There are a number of oddities about the explanation of the activities in Cuba of Alan Gross, the American detained by Cuba.
Some were explored in the newsletter of the Cuban American Alliance Education Fund and can be read here.
The anomaly that struck me is reflected in the New York Times on January 12.
"Mr. Gross has visited Cuba several times, delivering computer and satellite equipment to three Jewish community groups, according to people with knowledge of his work.
In December, they said, he was on a follow-up trip for Development Alternatives Inc., a contractor working with the United States Agency for International Development. The people who know about his work, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment on the matter, said Mr. Gross was sent to research how the groups were making use of the equipment he had previously distributed to them."
However, a highly regarded international NGO called ORT is credited with the excellent and substantial computer program assisting the Jewish community in Cuba. I find no reference to him in any of ORT's releases about its program.
Unless ORT was receiving funds from DAI / USAID, which seems unlikely, the story given out about Mr. Gross's activities merits further investigation.
Was he adding on to or hiding behind well established credible work or is this a cover story meant to confuse the debate over foreign assistance to dissidents? If his actual project was as innocent as described, did Cuban authorities overreact because of its lineage, i.e. its "regime change" funding source?
Cuba's characterization of Gross's role was used by his sponsor, and the State Department, to avoid the real issue of foreign intervention.
"There is a new institution in the United States which is made up of agents, torturers and spies that are contracted as part of the privatization of war," [National Assembly President] Alarcon said. "This is a man who was contracted to do work for American intelligence services."
DAI President James Boomgard:
"The detained DAI subcontractor was not working for any intelligence service. As noted in our original statement of December 14, the detained individual...was working as a subcontractor to DAI on a U.S. Agency for International Development program aimed at providing humanitarian assistance to the people of Cuba.
Specifically, he was working with a peaceful, non-dissident civic groupÃ¢â‚¬â€a religious and cultural group recognized by the Cuban governmentÃ¢â‚¬â€to improve its ability to communicate with its members across the island and overseas."
If USAID and DAI sincerely want to work for humanitarian purposes in Cuba, they should follow normal diplomatic protocol of US assistance worldwide, and the practice of other western democracies in Cuba, by consulting beforehand with the host country. That is the essential bottom line of mutual respect.
An interesting contrast is the polemical and interventionist character of the USAID web page on Cuba, and the balanced tone of the page on Vietnam. Obviously the US disagrees with human rights and democratic governance as interpreted in both countries, but we would not have normal diplomatic, economic and cultural relations with Vietnam (or China) today without accepting their sovereign independence.
Note the following in a post by Richard Cheeseman quoting a question posed by Christopher Sabatini of the Americas Society in a Foreign Policy blog:
"In what other country in the hemisphere would it be considered a crime for a foreigner to give out a cell phone, laptop, or any other modern tool of communication?"
That's an easy question to answer: the USA.
The Foreign Agents Registration Act criminalizes any unregistered agent of a foreign power (which this "contractor" certainly was) who "within the United States solicits, collects, disburses, or dispenses contributions, loans, money, or other things of value for or in the interest of such foreign principal."
In the US such a foreign agent would be liable to a sentence of 5 years in jail and a fine of $10,000.
US foreign policy can benefit from rediscovery of the Golden Rule, do unto others.... For the sake of Mr. Gross, and our bilateral relations, I hope that Cuba and the US are undertaking serious negotiations for his release that include the suspension of future covert intervention by DAI and USAID.
Resources and links
My previous post on the subcontractor's detention.
Obama's Disappointing Year in Latin America
An interview with Julia Sweig, Director for Latin America Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
My letter on the same theme published by the New York Times
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Intelligent PowerÃ¢â‚¬Â of Obama & Cuba by Pedro Campos, published in The Havana Times
Eleven months ago we were full of hope as a new President took office. Indeed we have seen progress.
Cuban Americans can now refresh their family ties whenever and as often as they wish.
Cuban musicians, artists and intellectuals are coming to the US again. Licensing has opened a bit for American performers, scientists and sports teams to visit. (New York Times story here.)
The bottom line, however, is disappointing. We have lost a year in which a wide range of educational, cultural, humanitarian and religious exchange could have taken place without any political restriction or bureaucratic hindrance.
Personal and organizational relationships would have been renewed or created that foster trust and are building blocks for new attitudes and policies in both countries.
Cubans and Cuban Americans reveled in the concert organized by Juanes but we could have enjoyed a mainstream breakthrough by the New York Philharmonic in Havana.
