United States Cuba Relations: 2010 Mid-Term Election Analysis


As we predicted, Kendrick Meek, lost the U.S. Senate race in Florida.  Sadly his intransigence to remain in the Senate race assured Marco Rubio’s victory.  The question that needs to be asked of Mr. Meek is what was his deal with Marco Rubio?  Marco Rubio owes Kendrick Meek big time.  For Charlie Crist, his political future remains open to challenge Senator Bill Nelson for that seat in 2012.   The country took a hard swing to the right yesterday, after taking a hard swing to the left in 2008.  At some point, moderation and common sense will prevail over the extremes.  Marco Rubio intends to portray himself as Ronald Reagan’s heir.   We will see if he is that or more like the movie character, Bob Roberts. (Rent/Watch this movie starring Tim Robbins)  One knowledgeable political expert I respect suggested that Marco Rubio may very well be the GOP’s Vice Presidential nominee in 2012.
President Obama and the White House staff should also have learned by now that listening to Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Bill Nelson,  Bob Menendez, and Kendrick Meek on Cuba matters is not reliable.  This cabal told the President and White House staff to hold off the announcement on new U.S. Cuba travel regulations allowing more travel to Cuba because it was going to hurt the Democrats in Florida in yesterday’s elections.  Oh really now?  Yesterday’s debacle in Florida and across the country had nothing to do with the Cuba issue.
I was asked what the outcome of the elections will mean for United States Cuba policy and relations.  Two words will define the next two years – entrenchment and opportunity.  There will be entrenchment on U.S. Cuba issues in the next Congress as we will see the following positioning of Pro-Embargo/Anti-Travel Members:
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fl) – Incoming Chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee
Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fl) – Incoming Chairman of House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere
Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) –  Incoming Chairman of Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart
Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Fl) – Incoming Chairwoman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee
Incoming Freshman Rep. David Rivera (R-Fl) who will be moving any legislation he can to further restrict travel to Cuba and maintain the embargo.
Incoming Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fl) will retain his hardline position on Cuba as his political backers and money comes from the extreme right wing.  However, he was born in the U.S., has never been to Cuba, and knows this issue only as a child of exiles.
With this entrenchment, however, there are still Pro-travel/Anti-embargo Members and opportunity to keep an eye on:
Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Az) will now be in a position to take leadership on this issue in the House.  The Republican wave that will take over the House in January 2011 is mostly libertarian and on the issue of American travel to Cuba, there should be many members who will stand on the principle that all Americans should be allowed to travel anywhere of their choosing and spend their own money there, including Cuba.  Let’s remember it was Jeff Flake who successfully got the first Cuba travel bill passed out of the Congress when he was a freshman!
Incoming Senators John Hoeven (R-ND) and Jerry Moran (R-Ks) should pick up some of the U.S. Cuba mantle in the Senate.
There will be other members who will step up as well new and old, so the debate in this next round should continue to be robust.
What those who care about this issue must appreciate and understand is that non-profit groups and think tanks who have are stalwart proponents of lifting the travel ban and ending the embargo CANNOT DO the political activity that is going to be required to end these insane policies.
Our efforts and resources must be focused on organized political action, fundraising, and playing the political game to win once and for all.    It is going to take money from everyone who says they care about this issue to make a contribution so we can support and empower political candidates, Congressional and Presidential, who will take a stand on these issues.  To this end, the United States Cuba Political Action has been reactivated and it is organizing to hit the ground running in the next election cycle.  Organizations cannot be members of that PAC.  But individuals, U.S. citizens and residents, can be involved and donate money.  You can make a difference with a donation of $10 – $25 or more up to $5000.  Consider the impact what the numbers can be if you and everyone stepped up.  Right now on Facebook there is page on Ending the Travel Ban on Cuba with over 23,000 members.  Had each one of those individuals donated to the U.S. Cuba PAC, $25 for example, there would have been $575,000 in political money that could have countered the influence of the $1,000,000 raised by that relatively small group of wealthy hardline Cuban exiles who keep this issue strangled in the Congress.
If you want to make a donation and get involved, mail your personal check to:
U.S. Cuba Political Action Committee
PO Box 15874
Tampa FL 33684
Email: uscubapac@gmail.com
There will be organizational meeting of that PAC in December in Florida. More information about a website, planning, and other contact information will be forthcoming.
The lesson from this election for U.S. Cuba issues is that the majority can no longer be silent or leave this issue up solely up to groups who will not be able to carry this issue across the goal line.  Only when you and our community declares that “if it is to be, it is up to me” through committed actions of political donation and organization will we change these policies once and for all. – Tony Martinez

The Times Channels the Oil Lobby on Cuba


The top story in The New York Times yesterday carried a bit of water for the oil and gas lobby.

