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#CubaNow Briefing: End All Travel Restrictions For Cubans And Americans

David Gomez

#CubaNow Briefing

Apr 15, 2016


One of the most counterproductive aspects of our old isolation policy toward on Cuba is the tourist travel ban, codified into law in 2000. Nowhere else does our government apply the same restrictions on Americans traveling abroad, not even in countries with worse human rights records. And while supporters claim it should be upheld and even tightened in the name of somehow promoting freedom, they rarely ever seem to apply that reasoning to more problematic countries. For them, it is Cuba and Cuba alone where Americans must not tread.

Which is why it was unusual this past week to see many of those same supporters claim outrage over a different—though no less irrational—travel ban, this time on the Cuban government’s side. A ban on native-born Cubans returning by sea has sparked a controversy and even a lawsuit by Cuban-Americans looking to travel to the Island on a cruise line, but it has also given opportunistic embargo supporters another shaky soapbox on which to claim hypocrisy. Let that sink in: supporters of the decades-old federal travel ban are now lambasting a government for barring travel to Cuba—just not ours.

To state the obvious: these restrictions on travel by Cuba and the U.S. are harmful, counterproductive, and have no place in an era of normalization.
 Hundreds of thousands of Cubans and Cuban Americans have been making flights to Cuba for years, and a specific ban on travel via cruise ship is a relic that should be done away with. But while those actually looking to travel to Cuba or who support the right of others to do so without restrictions clearly have a sincere grievance with the ban, the forced outrage from those who continue to wish to restrict all travel to Cuba is anything but convincing. The latter’s goal seems no less concerned with getting the Cuban government to change this specific ban than to goad cruise lines into halting these trips altogether.

After all, if you oppose the Cuban government barring native-born Cubans from traveling to Cuba by boat, how do you then support a federal ban on tourist travel applied to over 300 million Americans? The Cuban ban is indefensible, yet outrage must go both ways. It is past time for both the Cuban and U.S. governments to end unfair travel restrictions on their people.

In another blow to common sense this past week, Miami Beach’s city commission voted against establishing a Cuban consulate in the city until Cuba “reformed.” Never mind that the actual decision of whether to do so rests with the federal government, or that there is no location more practical for a Cuban consulate than in South Florida. But as we saw back in January, the appeal to fear by a select few has again trumped pragmatism—if only symbolically.

These recent developments are ultimately to the benefit of no one. For those holding out for a sudden resurgence of support for the embargo, this year has been disappointing: Florida’s presidential candidates failed to capitalize on any backlash to normalization, while President Obama’s trip to Cuba made glaringly apparent just how much the Cuban people prefer reengagement to isolation. But we know that the path we are on is better than the previous one—one that is providing more opportunity and independence for the Cuban people than ever before.

On a much brighter note, we are proud to announce a new international competition to boost Cuba’s emerging tech entrepreneurs. In coordination with partners including Cuba Emprende Foundation and Startup Angels, #CubaNow is launching 10x10KCuba as an opportunity for Cuba’s best and brightest programmers and entrepreneurs to win the resources and means to help advance their businesses. This is the first initiative of its kind and we look forward to seeing the amazing talent and resourcefulness sure to be on display in the months ahead.

Thank you for your support,

David Gomez
Political Director, #CubaNow

Controversy Over Cuban Government’s Boat Ban

Secretary of State John Kerry Calls On Cuba To Change Its Policy. “On a busy Thursday that included meeting with Cuban-American leaders and encouraging Miami Dade College students to embrace diversity, Secretary of State John Kerry waded into the Carnival Corp. controversy, criticizing enforcement of a Cuban decree that prevents those born on the island from traveling to and from Cuba by sea. ‘The United States government will never support, never condone discrimination. And the Cuban government should not have the right to enforce on us a policy of discrimination against people who have the right to travel,’ Kerry said during an interview with the Miami Herald and CNN en Español in Miami. ‘American citizens, Cuban-Americans, have a right to travel, and we should not be in a situation where the Cuban government is forcing its discrimination policy on us,’ Kerry said. ‘So we call on the government of Cuba to change that policy and to recognize that if they want full relations and normal relationship with the United States, they have to live by international laws, not exclusively by Cuban laws.’” [Miami Herald, “Kerry: Wrong to exclude Cuban-born travelers from cruising to the island,” 4/14/16]

