Now that’s normalization: Pentagon removes Cuba from State Sponsors of Terror List

Without Tim Devaney, a reporter for The Hill who is either eagle–eyed or really well–connected, we might have missed this jewel of an item.  
“Friday’s edition of the Federal Register,” he wrote, “contains new rules for defense acquisitions from Cuba. Following President Obama’s call to repair relations with Cuba and in the footsteps of other federal agencies, the Defense Department’s Defense Acquisition Regulations System is removing restrictions it had placed on purchasing military equipment from Cuba.”
It turns out, that Cuba’s presence on the State Sponsors of Terror List affected its status under Pentagon procurement rules in two ways:  It prohibited DOD from purchasing “Commercial Satellite Service Services” from Cuba, and it prohibited the Pentagon from awarding a contract to a firm owned or controlled by Cuba.
The new rule posted today (you can read it here) removes those two provisions.  This action “only” took five months.
As a reminder, on December 17th, when President Obama announced his decision to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba, he instructed Secretary Kerry to review Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terror.
Following a thorough review, Secretary Kerry recommended dropping Cuba from the list, and on April 14th, The White House submitted the report to Congress indicating the Administration’s intention to remove Cuba from the state sponsor’s list.
This produced one of the odder episodes in the Cuba policy drama.  The Miami Heraldreported that after signing up 35 cosponsors on draft legislation to reverse the President’s decision, Rep. Ileana Ros–Lehtinen (FL–27) decided against introducing the bill using the novel claim [cue: Sad Trombone] that Congress lacked the authority to prevent the decision from becoming effective.
In other words, she lacked the votes.
Forty–five days later, during which that legislation was actually in order, the Congressional review period came to an end, and the State Department made it official; effective May 29th, Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terror was rescinded.
Just as Cuba’s false designation had permeated its way through a variety of government policies, producing a ton of real world problems, eliminating those policies once Cuba was removed from the State Sponsor’s list required attention by several U.S. government agencies.
DOD finished the legal work dropping Cuba from its procurement regulations in June.  Whether the rule fell into a regulatory maze, or got lost in the White House clearance process, we don’t know.
Somehow, it took until today, October 30, a Friday (five months to the day Cuba came off the list on May 29th, which was also a Friday) for this rule to be issued.
In its own way, this is something worth celebrating.
First, this is a sign that the bureaucracy is still doing the hard but necessary work behind the scenes to implement President Obama’s policies, thoroughly and correctly.
Second, while Cuba may not currently be positioned to sell “Commercial Satellite Services” to the Defense Department, this does mean that, for example, the command at the Guantanamo Naval Station could begin buying goods and services from the Cuban government– rum, cigars, other supplies, you name it — starting today.
Third, beyond Tim Devaney and The Hill, this announcement — involving the national security of the United States and Cuba, after all — has not attracted, as of this writing, any attention; certainly not at the level of outrage caused by Beyonce’s visit to Cuba or the recent UN vote.
If quiet is the new normal when it comes to Cuba, give us more.

U.S.-Cuba Relations
Homeland Security Official, a Cuban–American, travels to Havana
This week, Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas traveled to Cuba as part of the Obama administration’s normalization process.
On his agenda were meetings with Cuban officials, including with Cuba’s new Interior Minister, Carlos Fernandez, to coordinate recent travel and trade policy changes including issues such as security at airports and harbors.  According to press reports, Myorkas also planned to discuss passenger ferry services between Havana and Florida.
According to Fox News, “Gil Kerlikowske, Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, an agency that facilitates legal trade and travel, and other high–ranking officials of the United States Department of Homeland Security” joined Mayorkas on the trip.
The trip was said to be an emotional one for Mayorkas. It was the first time he traveled to Cuba since his family fled the island in 1960.
Following the Cuban revolution, Mayorka’s father moved the family out of Cuba for fear of what the future would hold under the new government. “He did not want to raise the family in a communist country… He believed in democracy, and he understood the perils and the challenges of living otherwise,” said Mayorkas in a statement to the Los Angeles Times.
