If Cuba policy were a holiday call center

If Cuba policy were a holiday call center, the recording on your phone would be saying, “The next available customer representative will assist you in 50 years.”

So, who can you reach when things just aren’t right?

Who do you call when Cuba releases political prisoners, removes restrictions on its citizens to travel, opens up its private sector so that entrepreneurs can lead more prosperous, independent lives, but your government moves the goal posts and signals that just because Cuba met its last set of demands that won’t stop the U.S. imposing new hurdles rather than changing the policy?

Who do you call when Cuba is brokering the peace process between Colombia and the FARC, but the U.S. government continues to insist that Cuba belongs on the State Sponsors of Terror list because it allows representatives of the FARC to live in Cuba?

Who do you call when every other country in the Hemisphere says we must welcome Cuba into the next Summit of the Americas or that meeting isn’t going to happen, and the State Department – in charge, after all, of relationships with our allies in the region –pretends that call for action never happened?

Who do you call when several of the most respected Cuban scholars get turned down for visas to attend the Latin America Studies Association conference for being threats to national security, when they’ve been invited into the U.S. on multiple occasions by the same agency denying entry?

Who do you call when taxpayer money subsidizes slimy attacks against Cuba’s Catholic Cardinal written by an executive of Radio/TV Marti when the church in Cuba is fighting for the same values that our government says it is upholding with its policy?

Who do you call if you’re Chuck Hagel, an apparent candidate for Secretary of Defense, when you’re getting trashed for thinking outside the box on foreign policy issues from the Middle East to the U.S. embargo of Cuba (and he hears mostly crickets from the White House)?

Who do you call if you facilitate legal travel to Cuba, as the President tried to encourage with his reforms last year, but another arm of the U.S. government is freezing payments and menacing Internet companies who service your website and email?

These are only a few of our hang-ups from the last twelve months.

As we have lamented – and admitted – before, the administration never accorded Cuba (or Latin America) policy a terribly high priority, and it has its hands full right now taking on the lobbies that are fighting progress on our economy and on gun safety.  We get that.

The president already has ample executive authority to make changes–as common place as making it easier to sell food to Cuba, and as big as removing Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terrorism List–that could go a long way toward disconnecting his policy from the Cold War and modernizing our approach to the circumstances that prevail now.

He just needs to answer the call of history.

If he did, that would be a great holiday gift to the American people and the Cuban people – who have been on hold for the better part of six decades.

We are taking next week off.  We look forward to bringing you the news about Cuba and U.S. policy in 2013.

Peace.

The Cuba Central News Blast Team

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

Obama  nominates Senator John Kerry to be Secretary of State

This afternoon, President Obama nominated Massachusetts Senator John Kerry to serve as his  Secretary of State, reports The Hill. The nomination of Sen. Kerry, currently chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was deemed all-but certain after U.N. ambassador Susan Rice withdrew her name from consideration last week. In response to the nomination, CDA executive director Sarah Stephens stated:

“Mr. Kerry knows what needs to be done in the future with Cuba, because of what he’s already accomplished in the past: normalization of relations with Vietnam, opposition to Reagan-era interventions in Central America, and supporting travel to Cuba over regime change policies.  President Obama’s decision to nominate Senator Kerry to be Secretary of State should be a positive development for U.S. policy toward Cuba.”

If he is confirmed, Senator Kerry will replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and will be the first white male to serve in this position since Warren Christopher occupied the office in President Bill Clinton’s first term.

Cuba denounces U.S. bank fines as “unjust and illegal”

On Thursday, Cuba’s government protested two recent fines levied by the U.S. against banks found to be conducting business with Cuba and other countries subject to U.S. sanctions, reports the Associated Press. In a statement, Cuba’s Foreign Ministry called the fines “unjust and illegal” and said that the move “demonstrate[s] that the U.S. policy of ferocious prosecution of financial and commercial transactions targeting Cuba and those who maintain a legitimate relationship with our country under the protection of international law not only has not changed, but has hardened.”

The London-based bank HSBC announced on Dec. 11 that it had agreed to pay a $1.9 billion settlement to end a U.S. probe into illegal activities which allegedly facilitated money laundering by Mexican drug cartels and the movement of money around the world by several countries under U.S. sanctions, including Cuba. The following day, the Treasury Department announced an $8.6 million settlement with Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ bank of Japan.

World Council of Churches blames U.S. sanctions for blocking ecumenical meeting in Cuba

Last week, the Miami branch of an Ecuadorian bank froze a deposit of $101,000 made by the Latin American Council of Churches, reports Washington Post. The funds were to be used to host 400 delegates to the World Council of Church’s periodic convention this February in Cuba. Olav Fykse Tveit, the organization’s general secretary, said that the meeting can no longer take place and expressed his disappointment:

“It is simply not acceptable that the U.S. government through regulations of its banking system has decided to create these obstacles for a significant Christian body that cannot meet, whether it is in Cuba or elsewhere, The United States has an obligation and has repeatedly expressed the commitment to uphold religious freedom. This is a case where the U.S. government could easily have helped to avoid this embarrassing situation but has failed.”

Norwegian oil rig arrives in Cuba for offshore exploration

An offshore drilling platform owned by Norwegian company Songa Offshore AS has arrived off Cuba’s coast, reports the Associated Press.  The Songa Mercur rig, leased by Russian oil company Zarubezhneft, is expected to begin exploratory drilling “in the coming days” off Cuba’s north-central shore. The announcement in Granma on Saturday specified that the rig was inspected by the international firm ModuSpec, to ensure that less that 10% of its components were of U.S. origin, in compliance with the U.S. embargo against Cuba. In contrast to the deep-water rig Scarabeo 9, this rig will be exploring shallower offshore waters.

