William M. LeoGrande | Tuesday, June 20, 2017, World Politics Review
Original Article here: World Politics Review
William M. LeoGrande | Tuesday, June 20, 2017, World Politics Review
Original Article here: World Politics Review
Huffington Post, 06/20/2017 12:45 pm ET
William M. LeoGrande and Marguerite Rose Jiménez
There is a poison pill hidden in President Donald Trump’s National Security Presidential Memorandum (NSPM) on Cuba that could deprive over a million Cuban families of access to remittances from their relatives abroad—a declaration of economic war on the very people that Trump claims his policy will empower.
Section 3(d) of the NSPM redefines “prohibited officials of the Government of Cuba” expansively, potentially including almost a quarter of Cuba’s entire labor force. The significance: Cubans who are “prohibited” are not allowed to receive payments from U.S. persons, and that includes remittances (Cuban Assets Control Regulations, §515.570).
The previous regulatory definition of prohibited officials was very narrow, limited to members of the Council of Ministers and flag officers of the Revolutionary Armed Forces. The new definition proposed by President Trump includes hundreds of senior officials in every government agency, thousands of ordinary Cubans who volunteer as leaders of their local Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, and—most importantly— every employee of the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (MINFAR) and Ministry of the Interior (MININT).
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MINFAR has some 60,000 active duty troops and MININT has some 35,000 police and Border Guards, and that’s not counting their civilian employees. Military service is compulsory for both men and women, so almost every family on the island will be affected by this new definition at some point.
More importantly, according to the U.S. government’s Cuba Broadcasting service, over a million Cubans are employed by the two big holding companies, GAESA and CIMEX, that report to MINFAR. If all these people are now to be considered “prohibited officials,” then a quarter of the Cuban labor force will no longer be eligible to receive remittances.
For Cuban state employees who are paid an average salary equivalent to about $25 a month, cutting them off from family remittances will have a devastating impact on their standard of living. By what possible logic can a clerk at GAESA, a truck driver at CIMEX, or a private in the Cuban army be defined as an “official” important enough to be prohibited from receiving help from their family abroad?
The alleged premise of Trump’s policy is to empower the Cuban people by directing U.S. funds to them, rather than to the Cuban government. Remittances are the very best way to do that because the dollars go directly to family on the island, at a rate of about $3 billion annually.
President Trump could have imposed limits on remittances directly and openly, as previous presidents have done, but that would have been very unpopular in the Cuban American community, so instead he has disguised a potentially massive cut behind the small print of an obscure regulation. Now it is up to the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control to write the new regulations in a way that averts this travesty.
Huffington Post, 06/05/2017 07:50 am ET
President Trump has a knack for bad optics. The day after he fired FBI Director James Comey in hopes of taking the pressure off the investigation into whether his campaign colluded with the Kremlin during the 2016 election, Trump received Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergei Kislyak in the Oval Office. Now, as Comey prepares to testify before Congress about Trump’s request that the FBI halt the investigation of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s ties to Russia, the president is preparing to announce a Cuba policy that would clear the way for Moscow to re-establish itself as Cuba’s principal foreign patron.
According to press reports, Trump is on the verge of reversing key elements of Barack Obama’s policy of engagement with Cuba, even though his own government’s review concluded it is producing positive results across a range of issues, including security. If the United States reverts to a policy of hostility, U.S. adversaries will once again reap the rewards, and Russia will be first in line—just like it was in 1960.
The end of the Cold War severed Cuba’s partnership with the Soviet Union, but Vladimir Putin has been restoring Russia’s global influence by repairing relations with traditional allies. Russia’s resurgence in the Caribbean dates to Putin’s 2000 trip to Havana, followed by Raúl Castro’s 2009 visit to Moscow—the first since the end of the Cold War.
In July 2014, Putin visited the island again and agreed to forgive 90% of Cuba’s $32 billion in Soviet-era debt. By the time Raúl Castro returned to Moscow in 2015, Russia had signed agreements to invest in infrastructure development and oil exploration, and agreed to lend Cuba 1.2 billion Euros to develop thermal energy. When Venezuela failed to meet its promised oil shipments to Cuba, Russia stepped in to cover the shortfall.
The linkages extend beyond commerce. Both sides refer to their revived relationship as a “strategic partnership” with diplomatic and military components. Russia is refurbishing and replacing Cuba’s aging Soviet-era armaments. Russian naval vessels visit Cuban ports, the most prominent being the ostentatious arrival of a large Russian surveillance vessel in January 2015, the day before U.S. and Cuban diplomats began talks on normalizing diplomatic relations. Russia reportedly wants to establish a military base on the island.
At the Pentagon, the intrusion of extra-hemispheric powers in Latin America has been a serious concern since 2010 when the U.S. Southern Command’s annual Posture Statement first identified Russia, China, and Iran as challenging U.S. interests. Every year since, SouthCom has warned that Washington needs to increase its engagement with the region to counter the influence of outsiders.
