People gather at the Revolution square in Havana to attend the "Peace Without Borders" concert Sunday, Sept. 20, 2009. (AP Photo/Ismael Francisco, Prensa Latina (Ismael Francisco - AP)
Congratulations to Juanes, all the performers, and the countless invisible people who made this marvelous concert happen. Not to mention thanks for the cooperation from both the governments of Cuba and the US.
How many millions in Cuba and around the world participated in this extraordinary event via television and internet, courtesy of Univision and HITN?
How many of us shared the tears of joy, and perhaps frustration, so visible in the final ecstatic moments on stage?
Carlos Varela of Cuba, from left, Juanes of Colombia, Victor Manuel of Spain, Olga Tanon and Danny Rivera of Puerto Rico, and Juan Formell, director of Cuban orchestra Van Van, wave at the end of the Peace without Borders concert. (ADALBERTO ROQUE, AFP/Getty Images / September 20, 2009)
Let us thank the President and Secretary of State for having made it possible by granting the necessary OFAC licenses as well as Cuba's President and Minister of Culture for opening a prime venue for a profound unpredictable artistic message of paz y libertad.
Let us also express our frustration that any US licenses should still be required. There should be no more White House delay in allowing the libertad they repress, travel for non-tourist purposes by all Americans.
Indeed the concert reflected the contradictory and to date disappointingly cautious policy of the Obama administration toward Cuba.
The President in his Sunday interview with Univision seemed constrained to underplay the significance of an historic breakthrough: Ã¢â‚¬Å“I certainly donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think it hurts U.S.-Cuban relations. These kinds of cultural exchanges Ã‚Â I wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t overstate the degree that it helps.Ã¢â‚¬Â
He appeared more concerned by old-guard opposition in Miami than guided by his own values. The Barack Obama I worked so hard to elect would confidently embrace the power of his office to allow unlimited visits for cultural, educational, religious, humanitarian and other people-to-people purposes.
Fund for Reconciliation and Development
(ADALBERTO ROQUE, AFP/Getty Images / September 20, 2009)
The full concert can be seen on line here If you can't devote five very enjoyable hours, scan for the amazing set by Juanes himself about 2/3 of the way through and the moving final set by Los Van Van joined by all the performers.
Excellent gallery of photos in the Sun Sentinel
The White House can be reached through the Office of Public Engagement here
Washington Post story about the concert here
I want to compliment and complement the earlier posting by my colleague Steve Clemons on Bill Richardson.
The most interesting press reports and video links about the governor's trip to Cuba are posted here.
A few substantive excerpts from Associated Press stories are worth emphasizing:
After visiting the Hemingway home
"I think enhancing cultural and artistic and educational ties is a prelude to diplomatic and commercial ties. It always happens that way," Richardson told The Associated Press.
"I'm for enhanced tourism travel for Americans." Richardson said that travel should go beyond the so-called people-to-people educational and cultural contacts promoted by the Bill Clinton administration.
In his summing up press conference:
The governor said Washington and Havana aren't ready to discuss lifting the 47-year-old American trade embargo or the release of political prisoners on the island.
Instead, the U.S. government should better solidify President Barack Obama's decision to ease restrictions on Cuban-Americans who want to travel or send money to Cuba, allow more American business leaders, athletes, artists and academics to come to this country, let Cuban biotechnology products be sold on the U.S. market and permit Cubans to attend scientific and business conferences in the United States.
Cuba should allow its citizens to travel to the U.S. with fewer restrictions and fees, accept Washington's proposal to let diplomats from both countries travel more freely in each other's territories and open a dialogue with Cuban-Americans, Richardson said.
"I did raise these issues with Cuban officials. They are considering some steps," he said.
Richardson said the economic meltdown and the health care debate have distracted U.S. officials, but "the United States needs to pay more attention to the Cuban issue."
I have included in my clippings posting a story from the Mexican newspaper La Jornada that added detail about
Ã¢â‚¬Å“un plan de acciones recÃƒÂprocas para normalizar las relaciones entre Estados Unidos y CubaÃ¢â‚¬Â (a plan for reciprocal actions to normalize relations between the US and Cuba).
It noted that Richardson and Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon had met twice. Their discussion included
Ã¢â‚¬Å“la propuesta cubana de intercambiar opositores presos en la isla por los cinco agentes cubanos encarcelados en Estados Unidos, pero que el ÃƒÂ©nfasis estuvo en los citados pasos humanitariosÃ¢â‚¬Â (the Cuban proposal of exchanging political prisoners held in Cuba for the five Cuban agents imprisoned in the US, but that the emphasis was on the mentioned humanitarian steps).
I entirely agree with Steve that Richardson should become the AdministrationÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s point person on Cuba, despite his statement in Havana that a special envoy is not necessary and that the State Department can handle the process. To get things moving the President ought to meet this week with the Governor, and with the three Catholic Bishops who were also recently in Cuba, and act upon their recommendation to enable non-tourist travel. (You can urge he do so here.)
I do not believe in conditionality, but as Richardson said, "there needs to be reciprocity when one side takes action." Ã¢â‚¬â€œ as long as expectations are proportional. If President Obama opens the door to educational travel to Cuba, Havana should reconsider its decision to deny exit visas to seventeen Cubans accepted for a non-political US sponsored one year scholarship program at US community colleges. (See Phil PeterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Cuban Triangle post, Stuck on Stupid.)
