Posts Tagged ‘barack obama’

CUBA-USA: ACTUALLY, HE DOES NOT HAVE WHAT IT TAKES

September 22, 2015

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By:  Dr. Néstor García Iturbe

A CubaNews translation.
Edited by Walter Lippmann

Historical coincidences are always interesting and especially in connection with September 11 there are quite a few. 

Today, the Nobel Peace Prize Winner signed a Presidential Determination” exercising his authority to keep Cuba, until September 14, 2016, under the Trading with the Enemy Act.

In doing so, he makes a mockery of his Secretary of State, John Kerry, who recently said here in Havana that the United States and Cuba were not enemies or rivals, but neighbors. He also provided a sample of poor political acumen by signing this determination on September 11th, when he could have signed it on the10th, or the 12th, to avoid coinciding with other events which occurred on September 11th, in which the United States has been involved.

On one September 11, another US President, from the same oval office where the Nobel Peace Prize Winner works, made the Presidential Determination to launch a coup d’etat against the constitutional government of Chile. This resulted in the death of thousands of Chileans, including President Salvador Allende, and humiliation and torture suffered by thousands of others. The United States never described all those atrocities as human rights violations by the perpetrators of the coup; because, of course, it participated in their commission.

On another September 11, the events that resulted in the destruction of the World Trade Center, known as the Twin Towers, occurred.

The then-president was at that moment visiting an elementary school and when he heard the news, made the Presidential Determination to spend more time talking to the children and going over their notebooks, as if he had been prepared for what was taking place. We all know the story that has been spun around these events, including the plane which struck the Pentagon, the remains of which were never seen, and the one that was going to attack the White House which disappeared without further explanation.

Also on a September 11, in New York City, terrorists who were residents in the US shot dead the Cuban diplomat Felix Garcia. The terrorist who was accused and convicted of the crime is already free; perhaps as a result of another Presidential Determination. 

Mr. Obama, history judges men by the determinations they make at any given moment. If they act rightly and courageously, according to justice, or if they act wrongly and capriciously, as if justice and the world were meaningless to them.

In the context we are describing, it is impossible not to remember Comandante Juan Almeida Bosque, who died on a September 11 and who –in the middle of a fierce struggle against the forces of the Batista dictatorship, indeed supported by US determination uttered his famous: “Nobody here surrenders… cojones!“.

Mr. Obama, our national poet Nicolas Guillen, in one of his famous and well-known poems, repeated something very consistent with the Cuban Revolution, when he wrote that I now have what I should have always had.”

In your case, by making this Presidential Determination to keep Cuba under the Trading with the Enemy Act until September 14, 2016, you have shown that you do not have what it takes.

 

TEXT OF THE PRESIDENTIAL DETERMINATION: 

THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release September 11, 2015

 September 11, 2015

 Presidential Determination

No. 2015-11  

MEMORANDUM FOR THE SECRETARY OF STATE

THE SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY

 

SUBJECT: Continuation of the Exercise of Certain Authorities Under the Trading With the Enemy Act

Under section 101(b) of Public Law 95-223 (91 Stat. 1625; 50 U.S.C. App. 5(b) note), and a previous determination on September 5, 2014 (79 FR 54183, September 10, 2014), the exercise of certain authorities under the Trading With the Enemy Act is scheduled to terminate on September 14, 2015.

I hereby determine that the continuation for 1 year of the exercise of those authorities with respect to Cuba is in the national interest of the United States.

Therefore, consistent with the authority vested in me by section 101(b) of Public Law 95-223, I continue for 1 year, until September 14, 2016, the exercise of those authorities with respect to Cuba, as implemented by the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, 31 C.F.R. Part 515.

The Secretary of the Treasury is authorized and directed to publish this determination in the Federal Register.  

BARACK OBAMA

Book Review: The incredible case of the CUBAN FIVE

September 9, 2015

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Review by: Leo Juvier

On December 17, 2014 presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro announced the beginning of a new chapter in U.S.-Cuba relations. Also, on this day President Obama released the last three of the five Cuban men imprisoned unjustly by the American government with charges of conspiracy to commit espionage, and conspiracy to commit murder. Those three prisoners were Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labañino, and Antonio Guerrero.
The case of the Cuban Five is truly like no other legal case in the history of the United States and Cuba. Their case was particularly plagued by misinformation and concealment of evidence which made their saga a nightmare. During their trial the U.S. government paid millions of dollars to journalists to write stories with lies and incendiary commentary against the Cuban Five, resulting in a biased jury.
The injustices of the case caused international indignation and it mobilized thousands of people across the globe in a show of solidarity. Since their arrest in 1998, the Cuban Five and their families have endured innumerable injustices by the U.S. government, from the denial of visas to family members who wished to visit them in prison, to keeping them in solitary confinement without a reason for long periods of time.
The Book “The incredible case of the Cuban Five” chronicles the nightmare these five cuban men endured for over 16 years in prison. The book is a compilation of testimonies and opinions gathered at the International Commission of Inquiry into the case of the Cuban Five held in London on March 7th and 8th, 2014. The commission counted with over 300 people from 27 different countries, among them distinguished members of the international legal community.
While reading the book it is difficult to ignore the cry for justice.
The relationship between U.S. and Cuba has been characterized by aggressive foreign policies, blockade, and acts of terrorism to destabilize the Cuban nation. Since 1959 Cuba has been the victim of 703 acts of terrorism against its civilian population by the U.S. government and Cuban-American organizations operating from Miami. These attacks have resulted in the death of more than 3478 people, and 3000 people being disabled. One of the attacks that will always remain a scar in the memory of the country was the explosion of a Cuban airplane in mid-air in 1976. During this terrorist attack masterminded by Luis Posada Carriles, (a terrorist who enjoys freedom in Miami) 73 people died, 53 of them were Cubans including the youth fencing team who were returning home from Barbados after winning all the medals in their last competition.
During the 1990’s while Cuba was trying to develop the tourism sector in the wake of the Special Period, organizations like the Cuban American National Foundation was financing terrorists to plant bombs in hotels and resort areas. Those activities resulted in the death of a young Italian tourist named Fabio and many others injured.
In response to the terrorist attacks the Cuban government sent the Five with the mission to infiltrate the organizations who were plotting the attacks and to end the terrorist campaign that was punishing Cuban civilians. Their mission was to protect the Cuban people from the wrath and hatred of the extremist exiles which continues to cause damage and prevent full normalization between both nations.
Today it is still very difficult to hear the other side, and the true story of the Cuban Five from American soil. Unfortunately the biggest enemies for the normalization of relations with Cuba is no longer the American people, but the Cuban-American right wing exiles in Miami. They control (or at least try) the public opinion with lies and intimidation.
This book offers an unbiased inquiry into the case the Cuban Five. I recommend it to anyone who wishes to gain a deeper understanding for the case as well as for Cuban-American relations.
For more on the Cuban Five visit: http://voicesforthefive.com/

Official Film report on the Commission of Inquiry: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FP7Jw4NJ-Fg&feature=youtu.be&list=PLVRfY1xg2QAwDXfybvuhnBUotFKgs5iF5

The New Cubanologos: What’s in a Word?

