The Julia Sweig Juggernaut Rolls on 1

Competition in Cuba

By Julia Sweig, Huffington Post

Two weeks ago on a trip to Cuba the buzz was about this week’s CELAC summit, and more specifically about Brazil. President Dilma has now inaugurated the Port of Mariel, a $1 billion BNDS-backed Odebrecht investment. Brazilian capital is playing the long game there also in cane, soy, corn, tobacco and pharmaceuticals. For Brazil and Cuba, business is business, but shared history and the wink of solidarity doesn’t hurt.

Yet even as Havana was gearing up to host a few dozen heads of state, their spouses, and entourages and the press corp, I also heard a clear and explicitly stated interest in cooperation with the United States, between governments, business and society. It is already happening in a low-key way, but not through large-scale, Brazil-type investment. At least not yet. Instead, Cubans living in the United States are sending over $1 billion a year to families, who in turn are investing in new small businesses, some turning a profit, some not. There is no travel ban for Cuban-Americans, and I am guessing that the recently-opened residential real estate market is booming in part because of capital from Miami. (It is only a matter of time before the borders disappear, and Cuban capital palpably helps boost the South Florida economy).

Americans without family on the island still must ask our government for special licenses to travel to Cuba legally. And the government is fickle in granting them, mainly because the ever-self-protecting bureaucracy tends to follow the political zeitgeist: just say “no” to anything that might help the Castros, even if the American national interest suggests otherwise. But even that equation is now changing.

President Obama does not have a nuclear crisis or a genocidal civil war or a sectarian conflict compelling him to finally and substantially overhaul Washington’s tired and embarrassing Cuba policy. But he does have a consensus to do so from American public and editorial opinion, and from the business, cultural, artistic, athletic, religious and you-name-it communities in the United States. All he has to do is lead, and this consensus will make itself manifest in a heartbeat.

Other than the competitive juices that might have started to flow during this week’s showcasing of Brazil’s presence in Cuba, there is one geopolitical event that could compel Obama to finally marginalize the tiny minority within his own party that prefers to keep Cuba policy on ice. In 13 months, March 2015, Obama will make his final presidential appearance at the Summit of the Americas, the Inter-American system’s marquee event where Washington still has a voice. Last year in Cartagena, the message was unanimous: Cuba next time, or no Summit. Obama can again dismiss this message and lose even more influence in the Americas. But the stars are aligning for Obama to make a big legacy move by 2015. Mark my word and start your clocks.

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CFR’s Julia Sweig Continues Role as Havana Spokeswoman 3

In her story on Wednesday’s wrap-up of the second Summit of the Latin America and Caribbean Economic Community (CELAC), Portia Siegelbaum of CBS News included these offerings from Julia Sweig::

“I can’t imagine a return to the old pattern of Washington dominating the Inter-American system. I’d like to imagine that the Obama administration has the imagination and creativity and confidence to adjust to the new Latin America of foreign policy independence and vastly less deference to Washington. The White House has a choice: throw up its hands and opt for a focus on its bilateral relations with individual countries in the region, or try to accommodate the region’s new multilateralism — one that emphatically includes Cuba.”

Siegelbaum also noted Sweig’s claim that during her latest two-week visit to Cuba, she “heard a clear and explicitly stated interest in cooperation with the United States.”

Editor’s Note: For an excellent summary of the role of Cuban Intelligence Officers in forming Julia Sweig’s opinion, see Humberto Fontova’s September 2010 article, Latin-America “Expert” – or Castro Agent?

CFR’s Julia Sweig, Friend of 6 Cuban Spies, Arranged Graham’s Cuba Visit 1

Former Sen. Bob Graham of Florida was in Havana last week on a trip “arranged by Julia Sweig, a Cuba analyst and senior fellow at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations” reported Juan Tamayo in yesterday’s Miami Herald. Graham, now in his late 70s, made his first trip to Cuba as part of Sweig’s “group of environmental and disaster experts.” Sweig has long and public connections with senior officials throughout Cuba’s intelligence and political arenas.

