To Cuba and the U.S. — Live Long and Negotiate

When the U.S. and Cuba met in Washington today for their second round of talks on reestablishing diplomatic relations, we were all thinking about Leonard Nimoy. The iconic actor who played Spock in the Star Trek television and movie franchise died today at age 83.

In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Spock explains why Captain Kirk was going to negotiate with the Klingons:

Captain Spock: Last month, at the behest of the Vulcan ambassador, I opened a dialogue with Gorkon, Klingon chancellor of the High Council. He proposes to begin negotiations at once.

Admiral Cartwright: Negotiations for what?

Captain Spock: The dismantling of our star bases and outposts along the Neutral Zone, an end to nearly 70 years of unremitting hostility which the Klingons can no longer afford.

If centuries into an imagined future, adversaries will still be sitting down to talk about ending their hostilities, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that Cuba and the U.S. ended their second round of negotiations without an agreement on opening embassies or the other measures required for reconnecting our severed diplomatic relations.

There is, after all, a long list of issues dividing the two governments, and not a lot of trust after decades of hostilities and suspect motives bringing them together.

Even after the exceptional elegance of the December 17th announcement — the simultaneous addresses by Presidents Obama and Castro, the release of prisoners, even the convergence of Jewish, Catholic, and Santeria holidays — both countries have doubts.

Cuba is yet to be convinced that President Obama’s diplomatic outreach constitutes more than a soft power expression of our historic regime change policy. The United States, for its part, sees Cuba as unwilling to make concessions to achieve a deal, which the Cuban government views as an intrusion on its national sovereignty.

The agenda laid out in advance of the second round of talks, as reported by the Washington Post, was to be “narrowly focused on opening embassies and on putting in place a framework for separate bilateral talks on various issues, including human rights and a new civil aviation agreement that will allow commercial air traffic between the two countries.” But, this agenda couldn’t be read at face value.

The real sticking point is Cuba’s false and flawed designation as a nation that is a state sponsor of terrorism. As the New York Times reported, “Cuban officials say they cannot envision opening a formal embassy in the United States while their country remains on the terror list.”

Cuba’s terror list designation has stopped U.S. banks from providing commercial banking services to its Interests Section and consulates. As a practical matter, Cuban officials say that they cannot operate an embassy without a checking account.

In fact, the terrorist list is a drag on all of Cuba’s dealings in the global economy and a regulatory risk to every financial institution processing its transactions.

The State Department, in trying to keep the talks on track to smooth President Obama’s sailing into the upcoming Summit of the Americas gathering, offered a somewhat fanciful way out for the negotiators. As a senior State Department Official told reporters this week “It would be very easy to restore diplomatic relations if they would not link those two things.”

Paradoxically, the hardliners who oppose restoring relations with Cuba are also the biggest supporters of keeping the debate focused on the State Sponsors of Terrorism List, which several tried to do in comments orchestrated this week.

For example, Senator Bob Menendez, former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sent a stern and seriously-worded letter to Secretary Kerry admonishing the administration not to remove Cuba from the list until Joanna Chesimard, a U.S. fugitive granted political asylum in Cuba, is returned to the U.S. (something Cuba has promised not to do).

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, at a hearing in the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, called Cuba “a clear and present danger to the United States,” and demanded that the U.S. keep Cuba on the State Sponsors list.

At the same time, the U.S. has its own list of issues — ending travel restrictions on our diplomats, removing the cordon of Cuban police who surround our Interest Section in Havana, expanding the limits on our staff and the like — it wants to see resolved, too.

This afternoon, the talks ended neither in breakthrough nor breakdown but with claims of progress and promises for more discussions at an unspecified date. Reuters reported, however, that Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson said, “I do think we can get this done in time for the Summit of the Americas.”

When asked to explain why Captain Kirk was sent by the Federation to negotiate with its worst enemy, the Klingons, Spock quotes what he calls an old Vulcan proverb: “Only Nixon could go to China.”

To make a deal before going to Panama in April, both sides are going to have to concede something — and at the highest levels.


Second round of U.S. Cuba normalization talks conclude on a positive note

Cuban and U.S. diplomats met at the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C. on Friday for the second round of talks to reestablish diplomatic relations severed 54 years ago by President Eisenhower. The Cuban delegation, led by Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s top diplomat for North American affairs, was welcomed by her counterpart, Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson.

