More Migration Reform: Cuba Opens Door to Many Illegal Emigres, Defectors

After issuing reforms to its migration law last week which will give most Cubans the right to freely travel abroad without getting permission first, the Cuban government has just announced it will allow tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Cubans who left Cuba illegally in the last two decades to return to the island for visits. This will include not only many defectors but also rafters who headed to the United States during the economic crisis that peaked in 1994 and 1995.

There are several key implications of this new policy. First, and most importantly, it is another significant step in the normalization of relations with the Cuban diaspora. Certainly, any visits made by these Cubans abroad will bring economic benefits to the island. But allowing more Cubans to return to the island of their birth will help accelerate the warming trend between the island and its diaspora. More Cuban Americans, for instance, will now have a stake in U.S. policies that increase their access to the island - and their relatives' access to the U.S. They will also be less inclined to press for or support sanctions that could harm their loved ones or that could jeopardize this new, more open relationship with the island.

But will the strongest opponents of the Cuban government welcome these reforms? Not necessarily. These reforms and their impact on Cuban Americans' attitudes only spell trouble for the U.S. embargo. More and more, it's unclear who really wants the policy to stay in place, and a day will come when the momentum will shift to the reformers, rather than remaining with a dwindling number of supporters of the isolationist status quo.

In particular, Cuba's new migration policies could put pressure on key elements of the embargo, such as the wet-foot, dry-foot policy, and even the Cuba Adjustment Act. Each of these policies was created for Cubans fleeing the island. Together they make it easier for Cubans to arrive illegally and to apply for a green card in just one year's time. With so many Cubans able to come and go without persecution by the Cuban government, what remains the basis for these policies?

A U.N. Resolution at a Crossroads: Traditional Values and LGBT Advocacy in Cuba

I had expected to see and contribute to post-debate analyses here at THN of what the presidential candidates said and meant vis-a-vis Cuba on Monday. But Cuba didn't even get a single mention in third and final presidential debate, which was focused on foreign policy and also just happened to take place in Florida. All in all, I think that was good news. Obviously Governor Romney didn't think it would earn him any extra votes to critique the president's Cuba policies, and President Obama likewise seemed comfortable letting his policies stand (rather than walk them back). The Washington Office on Latin America's Geoff Thale offers his thoughts here on "The Dog that Didn't Bark."

In the meantime, I invite readers to check out this thoughtful post below submitted to us by guest blogger Dan Egol. Dan is a Middlebury College senior and political science major who studied abroad in Havana last fall. He writes in the hope of fostering greater engagement and communication between American and Cuban communities. While THN readers are quite familiar with the U.N. resolution on the U.S. embargo presented by Cuba each October when the General Assembly meets , I'd wager we don't give as much thought to other resolutions on which the United States and Cuba might agree or disagree. And Dan has highlighted an issue that should offer the two countries an opportunity to get on the same side.


A U.N. Resolution at a Crossroads: Traditional Values and LGBT Advocacy in Cuba

As significant economic and political reforms continue introducing new modes of business ownership and career paths to Cuba, forums for wider cultural debates are surfacing. This shift has presented Cuban society with an opportunity to become more open and inclusive to previously marginalized community members as it adapts to these changes. However, Cuba’s support for passing the United Nations Human Rights Council resolution A/HRC/21/L2, which seeks to approach human rights defense through the lens of traditional values, raises important questions about its commitment to protecting the rights of marginalized minority groups. A traditional values framework for human rights can have questionable implications for historically disenfranchised minorities, especially for LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) Cubans because tradition may be used as a justification for discrimination. Although the Cuban delegation voted in support of this problematic resolution just a few weeks ago, this decision should not overshadow the commendable strides Cuba has made by allowing an authentic LGBT right’s movement to emerge in recent years.

