Friday, March 7, 2008

Published letter and NY Times editorial

February 24, 2008
An Approach to Cuba

To the Editor:

Re “And a Chance for Cuba — and the U.S.” (editorial, Feb. 20):

You are correct. The best immediate way to support reform in Cuba is for the president to “loosen restrictions on cultural and academic exchanges and open the way for serious diplomatic contacts with Mr. Castro’s successors.”

The initial response of the leading presidential candidates to Fidel Castro’s retirement was not very different from that of President Bush. None have called for returning to nontourist people-to-people initiatives as flourished before 2004, not to mention restoring to all Americans our constitutional and human right of freedom to travel.

In a campaign focusing on change and rebuilding United States leadership in the world, there should be more attention to an anachronistic policy that is far simpler to fix than Iraq — with as great a benefit to our international reputation.

To his credit, Barack Obama has expressed readiness for unconditional negotiations with Raúl Castro. Hillary Rodham Clinton and John McCain insist on the failed formula of making laudable American goals of human rights and democracy a precondition.

Two-thirds of Americans want to end travel restrictions and normalize relations. According to a recent G.A.O. report, 120,000 a year are voting with their feet and going to Cuba through third countries.

John McAuliff
Executive Director, Fund for Reconciliation and Development
Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., Feb. 20, 2008

New York Times
February 20, 2008
Twilight of the Dictators: And a Chance for Cuba — and the U.S.

It was age and illness, not the free voice of the Cuban people, that finally led Fidel Castro to announce Tuesday that he is stepping down as Cuba’s president — after a mere 49 years of absolute power. Mr. Castro’s immediate successor is likely to be his 76-year-old younger brother Raúl. Still, the post-Fidel era is clearly at hand, and the Bush administration has done almost nothing to prepare for it.

Cuba is a closed, repressive society. But the administration has gone out of its way to ensure that it has no chance of influencing events there. In the name of tightening the failed embargo, it has made it much harder for academics, artists and religious people to travel to Cuba and spread the good word about democracy, and much harder for Cubans to visit here. Rather than probing the ongoing political transition, the White House has dismissed it in advance as insignificant.

A policy that made little sense in the cold war makes still less in today’s age of globalization — when America does not hesitate to trade with and invest in other repressive countries (China, for example), recognizing that commerce is more likely than isolation to nurture positive political change.

The embargo provided Mr. Castro with a built-in excuse for his own failed economic policies and ruthless political repression. It made it easier for him to wall ordinary Cubans off from American friendships, political ideas and affluent lifestyles. It handed him a propaganda tool to discredit courageous Cubans who openly campaigned for greater democracy. Continuing this policy of isolation will only make it easier for whoever succeeds Mr. Castro to continue the same repressive policies.

If President Bush wants to get the message of democracy across, he should loosen restrictions on cultural and academic exchanges and open the way for serious diplomatic contacts with Mr. Castro’s successors. Bucking Miami’s politically powerful anti-Castro community won’t be easy — especially in an election year. If Mr. Bush cannot summon up such courage, we hope that the candidates vying to succeed him will make clear that they would change policy as soon as they reached the White House. Tuesday’s first round of statements showed little creativity or courage.

For millions of Cubans, the wait for Mr. Castro to go has been almost interminable. Now that he is finally stepping down, Washington needs to do all it can to help encourage a peaceful transition to democracy. It needs to shake off its own ghosts and start talking directly with Cuban politicians and the Cuban people.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

'Dialog" about travel

CUNY Students' Trip to Cuba 'Propaganda'
Special to the Sun
March 4, 2008

A planned trip to Cuba by a group of CUNY graduate students is drawing criticism from politicians and one of the school's board members. The nine students, who are enrolled in the Brooklyn College Graduate Center for Worker Education, left yesterday with City Council Member Charles Barron and the director of the center, Joseph Wilson, to study the communist nation's health care and education systems.

"This is going to be used as a propaganda tool for Fidel Castro," Rep. Vito Fossella said yesterday in an interview. "If anything is going to be accomplished of significance, the visitors should ask Fidel Castro when he is going to liberalize the economy, release political prisoners and dissidents, and hold fair elections."

A CUNY trustee, Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, said he was concerned about the students' visit.

"I don't have a blanket objection to travel to Cuba, and certainly people who want to go there to expand or advocate for the rights of the prison population that I consider the Cuban population to be, or for religious freedom, or who have made Jewish or Christian missions there, I don't oppose," Mr. Wiesenfeld said. "But this particular mission, which seems to be a celebration of Fidel Castro ­ let's say I'm nonplussed."

A spokesman for CUNY, Ernesto Mora, defended the trip.

