Monday, October 26, 2009

UN Embargo Vote Confirms US Isolation on Cuba

On Wednesday October 28th for the 18th year the unilateral US embargo of Cuba will be condemned by the United Nations by a nearly unanimous vote.

Last time the drubbing was 185 to 3, with our only significant ally being Israel, a country whose citizens vacation, invest heavily in property development, and manage the largest citrus plantation in Cuba.

The fact that only passing notice of our recurring diplomatic humiliation will be taken by American newspapers and political leaders says much about the insularity of the US from overwhelming world opinion, despite eloquent speeches by President Obama.

The UN General Assembly is not the only place our isolation is manifested. Anti-embargo resolutions have been adopted without opposition in the independent forums of the Rio Group, the Ibero-American Summit, the Heads of State of Latin America and the Caribbean, CARICOM and the Non-aligned Movement.

Supporting the annual UN process is a 117 page report issued by the Secretary General on the “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba”. This year 121 countries plus the European Union and 25 UN organs and agencies summarized their reasons.*

Opposition falls into three broad categories:

The embargo is seen as a violation of national sovereignty. For countries of the Western Hemisphere it is an anachronistic reminder of the interventionism of the Monroe Doctrine, and, in Cuba’s case, of the Platt Amendment.

Extraterritoriality is particularly galling for our closest allies in Europe, Canada and Asia, as US law asserts control over the actions of their corporations and banks and the sales of any products to Cuba that contain US sourced raw materials, content or technology.

UN agencies focus strongly on the humanitarian and developmental consequences to the people of Cuba, the collateral damage of an unsanctioned US trade war.

How will the Obama Administration respond?

Perhaps Ambassador Susan Rice will sound like her predecessors under George Bush, justifying the embargo on the grounds that Cuba does not have a democratic government or respect human rights. These are criticisms also held by many of the countries that vote against us, but are hardly in concert with the President’s own words to the General Assembly one month ago: “Democracy cannot be imposed on any nation from the outside.”

Political prisoners are an easy problem to resolve. US calls for Cuban reciprocity have already been met by President Raul Castro’s offer to do a classic cold war exchange of five Cubans the US has imprisoned on controversial spy charges for everyone Cuba holds as threats to its security.

Perhaps in a background briefing, the White House will say its hands are tied by Helms-Burton and other legislation.

However, our current Cuban-American ambassador to Mexico, Carlos Pascual, while Vice President of the Brookings Institution, co-authored an Op Ed in the Miami Herald which argued, “Whether you agree or disagree with the current commercial embargo, the president can effectively dismantle it by using his executive authority.”** For humanitarian reasons the Executive can respond to last year’s triple hurricane devastation by allowing sale and donation of construction, medical and agricultural equipment and supplies

In addition the President hasn’t even returned to the policies of the Clinton Administration by licensing travel for educational, cultural, religious, humanitarian, sports and other non-tourist people-to-people purposes. Such action embodies oft-proclaimed Obama values of dialogue and mutual respect, and among other things would have enabled the New York Philharmonic to perform in Havana as had been scheduled at the end of this week.

The Administration has permitted unlimited Cuban American visits and remittances but has failed in nine months to significantly liberalize travel for the rest of Americans or to modify the embargo. By doing so, the President would have given substance to his rhetoric of change in US relations with the Western Hemisphere and the world. He could have avoided or at least mitigated another signally embarrassing vote at the UN.



Friday, August 14, 2009

Two Comments on Exporting Democracy

The Pastors for Peace article and photos are here

My own impression from a decade of annual visits to Cuba is there are ideological and practical differences between Cubans, including Fidel and Raul, on how the country can most effectively meet contemporary domestic and international challenges. It is apparent that Fidel has trouble taking on a Nelson Mandela role of revered but uninvolved founding father, and that his personal engagement has complicated Raul's efforts at reform.

However, I am disturbed by Americans, whether friendly or hostile, becoming strongly involved in another country's internal social and political choices. Making Fidel a savior or a devil and elevating idealized revolutionaries or marginal dissidents and bloggers to more than symbolic political significance complicates the task facing Americans.

