Hillary Clinton On Cuba Questions: I Give Her a "C+"

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Richard Lugar (R-IN) submitted quite a number of written questions (pdf here) to Hillary Clinton to answer as part of the process of the Senate considering her nomination as Secretary of State.

I've always been impressed by Lugar's shrewd sense of the geostrategic order and what the opportunities for action and change are -- and aren't. During the first round of Petraeus/Crocker hearings about the surge in Iraq, it was Lugar's opening statement that was the most compelling critique of the Bush administration's absence of strategy. In fact, it was Lugar who essentially implied that the surge was more tactic than strategy and demanded to know more about the other moving parts of America's foreign policy game plan in the Middle East.

If folks have time, they should read through this instructive document as it provides a quick and comprehensive lesson in American foreign policy and national security issues.

The Cuba questions posed by Lugar interest me today. He had several, and I'll provide Senator Lugar's questions and Hillary Clinton's responses here (page 58-59):


101. The fiftieth anniversary of the Cuban Revolution on January 1, 2009, presents an auspicious moment to reexamine the contentious US-Cuban relationship. Please provide your views on reviewing all elements of Cuba policy.

There are many ways that we can send a message to the Cuban people that the United States intends to play a positive role in their future. President-Elect Obama believes the Cuban-Americans especially can be important ambassadors for change in Cuba. As such, he believes that it makes both moral and strategi sense to lift the restrictions on family visits and family cash remittances to Cuba. We do not currently have a timeline for the announcement of such a new policy, and the Obama-Biden Administration will consult closely with Congress as we prepare the change.

President-Elect Obama also believes that it is not time to lift the embargo on Cuba, especially since it provides an important source of leverage for further change on the island.

102. Despite the official embargo, agricultural trade represents a significant area of interaction between the United States and Cuba. Since the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act (TSRA) of 2000 lifted sanctions on sales of agricultural commodities and medicine, the U.S. has become Cuba's most important food provider, although many restrictions and licensing requirements remain in place. Please provide your view on expanding trade with Cuba.

We anticipate a review of U.S. policy regarding sales of agricultural commodities to Cuba and look forward to working with members of the Committee and other members of Congress as we move forward in the consideration of appropriate steps to take to help advance U.S. interests and values in the context of relations with Cuba.

103. The United States has pursued cooperation with Cuba in drug interdiction on a very limited case-by-case basis. Please provide your views on a broad formalized agreement or Memorandum of Understanding between the U.S. and Cuba in order to improve coordination of anti-drug efforts and provide for exchange of information.

Given the threat posed by narcotics trafficking, it is important to cooperate with Cube where such cooperation is effective in stopping trafficking.

104. Cuba has been on the State Department's State Sponsors of Terrorism list since 1982. Please provide your views regarding why Cuba should or should not remain on the State Department's State Sponsors of Terrorism list.

We anticipate a review of US policy regarding Cuba and look forward to working with members of the Committee and other members of Congress as we move forward to the consideration of appropriate steps to take to help advance US interests and values in the context of relations with Cuba.

105. Please provide your views on US-Cuban cooperation on energy security and environmentally sustainable resource management, especially as Cuba begins deep-water exploration for potentially significant oil reserves.

We anticipate a review of U.S. policy regarding Cuba and look forward to working with members of the Committee and other members of Congress as we move forward in the consideration of appropriate steps to take to help advance US interests and values in the context of relations with Cuba.

First of all, Senator Lugar's questions themselves imply a plea for a common sense pivot in US-Cuba relations. He acknowledges that 50 years of contentiousness have not produced policy results that seem impressive. Without showing all of his cards, Lugar seems to be telegraphing that the time has come to end the last place in the world where the Cold War is still raging.

Kudos to Lugar for doing this.

On Hillary Clinton's front, her answers were conventional and largely unimpressive in a geostrategic sense -- with the single exception that she has promised a "full review" of US-Cuba relations.

In answering Lugar's first Cuba question, Clinton missed an opportunity to frame US-Cuba relations in a broader geostrategic setting.

Because George W. Bush strangled contacts too tightly, even right wing Cuban-Americans are asking for parts of the embargo to be lifted -- and recently most Latin American states including Mexico and Brazil asked the US to end the embargo of Cuba. Clinton didn't need to agree with these appeals -- but not to look at the echo effects of US-Cuba relations elsewhere in the region, and the world, was an error.

