Saturday, February 28, 2009

Brookings Report Stresses Obama's role

Think tank urges Obama to act now on reversing U.S. Cuba policy

The Brookings Institution said the White House should not wait for Congress to lift portions of the U.S. trade embargo with Cuba.


President Barack Obama should not wait for Congress to begin making key changes in Cuba policy, and should start by using his presidential authority to make adjustments to the U.S. trade embargo, a new report issued Thursday recommended.

The Brookings Institution think tank in Washington, D.C., assembled a group of 19 academics, diplomats and ''thinkers'' to chart out a road map for Obama to take action on Cuba. The panel -- led by a former top U.S. diplomat in Havana -- argues that Washington's hostile rhetoric should stop, having failed to bring about changes in Cuba.

''Let's forget the hostile regime-change strategy and begin a policy of critical engagement,'' said Vicki Huddleston, the former head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana who co-chaired the report. ``This means no shouting across the street at each other.''

The report, announced in Miami, comes on the heels of a series of moves that signal what some Cuba experts consider serious momentum to change Cuba policy. On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a budget bill that defunded enforcement on the Cuban family travel ban and, among other things, offered more licenses to travel to Cuba. The Senate Foreign Relations committee released a report Monday making many of the same recommendations as the Brookings panel.

Among the Brookings' U.S. Policy Toward A Cuba in Transition group's suggestions:

• Allow more ''purposeful travel'' to Cuba for American academics, artists and such.

• Review Cuba's inclusion on the U.S. terrorist nation list.

• Allow U.S. businesses to sell radios and TVs to Cuba.

• Once the Cuban government begins responding with serious human rights improvements, license more imports from Cuba and goods to be sold to the island.

''The president can do this himself,'' Huddleston said. ``It would be a big win in terms of his image, and a big win in terms of getting away from failures of the past.''

Many Cuban exile leaders -- and South Florida's Cuban-American delegation in Congress -- oppose such measures, because they believe Cuba should release political prisoners and make other human rights improvements before Washington makes any concessions. Obama, many conservatives believe, would lose bargaining power and leverage over Cuba if he starts offering Cuba perks before it makes any changes.

The report urges the president not to set ''tit for tat'' conditions for any changes he makes.

Huddleston, who has long urged normalization of relations, said many of the group's members were more conservative in their Cuba policies, but they agreed on all the recommendations. They did not agree, she said, on whether to lift the travel ban altogether.

They did agree that that authority should be put back in the president's hands.

''Engagement does not mean approval of the Cuban government's policies, nor should it indicate a wish to micromanage internal developments in Cuba,'' the report said. ``Legitimate changes in Cuba will only be made by Cubans.''

Use 'smart power' to help Cubans

Miami Herald Op Ed 2/24/09

Contrary to popular myth and public misunderstanding, if President Barack Obama wishes to change the U.S. policy toward Cuba, he has ample authority to do so. If he takes charge of Cuba policy, he can turn the embargo into an effective instrument of ''smart power'' to achieve the United States' policy objectives in Cuba.

Obama's leadership is needed to change the dynamic between the United States and Cuba. The status quo is no longer an option. Not only has it failed to achieve its goals; it has tarnished our image in the hemisphere and throughout the world. Waiting for Congress to act will only further delay change. Fortunately, even in the case of Cuba, Congress has not materially impaired this country's venerable constitutional arrangement under which the president has the ultimate authority to conduct our foreign affairs.

Executive authority

Again and again we hear that the embargo can't be changed because the Helms-Burton law codified it. Nothing could be further from the truth. Whether you agree or disagree with the current commercial embargo, the president can effectively dismantle it by using his executive authority. Helms-Burton codified the embargo regulation, but those regulations provide that ``all transactions are prohibited except as specifically authorized by the Secretary of the Treasury by means of regulations, rulings, instructions, and licenses.''

This means that the president's power remains unfettered. He can instruct the secretary to extend, revise or modify embargo regulations. The proof of this statement is that President Bill Clinton issued new regulations for expanded travel and remittances in order to help individuals and grow civil society.

Obama will have to modify Office of Foreign Assets Control regulations to fulfill his campaign promise to increase Cuban-American travel and remittances. If he wants to reproduce the more open conditions in Cuba that led to the ''Cuban Spring'' of 2002 and Oswaldo Payá's Varela Project, he could reinstate people-to-people and educational travel. By a simple rule change, he could also speed the entry of life-saving medicines from Cuba, rather than subjecting them to delays from cumbersome OFAC licensing procedures.

Since 1992, U.S. law -- the Cuban Democracy Act -- has sought to expand access to ideas, knowledge and information by licensing telecommunications goods and services. Yet, in practice, regulations are so strictly interpreted that the United States in effect is imposing a communications embargo on Cuba. To lift it, the president can authorize a general license for the donation and sale of radios, televisions and computers. In addition, rather than helping Cuban state security keep Yoani Sánchez and others off the Internet, the Obama administration could make Internet technology readily available so that any barriers to communications would be clearly the fault of the Cuban government, and not ours.

Environmental concerns rate high with the Obama administration. So it might open bilateral discussions, exchange information and license the provision of scientific equipment to improve the health of the ocean and success of commercial fisheries.

The United States Geological Survey estimates that the North Cuba Basin holds 5.5 billion barrels of oil and 9.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves. If the president wishes, he can instruct the secretary of the treasury to license U.S. companies to explore, exploit and transport these resources that we and the region so badly need.

Failed policy

After a half-century of failed policy, there is enormous support in the Cuban-American community for initiatives that will improve the well being and independence of the Cuban people. What they didn't know -- but know now -- is that there is no reason they can't reach out to the Cuban people and still retain the embargo as symbol of their concern about the Cuban government's failure to live up to international norms of human rights, democracy and transparency.

Vicki Huddleston is a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution and former chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. Carlos Pascual is vice president of the Brookings Institution. They are co-directors of the Brookings project on U.S. Policy Toward a Cuba in Transition.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Herald Editorial on Family Travel and Obama

Miami Herald Editorial
Posted on Fri, Feb. 27, 2009
Lift restrictions on travel to Cuba

Lawmakers in Washington are showing once again how difficult it is to change U.S. policy toward Cuba in meaningful ways. The latest legislative proposal moving through Congress would kill enforcement of regulations that restrict travel to Cuba by Cuban Americans. This is an objective we have long championed, but Congress has picked the worst way to go about it -- making it impossible to enforce existing regulations without tackling the regulations themselves.