Grassroots advocates, such as El Proyecto Arco Iris, or the Rainbow Project,[i] have arisen to push the movement for LGBT rights forward in recent months. In late July of this year, the Rainbow Project held its equivalent of a Cuban gay pride with a “kissing” campaign to make Cuba’s LGBT community visible to the wider public. Las Isabelas[ii], a lesbian support network, has also come to the fore as an all women’s group seeking to educate the public on issues of sexual health and gender equality. With counterparts Oremi (La Habana) and Fenix (Cienfuegos), Las Isabelas helped put together the first National Lesbian Workshop in 2009, which continues today. Although small in numbers (there are currently 32 women involved with Las Isabelas), the group receives administrative support and guidance from Mariela Castro and her team at CENESEX (The National Center for Sexual Education). Both groups collaborate for educational campaigns to raise awareness about sexual rights and discrimination.

Anti-engagement American hardliners may still grumble over Mariela Castro’s State Department issued visa to attend the 2012 Latin American Studies Association Conference; however, Mariela Castro’s body of work on sex education and advocacy on behalf of women and sexual minorities, not her familial ties to the Castro regime, distinguish her as a noteworthy voice in the discussion of gay rights in Cuba.

Havana One-Ups Washington on Travel. Can Obama and Romney Avoid the Issue?

Cuba's welcome announcement of the end of the exit visa travel restriction poses two challenges to the Obama Administration:

1) Political

Cuba is giving its citizens more freedom to travel to the US than the US gives its citizens to travel to Cuba. The White House should respond by using its power to allow all non tourist travel to Cuba without applying for a license, our equivalent of the White Card. It must also press Congress to abolish all travel restrictions.

2) Legal

The Cuban Adjustment Act and wet foot dry foot policy must be suspended and repealed. With Cubans free to travel to Mexico and Canada, 'step across the border' economic migration will become a bigger problem.

I wonder whether this increases the likelihood of  Cuba coming up during next Monday's Presidential debate in Florida on foreign policy .

A general question will produce similar anti-regime boilerplate from both candidates.  The glaring contrast is on travel .

Cuba's New Migration Law: Raul Castro's First Political Reform

After literally years upon years of rumors that the Cuban government was planning to implement migration reforms, today, finally it did indeed publish significant changes to Cuba's migration law in the Gaceta Oficial (see the file attachment at the end of this post). After several years of economic reforms, some of which came ever so slowly and others of which seemed to cycle out rather quickly, such as new rules for property sales, these changes to Cuban migration law represent the first substantial political reform enacted by Raul Castro's government.

On the one hand, this is a huge step forward for both the Cuban government and the Cuban population. The elimination of the 'tarjeta blanca', or white card policy, which required Cubans to be invited abroad and receive authorization to go, and the new broad right to a passport, spelled out in black and white, represents a new level of trust that hasn't existed between the Cuban population at large and its government in many years. The new migration policy also doubles the time a Cuban may live abroad without relinquishing citizenship (and possessions left behind) to 2 years, and then after that, one must seek additional months at a Cuban consulate.

On the other hand, there are several caveats, some obvious and inocuous, and others that, depending on how broadly they are used by authorities, still mean that several categories of Cubans may not benefit from these changes, or will at the very least, have to wait to benefit.

When Thinkers Collide: USAID Offers Cuba Grant to NAF

This weekend, I was gearing up to blog about why a Chavez defeat in Venezuela may not have spelled complete and immediate disaster in Cuba. I was percolating up some pretty plausible arguments. But, with Chavez’s win, Cubans at least have been spared that conversation, for now.

I might have been left without anything interesting at all to write about, were it not for the investigative reporting of veteran Cuba reporter and blogger, Tracey Eaton, who through his Cuba Money Project has done some of the finest grain investigating into USAID’s controversial Cuba programs that anyone has undertaken. Tracey learned of a big new USAID grant to the New America Foundation, which as readers well know, is home to the US-Cuba Policy Initiative founded by Steve Clemons and led by yours truly.

The grant, which Tracey notes is the second one awarded to NAF’s fast-growing, fast-moving Open Technology Institute, is a big one: $4.3 million. I wasn’t surprised to hear of another grant, though I wasn’t aware of it, having known that OTI had received previous U.S. government support. But I was certainly surprised to learn this one was awarded under USAID’s Cuba program. As I told Tracey, I’m not involved in any USAID grants – and I frankly don’t want to be. I think I’m pretty clearly on record in my belief that USAID’s programs in Cuba have largely failed in their objectives and are in fact often counterproductive to anyone associated with them.