Also, Hugo Chavez and Venezuela have been attempting to ideologically succeed Castro and essentially to colonize the Cuban people as part of his platform. I have been to Cuba -- and the Cubans generally detest Chavez's pretensions about them and their country. Clinton should have given some hint that she is aware of the competition with Chavez in Latin America and that the easing of sanctions and the promotion of people to people exchange could be a smart strategy similar to what the US has done with other Communist countries, particularly Vietnam.

I hope someone in the press corps asks Hillary Clinton and/or Barack Obama whether they "feel" it is constitutional and morally acceptable to distinguish between different ethnicities and lineages of AMERICANS.

Clinton and Obama both support lifting restrictions on "Cuban-Americans" who want to travel back and forth between the US and Cuba. I find this discriminatory and repulsive. It was wrong for any US President to ever impose opportunities for some classes of Americans divided from others. But essentially, can either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama face the cameras and say YES, I favor a discriminatory approach to travel.

As Congressman Jeff Flake (R-AZ) has repeatedly said, it is a human right to travel -- and he will not abide by a US government that tells any US citizen where he or she can travel. Communist governments are the ones that are supposed to be about restrictions on freedoms -- not the United States of America -- and yet that is what Hillary Clinton is promulgating.

And on the question of lifting or maintaining the embargo, I think Hillary Clinton's answer is wrong-headed and divorced from the simple truth that it doesn't matter except that it harms American interests and leverage. 183 other nations have voted against the United States in the United Nations on the embargo. Cuba is enjoying investment from abroad -- and more of our allies are reestablishing and beefing up their diplomatic missions there. To have leverage in Cuba, America needs to be engaged.

Hillary Clinton would be wise to listen to Brent Scowcroft's words on the US-Cuba embargo:

My answer on Cuba is Cuba is not a foreign policy question.

Cuba is a domestic issue.

In foreign policy, the embargo makes no sense.

It doesn't do anything.

It's quite clear we can not starve Cuba to death.

We learned that when the Soviet stopped subsidizing Cuba and they didn't collapse.

It's a domestic issue.

I am glad to see that Hillary Clinton may be deferring on some questions, particularly the question of Cuba's status on the US roster of state sponsors of terrorism, until a "full review" of the relationship is done. It is great to hear that something comprehensive may be ordered -- so as to move this relationship forward.

But essentially -- as Secretary of State and Barack Obama's most important envoy -- it is essential that Hillary Clinton realize that Cuba should no longer be treated like a domestic policy problem of this country and be dealt with as a realistic foreign policy challenge and opportunity.

Cuba is actually the lowest hanging fruit for America to quickly make progress with and show a different side to America's character and a willingness to end the Cold War once and for all.

Clinton can improve her grade a lot by seeing and speaking to this opportunity.

-- Steve Clemons

Public Sector Advice to the New Administration

On the eve of an era of change, it is remarkable how many and how diverse are the voices lifting up the example of travel to Cuba.


Economic Summit of 37 Travel & Tourism Sector Leaders

The use of travel freedom as an instrument of foreign policy manipulation ultimately harms the very citizens it purports to protect. Were the American people allowed the opportunity to travel to countries whose leaders are publicly opposed to American interests, they could serve as ambassadors of freedom and American values to those nations. The travel and tourism industries, those who do business with them, and the broader economy will see both immediate and long-term economic gains as the easing of travel bans leads to increased demand for new passenger routes, tour operations, and travel agent services. full text here

Cuba Study Group

The Cuba Study Group recommends that the United States unilaterally lift all restrictions that limit the ability of U.S. persons (citizens and residents) to travel to Cuba. ... We believe such steps are not only consistent with the values of the United States, but also that they will allow U.S. nationals to help the long-suffering people of Cuba and will strengthen the internal pro-democracy movement.

