Brookings Blueprint for Obama and Congress

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The Brookings Institution is as mainstream and prestigious as you get on the Democratic leaning side of Washington think tanks.

Its President is Strobe Talbott, a leading foreign policy adviser in the Clinton Administration and a long time friend of our former President and of our prospective Secretary of State.
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Talbott served on Brookings' Partnership for the Americas Commission. On Monday he hosted a C-Span broadcast public presentation of its remarkable report entitled "Rethinking U.S.–Latin American Relations: A Hemispheric Partnership for a Turbulent World".

Their first recommendation on Cuba "that should be implemented immediately by the US government":

* Lift all restrictions on travel to Cuba by Americans.

Many of the proposals made in its Cuba section are not new to experts in bilateral relations, but their source is. The Commission, half from the US and half from Latin America and the Caribbean, eschews the usual judgmental rhetoric and focuses on addressing problems with a Hemisphere impact. The co-chairs are Ernesto Zedillo, Former President of Mexico and
Thomas R. Pickering, Former U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs.

If the Obama Administration and Congress want a blueprint for how to proceed with Cuba, this is it.

Go here for the full text, Cuba section pp 28-30

A streaming video of the presentation can be seen on the C-Span archives and will be available on the Brookings website.

Overview:and recommendations below:
"The last section addresses U.S. relations with Cuba. Though this issue is of a smaller order of magnitude than the other four areas, it is addressed here because Cuba has long been a subject of intense interest in U.S. foreign policy and a stumbling block for U.S. relations with other countries in the hemisphere.

The report puts forward these recommendations for the next U.S. administration and Congress:

U.S.–Cuban relations:

* Lift all restrictions on travel to Cuba by Americans.

* Repeal all aspects of the “communications embargoâ€Â (radio, TV, Internet) and readjust regulations governing trade in low-technology communications equipment.

* Remove caps and targeting restrictions on remittances.

* Take Cuba off the State Department’s State Sponsors of Terrorism List.

* Promote knowledge exchange and reconciliation by permitting federal funding of cultural, academic, and sports exchanges.

* Provide assistance to the Cuban people in recovering from natural and human-made disasters.

* Encourage enhanced official contact and cooperation between U.S. and Cuban diplomats and governments.

* End opposition to the reengagement of the international community with Cuba in regional and global economic and political organizations.

* Work with the members of the European Union and other countries to create a multilateral fund for civil society that will train potential entrepreneurs in management and innovation."

Rice, Obama & Clinton

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What should we make of Jim Hoagland’s semi-complimentary report that Secretary of State Rice proposed,

“moving toward a better diplomatic relationship with Cuba by upgrading the existing U.S. interests section in Havanaâ€Â?

It is not a bad thing that Secretary Rice tries to initiate a different approach to Cuba. It's more useful than former Secretaries of State seeing the light after they leave office (e.g. George Schultz and Madeline Albright now call for an end to the embargo).

However, upgrading the Interests Section won't matter much unless it abandons non-diplomatic intervention in support of regime change advocates.

More useful would be a change in Bush Administration policy re private initiatives to help Cuba recover from three hurricanes. All Americans should be given a general license to visit and donate funds to assist relatives and friends. US NGOs should be free to send humanitarian and reconstruction aid without time consuming and cumbersome Treasury and Commerce Department licenses.

The same step could be taken by the incoming administration. Obama already called for a hurricane related suspension of limits to Cuban American visits, remittances and aid packages, although that will be superseded if he keeps his pledge to completely end their restrictions. As with travel, it ill befits a post-racial administration to deny the same right to all Americans and to private aid agencies because of ethnicity or national origin.

Should Hillary Clinton become Secretary of State, she brings baggage on Cuba. Clinton's campaign strategy was to align closely with Bush travel restrictions and to place unacceptable preconditions on negotiations. During Bill Clinton’s administration, her Cuban-American sister in law was an active and influential opponent of reform in US policy toward Cuba.

Hopefully Clinton (and Obama) will pay attention to former Secretary of State Albright’s advice in her book Memo to the President Elect.

