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

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.


U.S. and Cuba reopen talks on migration

Long-suspended talks between the U.S. and Cuba resumed this week when officials from the two countries met in New York on Tuesday, the Miami Herald reported.

The U.S. delegation was headed by Craig Kelly, the principal deputy assistant secretary of the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, while Dagoberto Rodriguez, a Cuban Foreign Ministry official and former head of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, led the Cuban delegation.

President George W. Bush suspended the bilateral talks in 2003, saying the Cuban government was uncooperative, but Washington and Havana agreed to renew the discussions in May of this year.

A statement released by the State Department said that the meeting “reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to promote safe, orderly, and legal migration. Engaging in these talks underscores our interest in pursuing constructive discussions with the government of Cuba to advance U.S. interests on issues of mutual concern.”

The Cuban delegation also issued a statement which described the meeting as “fruitful,” and said they had submitted “a proposal for a new agreement aimed at ensuring a legal, safe and orderly migration between the two countries and a more effective cooperation to combat illegal alien smuggling.”  Neither government elaborated on what the new proposal included.

The Cuban government also reiterated its complaint that U.S. migration policy for Cubans makes the goal of legal, safe and orderly migration impossible.

The goals of the accord will “not be achieved as long as the United States continues to implement the Cuban Adjustment Act and the wet foot / dry foot policy that encourages illegal departures and human smuggling, by offering a differential treatment to Cubans arriving illegally in U.S. territory,” said the Cuban government statement.

Kelly said the U.S. delegation “highlighted areas of successful cooperation in migration, while also identifying issues that have been obstacles to the full implementation of the accords.”

According to Kelly, the U.S. expressed its interest in “ensuring that the U.S. Interests Section in Havana is able to operate fully and effectively; gaining access to a deep water port for the safe repatriation of migrants; ensuring that the American consular staff at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana are able to monitor the welfare of repatriated migrants; and gaining Cuban government acceptance for the repatriation of all Cuban nationals who are excludable on criminal grounds.”

Sarah Stephens, the executive director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, called the resumption of migration discussions “a welcome development because the two governments are talking, because migration affects both of our interests, and because this can be a starting point for discussions on drugs, the environment, and ultimately, diplomacy and politics,” the Miami Herald reported.

Cuban American Members of Congress, including Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., criticized the resumption of the talks.

“It is unfortunate that, once again, the Cuban regime is being rewarded with overtures from the U.S. government despite its ongoing atrocities against the Cuban people and policies that undermine U.S. security interests and priorities,” said Ros-Lehtinen.

The Cuban delegation proposed that the next round of talks take place in Havana in December.

Migration talks helped cruise ship stocks surge

News that officials from the U.S. and Cuba restarted migration talks helped cause a rise in the shares of cruise company stocks this week, the Reuters news agency reported.

Analysts have determined that the opening up of Cuba’s ports would be a major boost for the industry and lead to increased sales in the Caribbean market. They also cautioned that changes in policy would not happen over night.

“It’s going to take a while, between one to three years, but when it does it should be very positive for the cruise industry,” Wachovia analyst Tim Condor told Reuters.

Carnival Corp saw its highest one-day percentage jump in nearly a month, rising more than 5.7 percent. Royal Caribbean also had its largest one-day increase in about two months.

Tampa to explore trade with Cuba

Tampa City Councilwoman Mary Mulhern and Tampa Port Authority Commissioner Carl Lindell will join a group of about two dozen business people on a fact-finding trip to Cuba this weekend with the hopes of laying the groundwork for Tampa-area trade once U.S.-Cuba relations improve, the Central Tampa News and Tribune reported.

“This trip is for the benefit of my constituents,” Mulhern said. “It involves economic development possibilities, trade and jobs.”

“It is important we heighten awareness,” said Lindell, a local developer and former auto dealership owner. “We need to send a message to elected officials that maybe it’s time they take another look at changing relations with Cuba.”

President Obama waves title III of the Helms-Burton Act

President Obama has waived for six months application of the 1996 law that allows lawsuits against foreign companies for using property in Cuba that was once owned by Americans, the Associated Press reported.

Obama followed in the footsteps of Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush who repeatedly issued the waiver, blocking the ability of U.S. citizens to sue businesses for using properties seized after the Cuban revolution.  The underlying provision is part of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, which is better known as the Helms-Burton Act.

The waiver was issued the same day that the U.S. and Cuba met to renew migration talks and just before President Bush’s final waiver of the provision was set to expire.

In a letter to Congress, President Obama explained his decision to suspend the waiver as “necessary to the national interests of the United States and will expedite a transition to democracy in Cuba,” words similar to those used by Presidents Bush and Clinton to notify Congress in the past.

You can see a copy of the letter here.


Raúl Castro travels to Algeria, Egypt; NAM condemns embargo

Cuba’s president, Raúl Castro, traveled to Algeria and Egypt this week. Castro met with Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflike on a three day visit to Algeria, before traveling Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt to attend the 15th Non-Aligned Movement Summit, Agence France-Presse reported.

