What a World! U.S. to Cuba, “Let’s Talk” U.S. to Region, “Not So Fast,” Microsoft to Cubans, “Stop Talking”?

May 27, 2009

Dear Friend:

Moments into the holiday weekend, the Obama administration sent word to the Cuban government it was ready to restart the migration talks that had been broken off under President Bush.  Sure, it would have been nice if they had dropped the subtle veil of the holiday news cycle and shouted from the Washington roof-tops – we’re ready to engage – but this has the prospect of meaningful progress written all over it.  We’ll leave it to the administration to design its own media strategy, but when they decide to engage with the Cuban government in acts of diplomacy, we’re ready to lead with a round of applause.

Not so fast, you say?  Days before a meeting of the General Assembly of the Organization of American States, the position of the administration on lifting Cuba’s suspension from the OAS is looking a little, well, murky.  Not long ago Secretary of State Clinton told the Congress that the U.S. was opposed to any effort to readmit Cuba.  But reports out of the region now indicate that the U.S. may be softening its approach and preparing to offer a resolution that would start a debate.   The U.S. ought to get over this business of presuming to speak for the region on who gets to join the OAS and who doesn’t.   Multi-lateral engagement with the Cubans makes just as much sense as bi-lateral engagement (see note above).

But this makes no sense what-so-ever.  Several news sources are indicating that Microsoft has cut-off access by Cubans to its Messenger program (as well as access in Syria, Iran, Sudan, and North Korea).  Read this item below carefully.   We don’t know if this effort has been joined by Google and AOL.  Nor do we know whether these steps were taken voluntarily or at the behest of OFAC.

But as one friend told us, “This is beyond absurd, as it relates to Cuba, especially since the President has recently authorized U.S. telecommunications companies to do business in Cuba in order to increase communications between Cubans and Americans.”  It’s absurd across the board – we need communications and greater exchange of information with precisely the kinds of people whose governments limit their access to the Internet.

We all get crazy when we lose our Blackberries.  But does anyone think we’ll change the course of Cuba’s history by cutting the island off from IM???

Give us a break.  Read, now, the news…

Read the rest of this entry »

Happy Memorial Day from the Cuba Central Team

May 22, 2009

Dear Friend:

Happy Memorial Day to our U.S. readers – and happy weekly news blast day to us all!
In our reports this week, you’ll notice that Britain’s Royal Ballet will be visiting Cuba, that Azerbaijan will soon help Cuba develop its energy, that Canada intends to have a somewhat noisier conversation with Cuba about human rights, and that Paraguay’s president will be visiting Cuba in early June.
At the same time, the U.S. is positioning itself against regional efforts to withdraw Cuba’s suspension from the OAS – a decision made in 1962.
The point is obvious and clear.  While the rest of the world carries on a normal conversation with Cuba – involving cultural exchange, travel and trade, diplomacy and serious business about political and human rights – we’re isolated in our relations and utterly stuck in time.  This is not about papering over differences, it is about living in this century and letting go of a failed policy that never was able to advance our ideals and values.
To its credit, the Obama administration began peeling back the embargo in April when it eliminated restrictions on Cuban-American travel to Cuba and the ability of our citizens to provide financial support to their relatives on the island.
That departure from U.S. policy took place just days before the Summit of the Americas, where President Obama met with the region’s leaders for the first time in his administration.  At that meeting, if there was one clear message, it was that we had long passed the time when the U.S. could decide, for itself and others, Cuba’s place in the region.
That is why the OAS debate is so salient and so troubling.  Reasonable men and women can differ over the OAS charter and Cuba’s place in the organization.  Some of those differences can be read in Cuba’s reaction to all of this – somewhat reminiscent of the phrase “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member”  — former president Fidel Castro says his country doesn’t want to rejoin the OAS and questions its legitimacy.
But the U.S. shouldn’t glide past the larger symbolism of this discussion.  Engagement is the watchword of contemporary diplomacy, and the door that we think we’re shutting on Cuba may actually be slamming in our own faces.
This administration can surely do better…

Talking, Traveling, and Trading with Cuba – even Colbert gets into the act!

May 15, 2009

Dear Friend:

The choice on Cuba policy boils down to this: change versus more of the same.

Next week, supporters of the status quo will be beating the drum in Congress for a resolution that would bring further changes in Cuba policy to a crashing halt.  Their proposal says this:

That it is the sense of Congress that with respect to the totalitarian government of Cuba, the United States should pursue a policy that insists upon freedom, democracy and human rights, including the release of all political prisoners, the legalization of political parties, free speech and a free press, and supervised elections, before increasing American trade and tourism to Cuba.

That resolution does nothing more than restate the existing policy – a policy that after 50 years has done nothing to advance the values of human rights and democratization and everything to marginalize and isolate the United States from Cuba and its people.
After decades of failure, the United States needs a new approach – an approach that reflects American interests, that represents our highest values, and that lets our government, and not the Cuban government, determine what our foreign policy should be.