Our job is to simply give Cubans as much space as is possible in this densely interconnected world to sort out their own priorities and personalities. Getting President Obama to end limits on non-tourist travel and the Congress to enable tourism and all other travel are the first essential steps to opening windows and doors for dialogue and confidence building. Terminating interventionist USAID programs, US Interests Section sponsorship of dissidents and hostile TV and radio broadcasts and the false characterization of Cuba as a State Supporter of Terrorism are the second step toward normalcy. Listening to virtually the whole world and ending the aggression of a unilateral embargo is the third and most decisive stage.

Whomever is in charge of Cuba's government, Fidel, Raul, or their collective successors will by choice or necessity engage with that new reality. My guess, and only a guess, is that the initial direction will be similar to Vietnam, opening to domestic and international market economics and increasing the amount of personal freedom.

Where that goes and how fast in terms of American and Hemispheric concepts of freedom of association, press and governance is only up to the people and institutions of Cuba. The more we insist, from the left, center or right, on what should happen, the harder it is for an organic evolution to take place.


You are to be congratulated for the diversity of your readership. So far the comment makers tend more to the devil than savior interpretation of Fidel. For historical context they might want to read what appeared in the English press after the American Revolution.

There remain analogues in the Vietnamese, Lao and Cambodian refugee communities, especially among political leaders whose power in part derives from stoking the fires of resentment and nostalgia. However, they do not control US policy and, as with Cuban Americans, do not represent predominant sentiments. More significant are those who regularly visit their homeland, send remittances, invest in small and large enterprises, and increasingly choose to retire there.

Re your comment,
"I don’t agree. We love our freedom and democracy and I don’t think it’s wrong to want to export that to Cuba."

It is not wrong to aspire; it is wrong and counterproductive to try to export.

First one must be realistic about what our democracy consists of. I cut my political teeth in the civil rights movement in the south. Until very recently citizens of the US were denied the right to vote because of race and suffered many forms of discrimination. In a way, it was even worse that the rest of the country knew of and tolerated gross forms of discrimination, not to mention practiced its own subtler forms of prejudice, including in housing and employment.

We also have a history of political repression when our system feels threatened, in the last century the Palmer Raids, Japanese internment, McCarthyism, etc. Then we can look at the last Administration which came to power as the result of a Supreme Court coup and proceeded to shred fundamental Constitutional rights after 9/11.

I have been a Democratic Party activist much of my life and treasure our freedoms of speech, assembly and competitive elections. But I am also aware of the disproportionate role that money, concentrated power, and high tech psychological manipulation play in our democratic choices.

I see many problems in Cuba's system of government and economy, and frankly discuss my views with friends there, as they do their perspective on the US. However we cannot escape the reality of history. Every time the US intervened in Latin American, it was justified by democratic rhetoric, including in Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Chile, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Haiti, Granada and Panama. There is well documented evidence that we were largely motivated by economic and security self-interest. We have a disgraceful history of colluding with some of the most outrageously oppressive regimes in the Hemisphere. (These are the reasons the rest of the Hemisphere disagree so strongly with our Cuba policy and are uneasy with the ambiguity of our response to the Honduras coup.)

Our original role in Cuba was justified as freeing the country from Spanish colonialism, but most Cubans feel we hijacked their long painful independence struggle, imposed our racial prejudices and made them a neo-colony via the Platt Amendment which lives on in the unequal treaty that gives us control of Guantanamo. Our role before the 1959 revolution led to foreign domination of Cuba's economy and a heavy hand in its politics. Since the revolution we have used every form of intervention imaginable to impose our interests, not least the embargo.

Some dissidents and bloggers no doubt are true patriots, committed to a free and independent Cuba. Others presumably have less noble agendas. In any case, they are entitled to the same rights of free speech and assembly as everyone else in the world. However, many opponents of rulers face denial at least as grave as in Cuba, including by countries with which the US is closely allied or at least enjoys normal diplomatic and economic relations.

Inescapably dissidents and hostile bloggers are seen as intentional or unconscious agents of the overwhelmingly powerful neighbor. The more they are lionized here, the more certain is the conviction in Cuba that they are tools and allies of their enemy and the more subject they are to control and repression. We all make compromises with our ideals in order to have an effect on the circumstances in which we find ourselves. People whose standing outside their culture and country is disproportionate to their role inside can be misled as to their personal importance and power and lose touch with what really matters to bring about internal change.