Current U.S. restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba are principally designed to deny income to the Castro government with the hopes of furthering regime change. Not only has this strategy infringed on the rights of U.S. persons, but it has also isolated the United States from the Cuban people and the international community. Additionally, these policies have further isolated Cubans living on the island today from the world, the United States and, in particular, from their own family and friends within the Cuban-American community. full text here

Freedom House

It is well past time to reassess a policy that impedes the ability of American citizens to freely interact with Cubans on a large scale and thus expose them to unfettered information about the outside world. We call on the incoming administration of Barack Obama to reexamine the embargo and to immediately lift the restrictions on remittances and travel to and from the island...The United States does not impose similarly restrictive travel sanctions on Americans to other regimes that receive Freedom House’s lowest freedom ratings, including Burma, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. Full text here

A compilation of statements from business, educators, NGOs, religious bodies, advocacy groups, etc. can be seen here

Individual comments are also eloquent as attached to the letter to the President elect that has now collected more than 1000 signers. Click here and choose signatures tab.

Not to mention, two former Secretaries of State
Madeline Albright, Memo to the President Elect. p 176

We need a policy towards Cuba that is free from the political wrangling of the previous half century. The embargo may have served a purpose originally, but it has outlived its usefulness. It currently has no international support and little function except to provide a convenient justification for Havana's repressive policies. The United States has no license to dictate Cuba's future, and heavy handed attempts to do so will only sabotage those inside Cuba who are working for democracy and human rights. Our approach should be one of friendship towards the island's people and support for increased contacts between our two countries at every level. Cubans do not need us to point out that Castroism is an insufficient answer to the demands of the global economy. In the post-Fidel era, they will inevitably have to adjust. Let us encourage them to do so through increased political openness, but let us also deprive Castro's successors of the excuse of yanqui bullying.

George Shuttz interviewed by Charlie Rose, 4/24/08

I think our policy of sanctions against Cuba is ridiculous. During the cold war it made sense because it was a Russian base. They used it for flying spying missions, and so on, but that's over. And all we do by our sanctions is allow Castro, and now maybe his brother, to blame the problems of Cuba on us. And at the same time I think particularly now that there's some transitioning of some kind probably coming about, we're much more likely to get a constructive outcome if there's a lot of interaction. And to try to prevent interaction under these circumstances, I don't think is sensible.

Castro Watch: Fidel's Health, Raul's Reforms

Image credit: Der Spiegel

Two important articles in today's trolling of the news about and from Cuba.

First, the Sydney Morning Herald is reporting that the Miami rumor mill is grinding away about Fidel Castro's ill-health. While the founder of the Cuban revolution has not been photographed in two months, missed the 50th anniversary celebrations, and failed to receive Russian President Medvedev and two Latin American presidents, the trigger was a statement by Hugo Chavez. The Bolivaran red-shirt was reported as expressing Sunday that Castro "would never return to public life and added that he would live on beyond physical life."

Whatever one has to say about Fidel, whether the scourge of the corrupt Battista regime or the dead weight keeping the Cuban people in penury, Castro's expeditious passing would certainly be a gift to the incoming Obama administration.

The second piece of news is the publication of details of a report on laziness in Cuban society. The report says that getting a job only ranks 5th in the personal goals of the Cuban people. I have to say that I find it hard to come up with four other goals that could beat a good job--but I'm a dyed-in-the-wool wonk. Anyway, the report comes out after Raul announced to the Cuban Parliament his commitment to moving forward with one of his hallmark economic reforms, the correlation of pay to work.

While elementary in a capitalist society, Cuba has thus far preserved the principle that every citizen has a right to equal pay regardless of their job -- or how much they show up for their job. Raul told Parliament that the government simply cannot afford to keep the nation on the dole any longer, and will slowly introduce pay-for-performance rules.

Clearly, Cuba is in the midst of significant change. Last week the government announced that Cubans could build their homes privately, recognizing that the government simply could not deliver and the self-interested actions of the Cuban people would more easily take care of the nation's housing problem. They also announced that Cuban taxi drivers can now set their own fares. That's another big dose of capitalism (though, having lived through twenty years of Washington, DC zone-based taxi pricing, I think Raul should invest in some meters...).

The challenge facing the incoming Obama administration is how to encourage and expedite that change without triggering a new round of domestic repression or diplomatic withdrawal. For me, that means getting outside the traditional quid-pro-quo incrementalism that has defined U.S.-Cuban negotiations in the past. Havana needs to know that they cannot dictate the pace of U.S. policy reform, which they will do if they get nervous about their control.

