Conscience and Courage on Cuba

March 26, 2010

Dear Friend:

Reasonable men and women of good will can and do differ over U.S. policy toward Cuba.  We are strong dissenters against the status quo and earnestly believe that our country is weakened by inflexibly pursuing policies that have hurt average Cubans and failed to produce results over the last several decades.

But voices of conscience were raised this week about problems with human and political rights on the island, and those voices, which dominated the policy debate, also dominate our reporting today.

President Obama spoke about Cuba for the first time this year when he released a statement expressing deep concerns about the death of hunger striker Orlando Zapata Tamayo and efforts to still dissent that took place on Cuban streets over the last week.

Members of Congress, House and Senate members, Democrats and Republicans, from across the political spectrum, called upon the Cuban government to release U.S. AID contractor Alan Gross, detained for violating Cuban law, who has been imprisoned since early December but not yet charged by Cuban authorities.

There were also demonstrations in Miami commemorating the arrests of political dissidents that took place in Cuba seven years ago that reflected the values and concerns of the Cuban-American community broadly.

Some critics of Cuba used these events to double-down their commitment to freezing the policy in place.  This is what they always do; using evidence that the current policy has failed in order to justify prolonging it.

Others – like Senators Dorgan and Kerry – took the debate in a better direction, with Mr. Dorgan arguing for ending the travel ban and Mr. Kerry, the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, proposing a harder look at the so-called “democracy promotion programs” that have tainted the recipients of U.S. funds in Cuba, that have seen waste and corruption here in the U.S., and that placed Mr. Gross in jeopardy in the beginning.

Their voices deserve to be heard, too.

This debate is complicated.   You need to look no further than the item we also feature about how Cuban Americans are visiting the island in record numbers…or the item about the very conservative governor of Georgia who is eagerly awaiting the chance to sell his state’s farm products on an upcoming trade mission to Cuba…or the story we didn’t want you to miss about the U.S. and Cuba having a conversation about cooperating together in the on-going relief efforts in Haiti.

It is this mix of conscience and courage, of honesty and engagement, of adherence to principle and the search for practical solutions that represents in our judgment the better angels of our country’s nature.

Criticism is easy and at times it is certainly warranted.  But the easy path seldom leads to the future.

This week in Cuba news…

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Anger, Anguish, and the Amistad

March 19, 2010

Dear Friends:

The U.S.-Cuba relationship encountered another period of rough seas.

The Cuban government reacted angrily this week to a decision by the U.S. government to loosen restrictions on U.S. technology companies that offer services like Instant Messaging to citizens of countries under U.S. sanctions.  Cuba said the moves didn’t go far enough and were simply aimed at destabilizing the country.

Cuban state media marked the fiftieth anniversary of sanctions imposed against the island nation under President Eisenhower and said current U.S. policy continues to aim at destroying the Revolution.

In Cuba, protests that commemorated the 2003 crackdown against the political opposition were broken up by police and counter-demonstrators.  The protesters also chanted the name of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, the Cuban hunger striker who died in a Cuban prison last month.

The presidents of Bolivia, Uruguay, and Ecuador stood up for Cuba, the Foreign Minister of Mexico criticized Cuban authorities but also testified to the strength of the Mexican-Cuban relationship, the U.S. government continued its condemnation of Cuba’s human rights practices, and additional concerns were expressed for the health of Guillermo Fariñas, a dissident, who is also engaged in a hunger strike.

With anger and anguish clouding the relationship, we did encounter one piece of news that should inspire us all.

The Freedom Schooner Amistad, a replica of the Cuban coastal trader that sailed from Havana in 1839 with a cargo of African captives who rebelled on board and seized the ship, will soon sail through Havana harbor for a ten-day tour.   The tour is a reminder of the dark history of slavery, the captive’s courage, and how the cooperation that made this visit possible should be a model for how the U.S. and Cuban governments can work together.

We salute all of our friends who helped make this happen.

This week in Cuba news…

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Now that we caught their attention, can we please have yours? Support CDA today!

March 17, 2010

Dear Friend:

U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Bill Nelson have a beef with our organization, the Center for Democracy in the Americas (CDA).

We sponsor trips for Members of Congress and their staffs to visit Cuba.

Over the last decade, our program has taken more than 30 research trips and we’ve brought nearly 70 of your elected representatives and their professional staffs to the island.

Last week, Menendez and Nelson wrote their Senate colleagues urging them to stop allowing their staffs to travel to Cuba with groups like ours.

As the Washington Post reported today, it’s apparently okay with the two Senators that their Cuban-American constituents visit Cuba freely, without limits, and thousands of them do exactly that.

What they cannot abide is allowing Americans with policy making responsibility going to Cuba and learning directly just how failed the U.S. embargo has been and how out of step with the Cuban people our country has become.

While they cannot stop The Center for Democracy in the Americas from engaging in the legal travel we do, they can try to intimidate Congressional staff so that they won’t visit the island with us.

Our program must be working.  We certainly caught their attention.  Now we ask for yours.

Travel to Cuba is important and with your help, we’re going to keep at it.  Now more than ever, we need to talk with Cubans at every level, directly, openly, and honestly, and we need to end the fiction that stopping any American from visiting Cuba, but especially our policy makers, is ever going to change anything for the better.

Allowing free travel and trade, encouraging government-to-government engagement, visiting Cuba and learning from Cubans – these are the building blocks of a normal relationship that have been missing for five decades.  It’s what we believe in and it’s what we’re fighting for.

The pro-embargo team may have these Senators, but we have you! Please support our work by making a donation today.  $20, $50, $100 – it all really makes a difference.

With your support we will keep pushing to open the door to travel to Cuba once and for all, and for everyone.  Please help us do so today.

Thank you!


Your friends at Cuba Central

You can make a tax-deductible donation to
the Center for Democracy in the Americas by clicking on the button below.

Or, mail your check to:
The Center for Democracy in the Americas
P.O. Box 53106
Washington, DC  20009

Taking Down Barriers to Exports, Travel, and Information, Talking Up Human Rights, as Menendez/Nelson offer a ban of their own

March 12, 2010

Dear Friends:

What happened in the Cuba policy arena this week?

We lead the news summary with reports from the hearing at the House Agriculture Committee where the American Farm Bureau, the National Farmers Union, and spokespersons for the top commodity groups all testified in favor of The Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act – legislation that ends the travel ban and strikes down impediments in U.S. rules that reduced our farm exports to Cuba.

Similar legislation was introduced in the Senate by Democrat Amy Kobuchar and Republican Mike Enzi.  A temporary fix to the export problem was also adopted by the U.S. Treasury Department, but the House and Senate bills offer permanent solutions.

John Block, former Agriculture Secretary under President Ronald Reagan, appeared in a full-page advertisement in Roll Call saying closer trade and travel ties with Cuba reflected “the conservative values” that brought him to Washington thirty years ago.

Ten months after the Center for Democracy in the Americas first complained to the U.S. Treasury that Cubans were cut off from using Instant Messaging, the U.S. Treasury also issued a clarification of the rules to permit U.S. technology companies to offer I/M, chat, and other services to citizens in sanctioned countries.

Cuba continues to deal with the repercussions following the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo whose hunger strike in Cuba culminated in his death.  A resolution has been introduced in the Congress condemning what occurred, and the European Parliament voted to condemn the “avoidable and cruel” death of Orlando Zapata and the “alarming state” of Guillermo Fariñas, another Cuban engaged in a hunger strike.

The U.S. Department of State issued its annual report on Human Rights and we link to that report’s detailed discussion of Cuba.

Cuba’s economic challenges are highlighted this week in articles on the decline in sugar production, the increase in nickel production, and the government’s approach toward privatizing segments of the country’s economy.

In our section titled “Around the Region,” we highlight an essay on El Salvador’s president, Mauricio Funes, his trip to see President Obama, and the importance of our nation’s relationship with El Salvador.  We also recommend a strong analysis about U.S. policy toward Honduras, and close with this tantalizing hint, who is Todd Palin pallin’ around with?

Lastly, Senators Menendez and Nelson have written their Senate colleagues urging them not to allow their staffs to visit Cuba.  We discuss this letter in our “Final Word.”

All of this and more, this week in Cuba news.

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Food and visitors for Cuba, protests for Zapata Tamayo, relief efforts for Chile

March 5, 2010

Dear Friends:

Hours after we sent you the last issue of our news summary, a devastating earthquake visited death and destruction upon the people of Chile.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the Chilean people.  We ask our readers, as we did when Haiti was leveled just a few weeks ago, to consider donating to reputable charities who are offering aid to the Chilean people.  They need it.

Our news blast concludes with information on how you can make contributions.  We hope that our readership will be generous.

But we begin this week with news from Capitol Hill: the House Agriculture Committee will hear expert testimony next Thursday on sales of U.S. food to Cuba.  The hearing follows the introduction of bipartisan legislation – sponsored by Committee Chair Collin Peterson (D-MN) and Rep. Jerry Moran (R-KS) – that would boost food exports to Cuba and repeal the travel ban.

We refer to it as “the hybrid bill,” but it should be called “common sense.”

We have a choice in our country between keeping Cuba policy just as it is – a policy which has accomplished nothing in five decades and which alienates our country from the Cuban people – or looking at new approaches which better reflect American interests and American values.

This bill is an ideal example of what we should do – take down barriers to U.S. exports and travel to the island.

Selling more U.S. food to put on the tables of Cuban families, and putting more American travelers on Cuban streets, will create more jobs for the U.S. economy, and offer the Cuban people and the American people more contact and opportunity to share ideas.

This legislation is focused on the future, while right now there is turmoil in the U.S.-Cuba relationship, and understandably so.

We cover in this week’s news summary the continuing repercussions that Cuba is facing following the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo and the detention of Alan Gross.   These are serious and important issues on their own terms.

But they hardly represent a vindication of U.S. economic and diplomatic sanctions; they are in fact evidence of their failure to change anything.  Rather than punishing the government of Cuba, instead they harm the Cuban people and penalize Americans by restricting their liberties and their livelihoods.

In this climate, we think the House Agriculture Committee is doing the right thing by examining how increasing food exports to Cuba and repealing the travel ban would represent a helpful and hopeful turn for U.S. policy.

They deserve our thanks and encouragement.

This week in Cuba news…

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