We publish on the day our country remembers the life and death of President John Kennedy. As Secretary Kerry recently reminded us, we are also days away from the 190th anniversary of the Monroe Doctrine. On December 3, Alan Gross will begin his fifth year imprisoned in Cuba, for his part in the U.S. government effort to bring about regime change on the island. In unexpected ways, these solemn anniversaries fit together.
Today, the Center for Democracy in the Americas releases a short, two-part, video documentary by Tracey Eaton, an independent journalist, whose film examines the half-century-old U.S. effort to end the Castro government and replace Cuba’s system with one based on the political principles and free market preferences of the United States. We hope you will view and share them, here.
In Part 1, “Diplomacy Derailed,” Eaton explains how concerted efforts to topple Cuba’s government have consistently met with failure. In one interview, Reinaldo Escobar – blogger, independent journalist, and the husband of blogger Yoani Sánchez – tells him:
“The United States has made huge mistakes in its policy toward Cuba. The so-called blockade or embargo, the so-called Helms-Burton Act, all have a typically interventionist nature, of a very strong pressure. The main mistake that the United States has committed regarding Cuba is to stubbornly refuse to recognize the legitimacy of the government of Cuba. That’s everything.”
In Part 2, “Failure Compounded,” the documentary turns from Cuba’s resistance to attacks on its sovereignty to the constraints placed on USAID’s democracy promotion program in Cuba, which the country outlawed in 1999. As Peter Kornbluh of the National Security Archive observes:
“The Cuban case has proved – year after year after year – that we are not doing this legitimately and we’re not doing it effectively. Very little has been accomplished on the ground and, arguably, relations have been poisoned by the continuing effort to basically take a program that is supposed to be above-board and overt and transform it into a surreptitious, semi-covert operation, with people who are really not trained, supervised, and backed to undertake these kinds of operations.”
It is against this backdrop that Alan Gross was arrested in Cuba.
As USAID admits, its operations in Cuba are unique compared to how it works elsewhere in the world. When it ran afoul of authorities in Russia, as the Los Angeles Times reported earlier this year, it packed up its operations and left, however reluctantly, understanding that it could not be effective at promoting democracy if it failed to act with the consent of the host government. In Cuba, it makes no such concession.
While USAID coaches foreign governments and NGOs on the virtues of transparency, it operates in Cuba in a semi-covert fashion, it withholds and redacts documents requested by reporters like Tracey Eaton and U.S. news agencies, and it dissembled along with the rest of the U.S. government when Mr. Gross was detained in Cuba for his activities there.
From the beginning, as Professor Bill LeoGrande explains, the “U.S. government’s position has been that he did nothing wrong, was imprisoned unjustly, and therefore should be released unconditionally.” It has never admitted that “by setting up wireless digital networks for select groups of Cubans to connect to the Internet by satellite, independently of Cuba’s national Internet connections,” what Alan Gross was doing under a program funded by the Helms-Burton legislation was against Cuban law.
Cuba, of course, knew what Mr. Gross was doing and what USAID continues to do. Recently, when the agency sent grant applications and other internal reports to U.S. diplomats in Havana over an unencrypted line, it was assumed that Cuban intelligence agencies read them all.
Hardliners continue to demand his unconditional release (though it is unclear why Cuba would do this) and label efforts to work a deal with the Cuban government “a travesty.” U.S. officials and others profess not to know what the Cubans actually want in exchange for his freedom. For years, the Obama administration’s public position – besides denying he was doing anything wrong – was to say no changes in policy toward Cuba could happen without his release. Now, even Rep. Joe Garcia from Florida is saying, “He’s an American prisoner, and we should do all we can to obtain his release but we shouldn’t let it guide U.S. foreign policy.”
We hear – from time to time – that efforts are underway to secure Mr. Gross’s release. Maybe something is happening below the radar, but on the surface his case seems deadlocked — as the moribund state of the “Bring Alan Home” website sadly seems to attest.
What might turn things around?
Our insistence that Cuba replace its political and economic system as a precondition for the U.S. reconsidering a diplomatic relationship with its government has kept our policy frozen in place, ever since it was conceived during the Cold War by the Kennedy administration.
