Family Travels in Washington, Family Values Take Flight in Florida

Dear Friend:

This is different.

It’s the Congressional equivalent of a “man bites dog” story – we actually have good news to report on U.S. policy. The House Appropriations Committee has approved three provisions in a Treasury Department budget bill that would loosen restrictions on Cuban Americans who want to visit the island to see their families and make it easier for the U.S. to sell food to the Cuban people.

President Bush has always vowed to veto legislation like this, and Congress has blinked under pressure before. But as we look past the Bush administration and toward a new era of U.S.-Cuba relations, it is a welcome indication that some legislators are willing to entertain reforms in a failed policy that divides families and uses food as a political weapon. Good work, House Appropriations, and thanks to our champions, who include Representatives Jose Serrano and Rosa DeLauro.

This is not different.

If these reforms are theory, then Florida’s efforts to make travel harder is a fact. See our report on Florida putting new obstacles in the way of travel service providers who help Cuban-Americans reunite with their families. Family values? Not in Florida.

Read on, and you’ll learn about developments in medicine, sports diplomacy, and improvements in the European Union’s diplomacy toward Cuba.

This week, in Cuba news…


Chinese Political Bureau member visits Cuba

He Guogiang, member the Communist Party of China’s Political Bureau and secretary of the Central Commission of Disciplinary Control of its Central Committee, made a four day trip to Cuba this week, reported the Granma.

Mr. Guogiang was received by President Raul Castro on Sunday and the two met for several hours. This resulted in the signing of an economic and technical cooperation agreement between the two governments.

He then met with first vice-president Jose R. Machado Ventura to exchange views on wide-ranging regional and international issues of common concern and to work out ways the two countries can further bilateral ties. According to the Chinese newspaper Xinhua, he also introduced China’s party-building and anti-corruption approach to Machado.

He then met with former President Fidel Castro, who “underscored the advances of the Chinese people and the importance of socialism with Chinese characteristics” during the two-hour meeting, according to Cuba’s International Press Center.

According to the Granma, Fidel Castro highlighted the efforts by the leadership of the Revolution, especially those of Raúl, in relation to the issues of unity, productivity, increasing agricultural production and conservation, which are of great importance.

You can read the Granma article here

You can read the Xinhua article here

Cuba scientists unveil lung cancer vaccine

Cuba has developed a therapeutic lung cancer vaccine which it says is the first in the world and extends the lives of victims by up to five months, reported the Agence France-Presse. Cuban scientists unveiled the drug on Tuesday at the Havana Molecular Immunological Center.

One of the lead scientists, Gisela Gonzalez, said that research on the Cimavax EGF vaccine began in 1992, with the first clinical test in 1995. It is the first registered vaccine in the world designed to battle lung cancer, said Gonzalez.

The vaccine, based on two proteins, triggers an immune response from the victim’s body and has no side effects. The research team’s director of clinical investigations, Tania Crombet, said that the vaccine serves as a compliment to conventional methods like chemotherapy and radiotherapy, allowing cancer victims to live between four and five months longer, improves their breathing, and decreases their pain.

The vaccine is already available in Cuba, and advanced tests are currently underway with 579 lung cancer victims at 18 Cuban hospitals. Other tests were carried out in Canada and Britain, while tests are scheduled in Malaysia, Peru, and China, Gonzalez added.

The drug will soon be commercialized in Latin America, starting in Peru.

You can read the Agence France-Presse article here

1000 Pakistanis studying in Cuba

A second group of 644 Pakistani students have begun arriving in Cuba, joining another 330 who are already there, according to reports by the Pakistan Daily.

A spokesman at the Cuban embassy explained that the students are part of 1000 free-of-charge scholarships granted by the Cuban government to Pakistan after the devastating earthquake that affected the country in October, 2005.

According to the spokesman, it is the first time Cuba is going to host Muslim students and Cuba wants to offer the Pakistani students a proper environment. Halal food will be imported and properly certified and arrangements have been made to provide appropriate places to pray according to the Muslim traditions.

There are 27,500 foreign students from 120 different countries studying in Cuba, 21,000 of whom study medicine.

You can read the Pakistan Daily article here


Family Travel
This week, the House Appropriations Committee cleared three Cuba related provisions as part of the Financial Services appropriations legislation written by Chairman Jose Serrano. If enacted into law, the provisions would 1) Enable Cuban Americans to travel to Cuba to visit family once a year rather than once every three years; 2) Expand the regulatory definition of family to include aunts, uncles, 1st cousins, nieces, and nephews; and 3) Amend the “cash-in-advance” regulations to allow agricultural goods to leave U.S. ports for Cuba prior to receiving Cuba’s cash payment; title is transferred after the cash is received in the seller’s account.

The bill reflects the strong sentiment in Congress against restrictions that limit the right of Cuban-Americans to visit family members in Cuba once every three years, reported BBC Mundo.

“There is no reason to apply tough restrictions on people that simply want to visit their close relatives. Furthermore, the bill contains a clause that would facilitate agricultural trade with Cuba, which would allow more American famers to sell their products to Cuba,” explained Serrano, Chair of the Financial Services subcommittee.

The Bush administration has warned that it will not permit any relaxation of the restrictions until there is “democratic change” in Cuba. President Bush has said in the past that he will veto any bill loosening restrictions.

New travel regulations

As one panel in Congress moved to ease travel restrictions, Florida’s Governor Charlie Crist signed into law SB 1310, which will make it more difficult for Cuban Americans to visit their families in Cuba starting July 1st. The law, which was passed by the Florida legislature, significantly increases registration fees, security bonds and potential fines for firms selling trips to any nation that has been designated by the State Department as a state sponsor of terrorism.