The Orbitz petition has gone over 85,000 signers. If you are not among them, click here
Marc Frank reports for Reuters that state employee lunchrooms will be closed, another practical step towards reforming the economy
A special book that helps get beyond immediate policy conflicts
Cuba in the American Imagination, Metaphor and the Imperial Ethos
By Louis A. PÃƒÂ©rez Jr
Bill Richardson endorsing Barack Obama for President
This is an ideal opportunity for President Obama to change the parameters on Cuba. Visits by three Catholic bishops and Governor Bill Richardson have set the stage.
The only effective opponent of improving relations, Senator Bob Menendez, is back home in New Jersey, no doubt concerned that the state legal director of his last campaign is among several mayors arrested for corruption.
When Congress comes back next month, Obama will be necessarily preoccupied with both serious and extremist challenges to badly needed reform of our health system.
As reported by Associated Press:
Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston said Obama's election presents a rare opportunity to bridge an "immense psychological distance" that has marred relations and end an economic policy the church says punishes Cuban citizens.
"There were other opportunities that were lost," (Bishop) Wenski said. "And it's important we do not lose the opportunity this time." ...
Wenski said the delegation came away from the Interests Section meeting with the impression that U.S. policy toward Cuba is under review and that "their approach seems to be piece by piece." He urged a quicker pace after "50 years of lack of confidence on both sides."
"That's a lot of history to overcome," Wenski added. "We would hope that both sides listen to their better angels."
RichardsonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s goal, like the very successful trip in July by Governor Mike Beebe of Arkansas, could be no more than advancement of his stateÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s ample agricultural and cultural agenda with Cuba. However, a serious past and future prospect for the position of Secretary of State, with a well established record in Cuba and elsewhere for resolving thorny prisoner-related problems, might do far more.
In 1996 Richardson secured the release of three Cuban political prisoners during talks with Fidel Castro. The current visit could begin a process that leads to real reciprocity, as already put on the table by Raul Castro, an exchange of gestures leading to the release of prisoners considered political by the other country.
The only real obstacle may be whether Cuba is willing to give released prisoners the option of remaining in the country instead of migration with their families. The former seems less problematic as the US Interests Section comes to act more like our embassies elsewhere (and allied nations' embassies in Cuba) rather than as an incubator and promoter of government opponents.
Even if the public results of his trip are not so dramatic, Richardson could well win the release of a few prisoners on compassionate grounds. This would provide President Obama the political space to finally finish the job on non-tourist travel.
Four months after the announcement of Cuban-American travel, even that incomplete reform has not been implemented by new regulations from the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). Technically Cuban Americans are still limited to one visit per year. OFAC has offered the option of routine approval for additional visits, but we donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know how many are going to the trouble of applying. New regulations covering all non-tourist travel have apparently been vetted by concerned agencies. Are they simply awaiting the proper political moment for roll out?
OFAC is being liberal in issuance of specific licenses, and not making any effort to go after individual violators, a logical transitional stance. Some 270 participants in the Pastors for Peace and Venceremos Brigade travel challenges returned to the US without incident on August 3d, having carried out, respectively, their twentieth and fortieth annual acts of civil disobedience by making unlicensed visits to Cuba. They would have been covered by a general license for humanitarian travel.
Although Richardson never went beyond calling for family travel when he was a candidate for President, a speech on February 8, 2007, linked the Ã¢â‚¬Å“release of political prisonersÃ¢â‚¬Â with Ã¢â‚¬Å“normalization of relationsÃ¢â‚¬Â, and he observed
Ã¢â‚¬Å“People-to-people contacts strengthen nations.Ã¢â‚¬Â
He went further in an April 16, 2008 speech at New Mexico State University on Ã¢â‚¬Å“The Future of U.S. Foreign Policy: Impacts on New Mexico and BeyondÃ¢â‚¬Â
We must not neglect our own hemisphere. That means we also need to rethink our
relationship with Cuba. The embargo doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t work. We need to remove the embargo,
but get something in return -- some democratic reforms or release of some political
prisoners. The way you bring change to Cuba is to open it up to students, to commerce,
to travel and to family visits.
Fund for Reconciliation and Development
Newsletter of the Travel Industry Network on Cuba announcing Cuba programs at the Trade Show in Las Vegas, September 13-15.
Presidents Obama, Lula, and Arias at the Summit of the Americas
A story came across the McClatchey wire on Friday night that felt like a punch in the gut.
It made it seem as though the President had joined the conditionality caucus (see my previous post).
However, either the reporter misunderstood or her Miami Herald editor had an agenda.
Thanks to Phil Peters on the Cuban Triangle blog we can contrast (below the break) the actual transcript with the article.
Ironically, the reporterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s question contains a tantalizing nugget about rumors of long overdue action on non-tourist travel.
The President did not confirm or deny that anything was imminent. But it is clear that the only time frame he was relating non-tourist travel to was progress on practical matters discussed during the migration talks, and possibly, earlier bilateral meetings in Washington. Ã¢â‚¬Å“WeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re not there yetÃ¢â‚¬Â is not a big obstacle given that many of the topics discussed are of mutual interest to resolve.
Only Ã¢â‚¬Å“full normalizationÃ¢â‚¬Â was linked to Ã¢â‚¬Å“progress on issues of political liberalizationÃ¢â‚¬Â. Even his comment that, Ã¢â‚¬Å“I don't think itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s going to be happening overnightÃ¢â‚¬Â seems ltied to full normalization rather than to incremental reforms like non-tourist travel.
