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.