August 4, 2015

from Counterpunch

Just two weeks after the historic re-opening of embassies and re-establishing of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba and not a moment passes without a Cuba “advocate” talking about “trade” and “travel”. These two words represent two different human phenomena that have gone hand-in-hand since the dawn of antiquity. Due to the enmity exacerbated by a Cold War policy these inalienable rights to travel and trade, guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution, have been effectively violated and strictly prohibited for American citizens regarding the island since 1962.

President Obama’s policy of engagement has opened the floodgates for what seems to be the inevitable process of normalization. A tsunami of tourists, commerce coalitions, export specialists, celebrities, and congressional junkets has inundated Havana and other Cuban cities with its newcomers finding it to be so much more complex and vibrant than one has been led to believe by manipulative politicians and a servile media all these years stateside. Now, everyone is interested in going to see for themselves and trying to establish a foothold in a nascent mixed economy.

But what exactly does the media, newly minted cubanologos, and our elected officials mean when they utilize such verbiage?  The American public is being bombarded by a message of promoting “trade” with Cuba. Granted, this is a decidedly positive change from where we were less than a year ago but the manner in which these terms get bandied about clearly demonstrate how much farther we need to go.

This Monday the New York Times Editorial Board published an editorial entitled “Growing Momentum to Repeal Cuban Embargo” in which it stated: “It is time for Congress to help make engagement the cornerstone of American policy toward Cuba.”

It continues by mentioning a new bipartisan bill in Congress introduced by representatives Tom Emmer (R-MN 6th) and Kathy Castor (D-FL14) that would “lift the embargo.” It also calls legislation introduced by Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat from Minnesota, a bill ” that would allow regular commerce with Cuba.”

Unfortunately, neither bill pretends to “lift the embargo” nor, “allow regular commerce” with Cuba. In fact, they aren’t even two bills. They’re one in the same, to the letter.

Senator Klobuchar’s S. 491 The Freedom to Export to Cuba Act of 2015 is exactly what it calls itself. In many news outlets it has been misrepresented as an end to the embargo since it was introduced in February.

It is….sort of…., for some.

This bill seeks to strike certain sections of the different pieces of legislation enacted throughout the past 54 years that have codified the United States policy of economic strangulation against the Republic of Cuba. The elimination of said sections are meant to allow for more exports to the island under the loosening of several restrictions along with striking the sections encouraging the president to penalize other countries for doing business or investing in the island. It also will allow Americans to travel more freely to Cuba.

But is this promoting trade?

It does not allow for Cuban exports to be imported to the United States. Neither does it strike the extraterritorial requirements for a transitional government. It doesn’t take away the barriers for Cuba to become a member of the OAS and the International Financial Institutions such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, etc. so the island can count on the financing it will need for mega-projects like the Mariel Economic Zone. Boondoggles like Radio and TV Marti and the State Department’s “democracy promotion” programs will, by law, still have to be created, funded, and executed putting American diplomats at odds with their Cuban counterparts. It doesn’t touch the Cuban Adjustment Act or even address the recent immigration crisis brought upon by Cubans sensing an end to the infamous “wet foot/dry foot” policy and willing to risk their lives to take advantage of it. There are so many things that are important that this legislation doesn’t address. It’s a good start but hardly a triumph for the forces of normalization. The bill hardly promotes trade according to the original sense of the word.

Curiously, the NYT posted an image of a map showing Cuba and Florida with arrows going to and from the island across the Straits to its northern neighbor. Trade is a two-way street and it only happens when conditions in both places allow it. What these highly touted measures are establishing is a one-way street that neither “lifts the embargo” nor allows “regular commerce” with Cuba.

How will US grain exporters fare when they try to make their case for increasing exports when the same representatives from Brazil will say that they have a similar product but come from a country that accepts Cuban rum, tobacco, and other imports? Since 2008, the evidence shows a steep decline in U.S. agriculture exports to Cuba as Midwestern farmers have lost market share to Brazilian farmers and corporations. Just because we have an embassy there now doesn’t mean that Cuba is going to go out of its way to do business with us when there’s no chance of reciprocity. The recent goodwill between both countries will only go so far.

Cuba has a finite capacity to produce pharmaceuticals that, potentially, could be vital to millions of sick Americans. Vaccines against lung cancer, diabetes, and other potentially fatal diseases have been developed by the island’s biomedical initiatives and are universally lauded for their innovation and dissemination. In order to increase that capacity the island’s biomedical industry would need financing and mechanisms put in place so the final product could be offered in the U.S. If these laws truly “lift the embargo” and allow for ” regular commerce” then millions of sick Americans could regain some hope that they might have access to Cuban services and products. These hopes will not be answered by Senator Klobuchar’s original bill. These illnesses will not be alleviated by swapping out exports for “trade” in Representative Emmer’s H.R. 3238 Cuba Trade Act of 2015.

The very fact that these bills are getting traction and attention is encouraging but the language being used to promote a transforming Cuba policy needs to be more accurate. These bills are chipping away at the embargo and should be considered, debated, and, hopefully, passed. But let’s not pull a rotator cuff patting our selves on the back for lifting the embargo.

Normalization is a process that will eventually lead to a much-needed reconciliation between both nations. U.S. exports and business interests along with tourists, celebrities, legislators, and humanitarian groups traveling to the island have a role to play but they cannot be the only ones to dictate the pace of renewed bilateral relations. The road to reconciliation will be a two-way causeway of ideas, resources, and opportunities. Our legislative efforts and the media exposure given to such measures should reflect that.

Benjamin Willis is an activist living in New York who has worked with the Cuban American community in bringing about engagement during the Obama era. His book reviews are available in the International Journal of Cuban Studies. He is Co-Director of the United States Cuba NOW PAC.

Obama, Cuba and Venezuela

June 6, 2015
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Resistance to Normalization
Obama, Cuba and Venezuela
by MARK WEISBROT

Last week, the U.S. government took the deeply ironic step of removing Cuba from its list of “state sponsors of terrorism.” Ironic because, between the U.S. and Cuba, state sponsorship of terrorism has come from the U.S. and has been directed at Cuba.  These incidents have spanned more than four decades, from the launching of the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, to the numerous U.S.-organized assassination attempts against Fidel Castro, to the blowing up of a jetliner and other terrorist attacks from Cuban exiles operating out of the United States.

The latest move removes one obstacle from the normalization of relations with Cuba, but there are many more ahead, including the embargo; and the much-hated U.S. military base and prison of Guantanamo, which the Cubans have indicated is a deal breaker if it is not closed down. Another irony: the U.S. government lectures Cuba about human rights while it illegally imprisons and tortures people on the island.

Interestingly, the Cubans have raised an issue with Washington that could have more important implications for the region than removing the 53-year-old embargo that has been condemned by virtually the entire world for decades. It is now apparent, as I first suggested a month ago, that the Cubans made it clear to President Obama that normalization of relations with Cuba would be limited if Washington was unwilling to normalize relations with Venezuela. This is important because U.S. hostility toward Venezuela, and especially its support for “regime change” there, have since 2002 poisoned relations with Latin America even more than the embargo against Cuba.