Paradoxically, in the days before he died, President Kennedy may have been ready to undertake a new approach. In an article released today, Peter Kornbluh reveals that Kennedy was “actively exploring a rapprochement with Cuba, and working secretly with Castro to set up secret negotiations to improve relations.” While his “(T)op aides argued that the U.S. should demand that Castro jettison his relations with the Soviets as a pre-condition to any talks… the President overruled them; he instructed his top aides to ‘start thinking along more flexible lines’ in negotiating with Castro.”
We’d like to think that President Obama might think more flexibly too. When he spoke in Miami earlier this month he said, “Keep in mind that when Castro came to power, I was just born. So the notion that the same policies that we put in place in 1961 would somehow still be as effective as they are today in the age of the Internet and Google and world travel doesn’t make sense.”
It would make far greater sense if the administration applied the same principles to Cuba that Secretary Kerry articulated in his “end of the Monroe Doctrine” address, which will guide our relations with the other nations of Latin America. Instead of the U.S. declaring “how and when it will intervene in the affairs of other American states,” Mr. Kerry offered the promise of a new relationship with the region, with “all of our countries viewing one another as equals.”
Bringing our policy toward Cuba into alignment with the same norms we now promise to observe in our relationships with the rest of Latin America offers a range of advantages. We could build trust with the rest of the region, find a stable and consistent way to engage with Cuba, and speed the day when Mr. Gross is able to come back home.
On Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry discussed U.S. policy toward Cuba in an address at the Organization of American States titled “The U.S. & Latin America: The Power of Partnership,” reports the Associated Press. Sec. Kerry began his remarks declaring that “the era of the Monroe Doctrine is over,” and stressed that nations of the Western Hemisphere are all “equal partners.”
He acknowledged President Obama’s comments on Cuba last week, stating, “Since President Obama took office, the Administration has started to search for a new beginning with Cuba.” Kerry mentioned “cooperation on common interests” between the U.S. and Cuba, and the considerable flow of U.S. travelers, remittances, and trade to the island each year. But, the Secretary went on to say that Cuba still needs to embrace a “broader political reform agenda”:
“And while we also welcome some of the changes that are taking place in Cuba which allow more Cubans to be able to travel freely and work for themselves, these changes should absolutely not blind us to the authoritarian reality of life for ordinary Cubans. … if more does not change soon, it is clear that the 21st century will continue, unfortunately, to leave the Cuban people behind.”
In a press briefing with White House Spokesperson Jen Psaki assured reporters that there is nothing “new to convey vis-à-vis our policy toward Cuba….If there’s any change to announce, we’ll make that announcement.”
In remarks at the Presidential Palace in Panama, Vice President Joe Biden said the United States believes the North Korean ship that Panamanian authorities found to be carrying weapons from Cuba in July was in “violation of [UN] sanctions,” reports Café Fuerte. He commended Raúl Mulino, Panama’s Minister of Security, for his “great work,” stating:
“Panama did something we haven’t come to expect everywhere in the world — it stepped up. It stepped up where others might have stepped back. We think it’s a violation of U.S. sanctions [sic]. But, nonetheless, Panama stepped up. You found and confiscated weapons heading from Cuba to North Korea. The United States is thankful for your taking on that international responsibility. And you made a significant contribution for real to global security, not just U.S. security. We are pretty well capable of handling our own security. But you contributed to global security. That is what responsible nations do and that’s what you have done.”
Previously, according to an analysis by Reuters, the Obama administration had “detected a North Korean vessel carrying a hidden cargo of Cuban weapons (…) departing from a port in Cuba,” at which point U.S. officials decided it would be wise not to directly intervene, thus avoiding a “bilateral incident” between the United States and Cuba, in contrast to Biden’s approach.
“Instead,” Reuters reports, “they tipped off Panamanian officials, who raided the ship and found the weapons, allowing the case to be handled in a more low-key multilateral manner.” Early media coverage of the July incident simply stated that Panama had received a tip-off of a possible drug shipment.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) mistakenly sent unencrypted documents to U.S. diplomats in Havana, Cuba, reports Miami Herald. The documents contained detailed applications by organizations seeking USAID grants to run democracy promotion programs in Cuba. By using an insecure channel to transmit the files for review at the U.S. Interests Section, it is likely that Cuban intelligence had access to them and the information they contained.