I also note that Ã¢â‚¬Å“progressÃ¢â‚¬Â is not the same as fulfillment and inherently lies in the eye of the beholder. For example Ã¢â‚¬Å“release of political prisonersÃ¢â‚¬Â could be met at any time, either because a partial release could qualify or because mutual gestures could result in the freedom of all prisoners each side considers political.
Although it is not an obstacle to moving forward, I am not a fan of the President's softer longer term conditionality. It does embody a-historical presumptuousness, so at variance with ObamaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s world view. Moreover internal governance was certainly not a condition for US normalization with China or Vietnam.
But that is an argument for the future. The issue now is to change the parameters of the debate by Presidential authorization of non-tourist travel and Congressional action to end all other restrictions.
Let's assume the reporter at least got the rumor right, and post messages of encouragement to the White House Office of Public Engagement web page
(texts below the break)
Transcript from President's meeting with regional reporters posted on The Cuban Triangle
Q: Mr. PresidentÃ¢â‚¬Â¦youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve made some changes in the Cuba policy, and I wanted to know if and when youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d be Ã¢â‚¬â€œ thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s rumors about Ã¢â‚¬â€œ that youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d be making announcement on changes in purposeful travel - academic, religious.
THE PRESIDENT: [Ã¢â‚¬Â¦] With respect to Cuba, we have already had government-to-government conversations around a narrow set of issues. Our hope is, is that if weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re seeing progress on those issues, then they can begin to broaden in the ways that you discussed. WeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re not there yet, and as IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve said before, we think itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s important to see progress on issues of political liberalization, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, release of political prisoners, in order for there to be the full possibility of normalization between our two countries. WeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re taking it step by step seeing if, as we change some of the old approaches that weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve been taking, we are seeing some movement on the Cuban governmentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s side. And I don't think itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s going to be happening overnight. I think itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s something that will be a work in progress.
Obama: More change in Cuba policy won't come soon
By LESLEY CLARK
Posted on Friday, 07.24.09
WASHINGTON --President Barack Obama said Friday that he's open to more overtures to Cuba, such as lifting restrictions on academic travel to the island, but not without signs of changes from the government in Havana.
"We're not there yet," he said. "We think it's important to see progress on issues of political liberalization, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, release of political prisoners in order for there to be the full possibility of normalization between our two countries."
Several members of Congress and groups, including the leading association that promotes student travel to and from the U.S., have urged Obama to remove what they said are restrictive regulations on academic and other "purposeful" travel to Cuba imposed by President George W. Bush in 2004. The Association of International Educators said this week that study abroad to Cuba has "declined precipitously."
In April, Obama lifted travel and gift restrictions for those with relatives in Cuba and eased restrictions on U.S. telecommunications firms to do business there. Last week, the administration resumed talks with Cuban officials on what Obama called a "narrow set of issues," chiefly migration.
However, Obama said additional steps won't come soon.
"We're taking it step by step, seeing if, as we change some of the old approaches that we've been taking, we are seeing some movement on the Cuban government side," he said. "I don't think it's going to be happening overnight. I think it's going to be a work in progress."
Text of NAFSA letter to the President
American Association of State Colleges and Universities
Alliance for International Educational and Cultural Exchange
American Institute for Foreign Study
CIEE Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Council on International Educational Exchange
Community Colleges for International Development
Cuba Academic Alliance
Emergency Coalition to Defend Educational Travel
Fund for Reconciliation and Development
Latin American Studies Association
Latin American Working Group
NAFSA: Association of International Educators
National Foreign Trade Council
Partners of the Americas
Social Science Research Council
The OpenCuba.org Campaign
Washington Office on Latin America
"let me be clear: America cannot and should not seek to impose any system of government on any other country, nor would we presume to choose which party or individual should run a country. And we haven't always done what we should have on that front. Even as we meet here today, America supports now the restoration of the democratically-elected President of Honduras, even though he has strongly opposed American policies. We do so not because we agree with him. We do so because we respect the universal principle that people should choose their own leaders, whether they are leaders we agree with or not."
President Obama in Moscow 7/7/09
"as you know, we are engaged in discussions with the Government of Cuba about matters that we believe are important - migration, for example. But we have made it very clear that we could not do much more in dealing with Cuba unless Cuba changes. The political prisoners need to be released. Free and fair elections need to be held... So we are opening up dialogue with Cuba, but we are very clear that we want to see some fundamental changes within the Cuban regime."
Secretary Clinton interview with Globovision 7/7/09
If the President's words in Moscow are applied to relations with Cuba, and the US manifests the spirit of "mutual respect" he so eloquently advanced in earlier visits to Turkey and France, the conflict between the US and Cuba is all but over.
However, as Secretary Clinton's interview reflects, some officials seem determined to fly the tattered flag of conditionality. They insisted Cuba respond to authorization of family travel disproportionately by freeing political prisoners and moving toward approved forms of democracy before the US took any other positive steps. They opposed Cuba regaining its seat in the OAS without such internal changes. Nor, they insist, will the embargo be lifted until this happens (a sentiment unfortunately found in Obama's own campaign oriented language).
Practical steps are passed over in favor of hoary hostile rhetoric. Spokespersons ignore Cuba's repeated offer of reciprocal gestures to end imprisonments each side considers political. Denunciations of discriminatory fees for the exchange of dollars are preferred to ending Bush imposed constraints on Cuba's international financial transactions which prompted the 10% surcharge.