President Obama seems to have gotten the message, meeting with President Maduro of Venezuela at the Summit of the Americas on April 11, backtracking from his executive order that declared Venezuela an “extraordinary threat” to U.S. national security, and sending a top State Department official – Tom Shannon – to Caracas twice since April 7 to make peace. Shannon, a career diplomat

who was Assistant Secretary of State for President George W. Bush, is considered in Washington circles to be “pragmatic.” In the context of Venezuela, this means someone who favors support for groups that want to get rid of the government mainly through electoral means, rather than through violence and a military coup.

This is not the first time that President Obama has moved toward normalizing relations with Venezuela. In 2010, the administration attempted to re-establish relations at the ambassadorial level. This was sabotaged by then Senator Richard Lugar’s office, probably in collaboration with like-minded people in the State Department. Last summer, the U.S. accepted a chargé d’affaires – the number two position after ambassador – at the Venezuelan embassy in Washington. A few weeks after that, U.S. federal prosecutors had a Venezuelan retired general, Hugo Carvajal, arrested in Aruba – despite his diplomatic passport.  Aruba, an island with a population of 100,000 that is 17 miles from Venezuela, is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. This arrest was close to destroying diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Venezuela, as Aruba agreed – in apparent violation of the nearly-sacrosanct Vienna convention protecting diplomats – to extradite him to the United States. Fortunately, the government of the Netherlands intervened, and ordered him freed on the grounds of diplomatic immunity.

The pattern is clear and easily understandable – there are many people within the Obama administration and Congress who do not want to normalize relations with Venezuela. (As was noted in the press, the same is true to a lesser extent for normalizing relations with Cuba – hence Obama kept top State Department officials in the dark for more than a year of negotiations.) So it was not surprising to see a 2,500-word Wall Street Journal article on May 18 with a far-fetched allegation that the head of Venezuela’s national assembly, Diosdado Cabello, was the chief of an alleged “drug cartel.”

The same federal prosecutors’ offices involved in the Carvajal case—cited anonymously, of course—were the main sources for the WSJ article. They were backed up by other, mostly far-right sources, and of course by convicted drug dealers who often get reduced sentences for pointing the finger at the appropriate villain.

It’s a dubious piece of work, with only one side of the story presented. (The WSJ, like much of the U.S. media, appears to “suspend the rules” of basic journalism, including fact-checking, when reporting on Venezuela.) The authors did include one tweet from a Venezuelan general, which succinctly summarized the ease with which these prosecutors can gather “evidence”:  “We all know that whoever wants his green card and live in the US to visit Disney can just pick his leader and accuse him of being a narco. DEA tours will attend to them.”

But the article gets the message across: As in the Carvajal case, these federal prosecutors’ offices will have sealed indictments ready to go if one of their targets should step outside of Venezuela, and a diplomatic crisis will be created. That would be the end of Obama’s efforts to normalize relations with Venezuela, for the remainder of his term. And unfortunately, Miami and New York federal prosecutors are not the only U.S. government officials who want to prevent normal relations with Venezuela.

Now back to the Cubans and their negotiations with President Obama. They have some bargaining power here: It seems clear that Obama wants, for his legacy, to be the president that opened up relations with Cuba. Will they hold him blameless if right-wing elements within the U.S. government try to blow up U.S.-Venezuelan relations? Or will they remind him what Harry Truman said: “The buck stops here”?

Obama has proved himself to be quite tough when we wants something: he has faced down formidable opposition, including from one of America’s most powerful lobby groups, the Israel lobby, in order to pursue a nuclear deal with Iran. He can do the same for Latin America, if he so chooses.

Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. and president of Just Foreign Policy. He is also the author of the forthcoming book Failed: What the “Experts” Got Wrong About the Global Economy (Oxford University Press, 2015).

This Counterpunch-article originally appeared on Al Jazeera.

Cuba-The United States : Seven key points

May 26, 2015

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Although talks between the U.S. and Cuba are in themselves a milestone for two countries which have lacked formal ties for more than 50 years, they only mark the beginning of a much longer and complicated process. Granma shares with its readers seven key points which clarify the dimension of what is happening between Havana and Washington and the coming stage.

Author: Sergio Alejandro Gómez | granma

It has been five months since Presidents Raúl Castro and Barack Obama announced on December 17 their intention to open a new chapter in relations between the United States and Cuba.

After an historic meeting between both leaders at the 7th Summit of the Americas, on May 21, the third round of conversations began in Washington, with the goal of advancing toward the reestablishment of diplomatic relations and the opening of embassies in both countries,.

Although talks between the U.S. and Cuba are already, in themselves, a milestone for two neighboring countries which have lacked formal ties for more than half a century, they only mark the beginning of a much longer and complicated process.

Inaccuracies and distorted information have accompanied this process from the beginning. Granma shares with its readers seven key points which clarify the dimension of what is happening between Havana and Washington and the coming stage.

1. The two Presidents made a decision, now comes the implementation.

On December 17, among other decisions of importance to both peoples, Raúl Castro and Barack Obama simultaneously announced their intention of reestablishing diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States, severed more than half a century ago.

However, in order for this step to be realized, the Presidents’ decision must now pass through the official channels of their respective countries.
This process is being advanced by the delegations which met in Havana and Washington for various rounds of conversations and technical encounters.
These meetings are important as they establish the bases on which diplomatic relations will operate, so as not to repeat past mistakes.

2. Neither party has imposed conditions for the reestablishment of relations.

One of the mass media’s main lines of attack against the conversations has been to talk of “conditions” imposed by the two parties.

Both the Cuban and U.S. diplomats have clearly stated that the work environment has been marked by respect and professionalism, with conversations taking place in a climate of reciprocity and free from interference.
What Cuba has done since the beginning of this process is highlight aspects which would must be resolved before further progress can be made; including the end of the country’s unjust inclusion on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, and the restoration of banking services for its mission in Washington, which has been without these services for more than a year.

Reports indicate that both issues are in the process of being resolved.

U.S. representatives have questioned restrictions on the mobility of their staff at a future embassy in Havana (the movements of Cuban diplomats in Washington is currently limited), as well as Cubans’ access to their facilities.

In this regard, Cuba has insisted on the importance of adhering to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic and Consular Relations, which establishes the importance of observing the laws of the host country and not interfering in its internal affairs.

Members of a mission must be able to interact with citizens of the host country, but also respect local norms, a Cuban diplomat recently explained.

3. Reestablishment of relations is not the same as normalization of relations

Another common mistake often made, is confusing the process of reestablishing diplomatic relations with the normalization, which is a longer and more complex process.

After embassies have been opened in both capitals, the challenging search for “normality” between both countries, which share a tumultuous history, will begin.

Cuban authorities have highlighted various points which they consider to be vital to addressing normalization: the lifting of the blockade; the return of the illegally occupied Guantanamo Nalval base territory, an end to subversive radio and television broadcasts; the cancellation of U.S. plans to promote regime change; and compensation for the damages caused to the Cuban people over half a century of aggression, among others.

It has never been stated that these issues need to be resolved in order to open embassies, as some media agencies have erroneously stated, although U.S. authorities have recognized Cuba’s position.

“Completely normal relations do not include an economic embargo, or economic sanctions,” a U.S. State Department official – who asked to remain anonymous – recently stated.

