Tag Archives: US-Cuba Relations

PROTESTAS EN CUBA, CAUSAS Y CONSECUENCIAS PARA UN DEBATE DESDE AMÉRICA LATINA

THE CLINIC, 21 de Julio, 2021

Original Article

Por Arturo López-Levy

*Arturo López-Levy es doctor en estudios internacionales por la Universidad de Denver, y master en relaciones internacionales y economía por las universidades de Columbia (NYC) y Carleton (Ottawa). Se especializa en Cuba, Latinoamérica y política estadounidense.

Para explicar las protestas en Cuba del domingo 11 de julio empecemos por lo que es conocido: la economía y la pandemia. Los manifestantes cubanos no son distintos de los de otros países latinoamericanos. Están asustado y hambrientos por la subida de los precios y carencias de alimentos. Están ansiosos y angustiados por la incertidumbre sobre cuándo terminará la pandemia. Lo sorprendente es que no se haya roto el cántaro después de tantos meses llevándolo a la fuente.

Las raíces

La isla ya venía renqueando por décadas con una crisis estructural del modelo estatista, remendado de vez en vez con algunas aperturas al mercado que en ausencia de una transición integral a una economía mixta orientada al mercado solo producían reanimaciones parciales. Esos cambios segmentados creaban islotes de mercado que demandaban más reformas que el gobierno cubano trataba con la lentitud del que tiene todo el tiempo del mundo. La reunificación monetaria y cambiaria, proclamada como necesaria desde finales de los años noventa, no ocurrió hasta 2020, en el peor momento, en medio de la pandemia.

Por otra parte, la pandemia no solo ha sembrado muertes, y destrucción económica, sino también el miedo y la incertidumbre en una población desesperada que no ve cuando la angustia de vivir en el límite termina. A pesar del conocimiento sobre su deterioro, la población cubana actuó confiada en la capacidad de su sistema de salud en tanto este contuvo el avance del virus y avanzaba en la experimentación para vacunas propias. El hechizo, sin embargo, se deshizo cuando en el último mes se dispararon los casos.

A pesar de un sistema de salud de cobertura universal y su relativo desempeño positivo, información a la población y liderazgo apegado a criterios científicos, la pandemia terminó por exponer con crudeza el mayor problema para el sector de bienestar social cubano: sin una economía que lo respalde ese sistema de salud estará siempre a merced de una crisis que agote sus recursos. Cuba es el único país latinoamericano capaz de producir dos vacunas propias. A la vez su campaña de vacunación ha tenido notables retrasos para implementarse por falta de fondos para comprar sus componentes y otros elementos relacionados. Paradójico.

Las protestas del domingo indican un hartazgo en el que concurre mucha insatisfacción con la arrogancia y gestión gubernamental. Pero ingenuo sería ignorar que el contexto de las sanciones ilegales, inmorales y contraproducentes de Washington contra Cuba han hecho el problema difícil de la pandemia, casi intratable. El lema de “la libertad” suena muy rítmico pero detrás de los que rompen vidrieras, vuelcan perseguidoras, y la emprenden a pedradas contra las autoridades hay mucho del “hambre, desesperación y desempleo” que pedía Lester D Mallory para poner a los cubanos de rodillas.

La pandemia y su impacto económico son los factores que determinan la coyuntura. Son la última gota. Pero en la raíz de las causas que originan la protesta hay factores estructurales que llenaron la copa para que se derramara. Entre esos factores, dos son fundamentales. Primero, el desajuste de una economía de comando nunca transformada a un nuevo paradigma de economía mixta de mercado, atrapada en un nefasto equilibrio de reforma parcial; y segundo, un sistema de sanciones por parte de Estados Unidos que representa un asedio de guerra económica, imposible de limitar al concepto de un mero embargo comercial.

América Latina ante Cuba

Ninguna región del mundo ha sido golpeada por la epidemia de covid-19 como América Latina. Lo sucedido en Cuba tiene características propias pero ya no se trata de la excepción que fue. En términos económicos, quitando el factor estructural del bloqueo norteamericano por sesenta años, Cuba se parece cada vez más a un típico país caribeño y centroamericano con una dependencia notable del turismo y las remesas. En términos de desgaste, la protesta indica a la élite cubana que, pasada la fase carismática de los líderes fundadores, en especial Fidel Castro, la revolución es en lo esencial, una referencia histórica.

El espíritu de la revolución sigue presente en tanto el actual régimen político atribuye su origen al triunfo de 1959, y Cuba sigue siendo objeto de una política imperial norteamericana de cambio de régimen impuesto desde fuera. Fuera de esos dos espacios específicos, particularmente el segundo, todo el manto de excepcionalidad y las justificaciones para evadir los estándares democráticos y de derechos humanos se han agotado. El gobierno de Cuba está abocado, a riesgo incluso de provocar su colapso histórico, a emprender reformas sistémicas de su paradigma.

Se trata de construir un modelo de economía mixta viable en el cual se mantengan las conquistas de bienestar social con un estado regulador, redistribuidor y empresario. En lo político, eso implica un aterrizaje suave y escalonado en un modelo político mas pluralista donde al menos diferentes fuerzas que rechacen la política intervencionista estadounidense puedan dialogar y competir. Una cosa es rechazar que Estados Unidos tenga derecho a imponer a sus cubanos favoritos, otra es asumir ese rechazo como un respaldo a que el PCC nombre a los suyos con el dedo.

Es desde esa realidad, no desde simplismos unilaterales que niegan la agencia del pueblo cubano o el fardo estructural del bloqueo norteamericano que una política latinoamericana progresista puede y debe estructurarse. Las élites cubanas han estado trabajando desde un tiempo atrás (el VI congreso del PCC en 2011) en un modelo de transición más cercano a las experiencias china y vietnamita, de economía de mercado con partido único, que a cualquier precedente occidental. Tal paradigma en lo político rivaliza con los estándares de legitimidad política en la región latinoamericana, donde el derecho a la libre asociación, la expresión y la protesta pacífica van mucho más allá que una simple democracia intrapartidaria leninista.