Rather, the Obama administration needs to send signals that recognize that a) the Cuban government is no longer the revolutionary threat to the United States it was, b) that the Cuban-American community no longer has control over U.S. policy, and that c) Cuba's strategic value to the U.S. extends primarily to the extent that our own policy is an obstacle to better relations in the Hemisphere. That means a slow, on-again-off-again dance taking years is not in the U.S. interest.

And if that is the case, Fidel's inevitable passing and his brothers reforms only pave the road to more rapid normalization. Spring Break in Cuba anyone?

Obama Cuba Policy: Game On

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

Testifying yesterday in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of State-designate, Senator Hillary Clinton had this to say about U.S. Policy towards Cuba:

...The president-elect is committed to lifting the family travel restrictions and the remittance restrictions. He believes, and I think it's a very wise insight, that Cuban-Americans are the best ambassadors for democracy, freedom and a free market economy.

And as they are able to travel back to see their families, that further makes the case as to the failures of the Castro regime -- the repression, the political denial of freedom, the political prisoners -- all of the very unfortunate actions that have been taken to hold the Cuban people back.

You know, our policy is, first and foremost, about the freedom of the Cuban people and the bringing of democracy to the island of Cuba. We hope that the regime in Cuba, both Fidel and Raul Castro, will see this new administration as an opportunity to change some of their typical approaches.

Let those political prisoners out. Be willing to, you know, open up the economy and lift some of the oppressive strictures on the people of Cuba. And I think they would see that there would be an opportunity that could be perhaps exploited.

But that's in the future, whether or not they decide to make those changes.

What to make of it? Well, the obvious first: President Obama will fulfill his campaign promises and the door is open to more.

Looking beyond that is difficult, but earlier in the day, the incoming Secretary of State said that she looked forward to the Summit of the Americas, a hemispheric heads-of-state summit that will be held in Trinidad April 16-18 this year. Now, that was in the context of regional energy partnerships, for both renewable and fossil fuels, but the stage will be set for another big move on Cuba.

That's because while energy security and sustainability is a big issue for the United States, for Latin America and the Caribbean, the priority issue is ending the U.S. embargo with Cuba. It was practically all the Latin American and Caribbean heads of state could agree on last month at their meeting Of course, if the big hemispheric issue for Secretary-to-be Clinton is energy, Cuba's recent but questionable announcement of 20 billion barrels of oil makes a policy shift essential.

With this hearing out of the way, the next big indicator of Cuba policy may be the President's inaugural address, but I don't expect too much. Really, it will be the selection of the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs. Who that is will speak volumes about the Obama administration's intentions and pacing.

Nevertheless, for Cuba policy, the game is now on.

Clinton's Testimony: A Double Edged Sword for Cuban Americans


Hillary Clinton’s confirmation hearing offered a limited opening to the internal planning of the Obama Administration on Cuba:

SENATOR BARRASSO (R, WY): As you know, right now we have strict laws and regulations limiting economic transactions with -- with Cuba, with relatives of folks who are here. Any thought on lifting restrictions on families to visit and send -- and send things to Cuba?

SENATOR CLINTON: Senator the president-elect is committed to lifting the family travel restrictions and the remittance restrictions. He believes, and I think it's a very wise insight, that Cuban-Americans are the best ambassadors for democracy, freedom and a free market economy." (full text here)

The next Secretary of State is on message with Obama's campaign position, including his politically astute but problematic view that Cuban-Americans are superior to other Americans as ambassadors.

Thinking positively, while Clinton's answer does not address non-tourist travel, it implies continued commitment to unlimited family travel and does not preclude acting more boldly.

Clinton went on to say:

And as they are able to travel back to see their families, that further makes the case as to the failures of the Castro regime -- the repression, the political denial of freedom, the political prisoners -- all of the very unfortunate actions that have been taken to hold the Cuban people back.

Obama and now Clinton, do a rhetorical disservice to Cuban Americans even as they move towards a far more humanitarian policy on family reunions.
Cuban Americans certainly can play an important role for reconciliation and mutual understanding and could have a positive influence on Cuba's economic development and political evolution, but that potential is undermined if visits home are touted as the latest weapon of yanqui intervention.

Relations between any overseas population and those "left behind" are psychologically and sociologically complicated, as Obama eloquently captures in his first book about his own "homecoming" to Kenya. While browsing You Tube, I came across a short video that captures Cuba's version in very human terms. It can be seen here.

