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

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….


U.S. offers Cuba medical supplies for Haiti

According to the State Department, the U.S. has offered medical supplies to Cuba and expressed a willingness to cooperate in relief efforts in Haiti, the Miami Herald reported. “We have offered medical supplies, but the Cubans have not formally agreed to such assistance, nor have any materials been provided as yet,” said Charles Luoma-Overstreet, spokesman for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the State Department. “We will continue to identify areas where our cooperation [with Cuba] can support the overall relief effort in Haiti,” added Luoma-Overstreet. The Herald reported that Cuban doctors are running low on supplies, especially anesthetics needed for amputations.

Cuba’s foreign minister, Bruno Rodriguez, said his country has coordinated with the U.S. on 60 U.S. flights so far using airspace in eastern Cuba to reach Haiti. “There have been some exchanges between the Foreign Relations Ministry of Cuba and the State Department on an eventual cooperation in Haiti,” he added, without specifying what deals are on the table or Cuba’s willingness to accept to them, the Associated Press reported.

Voice of America: Cuba aids Haiti relief

Voice of America published an editorial outlining and praising Cuba’s relief efforts in Haiti. Voice of America wrote that Cuba has provided “a boost” to the international relief effort through providing doctors to treat victims and by opening up Cuban airspace to American planes in order to lessen flight times to and from Haiti.  The editorial concludes: “The bilateral cooperation between the U.S. and Cuba reflects our overwhelming concern for the welfare of the Haitian people. We will continue to look for areas where cooperation between our 2 nations can support Haitian relief.”  This, from an official journalistic outlet of the U.S. government.

Castro: We are sending doctors, not troops

Fidel Castro issued a reflection over the weekend criticizing the amount of troops the U.S. has sent to Haiti. In his essay, “We are sending doctors, not troops,” Castro called the decision by the U.S. a catalyst for “chaos and confusion,” and added that “nobody knows why or how…U.S. forces have occupied Haiti.” Perhaps in response to the offer of cooperation by the U.S., Castro wrote: “Any significant cooperation offered to our country will not be rejected, but its acceptance will be entirely subordinated to the importance and significance of the assistance required of the human resources of our homeland.”

Albor Ruiz of the NY Daily News wrote that “improved relations between U.S. and Cuba could turn out to be an unintended – if welcome – result of both countries cooperating to save lives in the devastated island nation.” According to Ruiz, the U.S. and Cuba have responded by “leaving aside – even if momentarily – political and ideological differences to save lives.” He criticized those opposed to cooperation to help the Haitian people, for wanting to preserve the old hatreds and failed policies that have characterized U.S.-Cuba relations for half a century instead of providing help when it is most needed.

Cuba sends epidemiologists, treated over 35,000 patients

Cuba sent an additional group of 64 experts in the field of epidemiology to Port-au-Prince this week to fight diseases spreading in the aftermath of the earthquake, the Associated Press reported. The group includes 8 epidemiologists and 54 technicians equipped with materials to fight diseases. As of early Thursday morning the Cuban brigade had attended over 35,000 patients, performed over 3,000 surgeries and immunized over 10,000 people with vaccines, the China Daily reported. The team is divided into 17 surgical teams that are operating 24 hours a day in 15 Haitian hospitals.

Norway agrees to help Cuba support its doctors in Haiti

Cuba and Norway signed an accord this week in which Norway has agreed to send $885,000 worth of medical supplies to Cuban doctors working in Haiti. According to an official press release, “this agreement is an example of how Cuba and Norway, in a constructive manner, can cooperate on humanitarian projects in a third country.” The agreement was signed by the Norwegian Ambassador Jan Tore Holvik and the Deputy Minister Ramon Ripoll Diaz of the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment (MINCEX).


Spain and Cuba to hold fourth meeting on human rights

On February 17 – 18, the governments of Spain and Cuba will meet in Spain and hold bilateral discussions on human rights, Europa Press reported. It will be the fourth time the two countries have met since the bilateral dialogue began in April 2007. The Spanish delegation will be led by the Director of Foreign Affairs, Alfonso Lucini. The Cuban government has not reported who will make up their delegation, but it is expected to include vice-ministers. As part of the dialogue, the Spanish government consistently requests the release of political prisoners, especially those in bad health. Following the meeting in February of 2008, Cuba released four men who were arrested in the spring of 2003.

Asked about U.S. policy, Spain’s foreign minister, Miguel Ángel Moratinos, said the embargo “has failed for 50 years” and Spain “favors dialogue with Cuba,” EFE reported.

Cuba seeks Saudi investment

Cuban Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Marcos Rodriguez Costa met with the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Saudi Arabia this week in an attempt to court more foreign investment, the Saudi Gazette reported the two countries signed an agreement to create a mechanism for regular political and economic consultation.