Old language and concepts survive, embodying paternalistic and interventionist attitudes that have plagued US relations with Cuba for more than a century. Conditionality is not only a problem in principle, violating national sovereignty, but is counterproductive when Cuba's independence from the US has been the focal point of its revolution. Those who advocate it either intend that nothing change, or are ignorant of history.
In part, conditionality is due to political advisers who give priority to accommodating Senator Bob Menendez (D, NJ), no matter how damaging his behavior is to broader Administration agendas. Menendez cost the Administration days of politically damaging delay in passage of the omnibus appropriations bill, put an anonymous hold on key science appointments, frustrated announcement of non-tourist travel, threatened the OAS budget (prompting a misleading Clinton spin of the OAS decision to end Cuba's suspension), and reportedly opposes confirmation of fellow-Cuban American Carlos Pascual as ambassador to Mexico. (Pascual's sin is co-leading with Vicki Huddleston the broad based Brookings Institution project which produced the first creative road map for normalizing relations.)
In part, growing unease focuses on the role of the NSC's key staff member for Latin America, Dan Restrepo. It seems he either has been tasked to pacify old guard Cuban Americans, or has become their agent in the White House. His words have often and gratuitously poisoned the atmosphere, notably in background briefings given for the Cuban American travel announcement, the Summit of the Americas and the OAS Assembly in Honduras. Restrepo uses language about Cuba which is either tone deaf or deliberately provocative, undermining other efforts to overcome fifty years of suspicion and conflict.
Heading in a different direction has been Tom Shannon whose final months as Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs confirmed professionalism and regional understanding obscured during his tenure under George Bush. Not least among his accomplishments was the appointment of Jonathan Farrar as head of the US Interests Section in Havana, bringing for the first time since Vicki Huddleston the potential of serious diplomacy on the ground.
A significant change under the aegis of Shannon and Farrar is that Cuban academics, artists and religious leaders are receiving visas again to come to the US. Farrar also brought to Cuba for the first time a non-political Community College scholarship program which is in the normal portfolio of US embassies. (An illustration of the different tone between Shannon and Restrepo on the OAS Assembly can be seen here.)
An important meeting between Cuba and the US was held in New York this week. The public focus was resumption of twice yearly migration talks ended for political reasons by the Bush administration in 2004. The topic is consequential (see excellent article by Nick Miroff here). However both countries had in mind a broader agenda. How far they got largely depended on resolution of the contradiction of mutual respect and conditionality.
When the President focuses personally on Cuba, as he did at the Summit of the Americas, the recognition of reality and openness to a new US role in the world that inspired his supporters, reflects favorably on this most emotionally loaded but yet most resolvable of problems.
Adapted from the July newsletter of the Fund for Reconciliation and Development which can be seen here.
Confrontation at the airport photo by Gustavo Amador / European Pressphoto Agency
Diverting momentarily from Cuba, but not really changing the topic of this blog...
No one authoritative has commented on it, but I wonder whether, ironically, the OAS Summit sounded the death knell of democracy in Honduras. President Mel Zelaya and Foreign Minister Patricia Rodas were very visible players in the historic decision to end Cuba's suspension. No doubt this infuriated old guard Havana haters from the Bush Administration.
Certainly the extremists who dominated the first Bush term, Otto Reich and Roger Noriega, rushed to the defense of the coup makers, just as they had with the failed putsch in Venezuela. Is that simply a reflection of their obsession to roll back pro-Cuba governments or were they involved with the plotters as some have charged? Could they have been seeking a fait acompli to box in the Obama Administration?
This is the conspiratorial version by Venezuelan journalist Jose Vicente Rangel:
"In Honduras two distinct lines of North American politics revealed
themselves, one coming from the White House and the other through the
machinery put in place by the administration of George W. Bush at the
military base of Palmarola", he said.
Rangel explained that this became apparent on the morning of June 28,
when two important functionaries of the State Department, James
Steimberg and Tom Shannon, contacted the US embassy in Tegucigalpa
and the military base in Palmarola to discuss the coup d'etat and to
impede any intention to support it.
More surprising are functionaries from the Clinton Administration aligning with the coup. As reported in the New York Times:
Mr. Micheletti has embarked on a public relations offensive, with his supporters hiring high-profile lawyers with strong Washington connections to lobby against such sanctions. One powerful Latin American business council hired Lanny J. Davis, who has served as President ClintonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s personal lawyer and who campaigned for Mrs. Clinton for president.
And last week, Mr. Micheletti brought the adviser from another firm with Clinton ties to the talks in Costa Rica. The adviser, Bennett Ratcliff of San Diego, refused to give details about his role at the talks.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Every proposal that MichelettiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s group presented was written or approved by the American,Ã¢â‚¬Â said another official close to the talks, referring to Mr. Ratcliff....
Mr. MichelettiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s supporters are pushing back in part by paying hundreds of dollars an hour to well-connected Washington lawyers who have initiated a charm offensive from Washington. On Friday, Mr. Davis was testifying on Capitol Hill in support of Mr. MichelettiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s de facto government.
And on Saturday, Mr. Davis called reporters close to midnight to notify them that Mr. Micheletti had fired Enrique Ortez, whom he had appointed as his foreign minister, for having outraged American officials by referring in a television interview to President Obama as Ã¢â‚¬Å“that little black guy who doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t even know where Tegucigalpa is located.Ã¢â‚¬Â
I wonder whether Davis bothered to mention that Enrique Ortez was only moved from Foreign Minister to Minister of Justice and Government and had been the source of drug trafficking allegations against Zelaya.
