Tag Archives: US-Cuba Normalization

ENGAGEMENT WITH CUBA IS A BIPARTISAN ISSUE

William M. LeoGrande, Professor of Government at American University

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).

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.

US Congress

Cuban Congress

 

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

CHINA PILES INTO CUBA AS VENEZUELA FADES AND TRUMP LOOMS

Reuters, Tue Feb 14, 2017 | 8:17 PM EST

Original Article: China piles into Cuba

CUBA ISN’T WAITING AROUND FOR U.S. WHEN IT’S GOT CHINA

By Marc Frank | HAVANA

From buses and trucks to a $500 million golf resort, China is deepening its business footprint in Cuba, helping the fellow Communist-run state survive a crisis in oil-benefactor Venezuela and insulate against a possible rollback of U.S. detente.

Cuban imports from China reached a record $1.9 billion in 2015, nearly 60 percent above the annual average of the previous decade, and were at $1.8 billion in 2016 as the flow of oil and cash slowed from Venezuela due to economic and political turmoil in the South American country.

China’s growing presence gives its companies a head start over U.S. competitors in Cuba’s opening market. It could leave the island less exposed to the chance U.S. President Donald Trump will clamp down on travel to Cuba and tighten trade restrictions loosened by his predecessor Barack Obama.  A deterioration in U.S.-China relations under Trump could also lead Beijing to dig in deeper in Cuba, some analysts say.

“If and when the Trump administration increases pressure on China … China may decide to double down on its expanding footprint in the United States’ neighborhood,” said Ted Piccone, a Latin America analyst at the Brookings Institution think tank.

China, the world’s second largest economy, sells goods to Cuba on soft credit terms. It is Cuba’s largest creditor and debt is regularly restructured, though amounts and terms are considered state secrets.  While Cuba does not publish investment data, the state press has been abuzz with news of Chinese projects lately, covering infrastructure, telecoms, tourism and electronics.

Yutong (600066.SS) buses, Sinotruk (3808.HK) trucks, YTO (600233.SS) tractors, Geely (0175.HK) cars, Haier (1169.HK) domestic appliances and other products are prominent in Cuba, where the main U.S. products on display are cars dating back to the 1950s, thanks to the ongoing economic embargo.

Cubans flock every day to hundreds of Huawei supplied Wi-Fi hot spots and the firm is now helping to wire the first homes.

“Business is really booming, more than we could have ever imagined,” said the manager of a shipping company which brings in Chinese machinery and transport equipment and who asked not to be identified.

The foreign ministry in Beijing described China and Cuba as “good comrades, brothers, and partners,” and said the relations “were not influenced by any third party,” when asked whether U.S. policy was encouraging China to deepen its presence.  “We are happy to see that recently countries around the world are all expanding cooperation with Cuba. I think this shows that all countries have consistent expectations about Cuba’s vast potential for development,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters.

The U.S. State Department and White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

INCREASED INVESTMENT

Over the past two decades, China has become a major player in Latin America and the Caribbean, second only to the United States in investment flows and diplomatic clout.  But the Asian giant was reluctant to invest in Cuba because of the poor business climate and fear of losing opportunities in the United States, according to Asian diplomats in Havana.

That began to change after Obama moved to normalize relations two years ago and Cuba sweetened investment rules, sparking new interest among U.S. businesses and competitors around the world.  China was well placed because the local government preferred doing business with long-term friends offering ample credit to work with state-run firms.

In return, Cuba has shared contacts and knowledge about the region, and taught hundreds of Chinese translators Spanish.

A report on the government’s official Cubadebate media web site last month said the two countries agreed to strengthen cooperation in renewable energy and industry, with 18 Chinese firms taking part in a three-day meeting in Havana.

Plans for several projects were signed, including a joint venture with Haier to establish a renewable energy research and development facility, the report said.  A few weeks earlier, Cuba opened its first computer assembly plant with Haier with an annual capacity of 120,000 laptops and tablets, state media reported.

Other projects include pharmaceuticals, vehicle production, a container terminal in eastern Santiago de Cuba, backed by a $120 million Chinese development loan, and Beijing Enterprises Holdings Ltd. (0392.HK) venture for a $460 million golf resort just east of Havana.  Shanghai Electric (601727.SS) is providing funds and equipment for a series of bioelectricity plants attached to sugar mills.

