Cuba debate crescendo, Drum Roll to the Summit, and 70% of Americans want a Different tune

Dear Friend:

Happy holidays to all.
The debate over changing Cuba policy reached a new crescendo this week thanks to critical developments.
The Congressional Black Caucus just completed a historic trip to Cuba, during which their delegation was the first U.S. group to meet with Raúl Castro since he became president and see Fidel Castro since he took sick and left his post.  We cover the CBC’s reactions to the visit and the harsh criticism they received from opponents of changing U.S. Cuba policy.
From crescendos to drum rolls – the roll-up to the Summit of the Americas intensified as did the debate over Cuba’s omission from the formal agenda and it’s near certain dominance over the news coverage about the Summit.  We report on the administration’s desire to change the subject, the region’s insistence on talking about Cuba, and provide access to some of the most important thinking about the Summit in our report.
It’s official, kind of… Administration spokesmen and news agency reporting continued to confirm that President Obama will announce a change in Cuba policy before departing for the Summit next week.  We don’t know when, and we don’t know what he’s going to say, but he will at least (we’re told) make good on his campaign pledge to eliminate restrictions on Cuban-American travel and family support.  Is there more?  More is certainly needed.  Stay tuned.
These developments – a fantastic, new CNN poll, a new indictment against Luis Posada Carriles, a bunch of economic news out of Cuba, our shout out to the Council on Foreign Relations, and an immigration report that will make Lou Dobbs see red – are all here!
This week in Cuba news.

Congressional Black Caucus Visits Cuba; Meetings with Raúl and Fidel Castro are Criticized
A delegation of Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) members, led by Representative Barbara Lee, returned from Cuba this week after meetings with government officials including Cuba’s President Raúl Castro and former President Fidel Castro.
The meeting with Raúl Castro, his first with a Congressional delegation since becoming Cuba’s president in February 2008, lasted four hours.  The meeting with Fidel Castro lasted almost two hours, and is his first known meeting with a U.S. Congressional delegation since becoming ill in July 2006.
The seven-member delegation included Lee, Reps. Mel Watt (D-N.C.), Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), Mike Honda (D-Calif.), Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) and Laura Richardson (D-Calif.).
In a press conference, members of the delegation on their return called for an end to U.S. sanctions against the island nation.
“We’ve been swimming in the Caribbean sea of delusion for fifty years,” Congressman Emanuel Cleaver said. “We’ve deluded ourselves into believing if we isolated Cuba that the Castro regime would collapse and the U.S. version of democracy would be established….And it has turned out that we are the isolated country” because every other nation in the Western Hemisphere has diplomatic relations with Cuba.
Reporting on their meeting with President Raúl Castro, Rep. Lee quoted the Cuban president saying “everything was on the table,” were there to be a reopening of dialogue with the United States.
The delegation came under sharp criticism from two former Cuban political prisoners and congressional backers of the U.S. embargo against Cuba for overlooking the plight of dissidents on the island, reported the Miami Herald.
Republican Reps. Chris Smith of New Jersey and Frank Wolf of Virginia said they’ve been trying to visit with political prisoners, but have twice been blocked from visiting Cuba by the Castro government. They were filing a third request Thursday.
”The Cuban government routinely denies lawmakers who have criticized its human rights record any access to the country itself,” Smith told reporters. ”But for members of Congress who signal they will be docile, it rolls out the red carpet.”
Employing rhetoric popularized during the Cold War, the Washington Post in an editorial titled “Coddling Cuba,” criticized the delegation for failing to meet with members of the island’s pro-democracy movement.
Rep. Lee told reporters that the delegation members would meet with President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton to report on the trip and to urge the President to make a significant change in Cuba policy before his attendance at the upcoming Summit of the Americas.
After his meeting with three members of the CBC delegation, former President Fidel Castro wrote a lengthy report on their discussion which was published by Cuba’s media.
You can read more about the CBC’s trip, its press conference and the ensuing criticism through these links:
Associated Press, Miami Herald 1, The Hill, Kansas City Star
The “Coddling Cuba” editorial can be viewed here.
I am going to count to 3. When I open my eyes, Cuba will disappear from the Summit’s Agenda.

Next week, heads of state from 34 democratic nations in the Caribbean and Latin America will meet at the Fifth Summit of the Americas, which will take place in Trinidad and Tobago.

