Our Export Proposal for President Obama: Send Food and Tourists to Cuba!

January 29, 2010
Dear Reader:

The word of the week is JOBS, and the President is looking to increase American exports as a means for boosting employment here at home.

In his State of the Union Address, he made a commitment to help farmers and small businesses increase their exports, to reduce barriers to trade, and to open new markets.

We at Cuba Central offer a modest proposal that will create tens of thousands of jobs, raise GDP by billions of dollars, directly benefit America’s rural economy, and break down trade and travel barriers that restrict commerce to a currently closed market only 90 miles away.

President Obama, you need to send “US” to Cuba.

When we say “US,” we mean sending American tourists to Cuba and selling more American agriculture products to benefit the Cuban people.

Travel is a proven jobs creator.  An economic forecast by the Brattle Group said ending travel restrictions to Cuba would create more than 20,000 jobs for the travel and airline industries.

Ending the travel ban would not only create jobs and put more money in the pockets of Americans it would also advance American values and ideas.  Who says so?  The Catholic Bishops, the AFL-CIO, and advocates like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

There’s also a bounty waiting for the farmers and ranchers who produce food here in the U.S. and who benefit from the export market.  The Bush administration placed burdensome restrictions on the legal sale of food to Cuba, and the Cuban government has started to take their business to our competitors.

According to the U.S. International Trade Commission, ending trade and travel restrictions would nearly double our current export sales to Cuba – meaning more sales of wheat, rice, fresh fruits and vegetables, milk, meat, and processed foods.  This would create profits and jobs in rural America, and it would put more American food on the tables of ordinary Cubans.

Rather than continuing our policy of isolation, we should be selling U.S. food to Cuba,  and sending U.S. tourists to meet Cubans in their homes, in their neighborhoods and cities..  Exporting food and opening tourism will help bring both countries together, while creating profits and jobs here at home.  At a time of concern about the deficit, these reforms would boost exports and cost us absolutely nothing, while paying huge dividends now and in the future.

Mr. President?  Ready to create some jobs?  Time to open up Cuba to travel and more trade.

That said, here’s what’s happening in the news.

Cuba and the U.S. inched closer to cooperation on medical aid to Haiti.   Immigration talks are back on track.  Both good signs for the cause of engagement.

These stories commanded our attention as well.  Human Rights Watch is criticizing Cuba for harassing opposition figures.  Cuba is continuing to hold and investigate the U.S. contractor Allan Gross.  Spain and Cuba will meet on human rights related issues in Spain.

Finally, we draw your attention to another Internet problem; a site offering open source software is stopping Cubans and others from countries under U.S. sanctions from gaining access.  The site, SourceForge, says it’s just abiding by the U.S. embargo.  We’re checking with Treasury.

All of this news, and more….

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Cuba Docs and U.S. Supplies; Shrouds of Secrecy and U.S. Contractor; Washington Post Puts Havana in the Driver’s Seat

January 22, 2010

Dear Reader:

Uppermost in our minds is the suffering of the Haitian people and the steps being taken to help them.  We again urge our readers to provide financial assistance to help address this humanitarian crisis.  Today, we are providing new opportunities for donations through MEDICC and Global Link, respected NGOs.

Our friend, Gail Reed, International Director of MEDICC, sent this information about what the Cuban doctors have been doing since the earthquake first hit Haiti:

  • Cuban medical teams have treated over 13,000 patients in the Haitian capital, operating on just over 1,000 (including 550 major surgeries).
  • Cuban teams, Haitian physicians trained in Cuba and 60 Haitian medical students from Cuba’s Latin American Medical School in Cuban are working with relief personnel from other countries in field hospitals, medical posts and public parks–as well as in three hospitals in Port-au-Prince.
  • They have begun vaccinating patients with the 400,000 tetanus vaccines donated by Cuba.
  • As thousands pour out of the capital seeking help, the Cuban team has set up another two field hospitals in Jacmel, some 75 kilometers from Port-au-Prince, where Cuban medical personnel were working before the quake. Headed by Dr. Mercedes Cuello, the local team includes internists, pediatricians, orthopedic surgeons, general surgeons, ob-gyns, other specialists and nursing staff.
  • The Pan American Health Organization is providing logistical support, supplies and other materials to the Cuban contingent.

