Lugar Report, Brookings Road Map, Movement in Congress

February 27, 2009

Dear Friend:

The debate on Cuba policy moved quickly this week with influential actors moving further and more quickly than the administration in reaching important, new conclusions about where to take the policy next.

The three big developments of the week are Senator Richard Lugar’s report on Cuba policy, a new Brookings Institution Cuba Policy road map, and an appropriations bill in Congress that would stop the enforcement of travel restrictions on Cuban-Americans.

Senator Lugar issued a report which advocated reinvigorating our diplomacy with Cuba, restoring travel rights, and cooperating with Cuba in areas ranging from agricultural trade and medical research to alternative energy and law enforcement.  But he also made more far-reaching recommendations for direct and multilateral diplomacy, clearing Cuba for foreign aid, and dropping Cuba from the terrorism list.

The Brookings Cuba policy roadmap includes not just the traditional menu of options – family travel and remittances, cultural exchange and the like – but other more forward leaning proposals on diplomacy, settling the status of Guantanamo, allowing Cuba’s entry into multilateral institutions, and going as far as diplomatic recognition itself.  These ideas won the endorsement of leaders from organizations like the Cuban-American National Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, the Cuba Study Group, and others who had not publicly supported such significant departures from current policy in the past.

Significantly, both Lugar and Brookings challenge an underpinning of President Obama’s Cuba policy – conditionality – saying that the U.S. government should not link its policy actions on Cuba to what the Cuban government says and does.

In the Congress, the appropriations bill which has cleared the House and which will be voted on soon in the Senate includes amendments easing restrictions on Cuban-American travel and on sales by US farmers to Cuba.  While these provisions were written in the last Congress and meant as a challenge to the previous administration, there are two things now that are new:  there is no presidential veto threat, and these provisions represent the minimum and not the limit of what Congress should be able to do.

Obama acted courageously in the 2008 presidential primaries by coming out in favor of eliminating all restrictions on Cuban-Americans’ travel rights and their ability to support their families financially.  He promised to issue an order making these changes immediately.  No one had been elected president previously who promised to loosen the embargo, and he still deserves great credit for taking this position.  But as we wait for him to take the executive action he promised in the campaign, we hope he is also watching – and understanding – just how far the debate has shifted on Cuba policy in the months since he made that pledge, and in just the last week as well.

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Venezuela Votes, Cuba Exhales — keep beating the drum for travel for all

February 20, 2009

Dear Friend:

What happened this week in news around Cuba?  Plenty.

Cubans breathed a sigh of relief this week as Venezuelans voted their support to continue President Chavez’s political project and repealed term limits for the president and all other Venezuelan officeholders.  The reaction in Washington was positive and muted – talk about changing the tone!

Meanwhile, heads of state kept rolling into Cuba with visits by the Presidents of Chile and Guatemala; the foreign minister of Ireland came to the island nation as well.

Nearer the Potomac, the word from the grassroots reached the warrens of Capitol Hill with calls being issued to Members of the House and Senate to cosponsor The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act.   The legislation was also profiled in The New York Daily News this week.  Readers, ask your representatives in Congress to do the right thing, and make the call…for travel for all.

Finally, how does it feel to own your own TV and Radio stations?  Too bad there’s such a small audience.

The news of the week and more….in your news summary.

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Travel For All

February 13, 2009
Dear Friend:

Travel for all.

Not travel for none, and not travel for some, but travel for all.

After our failure to normalize relations with Cuba, the biggest defect of our foreign policy toward the island is represented by the tight travel restrictions our government imposes on our fellow citizens.

The idea that we are going to force Cuba to buckle to its knees by denying Americans the right to travel to the island has surely been disproven in the last fifty years, even as the isolation it imposes on the United States from the people of Cuba has become an increasing drag on our image in the region and the world.