The bill is expected to significantly increase the price of travel from Florida to Cuba, making it harder for families to visit their loved ones. According to media reports, some Florida travel agents are prepared to seek an injunction in federal court preventing the law’s implementation.

You can read the BBC Mundo article here (in Spanish)

End of E.U. sanctions further isolates the U.S.

Last week’s decision by the European Union to lift diplomatic sanctions against Cuba has further isolated the United States, according to several press reports.

The decision by the E.U. to end the sanctions, which have effectively been frozen since 2005, was mostly symbolic. Those pushing for the removal argued that much has changed in Cuba since President Raúl Castro replaced his ailing brother Fidel last February. At the insistence of those opposed to ending them, the E.U. said it would encourage liberalization, urge the release of political prisoners and seek meetings with pro-democracy dissidents – and review progress in a year’s time.

One way or another, the end of the sanctions show how isolated the United States is in regards to Cuba policy.

“The E.U. has shown its independence and its autonomy on foreign policy because, before and after the decision, there were statements from the White House indicating its direct opposition,” the Spanish government’s secretary of state for the E.U., Diego Lopez Garrido, told a press conference.

The State Department opposed any shift, arguing that changes made since Raúl Castro took office have been “cosmetic.”

“We certainly don’t see any kind of fundamental break with the Castro dictatorship that would give us reason to believe that now would be the time to lift sanctions or otherwise fundamentally alter our policies,” spokesman Tom Casey said last week.

Marifeli Perez-Stable, vice president of the Inter-American Dialogue, said Washington’s hard-line stance against Cuba was dented because its eastern European allies backed the EU’s decision.

The U.S. position to keep up its stance on Cuba “until the two Castros die is running out of fuel. In Europe or Latin America, no one agrees with U.S. policy on Cuba, whether the governments are on the right or on the left,” she said.

You can read the Guardian article here

You can read the Cybercast News Service article here

You can read the AFP article here

Sports Diplomacy

The United States soccer team will play a home-and-away series against the Cuban national team this fall, reported the Associated Press. The U.S. will play in Cuba for the first time ever on September 6th or 7th and then host Cuba in Washington, DC on October 11th.

The four team group is rounded out by Guatemala and Trinidad and Tobago. The top two teams advance to next year’s regional finals, which will produce three World Cup qualifiers and fourth team that goes to a playoff against the No. 5 nation in South America for another berth.

You can read the Associated Press article here

The Cuban national baseball team and the Santa Barbara Foresters finished off a three game series on Sunday with Cuba taking all three games, reported the Granma. The team from Santa Barbara is made up of university players from California and traveled to Cuba for a “friendly series.” The Cubans got the best of Santa Barbara, winning: 8-3, 9-5, and 11-0 in the last game on Sunday.

In 1999 the Baltimore Orioles traveled to Cuba to play against the Cuban national team but trips by American teams have been limited ever since. A little league team will travel to Cuba later this summer.

The President of the International Baseball Federation (IBAF), American Harvey Schiller, visited Cuba this week, reported the Granma. Schiller said the purpose of his visit was to meet with other baseball supporters to discuss how to keep baseball in the Olympic program and praised Cuba’s role in baseball development worldwide.

The International Olympic Committee voted to drop baseball after the Beijing Olympics in August. Olympic officials have said they want baseball officials to toughen rules against doping.

Schiller said Cuba, whose team finished second to Japan in the 2006 classic and where baseball is widely popular, will help in the campaign to bring baseball back to the Olympics in 2016.

You can read the Granma article here (in Spanish)

Musical Diplomacy

A rising star in the Havana music scene will give a rare concert in Little Havana on July 17, reported the Miami Herald. The performance will be one of the first by a Cuban artist in Miami in recent years.

Roberto Carcassés is a pianist, composer and bandleader who is one of the driving forces in a new style of fusion popular in Cuba. Carcassés is in Miami on a family visa to visit his ex-wife and son, but he and promoter Ever Chavez, of the nonprofit group Fundarte, are taking advantage of the trip to do the concert.

”It’s a privilege to be able to work with [Carcassés] here and to bring this kind of artist to the Miami audience,” Chavez said. “There are many artists [in Cuba] now who are having their time, they have the stage in the last five years, and we are not getting any information because it’s forbidden here. Its great music, they’re doing concerts around the world. But we don’t have the opportunity to hear what’s going on in Havana nowadays.”

Visa restrictions put in place since George Bush became president have made it virtually impossible for Cuban musicians to tour the United States, cutting off a steady flow of cultural exchange in the 1990s that saw many Cuban artists play Miami for the first time.

Carcasses will not receive any payment for the concert, Chavez said, since U.S. law prohibits Cuban musicians from being paid anything except a small living stipend.

“What we’re going to do is present what I am, where we are at. To do it here is very important, since this is like being in Cuba, but in the U.S. I’m doing this as a cultural exchange. I’m not doing it to make money.”

See a video of Cuban musician Carlos Varela’s opinion about US-Cuba musical exchange here

You can read the Miami Herald article here

Recommended Reading:

Europe takes the lead on Cuba, The Guardian

Outsiders bet that bigger changes are on their way,The Economist

Around the Region:

Bolivian region rejects US anti-drug aid in favor of Venezuelan aid, Associated Press

Until next week,

The Cuba Central Team

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