Week In Review: Enough about Me. What do you think of me?

February 26, 2016

It is said that we humans were given one mouth and two ears for a reason; more than providing us simply with the means to talk, the Good Lord doubled down on our ability to listen.  Given his rich endowment in the hearing department, President Obama could really get an earful if he went to Cuba as equipped to receive as he is to transmit.

In expressing this view, we appear to be in the minority. Up to now, every opinion column we’ve read reacting to his upcoming trip has offered little more than points the writers want him to score, or lists of demands they want him to make.

Some add demands that the President gather together pre-selected groups of Cubans who will say to him exactly what the most determined critics of his policy here in the U.S. want Mr. Obama to hear.

In other words he’s being counseled to do exactly what all our previous presidents have done since the Cold War – lecture Cuba’s leaders about bending to the will of the United States – the only difference being that his ten predecessors made their speeches without leaving the confines of the White House grounds and seeing Cuba for themselves.

For example, the Washington Post, dead set against the trip from the start, published The President must make the trip to Cuba count, an editorial which asked, “will Mr. Obama address Cubans directly, in places where thousands of ordinary people – not hand-picked party cadres – can see and hear him? Will he visit private businesses? Will he give an interview to Yoani Sánchez, the country’s renowned independent journalist?” Unless the president checks every one of these boxes, of course, the Post will mark the trip as having failed.

Elliot Abrams, in “The disgraceful Obama trip to Cuba,” a column on the Council on Foreign Relations blog, despairs without evidence that the president is only going to Cuba to have his picture taken with Fidel Castro, and says he can only salvage the trip by meeting with the “right” dissidents and having a “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” moment.

Andres Oppenheimer, writing for the Miami Herald, proclaims that a presidential meeting with Cuban civil society “that includes government-paid ‘intellectuals,'” would be a sham (we’re guessing the air quotes around ‘intellectuals’ reflects a smidge of condescension), saying Mr. Obama must meet with opposition leaders, many of whom are on our government’s payroll, instead.

Writing for the Telegraph, David Blair, a fan of the trip, wants Mr. Obama to be “deeply subversive,” and use “his emollience, charisma and ‘soft power’ – not force and threats – to achieve essentially the same goal, namely political change.”

When Susan Rice, the president’s national security advisor, tweeted about the trip, she wrote “#Cuba visit will allow @POTUS to discuss progress over 1+ year and, more importantly, continued disagreements, incl. over human rights.”

What’s striking about all the advice the president received is its conceit; namely, if you are traveling to Cuba, you should come prepared to lecture rather than listen since, apparently, you can’t learn anything by going there that you didn’t already know before you left.

In fairness, the president is not immune from such thinking himself. During last Saturday’s radio address, he offered a detailed list of what he plans to say to President Castro and others, but mentioned listening just once, when he promised to learn from Cuban entrepreneurs “how we can help them start new ventures.”

That’s a shame, since this suggests he is narrowing what could otherwise be an exciting conversation with those small business owners. Even more, he seems to be ruling out the chance for an unstructured back and forth with any of the roughly 70% of adult Cubans – the college professors, the physicians, the women taking care of kids in day care, the dancers in the National Ballet, or the hardworking guys carrying bags in hotels – who remain on the payrolls of the state. As if their aspirations, hopes, and dreams for the future simply didn’t count for as much as the opinions of the island’s honorable but self-employed minority.

To be sure, when the president goes to Cuba in March, he’ll be mobbed and loved by the Cuban people, which in turn will have a disruptive effect on Cuba’s political equation itself. Cuba’s leaders know this, which is a powerful answer to the baseless accusation that Mr. Obama got no concessions from Cuba’s government before announcing his visit in the first place. When he gets there, the President will, of course, say what he thinks must be said, reflecting his own values, our country’s Cold War legacy, and the demands of our politics, while also celebrating and consolidating the real achievements of his policy.

But, it would also be nice if he were to balance the gamesmanship with the kind of statesmanship that Mr. Obama, a president who lived overseas in the developing world during his youth, can uniquely offer.  It’s as simple as meeting a genuine cross-section of Cubans and asking them about their lives. Given the chance, the ones we know would just let it rip, and you can’t be a more respectful or effective guest then by inviting them to do exactly that and then listening to what they have to say.

