#CubaNow Briefing: “In The Hands Of The Cuban People”
Apr 1, 2016
Hardline critics of President Obama’s historic trip to Cuba did not wait long after its initial announcement to quickly claim it was a "bad idea" unless “the Castro regime finally make some serious concessions.” Senators Marco Rubio and Bob Menendez decried the trip as a “dangerous” exercise that the President would soon "rue," and one week after the trip, we have seen their sentiments echoed by some of their counterparts within the Cuban Communist Party orthodoxy.
However it seems that the vast majority of the Cuban people did not get the memo.
Not only was President Obama’s powerful message well received by everyday Cubans, it is already helping to further open the internal debate over Cuba’s future. It led Fidel Castro to pen a defensive response in the pages of Granma (his longest “reflection” in four years) which mostly read like a slap on the wrist to his younger brother for the latter’s hugely popular rapprochement with the United States. It has also fueled public criticism among the base of the Communist Party over the “lack of open discussion” before its upcoming congress next month. And it is hardly a coincidence that just days after the visit, neighbors of an anti-Castro activist rushed to her rescue as she was being detained by police for expressing what is considered a universal right just about anywhere else in the Western world.
These developments were all spurred from within after the president reaffirmed that only the Cuban people could determine their own futures. For those who believe that “el futuro de Cuba tiene que estar en las manos del pueblo Cubano,” it has been a promising start to the post-Obama-visit era.
The wariness of what that future means for Cuba’s old guard was reflected in Castro’s letter. While Obama insisted in his speech that one could acknowledge history without being trapped by it, Castro’s critique of the president seemed to take the opposite approach, rejecting “Brother Obama’s” overture while denying any need for “gifts.” It should be made clear that this opening is not “gift” to anyone, but a full rejection of a decades-old, wasteful policy of regime change. A policy of normalization means the United States stands to open itself completely to Cuba, yet it is up to the Cuban people to decide how far and to what degree it wishes to take advantage of the resources and know-how that the American people have to offer.
Still, we cannot expect the President’s trip alone to fix the challenges that remain to full normalization between the U.S and Cuba. Removing those obstacles will require more than the visionary leadership of any one head of state. It will require the courage of both sides to break away from policies that only fuel the problems they seek to solve. Congress still funds counterproductive programs baked into law under Helms-Burton that only serve to validate the Cuban government’s claims that the U.S. is still trying to micromanage a political transition in Havana. At the same time, the Cuban government still attempts to exert excessive control over the population as a check against that policy, as we saw in its heavy-handed treatment of protestors last week reportedly chanting “Obama sí, Castro no.” And without further action, the cycle might continue indefinitely. But the response from the Cuban people to last week’s visit has made clear that they are eager to chart a different course.
So are we.
Thank you for your support,
Political Director, #CubaNow
President Obama’s “Deep Impact” In Cuba
New York Times: “Obama’s Visit Has Cracked Open Cuba’s Careful Conversations, Creating An Eruption Of Frank Criticism Of Mr. Castro’s Policies.” “Cubans have been becoming bolder since Raúl Castro took over. But Mr. Obama’s visit has cracked open Cuba’s careful conversations, creating an eruption of frank criticism of Mr. Castro’s policies, at least in private. The ranks of independent Cuban reporters trying to capture those voices, explain Cuba and hold it accountable are not large, nor are they as well-financed as the state-run media that filled the television airwaves this week with the usual menu of anti-American propaganda between Obama appearances. (Many Cubans turned off their TVs at that point.) But those ranks are growing.” [New York Times, “With Obama Visit to Cuba, Old Battle Lines Fade,” 3/26/16]
Cubans Seeking Out “Unfamiliar Territory That Is Neither Purely Go-Go American, Nor The Restricted Cuba Of Today.” “What Ms. Diaz and many other Cubans say they want is a Cuba that confronts its own problems separate from its relationship with the United States. In many corners, there is a desire to look further back in history, to before Castro’s revolution, for Cuba’s essential nature, and to be done with the duality that Mr. Obama described when he said, ‘Cuba has emphasized the role and rights of the state; the United States is founded upon the rights of the individual.’ The Cubans I’ve talked to during this trip and many others want something else…The challenge for the United States and Cuba — or, really, for the Castro family — now involves finding ways to help Cubans chart their own course into this unfamiliar territory that is neither purely go-go American, nor the restricted Cuba of today.” [New York Times, “With Obama Visit to Cuba, Old Battle Lines Fade,” 3/26/16]
