Just as the travel season ramps up for the holidays, Cuba has announced that it must cease issuing passports and visas because it can't find a new bank to handle financial transactions (Reuters story here and AP here.)
The State Department is trying to solve the immediate problem by helping the Cuban Interests Section find a new bank. However, the crisis may demand more. It offers a logical opportunity for the Obama administration to sustain its committment to purposeful travel. The White House should roll back OFAC's domestic and international assault on dollar transactions with and by Cuba that began in the Bush era but escalated under Obama..
That would not only solve the immediate problem of how to continue family, academic, religious and people to people travel, but also end widely despised extraterritorial economic warfare--and encourage the Cubans to end the 10 % surcharge on dollar exchanges, benefiting both remittances and licensed travelers.
Progresso Weekly on the left reported
José Pertierra, a Washington-based attorney of Cuban origin, said that “due to the blockade and the fact that Cuba is incredibly on the list of countries that support terrorism, the banking rules facing any bank that dares to accept the Interests Section as a client are so, so cumbersome that it becomes more expensive for the bank to have Cuba as a client than to refuse to provide banking services to it.”“The problem is not the banks, it’s the government. In this country, banks are a business. The fines imposed on banks that allegedly break the blockade are astronomical and the laws are extraterritorial.”
A path is emerging toward US policy change with Cuba.
There have been several versions of President Obama's comments in Miami. Perhaps the most significant because of its semi official character was broadcast by the Voice of American:
Obama Calls for Updated US Policy on Cuba
VOA News November 08, 2013U.S. President Barack Obama says it is time for the United States to revise its policies regarding Cuba.Speaking in Miami Friday, Obama said it doesn't make sense that policies put in place more than 50 years ago would still be effective in the Internet age.The president pointed out that Cuban leader Fidel Castro came into power in 1961, the same year Obama was born. The United States cut off diplomatic relations with Cuba that same year and imposed an economic embargo a year later.The U.S. embargo against Cuba is controversial internationally. In October, the United Nations voted to condemn it for the 22nd time.The Obama administration has engaged in recent discussions with the Cubans on migration and mail, and has relaxed travel and remittance rules for Cuban Americans.http://www.voanews.com/content/obama-us-needs-to-update-policy-on-cuba/1786893.html
It would not be a surprise if President Obama laid groundwork for a significant improvement in US policy toward Cuba in Miami and with prominent dissidents in the room.Will he approve an exchange of prisoners, take Cuba off the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, and grant a general license for all non-tourist purposeful travel, no bureaucratic applications required?Visiting Vietnam drives home our so far wasted opportunity with Cuba and the benefits both countries will receive from normalization of relations.John McAuliffFund for Reconciliation and Development
President Obama is in Miami and said nice things about dissidents (filtered through Juan Tamayo's usually hostile to Havana interpretation in the Miami Herald), but also suggested more is coming on US policy change:
Obama told two of Cuba’s leading dissidents in South Florida that he admires their sacrifices, a rare White House recognition of the peaceful opposition on the communist-ruled island.“The most important thing here was the recognition by the president of the United States, the most powerful democracy in the world,” dissident Guillermo Farinas said minutes after the meeting.Obama also referred to his administration’s decision to relax travel restrictions on Cuba and said, "we’ve started to see changes on the island," adding the U.S. needs to be "creative and thoughtful" and continue to update out Cuba policies.
If memory serves, Farinas sits on the pro-travel restrictions pro-embargo side of the dissident community although he has obviously profited from both countries' liberalization.
The President's comment on his travel initiative could be read as a refutation to Farinas and explain Farinas language about "the most important thing here", which implies Obama said things he was not so happy about.
Fund for Reconciliation and Development
Links and resources
Is something about to break on US Cuba relations? The statement below by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen just showed up on the ultra hard line Babalu Blog; Reading between the lines, she seems worried that an Alan Gross deal is in the works and is trying to derail it.
If this were just a routine arrest anniversary blast against Havana, why do it a month in advance? If a prisoner swap is not a credible option, why even mention it? Is linking a specific up until now conventional demand to an unattainable rhetorical goal an indicator that the game is up?
Samantha Power, Permanent Representative of the United States to the United Nations
It is an anomaly or worse that the most international of US Presidents finds himself so isolated in the face of world opinion on the issues of drone use and NSA surveillance.
But these are difficult problems in which serious US security interests are at stake and the weight of domestic politics, conventional wisdom and powerful government agencies resist dramatic change. Nevertheless, one senses a serious effort by the White House to address both problems.