Having distributed widely English and Spanish editions of Barack Obama's books during trips to Cuba, I now fear I contributed to an illusion. The White House seems more concerned with accommodating the old guard in Florida and New Jersey than fulfilling its own values and the views of its constituents.
We hear familiar but unexpected words of democratic pre-conditions and political priorities and are counseled to be realistic.
Congress may well save the day but not the standing of the Administration, domestically or internationally. Even that is not assured. Cosponsors of Freedom to Travel bills have risen to 35 in the Senate, but slipped to 178 in the House.
We now have the public support of the key Committee chairs, John Kerry in the Senate and Howard Berman in the House, but Congressional leaders await a signal from the President.
The White House and Congress have only a few months to act before the mid-term elections and particularly strategies to win the contested Senate seat in Florida take over.
While everything must be done to remind Washington that we are a country of 50 states, more and more Americans are changing the facts on the ground. Travel via third countries is on the rise. It is simple to arrange, morally righteous, and politically impossible to stop.
Happy New Year,
"obviously, we all hope in the not-too-distant future to be able to see a democratic Cuba, something that would be extraordinarily positive for our hemisphere"
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
One more opportunity lost. Unbidden, the only words the Secretary of State directed to US policy with Cuba during Friday's State Department briefing on Latin America simply dug us deeper into a dead end interventionist ditch. No one asked her or Assistant Secretary Valenzuela about the Administration's policy on non-tourist travel or on legislation restoring freedom to Americans; nor did either volunteer a comment. (James Early of the Smithsonian raised the topic in his dialogue with Assistant Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero but got no response. See it here at 55 minutes in.)
The underlying contradiction of US policy exploded in the New York Times the next day when it was reported that since December 5 Cuba has detained the employee of a subcontractor using USAID funds to help opponents of the government. (Could there be a connection with the postponement of bilateral talks on migration that was announced on December 4?)
The US can and should aspire to improvements in other countries democracies and human rights, as others may comment upon our own money distorted political system, incarceration rate and absence of a fundamental human right to universal health care. However trying to impose values or intervene financially is wrong in principle, distorts internal democratic evolution, and often results in unforeseen blow backs to our own interests and to those whom we seek to help (by fostering illusions of their significance and safety).
For years Congress has been appropriating millions of dollars for the ostensible purpose of encouraging democracy and human rights in Cuba. In reality the money approved by a Republican controlled Congress was mostly pork, intended to benefit Cuban Americans in Miami who (surprise) supported Republican candidates with donations and votes. Much of the money went to the supremely irrelevant Radio and TV Marti. It also funded academic work by the Cuba Transition Project at the University of Miami and others that propagandize Americans against their country of origin. Grants were also made to Cuban American organizations which claimed to be sending assistance to a democratic opposition in Cuba.
This sweet deal ran into trouble when the Democrats took control of Congress. An Appropriations Committee effort led by Representative Nita Lowey to cut back the amount of money was overturned on the floor of Congress, thanks to the votes of Miami PAC influenced Democrats. Representatives Charles Rangel and Bill Delahunt requested GAO reports which focused devastatingly on the corruption of no-bid contracts and misuse of grants. USAID tried to address the problem by channeling the money to an independent contractor.
Some forty million dollars was given to Development Alternatives Inc., a private liberal toned organization with many former USAID staff in its management. DAI in turn offered subcontracts, posting criteria and goals which Cuba and critics of US policy denounced as illegal intervention in the domestic affairs of a sovereign country. (See post by Dr. Nelson Valdez of the University of New Mexico in May 2008.)
DAI and the subcontractor's detained employee are caught in the middle of the fundamental contradiction of the Obama Administration's policy on Cuba. It is real hard to engage a country in dialogue and at the same time overtly seek to overturn its political system, even if you no longer use the term regime change. The program DAI is implementing is a poisonous hangover from the Cuba Transition Project arrogance of the Bush Administration. The preoccupied Obama Administration has failed to address the contradiction, and the President's own rhetoric has been inconsistent.
Carefully parsed words in a statement by DAI President Jim Boomgard may reflect the goals of the USAID grant and serve their purpose with Congress and the US media, but are not likely to do much good with Latin Americans in general, and certainly his most important audience in Cuba.
In 2008, DAI competed for and was awarded a contract, the Cuba Democracy and Contingency Planning Program, to help the U.S. Government implement activities in support of the rule of law and human rights, political competition, and consensus building, and to strengthen civil society in support of just and democratic governance in Cuba
From Havana's perspective, the issue is not simply the burden of fifty years of publicly proclaimed subversion and hostility, but over 100 years of interference and attempted economic and political domination.
