April 3, 2009


Momentum in Washington for eliminating travel ban to Cuba

According to the Washington Post, “there is new momentum in Washington for eliminating the ban on most U.S. travel to the island nation and for reexamining the severe limitations on U.S.-Cuban economic exchanges.”

When asked about the prospect of Americans to travel to Cuba before the end of the year, Sarah Stephens, said: “It is within the realms of possibility.” (The Guardian)

In a Senate news conference on Tuesday and a House news conference on Thursday, a bi-partisan group of lawmakers introduced The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act; a bill that would extend the right to travel to Cuba to all Americans.  Proponents of the bill claim that the proposal will not only grant American citizens their right to travel and boost American commerce in the region, but that it will also weaken the Castro regime and make a difference for democracy in Cuba, Fox News reported.

The bill has 121 sponsors in the House and 20 in the Senate, including Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee. The list of sponsors also include eight Democratic committee chairmen) House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., supports it, her office said, and Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said Tuesday he believes the Senate has enough votes to pass it.

“I think we have finally reached a new (level) on this issue,” Dorgan said.

At both news conferences, Cuban-Americans and Congressmen issued strong arguments for the passage of the bill to rooms packed with journalists.

Bill Delahunt, a Massachusetts Democratic congressman, said the bill was “critical to the freedom of both Americans and Cubans”. (Telegraph)

The legislators were joined by both the United States Chamber of Commerce and the American Farm Bureau Federation in their support for lifting travel restrictions to the small island nation.

“The US embargo on Cuba is a 50-year failure, and lifting the ban on travel is a good first step toward a more rational policy,” said Chamber of Commerce officer Myron Brilliant in a press release issued this week.

Human rights groups have also joined their voices in support of the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act.  Jose Miguel Vivanco, the executive director of the Americas division of Human Rights Watch, expressed his support for the bill in a statement that argued the current policy “has neither weakened the Cuban government” nor improved conditions for Cuba’s political prisoners, reported the Miami Herald.

U.S. Members of Congress to visit Cuba this weekend

A delegation of U.S. representatives will arrive in Cuba this afternoon, MSNBC News reported.

The trip is being led by Rep. Barbara Lee (CA) and Carolyn Kilpatrick (MI), who will be joined by Maxine Waters (CA), Mell Watt (NC), Bobby Rush (IL), Emanuel Cleaver (MO), Shelia Jackson Lee (TX), Mike Honda (CA), Marcia Fudge (OH), Nydia Velazquez (NY), Laura Richardson (CA), Diane Watson (CA), and Andre Carson (IN).

“The election of President Barack Obama presents a great new opportunity to rethink U.S. foreign policy in many regions of the world,” Lee said in a statement yesterday. “America’s harsh approach toward our nearest Caribbean neighbor divides families, closes an important market to struggling U.S. farmers, harasses our allies and is based on antiquated Cold War-era thinking.”

The members are expected to be in Cuba for at least four days and will deliver a report to the White House with their findings.

You can read the MSNBC News article here.


VP Biden: “transition” in Cuba policy needed, no plans to lift embargo

During a visit last weekend to Chile, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was asked if the United States is planning to lift the trade embargo on Cuba, the Associated Press reported.

Biden said the U.S. is not planning to scrap the embargo, but that a “transition” is needed in U.S. policy toward Cuba.

The “Cuban people should determine their own fate and they should be able to live in freedom,” Biden said, adding that he was in Chile “to talk about the economy, not Cuba.”

Two days later in Costa Rica, Biden said “Washington expects a ‘firm commitment’ that Cuba is moving towards democracy and respect for human rights before lifting the US embargo on the island, the Agence France-Presse reported.

“Over in the next decade and sooner there is likely to be — and needs to be — changes in the relationship between Cuba and the Unites States, and the United States and Cuba, as well as with the hemisphere,” Biden said at a press conference on Monday.

“President Obama and I campaigned on a platform that said we are willing to reach out,” Biden said, “and I think you will see us reach out.”

You can read the Associated Press article here.


You can read the Agence France-Presse article here.


Fidel Castro reacts to Biden’s comments

Fidel Castro quickly reacted to Biden’s comments, publishing a “reflection” in which he wrote Biden’s “professional lamentations make one feel sorry for him, especially when there isn’t one Latin American or Caribbean government that doesn’t perceive [the embargo] a burden of the past.”

“Anyone reading the statements of the devout Catholic Joe Biden in Viña del Mar, discounting any lifting of the economic blockade of Cuba, and yearning for an internal transition that, in our country, would be frankly counterrevolutionary, is in for a shock,” Castro wrote.

