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
Havana's Malecon at Sunset (photo from Daily Mail Travel Mail)
The Miami Herald has a long story predicting success for the travel bill in the House but problems in the Senate. It also suggests opposition from the White House. Who does reporter Juan Tamayo talk to? What is his own position?
The full story can be read here with emphasis added.
A key section:
But backers of the changes say the bills have not moved forward through the congressional maze so far because of the lack of active support from the Obama administration and the Democratic leadership in both chambers.
``The Obama people are showing timidity. They are sitting on their hands,'' said a Senate aide whose Democratic boss favors lifting all travel restrictions. He asked for anonymity because he was not authorized to comment on the issue.
Administration officials say lifting all travel restrictions would be too drastic and perhaps chaotic, and the the president prefers a more measured warming of relations. They stop short of saying whether Obama would sign or veto the bill if passed by Congress.*
The Secretary of State testified to Congress that the President will not veto legislation to end the embargo. Does it make sense that the President would veto the partial lifting represented by ending travel limits? Tamayo may also be grasping at straws in whom he chooses to quote about prospects for passage by the Senate.
If the Administration does actually fear that it will lose control over the diplomatic process when travel legislation is adopted, the President can get out ahead by finally enabling general licenses for non-tourist travel. At best, full travel is half a year away and some valuable people-to-people bridge building could take place in the meantime from which the White House will receive credit and can gain advantage.
Fund for Reconciliation and Development
Governor Bill Richardson's insightful talk at New Democratic Network where he calls for both Administration and Congressional action and reciprocity by Cuba can be seen here.
White House Office of Public Engagement here
"I am disappointed that the Cuban government refuses to let Yoani Sanchez travel to New York to receive a Maria Moors Cabot citation," Nicholas Lemann, dean of Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism, said in a statement.
"The Cuban government ought to value Ms. Sanchez's work as a sign that young Cubans are ready to take Cuba into a better futureÃ‚Â one that will have the free press the Cuban people deserve," he said.
To be honest I am not a regular reader or big fan of Yoani Sanchez. She combines both realistic and exaggerated observations with dissident politics attuned to the preconceptions and prejudices of an audience far from her country's reality. Generally I find the critical voices published on The Havana Times blog more interesting and more authentic.
Nevertheless, Cuba's denial of an exit visa ("White Card") for Ms. Sanchez to come to the US was wrong in principle, and dumb. It ranks with OFAC's denial of the American version of an exit visa, a travel license, to the voting members of the not-for-profit NY Philharmonic Society. (See my previous posts about the Philharmonic here and here.)
Cuba loses more from building up Yoani's virtual platform as an international symbol than it gains from depriving her of a physical platform at the Columbia awards ceremony. The US tarnishes the President's vision recognized by the Nobel Peace Prize committee by letting bureaucratic pettiness trump reaching across psychological borders with a preeminent cultural institution.
A well connected Cuban American friend told me a few days ago that Senator Bob Menendez and CANF were not the reason for the Philharmonic license denial. He said the Administration felt such a license would have set a precedent and taken the pace of change out of their hands.
I'm not sure whether I am more disturbed by an image of the White House opportunistically buckling to Cuban American hard liners in New Jersey and Florida, or putting slow moving diplomatic gamesmanship above principle.
Bottom line, both governments should stop sacrificing freedom of travel for political reasons. President Obama can set the example, and end his subordinates' token counting, by embracing the New York Philharmonic concerts in Havana and enabling all non-tourist travel without further unconscionable delay.
Let the White House know how you feel here.
Fund for Reconciliation and Development
Senator Byron Dorgan, D-ND
The Cuban American National Foundation had projected a more moderate tone in the last several years. Its most extreme members split with the organization and formed their own group. CANF was not invited to Bush Administration events and it entered into a mutually beneficial relationship with the Obama campaign. Obama delivered his only pre-election policy speech on Cuba in Miami under CANF auspices.
Hard line Washington lobbying and big time political contributions became the province of the further right US-Cuba Democracy PAC.
CANF, unlike the PAC, supported family travel, although it may have preferred the Clinton version of once yearly limits. Its president, Pepe Hernandez, told me when we were on the same panel at a Brookings Institution conference that he also favored non-tourist travel. He was part of a Brookings working group that called for it.
CANF DECRIES NEW YORK PHILLARMONIC (sic) ATTEMPT TO DISGUISE TOURIST TRAVEL TO CUBA AS Ã¢â‚¬ËœCULTURAL EXCHANGEÃ¢â‚¬â„¢
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: OCTOBER 2, 2009
Today, the New York Philharmonic announced that it had been denied a visa (sic) by the U.S. Treasury Department to engage in travel to Cuba as part of a program of cultural exchange. Their statement is at best misleading. Under current restrictions, the New York Philharmonic may have been granted a license to perform as was done recently in the case of pop singer Juanes, however, the group applied for licenses for 150 individuals who are Ã¢â‚¬ËœfriendsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ and Ã¢â‚¬ËœdonorsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ of the Philharmonic and had promised to donate $10,000 in exchange for a trip to CubaÃ¢â‚¬â€a blatant attempt to disguise tourist travel.
