Every Time You See Vietnam, Think Cuba

Yesterday, President Obama met at the White House with Truong Tan Sang, the president of Vietnam.  Later, Mr. Obama traveled to Jacksonville, Florida to deliver a speech on our nation’s economy.  What happened at these two events perfectly illustrates how what is wrong with U.S.-Cuba policy could easily be made right.

Speaking from the Oval Office, this is how President Obama described what diplomatic relations with Vietnam allows both countries to do:

“Obviously, we all recognize the extraordinarily complex history between the United States and Vietnam.  Step by step, what we have been able to establish is a degree of mutual respect and trust that has allowed us now to announce a comprehensive partnership between our two countries that will allow even greater cooperation on a whole range of issues from trade and commerce to military-to-military cooperation, to multilateral work on issues like disaster relief, to scientific and educational exchanges.”

But, as President Obama said, the subject of human rights was very much on the table:

“We discussed the challenges that all of us face when it comes to issues of human rights, and we emphasized how the United States continues to believe that all of us have to respect issues like freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly.  And we had a very candid conversation about both the progress that Vietnam is making and the challenges that remain.”

Significantly, the U.S and Vietnam are making progress on unresolved issues from the war because our countries have normal relations.  Again, Mr. Obama:

“We both reaffirmed the efforts that have been made to deal with war legacy issues.  We very much appreciate Vietnam’s continued cooperation as we try to recover our Missing in Action and those that were lost during the course of the war.  And I reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to work with Vietnam around some of the environmental and health issues that have continued, decades later, because of the war.”

President Sang characterized the talks from Vietnam’s perspective:

“To be frank, President Obama and I had a very candid, open, useful and constructive discussion.  We discussed various matters, including political relations, science and technology, education, defense, the legacy of the war issue, environment, the Vietnamese-American community, human rights as well — and the East Sea as well.”

President Sang also affirmed the power of engagement:

“In a candid, open and constructive spirit, we have come to agree on many issues.  We will strengthen high-level exchanges between the two countries…(and) we will continue regular dialogue at the highest level as possible.  I believe that this is the way in order to build a political trust for further development of our cooperation in all areas.”

Following this meeting, President Obama flew to Jacksonville, Florida to give a speech about his plans for the economy.  He talked about how ordinary Americans benefit from trade:

“In a couple of years, new supertankers are going to start coming through the Panama Canal. Those supertankers can hold three times the amount of cargo.  We want those supertankers coming here to Jacksonville.  (Applause.) If we’ve got more supertankers coming here, that means more jobs at the terminals. That means more warehouses in the surrounding area.  That means more contractors are getting jobs setting up those warehouses.  That means they’ve got more money to spend at the restaurant. That means the waitress has more money to spend to buy her iPod. It starts working for everybody.”

Why talk about Vietnam or the benefits of trade in a publication devoted to news and analysis about Cuba?

Well, during the Vietnam War, over 58,000 Americans were killed, about 1 in ten Americans who served, and as many as 3.8 million Vietnamese died.  The war ended in 1975. It wasn’t easy, but once the United States and Vietnam shook off the burdens of their painful shared history they found they could engage with each other, respectfully and productively.

Today, our country cannot do this with Cuba, because U.S. policy requires Cuba to solve every one of our problems – with its political and economic systems, even with the presence of Raúl Castro as its nation’s president – as a precondition for normalizing relations.  This policy has a proven, fifty year record of failure as a policy, depriving the people of Jacksonville, Florida, and the U.S. of the benefits of free travel and trade, exchange, and everything else.

When President Obama closed his speech in Jacksonville with these words about the opponents of his economic policy, he might have also been talking about U.S. relations with Cuba.

“We’ve got to stop with the short-term thinking.  We’ve got to stop with the outdated debates. That’s not what the moment requires.”


Internship Announcement:

The Center for Democracy in the Americas is currently looking to recruit its Fall 2013 Intern. If you or someone you know is interested in helping CDA promote a just and respectful U.S. policy toward Cuba and Latin America, please spread the word and see here for more information.


Members of Congress urge consistency in visa-granting policy for Cubans

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (CT-3) and eight colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter this week to Secretary of State John Kerry urging the State Department to “articulate a consistent policy in granting visas to both Cuban officials and academics.”  Commending the Obama Administration’s moves to reinstate family travel rights for Cuban Americans and allow people-to-people travel, the letter affirms the Representatives’ support for “a commitment by the State Department to encourage meaningful exchange by allowing Cuban officials, scientists, and others to visit the United States.”

