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

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.


U.S. POLICY

Non-profit law group sues U.S. government over ‘Cuban Five’ case

The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund is suing the U.S. government regarding the case of the Cuban Five, the Associated Press reported. The Washington-based non-profit law group is filing the lawsuit on behalf of The Committee to Free the Cuban Five, which alleges that the government had contracts with journalists who were covering the seven-month trial of the five Cuban intelligence officers.

The group asserts that more than a dozen journalists covering the trial also contributed on a freelance basis to the U.S. government’s Radio and TV Marti broadcasts. The articles written by those journalists for Miami-area press were highly critical of the defendants and may have swayed the Miami-based jury, the lawsuit claims. The Committee to Free the Cuban Five has requested more information through the Freedom of Information Act but failed, prompting the lawsuit. .

Travel to Cuba from South-Florida growing

The Miami Herald reported that travel from Miami to Cuba has increased since Obama lifted restrictions on Cuban-American travel to the island five months ago. Between April and June, about 55,000 people traveled to Cuba, nearly doubling the 30,000 who traveled in the three months before the restrictions were lifted.

The restrictions, vestiges from the Bush administration, limited visits to once every three years for Cuban Americans who had immediate relatives on the island. With the restrictions gone, travel executives expect the number of travelers to hit 200,000 by year’s end. That would be about double the yearly figures during the period of the Bush restrictions. American charter companies have added flights, and many cities, such as Key West and New Orleans, are seeking authority for Cuba-bound travel.

U.S. won’t allow scientists to attend conference, Cuba says

The U.S. government is not allowing American scientists to go to Cuba for the International Orthopedics Conference this month, the Latin American Herald Tribune reported. The island expects 400 people from around the world to attend, but Americans have been unable to obtain the necessary permission from the U.S. State Department and Treasury, reported Cuban state media.

Rodrigo Alvarez Cambras, the president of the Cuban Orthopedics Association said he regrets that the scientists will not be allowed to accept his invitation and that their problems are evidence of “the unchanging permanence of the embargo”.

Western Union ready for unregulated remittances

Western Union announced that it has adapted its money sending services for Cuba to the new regulations released by the Treasury Department last week. Under the new guidelines the amount and frequency of remittances sent to Cuba will be unlimited for people with “close relatives” on the island, including aunts, uncles, cousins, and second cousins.

“We look forward to expanding our Agent network to better serve consumers, consistent with OFAC’s guidelines,” said Stewart A. Stockdale, Executive Vice President and President of The Americas Western Union.

Western Union has been providing money transfer services from the U.S. to Cuba since 1999. It has 3,000 Agent locations authorized to send transfers from the U.S. to Cuba, and more than 100 Agent locations in Cuba.

Richardson pitches the idea of a U.S.-Cuba dialogue team

The Miami Herald reported that New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson is pushing an idea to get Cuban exiles talking to Cuban officials. According to the Herald, the idea has failed before and even Richardson’s supporters are skeptical.

The governor says that Cuban American leaders have responded positively but officials on the island less so. “They weren’t crazy about the idea,” noted Richardson. “They didn’t reject it. They said, ‘We always have dialogue,’ but you can’t have dialogue without those who have the political clout.”

Some Cuban-Americans questioned why President Raúl Castro would want to enter into a dialogue with exiles.

“He has Venezuela, the Chinese just gave them $600 million, and Iran and the Russians gave him millions. What does he need the Cuban Americans for?” said Jaime Suchlicki, head of the University of Miami’s Institute of Cuban and Cuban American Studies.

IN CUBA

Lineup for the Juanes concert announced

Juanes and The Cuban Music Institute issued a press release yesterday offering more details about the upcoming “Peace without Borders” concert in Havana. The press release, which was reprinted in Cuban state media, lists the participating artists and highlights the non-political nature of the concert.

  • The September 20th concert will feature Amaruy Perez (Cuba), Danny Rivera (Puerto Rico), Juan Fernando Velasco (Ecuador), Jovanotti (Italy), Juanes (Colombia), Luis Eduardo Aute (Spain), Miguel Bosé (Spain), Olga Tañón (Puerto Rico), Orishas (Cuba), Silvio Rodríguez (Cuba), Los Van Van (Cuba), Carlos Varela (Cuba), Víctor Manuel (Spain),  CuCu Diamantes & Yerba Buena (U.S.A/Cuba) and X Alfonso (Cuba).