DAI will help its subcontractor's employee and the Administration most by simply acknowledging this project was inappropriate and that all future projects in Cuba will follow normal USAID protocol of vetting with the intended recipient country. They should pledge to follow the model of US funded agencies in Vietnam, China and Saudi Arabia and adopt the good practices of allied countries with embassies and aid programs in Cuba like Canada, England and Spain.
With mutual respect, creativity and serious diplomacy by USINT and above board US NGOs, projects might be possible which actually advance long term US goals. For example carefully developed microfinance programs could be acceptable to both countries, as they are in Vietnam.
This is a teachable moment for Americans and Cubans, but it could also be destructive to our shared real interests.
Chris Herz has suggested in a Venezuela blog post from Washington that the subcontractor's employee be held for exchange with the Cuban 5. That may sound outrageous, but could find a sympathetic hearing in a Havana which is becoming disillusioned about the Obama Administration's intentions and priorities. Guilt lies in the eye of each beholder, suspicious of covertly inserted agents of the hostile foreign power that claims only the best of intentions, whether to foster democracy or protect against terrorism.
The stakes are being raised for DAI both in Cuba and Venezuela by Eva Golinger in her blog Postcards from the Revolution where she denounces DAI and the subcontract employee as fronts for the CIA. Golinger can be over the top, but is close to Chavez and read in Cuba.
Hopefully, for the sake of its own international credibility, DAI has an established policy against collaborating with the CIA or serving as a cover, and if so it should be made public. In any case Golinger's unsubstantiated allegations are a red herring. The real issue is DAI's programs and processes with Cuba. For the well-being of DAI's subcontracted employee and others who are being funded from the same source, as well as any hope for change in bilateral relations, a suspension or fundamental reconfiguration of USAID programs for Cuba must take place.
Fund for Reconciliation and Development
Phil Peters Cubantriangle has an excellent post on this issue.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“In fact, when it comes to U.S. policy in Latin America Ã¢â‚¬â€ as events this week in Honduras suggest Ã¢â‚¬â€ it's often hard to tell if George W. Bush isn't still PresidentÃ¢â‚¬Â¦. Coup-happy forces in other Latin American countries can only feel emboldenedÃ¢â‚¬Â
Tim Padgett, Time Magazine
As an Obama volunteer in the New Hampshire primary, I had the good fortune to hear him speak at a rally in Keene. It was striking that the theme that absolutely electrified his diverse audience was his pledge to change the relationship of the US to the world.
We believed he would engage internationally in a very different way than had George Bush and by inference many of his predecessors. Because of his unusual heritage and experience, he would be the first post-cold war, post-interventionist President. .
ObamaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s supporters obviously were not hearing everything he said, nor, as President, has Obama been hearing what the world is saying.
As deeply as it has disappointed many of his campaign stalwarts, we should have expected last weekÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s speech on Afghanistan given his frequent campaign contrasts between the good war there with the bad one in Iraq.
At the same time, we were justified in expecting better from his policy toward Latin America. Yet closest to home the White House is proving to be tone deaf, and unable to match its practice to high-minded rhetoric of mutual respect and non-imposition of US political values.
The Obama Administration's decision to embrace the compromised elections in Honduras drives a wedge between the US and the most powerful fully democratic and independent countries of the Hemisphere. It has prompted widespread disenchantment. Poor Tom Shannon; if right wing Republicans in the Senate finally let him be confirmed as ambassador to Brazil he will spend his tenure defending his role in legitimizing the golpistas at the most critical final moment.
How can the US avoid suspicion that Washington either was incompetent at brokering a smooth reversal of the coup or that our goal from the beginning was an anti-left transition managed by old friends in the oligarchy? Venezuela will gain sympathy for its charge that Obama is not such a big change after all.
The bottom line reality is that with two-thirds of the Honduran vote counted, only 49% of those eligible participated, a dramatic drop from the 62% figure spun on election day, and significantly down from the 55% turn-out in 2005. (Reports on actual vote here and here.)
The best non-violent solution I can imagine now is for President-elect Lobo to pledge to fully pardon Zelaya of the phony charges lodged by the coup makers and to make him responsible for organizing an assembly to rewrite the Constitution that was drafted by the last military junta. Otherwise disgruntled conservatives elsewhere in the Hemisphere may conclude that extra-constitutional removal of elected left governments is OK with Washington.
ObamaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s policy toward Cuba is an equally distressing example of not hearing. I wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t repeat what I have written in previous blogs about the AdministrationÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s defiant isolationism on the embargo or its unconscionable failure to restore even the semi-adequate Clinton policies on educational, cultural, religious and humanitarian travel. Suffice to say that Obama is paying a needless international price for his slow domestically driven Miami-centric approach to the most egregious example of old style Yanqui bullying.
With foreign policy as with health care, the Administration must be made aware that the patience of its supporters and allies is not limitless and can no longer be taken for granted. I read the message from Obama to Yoani and the comments by Speaker Pelosi as place holders at best and remain skeptical that Congress will adopt travel legislation unless the White House sends a signal.
The message could be private, but the President will only get the international credit he deserves and needs by acting forcefully to enable non-tourist travel and to endorse the pending legislation.
Fund for Reconciliation and Development
Christiane Amanpour presented two outstanding segments on travel to Cuba in her important Sunday afternoon CNN interview show. Speaking in the first segment were Representative Howard Berman and Jose Miguel Vivanco of Human Rights Watch. In the second segment were Karel de Gucht, European Union Commissioner for Development, and Col. Larry Wilkerson of the New America Foundation.
Transcript of both segments here.
Video of Wilkerson and de Gucht here
Motives for ending travel restrictions are varied. The most articulate proponents of the case that the freedom of Americans is the primary issue come from a libertarian perspective, as well articulated by the CATO Institute. Its December 2 Capitol Hill Briefing with Representative Jeff Flake (R-AZ); Phil Peters, Vice President, Lexington Institute; and Ian VÃƒÂ¡squez, Director, Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity is worth watching for itself. Even more so because the Nuevo Herald published an AFP story which completely reversed FlakeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s prediction of favorable prospects for passage of the travel legislation in the House. View it here.
Yoani Sanchez' counsel yesterday to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs to end travel restrictions was completely ignored by witnesses and Members who cited her accusations of abduction by Cuban security personnel as a big reason to keep the ban.
President Obama was very complimentary to Yoani in his personal response to her questions which she posted on Generation Y.
If the President really takes her seriously, he logically now must authorize general licenses for all non-tourist travel and endorse the Freedom to Travel legislation, or at least publicly announce he will sign it.
Excerpt from message by Yoani Sanchez to Chairman Howard Berman:
Faced with no evolution of our current political and social situation, an opening of travel
for Americans could bring more results in the democratization of Cuba than the
indecisive performance of Raul Castro. The possible measures that the current Cuban
president can implement in our reality are geared toward keeping power in his hands. A
gesture that would bring about popular diplomacy Ã¢â‚¬â€œ that which isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t done in protocol
lounges or foreign ministries, but person to person, face to face, from the intense
interaction between people Ã¢â‚¬â€œ would awaken citizen consciousness, and would accelerate
the sense of belonging to a world community that Cubans lack so much.
If restrictions on coming to Cuba are lifted, Americans would again enjoy a right that has been infringed in recent years Ã¢â‚¬â€œ that of traveling freely to any latitude without penalty. Cuban citizens, for our part, would benefit from the injection of material resources and money that these tourists from the north would spend in alternative services networks. Without a doubt, economic autonomy would then result in ideological and political autonomy, in real empowerment. The natural cultural, historical, and family ties between both peoples could take shape without the shadow of the current regulations and prohibitions.
Eliminating these long obsolete travel restrictions would mean the end of the main elements with which official propaganda has repeatedly satanized American Administrations, and the anachronistic travel permit that we Cubans need to enter and leave our country would be even more ridiculous.
full text posted by Phil Peters
Watch Thursday's hearing by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs here
Click on "Webcast" under the title of the hearing. Download and open the Realplayer file. If Realplayer isn't in your computer, it is a free download.
McCaffrey-Ros Lehtinen confrontation (1:56)
Flake disputes Cason (2:07)
Sires debates Sosa and Peters (2:12)
Cason insists Cuba won't allow millions of US tourists (2:32)
Barbara Lee explores race with Atunez (2:34)
Atunez seems to tell Meeks she opposes family travel (2:55)
ThursdayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s hearing on travel to Cuba by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, as noted by my co-posters, has taken on additional weight with a powerful pro-travel op ed in the Miami Herald co-authored by Chairman Howard Berman and Senator Richard Lugar. (text here)
Questions that ought to be asked of witnesses:
1) Did you favor or oppose the President authorizing unlimited travel for Cuban Americans? While Congress debates ending all restrictions, should the President use his authority to restore or strengthen pre-2004 policies, extending the same right to all Americans to unlimited travel for educational, cultural, religious, humanitarian, sports and other non-tourist purposes?
