Monday, March 10, 2014

United States Cuba Relations: Great Expectations in Miami March 15th

This weekend March 15, 2014, a very important meeting will take place in Miami, FL where Cuban Americans For Engagement CAFE, will lead a conference of individuals from various groups and the Cuban American moderate community with the purpose to develop ways to improve U.S. Cuba relations.  This translates actually to the lifting of travel restrictions and an end to the insane embargo that just about everyone agrees should end.  However, the hardline in Miami and Union City disagrees and actually controls these issues .  The challenge will be how to get there.  For more than ten years there have been meetings like the one that is about to take place.  With much fanfare and excitement, the community seemingly gets together, but then the follow through has been paltry and segregated.  The results speak for themselves.  The status quo remains the same.  For as many people who will attend, thousands of others and the media will be watching to see just how serious this effort is going to be.

During next weekend's meeting, participants must choose to be different than other past conferences.  If there is going to be a real campaign to change U.S. Cuba relations, those attending must leave that conference united in a single purpose and focused on taking genuine committed action to actually achieve what everyone says they want.  Lifting the travel restrictions will require an Act of Congress.  Lifting the embargo will require an Act of Congress.   President Obama has done whatever he is going to do on Cuba.  There is no political justification yet for the Administration to do more.  No poll, petition, email, or phone call can make that happen unless we also have the voters and politicians elected to make that a reality.  The dark and true reality is the reverse.  There is a voting bloc that elects politicians and contributes to keep the restrictions and embargo in place.  While the pro-embargo anti U.S. Cuba engagement side is annoyed by the Atlantic Council's recent poll showing overwhelming support to end the embargo, it still holds the cards and has the Congressional politicians to hold the policy in place.  They will only be concerned by one thing - how serious this conference will be and will it result in raising money and organizing votes to change our policies.  U.S. Cuba relations will go nowhere unless the pro-embargo constituency is ultimately challenged and defeated at the ballot box.  NGOs, think tanks, and academics writing from ivory towers will not change this political reality either nor can they provide the leadership required to enact political change.

In this election year, such a conference's effectiveness ultimately can only be measured by how many voters it will register in this election cycle and turnout to vote.  How can this group actually influence and win elections? That is the challenge before this constituency.   Moreover, the critical question on how many political donors such a conference can create is one to pursue since everyone who is either a Legal Permanent Resident or a U.S. Citizen can legally make a political contribution under Federal election law.  With more than 400,000 traveling to Cuba legally each year, why aren't there at least as many political contributions being made?  With that many and more Americans and Cuban Americans who favor unrestricted travel to Cuba, a political contribution of the equivalent of a night out at the movies $20-$30 per person can actually add up to some serious political capital in Washington DC, especially in an election year. Everyone gets to be politically influential in such a scenario.  Who are going to unite and lead this community to electoral victory?

May Cuban Americans and Americans who think alike unite like never before in a common purpose to bring an end to failed policies and reconcile two countries long divided for far too long.  Whatever aspirations we may have for Cuba, nothing good has come or will come from our politics of isolation and revenge.  Democracy has no roots in travel restrictions or an embargo.  Time to play the game to win.

"Once more unto the breach dear friends. Once more..." - Henry V- Shakespeare ...read more ⇒

Monday, February 24, 2014

United States Cuba Relations: Please Come to Miami for Sunshine and CAFE March 15, 2014

Cuban Americans For Engagement (CAFE)

February 19, 2014

The time is right to get engaged! Everyone is doing it!
More than 64% of Miami-Dade County wants to!
Let's do it! In Miami, March 15th.

The last few weeks we've seen a whirlwind of activity in favor of normalizing government relations and healing human relationships across the Florida Straits. The Atlantic Council's Public Opinion Poll exposed the fallacy of the "Florida vote" excuse for maintaining the embargo. Senators Flake and Leahy published an op-ed in the Miami Herald, supporting normalization. Senators, Sanders, Tester and Heitkamp returned from Cuba calling for renewed relations. Florida Gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist shined a spotlight on his campaign by announcing his anti-embargo platform. And let's not forget Alfy Fanjul openly displaying his capacity for dialogue. He is not alone.

Cuban Americans For Engagement, joined by FORNORM, Generacion Cambio Cubano & Cuba Educational Travel invite you to the Sofitel Hotel of Miami to participate in the one-day conference/gathering

“US/Cuba Relations, the Second Obama Administration:

The Cuban-American Community and changes in Cuba-Building bridges for better relations.”

Early Bird lunch discount before March 1st   Email: cafeconferencia@gmail.com

Here's a sampling of panelists!

Silvia Wilhelm- Founder and Executive Director of Puentes Cubanos Inc. and of the Cuban-American Commission for Family Rights.

Antonio Zamora- Author of What I Learned About Cuba By Going To Cuba, Law Professor at FIU, and co-owner of CubaNews.

Dr. Guillermo Grenier- FIU Professor, author, and lead investigator of FIU Cuba Poll, cosponsored by Cuban Research Institute.

Yasmin Portales- Coordinator Proyecto Arcoiris/Rainbow Project, blogger, and participant of Red Observatorio Crítico.

Roberto Veiga & Lenier González- Editors of Espacio Laical, publication of the Archbishop of Havana. ...read more ⇒

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

United States Cuba Relations: Is the Cuban Embargo Eternal?