Backroom deal

The proposal, which also eases other travel and economic restrictions in smaller ways, is included in a huge budget bill passed by the House and headed to the Senate. Unfortunately, the provisions affecting Cuba policy are the result of a backroom deal that circumvented a full debate on the issue. On their own, as Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, noted, the travel measures wouldn't win majority approval. This legislative gimmick ensures that Cuba policy will remain the target of efforts to tinker around the edges, at the expense of thoughtful change.

Instead, we recommend as a first step that President Barack Obama fulfill the promise he made in an Other Views column published in The Miami Herald on Aug. 21, 2007: ``I will grant Cuban Americans unrestricted rights to visit family and send remittances to the island.''

The existing restrictions do little to advance the cause of freedom for Cuba, but they place an unfair burden on Cuban Americans who want to see their friends and families and ease their hardship. From both a humanitarian and strategic viewpoint, they have little justification.

Mr. Obama has other things on his mind, of course, but we suggest he act soon, before he attends the summit of Western Hemisphere heads of government in Trinidad in April. Differences with our neighbors in Latin America over U.S. policy toward Cuba have long been an irritant, and Mr. Obama can send a signal that he is moving to meet some of the objections by carrying out his promise to ease travel and remittance limitations.

Negotiated concessions

Undoubtedly, that won't be enough for critics, who believe the trade embargo that has been in place for nearly half a century should be eliminated. We don't agree. The embargo, by itself, may not oblige the Cuban government to move toward political change, but it should not be surrendered without meaningful, negotiated concessions.

Mr. Obama himself seemed to refer to that in 2007 when he pledged to ''hold on to important inducements'' even as he conducted ''aggressive and principled diplomacy'' with Cuba. It sounded good in 2007 and sounds good today, but it's time to move from words to action.


Letter to the editor

The Herald is right. The use of Presidential authority to enable Cuban American travel is urgent and essential for the most fundamental humanitarian reasons--and because candidate Obama and the Democratic platform promised to do it upon taking office!

However, that action does little for the President at the Summit of the Americas and with most people in this country who may feel discriminated against.

Obama will gain credibility with both hemispheric and domestic audiences if he uses his authority to provide general licenses for all twelve categories of non-tourist people-to-people travel. They include family, educational, religious, humanitarian, cultural, sports, and support for the Cuban people.

John McAuliff
Executive Director
Fund for Reconciliation and Development
Dobbs Ferry, NY

Thursday, February 26, 2009

France Sends High Ranking Envoy

Raúl welcomes special French envoy

Looking très chic in a dark, tieless shirt, Raúl Castro on Wednesday met for more than two hours with a similarly tieless and tanned La2 Jack Mathieu Émile Lang, émissaire spécial of French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Lang, a Socialist deputy and former culture and education minister, heads the French National Assembly's foreign affairs commission.

Speaking to reporters later, Lang said that Paris wishes to be "the engine" of a dialogue between Cuba and Europe and contribute to a greater insertion of the island in the international community, the Mexican agency Notimex reported. Lang also said Paris would like to help improve relations between Havana and Washington. Those relations should be "direct, simple and based on the economy, politics and culture," always on the basis of mutual respect.

Even if President Obama cannot lift the trade embargo, he "could take some measures of change toward Cuba," Lang said. "How are we to understand that [the U.S.] still maintains Cuba on the list of terrorist countries?" Sarkozy's envoy said that his impression is that Raúl Castro "is interested in a dialogue with France, in an orderly manner and within the bounds of the existing relationships." France, he added, "is among the countries in the European Union that desire an unconditional dialogue with Cuba." Asked about Washington's recent criticism of the human rights situation in Cuba, Lang answered: "It is not up to one country to become the world's tribunal." Lang, who delivered to Castro a letter from Sarkozy, expects to remain in Cuba until Monday.

---Renato Pérez Pizarro.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Cuba language in Omnibus Appropriations Bill

From the bill

SEC. 620. Section 910(a) of the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (22 U.S.C. 7209(a)) is amended to read as follows:
"(a) AUTHORIZATION OF TRAVEL RELATING TO COMMERCIAL SALES OF AGRICULTURAL AND MEDICAL GooDs.-The Secretary of the Treasury shall promulgate regulations under which the travel-related transactions listed in paragraph (c) of section 515.560 of title 31, Code of Federal Regulations, are authorized by general license for travel to, from, or within Cuba for the marketing and' sale of agricultural and medical goods pursuant to the provisions of this title.".
SEC. 621. None of the funds made available in this Act may be used to administer, implement, or enforce the amendments made to section 515.560 and section 515.561 of title 31, Code of Federal Regulations, related to travel~ to visit relatives in Cuba, that were published in the Federal Register on June 16, 2004.

SEC. 622. None of the funds made available in this Act may be used to administer, implement, or enforce the amendment made to section 515.533 of title 31, Code of Federal Regulations, that was published in the Federal Register on February 25, 2005.

From Statement

The Committees on Appropriations are greatly concerned by the resource allocation.
decisions being made by OFAC, as noted in a November 2007 report from .B@ €5vennneftt
Ass"nlJt:il~ilit),OffiQe (GAOr OFAC's resource allocation decisions should be made on the
basis of the most pressing national security threats facing the United States. OFAC is
responsible for administering and enforcing more than 20 economic and trade sanctions
programs, based on U.S. foreign policy and national security goals, against targeted foreign
countries, terrorists, international narcotics traffickers, and proliferators of weapons of mass
destruction. Yet, as the GAO report points out, Cuba embargo-related cases comprised 61 .
percent of OFAC's investigatory caseload from 2000 through2006. In contrast, Cuba embargo related
cases comprise a minor part of the investigation caseloads of the Commerce
Department's Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS)/Office of Export Enforcement and the
Department of Homeland Security's Bureau ofImmigration and Customs Enforcement (3
percent and 0.2 percent, respectively).
In addition, OFAC penalties for Cuba embargo violations represented more than 70 .
percent ofOFAC's total penalties between 2000 and 2005. The report notes that most of these
penalties were for infractions such as purchasing Cuban cigars. By contrast, Cuba embargo
penalties comprised just 0.16 percent of the total penalties of BIS during the period of 20022006.
The Commerce Department, the Department of Homeland Security's Bureau of
Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Justice Department reported undertaking
relatively few investigations, penalties, and prosecutions of Cuba embargo violations.
The Committees on Appropriations strongly concur with GAO's recommendation that
the Secretary of the Treasury direct OFAC to assess its allocation of resources for investigating
and penalizing violations ofthe Cuba embargo with respect to the numerous other sanctions
programs OFAC administers. The Department is directed to report to the House and Senate .
. Appropriations Committees, within 90 days of enactment ofthis Act, as to the steps it is taking
to assess OFAC's allocation ofresources, along with any plans to reallocate OFAC resources.
As part of such report, the Department is additionally directed to provide the following
(1) for each fiscal year from 2001 to 2008, the following information related to OFAC's
Cuba-related licensing:
• the number of family travel licenses issued, as well as the number denied;
• the number of religious travel licenses issued?;s well as the number denied;
• the num.ber of academic travel licenses issued(a'"s well as the number denied; .
• the number of licenses issued for the various categories of permissible travel;
• the number of licenses denied for the various categories of permissible travel;
• the number of fines issued;
• the average amount of fines;
• the total amount (in dollars) of fines issued per violation category;
• the number of Cuba travel service providers receiving licenses;
• the names of Cuba travel service providers receiving licenses;
• •the number of Full-time Equivalents (FTE) used for issuing Cuba lic~nses; and
• the number of FTE used for issuing licenses for Cuba travel service providers;
(2) for each fiscal year from 2001 to 2008, the following information related to OFAC
. enforcement of the Cuba embargo:
• the number of FTE used for Cuba embargo enforcement;
• the number of fines issued;
• the average amount of fines;
• the total amount (in dollars) of fines issued, per violation category;
• the number of cases heard by OFAC Administrative Law Judges, along with information
on whether these judges were OFAC's own, or whether they were borrowed from other•
Government agencies;
• the average fine in these cases; and
• the total amount (in dollars) of fines issued by these judges; .
(3) for each fiscal year from 1990 to 2008, the following information related to OFAC
enforcement of the Cuba embargo:
• the total amount offines collected in each year; ... .. .
• the number oftravelers engaged in illegal travel to Cuba and apprehended, as reported to
OFAC, along with statistics as to the points-of-entry where travelers were apprehended;
• the number of cases against travelers that were/are disputed by the traveler;
• the number of these cases that are settled;
• the average settlement amount; and
• the average time from the first notice sent to the traveler until final settlement was

