Wednesday, December 31, 2008

US Civil Society Wants Change in US Policy

Few foreign policy issues produce such broad national support for change, or challenge as directly inside-the-beltway PAC financed entrenched interests. The FIU, Zogby, AP/Ipsos and Gallup polls have shown that two-thirds of our nation, including the same percentage of Cuban Americans, support freedom of travel to Cuba. Among Obama supporters the number favoring change is a remarkable 84%.

At least a dozen letters and reports have been produced in the past few weeks urging decisive action by the new administration on travel to Cuba and could be the basis for a substantive meeting with the transition team:

* from 12 business associations
American Farm Bureau Federation
American Society of Travel Agents
Business Roundtable
Coalition for Employment through Exports
Emergency Committee for American Trade
Grocery Manufacturers Association
National Foreign Trade Council
National Retail Federation
Organization for International Investment
U.S. Chamber of Commerce
U.S. Council for International Business
See text here

* from 13 academic, business, NGO and advocacy organizations
American Association of State Colleges and Universities
American Friends Service Committee
Church World Service
Fund for Reconciliation and Development
Latin America Working Group
Latin American Studies Association
NAFSA: Association of International Educators
National Foreign Trade Council
Operation USA
Social Science Research Council
Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
Washington Office on Latin America
See text here

* The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA press release here) and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) [text here] have authored their own statements as well as joined the applicable group letter.

* A summit of 37 travel and tourism industry leaders urged Obama, "Adopt as policy that the citizens of the United States should be free to travel the globe without
artificial restrictions placed on them by their own government." (text here)

* Wayne Smith released a letter from the Emergency Coalition to Defend Educational Travel,(ECDET) at a press conference in company with officials from several universities.

* The Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy and ENCASA (text here) produced thoughtful letters. The Latin America Working Group and the Washington Office on Latin America launched a sign-on letter and petition that include Cuba within the context of Latin America policy.

* The Cuba Study Group, founded by prominent mainstream Cuban Americans, has issued a report powerfully calling for allowing all travel after previously limiting its position to family visits. See text here

* FRD's on-line letter to the President-elect urging he provide general licenses for all twelve categories of non-tourist travel has topped 1100 grass roots signers (83% were active Obama supporters or donors), with many eloquent comments. See text here.

*A broad group of main line Protestant religious leaders have written to the President-elect urging he :
.. Freely allow religious travel to Cuba.
.. Liberally grant visas for U.S. travel to Cuban pastors and other religious leaders, and no longer bar officials of the Cuban Council of Churches.
.. Lift the travel ban for all Americans.
(The US Conference of Catholic Bishops is already on record against travel restrictions.)
See text and signature list here.

Freedom House, a prominent dissident linked human rights organization which denounces Cuba regularly has called for Obama to "immediately lift the restrictions on remittances and travel to and from the island". (text here )

In addition there have been powerful studies from the Council on Foreign Relations (text here) and the Brookings Institution (summary and link here) as well as editorials in leading newspapers advocating a substantial change in US policy, with travel restrictions a primary focus.

Jake Colvin of USA Engage/National Foreign Trade Council made a compelling case that the President can do virtually anything he wants to modify the embargo, except permit tourism which can be read here.

UPDATE: Julia Sweig of the Council on Foreign Relations sums up many of the arguments for change in a Memo to President Obama which appears in the February issue of Cigar Aficionado and can be read here.


You can help us be more effective in reaching out to the Obama Adminstration by contacting those you know in the White House, State Department and National Security Council and by making as generous a contribution as possible to sustain our work.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Thirteen Additional Presidential Initiatives

Many actions by the executive branch in other realms can significantly impact future discussions of bilateral relations in both countries. The natural tendency will be to hold these steps as bargaining chips in negotiations, but their value may be greater by utilizing them to create parameter and perception shifts at critical points in the process.

1) Officially disavow “Regime change” as the goal for US policy. It is impossible to have serious discussions of bilateral problems with a government when your avowed purpose is to destroy it.

2) Remove Cuba from the list of countries that sponsor terrorism (as advocated by Richard Clarke). This objectively false status affects many practical matters, including the issuance of visas to Cubans. Politically it is the lynch pin for opponents of change and silly after North Korea’s removal.

