UN embargo vote approaches — Cuba steps up diplomacy

October 24, 2008

Dear Friend:

Watch the United Nations next week.

On Wednesday, October 29, the UN General Assembly will vote for the seventeenth consecutive year on a resolution condemning the United States’ embargo on Cuba. Last year, the resolution was adopted by a vote of 184-4. The outcome, this year, is not really in doubt. The question, as before, is whether anyone in our government – now, or in the next administration – is listening.

Our nation has tried for fifty years to replace Cuba’s government with one more to our liking. Diplomatic and economic sanctions have been the principal instrument of this policy. Ten American presidents, starting with Eisenhower, have pursued this goal. President Bush will leave office having tried and failed to achieve regime change. The next president will inherit a failed and futile policy that hurts Cubans and sullies our nation’s image around the world.

The UN debate takes place against the backdrop of Cuba recovering from four hurricanes and tropical storms that caused $5 billion and more in devastation.

Our discredited sanctions policy is now being used to block the sale of construction materials to repair Cuba’s housing stock, and to block Cuban-American families from helping their relatives on the island with the process of recovery. Only a few US hard-headed policy makers are hard-hearted enough to view a policy like this with satisfaction. More and more of us view it as a national disgrace. A strong majority of Americans want our Cuba policy to change.

The vote in the General Assembly also comes six days before our election. In years past, Americans have held the UN in low regard and paid it little heed. This year could be different. Our policy toward Cuba leaves the United States increasingly isolated at a moment in our history when we can ill afford to go it alone. Were the United States to replace our policy of sanctions with one of engagement, we would have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

We are reminded of these issues by these highlights in our news summary:

• The UN providing $30 million more in hurricane relief
• Cuba and European Union reestablish cooperation
• Cuba and Mexico sign new migration agreements
• Cuba speaks out on the upcoming UN vote

This week, in Cuba news…

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October 17 Newsblast

October 17, 2008

Dear Friend:

The cost and availability of food is the immediate concern facing Cuba in the aftermath of the hurricanes.

These problems command the attention of the Cuban people, their government, and our news summary. We have updates on the supplies of food, the government’s use of price controls to restrain food prices, the impact of the hurricanes on Cuba’s reforms and the impact of the embargo on the charitable work of humanitarian groups like Caritas. We also provide a report on one effort Cuba has undertaken to reschedule its debts to free up resources to pay for imports of food.

Once again, we return to the question of what the United States ought to be doing to help with this crisis.

More than four decades ago, when Congress rewrote the laws which provide foreign assistance, it made a finding that alleviating human suffering caused by natural and manmade disasters was an important expression of the humanitarian concerns of the people of the United States of America. That is our tradition.

Yet, rules remain in place from June 2004 that restrict how often Cuban Americans can travel to the island and how much financial support they can provide their Cuban relatives. Congress left Washington for the election season without enacting legislation to remove limits on what Cuban Americans can do to help their families on the island deal with this crisis.

President Bush visited Miami today. He could have lived up to our traditions, and in a speech before his most loyal supporters in the Cuban-American community, he could have announced that he set those rules aside, permanently or temporarily, so families could provide help at a time when help is so needed.

Rather than rising to the occasion, the President fell back into the same pattern of sloganeering and anti-Castro rhetoric that has guided the sum and substance of US-Cuba policy for most of the last eight years. His legacy as president will apparently include using a humanitarian crisis as a political stick, a 180 degree turn from where Congress started when it remade the foreign aid program in the 1960s.

Not only is this an inhumane expression of our nation’s values, but it is also really bad timing. In fewer than three weeks, the United Nations General Assembly will debate for the seventeenth consecutive year, its resolution condemning the US embargo of Cuba. This is a vote that the United States loses perennially, and it brings together a broad coalition of America’s best friends in the world along with some of our biggest adversaries, all of whom condemn our embargo.

