Enter Peace

As Britons were hitting the exits from the European Union, the world had a moment to appreciate the vote of confidence in peace cast by Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos, as he closed the “End of Conflict and Cessation of Hostilities” ceremonies at the Laguito Convention Center in Havana on Thursday.

“This is a peace of everyone, without exception,” he said. “This is the peace we have been dreaming about.” He then shook hands with “Timonchenko,” the FARC’s guerrilla commander Timoleón Jiménez, who said so powerfully, “May this be the last day of war.”

While the Washington Post emphasized the agreement announced in Havana is not a final accord, it “essentially amounts to an end to the fighting. It means the two sides have worked through some of the most sensitive aspects of their negotiations, particularly the nuts and bolts of getting 7,000 heavily armed FARC fighters to come down from the mountains, lay down their guns and begin a transition to civilian life under the protection of Colombia’s security forces, their lifelong enemies.”

The deal effectively brings to an end a horribly violent 52-year old conflict that killed as many as 220,000 people, Euro News said. The final agreement is expected to be signed July 20th.

This is, of course, an astounding, long-sought achievement by the FARC and Colombia’s government, with the Colombian people the principal beneficiaries. But, it is also an occasion to consider the role that Cuba played in the talks, which began in Havana in November of 2012, and what this process says about the normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States currently underway.

When the ceremony took place, Cuba, along with Norway, was recognized for the role it played as co-guarantor. Thursday, for example, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon congratulated both countries for devoting “considerable diplomatic skills” to the peace process, as did U.S.

Secretary of State John Kerry. At a background briefing, a senior official at the State Department reiterated that “as the host and facilitator of these talks, we believe that Cuba played an important role.”

What was that role? Colombia’s former High Commissioner for Peace, Daniel García-Peña, said yesterday on Democracy Now, “The Cubans have, from the very beginning, offered a very significant support for the process.

“The FARC, as many guerrillas in Colombia and throughout Latin America, see the Cuban revolution and the Cuban government…with great respect. And the pressure that the Cuban government has put on the FARC and the guerrillas has been quite significant, but also the way that they have been very discreet in allowing the Colombians, both the government and the guerrillas, to really take the lead and to drive this process.”

We’d point out that when Cuba’s government was pressuring the FARC to make peace, the U.S. government penalized it with a heavier load of U.S. sanctions due to its State Department designation as a state sponsor of terror; in part, for hosting FARC members in Cuba while the negotiations were taking place. After the December 17th, 2014 diplomatic breakthrough with Cuba, President Obama moved to drop Cuba from the list.

García-Peña also added, “The fact that Cuba is entering into a new moment of its relations with the United States…is one of the aspects that weighed heavily upon the Colombian guerrillas to understand that to continue the armed struggle simply had no future whatsoever.”  What happened in U.S.-Cuba bilateral relations helped nudge the parties closer to peace.

But, Eric Farnsworth, Vice President of the Americas Society and Council of the Americas in Washington, speaking to the Christian Science Monitor, said the U.S. role was also distinctive because we didn’t try to control the process, and we spoke with a lowered voice: “And it has struck a lot of people as a new day in Latin America when the U.S, says, ‘It’s up to you guys to do this deal, but we will do what we can to support it.'”

This suggests that a prediction made by Eric Hershberg and Bill LeoGrande in their new reader, “A New Chapter in U.S.-Cuba Relations,” is coming to pass more quickly than most. In it, they write, “A successful conclusion of peace talks between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) which have been facilitated by Havana, may add to awareness in Washington of the constructive role that Cuba can play in realizing common objectives.” At a time when hardliners in Congress are making mischief with proposals to stop U.S.-Cuba cooperation in security affairs, this points to the need for more collaboration, not less.

Finally it is worth noting how Cuba’s President Raúl Castro framed the achievement in regional and global terms. He said, as Marí­a Peña reported, “Peace will be a victory for Colombia, as well as for all America… In a world disrupted by war and violence, the achievement of peace in Colombia represents a hope for millions of people on the planet whose main preoccupation is survival.”

Britain may have exited, but peace is in the house, at least in Colombia, for everyone, without exception.

This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.–Cuba Relations

Cuban coffee returning to U.S. but only for Nespresso brewers, Lisa Baertlein and Marcy Nicholson, Reuters

Nespresso, a coffee brand produced by Nestlé, will begin selling Cafecito de Cuba in the U.S. this fall, following the addition of coffee to the  State Department’s list of eligible imports from independent Cuban entrepreneurs in April. According to Quartz, Nestlé plans to purchase the coffee from the U.K. coffee company Cubana before shipping it to the U.S. for sale. The single-use brewing cups of Cuban espresso will initially be sold in limited supply. In a press release, Nestlé stated that, in partnership with U.S. nonprofit TechnoServe, it hopes to work with and support small independent coffee farmers in Cuba in “their production of sustainable coffee and contribute to expanded economic opportunities for them in the long term.”

Quartz also reported that GulfWise, a trade company formed last year to facilitate trade between the U.S. and Cuba, expressed interest in importing Cuban coffee after obtaining a license in March from the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security to export agricultural equipment to Cuba. Other specialty coffee vendors such as Dean & DeLuca and Portland-based Sustainable Harvest are looking to bring Cuban espresso to the U.S. as well.

FedEx Downsizes Cuba Ambitions in Amended Flight Request, Mike Esterl, The Wall Street Journal

FedEx Corp. retracted its bid for regulatory clearance to operate cargo flights between the U.S. and Havana. Instead, the global courier company has requested clearance to fly, with a smaller aircraft, from Miami to Varadero in the Matanzas province, 70 miles east of Havana, starting in January 2017. FedEx plans to operate multiple trucking routes between Varadero airport and Havana, the Mariel Economic Development Zone, and Santiago. In its amended application, FedEx stated that the Miami-Varadero route “would be the more optimal use of its resources under current Cuba marketplace conditions.” FedEx is currently the only all-cargo applicant for U.S.-Cuba air services.

On June 10, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced the authorization of direct commercial passenger flights to Cuba for six U.S. carriers; Silver Airways and American Airlines have already scheduled flights for early September.

A Rush of Americans, Seeking Gold in Cuban Soil, Kim Severson, The New York Times

In the second of two articles about food in Cuba, Kim Severson examines the increasing interest in Cuban agriculture, both from organic industry and food policy leaders and agribusiness groups like the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the loss of imported pesticides and agricultural machinery from trade with the Soviet bloc, many of Cuba’s farms had to adopt smaller-scale, natural farming methods without agrochemicals. Accordingly, some in the U.S. food industry have identified Cuba as a potential hub for organic and sustainable agriculture.

Severson accompanied a delegation organized by the Center for Democracy in the Americas, and led by Rep. Chellie Pingree (ME-1), that visited Cuba with chefs and organic food industry leaders in May. Gary Hirshberg, a participant in the delegation, the chairman of Stonyfield Farm, said of the organics industry and prospects for cooperation with Cuba, “We are the industry of the future.” Of course, significant regulatory hurdles continue to impede trade and agricultural cooperation with Cuba, despite recent policy changes allowing the import of certain goods.

During President Obama’s historic visit to Cuba in March, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Gustavo Rodríguez Rollero, Cuba’s Minister of Agriculture, signed a Memorandum of Understanding to facilitate the exchange of agricultural research and production methods.

Small Business: Between Havana and Silicon Valley, Milena Recio, OnCuba

Maria Contreras-Sweet, Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, visited Cuba this week and met with economic officials there to discuss stimulating small business on the island. Granma reported that Contreras-Sweet met with Rodrigo Malmierca Díaz, Cuba’s Foreign Trade and Investment Minister, as well as representatives of the Ministry of Domestic Commerce. Ms. Contreras-Sweet also toured the Economic Development Zone at Mariel. After her visit to Cuba, the SBA administrator traveled to Stanford University to attend the 7th World Summit on Entrepreneurship, as did a delegation of young Cuban professionals who were selected from over 5,000 applicants from all over the world.

Ms. Contreras-Sweet also joined President Obama on his historic visit to the island in March.