2) Restrictions on travel are justified as denying US dollars to the Cuban government. When Cuba hosts 2.4 million tourists annually from Canada, Europe and Latin America, how much of an economic impact would non-tourist travel have? (It peaked at 85,000 Americans in 2003.)
3) Given that in the high season, Cuban hotel rooms are virtually full, how much immediate economic impact will American tourists have? Will Americans simply displace Canadians and Europeans? Will legally registered and brown market casas particulares (private bed and breakfasts) expand to meet the need? WonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t that bring dollars and unsupervised personal contact with Americans directly to more Cubans?
4) Opponents of travel say that American tourists will not have any more impact on liberalizing Cuba than have Canadian and European tourists. Is there likely to be a special psychological or political effect from large number of Americans visiting because it encourages Cubans to believe the antagonism and threat is diminishing from the only country that embargoes them and threatens regime change? If American entrepreneurs are able to feel out the ground and make contact with potential Cuban partners, how will that influence debate about adopting Chinese or Vietnamese style economic reform?
5) The Obama Administration did even worse than its predecessors in the United Nations when the vote against the embargo last month rose from 185 to 187. How does US policy on travel affect perception in the Western Hemisphere and internationally of whether this administration is taking more seriously the views of other nations and shaping a new policy based on mutual respect?
6) The former General Counsel of the Cuban American National Foundation has argued that opposition to travel stems from a desire by Miami hard liners to control the narrative, i.e. to prevent a wide range of Americans from forming their own opinion of Cuba and of the embargo. Do you believe that is the case?
7) The dissident community in Cuba is divided about US travel policy. Many prominent leaders have called for the end of restrictions on the grounds that will help to open Cuba and provide support for their efforts. Why do they say that and do you agree or disagree?
8) What is the difference between US restrictions of travel to Cuba by its citizens through licensing and CubaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s restrictions on travel by its citizens through exit visas? How is US denial of a license to voting members of the New York Philharmonic Society to go to Havana different from CubaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s denial of an exit visa for Joani Sanchez to come to New York?
9) Is it reasonable or consistent to justify restricting the internationally recognized freedom of travel by Americans on the grounds that Cubans are not free?
10) Does $11 million dollars in widely distributed political contributions through PACs and directly from Floridians whose hard line views are contrary to Cuban American and national opinion have a disproportionate impact on prospective Congressional action? [Fifty-one of fifty three Democratic Representatives who signed an anti-travel letter to Speaker Pelosi had received donations ranging from $1,000 to $20,000 in the 2008 campaign cycle from the US-Cuba Democracy PAC. Fifty-eight Democrats who received between $1,000 and $15,000 did not sign the letter. Some were no longer members of the House and one had become a Senator (Gillibrand).]
11) Mr. Cason, a distinguishing feature of your tenure as head of the US Interests Section was the close relationship USINT developed with dissidents, becoming a virtual sponsor for their political activity, libraries and independent journalism. This was not the practice of diplomats from US allies in Cuba or of US diplomats in other Communist countries like China and Vietnam. Several of the dissidents you aided turned out to be Cuban intelligence agents and Cuba responded with the repression of the Black Spring. Was this your own initiative or were you implementing a policy of Assistant Secretaries Otto Reich or Roger Noriega? In retrospect did the arrested dissidents, two thirds of whom are still in prison, mistakenly assume they would be protected by their ties with USINT? For humanitarian reasons, do you favor a US response to Raul CastroÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s proposal for each country to free the prisoners the other considers political, i.e. the Cuban 5 and the dissidents?
Full list of Committee members here
Updated witness list:
Date Thursday, November 19, 2009
Time 10:00 AM
Location Room 2172 of the Rayburn House Office Building
General Barry R. McCaffrey, USA, Retired
President, BR McCaffrey Associates, LLC
Ambassador James Cason
Former Chief of Mission
U.S. Interests Section, Havana, Cuba
Ms. Miriam Leiva
Independent Journalist and Founder, Ladies in White
Mr. Ignacio Sosa
Executive Board Member
Friends of Caritas Cubana
Ms. Berta Antunez
Sister of Former Political Prisoner Jorge Luis Garcia Perez ("Antunez")
Mr. Philip Peters
Committee Chair Howard Berman, Ranking Minority Member Ileana Ros Lehtinen
House hearings on Cuba travel next Thursday are provoking a stir in Washington.