As I wrote in my first post, the way to achieve space for Cuba as a country and Cubans as people is to back off, to try to overcome a tendency especially pervasive in big and powerful countries, regardless of ideology, to think their values and practices are naturally and inherently superior. Fittingly we can do far more to expand freedom in Cuba by expanding it here.

John McAuliff
Fund for Reconciliation and Development

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Eastern Europe Model

Comment on my post on Phil Peter's Cuban Triangle blog

Anonymous said...

hmmm, I think you can find a few hundred million former prisoners of communism in the East Bloc that are pretty happy the US was "presumptuous and interventionist" during the Cold War.

My response:

1) The socialist governments in eastern Europe were based on the imposition of military power by the Soviet Union in the aftermath of World War II and were sustained in crises by Soviet military repression of popular resistance.

Like it or not, Cuba's revolution was a completely domestic creation which has never depended on foreign forces to maintain its authority.

2) Freedom in eastern Europe happened when Gorbachev made clear Soviet troops would no longer maintain in power unpopular regimes.

3) There never was a US travel or economic embargo against eastern Europe. A general case could be made that the transition to western style democracy went most smoothly in societies that had been most open to normal interaction with the rest of Europe and the US. (Miami hard liners were embarrassed several years ago when a conference of eastern European diplomats told them the embargo was counterproductive to encouraging internal change.)

4) The models for real change in Cuba are most likely to be found in other countries with indigenous socialist revolutions like China and Vietnam. Russia itself in effect is reverting to its own cultural and historical view of democracy, even absent the leading role of a communist party. While Vietnam and China have systematic political and human rights problems from the view of the US, Canada and Western Europe, individual freedom has increased substantially in both countries since the US ended its embargo and normalized relations.

5) Pressure from the US for Cuba to become more democratic in our terms carries the burden not only of our interventionist role over the past fifty years, but also of the unpleasant history of the prior sixty years.

6) Anyone who has visited Cuba knows that much of the population wants more individual freedom to initiate private business ventures, to travel internationally and to speak more openly about social and economic problems. The biggest obstacle to that is not the Communist Party of Cuba, many of whose members would agree with these goals. It is the threat of well funded intervention by the US and by the old guard in Miami.

7) Those who argue that Fidel and Raul depend on US hostility and the embargo to justify authoritarian rule logically should be in the forefront of the campaign to end travel restrictions and the embargo. The fact that they take the contrary position suggests their motives are either embittered revenge, or knowledge that the only way they can hope to regain power is by societal collapse, i.e. piggybacking on US "humanitarian intervention/peacekeeping" forces.

8) I sometimes wonder whether there is a more pedestrian motive at work. Presumably no interests in Miami would be as damaged by the end of the embargo as the Fanjul family and those who benefit from Bacardi's domination of the US rum market. Imagine the effect on its market share if not only Havana Club but Cuba's many other fine rums became freely available here.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Particular vs. General Travel Licenses

Once the Obama Administration decides to use its authority to allow non-touring travel to all Americans, regardless of ethnicity or national origin, an important nuance is whether to employ specific or general licenses. Specific licenses require an application to OFAC in which an organization must justify how its proposed program of travel qualifies under existing regulations. The license can cover a particular trips or a kind of trip being sponsored by that organization. General licenses are not applied for. Organizations and individuals wimply qualify to use them based on who and what the are and/or the purpose of their travel. For example, Cuban American travel at times was a general license under President Clinton and became a specific license under President Bush. Professional journalists and professional research currently qualify for general licenses.

Specific licenses require keeping an unnecessary and costly OFAC bureaucracy in place. Even during Clinton, the process was time consuming, expensive and arbitrary and significantly narrowed the number and range of actual travelers. Legal offices in educational and cultural institutions had to be brought into the process and played a conservative vetting role, probably leading to the demise of many aspirations. People at the grass roots were intimidated or discouraged by their ignorance of how to proceed.

