Tale of Two Itineraries: Raúl Castro in Asia; Mitt Romney heading to Europe and Israel

Call it a tale of two itineraries.

This week, Cuba’s president Raúl Castro embarked on a tour of Asia that has brought him to China and soon to Vietnam.  The Miami Herald suspects something is afoot (a mystery stopover) because a trip that normally takes one day consumed two travel days for the eighty-one year old leader.  But the photography showing him exchanging toasts with Chinese President Hu Jintao at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing certainly looked normal as new economic, technology, agriculture, and diplomatic agreements were signed between the countries whose ties date back to 1960.  As U.S. foreign policy remains committed to undermining Cuba’s revolution, China’s remains steadfast in its support of it.  They, like Vietnam, are Cuba’s allies.

Also this week, Politico is reporting that former Governor Romney is planning a foreign policy tour at the end of July. He’d speak at a kick-off for the London 2012 Olympic Games and give a speech on U.S. foreign policy.  From there, he’d touch down for visits in Israel, Germany, and Poland.  Given the timing, the tour is being compared to then-Senator Obama’s overseas trip during the summer of 2008.  Politico is calling it Romney’s “major foreign policy offensive,” although it’s hard to imagine just how offensive he will be in the company of long-standing American allies.  As Laura Rozen observed, “his reported itinerary only seems 25 years out of date.”

It is even out of step with his foreign policy white paper issued last year.  In it, he portrayed the world as filled with a spectrum of dangers that include China and Russia, countries he said that engage in behavior that undermines international security.  He identified threats that included failed or failing states, one of which he identified as Mexico, and has promised “to draw a stark contrast between free enterprise and the ills of the authoritarian socialist model offered by Cuba and Venezuela.”

By the Governor’s own world view, he is visiting four countries none of which relate to the problems that alarm him.   This, in some ways, alarms us.  We understand the symbolism that adjoins statecraft in U.S. political campaigns.  But Governor Romney has a muscular foreign policy program that is reminiscent of the adventurism and militarism of the Cold War.  He is well fixated by Cuba, which raises questions of what his policy toward China’s role in Latin American is going to be.

By avoiding not only war zones, not just Latin America, but virtually every venue that he believes poses threats to U.S. foreign policy interests, such questions are unlikely to be joined by his jaunt abroad in July.  The voters, who should learn something from his travels, are the losers in all of this.  It just hard to know what foreign policy the U.S. might actually be getting after the election from this itinerary drawn just months before Election Day.  The notion of “stay tuned” is hardly comforting.

Editor’s note: Last week, our opening essay addressed the shameful silence among Florida’s elected officials concerning the act of domestic terror that burnt a business belonging to Airline Brokers, which has served as a charter for legal travel by Americans, predominantly Cuban Americans, for thirty years. Our interest in this subject last week stemmed from the visit of Archbishop Wenski to bless their temporary facility. We neglected to mention that this subject of silence by the elected officials about the arson had been eloquently addressed by Howard Simon and John DeLeon in a letter to the editor published by the Miami Herald earlier this year.  We regret the omission and recommend, as we did at the time of its publication, that our readers see it.


USAID offers $3 million each for two media projects in Cuba; Eaton Reveals USAID’s top eight grantees’ tax records

USAID is offering up to $3 million for a maximum of two media and technology projects in Cuba, reports the Havana Times. An official statement by USAID reads: “Consistent with overall United States policy toward Cuba, the United States Government’s foreign assistance program seeks to support the application of innovative digital technologies to facilitate access to uncensored information.” This comes shortly after USAID’s announcement that it will begin to develop a “digital democracy” program with the stated goal of increasing Cubans’ access to uncensored information and technology.

Such programs funded by USAID are illegal in Cuba. A post on government website Cubadebate relates this new call for programs to the case of Alan Gross, the USAID contractor who is currently serving a 15-year sentence for bringing highly regulated satellite equipment to the island while on a tourist visa.  The article points out a clause in the USAID announcement that states: “Given the nature of the regime of the country of operations and the political sensitivity of the USAID program, USAID cannot be held responsible for any injury or inconvenience suffered by individuals traveling to or operating in the country under USAID funding.”