Without a doubt, this new stage includes discussion of other important issues for both countries. But Cuba has clearly expressed that it can not be expected to “give something in exchange.” Cuba does not apply any sanctions on the United States, nor does it have military bases in U.S. territory, or promote regime change.

Likewise, Cuba has said that the U.S. can not demand that the country renounce its ideals of independence and social justice, nor cede a millimeter in its defense of national sovereignty.

4. Washington’s change of policy is a victory for the Cuban people and Latin American integration

It wouldn’t be conceited to recognize, as the majority of the international community has, that Cuba has arrived at this point as a result of almost half a century of heroic struggle and loyalty to its principles.

Likewise, it wouldn’t be possible to analyze a policy change of this magnitude without understanding the new era our region is experiencing, and the firm and courageous demand made by the governments and people of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).

In the 2nd CELAC Summit held in Havana, an unprecedented regional document was signed: the declaration of the hemisphere as a Zone of Peace, which recognizes “The inalienable right of every state to choose its political, economic, social and cultural system, as an essential condition to guarantee peaceful coexistence among nations.”

5. The United States has changed its methods, not its objectives

One of the greatest questions which has followed this process is what does the U.S. policy change entail and how far does it go. There is no easy answer and perhaps it is too early to carry out a thorough analysis.

When President Obama made his announcement, he said that after 50 years of a failed policy, it was time to try something new.

Obama speaking in Panama noted – in reference to Cuba – that “The United States will not be imprisoned by the past – we’re looking to the future.”
However, U.S. authorities have stated on various occasions that its methods, not its objectives, are changing. These objectives have been – since January 1, 1959, to overthrow the Cuban Revolution.

In his speech during the 7th Summit of the Americas, Obama commented, “We’re not in the business of regime change,” remarks which filled many with hope.

However, millions of dollars are still being openly channeled toward financing subversion in Cuba, to which must be added other undeclared funds.

For their part, Cuban authorities have never demonstrated naivety. “No one should dream that the new policy announced means acceptance of the existence of a socialist revolution 90 miles from Florida,” said Raúl in his speech during the 3rd CELAC Summit.

6. Obama can do more

In addition to the December 17 announcement, Obama also implemented a group of measures modifying a small number of blockade regulations, although the aggressive policy remains in force.

Cuba has recognized Obama’s decision to engage in a debate with Congress in order to put an end to the blockade, something no other U.S. president has done.

Nonetheless, reports by the media that the President “has done everything possible,” are false.
If he is determined, Obama can use his broad executive powers to substantially modify the application of the blockade, even without the approval of Congress.

He could – for example – permit, in other sectors of the economy, all that he has authorized in the arena of telecommunications, with evident objectives of political influence in Cuba.

7. The issue of sovereignty is no longer off-limits

One of the lessons of the last five months – and perhaps the last year and a half of discreet conversations – has been that Cuba and the U.S. can address any issue as long as it is done within a framework of respect.

Cuba has demonstrated its willingness to discuss topics which have historically been used and manipulated to attack our county, such as democracy, free speech and human rights, about which the nation has much to show and contribute.
Perhaps the most important point of all, and that which summarizes this article, is that the greatest challenge facing Cuba and the United States is establishing a relationship of civilized co-existence based on respect for their profound differences.

Cuba’s Coming Out Party at the Summit of the Americas

April 13, 2015
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Just the Beginning

Cuba’s Coming Out Party at the Summit of the Americas

by MEDEA BENJAMIN
Counterpunch

For the small island of Cuba, the VII Summit of the Americas in Panama marked a kind of “coming out” party. Banned from the for-capitalists-only gatherings from the time they began in 1994, Cuba was not only invited to participate in the Summit this year, it was the belle of the ball (albeit the belle was a shaky, 83-year-old Raul Castro who lacks his brother Fidel’s charisma). Cuba’s presence was heralded in the speeches of every nation’s leader and the handshake between President Obama and Raul Castro was the Summit’s Kodak moment.

In Raul Castro’s long 49-minute speech (he joked that because Cuba had been excluded from six prior Summits, he deserved six times the recommended eight minutes), he gave a history lesson of past US attacks on Cuba—from the Platt Amendment to supporting the dictator Fulgencio Batista to the Bay of Pigs invasion and the opening of the Guantanamo prison. But he was gracious to President Obama, saying he was not to blame for this legacy and calling him an “honest man” of humble origins.

President Obama certainly won praise throughout the Summit for turning this page in the Cold War. Some leaders insisted on clarifying, however, that Cuba was not at the Summit because of Obama’s nice gesture; Cuba was there because the leaders of Latin America insisted that there would not be another Summit without Cuba. Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos, no lefty, recalled his position at the last summit, which he hosted, that Cuba must be invited to the next one. Bolivia, Nicaragua, Venezuela and others had threatened to boycott any new gathering without Cuba.

Argentine’s Christina Kirchner Fernandez went a step further in taking credit away from Obama: She said Cuba was at the table because it had fought valiantly and defiantly for over 50 years while suffering under the US blockade. Ecuador’s Rafael Correa said the Obama’s opening was good, but not good enough. He insisted it was time to end the “inhumane and illegal blockade” that had so damaged the Cuban people and to return the “occupied territory” of Guantanamo. Bolivia’s Evo Morales dismissed any notion of the US as a benevolent force now coming to aid poor Cuba; instead, he said, the US should just compensate Cuba for over 50 years of damages to its economy.

There were expectations that President Obama would use the summit to announce that Cuba would be taken off the US list of state sponsors of terrorism, a critical step in the normalization of relations. But unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

It’s hard for many Americans to understand the oversized significance Cuba has in the hemisphere. Colombia’s Santos thanked Cuba for its mediation of peace talks between his government and the FARC rebels. Other governments thanked Cuba for sending doctors to their countries, treating patients in poor areas where their own doctors refused to go, or for setting up medical schools or training their nationals in Cuban schools. There was praise for Cuba sharing its successful literacy program. But what most Americans fail to understand is the pride felt by so many people in Latin America—even people who don’t like Cuba’s policies—that for over 50 years the tiny island has managed to fend off the attempts by the US Goliath to overthrow it.

From the very beginnings of the revolution, the US government has used every means it could conjure up to overthrow Fidel Castro—from poison cigars to funding saboteurs to diplomatic isolation. History is littered with CIA and exile-sponsored dirty tricks, including the October 1976 attack on a Cuban jetliner that killed all 73 people aboard. Even in Panama, where the Summit took place, there was a plot in November 2000 to kill Fidel Castro by blowing up an auditorium where he was scheduled to speak.

So the fact that Cuba has managed to thumb its nose at the US for all these years is seen by many as nothing short of a miracle. “I was in Cuba on vacation,” Gabriela Gomez, a teacher from Panama told me. “I found its economy in tatters, with buildings literally falling apart. And I don’t like the restrictions on free speech and free assembly. But I love the fact that Cuba has managed to survive as a communist nation in the face of so much outside aggression.”

But is the US government really accepting Cuba as a sovereign nation that has chosen a different path? Or is it simply trying to overthrow the Cuban government by different means?

Reverend Raul Suarez who runs the Martin Luther King Center in Havana and in Panama for the Civil Society Forum that preceded the Summit, sees the same old intrigue, interference and manipulations. “Just look at what has happened at the Civil Society Forum,” he said. “The Americans paid for Cuban dissidents who have no following in Cuba to come to Panama and participate as Cuban representatives of civil society. Meanwhile, many of the representatives of Cuba’s mass-based organizations were not allowed in.”