  • All artists have agreed to perform just their most popular songs and that the concert will not present political messages of any nature.  There will be no presenters on stage – just music performers.
  • It will be held in Jose Marti Revolution Plaza between 2PM and 6PM local time, with the stage located at the same spot where Pope John Paul II held his historic mass in January of 1998.
  • Admission is free and open to the public and concert organizers have requested that the artists and the audience wear all white attire to symbolize peace.
  • The sound system, LED video screens and other elements of the concert’s production will be shipped from the United States to Havana for temporary use.
  • The Cuban Institute of Music will cover costs for the local production. Additional production costs are being covered directly by some of the participating artists, and no artist will be charging a fee for their performance. The SGAE, Air Europa, A&C Charters and Aerosur will be collaborating to cover rehearsals and airfare.

Government will begin to issue new licenses for private taxis

This week the Cuban government will begin issuing licenses for private passenger and cargo transportation, suspended 10 years ago, according to a document released by the Havana city government, Agence France-Presse reported

A resolution from Havana’s provincial commission of transportation licensing advised that those interested in applying for licenses should go to the State Traffic Office to apply.

The government announced that new licenses would be made available in July of 2008, but apparently discussions about the routes that would be covered, the gas that drivers use and other issues took longer to resolve than expected.

Facing a crisis in transportation, in the nineties the government allowed private taxis to operate, but in 1999 they suspended permission for new licenses. The issuance of new licenses for private taxis was one of the initial reforms announced by Raúl Castro after he officially assumed the presidency in February 2008.

Raúl Castro cracking down on corruption

In an attempt to revive the Cuban economy, Raúl Castro has put many commercial establishments under the management of military-run businesses. The government aims to improve inventory control and discourage stealing. Castro has also increased vigilance on the streets and around markets, looking for people selling items illegally, Reutersreported.

According to Reuters, many black marketers are staying home, scared of getting caught and prosecuted, and some citizens are complaining that the recent crackdown on corruption is hindering the black market, their main source of cheaper food. Goods on the black market are often more affordable than in state-approved stores.

Meanwhile, ordinary Cubans are improvising and don’t expect the crackdown to last. “What Raúl is doing will last a while, but they don’t have the capacity to confront this,” said a retired military official.

August was a scorcher

August of 2009 was one of the hottest months in Cuba over the last 38 years, the Cuban News Agency reported.

Data from the Cuban Meteorology Institute’s Climate Center showed that the monthly temperature was one degree Celsius higher than the historic monthly average in Pinar del Rio, Havana City, Havana, Camaguey and Guantanamo. There was also below average rainfall in almost all provinces.

The Climate Center expects higher than normal temperatures for September, the Granma reported.

HUMAN RIGHTS

Man who shouted about hunger in video arrested

A man who was jailed last month, allegedly for comments made in a YouTube video, had his two-year prison sentence upheld by a Cuban appeals court on Thursday, Reutersreported.

According to Richard Rosello of the independent Cuban Commission on Human Rights, Juan Carlos Gonzalez Marcos, known as “Panfilo,” requested a reduced sentence for the crime of “dangerousness,” but his request was refused.

In a YouTube video posted last April, Gonzalez, 48, can be seen pushing his way into an interview about music and shouting about the lack of food in Cuba.

“What we need here is a little bit of ‘jama,'” he shouts, using a Cuban slang word for food. “We need food, we’re hungry here. Listen to what Panfilo tells you from Cuba: food,” he yells.

Gonzalez appeared in another video days later, this time apparently sober, and said he regretted his initial comments.

“I don’t want problems because I don’t want to know anything about politics. Not there (the United States), or here,” he said.

However, Gonzalez was arrested in August and charged with “dangerousness.”

Journalism watchdog calls for Cuba blogger freedom

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called Thursday for the end to “systemic harassment” of bloggers and independent journalists in Cuba, the Associated Press reported.  The group urged the international community to step up its lobbying on the bloggers’ behalf.

“The bloggers, mainly young adults from a variety of professions, have opened a new space for free expression in Cuba, while offering a fresh glimmer of hope for the rebirth of independent ideas in Cuba’s closed system,” the CPJ said in a report.

According to the report, 22 online journalists are currently imprisoned in Cuba. Many others are tolerated by the government, though their websites are sometimes hacked and several have been called in for questioning by the authorities.