Just this past April, Admiral Kurt W. Kidd presented the 2017 Posture Statement to Congress, declaring, “For Russia, China, and Iran, Latin America is not an afterthought. These global actors view the Latin American economic, political, and security arena as an opportunity to achieve their respective long-term objectives and advance interests that may be incompatible with ours.”
For some policymakers, this geostrategic challenge mandates support for engagement with Cuba, giving Havana less incentive to expand its economic relationships with Russia and China into politico-military ones. K. T. McFarland, who served briefly as Trump’s deputy national security advisor, succinctly summarized the argument for engaging Cuba before she joined the administration: “It would be foreign policy malpractice if we stood aside while our adversaries develop strong bilateral and economic — and possibly military relations.”
A few months after Donald Trump’s inauguration, 16 retired senior military officers, including a former commander of SouthCom, sent National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster an open letter urging the administration to maintain engagement with Cuba on national security grounds, citing successful cooperation on counter-terrorism, border control, drug interdiction, environmental protection, and emergency preparedness. “If we fail to engage economically and politically,” they warned, “it is certain that China, Russia, and other entities whose interests are contrary to the United States’ will rush into the vacuum.”
So why would President Trump reverse a policy that his own government judges to be largely successful, and that enjoys broad support with the general public, business community, and national security establishment—especially when that reversal would give adversaries like Russia, China, and Iran a new foothold in the hemisphere? According to the White House, the answer is human rights: “As the President has said, the current Cuba policy is a bad deal,” spokesman Michael Short claimed. “It does not do enough to support human rights in Cuba.”
The invocation of human rights is clearly an excuse rather than the real reason. The administration has shown no interest whatsoever in human rights in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, or the Philippines. On the contrary, the president has gone out of his way to praise and encourage leaders whose human rights records are far worse than Cuba’s. Moreover, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said explicitly that “America First” means human rights will take a back seat to U.S. national security and economic interests.
The real reason for changing Cuba policy is raw, naked politics. Cuban American Representative Mario Díaz-Balart (R-Fla.), one of the most vocal critics of Obama’s policy, reportedly extracted a commitment from the White House to be tough on Cuba as the price for his vote to repeal Obamacare. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the other main proponent of turning back the clock, sits on the Intelligence Committee investigating the Trump Campaign’s Russian connections. Instead of draining the swamp, the Trump team has apparently decided that to swim in it, you have to feed the alligators.
It would be exquisitely ironic if Trump adopted Marco Rubio’s failed Cuba policy in order to curry favor with him in hopes of blunting the Senate’s Russia investigation— and by so doing ceded to Moscow a dominant geostrategic position on our doorstep in Cuba.
William M. LeoGrande is co-author with Peter Kornbluh of Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana (University of North Carolina Press, 2015).
Huffington Post, 04/22/2017 02:46 pm ET
Original Article: Engagement with Cuba
Shortly after his election, Donald Trump tweeted that he would insist on a Cuba policy that was good for “the Cuban people, the Cuban American people, and the United States as a whole.” While that may seem like a tall order, in fact Cubans, Cuban Americans, and the U.S. public at-large generally agree on what U.S. policy ought to be.
In our hyper-polarized politics, engagement with Cuba is one of the few issues that enjoys bipartisan support. Poll after poll in the United States has shown that engagement is widely popular, even among Republicans. A January 2015 Pew Research poll, taken just a few weeks after President Barack Obama and President Raúl Castro announced their intention to normalize relations, found 63% of the U.S. public in favor of restoring diplomatic relations and 66% in favor of ending the U.S. economic embargo. Six months later, a second Pew poll found support for engagement had grown, with 73% of respondents in favor of diplomatic relations and 72% in favor of ending the embargo.
A majority of Republicans agreed (56% and 59% in favor respectively), as did even self-identified conservative Republicans (52% and 55% in favor). In December 2016, after Trump’s election, support for normalizing relations remained strong, with 75% of Americans in favor of diplomatic relations and 73% in favor of lifting the embargo. Republican support had risen to 62%, and conservative Republican support to 57% on both issues.
A November 2016 poll by the Economist reported similar results. Right after the presidential election, it found that a plurality of Republicans supported both having diplomatic relations and lifting the embargo (47% and 46% respectively), as did a plurality of Trump voters (40% and 47% respectively).
Even Cuban Americans, who for years were the strongest voice against any change in the U.S. policy of hostility, now favor engagement. A Bendixen & Amandi International poll taken in March 2015 found 51% of Cuban Americans in support of normalizing relations and a plurality of 47% in favor of lifting the embargo. By December 2015, a year after Obama and Castro’s announcement, a majority of Cuban Americans supported both normalization (56% in favor, 36% opposed) and lifting the embargo (53% in favor, 31% opposed). Even those living in Florida supported engagement (52% in favor, 40% opposed).
A Florida International University poll of Cuban Americans in south Florida conducted in the summer of 2016, after Obama’s March trip to Cuba, found that support for normalization had grown to 56% and support for ending the embargo to 54%.
