Influential Republicans & Democrats Urge Obama to Change Cuba Policy

Havana Street. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — A group of influential persons in United States’ politics, including prominent Republicans, called on President Barack Obama today to use his executive powers to enact measures to take steps that broaden the opening towards Cuba that he began at the beginning of his first term in office, reported dpa.

“Now more than ever, the United States can help the Cuban people to decide their own future by building on US policy reforms that have already begun,” states an “open letter to President Obama,” referring to the easing of travel restrictions to the island and sending of remittances by Cuban Americans that the president ordered shortly after arriving at the White House in 2009.

The initial measures were widely applauded by a Latin America that continues to reproach Washington for its hardline stance against Cuba, with an economic and trade embargo of more than half a century. No further policy changes followed.

The stagnation is partially due to Cuba’s imprisonment in late 2009 of US agent Alan Gross, sentenced to 15 years in prison for crimes against the integrity of the State, after Cuban authorities caught him trying to smuggle into Cuba sophisticated telecommunications equipment prohibited on the island.

The letter to Obama was signed by more than 40 influential people in US politics, including – and this is what distinguishes this initiative from similar previous ones – Republican politicians and personalities of the Cuban-American community of Miami, other former officials for government policy in Latin America and former senior military officers.

The letter is signed by three former under secretaries of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Jeff Davidow , Alec Watson and Arturo Valenzuela; two former representatives of the US Interests Section in Havana – including Michael Palmry, appointed by Republican George W. Bush, and former supreme Allied Commander of NATO and commander of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) James Stavridis.

Others signing the petition to Obama are former Under Secretary of State John Negroponte, former Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar and representatives of the Cuban-American community such as Carlos Saladrigas, Rick Arriola, Jorge Perez and Andres Fanjul.

The letter acknowledges there is “little” that can be done in Congress due to the “current political environment.” However it stresses that Obama has the “unprecedented opportunity” to promote a “significant breakthrough” by using his executive authority “at a time when public opinion on Cuba leans toward greater interaction with the Cuban people, while at the same time continuing to pressure the Cuban government on human rights.”

The letter notes that Obama could “extend and ensure” travel to Cuba for “all” Americans, not just Cuban Americans or special religious or cultural groups such as has happened thus far.

They believe that Obama should increase support for Cuban civil society by allowing the sending of unlimited funds to people in Cuba who don’t have family ties with the recipient. This would, it states, “support independent activity in Cuba.”

Havana photo by Juan Suarez.

The letter also requests freedom to import and export certain goods and services between the US private sector and independent Cuban business people as well as allowing private organizations in the US to offer loans to small farmers, cooperatives and small private business people. Another item would be permitting the sale of telecommunications hardware to the island.

Politically, the letter proposes that Obama “prioritize interaction” with Cuban authorities on areas of mutual interest, maintaining “serious discussions” on issues such as national security, migration, drug trafficking and the environment.

In this way, Washington could in turn exert “pressure” on the Cuban authorities regarding issues such as the release of Alan Gross or human rights concerns.

Finally, the petitioners contend that the Obama administration should take steps to ensure that financial institutions have the necessary authority to perform all such approved activities.

Such measures, they say, could “deepen the changes already underway” on the island as a greater freedom to private organizations and individuals could indirectly serve as a “catalyst for meaningful change in Cuba.”

“President Obama has repeatedly noted the ineffectiveness of US policy towards Cuba. The time has come to take steps to increase support for Cuban civil society,” said Carlos Saladrigas, president of the Cuba Study Group organization promoting the initiative.

29 thoughts on “Influential Republicans & Democrats Urge Obama to Change Cuba Policy

  • Oh, I don’t know. When he saw what the Children of Israel had be doing while he was up on Mt. Sinai, he got pretty pissed off. Sounds like a guy with strong opinions to me.

  • More than 20,….almost two months at a time,….casi, casi for nearly two years. And you?

  • Nope. Been too busy.

  • Representatives of Cuba & the US have met many times to negotiate a wide range of issues. Sometimes they have even made positive agreements. There are public discussions and there are secret back-channel discussions all the time. The real situation is not as stark and unyielding as you imagine.

    Your desire is nice, but you continue to assume the Cuban government actually wants to negotiate these important issues, and that the US is under some sort of pressure or subject to some pressing need to do so. None of which is true.