Jacobson said the negotiations were “very productive… respectful but with many challenges.” An immediate agreement on opening embassies was not reached, but a series of talks in Havana and in Washington will take place in coming weeks to discuss human trafficking, civil aviation, Internet access in Cuba, changes in U.S. trade and travel regulations, and human rights.

After the talks, Secretary Jacobson told reporters she is optimistic about the diplomatic process. “I do think we can get this done in time for the Summit of the Americas,” she said. The 2015 Summit of the Americas will take place in April in Panama, and Presidents Raúl Castro and Barrack Obama are both expected to attend.

The upcoming Summit will be the first to include Cuba, barred from attending at the behest of the United States since the first meeting took place in 1994. The last Summit meeting, which took place in 2012 in Colombia, ended without a joint resolution, due to disagreements between the U.S. and the region over Cuba’s exclusion.

In the weeks leading up to the talks, Cuban officials stressed that getting their country off the U.S. list of State Sponsors of Terrorism is a priority.

Financial institutions that do business with countries that are designated by the U.S. as sponsors of terror are subject to hefty fines from the U.S. Department of Treasury. Cuba’s removal from the list will not only help Cuba’s economy, but it will enable Cuban diplomats in the U.S. who have been without banking services for over a year to conduct normal consular business.

U.S. officials have asserted that they are working to complete the review as quickly as possible. But, Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters that a decision on Cuba’s status is “being pursued separately” from the current negotiations.

Cuba was first placed on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list in 1982 during the Reagan administration for reasons that have been increasingly difficult for the U.S. to justify. In the State Department’s more recent report, it said “there was no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or paramilitary training to terrorist groups.”

U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of Cuba in Cohiba cigar case

The U.S. Supreme Court has cleared the way for Cuban cigar maker Cubatabaco to protect its iconic Cohiba brand’s trademark, Reuters reports. Cubatabaco is unable to sell its products in the U.S. due to the embargo, and it has also been denied the right by the U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board to contest the use of the Cohiba brand by the Delaware-based General Cigar Co. By refusing to hear an appeal of a ruling by the Federal Circuit last June favorable to Cubatabaco, the Supreme Court has cleared the way for the state-owned company to contest and cancel General Cigar Co.’s trademark registration.

Cubatabaco, which has used the Cohiba brand in Cuba and over 100 other countries since 1972, won a lawsuit against General Cigar in 2009 in a U.S. district court for having stolen the trademark. General Cigar contended that the Cuban company could not legally file a request with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office because of the U.S. embargo. General Cigar has been selling Dominican tobacco products under the Cohiba trademark since 1992.

Under the new regulations put in place by the Obama Administration, U.S. travelers in Cuba can bring back up to $100 in tobacco and alcohol products for personal consumption.

Habanos S.A., the marketing and distribution arm of Cubatabaco, said this week it expects to gain as much as 70% of the cigar market in the U.S. within 15 years if the embargo is lifted.

President Obama extends state of national emergency for civilian aircraft over Cuba

President Obama has extended a national emergency declaration issued March 1, 1996 in response to the shooting down of two civilian aircraft operated by Cuban exile group Brothers to the Rescue.

The statement says:

“The Cuban government has not demonstrated that it will refrain from the use of excessive force against U.S. vessels or aircraft that may engage in memorial activities or peaceful protest north of Cuba. In addition, the unauthorized entry of any U.S.-registered vessel into Cuban territorial waters continues to be detrimental to the foreign policy of the United States. Therefore, in accordance with section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1622(d)), I am continuing the national emergency with respect to Cuba and the emergency authority relating to the regulation of the anchorage and movement of vessels set out in Proclamation 6867 as amended by Proclamation 7757.”

Brothers to the Rescue began flying search missions in 1991 to Cuban rafters who faced emergencies trying to cross the Florida Strait. The flights were then used to penetrate Cuban airspace; once, as Peter Kornbluh and Bill LeoGrande recently recounted in The Atlantic, “dropping a half a million leaflets exhorting the Cuban people to ‘Change Things Now.'” After repeated efforts to shut down the flights ended in failure, two aircraft belonging to the organization were shot down, and Armando Alejandre Jr., Carlos Costa, Mario de la Pea and Pablo Morales were killed. The incident led to the enactment of the Helms-Burton law, which had previously been bottle-necked in Congress.