Cuban Rule Bars Entry Through “Relatively Little Used Portal” Of Sea Travel But Still Allows Cuban-Americans To Visit Via Air Travel. “The biggest curiosity about the Cuban rule is that it bars entry through a relatively little used portal, as compared with Cuban airports. Using U.S. charter flights and regular airline service from other nations, native Cubans can come and go without too much effort. Allen said there is a logic to the Cuban government’s position. “They don’t care about the flights because they pretty much control at the airport who comes in and who goes out and they control it from the get-go,” he said. So, Cuban-American immigrants who want to return to visit family or friends must fly. And when U.S. airlines are awarded routes to Cuba —a process expected to conclude this summer—Cubans who fled the communist revolution will have a range of simpler, more affordable air travel options.” [Bloomberg, “Cruise Lines Are Lining up for Cuba, But the Government’s No-Cubans Rule Is Making Waves,” 4/12/16]

Cuban Government Bars Native-Born Cubans From Returning By Sea. “Raul Castro’s government prohibits native-born Cubans from returning by sea, and makes other forms of travel difficult for them as well, a remnant of discord that remains unaltered by U.S. President Barack Obama’s recent visit. Into the middle of this now comes the U.S. cruise industry. Faced with the choice of waiting for Castro to lift the prohibition or gaining access to Cuba immediately, companies such as Carnival have chosen the latter. The argument is that engagement may help facilitate change — but not everyone is happy with that calculus. ‘Something precious is lost when a foreign government dictates what kinds of U.S. citizens can sail out of the Port of Miami,’ Miami Herald columnist Fabiola Santiago, who is Cuban-American, wrote after she was denied a ticket for Carnival’s new Fathom cruise to Cuba.” [Bloomberg, “Cruise Lines Are Lining up for Cuba, But the Government’s No-Cubans Rule Is Making Waves,” 4/12/16]

Carnival Has Asked Cuban Government To Reconsider Regulation. “Carnival said it asked Cuba to reconsider the regulation. ‘We understand and empathize with the concerns being voiced and will continue to work the issue with Cuban officials,’ Carnival spokesman Roger Frizzell said in a statement. ‘It is our hope and intention that we will be able to travel with everyone.’ For the moment, Cubans may not. The rule dates to the 1980s when that nation loosened some restrictions to allow immigrants to return to see family, said Wilfredo Allen, a Cuban-American immigration attorney in Miami. He said enforcement is spotty, with the closest scrutiny aimed at Cuban-Americans, not those who live in Mexico, the Caribbean or elsewhere.” [Bloomberg, “Cruise Lines Are Lining up for Cuba, But the Government’s No-Cubans Rule Is Making Waves,” 4/12/16]

#CubaNow’s Ric Herrero: Boat Ban Was Originally Put In Place For Security Reasons, But Cuban Government Now Admits 450,000 Cuban-Americans A Year. “Ric Herrero, executive director of #CubaNow, a group that supports Obama's diplomatic opening with Cuba, agreed that Cuba's policy needs to change. But he said that policy, like so many other aspects of U.S.-Cuba relations, is complicated. Herrero said the decades-old rule was first put in place for security reasons, when Cubans started fleeing the island in boats and rafts, and the threat of those Cubans returning by sea to cause harm on the island was very real. He said the Cuban government has no problem with Cuban-Americans returning to the island, as evidenced by the 450,000 of them who travel back and forth between Cuba and the U.S. each year. [USA Today, “Carnival cruise to Cuba faces federal lawsuit,” 4/13/16]

Herrero: Engagement, Not Contentious Lawsuits, Will Lead To Practical Solution. “But getting the Cuban government to update its policy to reflect the new reality in the relationship, Herrero said, will be easier to accomplish through diplomacy rather than a contentious lawsuit. ‘What worries me is that an overreaction from the typical, intransigent sectors of the (Cuban-American) community can spark a retrenchment with the intransigent elements within the Cuban government,’ Herrero said. ‘Instead, we should be engaging with our Cuban counterparts and trying to find a practical solution to this.’” [USA Today, “Carnival cruise to Cuba faces federal lawsuit,” 4/13/16]-