The actions of Davis and Ratcliff raise questions about how links from Bill Clinton's era may complicate the foreign policy of the Obama Administration.
Their high profile pro-coup activities merit investigation. Providing paid testimony to Congress and shaping Roberto Micheletti's hard line stance in mediation talks should require both to register as foreign agents.
Who recruited and paid Davis and Ratcliff? Did they directly or indirectly use their former Clinton relationship to try to influence the Secretary of State? If so, does this compromise her role as an honest broker, and her nomination of President Arias as mediator?
Is it significant that both those above and below the Secretary (President Obama and the State Department spokesperson) have been clearer than she that Zelaya himself must return to power to restore democracy?
Not least is the problem of appearances. If President Zelaya and his government are not quickly restored to power, skeptics in Latin America will conclude that Micheletti and the coup makers are the allies if not the creatures of US interests. The real goal of mediation will be seen as running out the clock to keep the betrayers of democracy in control during an accelerated election campaign.
More people in Honduras opposed than backed the coup (46 to 41%), a figure that was hidden in many press reports. Zelaya has set a deadline of this weekend for mediation to restore his position. Venezuela leaning governments in bordering Nicaragua and El Salvador will certainly be concerned that allowing the status quo to prevail in Honduras might induce right wingers within their armies to believe they too can get away with a coup.
Reich and Noriega may have expected that these events would lead Cuba and the US to fall into old patterns, denounce each other vociferously, and be forced to turn away from gradually improving the bilateral atmosphere. In fact key leaders in the two countries may have discovered a common interest in the peaceful return of Zelaya and democracy to Honduras.
"Showdown in Tegucigolpe", a progressive overview from Foreign Policy in Focus
"Honduras Had a New Kind of Coup" in the Los Angeles Times
"U.S. can repair democracy, not settle scores", Op ed by John Kerry in Miami Herald
"In Deeply Split Honduran Society, a Potentially Combustible Situation" from the Washington Post
"Washington & the Coup in Honduras: Here is the Evidence", blog by Venezuelan-American attorney Eva Gollinger
Demonstration against Supreme Court inaction on the Cuban 5 at USINT in Havana
Two recent events have demonstrated that key leaders in Cuba and the US are determined to create a new more rational relationship where differences are accepted if not approved (as with other nations that have non-American values and systems of government).
At the same time, both countries contain powerful forces that are psychologically and politically committed to the status quo. Whether they are fearful of losing the current and potential power the present impasse affords them or of giving opportunities to still hostile adversaries, they must be patiently listened to and then ignored for relations to improve.
Most recently, the President of CubaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s National Assembly, Ricardo Alarcon, expressed profound disappointment that the Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal of the Cuban 5 (spies to us, national heroes to them) but made clear this would not derail efforts to improve bilateral relations.
in Havana, the head of Cuba's parliament said the Supreme Court's decision won't jeopardize negotiations with Washington, even though the Cuban government considers the denied appeal ``a great insult.''
Similarly US officials have confirmed that the case of alleged espionage by Kendall and Gwendolyn Myers will not short-circuit diplomatic progress, despite predictable exploitation of the incident by opponents of change.
''I'm surprised State is still pushing for a hasty reinstatement of the talks,'' Florida Sen. Mel Martinez said. ``There are legitimate concerns about the extent of the recent espionage uncovered by the FBI. What's the rush to conduct talks with the Cuban regime when we still don't have a full damage assessment of the regime's covert efforts?''
However, I must admit to personal frustration with the overcautious approach on both sides to available practical and substantive steps forward.
The US has liberalized considerably its policy of granting visas for Cubans to come here for academic, cultural and professional reasons but oddly still refuses to remove Bush era bureaucratic obstacles to similar trips by Americans to Cuba.
Cuba readily issues visas to Americans for tourism through travel agents and at airport counters but not for more meaningful Ã¢â‚¬Å“officialÃ¢â‚¬Â encounters. (The latter visa is virtually indispensable for meetings with persons in the state sector, including professors, professional counterparts and government administrators.)
Cuba could also afford to be a bit more generous with exit visas, especially for students admitted to non-political US educational programs. (Hopefully when Congress with Presidential support ends all travel restrictions for Americans, Cuba will respond by terminating the requirement of a Ã¢â‚¬Ëœwhite cardÃ¢â‚¬Â for departing Cubans.)
Most amenable to influence by the American people is the Obama administrationÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s postponement of granting licenses for unrestricted travel for educational, religious, humanitarian, cultural, sports and other people-to-people visits.
It has been more than two months since the President reaped overwhelming domestic and international approval by ordering unlimited travel and remittances for Cuban Americans. Yet the implementation regulations have still not been issued by OFAC. Nor have we seen the educational travel that key foreign policy adviser Denis McDonough embraced on behalf of candidate Obama at the NAFSA conference in Washington a year ago, foreclosing summer and fall programs.
A growing number of Americans are voting with their feet and ignoring illegitimate and unenforceable travel restrictions. Pastors for Peace, the Venceremos Brigade and the US/Cuba Labor Exchange will return from Cuba in early August, having once again undertaken public civil disobedience for humanitarian or solidarity reasons. These are important symbolic actions, but are a drop in the bucket of unlicensed travel which is estimated to be around 40,000 persons a year.