President Castro was accompanied on this trip by Communications Minister Ramiro Valdés, Army Corps General Leopoldo Cintra Frías and Vice President of the Council of Ministers Ricardo Cabrisas. This marks Castro’s second trip to Algeria this year, following a visit in February.

Algeria and Cuba signed a number of cooperation agreements in 2005 covering areas such as health, sports, fisheries and culture and Castro told reporters he looks forward to strengthening relations further.

Castro then traveled to Egypt to preside over the Summit of the 118-nation Non-Aligned Movement, which Cuba led over the last year.  In the opening session, President Castro told the attendees that a new international financial system is needed to protect developing nations from the global economic crisis, Voice of America news reported.

The group also issued a resolution condemning the U.S. embargo, entitled “Necessity to put an end to the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States against Cuba,” the declaration stresses that “for no reason should any country be deprived of its own means of subsistence and development,” Prensa Latina reported.

Costa Rica names first Ambassador to Cuba since 1961

Oscar Arias, president of Costa Rica, has named José María Penaban as the first Ambassador to Cuba from Costa Rica since the suspension of diplomatic relations between the two countries in 1961, reported Agence France-Presse.

The 80-year-old Penaban is a writer and journalist and has served in his country’s consul in Havana since 2003.  His appointment is expected to be approved by the Cuban government in the coming weeks.

Costa Rica and Cuba reestablished diplomatic relations on March 18th of this year. Following the election of President Mauricio Funes, El Salvador also reestablished long suspended relations with Cuba, leaving the United States as the only country in the Western Hemisphere without diplomatic relations with Cuba.


Spanish Priest tortured and murdered in Regla

Spanish priest Mariano Arroyo Merino was tortured and murdered in his church in the Havana suburb of Regla over the weekend, the Havana archdiocese and media outlets reported.

According to the Church’s report, early Monday morning a guard saw smoke coming from Merino’s sleeping quarters and advised a worker who had access to the building. The worker quickly carried Merino out of the smoky room, not noticing that he was covered in blood and fatally wounded until clearing the smoke and arriving outside.

The priest was reportedly gagged, with hands tied, stabbed and partially burned.

Diplomatic and religious sources told the Spanish news agency EFE that Cuban authorities have finished the autopsy and turned the body over to the Catholic Church. The funeral will take place Friday morning in the Cathedral in Old Havana and his remains will be sent to Spain in the afternoon.

Cuban authorities are still investigating the priest’s murder, and have not announced any leads, but Merino’s death comes exactly five months after another Spanish priest, Eduardo de la Fuente Serrano, was stabbed to death in Havana.

Spanish priest Isidro Hoyos, a friend and colleague of the two murdered priests, told EFE that the crimes had very similar characteristics and do not appear to be a “coincidence,” adding that he is scared.

“In my country, they say that ‘you don’t have two without three,’ but I don’t want to think about that,” said Hoyos, 75.

Hoyos noted that murders are an “unusual” event in Cuba, where there is “a type of veneration and respect for all religious symbols.”

Reuters reports in English here.


NY Philharmonic says Cuba tour prospects promising

The Associated Press reports that prospects for a performance by the New York Philharmonic in Cuba are promising following a trip to the island last week.  Representatives of the Philharmonic toured concert halls and met with music officials on the island.

A final decision could be a month away, but orchestra president Zarin Mehta said there are tentative plans for performances on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 at the 900-seat Teatro Amadeo Roldan, a renovated concert hall a few blocks from the Malecón coastal highway.

“We have to go back now and work on repertoires, budgets. There are practical considerations like: how do you get the instruments in, where do you store them?” Mehta told the Associated Press.

Eric Latzky, the orchestra’s vice president for communications, said Cuba’s Ministry of Culture invited the orchestra to perform, and U.S. officials have agreed to allow the visit to take place.

London’s Royal Ballet in Cuba for historic first visit

The UK’s Royal Ballet is in Havana for its first ever visit to Cuba, putting on five days of shows, and featuring the company’s Cuban star Carlos Acosta and a tribute to Cuban ballet legend Alicia Alonso, BBC News reported.

Demand is so high for tickets, all of which were sold out within hours, that giant TV screens are being erected in the city to allow more people to see the shows.

“Dance is central to the culture in Cuba. It’s at the very heart of the Cuban people,” said the director of the Royal Ballet, Dame Monica Mason.

The show will include a tribute to Alonso, who has led the Cuban national ballet since shortly after Fidel Castro took power in a 1959 revolution. The first three performances were held at Gran Teatro in central Havana and the final two, on Friday and Saturday, will be at The Karl Marx Teatro.

You can see a BBC video segment about the visit here.

Around the Region:

Group issues report on human rights abuses in Honduras

The Committee of Family Members of Disappeared Detainees in Honduras (COFADEH) has issued a preliminary report regarding the violations of human rights by the armed forces since a coup overthrew President Zelaya in Honduras on June 28.   COFADEH has documented more than 1,000 arrests and 69 casualties since the de facto coup government suspended civil liberties, declared martial law and ordered a mandatory curfew.  The report also calls attention to widespread intimidation of journalists.  COFADEH is especially concerned about conditions in the state of Colón, where local reports say the armed forces have effectively seized control and are detaining citizens in an open camp.