The reason may be found in an important Congressional Quarterly cover story which tends toward an optimistic assessment of prospects for travel legislation:
Advocates for maintaining a tight embargo minimize the support that Delahunt and Flake have gathered for their bill. For example, Claver-Carone argues that the avowed supporters of the Delahunt measure are essentially the same lawmakers who supported a 2007 amendment to a five-year reauthorization of farm programs that would have relaxed Bush's restrictions on Cuban payments for U.S. food shipments. That amendment was rejected, 182-245. "All the cosponsors of the Delahunt bill are within that 182," Claver-Carone said. "So there are no new faces."
But a comparison of the names of the supporters of both measures suggests the pro-embargo crowd may be overly optimistic. While the numbers are roughly the same, Claver-Carone's claim doesn't acknowledge a number of freshman lawmakers who have signed on as cosponsors. Moreover, Flake says he has won the support of an unspecified number of lawmakers who had opposed earlier legislative bids to remove the Cuba travel restrictions. Because they don't want to advertise their change of heart, Flake said, they are not signing on as cosponsors and will quietly vote for it when it reaches the floor....
Ã¢â‚¬Â¦while the president says he favors leveraging the embargo to push the Castro regime into granting Cubans additional political freedoms, he hasn't threatened to veto any legislation that would relax economic sanctions, including the Delahunt-Flake effort.
Fifty-two Democratic Representatives (and a non-voting Member from Puerto Rico) sent a letter last week to Speaker Nancy Pelosi proclaiming their support, Ã¢â‚¬Å“for maintaining current United States policy toward CubaÃ¢â‚¬Â. This was reported in the Miami Herald as Ã¢â‚¬Å“blunting the momentum that proponents of lifting the travel ban have had under a Democratic president and Democratic-led CongressÃ¢â‚¬Â.
The Congressional letter tries to box in the President by selective quotes. It attacks Ã¢â‚¬Å“any legislation that would seek to ease or lift sanctionsÃ¢â‚¬Â and only obliquely and misleadingly refers to the principle issue, travel:
"President Obama has demonstrated his support for the remaining sanctions by word and deed. As evidenced by his signing an extension of the Trading with the Enemy Act towards Cuba, which authorized restrictions on travel to Cuba."
In fact, his signing of the extension was "largely symbolic" according to the Journal of Commerce, and had no specific content about travel or any other aspect of the embargo. The only condition the President has publicly declared for fully lifting the embargo is the release of political prisoners.
Obama has used his own authority to permit unlimited travel and remittances by Cuban Americans (contrary to the restrictive Bush and Clinton rules preferred by most of these same letter signers), and his Administration has considered a similar executive order enabling other non-tourist travel.
While the President has not endorsed the Freedom to Travel legislation in Congress, neither has he spoken against it nor threatened a veto. He has never expressed an opinion about whether preventing broad interaction between Americans and Cubans is an appropriate and necessary component of the embargo or contradicts his commitment to dialogue and engagement as the path for overcoming conflicts. .
The weakness of the opposition to travel may be reflected by the absence in the letter of any language specifically defending travel sanctions. Virtually all of the letter signers received donations from the hard-line US-Cuba Democracy PAC. However, about the same number of Representatives who took its money did not sign. (See full list of PAC recipients here.)
The PAC currently gives more to Democrats than Republicans, but its political orientation is closer to Republican neo-conservatives and to the extremist wing of the Cuban American community that even opposed normalizing family travel:
Associated Press, Aug 21, 2007
MIAMI - Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is leaping into the long-running Cuba debate by calling for the United States to ease restrictions for Cuban-Americans who want to visit the island or send money home...
...Mauricio Claver-Carone, head of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, which supports full sanctions, said ObamaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s statement could hurt U.S.-Cuban relations at a crucial time.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m sure heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s well intentioned,Ã¢â‚¬Â Claver-Carone said, but he added that with the death of Castro possibly approaching and the potential for change on the island, such a statement could send the wrong message.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It entrenches the regime at this historic time,Ã¢â‚¬Â Claver-Carone said.
Fund for Reconciliation and Development
Text of letter from anti-travel Democrats
Clippings on the US-Cuba Democracy PAC and the Republican Party available here
Is it Time to Lift the Ban on Travel to Cuba?