"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." p 176

Readers who wish to encourage the President-elect to meet his rendezvous with history on Cuba can do so on the Obama transition site change.gov. Presumably someone will notice articulate personal comments by his campaign supporters and a total will be kept of what issues are roiling the grass roots.

Another way to express your opinion is by joining an on-line letter and by sharing this link with friends and colleagues. http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/obamacuba/

--John McAuliff

(picture, no doubt a photo shop montage, borrowed from www.nerve.com)

China, Russia & Brazil

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Visits to Cuba by China’s President (seen here in 2004), Russia’s Prime Minister and Brazil’s President illustrate that the Obama Administration delays at its peril setting a bold new course on Cuba. Even the Bush Administration in its final months may be having second thoughts.

Reuters reports that during a two day stopover,

“Chinese President Hu Jintao agreed to put off some of Cuba's debt payments and gave the island $80 million for hospital modernization and other projects…China is Cuba's second largest trading partner after Venezuela at $2.3 billion in 2007.â€Â

Next up in Havana is Russia's Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev who is reported by Reuters to have both economic and strategic goals, in part to counter the Bush Administration’s adventurist policies in countries that were part of or dominated by the former Soviet Union.

Closer to home,

“Brazil will offer Cuba financial aid for industry, energy and infrastructure projects during a December visit by communist President Raul Castro …We'll discuss the production of buses, building roads, as well as oil investments," Marco Aurelio Garcia, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's foreign policy adviser, told Reuters.

Obama might ponder the implications of a remark made during the recent visit to Cuba by Lula, our non-Chavez role model, about his invitation to Raul

"to participate in the first meeting of Latin American and Caribbean nations, without interference from any other power."

--John McAulliff

Obama's Choice on Cuba

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The struggle to influence the direction of the Obama administration on Cuba is underway.

A good article by Carol Williams in today's LA Times quotes Jake Colvin, Al Fox and myself about prospects for change by the new administration.

I developed the same ideas at greater length in an op ed in Sunday's Sun Sentinel

The contrary effort to influence Obama was expressed in Myriam Marquez' column in Sunday's Miami Herald. She boasts of CANF's influence and distorts Obama's position on family travel. She also echoes the CANF critique of US democracy funding, that it is not deployed effectively enough for purposes of subversion.

"With Democrats in control of the White House and Congress, the Cuban American National Foundation is sitting pretty after wandering the political wilderness for eight years....With Obama's win CANF is positioned to have immense influence on Cuba policy. What to expect? An aggressive policy to get more money to the opposition in Cuba....The U.S. embargo toward Cuba will rightly stay. The 2004 Bush restrictions on travel and remittances will go. Returning to the pre-2004 rules would mean Cuban Americans could travel once a year to see family instead of once every three years, and remittances could go up to $3,000 a year -- instead of the current $1,200 -- and open to all family members."

In fact, every Obama campaign statement about Cuba and the Democratic Party platform position clearly pledge "unlimited family visits and remittances" , not only return to the pre-2004 formula.

As far as I know, Obama has not spoken to the controversy over "democracy" funding, other than the skepticism expressed by his votes against TV Marti in 2005.

Yet Marquez assumes he will follow CANF's line that,

"the rules need to change so that money and equipment can reach the opposition -- just as it did during the Cold War for the Polish Solidarity movement."

She seems oblivious to both Cuban and Eastern European history. Poland and other communist regimes on the periphery of the Soviet Union were externally imposed and sustained. The Solidarity model is totally irrelevant to Cuba which is why many people who took advantage of the opening offered by Mikhail Gorbachev believe the US embargo and travel restrictions are counterproductive--and vote against them in the UN every year.

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Vietnam and China are better analogies to Cuba. Whether admired or disliked, their revolutions were internally created and managed and have evolved on their own terms to market economies and greater personal freedom. (The US expresses criticism of their human rights records and political systems but does not presume to intervene in domestic debates.)