NY Governor Andrew Cuomo will visit Cuba in April

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced that he will visit Cuba on an official state trade mission on April 20, USA today reports. Governor Cuomo had announced in his State of the State Address in January that Cuba would be among six countries he’d visit in 2015 to expand the export market for New York-based businesses.

Ambassador José Ramón Cabañas, Chief of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington D.C., said in a statement, “As the gateway to America, New York State has always been a great symbol to the Cuban people. It has welcomed Cubans over the years as they came to visit and live in the United States, including the great José Martí.”

CheapAir first to offer single-transaction purchases of flights to Cuba

Online travel booking agency CheapAir announced Thursday it would allow U.S. customers to buy plane tickets to Cuba in one transaction. Currently, there are no direct commercial flights from the U.S. to Cuba, but CheapAir has bundled flight options to Havana via Mexico, Canada, and the Bahamas in an effort to make the process of traveling to Cuba less logistically burdensome for potential travelers.

The company’s announcement says travelers still must fall within one of 12 categories of travel to Cuba approved by the U.S. government. “All of the limitations notwithstanding, we’re excited to make it easier for those who are authorized to go to Cuba to do so without a lot of confusing and frustrating legwork.”


Ladies in White to hold vote on Soler’s leadership

Berta Soler, leader of Cuba’s Ladies in White dissident group, which protests political arrests in weekly marches, will submit her leadership to a vote in response to calls for her resignation, the AP reports. She stressed that only the votes of members in Cuba, of which there are about 270, will be considered in the election.

Last week, 16 Ladies in White members currently living in Miami signed a letter calling for Soler’s resignation after a video appeared on Youtube that shows some members of the group cornering and shouting at Alejandrina Garcia de la Riva, a founding member, for having called Soler’s leadership into question.

On Wednesday, 100 members of the Ladies in White signed a letter calling for the organization to hold elections for its leadership and to reevaluate what some call the group’s exclusive — or unwelcoming — approach to activism.

This week, Soler says 53 members of her group were detained during their weekly march through Havana, along with 36 other protesters, the AP reports. Elizardo Sanchez, the head of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, believes that anywhere between 150 and 200 dissidents could have been arrested.

As part of the agreement reached in December 2014 to normalize relations with the U.S., Cuba released 53 political prisoners. However, Senator Marco Rubio, a prominent critic of Obama’s Cuba policy, argues that this week’s arrests are evidence that the Obama Administration has chosen to ignore human rights concerns in Cuba in favor of opening a U.S. embassy in Havana.

Award to Cuban Five names them “Heroes of the Republic”

On Tuesday, Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero, Ramón Labañino, Fernando González, and René González, collectively known as the “Cuban Five,” were named Heroes of the Republic, the highest honor awarded by Cuba’s government, Reuters reports.

The Cuban Five were arrested in 1998 for their roles in efforts to track Miami groups who, according to Cuba’s government, were responsible for terror attacks against the island. René González was released in 2013, and Fernándo Gonzalez was released in February 2014.

As part of the breakthrough announcement on December 17th, 2014 that Cuba and the U.S. would begin the process of reestablishing diplomatic relations, the remaining three were released in a prisoner swap for a U.S. intelligence asset held in Cuba for over 20 years.

Tourism spike seen in January

Tourism to Cuba continues to rise after a record-setting 3 million people visited the island in 2014, ACN reports. The trend of increased international travel to Cuba is expected to continue through peak tourism season in April.

Some have raised concerns about Cuba’s ability to accommodate the rise in tourism expected now that the U.S. has eased restrictions on travel to the island. Hotels in Havana run at 80% capacity in the high season, leaving little space for new visitors.


Canadian businessman released from Cuban prison

Cy Tokmakjian, the 74-year old transportation executive arrested in 2011 and sentenced to 15 years for financial crimes including bribery, fraud, and tax evasion was released this week and returned to Canada, the AP reports.