Based on three decades of personal experience with Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Ireland, I am very enthusiastic about the contribution that diaspora populations can make to their country of origin and relations between old and new homelands. Culture, investment, and transfer of knowledge benefit both substantially. Internal political reform is inevitably affected, but ironically the more overt that dimension, the harder it is to accomplish. At a basic human level, the last thing people who have struggled to survive and succeed at home want is for someone from the wealthier and “more advancedâ€Â new land coming back with gratuitous advice.

Factor in the complication of half a century of hostile exile politics in nearby Miami, and the necessity is obvious for broader than Cuban American interaction through all non-tourist travel.


Obama world has put up a new interactive Citizens Briefing site on change.gov to allow people to suggest topics for Presidential action. It permits posting your own briefing, as well as commenting on others and voting them up or down. I have posted the text of the on-line letter to the President-elect under the title "non-tourist travel to Cuba". (The letter now has nearly 1000 signers and can be joined here)

The more votes a briefing receives, the more visible it is to other site visitors, and the more likely it is to catch the attention of the White House.

Go here and after you create an account and sign in, insert Cuba Travel or Cuba in the search box.

Raul Castro Evaluates Obama


Raul Castro's interview on December 31 suggests the road map for serious US-Cuba reconciliation. His view of Barack Obama, while more cautious, is not unlike that of his daughter (see following post). His theme of mutual gestures reprises the case for a prisoner exchange (see below).

Journalist: Since the recent result of the presidential election in the United Status, various analysts in the international press have speculated that there are expectations of change with Barack Obama’s rise to the White House. What is your assessment of that?

Raúl Castro: Now there is a president that has aroused hopes in many parts of the world; I think excessive hopes, because although he is an honest man, and I believe that he is, a sincere man, and I believe that he is, one man cannot change the destiny of a country, and far less – I mean one man alone – in the United States. He can do a lot, he can take positive steps, he can advance just ideas, he can curb the tendency, almost uninterrupted since the emergence of the United States, of almost all presidents to have had their war, or their wars. He said that he goes to get out of Iraq, good news. He says he’s going to double the forces in Afghanistan, bad news. The solutions to the problems of the world cannot be founded on war.

I think that there is no solution in Afghanistan, except for one: to leave the Afghanis in peace. Only Alexander the Great entered that country and returned unscathed, maybe because he married an Afghani princess, but, above all, because he left quickly. The British suffered a defeat there in the 19th century; in the 20th century the Soviets suffered another defeat, which we all experienced, and in the 21st century the U.S. and other forces remaining in Afghanistan will also suffer a defeat. These are realities and that is negative.

The vast resources that they are being dedicated to military matters, to war, since the war in Vietnam… Why the Vietnam War? Why the aggression? Close to 60,000 U.S. soldiers killed for what? I do not know the huge quantity – it must be two or three time greater – of those disabled, wounded, mutilated. Why four million Vietnamese from both parts killed? For what objectives? What did they achieve? Why the 50-year blockade of Cuba, what have they achieved? They have made us stronger, we feel prouder, our resistance, we are stronger, we are more confident.

I hope that I am wrong in my appraisal. Hopefully Mr. Obama will have some successes; in terms of us, that he is successful, but in a just policy, and that he can help to solve, with the power that they have, the grave problems of the world.

Our policy is well-defined: any day that they want to discuss, we’ll discuss, in equality of conditions; as I have already said, without even the smallest shadow over our sovereignty and as equals. And, as is usually the case, or was the case, that from time to time someone would come along to ask us to make a gesture, just as I received a letter from a former president suggesting – before the U.S. elections – that changes were approaching and that it would be good if Cuba was to make a gesture, with the same kindness that he wrote me I responded: the time for unilateral gestures is over; gesture for gesture. And we are disposed to talk whenever they decide, without intermediaries, directly. But we are not in any hurry, we’re not desperate, and, of course, we have said it and Fidel has said it for years: we will not talk with the stick and the carrot, that time is over, that was in another period.

That is our position, we shall go on patiently waiting. It’s incredible that with the Cuban temperament we have learned patience; we have it and at least in this we have demonstrated it.

