Monday, December 31, 2007

Congress in 2008

We began 2007 with a mood of optimism about how much Congress would do about Cuba. After all, bipartisan majorities in both the Republican controlled House and Senate had voted in favor of travel, only to see those victories stolen away by Tom DeLay and other GOP leaders.

The only obstacle after the 2006 election seemed to be a Presidential veto, and even that could be mastered with enough determination by the new Democratic leadership who had voted for travel while in the minority. Instead we ended the year with two losses on secondary issues, no test of travel, and a mood of passivity if not defeatism.

By a recorded vote of 254 to 170 the House in June passed an amendment by Lincoln Diaz-Ballart to restore to the appropriations bill “democracy program” Administration requested funding that had been reduced to $9 million by the Appropriations committee. With the support of 66 Democrats and all but six Republicans, the budget was increased five-fold to $45.7 million--despite a valiant effort by floor manager Nita Lowey. At one level, the vote was largely symbolic. The money is a boondoggle, a classic earmark for a special interest group. It covers unheard and unseen propaganda broadcasts from Radio and TV Marti and a variety of ineffective projects intended to intervene in the domestic affairs of a neighboring sovereign country for the internationally discredited purpose of regime change. (Further details here.)

This budget for 2008 is the equivalent of 70% of the total amount of USAID’s Cuba program between 1996 and 2007 of $65 million. The irony, as pointed out by Tony Zamora and Alfredo Duran, prominent Democrats in Miami, was that the Congress had let itself be maneuvered into appropriating millions of dollars that will in effect be recycled into walking around money for the Republican election machine. I witnessed the intellectual version of that partisan subsidy when I attended a conference on “Cuba: What to Expect” organized by the USAID funded Cuba Transition Project. Watch it for yourself, especially the final panel on US policy, and decide whether it represents use of federal funds to advance a particular political interest.

The second defeat came in a well-intentioned but terribly handled amendment in July by Representative Charles Rangel to the Agriculture bill which sought to eliminate OFAC bureaucratic obstacles to export sales to Cuba. The sponsor’s office openly acknowledges that the language was introduced without any preparation or effort to marshal support from allies and bore unique handicaps. Yet the 182-245 defeat was treated by sympathetic Congressional offices and Cuba advocates as definitive evidence that nothing could be done legislatively before 2009

Explanations of these defeats often focus on the well utilized PAC money and other contributions raised in south Florida and given out to Republicans and Democrats who have few Cuban Americans among their constituents. According to federal election data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, the US-Cuba Democracy PA C gave just 29 % to Democrats in 2004, but in 2006 they received 44 % of the $330,000 doled out. The PAC gave a total of $384,500 to federal candidates after the 2006 general election. As reported in The Hill, “Fifty-two of the 66 Democrats who voted against Rangel’s amendment have received one or more contributions from the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC since the beginning of the 2007-2008 cycle, according to Federal Election Commission filings. It has given $56,000 to 22 Democratic freshmen this year, and 17 of those freshmen voted against Rangel’s amendment.” . (see further analysis of Ag vote and list of PAC recipients here)

Others focus on the effective negative intervention by Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz who has received a total of $22,000 from the Cuba Democracy PAC to her leadership PAC and campaign committee.
She is a liberal Democrat from Ft. Lauderdale who became close to the Diaz-Ballart brothers as a member of the Florida state legislature. Whether she is motivated by anti-Castro ideology or by statewide political ambitions, her views do not reflect either the pro travel positions of the two daily papers that serve her district, the Sun Sentinel and the Miami Herald, or probably those of her constituents who are only 20% Hispanic.

In addition, there is no evidence that the ostensibly pro travel House leadership ever counseled her that carrying water for right wing Republicans was not the best path for an ambitious junior member. None of the House and Senate leaders have responded to the on line letters asking action on family and non-tourist purposeful travel sent to them in October which have now attracted an impressive cross section of 418 signers.

Congressional staff explain the disappointing performance of the Democrats by pointing to the greater national and political priority of frustrated votes on Iraq and health care. Why should the leadership be expected to give priority to Cuba with expectation of a guaranteed veto? In addition, the subcommittee on Western Hemisphere Affairs is chaired by pro-embargo but otherwise liberal Eliot Engel from New York. Even the full Foreign Affairs committee could not be counted on to allow pro travel legislation to reach the floor, despite the record number of 120 cosponsors on HR 654.

Political observers noted that the Democrats are still gun shy of losing Florida in the Presidential race if the hard line Cuban American block becomes alienated, despite the fact that 55% of the community now favors unrestricted travel for all Americans and 64% support returning to pre-2004 rules. An alternative interpretation takes account of this opinion shift and of the evolving political loyalties of Cuban Americans , arguing that forcing President Bush and Congressional Republicans to oppose family travel in the actual election year will have a greater impact on Cuban American swing voters.

The traditional key actors on Cuba may also have been affected by Presidential candidate loyalties. Representatives Charles Rangel and Jim McGovern are backing Hillary Clinton. A vote against travel consistent with her campaign position would not have helped Senator Clinton's appeal to liberals.

Representative Bill Delahunt announced in lateDecember that he is backing Barack Obama whose pro-family travel only campaign position is consistent with Delahunt’s bill, HR 757. Delahunt did not hold anticipated hearings either on the scandalous waste of Cuba Democracy funding or on family travel in 2007. Tactically, there will be more reason for him to do so in 2008, especially if Obama is leading or at least is still a viable candidate. Dramatic hearings and a floor vote on family travel could also contribute directly to the effort to defeat the Diaz-Ballart brothers.

Three Congressional initiatives did lay the groundwork intellectually for policy change. First came the Government Accounting Office (GAO) report in November 2006 on the misuse of Cuba democracy funds, requested by Representatives Delahunt and Jeff Flake. The International Trade Commission produced a report in July 2007 at the request of Sen. Max Baucus that demonstrated conclusively the substantial economic benefit to US farmers, manufacturers and travel agents of ending the embargo (Investigation No. 332—489). In addition, Representatives Rangel and Barbara Lee obtained a dramatic report from the General Accounting Office in December which demonstrated conclusively that OFAC and Miami airport inspectors were spending a disproportionate amount of time and staff energy on the fruitless task of sustaining travel restrictions and blocking import of souvenirs.