Section 620 directs the Secretary of the Treasury to promulgate regulations allowing, by
general license, travel to, from, or within Cuba related to the marketing and sale of agricultural
and medical goods.
Section 621 prohibits funds from being used to administer, implement, or enforce the
amendments made to the Code of Federal Regulations, published in the Federal Register on June
16,2004, relating to travel to visit relatives in Cuba.
Section 622 prohibits funds from being used to enforce the regulations, published in the
Federal Register on February 25, 2005, regarding the sales of food and medicine to Cuba.

Lugar Calls for Substantial Change

US embargo on Cuba "has failed": top Republican senator

WASHINGTON (AFP) — The US economic embargo on Cuba "has failed," top Republican lawmaker Richard Lugar has said in a report likely to fuel momentum for a shift in US' decades-old policy toward the island.

"After 47 years ... the unilateral embargo on Cuba has failed to achieve its stated purpose of 'bringing democracy to the Cuban people,' said the senator from Indiana -- a senior member or the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, "it may have been used as a foil by the regime to demand further sacrifices from Cuba's impoverished population."

The report, entitled "Changing Cuba Policy - In the United States National Interest," is due for release on Monday.

It is likely to frame the debate on overhauling US policy after almost five decades of policy seeking to isolate Americas' only communist country.

The report also comes one year after former leader Fidel Castro stepped aside after decades as the island's president, although he remains from all appearances an important behind-the-scenes player in the island's politics.

US President Barack Obama has pledged dialogue with all foreign leaders including the US' traditional foes, in sharp contrast to successive US administrations which have sought to isolate Havana.

But so far he has offered few details on how far he might be willing to go in reaching out to Cuba.

According to Lugar, while "current US policy has many passionate defenders, and their criticism of the Castro regime is justified ... nonetheless, we must recognize the ineffectiveness of our current policy and deal with the Cuban regime in a way that enhances US interests."

The United States and Cuba do not have full diplomatic relations and Washington has had a full economic embargo on Havana since 1962.

But that embargo was tweaked slightly by former US president George W. Bush, who allowed Cuba to purchase US food, as long as it was purchased in cash.

Since then US food sales to Cuba have surged, but US farm producers would sell vastly more if Cuba could get credit for its purchases.

The US Senate report due out Monday stops short of recommending an end to the US embargo.

But Lugar supports lifting Bush administration restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba, reinstituting formal bilateral cooperation on drug interdiction and migration, and allowing Cuba to buy US agricultural products on credit.

Separately the Senate foreign relations report, an advance copy of which was obtained by AFP, urged that US migration policy toward Cubans should be reviewed by the White House.

Under current "wet foot, dry foot" policy, Cubans picked up by US Coast Guard vessels at sea are returned to their country while any Cuban who makes it to US soil, even illegally, gets to stay, work and obtain residency.

It is a policy the United States does not have for nationals of any other country; Cuba complains that it fuels dangerous illegal emigration by sea.

"The review (of wet foot, dry foot) should assess whether this policy has led to the inefficient use of US Coast Guard resources and assets, as well as the potential to redirect these resources to drug interdiction efforts," the report says.

During his campaign for the presidency, Obama said the Cuba embargo had not helped bring democracy to the island, led by Fidel's younger brother, 77-year old President Raul Castro.

But so far Obama has said only that he would end some sanctions on Cuban-Americans traveling to the island, and eliminate limits on their remittances to relatives in Cuba.

Lawmakers in the US House of Representatives earlier this month introduced a bill to permit US citizens unrestricted travel to Cuba.

The separate "Freedom To Travel to Cuba Act," which would overturn the 46-year-old US policy strictly limiting travel to the Caribbean island, will be subject to debate after being referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Full report here

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Sen. Menendez' Miami Links

Menendez Plays to His Base, in South Florida

By DAVID W. CHEN September 28, 2006 New York Times

MIAMI, Sept. 24 — He shook hands with supporters at Versailles Restaurant on Calle Ocho in Little Havana. He was given the keys to the affluent city of Coral Gables, Fla., at a reception attended by more Republicans than Democrats. He received two proclamations from nearby towns, including one with a Republican mayor who declared Sunday “Senator Bob Menendez Day.”

Yes, that Senator Robert Menendez, the Democrat from New Jersey.

“I want to keep a Republican majority, but not if it means losing Bob Menendez,” said Ana Navarro, a Republican political consultant who helped organize three Menendez for Senate fund-raising events at the historic Biltmore Hotel on Sunday. “He’s part of our extended family.”

At home in northern New Jersey, Mr. Menendez comes across as a textbook Democrat, with a 100 percent scorecard from the League of Conservation Voters, Naral Pro-Choice America and the National Education Association. But in South Florida, a place Mr. Menendez has visited dozens of times over the last two decades, Cuban-Americans and others hail him as a freedom fighter for his fervent anti-Castro views, and revere him as an adopted son who has done well for himself.

