Is this Diplomacy? U.S. to the EU: don’t talk to Cuba. Meanwhile – Brazil, Texas, Little Leaguers engage

Dear Friend:

This Gallup report caught our eye this week. Dateline, Princeton, NJ, June 2, 2008:

Large majorities of Democrats and independents, and even about half of Republicans, believe the president of the United States should meet with the leaders of countries that are considered enemies of the United States. Overall, 67% of Americans say this kind of diplomacy is a good idea.

The current administration begs to differ.

With U.S. unemployment soaring to 5.5%, with oil prices at $138 per barrel (and fears it could hit $150 by July 4th), what was the U.S. Secretary of Commerce doing in Europe? He was begging our EU allies to maintain diplomatic sanctions against Cuba.

That’s how far U.S. diplomacy has fallen. We won’t talk to our adversaries, and we lean on friendly governments to join us in this utterly counter-productive approach to the world.

Think about that, as you read the news summary this week – and our reports on Brazil intensifying trade with Cuba; Cuba extending its diplomatic approach to the Vatican; Texans making food deals in Havana; and Vermont preparing to send some young ambassadors to Cuba to practice “baseball diplomacy.”

Here in the U.S., there were also developments in the cases of the Cuban Five and Luis Posada Carilles that you won’t want to miss…this week in Cuba news.


Cuba and Brazil Increase Trade

There were important developments this week involving Brazil’s commitment to economic investment in Cuba that demonstrate the vast difference between our policy of embargo and Brazil’s policy of engagement.

Brazil’s Foreign Minister, Celso Amorim, visited Cuba with dozens of Brazilian businessmen this week to discuss trade between Cuba and Brazil and review the implementation of ten bilateral agreements signed between the two countries in January. According to the Juventud Rebelde, trade between Brazil and Cuba surpassed $450 million in 2007 and has increased this year by 58 percent over the same period last year.

Celso Amorim said the trade between the two countries represents “a new and important moment for Cuba’s development.” When President Lula da Silva traveled to the island in January to meet with Fidel and Raulhe offered a line of credit worth more than a $1 billion. They have said that they want to play a role in this “crucial moment of its history.”

Cuban officials attach importance to Brazil’s role. “Our current challenge is to see Brazil as Cuba’s number one trade partner, and we are favorably positioned achieve this,” said Cuba’s vice president Carlos Lage.

Raúl de la Nuez, Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Trade, said the increase in Brazilian imports consisted mainly of food, agricultural machinery and transportation equipment. He said there was also an increase of Cuban goods exported to Brazil, especially biotechnological and pharmaceutical products. He added that there are now plans for Brazil to buy minerals from Cuba and that they hope to increase the export of Cuban services to Brazil.

According to a report by the Reuters News Agency, Brazil will provide technical assistance and seed to Cuba in order to grow soybeans on an industrial scale for the first time in Cuba. Celso Amorim said land was already identified for the project and the seed ready. Brazil is one of the world’s largest producers of genetically modified soy.

“I believe we are talking about 30,000 to 40,000 hectares of land to start, but with possibilities to extend it,” de la Nuez said.

“We have to develop it little by little because it is not something we have grown before in Cuba,” he said.

You can read the Juventud Rebelde report here.

You can read the Reuters Report here.

You can also read Phil Peters’ analysis of Brazil’s agenda as “mixed political support and substantial economic assistance” at the The Cuban Triangle.

Machado Ventura in Rome

Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, Cuba’s First Vice President, visited Rome this week representing Cuba at the World Summit on Food Security, the Cuba News Agency reported. Ventura argued that excessive military spending, agricultural subsidies, failure to meet foreign aid agreements and unfair rules for international trade in the North have led to world food shortages.

“Countries in the North have an unquestionable share of responsibility for the hunger and malnourishment of 854 million people. The governments of developed countries refuse to eliminate their outrageous agricultural subsidies while imposing their rules of international trade on the rest of the world,” he argued.

Bloomberg News reported that the conclusion of the summit and agreement on a final document was delayed because Cuba and some other Latin American countries insisted on language condemning the US embargo, and Argentina objected to calls in the document to ease trade restrictions.

Machado Ventura represented Cuba last month at the EU-Latin American summit in Peru where his speech focused on outlining the dangers of climate change and criticizing the EU for not doing enough.

