It must be “Kick the Weak Week” in the U.S. Congress.
How else could one explain why Representative David Rivera’s bill, to rescind the residency status of Cubans living in the U.S. if they visit the island, could receive the dignity of a hearing in the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Enforcement Policy?
This is a uniquely bad piece of legislation.
Under the Cuban Adjustment Act, Cubans who arrive in the U.S. are allowed to remain in the country and can request residency a year after their arrival. Following this period, they qualify for the liberty –denied almost all U.S. citizens— to visit Cuba freely under the rights restored by President Obama for unlimited family travel.
Rivera – like other hardliners – opposes all travel by anyone to Cuba and has tried various tactics in recent years to stop Cuban Americans from visiting the island. Last August, he introduced legislation to revoke the residency status of any Cuban who returns to Cuba after receiving political asylum and residency in the United States.
As Rivera unapologetically describes it, “My legislation simply says that any Cuban national who receives political asylum and residency under the Cuban Adjustment Act, and travels to Cuba while still a resident, will have their residency status revoked.”
This sets up a horrible choice for these Cubans living in the U.S. As Tomas Bilbao, executive director of the Cuba Study Group explained to the Subcommittee, it would “force all Cuban immigrants who want to maintain stable legal status in the United States to give up visiting family in Cuba.”
The group Rivera is targeting is significant. About 400,000 family visits take place each year. As Alvaro Fernandez reported in Progreso Weekly, “I asked one of the executives who charters flights to Cuba what percentage of persons would be affected by H.R. 2831. His answer was a startling almost 50% of persons who travel to Cuba are not yet U.S. citizens.”
What is the justification for a law that would stop hundreds of thousands of Cubans from physically being in contact with members of their family in Cuba?
Rivera and his allies make a series of claims that the Cuban Adjustment Act is being abused and they are trying to save it by stopping Cubans living in the U.S. from visiting Cuba.
In his testimony, Rivera said “Increasingly, Cuban-Americans are citing family reunification to justify travel that in reality more closely resembles common tourism and other unauthorized travel involving everything from plastic surgery to fifteens parties and weddings, to even sexual tourism.”
He went on to claim “In many cases, those Cubans traveling are also recipients of U.S. taxpayer-funded welfare programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Food Stamps, public housing and cash assistance. In these cases, U.S. taxpayers are actually subsidizing travel to a country that has been designated a sponsor of terrorism by our government.”
Mauricio Claver-Carone of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC advised the Subcommittee in his testimony that some of these individuals were committing immigration fraud saying that Cubans who returned to the island to visit their families could not have come to the U.S. as legitimate refugees from oppression.
This is not about protecting the Cuban Adjustment Act. It’s not in any danger of repeal. Nor is this about subsidizing travel to Cuba with Social Security funds; of course, naturalized Cuban-Americans can use their benefits to pay for Cuba travel anytime. It will come as no surprise that Congressman Rivera himself on his webpage offers to help any senior citizen in his district to determine their Medicare eligibility, and never once refers to this program as “welfare.”
No. This is a travel ban. It is simply another backdoor attempt to stop people, any people, from traveling to Cuba. The targets in this round are entirely vulnerable: migrants seeking refuge in the U.S. By definition, they’re not registered voters and they’re mostly powerless, so it’s pretty easy to kick the weak, call them welfare recipients and fraudsters, and threaten them with deportation for the simple and decent act of trying to visit their families.
It’s a travel ban using a pretty heavy stick. As Rep. Lofgren said, it “turns the act of travel to Cuba into a deportable offense.” She added:
No matter what the reason for stepping foot in Cuba, you lose your status. If you go to visit family members you haven’t seen in years, you lose your status. If you go to attend a funeral or donate a kidney to a dying relative, you lose your status. If you go to meet with Cuban dissidents with the aim of transitioning Cuba to a democracy, you lose your status.
Fortunately, Rep. Lofgren was not alone in her opposition to the bill. Tomas Bilbao, executive director of the Cuba Study Group, expressed particularly powerful views in his testimony before the panel. Working the case from the outside were members of CAFÉ, the newly formed Cuban American organization, which wrote the Subcommittee and urged them to defeat the bill. Progreso Weekly has issued an action alert urging opponents to make their views known to policy makers as well. Sarah Stephens of the Center for Democracy in the Americas protested the bill in an interview with EFE. Anya Landau French editorialized against it in the Havana Note.
Ideally, these efforts and others like them will prevent the bill from being enacted. The legislation is unjust, its aim is to divide families, it is using strong-armed tactics against a weak population that is unrepresented in the U.S. Congress, and it won’t realize its goal – to stop travel and thereby undermine the Cuban system. But that won’t stop the hardliners from trying.