This latest visit by Mr. Menendez, which comes amid a competitive Senate race against his Republican opponent, State Senator Thomas H. Kean Jr., is no different. Underscoring the notion that culture and exile politics can transcend geography and partisanship, Republicans in South Florida flock to the side of this Cuban-American legislator — even though the result could help determine whether Democrats regain control of the Senate.

To demonstrate their affection, Floridians have contributed about a million dollars to Mr. Menendez’s campaigns since he was elected to Congress in 1992 — including $530,000, or 5 percent of his total contributions, to his current campaign. Florida is his third largest source of money, behind New Jersey and New York.

Indeed, the money raised in Florida for his current campaign amounts to almost as much as Mr. Kean has raised over all from political action committees in this race.

Yet the star power of Mr. Menendez, 52, cannot be measured by dollars alone. Mr. Menendez, one of the first Cuban-Americans elected to Congress, is so well-known here that he was included in a 2004 poll in which South Floridians gave its Congressional delegation an 85 percent approval rating on Cuba policy.

Some Republicans here have dismissed the 38-year-old Mr. Kean, the son of the popular former New Jersey governor, as inexperienced and even ethnically insensitive.

“It boggles my mind that given the stakes in the U.S. Senate today, with foreign policy and national security where it is, that people of New Jersey would be considering hiring to do this job a junior in every respect,” said Ms. Navarro, who organized a fund-raiser for Mark R. Kennedy, the Republican candidate for Senate in Minnesota, days before Mr. Menendez arrived. “I don’t know Mr. Kean from Adam, but give me a break — a U.S. Senate seat should not be a family heirloom that is passed down from generation to generation.”

When asked about Mr. Menendez’s popularity among Republicans in Miami, Jill Hazelbaker, Mr. Kean’s communications director, said: “Maybe they know Bob Menendez in Florida, but don’t know Bob Menendez in New Jersey, and his record of corruption. Bob Menendez’s experience is exactly what we’re running against.”

Whether Mr. Menendez’s Cuban connections and policy positions will play a significant role in the Senate race is hard to say. An estimated 1.3 million Hispanics, including 77,000 Cuban-Americans, live in New Jersey, according to the latest Census figures. Democratic strategists have long complained privately that Mr. Kean is trying to use Mr. Menendez’s heritage, along with the current debate over illegal immigration, as a wedge issue for swing voters and conservative Democrats.

But Mr. Menendez relishes talking about his Cuban roots in Florida. His voting record on foreign policy issues — long ranked as one of the most conservative among Democrats — have put him ideologically in sync with the people here. For instance, he has consistently supported such Republican positions as tightening the embargo on Cuba, and long opposed the normalization of ties with Vietnam.

He sounds far more bipartisan here than he does on the stump in New Jersey. At one reception, he noted that he had worked with Senator Sam Brownback, a Republican from Kansas, on ending the genocide in Darfur. He also praised three Cuban-American members of Congress from Florida: Lincoln Diaz-Balart; Mario Diaz-Balart, Lincoln’s younger brother; and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

“I know we’re here for a greater cause than the party,” Mr. Menendez said at another reception.

All told, Mr. Menendez raised about $100,000 on Sunday from two receptions and a private meeting with the Free Cuba PAC, which is affiliated with the powerful Cuban-American National Foundation. The political action committee has given him $25,000 during his career.

One of those in attendance was Raúl Mas Canosa, whose brother, Jorge Mas Canosa, started the foundation and consulted with presidents on Cuba policy before his death in 1997.

“I don’t agree with him on most of his other politics,” said Mr. Mas Canosa, a Republican financier. “But at the end of the day, I think the Cuba issue trumps everything.”

Mr. Menendez’s parents left Cuba in the 1950’s and landed in New York City. Mr. Menendez grew up in Union City, N.J., which for years — with the exception of Miami — was home to more Cuban-Americans outside of Havana than any other city.

He made his first trip to Miami in 1986, while running for mayor of Union City. He impressed Democrats and Republicans in Florida by helping with emergency efforts after Hurricane Andrew, and later, as a congressman, by being a leader on Cuba and Latin America. He burnished those credentials in 2000 during the custody tug of war over Elián González, criticizing the Clinton administration’s decision to return the boy to Cuba rather than giving him asylum in the United States.

“To me, it was always, ‘Wow, what instigated my parents to risk it all and start all over again?’ ” he said in an interview over lunch on Sunday. “It’s called freedom.”

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Mr. Menendez’s appeal, however, is that Cuban-American Republicans — regardless of where they find themselves on the political spectrum — describe Mr. Menendez’s politics as being similar to their own.

He is a centrist in the eyes of Hector J. Lombana, whose bronze Mercedes-Benz S.U.V. features a bumper sticker backing a moderate Republican who is running for governor. And on Cuba, Mr. Menendez has always been the same way — “immovable,” said Mr. Lombana, who went to the same high school and law school as Mr. Menendez.

He is a conservative in the eyes of Fernando González, who immigrated in 1965. “He’s for Cuban freedom, very conservative,” said Mr. González, a produce importer. “A good person.”

Then again, supporting Mr. Menendez when control of the United States Senate could be at stake can be awkward for Republicans. So when Mr. Menendez criticizes President Bush on everything from the war in Iraq to Social Security and the minimum wage, Republicans in South Florida tend to turn a deaf ear.

“I back my president 100 percent, so I don’t want to know,” said Remedios Diaz-Oliver, president of All American Containers, who attended one of the receptions for Mr. Menendez with several fellow Republicans. “I try to ignore it.”

But these Republicans say that they respect Mr. Menendez’s views, because they know he has thought through the issue, and that he will explain his reasoning and fight for his cause. That respect was on display when Mr. Menendez was feted with the two proclamations on Sunday, including one from Sweetwater, Fla.

Mr. Menendez posed for a photograph with the Sweetwater mayor, Manuel L. Maroño, a Republican, and Mr. Maroño was beaming. “I’m going to put this picture in my office,” the mayor said. “Right next to George Bush.”

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Improving Atmosphere

Cuba's President Castro Sends Positive Signals to the New Obama Administration

U.S. officials note the change in tone by Raul Castro and his ailing brother, Fidel

By Thomas Omestad
Posted February 11, 2009 US News & World Report

The Obama administration has taken note of remarks both by Cuban President Raul Castro and by his brother, former President Fidel Castro, expressing, in part, positive sentiments about Barack Obama and the significance of his presidency, according to a senior State Department official. Both Castros, using somewhat different language, have said they view Obama as intelligent and sincere in wanting to change U.S. foreign policy and see his presidency as historic.