Regrettably this report, and an excellent hearing held by Senator Baucus were buried in the pre holiday end of session crunch. Nevertheless, the documentation is available if legislators find reason to make use of it, either because of their own political agenda or because angry and weighty constituents remonstrate with them about the sorry showing of 2007. (Representatives and Senators will be home until January 15th.)

The future attitude of Congress may be shaped by two local races in Florida with national implications. Lincoln Diaz-Balart is likely to face a challenge from the very popular former mayor of Hialeah. Younger brother Mario could be taken on by Joe Garcia (see draft Joe web site and a very well done campaign commercial). Family travel is likely to be a big issue in both races, and may prove decisive. The Congressional battle is likely to have an impact on the Presidential race, particularly if Obama is the nominee or Clinton retools her position away from its current Bush-light stance.

The defeat of two Congressmen with family ties to the Batista regime will have national impact as it will symbolize the decline of the Cuban American dinosaurs. The ardor of Wasserman Schultz is likely to cool and a Democratic President inclined to policy change will be dealing with a more sympathetic Congress.

Pro travel forces outside of south Florida will be solicited for donations to the campaign to replace the Diaz-Ballarts. While their replacement will be widely welcomed, the enthusiasm of non-Cuban Americans will no doubt be greater if the candidates publicly extend their support to all travel or at least to pre-2004 non-tourist people to people exchanges.

Some long time normalization activists will have trouble with Garcia’s former role as the highly visible director of the Cuban American National Foundation as well as by his overtly anti-regime rhetoric. However, my own view is that the only way we can win travel is to bring together all those favoring change in US policy on Cuba, regardless of their history, politics, motivation and immediate goals.

We will face the same dilemma about legislation. My strong preference is that Delahunt expand his legislation to include non-tourist travel because that will broaden the base of national support and have a much bigger impact on the evolution of US-Cuba relations. As vital as family travel is for both humanitarian and tactical reasons, it will do relatively little to impact mainstream US public opinion and to create a favorable atmosphere for the remarkable debate underway in Cuba about future economic and social policy.

We must open the door to wide ranging people to people exchanges in 2008 not wait until 2009. Visits once again by tens of thousands of Americans from world affairs councils, cultural and university groups, professional and business organizations, performers and sports teams, high school and college students, humanitarian and religious delegations, etc. will provide the kind of informal trust building and familiarization that are essential for a real change by the next President.

--John McAuliff

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Changing facts on the ground

Recent American history offers the relevant lesson of the civil rights and draft resistance movements. When a fundamental right is denied for reasons of narrow prejudice and political self-interest, those affected are morally justified in its exercise regardless of bureaucratic regulations. When enough people do so, regulations will follow because nothing sustains them but inertia and opportunism.

A new GAO report estimates that 120,000 unlicensed American travel to Cuba annually through third countries. The Cubans say some 40,000 Americans (not including Cuban Americans) will come in 2007, many if not most without benefit of a license.

An even greater number of Cuban Americans will go. Some have followed the third country route or unashamedly used fraudulent religious licenses. The most notorious example saw criminal prosecution and guilty pleas from profiteering organizers, but no action against the 4500 Cuban Americans who knowingly perjured themselves claiming to be members of non-existent churches.

If Americans who developed friendships and professional ties while participating in licensed non-tourist trips during the later Clinton and early Bush years just went, as did students on spring break and others among the 40% of Americans who want to vacation in Cuba, travel restrictions would become history. Even today, the only weapon OFAC has is fear, convincing violators to passively accept a negotiated lesser fine. Cases of those who insist on their right to a hearing are not moving at all.

As part of a conscientious non-cooperation campaign, retuning Americans should not hide their travel to Cuba. But even those who prefer to take their chances on getting caught will contribute to the unenforceability of illegitimate restrictions on basic freedoms if they are aware of and act upon their right to demand a hearing.

Congress and an incoming administration will have to address travel because bureaucratically and politically they have no choice.

As the GAO Report said:

"Several U.S. organizations have engaged in acts of civil disobedience against the embargo, such as refusing to apply for licenses for religious travel or humanitarian exports to Cuba, claiming that in their view the U.S. embargo violates protected constitutional, human, or religious rights. Agency officials told us that before 2005, they had unilaterally issued licenses to at least one of these groups to deliver humanitarian exports to Cuba and that the decision in 2005 to enforce the restrictions against these groups strictly created an enforcement and public relations dilemna.”

Imagine their dilemma if it was more than several organizations!

Monday, November 12, 2007

November Perspective on US-Cuba Relations

November 2007:
The President Plays Mind Games, Congress Immobilized, Americans Change the Rules

by John McAuliff

The President's speech on Cuba policy at the State Department on October 24th has been greeted with widespread criticism and editorial derision. Before it was delivered, there were rumors that he would either crack down on thinly veiled violations of travel restrictions by thousands of Cuban Americans or restore family travel to the pre-2004 mode. He did neither.

In fact, it was not immediately clear what his purpose was. Much of what he said simply recycled irrelevant and presumptuous Cuba transition documents. His concrete proposals for donated computers, scholarships and an international fund were saccharine coating for regime change tactics and can not have been intended to be taken seriously, even as propaganda. His appeal for international support was answered within days when the UN for the 16th year adopted a resolution opposing the unilateral US embargo--by a record vote of 184 to 4.

Mr. Bush’s only substantive points were provocative, that the US was now less interested in stability and that the Cuban military and security forces should be disloyal.

Does he now buy into Miami fantasies about post-Fidel rebellion and contemplate a third or fourth front for US military intervention? Or does he put pandering to the hard right above saving the Republican vote in south Florida? (The Administration’s harsh cut-back of family travel is very unpopular as indicated by public opinion polls and the tendency of new Cuban American voters to register independent or Democrat.)

