Cuba Travel Bill Won't Get Markup in House

Friday, November 19, 2010
From Congressional Quarterly:

Cuba Travel Bill Won't Get Markup in House

The House Foreign Affairs Committee will not mark up a bill this year to allow Americans to travel to Cuba, despite a pre-election statement from Chairman Howard L. Berman, D-Calif, that he was determined to move forward.

Asked Thursday if he still planned to hold a committee vote on the legislation (HR 4645), Berman shook his head and said "no," a decision confirmed by committee staff.

That puts a definitive end to what at one time were high hopes among advocates of engagement with Cuba for this Congress. And with Republicans winning the House in the November elections, and a supporter of the ban, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., expected to take over as chair of the committee next year, the prospects for progress in the new Congress are no better.

Americans are currently restricted from traveling to Cuba, except under very limited circumstances, as part of the nearly 50-year embargo put in place by President John F. Kennedy. President Obama's emphasis on engagement had earlier raised expectations among those seeking to end the embargo both on and off Capitol Hill.

House Agriculture Chairman Collin C. Peterson, D-Minn., introduced a bill (HR 4645) and pushed it through his committee in the summer. In the Senate, Byron L. Dorgan, D-N.D., and Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo., said they wanted a 2010 vote on a similar bill (S 428), claiming they had enough votes to pass it over a potential filibuster from opponents.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee has jurisdiction over Peterson's bill, and Berman sought to mark it up during the September work period. However, he ended up announcing Sept. 28 that he was "postponing consideration . . . until a time when the committee will be able to hold the robust and uninterrupted debate this important issue deserves."

The next day, he told CQ that he remained determined to hold a committee vote during the lame duck session.

Peterson predicted in the fall that if the legislation got through the Foreign Affairs Committee, it could win a House floor vote.

But with the Democratic leadership in both chambers focused on other, more pressing priorities for the lame-duck work period — which has already gotten bogged down in partisan acrimony — there appears to be little reason for the committee to move forward on the divisive legislation now.

Copyright 2010 CQ-Roll Call, Inc.

Lobbying For Castro's Agenda

Many opponents of U.S. policy towards Cuba take offense at being labeled as pro-Castro.

That's a fair criticism.

Truth is there are many well-intentioned opponents of U.S. policy towards Cuba who also oppose -- some just as stridently -- the Castro dictatorship and its brutality.

Furthermore, we all benefit and grow from policy disagreements.

However, its one thing for sanctions opponents (or "pro-normalization" activists, as they call themselves) to organize and influence U.S. policy, and a whole other thing to essentially collude with the Castro regime.

A recent post in the Cuba Standard website announced, "Activists to ponder post-election Cuba strategies in Tampa," in which travel agencies, attorneys and lobbyists that oppose U.S. policy will gather to "brainstorm" on "strategies to influence Congress, the White House, Florida and Tampa."

God bless our democracy -- our freedom to assemble and to express grievances.

But here's the kicker in their announcement:

"On Dec. 3, the Cuban Interests Section in Washington will host a reception for a delegation from Tampa."

For those who don't follow Cuba issues closely, the Cuban Interests Section is the Castro dictatorship's official diplomatic representation in Washington.

So while it's not fair to label sanctions opponents (or "pro-normalization" activists) as pro-Castro -- all labels are inappropriate -- it's at least fair to conclude that they share a similar policy agenda.

How Times Change

Thursday, November 18, 2010
These pictures speak for themselves. Sort of like a before and after.


A Rangel Afterthought

According to Politico:

As Rep. Charles Rangel pleaded for "a drop of fairness and mercy," the ethics committee's top lawyer has recommended a censure of the New York lawmaker, one of the harshest punishments that the House can deliver short of expulsion.

Thus, we couldn't help but wonder.

During Congressman Rangel's multiple visits with Cuban dictator Fidel Castro -- both in Havana and New York -- did he ever plead for "a drop of fairness and mercy" for the millions of innocent Cubans beaten, imprisoned, tortured and/or executed?

They definitely needed his help. But instead, he'd simply turn a blind-eye towards Castro's brutality.