The Castros' remarks have come since the U.S. election and have continued occasionally in interviews, comments to the media, and, in the case of Fidel Castro, his frequent articles in the Cuban press. "I think the statements are important. They've registered," said the State Department official.

U.S. policy toward Cuba, including the various restrictions that flow from a 47-year-old economic embargo, will be reviewed by Obama administration agencies. During the campaign, Obama said that he intended to remove restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba by Cuban-Americans and that he favored well-prepared "direct diplomacy" with the island's communist government.

Outside analysts are watching closely for moves from either Washington or Havana to lessen tensions and begin a dialogue on some of the disputes dividing them.

The State Department official's comments also offer a sense of how Cuba's modest economic reforms­in agriculture and consumer purchasing­are being perceived in official Washington. "The steps have been very small. They've been very controlled," said the official. "They're looking for ways to signal they're capable of economic change."

On the internal scene in Cuba, the official spoke of a "significant desire, and even pressure, on them [Cuban officials] for social and economic reform." The official added, "The Cuban government has to respond in some fashion."


Comment: Reading between the lines, this suggests a willingness on the part of the Obama Administration to pay attention and treat with respect what is happening and being said in Cuba, and suggests a different quality of interpretation is coming from USINT. The first sign that real change may be on the way.

The Administration is in the midst of a major review of US policy toward Cuba. That is a good thing and could lead to significant initiatives in many areas before the President attends the Summit of the Americas on April 17th.

At the same time, President Obama has not yet implemented his campaign pledge to immediately allow unlimited Cuban American travel and remittances.

This should happen even while the policy review is taking place. Deaths and illnesses and family milestones do not wait for the resolution of political and strategic arguments in Washington.

Moreover, this is not the only travel decision the Administration will make. The President must choose soon whether to undo politically motivated Bush restrictions of 2004. He can authorize in a non-discriminatory manner general licenses for twelve categories of non-tourist travel: family, educational, humanitarian, religious, cultural, sports, "support for the Cuban people", etc.

An on-line letter to the President calling for non-tourist travel is approaching 1200 signers, many with individual comments.

Monday, February 9, 2009

AASCU Statement on Restrictions of Academic Travel

Constantine W. Curris, President
American Association of State Colleges and Universities

Human, commercial and political embargoes on Cuba were born in the Cold War when Cuba was seen as the western hemisphere extension of our enemy, the Soviet Union.

That enemy has collapsed and widespread, governmentally encouraged engagement with Russia and her neighbors are in place. Yet, the severe limitations on Cuba remain, denying academic opportunities for scholarly interactions and students in both countries meaningful opportunities for engagement.

It should be noted that in the dark days of the Cold War conflict there were more exchanges of faculty and students between the United States and the Soviet Union than exist today between the United States and Cuba.

Last November the American public voted for change and there is no change better justified then reversing administrative policies which have restricted American faculty and students from visiting and studying in Cuba, and that have severely restricted Cuban scholars from participating in scholarly meetings in this country, and engaging with their disciplinary colleagues.

The American Association of State Colleges and Universities, the association I lead, consists of 430 public colleges and universities throughout the Nation, as well as in Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Prior to 2004, 39 of these institutions had active partnerships and programs with Cuban universities. Today that number is but 5.

We have been moving in the wrong direction. We join the call to lift the 2004 and other restrictions reflective of wrong-headed policies that impede student and faculty exchanges and educational cooperation.

We are not making a political statement, but rather an educational one. Education transcends political borders, and we encourage President Obama and his administration to restore unfettered education exchanges and scholarly engagement.

Constantine W. Curris

Text from AASCU 2009 Public Policy Agenda

Expand student exchange programs with foreign countries
for colleges and universities, and lift current travel restrictions
imposed by the Department of Treasury that serve as barriers to
student/faculty exchanges with Cuba.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Memo to the President from Julia Sweig

Memo to President Obama

Julia Sweig is the Nelson and David Rockefeller Senior Fellow and Director,
Latin American Studies, Council on Foreign Relations. She is the author of
the forthcoming book, Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know.

CIGAR AFICIONADO asked a leading Cuba expert to provide a road map for
improving relations between the United States and its island neighbor

Cigar Aficionado
February 2009

In the first six months of your presidency, you should launch an initiative
to put to rest the half century of mutual enmity between the United States
and Cuba. Doing so represents an opportunity of both major foreign policy
reward and low domestic political risk. Mr. President, a bold initiative
with Cuba, early in your presidency, will restore America's credibility and
demonstrate your political courage with the Cuban people, in the hemisphere
and across the globe. This memo will lay out why, provide several caveats to
guide your considerations, and outline a series of concrete recommendations.


The United States has maintained an economic embargo, a broad travel ban and
a host of punitive diplomatic measures against Cuba for nearly 50 years.
Keeping such policies on the books any longer serves no foreign policy,
national security or even substantial domestic political agenda: the status
quo undermines all three. I am not the first person to argue that the time
has come to open a different chapter with Cuba, nor are you the first
president who will read a memo arguing as much. In fact, you are the 10th
president of the United States to inherit a broken and utterly small-minded
policy toward Cuba. And you are the first president since Dwight D.
Eisenhower to take office when Fidel Castro was not at the helm on the

Unlike your predecessors, you campaigned on a program of making potentially
significant changes in America's approach to the island. You spoke of
talking directly with Raúl Castro, even while insisting on the importance of
freeing political prisoners, bringing democracy and human rights in Cuba,
and conducting appropriate advance work to ensure that talks address these
agenda items. You called for an end to restrictions preventing Cuban
Americans from visiting and sending remittances and other humanitarian
assistance to their families on the island. And you talked about promoting
people-to-people ties between all Americans and Cubans. You demonstrated the
political courage to embrace these measures not only among liberal
audiences, but in the state of Florida, where you saw that Cuban Americans
are no longer single-issue or single-party voters. You recognized that, like
many other traditional GOP supporters in 2008, Cuban Americans had lost
faith with the party over bread-and-butter middle-class issues, the economic
and financial meltdown, the war in Iraq and, notably, over Guantánamo. And
you won the state of Florida without a political debt to hard-liners in the
exile community, thus freeing the United States to craft a policy toward
Cuba, rather than toward South Florida.