“Half our delegation got here only to find that they couldn’t get the credentials they were promised, and were shut out of the meetings,” said Gretchen Gomez Gonzalez of the Cuban Federation of University Students, “while dissident Cubans who don’t represent anyone but themselves were given credentials to represent Cuban civil society.” Pro-government Cubans confronted the dissidents in the streets and at the meetings, calling them mercenaries for taking US money and carrying photos showing some of them embracing convicted terrorist Jose Posada Carriles. They also say that former CIA operative Felix Rodriguez, blamed for killing revolutionary hero Che Guevara, was at the Summit working with the dissidents.

The dissidents insist they are being attacked by pro-government mobs simply for promoting free speech and free assembly. The U.S. State Department condemned what it said was “harassment” and “use of violence” against participants.

The cordial meeting between Obama and Castro showed the positive face of the opening, while the clashes on the streets of Panama City represent the rocky road ahead for US-Cuba relations. But at least the path forward is a new one, with fresh momentum emanating from the Panama Summit.

Obama said the US opening could lead to more Americans visitors, more commerce, more investment and more resources for the Cuban people. If the US government could do that while leaving it to the Cuban people themselves to push for greater individual freedoms, that would be—to take a page from the Castro brothers—truly revolutionary.

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of www.CODEPINK.org and author of several books on Cuba, including No Free Lunch: Food and Revolution in Cuba.

The Cuban Opportunity

April 7, 2015
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Why Obama Should Remove Cuba From the Terror List

The Cuban Opportunity

by BENJAMIN WILLIS
Counterpunch

After the announcement of a framework to a “deal” with Iran concerning their nuclear program, President Obama turns his attention to the Summit of the Americas transpiring April 9-11 in Panama. The fortuitous timing of this announcement allows Obama to address the Summit without the distraction of ongoing negotiations. Coincidentally, poll results published the day before the Iran announcement should give Obama even more swagger because his decision to reestablish diplomatic ties and move towards normalization with Cuba is playing very well with Cuban Americans everywhere.

Indeed, the upcoming Summit had been threatened by boycott from a majority of the thirty-five Heads of State if the United States did not allow Cuba to participate. The position was clear: no Cuba, no Summit. Obama learned in the last Summit in 2012 that the rest of the hemisphere was not going to let this slide anymore and, to his credit, Obama has listened and moved on this.

The historic announcements on December 17th, 2014 that put in motion an opening between the two estranged nations have been well received throughout the international community and across a wide spectrum of American society including business leaders, NGOs, and curious Americans who have flocked to Cuba since the traveling licenses were streamlined.

According to a poll by Bendixen & Amandi International released Wednesday, April 1st during a summit of business leaders and Cuba experts in New York the idea of normalizing relations with Cuba is gaining steam with Cuban Americans both residing in Miami and throughout the U.S. A reported 51% supported Obama’s moves as opposed to 44% in December when he announced. As has been the trend with Cuban American polls the generation and geographical gaps are glaring and growing. 69% of people 18 to 29 years old are in favor of normalizing whereas 38% of people aged 65 and over support normalization. 41% of Cuban Americans living in Florida agree, 49% disagree, and 10% don’t know (Don’t know?!? ) while those living throughout the U.S. are 69% in favor of the measures. 66% of Cuban Americans born in the U.S. agree with Obama’s actions. Of those Cuban American citizens who were born in Cuba 45% agree, 46% don’t, and again 8% either don’t know or won’t answer. Those who arrived before 1980 are 32% in agreement and 60% disagree while, inversely, those who have arrived after 1980 have 56% in agreement and 35% who aren’t in favor of normalizing relations.

When asked about the embargo the evidence would demonstrate that even though some within the community are reluctant to come out against the archaic policy the overriding sentiment is that it is time to end it.

When posed with the question of whether the embargo should continue 47% say it should not, 36% say it should, and a whopping 17% did not answer. But, when pressed about specifics the results belie fundamental disagreement with the embargo. When asked if “companies owned by Cuban Americans in the United States should be able to sell their products in Cuba?” 58% say Yes. The same goes for services provided by Cuban Americans on the island. When asked if “Cubans living should be able to provide funding to help their friends and family members living in Cuba to open and operate their own business?” 66% say Yes. 55% say Yes, they do “think any individual or company in the United States should be able to provide funding to Cubans living in Cuba to open and operate their own business?” And, when confronted by this statement: “Currently, U.S. companies like Coca-Cola, Nike and Apple sell their products in communist countries like China and Vietnam. Do you think U.S. companies should be able to sell their products in Cuba?” 62% percent said yes. In other words, most Cuban Americans want an end to the embargo even if some of them can’t bring themselves to admitting that fact outright.

The official title of the poll is Cuban Americans’ Viewpoint on the Cuba Opportunity and Obama too should seize the “Cuba Opportunity” and take this moment to continue to make bold steps towards normalization.

Will the Real Terrorist Stand Up?

Both Iran and Cuba are on the U.S. State Department’s “list” of nations that are designated as State Sponsors of Terrorism. Cuba has been on the list since 1982 and Iran since 1984. Iran should be there. Cuba should not.

In a 2014 Miami Conference about changes in the Cuban American Community and the Obama Administration sponsored by Cuban Americans for Engagement (CAFE), an anti-embargo group of which I am a founding member, Antonio Zamora, a former attorney for the Cuban American National Foundation, explained that Cuba’s appearance on the list was a “bone” for the Cuban American political class who had helped the Reagan administration with dealing with Central America. Revolutionary support sent to Angola to fight apartheid and Nicaragua to help the Sandinistas by Cuba could never be defined as terrorism under international standards but the dubious designation has been held up through the years. The State Department’s own annual report gets skimpier and lamer every year. The State Sponsors of Terrorism Overview’s section on Cuba is by far the smallest of the four countries on the “list”; Cuba, Iran, Sudan, Syria.

The evidence stated is paltry and laughable in the latest iteration from 2013. The members of Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) have been held in cooperation with the Spanish governments. The members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have been participating in talks hosted by the Cuban government to begin brokering a peace deal with the help of Colombia, Venezuela, Norway, and the Red Cross. Then comes one sentence that very clearly states: “There was no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or paramilitary training to terrorist groups.”

How can Cuba be compared to Iran? Or Syria? Or Sudan? It can’t. Or at least it shouldn’t.

Iran was charged with continued supply and aid to Hizballah (sic) and Palestinian terrorist groups along with sending “sophisticated” weaponry to “oppositionists” in Yemen and Bahrain. All the while, having Syria, another country on the “list” serve as the main “causeway” for such “terrorist-related activity”.

Not to mention, “Iran remained unwilling to bring to justice senior al-Qa’ida (AQ) members it continued to detain, and refused to publicly identify those senior members in its custody.  Iran allowed AQ facilitators Muhsin al-Fadhli and Adel Radi Saqr al-Wahabi al-Harbi to operate a core facilitation pipeline through Iran, enabling AQ to move funds and fighters to South Asia and also to Syria.  Al-Fadhli is a veteran AQ operative who has been active for years.  Al-Fadhli began working with the Iran-based AQ facilitation network in 2009 and was later arrested by Iranian authorities.  He was released in 2011 and assumed leadership of the Iran-based AQ facilitation network.”