One thing is for sure, the Ethics Committee will be much kinder.

Cuba +5 Diss Nobel Ceremony

According to BBC:

Six states not attending Nobel Peace Prize award

Six countries have declined to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony for jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee said the ambassadors who were not going were from China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Cuba, Morocco, and Iraq.

Cuba Is Militarizing (Not Privatizing)

The Sun-Sentinel's Guillermo I. Martinez asks an important question, which is glossed over by foreign media outlets in Havana:

Is Cuba privatizing the economy, or militarizing it?

If one were to ask me in a survey what I thought of Cuba's economic moves, I would reply quickly and without any reservations, "Mark me as confused."

Many who know much more about what is happening inside the Castro brothers' private island say that we should pay attention to the changes in Cuba. They point to the 500,000 state employees who will lose their jobs; to the end of the rationing card; to the rights now given to Cubans to work for themselves, and even to hire some employees.

They say that Raúl Castro's view that Cuba's economy cannot survive without dramatic changes has prevailed. His older brother Fidel has been relegated to talking and writing about international politics, nuclear holocaust and other lofty subjects.

All this is supposed to be formalized at a congress of Cuba's ruling Communist Party in April. Such meetings are supposed to be held every five years, but the last time the party assembly met was in 1997. In the meantime, Cubans are supposed to abide by a 32-page booklet called "guidelines for economic policy."

Yet, despite all the hoopla, all these changes in Cuba can be reversed just as quickly as they were approved. It has happened before. Most publications mention Cuba's brief flirtation with private enterprises when the Soviet Union stopped sending subsidies to the island in 1991. Back then, Cubans were allowed to rent rooms in their homes to tourists, and to open small restaurants called "paladares."

That opening lasted only until Venezuela began subsidizing Cuba's government. Government regulations then overburdened the private businesses, and soon all that was a thing of the past.

And it had happened before, too. In 1979, Cuba allowed small farmers to sell the products they harvested in small plots of land in open markets. But when farmers began to make money, they were arrested and their properties confiscated.

So you can see why I am confused about all the "new changes" in Cuba. Time will tell if they will last or if they will just be a placeholder until Cuba finds a new "sugar daddy."

There is another change in Cuba that is taking place, however, without much fanfare. The government is accusing civilian government officials who manage government entities of corruption, arresting them and replacing them with military men.

Cuba's armed forces are the most efficient institution on the island. Its holding company, called GAESA, is run by Luis Alberto Rodríguez, who happens to be Raúl Castro's son-in-law. Most of Cuba's state-run enterprises are in the hands of the military.

Some will say Cuba is privatizing its economy. Others might say it is militarizing its most important parts. Take your pick. I'm still confused.

In Denial of Free Elections

It's one thing to be ideological. That's fine.

It's even one thing to be partisan. That's fine too.

But it's a whole other thing to be blindly and absurdly unattached from all reality.

So leave it to Daily Kos to post, "On Cuba policy, Cuban-American politicians are increasingly outside mainstream."

And not just any mainstream -- the Cuban-American mainstream!

Seriously?

Were they on vacation on November 2nd, when a Florida Congressional candidate that supported unconditionally easing sanctions lost the Cuban-American vote by over 50 points? That's right, by over 50 points.

What type of elitism and audacity does it take to state that the elected Members of the Cuban-American community don't reflect the free will of their electorate?

Essentially, the same as it takes to defend a brutal dictatorship that denies its people the fundamental right to express theirs.

Shore Leave in Havana?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010
There have been various news stories about the British navy ship, HMS Manchester, which docked in Havana over the weekend to (ironically) foster counter-narcotics cooperation between the U.K. and Cuba.

However, the BBC 's report also included this interesting item:

HMS Manchester, a Type 42 British destroyer, has spent the past six months in the Caribbean working on anti-drug smuggling operations. This led to the seizure of 240kg (530lb) of cocaine off the Colombian coast.

There is a contingent of US Coast Guard aboard since drug arrests at sea are prosecuted under US law.

It is believed that the US government has given them permission to take shore leave.


Shore leave in Havana?

Has Cuba now become a tourist attraction for the U.S. Coast Guard?