Barrio Chino, La Habana

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

DEBATING U.S.-CUBAN RELATIONS: HOW SHOULD WE NOW PLAY BALL? 2nd Edition

Edited by Jorge I. DomínguezRafael M. HernándezLorena G. Barberia

© 2017 – Routledge

To Order: Routledge

ABOUT THE BOOK

The boundary between Cuba and the United States has become more and more porous, as have those with Latin America and the Caribbean. Never in the past half-century has Cuba’s leadership or its social and political fabric been so exposed to the influence of the outside world. In this book, an all-star cast of experts critically address the recent past and present in U.S.-Cuban relations in their full complexity and subtlety to develop a perspective on the evolution of the conflict and an inventory of forms of cooperation. This much needed approach provides a way to answer the questions “what has been . . .?” and “what is . . .?” while also thinking seriously about “what if . . .?”

To illustrate the most significant areas of U.S.-Cuban relations in the contemporary era, this newly updated edition of Debating U.S.-Cuban Relations adds six more themes to the study of this complex relation: political, security, economic, and cultural/academic issues; the triangular relations of the United States, Cuba, and Europe; and the politics of Cuban migration/emigration. Each topic is represented by perspectives from both Cuban and non-Cuban scholars, leading to a resource rich in insight and a model of transnational dialogue.

The future course of U.S.-Cuban relations will likely be more complex than in the past, not only because of the matrix of factors involved but also because of the number of actors. Such a multiplicity of domestic, regional, and global factors is unique; it includes the rise to power of new administrations in both countries since 2008. Raúl Castro became president of Cuba in February 2008 and Barack Obama was inaugurated president of the United States in January 2009. And it will feature the inauguration of a new president of the United States in January 2017 and a new president of Cuba, likely in February 2018.

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Chapter 1: Introduction: A Baseball Game. Jorge I. Domínguez and Rafael M. Hernández

Chapter 2: Intimate Enemies: Paradoxes in the Conflict between the United States and

Cuba. Rafael M. Hernández

Chapter 3: Reshaping the Relations between the United States and Cuba. Jorge I. Domínguez

Chapter 4: Cuba’s National Security vis-à-vis the United States: Conflict or Cooperation? Carlos Alzugaray Treto

Chapter 5: Cuban-United States Cooperation in the Defence and Security Fields: Where Are We? Where Might We Be Able to Go? Hal Klepak

Chapter 6: Terrorism and the Anti-Hijacking Accord in Cuba’s Relations with the United States. Peter Kornbluh

Chapter 7: The European Union and U.S.-Cuban Relations. Eduardo Perera Gómez

Chapter 8: European Union Policy in the Cuba-U.S.-Spain Triangle. Susanne Gratius

Chapter 9: U.S.-Cuba Relations: The Potential Economic Implications of Normalization. Archibald R. M. Ritter

Chapter 10: United States-Cuba Economic Relations: The Pending Normalization. Jorge Mario Sánchez Egozcue

Chapter 11: Cuba, Its Immigration and U.S.-Cuba Relations. Lorena G. Barberia

Chapter 12: U.S.-Cuba: Emigration and Bilateral Relations. Antonio Aja Díaz

Chapter 13: The Subject(s) of Academic and Cultural Exchange: Paradigms, Powers, and Possibilities. Sheryl Lutjens

Chapter 14: Academic Diplomacy: Cultural Exchange between Cuba and the United States. Milagros Martínez Reinosa

 

Posted in Blog, Featured | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

CHARCOAL — FIRST LEGAL CARGO FROM CUBA IN MORE THAN 50 YEARS — ARRIVES AT PORT EVERGLADES

Original Article:  http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article128433209.html#storylink=cpy

BY MIMI WHITEFIELD

The first Cuban exports since the embargo went into effect over a half century ago arrived at Port Everglades Tuesday as port officials prepared to receive a business delegation from Cuba later in the week.

The delegation also plans to visit the Port of Palm Beach, which is located in Riviera Beach, and Port Tampa Bay durina a swing through the United States that has already included a stop at the Port of Houston. Also on the itinerary are visits to the Port of New Orleans and the Port of Virginia in Norfolk and meetings with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington D.C., members of Congress and the American Association of Port Authorities, which is holding a conference in Tampa.

Two containers of artisanal charcoal made from Cuban Marabú, an invasive woody species from Africa that is considered a nuisance on the island, arrived at the Fort Lauderdale port aboard a Crowley Maritime ship called the K-Storm. The charcoal exports, which are produced by private worker-owned cooperatives, are legal under a rule change by the former Obama administration that allows the importation of some products produced by independent Cuban entrepreneurs.