The Obama administration finally needs to decide whether it or Senator Bob Menendez is in charge of Cuba policy. Menendez channels on Cuba the reactionary Republican Jesse Helms, rather than the progressive Democrat he is on other issues. He notoriously held up the supplemental appropriations bill for days, a politically costly tantrum that alienated Senate colleagues and the Administration, because of minor Cuba family and agricultural export provisions.
Menendez is also reported to have blocked educational and other non-tourist provisions from the announcement of family remittances and travel. His threat to cut US funding to the OAS pushed the Secretary of State into a potentially embarrassing misinterpretation of the OAS Cuba resolution. He held up confirmation of two key science advisers and apparently is against the appointment of Cuban American Carlos Pascual to be ambassador to Mexico. (PascualÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s sin was co-chairing a Brookings Institution project that proposed a creative road map for relations with Cuba.)
A certain amount of impatience is now deserved, especially from Obama supporters, who expected far more than they have gotten to date on change with Cuba.
Tens of thousand of people have signed the Orbitz travel petition to the President and Congress. It takes less than a minute here
The Office of Public Engagement needs to receive messages on its web site from lots more of us that the President must allow non-tourist travel without further delay and support legislation to end all restrictions.
A travel flyer can be downloaded here for local printing and distribution.
Secretary of State Clinton and Honduras President Zelaya at OAS Assembly
OAS SECRETARY GENERAL LAUDS Ã¢â‚¬Å“DIFFICULT DECISIONÃ¢â‚¬Â ON CUBA TAKEN BY MEMBER STATES AT GENERAL ASSEMBLY
June 24, 2009
The Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), JosÃƒÂ© Miguel Insulza, expressed his satisfaction on the political willpower shown by Member States during the 39th General Assembly in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, which ended the suspension of Cuba from the institution.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It was a difficult decision,Ã¢â‚¬Â Mr. Insulza acknowledged at a conference organized by the Inter-American Dialogue, a well-known Ã¢â‚¬Å“think tankÃ¢â‚¬Â in Washington, DC.
Mr. Insulza reminded the audience that at the OAS Ã¢â‚¬Å“all countries participate with the same rights and the same duties.Ã¢â‚¬Â Ã¢â‚¬Å“From the point of view of this principle, Cuba is a member of the OAS as long as it is willing to have the same rights and the same obligations as the other countriesÃ¢â‚¬Â, he added, and explained it with a graphic example: Ã¢â‚¬Å“The lock is off, the door is not open. The resolution says how you open the door, and there is only one doorÃ¢â‚¬Â.
Representatives from all 34 Member States in attendance at the General Assembly unanimously agreed on revoking the resolution adopted on January 31, 1962, at the Eighth Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, which excluded the Government of Cuba from its participation in the Inter-American system.
The 34 Heads of Delegation also decided in the same document that Ã¢â‚¬Å“the participation of the Republic of Cuba in the OAS will be the result of a process of dialogue initiated at the request of the Government of Cuba, and in accordance with the practices, purposes, and principles of the OAS.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Secretary General Insulza stressed that Ã¢â‚¬Å“how historic the resolution will be, it will depend on what Cuba is willing to do and what the other countries are willing to accept.Ã¢â‚¬Â He also highlighted that the aforementioned rights and obligations are Ã¢â‚¬Å“not a new condition, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not like somebody invented a new gadget to keep Cuba out.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“In fact, everybody knows that the return of Cuba would take a few weeks if they were willing clearly to say that they are willing to abide by the same obligations and the same responsibilities,Ã¢â‚¬Â he added, and mentioned specifically the OAS Charter.
The maximum representative of the OAS also called for calm regarding new developments, because the process will be slow. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Fortunately things have quieted down since the days of the assembly, because at the beginning everybody wanted to know what was going to happen that week. Nothing is going to happen this week, next week or the next one,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think we will have any new movement in the case of Cuba until the Cuban government decides to makes some move,Ã¢â‚¬Â he added.
Analyzing what happened in San Pedro Sula, the Secretary General emphasized the role played by the United States under the administration of President Barack Obama. Ã¢â‚¬Å“What the US did at that meeting is exactly what the President said that they were going to do from now on: engage Latin America, do policy all together.Ã¢â‚¬Â
--OAS press release here
When the full speech is available on line, I'll post a link. Note that the OAS Charter is not the same as the Democratic Charter of the Americas. Most importantly Insulza's remarks reflect what actually took place in Honduras, not the post OAS Assembly provocative spin by US officials that made it sound like Cuba had to eat humble pie and change its system of government in order to take its unsuspended seat. My own analysis posted at the time can be read here.
Eduardo Verdugo, AP
"SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras, Jun 3 (IPS) - After heated debate, the 39th General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) decided Wednesday to lift its 47-year suspension of Cuba, without conditions...
Honduran Foreign Minister Patricia Rodas, one of the main architects of WednesdayÃ‚Â´s resolution, said that "as of now, CubaÃ‚Â´s participation in the OAS will be reinstated by means of dialogue on CubaÃ‚Â´s request and in the framework of the democratic practices that govern the OAS."
"(A)s the host country for this assembly, we are pleased with the amends made to the island nation. We have begun to build a new history in our relations, of tolerance, respect, solidarity, the self-determination of nations and the right to organize ourselves," said Rodas. "
When Assistant Secretary of State Tom Shannon addressed the OAS Assembly on Wednesday afternoon after it had adopted by acclamation its historic resolution to end Cuba's suspension (text here), he received the longest and warmest applause for a government representative's comment, 30 seconds. That happened because his words were those of a statesman and a partner.
