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#CubaNow Briefing: The Next President Will Support Ending The Embargo. But Why Wait?

David Gomez

#CubaNow Briefing

May 6, 2016


If there was a chance that the incoming administration would be in favor of keeping the embargo, as of this week, that chance was effectively reduced to zero.

Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. John Kasich both dropped out of the GOP primary race earlier this week, and with them went any remaining opposition to normalizing relations with Cuba among presidential candidates. Donald Trump has spoken in measured support for normalization, while former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders are all in favor of a full opening.

In Washington, the influence of the pro-embargo hardline will only lessen in the months ahead. Sen. Marco Rubio, the most prominent anti-engagement member of the Senate, is leaving office at the end of his term. Cruz will return to the Senate, but the notoriously unpopular senator’s odds of marshalling his colleagues in support of the embargo are about as good as, uh…Lucifer's.

When it comes to current Cuba developments on the Hill, members should take note of the contrast in directions between the pro- and anti-engagement coalitions. As of last week, Sen. Jeff Flake’s bill to lift the travel ban is now cosponsored by nearly half the Senate, and Rep. Mark Sanford’s counterpart in the House has passed over 120 cosponsors. Meanwhile, the pro-embargo wing—once able to dictate foreign policy to presidential campaigns—has now been reduced to attacking Kim Kardashian for traveling to Cuba. Because demanding an investigation into Beyoncé’s completely legal Cuba trip a few years back was not a sufficiently embarrassing waste of taxpayer dollars.

That is where we are in 2016. One bipartisan coalition in Congress is working on policies that will benefit both the Cuban people and their constituents, while another dwindling one is co-opting the work of late night talk show hosts to attack private citizens for where they choose to travel. So far, the pro-embargo hardline has been able to successfully prevent any further opening to Cuba by peddling the idea that things might turn around with the next administration. We know that now to be a fantasy. For the sake of the Cuban people, it’s time Congressional leadership did as well. The time to act is now.

Thank you for your support,

David Gomez

Political Director, #CubaNow

Ted Cruz And John Kasich Drop Out Of 2016 Presidential Race

Ted Cruz Drops Out Of 2016 Race After Loss In Indiana, “Extinguishing Any Chance Of Denying Mr. Trump The Nomination.” “Less than a month ago, Senator Ted Cruz seemed to have done it. He had won Wisconsin. Former rivals were holding their noses to support him. He was dominating delegate elections, positioning himself for what seemed increasingly likely to be a floor fight at the Republican convention in July, as the campaign of Donald J. Trump fell into internal disarray. ‘Tonight is a turning point,’ Mr. Cruz said on primary night in Milwaukee. ‘It is a rallying cry.’ It was neither. On Tuesday, Mr. Cruz ended his campaign, his loss in Indiana extinguishing any chance of denying Mr. Trump the nomination.” [New York Times, “Ted Cruz Suspends His Campaign for President,” 5/3/16]

Ohio Governor John Kasich Drops Out Of 2016 Race, Effectively Leaving Donald Trump As The Presumptive Republican Nominee. “Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), who ran as a sunny, center-right “prince of light and hope” but won only his home-state primary, bowed out of the presidential race Wednesday with a reflective speech in Columbus. ‘Throughout this campaign, I said the Lord may have another purpose for me,’ Kasich said. ‘As I suspend my campaign today, I have renewed faith, deeper faith, that the Lord will show me the way forward and purpose for my life.’ The departure fully clears the field for front-runner Donald Trump to become the GOP nominee. Another rival, Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.), ended his bid Tuesday night.” [Washington Post, “John Kasich exits the presidential race, leaving Trump as presumptive nominee,” 5/4/16]

The Consequences Of Emigration From Cuba

Cuba’s Population Projected To Decrease By Nearly 1 Million By 2025, Driven By Low Birth Rates And Emigration. “By 2025, Cuba's population is projected to decrease by some 1 million residents. This dramatic demographic shift — from 11 million to 10 million inhabitants — is being propelled by low fertility and birth rates, as well as high levels of emigrations, according to experts who met recently at Florida International University. Cuba also will continue to have the oldest population in Latin America. Today, 19 percent of the island's population is older than 60, the experts said, and forecasts point to that number rising to 30 percent in less than a decade.” [InCubaToday, “Cuba’s population expected to drop dramatically over the next decade,” 4/30/16]

