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#CubaNow Briefing: From New Normal to Mainstream

David Gomez

#CubaNow Briefing

May 13, 2016

Source: WLRN, Bendixen and Amandi, the Miami Herald, El Nuevo Herald and Univisión 23


With less than six months to go to Election Day, a new poll shows how voters in Miami-Dade County are responding to normalization between the U.S. and Cuba—and the results show just how quickly rapprochement, and its process of fits and starts, has become part of the mainstream.

Nearly two-thirds of Miami-Dade County voters supported engagement with Cuba according to the poll, conducted by WLRN, Bendixen and Amandi, the Miami Herald, El Nuevo Herald and Univisión 23. That support drops to slightly less than half among Cuban-American voters, a number that resembles a similar split in the FIU Cuba poll released in 2014. In that pre-normalization poll, 51% of Cuban-American registered voters in Miami-Dade Country favored continuing the embargo, while 49% opposed it.

But this hardly means that normalization has stalled among Cuban-Americans, as evidenced by the rapidly growing ties that have formed in the past year and a half. As InCubaToday reported, pollster Fernand Amandi “attributed the results to the large presence of exiles from the early exodus from Cuba who have fewer ties to and family on the island.” Meanwhile, the number of Cuban-Americans traveling to Cuba, many for the first time, continues to grow. Programs like Cuba One have formed to reconnect younger Cuban-Americans with their heritage. Prominent Cuban-American exiles like Mike Fernandez have made powerful calls for reconciliation and engagement, while Cuban entrepreneurs have never had better partners here in the U.S.

Maybe most important of all, the Republican presidential primary could not have asked for a more embargo-friendly field of candidates. If a political backlash to “D-17” was brewing, it would have made itself known in a field that included a popular former governor of Florida and two staunchly hardline Cuban-American senators. And yet, Florida went to Donald Trump, who openly backed engagement and now appears poised to win the Republican nomination. In dozens of primary debates, the issue of Cuba barely came up at all. With the widespread acceptance of U.S.-Cuba relations, the embargo’s use as a political wedge seems to have dissipated.

Now it is up to Congress to finish the job of lifting it. Fortunately, that front has also seen positive developments in recent days. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, has signed on as a co-sponsor of the Agricultural Export Expansion Act, legislation introduced by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Sen. John Boozman (R-AR) that would make allow Americans to finance agricultural exports to Cuba. And Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) recently announced his support for lifting the travel ban to Cuba, co-sponsoring legislation originally introduced by Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ).

Six months is an eternity in politics and we know how quickly circumstances can change on any given issue. But normalized relations between the United States and Cuba are helping to clear away longstanding issues and prepare for future ones down the road. And for the first time in modern history, we may be seeing a presidential election where candidates argue not over whether to engage with the Island, but how.

Thank you for your support,

David Gomez
Political Director, #CubaNow

U.S. Embassy Page Corrects Erroneous Statement That Cuban-Americans Traveling To Cuba Would Be Treated Solely As Cuban Citizens

U.S. Embassy Clarifies Erroneous Statement About Cuban-Americans Traveling To Cuba. “Travel to Cuba has been a hot topic in South Florida – especially when local travelers heard about a peculiar post on the U.S. Embassy’s website. ‘The Government of Cuba does not recognize the U.S. nationality of U.S. citizens who are Cuban-born or are the children of Cuban parents. These individuals will be treated solely as Cuban citizens and may be subject to a range of restrictions and obligations, including military service. The Cuban government may require U.S. citizens, whom the Government of Cuba considers to be Cuban, to enter and depart Cuba using a Cuban passport.’ Yes, you read that right. The post stated that Cuba’s government would label you a full-blown Cuban even if you were born on U.S. soil. But Pedro A. Freyre, the Chairman of International Practice at Akerman LLP, says you can rest easy because it was totally false. ‘I am not sure why such a misleading statement was on the U.S. Embassy site,’ he said.” [CBS Miami, “U.S. Embassy Clears Up Controversial Website Post About Cuba Travel,” 5/9/16]

