Juanes Touches Hearts in Cuba and Miami

September 25, 2009

The most important piece of Cuba news this week happened because of the bravery of a singer named Juanes.

His “Peace without Borders Concert,” attended by more than a million Cubans in Havana, was the largest mobilization in Cuba since the visit of Pope John Paul II.

He overcame threats of violence in his own community.  He surmounted bureaucratic and legal hurdles here in the U.S. And, for more than seven hours, the event that he created captured the hearts of millions of people across the world and rightly so.

His opponents wanted to stop the concert for one simple reason.  They can’t hold back the changes that will come in U.S.-Cuba relations unless they can permanently brand Cuba and the Cuban people as alien, as “the other.”

The images brought into our homes, onto our computers and television sets, were anything but alien – it was the inspiring yet familiar sight of people singing and dancing together – a scene that made virtually anyone watching long to be there with them.

If only U.S. law would allow that to happen without requiring our government’s permission.

Hearts were melted in Miami.  Carlos Saladrigas, chairman of the Cuba Study Group, wrote this morning in the Miami Herald, “I was left with a feeling that something transcendental had taken place.”  And about those in the community who tried to stop the concert he spoke of “the growing disconnect between the exiled hardliners and the Cuban people….It is not reasonable to expect to partake in a new Cuba if we don’t partake in the process that creates it.”

To his great credit, President Obama allowed the necessary licenses to be approved so that people and equipment could make it to Cuba for the concert.

For that, he deserves a little slack for a somewhat grumpy sounding reaction to what had taken place.  In an interview he said:

“I certainly don’t think it hurts US-Cuban relations, these kinds of cultural exchanges,” said Obama.  But he concluded that he, “wouldn’t overstate the degree that it helps.”

Of course.  But, we have to agree with our friend James Early who called the concert “an act of courage” and “an act of peaceful purpose by artists from many countries who are reflecting the readiness of fellow citizens and government representatives throughout the Caribbean and Latin America, and across the U.S., to be witnesses to what can be done when there is mutual respect and will to do so despite differences.”

That is the message we heard and that inspired us in the moving imagery from the Juanes concert last Sunday.  To him, we say, ¡Gracias por ser un símbolo de paz!

After Juanes, we report on Congressman Sam Farr’s trip to NY to talk about freedom to travel and the beneficial impact that changing the law would have on Cubans and Americans.  We report on some visas – approved and denied – for Cubans coming to the U.S. (why not allow President Al.arcon to come here?).  Finally, there is interesting reporting coming out of Cuba about a government debate on the future of socialism and how Cubans are participating.

Read all about it!  This week in Cuba news…

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You’ve Got Mail; You’ve Got Music; (at the UN) You’ve Got Trouble

September 21, 2009

Dear Friends:

What a week for Cuba news.

Mail: This week, the U.S. and Cuba began face-to-face talks, diplomat to diplomat, on the question of whether the countries can agree to resume direct mail service which was cut off forty-five years ago.  This is precisely the kind of diplomatic engagement that can solve problems, build mutual confidence, and lay the groundwork for a serious and respectful relationship between our two countries.

Music:  On Sunday, Juanes and more than a dozen artists hit the stage in Havana for his much-awaited “Paz Sin Fronteras” (Peace Without Borders) concert, timed to coincide with the United Nation’s International Day of Peace.  Here, you will find out how to follow the concert; we hope and believe that what you’ll hear is not just music, but how a future U.S.-Cuba relationship will sound.

Trouble: In the coming days, President Barack Obama’s policy toward Cuba will be debated – and likely denounced – on the floor of the U.N. General Assembly for continuing our unilateral embargo against the island nation.  It will be the 18th year the U.N. has considered a resolution on the embargo.  President Obama missed a golden opportunity to take a decisive step away from this failed policy when he renewed the Trading with the Enemy Act authority on which the embargo is based.   This week, Cuba issued a report on the economic damage this policy inflicts on the island.  More importantly, the diplomatic damage we do to ourselves was reflected in comments by the Presidents of Brazil and El Salvador, promised to vote against the U.S. when the General Assembly takes up the resolution.

These issues plus – religion and reform in Cuba, fines and migrants in the U.S., and calls saying “travel for all” echo from the Governor of New Mexico to the NBC Evening News.

Aren’t you lucky?  You’ve got mail, you’ve got music, you’ve got trouble, and you’ve got the news summary.

Who could ask for anything more?

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Remembering September 11th, Seeking a New Way Forward with Cuba

September 11, 2009

Through a coincidence of the calendar, this week’s news summary is being distributed on a day when the United States takes a solemn pause and remembers the attacks on 9/11.

Several of us who are involved in the publication of this news summary were in Havana on that awful day, and so the annual commemoration has a special meaning for us.