“What are the underlying ethics in the policy of the United States? How much Christian content is left in the political thinking of Vice President Joe Biden?” Castro questioned.

You can read Fidel Castro’s reflection here.


Judge dismisses Cuban lawsuit on Havana Club trademark

A Cuban lawsuit over the termination of U.S. trademark rights for its Havana Club rum was dismissed on Monday by a federal judge, the Associated Press reported.

Although Cuba’s Havana Club can not be sold in the U.S. due to the embargo, the company received a trademark for the name in 1976, anticipating opportunities to sell the rum in the U.S. after the lifting of the embargo. However, three years ago the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control refused to allow renewal of the trademark, causing Cubaexport, Cuba’s state-owned export enterprise, to file a lawsuit.

The ruling is a victory for Bacardi, which has attempted to take over the brand name as its own in the United States and feared that Cuba’s Havana Club could become a threat to their rum sales in the United States after the lifting of the embargo. Bacardi lobbied hard to get Congress to pass a law in 1998 that prevents the registration or renewal of trademarks connected with companies nationalized by the Cuban government. That law was cited in Monday’s ruling.

You can read the Associated Press article here.



Cuba will come up at the Summit of the Americas

Trinidad’s ambassador to Washington, Glenda Patricia Morean-Phillip, said that although Cuba is not on the official agenda, it is clear it will come up, the Miami Herald reported.

”One issue that is expected to come up — especially from your president — is Cuba, because that’s on everybody’s mind,” Morean-Phillip told the Herald. ”Latins are very much in favor of admitting Cuba to the hemispheric organizations. I think there is a lot of sympathy and support.”

Trinidad’s Prime Minister, Patrick Manning, is currently in Cuba getting a health check-up and met with President Raul Castro on Sunday, the Herald reported.

According to ambassador Morean-Phillip, it’s unclear whether Obama will announce major Cuba policy changes at the forum, “but he’ll have to say something.”

”I know there will be conversations with respect to that subject,” she said.

You can read the Miami Herald article here.


Will Cuba come up at the Summit of the Americas?

Ambassador Jeffrey Davidow, the special advisor to the White House for the Summit of the Americas, said yesterday that President Barack Obama does not believe that the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba should be brought up at the Summit of the Americas.

“We do not believe that Cuba is a topic of discussion at this summit,” Davidow said yesterday in a phone interview with the Trinidad Express.

The remarks came just a few days after Trinidad and Tobego’s Prime Minister Peter Manning extended an invitation to Cuba’s head of state Raúl Castro to come to Trinidad and Tobago at the time of his choosing.

Davidow went on to add that “We do not believe that Cuba should be at the summit because the summit is for the community of democratically elected heads of state.”

Senator Lugar says Summit is “unique opportunity” for Cuba policy shift

Sen. Richard G. Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote to President Obama this week asking him to begin making changes to U.S. policy towards Cuba.

Lugar wrote that the with the Summit of the Americas taking place this month, President Obama has a “”unique opportunity for you to build a more hospitable climate to advance U.S. interests in the region through a change in our posture regarding Cuba policy.”

He said that Cuba provisions included in the omnibus appropriations bill “serve as a modest starting point for reforming U.S. policy towards Cuba,” but that more should be done.

In the letter, Lugar encouraged Obama to end opposition to discussing the reincorporation of Cuba in the Organization of American States, which would “signal a preference for consultation, partnership, and pragmatism.”

He also recommended that the Administration consider creating a Special Envoy for Cuba, who would report to Secretary of State Clinton. The Special Envoy would begin to engage in direct talks with the Cuban government on drug interdiction, migration and other issues in the security interests of the U.S.

“U.S. policy should be driven by our interests and from Washington, not by events in Cuba,” Lugar wrote.

You can read the letter here.


You can read a Washington Post article about it here.


Amnesty International says Cuba’s absence from Summit “not helpful”

“The exclusion of Cuba from the Fifth Summit of the Americas is not helpful in achieving improved respect for human rights in Cuba,” the Amnesty International said in a statement this week.

The absence of Cuba, the only country to be excluded, will diminish attempts to find regional solutions to regional problems.

The US government maintains a policy of isolation that has reached its limits, has not achieved its stated objectives and is impeding Cuba’s growth and development.

The group urged the U.S. government to lift the embargo against Cuba, which it sees as “detrimental to the fulfillment of the economic and social rights of the Cuban people.”

