BREAKING (and great!) NEWS: Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act passes Ag Committee 25-20

June 30, 2010

Dear Friends:

This afternoon the House Agriculture Committee voted 25-20 to report the “Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act” (H.R. 4645) to the floor with a favorable recommendation! Passage today was an important first step toward bringing the bill to a vote on the House floor.

The bipartisan bill, crafted by Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) along with Rep. Jerry Moran (R-KS), enjoys broad support from a coalition of more than 130 organizations including business (U.S. Chamber and National Foreign Trade Council), agriculture (National Farmers Union and American Farm Bureau Federation), foreign policy think tanks (Council on Foreign Relations, Cato Institute, Brookings Institution), defenders of human rights (The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, AFL-CIO, Human Rights Watch), and many others.

“This bill, which will put more American food on Cuba’s tables, and put more American visitors on Cuba’s streets, will be good for our economy and provide needed support for the Cuban people,” said Sarah Stephens, executive director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas. “The U.S. needs a new Cuba policy, and the Peterson-Moran bill is a decisive change in the right direction.”

Congratulations and thank you to advocates of opening Cuba travel for all, Cuba Central followers and everyone else who helped get this bill through the committee. With your help, we’ll start pushing for a vote on the floor now!

– The Cuba Central Team

Breaking News from Capitol Hill…House Committee sets vote to end travel ban; Hopeful News from Cuba…Catholic Church Produces Progress on Prisoners; Members of Congress Challenge Clinton on Rights in Honduras

June 25, 2010

Dear Friends:

Legislation to end the travel ban is scheduled for committee consideration on Capitol Hill.

Cuba’s Catholic Church and its engagement with Cuba’s government continue to produce progress for political prisoners and to open a larger debate on the island.

It’s amazing, but defenders of the embargo continue to excoriate dissidents, who support ending the travel ban, and also the Church, for engaging in a dialogue with Cuba’s government, irrespective of the results.

Cuba and the United States met for the third time under the migration talks’ rubric, a meeting overshadowed by substantive events on the island, and characterized as producing progress but no agreements by both governments.

On the eve of June 28th, the one-year anniversary of the coup in Honduras, twenty-seven Members of the House of Representatives warned Secretary Clinton in a letter released today, that they would be loathe to countenance additional support for the government of Honduras, without a prompt and reliable report on human rights conditions in that country, and a plan for addressing them effectively.

We cover this, and more, and then offer a final word, this week in the news summary… Read the rest of this entry »

Movement on Prisoners, Talks on Migration, Dissidents Dissent and a Candidate’s Descent

June 18, 2010

Dear Friends:

This was a really interesting week for the constellation of issues we care about concerning Cuba and U.S. policy.

The Cuban government began to implement its agreement with the Catholic Church, freeing a political prisoner and moving others to jails nearer their homes.  Cuba started talks with the Vatican’s foreign minister, and a church-led conference in Havana kicked off broad, lively debates on issues beyond the boundaries of the church-state dialogue.

Speaking of dialogue, the U.S. government convened with Cuba another round of talks under the migration rubric, but our diplomats expressed pessimism that the discussions could produce progress against the backdrop of the continued detention of U.S. contractor Alan Gross.

Last week’s letter by 74 of Cuba’s most prominent democracy advocates triggered additional attention for Rep. Peterson’s legislation to repeal the Cuba travel ban and increase the sale of U.S. food to the island.

The Scripps-Howard news service editorialized for the legislation, highlighting the dissidents’ letter, and said: “After 48 years, the U.S. trade and travel embargo on Cuba has failed at everything except as an excuse for the Castro government’s failed economic policies.”

After questioning the authenticity of the dissident letter, calling upon Chairman Peterson to apologize (oddly, we thought) for sponsoring his legislation, and calling supporters of Cuba policy reforms unscrupulous, desperate, and shameful for promoting the letter signed by Yoani Sánchez, Guillermo Fariñas, Miriam Leiva and other credentialed campaigners for political change in Cuba, the pro-embargo hard-liners changed strategy and got a letter of their own signed by other Cuban dissidents. These signers don’t attack the Peterson bill but say that change in Cuba won’t come from travel and trade, but from within.