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Obama to Follow Coolidge to Cuba, U.S. Media Reports

February 19, 2016

President Obama continues to keep the promises he made during the heat of the 2008 presidential campaign.  Since coming to the White House, he reopened the door that was cruelly shut by his predecessor and encouraged Cuban Americans to make unlimited visits to their families on the island. He also opened a dialogue with Cuba’s government “without preconditions,” and promised to meet with Cuba’s President Raúl Castro “at a time and place of my choosing.”

“Trust,” we learned in Cuba last week, “is a series of promises kept.”  The President will fulfill this promise when he travels to Cuba accompanied by Mrs. Obama on March 21-22. On those dates, as the U.S. media has repeated ad nauseam in the last 36 hours, he will become the first president to do so since President Calvin Coolidge made the trip in 1928 to address a meeting of the Pan American Conference.

Is there something of value to be learned from Coolidge’s visit some 88 years ago

For more than half of the 20th Century, Cuba danced at the end of a string held tight in Washington’s grasp.  Prior to the Coolidge presidency, an amendment to the Cuban Constitution was adopted which gave the United States carte blanche to intervene, and U.S. soldiers were deployed on multiple occasions to do exactly that. As Bill LeoGrande and Peter Kornbluh write in their essential Back Channel To Cuba, “Treaties and laws promulgated by the U.S. military governors gave U.S. businesses unmatched advantages in the Cuban market.”

Coolidge was welcomed to Cuba by the nation’s President Gerardo Machado who, as Lars Schoultz recalls, was nicknamed “the Butcher of Las Villas.”  The U.S. government was forgiving of Machado’s brutality, corruption, and fraudulent reelection to his second term in office, and he was admired by U.S. investors for the stability he brought to the island.

Following a florid introduction by Machado, President Coolidge spoke for over a half-hour, reading a text that exceeded 4,000 words, clearly crafted with the U.S. audience in mind.

“Thirty years ago Cuba ranked as a foreign possession, torn by revolution and devastated by hostile forces. Such government as existed rested on military force. Today Cuba is her own sovereign. Her people are independent, free, prosperous, peaceful, and enjoying the advantages of self-government…

“They have reached a position in the stability of their government, in the genuine expression of their public opinion at the ballot box, and in the recognized soundness of their public credit that has commanded universal respect and admiration.”

Machado must have basked in the glory of Coolidge’s remarks.  Cubans, if they even heard what the man nicknamed “Silent Cal” said, must have been troubled by the contrast between his fact-free description of their country and the reality of Cuba’s politics and economy they knew all too well.

A few years later, Cubans drove the despot Machado into a comfortable Miami exile, and they have waited nine decades for an American President to speak to them again, and to use words that reflect their realities.

We don’t have a single doubt about how the President will be received in Cuba.  In Havana, we saw their eyes glow with pride on the day Mr. Obama shook hands with President Raúl Castro at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service; a year later, their joyful tears wet our faces as we celebrated the announcement that Cuba and the United States would resume diplomatic relations. After cheering the President for quoting Jose Martí in an address carried on state television, Cubans described the sensation of a burden being lifted from their country as they saw our half-century long isolation finally coming to an end.

Because they have seen the first American president in their lifetimes treat Cuba with respect, President Obama will surely receive a hero’s welcome from the Cuban people when he arrives there in March.

That moment – covered in real time on global television – will surely be a teachable moment for the U.S. audience, which is already giving the President high marks for his Cuba diplomacy, as the Gallup polling organization said today.  A strongly positive welcome for the President holds the promise of galvanizing momentum for further reforms in U.S. policy. It will also give lie to assertions by the President’s bilious opponents that his rapprochement with Cuba’s government is a self-out of Cuba’s people.

If bilious seems strong, how better to describe the written statement from a Senator of his own party who called the upcoming visit “unacceptable” and against “enduring American values,” or the assertion by another who said that visiting Cuba will be “damaging to our national security interests” and will “send the message to the oppressed Cuban people that you stand with their oppressors”?  The latter comment is drawn from Senator Marco Rubio’s letter to the President demanding that he not make the trip at all.

Rather than sitting out history now, as his opponents want him to do, or spinning fantasy for reality as Calvin Coolidge did nine decades ago, Mr. Obama is striving to do better – to make a nuanced case that reflects the aspirations of Cubans, expresses his devotion to American values (as he did Thursday on Twitter), highlights the benefits to U.S. interests, and respectfully encourages Cuba’s leadership to use the remainder of his term and Raúl Castro’s time in office to address issues that must be resolved to normalize relations fully.

