A controlling premise of U.S. policy is that Cuba must change – by which its Cold War-era authors meant giving up every feature of its governing and economic systems – before our country will even contemplate normalizing relations with Cuba.
So far, this approach doesn’t seem to be working. But, hey, as the current crop of Cold Warriors seem to think: ‘just give it time. We’ve only been at it for six decades.’
As written, these policies make it extremely difficult for U.S. residents to visit Cuba legally, nearly impossible to engage with Cuba economically, and pose enormous obstacles for our government in dealing with Cuba’s government diplomatically.
Consequently, they have a vested interest in persuading anyone (U.S. policymakers) and everyone (the rest of us) that Cuba is the same country in 2013 as it was more than fifty years ago when sanctions were first slapped on.
But the notion that Cuba hasn’t changed and isn’t changing is the hardliner’s illusion, not ours. Nearly every day, changes are taking place on the island and even here – in Miami and Washington – where people are seeing this issue differently and behaving differently, too.
Just take a look at what we’re reporting this week:
Cuban Music Icon Rodríguez Challenges State Censorship
HAVANA — The best known musician in Cuba and a staunch supporter of the island’s communist revolution, Silvio Rodríguez, has challenged state censorship by inviting a recently sanctioned colleague to join him at two concerts this weekend on the Caribbean island.
Cuba’s Bishops Call for Political Freedom and New Relations With U.S.
HAVANA –The Roman Catholic Church in Cuba has issued a rare pastoral letter calling for political reform in tandem with social and economic changes already underway. Additionally, the letter praised the recent reforms of President Raúl Castro and called on the U.S. to end decades-old economic embargo on the island.
NPR affiliate apologizes and re-invites Cuba book author
MIAMI — The Miami affiliate of National Public Radio has apologized for canceling an interview with the author of a book that criticizes the Miami trial of five Cuban spies, and has re-invited him to appear on a news show.
U.S. and Cuba talk about resuming direct mail service
HAVANA – The United States and Cuba concluded on Monday their second round of talks aimed at re-establishing direct mail service between the two countries after a 50-year ban, but left for later the most sensitive issue – Cuban planes landing on U.S. soil.
These are just the headlines from this week. Regular readers will remember what we have reported in the past: when Cuba’s government legalized cell phones, dropped prohibitions on Cubans selling their cars and homes, stopped denying Cubans entry into hotels, opened up jobs for Cubans in the private sector to earn their own living away from the state payroll, legalized travel for so that most Cubans can leave and return to Cuba, sold off some state-owned businesses, freed political prisoners, shuttered the Ministry of Sugar, and opened media channels to complaints by citizens about government inefficiency and corruption in the health sector, and the list goes on.
These are real changes and it’s very hard to connect any of them to trade sanctions, travel restrictions, Radio or TV Martí, or the “democracy promotion” (regime change) programs responsible for the arrest and lengthy prison sentence being served by Alan Gross, as much as the Cold Warriors might try.
This is not to say that everything is perfect, or that Cuba has become the multiparty democracy as specified under The Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 or the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act of 1996.
What it does mean, however, is that when you hear their mantra “nothing has changed,” the Cold Warriors who repeat it are only admitting what the rest of us know – their policy has never worked and that time has passed them by.
Now that you’ve opened your eyes and read the headlines, we invite you to read the news.
Delegations from the U.S. and Cuba met on Monday in Havana for a second round of talks on the resumption of direct mail services between the two countries, reports the Associated Press. The previous meeting was held in June. As Reuters reported, the countries have not reached an agreement on “the most sensitive issue – Cuban planes landing on U.S. soil,” but will meet in the near future to develop a route for a direct mail pilot program. The U.S. delegation gave Cuba’s delegation a “specific proposal” to which they are expected to submit a written response as soon as possible, reports Havana Times.
The U.S. delegation, which included Lea Emerson, postal service Executive Director for International Postal Services, toured Cuba’s mail facilities on Tuesday. Direct mail services between the U.S. and Cuba have been suspended since 1963. Mail is currently sent indirectly both ways via third-party countries like Mexico, Canada and Panama.
Ronald Bechtold, the chief information officer at the office of Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, stated this week that the Pentagon will extend a fiber-optic cable, currently under construction to serve the U.S. Naval base at Guantanamo, to the entire island of Cuba, reports the Miami Herald. Currently, the base receives Internet through slow satellite transmissions. The fiber-optic cable, originating with the U.S. Southern Command in South Florida, is expected to be functional in about two years. Bechtold said that “It’s going to be for the island with anticipation that one day they’ll be able to move it into mainland Cuba.” The official did not elaborate on when, or under what circumstances, the cable would be extended.
Members of Congress Unite to Safeguard Americans from Cuban Art Dealers
Demanding an explanation, Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27), Mario Díaz Balart (FL-25), Albio Sires (NJ-8), and Joe García (FL-26) have written U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Adam Szubin, the director of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, about reports that employees from four state-run Cuban art galleries are showing and selling artwork at a Houston, Texas art show.