The Obama administration is focused on key agenda items such as the regional impact of the global financial crisis and the issues of energy policy and public security, but administration officials but sure made it clear in Washington this week that they really, really, really hope that Cuba doesn’t come up.
“In a way, we believe it would be unfortunate if the principal theme of this meeting turned out to be Cuba,” White House advisor Jeffrey S. Davidow said. “I think there are a lot of very important issues that warrant discussion, whether it’s economic issues, social inclusion, environment or public safety.”
The Economist this week called Cuba “The ghost at the conference table,” reporting that “The most divisive issue concerns the one country that is not invited.  Latin America is now united in wanting to end the diplomatic isolation of Cuba, and many would like the United States to lift its long-standing economic embargo against the island.”
According to the Associate Press, Cuba’s absence from the summit stems from the United States’ decades old policy to isolate Cuba.  But “U.S. attempts to isolate Cuba diplomatically have collapsed in recent decades and Cuba now has warm relations with most major Latin American and Caribbean nations.”
Cuba is certain to come up in public comments by regional leaders and in private discussions with President Obama.
”All the countries of the Americas — with the exception of Cuba — are going to the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago,” said President Hugo Chávez according to the Miami Herald. “Why does Cuba continue to be on the outside? Venezuela is going to firmly propose this. We can’t continue accepting the impositions of the North American empire.”
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil and Trinidad’s Prime Minister Patrick Manning also condemned the obsolete policy of the U.S. isolationist stand toward Cuba.  Manning has separately invited President Raúl Castro of Cuba to visit his nation before the Summit convenes, reported Reuters News.
Several news agencies reported that, even after working to keep Cuba off the formal agenda, President Obama will act in the days before the Summit convenes to make good on his campaign promise to remove all restrictions on family visits and financial support by Cuban-Americans.
But, as the Miami Herald reports, “pressure is mounting for Obama to do more. A procession of Latin American presidents has visited Havana in the past months, publicly underscoring how Washington’s policy is out of sync with the rest of the hemisphere. The House and the Senate held back-to-back press events last week to advocate bills that would change Cuba policy. Even a top Republican on the Senate foreign relations committee wrote Obama last week asking him to appoint a special envoy for talks with Cuba and to begin discussions about including Cuba in the OAS.”
During a recent visit to Cuba, when Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega shared a draft copy of the Summit’s communiqué, former President Fidel Castro denounced the statement for failing to mention calls by Latin America’s leaders for the embargo of Cuba to end.
You can read news accounts of the Summit and the likely appearance of Cuba on its agenda here:
Miami Herald, Trinidad Express, Jamaica Gleaner, Associated Press, BBC News
Obama will revise Cuba policy before Summit
The Associated Press and other news agencies reported that the Obama administration will act before the Summit of the Americas to remove all restrictions on travel to Cuba and family financial support by Cuban-Americans.
In addition to dealing with the humanitarian issue of rules that separated families, the administration is interested in learning whether the changes it will propose will increase openness on the island.
“The intent is to try to test the waters and see if we can get Cuba to move in another direction,” one official said. “One way of getting the regime to open up may be to let people travel, increase exchanges and get money flowing to the island,” the Associated Press reported.
As the New York Times explained, Cuban-Americans are now permitted to travel once a year to the island to visit close relatives. The Treasury Department also issues licenses to travel to Cuba for specific purposes, including academic research.
During his presidential campaign, Mr. Obama promised changes, including a lifting of all travel restrictions for those with relatives in Cuba and an end to limits on the money Americans could send their families on the island.
We’ll applaud President Obama for making these moves when he makes them.  But they simply aren’t enough to take Cuba policy in a decisively different direction.  According to CNN, that’s not just our position, but one held broadly by Americans.  In a poll released this week, 71 percent of us want diplomatic relations with Cuba, and 64% want the freedom to travel for all Americans.
You can read various reports on the policy changes here:
Associated Press, NY Daily News, NY Times
CNN’s poll
Is Timing Everything? Cuban American National Foundation Wants a New Policy

Just days before last year’s presidential election, Jorge Mas Santos, chairman of the Cuban American National Foundation, published an endorsement of Barack Obama’s candidacy for president – not in the Miami Herald, but in the Washington Post.  Credit for Barack Obama’s victory – which included him winning the White House, Florida, and Miami-Dade, but losing the Cuban-American vote – was nonetheless claimed by hard-line and Republican-leaning figures in the Cuban-American community, thanks to signs and symbols such as that offered by CANF’s chairman.

Once again, CANF has emerged at a critical moment.  In what the New York Times calls “a reversal of the group’s founding principles,” just days before the Summit of the Americas and Obama’s new Cuba policy announcement, the foundation has published a fourteen-page paper whose recommendations depart sharply from existing efforts focused on punishing the Cuban regime.
Among the recommendations in its proposal, titled “A New Course for U.S.-Cuba policy: ADVANCING PEOPLE-DRIVEN CHANGE”, CANF advocates that the government:
  • Lift restrictions on Cuban-American family and humanitarian travel
  • Lift restrictions on Cuban-American family remittances
  • Lift restrictions on humanitarian aid parcels
  • Reform aid program to Cuba’s civil society groups
  • Require 70% of US-AID grantees to spend 70% of their funds in Cuba
  • Increase people-to-people exchanges, academic travel, and cultural exchange
  • Resume migration talks
  • Remove restrictions on the ability of Cuban Interest section diplomats travel within the U.S. contingent on reciprocal actions by Cuba’s government on U.S. diplomats
The document also contains condemnations of the Bush administration, calling its actions inconsistent with its “bully-pulpit” pronouncements and declaring its “achievements” to be merely symbolic gestures.