Paul Ryan's Visit to Versailles and the Future of Cuban American Hardliners' Clout

Can hardline Cuban American voters, particularly those for whom supporting the U.S. embargo of Cuba is the granddaddy of all litmus tests, really trust in Paul Ryan’s change of heart on Cuba, as reinforced by his visit this weekend to Versailles restaurant in Miami, the soul of the hardline Cuban American community? Probably not. But they don’t have to trust his change of heart; they merely need to be reassured by the display of it. It’s no small thing to have a record as long and clearly in favor of engaging Cuba and ending the embargo as the one Paul Ryan is doing his best to bury, and then to come out publicly as the Republicans’ candidate for vice president and insist you now understand thanks to the guiding light of your Cuban American friends in Congress. This is not to say that Ryan (or any politician in his position) can’t take back his flip flop, but it would certainly be very awkward. And that’s going to have to be enough for embargo supporters in Miami.

Paul Ryan was obviously chosen for the ticket for reasons other than his stance on Cuba policy and that means that the hardliners in Congress, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and the brothers Diaz-Balart (one of whom has retired to pave the way for a political career in the Cuba he envisions one day), who all wisely backed Romney early on, did what they do best. They made lemonade with the lemon Romney gave them. In exchange for their impassioned endorsements, he said everything they wanted him to say...."clamp down on the Castro regime," "[Obama's] policy of appeasement," and "we will be tough on this brutal dictator."

In the end, the few Cuban Americans for whom Cuba is the issue on which they cast their vote are unlikely to stay home because they believe Paul Ryan still opposes the embargo. They’ve seen what President Obama has done in office up to now – which, though by embargo opponents’ standards is woefully little, still looks to them as too much – and they will vote against Obama’s policy, rather than for a Romney-Ryan policy. (Don’t forget that Obama has his own history of opposing the embargo, but his backpedals have been much more nuanced.)

However little they may understand the on the ground dynamics at play on the island today, these Cuba embargo voters are not stupid. They know well that politicians say one thing when they’re free to, and they often say quite another if the right mix of pressures forces them to do so. That mix is a combination of political leaders who stop at nothing in defense of their embargo, and a steady flow of political donations to help lubricate the twisting of arms. A 2009 report by non-profit watchdog Public Campaign tracked the mid-2000's uptick in political donations by pro-embargo groups and the Cuba policy voting records of members of Congress before and after the donations and – shockingly – found money made a difference.

Judy Gross’ Message “from Washington al Mundo”

Mauricio Claver-Carone hosts a satellite radio program by the name “From Washington al Mundo” covering international affairs. But don’t expect any diplomacy there. The program is merely his platform from which to insult the American foreign policy establishment. For example, in his August 6 show, Claver targeted Vali Nasr, the Dean of the School of Advanced Studies of Johns Hopkins University and a leading expert on the Middle East, calling him “a useful idiot” or an agent of Teheran for not advocating a regime change policy and promoting negotiations with Iran. Mr. Claver and his guest Shahriar Etminani agreed that the nuclear issue is mere “noise”.

In another episode, Claver denounced Washington’s engagement with Beijing. On April 17, Claver hosted Thadeus McCotter or “the smartest member of Congress” by Claver's reckoning. The host and the guest shared their belief that as long as the Communist Party is in power, China remains the same. The United States should apply a Cold War policy to China because the war has never ended. According to Claver’s logic, the 40- year Nixon-Kissinger model of “unconditional” and “nonchalant” engagement with China is a case of “myopia”. It should be replaced by a “confrontational” approach. After Tiananmen Square, the United States should have applied to China a policy similar to our fifty year failure against Cuba: the embargo.

While Miami burns... Obama and Cuban-American politics


In this year's election, half of Cuban-Americans who are eligible to vote either came from Cuba after 1994 or grew up in the United States. Unfortunately, the White House is passing up the opportunity to hold a rational discussion of Washington’s policy towards Cuba.  

A Cuban-American anti-embargo activist. Flickr/ Some rights reserved.A Cuban-American anti-embargo activist. Flickr/ Some rights reserved.

