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#CubaNow Briefing: On The New Normal And Old Hardline Duds

David Gomez

#CubaNow Briefing

Jan 15, 2016


If you want to know what the new normal in U.S.-Cuba relations looks like, this past week has been a particularly good example. The President of the United States gave a State of the Union speech calling for an end to the embargo…to applause. And when the Republican presidential debate was held a few days later, no candidate even sought to rebut it.

President Obama’s comments—and the warm reception they received—were the strongest signs yet that U.S.-Cuba relations stand to improve further in 2016. But the Cuban government only has so much time to build on these changes with an administration they know is willing to lead on the issue. The next president may find rolling back Cuba policy difficult, but that doesn’t exactly help move it forward either. As senior Cuban diplomat Josefina Vidal said earlier this week about the U.S. elections, there are “variables outside our control.” If the Cuban government is serious about change, that’s all the more reason for them to make a concerted effort with the U.S. to make this year a productive one.

This past week has also seen an extremely forced attempt to stir up controversy over Lockheed Martin’s accidental shipment of an inert Hellfire missile to CubaIt seems entirely fitting that the hardliners’ latest faux-outrage over Cuba is literally over a dud. For those who missed the story originally, the Wall Street Journal reported in a curiously-timed story that one of the missiles—stripped of guidance systems or a warhead—was shipping from Orlando to Spain for use in a “NATO military exercise.” In a strange series of events, that missile made its way around Europe before being loaded onto an Air France flight to Havana, where the U.S. and Lockheed are still working to get it back.

Obviously, a U.S. missile winding up at the wrong address is cause for concern, and as the Wall Street Journal reported, there are about 1,500 reported possible violations of the Arms Export Control Act every year. You could make the case for reforming how we keep these weapons from making unintentional stops around the world. But there’s reason to doubt the sincerity behind the statement issued last week by Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), and Albio Sires (D-NJ), staunch anti-engagement hardliners who saw more sinister motives at work. To them, this shipment indicated that the Cuban government was looking to “undermine our national security” and show “continued disregard for international norms.”

That the Hellfire was an inert dummy, or that it was Lockheed’s freight forwarders that actually shipped that missile to Cuba, by the way, is unsurprisingly left unmentioned in the statement. As for the 5,000 Hellfire missiles the U.S. agreed to sell to Iraq recently to combat ISIS? It seems the same people wringing their hands over the inert missile in Cuba haven’t had much to say about those live weapons falling into the wrong hands.

Thank you for your support,

David Gomez
Political Director, #CubaNow

Cuba’s “Limited Window Of Opportunity” In 2016

Miami Herald: Migration And Cuba’s Economic Future Among The Most Pressing Problems Facing Normalization.
 “If 2015 was a watershed year in U.S.-Cuba relations with the resumption of diplomatic ties and the opening of embassies, then 2016 is expected to be a year of definition as the two former adversaries move past ceremony and tackle the hard issues that still separate them. Among the most pressing problems that will shape the relationship this year are migration, with thousands of Cubans intent on reaching the United States stranded in Central America, and Cuba’s economic future, now that its preferential oil deal with Venezuela appears to be in jeopardy after the country’s opposition won control of congress. Business interests are hopeful that there could be a breakthrough and that major deals resulting from the United States’ commercial opening toward Cuba might come to fruition. For the Cubans, the most important thing is getting the embargo lifted — a difficult proposition in an election year — and they don’t hesitate to preface most talks with U.S. executives and politicians about the need to get rid of it.” [Miami Herald, “U.S.-Cuba relations: Plenty to work on in 2016,” 1/9/16]

Cuba Expert Pedro Freyre: Cubans Understand They Have “A Limited Window Of Opportunity” With The Obama Administration. “Pedro Freyre, an attorney who heads the international practice at Akerman, said 2015 was the year when the foundations of the new relationship were laid down, setting up a basis for what may come in 2016. He expects the administration will announce another set of regulations soon that will give U.S. businesses more confidence to engage with Cuba and that there will be a flurry of activity during the first quarter of 2016…’The clock is ticking for the Obama administration,’ Freyre said. ‘I think the Cubans understand they have a limited window of opportunity and after the end of Obama’s term, things are up for grabs.’” [Miami Herald, “U.S.-Cuba relations: Plenty to work on in 2016,” 1/9/16]

Senior Cuban Diplomat Says There Are “Variables Outside Our Control” In Thaw Of U.S.-Cuba Relations. “Josefina Vidal, director of the Cuban foreign ministry’s United States division, told the official Cuban news agency that if Barack Obama hurries to dismantle existing US sanctions on the island while he is still in power, the ties will be less vulnerable after he leaves. ‘I will continue working with a high dose of momentum and optimism,’ she said. ‘But I’m beginning to feel a certain bit of realism as the electoral process in the United States approaches; we don’t know what’s going to happen.’ There are ‘variables outside of our control’ in the presidential contest, she added.” [AP, “Cuban negotiator says US presidential election may endanger thaw in relations,” 1/12/16]