Jon Lee Anderson: The Most Prudent Move The U.S. Could Do Is Demonstrate Obama Was Sincere In His Speech About The Future Of The Cuban People. “With Obama’s visit, the United States played its maximum hand for the moment, and it played it well. The most prudent move for the Americans now, in light of the reaction by Fidel and the Cuban hard-liners, is probably to stand back and watch and listen and make an effort to demonstrate that the words in President Obama’s speech that day in Havana’s Gran Teatro were sincere, especially when he said, switching pointedly into Spanish, ‘El futuro de Cuba tiene que estar en las manos del pueblo cubano’—‘the future of Cuba must be in the hands of the Cuban people.’” [The New Yorker, “Cuba After Obama Left,” 4/1/16]
New York Times: In Cuba, Where The Vast Majority Of Government Is White, A Biracial President “Embodied Possibilities That Most Cubans Consider Out Of Reach.” “At a news conference last Monday at the Revolutionary Palace, Mr. Obama was confident and in his element as he addressed reporters and fielded questions, while Mr. Castro, unaccustomed to such an exchange and apparently irritated with his translation headset, showed his age. ‘The iconic image was Castro getting all huffy about some pretty anodyne critiques of the human rights situation in Cuba,’ said Michael C. Desch, a political-science professor at the University of Notre Dame. ‘The gestalt of the visit for Obama was very much “I know you’re on your way out, and I’m going to speak to the Cuban population about what the future looks like after you.”’ It was a message that Mr. Obama delivered visually as much as verbally. In Cuba, where two-thirds of the population is black or mixed-race — and Mr. Castro and the vast majority of his government are white — a mixed-race American president embodied possibilities that most Cubans consider out of reach.” [New York Times, “Along With President Obama, the 21st Century Visited Cuba,”3/27/16]
AP: As A Young Black President, Obama’s Visit Resonated With Racially Diverse Cubans. “Under the glare of global attention, Castro did little to publicly undermine Obama. After all, Obama enjoys immense popularity in Cuba. Images of a young black president strolling through Old Havana seemed to resonate with Cuba’s racially diverse people, forming a powerful contrast with the aging Castro. In the days ahead, though, that public spotlight will dim, giving Castro an opening to return to business as usual should he so choose. Though he’s taking modest steps to open up Cuba’s economy and relax certain social restrictions, there are still no indications Castro plans to make any of the changes to Cuba’s single-party system that Obama advocated.” [AP, “Obama’s visit stirs call for change in Cuba — but will it last?” 3/26/16]
Cubans Debating Their Future Post-Obama: If More Americans Visit The Island, Migration Will Reverse. “Manuel Cruz guided his 1955 DeSoto convertible along the famed seawall known as the Malecón. ‘What we really need is to improve our economy,’ he said. A surge of American tourists over the past year has helped, but it hasn't been enough, Cruz said. He envisions planeloads of Americans arriving daily, putting more money in everyone's pockets. If that happens, he says, Cubans won't be leaving the country. "It'll be the reverse: Migration will be to Cuba." [NBC News, “After Obama’s Visit, Cubans Debate Island’s Future and Economy,” 3/28/16]
UNPACU’s Jose Daniel Ferrer: “If Only Other Politicians In…The Whole Free World Could Do Something Similar To What Mr Obama Did During His Visit To Cuba[.]” “The speech lived up to what millions of Cubans expected. Cuban men and women are convinced that the democratisation of our country is the responsibility of Cubans, but they always appreciate a solidarity that is vital to peoples struggling for their freedom. If only other politicians in Latin America, Europe and the whole free world could do something similar to what Mr Obama did during his visit to Cuba, the courage of the Cuban people and their hopes for a better future would be far greater. A psychologist friend of mine told me: “a brilliant, constructive and encouraging speech. He touched the heart of most of our people[.]” [UNPACU, “A Visit, a Speech and an Unforgettable Encounter,” 3/28/16]