3) Utilize the US Interests Section as a diplomatic beachhead in Havana as President Carter intended, rather than as a center for promoting and rewarding dissidence and opposition. Take the electronic billboard off the front of the building as a symbolic opening, to which the Cubans should respond by removing their black flags. Adopt the practices and protocols of US embassies in Vietnam and China.*

4) End restrictions reciprocally on the travel of Interest Section diplomats (as well as UN Mission staff) for appropriate visits and meetings outside of the respective capitals (and New York).

5) Suspend Cuba Democracy Fund expenditures by USAID and its grant recipients, including the National Endowment for Democracy, pending objective evaluation of purpose and effectiveness. Cancel grants and contracts that were political rewards for Cuban American Republicans and that sustain a partisan anti-change lobby in Miami and Washington. (NGOs -- non-governmental organizations -- that receive US democracy funding are ipso facto persona non grata in Cuba.)

6) Turn off TV Marti as both illegal and a big waste of money. Make Radio Marti an objective source of news rather than a vehicle for exile politics.

7) Remove objections to Cuba obtaining a broad band connection from the offshore fiber optic cable rather than forcing it to wait for Venezuela to provide one.

8) Allow normal credit and payment procedures for sales of US agricultural and medical products.

9) Permit recognized US NGOs and religious agencies to undertake humanitarian and

development aid projects without the costly, time consuming and political vetting process of licenses from the Treasury or Commerce departments. (The fact that a project obtains official US permission makes the Cubans suspicious about its real motives, particularly given legislative language touting NGOs and civil society as a means of promoting democracy, i.e. subversion in Cuban eyes.)

10) Shred the two presumptuous reports by Bush’s Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba.

11) Stop OFAC’s embarrassing efforts to enforce our unilateral embargo in third countries,

such as barring Cubans from staying at or meeting in hotels owned by US companies.

12) Clear the legal decks by freeing prisoners convicted as agents of the other (Black Spring Fifty-five; Cuban Five) and dropping extradition claims (Posada Carilles and Bosch; Joanne Cheismard,

13) Grant visas to Cuban academics and professionals to attend conferences and reestablish or initiate personal contact with US counterparts.

*(Contact with all sectors of opinion in a host country, including critics, is a normal diplomatic function. However the Bush Administration was deliberately provocative, contributing to the Black Spring crackdown and resulting Congressional reluctance to change policy, as may have been intended by Otto Reich and Roger Noriega when they set “ambassador” Jim Cason’s marching orders.)


You can help us be more effective in reaching out to the Obama Adminstration by contacting those you know in the transition team and among prospective appointees and by making as generous a contribution as possible to sustain our work.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Travel the President Can Allow

Upon taking office, the Obama Administration can use its executive authority to the extent permitted by law to suspend many but not all of the limits on freedom of travel by Americans.

As a first step the new Secretary of the Treasury can instruct the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to establish general licenses for all non-tourist travel to Cuba as codified in 2000 (see below). The registration and costly reporting requirements of Travel Service Providers (TSP) can be abolished, enabling any US travel agent to book flights and accommodations for individuals and organizations entitled to general licenses.

Still prohibited, according to the law and regulations, would only be "tourist activities" which simply "means any activity with respect to travel to, from, or within Cuba that is not expressly authorized" by the codified categories. Beach resort packages, conventional cruise line itineraries, and other large scale commercial tourism, the principal potential sources of revenue to Cuba, will remain out of bounds.

OFAC's oversight and enforcement role regarding travel must be limited by the Secretary of the Treasury to providing information about the twelve authorized categories, the nature of a general license, and remaining restrictions on “tourist activities”, thus redeploying staff energies to real national security concerns. (Bush regulations should also be revoked that misuse customs agents to search for and confiscate personal goods and souvenirs brought from Cuba.)

Virtually any American with a serious interest will be immediately free to go to Cuba legally. Not-for-profit organizations, educational and cultural institutions, professional and trade associations, humanitarian and religious groups, businesses, Cuban Americans, and other motivated persons will be able to undertake, without politically motivated obstruction, any kind of visit that does not fall within the limited definition of “tourist activities”.

