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CUBA AND THE ART OF THE DEAL

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

Original article: https://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/cuba-and-the-art-of-the-deal/

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 LaicalVitral, 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.

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U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS UP IN THE AIR AS TRUMP THREATENS TO REINTRODUCE SANCTIONS

Barrie McKenna

The Globe and Mail, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016 9:06PM EST

Fidel Castro is gone, but the economic thaw between the United States and Cuba remains tenuous amid threats by Donald Trump to roll back Barack Obama’s efforts to normalize relations with the Communist regime.

The president-elect is warning he may reimpose some sanctions and reverse last year’s historic reopening of the U.S. embassy in Havana after 54 years unless Cuba agrees to major political and economic reforms.

“We’re not going to have a unilateral deal coming from Cuba back to the United States without some changes in their government – [on] repression, open markets, freedom of religion, political prisoners. These things need to change in order to have open and free relationships,” Reince Priebus, Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, told Fox News on Sunday. “And that’s what president-elect Trump believes and that’s where he is going to head.”

Read more: From Brazil to Venezuela, Fidel Castro’s influence felt across Latin America

John Ibbitson: Trudeau’s words on Fidel Castro a reminder Canada willing to go own way on Cuba

Read more: Respect and affection tie the Trudeau family, Quebec and Fidel Castro

Many Republicans in Congress have long opposed the détente with Cuba without a full dismantling of the regime. Florida Senator Marco Rubio vowed on Sunday to try to reverse much of Mr. Obama’s legacy on Cuba. “We want to take a look at all the changes that were made,” he told NBC.

Since 2014, Mr. Obama has used his executive powers to re-establish diplomatic relations, resume direct flights, liberalize banking links and drop restrictions on imports of Cuban cigars and rum. He had planned to go much further, eventually lifting the broader trade and investment sanctions, a step that would require Congress to rewrite laws.

Mr. Trump would likely face a backlash from the business community. And if the Cuban economy falters, the United States could also face a renewed exodus of boat people from the island.

U.S. companies have embraced the easing of sanctions, rushing in after the United States resumed diplomatic ties and loosened some economic sanctions two years ago. Airlines now offer direct flights from U.S. cities, Airbnb is doing business there, telecom companies have roaming coverage, Marriott International Inc. has a joint venture to manage some Cuban hotels and a Miami cruise-ship line now sails to Havana. Many other U.S. companies are actively exploring potential deals.

The resumption of relations has also been welcomed by most Cubans, who can see their relatives more easily and could improve economic prospects.

Cuba’s economy is relatively small at less than one-tenth the size of Canada’s, and the country has struggled to gain traction since the former Soviet Union stopped propping it up in the 1990s. Its rich agricultural land, beaches and proximity to the United States make it a draw for investors and major trading partners, which include Canada, Venezuela, China and Spain.

Mark Entwistle, who was Canada’s ambassador to Cuba from 1993 to ’97 and helps businesses set up there, said the regime will likely “shrug off” any crackdown by Mr. Trump – the 12th U.S. president since the revolution. “I predict business as usual,” he said.

Likewise, Canadians doing business in Cuba say Mr. Castro’s death won’t dramatically alter the slow pace of economic liberalization.

“I don’t think his passing will have a huge impact on economic reform or Cuba opening up for foreign investment,” Gregory Biniowsky, Canadian law firm Gowling WLG’s lead lawyer in Cuba, said from Havana. Mr. Biniowsky said while Gowling has attracted an array of U.S. clients hoping to establish operations on the communist island, its clients are in for the long haul. “They have to be ready for a very slow process forward,” he said.

Mr. Trump has sent mixed signals on what he wants from Cuba. After initially suggesting he supported easing of sanctions, Mr. Trump later attacked normalization of relations as too weak. And last week, he named Cuba hard-liner and sanctions advocate Mauricio Claver-Carone to lead his transition team at the Treasury department.

As a businessman, Mr. Trump actively explored opportunities for golf courses and other ventures in the late 1990s and again more recently – in apparent defiance of the U.S. economic trade and investment embargo.

A Trump administration will slow down the rapprochement with Cuba, and may reverse some of what Mr. Obama has done, said Pedro Freyre, head of international practice at law firm Akerman LLP in Miami. “There is an internal struggle going on. People are tugging from all directions,” he said.

A resumption of tough sanctions could easily backfire on the United States. Undoing the past two years would undermine U.S. commercial interests throughout the Americas and won’t likely succeed in prodding the Cuban government any further toward economic or political reforms, argued Allan Culham, a former Canadian diplomat and ambassador to the Organization of American States from 2010-2014. “If Trump chooses to reimpose the isolationist policies of the past, the recent goodwill generated in the Americas would be lost,” Mr. Culham said.

More effective in pushing Cuban President Raul Castro to change, Mr. Culham said, will be the end of subsidized oil it gets from Venezuela – something that is probably inevitable given Venezuela’s faltering economy.

A hard line by Mr. Trump could also trigger a new wave of boat people, particularly if he tightens the economic screws on Cuba and clamps down on the legal flow of immigrants to the United States, according to Julia Sagebien, an associate business professor at Dalhousie University and an expert on Cuban economic reforms. “Keeping Cuba afloat is in the national interest of the United States,” Ms. Sagebien pointed out.

 

 

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DONALD TRUMP HAS A CHOICE TO MAKE ON CUBA

CNBC.com

Ted Henken,  November 14, 2016

zzazaOne example of freer markets in Cuba isthe Paladar La Cocina de Lilliam (Lilliam’s Kitchen), a home-based restaurant garden where President Jimmy Carter ate on his first visit to Cuba in 2002. Photo: Ted Henken

While Americans have been reeling over the shocking outcome of our presidential election, Cubans are experiencing perhaps even greater vertigo as a result of the surprise victory of Donald Trump.

As the saying goes, “When the U.S. sneezes, the rest of the world gets a cold.” Or perhaps the old Mexican adage is more appropriate to the situation Cubans find themselves in: “Poor Mexico! So far from God, but so close to the United States!”