If they needed fresh evidence of the cruelty of our policy – and if we needed additional evidence that our obsession with punishing Cuba reverberates around the world and boomerangs against our interests – what we have done, and not done, in response to the hurricanes on Cuba provides both.

This week in Cuba news…

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Focus on Food in Cuba, Hungry for Leadership in Washington

October 10, 2008

Dear Friend:

The cost and availability of food is the immediate concern facing Cuba in the aftermath of the hurricanes.

These problems command the attention of the Cuban people, their government, and our news summary. We have updates on the supplies of food, the government’s use of price controls to restrain food prices, the impact of the hurricanes on Cuba’s reforms and the impact of the embargo on the charitable work of humanitarian groups like Caritas. We also provide a report on one effort Cuba has undertaken to reschedule its debts to free up resources to pay for imports of food.

Once again, we return to the question of what the United States ought to be doing to help with this crisis.

More than four decades ago, when Congress rewrote the laws which provide foreign assistance, it made a finding that alleviating human suffering caused by natural and manmade disasters was an important expression of the humanitarian concerns of the people of the United States of America. That is our tradition.

Yet, rules remain in place from June 2004 that restrict how often Cuban Americans can travel to the island and how much financial support they can provide their Cuban relatives. Congress left Washington for the election season without enacting legislation to remove limits on what Cuban Americans can do to help their families on the island deal with this crisis.

President Bush visited Miami today. He could have lived up to our traditions, and in a speech before his most loyal supporters in the Cuban-American community, he could have announced that he set those rules aside, permanently or temporarily, so families could provide help at a time when help is so needed.

Rather than rising to the occasion, the President fell back into the same pattern of sloganeering and anti-Castro rhetoric that has guided the sum and substance of US-Cuba policy for most of the last eight years. His legacy as president will apparently include using a humanitarian crisis as a political stick, a 180 degree turn from where Congress started when it remade the foreign aid program in the 1960s.

Not only is this an inhumane expression of our nation’s values, but it is also really bad timing. In fewer than three weeks, the United Nations General Assembly will debate for the seventeenth consecutive year, its resolution condemning the US embargo of Cuba. This is a vote that the United States loses perennially, and it brings together a broad coalition of America’s best friends in the world along with some of our biggest adversaries, all of whom condemn our embargo.

If they needed fresh evidence of the cruelty of our policy – and if we needed additional evidence that our obsession with punishing Cuba reverberates around the world and boomerangs against our interests – what we have done, and not done, in response to the hurricanes on Cuba provides both.

This week in Cuba news…

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Frozen food prices in Havana, Frozen visas in the United States and Frozen foreign policy laws in Florida

October 2, 2008

Dear Friend:

When we looked at the news in Cuba this week, we saw a series of fascinating but troubling contrasts.

On the issue of hurricane relief and recovery: Cuba’s government has taken steps to thwart price gouging, and it continues to receive support from the United Nations and other nations, notably, this week China.

Meanwhile, Congress is likely to recess this week for our elections without removing restrictions on the right of Cuban-Americans to help their families cope with losses from the storms.

On the issue of diplomacy: We look at talks between Cuba and the European Union; our European allies still hold to the “quaint” notion that you can mediate differences and disagreements between nations by sitting down and talking.

Meanwhile, our government is pressuring the government of Cyprus not to open an embassy in Havana.

On constitutional rights: A federal court held this week that a state law passed in Florida, requiring travel service providers to post a quarter-million dollar bond, is probably unconstitutional, and stayed enforcement of the law pending a trial.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government denied visas to two Cuban working journalists who have covered the UN for three years.

By the way, this action comes nearly a year after a speech by President Bush in which he offered to provide loans to Cubans once the Cuban government did things like offer protections for freedom of the press, and it comes just a few weeks before the UN votes on whether to condemn the US embargo for the seventeenth year in a row.

This is a story that the Cuban journalists should be allowed to cover, don’t you think?

Now…let’s get to the news:

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