Readers may recall that last week, after Raul Castro offered Cubans hope of reforms to the island's overly restrictive emigration policy, I predicted that sanctions proponents would soon realize that the overly generous Cuban Adjustment Act no longer serves their political interests (Actually, it's the Cuban Refugee Adjustment Act, but the 'refugee' part often gets left out). I had no idea how close to the mark I already was. Early this month, Congressman David Rivera introduced legislation, H.R.2771 that would make Cubans wait five years to get their permanent residency under that Act, thus keeping them from traveling to Cuba in the meantime. In June, he introduced a similar bill, H.R.1644, which would withhold government benefits to refugees who visit countries on the terrorism list (can anyone name any country on that list that anyone would willingly return to other than Cuba??). In office for 8 months and these bills targeting Cuban Americans traveling to Cuba represent 50% of legislation Rivera has authored.
[A bit of quick background: the Cuban Adjustment Act gives the U.S. attorney general the authority to adjust the status of Cubans who arrive in the United States, legally or illegally, to permanent residency after spending one year in the United States. The act was originally passed in 1966 to resolve the immigration limbo of the first wave of Cubans who fled just after Fidel Castro took power. At the time, it was the United States policy to parole in all of those Cubans on a temporary basis until they could return home. But, at odds with Fidel Castro's Revolution, which endured against expectations, those Cubans became exiles, unable or unwilling to return home, and it was for them that the Act was passed.]
The Miami Herald reports that Rivera plans to reintroduce that bill when Congress returns because, rather than withhold the refugee benefits on the front end, he instead intends to propose that the U.S. government revoke the CAA benefits of any Cuban emigre in the United States who returns to the island before five years have passed. In other words, Rivera wants to keep the welcome mat out to Cubans on the basis that they are essentially refugees fleeing a dictatorship, but then slam the door shut if they deign to return to the island.
Not surprisingly, Rivera's idea is controversial, even in the most anti-Castro circles.
Mark Lopes, Sen. Menendez ally at USAID
While we wait for President Raul Castro to set an example by releasing Alan Gross for humanitarian reasons, it is worth considering whether President Obama is still capable of the reset of US-Cuba relations that was put on hold while Gross was imprisoned.
Review the Wikileaks publication of a diplomatic cable from Havana to recall the optimistic atmosphere that prevailed on both sides during Bisa Williams’ visit prior to Alan’s arrest.
Can that atmosphere be restored when the bureaucracy of USAID, backed by closely linked Cuban American hard liners in Congress, seems determined to create further provocation, leading to additional arrests and prosecutions? Under pressure, Senators Kerry and Leahy lifted their hold on $21,000,000 for “democracy” funding, sending good money after bad despite the ostensible preoccupation in Washington to end wasteful government expenditures..
USAID’s planned programs almost sound innocent, except that they are designed to carry out the regime change agenda of the Helms Burton law and are part and parcel of fifty years of unremitting economic warfare, as reported by Tracey Eaton in his invaluable Cuba Money Project blog
- $6 million for programs aimed at increasing free expression among youth ages 12 to 24.
- $6 million to expand Internet use and increase access to information.
- $9 million to support neighborhood groups, cooperatives, sports clubs, church groups and other civil society organizations.
Imagine how Americans would feel if an overtly hostile country undertook similar unauthorized projects in our country despite explicit US laws to the contrary. Wouldn't we be morally outraged at targeting children as young as 12?
Edited by Dawn Gable.
The political battle over the designation of Jonathan Farrar as US ambassador to Nicaragua is a test of whether the Obama Administration lacks any genuine conviction about its foreign policy. Farrar is a professional diplomat with an impeccable thirty years diplomatic career who served a recent term as the Chief of the US Interest Section in Cuba. As a result he became the perfect target of Cuban American hardliners for one, and only one, reason: he implemented Obama’s policy in Havana. Unfortunately for Farrar, the president’s policy is anathema to two Cuban-American Senators: Robert Menendez and Marco Rubio.
The Interests Sections in Havana and Washington are not formal embassies or consulates. Diplomats' movements are restricted and their access to government officials and citizens in both countries is limited. When these entities were created in 1977, under the Carter and Fidel Castro Administrations (Yes, there is a new administration in Havana), they were part of a process of détente and their final purpose was to facilitate negotiations between the two governments and pave the way to a better understanding between the people of Cuba and the United States. This is the source of their legitimacy. They exist with the consent of both governments.
As Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper headed to Brazil, Colombia, Honduras and Costa Rica this week in part of what he hopes will be a revitalization of Canada's engagement in the hemisphere, today's Ottawa Citizen offers this critique by a professor of political studies at University of Prince Edward Island:
"Put simply, official Canadian policy toward Cuba is now curiously mimicking the failed U.S. approach of the former George W. Bush presidency - precisely when the Barack Obama administration is initiating a more moderate and more practical Cuba policy . . ."
". . . [T]he key to Canada actually opening the door to the wider hemisphere is clearly not through Costa Rica, but by fostering closer relations with Havana. But if we fail to cultivate closer ties with the Cubans, our vaunted "Americas Strategy" is necessarily doomed to failure."
Citing Cuba's standing at the UN (last October's vote on the U.S. embargo was 187-2), its 30,000 doctors throughout the hemisphere,its inclusion in the Rio Group (which excludes the United States and Canada), and its leadership of the non-aligned movement, the author, Peter McKenna, makes a strong case for why Canada's 'Americas Strategy" fails to factor in a key country which, "punches far above its international weight class." McKenna warns:
"If the Harper government does not revitalize our engagement policy with the Cubans, Canada faces the very real prospect of jeopardizing its long-standing bilateral advantages and ceding those to the United States and others (including the Chinese)."
How should the U.S. government go about securing the release of Alan Gross, a Jewish American development contractor convicted in Cuba of illegally distributing sophisticated telecommunications equipment to the Cuban Jewish community as part of USAID's democracy building program? Having exhausted all his legal options - Cuba's Supreme Court declined on Friday to overturn his 15 year sentence - Mr. Gross will be stuck in Cuba unless and until Raul Castro decides to give him a humanitarian release.
Should the U.S. heed the advice of the Miami Herald and Jerusalem Post editorial boards, and reverse recently loosened travel restrictions, until Havana releases Gross? Or should it instead make an overture - a serious, legitimately courageous one - as Tim Padgett suggests in a Time magazine blog post, and finally remove Cuba from the State Department's terrorism list, for which there has long been scant evidence?
'We need to clean our heads of all sorts of stupidity. Let's not forget, the first decade of the 21st Century has already passed. It's time." (my translation)
I never thought I'd describe myself as "excited" by a speech made by Raul Castro. Some would say Fidel could hold an audience captive (of course, he often did so simply by holding forth on topic after topic after topic), but Raul isn't exactly known as the gifted, charismatic orator. Yet, with his latest speech to the Cuban National Assembly this week, he's beginning to prove that his leadership style, too, can inspire confidence by speaking plainly and conveying conviction, compassion, and determination.
Before anyone accuses me of being too easy to please - and it's the Cuban people he has to please - let's remember that Cubans desperately need leaders who will cut the ideological crap and really tackle the truly pressing economic troubles they now face. (Sound familiar to anyone here in Washington?) I'd argue that that is exactly what Raul Castro appears to be doing.
"More than once I've said that our worst enemy is not imperialism, and least of all its paid agents here on native soil, but our own errors, which, if analyzed deeply and honestly, will become lessons to avoid repeating them." (my translation)
In the speech, Raul reflects on economic changes that have been made and those that are still ahead. And for those who have been exasperated at the slow pace of change over the last several years, or, for those who have been dragging their feet because the status quo benefits or comforts them, he offers both an explanation and a warning:
While Washington has so far spent the better part of 2011 wrangling over how to contain a soaring deficit and set the federal budget on a more sustainable path, Cuban policymakers have continued their quest to reorganize the Cuban economy before government costs and citizens' unmet needs finally break a system long recognized as unsustainable.
"Updating" Cuba's economy ("reform" is a word more often employed by outside observers to understand what's at work in Cuba right now) has required harnessing productive energies of a newly emerging private sector to deliver goods and services best provided by it, so that the state can focus what resources it has on essential sectors such as education and healthcare. This has entailed encouraging small private entrepreneurs - cuentapropistas - many of them in the service sector, to work in nearly 200 trades, and, it's long been expected, turning over the retail sector to the private sector in the form of cooperatives. Much updating remains to be done to make these changes really work and work well - such as providing access to credits, creating wholesale markets for the new businesses, building a tax code to regulate the new businesses without stifling them, and, most elusive of all, creating conditions under which Cuban customers will have the purchasing power to help establish these businesses.