Cuban Maritza Perez: Lift The Embargo And Start Communicating With Respect. “Perez, 44, used to work in a restaurant and would like to set up a paladar, a private restaurant. She said she liked that Obama had a meal at a paladar in Old Havana. ‘We know a waiter who served him,’ she said. ‘He was so glad. He didn't know whether to sit down or stand.’ Obama, during his visit, told Cubans he supports removing the trade embargo, but he said Congress must act to lift it. Perez said she wants the embargo lifted and would like both countries to start communicating and negotiating again to reach an understanding. ‘Everything can be achieved with respect,’ she said. ‘He spoke with a lot of respect.’” [Naples Daily News, “As life returns to normal in Cuba, residents reflect on Obama’s historic visit and what’s next,” 3/28/16]
McClatchy: Despite Anti-Engagement Rhetoric From Some In Congress, Cubans Optimistic About U.S. Relations. “Cuban-American politicians, such as Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Florida Republican Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart, have upbraided President Barack Obama for visiting the island nation even though the government has arrested more than 8,000 people since the two countries announced they would re-establish relations in December 2014…But for at least some Cubans interviewed here, that’s not the way Obama’s visit is viewed. Cubans lined the streets to catch a glimpse of the man who many hoped would kick-start the island’s troubled economy. Polls find the vast majority of Cubans welcome friendlier relations with the United States. Taxi driver Jose Manuel Calevo is among those who see rapprochement as opportunity. He’s already benefited as more curious American have arrived with dollars. ‘When there are more tourists, there is more work for me,’ he said.” [McClatchy, “In interviews, Cubans see hope, not betrayal, in U.S. relations,” 3/23/16]
Michael Shifter: Obama’s Visit Made A “Deep Impact” On The Cuban People, But Success Of Improved Relations Will Depend On The Next President And Latin America Itself. “By all accounts, and unsurprisingly, Obama’s visit had a deep impact among ordinary Cubans. Obama helped go beyond the ‘stale debates’ he criticized seven years ago. Whether these changes turn into a new era of improved relations between the US and Latin America will depend on who succeeds Obama as president, and on the will of Latin Americans themselves. To be sure, Cuba will not change overnight as a result of Obama’s speech or visit. But through symbols and gestures, and by presenting a new picture of the United States—embodied by Obama himself—the visit will likely contribute, over time, to incremental progress and greater openness in Cuba, and will make the US-Cuba thaw irreversible. Other leaders visiting Cuba, from Europe and Latin America most of all, should take a cue from Obama and reinforce his powerful message.” [The Dialogue, “An Irreversible Rapprochement with the United States,” 3/30/16]
Obstacles To Full Normalization Still Remain On Both Sides
Fidel Castro Wrote Op-Ed Knocking Obama’s Visit Bringing Up Decades Of U.S.-Cuba History. “President Barack Obama did not meet with Fidel Castro during his historic visit to Cuba last week, but apparently that does not mean that Castro did not have any thoughts about el presidente norteamericano in his country. Castro ripped into the president and his words during the visit in El Granma, the official state newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party, bringing up Obama's relative youth, the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 and the role of both countries in ending the apartheid in South Africa and elsewhere on the continent in an article titled ‘El hermano Obama.’ ‘Native populations do not exist at all in the minds of Obama,’ Castro wrote. ‘Nor does he say that racial discrimination was swept away by the Revolution; that retirement and salary of all Cubans were enacted by this before Mr. Barack Obama was 10 years old.’” [Politico, “Fidel Castro lectures Obama after Cuba trip,” 3/28/16]
After Obama’s Visit, Cuba’s Communist Party “Erupts” In Dissent Over The Future Of Social And Economic Reforms. “Days after President Barack Obama's historic visit, the leaders of Cuba's Communist Party are under highly unusual public criticism from their own ranks for imposing new levels of secrecy on the future of social and economic reforms. After months of simmering discontent, complaints among party members have become so heated that its official newspaper, Granma, addressed them in a lengthy front-page article Monday. It said the public dissatisfaction over the lack of open discussion before the upcoming Communist Party congress next month is ‘a sign of the democracy and public participation that are intrinsic characteristics of the socialism that we're constructing.’ The article did little to calm many party members, some of whom are calling for the gathering to be postponed to allow public debate about the government's plans to continue market-oriented reforms for Cuba's centrally controlled economy.” [AP, “Unusual dissent erupts inside Cuban Communist Party,” 3/30/16]