Today's international context also distinguishes you from your predecessors
with respect to Cuba policy. In their own times and for their own reasons,
Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter and Clinton each took notable steps to break
with the ineffectual policies of sanctions and isolation. But their limited
openings toward Cuba occurred at moments when America's credibility on the
world stage and among our allies was overwhelmingly positive. The Guantánamo
Bay Naval Base-under U.S. control since 1903-has long been a symbol of
yanqui imperialism for Fidel's revolution and for others on the left in
Latin America, but it was hardly the negative global symbol of American
power gone wrong that it is today. Indeed, with America's international
standing now severely diminished by the last eight years of unilateralism
and arrogance, the moves you make toward rapprochement with Cuba will have
resonance well beyond their impact on the Cuban people or their government.
In the Western Hemisphere, U.S. policy toward Cuba is universally derided as
ineffectual and an obstacle to the emergence of a more open, pluralistic
society on the island. An opening toward Cuba will be quietly encouraged and
loudly applauded by major U.S. allies in the region, such as Argentina,
Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia and Mexico,each of which possesses extensive
ties to the island and is paying close attention to developments in Cuba
during this 50th anniversary year of the revolution. Havana's brashly
ideological allies in the region-Bolivia, Nicaragua and, notably,
Venezuela-will find a big argument in their brief against the United States
(i.e. Goliath's penchant for picking on David) substantially undercut. The
dozen or so small island countries of the Caribbean, meanwhile, most of
which vote with Venezuela and Cuba at the Organization of American States
and the United Nations will have cause for reconsidering this practice.

Beyond Latin America, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara remain cult heroes for
many. Despite its human rights violations, Cuba's leadership has earned
grudging respect among multiple generations of intellectuals and political
leaders for its social gains and for its continued defiance of Washington.
In Europe in particular, U.S. sanctions have earned the ire of many for
casting their punitive reach on potential business and investment with Cuba.
After a five-year freeze, and under the leadership of Spain's prime
minister, José Luis Zapatero, the European Union has recently lifted
economic sanctions and commenced a broad ranging dialogue on civil and
political as well as social and cultural rights. A fresh approach to Cuba
will send a signal that the era of American hubris in foreign affairs, at
least in its own neck of the woods, may well be coming to an end. A
significant dimension of the collapse of America's standing globally during
the Bush years was that the United States was willing to use its power
willy-nilly without a healthy degree of respect for the views of others, as
the Constitution commends. For more than 15 years, the U.N. General Assembly
has voted nearly unanimously in support of a Cuban resolution condemning the
American embargo against it. Owning up to the failures of this policy and
sending a clear signal of a new approach will gain ready plaudits from our
allies, whose help we will need in confronting real, rather than
manufactured and domestically driven, national security challenges.

For many of the same reasons, American public opinion is ready for a change
as well, and a significant one at that. Nationally, polls consistently
indicate that a majority of Americans believe they should be able to travel
to and trade with Cuba and that Washington and Havana should reestablish
diplomatic relations. Even among your toughest audience, the Cuban- American
community, a consensus is emerging that current policy has failed and that
neither the Cuban nor the U.S. government has any business getting in the
way of individuals' desires to help family members on the island.
Cuban-Americans also favor an end to travel restrictions for all Americans,
not just for themselves. Such views have only become stronger in the wake of
the devastating damage wrought upon the island by hurricanes Gustav, Ike and
Paloma last summer and fall. Regardless, Cuban Americans today make up only
7 percent of Florida's electorate in national elections. Even as you
recognize the importance of Cuban-American family ties and perhaps, in the
future, as part of a new wave of foreign investment there, they are not the
only stakeholders in building a better modus vivendi with Cuba.


Before outlining the steps you can and should take to launch this
initiative, I first want to caution you about two issues.

The first is democracy. In short, do not pursue a bilateral opening with
Cuba out of the belief or hope that doing so will rapidly bring liberal
democracy to the island. There was little history of it before 1959-in the
past 50 years, even less. In the early 1960s, the United States could have
perhaps helped prevent some of the revolution's later radicalization by
finding a modus vivendi with a young Fidel Castro, who was leery of Soviet
power. A full-blown opening under Jimmy Carter, or even under George H. W.
Bush when the Berlin Wall fell, might also have provided space for reformers
within and outside government circles in Havana to make the case for greater
economic and political liberalization.

Indeed, had the first President Bush or even President Clinton during his
first term issued executive orders to lift the trade and travel ban and
restore diplomatic relations, Cuba might look quite different than it does
today, perhaps with a recognizable social democratic order, a more open
economy and ample state social services. By now, the United States might
well have been able to count Cuba among the Latin American countries where
the American commitment to democracy had played a constructive role. At this
stage, however, to think that an end to the embargo will speedily usher in
an era of multiparty elections and market capitalism would be to set your
administration up for failure. Cuba is today and will remain for some time a
one-party state with a controlled press and significant impediments to
individual freedoms. Thus, in your own mind, and publicly, it is best to
frame any moves toward Cuba as matters of American national interest. At the
same time, you should assert your belief that greater openness from the
United States has the potential to lay the groundwork for a more open
society on the island, where human rights and personal freedom can accompany
Cuba's long-standing aspirations to social justice and national sovereignty.

These values are shared by Cubans on the island and in the diaspora, but
their implementation would still stop well short of raising the unrealistic
expectation that a new U.S. approach can accelerate a full-scale democratic
and pro-market transition. A historical note worth considering: when Henry
Kissinger sent a few key deputies to secretly meet with Castro's envoys in
1975, he acted for geopolitical reasons first and foremost; he harbored no
illusions about the domestic impact within Cuba of an opening with the
United States. Nor did he demand preconditions before sending his emissaries
to talk with Fidel's. Neither should you. But be assured that a less hostile
policy will strengthen those within Cuba who are already making the case for
greater freedoms and economic liberties at home, but who are thwarted by
hard-liners whose positions are repeatedly reinforced by the reliable
hostility of U.S. policies. In that sense, by simply taking steps to remove
the United States as an excuse for domestic repression, and thereby helping
reduce the siege mentality that has left its corrosive mark, you will
contribute, over time, to change in Cuba.

Raúl Castro's First Year
The second major issue or caveat relates to what is happening in Cuba today.
In the aftermath of Fidel Castro's illness (announced during the summer of
2006) and Raúl Castro's election to the Cuban presidency in early 2008, it
looked to most observers that Cuban authorities would carry out a number of
potentially significant, though modest and modestly paced, economic reforms
aimed at increasing the personal freedoms and material conditions of Cuban
citizens. The words privatization or free market are seldom used in official
Cuban discourse about changes in the economy. But by decentralizing and
distributing land titles and otherwise promoting more free enterprise in the
agricultural sector, lifting previous caps on wages, and announcing his
intention of reducing the economic involvement and size of the state
bureaucracy, Raúl has clearly signaled a new era is emerging. At times, he
has sounded more like Margaret Thatcher than Karl Marx, stressing the need
for Cubans to improve their work ethic, efficiency and productivity. In one
major speech, for example, he cautioned that "equality is not the same as
egalitarianism," which itself could be "a form of exploitation of the good
workers by those who are less productive and lazy," and warned Cubans not to
expect the state to foot the bill indefinitely for an enormous range of
goods and service. On balance, for the first half of 2008, Cuba exuded
confidence internally and internationally, with a diversified trade and
investment portfolio, the financial backing of Venezuela's Hugo Chávez and
new investments from Brazil, China, Spain and Russia.