Now, the Deputy Secretary is able to look back at the memories his father shared with him growing up. Stories of his father’s steel wool factory, family cemetery, and his father’s favorite dish: arroz con pollo.
Alejandro Mayorka’s father died three years ago, which added deeper emotional significance to the trip. “He always dreamed of returning with his children and sharing Cuba with them. It was always my hope and intention to return with him.” Despite the emotional context of his visit, the Secretary concluded his father “would be very proud and very excited — very excited” about the trip.
At UN, U.S. suffers largest defeat on Cubas anti–embargo resolution
This week, Cuba’s resolution titled the “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America” was adopted by the United 
Nations General Assembly for the 24th consecutive year.  The vote on condemning the embargo was 191–2, with the resolution passing by the largest margin ever.
Bruno Rodríguez, Cuba’s Foreign Minister, made reference in his remarks to progress in U.S.–Cuba diplomacy, but said “the facts make crystal clear,” as the Miami Heraldreported, that the blockade is still being fully implemented.
According to Ambassador Ronald D. Godard, U.S. senior area adviser for Western Hemisphere Affairs, the U.S found it “unfortunate” that the Cuban government has chosen to introduce a resolution “nearly identical” to those of years past. This resolution differed from previous ones because it did acknowledge progress between the two countries. The U.S. had sought softening changes in the resolution which might have enabled the Ambassador to abstain rather than cast a vote in opposition. The other “no” vote came from Israel.
As we reported last week, Cuba’s resolution and the report by the UN Secretary–General circulated before the vote, acknowledged the diplomatic moves and policy changes initiated by the Obama administration.
Rep. Ileana Ros–Lehtinen (FL-27) excoriated the UN for aligning itself with Cuba’s government, saying “Instead of voting against US efforts to sanction oppressors, the international community should be condemning the communist regime and calling for changes to the dictatorship that has not allowed free and fair elections or the exercise of basic human rights since its illegal power grab.”
In her statement responding to the vote, Sarah Stephens, executive director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, said the no vote by the United States “is essentially a hiccup; it reminds us of the ongoing damage done to Cuba and the U.S. by keeping the embargo in place, but it also tells us that the future is about diplomatic recognition and engagement.”
In Cuba
Cuba’s Interior Minister resigns, cites health concerns
On Monday, Abelardo Colome Ibarra, Cuba’s Interior Minister resigned due to health concerns, the Associated Press reports. Minister Abelardo Colome was a central figure in the Cuban Revolution and a member of the so–called “historicos” generation of Cuban leaders.
Minister Colome is 76 years old and has been succeeded by Carlos Fernandez, a Major General in Cuba’s military, a Deputy in Cuba’s parliament, and member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC).
In a statement released Monday, Colome affirmed “Of my 76 years of life, I have devoted 60 to the revolution and while I’m alive I will remain a soldier in its service and a militant of the communist party that educated me…But lately I’ve sensed that my health is not the same and I feel obliged to present my formal resignation from the high political, state, governmental and military posts.”
Colome studied in the Soviet Union, headed the Research Department of the Revolutionary Armed Forces in 1959, moved to the Interior Ministry to lead State Security in 1961 and the National Revolutionary Police in 1962. Colome became Minister of the Interior in 1989.
Reports highlight Cubas low birthrate
In a piece titled “In Cuba, an Abundance of Love but a Lack of Babies,” the New York Times detailed Cuba’s significant demographic challenges due to low birthrates. According to statistics cited by British Ambassador Tim Cole, by 2026 more Cubans will die than be born; and by 2050 the number of people in Cuba over age 60 will reach 3.5 million, or 36% of the population.
Couples in Cuba cite low salaries, averaging about $20 a month, shortages of available goods, and insufficient housing as primary reasons for not having children.
Cuba’s population is the oldest in Latin America and is expected to fall by a third within fifty years. Cuba’s government, concerned over forecasts projecting a significant population decrease and rising costs to care for an aging population, has begun to encourage women to carry their pregnancies to term through the distribution of pregnancy pamphlets.