Cuban-Americans Born In The U.S. Are Considered American When Traveling To Cuba. “Local Immigration Lawyer Willy Allen added, ‘Last year the American Embassy put out an advisory as to travel to Cuba. In it, erroneously, they said children born of Cuban parents in the United States would be considered Cubans.’ The post was still up through the first week of May – sending shivers through the Miami-Cuban community just recovering from the, now deleted, ban on Cuban-Americans cruising to Cuba. ‘What I look at is what has been happening, what is happening on the ground. Never mind there is an obscure statement in a sub file of a U.S. Embassy in obscure location,’ Freyre said. But the website posting was there, in black and white – it just wasn’t factual. Yes, Cuban-born parents would need Cuban passports, but not their American-born children. ‘Any child born of Cuban parents, born in the United States is an American. If they go to Cuba, they are considered to be American and go with American passports,’ Allen said.” [CBS Miami, “U.S. Embassy Clears Up Controversial Website Post About Cuba Travel,” 5/9/16]

Immigration Attorney Wilfredo Allen Said He’d Never Heard Of Any Cuban-Born U.S. Citizen Being Forced To Serve In The Cuban Military After Traveling To The Island. “According to Miami-based immigration attorney Wilfredo Allen, confusion in the travel information could be because, according to Cuba’s Constitution, children of Cuban nationals have the right to obtain Cuban citizenship if they request it. But that does not mean they can be forced to obtain it, he said. ‘With this clarification of the embassy, ​​I don’t think there is any danger,’ Allen said. ‘The children of Cubans born in the United States have the same protection as any American citizen in Cuba.’ Allen also said he has never heard of any case of a Cuba-born U.S. citizen of military age having been forced to serve in the Cuban armed forces after traveling to the island. Cuba has a mandatory military service system, in which everyone is supposed to serve 14 to 24 months when they turn 16.” [InCubaToday, “U.S. softens warning for Cuban Americans traveling to the island,” 5/10/16]

Poll: Majority Of Voters In Miami-Dade County Support Engagement

WLRN: Big Majority Of Miami-Dade Voters Back Engagement With Cuba But Cuban-Americans Still Split. “A large majority of Miami-Dade voters agree with President Obama’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba. But Miami-Dade Cubans are still divided – even if they applaud the President’s recent performance in Havana. Those are some of the findings of a survey conducted by WLRN, Bendixen and Amandi, the Miami Herald, El Nuevo Herald and Univisión 23. Six hundred Miami-Dade voters took part in the poll. About a third were born in Cuba or have Cuban ancestry. Among all voters, almost two-thirds support re-establishing diplomatic ties with communist Cuba. But Cubans are still split: Just over half of them disagree. Two-thirds of all Miami-Dade voters also said they agreed with President Obama’s decision to visit Cuba earlier this year. Less than half of Cuban voters called it a good idea. Still, 81 percent of those Cubans said they liked the speech Obama delivered in Havana.” [WLRN, “Miami-Dade Poll: Big Majority Back Cuba Engagement, But Cubans Still Split,” 5/11/16]

Survey Finding Split Support From Cuban-American Voters In Miami Is “Paradoxical” At A Time When Travel To The Island From Cuban-Americans Is Skyrocketing. “The finding is paradoxical at a time when travel to the island by Americans and Cuban Americans has skyrocketed. In the case of Cuban-born voters, Fernand Amandi, who conducted the survey, attributed the results to the large presence of exiles from the early exodus from Cuba who have fewer ties to and family on the island. None of the Cuban Americans interviewed by el Nuevo Herald said they had any intention of traveling to Cuba in the near future.” [InCubaToday, “Cuban-American voters are wary of U.S.-Cuba relations,” 5/11/16]

