News on US Cuba Policy

News on US Cuba Policy

News articles posted here pertain to changes in US Cuba policy brought about by Executive or Legislative action and on efforts by US citizens and organizations to bring about change.

Cuba's sustainable agriculture at risk in US diplomatic thaw
by Miguel Altieri, The Ecologist, April 1, 2016

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Cuba’s Environmental Concerns Grow With Prospect of U.S. Presence
By Erica Goode,
The New York Times, July 1, 2015

HAVANA — Like many of his countrymen, Jorge Angulo hopes the United States will lift the decades-old economic embargo against Cuba.

But Dr. Angulo, a senior marine scientist at the University of Havana, is also worried about the effects that a flood of American tourists and American dollars might have on this country’s pristine coral reefs, mangrove forests, national parks and organic farms — environmental assets that are a source of pride here.

“Like anywhere else, money talks,” Dr. Angulo said. “That might be dangerous, because if we go too much on that side, we lose what we have today.”

As relations between the United States and Cuba have warmed — the countries announced on Wednesday that their embassies in Havana and Washington would reopen by July 20 for the first time in more than 50 years — and as the renewal of trade seems more of a possibility, the Cuban government faces pivotal choices.

The country is in desperate need of the economic benefits that a lifting of the embargo would almost certainly bring. But the ban, combined with Cuba’s brand of controlled socialism, has also limited development and tourism that in other countries, including many of Cuba’s Caribbean neighbors, have eroded beaches, destroyed forests, polluted rivers, damaged coral reefs and wreaked other forms of environmental havoc.

In March, a delegation from the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba, an agribusiness group that includes Cargill, the National Grain and Feed Association, the National Chicken Council and other companies and organizations, flew to Havana to meet with Cuban officials.

And cruise ship companies and hotel chains like Marriott and Hilton have indicated their enthusiasm. “I can’t stop thinking about it,” Frank Del Rio, chief executive officer of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, said in an interview. “Cuba and the cruise industry are just a match made in heaven, waiting to happen.”

Despite modest economic advances in the last 15 years, much in Cuba can seem frozen in time, with crumbling Havana buildings and old Chevys and Ladas serving as markers of how far the country has been left behind. But that also means that much of Cuba’s more than 3,500 miles of coastline has remained undeveloped.

In Jucaro, on the south coast, weatherworn fishing boats line the harbor, but the condos and souvenir shops that clutter most Caribbean seaside towns are nowhere to be seen.

Over the last two decades, Cuba has taken steps to preserve its natural resources and promote sustainable development. Environmental problems remain, including overfishing and the erosion and deforestation left from earlier eras. But the ministry overseeing environmental issues has a strong voice.

And since 1992, when Fidel Castro denounced “the ecological destruction threatening the planet” in a speech to the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit, a series of tough environmental laws has been passed, including regulations governing the management of the coastal zone. The government has designated 104 marine protected areas, though some still exist only on paper, with no administration or enforcement, and it has set a goal of conserving 25 percent of the country’s coastal waters.

Yet Cuba’s commitment to environmental protection has never been tested, or tempted, as forcefully as it is likely to be should the trade and travel barriers with the United States fall. Despite the thaw between the United States and Cuba, many obstacles to tourism and commerce remain. Congress would have to vote to ease the embargo, an unlikely development during the presidential campaign. And even if the embargo were lifted, Cuba’s labyrinthine tax structure, legal system and laws regulating business present their own hurdles.

Cuba’s green sensitivities evolved as much out of necessity as ideology.

The collapse of the Soviet bloc in 1991 and the continued isolation by the United States forced the country to fend for itself. With the tools of big agriculture — fuel for heavy machinery, chemical fertilizers, pesticides — out of reach, farming moved away from the increased sugar production that characterized the Soviet era, turning more to organic techniques and cooperatives of small farmers. Oxen replaced tractors, and even today, a farmer walking behind his plow is a common sight in the countryside.

The southern port town of Jucaro is used mainly by fishing boats. Some fear American developers will ruin Cuba's pristine coastlines by dotting them with hotels and condominiums. Credit Todd Heisler/The New York Times
“Basically, folks said we need the farmers to go out and figure out how we’re going to feed ourselves,” said Greg Watson, a former agriculture commissioner for Massachusetts, who visited Cuba last fall with a delegation studying sustainable agriculture.

At the same time, scientists, who are held in high esteem here, promoted the value of keeping marine resources intact — both to draw European tourism, essential for an island country with little domestic industry, and to help sustain the fisheries that formed a vital part of the economy.

Cuban officials insist that the country’s strong environmental laws and commitment to protecting natural resources will hold up in the face of American money and influence. And they note that Cuba is no stranger to tourism: Europeans, Canadians, Australians and others flock to cafes in Old Havana, visit Vinyales or sun themselves on the beach at Varadero or Cayo Coco, resort areas that already have hotels, developed with the help of foreign investment.

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Time for a new policy on Cuba

BY PATRICK LEAHY AND JEFF FLAKE, Miami Herald, February 10, 2014


We are in the fifth decade — more than half a century — of our country’s embargo toward Cuba. During that time the Soviet Union has ceased to exist. Apartheid in South Africa has ended. We have re-established diplomatic relations with the communist governments of China and Vietnam. Still, the United States has refused to reexamine the political and economic embargo on Cuba.