Sending direct aid to opposition personalities in Cuba hopelessly compromises their nationalist credentials and makes them vulnerable to prosecution as agents of a hostile foreign power, not unlike the attitude the US took to members of the US Communist Party in the 1950s. Buying into CANF's semi-soft regime change thesis also makes no sense if the new administration wants to develop the trust and mutual respect that are essential for successful negotiations.

CANF and others in Miami presume they should be part of any negotiations between Washington and Havana, but that is pure poison to serious talks. It would be like Bill Clinton inviting Nguyen Van Thieu and Nguyen Cao Ky to be part of the US-Vietnam normalization discussions. (Much after the fact Ky made his peace with Hanoi and has been back to Vietnam several times, to the great dismay of Vietnamese American extremists who still dominate community politics here.)

The full range of Cuban American opinion should be listened to by the new administration: the unconditional engagement voices, the soft intervention groups, and even the no-dialog forces. However, none of them should be given weight beyond their numbers in the whole US population and in the spectrum of public opinion which favors ending all travel restrictions by 2 to 1.

--John McAuliff www.ffrd.org

Contradictory Florida Results Enable Obama

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Preliminary election returns suggest President-elect Obama has a greater range of maneuver on Cuba than anticipated.

How much of his substantial statewide margin of victory in Florida (see below) can be attributed to support from Cuban Americans who crossed over from McCain because they shared only his cautious position on family travel? All three Democratic contenders lost who advocated a partial reform of travel similar to Obama's, suggesting that was not as decisive an issue in the exile community as many hoped.

Does that mean that Obama might have done as well in Florida if he had advocated all travel, or even an end to the embargo? Do exit polls and analysis of the Presidential vote in Miami-Dade Congressional districts offer more insight?

Certainly Obama will owe nothing to the three hard line Cuban American Republicans returning to Washington. However, they and the Democracy PAC money will still play a strong role in the House and on key committees. Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and other Florida politicians with state wide ambitions will remain leery of offending the organized Cuban American constituency.

A common sense US policy on Cuba even more clearly means removing it from special interest nationality politics, as the Executive Branch is better able to do than Congress, especially when the next Presidential election is four years away. We would still lack diplomatic relations and maintain unilateral embargoes against China, Vietnam and Cambodia if change had depended on the approval of their exile communities in the US.

Sequential actions by the White House and Congress can reinforce each other and create an atmosphere for fundamental common sense change in US-Cuba relations. The crucial first step is for the incoming Administration to follow the window opening logic of its campaign commitment to unrestricted Cuban American travel.

It must reject discrimination in the right to travel based on ethnicity or national origin and enable the broadest non-tourist travel possible under existing legal authority, as favored by two-thirds of Americans.

--John McAuliff

Florida Statewide

Obama / Biden 4,073,207, 50.9%
McCain / Palin 3,872,553, 48.4%
difference 200,654

District 18

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen 137,817, 57.7%
Annette Taddeo 100,929, 42.3%

District 21
Lincoln Diaz-Balart 132,861, 57.8%
Raul L. Martinez 97,184, 42.2%

District 25
Mario Diaz-Balar 127,059, 52.8%
Joe Garcia 113,495, 47.2%

Florida Department of State
Division of Elections

2008 General Election

UNOFFICIAL ELECTION NIGHT RETURNS
(may not include absentee or provisional ballots)
Page Generated: 11/5/2008 1:55 AM

Bush Administration Bogs Down Hurricane Assistance

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Richard Walden and I go back a long way. We worked together to send the first air shipment of private US aid to Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge were routed by the Vietnamese--Thanksgiving 1979.

He had recently founded a rambunctious humanitarian medical aid group called Operation California, and I was director of the Indochina Peace Education Program at the Quaker led American Friends Service Committee.

Fast forward thirty years, and we are both still at it, but now for Cuba, Richard with his renamed Operation USA, and me with the Fund for Reconciliation and Development.

