Consider this: Castro Government and U.S. Embargo Likely to Outlast Obama Presidency

The clock is ticking.  By February 24, as Leonardo Padura observed in a column this week, there will be 1,823 days remaining in Raúl Castro’s tenure as Cuba’s president, thanks to term limits he pushed through at the 2011 communist party conference.

All things being equal, just five years from now, Cuba will be led by someone whose name is neither Raúl nor Fidel Castro for the first time in 59 years.

By then, whoever is elected U.S. president in 2016 could inherit the same ossified and wildly ineffective structure of sanctions passed down – like the Cold War equivalent of a family bible – from Eisenhower to Kennedy to Johnson to Nixon to Ford to Carter to Reagan to Bush to Clinton to Bush and left on President Obama’s desk when he entered the Oval Office.

Even Senator Ted Cruz, a deeply conservative Cuban-American just elected from Texas, acknowledged in a question submitted for Chuck Hagel’s confirmation, that the existing policy has failed in its goal of dislodging the Castros.

What will Mr. Cruz say in 2018 about the embargo, which was designed to force from power two brothers who will have instead relinquished their posts voluntarily?  Give it more time to work?

President Obama said nothing about Cuba in his State of the Union Address last Tuesday and, as Bloggings by Boz pointed out, he used just seven words, “Ford is bringing jobs back from Mexico,” to refer to just one nation in the Americas, seemingly by accident.

On Cuba, however, the president doesn’t need to say something in order to do something. His administration often excuses its inaction by saying the policy is in the court of Congress, “our hands are tied” by Helms-Burton Act restrictions on normalizing relations with Cuba.

In fact, that’s not really the problem.  Policy makers should never harness the future of any foreign policy – not in Cuba or Venezuela or anyplace else –to the identity or mortality of any particular leader.  That’s called letting the tail wag the dog.

The national interest ought to be our guide.  That’s why Mr. Obama should use his executive authority to start making changes now, so when the presidency changes hands in Washington in 2016 and in Havana in 2018, there’s a plan already being implemented to normalize the relationship.

If he’s uncertain about where to begin, he needn’t look further than our roadmap for engagement with Cuba or to the editorial page of the Boston Globe, which this week offered simple and clear suggestions to “drag US policy into the 21st century” –

  • Remove Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terror List
  • Promote cultural exchanges
  • End the Travel Ban so all Americans can visit Cuba
  • Eventually allow trade in oil, gas, and other commodities

The Globe’s editorial ended with the suggestion that President Obama assign his Secretary of State John Kerry to make Cuba the focus of his first few months in office.  That sounds right to us.  After all, the clock is ticking and the president, like his counterpart in Havana, has a limited amount of time in office to get it done.

This week, in Cuba news…

Coming Soon: “Women’s Work: Gender Equality in Cuba and the Role of Women Building Cuba’s Future”

“It’s really embarrassing that we have not solved this problem in more than half a century.”

-President Raúl Castro, April 16, 2011, before the 6th Congress of the Communist Party

Just in time for International Women’s Day, March 8, 2013, the Center for Democracy in the Americas will publish the results of its two-year study on women in Cuba and their progress toward gender equality.

The report discusses the high rankings earned by Cuba from international organizations that rate nations on their policies affecting women and children, candidly identifies where Cuba falls short, and presents evidence on why increasing participation by women in Cuba can help their nation meet its economic challenges, and suggests policy proposals for achieving this goal.

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

Nomination Watch

Two weeks after former Senator Chuck Hagel’s nomination hearing to be Secretary of Defense, a vote on his confirmation has been blocked by the Senate Minority at least until after the Presidents Day Recess on February 25, reports Politico. Yesterday, supporters of Mr. Hagel fell short of the 60 votes necessary to move forward with the nomination. Hagel – long an advocate for ending the embargo and conducting normal relations with Cuba – is still widely expected to be confirmed.