Two people who have a personal stake in what the President said interpreted it this way:

A prominent Cuban-American academic in Miami whose work is well funded by USAID:

Jaime Suchlicki, director of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami, said Bush's choice of the State Department as the speech venue sent a signal to those in the foreign service who may want to soften Cuba policy...''Certain elements of the bureaucracy may not be following the president's policies on Cuba,'' said Suchlicki, ...``They are concerned about mass migration. They want stability in Cuba and are not pushing the envelope for change.'' Bush settled the issue when he said: 'The operative word in our future dealings with Cuba is not `stability.' The operative word is 'freedom.' ''

--from "Bush echoed Miamians' words in Cuba speech" by Alfonso Chardy, The Miami Herald - Posted October 26

A prominent Cuban dissident in Havana:

Oscar Espinosa Chepe, economist and former prisoner:
"Instead of encouraging the changes that at this moment are debated within the government, changes that are possible though not certain, [Washington] reinforces the sectors that don't want any reform." In his opinion, Bush should have authorized travel to Cuba by the exiles, instead of maintaining and tightening the embargo because of the upcoming elections. "It seems there is a Holy Alliance between those who -- in Cuba and the U.S. -- don't want anything to change."

-- from El Pais Newspaper of Spain, "Bush hallucinates," by Mauricio Vicent, Oct. 26, as cited on line by Progresso Weekly

Suchliki is deluded by his own wishful thinking and Chepe is closer to the mark.

Presumably some people in the rearguard Miami elite and the US government recognize the potential of Raul Castro enabling significant Vietnam-style reform, producing rapid agricultural and economic progress. This could be coupled with deeper ties to the dominant trend in Latin America, a broad-based market-friendly left.

While most Americans might see such evolutionary changes in Cuba as a good thing and in our national interest, significant economic reforms and closer ties in the Hemisphere will be the death knell for the dreams of the ultras in Miami and their ideological allies in Washington.

I believe that the real goal of the President's speech was to provoke the more orthodox and cautious sector of leaders in Cuba to oppose the surprisingly open and wide-ranging debate that Raul Castro has launched, and to push them to block any serious reform initiatives in agriculture, small business and the media. The orthodox will be motivated to argue that the aggressive tone of Bush's speech must be taken seriously. They will fear that US promotion of instability is more likely to find vulnerabilities in national unity during a process of public criticism and socio-economic experiment. At the least, they will say, let’s play it safe and wait until Bush is gone and we see the attitude of his successor.

No doubt other leaders will argue that ignoring real problems actually makes Cuba more susceptible to outside interference, and that viewpoint will probably win.

However, we have seen in the past that Cuban reactions to pressure can be as counter-productive as conventional wisdom is in the US. Cases in point: the shoot down of the deliberately provocative Brothers to the Rescue flights; the crackdown on dissidents because of the intentionally provocative role with them of Jim Caison, head of the US Interests Section. The former had a dramatic impact on the Clinton Administration and Congress, leading to passage of the Helms-Burton law. The latter substantially diminished Congressional support for moderation of the embargo.

Congress and the American People

A few members of Congress and Democratic presidential candidates gave appropriately critical responses to President Bush’s speech. However, to my knowledge, the House and Senate leadership were silent.

Moreover, there is no indication that the Democrats are prepared to take advantage of the weakness of the Administration on this issue. They are leaving in the State Department appropriations bill $47 million of “democracy funding” which in part assists Miami Republicans in the 2008 election and in part subsidizes conservative propaganda aimed at Americans.

Congressional leaders are not challenging the President to veto a bill that reflects the desire of nearly two-thirds of Americans for normal relations. They have done nothing to bring to the floor legislation to regain the Constitutional right of travel for the 40 % who want to visit Cuba—even though it has 120 cosponsors in the House and 23 in the Senate. Despite the special benefit of track 2 style dialog during a period of far-reaching domestic debate, Democrats are not restoring travel that was possible during the Clinton Administration for non-tourist purposes such as academic, humanitarian, religious, cultural, professional and people to people exchanges. Congress has even turned its back on the least controversial humanitarian cause of Cuban American family reunion.

One consequence of the President’s extremism and Congressional inaction is that constituent anger over draconian restrictions on family travel is putting at risk the reelection of one of more of Miami’s Cuban American Republican Representatives. Should the Democrats win, it will echo in Washington.

In the meantime, Americans are increasingly voting with their feet and the Bush Administration can do little about this spontaneous grass roots resistance. While mainstream religious institutions have lost their licenses, thousands of Cuban Americans have gone on fraudulent or dubious religious trips, or simply traveled unimpeded through third countries. The US Attorney’s office in Miami successfully won guilty pleas last month from the creators of blatantly phony churches, but neither it nor the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) seem disposed to act against the 4,500 Cuban Americans who paid to use those licenses.

In addition, an estimated 40,000 other Americans will travel to Cuba this year, most without the approval of OFAC. They have found it is easy to book tickets and receive a tourist visa to Cuba from travel agents in a dozen countries with direct flight connections, and know that the Cubans do not stamp US passports. If suspected by US immigration authorities, unlicensed travelers may receive a letter from OFAC threatening a fine for violation of regulations. However, if they appeal for a hearing, nothing else happens because the administrative judge process has ground to a halt with an unmanageable backlog of individual and group cases.

As information spreads by word of mouth and through the internet that travel restrictions cannot be enforced and how simple it is to go, more Americans will no longer wait to see Cuba. Some will do this as an act of principled non-cooperation, the exercise of one more fundamental Constitutional right that has been compromised by a discredited lame-duck Administration, this time for purely partisan political reasons. Others will simply want to beat the rush of a million American tourists predicted for the first year after the next President officially ends travel restrictions.

If the Democrats win the 2008 Presidential election, the failure of the current Congress to act on travel will leave the new Administration with the immediate choice of either harassing tens of thousands of its supporters, or quickly moving to clean up one more mess left by the Bush Administration.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Dissident Arrests and Their Impact

The following paragraph was included in an article about US agricuttural sales to Cuba, and prompted my response to the author.

"The following year, the regime imprisoned dozens of dissidents and journalists, and three men were executed after trying to hijack a ferry to leave Cuba. Support for loosening the trade embargo seemed to evaporate in Congress."

I would urge you to look a little more deeply into history rather than just accept the Administration's interpretation--or the conventional wisdom in Miami.

US policy was dominated during this period by hard right regime change advocates (Reich, Noriega). Their front line operative was the head of the US Interests Section, Jim Cason, whose aggressive role in direct support of dissidents would not have been undertaken by a US ambassador anywhere else in the world--and puzzled the Western diplomatic community in Havana.