"Many groups have visited Cuba in recent years as scholars and students of history and political affairs seek an understanding of the country's past and current affairs and a perspective on future possibilities," he said in a statement. "Graduate Students enrolled in the Center for Worker Education are making this trip as part of their course of studies. It is an academic, not a political, event ­ part of an academic exchange fully in keeping with the university's educational mission."

The spokesman could not immediately determine whether taxpayer funds are being used to sponsor the Cuba trip. Americans are prohibited from traveling to Cuba, and student trips have brought legal scrutiny in the past. The government is currently investigating a community group that helped organize visits to Cuba by students from the Beacon School in Manhattan.


My comment on line:

Why are they afraid of travel to Cuba?
Reader comment on: CUNY Students' Trip to Cuba 'Propaganda'
Submitted by John McAuliff, Mar 4, 2008 09:50

People who oppose travel to Cuba either have no confidence in American values and independent mindedness or want to prevent Americans from seeing a far more complex reality than their political views acknowledge.

Doesn't it bother Rep. Fossella and Mr. Wiesenfeld that part of the unpopularity of the US in our hemisphers is that we look and behave like an old fashioned colonialist bully toward Cuba? Our unilateral embargo has been condemned by the UN for the past 16 years, most recently by 184 to 4.

Israel is our only significant ally on this issue and they make no effort to bar their own people from going to and investing in Cuba.

Cuba is the only country in the world we are not allowed to travel to by our government. Does it make sense to deny Americans a fundamental Constitutional freedom, ostensibly in the name of supporting the freedom of Cubans?

John McAuliff

Fund for Reconciliation and Development, 145 Palisade Street, Suite 401, Dobbs Ferry, NY 10522


Cubans Fundamental Freedom

Reader comment on: CUNY Students' Trip to Cuba 'Propaganda'
in response to reader comment: Why are they afraid of travel to Cuba?
Submitted by Rogelio Perez Leiva, Mar 4, 2008 13:44

The fundamental American freedom that Mr. McAuliff refers is the same freedom that the Cuban people have been denied for the past fifty-year. Obviously, he is not concerned that when he support the traveling of Americans to Cuba he is supporting a system that denies that freedom to Cubans. It is because American independent mindedness and values that American should be appalled about the situation in Cuba and refuse to participate in such a macabre charade. Traveling to that enslaved nation, is given money and support to the group of people oppressing its own nation. In Cuba the tourist industry is control by the Military . Futher more, Cubans are denied entrance to the hotels an beaches that are reserved for tourists only. The people that will be in direct contact with those students visiting Cuba are selected individuals, very well trained in the business of selling to foreigners the "achievements of the Revolution". In other words,what they are going to see is what the Castro brothers want them to see. Rogelio Perez Leiva.


Freedom is freedom's best weapon

Reader comment on: CUNY Students' Trip to Cuba 'Propaganda'in response to reader comment: Cubans Fundamental Freedom

Even if I thought this comment was an accurate description of Cuba today, it is non-responsive.
The freedom of Americans to travel should not be conditioned on whether a very small but powerful group of embittered exiles (a minority even in their own community) give permission.

Or should Chinese, Vietnamese, Russians, North Koreans, Burmese, Saudi Arabians, etc. now living in the US be able to stop us from traveling to their homelands? Does Rogelio Perez Leiva think Americans should also be barred from traveling to those countries which do not have legal or political systems like our own or does he agree with the Bush Administration that such a proscription should apply only to Cuba?

What does he think about Cuban Americans? Should they be limited to visiting a narrow definition of family members once every three years as favored by George Bush and Hillary Clinton?

Or does he agree with Barack Obama that there should be no restrictions on their travel and remittances? They are certainly not seeing people the regime wishes and virtually all the money they bring into the country goes to their families.

In fact other Americans are not limited to contacts with officials. Anyone who visits who does not choose to stay at an isolated resort can tell you Cubans are frank in their criticisms of the regime--and of the embargo and of hostile Cuban Americans who sustain it.

What does he think about Cubans speaking out against the restrictions on staying in resort areas, including in the student challenge to Ricardo Alarcon which can be seen in full on a Cuban web site? Doesn't that suggest Cubans are less repressed than he believes?

This foreigner only policy in resorts is wrong, but in practice it is not very different than the economic discrimination practiced at private resorts elsewhere in the Caribbean. It also does not apply, incidentally, to public beaches near Havana and elsewhere in Cuba where foreigners and Cubans mingle freely.

However this is a situation in which all I can say is ignore what people say, myself included, and go. See for yourself, make up your own mind, and wonder what the real motivation is of those who seek to prevent you from doing so.

The strength of our system is in its openness. Unfortunately those who have been acculturated in a closed system, be it Batista's or Castro's. mistake control for strength.

John McAuliff