Sunday, July 26, 2015

United States Cuba Relations: Restoration Day

So it began. On that historic day of July 20, 2015, the United States and Cuba formally restored diplomatic relations and reopened embassies.  It was an honor and privilege to be a witness and guest at that ceremony.  On a personal note, this was one more step in the fulfillment of a dream I had on my first trip to Havana in 1999.  With the United States and Cuba finally engaged in a diplomatic dialogue,  the many challenges and issues left from more than five decades will begin to be addressed in a mutually beneficial manner.  It’s time to end the embargo, travel restrictions, and engage Cuba fully and respectfully.

For those opposed to the normalization, this was a bitter pill for the anti-normalization hardliners to swallow.  However, there comes a moment when common sense and logical reasoning must prevail over delusion, intransigence, and hatred.  There also must come a point when those elected representatives must respect the will of the majority who want normal and full relations with Cuba.  The past five decades of our delusional policies with Cuba demonstrate that we cannot impose democracy, regime change, or anything constructive through a hostile and unilateral sanctions policy. 

While we will continue to have serious differences with Cuba, we have to ask ourselves if and how we really can improve human rights in Cuba or anywhere for that matter, especially through a sanctions regime?  It all sounds good to be for human rights though the truth is actually different.  How are we going to get Cuba to change when we cannot achieve for example;

1) Stop Saudi Arabia from prohibiting its women to drive cars or gruesome beheadings there;

2) Stop China from harvesting organs for transplantation from its own prison population;

3) Stop U.S. police brutality and violence upon people of color;

4) Stop the mass incarceration of our people making the U.S. the highest prison population nation in the world at an annual cost of more than 80 billion dollars for a for-profit prison industry!

By the way, we have normal travel and trade with the People's Republic of China and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, both one party authoritarian states.  We allow for-profit prison industries to exist and thrive in our country.  The State of Florida, where most of the anti-normalization representatives are from, is in the top ten list of states with the highest crime rate in the U.S.  Florida is also in the top ten of states with the highest prison population. 

America’s stand for democracy and human rights must not be by imposition but by our own example and congruency of action.  So that means we still have a lot of work to do at home before we instruct other countries on how to treat their people.   Influence could be actually more powerful and constructive if we try it.  Interference does not work and makes us hypocrites in the world community.

The U.S. Senate ended last week with the good sense to lift the travel, shipping, and agricultural trade bans on Cuba in the GOP majority Appropriations committee. No Cuban cigars yet though for those cheering this effort. Appropriation bills wind up going to a House Senate Conference Committee where the final compromise between what each house of Congress passed gets worked out.   Then the Conference Report has to be agreed upon by each house of Congress.   It is possible that the pro-Cuba travel and trade amendments survive the conference (then the ban really gets lifted) or the anti-normalization hardliners try to get that section pulled out.  Former Reps. Lincoln Diaz Balart and Tom DeLay did this when the first House passed Flake Amendment lifting the travel ban was pulled out from a House Senate Conference Report in 2003.  So stay tuned and informed.  Be vigilant.
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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

United States Cuba Relations: Normalization and the Guantanamo Imperative

With less than a week away from Restoration Day for the United States and Cuba on July 20th, the long journey of normalization begins in earnest.   Those in Congress who continue to block normalization efforts have relegated themselves to a triple S strategy; spoil, spite, and sabotage.  Not much else for one to do when they choose to be on the wrong side of history.  The United States and Cuba will restore, normalize, and finally reconcile their relations putting more than 50 years of animosity in the past and focusing on a future of mutual respect and cooperation, albeit in the midst of some serious differences that both sides will have.

Politically, Congress will continue to reflect the pro-embargo forces though its days are numbered as these interests do not represent either the majority of Americans or even Cuban Americans.  The challenge and goal of normalization forces must be to unite to speak with one voice and become a deciding factor in electoral politics.  As soon as one Member of Congress loses his or her seat in part to his or her intransigent position on maintaining our failed policies of embargo and restrictions, the pro-embargo firewall in Congress will finally collapse.

All Normalization Roads Will Lead to Guantanamo

The ongoing dialogue and negotiations will evolve to the next and higher levels.  How will Cuba satisfy the outstanding United States claims against it for expropriation?  How will the United States satisfy the outstanding Cuban claims against it?  Therein lies the Guantanamo imperative.  Anyone with a claim against the government of Cuba for expropriated property has a real problem ahead.  Cuba does not have the capital to satisfy those claims after a combination of more than 50 years of economic isolation and Cuban economics.   Similarly, if you have a claim against the government of Cuba what kind of bargaining power will you really have to get your claim settled when it’s a foreign government on the other side you are negotiating with as a private citizen or entity?  Enter Guantanamo.