AP: Cuban Government Facing “Deeper Crisis Of Credibility” Among Ordinary Cubans. “Struggling to feed their families with state salaries around $25 a month, many ordinary Cubans see their government as infuriatingly inefficient and unresponsive to the needs of average people. The open anger among prominent party members in the middle of sweeping socio-economic reforms and normalization with the United States hints at a deeper crisis of credibility for the party that has controlled virtually every aspect of public life in Cuba for more than a half century.” [AP, “Unusual dissent erupts inside Cuban Communist Party,” 3/30/16]
Communist Party Francisco Rodriguez: While Obama’s “Capitalist Evangelizing” Was Not Well Received Among Party Members, It Nonetheless Forced Them To Forge A More Credible Vision Of The Future. “Many Cubans are skeptical of free-market capitalism, wary of American power and cannot envision a society without the free health care and education put in place by the 1959 revolution. Party member Francisco Rodriguez, a gay activist and journalist for a state newspaper, said Obama's nationally televised speech in Old Havana, his news conference with 84-year-old President Raul Castro and a presidential forum with Cuban entrepreneurs represented a sort of ‘capitalist evangelizing’ that many party members dislike. Rodriguez told The Associated Press that Obama's well-received addresses to the Cuban people had nonetheless increased pressure on the 700,000-member Communist Party to forge a more unified and credible vision of the future. "Obama's visit requires us, going forward, to work on debating and defending our social consensus about the revolution," Rodriguez said. [AP, “Unusual dissent erupts inside Cuban Communist Party,” 3/30/16]
Professor Julia Sagebien: U.S. And Cuba Must Change Their Old “Spy vs. Spy” Mentality To Make Progress. “The fundamental notion underlying the positions of the two sets of hardliners described above is that — rapprochement is simply the same old American policy of ‘regime change’ through different means. And this subtler stealth version of the old ‘Spy vs. Spy’ mentality is, by far, the biggest obstacle to the success of the normalization policy. Until the U.S. breaks it addiction to meddling in Cuba’s internal affairs and until Cuba relaxes its paranoia about a wolf in sheep’s clothing in every American move — the new reality wished for by both sides simply cannot arise. Breaking habits learned from the demands of realpolitik is very hard to do. Nonetheless, since the previous policy has not worked for either nation, perhaps something new must be given a try. A positive dynamic based on mutual respect and common concerns is worth trying.” [The World Post, “What Needs to Happen After Obama Returns From Havana,” 3/21/16]
Sagebien: Americans Need To “Stop Measuring Every Event In Cuba Against A Wish List Itemizing The Cuba They Would Rather See.” “For Americans, this new way of thinking will require that they stop measuring every event in Cuba against a wish list itemizing the Cuba they would rather see. And it will require that Cubans stop thwarting their own internal dynamics of social, economic and political evolution in an attempt to maintain the kind of control that was necessary during the era of outward U.S. aggression towards the island, not to mention made possible by the bell jar created by the ‘enemies blockade’. To echo the words of George Bernard Shaw, ‘Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.’” [The World Post, “What Needs to Happen After Obama Returns From Havana,” 3/21/16]
Tomas Bilbao: U.S. Funding For Regime Change In Cuba “Now As Unnecessary As It Is Counterproductive.” “While the U.S. is trying to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba, the U.S. Congress continues to appropriate over $40 million annually to force the collapse of the Cuban government. This reality impairs President Obama’s credibility and effectiveness to advance U.S. interests in conversations with Cuban leaders, who have made it illegal for Cubans to receive these funds. With approximately $3.5 billion annually remitted by private individuals to help their families and friends in Cuba, and new general licenses authorizing unlimited remittances to assist civil society, the controversial and ineffective $40 million in taxpayer dollars is now as unnecessary as it is counterproductive.” [Huffington Post, “The U.S. and Cuba: Obstacles to Full Normalization,” 3/21/16]
Current U.S. Immigration Laws And Embargo Policies Make It More Difficult For Cubans To Empower Themselves. “Similarly, while the new U.S. policy toward Cuba aims to strengthen civil society and empower entrepreneurs, U.S. immigration laws continue to incentivize emigration and brain drain from Cuba. And while some defenders of U.S. sanctions in Congress advocate for eliminating immigration privileges afforded to Cubans, they do so while turning a blind eye to the effects of sanctions on the civilian population. Most importantly perhaps, while the new policy attempts to facilitate the types of reforms we would all like to see in Cuba, the U.S. embargo makes it more difficult for the Cuban people to benefit from those reforms, if implemented. By denying Cuba access to international financial institutions as well as to its most natural market, the embargo actually makes it more difficult for Cuba to change in a way that would ultimately benefit the Cuban people.” [Huffington Post, “The U.S. and Cuba: Obstacles to Full Normalization,” 3/21/16]