During the visit, Cuban officials told her group Havana was negotiating with foreign nations for oil exploration off the northern coast. Large deposits of crude exist in deep waters off the northern coast the visitors were assured and drilling will certainly resume at some point. Predictably, these same officials informed Graham and the others that easing the US embargo would aid in their efforts. A former Democratic governor of Florida and longtime supporter of Cuba sanctions, Havana was undoubtedly delighted when Graham suggested that a limited exemption for oil efforts was an option.

Editor’s Note: For an excellent summary of the role of Cuban Intelligence Officers in forming Julia Sweig’s opinion, see Humberto Fontova’s September 2010 article, Latin-America “Expert”– or Castro Agent?

CFR OP/ED: Low-Hanging Fruit 1

Author: Julia E. Sweig, Nelson and David Rockefeller Senior Fellow for Latin America Studies and Director for Latin America Studies (Council on Foreign Relations)

Originally published in Portuguese on Folha de Sao Paulo:

In 1823 Secretary of State John Quincy Adams saw Cuba as ripe for the territorial expansion of a United States that needed both to quell factional conflict and mark itself as a world power. Almost 200 years later, Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama stubbornly resist that ‘low hanging fruit,’ not of annexation, but of a foreign policy victory with Cuba.

The contrast with Iran is instructive. First with Hilary Clinton and now with John Kerry, the Obama White House has shown that an international consensus around a mix of diplomacy and collective sanctions can set the stage for potentially meaningful results with Iran. To do so, they have been willing to antagonize Israel and Saudi Arabia, provoke political backlash in the U.S. Congress, including from their own party, and enrage other hardliners for whom no process with Iran, short of the complete relinquishing of its nuclear program and regime change, is enough.

When it comes to Cuba, Washington also benefits from a complete international consensus, albeit on the failure and folly of sanctions, and from favorable public opinion on the merits of a diplomatic process. But the comparison stops there. In short, the White House knows full well that Cuba doesn’t have a nuclear program, it doesn’t support terrorists (in fact it facilitates their incorporation into the democratic process in Colombia’s case), it doesn’t have troops in Africa or guerrillas in Latin America, and it doesn’t permit organized crime and drug trafficking to transit through its waters or across its territory. After 55 years of antagonism, the White House finally seems to understand that the one thing Washington wants from Cuba—some call it control, others call it liberal democracy—is not something that can be coerced from Havana with sanctions.

The only thing Cuba can give today that the United States (sort of) wants is one man, and his last name is not Castro. His name is Alan Gross. This week Gross marks four years in a Cuban military hospital that serves as his prison. Gross was arrested while working for a U.S.-government subcontractor installing advanced satellite equipment as part of Washington’s regime change programs. Because those programs are the jealously-guarded darlings of Robert Menendez, a Cuban-American Democrat who now chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, (and who also opposes the Iran deal), the White House has done little to date but futilely demand Gross’ unconditional release. Yet Obama paid Egypt $5 million for the release of Americans detained while working for the International Republican Institute. He swapped spies with Moscow. He negotiated the release of hikers from Iran and a CIA contractor from Pakistan.

Some 66 senators now back negotiations with Havana over Gross. Obama won Florida with 50 percent of the Cuban-American vote. What, exactly, is the President waiting for?

This article appears in full on CFR.org by permission of its original publisher. It was originally available here.

A Castro Groupie’s Strategy to Reduce Violence 2

By Humberto Fontova in FrontPage Mag

This month the Council on Foreign Relations released a “Policy Innovation Memorandum” titled “A Strategy to Reduce Gun Trafficking and Violence in the Americas.” The memo was authored by the CFR’s “Senior Fellow for Latin American Studies,” Julia F. Sweig.

According to Ms. Sweig, the “policy” that needs “innovation” is U.S. gun laws.

Why?

In brief: because too many people are shooting each other in Latin America. “The flow of high-powered weaponry from the United States to Latin America and the Caribbean exacerbates soaring rates of gun-related violence in the region,” asserts her memo.

“[R]ecent federal gun control measures have run aground on congressional opposition,” laments Ms Sweig.