Cubans went from a largely acrimonious relationship with the U.S. prior to December 2014, to one of unprecedented “hope and change” during the past 22 months under bilateral efforts to achieve diplomatic normalization between the erstwhile adversaries, to one of great trepidation and uncertainty over the past week given the president-elect’s campaign promise to “cancel Obama’s one-sided Cuban deal.” President Raúl Castro perfectly captured the moment’s ambivalence for Cuba by quickly sending the president-elect a brief note of congratulations while simultaneously ordering a five-day military mobilization.

In my more than half-dozen trips to the island over the past year, I have noted a palpable, ebullient expectation among Cubans for a better, more prosperous future under Obama’s “new rules” of engagement. This was especially pronounced among Cuba’s emergent entrepreneurial class, which includes old school cabbies in their even older school American cars, hip app designers in Cuba’s surprising tech start-up scene, and some of the many restaurateurs behind the island’s surging circle of “paladares” (private, home-based restaurants) which now number more than 1,800.

This hard-won hope was also born of Cuba’s own “new rules” introduced in late 2010 under President Raúl Castro aimed at expanding the island’s long-suppressed private sector. However, I also found that most entrepreneurs were under no illusions that the Cuban government would be fully lifting its own counter-productive “auto-bloqueo” or internal embargo against grass-roots entrepreneurial innovation and inventiveness any time soon.

This sense of rising hope inside Cuba reached its climax in Obama’s brilliant deployment of soft power during his historic state visit to the island in March 2016. Many Cubans identified with this youthful, optimistic, and eloquent African-American family man endowed with both a sense of history and of humor much more than with their own waxworks of old white ideologues.

However, Cuba’s old guard realized that Obama’s charm offensive had begun to fatally undermine their own authority and undercut their long-effective use of the U.S. boogeyman as a scapegoat for their own economic failures and as a justification for their continued political authoritarianism. In response, the Cuban leadership has spent the past eight months constantly reminding Cuban citizens of the continued U.S. existential threat to Cuban sovereignty under the Revolution and simultaneously dashing their hopes for a better, more open and prosperous future by stepping up detentions of peaceful political opponents and independent journalists and slowing economic reforms to a manageable trickle.

The clearest example of the Cuban government’s efforts to lower expectations has come on the economic front. First, April’s Seventh Party Congress included no new resolutions about deepening or expanding much needed market-oriented reforms apart from a vague reference to studying the possibility of granting status as legal businesses to a portion of the half-a-million strong micro-enterprise sector. Nothing has come of this idea in the intervening seven months.

Second, price controls have been reimposed in the private agriculture and transportation sectors, reducing incentives for greater production. Third, this past summer saw the government scale back economic growth estimates for 2016 to under 1 percent and impose severe energy saving and cost-cutting measures across the state sector due to a liquidity crisis and the Venezuelan debacle.

Finally, the issuing of new licenses for Havana’s surging private, home-based restaurant sector were suspended for six weeks in the fall in order to root out legal violations such as providing bar services and live entertainment without permission, obtaining supplies from black-market sources, staying open past the state-imposed 3 a.m. closing time, and tax evasion. Some have even been accused of doubling as sites of prostitution and drug trafficking and shut down.
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However, the government has so far not delivered on its promise to provide affordable access to wholesale markets for these restaurateurs nor has it allowed them to legally import supplies from abroad or expand beyond the arbitrary limit of 50 place settings. Moreover, the tax system for the private sector provokes “creative bookkeeping” by imposing a rigid 40-percent deduction limit for business often burdened by much higher supply costs due to Cuba’s environment of chronic scarcity. It also imposes a labor tax on any more than five employees disincentivizing legal hiring.

To add insult to this injury, the moribund network of their state-run competitor restaurants do enjoy access to wholesale markets and suffer no seating or size restrictions or employment taxes. Especially frustrating for Cuban entrepreneurs is the fact that this emphasis on law and order comes in the context of shrinking output in the state enterprise sector, a looming emigration crisis with record numbers of new Cuban arrivals in the U.S., and in the midst of a tourism boom that the state hospitality sector has proven unable to absorb.

As Cubans like to say: “¡No es fácil!” (It ain’t easy!)

President-elect Donald Trump could follow the recommendation of some Congressional Republicans by adding his own isolationist wind to the already full sails of the Cuban government’s rigid control that attempts to keep Cuban entrepreneurs in their frustrated and impoverished places. Or he could send Cuba’s business pioneers a message of support and solidarity as they attempt to build a more prosperous future by continuing America’s historic opening to Cuba that aims to empower the island’s mergent capitalists through engagement, investment, and trade.

For someone who campaigned as a anti-politician who would bring a hard-nosed business sense to Washington, Cuba presents Trump with a golden opportunity to place economic pragmatism and the tangible benefits it would bring to citizens of both countries over the out-dated and counterproductive Cold War ideology that undergirds the embargo.

Commentary by Ted A. Henken, an associate professor of Sociology and Latin American Studies at Baruch College, City University of New York and co-author with Arch Ritter of the book “Entrepreneurial Cuba: The Changing Policy Landscape.” He is a past president of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy (2012-2014). Read his blog and follow him on Twitter @ElYuma.

 

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BACKLASH IN CUBA: OBAMA’S HISTORIC VISIT WAS A SMASH HIT IN HAVANA. FIDEL CASTRO WASN’T GOING TO TAKE THAT LYING DOWN.

By Ann Louise Bardach

Politico Magazine, June 10 2016

Original Article: BACKLASH IN CUBA

HAVANA—These days Fidel Castro doesn’t often leave his comfortable home in Siboney, a leafy suburb west of this city. But on April 19, the 89-year-old Cuban leader emerged, aides at his side, wearing a royal blue Adidas sports jacket over a blue plaid shirt, and was driven two miles to the immense Palacio de Convenciones. Inside he was greeted by a thousand members of the Communist Party, the ruling body that has been Cuba’s sole political party for half a century. They were wrapping up their four-day conference, generally held twice a decade.

