Tilting at Windmills

At a time when Russia is strengthening its security alliance with Cuba and the European Union is moving to replace its Common Position of isolation with intensified diplomatic engagement, why is the United States still tilting at the windmills of the Cold War?


When our Cuba program began visiting the island over a decade ago, it was hard to find a Cuban who had a kind word to say about Russia. They felt betrayed.  Once the Soviet Union fell, and its subsidies were withdrawn, the Cuban economy and living standards collapsed.  “We lost our sense of the future,” a professor memorably told us.

Of course, during the Cold War, most Americans hated the Soviets (and Cuba) too.  As Dr. Lou Pérez reminds us in “Cuba as an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder,” Cuba’s alliance with the U.S.S.R., and especially the Missiles of October in 1962, focused U.S. policy on “arresting and reversing” Soviet encroachment in the hemisphere and on “punishing Cuba for aiding and abetting Soviet expansion.”

For decades, we acted out this U.S. obsession, leaving deep scars across the hemisphere and punishing Cuba with sanctions that remain in place so long after the Cold War ended.

This history came to mind when Russia’s Security Council and Cuba’s Commission for National Security and Defense met in Moscow to sign a cooperation deal on security; a development that attracted virtually no press coverage; except, poetically, by the Voice of America. Cuba, for its part, is pursuing its self-interest and looking forward.

Europe has also put the Cold War in its rear-view mirror.  For years, former Eastern bloc nations kept the European Union from changing its policy of diplomatic isolation toward Cuba, what it called the “Common Position,” adopted the same year as the Helms-Burton law, though crafted with a lighter touch.

This year, however, the EU decided to replace isolation with engagement.  Its diplomats are directly talking to Cuban counterparts about trade and investment, development cooperation, governance and human rights.  A joint meeting concluded in Havana two weeks ago with a roadmap for moving forward, formal negotiations planned every two months, and an agreement to have “informal contacts,” as the Latin Post reported, in between.

It’s not possible from this vantage point to see where the EU-Cuba negotiations will lead.  But, they represent an important transformation by both sides; Cuba, as Carlos Alzugaray observed, entered the talks without preconditions.  He quotes Vice President Díaz Canel as saying the government would favor anything that can be constructed on the basis of respect.

What this means, ironically, is that Cuba and the EU have taken John Kerry’s advice, offered in his remarks before the OAS, when the Secretary of State envisioned Latin America as a region with  “Countries viewing one another as equals, sharing responsibilities, cooperating on security issues, and adhering not to doctrine, but to the decisions that we make as partners to advance the values and the interests that we share.”

This is what the United States ought to be doing, too.  To his credit, President Obama restarted talks on migration and restoring mail service; he is also allowing scientists and environmentalists, even some with U.S. government jobs, to collaborate on the environment.

But, he has gone this far and not further.  Just this week, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roberta Jacobson, said publicly that Cuba must meet political preconditions before the U.S. will consider advancing the relationship.

Meanwhile, U.S. citizens are paying for costly schemes – like a self-help video with its “incredible disappearing $450,000 contract” discovered by Tracey Eaton, and ZunZuneo, USAID’s Twitter Trojan Horse, uncovered by the AP – that reflect the Cold War mentality of sneaking into Cuba through the backdoor, when our government ought to be engaging with Cuba openly and respectfully and with the region on the interests we share.

That means working with Panama to avert a region-wide boycott at next year’s Summit of the Americas by ensuring that Cuba, as Francisco Álvarez de Soto, Panama’s Foreign Minister, said, is “brought into the OAS and all their forums.” It means directly engaging with Cuba, as U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee and her delegation advocated, without preconditions, so we can finally obtain the release of Alan Gross.


People who seek a new relationship with Cuba are at worst called “appeasers.” At best, they are considered naïve.  That’s what his opponent called then-Senator Obama, when he talked about negotiating with Cuba in 2008.  We liked his position then, when he responded: “There’s nothing more naïve than continuing a policy that has failed for decades.”