You are respectfully requested to attend the following
open hearing of the Full Committee
Date Thursday, November 19, 2009
Time 10:00 AM
Location Room 2172 of the Rayburn House Office Building
witnesses General Barry R. McCaffrey, USA, Retired
(check Committee link for updated witness list and live streaming)
The House Committee on International Affairs has announced a hearing on travel to Cuba will be held on November 18th.
I took a look at the record of which members of the Committee had received funds from the pro-embargo anti-travel US Cuba Democracy PAC.
The list is not conclusive about votes in the committee. Some people, like Chairman Howard Berman, no doubt receive PAC money with the hope of assuring access. Others receive nothing because they are completely committed, pro or con, and any investment would be redundant or ineffective.
Nevertheless, the amounts given may be suggestive of how important a particular vote is to Miami hard-liners. The first set of figures below the break is donations for the completed 2008 election cycle. Figures preceded by a + are downpayments for the 2010 cycle.
Personally, I think PAC donations, like campaign contributions above a reasonable middle class limit, are inherently corrupting to democracy. Absent prohibition, they must be counteracted by exposure which questions whether loyalty is owed more to voting constituents or to far away donors.
Colleagues tell me I am naive and that until we play the same game our impact is marginal.
Ackerman, Gary (D-NY) $1,000 +$1,000
Berman, Howard L (D-CA) $5,000 +$5,000
Berkley, Shelley (D-NV) $5,000 +$2,500
Carnahan, Russ (D-MO) $2,000 +$1,000
Connolly, Gerry (D-VA) +$2,000
Engel, Eliot L (D-NY) $7,500 +$5,000
Giffords, Gabrielle (D-AZ) $5,000 +$1,000
Green, Gene (D-TX) $1,000 +$1,000
Klein, Ron (D-FL) $10,000
McMahon, Michael E (D-NY) +$2,000
Miller, Brad (D-NC) $7,000 +$1,000
Payne, Donald M (D-NJ) $2,500
Sherman, Brad (D-CA) $8,500
Sires, Albio (D-NJ) $10,000 + $5,000
Wexler, Robert (D-FL) $6,000
Eni Faleomavaega, Bill Delahunt, Diane Watson, John Tanner, Lynn Woolsey, Sheila Jackson Lee, Barbara Lee, Joseph Crowley, Mike Ross, David Scott, Jim Costa, Keith Ellison
Bilirakis, Gus (R-FL) $3,000
Burton, Dan (R-IN) $6,000
Fortenberry, Jeffrey (R-NE) $1,000
Mack, Connie (R-FL) $2,000
Manzullo, Don (R-IL) $1,000
McCaul, Michael (R-TX) +$2,000
Pence, Mike (R-IN) $7,500 +$1,000
Poe, Ted (R-TX) $5,000
Smith, Chris (R-NJ) $10,000
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Elton Gallegly, Dana Rohrabacher, Edward Royce, Ron Paul, Jeff Flake, Joe Wilson, John Boozman, J, Gresham Barrett, Bob Inglis
If you want to see the full list of south Florida donors to the US Cuba Democracy PAC and of the recipients in the House and Senate, go to the Opensecrets site.
It would be interesting to see an analysis of who is donating to the Democracy PAC. For example, are Bacardi family members and employees a big source? If so, are they more motivated by anti-Castro politics or by trying to protect their market share? Imagine what happens to their bottom line when one million cases per year of the real Havana Club and other Cuban rums are available in the US.
President ObamaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s pledges of multi-lateralism and respect for the views of other nations suffered a major setback on Wednesday at the United Nations. Amazingly, he did even worse than President Bush when votes for a resolution to condemn the unilateral US embargo of Cuba increased from 185 to 187 in favor, 3 opposed.
Continued accommodation to the dwindling special interest minority of Senator Bob Menendez and other hard line Cuban Americans is undermining the international credibility of the President.
Most Americans, including government officials, may not pay much attention. However, this annual General Assembly debate signals that no US foreign policy is as universally disliked as our trade war against Cuba.
The margin of the US defeat reflects the first dramatic failure of the Obama Administration to live up to its promise to improve US standing in the world.
The tragedy is that the White House could have easily influenced the vote by making straightforward reforms on travel consistent with its own values and goals and the opinion of two-thirds of Americans.
Ironically, had they done so, the New York Philharmonic would have been able to provide a counterpoint to the UN vote, performing a magnificent concert in Havana at the end of this week. (See a regretful post from Havana on progressoweekly.com.)