A common thread over three decades is the obscurantism of the Federal bureaucracy, and in particular the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the Treasury Department, and its counterpart in the Commerce Department, which use every trick in their book to do the bidding of their political masters. (Richard notes that the key people in the State Department who initially blocked his licensing for Vietnam and Cambodia were Dick Holbrooke and John Negroponte, at the time Assistant and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Asia.)

In his speech at the General Assembly on Wednesday, the US representative made a big deal of our willingness to help Cuba recover from hurricane damage during his fruitless effort to avoid another humiliating defeat. The reality is more accurately reflected in the account from Richard that follows.

His story drives home the point that if an Obama Administration wants to open a new more rational relationship with Cuba, an essential bureaucratic task is to reform OFAC. A simple first step is to direct it and the Commerce Department to immediately issue a general license for hurricane related help through personal contributions by any American to Cuban family members and friends and for assistance from any recognized US non-governmental organization.

At the end Richard refers to an upcoming fund raiser for hurricane relief featuring Jackson Browne in Santa Monica on November 29th

Jackson’s latest album includes the theme song for the Cuba travel movement, as performed for Colbert Nation:

--John McAuliff
A personal report on how hard it is to help, thanks to the embargo…

I’m just back from Cuba and drove thru Pinar Del Rio, one of the hardest hit provinces from the recent hurricanes.

The need for material “solidarityâ€Â is serious and, as usual, US Government agencies are obstructing rather than facilitating aid.

Operation USA has a Treasury license for travel/monitoring to Cuba to survey distribution of Commerce-licensed humanitarian aid, up to $1.4 million to Havana pediatric hospitals. Hurricane aid requires at least two new licenses. We are sending water purification tablets purchased in Ireland from a major supplier to the UN and NGOs globally. We were promised a quick turnaround by OFAC over a month ago…BUT things have slowed down.

First, we were asked if the water purification tablets have any US supplied component. It turns out the chlorine sold to the Irish company comes from a US chemical company, and that takes us from the realm of just spending cash overseas (via OFAC authority) to trying to estimate what percentage of the final product is US related. OFAC asked us to get a Commerce license for the re-export of the 40% of each tablet which appears to be US supplied to the manufacturer. They actually insisted we get the company to state exactly what percent and what dollar value of each pill is US made. [No company would ever break down for you the percent which is their profit, packaging, raw materials, etc.]

Then Commerce gleefully informed us they can no longer accept paper or faxed license applications as of October. Applications must be electronically filled out and sent BUT each company must have a unique identifying corporate number assigned by Commerce as well as a PIN number for each staff person applying for a license. This goes to a different part of Commerce’s huge bureaucracy and they took three weeks to give us an identifying number and PINS for our staff.

Now, we have the electronic license application in front of us but it requires street addresses for every recipient in Cuba. As we are buying two million tablets which will be distributed in 50 to100 tablet amounts, this is silly. Even getting exact street addresses for six Cuban hospitals in Pinar Del Rio is difficult as Latin American addresses are often squishy.
The Commerce guys also just informed us that they have to send the completed application to the State Dept for review…a one month process.

As we are holding a major Cuba fund raiser in late November in Los Angeles, we may have significant new money to spend for or in Cuba. The US government agencies require specific project budgets for each project even if we are not sending cash to Cuba.

And on and on.

Richard Walden
President and CEO
Operation USA
www.opusa.org

America's Wrong-Headedness on Cuba

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When I find myself nodding in agreement with about 75% of what Jorge Mas Santos, the Chairman of the Cuban American National Foundation, is saying in a critique of George W. Bush's wrong-headed US-Cuba policy, I know the world is changing and sense that South Florida politics may be undergoing a sea change.

I don't agree with Mas' views on regime change in Cuba, but this essay blasts John McCain for status quo-ism and embraces Obama's "flexibility" in thinking through how to turn away from failed policies.

And Sarah Stephens, Director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, has an outstanding piece out today on the human costs of the anachronistic, failed, but painful embargo which most of the world strongly criticizes.

Here is a piece of her Huffington Post essay:

UN Members are now digesting a report compiled by the Secretary-General that measures the impact of our sanctions in chilling detail.

