Source: Associated Press
On Friday, the Washington Post published an editorial on U.S. policy and the case of Alan Gross, an American subcontractor for USAID's democracy program in Cuba, who was arrested in Cuba in early December 2009. The editorial concludes that the U.S. Congress should (continue to) withhold the right of all Americans to travel to Cuba until Mr. Gross is released.
Only in U.S. Cuba policy can we talk about holding back millions of generous Americans from an island and then pay a clandestine handful to Ã¢â‚¬Ëœreach outÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ to the people instead.
According to the Post:
Mr. Gross was in Cuba to help several Jewish community groups gain access to the Internet, so that they could use sites such as Wikipedia and communicate with each other and with Jewish organizations abroad, according to his employer, Bethesda-based Development Alternatives Inc., and other sources familiar with his work. He reportedly supplied the groups with laptops and satellite equipment for Internet connections.
For this the 60-year-old contractor was arrested Dec. 4 and has been held ever since by Cuba's communist regime, which has accused him of conducting an espionage operation. Only in the ancient, crumbling regime of the Castro brothers could this ridiculous charge be leveled.
In Cuba, access to the internet is very limited, and controlled by the government. It is difficult for Americans to fathom a country that would restrict access to technology and the internet today. But itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not at all uncommon to put restrictions on the means by and extent to which which another country meddles in our domestic affairs.
How would we react if the shoe were on the other foot? Imagine a Cuban citizen for whom the State Department approved a tourist visa, who, when he arrived, supplied and serviced satellite communications equipment - paid for by the Cuban government - to an American religious or professional organization. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not terrorism, by a long shot. But in the United States, if you act on a foreign government's behalf and you don't register yourself as foreign agent, you're breaking the law.
According to the Foreign Agents Registration Act, a foreign agent is:
any person who acts as an agent, representative, employee, or servant, or any person who acts in any other capacity at the order, request, or under the direction or control, of a foreign principal or of a person any of whose activities are directly or indirectly supervised, directed, controlled, financed, or subsidized in whole or in major part by a foreign principal, and who directly or through any other person--
(iii) 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
I hope for Mr. Gross's sake, there can be a swift diplomatic solution to his case that brings him home to his family. And let's hope the Administration learns to take its Cuba policy by the horns, finally, and face the failures and the opportunities The Washington Post has overlooked in its editorial.
It bears repeating that, only in U.S. Cuba policy do we talk about holding back millions of Americans from the island but then pay millions to a clandestine handful to Ã¢â‚¬Ëœreach outÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ to the Cuban people instead.
Photo credit: http://blogs.worldbank.org/files/governance/image/blog%20board.jpg
This afternoon, I intended to just post a link to the excellent translation by Ted Henken of "The Making of Generation Y," told by Yoani Sanchez. It's a fascinating look back into the building of Sanchez's famous blog, Generacion Y, over the last several years. You can find his translation here and the original version in Spanish at Penultimos Dias. It's long, but it's worth the read.
Maybe it was reading about creating blogs that kept me surfing. So, while at El Yuma (Henken's blog) I learned about a recent conference in New York on IT and Social Media in Cuba. I found it interesting, as did Henken, who participated in the conference, that the organizers made this point at the beginning and the end of the summit:
Let us be clear from the start, our aim in convening this Cuba IT & Social Media Summit
is not to subvert the Cuban regime; it is to empower the Cuban people.
I'm sure there are people out there who think it's not worth doing if it doesn't subvert the Cuban government. But I am glad to see that the conference organizers understand that when it comes to Cuba we all have a choice to make: focus on the government (and what you want it to be or not be) or focus on the people, and how our actions can impact them for good or for ill.
I like reading Mauricio Claver-CaroneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s blog because itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s link-free, so you never have to click through to read about any of the people or content he refers to. Mauricio tells you everything you need to know.
That comment made me chuckle because I have often been frustrated by the lack of links and corroborating evidence or sources on the blog in question. So, that little funny sent me over to said blog (Capitol Hill Cubans) for a peek. I, too, like perusing the blog from time to time, because CHC is the only blog I've seen make a real effort to defend the U.S. embargo. And it's truly important to get all sides, explore them and then draw your own conclusions.