Meanwhile, in response to a question submitted in writing by Senator Ted Cruz (TX) for his confirmation hearing made public this week, former Sen. Hagel reaffirmed his position on Cuba:

“I support President Obama’s Cuba policy which is focused on supporting the Cuban people’s desire to freely determine their future, reducing their dependence on the Cuban state, and pursuing the widely shared goal of a Cuba that respects the universal human rights of all its citizens.  The President’s actions to facilitate family travel, people to people travel, the flow of remittances into private hands, and information to, from, and within Cuba have contributed to this objective.  I share the President’s view that the Cuban government must change its outdated political model to reflect the commitments undertaken by other governments in the Hemisphere to promote and defend representative democracy.  Policy matters and other diplomatic issues involving Cuba are led by the State Department.”

Yoani Sánchez to travel to the United States

Blogger Yoani Sánchez will travel to the United States in March to take part in a cultural symposium in New Yorkreports Café Fuerte. The event, “The Revolution Recodified: Digital Culture and Social Sphere in Cuba,” marks one destination of Ms. Sánchez’s trip that will also include lectures and meetings throughout the city. From there, she will travel to Washington, D.C. and then to Amsterdam before arriving in Miami to visit family in late March.

Miami-Dade racetrack that canceled Cuban music festival faces hefty fine

Nearly two years after canceling a music festival that would have featured popular Cuban performers from the island and Miami, the Homestead-Miami Speedway will pay $531,371 in damages to the festival’s promoter, MIA Resorts, reports the Miami Herald. The jury’s ruling stated that the managers of the speedway, which was to have been the festival’s venue, had deliberately defamed MIA Resorts by claiming that the promoters had misrepresented the festival to mask the fact that Cuban artists were scheduled to perform.

Citing mutually agreed-upon publicity materials promoting the April 2011 “Cuban Music Festival,” the court struck down the speedway’s claim that MIA Resorts had committed fraud by portraying the event as a Mexican music festival. The event’s cancellation was urged by Lynda Bell, Miami-Dade County Commissioner, who asked the speedway to cancel the festival because it would offend Miami’s Cuban exile community.

Cuban dance company to collaborate with Joyce Theater and Brooklyn Academy of Music

Arts organizations in the United States and Cuba will soon embark on a two-year partnership to promote cultural exchange and collaboration between dancers from Cuba and New York, reports the New York Times Arts Beat. Funded by a grant of $215,000 from the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, an organization that supports international art collaborations, the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the Joyce Theater will offer a soon-to-be selected Cuban dance company the opportunity to create a new piece, to be performed at the Joyce Theater in May 2014.

In addition, the project will fund arts administration training and internships in New York for Cuban art professionals. In February, staff members of the Joyce Theater will kick things off with a professional development seminar in Havana, and choreographer Ronald K. Brown will select a dance company to participate in the partnership.

IN CUBA

Cuba confiscated over 3 tons of drugs in 2012

During 2012, Cuba’s counterdrug operations resulted in a total of 3,045 kilograms of drugs being confiscated, according to figures released by Granma on Monday, reports Havana Times.  That figure includes 2,997 kilograms of marijuana, 43 kilograms of cocaine, 2 kilograms of hash oil, and smaller quantities of other illicit substances. Additionally, authorities halted 42 attempts to smuggle drugs into Cuba by air, making 69 arrests during these operations.  Cuba has increased its anti-drug efforts in recent years, due to the island’s location on a common drug trafficking route between mainland Latin America and the U.S.

Last year, in the U.S. Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control report “Preventing a Security Crisis in the Caribbean,” Senator Diane Feinstein (CA) stated:

“The Cuban government takes its counter narcotics mission seriously and has been relatively successful in interdicting illegal drugs and educating Cubans about the dangers of these substances.  In 2011, the Cuban government reported a total of 9 metric tons of illegal narcotics intercepted.  This is a 360 percent increase from the previous year’s 2.5 metric tons.  The State Department’s 2012 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report said, “Cuba continues to dedicate significant resources to preventing illegal drugs and illegal drug use from spreading on the island, so far successfully.”