Despite Differences Over Cuba Policy, Poll Respondents Were Overwhelmingly Positive On Obama’s Speech In Havana. “Although registered voters of Cuban origin queried for the survey — most of whom are Republican and older — are more likely to oppose the Cuba policy than most Miami-Dade voters, there was an event that brought them in line with the overall opinion: Obama’s speech in Havana. Three-quarters of Cuban Americans queried said they watched the speech. Among those, 81 percent said they liked it. Coincidentally, 81 percent of all voters who watched the speech also had a favorable opinion of Obama’s address before an audience that included Raúl Castro.” [InCubaToday, “Cuban-American voters are wary of U.S.-Cuba relations,” 5/11/16]

The Effects Of The Cuban Adjustment Act Continue

Cuban Migrants Taking More Dangerous Journeys Following Border Closings In Panama.
 “Panama’s border closing ended a fleeting golden period for Cuban migrants in Colombia. Just a few months ago, Cubans had to hide from the law as they crossed this strategic nation. As a result, in the port city of Turbo, gang violence exploded as groups fought to take control of smuggling and housing networks, said Alejandro Abuchar, the city’s mayor. ‘Many of the migrants were practically locked up in slums and put on boats without any regard for safety,’ he said. ‘Many were abandoned along the river, many drowned and many were murdered in the jungles of the Darien.’ Working with immigration authorities, Abuchar helped promote a system where Cubans are given week-long passes to leave the country. That has allowed travelers to step out of the shadows, stay at legitimate hotels and use the regular boat service to head toward the border.” [Miami Herald, “Cuban migrants face dangerous, grueling jungle trip as Panama clamps down,” 5/9/16]

Panama Flies 3,800 More Cuban Migrants To Mexico As They Seek To Reach The U.S. “Panama has agreed to transfer 3,800 Cubans hoping to reach the United States to a town in northern Mexico. The Cubans have been stranded in Panama for months, hoping to reach the US under a decades-old law which gives them privileged entry and a fast-track to residency. Officials in Panama said daily flights to Ciudad Juarez would begin on Monday. Panama had organised some flights in March but had insisted the operation would not be repeated. The migrants have been told they have to pay for the flights themselves.” [BBC, “Panama begins more flights of Cuban migrants to Mexico,” 5/9/16]

Normalization Appears Here To Stay

With Donald Trump As The GOP’s Nominee, Normalization With Cuba Appears Irreversible. “Obama has spent more than a year working to make his historic rapprochement with Cuba irreversible. With Trump as the nominee, it appears closer ties are here to stay. Unlike Cruz, the son of a Cuban immigrant, and the other Republican candidates who vociferously opposed Obama's policy, Trump has said that a half-century of estrangement was plenty. ‘I think it's fine,’ Trump said of Obama's outstretched hand. ‘But we should have made a better deal.’” [Fox News Latino, “Trump as nominee means some Obama policies – like Cuba – could remain intact,” 5/8/16]

Rumors Vice President Biden Will Travel To Cuba To Address Property Claims. “Today’s speech comes as the Obama administration works on a list of unresolved issues that accompany its opening to Cuba, which has come to dominate discussion of U.S. policy in Latin America. John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, said he’s hearing from those ‘actively close to the Cuba issue’ that Biden may go to Cuba by the end of the year. The purpose of the trip, Kavulich said, would be for Biden to serve as a ‘closer’ on negotiating settlements of certified claims that U.S. citizens and businesses have against Havana for private property in the 1960s. Nearly 6,000 claims total almost $2 billion.” [InCubaToday, “Biden may go to Cuba to close issue of confiscated properties, source says,” 5/11/16]

U.S. And Cuba Reportedly Close To Signing Historic Oil Spill Accord. “For more than 50 years, the broken political relationship between the United States and Cuba kept them from working together to protect the Gulf of Mexico from an oil spill. That could be the next thing to change in this new age of normalized relations: Experts say the United States and Cuba are negotiating an agreement that would allow them to cooperate if an oil spill were to threaten either nation. Such an agreement would usher in the unthinkable: joint military exercises between the Coast Guard and Navy with their Cuban counterparts to practice responding to a massive spill.” [Tampa Bay Times, “Experts: U.S. and Cuba on verge of historic oil spill accord,” 5/10/16]

