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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Eleven Questions for Thursday's House Hearing

From our friends at The Havana Note - Very good questions to ask for Thursday's hearing. I would add two general questions for survey and transparency:

How many Members of the Committee have visited Cuba and when was the date of their last visit to the island?

Will the Members of the committee disclose at the outset of their questions and remarks if they received campaign contributions from political action committees that either support the embargo and travel restrictions or support ending the travel restrictions and ending the embargo?

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Thursday’s hearing on travel to Cuba by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs has taken on additional weight with a powerful pro-travel op ed in the Miami Herald co-authored by Chairman Howard Berman and Senator Richard Lugar. (text here) The hearing will be live streamed. Look for it here or here a few minutes before 10.
Questions that ought to be asked of witnesses:
1) Did you favor or oppose the President authorizing unlimited travel for Cuban Americans? While Congress debates ending all restrictions, should the President use his authority to restore or strengthen pre-2004 policies, extending the same right to all Americans to unlimited travel for educational, cultural, religious, humanitarian, sports and other non-tourist purposes?
2) Restrictions on travel are justified as denying US dollars to the Cuban government. When Cuba hosts 2.4 million tourists annually from Canada, Europe and Latin America, how much of an economic impact would non-tourist travel have? (It peaked at 85,000 Americans in 2003.)
3) Given that in the high season, Cuban hotel rooms are virtually full, how much immediate economic impact will American tourists have? Will Americans simply displace Canadians and Europeans? Will legally registered and brown market casas particulares (private bed and breakfasts) expand to meet the need? Won’t that bring dollars and unsupervised personal contact with Americans directly to more Cubans?
4) Opponents of travel say that American tourists will not have any more impact on liberalizing Cuba than have Canadian and European tourists. Is there likely to be a special psychological or political effect from large number of Americans visiting because it encourages Cubans to believe the antagonism and threat is diminishing from the only country that embargoes them and threatens regime change? If American entrepreneurs are able to feel out the ground and make contact with potential Cuban partners, how will that influence debate about adopting Chinese or Vietnamese style economic reform?
5) The Obama Administration did even worse than its predecessors in the United Nations when the vote against the embargo last month rose from 185 to 187. How does US policy on travel affect perception in the Western Hemisphere and internationally of whether this administration is taking more seriously the views of other nations and shaping a new policy based on mutual respect?
6) The former General Counsel of the Cuban American National Foundation has argued that opposition to travel stems from a desire by Miami hard liners to control the narrative, i.e. to prevent a wide range of Americans from forming their own opinion of Cuba and of the embargo. Do you believe that is the case?
7) The dissident community in Cuba is divided about US travel policy. Many prominent leaders have called for the end of restrictions on the grounds that will help to open Cuba and provide support for their efforts. Why do they say that and do you agree or disagree?
8) What is the difference between US restrictions of travel to Cuba by its citizens through licensing and Cuba’s restrictions on travel by its citizens through exit visas? How is US denial of a license to voting members of the New York Philharmonic Society to go to Havana different from Cuba’s denial of an exit visa for Yoani Sanchez to come to New York?
9) Is it reasonable or consistent to justify restricting the internationally recognized freedom of travel by Americans on the grounds that Cubans are not free?
10) Does $11 million dollars in widely distributed political contributions through PACs and directly from Floridians whose hard line views are contrary to Cuban American and national opinion have a disproportionate impact on prospective Congressional action? [Fifty-one of fifty three Democratic Representatives who signed an anti-travel letter to Speaker Pelosi had received donations ranging from $1,000 to $20,000 in the 2008 campaign cycle from the US-Cuba Democracy PAC. Fifty-eight Democrats who received between $1,000 and $15,000 did not sign the letter. Some were no longer members of the House and one had become a Senator (Gillibrand).]
11) Mr. Cason, a distinguishing feature of your tenure as head of the US Interests Section was the close relationship USINT developed with dissidents, becoming a virtual sponsor for their political activity, libraries and independent journalism. This was not the practice of diplomats from US allies in Cuba or of US diplomats in other Communist countries like China and Vietnam. Several of the dissidents you aided turned out to be Cuban intelligence agents and Cuba responded with the repression of the Black Spring. Was this your own initiative or were you implementing a policy of Assistant Secretaries Otto Reich or Roger Noriega? In retrospect did the arrested dissidents, two thirds of whom are still in prison, mistakenly assume they would be protected by their ties with USINT? For humanitarian reasons, do you favor a US response to Raul Castro’s proposal for each country to free the prisoners the other considers political, i.e. the Cuban 5 and the dissidents?
Links Full list of Committee members here Updated witness list: Date Thursday, November 19, 2009 Time 10:00 AM Location Room 2172 of the Rayburn House Office Building witnesses General Barry R. McCaffrey, USA, Retired President, BR McCaffrey Associates, LLC Ambassador James Cason Former Chief of Mission U.S. Interests Section, Havana, Cuba Ms. Miriam Leiva Independent Journalist and Founder, Ladies in White Mr. Ignacio Sosa Executive Board Member Friends of Caritas Cubana Ms. Berta Antunez Sister of Former Political Prisoner Jorge Luis Garcia Perez ("Antunez") Pro-democracy Activist Mr. Philip Peters Vice President Lexington Institute

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