Spanish oil firm Repsol announced this week that it will not continue to look for oil in Cuba after the company’s initial $100 million drilling effort resulted in a dry well, the Associated Press reports. Repsol President Antonio Brufau confirmed: “The well we drilled turned out dry and it’s almost certain that we won’t do any more activity there.”
As Reuters reported, “The withdrawal from Cuba was prompted in part by Repsol’s financial plan to recover from Argentina’s recent nationalization of its former state oil company YPF, purchased by Repsol in 1999.”
Nonetheless, Repsol’s decision could prove to be a serious new headache for Cuba’s struggling economy, where significant oil discoveries could offer needed economic relief and alleviate Cuba’s dependence on Venezuelan oil imports.
Exploration efforts off Cuba’s coast have continued; Petronas, the Malaysian state oil company, began drilling last week using the Scarabeo-9, the drilling platform used by Repsol. This effort, which could yield results by July, are especially important because the platform is contracted for only 1-4 more drilling operations in Cuba, after which it will be moved to begin drilling in Brazil. Energy expert Jorge Piñon, a research fellow at the University of Texas-Austin, stated:
If oil is not found now I think it would be another five to 10 years before somebody else comes back and drills again…Not because there is no oil, but because the pain and tribulations that people have to go through to drill in Cuba are not worth it when there are better and easier options in places like Angola, Brazil or the U.S. Gulf of Mexico.
Oil companies drilling in Cuba are subject to the U.S. embargo on the island, tightly restricting the amount of U.S. parts and technology that may be used, and preventing U.S. firms for working on activities ranging from exploration to drilling safety. CDA’s publication on Cuba’s oil drilling and its implications for U.S. policy is available here.
Yoani Sánchez, the Cuban blogger, has taken further steps to get an official explanation as to why she is not allowed to leave Cuba, the Miami Herald reports. Sánchez filed a request with Interior Minister Abelardo Colomé Ibarra to request information on why previous inquiries about the Cuban government’s refusals to issue a travel permit were ignored. Sánchez has been invited to attend events outside of Cuba on several occasions, however, she has not been able to leave the country as her applications for an exit visa were denied or ignored.
With only seven of 46 sugar mills still open for the season, local reports through the end of May 2012 estimate Cuba’s yearly raw sugar output at 1.38 million tons, with a final projected total for this year of 1.4 million tons, Reuters reports. This is up 16 percent from last year’s total of 1.2 million tons, but falls short of projected estimates of 1.45 million tons, predicted by Osiris Quintero, the director of information for the state-run industry holding company AZCUBA.
The industry had hoped to end milling by May to avoid issues with hot weather and rain, but did not reach goals on time and were forced to mobilize volunteers to cut cane by hand when the machinery was incapacitated by the weather.
Despite these setbacks, Quintero asserts that the harvest was profitable, and that “in general, the quality of sugar improved significantly.” AZCUBA, which took over sugar production from the Sugar Ministry last year, hopes to turn around a two decades-long decline in sugar production, down from 8 million tons in 1990.
Heavy rain falls in Cuba’s Sancti Spíritus province led to serious flooding of the Río Zaza reservoir, which displaced some 8,500 residents and left two people dead, Reuters reports (video). The rains also caused landslides, flooded agricultural fields, overflowed sewage systems, and disrupted traffic on Cuba’s main east-west highway. Two residents were killed as they tried to cross the rising waters.
CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS
On May 25th, Cuba signed a healthcare services agreement with South Africa, BusinessDay reports. The agreement is the most recent in the 16-year medical partnership between the two countries. South African Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said that the agreement “marks a major milestone in that partnership,” the Cuba Standard reports. While details on funding have yet to be released, it has been agreed that Cuba will resume sending doctors to work in South African hospitals after a previous program “stalled.” In addition, Cuba will provide expert logistical support as South Africa begins implementing its National Health Insurance program. Cuba will also continue training South African medical students in its universities, currently 406 South Africans are undergoing training and 304 have graduated as medical doctors.
Ghana also brokered a deal recently with Cuba to train 250 Ghanaian medical students in Cuban medical schools at a cost of approximately $84 million. According to The Chronicle, a Ghanaian newspaper, critics of the deal have argued that these students could receive comparable training in Ghana for a fraction of the cost, and that money could be better put to use improving local medical services and infrastructure.
Iranian Vice President Ali Saeedlu has completed an official tour of Latin America, PressTV reports. Following up on President Mahmud Ahmadinejad’s trip to the region five months ago, Saeedlu held meetings with government officials in Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Ecuador. The Iranian vice president discussed various ways of expanding bilateral ties and cooperation, and relayed invitations to the countries’ leaders to attend the 16th Non-Aligned Movement Summit this August, which will be held in Tehran. After Saeedlu’s meeting with Cuban Vice President José Ramón Machado earlier this week, an official statement reaffirmed Cuba and Iran’s “excellent bilateral ties,” AFP reports. The two vice presidents also signed a memorandum of understanding for expanding relations between the two countries.