By the summer of 2008, as the global food and fuel crisis hit home, Raúl
began to moderate his tone, warning of impending belt tightening. Echoing
his brother's historic allergy to the market, he stressed the need to
protect the revolution's historical social achievements and maintain its
firm resistance to empire (aka the United States). Raúl was-and still
is-engaged in a balancing act, moving to gradually open the economy and
permit often brutally honest public debate about economic and social issues,
all while retaining political control and a major role for the state as the
dominant actor in national life. All of this unfolded with Fidel Castro
never far from the scene. Though physically out of the picture but clearly
in better health, his regularly published commentaries on domestic, economic
and international subjects appeared to both help Raúl manage public
expectations but also dampen the pace of some economic openings for which
many Cubans were hoping.

Then, at the end of August, and again in early September, hurricanes Gustav
and Ike ripped across Cuba, inflicting an estimated $5 billion to $8 billion
in damage. Much of Cuba's tobacco, citrus and coffee crops have been ruined,
while poultry production and fishing fleets were severely damaged.
Electrical grids in entire provinces were destroyed, as were more than
500,000 homes, displacing 2 million people and leaving 1 million jobless.
The disasters have also encouraged speculation that the urgency of producing
food especially could actually convince the government to accelerate private
agricultural modes of production and other forms of market activity, all
within the framework of socialism á la Cubana. Humanitarian and
reconstruction assistance has come in, from the likes of Venezuela, Russia,
China, Spain, Brazil and Mexico. But with the global financial crisis adding
a climate of risk and uncertainty to Raúl's tentative steps toward modest
reforms, not to mention the possibility that social pressures internally and
to migrate will increase, the Cuba you will likely engage will be focused on
recovery and reconstruction more, at first, than on reform and renovation.
As always, Cuba will be wary of the United States and unwilling to frame any
movement, domestic or bilateral, as anything approaching a concession to its
historic nemesis. The stability of Cuba's succession from Fidel to Raúl has
been smooth and remains so, a disincentive, some would argue, for you to
spend your energy on a new approach to the island. Changing policy toward
Cuba is strongly in the American national interest. It is the right thing to
do. And there are other excellent reasons to put your energy into a new Cuba
policy, as I have outlined above. But with Cuban officials warning of severe
food shortages well into early 2009, the last thing you need is the kind of
instability in Cuba that could prompt a mass refugee exodus. The time to
talk is now.


The remaining portions of this memo lay out what the executive branch can do
to fundamentally recast American policy toward Cuba. I also note where
Congress will be key. The goal of the steps outlined below is to set into
motion a process that, in the short to medium term, will bring about the end
of the trade and travel embargo while establishing the initial items for an
agenda of bilateral talks.

In the first hundred days of your presidency, you should issue an executive
order revitalizing and liberalizing the 13 existing categories of licensed
"purposeful" travel, which promote contact with the Cuban people for all
Americans, following the path chartered by the Clinton administration in
preparation for the 1998 papal visit to Cuba. At the same time, and
consistent with your campaign pledges, you should repeal all restrictions on
Cuban-American family travel and remittances imposed since 2004 by the Bush
administration. These two steps will not result in the complete elimination
of the travel ban. Congress will need to finish that job with legislation
eliminating all travel restrictions.

With your authority, you can also license the sale of goods and services
that serve humanitarian purposes, especially as pertains to public health
and all other materials that can assist in Cuba's recovery and
reconstruction efforts in the wake of the recent hurricanes. Since the Cuban
government is already the exclusive buyer of food under a 2000 law
permitting such sales between our countries, legal precedent and practice
exists for the government to also purchase other goods. You should allow
Cuba to purchase non-agricultural goods on credit and make it easier to
purchase American agricultural products using a more liberal interpretation
of the statuatory credit restrictions, a move already urged by
organizations. Congress can then eliminate the remaining anomolous credit
restrictions on agricultural sales.

Much hoopla was made over the answer you gave to a campaign debate question
about whether you would talk directly to the Cuban leadership. You were
right on foreign policy grounds to say you would, and to later stipulate as
a matter of principle that doing so in no way meant your administration
would condone Cuba's often egregious human rights practices and
authoritarian nature. On a number of occasions, Raúl Castro has indicated
his willingness to talk on a range of issues: the precondition he has
advanced is one of respect for Cuba's national sovereignty. Despite ongoing
antipathy, public recriminations and a variety of American laws aimed at
regime change, the United States and Cuba actually have a history of talking
with each other almost continually over the last half century-whether
through back channels, formal channels or third parties.

For example, after secret negotiations produced an immigration agreement in
1995 allowing 20,000 Cubans to migrate legally to the United States each
year, teams from each country met twice annually until 2004 to keep the
agreement on track. Likewise, to this day, the American and Cuban commanders
on either side of the gate at Guantánamo meet with their counterparts each
month. Both sets of talks demonstrate the capacity on both sides for
pragmatism, especially when it comes to the essentials of national security.
In this vein, your administration should "pursue talks on issues of mutual
concern to both parties, such as migration, human smuggling, drug
trafficking, public health, the future of the Guantánamo naval base and
environmentally sustainable resource management, especially as Cuba, with a
number of foreign oil companies, begins deep-water exploration for
potentially significant oil reserves." This recommendation of direct talks
is hardly controversial. It comes directly from the Council on Foreign
Relations and is echoed by a host of leading lights of foreign policy from
both political parties, individuals who recognize that diplomacy is not
about popularity and favoritism, but an essential tool for promoting the
national interest.

There is no pressing reason for you to meet directly with Raúl Castro at
this time. Too much groundwork lies ahead before such a meeting would make
sense from a foreign policy or domestic political perspective. Well before
any such encounter, the United States and Cuba need to embark on a series of
talks aimed at establishing common sense cooperation to serve both
countries' national interests. If a meeting between you and Raúl Castro
appears, down the road, to have potential to significantly advance American
interests with respect to Cuba, you should consider participating. And there
you can advance a discussion about democracy and human rights, as your
counterparts in Europe and Latin America have as well. In that vein, be
prepared to hear from Cuba about its own view of human rights in America, in
light of Guantánamo. I can assure you that, while clearly willing, Raúl
Castro exhibits no sense of urgency to meet with you and has a coterie of
senior advisers and experienced negotiators upon whom he will rely instead.