If the President can slice through the noise coming from his opponents, his visit can advance the cause of normalization in the United States by gaining support for more executive actions to loosen restrictions on Cuba and for Congress ultimately repealing the travel ban and the embargo entirely.

Even more, as Sarah Stephens of CDA said in her statement Thursday, “this visit can affect how the leaders and people of both countries decide what they want the definition of normal to be.  Are we neighbors at peace with a wall between us, or are we neighbors and friends with a door that is open and welcoming in both directions?”

The early signs are promising; that rather than pulling a Coolidge President Obama will thread the needle and prepare both countries for a lot more progress in the little time he has left to serve.

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Week In Review: Lift the Embargo? Why don’t we just ‘gum it’ to death instead?

February 12, 2016

Last Sunday, someone, somewhere marked the 54th anniversary of the U.S. embargo against Cuba.

We forgot to send a card.

But, perhaps there was a celebration in Australia.  An oil company there, MEO, bragged to its shareholders this week about the company’s goals for Cuba, where it plans to drill off-shore.

“Cuba Block 9 represents MEO’s highest priority asset for near term value creation,” says CEO Peter Stickland, who added “MEO’s established position in Cuba provides a strong early mover advantage ahead of ongoing strengthening diplomatic relations between Cuba and the U.S.”

Take that, Team USA, we got there first…and toss another shrimp on the Barbie.

Cuba has trade relations with more than 160 countries.  Its main trading partners include Venezuela, China, Canada, Spain, Brazil, Russia, and Vietnam.  These countries have no embargo against Cuba and so, while we in the U.S. talk about doing deals, while the Obama administration – bravely but incrementally – dismantles regulatory barriers to trading with the Cubans, our competitors go to the island and do what we all too often just talk about doing.

The oil company MEO can drill where U.S. oil companies can’t because the embargo bars them from doing so.  We’ve followed this issue closely for years, and watched with admiration as Dan Whittle at the Environmental Defense Fund and others fought valiantly to move U.S. policy to the point where the U.S. and Cuban governments can cooperate to defend our coasts against a spill (and there’s “a path” for U.S. companies to respond to a crisis). But, Australia’s first-mover advantage over U.S. oil companies sidelined by the embargo from drilling remains.

Telecommunications offers a similar case.  The administration has made “opening up Cuba” to U.S. telecom firms a high policy priority.  It has conscientiously urged Cuba to expand Wi-Fi access to benefit its people and the Cuban economy.  After the December 17th diplomatic breakthrough, we’ve seen and written about the young Cubans crowding together with their smartphones on the streets of Havana adjacent to the Wi-Fi hotspots added by their government which run on equipment supplied by the Chinese company Huawei.

U.S. tourism is much in the same boat.  Today, we learned “U.S. airlines could begin more than 100 daily flights to Cuba under [a commercial aviation] agreement that will be signed Tuesday in Havana,” USA Today reports.  And yes, non-tourist travel to Cuba under President Obama is skyrocketing.  But, visitors from the states must search for rooms in hotels built by competitors to U.S.-based Marriott International, Hilton Worldwide, and other familiar U.S. brands which have been left to “circle Cuba,” as Reuters wrote last year, because that’s all they can do so long as there’s an embargo.

Like losers who just get to hang around the lobby, our hoteliers can visit the island, and talk to the relevant ministry officials about someday investing and building properties on the island.  But, it is Chinese and British developers who’ve got the go-ahead to build golf resorts, and it is the Vietnamese who’ve “inked a deal” to trod the path already blazed by Canadian and Spanish hotel firms.

U.S. agriculture suppliers are slightly better off.  After Congress legalized sales of food and medicine to the island in 2000, Cuba became a promising market, and the Cuban government for a number of years lived with onerous payment requirements and became a very good customer. American farmers took a special delight in putting wholesale food at a good price on the tables of Cuban families.  The island is so close and the government imports two-thirds to eighty percent of the food their country consumes.

But, as Governor Greg Abbott learned last year, his pitch that “Texas has an abundance of (rice and other products) and a very easy ability to export from Texas to Cuba,” wasn’t an easy sell to officials who run Cuba’s new Port of Mariel.  They told him, “Cuba would buy rice from other sources, primarily Vietnam, until the U.S. allowed the communist-run island to buy on credit, a measure currently prohibited by the embargo.”