De igual modo, el paradigma de democracia pluralista hace aguas cuando se pretende defender los derechos humanos desde dobles estándares o la ingenua ignorancia del rol de los factores internacionales y las asimetrías de poder.  Discutir sobre la democracia en Cuba sin mencionar la intromisión indebida de Estados Unidos en maridaje con la derecha anticomunista y la violación flagrante, sistemática y masiva de derechos humanos, que es el bloqueo, equivale a conversar sobre Hamlet sin mencionar al príncipe de Dinamarca. En Miami, los sectores de derecha pro-bloqueo defienden los derechos humanos martes y jueves, mientras el resto de la semana crean un ambiente descrito por Human Rights Watch en el informe “Dangerous Dialogue” como “desfavorable a la libertad de expresión”.  En terminos de transicion a un sistema politico cubano mas abierto, con actores de tan malas credenciales, es imprescindible un proceso pacifico, gradual y ordenado. Esos adjetivos son tan importantes como el proceso mismo.

No solo la izquierda radical, sino importantes componentes moderados de la diáspora cubana y alternativas democráticas dentro de la intelectualidad y la sociedad civil cubana han expresado decepción por segmentos de la comunidad de derechos humanos, como Amnistía Internacional, por su falta de trabajo sistemático en la denuncia del bloqueo norteamericano contra Cuba. Si un opositor de derecha, conectado a la política imperial de cambio de régimen, es detenido en Cuba, la directora Erika Guevara Rosas otorga un seguimiento permanente a su caso. Sus denuncias a la política imperial de bloqueo no lo catalogan como violación sistemática de derechos. Ocurren de vez en vez, y enfatizando que es una excusa del gobierno cubano que debe ser eliminada. ¿Por qué no protestaba cada vez que Trump implementó una nueva sanción que afectaba el derecho de salud, el de educación, y otros más, incluidos los de viaje, de cubanos y estadounidenses?

Las protestas contra el gobierno que salió de la revolución  representan un reto para la discusión del tema Cuba en América Latina que solo podrá madurar desde el entendimiento de su complejidad, sin simplismos ni falsas analogías. En primer lugar, Cuba vive un conflicto de soberanía con Estados Unidos, que marca estructuralmente su vida política y económica. Nadie que quiera contribuir a una solución constructiva de los temas cubanos, latinoamericana para problemas latinoamericanos, puede ignorar ese fardo. La OEA, por ejemplo, es un escenario minado a evitar pues ha sido un instrumento de la política de acoso y aislamiento. Se necesita una visión del siglo XXI, desde la autonomía latinoamericana ante los grandes poderes, incluyendo Estados Unidos, que admita la pluralidad de modelos de estado y desarrollo, sin imponer moldes neoliberales.       

No solo la izquierda radical, sino importantes componentes moderados de la diáspora cubana y alternativas democráticas dentro de la intelectualidad y la sociedad civil cubana han expresado decepción por segmentos de la comunidad de derechos humanos, como Amnistía Internacional, por su falta de trabajo sistemático en la denuncia del bloqueo norteamericano contra Cuba.

En lugar de reeditar los conflictos de guerra fría, esa visión de pluralismo ideológico pondría en el centro de la acción una perspectiva respetuosa de la soberanía cubana, pero concebida de un modo moderno, más allá de la mera defensa de la no intervención. Cuba vive en una región donde la protesta de todos los estados no ha sido capaz de hacer a Estados Unidos entrar en razones sobre la ilegalidad del asedio contra la isla. Exigir una elección pluripartidista en Cuba ignorando las sanciones equivalentes a una guerra económica, donde se violan consideraciones de derecho humanitario, es otorgar a la derecha cubana una ventaja que nunca ha merecido. Como los Borbones franceses, los que se plegaron a la invasión de Bahía de Cochinos, asesinaron a Orlando Letelier, y han construido un enclave autoritario en las narices de la primera enmienda de la constitución norteamericana, no olvidan ni aprenden nada.

A su vez, América Latina es una región que ha cambiado, donde traficar con excepciones al modelo de la Declaración Universal de Derechos Humanos es inaceptable.  Claro que hay pluralidad de implementación y argumentos de emergencia sobre las que los estados erigen desviaciones más o menos justificadas. Pero el paradigma de un sistema unipartidista leninista que castigue la protesta pacífica por rivalizar con el supuesto rol dirigente del partido comunista es incompatible con la premisa central de que la soberanía está en el pueblo, la nación, no en partido alguno. Una cosa es argumentar que, en condiciones específicas de emergencia, decretadas acorde al modelo de la Declaración Universal, algunos derechos pueden postergarse. Otra, e inaceptable, es el  pretexto de una “democracia” unipartidista que no puede ser tal sin libertad de asociación. Partido, recordemos, viene de parte.

Arturo López-Levy

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THE MANY FACES OF REGIME CHANGE IN CUBA

BY LOUIS A. PÉREZ JR

The Jacobin, July 24, 2021

Original Article.

Cubans confront a host of problems amid a national health emergency — and the Biden administrative is only adding to punitive sanctions with the intent to make everything worse.

Fidel Castro holds up a newspaper headlining a plot to kill him in 1959. (Bettmann via Getty)

After months of casual indifference to conditions in Cuba, the Biden administration reacted with purposeful swiftness to support street protests on the island. “We stand with the Cuban people,” President Biden pronounced. A talking point was born.

“The Biden-Harris administration stands by the Cuban people,” secretary of state Antony Blinken followed. Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Robert Menéndez also joined to emphasize “the need for the United States to continue to stand with the Cuban people.”

For more than a hundred and twenty years, the United States has “stood with the Cuban people” — or, perhaps more correctly, has stood over the Cuban people. Cuba seems always to be at the receiving end of American history. To stand with the Cuban people has meant armed intervention, military occupation, regime change, and political meddling — all normal events in US-Cuba relations in the sixty years before the triumph of the Cuban revolution. In the sixty years after the revolution, standing with the Cuban people has meant diplomatic isolation, armed invasion, covert operations, and economic sanctions.

It is the policy of economic sanctions — the embargo — officially designated as an “economic denial program,” that gives the lie to US claims of beneficent concern for the Cuban people. Sanctions developed early into a full-blown policy protocol in pursuit of regime change, designed to deprive Cubans of needed goods and services, to induce scarcity and foment shortages, to inflict hardship and deepen adversity.