A majority of Americans, including Cuban-Americans, wants to change course. So do we.

A new public opinion poll commissioned by the Atlantic Council's Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center and carried out by a team of highly respected pollsters from both sides of the aisle shows a stark contrast between current American attitudes and the archaic U.S. embargo.

A solid majority of Americans from every region and across party lines supports normalizing relations with Cuba. When asked about specific elements of the policy — such as undoing the ban on travel by Americans to Cuba, facilitating financial transactions, meeting with the Cuban government on bilateral issues like fighting drugs and smuggling — the margin is more than 61 percent.

Challenging conventional wisdom that Floridians — and especially the state’s large Cuban-American population — are in lockstep with the embargo, the poll finds stronger support for normalization in Florida (63 percent) than in the country overall (56 percent). A full 67 percent of Floridians support removing all restrictions for Americans to travel to Cuba, and 82 percent favor meetings with the Cuban government on issues of mutual concern.

Simply put: The state that reportedly once had the greatest reluctance to re-engage has reversed its position.

Having jailed political opponents, Cuba has a political climate that is far from free. The Cuban government continues to hold former USAID subcontractor Alan Gross in prison. The Cuban government has inched toward loosening its grip on the island’s economy. Despite that, however, the Cuban people continue to live under a repressive regime.

However, it would appear that a standard of 100 percent political alignment with the United States before allowing freedom of travel or economic activity with another country is only applied to Cuba. For instance, U.S.-China trade topped $500 billion in 2011, and we granted permanent normalized trade relations to Russia in 2012. American tourists visit both countries without restriction. It is easy to see why most Americans now oppose our frozen-in-time policies toward Cuba.

Trade with Latin America is the fastest growing part of our international commerce. In 2014, economic growth in Latin America is expected to continue to outpace U.S. growth. Rather than isolate Cuba with outdated policies, we have isolated ourselves.

For example, the presidents of our Latin American partners, including close allies such as Colombia and Mexico, recently traveled to Cuba alongside the U.N. secretary general. In January, Brazil joined Cuba in inaugurating a huge new shipping terminal on the island. And our European and Canadian friends engage with Cuba. Meanwhile, U.S. companies are prohibited from any economic activity on the island.

Just about the only beneficiary of our embargo has been Cuba’s current regime. The embargo actually has helped the Castros maintain their grip on power by providing a reliable and convenient scapegoat for Cuba’s failing economy. Change will come to Cuba. These counterproductive U.S. policies have delayed it.

President Obama has already relaxed some facets of our Cuba policy, lifting restrictions on Cuban-American travel and remittances, which have had positive effects. Anecdotally, U.S. remittances have been crucial in allowing Cuban entrepreneurs to take full advantage of economic openings that the Castro regime has been forced to allow.

This not only improves Cubans’ lives but will make future economic contractions by the Cuban government difficult for the regime to attempt. Current policy boxes U.S. entrepreneurs and companies out of taking part in any of this burgeoning Cuban private sector.

Further, there is simply no legitimate justification for restricting any American travel to Cuba. The travel ban, like the rest of the embargo, only bolsters the Cuban government’s control over information and civil society. Instead of willingly restricting the liberty of our own citizens, we should be taking every opportunity to flood Cubans with American interaction, with our ideas, with our young people.

Americans want a change in our Cuba policy. The president should heed the majority of those across the country who recognize that we have much to gain by jettisoning this Cold War relic.

Patrick Leahy is a Democratic U.S. senator from Vermont. Jeff Flake is a Republican U.S. senator from Arizona.

Read more here:

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Law blocks Florida marine scientists from Cuba research
By Paul Guzzo

Scientists say some of the spiny lobster on dinner plates in Florida might be from Cuban waters.( FLORIDA FISH AND WILDLIFE CONSERVATION COMMISSION)

TAMPA — Marine biologists who study the Gulf of Mexico have a joke: The FBI, the DEA, the CIA — none of them have anything on scientists when it comes to tracking the flow of secretive traffic between Cuba and the United States.

“They have not gotten the memo,” quipped David Vaughan, with Sarasota-based Mote Marine Laboratory, whose international criminals are not spies but spiny lobsters — as well as sharks and dolphins. “They are constantly breaking the travel embargo.”

But one group of scientists isn’t laughing any more, instead watching helplessly as they become the next punch line in marine biology.

Like all employees of Florida’s public universities, scientists are prohibited by a law passed in 2006 from using state money for travel to Cuba.

More than most scientists, though, marine biologists see access to the communist island nation just 90 miles of Florida’s shores as the difference between success and failure in their field.

Now, they’re being left further behind as researchers from other states and from private institutions in Florida scramble to take advantage of new signs that Cuba relations are improving: an easing of travel restrictions by the White House, an agreement to cooperate in oil spills, even a tour by the University of Tampa baseball team.

Scientists already have begun collaborating with their counterparts in Cuba on research that could reverse the deterioration of coral reefs, prevent overfishing, and lead to better understanding of the gulf ecosystem.

They’re doing work that could benefit Florida. They’re just not from USF, the University of Florida or Florida State University.