But we haven't seen much change in terms of retail sector cooperatives since the state first began experimenting two years ago with authorizing barbershop and salon employees to rent their spaces, buy their own materials, pay taxes and charge whatever the market will bear. Come October, Cuba's government daily, Granma, reports more businesses, such as locksmiths, cafeterias and coffeeshops, will join the experiment, and begin leasing underutilized streetside shop space currently occupied by the state. Hopefully the list of newly cooperatized businesses will be substantial. And, hopefully, the salon experiment has taught government regulators what worked well and what didn't.
Much remains to be done in Cuba's economic restructuring process, and not surprisingly, Cubans grumble both at the slow pace of change and the pain of essential changes that hurt in the short run. Yet, considering the starting point (with the state running even the tiniest bodega), that the process continues is very encouraging. This week, Cuba's parliament is expected to pass legislation to adopt many of the economic changes that have been under consideration for months.
[This is an slightly updated version of a post from last Friday, when for some reason, many of our subscribers didn't get the feed. Let's hope that's resolved now.]
In The Miami Herald this week:
"Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart's efforts to tighten travel to Cuba stand a good chance despite a presidential veto threat."
That subhead sure sounds exciting, but I just don't buy it. On what basis does The Herald reach this conclusion? On the push-messaging of a pro-restrictions lobbyist, an unidentified Democratic Hill staffer, and Joe Garcia, a former Congressional candidate in South Florida who, I would guess, wants to make sure that Miami Cubans who want their travel rights protected don't sleep through this defining moment.
Last week's full page ad taken out in El Nuevo Herald by the Cuban American Commission for Family Rights warning that families are "in danger of losing their rights" suggests pro-travel Cuban Americans aren't taking any chances. Now, with the all-out assault on the Obama administration's Cuba travel reforms over the last two years included in the House Foreign Affairs Committee Foreign Authorization markup this week, how bad is it for Cuba policy reformers, really?
I'd like to clear up an issue that Capitol Hill Cubans' Mauricio Claver-Carone has repeatedly raised: how many Cuban Americans are actually choosing to return to the island now that President Obama has authorized nearly unlimited travel for those with family on the island? Unfortunately, this question is not as easy to answer as he might think.
Claver-Carone cites a statistic offered by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez back in January 2010, which was close to 300,000 Cuban Americans traveling to Cuba in the previous year. But Claver-Carone doubts that this many individuals are actually traveling and surmises that this number only tells us the number of passengers on flights coming from Miami. But with the caps on visits now lifted, Claver-Carone figures that these 300,000 passengers are certainly making more than one trip a year (emphasis below is original, not added):
"If each of the 300,000 Cuban-American passengers averages two visits -- which is a very conservative estimate -- then only 150,000 Cuban-American visitors traveled to Cuba last year.
Of course, that's not useful for Castro's propaganda."
I'd like to thank the Cuba Transition Project on this slow (Cuba) news Friday for its latest paper in its "Information Service" series released this week, entitled, "Cuban Government Espionage Targets the U.S. Government." In the past, I've taken the project to task for what I consider to be lazy and even misleading reporting. This time, aside for its unfair swipe at a former Naval War College professor, Alberto Coll, I'm not so offended at the evidence presented - it's a basically accurate retelling of facts that have long been in the public domain. What's so silly is that this hard-hitting expose on Cuban espionage - which the author insists is "active" today - tells us absolutely nothing we don't already know, and nothing one could reasonably consider, "active".
"For the past decades, Castro agents have systematically infiltrated the U.S. government. Other U.S. institutions such as the press, universities, and think tanks have also been espionage targets of the Cuban government. But for Cuba, the most fruitful results have been obtained from infiltrating the U.S. Departments of Defense and State, and partnering with a former official of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency."
I doubt anyone would deny that Cuba, like many other nations, works to place its agents in and outside of U.S. government to learn more about and influence U.S. policies dealing directly with Cuba and with other subjects of interest. Such activities are something the United States is prepared for, even from its closest allies, and must continually work to disrupt. (Anyone remember the latest case involving our close ally Israel, in which a Defense Department official passed classified information to two American Israeli Political Action Committee employees, who passed it to the Government of Israel? No? That's because the official, Lawrence Franklin got 10 months house arrest, and the case against the AIPAC employees was dismissed.)
It is most certainly true that the Cuban government really struck it rich, so to speak, with Ana Belen Montes, the former Defense Intelligence Agency official now serving time in prison for her crime. And while we don't know exactly what they gleaned from Walter and Gwendolyn Myers' spying, we can safely assume it was quite a lot over the many years that they spied for Cuba. But isn't it stretching a 2011 white paper's newsiness just a bit to include a former CIA official in your lead paragraph when that official, Philip Agee, left the agency 42 - forty two! - years ago?