As news of the attacks spread, Cubans, of every stripe and calling, embraced and consoled us.  The Cuban government officially extended its hand to the United States and the Bush administration with offers of help, but those were promptly swatted away.

Over the years that followed, the Bush administration’s war on terror became conflated with our nation’s decades-old obsession with Cuba’s government and political system, and so the tools of this so-called “war” were increasingly used on Cuba.  Not only did Cuba remain on the List of State Sponsors of Terrorism, and caught up in the sanctions authorized by the Trading with the Enemy Act, but the administration moved aggressively to exclude Cubans from entry into the United States as threats to national security, and it punished corporations (foreign and domestic), people of faith, artists, scientists, and others who tried to escape the flawed and dangerous logic of lumping Cuba in with real U.S. adversaries and who sought instead to find places and spaces where a normal relationship between the two societies might exist.

An historic election took place last fall when the nation voted for a new approach for protecting its security.  In some ways, it got what it voted for.  At least as regards our challenges in the Middle East, President Obama is articulating a different vision of national security and we are better for it.  As former United States Senator Gary Hart wrote recently:

“By abandoning the ‘war on terrorism’ paradigm, especially as an excuse to invade Iraq, President Obama has done our strategy a favor and has taken us a long way toward the understanding that acts of terrorism will continue in parts of the world, that we must continue to make such acts as difficult as possible here in the United States, that most attacks will still be against other countries, and that quick damage-limitation response at home will still be highly important.”

In other words, doing things differently, and more strategically, makes us safer.

For us this begs the question, why not take this new sense of seriousness about getting foreign policy right and apply it to Cuba?  It is not a security threat.  It provides no support for international terrorists.  It launders no money and provides no financial support to terrorists.

That the U.S. faces dangers in this world is without doubt.  But Cuba is not dangerous; it is different, and to treat those differences as terrorism is to undermine the credibility of the larger effort to bring safety and rationality to our search for security here in the U.S.  Surely, if there is anyone who would understand this, it is President Obama.

That is why we choose this day to remind him of these facts.

What we seek is a normal relationship with Cuba and the Cuban people – normal trade, normal commerce, normal diplomatic relations.  In that context, Cuba will seem much less different – and certainly less dangerous – than it does through the terror lens that we view it today.

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Obama Delivers Half a Loaf; Richardson Delivers a Normalization Plan; Cuba and the U.S. Discuss Delivering the Mail

September 4, 2009

In April, President Obama announced that he would honor his campaign promise to end restrictions on the right of Cuban-Americans to travel to Cuba, visit their families, and provide them with financial support.

His Treasury Department has finally made good on this humanitarian goal and issued new regulations to implement this action nearly five months after the announcement itself.

The new rules also implement a loosening of restrictions on mobile phones and telecommunications, and liberalize the visa policy for agriculture and medical sales.

This decision reversed a series of loathsome restrictions imposed by President Bush during the 2004 presidential campaign that nearly ended family visits to the island in an attempt to starve Cuba’s government of cash and advance the policy of regime change.  Lifting the Bush rules – as Obama pledged during the 2008 campaign – was a rare act of political courage.  Finalizing them, while long overdue, is a welcome step in the right direction.

But consider where we are now.

While the President has united Cuban families, he has left 99.5% of the U.S. population out of the travel picture by only legalizing Cuban-American travel.  It ill-befits our country and our president to distribute the constitutional right to travel on the basis of any citizen’s national origin.  Every American is as entitled as our fellow Cuban-American citizens to visit the island, and to experience what they enjoy when they visit Cuba – the reciprocal act of meeting Cubans, offering our perspective and learning theirs.

Simply put, the Obama policy of “travel for some” is an improvement over where things were left under President Bush, but it ought not be where the Obama administration’s policy begins and ends – we need travel for all, the unrestricted right for every American to travel to Cuba.  And after that we need full commercial and diplomatic relations as well.

Cuba policy, as we have said before, has been frozen in the amber of its own ineffectiveness for decades.  To us, it is unthinkable that President Barack Obama, whose election wrote an important new chapter in U.S. history, would willingly continue a policy left-over from the Cold War that has failed and will never work.

We believe instead that he has – and will take – an historic opportunity to turn the page and move the U.S.-Cuba relationship in an entirely new direction.  We applaud the steps taken this week, but hope and expect much, much more.

In this week’s news summary, we cover the new rules in detail.  We also report on Governor Bill Richardson’s proposals for sending the U.S.-Cuba relationship down a speedier path toward normalization.  We also carry reports about new negotiations with Cuba on restoring the direct delivery of mail, and on Amnesty International’s call for the complete elimination of the embargo itself.

All of this and more – because when it comes to the news, we deliver!

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