Caison set up the dissident community, which he had to know was deeply infiltrated by Cuban intelligence, for a completely predictable crackdown. Cuban nationalists have been sensitive about US interference since the time of the Spanish American war and the Platt Amendment. If our government in the wake of 9/11 was prepared to shred traditional constitutional protections, it is hardly a surprise that an authoritarian regime would come down heavily on people whom it saw as complicit with the neighboring superpower that was newly recommitted to its destruction.

Whether this was simply another example of neo-con arrogance and indifference to history and the fate of local allies, or a subtle strategy to undermine the growing support in Congress for a new bilateral relationship, will only be known when classified diplomatic traffic is leaked or released.

The Cubans fell into the trap. I make no brief for the arrests or "show trials" of the 75, but I think there is evidence that they went after dissidents who were receiving some form of payment or reward from the US government, and were therefore seen to be its agents, and left other dissidents,such as Oswaldo Paya himself, undisturbed.

The only reason I go into this now is the necessity of having a more objective view (and balanced journalism) of our problematic shared history if there is any desire to untangle nearly fifty hears of hostility and misunderstanding and ameliorate the situation of its victims--families kept apart by absurd government policies, 59 of 75 dissidents still held, the harsh imprisonment of the Cuban 5, etc..

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Campaign Newsletter Notes on Internal Change

September 29, 2007

Havana is Changing Faster than Washington

What Happens When Fidel Castro is No Longer the Issue?

The obsession of the US media and political leaders with Fidel Castro makes our country completely oblivious to the significant transition underway in Cuba, The ultra wing of the Cuban American community has diminishing influence locally but dominates the national dialog.

Their frantic insistence (funded in part by our taxes) that Raul Castro offers no real change prevents the US from understanding or making a positive contribution to the process. (Phil Peters of the conservative Lexington Institute is especially insightful about the significance of what is happening. Check out his latest analysis here.)

Frank grass roots discussions now underway in Cuba reflect the complexity and the ferment that those of us who manage to get there despite travel restrictions have seen. Keeping the rest of you away from that reality has been a prime goal of the Miami ultras and the compliant Bush Administration. The last thing they want is internal reform that responds to the people of Cuba themselves.

For opposite reasons, both Washington and Havana insist that the US can play no positive role in Cuba's evolution. The former rejects any change that does not fit into its ideological model as meaningless, and the latter feels national survival depends on preserving sovereign independence from even well meaning US interference.

My own view is that hostile US demands and even overt expectations of regime change in response to a US opening, makes natural evolution in Cuba more difficult. US assertions of a desire to help carry the baggage of ideology and history. The watchword should be "do no harm". Treat Cuba as a normal country. Disagree, criticize, but respect!

When Fidel Castro is unalterably absent from Cuba's leadership, the ultras will dance in Miami's streets and indulge in fantasies of popular uprising and US intervention. The moderates in Washington and Miami will insist that existing policies be maintained until the picture is clearer in Cuba, i.e. negative sanctions must be kept in place. Other voices must be prepared to say the time for reform in US policy is also at hand and that ending all restrictions on travel is the place to start. Articles on Cuba's Internally Led Reforms


June 24, 2007

Vietnam and Cuba What was the difference again?

A personal observation, based on thirty two years of work with post-war Viet Nam...

Three weeks before President Bush held a cordial meeting in the White House with Viet Nam's President Triet, Cuba's President Castro met Viet Nam's Party Secretary Manh in Havana.

I have heard from Vietnamese friends that Castro told Manh the reason Cuba could not follow Viet Nam's path of market reform was the hostility and threat from the US.

President Clinton ended the unilateral US embargo of economic and diplomatic relations with Viet Nam in 1995. The US is now Viet Nam's largest trading partner ($10 billion per year) and one of its biggest investors.

Politically and legally there is not much difference between the two countries. Both are one party states that use controversial legal practices to curtail organized political opposition. A particular concern are groups linked to antagonistic exiles in the US.

Day to day life and personal freedom in Viet Nam liberalized considerably, and the most substantial economic reforms took place, after the US established normal non-hostile relations. Hard line Vietnamese- American leaders have opposed every step of normalization, including President Triet's visit.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Implications of Raul Castro's July 26 Speech

I had a conversation with a knowledgeable Cuban friend at the LASA conference who said the Party and Government will call for public discussion of Raul Castro's July 26th speech.

The speech (see article) is worth reading carefully and between the lines. The decision to give it special national attention says much about how the process of internally defined change is going forward. (see complete text)

Governments, whether socialist or capitalist, seldom explicitly state that they are engaged in a systemic change since that creates confrontation with their own history and those leaders identified it.

In Cuba the issue is more sensitive due to the active engagement of the founding father who seems to have some discomfort with where things are going.

Without wanting to argue the situations are identical, my experience with Vietnam's self-transformation is that the last thing to change is the public vocabulary and ideological justification of actions. Words are even more carefully parsed when a country is under great pressure from outside forces.

Cubans will never publicly say that removal or amelioration of US hostility is a factor in the scope and pace of debate and reform, because that suggests compromised independence and sovereignty. Nevertheless, I think people in the US, whether they are sympathetic or antagonistic to Cuba as it exists today, should recognize that we do have the option of contributing positively to the process by simply backing off and eliminating or reducing the abnormal state of bilateral.relations.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Normalization Process with Viet Nam (Cuba Implications)

The Normalization Process with Viet Nam
(With Implicit Implications for Cuba)

John McAuliff, Executive Director
Fund for Reconciliation and Development

National Summit on Cuba, Coral Gables, Florida, October 4, 2003

“Even at the point the U.S. ended its embargo, Vietnam was still largely a command economy,
dominated by state enterprises and centralized bureaucratic controls.”

Immediately before coming to this Summit, I participated in a two-day conference in
Washington on the “Future of Relations Between Vietnam and the United States.” It was
opened by Vietnam’s Foreign Minister Nguyen Dy Nien and closed by Assistant Secretary of
State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs James Kelly.

Vietnamese participants included the vice chair of the External Relations Committee of the
National Assembly; and representatives of the Ministries of Trade, Foreign Affairs, Public
Security, and Defense, as well as of the ruling Communist Party. On the American side were
present the U.S. Ambassador to Hanoi, Congressional staff, and representatives of the Defense
Department, the business community, non-governmental organizations, foundations, and
educational institutions.