By: Tim Ashby, Senior Research Fellow for the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, Former senior official at the United States Commerce Department, and current best-selling author.
Commenting on the recent passing of Nelson Mandela, President Obama referred to the legendary South African figure as “one of the most influential, courageous, and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this Earth.”  Yet, until just five years ago, Mr. Mandela was on the U.S. terror watch list, a grossly anachronistic Cold War absurdity equaled only by the continuation of Cuba on the same discredited list. Sadly, despite fundamental changes both in Cuba and the global geo-strategic balance, the Caribbean island will probably remain as an “enemy” for decades to come due to the rigidities of U.S. domestic politics and the lack of immediate incentives to propel change.
The position that the Obama administration holds, just as its predecessors did, is that Cuba is intrinsically different from any of its adversaries in the Cold War and thus requires an unremitting campaign of hostility. It seems that it is well beyond the ability of the White House to mobilize credible strategies to cure a diplomatic paralysis that seemingly has lasted forever. We now know, despite what the administration has stated on scores of prior occasions, that it will never allow an entente cordiale to develop between Washington and Havana unless the Castro leadership eliminates itself. This stipulation has never yet seen itself applied in various versions, but has never entirely been different from the likes of Iran or North Korea. That is why we must take note of the fact that the embargo aimed at Havana may be more of a political strategy than an economic one. If it were economic, it would be even more open to a rational solution than has proven to be the case.
Cuba Has Changed on Its Own Accord, Not Because of the Creativity of US Policy
The U.S. trade embargo has done enduring damage to Cuba’s economy, with the effects of sanctions being registered every day by Cubans and by international businesses engaged in commercial transactions with their governments. Despite U.S. efforts to strangle the island’s economy, over the past five years, Cuba has undertaken a multitude of inventive economic, fiscal and social reforms. Despite some setbacks, small, private businesses are beginning to thrive, ordinary Cubans can buy and sell real estate and motor vehicles, Cubans can travel abroad without fear of being denied reentry to their country. There is a new sense of optimism about the future, in which the bests of two worlds will be brought forth.
The generation of Cubans born after the Revolution is increasingly well educated and generally more aware of other economic and political systems. Most will readily admit that the original communist economic model has failed, and they are now at least cautiously optimistic that it is being gradually replaced by a model that will incorporate the positive goals of the Revolution – universal education, health care, social equality – with an expansion of market forces.
Despite over half a century of active hostility by the U.S. and decades of purportedly subversive activities, Cuba has cooperated with the U.S. in a variety of areas including drug interdiction and hurricane warnings.  The island has also been a market for billions of dollars of American exports, despite the fact that the trade is overwhelmingly one way (Cuban imports are illegal in the United States).
U.S. Policy – Hypocrisy and Timidity
Last month (November 2013) President Obama was the honored guest at a private fundraiser held at the Miami home of Jorge Mas, president of the Cuban American National Foundation. Obama’s remarks were specific about the need for U.S. policy change towards Cuba, but were muddled over how it would be manifested, indicating how tangled and confused Washington policy remained. Obama declared:
“We’ve started to see changes on the island.  Now, I think we all understand that, ultimately, freedom in Cuba will come because of extraordinary activists and the incredible courage of folks like we see here today. But the United States can help.  And we have to be creative.  And we have to be thoughtful.  And we have to continue to update our policies.  Keep in mind that when Castro came to power, I was just born.  So the notion that the same policies that we put in place in 1961 would somehow still be as effective as they are today in the age of the Internet and Google and world travel doesn’t make sense.”
While the president’s remarks were greeted by warm applause from the largely Cuban-American audience, they are merely rhetorical – a reworking of hackneyed phrases dating back to Obama’s days as a senator.  The radical wing of Cuban-Americans represented by politicians such as Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Senator Robert Menendez perpetuate a feral mentality that would only disappear with the overthrow of the Cuban government and its replacement by descendants of those who ruled Cuba under Batista. For example, former Representative Lincoln Diaz-Balart (ironically, Fidel Castro’s nephew), is obsessed with becoming President of Cuba.  While serving as a U.S. Congressman, he openly advocated the assassination of Fidel Castro (illegal under U.S. law), he defended Velentin Hernández, who was convicted of murdering Luciano Nieves, a fellow Cuban exile who supported negotiations with the Cuban government. He also lobbied extensively for the release and pardon of Cuban exile Orlando Bosch, a bona fide and self-admitted terrorist who was involved in the 1976 bombing of Cubana Flight 455 which killed 78 passengers.
No Change Can Be Expected
Regardless of who succeeds Obama as president, Washington’s anachronistic policy towards Cuba can be expected to continue even with the inevitable succession of a new generation of leaders on the island.  The Cuban embargo has been a treasured legacy passed from Republicans to Democrats and back.  Nevertheless, most U.S. politicians have no idea why they should continue to support the embargo.  It is now part of the American cultural and social legacy, Monday Night Football.
During one of the author’s visits to Cuba, a senior official told with a bitter shake of his grey head: “Your government will never be satisfied even if we [the Cuban government] stood on the Malecón with pistols to our heads and blew our brains out.”
The U.S. propensity to act with dignity and provide a solution to diplomatic problems in other parts of the world seems to be beyond Washington’s ability when applied to Cuba. Washington would be wise to understand that, if it has any hope for even a remotely respectable policy towards Cuba, it must give up its lunatic stance that has no prospects for success or respectability.
Tim Ashby, Senior Research Fellow for the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, former counter-terrorism consultant at the State Department, and current best-selling author.
This article is a  contribution from the Council On Hemispheric Affairs.  Reprinted with permission.
...read more ⇒