But five years later, when Secretary Kerry told the OAS, “The era of the Monroe Doctrine is dead,” he couldn’t get many in the audience to applaud.  Perhaps they found him naïve.


U.S. and Cuba’s officials discuss alleged terror plot

U.S. diplomats met with Cuban officials on May 8 to discuss the four Miami residents who were arrested in Cuba for allegedly planning to attack military installations on the island, reports the Associated Press. José Ortega Amador, Obdulio Rodríguez González, Raibel Pacheco Santos, and Félix Monzón Álvarez were detained on April 26. After the meeting, the U.S. Interests Section in Havana issued a statement saying: “The Cubans provided some information about the allegations which we are now reviewing.”

According to Cuba’s government,  the men were acting on orders from others with a history of militancy; though according to accounts by news organizations including The New York Times, the four men are not well-known inside the exile community in South Florida.

According to Café Fuerte, one of the men, Pacheco Santos, is the son of Segundo Pacheco Toledo, former First Secretary of Cuba’s embassy in Mexico, who abandoned his post in 2012 and migrated to Miami where he may have worked at Florida International University (FIU).

In Washington, Roberta Jacobson, Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, met with Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Director of U.S. Affairs on Thursday, reports El Nuevo Herald. However, no further details about the meeting have been provided to the public.

For more information on the case, see our coverage last week.

After meeting Obama, Uruguay’s President Mujica says U.S. can improve relations with Cuba

José Mujica, Uruguay’s President, met with President Obama at the White House this week, reports the Washington PostCuba Debate, and ACN. At the meeting, President Obama expressed his commitment to closing the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba before the end of his presidential term. For his part, President Mujica urged President Obama to release the three Cuban Five members still in U.S. prisons in an effort to help better U.S. relations with Cuba, according to Cuba Debate. The meeting took place less than two months after President Mujica agreed to take five prisoners from Guantánamo Bay for human rights reasons.

After the meeting, President Mujica spoke with reporters and said the Obama administration is capable and mature enough to improve relations with Cuba, reported AFP. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roberta Jacobson, responded to that statement in a statement given to Subrayado, saying that the U.S. embargo against Cuba neither affects the region nor is a regional issue. She further remarked that political conditions must be met before the U.S. advances relations with Cuba. President Mujica also called for the improvement of relations between the U.S. and countries such as Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua.

Cuba and U.S. officials discuss environmental cooperation

Officials and scientists from the U.S. and Cuba met Tuesday in Washington, D.C. to discuss environmental cooperation, reports the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The meeting was hosted by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), and included discussion of a new bilateral agreement between the two countries.  This agreement, which Sen. Whitehouse would spearhead, would designate cooperation as a priority and facilitate future exchanges between U.S. and Cuban scientists and researchers. David Guggenheim, president of Ocean Doctor, a U.S.-based organization, stated: “Neighbors don’t always get along, but when something happens in your neighborhood, you have to find a way to rise up and work together.”

As we reported last week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has invited leading Cuban scientist Fabián Pina Amargos to attend the 2014 International Ocean Conference in June. Last month, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the Cuban Academy of Sciences signed a landmark memorandum of understanding to advance scientific cooperation between U.S. and Cuban scientists.

Cuban-funded organization starts political text message program

Despierta Cuba (“Wake up Cuba”), a new organization, has begun sending political text messages to Cuban cell phones, reports Phil Peters on the Cuban Triangle blog. According to the organization’s Twitter page, it is funded with “100 percent private Cuban capital” and has already sent over 1,000 SMS messages to Cuba.

Peters describes the content of the messages as a “mixture of political criticism and calls to protest and to unite with dissidents, whose phone numbers are sometimes included in the texts.” The organization has also tweeted the numbers of Cuban dissidents so that people may send them messages. Text messages are sent through Llama Cuba (“Call Cuba”), an Internet service for calling and texting Cuba.