Against this backdrop, we bring news this week on the possibilities for U.S.-Cuba medical cooperation to help the people of Haiti.

As we and others have mentioned, the strength of Cuba’s response could be augmented in powerful ways by U.S. cooperation with its medical brigades, especially by providing supplies to the Cuban doctors and their Haitian counterparts trained in Cuba.

This message now appears to be getting through.  As we report below, the Secretary of State and the State Department’s spokesperson both commented favorably this week on the prospects for such cooperation.

Later, we mention the continuing plight of Mr. Alan Gross, a U.S. contractor, imprisoned in Cuba since early December, and a new effort by the Washington Post to use his case – rather cynically in our view – as an excuse for blocking the travel rights of all Americans to Cuba.

In the stories that follow, we cover efforts to increase trade between the U.S. and Cuba, another editorial calling for ending the embargo, new trade opportunities for our competitors in Canada and Vietnam, an important new human rights report from inside Cuba, and the declining popularity of President Obama among average Cubans.

At the end, we offer a final word about someone who cared deeply about improving U.S.-Cuba relations as part of his larger commitment to express and redeem our nation’s highest values and ideals.

But first, this week in Cuba news.

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Grief for Haiti, U.S.-Cuba Cooperation Takes Flight; Our proposals for doing more.

January 15, 2010

Dear Friends:

The biblical dimension of the tragedy visited upon the people of Haiti strains our ability to absorb fully or understand the catastrophe that has taken place.

Our organization supports the efforts of the U.S. government, its allies, and NGOs across the world in urging donations for earthquake relief.

Anyone who wants to help the people of Haiti should text the word Haiti to 90999 today.  That action will immediately produce a ten dollar donation for the Red Cross.  Billions will be needed, but every donation counts. Additional options to help are listed at the bottom of this email.

After a sub-par performance in Latin America during 2009, the Obama administration has risen to this occasion with its response to the humanitarian crisis in Haiti.   Our Secretary of State has stepped forward with forceful, deeply compassionate leadership.  Our President has ordered his agencies to put Haiti on the top of their agenda, and has already committed $100 million in U.S. assistance.

We’re focused on the medical aspects of this emergency.   The hospitals in Port-Au-Prince have collapsed.  Tens of thousands are dead, with incalculable numbers seriously injured.  Millions of Haitians are cut off from access to medical assistance.   And President Obama has cautioned it will take days for a full relief contingent from the U.S. to arrive in Haiti.

Those efforts will be hastened by an agreement made public today that Cuba will allow the United States to operate relief flights over Cuban airspace destined for Haiti.  No one should be surprised by Cuba’s decision; they have a decades’ long commitment to international cooperation in the face of national disasters, and our government has previously received cooperation from Havana on over-flights for weather detection, fighting hurricanes, and matters relating to security.

But our feeling is this:  if Cuba is willing to cooperate with the United States in the air, we should be willing to cooperate with Cuba on the ground, on initiatives that reflect our countries’ shared interests in helping the people of Haiti.  There is much that can be done.

Let’s not forget, Cuba is already there.

Haiti and Cuba signed a medical cooperation agreement in 1998.  Present in Haiti before the earthquake struck were 344 members of the Cuban medical brigade who have been providing primary care, obstetrical services, and operations to restore the sight of Haitians with various eye diseases.  Earlier this week, Cuba sent 30 more physicians along with food, medicine, plasma, and other items.

According to Spanish press reports, this contingent is already providing emergency medical care across the country’s ten departments for countless injured Haitians, patients that Cuban doctors had already been treating for many years.  Immediately following the earthquake, these doctors opened up two make-shift clinics in their residences because local hospitals were destroyed.  Cuban doctors then moved to reopen the “Social Security” hospital and started operating on the injured. A day ago, the Cubans reopened the national hospital and started to treat people.

Their work could form the foundation for broad Cuban-U.S. cooperation.

