Rep. Lee joins 56 NGO’s urging Obama to improve relations with Cuba

Dawn Gable

Barbara Lee.  Photo:
Barbara Lee. Photo:

HAVANA TIMES — California Congresswoman Barbara Lee has delivered a personal letter along with a letter signed by 56 organizations to President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry expressing appreciation for the changes the President has made in U.S. policy toward Cuba since taking office in 2009 and appealing for further steps to be taken.

In particular the letters calls on the President to use his executive authority to:

  1. Initiate direct high-level dialogue with Cuba’s government.
  2. Remove Cuba from the State Department’s State Sponsor of Terrorism list.
  3. Lift all restrictions on permissible travel to Cuba by anyone under U.S. jurisdiction.

The letters also stress that all signers, and the vast networks they represent, support full normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba.

Emily Chow of the Latin America Working Group, who collaborated with Rep. Lee to send this message to the White House says that the action shows that “there is a broad and deep level of support that exists in this country to change our failed policy towards Cuba.”

Chow points out that today “the majority of Cuban Americans are in favor of engagement, as well as the majority of U.S. citizens.” Indeed several of the organizations endorsing the missive represent hundreds of Cuban Americans: Cubapuentes, Cuban Americans For Engagement (CAFÉ), Progreso Weekly, Cuban American Alliance, and FORNORM.

Ben Willis of CAFÉ explains that his organization signed the letter because it “conveys the collective desires of our members to bring about positive, productive change in U.S.-Cuba relations. A change that will benefit both nations and their citizens.”

11 thoughts on “Rep. Lee joins 56 NGO’s urging Obama to improve relations with Cuba

  • Rep. Lee and the NGO letter (which I signed) define clearly what the White House needs to do. Some comments about the comments:

    1) A substantial majority of Cuban Americans, according to polling, want to end all restrictions on travel, i.e. for every American, not just for themselves.

    2) I am not aware of poll data from Cuba, but doubt that any significant portion of the population favors travel or trade restrictions, regardless of their attitude about their country’s system. For some reason neither Freedom House nor the International Republican Institute asked that question in their surveys.

    The overt dissidents split on the issue. For example Yoani Sanchez and Oswaldo Paya favored ending the embargo and travel restrictions while Berta Soler and Guillermo Farinas adhere to the Miami hard line position.

    3) Permissible travel is not mass tourism. Commercial sun and sand holidays which are the goal of most Canadian and European visitors will still be barred to Americans. Freeing Americans from OFAC’s bureaucratic limit of people to people travel to group tours will significantly reduce costs and permit more authentic spontaneous encounters with a smaller portion of revenue going to the State.

    Logically the Castro haters should be all for opening travel in this way, but they fear any opening. They know that virtually every American who goes to Cuba comes back convinced that the economic and diplomatic embargo is destructive to both nations, regardless of their opinion of the economic and political system in Havana.

    John McAuliff
    Fund for Reconciliation and Development

  • First, dialog in pursuit of better relations is nearly always good. However, the Castros overriding self-preservation interests as opposed to the relatively benign ideological interests of the US obscures their truthful intentions. In other words, every word out of the Castros mouth despite the diplomatic overtones is really intended to maintain their chokehold on the Cuban people. The Castros have proven that improved relations with their northern neighbor is not a priority for them. Second, so long as Cuba is shipping weapons to North Korea and maintaining close and secret ties with Iran and Syria, they should remain on the list of States which sponsor terrorism. Finally, the remaining controls which oversee US tourism to Cuba limits the amount of additional hard currency that the Castros have available to use to repress Cuban citizens. It also limits the interaction Cuba can engage in with other bad actors in the world. It is estimated that uncontrolled US tourism would put at least another $3 billion annually in the Castros pockets. Would this money be used to shore up buildings, pave roads, or rebuild waterways? Not likely. When the Castros had access to a virtually unlimited supply of Soviet rubles, they used the money to foment revolutions in Latin America and Africa. Allowing unlimited travel to Cuba does not encourage democracy. Tourism has increased to nearly 3 million Canadians, Europeans and Latin Americans who travel to Cuba every year as well as 400,000 Cuban-Americans. The Castros have become more, not less, repressive as this figure has increased. There is no reason to assume that more Americans travelling to the island would do anything to encourage more democracy.

  • In Havana Times, Fernando Ravsberg just argued in “Cuba: A Worthwhile Debate,” the best comments would respect both facts and the other person. For once, wouldn’t it be more productive to focus on Gable’s report of what Lee and the NGO’s are suggesting, than to repeat old political absolutes.

    The letter made three clear suggestions, all doable without agreement on the larger political outcomes. Seems to me that the current debate includes several groups, each of which disagree about both what is the current realities and how they could or should change. I would suggest that incremental change in the political relationship between the U.S. and Cuba has happened several times and the problems of both countries were not fatally affected. I would also argue that these same opposing groups differ about what they would like to see happen ultimately and how such results should be measured in terms of good and bad outcomes.