The categories codified in 2000 entitled to a specific or general (self-qualifying) license are:

(1) Family visits

(2) Official business

(3) Journalistic activity

(4) Professional research

(5) Educational activities

(6) Religious activities

(7) Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and


(8) Support for the Cuban people

(9) Humanitarian projects

(10) Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes

(11) Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or informational materials

(12) Certain export transactions

Categories 4 to 9 offer particularly broad interpretation. “Educational activities” had already, under pre-2004 OFAC licensing, come to mean a wide range of people-to-people exchanges. The benefit of a general license is that no bureaucratic delay or partisan vetting is possible because prior approval and post-trip reporting are not required. Even if OFAC retained redundant Cuba staff with Bush era political agendas, second guessing of general license use is impractical except in the case of flagrant public disregard of the non-tourist prohibition, e.g. commercial promotion of a holiday at a beach resort or conventional cruise line itineraries.


Add your name to an on-line letter to Barack Obama favoring non-tourist travel here.


You can help us be more effective in reaching out to the Obama Adminstration by contacting those you know in the transition team and among prospective appointees and by making as generous a contribution as possible to sustain our work.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Obama Free to Change US Policy

AP Analysis: Obama free to change US-Cuba policy

By ANITA SNOW – 1 hour ago

HAVANA (AP) — Barack Obama will be the first American president in nearly 50 years to have a relatively free hand in deciding whether to ease punitive Cold War-era policies toward communist Cuba, and the foreign policy team he announced this week seems predisposed to make it happen.

Obama said during the campaign that immediately after taking office on Jan. 20, he will lift all restrictions on family travel and cash remittances to Cuba — not just roll them back to previous rules that were tightened by the Bush administration.

Obama also said he would up uphold the embargo imposed after the island went communist, to use as leverage until Cuba shows "significant steps toward democracy," starting with freedom for approximately 219 jailed political prisoners.

For nearly five decades, the embargo is where the two nations have been stuck, each side demanding that the other change first.

What's different now is that Obama says he will talk directly with Cuban President Raul Castro, who recently and repeatedly offered to negotiate on neutral ground as equals.

These openings have Cubans feeling more optimistic about getting unstuck than ever before.

"What we want is that the Americans no longer look at us as enemies," said Lazaro Medardo, 68, who was selling sunflowers, red roses and gladiolas from a pushcart in old Havana on Monday. "We aren't their enemies."

Cuban-Americans have had a mixed reaction to Obama's campaign promises — most voted against him, but Obama carried Florida and didn't even need the state's votes to win the presidency, confounding the notion that the support of anti-Castro Cuban exiles is essential in presidential elections.

"Obama already has a much freer hand than Bush did," said Daniel Erickson of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington, D.C. think tank. "He does not owe any of his political success to Cuban-Americans in South Florida."

Obama is therefore free to chart a new course. He can reverse some policies of President George W. Bush with a pen stroke, and while undoing the embargo would take a majority in Congress, that's easier than ever with Democrats holding sizable majorities.

A fresh U.S. approach could improve relations across Latin America, according to a report last week from the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington, which said America's Cuba policy has hindered Washington's ability to work with other countries throughout the region.

Top figures in the incoming administration also have favored more open relations.

As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Vice President-elect Joe Biden called for re-establishing mail service with Cuba and easing family travel restrictions.

The future secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, campaigned against Obama's openness to talking with Raul Castro, but said she would respond positively to Cuban actions demonstrating a willingness to change. Also, Obama's initial moves have a Clinton precedent: President Bill Clinton eased travel regulations during the last three years of his tenure.

Obama's nominee for U.N. ambassador, Susan E. Rice, has said America needs a new approach, one that "actually tries to catalyze change on the island."

The new commerce secretary, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, has been there and done that, in small ways.

As a congressman, Richardson secured the release of three Cuban political prisoners during talks with Fidel Castro in Havana in 1996. As U.N. ambassador in 1997, he held talks about terrorism with then Cuban Foreign Minister Roberto Robaina.

Richardson will replace Cuban-born Carlos Gutierrez, a harsh Castro critic who co-chaired the White House Commission for Assistance for a Free Cuba. Cuba called it a cover for regime change, and it seems unlikely to survive into the new administration.

