Posts in U.S.-Cuban relations
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.
Regardless of how long he lives, Fidel Castro has an influential role in shaping the political discourse in Cuba. Fidel skillfully mixed Marxism and nationalism and made a revolution that changed the history not only of Cuba but also of the whole Western hemisphere. He was the most popular leader in a generation of Cubans, a political giant who reached world dimensions during the Cold War. As professor Jorge Dominguez from Harvard University said, If there have been competitive elections in the early 1960’s, Castro could have won them all. He didn't have the chance. In the most difficult moments of the Cold War, the United States, as the hegemonic power in the Americas, didn't have tolerance for a nationalist leader who aspired to an independent neutralist course not to mention a socialist one, no matter how popular Castro was among his people.
One might expect that a terrible coincidence such as an American prisoner in Cuba and a paroled Cuban prisoner in the U.S. each desperately seeking permission to visit beloved relatives dying of cancer in their home countries might finally move both governments to do the right thing and send each man home. But so far, both governments have dug in their heels needlessly regarding the prisoners in their own custody, while at the same time, insisting that clemency should be shown towards their own citizens held in the other country.
So what happens now that a federal judge in Miami has approved Rene Gonzalez’s petition for a two week visit to his brother in Cuba? The judge gave her permission so long as Gonzalez obtains the necessary license from the U.S. government, provides his itinerary, keeps up with his parole officer while in Cuba, and returns when his two weeks are up. Lucky for Gonzalez that Mr. Obama delivered on his campaign promise to Cuban Americans back in 2009: anyone can visit close family in Cuba under ‘general license’ authority, so he doesn’t have to ask for further permission. This is good news for Gonzalez and his brother.
But will it mean good news for Alan Gross, in exchange? Unfortunately, it’s hard to argue this can be an ‘exchange’ of humanitarian gestures by the two governments, since Obama’s Justice Department opposed Gonzalez’s deathbed visit to his brother. These kinds of equities – or inequities – weigh heavily in Havana. When former governor Bill Richardson visited Cuba last August and suggested a swap of Gonzalez for Gross, Cuban National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon scoffed at the idea – Gonzalez was finishing his term, having served more than a dozen years in prison, whereas Gross had only just begun his sentence of 15 years. And, from the Cuban government’s perspective, Gonzalez was merely trying to protect Cuba, whereas Gross’s work to establish untraceable Wi-Fi networks on the island was funded under a statute calling for regime change in Cuba. (U.S. officials naturally have a different view: they cite national security concerns about Gonzalez, who was an unregistered agent of the Cuban government in the U.S., and they view Gross’s work as purely humanitarian in nature. )
Another reason why Cuba is less likely to grant Mr. Gross a deathbed visit to his mother is that granting a temporary release to Gross is tantamount to simply commuting his sentence. Why would he return to Cuba once reaching the U.S.? Gonzalez is likely return to the U.S. out of a sense of solidarity with the rest of the Cuban Five; if he fails to meet the conditions set out by the judge that granted his motion in the first place, that could impact decisions made on future motions filed by the rest of them. But Gross has nothing else at stake in Cuba, and if the Cuban government is bent on keeping him as a chip for the right humanitarian bargain to come along (say one that includes more of the Five), then granting his deathbed visit request would take away that imagined leverage.
But it’s a mistake to think that Mr. Gross offers any leverage to Cuba.
What’s the best way to gauge if anyone in Washington understands what’s going on in Havana? Try to grill Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
More than once, I’ve complained about the Obama administration’s tone-deafness on the shifting political, social and economic climate in Cuba. We (and by we, I mean they) were slow-to-absent in acknowledging and encouraging the 2010-2011 political prisoner releases brokered between Raul Castro, Cuba’s Catholic Cardinal Jaime Ortega and the previous (Zapatero) government in Spain, and President Obama himself has highlighted the ongoing economic changes in Cuba only to call them insufficient.