Fidel is ailing and officially retired, having incrementally handed the reins of power to his brother Raul over the past decade. But he remains a history buff, a news junkie, and a man keenly concerned with his legacy. And he was not pleased with what he had been hearing.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzPresident Barack Obama had spent three high-profile days in Havana at the invitation of Raul. And the visit, to Fidel’s dismay, had been an immense public success, generating as much excitement and buzz on the island as the arrival of The Rolling Stones for a free concert a few days later. While state media treated Obama with cautious distance, there was no mistaking the thrill of ordinary Cubans as the president toured local sights, watched a baseball game, and drove through Havana with his family and entourage. They dubbed the president Santo Obama. “He’s more popular than the Pope!” one exultant habanera told me.

If the first state visit by a sitting president in 90 years struck Fidel as an unseemly and undeserved victory lap, there was troubling news as well from the Southern Hemisphere as well. Two of the island’s staunchest allies were fighting for their political lives. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was nearing impeachment; Argentina’s former president, Cristina Kirchner, was about to be indicted. Indeed, the entire left-wing coalition of Latin America, methodically cultivated by Fidel for decades, was unraveling. The death of Cuba’s Midas-like patron, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, had birthed a feeble successor who is unlikely to survive the next year; Ecuador’s leftist president was bowing out, while Castro champion Evo Morales of Bolivia had lost a referendum for another presidential term. Peru and Uruguay had lost their center-left leaders. If not a political tidal wave, a domino effect of sorts was shifting the Southern Hemisphere from left to right.

Fidel Castro, Cuba’s Maximum Leader, understood that something had to be done.

Cuba’s Party Congress sets the economic and political agenda of the island, and many, on and off the island, had anticipated that this year’s conclave would further crack the door open to more reform. As the U.S. and Cuba have navigated their rapprochement, their progress has continuously been buffeted by the alternating agendas of the two brothers: Fidel, the intransigent revolutionary, and Raul, the cautious reformer. Obama hoped that a state visit before the Congress would give a boost to Raul’s reform-minded approach, however modest.

Cubans, too, had their eye on the meeting, and many of them expected that the Party would at least start to retire its octo- and nonagenarian ruling elite, the historicos who came up with Fidel and Raul and have been governing the island since. Raul himself had fueled those hopes by urging an age limit of 70 for senior Party officials.

It did not happen that way. Instead the Party’s elders, with the blessing of Fidel, spent the first three days of the Congress issuing a series of retrograde edicts and re-establishing their hegemony. Rejecting the retirements of the old guard, they went on to quash reforms intended to rescue the country’s moribund economy.

For a finale, Fidel addressed the Congress for the first time since 1997. The date of his appearance, April 19, was not coincidental. It fell on the 55th anniversary of the doomed U.S.-sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion, when Fidel’s army vanquished the CIA’s ill-conceived coup, captured thousands of U.S.-backed rebels, and utterly humiliated the world’s greatest superpower.

The days when Fidel routinely gave furious six-hour orations in olive-drab military garb are long gone. Now with hair white as the sands of Varadero Beach, he did not attempt to stand on his feet. Instead, he was helped to a chair at the center of the dais. “This may be one of the last times I speak in this room,” Fidel somberly told the throng.

Although Fidel spoke with a gravelly rasp, those looking to hear conciliatory words were quickly disabused of that hope. “The ideas of Cuban Communists will remain as proof on this planet,” he insisted, and their achievements “will endure.” And to that end, the firebrand Fidel exhorted those present —charged with setting Cuba’s agenda through 2030—“to fight without truce.”

“Soon, I’ll be 90 years old. Soon I’ll be like all the others,” Castro intoned as if giving his own eulogy. “The time will come for all of us.”

Then the old lion, albeit with a patchy beard and a thinning mane, roared again, one last time: “We must tell our brothers in Latin America—and the world,” he declaimed, “that the Cuban people will be victorious!”

In the closed, hermetic world of Cuban politics, Fidel’s speech marked a pivot in what has arguably been the country’s most remarkable three months since the Missile Crisis of 1962. The ceaseless whiplash includes a ballyhooed U.S. presidential visit, a Party Congress slamming the door on reform, a Fidel valedictory finale, and a series of fresh dramas in the long-running saga of the Brothers Castro.

On June 3, Raul turned 85, to be followed by Fidel’s 90th birthday on August 13, a pair of personal milestones that have the brothers keen to cement their legacies. “The Castros are robust and long-lived,” boasted Raul on his big day; he also chatted with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who called offering birthday wishes.

As the brinkmanship between the two Castros plays out, it’s likely to shape the course of U.S.-Cuban relations for the next generation. In that respect, it was possible to see the Congress as an episode in the long-running drama between two brothers to whom appearances matter deeply. Raul, the internationalist, got to produce the Obama Show. Fidel, the nationalist, won the right to orchestrate the Party Congress and to deliver his response to President Obama’s proposal of accelerated reform and cooperation with the U.S.

And Fidel’s message was unmistakable: Over my dead body.

This was hardly the step forward the White House had hoped for when it orchestrated its historic, if hastily planned, state visit in March. For Obama, Cuba was his “Nixon in China” moment, a legacy move to close the last chapter of the Cold War in our hemisphere.

It could not have contrasted more clearly with the previous U.S. presidential visit. In 1928, the Republican Calvin Coolidge sailed into Havana Harbor on a battleship. Obama, on the other hand, delivered his first words to the Cuban people before he even debarked from Air Force One. They came, cool, breezy and direct, in the form of a tweet. “¿Que bolá Cuba?” he tweeted, using the island slang for “what’s happening?” “Just touched down here, looking forward to meeting and hearing directly from the Cuban people.”

Cuban officialdom adopted a noticeably stiffer tone. Despite Obama being the single most important head of state to visit since 1959, Raul Castro—who has personally greeted more than one pope and innumerable national leaders upon their arrival—did not appear at the airport to welcome him. Instead, when the First Family touched down amid an insistent gray rain, they were met by Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, who greeted the president on the tarmac with a cordial handshake.