Cuba’s Own Laws Are Hampering The Same Foreign Investment They Seek To Jumpstart The Economy. “Meanwhile, Cuban leaders continue to prioritize foreign investment as a way to jumpstart their struggling economy while failing to address some of the issues that disincentivize that very investment. Cuba’s foreign investment and labor laws continue to be at odds with international labor conventions it has ratified, which undermines managerial control, employee incentives and labor practices multinational corporations are held to by increasingly socially-aware and globally-minded consumers. At the same time, while Cuba’s minister of trade and foreign investment travels to DC to meet with U.S. business leaders and encourage investment in Cuba, his government’s response to existing U.S. corporate interest has been frustratingly slow.” [Huffington Post, “The U.S. and Cuba: Obstacles to Full Normalization,” 3/21/16]
Reactions To President Obama’s Visit Continue To Pour In From Cuban-Americans And Others
Carmen Pelaez: Obama “Did The Unimaginable” And Called The Cuban Government’s Bluff. “Then on the third day Obama did the unimaginable. In one of the most masterful speeches of his career, while speaking directly to the man responsible for the suffering of millions, he dared to do what no religious figure or head of state had done before him. He told the truth. President Obama stood at the podium as the bi-racial leader of the free world, a man that by all Revolutionary accounts shouldn't be able to get anywhere in the US. and called the Revolution's bluff by reflecting the beliefs of the Cuban people in his own history and experience. I watched from the 'monument' of Miami that Obama gave my grandparents credit for building, and I wept.” [NBC News, “What The Rains Washed Away In Cuba,” 3/29/16]
“In Less Than An Hour President Obama Confirmed That The Struggles Cubans Had Endured For More Than 50 Years Did Not Have To Define Their Future.” I thought of what it meant to Afro-Cubans, the most disenfranchised members of Cuban society, to hear that the most powerful man in the world say that he was no different than them. I sat stunned at how he honored the Cuban spirit that has always bent towards the arc of freedom by expressing how he believed ideals were best realized in a democracy. In less than an hour President Obama confirmed that the struggles Cubans had endured for more than 50 years did not have to define their future. If we believed in ourselves as much as he did, we could pull Cuba out of this black hole it had been lost in for half a century, thereby honoring the losses we've endured by insuring a future for our beloved island. [NBC News, “What The Rains Washed Away In Cuba,” 3/29/16]
Cuba Study Group’s Carlos Saladrigas: Obama’s Speech “Openly Reminded Cuban Leaders To Unleash The Potential Within Their People.” “With an easy, relaxed demeanor, Obama obsoleted the Cuban narrative of almost six decades; the United States is no longer the enemy, but rather a constructive partner. America will not midwife a democracy for Cuba; it will be up to the Cuban people to do so, in full respect for their national integrity and sovereignty. Obama praised Cubans for their creativity, industriousness and entrepreneurial spirit. He told them to look into a mirror and see their future. The United States will no longer force Cuba to change—it can’t. But Obama openly reminded Cuban leaders to unleash the potential within their people—ironically, the critical strategic asset that is, to a great measure, the Cuban Revolution’s best success story.” “[Latin America Advisor, “What Did Obama Accomplish on His Trip to Havana,” 3/24/16]
#CubaNow’s Ric Herrero On Obama’s Cuba Trip: “It’s The First Time That Anybody Has Gone To Cuba And Respectfully Delivered A Clear And Concise Argument For The Democratic Process Directly To The Cuban People. “The other comment I often heard was that Obama’s speech was something they need to study for years. It’s the first time that anybody has gone to Cuba and respectfully delivered a clear and concise argument for the democratic process directly to the Cuban people. Most of the people on the island today were born after the revolution. They don’t know what it was like before, nor do they know what democracy is like.” [The New Tropic, “Miami leaders give us a peek inside Obama’s Cuba visit,” 3/29/16]