Cuba and Russia increase cooperation

Cuban Colada reported that Cuban and Russian officials involved in the Russo-Cuban intergovernmental commission are meeting in Moscow this week to review accords made by the two countries at their previous meeting, in January 2009, and plan the next one, set for April in Havana. According to Cuban Colada, the agenda includes discussion of the credits granted to Cuba by Russia, Russian investments in the Cuban economy, and bilateral cooperation in science, communications, transportation and basic industry, among other endeavors. Russia has also committed to sending 100,000 tons of wheat to Cuba in the coming months, Finanzas reported. The shipment will begin in February and be complete by the beginning of summer. reported. Rodriguez urged investment in Cuba’s growing oil and mining industries, as well as sugarcane, energy, packaging, chemicals, and tourism, emphasizing Cuba’s stable social and political climate, as well as its highly skilled work force as incentives. He also invited the Saudis to Cuba’s International Trade Fair, which will take place in November.


Congressman Flake: It’s time to lift Cuba travel restrictions

In response to an editorial by the Washington Post that urged the Obama administration and Congress to hold off on reforming Cuba policy because of the detention of a USAID contractor, Congressman Jeff Flake (R-AZ) writes that halting measures to allow travel to Cuba would allow the Castro government to control U.S. policy. “Their control over information, ideas and contacts would hardly be helped by an unrestricted flow of American visitors. This is not the first time that moves to lessen travel restrictions have resulted in Cuban provocation.”

Flake concludes: “Fifty years of economic sanctions and a bureaucratic bonanza of ‘democracy’ programs in Cuba have failed to advance American goals. Our people and civil society institutions should be free to visit Cuba just as they visited the Soviet bloc — not because communist governments are nice but precisely because they are repressive.”

Date Set to Open Cuba-U.S. Immigration Talks in Havana

Bruno Rodriguez, Cuba’s foreign minister, announced Thursday that the U.S. and Cuba will meet again on February 19th in Havana to discuss immigration issues, the Associated Press reported. A State Department spokesman could not confirm that a date had been set. Biannual discussions on immigration were established in 1994, but were canceled in 2003 by the Bush administration. They were renewed this year and the two sides met for the first round in New York in July. The second round was scheduled for December, but the talks were postponed without any reason being given.

Cuba is interested in negotiating an agreement with the U.S. to slow the trafficking of its citizens fleeing the island. “Part of the Cuban agenda presented to the government of the United States is a proposal for a new immigration agreement and solidifying cooperation in the fight against people trafficking,” Rodriguez said.

Investigation still taking place on detained contractor

A USAID contractor accused by Cuba of distributing high-tech communications devices while traveling to the island on a tourist visa is still under investigation, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said yesterday, Reuters reported. Rodriguez said the man’s actions would be considered a “serious crime” in any country in the world, but did not indicate how the government intends to proceed. He said 60-year-old Alan Gross had not been charged but his case is “under investigation.”

“In any place in the world, what has been attributed to what you call the American contractor would be a serious crime,” Rodriguez told reporters after a ceremonial event in Havana. Under Cuban law, which prohibits the use of USAID government funds on the island, Gross could face several years in jail if tried and convicted. The State Department has said little about the case and it is not known if there are behind-the-scenes negotiations taking place.

Tampa WTC calls for unrestricted travel to Cuba

Tampa Bay’s World Trade Center returned from a trip to Cuba last week, which according to the Tampa Bay Business Journal, was a great success. The trip, which ended on January 21st, consisted of 17 business leaders from the region with a mission of “re-establishing historic relationships between the Tampa Bay area and Cuba and facilitating travel of business and trade-related groups.” Upon their return, Tampa Bay WTC officials declared that travel to the island should be unrestricted and said they are already planning a return visit.


Cuba legalizing some street vendors

According to Reuters, roadside vendors of fruits and vegetables are now legal in some Cuban provinces and the small reform is “likely a precursor for national policy.” As part of the government’s campaign to increase domestic food production, authorities in some eastern and central provinces are allowing previously clandestine vendors to sell their products legally at roadside kiosks. Reuters characterizes it as a “small concession to individual initiative previously forbidden,” and says it is popular with both producers and consumers.

“For a long time when you picked fruit from your patio and went to sell it on the highway the police would appear, jump all over you, and take it away, when really we were doing nothing wrong,” said Edilberto Fernandez, one of a group of young men working a kiosk in Santiago. “You can imagine what it means to be able to bring our fruit here and not have that struggle. The fruit no longer rots on the trees, the animals no longer eat it — Cubans eat it,” he said.

300,000 Cubans living abroad visited island in ’09

Nearly 300,000 Cubans living outside of Cuba visited the island last year, the Associated Press reported. The number, given by Cuba’s foreign ministry, did not specify how many of the travelers came from the United States or any other country. With over 1 million Cubans living in the U.S. and President Obama ending restrictions on family travel last April, it is expected that many of the visits were by Cubans living in the U.S. Only 37,000 Cubans living abroad returned to the island in 1994.

Cuban immigrants in Havana for talks with government

Hundreds of Cubans who live outside of their home country were in Havana this week to meet with Cuban government officials. The meeting aims to address immigration issues, as well as discuss political topics such as U.S. policy toward Cuba and its effect on immigration. The Cuban government said that it uses the annual meeting to better understand Cubans living abroad, who they accuse the U.S. of “labeling as refugees who flee Cuba.”

“It is a working meeting to exchange experiences and coordinate actions,” said Cuban Deputy Foreign Minister Dagoberto Rodriguez.  Between 1.3 and 1.5 million Cubans and their children live in 57 countries as immigrants, though most are found in the United States. Participants said the meeting gives them an opportunity to discuss measures with the government that would improve the relationship between immigrants and their homeland, such as being allowed to visit as long as they want, having access to health care services, and being allowed to return for retirement.

Cuba: stop harassing human rights defender and family

Human Rights Watch called on the Cuban government to “immediately cease its harassment” of blind human rights leader Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leiva. “In recent weeks, the Castro government has been harassing Gonzalez Leiva and his wife, a fellow human rights leader, forcibly asking them to leave Havana for another part of the island,” the group said. According to Human Rights Watch, the couple has not left their apartment in over a week for fear of being “forcibly sent back to their native province, Ciego de Avila.”

SourceForge blocks Iran, North Korea, Syria, Sudan and Cuba

All access to SourceForge, “your location to download and develop free open software”, has been blocked for countries on the U.S. Foreign Assets Control sanctions list, which includes Iran, North Korea, Syria, Sudan and Cuba, DownloadSquad reported.

According to DownloadSquad, the move directly contradicts the discrimination policy of the Open Source Initiative (OSI).   SourcForge issued a statement on Monday announcing that last week it “began automatic blocking of certain IP addresses” from those countries in order to comply with U.S. laws. It made it clear that it was not something that SourceForge wanted to do but felt compelled to because of the threat of action from the U.S. government.

“Restrictions on the free flow of information rub us the wrong way. However, in addition to participating in the open source community, we also live in the real world, and are governed by the laws of the country in which we are located. Our need to follow those laws supersedes any wishes we might have to make our community as inclusive as possible. The possible penalties for violating these restrictions include fines and imprisonment. Other hosting companies based in the US have similar legal and technical restrictions in place.”

However, in response to a letter the Center for Democracy in the Americas sent to the Treasury Department regarding preventing Cubans from accessing instant messaging services, the Treasury stated: “We assure you that the discontinuation of instant messaging services discussed in your letter was not directed by OFAC or, to our knowledge, any other Federal agency. Ensuring the flow and access to information available through the internet and similar public sources is consistent with the policy interests of the United States Government.”

U.S. Government Cuba democracy programs paralyzed

As a result of the detention of a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) contractor distributing communications devices in Cuba, some of its more “provocative” programs may be halted by the Obama administration following heavy scrutiny by powerful Democrats in Congress, the Miami Herald reported. The USAID, which doles out much of the money, has not requested new funding proposals since March, said past grantees. The program, aimed at assisting civil society and preparing for a “transition,” was launched under the Clinton administration and expanded under President Bush. Congress approved $40 million in 2008 for a two year period.

The program has been marked by misuse, theft and other problems in the past. An employee at one organization receiving funds, the Center for a Free Cuba, stole over $500,000 when he worked there in 2007. The missing funds weren’t discovered until more than a year after he left. Other groups were criticized for using the grants to send chocolates and expensive sweaters to dissidents on the island. More recently, the arrest of the USAID contractor has highlighted the covert element of the program and its illegality in the Cuban penal code. According to the Herald, on Dec. 28, the State Department’s Cuba desk sent out an e-mail “to re-emphasize our recommendation to temporarily defer travel to the island until further notice.”

Recommended Reading:

Is U.S. President Barack Obama’s Cuban Honeymoon Over, Latin America Advisor

After tossing a few bouquets toward Havana and the region-restoring the travel rights of Cuban families, and calling for a partnership between the United States and governments in the region-the Obama administration has returned to patterns and policies that look disturbingly familiar to the Cubans, and they are reacting accordingly.

There’s no reason for Cuba to be on terror list, The Chicago Tribune

The fact is that over the past 30 years, the United States has never been able to prove that the Cuban government has ever sponsored a terrorist attack against this or any other country – this despite numerous attempts by overzealous State Department officials to prove otherwise.

A seven days reporter finds getting into Cuba easier than returning, Seven Days

Remember how Barack Obama promised to relax travel restrictions between the U.S. and Cuba? The progress of his policy – or lack thereof – is on full display at the Highgate Springs border crossing.

It’s Not About Chavez, Plan Colombia and Beyond

Chileans didn’t elect Sebastián Piñera a week ago Sunday because of their antipathy for Hugo Chávez. Bolivians didn’t re-elect Evo Morales in December out of admiration for Venezuela’s president. Nor will Chávez be an issue on February 7, when a center-left and a rightist candidate face off in Costa Rica.

Recommended Listening:

Cuban Doctors Unsung Heroes of Haitian Earthquake, NPR

Haiti’s medical needs were dire before the earthquake devastated what little infrastructure was available. Among those providing free medical care were nearly 400 Cuban health workers. The day after the earthquake struck the Cuban doctors reopened two hospitals. Since the Cubans live in the poorest neighborhoods amongst the most disadvantaged Haitians they were actually the first responders.

Until next week,

The Cuba Central Team

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