Posts in Cuba travel regulations

Latin America: The missing region in the U.S. elections?


It has become commonplace to say that Latin America was absent from the 2012 election campaign in the United States. It is understandable, because the region was mentioned only once in the candidates’ foreign policy debate (by Governor Romney, when he referred to the potential of free trade agreements in the hemisphere), and it got almost no attention in campaign speeches. However, as with much conventional wisdom, the devil is in the definitions. If Latin America’s impact on U.S. politics is viewed in terms of relations between governments, the statement is correct; if, on the other hand, the concept includes the public, then the region was present like never before in the elections.

It is time to think about Latin American policy within a broader framework than old-fashioned nationalism. The political borders of transnational societies in the U.S. and the rest of the hemisphere have little to do with their legal boundaries. Latin America and the United States do not start or end with the Rio Grande or the Caribbean Sea. With their many, non-exclusive identities, Latin American and Caribbean Diasporas are increasingly important in the U.S. and in their home countries. The rigid cultural/linguistic/religious divide between indigenous/Hispanic/Catholic “Latin America” and “Anglo-Saxon/Protestant/white” United States needs to be revised.

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.

Scholar Advocates for Increased Academic Partnership Between U.S. and Cuba

I would like to share with the readers of the Havana Note this interview with Douglas Fehlen from The direct link to the interview is at the end of the text:  

Scholar Advocates for Increased Academic Partnership Between U.S. and Cuba

Jan 12, 2012

In January, President Obama lifted restrictions on academic travel to Cuba, making it easier for students to partake in educational exchanges with the island country. To get an expert's perspective on that decision, spoke with Arturo López-Levy, Ph.D. candidate and research associate at the University of Denver's Josef Korbel School of International Studies. López-Levy is a passionate advocate for increasing shared educational opportunities between the U.S. and Cuba.

By Douglas Fehlen In a article, you praised President Obama's January decision to ease restrictions on academic travel to Cuba. Why do you support this policy change?For decades, the United States has maintained no formal diplomatic relations with Cuba, enforcing severe travel and trade restrictions against the country all the while. Arturo López-Levy, Ph.D. candidate and research associate at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, is a longtime critic of American policy toward the Caribbean nation. The University of Denver scholar believes that recent changes in American policy - including relaxed regulations on educational, cultural and religious travel - have the potential to transform the relationship between the two countries.

A for Effort, but Can Diaz-Balart and Rivera Really Beat Back Obama's Cuba Travel Policies?

[This is an slightly updated version of a post from last Friday, when for some reason, many of our subscribers didn't get the feed.  Let's hope that's resolved now.]

In The Miami Herald this week:

"Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart's efforts to tighten travel to Cuba stand a good chance despite a presidential veto threat.",_official_portrait,_111th_Congress.jpgThat subhead sure sounds exciting, but I just don't buy it.  On what basis does The Herald reach this conclusion?  On the push-messaging of a pro-restrictions lobbyist, an unidentified Democratic Hill staffer, and Joe Garcia, a former Congressional candidate in South Florida who, I would guess, wants to make sure that Miami Cubans who want their travel rights protected don't sleep through this defining moment. 

Last week's full page ad taken out in El Nuevo Herald by the Cuban American Commission for Family Rights warning that families are "in danger of losing their rights" suggests pro-travel Cuban Americans aren't taking any chances.  Now, with the all-out assault on the Obama administration's Cuba travel reforms over the last two years included in the House Foreign Affairs Committee Foreign Authorization markup this week, how bad is it for Cuba policy reformers, really?

You Put Your Right Foot In...

