Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Asst. Secty. Valenzuela on Cuba policy

Dr. Arturo Valenzuela, the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, provided this summary at a luncheon of the Cuban American National Foundation in Miami on May 20th.

“This brings me once again to Cuba, where we seek to promote respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. When President Obama addressed this gathering in May 2008, he emphasized the desire to move Cuba further down the road toward freedom and made clear his commitment to supporting the Cuban people’s desire to freely determine their own future. The President also laid out his openness to direct engagement when, and I quote, ‘we have an opportunity to advance the interests of the United States, and to advance the cause of freedom for the Cuban people.’

“During the first 16 months of the Obama administration, we have begun to make progress on the vision that the President has outlined. First, we have taken measures to increase contact between separated families and to promote the free flow of information to, from, and within Cuba. We believe that the reunification of the divided Cuban family is a positive step toward building a better future for Cuba. In addition, we have engaged Cuban authorities on key bilateral matters like migration and direct mail service and will continue to do so to advance U.S. national interests. In the wake of the tragic earthquake in Haiti, the United States worked with Cuba to expedite the arrival of critical supplies to victims and survivors of the worst natural disaster in the modern history of the Western Hemisphere.

“We have also increased artistic and cultural exchanges between our countries, consistent with our long-standing support for freedom of expression. The ‘Peace Without Borders’ concert in Havana and performances in the United States by noted Cuban artists such as Carlos Varela demonstrate in concrete terms our desire to promote greater communication between the people of the United States and Cuba. In 2009, there was an 80 percent increase in travel licenses issued to U.S. persons under the public performances, athletic, and other competitions and exhibitions category; a 25 percent increase in religious licenses; and a 16 percent increase in licenses issued for academic travel to Cuba. Additionally, non-immigrant visa issuances for Cuban citizens have more than doubled in the last year, including visas for more Cubans to travel to the United States for cultural academic and professional exchange. This engagement has not generated overnight change, but it has advanced U.S. interests and in conjunction with our efforts to reach out to the Cuban people helped lay the foundation for a more robust civil society and increased the chances that Cuba will make a successful transition to democracy.

“We remain deeply concerned by the poor human rights situation in Cuba, which contributed to the recent death of prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata as a result of a hunger strike. We are also focused on securing the release of U.S. citizen Alan Gross, who was jailed in Cuba in December—a matter of great importance to the United States. And the unhelpful rhetoric of the Cuban government will remain a constant feature of the relationship almost irrespective of what policies we pursue.

“Again, we are committed to continuously evaluating and refining our policies in ways that will empower the Cuban people and advance our national interests. This does not, however, mean that we will shy away from condemning the Cuban government’s repressive ways—far from it. Just last March, President Obama stated, ‘Cuban authorities continue to respond to the aspirations of the Cuban people with a clenched fist.’ That response is discouraging, but will not deter us from pursing the policy approach the President has laid out and which we have been working hard to advance since January 20, 2009.”

Thursday, May 6, 2010

DASD Frank Mora on Cuba Policy

“The Top 7 Myths of U.S. Defense Policy Toward the Americas”
April 29, 2010
Dr. Frank O. Mora
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Western Hemisphere Affairs

Although not necessarily a security or defense issue, the seventh myth regards Cuba. Being here at ICCAS, I would be remiss if I did not discuss U.S.-Cuba relations. The question of Cuba is so complex, with so much history, that it is perhaps not surprising that it forces me to abandon the framework I’ve used for this speech.

In discussing Cuba, there are two critiques of the Administration’s policy to date. Simply stated, critics contend we have either done too much or not nearly enough. Some claim the Administration has not sufficiently broken from the past while others accuse the Administration of propping up the repressive Cuban authorities. Neither is correct. It is important to recognize that the President has done exactly what he promised he would do with regard to Cuba policy. He has removed restrictions on family visits and remittances; he has sought to engage on issues of mutual interest such as migration and direct postal service; he has sought to increase the flow of information to, from, and among the Cuban people; and he has stood up in defense of the basic human and political rights of the Cuban people in denouncing the tragic death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo and renewing his call for the unconditional release of all political prisoners. In the wake of the tragic earthquake in Haiti, the United States has also cooperated with Cuba to expedite the arrival of critical supplies to victims and survivors of the worst natural disaster in the modern history of the Western Hemisphere.

In sum, the promises that President Obama has fulfilled are significant because they create opportunities for relationship building and exchange and demonstrate that we are sincere in our openness and desire to establish a new chapter in the history of U.S.-Cuban relations. The administration cannot be blamed, however, for those who project more on to President Obama than what was, in fact, promised.

Of course, and as the President has observed, a fundamental change in the U.S.-Cuba relationship requires action and good will from both sides. We have seen very little good will from the Cuban authorities and even less positive action. As Secretary of State Clinton recently noted, the Cuban authorities remain intransigent.