You get the picture.  Although the president’s been liberalizing the policy since 2009, as he promised to do, he and his administration have been regularly pushing out policy changes, regulatory reforms, and making promising progress with the Cubans since the 2014 diplomatic breakthrough.

Non-tourist travel and the economic activity its boosts are both clearly up.  Two U.S. mobile phone companies have scored roaming agreements.  Another company based in New Jersey signed a deal to provide direct phone service between our countries.

After the administration loosened the rules for financing certain exports to Cuba in January, as the Wall Street Journal predicted, Caterpillar said it is getting traction from the reforms.  The company announced this week “it has signed a deal with a distributor to begin the process of selling its products in Cuba, becoming one of the first U.S. manufacturers to enter the island nation that is emerging from decades-long trade restrictions.”

More news will come.  After Cuba has hosted visits for the U.S. Secretary of State, Commerce Secretary, Agriculture Secretary, and other officials, the Departments of Commerce and Treasury will next week welcome Rodrigo Malmierca, Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment, accompanied by other officials, for the second roundof the U.S.-Cuba Regulatory Dialogue.

We favor talk, and engagement, and the step-by-step process is producing results.   But, like our friend Bill LeoGrande, who wrote earlier this month, “Obama Needs to Stop Playing Small Ball With Cuba,” it has to be frustrating for U.S. companies to be cast as tire-kickers, browsers, and window shoppers as Cuba makes rational decisions about how, when, and with whom it does business, and they’re not really in the running.

So, what’s to be done?

First, the president retains a significant amount of authority to take additional executive actions that remove restrictions and allow U.S. firms to compete for business in Cuba.  Experts like LeoGrande, Stephen Propst (Hogan Lovells), and others have already laid out compelling proposals to lift prohibitions on U.S. investment in Cuba, easing restrictions on U.S. financial institutions processing dollar-denominated transactions, relieving enforcement concerns, and opening up the United States to exports from the island.  Did you know that the Cuban bee industry is thriving and that Cuban honey sells for a price that fetches more per liter than oil?  The president should do more.

Second, there are reasonable men and women of good will from both political parties who think that repealing not just the travel ban, not just the impediments to agriculture sales, but the embargo in its entirety is a cause that is just.

Members of the bipartisan trade delegation that Reps. Tom Emmer and Kathy Castor will lead to Cuba tomorrow believe that.   So, do the Republican and DemocraticGovernors who wrote the Congressional leadership last year asking for the repeal of all trade restrictions.  That is what Congressmen Jim McGovern and Rick Crawford believe – they said it to the U.S. Agriculture Coalition on Wednesday, arguing that a majority of Americans are ready to lift the embargo – if not this year, than certainly next year.

Congress can step up, but should not be asked to do so alone.  Beyond joining delegations or visiting Cuba single-file, more U.S. companies and sectors should do what agriculture has been doing for decades and step up so their voices are heard in Congress.  We were astonished last year when we read comments by a travel executive who said the “prohibition on tourism will go away” – this is a law that Congress must repeal – as if someone else was going to do it for him, elevating deus ex machina to legislative strategy.  No, sir; this takes work.

And that is what Swedish Match believes, too.  The third-largest manufacturer of tobacco pouches in the U.S. has lobbied Congress more heavily than another company on trade.  They are among the new legions of K Street diplomats for whom talk about ending the embargo justwon’t cut it anymore.  They want action, and so do we.  U.S. business must step up.

Our Recommendations

Council on Foreign Relations outlines 2016 candidates’ stances on foreign policy issues, including Cuba, Council on Foreign Relations

In this interactive guide, “Campaign 2016: The Candidates & the World,” the Council on Foreign Relations allows users to focus on each candidate by issue. With quotes from the candidates and clearly articulated summaries, we found the Cuba section to be particularly worthwhile.

U.S. expects “probable presidential transition” in Cuba in 2018, EFE / Fox News Latino

A recent U.S. intelligence report suggests that Cuba may be preparing for a “probable presidential transition” in 2018. This date would coincide with the end of Raul Castro’s current term and would reinforce a proposed maximum presidential ten-year term limit. While this report suggests an end to the Castro era, it does not necessarily mean major changes in Cuba’s political and social structures. The report made it clear that Cuban leaders will “remain focused on preserving political control,” that economic reform and reducing state influence in the economy would be “slow,” and that living conditions will continue to be “poor.”

