Is Obama Contemplating Unilateral Action on Cuba? 3

President Obama and Raul Castro

President Obama and Raul Castro

The Spanish foreign minister’s recent statement that he would bring ‘concrete messages’ from the US government to Havana has some Republicans speculating that President Obama is looking to move further away from decades-old policy on Cuba.

By Howard LaFranchi, Christian Science Monitor

Is President Obama about to take unilateral steps to ease US relations with Cuba?

A number of recent developments – from Mr. Obama’s recourse to executive action on immigration to the Spanish foreign minister’s enigmatic statement that he would be carrying “very concrete messages” from the US government when he visits Havana this week – have some Republicans fretting that the White House aims to move even further from decades-old policy of isolating communist Cuba.

Obama last took action on Cuba in 2011, when he eased travel restrictions on Americans visiting the island. But a year ago in Florida, he raised eyebrows – and the hopes of supporters about a new US direction with Cuba – when he spoke of wanting “to continue to update our policies.”

It makes no sense, the president said, to continue with policies from 1961 “in the age of the Internet and Google and world travel.”

Some advocates of liberalized relations with Cuba are pressing the administration for concrete steps before April. That’s when Obama is slated to take part in the Summit of the Americas in Panama, which is expected to be the first such hemispheric gathering to include Cuba.

In the past, the United States has vetoed Cuba’s participation on the grounds that the gathering is limited to the hemisphere’s democracies, but a number of countries have said they would not attend next year’s summit if Cuba were once again barred.

But supporters of the status quo on relations with Cuba counter that if the US has stuck with policies from the 1960s – notably an embargo – it’s because the Castro regime that came to power in that era continues today to deny the Cuban people the democratic governance and human rights that most of the rest of the Western Hemisphere enjoys.

Last week Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio used a confirmation hearing for Antony Blinken, Obama’s deputy national security adviser and his choice to become deputy secretary of State, to grill Mr. Blinken about “chatter” in Washington that Obama intends to make “unilateral change” on US-Cuba policy.

Ending the embargo would require congressional action, but there are other steps the president could take to redirect US policy on Cuba.

Feature continues here:  Will Obama Go It Alone On Cuba?


Obama Could Lift Sanctions Against Cuba After Next Week’s Election, Says Congressman 8

By Michael E. Miller, Miami New Times

President Obama and Raul Castro

President Obama and Raul Castro

The Cuban expression “mañana, mañana.” is often interpreted by Anglos as an excuse for laziness. In fact, the saying speaks volumes about its island of origin. In a country that has been led by one Castro or another for more than half a century, what hope can there be that tomorrow will be any different from today?

Earlier this month, that question brought several dozen experts, academics, and journalists to Columbia Journalism School in Manhattan. Optimism was evident in the conference’s title — Covering Cuba in an Era of Change — as well as in the presentations, which included strong hints that the embargo’s days are numbered.

Gregory Craig, former White House counsel under Barack Obama, said the president already has the legal power to lift most of the sanctions that have crippled Cuba since the fall of the Soviet Union. Although Congress probably would refuse to officially overturn the embargo, Obama could — and should — instantly normalize diplomatic relations and allow Americans to travel to the island, Craig said.

Massachusetts Congressman Jim McGovern outlined a six-month window in which Obama is most likely to make a move, beginning after next week’s midterm elections and concluding with the Summit of the Americas in late April.

If Obama and Raúl Castro both attend as predicted, it will be the first official meeting between two countries’ leaders since Raúl and Fidel swept down from the Sierra Maestra.

“We are reassured [by the White House] that people are working on it,” McGovern said of a U.S.-Cuba policy change. “The stars seem to be aligned.”

Many roadblocks remain, however. McGovern warned that any rapprochement would require dealing with both Alan Gross — the USAID contractor imprisoned in Cuba since 2011 for distributing satellite phones without a permit — and the three surviving members of the “Cuban Five,” the Castro agents who spied on Miami’s exile community.

Easing the embargo would also cost Obama politically. “I think part of the reluctance is that [the administration] will get some pushback from people who are in pretty serious positions,” McGovern said, including Miami’s hard-line Cubans.

Perhaps the most concrete evidence that things are already changing on the island was the presence of three Cuban journalists at the conference. Miriam Celaya, Elaine Díaz, and Orlando Luís Pardo Lazo have all been allowed to leave under recently relaxed travel restrictions. Celaya is scheduled to return to Havana this week, while Díaz and Pardo are on yearlong academic fellowships.

But Celaya and Pardo hardly painted a promising picture of their homeland. Celaya said she had been blocked from entering the library because of her journalism. Other reporters had been beaten and imprisoned, Pardo said. Both described having to share articles via paquetes, or troves of documents on flash drives. And Pardo said Cuba’s infamous state security apparatus remained intact despite the growth of internet on the island.

“Our own [Edward] Snowden would not survive, would not escape,” he warned. “Our own Snowden would be shot on the spot.”

Ultimately, despite the talk of Obama ending the embargo and ushering in change in Cuba, Pardo feared that the solution was still, as it has been for 50 years, “biological.”

In other words: when the Castros kick the bucket.