Wall Street Journal: Remittances From The U.S. To Cuba Help Support Private Businesses On The Island. “U.S. citizens still aren’t allowed to invest in Cuba, but American cash has been nurturing the Communist-ruled island’s nascent capitalists, a few dollars at a time. The Obama administration removed U.S. limits on money transfers to the island in September, encouraging the use of person-to-person remittances to support private businesses on the island…‘In Cuba, remittances are disguised investment,’ said Ted Henken, a Cuban economy specialist at Baruch College in New York. ‘This makes it completely legal to pump money in. It’s like finally giving oxygen to something that has been going on a long time.’ Big U.S. money won’t roll in unless Congress lifts the 54-year economic embargo on the former Cold War enemy.” [Wall Street Journal, “In Cuba, Cash Trickles In for Budding Capitalists,” 1/12/16]

Richard Feinberg: “The New Rules Will Get Much More Money Into The Hands Of The Emerging Private Sector.” “Few private businesses produce more than scrape-by earnings. Many startups fail altogether because of red tape, high taxes, insufficient capital or lack of business know-how, observers said. But optimists believe more remittance cash might change that reality. ‘The new rules will get much more money into the hands of the emerging private sector,’ said Richard Feinberg, a former U.S. diplomat who studies the Cuban economy at the University of California, San Diego, and the Brookings Institution in Washington. ‘That’s very much in line with the Obama administration’s policy.’” [Wall Street Journal, “In Cuba, Cash Trickles In for Budding Capitalists,” 1/12/16]

Brookings’ Richard Feinberg: “The Challenge For The Governing CCP Is To Give Young People Hope In The Future.”
 “But for many younger Cubans, the pace of change is way too slow. The talk of the town remains the exit option. Converse with any well-educated millennial and they’ll tell you that half or more of their classmates are now living abroad. Indeed, there are now two brain drains: an internal brain drain, as government officials abandon the public sector for higher incomes in the growing private sector; and emigration overseas to the United States, but also to Spain, Canada, Mexico. The challenge for the governing CCP is to give young people hope in the future. The White House has signaled that President Obama may visit Cuba this year. Such a visit by Obama—who is immensely popular on the island—could help. But the main task is essentially a Cuban one.” [Brookings, “In Cuba, there is nothing permanent except change,” 1/12/16]

President Obama Calls For An End To The Embargo As Engagement Becomes The Norm

President Obama Calls On Congress To “Recognize That The Cold War Is Over. Lift The Embargo.” “‘Lift the embargo,’ President Barack Obama said during his final State of the Union address on Tuesday night, addressing the relationship between the United States and Cuba. The president has been working to improve relations with Cuba since December 2014, when Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro announced the restoration of diplomatic ties between the two nations. Since then, U.S. and Cuban embassies have reopened in Havana and Washington. ‘Fifty years of isolating Cuba had failed to promote democracy, setting us back in Latin America. That’s why we restored diplomatic relations, opened the door to travel and commerce, and positioned ourselves to improve the lives of the Cuban people,’ Obama said on Tuesday. ‘You want to consolidate our leadership and credibility in the hemisphere? Recognize that the Cold War is over. Lift the embargo.’” [Newsweek, “President Obama Calls For Lifting Cuban Embargo In State Of The Union Address,” 1/12/16]

2016 Democratic Candidates For Florida’s 13th Congressional District Both Backing Cuba Engagement. “Times sure have changed when a Florida congressional hopeful travels to Cuba to bolster his foreign policy credentials. Welcome to the 2016 race for the 13th Congressional District: Democratic primary version. Eric Lynn, who is battling former Gov. Charlie Crist for the nomination, traveled to the island nation for two days this week, returning Tuesday night. Havana has been a popular destination for Pinellas politicians since President Barack Obama moved to restore ties with the communist country in late 2014. [Tampa Bay Times, “No Cold War here: Democratic rivals for Congress, Crist and Lynn, open up on Cuba,” 1/13/16]

U.S. Reviewing Cuban Doctor Program Parole Program. “The United States government said it is open to reviewing its Parole program that encourages Cuban doctors on international missions to ‘defect’ and move to the U.S., a high U.S. official told EFE. ‘The normalizing (of relations between Cuba and the U.S.) is a long, complex process. Considering all our relations in evolution, we believe the Cuban Medical Professional Parole (CMPP or Parole) program should be included among the many elements we have to work on,’ the official told EFE…This is not a minor problem for a country where one of the greatest sources of revenues comes from exporting professional services, above all medical services, which in 2014 brought in some $8 billion. Though no official figures exist, it is estimated that thousands of Cuban doctors have defected from those missions in recent years, which have been established above all in friendly Latin American countries like Venezuela, Ecuador and Brazil.” [EFE, “U.S. to review program encouraging Cuban doctors to defect,” 1/9/16]

