Cuba’s (Really) Off the Terror List: Normalization in Words and Pictures

Cuba was removed from the U.S. government’s State Sponsors of Terror list last May 29th and rightly so.  Cuba was put on this “name and shame list” during the Reagan administration under false pretenses in 1982.  This, in turn, was a trigger for tougher U.S. economic sanctions, greater diplomatic isolation, and rubbishing Cuba’s reputation in our domestic politics.

As part of his D-17 initiative restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba, President Obama started an orderly process that resulted in Cuba being dropped from the list before our embassies were opened in Havana and Washington, before our flags were raised and properly displayed above them.  It would have been unthinkable to formalize relations until this wrong was righted.

Despite hardliner opposition, no vote was ever called, not a single Senator or Representative even introduced legislation, to keep Cuba on the list.  Their failure to act called attention to the increasing weakness of the pro-sanctions lobby, and the change helped prompt a majority of the American public to view Cuba in a positive light for the first time since the country’s revolution.

The President’s decision proved so uncontroversial – and intervening events like the Obama trip to Havana were so successful – that what transpired Thursday at the State Department escaped the notice of most news agencies.

The State Department released its Country Reports on Terrorism (2015) at a briefing convened for Justin Siberell, Acting Coordinator for Counterterrorism, and neither he, nor the reporters who asked him questions, even mentioned the word “Cuba.”

If you don’t believe us, you can read the transcript here.  Or, read the 2015 terror list here. Cuba really is off the list.  Even better, look at the report and see that the State Department has finally put Cuba where it belongs; right here,between Colombia and Mexico, on the alphabetized list of Western Hemisphere nations from whom we have nothing to fear, an elegant word picture for normalization itself.

This brings us to the multi-media part of this week’s essay.

Sometimes words aren’t enough.  For example, if you need a history lesson in U.S.-Cuba relations, a reminder of the conflicts that led to Cuba’s designation on the terror list, you can watch this video describing 150 years of US-Cuba history (in just 6 minutes!).

Spoiler alert:  It’s a movie with a happy ending; in the end, Cuba and the U.S. restore relations.

After that, you might turn to this infographic that powerfully conveys what the U.S. and Cuba have to gain by mending ties, posted on line by the Norwich Masters of Diplomacy.

It has great graphics on the impact of the embargo, the size of Cuba’s economy, how Cubans benefit from their country’s social provisions, and how Cuba is a positioned to grow as trade with the U.S. expands.  It’s a picture of Cuba – not as a military threat, but as a bilateral U.S. partner for two-way commerce and investment.

Another infographic – Changes in Cuba – portrays changes in Cuba such as the expansion of Internet access, Cuba’s abolition of travel restrictions, the rise in private sector job growth, and the existence of private markets for the sale of homes and automobiles.

All of these developments began before Presidents Castro and Obama announced their joint decision to restore relations.  But, the increasing spaces for travel and trade due to regulatory changes instigated by President Obama are accelerating their effects.

If you’d like to drill down on Entrepreneurial Activity in Cuba’s Private Sector, Dr. Ted Henken released a graphic last year that documents how big Cuba’s private and cooperative sectors have grown, and details the business activities in which they’re engaged.

If pictures alone don’t do it for you, Brookings is offering “Open for Business: Building the New Cuban Economy,” a book by Richard Feinberg billed as an expert’s guide to Cuba’s economic opening to the outside world, and a videoof a Brookings event featuring Cuban millennials looking ahead to building the new Cuban economy. Ricardo Torres, the University of Havana economist, assures us that “Goodwill and common sense will prevail.”

We’re confident he’ll be proven right.  The climate for positive change is getting better.

A year ago, the President’s decision on the terror list contributed to the essential process of building of trust between the U.S. and Cuba in ways most of us could hardly picture; the warm welcome Mr. Obama received from Cubans on his trip last March was perhaps the greatest manifestation of how much closer our countries have become.

Of course, there’s much left to do.  But, the State Department’s new report on terrorism adds to the accumulating evidence – in words and bytes alike – that the normalization process is going well.   It needs to stay on track.

This week in Cuba news…

U.S.-Cuba Relations

U.S. Agriculture Secretary meets with Cuban counterpart in Iowa, Christopher Doering, The Des Moines Register

Cuba’s Agriculture Minister Gustavo Rodríguez Rollero, accompanied by senior officials from other Ministries including Foreign Relations, traveled to the U.S. this week to continue conversations with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Their talks in Washington focused on the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that Cuba and the U.S. signed in March. As Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in March, the MOU advanced scientific exchange on issues related to animal and plant health, organic production, conservation, and irrigation. Cuba’s delegation then headed to Iowa and met with Secretary Vilsack. Secretary Vilsack told USA Today he is optimistic that Minister Rollero’s visit will help put pressure on Congress to lift the embargo. Iowa, the nation’s top producer of corn, soybean, pork, egg, and ethanol, would benefit from expanded trade and improved relations with Cuba.