Herrero: Cubans Yearn For A Leader Like Obama Who Didn’t See Himself As Above Them. “Another thing I heard was, ‘Why can’t President Obama become president of Cuba after he is done being president of the United States?’ They genuinely meant it – like, ‘Why can’t he?’ I think what it really speaks to is their yearning for a leader like Obama. Young, family-oriented, charismatic, who was willing to come to then, who did not see himself above them. That he cut two videos with Panfilo, the state TV comedy show, spoke volumes to them. Never has any member of the Cuban government appeared on that show or any comedy show. They’ve always seen themselves as above that. That Obama essentially said, ‘I’m willing to join in the fun’ – that’s very powerful. The videos were insanely popular.” [The New Tropic, “Miami leaders give us a peek inside Obama’s Cuba visit,” 3/29/16]
Ellie Kaufman: Time For Cuban-Americans To Rebuild Bonds With Cuba. “But just as he’s calling on young Cubans to ‘look to the future with hope,’ Obama is also speaking to young Cuban-Americans who have long been separated from their country of origin. He’s asking us to re-engage with our roots, and to share the democratic ideals we’ve grown up learning with our brothers and sisters on the island. He said, ‘this is about family—the memory of a home that was lost; the desire to rebuild a broken bond.’ It takes two sides to rebuild a bond. With the easing of restrictions between Cuba and the US, it’s our job as Cuban-Americans to re-invest in a home that’s been closed off to us. Now is our time to engage with them by sharing our ideas, businesses and beliefs. Moments like these don’t come around often. Let’s not waste it. [Quartz, “What Obama’s groundbreaking Cuba speech meant to a young Cuban-American like me,” 3/26/16]
Benjamin Naimark-Rowse: “It Is Important That We Spend Time Learning About The Hopes And Dreams Of Regular Cubans.” “Arriving in Cuba 15 years ago, one thing became immediately clear to me. Most Cubans intuitively understood that governments don’t always speak for the populations they represent. For all of us who are excited, concerned or otherwise fascinated by Obama’s trip to Cuba, it is important that we spend time learning about the hopes and dreams of regular Cubans. That includes Cubans who came to the United States and, crucially, those who live on the island. The views of regular Cubans vary dramatically. And their views — not those of pundits, government officials, or special and corporate interests — are what matter most today and in the days to come.” [Las Vegas Sun Op-Ed, “Progress in Cuba starts with people,” 3/30/16]
Naimark-Rowse: Lifting The Embargo Demonstrate Respect For The Self-Determination Of The Cuban People.” “Their views matter because they’ve been filtered, interpreted, misrepresented and made largely unavailable to those of us in the United States for so long. Their views also matter because regular people actively participating in governance is a cornerstone of good governance. And so the processes through which Cuba changes should first and foremost reflect the goals and aspirations of the Cuban people. Obama was right when he prodded the Cuban government to give greater voice and freedoms to the Cuban people. He was also right when he committed to pursue reforms in the United States — such as ending the embargo — that demonstrate our respect for the self-determination of the Cuban people.” [Las Vegas Sun Op-Ed, “Progress in Cuba starts with people,” 3/30/16]
Mario Cartaya: Obama’s Challenge To Castro To Allow Free Speech “Will Have A Prolonged Life Of Its Own As Cuba Evolves.” “In a historical hall where Raul Castro and Cuban government dignitaries sat grim faced, Obama looking solemn and determined, declared that ‘Citizens should be free to speak their minds without fear, to organize, to criticize their government, to protest peacefully and the rule of law should not include arbitrary detention of people who exercise those rights.’ Then, talking directly to President Castro, Obama challenged him to ‘not fear the different voices of the Cuban people and their capacity to meet and assemble.’ Words like these delivered by a foreign head of state on Cuban soil are unheard of. To address Castro in this manner during a nationwide televised event in Cuba was previously unthinkable. In a country where arbitrary detention is the rule of law, and scores of Cuban dissidents are arrested routinely, Obama's statement was the light and soul of freedom and liberty. It will have a prolonged life of its own as Cuba evolves. [Sun Sentinel Op-Ed, “”Obama’s words may foster change in Cuba’s youth,” 3/29/16]
Micho Spring: Obama’s Speech “Was A Powerful Berlin Wall Moment For Which I Had Hoped, And More.” “Watching our president directly telling Raúl Castro that he ‘need not fear the different voices of the Cuban people,’ and that revolutionary ideals, whether American or Cuban, ‘find their truest expression . . . in democracy,’ was a powerful Berlin Wall moment for which I had hoped, and more. ‘Many suggested that I come here and ask the people of Cuba to tear something down,’ President Obama declared. ‘But I’m appealing to the young people of Cuba who will lift something up, build something new.’ But it was less sermon than story — framed with his own. Obama used the coincidence that his father came to the Unites States the same year the Castros came to power as a frame for explaining that freedom in the United States has enabled revolutionary changes in civil rights.” [Boston Globe Op-Ed, “Obama’s white rose for Cuba,” 3/29/16]