Lawmakers Question U.S. Decision to Give Rum Trademark to Cuba, Felicia Schwartz, WSJ

A bipartisan group of 25 U.S. lawmakers (17 of whom represent Florida), have sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, expressing concerns over the U.S government’s decision to grant a trademark for Havana Club rum to the Cuban government. This controversial move, which would allow the Cuban government to sell Cuban-made Havana Club in the U.S. for the first time in decades once the U.S. economic embargo on Cuba is lifted, has also raised concerns that it could undermine protections for American intellectual property rights holders.

The Havana primaries, The Economist

Havana residents are weighing in on the US 2016 election. While two Republican candidates, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, are the children of Cuban immigrants, they are not positively received back on the island. Some Cubans have expressed that they would rather vote for Donald Trump. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton appears to be Cubans’ preferred, as many are baffled by Bernie Sanders’ open support of what he calls “democratic socialism.”

Silicon Island Rebooted: Cuba’s Information & Communications Technology Revolution, Timothy Ashby, Harvard International Review

Cuba is making significant progress towards becoming a leading hub of IT innovation in the Caribbean. This technological initiative began with Fidel Castro’s announcement of a second revolution called the “Future Project.” It has evolved over the past 20 years to include new technology curricula in Cuban high schools and universities, and expanded job opportunities in the IT sector.

Cuban baseball stars, the Gurriel brothers, abandon team, Nelson Acosta, Reuters

Cuban media outlets have reported that brothers Yulieski Gurriel, 31, and Lourdes Gurriel Jr., 22, two of Cuba’s most preeminent baseball layers, have defected from Cuba. The two allegedly left the Dominican Republic hotel where they were staying with the rest of Cuba’s professional baseball team. The two hope to pursue their future careers in the United States.

Cuba’s ‘Black Spring’ Still Haunts Journalists, David Soler, Global Journalist

The article examines the lives of two exiled Cuban journalists who suffer lasting impacts from the 2003 “Black Spring” — Fidel Castro’s major crackdown on independent journalists inside Cuba. At the time, the international community’s attention was focused on the Middle East, but Cuban journalists were facing serious threats, imprisonment, and persecution just ninety miles from U.S. shores.

Blessed are the peacemakers, Sarah Stephens, Huffington Post

Blessed are the peacemakers, it says in Scripture – and the peacemakers seem to converging in Havana. This Friday, the leaders of Roman Catholicism and the Russian Orthodox Church, Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill I, will meet in Cuba to try and advance the healing process between Eastern and Western Christianity, churches which have been in schism since 1054. In coming to Cuba to seek peace, they are not alone. After two years of a tightly held negotiation, the United States and Cuba ended six decades of hostilities, and the diplomatic effort to normalize relations rolls forward in both capitals.

Church talks help make Cuba a “perfect place for negotiations,” Andrea Rodriguez and Michael Weissenstein, AP/Washington Post

Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill I of the Russian Orthodox Church will meet on February 12 in Cuba. The meeting’s setting is historic and symbolic, as it not only represents efforts to reconcile estranged factions within Christianity, but also sets a precedent in which Cuba can become fertile ground for peace negotiations.

Peace and the Parallel Universe

February 5, 2016

Blessed are the peacemakers, it says in Matthew 5:9 – and the peacemakers seem to converging in Havana.

One week from today, the leaders of Roman Catholicism and the Russian Orthodox Church will meet in Cuba to try and advance the healing process between Eastern and Western Christianity, churches which have been in schism since 1054.

In coming to Cuba to seek peace, Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill I are not alone.

For two years, a tightly held negotiation between the United States and Cuba ended six decades of hostilities between our two countries. The diplomatic effort to normalize relations continues to roll forward in both capitals.

Since 2014, Cuba and the European Union have been negotiating a new Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement to replace the tired, confrontational framework that has existed for nearly twenty years.  The talks, which are alternating between Brussels and Havana, will resume in Cuba later this year.

Most of all, talks to end the fifty-year civil war between the Government of Colombia and the FARC guerrilla movement, a conflict that has claimed more than a quarter-million dead, are “Heading toward the Finish Line in Cuba,” according to Ginny Bouvier‘s most recent post.

While the Colombian and FARC peace delegations deserve the lion’s share of the credit – they’ve been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize – Cuba’s role in hosting the negotiations continues to win praise.