Nor should it be supposed that the Cuban people were the unintended “collateral damage” of the embargo. On the contrary, the Cuban people have been the target. Sanctions were designed from the outset to produce economic havoc as a way to foment popular discontent, to politicize hunger in the hope that, driven by despair and motivated by want, the Cuban people would rise up to topple the government.

The declassification of government records provides insight into the calculus of sanctions as a means of regime change. The “economic denial program” was planned to “weaken [the Cuban government] economically,” a State Department briefing paper explained, to “promote internal dissension; erode its internal political support . . . [and] seek to create conditions conducive to incipient rebellion.” Sanctions promised to create “the necessary preconditions for nationalist upheaval inside Cuba,” the Department of State Bureau of Intelligence and Research predicted, thereupon to produce the downfall of the Cuban government “as a result of internal stresses and in response to forces largely, if not wholly, unattributable to the U.S.”

The “only foreseeable means of alienating internal support,” the Department of State offered, “is through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship. . . . Every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba . . . [to deny] money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.”

The embargo has remained in place for more than sixty years. At times expanded, at other times contracted. But never lifted. The degree to which US sanctions are implicated in current protest demonstrations in Cuba is a matter of debate, of course. But that the embargo has contributed — to a greater or lesser extent — to hardship in Cuba can hardly be gainsaid; that has been its intent. And now that hardship has produced popular protests and demonstrations. That, too, is in the “playbook” of the embargo.

But the embargo has had a far more insidious impact on the political culture of Cuba. The Cuban government is not unaware of the United States’ desired policy outcomes from the sanctions. They understand well its subversive reach and interventionist thrust, and have responded accordingly, if not always consistently.

Such a nakedly hostile US policy, which has been ongoing and periodically reaffirmed over such a lengthy period of time, designed purposely to sow chaos, has in fact served Cuban authorities well, providing a readily available target that can be blamed for homegrown economic mismanagement and resource misallocation. The embargo provides a refuge for blamelessness and immunity from accountability. The tendency to attribute the consequences of ill-conceived policies to the embargo has developed into a standing master narrative of Cuban government.

But it is more complicated still. Not a few within the Cuban government view popular protests warily, seeing them as a function of US policy and its intended outcomes. It is no small irony, in fact, that the embargo has so often served to compromise the “authenticity” of popular protest, to ensure that protests are seen as acts in the service of regime change and depicted as a threat to national security.

The degree to which the political intent of the embargo is imputed to popular protest often serves to drive the official narrative. That is, protests are depicted less as an expression of domestic discontent than as an act of US subversion, instantly discrediting the legitimacy of protest and the credibility of protesters. The embargo serves to plunge Cuban politics at all levels into a Kafkaesque netherworld, where the authenticity of domestic actors is challenged and transformed into the duplicity of foreign agents. In Cuba, the popular adage warns, nothing appears to be what it seems.

Few dispute the validity of Cuban grievances. A long-suffering people often subject to capricious policies and arbitrary practices, an officialdom often appearing oblivious and unresponsive to the needs of a population confronting deepening hardship. Shortages of food. Lack of medicines. Scarcity of basic goods. Soaring prices. Widening social inequalities. Deepening racial disparities.

Difficulties have mounted, compounding continuously over many years, for which there are few readily available remedies. An economy that reorganized itself during the late 1990s and early 2000s around tourist receipts has collapsed as a result of the pandemic. A loss of foreign exchange with ominous implications for a country that imports 70 percent of its food supplies.

The Trump administration revived the most punitive elements of US sanctions, limiting family remittances to $1,000 per quarter per person, prohibiting remittances to family members of government officials and members of the Communist Party, and prohibiting remittances in the form of donations to Cuban nationals. The Trump administration prohibited the processing of remittances through any entities on a “Cuba restricted list,” an action that resulted in Western Union ceasing its operations in Cuba in November 2020.

And as a final spiteful, gratuitous gesture, the outgoing Trump administration returned Cuba to the list of state sponsors of terrorism. At the precise moment the Cuban people were reeling from greater shortages, increased rationing, and declining services, the United States imposed a new series of sanctions. It is impossible to react in any way other than with blank incredulity to State Department spokesperson Ned Price’s comment that Cuban humanitarian needs “are profound because of not anything the United States has done.”

Cubans confront all at once a collapsing economy, diminished remittances, restricted emigration opportunities, inflation, shortages of food, scarcity of medicines, all in a time of a national health emergency — and with the United States applying punitive sanctions with the intent of making everything worse. Of course, the Cuban people have the right to peaceful protest. Of course, the Cuban government must redress Cuban grievances.

Of course, the United States must end its deadly and destructive policy of subversion.

Fidel Castro in New York, 1959

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BIDEN STALLS ON REINSTATING CUBAN REMITTANCES FOR NO GOOD REASON

Excuses for why the US can’t lift Trump restrictions on the cash Americans send their families there are outdated and inaccurate.

July 21, 2021

William LeoGrande

Unprecedented political protests in Cuba on July 11 have forced the issue of Cuba policy to the top of President Biden’s agenda after it languished for months on the backburner. On July 19, the administration announced that it was forming a Working Group on Remittances to explore ways to enable Cuban Americans to help their families on the island. 

However, as a senior official told The Hill, “The administration is focused on only allowing such transfers if we can guarantee that all of the money flows directly into the hands of the Cuban people instead of allowing a portion of the proceeds to be siphoned off into regime coffers.” That echoes what President Biden himself said a few days earlier when he expressed his reluctance to lift President Trump’s sanctions on remittances for fear “the regime would confiscate those remittances or big chunks.”   

Sen. Bob Menendez, an outspoken critic of restoring remittances, has been in direct contact with the White House urging the president not to lift Trump’s sanctions. In a Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing on May 19, Menendez claimed that the Cuban government was “taking 20 percent of remittances to Cuban families, then converting the balance of the remittance to Cuban pesos that are worth a fraction of what Americans send to their families, that can only be used at state-owned stores.” 

That is an inaccurate, outdated account of how the flow of remittances works, who benefits, and how the Cuban government uses the dollars that flow into the country. Before July 2020, the Cuban government did capture the lion’s share of remittances. In 2004, it began charging a 10 percent tax on US dollars coming into Cuba in the form of cash. Cuban officials justified this as necessary to cover the cost of circumventing the U.S. embargo to use dollars in the international financial system. The tax did not apply to wire transfers of dollars, or to other convertibles currencies, so Cuban Americans could avoid it entirely by using these other options. 