Even with a more liberal mandate from the President and State Department (a default "yes" as existed under Clinton), the culture of any supervisory bureaucracy is to exercise its authority in a "responsible fashion". It will take OFAC a while to recover from eight years of Bush, and to replace/control staff members with an anti-engagement political bias. Tim Geithner's appropriate deputy will have to monitor closely what is taking place and probably will have to bring in a knowledgeable person with the right goals to directly supervise Cuba license requests and hear appeals from people who are denied or jerked around. (I also can't think of a better place to reduce government bloat than by downsizing OFAC's Cuba staff.)

Specific licenses also force legal visitors into group travel. This should be a problem for those who believe Cuba's intelligence and propaganda apparatus takes advantage of group trips with prearranged itineraries. It also enables Cuba to easily channel all higher priced US business to three preferred state companies. Over the years, the Americans who had the most varied and spontaneous encounters with Cuba were those who traveled without OFAC licenses and took public transportation or rented cars to traverse the island and stayed in casas particulares (two bedroom bed and breakfasts)

Ideally a general license is based on intention and credentials and takes the traveler at his or her word. They do not require pre-trip itineraries or post-trip reports. No one is scrutinizing whether a day at the beach was included in the time as long as the visitor can say with integrity (if anyone asks) that the trip included a significant component of education, religious interaction, humanitarian assistance, cultural exchange, sports or "support for the Cuban people".

There is one bureaucratic step back that allows a more objective criteria for a general license but no larger OFAC role. Qualification could be defined as going with or on behalf of a registered 501c3/501c4 not-for-profit organization or as writing for a community newspaper or an on-line blog, or as a professional or recognized volunteer in a related field, etc. This will also push toward group travel, but there would be more space.

Whether a general or specific license approach is followed, qualification should be extended to family members and companions.

There will be some cheating or pushing the envelope on general licenses but it doesn't matter if what one is really trying to inhibit is large scale commercial resort tourism. There will be lots more cheating in general as an Obama administration is not going to be able to enforce what Bush couldn't, especially in the past two years. Travel via third countries is just too easy and morally acceptable. The more the information spreads that OFAC has given up on blocking it, the more people will simply go. (A GAO report last year cited estimates of 120,000 annually.)

General licenses will also eliminate the problem of what to do about publicized civil disobedience by Pastors for Peace and the Venceremos Brigade since they will qualify whether they want to or not. Clinton and Bush couldn't do anything about their travel. Is a liberal civil liberties inclined Administration more likely to be repressive?

It is clear from discussions among Cuba activists, that the idea of "travel challenges" is entering more into the mainstream. If the Congress or Administration have not acted on travel by July, there will be grreater overt exercise of the right to travel, and even more covert non-cooperation. Many of the people involved will be former supporters of, and donors to, the Obama campaign, 84% of whom want normalization according to the October poll.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Stategy and Tactics 2

Further thoughts about why I believe a two track executive + legislative approach is required if we are serious about changing US-Cuba relations.

1) We can not afford to leave the Administration to its own devices. We should push against prolonging the interagency review without significant action by creating a buzz through our networks on a nationwide as well as DC basis. We must bring to the surface the full potential of what Obama can and ought to do consistent with his own goals and values. Staying silent guarantees that the only pressure he feels is from the "go slow on change" camp.

Ones stance on this question depends on
a) whether you think it is positive or negative if the Administration allows the twelve categories, and
b) how that balances with a realistic assessment of prospects for legislative victory and the likely time line.

If a credible case is made that there is a high probability of victorious floor votes in the next two or three months. I am not as concerned about the danger of just focusing on Congress. However if we are talking about summer or fall floor votes and an uncertain result, the equation is different.

A Cuban American friend writes from Miami (edited for style):

I spent two days in Capitol Hill with a very strong Jewish American delegation who traveled with me to Cuba last year. We visited Berman's office, Engel himself and other very important members and the fight for ALL travel is a difficult one, a long one and it might not be a winnable one this year, with Reid, Menendez, Ros Lehtinen, Wasserman Schultz and others (not to mention the PAC which has already greased all new members' pockets) putting on a strong fight.