Though reportedly not linked with the U.S. government, the project is reminiscent of USAID’s faux Twitter program, ZunZuneo, revealed last month in an investigative report by the Associated Press.


Pope Francis meets with family of deceased Cuban dissident

On Wednesday, Pope Francis met privately with the family of Oswaldo Payá, the Cuban dissident who died in 2012 following a car accident, reports El Nuevo Herald. According to the website of Payá’s Christian Liberation Movement (MCL), the meeting lasted 23 minutes. Payá’s daughter, Rosa María Payá tweeted that the group spoke to Pope Francis about “the attack to my dad and Harold [Cepero]. Repression against opposition. Cuban reality. The proposed plebiscite. Cuban Church.”

Oswaldo Payá and another dissident, Harold Cepero, were killed in a car accident in July of 2012. Ángel Carromero, a Spanish citizen, was driving the car when the accident took place, and Aaron Modig from Sweden was also in the vehicle. Oswaldo Payá’s family and later on, Ángel Carromero, claimed that Cuban state agents rammed their car off the road. Carromero was charged with vehicular manslaughter by Cuba’s government and sentenced to four years in prison. He was sent back to Spain through an agreement between the two countries at the end of 2012.


Cuba resumes consular services, banking problem still unresolved

The Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C. announced that it will resume all consular services, reports the Miami Herald. Following a statement earlier in the week that the mission would begin processing passports, travel service providers were called to a meeting at which Cuban officials confirmed this development. Cuba’s consular services lost access to banking services in March when their former bank, M&T Bank, ceased supporting its transactions. While the U.S. reiterates that it is actively working with the Cuban Interests Section to find a new bank, there are no signs of progress. As a result, all consular services must for now be paid for in cash.

The government experienced some technical difficulties this week, which led them to suspend temporarily the issuance of passports and national ID cards, reports Havana Times.

Last week, Cuba changed the rates charged to Cuban and foreign citizens for obtaining documents and getting them certified.   For information on these changes, see Havana Times.

Report shows Cuba’s trade deficit above $9 billion

An annual report published by the Cuban National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI) shows that Cuba’s trade deficit increased 15% over the last year, to over $9 billion, reports Café Fuerte. Cuba’s total import value increased by 6.6% while its total export value fell 5.3%. ONEI’s figures include international trade of goods but do not include services, which account for a significant portion of Cuba’s export income, especially the export of medical services.

Last month, Cuba’s government approved a new Foreign Investment Law which it hopes will help attract additional capital to its economy. That law goes into effect in June.

Cuba holds first int’l LGBTI conference, celebrates International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia

Cuba celebrated its 7th annual Week Against Homophobia and Transphobia, and hosted its first international LGBTI conference. The program of festivities organized by Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX) can be found here. Mariela Castro, President Raúl Castro’s daughter, is the director of CENESEX and is a strong advocate for LGBTI rights in Cuba. Photographer Eric Politzer was on hand to capture moments from the events which included the Havana Pride Conga March.

The 6th regional conference of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association for Latin America and the Caribbean (ILGA-LAC) took place in Havana May 6-10 in Havana and Varadero. Cuba’s Parliament passed legislation in December 2013 to protect individuals from workplace discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation. To read more on the LGBTI movement in Cuba and Latin America, see here.

Yoani Sánchez is denounced by her Italian translator

Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez has been denounced by her Italian-language translator, Gordiano Lupi, reports Progreso Weekly. Lupi, who worked with Sánchez for the past six years, wrote an article for Il Gazetin, an independent website, accusing her of being arrogant and profit-driven, with no care for Cuban freedom. He writes:

“At this point, I do not know if Yoani Sánchez is an agent of the C.I.A. or the Cuban Revolution. I do not know, and do not care to know. I only know that she is not the person I thought she was. That’s enough for me.” 

Yoani Sánchez enjoys a global following and has received considerable support in the U.S.  She has interviewed President Obama, traveled to the U.S. on several occasions, and met with Vice President Joe Biden. This week, she announced that her new digital newspaper will begin publication next Wednesday, reports the Miami Herald. According to the report, she stated that “Information regarding its editorial approach, ethics and financial commitments will be available on our Web page, which will go live on May 21.”