Pointing to engagement and respectful dialogue between the two governments as the best means to restore imprisoned USAID subcontractor Alan Gross’ freedom, the letter praises the recent meeting at the U.S. State Department between Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson and Josefina Vidal, head of the United States Section at Cuba’s Foreign Ministry. CDA congratulates the Representatives for their letter to Sec. Kerry, and is proud to have played a role in supporting the effort.  Click here to read the letter.

American Express fined for Cuba sanctions violations

American Express Travel Related Services, Inc. (TRS), a travel subsidiary of American Express, will pay a settlement of $5.2 million to the U.S. government for apparent violations of Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR), reports the Associated Press.  Between December of 2005 and November of 2011, TRS branch offices and subsidiaries outside the U.S. issued 14,487 tickets for travel between Cuba and countries other than the U.S. A number of these countries, according to a press release issued by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) “had adopted ‘antidote’ measures (blocking statutes) prohibiting compliance with the CACR, without authorization from OFAC.” American Express is licensed to offer travel services to Cuba, but did not receive OFAC’s approval for the trips in question. In 1995 and 1996, TRS faced OFAC investigations for similar violations of U.S. sanctions against Cuba.

Baseball games between Industriales and veterans at FIU cancelled

An exhibition series planned in Miami between former baseball players from the Industriales, the so-called “Yankees of Cuba,” has been canceled, reports the Associated Press. Scheduled to take place August 10 and 11, the games were to be hosted by Florida International University (FIU).

This week, FIU announced that it will be unable to host the games due to a contractual matter. In one game, Industriales veterans traveling from Cuba were to face off against Cuban baseball stars living in Florida, including former Industriales players Orlando “El Duque” Hernández and Rey Ordoñez, who recently visited Cuba for the first time in 21 years following changes to Cuba’s immigration laws. Responding to the cancellation, Ordoñez told the AP, “I haven’t seen many of the people who played with me in Cuba in at least 20 years…The game was going to be nice, but we were also going to catch up on life.”

In the second game, those traveling from Cuba and those living in Florida were to come together as one team to play against a group of players from another province in Cuba. Alejandro Canton of the company Somos Cuba Entertainment Group, who organized the games as a cultural exchange program, told El Nuevo Herald that despite this setback, he will do “whatever it takes” to make the games happen.


Cuba celebrates 60th anniversary of the Moncada attack, President Castro talks about gradual power transfer

Today, Cuba commemorates the 60th anniversary of the attack on the Moncada military barracks, considered the beginning of the Cuban Revolution, reports the Associated Press. The celebrations included a speech by Cuba’s President Raúl Castro with thousands in attendance at the Moncada barracks in Santiago de Cuba, which now houses a museum and a school. CubaDebate provides photos of today’s ceremony.

BBC News reports that during his speech, President Castro stated:

“The historic generation is giving way to the new one, with tranquility and serene confidence, based on the preparation and competence to keep the flags of the revolution and socialism flying high.”

Also addressing the audience were Uruguay’s President José Mujica, Bolivia’s President Evo Morales, Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega, Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro, as well as dignitaries of six other nations.

President Morales stated, “despite being economically blockaded, [Cuba] has been dignified and sovereign. Cuba is a light of hope for the world and for new generations.” He recalled when Cuba’s former President Fidel Castro told him that solidarity is sharing what little we have, not what we have left over, and gave the example of  Misión Milagro, through which over 700,000 Bolivians have received free eye surgery. Ricardo Patiño, Ecuador’s Foreign Minister, proclaimed, “The backyard of the United States is no longer Latin America. If others offer to play that role, don’t count on us.”

Cuba to renovate main airport terminal

Cuba is undertaking a $10.2 million upgrade of the main terminal of Havana’s José Martí International Airport, reports the Associated Press. Intended to mitigate overcrowding in the airport and allow for a greater volume of passengers, the renovations will replace and supplement existing walkways, check-in counters, and utilities, and will expand airplane berths to facilitate larger airplanes. According to Cubadebate, repairs are expected to take six months.


President of Uruguay José Mujica visits Cuba

President José Mujica visited with President Raúl Castro on Wednesday for official meetings ahead of the ceremony to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Moncada attacks, reports the Associated Press. Mujica also met with Fidel Castro, saying Cuba’s former leader “continues to be brilliant,” and praising his efforts toward sustainable food supplies on the island, reports UTC. The two also discussed the Colombian peace talks taking place in Havana, reports EFE.

