Visit Cuba. Talk to Cubans. Work it Out.

“Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced – Even a Proverb is no proverb to you till your Life has illustrated it.” – John Keats

Cuba is not a zoo. It is not a theme park. While Cubans are generous hosts, Cuba should not be considered a place where “the natives welcome Americans with open arms,” no matter what the Cedar Rapids Gazette says [h/t Lou Pérez].

Whether you come to the island for official, research, and commercial purposes, or on a people-to-people license, Cuba is a great place to go: to learn, exchange, make friends, make progress and make bigger plans – so long as you can set the tropes aside, and come with ears to hear.

This week, the news is filled with examples proving that point.

For three decades, Cuba was falsely listed as a State Sponsor of Terror. Among the shifting set of bogus reasons was the empty allegation that Cuba allowed representatives of the FARC, who had been engaged in a civil war against the government of Colombia, to reside in safety on the island. They were there, but not for reasons that could justify Cuba’s stigmatization.

Cuba was finally removed from the terror list a year ago, and it is being rightly celebrated now that Colombia and the FARC have concluded a peace accord, bringing to an end, as USA Today put it, “the longest-running armed conflict in the Western Hemisphere.”

Cuba was instrumental in giving confidence to the FARC to negotiate, as Cynthia Arnson of the Wilson Center said, because it was “the country with the greatest credibility among guerrilla movements in the region.”

Before visiting the island in 2015, Representative Bradley Byrne (AL-1), a national security conservative, criticized President Obama’s decision to remove Cuba from the terror list as “premature.” After visiting the island Rep. Byrne said, “Cuba is not involved with the terrorists we see today which is [sic] mainly among Islamic groups in the Middle East. So, I think the President made the right decision to remove them from the terrorist list.” Only by coming to Cuba with open eyes did the facts come into Mr. Byrne’s view.

This week, as Prensa Latina, reported, “Specialists and officials from Cuba and Germany are…discussing possible areas of cooperation on environmental issues related to the prevention and reduction of the effects of climate change.”

Here, again, there are a constellation of issues that touch on Cuba’s economy, energy security, and the environment we share in common, that can only be resolved through direct contact, negotiation, and collaboration.

Cuba is 95 percent dependent on fossil fuels. As Dr. C. Juan Triana Cordoví observed this week, in an article titled Oil and Our Daily Dependence, while Latin America generates 20 percent of its electricity using renewable sources and globally it is about 12 percent, Cuba is at the stage where renewables meet just 5% of its needs. This is at a moment when fuel consumption is high, Venezuela’s concessionary oil shipments are declining, and Cuba’s economic growth targets can’t be met without more energy.

In the long term, Dr. Triana Cordoví writes, Cuba needs to invest $3.6 billion over 15 years in order to get 24% of its electricity from renewable sources, as its economic plan prescribes. In the meanwhile, it will continue drilling in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico looking for the deposits of commercially-recoverable oil that the U.S. government and Cuba’s investor-partners believe are there.

This, in turn, makes even strong supporters of the new policy opening with Cuba very nervous. As the Tampa Bay Times editorialized earlier this month:

“It is critical that the United States continue to develop relationships with Cuba rather than turn back the clock as Sen. Marco Rubio and other Republican hard-liners prefer. If the United States cannot persuade Cuba to avoid or severely limit oil drilling in the gulf waters … it can at least share technology and expertise to prepare to jointly deal with any spills or rig explosions that would threaten Florida. That requires cooperation, not fighting the opening of a Cuban consulate in Florida or clinging to the outdated economic embargo.”

The idea of coming to Cuba for cooperation is at the heart of what makes the upcoming Cuba Energy and Infrastructure Summit so intriguing. The summit is “aimed at exploring…methods [of] linking foreign investors to the opportunities offered by the Cuban energy sector,” as Cuban state media described it.

Conversations about attracting investment to energy are happening all over the world, and for good reason. As the Nobel Prize Winning economist Michael Spence observed recently, public and private investments in infrastructure, such as those providing energy, are powerful engines of growth with more equitable gains than investments that typically reward those at the top. He says, “a green approach” to building clean energy, and using green finance to do it, will “not only stimulate additional growth; it would also be likely to increase the quality of growth, not to mention the lives of ordinary people.”

Economic powerhouses like China also believe that “the transition to low carbon growth has become an opportunity to spur economic growth.”

Cuba needs energy. To protect the U.S. coastline and our shared ecosystem, the U.S. needs to make our technology available to Cuba as it drills in the Gulf, and allow our companies to play a supporting role as it tries to bring oil onshore to power its economy going forward. We need to build on the cooperation that has been taking place between Cuba and U.S.-based institutions in areas like science and conservation for over a century so that the search for and use of oil, as well as the transition to renewables, takes place as swiftly and safely as possible.