Photo courtesy of Flickr/PodKnox

“YES YOU CAN” encourages the website of a travel provider specializing in tours of Cuba. Itineraries are listed for nearly every remaining week of 2011 and most of 2012. “The floodgates have opened,” it proclaims, offering visitors endless itineraries for educational and cultural tours. According to the Cuba's National Office of Statistics, the island has already received more than a million visitors this year, an increase of 11.9% over the same period in 2010. While the origin of Cuba’s visitors in 2011 mirror patterns of previous years, the majority arriving from Canada, Russia, Argentina, the UK, Chile and France, it seems Americans may very soon be walking Cuban streets in the greatest numbers seen in more than a decade.

U.S.-based Cuba travel service providers are ramping up operations in the hopes that large numbers of Americans will take advantage of the Obama Administration’s changes to regulations governing people-to people travel to Cuba, announced in January of this year.  The changes greatly expand opportunities for educational and religious travel via general license, (the general license does not require the traveler to be pre-authorized for travel) as well as more limited opportunities for travel under the more cumbersome and restrictive, specific license which continues to govern travel for cultural and humanitarian purposes. (For a more detailed explanation about the regulations, see this excellent analysis by the Latin America Working Group)

Last week, I offered a rather bleak but honest assessment of the Obama administration’s track-record on Cuba policy thus far. As it happened, just a day or two later the Associated Press published an article about the potential up-tick in American visitors to the island in 2011 that may result from the the new travel policy. “The forbidden fruit of American travel to Cuba is once again in reach,” reads the opening sentence.

I couldn’t help but dwell on the absurdity illustrated by the juxtaposition of these two realities. On the one hand, we have an Administration that makes what is essentially its first major endorsement of a policy of greater exchange between Cubans and Americans late on a Friday afternoon, as if it were the ugly step child of its Latin America agenda, yet there are potentially tens of thousands of Americans eager to travel to Cuba, and their right to do so just happens to be supported by Americans and Cuban voices that span the political and ideological spectrum.

Cuba News Roundup: Airports, Party Leadership and Trial of Alan Gross

It figures that just as I get ready to take an extended leave for the next two months (during which I'll be unable to blog here as much as I'd like), U.S.-Cuban affairs would get to their most interesting - and critical - point in some time. 

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Xenimus86's photostreamIn recent days we've learned that April's Communist Party Congress in Cuba may not just clarify and embrace the ongoing economic overhaul, but now it will include election of new leadership - which offers the prospect that Fidel Castro will step down as party head, Raul Castro will presumably take his place, and someone else will step into the number 2 spot.  Any readers want to take a gander at that one in the comments section?

And then there's what fate awaits Alan Gross, the American contractor the Wall Street Journal editorial board today suggests went on trial in Cuba for "bringing computer equipment to the island to help Cuban Jews communicate with the disapora"?  It never ceases to amaze me how easy it is, even, and especially perhaps, for the media to ignore the parts of reality it cares to.  Gross was allegedly delivering highly advanced and unregulated satellite communications equipment (added emphasis is mine) on behalf of a foreign, and let's face it, hostile, power.  That's a big difference, particularly when we know that droves of American Jews visit the island every year to connect and make generous donations, resulting in community amenities like a computer lab.

The WSJ may in fact be absolutely right that the Cuban government is "terrified of the internet," but questioning the motives behind the application of a law in another country doesn't give you the right to expect that law to be disregarded because you believe your motives to be on a higher order.

Rubio's First Amendment in the Senate Would Undo New Cuba Regulations

You have to wonder if anyone on newly minted Senator Marco Rubio's staff discussed with him the pros and cons of having his very first filed amendment in the Senate be Cuba-focused?  Perhaps they thought no one would notice, since the word Cuba doesn't appear in the amendment to the Senate's FAA reauthorization bill under consideration this week, but the Tampa Tribune's The Buzz wasn't fooled, and sees in it an attempt to block the Obama administration's new regulations allowing any U.S. airport with sufficient resources to handle such flights to offer flights to Cuba. 

Until the new regulations were issued, Miami more than dominated the market with several flights in and out of Cuba daily (Los Angeles and New York offer weekly flights).  But Tampa also has a significant Cuban American population, and both the airport and Tampa Congresswoman Kathy Castor fought to expand rights to more airports around the country.