First, as U.S. AID and military teams roll into Haiti, the U.S. government should make it clear that our personnel should cooperate, coordinate, and work with the Cuban medical personnel in Haiti.  They know Haiti, they’ve been providing health care in Haiti since 1998, and they have been running an effective medical response since the earthquake occurred.

Second, while Cuba can quickly dispatch large numbers of medical relief personnel, it is short of medicines.  We should offer the Cubans medicines and other necessary assistance to help with their effort.

Third, we’ve seen reports that injured Americans – and possibly, injured Haitians – are being airlifted to the medical facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.   Our colleague at the New America Foundation, Col. Larry Wilkerson, has proposed that we open up Guantanamo to Cuban doctors.

Cuban doctors should be welcomed on to the base to assist in treatment and operations.  Our armed forces – which have lengthy experience in cooperating with the Cuban military – could allow Cubans to come pick up (or they could transport) victims to Cuban hospitals for treatment. Our militaries carry out exercises to practice for fires and other big accidents near the base that require joint efforts to treat the victims – this would be effective and it would assure quicker attention for the wounded.

Fourth, leaders including Presidents Lula of Brazil and Sarkozy of France are calling for a summit to coordinate global responses to the Haiti tragedy.  That summit could take place in Cuba, which is ideally located.   If it doesn’t happen there, Cuba should be invited and encouraged to play a leadership role in the coordination of response efforts.

President Obama knows the Cubans can do more than open up airspace to American flights.  When he attended the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago last year, he made a public statement about the respect shown Cuban doctors by the heads of state he met at the Summit, and conceded that the U.S. had to engage in efforts like medical cooperation to reconnect our country to the people of the region.

The previous administration couldn’t bring itself to do this.  After Hurricane Katrina, Cuba’s government offered to send 1,586 doctors and 25 tons of medical supplies to buttress what was obviously an insufficient response to the suffering of American citizens on our own Gulf Coast.  Bush being Bush, his administration not only declined the offer but insulted the qualifications of Cuban doctors.

We need to be Samaritans and not silent or sarcastic about what Cuba has to offer.   We have seen the better angels of Obama’s nature, and we’re hopeful that he would seriously consider cooperating with the Cuban government if it meant saving Haitian lives.

And for us?  Enlisting with the Cubans in a joint effort to speed and magnify aid efforts to Haiti would set a new example for U.S. diplomacy that will return long-standing benefits to our nation and our relationships across the Western Hemisphere.  And possibly even set a new tone for the U.S.-Cuba relationship.

This week in Cuba news…

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Earthquake in Haiti

January 13, 2010

Dear Friend:

According to a Twitter message we received from the U.S. State Department this morning, the speed with which you can send aid to help the people of Haiti is truly breathtaking. We hope that you will join us in responding today:

Simply text “HAITI” to “90999” and a donation of $10 will be given automatically to the Red Cross to help with relief efforts, charged to your cell phone bill.

Or, if you prefer more traditional methods (and can make a larger contribution) we suggest you go online and donate to any of the organizations listed below.

Mercy Corps:    https://donate.mercycorps.org/donation.htm?DonorIntent=Haiti+Earthquake
Partners in Health:     www.pih.org/inforesources/news/Haiti_Earthquake.html
Doctors Without Borders: www.doctorswithoutborders.org

If you’re interested in learning more about the human dimensions of this disaster and what governments and aid agencies are doing to respond, we recommend reading Josh String’s Hemispheric Brief blog.

With thanks and hopes for Haiti’s recovery,

Your friends at Cuba Central

The retirement list, the terror list, and Obama’s Latin America policy listing off course.

January 8, 2010

Dear Friends:

Two heroes in the U.S. Senate, Chris Dodd and Byron Dorgan, announced their decisions to retire at the end of this Congress and not run for reelection.  Their leadership deserves special mention at the top of this week’s news summary.

Dodd, the son of a Senator, answered President Kennedy’s call to public service by joining the Peace Corps, serving in the Dominican Republic from 1966 to 1968.  He brought to the Congress a direct experience in Latin America that few of his colleagues have, and was a consistent and clear voice against the tired American approaches in Latin America of neglect on one hand or reckless intervention on the other.  An expert on Western Hemisphere affairs and a courageous leader on Cuba, Senator Dodd fought for policies like repeal of the U.S. travel ban and for a sensible strategy of engagement with the region.