The United Nations Environment Programme and other multilateral institutions should ensure that conferences like the one next week in Havana can move from talking about investment to securing the new and innovative sources of green finance that are being created globally. This could enable Cuba to meet its investment targets and allow Cubans and the nations around them to breathe a little easier when it comes to its energy consumption and environmental commitments.

Direct contact and talking together do make a world of difference. U.S. Senator and Vice Presidential candidate Tim Kaine professed his faith in this idea, when he came out in support of President Obama’s Cuba policy.

“There are still issues between the United States and Cuba, and we should talk and seek an agreement on human-rights, issues, for example,” he said. “But we need to have a relationship with Cuba, like with other nations. Diplomatic relations aren’t a sign that everything’s perfect, but it’s a channel for dialogue, and I’m really glad that the relationship between the United States and Cuba is in a new chapter.”

So are we.

This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-Cuba Relations

JetBlue to fly first U.S. commercial flights to Cuba next week, AFP

Cuba’s Ministry of Transportation has granted approval for the first direct commercial U.S.-to-Cuba flight since 1961 to take off August 31. It will be operated by JetBlue on the route from Fort Lauderdale to Santa Clara. As the Miami Herald reported last week, American Airlines also received approval from Cuba’s government to begin service September 7, the last step required in the process that began with the signing of a U.S.-Cuba Memorandum of Understanding on commercial flights in February. Eduardo Rodríguez Dávila, Cuba’s Deputy Minister of Transportation, told reporters this week, “the resumption of regular direct flights is a positive step and a contribution to the process of improving relations between the two countries.”

The Transportation Security Administration and Cuba’s aviation security authority have worked closely to ensure that Cuba’s international airports are in compliance with international aviation security standards. In accordance with the February agreement, U.S. air marshals will be stationed on some commercial flights, as Homeland Security Today reported.

Popular Becomes Second Bank To Offer Credit Cards For Use In Cuba, PYMNTS

The customers of two subsidiaries of Popular, Inc. – Banco Popular de Puerto Rico and Popular Community Bank – will now be able to use MasterCard credit cards in Cuba, at points of sale as well as at ATMs. This makes Popular the second U.S. bank, and the first in Puerto Rico, to offer U.S.-issued credit cards for use in Cuba. In June, the Florida-based Stonegate Bank began offering credit cards for use in Cuba, which Cuba’s Central Bank also approved for use at ATMs in Havana. Stonegate began offering debit cards for use in Cuba last year.

Last month, about 100 representatives from U.S. banks, Cuba’s Central Bank, and both countries’ financial regulatory agencies met in Havana to exchange information about the two countries’ banking systems and regulations. This is part of an on-going effort to raise the comfort level of financial service organizations fearful of being fined for facilitating transactions with Cuba that are now permitted under the rules of the embargo.

AT&T signs deal to offer roaming services in Cuba, Reuters

AT&T and ETECSA, Cuba’s state-run telecom company, finalized an agreement allowing AT&T customers to roam in Cuba and make cheaper calls to the U.S. AT&T has not yet confirmed when the service will begin. Sprint, Verizon, and T-Mobile made roaming agreements with ETECSA earlier this year.

Cuba Experiences 61% Jump in June in U.S. Travelers Compared to Last Year (in Spanish), EFE

Cuba’s National Office of Statistics reports that 61.2 percent more U.S. visitors came to Cuba in June 2016 than in June 2015. In fact, the number of U.S. visitors to Cuba in the first semester of 2016 was 83.9 percent higher than the same period last year. Cuba is still a compelling draw for global travelers; in the first half of this year compared to the same period last year, 11.7 percent more people visited Cuba. Canada remains the top source of visitors to Cuba, followed by Cubans living in the U.S. and elsewhere (Cuban-Americans visitors are tallied separately from other U.S. visitors). According to Manuel Marrero, Cuba’s Minister of Tourism, Cuba plans to add 3,000 new hotel rooms, and will continue to move forward with joint-venture projects to build hotels and renovate the island’s airports.

Nestlé’s Nespresso Now Selling Cuban Coffee for U.S. Market, Carmen Sesin, NBC News

Nespresso, a coffee brand produced by Nestlé, is now selling “Cafecito de Cuba” in the U.S. The coffee is grown by independent farmers in Cuba in the Granma and Santiago provinces, per State Department regulations, and is then shipped to Switzerland to be roasted and packaged before being shipped to the U.S.