Tracey Eaton has brought forward new information regarding USAID Cuba programs in his Along the Malecón blog, posting the most recent Form 990s for the top eight nonprofit organizations listed as USAID’s current partners. Form 990s require that non-profits provide information, available to the public, about the organization’s mission, finances and program.Phil Peters’ Cuban Triangle blog contains additional information, and a discussion of the intentions inherent in both USAID and other U.S. government programs on the island.

According to the information posted by Eaton, Creative Associates International was the largest grantee during this time period, receiving $7 million in USAID funds from August 2008 to June 2012, but is not held to the same reporting requirements as it is a private company. The following is a chart of the top eight nonprofit organizations receiving democracy promotion grants from USAID:

Organization Funds Received Time Period
ECHO Cuba $1 Million June 2009-June 2012
Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba $3.4 Million September 2011-September 2014
Grupo de Apoyo a la Democracia $1.5 Million September 2010-September 2012
International Relief and Development $3.5 Million September 2011-September 2014
International Republican Institute $3.7 Million August 2008-June 2012
Loyola University $3 Million September 2010-September 2013
National Democratic Institute $2.3 Million September 2011-September 2014
Pan-American Development Foundation $3.9 Million September 2011-September 2014

NGOs send letter to technology companies urging a review of services provided to Cuba

Thirteen NGOs signed onto a letter urging technology companies who have limited their services in Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria to recognize the importance of Internet access and communication services for civil society in these nations, reports El País. Sent to executives of companies including Apple, Adobe, Yahoo!, and Facebook, the letter emphasizes the importance of maintaining a “free flow of information to those living under repressive regimes,” and states that embargoes and limitations of Internet services limit free expression and “stifle [activists’] opportunities to affect social and political change.” The letter appeals to the technology companies to:

  1. End the unnecessary blocking of services for the public of sanctioned countries;
  2. Apply for export licenses where incidental transactions create potential liability concerns;
  3. Disclose which services are restricted based on location or language, and the reasons for doing so;
  4. Engage with civil society to identify policies and regulations that create impediments to supporting users under political duress.

The Center for Democracy in the Americas has previously written to the State Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) following the blocking of services to Cubans, which have been attributed to U.S. Sanctions law by the tech companies. In its responses (here and here), OFAC has indicated that it does not block such technology, though services continue to be denied in the name of U.S. sanctions, as evidenced by the blocking of the popular Google Analytics website two weeks ago.

Cuba-USA baseball series resumes in Havana after 16 years

The Cuba-U.S. 5-game baseball series began Thursday night following a 16-year hiatus, reports the Associated Press. A United States team of 22 college baseball players faced the Cuban national baseball team at a stadium in Havana, winning the opener 4-3. The last time the two teams played one another was in 1996 – the same year that the Helms-Burton Act was signed into law tightening the U.S. embargo. Next summer, the Cuban national team plans to travel to the United States to play another friendly 5-game series.

Pictures taken at the opening game are available here.


Cuba’s Health Ministry reports cholera outbreak in eastern province 

In an official notice published in the state newspaper Granma on Monday, Cuba’s Health Ministry has recognized a cholera outbreak in the eastern province of Manzanillo. The official notice in Granma reports that the outbreak in Manzanillo has been controlled and the number of cases reduced as a result of sanitary and other measures.  Since the outbreak, approximately 1,000 people have been treated for cholera and three elderly people, suffering from other health problems, died. Unconfirmed local sources quoted by Café Fuerte later in the week have reported as many as fifteen deaths due to the outbreak.

Cuba’s government reported that the outbreak was caused by well water contaminated by the recent heavy rains and high temperatures, which caused the closure of some wells and prevented the chlorination of the water system in some of the areas hit hardest by the recent weather, reports Reuters.