Are they also given shore leave after intercepting Cubans at sea (who are fleeing oppression) and returning them to the Castro regime?

We have the utmost respect for the U.S. Coast Guard, but this seems particularly insensitive and irresponsible.

Diaz-Balart Farewell Remarks

Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL) thanked his colleagues tonight on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives for the honor of having been able to serve with them in the U.S. Congress.

Here's the text of his address:

I will leave Congress at the end of this session with a sense of duty fulfilled, having given my all to the people of the 21st District of Florida, who have honored me by electing me and reelecting me to 9 terms in Congress.

I feel deep satisfaction, not only in the achievements of my term of service, such as the codification into law of the U.S. embargo on the Cuban tyranny, requiring the liberation of all political prisoners, without exceptions, and the scheduling of free and fair, multiparty elections in Cuba, before the President of the United States can lift U.S. sanctions, or the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central America Relief Act, which granted legal residency in the U.S. to hundreds of thousands of our Central American brothers and sisters who were previously facing possible deportation.

My most profound satisfaction comes from having given my all, each and every day, to my constituents.

As a private citizen, I will work to help the freedom fighters inside Cuba, who are resisting the brutality of the Castro tyranny with ultimate courage and patriotism; they are my heroes. As Cuban political prisoner Angel Moya wrote from his dungeon in the Castro-Cuban gulag a few days ago: "My spirit is the same, it is full of joy because I am in prison for fighting for the dignity and rights of the Cuban people. I am ready to continue resisting, physically, morally and spiritually."

Mr. Speaker, and I will continue to do all in my power to help in the struggle for Cuba's freedom.

This country, the United States of America, is a miracle, a miracle of generosity of spirit, a miracle of freedom, human dignity, and opportunity. May God forever preserve and protect this great land and people.

For the rest of my days I will feel deeply honored to have been a Member of the Congress of the United States.

To all of my colleagues, those who have helped me, and those who have opposed me, thank you. Thank you for the honor of having been able to serve with you.

Easing Sanctions Would Impede Reforms

Please read the following paragraph from today's Miami Herald very carefully:

Cuba's Raúl Castro says the island "has no alternative" but to embrace the economic changes he has proposed, and claimed they are based on brother Fidel's ideas, according to the Granma newspaper.

Yet, ironically, advocates of unconditionally normalizing relations with the Castro regime have been (counter-intuitively) lobbying for months that the U.S. should encourage economic changes in Cuba by easing sanctions -- in other words, by easing economic pressure.

If even Castro recognizes that economic changes are being proposed solely because the regime has "no alternative," then wouldn't easing sanctions actually become an impediment for the fulfillment of these changes (and for the potential of true reforms in the future)?

That's exactly what occurred in the 1990's -- pursuant to the collapse of the U.S.S.R. -- thanks to the economic lifeline provided to the Castro regime by Canadian and Europeans tourists, and by the (now depleting) oil subsidies of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.

Maybe advocates of normalizing relations with the Castro regime really don't want to see true reforms take place.

Regardless, the lesson for the U.S. Congress and the Obama Administration -- and other well-intentioned actors -- is clear:

If you would like to see true reforms take place in Cuba, then keep sanctions in place.

Cuba Needs Real Liberalization

Says the first (and thus far, only) political prisoner released within Cuba.

According to EFE:

Cuba will continue in a "situation of stagnation" unless there is a "serious, honest liberalization," freed political prisoner Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique said.

A day after his release, Ramos Lauzurique, a member of the "Group of 75" dissidents jailed in March 2003, went Sunday to Havana's Santa Rita Church to meet with the Ladies in White, which comprises relatives of the Group of 75.

In a statement to the foreign media, the 68-year-old economist said that his release was "without conditions" and that he proposes to continue with the same activities he was doing before being jailed.

All of the other political prisoners released by the Cuban government since July were freed only after agreeing to accept what they hope will be temporary exile in Spain.

Ramos Lauzurique is one of the 13 of the 52 remaining Group of 75 prisoners who have spurned exile as a condition for getting out of jail.