The President must sign the executive order for Cuban American family travel and expand on his powers for purposeful a first step. Congress can then put up a good fight and we will see if they can deliver…

I, and the others that accompanied me, did not get any "warm" feelings about the win for travel for ALL Americans. I have worked for over 10 years to change US policy towards Cuba from trying to amend the food and medicine embargo to lifting travel, not just for Cuban Americans but for all Americans...It pains me that many of our allies are not there to support unconditionally and urgently the President signing the executive order for family travel and possibly more...and don’t see it as a first step in mending policy. It is the correct thing and the moral thing to do RIGHT NOW and we should all be on this page.

It does not mean that we would rest one second to continue to press Congress to pass those bills, but the opposition is fierce, the money is flowing and if our allies put all their political capital to press only this Congressional tactic, we have a real chance of having NOTHING at the end of the day and that would be truly disastrous and unpardonable.

A bird in the hand is especially worth two in the bush in this case because it allows a wide range of institutions to create programs with Cuba even as soon as this spring and summer, and certainly for fall and winter. If there is likely that a bill is not approved until summer or fall, or even next year, we will have lost the energies of the participants in pressing Congress after they come home. We will also lose a travel season and thus income for Cuba and for pro-travel US organizations.

Having a Congressional majority in 2000 produced legislation that was a big victory on agriculture, but the same legislation contained the codification, i.e. limitation, to the 12 categories of travel, taking away the previous flexibility of the President. Legislation is like making sausages it has been said. The other side is quick on its feet and has shown that it has more firepower than we do.

We cannot base our tactics on being in the best of all worlds. If the above assessment based on recent Hill visits by a very experienced person is accurate, or reality falls somewhere in between, and we don't clearly have a majority of votes, what happens? Do we have evidence that enough has changed in terms of Congress from the twin defeats on the democracy funds and the Rangel amendment that we are prepared to bet the farm? Objectively we still have the problem of human rights and political prisoners that drastically undermined support after the “black spring” of 2003 not to mention the well placed funds and political machine of the other side.

2) Leverage on the Administration is greater now while it is deciding how it needs to present itself at the Summit of the Americas, the review process is ongoing and on the heels of the Lugar and Brookings recommendations. Once the review is concluded, the Administration will be in the mode of selling its conclusions to Congress and to the media. The Democratic majority and the chattering class will be reluctant for months to directly challenge whatever emerges from considered interagency deliberations which puts us into the 2010 election cycle an an open Senate seat in Florida.

Motivating our base for sustained work is complicated. I suspect most of our strength lies in districts and states occupied by natural supporters of travel legislation. When the focus is spread among 435 districts and 50 states, some will be easy and some will be impossible. The challenge is what happens to those energies that have either quickly achieved cosponsors or reached an impenetrable wall.

Focusing attention on a single national target in the White House was pointless when the target was as impervious to reason and our constituency's opinion as Bush. However, when the target is philosophically inclined to, and has many personal links with, our side, mounting a national campaign to appeal to the President’s better angels, or to reinforce and prod our friends on the inside, engages everyone regardless of where they live.

The click-throughs on my newsletter links suggest our base is more likely to give us leverage with the White House than with Congress, at least for the next year.

For what it is worth, the top four were

26% the White House comment page
13% the You Tube interview with Mariela Castro
10% the bill text and cosponsors on Thomas
7% the Florida PAC recipients and donors

(newsletter can be seen here)

3) Bottom line is that the more we get from the Administration, the better positioned we are intellectually and with a reenergized base to influence Congress. If we abandon seeking to influence the executive, minimal policy change could result. We will be forced to challenge an Administration that is very popular with our supporters and the country. We need Obama to do enough with his existing power and to be positive about further action by Congress so that we are working with him not against him. It will be far easier for us if the Administration is advocating rather than ignoring or opposing partial engagement through non-tourist travel and our job is to argue the need for Congress to fulfill the potential of full engagement.

