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July 6, 2012

Cuba's New Inspiration

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According to Sarah Rainsford, it's China:

Cuba has begun introducing measures intended to kick-start its inefficient, unproductive planned economy.

It is a tentative start: The word "reform" is never used, nor "private enterprise" - instead, Cuba says it is "updating" its economic model.

Like China and Vietnam before it, the island's aim is to protect and prolong its socialist political system by introducing elements of market economics.

So it seems Raul Castro is in Asia looking for inspiration.

(AP Photo)

March 31, 2011

Jimmy Carter Comes Back Empty-Handed

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Remember that Jimmy Carter was heading to Cuba? He was invited by the Cuban government, and supposedly was going to get Alan Gross released.

Well, he got there, dressed like the natives, kissed up to the Castro brothers, called Fidel "an old friend" and asked the U.S. to release five convicts:

Bypassing ancillary issues such as the lack of freedom on the island and the enslavement of 11-million Cubans, Carter instead demanded that the U.S. release the Cuban 5. Those are the same five convicted Cuban spies who are serving prison time for espionage and the murder of four innocent American pilots who were shot down over international waters by Castro MiGs.

Carter also met with Yoani Sanchez, her husband, Claudia Cadelo and Laritza Diversent, though Alan Gross remains in jail:

when the 86-year-old ex-president flew off in the afternoon without Alan Gross on board, it dashed the hopes of Washington officials and relatives who had hoped Carter would be able to bring the Maryland native home.

The Obama administration missed an opportunity months ago when it eased restrictions on Cuba without demanding Gross' released.

(AP Photo)

November 1, 2010

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen: GOP Powerbroker?

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Last week, Josh Rogin of Foreign Policy published a top ten list of the new Republican powerbrokers in the wake of tomorrow's anticipated U.S. election. I could spend time quibbling with the list - many of the powerbrokers he lists are not new at all, and given that the U.S. Senate is unlikely to change hands, it is hard to see how Sens. Lugar, Kyl, or McCain have any different roles on Wednesday than they do today. But that's beside the point.

If there is one Republican on the list who stands out as someone who will actually, in Rogin's words, "stand between Obama and the world," it is Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida. Ros-Lehtinen, who stands to take over the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was born in Havana, and her views on Cuba mark a significant departure from the administration's approach. The Miami Herald thinks her rise to the chairmanship effectively ends any talk of easing in relations with the current Cuban regime, and they're likely right:

Her ascendancy could also spell doom for Berman's bill on foreign-aid reform. She argues often for more vetting of foreign aid in the hope of finding cuts, and she has also introduced legislation to cut U.S. funding for the United Nations and the Palestinian Authority. She is also highly skeptical of the civilian nuclear agreements that the Obama administration is negotiating with Vietnam and Jordan. A vocal critic of what she sees as the Obama team's cool approach to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Ros-Lehtinen could use the committee as a sounding board for those who want changes in the Obama administration's approach to Middle East peace.

Her actual voting and co-sponsorship record on a host of issues is quite moderate, even liberal by current Republican Party standards. But Ros-Lehtinen has already earned a reputation as a tough operator, and when it comes to clashes with the White House's views, I expect she'll prove to be the kind of politician who doesn't back away from public confrontation on the issues.

(AP Photo)

July 19, 2010

U.S. Views on Cuba Embargo

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Via Rasmussen:

Thirty-six percent (36%) say the United States should lift its embargo on Cuba, but 35% disagree in a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey. Twenty-nine percent (29%) are not sure what to do about the ban on economic activity between the two countries that has been in place since 1962.

Pluralities of both Democrats (38%) and voters not affiliated with either party (46%) favor lifting the ban. Most Republicans (58%) take the opposite view.

(AP Photo)

January 6, 2010

Cuban Democracy Promotion: Helping or Harming?

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By Melissa Lockhart

After the detention in Cuba last month of a U.S. government contractor distributing cell phones and laptops, Congress has called new attention to the secretive pro-democracy program that ballooned under the George W. Bush administration and funded this contractor’s mission on the island. House Representative Howard Berman (D-California) and Senator John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) in particular have brought the program under heat, calling for a review of its management and effectiveness.

Indeed, a full review is in order. The program budget increased more than tenfold between 2000 and 2008, from $3.5 million to $45 million. Use of program funds has oftentimes been sketchy: audits have revealed questionable expenditures and even embezzlement. Under the Obama administration support has more than halved for the pro-democracy Cuba program, to $20 million in 2009 and 2010, but a better monitoring mechanism is needed for as long as funding continues.