Cuban Americans have been taking advantage of the opening to reconnect with the island. The number of them visiting family increased to 329,000 in 2016, and the value of remittances sent to the island has reached some $3 billion annually. Cuban Americans have become a critical source of both financing and inputs to Cuba’s growing private sector—so much so that more than 100 Cuban private entrepreneurs wrote a letter to President Trump asking him not to cut off these lifelines.
Private entrepreneurs are not the only Cubans who see normal relations as beneficial. An independent poll commissioned by the Washington Post, and conducted in Cuba in March 2015 found that 97% of Cuban respondents thought better relations with the United States were “good for Cuba.” (Lest you think people were afraid to respond honestly, 48% of these same respondents expressed unfavorable opinions of Raúl Castro.)
A November 2016 poll in Cuba by NORC (formerly the National Opinion Research Center) at the University of Chicago found that 55% of Cubans thought that normalization would be good for Cuba, and only 3% thought it would be bad (26% thought it wouldn’t make much difference).
As President Trump’s foreign policy team conducts its review of policy toward Cuba, they should keep in mind the president’s admonition that his policy ought to benefit the Cuban people, Cuban Americans, and the United States. If administration officials take seriously the clearly expressed views of those three constituencies, they can only conclude that pursuing a policy of engagement is far more beneficial than returning to a failed policy of hostility that serves no one’s interests and no one wants.
Tough talk is cheap, but at the end of the day, you have to deliver the goods.
By WILLIAM M. LEOGRANDE & MARGUERITE ROSE JIMÉNEZ • April 19, 2017
One of the main criticisms of President Barack Obama’s opening to Cuba is that he did not extract any concessions from Raúl Castro on human rights—a criticism amplified whenever Cuban police break up a dissident meeting or demonstration. But making quid pro quo human-rights demands would have been a non-starter, just as it has been for the past 58 years. That approach would have made it impossible for the United States and Cuba to reach agreements on prisoner exchanges, diplomatic relations, and cooperation on issues of mutual interest.
Cuba always rejects such quid pro quo conditions, fearful that any concession will be interpreted as a sign of weakness. It’s a negotiating style that President Donald Trump will understand. “The worst thing you can possibly do in a deal is seem desperate to make it,” he wrote in The Art of the Deal. “That makes the other guy smell blood, and then you’re dead. The best thing you can do is deal from strength.”
The idea that the best way to support a political opening in Cuba is for the United States to demand human-rights concessions as a condition of engagement is not just a bad negotiating strategy. It also represents a fundamental misunderstanding of how the United States can most effectively influence Cuba’s political future. Although Cuban leaders have always defiantly rejected direct U.S. demands, they change their behavior of their own accord when it serves their interests. In 1978, for example, knowing that human rights were a priority for President Jimmy Carter, Fidel Castro released 3,000 Cuban political prisoners in hopes of improving relations with Washington.
The U.S. policy of engagement follows a similar logic: rather than make demands Cuba is sure to reject, engagement aims to create conditions that provide Cuban leaders with self-interested reasons to allow greater political and economic freedom. Cuba’s interest in normalizing relations with the United States is economic—that’s what Mr. Trump calls leverage. Building bilateral economic ties creates the incentive for Cuba to maintain an open flow of people and ideas, and to be more responsive to U.S. concerns on a whole range of issues, including human rights.
Engagement also gives U.S. diplomats greater opportunities to interact with Cuban civil society, including dissidents, and to travel around the island to assess conditions outside Havana and verify Cuban compliance with 1995 migration accord that prohibits persecution of illegal migrants returned to Cuba. In addition, U.S. and Cuban officials now have a human-rights dialogue in which broad issues and specific cases can be raised directly—something that did not exist before. Backpedaling on engagement would reverse these important gains.
As the Department of State’s 2016 human-rights report documents, the U.S. and Cuban conceptions of human rights are far apart. Of particular concern to Washington is the arbitrary short-term detention of Cuban dissidents (a practice that has largely replaced the long prison sentences previously handed out). The fact that the number of detentions in the last four months is half of what it was in the first eight months of 2016 (down from an average of 913 per month to 444 according to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation) does not excuse the mistreatment of people trying to peacefully exercise rights guaranteed under Cuba’s constitution. But neither should the harassment of dissidents obscure the progress in other areas, including the expansion of public space for civil discourse, increased access to information, and the growth of the private sector.
When Raúl Castro called for more open debate about Cuba’s problems in 2012, Cuban intellectuals launched spirited discussions, at first in print journals and magazines like Espacio Laical, Vitral, and Palabra Nueva, produced by the Catholic Church, and Revista Temas, a journal of social and cultural criticism that tackles sensitive topics like inequality, racial discrimination, the role of religion, and the nature of socialist democracy. Even the official newspaper Juventud Rebelde began conducting investigative reports of official malfeasance and corruption.
As internet access and cell-phone availability have expanded, these discussions have moved online. More and more Cubans have access to new sources of digital information and connect with one another via social media. Blogs and digital journalism have appeared—dissident, officialista, and everything in between—engaging in debates and polemics in the expanding digital town square.