The full interview available here provides a revealing perspective on US-Cuba history. Like any national leader's narrative, it is a partisan view of a contentious history, but understanding where the other side comes from is the place that any serious effort for reconciliation must begin

Mariela Castro on Cuba and Obama


Mariela Castro is Director of the National Center for Sex Education in Cuba and the outspoken daughter of Cuba's President.

She was interviewed by Russia Today and the entire video is worth watching on You Tube. Following are excerpts of most relevance to US-Cuba relations, in particular her comments on socialism and democracy and her positive evaluation of President-elect Obama.

Anastasia Haydulinam, Russia Today: One day your uncle Fidel Castro, the symbol of longevity of the revolution, is going to die. Do you think his death will change the status quo of your Cuba?

Mariela Castro: First of all, the death of Fidel will bring great suffering for the Cuban people, and it will be an enormous loss. But as far as I can see, Cubans are willing to continue on the path of socialism even when our Comandante is no longer with us, even when my father and other forefathers of the revolution are not. Our people want socialism. Of course, we are very self-critical, so what we need is a better enriched version of it that will resolve most of the existing contradictions. The people themselves are proposing actions necessary for the survival of our socialist society, a society that should always guarantee social justice, equality, and solidarity within the nation, as well as in relations with others. We want welfare, but not as exaggerated as that of the consumer societies. I think that socialism in Cuba will survive and become what we have considered to be a utopia.
Anastasia Haydulina, : What other changes would you like to see in Cuba?

Mariela Castro: The first I would like the US government to lift the financial, economic, and commercial blockade that it has imposed on our island for fifty years against the Cuban people and that considerably prevented us from achieving our development goals. It has affected our economy, our commercial relations, and financial mechanisms. Cuba doesn't receive credits from any bank, and it's very difficult for us to survive in the field of international economy. The companies that trade with Cuba are being penalized. We have big problems with the Internet without the access to optical fiber. This would be fundamental for life in Cuba to change, for its economy to grow, the salaries to rise. Then, we'd be able to produce, obtain more materials and use the latest technologies. For example, I'd like to see improvements in the democratic participation mechanisms on the island, so that our government could function more fluently. It has a very peculiar and good structure, like no other in the world, but it lacks maturity. That's why we need to cultivate the mechanisms for people's participation. It's one of the things that preoccupy me most and that will bring about a whole range of other changes.

Anastasia Haydulina: What do you expect from the new President of the United States?

Mariela Castro: I expect wonderful changes for the world and for the people of the United States. The people of the United States deserve a President like Obama and a first lady like his spouse. They and all of us need civilization and not barbarity. We need intelligent and honest world leaders. I think with Obama's Presidency, a whole new era will begin. It will be a totally different story in the US and all over the world.

(transcript checked against translation but not original Spanish)

A New Year Requires a New Approach


The best ambassadors for democracy in Cuba are American tourists, American businesses and American cultural representatives. The Cuban people may have been isolated from the world for 50 years, but they are smart and pragmatic. The United States should reach out to them, not only in their interest, but also in our own.
St. Louis Post Dispatch editorial

Happy 2009! The future begins today.

There are short and long term questions about what we know so far of President-elect Obama's policy on Cuba.

Short term the question is whether or not he has the vision and determination to use his authority to immediately end all restrictions on non-tourist travel.

Longer term the question is whether he can overcome a century long culture of big country chauvinism and regional hegemonism and engage Cuba with the kind of mutual acceptance of political differences and values that was essential for negotiation of normalization with Vietnam and China.

Will he honor his own commitment to domestic civil liberties, the views of two-thirds of Americans, and strongly expressed Western Hemisphere opinion, or buckle to cold war ideology and a fading minority of hard line special interest exiles with deep pockets for PAC contributions, apparently now counting on Senator Bob Menendez?

Is Obama pragmatic enough to see that gestures are not a one way street? If the US wants Cuba to release prisoners we value, will we release prisoners they value? (see earlier post below)

A positive step in the short term, opening up non-tourist travel, offers hope for the longer term as mutual understanding and respect depend on reestablishing and creating personal relationships. These ties will come from rapidly enabled trips by world affairs councils, religious bodies, museums, professional associations, business groups, students, alumni, elderhostel, people to people organizations, musicians, sports teams, etc. and allowing similar Cubans to visit counterparts here.