Miami Herald writer Fabiola Santiago writes that she inquired with the Treasury Department about this matter and was told by a spokesperson that U.S. regulations authorize transactions connected to informational materials, among which art is included, and that in addition, “case-by-case” special licenses can be issued. “Our license applies if they are given a visa,” a Treasury spokesperson wrote. Ros-Lehtinen, Díaz Balart, Sires, and García ask in their letter that Sec. Kerry and Szubin “examine if these actions break U.S. sanctions,” and demand “an explanation as to why the individuals participating in the fair were granted visas.”
Stephen Kimber, author of What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of the Cuban Five, spoke with WLRN today, a Florida-based talk radio station, after the interview was cancelled and then rescheduled earlier this week, reports the Miami Herald. The executive producer of Tropical Currents, Joseph Cooper, had called off the interview because he felt Kimber’s [presupposition of] the innocence of the Cuban Five was “incendiary” and feared it and would spark a negative reaction among the Miami community.
John Labonia, the general manager of WLRN, subsequently published a statement apologizing for Cooper’s actions, undertaken without the station’s consent, and re-invited Kimber to interview and debate with WLRN’s news division. He stated:
“WLRN has always prided itself on being South Florida’s communal roundtable, a place where the news and issues that most concern us can be discussed and debated in an intelligent and, above all, tolerant forum. That’s especially true when it comes to the controversial issue of Cuba. As a radio station, we realize that it remains a highly sensitive matter in Miami, especially within the Cuban-American community. But we also realize that the local conversation about Cuba has evolved and become more broad-minded over the past decade, and that it can accommodate opinions today that might have been too uncomfortable to engage a generation ago.”
Two representatives with the U.S. Soybean Export Council traveled to Havana to meet with representatives of the state importer Alimport and conduct a workshop on soy-based swine feed, reports Cuba Standard. The U.S. Soybean Export Council is looking to increase sales of soybeans to Cuba after experiencing a five million dollar decline in sales from 2009 to 2012.
Although Cuba is interested in improving relationships with all U.S. suppliers, Alimport executives told the delegation that changes imposed by the Bush administration in 2005 – which toughened the rules on otherwise legal transactions for food sourced from U.S. suppliers – and left in place by the Obama administration would “stand in the way of more purchases.”
CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS
Ecuador’s President, Rafael Correa is currently in Cuba on a visit with a focus on healthcare collaboration, reports Cuba Standard. In past years, Cuba’s government has contributed to Ecuador’s health sector by helping to implement a neonatal preventive health program and providing primary care doctors. Likewise, Ecuador has continued to purchase drugs and vaccines from Cuba and spent over $200 million dollars training Ecuadorean medical students at Cuba’s Latin American School of Medicine. President Correa has assumed a leadership role in the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) and looks to advance its new medical program, ALBAmed.
President Correa will also visit Santiago de Cuba, where the Ecuadorian Army Corps of Engineers are rebuilding Cuba’s two towers of the city’s Faculty of Medical Science, as well as homes that were damaged by Hurricane Sandy.
After Farooq Abdullah, India’s Minister of New and Renewable Energy, visited Havana India’s government has offered lines of credit and expertise to Cuba in order to develop renewable energy projects, reports the Indian Express. Though details about how much was offered in the line of credit were not offered, both countries agreed to cooperate on developing their renewable energy sectors.
Robertico Carcassés, lead singer of the group Interactivo, caused a stir when he culminated a nationally-televised concert in Cuba with a call for direct presidential elections and free access to information on the island, reports the Associated Press. The concert, which was held in front of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, was organized to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the incarceration of the Cuban Five. In addition to calling for open presidential elections, and freedom of access to information, Carcassés asked for an end to “the blockade” as well as what he termed the “self-blockade.” Carcassés continued, “Neither militants nor dissidents, (we are) all Cubans with the same rights.” A video of the concert can be found here.
Carcassés’ statements prompted mixed reactions, as the Miami Herald reports that some Cubans found it highly disrespectful to use an event for the Cuban Five to make such statements, while others admired his boldness. The Ministry of Culture reacted by banning Carcassés from public performances. Following that decision, singer-songwriter Silvio Rodríguez, Cuba’s best-known musician, publicly invited Carcassés via his blog to perform in two upcoming concerts. Rodríguez explained his decision in his blog:
“As a Cuban citizen, Robertico has the right to express what he thinks in his country. I find it an unfortunate mistake that he did it at an act for our five heroes, who have sacrificed their lives for the peoples’ security. I also do not agree with the excessive sanction of prohibiting a musician to perform his/her function. When a public person expresses something controversial, it is up to the public to ponder it. I hope that, sooner rather than later, we understand this and act accordingly.”
Following his first blog post, Rodríguez added an update, saying that Carcassés had met with the Ministry of Culture, and that the meeting had been “so positive” that they had decided to lift the ban. He closed by saying “They say that through talking, people understand each other. May it always be that way.”