It’s about how Cuba is thinking about opening up its waters for oil drilling and how that could affect the U.S. if there were a spill. That’s a legit story, although it’s an old one. The Wall Street Journal wrote it three months ago and even then thought it worthy of just A5.

The Journal back then reported that “U.S. companies won’t participate because of a longstanding trade embargo against Cuba.” But Big Oil smells Havana crude. And that’s the twist on the Times’ story.

The paper somewhat credulously channels oil interests in reporting why U.S. drillers are worried about Cuban drilling:

The prospect of an accident is emboldening American drilling companies, backed by some critics of the embargo, to seek permission from the United States government to participate in Cuba’s nascent industry, even if only to protect against an accident.

“This isn’t about ideology. It’s about oil spills,” said Lee Hunt, president of the International Association of Drilling Contractors, a trade group that is trying to broaden bilateral contacts to promote drilling safety. “Political attitudes have to change in order to protect the gulf.”


Fortunately, we do get this acknowledgment:

Any opening could provide a convenient wedge for big American oil companies that have quietly lobbied Congress for years to allow them to bid for oil and natural gas deposits in waters off Cuba. Representatives of Exxon Mobil and Valero Energy attended an energy conference on Cuba in Mexico City in 2006, where they met Cuban oil officials.

Basically its unclear why global oil corporations already going into Cuba won’t have equipment as good as the Americans say they need. The spill angle is a bit of a red herring.

A better angle for this story might have been something like: American oil and gas companies, which currently can’t start any new wells in the Gulf, are trying to scare people into letting them start new wells in the Gulf—for Cuba.

The folly of the whole Cold War-relic embargo itself is another story.

Cuba says U.S. embargo has toughened under Obama

HAVANA (Reuters) – The U.S. trade embargo against Cuba has gotten tougher under U.S. President Barack Obama, not more lenient as many had expected when he took office, a top Cuban official said on Wednesday.

Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, in the Cuban government’s annual update on the 48-year-old embargo, said the United States is levying bigger fines, applying sanctions more firmly and pursuing embargo-busting financial transactions more vigorously under Obama.

“The embargo policy in the last two years, which is to say under the government of President Obama, has not changed at all,” Rodriguez said in a press conference. “In some aspects, it has even hardened.”

In terms of U.S. policy toward Cuba, Obama had performed “below expectations that had been created in the international community and American public opinion,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said the embargo has cost Cuba $751 billion over the years, adjusted for inflation and the changing value of the dollar.

“It is, without any doubt, the primary obstacle to the economic development of our country,” he said.

The United Nations is scheduled to hold its annual vote on a resolution condemning the embargo on October 26. Last year, only three countries — the United States, Israel and Palau — voted against the measure.

The embargo, said Rodriguez, “is a museum piece of the Cold War. It is, moreover, a failed policy.”

The embargo was fully imposed in 1962, with the aim of toppling the communist government put in place by Fidel Castro after he took power in a 1959 revolution.

The embargo prohibits most trade with Cuba, with exceptions for agricultural products and medicine.

Obama spoke early on of improving relations with Cuba, but insisted the embargo — which Cuba calls a “blockade” — would stay in place until the Caribbean island improved its human rights and released political prisoners.

He has eased the embargo slightly by removing restrictions on Cuban Americans traveling to the island and the amount of money they can send to their family members in Cuba.

There has been more leniency, too, in granting of licenses for visits by U.S. performers and academics, but progress has stalled since Cuba detained a U.S. contractor in December on suspicion of espionage.

The contractor, Alan Gross, remains behind bars in Cuba, without formal charges. The U.S. says he was not a spy, but was in Cuba installing Internet services for Jewish groups.

Rodriguez was questioned about Gross, but he responded only that the embargo is a unilateral act by the U.S. and must be lifted immediately and without conditions.