“We are connected,” said Donald Behringer, an assistant professor at USF’s School of Forest Resources and Conservation & Emerging Pathogens Institute. “In order to understand our own ecosystem we also have to understand Cuba’s.

“Unfortunately, it is more difficult for us in Florida than any other state in the United States to work with Cuba.”
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Senate Bill 2434, titled “Travel To Terrorist State,” forbids money that flows through a state university — including grants from private foundations — to be used for travel to a nation on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. Cuba is on the list.

Sponsored by former Senate President Mike Haridopolos, the bill was passed in 2006 without a single no vote in either the Florida House or Senate then signed into law by Gov. Jeb Bush.

Florida is the only state in the country with such a prohibition.

Professors can use their own money to travel to Cuba for research, but only on personal time. And it’s an expensive trip.

“I’ve been able to cobble together money for a plane ticket and go to Cuba a few times,” said Behringer, “but it’s hard. Faculty members from other states can use research money to pay their way. This puts Florida schools at a disadvantage.”

An American who worked on a new oil spill cleanup protocol involving five gulf nations, including the U.S. and Cuba, said he is confident this agreement will pave the way for future collaboration on environmental issues between the U.S. and Cuba.

When that day comes, said Dan Whittle of the Environmental Defense Fund, protocols will be based on research projects already under way.

The oil spill agreement, brokered and advanced through meetings in Tampa, awaits publication by the Coast Guard before it becomes official.

“There is so much expertise at public universities in Florida,” said Whittle, who directs the fund’s work on marine and coastal ecosystems in Cuba. “It’s a shame their hands are so tied.”
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Researcher Vaughan, director of tropical research with the private Mote Marine Laboratory, said new agreements and protocols will be an opportunity for U.S. scientists to make contributions to the environment they once thought impossible because of politics. Vaughan specializes in coral reefs and works with Cuban scientists.

Shut out of these new opportunities, Florida’s public school professors fear losing out on more than a role in new discoveries. Florida may also lose out on attracting the brightest marine biology students.

The University of North Carolina, for example, has an annual student summer expedition to Cuba to study the coral reefs off its shores. The University of Tampa has a marine biology department and though it has no plans to visit Cuba, other departments at the private school and the baseball team have.

“Obtaining knowledge is always important,” said Frank Muller-Karger, a professor at the USF College of Marine Science. “Sure, we can learn what another researcher discovered in Cuba. But top students want to develop knowledge.”

Proponents of the 2006 act said at the time that any travel to Cuba financially supports an oppressive regime.

Gov. Rick Scott, asked about the lingering impact on Florida universities, echoed that sentiment in a statement to the Tribune last week.

“Governor Scott is committed to growing opportunities so Florida families can succeed and live the American Dream,” said John Tupps, Scott’s deputy press secretary, “and he is firmly opposed to the Castro regime that works to oppress such opportunity and freedom.”
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State Sen. Arthenia Joyner, a Tampa Democrat whose district includes the University of South Florida, was part of the unanimous vote in 2006 but says now that times have changed.

“It’s a different world today,” Joyner said. “We need to acknowledge that.”

There are no signs today of efforts to overturn the law, even at the university level.

USF issued this statement to The Tampa Tribune last week: “The University of South Florida stands for the core values of academic freedom and the open exchange of knowledge and ideas in the least restrictive environment possible. The current restrictions were enacted in the political process and we recognize that is where they will be resolved.”

Of the six marine biology professors from state universities who were asked for comment on the issue, all agreed the law hurts their institutions, but only Behringer from UF and USF’s Muller-Karger would speak on the record against it.

The others said they were concerned about getting involved in politics.

Muller-Karger had this response: “The reaction you describe shows that people are actually quite worried about how the state may interpret their interest in working these issues, or just worried stiff about speaking about a binding Florida law.”

He added, “This has nothing to do with politics. It is about knowledge, managing our resources and doing what is best for our environment.”

The law forbidding state money from funding trips to Cuba affects other disciplines.

Those studying Latin American art, music, language, politics, geology and history could benefit from visiting the Communist nation. But marine biology stands out as a field where advances in research stand to directly benefit the state of Florida more than any other region on earth.

“So no one else is as affected by what goes on in Cuban waters than Florida” said Muller-Karger.

Marine biologists call it “connectivity.”
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For instance, spiny lobsters served in Tampa restaurants could have hatched from eggs laid in Cuba and made their way to Florida in the Gulf’s currents. Much of the snapper and grouper that supports Florida’s fish industry could also originate in or pass through Cuban waters.

To better understand this marine life, scientists track their travels between the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, Florida and Cuba. Learning where each species originates can help in reaching agreements on fishing limits and other protective measures.

Still, coral reefs are the top priority for U.S. marine biologists working with Cuba.

Scientists predict that by 2050, all coral reefs will be in danger from pollution and changes in water temperature and sea levels.

Natural reefs in Martin, Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties generate an estimated $3.4 billion in income a year through recreation, education and science.

More importantly, reefs protect coasts by reducing wave energy from storms and hurricanes. And as home to more than 4,000 species of fish and countless species of plants, coral reefs support some 25 percent of all known marine species.

Whether a coral reef is off the shores of Cuba or the U.S., the waters they share suffers from its degradation. In addition, coral larvae from Cuba finds its way to reefs in Florida and vice versa.