He also met on Wednesday with the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, to follow up on the Cardinal’s visit to Cuba in February. Cardinal Bertone was the first official meeting Raul Castro took after being elected President of the Council of State. The Church and Cuba’s Government have cited improved relations over the last year. At this meeting, Machado Ventura and Cardinal Bertone expressed their hopes that bilateral relations will continue to develop in the same direction.

You can read Machado Ventura’s full speech here.

You can read the Cuba News Agency article here.

Baseball diplomacy

The Rutland Herald reported that a youth baseball team from Vermont and New Hampshire will travel to Cuba to play more than a dozen games in the Havana area in August. Coach Ted Levin tried and failed several times over a twenty month long process before he obtained a travel license and approval from the U.S. Treasury Department for the team to make the trip.

The Connecticut Valley South Little League All-Star team’s trip will be only the second of its kind since the United States imposed trade and travel restrictions to Cuba. Coaches John Carey and Ted Levin gave credit to the Vermont congressional delegation, Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie and Florida businessman John Parke Wright IV, who had organized the sale of Vermont cattle to Cuba, for help in getting the travel license.

“I believe it will lead to a better and more secure world and I believe it’s through grass-roots connections of people-to-people and baseball teams playing one another that we expand our understanding,” Dubie said.

“They’re not only going to learn some great baseball and have fun playing baseball but I’m a naturalist so they’re going to hear a lot about Antilles evolution and bird life there,” said Levin. “And John (Care) is a Latin American scholar so they’ll hear about the colonization of Cuba by the Spanish and America’s relation to Cuba through the years.”

You can read the Rutland Herald report here.

Texas trade trip produces results

A four day trade mission to Cuba by a 24-member Texas delegation resulted in the signing of two contracts for raw cotton exports, the Dallas Morning News reported. Cynthia Thomas, president of Tri Dimension Strategies, said that deals are also pending for poultry and powdered milk.

“It was very significant,” Ms. Thomas said. “We weren’t expecting to sign anything up” so quickly.

The trip was led by the Texas Department of Agriculture, and it marked the first official Texas state visit to Cuba in over 45 years. Michael Parmly, head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, urged the Texas delegation not to sign new business deals with the Cuban Government. “I wouldn’t spend a dime on any sector,” he advised.

However, Texas sells about $25 million a year in agricultural goods to Cuba and delegation members discussed possible deals for everything from beans, cotton, rice and grain to packaged desserts, organic soap and gourmet chocolate.

Frank Walker of McKinney is planning to return to Havana in September hoping to sell packaged desserts, including Caribbean rum cakes and New York cheesecake. “As good neighbors to Cuba, we can do no better or less than to continue to move forward with change,” he said.

Mr. Pringle, an official with the Texas Farm Bureau, made it clear that he disagrees with U.S. trade policy.

“We’re one-third the distance from Havana than Canada,” he said. “For me, U.S. policy to Cuba doesn’t make sense. And it hasn’t for years.”

You can read the Dallas Morning News report here.

Cuba’s Government authorizes sex change operations

The Mexican newspaper La Jornada reported that the government of Raul Castro authorized sex change operations for people diagnosed as transsexuals. The topic has been discussed extensively over the last year but became formalized this week with a Public Health ministry resolution. Mariela Castro Espin, director of the National Center for Sex Education (Cenesex), said that change “signifies that we are advancing in an important area of the rights of transsexuals.”

The resolution guarantees that like all other operations in Cuba, the sex change procedure will be done free of cost. So far Cenesex has diagnosed 27 people as transsexuals, 13 of which have already changed their official identification cards and 7 that are in the process. The resolution also created a special commission to attend to transsexuals needs that will be headed by Cenesex. It will offer consultation, diagnosis, treatment, surgery, recovery and other services for the patients.

The sex change procedure is one of three sexual diversity initiatives that Cenesex has been pushing. The second is the creation of legislation that would allow transsexuals to change their legal identity easier and without undergoing surgery. The third is legislation that would reform the family code providing the right to free sexual orientation and identity. Among other things, it would provide legal recognition of unions between people of the same sex.

You can read the Jornada report here (in Spanish).