Despite this intransigence, U.S. policy will remain focused on reaching out to the Cuban people in support of their desire to freely determine their future and will remain committed to advancing U.S. national interests. Thus, we will push forward constantly to break old paradigms by promoting people-to-people bonds. The risk that such bonds somehow aid current Cuban authorities is, in my view, negligible. I sincerely believe we have developed an appropriately cautious approach that strikes the right balance between moving our relationship with Cuba in a positive direction while simultaneously maintaining pressure on the Cuban government to allow the Cuban people to be truly free.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Sen Menendez Challenges Secty Clinton on democracy support

Clinton, senator spar over Cuba policy

Posted: February 25th, 2010 06:46 AM ET

From CNN Senior State Producer Charley Keyes

Washington (CNN) - In a tense moment during hearings on Capitol Hill, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sparred with Sen. Robert Menendez over whether the United States had halted pro-democracy programs in Cuba.

U.S.-Cuban relations have become tenser in the aftermath of the December imprisonment of a U.S. citizen and government contractor, Alan Gross.

"For some reason, it seems to me, when it comes to Cuba, the recent actions by the regime to arrest an American citizen have totally frozen our actions," Menendez, D-New Jersey, said at a Senate Foreign Relations budget hearing with Clinton.

"Are we going to have a permanent freeze on having entities that are trying to create peaceful change for civil society inside of Cuba? Is that the policy of the State Department?"

Clinton denied a freeze was in force, but said there is "an intense review" under way.

"We are very supportive of the work that we believe should be done to support those people of conscience inside Cuba. We are trying to figure out the best ways to effective in doing that," Clinton said.

"We're currently reviewing the risks in the wake of the baseless arrest of Mr. Gross in Cuba so that people who are traveling in furtherance of the mission, advocating for freedom, providing services, providing supplies and material to Cubans will take the necessary precautions when traveling."

Clinton's comments came a day after the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a Cuban pro-democracy activist and prisoner who died after a hunger strike.

"We are deeply distressed by his death during a hunger strike on behalf if his rights and to send a signal of the political prisoner situation and oppression in Cuba where we think there are in excess of 200 other prisoners of conscience," Clinton said.

Menendez repeated his concern that the U.S. was turning away from pro-democracy activist in Cuba.

"If a regime, whether that be in China , whether than be in any other country in the world, can ultimately deter the United States from its engagement of human rights activists and political dissidents, then that pillar of our diplomacy crumbles," Menendez said.

"But that is not what we are doing," interrupted Clinton.

"Well, I would like to see what we are doing," Menendez said. "Because right now we are not doing very much."

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Dates for Migration Talks, Haiti Cooperation

Date Set to Open Cuba-U.S. Immigration Talks in Havana

Thursday , January 28, 2010


HAVANA — Cuba wants to negotiate an agreement with the U.S. to slow the trafficking of its citizens fleeing the island and hopes to tackle the issue during immigration talks rescheduled for February, the foreign minister said Thursday.

Bruno Rodriguez said negotiators will meet Feb. 19 in Havana and Cuba wants Washington's help in combating people smuggling, often carried out by gangs with souped-up speed boats that ferry Cubans out of the country. While some head for Florida, most arrive on the Caribbean coast of Mexico or Central America and make their way north to the U.S., where they usually are allowed to stay.

"Part of the Cuban agenda presented to the government of the United States is a proposal for a new immigration agreement and solidifying cooperation in the fight against people trafficking," Rodriguez said.

Under U.S. law, Cubans captured at sea are usually deported while those who reach American soil can apply for residency — making Mexico an attractive route. Cuba has long denounced Washington's so-called "wet-foot, dry-foot" policy as encouraging illegal immigration.

Rodriguez said the United States has yet to respond to Cuba's proposals, however, and a spokeswoman at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana — which Washington maintains instead of an embassy since the two countries do not have diplomatic relations — said Thursday that Washington has not yet finalized an exact date for the talks.

Biannual discussions between the U.S. and Cuba were limited to immigration from 1994 until they were canceled under President George W. Bush in 2003. They began anew in New York in July, and both sides called that session positive.

But a second round of discussions planned for December were pushed back.

Looming over the encounter is the arrest of a U.S. government contractor who was detained in Cuba in December for allegedly distributing prohibited satellite communications equipment.

Cuba accuses him of being a spy. U.S. officials deny that, saying he was not working with groups opposed to the communist government but with a religious and cultural organization.

Rodriguez said that under American law, the detainee "would at least be considered an agent of a foreign power."

"Evidently the government of the United States will not quit endorsing the destruction of the Cuban revolution, the political structure of the government of our country," he said. "In any part of the world that would be a serious crime."

Still, Rodriguez said Cuba has coordinated with the U.S. on transporting aid to Haiti, with 60 U.S. flights using airspace in eastern Cuba to reach the quake-devastated country since Havana temporarily opened it to American planes.