You can read about the report and its recommendations here.

You can read the report here.
You can review the 2008 op-ed piece here.
Luis Posada Carriles, age 81, a former CIA operative and international fugitive wanted on terrorism crimes, has been indicted on new federal charges relating to 1997 bombings in Havana, Cuba that targeted tourist areas and cost the life of an Italian citizen.

The El Paso Times reports that this is the first time that U.S. authorities have formally accused Posada of being tied to the bombings.   He is charged with lying to authorities about his role and knowledge of the bombings during a naturalization hearing in 2005 when he denied “soliciting other individuals to carry out bombings in Cuba.” The indictment also charged him with impeding a U.S. investigation into terrorist acts.

In 1987, Posada escaped from prison in Venezuela where he was being held as the mastermind of the deadly mid-air bombing of a Cuban airliner in October 1976.  In November 2000, he was arrested in Panama in connection with a plot to kill Fidel Castro during his visit to that country. He served four years of an eight year sentence in prison before being pardoned by outgoing president Mireya Moscoso. Panama’s courts have since ruled the pardon was unconstitutional and Panamanian authorities are considering a formal extradition request to Washington for Posada to complete his sentence.

Posada entered the U.S. surreptitiously in March 2005; he was detained by DHS agents in May of that year and eventually charged with immigration fraud after a formal interview with ICE officials and Justice Department lawyers to determine his eligibility to become a naturalized U.S. citizen. In May 2007, an immigration judge freed him from detention and he has been living freely in Miami.
He is due in court in El Paso on April 17 for arraignment on these additional charges.

Associated Press, El Paso Times, Houston Chronicle, CBS News

In other news

Reuters reports here that Cuba is running a huge trade deficit.  The government urged its companies to “radically change their export attitude and culture.”
Reuters, which closely follows development in Cuba’s economy, also published this report that the decline in world nickel prices was “on the verge of making the island’s most important export industry “profitable.”
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez arrived in Cuba this morning on his way back from China after concluding a working visit there. He was received by Cuban President Raúl Castro as you can read here.
The Tehran Times quoted Manuel Marrero Faz, a senior advisor at the Ministry of Basic Industries, here, in which he asserts  that Cuba would welcome the participation of U.S. energy firms in developing the island nation’s oil industry, if the embargo were to end.
Maruchi Guerrero visited her brother Antonio, a Member of the imprisoned Cuban Five, in Colorado on March 17.  Antonio and Rene Gonzalez, Ramon Labañino, Gerardo Hernandez and Fernando Gonzalez, called the Cuban Five, have been imprisoned in American jails for more than 10 years.  A report on her visit can be accessed here.
Don’t tell Lou Dobbs!  A loophole in U.S. immigration policy enabled more than 3,400 refugees born in countries other than Cuba to receive residency permits issued to foreigners asking to stay under the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966.  The Wall Street Journal reported on this anomaly here.
The Summit: Recommended Listening and Reporting
Washington has been awash in pre-Summit forums during the past weeks, with the premier gathering being hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations.  This forum, Perspectives on the Fifth Summit of the Americas, included presentations by Jeffrey Davidow, White House Adviser for the Summit of the Americas; Luis Alberto Moreno, President of the Inter-American Development Bank; David J. Rothkopf, President and CEO of Garten Rothkopf, and was convened by Julia E. Sweig, a Nelson and David Rockefeller Senior Fellow for Latin America Studies and Director for Latin America Studies, Council on Foreign Relations.
An audio file of the forum can be accessed here.  A report on the forum focused on a question about Cuba policy put to Ambassador Davidow, but answered by David Rothkopf, can be read here.
The Economist magazine and Abraham Lowenthal discuss the Summit of the Americas here and here.
Recommended Reading:
The Washington Times, our capital’s conservative newspaper, published an op-ed column this week by Ignacio Sosa which called for an end to travel restrictions for all Americans.  Sosa is a Cuban-American who recently joined Congressman Delahunt and others in support of The Freedom to Travel to Act.  His column can be read here.
The Washington Post, our capital’s other newspaper, published an op-ed piece by Mark Thiessen, a former aide to the late Senator Jesse Helms, which recalled a meeting he had with Ricardo Alarcon, president of Cuba’s National Assembly, and also wrote in favor of maintaining the embargo.  His column can be read here.
Since Mr.Thiessen apparently forgot other participants in the meeting, Phil Peters contributed this helpful reminder of who else was in the room for the meeting recounted by Mr. Thiessen.
The San Francisco Chronicle editorializes here for changes in U.S.-Cuba policy.
Columnist Carl Leubsdorf says Obama can “lead or follow” with changes in Cuba policy in his column available here.
Sarah Stephens, executive director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, discusses the need for Obama to endorse “travel for all” in her column available here.
The New York Times writes about the shake-up that occurred last month in Raúl Castro’s government here.
Until next week,
The Cuba Central Team

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