So it was fascinating to watch this exchange at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing this week in which Cuban-American Congressman David Rivera pressed Secretary Clinton for any “tangible” progress towards democracy in Cuba thanks to the Obama administration’s policy toward the island:
Despite the tensions associated with the upcoming 2012 election campaign in the US, a dialogue between Washington and Havana, as proposed by the Cuban Foreign Relations Minister Bruno Rodriguez, is also in the interest of the Obama Administration, which has nothing to gain from more conflicts in its relationship with Cuba. President Barack Obama's positions favoring dialogue without preconditions, increasing people to people contacts, and reaching mutually beneficial agreements on bilateral issues were never predicated on sympathy for Fidel or Raul Castro, but rather on the conviction that diplomacy and contacts between societies are the best ways to promote US national interests.
By that standard, the balance of the first three years of the Obama administration's relationship with Cuba is positive. The increase in cultural, family, humanitarian and religious travel to Cuba accelerates current reforms in Cuba, improves the image of the US in the hemisphere, and strengthens domestic political trends favoring an engagement policy that is less dependent on the Miami right and more consistent with democratic values and US strategic and economic interests.
Five years after Fidel Castro’s separation from power, it is essential to examine the role that the former revolutionary leader has played in the current Cuban political system from his convalescence and retirement, and the consequences of this evolution.
The fundamental role of Fidel Castro in the Cuban political system today is two-fold: 1) In terms of government, Fidel Castro is the great counselor, to be consulted on strategic decisions or with respect to the appointment or removal of central leaders, as was the case in the termination of the political careers of his former associates Felipe Perez and Carlos Lage and in the constitution of the new Central Committee at the Sixth Congress, 2) In terms of ideology and international projection, particularly in Latin America, he is a Patriarch of the radical left, advising the new leaders, especially Hugo Chavez, and reflecting on some of the past mistakes made by this political sector (in his Reflections and interviews he has criticized discrimination against homosexuals, hostility toward the market, and Ahmadinejad's anti-Semitism that has been repeated in many of the anti-Israeli condemnations by the radical Latin American left).
What would Ronald Reagan’s policy towards Cuba be today? Nobody can say for sure. It is certain that he would oppose and denounce communism, but would he support the travel ban and oppose educational, cultural and academic exchanges with Havana as Marco Rubio, Mario Diaz-Balart, David Rivera and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen do? In today’s post-Cold War environment, it is worthwhile to note that several members of Reagan’s team and many of the intellectuals who inspired his government such as Milton Friedman, Dick Cheney, and former Secretary of State George Schultz have supported a change in Washington’s policy.
Twenty eight years ago, in March of 1983, President Reagan gave a historic speech to the National Association of Evangelicals in Orlando and called the Soviet Union, the "evil empire". Reagan’s words about communism did not allow for nuances. It was “us against them”. Reagan’s clarity sent a meaningful message to average citizens of the democratic world and the many oppressed behind the iron curtain.
But Reagan’s speech to the Evangelicals in Florida should not be selectively cut from the whole of his general foreign policy approach to communism. Unfortunately, in the issue of foreign policy towards Cuba, supporters of the embargo use Reagan’s phrases to promote a “magical realism” version of what a moral policy towards communism should be.
After a nearly three month-long leave, I've got lots of Cuba news catching up to do. Much has happened. And much has stayed the same.
In Cuba, following the Sixth Party Congress in April, we're beginning to see some changes, rolled out one-by-one, with little fanfare (as Phil Peters pointed out was how countless needed reforms would come about). For instance, the government is offering private entrepreneurs several tax breaks designed to help spur their growth - offering a payroll tax holiday for 2011 for businesses with fewer than five employees, and finally allowing private restaurants (known as paladars) to serve up to fifty customers at a time - up from 20, which was up from 12. It's easy to see these and other recent reforms as overdue, and as playing too much at the margins.