EDF’s Dan Whittle: “Ecosystems And Marine Life Don’t Know Where A Nation’s Boundaries Are.” “An accord would also be critical to protecting the Florida coastline because Cuba could allow offshore drilling in 18 months. An oil spill in Cuban waters could reach the Florida Keys in less than a week. ‘Ecosystems and marine life don't know where a nation's boundaries are,’ said Dan Whittle, director of the Environmental Defense Fund's marine and coastal conservation projects in Cuba. ‘What happens in Cuban waters affects us.’” [Tampa Bay Times, “Experts: U.S. and Cuba on verge of historic oil spill accord,” 5/10/16]

Caterpillar CEO Says Company Ready To Move Into Cuba After The Embargo Is Lifted. “Caterpillar Inc, the world's largest maker of heavy equipment, is ready to move swiftly into the Cuban market once the U.S. trade embargo is lifted, Chief Executive Doug Oberhelman said on Wednesday after meeting with Cuban ministers in Havana. The detente between the United States and Cuba has raised hopes that full commercial ties will soon be restored between the former Cold War foes. Caterpillar (CAT.N), based in Peoria, Illinois, is one of several U.S. companies looking at ways to gain an early foothold in the Communist-ruled island, which had been largely off bounds to U.S. business for more than five decades.” [Reuters, “Caterpillar ready to move into Cuban market once embargo lifted: CEO,” 5/12/16]

LGBT Advocates Head To Cuba To Commemorate International Day Against Homophobia And Transphobia. “Two American LGBT rights advocates arrived in Cuba on Wednesday to take part a series of events that will commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. Freedom to Work President Tico Almeida on Thursday is scheduled to take part in a panel on LGBT advocacy in Havana that is organized by the National Center for Sexual Education, which is directed by Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro. He and Freedom to Marry founder Evan Wolfson will also attend marches and other events commemorating the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia that are taking place in the Cuban capital and the city of Matanzas through May 21. “Thanks to President Obama, the restoration of relations between the U.S. and Cuba allows people to travel and exchange ideas, and I am thrilled to now be one of them,” said Wolfson in a press release. [Washington Blade, “Evan Wolfson travels to Cuba,” 5/11/16]

Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania Announces Support For Lifting Travel Ban. “In December 2015, President Obama announced significant changes to the United States policy towards Cuba. Decades of isolation have not brought the profound change for which many hoped. I believe it is time to take incremental steps towards a more open relationship with the people of Cuba, starting with allowing unrestricted travel to Cuba for Americans. The United States does not prevent Americans from travelling to any other country in the world, including countries governed by repressive regimes and with horrific human rights records, like Iran and North Korea. I believe that people-to-people engagement is one of the best ways to build ties and promote U.S. interests. It also sends an important signal to the Castro regime about how an open, pluralistic society treats its citizens.” [Sen. Bob Casey Press Release, “Casey: Americans Should be Allowed Unrestricted Travel to Cuba,” 5/10/16]

¡No Me Digas!

T-Mobile Signs Deal To Offer Services In Cuba. “T-Mobile customers traveling in Cuba will soon be able to use their mobile devices under a services deal signed with a Cuban telecom. T-Mobile will later this summer bring mobile roaming, text and talk services to its customers traveling in Cuba, and is today offering a new program that lets customers call landlines or mobile phones in Cuba at prices that are discounted from their regular rates. The mobile roaming, text and talk services are the result of an interconnect and roaming agreement T-Mobile has signed with Empresa De Telecomunicaciones De Cuba, a Cuban telecommunications company, according to a May 9 announcement from T-Mobile. A starting date for roaming, text and data will be released in the future.” [eWeek, “T-Mobile Roaming, Text, Data Coming to Cuba Later This Summer,” 5/9/16]