The Catholic bishops of the Cuban Episcopal Conference wrote a pastoral letter to Cuba’s government, calling for political reforms to accompany the economic reforms underway on the island, reports AFP. In the letter, entitled Hope Does Not Disappoint, the bishops discuss the hopes created among Cubans by economic reforms that include a new political order, respect the diversity of thought, in addition to the economic changes that are already taking place.
The bishops advocate for several other points in the 11-page letter, including addressing issues of poverty, providing youth with opportunities for self-fulfillment, and encouraging a dialogue on national reconciliation between Cubans of differing opinions, and between those living abroad and those who have remained on the island. Phil Peters, in the Cuban Triangle Blog, provides analysis here. He writes that the Church’s message emphasized that: “…the dignity of the person and the development of the economy require not only more and deeper economic reform, but a political reform too that permits real pluralism in the society and in the political system.”
President Castro signed a decree-law that will regulate the first Special Development Zone in the Western port of Mariel, according to Cuba Standard. The zone looks to attract foreign manufacturers and provide employment opportunities for local Cubans. Two Brazilian manufacturers have expressed interest in relocating to Mariel, and a government office will be created to manage other businesses who seek to open at the port. The new Mariel port expansion project, largely funded by Brazil, seeks to designate Mariel as the number one shipping port in Cuba.
Demolition crews have been hard at work removing ruined docks and restoring former tobacco warehouses and shipyards along Havana’s harbor, reports the Associated Press. Havana’s city officials have taken the shrinking port activity as an opportunity to completely transform the city, with spaces for a promenade, restaurants and public parks. Authorities have also worked on improving the water quality of the bay, by closing off industrial drains and installing treatment facilities. The article notes that while many hope that such changes will help boost tourism, others worry about gentrification in the working-class neighborhood, adding that due to Havana’s housing shortage, it would be a challenge to relocate families displaced by potential gentrification in the areas slated for restoration.
The National Association of Economists and Accountants of Cuba (ANEC) is now offering accounting courses to self-employed and cooperative members in the Villa Clara province, reports Cuban News Agency. This complete program is 112 hours long, and is scheduled to run through April 2014 on 11 topics related to accounting. These courses will help individuals gain basic accounting and finance skills that are useful in the entrepreneurial, production, service and non-state sectors. The program will also forward ANEC’s goal to promote economic culture throughout the province.
Mariela Castro, director of Cuba’s National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX) and daughter of President Raúl Castro, announced that Cuba will hold its first conference on prostitution, sex tourism and human trafficking later this year, reports AFP. The conference will take place during the last three days of November and will include experts from countries such as Argentina, Belgium, and Sweden. This conference follows Cuba’s celebration of World Sexual Health Day on September 20th and 21st.
On June 19, 2013, the U.S. State Department, in its annual Trafficking In Persons Report, listed Cuba as a Tier III country, its harshest listing, although it says in just over a page of reporting on the country that it lacks information from Cuba to inform its judgments on the issue.
Around the Region
Honduras’s government has granted over 1.6 million acres of land titles to the five Miskito indigenous communities along its border with Nicaragua and the Caribbean coast, reports the Associated Press. Within the last year, the government previously granted 265,000 acres of land to these communities. The Miskito communities now possess almost seven percent of land in Honduras, reports Honduras Culture and Politics. However, only ten percent of the land most recently granted to these communities is arable. Reynaldo Vega, Executive Director of Honduras’ National Agrarian Institute, hopes the communities will improve the soil quality of areas affected by high salinity and acidity by hunting and planting crops.
China plans to invest 14 billion dollars in the development of the Campo Junin 1 oil field in Venezuela, reports Merco Press. Campo Junin 1 contains 300 billion barrels of oil and the world’s largest single reserve of hydrocarbons. Both President Maduro of Venezuela and President Xi Jinping of China plan to continue strengthening close ties between the two countries during a meeting in China scheduled for this weekend.
A tribute to architects, Jaime Hamre, Center for Democracy in the Americas
Jaime Hamre, CDA’s second Stephen M. Rivers Memorial Intern, has just begun her internship. In this blog post, she reflects on her new position, looking back at her experiences in Cuba, and forward to working to build bridges between the United States and Cuba.
The Bay of Pigs’ unfinished battle, George F. Will, the Washington Post
Will criticizes the CIA for its unwillingness to make public the last unreleased files relating to the failed U.S. invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in April 1961, saying that the CIA’s reasons for not releasing the documents are “more flimsy than the public’s solid interest in information. And the government’s interest.”
Immigration from Cuba reaches an 18-year high, Al Jazeera America
This video report looks at the record number of Cubans migrating permanently, mostly to the United States. Emigration numbers reached nearly 50,000 in 2012, the largest annual figure since 1994. As government policy, demographics and economic and political incentives have changed many of those leaving are the young and educated.
ESFoto 2013, El Faro
As part of the photojournalism festival “ESFotoperiodismo 2013,” this gallery showcases the “most representative of Central American photography,” and is full of striking, violent, and beautiful images from the region. The festival, based in San Salvador, will run until the end of this month.