Talk to Cuba

An article published this week by The Cable ran with the headline “Top Romney Advisor supports negotiating with terrorists.”  It told the story of Mitchell Reiss, named one year ago, to a top spot on the Governor’s campaign foreign policy team.

In a 2010 book, Reiss presented “an argument that the United States not only should, but at times must enter into conversations with hostile foreign elements.”  Reiss is not indiscriminate about negotiations and, in fact, published a tough piece in January criticizing the Obama administration’s negotiating strategy with the Taliban; not saying it was wrong, but arguing it was poorly conceived.

Even that was too much for his candidate.  Just four days later, at a debate in South Carolina, when a Fox News reporter asked Governor Romney if Reiss was wrong about talking to the enemy, he threw Reiss under the bus and said yes.

It is odd just how out of fashion talking to our adversaries has become.  We are able to celebrate a milestone this month, the fiftieth anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, because President John F. Kennedy thought that talking to the Soviet Union would be preferable to having our country and theirs blown to kingdom come.  Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev used diplomacy to avoid catastrophe.

This week, Nicholas Burns, a veteran diplomat, wrote about the missile crisis and what lessons it might offer to President Obama and Governor Romney as they think about U.S. foreign policy in 2013 and the years to come.

“Kennedy concluded,” Burns wrote, “that we had to think about the Soviet people in a fundamentally different way if we wanted to avoid nuclear Armageddon… Kennedy advocated building bridges to the Soviets, as the ‘human interest’ of avoiding world war had to eclipse the more narrow ‘national interest.’”

This is, after all, the conclusion that the Government of Colombia and the FARC reached, preparing as they are for peace negotiations next week in Oslo, and later this month in Cuba.  President Juan Manuel Santos is saying already he is confident that the FARC is willing to reach an agreement to end the decades-long civil war.

Direct diplomacy with Cuba is what President Obama promised in the 2008 campaign.  Nothing indiscriminate; “There will be careful preparation. We will set a clear agenda,” Obama said in a speech before the Cuban American National Foundation.  His view was endorsed by Jorge Mas Santos, son of the founder of CANF, once the epicenter of support for a hardline against the Castro government:

“The other centerpiece of U.S. – Cuba policy has been that there should be no negotiations and conversations with Raul Castro,” Mr. Santos said. “Although this may sound tough, on its own it is ineffective and plays into the hands of Raúl Castro.”

At the beginning of his term, Mr. Obama acted as if he could think about Cuba’s people in a different way.  He restarted Migration Talks that George Bush broke off.  He permitted U.S. participation in below the radar, multi-party talks including Cuba on oil drilling in the Gulf and protecting the environment we share.  The governments have spoken directly, about imprisoned U.S. contractor Alan Gross, and at the margins of international conferences.

At times, Cuba’s government was probably uncooperative.  There’s undoubtedly more that we don’t know.  But it’s hard to discern the results if there is.  In a world where talking to “the enemy” is so discredited, this appears to have been all they could do.

Surely, as President Kennedy liked to say, we can do “bettah.”

In 2009, Peter Kornbluh, who directs the Cuba Documentation Project at the National Security Archive, and William LeoGrande, Dean of the School of Public Affairs at American University, published a compelling history of U.S. negotiations with Cuba and laid out a roadmap for how the two countries could sit down and really make progress.

Both candidates can read the entire article on the Internet.  Here’s hoping the victor has a working browser.  If Kennedy could deal with Khrushchev, and Colombia can talk to the FARC, surely the next U.S. president should talk directly to Cuba.  He might consider ending the Cold War and letting the citizens of both countries move along with our lives.  Bolder figures have done a lot more even when faced with greater stakes.


Ángel Carromero, charged in the death of Oswaldo Payá, tried in Cuba

The trial of Ángel Carromero, the Spaniard who drove the car in the crash that killed dissidents Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero, took place last Friday in the city of Bayamo, reports the Associated Press and Granma.  The trial lasted 11 hours and ended the same evening. Prosecutors are seeking a 7-year sentence for vehicular manslaughter. Carromero’s defense asked that his client be released to house arrest, and said that it would be nearly impossible to determine the speed of the car before the crash, reports the AP.
During the trial, Carromero expressed “profound sorrow” about the accident but denied speeding, according to the BBC:

The last time that I looked at my speedometer, I was not going faster than 80 or 90km/h (50-55mph). I have lost a lot during this time, and I’m going to lose even more, but nothing in comparison with the pain felt by the families involved.

Ofelia Acevedo, Payá’s wife, told AFP that she believes Carromero is innocent, and along with her children would like an international investigation into the death of her husband. José Manuel García-Margallo, Spain’s Foreign Minister, said that representatives of both countries should sit down and discuss the fastest way to return Carromero to Spain once the verdict is announced, reports EFE.