The government-run media gave a similarly cool treatment. On the eve of Obama’s visit, Granma, the organ of the Communist Party, devoted its six thin pages to the arrival two days earlier of President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, Cuba’s principal patron since the collapse of the Soviet Union. In Havana, Maduro was robustly feted, even bestowed a new honorific title, with Raul declaiming that “we will never abandon our Bolivarian revolutionary friends.”

Obama’s trip had been something of a rush job, as state visits go, and behind the scenes, the U.S. had been on the back foot from early in the process. The date of the trip hadn’t been finalized until January. One consideration in the timing was to ensure the visit came prior to the Party Congress, with the White House hoping to be a moderating influence when it convened. But the driving force, according to sources at both State and the Vice President’s office, was that the president and first lady very much wanted a family trip, and the March 20-23 dates coincided with spring break at Sidwell Friends School for daughters Malia, who’s been studying Spanish, and Sasha.

The trip planning also augmented tensions between the White House and the State Department that dated back to the historic Cuban deal announced in December 2014. The landmark agreement had effectively ended the Cold War between the countries and began the process of normalization: Cuba agreed to release numerous political prisoners and return imprisoned USAID contractor Alan Gross along with a significant U.S. intelligence asset, Rolando Sarraff, in exchange for the U.S. returning the remaining three of the “Cuban Five” convicted spies. Although negotiations like this would normally be led by the State Department, Obama had deputized his trusted aide and speechwriter, Ben Rhodes, to make a deal with Cuba happen. The 18 months of secret negotiations largely bypassed the State Department; only one State veteran, Cuba policy specialist Ricardo Zuniga, who partnered with Rhodes, was fully trusted by Obama’s innermost circle, to maintain the secrecy demanded by the administration. Likewise, Cuba’s Foreign Ministry, known as MINREX, was exiled from negotiations. The key player on the Cuban side was none other than Colonel Alejandro Castro Espín, Raul’s 50-year-old son, a steely hard-liner widely believed to be his father’s heir apparent.

The rushed trip also gave the Cubans leverage to shape the agenda, or try to: No meetings with human rights activists, they insisted, and they would decide the guest list, including which U.S. reporters made the cut—a loaded issue with Cuba, which has a long history of barring American reporters who report seriously on the island.

Matters were not looking good, and the press around the reconciliation was getting worse, until Secretary of State John Kerry canceled a trip to Havana in protest weeks before the state visit. Kerry’s bluff worked, and from then on, the U.S. got what it wanted. The Cubans reluctantly issued visas for the reporters; the president had meetings with entrepreneurs, dissidents, human rights activists and even held a news conference, all to be recorded by live television coverage.

***

It is nearly impossible to overstate the impact of President Obama’s arrival in Cuba. The shift in outlook was tectonic. In the course of the visit, I heard more than one habanero refer to Obama as “El Negro de Oro”—the Golden Black Man, a flattering pun on “black gold.” It didn’t hurt that to many Cubans, Obama just looks Cuban; his mixed-race background gives him something in common with the half the island’s population that identifies as mulato, black or mestizo today.

The Obama family made the requisite tourist stops, including the city’s grand Cathedral, built in 1777 from blocks of coral; they took a walking tour led by Havana’s remarkable official historian, Eusebio Leal. Despite failing health and being in considerable pain, Leal gamely guided the Obamas through historic Havana in and around the Plaza de Armas.

The buzz of la bola en la calle—Cuban street gossip—was that the visit had prompted previously unimaginable upgrades to parts of the capital. Every building that the Obama entourage passed had been repainted, and every road his limousine traversed had been repaved. Some streets were still being paved and re-striped just hours before his arrival. “Come visit us,” cried out residents of neglected, pot-holed barrios in what became a weeklong running joke, “y llevar el asfalto!” — “and bring the asphalt!”

The culmination of the trip was Obama’s exquisitely crafted speech, delivered in downtown Havana’s Gran Teatro with Raul Castro and the senior Politburo present, along with an array of invitation-only favored Cubans. “I have come here to bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas,” Obama began, thus ending the half century David-and-Goliath face-off that once almost brought the world to its end. The speech, written by Rhodes, hit every note. Millions of Cubans watched, many saying later they were overwhelmed by emotion, as an American president spoke directly to them, not at them.

“I had tears in my eyes,” said Marta Vitorte, who watched the speech in her Vedado apartment. A former official in the Foreign Ministry, Vitorte for the past decade has run one of Havana’s most popular and upscale casa particulars, or private home rentals. “This is the beginning of the future of Cuba,” she gushed.

But for the island’s 11-million-plus inhabitants, an even more jaw-dropping moment had come earlier in the visit. On Day Two, Obama had cajoled Raul into participating in a live news conference, taking unscreened questions from American reporters.

Considering Cuba’s antagonism towards a free press, Raul’s participation was stunning and, no doubt, a spontaneous decision he quickly regretted. The Cuban leader was plainly displeased by a question on human rights by NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, but he was infuriated by CNN’s Jim Acosta who asked, “Why are there Cuban political prisoners in your country?” Raul visibly bristled, having never endured an unfriendly press query. “Give me the list right now of political prisoners to let go of them,” Raul huffed. “Tell me the name or the names … And if there are political prisoners then before night falls, they will be free. There!” (Lists of prisoner names were promptly circulated on social media—none of whom are known to have been released since.)

“Oh my god,” said a former Cuban diplomat. “It made Raul look weak. No one here has ever seen anything like that.” | AP Photo

As the conference streamed live, Cubans watched a flustered Raul lose his cool, then abruptly end the news conference and march over to Obama to raise his arm in a victory salute. A bemused Obama was having none of it, and let his arm dangle. “Oh my god,” said a former Cuban diplomat. “It made Raul look weak. No one here has ever seen anything like that.”

***

Obama’s show-stopping appearances could only have mortified Fidel Castro, a public-relations genius, who was keenly monitoring the visit from his home. “Never abandon propaganda—even for a minute,” he had counseled compatriots in a 1954 letter. “It is the very soul of our struggle.”