However, subsequent expressions by US officials threaten to undo his breakthrough in US-Latin American relations.
The OAS was faced with very different approaches going into the Assembly. The US was willing to see Cuba's 1962 suspension an ed but only on the condition that to resume participation Cuba be obligated to meet US goals for democracy and political prisoners. Virtually all other member countries simply wanted to let Cuba resume its active membership without creating new and unprecedented conditions.
The diplomatic compromise was to end completely the 1962 suspension and leave ambiguous what would happen if Cuba decided it wanted to come back.
Having watched on streaming video the extraordinary excitement and satisfaction of the Assembly delegations, I was startled by the official statement from the Secretary of State:
"I am pleased that everyone came to agree that Cuba cannot simply take its seat and that we must put CubaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s participation to a determination down the road Ã¢â‚¬â€œ if it ever chooses to seek reentry."
US media coverage also seemed to have missed the substance and spirit of what took place. The likely source was a telephone press briefing held on short notice by Shannon and National Security Council official Dan Restrepo.
Washington's new position seemed to be not only trying to put the best face on a compromise upsetting to Cuban American hardliners, but also to frame the decision in such a way as to make it less likely that Cuba would respond favorably. While that may make sense in the hermetic kingdom of the Beltway, it gave Havana an opportunity to celebrate the undoing of an historic wrong and take a pass at least initially on re-engagement, as Ricardo Alarcon quickly did.
In the briefing Restrepo goaded Cuba that the Assembly had made it a supplicant and spun a bizarre rewrite of history:
"The process begins with what is a difficult decision for a Cuban Government that has spent 40 years railing against an institution because of its defense of democracy and individual human rights. They would have to swallow that to ask to get into the organization."
Shannon took the same position in more diplomatic terms:
"the resolution makes very clear that the process by which Cuba must follow in order to reenter the OAS, requires first that Cuba request permission. Secondly, that it enter into a dialogue with the relevant organs of the OAS, and that that dialogue and the decision rendered by the OAS must be in accord with the practices, purposes, and principles of the OAS. And the resolution makes very clear that the fundamental instruments and documents in the OAS, like the Inter-American Democratic Charter, will be the guiding documents as the OAS engages with Cuba."
However their words are alien to the spirit of the Assembly as expressed in speeches after the vote of acclamation. Nor are their interpretations justified by the actual text as read by the chair of the Assembly, Foreign Minister of Honduras Patricia Rodas:
"the General Assembly... resolves
1) that resolution 6 adopted on January 31st 1962, at the 8th meeting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs which excluded the government of Cuba from its participation in the Inter-American system hereby ceases to have effect in the Organization of American States. (55 seconds of standing ovation)
2) that the participation of the Republic of Cuba in the OAS will be the result of a process of dialogue initiated at the request of the government of Cuba and in accordance with the practices and purposes and principles of the OAS" (15 seconds of applause)
The content of clause 1 clearly means that Cuba is no longer suspended. Logically, since it never lost its membership, it is now legally entitled to resume it. The content of clause 2 simply describes the mechanics of how that will happen. Cuba first has to decide it wants to resume its seat and say so, i.e. no one is forcing it to reenter the organization. The process of actually retaking its seat will then be discussed. A dialogue is not an application. No further decision or vote is mentioned. Being in accord with "practices and purposes and principles" is not a list of preconditions.
The US seems to be relying on this paragraph in the preamble,
"The General Assembly, recognizing the shared interest in the full participation of all the member states, guided by the purposes and principles of the OAS, embodied in the Charter of the organization and its other fundamental instruments related to security, democracy, self-determination, non-intervention, human rights and development"
Note that language does not set conditions. It makes "full participation" the primary goal. The list of "purposes and principles" are characterized as "guides", i.e. values. Similarly, security, self-determination and non-intervention could be guides advanced by Cuba and the rest of the membership of the OAS against the US embargo and prolonged strategy of regime change. Cuba's less than ideal approach to democracy and human rights would not be inherently disqualifying unless the US was similarly judged in reference to the other guides.
Restrepo waxed self-righteous
"for Cuba to return to the organization, the organization has to agree that Cuba is abiding by the same rules that everybody else is abiding by".
Cuba's practice of harsh imprisonment without sufficient objective legal due process is hardly unique on an island that includes the Guantanamo prison camp. And if the US can choose which parts to abide by of even the primary constitutional Charter, Cuba certainly has the right to do the same with the content of a secondary instrument, the Inter-American Democratic Charter.
The point is not to make a lawyer's argument for Cuba's eligibility. This is a political decision. Every other member of the OAS wants to return to the status quo before the despised 1962 suspension, to bring Cuba back in as a full functioning member without posing political obstacles which they know it will refuse. The US tried to use OAS participation as one more vehicle for pressuring Cuba to make changes. Many other countries favor those same changes and have no problem with their inclusion as goals in principle, but no one else agrees to imposing them, knowing that is a tired and ineffective strategy.
Washington ducked the bullet of either facing a vote, where it would have been completely isolated, or of alienating the Hemisphere by blocking a consensus. However, underlying sentiments remain the same. If and when Cuba decides it wants to take its legitimate seat at the OAS, there is no reason to believe Washington will be able to force or win a vote to stop it. Note that Minister Rodas spoke of, "the framework of the democratic practices that govern the OAS" not the domestic political systems of its members.