The New York-based CPJ also called on Cuba to honor international commitments to allow all journalists to report freely without fear of reprisal and unconditionally free imprisoned independent journalists.

TECHNOLOGY

Public internet at the post office

A new decree issued by the Cuban government would authorize public internet access at post offices across the country, the Associated Pressreported. The decree, posted on the website of the government’s official gazette, authorizes Empresa Correos de Cuba to “provide access to public Internet to all naturalized persons.”

Many post offices have public computers that customers can pay to use and in the past both internet and intranet, a more limited service of Cuba-only websites and email, were offered. Over the last few years most post offices stopped offering internet access and switched to only intranet. Cuba has now authorized public internet access at post offices across the country, though it has yet to apply what would be a landmark loosening of cyberspace rules in a nation where information is strictly controlled.

The Associated Press spoke with internet supervisors at two Havana post offices who said authorities are preparing to apply the law and have even installed new, faster computers in some locations, but they were unsure of when the new rules will go into effect.

Government suspending internet telephone service for calls abroad

Anonymous government officials told EFE that the Cuban government is suspending usage of voice over internet protocol (VoIP) service used to make calls abroad.

The use of VoIP services was authorized “exclusively nationwide,” according to a resolution of the Cuban Telecommunications Ministry issued in May 2008. That resolution had not yet been implemented due to “technical reasons” according to one of the officials, who also said the suspension will be definitive.

According to EFE, some Skype accounts remained active this week, but others were inaccessible. The internet telephone services for Google and Yahoo continue to function for local calls in Cuba, but “in almost no case for calls abroad,” EFE reported. Due to slow connectivity, VoIP calls abroad have always been severely limited.

China helping Cuba increase telephone service on the island

Prensa Latina reported that Cuba is amplifying and installing digital telephone lines this week to increase phone density in the coming months. The technology comes from China and the installations are expected to add almost 4,000 new communication lines for both residential and governmental use.

Digital lines are helping to connect the Eastern and more rural parts of the island, areas where phone density has been much lower than in Havana.

Dish Network seeks permission to broadcast into Cuba

Dish Network filed with the FCC this week seeking permission to broadcast into Cuba, MultiChannel news reported. The filing follows changes by the Obama administration that would allow satellite services to Cuba by services such as Dish Network.

Dish Network said its plan falls “in the public interest to the people of Cuba and falls in line with President Obama’s plan to reach out to the Cuban people.”

They first need approval from the FCC to activate and use the spot beam at the 110 orbital location before they can request a permit from the Treasury Department.

Around the Region:

Colombia’s Uribe signs his own re-election bill, Reuters
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe on Tuesday signed a bill calling for a referendum to ask voters if they want to change the constitution to allow the popular U.S. ally to run for a third term next year.

U.N. expresses `cautious optimism’ on Haiti

Following up on a critical assessment made by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last February, the United Nations Security Council met in a special session Wednesday to hear a “status update” on the situation in Haiti. Former President Clinton pointed out that Haiti has provided an unusual venue for the rare cooperation among the U.S., Venezuela and Cuba.

Venezuela’s Chavez accuses Israel of genocide

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has accused Israel of genocide against the Palestinian people, telling a French newspaper that the bombing of Gaza late last year was an unprovoked attack.

Big natural gas find announced off Venezuela coast

Spanish energy giant Repsol has made a huge natural gas find off the coast of Venezuela that it thinks it is one of the world’s biggest reserves, a spokeswoman said Friday.

Recommended Reading:

CUBA: Scientists, Farmers Fighting Climate Change – Together, IPS

Cuba is facing the challenge of boosting agricultural output under difficult climate conditions and on soils badly deteriorated by erosion, salinity and other problems. And scientists have a strategic role to play, provided they do not sit in their laboratories but get out into the fields where the action is.

FACTBOX: Big potential in mostly untapped Cuba telecom market, Reuters

In measures originally announced in April and implemented last week, U.S. President Barack Obama has relaxed aspects of the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba to allow U.S. telecommunications companies to provide services to the communist-ruled island. But the U.S. companies face major hurdles, from legal obstacles to tough foreign competition and the key question of whether wary Cuban authorities will be willing to open up this strategic area to operators from the country Havana has viewed as its ideological enemy for almost half a century.

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