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

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.

Our Recommendations

U.S. / Cuba Relations

Kerry plans to go to Cuba in ‘next week or two’, Yahoo News / AFP
Secretary of State John Kerry has announced that he may travel to Cuba in the coming weeks to discuss human rights. This would be Kerry’s second trip to Cuba, serving as a follow-up to his visit last August for the reopening of the U.S. Embassy in Havana.  The Secretary of State’s visit would come just weeks before President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama’s historic trip to the island on March 21-22.

Most approve of Obama’s Cuba Visit, Peter Moore, YouGov
Following the announcement of President Obama’s upcoming trip to Cuba, YouGov released a poll that records U.S. public support for Mr. Obama’s Cuba policy and a sizable increase in the percentage of Americans who view Cuba favorably. Full polling data, broken down by political affiliation, income, race, age, gender, and geographic region can be found here.

Obama, nos vemos en La Habana, Miriam Leiva, Cubanet
In this opinion column, Miriam Leiva welcomes U.S. President Barack Obama’s upcoming trip to Cuba. She sees the visit as a positive move that will not only be remembered as the first visit to Cuba by a U.S. president since 1928, but as a milestone in Obama’s efforts to seize every opportunity to strengthen U.S. relations with Cuba through enthusiasm, opportunity, and respect.

Cuba allows seven dissidents to travel abroad ahead of Obama visit, Daniel Trotta and Nelson Acosta, News Daily
Seven Cuban dissidents have been given a one-time offer by Cuba’s government to travel abroad. Four other former prisoners have however, been denied. The move is being seen as a gesture by Cuba’s government in the lead-up to President Obama’s visit. A White House spokesman says that the administration “welcome[s] the news” and is hopeful that the Cuban government will allow the remaining four dissidents to travel.

Even as Cuban relations warm, Obama renews state of emergency against Cuba,Gregory Korte, USA Today
On Wednesday, President Obama renewed a twenty-year old state of emergency against Cuba. The renewal order, known as Proclamation 9398, prohibits U.S.-registered vessels and aircraft from entering Cuban waters or airspace without authorization. Under the National Emergencies Act, the president must renew the proclamation each year. While Obama has issued the renewal, the proclamation notably uses softer language and emphasizes peacemaking and democracy promotion objectives in Cuba.

U.S. fines French firm for doing business with Cuba, Xinhua
The U.S. Treasury Department fined a French firm, CGG Services, $614,250 for using “spare parts and equipment of U.S. origin on oil and gas exploration vessels operating in Cuban territorial waters.” The Treasury Department claims CGG violated the U.S. trade embargo still in place against Cuba.  Despite significant steps toward normalization, the U.S. government has fined companies working with Cuba 14.4 billion dollars for such violations since 2009.

D.C. looks to communist Cuba for lessons to improve literacy, Ryan M. McDermott, The Washington Times
“Given Cuba’s emphasis on a strong education, I know there’s a lot we can learn from each other,” said Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. Bowser’s Tuesday comments came during a five-day trip to Cuba. Bowser and School Chancellor Kaya Henderson visited a number of schools in Cuba, including the University of Havana, a middle school, and a trade school. Cuba boasts a 99% literacy rate, while approximately 64% of D.C. residents are functionally literate.

Factory OK’d For Cuba Aims To Plow A Path Into 21st Century, Melissa Block,NPR
This story features tractor manufacturers Horace Clemmons and Saul Berenthal, the first businessmen approved by the US government to build a factory in Cuba since 1960. Their business, Cleber LLC, will produce a small tractor model called Oggun starting in 2017 in the Mariel Special Development Zone. Oggun is the name of the Santeria deity known as the god of metal.  Berenthal, a Cuban American, believes “This is the path to get Cuba into the 21st century.”

Cuba’s Had A Lung Cancer Vaccine For Years, And Now It’s Coming To The U.S., Erin Schumaker and Anna Almendrala, Huffington Post
Originally published in May 2015, this updated article includes new details on CimaVax, a lung cancer treatment and vaccine developed in Cuba continues to be of interest in the U.S.  The vaccine, which has been researched and tested in Cuba over the past 25 years, was first introduced to the public in 2011. The decision to introduce CimaVax – which has had initial successes in both the Cuban and European markets – to the United States, follows New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s trade delegation to Cuba last April. Roswell Park Cancer Institute, the research center evaluating CimaVax, still has obstacles to overcome including licensing restrictions and FDA approval.

Five Steps to Grow the Cuban Economy – What the US and Cuba Can Do in Obama’s Final Year, Michael W. Klein and Pavel Vidal, Atlantic Council
The Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center released a report on Thursday that highlights five steps the U.S. and Cuba can take in the coming years to improve the Cuban economy: financial liberalizatio; monetary unification and reform; banking for cuentapropistas: small-scale lending and microfinance; banking for un tipo común y corriente: services for depositors; and international integration.

Miami Mini Maker Faire Proudly Presents “Music Makers Showcase”, Miami Mini Maker Faire
Last Saturday, Miami Mini Maker Faire, an all-ages festival of creativity and innovation, hosted its third annual “Music Makers Showcase.” One of the headlining acts was X Alfonso, a Grammy-nominated pioneer of Cuba’s hip-hop and afro-rock scenes. In his home town of Havana, Cuba, X Alfonso is also the founding director of Fabrica de Arte Cubano, an acclaimed mixed arts and performance space.

Cuba’s Foreign Relations

Cuba y China, acuerdos sobre agricultura y ferrocarriles (Cuba and China sign an agreement on agriculture and railways), Iramsy Peraza, Progreso Semanal
Vice President of the Chinese Eximbank and Cuba’s Vice President of Finances and Prices, Félix Martínez have signed an agreement that will help develop Cuba’s agricultural sector and railways. In addition to providing 240 passenger railroad cars, the deal with Eximbank will provide Cuba with bulk carriers, tractors, rice-drying plants, facilities for seed processing, and other equipment used in agricultural plans aimed at increasing food production in the country.

In Cuba

Cuba deploys army in effort to avoid Zika virus, Marc Frank and Daniel Trotta,Thomson Reuters
Cuba’s President Raul Castro has declared a nationwide call to action against the Zika virus. On Monday, Castro mobilized 9000 soldiers to stave off the mosquito-borne illness. No cases have been reported in Cuba to date, but the World Health Organization anticipates that Zika – which has spread rapidly throughout Latin America and the Caribbean in the past months following an initial outbreak in Brazil – will spread to every country in the Western Hemisphere except Canada and Chile.

Florida cattleman recalls Ramón Castro’s role in Cuba agriculture, Mimi Whitefield, Miami Herald
This week, Cuba mourned the death of Ramón Castro. The eldest Castro brother’s life and legacy, however, has been celebrated beyond the shores of Cuba. “His death represents a lot more than just the passing of the oldest brother of Fidel and Raúl Castro,” said John Parke Wright IV, a Florida cattleman who first met Castro at the Havana International Fair in the late 1990s. “Ramón Castro represents individual agricultural excellence.” Unlike his brothers, Ramón Castro largely avoided politics, following instead in his father’s footsteps as a giant in Cuban agriculture.

Recommended Viewing

Revolution Cuba: Stories of Art & Change, Marcia Jarmel, Kickstarter
(R)EVOLUTION CUBA: Stories of Art & Change is a series of short documentaries tracking vanguard Cuban artists navigating the tricky waters between an opening market and their deeply held cultural ideals. (R)EVOLUTION CUBA is a uniquely Cuban cocktail – a mix of art, free expression, socialism, and the allure of the market.

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