According to Amnesty, the embargo “obstructs and constrains efforts by the Cuban government to purchase essential medicines, medical equipment and supplies, food and agricultural products, construction materials and access to new technologies.”

“The absence of Cuba, the only country to be excluded, will diminish attempts to find regional solutions to regional problems,” the statement said.

You can read the Amnesty Statement here.



Ortega is the ninth Latin American President to visit Cuba this year

The president of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega, arrived in Cuba on Thursday, making him the ninth Latin American president to visit the island this year.

Ortega met with President Raul Castro to discuss bilateral relations and was also scheduled to receive a medical exam during his visit.

President Ortega’s visit follows trips to Cuba by the Presidents of Venezuela, Ecuador, Panama, Chile, Argentina, Guatemala, Honduras and the Dominican Republic.

You can a Granma article about the visit here.


More reform in the farming sector

Cuba is overhauling its food distribution system in an effort to increase production and efficiency, the Reuters news agency reported this week.

According to farmers and cooperative producers, the huge food purchasing and distribution system, Acopio, has been moved from the ministry of agriculture to the domestic trade ministry.

Farmers praised the step, which they said will allow agriculture officials to focus more on increasing actual production and not worry about distribution.

“Acopio functions as an intermediary between farmers and consumers and has no business being part of the agriculture ministry,” farm cooperative member Diego Cosme told Reuters over the phone from his home in Holguin.

“It is a good measure linked to others they are taking. Agriculture should not be diverted from producing by other tasks,” farmer Alfredo Rodriguez said in a telephone interview with Reuters from the province of Camaguey.

A news report on state television last week said that “agriculture will be left with what has to do with production.” It also announced that the number of state-run produce markets would increase from 156 to 300.

You can read the Reuters article here.


Yoani Sanchez and others speak out at art show

An open microphone at an art show in Havana was used by Yoani Sanchez and others to criticize Cuban government control of the internet this week, news agencies reported.

The event was part of a performance by Cuban artist Tania Bruguera at the art show of the 10th Havana Biennial, a prestigious international festival. The open microphone was provided for attendees to say whatever they wanted for one minute.

To the side of the microphone were two actors dressed in army fatigues and a white dove was placed on the shoulder of each speaker “in an apparent parody of a famous speech by Fidel Castro,” the Reuters new agency reported.

As Castro gave a victory speech on January 8, 1959 a white dove landed on his shoulder, leading many to view it as a sign of “divine recognition,” the Miami Herald reported.

Sanchez, whose “Generacion Y” blog is critical of Cuba’s government, took the microphone and read a statement saying the Internet was opening a “crack” in government control.

“The time has come to jump over the wall of control,” she said.

According to the Herald, other Cubans and also took to the podium to protest the lack of freedom of expression on the island.

In response, the Biennial organizing issued a statement on the Internet saying it “considers this to be an anti-cultural event of shameful opportunism that offends Cuban artists and foreigners who came to offer their work and solidarity,” Reuters reported.

You can read the Reuters article here.


You can read the Miami Herald article here.


Recommended Reading:

Can the West cultivate ideas from Cuba’s ‘Special Period’? CNN News

As worries grow in developed nations about a future without plentiful supplies of oil, the communist republic is proving to be an increasingly popular example of how to cope when the spigots run dry, for the simple reason: they’ve already been there.


U.S.-Cuba policy: Time to end deceitful travel controls, Florida Sun-Sentinel, By Wayne S. Smith

Former Chief of the U.S. Interests Section, Wayne Smith, writes that President Obama should support bills in the House and Senate to allow all Americans to travel freely to Cuba, as they have a constitutional right to do.


How hip hop gives Cubans a voice, CNN News

Cuba has developed a homegrown rap movement, inspired by the sounds and fashions of U.S. hip hop. But what makes Cuban rappers different is that rather than celebrating bling, girls and guns, their lyrics address social issues in a country where free speech is tightly controlled.


Around the Region:

As Mexico Battles Cartels, the Army Becomes the Law,  The Washington Post

President Felipe Calderón is rapidly escalating the Mexican army’s role in the war against drug traffickers, deploying nearly 50 percent of its combat-ready troops along the U.S.-Mexico border and throughout the country, while retired army officers take command of local police forces and the military supplies civilian authorities with automatic weapons and grenades.


Venezuelan Government Arrests Chávez Opponent, the Wall Street Journal

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez moved to jail a prominent opposition figure for the second time in recent weeks.


One Response to April 3, 2009

  1. Kendra says:

    Great work, folks! Keep the information coming; I always love reading your weekly newsblast!

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