Definitions of Insanity on a Possible “Take Out the Garbage Day
In Washington, Friday afternoon is prime time on what White House operatives call “take out the garbage day.”
It’s a term for managing the news cycle. Simply put, it means scheduling the release of unpopular or controversial information to the U.S. news media on the eve of a weekend, or late enough in the day, so reporters are less able to heat-up a story with angry sources and editors are too jammed up to give a Cuba story a bigger headline as they put together tomorrow’s news.
We’re betting something like that is afoot with Cuba…again.
A year ago today, the Obama Administration followed this time-honored practice when it waited until Friday, September 5th to let the word go forth the President had renewed the authorities under the Trading With the Enemy Act (also known as TWEA) that are the underpinnings of U.S. sanctions against Cuba.
He has until September 14th to decide whether to extend that authority for another year. It will not surprise us one whit if a press release stating he has done exactly that is sent around before this week’s NewsBlast sails into your inbox. But, if it doesn’t happen on this Friday afternoon of a three-day Labor Day weekend, we think you will be reading that TWEA was extended by Mr. Obama sometime in the next ten days.
During the six years of the Obama presidency, as we have gotten further away from the Cold War, the illogic inherent of this President renewing TWEA has been increasingly, emphatically clear: Cuba is not our enemy. The embargo is a failure. Renewing this authority, year after year, has only deepened America’s isolation in the Western Hemisphere and more broadly in the world.
Surely, he understood that.
U.S. policy toward Cuba is often used as a classic definition of insanity. A sentence buried in the President’s December 17th remarks dog-whistled that definition for all able to hear:
“To those who oppose the steps I’m announcing today, let me say that I respect your passion and share your commitment to liberty and democracy. The question is how we uphold that commitment. I do not believe we can keep doing the same thing for over five decades and expect a different result.”
Had we known last year on September 5th that exactly one-hundred days later he would announce to the U.S. public, simultaneously with President Castro, that the two countries had agreed to resume diplomatic relations, 2014’s TWEA renewal might have gone down a little easier.
Now, it’s 2015. Today, the U.S. and Cuba have diplomatic relations, two functioning embassies, talks on matters from aviation to human rights, and increasing numbers of U.S. travelers going to Cuba. Now that the President has urged Congress in his State of the Union Address to end the embargo, why would he reinstate Cuba’s status under the Trading With the Enemy Act for another year?
Wouldn’t that be insane (or at least a really cringe-inducing, forehead slapping moment)?
Yes. Nevertheless, it’s likely he will soon sign another TWEA determination because of how Catch-22, a corollary of the classic definition of insanity, so neatly applies to Cuba.
Catch-22 is from the title of Joseph Heller’s novel. Set in World War II, the book is focused on an Army Air Corps bombardier, Captain John Yossarian who, with his other colleagues, tries to fulfill his service requirements, maintain his sanity, and live long enough to return home in one piece.
Yossarian wants to be considered medically unfit to serve and relieved from duty. The catch is that if he continues flying the increasing number of missions he is assigned, that would show he is losing his marbles. But, if he asks to be relieved from duty, that would be the action of a sane man and he’d be forced to keep flying. So, he keeps flying.
Consider how closely TWEA parallels the core premise of Heller’s book.
The Trading With the Enemy Act has been branded by Amnesty International as “detrimental to human rights in Cuba.” The President could – as Florida International University Professor of Law José Gabilondo argued this week in the Huffington Post – allow the authority to lapse. But, the embargo would not disappear with it.
Elements of the harshest sanctions imposed on Cuba would continue to reside in Helms-Burton and The Cuban Democracy Act which can only be repealed by Congress. Thus, once TWEA lapsed, the responsibility for U.S. sanctions would drop into Congress’s lap. That would score a suitably elegant set of political points, but its elegance would be lost on Members of the House and Senate who like the embargo as it is.
Even worse, as Robert Muse, a veteran sanctions lawyer, and Cuba scholar, Professor Bill LeoGrande, have both argued, TWEA is a two-edged sword.
He can’t – and we can’t – live without TWEA because it is both the embodiment of the embargo and the source of President Obama’s power to weaken the embargo’s grip on travel, remittances, and trade.
Obama has to renew the embargo under TWEA, so he can keep the power to continue watering it down.
Now that’s a Catch-22.
Obama administration considers further action on Cuba travel and trade
Late last week, NPR reported that the Obama administration is examining new ways to further ease restrictions on travel and trade with Cuba beyond the policy actions it has already taken.