Miami Beach Says No To Cuban Consulate

Miami Beach Votes Against Cuban Consulate. “Con una votación unánime en contra de la posibilidad de una representación diplomática cubana en La Playa, el comité hispano de Miami Beach dio un primer golpe a la iniciativa del alcalde Philip Levine de permitir en esa ciudad un consulado ‘de los Castro’, como afirmaron una y otra vez quienes intervinieron en una tumultuosa audiencia. El recinto estaba repleto de representantes del exilio histórico, muchos de ellos sin residencia en Miami Beach, quienes aprovecharon la oportunidad para expresar sus puntos de vista en contra de la sede diplomática de una ciudad donde su edil sigue muy de cerca las políticas del partido demócrata y de la administración del presidente Barack Obama. Esto significa, por supuesto, la política de apertura económica y diplomática hacia la isla.” [Diario Las Americas, “Rechazan posibilidad de consulado de Cuba en Miami Beach,” 4/12/16]

#CubaNow’s Ric Herrero Tells Committee More Cubans Were Waiting To Board A Plane To Cuba Than There Were People At The Meeting. “En un momento dado, el presidente del Comité Hispano, Alex Hernández, amenazó con cancelar la audiencia ante los gritos y chiflidos que produjo la intervención de Ricardo Herrero, director ejecutivo de la organización Cuba Now, quien dijo que ‘al año, 400.000 cubanos viajan a Cuba, esto significa que al día hay más viajeros en el aeropuerto esperando el avión hacia la isla de los que hay en este recinto’.” [Diario Las Americas, “Rechazan posibilidad de consulado de Cuba en Miami Beach,” 4/12/16]

Cuban-American Miami Beach Commissioner Ricky Arriola: Cuban Consulate Should Be Debated. “The public hearing was called after Mayor Phillip Levine announced that he was open to the possibility of a Cuban consulate in Miami Beach, shortly before his trip to the island nation last month. Commissioner Ricky Arriola, who is a Cuban-American, went on the trip with the mayor. Arriola said his family lost everything when they left Cuba, and it's his belief that allowing for a Cuban consulate in the city ‘is an idea that should be discussed.’” [Local 10 ABC, “Miami Beach committee opposes possible Cuban consulate in their city,” 4/11/16]

#CubaNow Partners With Other Organizations To Launch 10x10KCuba, An Initiative For Cuban Entrepreneurs

10x10K Cuba Competition Will Seek Out Cuba’s Best And Brightest Tech Entrepreneurs. “President Obama’s bold new course on Cuban policy is paving the way for emerging tech to blossom in the country. A new entrepreneurial competition, 10x10KCuba, hopes to uncover Cuba’s best and brightest tech minds with an offer of mentorship and potential financing. The idea is to prevent brain drain and help boost Cuba’s economy, says 10x10KCuba’s Ricardo Herrero. Herrero is also the executive director of #CubaNow, a political organization advocating for growth and economic expansion in Cuba and forging relationships for the country in the United States. The new initiative teams #CubaNow with the Cuba Emprende Foundation, 500 Startups and TechStars and will provide to 10 fledgling startups web services, laptops and guaranteed internships with accelerator programs in the U.S. and Latin America.” [TechCrunch, “Angel investors hope to find the best and brightest in Cuba’s emerging tech scene,” 4/15/16]

10x10KCuba Will Give Cubans A Chance To Connect With Angel Investors And Mentors. “10x10KCuba is a bridge for struggling Cuban founders, but also helps angel investors and accelerator programs scout out hidden talent in a country that has been largely isolated from modern technology and has had to take a different approach to technological problems. The country is struggling to communicate with the rest of the world and with each other. Broadband Internet doesn’t exist there and cell phones are rare (about 11 percent of the country has a mobile phone). The competition is a chance to help develop the tech ecosystem and bring Cuba into the 21st century. While funding isn’t guaranteed — under current Cuban and U.S. law funding in Cuba is not yet legal — it will give Cubans who may not otherwise have those opportunities the means to pitch and get needed mentorship.” [TechCrunch, “Angel investors hope to find the best and brightest in Cuba’s emerging tech scene,” 4/15/16]