The saga of Elian Gonzalez, the Cuban boy who was rescued at sea and became a cause celebre in 2000, is being revisited as Obama's appointments are studied for clues to future Cuba policy:

Manny Diaz, Miami's Cuban-American mayor and a candidate for housing and urban development secretary, was on the legal team that fought unsuccessfully to keep Elian with his Miami relatives.

Eric Holder, Obama's choice for attorney general, was the No. 2 Justice Department official when armed federal officers seized Elian and returned him to his father in Cuba. The White House counsel will be Gregory Craig, who was the father's attorney.

Embargo supporters fear the Obama team will concede too much.

"For the embargo or the additional sanctions to be lifted, certain steps must be taken: Respect for human rights, the release of all political prisoners and free and democratic elections," Miami radio and TV host Ninoska Perez wrote in an opinion piece in USA Today. "It's the Cuban regime that must change, not U.S. policy."

Cuba's communist leadership, which blames the embargo for most Cuban problems, also is skeptical.

"It would be extremely naive to believe that the good will of a smart person could change what is the result of centuries of selfishness and vested interests," ailing former President Fidel Castro recently wrote about Obama.

But some Cubans think Obama just might make change happen.

"His thinking is more international," 35-year-old Eduardo Betancourt said as he leaned on his bicycle in an Old Havana plaza. "I don't have family in the United States, but many of my friends do and hope they will now see them more often."

Anita Snow has been the chief of The Associated Press bureau in Havana since 1999.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Caribbean Countries Urge Obama Act

Caribbean presses Obama on Cuba

Raul Castro and Baldwin Spencer in Santiago de Cuba, 7/12/2008
Spencer (left) and Caricom were hosted by Castro (right)

The leaders of 14 Caribbean nations have called on US President-elect Barak Obama to lift the decades-old American trade embargo against Cuba.

The call came during a one-day summit between Cuba and the Caribbean regional trade bloc, known as Caricom.

Current Caricom president, Antigua's Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer, said he hoped the US embargo would finally be "relegated to history."

The Caribbean leaders were meeting to discuss the current economic crisis.

"As we gather today in Cuba, the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America is still in place," Mr Spencer told the gathering in Santiago de Cuba.

"The Caribbean community hopes that the transformational change which is underway in the United States will finally relegate that measure to history."

Caricom chose to hold the summit in Cuba, even though the communist state is not a member of the Caribbean trade bloc.

The fact that so many Caricom heads of state attended indicates that Caribbean co-operation is increasingly crossing political boundaries, as everyone struggles to cope in the harsh economic times, the BBC's Michael Voss says from Santiago.

Mr Spencer also called upon the United Nations to do more to help small countries cope.

In his opening speech, Cuba's President Raul Castro said that it was the world's poor who would bear the brunt of what he described as a reckless disaster caused by speculation, individualism and greed.

Cuba has survived more than four decades of US sanctions targeting the regime led by Fidel Castro and, since February, by his brother Raul.

Mr Obama has said that he would lift restrictions on family travel and remittances to Cuba, but maintain the US trade embargo to press for changes in the Communist-run country.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Obama Transition Structure related to Cuba

text from Change.Gov (except for inserts)

Policy Working Groups

The focus of the Policy Working Groups will be to develop the priority policy proposals and plans from the Obama Campaign for action during the Obama-Biden Administration. The Policy Working Groups will focus on the following areas: Economy, Education, Energy & Environment, Health Care, Immigration, National Security, and Technology, Innovation & Government Reform.

Check for updates here or at Security

The National Security Policy Working Group works closely with key experts and our agency review teams to help prepare the President-elect, Vice President-elect and senior national security appointees as they are named to make early decisions on critical national security issues.

James B. Steinberg is dean of the LBJ School of Public Affairs (2006-present) and is a former Deputy National Security Advisor to President Clinton (1996-2000). His previous positions include vice president and director of Foreign Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution (2001-2005), director of the Policy Planning Staff (1994-1996) and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Regional Analysis in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (1993-1994) at the U.S. Department of State. He is the author of and contributor to many books on foreign policy and national security topics, including, most recently, with Kurt Campbell, Difficult Transitions: Foreign Policy Troubles at the Outset of Power.