From 2004 to 2020, dollars were not legal tender in Cuba, so Cubans had to exchange dollars for Cuban convertible pesos, or CUC, to spend them, an exchange for which the government charged a three-percent fee. A Cuban could then use CUC to buy certain imported goods, mostly durable consumer goods that were only available for purchase in convertible pesos. The mark-ups were notoriously high—upwards of 200 percent.

Adding up all the fees and markups, it was fair to say that the Cuban government was extracting more than half the real value from dollar remittances. But that changed in July 2020.

The Cuban economy was in recession amid the pandemic, and the government was short of foreign exchange currency to import basic necessities. To create more of an incentive for Cuban Americans to send remittances, the government abolished the 10 ten-percent tax on dollars entirely. Today, Cubans can deposit remittances in a debit card account and can use the card in stores that sell goods priced in dollars. There is no 10 percent tax, no requirement that dollars be exchanged for Cuban pesos, and no exchange fee. 

For now, Cubans who have dollars in cash and want to exchange them for pesos cannot do it officially. The banks are not taking cash dollar deposits because the government has trouble spending U.S. currency abroad due to Washington’s unilateral financial sanctions. But Cubans can exchange their dollars for pesos on the street at almost triple the official exchange rate.

Markups in the hard currency stores, especially for basic consumer staples, are much reduced from what they were in the CUC stores. This is the result of market forces, not the government’s benevolence. Before the pandemic, entrepreneurs travelled abroad to buy consumer goods, bringing them back to Cuba and selling them privately at prices below the CUC prices in state stores. An estimated 25 million dollars per month in foreign exchange currency was leaving the country through these private channels. The competition forced the government to reduce prices in the state stores to win back market share. 

As a result of the July 2020 policy changes, the only profit the Cuban government currently makes on remittances wired to Cuba is this markup on goods sold in the hard currency stores.

What does the government do with the money? The dollars it takes in flow right back out to finance imports. First, the government has to import goods to restock the shelves in the hard currency stores. The profit from the stores finances general imports, about a third of which are food and other consumer goods, and another third are fuel. (Cuba imports 70 percent of its food and 59 percent of its fuel.) 

Fifty-six percent of Cuban families received remittances before Trump’s sanctions; the rest depend on social assistance or their ration cards to buy food and other staples at low prices subsidized by the state, a 30 billion peso annual expense for the government (worth about  1.25 billion dollars at the official exchange rate of 24:1). A high-end estimate of the remittances going to Cuba before Trump closed the spigot was 3.5 billion dollars, so whatever profit the government is earning in the hard currency stores is certainly less than what it spends to import the basic goods it provides at subsidized prices to Cubans who don’t receive help from family abroad.

In short, the Cuban government is not gaining windfall profits from remittances. There is no way to prevent the Cuban government from receiving those dollars when Cuban recipients spend them, so if that’s the condition the Biden administration envisions, then nothing will change. But if the goal is simply to assure that the government is not extracting value in excess of normal business expenses, then that condition is already being met. 

President Biden says he “stands with the Cuban people.” Immediately reopening the channel for Cuban Americans to send remittances to their families is the single most important thing he can do to prove it. 

Pro-government counter-protesters in Cienfuegos

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THE MASK SLIPS: THE CAUSES OF CUBA’S UPRISING LIE AT HOME

Joe Biden should scrap Donald Trump’s policies and lift the embargo

The Economist, July 15th 2021

Original Article: THE CAUSES OF CUBA’S UPRISING

Thousands of protesters thronged the streets on July 11th. Some stoned the police and looted posh shops. Such outbursts are unprecedented in Cuba since the communists secured their hold on power in the 1960s. “Freedom!” and “Down with the dictatorship!” they chanted, and “Patria y Vida!” (Fatherland and Life), quoting an underground reggaeton song that mocks Fidel Castro’s tired slogan of “Fatherland or Death”.

All this poses an extraordinary challenge to the dull bureaucrats who rule Cuba, after the death of Fidel and the retirement of his younger brother, Raúl, earlier this year. The regime has responded with repression. “Revolutionaries, to the streets,” urged Miguel Díaz-Canel, the president who this year took the helm of the Communist Party, unleashing troops, police and loyalist mobs wielding baseball bats. At least one person was killed. Scores have been detained and the government has sporadically cut access to the internet.

Repression may work in Cuba, as it has elsewhere. But something there has snapped. The tacit contract that kept social peace for six decades is broken. Many Cubans used to put up with a police state because it guaranteed their basic needs, and those with initiative found a way to leave. Now Cubans are fed up. When Mr Díaz-Canel blames the protests on “American imperialism”, all he shows is how out of touch he is. The protesters are young, mainly black and dismiss the Castros’ revolution of 1959 against an American-backed tyrant as ancient history.

They have plenty to complain about. The pandemic has shut off foreign tourism, aggravating the economy’s lack of hard currency. Raúl Castro launched economic reforms, but they were timid and slow, permitting only minuscule private businesses. It was left to Mr Díaz-Canel to take the most momentous step, by ordering a big devaluation in January. Without measures to allow more private investment and growth, that has merely triggered inflation. As its sanctions-hit oil industry collapses, Venezuela, Cuba’s chief foreign patron over the past 15 years, has curbed its cut-price oil shipments, prompting power cuts during the heat of summer. Chronic shortages of food and medicine have become acute. Despite Cuba’s prowess at public health and its development of its own vaccine, the government has failed to contain the pandemic. The sick are dying, abandoned at home or on hospital floors.

Two other factors explain the outburst. One is the change of leadership. The Castros commanded respect even among the many Cubans who abhorred them. Mr Díaz-Canel, without a shred of charisma, does not. And the internet and social media, allowed only in the past few years, have broken the regime’s monopoly of information, connecting younger Cubans to each other and the world. They have empowered a cultural protest movement of artists and musicians. Its message, in the unanswerable lyrics of “Patria y Vida”, is “Your time’s up, the silence is broken…we’re not scared, the deception is over.”

Mr Díaz-Canel faces a choice: to turn Cuba into Belarus with sunshine, or to assuage discontent by allowing more private enterprise and greater cultural freedom. That could weaken the army and the Communist Party, but it would eventually salvage some of the revolution’s original social gains.