“[T]hough the Senate rejected measures to expand background checks on firearms sales, reinstate a federal assault-weapons ban, and make straw purchasing a federal crime, the Obama administration can still take executive action to reduce the availability and trafficking of assault weapons and ammunition in the Americas[.]“

In brief: to foil Latin American criminals (many of whom cross the southern U.S. border essentially at will) the CFR urges the U.S. president to use every ounce of his executive power and privilege to further gut the constitutional self-defense rights of U.S. citizens. Our President needs to roll up his sleeves, spit on his hands, and ram through regulations that have been repeatedly thwarted by the elected law-makers of the American people.

“The White House should back state and local legislation, in Maryland and Connecticut, which ban the sale of assault rifles (actually: semi-automatic deer-hunting rifles) and high-capacity magazines, broaden existing background check requirements for firearms purchases, and modernize gun-owner registries by requiring, among others, that buyers submit their fingerprints when applying for a gun license.”

All of the above to show our “Latino” neighbors “that United States can be a legitimate partner in “combating transnational crime” and to “fulfill our shared responsibility for regional security.”

As seen, Senior Fellow Julia Sweig professes great concern for curbing “transnational crime” and enhancing “regional security.” But much of her career consists of lobbying for the interests of Castro’s Cuba, historically (and still) the top benefactor of Latin America’s most murderous gun-runners, drug-gangs and terrorists, not to mention the regime that came closest to igniting a worldwide nuclear war.

“Thanks to Fidel Castro, we are now a powerful army, not a hit and run band,” boasted Tiro-Fijo, the late commander of FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.) The FARC’s 50 year murder toll, by the way, far surpasses that of Hezbollah, the Taliban and Al Qaeda combined.

When Julia Sweig visited Cuba in 2010, accompanied by The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, something caught Goldberg’s eye: “We shook hands,” he writes about the meeting with Fidel Castro. “Then he greeted Julia warmly. They (Castro and Sweig) have known each other for more than twenty years.”

Sweig’s promotional services for the Castro regime reached a level where the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency top Cuba spycatcher, Chris Simmons (now retired), named her a Cuban “Agent of Influence.” Some background:

In 25 years as a U.S. Military Counterintelligence officer, Lieut. Col. Simmons helped end the operations of 80 enemy agents, some are today behind bars. One of these had managed the deepest penetration of the U.S. Department of Defense in U.S. history. The spy’s name is Ana Montes, known as “Castro’s Queen Jewel” in the intelligence community. “Montes passed some of our most sensitive information about Cuba back to Havana” said then-Undersecretary for International Security, John Bolton.

Today she serves a 25-year sentence in Federal prison. She was convicted of “Conspiracy to Commit Espionage,” the same charge against Ethel and Julius Rosenberg carrying the same potential death sentence for what is widely considered the most damaging espionage case since the “end” of the Cold War. Two years later, in 2003, Chris Simmons helped root out 14 Cuban spies who were promptly booted from the U.S.

In brief, retired Lieut. Col. Chris Simmons knows what he’s talking about.

Ms. Sweig indeed holds preeminence in one field. No “scholars” in modern American history thanks the “warm friendship” and “support” of six different communist spies and terrorists in the acknowledgments of their book, three of whom were expelled from the U.S. for terrorism and/or espionage, two for a bombing plot whose death toll would have dwarfed 9/11. Some background:

On Nov. 17, 1962, the FBI cracked a plot by Cuban agents that targeted Macy’s, Gimbel’s, Bloomingdale’s and Manhattan’s Grand Central Terminal with a dozen incendiary devices and 500 kilos of TNT. The massive attack was set for the following week, the day after Thanksgiving. Macy’s get’s 50,000 shoppers that one day. Had those detonators gone off, 9/11’s death toll would have almost certainly taken second.

Here are pictures of some of the Cuban terrorists upon arrest. Note the names: Elsa Montero and Jose Gomez Abad.