That means the freedom to travel for all Americans.   That means lifting the embargo and restoring a commercial relationship with Cuba.  It means talking with Cuba, acknowledging its sovereignty, and giving confidence to both governments that we can debate and discuss (and make progress on) the issues that have divided our countries for decades.    Not papering over differences, or being dishonest about disagreements, on policy, politics, or human rights.  But making a sharp departure from policies that have gotten us nowhere, and engaging Cuba with respect and determination.

That would be a real change.  And that would make a big difference moving forward.

As we report this week, Cuban officials are calling once again for a respectful dialogue between the governments in Washington and Havana.   Actions are underway to restore Cuba’s participation in the OAS.  European diplomats are engaging their Cuban counter-parts in dialogue.  The debate about lifting the travel ban and the commercial embargo is attracting new actors here in the United States.  Even Stephen Colbert is talking about trading with Cuba – and that’s no joke.  There is reason to look forward, and not to look back, or to freeze this policy in place any longer.

This week in Cuba news…

Read the rest of this entry »

Stop Light for Silvio, Green Light for Travel, Spot Light on Trade

May 7, 2009
Dear Friend:

Progress is never easy.

Silvio Rodriguez, the legendary Cuban singer, and a pro-government figure in his country, was unable to join a concert in honor of Pete Seeger, because U.S. authorities never acted on his visa application, even though it was filed in a timely manner.

This reminded us, regrettably, of an incident six years ago when Ibrahim Ferrer was denied a visa and was unable to receive his Grammy Award for Buenos Hermanos.

In some respects, this was even more damaging, because it came against the backdrop of President Obama calling U.S. policy a failure and promising to pursue engagement – developments that Cubans on the island welcomed as signs of hope and change.  Silvio’s exclusion disappointed the very people to whom Obama was reaching out to and was the subject of considerable coverage on the Mesa Redonda and elsewhere in Cuba’s media.

Let’s hope the failure to allow Silvio Rodriguez into the United States was nothing more sinister than a bureaucratic snafu or a rookie mistake for a new administration that has been trying to break new ground in its historic and hopeful reconsideration of the failed U.S. policy toward Cuba.  Cubans are watching – and so are we.

This week, much of the news you are about to read is rooted in economics.  You’ll see reports about an event on Capitol Hill that featured the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Representative Charles Rangel who talked about ending the Cuban trade and travel restrictions; new legislation to spur agriculture sales to Cuba; new energy at the state level to raise farm sales, and new evidence that reduced restrictions on Cuban-American family travel are already producing more visits to the island.

Supporters of the embargo don’t like to hear talk about the economic dimensions of our policy – condemning it as Americans wanting to make a buck instead of paying attention to human rights.   But there is no evidence that continuing the U.S. embargo against Cuba, a solo enterprise since no other country follows us, is going to do anything in the future other than what it has done in the past:  increasingly isolate the United States and its people from the everyday experience of Cuban life, as it damages our economic, security, and foreign policy interests as part of the bargain.  Perhaps that is why the Orange County Register, a symbol of conservative journalism, recently predicted the embargo’s repeal.

Another thing that supporters of the embargo don’t like to hear about is this: lifting the embargo and normalizing relations with Cuba is becoming increasingly popular among all Americans, including Cuban Americans.

But we’re here to remind you and them of that, too.  This week in Cuba news…

Read the rest of this entry »

“You’ve Got To Keep Meeting This Way” U.S. and Cuban Diplomats Commit Diplomacy in Washington and much more

May 1, 2009
Dear Friend:

This year, we’ve seen a transformative change in the Cuba policy debate.

The President and the Congress have taken steps to loosen the travel and trade restrictions.  Cuban and U.S. diplomats are talking.   The House and the Senate are building serious coalitions in an effort to pass full travel legislation for all Americans.  The Cuban-American community is embracing change.  Thinkers and leaders and policy activists are all pulling in the same direction.

We still have lots of work to do – to repeal the travel ban on all Americans and to put U.S.-Cuba relations on a new footing – but we’re making progress.  The political conversation has changed from “this will never happen” to “this is going to happen…but when?”

What interests us about all of this progress is that the politicians are finally catching up to where the people are.

Just ask the Washington Post.  Polling released this week shows strong majorities for ending travel restrictions, ending the trade embargo, and having the U.S. establish diplomatic relations with Cuba.

Think they’re an outlier?  Think again.  The Gallup Poll conducted this survey just a few days before – on travel, the embargo, and diplomatic relations – and got strikingly similar results.

CNN’s numbers released in early April were even higher.

Bendixen & Associates found strong support in the Cuban-American community for Obama’s new travel policy, strong support for eliminating travel restrictions on all Americans, and a virtual split on the question of ending the entire embargo.

You can find huge support for changing the policy in research by World Public Opinion.org, and even in a survey taken this year by Fox News, among Americans more broadly.

All of this is really good news.  Not only has the case for changing the policy never been stronger but the public opinion climate for making a decisive change in Cuba policy keeps getting better.

Policy makers, take note.   This week in Cuba news.

Read the rest of this entry »