As we predicted last week, the United Nations General Assembly approved a resolution condemning the U.S. embargo of Cuba. This was not, we confess, a very difficult prediction to make, since the U.N. has made this statement for twenty years. We also predict the U.N. will keep on doing so until the policy changes. In the meanwhile, we enjoyed The Nation’s stellar description of the vote saying the resolution was adopted by a “thumping majority.” That was good writing.
Here’s something, however, we didn’t anticipate; namely, that people would still be pouring over the presidential election vote in Florida and, at this late date, arguing over what it means. These are not unconnected events.
Ian Williams, a senior analyst with Foreign Policy in Focus put it this way:
“The UN vote on the Cuba embargo reminds us yet again that U.S. foreign policy is concocted in a bubble detached from the real world, where most nations recognize that the boycott is designed to pander to the most reactionary Cuban émigrés in Florida.”
This is why there is a lot of hand-wringing and hand-waving over who exactly won the Cuban American vote in Florida. We know that President Obama won the Latino vote nationally, won Florida and, as former U.S. Senator George LeMieux put it, “it even appears that President Obama may have won the Cuban vote in Florida, a previously unimaginable result.” His thinking was in line with Miami Democratic pollster Bendixen & Amandi International whose exit polls showed Mr. Obama won the Cuban vote, 51-49 percent over Romney.
The Miami Herald also reported, “Obama actually won Cuban-Americans who voted on Election Day itself, taking 53% of their vote compared to 47 percent for Republican Mitt Romney.” But the Herald, like others, goes on to say that, in the end, “Romney narrowly carried Cuban-Americans, 52-48 percent, which is a decrease for Republicans when compared to 2008.” Anyhow, as ABC News concluded, “Cuban-Americans (are) No Longer a Sure Bet for the GOP.”
Mauricio Claver-Carone, who runs the Cuba Democracy Public Advocacy Corp., and supported Governor Romney, said these historically high defections were the fault of Paul Ryan, Mr. Romney’s vice presidential nominee, who was against the embargo before he was for it. That, he said, “created skepticism among some Cuban-Americans and gave them (Democrats) an opening to make a case on economic and social issues.”
This is actually quite clever. Think about what Mr. Claver-Carone is arguing: the biggest supporters of a hardline policy, who didn’t think the Romney ticket was hardline enough, voted instead for the candidate Mr. Claver-Carone had previously said was guilty of “unilateral appeasement” of the Castro government.
Will this mean anything for Cuba policy going forward? It should. If the Cuban-American community that has insisted that the U.S. stick with the embargo policy for five decades is now divided, it will be exposed as a political façade, a Potemkin village, freeing the political system at last to the change the policy.
Back to Mr. Williams: “Obama, embarking on a second term, and winning Florida despite the Cuban vote, owes them nothing. He should use his influence to call off the embargo and allow free travel to and from Cuba.”
That is an idea that would win a thumping majority not just in the U.N. but throughout our country as well.
U.S. – CUBA RELATIONS
Alan and Judy Gross are suing the United States government as well as his former employer, Development Alternatives, Inc., alleging that they did not provide him with adequate training or disclose the risk he was taking carrying out his work in Cuba, reports the Associated Press. The official complaint, filed today, is available here.
Gross, who was arrested in December 2009 for bringing highly regulated satellite equipment into Cuba while traveling on a tourist visa, has previously said that he was “duped” and “used” by his employer, DAI, who had a contract with USAID to pursue development work in Cuba.
In addition to the case against the U.S. government and DAI, Jared Genser, the attorney representing Alan Gross, filed a petition with the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture arguing that he has suffered a lack of access to adequate medical care and treatment over the past 6 months and that this constitutes “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment under international law.” The petition says that the situation has caused Mr. Gross significant mental anguish which, if gone unaddressed, could be defined as torture.
In a recent telephone interview with EFE, Judy Gross expressed her hope that President Obama will give her husband’s detention in Cuba more attention in his second term. In addition, over 500 rabbis submitted a letter to Cuba’s government calling for the release of Mr. Gross on humanitarian grounds, reports the Jerusalem Post.
On Tuesday, for the 21st consecutive year, the U.N. General Assembly voted to condemn the U.S. embargo on Cuba by a margin of 188-3, reports the AP. Israel and Palau voted along with the United States against the measure, and the Marshall Islands and Micronesia both abstained.