The previous administration tried its best to curtail travel — travel for religious, cultural, academic and athletic purposes; it divided Cuban families and imposed cruel restrictions on them.  Its policy could be summarized as “travel for none.”

President Obama took a courageous step in his campaign when he promised that he would eliminate restrictions on Cuban-Americans’ travel to Cuba.   In fact, he was sent to the White House after pledging to reduce the U.S. embargo against Cuba, and that is a wonderful thing.

However, once he fulfills this promise – which he should do without further delay, debate, or modification to the policy he began articulating in 2007 – it will restore the unrestricted right to travel only to Americans of Cuban descent.  Travel for some – better, but not enough.

Americans must have the unrestricted constitutional right to travel.  Our government places no similar limits on the right to travel to any other country in the world.

If what President Obama says is right; namely, that Cuban-Americans can (and should) be ambassadors for our values and providers of support for their families that must also be right for all Americans.

In recognition of this idea, legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives and now also in the Senate to repeal the travel restrictions and allow every American the right to travel to Cuba.  The House legislation, H.R. 874, was introduced by Rep. William Delahunt with what has become a growing list of Republican and Democratic cosponsors.  In the Senate, S428, the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act was introduced by Senator Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota). The original cosponsors are Senators Christopher Dodd (D-Connecticut), Michael Enzi (R-Wyoming) and Richard Lugar (R-Indiana).

It reflects the core principal of “travel for all,” which empowers businesses, workers, religious groups, cultural figures, and tourists to interact with Cubans in order to contribute to a climate of openness in Cuba and understanding on both sides of the Florida Straits.

By restoring travel for all, the legislation would multiply the political and economic impact of bringing Cubans and Americans in contact with one another.

Travel for all will also move us in the direction of normalizing relations with Cuba’s government and its people, and help us finally end this last remnant of the Cold War.

You can read the text of the legislation, read a newspaper report about it, and hear three Members of Congress talk about the need to change our policy by using the links we’ve provided below.

Find out here what you can do to urge your member to act.

An article from the Florida Sun-Sentinel can be found here.

The full-text of the bills appear here: Senate Bill, House Bill.

Here you can see new interviews with Representatives Donna Edwards, Jeff Flake and Marion Berry to hear what they think about Cuba policy.

Senator Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota) has introduced an identical Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act in the Senate. The original cosponsors are Senators Christopher Dodd (D-Connecticut), Michael Enzi (R-Wyoming) and Richard Lugar (R-Indiana). Please call your Senator and ask him to cosponsor S.428 the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act.

Introduction of this important legislation leads the news this week.  But read on!  And learn about the signals that some policy makers are sending from the U.S. side, the statements that leaders and diplomats are making from the region, and the important developments in trade and technology – all summarized here as in no place else.

This week in Cuba news…

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Hello Havana, Washington and Geneva – this week in Cuba news

February 6, 2009

Dear Friend:

Day after day, Cuba made headlines this week.

This week in Cuba, the government revealed statistics regarding a major step to increase food production by leasing more than a million acres of land that was in state hands.  Former President Fidel Castro continued his reflections on the Obama presidency.   Cuba will begin drilling for oil in shallow waters off the Gulf of Mexico in one project without international partners.

In Geneva, critics of Cuba took the government to task on issues relating to political prisoners and freedom of expression.

In the U.S., agriculture interests expressed their beliefs that farm trade with Cuba would step up under the new Obama administration.  Cuban-American political leaders took potshots at our “9 Ways” report.   One organization allied with hardliners in Miami put out what some analysts called a “push poll” purporting to show Cuban-American sentiment still in opposition to Cuba policy reforms.

In Washington, those of us who are working for a new Cuba policy – led by repeal of the ban on travel – look to the Executive Branch for action on the Obama campaign’s promise to repeal restrictions on Cuban-Americans and look to the Legislative Branch to redeem the promise of our constitutional rights and to legalize the freedom to travel, not for some but for all.

This is our news summary – with information for just about everyone.

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