OP/ED: End America’s Perverse Embargo Against Cuba 5

Jesse Jackson meeting with Cuban leader Fidel Castro in Cuba on June 25, 1984.

Jesse Jackson meeting with Cuban leader Fidel Castro in Cuba on June 25, 1984.

By Jesse Jackson, Chicago Sun-Times


When President Barack Obama called on the world to contribute to fighting Ebola in West Africa, the response was, as the Wall Street Journal reported, “underwhelming.” One nation stood up immediately: Cuba dispatched 165 medical personnel to Sierra Leone, the largest single contribution to that country. “Against Ebola, we can work with anyone,” said Jorge Delgado Bustillo, head of the Cuban Sierra Leone Medical Brigade “The United States? Yes, we can.”

Cuba has sent tens of thousands of health workers to aid foreign nations in distress, including 1,500 to Haiti after its 2010 earthquake. The Cubans cooperate with the U.S. on migration issues and in patrolling the seas. The Cubans also aid the U.S. in the wars on drugs and terror, now hosting peace talks between the Colombian government and guerrilla leaders there that even American officials acknowledge are helpful.

Cubans are freer to travel to the U.S. than Americans are to travel to Cuba. The Cubans are expanding private ownership and encouraging foreign investment, with the Brazilians, Europeans, Chinese and Russians all grabbing opportunities. While the Cubans are far from a democracy and continue to curb dissent and limit freedom of assembly, their leaders are slowly opening the country up, while playing a responsible role across the developing world.

And yet America continues to enforce an embargo that began in 1961. The State Department still includes Cuba on its list of terrorist nations.

This perverse policy has helped to isolate the U.S. in its own hemisphere. The U.S. government’s unrelenting opposition to Cuba’s presence at hemispheric meetings has offended virtually all of our neighbors, while isolating the U.S. Now the U.S. has been put on notice: When Latin American governments open the seventh Summit of the Americas in Panama City next spring, Cuba will be in attendance whether Obama comes or not.

The failed embargo against Cuba should have been lifted decades ago. The embargo has been sustained largely for two reasons. First, Castro embarrassed the CIA and the cold warriors, frustrating their attempts to invade the island, destabilize the regime and assassinate him. Second, domestic politics, particularly the passion of Cuban American voters in the swing state Florida, sustained the policy long past its expiration date. But the Cold War is long over, and the new generation of Cuban Americans wants relations opened up.

The New York Times recently called on President Obama to normalize relations with Cuba. Only Congress can fully end the embargo, but the president can expand the right to travel to and invest in the island, and can restore normal diplomatic ties. He might sensibly commute the sentences of the three of the five Cuban men who remain in jail after 16 years, and exchange them for Alan Gross, now imprisoned in Cuba for five years as an American spy.

This could help launch a new era of engagement with our own hemisphere. The U.S. has been so busy across the world that it has neglected — and often scorned — our neighbors. Yet from immigration to terrorism to climate change and economic vitality, good relations with our neighbors are critical.

Ending the outmoded cold war against an island 90 miles off our shore is long overdue. By taking this step, President Obama can revive U.S. leadership in the region and bring to an end an historic embarrassment.

In New Book, Ex-Secretary of State Clinton Says She Urged Obama to End Cuba Embargo 2

obama-clinton-300x159(Atlanta BlackStar) In her new book, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says she pushed President Barack Obama to lift or ease the decades-long U.S. embargo on Cuba because it was no longer useful to American interests or promoting change on the communist island.

In excerpts of the book Hard Choices obtained by The Associated Press ahead of its release next week, Clinton writes that the embargo has given communist leaders Fidel and Raul Castro an excuse not to enact democratic reforms. And she says opposition from some in Congress to normalizing relations — “to keep Cuba in a deep freeze” — has hurt both the United States and the Cuban people. She says the 2009 arrest by Cuba of USAID contractor Alan Gross and Havana’s refusal to release him on humanitarian grounds is a “tragedy” for improving ties.