In a limited comment for the story, the White House said it “continues to explore regulatory changes to provide new opportunities for American citizens and U.S. businesses.” This effort is manifest in licensing decisions it is making on a case-by-case basis now, with the potential for broader policy changes under the executive authorities it used in 2009, 2011, and 2015.
In the first instance, Bob Muse, a Washington-based lawyer and an expert on U.S. sanctions, told the story of a long-languishing request to get a license from U.S. Treasury so a client could start ferry services to Cuba. “I had applied for the license several years ago,” he told Michele Kelemen, diplomatic correspondent for NPR, “and it just sat there in a kind of policy void.”
But, after Presidents Obama and Castro announced their decision to restore diplomatic relations last December, Muse said “out of the blue, suddenly the license was granted.” While the ferry cannot sail until there is a corresponding agreement with the Government of Cuba covering the movement of people and goods from Miami to the Cuban mainland, Muse did say that the approval of the license was indicative of a less restrictive regulatory climate overall.
NPR then turned to the potential for a broader policy shift affecting travel, the proposal to extend the rules that permit people-to-people or “purposeful” travel to Cuba in groups to cover individual visits as well. As we reported in August, Sarah Stephens, executive director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, which publishes the Cuba Central Newsblast, has urged Treasury Secretary Jack Lew to make this change.
Stephens, interviewed by NPR, explained why such a revision in the people-to-people rules is consistent with the administration’s policy – saying, “If individuals are going to Cuba, the money they are spending is going directly into the hands of individual Cubans and that’s really the goal.”
She also noted that businesses that visit Cuba to explore the potential for commercial relationships are returning from their trips and requesting licenses to pursue those activities – many of which, like Muse’s ferry license, are being granted. Muse also advocates for broader executive action to spur trade, especially, as NPR noted, for sales to privately-owned Cuban businesses.
“That could be anything from a pizza oven to restaurant lighting to napkins and chairs. Anything you could think of. So the authority exists,” Muse said.
Governor Hutchinson will travel to Cuba
A little more than a decade ago, Asa Hutchinson, then-serving as Under Secretary of Homeland Security, traveled to Miami to address a conference and “tout,” as his department’s press release said, the successful efforts to step up baggage inspections on the people and businesses that traveled to and from Cuba.
After conducting 45,000 inspections on nearly 54,000 travelers over a two-month period, Hutchinson reported that in roughly 0.013 percent of the cases, violations of restrictions on rum and cigars were detected, as were forty-four (44!) people traveling without proper licenses.
Times have changed. Hutchinson, who now serves as Governor of Arkansas, will travel to Cuba September 28-30 according to UALR Public Radio. The governor will lead a trade delegation including representatives from Tyson Foods and Riceland Foods.
Speaking to the Arkansas Rice Expo in August, Governor Hutchinson said, “Arkansas needs to be there at the table and to be No. 1 in exports to Cuba and other global markets.” Governor Hutchinson’s trip to Cuba will make him the first U.S. governor to travel to Cuba since the U.S. Embassy officially opened in Havana this summer.
Arkansas rice and poultry entities see major advantages to increased trade to Cuba. Arkansas accounts for nearly 50% of the American rice crop and is among the top three states for poultry production.
The list of Arkansas travelers to Cuba from the ranks of top government officials extends back to Senator Blanche Lincoln and Rep. Marion Berry, who visited the island in 2000, as the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, Inc. documents here. CDA hosted a trip for a delegation that included Rep. Vic Snyder in 2002, and Rep. Berry’s return trip in 2007 with a delegation focused on agriculture led by Rep. Rosa DeLauro in 2007.
Former Governor Mike Beebe led a trade mission to Cuba in 2009. The World Trade Center Arkansas, a non-government organization, will coordinate Governor Hutchinson’s upcoming trip.
In July, almost 267,000 tourists visited Cuba, marking an increase of 26 percent over the same month last year, according to Prensa Latina. Canada continues to account for the majority of tourists, with England, Spain, and Mexico following. Foreign tourists are not alone, as travel around the island by Cubans has also increased significantly this year.
According to Reuters, 1.2 million permanent Cuban residents checked into tourist hotels on the island last year, up 23 percent from 2013. Observers speculate that Cubans are flocking to the beach before a possible end to the U.S. travel ban prompts an influx of American tourists and spurs increased prices.
Prior to 2008, Cubans were banned by their own government from tourist hotels. Varadero, home to Cuba’s leading beach resort, now hosts almost as many Cubans as it does Canadians. As we have previously reported, families from the diaspora often host their Cuban families for beach trips when they visit the island. Experts also theorize that many Cuban tourists are receiving funding from family and friends abroad to fund their holidays.