Startup Angels’ Leslie Jump: 10x10KCuba Is Hopefully The First Of Many Opportunities To Boost Startups In Cuba. “‘We said we can’t yet invest in these guys, but what can we do to help? That’s when we came up with 10x10KCuba,’ said Leslie Jump, founder and CEO of Startup Angels. ‘We hope it will the first of many opportunities for people from the United States, Latin America and Cuba to come together to accelerate startups across Cuba.’ [Miami Herald, “Investor, entrepreneurs groups announce contest for Cuban entrepreneurs,” 4/14/16]-

Iowa’s Des Moines Register Calls For Lifting The Embargo

Des Moines Register Editorial: Lifting The Cuban Embargo Would Benefit Iowans. “Cuba seems forever changed, despite congressional resistance in lifting the 55-year-old trade embargo. Our representatives should remove the barriers, because the benefits would change Iowa, too. Cigars may be Cuba’s most famous export, but its biotech industry has created breakthroughs that could improve American lives. A group of Iowans are trying to import Heberprot-P, a drug that treats diabetic foot ulcers and prevents amputation. It is used in 26 nations, but not legally in the U.S., because of the embargo. [Des Moines Register Editorial, “Ending Cuban embargo can help Iowa,” 4/13/16]

Cuba Faces Increasing Pressure For Further Reform

Veteran Cuba Journalist Pascal Fletcher: Cuba’s Congress Facing Pressure And Enthusiasm From Cubans To Enact Greater Reforms Following Obama’s Visit. “On the one hand you've seen Cuba's official media sites criticizing Obama's intervention, pushing back against it, the defensive posture that, if you like, has been in the DNA of the Cuban Communist Party and the Cuban leadership over the past few years. They see Obama's reform call as an invasion by sweet words rather than something more political or military, but certainly as a political threat. On the other hand it has stirred great enthusiasm among ordinary people who do want change and are pushing for a better life. More access to Wi-Fi, you know, the things that exist in other countries. And that has created pressure on Cuba's leaders as well. [WLRN, “Time In Cuba – With Marx, Not Mojitos. Here’s What The Congress May Do,” 4/12/16]

Fletcher: Cubans Demanding More Internet Access, Better Salaries.
 “There is a process of trying to create more access to the Internet. The popular clamor for it is immense. Equally, the ability of professional Cubans to earn realistic salaries that reflect their high levels of education. That is a permanent complaint, especially from doctors. We're hearing that they could define the legal characteristics of small private companies. So you'd have not just individual self-employment licenses to run a restaurant – but the legal framework for the creation of small- and medium-size businesses run by private people. Deeper things like the unification of Cuba's two currencies, or direct hiring by non-state companies, which is another major bugbear for foreign investors, those are more complex issues for the leadership.” [WLRN, “Time In Cuba – With Marx, Not Mojitos. Here’s What The Congress May Do,” 4/12/16]-

Cuba Loosens Rules To Allow Cooperatives To Buy Supplies Wholesale. “Cuba announced on Tuesday that some cooperatives offering food and other services will be able to buy supplies directly from government producers and wholesale outlets for the first time, part of a wider but so far cautiously implemented market reform program. The new rules mean some former state-run companies turned into cooperatives on the Communist-led island will no longer have to buy from more expensive retail outlets. Odalys Escandell, first vice minister of domestic trade, said on the government's evening news broadcast the move was ‘transcendental’, but Tuesday's measures do not fulfill an earlier promise to let private restaurants do the same, leaving in place a key constraint on their business viability.” [Reuters, “Cuba loosens Communist control of some restaurant cooperatives,” 4/12/16]