    The Castro regime do not want to introduce any measure of democracy (a crucial element of the embargo conditions). The US does not need to do anything for the Castros. The alleged pressure is entirely a projection of the Cuban government desire for the end of the embargo. No American interests are served by doing so.

  • Have you ever “met” Fidel ?

  • How many times have you been to Cuba….for how long….and have you ever lived in Cuba?

  • Don’t “think” the real Moses would be as biased as this moses

  • Ah yes, but the lifting of those restrictions by various US administrations were not tied to negotiated agreements by the Cuban government to respond in kind. This is why the two sides need to sit down at a table and hammer out agreements that are in writing and publicly documented. The agreements should be supported by a schedule for implementation too so that measurable progress can be, in theory, both assured and confirmed. If either side slips up, all bets are off.

  • I would rather lawmakers are moved by reason and not emotion.

    In the case of Connecticut, Lansa stole the gun from his mother, who had passed the state background check when she purchased the rifle. Your proposed solution to the problem would not have done anything to prevent the massacre, nor would it do anything to prevent a similar event in the future.

    The use of guns by criminals & the mentally unstable is a significant problem. But it will take sane rational discussion to find real solutions to the real problems. Passing emotionally driven legislation which fails to address the real problem is worse than doing nothing.

    And I still don’t see what any of that has to do with Fidel.

  • Not random at all. If the US Congress was not moved by the overwhelming emotional if not practical support for mandatory background checks there is no reason to believe that same or virtually same Congress will vote to lift the embargo short of Fidel swimming the Florida Straits himself and crawling through Hialeah on hands and knees to beg forgiveness. Not gonna’ happen.

  • Ironically, some of these organizations offering the “people to people” tours to Cuba are fronts for Leftist groups, such as Global Exchange, owned by the founders of Code Pink.

    The tours they arrange include tour guides who fill their clients with propaganda and arrange stops at all the best Potemkin villages in Cuba. It’s no wonder the Americans come back from these tours singing the praises of the Revolution and repeating the call to end the Yankee Blockade. Useful idiots, as Lenin said.

    Not only is it pure and simple tourism, far from helping to spread US values to Cuba, the Castro dictatorship has figured out how to game the system and use it to spread Castro values to the US.

  • But Americans CAN travel to Cuba under certain conditions.

    My comment was to bjmack’s erroneous assertion that, “The embargo and restriction on all USA citizens to travel to Cuba AND spend money is a disgrace!”

    I pointed out that in fact, Americans can legally travel to Cuba and spend their money there. There are some restrictions on some Americans. I trust you see the illogic in saying therefore all US citizens are restricted from travel to Cuba?

    Cuban-Americans can travel anyway they like, and non-Cuban-Americans can travel for purposeful travel. I have met US citizens in Cuba travelling as tourists, staying at reports, etc. Technically that is illegal, but it is happening.

    Our fellow HT commentator, Moses, regularly & legally travels to Cuba, as his wife is Cuban. You can ask him if he feels like a tourist or what.

  • You make the case that the US should act first to get the ball rolling and break out of the diplomatic deadlock of the past 55 years. You argue that such a gesture would entice the Castro regime to respond in kind. In this way, a resolution to the stalemate can be found. I have to admit, that sounds like a very reasonable and fair minded approach.

    OK then, let’s try it. In 2009, President Obama eliminated restrictions on Cuban Americans traveling to Cuba. He raised the limits on remittances from the Cuban-Americans to family in Cuba. Obama also lifted some of the restriction on other Americans wanting to travel to Cuba, allowing non-tourist “purposeful travel” to the island. All of this was after President Bush lifted some restrictions on US exports to Cuba.

    So all of that should be seen by the Castro regime as a carrot, right? By your reasoning, the Castro regime should have responded with an opening of their own, right?

    So what did the Cuban government do? They arrested the American, Allen Gross. They significantly increased the harassment and arrests of Cuban dissidents. Pro-democracy leaders like Oswaldo Paya and Laura Pollan die in rather questionable circumstances. The Cubans get caught red-handed smuggling banned weapons to North Korea. They allow the designated terrorist group, Hezbollah, to open an office in Havana (for what purpose, we can only imagine).

    So when put to an actual real world test your theory does not seem to work very well. The reason it doesn’t work is because the Castro regime does not want to change. They like being dictators and are bound and determined to remain in power for as long as they can.

    Perhaps after the Castro brothers are dead & gone the next rulers of Cuba will decide to make a change. But if and until that time comes, the stalemate will continue.

  • Your comment is a random collection of non-sequitors. Mandatory universal background checks would have done nothing to prevent the Connecticut massacre. Nor does the failure of that law have anything to do with the US embargo on Cuba.

  • Americans can indeed travel to Cuba as part of a larger group, arranged by an authorized agent using a specific licence called “educational exchange for non academic purposes” -31 C.F.R. § 515.565(b)(2) Commonly referred to as “people to people travel. But lets not kid ourselves here, it’s tourism pure and simple.

    …so the long and short of it is yes, American’s can travel to Cuba

  • I will end this thread like this: Fat chance that a dysfunctional Congress that couldn’t bring itself to pass legislation mandating universal background checks on gun purchases after the massacre of 26 innocent people in a Connecticut elementary school tugged at America’s heartstrings will bring itself to lift a 20 year old embargo on Fidel Castro on a hope that he responds by suddenly becoming a nice guy. Fat chance.

  • Then negotiate for something different…but sit down at the table and negotiate. Simply supporting your government’s status quo policy doesn’t accomplish anything. History has made this point abundantly clear. I say…present the Cuban government with the honey…the carrot on a stick…give them a taste of what is in store to wet their appetites. And make it clear that the US is serious about effecting change…if the Cuban government is serious about effecting change too. The ball would then be in Raul’s court. With a long list of issues initially on the table for negotiation, and later in agreement for normalizing relations, complete with a reasonable time schedule for implementation of said changes, the US could then move forward with dismantling the blockade. In the end, the US would still hold all the cards, because if Raul missed a deadline for change implementation incrementally, the US government could pull back the honey pot. That would be difficult for the Cuban government and military to swallow, especially after enjoying the benefits that change has brought their way. Once they’ve had a taste, there would be no going back. There would be dissension in the ranks, and much more potential for internal chaos to develop, leading to an abrupt leadership change from within.

  • American’s CAN’T freely travel to Cuba as tourists.

  • While American dollars are flowing into Castro pockets, Cuban dissidents will continue to be detained and arrested simply for disagreeing with the regime. I can’t stomach that and refuse to allow my government to suck up to despots who treat their citizens like that. Can you live with the fact that 30 Ladies in White were beaten and arrested this past Sunday? Is that what you support?

  • Terry wrote, “Ohhhhh! In that case, all Americans are free to travel to Cuba! Well that completely debunks that notion.”

    What exactly debunked what?

    I stated that Cuban-Aemricans are free to travel to Cuba. True or False? True.

    I stated that other Americans may travel to Cuba for “purposeful travel” but not simple tourism.” True or False? True.

    “Just over 98,000 U.S. citizens visited Cuba in 2012, up from 73,500 in 2011 and twice the number compared with five years ago…

    The numbers do not include more than 350,000 Cuban Americans estimated by travel agents and U.S. diplomats to have visited the island last year.”

    You are accusing me of ignoring something which you did not write. I plead guilty of that. I thoroughly ignore everything you don’t write. Please do go ahead and rhyme off a list of evidence that Canadian & European tourism to Cuba has resulted in a decrease in political repression.

    “Cuba : 6400 arrests for political reasons in 2013”

    I don’t mind if you disagree with my opinions or even if you wish to dispute a fact. But please try to back up your comments with some facts, references or a well reasoned argument.

  • What embargo??? Allow all US citizens to freely travel to Cuba as tourists. Allow American businesses to freely do business “IN” Cuba. Allow all corporations worldwide to also freely do business with the Cuban government. Freely allow Cuba to export their existing products (and their future products) to the US. Freely allow ALL American businesses to export their products and services directly to Cuba.

    Ending the embargo is not weakness…it’s good business savvy. And it’s also the honey that’s needed to negociate the changes that are required and to be transitioned over time.