Even if we quickly ramp up to the peak level of 84,500 non-tourist US visitors in 2003, the number is a drop in the bucket economically in a sea of this year's record of 2.3 million tourists. But the psychological confidence building impact from mainstream encounters in both countries will be far more powerful than only Cuban American renewal. (This was the reason that the Bush administration throttled even Clinton's bureaucratically hobbled channel for non-tourist travel four years ago.)

Folks in the Obama inner circle and transition team need to start paying attention to what so many people are saying (see yesterday's Los Angeles Times editorial and a dozen statements from business, NGOs, religious bodies, educators, foreign policy specialists, etc.

They need to hear directly and forcefully that no decision is a bad decision.

[For a compilation of my New Year thoughts on the seven choices facing the new administration, go here.]

--John McAuliff

Disturbing Report from the Transition Team

Tim Shipman has a long story in the December 28th issue of the British newspaper The Telegraph that cites "a Latin American adviser to Mr Obama's transition team" who conveys disturbing information:

First to go under Mr Obama will be rules, brought in by George Bush in 2004, that say Cuban-Americans can only return home once every three years. In addition to annual visits, the amount of money they can take will be raised from $300 to $3,000.

An adviser to Mr Obama said: "Cubans will be less dependent on the state for money and they will have greater contact with their relatives in the US. That can only aid understanding." Those changes require only a presidential order. The adviser said: "He could do it on day one. Obama has a lot on his plate with the economy so Cuba will not be top of his list but I'd expect it to happen fairly quickly." During the campaign, Mr Obama vowed to maintain the economic embargo older even than he is which prevents other Americans from visiting the island.

Obama's campaign statements and the platform pledge were for unlimited travel and remittances. He also said he would do it "immediately after taking office", which makes sense if a primary motive is humanitarian.

It is also not clear whether the transition team source or the reporter obfuscates Obama's ability to just as easily allow other kinds of non-tourist travel. Certainly travel by tens of thousands of mainstream Americans for educational, humanitarian, religious, cultural and sports purposes is at least as great a contribution to mutual understanding.

I'd like to think this is just a rewrite of a Miami Herald story of several weeks ago rather than new reporting but some of the details are fresh. Since then Obama has gotten a lot of flack from his strongest long term supporters because of national security appointees and the Rick Warren invitation.

A bold step on Cuba that provides general licenses for all twelve categories of non-tourist travels is an effective way to remind his friends, the American people and international opinion that he will bring real change to tired and counterproductive policies.

--John McAuliff

[Members of the transition team are listed here.]

Raul Castro Offers to Free Prisoners if US Does


Raul Castro has responded from Brazil to Barack Obama's call for release of prisoners by urging the US do the same:

"Let's do gesture for gesture," Castro told reporters during a visit to the Brazilian capital Brasilia.

"These prisoners you talk about -- they want us to let them go? They should tell us tomorrow. We'll send them with their families and everything. Give us back our five heroes. That is a gesture on both parts," he said, referring to five convicted Cuban spies in U.S. prison.

Coincidentally, I wrote Presidents Castro and Bush on December 10th urging both grant pardons.

In the generous spirit of the Christmas season and the ending of the year, please consider granting pardons to the five Cubans imprisoned in the US and the fifty-five Cubans imprisoned in Cuba as agents of hostile foreign powers.

I am not proposing your actions be characterized as reciprocal or seeking to compare or judge the merits of the arrest, trial and imprisonment of either group. Suffice to say both situations are surrounded by politics in both nations. One country’s hero is the other country’s villain, and vice versa.

However, the prisoners and their families have suffered enough from the unresolved political conflict between our countries. Rather than waiting for their cases to be addressed as part of a bilateral normalization process in the future, I urge you to courageously remove this problem from the agenda of negotiation.

Castro's words are obviously directed at the next administration but wouldn't it be historic if such an important humanitarian breakthrough were accomplished by this one?

The deliberately provocative undiplomatic behavior by Chief of the Interests Section Jim Cason, conceivably at the behest of Otto Reich and Roger Noriega, provided the perfect excuse if not the reason for the 2003 "black spring" arrests in Cuba.

It would only be decent for the Bush Administration to clear the books by taking steps that will lead to the freedom of those remaining in prison in Cuba at no real cost to the US.

Keeping the five Cuban spies/heroes in our prisons accomplishes nothing except to provide an increasingly effective international propaganda theme for Havana.

--John McAuliff