Larger role for Cuba’s media; Domestic football kicked back over the Florida straits; New Video and More

May 30, 2008

Dear Friend,

During most of 2008, we have focused on news coming from Cuba about reforms announced and implemented by Cuba’s government in areas ranging from the decentralization of agriculture to the new availability of consumer items like cell phones and DVD players.

This week, our attention was captured by more subtle yet no less important developments. These include reports on how the state-run media is now doing investigative journalism; how Cuban officials foresee the prospects for additional, significant economic reforms – such as doing away with Cuba’s system of two currencies, distributing ration cards based on need rather than universal access, and a gradual opening to more foreign investment; how one respected journal, Temas, is leading a debate on once-forbidden topics ranging from race relations to the study of transitions in other parts of the world.

In U.S. domestic developments, the debate here could hardly be described as subtle. The ritual of making speeches about Cuba in Miami, and about Cuba for Miami, was reenacted as we reported last week. We carry the coda in this week’s edition of the news blast – Senator Obama’s speech before CANF was critically reviewed by Fidel Castro in a reflection published a few days after – the call-and-response between a former president and one who might be. We’re also continuing to follow a constitutional challenge to restrictions on Cuban-American travel to the island.

It was a very interesting week, so we urge you to “read on”!

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But first, a word from your publisher:

The Center for Democracy in the Americas is pleased to produce this news summary each week for our eager and growing readership. This is more than a series of Google Alerts (not that there’s anything wrong with getting your news that way). We follow and translate global reports on Cuba. We follow what’s happening in Cuba not just by reading the press, but also by traveling to the island and by filing reports and filming videos. We have a perspective – we think U.S. policy is wrong, we want travel and trade restrictions lifted, and we favor normalization – but we make room for a variety of perspectives, because we know our readers want to decide for themselves.

You get this and more from a small non-profit organization that takes no money from governments or political parties. About half of our funding comes from private foundation grants, and the rest comes from tax-deductible donations from people like you.

Periodically, we appeal to our readers for additional support, and this is one of those times. We love getting feedback from our readers, but we also love getting “greenbacks” from our readers. Donating via PayPal couldn’t be easier. We appreciate your commitment to the news summary and we hope that you will express it by following this link.

And now…this week in Cuba news.

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Bush cell phone policy a “disconnect”? Plus Money and Politics News in Cuba and the U.S.

May 23, 2008

Dear Friend,

This week, President Bush reversed course, acknowledged at least one reform in Cuba (cell phones), and announced that he’ll allow Cuban-American families to send mobile telephones to their kin on the island. While it would have been far easier to repeal limits on travel, and remove restrictions on the financial support that families can provide their relatives, the pretzel logic of the president’s Cuba policy prevails.

We also report this week on revelations that the Chief U.S. diplomat in Cuba personally facilitated the transfer of cash to select Cuban dissidents and the source of the funds was identified as an organization headed by an imprisoned anti-Castro militant.

Think of it: at a time when President Bush places firm limits on the amount of cash that Cuban-Americans can send their families, a U.S. official is acting as a courier for cash transfers to favored political opponents of Cuba’s government. What a foreign policy!

You can also read in our featured section, Florida’s Foreign Policy, about visits to Miami by the chief contenders for the U.S. presidency, and a passionate call from one Florida resident, a Cuban-American, for the candidates to stop repeating the same old, same old on Cuba.

This and much, much more. Read all about it – in your Cuba news summary…

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Presidential candidates headed to Miami, CFR calls for an end to the embargo, Internet in Cuba

May 16, 2008

Dear Friend:

Welcome to this week’s news summary.

As one Cuba scholar joked before a Washington audience this week, America is most unlikely to have a new foreign policy between now and January 19, 2009.

But if you wanted to imagine what a real foreign policy looked like – one which dealt seriously and openly with the problems not just of Cuba but of Latin America region-wide – you need to look no further than the report released this week by an independent task force of the Council on Foreign Relations.

The two presumptive presidential nominees appear in Miami next week. Here, we should have an opportunity to see who among them is prepared to embrace the region with fresh eyes and new ideas.

Meanwhile on the island, the debate over economic reform marches forward. We highlight the discussion in Cuba’s central bank over how and when to merge Cuba’s system of two currencies, a cardinal source of complaint among Cubans seeking a better standard of living.