In Cuba, Marabú has taken over wide swaths of idle agricultural land and strangled other plants. But it makes a hardwood charcoal that is winning acceptance as a fuel for pizza and bread ovens in Europe and the Middle East. It will be sold under the Fogo Charcoal brand by various U.S. retailers.

The charcoal deal was put together by Coabana Trading, a subsidiary of Reneo Consulting, a firm chaired by Scott Gilbert, the Washington D.C. lawyer who represented Alan Gross, the USAID subcontractor who was jailed by the Cuban government for five years.

“This is truly a momentous occasion,” Gilbert said when the deal for 40 tons of charcoal was announced earlier this month. “Now U.S. consumers will be able to purchase this product, as have Europeans and others for many years. More importantly, this marks the beginning of a new era of trade between the United States and Cuba.”

The agreement was struck with CubaExport, a Cuban government entity that develops trade opportunities, but Scott said that the Marabú plant is cut and the charcoal produced by private Cuban cooperatives.

The embargo still remains in effect, but executive orders issued by Obama over the past two years eased some Cuba-related travel and trade restrictions.

Although the transaction was negotiated under the Obama opening, the historic Cuban exports are arriving during the Trump administration. Trump has said he might roll back some of Obama’s executive orders on Cuba unless Cuba offers a better deal to the United States and Secretary of State-nominee Rex Tillerson has said that all Obama’s executive orders on Cuba will be reviewed.

Whether Cuban charcoal becomes a staple of U.S. trade with the island remains to be seen.

“It’s experimental, but the importer hopes to have regular shipments,” said Jay Brickman, vice president of government services and Cuba service at Crowley. Brickman called the shipment “the first truly commercial shipment from a Cuban cooperative to a private U.S. business since the U.S.-Cuba trade embargo was imposed more than 50 years ago.”

The shipping line makes thrice-monthly trips from Port Everglades to Cuba’s container port in Mariel and also calls in Honduras and Guatemala before returning to the Fort Lauderdale port. Crowley mostly carries frozen chicken parts and foodstuffs to Cuba but it also handles small amounts of other legal exports to the island and was involved in shipping some of the equipment that the Rolling Stones used in their historic concert in Cuba in March 2016.

Crowley has been calling on Cuba for the past 15 years. “We average about 40 to 45 loads of cargo [for Cuba] per voyage,” said Brickman.

Another port user, Pearl Seas Cruises’ Pearl Mist, is currently on its maiden voyage to Cuba from Port Everglades.

On Thursday, a Cuban delegation will be at Port Everglades to sign a memorandum of understanding between the port and the National Port Administration of Cuba that could pave the way for joint marketing studies, joint training and other cooperation, said Jim Pyburn, the port’s director of business development.

“We would like to see U.S. exports to Cuba increase; imports are good, too,” said Pyburn.

He hopes for a future when large U.S. grocery chains and shopping clubs ship food to Cuba from the port. “Cubans are in dire need of paint and basic building materials and we’d like that to be part of the [export] mix, too,” he said.

At Port Everglades, the seven-member Cuban delegation will begin its day with a meeting with Port Director Steven Cernak, tour the port and then lunch with executives from Crowley and the cruise lines. In the afternoon, the delegation will present a “Doing Business with Cuba” seminar for about 150 invited businesses executives. It will include presentations on inland and sea transportation in Cuba, the Mariel Container Terminal and the Mariel Special Economic Development Zone, which is prospecting for foreign investment projects leading to sustainable economic development.

The Cuban delegation includes Ana Teresa Igarza, general director of the Mariel zone; José Leonardo Sosa Barrios, deputy director of the Mariel Container Terminal; Eradis González de la Peña, president of Almacenes Universales; René Rolando Fernández, director of inland waterway and sea transport for the Ministry of Transportation; Tania Vazquez, an official with the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment; Joel Lago from the Cuban Embassy in Washington’s economic and trade office and Ernesto Viñas, an adviser to the deputy minister of transportation.

Pyburn said Port Everglades had been working on an MOU with Cuba since early 2016 but originally it was only going to cover Mariel, which is about 28 miles west of Havana. Now, with the involvement of the National Port Administration, it will cover all Cuban ports.

He said the MOU was completed for signing in May. But there was little action until Brickman visited Washington in December. During the trip, Brickman said he received a call from the Cuban Embassy “saying the Cubans would really like to sign a memorandum of understanding with Port Everglades.” He helped facilitate the visit and the signing.