So if a reef in Cuba disappears, it has a ripple effect, said John Bruno, a professor in the Department of Biology at the University of North Carolina.

“If the coral babies in Florida come from Cuba,” Bruno said, “then that would be a big problem for the state.”
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Bruno’s students travel annually to Cuba and the reef they seek out most is the pristine “Gardens of the Queen,” or Jardines de la Reina.

Most of Cuba’s reefs are in decline, said Vaughan of Mote Marine, but “la Reina” remains healthy.

He believes U.S. researchers can help other reefs by learning its secret to survival.

Cuba, in turn, can benefit from more advanced U.S. technology, said Whittle with the Environmental Defense Fund.

A forum was established in 2007 to formalize this kind of cooperation — the Tri-National Workshop, attended by top marine biologists from Mexico, Cuba and the U.S.

They meet at least once a year on issues affecting turtles, sharks, dolphins, coral reefs, fisheries and marine protected areas.

“We can learn more by working with other country’s scientists,” Whittle said. “We share their knowledge, we share ours, and we work together to find out how we can help one another.”

Mote Marine, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Nature Conservancy are private, U.S.-based participants.

Florida’s public universities are not at the table. Neither is the U.S., making it the only of the three nations without government involvement.

“We’re working together,” Vaughan said, “ to find out answers to things we could not know as individuals.”

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Former Florida Senator Bob Graham in Cuba for environmental talks
* Talks center on offshore oil drilling
* Embargo supporter favors some cooperation
By Marc Frank, HAVANA, Jan 16 (Reuters)

A former democratic senator and governor from Florida, Bob Graham, visited Cuba this week to discuss oil spill prevention and preparedness during a trip that has caused a stir among exiles and Cuba watchers due to his traditional support for tough sanctions against the Communist-ruled Caribbean island.

Cuba and its partners drilled three exploratory wells off Cuba's northern coast in recent years that came up dry, but more such wells are expected in the future in search of billions of barrels of oil thought to be below its Gulf of Mexico waters.

Graham's first ever visit to Cuba follows President Barack Obama's recent call, while visiting Miami, for "modernizing" relations with Cuba, as well as his famous handshake with Cuban President Raul Castro while attending Nelson Mandela's memorial service in South Africa last month.

The strained relationship between the long-time foes has eased since Obama began his second term in office. Recently, State Department and Cuban officials told Reuters that contacts have been pragmatic and cordial, without the traditional rhetoric from both sides.

The two countries do not have diplomatic relations and Cuba has faced a U.S. embargo for more than half a century.

Graham, 77, told Reuters on Thursday that his visit was consistent with Obama's policy of "taking on specific areas where there is a common interest and arriving at an approach on how to manage certain issues."

The former presidential candidate is part of a larger group of environmentalists and disaster experts on a 5-day visit organized by the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations to discuss "environmental risks in the Gulf of Mexico related to natural disasters and offshore drilling," according to a press release issued upon its arrival on Monday.

Graham, a former chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, also co-chaired the National Commission on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling established by Obama after the BP oil spill in the Gulf in 2010. The commission's other co-chair, William K. Reilly, a former EPA administrator, is also part of the group.

"We became interested in cooperation among Gulf countries doing drilling while on the commission," Graham said as he and Reilly ate lunch in the restored colonial district of Havana before a meeting with officials from the state oil monopoly.

"We are here to learn as much as we can about things of interest to us, such as safety standards and the capacity to respond to an oil spill," he said.

The trip has come under fire by supporters of the embargo.The director of the Cuban-American lobby group, Cuba Democracy Advocates, questioned the visit in an interview with Diario las Americas."It is completely illogical and comes close to ridiculous," Mauricio Claver-Carone said.

Graham said he understood the criticism but was not concerned.Graham said he still supports sanctions on Cuba, "but I also support a process that will try to move us toward normalization. I don't think it is going to happen in one strike, but through working on issues of common interest such as offshore oil drilling where a spill could prove disastrous for Florida," he said.

Graham said that at a reception Wednesday evening, he had talked with foreign ministry officials about human rights and the fate of jailed U.S. contractor Alan Gross, sentenced in 2011 to 15 years in prison for setting up Internet links that bypassed local government control as part of a U.S. project Cuba considers subversive.

"We have had conversations over a number of areas, such as the recent migration talks and  biotechnology," Graham said.

"I think there are a series of issues that are not ideological issues, pragmatic issues that are forming the agenda of discussions between the United States and Cuba where both sides will benefit by an intelligent resolution."

( Messaging:

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Pressure Building for U.S. to Remove Cuba from 'Terror Sponsor' List
By Jared Metzker

WASHINGTON, Jun 13 2013 (IPS) – Experts here are stepping up calls for the U.S. government to remove Cuba from an official list of “state sponsors of terrorism”, arguing that the country’s presence on the list is anachronistic and makes neither legal nor political sense.

The calls come just weeks after the U.S. State Department, which oversees the “state sponsors” list, released an annual report on terrorism. Its section regarding Cuba varied only slightly from that of the previous year, disappointing those who had hoped for a step in the direction of normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations.