But, however slowly it moves ahead, this is a government that has committed itself to a long range reform process. It's all here - in the very public, fully discussed and debated, 313 lineamentos or guidelines for reforms. Oh, and let's not forget Raul Castro's embrace of term limits, which, if he honors it, will have tremendous implications for Cuban political leadership and reform in the next several years.
But it's this distinction, between the journey and the end, that President Obama failed to acknowledge in his recent interview with Univision's Jose Diaz-Balart (yes, brother to Lincoln and Mario, and nephew of Fidel Castro's first wife, Mirta).
Dawn at the Melia Cohiba Hotel in Havana
During my visit to Cuba at the beginning of May, I was reminded of the mis-comprehension and suspicion that dominate both Havana and Washington.
Cubans were of mixed minds about the just completed VI Congress of the Communist Party. The published record had not yet been released, so my varied interlocutors were free to read as much or as little into press accounts of the results as fit their predispositions.
Regardless of whether positive or negative about what was accomplished in this round, everyone agreed Cuba is engaged in a substantial and irreversible evolution of its social and economic order.
Continuity of leadership was regarded as a holding pattern, symbolically disappointing but expected. Raul Castro solidified a reform minded administration but did not take any risk of unleashing internal rivalries by choosing as Second Secretary a prospective successor from a younger generation. The more revealing stage is next January's Party conference which will focus on political and personnel issues.
Cuba's revolutionaries know their domestic legacy is at risk. Failure to successfully renovate the socialist experiment opens Cuba not so much to a takeover by Miami counterrevolutionaries or Washington hegemonists as it does to a Russian style domestic oligarchy taking personal profit from five decades of collaborative struggle and sacrifice.
While we digest the news coming out of the VI Party Congress, Larry Wilkerson has provided us with a fascinating commentary on the Bay of Pigs invasion, the 50th anniversary of which was marked several days ago. - LL
In my graduate class at the College of William and Mary two weeks ago, one of my student teams presented to our seminar, “Case Studies in Power”, its analysis of the U.S. “covert” operation to invade Cuba in 1961, usually referred to by the name of the location where the heart of the invasion was attempted, the Bay of Pigs (Bahia de Cochinos). “Covert” because almost everyone remotely involved, including the Cuban-American community in Dade County, Florida and Fidel Castro and his army and militia on Cuba, knew the invasion was pending. They did not know the exact date or time or the exact location. But, like the CIA on 10 September 2001 with respect to the next-day attacks by al Qa’ida, they all knew the attacks were being planned, trained for, and would likely happen.
Because of this extensive foreknowledge, plus several other important reasons, the members of the presentation team had no answer to the question looming in every seminar member’s mind as the presentation closed: why on earth did President Kennedy order the invasion in the first place?
That important question is given even more depth when one considers how articulate Kennedy would become after the Cuban Missile Crisis, just a year and a half later, with respect to the U.S.-Cuba relationship. His understanding of that complicated relationship becomes so profound that one must assume that some of it, at least, predated his arrival in the Oval Office and thus was a part of his thinking at the time of his decision to execute the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.
How profound was JFK’s appreciation of the relationship? Here is what JFK said to an “unofficial” envoy, French journalist Jean Daniel, who was going to Cuba in late 1963 to meet with Castro:
I believe that there is no country in the world, including all the African regions, including any and all the countries under colonial domination, where economic colonization, humiliation and exploitation were worse than in Cuba, in part owing to my country’s policies during the Batista regime….I approved the proclamation which Fidel Castro made in the Sierra Maestra, when he justifiably called for justice and especially yearned to rid Cuba of corruption. I will go even further: to some extent it is as though Batista was the incarnation of a number of sins on the part of the United States. Now we shall have to pay for those sins. In the matter of the Batista regime, I am in agreement withthe first Cuban revolutionaries. That is perfectly clear.