In the meantime, the relevant cabinet, national security and military
officers in your administration will have to inoculate the individuals they
task with shaping and carrying out these talks from the kinds of political
pressures that have in the past undermined attempts at conducting a
rational, non-ideological approach to American policy toward Cuba. In short,
if you want these talks to succeed, as they have in the past under
Presidents Carter and Clinton, senior officials in your administration will
have to guide them, making it known they are acting at your instruction and
under your scrutiny. Simply tasking the bureaucracy-long accustomed to and
hampered by ineffectual and politicized thinking on Cuba-to start the talks
will doom this initiative.

Unilaterally, you should follow the recommendations of terrorism experts in
both parties to remove Cuba from the State Department's list of state
sponsors of terrorism. The Reagan administration first put Cuba on the list
because of its support for leftist rebels in El Salvador. For purely
political reasons, the State Department has subsequently kept Cuba on the
list, even as Libya and North Korea have been removed. Then, the substantive
issues pertaining to American fugitives in Cuba or anti-Castro Cuban
terrorists, such as Luis Posada Carriles, now free in the United States, can
be addressed in bilateral talks involving the FBI, Justice Department and
their Cuban counterparts. Likewise, be prepared for American allies and for
the Cuban government to press the case for the release of the Cuban Five,
the intelligence agents who in the late 1990s infiltrated South Florida
exile groups, produced intelligence on pending terrorist attacks against
Cuba, and who, after the Cuban government passed the information to the FBI,
were promptly arrested, tried and convicted, in some cases, to multiple life

As with American public opinion generally, there is a latent bipartisan
consensus in Congress to lift the embargo. Legislation to lift travel and
trade sanctions passed between 2000 and 2002, but was stripped in conference
when the GOP leadership worked with Cuban- American Republicans in the House
and with the White House to prevent any liberalization of Cuba policy. Now,
with a stronger Democratic majority in the House and Senate, and especially
because of the severity of hurricane damage to Cuba, you can expect to see
legislation calling for an end to restrictions on Cuban-American travel and
remittances and on all American travel to Cuba. You can also anticipate
bills calling for a suspension of the embargo, its complete elimination or
possibly even the repeal of Helms-Burton. Indeed, leading Republicans in
both chambers have already joined their Democratic colleagues in advancing a
range of such initiatives. Likewise, there is bound to be legislation to
significantly boost aid to promote democracy, civil society and human
rights. These programs have rightly come under scrutiny for corruption and
ineffectiveness in recent years. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should
work with the key appropriations and authorizations committees to cleanse
from the U.S. Agency for International Development all vestiges of programs
that smell of regime change. They are ineffectual, they hurt genuine
reformers on the island, they provoke the Cuban government to no apparent
end and they diminish the credibility of America's real bona fides on
democracy, as well as those of Cuban dissidents.

In your campaign you argued that you would keep the embargo in place to use
it as leverage to extract democratic reforms from the Castro government. Mr.
President, don't hold your breath. When you campaigned to open up
Cuban-American and people-to-people travel and said you'd pursue talks with
Cuba, you made sense to all but the most passionate hard-liners on this
issue. But when you said you would preserve the embargo as leverage, you
sounded as if you were pandering to them. As you know, there is no evidence
that any unilateral sanctions program anywhere in the world has ever been
effective in changing the internal character of the target government. So I
have to assume that you and your political advisers held back on the
ultimate disposition of the embargo in order to secure Cuban-American votes.

Mr. President, you won Florida without the votes of Cuban-American
hard-liners. Because of massive voter registration drives in that state,
registered Hispanic Democrats now outnumber Hispanic Republicans by 513,000
to 445,000. You won the state with the votes of 57 percent of Hispanics, up
from 44 percent for John Kerry in 2004. In Miami-Dade County, 55 percent of
Cuban Americans under 29 years old voted for you, while 84 percent of Cuban
Americans over 65 years old voted for John McCain, following the national
trend. And although 35 percent of Cuban Americans voted for you, a 10
percent increase over John Kerry's 2004 showing, it was the non-Cuban
Hispanic vote and other votes across Florida, especially in the
African-American community, that increased your margin enough to carry the
state. These gains are less a result of the needle you threaded on American
policy toward Cuba than on the strength of your overall platform and
campaign. Your triangulated position on Cuba prevented those Cuban-American
voters inclined to vote for you from voting against you and attracted
first-time American voters. McCain still carried most Cuban- American votes.

In congressional elections, where three Democrats supporting only family
travel challenged the three Cuban-American Republican seats in South
Florida, all three lost to the incumbents by wide margins. Their races were
less about Cuba than about the real issues working Americans face. Although
the three Cuban-American Republican hard-liners have been safely reelected,
they are now in the minority opposition. And with your victory in Florida
the result of a constellation of non-Cuban-American votes, your Cuba policy
need no longer defer to the Cuban-American political status quo of the last
50 years.

There are two Cuban-American Democrats in Congress, Senator Bob Menendez and
Representative Albio Sires of New Jersey, who well understand that current
policy toward Cuba has failed, and who, I believe, will support Cuban-
American and people-to-people travel, as well as direct talks on issues of
security, especially. They and their constituents will not support a
full-blown elimination of the embargo. Although they may well voice their
objections to openings beyond Cuban-American family travel and perhaps some
humanitarian trade, they know that their case for granting one group of
Americans a right denied to another will not hold up legally, or
politically. They will be unable to stop the Democratic leadership in the
Congress from pursuing a legislative agenda aimed at ultimately dismantling
the embargo. But they will attempt to assure that any legislation aimed at
relaxing sanctions is balanced by ample support for human rights and civil
society in Cuba. It will be important that whatever initiatives along those
lines they advocate are cleansed of the tainted democracy-promotion-
regime-change ethos of recent memory. And even then, these programs are
likely to remain highly politicized. Whatever their ultimate character, the
U.S. Interest Section in Havana must become a proper vehicle for diplomacy
and outreach to all Cubans rather than a conduit of cash aimed at inciting
would-be anti-regime activists.

In that light, with respect to travel and trade sanctions, I recommend you
take the steps your executive authority allows, and leave the rest to
Congress. If, five to 10 years from now, Cuba is more pluralistic and more
free, it will have been the result of Cuba's own choices. But by following
the proposals outlined here, you will be the president of the United States
who showed the political courage and foreign policy wisdom to create the
external conditions that will have made possible such a long-elusive

Julia Sweig is the Nelson and David Rockefeller Senior Fellow and Director,
Latin American Studies, Council on Foreign Relations. She is the author of
the forthcoming book, Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know.