Bloomberg.com offered an unusual regional insight that may be predictive:
Cuba will rejoin the Organization of American States after Ã¢â‚¬Å“a lot of emotionÃ¢â‚¬Â passes, said Ruben Blades, tourism minister in Panama, a member of the Washington- based group.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“There is a lot of emotion right now in the world,Ã¢â‚¬Â Blades, also a six-time Grammy Award winning singer, said in an interview in New York. Ã¢â‚¬Å“So itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a matter of processing. Eventually we will see a different scenario in Cuba as we have seen everywhere else.Ã¢â‚¬Â
CNN reported that Miami's extremist wing was not appeased by the US spin of the OAS compromise:
"Today we witnessed an example of the Obama administration's absolute diplomatic incompetence and its unrestricted appeasement of the enemies of the United States," Cuban-American U.S. Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Florida, and Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Florida, said in a joint statement. "The OAS is a putrid embarrassment."
Dan Erickson of the Inter-American Dialogue summed up the situation well for the Guardian,
"The vote sends a powerful signal to the Obama administration that the path of moderate, incremental change in US policy towards Cuba is depleting America's political capital in the region at an alarming rate."
Articles giving a non-US spin to the OAS, the text of the OAS resolution and the US draft, the text of Clinton, Shannon and Restrepo statements are posted here
To see streaming videos of the plenary session that dealt with the Cuba resolution, go here or here (This is the original feed, so most of the speeches are in Spanish. On request to email@example.com, I can send a download of part of the English feed which included translations.}
The lobbyist in Washington for Cuban American hard liners, Mauricio Claver-Carone, comes to a similar conclusion that the OAS resolution effectively allows Cuba to resume membership whenever it wishes.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in San Salvador (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
In 1962, President KennedyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s ambassador to the OAS, DeLesseps Morrison, a rabid anti-communist, pushed a resolution through the organization suspending CubaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s membership in the Western HemisphereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s most important regional institution. Given the lack of overwhelming regional backing for such a move against Cuba at the time, this was no easy task. In fact, in order to convince Haitian President Francois Ã¢â‚¬Å“Papa DocÃ¢â‚¬Â Duvalier to support the U.S. initiative to bar Cuba from the OAS, Ambassador Morrison had to bribe the reprehensible Haitian dictator by promising to fund the construction of a new airport in HaitiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s capital, Port-au-Prince.
Haiti was thus won over to provide the last of the necessary fourteen votes to suspend Cuba from the organization. (In enlisting the assistance of one dictatorship to expel another, Washington demonstrated its selective indignation at authoritarianism.)
From Ã¢â‚¬Å“Ostracism or Reconciliation? Cuba, the U.S. and the Organization of American StatesÃ¢â‚¬Â prepared by Council on Hemispheric Affairs Research Associates Arienna Grody and Lily Fesler (full text here)
Much reporting on the coming OAS meeting has incorporated the spin emerging from official US sources. Some correctives:
1) Cuba is still a member of the OAS. It was suspended, not expelled, in 1962 as the result of an intense and still-resented campaign by a US government more dominant than today. Justifications for suspension did not include internal democracy or human rights and are now moot.
2) Virtually all OAS members support ending CubaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s suspension without conditions, not only more left-leaning governments.
3) Nothing in the OAS Charter, or subsequent documents, including the Inter-American Democratic Charter (IADC) precludes Cuba taking up full and active membership. The IADC is quite explicit about measures to be taken in the face of Ã¢â‚¬Ëœunconstitutional interruption of the democratic order of a member stateÃ¢â‚¬â„¢, i.e. a military coup. It incorporates aspirations that all members be representative democracies with respect for human rights but does not address restoring the status of an existing member with a different political orientation.
4) The US embargo and forced transition agenda with Cuba seriously violate the OAS Charter, which is quite explicit that Ã¢â‚¬ËœNo State...has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatever, in the internal or external affairs of any other State. The foregoing principle prohibits not only armed force but also any other form of interference...against its political, economic, and cultural elements.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢" (Article 19, see also Articles 3e and 20)
Diplomats tell TIME that major Latin broker countries like Brazil are stepping in now to help hammer out a deal palatable to both Washington and Havana Ã¢â‚¬â€ one that would probably demand a lesser gesture of democratic commitment on Cuba's part, like the release of political prisoners. But they also suggest that the General Assembly may end up deciding to simply hold a yearlong "dialogue" on the matter, to allow the U.S. and Cuba to ease into a compromise that would be unveiled in 2010. Ã¢â‚¬â€œTim Padgett, Time Magazine
Not good enough. Placing special conditions on CubaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s membership or ducking the issue brands the organization as still too compliant with US domestic political agendas and sustains Fidel CastroÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s anti-OAS argument. An extended dialogue about reentry is likely given CubaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s oft repeated denunciation of the OAS, but such a very useful process can only begin if the 1962 suspension is repealed and it is only up to Cuba to decide if and when it retakes its seat.
As with the rest of Administration Cuba policy to date, trying to maintain leverage by incremental change is living in denial and counterproductive. Secretary Clinton should simply abstain if the OAS votes on ending Cuba's suspension without conditions. In that way she demonstrates we are listening and serious about a new collaborative role, even if the Administration is not able politically to join the affirmative vote.
Most of all, the Administration cannot let it seem as though Sen. Menendez (D, NJ) controls US foreign policy with bluster and threats to cut off OAS funding.