Today, for hard-liners of Fidel’s generation, la lucha, the struggle, means just two things: keeping the principles of the Revolution alive in Cuba; and keeping themselves alive and in power.

At the very minimum, Obama had rewritten Fidel’s carefully scripted drama, in which the U.S. plays the rapacious foe. Suddenly, America seemed far less menacing. As the Cuban novelist Wendy Guerra wrote, in the wake of Obama’s visit: “Since you left, we are little more alone, because now we have to find another enemy.”

“The enemy always drove the story,” says Marilu Menendez, a Cuban exile and branding expert who now lives in New York. “It justified all of [Fidel’s] excesses.”

Even before Obama left the island, Fidel let it be known that that he took a dim view of the visit. Just days after Air Force One departed, an article appeared in the state-run Tribuna de la Habana that accused Obama of lording over a racist country and “inciting rebellion” in Cuba by meeting with pro-democracy activists. Its headline, roughly translated, “Black Man, Are You Dumb?” was a firebomb. “Obama came, saw, but unfortunately, with the pretend gesture of lending a hand, tried to conquer,” wrote Elias Argudín, a government loyalist, “choos[ing] to criticize and subtly suggest … incitements to rebellion and disorder, without caring that he was on foreign ground. Without a doubt, Obama overplayed his hand. Minimally, I can say is … ‘black man, are you dumb?’”

Following a wave of blowback, Argudín offered a quasi-apology for “causing offense,” noting that he himself was black. In a typically mysterious Cuban chess maneuver, the story was briefly deleted, then reposted on the paper’s website, while running in the print edition.

The column was only the first public salvo from hard-liners signaling their distress over the American president’s visit. A few days later, Fidel himself published a searing 1,500-word public letter, a full-throated denunciation of the visit and, by implication, Raul, who had hosted it. Entitled “Brother Obama,” it ran on Page 1 of Granma. Obama’s grand speech (which had begun with a famous line from the beatified patriot José Martí) was derided by Fidel as “honey-coated”—merely by listening to it, he warned, Cubans “ran the risk of having a heart attack.” And then Fidel dropped the hammer: “We don’t need El Imperio—The Empire—to give us any presents!”

Though Fidel and Raul’s lives have been anchored in decades of sibling love, collaboration and feuding, Fidel must have known, or quickly learned, that his public harpooning had gone just a bit too far. And so on April 8, a week before the highly anticipated Congress, Fidel made another unusual outing from his home. Wearing a white blousy sports jacket with a black wool scarf tied around his neck, Castro, aided by a cane, spoke briefly at the school named for his late sister-in-law, Vilma Espín.

Espín had been Raul’s wife and compañera in the Revolution from the early 1950s, and had served as Cuba’s de facto first lady. But when she died in 2007, Fidel did not attend her funeral. His own illness served as a reasonable excuse, but as one former Cuban official told me in Havana, none of Fidel’s family—neither his children nor his wife, Dalia—attended either. The snub deeply disappointed the family-centric Raul, who also serves as the Castro clan’s patriarch. Since then, the official said, Raul typically has a weekly family dinner, not with Fidel’s brood, but with his in-laws, the Espíns.

So it was impossible not to interpret Fidel’s tribute as a peace offering to Raul, in advance of the Congress, where it was imperative that the brothers present a unified front. “I’m sure that on a day like today, Vilma would be happy,” Fidel intoned to the schoolchildren in his weakened voice.

Vicki Huddleston, former chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, said the brothers knew they needed to project unity. “They do not want it to appear that there are divisions,” she said. Veteran Cuba negotiator and U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Roberta Jacobson, suggested that the brothers’ brinkmanship was sometimes simply ritual role-playing—a kind of “good cop-bad cop within the Castro family.”

***

The dynamic between the Brothers Castro is of great import to Cubans, of course, and also determines what issues they allow on the table with American negotiators, and at what pace they are willing to address them.

On many issues the brothers are genuinely in lockstep, such as ending the U.S. embargo. While Cuba relentlessly hammers on about “el bloqueo”—the blockade, the hyperbolic term it uses for the embargo—its current prohibitions have been whittled down to a fraction of what they once were. Through executive actions, the Obama administration has lifted an array of trade and investment restrictions. Completely normalized trade and banking will have to wait for Congress to rescind the embargo officially, but whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump wins, the Cubans think they will have the requisite votes in Congress to get it done. With GOP Senators Jeff Flake and Rand Paul leading the charge, they expect a vote to come at some point in 2017. But until then, the embargo continues to be useful propaganda about the bully “Empire” to the north.

The embargo can be seen as Cuba’s short game. The longer game is Guantánamo—the territory, not the prison. Even more than the embargo, this 45 square miles of Cuba’s easternmost province has long served as Exhibit A of the crushing foot of El Imperio. As Raul reminded Obama on Day Two of his visit: “It will also be necessary to return the territory illegally occupied by Guantánamo Naval Base.”

While the prisoners held in Gitmo are the issue attracting global attention, for Cuba, they’re simply helpful propaganda in its quest to get its land back. America does have a lease, a 1903 deal stipulating that Guantánamo and its deep-water harbors be used as a “coaling station.” (The rent is $4,085 annually, and the Castros proudly boast that they never cashed a rent check—although they did cash one in 1959.) Cuba now argues that America’s current use of the land is in violation of its lease. “If this was a straight-up landlord-tenant law, the landlord would kick your butt right out,” says Jose Pertierra, a Cuban-born lawyer who shuttles between Havana and Washington.

A former Cuban diplomat told me he expects the Gitmo crusade to get louder and more insistent going forward. “We don’t really care about the prison,” he said, “but [the government] is going to politicize it as a human-rights violation [and] a breach of the lease.” In Havana, I asked Ben Rhodes if the Cubans had put Gitmo on the table as a chip. “There are never discussions in which Guantánamo does not come up,” he answered.

As talks between the countries haltingly advance, it is on domestic economic and political issues where the internal Cuban factions part company. In the 1990s, with the collapse of their Soviet patron, Raul began to see Cuba’s future very differently than his older brother. Raul had studied and visited China and Vietnam, and he liked what he saw: economic powerhouses fueled by competitive capitalism but all under the steely control of the Communist Party.