The Cuban American National Foundation (CANF) supports cultural exchange between the United States in Cuba because we believe them to be mutually beneficial to the people of both nations and in particular because they provide the Cuban people with exposure to the outside world, its varied cultures, music, and arts. At the same time, we are adamantly opposed to tourist travel to Cuba because it provides no benefit to the Cuban people while providing critical hard currency to a regime which uses those resources to continue repressing its own people.
Beyond the nasty innuendo about the motives of one of the most highly regarded cultural institutions in the US, CANF aligned with OFAC in mischaracterizing what was at issue. The people who were to accompany the Philharmonic are either on its board of directors or voting members of its not-for-profit Society which was founded in the early 19th century. They had a pre-existing relationship to the orchestra and were not coming out of the blue to use it for a very expensive holiday jaunt to Cuba. Without the involvement of patrons, symphony orchestras could not survive and certainly the Cuba program could not happen. (Who else is going to cover the considerable costs?)
I have not seen their four day schedule, but it will surely include substantial interaction with the sophisticated classical music world of Cuba. In addition to the two concerts and associated ceremonies, they are likely to visit conservatories and schools, meet with Cuban musicians and culture officials, see museums, and attend performances by the ballet and Latin music groups. They are not heading for the beach or golf course in Varadero. In other words they will engage in the kind of serious multi-dimensional cultural exchange that was widely practiced under OFAC licenses issued until 2004 when George Bush paid back his friends in Miami.
Forget the spin advanced in 2004 and now about educational and cultural exchange covering for tourism and the hard currency contribution made to Cuba's economy and government by non-tourist visitors, at peak only 85,000 in 2003. No documentation has ever been offered of serious misuse of educational and cultural licenses (unlike fraudulent religious licenses employed by thousands of never sanctioned Cuban Americans). The dollars such groups bring are hardly noticed among the expenditures of 2.4 million tourists annually.
Travel itself was the target. Opinion leaders, trend setters and average Americans with a serious interest in Cuba bring back eye-witness accounts of an imperfect but friendly society and convey to Cubans that the US is not a hostile monolith. They break down ideology based narratives and psychological attitudes on both sides essential to maintaining the status quo.
Byron Dorgan said it with eloquence on the floor of the Senate:
My colleagues in this Chamber talk a lot about freedom. What about the freedom of the American people to travel? Why is it we have decided to punish the Cuban regime by restricting Americans' freedoms?
I come back to the basic proposition. That is, one of the great music groups in the world, the New York Philharmonic, which has played in North Korea, in Russia, and is about to play in Vietnam, is told: Here are the circumstances and conditions in which you can play in Cuba. By the way, they are onerous. The New York Philharmonic found those circumstances and conditions unacceptable and I understand why.
I am writing to the Office of Assets Control to see if we could not get them to think straight a bit. It makes no sense at all to decide that this kind of exchange is unworthy. Does anybody really think that having the New York Philharmonic play beautiful music in the city of Havana, in the country of Cuba, is in any way going to threaten anybody? Wouldn't it perhaps do at least what it did for those who were able to experience that wonderful music in North Korea?
Is the White House only listening to CANF? Let them know how dumb they look implementing Bush policies rather than their own by clicking here. Urge the President to immediately direct OFAC to allow the Philharmonic concerts, and to then enable general licenses for all non-tourist travel.
Another section of Senator Dorgan's speech should give pause to those who hope for rapid action by Congress and don't seem to care about what the White House does in the interim about non-tourist travel:
we ought to pass the Dorgan-Enzi bill that strikes the travel restrictions with respect to Cuba. We have not yet found a way to get it to the floor. When we do, I guarantee we will have sufficient votes on the floor of the Senate to offer the American people the freedom they should have had in the last 50 or 60 years, and that is freedom to travel. In this case that freedom has been taken from them and it is outrageous.
Fund for Reconciliation and Development
Not to forget ...
Governor Bill Richardson will speak about his trip to Cuba at the New Democratic Network in Washington on Friday, October 9th. Watch it on line at 12:15 p.m. at http://ndn.org/livecast. Richardson called strongly for the President to open up non-tourist travel and supports Congress ending all restrictions.
When the Royal Ballet performed in Havana during the summer, the program was so popular big screen TVs had to be installed outside the theater.
When Juanes organized a 5 1/2 hour public concert, 10% of the country's population turned out.
The New York Philharmonic was about to get its history making turn with Cuba's culturally sophisticated audience when it ran into the diminishing ghost of George Bush.
The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) approved a license for the musicians and their technical team, an important symbolic opening it is unlikely Bush would have approved. But it told the Philharmonic that donors and Board members were not allowed to accompany them. As a result, the concerts had to be put on hold. The Philharmonic was to cover the expense of staging performances with assistance from its donor community who reasonably enough wanted to be part of an historic occasion.
OFAC said they were "tourists", a false characterization, but a distinction that mattered under regulations promulgated by George Bush in 2004--at the same time that he limited family reunions to once every three years. Did OFAC have the discretion to interpret even the Bush regulations more liberally? Certainly! The underlying law permits such travel and the support group was an inherent part of making the event happen.