You can access the report here.

Honduran Delegation visits Washington D.C.

The Center for Democracy in the Americas hosted a press breakfast for three prominent Honduran citizens who came to Washington in support of President Zelaya’s reinstatement.  The delegation consisted of Marvin Ponce, a member of the Honduran National Congress from the Democratic Union Party; Jari Dixon, a prosecutor with the Honduran Attorney General’s office, and Dr. Juan Almendares, a renowned environmentalist and former presidential candidate. In an interview with The Hill, the Hondurans called on the U.S. to suspend trade relations with the de facto coup government.  Also during their trip, they met with Members of Congress and representatives from the State Department.

See photos of the press breakfast here.

U.S. Suspends Military Operations in Manta, Ecuador

Agence France Presse reports that the U.S. will officially suspend counternarcotics activities from its Forward Operating Location at the military base in Manta, Ecuador.  For a decade, the U.S. has launched aerial drug interdiction missions from Manta, but in 2008 President Rafael Correa refused to renew the U.S. lease on the base.  In September, the Pentagon will officially turn over its authority over the base to the Ecuadorian government.

However, the L.A. Times reports that U.S. is apparently close to finalizing a deal with Colombia in which the U.S. military can launch its counternarcotics missions from at least three Colombian air bases.

G.A.O. Charges Venezuela with Drug-related Corruption

A forthcoming report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office argues that widespread government corruption is rendering Venezuela a major nexus for cocaine transshipment, writes the Wall Street Journal.  Such shipments jumped have quadrupled from 60 metric tons in 2004 to 260 metric tons in 2007, during which time President Hugo Chavez has gutted his country’s counternarcotics programs.  The G.A.O. investigation expresses most concern over corruption within the National Guard, which protects the ports and borders but whose members are often involved in drug trafficking themselves.

The article quotes Venezuela’s ambassador to Washington, Bernardo Alvarez, who said in a statement that he wouldn’t comment on the report because he hadn’t yet received it. But Mr. Álvarez said Venezuela is engaged in a “complex fight against drug trafficking” which has been recognized by the Organization of American States, Interpol and many countries.

Latin America could be the first region to recover from global financial crisis

The President of the Federation of Latin American Banks (Felaban), Ricardo Marino, said that he expects his region to recover soonest from the global economic meltdown.  In an article in El País, he says that Latin America has not suffered to the same extent as the U.S. or Europe because its banks were not plagued by the same amount of toxic assets or mortgage debt.  Marino noted that Latin American countries are also far more prepared to deal with debt problems as compared to their positions during the debt crises of the 1980’s.   However, Latin America still remains largely dependent on foreign economies, so the region’s recovery is still somewhat contingent on improvement in the U.S. and Europe.

U.S. against the reelection of Insulza

On Sunday, the Chilean newspaper El Mercurio reported that the U.S. would not support the re-election of Jose Miguel Insulza as Secretary-General of the O.A.S in March 2010. According to the story, which was circulated throughout the Chilean media, Secretary of State Clinton communicated twice over the past few weeks with Chilean President Michelle Bachelet that the U.S. was concerned with Insulza’s active efforts to lift Cuba’s suspension from the O.A.S., which the regional forum did at its meeting in Honduras in June.

After the O.A.S. decision was made, Clinton allegedly told Chilean representatives “the U.S. does not see with good eyes the re-election of Insulza.”  El Mercurio also reports that sources close to Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Tom Shannon also vocalized the U.S. intent not to back Insulza.

Yet President Bachelet later declared “categorically” that the U.S. never communicated to her a statement its rejection of Insulza.  According to Mercopress, Bachelet spoke directly with Clinton and said “The government of Chile has received no information, official or unofficial” about the U.S.’s position on Insulza’s re-election.  On Wednesday, Chilean Foreign Minister Mariano Fernandez said that she received a letter from Clinton that said “please be confident that the U.S. will give careful consideration to the candidacy of Mr. Insulza for re-election in light of his role as Secretary-General.”  The Chilean government said they interpreted this as a positive signal from the U.S.

Read further articles in the Santiago Times, Mercopress and Cope.

Recommended Reading:

West Palm Jews visit to aid brethren in Cuba, Palm Beach Post

Cuba’s Jewish community is small in numbers, but South Florida Jews are trying to help sustain the religion in the island nation.

Opinion: Obama should end trade embargo with Cuba now, By Sharat G. Lin

Meanwhile, the effects of the U.S. embargo (Cuba calls it a blockade) are much more intrusive than the absence of American goods. Patient monitors and CT scanners from Europe and Japan are often idled by the inability to procure assemblies or accessories that contain U.S. parts.

Summer Reading:

A must-have for Cuba enthusiasts, Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know, by Julia E. Sweig, provides a straightforward guide to Cuba’s politics, its often fraught relationship with the United States, and its shifting role in the global community.  Dr. Sweig has toured the island’s prisons, lived with Cuban families following the collapse of the Soviet Union, conducted research in government archives, and interviewed hundreds of Cubans over the last two decades.

You can purchase your copy here.

Until next week,

The Cuba Central Team

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