Now here’s an excerpt from the acknowledgements in Julia Sweig’s book Inside the Cuban Revolution, written in collaboration with the Castro-regime: “In Cuba many people spent long hours with me, helped open doors I could not have pushed through myself, and offered friendship and warmth to myself during research trips to the island…Elsa Montero and Jose Gomez Abad championed this project.”

In addition to these two KGB-trained terrorists, the CFR’s Julia Sweig thanks the “warm friendship and championship of” of Ramon Sanchez Parodi, Jose Antonio Arbesu, Fernando Miguel Garcia, Hugo Ernesto Yedra and Josefina Vidal for their “warmth, their friendship and their kindness in opening Cuban doors.”

All the above have been identified by Lieut. Col Chris Simmons as veteran officers in Castro’s KGB-trained intelligence services.

Castro Apologists Support Migration Talks 2

U.S., Cuba Resuming Migration Talks

By Portia Siegelbaum / CBS News

Havana Cuban and U.S. officials will hold the first migration talks between the two nations since 2011 in Washington on Wednesday.

Analysts believe both countries have a strong interest in getting them off the ground again. “I think there is a lot of clarity in both capitals that geographic proximity and family connectivity require the two governments to establish a regular channel for problem solving and information sharing in this space,” says Julia Sweig, Director of Latin American Studies, Council on Foreign Relations. “Much has changed regarding the flow of people back and forth,” she added.

Periodic discussion of the issue has taken place since 1980, but an accord was not reached until 1994, when the two countries sat down to find a solution to the rafters’ crisis in which 30,000 people fleeing economic troubles at home set out on flimsy crafts hoping to reach U.S. shores. The following year, the U.S. and Cuba signed a second migration accord. Both were agreements to work toward “safe, legal and orderly migration.” And they called for regular reviews of their implementation.

The Bush Administration broke off these twice-yearly talks, along with taking other measures such as severely restricting the rights of Cuban Americans to travel back to the island — limiting them to only one visit every three years. President Obama reestablished the rights of Cuban Americans to visit their homeland as much as they want and resumed the talks, only to break them off over the detention and jailing of U.S. contractor Alan Gross, which the State Department has repeatedly said remains a major obstacle to any improvement in relations between the two neighboring countries.

Gross is serving a 15-year sentence in a Havana military hospital for bringing sophisticated communication equipment illegally into Cuba as part of a USAID program to promote democracy on the island. In Havana’s eyes, the program aims for regime change.

Arturo Lopez Levy, lecturer and PhD Candidate at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, and a Cuban-American says, “Opening the talks again is a sign of both sides’ will to explore ways to advance their positions through negotiations. It opens the possibility of a new virtuous cycle in which a positive action by Cuba or the United States can be reciprocated by the other side. Issues such as Alan Gross’ situation and the presence of Cuba on the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism are on the table because both sides know that their interlocutor would react positively to a goodwill gesture.”

Nevertheless, when the talks were announced last month, State Department spokesman William Ostick said they do not signify a change in U.S. policy toward the island.
Instead, he insisted that, “Continuing to ensure secure migration between the U.S. and Cuba is consistent with our interests in promoting greater freedoms and increased respect for human rights in Cuba.”

But critics of warming relations eye with unease the fact that Wednesday’s talks follow recent bilateral meetings in Washington on direct mail service, suspended since the 1960s. The migration accords commit the United States to issue visas to a minimum of 20,000 Cuban migrants each year, while Cuba promised to discourage irregular and unsafe departures.

The U.S. also agreed to return illegal migrants picked up at sea to Cuba and Havana promised not to take reprisals against them and to allow U.S. diplomats posted at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana to visit the returnees to make sure they are not being treated unjustly. This is important, as it represents a relaxation of Cuba’s previous restrictions on the movement of American diplomats on the island.

Similar softening in these movement limitations is taking place in the U.S., with Washington giving Cuban diplomats posted there or at the U.N. in New York permission to travel to different states, even to Miami.

The U.S. Interests Section also recently took steps to speed up visa interview appointment scheduling and is processing many thousands more Cubans than before. But ordinary Cubans, particularly young ones asking for temporary tourist visas, still complain that they are more often than not turned down as possible immigrants.