More than 500 foreign students receive medical diploma in Camagüey

At the University of Medical Sciences (UCM) in Camagüey, a class of 1,400 medical students has graduated, reports the government-run Cuban News Agency. In addition, over 500 of those who graduated were foreign students from 25 different countries. This, the news agency reports, represents the largest graduating class of medical students in the history of the UCM.

Around the Region

Venezuela halts efforts to normalize relations with the U.S.

Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry announced that it is suspending efforts to normalize relations with the U.S., in response to a remark by Samantha Power, the U.S.’s newly-appointed Permanent Representative to the U.N., that she would “contest the crackdown on civil society” in Venezuela, reports Reuters.

During her Senate confirmation hearing last week, Power articulated her intent to use her new post to confront “repressive regimes,” giving Venezuela and Cuba as examples. Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry responded with an official statement explaining that “building a good relationship with the Government of the United States involves practicing mutual respect and full and absolute recognition of the principles of sovereignty and self-determination,” reports El Universal.

The U.S. and Venezuela had embarked upon an effort to improve relations at the highest diplomatic levels, beginning last month with a meeting between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Elías Jaua, as well as one between U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson and Calixto Ortega, Venezuela’s Chargé d’Affaires in Washington.

CELAC to take on poverty and hunger in the Americas

The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) held a summit on social development in the Americas, during which member countries resolved to create a regional “action plan” to eradicate poverty, food insecurity, and improve education and healthcare, reports Venezuelanalysis. The draft “action plan” produced during the summit has been sent to the heads of state of each member country for final approval. Joined by representatives of the United Nations Organization for Food and Agriculture (FAO) and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), as well as representatives from over eighty social movements, this week’s summit kicked off CELAC’s project to confront these issues.

Recommended Reading

What Cuban-American Lawmakers Don’t Understand About Cuba, Emily Chow, Latin America Working Group

Emily Chow examines the measures in the House Appropriations Committee’s Financial Services bill that effectively cancel people-to-people travel and impede the flow of remittances to Cuba. Chow writes, “Cubans on neither side of the Florida Straits support these measures to restrict travel and remittances to Cuba. The call for engagement with the Cuban people is the majority opinion of U.S. citizens.” Cuban Americans for Engagement (CAFE) issued a press release criticizing the bill’s passage through the House Appropriations committee.

Mandela, Miami and Cuba: The Real Story, Arturo López-Levy, Foreign Policy in Focus

Arturo López-Levy reflects upon the friendship between Fidel Castro and Nelson Mandela, and argues that the justifications behind the U.S. embargo against Cuba is not comparable to those for the sanctions imposed against South Africa during apartheid. The blog On Two Shores also offers commentary on the matter.

Local Man to Paddle from Cuba to Key West, Katie Elzer-Peters, The Chattanoogan

Ben Friberg of Chattanooga, Tennessee is setting out to make history this weekend, seeking to complete the 90-mile journey from Cuba to Key West on a Standup Paddleboard. Friberg told The Chattanoogan, “I hope I can do it in less than 24 hours. I’m mentally preparing myself for 40 hours.”

Recommended Viewing

Cubans talk about their hopes for the future, Sarah Rainsford, BBC

On the 60th anniversary of the Moncada attack, Sarah Rainsford interviews several Cubans about their lives and aspirations. The interviewees speak of their optimism about the island’s ongoing economic reforms while acknowledging the complexities the changes have brought about. They also talk about family members who have moved away, express their hopes to travel, and discuss hardships they have faced.

Fidel Castro 1959 Interview Resurfaces in Animated Form, The Huffington Post

Blank on Blank, a PBS project which animates lost, vintage interviews, has animated an interview of Fidel Castro by Clark Galloway, at the time the Inter-American Affairs Editor for U.S. News and World Report. Galloway’s granddaughter, Laura, gives an account of her discovery of the recorded interview.

Special Feature:

El Salvador’s Amnesty Law: A Monument to Impunity?, Kevin Dolliver, Steven Kanavel, and David Robeck, George Washington University Latin American and Hemispheric Studies Program

The Center for Democracy in the Americas collaborated with George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs by serving as the sponsor organization for the Capstone research project of Kevin Dolliver, Steven Kanavel, and David Robeck.

Linda Garrett, CDA’s Senior Analyst on El Salvador, along with Héctor Silva Ávalos, a CDA Advisory Board member and Associate Investigator at American University’s Center for Latin American Studies, worked with the students to develop a research plan. With Linda and Héctor’s support and advice, the students investigated the legal and human rights implications of El Salvador’s controversial laws granting immunity for crimes committed during the country’s civil war. They went on to examine public attitudes toward the laws. We are pleased to share their report here.

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