Cuban Demonstrators Attacked After President Obama’s Visit
Protestors Attacked By Cuban Officials After Chanting Pro-Obama Slogans. “They were shouting pro-Obama slogans and saying things like ‘Down with Fidel,’” said an Australian tourist who was standing on San Rafael Street when the incident began. He described a curious but passive crowd gathering around a small group of active demonstrators, who marched toward the Grand Theater, scene of Obama’s unprecedented live address to the Cuban nation. Protesters handed out small pamphlets — ‘a little bigger than a dollar bill,’ the Australian witness said — before police agents swept in. The papers were cleaned off the street as quickly as the demonstrators were.” [Yahoo News, “Cuban agents brutalize democracy protesters after Obama visit,” 3/25/16]
Yahoo News: Protestors Appeared To Have Taken To Heart Obama’s Call For Open Debate. “Obama’s speech was a rare interruption of Cuba’s state-run monopoly on public discourse. The president’s remarks were broadcast live across the country and, by agreement with U.S. negotiators, reprinted in their entirety in the Communist Party newspaper Granma, the island’s only daily. Obama’s nuanced remarks were simultaneously designed to avoid antagonizing the Cuban government while sending a clear message that the United States supports multiparty democracy and open debate on the island. Protesters appear to have taken that message to heart, using some version of a slogan that one witness described as “Obama sí, Castro no.” [Yahoo News, “Cuban agents brutalize democracy protesters after Obama visit,” 3/25/16]
Following Obama’s Trip, Republicans Debate How To End The Embargo
Rep. Tom Emmer On Why The Embargo Should Be Lifted All At Once: “The Embargo Has Been The Single Greatest Thing That Contributed To [Fidel Castro’s] Ability To Hold Power.” “But the piecemeal approach is being greeted with skepticism by another House Republican who made the trip to Cuba and is pushing to end the embargo. ‘What are we, going to try and live with this false belief that some part of the embargo has actually been valid?’ said Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) who argues that Congress has to tackle the whole embargo at once, because any move toward picking it apart is effectively an admission that the whole thing ‘doesn’t make sense.’ ‘The embargo has been the single greatest thing that contributed to [Fidel Castro’s] ability to consolidate and hold power for several decades,’ Emmer said. ‘If it goes away, there are no more excuses, the government has to be responsible to its people.’” [Washington Post, “Republicans who joined Obama in Cuba return hoping to change GOP minds about the embargo,” 4/1/16]
Sen. Jeff Flake: Lifting The Travel Ban “Certainly” Has Enough Votes To Pass In The Senate. “Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who has pushed to improve relations with Cuba since coming ti [sic] Congress in 2001, also argued that opponents of the embargo have to make as much progress as they can as quickly as they can. But he is a little less ambitious than Emmer about the timeline, predicting that Congress will tackle the ‘travel ban this year, embargo next,’ he said. ‘That would be my guess.’ Flake is insistent that lawmakers at least try this year to lift the travel ban, which has been rendered all but legally moot by Obama’s executive order allowing anyone to travel to Cuba so long as they are going for educational purposes. ‘I obviously want to lift the entire embargo,’ Flake said. ‘But the travel ban, I thought even before recent activities, that we certainly have the votes for it in the Senate.’” [Washington Post, “Republicans who joined Obama in Cuba return hoping to change GOP minds about the embargo,” 4/1/16]
Businesses Connect In Cuba
First U.S. Business Opens Office In Cuba. “Miami-based International Port Corp. said it’s the first U.S. company to open a staffed office in Cuba. Several companies have received licenses from the U.S. government to start operations in Cuba since President Barack Obama restored diplomatic relations with the communist country yet they haven’t opened facilities yet. IPC Owner and President Larry Nussbaum said his shipping firm has leased warehouse space in Havana from the Cuban government and staffed it with six employees. The Cuban workers were hired by a Cuban government employment agency, which IPC pays.” [South Florida Business Journal, “Miami company the first U.S. business to open office in Cuba,” 3/28/16]