So, what would the Rubio amendment do?  (Read here for yourself - h/t to the ever vigilant folks at Cuba Central.) It would prohibit any U.S. airports from adding any more flights than there were in the previous fiscal year to countries identified by the State Department as state sponsors of terrorism.  (Cuba, Sudan, Syria and Iran are now the only countries on that list, after the Bush administration removed North Korea, Libya and Iraq.) Sounds a little complicated right?  Why wouldn't Rubio just offer an amendment to ban all flights to such countries, particularly given how strongly he seems to feel about the issue:

“Instead of doing business with regimes that undermine America’s security and routinely violate the basic norms of human dignity, we should be bolstering our democratic allies through deeper economic ties."

Boy, he seems to mean business (no pun intended), no?  So, why the half-measure?  Because leaving the flights as they were last year means Rubio's amendment won't technically ground the hundreds of thousands of Cuban Americans who were already traveling home regularly.  As much as Rubio might wish these Cuban Americans would just stay stateside and act like exiles, putting the genie back in the bottle now would endanger his standing with this sizable block of voters.

Time For Strait Talk

"When U.S. President Barack Obama announced his decision this month to ease restrictions on Americans traveling and sending money to Cuba, he did it late on a Friday afternoon before a long holiday weekend -- a old trick from the White House playbook, used by presidents hoping to make controversial policy changes with as little uproar as possible from the U.S. Congress and the media. But Obama shouldn't have been so quiet about the move -- it is the best Cuba policy decision the United States has made in years."

That is an excerpt from my article “Strait Talk” published by Foreign Policy about President Obama’s recent decision to ease restrictions on Americans traveling and sending money to Cuba. The article examines the White House decision, and its positive consequences for American relations with Cuban civil society.  To read the whole piece, click here.

The new policy has significant limitations. It doesn’t end the counterproductive fifty years embargo and continues some of the process of licensing for religious leaders, scholars, cultural personalities and professors. Why not simply allow every American educator, college student, scholar, artist, and religious leader to travel to Cuba in the same way most Cuban Americans go?

New Cuba Travel Regulations Published in Federal Register Today

Compared to the nearly six months it took to publish regulations easing family travel and remittance restrictions in 2009, today's publication of the new Cuba travel and remittance rules announced on January 14th was clean and efficient.  The administration is to be commended on finally using the rip-the-bandaid-off approach; announcing a policy without implementing it leads to all kinds of meddling and second-guessing by outsiders.  Which, actually, is exactly what appeared to happen when the existence of these draft regulations leaked out last August.  When the regulations didn't come during the August recess, nor the October recess, nor even the end of year/holiday recess, many believed they'd been nixed.   And with the fabled regulations went any hope that the Obama administration was capable of formulating and implementing a more coherent, results-oriented, and more U.S.-interests based Cuba policy than the one it inherited.

By those measures, the administration truly made progress this month on one of the most neglected but promising foreign policy issues on its plate.  A the same time, I'd be lying if I didn't insist there's still ample room for improvement.  One hopes this wasn't just a "get-this-thing-off-my-plate" move, but rather the unjamming of whatever logjam there was on an issue that offers this administration such outsized gain at so little risk.

On coherence: With the new rules, and the announcement that preceded them, the administration has been at pains to state clearly that it views these new measures as a continuation of the objective that brought us the 2009 family travel and remittance reforms (which candidate Obama promised during his presidential campaign).  From today's Federal Register:

"In a statement issued on January 14, 2011, the President announced 
a series of changes to ease the restrictions on travel to and from Cuba 
as part of an initiative to support the Cuban people's desire to freely 
determine their country's future by, among other things, supporting 
licensed travel and intensifying people-to-people exchanges. This 
announcement builds on the President's April 13, 2009 initiative to 
promote greater contact between separated family members in the United 
States and Cuba."