Cuba’s National Assembly: Ricardo Alarcón will step down as president, 67% of members will be replaced in 2013

Ricardo Alarcón, one of the oldest active members of Cuba’s government, will be stepping down from his post as president of the National Assembly, reports the Associated Press.  Alarcón’s name was not among the candidates, listed in a Granma notice, who will stand for election on February 3, 2013. Delegates are elected by absolute majority vote and serve 5-year terms. There is speculation that the current vice-president of the Assembly, Ana Maria Mari Machado, could replace Alarcón as president, according to Café Fuerte.

Amarilys Pérez Santana, president of the Commission of National Candidacies, released a breakdown of the nominees for the 2013-2018 Parliament to state newspaper Granma. Of the 612 seats, 67% are being sought by newcomers. The number of women up for parliamentary election is 299, which would make up 48.86% of the legislative body. Women hold 266 seats (43.32%) in the current Assembly. The average age of nominees is 48 years old, with the largest number falling into the 36-50 age bracket. Of the nominees, 37% are Afro-Cuban and mestizos.

Cuba’s government to tax the self-employed in Old Havana

Starting on January 1, self-employed workers in historic Old Havana will be paying new taxes, reports Café Fuerte. According to a regulation passed earlier this month and published in the Official Gazette, freelancers exploiting the high-tourism zone will pay a 10% income tax earmarked to support the city’s “restoration and preservation” efforts. The tax is expected to be particularly costly for traditional artists, performers, and craftsmen. The revenue will be administered by the Office of the Historian in Old Havana, which is in charge of reviving the area.

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

Ecuador to donate homes to Santiago de Cuba in wake of Hurricane Sandy

Ecuador will sponsor the construction of 1,000 homes in Santiago de Cuba, where Hurricane Sandy hit the island the hardest, according to Granma. Ricardo Patiño, Ecuador’s foreign minister, toured the area on Saturday as part of a three-day trip to the island. In Havana, the delegation met with Bruno Rodríguez, Cuba’s foreign minister.  Rodríguez thanked Patiño for his country’s support in the recovery process, and the two discussed bilateral relations, in areas including politics, culture, sports, science, health and biotechnology.

Around the Region

Caracas Connect, Special Edition on Chávez’s health crisis and regional elections, Dr. Daniel Hellinger, Center for Democracy in the Americas

Dr. Hellinger analyzes the recent gubernatorial elections in Venezuela and the impact of Hugo Chávez’s health challenges on the country’s politics.

The top five of 2012, Héctor Silva Ávalos, El Faro (In Spanish)

Héctor Silva Ávalos, CDA’s newest Advisory Board member, reports on and analyzes the top five political events for El Salvador this past year. Number one is the new security cabinet and its role in the gang truce. Can you guess the other four?

Recommended Reading

Kerry and Hagel offer Obama a way forward on Cuba, Sarah Stephens, Center for Democracy in the Americas

Sarah Stephens analyzes the possible impact of Senators Kerry and Hagel on the future of U.S.-Cuba relations in President Obama’s next term.  The column is also available in Spanish here.

Chuck Hagel does not like sanctions, Josh Rogin, Foreign Policy Magazine

Josh Rogin outlines Senator Hagel’s argument for engagement and diplomacy, instead of relying on sanctions to create change in countries such as Cuba, Syria, and Libya. Hagel argues that interacting with these countries does not equal appeasement and that dialogue, instead of punitive or military action, is more likely to yield a desired outcome.

Time to end the Cuba embargo, Doug Bandow, The National Interest

Doug Bandow, senior fellow at the CATO Institute and former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan, argues that it is “far past time to end the embargo” against Cuba, a policy he describes as a fifty-year-long failure. While lifting the embargo “would be no panacea,” it would “have a greater likelihood of success” in opening up Cuban society than continuing the policy. Bandow wrote a similar article against the embargo in 2009.

Cuba embargo isn’t working but isn’t going away, Joel Brinkley, Politico

Despite nearly unanimous agreement from all sides that the embargo on Cuba has failed to bring about its intended effects, there is no political incentive to change the policy, writes Joel Brinkley for Politico. Although the embargo was devised as part of the now-obsolete Cold War agenda, and although the U.S. does not impose embargoes on other authoritarian states, the policy persists.

Cuban revolutionary Celia Sánchez honored in new book, Christopher P. Baker, Moon Travel Guides

Christopher Baker reviews a new biography of Celia Sánchez, a female leader of the Cuban Revolution, who until her death in 1980 was considered Fidel Castro’s closest confidant and “compass”. The author of the book, Nancy Stout, spent a decade researching the trajectory of Sánchez’s life through letters, documents and interviews. She tells of her involvement in the early movement against the Batista dictatorship and her subsequent participation in the 26th of July Movement. Sánchez’s dangerous missions smuggling arms to the Rebel Army and days fighting in the mountains with the women’s battalion are also featured.

Recommended Viewing

Black and Cuba (trailer), Robin Hayes

According to the filmmaker, Robin J. Hayes, “‘Black and Cuba’ follows a diverse group of Yale students who feel like outcasts at their elite institution, band together and adventure to Cuba to see if revolution is truly possible.” See full interview with Hayes here.

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