So, while on CHC, I came across something that surely merits more exploration than the author gave it. Claver-Carone, who is an outspoken critic of allowing Americans to travel to Cuba, shares a portion of an article (which, ironically, he actually linked to), in which a travel writer concludes, it's not worth going to Cuba yet because it has so few five-star hotels. Well, Mauricio had just one thing to say about it:
Just oozing with compassion for the repressed people of Cuba.
Gosh, that's a pretty sanctimonious aspersion to cast. And it made me wonder, what does "compassion" for the Cuban people really look like to Mauricio? Is he just unaware or unwilling to face - to explore - the fact that most Cubans would kill to get in on the foreign tourism market (and they'll do so whether they get permission from the government or not). That's because you can make more (real) money in one day on the most meager tips from foreign tourists - especially American ones, whom Cubans consider the most generous tippers - in one day than you can working most any other non-tourism related job in Cuba for a whole month. That's a conclusion that I'm sure I could find a million links to support, but really, that's what you hear over and over again when you travel to Cuba and people on the street tell you they hope more Americans will come.
Now, if Claver-Carone thought that travel writer should stop being so snooty and go down to Cuba with or without five-star hotels, because the Cuban people need that tourist's business, then our definitions of "compassion" might just coincide.
U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Adolfo Franco, then-USAID Assistant Administrator awarding a $1 million grant to the University of Miami's Cuba Transition Project (photo at: http://www.usaid.gov/locations/latin_america_caribbean/images/check5s.jpg)
Thanks to Tracey Eaton for reporting on this interesting comment from Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Cuban american ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, after she met with our Havana U.S. Mission Chief Jonathan Farrar while he was in Washington this week:
My discussions with Mr. Farrar confirmed reports that repression on the island has only increased over the past few months, making it clear that U.S. overtures to the regime remain unanswered. The U.S. must stand firm: democratic change in Cuba must come first, before any further efforts to change or weaken U.S.-Cuba policy. We must redouble our efforts to precipitate a transition to democratic rule in Cuba so that the Cuban people and our nation can feel safe and secure without the looming threat posed by the Cuban tyranny.
There is so much to comment on here that I hardly know where to begin first. I'll put aside the notion that we should keep doing the same thing because we haven't yet achieved any results (which, incidentally, fits Einstein's definition of insanity to a tee). And I'll also pass over the invitation to query what overtures we've really made to Cuba (that weren't more fittingly overtures to the Congresswoman's own constituents), or, what possible threat emanating from Cuba could be of greater concern to her than the threat posed by, say, radicalized Yemenis with explosives in their undergarments?
Instead, I'm curious about Ros-Lehtinen's belief that the U.S. government should "redouble" our efforts at - let's call a spade a spade - regime change in Havana, though she doesn't elaborate on how. Perhaps that is because our chief method of precipitating regime change, $40 million dollars in USAID programming in Cuba, is so fatally flawed. Nothing demonstrates that failure more than the unfortunate case of Alan P. Gross, an American contractor who was arrested in Cuba last month.
Little is publicly known about Mr. Gross's misfortune. The Cuban government contends he was illegally distributing advanced communications equipment in Cuba. The U.S. government says he was working with a non-dissident religious group to help them better communicate with one another and with colleagues outside of Cuba. Both statements may be true.
The program Mr. Gross was contracted to implement was funded by the authority granted to USAID in the 1996 Helms-Burton Act. That Act authorized U.S. government assistance (inside and outside of Cuba) to help bring a political change on the island. In response to the U.S. effort to undermine the Cuban government, the 1999 Cuban Law 88 explicitly made it a crime for anyone in Cuba - Cuban or a foreigner - to carry out activities funded by or in furtherance of the objectives set forth by the Helms-Burton Act. Among the activities it considers a crime: to distribute U.S. government-funded materials. And that makes handing out cell phones and laptops - if the U.S. government is paying you to do it - a crime in Cuba.
Reacting to the arrest last month, blogger Phil Peters wondered whether Mr. Gross was aware of the clear danger he could face in carrying out such activities in Cuba. It's not like the U.S. government didn't understand the risks: Peters dug up a notice written by USAID warning about the Cuban government's opposition to its programs on the island. At this point, there is no way the U.S. government would now fail to adequately warn a grantee of the risks involved in fulfilling a USAID contract in Cuba. And what grantee who gets a warning like that is going to get on a plane headed for Havana?