Had the Obama Administration opened the door for non-tourist travel to all Americans, rather than only to Cuban Americans, there would not have been a problem. For example 300 Americans attended a jazz festival with a license under Clinton regulations.
Who was responsible for a decision that made the US look dumb all over the world? The President was ill served by members of his administration responding to intense pressure from the Cuban American old guard.
Denis McDonough of the National Security Council may have laid the groundwork, according to The Hill newspaper. Language enabling non-tourist travel had been predicted in the Washington Post, but was missing from the April announcement after McDonough met with Sen. Bob Menendez (D, NJ). Had McDonough stood up for the President's principled commitment to exchange and dialogue, or had the regulations that were finally issued a couple of weeks ago restored non-tourist categories, the Philharmonic would soon be on its way to Havana after an Asia tour that included Vietnam.
Even without the regulatory change, OFAC may have been leaning toward granting the license. Or else how explain this account from F. G. Aruca, the founder of Marazul Tours?
In our radio program from Miami yesterday, co-host Edmundo Garcia made very clear that a very good source that he could not name called him after the program Thursday and told him that the reason behind OFAC's decision to deny those licenses was what Edmundo correctly described as political blackmail from Sen. Robert (Bob) Menendez of New Jersey.
This Cuban-American senator was shocked by the success of Juanes' concert in Havana, and did not want any more of this. The Administration, the source said, is holding back (hopefully temporarily), until after the health reform legislation is approved.
I can only add that I know that the source is a very good source indeed. So, I am convinced that Bob Menendez was the trigger behind this decision, and even more importantly, is using the future of access to health services by the American people as the hostage in this political blackmail scheme.
If Menendez made such a threat, I am surprised it was taken seriously. On most issues, other than Cuba, he is a progressive Democrat. He could hardly afford to oppose the President on his signature issue of health care. The reaction would have been anger from his constituents in New Jersey and from national Democrats whom Menendez must solicit for contributions as head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. (They were already alienated by Menendez extreme actions at the time of the debate over the supplemental appropriations bill, as the Post reported.)
President Obama's eloquent speech at the UN contains strong language that if applied to Cuba would mean implementation of already vetted regulations to allow educational, cultural, humanitarian, religious and sports exchanges:
"the time has come to realize that the old habits, the old arguments, are irrelevant to the challenges faced by our peopleÃ¢â‚¬Â¦They build up walls between us and the future that our people seek, and the time has come for those walls to come down."
The relatively low key speech to the UN by Cuba's Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez included
"Should there be a true desire to move towards change...President Obama could allow American citizens, by means of a license, to travel to Cuba, the only country in the world they are not allowed to visit."
Bottom line, President Obama and Treasury Secretary Geithner can still save the Philharmonic program in Havana at the end of October by quickly directing OFAC to interpret the regulations more reasonably. Then they should finally undo all of Bush's harsh anti-travel policy by announcing regulations enabling non-tourist general licenses.
The Philharmonic in Havana can be a triumph artistically, culturally and diplomatically but the President very quickly has to choose who matters, Miami hard liners represented by Senator Menendez or the two-thirds of Americans who want travel restrictions to end.
Fund for Reconciliation and Development
Live-stream alert: Governor Bill Richardson will speak about his trip to Cuba at the New Democratic Network in Washington on Friday, October 9th. Watch it on line at 12:15 p.m. at http://ndn.org/livecast. Richardson called strongly for the President to open up non-tourist travel and supports Congress ending all restrictions.
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
TO THE UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY
September 23, 2009
Excerpts with emphasis on words potentially applicable to US relations with Cuba.
We must embrace a new era of engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect, and our work must begin now. We know the future will be forged by deeds and not simply words.
Consider the course that we're on if we fail to confront the status quoÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ The magnitude of our challenges has yet to be met by the measure of our actions.
Nothing is easier than blaming others for our troubles, and absolving ourselves of responsibility for our choices and our actionsÃ¢â‚¬Â¦
No one nation can or should try to dominate another nation. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ The traditional divisions between nations of the South and the North make no sense in an interconnected world; nor do alignments of nations rooted in the cleavages of a long-gone Cold War.
The time has come to realize that the old habits, the old arguments, are irrelevant to the challenges faced by our peopleÃ¢â‚¬Â¦They build up walls between us and the future that our people seek, and the time has come for those walls to come downÃ¢â‚¬Â¦
The choice is ours. We can be remembered as a generation that chose to drag the arguments of the 20th century into the 21st; that put off hard choices, refused to look ahead, failed to keep pace because we defined ourselves by what we were against instead of what we were for...
Democracy cannot be imposed on any nation from the outside. Each society must search for its own path, and no path is perfect. Each country will pursue a path rooted in the culture of its people and in its past traditions. And I admit that America has too often been selective in its promotion of democracy. But that does not weaken our commitment; it only reinforces it. There are basic principles that are universal; there are certain truths which are self-evident -- and the United States of America will never waver in our efforts to stand up for the right of people everywhere to determine their own destiny.
Full text here
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