The interviews take place in a waiting room, with the visa applicants called up to a window. Anyone there, including others waiting to be interviewed, can hear what’s being said in the interviews being conducted. The “interviews” often last less than a minute. In January 2012, the Cuban government relaxed its travel restrictions, allowing a much greater number of people, including dissidents, to leave the island and for a much longer period of time without losing their property or rights as citizens, to two years instead of 11 months.

That, says Lopez Levy, is a game changer in reaction to which both countries “probably need to update their cooperation in this area in which there are new challenges and opportunities.” He sees the new situation as one in which both sides have something to bring to the table. “Presidents Obama and Raul Castro can bring new positive dynamics to the people to people relations,” he points out. “(Mr.) Obama can implicitly support economic reform in Cuba by easing the trips to Cuba and Cuban-Americans permanence on the island for long periods. Raul Castro can provide a better environment around the U.S. interests’ Section work in Havana, cooperating with more educational and cultural long term trips and contacts.”

Coming Soon: The Potential Role of FIU in a Post-Castro Cuba 3

Event information
Start: Tuesday, Jul. 30, 2013, 09:45AM
End: Tuesday, Jul. 30, 2013, 12:45PM
Venue: Modesto A. Maidique Campus, College of Business, Special Events Center, Room 233

The FIU Cuba Forum is an open discussion among FIU experts and the community regarding the appropriate role of FIU in a post-Castro Cuba. This discussion will serve as the first step in planning for FIU’s participation in Cuba, once federal and state laws allow exchange, and the FIU Board of Trustees deems it appropriate.

The backdrop for the discussion will be a review conducted by renowned economist and Latin American Studies Professor Carmelo Mesa-Lago. His presentation will highlight opportunities and needs in Cuba as well as resources and strengths that FIU can bring to the table. The presentation will be followed by a panel discussion that includes key FIU faculty and administrators in areas such as business, engineering, hospitality, medicine, and international relations.

Program

Remarks:
Mark Rosenberg, President, FIU
Carmelo Mesa-Lago, Consultant
Julia E. Sweig, Director for Latin America Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
Jorge Duany, Director, Cuban Research Institute, FIU

Moderator:
Luis Salas, Associate Vice President, Research, FIU

Panel Members:
Mike Hampton, Dean, Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, FIU
Amir Mirmiran, Dean, College of Engineering and Computing, FIU
Frank Mora, Director, Latin American and Caribbean Center, FIU
Marifeli Pérez-Stable, Professor, Global & Sociocultural Studies, FIU
Monica Tremblay, Associate Professor, Decision Sciences and Information Systems, FIU
Inés R. Triay, Director, Applied Research Center, FIU
Fernando Valverde, Chief Executive Officer, HWCOM Health Care Network Faculty Group, FIU

http://cri.fiu.edu/events/2013/the-potential-role-of-fiu-in-post-castro-cuba/

Editor’s Note: Past reporting on Perez-Stable’s affiliation with Cuban Intelligence can be found here http://newsbusters.org/blogs/lynn-davidson/2008/08/05/media-use-suspected-spies-expert-sources and http://www.latinamericanstudies.org/espionage/marifeli.htm. Similarly, information on the major role of Cuban spies in Julia Sweig’s writing career can be found here: http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Peace/2010/09/25/Latin-America—-Expert——-or-Castro-Agent

Castro Apologist Spins Her View of Post-Chavez Venezuela 1

NPR: After Chavez, What’s Next For Venezuela?

Venezuela’s president Hugo Chavez died Tuesday in Caracas, leaving many unanswered questions about the future of the country. Julia Sweig, director for Latin America studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, talks about the impact “Chavismo” had on Venezuela and the world.

LYNN NEARY, HOST: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I’m Lynn Neary. And as I’ve just mentioned, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez died Tuesday. He led his country for 14 years. A passionate defender of the poor, Chavez had closed ties with Cuba’s Fidel Castro, but alienated the United States with his socialist agenda. His politics reverberated throughout the region.

