Holiday Edition: the last Cuba Central News Blast of 2009

December 24, 2009
Dear Friends:

This is our last blast of Cuba news for 2009.

Thank you for sticking with us.  It is our profound hope that each time you read our news summary you came away a little better informed about Cuba and U.S. policy than you were before…that you were entertained by the writing…that we left you a little more inclined to believe that the Cuba travel ban and the embargo really ought to end.

If we accomplished those things, then we succeeded in our work, and we hope that you will join us next year as we try to understand why a country like the United States would stick with a policy that’s so dumb.

The year that began with high expectations ended on some bittersweet notes.

To be sure, we’re thrilled that Cuban-Americans can now travel to the island and support their families without limits.

We’re grateful that artists like Carlos Varela are now being permitted to come to the United States to talk about how cultural exchange can quickly bring people together – much faster than their governments seem ready to do.

We’re hopeful that direct negotiations on matters like migration and the delivery of mail will at some point next year prove that engagement is better than confrontation.

We’re pleased – but not surprised – that the latest polling shows 70% of the American public favoring the freedom to travel, and that the Seattle Times is joining newspapers around the country in calling for an end to the embargo itself.

But we’d be a lot happier if President Obama opened the doors to travel, and if Congress reciprocated by ending the ban altogether.  We’d be more hopeful if our country wasn’t sending American workers to violate Cuban law in a hapless effort at regime change.  We’d feel a lot better if the Cuban government permitted the imprisoned contractor to come home for the holidays.  We’d look to the future with greater anticipation if both governments lowered their rhetoric and got serious about reconciling their differences.

To paraphrase our friend Carlos Varela, it is painful to be this close and yet feel so far away.
See you again in 2010. Read the rest of this entry »

While the U.S. and Cuban Governments Squabble, Varela Wows Washington

December 21, 2009
Dear Friend:

This was another week of watching the prospects for a better U.S. Cuban relationship wax and wane, but it did end on a very hopeful note.

The U.S. Senate stepped up – and passed legislation making it easier for U.S. farmers to sell food to Cuba by reversing rules that inhibited sales issued by the administration of George W. Bush.

The Cuban tourism ministry reached out – and joined a conference call with travel industry representatives during which they said our companies could make more than $1.1 billion annually if the U.S. travel ban to Cuba was lifted.

The Obama administration messed up – when it was learned this week that a U.S. contractor was arrested for distributing communications equipment in Cuba (violating a law), and U.S. Interest Section diplomats were filmed marching with protestors in Havana.

Cuba’s government lashed out.  President Raúl Castro attacked the U.S. position for recognizing the results of the Honduran election, while former President Fidel Castro went after the U.S. for its base agreement in Colombia.

But, all the while, our friend Carlos Varela, the famed Cuban troubadour, able to visit the U.S. for the first time in eleven years, thanks to a visa from the Obama administration, brought his hopeful message about the power of cultural exchange to move relations beyond the Cold War stalemate that has frozen the U.S.-Cuba relationship all these many years.

After a series of meetings with five Members of Congress, a senior official from the White House, panel discussions on the importance of culture, and interviews with major news organizations, he concluded his stay in Washington  with a powerful performance of his music and question and answer session at the New America Foundation (NAF) and with questions posed by Tim Golden and Eugene Robinson, both of whom are great journalists, Cuba experts, and lovers of Carlos’s music. You can view a video of the event here.

Songs, he said, can feed the souls of men and women, even the ones who create embargos and wars.  For if they listen to the music, it will help them make the world a better place.

Audiences across Washington had ears to hear that message.  This was the most hopeful sign of all.  We only hope that both governments were listening.

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Kerry ‘Open Cuba to Travel’; Varela ‘Open Cultural Exchange’; CDA ‘Open Your 2010 Cuba/Latin America Calendar’!

December 11, 2009
Dear Reader:

The News Blast is back in your in-boxes with a new edition packed with news about Cuba.

We report on Senator John Kerry’s call for freedom to travel to Cuba; with Freedom House’s call to open up travel for all Americans to Cuba; with the Pope’s call to end the embargo against Cuba; with the British Ambassador’s call to….you get the idea.

We provide extensive coverage of Carlos Varela’s return to the U.S.  The renowned Cuban singer-songwriter, who’s performed with Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Sting, Juanes and many others, was granted a visa by the Obama administration to spend three weeks in the United States.  Blocked by President Bush from entering the U.S. in 2004, this is Carlos Varela’s first trip to the United States in eleven years.  In the articles summarized below, you will read about his calls to open up Cuba and the U.S. to cultural exchange – arguing, in essence, why wait for the governments to move, when music and art can bring the two countries closer together?

There’s also news about efforts to start hurricane cooperation between Cuba and the U.S., reduced sentences for members of the Cuban Five, and disturbances in Cuba aimed at disrupting a march by the Ladies in White and threatening the husband of blogger Yoani Sanchez.  Mark our words; we cover it all.

Also, mark your calendars (your new calendars).   Our organization, the Center for Democracy in the Americas, is about to release its fabulous new calendar for 2010.  Starting with artwork by Matt Wuerker, the finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in political cartooning for 2009, this great calendar ushers in each month of the coming year with gorgeous photographs and imagery from Cuba and around the region.  Sneak a look here.  We’ll be sending along information on how you can obtain your very own copy by making a special year-end contribution to the CDA.

Now, it’s time for the news.

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