While internet access in Cuba continues to be limited, Freedom House, a staunch critic of human-rights abuses on the island, acknowledges that access has improved (albeit slowly) since 2013. Their annual “Freedom of the Net” report shows that Cuba has made progress on all indicators of internet freedom—internet penetration, obstacles to access, limits on content, and violation of the rights of users.
Since the summer of 2015 the Cuban government has established over 328 public wi-fi hotspots for Cuban users, and in December of 2016 Cuban officials signed an agreement with Google to improve internet speed on the island. At the same time, Cuba’s state-owned telecom company launched a pilot program to expand home internet access starting in Old Havana. It also lowered the price of internet access by 25 percent, thereby reducing one of the main obstacles to greater connectivity. The government plans to provide internet access to 50 percent of the population and mobile-telephone services to 60 percent by 2020. Increased access is helping reunite families, increasing information flows, creating new venues for public debate, and supporting the Cuban private sector.
Expanded travel also fosters the exchange of ideas. The policy of engagement has stimulated a rush of U.S. visitors to Cuba—almost 300,000 in 2016, a 74 percent jump from the year before—in addition to the 330,000 Cuban Americans who traveled to the island to visit family. Engagement has also brought Cubans to the United States—scientists, journalists, artists, and students. Some 40,000 them visit the United States annually on non-immigrant visas. These exchanges are possible because the U.S. government relaxed restrictions on travel to Cuba to encourage people-to-people engagement, and the Cuban government lifted the requirement that Cubans get its permission before traveling abroad.
Equally important, though it gets less attention, is how engagement fosters greater economic freedom. In recent years, Cubans have enjoyed new opportunities to open small private businesses and cooperatives, and they’ve rushed to take advantage of it. The number of private businesses has increased more than 300 percent in the past six years, and the private sector’s share of the labor force has expanded to 28 percent, with plans to reach as much as 50 percent in the future. Most of the seed capital fueling this entrepreneurial boom comes from remittances that Cuban Americans send to relatives on the island, and the supply chains for many of these new businesses reach back to south Florida. These linkages are a direct result of U.S. engagement. That’s why more than 100 Cuban private entrepreneurs wrote a letter to President Trump asking him not to abandon them by cutting off those lifelines.
In short, U.S. engagement with Cuba is fostering and reinforcing positive developments on human rights in myriad ways, expanding the flow of information, ideas, people, and capital—all of which nurture Cuba’s expanding public discourse and vibrant entrepreneurial sector.
After the U.S. election, President-elect Trump declared he wanted a new deal with Cuba that was good for the Cuban people, Cuban Americans, and the United States. A return to the policy of hostility fails that test because Cuba will predictably respond just as Donald Trump himself advises: when attacked, “Fight back: Always hit back against critics and adversaries,” harder than they hit you. That leads to a dead end of perpetual antagonism. On the other hand, a policy of engagement built on the bedrock of everyone’s self-interest will produce the best deal possible and set the stage for even better ones in the future. Tough talk is cheap, but at the end of the day, as The Art of the Deal notes, you have to “deliver the goods.”
William M. LeoGrande is professor of government at American University in Washington, DC. Marguerite Rose Jiménez is the senior associate for Cuba at the Washington Office on Latin America.
William M. LeoGrande , Professor of Government at American University, Washington D.C.
9 January 20017, Huffington Post.
Original here: EIGHT MYTHS
Opponents of President Obama’s opening to Cuba have taken full advantage of the fact-free character of recent political debate in the United States to spread a variety of myths aimed at discrediting Obama’s Cuba policy and convincing President Trump to reverse it. Here are eight of them:
Myth 1: The United States has gotten nothing in return for concessions made to Cuba.
The December 17, 2014 agreement resulted in the release of USAID subcontractor Alan Gross, CIA asset Rolando Sarraff Trujillo, and 53 political prisoners. That’s not nothing.
Since December 2014, the United States and Cuba have signed fifteen bilateral agreements on issues of mutual interest that benefit both countries, including environmental protection, health cooperation, counter-narcotics cooperation, and disaster prevention and response.
The restoration of diplomatic relations benefits the United States as well as Cuba. It allows U.S. diplomats to provide better counselor services to U.S. visitors and Cuban immigrants, to have broader interaction with Cuban civil society, including dissidents, and to travel all over the island to assess conditions outside Havana and to verify Cuban compliance with 1995 migration accord. If we break relations, the United States will have no diplomatic representation in Havana, whereas the Cubans will still have their UN mission in New York.
Obama’s relaxation of travel regulations restores, in part, U.S. citizens’ constitutional right to travel which the Supreme Court has said should only be abridge for compelling reasons of national security.
Obama’s relaxation of restrictions on trade has focused mainly on trade with Cuba’s private sector and trade that benefits Cuban consumers. Expanded trade benefits U.S. businesses and generates jobs, which is why hundreds of companies have been investigating opportunities there. Continued restrictions simply open the door to European and Asian competitors.