A date has yet to be set for the announcement of the verdict.

Yoani Sánchez, who had been detained along with her husband last week while traveling to Bayamo for the trial, was transported back to Havana by the police and released after 30 hours in custody, reports the LA Times.

Cuba continues to implement measures to help private sector grow

According to recently published documents, Cuba’s National Assembly passed a new tax law (Law No. 113) aimed at providing incentives for small businesses, small farmers, and possibly for cooperatives.  Details have not yet been released in full.

Phil Peters explains the reforms highlighted in the announcement at The Cuban Triangle. Tax rates for low-income entrepreneurs will be cut 7% and 3% for those with higher incomes. Small private businesses that hire employees will only need to pay a per-employee tax if they hire more than six people (as is currently the case), and this labor tax will be reduced by 80% over the next five years.

The tax rate for small farmers, and presumably for cooperatives, will be half the rate charged to other sectors, and those who received land parcels as part of the agricultural reform process will have a two-year tax holiday, which could extends to four years if they need additional time to clear the land before it is useable. According to ANSA, another change to the 2008 agricultural reform law providing land grants for farmers was updated Wednesday to allow grantees to receive larger land parcels, and to build homes on the previously state-owned land.

Cuba has made reducing its bill for imported food a high priority as it updates its economic model.  These tax modifications lighten the tax load for entrepreneurs and small farmers, as Cuba works to grow its private sector and increase agricultural production. CDA’s publication on the reform process, Cuba’s New Resolve: Economic Reform and its Implications for U.S. Policy, is available here.

Hospitals close amid health budget cuts in Cuba

In the last year, Cuba’s government has closed 54 hospitals, decreasing the number of hospitals on the island from 215 to 161, reports the Associated Press. The number of medical centers, including general hospitals and family clinics, decreased by 3.5 % from around 13,203 in 2010 to 12,738 by the end of 2011. In the same year, the number of doctors across the island increased from 76,500 in 2010 to 78,700.

Health care budgets have been cut as Cuba attempts to reduce state spending and balance its accounts.  At the same time, the Cuban government has promised that no services will be eliminated.  In recent months, the government has launched a public awareness campaign to inform citizens – ‘it’s free, but it still costs’ – and publishing regular articles in state newspaper Granma that break down healthcare costs.

Human error caused September blackout

Cuba’s state-run electrical company said Wednesday that human error was to blame for the September 9th blackout that left about 60% of the island’s population without service, reports Havana Times. The exact cause was found to be an operational mistake made by an employee of the company. In a statement, the company said that it has implemented measures designed to prevent such a mistake in the future.

Dissident whose imprisonment sparked hunger strike released

Jorge Vázquez Chaviano, the Cuban dissident whose detention past the completion of his prison sentence led to a hunger strike last month, was released on Thursday, reports EFE. Vázquez was released 22 days after the termination of the 8-day hunger strike in September that called for his release.
First Secretary of Communist Party of  Isla de la Juventud  and the Secretary of the Federation of Cuban Women replaced

Ana Isla Delgado Jardines, First Secretary of the Communist Party in Isla de la Juventud, was released from her post and will be replaced by Ernesto Reynoso Piñera, reports Juventud Rebelde. Reynoso Piñera has been a member of the Executive Bureau in Isla de la Juventud since 2008.

Earlier this week, Yolanda Ferrer Gómez, the Secretary General of the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) was replaced by Teresa Amarelle Boue, reports Café Fuerte. Amarelle served as the First Secretary of the Provincial Committee of the Communist Party in Las Tunas until September. Several changes in provincial and party leadership have been announced in the past month, including the replacement of the Director of Transportation in Havana, the President of the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP) and the First Secretary of the Young Communist League (UJC).


Foreign business executives imprisoned in Cuba await charges

The executives of three foreign companies who were arrested last year in Cuba have still not been charged, reports Reuters. The three British and Canadian trading firms were shut down in 2011 as part of President Raúl Castro’s campaign to stamp out corruption on the island. Cuban authorities say the cases are in the investigative stage and blame the “complicated” nature of the alleged economic crimes for the delay. According to the Reuters article, western diplomats have stated that the legal situation faced by these citizens has led to “behind-the-scenes” strains in British and Canadian relations with Cuba.