If JFK knew these fundamental truths about the history of the U.S.-Cuba relationship, then he should never have made the fateful decision he made to launchthe Bay of Pigs invasion. If for no other reason, Kennedy would have known that the supposition of the CIA leadership, that the Cuban people would rise up massively and assist the rather small invasion force in overthrowing Castro, was not only unlikely, it was preposterous.
How do we reconcile such an understanding as Kennedy must have had with his decision to approve the invasion?
An April 5th Reuters report headlined HAVANA carried this message: “’Repsol YPF expects to have a Chinese-built drilling rig in Cuban waters by the end of the summer and start drilling immediately into a prospective undersea oil field that looks like it could be a big one,’ a geologist for the Spanish oil company said on Monday.”
The report went on to inform readers of this reality: “After Repsol finishes with the Scarabeo 9 [the drilling rig], which is capable of drilling in 12,000 feet (3,657 meters) of water, the rig will be handed over to Malaysia's Petronas to drill in its Cuban offshore leases, then to ONGC Videsh, which is a unit of ONGC, for its Cuba exploration. ‘Venezuela's PDVSA may also be in line to get the rig for its Cuban blocks, where areas of great potential have been found,’ PDVSA senior basin analyst Jose Noya told reporters at the conference.”
As indicated, Repsol is a Spanish company, working through a consortium including Norway, Italy, Singapore (where the drilling rig is being prepared for its long ocean transit) and others to drill for oil in waters just a short distance off the coast of Florida.
That the largest economy in the world is not involved, moreover that it is doing all it can to hinder the “consortium of the willing” through its draconian embargo on Cuba—and clearly failing to do so—defies the human imagination and begs for laments of ignorance, stupidity, and craven surrender to the tiny special interest group—the hardcore Cuban-American lobby—that has long since outlived any benefit to the United States it might have once offered. In fact, that special interest group today constitutes a clear and present danger to the real security interests of the United States.
Though the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) continues to predict that Cuban waters will produce only some five billion barrels, other experts say differently—some going as high as 20 billion and more (and one wonders why all these various oil companies and their countries would be so determined to drill if the USGS forecasts are accurate?). Moreover, these experts contend that the quality of the oil might well be as high as that of Texas light sweet crude or Libyan oil of similar characteristics, i.e., oil that is not heavily laden with sulphur or other elements that make it very difficult and costly to refine and limit its uses. In short, if the 20B barrel estimates are correct and the quality of the oil turns out to be light and sweet, the U.S. will be missing out on a colossal resource development just off its coast at a time when the potential for $4-5 per gallon gasoline threatens to derail whatever economic recovery is underway.
U.S.-Cuba policy is important to Senator Kerry and he wants us to get it right. That was the message he sent last Friday when he announced he is freezing funding for the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Cuba democracy promotion programs until a complete review of the programs is completed
Kerry’s announcement came after USAID provided a spending plan (h/t Cuban Triangle) for the $20 million it recieved for Cuba democracy promotion programs in the FY2010 federal budget. For those readers who are not avid followers of the federal budget process, the U.S. Congress is currently wrangling over the FY2011 budget, in which, yes, the Administration requested another $20 million for USAID’s Cuba democracy promotion programs.
If it sounds like Kerry is singing a familiar tune, it’s because this isn’t the first time he’s tried to call attention to this deeply flawed program that has cost U.S. taxpayers more than $150 million. Four months after American USAID contractor Alan Gross was arrested in Cuba for his work on a USAID sub-contract, Kerry placed a hold on the dispersal of USAID Cuba democracy promotion funds to allow the State Department to conduct a review of the program.
As Kerry’s spokesman, Fred Jones said at the time, “We all want democratic change in Cuba,” Jones continued. “The question is whether American taxpayers are getting progress towards that goal.”
Unfortunately, it seems the most that came of that review was a modest attempt to broaden and de-politicize the program’s roster of recipients to include “marginalized communities” such as those living in rural areas, ethnic and religious minorities, as well as to promote grass-roots economic development. Expanding the program to encompass more traditional USAID priorities such as economic development was a good move, but it didn’t address the more fundamental concerns with the program- that it operates without the consent of the host government and under Cuban law, put Americans and Cubans involved with the program at risk.