US policy towards Latin America has paid a substantial price for President Obama’s kowtowing to the Miami hard-right wing. For example, Venezuela withdrew from the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights of the Organization of the Americas (OAS), and there is a chance that no Summit of the Americas will happen in 2015 unless the United States changes its position on Cuba’s participation. Several countries in the Americas, from Nicaragua to Ecuador, spent years without a US ambassador due to Senator Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) obstructionist caprice.

U.S.-Cuba Conflict: The Minefields in Our Imagination

As stunned Americans struggle to fathom the violence unleashed against the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya two nights ago – which, like anti-American protests in Egypt and Yemen, was sparked by an anti-Muslim movie trailer posted on You Tube – and which ended in the tragic deaths of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other consulate staff, it boggles the mind that U.S. relations with our neighbor, Cuba, where the only violent extremists who threaten America are to be found at the U.S. prison facility at Guantanamo Bay, can really be such a minefield afterall.

And yet they are. How else to explain the apparent backtracking of the Obama administration on a policy it, yes, this and not some other administration, rolled out more than a year and a half ago, to authorize people-to-people educational travel to the island.  If the speculation is true that the administration bowed to pressures from pro-embargo lawmakers, specifically Senator Marco Rubio, who was holding up the nomination of our top Western Hemisphere diplomat at the time, one would have thought that the beefed up guidance on the policy offered this spring by the Treasury Department – including that travelers justify how any meetings with Cuban government representatives furthers the democratic cause in Cuba – should have been sufficient. But now it seems that scores of organizations are in the lurch, waiting for license renewals that don’t come, and forced to take a loss on their ventures.

An American no one believed would be in jail in Cuba this long remains there more than 2.5 years later – whether his employers complacently assured themselves the Cubans wouldn’t bother with his breaking the law or whether we analysts presumed the Cubans merely intended to make a point about their sovereignty and the U.S. government would admit its mistake (if only to itself) and get our man out. Because Alan Gross, whom his wife now fears won’t live to complete his 15 year sentence in Cuban prison, was our man, sending reports back on his USAID subcontract about the “very risky business” he was undertaking and the "catastrophic" results of discovery by the Cuban government. (Gross traveled to Cuba on a tourist visa five times in 2009 to set up several wi-fi networks that could go undetected by the Cuban government.) And we appear to have no plan yet – or if we do, it surely won’t appear until after the November elections – to secure his release other than to make demands that we know are backed up with zero leverage. There are those who imagine we have such leverage and insist the administration is too weak-kneed to wield it. It’s a convenient hypothesis that decades of unresolved strife with Havana ought to have dispelled by now.

Meanwhile, the semiannual migration talks, cancelled in a huff by the Bush administration – whose Cuba policy candidate Obama criticized – in early 2004 and restarted by the Obama administration in 2009, have again stalled for over a year now. Apparently stemming the tide of illegal Cuban migration, or even maintaining across-the-table talks for the sake of remembering how to do it, even if we vehemently disagree, is just not that high a priority anymore. It’s the sort of diplomacy that only hurts our interests.

After Tampa: US Hispanics and the GOP.


Governor Mitt Romney's decision to choose Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate has two implications for the Republican Party's image among Latino voters: 1) After a Republican primary in which the candidates did everything imaginable to burn bridges with the Latino electorate, Romney, who even said the solution for more than twelve million undocumented immigrants is that they "deport themselves", decided not to repair relationships by choosing a Latino candidate for vice president. 2) Congressman Paul Ryan is one of the most consistent Republican legislators voting against the US embargo on Cuba since he arrived in the House of Representatives.

It is not that Romney did not want a Latino on his ticket; it is rather that his options were risky. The Latino electorate is sophisticated enough to not be led into the Republican camp only by a surname. Neither Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who never honored his pledge to present a bill that would provide a path to legalization for undocumented children, nor the governor of New Mexico Susana Martinez, a model of a successful conservative Latina with a more flexible approach to immigration, were tested candidates. Martinez is in her first term in New Mexico. Rubio is good at smiling but has several burning credit cards scandals and a family narrative that changes at every minute.