Which is why I wonder how exactly Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen thinks we should "redouble" our efforts to hasten political change in Cuba? Surely no member of Congress will encourage more Americans to put themselves at such risk. Congressional leaders charged with funding the USAID Cuba program face a choice now. They could continue the program to avoid a fight with the likes of Ros-Lehtinen, or, scrap a program that could otherwise land one of their constituents in jail.
Photo from: http://www.havanatimes.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/haiti-cuba-florida-map.jpg
First there was a honeymoon. Then it got called off. And now, brought together over the tragedy in Haiti, the U.S. and Cuba have at least found something productive they can do together. Phil Peters posted coverage of not only of Cuban doctors already on the ground in Haiti, but also of an agreement reached for Cuba to grant standing authority to U.S. medevac overflights, eliminating what would otherwise be a 90-minute detour around the island back to Miami. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had this to say:
Well, we very much appreciate the Cubans opening their air space for medical evacuation and emergency flights, and we would welcome any other actions that the Cuban Government could take in furtherance of the international rescue and recovery mission in Haiti.
With the Secretary's invitation out there, it makes you wonder whether Cuba has put forward any proposals (or if the U.S. has) for how the United States can help Cuba help Haiti. Cuba has tremendous human resources, but it does not have much equipment, supplies or transport resources at its disposal. It would sure be encouraging to see politics put aside, no matter with whom we have to cooperate to help meet the overwhelming need in Haiti right now.
Seeing this type of cooperation go forward doesn't surprise me much. This Administration has repeatedly encouraged (and received) - in ways we read about and in others we don't - common sense cooperation with Cuba.
There have been renewed talks on migration, new talks on postal issues, the U.S. has proposed easing restrictions on diplomats' host country travel, and the U.S. Mission in Havana has gained consular access to several Cuban Americans in prison in Cuba.
But the common sense diplomacy, so far, stops there. It doesn't have to. Certainly there are other areas to expand cooperation - like in counter narcotics, law enforcement, and environmental protection, for starters. But at some point, such initiatives must square - and they don't - with the overarching approach to and framework on Cuba.
In an interview posted last week at the Council on Foreign Relations, Julia Sweig points out the fundamental flaw in the Administration's approach to Cuba (Sweig also analyzes where the Obama team went wrong in the rest of the region in 2009):
Knowing that Congress must do the lion's share of the heavy lifting, the administration has either genuinely or likely just politically made the decision that further steps to unilaterally lift pieces of the embargo--which it can and should do, for example, it can significantly liberalize travel for Americans without a vote from Congress, or it can take Cuba off the State Department's State Sponsors of Terrorism list--will not be done without gestures by the Cuban government, such as releasing political prisoners, becoming more democratic, taking steps politically that this Cuban government seems to have no intention of doing.
[It's] the same equation of, you commit suicide domestically and then we'll lift the embargo. That's been the equation essentially for the last fifty years, so without shifting that paradigm, the Obama administration really is perpetuating the policy of its predecessors. The main difference is that in poll after poll, Obama has the American public, including South Florida, now supporting a much broader set of openings than he's delivered to date.
For President Obama, perpetuating the policy of his predecessors on Cuba has far broader consequences in the hemisphere, argues Collin Laverty, of the Center for Democracy in the Americas:
The Obama administration's refusal to develop and implement a new Cuba policy - one based on U.S. national interests with a goal of fully normalizing relations - exemplifies continuity in the way the U.S. views the region, and vice-versa.
For the good of the Haitian people, let's hope U.S. cooperation with Cuba and any other country that wants to be helpful deepens. But such heartening and necessary cooperation is no substitute for this Administration taking a long (overdue) hard look in the mirror in the year ahead.
Photo credit: Anya Landau French (photo taken from the balcony of La Guarida)
As I went out hunting for something Cuba to write about besides terrorists, terrorism and terrorist lists this week, I found myself browsing the excellent blog El Yuma, published by Ted Henken, a sociology professor at Baruch College. Henken can always be counted on to take you on a virtual trip to Cuba with one of his posts, with details so rich and human you really feel transported to the island. And so after reading and enjoying several posts there, I came to one, belatedly, that made my heart sink: Requiem for La Guarida. I'd heard that this popular private restaurant had closed, but was steadfastly refusing to admit the impossible - and the irreplaceable.