Fidel, on the other hand, mistrusted any version of capitalism, however dressed up as socialist entrepreneurism. He had railed against perestroika and glasnost and repeatedly warned Mikhail Gorbachev it would be the beginning of the end. (And indeed, it was the end of the Soviets’ billion-dollar patronage of Cuba.)

Unlike his brother, Raul has acknowledged cracks in the pillars of Cuba’s 65-year-old political system; insiders consider them serious. “There is no more discipline within the traditional ranks,” a retired government official told me. “No one wants to belong to the CDR [Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, the neighborhood snitch organs]. No one feels they have to belong to the Communist Party.” He added: “Five years ago, if you didn’t belong to the CDR or the Party, you weren’t going to get a promotion or could get in trouble. But there is no more fear about it.”

Likewise, such bastions of the Revolution as the Federation of Women, the Workers Union, and the Young Communists League are losing members, I was told. All these organs that have buttressed the Revolution are in decline, losing momentum as membership oozes away. “Everybody’s looking down the road about how to be an entrepreneur or a capitalist,” said a man who has turned his home into a casa particular.

For the past two years, Raul has been beseeching allies and trading partners—Russia and much of Europe—to forgive loans and debts incurred over decades, an estimated $51.5 billion, according to Emilio Morales of the Havana Consulting Group. (That figure that doesn’t even include debts owed to Venezuela and Brazil.)

And there is a relatively new reality on the island: corruption. “It’s a daily event,” he said. “If you have money, there’s nothing you cannot get,” then lowering his voice, “even a visa to leave Cuba.“

While Fidel may choose to turn a blind eye to the domestic woes of his country, he is keenly attuned to the fact that there are larger, inexorable forces at work. The Southern Hemisphere is plainly drifting away from Cuba. In 2006, as he lay gravely ill, Fidel could gaze out at Latin America—populated by Lula in Brazil, Evo in Bolivia, the Kirschners in Argentina and his adoring student and patron, Hugo Chavez—and rest serene that fidelismo and Cuba’s future were secure. If Fidel had died that year, as he has said he very nearly did, he would have been one satisfied soul.

But 10 years later, he has lived to confront a radically different picture. Cuba has lost all its patrons, except for the dramatically reduced oil shipments from Venezuela. Both Russia and China have set limits on their future largesse. Meanwhile, the U.S. rapprochement is making it inescapably clear that Cuba’s economic salvation lies, once again, as it did in the first half of the 20th century, in American investment and tourism—meaning ever-deepening ties to Fidel’s lifelong bête noire, the U.S.

So despite the rhetorical saber-rattling, and the alternating star turns of Raul and Fidel, Cuba is going through the only door that, for now, is open: Making friends with Uncle Sam. With no fanfare or pronouncements, U.S. and Cuban negotiators met recently and laid out an agenda for meetings well into the next year covering property claims, trade, environmental concerns and cooperation on narcotics.

In late May, the Cuban government announced that small and medium-size businesses would be legalized. The Party Congress may have repudiated change, but change is happening nonetheless.

Most crucially, there is the daily bonanza of ever-multiplying dollars from U.S. tourism. “More than 94,000 Americans have visited Cuba from Jan-Apr 2016,” proudly tweeted Josefina Vidal, a Cuban official who heads the U.S. division of the Foreign Ministry in May, “a 93% increase with respect to same period 2015.”

Leonardo Padura, Cuba’s most famous living writer, recently tried to explain his country’s contradictions. “If you say [Cuba] is a communist hell or a socialist paradise, you’re missing all the nuances,” he told EFE, the Spanish news agency. “Cuba is a society that apparently has not changed, but it really has.”

That assessment could apply just as well to Raul. Both a “reformer” and a “historico” by definition and personal loyalty—having fought alongside Fidel since 1952 and, since 1959, having run the Cuban Army, the country’s most powerful political organ—Raul has evolved into a pragmatist of necessity over the past 25 years. At the same time, Fidel has doubled down his resolve to resist reform. And like Cuba, the relationship between the deeply bonded brothers apparently has not changed, but it really has.

At his birthday last week, when Raul was toasted by family and friends after hosting a Caribbean summit, there was much to celebrate—replete with historical ironies. Fidel may have rescued Cuba from the clutches of the U.S., but it is Raul who is rescuing Cuba from Fidel.

Ann Louise Bardach is the author of Cuba Confidential (2002) and Without Fidel: A Death Foretold in Miami, Havana and Washington (2009), as well as the editor of The Prison Letters of Fidel Castro and Cuba: A Travelers Literary Companion. She interviewed Fidel Castro in 1993 and 1994 and met Raúl Castro in 1994.

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THE CUBA CAMPAIGN TO DIMINISH OBAMA’S VISIT

May 18, 2016 7:14 PM

Miami Herald: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/article78499207.html#storylink=cpy

By Franco Ordoñez

Since President Barack Obama left Cuba, the Castro government has carried out a campaign to diminish the importance of the historic visit, according to Cuban human rights activists and U.S. officials.

Obama’s trip to Havana in March – part of ongoing efforts to normalize relations with Cuba –made him the first sitting U.S. president to visit the island in nearly 90 years. Activist Antonio Rodiles described how the Cuban government had launched a media push criticizing the U.S. government and praising communist leadership.

“They were trying to encapsulate – to close or create a bubble – around the visit. And they started to talk about the communist congress party. A lot of articles attacked the president’s position,” Rodiles said Wednesday during a panel discussion in Washington.

The dissident leader said, however, that Obama’s message still had gotten through to the Cuban people. Rodiles joined former Ambassador Roger Noriega, the former assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs at the State Department, for a discussion on human rights in Cuba at the American Enterprise Institute research center in Washington.

Rodiles described the situation in Cuba as a fight over the public space in that country. And he doesn’t think Obama demanded enough on human rights, allowing the Cuban government to give the “illusion” of change while it works to transition power to a younger generation of Castros.