As President Obama said at a White House ceremony with Colombia’s Juan Manuel Santos at his side, “I want to think all of the parties for their efforts, including the government of Cuba for hosting the talks.  We all know that it’s easier to start wars than to end them.”

President Santos replied in part by saying, “I also believe that I speak for all the people in Latin America and the Caribbean, all the people who live south of the Rio Grande, when I say to you, thank you.  Thank you, Mr. President, for your audacity in reestablishing diplomatic relations with Cuba.”

The President was audacious, indeed, for ushering in a period of diplomacy that has produced resumed relations, reopened embassies, prisoner releases, policy reforms and more.  In a world beset by tragic struggles and disorder, it’s hard not to enjoy the emergence of Cuba, once the epicenter of the Cold War conflict, as a 21st Century staging point for reconciliation.

Somehow, the editorial writers at the Washington Post have figured out a way not to feel the love.

The Post didn’t allow a day to go by before it unloaded on President Obama’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba.  On December 17th, 2014 they called his diplomatic breakthrough “an undeserved bailout” of the Castro regime.  They also called the administration “naïve” for believing it would help transform U.S. relations with Latin America.

After just six months, the Post denounced the deal as “one-sided,” and actually took pleasure in the fact that Congress was stopping the appointment of a U.S. Ambassador to Cuba. In September, it accused Pope Francis of appeasement for his role in bringing America and Cuba together.  In October, they slammed the overhaul of U.S. policy again for being “one-sided.” And on Sunday, they roared again.

Their editorial, Failure in Cuba, topped by a dated photograph of President Raúl Castro sitting with Fidel Castro taken in 2011, declares that President Obama’s opening to Cuba “seems to be failing to live up to its declared goals.”  After concluding that nothing positive has materialized, “the president’s only response,” they say, “has been more unilateral concessions.”

In the Post’s parallel universe, in one year’s time, nothing has been accomplished. Cuba has not unilaterally dismantled its system in the last year, just as it didn’t for more than fifty years under the old policy.  But that’s the wrong metric.

In his well-argued piece, Inconsistent Impatience on Cuba, Paul Pillar pillages the Post for its way-stale argument giving the administration a single year to reverse decades of failed policy in Cuba.

“Evidently half a century,” Pillar writes, “through ten different U.S. administrations, is deemed insufficient time to judge whether the policy of isolation can ever achieve any useful results. But the editorial criticizes President Obama’s opening for not bringing about a ‘sea change in Cuba’ during the brief time it has been in effect.”

Short of a sea-change, as a critic of U.S. policy, Carlos Lopez wrote this week, “Opening telecommunications, increasing tourism, and embracing foreign culture into the island are all signs that Obama’s policy of engagement has resulted in a Cuba with less restrictions and barriers.”

Engage Cuba made a similar point this week.  “Before December 17, 2014…there were zero Wi-Fi hotspots outside of hotels and zero in the homes of Cubans. At the end of 2015, there were 65 Wi-Fi hotspots, and the Cuban government has announced it will add 80 more during 2016.

These Wi-Fi hotspots, a priority for President Obama’s new policy, are gateways for Cubans to expand their borders.  “We are seeing a whole new quality of public space,” Miguel Antonio Padrón Lotti, a Cuban professor of urban planning, told The Guardian.  “Cubans have always socialized on the streets, but now we can interact with the wider world at the same time.”

It’s not just hotspots, but also progress propelled by painstaking diplomacy – on commerce, criminal justice and fugitives, migration and fraud – with more left to be done.

Rather than rolling the policy back, as several prominent candidates for the U.S. presidency would have us do, or stand and wait until a new Congress is elected capable of dealing with Cuba policy legislation (talk about a parallel universe), we enjoy the elan of President Francois Hollande, who called this week on President Obama to “go all the way (how French),” and end the embargo himself.

Now, the President’s authority probably doesn’t really extend that far.  In fact, Congress and the Supreme Court have taken steps in recent days to call into doubt the powers of his office that he has used to reform Cuba policy since 2009.

But, as Bill LeoGrande explained in Foreign Policy this week, there’s much that he can do with the power he’s got within the time left in his term to use it.  LeoGrande proposed presidential actions to lift bans on U.S. investments, allow a range of Cuban imports into the U.S., free individuals to make people-to-people trips to Cuba, and make significant changes in the regulatory regime and its enforcement so that U.S. banks embrace the idea of commerce with Cuba, rather than thwarting it in fear of being fined.

