Victory on Cuba: As 2014 ends, a new battle begins

Last week’s announcement that the U.S. and Cuba would re-establish diplomatic relations was cause for celebration in both countries.

President Obama’s bold changes in Cuba policy mark the culmination of decades of tireless work by pro-engagement activists. Now is the time to end the embargo once and for all. We need your help in this historic time of change. Please consider giving to CDA at this crucial moment.

CDA director Sarah Stephens was in Havana and personally witnessed the historic diplomatic breakthrough. Cubans cheered and sang their national anthem with tears streaming down their faces. It was an inspirational moment.

In the U.S., it marked a profound, long overdue shift from isolationism toward engagement and mutual respect.

At the White House end of year press conference last week, President Obama’s message was clear: “I’m not done.” Well, we’re not done either. In fact, the real fight is just beginning.

Politico reports that wealthy pro-embargo donors are digging deep into their pockets to roll back the progress we’re just now celebrating. Our opponents in Congress are already on-the-record promising to roll back the reforms, and the most aggressive pro-embargo PAC just held a gala headlined by Jeb Bush in Miami. The $200,000 they raised to back pro-embargo candidates in upcoming elections is another threat to the process of diplomatic recognition underway.

We cannot – and will not – let these challenges go unanswered.

We must redouble our efforts to make sure lobbyists and Cold-War politicians don’t destroy the historic breakthrough that has opened a new chapter for Cuba and the United States.

At this critical time, we need the support of our friends, allies, and Cuba Central Newsblast readers. We are at a crossroads. U.S.-Cuba relations could move forward on the path the President has set forth, or be set back by anti-reform politicians. Your help is essential to our work and to moving Cuba policy forward. Please contribute today.

Thank you very, very much.

The Cuba Central Team

P.S. CDA is closed next week, so we will send the next Cuba Central Newsblast on January 9th. Happy holidays!

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

Polls show majority of U.S. citizens support normalization with Cuba

A Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that 68% of U.S. citizens support ending the embargo against Cuba, and 74% are in favor of ending restrictions on travel to Cuba.

Approval among Republicans for increasing trade with Cuba has grown. Fifty seven percent would support such a move, compared to just 36% in 2009. Many Republican leaders like Senators Rand Paul (KY), Jeff Flake (AZ), and Mike Enzi (WY) have offered strong statements of support of President Obama’s decision to normalize relations with the island.

A similar poll released by CBS News reveals similar results – 54% of those surveyed said they supported reestablishing diplomatic relations with Cuba, while only 28% disapproved. An overwhelming 77% of respondents said that U.S. citizens should be allowed to travel to Cuba.

Cuba will not extradite Assata Shakur

A senior Cuban official has indicated that Cuba is not likely to extradite Joanne Chesimard, a fugitive from justice who has been residing in Cuba since 1984, the AP reports.

Ms. Chesimard, who goes by the name Assata Shakur, is U.S. citizen and black liberation activist who fled to Cuba after escaping from a New Jersey prison where she was serving a life sentence after her conviction for killing a state trooper. Shakur is the first woman placed on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list.

Shakur maintains that she is innocent. She was granted political asylum by then-President Fidel Castro on grounds that her persecution was politically motivated by what he said was a racist justice system.

“Every nation has sovereign and legitimate rights to grant political asylum to people it considers to have been persecuted,” said Josefina Vidal, head of North American Affairs for Cuba’s Foreign Ministry. “We’ve reminded the U.S. government that in its country they’ve given shelter to dozens of Cuban citizens… some of them accused of horrible crimes,” she said.

Luis Posada Carriles, the Cuban-born CIA asset who orchestrated the 1976 bombing of Cubana Flight 455 that killed 73 people, lives freely today in Miami, where many hardline anti-Castro Cuban-Americans consider him a hero.

IN CUBA

Raul Castro: Cuba will not abandon socialism

In a speech last weekend, Cuba’s President Raúl Castro told an audience in the National Assembly that Cuba will not compromise its political system to gain favor with the U.S. in the wake of President Obama’s decision to normalize diplomatic relations with the island, the AP reports. “We must not expect that in order for relations with the United States to improve, Cuba will abandon the ideas it has struggled for,” he said.

President Castro called President Obama’s announcement “an important step,” but he stressed that “the essential thing remains, the end of the economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba, which has grown in recent years particularly in terms of financial transactions.”

Carlos Alzugaray, a Cuban diplomat and academic, said that Castro’s strong words served more to please loyal members of Cuba’s Communist Party rather than to send a strong message to Washington. “It’s domestic politics,” Alzugaray said. “It’s Raúl reassuring certain people.”

Wife of Cuban Five member expecting a child

The New York Times reports that an unusual episode of secret diplomacy led to the artificial insemination of Adriana Pérez, wife of Gerardo Hernández, one of the three Cuban intelligence agents released from a U.S. prison last week in a spy swap. Ms. Pérez appeared on Cuban television last Saturday and appeared to be pregnant.

Although Pérez was able to visit her husband twice in the past year and a half, conjugal visits are prohibited in the U.S. federal penitentiary system. But, Pérez sent a personal appeal to Marcelle Pomerleau, the wife of U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (VT), asking her to petition to allow Hernandez and Pérez to have a child by artificial insemination.

“She was afraid that she would never have the chance to have a child,” Leahy said. “As parents and grandparents we both wanted to try to help her.”

Tim Rieser, an advisor to Senator Leahy who played a central role in last week’s diplomatic breakthrough, spearheaded an effort to facilitate Ms. Pérez’ request in exchange for better prison conditions for Alan Gross, the U.S. citizen arrested in Cuba in 2009 for attempting to bring in illegal communications equipment in a U.S. government-funded “democracy promotion” operation. Cuba released Gross last week on humanitarian grounds.

Cuba’s government paid for the procedure, and according to the AP report, U.S. willingness to respond to Pérez’ appeal “made a big impression on Cuban officials… and it helped set the tone for the secret negotiations that culminated with the deal announced last Wednesday.”

Recommended Reading

Time to Trade with Cuba: Regime Change through Sanctions Is a Mirage, Doug Bandow, CATO Institute

If the U.S. wants to promote democratic change in Cuba, trade and travel are much more effective than sanctions, Bandow argues. “It’s hard to name a dictatorship anywhere ended by isolation. And if the latter policy hasn’t worked for 50 years in Cuba, it’s time to try something else.” Luckily, last week’s diplomatic breakthrough has provided a chance for this desperately needed “something else” to take root.

Diplomatic Shock and Awe: Obama Elates Cubans, Richard Feinberg, Brookings Institute

At a conference last week in Havana, “U.S. experts split between ‘pessimists’ who doubted the rumors [that President Obama would carry out a spy swap] and ‘optimists’ who predicted a Christmas surprise… but none predicted the imminent establishment of diplomatic ties, the mutual opening of embassies, the full-throated reframing of relations replacing decades of mutual hostility with positive engagement,” Feinberg writes.

Cuba Property Claims, Yielding Pennies, May Spur Talks, David Glovin and Toluse Olorunnipa, Bloomberg

Now that the U.S. and Cuba are in the process of normalizing diplomatic relations, Glovin and Olorunnipa say there is a chance the countries will start negotiations to address the $7 billion in claims against Cuba for the expropriation of property owned by U.S. citizens after Cuba’s 1959 revolution.

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