Cuba accepts 20-ton shipment of rice as Missouri seeks to restore trade relations, Fox News 4

On Monday, Gov. Jay Nixon who, as we reported last week, led a delegation of business leaders to the island, announced that Cuba had formally accepted a 20-ton shipment of long-grain rice, grown and processed in southeast Missouri. Cuba, once a leading export market for Missouri rice, has not made any U.S. rice purchases since 2009. The rice, donated by Missouri-based Martin Rice, was shipped to the deep-water Port of Mariel last week. Mike Martin, a co-owner of the company, emphasized, “Rice is a relatively high-value crop and we believe once the Cuban market opens up, Missouri farmers will plant and grow more rice to take advantage of this opportunity. We also look forward to the day when Cuban goods are readily available to consumers in Missouri and the U.S.”

Top diplomats from U.S. and Cuba discuss bilateral relations at LASA Congress

Last weekend, top diplomats from Cuba and the U.S., shared a panel to discuss ongoing normalization efforts, at the Congress marking the 50th anniversary of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA). Participants included Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s Foreign Minister for North American Affairs, José Ramón Cabañas, Cuba’s Ambassador to the U.S. and Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the top U.S. diplomat in Cuba.

Citing successful cooperation in civil aviation, telecommunications, and efforts to combat narco-trafficking, all three noted increased opportunities between the U.S. and Cuba. At the same time, Director General Vidal highlighted lifting the embargo and returning Guantanamo Bay Naval Base to Cuba’s control as issues whose resolution were required for normalized relations, while Ambassador DeLaurentis reaffirmed progress on human rights and the return of fugitives as issues of importance to the Obama administration.

Big Brands Spar Over Rights to Havana Club Name, Tripp Mickle, Wall Street Journal

Tripp Mickle explores the historic and ongoing feud between Bacardi Limited rum and Pernod, the world’s second largest producer of alcohol spirits. Although their dispute has intensified due to recent changes in patent law, Mickle discusses the personal, political, and cultural aspects that accompany this decades-old disagreement. As Pernod spokesman Olivier Cavil says, “If the embargo is lifted, the final judge will be the American consumer. What does he prefer: a Havana Club brand produced in Cuban tradition with pure Cuban sugar cane or a ­me-too rum produced in Puerto Rico?”

Can Obama administration settle Cuba claims issue before time runs out? Paul Guzzo, Tampa Bay Times

Paul Guzzo reports on the urgency felt by the Obama administration to solidify its Cuba policy before the November election, and questions if the next U.S. President will make Cuba a priority. Guzzo notes that for Obama’s policy of engagement to continue and the embargo to be lifted, U.S. claims against Cuba, originating from American properties and business nationalized in the 1960s, need to be settled. The U.S. State Department explains that there are 5,913 certified claims against Cuba totaling roughly $1.9 billion. Adding to the complexity of the claims issue, Cuba says it is owed approximately $121 billion in reparations for damages incident to the embargo.

Starwood’s Deal in Cuba Encourages Would-Be Investors, Lenore T. Adkins, Bloomberg International Trade Daily

By signing an agreement to renovate and manage three hotels in Cuba, Starwood Hotels & Resorts may provide a model for U.S. businesses negotiating with Cuba, argues Lenore Adkins. Starwood, despite having $51.1 million in unresolved claims against Cuba’s government for property nationalized after the revolution, is moving ahead with its business plans. John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, suggests this may inspire other companies skittish about investing in Cuba to make deals as well.

The last flight and first steps: ‘Historic’ surge of Cubans crossing into U.S., Catherine E. Shoichet,CNN

This week marked the last flight from Panama to Mexico for Cuban immigrants who had been stranded in Panama, eager to continue their journey northward to the U.S. Through the lens of Rubén Lorenzo Peláez’s experience, this article details the struggles and legal limbo faced by Cubans seeking to immigrate to the U.S.

Last year, before Ecuador reinstated its visa requirement for Cubans traveling to Ecuador, many Cubans traveled to Ecuador to begin their often perilous trek toward the U.S. When Nicaragua and Costa Rica closed their borders to Cuban migrants, thousands found themselves blocked, unable to travel onward as we reported. Panama conducted a series of humanitarian airlifts this month to transport nearly 4,000 Cuban migrants from Panama to the U.S./Mexico border, while temporarily closing its border with Columbia.

Is OAS move on Venezuela another effect of U.S.-Cuba detente?, Franco Ordoñez, Miami Herald

The controversial decision this week by Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the Organization for American States (OAS) to invoke the organization’s Democratic Charter against Venezuela, “may be another sign of how U.S.-Cuba rapprochement is helping to change hemispheric dynamics,” according McClatchy.  Almagro said the worsening crisis in Venezula demanded “immediate changes.”

