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:
President Nguyễn Minh Triết of Viet Nam and President Raul Castro of Cuba
Vietnam's Sixth Party Congress adopted the policy of doi moi to renovate state centered socialism in December 1986. European countries and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) responded by strengthening their diplomatic and economic ties. However, the US did not lift its unilateral embargo until February 1994, more than seven years later.
President Clinton's eventual action, followed in 1995 by full normalization of relations, reinforced Hanoi's process of internal reform. Today Vietnam has a thriving mixed economy with a vibrant market sector. The US is its largest export market, a leading investor and a primary source of tourists. According to the Institute of International Education’s Open Doors report, Vietnam sends the ninth largest number of international students to the US, 13,112 last year.
Cuba's Sixth Party Congress next April will debate at least as substantial economic and social renewal as Vietnam initially undertook , but similarly in the restraining context of US hostility.
Joe Garcia who might be Representative-elect from Florida if the White House had not been successfully bamboozled by Sen. Menendez and Rep. Wasserman-Schultz with no countervailing pressure.
Mid-term election results were predictable, but nevertheless demoralizing. They require a drastic reconsideration of strategy to bring about a more normal relationship between the US and Cuba.
"I am postponing consideration of H.R. 4645 until a time when the Committee will be able to hold the robust and uninterrupted debate this important issue deserves. I firmly believe that when we debate and vote on the merits of this legislation, and I intend for it to be soon, the right to travel will be restored to all Americans.” --Rep. Howard Berman
For the conceivable future, the House looks like a dead end! If Representative Berman is unable to bring the travel bill to mark-up during the lame duck session, it is a waste of energy and resources to pay much attention to legislation for at least a year and probably two.
I hope Representative Jeff Flake is right, that the freshman class of Republicans will include enough libertarian sentiment for him to mount a campaign that can outflank the obstacles created by Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's control of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. If that turns out to be the case, his effort merits full support.
However, while the likely path of defunding OFAC via appropriations is important symbolically and for individual travelers, it has limited if any impact on the travel industry.
The extremism of presumptive committee chair Ros-Lehtinen was manifested in her infamous endorsement of the assassination of Fidel Castro, viewable here.
The White House
The President must be pressed in every conceivable way to deliver completely on the new policy liberalizing non-tourist travel that was approved before Labor Day. Once that happens, as many people as possible from all eligible categories should be encouraged to travel to Cuba.
For an Administration that entered office boasting that it would repair the damage done to America's international reputation by cowboy unilateralism, the UN vote against the embargo was at least embarrassing.
Both last year and this the US found itself even more isolated than in the Bush Administration. In 2008 the vote was 185 to 3; under Obama in 2009, 187 to 3; and in 2010, 187 to 2. Our only supporter now is Israel, a bit hypocritically as its citizens freely holiday, invest and work in Cuba.
Cuba’s case on the illegitimacy of the embargo is supported by virtually unanimous international opinion. A comparison of premises in General Assembly speeches is instructive:
"The U.S. economic relationship with Cuba is a bilateral issue and part of a broader set of relations meant to encourage a more open environment in Cuba and increased respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
Amb. Ronald Godard, US Senior Area Advisor for Western Hemisphere Affairs ( Full text here)
"For the superpower, any process that is not conducive to the establishment of a regime subordinated to its interest will be insufficient."
Minister of Foreign Affairs Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla ( Full text here )