With the travel ban still in place, Americans cannot visit Cuba as tourists; however, overall licensed visits by Americans are increasing. Bloomberg Business reports that about 51,000 U.S. citizens visited Cuba in the first five months of this year, up from 37,000 over the same period last year. Tourism industry experts predict that 150,000 Americans will visit Cuba by the end of this year. Added to this figure are visits by Cuban American family members – some estimate the number in 2015 will exceed half-a-million – but their trips are not counted in this category by Cuba’s statistic authority. The Havana Consulting Group LLC, cited in a 2015 Congressional Research Service publication, reported 573,128 American travelers to Cuba in 2013, including 470,732 Cuban Americans.
New industry initiatives continue to reflect ongoing market pressures to provide for unrestricted travel to Cuba.
On Tuesday, Sabre, a global technology provider to the travel and tourism industry, unveiled its Cuba Traveler Certification capability to help travel agents in the U.S. comply with current U.S. regulations on travel to Cuba. Last week, Pearl Seas Cruises announced plans to sail between Florida and Cuba starting in March pending approval from both the U.S. government and Cuba’s government. JFI Jets, a charter air carrier based in California, announced that it has received federal clearance to fly to Havana from multiple U.S. airports including New Castle Airport in Delaware. These companies join the likes of AirBnB, JetBlue and other airlines which seek to serve the growing U.S. demand for travel to Cuba.
Cloud seeding is not new in Cuba. The success of this round of seeding will depend on cloud conditions over the basin of the Cauto River in the east of Cuba where specialists will concentrate their efforts. Prensa Latina reports that the period from January 2015 to present has been the driest for rainfall in Cuba since 1901. Reuters adds that Cuban reservoirs are well below capacity with 25 of Cuba’s 242 reservoirs completely dry.
Cuba loses about 50 percent of the water pumped from its reservoirs due to leaks across the system. As we have previously reported, Cuban officials are using trucks to bring water to the most affected areas. Prominent independent Cuban journalist Yoani Sánchez expressed frustration with current water policy, questioning the prioritization of large reservoirs. Sanchez argues that this emphasis “has ended up damaging the riverbeds of the countless dammed rivers and has reduced the sediment they carry to the coasts, with the consequent erosion of flora and fauna in the deltas.”
Efforts to stimulate rainfall in Cuba will continue the relief provided by Tropical StormErika, which broke up over eastern Cuba on Saturday. The official Cuban news agency, La Prensa, said “The rains, at times intense, are received with pleasure, given the intense drought that affects this region since the end of last year.” Erika came to Cuba aftercausing devastation in Haiti and Dominica. As we report below, Cuba sent a medical brigade to Dominica to aid victims of the storm.
Back to school, Cuban officials emphasize learning English
This Monday, Granma reported on the return of Cuba’s approximately two million students to school and encouraged those students to prioritize learning English. Speaking to a group of university students at the Federación Estudiantil Universitaria (FEU), Vice president José Ramón Machado Ventura explained that language education is critical, noting that “If you speak two or three languages, better. But English is indispensable.”
Cuba struggles to meet growing demand for grade school English instruction. This year 3,000 fourth- and fifth-year university students will join teaching staffs in areas where teachers are scarce. El Nuevo Herald reports that the number of students enrolled in pedagogical programs is low. According to Director René Sánchez from the Ministry of Higher Education, only 4,398 students enrolled to become teachers this past year, while the state offered 19,859 opportunities. Low teacher salaries are one of the factors driving educators into different professions, according to El Nuevo Herald.
Despite this “preoccupation,” educational authorities affirm that they are ready for the start of the school year. The Ministry of Higher Education reported that 17.5 million dollars were spent this year to import school supplies and that physics, chemistry, and biology labs have been installed in 89 percent of middle schools. The remaining middle schools should have these resources by 2016 according to Cuba Sí. Cuban authorities also report an added 2,700 openings for children in Cuban daycare. A 2014 World Bank report credits Cuba with the best education system in Latin America and as the only country in Latin America with a high-level teaching faculty.
Cuban entrepreneurs have created a cooperative that is, in essence, a start-up to dehydrate and sell popular herbs for cooking. Carlos Fernández-Aballí and his fellow entrepreneurs designed the dehydrating equipment and received a business loan from a Cuban bank for 985,000 pesos ($41,042) for production. In 2013, their company, Sazón Purita, became one of the first non-agricultural cooperatives, Cooperativa Industrias Purita. In Cuba, 59% of non-agricultural cooperatives fall into one of the following categories: commerce and food, technical and personal services, Miami Herald reports. Cooperatives do not own their property, but do own their equipment, according to USCCWG Research Report.
