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…
The Central Bank of Cuba doubled the amount of money state enterprises are allowed to spend without approval from a special committee from the bank, the Reuters news agency reported. Previously, checks of more than $5,000 CUC needed to be approved by the committee for approval of hard currency with the Central Bank. That amount has now been increased to $10,000 CUC ($10,800 USD) slightly increasing companies’ financial autonomy. The resolution was passed on April 14th.
According to Phil Peters (CubanTriangle.blogspot.com), “it’s a small step that would take on greater importance if it means that more steps to decentralize decision-making are on the way.”
Cuba’s new government is taking steps to shore up institutions ranging from the National Assembly to the Communist Party, the Florida Sun-Sentinel reported. Raul Castro announced last week that the Communist Party would hold its first congress in a dozen years in late 2009. Cuba will also look at strengthening the National Assembly, which announced the creation of 12 commissions on Monday to study everything from food production to national defense.
“The creation of the working commissions of the National Assembly comes at a time in which our country engages in an effort to deepen socialism, to make modifications and changes that will allow us to have a better and more efficient society without changing our independence or our system,” National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon said.
Yoani Sanchez, who has gained worldwide acclaim for her Generation Y blog which criticizes the Cuban government, was honored Wednesday with a Spanish journalism award in absentia -the Associated Press reported. Sanchez was given the Ortega y Gasset Prize in digital journalism for creating her blog, which gets more than 1 million hits a month, mostly from abroad.
Cuban authorities did not approve Yoani Sanchez’s request to travel to Madrid for the award ceremony. But the 32-year-old woman was still able to make some points. “Nothing of what I have written in these 13 months speaks as loudly as my absence from this ceremony,” Sanchez said in a tape recording.
You can check out her blog here: Generacion Y
FLORIDA’S FOREIGN POLICY
Carriles Marking his one year release from prison in Texas, Luis Posada Carriles was honored at a fundraiser in Miami aimed at raising money to pay for his legal expenses, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Posada, 80, up until now has kept a low profile since his release from a Texas prison a year ago and a federal judge’s dismissal of the only U.S. charges against him — making false statements to immigration officials. He is wanted in Venezuela on terrorism charges and under a deportation order for illegally entering the United States three years ago. Venezuela has demanded Posada’s extradition over his involvement in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban passenger jet — an attack that killed 73 people.
Venezuela’s ambassador in Washington, Bernardo Alvarez Herrera, condemned the celebration of Posada as a mockery of justice and evidence of a Bush administration double standard in fighting terrorism. The U.S. government has never given Venezuela a formal answer to its 3-year-old request for extradition of Posada, despite a treaty providing for such cooperation that has been in effect since 1922, the ambassador said.
Analysts speculate that the U.S. government has dodged calls for prosecution of Posada for fear he would disclose details of CIA involvement in coups, assassination plots and scandals, including the Iran-Contra Affair. The Miami Herald reported that Posada made violent remarks at the recent event. “We must not wait for Fidel Castro to die…for Raul to make mistakes… liberty is not something we must beg for. It is conquered with the sharp edge of the machete. We ask God to sharpen our machetes because difficult times are arriving,” he said.
A federal grand jury in New Jersey continues to weigh an indictment against Posada in connection with the bombing of Cuba tourist sites in Cuba in 1997. Posada initially acknowledged to The New York Times that he was involved in the Cuba attacks. But during his deportation proceedings, he recanted that statement, saying his English was poor and he was misunderstood.
The Cuban Government issued a statement on the case which you can read here.
The Center for International Policy will host a panel discussion on the case of Posada on May 22nd. You can find out more information here.
South Florida Congressional Races Update
Democratic candidates Raul Martinez, Joe Garcia and Annette Tadeo are shaking things up in traditionally Republican South Florida, the St. Petersburg Times reported. Raul Martinez, former mayor of Hialeah, enjoys support throughout the community, including many registered Republican voters. According to his campaign, over half of the money he has raised has come from Republicans.
The candidates draw much of their support on issues such as the Iraq war and the economy. However, according to a poll taken in 2007, 64 percent of Cuban-Americans want the 2004 restrictions on family travel l lifted. Both Martinez and Garcia pledge to do this. “Family is more important than ideology,” says Garcia.
Victories in any of the three districts could lead to significant changes in U.S.-Cuba policy, especially relaxing hard-line restrictions on travel and financial support, policies that have grown increasingly unpopular among Cuban-Americans in Miami.
Members of the Cuban national Judo team are in Miami to compete in the 2008 Pan American Championships, the Miami Herald reported. This is the first Cuban national team of any sport to set foot in Miami for more than four decades.
Other Cuban national teams had been steered away from competing in South Florida over the years for fear of demonstrations, terrorism and possible defections. About a dozen members of the hard-line Vigilia Mambisa group — showed up to protest the Cuban team’s visit outside their hotel [See video here]. They waved Cuban flags and castigated local politicians for allowing ”representatives of Fidel Castro” to compete on Miami soil.
However, many Cuban athletes that now live in Miami showed up to support the Cuban national team and Jose Rodriguez, executive director of USA Judo and a native of Cuba defended their participation.
A Cuban national coach reached out to a former Cuban judoka who had defected, presenting her with a surprise gift. Ronaldo Veitia brought to Miami three medals that belonged to Danieska Carrion, a former Cuban champion judoka who defected in Mexico City four years ago and now works as a coach with the U.S. national team. Two Cuban boxers — Yan Barthelemy and Yuriorkis Gamboa – who live in Miami now were seen at the judo competition Thursday, greeting and supporting the Cuban judokas.
“The Cuban team has the right to come here and participate in an international sporting event. That’s what the Olympic spirit is all about — harmony, goodwill, peace. The fact that the Cubans are in Miami is one step forward to opening doors that have been shut for far too long,” said Rodriquez.
This week, the New York Times printed our letter to the editor in response to Marc Lacey’s May 2nd article, where we point out the broader significance of the reforms in Cuba: A New Opening in Cuba.
Thank you to everyone who contacted Florida Governor Crist last week to urge him to veto SB 1310, which will further complicate travel to Cuba! We have been told that the bill is still on his desk and he has not yet signed it. If you have not yet had a chance, you can contact him here.
Until Next Week,
The Cuba Central Team