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.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson led the US delegation to Havana
A Reuters' story from Havana suggests a solution is in sight for the Alan Gross case.
The senior State Department official, who asked not to be identified, said the Cuban government now expected Gross to be charged and tried. The official, who spoke following migration talks on Wednesday in Havana between U.S. and Cuban delegations, did not give a time frame.
"I am cautiously optimistic because of things we hear that that would be the case," the official said when asked if Gross would be released and sent home after being tried, adding that Cuban officials had made "encouraging noises." ....
A Western diplomat in Havana said on Thursday Gross would likely plead guilty at a trial in the next few weeks and then be sent back to the United States....
Roberta Jacobson, the second most senior U.S. diplomat for Latin America, visited Gross in jail on Thursday during her trip to Cuba for the migration talks.
Unfortunately the US delegation insisted on mixing the sweet apples of bilateral negotiation with the bitter lemons of interference in domestic politics.
But Cuba called Jacobson's meeting with opposition leaders an "open provocation" and evidence Washington still aimed to subvert the revolutionary government that took power in 1959.
"Before the migration talks, the Foreign Ministry made clear to the U.S. officials its rejection of any attempt to use the official visit to Cuba to carry out disrespectful or offensive activities against our country," the ministry said in a statement.
Hopefully, but another shadow play with each side reassuring its hard liners that it has not been seduced by the temptation of normal discourse.
Relations between the United States and Latin America have not changed in any meaningful way under President Barack Obama, Brazilian head of state Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said here Monday.
"The truth is that nothing has changed and I view that with sadness," the departing chief executive said during a breakfast with journalists at the presidential palace in Brasilia.
The rumor is circulating that the Administration will finally make an announcement on Tuesday about academic and religious travel and airports from which charter flights can originate. Tony Martinez has published the story on his blog
If he is correct, it is far less than had been reported in August:
P. J. Crowley is not a professional diplomat.
The principle spokesperson for the State Department, the Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Public Affairs, is a political appointee who served in the Air Force for 26 years, retiring as a Colonel in 1999.
According to his official biography, Mr. Crowley’s professional expertise is national security. His previous position was as Director of Homeland Security at the Center for National Progress, a think tank that housed many Obama Administration appointees. During his tenure there he served with Dan Restrepo, now Director of Western Hemisphere Affairs at the National Security Council, whose public statements on Cuba appear made for, if not in, Miami.
I have taken issue with Mr. Crowley before on his discussion of the Alan Gross case. He apparently does not have much depth on Cuba and when challenged at State Department press briefings falls back on language that sounds more like Bush than Obama.
Last Thursday he set an impossibly high bar to bilateral progress in responding to a question based on a wikileaks cable which says that President Raul Castro suggested through Spanish diplomats opening a direct channel to the White House.
According to Mr. Crowley,
We have made clear to Cuba that, first and foremost, before we would envision any fundamental change in our relationship, it is Cuba that has to fundamentally change, and that we would respond accordingly to any actions that Cuba undertook to release political prisoners, to fundamentally change its political system.
Obama’s policy proposals—whether on climate change,
energy, Africa, Cuba, or Iran—are forward-leaning; he proposes
adjusting old and static policies to new and evolving realities.
--Richard Holbrooke, Foreign Affairs, September/October 2008
The sad and unexpected passing of Richard Holbrooke brings to mind our periodic contact related to Indochina.
Holbrooke served as Assistant Secretary of State for Asian and Pacific Affairs during the Carter Administration and was involved in its futile effort to normalize relations with Vietnam seventeen years before Bill Clinton.
Given today’s warm economic and strategic relationship between the US and Vietnam, it is hard to recall that post-war US attitudes were at least as harsh as today’s prevailing views of Cuba.
When Carter first took office he boldly tried to heal the wounds of war by sending a commission to Vietnam in March 1977 led by Leonard Woodcock, then head of the United Auto Workers, later the first US ambassador to China. Woodcock and the UAW had actively opposed the US war in Indochina. He was prepared to offer Vietnam membership in the UN, normalization of relations and the end of the unilateral US embargo, asking only cooperation on American soldiers missing in action.
However Vietnam demurred absent US fulfillment of a promise made by President Nixon during the peace negotiations to provide $3.6 billion in reconstruction assistance.
Holbrooke followed up in May at a meeting with Vice Foreign Minister Phan Hien in Paris. He told Hien that the US was ready to announce on the spot normalization of relations without preconditions. Much to their later regret the Vietnamese reiterated privately and publicly that normalization required addressing the destruction of the war.
In subsequent personal conversations, Holbrooke insisted the Vietnamese were misled by Americans from the anti-war movement to believe they had enough moral and political support in the US to hold out for both normalization and aid. Certainly it was not a view I had conveyed to the Vietnamese during my encounters as a staff member of the American Friends Service Committee and I could never find any of their US interlocutors who acknowledged having given such advice.
Vietnamese friends, including Phan Hien, later told me their negotiating position had been a big mistake but insisted it was entirely due to internal debate and their conviction of US legal obligation.
Down syndrome students blocked from future assistance by OFAC (photo Ted Lieverman)
What's even more puzzling is the apparent indifference of the Obama team to the effect of such gestures on their supporters. One would have expected a candidate who rode the enthusiasm of activists to an upset victory in the Democratic primary to realize that this enthusiasm was an important asset. Instead, however, Mr. Obama almost seems as if he's trying, systematically, to disappoint his once-fervent supporters, to convince the people who put him where he is that they made an embarrassing mistake.
Whatever is going on inside the White House, from the outside it looks like moral collapse -- a complete failure of purpose and loss of direction.
--Paul Krugman, New York Times, 12/2/10
Dr. Krugman was writing about the President yielding to Republican pressure on economic policy, but he might as well have been describing White House inaction on Cuba.
I don't want to join the pile-on unreservedly. Good and important changes have been made regarding Cuba by this Administration, most notably ending restrictions on travel and remittances by Cuban Americans and allowing many visits by Cuban academic and cultural visitors. The New York Philharmonic has finally received approval to perform in Havana. There is a quiet loosening of specific licenses for groups like the Chicago Bar Association to make trips and report to their members on changes in Cuba's economy.
"We have made it very clear to the Cuban Government that the continued detention of Alan Gross is a major impediment to advancing the dialogue between our two countries."
P. J. Crowley, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Public Affairs December 3, 2010
The detention of Alan Gross shows no public sign of resolution.
During his daily briefing the day before Assistant Secretary. Crowley offered the same old disingenuous spin characterizing Alan as:
a committed international development worker who was arrested by Cuban authorities for his activities, dedicated to helping the Jewish community in Havana connect with other Jewish communities throughout the world....
MR. CROWLEY: He is a contractor and he was trying to help connect communities in Havana to the rest of the world. And obviously, we think that is important for the development of civil society in Cuba.
QUESTION: P.J., what --
QUESTION: So the communications devices that have been mentioned --
MR. CROWLEY: Connecting to the internet.
QUESTION: The internet?
MR. CROWLEY: These are not revolutionary kinds of technology.
QUESTION: When the Secretary hosted Jewish groups several months ago and talked about this, she asked them to make appeals to the Cubans. Are you aware if any of them have?
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, I think we – that’s correct. And I think there have been some contacts. I mean, it’s a broad-based community. I know there have been some suggestions publicly that, well, some groups know about him; some groups don’t know about him. That really is beside the point.
Presumably what Crowley was trying to minimize as "beside the point" is an AP story in which the leaders of the principal Jewish organizations in Cuba contradict his version: