ICYMI: FATF Takes Cuba Off Its AML/CFT List! Wait, What?

October 31, 2014

Unless you cyber-troll the FATF website, you probably missed this item.

Last Friday, FATF congratulated Cuba for taking such strong actions to police its financial system that Cuba will no longer be monitored for its compliance with anti-money-laundering and anti-terrorist finance rules.

Be patient. Don’t flip to the “Recommended Reading” section just yet. This is about Cuba’s false and unfair listing by the U.S. State Department as a state sponsor of terror.

FATF is actually a thing, not just a bad acronym: The Financial Action Task Force. It was created in 1989 at meeting of the G-7 nations to combat money-laundering and, after September 11, 2001, its mandate expanded to cover terrorist financing.

Countries that fail to embrace and enforce its rules suffer consequences. As the Wall Street Journal reports, it is “difficult for those nations to transact with the banking systems” of countries throughout the world, costing them billions.

If countries out of step with FATF are also subject to U.S. sanctions (e.g. the U.S. State Department’s list of terrorism-sponsoring states), their problems multiply. As a practical matter, they are locked out of the global financing sector, which could deny them “billions of dollars in potential investment,” according to one analysis.

Cuba knows this well.

Cuba was added to the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism in 1982, when the Reagan administration decided to play politics with counter-terrorism, a dangerous game taken up by every White House since. Listen to Dick Clarke, a career civil servant who advised three U.S. presidents on counter-terrorism policy, explain why Cuba stayed on the list in the 1990s; it wasn’t because Cuba supported terrorism, but rather it was for purely domestic political reasons.

Because no administration has been as candid as Mr. Clarke, they have kept Cuba on the list, but shifted their rationales for doing so as circumstances warranted.

At the start, the U.S. government accused Cuba of supporting insurgencies in Africa and Latin America. While Cuba’s activist foreign policy once involved supporting armed insurrection abroad, Cuba has long since ended these practices, as the Congressional Research Service (CRS) explains.

In 2004, the Bush administration called out Cuba for publicly opposing Washington’s “War on Terror,” not for supporting terror but for voicing criticism of U.S. policies. This was a flimsy charge, but it took the State Department a few years to drop it.

As recently as 2011, the State Department has used Cuba’s failure to meet FATF standards to justify its presence on the terror list: “Despite sustained and consistent overtures, Cuba has refused to substantively engage directly with the FATF. It has not committed to FATF standards and it is not a member of a FATF-style regional body.” Then, things changed.

Just a year later, State reported that “Cuba became a member of the Financial Action Task Force of South America against Money Laundering, a FATF-style regional body. With this action, Cuba has committed to adopting and implementing the FATF Recommendations.”

By the time the Department issued its 2013 report, all references to Cuba’s compliance with FATF’s standards had vanished completely.

So, remind us again, why is Cuba still on the terror list?

Even the State Department seemed confused when it released this year’s terror report which said, “there was no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or paramilitary training to terrorist groups.”

In another sentence, State reported “Cuba has long provided safe haven to members of Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).” But, in the very next line, State said, “Reports continued to indicate that Cuba’s ties to ETA have become more distant.”

We also know that Spain’s government told former President Carter that “ETA members are there at the request of the Spanish government,” and that Colombia, a close U.S. ally, is relying on Cuba as a host and facilitator for its peace talks with the FARC to help end their civil war.

This leaves only one allegation: “The Cuban government continued to harbor fugitives wanted in the United States.”

Here, the report refers to Joanne Chesimard, convicted in the U.S. for her role in the murder of a New Jersey state policeman, and to other so-called “militant groups” active in the U.S. decades ago. But, Cuba’s decision to allow them to live on the island is not an act tantamount to supporting terrorism.

Terrorism is a terrible thing. In 2013, the data show there were over 9,700 terror attacks worldwide that caused more than 17,800 deaths and 32,500 injuries. But not one casualty, not one act of violence was connected to Cuba.

So, if Cuba has zero connections to terrorism, why is it that when a reporter asked Marie Harf, the Spokesperson for State, “How much longer are you going to keep Cuba on the list of state sponsors of terrorism?” she replied by saying, “Well, it’s a good question that I know comes up a lot. The State Department has no current plans to remove Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list”?

Of course, she could have offered a more candid answer. There’s just one thing holding up Cuba’s removal from the State Department’s State Sponsors of Terrorism list, and it isn’t radical fugitives from the 1970s or 80s who found safe haven in Cuba.

It’s politics – and that’s a FATF, er, a fact.

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Sanctions on Diabetics in U.S. Fail to Topple Cuban Government

October 18, 2013

It is well known that the U.S. embargo causes suffering in Cuba.

Supporters of U.S. sanctions say that strangling Cuba’s economy will lead the system to fail (someday), and motivate Cubans to rise up against their government and establish a multiparty liberal democracy.

The rest of us – the majority – are supposed to be okay with substituting sadism for diplomacy; and, since a cornerstone of sanctions is blocking travel to Cuba by most U.S. residents, the fact that our policy contributes to joblessness and hunger on the island remains hidden from most of us.

Less well known, however, is that we also imposed the embargo on ourselves. We’re not just punishing Cubans but also exacting real hardships on our families and our neighbors.

Case in point:  Under the embargo, people with diabetes in the U.S. are not allowed to have access to a promising treatment that could stop needless amputations of their limbs because it was developed in Cuba.

Last week, we carried a report on a drug called Heberprot-P, developed by Cuba’s Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology.  According to the Associated Press, this medication is already at work in fifteen countries and treating more than 100,000 patients.

Because the therapy was developed at an  Institute considered to be an arm of Cuba’s government, it can’t be put to clinical trials or marketed in the U.S. without approval by our government.

Seeking that permission would be pretty big health story, right?

But, when U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia (FL-26) wrote a letter to the Treasury Department urging that it grant a license so the drug could be tested in the U.S., the Miami Herald covered the political controversy that ensued when hardliners asked if “Garcia’s exile bona fides” could still be trusted.

That issue is very interesting to people who live in the Miami media market, and we understand that the Herald was doing its job by covering it.

But this problem is not about politics but diabetes, and it’s a big problem.

According to the National Institutes of Health, 25.6 million adults in the U.S. live with diabetes. Some of them develop peripheral arterial disease and fall prey to “ulcers and infections that may lead to amputation.”  As the AP said last week, an estimated 70,000 Americans undergo an amputation every year due to complications from diabetes.

What if we could drive that number down, closer to zero?

Suppose Cuba has, in fact, developed a treatment that would make many of those amputations unnecessary; wouldn’t we want clinical trials to test its efficacy and safety here in the U.S.?

If it proved to be effective, wouldn’t we want that therapy made available to our family, neighbors, and friends as soon as possible?

Of course, we believe that.  But, not everyone does. Capitol Hill Cubans called a therapy that is already helping people in foreign countries avoid unnecessary amputations “the latest Castro bio-scam.”  Of course, they say that other remedies exist, but what they really want is for Rep. Garcia’s effort to fail.

Really?  They want to block access by their fellow Americans to a potentially transformative therapy before they know whether it works; even if they have to lose their legs?

This is the problem with Cuba policy.

Our country has been stuck for six decades with a policy that doesn’t work, because the embargo  debate has mostly taken place inside a community that’s been preoccupied with exacting revenge on the Cuban revolution since 1959.

When the debate about Cuba and its system gets turned into a discussion of whether Americans should have access to a drug that helps them with a horrible condition caused by diabetes – even if that discovery came from Communist Cuba – it makes some hardliners very nervous.

Because if it suddenly seems sensible to bend the embargo to stop the suffering it imposes on us, it could soon become reasonable to end the embargo because it causes even more suffering in Cuba.

Well, here’s a news flash: U.S. sanctions against Cuba and against diabetics here in America have failed to bring down Cuba’s government.  We need a new policy, not a dumb-bargo.

This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

U.S. travel to Cuba reaches record numbers

Although tourist travel is still banned, and U.S. residents still require a license before traveling to the island, travel is rising.  The number of U.S. citizens not of Cuban descent going to Cuba has reached record highs, reports Reuters. Cuba’s National Statistics Office recorded nearly 100,000 U.S. visitors in 2012, not counting the 350,000 Cuban-Americans estimated to have traveled from the U.S. This number is up from 73,500 the previous year, and indicates that in five years, the number of U.S. travelers going to Cuba doubled.

In addition to providing unlimited family travel for Cuban Americans, President Obama opened up people-to-people travel to the island in early 2011.  His reforms catalyzed interest in visiting Cuba and opened up new, legal opportunities for U.S. residents to go. “Cuba has so much to offer in terms of culture, history and issues of mutual concern – healthcare, education and the environment – and students, professionals, people of faith are curious,” said Collin Laverty, CDA advisor and head of the travel provider Cuba Educational Travel.

By adding Cuba Travel Services Inc. and Gulfstream Air Charters, Tampa International Airport is hoping to meet demand by increasing to four the number of carriers serving the Cuban markets.  As the Tampa Tribune reported last week, they join Tampa’s other two Cuba carriers, Island Travel & Tours and ABC Charters, which are increasing the number of flights to Havana, Cuba and expanding its destination cities.

Florida-based ferry company presents plans for Cuba service

Havana Ferry Partners LLC presented plans for U.S.-Cuba passenger ferry and cargo routes to the Manatee County Port Authority in South Florida this week, reports Bradenton Herald. The plans include fast passenger ferries with 150-person capacity, as well as cargo service. Leonard Moecklin, vice president of the company, told the Port Authority, “It’s time to go to Cuba,” making his case by highlighting potential multi-sectoral business opportunities.

Last month, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) confirmed that passenger ferry or cruise ship service to Cuba is not authorized under existing U.S. rules, and that it does not foresee approving additional means of travel to the island.

OFAC denied approval to Havana Ferry Partners LLC and several other aspiring providers last year, saying their proposals are “beyond the scope of current policy,” which mandates travel to Cuba must be by way of air charter,reports Cuba Standard. According to the article, Havana Ferry LLC, which has both Cuba and U.S.-based investors, has enlisted a Washington lobbying firm to bolster its efforts.

Oscar Hijuelos, Cuban-American Pulitzer Prize winner, dies in Manhattan

Oscar Hijuelos, the Cuban-American novelist and Pulitzer Prize winner, died of a heart attack last weekend in Manhattan, reports the Associated Press. He was 62 years old. Hijuelos was born in the U.S., the son of Cuban immigrant parents. In 1990, he became the first Hispanic to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for his novel, The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love.

More recently, Hijuelos authored a memoir titled, Thoughts Without Cigarettes, in which he details his struggles against the label of being an “ethnic” writer. He also writes of a personal loss of Cuban identity after he fell sick on the island during a visit as a child and, after a year-long hospitalization in the U.S.,lost his Spanish-speaking ability. Hijuelos is survived by his wife Lori Marie Carlson, reports Reuters.

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

Cuba reinstates ambassador to Paraguay

Juan Domingo Astiasarán Ceballo has been named Cuba’s Ambassador to Paraguay, marking the normalization of relations between the two countries, reports BBC Mundo. Cuba suspended relations with Paraguay in the summer of 2012 after the dismissal of President Fernando Lugo, which Cuba’s government deemed a “Parliamentary coup.” Cuba declared that it “would not recognize any authority that didn’t come from legitimate suffrage and the exercise of the Paraguayan people’s sovereignty.”

Following elections in April, Horacio Cartes’ was inaugurated this August as Paraguay’s president, and Paraguay has been readmitted to Mercosur and Unasur, the diplomatic and economic organizations that foster Southern Hemisphere integration. Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay have also reinstated their diplomatic posts.

Brazilian sugar industry working on $200 million project with Cuba

Representatives of Brazil’s sugar industry met with Cuba’s state company Azcuba in Havana last week to negotiate a $200 million project, reports Cuba Standard. The project aims to revitalize Cuba’s sugar industry through a pilot project at a Cienfuegos sugar mill, seeking to increase sugar production from 25,000 metric tons to 140,000 metric tons. A subsidiary of Brazilian conglomerate Odebrecht has been jointly operating the mill since signing a 13-year contract with Azcuba last year.

State-owned Cuba Ron partners with French company Belvédère

Cuba Ron will release a high-end rum through French company Belvédère this month, reports Cuba Standard.  Belvédère, which signed a 5-year contract with the Cuban company, plans to bottle and market the rum to 140 countries. Cuba Ron has long held a contract with French company Pernod Ricard for its popular Havana Club line. The sale of Cuban rum remains illegal in the United States.

IN CUBA

Catholic Church announces business series aimed at cuentapropistas

The Catholic Church in Cuba will begin offering business workshops and a degree program to Cubans wishing to enter the growing private sector, reports the Associated Press. The Compañía de Jesús y los Hermanos La Salle will lead a three-month workshop, as well as a two-year degree program administered through la Universidad de La Salle in Mexico, and the Havana Office of the Archbishop will give a one-month course, reports Diario de Cuba. The programs, to be offered entirely independent of the state education system, will cover a basic entrepreneurial skill-set which includes accounting, tax regulations, and material sourcing.

The series “is designed to teach people basic business management,” said Jorge Mandilego, director of the Office of the Archbishop’s CubaEmprende, who described the program as offering “basic but necessary knowledge to adapt to our country’s plan,” reports the Associated Press.

Through its publications Palabra Nueva and Espacio Laical, Cuba’s Catholic Church has encouraged dialogue regarding Cuba’s economic reform process, often publishing articles on the subject by economists and other academics.

The National Association of Economists and Accountants of Cuba (ANEC) began offering finance and accounting courses to cuentapropistas and cooperative members in both state and non-state sectors last month in the Villa Clara province. In October 2011, the Catholic Church announced an MBA program in collaboration with professors from the San Antonio Catholic University of Murcia in Spain.

Party leader speaks on need to eliminate press “secrecy”

At a meeting of the national committee of the Union of Cuban Journalists (UPEC), Rolando Alfonso Borges, of the Central Ideology Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, spoke against secrecy in the island’s media. Borges stated: “the will of the party is that there not be secrecy. We perceive that there is movement in this direction. The country needs that, and needs balance,” according to an article published by the UPEC news outlet.

During the meeting, Communist Party officials and journalists also spoke at length aboutintegrating Cuba’s youth into the field of journalism. Participants emphasized how important it is to keep up with current technology and to make sure to create clear paths for youth to join the profession. Karina Marrón, one of the participants of the event, notedthat “A lot of young people are writing blogs, and we cannot ignore the richness in them.”

Earlier this month, blogger Yoani Sánchez wrote about the distinctions between “official” and “independent” journalism on the island. Independent journalists and bloggers often face temporary detentions and other obstacles; this week, five journalists for Hablemos Press who had been detained since late last week were freed by Cuban authorities, reports EFE.

Debate in Cuba on private tutoring

An article published in Granma provides a description of private tutoring in Cuba, one of the categories of self-employment legalized in 2010. The article interviews several tutors, as well as students and their parents, discussing the different types of tutoring available, and why parents and students feel that after-school supplementary learning is necessary. The end of the article denounces some school teachers, who are not legally permitted to work as tutors, who are doing so regardless, and quotes a student who says that one of her teachers would not include the entire curriculum during the school day, and would teach subjects not covered only in tutoring. The author criticizes placing pressure on students to go to tutoring, calling such actions a “lack of professional ethics,” reports EFE.

In a response, BBC Mundo reporter Fernando Ravsberg criticizes the article for its rebuke of professors that take on tutoring “to make ends meet,” and suggests that “it would suffice to sit down with teachers to search for solutions that are cognizant of the needs of Cuban society and those of educators.”

Over 400 farm co-ops dissolved since 2008

Since 2008, 434 agricultural co-operatives have been shuttered because they are not sufficiently profitable, reports EFE. The co-ops “did not generate the profits necessary for self-financing,” said Ricardo Monzón, an official for Cuba’s Ministry of Agriculture.

Monzón stated that the co-operative’s land would be taken over by private farmers or allocated to other co-operatives. Debts held by shuttered co-operatives “have been renegotiated” with the national bank system, and debts from those cooperatives being run by others “are in the process of being financed for up to 25 years,” reports AFP.

This is another sign of the difficulties Cuba is facing in conquering its dependence on imported food — a national priority.

Cuba denounces damage to health sector caused by the U.S. embargo at the WTO

Cuba’s government denounced the damage that the U.S. embargo has caused its health sector at the World Trade Organization (WTO), reports Prensa Latina. Mónica Rodríguez, Cuba’s representative to international organizations in Geneva, Switzerland, said the embargo has prevented the purchase of medicines and other critical health resources for over fifty years. According to Rodríguez, the total cost of the damage is over one trillion dollars. Rodríguez stated that banks from places like Canada and Zurich have bowed to U.S. pressure, suspending money transfers to Cuba, including money that would have been used for buying products such as flu vaccines. She added that the embargo has negatively affected the work of NGO MediCuba-Suisse in combating cancer and promoting HIV/AIDS prevention. Cuba offers universal healthcare to all of its citizens.

Cuba developing new law on water management

According to Orlando Rey, an official at Cuba’s Ministry of Science, Technology, and the Environment (CITMA), a new law is being prepared to modernize Cuba’s water supply systems, reports Prensa Latina. During a conference in Havana, Rey stated that water scarcity and sanitation, compounded by threats to water access by climate change, are significant issues for environmental planning on the island. Rey did not give details about what will be contained in the new law.

Since Cuba and the U.S. live in the same environmental neighborhood, the costs of climate change are also being borne on this side of the Florida Straits.  Scientists are predicting that “Miami…is doomed,” which makes a clear case for environmental cooperation between the U.S. and Cuba.

Around the Region

Venezuela releases U.S.-operated ship in Guyanese-claimed waters

After seizing a U.S.-operated oil survey ship, and claiming it was violating Venezuela’s maritime territory, Venezuela’s government has agreed to free the ship and its 36 crew members, reports Reuters. The Teknik Perdana is owned by a Malaysian company, was captained by a Ukrainian, and was sailing under a Panamanian flag in territory contested between Guyana and Venezuela. The incident brings to the forefront long-held territorial disputes between the countries.

Foreign Minister Elías Jaua of Venezuela and Foreign Minister Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett met in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad & Tobago, to discuss the incident and the disputed economic zone waters, reports the Associated Press. The governments of Venezuela and Guyana agreed to meet again in four months to discuss how to proceed on the maritime boundaries dispute, reports Stabroek News. The area in dispute, the Essequibo region, is the most substantial territorial and sea dispute in South America, and claims to this area date back to 1897. There has been no word on whether Venezuela will drop the charges that the ship captain still faces.

Argentina’s President, Cristina Fernández, leaves hospital after brain surgery

Five days after undergoing surgery to remove a blood clot from the surface of her brain, President Cristina Fernández was released from the hospital, reports BBC News. She returned to her official residence where doctors advised her to observe “strict rest” for thirty days. There is no set date for President Fernández’s return to work. Previously, Fernández had plans to campaign in support of congressional candidates from her party for the midterm elections taking place on October 27th. Vice President Amado Boudou is currently carrying out her public duties.

Recommended Reading

Featured Q&A: Are Raúl Castro’s Reforms Helping Cuba’s Economy?, The Inter-American Dialogue’s Daily Latin American Advisor

We thank the Inter-American Dialogue for their generosity in allowing us to link to this issue of its Daily Latin America Advisor.  The publication includes an article – Are Raúl Castro’s Reforms Helping Cuba’s Economy – based on a Q+A with experts on reform process. Collin Laverty, CDA Advisory Board member, says, “Albeit slowly, the process continues to be two steps forward, a half a step backwards, and demographics and economic necessity should keep it that way.”

A crime novelist navigates Cuba’s shifting reality, Jon Lee Anderson, The New Yorker- full version not available online

In this “Letter From Havana,” Jon Lee Anderson tells the story of Leonardo Padura, whom he describes as a “novelist, a journalist, and a social critic who has skirted punishment by the ruling Communist Party.” Anderson explains that the nature of Padura’s work isn’t necessarily perceived as offensive to the regime, but it isn’t meaningless either. In the article, Padura’s views towards the current situation in his country are also portrayed. “There is no current policy of what should or should not be published,” said Padura in a speech mentioned in the article.

Rise in Entrepreneurship Reveals Gender Tensions in Cuba, Sandra Abd’Allah-Alvarez Ramírez, Global Voices

Sandra Abd’Allah-Álvarez Ramírez examines the emergence of women among Cuba’s self-employed and discusses efforts to create a culture of work that supports women entrepreneurs. She highlights a new website, “Mujeres Emprendedoras,” which features an online forum to discuss women in the workplace, opinion articles, and job postings.

This year, CDA published the results of a two-year study on the status of women in Cuba: “Women’s Work: Gender Equality in Cuba and the Role of Women Building Cuba’s Future.”

Cuba ban on private sales of imported goods has some entrepreneurs eyeing uncertain future, Anne-Marie García, the Associated Press

This article takes a look at how a new Cuban law banning private sales of imported goods might affect entrepreneurs, with commentary from those who fear business problems resulting from  the ban.

Avian Artistry, With Smuggled Cigars, Melena Ryzik, The New York Times

A conceptual art piece being executed by Brooklyn-based artist Duke Riley, titled “Trading with the Enemy,” involves homing pigeons trained by the artist to fly from Cuba to Key West, carrying alternately Cuban cigars or lightweight cameras to film the voyage. “I wanted to subvert this billions-of-dollars high-tech system with things that were being used in ancient Sumeria,” says Riley.

In Cuba, murky light thrown by energy saving bulbs, Portia Siegelbaum, CBS

Portia Siegelbaum, the CBS correspondent in Cuba, tells the story of a nation-wide process to reduce energy costs that the island’s government implemented in 2005, profiling its results and consequences. In 2005, households in Cuba changed their usual light bulbs for lower intensity ones provided to them by the government. Today, bulbs are often scarce and highly priced.

Latin America’s ‘bad boy’ leaders enjoy high support, survey finds, Tim Johnson, Miami Herald

Tim Johnson discusses the results of the biannual survey “Approval of Leaders: America and the World.” This survey is conducted by Mexico’s Consulta Mitofsky polling firm and compiles approval ratings for the 19 largest countries throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. The results ironically reflect how the oft U.S.-designated“bad boys” of Latin America and the Caribbean are among the most popular leaders throughout the region.

Recommended Viewing

Cuba photo expo features Indigenous America, Irina Echarry, Havana Times

This photo exhibition is part of the Haydee Santamaría Latin American Art Collection on display in Havana until December at the Casa de las Américas Galería Latinoamericana. The collection continues its celebration of the “Year of Photography” and is titled First Nations: Images of Indigenous America in the 20th Century. The exhibition is comprised of almost entirely black and white photos and depicts indigenous people from Mexico, Perú, Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador and Guatemala.


Climate Change and Cuba

March 22, 2013

There is a scientific consensus that climate change is real.  Not everyone agrees, but the people who don’t believe it are answering to an awfully scornful title: climate change deniers.

Since assuming leadership in 2006, following the illness of his brother, President Raúl Castro initiated a gradual process to update the nation’s economic model and loosen restrictions on the Cuban people.

Restrictions on cell phone ownership, access to tourist hotels, ownership of computers and DVD players, the ability to rent a car, sell real property, travel and return to the island, have ended or begun to fall away.  A process involving Raúl Castro, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, and the government of Spain provided for the release of high profile political prisoners, including the remainder of those confined from a round-up that took place in 2003.  Some 400,000 Cubans have taken the opportunity to open small businesses in newly legalized professionals.  The former Pope Benedict XVI, who was warmly received in Cuba last year, spent part of his visit inspecting the San Carlos and Ambrosio Seminary, “the first building that Cuba’s government has allowed the Catholic Church to build since the 1959 revolution.”

Cuba is not the multi-party democracy the U.S. has been demanding it become at the point of a spear since 1959.

Even so, the idea that any reform was taking place in Cuba has been too foreign for many in the U.S. to accept, so it’s been dismissed in recent years, much like evidence of rising temperatures and catastrophic storms could not persuade some people to worry about the weather.

Reform in Cuba, however, has just gotten a lot harder to deny.  Consider, for example, Yoani Sánchez, Cuba’s dissident blogger, now visiting the U.S. in the midst of an 80-day world tour. What’s she doing here anyway?  Reform deniers were absolutely certain she wouldn’t get a visa when Cubans’ travel rights changed.  Well, as former Congressman Bill Delahunt wrote in The Hill this week, “it is now easier for Yoani to visit our country, than it is for most Americans to visit hers.”

Free to speak her mind on U.S. soil, is Yoani denying that changes are taking place in Cuba? Quite the opposite.  In fact, she told an audience at New York University that “Irreversible change” is transforming Cuba, because independent bloggers and democracy activists are forcing Raul Castro’s government to evolve. “Cuba is changing,” she said, “but not because of Raul’s reforms. Forget that.”