If you have any questions about the politics of Venezuela, give us a call. The number here is 800-989-8255. The email address is talk@npr.org. And you can join the conversation at our website. Go to npr.org and click on TALK OF THE NATION. Joining me now to talk about the legacy of President Hugo Chavez is Julia Sweig. She is a senior fellow and director of Latin American studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. She wrote a piece with The Atlantic last month called “What Hugo Chavez Built: The Legacy of Latin-American ‘Chavismo.'” She joins us by phone from Calistoga, California. Good to have with you, Julia.

JULIA SWEIG: Great to be here, Lynn. Thank you.

NEARY: Now, in that piece in The Atlantic, you said that early in his presidency, Chavez remarked that he saw himself as a transitional figure in Venezuelan history. What did he mean by that, a transitional figure?

SWEIG: Well, what I surmised at that time, that he meant, is that his objectives in Venezuela to really overhaul the political and economic status quo would require a very long time, and that there was no possibility that one person alone could accomplish his very, very ambitious goals, that the Venezuela he inherited from the ancient regime, if you will, had deep, deep social and political and economic cleavages. And that to redress those, he was but a flicker on the historical screen. I’m not sure, 10 years later, he would have described himself as a transitional figure in Venezuelan history, but I actually see him that way as well.

NEARY: Now, he had a very strong political and very personal relationship with Cuba’s Fidel Castro. Tell us about that.

SWEIG: Yes, he absolutely did, and it goes back to the early 1990s. In 1992, after Lieutenant Colonel Hugo Chavez staged a failed coup himself, he traveled to Cuba and he developed there, with Fidel, a very close and long-standing strategic conversation and then political relationship once he took power in 1999. Fidel Castro, to my mind, saw in Chavez a way to prolong his own legacy and ambition in Latin America as an anti-imperialist, as a revolutionary, albeit in a very different context than when Fidel himself took up that mantle in the 1960s. And they really had a mind meld, of sorts, if you wish, which continued up until; I’m sure, their last goodbye, last week, before Chavez returned from Havana.

NEARY: And, of course, Hugo Chavez was able to funnel a lot of help into Cuba, a lot of financial help into Cuba.

SWEIG: Yes, he did. The relationship was an enormous benefit to Cuba in that regard. After 1989, the Cubans lost their Soviet subsidy. They went for a decade of very, very severe economic crisis. But as the political, diplomatic relationship deepened, especially after 2002, the economic financial relationship also blossomed. And it wasn’t just in the Caracas-Havana direction, although the subsidized oil programs, the barter, the investment that, you know, almost zero-financing, zero-interest investment by Chavez in Cuba was enormous. But Cuba’s investment in Venezuela was likewise essential, I think, to Chavez consolidating his political domination – dominance in the country.

So it wasn’t just the advisers who were providing medical care to poor Venezuelans who had never had it or barely had it, not just the sports, not just the culture, not just the capacity building, but it was strategic advice about how to consolidate power, how to build the institutions of Chavismo, that we’ll now be able to see how long-lasting they were.

NEARY: Well, what were his relations like with the rest of Latin America and South America? I imagine there’s a variety there. But give us a sense of how he was viewed.

SWEIG: You know, I think it’s useful to – so Chavez, in a way, as Fidel had in the past, took up the mantle of sort of representing the David challenging Washington’s Goliath. And in Latin America, the first decade of this century, we saw, not only in Venezuela, but we saw in a number of countries – in Bolivia, in Ecuador, in Nicaragua – of a very different stripe. In Brazil and Argentina, we saw what is, you know, could be loosely understood as a left, center-left – sometimes populist, sometimes not – ethos dominate politics and elect politicians.

Chavez was controversial, even within those countries that I just mentioned, but he also had very, very high symbolic value because he tried to make the case that Latin America no longer needed Washington, could act on its own accord, could have an independent foreign policy, could organize its economies in defiance sometimes of what was called the Washington consensus, could build its own destiny without having to ask permission first. And that’s a very, very resonant message that Chavez embodied.