There is a greater than 80% chance that if you've been to Havana in the last decade, you've been to la Guarida. When your taxi pulled up on that pot-holed, dark and often smelly street in front of the ramshackle tenement building, where several large men loiter out front, you probably wondered if you were at the right place. But then you got out of the car, and those men - who were part of La Guarida's neighborhood operation - helpfully pointed you through the door, toward the grandiose and crumbling stairs - and on the second landing you stopped to marvel: you're deeper in Cuba already than you ever realized you could be. You took a few photos, a dog trotted into the open area, and uninterested in you, laid down to nap.
And then you trudged up another flight of stairs, rang the bell, and they welcomed you to the Hide Out . . . a little apartment used for the wildly popular 1994 Cuban film "Strawberry and Chocolate," that was - I didn't know this - one of the last paladars, or privately operated in-home restaurants, licensed by the Cuban government in over a decade.
I won't go into the reasons why the restaurant closed has finally closed - getting the full picture from Henken is worth it (plus he's got a five-part series up on Cuban paladars). On the blog, Henken recalls his interview with La Guarida's owner, Enrique NuÃƒÂ±ez, back in 2000. NuÃƒÂ±ez shared with Henken the story of La Guarida (how it came into existence), the difficulties he faced supplying the restaurant, and his frustrations with Cuba's overbearing regulatory environment (i.e., restricting paladars to just 12 chairs and family-only employees).
At the time, as a new U.S. President was about to take office, and NuÃƒÂ±ez pondered the outsize impact the United States could have on this small private enterprise sector in Cuba. Henken recalls:
In short, he argued that a flexible, non-confrontational attitude on the part of the new [Bush] administration would allow a certain amount of breathing room for him and other private enterprises in Cuba.
On the other hand, if the U.S. took a hard-line approach to Cuba under the new administration, trying to punish it, that would spell more repression and difficulties for private enterprise, reducing even more the already almost insignificant space in which they struggle to survive.
Nine years later, La Guarida closed its doors. Now, don't believe anyone who tells you that everything that goes wrong in Cuba is the United States' fault. It's just that we haven't exactly gotten much right in quite some time.
Photo credit: Rodrigo Arangua/Agence France-Presse Ã¢â‚¬â€ Getty Images
Not surprisingly, in the wake of new TSA regulations requiring extra security checks on U.S.-bound passengers departing 14 countries deemed to be of concern (or in the case of Cuba, Sudan, Syria and Iran, to be state sponsors of terrorism), Cuba is formally protesting its continuing inclusion on the U.S. State Department's list of states it considers to be sponsoring terrorism.
The Cuban statement called the U.S. inclusion of Cuba an "unjust, arbitrary and politically motivated designation that contradicts the exemplary conduct of our country in confronting terrorism." I've already spent a good deal of time in the last week evaluating the arguments for why Cuba is on the terrorism list. (My main beef with keeping Cuba on the list is that it diverts precious security resources away from the real threats we face today.)
But there's one more issue that's been stuck in my craw ever since former President Bush announced that any country that harbors a terrorist is siding with the terrorists. The fact is, for more than two decades, we've laid out the welcome mat for two of the hemisphere's most notorious terrorists, Cuban exiles Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch Avila. Both are in the United States today: one of whom, Posada, we refuse to extradite to Cuba or Venezuela (where we fear he could be tortured - no, I'm not kidding), and the other one, Bosch, now walks the streets of Miami a free man. True story. Don't believe me? Read on.
Cubaphiles know very well who these two men are, but for those who don't, according to the FBI, they are the masterminds of the first and only mid-air bombing in our hemisphere - of a Cubana airliner, killing all 73 people (many of them teenagers) aboard on October 6, 1976. It's a tragic story. The National Security Archive has succeeded in declassifying much of the record on the Cubana airliner bombing, which you can view here.
Posada is also quite famous for his 1997 campaign to disrupt the Cuban tourism industry, ncluding a bombing that killed an Italian tourist. After taking credit for the campaign, Posada told a journalist writing for the New York Times, "I sleep like a baby."