Restrictions hurting exports to Cuba

Agweek.com: Agricultural sales to Cuba would have been as much as one-third higher in 2008 if U.S. restrictions on financing of the exports and travel by Americans to Cuba had been lifted, a top U.S. International Trade Commission member said.
Speaking at a Center for International Policy conference promoting easier U.S.-Cuban relations, Jonathan Coleman, the head of the ITC agricultural and fisheries division, said if the restrictions had been lifted, U.S. sales would have risen from $707 million to between $925 million and $1.2 billion.
Coleman said the study assumed the lifting of all the complicated arrangements for payment required under the 2000 Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act that allowed the sale of U.S. agriculture products to Cuba for the first time since the embargo on trade was established in the early 1960s.
Coleman also said the study assumed that if all travel restrictions had been lifted, 500,000 to 1 million Americans would have traveled to Cuba in 2008. Coleman said the statistics were an update of a larger study that the ITC, a federal agency that analyzes trade problems, had conducted in 2007 at the request of Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont.
Missing opportunities Coleman said the increase in sales would have amounted to $225 million to $475 million and that the U.S. percentage of the Cuban import market would have risen from 38 percent to between 49 percent and 64 percent. He also said that requiring Cuba to buy letters of credit through banks in third countries and requiring cash payment before shipment make the U.S. products 2.5 percent to 7 percent more expensive than if Cuba were able to use normal banking channels. Some analysts have said that U.S. producers have fared better with cash sales than if U.S. firms could grant credit arrangements to Cuba because Cuba has been late in paying for its agricultural imports from other countries. But Coleman said his analysis did not include that issue.
Daniel Griswold of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, noted that Cuba is the No. 6 customer for U.S. agricultural products in Latin America and that sales to Cuba, a country with 11.5 million people are higher, than sales to Brazil, which has 200 million people.
If the restrictions were lifted and Cuba spent the same share of its GDP on farm exports as other Caribbean islands, “we
could be exporting $1.5 billion a year, more than double our current exports,” Griswold said.
USA Rice Federation CEO Betsy Ward said U.S. rice producers have lost sales to Cuba because Vietnam has extended credit to Cuba for rice purchases.
Several farm group representatives at the conference they hope President Obama’s recent overtures to Cuba lead to an easing of trade and travel restrictions.
“Resuming normal commercial relations with Cuba is the top priority for our organization,” Ward said, noting that the United States was the No. 1 rice supplier to Cuba in 1961 before the embargo was imposed.
Alan Tracy, president of U.S. Wheat Associates, a wheat promotion group, said he was disappointed Obama’s statement did not include an easing of Bush administration regulations requiring that Cuba pay cash in advance prior to shipment. But Tracy said farm groups still are looking for a legislative vehicle to push for more liberalization.
Tracy said since 2001, Cuba has bought U.S. what valued at $383 million, but that if commercial relations had been normal, Cuba would have bought wheat valued at $1.1 billion.
Wayne Smith, a former chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, said he is working with Cuban and U.S. officials in
Galveston, Texas, and Louisiana to set up a better system to exchange information on hurricanes.
Two diplomats from the Cuban Interests Section in Washington attended the conference, but said they were there as observers and declined to comment.

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Washington’s eternal “Cuba problem” — the one they can’t admit to

Foreign Policy Journal: “Here we go again. I suppose old habits die hard,” said US Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, on October 28 before the General Assembly voted on the annual resolution to end the US embargo against Cuba.

“The hostile language we have just heard from the Foreign Minister of Cuba,” she continued, “seems straight out of the Cold War era and is not conducive to constructive progress.” Her 949-word statement contained not a word about the embargo; not very conducive to a constructive solution to the unstated “Cuba problem”, the one about Cuba inspiring the Third World, the fear that the socialist virus would spread.

Since the early days of the Cuban Revolution assorted anti-communists and capitalist true-believers around the world have been relentless in publicizing the failures, real and alleged, of life in Cuba; each perceived shortcoming is attributed to the perceived shortcomings of socialism — It’s simply a system that can’t work, we are told, given the nature of human beings, particularly in this modern, competitive, globalized, consumer-oriented world.

In response to such criticisms, defenders of Cuban society have regularly pointed out how the numerous draconian sanctions imposed by the United States since 1960 have produced many and varied scarcities and sufferings and are largely responsible for most of the problems pointed out by the critics. The critics, in turn, say that this is just an excuse, one given by Cuban apologists for every failure of their socialist system. However, it would be very difficult for the critics to prove their point. The United States would have to drop all sanctions and then we’d have to wait long enough for Cuban society to make up for lost time and recover what it was deprived of, and demonstrate what its system can do when not under constant assault by the most powerful force on earth.

In 1999, Cuba filed a suit against the United States for $181.1 billion in compensation for economic losses and loss of life during the first 39 years of this aggression. The suit held Washington responsible for the death of 3,478 Cubans and the wounding and disabling of 2,099 others. In the ten years since, these figures have of course all increased. The sanctions, in numerous ways large and small, make acquiring many kinds of products and services from around the world much more difficult and expensive, often impossible; frequently, they are things indispensable to Cuban medicine, transportation or industry; simply transferring money internationally has become a major problem for the Cubans, with banks being heavily punished by the United States for dealing with Havana; or the sanctions mean that Americans and Cubans can’t attend professional conferences in each other’s country.

These examples are but a small sample of the excruciating pain inflicted by Washington upon the body, soul and economy of the Cuban people.