Engage Cuba Leading State-By-State Push For An End To The Embargo. “If the U.S. embargo on Cuba is lifted in the near future, one of the reasons why is starting to take shape right now in places that at first blush seem unlikely stakeholders in what happens between the two nations – Ohio, Tennessee, Louisiana and Minnesota. And it will be thanks to an ambitious advocacy group that isn't even a year old. Coalitions to push for an end to trade and travel restrictions with Cuba have formed in those states thanks to an effort by Engage Cuba – a D.C.-based advocacy group that includes political operatives from both sides of the aisle, business leaders, industry groups and corporations like Choice Hotels, Comcast and P&G – to build a movement across the country for congressional action on ending the trade and travel ban.” [Fox News, “Advocacy group Engage Cuba hopes to end embargo, one state at a time,” 3/31/16]
Google’s New Online Tech Center In Cuba May Be The First Step Towards Cuba’s Digital Revolution. “Last Tuesday, Google opened an advanced online tech center for Cubans in Havana at the studio of the artist Alexis Leiva – who’s known as ‘Kcho’ (pronounced KAH-choh). Kcho’s studio is already a wi-fi hotspot, and he lets Cubans get online for free. Now Google will connect them there at 70 megabytes per second – 70 times faster than what Cubans usually get. ‘This is Google's first manifestation here,’ Brett Perlmutter, Google’s head of operations for Cuba, said in Spanish to a crowd at the center’s inauguration. ‘It’s our first step toward taking advantage of all the changes happening in Cuba – a demonstration of what happens when you combine Cubans' smarts and impactful tech.’ The government has pledged to bring half of Cuba’s households online by 2020. Like a lot of U.S. tech firms, Google has been trying to strike deals with Cuban officials to be part of that push. So the big question now is whether this first step means Cuba’s digital revolution is finally coming.” [WLRN, “Googling Cuba: Is The Communist Island Ready To Join The World Wide Web,” 3/28/16]
AS/COA’s Alana Tummino: Growing Commercial Ties And The “New Normal” In U.S.-Cuba Relations Will Be Difficult To Undo. “But perhaps even more than the official program, a host of side events and business announcements made it clear to me that the change in the bilateral relationship will be difficult - if not impossible - to undo. The day before Obama's speech, I attended a small event to mark Google's launch of a joint technology center in the studio of Cuban artist Kcho. Seeing kids use virtual reality goggles, laptops and streaming video offered proof of progress in the much-needed drive to expand internet access on the island. Further tech collaborations, including Cisco’s plan to open a Networking Academy where Cuban students will learn how to set up IT networks and improve technology skills, show the potential for growth in Cuba’s ICT sector. Numerous other business announcements from industries ranging from financial services and remittances to agriculture, hotels, cruise lines and energy (not to mention an important agreement on commercial aviation announced late last year) reflect commercial engagement between the U.S. and Cuba that will only continue to grow.” [Americas Quarterly, “How Obama’s Havana Trip Signals a ‘New Normal’ in U.S.-Cuba Relations,” 3/31/16]
New Microcredit Program To Help Entrepreneurs Launches In Holguin (In Spanish). “Un nuevo programa denominado Gestores de Microcréditos comenzó a funcionar en la provincia de Holguín, bajo la supervisión del Banco Central de Cuba y el Programa de las Naciones Unidas para el Desarrollo dirigido a la atención exclusiva del sector no estatal. Grisel Castro, presidenta de la Comisión Económica de la Asamblea Nacional del Poder Popular y directora del Banco de Crédito y Comercio en el territorio, explicó que este proyecto estará conformado por diez gestores de venta, quienes llevarán a las puertas de cada negocio las ventajas crediticias de los servicios bancarios.” [Cubadebate, “Aprueban nuevo programa bancario para cuentapropistas,” 3/29/16]
¡No Me Digas!
AP: After Obama Visit, Rolling Stones “Unleashed Two Hours Of Shrieking, Thundering Rock And Roll” Before Hundreds Of Thousands Of Cubans. “The Rolling Stones unleashed two hours of shrieking, thundering rock and roll on an ecstatic crowd of hundreds of thousands of Cubans and foreign visitors Friday night, capping one of the most momentous weeks in modern Cuban history with a massive celebration of music that was once forbidden here. The week opened with the arrival of President Barack Obama in Air Force One, accompanied by more than 1,000 employees of a government that waged a cold war against Cuba for more than 50 years. This time, U.S. forces were armed with briefing books and press invitations, here to seal the president's 2014 opening to Cuba with a string of expertly crafted public events that saw Obama call for democracy live on state television, then attend a Major League Baseball exhibition game with Cuban President Raul Castro.” [AP, “Rolling Stones unleash rock and roll on massive Cuban crowd,” 3/26/16]