Curiously, many Republicans in the United States echo Mr Díaz-Canel’s description of America’s role in the protests. President Donald Trump tightened the economic embargo against Cuba, barring American tourists, curbing remittances and slapping sanctions on state firms, largely reversing Barack Obama’s opening to the island. Like Cuba’s president, Republicans argue that the unrest proves the embargo is working at last.

Not so. True, the embargo has made life harder for the Cuban government. But its restrictions mainly hurt Americans. The regime can still buy American food and medicine and trade with the world. The causes of Cuba’s social explosion lie at home.

Open the windows

Joe Biden should draw the obvious conclusion. So far he has left Mr Trump’s Cuba policy intact, so as not to annoy hawkish Cuban-Americans. Instead he should return to Mr Obama’s approach. The big threat to a closed regime is engagement with the world, especially the United States. Mr Biden should lift the embargo and deprive the regime of an excuse for its own failures. 

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BIDEN ORDERS REVIEW OF REMITTANCES TO CUBA

By Kevin Liptak and Paul LeBlanc,

CNN, July 19, 2021

Washington (CNN)President Joe Biden has directed his administration to examine remittances to Cuba in the wake of protests on the island to determine ways for those residing in the US to send money to the country, a senior administration official told CNN.

“At President Biden’s direction, the United States is actively pursuing measures that will both support the Cuban people and hold the Cuban regime accountable,” the official said.

The “Remittance Working Group” will work to “identify the most effective way to get remittances directly into the hands of the Cuban people,” the official said.

Biden had said last week he believed that under the current circumstances, remittances — the practice of Americans transferring money to their Cuban relatives — would end up in the hands of the regime. But since then he’s faced pressure to show solidarity with protesters.

Cuba’s government controls the financial sector on the island and all communications. Getting around the government to send money or improve internet access is a challenge other US administrations have tried and failed to overcome.

But the issue has taken on increased urgency in recent days alongside the largest protests on the island in decades. Thousands of Cubans took to the streets across the nation this month to protest chronic shortages of basic goods, curbs on civil liberties and the government’s handling of a worsening coronavirus outbreak, marking the most significant unrest in decades.

The State Department also is reviewing its plans to bolster staffing at the US Embassy in Havana “to facilitate diplomatic, consular and civil society engagement, and an appropriate security posture,” the official said.

The White House is exploring whether to sanction “Cuban officials responsible for violence, repression and human rights violations against peaceful protesters in Cuba,” the official said. The US will “intensify diplomatic engagement with regional and international partners to support the aspirations of the Cuban people.”

Last week, Biden said he was looking into the potential for restoring internet access to Cuba. The official said Monday that the US would “work closely with the private sector and the US Congress to identify viable options to make the internet more accessible to the Cuban people.”

Since Biden’s arrival in office, Cuba policies have remained in review.

Under the Obama administration, Cuba oversaw the reopening of embassies and relaxing of many restrictions long in place since the embargo. But the Trump administration enacted some of the toughest economic measures against Cuba in decades, reinstated travel restrictions and — before leaving office — named Cuba a state sponsor of terrorism.

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HOW BIDEN SHOULD RESPOND TO THE CRISIS IN CUBA

Those pushing for regime change should be careful what they wish for.

July 15, 2021


William LeoGrande

The greatest threat to U.S. national interests in Cuba is the possibility, however slim, that U.S. policy there will succeed.

Sixty-two years ago this month, the Eisenhower administration concluded that Fidel Castro’s revolutionary regime was incompatible with the national interests of the United States. Washington has been actively trying to destabilize it ever since. Even during the two-year hiatus from 2014 to 2016 when President Obama began normalizing relations, the U.S. government spent millions of dollars on “democracy promotion” programs to bolster the Cuban opposition.

But fostering misery and chaos in Cuba in pursuit of regime change is not cost-free for Washington. Although the Cuban government is not on the verge of collapse, the economic situation on the island is desperate — as bad it has been since the deep depression of the “Special Period” in the 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The recent anti-government demonstrations in Havana and a dozen other cities, some of which involved violence and looting, are a reminder that many Cubans are deeply discontented with the economic and political status quo. The possibility of further social unrest is real.

In Washington, the protests have given new life to the pipedream that the Cuban regime is on its last legs, prompting calls from various quarters for the Biden administration to administer the coup de grâce. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) called on Biden to “challenge” the Cuban regime by appealing to the Cuban military to overthrow it. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) warned of a “horrific bloodbath” unless Biden toughens his policy toward the island.

The last time the Cuban economy was in such bad shape, regime collapse seemed imminent. An August 1993, a CIA National Intelligence Estimate predicted “a better than even chance that Fidel Castro’s government will fall within the next few years.” But this was no cause for celebration, as the intelligence report explained: “If Cuban authorities lose control, massive, panicky illegal emigration toward the United States will occur,” it warned. “There would also be pressure for US or international military intervention, especially if a large number of exiles became involved on the island.”

The CIA’s dire warning led Rick Nuccio to sound the alarm in a memo to his boss, Assistant Secretary of State Alec Watson. “The fundamental security threat facing the United States in Cuba is a societal crisis that leads to widespread violence. Such a development is the most likely to produce either significant outflows of refugees, or active involvement of U.S. forces and/or Cuban Americans in Cuba.” Another of Watson’s advisers, Phil Peters, tried to jolt the administration into action, writing, “Given the situation on the island, I would argue that policy continuity, or even marginal change, is not the low-risk option. It’s positively scary.”

Nuccio and Peters had different ideas about what ought to be done; Nuccio wanted to focus on building Cuban civil society to promote a peaceful transition to democracy, whereas Peters favored relaxing some sanctions and engaging with the Cuban government. Other State Department officials argued for turning up the heat to accelerate regime collapse.

President Bill Clinton, however, was more focused on politics in Miami than on developments in Havana, so months went by without any coordinated U.S. policy response to the deepening crisis on the island. By the summer of 1994, it was too late. A riot on the Havana waterfront, not unlike some of the demonstrations last weekend, was followed by the “rafters” migration crisis.