Today, the U.S. is the largest purchaser of Vietnamese exports, totaling $4 billion this year;
and the largest source of tourists except for China, an immediate neighbor. The goal of the
conference, in the words of Vietnam’s Foreign Minister, was to “put in place a practical and
strategic foundation for our partnership in many years to come.”

Twenty-eight years ago a war ended that took the lives of 56,000 Americans and more than
2,000,000 Vietnamese. It left the U.S. deeply divided after the most profound fracture of our
body politic since the Civil War.

Until nine years ago the U.S. enforced a rigid economic embargo against Vietnam,
implemented zealously by some of the same people who lead OFAC (The Department of
Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control) today. The U.S. and Vietnam did not have
diplomatic relations until eight years ago. We did not exchange ambassadors until six years
ago when Floridian, former Congressman, and former prisoner of war Pete Peterson was posted in Hanoi.

What happened? Has Vietnam stopped being Communist? Has it become a multiparty
democracy? Does it allow public opposition to its political system, in person, in the press or on
the internet? No, none of the above. What happened was that during the administration of the first President Bush the two governments began to see the futility and mutual disadvantage of noncommunication and non-cooperation. President Bush was blocked from making much concrete
progress by Republicans, still embittered by the loss of the war (such as Henry Kissinger), but
he did end travel restrictions in 1991 and laid the bipartisan foundation on which President
Clinton built the structures of normalization.

The process required compromise on both sides, and a lowering of the rhetorical temperature,
but it did not require a change in the political or economic system of either country or do
damage to their self-perceived national interests. Vietnam had to cooperate with the
emotionally charged task of the resolution of some 2,600 cases of American military missing in
action (MIA) even while it had little ability to accommodate domestic demands for the
accounting of at least ten times that number of Vietnamese MIAs. (While Americans care
strongly about securing our war dead, the treatment of remains within Vietnamese culture has
even greater significance because of religious reverence for ancestors.)

MIA identification and retrieval was accomplished through the permanent stationing of U.S.
military teams in Hanoi and exhaustive joint searches of crash sights for remains and secret
military archives for information. The Vietnamese received more than adequate compensation
for the use of their helicopters and labor force. More importantly, they obtained official U.S.
acknowledgement that Vietnam too had humanitarian needs created by the war and
subsequently some financial assistance for children and other victims.

Vietnam was also required by the “road map” to normalization to withdraw its remaining
military forces from Cambodia. However, that posed no problem because Vietnam had
accomplished its goal of eliminating the threat posed by the Khmer Rouge and was in the
process of reaching an accommodation with the Khmer Rouge’s primary ally China.
What did the U.S. give up? Fundamentally American leaders lost the emotional and political
satisfaction of punishing Vietnam for winning the war through a largely unilateral economic
embargo (does that sound familiar?) and partial political isolation. U.S. officials also had to be
willing, based on Vietnamese cooperation on the real issue of MIA remains, to walk away from
the fervent belief among some veterans and conservatives that Hanoi still held living prisoners
of war (POWs).

This process of mutual accommodation was assisted by a change in the international political
situation. The transformation of the Soviet Union into the weakened Russian Federation meant
that the U.S. no longer received strategic advantage from using Cambodia and Vietnam to
inflame the conflict between the Soviets and Chinese. Moreover, the withdrawal of
Vietnamese forces from Cambodia in 1998 and the subsequent Paris Agreement were already
opening the door to trade, investment and stronger political ties of Vietnam with Europe,
Japan, and its neighbors in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Vietnam had also made a fundamental internal decision at the Sixth Party Congress in 1986, a
year before the end of the Soviet Union, to move away from a command economy and to enter
the capitalist world market. It carefully introduced small-scale private enterprise at the family
level, in both urban and rural settings. The most dramatic result was that in a year or two
Vietnam went from a country with food shortages and pockets of starvation to the third largest
rice exporter in the world.

It should be noted that at no point did the Communist Party contemplate giving up its
monopoly on political power and leadership, although it did strive with some success through
the economic reforms and a process of “doi moi,” or renovation, to restore its credentials and
popularity with the people and party members. It is also important to recognize that in the
initial years of reform strenuous and sometimes paradoxical efforts were made to fit changes
into the official ideological rhetoric of Marxism-Leninism and Ho Chi Minh thought.

The process of change in the U.S. owes much to the election of the first President who had
been part of the anti-war movement, although he had not been a leader or even a prominent
activist. Bill Clinton moved quickly through the stages of normalization of relations beginning
with the end of the embargo soon after taking office, and ending with the signing of a bilateral
trade agreement and official visit to Vietnam shortly before the end of his second term. In this
process, he received indispensable assistance from Vietnam War veterans in the Congress.
Some like Senator John Kerry had been part of the veterans’ movement against the war; others
like Senator McCain had not. But for a variety of reasons, they wanted the kind of closure on
their war time experience that could only come from ending the hostile atmosphere that still
existed between the U.S. and Vietnam.

Only a few veterans in Congress opposed normalization, although some supporters justified
their position on the familiar grounds that opening the door would inevitably lead to a free
market and political change within Vietnam and in that sense a kind of victory for the U.S.
While some leaders in Vietnam echoed China’s warning of an American plot to achieve
peaceful evolution, others saw normalization as an affirmation of their success in achieving Ho
Chi Minh’s dictum that, “Nothing is more precious than independence and freedom.”
The process of normalization received important support from U.S. based multinational
corporations that did not wish to be closed out of the thirteenth largest country in the world.
U.S. NGOs also played a noteworthy role with public opinion in both countries. Their style of
work allayed suspicion within Vietnam as they carried out a growing number of programs of
humanitarian and development assistance and helped to humanize the Vietnamese to skeptical

Vietnamese-Americans were divided about normalization. The official position of their
newspapers and political and social organizations was largely against reconciliation between
their adopted and native countries, but in practice many Vietnamese were already coming to
terms with separation from their homeland.