“At a time when the U.S. is best positioned to help facilitate change in the island and to take advantage of the changes inside the country, this continued inclusion is actually an obstacle to taking advantage of that window of opportunity,” Tomas Bilbao, executive director of the Cuba Study Group, said Tuesday at a panel discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a think tank here.

Bilbao noted the continued influence of a “shrinking minority” of anti-Cuba hardliners in the United States who fervently oppose Cuba’s removal from the list, as well as a lack of political will on the part of U.S. policymakers to square off with that minority.

"[Delisting Cuba] would help Cubans lead more prosperous and independent lives." — Sarah Stephens

Nonetheless, he asserted that the time is ripe for the United States to take Cuba off the list and prioritize helping the Cuban people over harming the Cuban regime.

President Barack Obama’s administration has overseen some notable policy shifts, such as a relaxation of laws restricting travel by U.S. citizens with family in Cuba. Certain realities have also been changing within Cuba, including the abdication of Fidel Castro from power, which make friendlier policies toward the island nation more feasible.

Sarah Stephens, executive director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, a U.S. organisation that promotes reconciliation with Cuba, told IPS that delisting Cuba now would “enable the U.S. to support Cuba’s drive to update its economic model, make it easier to facilitate trade and easier for Cuba to access high technology items”.

“Doing so,” she said, “would in turn help Cubans lead more prosperous and independent lives.”

Debating Cuba’s qualifications

Cuba has been on the State Department list since 1982, but some analysts maintain that the country did not fit the definition of a state sponsor of terror even then. In order to fit that legal definition, a country must have “repeatedly provided support for international terrorism”.

According to Robert L. Muse, a specialist on the legality of U.S. policy toward Cuba, there are currently three ostensible reasons for Cuba’s inclusion in the most recent list: that it has allowed Basque separatists to reside within its borders, that it has dealings with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and that it harbors fugitives wanted for crimes committed in the United States.

Muse, who spoke Tuesday at CSIS, claimed the first two reasons were void because the countries concerned actually condone Cuba’s relationship with their adversaries. Cuba is currently host to negotiations between FARC and the Colombian government, and Spanish leaders prefer that Basque rebels remain in Cuba – and out of Spain.

These interactions with rebel groups, in Muse’s opinion, “can hardly be a basis even for criticism”. It is only the third justification, that Cuba harbors U.S. fugitives, which he said “could fairly bear description as a reason” for keeping Cuba on the list.

Cuba has harbored a number of fugitives seeking refuge from the U.S. justice system. The most prominent is Assata Shakur, an African-American poet and participant in 1970s black liberation movements who was allegedly involved in the killing of a police officer. She was convicted for the murder but escaped and in 1984 gained political asylum in Cuba, where she has remained ever since.

Early last month, Shakur became the first woman to be added to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Most Wanted Terrorist list. But Muse notes that this designation was “arbitrary and capricious”, as neither she nor any other fugitive residing in Cuba has been accused, let alone convicted, of international terrorism.

Politics as usual

Both Muse and Bilbao concluded that Cuba’s continued presence on the State Department’s terrorism list arises less from these shaky legal justifications than from political calculations.

Others have arrived at similar conclusions for years. In 2002, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton suggested that maintaining Cuba on the list keeps happy a certain part of the voting public in Florida – a politically important state with a large Cuban exile population – and “it doesn’t cost anything”.

Muse disagreed with the latter part of that statement, however. He noted that by behaving arbitrarily in what should be a strictly legal matter, the United States was damaging its “credibility on the issue of international terrorism” and diminishing its “seriousness of purpose” in using the term “terrorism” in a meaningful manner.

Proponents of the status quo argue the opposite, saying that by removing Cuba the United States would damage its credibility by effectively making a concession. Bilbao explained to IPS that those such views focus on the “spin” of the Cuban government rather than on the actual consequences of taking Cuba off the list, a move he believes would ultimately benefit the United States.

“I think the priority of the U.S. government should be to determine what’s in its best interests,” he told IPS.

Muse went a step further, saying the list itself is a problem. He noted that even while the list includes countries that don’t deserve to be on it, proven sponsors, such as Pakistan, of international terrorism – albeit those with friendly relations with the U.S. – are absent from it.

His recommendation to solve the problem was simple: “Just scrap the list.”

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Cuba: U.S. Bars Raúl Castro's Daughter From a Forum
THE NEW YORK TIMES, April 25, 2013

The State Department denied the daughter of President Raúl Castro of Cuba permission to attend a gay rights conference in Philadelphia, where she was to receive an award next week. The president’s daughter, Mariela Castro, director of Cuba’s National Center for Sex Education, is currently attending United Nations meetings in New York on a diplomatic visa. Cuban diplomats are prohibited from traveling farther than 25 miles from New York without permission from the State Department. American diplomats in Havana face a similar restriction. Ms. Castro, above, had applied for travel documents to attend the Equality Forum 2013 Summit next week. The State Department denied the request without explanation, said Malcolm Lazin, the forum’s executive director. “We were shocked,” he said. “Ms. Castro is recognized internationally as a remarkable advocate” for the rights of people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered in Cuba.