The Ontario-based transportation firm Tokmakjian Group had been doing business in Cuba for some 20 years before three of its Canadian executives and 14 Cubans connected to the firm were arrested in 2011 in the midst of a corruption sweep initiated by President Raúl Castro. Before his arrest, Tokmakjian had bribed high-level Cuban officials with expensive meals, week-long beach vacations, rides on a private yacht, and flat-screen televisions.

“Cy returns home in good health, fantastic spirits, and is looking forward to spending time with his family,” said Tokmakjian’s lawyer.

Canada played a key role in the diplomatic breakthrough that took place in U.S.-Cuba relations late last year, hosting many of the secret meetings in the 18 months of negotiations that preceded the December 17th announcement.

According to the AP, “Cy Tokmakjian’s case was seen by some as a loose end in the U.S.-Cuba deal late last year that led to the release of three Cuban intelligence agents in exchange for U.S. contractor Alan Gross and CIA spy Roland Sarraff Trujillo.”

Spain’s former Prime Minister meets with Raúl Castro in Havana

José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Spain’s Prime Minister from 2004 to 2011, alongside his then-foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, met with Cuba’s President Raúl Castro this week during a private visit to the island, EFE reports.

Zapatero on Thursday called on the U.S. to remove Cuba from its State Sponsors of Terrorism list. Cuba was one of the many countries that supported the peace agreement between Spain’s government and the Basque National Liberation Movement, ending the longest violent conflict in European history.

The former Prime Minister also expressed support for the next round of negotiations between the EU and Cuba, which is set to take place next week. Since December 1996, the EU’s relations with Cuba have been governed by the Common Position, which suspended economic and diplomatic cooperation with Cuba pending “improvements in human rights and political freedom” and an “irreversible opening of the Cuban economy.”

“When we were in the government we tried to change the so-called common position.” Zapatero said. “It seems to me appropriate and good for the EU, for Cuba and for the EU’s relationship with Latin America for that agreement to come about and I hope that the negotiations move forward.”

The visit drew criticism from some conservatives in Spain, including current foreign minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo, who called the meeting an act of “extraordinary disloyalty.”

Uruguay considering debt forgiveness for Cuba

President José Mujica of Uruguay has proposed legislation that would forgive $31 million in debt Cuba’s Central Bank owes the Central Bank of Uruguay, teleSUR reports. Uruguay’s Economy Minister said the gesture would be in recognition of the “many instances of cooperation that [Uruguay] has received from Cuba in various areas.”

Cuba and Uruguay have had close relations for many decades. Cuban doctors serving in Uruguay have performed over 50,000 free eye surgeries for Uruguayans in low-income areas.

Last December, President Mujica took in six former Guantánamo detainees as part of an effort to petition the U.S. “from a moral position, to please try to improve the relationship with Cuba.” Mujica at that time also called for the release of the three members of the “Cuban Five” who at that time were still in prison in the U.S.

Former UN secretary-general, U.S. envoy lend support to Colombia-FARC deal

Kofi Annan, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and former Secretary-General of the United Nations, was in Havana on Thursday to boost support for a peace agreement currently being negotiated between Colombia’s government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the AFP reports. Cuba has hosted the peace talks since 2012.

The U.S. government is also lending support to the peace process. Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Bernard Aronson was named special envoy to the peace talks in response to Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos’ request for greater U.S. involvement.

Russia and Abu Dhabi in talks to build airport in Cuba

Russia has asked investors in Abu Dhabi to back a project to build a mega-airport in Cuba that would serve as a crossroads for air traffic in Latin America, the AFP reports. Russia’s Industry Minister Denis Manturov said Russia was willing to invest $200 million in the project.

Recommended Reading

In Cuba, a long-forgotten landmark of U.S. culture, Nick Miroff, The Washington Post

Cuba’s Advanced Institute for Foreign Relations, which has produced many of the diplomats present for this week’s negotiations in Washington, used to be the home of the U.S.-Cuba Cultural Institute. “It didn’t even last two decades,” says Cuban journalist Waldo Fernández, “but maybe someday something like it will emerge again.”

Cuba’s revolution generation: few regrets, Carlos Batista, AFP

Most Cubans who grew up in the early stages of the revolution are proud of their government’s achievements, which include high literacy rates and universal health care. “We were part of a generation that changed everything, romantic, contradictory and maybe one of a kind,” says Cuban author Manuel Somoza.