There’s also a quip at the end about Iran being a “proliferation concern.” It is yet to be seen whether or not Obama’s outline to a deal is simply “kicking the can” of inevitable armament down the road.

Still yet, in the Western Hemisphere Overview the first nation mentioned as a “concern” is Iran. Not Cuba, the only nation on the “list” in said hemisphere and only 90 miles away from the United States. In fact, Cuba isn’t even mentioned in the entire chapter. Iran comes before other truly concerning regions throughout the Americas. Iran is supposedly more of a threat than Colombia, which witnessed the most amounts of terrorist attacks. It is mentioned as a threat to national security before neighboring Mexico, with its ruthless cartels dealing in narcotics, human trafficking, and paramilitary-like activities and a political class that enjoys impunity while thousands of its citizens are disappeared. Iran is more of a concern than Venezuela, with Nicolas Maduro and its oil reserves, connections to Iran and its unwillingness to go after drug kingpins. Cuba, despite being designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, is not perceived in any way as a threat within the Western Hemisphere. How can this inconsistency endure at the State Department? The truth is that John Kerry, and the Cuba desk know that the island hasn’t posed a threat via terrorism or any other form of hostility for a long time. They could take Cuba off the “list” tomorrow and they know it.

An emboldened Obama could seize this opportunity and instruct the State Department to take Cuba off the “list”. His legacy is being shaped by Cuba and Iran and he has proven that diplomacy can achieve favorable results. Announcing this before or during the Summit of the Americas in Panama would give him considerable diplomatic capital and would show that he is serious about actually moving forward from reestablishing ties towards full normalization with Cuba.

Benjamin Willis is a musician and political organizer living in Queens. He is a founding member of Cuban Americans for Engagement (CAFE) and serves as Secretary and Event Coordinator for this community organization.

Cuba-US Human Rights Talks were Marked by Mutual Respect and Professionalism

April 1, 2015

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Cuba-US Human Rights Talks were Marked by Mutual Respect and Professionalism

HAVANA, Cuba, Apr 1 (acn) During the first Cuba-US talks on human rights, held on March 31 in Washington D.C., the representatives of the island expressed their country´s concerns regarding human rights in the United States.
“We expressed our concerns regarding discrimination and racism patterns in US society, the worsening of police brutality, torture acts and extrajudicial executions in the fight on terror and the legal limbo of prisoners at the US prison camp in Guantanamo, “ said the head of the Cuban delegation to the talks, Pedro Luis Pedroso.
During a news conference in Washington, the deputy general director for Multilateral Affairs and International Law at the Cuban Foreign Ministry said that the island´s delegation also put forth its concern about the limitation of labor rights and union liberties.
According to Pedroso, despite deep differences about conception and the exercise of human rights between Cuba and the United States, the meeting held at the US State Department took place in an atmosphere of respect and professionalism.
“We addressed issues of mutual interest, “said Pedroso, who noted that the dialog evidenced that it is possible to have civilized relations based on the recognition and respect of the differences.”
Pedroso added that the meeting, held on the initiative of Cuba, ratified the willingness of Havana to discuss any issue on equal grounds and reciprocity.
Cuba also presented some of its achievements in terms of the protection and promotion of human rights and he did not discard future exchanges on the topic.
The human rights talks adds to other issues of bilateral interest for Cuba and the United States that run parallel to the ongoing process aimed at reestablishing diplomatic relations and the opening of embassies in Washington and Havana.

Havana and Washington Consider further Meetings on Human Rights

HAVANA, Cuba, Apr 1 (acn) Cuba´s permanent representative in Geneva, Ambassador Anayansi Rodriguez, said that the March 31 Cuba-US talks on human rights were held in the expected atmosphere of professionalism and respect and considered further meetings on the topic.
Both sides discussed the methodological basis for future talks on the issue and they addressed some important topics that will be of mutual interest in upcoming meetings, said the diplomat.
As we expected, we ratified the differences between our countries as to the human rights issue, both in the national arena and as how human rights are promoted and protected in the two nations as well as in the international scenario, in multilateral forums that address this issue.
The diplomat said that both sides ratified their capacity to hold a respectful, professional and civilized dialog on the issue by recognizing their differences in terms of their perceptions and even the balance regarding civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights, which for Cuba they are indivisible, they are interconnected and none of them have more importance than the others because Cuba addresses them in an integral way. These differences surfaced during the dialog, the diplomat said.
Meanwhile, international media cited statements by a State Department official at the end of the talks referring that “The atmosphere of the meeting was professional, and there was broad agreement on the way forward for a future substantive dialogue.”
“Both sides expressed willingness to discuss a wide range of topics in future substantive talks,” the official added.
The U.S. delegation was led by Tom Malinowski, the State Department’s assistant secretary for human rights and democracy. And the Cuban delegation was headed by Pedro Luis Pedroso, deputy director of multilateral affairs and law at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Washington Describes as Professional US-Cuba Human Rights Talks

HAVANA, Cuba, Apr 1 (acn) The United States and Cuba discussed human rights in a professional atmosphere, and paved the way for future meetings on the issue, said the US State Department.
In a press release, the US side said that Havana and Washington addressed the methodology and topics as well as the structure of bilateral dialog on human rights, which was proposed by the island.
The date and place for next conversations will be announced through diplomatic channels.
According to the US State Department, the two delegations expressed their concerns on the issue of human rights and their willingness to debate a wide gamut of topics in future meetings.
The Cuban delegation described as respectful and professional the meeting held on March 31, despite the deep differences between the two countries.

Cuba Détente

January 28, 2015

Obama Renounces an Insane Policy, But What’s Next?
Cuba Détente
by ROBERT SANDELS and NELSON P. VALDÉS

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“I do not expect the changes I am announcing today to bring about a transformation of Cuban society overnight.”
— Barack Obama, Dec. 17, 2014

President Obama’s Dec. 17 statement (http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/12/17/statement-president-cuba-policy-changes,) announcing changes in U.S. Cuba policy was a mixture of historical truths and catch phrases drawn from the catalog of myths about Cuba and U.S. policy goals.

The first round of rule changes, announced by Jan. 16 by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), was significant in the areas of trade and banking. At the same time, much of the language is drawn from the old justifications for regime change. (Let us put aside the hypocrisies in Obama’s speech such as the instruction — coming from a country where labor unions have been systematically destroyed — that “Cuban workers should be free to form unions.”)

In his speech, Obama reworked Einstein’s famous definition of insanity to support his partial abandonment of the half-century attempts to destroy the Cuban revolution. “I do not believe we can keep doing the same thing for over five decades and expect a different result,” said Obama. (If he means that the policy he has supported for six years is insane, what does that say about him?)

Nowhere in the speech did Obama renounce the longstanding U.S. commitment to regime change in Cuba or even acknowledge that it ever existed. While implicitly recognizing that the use of sanctions to achieve political results had failed, he continues to pursue them in Korea, Russia and elsewhere. One day after making the Cuba speech, he signed a bill imposing sanctions on Venezuela alleging that the government of President Nicolas Maduro had violated the human rights of protestors during violent anti-government demonstrations last February. The demonstrations were led by right-wing representatives of the Venezuelan elite who have long been backed by the United States.