Both Posada and Bosch have long, long files with the FBI and Miami-Dade Country police. They may be the most notorious Cuban exile terrorists, but they aren't the only ones. Beginning in the 1960's and easily stretching into the late 1990's, there is a long and bloody history of Cuban exile terrorism against Cuban targets, moderate Cuban Americans, and foreign diplomats deemed too friendly with Cuba (The Miami New Times' Jim Mullen compiled quite a list back in 2000). Heck, Alpha 66 still trains in the Everglades.
So, does that history of terrorism plotted on U.S. soil make the United States a state sponsor of terrorism? Or, what about when, in 2006, the Bush Administration refused to classify Posada (a known terrorist who had entered the United States illegally), as a terrorist whom the U.S. could then hold in custody indefinitely (shipping him off to Gitmo sure would have been ironic)? And that, without that classification as a terrorist, a federal judge in Texas recommended Posada be set free? (And by the way he was set free, until the U.S. figured out how to keep charging him on immigration violations, but never classified him as a terrorist.)
I do not have the unenviable job of weighing the terrorists threats we face and making that call for the American people, but I expect whomever does to take the job seriously. In 1989, right before the George H.W. Bush Administration pardoned Orlando Bosch, the other mastermind of the Cubana airliner bombing, Associate Attorney General Joe D. Whitley took that responsibility very seriously, and ordered Bosch be deported:
The United States cannot grant shelter to someone who will, from that shelter, advocate the visitation of injury and death upon the property or person of innocent civilians. The security of this nation is affected by its ability to urge credible other nations to refuse aid and shelter to terrorists, whose target we too often become. We could not shelter Dr. Bosch and maintain our credibility in this respect.
Can anyone imagine an alternate universe in which the United States government doesn't go berserk on the country that finds Osama Bin Laden and then pardons him? Boy, in that context, it's a little easier to see why Cuba gets a little crotchety when we throw the T-word around.
(For the most complete story around on Bosch and Posada, pick up a copy of Without Fidel, A Death Foretold in Miami, Havana and Washington, by Anne Louise Bardach.)
Photo credit: http://static.ibnlive.com/pix/sitepix/12_2009/pj-crowley-headlycase-313.jpg
I must admit that State Department spokesman PJ Crowley sure caught me off guard with his rather huffy response to this this reporter's question on Cuba yesterday:
QUESTION: Is Cuba on the list just because itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s on the state sponsor list, or is there some of these additional concerns also?
MR. CROWLEY: Cuba is a designated state sponsor of terrorism, and we think itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a well-earned designation given their longstanding support for radical groups in the region Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the FLN, FARC, et cetera.
Mr. Crowley surely meant to refer to the ELN, and not the FLN (different continent, different decade, h/t to my colleague Geoff Thale for pointing that out to friends yesterday), one of two leftist rebel groups in Colombia. The FARC and the ELN certainly received support from Cuba in past decades, but the question today is whether they receive any material support from Cuba today, or are allowed to use the territory of Cuba to plot against the Colombian government? I'm not privvy to the current intelligence our government has, so all I have to go on is what the State Department had to say about Cuba sponsoring terrorism back in April 2009:
Although Cuba no longer actively supports armed struggle in Latin America and other parts of the world, the Cuban government continued to provide safe haven to several terrorists. Members of ETA, the FARC, and the ELN remained in Cuba during 2008, some having arrived in Cuba in connection with peace negotiations with the governments of Spain and Colombia. Cuban authorities continued to publicly defend the FARC. However, on July 6, 2008, former Cuban President Fidel Castro called on the FARC to release the hostages they were holding without preconditions. He has also condemned the FARC's mistreatment of captives and of their abduction of civilian politicians who had no role in the armed conflict.
The United States has no evidence of terrorist-related money laundering or terrorist financing activities in Cuba, although Cuba has one of the worldÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s most secretive and non-transparent national banking systems. Cuba has no financial intelligence unit. CubaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Law 93 Against Acts of Terrorism provides the government authority to track, block, or seize terrorist assets.