The embargo hurts Cuba's health care system. Last year, it forced Cuban children with heart conditions to wait for needed operations because a US-based firm, Boston Scientific, has refused - as it must, under U.S. law - to sell needed devices to Cuba's William Soler Pediatric Hospital. It prevented the purchase of spare parts for diagnostic equipment used in cancer detection, and delayed the delivery of 3 million syringes for vaccinations against communicable diseases. It forced Cuban medical authorities to buy antiretroviral drugs from secondary suppliers in grey markets, at significantly higher prices - straining an already thin public health budget.

The embargo also takes food off the table in Cuban homes, by blocking the government's access to imported seeds, fertilizers, and spare parts for farm machinery, and by imposing exotic payment rules that add tens of millions of dollars to its bill for importing food from overseas.

In other words, the sanctions we aim at Cuba's government actually hit and hurt the health and diet of the Cuban people instead.

But the embargo is more than a bilateral matter between Cuba's government and ours. US law reaches companies and countries across the globe in an effort to bend their policy to our will, rallying the rest of the world to Cuba's side

Brazil calls our policy a violation of international law. Mexico condemns the embargo as an abandonment of diplomacy. Colombia, our closest ally in the region, says of the US embargo "this kind of action should stop." The European Union, now negotiating directly with Cuba on human rights, objects to the extra-territorial reach of our sanctions. China calls on us to negotiate our differences directly with Cuba. Russia - without a trace of irony - refers to the embargo as "a remnant of the cold war."

It is no wonder that last year's sanctions vote went against America 184-4. Only Israel, Palau, and the Marshall Islands stood with us. Every one of our European allies, Canada, Japan and Australia, and nearly all of Latin America (save El Salvador, which was absent) deserted us. It will happen again this year. Already, close to one-hundred fifty countries filed statements with the Secretary General for this year's debate that bear witness to our isolation.

The funny thing about Israel voting with us on the embargo is that Israeli interests are managing citrus groves in Cuba.

-- Steve Clemons publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note

Hialeah Dirty Tricks

Whether its declaring Cuba a state sponsor of terror, disenfranchising thousands of voters, or consorting with federally-convicted terrorists, politics in South Florida are full of sharp elbows and illicit activity. So it is little surprise to see this report come out of Hialeah, Florida, home of a large Cuban American population: the dirty tricks brigade are starting up operations in South Florida. From the Miami Herald via Politico.com:

"Three Hialeah voters say they had an unusual visitor at their homes last week: a man who called himself Juan, offering to help them fill out their absentee ballots and deliver them to the elections office. p> "The voters, all supporters of Democratic congressional candidate Raul Martinez, said they gave their ballots to the man after he told them he worked for Martinez. But the Martinez campaign said he doesn't work for them.

"Juan ''told me not to worry, that they normally collected all the ballots and waited until they had a stack big enough to hand-deliver to the elections department,'' said voter Jesus Hernandez, 73. 'He said, `Don't worry. This is not going to pass through the mail to get lost.' ''

"Hernandez said he worries his ballot was stolen or destroyed. He and two other voters told The Miami Herald that the man was dispatched by a woman caller who also said she worked for Martinez. But the phone number cited by the voters traces back to a consultant working for Martinez's rival, Republican congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart." Read the rest here.

Of course, this tale is but a symptom of a problem that affects our foreign policy more broadly. As former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski writes in his book, Second Chance,

Increased congressional dependence on costly and almost permanent campaigning is the root cause of this trend. The high expense of TV campaigns has turned targeted funding support (or opposition) into a crucial instrument for gaining influence. This explains the growing role of Israeli-American, Cuban-American, Armenian-American lobbies and others, all highly effective in mobilizing financial support for their political causes.

The Constitution grants Congress the authority to regulate commerce with foreign nations. This is not at issue, and is, on the whole, a wise distribution of authority. What is at issue, however, is the extent to which modern Congressional campaigning has become dependent upon contributions from individuals and PACs, distorting elections themselves and subsequently the legislation passed by Congress.