Byron Dorgan, an advocate for farmers in North Dakota and across the United States, had a simple and straightforward disdain for the ban on travel to Cuba.  Dorgan took particular pride in the speeches he delivered on the Senate floor that brought Congressional and public attention to the plights of victims of the U.S. travel ban.  We’ll never forget his tributes to folks like Joan Slote, the bicycling grandmother, or Joni Scott, the Christian missionary, both fined for traveling to Cuba without a proper license, or Sgt. Carlos Lazo, on leave from the Iraq war, who was stopped in the Miami Airport and prevented from visiting his sons in Havana – often illustrated with gigantic posters of the affected citizens and speeches that rang with the common sense voice of the American prairie.

Unburdened by the task of running for reelection, we can only hope that they will put their formidable skills to work – as legislators and communicators – to help lift the travel ban to Cuba, to remove needless restrictions on agriculture sales to the island, and to awaken the Obama Administration to the increasing costs to America’s image and influence of our status quo approach to Cuba policy.   Our country has benefitted before from their leadership; we need it now more than ever.

As you read what we cover this week – the continuing controversy over the imprisoned U.S. contractor in Cuba, new concerns over Cuba’s on-going inclusion on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, and more, you’ll know exactly what kind of help Dodd and Dorgan could provide.

This week in Cuba news….

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Happy New Year Edition; travel, trouble, and the bridge to the future

January 1, 2010
Dear Friend:

As we usher in 2010, and wish all of our readers and members a Happy New Year, we remembered a holiday story with a lesson for today.

A few years ago, we took out a small print ad that asked who cancelled Christmas in Havana?

The answer then was President George W. Bush.  In the months before the 2004 election, he tightened the rules on travel and financial support for Cuban-Americans with relatives on the island, leaving families longing for their relatives especially during the holidays.

It took five years, but with the election of President Obama, who ended limits on family travel and financial support, Cuban-Americans can now travel freely to Cuba.  His decision to reunite families undoubtedly made this Christmas a happy one for those Cuban families with relatives here in the United States.  For them, relations are starting to normalize, and that is a good thing.

But as we enter another year, the kind of change President Obama delivered for Cuban-Americans in 2009 is needed for us all.

A change in Cuba policy would restore to every American the constitutional right to travel.  It would level the playing field for American manufacturers and service industries so that they could compete in the Cuban market with our economic allies and adversaries who trade with Cuba every day.  It would replace the sloganeering and Mad Magazine style “Spy vs. Spy” gestures that dominate the discourse between both governments with real engagement and diplomacy.  It would produce a dialogue in which both capitals speak and treat each other with the respect they deserve.  It would send the kind of open and generous signal to Cuba and to the region that is desperately overdue from the U.S. of A.

The politicians are not yet ready to go there, in either country.  That’s why, even under President Obama, our government is sending USAID contractors to violate Cuban law, and why one of them is still locked away (now, finally, with consular contact established by our U.S. Interests Section).  It’s why President Raúl Castro is still delivering speeches before the Cuban National Assembly about the U.S. trying to undermine or overthrow Cuba as his brother was able to deliver for five decades.  It’s why another conga line of Senate candidates in Florida promised yet another hardliner audience in yet another political campaign that they will never, ever change this failed policy no matter what. It’s why after a 2008 election filled with so much promise, Cubans and Americans ended 2009 asking “can’t we do better?”

At least the artists get it.  The New York Times this week documented Carlos Varela’s three-week stay in the U.S. with a powerful portrayal of what the cultural community is trying to do to bring our two countries together.

As Carlos himself said, music can’t stop wars or end embargos, but it can help. “Music is not going to move governments. But it might move people. And people can move governments.”

Let’s hope that movement happens, this year in 2010.  We’d love to see Americans in Cuba and Cubans in America without having to ask their government’s permission to be there – not just at the holidays but all year ’round.  That’s the change we’re after.

This week in Cuba news.

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