Slow but Steady Progress

July 28, 2009
Dear Friends:

When Lincoln served in Congress, he reportedly said during a debate, “I walk slowly, but I never walk backward.”

If you look at what happened in Cuba news this week – as we do every week – what leaps off the page are indications of steady progress.  Many of us who work on these issues are impatient and want the Obama administration to move forward faster on normalizing relations with Cuba.  But the reality is that progress is happening on many levels – it may not be flashy, but it is happening without much controversy and – and that is a major departure from the past.

Here are five examples.

First, the U.S. and Cuban militaries participated in joint military exercises, as they have done in the past, but our administration allowed the press to cover what had occurred.  Our organization has previously proposed expanding military cooperation, and going public with these exercises will lay the groundwork for doing exactly that.

Second, officials from Tampa, Florida, traveled to Cuba for meetings with government officials about expanding trade ties.  You remember Florida, right, the state that serves as the massive political obstacle to getting something real done on Cuba.  The political climate is changing.  Not that it didn’t take courage for the delegation to make that trip; but this kind of courage is contagious.

Third, New Orleans wants to get into the act.  Mayor Ray Nagin wants charter aircraft service between his city and Cuba just like Los Angeles and Miami have.  The embargo against Cuba is not simply bad foreign policy and bad for our constitutional right travel, it is also foolish and self-defeating economically, and increasing numbers of Americans (and their elected officials) get that.

Fourth, Senator Byron Dorgan, a fearless crusader for changing Cuba policy, won approval in a Senate Committee for an important proposal that will expand agriculture sales to Cuba.  Dorgan is also sponsor of the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act, the Senate bill to repeal the ban on legal travel for all Americans, and he understands that expanding travel will result in increased Cuban demand for food produced in the U.S.

Fifth, the migration talks restarted by the U.S. and Cuban governments took place in New York.  Both countries issued positive statements suggesting that progress is being made.  We were able to confirm the reality of that diplomatic happy talk in private meetings this week with foreign policy officials from both countries during our visit to Cuba with seven high-ranking staff people from the U.S. Senate.

It takes time to dismantle a policy that has been in place for fifty years, long after it was evident to almost everyone that U.S. policy toward Cuba was hurting us a lot more than it ever hurt them.

But in just the last three months, we have seen real changes – the elimination of travel restrictions on Cuban-American families, U.S. cooperation in the effort to lift Cuba’s suspension from the OAS, and now the resumption of migration talks.  We may be walking slowly, but we’re not walking backwards, and we see the prospects of a lot more progress to come.

Before sending you off to the news, please remember this.  We are also tracking developments taking place in Honduras and efforts to resolve the crisis.  You can follow the events we’re following by turning to our Honduras page here.

But first, this week in Cuba news…

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To negotiate, to trade, to dance, to play music

July 16, 2009

Dear Friends:

To negotiate, to trade, to dance, to play music – almost always require collaboration in order to get them right.

Collaboration is a theme that runs through much of our news summary this week.

For the first time in six years, diplomats from Cuba and the United States sat down together at the negotiating table in New York and resumed discussions adjourned in the first term of President Bush on migration.   Diplomats from both sides reported progress.

For the first time in over forty years, a Costa Rican diplomat will soon assume his new role as Ambassador to Cuba.  Costa Rica believes in engagement with Cuba.

We saw collaboration and engagement elsewhere in the news – with a delegation leaving Tampa, Florida of all places, to head down to Cuba to talk about economic development and jobs in both countries’ interests which would flow from enhanced trade relations.

A ballet company from London has already lit up stages in Havana, and the New York Philharmonic is exploring the opportunity to do the same thing.  These developments are about cultural exchanges that bring Cubans closer together with artists from the U.K. and the U.S.

All of this progress is music to our ears.

Of course, others had a very different reaction.  When news that the migration talks had resumed became public, critics of Obama’s diplomacy said it was a capitulation to the Castro government for which we exacted no concession in return.  They just didn’t have ears to hear the idea that an orderly system of migration between the U.S. and Cuba was in both nations’ interests, and that you couldn’t get there without sitting down, face-to-face.