Cuban Farmers Say Despite Reforms, “It Is Still Agony To Farm.” “In Cuban farm country - between sugar cane, vegetable patches and overgrown fallow land a world away from Havana's tourist-filled streets - producers are seething at what they say is the government's backsliding on promised market reforms to make their lives better. ‘It is still agony to farm,’ said 36-year-old Martin, whose attempts to grow more vegetables near Artemisa in western Cuba have been thwarted by the government's monopoly on distributing fuel, fertilizer and seeds, which are often in short supply. Already covered with sweat and mud at 9 a.m., Martin swept his hand towards his crop of cabbage and chard and said he spent 8,000 pesos ($330) on seed in the black market but that price controls reinstated since January to tackle inflation mean he will make a loss. Some of his fields are bare because the government did not give him the seed and other inputs he needed. ‘I didn't have the money to buy them on the street.’” [Reuters, “Cuba farmers in ‘agony’ waiting for promised reforms,” 4/14/16]

According To Cuba’s Own State-Run Paper, Only A Fifth Of Reforms Planned In 2011 Have Been Implemented. “At its last congress in 2011, the party vowed to implement market measures to free up more private enterprise and boost economic growth by 2015. The government leased fallow fields to farmers and promised to let them buy pesticides, fertilizers and other supplies at wholesale markets instead of waiting for the government to assign them products. It began to allow farmers to distribute produce directly to vendors and consumers. Enough was done elsewhere in the economy to allow some small businesses to blossom and create a nascent middle class. Along with Internet access and more freedom to travel, a detente with the United States and a related surge in tourism, it has given some Cubans greater opportunities and hopes for more. But only a fifth of the reforms planned in 2011 have been fully implemented, according to the Communist Party's own newspaper, Granma. Wholesale markets have not yet materialized, making it hard for farmers to keep up with rising demand from the new middle class and private sector restaurants.” [Reuters, “Cuba farmers in ‘agony’ waiting for promised reforms,” 4/14/16]

Costa Rica Closes Its Borders To Cuban Migrants

Costa Rica Closes Its Doors To Cuban Migrants. “Costa Rica has issued a warning to the new wave of undocumented Cuban migrants hoping to travel by land from Ecuador to Central America and eventually the United States: they will not pass. Foreign Minister Manuel González Sanz told el Nuevo Herald that Costa Rica was already worn down by its handling of the previous wave of 7,800 Cubans who were detained or stranded here from November of 2015 until March. ‘I want to make absolutely clear, to all the (Cuban) migrants who are coming and those already in Panama, that Costa Rica cannot and will not receive them,’ González said. The country ‘will make use of all domestic and international measures at its disposal to address this situation, if we face something similar to what we faced from November to March.’” [Miami Herald, “Costa Rica says its doors are closed to Cubans,” 4/11/16]

Costa Rican Foreign Minister: Migration From Cuba Will Continue As Long As The Cuban Adjustment Act Remains In Place. “He added that waves of undocumented Cuban migrants ‘will continue as long as the U.S. law that favors Cuban migration, the well-known Cuban Adjustment Act, continues,’ and indicated that there's a profound discomfort in the region with the Act. The issue of Cuban migration ‘should be part of the bilateral relations between Cuba and the United States, but the reality is that the countries from Ecuador to Mexico, we are the ones caught in the middle and we are the ones suffering the consequences of laws that incite that migration,’ the minister said. The Adjustment Act gives Cuban migrants many benefits not available to other undocumented migrants, such as U.S. residence after 366 days in the United States. Undocumented Cubans who reach U.S. territory are not deported to the island under the U.S. government policy known as ‘wet-foot/dry-foot.’” [Miami Herald, “Costa Rica says its doors are closed to Cubans,” 4/11/16]-

¡No Me Digas!

Ernest Hemingway Movie Is First Hollywood Film Shot Shot In Cuba Since The Revolution. “It’s been more than half a century since a Hollywood movie was filmed in Cuba, so perhaps it’s only fitting that the first one shot there since the Cuban Revolution would be about an American who adopted the country as his home: Ernest Hemingway. PAPA: Hemingway in Cuba tells the story of a young Miami journalist, played by Giovanni Ribisi, spending time with the aging writer in and around Havana in the late 1950s. And although the late Denne Bart Petitclerc penned the autobiographical script more than a decade ago, getting it made against the backdrop of the U.S. embargo against Cuba required years of dedicated effort by director Bob Yari.” [Time, “First Hollywood Film Shot in Cuba Since 1959,” 4/13/16]