Removal of Cuba from the State Department’s list of state sponsors of international terrorism was not a concession, but rather an acknowledgement, backed by the intelligence community, that Cuba no longer fit the statutory designation to be classified as a state sponsor. Ending the designation opened the door to cooperation on countering terrorism and transnational crime through the bilateral law enforcement dialogue. It also enabled the United States and Cuba to cooperate to reach a peaceful settlement of the war in Colombia, the last remaining insurgency in Latin America.
The opening to Cuba dramatically improved U.S. relations with allies across the hemisphere, where the old policy had become an obstacle to cooperation on issues like narcotics trafficking, migration, and trade.
Myth 2: Obama rescued the Cuban regime from economic and political collapse that was imminent because of the collapse of Venezuela.
Even without Venezuelan oil, the Cuban economy is not on the verge of collapse. Pavel Vidal, a respected Cuban economist now living abroad, estimates the loss of Venezuelan oil will cause a 2.9% fall in Cuba’s GDP in 2017. By contrast, Cuban GDP fell 35% during the 1990s when Cuba lost Soviet aid and the regime did not collapse. The Venezuelan shock will hurt, but is not a matter of life and death.
Economic benefits to Cuba from the U.S. opening have been modest, limited to the increase in non-Cuban American U.S. visitors following December 17. Although the number has grown from 91,000 in 2014 to 267,000 in 2016, U.S. visitors still represent less than 7% of the four million foreigners who visited Cuban in 2016—hardly enough to make the difference between economic survival and collapse.
The principal U.S. economic sanctions on investment and trade with Cuba remain in place. U.S. investment is prohibited except in very narrow areas like telecommunications. Cuban state enterprises cannot export to the U.S. market except in the pharmaceuticals sector. U.S. businesses cannot sell to Cuban state enterprises except consumer goods and services for the general public.
Myth 3: The Cuban people do not benefit from tourism; all the money goes to the government.
Even if all the revenue from tourism did go to the government—which it does not—the expansion of the tourist industry generates jobs at the airports, hotels, restaurants, etc., and has a multiplier effect in local communities. This is plainly visible in the relative prosperity of towns near tourist locales outside Havana vs. towns off the tourist track.
Work in the state tourist sector is highly sought after by Cubans because it offers access to convertible currency tips that make it possible to have a decent standard of living. As of 2014, 755,600 Cubans worked in tourism representing 15.2% of the labor force—an increase of 16.9% since 2009. These numbers don’t take into account the increase in U.S. visitors in the past two years.
Private restaurants and B&B rentals are proliferating, with most of the high-end ones catering primarily to foreign visitors. Most of the licenses for self-employment are for restaurants and casas particulares, which together comprise the backbone of the urban private sector That is why some of Cuba’s most prominent private entrepreneurs have urged President Trump not to reverse President Obama’s opening to Cuba.
Myth 4: Obama betrayed the Cuban people and Cuban dissidents to partner with the government.
The Cuban people don’t feel betrayed by Obama’s opening to Cuba; they support it overwhelmingly. In an independent poll commissioned by the Washington Post, 97% of Cuban respondents thought better relations with the United States were “good for Cuba.” Lest you think people were afraid to respond honestly, 48% of these same respondents expressed unfavorable opinions of Raúl Castro and 50% expressed negative opinions of Fidel Castro.
Even among Cuban dissidents, there are those who support Obama’s policy because they see it as helping to create greater political space on the island and undercutting the government’s excuse for limiting political liberties.
Myth 5: The human rights situation in Cuba has gotten worse since December 17, 2014.
The human rights situation in Cuba has not improved for dissidents, but it has improved for everyone else. The Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation tracks arrests of political dissidents and reports that the number in 2014 (before Obama’s policy change) was 8899; in 2015, it was 8616; and in 2016, it was 9940. Typically, people arrested are detained for several hours and released without being charged, so many of the reported arrests are of the same people being detained repeatedly. On this measure, the Cuban government’s human rights record has not improved since U.S. policy changed. However, in previous years, dissidents were frequently charge with serious crimes and sentenced to long prison terms, a practice that has become much less common.
In its 2015/2016 annual report, State of the World’s Human Rights, Amnesty International criticized Cuba’s continuing denial of political liberties, but reported that Cuba had released all of the people Amnesty had designated “prisoners of conscience.”
Cubans today than have greater economic and personal freedom than they had several years ago— freedom to start their own businesses, buy and sell real estate, own computers and cell phones, and travel abroad.
Cubans have far greater access to information as a result of expanded Internet availability, a change that came directly out of the negotiations that produced the December 2014 change in U.S. policy. Internet expansion has also led to the proliferation of independent blogs and digital media sites critical of the government.
Myth 6: Cuba is strategically insignificant, so there’s nothing to lose by taking a tough position demanding democracy.
Cuba and the United States cooperate to combat narcotics trafficking and human smuggling and trafficking through the Caribbean, two of the most important security issues facing the United States in Latin America. That cooperation could be crippled by a return to the policy of hostility.
A return to the policy of hostility would alienate Latin America, whose active cooperation the United States needs to deal with transnational issues like drug trafficking, migration, and environmental protection.