In an address to the General Assembly, Bruno Rodríguez, Cuba’s foreign minister, criticized the policy as “inhumane, failed and anachronistic.” He also outlined a “draft agenda” for Havana’s proposed U.S.-Cuba talks, and renewed his country’s call for normalized relations, particularly in the areas of “greatest mutual interest,” including drug trafficking, terrorism, human smuggling, and migration. A summary of the proposal can be found at Along the Malecón.
The U.N. vote likewise inspired blogger Yoani Sánchez, a well-known dissident who has on multiple occasions voiced her opposition to the embargo, to publish an entry titled The Embargo: Both Sides Are Still Living Out the Cold War.
During Tuesday’s Daily Press Briefing concerning the near-unanimous vote, a journalist challenged Mark Toner, deputy spokesperson for the State Department, to defend the policy:
QUESTION: Earlier today, the UN General Assembly, as it has every year for the past several decades, voted overwhelmingly to condemn the U.S. embargo of Cuba. The vote, I’m sure you’re aware of it, was 188-3. You and Israel and Palau voted against, as the same that’s it been for the last several decades. My question is this: When are you guys going to realize that the rest of the world thinks that this is a really crappy policy?
MR. TONER: Matt, your opinion to the contrary, we are —
QUESTION: Not my opinion. It’s the rest of the world. You’re always talking about the international community. The international community has spoken here, yet again.
MR. TONER: Our policy remains in place.
QUESTION: I know. But when – is it the international community speaks and unless you’re part of that – unless you’re part of it, it’s not really the international community? Do you recognize that the international community, all countries in the world except for the three and the three who abstained, say that this policy is bad and should be reversed? Do you take that as the international community speaking as – with a single voice here?
MR. TONER: Look, our Cuba policy is generated towards creating better ties with the Cuban people outside of the government. You know our concerns about the Cuban Government. Our policy remains the same. It’s not going to change.
QUESTION: Can you accept that the international community is speaking out here, and speaking out against a policy that you’ve had in place for five decades?
MR. TONER: I’m just telling you that —
QUESTION: No? You can’t.
MR. TONER: — our Cuban policy remains intact.
Scarabeo 9, the deepwater oil rig, will depart Cuba after the third exploratory oil well came up dry, reports the New York Times. The rig is the only one of its kind that complies with the U.S. embargo. Estimates of Cuba’s oil reserves vary with official predictions being 20 billion barrels and the U.S. Geological Survey estimating only 5.
As Cuba produces only a third of its requirements through domestic production, it relies heavily on Venezuela to provide approximately 115,000 barrels of oil a day. With the removal of the rig from Cuban waters, Jorge Piñon, former BP and Amoco executive, says that for at least the next five years, “Cuba’s oil dream is over and done with.”
Undaunted, the Russian oil company, Zarubezhneft is pushing ahead with its Cuba offshore drilling project as its oil rig reached Cuban territorial waters, according to press accounts.
On Monday, Cuba’s government reported that it has leased over 1.5 million hectares of idle land to private farmers since 2008, reports EFE. Pedro Olivera, director of the National Center for Land Control of the Ministry of Agriculture, made the announcement in state newspaper Juventud Rebelde. Olivera stated that 172,000 Cuban citizens have benefited from the land distribution, 77% of whom did not have previous experience in agriculture. Cuba’s land reform program, implemented by President Raúl Castro after he came to office, seeks to put fallow state land to use in order to increase domestic agricultural production and reduce dependence on imported food.
By Wednesday morning 99.8% of the people in the city of Santiago and 47% of people in the rural areas had their power restored following outages caused by Hurricane Sandy, reports Granma and the Associated Press. Phone service is also expected to be restored to 90% of its normal capacity by the end of the month. Cuba received 18 planeloads of humanitarian aid Friday from various countries including Venezuela, Russia, Japan, the UN and the International Red Cross, reports the BBC. The article describes damage to the small town of Siboney, and the humanitarian and clean-up efforts taking place across the areas damaged by Hurricane Sandy.
U.S. exports to Cuba have steadily been declining since 2008 when exports peaked at $710 million, reports Associated Press. The value last year was $358 million, about half that amount, and during the first six months of 2012 exports were valued at $250 million.