"There have been some exchanges between the Foreign Relations Ministry of Cuba and the State Department on an eventual cooperation in Haiti," he said.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Foreign Minister Rodriguez response to Ambassador Rice

Foreign Affairs Minister Rodríguez Parrilla’s reply to the speech given by the U.S. representative

I feel obligated to respond to the speeches given by the United States, the European Union, and Norway.

I should say to the European Union that Cuba recognizes absolutely no moral authority to dictate models or give advice on the matter of democracy. I want to remind it of its complicity in the acts of torture that occurred at Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib and reiterate that as long as it maintains a two-faced and hypocritical position, it will not enjoy any credibility.

Mrs. Rice, who unfortunately is not here in the room at the moment, started out by saying "here we go again." With that phrase she recognized what 17 representatives from the United States have come to do in the past.

I respect her opinions and recognize that her career is totally distinct from that of a neoconservative like Bolton; but she has had the sad task of defending the policy of the blockade here, which began, according to a classified memo, on April 6, 1960 with the professed aim of causing hunger, desperation, and discouragement among the Cuban people.

The only remnant of the Cold War that has been discussed here is precisely the blockade. Lift the blockade and that remnant will disappear.

Mr. President:

Cuba is a democracy that is closer to Lincoln’s principles, with a government of the people, with the people and for the people, than the plutocracy or government of the rich that operates in this country.

Here, the U.S. representative described as dissidents or political prisoners those who in reality are agents of a foreign power, mercenaries paid by the U.S. government. If they want to talk about political prisoners, they should free the five Cuba antiterrorist heroes, subjected to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment in U.S. prisons.

Mr. President:

Mrs. Rice has said that the word genocide is inappropriate for describing the blockade. I quote Article 2, paragraphs b) and c) of the 1948 Geneva Convention against the Crime of Genocide.

Paragraph b) "Genocide is causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group," referring to a human group.

Paragraph c) "Genocide is deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part."

I recommend that the State Department study that Convention better.

The blockade against Cuba is a unilateral and criminal policy that also has to be lifted unilaterally. It is not reasonable, just, or possible to wait for gestures from Cuba for an end to the criminal application of measures against the Cuban people, including its children and elderly, from the examples that I have described here.

The United States should lift the blockade and it should lift it now; first, because Cuba is not blockading the United States or occupying any portion of its territory with a military base, nor is it discriminating against its citizens or businesses; and, in the second place, it should do so because it is in the best interest of the United States itself and the will of U.S. citizens.

A free flow of information was addressed. Lift the ban on U.S. citizens to travel freely to Cuba, respect their right to freedom to travel. Lift the blockade against Cuba in the areas of technology and information; permit better connectivity with our country; export software and information technology to Cuba and there could be advancement in this field.

Mrs. Rice has mentioned constructive advances. It’s true that there have been a few steps in the correct direction, strictly limited to the relations between Cubans that live in the United States and their native country, but they have nothing to do with, nor do they mean or signify, any loosening of the blockade. They are correct steps but extremely limited and insufficient.

The blockade is not a bilateral question. Its extraterritorial application has been clearly shown with the many examples presented.

Mrs. Rice has mentioned the proposal to continue having exchanges and dialogue between the two countries, which had been proposed many years ago by Commander in Chief Fidel Castro and publicly reiterated several times by President Raúl Castro. If that is what the United States desires, it should respond to the proposal of an agenda for bilateral dialogue, presented by Cuba to that government on July 17, 2009.

Mr. President:

Mrs. Susan Rice said in August at New York University that "the United States leads by example, acknowledges mistakes, corrects course when necessary, forges strategies in partnership and treats others with respect."

She also said during that speech: "we are demonstrating that the United States is willing to listen, respect differences, and consider new ideas." It’s deeply surprising to me that Mrs. Rice has had to say the opposite this morning.

Thank you very much.

Translated by Granma International

State Department Spokesman on Embargo Vote

QUESTION: Speaking of the UN, the General Assembly had its annual vote today on the Cuba embargo. You got two people to join you, two countries. Can you remind – (a) remind of what those two countries are, and (b) tell us what you think of the vote?

MR. KELLY: I think one was Palau, Matt. Who was the other one?

QUESTION: I don’t know. I think it – it’s usually, generally, the Solomon Islands.

QUESTION: I thought it was Micronesia.

QUESTION: Or Micronesia.

QUESTION: Or was that about Israel?

MR. KELLY: All right. Well, let me give you the guidance on this. The United States believes it has the sovereign right to conduct economic – its economic relationship with Cuba as determined by U.S. national interests. Sanctions on Cuba are designed to permit humanitarian items to reach the Cuban people, while denying the Cuban Government resources that it could use to repress its citizens.