China and Russia are both seeking to expand their influence not just in Cuba, but in the Latin American region. A return to the policy of hostility would give Cuba an incentive to cooperate more closely with China and Russia in strategic as well as economic spheres. It would also provide China and Russia with new opportunities in Latin America generally.
Myth 7: The Castros are creating a family dynasty like North Korea.
Cuba has a constitutional succession process, and neither Fidel nor Raúl Castro’s children are positioned to succeed them.
None of Fidel Castro’s children have positions of political authority.
Raúl Castro’s son Alejandro Castro serves on his personal staff and was responsible for negotiating the agreement with the United States announced on December 17, 2014. He is obviously a trusted aide. But he is only a colonel in the Ministry of the Interior. He is not a member of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, let alone the Political Bureau, where the key decisions are made. He is not among the 600+ deputies in the National Assembly, let alone its executive body, the Council of State. There is no evidence that he is in line to succeed his father a year from now, as some people speculate.
Raúl’s daughter, Mariela Castro, heads the Cuban National Center for Sex Education and has been an outspoken advocate for LGBT rights. She is a member of the National Assembly, but not of the Party Central Committee, and has confined her public work to issues of sexuality.
Colonel Luis Alberto Rodríguez, head of the economic branch of the armed forces which manages a number of major economic enterprises, is Raúl Castro’s son-in-law. He is a member of the Central Committee, but not the National Assembly, and has no public profile.
Raúl Castro’s other two children have no public roles or positions.
Myth 8: Trump won Florida because Cuban Americans supported his hard line on Cuba.
Cuban Americans do not support a hard line on Cuba. Polls show a clear majority in support of engagement. Florida International University’s 2016 poll found 69% in support of the restoration of diplomatic relations and the 63% opposed to continuing the economic embargo. Even larger majorities favored travel and trade.
Cuban Americans did not vote overwhelmingly for Trump. Hillary Clinton won South Florida by 100,000 more votes than Barack Obama did in 2012. Trump won 52-54% of the Cuban American vote, only a few percentage points better than Mitt Romney and far below the 2-1 margins Republicans used to wrack up before 2012. By contrast, in the predominately white rural counties along the I-4 corridor and in the panhandle, Trump crushed Clinton by huge margins. Trump won Florida for the same reason he won Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin—high turnout among white blue collar voters.
WILLIAM M. LEOGRANDE, Professor of Government, American University, Washington, DC 20016
World Politics Review, November 16, 2016
Original Article: Which Trump Will Cuba Have to Contend?
William M. LeoGrande
Social Research: An International Quarterly, Volume 82, Number 4, Winter 2015, pp. 939-966 (Article)
Original Article: US Economic Sanctions Against Cuba, William LeoGrande
The embargo against Cuba is the oldest and most comprehensive U.S. economic sanctions regime against any country in the world. It comprises a complex patchwork of laws and presidential determinations imposed over half a century. Presidents have tightened or relaxed it to suit their own strategy—some seeking to punish the Cuban regime by economic pressure, other seeking to improve relations by resorting to soft power rather than hard. The impact of U.S. sanctions has also varied, at times inflicting serious harm on the Cuban economy, and at times being merely as an expensive annoyance. But the embargo has never been effective at forcing Cuba’s revolutionary regime out of power or bending it to Washington’s will.
New York Times, MARCH 2, 2016
By WILLIAM M. LEOGRANDE
Original Essay: Obama’s Long Game for Cubans’ Rights
WASHINGTON — President Obama’s announcement that he will visit Cuba this month has prompted a new round of criticism from opponents of normalizing relations. Their complaint: that the administration’s opening to Cuba has yet to yield any tangible progress on human rights.
“I think the president ought to be pushing for a free Cuba” instead of going there, said one Republican presidential hopeful, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, Mr. Cruz’s rival, echoed the theme: “A year and two months after the opening of Cuba, the Cuban government remains as oppressive as ever.” The United States, such critics argue, should insist on human rights concessions in exchange for normalization.
Election year hyperbole aside, this argument sounds compelling because it appeals to core American values of democracy and human rights. But the critics have it backward: Mr. Obama has not given up on human rights in order to pursue normalization; he is pursuing normalization as a path to improving human rights. Nor is this a particularly new or exotic strategy; it’s been American policy toward China since President Richard Nixon’s trip to Beijing in 1972.
As President Obama said when he announced the opening to Cuba on Dec. 17, 2014, he chose engagement because the old policy of trying to coerce concessions from Havana had failed. If anything, it made things worse by giving the Cuban government a convenient enemy to blame for its problems and a ready excuse to suppress dissent.
Mr. Obama’s strategy is more subtle. He aims to weave a web of economic and diplomatic ties that create self-interested reasons for Cuban leaders to change. As the president explained to Yahoo News, “The more that they see the benefits of U.S. investment, the more that U.S. tourist dollars become woven into their economy, the more that telecommunications is opened up so that Cubans are getting information unfettered by censorship, the more you are laying the foundation for the bigger changes that are going to be coming over time.” In the meantime, he says, Washington will continue to “push, prod, nudge” Cuban leaders to do better on human rights in the near term.
