment in these centers.
Cuba’s main problem seems to be that it does not check off the right bureaucratic boxes, probably because as noted in the report, "Cuba is not a party to the 2000 UN Trafficking in Persons Protocol."
Anti-Cuba travel Representatives Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
At the end of last week Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, Fidel Castro’s wayward nephew, may have inadvertently improved President Obama’s prospects in Florida for the next election.
Whether inspired by ideology or fear, the Representative successfully amended an appropriations bill in committee to return Cuban American travel to the very harsh policies of the Bush Administration. While the amendment is unlikely to get through the Senate counterpart, the threat it poses will have a jolting impact among those most directly affected.
Under Bush Cuban Americans could visit an unfeelingly narrow definition of family members only once every three years and send no more than $1200 annually in remittances. Obama took a larger than normal share of the Cuban American vote by promising during campaign appearances to allow unlimited travel and remittances. He followed through within three months of taking office.
It is estimated that 400,000 Cuban Americans will travel back this year, more than 20% of the immigrant population. Thousands more will simply send money.
Diaz-Balart justified his move as denying revenue to his enemies in Havana. However, most Cuban Americans stay with family members or friends or in private homes, not in state hotels like Cuba’s other two million visitors. They also patronize government owned restaurants less frequently.
Why would Diaz-Balart and the Republican Party risk making so many enemies, and losing support in a normally reliable bloc?
In part because they know that vote is already eroding and they need to stop the hemorrhage.
Andrea Holbrook discusses student travel to Cuba at the NAFSA conference in Vancouver at the end of May. The Cuba/US People to People Partnership booth was cosponsored by C & T Charters, Cuba Education Tours, Fund for Reconciliation and Development, Global Exchange, Holbrook Travel and Sol Melia Cuba.
HAVANA, June 22 (Reuters) - The number of Americans visiting Cuba is steadily increasing under the Obama administration, according to a rare report posted this week on the National Statistics Office Web Page. Some 63,000 U.S. citizens of non-Cuban origin visited Cuba in 2010, compared with 52,500 the previous year and 41,900 in 2008, according to the report (http://www.one.cu/aec2010/datos/15.3.xls).
An average 30,000 Americans visited Cuba during the last term of George W. Bush, and peaked at 70,000 during the Clinton administration. The Obama administration recently loosened further restrictions on Americans traveling to Cuba for professional, religious and humanitarian reasons, among other measures, with tour operators between 100,000 and 200,000 will arrive on the forbidden island this year...
Maybe, maybe not.
It is time to ask how serious the Obama Administration was about purposeful travel when it announced a new policy on January 14th.
For political reasons it had already delayed the announcement for six months. The new regulations were published only two weeks later, suggesting they had indeed been sitting on the shelf.
However it took three months for the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to issue guidelines on April 19th about requirements for specific licenses.
Two more months have been lost and OFAC has granted only a handful of people-to- people licenses despite receiving at least 3400 applications by the end of May. None of the major organizations that coordinated trips before 2004 is among the recipients.
State Department staff say it is a problem of too many applications being handled by too few OFAC staff. They insist that licenses are not being held up for political reasons, e.g. the release of Alan Gross or opposition from Cuban American hard liners.
Some travel organizers believe that the problem is simply bureaucratic. They speculate that OFAC is holding back until it can issue all licenses at the same time, either because they don’t want to give unfair competitive advantage, or because they want all applications to have the same problematic one year renewal date.
Regardless of the reason, the unconscionable delay has itself become an issue of policy.
Dawn at the Melia Cohiba Hotel in Havana
During my visit to Cuba at the beginning of May, I was reminded of the mis-comprehension and suspicion that dominate both Havana and Washington.
Cubans were of mixed minds about the just completed VI Congress of the Communist Party. The published record had not yet been released, so my varied interlocutors were free to read as much or as little into press accounts of the results as fit their predispositions.
Regardless of whether positive or negative about what was accomplished in this round, everyone agreed Cuba is engaged in a substantial and irreversible evolution of its social and economic order.
Continuity of leadership was regarded as a holding pattern, symbolically disappointing but expected. Raul Castro solidified a reform minded administration but did not take any risk of unleashing internal rivalries by choosing as Second Secretary a prospective successor from a younger generation. The more revealing stage is next January's Party conference which will focus on political and personnel issues.
Cuba's revolutionaries know their domestic legacy is at risk. Failure to successfully renovate the socialist experiment opens Cuba not so much to a takeover by Miami counterrevolutionaries or Washington hegemonists as it does to a Russian style domestic oligarchy taking personal profit from five decades of collaborative struggle and sacrifice.
Havana's Artistica Gallega Pipe Band, "Banda de Eduardo Lorenzo" was part of CeltFest 2011, but Irish American musicians were denied a license by OFAC to join the craic this year.
Finally on April 19th the Office of Foreign Assets Controls released 51 pages of guidelines implementing President Obama’s new regulations on purposeful travel announced three months earlier. (Link to full text here and analysis here.)
Theguidelines are a semi-breakthrough, welcome for what they do, infuriating for what they don’t, and frustrating because big questions still remain on what they actually mean in practice.
In theory, most Americans should now have an option for legal, albeit encumbered, travel to Cuba.
The guidelines confirm the Obama Administration’s significant step forward of granting general licenses for higher education students and all religious organizations—with which 84% of Americans are affiliated. These provisions offer two broad opportunities to initiate serious engagement between the two countries without obstacles from Washington.
The language for specific licenses raises all the predicted problems of cumbersome bureaucracy wasting time on fine tuning the rights of Americans for political purposes and diverting resources from more necessary tasks.
Most attention has focused on what will flow from the comprehensive but undefined people-to-people umbrella:
"OFAC may issue a specific license to an organization that sponsors and organizes programs to promote people-to-people contact authorizing the organization and individuals traveling under its auspices to engage in educational exchanges not involving academic study pursuant to a degree program. In general, licenses issued pursuant to this policy will be valid for one year and will contain no limitation on the number of trips that can be taken." (p 22)
Will we soon see the return of a wide range of informational programs allowed before President Bush’s crackdown of 2004?
third party student exchanges, high schools, educators of the retired, college alumni, world affairs councils, museums, chambers of commerce, Rotary Clubs, farm organizations, sports teams, community groups, professional associations, foundations, NGOs, doctors, environmentalists, artists, architects, etc.
While general licenses avoid the contradiction between trust building exchanges and system change politics, specific licenses could by granted based on which goal is foremost. The core problem is illustrated by this revealing paragraph:
"Meeting all of the relevant specific licensing criteria in a given section does not guarantee that a specific license will be issued, as foreign policy considerations and additional factors may be considered by OFAC in making its licensing determinations....specific licenses are not granted as a matter of right." (p 4)