Senator Feinstein, who chairs the caucus, also listed four steps the Obama administration should consider to improve counter narcotics cooperation with Cuba: increasing U.S. Coast Guard and law enforcement officers at the U.S. interests section in Havana; establishing protocol for ship-to-ship communications between the U.S. Coast Guard and Cuba’s Border Guard;  negotiating a bilateral counter narcotics agreement; and allowing for Cuba’s participation in the annual U.S. – Caribbean Security Dialogue.

Cuba’s media publishes transcripts from last week’s interview with Fidel Castro

The transcript of Fidel Castro’s interview with national media at a polling station last Sunday, during the country’s general elections, was released Tuesday by Granma. In the five-page transcript, Castro discussed his health, praised the recent economic reforms and congratulated the Cuban people for electing more women than men to the National Assembly, reports the Associated Press. Last week, we reported on the former leader’s first extended public appearance since 2010.

Despite uncertainties, Cuba seeks funding for refinery expansion

Plans are underway for a $6 billion expansion of Cuba’s largest oil refinery in the central province of Cienfuegos, reports Reuters. The proposal, drafted by Cubvenpetrol (a joint Cuban-Venezuelan oil company), includes increasing the refinery’s capacity by 85,000 barrels a day and building a liquefied gas plant. The project, to take an estimated 45-months, is still in its drafting stages and it remains unclear which foreign investors will provide financing.

Three recent attempts at deep water drilling in Cuba have come up dry. Russian oil company Zarubezhneft is currently drilling in shallow waters in an effort begun in December.  During 2012, Cuba expressed a new openness to using sugar for ethanol production, with a possible investment in the project from Brazil.

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

Canada’s Foreign Minister and Russia’s Prime Minister to visits Cuba

Canada’s Foreign Minister John Baird will visit Cuba to discuss human rights, economic development and democratic governance, reports International Business Times. Mr. Baird will be Canada’s first Foreign Minister to visit the island since 1998. Next week, he will continue his Latin America tour by going to Venezuela for the first time. Russia’s President Dimitri Medvedev will also meet with President Raúl Castro next week in Havana, reports Havana Times.

Cuba and Brazil sign sports cooperation agreement

Cuba and Brazil signed a bilateral agreement on Monday pledging to increase and develop their collaboration on sports, beginning this year and extending through 2016, reports Xinhua. Brazil will contribute training for Cuban soccer players, with a proposed exchange that would allow Cuban players to join non-professional Brazilian soccer clubs, while Brazilian soccer players would join Cuban teams and impart technique training to their Cuban counterparts. For its part, Cuba will offer Brazil its expertise in boxing and making sports more widely accessible.

Venezuelan students protest outside Cuban embassy in Caracas

A group of Venezuelan students protested outside of Cuba’s Embassy in Caracas on Thursday, denouncing what they argue is Cuba’s deep involvement in Venezuela while President Hugo Chávez is in Cuba undergoing cancer treatment, reports the Associated Press. The students were also protesting the extended absence of President Chávez and the lack of information being published about his condition.

Around the Region

Venezuela releases photos of a smiling President Chávez

Venezuela’s government released the first photographs of President Hugo Chávez since he underwent his fourth surgery in Cuba on December 11th in his fight against cancer, reports Reuters. One picture shows President Chávez with his two daughters, holding up a copy of Thursday’s edition of Granma, reports ABC (video). Venezuela’s Information Minister Ernest Villegas told BBC that the President is breathing through a tracheal tube, after battling a respiratory infection that followed his surgery, and that it is difficult for him to speak.

Venezuela devalues currency by 32%

Venezuela’s government announced Friday a widely anticipated currency devaluation, reports The New York Times. The devaluation, which went into effect on Wednesday, shifts the exchange rate of Venezuela’s currency by 32%, from 4.3 to 6.3 Bolívars to the US Dollar. As Venezuela’s fifth currency devaluation since 2003, the measure is expected to help Venezuela’s government earn more Bolívars through global oil sales (in USD), but will also make imported goods more expensive, driving up already high inflation.