We should note that the phrase about doing the same thing for over five decades and expecting a different result is incorrect. True, five decades ago the Eisenhower administration broke diplomatic relations with Cuba, but since then his 10 successors, who account for 14 presidential terms, tried a variety of other “things” besides cutting diplomatic relations. There were the commando raid things launched from U.S. territory by Cuban exiles burning cane fields and sugar mills and the CIA-trained underground blowing up movie theaters and shopping centers. Then of course, there was the Bay of Pigs invasion thing by an exile expeditionary force landing in a swamp. That was a really big thing. With that failure came Bobby Kennedy’s Operation Mongoose thing, which was expected to be a let’s-get- it-right-this-time do-over of the Bay of Pigs disaster.

Since the 1962 Missile Crisis, there have been endless “democracy promotion” things financed by CIA front organizations. There have been clandestine anti-Cuban shortwave things broadcast from all manner of conveyances — yachts, balloons, zeppelins, airplanes. Leaflets, books and pamphlets of every kind were surreptitiously sent to Cuba in tourist luggage, in diplomatic pouches, hidden in hollow trees and even dropped from airplanes. Then there were the hit-and-run attacks from speedboats shooting up Russian ships, Cuban fishing boats, coastal hotels and hamlets.

Alan Gross, pretending to bring computer equipment to synagogues in Cuba that didn’t need them, is only a recent and not the last example of the often ludicrous plotting of various U.S. government agencies. Currently, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is at the forefront of the regime-change program. Obama did not mention the Gross thing but revealed that he would have proposed détente earlier had Cuba not imprisoned him.

Obama has it backwards. It’s not the “thing” that needs to be changed but the desired “result.” His new policy direction does not promise to end imperial bullying or to accept Cuban independence and sovereignty. Why else would he say the new thing he has in mind “will promote our values through engagement”?

Making the crime fit the punishment

To justify the long hostility toward Cuba, the United States has created a Cuba that never existed; a tropical gulag of indiscriminate terror where hordes of political prisoners rot while a cartoon dictator recites hours of his political poetry to a captive audience.

It is not surprising that the external and domestic opponents of the Cuban government, whether or not they are paid by the United States or its European partners, do not have their own vision of what a post-Castro society would look like. They and Obama are bound by the official blueprint drawn up by Congress in the Helms-Burton law of 1996, which essentially calls for a non-Cuban Cuba.

What would happen to employment, housing, health care and education in the new Cuba of Washington and Miami invention? Why is it that regime change is couched in fuzzy terms like “freedom” devoid of any economic, social or cultural content? And why is it that Obama criticizes the old policy because it “failed to advance our interests” without acknowledging what those interests really are?

Nothing in Obama’s speech corrects the half-century assault on truth. Many of the media commentaries on the Obama speech recite from the fantasies concocted over the years to mask the insanity of the policy. Here is just a sampling:

-Seventy-five Cubans dissidents were arrested in April 2003 in what is called the Black Spring. Ever since then they have been referred to as political prisoners or freedom fighters.

Actually, they were tried and convicted in a Cuban court for operating as paid agents of the pretend dissident movement funded by the United States. Roger Noriega, former assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, conspired with James Cason, then head of the U.S. Interest Section in Havana, to openly encourage local dissidents hoping that the Cuban government would kick Cason out and give George W. Bush an excuse for closing the Cuban Interest Section in Washington and worsening bilateral relations. The scheme is what got the 75 arrested.

Among the 75 were journalists, few of whom ever practiced journalism. There also were pretend independent librarians paid by the United States to pose as part of a pretend grassroots defiance of a pretend Cuban control of what people could read.

A report to the American Library Association in 2001 (http://www.ala.org/offices/iro/iroactivities/alacubanlibrariesreportcuban,) described how one of the “independent” libraries in Cuba “consisted of four or five dusty shelves of books.” A woman in one of these libraries said, “No books had ever been confiscated [and] that she was not being intimidated or threatened by the government as a result of having this collection….The woman receives many of her books as well as payment for her activities from the U.S. and Mexico but would not identify individual sources. She said she was asked to operate the library because she is a dissident.”

-Cuba always blocks U.S. efforts to improve relations.

The example often cited is the shooting down in 1996 of two private exile planes near the Cuban coast. But Fidel Castro did not plot with well-known terrorist José Basulto, founder of Brothers to the Rescue, to have him organize provocative flights over the Cuban capital; Basulto did that on his own. It was the shootdown that led to enactment of the Helms-Burton law, which now prevents Obama from lifting the blockade. So, was it Fidel Castro or Helms, Burton and Basulto who torpedoed some supposed improvement in bilateral relations?

– The Cuban Five were spies.

Nearly every news outlet continues to refer to the five Cuban agents imprisoned in 1998 as “spies.” (The last three were released as part of the Obama opening.)

Actually, they were Cuban agents who infiltrated Brothers to the Rescue and other counterrevolutionary groups in Florida and then alerted the FBI to their plans for attacks against Cuba from the United States in violation of U.S. law.

– Alan Gross, who, was released from prison on “humanitarian grounds” as part of the Obama opening, was unjustly imprisoned in Cuba.

Actually, he was a sub-contractor working under a USAID grant and sent on five trips to Cuba to set up clandestine electronic networks as part of the U.S. subversion obsession and therefore correctly imprisoned. People who do that sort of thing in the United States can be tried as unregistered agents of a foreign power and sent to prison, just like Alan Gross.

Where did all those doctors come from?

The president’s positive comment on Cuba’s contribution to fighting Ebola in Africa has been noted as one of the inducements for change. Good, but Obama needs to explore what Cuba’s worldwide medical missionary program says about the island.

Imagine what it would take for the mythical Cuba the United States created, with its tiny population of the impoverished and the oppressed, to produce such quantities of surplus doctors, nurses and medical technicians who are now working in 66 countries. If Obama could admit that his mythical Cuba could never have done that, he might start setting the historical record straight and maybe ask the Cubans to advise him on Obamacare.

Today Cuba has 75,000 physicians or one per 160 inhabitants. Approximately 132,000 medical/health professionals have provided medical and dental attention to poor people abroad. At present, there are over 50,000 medical workers and no less than 25,000 doctors working outside of Cuba. In 2013, the health sector had 322,627 health professionals and technicians – that is, 28.9 per 1000 inhabitants — 76,836 physicians and 14,964 dentists as well as 88,364 nurses.

All of these accomplishments at home and abroad have taken place while the U.S. government persisted in enticing doctors, nurses and other professionals to leave Cuba. Remember, it was the people of Cuba who, we are incessantly told, make only $20 a month, who paid for their education even as Cuba confronted relentless U.S. financial and economic obstruction. Does Obama intend to reimburse the Cubans?