President Castro calls municipal and provincial elections for October, National Assembly to convene at end of month

President Raúl Castro announced that general elections to elect delegates to the municipal and provincial assemblies will take place on October 21, reports Café Fuerte. Delegates will be elected to serve for two and half years, according to an official notice in the state newspaper Granma. In areas where candidates do not receive 50 percent of the vote, there will be a runoff election on October 28. The date to elect provincial delegates to the National Assembly for five-year terms has not been announced.

Ricardo Alarcón, President of Cuba’s National Assembly, announced Tuesday that the Cuban Parliament will convene in Havana on July 23, reports Granma. This is the first meeting of the National Assembly in 2012, which typically convenes twice a year. According to Prensa Latina, deputies will meet in commissions before July 23rd for preliminary discussions on subjects including economic reform, energy, health care, education, and foreign policy.

Cuba to implement a tax on imported non-commercial goods

Cuba’s Customs Ministry announced in an official notice that, beginning September 3, it will implement a tax on imported personal goods valued over $50.99, reports Café Fuerte. Any passenger importing personal goods including shoes, clothing, toiletries, jewelry and perfume valued over $50.99 will be charged 10 CUP (for Cuban citizens) or 10 CUC (for foreigners) for each extra kilogram. The 44 pounds of luggage allowed by airlines without charge will remain exempt from the tax.

In addition, the Customs Ministry announced a tax in CUP that will apply to Cuban citizens who receive packages that weigh more than 3 kilograms or are valued above 200 CUP, reports Café Fuerte. Medicines remain exempt from any taxation.

Nearly 390,000 Cubans work in private sector

Since late 2011, the number of self-employed Cubans has increased by nearly 25,000, with more than 387,000 Cubans working in 181 categories of employment in the private sector, reports Granma. The figures, released by Cuba’s Ministry of Work and Social Security, indicate that 16% of Cuba’s private sector employees are contract workers. The article also indicates that foodservice remains the largest sector for private employment. Increases in self-employment are expected to continue as Cuba’s government continues its plans for economic reform that include reducing the amount of state employees and growing the private sector.


President Raúl Castro on official visit to China and Vietnam

On Wednesday, Raúl Castro began his first official visit to China and Vietnam as Cuba’s president reports Granma. President Castro met with Chinese leader Hu Jintao on Thursday, and signed several agreements affecting technology, economics, agriculture, and diplomacy, adding to those established last year during Vice President Xi Jinping’s visit to Havana, reports Cuba Standard.

Last year’s agreements included Chinese funding for the expansion of a Cuban oil refinery, the extension of loans from China’s government, and a five-year framework cooperation plan. According to Prensa Latina, new agreements signed Thursday include a loan by the China Development Bank to Cuba to update medical facilities. China’s government also pledged to provide financial aid to help Cuba continue its economic reforms, reports AFP.

During a public appearance with Chinese President Hu, President Castro said “Currently, relations are maturing with each passing day. The relationship has passed the test of time,” The Wall Street Journal reports. President Castro met with Vice President Xi Jinping, President Hu’s likely successor, on Friday, and will finish his visit to China this Saturday and continue to Vietnam, reports Cuba Standard.

Cuba signs UN resolution backing right to freedom of expression on Internetset t change o investment policy to favor access to technology

The United Nations Human Rights Council issued a resolution affirming that freedom of expression protections extend to the Internet, reports Reuters. Chinese and Cuban officials joined the resolution, though both countries have been criticized for limiting their citizens’ access to the Internet.  In his comments, Cuba’s representative expressed reservations regarding the resolution, saying that it failed to address that only 30% of the population of the world has access to the Internet and referencing the “undue influence” that the U.S. has over Internet governance.

Yamila Fernández, Finance Director of Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment (MINCEX), announced Thursday that Cuba is working toward modifying its foreign investment law, Law 77, by the end of the year, reports EFE. Fernández indicated that changes to the law will favor access to technology, financing and access to foreign markets, and the creation of new jobs in Cuba. Modifying Law 77 is part of Cuba’s ongoing process of “updating” its socialist economic model, Fernández stated.