But at the same time, not only was he polarizing domestically, he also was within the region. And he was very – I would use the word – presumptuous and assuming that this Bolivarian revolutionary model that he had for Venezuela and that he saw for especially the Andean region would be accepted universally and it was not.

It was largely pushed back against, while at the same time, heads of state like Dilma Rousseff in Brazil, before her, Lula in Brazil sort of found a way to appreciate Chavez without – but also erecting some constraints to his ability to mobilize and polarize the region.

Entire story follows here: http://www.npr.org/2013/03/06/173636647/after-chavez-whats-next-for-venezuela

CFR’s Castro Apologist Foresees Free Economy Within Five Years 2

The Post-Castro Era Is Today

Author: Julia E. Sweig, Nelson and David Rockefeller Senior Fellow for Latin America Studies and Director for Latin America Studies

January 30, 2013, Folha de Sao Paulo

The post-Castro era in Cuba has arrived. But its main architect is Raul Castro. His reform agenda does not have the formulaic recitations of a political science textbook or the guidelines of an IMF structural adjustment program. No multiparty elections. No Starbucks, Walmart, or Burger King. Not much independent media. But little by little Cuba is undergoing a significant transformation in the basic expectations Cuban citizens have of the state, and vice versa. Lula’s visit this week may focus on Venezuela, but all around him Cuba is becoming a freer, more open, and yes, more democratic society.

Earlier this month, a new law took effect that eliminates restrictions on travel for almost everyone: Cubans no longer need pay exorbitant fees or await the “tarjeta blanca”—state permission—to travel. Now, they need only a visa, like the rest of the world. And if they want to live and work abroad, Cubans will no longer lose their property or residence status: a big step forward for freedom and human rights, and a potential economic boon as well.

Business and profit are no longer dirty words. Senior officials project that with new laws and regulations empowering small businesses, within five years fully 50 percent of the economy will be in private, non-state hands. Under the new rules, individuals and cooperatives can now hire employees, obtain bank financing, procure inputs from wholesale markets, and turn a profit. There are myriad problems for sure: but these are increasingly of a practical, not ideological nature, more about the need to build capacity and experience, whereas before the private sector was viewed as a necessary evil. Now this new space has legitimacy and legality.

A progressive tax system is also taking shape. This is not a mere technical adjustment. With the new decentralization, state and municipal government will raise and spend their budgets from tax revenue collected at the base, with the federal government paying a much reduced slate of costs—mainly education, health and defense. Cubans are used to getting everything for free. The notion that they will work, pay taxes, and receive health, education and a pension but not much more, represents a radical political shift.

Next month Raul Castro begins his second and very likely final five-year term as president of the Cuban republic. The slate of candidates represents a big demographic and political step forward. Some 67 percent of the candidates for 612 seats are completely new picks, and of these, more than 70 percent were born after 1959. Women comprise 49 percent of the candidates and Afro descendants 37 percent. Cuban voters will be asked to check yea or nay from this new list, so it’s not a direct competition. But if you want to understand where the successors to the post post-Castro era may come from, I’d look at this new group.

CFR’s Julia Sweig, Admitted Friend to 6 Cuban Spies, Highlights Cuba’s “Reforms” 3

Talking to Cuba

Interviewee: Julia E. Sweig, Director for Latin American Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
Interviewer: Robert McMahon, Editor, CFR.org

The Cuban government’s easing of travel restrictions this month marks another sign of its commitment to reforms and changing sentiments in Havana, says Julia Sweig, CFR’s director for Latin American Studies. Washington should seize on such moves, she says, to initiate a new dialogue and begin solving the many problems impeding normalization of ties between the countries–such as the case of detained U.S. citizen Alan Gross–and U.S. influence in the region. “There are geostrategic reasons within the region, leaving apart the bilateral relationship, why it makes a great deal of sense for a strategy of rapprochement with Cuba,” Sweig says.

Cuban authorities this month eased a fifty-year-old travel restriction by allowing Cubans to travel with just a passport, and permitting lengthy stays away. How significant is this?