The Port of Palm Beach also is expected to sign a MOU with the Cuban port administration on Friday.

Unloading Charcoal at Port Everglades, Florida

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

CAN DONALD TRUMP AND RAÚL CASTRO MAKE A GOOD DEAL

By JORGE I. DOMÍNGUEZ, New York Times JAN., 10, 2017

Original Article: Trump-Castro Deal?

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Cuba operates as if it had two parties, President Raúl Castro joked in his main report to the Seventh Congress of the Cuban Communist Party last April: “Fidel leads one and I, the other.”

This was more than just a joke: Fidel Castro, Raúl Castro’s brother and the former president, had criticized President Obama’s visit to Havana a month earlier in official publications. It was the first public split between the brothers on an issue of such importance. President Obama’s Cuba policy change, announced in December 2014, drove a wedge through the Cuban leadership, making manifest the differences between government hard-liners and soft-liners. For the balance of 2016, the hard-liners dominated official communications, republishing tales of American perfidy over the previous two centuries. During the same period, however, Raúl Castro’s senior team negotiated and signed many practical agreements to alter American-Cuban relations.

Fidel Castro is now dead; the ossified government he nurtured is vanishing as well. Since taking power in 2008, Raúl Castro has made many domestic and foreign policy changes that happen to be in line with key foreign policy priorities of the American president-elect, Donald J. Trump, and at the same time open up Cuba’s economy, and society. A deal-making Trump presidency will find a deal-honoring Raúl Castro presidency. The agreements that the Trump administration will inherit, reached under Mr. Trump’s three predecessors, serve both the interests of the United States and Cuba as well as the presumed Trump presidential agenda. Reversing or scaling back such agreements, as Mr. Trump has threatened to do, will make it more difficult for him to fulfill that agenda.

Last year, more than half a million visitors from the United States had set foot in Cuba and American commercial airlines now fly regularly between the United States and Cuban cities. Earlier in the Obama presidency, the United States government liberalized rules on sending money transfers to Cuba, and much of it informally financed the re-emergence of a Cuban private business sector. The number of small- business licenses now exceeds a half-million in a country of 11.2 million people. Money transfers from the United States fund a Cuban civil society independent of the state for the first time in a half-century.

Recent agreements between the two countries make it easier for them to cooperate on hurricane tracking and biodiversity protection, share information on pollution and undertake joint maritime geological exploration. Other agreements protect migratory birds and fish. Cuba and the United States now also work together on cancer research, in which Cuban scientists have registered significant advances, and on the prevention and cure of infectious diseases, including combating the Zika epidemic, in which Cuba is a worldwide example of effectiveness.

Cuba and the United States have long cooperated on security matters, coordinating on security around the United States Navy base at Guantánamo Bay. Since the mid-1990s, the two countries have worked together to prevent undocumented migration. Cuba patrols its ports to prevent anyone from stealing boats and rafts; at its airports, it checks for valid visas among those about to board. United States Coast Guard cutters intercept undocumented migrants in the Straits of Florida and return them to Cuba.

The two countries have informally combined efforts on drug traffic interdiction since the 1990s, and this was formalized last July; Cuba provides an effective barrier against drug traffic into the United States.

And Cuba long ago adopted the Trump-preferred migration policy: seek to stop the departure and accept the return of undocumented migrants.

Suppose you are the United States president-elect. What is not to like?

Still, while economic agreements emphasize the two countries’ equality, some of the deals couldn’t be more lopsided. Only American airlines fly between the two countries; Cubana de Aviación does not. And since late 2002, Cuba has purchased about $5.3 billion worth of United States agricultural products, paying cash, while exporting almost no goods to the United States.

What’s wrong with agreements already in place that benefit both countries? The United States wants to warn Florida and the Carolinas about hurricane trajectories, its fowl and fish to winter in Cuba’s Caribbean waters and come back, and to benefit from Cuba’s scientific expertise. Cuba and the United States are interested in exploring for oil in the Gulf of Mexico and have agreed to track seismic threats beneath the gulf’s waters to prevent oil spills.

On delicate issues, President George W. Bush and Fidel Castro, and later President Obama and Raúl Castro, developed ways of agreeing substantively while publicly denying any negotiation had taken place. That diplomatic ruse worked. In 2002, the Cubans induced the Bush administration to begin exporting American agricultural products; each side made it known that these were unilateral, independent and sovereign decisions. In December 2012, the United States and Cuba did not trade spies; rather, each made unilateral, independent and sovereign decisions to release some of the other’s prisoners.

