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
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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.
Shortly after the birth of my daughter earlier this spring, a dear friend came from far away to visit. Naturally, she wanted to know, how are things with Cuba? Surely Obama is changing things, right, she wondered? Perhaps it was the sleep deprivation talking, but I was feeling cranky and pessimistic, and I said, “This issue never moves!” To which she replied – to my horror – “I guess we’ll have to wait for (Fidel) Castro to die.”
It’s not that I harbor any great love for Fidel Castro. It's not about Castro at all, and that's the point. It can be mighty frustrating to have to explain over and over again that waiting isn't a policy, and even if it were, the conflict simply isn't about Fidel Castro anymore. As Republican Senator Mike Enzi likes to say about U.S. Cuba policy, if you keep doing what you've always done, you'll keep getting what you've already got. And yet, waiting is the predominant American viewpoint when it comes to Cuba; nothing can or should change until Fidel goes. But the reality is that the so-called biological solution is no solution at all.
Fidel Castro has been out of power (if not influence) for 7 years now. In order to try to right his sinking ship, Raul Castro has steadily been dismantling many of the economic – and even some political – policies that his older brother either endorsed or neglected. Does anyone truly believe that anything will change either in Cuba or in the bilateral relationship as a result of his exit from the scene? Surely not; whatever change his exit might have ushered in, that moment came and went in 2006 when he gave up the reins of power for the first time since gaining them a half a century ago.
Both the U.S. and Cuban governments have botched this thing over and over, and, arguably, haven’t always wanted reconciliation or normalization or any other nuanced form of moving on. Over the last several years, the Obama administration’s policy toward Cuba has been something of a work in progress. Openings to travel and exchange have been slow, at times arbitrarily approved, but in the end, have proliferated. The president’s call for a new beginning in the relationship was followed largely by more of the same when it came to USAID programming, which is not your usual development programming in partnership with the host country. And when the U.S. had the opportunity to send a message, a gesture, by sending one of the Cuban Five who was released on parole back to Cuba instead, we didn’t. (Did we really want him on U.S. soil, anyway?)
Plenty has gone awry on the Cuban side too, starting and ending with the vague and changing approach taken concerning an American USAID sub-contractor who has served more than 3 years in Cuban prison now. He’s become essentially a bargaining chip, like it or not, intended or not, in a negotiation that never took place. And for all the constructive proposals Cuban diplomats insisted they were putting on the table, everyone on both sides knew the U.S. was unwilling to budge without Alan Gross back home.
Both sides seemed to be waiting for something that just wasn’t happening.
But something is happening now. It appears that Secretary of State John Kerry doesn’t want to wait anymore. Where his predecessor allowed talks on several fronts to stall – insisting no further progress could be made without movement on the Gross case – Kerry has chosen to move ahead with them again. Who can say whether restarting talks on migration and direct mail this summer was intended to convince the Cubans to release Alan Gross (I doubt it’s enough, if he must be traded), or whether they went back to the table because that’s what diplomats do. Either way, it’s a small but welcome step forward.
One more thing: As I prepared to post this piece, I remembered that the U.S. has just let Rene Gonzalez, the first of five Cuban intelligence agents to be released on parole from U.S. prison, go to (and stay in) Cuba, about a year before his parole was to have ended. Whereas the Justice Department opposed letting Gonzalez remain in Cuba when he was first released, it has reversed itself and now saying it better serves U.S. national security for him to be outside of the United States.
I expect Cuban government officials were quick to make clear that this in no way is equal to sending Alan Gross home (he has served perhaps 20% of his total sentence so far, and this issue of parity is something Cuban officials have raised in public and private). But coming as it does at the beginning of a new Secretary's tenure, one who has historically been in favor of a fresh approach to the U.S.-Cuba conflict, I expect they may still have taken the development as a gesture of good faith from Kerry (surely he weighed in with the Justice Department on the potential foreign policy implications of opposing or supporting Gonzalez's request). It's now up to both sides to keep the ball rolling.
Niall O'Leary from New York teaches Irish dancing to the company of Danzas Retazos, an FfRD people to people program
I have been away from thehavananote for too long.
It was great when OFAC finally gave us a people-to-people license, but making sure our trips to Cuba went well during the winter/spring high season became all consuming. (Our next one is an introduction to Cuban universities, June 14-24).
I find that on a time sensitive basis most of my writing has tended to be in the comment section of mainstream media articles. My presumption has been that one gets to a different audience, even if the level of discourse is too often at the level of repetition and name calling.
I am posting below with minimal editing selected recent comments and the link to the original article in hope they have some broader interest to readers.
We also published a newsletter last week that is available here.
And if you have not read it, take a look at an article by Patrick Ryan a former U.S. diplomat who authored the 2007-09 Country Reports on Terrorism for Nigeria and visited Cuba many times on official business. He is not particularly sympathetic to the government, but argues:
I believe keeping Cuba on the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism is absurd and highly political
Fund for Reconciliation and Development
We lost a friend and a courageous advocate for US democracy with the untimely passing of former Representative Bob Edgar, the President of Common Cause. When Bob was President of the National Council of Churches, he played an important role in the return of Elian to his father. More recently, with the support of the Ford Foundation, he became a leader in the effort to acknowledge the long term impact of the defoliant Agent Orange which the US sprayed widely in Vietnam.