Echoes of these dangers can be heard today. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez has called for U.S. intervention in response to the protests on the island, while Cuban American demonstrators blocked the Palmetto Expressway demanding an end to the Cuban regime. (They were not arrested, despite violating Gov. DeSantis’ new anti-riot law). Social media spread proposals to open a “humanitarian corridor” into Cuba, even though the Cuban government is already accepting humanitarian assistance. At sea, the U.S. Coast Guard is intercepting a growing number of Cubans trying to reach the United States in small boats and rafts.

Another cost of the sanctions President Trump imposed on Cuba — sanctions Biden has left in place — is a deterioration in counter-narcotics cooperation. Until 1998, Cuban air space and territorial waters were a blind spot that traffickers could exploit to evade the U.S. Coast Guard. But a Clinton era agreement establishing cooperation was so effective that traffickers shifted to routes through Mexico.

For the past decade the U.S. Southern Command, in its annual Posture Statement, has cited transnational crime, especially drug trafficking, as one of the top threats to U.S. security in the Hemisphere. Yet the Trump administration halted consultations between the Coast Guard and Cuban Border Guards, and U.S. sanctions have left the Cubans without the fuel they need to patrol their coasts.

The steps President Biden could take to reduce the danger of worse social unrest in Cuba and to safeguard U.S. security interests would not require any radical new initiatives. The United States and Cuba already have bilateral cooperation agreements on law enforcement, narcotics interdiction, and migration. Biden simply has to reactivate them and hold up Washington’s end of the bargain, especially the U.S. obligation to give Cubans a minimum of 20,000 immigrant visas annually so Cubans have a safe, legal way to emigrate rather than risking their lives at sea.

Cuban Americans have been able to send remittances to family on the island ever since Jimmy Carter was in the White House — until Donald Trump cut them off as one of his final acts in office. President Biden could restore the ability to send remittances with a stroke of the pen, sending urgently needed relief to millions of Cuban families.

The rapid spread of COVID in Cuba is a natural disaster worse than the hurricanes that periodically ravage the island. Previous U.S. presidents, including George W. Bush, who could not be accused of being soft on Cuban communism, have offered Cuba humanitarian aid in the face of such disasters — aid channeled both through non-governmental organizations and to the government directly.

There is no reason President Biden’s pledge to combat COVID globally should exclude Cuba. “This is about our responsibility,” he said in June, “our humanitarian obligation to save as many lives as we can — and our responsibility to our values.” Four U.S. Catholic bishops recently called upon international governments to provide Cuba with the medical supplies they need to cope with COVID, calling it “a moral imperative.” Private humanitarian relief efforts to have been heroic but inadequate. Rather than spending millions to subvert the Cuban government, USAID should be spending the money to help vaccinate the Cuban people.

President Obama made the point succinctly on December 17, 2014 when he announced his decision to shift from a policy of regime change to one of engagement: “It does not serve America’s interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse,” he argued. “Even if that worked – and it hasn’t for 50 years – we know from hard-earned experience that countries are more likely to enjoy lasting transformation if their people are not subjected to chaos.”

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CUBA STUDY GROUP

July 2021

The Cuba Study Group: A non-profit, non-partisan organization comprised of business and community leaders of Cuban descent who share a common interest and vision of a free Cuba. Washington DC

We call on the #Biden administration to restore support for the Cuban people by prioritizing policies that focus on reinstating travel, reauthorizing remittances, re-opening consular services in #Havana, collaborating on COVID-19 solutions, and supporting #Cuba‘s private sector.

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CUBA: SERVE THE PEOPLE; Cuba Is Facing its Worst Shortage of Food since the 1990s

Government bungling and a shortage of dollars are to blame

The Economist, July 3, 2021

Original Article: Cuba’s Food Crisis

“CUBANS HAVE always been resourceful,” says Ana, the owner of a private farm-to-table restaurant near Havana. “But now we need to be magicians and acrobats.” The communist island is facing its worst shortage of food since the 1990s. Finding ingredients was never easy in a place which imports around 70% of its food. Over the past year it has become nearly impossible. When grocery shops are empty, as is so often the case, Ana tries the internet or the black market, only to find that prices are prohibitively high. Farmers no longer want to sell produce to her, she says, as they need to eat it themselves.

“CUBANS HAVE always been resourceful,” says Ana, the owner of a private farm-to-table restaurant near Havana. “But now we need to be magicians and acrobats.” The communist island is facing its worst shortage of food since the 1990s. Finding ingredients was never easy in a place which imports around 70% of its food. Over the past year it has become nearly impossible. When grocery shops are empty, as is so often the case, Ana tries the internet or the black market, only to find that prices are prohibitively high. Farmers no longer want to sell produce to her, she says, as they need to eat it themselves.

The government blames the shortage of food mostly on sanctions imposed by the United States—sanctions which, on June 24th, the UN General Assembly voted to condemn, as it has done nearly every year since 1992. But since 2001 the sanctions have exempted food. Indeed, the United States is the largest exporter of food to Cuba, though last year those imports were at their lowest level since 2002.

Some external factors have affected the food supply. The jump in global food prices, which in the year to May surged by 40%, the largest increase in a decade, has made imports more expensive. But the main problem is the government’s lack of hard currency. Tourism, normally 10% of GDP, has atrophied because of the pandemic: whereas 4.2m people visited in 2019, just over 1m did last year, nearly all in the first three months of the year. Remittances have also suffered. Before covid-19, commercial airlines would operate as many as ten flights a day between Miami and Havana, all packed with cash-toting mulas. But now only a handful of flights go to Havana each week. In addition, this year’s harvest of sugar—one of Cuba’s main exports—was the worst in more than a century, as a result of drought (the dollar shortage also sapped supplies of fertiliser and petrol).

The government is trying desperately to eke out dollars and skimp on imported goods. Cubans can no longer buy greenbacks from state-operated exchanges at the airport. State-owned bakeries are replacing a fifth of the imported wheat flour they use in bread with substitutes made from home-grown corn, pumpkin or yucca, much to the dismay of consumers, who have complained that bread now tastes like soggy corn. The sale of biscuits has been limited in certain cities to cut back even more on imports of flour.

Since February, in a desperate attempt to collect hard currency, the government has required that foreigners pay for their seven-day mandatory stay in a state-owned quarantine hotel in dollars (since June, this has even applied to some Cubans). To earn more from its diaspora, the state also operates e-commerce sites through which Cubans abroad can pay in dollars or euros for food and gifts to be delivered to people on the island.