Cuba has received criticism for its program to provide larvicides through state-run company Labiofam to stem the outbreak of malaria in Sub-Saharan countries, the Financial Times reports. Ghana recently signed a deal with Labiofam, investing $74 million dollars in a 2-year larviciding program. The World Health Organization (WHO) and some Western health specialists argue that larvicides have limited effect, and that money is better spent on providing bed nets, diagnostics and drugs. Cuban health specialists argue that larvicides are a strategic intervention tool. Hafez Adam Taher, a Labiofam representative in Ghana, stated “No single thing can do it. If you want to tackle malaria seriously, you have to go to the roots.”
U.S.- CUBA RELATIONS
Florida Senator Marco Rubio set foot on Cuban soil for the first time on Tuesday, while visiting the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, the Miami Herald reports. Rubio described the visit as a fact-finding mission, typical for Members of Congress and expected of any “member of the intelligence community.” During his trip, Rubio did not leave the U.S. base. “Certainly, it was touching to be able to fly over the island from a distance and see it and know that’s the land that saw your parents and your grandparents born,” Rubio told reporters upon his return. “It’s a place I hope to visit one day soon — a free Cuba, one where the people of Cuba can chose their own leaders and chose their own future.”
In a closely-watched Texas Senate race, former State Solicitor General Ted Cruz, a Cuban American, forced Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst into a runoff primary election on Tuesday, Fox News Latino reports. Ted Cruz has been fighting an uphill battle against Dewhurst, who has enjoyed a solid lead in polls as well as significant establishment support, but the former State Solicitor General has accumulated a large grassroots following by presenting himself as a “conservative fighter” running against an “establishment moderate,” as his campaign manager put it. A Tea Party favorite, Cruz has won endorsements from South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the Tea Party Express and the Club for Growth. His rise to national prominence, reputation as a strong orator, and Cuban American backstory has inspired comparisons to Florida Senator Marco Rubio.
Cruz makes no secret of the fact that his father fought against Batista in the 1950s. “He was a guerilla, throwing Molotov cocktails and blowing up buildings,” Cruz said in 2006, reports the Dallas News. Cruz says that his father was imprisoned and tortured by the Batista government when he was 17, and that shortly after he fled to Texas, before Fidel Castro had taken power. Cruz said that his father and his friends “didn’t know Castro was a Communist, what they knew was that Batista was a cruel and oppressive dictator,” and that he soon became a staunch critic of Castro after he seized power.
A delegation of three Cuban professors from the University of Havana arrived at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville this week, The Telegraph reports. They will give lectures and tour the campus, as part of an initiative to bridge the cultural gap between the two countries. This visit is part of an official collaboration between the University and the Cuban government.
This effort has been headed by Aldemaro Romero, the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, who visited Cuba in 2011 and decided to promote greater intercultural awareness at the college. According to Romero, “the long-term goal is how we at SIUE can contribute to a better relationship with other countries…there are things more important than politics.”
Silence in the Face of Violence, Howard Simon and John DeLeon, The Miami Herald
Writing about the firebombing of a Coral Gables travel agency that chartered flights to Cuba, two leaders of the Florida ACLU ask: “what expression of outrage or concern has been heard from elected officials, including members of Congress, and other leaders of our community about this local act of terrorism?”
A Viewer’s Guide to Cuba’s Economic Reform, Phil Peters, The Lexington Institute
Phil Peters provides a comprehensive overview of Cuba’s economic reforms, highlighting the potential that the reforms hold for the country and analyzing progress in key sectors of the Cuban economy.
Mariela Castro’s US visit: a win for free speech, Melissa Lockhard Fortner, The Christian Science Monitor
“Mariela Castro’s U.S. tour continued this week…and has upset those who say that Castro used the visit to “bash” the United States, others who found her comments regarding President Obama (that she would vote for him if she could) overly controversial, and of course, those who believe that she should never have been granted a US visa for the visit in the first place.
But in reality, the visit appears to have gone quite well, and is deserving of some kudos.”
U.S.-Cuban Stalemate?, Wayne Smith, Center for International Policy
Why is the U.S. refusing to sit down with Cuba to resolve the case of Alan Gross and address other differences? Wayne Smith of CIP says “Refusing to do so casts doubt on the overall U.S. position. The important thing is to begin the negotiating process and see where it takes us.”
Cuban, U.S. scientists breaking through some political barriers, Franco Ordonez, McClatchy Newspapers
“Cuban and American scientists have joined forces to protect wildlife and to study Caribbean weather patterns that fuel hurricanes, and in the process, they’re chipping away at a half-century of government feuding, helping to bring the nations together for talks on vital matters such as what to do in case of an oil spill.”