Talking to CubaCouncil on Foreign Relations
Interviewee: Julia E. Sweig, Director for Latin American Studies, Council on Foreign Relations Interviewer: Robert McMahon, Editor, January 25, 2013

The Cuban government's easing of travel restrictions this month marks another sign of its commitment to reforms and changing sentiments in Havana, says Julia Sweig, CFR's director for Latin American Studies. Washington should seize on such moves, she says, to initiate a new dialogue and begin solving the many problems impeding normalization of ties between the countries–such as the case of detained U.S. citizen Alan Gross–and U.S. influence in the region. "There are geostrategic reasons within the region, leaving apart the bilateral relationship, why it makes a great deal of sense for a strategy of rapprochement with Cuba," Sweig says.

Cuban authorities this month eased a fifty-year-old travel restriction by allowing Cubans to travel with just a passport, and permitting lengthy stays away. How significant is this?

This is a major step for Cuba domestically, for the Cuban economy, for Cuba in the world, and for Cubans living on and off the island. On the domestic front, this has been one of the most significant sources of unhappiness for the Cuban public, to not be able to travel freely. And what the Cuban government did when it announced this was explain that this is an attempt to bring Cuba in line with other countries. Cubans now need a visa still from the countries they want to visit, and they have to buy their plane tickets, but unlike the previous era, they won't risk losing their property or their residence status. They can travel abroad as economic migrants, come and go, live for a while abroad in the United States, presumably, go back and invest in their businesses, have two residences–really a huge potential economic boon for the country.

In an interview with a year ago, you said the United States now had a [4]willing partner for normalization of ties with Havana but was failing to read the signals. Is this step one of those signals?

This step is largely a domestic, reality-based policy decision. But there are knock-on effects that Washington could conclude suggest that Havana is taking another step in building a more open society and boosting the human rights of its population. If Washington chose to take this as a sign of greater freedom granted by the government to its citizens, it could surely be digested in that way. But I don't think pleasing Washington is the prime motivation.

How should we read Cuba's parliamentary elections scheduled for February 3?

As another big demographic and political development: some 67 percent of the candidates for 612 spots are completely new picks, and of these, more than 70 percent were born after 1959. Women comprise 49 percent of the candidates, and Afro descendants 37 percent. Cubans will be asked to check yea or nay from this new list–so it's not a direct competition between candidates. But if you want to understand where the successors to Fidel and Raul may come from, I'd look closely at the new group that comes in next month.

These elections also tell us something about decentralization: the municipal and provincial deputies are going to have a lot more power to tax and spend than ever before–on everything but health, education, and the military, as I understand it–while the new National Assembly may well start passing a lot more laws than before, to implement a slew of economic, legal, and governance reforms that are under way or coming down the pike. Finally, Ricardo Alarcon, who served as National Assembly president for the last nineteen years, before that as UN ambassador, and who for decades has taken the lead on U.S.-Cuban relations, will not appear on the electoral slate.

Washington continues to point to what it says is the biggest impediment, which is the case of [5]Alan Gross, the U.S. citizen who U.S. officials said was in Cuba to help with Internet access; Cubans say he was subverting the state. He continues to languish in Cuba. How to resolve this issue?

"Havana's attempt to use [jailed U.S. contractor Alan] Gross to launch a dialogue, in addition to dealing with all of the myriad issues on the table, in its essence is also about pushing Washington to deal with Havana as a government."

Well, like governments resolve issues, they get in the room and they talk. And they put the issues on the table that are connected indirectly and intrinsically to that particular issue. By the way, the DAI (Developments Alternative International), which was Alan Gross's employer, [6]just released the contracts (PDF) between DAI and Alan Gross, and there is a lot of information in there about the equipment that Gross brought down there and reasons why he was bringing that equipment. And that will just, unfortunately, reinforce the sense that this wasn't just benign development or benign Internet assistance.

This was part of a program funded by the U.S. government intended to destabilize the Cuban government, and the documentation really clearly shows that. And the lawsuit, now that the Gross family has filed against the State Department, also says that USAID should have trained Gross in counterintelligence. So, the way to stop this Alan Gross issue from becoming a political Frankenstein is to get in the room and settle a number of issues, including the Gross issue, including the Cuban 5 issue [five Cuban intelligence agents arrested by federal authorities in Miami in 1998 on charges of espionage], including other bilateral issues.

Some see the case of Alan Gross as playing into a narrative that the Cubans are using this case for leverage and are not genuinely interested in justice or in properly handling this case. How do you respond to that perspective?

Well, they are interested in using the case as leverage. President Obama, at the first Summit of the Americas he attended, pledged to open a new chapter in U. S.-Cuban relations and acknowledged that the embargo and U.S. policy had failed. Then he left in place the very policies he had inherited from George W. Bush. Some call them democracy promotions; some call them regime change–explicitly designed to destabilize Cuba. Which is very, very consistent with the bipartisan approach to Cuba over the last fifty years.

So, Gross is leverage, unfortunately, and Washington's position now seems to be, "There are lots of things we can do, but we won't do any of it until you first unilaterally release Gross." Havana's position is: "Washington has promised us things before and not done them. We have no incentive to do anything unilaterally because once we give you what you want, neither do you." Because the status quo of domestic politics dominating this issue and perverting it and the status quo of a pretty safe and regular flow of people between Havana and Miami and a succession that is very stable in Cuba means there is very little incentive for Washington to move aggressively toward a better Cuba policy.