Gutierrez in Europe trying to influence the EU’s foreign policy

Carlos Gutierrez, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, toured Europe this week hoping to persuade our European allies to maintain sanctions against Cuba, the Reuters News agency reported.

The EU, which imposed diplomatic sanctions against Cuba in 2003, is debating whether to keep the measures. After a trip to Cuba in March, EU commissioner Louis Michel argued that the diplomatic sanctions in place since 2003 are counterproductive and should be scrapped. The policy will be discussed at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg on June 16. Spain has pushed for a policy of engagement while the Czech Republic and other ex-communist east European states oppose any easing of the sanctions.

Gutierrez visited the Czech Republic and Ukraine. He argued that changes under Raul Castro are “somewhat cynical” and did nothing to ease widespread poverty or guarantee Cubans fundamental rights. He urged countries not to remove the sanctions because “the so-called reforms in Cuba are targeted for international consumption” and would allow the Cuban authorities to “get away” with persuading the world human rights had improved on the island.

Caleb McCarry, coordinator of the Bush administration’s “Plan for Assistance to a Free Cuba,” recently undertook an eight-nation European tour also with the intent of preventing European nations from ending the sanctions.

You can read the Reuters report here.

Three of the Cuban Five’s sentences excessive

A federal court this week upheld the convictions of Gerardo Hernandez and Rene Gonzalez, who were initially convicted of espionage charges in 2001, the Associated Press reported. However, life sentences for Luis Medina and Antonio Guerrero were vacated as well as a 19-year sentence for Ruben Campa, also known as Fernando Gonzalez. Their cases will be sent back to district court in Miami where they will face less strict sentencing guidelines.

The panel vacated the terms of their sentences, agreeing with their contentions that their sentences were improperly configured because no “top secret information was gathered or transmitted.” The judges concurred with Campa that his sentence was too strict because he was not a manager or supervisor of the network.

The five were first convicted in Miami, where the defense argued that it was impossible for the five to receive a fair trial. They were convicted of acting as unregistered Cuban agents in the United States and for attempting to penetrate U.S. military bases. In 2005, a three-judge panel overturned all of the convictions, saying there should have been a change of venue, but a full court reversed that decision.

The five acknowledged being Cuban agents but said they were not spying on the United States. They said their focus was on U.S.-based exile groups planning “terrorist” actions against the Castro government. The five are national heroes in Cuba.

Attorneys for Gerardo Hernandez and Rene Gonzalez said they will consider appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court if they don’t get results from a full appellate court review.

The National Committee to Free the Cuban Five denounced the decision to uphold the convictions and said they expected big turnouts at rallies throughout the country on Friday.

“It flies in the face of the truth. The five men are not guilty of any crime,” said Gloria La Riva, the committee coordinator. “They were saving lives by stopping terrorism. They never had weapons. They never posed any harm to the people of the United States.”

You can read the Associated Press report here.

Posada Carriles’ immigration case heard

According to an Associated Press report, federal prosecutors argued that the judge shouldn’t have dismissed charges against Luis Posada Carriles last year. Posada, who has admitted his involvement in the 1976 bombing of a civilian airliner, was charged with entering the country illegally and making false statements as part of his bid to become a naturalized U.S. citizen.

Federal prosecutors argued that the judge should have let the case be heard by a jury and that the judge went too far in tossing out transcripts of Posada’s naturalization interview. The judge had ruled that it was tainted by mistakes that a translator made in interpreting the interview. The case was heard in 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans on Wednesday, but a ruling from the three-judge panel could take several months.

Posada was recently the guest of honor at a 500 person fundraiser in Miami where he told guests not to expect anything from Raul Castro and urged them to “sharpen their machetes.”

The Venezuelan Government has expressed concern that the court proceedings are just an attempt to delay the process so that President Bush can issue Posada a presidential pardon when he finishes his term.

You can read the Associated Press report here.

Recommended Reading:

You can learn more about U.S. attitudes toward diplomacy here.

More on Mariela Castro and sexual diversity reforms in Cuba from Inter Press Service news agency.

Recommended Viewing:

Check out a new craze sweeping Bolivia where Cholitas are entering the wrestling ring to fight for their identity and pride.

Until next week,

The Cuba Central Team


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