Asked if he has noticed any changes in Cuban government policies, he said that up to now he sees "nothing serious."

"Up to now there has not been a serious, honest liberalization – I don't think anything is being done to change the current situation of stagnation," he said.

In his opinion, with the economic measures undertaken by the Cuban regime, such as massive layoffs in the government sector and an increase in self-employment, the country will simply go from "stagnation to chaos."

"Without real economic liberalization – though there should also be political freedom – I don't believe the government can solve its current problems," he said.

With the freeing of Ramos, 12 members of the Group of 75 are still behind bars, one of whom, Luis Enrique Ferrer, will soon be released but will go to Spain.

The other 11 refuse exile.

The Raul Castro government promised in July to gradually free all prisoners in the Group of 75 as part of an unprecedented dialogue with the Catholic Church that had the support of Spain.

While that group has not been entirely freed, other prisoners have been released on condition that they go to Spain, a condition that has been accepted since July by 47 Cubans and their families.

Cuban-American Voters Reject Obama Policy of Easing Sanctions

Monday, November 15, 2010
Cuban-American Voters Reject Obama Policy of Easing Sanctions

Washington, D.C. — The outcome of this month's Congressional elections demonstrate that Cuban-American voters continue to overwhelmingly support candidates who are committed to maintaining trade and travel sanctions against the Castro dictatorship in Cuba.

According to an analysis commissioned by Cuba Democracy Public Advocacy, Corp., Florida Senator-elect Marco Rubio and Congressman-elect David Rivera (FL-25) each received at least 70% of the Cuban-American vote. Both Rubio and Rivera have strongly and publicly expressed their opposition to the Obama Administration's policy of unilaterally easing sanctions towards the Castro regime. Meanwhile, Rivera's opponent, Joe Garcia, a former Obama Administration official who is closely identified with its Cuba policy, received less that 18% of the Cuban-American vote.

The data also shows that both Rubio and Rivera defeated their opponents handily in every major Cuban demographic, thus disproving the so-called theory of a "generation divide" amongst Cuban-Americans. In fact, over half of Cuban-American voters were more inclined to vote for Rivera due to his efforts as a FL state legislator to strengthen sanctions.

"The message to the Obama Administration is clear: the Cuban-American community favors the continuation of U.S. sanctions towards the Cuban regime until a process of democratic reform begins," said Mauricio Claver-Carone, Executive Director of Cuba Democracy Public Advocacy,Corp., which commissioned the analysis. "At a time when the Castro regime is facing unprecedented domestic pressure and challenges, the U.S. should not bail it out," added Claver-Carone.

The analysis was conducted by political science professor, Dr. Dario Moreno, who was responsible for Rubio and Rivera's Miami-Dade polling, and is based on a review of pre-election public opinion polls and a homogeneous precinct analysis of the election results.

A summary of the findings show:

· Marco Rubio won at least 72% of the Cuban-American Vote
· David Rivera won at least 70% of the Cuban American Vote
· Young Cuban-American voters supported Rivera and Rubio only slightly less (-3/-5) than those over 60, indicating no generational divide
· A majority of Cuban-American voters were more inclined to support candidates that favor restricting travel to Cuba

Click here to view the complete analysis.

Cuba Democracy Public Advocacy, Corp. is a Washington, D.C.-based independent, non-partisan institution dedicated to the promotion of a transition in Cuba towards democracy, the respect for human rights, and the rule of law.

The Unknown Political Prisoners

Sunday, November 14, 2010
From Take Part:

Political Prisoners

An estimated 2,250 people are in jail for political reasons in Burma alone

Around the world, thousands of people are imprisoned for their beliefs, race, gender, sexuality or for speaking out against their government. These political prisoners are human rights defenders, political figures, labor activists, artists, journalists, and average citizens, and often they are never even charged with a crime.

Some have become icons in their incarceration, such as South African President Nelson Mandela, who served 27 years in prison for demanding political change, and Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi, locked up or under house arrest for 14 of the past 20 years for dissent. But for every standout there are thousands of nameless others locked away around the world, from Iran to Cuba, Vietnam to Zimbabwe, and dozens more countries worldwide.