Report: U.S. Dummy Missile Mistakenly Wound Up In Cuba In 2014

Lockheed Mistakenly U.S. Ships Inert Hellfire Missile To Cuba. “Relations between the United States and Cuba are better than they’ve been in decades, but the Hellfire missile that Lockheed shipped to Havana recently, well, it wasn’t meant as a gift from the US military. The missile was reportedly loaded onto the wrong plane in Spain after it had been used in NATO exercises there. Lockheed had been authorized by government officials to ship the missile back to The States, but their freight handlers mistakenly put it on an Air France jet that was headed to Cuba — after first sending it on a brief tour of European airports.” [Geek, “Lockheed accidentally shipped an American Hellfire missile to Cuba,” 1/11/16]

Shipping Error Was Attributed To “Lockheed’s Freight Forwarders.” “The US official told the AP that Lockheed was authorised to export the dummy missile for a Nato training exercise. The official attributed the shipping error to Lockheed’s freight forwarders, and said the US was working with Lockheed to get the device back. The official said the US did not want any defense technology to remain in a proscribed country, whether that country can use it or not. The official said there is greater concern that Cuba could give more technically advanced countries access to the dummy.” [AP, “US Hellfire missile mistakenly shipped to Cuba,” 1/7/16]

State Department Reports “About 1,500 Disclosures Of Potential Violations To The Arms Export Control Act.” “‘The State Department’s office of Political-Military Affairs, which oversees exports of military hardware, regularly finds companies to be in violation of the Arms Export Control Act for a variety of reasons. Each year, there are about 1,500 disclosures of potential violations to the Arms Export Control Act. Many of those violations are because of mis-shipments, said a State Department official, but the official said the government doesn’t track the specific number each year.” [Wall Street Journal, “U.S. Missile Shows Up in Cuba,” 1/7/16]

ExtremeTech: Hellfire Missiles Not Exactly The Best Kept Secret These Days. “But, let’s look at how the Hellfire has been doing over the past several years. Most trivially, the US Army lost a dummy Hellfire over New York just last September, simply because it slipped off an aircraft in mid-flight it seems, but they later got it back. Worse, there’s good reason to suspect that China and other cyber-powers might already have blueprints for the Hellfire and more, thanks to the still-vague scope of several highly successful military cyber-attacks on the US and its allies. And of course, the US sells thousands upon thousands of working Hellfires to ‘close’ military ‘allies’ like Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. By far the worst recent example of the Hellfire being compromised, however, is the fall of Iraq’s Mosul to forces from ISIS (or Daesh, if you prefer), which led to about $700 million worth of working Hellfire missiles falling into the hands of terrorists.” [ExtremeTech, “It probably won’t matter Cuba got a dummy Hellfire missile—and that’s terrifying,” 1/9/16]

Cuba Set To Attend Security Conference Co-Sponsored By U.S. Southern Command. “A delegation from Cuba will take part for the first time in an annual Caribbean regional security conference co-sponsored by the U.S. military's Southern Command, a senior official said Tuesday, portraying the participation as a significant step in the ongoing thaw between the long-hostile neighbors. The Cuban government's decision to accept an invitation to the Caribbean Nations Security Conference in Jamaica this month follows other relatively small but symbolic forms of military engagement between countries that normalized relations in December 2015, said Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly, the commander of Southern Command. "We've normalized now and, regardless of how we think of each other in terms of politics, we have very, very common challenges," Kelly said in an interview two days before he ends his tenure as commander of U.S. military operations in the Southern Hemisphere.” [AP, “Cuba to Attend Security Conference With US for First Time,” 1/12/16]

¡No Me Digas!

Major Lazer To Become Biggest U.S. Act To Perform In Cuba Since Normalization. “The United States and Cuba have forged all kinds of new ties over the past year, from re-establishing diplomatic relations to new business deals. Now, a New York-based group is about to export another U.S. specialty to the communist nation: the music festival. The Musicabana Foundation announced Tuesday that it will host a four-day festival in Havana in May. The event, spread over three different venues in Cuba's capital city, will bring together musicians from Cuba, Jamaica, Brazil, France, Cape Verde and the United States. That will include Jamaican rapper Sean Paul, Cuban singer Pablo Milanés, Cuban band Los Van Van and other artists. The group will also host a preview concert in March featuring Major Lazer, an electronic music group that would become the biggest U.S. act to perform on the island since the two countries renewed their relationship.” [USA Today, “U.S.-backed music festival headed to Cuba,” 1/12/16]