  • To continue that metaphor, the Castros are WASPS and not bees. They, like all dictators, do not respond to “honey”. On the contrary, they see peaceful overtures as weakness. The failure of the embargo has been because it was too weak. The US sends more $$$ to Cubans than the Castros payroll. Despite the embargo, the US remains a major importer of food to the Cuban people. The only reason Cubans don’t buy more food from US producers is because the embargo requires they pay cash up front. The US sends the third largest group of visitors to the island. Embargo, what embargo?

  • “You are incorrect about the US travel restrictions. Cuban-Americans are free to travel to Cuba. All other Americans can travel to Cuba for “purposeful travel” but not simple tourism.”

    Ohhhhh! In that case, all Americans are free to travel to Cuba! Well that completely debunks that notion.

    “Europeans & Canadians have travelled to Cuba for decades. There is no evidence this practice has resulted in any decrease in repression.”

    Oh really??? Give your head a shake. You know as well as anybody the history of the many changes that have happened since tourism was introduced…I don’t need to rhyme off a list for you. It’s funny how you can ignore the obvious when it doesn’t suit your argument…and equally sad that you feel it necessary to distort the truth.

  • “Engagement with the Castros by the US should be encouraged but it is short-sighted to think that the Castros will change without being forced to do so.”

    Exactly the point….the Castros won’t change if being forced to do so. Adopting the old adage…’you attract more bees with honey, than you do with vinegar’…is the wiser choice for affecting meaningful change in Cuba. The honey then becomes the prime motivator, with a time-frame for incremental transitional change attached.

  • For some reason, the article above omitted the name of the organization which issued this “open Letter” to President Obama. The letter is an official act of the Council of the Americas.

    It’s curious that when Americans argue for lifting the US embargo on Cuba, they always explain how this will increase pressure on Cuban government to liberalize and create an opening for democracy. It’s ironic they would make that argument, given the Castro regime has always demanded the US lift the embargo. Somehow, I don’t think Raul expects to see any increased pressure on his dictatorship. There will be no political reforms, he has already declared.

    Meanwhile, if increased trade & tourism between the US & Cuba will create this pressure & opening, why hasn’t 3 decades of tourism with Europe & Canada done anything to liberalize Cuba? Where’s the opening for democracy in Cuba?

    6 years ago, Obama reduced the barriers & limits for remittances, trade and travel to Cuba. Has there been any corresponding liberalization and an opening to democracy in Cuba? No, there has not. On the contrary, political arrests and harassment of Cubans has increased dramatically. Not only that, but Cuba felt emboldened to export weapons to North Korea (in violation of a UN sanction on Pyongyang) and is busily exporting repression & political violence to Venezuela.

  • John Negroponte pontificating about human rights is both funny and deeply tragic.

  • The foreign investments reforms in Cuba do not permit foreigners to invest in businesses directly with private Cuban investors. That is too say that while a foreigner may certainly loan a Cuban the money to open a restaurant, that foreigner can not be an owner of that restaurant to any degree without becoming a permanent resident in Cuba. In other words, uncollateralized loans are allowed but other than family members, who wants to loan money without protections. As Griffin comments, more than 3 million tourists will likely visit Cuba this year, yet this has had no impact on bringing political reform to the island. On the contrary, tourism revenues help fund the increasing number of dissident arrests. For April alone, more than 900 arrests of dissidents were reported. Unrestricted US tourism is projected to top more than 1 million more tourists in the first year alone. It is estimated that this would pump more than $2 billion in increased tourism revenue. Most of this would go directly to those companies in the tourist sector owned by the Castros and their close cohorts. Engagement with the Castros by the US should be encouraged but it is short-sighted to think that the Castros will change without being forced to do so.

  • You are incorrect about the US travel restrictions. Cuban-Americans are free to travel to Cuba. All other Americans can travel to Cuba for “purposeful travel” but not simple tourism.

    Europeans & Canadians have travelled to Cuba for decades. There is no evidence this practice has resulted in any decrease in repression. On the contrary, the cash spent by tourists is directed into the regime and has helped to keep the Castros in power.

  • First off, I’m a staunch conservative. The embargo and restriction on all USA citizens to travel to Cuba AND spend money is a disgrace! I am truly the best ambassador to express the positives that our country has but do so with respect and understanding. Can Cuban’s who are bitterly opposed to the Castro regime come to my country and express their views? Yes and they do so daily. It makes my country look backwood and pathetic.

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