The Cuban government continued to permit some U.S. fugitivesÃ¢â‚¬â€including members of U.S. militant groups such as the Boricua Popular, or Macheteros, and the Black Liberation Army to live legally in Cuba. In keeping with its public declaration, the government has not provided safe haven to any new U.S. fugitives wanted for terrorism since 2006.
I'm just guessing here, but I'm not so sure that the folks who wrote that in April are the ones who briefed Mr. Crowley before he took the podium yesterday.
Normally I say my piece and I let it go. But sometimes, the point bears repeating, especially when it deals with serious national security questions. It also bears repeating when Eugene Robinson takes it up on the op-ed page in today's Washington Post.
Under new rules prompted by the failed Christmas Day terrorist attack, airline passengers coming to the United States from 14 nations will undergo extra screening: Afghanistan, Algeria, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. For our first quiz of the new decade, which country doesn't fit with the others?
The obvious answer is Cuba, which presents a threat of terrorism that can be measured at precisely zero. Cuba is not a failed state where swaths of territory lie beyond government control; rather, it is one of the most tightly locked-down societies in the world, a place where the idea of private citizens getting their hands on plastic explosives, or terrorist weapons of any kind, is simply laughable.
There is no history of radical Islam in Cuba. In fact, there is hardly any history of Islam at all. With its long-standing paranoia about internal security and its elaborate network of government spies and snitches, the island nation would have to be among the last places on Earth where al-Qaeda would try to establish a cell, let alone plan and launch an attack. Yet Cuba is on the list because the State Department still considers it -- along with Iran, Sudan and Syria -- to be a state sponsor of terrorism.
Really? Despite the fact that the U.S. Interests Section in Havana was one of the few American diplomatic posts in the world to remain open for normal business, with no apparent increased security, in the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks?
Robinson thinks that President Obama should take Cuba off the list once and for all.
Granted, the president already has plenty on his plate. He may be reluctant to introduce yet another variable. It's not hard to imagine a senator or a group of House members holding, say, health-care reform hostage over Cuba policy.
But it's difficult for me to believe that Obama fails to see how insane our current policy really is. He needs to change it -- and he can begin by ceasing to pretend that looking for al-Qaeda terrorists on flights from Cuba is anything but a big waste of time.
Now that I have "predicted" the opening of this debate, allow me to predict that embargo proponents are sure to pile on Robinson, and claim he's offering the Castros the keys to the castle (or at least the lifting of the embargo). But that simply isn't the case. The U.S. embargo is a huge tangle of laws and regulations built up over more than four decades - most of the economic sanctions that would normally go away with taking any country off the terrorism list would still stay in place with respect to Cuba thanks to the late Jesse Helms (author of the 1996 Helms-Burton Act, which significantly tightened the embargo on Cuba).
If removed from the terrorism list, Cuba would still not be able to import or export most anything to or from the U.S., nor receive private or public credit terms, nor receive U.S. foreign assistance . . . you get the point.
So the real benefit of taking Cuba off of the terrorism list goes to the United States itself. Removing the one country everyone believes no longer belongs there could increase the credibility and impact of such a list. And so long as we lack a clear and consistent standard for why one country is on the list and another one isn't (there is broad consensus that Cuba remains on the list for domestic political reasons), the rest of the world may take our fight against terrorism that much less seriously. Worse, it causes us to waste precious resources we need focused on the real threats to our country.
So, yeah, what he said.
Photo credit: http://boardingarea.com/blogs/flyingwithfish/files/2009/08/jfk_tsa_021.jpg
Responding to the attempted bombing of a U.S. airliner on Christmas day, the Transportation Security Administration has issued new regulations for travelers bound for the United States who either hold a passport issued by, or who are departing from or transiting through, a country on the State Department's state sponsors of terrorism list - which includes Cuba. (In addition, the new security measures will apply travelers from 10 other countries of "concern".)
I've put in an inquiry to the Department of Homeland Security's public affairs office to learn a bit more about what these regulations will mean for U.S. citizens and permanent residents who travel to Cuba for work or to visit family. Until I get my answers, I can only guess how these regulations will be implemented. But I think it is pretty safe to say that these regulations could spark a debate in Miami and Washington about whether it's time to remove Cuba from the terrorism list.