    So we probably can not agree on these larger issues, but can we agree to discuss the 3 points raised. Is more dialog good? Would removing Cuba from the Terror list facilitate anything worthwhile? And lets hear why U.S. citizens should be restricted by the U.S. from going to Cuba, while Cuban’s are not restricted (except by money and the U.S. government).

    And to try to keep things rational and factually balanced, if we do discuss the history of these various restrictions, please let’s include all the military, economic, secret and overt sabotage, and other aggressions committed by both countries against each other. And if for example those who see the Cuban revolution as bad want to raise the anti-communist arguments, then lets be sure to include the anti-communist and pro-fascist actions committed during the same time period by the U.S. In other words, lets try to have focused and rational, factually based discussions.

    So lets see if discussion is possible.

  • Globally, it does appear that as a society expands individual freedoms, the risks of personal and property crimes also increase. You may argue for the security of a police state like Cuba. I still prefer to take my chances in Miami with my personal freedoms intact. It is much easier to solve a rising crime problem, than it is to unseat a dictatorship. Historically, people tend to flee from safe countries to experience more personal freedoms, than flee from high crime democracies to live under totalitarian regimes. You may argue that these migration patterns are due to relative economic conditions. I would suggest that economic conditions are largely a function of personal freedoms. Dr. Jones, I don’t know anyone who OPPOSES improving relations with Cuba. There a those, such as yourself, who would do so without any conditions or changes required in Cuba. This approach abandons those Cubans who risk their lives daily in the struggle for a more democratic Cuba. Then, there are those such as myself, who look forward to the day when my Cuban wife can go to a Cuban embassy or consulate and cast her vote directly for the Cuban President of her choosing regardless of party affiliation. I look forward to the day when I can go online and read the daily edition of Granma and read editorials which support or criticize the ruling government at the time. To this end, Dr. Jones, I urge that my government negotiate with the Castros in a way to hasten these changes. ‘Improved relations’ should be a result of these negotiations and not simply a giveaway.

  • Every week, a plane from Florida flies to GITMO and a number of freighters does the same from Jacksonville, Tampa or NC.

    Have anyone of those opposing improved relations with Cuba based upon Human Rights Violations asked themselves, on what side of the fence/border, there are over a hundred people (children included) who have been incarcerated for over 10 years, never accused, never indicted, never presented to a judge, violating an international agreement of being brought before a judge, at least 72 hours after being in custody?

    Should I add to the above, a couple hundreds of water boarding, thousands force feeding, deafening music, ice-cold and boiling-hot cells, bugging of attorney/prisoner privacy cell, jail time for any attorney or journalists, who breaks a non-disclosure signed document, of anything seen, heard or done in any of those dungeons?

    Finally, in Cuba, no one asking for help in an emergency, have been shot dead in 50 years, nor Cuban children have ever lived in war zones such as Miami, Chicago, NW Jacksonville, Puerto Rico, St. Croix or Detroit, where daily violent deaths are no longer news.

  • Don’t you think perhaps democracy, freedom and human rights in Cuba are long, long, long overdue?

  • The majority of Cubans that I know, including my cousins, and I (not a Cuban) are NOT in favor of lifting the ban, because Cuba is still has a repressive dictatorship. If everyone who wants the travel ban lifted would instead focus on the human rights issue here, perhaps we’d get the Cubans back into the realm of the free world a little faster and then, automatically, the travel issue will disappear and everyone can come and go as they please.

  • We should lift the embargo! Funny how we’re worried about human rights violations in Cuba when we have a history of supporting dictatorships of the right!!!

  • Many of these NGO’s are fronts for pro-Castro organizations. For example, one of the founding members of Cuban Americans For Engagement is Arturo Levy, who is currently an academic at the University of Denver, but was “formerly” an agent of Cuban intelligence and is related through marriage to the Castro clan.

    Rep. Lee is essentially presenting a petition from the Castro regime.

  • Rep. Lee is an old school liberal from Oakland across the Bay bridge from me in San Francisco. She travels to Cuba every year with a delegation of like-minded lefties who fawn over Castro and swallow every drop of his propaganda. It is no surprise to anyone who knows her that she would send this letter. Likewise, most of the 56 NGO’s are small groups with narrow special interests, mostly financial, in improving relations with Cuba. Most of these organizations share membership lists as well. On the whole, there would be no harm in opening up high-level dialogue with the Castros. It may even do some good. More likely, it would expose that the Castros are really only interested in the US relaxing or lifting sanctions with no like political reforms in Cuba. The reality is that Barbara Lee, despite her seniority, has absolutely no clout in Congress nor within the national Democratic party. This letter goes nowhere.

  • Long overdue

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