In a comment to the Herald, an official at one of the groups applying called it “An amazingly stupid thing to do.” His documents, the newspaper reported, contained a complete history of his past work with USAID’s pro-democracy programs in Cuba.
Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA 13) delivered both a personal letter and a letter signed by 56 non-governmental organizations to President Obama urging him to further improve U.S. relations with Cuba, reports Havana Times. Acknowledging the positive actions that President Obama has already taken on lifting some restrictions on Cuban Americans, Rep. Lee and the 56 NGO’s pressed for him to take three additional, immediate steps:
1. To engage in high-level talks with the Cuban government, 2. To remove Cuba from the U.S. state sponsors of terrorism list and 3. To lift all restrictions on licensed travel between the U.S. and Cuba.
All signers of the letters support full normalization of U.S-Cuba relations. Emily Chow, Senior Program Associate of the Latin American Working Group, who partnered with Rep. Lee to help send this message to the White House, remarked, “The majority of Cuban Americans are in favor of engagement, as well as the majority of U.S. citizens.” Many of the organizations signing on to the letter represent Cuban Americans, including Cuban Americans for Engagement (CAFÉ), Cubapuentes, Cuban American Alliance, Progreso Weekly and FORNORM.
Both letters are available here.
Elián González condemned the Cuban Adjustment Act in an interview with a local Cuban newspaper Monday, reports AFP. González, now almost 20 years-old, survived the capsizing of the motorboat he and other Cubans boarded in an attempt to reach Florida in November, 1999. His mother was among the 11 who died in the incident. He stated that the policy, which grants special immigration rights to Cubans if they reach American soil, was the reason his mother died at sea.
After the accident took place, he was kept in Miami by his Florida relatives who engaged in a custody battle to prevent his return to Cuba. González said, “I suffered the consequences of the Act.” Through their efforts to block him from being reunited with his father, he said his basic rights were violated: “the right to be with my father, the right to maintain my nationality and remain in my cultural context.”
His father, Juan Miguel González, ultimately came to the U.S. from Cuba and fought a prolonged and ultimately successful legal battle to be reunited with his son. After armed U.S. Customs agents removed him from a home in Miami, and Elián was reunited with his father, the two were able to return to Cuba in June of 2000.
Arturo Sandoval, a jazz musician born in Cuba who became an American citizen, was one of 16 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom at the White House this week, reports Latino Daily News. He attended a White House celebration in honor of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Medal of Freedom by John F. Kennedy. President Obama stated, “The Presidential Medal of Freedom goes to men and women who have dedicated their own lives to enriching ours. This year’s honorees have been blessed with extraordinary talent, but what sets them apart is their gift for sharing that talent with the world. It will be my honor to present them with a token of our nation’s gratitude.”
Cuban dissident Oscar Biscet, who won the award in 2007, was invited to Washington by President Obama, but was unable to attend as the conditions of his release from prison in 2010 specify that he remains on probation, prohibiting him from leaving the country, the Havana Times reports. His wife Elsa Morejón did make the trip.
CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS
Peace negotiations in Cuba between Colombia’s government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) aimed at ending the country’s decades-long internal conflict, reached their first anniversary on Tuesday, reports Prensa Latina. Partial accords have been reached on two of the six points of discussion to-date.
As CNN reports, Juan Miguel Santos, Colombia’s president, first elected in 2010 on a platform stressing a hard line against the FARC, has announced that he will stand for reelection in 2014, thus turning the upcoming presidential campaign into a referendum on his peacemaking efforts. Cuba, along with Venezuela and Norway, has a served as a “peace-broker” for the talks, with Cuba’s government hosting the negotiations on the island.
As we reported earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry recognized Cuba’s contributions in securing the release of Kevin Scott Sutay, a former U.S. Marine captured in Colombia by the FARC last year.