Indeed many Cubans abroad are trying to help their family members stave off hunger by sending their own care packages. But even these have become harder and more costly to post. Goods from the United States that once took two weeks to deliver can now take up to four months to arrive, as shortages of fuel and trucks in Cuba make the final leg of the delivery trickier.

Bungled policy responses have made things worse. On June 10th the Cuban central bank announced that, from June 21st, Cubans would not be able to deposit dollars into their bank accounts for an undisclosed amount of time. This is despite the fact that, in order to buy goods in state-owned shops, Cubans need to have a prepaid card loaded with dollars. They will now have to exchange their dollars for euros or other currencies, which involves a fee. Emilio Morales, the head of the Havana Consulting Group in Miami, thinks this was a way to scare people into depositing more before the deadline.

Rather than stabilise the economy, the policy is likely to do the reverse. Some exchange houses in Miami soon ran out of euros. Cuban banks were overwhelmed by queues of panicking people trying to deposit the dollars they needed to buy groceries. “Cuba has 11m hostages and is expecting Cuban exiles to pay their ransom,” says Mr Morales. Ricardo Cabrisas, the deputy prime minister, was recently in Paris negotiating another extension on the roughly $3.5bn of loans owed to foreign governments—the island has been in arrears since 2019. An ultimatum from creditors may help explain the government’s desire to hoover up greenbacks.

Despite making some attempts to liberalise the economy, the government is bafflingly poor at boosting agricultural production or wooing foreign investors. Firms producing food in Cuba earn only pesos, which have little value internationally, but must buy almost all their inputs abroad in a foreign currency. The government requires farmers to sell their harvest to the state at uncompetitive prices and imposes draconian rules on livestock management. Up until last month it was illegal to slaughter a cow before it had reached an advanced age, as determined by the state. Now farmers may kill them either to sell the meat or to eat it themselves. But before they do so, they must jump through a series of hoops, including certifying that the cow has produced at least 520 litres of milk a year. They are also not allowed to let their herd shrink overall, and so can only slaughter one cow for every three calves they add to it—a tall order in the long run, mathematically. As it is, Cuba is having trouble maintaining its existing cattle herd: last year, in the province of Las Tunas alone, more than 7,000 cows died from dehydration. Farmers have to complete paperwork and wait a week for approval, too. “The process of applying to eat a cow is enough to make you lose your appetite,” says a farmer in Bahía Honda.

Rural transportion
Zafra of 2016-20127

Cubans are no strangers to difficult times. Eliecer Jiménez Almeida, a Cuban filmmaker in Miami, was a child during the “special period” of hardship after the fall of the Soviet Union, and remembers how his grandmother sold her gold teeth in exchange for soap, just so that he and his siblings could take a bath. For him and for many Cubans, the question is not how many more of the same indignities their people can endure, but how much longer.

Discontent was slightly less likely when Fidel Castro was in power. He had charisma and mystique that neither his brother and successor, Raúl, nor Cuba’s current president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, can replicate. What is more, the Cuban diaspora is larger and wealthier and the internet has shown Cubans that many of their economic difficulties are created by their leaders, not the United States. The best way to stave off popular discontent would be to implement more and bigger economic reforms, at a faster pace, starting with farms and small businesses. It is a measure of Cubans’ disillusionment that the old revolutionary cry of “Hasta la victoria siempre” (On to victory, always) has largely been supplanted by the longsuffering “¿Hasta cuándo?” (How much longer?) ■

Fidel, cutting cane during the Zafra of 1970
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HUMAN RIGHTS WON’T HAPPEN IN A VACUUM IN CUBA

Normalizing relations with the island would go a long way towards promoting one of the president’s “core pillars” of US foreign policy.

June 17, 2021

Original Article: in RESPONSIBLE STATECRAFT

William LeoGrande

(Washington Post, December 18, 2014)

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki made headlines on March 9, when she said that Cuba was “not currently among President Biden’s top priorities.” The second half of her answer got less attention, though it was equally significant: “…but we are committed to making human rights a core pillar of our U.S. policy.” Shortly thereafter, a senior official reaffirmed her comment, saying that the president would “make human rights a fundamental pillar of his foreign policy,” not just in Cuba but across the Americas. 

This is no surprise. Biden has been an advocate for human rights throughout his political career, and this position on Cuba echoes what he said during the campaign. But human rights policies don’t happen in a vacuum; they are one component of a broader bilateral relationship and their effectiveness depends upon that context. 

Biden acknowledged as much when he criticized President Trump for imposing tougher economic sanctions against Cuba, arguing they had “inflicted harm on the Cuban people and done nothing to advance democracy and human rights.” That was also the central argument President Barack Obama advanced for his 2014 policy of normalizing relations with Havana—that sixty years of trying to promote democracy through coercive diplomacy simply had not worked.

Cuban leaders have always rejected foreign demands that they reform their politics. To them, such demands are an infringement on Cuba’s sovereignty. When U.S.-Cuban relations deteriorate and Washington tightens the embargo, the Cuban government reacts like most governments under attack by foreign enemies. A siege mentality takes hold and internal dissent is regarded as akin to treason — a reaction exacerbated by Washington’s material support for some dissidents, which puts all dissidents under suspicion of being Fifth Columnists. 

But the history of Havana’s relations with both the United States and the European Union also shows that when relations are warming, Cuban leaders have acted unilaterally to improve human rights in order to reinforce the positive momentum. President Jimmy Carter put human rights at the center of his foreign policy, and, when he opened a dialogue with Havana, Fidel Castro released more than 2,000 political prisoners, many jailed since the early 1960s. Castro’s negotiator told U.S. officials the gesture was explicitly a response to Carter’s concern about human rights and his willingness to improve relations.

In President Bill Clinton’s second term, he took steps to reduce tensions by relaxing the embargo on travel and on cultural, educational, and scientific exchanges. In Cuba, the government’s repression of dissidents eased noticeably, prompting the senior U.S. diplomat in Havana, Vicki Huddleston, to describe it as a “Cuban Spring” — an opening that closed again when President George W. Bush returned to a policy of hostility.