During the first two decades after the refugee arrival in the U.S., violence had been directed
against members of the community who advocated normalization. However, that largely
dissipated as more and more Vietnamese visited home and Vietnam’s government made
greater efforts to establish positive contact with them. Today Vietnamese Americans form the
largest segment of the stream of U.S. tourists. They are investing in small and large

Vietnamese Americans are moving home after retirement. Their children and grandchildren
are rediscovering their roots and finding jobs with foreign companies where bilingual bicultural
skills are very welcome.

The process of normalization between Vietnam and the U.S. has been multidimensional. In
addition to diplomatic ties that included an exchange of trade offices and military attach├ęs, the
U.S. has had a very active Fulbright scholarship program that predated full establishment of
relations. Many American educational institutions have links with Vietnamese counterparts
and there are some 2,500 Vietnamese studying in the U.S. today.

Economic evolution in Vietnam was gradual and saw both advances and retreats. The political
and economic atmosphere outside the country played a role in the process, but more significant
was Vietnam’s commitment to remain in control of the process of change. Having paid such a
high price to achieve national independence and freedom, they were not about to see their
country dominated by foreign investors and corporations.

The late 80’s were a period of experimentation, learning by doing, and gradual broadening of
the realm of market economics. Even at the point the U.S. ended its embargo, Vietnam was
still largely a command economy, dominated by state enterprises and centralized bureaucratic
controls. While the foreign investment code was in theory quite liberal, practice lagged far
behind. Foreign companies could only enter the Vietnamese market in cumbersome joint
venture arrangements. Many individual entrepreneurs from the U.S. as well as large
companies jumped into Vietnam only to find their expectations frustrated by cultural and
institutional barriers. Some withdrew in the late 90’s. Others stayed and eventually prospered.
The Vietnamese learned from both failures and successes, responded to criticisms from
international business, and extended to indigenous companies the same legal rights afforded to

Vietnam only completed a law providing an adequate legal framework for local business in the
year 2000, but the National Assembly enacted it in close consultation with the emerging
private sector. Today Vietnam has over 30,000 private companies and they are acknowledged
by the government as the primary source of economic growth and job creation. Inefficient
state enterprises are being shut down or liquidated. Vietnam’s economy is growing at a steady
and impressive rate, and it is seen as the success story of Southeast Asia.

There are also substantial changes within Vietnam’s civil society and political institutions that
parallel and may be responsive to changes in political and economic relationships with other
countries. Domestic NGOs, the press, personal freedom, election reform, and the role of the
national assembly are all evolving positively in a Vietnamese way. This is not to say that
Vietnam is without problems domestically or in its bilateral relations with the U.S.. The two
countries have obvious disagreements about political systems and concepts of human rights.
The U.S. House of Representatives has adopted “human rights” legislation that Vietnam finds
an unacceptable interference in its internal affairs. While the practice of religion is completely
free in Vietnam, the social and political role of religious institutions and leadership is regulated
and supervised. This prompts harsh criticism from conservatives and evangelicals in the U.S.
Vietnam has more Catholic bishops today than at any time in its history, but is angry at the
Vatican for appointing a cardinal without prior consultation.

However both sides at the conference I attended in Washington expressed amazement at how
far and how fast the relationship between the U.S. and Vietnam had progressed. While
government to government partnership today is more aspiration than reality, it is not
impossible to envision. Needless to say the whole process offers intriguing hints of what could
develop between the U.S. and Cuba if the current irrationality, fear, distrust, and boneheadedness
on both sides were put to rest.

Full version of Op Ed article

Prior to the 2004 Presidential election, the Bush Administration responded to pressure from Cuban American political leaders in Florida to roll back opportunities for non-tourist “purposeful” travel to Cuba that had been opened by the Clinton Administration. This action was based on the false accusation that such programs served as a cover for tourism and provided significant economic support for the Cuban government.

The retreat on freedom to travel had devastating humanitarian consequences for Cuban Americans. Previously they had been able to make one authorized visit per year to their extended family, with unlimited additional opportunities for emergency travel for health or other compelling reasons. Now they can only visit members of their immediate family and must be very cautious about timing. If, for example one’s father is seriously ill, and after several months passes away, one must choose between a visit during his final months or for his funeral. If one’s mother passes away the following year, tough! And if an aunt who had actually reared you because your parents were in Miami took gravely ill? Also tough!

As a result of the same draconian policy, a wide variety of American educational, cultural, people-to-people, sports, religious, humanitarian, professional and foreign affairs institutions no longer were able to obtain licenses for familiarization visits and exchanges with counterparts.

While some specific and general licenses are still granted, the authorized categories and total number have been drastically reduced.

Anthony Zamorra, a prominent Cuban American lawyer with Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP who formerly served as Counsel to the Cuban American National Foundation, reports the antipathy to travel by hard line leaders in his community is based on two factors. First, the substantial growth of visits by Cuban Americans and non-partisan mainstream US citizens was undermining the one dimensional negative image of Cuba they needed to maintain control over US policy. Second, the traffic was generating resources to travel agents and charter flight operators being used to push for further liberalization of US policy toward Cuba.

Bipartisan sentiment in the Republican controlled Congress sought to end travel restrictions via amendment to the Treasury Appropriations bill. The goal was to deny funding for enforcement of sanctions against travelers. However, majority support in both Houses was frustrated by leadership maneuvers behind closed doors, justified by the threat of a Presidential veto.

Democratic majorities offer a new opportunity for legislative remedy. In particular, a bill submitted in January by Representative Charles Rangel (HR 654)* with Representative Jeff Flake will end restrictions on travel to Cuba by all Americans. To date it has attracted 103 bipartisan cosponsors. Because of the ripeness of the issue and Rangel’s seniority, prestige and status as Chair of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, support will continue to grow. Two months later Senators Michael Enzi and Byron Dorgan submitted comparable legislation (S 721) that has already attracted twenty bipartisan cosponsors including Chuck Hagel and Jim Webb.

In principle this is a policy in consonance with the traditional values of the United States rather than with the restrictions Cuba places on travel by its own citizens. As Justice William.O. Douglas wrote for Supreme Court majorities in 1964 and 1965:

“Freedom of movement is the very essence of our free society…Once the right to travel is curtailed, all other rights suffer. “, and

“The right to know, to converse with others, to consult with them, to observe social, physical, political, and other phenomena abroad as well as at home gives meaning and substance to freedom of expression and freedom of the press.”