More recently, the National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International (NCBA CLUSA) launched a U.S.-Cuba Working Group (USCCWG) and published a research report on cooperatives in Cuba. Mike Beall, president and CEO of NCBA CLUSA, described how “the Cuban government has been evolving state-owned farms and business enterprises into cooperatives,” in a press release.
In 2011, a new policy permitted cuentapropistas to sell products and services to state institutions. Purita sells spices in small cafes and cafeterias around Havana and will soon provide their products in state-run retail stores too. Purita currently produces 18 tons of dried peanuts and 1.4 tons of dehydrated spices with hopes to expand to 20 tons of dried fruit and spices and eventually 100 tons of dried garlic annually. Eventually, the cooperative would like to sell its 100 percent natural dehydrated products in the United States.
Other young entrepreneurs are bringing new flavors and excitement to food in Cuba. Three international superstar chefs announced their plans to open a restaurant in Havana,according to Eater. The trio will make a trip to Cuba in December to look at “places of potential.” While Chef Massimo Bottura (Osteria Francesca, Modena) worries that “There is little fresh food,” The Washington Post recently featured agroecological farmer Fernando Funes Monzote, who brings fresh greens weekly to restaurants and individuals in Havana.
Information access in Cuba
“El Paquete,” an offline network of information dissemination, was highlighted in El Nuevo Herald last weekend. As we’ve previously reported, “El Paquete” makes a weekly collection of TV series, books, magazines, “apps”, movies, and films available to Cubans via informal subscription service. Within “El Paquete” exists Recolico, Cuba’s version of Craigslist, where you can find things for sale, including services to install dial-up Internet connections in homes. Though Recolicos has technically been blocked since 2008, it remains much more popular than the government’s version of the website called “Ofertas.”
University of Havana professor Fidel Alejandro Rodriguez explains that the “Mochila” and several other government-initiated internet projects have not been entirely successful. Since 1987, the government has sponsored over 604 “Joven Clubs” or kids’ computer clubs to “direct young people’s capacity to learn and understand information technology and electronics, with students getting training in current political, cultural, and social affairs.” Most children, however, apparently use their computer access primarily for non-academic pursuits, such as gaming.
Indira Lakshmana, writing for Bloomberg Business, predicts that Cuba may turn to China for investment to improve its Internet infrastructure and technology. China, Cuba’s second largest commercial partner and long-term ally, is the source for many of Cuba’s imports and one of the country’s most important export markets, according to Cuba News Agency. Cuba’s First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel recently traveled to China to celebrate the 55th anniversary of Cuba-China ties.
Before Tropical Storm Erika dissipated over Cuba, it killed 20 people in Dominica and left over 50 missing, according to Cuba Sí. A medical brigade of sixteen Cuban doctors, nurses, epidemiologists, and engineers left for the Commonwealth of Dominica on Monday to assist victims of the storm. They will join 11 Cuban doctors already working in Dominica with the Integrated Health Program.
The Cuban doctors brought with them 1.2 tons of medicines, supplies, and disposable materials. Dr. Norbeto Ramos, who led the brigade, noted that the team was put together very quickly, in under 12 hours. Many of those traveling were in West Africa earlier this year to help combat Ebola, as well as post-earthquake assistance in Chile in 2010 and Nepalearlier this year.
In the final week of August, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, CELAC, wrapped up its 13th Meeting of the Coordinators with calls from member states for the return of Guantánamo territory to Cuba, strengthened ties with China, Russia, and Japan, and commitments to reductions in poverty in Latin America. CELAC, founded in 2011, is a regional bloc of 33 Latin American and Caribbean states that is often seen as a counter to the Organization of American States, in which the United States has significant influence.
Cuba’s Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Abelardo Moreno reiterated Cuba’s position on the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo Bay. As we have previously reported, while the Obama Administration continues to consider ways to close the base, administration officials have clearly stated that Guantánamo is not on the table in bilateral U.S.-Cuba talks.
Prensa Latina reports that CELAC delegates focused on the Community’s 2020 Agenda, a regional effort to reduce extreme poverty, increase education opportunities, boost scientific innovation, combat climate change, expand infrastructure and finance growth. The next CELAC meeting will take place in New York this September.