This is a major step for Cuba domestically, for the Cuban economy, for Cuba in the world, and for Cubans living on and off the island. On the domestic front, this has been one of the most significant sources of unhappiness for the Cuban public, to not be able to travel freely. And what the Cuban government did when it announced this was explain that this is an attempt to bring Cuba in line with other countries. Cubans now need a visa still from the countries they want to visit, and they have to buy their plane tickets, but unlike the previous era, they won’t risk losing their property or their residence status. They can travel abroad as economic migrants, come and go, live for a while abroad in the United States, presumably, go back and invest in their businesses, have two residences–really a huge potential economic boon for the country.

In an interview with CFR.org a year ago, you said the United States now had a willing partner for normalization of ties with Havana but was failing to read the signals. Is this step one of those signals?

This step is largely a domestic, reality-based policy decision. But there are knock-on effects that Washington could conclude suggest that Havana is taking another step in building a more open society and boosting the human rights of its population. If Washington chose to take this as a sign of greater freedom granted by the government to its citizens, it could surely be digested in that way. But I don’t think pleasing Washington is the prime motivation.

How should we read Cuba’s parliamentary elections scheduled for February 3?

As another big demographic and political development: some 67 percent of the candidates for 612 spots are completely new picks, and of these, more than 70 percent were born after 1959. Women comprise 49 percent of the candidates, and Afro descendents 37 percent. Cubans will be asked to check yea or nay from this new list–so it’s not a direct competition between candidates. But if you want to understand where the successors to Fidel and Raul may come from, I’d look closely at the new group that comes in next month.

These elections also tell us something about decentralization: the municipal and provincial deputies are going to have a lot more power to tax and spend than ever before–on everything but health, education, and the military, as I understand it–while the new National Assembly may well start passing a lot more laws than before, to implement a slew of economic, legal, and governance reforms that are under way or coming down the pike. Finally, Ricardo Alarcon, who served as National Assembly president for the last nineteen years, before that as UN ambassador, and who for decades has taken the lead on U.S.-Cuban relations, will not appear on the electoral slate.

Washington continues to point to what it says is the biggest impediment, which is the case of Alan Gross, the U.S. citizen who U.S. officials said was in Cuba to help with Internet access; Cubans say he was subverting the state. He continues to languish in Cuba. How to resolve this issue?

Well, like governments resolve issues, they get in the room and they talk. And they put the issues on the table that are connected indirectly and intrinsically to that particular issue. By the way, the DAI (Developments Alternative International), which was Alan Gross’s employer, just released the contracts (PDF) between DAI and Alan Gross, and there is a lot of information in there about the equipment that Gross brought down there and reasons why he was bringing that equipment. And that will just, unfortunately, reinforce the sense that this wasn’t just benign development or benign Internet assistance.

This was part of a program funded by the U.S. government intended to destabilize the Cuban government, and the documentation really clearly shows that. And the lawsuit, now that the Gross family has filed against the State Department, also says that USAID should have trained Gross in counterintelligence. So, the way to stop this Alan Gross issue from becoming a political Frankenstein is to get in the room and settle a number of issues, including the Gross issue, including the Cuban 5 issue [five Cuban intelligence agents arrested by federal authorities in Miami in 1998 on charges of espionage], including other bilateral issues.

Some see the case of Alan Gross as playing into a narrative that the Cubans are using this case for leverage and are not genuinely interested in justice or in properly handling this case. How do you respond to that perspective?

Well, they are interested in using the case as leverage. President Obama, at the first Summit of the Americas he attended, pledged to open a new chapter in U.S.-Cuban relations and acknowledged that the embargo and U.S. policy had failed. Then he left in place the very policies he had inherited from George W. Bush. Some call them democracy promotions; some call them regime change–explicitly designed to destabilize Cuba. Which is very, very consistent with the bipartisan approach to Cuba over the last fifty years.

Story continues here: http://www.cfr.org/cuba/talking-cuba/p29879

Editor’s Note: For an excellent summary of the role of Cuban Intelligence Officers in forming Julia Sweig’s opinion, see Humberto Fontova’s September 2010 article, Latin-America “Expert”– or Castro Agent?