“This is something crucial for me and many people who are working on this, to show to the whole international community, to show to the Cuban people, to show to everybody that if the Castro family is there, nothing is going to change,” Rodiles said.

Since embarking on cozier relations with Cuban leader Raúl Castro last year, the Obama administration has been eliminating stiff regulations on travel and commerce. It has expanded opportunities for Americans to visit the island, but the administration has been criticized for not doing enough to fight human rights.

The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, a group that tracks human rights and political repression in Cuba, reported more than 8,600 politically motivated detentions in 2015, a 315 percent increase from five years ago. In the first two months of this year, there had already been more than 2,500 arrests.

Rodiles said more people were willing to speak out about their frustrations as they saw an opening for change, but he said it had also given the Cuban government a sense of legitimacy.

It’s important to keep the focus on Cuba while Obama remains in office, Noriega said. Obama placed a bet that this opening will bring about change. Noriega, who has raised concerns about the opening of relations, said momentum was beginning to slow as multinationals reported that there was little investment opportunity.

He pushed Obama to focus more on human rights:

“You can’t separate economic rights and political freedoms, because the pillar of both of them is the rule of law. If you don’t have the rule of law, you’re not going to be able to create the economy they need.”

Rodiles praised parts of the president’s visit. He thanked Obama for spending so much time with opposition leaders. The president’s speech, he said, was the first time in 60 years for many Cubans to hear someone talk about human freedoms.

But he said the United States needed to decide who really were its friends:

“The people are pushing and facing the Cuban regime. We’re the friends of the democracy world. And we’re taking the risk for that. We need your support.”

z rodilesAntonio Rodiles

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BETWEEN REFORMS AND REPRESSION, CAN CUBA’S NEW FORCES OF CHANGE SUCCEED?

Ted A. Henken and Armando Chaguaceda

WORLD POLITICS REVIEW, | Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Original Article Here: Henken & Chaguaceda, Between Reforms and Repression Can Cubas New Forces of Change Succeed – WPR –

z1 z2

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CUBA CALLS OBAMA VISIT ‘AN ATTACK’ AS COMMUNISTS DEFEND IDEOLOGY

By Frank Jack Daniel and Nelson Acosta

Original Article: Communists Defend Ideology

Reuters, Mon Apr 18, 2016 3:59pm EDT

HAVANA U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Communist-led Cuba was an “attack” on its history and culture aimed at misleading a new business class, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said on Monday, the latest sign of blow-back after the ground-breaking trip last month.

“In this visit, there was a deep attack on our ideas, our history, our culture and our symbols,” Rodriguez said at the Communist Party congress.

Cuban leaders have hardened language against the United States since Obama became the first U.S. president to visit the island in 88 years, with Fidel Castro accusing him of sweet-talking the people.

President Raul Castro referred to the United States as “the enemy” in the opening speech of the party congress over the weekend and told Cubans to be alert to U.S. attempts to weaken the revolution.

The congress, held every five years, must make decisions about the future of Cuba’s elderly leadership and the progress of market-style economic reforms adopted in 2011 that allowed more small businesses.

The measures have been only partially implemented, amid resistance from hard-liners who distrust market economics and fear detente with the United States at a time when Cubans are increasingly vocal about their needs.

“The harsh rhetorical push-back by the ideological wing of the Communist Party suggests their heightened sense of vulnerability,” said Richard Feinberg, a former national security adviser to U.S. President Bill Clinton.

Rodriguez accused Obama of coming to “dazzle” the private sector, highlighting concern U.S. promises to empower Cuban entrepreneurs were aimed at building opposition to the single-party system in office since 1959.

“Socialism and the Cuban revolution are the guarantees that there can be a non-state sector that is not that of big North American companies,” he told state television.

Cuba has struck deals with U.S. companies such as hotel chain Starwood (HOT.N) and is in talks with others including Google-parent Alphabet (GOOGL.O). On May 1, Carnival (CCL.L) is to become the first U.S. cruise company to sail to Cuba, but the trip is in doubt over a ban on Cuban-Americans sailing.

Cuba believes “the interest in the country of 11.3 million and its tourism potential will overshadow any political decisions,” said John Kavulich, head of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, a New York-based non-profit organization.

The United States and Cuba re-established diplomatic relations after Castro and Obama announced in December 2014 the two countries were seeking to normalize ties.

Despite the rhetoric, U.S. musicians Smokey Robinson, Usher and Dave Matthews were in Havana on Monday as part of a delegations representing Obama’s arts and humanities committee. A group of U.S. architects also visited on Monday.

PANAMA-AMERICAS-SUMMIT-CUBA-US-OBAMA-CASTRO

 

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WHAT DID OBAMA ACCOMPLISH IN HAVANA?

By Luis Martínez-Fernández

March 4, 2016, INTER-AMERICAN DIALOGUE, Latin American Advisor

Complete Article here: Latin American Advisor, March 4 2016

Last month, Barack Obama became the first sitting U.S. president in 88 years to visit Cuba. Obama had a one-on-one meeting with President Raúl Castro, and the two held a historic joint news conference from Havana’s Gran Teatro on the importance of democracy and human rights, and later met with dissidents in the U.S. Embassy.

 Was Obama’s trip to Cuba a success?

Did Cuban officials display a willingness to improve relations and advance reforms?

What did Obama and Castro accomplish during the visit?

Will businesses that want to work with Cuba find it easier moving ahead?

Will Obama’s visit win over more congressional support for ending the embargo?

“Barack Obama’s meeting with Raúl Castro last month was yet another step to normalize relations between their respective nations. In spite of their contrasting statements and behavior, both presidents

advanced a common primary agenda, namely the improvement of economic relations to allow the free fl ow of capital, goods and services. While generally deemed a concession to, and a victory for, the most progressive wing of the Democratic Party, the unfolding rapprochement is actually more substantially

benefi cial to large capital, commercial and economic interests, closely aligned with the Republican Party. Back in the 1990s, the push to ease the U.S. embargo produced an unholy alliance of voices as disparate as those of Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters and Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey;  agribusiness tycoon Dwayne Andreas and Dr. Benjamin Spock; and most surprisingly the American Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO. Strange bedfellows, to say the least.