We need to push back aggressively against the arrogant televised boast of Sen. Menendez (D, NJ) as reported from Miami:

“The only thing the administration is going to allow is a roll back to Clinton era family travel" and "if it came down to listening to Senator Lugar (who has called for broad reconsideration of US policy) or him and others in the Cuban American community, Obama would listen to him and the others"

The Omnibus Appropriations bill has created confusion about the status of family travel and the practical effect of non-enforcement provisions. (more here) The clearest way to solve the problem is for the President to fulfill his promise of unlimited family travel and remittances. The only way to do that without discrimination on the basis of ethnicity and national origin is to also authorize the rest on non-tourist travel. It also speaks to Obama’s value of dialog and responds to broader American and international opinion.

It is not a question of giving up before the battle in Congress, but rather being smart about how to win. Given reports that we may be in trouble at the Committee level and on the Floor, and that Democratic members are reluctant to cosponsor because they don’t want to get out ahead of their own Administration, we need to think hard about what changes the dynamic in our favor.

Hill people I've talked to, both three months ago and now, simply don't agree with the argument that the Administration opening the door to non-tourist travel will undermine work on the legislation. They see it as just the opposite.

If a Congressional office says it is not ready yet to cosponsor the legislation, but it will urge the White House to authorize family and non-tourist people-to-people travel, were they more likely to have said yes to cosponsinb if they were not also asked to call the White House?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Strategy and Tactics, February 2009

There is effective unanimity on our strategic goal of unrestricted travel for all American, as reflected in the slogan "travel for all, not for some, not for none". All sectors are pushing in the same direction, including business, agriculture, the travel industry, centrist think tanks, advocacy groups, solidarity networks and all but the most hard line sectors of the Cuban American community. The blogosphere is buzzing, pro and con.

However on tactics there has been a sometimes sharp disagreement between those who believe it is essential to simultaneously press the Obama Administration to go as far as it legally can and push for Congressional action. vs. those who believe that the single legitimate focus is Congress as the only place where all travel restrictions can be ended.

Regrettably, I believe a Congress-in-isolation strategy may seriously undermine our prospects for victory this year. Foreign policy is widely seen as the prerogative of the executive branch, especially when the legislative and executive are newly held by the same party.

Realistically, winning in Congress is not a sure thing and, in any case, we could lose many months, perhaps into the fall or later.

Let me be clear. I agree it is vitally important to engage every national organization and grass roots network in support of the legislation. Obtaining cosponsors for HR 874 and S 428 is a concrete focus for local work and an important metric of how well we are doing. Growing the cosponsor list also encourages greater boldness by the executive.

However, ignoring the substantial changes that the Administration can and should make in a timely manner could be a costly mistake, a classic example of the perfect being the enemy of the good.

I believe we must simultaneously urge people at every level to not only work for the legislation, but also to find ways to impact the interagency policy review currently underway, including use of the on line tool the Administration has offered to maintain engagement with its base .

To be blunt, we cannot afford to let our friends "off the hook".

The Administration is one month overdue in meeting its commitment to unlimited travel and remittances for Cuban Americans. If you have not read Alvaro Fernandez impassioned plea for family travel without further delay, go here

Given everything Barack Obama stands for, he will be inclined to use the same authority to provide general licenses in a non-discriminatory fashion for the other categories of non-tourist travel. But he faces substantial negative pressure and there must be a positive balance coming from our side.

It is simply not acceptable, either for us or for Western Hemisphere opinion, for an Obama Administration to do the minimum of only family travel. Karen DeYoung's report in Saturday's Washington Post on the far reaching letter and staff report from Senator Lugar, contained the following:

"An administration official said yesterday that it was "not unreasonable" to expect that Obama would ease constraints on family travel and remittances to Cuba before he attends the mid-April Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago. "

The Republican staff report does not address other non-tourist travel.

I don't go as far as a colleague who believes that the Congressional route is a waste of time because Bob Menendez and Rahm Emanuel have already agreed that legislation will not happen. However, I do take seriously what key Congressional staff have told me of the uncertain potentially long time-line for floor votes, and the benefit to their effort of maximum prior Presidential action.

If we can not get this White House to act boldly within its own sphere now, why do we think it will lean on Congress later to pass legislation? If it does not, why do we believe that Miami's well funded operation in Congress can be beaten in 2009 when they creamed us in the last two recorded House votes? If we do not win on the Hill this year, is it more likely in 2010 when there is a wide open race for the Florida Senate seat?