Cuba’s bank assets in Europe down in 2011

Cuban assets on deposit with 43 countries’ banks and financial centers reporting to the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) have shown a sudden decline according to a June 4th report, published by BIS, reports Cuba Standard. At the end of December 2011, Cuban assets in those banks, which are mostly in European countries, dropped by 24% and were valued at around $4.1 billion. In September 2011, Cuban bank assets abroad had increased to $5.649 million, an increase of $368 million from the previous year.

Luis R. Luis, former chief economist for the Organization of American States, published a report suggesting three possible causes of the decline of Cuba’s assets in European banks. He hypothesizes that Cuba could be using its reserves to purchase food and goods for consumption due to increasing food prices; that Cuba may be settling outstanding payments to suppliers and foreign companies; or that the government may be moving its assets out of European institutions due to the financial crisis in the EU and Cuba’s increased foreign trade with Asian and South American countries.

Around the Region

El Salvador Monthly Update, Linda Garrett, Center for Democracy in the Americas

This report, by Linda Garrett, CDA’s Senior Consultant for El Salvador, provides analysis of the most important stories coming out of El Salvador, including an examination of the crisis in the nation’s court system and a chronology of the gang truce and ongoing peace process.

Mercosur suspends Paraguay, offers full membership to Venezuela

Mercosur, the South American trade bloc, has suspended Paraguay’s membership until the country holds presidential elections, and approved the full membership of Venezuela, to begin on July 31, reports the Associated Press. Mercosur’s move to suspend Paraguay’s membership is a protest of the impeachment and removal of President Fernando Lugo from office, which, according to Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, President of Argentina, demonstrated that the “democratic order was broken in Paraguay.”

Venezuela is currently an associate member of Mercosur. Until Paraguay’s suspension from Mercosur, conservative Paraguayan lawmakers at odds with former President Lugo had blocked Venezuela’s inclusion, reports the Associated Press. Though conservative Paraguayan and Uruguayan officials have questioned the legality of the decision to offer Venezuela full membership in Mercosur, foreign ministers and legal advisors in Argentina and Brazil have stated that the move was legal because consensus had been achieved among the remaining full members of Mercosur.

Slide Show from CDA’s 6th Anniversary Celebration

This June 20th, the Center for Democracy in the Americas gathered our friends and supporters at the Mott House in Washington, DC to celebrate our 6th anniversary and to recognize three “unsung heroes”: Andrea Panaritis, Terry Karl, and Stephen Rivers. The evening included moving speeches from our presenters and honorees, after which we enjoyed live salsa music and mojitos under the stars. We sincerely thank our host committee and all those who helped make the event possible. For a slideshow of photos from the celebration, click here.

 Recommended Reading/Viewing

Cuban Paradise for Climbers is Inviting but Off-Limits, Alex Lowther, The New York Times

“Climbers here, a three-hour drive west of the capital, are wrestling with the prohibition of their sport. In an era when the Cuban government has been easing restrictions — allowing private boardinghouses, private restaurants and now the sale of real estate and automobiles — it seems to have moved in a sharply different direction here, threatening the prosperity of Viñales and the future of the sport in Cuba by enforcing a ban on climbing and regulating independent tourism in general.”

Solar, wind energy a missed opportunity for Cuba, Andrea Rodriguez, AP

“It is vital that Cuba expand its energy horizons ‘so it doesn’t remain at the mercy of political changes in the region that could affect it adversely,’ said Judith Cherni, an alternative energy expert at the Imperial College London Center for Environmental Policy.”

Cuba As Seen On A New ‘People-To-People’ Tour (PHOTOS), Kathy Willens, AP

“Girls dressed in ruffled layers for a quinceanera. American cars, from the Eisenhower era, in tropical colors. A hand-hewn carousel with peeling paint. Young fans cheering at a baseball game.These are some of the scenes of everyday life I observed on a recent people-to-people tour of Cuba. These tours allow Americans to travel to Cuba as long as they go with a group licensed by the U.S. government to provide a “full-time schedule of educational activities.”

(c) 2012 Center for Democracy in the Americas. All rights reserved.

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