The United States has operated the Guantanamo Naval Base since 1903 when it obtained the  $4,085.00 annual lease after we made Cuba “an offer they could not refuse” – which was give us the naval base or if you do not, we’ll invade the entire island.  That was essentially the choice.  As an island nation that struggled for its independence and total sovereignty under principles established by Jose Marti, it was indeed an offer they could not refuse accepting our hubris instead of accepting another military invasion.   Lets be honest about Guantanamo Naval Base.  Nowhere else in the world could we have gotten such a deal.  Who pays $4085.00 in annual rent for 45 square miles of land?  Are we paying fair market value for the land we rent from Cuba?  Did we ever?    When you consider what we do pay to maintain our military in foreign installations, currently exceeding 265 Billion dollars, you do have to wonder what is Guantanamo Naval Base really worth in terms of rent?  The answer is billions.  Similarly even if you believe for one second the treaty upon which it was written is legitimate and moral, then you have to ask what happens when you violate a term or condition of your lease?  Usually it means the lease is cancelled.  Our treaty with Cuba specifies that the land is to be used as a “coaling or naval” station.  What happened when we placed Enemy Combatants and made Guantanamo a prison holding terrorists during George W. Bush’s administration?  Did we violate the terms of our lease?  These are perplexing issues because we will have to eventually address this quagmire in the context of normalization.  This is a matter that even transcends the political differences between us and Cuba.  It is a matter of international law and diplomacy and what kind of relationship we are going to define in this hemisphere between the United States and our neighbors in the 21st century.  Are we going to be a fair negotiator, lead by example, or does the Monroe doctrine still extend over into the 21st century?  The world and especially our neighbors in Latin America are watching.

The solution?  Why not satisfy the claims of both the United States and Cuba through a Guantanamo based resolution?  This would look like the United States buying out and paying all the claims against Cuba for expropriated properties in exchange for Cuba dropping all of its claims against the United States for the Guantanamo leasehold and setting a date certain in the future, ie. 10 years for the formal return of the base back to the Government and people of Cuba at that time.   The value of those claims in the range of $6-8 billion, more than rectifies what we would have paid out to Cuba in fair market rent over five decades. When you consider the U.S. spends $265 billion plus for our military installations in foreign countries,  a one time 8 billion charge is a relatively nominal 3 percent.  The U.S. claims can be paid out from the U.S. Treasury or in the form of a Federal Income Tax credit which claimants could use to offset their annual tax bills.  Both nations could opt to impose a two cent fee on every U.S. Cuba related transaction to recover their costs over a one or two decade period.  Any remaining prisoners on Guantanamo can be relocated to a military installation much farther away from American soil.  President Obama would also get to keep a promise he made in his campaign, that he would close Guantanamo.  This is one way how he could achieve that as well as transform the U.S. Cuba and U.S. Latin America relationship in one broad swoop.
- Antonio C. Martinez II. - Editor

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Monday, May 25, 2015

United States Cuba Relations: Guest Posting/Commentary - "Should Embassies Have "Training Courses" - La Alborada

Editor: We republish with full credit to La Alborada, www.cubamer.org, its Op-Ed entitled "Should Embassies Have "Training" Courses" and ask the following:

1) Why do we have official "training" courses to begin with at our embassies in foreign countries?

2) Wouldn't journalism courses be more appropriately conducted at private universities and monies spent on "training" courses be better spent instead on actual scholarships for students to visit and attend our colleges?

3)Would we tolerate such "training" courses by foreign countries here in their embassies in the U.S?  Why is it acceptable then for us to do it in other foreign countries?

4) One of the stumbling blocks to normalization is what activities the U.S. embassy in Havana would conduct with Cuban civil society.  Similarly the Cuban embassy in Washington DC would conduct parallel activities with American society.  What is appropriate then and what is not?  That is what should be flushed out in black and white, in straightforward English and Spanish and put into writing, and respected by the parties.

5) Would the monies being spent on so called "Democracy" programs be better spent instead in the creation of a United States Cuba Bank for Reconstruction and Reconciliation to promote American and Cuban investment and compensation for all parties affected by the U.S. Trade Embargo?

Should embassies sponsor “training courses”?
La Alborada – May 25

Imagine that Cuba finds a big deposit of commercial-quality oil, so big that it can cover domestic needs and even derive income from exports. Maybe it's enough to fund a series of training programs operating from the new embassy in Washington and dedicated to the self-improvement of young people in the U.S.

The programs would cover four major areas, as follows.

One of the programs would focus on human rights (condition of Indian reservations, treatment of black people by police, jails, massive domestic spying, unaffordable education and health care, homelessness, and so on).

Another would discuss democracy versus oligarchy and plutocracy, covering aspects such as elections that are decided by the amounts of money involved, gerrymandering, rules meant to prevent voting, and the determination of interest groups including some from abroad. Also, special seminars would cover the Deep, or Phantom, State, including the national-security complex, the military-industrial complex, and high-level banks.

A third would address the role of journalists and how to create news media that are independent of the government control exercised through intermediaries like the corporate boards of directors, managing editors, and lower-level editors – even the advertisers. That would include how to use news and social media to impact on national and world opinions.

The fourth would prepare the participants for leadership, meaning how to organize against government levels according to particular demographic areas or social groups, with an eye to eventually bringing all of these together to face off against the national government at the right moment -- maybe even to bring it down.

This training would be accompanied by a few benefits. In order to motivate participation in the courses, those chosen would be granted stipends. In addition, Cuba would invite selected students to travel to the island for periods of total immersion at advanced levels, taught by very experienced personnel. Of course, that would not preclude some R&R at the beaches or Havana nightclubs.

The US would probably object to an educational series of this sort, and properly so. Embassies are for diplomacy, not for intervention in the internal affairs of other countries. Cuba could say, in the new spirit of reciprocity, "but you do things very much like this; why shouldn't we?"

It's a simple question. The answer would not be as simple.

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