Jake Colvin wrote a long well documented report on the power the executive has that goes beyond travel, in fact to suspend virtually every aspect of the embargo except tourism.

Do we risk fighting the last war on uncertain legislative ground and missing real opportunities with a potentially more sympathetic and more powerful executive?

Steve Clemons in The Washington Note makes an important passing comment in his analysis of the Lugar letter and staff report:

"someone close to Shannon and those potentially contributing to this policy review told me it would be important for the administration 'to hear from Congress.'"

Cosponsoring legislation to end all travel restrictions is only one way for Congress to make itself heard, and may not be the most effective in the relevant time frame. It could set too high a threshold, either because of disagreement with full travel, or because of reluctance to challenge so soon the executive's role on foreign policy.

In any case, gathering a significant enough list of cosponsors may take too long to influence the policy review. As I recall we were at it for months on the Rangel bill.

It is not hard for folks to ask their Representative and Senators in the same e-mail, fax or call:
1) Will you cosponsor HR 874 or S 428 to end all travel restrictions?
2) Will you ask the White House to quickly authorize general licenses for Cuban Americans and other non-tourist travelers?

Please urge your contacts do so before we lose an irreplaceable opportunity!


I just spoke at the Educational Travel Conference in New Orleans. With five days notice, more than forty people participated in a session on Cuba at 7:45 a.m. It was one more illustration that the sector that helped produce 84,500 non-Cuban American visitors in 2003 is ready to reengage as soon as Obama opens the door.

The serious visitors to Cuba brought by such programs will be opinion leaders and trend setters. Their return or new experience will make them far more motivated and effective advocates with Congress--and supporters of later more controversial moves by the Administration to fully normalize relations.

Their travel will also bring resources and recruits to the organizations and businesses seeking to end all restrictions.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Sun Sentinel Op Ed

U.S.-Cuba policy: Time for reform, easing restrictions

By John McAuliff

Sun Sentinel, November 9, 2008

In his victory speech in Chicago's Grant Park, President-elect Barack Obama recognized that there are "alliances to repair." The Democratic Party platform plank on Latin America pledged "We must turn the page on the arrogance in Washington."

United States policy toward Cuba is the easiest place to demonstrate that these words are more than rhetoric.

Five days before Obama spoke, national leaders at the Ibero-American Summit in El Salvador urged the United States to repeal its 47-year-old unilateral embargo against Cuba, saying it "is unacceptable and harms the Cuban people."

The week before, the UN General Assembly for the 17th time insisted with a virtually unanimous voice of 185-3 that the United States should end the embargo.

All our friends and allies in the Caribbean, the Western Hemisphere, Europe and Asia opposed us. Israel is our only significant supporter but actually follows a contrary policy as its citizens manage Cuba's largest citrus groves and are major investors in property development.

It is not enough for the president-elect to take the humanitarian step of unrestricted visits and remittances by Cuban Americans.

If he wants to restore U.S. regional and international credibility, he must quickly initiate a more significant policy change.

Obama cannot end the embargo without Congress. But he can unlock the logjam in both countries by using his legal authority to restore in a non-discriminatory fashion the constitutional right to travel to every American who wants to make "non-tourist" visits.

By regulatory fiat, the Office of Foreign Assets Control in the Treasury Department can restore and expand by general license the kind of journeys that took place before 2004 by world affairs councils, museums, Elderhostel, Semester at Sea, religious and humanitarian groups, sports teams, musicians, artists, professional and business associations, students, alumni, people-to-people exchanges and serious individuals.

Most such trips were blocked by the Bush administration, ostensibly because they provided funds to Cuba's government, but the peak number of 84,500 opinion leaders and curious Americans hardly counted among two million European, Canadian and Latin American tourists.

The cost of U.S. self-isolation was confirmed when Washington's role model for responsible hemispheric leadership, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, announced in Havana last week that Raúl Castro will travel to Brazil in December "to participate in the first meeting of Latin American and Caribbean nations, without interference from any other power."

John McAuliff is executive director, Fund for Reconciliation and Development,,0,2832224.story