The program’s effectiveness in achieving U.S. goals of democracy on the island is up for grabs. Although blogs, Twitter and other Internet resources are expanding their reach and having an effect (as the Washington Post put it, these are “cracking the Cuban government’s monopoly on information“), U.S. government support for bloggers and dissident groups can be the kiss of death for some. Cuban law states that collaborators with the program can be punished by up to 20 years in prison. Some scholars, like Ted Henken of Baruch College, point out that the program undermines U.S. efforts to build trust with the Cuban government while tainting opposition groups on the island. Instead of credible voices of opposition, they are seen as traitors, mercenaries… U.S. puppets. And as the detention of the still-unnamed U.S. contractor illustrates, pro-democracy work is dangerous both for those that carry it out and for those who receive assistance from it.

Last week, by the way, U.S. diplomats were allowed to visit and speak to the detained U.S. contractor in Cuba. His name has still not been provided, and it is not clear what the future holds for him. (Will he be unilaterally released? Will he be used as a negotiating tool? Will the United States use his detention as reason to turn its back again on Cuba? I tend to lean toward number two.)

Read more at the Foreign Policy Association's Cuba blog.

(AP Photo)

April 12, 2009

Cuba: U.S. Embargo to End?

The Fifth Summit of the Americas is coming up next week, on April 17-19 in Trinidad-Tobago. The Summit's theme is “Securing Our Citizens’ Future by Promoting Human Prosperity, Energy Security and Environmental Sustainability.” It will be interesting to watch what the Obama administration has planned for the Summit regarding Cuba.

As readers may recall, last February the Lugar Report concluded that "progress could be attained by replacing conditionality with sequenced engagement, beginning with narrow areas of consensus that develop trust," and recommended changing US policy towards Cuba. Following the report, in March the omnibus spending bill changed travel restrictions on American citizens with family in Cuba to once a year, and last week the Wall Street Journal reported that President Obama plans to lift U.S. restrictions on Cuba, allowing Cuban-Americans to visit families there as often as they like and to send them unlimited funds.

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This week the Congressional Black Caucus visited Cuba and reportedly met with Raul and Fidel Castro, who they lavishly praised. As with the Lugar delegation, members of the CBC did not meet any dissidents or any members of Cuba's pro-democracy movement. However, CBC recommended that the embargo be lifted.

Following the CBC's return, CNN released poll results stating that two-thirds of Americans surveyed think the U.S. should lift its travel ban and 71 percent of those polled said that the U.S. should reestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba.

On Thursday the Cuban American National Foundation released a report advocating change in the US's relations with Cuba, a drastic change from their prior hardline stance. The

Since the end of the Cold War our policy toward Cuba has remained static, reactive and focused on responding to developments following the demise of Fidel Castro. That policy, in our opinion, does not advance or promote the best interests of the United States or of the Cuban people; it relegates the U.S.’s role to that of passive observer rather than active supporter of the process of democratization for one of our closest hemispheric neighbors.

The recommendations listed herein chart a new direction for U.S.-Cuba policy, one that is guided by a deep understanding of the Cuban people, the impact of five decades of totalitarian rule, and a firm belief that the tides of change are swept in by the grass roots efforts of common people who have acquired confidence in their abilities and feel empowered in their responsibilities. Our recommendations are a break from the past because they seek to adapt to the realities of the present, which require a measured and incremental path that allows for adjustments along the way based on empirical evidence and evolving dynamics on the ground in Cuba.

The report also stresses the input of the Cuban people and the fostering of a Cuban civic society towards the aim of a successful transition to democracy.

Clearly, American attitudes towards relations with Cuba have changed.

In the island, however, the European Union's decision last year to lift sanctions against Cuba,

Cuban dissidents also vehemently opposed the lifting of the sanctions, believing that this action would “punish” the Cuban people and allow Havana to continue violating human rights. According to the leaders of the dissident group Agenda for Transition, any action taken by the EU to normalize relations with Cuba would be understood by Cuban authorities as affording legitimacy to the government’s recent actions and would “[punish] those who fight for democracy.”
What is in store for the Summit of the Americas? Jeffrey Davidow, the U.S. official heading preparations, stressed that Pres. Obama seeks a "new beginning" with Latin American countries, focusing on the economic crisis, energy, and security threats during the Summit.

While stating that it would be counterproductive for the summit to focus on Cuba, Davidow said that Obama may announce the easing of travel restrictions and remittances. How will that be different from the April 4 announcement remains to be seen.