Dr. Susan E. Rice served most recently as a Senior Foreign Policy Advisor to the Obama for America campaign while on leave from the Brookings Institution where she is a Senior Fellow in the Foreign Policy and Global Economy and Development Programs. Rice currently serves on the Obama-Biden Transition Project Advisory Board. From 1997-2001, she was U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. Prior to that, Rice served in the White House at the National Security Council as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for African Affairs and as Director for International Organizations and Peacekeeping. Rice was previously a management consultant at McKinsey and Company. She received her B.A. in History with Honors from Stanford University and her M.Phil. and D.Phil. (Ph.D.) degrees in International Relations from Oxford University, where she was a Rhodes Scholar.

Group Members

Jeffrey Bader, Jeremy Bash, Antony Blinken, Gregory Craig, Ivo Daalder, Richard Danzig, Mary De Rosa, Michele Flournoy, Stephen Flynn, Michelle Gavin, Philip Gordon, Scott Gration, Frank Januzzi, Colin Kahl, Elizabeth King, Paul Kurtz, Daniel Kurtzer, Ellen Laipson, Mark Lippert, Denis McDonough, Michael McFaul, Carlos Monje, Erin O'Connor, Peter Ogden, Joseph Paulsen, Daniel Restrepo, Bruce Riedel, Dennis Ross, Mara Rudman, Whitney Schneidman, Eric Schwartz, Sarah Sewall, Daniel Shapiro, Steven Simon, Peter Singer, Gayle Smith, Mona Sutphen, Jennifer Urizar, Toni Verstandig, Jeremy Weinstein


Obama-Biden Transition: Agency Review Teams

Check for updates here or at

The Agency Review Teams for the Obama-Biden Transition will complete a thorough review of key departments, agencies and commissions of the United States government, as well as the White House, to provide the President-elect, Vice President-elect, and key advisors with information needed to make strategic policy, budgetary, and personnel decisions prior to the inauguration. The Teams will ensure that senior appointees have the information necessary to complete the confirmation process, lead their departments, and begin implementing signature policy initiatives immediately after they are sworn in.

[Italicized comments are my inserts about the way Cuba falls within their mandate.. J McA]

State Department

[In addition to implementing US foreign policy on Cuba, the State Department controls visas of Cubans seeking to visit the US for family or professional reasons and guides Cuba decisions in Commerce and Treasury.]

Natasha Bilimoria, Esther Brimmer, Lee Feinstein, Robert Gelbard, Matthew Goodman, Michael Guest, Vicki Huddleston, Joseph Huggins, Brian McKeon, Samantha Power, Puneet Talwar, Linda Eddleman, Daniel Restrepo, Toni Verstandig


[USAID handles Cuba Democracy Funds that are channeled through US and European groups seen by the Cubans as illicit instruments of attempted regime change.]

Frederick Barton, Wendy Chamberlin, Valerie Dickson-Horton, Sheila Herrling, Larry Nowels, Semhar Araia, Camilla DiMartino, Jeremy Weinstein

Treasury Department

[The Treasury Department is the home of the Office of Foreign Assets Control which has politically controlled travel to Cuba and licensed cash grants for humanitarian assistance and educational programs.]

Stephen Abrecht, Erika Brown, Alastair Fitzpayne, Mary Goodman, James Greene, Robert Kahn, Edward Knight, Rebecca Levin, Marne Levine, Robert Litan, Donald Lubick, James Millstein, Cantwell Muckenfuss III, Emanuel Pleitez, Rosa Rios, David Vandivier, William Wechsler, James Wetzler, Jacqueline Wong, Jide Zeitlin, Julie Chon, Lawrence Parks, James Polsfut, Ira Hobbs, Ronald Blackwell

Commerce Department

[The Commerce Department plays a role on exports to Cuba and on licensing of in kind humanitarian aid .]

Elizabeth Echols, David Festa, Clarence Irving, Jr., Ray Kammer, F. Michael Kelleher, Terri Ann Lowenthal, Monica Medina, Arti Rai, Jonathan Sallet, David McMillen, Sally Ericsson, James Halpert, Scott Harris, Sally Yozell, Joyce Ward, Mike Kelleher, Monica Medina, Diane Cornell