In reviewing the transcript of former President Carter’s press conference in Havana on Wednesday, he says many things we’ve all heard before: End the embargo. Remove Cuba from the U.S. State Department’s State Sponsors of Terrorism List. Restore basic freedoms in Cuba. What's refreshing though is that these comments emanate from one individual, who, as a former U.S President and recipient of the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize, knows more than a bit about the intersection of foreign policy making and human rights.
Consistency is something often lacking in discussions about U.S.-Cuba policy, such that Carter's two-pronged message, calling on both the U.S. and Cuba to take affirmative steps to improve relations, carried with it the exotic flavor of equity. In calling for the repeal of the U.S. embargo and the end of restrictions on travel between the U.S. and Cuba for Americans and Cubans, Carter pointed out the hypocrisy of a U.S. policy that curtails the rights of its own citizens under the guise of punishing a rights-abusing regime.
“I believe we should immediately eliminate the trade embargo that the United States has imposed on the people of Cuba and also allow travel without any kind of restriction from the U.S. to Cuba and vice-versa…”
One does not have to agree with everything the former President said to appreciate the significance of a distinguished American statesman publicly calling for an end to the U.S. embargo and decrying Cuba’s lack of freedoms in a single breath.
For the past two days, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has met with a range of government officials and religious leaders in Havana. This morning, he spoke with a group Cuban human rights and pro-democracy activists including bloggers Yoani Sánchez and Claudia Cadelo, Elizardo Sánchez of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, Oswaldo Payá co-founder of the Varela Project, members of the Damas de Blanco, and 12 “Black Spring” prisoners who, upon their recent release from prison, have remained in Cuba.
Of particular interest to many is his meeting this morning with members of the dissident community, something that puts him in sharp contrast with other high-level officials who visit Cuba and do not publicly meet or otherwise acknowledge Cuba's human rights and pro-democracy activists.
In spite of Carter's well-balanced agenda, critics are of course arguing that his visit brings legitimacy to the Cuban government. Yes, after more than fifty years of relatively stable communist rule in Cuba, some are still pulling their hair out over questions of legitimacy. However one defines legitimate, the Cuban government is a functioning actor in the international community whether you agree with their ideology or not. And beyond questions of legitimacy, to think that engagement equals endorsement is to reduce U.S. foreign policy to the simplicity of pre-school politics. “I don’t like you, so I’m not going to talk to you”. Our foreign policy making tool box is too well stocked to circumscribe our powers within such an immature and simplistic doctrine.
It is true that U.S. support, or the withholding thereof, can be decisive at moments of political upheaval abroad, such as during electoral disputes or times of open revolution, but Cuba is not experiencing such instability. While we may be outraged by the lack of basic freedoms in Cuba, refusing to engage with Havana on this and other issues will only provide fodder for Cuban propaganda that paints the U.S. as behemoth of the North. It's already been observed that Cuba's state-run media is reporting on Carter's trip in much more neutral language than is normally used in relation to the United States.
I won't rehash here all the reasons we should be engaging with Cuba, but in so far as we are interested in advancing the freedom of both the Cuban and American people, our dismal track record should be evidence enough that the status quo isn't working.
Alan Gross, a Maryland-based USAID subcontractor detained in Cuba in December 2009, is finally about to get his day - or days - in court on March 4th. His family, and U.S. consular officials will be allowed to attend the trial.
As CBS Havana Bureau Chief Portia Siegelbaum reports, there may be a surprise witness in the room too. Finally, a member of the Jewish community has stepped forward to say he did encounter Alan Gross, several times. But William Miller, former Vice President of the the Templo Beth Shalom in Vedado, says Gross's activities "had absolutely nothing to do with the Jewish community," as State Department officials have repeatedly insisted. Though Miller wouldn't elaborate on exactly what role he'll play in Gross's trial, he revealed he'll be "a part of it." And, then he added this, clear as mud:
"The solution to the problem is coming . . . better for the government to explain everything."