The United States calls the maze of economic and commercial sanctions an embargo. (The Cubans, referencing international law, call it a blockade.) Obama cannot unilaterally put an end to this kind of warfare but must wait for Congress to act. While the executive branch has the constitutional power to define foreign policy, Bill Clinton signed the Helms-Burton bill transferring control of Cuba policy to Congress. This was the second time he relinquished executive power over Cuba policy. The first was in 1992 when, running against George H.W. Bush, he announced his support for the Torricelli Act, which severely tightened trade restrictions. Obama’s Democratic predecessor made it necessary for him to go before Congress in his recent State of the Union message and ask Republicans to give back his foreign policy powers.

New rules

Clearly, the old rules lacked consistency. For example, when OFAC travel and remittance rules affecting Cuban-Americas were relaxed in the past, the justification was always to promote democracy and to separate Cubans from dependence on their government. But, when the same rules were made more severe, as under George W. Bush, the justifications were the same.

OFAC’s new regulations (https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2015/01/16/2015-00632/cuban-assets-control-regulations,) will materially ease the sanctions. Some of the changes sound like attempts through administrative regulations, to overturn fundamental sanctions in the Helms-Burton law. These include new rules allowing direct interbank transfers with the U.S. banking system, the use of U.S.-issued credit and debit cards and the elimination of “cash and carry,” which was a burdensome requirement for Cuba in paying for imports in convertible currencies.

Nevertheless, other changes may conflict with old practices. For example, will the U.S. Treasury Department protect credit/debit card companies from lawsuits by U.S. nationals seeking compensation from the Cuban government? The logistics of these transactions remains to be clarified.

Travel to Cuba can now be insured by U.S. companies and U.S. airlines could fly to Cuba from any city if market demand is sufficient instead of from a few government-selected cities. The major airlines could then reduce the advantage that the smaller companies enjoyed until now.

The travel ban has been relaxed even as OFAC preserves the principle of controlling travel for political purposes. The 12 categories of allowable travel remain in place although now without requiring a written specific license and organized travel and tours will be opened to more players.

Still, restrictions remain. Those who will be able to travel more freely are prohibited by a watchful government from having fun. New categories of travel are authorized under the new rules, “provided that the traveler’s schedule of activities does not include free time or recreation in excess of that consistent with a full-time schedule.”

Picking winners for a Cuban market economy

Trade sanctions have always had the effect of indirectly “managing” the Cuba economy. The new rules can determine who gets to invest in or trade with Cuba and which Cuban sectors will receive the most benefit. The majority of U.S. firms will be left out of the great Cuban market economy as envisioned in Washington.

Until now only agricultural and some medical and educational materials could be sold to Cuba. The new regulations allow for an increase in the kinds of goods that Cuba can import from the United States such as construction and agricultural tools and machinery. However, these can only be sold to non-state sectors such as co-ops and private entrepreneurs. Thus, certain sectors of the U.S. corporate world will be given preferential treatment.

OFAC is also giving Cuban entrepreneurs in the private sector an advantage over the state, but the Obama administration also wants U.S. information technology corporations to invest in Cuba’s telecommunications infrastructure, which means selling services, software and equipment to the Cuban government.

Rules applied to the banking sector raise significant questions. Financial institutions will be allowed to open accounts in Cuban banks to simplify transactions that are authorized by the United States and Cuba. But will Cuban banks be allowed to do the same in the United States?

Are these U.S. banks going to open dollar accounts in Cuban banks? Are they going to be held liable for breaking the restrictions that the United States Treasury Department imposed on dozens of banks for doing the same thing? Less than 24 months, ago the Bank of Nova Scotia, Commerzbak, Credit Suisse and many others were charged with billions of dollars in fines. Will the new rules be retroactively applied or is this a case of sorry — bad timing?

Since 1962, any ship that called on a Cuban port was prohibited from entering a U.S. port for at least six months. Now, ships transporting food, medicine, medical equipment and other materials may, in case of some emergency in Cuba, go to Cuba and then enter any U.S. port without prejudice as can any other ship owned by the same company. But Cuba is still not permitted to use U.S. currency in international transactions or purchase of technologies that might have more than 10 percent of U.S. components.

Some U.S. companies shall not suffer

Obama appears to have come around to where former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was in 1972 when he limited the scope of economic sanctions to protect the interests of selected U.S. corporations. In April of that year, Kissinger approved export licenses for three U.S. automakers with subsidiaries in Argentina permitting them to sell cars to Cuba. The State Department issued a statement that read in part, “Our policy toward Cuba is unchanged. We did not wish to see these U.S. companies suffer as a result of U.S. policy.”

Stifling trade and financial transactions in Cuba by withholding all the utilities of capitalism was inconsistent with promoting a free market, which is mentioned 13 times in Helms-Burton.

Do the new regulations show that Obama is rejecting the old insanity and striking out toward true respect for Cuban sovereignty? While there is symbolic importance in resuming formal diplomatic relations, there is nothing in normal diplomacy that prevents Obama from carrying on regime change schemes by other means. As he said Dec. 17, “we can do more to support the Cuban people and promote our values through engagement.”

Relaxing the restrictions on travel is fine but does anyone find Obama’s reasoning for doing so a little suspicious? “Nobody represents America’s values better,” said Obama, “than the American people, and I believe this contact will ultimately do more to empower the Cuban people.”

Obama wants to transfer information technology to Cuba. Good. He could also transfer to dissidents the supplies of military-grade microchips that Alan Gross was imprisoned for doing.

The day for celebration should be postponed until we see whether the true potential of Cuba’s social and political experiment can proceed unobstructed by an enraged superpower and whether the United States is ready to work with Cuba in bringing a more constructive future to both countries. Maybe by then Cuba can show the United States how to form labor unions.

Robert Sandels lives in Mexico and writes on Cuba and Mexico.

Nelson P. Valdés is Professor Emeritus, University of New Mexico. For more information on Cuba visit: http://www.cuba-l.com,

from: http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/01/28/cuba-detente/,

U.S. Will Not Ease Sanctions on Cuba Unless Reforms Are Made

November 21, 2014

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WASHINGTON – U.S. President Barack Obama will not take measures to ease the embargo on Cuba unless the government of Havana makes significant progress in democratic and economic reforms, said his deputy national security advisor, Antony Blinken.

Blinken made the comment on Wednesday when Cuban-American senator, Democrat Marco Rubio asked him about rumors that Obama was going to use executive measures to relax part of the economic embargo on Cuba.

“Unless Cuba is able to demonstrate that it is taking meaningful steps to move forward, I don’t see how can we move forward in the relationship,” Blinken said.

He added that the President had ideas to help move Cuba in a democratic direction, but it all depends on Cuba and its actions.

The deputy national security advisor has been nominated by Obama to become the State Department’s number two and was appearing before a Senate panel for his confirmation hearings.

U.S. academic and political circles have been debating the possibility of normalizing relationships with Cuba, a country with which the U.S. ended its diplomatic ties in 1961 and on which economic and trade embargo were imposed in 1962.

Blinken said that the “unjust imprisonment” in Cuba of American subcontractor Alan Gross since 2009 was also an obstacle for improving ties.

In the Senate hearing, another Cuban senator, Democrat Bob Menendez, said that Cuba should not be allowed to attend the 2015 Summit of the Americas to be held in Panama.

The U.S. government has yet to confirm it will attend the summit but argues that Cuba should not be permitted as it does not comply with democratic ideals.

http://www.laht.com/article.asp?ArticleId=2361627&CategoryId=36641,


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