The President also could have addressed humanitarian concern about the embargo by licensing sale and donation of construction, medical and agricultural equipment and supplies in response to last yearÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s triple hurricane devastation.
US hypocrisy in defense of the embargo is equaled by IsraelÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s hypocrisy in voting with us. Its own citizens, unlike Americans, are free to vacation, invest and work in Cuba.
Dr. Susan Rice, the US representative to the UN, appeared to miss the point entirely when she opened her UN speech in a Ronald Reagan tone:
Here we go again. I suppose old habits die hard.
The hostile language we have just heard from the Foreign Minister of Cuba seems straight out of the Cold War era and is not conducive to constructive progress.
Does she not realize that the rest of the world sees us as enmeshed in a cold war mind set regarding Cuba? Most of her speech was not as objectionable, but it manifests a defensive insularity about the limited significance of Obama's initiatives to date. (Full text here and Cuba's response.)
Reasons for hope may be found in a post-vote interview with Associated Press by Cuba's Foreign Minister:
Rodriguez told AP he was "a little bit surprised" by the vehemence of Rice's initial comments, saying he knew and respected her and held her in high esteem.
"She is an articulate person, a decent and well-meaning person, like president Obama," he said. "And we respect both of them for that."
He added that Cuba recognizes there may be opportunities for talks with the Obama administration that were not possible with the administration of former President George W. Bush.
Ted Piccone summarizes the underlying problems nicely in a Brookings Institution blog:
If anything, the president seems to have limited his options by locking himself in to a policy of mutual reciprocity that lets Havana determine the pace of progress in unfreezing 50 years of icy relations. On more than one occasion, the president has reiterated his view that, in return for letting Cuban-American families travel and send remittances to their loved ones on the island, the Castro regime must take the next step toward better relations. He reportedly asked his Spanish counterpart, Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero, to tell President Raul Castro to get moving on democratic reforms. According to an unnamed U.S. official quoted in El Pais, Obama said, "We're taking steps, but if they don't take steps too, it's going to be very hard for us to continue." Of course, the fact that financial donations from pro-embargo Cuban Americans to the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, which happens to be led by pro-embargo Cuban-American Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), have jumped six-fold since 2006 also may have something to do with this approach. It at least seems to reaffirm another old clichÃƒÂ©: money talks. full text
I am not yet prepared to conclude that the Obama Administration has sold its principles for a mess of Miami pottage. But the President must quickly send a signal more compatible with the values and aspirations he voiced at the United Nations, several international venues, and during his campaign.
Fund for Reconciliation and Development
To hear the entire embargo debate, go here and look for 28 October, 27th plenary meeting.
Illustrations of the humanitarian and developmental cost of the embargo in the 117 page annual report by the Secretary General of the United Nations here
Rep. Jim McGovern and Steve Clemmons suggested the US should have abstained, as posted on thewashingtonnote.com
My further pre-vote thoughts here
State Department spokesman on the vote during daily briefing
On October 28th the UN General Assembly will hold its annual debate on the unilateral U.S. embargo of Cuba. Unless something surprising happens before then, it is expected that the Obama Administration will be as isolated as its predecessors, i.e. we will take a deserved drubbing along the lines of last year's 185 to 3 vote. This will be the 18th time since 1992.
Ironically 50% of our support will come from Israel. Israeli citizens are free to vacation in Cuba, to invest in major property development projects, and to manage the country's largest citrus plantation.
We might at least generate some abstentions if the President before then used his authority to enable unlimited non-tourist travel and announced his readiness to sign legislation to end all restrictions.
By taking this step, he will also avoid further embarrassment of continuing to deny a travel license to the New York Philharmonic. In addition he will offer a more principled example for how Cuba should handle exit visas for Yoani Sanchez and other dissidents.
American travel licenses = Cuban exit visas!
It's hard to fathom what is holding back the White House.
According to the latest Bendixen poll, 59% of Cuban Americans believe all Americans should be free to travel to Cuba. Only 29% oppose, and 12% don't know.
The Miami Herald reported
(Bendixen) Executive Vice President Fernand Amandi said he was surprised by the magnitude of the swing in just seven years -- from 46 percent in favor in 2002 to 59 percent in the Sept. 24-26 survey. Only 29 percent were opposed in the new survey, compared to 47 percent in 2002.
Amongst all Americans, polls consistently show two-thirds favor unrestricted travel.
Fund for Reconciliation and Development