It's hard to imagine Miller would utter one word the government didn't want revealed in such a sensitive case. For those of us who saw this whole saga as an unfortunate dragging of one man and his family into a tortured diplomatic relationship, Miller's comments about a "solution" offer hope that Gross could soon return to his family.
All the Cuba news right now seems to be on the 'communication' front. This month's announcement from the Obama administration that it plans to encourage "people to people" contacts with and travel to Cuba came just before Cuban authorities announced suspension of mail service to the United States. Ironic timing, but the two issues aren't otherwise connected. Though no one knows for sure, it would seem that the mail bomb packages from Yemen led to new restrictions and uncertainties- and heaps of mail returned to Cuba's postal authorities - got to be a financial burden. It's not clear why the third party shippers would return Cuban-origin mail, but the U.S. says it has not restricted Cuban-origin mail specifically. It's ironic, since the US and Cuba restarted mail talks nearly a year and a half ago, in hopes of restarting direct mail service between the two countries. This problem might not have cropped up had they been able to come to agreement. Now they can't even make indirect mail service work. Is it too much to hope that this suspension gives U.S. and Cuban authorities something to work toward for this summer's migration talks (since there's been no visible progress on that front)?
Meanwhile, an underwater broadband cable is making its way from Venezuela, though it's unclear at this point just how it may or may not change Cubans' digital lives. The Guardian reports that the priority will be to improve the incredibly slow satellite connection shared by government officials, academics, researchers, certain businesses and foreign hotels and other companies. Improving the efficiency of all of these priority sectors will be important to the success of the current economic restructuring underway on the island. But of course, questions are bound to be asked about how to increase access to the internet for the broader population. Rome wasn't built - or wired - in a day, but critics will nonetheless accuse the government of blocking average citizens' access. It would be nice to see internet cafes and public access points pop up and address the pent up demand. And frankly, many private businesses the government hopes can fill the income and employment gap it no longer wants to fill could benefit from use of the internet - particularly those that will prosper if they can better advertise to foreign clientele, like casa particulares and paladars.
And at a conference organized by the Center for International Policy today, Professor Phil Brenner, one of several panelists speaking about the Obama administration announcement on travel and on other issues ripe for progress on the Cuba policy front, made an interesting point about the small Cuban businesses and the Obama administration policy. Now that university students will no longer be practically incapable of studying in Cuba (Brenner says about 300 American students studied in Cuba last year, as opposed to some 10,000 six years ago before government regulations snuffed out most of the exchanges), they will be among the most likely Americans to frequent - and thus bolster - Cuban businesses like casas particulares and paladar restaurants. It's not as big an impact as, say, hundreds of thousands of Americans would have on these fledging businesses, but it's yet another reason why increasing academic exchanges is just plain good policy. I hope that's not what Senator Bob Menendez meant when he said he hoped to "limit the impact" of the administration's new policy.
The fourth round of U.S.-Cuban migration talks wrapped up in Havana this week, with just two newsworthy tidbits. The Cuban government allowed Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson to visit with the American USAID subcontractor, Alan Gross, who has been detained in Cuba for more than one year now without charges, and, Jacobson and the American delegation visited with Cuban dissidents, in spite of the Cuban government's request that they not do so. The latter evoked an angry response from Cuba's foreign ministry, which described the U.S. delegation's visit as a "flagrant violation of the international norms and principles" under which the two countries should operate (my translation below):
"This act confirms once again that there's no change in the U.S. policy of subversion and interference in Cuban internal affairs, and that its priority continues to be to encourage internal counterrevolution and promote destabalizing activities, while it intensifies the embargo and the persecution of Cuban financial and comercial transactions around the world."