And as the dissidents dissent, we saw a political candidate’s descent in cynicism which commanded our attention and demanded a comment.  Florida’s Governor Charlie Crist, who once favored tighter restrictions on travel and money sent to Cuba, who even signed legislation to punish Florida travel providers who served Cuban Americans visiting their families on the island, is now aligning himself with the Obama administration’s policies on Cuba and stuffing campaign cash into his coffers from the very industry that facilitates travel to Cuba.

We mention this not because it is unique to see a politician flip-flop or to rent his principles and positions for campaign contributions; regrettably, this is all too familiar.   What’s new is that our position – the pro-reform side – is now sufficiently safe politically for a cynic in Florida to move in our direction.   By American political standards, that’s called progress – and we’ll take it.

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

Dissidents Urge Congress to Lift Travel Ban, Governor Perdue Hails Trade With Cuba, Cuba Central Remembers Stephen Rivers

June 11, 2010

Dear Friends:

Big news this week on travel, trade, and more.

Seventy-four of Cuba’s most prominent dissidents wrote Congress this week to urge enactment of legislation to end the travel ban for all Americans to Cuba and to eliminate restrictions on the sale of U.S. farm goods to the island.

The Cuba Study Group made the letter public this week; it is an amazingly powerful read.

The signers call these policy changes good for human rights, good for alleviating hunger, and good for spreading information and showing solidarity with the Cuban people.

In making this appeal to Congress, the dissidents demolish every remaining justification on human rights grounds for keeping U.S. policy in place; in doing so, they thin the ranks of supporters of the status quo, and beg the question:  Now that the dissidents have spoken, is there anyone left who thinks the policy of barring Americans from traveling to Cuba to punish Cuba’s government is a good idea?

If there are, we’d like them to tell us on whose behalf they are speaking.  The dissidents – like towering majorities among Americans and Cuban Americans – believe that ending the travel ban and increasing food exports is the right way to support the Cuban people.

Also this week, a conservative U.S. Governor, Sonny Perdue of Georgia, returned from the island convinced that trade with Cuba will result in “opportunities for better jobs and prosperity in the United States.”  Perdue also learned from traveling to the island that “People are people. And while our countries have had our political differences, the warmth of human nature shines through.”  Score another one for the benefits of travel.

We cover these stories and much more, and then we close with a tribute to a wonderful friend of ours who had an incomparable passion for bringing Cuba and America much closer together.

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

As Cuban Prisoners Move, American Policy Stands Still

June 4, 2010

Dear Friends:

U.S. policy remains frozen in the amber of its own ineffectiveness.

As an agreement struck between Cuba’s Catholic Church and Cuba’s government starts being implemented – and political prisoners (who remain in jail) are moved closer to their families and homes – a State Department spokesman “hopes” they will all be released.  We hope so too.  But hope isn’t a policy, and the U.S. certainly needs a new approach toward Cuba after 50 years of failure.  The prisoners have begun to move not because our country isolated the Cuban government, but because the Catholic Church sat down with the Cuban government and won an agreement that reflects humanitarian goals all of us should share.  It’s not perfect, but its progress.

Not everyone feels this way.  In its email publication we received today, Capitol Hill Cubans compared the Catholic Church to the Cuban government, calling both non-democratic and non-representative.  Three days after the agreement, they published this note saying: “Despite the week’s speculation, as of tonight, no political prisoners have been transferred or released.”  In spite of the news that prisoners are actually moving, they cannot concede they were wrong or even skeptical prematurely.  Instead, their note today derides the Church for working to create the political space that led to this agreement.

To some of Cuba’s harshest critics, no announcement of progress, no incremental change that even makes lives marginally better for prisoners, can be accepted; because for them, nothing but keeping the current policy and “hoping” for regime change matters.  It seems awfully cynical.

The United States should get off the sidelines and really start to engage.

For now, we’re stuck.  But stuck as we are, Cuba and the world keep moving forward.  After reading the good news about prisoners, you will find stories about El Salvador’s president planning to visit Cuba, about a Chinese contractor laying cable that will provide Cuba with a faster connection to the Internet, about Spain trying to move the EU toward more engagement with Cuba, about a more lively political debate in Cuba concerning economic reform.

Read these stories and more, this week, in Cuba news…

Read the rest of this entry »