The choice seems pretty clear; rather than returning the policy to the Post’s parallel universe, take the more promising path with the Pope, the Patriarch, President Santos and the FARC toward progress and peace.

Our Recommendations

Cuba says it will launch broadband home Internet projectMichael Weissenstein, Miami Herald

On Sunday January 31, Cuba’s government announced that it would launch broadband Internet service in two Havana neighborhoods. ETECSA, the state telecommunications company intends to use fiber optic connections from Chinese telecom operator, Huawei, to provide Internet service to homes in the historic Old Havana neighborhood. This development comes a year after Cuba set up dozens of public Wi-Fi hotspots, and will serve as a pilot program for future wireless telecom projects.

Obama Needs to Stop Playing Small Ball With Cuba or a Republican in the White House, backed by a fearful, anti-Cuba Congress, could undo — in an instant — all his good work,William M. LeoGrande, Foreign Policy

Given reluctance by Congress to take up legislation to repeal the embargo, the Obama administration’s actions in Cuba have relied on the use of executive authority.  Should a Republican win the White House in 2016, Professor LeoGrande warns that President Obama’s unilateral executive actions can easily be revoked.  In the year remaining, however, he lists a series of actions the administration could take to make Cuba policy reform progress harder to roll back.

Inconsistent Impatience on CubaPaul Pillar, National interest

Paul Pillar responds to a Washington Post editorial that labels President Obama’s Cuba opening as a “failure” that is “not leading to positive change.” Pillar compares this criticism to similar backlash against the administration’s nuclear agreement with Iran. He suggests that critics of Obama’s diplomatic initiatives fail to assess – or even propose – alternative policies, have unrealistic, anachronistic, and inconsistent expectations for potential changes, and tend to be “impatient” in their views of diplomacy.

NASA explores cooperation with Cuba on science projectsFox News Latino

NASA researcher Brent Holben’s recent trip to Cuba underscores potential research collaboration between the US and Cuba. Holben urged Cuba to join the recently created Caribbean Aerosol Network, a component of Aeronet, which is a network of robotic instruments basically used to study aerosols, tiny particles suspended in the air whose high concentration has a negative impact on human health.

U.S. and Cuban researchers begin neuroscience collaborations, Becky Hamm, Science

U.S. and Cuban scientists have identified areas of neuroscience for research collaboration. The areas include magnetic resonance imaging technology, neuroinformatics, neurodevelopment, and a plan to establish an international nonhuman primate research center in Cuba. Mark Rasenick, a professor of physiology and psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a fellow of both AAAS and the Cuban Academy, noted the positives of this academic relationship with Cuba but added, “We still have a number of impediments to research, and in order to fix them, we need to end the embargo.”

Port of Miami preparing for daily ferry service to CubaDouglas Hanks, Miami Herald

The Miami Herald recently uncovered documents showing that Port of Miami has been in negotiations to open ferry service to Havana for a year. However, delays from the Cuban side have stalled progress, as Cuba prioritizes other construction projects.

Constitutional Reform in Cuba: Why, how, and with whom?Eileen Sosin Martínez, Progreso Semanal

Progreso Semanal offers an updated look into proposed constitutional changes in Cuba. On February 24, 2013, President Raul Castro announced that he was introducing changes to the constitution. The first proposal outlined was the need to introduce term limits on politicians. At most, they would be able to serve two five-year terms in office. Three years later, we still do not have many additional details on the reforms. Professor and investigator at the Center for the Study of Public Administration, Julio Antonio Fernandez, imagines that we will see a clearer proposal at the upcoming April 2016 Party Congress, following the same logic of reform put forth in 1992.

Cuba, through rose-colored glasses, Yoani Sánchez, Miami Herald

Sánchez describes the stark contrast between the prosperous and thriving Cuba envisioned by the Cuban government, journalists, and media, and the reality in which sickness, censorship, and poverty affect citizens on a daily basis.

Cuba for sale: “Havana is now the big cake – and everyone is trying to get a slice,

Oliver Wainwright, Guardian

Tourism from the U.S. to Cuba has surged by 40% since president Obama announced a thaw in diplomatic relations between the two countries in December 2014. According to the IMF, an end to the U.S. economic embargo on the island could see the number of American tourists to Cuba skyrocket to 10 million per year.