Two hundred Cuban doctors will arrive in Ecuador in December as part of an agreement signed between the two nations, reports AFP. Under the pact, a total of 1,000 Cuban doctors will eventually be sent to Ecuador, and 5,000 Ecuadoran doctors will receive training in Cuba. As we reported last month, President Correa announced the $30 million per year contract after a visit to Havana. Cuba already trains thousands of Ecuador’s primary care doctors, and has graduated 1,400 Ecuadorians from its Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM).
Rodrigo Malmierca, Cuba’s Foreign Trade Minister, asked Brazil to invest additional funds in the construction of the Mariel Special Development Zone in a business meeting in Sao Paulo on Thursday, reports EFE and Cuba Standard. Malmierca said from Sao Paulo that “the Mariel port already received a great volume of resources that are well invested… Cuba asked for credit, not for the port, but for the Special Development Zone.” Brazil is already the top contributor to the project with investments that total $682 million.
Cuba summoned a Mexican businessman in connection to an ongoing corruption investigation, reports the Associated Press. The Mexican businessman, Alfredo Jaime Capetillo, is accused of bribery. He has until Wednesday to meet with authorities, though his current whereabouts are unknown. In previous cases, foreigners who refused to abide by the summons had their local businesses seized after they were charged in absentia.
Cuba will begin the expansion of the wholesale market for state enterprises on an experimental basis, reports Granma. The reforms, laid out today by the Ministries of Economy and Planning and Finance and Prices in the Official Gazette, will authorize the managers of select state enterprises to sign wholesale contracts with other Cuban business entities for surplus goods.
Surplus goods must be generated legally, for example, through the cancellation or early termination of a project. Affected enterprises are in the steel, textile, construction, and salt industries. The enterprises will be able to set wholesale prices in both Cuban Pesos (CUP) and Convertible Pesos (CUC), according to supply and demand. Enterprises will also be authorized to offer discounts for commercial reasons. The article introducing the reforms in Granma states:
“The implementation of this experiment will permit businesses to increase their sales and profits, which is a source of… increased incomes for workers. … This experiment constitutes a preview of what will continue to be gradually applied to the country’s state enterprise system starting in January 2014.”
The Conference of Cuban Catholic Bishops has replaced its Vice President, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, reports the Miami Herald and EFE. Arturo González, the bishop from Santa Clara, will replace Ortega as Vice President.
Cardinal Jaime Ortega submitted his resignation as archbishop of Havana in 2010, as required by the Vatican once he turned 75, but stayed on after Pope Benedict XVI asked him to remain and be present for the Pontiff’s visit to Cuba last year. Hi successor, Pope Francis, is said to be ready to name a new archbishop of Havana, and possibly a new cardinal.
As the Associated Press reported, Ortega, made a cardinal in 1994, has had an eventful tenure leading the church on the island. He successfully negotiated modest openings for the Church, and was key to negotiating the agreement that led to freedom for dissidents jailed since 2003 following a round-up by Cuba’s government.
For now, Ortega remains archbishop of Havana. The current Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba and President of the Conference, Dionisio García Ibañez, is considered the most likely candidate to replace Ortega in Havana.
Around the Region
In Chile’s Presidential election on Sunday, former President Michelle Bachelet received nearly 47 percent of the vote, reported the Associated Press and the New York Times. Given that she fell just short of the majority needed to win the election outright, there will be a runoff election on December 15th. Bachelet, a moderate leftist representing the newly-formed New Majority Coalition, received almost twice as many votes as Evelyn Matthei; the conservative politician who came in second place. The race included seven other candidates.
While Bachelet insisted that she would bring about transformational change in society during her second mandate, her coalition failed to win the super majorities needed in Congress to carry out some of her proposals. Chilean student leader, Camila Vallejo, was elected to Congress as a part of Bachelet’s coalition, reports The Guardian. Though outgoing President Sebastian Piñera sustained high economic growth for four years, much of the country’s middle class and youth are dissatisfied over the education system, generational debt, and income inequality.
Bachelet left office in 2010 with an 84 percent approval rating.