Raúl Castro propuso a Obama un ‘canal de comunicación secreto’ 2

El famoso apretón de manos entre Barack Obama y Raúl Castro durante los funerales de Nelson Mandela en el FNB Stadium de Soweto, Sudáfrica, el 10 de diciembre del 2013.Uncredited/Associated Press

El famoso apretón de manos entre Barack Obama y Raúl Castro durante los funerales de Nelson Mandela en el FNB Stadium de Soweto, Sudáfrica, el 10 de diciembre del 2013.Uncredited/Associated Press

By Nora Gámez Torres,

La administración del presidente Barack Obama utilizó al embajador español Miguel Ángel Moratinos en el 2009 para hacer llegar un mensaje a Raúl Castro y pedir una acción que reciprocara su decisión de eliminar, tras llegar a la Casa Blanca, las restricciones a los viajes de los cubanoamericanos.

En el libro Back Channel to Cuba, The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana, Peter Kornbluh y William LeoGrande reproducen el mensaje enviado a Castro: “Diga a la autoridades cubanas que entendemos que las cosas no pueden cambiar de la noche a la mañana, pero que a lo largo del camino, cuando miremos atrás, deberá quedar claro que este fue el momento en que las cosas comenzaron a cambiar”.

Raúl Castro envió de vuelta una propuesta de abrir un “canal de comunicación secreto”, pero la Casa Blanca replicó que cualquier conversación debía entablarse a través de los “canales establecidos”.

Los autores del libro, que recoge la historia de las negociaciones secretas entre Cuba y Estados Unidos en los últimos 55 años, señalan que aunque Obama ha reconocido que una política hostil es fútil, no ha tenido más voluntad que sus predecesores en romper este impasse. Las razones quizá están en las “lecciones” que los autores resumen casi al final del texto: “Estados Unidos se ha contentado con vivir en un ‘antagonismo perpetuo’ hacia Cuba porque los costos han sido relativamente bajos, y cambiar la política supone riesgos políticos domésticos que los sucesivos presidentes han juzgado como muy grandes”.

Pero Kornbluh aseguró a el Nuevo Herald que las “lecciones” tienen que ver con lo que ha sucedido en los últimos 55 años, y no con el contexto actual.

“La política doméstica sí es un gran impedimento desde el fin de la Guerra Fría pero hay cosas que están cambiando en términos de la opinión pública en Miami y Florida”, en parte como resultado de la propia política de Obama de permitir viajar más libremente a los cubanoamericanos a Cuba, señaló.

Otro factor mencionado por el autor es que Obama es un presidente demócrata en su segundo mandato, por lo que no está tan preocupado por las repercusiones de un cambio de política.

“Florida claramente no está siendo considerada por Hillary Clinton como un estado con un voto decisivo y ella ha hecho pública su posición de que el embargo es una mala idea para la política exterior estadounidense. Estados Unidos tiene también imperativos regionales para cambiar su política. Mira por ejemplo lo que ha pasado con la Cumbre de las Américas, en la que es Estados Unidos el que está aislado y no Cuba”, agregó.

Read more here: Back Channel






Cuba, US Are Warily, Slowly Improving Relations 1

“Things are changing but they should have changed years ago,” says Darien Garcia Arco, 26, with his girlfriend, Lisandra. (Hannah Berkeley Cohen for The Globe)

“Things are changing but they should have changed years ago,” says Darien Garcia Arco, 26, with his girlfriend, Lisandra. (Hannah Berkeley Cohen for The Globe)

Bryan Bender, Boston Globe,

HAVANA — The imposing, seven-story structure with darkened windows sits just across from the Malecon, or sea wall, central Havana’s communal hangout. It is unadorned, flying no flags, offering few signs that germinating inside are seeds of a better relationship between official enemies.

The United States cut off relations and imposed a trade embargo with communist Cuba more than half a century ago. But at the so-called US Interests Section in Havana, 50 US diplomats and 300 locally hired Cubans are quietly working on a range of common challenges.

The two governments are cooperating to combat human trafficking, improve airline security, and conduct search and rescue operations. They are working on joint efforts to improve public health and guard against environmental degradation. And “working-level” discussions are under way to do more, officials say.

The Drug Enforcement Agency could soon be sending agents to work with Cuban counterparts to track South American cartels, and the United States has proposed reestablishing direct mail delivery between the countries.

The behind-the-scenes work continues despite the recent controversy over a covert US effort to provide Cubans access to a Twitter-like social network.

Another thorny disagreement is over the fate of Alan Gross, a US State Department contractor who has been jailed in Cuba for four years, accused of being a spy. Cuban officials insist they want something in return; namely, three Cubans convicted in the United States on charges that they were intelligence agents.

“There is a big over-arching political cleft. But we are doing a number of things that have been politically blessed by both sides,” said a senior US diplomat who works at the diplomatic post.

The diplomat — who requested anonymity to speak, in compliance with State Department rules — expressed frustration that interaction between the two governments at higher levels is still officially prohibited.

The Obama administration, under pressure from politically powerful Cuban-Americans in South Florida and their supporters in Congress, insists that relations can be restored only when Cubans win “fundamental human rights and the ability to freely determine their own political future.”

Cuba’s leaders, meanwhile, decry continuing US efforts to destabilize their one-party system.

But a recent visit to this island just 90 miles from Florida, and interviews with Cuban and American officials, revealed a slow but unmistakable thaw on both sides of the Florida Straits. They are realistic about the snail’s pace of change, while describing pent-up demand for better economic opportunities.

Nowhere is that more evident than at the US Interests Section, housed in the former US Embassy that was completed just before the Cuban Revolution in 1959, when Fidel Castro, along with his brother Raul, took power.

Read more here:  Cuba, US Are Warily, Slowly Improving Relations