Meet the new boss – The U.S. government announced this week that the new chief of the U.S. Interests Section will be Jonathan Farrar. It’s a tough posting; the diplomat stationed there has to defend an awful policy.

As the Council on Foreign Relations reminds us, however, this too could change.

If you’re like us, and you read this blast each week, you want a new U.S. policy toward Cuba and all of the Americas. That’s why the Council’s task force report on Latin America struck such a chord with us – it’s what our organization is fighting for. Join us! Support this work by making a financial commitment today. Follow this link, it’s easy to do, and you’ll be making a strong statement about the ideas and issues that bring us together every week.

This week in Cuba news…

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Dissident Marta Beatrice Roque asks Bush to relax travel restrictions

May 9, 2008

Dear Friend:

This week, when President Bush addressed the 38th Annual Washington Conference on the Americas, he came to praise the wonders of video conferencing while disparaging the reform process in Cuba. He said in his speech:

“Yesterday I had a fascinating opportunity to speak with a leading Cuban dissident, a former political prisoner, and a wife of a man who is held in a Cuban prison simply because he expressed his belief that all people should live in a free society. Video-conferencing is one of the great wonders of the 21st century, and to be able to sit in the White House and talk to these three brave souls in Havana was a(n) inspiring moment for me.”

He went on to say “there’s no change at all,” and said the regime had engaged in “empty gestures at reform.”

Apparently, the president was so inspired by his video conference experience that he forgot to mention what he actually heard on the call from one prominent dissident, Marta Beatrice Roque. As covered by the AP, The Cuban Triangle, NPR, and others, Roque asked the President “to make it easier for Cuban Americans in the United States to visit family members on the island and send money to their relatives” there.

In other words, the President was asked by one of Cuba’s leading dissidents to reverse the policies that he put into place four years ago now that Cuba’s government is introducing the changes which the president and his administration dismiss as cosmetic. Apparently, videoconferencing has its limits. Having heard this appeal, the President announced, as ever, that U.S. policy would not change.

Meanwhile, in Cuba, the list of reforms adopted by the government continues to grow longer.

In the three months since Raul Castro took office, Cuba’s government has removed wage limits for workers, ended restrictions on cell phones, ended limits on the use of tourist facilities by Cubans, ended restrictions on where Cubans fill their prescriptions, ended limits on the sale of consumer items such as DVD players and computers, reorganized the family doctor program, provided raises for retirees and court employees, provided titles to Cuban families for government owned housing, commuted death sentences, introduced decentralizing reforms for agriculture, and encouraged a broadening public debate about these changes.

While it is impossible to know where this process will ultimately lead, foreign governments have to decide whether applauding these changes or denigrating them will more likely lead to a better outcome for the Cuban people. The President appears to count himself as one of a dwindling number of critics for whom progress on Cuba will never be enough to provide even a measure of encouragement. It’s hard to know whether it’s worse to be wrong or simply irrelevant in the eyes of history. For now, our policy is both.

This week in Cuba news…

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Changes in Cuba; Wasted USAID funds, Florida’s Foreign Policy, New Video from Havana

May 2, 2008

Dear Friend:

Although we lead this week’s news blast with developments in Cuba’s move toward reform – and they are significant – please pay careful attention to our section titled “Florida’s Foreign Policy” below.

We obtained a report released in March by the Cuban American National Foundation documenting tremendous waste in the USAID programs designed to funnel aid to dissident groups in Cuba. Much like the movie “Casablanca,” you will be shocked, shocked, shocked to discover just how much of this money is staying in Florida, spent on administrative overhead, and fails to produce any measurable gains.

While the Bush administration is trying to reroute this money through cooperative governments and NGO’s in Europe, we’re pretty sure the waste will continue unabated until U.S. policy toward Cuba changes.

The press has not given this report any real attention, but here at the News Summary, we do.

More troubling, however, is legislation passed this week by the Florida Legislature that will impose towering new obstacles on travel service providers operating in Florida aimed at stopping legal travel to Cuba. There is still time to make the case before Florida’s governor Charlie Crist to veto the legislation, and people who believe in our constitutional rights to travel should make their voices heard.

This week in Cuba news…

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