In 2001, there were 7 countries on the State Department's list: Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan and Syria. Today there are just 4: Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria. After reading the State Department's 2009 'rap sheet' on each of these countries, you might wonder which of these countries is not like the other? Here's what it looked like in 2006, in 2000, and in 1993.
While the Obama Administration may not be ready to normalize relations with Cuba just yet, you have to wonder whether it makes sense to keep Cuba on the terrorism list in an age when fewer states sponsor terrorism but many more tolerate or fail to stop the groups and individuals who plot against the United States in some of the most lawless corners of the world.
This is an issue that has been raised repeatedly by Congress and addressed by the Government Accountability Office in 2008, which found that the U.S. applies resources to enforcing Cuba-related sanctions that could otherwise be applied to more grave terrorist threats. And if these new regulations mean that travelers arriving from Cuba will receive full pat downs and baggage inspections upon their arrival in Miami, you can imagine the renewed strain it could put on U.S. security resources there.
Are full body pat downs on as many as 200,000 Cuban Americans who are expected to travel to Cuba to visit their family annually a good use of resources? Particularly when the airport nearly all of them are traveling through - Miami - is the same airport through which many, many other international travelers (including several of the 9-11 hijackers) reach the United States.
How will the Cuban American community react to being treated like a higher potential terrorist threat every time they travel home? Over time, could the new inspection policy toward terrorist list countries rile a community that is increasingly ready to throw off old and counterproductive policies toward Cuba? And how long will it take for Congress to start asking questions about the outsize drain on security-focused resources now that nearly all Cuban Americans can travel home to Cuba whenever they want?
Most of all, won't it seem more than a little ironic that the United States continues to accept Cubans who reach the United States illegally (and fast track them to green card status within a year), but that those same Cubans will then have to be double and triple checked to get back in the United States when they visit their family? If Cuba truly were a terrorist threat to the United States, surely the Department of Homeland Security would only accept only those illegal arrivals who could prove a political asylum case.
The State Department is slated to update its overview on terrorism at the end of April this year. But the President can remove a country from the list at any time, provided he submits proper notice and explanation to Congress first. To learn more about how Cuba got on the State Department's terrorism list, why it remains today, and the removal process, flip to page 29 in this resource guide I wrote for the Lexington Institute.
News flash: The four candidates vying to become the junior U.S. senator from Florida - Charlie Crist, Kendrick Meek, Maurice FerrÃƒÂ©, and Marco Rubio - all agree: Cuba: bad. U.S. policy: good. The Miami Herald reports that each candidate supports democracy for Cuba and takes a "tough line" on how to get it.
Could someone please enlighten me, how is this news?
The four candidates all professed their positions at a forum hosted by the U.S. Cuba Democracy PAC, which has donated more than $1 million dollars in campaign cash over the last five years to candidates who back its hard-line, pro-embargo approach to U.S. Cuba policy. (If you want to know more about campaign contributions and how it affects Congressional voting patterns, the watchdog group Public Campaign issued a detailed report here.)
Frankly, the only thing that could have made this event newsworthy would have been for any of the candidates to break away from the pack (or the PAC). But none of them did.
Only in Miami could a politician get away with literally putting the interests of another nation ahead of the interests of our own. Democrat and former Miami mayor Maurice FerrÃƒÂ©: "The quest for an open, democratic and free Cuba has to guide all of the United States' actions with respect to Cuba."
Cuban American Republican Marco Rubio took it even farther, waging a war against the very interests of the state he would represent:
[H]ave we arrived at a point in our history when we think that to sell rice and livestock to a tyranny is more important than upholding the founding principles of this country? Are we prepared to say that sending tourists to Havana is more important than many words that the birth of this nation made possible?
Where is the would-be senator who will turn to Rubio and respond:
I understand your frustration with the Castro regime and I share it. But it is our job to protect the jobs and interests of Floridians during this time of economic uncertainty. I don't see how it helps the Cuban people to deny them the best Florida has to offer, so they can buy food instead from China and Brazil instead.
And then, maybe she'd say this too:
And, like you, I hold dear the values of our American democracy. But I don't see how it helps Floridians, or Cubans, for us to follow Fidel Castro's example, and police the movements of our citizens. We cannot help the Cuban people gain more rights by restricting them here in America.