When this same thing happened last year, right down to the immediate and angry "we asked you not to" response from Cuba, I concluded it was all essentially a show; Cuba asks the U.S. not to use the occasion of diplomatic talks to visit (and, as they see it, elevate) internal critics, the U.S. delegation went ahead anyway, and Cuba threw a fit on principle. I still believe that to be the case, but I don't see the Cuban concerns, particularly as expressed this year, as cosmetic. What they are essentially saying is, 'you Americans come here (and leave here) saying how willing you are to cooperate with us, but out of the other side of your mouth, while you're still standing on Cuban soil, you make only gestures of disrespect, and oh by the way, in just this last year you've been trying to strangle us even harder than before - what gives?'
It might be a bit of Kabuki theater, but I find myself wondering if the Cuban side has decided to put up with these visits not because they don't really care (what impact do they truly have?) but because that's the price they must pay for continued talks. While we haven't seen a big agreement signing come out of these talks, they are an important way to raise concerns and build trust. And with big changes underway in Cuba, and the potential for President Obama to win a second and (presumably) less politically penned-in second term, I doubt either side wants to jeopardize this channel. Six, eight years ago, talks such as these could so easily be blown up by two very trigger happy sides.
Oddly enough, freshman GOP Senator (and Tea Party darling) Marco Rubio is counting on Democrat Bob Menendez to hold the line on Cuba policy reforms in the Senate this year. But, he told two hard-line Miami radio show hosts, he does plan to educate his fellow colleagues from agriculture states about political prisoners in Cuba (afterall, they’re “not communists” – they just don’t know any better).
Rubio disagreed with the Obama administration’s decision to ease restrictions on family travel in 2009 (see here for why), and tells the Miami-based Radio Mambi show that he thinks the administration may be looking to do more. (H/T to Politico's Ben Smith for posting the interview.) My informal translation follows:
“It’s important that this community and especially our elected officials, especially those holding federal office, express clearly that our position hasn’t changed and won’t change. If there’s something that has to change here, it’s in Cuba, there needs to be a change in government there. And if U.S. policy should change toward Cuba, then it should become even more tough.”
Does that refrain sound hopelessly familiar to anyone? I’m sure an hour on the internet could turn up numerous such statements from Florida politicians and Bush administration officials in the last decade alone.
Rubio, and anyone following Cuba news last year, knows well that the inter-agency approved new regulations for Cuba travel last summer. But perhaps he’s worried about any progress this week at the next round of twice-yearly bilateral talks on the 1994-95 migration accords.
The HMS Manchester, the first Royal Navy warship to stop in Cuba has arrived in Havana this week. As part of its efforts throughout the Caribbean to combat illegal drug trade, the Navy expects this visit to help "strengthen collaboration on counter-narcotics and disaster relief." The BBC reports:
"Cuba lies in a strategic position spanning the main sea routes between South America and the United States.
The communist-run island has long cracked down on both drug use and smuggling.
There is some co-operation with the US but Washington has yet to respond to offers from the Cuban government to formalise and expand these arrangements.
Naturally, the British Royal Navy visit serves as a painful reminder that our closest ally works to enhance anti-narcotics cooperation in the Caribbean (and what many Americans view as our backyard), the U.S. continues to insist - who knows why - on limiting our cooperation to a case-by-case basis.
Though it seems paralyzed to advance concrete security interests such as this, the Obama administration seems to have at least opened up space for artists and musicians to travel to and from the island. For more than a year now, a steady stream of American and Cuban artists have been performing in eachother's countries. Just recently, the America Ballet Theatre Company made its first trip to the island in over fifty years, and Wynton Marsalis and members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra gave concerts in Cuba too. And, in an interesting bit of timing, the day after the calamitous (for the Democrats) mid-term elections, the New York Philharmonic finally received permission to perform in Havana and bring funder/docents along with them. Global Post's Nick Miroff writes about the disconnect between this gusher of cultural diplomacy and the lack of political movement on anything more than that: