Trade and Travel to Cuba; What’s happening on the island; All the news that’s fit…to tweet?

April 30, 2010

Dear Friend:

In the news this week:

Congress once again heard the case for opening Cuba to travel and trade from a diverse panel of witnesses.  The news summary opens and closes with reports from the hearing.

Houston, Texas is fired up and ready to go.  Houston’s port now has the go-head to ship goods directly to Cuba.  Its $85 million a year business is likely to skyrocket.

But some in Congress just can’t believe the Cold War is over.  The appointment of Mari Carmen Aponte to be ambassador to El Salvador remains snagged in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee over decades-old allegations she had a honey who was tied to Cuban (and American!) intelligence.

We carry new and important reports about corruption in Cuba, drought in Cuba, flu in Cuba, dissent and repression in Cuba, cell phones, video games and homes in Cuba.

We bring the good news that Carlos Varela is returning to the United States, not to do politics but to play music.  We even carry Hugo Chávez’s appeal to former President Castro:  it’s time to tweet.

But we close with wise words from John Block, whose testimony reminds us that support for a new Cuba policy stretches beyond party, philosophy, and time.

This week in Cuba news…. Read the rest of this entry »

Americans say: Change the Policy! Peterson Ploughs Ahead. Cardinal Calls Cubans “Impatient” for change.

April 23, 2010

Dear Friends:

Attitudes in the United States favoring changes in U.S.-Cuba policy are resilient.  Polling this week continues to show strong and stable majorities for opening up trade, travel, and diplomatic relations with Cuba.

Congress gets the message.  House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, coauthor of the bi-partisan, Travel Restriction Reform and Export and Enhancement Act, continues to beat the bushes for votes to push through reforms that would open Cuba to travel and increased U.S. agriculture exports.

The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee on Trade announced a hearing set for next week on these very same issues, saying sanctions don’t work, and reforms already undertaken by the Obama administration need to be expanded.

But don’t ask Terry to wait.  Terry McAuliffe, former candidate for governor in Virginia, took a trade delegation from his state to Cuba earlier this month, and has arranged for new sales to the island, including wine.  He sees the job-creating potential of opening further the Cuban market.

In a candid and wide-ranging interview, a call for change was issued by Cuba’s Catholic Cardinal, Jaime Ortega.  The Cardinal focused on the need for economic and other reforms on the island, urging the government to quicken the pace of change, and expressed support for political prisoners and the Ladies in White.

In this week’s news summary, we carry additional coverage on human rights, bilateral diplomacy, and much more, and we close with a report on the Elian Gonzalez fiasco remembered on its tenth anniversary by Time Magazine.

It’s all right here… Read the rest of this entry »

Hillary and the Embargo; Dissent and Debate in Cuba; State clips ties to barber shops; Obama and Cuba Over Drinks at Gloria’s

April 15, 2010

Dear Friends:

There’s a lot of compelling news about Cuba this week, and we’re inclined to get right to it.

We start with Secretary Clinton taking a question at a public event in Kentucky, where she started to unpack an unusual explanation for why we should get rid of the embargo, but she finally found her footing and repeated talking points that took us back to the Clinton administration.  Her comments and the Cubans’ response lead the news summary.

We cover several stories relating to human rights – from the end of a hunger strike and a disrupted demonstration to the dissent uncovered by Marc Frank of Reuters, the protests being made by farmers and the surprising news that Havana is paying them heed.

President Raúl Castro has privatized Cuba’s barber shops and beauty salons – a small sounding change, but a signal that cuts in state bureaucracy and increased inducements for Cuban workers to earn better wages remain on the government’s agenda.

Congressman Mike Honda published an essay this week in the Miami Herald saying it’s time to lift the embargo.

We suggest you read his column and another posting about the evening that President Obama is spending raising political money at the home of Gloria Estefan.

For those whose interests extend beyond Cuba, may we also recommend material we provide on the Chinese President’s trip to Latin America and how China’s agenda in the region should affect our country’s priorities as well.

We’re also asking all of you to respond to our questionnaire about how our President – Barack Obama – is doing with his foreign policy toward the region and its people.  We’re using the results of this survey to inform our own views of what the President has done during his first year in office.  So here’s your chance to contribute to our thinking.

Our final word spends a moment considering the contemporary meaning of this week in history.

Read it all, this week in Cuba news… Read the rest of this entry »

USAID Spigot Back On; Human Rights and Hunger Strikes; Policy Makers and Experts Say Trade and Travel is the Answer

April 9, 2010

Dear Friends:

The Obama administration appears determined to play “regime change roulette” with the lives and safety of USAID contractors.

As Alan Gross continues to sit in a Cuban prison, detained in December for engaging in “democracy promotion” activities funded by Helms-Burton and illegal under Cuban law, and as senior legislators in the House and Senate demand answers to questions about the effectiveness of these efforts, the Obama administration has now told Congress it wants to resume spending funds under these programs.

We think these programs are a huge mistake.  They put at risk the very people the U.S. is trying to help, they do nothing to promote political change, and they involve activities which, if conducted in our country, would violate our laws as well, and thus put the Americans who carry them out in Cuba in jeopardy of arrest, just like Mr. Gross.

We urge the Cuban government for humanitarian reasons to release Alan Gross, and we urge the Obama administration to hold the funds and free American citizens to travel to Cuba without restrictions instead.

If hundreds of thousands of Cuban Americans can travel to Cuba – and under President Obama’s rules they can – and if millions of other Americans could travel to Cuba once we ended the travel ban – and they will – won’t these travelers make a bigger difference in the lives of the Cuban people than the undercover operators funded by USAID?

If we could afford a ticket to the Florida fundraiser President Obama is attending in Miami next week – and at $30,400 a couple, it is frankly beyond our means – this is the message that we’d deliver to the President about how best to communicate our country’s values to the people of Cuba.

If you want to engage in democracy promotion, do it through the front door.  Set an example for those countries which restrict the movements of their citizens by eliminating the limits that our government –and your administration –places on our citizens and our rights to travel to Cuba.

This week in Cuba news….

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Fundraiser in Miami, U.S. AID Funds Blocked for Americans but Offered to Foreigners, Cuban and U.S. Officials Talk about Haiti health cooperation

April 2, 2010

Dear Friends:

According to news reports, President Barack Obama will travel to Miami, Florida later this month for a fundraiser at the home of Gloria Estefan, where couples will pay $34,500 in donations to the Democratic National Committee for the privilege of attending.

Ms. Estefan is a leader in the Cuban-American community and an outspoken advocate – as is her right – for hard-line policies against Cuba’s government.

Recently, she helped lead a march in the Miami community –also her right – protesting human rights conditions in Cuba.  But joining her parade was Luis Posada Carriles, the man responsible for the first act of mid-air terrorism in our hemisphere.  This took place on October 6, 1976, when a bomb exploded on Cubana Flight 455, causing the plan to plunge into the ocean and killing all 73 crew  and passengers aboard, many of them Cuban teenagers.  Posada Carriles continues to walk free, and the U.S. continues to list Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism.

And now that Luis Posada Carriles has marched with Ms. Estefan, Ms. Estefan is holding a fundraiser for the President.

Public Campaign reported last year that supporters of sanctions against Cuba have donated nearly $11 million to Members of Congress since 2004 in what the Miami Herald called “a largely successful effort” to prevent changes in the policy.

Now, thanks to Ms. Estefan, a sizeable chunk of campaign funds will land in the hands of the DNC and could help defray the costs of the President’s political activities and 2012 presidential campaign.

Normal people – and high-level donors –think that politicians are influenced by such massive contributions.  One of them is President Obama.

The President has often said that he is committed to prying the hands of the special interests off the levers of government.  At $34,500 per couple, the people lining up to attend the Gloria Estefan fundraiser better hope that he’s kidding.  The rest of us hope that he is isn’t.

U.S. policy toward Cuba – flawed and failed as it is today – should reflect both the national interest of the country and the views of all Americans, not just the fortunate few who can pay the freight and get close, private access to the most important official who decides what the policy ought to be.

That, dear readers, would be change we could believe in.

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