Abortion rates in Cuba are high; however, experts note that is a consequence of the crisis, not the cause. Azam Ahmed writing for the New York Times reports, “In many respects abortion is viewed as another manner of birth control … But experts caution that the liberal abortion policy is not responsible for the declining population…Rather, it is a symptom of a larger issue. Generally speaking, many Cubans simply believe they cannot afford a child.”
Cubans leaving Cuba also factor into Cuba’s current demographic crunch. A Pew Research Center study released earlier this month showed that 27,296 Cubans entered the U.S. in the first nine months of this year, representing an increase of over 78% from the same period last year.
Cubans receive distinct treatment under the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 which gives them the right to become legal permanent residents once they have reached the U.S. and stayed over one year. Concerns in Cuba that efforts to end this policy could succeed are likely a factor behind increased immigration.
Cuba, with a highly educated workforce and low birthrates, reflects a significant problem normally faced by industrialized nations. “Education for women is the button you press when you want to change fertility preferences in developing countries…You educate the woman, then she has choices — she stays longer in school, marries at an older age, has the number of children she wants and uses contraception in a more healthy manner,” says Georgetown University professor Dr. Denton.
In 1953, only 1% of Cuba’s college educated students were women, according to CDA’s“Women’s Work: Gender Equality in Cuba and the Role of Women Building Cuba’s Future.” In 2011, the American Association of University Women noted that Cuban “women make up more than 80 percent of all university students and nearly 68 percent of university graduates.”
Cuba’s Foreign Relations
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi urges Italy’s business owners to invest in Cuba
In remarks that opened a bilateral business forum in Havana, Matteo Renzi, Italy’s Prime Minister urged Italian companies to invest in Cuba, and promised support from Italy’s government for trade and cultural relations with the island nation.
“I forcefully invite Italian entrepreneurs to invest in Cuba,” Renzi said.
Italy announced its plans “to accompany Cuba as a partner” in Cuba’s efforts to produce 24 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030. Carlo Calenda, the Italian Deputy Minister of Economic Development, also mentioned a project to restore Old Havana as a “center of culture and conservation of the past.”
Cuba’s Foreign Trade and Investment Minister Rodrigo Malmierca confirmed the “political will” of Cuba’s government to develop ties with Italy, which ranks among Cuba’s 10 leading trade partners and No. 2 in Europe, Fox News Latino reported.
120 Italian companies will participate in the upcoming 33rd Feria Internacional de La Habana (Havana’s international trade fair), the largest annual multi–sector trade fair in Havana, which will take place next week from November 2-7.
Recommended Reading
Cuba’s Widespread Piracy Culture, Rachel Martin, NPR
Nick Miroff of The Washington Post discusses Cuba’s culture of pirating movies and other forms of entertainment from U.S. sources.
The New Way to Eat in Cuba, Julia Cook, Saveur
This article features Atelier, one of CDA’s favorite paladars, and its inspiring owner, Niuris Higueras.
El Crucero de Chanel desfilará en CubaChanel in Cuba, May 2016, Harper’s Bazaar 
For the first time, Chanel has selected a Latin American country, Cuba, to showcase its forthcoming collection.
Recommended Viewing
Benicio del Toro Narrates the Story of Carlos Varela, ‘The Poet of Havana’: Watch a Preview, Suzette Fernandez, Billboard
Directed and produced by Canadian Ron Chapman, Poet of Havana illustrates the career of Cuba’s renowned singer–songwriter, Carlos Varela.
Cuba’s Harley–Davidson fanatics – in pictures, The Guardian
“Harley–Davidson riders in Cuba form a small and special club. Despite the lack of gas and parts, these ‘Harlistas’ have kept their ancient machines on the road through a mix of ingenuity and sheer devotion.”
AP PHOTOS: Cuba’s trains offer fine–grained look at country, Ramon Espinosa, AP
This gallery features photos of Cuba along the tracks from Havana to Santiago.


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