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)
Celtic music and dance echo through Habana Vieja this week
without Irish American musicians (photo Irish Times)
“They never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity!”
This snarky characterization used to be directed at the Cubans by American critics. Looks like the Obama Administration wants to take on that dubious honor for itself.
It has been more than three months since the President announced new regulations on purposeful travel to Cuba. He moved to restore, and in important ways to improve upon, the policies of the Clinton Administration that had been gutted in the Bush era.
For students and religious organizations, the path is now clear. They have general licenses which require no application or report to the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) at the Treasury Department. All that is required is authorization within the institution. Two schools have already announced end of semester trips, Dominican University and Appalachian State University.
However, the broader opening of people-to-people travel faces a predicted bottleneck. OFAC has yet to issue new guidelines and has not acted on numerous applications from groups (including ours) which organized legal trips prior to 2004.
Paradoxically it has used the infamous 2004 Bush guidelines to deny an application within the performance category included in the new regulations.
Over 2000 people visited the Cuba booth at the New York Times Travel Show, February 25-27
In an interview with Telemundo, reported by the Cuban Colada blog in the Miami Herald, Secretary of State Clinton sounded a cautiously optimistic note about the fate of imprisoned USAID subcontractor Alan Gross:
he should be released, and at the very least, on humanitarian terms. He should be sent home to his family, and I'm hoping that the Cuban Government will do that...We don't want to take any actions or say anything that will undermine the chances for this man to come home to his family.
Yet in that same interview, she made assertions that could force the Cubans to be tough in their handling of Mr. Gross in order to defend the legitimacy of their own laws:
Alan Gross was in Cuba to help people literally connect with the rest of the world, and as we're seeing around the world, that's a tide that is coming. You're not going to be able to push it back out to sea, even in Cuba. He has served a very long time for doing what was not in any way criminal, in our view.
And similarly with Univision
He should not have been brought before a court and charged with crimes that he did not commit.
I completely agree with her conclusion:
We believe he should be released and returned to his family on humanitarian grounds as soon as possible.
But I am astounded by her efforts to still argue for Alan's innocence.
A private handicrafts market on the Malecon near the Melia Cohiba Hotel. One stand sells in moneda nacional, Cuban pesos.
Enabling Purposeful Travel
I am back from a week in Cuba that focused on how to strengthen implementation on their side of the improvement in travel regulations announced by President Obama. My focus was on practical implications, in particular the opportunity provided by the advance beyond the Clinton Administration of general licenses for academic and religious purposes.
The Cubans with whom I met reacted quite favorably to the new policy and are preparing to receive a new wave of purposeful visitors. The University of Havana reportedly has already received inquiries from several hundred US universities wishing to collaborate. The challenge will be how to maintain its primary role, educating Cubans, as well as how to overcome the skepticism of some colleagues.
There was disappointment that the only US rationale given for the new regulations was system change in Cuba. Moreover my interlocutors noted the absence of any recognition that people-to-people travel inherently seeks to learn from and about the country visited and to create mutual understanding and trust. They recognize but regret US domestic political reasons for the one-dimensional justification.
Unfortunately such language provides ammunition for those in Cuba who resist change as strongly as the extremist minority in the Cuban American community who criticized the President's action. In Cuba the debate is ongoing about how much the Obama Administration represents a real departure or only a tactical adjustment. If they are moving along a socio-economic path resembling Vietnam's adoption of doi moi (“renovation”), are we prepared to treat them with the respect that we give to Vietnam, i.e. critical friendship rather than hostile intervention?
Cuban doubts can be seen in the ambivalent speech of the Minister of Higher Education on January 27th. He warned (text in Spanish) of two-faced US intentions to foster a brain drain yet expressed frustration about the embargo denying normal access for Cubans to our knowledge and research.
Adam Szubin, Director of OFAC
Unquestionably, the White House announcement on January 14 of reforms in policy affecting purposeful travel to Cuba is an important step forward.
The Obama Administration overcame resistance from a powerful minority of hard line Cuban Americans and their Congressional allies in Florida and New Jersey who oppose even the general license for family travel authorized in 2009 and will object to every opening, no matter how timid or bold.
Senator Marco Rubio, a Tea Party linked freshman from Florida, revealed his extremism:
"I strongly oppose any new changes that weaken U.S. policy towards Cuba. I was opposed to the changes that have already been made by this administration and I oppose these new changes."
He was effectively offset by Senator John Kerry, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
“I warmly applaud the President’s decision to allow more Americans to travel to Cuba. These measures, expanding people-to-people relations between the United States and Cuba and allowing Americans to send funds to Cubans for private economic activity, open the way for the good will of citizens of both countries to forge deeper ties that are in our national interest today and in the future. This is an important step. If governments cannot solve the problems between them, at least they should get out of the way and let citizens work toward finding solutions.
“Cuba remains, regrettably, the only country in the world that the United States government does not allow its citizens to travel to freely. I intend to continue pushing legislation, such as I sponsored in the last Congress, that will allow free travel to Cuba. After 50 years of embargo against Cuba and government prohibitions on contact, it’s time to try something different.”
The challenge facing the Obama Administration is to insure that its goals for “religious, cultural and educational travel” are faithfully implemented by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) in the Treasury Department.
“Reaching out to the Cuban people” and fostering “people to people contact” require fully enabling the energy and spirit of the American people without bureaucratic obstacles in either country.
The devil, as always, is in the details. (See analysis of executive order here.)
The White House has begun to respond to substantial social and economic changes underway in Cuba. However for domestic political purposes it unnecessarily linked liberalized travel to maintaining the internationally despised trade embargo. Moreover the statement justified reform in terms of promoting “independence from Cuban authorities”, an objective that would create suspicion in any host government.