“Since 1960, the United States had maintained an embargo against the island in hopes of squeezing Castro from power, but it only succeeded in giving him a foil to blame for Cuba’s economic woes,” she writes. She says her husband, former President Bill Clinton, tried to improve relations with Cuba in the 1990s, but the Castro government did not respond to the easing in some sanctions. Nonetheless, Obama was determined to continue the effort, she writes.

She says that late in her term in office she urged Obama to reconsider the U.S. embargo. “It wasn’t achieving its goals,” she writes, “and it was holding back our broader agenda across Latin America. … I thought we should shift the onus onto the Castros to explain why they remained undemocratic and abusive.”

Clinton writes that in the face of “a stone wall” from the Castro regime, she and Obama decided to engage directly with the Cuban people.

“We believed that the best way to bring change to Cuba would be to expose its people to the values, information and material comforts of the outside world,” she says.

The steps that Obama took, including allowing more travel to the island and increasing the amount of money Cuban-Americans can send back to the island, have had a positive effect, she writes.

Read the full story at abcnews.go.com

Boston Globe OP/ED: In Twilight of Castro Regime, Failed US Embargo Must Go 2

A vintage American car drives along a street in Havana in December. (ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images/file)

A vintage American car drives along a street in Havana in December. (ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images/file)

Cuba exists in a state of suspended animation, poised for a future it can’t yet grasp. The population is better educated than in other Caribbean nations, but to no visible end. Families are relatively healthy, protected by a medical system that sometimes wins praise from the American left, but there are not nearly enough jobs for all the hale and hearty workers.

Havana retains the time-warp look and feel of the 1950s, in its cars and architecture, and this seems like a deliberate statement: No country, even one whose economy is as idle as Cuba’s, can resist all change without wanting to. Indeed, the most visible economic energy in Havana is spent on restoring buildings to their Art Deco shine and repainting ancient Studebakers. Fifty-five years later, Fidel and Raul Castro are still fighting the revolution as though it were 1959, relishing in having eight poor families camped out in decaying mansions built for foreign oligarchs, while shunning the consumer goods that separate rich from poor in capitalist economies.

The fact that at least some Havanans are reasonably adjusted to their circumstances is, perhaps, a sign of the Castros’ endurance: They’ve stuck with their system long enough to show that countries can advance by measures other than GDP. But they couldn’t get away with maintaining a police state, while justifying basic deprivations like lack of Internet service, without the help of their neighbor to the north. The US trade embargo is the Castros’ best weapon by far, the excuse they feed to their own people for the lack of economic opportunities. It gives the Cuban regime the one thing it can’t produce on its own: a reason to continue the revolution.

It’s long past time for Congress to ease the trade embargo, but President Obama needs to lead the way with a reassessment of US policy toward Cuba, explaining to both US and Cuban audiences why better relations would be mutually beneficial.

Fidel Castro is 88, and Raul is almost 83. They’ve outlasted their enemies and seem a sure bet to maintain power until they relinquish it voluntarily or die. Cubans understand the actuarial reality and hold Fidel, Raul, and the rest of the “revolutionary generation” in the type of regard usually reserved for those who’ve passed from the scene: They’re willing to forgive the present and color the past in rosy hues in anticipation of a better future. They are concerned about the outlines of that future. The United States, hovering less than 100 miles away, should be, too.

The embargo is a Cold War relic that remains unchanged because of politics — domestic US politics. In Florida, the important “swing state” in presidential elections, some Cuban exiles cling to the embargo as revenge against the Castro brothers. It’s a largely personal, single-issue mindset that can’t, and shouldn’t, be disrespected because it grew out of personal experience. Many of these older Cuban-Americans lost land and money in the Castro revolution, while seeing their families torn apart.

OP/ED continues here:  US Embargo Must Go

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?

New York Times OP/ED: Lift the Cuban Embargo 2


Some Republicans and Cuban-American lawmakers are criticizing President Obama for shaking President Raúl Castro’s hand at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela. Their reaction to a gesture of common courtesy should come as no surprise given Washington’s senseless commitment to a failed 50-year policy toward Cuba.