Inequality Becomes More Visible in Cuba as the Economy Shifts, Randal C. Archibold, The New York Times

As economic opportunities grow for Cubans, a divide is beginning to appear between those who have relatives living abroad and those who don’t. Many Cubans with family in the U.S. receive remittances many times greater than their monthly salary, which puts them at an advantage when looking to join Cuba’s emerging entrepreneurial sector.

The winners of Cuba’s ‘new’ economy, Jennifer M. Harris, Fortune

Farmers in the southeastern United States stand to benefit most from the new relationship between the U.S. and Cuba, Harris says. Their “proximity to Cuba makes their poultry, fish, rice, and corn exports to Cuba especially competitive.”

Cuba’s Tech Start-up Sector: ‘People Are Hungry to Work’, Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania

Despite a lack of educational resources and scant access to Internet, Cuba is home to growing tech talent. “In Cuba, you have a lot of people who have done things with limited resources and no real access to knowledge,” says José Pimienta, a Cuban immigrant and top contender in PayPal’s yearly ‘hackathon’ competitions. “The reality is that there are people hungry to work. They’re creative and they are just waiting to show what they can do.”

The Last Gasp of the Cuban Collapseniks, William LeoGrande, Foreign Policy

Cuba hardliners’ arguments against normalizing relations with the island, based on the belief that renewed diplomacy constitutes an economic lifeline to a soon-to-be-failed state are “nonsensical,” LeoGrande says. “It was wrong in 1959 and it is still wrong today.”

How Education Shaped Communist Cuba, Andy S. Gomez and Paul Webster Hare, The Atlantic

“The U.S. needs to be proactive in pushing agenda items for cooperation with Cuba, which can reconstruct a mutually beneficial relationship. Education is one area where cooperation could, with determination on both sides, take root at an early stage.”

U.S. Biologists Keen To Explore, Help Protect Cuba’s Wild Places, Christopher Joyce, NPR

U.S. scientists hope that warmer diplomatic relations with the island will boost cooperation on environmental conservation in the Caribbean. “But newly opened doors to the U.S. could also mean more pressure to create wealth — golf courses, hotels, highways. And the lush greenhouse that is Cuba’s wilderness hangs in the balance.”

Recommended Viewing

Crowdfunding takes off in Cuba, Michelle Begue, CCTV

In 2012, Ubaldo Huerta and Hiram Centelles Rodriguez co-created Yagruma, the first crowdfunding site designed to help artists in Cuba. Although both Huerta and Rodriguez currently live in Spain, they are excited by the opportunities that the internet can offer to artists back in their native Cuba. Huerta hopes “to foster creativity in Cuba to create a bridge between Cubans like me in the diaspora and Cubans on the island.”

Cuba’s Business Middleman Looks to Profit on New Politics, Bloomberg

Miami businessman Hugo Cancio has successfully skirted U.S. sanctions to start a monthly magazine in Havana that focuses on Cuba’s arts scene. Now that trade restrictions have been eased, Cancio hopes to expand his business and help with the rebuilding of his home country’s economy.


Travel to Cuba with CDA and LAWG!

Two organizations that were at the center of last December’s big change in U.S. policy toward Cuba — the Center for Democracy in the Americas and the Latin America Working Group — are teaming in a special opportunity to bring our supporters to Cuba.

Come celebrate this historic policy victory by hearing from the people that this change will benefit most — Cubans. We will meet with young entrepreneurs, students, and artists about their renewed optimism for the future now that President Obama has significantly eased sanctions and allowed for greater exchange and dialogue between our countries.

The tentative dates for the trip are June 17-22. We will confirm official dates as the date approaches.

Space is limited, so please contact us as soon as possible if you are interested in joining us or if you would like more information.

You — our supporters — were part of this historic diplomatic opening. We sincerely hope you take this opportunity to celebrate with us.

Stephen Rivers Memorial Fellowship

CDA is offering a paid, full-time, year-long position in Washington, D.C. for a uniquely qualified applicant with a special interest in Cuba, a thirst for activism, and an interest in pursuing a professional career in the foreign policy NGO community. The Rivers Fellow will work side-by-side with CDA staff on projects that advance our goal of forging a new policy toward Cuba and the region. The fellow will be paid a monthly stipend. Please see this posting for more information.


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