Slowly, United States-Cuba relations got better. That serves Cubans who may travel more easily, receive friends, rent space through Airbnb, and get working capital through money transfers to establish private businesses and fund an independent civil society. That serves Americans who benefit from freer travel and cooperation on issues such as migration, crime and drug trafficking. What next? Rely on unilateral, independent and sovereign Cuban decisions to foster change.

Here’s how Raúl Castro’s joke ended at the April party congress: “Fidel will certainly say, ‘I want to lead the Communist Party,’ and I will say, ‘O.K., I’ll lead the other one, the name does not matter.’ ” If you are a Cuban hard-liner, that joke is terrifying. President Raúl Castro is prepared to open the gateway to something different, less dogmatic, whose name neither he nor we know. But we know what it is not. It is not called “Communist.”

Posted in Blog | Tagged , | Leave a comment

CUBAN AMERICAN LOST HIS BUSINESS BID AFTER OBTAINING PERMANENT RESIDENCE IN CUBA

Saul Berenthal

BY NORA GÁMEZ TORRES, Miami Herald, 9 January 2012

Original Article: CUBAN AMERICAN LOST HIS BUSINESS BID

Saul Berenthal was to become the first Cuban American investor on the island with a plan to assemble tractors to help small farmers. But his full embrace of his Cuban roots backfired.

The tale of Cleber LLC, a U.S. company that wants to assemble farm tractors in the Mariel Special Development Zone near Havana, is one example of the questions the island’s government will have to face if it wants to attract investments from the Cuban diaspora.

President Barack Obama described the proposal in March by Cleber, owned by Cuban American businessman Saul Berenthal and his partner, Horace Clemmons, as the first business with 100 percent U.S. capital authorized to invest in Cuba in more than half a century.

The goal was to assemble — and in the future produce from the ground up — a line of tractors for small-scale farmers under the Oggun brand, using Cuban labor for the benefit of the Cuban people, Berenthal told the Granma newspaper, official voice of the Cuban Communist Party, in April.

The paper published a report on Berenthal and Clemmons, and praised their idea of using the Open Source Manufacturing Model, which allows easier sourcing of materials. The Juventud Rebelde newspaper earlier published a report on the U.S. investors all but predicting the Cuban government would approve their project.

But Berenthal was told during the Havana International Fair, a business exhibition held Oct. 31-Nov. 4, that the proposal had been rejected.  Berenthal told el Nuevo Herald that the project “was not canceled. More than anything else, it was not authorized.”

The real reason for the rejection was that Berenthal, a 73-year-old retired software engineer who was born in Cuba and lived in the United States since 1960, had obtained permanent residence in Cuba, according to a knowledgeable source who asked for anonymity to speak about the issue.

“Saul got enthusiastic,” the source told el Nuevo Herald.

Berenthal’s “repatriation” put the Cuban government in a difficult position: accept the project, even though it would break its own ban on large investments by Cubans who live on the island, or reject it using an indirect argument. Officials chose the second option.

Berenthal said the government told him the proposal did not meet the Mariel requirements on technology and worker safety.

Berenthal said his repatriation had nothing to do with the government’s decision “because they were aware from the beginning” of his efforts to become a permanent residence. He added that the rejection of the Mariel project “does not mean we will not continue with the project. They suggested we contact the Agriculture Ministry.”  Berenthal’s legal residence on the island — which gave him the right to buy property and obtain free medical care, among other perks — put him at odds with laws that forbid Cubans who live on the island from establishing medium or large-scale companies.

The Justice Ministry’s web pages notes that the Cuban government does not recognize dual citizenship and follows the principle of “effective nationality.” That means a person with dual citizenship, such as Cuban Americans, can exercise only one when they are on the island.  “That does not mean a Cuban citizen cannot have another citizenship, but the valid one here is ours,” the ministry notes.

Although the Cuban constitution does not recognize the right of citizens living abroad to return and reunite with their families, they can be allowed to re-establish permanent residence and recover the benefits the government cancels for those it considers to have emigrated. Cubans with U.S. citizenship who return and re-establish permanent residence are therefore considered to be Cuban citizens only, subject to Cuban laws and regulations.

The Cuban ambassador in Washington, José Ramón Cabañas, told an interviewer in October that more than 13,000 Cubans living in the United States had been approved for repatriation in the previous two years. More applications were being processed, he added.