But we’re not surprised.  The same people who resist diplomacy, the ones who oppose sending orchestras and ballet companies and ambassadors and trade missions to Cuba, don’t want you (or even Members of Congress and their staffs) to travel to Cuba, and we know why.  The policy they cling to, isolating Cuba, simply cannot survive a new reality in which Americans experience Cuba and Cubans directly, share common experiences and enjoy a shared culture, and they’re actively committed to preventing this sort of engagement from taking place.

That’s why we need more travel and more trade, and more news like what we’re reporting on this week.

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Reagan’s Block on Food Sales to Cuba, and Is Congress (Finally) Muting TV Marti?

July 10, 2009

Dear Friends:

When common sense isn’t so common in Washington, we thought these developments ought to be savored first.

This week, John Block, who served as Ronald Reagan’s agriculture secretary, made media calls to help reporters make the connection between increasing travel to Cuba and increasing the sale of U.S. food to the island.  Now that’s common sense.

This week, as well,  a key Senate Committee adopted the common sense point of view that funding TV Marti’s broadcasting operations to Cuba, whose signals are jammed, and whose audience is somewhere between speculative and non-existent, probably didn’t make much dollars or cents.  So it cut the TV Marti budget.  That’s common sense, too.

Finally, as we continue to follow developments in Honduras after the coup, a tried and tested peacemaker, President Oscar Arias, was appointed as a mediator.  President Obama also made the commonsensical observation that America cannot and should not seek to impose any system of government or any other country – and that means restoring President Zelaya, even though he has strongly opposed U.S. policy.  A veritable chorus of common sense!

As usual, other policy makers and politicians continue to astound and disappoint us all – the Members of Congress who are denying that a coup took place in Honduras; the Secretary of State, who continues to sound the backwards looking theme of conditionality; the guys at U.S. Treasury, who keep hammering firms with fines for violating the embargo, etc.

But hey, this isn’t paradise.  It’s the news summary!

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Independence Day NewsBlast

July 3, 2009

Dear Friends:

This is the Independence Day edition of the weekly news blast.  Happy Holiday!

This week, we cover stories about Cuba’s economic difficulties and a new government reform to help Cuba’s workers make ends meet.  Cuba, which has offered to discuss drug interdiction with the United States under the aegis of the upcoming migration talks, announced the seizure of two tons of drugs thus far in 2009.

Costa Rica and El Salvador are moving forward with the restoration of their diplomatic relations with Cuba.  As his first official act, Mauricio Funes, the new president of El Salvador, announced that his country would recognize Cuba for the first time in fifty years.

Cuba Central is also happy to point out that Roman Mayorga, a dear friend, will represent El Salvador in Venezuela, and Francisco Altschul has also been named as El Salvador’s interim envoy to the U.S.  We wish them both well.

We also note, as other commentators have, that Timothy Broglio, the Catholic archbishop for the U.S. armed forces, was allowed to preside over a Mass in the Cuban city of Guantanamo.  He offered a message of reconciliation and his hopes that Cubans and U.S. citizens would have the right to worship together with nothing separating us.  We wholeheartedly agree.

Before presenting the news, let us say a brief word about the section on Honduras that we have prepared for you to read at the end.

We are carefully watching events in Honduras, the global reaction to the coup, the actions of the Obama administration, and the statements of its supporters and critics.  For us, how the U.S. is responding to this crisis will matter a great deal – not only because we can influence the result and help restore the constitutional order in Honduras, but also because what we say and do will indicate to the people of the region whether our policy toward Latin America will break from the patterns of our past and move in a new and more positive direction.

It’s not just us thinking this way.  The actors and officials, who always appear when events take an ugly turn in Latin America, have emerged once again to support the coup and attack President Obama for condemning it.  You’ll see what they’re saying about the crisis in our Honduras report as well.

So these events are not just about democracy in Honduras, but also about debate in the U.S. about the integrity and effectiveness of our role in the region. That is why we’re following what happens there so closely and with such concern.
This week in Cuba news…

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