When President Raúl Castro was trying to negotiate a new economic cooperation agreement with the European Union in 2010, he responded positively to requests from Cardinal Jaime Ortega of the Cuban Catholic Church and Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos to release 52 political prisoners jailed since 2003 for allegedly collaborating with the Bush administration’s regime change policy.

As part of Castro’s agreement with President Obama to begin normalizing relations, Castro released 53 prisoners that were of interest to the United States because of their anti-regime political activity. He also kept a promise to accelerate the expansion of Internet access on the island, which fostered the emergence of independent blogs and news services that increased the Cuban public’s access to information unfiltered by state media. Cuban private businesses flourished during this period, something the Obama administration regarded as an important vehicle for expanding economic freedom on the island and freeing Cubans from dependence on a state salary.

The lesson for the Biden administration as it conducts its review of Cuba policy is two-fold. First, not only does heightened coercion not produce human rights gains in Cuba, it makes the situation worse. Second, a policy of engagement that improves bilateral relations overall creates an atmosphere in which human rights progress is more likely — not guaranteed, but more likely. 

By no means does engagement mean abandoning the U.S. commitment to human rights. Administration officials can and should continue to emphasize the centrality of human rights to the president’s overall foreign policy, underscoring that engagement will advance faster and farther if the human rights situation on the island improves. 

A policy of engagement will enable Washington to resume the bilateral dialogue with Havana on human rights that President Obama began and President Trump abandoned. It will also make it possible for the United States to coordinate with our European allies, who have an ongoing consultation with Cuba on human rights issues under the terms of the Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement the European Union signed with Cuba in 2016. 

No one should expect these conversations to be easy, but they provide a forum in which the United States can directly raise issues of concern, ranging from prison conditions, the harassment of dissidents, and the demonization of independent media, to the conditions under which Cuban medical personnel serve abroad and the discriminatory treatment of Cuban Americans visiting the island.  

In 1975, the United States, the Soviet Union, and the countries of Europe signed the Helsinki Accords aimed at reducing Cold War tensions. Critics argued that the agreement rewarded the Soviet Union because it recognized the political status quo in Europe. But the accord’s real significance turned out to be the human rights provisions. Though unenforceable, they created an ongoing opportunity for human rights discussion and debate among the signatories, and they legitimized the demands of human rights advocates inside individual countries. In short, détente created the conditions that made human rights progress possible. That’s a precedent the Biden administration should keep in mind as it formulates a new policy toward Cuba.

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YEA OR NAY ON THE EMBARGO. WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON?

What does a recent survey tell us?

by Guillermo J. Grenier

OnCuba News,  May 28, 2021

Original Article C

The French philosophe and essayist Michel Montaigne often used the phrase “What do I know?” to express the subjective limits of knowledge. What can any individual really know about the world? About others who inhabit it? I pose this question to myself often. It’s part of the job description for being a critical sociologist. I scratch my head in puzzlement each time that I gather data to analyze my compatriots in South Florida. What do I really know about Cuban Americans? Many will jump to answer, “You know nothing. You are clueless,” and they might be right. But you would think that after nearly thirty years of writing about and studying Cubans in the United States I would know something about what makes our “moral community” tick.  But when faced with the question Que sais-je?, which translates into a very Cuban, “Qué sé yo?” I have to admit that many of the moving parts of the community remain a riddle wrapped in an enigma inside a pastelito. 

Take, for example, the resurgence of pro-embargo sentiments among South Florida Cuban American. It’s a grim turn even if not totally surprising given the Jarabe de Trump that many have savored in recent years. 

What is driving this macabre enthusiasm to endorse an archaic, cold war policy designed in 1962 to isolate Cuba and bring about regime change because, as stated in Kennedy’s infamous Proclamation 3447, the country is “incompatible with the principles and objectives of the Inter-American system; and, in light of the subversive offensive of Sino-Soviet Communism with which the Government of Cuba is publicly aligned?” Seriously? There is still support for a policy designed to “protect” the Americas from the threat of “Sino-Soviet Communism?” Directed at Cuba? Does this policy remain a vital element in the foreign policy of the United States? The world has changed so much but we seem to have changed so little.

Maybe there is more behind this seeming callous attitude of “que se jodan” exhibited by my fellow denizen of the Cuban diaspora than sheer opportunism. After all, we are not all YouTube mavens making a nice living peddling fear and disinformation. Most of us care about our friends and relatives on the island. About half of us send money when we can afford it and sending food via Katapulk is becoming a thing. Many on the island depend on us, if not for survival, for support, especially during this horrific pandemic period. 

Maybe championing the embargo, in the minds of those who do, is part of a larger plan. Maybe supporters see in the embargo a part of a broader strategy to improve the lives of Cubans throughout the island. Qué sé yo?

I want to understand why so many of us insist on supporting a foreign policy implemented to punish and isolate when we know that change in this globalized world is brought about by contact and negotiation. Why do people support the embargo? Why do they support lifting the embargo? 

With the help of the colleagues at OnCuba News, I floated a questionnaire on their platform and various social media streams (FB, Twitter) to try to understand why Cuban Americans either support or oppose the nearly sixty-year-old sanction. This is not a scientific sample, but the 361 responses (as of May 19) allow us to create broad categories to describe the types of reasons shaping opinions. 

Continue Reading

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Conclusion

To be honest, I harbor no illusions that the Cuban American vox populi will raise in an exilic chorus supporting the end to the embargo. I see no sign that we are willing, as a community to come to terms with our Big Lie. To recognize that the embargo, as a policy to motivate change in Cuba, has been a resounding failure and has not met the expectations of its supporters. It is a zombie policy which should have been killed by years of evidence verifying its failure but stays alive, eating the brains of Cuban Americans. Supporting the embargo is evidence that our community has been successfully recruited to brutalize the Cuban people by assisting the U.S. in its feeble attempt to project American power. I worry about the history we are helping to shape.

The only hope that I hold for seeing the lifting of the embargo in my lifetime is for the U.S. government to act in its best interest. In this unique case, the best interests of the United States are aligned with the best interests of Cuba, its people and government. 

Accepting this might not be easy for those who have developed an identity based on opposition to the Cuban government, but it is the reality we face. Let’s give in to a moment of clarity. We cannot, with any credibility, demand changes in others when we, as a community, remain so unwilling, or unable, to change. 

But, I could be wrong. What do I know?

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