This line of thought clearly engaged the Washington Post, which wrote after she visited the newspaper:  “Cuba has lately seen some economic reforms and liberalizations; one of them allowed Ms. Sánchez to travel freely abroad for the first time. But she told us the real change in Cuba today is not from the top but rather from below.”

Serious analysts like Arturo López-Levy say it’s “nonsense” that conditions are changing in Cuba without the Cuban government changing its policies.

True, but there’s a larger point: For Yoani, the Post, and others, the question is different; it’s moved from “is reform even happening in Cuba?” to “who is responsible for the changes underway?”

That’s a huge and important shift.  The hardliners know it and they don’t like it.  Capitol Hill Cubans angrily labels the reforms “fraudulent change.” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen calls her colleagues in Congress “Castro apologists” because they support lifting restrictions on Cuba.

Theirs is the language of denial.  They may be out in the snow and the rain stomping their feet in anger, but the debate on Cuba – like the weather – has really changed.

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Haiku Hype: The Flutter over Fidel’s Twitter-Length Reflections

June 22, 2012

Whoa, Fidel Castro in the age of Twitter.

Headlines from Miami to London sound the alert.  “Fidel Castro leaves people guessing as he writes cryptic, Haiku-like notes.”  As the Miami Herald put it:

“In cryptic paragraphs of never more than 65 words, the former Cuban president has written about yoga poses, edible plants, a criticism by a Chinese leader who died 15 years ago and a former leader of communist East Germany who died even further back.”

Despite more contemporary concerns –such as this week’s meeting of bloggers in Cuba or the report that U.S. sanctions prevent Cubans from using Google analytics—it is no surprise that this development made news.  What Fidel Castro says and how he communicates has been engaging some and enraging others since before the creation of the computer, the fax machine, or the U.S. embargo.

According to Lars Schoultz, political scientist and renowned Cuba scholar, the U.S. government has been tracking what Fidel Castro thinks and says since 1947 when he was in college, sixty-five years.  That is longer than the time period extending from Morse to Marconi, from the invention of the telegraph to the invention of radio.

This preoccupation with Castro’s communications skills intensified after the revolution.

In 1959, as Schoultz records in his classic history on U.S.-Cuba relations, “That Infernal Little Cuban Republic,” the U.S. Embassy in Havana described one of his appearances as follows:

“Castro in his standard uniform of rumpled fatigues, radiating health and boundless energy, hunched over the table as he talks, waving his arms and hands, with the eternal cigar always at hand.  Words pour from him like a ceaseless torrent.  He appears literally capable of talking forever, on any subject under the sun.”

The volume of words was astonishing.  “This is, after all, the man who gave the longest speech in the history of the U.N. General Assembly,” Joshua Keating observed in his foreign policy blog.  But, of course, the effort to overthrow Castro and the Cuban system stemmed not from how much he said –or how he said it – but from his commitment to revolution and his resistance to the will of the U.S.

What followed has been decades of U.S. sanctions, and division between both countries, a collision between Cuba’s immutable faith in its right to self-determination and the immoveable desire of U.S. policy to upend its system.

Reporters inside Cuba tell us that Cubans are genuinely baffled by the former president’s messages on the Moringa tree, the cosmos, and yoga, published after his most recent full-length treatise on the use of drones by President Obama.

That’s probably right.  This interest is clearly shared by the boo-birds in Miami who’ve waited so long for the embargo to bring Cuba to its knees that they are now reduced to snickering about Fidel Castro’s twitter length pronouncements.

One “Miami analyst” said the former president needs to stay in the limelight.  “Like a mediocre starlet of cheap and superficial shows, [he] needs to feel like he’s in the center of the spotlight.”  Prof. Jaime Suchliki, Director of Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami, sniffs, “Evidently he does not feel coherent enough to write longer pieces.”

If the “Cuba wars” are now being waged with exchanges of snark and sarcasm, we suppose that’s progress.  But, after 65 years, if we’re still worrying about how Fidel Castro, Cuba’s former president is expressing himself, we’d humbly suggest that the policy of not talking to the current president of Cuba about matters that actually concern us merits reexamination.

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