Venezuela has condemned the actions of the Secretary General, claiming only the member states of OAS, not Almagro, have the right to invoke OAS’s Democratic Charter. According to Reuters, Cuba praised Venezuela, its long-term ally, for its “tough and victorious diplomatic battle” against “the meddling plan of imperialism and oligarchies.”

Gregory Weeks of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte underscored that the U.S. opening to Cuba “…makes it easier for Latin American governments to criticize Venezuela without looking like they’re just joining the empire, because Cuba is much more positive now to the United States.” Venezuela could be suspended from OAS if two-thirds of its 34 member states agree that the country’s leadership has acted to undermine democracy.

In Cuba

Questions about PYMES in Cuba, Rachel D. Rojas, Progreso Weekly

Following the widely-covered announcement that Cuba had legalized small businesses, also called “PYMES” [translated: Pequeñas y Medianas Empresas are Small and Medium Businesses] Progreso Weekly clarifies the meaning of this change for Cuba’s economy. Documents published by Cuba’s Communist Party, following approval of “a master plan for social and economic development,” as the Associated Press reported last month, at the Party Congress. The documents do not reflect changes resulting from legislation, but offered a “conceptualization” for changes in the model that had already been in the works. As we reported here, it will take months before the National Assembly fully considers the document and enacts its findings into law.

‘Cuba’s Violin’ documents a musical journey connecting two nations, Abel Fernandez, In Cuba Today

Cuba’s Violin is a short documentary shot by Maya Albanese and Antoine Goldet featuring the story of a young Cuban violinist, José Osvaldo. Osvaldo, a talented music student who hopes to go professional, struggles to acquire a violin. This short films traces the journey of a violin, donated by Horns for Havana, a New York-based nonprofit, from its restoration in New York to Havana and Osvaldo.

Marketing in Communist-ruled Cuba: from guerrilla to mainstream?Sarah Marsh and Nelson Acosta,Reuters

With over half a century of state controlled marketing and advertising, Cuba’s new entrepreneurs have found innovative ways to market their small businesses in the midst of the ongoing reforms. Reuters reporters Sarah Marsh and Nelson Acosta describe the advertising methods used by Cuba’s entrepreneurs today as “guerilla.” Citing low access to the Internet and few places to post ads as potential barriers, Marsh and Acosta give examples of offline apps, t-shirt branding, and commercials on USB sticks as new forms of marketing used in Cuba.

The logistical and cultural challenges of creating the Manana music festival, August Brown, Los Angeles Times

When Manana Cuba, Cuba’s first electronic music festival took place in early May, it was not without its challenges. In this piece, August Brown of the Los Angeles Times interviews Alice Whittington, Manana Cuba’s head of logistics and international artist liaison, about the specific challenges she and her team faced putting on the festival including the challenge of being a female authority figure in Cuba. Despite challenging conditions, Whittington came away from the event with “a feeling of creative fulfillment, achievement against all odds, cultural understanding and new found confidence, all wrapped up in one memory.”

Cuba’s Foreign Relations

Association of Caribbean States (ACS) Summit takes place in Havana, CubaSi

The 7th Summit of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) began in Havana this week and will continue until June 4. The summit will be attended by representatives from 25 member states, 21 observer countries, and 9 international organizations. Yonhap News Agency reports that a South Korean foreign ministry official will attend the summit as an observer country for the first time. The topics for discussion include sustainable development, and climate change and regional peace, according to Prensa Latina.

President of France reiterates opposition to U.S. embargo, Prensa Latina

At a reception celebrating the Week of Latin America and the Caribbean, President of France Francois Hollande announced that he will continue to fight towards lifting the U.S. embargo on Cuba, Prensa Latina reports. During the speech, Hollande asserted that “the time was definitely up” to end the embargo, and spoke about his official state visit to Cuba in February this year, in which he and Cuba’s President Raul Castro “agreed to intensify relations.”

Cuba’s First Vice President Pays Tribute to Hiroshima Victims, Prensa Latina

This week, Cuba’s First Vice President, Miguel Diaz-Canel visited Japan and paid his respects to victims of the Hiroshima atomic bomb, Prensa Latina reports. Diaz-Canel met with the Japanese Parliamentary League of Friendship with Cuba to reaffirm bilateral ties and encourage trade reports. According to Japan Times, Japan hopes to strengthen its ties with Cuba, and sees Cuba as a potential destination to invest in areas such as infrastructure, tourism, and the medical field.

Recommended Viewing

Open for business: Building the new Cuban economy, Brookings Institution

At an event celebrating Richard Feinberg’s new book, “Open for Business: Building the New Cuban Economy,” Richard Feinberg, a nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution, discussed his work. Feinberg touched on several topics during his interview including Cuba’s gradual economic reform, ability to attract foreign investment, and the status of its joint ventures. Later in the event, Feinberg was joined by three young Cuban leaders. The three additional panelists included Harold Cárdenas Lema, Elaine Díaz Rodríguez, and Ricardo Torres. To view the full video of their discussion, click here.

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