Under regulations adopted by the Bush administration, agricultural exports from the U.S. to Cuba require cash payment, through a third-party system, before goods can be shipped, which increases the overall cost for Cuba. Due to this expensive and complicated trading process, Cuba’s government has looked to other countries like China, Brazil and Vietnam to provide more and more of its imports, according to Havana Times.
The 30th Havana International Trade Fair took place over the weekend and brought business representatives from 57 countries. There were a number of U.S. businesses present at the fair including Hershey and Coca Cola. Alimport, the state run food purchaser, expects to spend around $440 million on U.S. imports this year. Photos from the fair are available here.
CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS
Colombia’s government and FARC rebels will come to the negotiating table on Monday in Havana in an attempt to end nearly fifty years of war, reports Reuters. The discussions were originally set to take place on Thursday, but were delayed while both sides work out “technical details.” Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos believes that due to the past decade of U.S.-backed blows, the FARC “will seriously seek to end the fighting.” In August, we reported that Cuba’s role in the FARC negotiations undercuts a key rationale for U.S. sanctions against the island. Cuba has been recognized for its diplomatic role in the ongoing peace process between Colombia’s government and FARC rebels.
Havana Energy Ltd., a subsidiary of British Esencia Group, has signed a joint venture with Cuba to build a biomass energy plant, reports Cuba Standard. The plant will be built next to the Ciro Redondo sugar mill in the Ciego de Ávila province and will cost around $45 million. It will use waste from the sugar mill during the harvest season and the marabú plant, a ubiquitous, invasive weed, during the rest of the year.
The governments of Russia and Cuba unveiled plans to create a new airline based at Havana’s José Martí International Airport, reports the Havana Times. The new transport hub, part of Cuba and Russia’s broader Intergovernmental Commission on trade and scientific-technical cooperation, is expected to streamline the movement of goods and travelers between the two countries and create access to other destinations in Latin America.
Around the Region
Further doubts were raised about U.S. security assistance to Honduras as details emerged that the soldiers who killed 15-year-old Ebed Yanes in May were vetted, trained, and equipped by the U.S. government, reports the Associated Press. The truck the soldiers used to chase Yanes down was also given to them by the U.S. government. Yanes’ father uncovered these details in his search for justice for his son, and alleges high-level attempts to cover up the case. The U.S. State Department is already withholding funds from Honduras over human rights concerns regarding the recently-appointed police chief, but the AP cites a U.S. official who said the case will not lead to the further withholding of security aid funds.
This article gives a breakdown and analysis of voting demographics in Florida, among Cuban-Americans, and looking at Little Havana. One Cuban-American asserts: “Ever since the Tea Party took over the Republican Party, I haven’t liked it one bit…That is not what we’re about. I think this president is better able to help all of the population of Miami-Dade.”
It’s official, Little Havana has gone Blue, William Vidal, On Two Shores
William Vidal provides a breakdown of precinct-by-precinct election results for the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami, which has “decisively gone blue.” Vidal states that Little Havana is still “overwhelmingly Cuban… and the margins along the main thoroughfare went decisively for Obama,” which represents a shift that should be a source of concern for old hardliners.
How will Cuban Americans impact Obama’s Cuba policies in his second term?, Geoff Thale, WOLA
Geoff Thale identifies several potential areas for change in the second Obama administration’s policy toward Cuba. Thale reflects on the shift of the Cuban-American community, and the high number of votes cast for Obama. He concludes that although “there will be pressure from the remaining hardline Cuban-American members of Congress and their allies not to move US Cuba policy into the 21st century… the Cuban-American community is changing. The writing is on the wall.”
Inside Story – What is the future of US-Cuba relations?, Kimberly Halkett, Al Jazeera English
Al Jazeera asks Larry Luxner, Peter Kornbluh, and Jose Cardenas if President Obama will use his second term to improve relations with Cuba.
The Old Hershey Community and Mill, Elio Delgado Valdes, Havana Times
This photo essay looks at the community still living around Milton Hershey’s sugar mill in Camilo Cienfuegos and the remains of the structure itself, built in 1918.
NOTE TO READERS: We’re taking next week off for Thanksgiving. Expect to see us again on November 30th. In the meanwhile, happy holidays. -CDA