In practice large scale visits by Americans to Cuba will have a substantial impact on our nation’s ability to understand and have a positive impact on the process of transition that is underway.

Visits by tens and even hundreds of thousands of Americans will not have a big economic effect on Cuba in the short term. Hotel rooms that are currently full with Europeans, Canadians and Latin Americans will simply change their clientele. Any overflow will fuel a boom economy in the private sector of private homes that rent one or two rooms (casas particulares). Informal interaction by average Americans with average Cubans will be diverse and unsupervised. Structured interaction with professional counterparts will build on relationships established during the late Clinton and early Bush Administrations and contribute to the surprisingly open discussions of economic change and culture that have begun to take place under Raul Castro.

The Rangel and Enzi bills have been endorsed by over 1500 diverse representatives of the American academic, religious and humanitarian communities. Not least among the signers of an on-line statement of support* is Ambassador Vicki Huddleston, who served the Clinton and Bush Administrations as head of the US Interests Section in Havana.

Ending travel restrictions can help bring the US to a position more in accord with our allies in the Western Hemisphere and Europe, who regard us as at best obsessed and at worst mean spirited in our fruitless efforts to isolate and punish Cuba. If the US wishes to support and engage with exponents of more moderate modes of social change in Latin America than that proffered by Hugo Chavez, ironically it can best do so by ceasing its own extremism and moving toward a rational less vindictive relationship with his closest ally Cuba.

Much of my professional career has been devoted to bringing about normal relations between the US and its former adversaries in Viet Nam, Cambodia and Laos. When I began my work, we enforced unilateral embargoes and had no diplomatic relations with the first two, and very limited contact with the third. Antagonism, suspicion and hostile rhetoric resulting from grievous human and social legacies of war were more pronounced on both sides of the divide than they have ever been with Cuba.

Yet in conjunction with normalization with the US, all three countries have moved deliberately and successfully from command to market economies. The personal freedoms and democratic participation of their citizens have steadily increased, although even now their political cultures are more like Cuba’s than ours. Viet Nam in particular has growing strategic ties to the US. Based on visits to Cuba during the past decade, I see no reason that the same mutually beneficial process could not take place between our neighboring countries.

John McAuliff
Executive Director, Fund for Reconciliation and Development

* The statement and signers may be seen at To see the full text of proposed legislation, go to Type in "HR 654" and “S 721” in the box provided.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

2007—The Year of Transition … in US-Cuba Relations

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Freedom to travel to Cuba can be achieved this year. A new political context in both Washington and Havana offer unprecedented opportunity for real progress.

Representatives Charles Rangel along with Representative Jeff Flake, Representative Bill Delahunt and the leadership of the bipartisan Cuba Working Group have submitted HR 654 that restores to Americans one of our most fundamental liberties. (To see text, go to and type in “HR 654”.)

House members already sympathetic need to become cosponsors of 654 to create momentum and attract the attention of the media. Those who are undecided or even skeptical must come to recognize that the issue matters to their own constituents.

It is now up to each of us whether an historic opportunity to restore our rights and open the door to reasonable bilateral relations is realized or missed.

What is covered by HR 654?

“the President shall not regulate or prohibit, directly or indirectly, travel to or from Cuba by United States citizens or legal residents, or any of the transactions incident to such travel“

That means no licensing by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, no requirement to use only travel agents who are registered Travel Service Providers, and no other Administration obstacles to travel at any time. Beneficiaries will include Cuban Americans, universities, high schools, people-to- people groups, religious and humanitarian organizations, farmers, businesses exploring post- embargo opportunities, Councils on World Affairs, athletic teams, performers, museums, tourists, etc.

The legislation will allow use of credit cards, but does not lift the embargo on trade and investment, in fact, “does not authorize the importation into the United States of any goods for personal consumption acquired in Cuba.” (No rum, no cigars, but artistic products are OK. Handicrafts?)


Two-thirds of Americans favor normalization of diplomatic relations with Cuba according to a December Gallup poll.

Does that mean you can plan a trip to Cuba for this summer or next winter? At least you could start thinking about it. But we cannot be overconfident.

Democratic control of the House and Senate allows the procedural possibility of stand alone legislation or an amendment that truly ends all travel restrictions, but the bill must still get through committee and receive bipartisan majority support of the Congress. Always looming will be the threat of a Presidential veto, unless the bill receives a two-thirds vote. However, a White House preoccupied by an unpopular war in Iraq plus legislative creativity may make such a confrontation less likely.

Impact on Cuba and the US

A peaceful and orderly leadership transition is well underway in Cuba according to virtually all experts and journalists. Articles in mainstream publications report a pragmatic direction in economic reform and greater openness to public debate about policy. (Illustrative accounts may be found at )

Hard liners in the US who had expected that Fidel Castro’s absence from power would lead to chaos and a reason for US military intervention are increasingly marginalized, except by the media. Still at play are efforts by more moderate opponents to make changes in travel and other US policy contingent on changes in Cuba.

I think that would be a mistake. An end to travel restrictions is first and foremost in our interest as an expression of American values. Secondly, the ability of Congress to reform this policy will be seen in Cuba as evidence that the US is no longer dominated by rigid advocates of regime change.

Finally, we can only speculate how the free access to Cuba of tens and then hundreds of thousands of Americans will affect the people of both countries in economic, cultural, and political terms. Fundamentally, it is a question of creating space in which natural mutually respectful change can take place.

Personal reflections

In December the US finally completed the process of normalization of relations with Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia when the Congress with the support of President Bush adopted Permanent Normal Trade Relations with Hanoi. The American war in Indochina ended 31 years before that. Today the US is Viet Nam's primary export market and foreign investor--and second only to China as a source of tourists.

With allowances for historical and cultural differences, Viet Nam's political and legal system is similar to Cuba's. Its economic system is quite different, but the market economy only flourished after President Clinton ended a unilateral US embargo and established diplomatic relations.

Having spent much of the past three decades working to normalize US relations with Indochina, my more recent similar work about Cuba is based on confidence that communication leads to understanding which leads to change which leads to communication and the whole process renews itself at higher and higher levels.

Let's get rid of travel restrictions, the primary obstacle to communication, in 2007 before the pursuit of Florida's electoral votes once again obscures national interest and rational policy making.

