Tomorrow’s News Today — Annual State of the Nation Speech in Cuba, More Florida Foreign Policy Folderol Here in America

July 25, 2008

Dear Friend:

We don’t know, but the big news of the week may be made tomorrow, when Cuba’s President Raúl Castro speaks to his nation on the 55th anniversary of the July 26, 1953 assault on the Moncada army barracks by the Castro brothers and their followers.

Over the last year, Raúl Castro has made several high profile speeches which announced developments in Cuba’s reform process, and then those words were matched by actions and decisions taken by the Cuban state.

It was in July 2007 when he encouraged a national debate that produced tens of thousands of meetings and over a million suggestions for reform. It was December 2007 when he targeted excess prohibitions and a few weeks later restrictions on the ownership of cell phones and consumers goods and the ability of Cubans to visit tourist hotels were removed. In February 2008, when he was elected by the National Assembly as president, President Castro spoke of a smaller state and less red tape, and Cuba embarked on a significant program of agriculture reform and decentralization.

Against this backdrop, there is profound interest in the speech scheduled for Santiago de Cuba, the birthplace of the Cuban revolution, which President Castro will give just two years since his brother Fidel Castro last addressed the Cuban public.

Here in the United States, Florida’s foreign policy was on full display, from more news about waste and corruption in the U.S. AID Cuba program to Senator John McCain airing a political ad pairing Fidel Castro and Barack Obama. Guess what? He was campaigning in Florida!

This and more, this week in Cuba news…

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In Cuba: Back to the Land, Back to the Classroom, and Back to what Socialism Means

July 18, 2008

Dear Friend:

Cuba is taking decisions now to cope with problems like the high cost of imported food and fuel – the problems of today – while it also faces challenging, long-term issues like the aging of its population and the need to provide better education and a more hopeful future for its youth.

These are the kinds of actions, large and small, that we have been covering with increasing intensity since Raúl Castro was elected president in February 2008.

· In an address last week before the National Assembly, President Raúl Castro described changes in what we might call Cuba’s social contract with its people, saying “Socialism means social justice and equality, but equality of rights, of opportunities, not of income.”

· In a decree published days ago, land that is owned by the state that has been left idle is being turned over to private farmers and state cooperatives as part of Cuba’s continuing effort to boost the production of food. Praising the efforts of these small producers, President Castro also said, “These are all forms of property and production that can coexist harmoniously because none are antagonistic to socialism.”

· In an effort to revitalize public education, the government announced plans to change the pension system to allow retired teachers who want to return to the classroom to collect both their salaries and retirement benefits.

· In a strategy designed to capitalize on its energy assets, Cuba announced a three-four year plan to work with Venezuela to increase its domestic refining capacity to a goal of 350,000 bbl a day.

· In keeping with its effort to stabilize its foreign relations, Cuba announced new agreements with Mexico in the area of health care.

Some of these steps represent departures from the path that Cuba has taken since its revolution; others simply represent efforts to modernize the country and offer its people a better future.

As President Castro noted in his remarks, the chorus of carping critics in the United States continues to raise its voice calling the changes cosmetic, even though, he said, “nobody here asked for their opinion.” That may be true. But some of us who live on this side of the Florida Straits wouldn’t mind if someone in a position of responsibility in our government acknowledged that these changes are taking place, and offered Cuba the same kind of encouragement it has been receiving from our allies in the region and elsewhere. Now that would be reform, in our opinion.

This week, in Cuba news…

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Reform in Cuba; legislation in the Senate; Humanitarian aid siezed

July 11, 2008

Dear Friend:

News happens.

The reform process pushed back to center stage in Cuba this week. The government announced structural reforms in the construction industry, new licenses for private taxis, and a rise in the retirement age for pensions accompanied by increases in benefits. These efforts join decisions taken earlier this year to address Cuba’s economic problems and to battle back against sky rocketing food and energy prices that are debilitating economies around the world.

In the U.S. Congress, a Senate panel joined the House Appropriations Committee in approving limits on the Treasury Department’s authority to restrict travel by Cuban Americans to Cuba and to frustrate agriculture sales to the island. While this legislation is unlikely to become law, it is a welcome suggestion that after years of inaction and backsliding in the U.S. Congress, there exists a constituency among legislators for changing our policy toward Cuba in the future, especially if there is presidential resolve to lead on that change.

If a president takes office with a new vision of U.S.-Cuba relations, the Cuban foreign ministry signaled this week a willingness to engage in face-to-face talks with the United States “on equal terms.”

Perhaps such talks could start with an agreement to end the terminally ridiculous enforcement policies of the U.S. embargo. As Pastors for Peace moved 100 tons of humanitarian aid across the U.S. border into Mexico, it did so minus 32 computers that were seized by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. So much for our challenge to Cuba to open up more lines of information.

This week, in Cuba news…

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