Marino Murillo, Cuba’s economic reform tsar, visits Vietnam

Marino Murillo, vice-president of the Cuban Council of Ministers and the official in charge of Cuba’s economic reform process, travelled to Hanoi and met with Nguyen Xuan Phuc, a Deputy Prime Minister, to strengthen bilateral ties and to learn more about the Vietnamese economic model, reports the BBC. Murillo led the delegation, with the objective of exploring how Cuba might learn from Vietnam’s experience with reforming its socialist system. Nguyen recommended that Cuba open up its economy to encourage investment, as Vietnam did during the late-1980s, and emphasized the importance of a shift in mentalities in order to implement market-based reforms.

Cuba and Brazil continue to deepen ties

Rodrigo Malmierca, Cuba’s Foreign Trade Minister, traveled to  Brazil this week where he met with Mauricio Antonio Lopes, the president of the Brazil’s state agriculture research institute Embrapa, reports Cuba Standard. Lopes expressed willingness to increase cooperation projects with Cuba beyond already-existing collaborations on soy and corn production, biological pest control, and reduction of the presence of heavy metals in agricultural products.

The article adds that Brazilian involvement in Cuban ethanol production may also be on the horizon, as was raised during a January visit of Brazilian officials to the island. During his visit, Malmierca also met with biotech industry leaders, looking for private partners to help develop bio-pharmaceutical products, reports Cuba Standard. These meetings follow Cuba’s 2011 joint research cooperation agreements with Brazil on cancer and diabetes treatments.

Airline in Mexico adds Cuba route

Twice-weekly flights from Monterrey to Havana by Mexican airline Interjet are set to begin October 25th, reports Cuba Standard. Interjet, founded in 2006, is one of Mexico’s first low-cost airline startups. The route will be in addition to flights that are already running from Mexico City to Havana.


Cuban Missile Crisis documents released

Coinciding with the 50-year anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, more than 2,700 pages of Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy’s notes and confidential documents surrounding the crisis have been released, reports The Boston Globe. The documents highlight the active role that the president’s brother played in de-escalating the crisis, as well as his role in U.S. efforts to overthrow Fidel Castro, especially during the Bay of Pigs invasion. Peter Kornbluh, of the National Security Archive at George Washington University stated:

The anomaly of Robert Kennedy was that the attorney general of the United States was moonlighting as director of covert operations against Cuba.

Despite this newest release, fifty years later, large parts of the documents are still blocked out in the name of national security.

Around the Region

Caracas Connect: Mortality, Electoral Mandates, and Revolution, Dan Hellinger, Center for Democracy in the Americas

Dr. Dan Hellinger provides an analysis of Venezuela’s October 7th elections, detailing the electoral results and summarizing the factors at play leading up to and following the reelection of President Chávez.

Recommended Reading

Cuban property market booms after limited reforms, Sarah Rainsford, BBC News

“The jingle for the Hola Habana TV show has a distinctly retro ring to it, but in Cuban terms the daily programme is groundbreaking. In a country where commercials were banned as brainwashing and property deals long prohibited, state television is now advertising private houses for sale.  Every day, the Hola Habana presenter reads out a list of properties on offer. ‘We get countless applications by post or email, or brought into our offices,’ explains department boss Marta Cepeda, as the team wraps up a week’s recordings. ‘House sales are still a new thing, but there’s big demand. Interest has really grown.’”

Chávez re-election: The view from Cuba, Nick Miroff, Global Post

“In perhaps the most important election for Cuba in 50 years, the biggest winners were Fidel and Raúl Castro. And their names weren’t even on the ballot. Hugo Chávez’s victory Sunday in Venezuela’s presidential contest was also a re-election of sorts for the Castros. When Chávez was diagnosed with cancer last year, it was Cuba’s leaders and their doctors who nursed Chávez back to health, restoring his strength in time for the campaign.”

USAID, the New America Foundation’s technology initiatives, and Cuba

Phil Peters in his Cuban Triangle blog reports on a grant from USAID’s Cuba program to the New America Foundation (NAF).  His links include reporting on the grant by Tracey Eaton and an essay about the grant by Anya Landau French, the director of the U.S.-Cuba Policy Initiative at the NAF.

Spain and the Americas: ¡Ya me voy!, The Economist

In the decade to 2007 around 1.5m Latin Americans moved to Spain in search of a better life—over 300,000 of them in 2007 itself. Now, with Spain in trouble and many Latin American economies growing fast, the tide has turned. Spanish local records show that around 20,000 Colombians and 40,000 Ecuadoreans left the country in 2011, many to seek their fortunes at home.”

Recommended Viewing

Unfinished Spaces , Alysa Nahmias and Benjamin Murray, PBS

In this documentary, “Cuba’s ambitious National Art Schools project, designed by three young artists in the wake of Castro’s Revolution, is neglected, nearly forgotten, then ultimately rediscovered as a visionary architectural masterpiece.” It will be premiered on television in the United States on PBS. Check local listings for details.

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