Havana's attempt to use Gross to launch what it calls a political dialogue, in addition to dealing with all of the myriad issues on the table, in its essence is also about pushing Washington to deal with Havana, government to government. That is sort of a deep strategic driver on this [Gross case].

One of the biggest regime surprises of the last year was Myanmar, a country that had very poor relations with Washington. Suddenly there seemed to be this breathtaking series of events and you have the president of the United States at the end of the year visiting the country. Are there any lessons we can take from what happened there and apply it toward Cuba?

This is a very unpopular view in this town, but I'll say this: The Cuban government has far more legitimacy among its population. Cuba doesn't have a military junta running the country. I'm not saying the Cuban Communist Party gets universal high marks from Cubans, but even then there have been some significant reforms intended to make the party far less involved in government and far less imposing of its ideology on people's lives.

Stripping this whole thing bare, as far as I can tell, there is really no foreign policy reason why the United States does not have a normal, or least more natural, diplomatic and economic relationship with Cuba. In fact, there is a serious foreign policy downside for not having that. In Latin America, we just saw the president earlier in 2012 attend the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, where there was a full court, unanimous message from the center, center-left, right, center-right, and every single country in the region, including Washington's closest allies, telling Washington to get it together with Havana, it is time to move forward.

"The fact is that with events in Venezuela, the United States is sitting on the margins of one of the biggest political moments in Latin America, [which] runs through Havana."

Take Colombia, where President [Juan Manuel] Santos has a great relationship with Washington and with Havana, which is hosting talks between his government and the FARC [rebel group] right now. Yet Washington keeps Havana on its terrorist list. Another moment we are living through right now: President Hugo Chavez is very, very ill in Havana, and it seems to me that the shuttle diplomacy that is taking place doesn't involve anybody from Washington. It involves Cubans, Venezuelans, Argentines, and Brazilians. The fact is that with events in Venezuela, the United States is sitting on the margins of one of the biggest political moments in Latin America, [which] runs through Havana. So there are geostrategic reasons within the region, leaving apart the bilateral relationship, why it makes a great deal of sense for a strategy of rapprochement with Cuba.

Some have claimed Cuba is in a very strong position to influence the succession in Venezuela. Is that true?

There are really three or four phases of the Cuba-Venezuela relationship, and the contemporary period starts before Chavez became president after he tried to stage a coup and failed in 1992 and flew to Havana. And that began a decade-long, and more, relationship with Fidel Castro. And over the course of this past decade, from around 2002 until now, until his illness, [7]that relationship has gotten much deeper. Havana's influence on the transition is absolutely clear–very direct. And what has happened since, let's say around 2002, when there was a brief and failed coup against Chavez, is that Cuba has become very involved in many aspects of Venezuelan domestic life. The political actors around Chavez, in Chavez's party, have likewise deepened their relationship with Havana.

Let's get back to the Cuban leadership. The Castros are both over eighty, and there are a number of other leading officials in their seventies. What kind of cadre is waiting in the wings, and to what extent has the United States reached out to them?

We have a second- and third-generation wave of leaders coming up in the ranks, and Washington doesn't know them. Fidel stepped aside in 2006, and fairly rapidly after that, Raul Castro replaced almost every cabinet member and got rid of a couple of key people who had been working with Fidel for quite some time. He's made it very clear that leadership successors, potential successors, are going to come from the ranks of people who are problem solvers, holding office in what in the United States would be thought of as governorships, the provincial party heads. There are fifteen provinces in Cuba and the heads of the Communist Party in each province are now in their forties and fifties, almost all of them. Many of them are women, or men, and women of African descent.

Right now, we can count on one hand, at the most, the number of people who are the old original revolutionaries from 1959, who might have fought with Fidel, those called the historicos, who are still in major government posts. Almost none of the founding generation are actually wielding portfolios of significance other than Raul Castro and a few others.

The Obama administration, part two, is now beginning, and there is some congressional turnover. Can you talk about any significant changes and how they might influence Cuba policy?

Let's start with Florida, because I noted that our policy toward Cuba isn't foreign policy; it's domestic. And what we saw in this election was that Obama won almost 50 percent of the Cuban-American vote. He won 36 percent of it in

2008. What does that tell us? It tells us that more and more Cuban-Americans are voting as Americans, not as special interest Cubans focused only on American policy toward the island. Number two, it shows us that Cuban-Americans are not punishing Obama for the openings he did make under his first term in allowing Cubans to commute, invest, and travel pretty much whenever they want to, to the island. And the third thing it means is that in a second term, the president has far more running room than he did even in the first term to go farther, if he wants to, in terms of a broader opening with Havana.

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Seven Actions Obama Should Take On Cuba Now
Peter Kornbluh | January 24, 2013


In US foreign relations with hostile states, President Obama declared in his inauguration speech this week, "engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear." With his reelection behind him–in which he garnered more Cuban-American votes in Florida than any Democrat in history–and his legacy in front of him, here are steps the president should take to engage the Castro government and forge a sensible, sane, and productive US policy toward Cuba.