September is a busy month for foreign leaders visiting Cuba
Cuba news sources report that senior representatives from Spain, Chile and Panama, are making separate visits to Cuba this month. Jesus Posada, President of the Spanish Congress, has already arrived with a group of parliamentary deputies. Heraldo Muñoz, Chile’s Foreign Relations Minister is also in Cuba now until September 5. On September 9, President Juan Carlos Varela of Panama will travel to Cuba with a delegation of businessmen from his country. All visitors plan to discuss bilateral relations and trade.
Posada’s visit includes meetings with Cuba’s National Assembly of People’s Power and meetings with Spanish businessmen already working in Cuba according to EFE.
Chilean Foreign Minister Heraldo Muñoz met with Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez. Chile’s large delegation includes leaders from 35 different business organizations. According to Chile’s Foreign Ministry, Muñoz’s visit has two goals: to deepen the political relationship between Cuba and Chile and to strengthen the economic relationship between the two countries.
La Vanguardia cites Cuba’s 2013 foreign investment law and the Mariel Port as potential drivers behind Chile’s interest in trade with Cuba. Right now, Chile primarily exports food to Cuba. In 2014, Chile exported 36 million dollars’ worth of goods to Cuba while total trade between the two countries was valued at 42 million dollars.
Details regarding President Juan Carlos Varela’s trip remain less clear but Prensa Latinareports that he and his delegation will arrive next week and discuss trade as well as changing visa procedures between Panama and Cuba. It was President Varela who invitedPresident Castro to attend the 7th Summit of the Americas which took place this past April.
Epoca, a Brazilian news magazine, reported that former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva acted as a lobbyist for Brazil’s largest engineering firm, Odebrecht, after leaving office. Epoca alleges that Lula lobbied to get Cuba good terms for a $682 million loan from BNDES, Brazil’s state development bank, to finance the Mariel port project built by Odebrecht.
Lula responded that the claims are “offensive” and “malicious.” Lula spokesman Jose Chrispiniano said in a statement that “The ex-president did nothing illegal and was discussing sovereign guarantees for loans to Cuba in a meeting where a diplomat was present.” Lula traveled to Cuba several times at Odebrecht’s expense from 2011-2014 after leaving office. The Lula Institute notes that by 2011, the loan for Mariel was a done deal and that the former president could not have manipulated its contractual terms by the time his meetings took place.
Reuters explains that Odebrecht’s billionaire chief executive Marcelo Odebrecht wasarrested in June for a massive bribery and political kickback scandal linked to Brazil’s state-run oil company, Petrobas. Odebrecht executives allegedly bribed officials at Petrobas to secure lucrative construction contracts. Prosecutors told the Guardian in May that they were interested in investigating Lula. Over 50 Brazilian politicians are under investigation for the Petrobas scandal.
Odebrecht completed construction on the Cuba’s Mariel port project in 2013. Cuba’s Special Development Zone is located at the Mariel port to incentivize foreign investment; large scale traffic is expected to begin in 2016 when the expansion of the Panama Canal is complete. Earlier this year, Cuba recently approved five new firms for investment in the zone, as we reported.
James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, urges the Obama administration to act immediately to further ease travel restrictions and allow U.S. travelers to “see what’s really happening on the island” by eliminating travel license requirements.
NBA star Carmelo Anthony explores the intersection of soccer and culture in Cuba.
A Final Word
At the Center for Democracy in the Americas (CDA), which publishes the Cuba Central NewsBlast, we’re proud of our ability to attract and incubate talent. That’s why we’re shining a light on the work of Jaime Hamre, a former CDA fellow, and Anya Landau French, an ex-CDA senior fellow.
Jaime, a veteran of our Stephen M. Rivers Memorial Fellowship Program, has gone on to work for the Reuters News Agency in Cuba. The story featured above, “Cubans Rush to the Beach,” on the increase in Cubans vacationing at resorts on the island, was written by Jaime.
Anya Landau French, who worked at the Center for International Policy and for Senator Max Baucus in the U.S. Congress, spent time with us at CDA this year working as a senior fellow. Akin Gump, a major U.S. law firm, announced this week that it hired Anya as part of its new Cuba initiative.
We’re proud of them both, and we wish them well.
If you’d like to learn about job opportunities as they arise at CDA, please visit our website here.
This entry was posted on Friday, September 4th, 2015 at 6:11 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
Search Cuba Central
Subscribe to our newsletter
To subscribe to the Cuba Central Newsblast, El Salvador Update, and/or Caracas Connect,