Trade improves between Venezuela and Colombia

Venezuela-Colombia trade has grown by 40.4% in 2012, reports Venezuelanalysis. The $1 billion increase in trade stems from a combination of economic and political factors, most notably the positive relations between Colombia’s President Juan Miguel Santos and Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez. Since Santos’ election in 2010, the two nations have signed 11 trade agreements.

Recommended Reading

Exploring the secret annex and A battle for justice, freedom and $10 million, Tracey Eaton, Along the Malecón

Investigative journalist Tracey Eaton continues his work in these posts about the Bush-era regime change commission and efforts to derail Alan Gross’s insurance claim.

Telesur news channel gives Cubans glimpse of world, Andrea Rodriguez, Associated Press

Andrea Rodriguez discusses the potential impact of Telesur on Cuban viewers. She points out that the station’s programming gives Cubans an alternative to the state-run news channels that currently dominate Cuba’s airwaves.

Cuba – Five Decisive Years, Leonardo Padura, Inter Press Service

Leonardo Padura, a Cuban writer and journalist, explains that Cuba is approaching a significant political change. In five years, the mandates of Raúl Castro and at least five of the six current vice presidents will come to an end, marking an historic shift in power – and, perhaps, in policy – from the older generation in Cuba to a younger one.

Why don’t Raúl Castro’s reforms progress?Carmelo Mesa-Lago, Café Fuerte (In Spanish)

Carmelo Mesa-Lago, economist and professor at the University of Pittsburgh, outlines some of the successes and improvements of the Cuban economy under Raúl Castro. But he argues that a lack of political unity towards reforms and a slow-moving bureaucracy dampens the results. Mesa-Lago advocates patience as the eventual phasing-out of the “old guard” may expedite reforms.

Cubans Fix Cars With Parts Relatives Bring from Miami, Christine Armario, Associated Press

Christine Armario profiles a Miami auto parts store that has become a hub for Cuban-Americans who wish to send car parts to relatives in Cuba. The practice is not in violation of the embargo, as many Cuban-Americans in Miami buy car parts and other commodities that are expensive or are unavailable in Cuba, including food items and toiletries, and bring or send them to relatives on the island, often for resale.

Before the Waves, the Hurdles, Nick Corasaniti, The New York Times

Nick Corasaniti of the New York Times takes a look at surfing culture in Cuba. Though the island has over 2000 miles of coastline, surfing is made difficult by a lack of resources, transportation, and outside information about surfing. Nonetheless, young Cubans continue to avidly practice the sport. With the help of foreign donations and funding from Cuba’s government, surfers hope to develop the sport on the island.

Memo to Secretary Kerry: Stop funding the bad guys in Honduras, Dana Frank, Los Angeles Times

Professor Dana Frank of the University of California Santa Cruz argues that newly-confirmed Secretary of State John Kerry must prioritize a change in U.S. policy toward Honduras, starting with drastic cuts to U.S. military aid to the country. Recent years’ increases in funding for the drug war in Honduras have only worsened the violence and corruption that have run rampant in Honduras since the 2009 coup. Democrats in Congress, writes Frank, are “increasingly rebelling” against the Obama administration’s ties with Honduras’s government, presenting Secretary Kerry with a strong case for a significant policy change.

Recommended Viewing

Entrevista con Aleida Guevara, hija del Che: “Las diferencias sociales contra las que luchaba el Che existen mucho más que cuando él vivió”, Russia Today

Russia Today interviews Dr. Aleida Guevara, Che Guevara’s eldest daughter, who shared memories of her father and emphasized his importance in her life. Commenting on the current state of affairs in the region, Dr. Guevara says that unfortunately, the inequities that caused Che to adopt a social conscience still exist and are even worse now. “But in recent years an interesting movement has emerged,” she says, adding that her father would have been in full support of Chávez and the Bolivarian revolution.

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