Gay Cuban choir Mano a Mano embarks on first US tour, Christine Armario, Associated Press

Mano a Mano, the Cuban gay choir comprised of six men, begins touring the U.S. June 25 with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, which visited Cuba earlier this year. Founded in 2014, Mano a Mano has performed across the island and twice for Cuba’s National Center for Sex Education, which is led by Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuba’s President Raúl Castro. Arian Ferrer Castro, a member of Mano a Mano, said of the tour, “This is the first time there is a real exchange between the gay community in the U.S. and in Cuba.”

Cuba’s Foreign Relations

Colombia’s president, head of FARC rebels agree on cease-fire, Michael Weissenstein and Joshua Goodman, Associated Press

Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos and the head of the FARC signed an historic ceasefire and disarmament accord to bring the country’s 52-year conflict to a close. Colombia’s government and the FARC have been conducting peace talks in Havana since 2012, with Cuba as a guarantor for the process. International leaders including Secretary of State John Kerry, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro, and Cuba’s President Raúl Castro joined the signing ceremony on Thursday in Havana. The AP reports that the ceasefire will not begin immediately, but rather that this agreement will serve as a roadmap for demobilizing troops and establishing formal relations in the future after a planned national referendum. They hope to reach a final agreement of peace by July 20.

“We’re getting closer to the end of the armed conflict than at any time in more than five decades,” said President Castro. “The two sides’ decision represents a decisive step forward. The peace process can’t turn back.”

Adam Isacson, Senior Associate for Regional Security Policy at the Washington Office of Latin America, outlines the timetable agreed upon in the accord, including the establishment of “Temporary Hamlet Zones of Normalization” for FARC combatants, and a full turnover of the FARC’s weapons to the UN within six months. According to The Guardian, the final step of this process would be a national referendum to approve the deal. Aaron T. Bell and Fulton Armstrong, writing for the AULA Blog at the Center for Latin American and Latino Studies at American University, note that 60 percent of Colombia’s population currently favors the final peace accord, but that some fear either the FARC or the government will not fulfill its obligations to the ceasefire in the coming months.

Sarah Stephens, executive director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, commented in the Huffington Post earlier this year on Cuba’s critical role in hosting the negotiations:

“After sitting at the center of our Cold War conflict for half the twentieth century, it’s hard not to enjoy the emergence of Cuba as a 21st Century staging point for reconciliation.”

Cuba opens cooperation with global migration entity (in Spanish), EFE  

Cuba’s Foreign Ministry held talks with representatives from the International Organization of Migration (IOM) to reaffirm bilateral cooperation in supporting refugees and migrants in the Caribbean. Cuba became an IOM Observer State in November 1997 and the organization continues to work with Cuba’s government on a variety of strategic areas pertaining to migration and repatriation.

In Cuba

Convocation of Seventh Regular Session of the National Assembly (in Spanish), Granma

Cuba’s National Assembly of People’s Power will begin its next legislative session on July 8. Granma reported that the Assembly is expected to take up documents produced during Cuba’s 7th Communist Party Congress, held in April, including the proposal for economic reforms through 2020, continuing the process begun in 2011 of updating Cuba’s economic model and further developing the private sector, and legislation proposed by President Castro to set term limits for aging Party leadership. Specialized commissions within the National Assembly will hold preparatory meetings July 4-6.

Granma also reports that Cuba’s Councils of State and Ministers unveiled a new mobile app featuring documents discussed at the Party Congress, developed by computer science students at Cuba’s Marta Abreu Las Villas Central University. Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, Cuba’s First Vice President, said the app will provide easier access to this information and help involve the Cuban people, especially young people, in the debates.

The urgency of infrastructure development in Cuba (in Spanish), Dr. Juan Triana Cordoví, OnCuba

In light of the ongoing discussion in Cuba of the economic and social development plans produced by April’s 7th Party Congress, Dr. Juan Triana Cordoví makes an economics-based argument for Cuba to prioritize developing and updating its transportation, energy, water, sanitation, and telecommunications infrastructure. On the connections between social development and investing in infrastructure, he writes, Cuba’s “aspirations of achieving its vision of prosperity, equity, and social justice are essential and definitive elements of our concept of development.”

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