Taking Your Rhetoric Seriously

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Between principle and practice, the Democratic Party approach to Cuba needs some clarification.

It's platform plank on Cuba begins:

We must turn the page on the arrogance in Washington

yet concludes

presenting the Cuban regime with a clear choice: if it takes significant steps toward democracy, beginning with the unconditional release of all political prisoners, we will be prepared to take steps to begin normalizing relations.

Contrast that with the BBC's report of the basis for EU-Cuba normalization

A joint declaration, signed by Cuba's foreign minister and the European commissioner for development and humanitarian aid, calls for respect for Cuba's political independence and non-intervention in its internal affairs.

When the UN votes on the unilateral US embargo of Cuba next week for the seventeenth time, it is likely to replicate last year's near unanimity, a number which has grown steadily. Ironically citizens of our only significant supporter, Israel, are big investors in Cuban property development and manage the country's largest citrus plantation.

The larger significance of the vote for our international standing was reflected in the inaugural address of the President of the General Assembly, Rev. Miguel D’Escoto, on September 16, 2008:

At the United Nations, the word “democracyâ€Â is becoming increasingly empty, with no real meaning or substance. Take for instance, the 45-year-old United States embargo against Cuba. Even with a majority as overwhelming as 184 votes to 4, this patently unjust and universally repudiated embargo remains firmly in place. If the opinion of more than 95 per cent of the membership of the United Nations can be so casually ignored, of what use is this General Assembly? This is a question that deserves some thought. How can we be content to say that we have democracy simply because we have the “one nation, one voteâ€Â rule? What good are votes if they can be ignored or have no real consequence?

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Update:the on-line letter urging a suspension of restrictions on travel, remittances and aid by all Americans in order to provide hurricane assistance to Cuba has topped 1000 signatures. You can add your name and view the eloquent comments from very diverse sources here.

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Cuba and the EU Restore Ties

Putting an end to five years of strained relations, Cuba and the European Union signed a cooperation agreement today in Havana, AFP reports.

The development is yet another foil to the failed U.S. policy of isolation and regime change. The EU, with higher and more consistent human rights standards than the U.S., has recognized that the best course for influencing this island nation of 11 million 90 miles off Key West, is one of engagement.

The announcement also came with a considerable sweetener to this nation devastated by the 2008 hurricane season: 2 million euros in immediate assistance and promises of at least 25 million euros more in 2009.

This will make next week's vote at the U.N. General Assembly, condemning the U.S. policy of embargo and the extraterritorial sanctions embodied in the Helms-Burton Act, even more lonely for the United States. It is quite a prominent dismissal of American interests, something the Europeans do only with considerable deliberation and cause.

It seems to me it is a good time to apply General Colin Powell's eponymous doctrine to U.S.-Cuba policy. Here is one version of that doctrine, designed to help the nation's leaders determine whether the United States should go to war. Full-scale economic embargo is generally seen as the last step the United States takes before war, and as far as I understand, we do not currently have and have never undertaken any other peacetime embargo of this scope. Even Iran, which many believe today posts one of the greatest threats to American interests, does not suffer the extent of sanctions that Cuba does.

But I digress. Here is the Powell Doctrine:

1. Is a vital national security interest threatened?
2. Do we have a clear attainable objective?
3. Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed?
4. Have all other non-violent policy means been fully exhausted?
5. Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement?
6. Have the consequences of our action been fully considered?
7. Is the action supported by the American people?
8. Do we have genuine broad international support?

Recognizing that numbers four and five do not apply to an economic embargo, it seems to me that for all these questions, the answer is a resounding no. There is no vital national security interest threatened, we do not have an attainable objective (though regime change certainly is clear), the costs have not been analyzed and therefore the consequences are harming U.S. interests in the Hemisphere and around the world, the policy is supported only by a minority of voters in Florida and New Jersey, and finally, no one, save for Israel, Palau and the Marshall Islands, supports us.

It's time for common sense to once again rule on Cuba policy. The EU's message could not be clearer.