(1) Remove Cuba from the State Department list of nations that support terrorism. Among The Nation’s list [1] of twenty ways the president should exercise his executive power is this long-overdue action. Cuba’s designation as a supporter of terrorism is an enduring injustice. Yes, Cuba has some criminal fugitives living on the island. But it is hard to accuse Cuba of harboring terrorists while Luis Posada Carriles, a prolific lifelong terrorist, is living freely in Florida. Moreover, Cuba’s current efforts to host and mediate a cease-fire and permanent peace accord between the FARC and the government of Colombia is hard evidence that it is playing a constructive role in seeking to end conflicts that breed terrorism in the region.

(2) While we are on the subject, Obama should order the arrest of Luis Posada Carriles and hold him under the Patriot Act until his extradition to Venezuela, from which he is a fugitive for the terrorist crime of blowing up a civilian airliner in October 1976, can be arranged. When the Bush administration let Posada set up residence in Miami in 2005, Venezuela sent a formal extradition request. If Obama is serious about fighting terrorism, he should finally grant that request.

(3) With Cuba off the terrorism list, Obama should end the economic and commercial sanctions that have accompanied its designation as a terrorist nation. The Department of the Treasury would thus cease to fine international banks for doing business with Cuba, which has undermined Cuba’s slow evolution toward a more capitalist-oriented economic system.

(4) And to support economic changes currently underway in Cuba, Obama should expand the general licensing for travel to Cuba of businessmen, scientists, citizens and others associated with industries like agriculture, travel, construction, oil, automobiles, healthcare and more. While the travel ban itself cannot be lifted without a majority vote in Congress, the president can create categories of general licensing that will allow far more Americans to freely travel to Cuba. Such a decree would instruct the Office of Foreign Assets Control to stop playing the role of travel dictator and simply provide all necessary licenses to travel agencies and educational interest groups involved in promoting travel to Cuba. Now, ironically, Cuban citizens are more free to travel here than US citizens are to travel there, since the Castro government lifted more than fifty years of restrictions on the ability of its citizens to travel freely abroad, earlier this month. If Obama is to be true to his overall commitment to advance civil rights, he can with the basic civil right of allowing US citizens to travel freely to Cuba.

(5) The president should also reconfigure the so-called “Cuban Democracy and Contingency Planning Program” mandated by the Helms-Burton Act and run out of US AID, from the failed “regime change” orientation to a set of transparent, non-interventionist “people-to-people” programs. Incoming Secretary of State John Kerry, who knows quite a bit about US AID's misconduct in Cuba from his tenure as Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, should immediately move to review and revamp the goals and operations of these misguided and counterproductive regime change efforts.

(6) To engage Cuba with normal diplomacy, Obama should order a bilateral dialogue on all areas of mutual interest: environmental cooperation, counternarcotics operations, counterterrorism, medical support for Haiti and more. On the agenda should be the case of contractor Alan Gross, who was sent to Cuba by the USAID Democracy Program on a quasi-covert mission to set up independent satellite network communications systems, and then abandoned to his predictable fate of being caught and tossed in jail. It’s time to let him return home to his family.

(7) Finally, Obama should commute the sentences of the so-called “Cuban Five”: Fernando González, Antonio Guerrero, Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, and René González (who is now on parole). These intelligence operatives were actually counterterrorism agents focused on anti-Castro exile groups that, frankly, have posed a threat to Cuban citizens and national security interests alike. All of them have served more than twelve years in US prison. They have been punished enough and also deserve to return home to their families.

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Here is a brief overview of where we currently stand in terms of the Cuba travel regulations. 

During the first four years of the Obama Administration (2008 – 2012) a few major changes in US Cuba policy were implemented in the area of travel:

1.  Cuban Americans are now allowed to visit their families on the island as often as they wish and can send unlimited amounts of money to their families.  (This was a step in a humane direction as, under the Bush Administration, Cuban Americans could only legally visit their families in Cuba once every three years and were legally allowed to send their families no more than $1200 per year.

2.  US Non profit organizations can apply for, and have been receiving, "people to people" licenses to take groups of non professional US citizens on educational and cultural Cuba tours. (However the reporting requirements are bureaucratic and onerous.)

3. University students, graduate and undergraduate, are now allowed to travel to Cuba on what is called the "general" license, meaning they don't have to apply for a license, but can travel to Cuba on an educational program (1) approved by an administrator or professor at their university and (2) if their participation in the program in Cuba allows them some credit toward their degree. 

4.  Professionals continue to travel to Cuba on the "general" license to engage in professional research, as individuals and in organized groups.

5. The Cuba Charter Companies  allowed to fly to Cuba from the international airports of many US cities.  However the process of implementation of this new allowance is proving to be long and onerous. And at those airports that are operational, the flights generally take place only on one particular day each week. Most of the time, US citizens who wish to travel to Cuba still must first fly to Miami, Toronto or Cancun in order to board a flight.

This can lead to an inefficient, time consuming, and extremely costly situation for Cuba travelers.

Most of the US citizens who travel to Cuba with Eco Cuba Network travel legally on a "general" license as professionals or academics engaged in research.  If you would like to know more about how to qualify for Cuba travel and would like to find out if you qualify to travel legally to Cuba, please don't hesitate to give us a call at 510-649-1052 or email Pam Montanaro, Coordinator, Eco Cuba Network

Eco Cuba Network is a project of Green Cities Fund.

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