While critics denounce engagement as a betrayal of the Cuban people, the Cuban people themselves overwhelmingly support it. Anyone who was in Cuba, as I was, on Dec. 17, 2014, can testify to the jubilation with which they greeted the announcement. People applauded, hugged one another and cried. Church bells rang across Havana.
In April 2015, an independent poll on the island found that 97 percent of the 1,200 Cubans sampled thought better relations with the United States would be good for Cuba. And lest anyone think people were afraid to speak honestly, the poll also found that Mr. Obama was more popular than either Fidel or Raúl Castro (80 percent positive and only 17 percent negative, as compared with 50 percent negative for Fidel and 48 percent negative for Raúl). Mr. Obama can expect a warm welcome in Havana.
To be sure, some prominent Cuban dissidents have criticized his approach. Jorge Luis García Pérez — also known as Antúnez — called the vision of promoting change through engagement “a farce promoted by the Castro regime in order to perpetuate itself in power.” The political activist Antonio Rodiles has argued that American sanctions failed because they were “anemically imposed.”
But the dissident community is not monolithic. Miriam Leiva, one of the founders of Ladies in White, a group of women related to jailed dissidents, applauded Mr. Obama’s policy as “a unique opportunity to assist the Cuban people.” Elizardo Sánchez, who founded the Cuban Committee for Human Rights and National Reconciliation and reports monthly about political arrests, also endorsed engagement, saying, “It’s better to resolve differences in this way, not to make war, either cold or hot.”
Engagement has already borne some fruit. Expanding commercial relations are reinforcing the economic liberalization that began in Cuba in 2011. Internet access is growing. Debate within Cuban civil society about the island’s economic and political future is more robust than ever. As Mr. Obama’s deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, who negotiated the 2014 agreements, noted, “We see everything that we’re doing as being in the net positive for the lives and human rights of the Cuban people.”
Mr. Obama’s visit is an opportunity to strengthen diplomatic and commercial ties, and to directly raise the issue of human rights both publicly and privately. He plans to meet with a broad range of civil society leaders and with a group of dissidents, as Secretary of State John Kerry did on a visit last August. In his public address, President Obama will undoubtedly speak with eloquence about the virtues of democracy and human rights, as former President Jimmy Carter did on his 2002 trip.
In short, human rights has never been off the agenda of Mr. Obama’s Cuba policy, but experience has taught him that making imperious demands and issuing ultimatums did nothing to advance the cause. Instead, he is playing a long game, knowing that his strategy of engagement and persistent persuasion will not produce dramatic change overnight. Still, the president is gambling that his formula will create the conditions that draw Cuba inexorably toward a more open body politic and economy.
All gambles are uncertain, of course. But the president is on to something: Engagement has a better chance than the policy of hostility, which has been a losing bet for more than half a century.
William M. LeoGrande is a professor of government in the School of Public Affairs at American University in Washington, D.C., and a co-author, with Peter Kornbluh, of “Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana.”
William M. LeoGrande
William M. LeoGrande, Professor at American University in Washington, D.C.
Original article here: Doing Business in Cuba
By the first anniversary of President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro’s decision to normalize relations last December 17, much had been achieved on the diplomatic front. But progress on the commercial front has been lagging, and unless both sides realize significant economic gains before Obama leaves office, the momentum toward lifting the embargo and fully normalizing relations could be lost.
The initial surge of excitement among U.S. businesses after December 17 was palpable: finally, an opportunity to enter a largely unexploited market, forbidden for half a century. In the past year, a parade of trade delegations has visited Havana. In April 2015, Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo took a group of 20 New York business leaders. In September, Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas led an agricultural trade mission hoping to expand food sales. In November, Texas Governor Greg Abbott followed suit. Legislators and local officials led other trade delegations from Alabama, California, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, and Tampa, Florida.
In March 2015, the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba–a broad-based group formed after December 17 to promote agricultural trade–took 95 people to Cuba, including two former secretaries of agriculture. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce launched the U.S.-Cuba Business Council representing over two dozen major corporations, including Caterpillar, Kraft Heinz, Sprint, Boeing, Home Depot, and American Airlines. In October, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker went to Cuba, followed in November by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.
Cuba needs the trade and investment that U.S. businesses can offer, and Cuban leaders appear eager to expand commercial ties. Yet despite this enthusiasm, few deals have actually been signed. “Up until now it has been going down. looking around, and saying, ‘this is an interesting place, but how do I make money here’?” explained deputy assistant secretary of state Alex Lee at a forum on doing business with Cuba organized by The Economist.
The case of The Home Depot, Inc. illustrates both the opportunities and the obstacles. Some 90 percent of Cubans own their own homes, most of which are in desperate need of repair. Dilapidated structures dot the island, from houses in need of a new coat of paint to apartment buildings literally falling down.