In the current context, even formerly rabid anti-Castro voices have joined the end-the-embargo conga line. What passes for the left continues to display a generally festive attitude toward the looming normalization of relations, notwithstanding the fact the success of U.S. capital will hinge on the continuation of a militarized repressive regime that forbids workers from striking and pays them only around 8 percent of what foreign corporations disburse for the permission to hire them. Indeed, very few progressive voices have criticized the continuing violations of human rights and the potential erosion of Cuban sovereignty because of the proposed return to neocolonial enclave capitalism. Surprisingly, many otherwise progressive voices are using the trickle-down argument to sustain that the lifting of the U.S. embargo will benefit all Cubans. Strange argument, given the fact that the much-trumpeted trickle-down effect never materialized in the United States. If anything, the Cuban people are likely to endure a trickle-up effect similar to what has transpired in China, Russia, and Vietnam, with ruling elites amassing prodigious fortunes at the expense of the working population.”

Latin American Advisor. March 4 2016:

zLuis Martínez-Fernández, professor of history at the University of Central Florida

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UN ENCUENTRO CON BARACK OBAMA

Miriam Celaya, La Habana | Marzo 23, 2016, 14yMedio

Original article: Encuentro

Miriam Celaya’s account of Obama’s meeting with independent analysts, journalists, and activists.

Seguramente, este martes 22 de marzo de 2016 resultó una jornada memorable para los 13 representantes de una parte de la sociedad civil independiente que tuvimos la oportunidad de reunirnos con el presidente Barack Obama en la embajada de EE UU en La Habana.

Durante los días anteriores, se nos había invitado a participar en una reunión “de alto nivel”, en el marco de la visita del presidente estadounidense a la Isla, y ya en la propia embajada se confirmó lo que todos esperábamos: Obama se encontraría con nosotros a puertas cerradas, lejos de los micrófonos y cámaras de la prensa, que solo estuvo presente para una sesión de fotografías, instantes antes de que comenzara el intercambio off the record entre el presidente y los invitados cubanos.

Estuvieron presentes también otros altos funcionarios estadounidenses, que no intervinieron en el diálogo entre Obama y los activistas y periodistas independientes cubanos.

A lo largo de una hora y 40 minutos se produjo el encuentro, donde todos los invitados tuvimos la ocasión de expresar criterios diversos sobre cuestiones relacionadas con la nueva política de diálogo y acercamiento entre el Gobierno de EE UU y Cuba, así como de sugerir de qué manera consideran algunos activistas que esta nueva relación podría favorecer de una forma más eficaz el avance en materia de empoderamiento de los cubanos y consolidación de la sociedad civil.

Pese a las diferentes posturas y proyectos allí representados por los cubanos, la gran mayoría se manifestó abiertamente a favor de la política de acercamiento y diálogo iniciada por el presidente Obama

Pese a las diferentes posturas y proyectos allí representados por los cubanos, la gran mayoría se manifestó abiertamente a favor de la política de acercamiento y diálogo iniciada por el presidente Obama desde diciembre de 2014. Sin embargo –y desmintiendo lo que pregona el discurso gubernamental en sus campañas difamatorias contra la disidencia interna–, ninguno de los activistas solicitó algún tipo de financiamiento ni apoyo material para su proyecto.

Obama, por su parte, hizo gala de buen talante, inteligencia, sensibilidad y capacidad para escuchar a todos, a pesar de que varios activistas se extendieron en sus presentaciones, lo que limitó la posibilidad de intercambiar más con el mandatario estadounidense, como deseaban muchos de nosotros. No obstante, las intervenciones de éste, en su estilo franco y utilizando su habitual lenguaje directo y alejado de grandilocuencias innecesarias, constituyeron una verdadera lección de política que no dejó lugar a dudas sobre su seguridad en estar transitando el camino correcto.

Esta reunión demuestra la voluntad del Gobierno estadounidense de mantener un canal de comunicación abierto con todos los interlocutores de la sociedad cubana, con independencia de sus ideas políticas, sus ideologías, credos y programas

Obviamente, siempre queda mucho por decir en este tipo de encuentros, pero de cualquier manera esta reunión demuestra la voluntad del Gobierno estadounidense de mantener –como ha sido tradición y práctica política hasta hoy– un canal de comunicación abierto con todos los interlocutores de la sociedad cubana, con independencia de sus ideas políticas, sus ideologías, credos y programas. Esta postura no contradice la importancia de continuar el actual diálogo oficial con las autoridades cubanas y deberían imitarla los gobiernos y funcionarios de todas las sociedades democráticas del mundo, siempre dispuestos a ignorar a la disidencia y a negar el papel que le corresponde en el proceso de cambios que ha comenzado a operarse en Cuba.

Obama honró a los activistas de la sociedad civil independiente al dedicarnos una parte generosa de su tiempo en su breve paso por la Isla y mostró un respeto absoluto por los cubanos, por nuestra soberanía y por los proyectos de los luchadores pro-democracia. Una idea suya resume lo esencial de su política: el futuro de Cuba y la construcción de la sociedad democrática corresponden solamente a los cubanos de la Isla y de la diáspora.

En lo personal, este encuentro con Obama me dejó grabada la impresión del hombre sencillo que es, de su inteligencia extraordinaria y de su conocimiento de la historia de Cuba y de las relaciones entre nuestros dos países. Un hombre grande, cuyo nombre quedará definitivamente relacionado con el proceso de transición cubana, tal como lo conocerán las futuras generaciones de hijos de esta Isla.

z1Miriam Celaya and Barack Obama

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PRESIDENT OBAMA’S SPEECH TO THE CUBAN PEOPLE IN HAVANA CUBA MARCH 22, 2016

President Obama’s speech to the Cuban People, on YouTube. March 22, 2016

An impressive speech of  historical significance for Cuba, the United States and Latin America; one of the best of Obama’s many excellent speeches.

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