In a letter to government officials in El Salvador, ten members of the U.S. Congress urged action to protect Salvadoran communities and the environment from harm caused by extensive metallic mining, reports Oxfam America. Currently, around 90 percent of surface water in El Salvador is contaminated. Large-scale mining development would further contaminate the country’s limited fresh water supply. As a result, El Salvador is considering the first-ever permanent ban on metallic mining. The letter expresses concern over the violence directed at environmental activists and mining’s environmental consequences.
In other El Salvador-related news, the UN has called for an investigation into the attacks on Pro-Búsqueda, the human rights organization, reports El Mundo. Pro-Búsqueda, as we reported last week, is dedicated to investigating cases of children lost and stolen during the country’s civil war. In a statement, the UN called on El Salvador’s government to pay special attention to the investigation, so that the perpetrators could be held responsible. The statement also urged El Salvador to take all necessary measures to ensure that human rights organizations are able to work free of intimidation and fear.
Venezuela’s Congress approved an Enabling Law this week to provide President Maduro with year-long decree powers to regulate the economy and rid the country of corruption, reports Reuters. President Maduro has already planned the first two laws that he will issue by decree. One, planned to reduce price-gouging by businesses, will limit their profit margins to 15 to 30 percent. The second law will create a Venezuelan state body overseeing dollar sales by currency control bodies.
Upcoming Live Blog!
The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) will live-blog the Honduran presidential, legislative and municipal elections this Sunday, November 24th. In addition to tracking media coverage, they will be in contact with civil society groups monitoring the electoral process in different areas of the country.
For more information, see here.
Take a look at the photo gallery from our conference, “Cubans in the New Economy: Their Reflections and the US Response” at George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs last week. Read more about it here.
The Center for Democracy in the Americas is releasing a short, two-part video documentary by Tracey Eaton. Mr. Eaton is an independent journalist, and his film sheds light on the origins, failures, and future of the United States’ policy toward Cuba’s government.
Q&A: Florida’s new face in Cuba politics, Cuba Standard
Cuba Standard’s Johannes Werner sat down with U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (FL-14) to ask about her views on U.S. policy toward Cuba. Rep. Castor reflects on her experience last week at the Center for Democracy in the Americas’ conference, which featured Cuban small business owners, and about her trip to Cuba with CDA this spring.
Deciphering diplo-speak on Cuba, Richard Feinberg, Miami Herald
Professor Richard Feinberg writes on what he deems the widespread misinterpretation by U.S. media of Secretary of State John Kerry’s remarks at the Organization of American States (OAS) earlier this week. Instead of taking these remarks at face-value, we should look beyond the “diplo-speak” in order to see the new approaches to U.S-Cuba policy that are being signaled.
Kennedy’s Last Act: Reaching Out to Cuba, Peter Kornbluh, The National Security Archive
For the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Peter Kornbluh reflects on what might have been. He reveals how President Kennedy and President Fidel Castro may have been moving toward rapprochement just days before President Kennedy was assassinated.
To hear Peter Kornbluh discuss this further, see here.
A Lesson From Cuba on Race, Alejandro de la Fuente, The New York Times
Alejandro de la Fuente speaks about what lessons countries like Cuba may have for the U.S. regarding economic justice and racial equality. He writes, “Few in the United States would think to turn to a socialist state for wisdom on the matter [economic justice], but an examination of the recent history of Cuba does in fact provide valuable lessons about the complex links between economic justice, access to basic goods and services, racial inequality, and…’continuing problems about race.'”
What typhoon-prone PH can learn from Cuba, India, ABS-CBN News
In light of the super typhoon that hit the Philippines earlier this month and has killed nearly 4,000 people, ABS-CBN News takes a look at the lessons to be learned from Cuba and India’s disaster preparedness system.
Cuba libre: Could port herald new economic age for communist island?, Eoghan Macguire, CNN
CNN’s The Gateway explores the economic and political implications of the new port and Free Trade Zone being constructed in Mariel, Cuba — “by far the most important development project on the island.” Speculating on the future success of the project, Macguire concludes: “As it stands, international investors will have to be persuaded to choose Cuba over nearby competitors.”
Reconstruction in cooperative, Ana Lidia García, OnCuba
OnCuba Magazine takes a look inside the growth of non-agricultural cooperatives in Cuba and how they have been affected by recent economic reforms.