The impact on the U.S. status of Cubans who repatriate “is zero,” said immigration lawyer Wilfredo Allen. “The problem is that Cuba controls you.”

That control means, as in Berenthal’s case, that those 13,000 Cuban Americans who returned cannot invest their money in Cuban companies — even though the country’s Foreign Investment Law leaves open the possibility that Cubans with other nationalities may invest in areas such as tourism or energy.

Private sector workers in Cuba, known as cuentapropistas (self-employed), are licensed only to work for themselves and cannot legally establish companies to expand their work beyond a small scale. Larger enterprises are allowed only for the government and foreigners.

According to a report on the foreign investment law produced by the National Organization of Cuban Law Firms, “Cuban citizens residing in the country cannot participate as partners in a joint venture.” The report added: “This law is designed to favor ‘foreign investors’ or Cubans living outside the country.”

Cuban American economist Carmelo Mesa Lago said those restrictions are counterproductive, especially at a time when the island’s economy is shrinking.

Cuba’s Economy Minister Ricardo Cabrisas has said that only 6.5 percent of investments planned for 2017 are tied to foreign capital. The Cuban government estimates that it needs $2.5 billion in annual investments for economic growth.

“It is totally crazy. The level (of foreign investments) they are receiving is absolutely minimal,” Mesa Lago told el Nuevo Herald. “The government needs investments in all sectors. They have set priorities and have more interest in big investments than in medium investments, and that is totally absurd.

“They need all kinds of investments,” he added. “Cubans who have the capacity to invest, based on their profits … that should be allowed.”

 

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

EIGHT MYTHS ABOUT OBAMA’S OPENING TO CUBA

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.

Posted in Blog | Tagged | Leave a comment

“CUBA 2017: SLOW MOTION ECONOMIC REFORMS PLUS POLITICAL STASIS”

Attached here is a Power Point Presentation on Cuba’s current economic and political situation.  The complete presentation is attached here:  Cuba 2017: Slow Motion Reforms. January 4, 2017

By Arch Ritter

Posted in Blog, Featured | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

CUBA’S FIRST EXPORT TO THE UNITED STATES SINCE 1961: ARTISANAL CHARCOAL

Artisanal charcoal will become the first legal Cuban export to the United States in decades under a deal announced Thursday between Cuba’s government and the former lawyer for imprisoned U.S. government contractor Alan Gross.

Attorney Scott Gilbert, who has sought to build economic ties between the two countries since Gross’ release, said a company that he founded will buy 40 tons of charcoal made from the invasive woody plant marabu. The charcoal is produced by hundreds of worker-owned cooperatives across Cuba and has become an increasingly profitable export, valued for its clean-burning properties and often used in pizza and bread ovens.

Gilbert’s company will pay $420 a ton, which is significantly above the wholesale market price of about $360. The first delivery is scheduled for Jan. 18, two days before the inauguration of Donald Trump as U.S. president.

Products of privately run or cooperative farms in Cuba can be exported to the United States under measures introduced by President Barack Obama after the Dec. 17, 2014, declaration of detente with Cuba. The measures loosen a 55-year-old trade embargo on Cuba.

The charcoal is sold by cooperatives to a local packager, which sells it on to state-run export firm CubaExport. Each middleman takes a 1 percent or 2 percent commission, CubaExport general director Isabel O’Reilly said. CubaExport said the charcoal would be the first legal export to the United States in more than five decades, and it hoped to expand the deal to include honey and coffee.

The charcoal will be sold to restaurants and online to consumers in 33-pound bags under the brand name Fogo, Gilbert said.

Cuba sells about 40,000 to 80,000 tons of marabu charcoal annually to buyers in Italy, Germany and about a half dozen other countries, O’Reilly said.

Attorney Scott Gilbert

“I think that once they have examined this situation and looked at all the facts, that they will be supportive of increased engagement and the economic changes that it will bring,” Gilbert said.

Under Obama’s changes, American visitors to Cuba can return with unlimited rum and cigars, but state-run companies cannot export those products to the U.S.

A man prepares artisanal charcoal at a farm on the outskirts of Havana, Cuba, on Jan. 5, 2017. Artisanal charcoal will become the first Cuban export to the U.S. this month under a new deal between the Cuban government and the former lawyer for imprisoned U.S. government contractor Alan Gross.

(Ramon Espinosa / AP)

Associated Press

Posted in Blog | Tagged , | Leave a comment