In explaining his decision to go public, Lupi said that Sánchez terminated her contract with the Italian paper La Stampa, which made him “a free man who, until yesterday, could not say what I thought, in view of the fact that I translated her.”

Cuba’s government releases new regulations on tourism

Cuba’s Ministry of Tourism (MINTUR) announced new regulations for the island’s tourism industry, reports Café Fuerte. The regulations are specifically aimed at eco-tourism and monitor tourist activities in the country that pertain to the environment, including nautical recreation activities. The regulations will require businesses to obtain liability releases from tourists for certain activities. Diving will remain prohibited to youth under the age of 15 and those without proper certification. Diving training courses with an instructor are allowed.

Recommended Reading

The other Alan Gross, Tracey Eaton, Along the Malecón

Eaton reports on another U.S. contractor who reportedly went to Cuba to test cell phones and wireless devices “for a contractor that was working for the State Department.” Jeffrey Robert Kline was known as a “maverick.” According to a contractor that worked for the State Department, “People hire him to do things others won’t touch.” When rumors arose that Cuban police were “looking for a Jewish man who was distributing communication gear,” he and other employees successfully left the island.

Cuba Mobile Email Experiment Causes Chaos, Andrea Rodríguez, The Associated Press

Andrea Rodríguez reports from Havana, where she describes the “chaos” surrounding the state telecom company’s new mobile phone e-mail service. Earlier this month, we reported that ETECSA has been looking to counter the over saturation of its base stations due to a gross under-estimation of the demand for email service on mobile phones. According to ETECSA, the service, made available on March 3rd, reached high levels of use in a short period of time, causing delays in receiving emails and SMS on mobile phones.

Cuba as an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Louis A. Pérez, Jr., Center for Democracy in the Americas

In “Cuba as an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder,” Dr. Pérez offers a powerful case that this country’s fixation with determining Cuba’s destiny did not originate with the Castro Revolution of 1959. Instead, it began much earlier, dating back to America’s preoccupation with its own manifest destiny, starting with the acquisitions of Louisiana and Florida, three centuries ago. To read more about Dr. Pérez and his article, see here.

Cigar companies plan for when trade embargo with Cuba ends and Cuban tobacco floods U.S. market, Paul Guzzo, The Tampa Tribune

Marcus Daniel, owner of the Marcus Daniel Tobacconist, a tobacco manufacturer based out of Florida, tells The Tampa Tribune he is preparing for a potential upsurge of the demand for Cuban cigars if the U.S. embargo were to end by scoping out potential growers in the Pinar del Rio province. He says, “I call it my ‘Cuba Plan,’ and whether they want to admit it or not, every cigar manufacturer in the U.S. has one to some degree. They need to. When Cuban tobacco is allowed to flood the U.S. market, it will be a game changer, and they need to be ready.”

Bormey peanuts: Anatomy of a new enterprise in Cuba, Alejandro Ulloa, Progreso Weekly

Orelvis Bormey Torres has developed a successful small business in Santa Clara, Cuba called “Bormey House of Peanuts.” Torres began selling on the black market, and applied for a business license following openings in the private sector in 2010. He now has a prosperous business selling peanuts, turrones (Cuban peanut bars), and other peanut-based sweets.

Adiós, Formell, Louis Head, Latin America Working Group

Louis Head, board member of the Latin America Working Group, eulogizes Juan Formell – “an individual whose life’s work represents more on the modern Cuban cultural landscape…[and one who] will be missed in Cuba, throughout the world, and by me.”

Recommended Viewing

Cuba from this photographer’s lens, Charlie Rosenberg, Havana Times

Havana Times features the work of Charlie Rosenberg, a photographer originally from Louisville, Kentucky and now residing in Boston. This series documents daily life in Cuba – from the market to dance class.

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