One way Havana has tried to ease the housing problem is by letting people do it themselves. Tens of thousands of families have taken advantage of new government grants and loans to finance home renovations. In 2015, private owners and contractors built more new housing units than the state construction company. That boom translates into a huge demand for tools and building materials–and a huge business opportunity for Home Depot.
The giant home improvement retailer is clearly interested. It is a founding member of the new U.S.-Cuba Business Council, and regional export manager, Heriberto Correa, attended the council’s inaugural meeting held in Cuba during Havana’s International Trade Fair. The Obama administration’s new regulations specifically license the sale of construction materials for private buildings, so Home Depot could legally sell to private Cuban construction cooperatives, contractors, and private home-owners.
It could even rent or build a warehouse in Cuba’s new Special Development Zone at the port of Mariel, where imports are duty-free and new businesses enjoy a ten-year tax holiday. In fact, any U.S. business legally selling goods to Cuba could take advantage of the favorable terms available for establishing facilities in the Mariel zone. And if the Cuban government would allow it, the company could open its own retail outlets and import a fleet of delivery trucks to ship goods from the warehouse to the stores.
Yet when asked if Home Depot planned to enter the Cuban market, the company’s CEO Craig Menear replied cautiously. “Cuba is an area we’re watching carefully,” he said. “We know at some in time when the environment is right, there’s opportunity for The Home Depot to be there. But we believe that before we go in there, it needs to benefit the people of Cuba.”
Caterpillar is another company well-situated to enter the Cuban market. Obama has licensed sales to Cuba’s private farms and cooperative, which are in serious need of better equipment. Moreover, Caterpillar is no late-comer to the island: it first called for an end to the U.S. embargo in 1998, and in 2004 donated generators to Cuban hospitals. “Caterpillar wants to do business in Cuba,” said Bill Lane, senior director of global government and corporate affairs. “Everything Caterpillar makes in the United States is needed in Cuba.” The company hopes to open a dealership on the island, Lane told The Economist‘s Cuba Summit in December, but it has yet to sign any contracts.
So why has progress been so slow?
To be sure, there are difficulties in doing business with Havana. Cuba’s infrastructure– its roads, energy grid, and digital network– lags behind neighboring countries. Foreign companies must still hire labor through the state’s hiring agency. Cuba’s bureaucracy is notoriously slow to make decisions and opaque, making dispute resolution problematic. But, as David Pathe, CEO of Canada’s Sherritt Corp., one of the island’s largest foreign investors, put it, “There is nothing unique about Cuba”– these are the kinds of problems companies face in any new foreign market.
The larger issue making U.S. companies reluctant to enter the Cuban market is uncertainty on the U.S. side. Although the Obama administration wants to see U.S. businesses engage with Cuba to demonstrate the benefits of the president’s new policy, the regulatory changes made thus far still leave too many obstacles in the way. If companies are not absolutely certain that their business plan is legal, they will not take the risk.
Financial regulations are a particular problem. Finance is the life blood of commerce; if funds cannot be easily transferred between Cuba and the United States, business will remain negligible. Although U.S. regulations allow for fund transfers involving licensed activities, companies are terrified of inadvertently violating the rules and being hit with enormous fines.
For example, it took months for the State Department to find a bank willing to handle accounts for Cuba’s diplomatic mission in Washington because the costs of regulatory compliance far outweighed the profit. Stonegate Bank in Florida finally agreed to do it because, as CEO David Seleski put it, they regarded it as a “moral obligation” to help re-establish diplomatic relations. Earlier this month, the Treasury Department had to reassure U.S. banks that they could process fund transfers to Cuba involving authorized travel without themselves having to certify that the travel was, indeed, legal.
The ultimate solution to these problems is to lift the U.S. embargo in its entirety, but that is not likely to happen in an election year when Republicans control Congress. In the meantime, President Obama should issue another round of regulatory changes that clarify what can and cannot be done.
In the financial area, Obama could license U.S. businesses to provide credit to Cuban customers to stimulate nonagricultural trade (agricultural credits are prohibited by law). He could authorize Cuban banks to establish correspondence accounts with U.S. banks to facilitate payments to Cuban customers. Finally, he could issue a general license to U.S. banks to process dollar-denominated transactions conducted by foreign banks (so-called “U-turn” transactions) that must be processed through a U.S. financial institution.
President Obama’s opening to Cuba was historic, but to make it irreversible, the policy needs to produce results–especially in the field of commerce. The interest is clearly there on both sides, but the barriers are still formidable. The exceptions to the embargo that the president has authorized thus far are impressive and lay the groundwork, but they have not yet gone far enough to reassure U.S. businesses that they can safely enter the Cuban market without running afoul of U.S. law.
As Cuba’s economic reforms open the country to foreign trade and investment, U.S. companies risk being left behind as competitors from Canada, China, and Europe jump in ahead of them. Companies that enter the market early and build relationships with their Cuban counterparts stand to benefit the most in the long run. As Caterpillar’s Bill Lane, an aficionado of the seafood in Havana’s private restaurants, put it, “The first movers in Cuba get the lobster.”