This page has long called for an end to America’s embargo, which has strengthened the hand of Mr. Castro, his brother Fidel and other hard-liners who have used it as an excuse for their disastrous misrule in Havana. And it has hurt the Cuban people whom we claim to want to help.

Supporters of the embargo, including Cuban-American lawmakers like Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, have argued that it gives the United States leverage and should not be removed until democracy returns to the island. The fact that the Castros remain firmly in charge in Havana more than a half-century after President John F. Kennedy instituted the restrictions against Cuba shows how effective that idea is.

Mr. Obama took some tentative steps to ease the embargo in 2009 by allowing Cuban-Americans to visit and send remittances to the island. He also cleared the way for telecommunications companies to establish licensing deals in Cuba. But the administration has not pushed publicly for any significant changes since then.
The Castro regime has not helped. For the last four years it has imprisoned Alan Gross, a State Department contractor, for distributing satellite phone equipment to Jewish organizations in Cuba. Mr. Castro should release Mr. Gross and the numerous other political prisoners. But at the same time, Mr. Obama should press Congress to end the embargo and overhaul policy toward Cuba.

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Obama Urged to Take Lead on Easing Cuba Policy 1

By Guy Taylor, The Washington Times

The Obama administration should — and has the legal authority to — use its executive power to begin lifting the decades-old embargo on trade with Cuba, according to two papers this week issued by an influential Latin America think tank and a leading Cuban exile group. The New York-based Council on the Americas and the Washington-based Cuba Study Group both call on the White House to ease the 60-year-old embargo in order to promote free market activity on the communist island. The State Department so far has declined to comment on the documents, but one official described the Council on the Americas as “influential” and told The Washington Times that the State Department does “appreciate their views.”

Circulation of the white papers came the same week that a delegation of U.S. lawmakers, headed by Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, met with Cuban President Raul Castro in an unsuccessful attempt to secure the release of Maryland contractor Alan Gross, who has been imprisoned in Cuba since 2009. Mr. Gross is accused of illegally bringing communications equipment to Cuba as part of a democracy-building program supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development. His detention remains a source of friction between Washington and Havana.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland categorically denied a Boston Globe report Thursday which suggested that newly confirmed Secretary of State John F. Kerry may be seriously considering removing Havana from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism as a first step to improved relations. Citing interviews with “a series of top administration officials and members of Congress,” the newspaper reported that “there is a growing consensus in policy and intelligence circles that Cuba’s support for terrorist groups has been terminated and the country should be removed from the list — much like the George W. Bush administration did with North Korea in 2008.” Ms. Nuland said The Globe piece was “incorrect,” telling reporters at Thursday’s briefing that “this department has no current plans to remove Cuba from the state sponsor of terrorism list.” She added, however, that officials review the list annually and will do so during 2013.

Questions about Cuba’s status coincide with growing speculation in Washington that Mr. Kerry — a former Democratic senator from Massachusetts — may be eager to push the White House toward an easing of relations with the communist island. Mr. Kerry did not single out Cuba during his wide-ranging foreign policy address Wednesday at the University of Virginia, but he did publish an article in 2009 in The St. Petersburg Times calling for a lifting of all restrictions to travel to the island.

The white papers circulated this week argue that Mr. Obama should do just that despite a law preventing the restoration of U.S.-Cuba diplomatic relations without congressional approval.
The 1996 Helms-Burton Act also blocks the lifting of the embargo on trade unless significant democratic reforms are implemented and a functional democratic government is established on the island. The Cuba Study Group called on Congress to repeal the 1996 law, saying it would allow the White House to “adopt more efficient, targeted policies necessary for pressuring the Cuban leadership to respect human rights and implement political reforms, while simultaneously empowering all other sectors of society to purse their economic well-being and become the authors of their own futures.”

The Council on the Americas paper argues that Mr. Obama could work around restrictions associated with Cuba’s current status as a state sponsor of terrorism. The White House, according to the paper, should “grant exceptions” for “sales and imports” of goods for businesses in Cuba that can prove they are not working for the Castro regime, as well as allowing for the “sale of telecommunications hardware” such as cellphone towers and satellite dishes in Cuba.