This yearly exercise at the UN obscures the fact that the United States is a leading source of food and humanitarian relief to Cuba. In 2008, the United States exported $717 million in agricultural products, medical devices, medicine, wood, and humanitarian items to Cuba.

QUESTION: Sorry. Wood?

MR. KELLY: Wood.


MR. KELLY: Sanctions is one part of the United States policy approach to Cuba. In recent months, as you know, we’ve reached out to the Cuban people. We’ve taken steps to promote the free flow of information, we’ve lifted restrictions on family visits, and we’ve expanded the kinds and amounts of humanitarian items that the American people can donate to Cuba. We’ve also taken steps to establish a more constructive dialogue with Cuba. We’ve reestablished dialogues on migration, and we’ve initiated talks to reestablish direct mail service.

We remain focused on the need for improved human rights conditions and respect for fundamental freedoms in Cuba, and we would need to see improvements in those areas before we could normalize relations with Havana.

QUESTION: But, I mean, you have no opinion on the fact that the rest of the world thinks that this is a bad way to go?

MR. KELLY: Well --

QUESTION: That the whole world – I mean, Palau notwithstanding – excuse me.

MR. KELLY: This – it seems to me to be an annual exercise that --

QUESTION: It’s an annual exercise to tell you that the rest of the world thinks --

MR. KELLY: -- seems to be – kind of has inertia from the Cold War. The suggestion that we’re not assisting Cuba is just false. I mean, we are one of the major providers of humanitarian assistance to Cuba. But we don’t believe that we should – while there are repressive measures in place in Cuba, that we should reward the Government of Cuba by lifting the economic sanctions that could assist the Government of Cuba in its repression of its own citizens.

QUESTION: Well, it seems that the rest of the world thinks that, in fact, if you were to lift the embargo, that could help the repression – lift it.

MR. KELLY: Well, we don’t think it’s time to lift that embargo. The – we will consider that when the Government of Cuba starts to make some positive steps towards loosening up its repression of its own people.

QUESTION: Ian, without getting into a philosophical and – especially a lengthy or philosophical debate about this, you said that this, as an annual exercise, is a Cold War remnant.


MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Well, there a lot of people who would argue that the embargo is a Cold War remnant. I mean, this is the first year that this vote has happened, where you’ve been in this tiny minority that you are – that the U.S. is the only country in this hemisphere not to have diplomatic relations with Cuba.

MR. KELLY: Well, I mean, we – our policy in Cuba is designed to try and move Cuba to doing the right thing towards its own people. And they have not taken the kind of steps to show us that they’re willing to open up their society and open up their economy. And until they do these things, we’re not willing to change our policy. Having said that, we also want to have --

QUESTION: Having said that --

MR. KELLY: -- a productive dialogue.

QUESTION: -- how long has the embargo been in place now?

MR. KELLY: I think it’s been in place almost 50 years.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah.

MR. KELLY: Well, that’s a long time to have a repressive system.

QUESTION: Well, it’s also a long time to have a policy that has produced absolutely no results.

MR. KELLY: Well, we’re – we are looking to try and put our relationship – with Cuba on a more productive path.

Menendez Bringing Cuban American Money to DSCC

Shifting tides around Cuba

By Al Kamen
Washington Post
Monday, October 26, 2009

President Obama heads off to Florida on Monday to meet service members at the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville and then proceeds to a heavy-duty fundraiser for House and Senate candidates at the Fontainebleau, a historic hotel in Miami Beach. Those who have given or raised a combined $100,000 will be able to have a few drinks, a picture taken with the POTUS and a table at the VIP dinner. Or it's $30,400 for a couple for everything, and just $500 a person for cocktails only.

There may be some interesting first-time contributions from the largely Republican-leaning Cuban American community. Public Campaign, a nonpartisan campaign finance and watchdog group, says in an upcoming report that a Cuban American financial network, which takes a hard line against any weakening of current trade and travel restrictions on Cuba, has been rapidly increasing its contributions to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

The DSCC raised $26,250 from the pro-embargo network in the 2006 election cycle and $88,800 in the 2008 election cycle, Public Campaign is expected to report. But in the first eight months of 2009, the DSCC raised $145,700 from that network, and the fundraiser in Miami could well raise more. (This surge comes while the DSCC's general fundraising is way down from 2007.)

It could be that there was no great reason for these folks to contribute to the Democrats before, but there's growing concern that Obama and his party might be able to put some serious cracks in the long-standing wall around Cuba. So maybe it's time to shore up pro-embargo Democrats? Some pro-embargo folks are on the host committee, including Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, a hard-liner on Cuba who chairs the DSCC, and two Floridians, Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Another Florida Democrat among the hosts, Rep. Kendrick B. Meek, who's running for the Senate, favors keeping the embargo intact but also supported easing travel for Cuban Americans to the island.