Kaine: U.S., Cuba should discuss human rights, Patricia Mazzei, InCuba Today

Senator Tim Kaine, the Democratic vice-presidential candidate, has expressed his support for President Obama’s Cuba policy. In an interview with Spanish-language W Radio, he said “There are still issues between the United States and Cuba, and we should talk and seek an agreement on human-rights issues, for example …But we need to have a relationship with Cuba, like with other nations. Diplomatic relations aren’t a sign that everything’s perfect, but it’s a channel for dialogue…This relationship has already opened doors in the Americas with other countries, I think in a good way for the United States – and for Cuba, too.” Mr. Kaine affirmed that he and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton are “big supporters” of normalization with Cuba.

State Says Shaq Takes People-to-People Diplomacy to New Heights, Blakeney Vasquez, State Department DipNote

Blakeney Vasquez, a Foreign Affairs Officer and Cultural Coordinator in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs’ Office of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, writes about NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal’s visit to Cuba, together with Dallas Mavericks assistant coach Kaleb Canales, as a sports envoy earlier this summer. “Sports diplomacy helps us discover common ground, promote social inclusion, and bridge differences,” writes Vasquez, and can “provide a foundation for constructive dialogue in other policy areas.”

Cuba’s Foreign Relations

Colombia, FARC rebels reach deal to end half-century of bloodshed, Helen Murphy and Nelson Acosta, Reuters

Colombia’s government and the FARC reached an historic peace accord Wednesday evening in Havana, ending five decades of devastating civil war. Wednesday’s agreement follows the ceasefire pact reached in June, and concludes of three and a half years of peace talks in Havana, where Cuba and Norway served as guarantors of the process.

Adam Isacson, Senior Associate for Regional Security Policy at the Washington Office on Latin America, explains here how the peace process will move forward: The negotiators will hold a signing ceremony in Colombia, likely on September 23rd and, as Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos announced this week, Colombians will vote “yes” or “no” to the implementation of the accord in a plebiscite set for October 2. The outcome of the vote remains uncertain. In preparation for the plebiscite, Isacson writes, “Colombia’s government must now undergo a huge effort to ensure that citizens know what [the accord] says.”

USA Today highlighted Cuba’s role in the peace talks, noting that Cuba’s diplomatic standing in the hemisphere, as well as its history, made it “an ideal choice as the host and facilitator.” Cynthia Arnson, director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars’ Latin America Program, told USA Today, Cuba “is the country with the greatest credibility among guerrilla movements in the region. And all the Latin American countries have perfectly fluid, friendly relations with Cuba.”

In a statement, Secretary of State John Kerry expressed strong support for the accord, praising the government and FARC negotiators, as well as “the constructive role of Norway and Cuba.”

Sarah Stephens, executive director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, said in a statement quoted here, “CDA commends Cuba for its commitment to brokering a new chapter of peace in Colombia.”

After the announcement of the ceasefire between Colombia and the FARC in June, Cuba’s President Raúl Castro remarked, “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.”

Cuba to Host Summit on Energy Investment, Radio Cadena Agramonte

On September 1 and 2, Cuba’s first international Summit on Energy and Infrastructure will take place in Havana, where representatives of companies from 14 countries, including the U.S., will discuss opportunities for investment in and development of Cuba’s conventional and renewable energy sectors. Cuba currently generates just four percent of its energy using renewable sources, but energy experts in Cuba say the country’s goal is to increase that to 24 percent by 2030.

Iran says will open new chapter in relations with Cuba, Reuters

Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s Foreign Minister, met with Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez in Havana to discuss bilateral relations and to begin a six-day, region-wide diplomatic tour. “We will start a new chapter in the bilateral relations with Cuba on the basis of a big (business) delegation accompanying me on this visit,” Mr. Zarif stated in Cuba. Ricardo Cabrisas, Cuba’s recently appointed Minister of Economy and Planning, met with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani last week in Tehran. Mr. Zarif also visited Chile, Nicaragua, Bolivia, and Venezuela during his tour.

In Cuba

Cuba sticks to modest reform plan despite poor results, Marc Frank, Reuters

Last week, Cuba published its economic and social policy guidelines for the next five years, outlining measures for the continued updating of its economic model, and featuring few modifications to the original 2011 reform plan, as much of it has yet to be implemented. Changes to the plan, discussed at Cuba’s Seventh Communist Party Conference in April and then reviewed by the National Assembly, include a greater emphasis on foreign investment, and, as the Associated Press notes, a line “[recognizing] the objective existence of market relationships.”

Cuban athletes bring home five gold medals from Rio Olympics

Cuba’s Olympic team earned five gold, two silver, and four bronze medals at Rio de Janeiro. In boxing, Cuba won three gold and three bronze medals, as 22-year-old Robeisy Ramírez, a 2012 gold medalist, won his second gold. The team’s other medals were in wrestling, judo, and track and field.

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