The US will be even more embarrassingly isolated at the United Nations on October 29th when once again our embargo of Cuba is condemned by virtually the entire world. Only a supremely hypocritical Israel will stand by our side, as its own people freely vacation, invest and work on the island.
Yet in this instance there is no significant US interest at stake, no government agency is invested (except possibly OFAC), and there is little public support beyond a shrinking special interest group.
Our nation would be far better served by the improvement of US standing in Latin America, most significantly with Brazil, and in Europe; and by the opportunity to cooperate directly with Cuba on control of regional drug and people trafficking, etc.
The news that a North Korean freighter allegedly stuffed with “sophisticated missile equipment” has been intercepted crossing the Panama Canal from Cuba must have many people talking, scratching their heads, and perhaps even flashing back to the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Is history repeating itself? Or is this just a bizarre (badly-executed?) example of Cuba’s knack for extending the life of hold-overs from a bygone era? Are these the military equivalent of Cuba’s famous maquinas, the mid-century American classic cars seemingly impossibly rumbling through the streets of Cuban cities more than half a century later, not out of novelty but necessity?
Let’s start with the fact that there’s plenty we don’t know yet. The Cuban Foreign Ministry has released a statement admitting to the weaponry on board the vessel, and explained the following:
'[T]he vessel was carrying 240 tonnes of obsolete defensive weapons - two anti-aircraft missile complexes, nine missiles in parts and spares, two MiG 21-Bis fighter planes and 15 MiG engines.
The Cuban statement said they were all made in the mid-20th Century and were to be repaired and returned to Cuba.
"The agreements subscribed by Cuba in this field are supported by the need to maintain our defensive capacity in order to preserve national sovereignty."
The statement also reaffirmed Cuba’s commitment to "peace, disarmament, including nuclear disarmament, and respect for international law".'
Seniors from the Masters School in Dobbs Ferry, NY, meet students from the club at the Lenin School in Havana that is responsible for the science museum
My initial enthusiasm for candidate Barack Obama was based on his biography, and what he wrote about it. With a father from Kenya and a mother who had lived and worked in Indonesia, including with the internationalist Ford Foundation, he seemed unusually qualified to move beyond the democracy evangelism and national chauvinism of George Bush. Growing up black in but-recently-desegregated-America also seemed to provide built in skepticism about US triumphalism.
I particularly welcomed his proclaimed readiness to negotiate with long time adversaries, his use in speeches of the term mutual respect, and his wry approach to the question of US exceptionalism:
"I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism."
Perhaps in a state of denial, I am still inclined to believe Obama is uniquely qualified to change history with Cuba.
Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor on the run who leaked information about top secret surveillance activities at the NSA, didn't board the Aeroflot plane headed for Havana this morning as expected. Snowden, who flew from Hong Kong to Moscow this past weekend, was expected to transit Havana next, en route to either Venezuela or Ecuador (and Ecuador's President Correa is considered likely to accept him - afterall, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange remains holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London after more than a year now). Snowden's transit through Havana seemed obvious to many, given the decades-long tensions with the U.S., which is seeking Snowden's return and has charged him with espionage. And Havana has accepted U.S. fugitives since the 1960's - the most notorious of whom has recently been added to the FBI's most wanted list, Joanne Chesimard, a former Black Panther member who killed a New Jersey State Trooper. Many of these fugitives remain on the island today and their status is expected to be addressed in the course of any normalization of relations. So imagine the world's surprise when Snowden didn't turn up for the Havana-bound flight for which he was reportedly booked.
But perhaps not everyone was surprised that Snowden didn't board that flight. In the State Department's 2006 report detailing why it would continue to list Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism, it noted that Cuban authorities had given assurances they would no longer accept "new" U.S. fugitives (whether their crimes were considered political or not). Allowing Snowden to transit Cuba would be a break of faith from that assurance given. Allowing a fugitive to transit your territory is tantamount to giving refuge, as the fugitive wouldn't be able to reach their ultimate destination without the transit stop. My guess is that the message somehow got to Snowden that if he traveled through Cuba he would be detained and possibly even returned to the United States (I suppose an immediate return wouldn't be certain; he would be the highest value fugitive to pass through in quite some time, for sure, and I imagine the Cubans might be tempted to consider whether they could trade him for one or all of their remaining Cuban Five. But such a strategy might backfire, of course).
Perhaps I'll be proven wrong in the days ahead, but I doubt we'll see Edward Snowden turn up in Havana any time soon.