For years American political leaders and media were fond of labeling Cuba an “international pariah”. We don’t hear much of that any more. Perhaps one reason is the annual vote in the General Assembly on the resolution, which reads: “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba”. This is how the vote has gone:

How it began, from State Department documents: Within a few months of the Cuban revolution of January 1959, the Eisenhower administration decided “to adjust all our actions in such a way as to accelerate the development of an opposition in Cuba which would bring about a change in the Cuban Government, resulting in a new government favorable to U.S. interests.”[1]

On April 6, 1960, Lester D. Mallory, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, wrote in an internal memorandum: “The majority of Cubans support Castro … The only foreseeable means of alienating internal support is through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship. … every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba.” Mallory proposed “a line of action which … makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.”[2] Later that year, the Eisenhower administration instituted the suffocating embargo.

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Cuba calls for end to US economic embargo

Asia News Network:

The government of Cuba will seek international support as it calls for an end to the US commercial and financial embargo against the island nation, even as positive signs emerge for US-Cuban relations, according to the Cuban Ambassador to Laos.

Ms Ivonne Suarez Roche made the statement on Friday, saying the Cuban government still believed the latest moves by the US government to loosen control over visits by Cuban expatriates and the sending of remittances to their families in Cuba did not constitute a concrete measure in improving US-Cuba relations.

“Although these measures are a positive step, they are also extremely insufficient and limited. The complex framework of laws and adm inistrative provisions which make up the legal basis of the policy, which is designed to destroy the Cuban economy, remains in place,” she said as quoted in her speech.

“The media and diplomatic offensive unleashed by the US government could erroneously lead one to believe that the blockade against Cuba has started to be dismantled. This is not true.”

According to the ambassador, the US government prohibition on the export of goods and services from Cuba to the US and from the US to Cuba , including medicines, remains in force.

The US government prohibits US subsidiaries doing business in third countries to engage in any transaction with enterprises in Cuba .

It also prohibits enterprises in third countries from selling goods or services to Cuba, including medicines, if more than 10 percent of the product is sourced from the US, even though the owners of these enterprises are nationals of these third countries.

The US government continues to prohibit banks of third countries from opening US dollar accounts in Cuban entities. Neither can these banks make financial transactions in US dollars with Cuban entities.

The US also prohibits ships transporting goods from or to Cuba from calling at US ports within a period of 180 days after being in Cuban territory. This multiplies the cost of maritime transport and reduces the availability of freight transport for Cuban foreign trade.

Speaking at a press conference at the Cuban Embassy in Vientiane , Ms Roche said the Cuban government is planning to ask United Nations members to vote on whether they agree or disagree with the 17-year US economic blockade against Cuba .

UN members are scheduled to vote on a draft resolution entitled “Necessity of the ending economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba ” at the end of this month.

Ms Roche said the Cuban government expected that 185 UN members would vote in favour of the proposed resolution, as they had last year. It is believed that only three UN members including the USA will oppose the resolution.

She said the fact that the majority of UN member countries voted to adopt Cuba ‘s proposed UN resolution last year was an almost unanimous demonstration of the international community’s rejection of US government policy against Cuba and of the application of extraterritorial laws contrary to the United Nations Charter.

According to diplomats, such a resolution voted on at the United Nations General Assembly merely reflects the opinion of the international community and is not binding on member countries, especially those that oppose the resolution.

www.particularcuba.com – Travel to Cuba

Cuba to ask US to end trade embargo

HAVANA (AFP) – Cuba said Tuesday it will ask the United States to lift its 47 year-old trade embargo on the island at the upcoming UN General Assembly meeting.

The move came a day after US President Barack Obama extended for one year the Trading with the Enemy Act, which bans exchanges with any nation considered a threat and serves as a basis for the trade embargo aimed at Cuba.

The Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it will release Wednesday a report on the effects of the embargo that will be delivered later this month at the General Assembly meeting.

The General Assembly has condemned the US trade embargo on Cuba 17 times. In 2008, the resolution had 185 votes in favor.

The US government has been encouraging Cuba — the only one-party communist state in the Americas — to make progress on human rights issues.

Cuba’s communist regime has not allowed democratic or political opening in more than four decades since the July 1, 1959 revolution swept Fidel Castro to power, ousting US-backed Fulgencio Batista.

The US Treasury on September 3 eased restrictions on travel and money transfers to Cuba, five months after Obama announced the measures in a bid to improve ties with the communist island.

The changes focus on visits to the island by Cubans living in the United States, remittances by Cuban-Americans to their relatives and telecommunications, but continues to ban travel by most Americans to the island.

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