My Comments on Miami Travel Arrests

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Associated Press reported on February 23d that, "two men were arrested and charged with using fake religious organizations to get thousands of people permission to travel to Cuba". The Florida case alleges that some 6500 persons made illegal trips. Most are presumed to have been Cuban American.

U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta, is quoted in the Miami Herald as confirming the political goal of the prosecution: ''Vigorous enforcement of economic sanctions against the Cuban regime is important to help hasten a transition to democracy on the island.''

According to the AP, “Acosta wouldn't say if his office had specific plans to bring charges against the travel agencies or the thousands of people who traveled using the licenses. ‘We start here, but that doesn't mean we end here,’ Acosta said.”

The arrests are the first criminal prosecution of travel violations by the Cuban Sanctions Enforcement Task Force. It was formed in October, leading to suspicion that this was but another Bush Administration pre-election goodie for its Miami supporters. One reason for creation of the Task Force may be that the civil sanctions process of the Office of Foreign Assets Control has become little more than a threat to induce out of court settlements. Administrative Law hearings in Washington have apparently ground to a halt, due to the case load and readiness of victims to defend their rights.

Without speaking to the guilt or motives of the two men charged, the case illustrates how hard it is for the Administration to enforce a policy that violates widely held beliefs in human rights. As with the prohibition of alcohol and illegal immigration, entrepreneurs inevitably offer ways around regulations that defy values and common sense.

In principle, one prefers energy be channeled to changing unjust laws or to public acts of civil disobedience such as ended racial segregation. In practice, average people find ways to cope in order to maintain family ties. The numbers involved give their action political significance.

Antonio Zamora told the Cuba Summit conference in Newark last fall that tighter travel restrictions were imposed for two reasons. Wide scale visits by Cuban Americans (and by diverse main stream groups) were undermining the political message of the hard liners and were generating profits for travel agents and charter flight providers who used them to campaign to end all restrictions.

The distortion of priorities of the legal system to enforce the political agenda of a small anachronistic interest group is another reminder of how the country as a whole will benefit when Congress ends travel restrictions.

John McAuliff 2/25/07

Straws in the Wind

As we slog on to expand support for the House and Senate bills for unrestricted travel, it is worth keeping in mind the larger debate over US policy toward Cuba that will provide the context for Congressional action.

The Voice of America has run a reasonable story about US-Cuba trade quoting extensively no less a source than Kirby Jones. While VOA is much more credible than the US funded propaganda stations (Radio Marti, Radio Free Asia), it has not been known for the independence of the BBC. Take a look at

That page offers a link to another interesting VOA story from March 19th, "Castro Seen Returning to Power, But Cuba's Style Changing":

As Cuba's government begins to transform, Andy Gomez says U.S. policy towards the island should change as well."We need to start thinking about the future, and about what we as a country in the international community can do, at a time that is crucial given what is happening in Latin America, to accelerate
change in Cuba," he said.Gomez says he feels the United States should begin revising the strict policies that prohibit most trade and activity with Cuba.

Also of interest is the language used by Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon in an interview with Reuters that was reported on March 21:

While Raul Castro has voiced a willingness to talk to the United States, Shannon suggested the United States would consider such a dialogue only as Cuba moved toward peaceful, democratic change."There is nothing new on that front because
... since Fidel Castro remains this ... controlling presence it means that Raul and the people around him are kind of frozen. There is not a lot that they can do," said Shannon, the top U.S. diplomat for Latin America.

He said Washington wanted to see clear signs of change, including a release of political prisoners."Any positive step would be welcome ... We have made it clear that our engagement will be determined by change in Cuba and that the degree to which the Cubans show a willingness to take positive steps, we'll respond to it," Shannon added, without saying how such steps would be rewarded.

Is State now prepared to see a difference between Raul and Fidel, either really or for the sake of convenience? Does this create space for a new policy when Fidel is not present, or at least definitively not in charge, in contrast with past juvenile pronouncements that Raul was "Fidel light"? Is there in the works a non-"regime change" road map to more normal relations?

Our friends at CAAEF published a more skeptical interpretation of Shannon's spin, seeing it as a way of justifying the failure of predictions that Cuba would face a crisis post-Fidel, i.e. he is still there after all.

Also giving reason for optimism is the latest poll of Cuban Americans in Miami-Dade and the forum at which they were presented at Brookings on Monday. The poll shows 55% favoring unrestricted travel, and 64% favoring return to the 2003 policies on family and "purposeful" people to people travel.

The full transcript of the Brookings panel is available at and it can be watched as a web stream. (Look for it at )

Consider the implications of a comment by Hugh Gladwin, Director, Institute for Public Opinion Research, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Florida International University:

"I think that there is a great desire for policy to change, but you are right in the sense that what is missing in this big picture is some kind of leadership that would then take this obvious diversity which for many of us -- it might be new to some of you -- but for many of us has been very obvious for many, many
years. But make it -- that's where leadership is lacking is to actually make this diversity matter and make it part of a Cuban identity as well."

Also interesting was a comment the moderator invited from the audience by Andres Rosenthal, formerly the Deputy Foreign Minister of Mexico:"We all know that there are 33 Latin American Caribbean countries that maintain diplomatic
relations with Cuba, normal diplomatic relations, some more friendly than others. But it is a vast majority of the hemisphere that was not the case until quite recently. There is today, if it were a decision of that majority to go to the OAS and reincorporate Cuba into the OAS, the United States would be isolated in its opposition. And we know that there is considerable opposition. But the fact is that it's very difficult for any of us to engage the U.S. on this discussion, and I don't know whether that will change or not. We're hopeful it will.The Spanish government is currently in Havana, the foreign minister of
Spain together with a rather large delegation today and tomorrow, the first visit to Havana by a foreign minister of an E.U. country since 2003, and the first Spanish visit since 1998, if I'm not mistaken."

This panel was the public aspect of a day long Brookings conference on Cuba which included the participation of the Secretary General of the OAS who has not been shy at voicing his disdain for US policy on Cuba.

Another indicator of how the Cuba travel issue is going mainstream was the Newshour segment on PBS last week. The content was generally sympathetic, but as important was simply recognition that the story was worth covering and that Flake and Serano deserved face time along with the Miami hard liners in Congress.