People Who Emigrate From Cuba Tend To Be “In The Prime Of Their Productive And Reproductive Lives. “‘Developed countries have low infant mortality, birth and fertility rates, but their populations don’t drop because they receive immigrants,’ Aja said. “But that's not the case of Cuba.’ Until the end of the 1930s, Cuba received migrants. But since then, emigration has been sustained, with spikes during mass exodus events in the 20th Century — the Mariel boatlift in 1980 and the Rafter Crisis in 1994 — and more recently the flow of Cuban migrants through Central America and Mexico on their way to the United States. ‘Cuba cannot compete on migration even with the Dominican Republic,’ Aja said. One of the island's main problems is that the people who emigrate are generally the youngest, in the prime of their productive and reproductive lives.” [InCubaToday, “Cuba’s population expected to drop dramatically over the next decade,” 4/30/16]

Panama Set To Expel Thousands Of Cuban Migrants Making Their Way To The U.S. “Following in Costa Rica’s steps, Panama is planning to expel thousands of Cuban migrants currently stranded in the country on their way to the U.S. A Foreign Ministry official said earlier this week that some 3,000 Cubans will be transferred to a facility near the border with Costa Rica in preparation to fly them to Mexico. Then it intends to close its borders to migrants from the island nation, according to In Cuba Today, the way Nicaragua has. More than 670 Cuban migrants are already housed in the border facility, called Los Planes shelter. At least a hundred more are now in detention on the Colombia border.” [Fox News Latino, “Panama to expel more than 3,000 U.S.-bound Cubans stranded on its border,” 5/4/16]

Cubans Skeptical Of Government’s Anti-Obama Rhetoric

Cubans Not Buying Government’s Attacks On Obama’s Overture. “[F]ew people interviewed around the capital this week showed signs of accepting government arguments that Obama was simply the expertly packaged spokesman for U.S. corporate interests that want to economically recolonize Cuba. ‘The response that’s been given is the government’s, not the people’s,’ said Barbara Ugarte, who runs a small shop selling party supplies in Central Havana. She watched Obama speak live on March 22 and said she welcomed his words as a sign that things might be changing in a country where entrepreneurs like her find it hair-pullingly frustrating to run a business. A month of tough government talk has alienated her from Cuba’s leaders more than from Obama, she said.” [AP, “Cuba finds it hard to dampen afterglow of Obama visit,” 4/29/16]

Cuban Computer Programmer Yolanda Mauri: Post-Obama Optimism Encouraging Her To Stay In Cuba Rather Than Emigrate. “For Yolanda Mauri, a 26-year-old computer programmer, it all feeds a mood of post-Obama optimism that has her hoping to start a family and find a well-paying job in Cuba rather than emigrating like so many of her friends. ‘Two years ago, one couldn’t imagine even 30 percent of the things that have happened,’ she said. ‘There’s an optimistic mood. It’s obvious.’ She said, however, that she disagreed with the government’s vision of Obama’s visit as an attack. ‘That’s going against the whole process of normalization,’ she said. ‘I’m not going to try to get closer to you and maintain the perspective that you’re still my enemy. That’s the traditional discourse of the past.’” [AP, “Cuba finds it hard to dampen afterglow of Obama visit,” 4/29/16]

U.S. Cruise Ship Makes Historical Arrival In Cuba

First U.S. Cruise Ship In Decades Arrives In Cuba To Warm Welcome. “Hundreds of tourists and a handful of emotional Cuban-Americans arrived on the first U.S. cruise ship to sail to Havana in decades on Monday, spilling onto the cobbled streets of the old city where they were warmly greeted by residents. It was another first for the two countries since U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced a historic rapprochement in December 2014, and comes weeks after Obama's visit to the Caribbean island.” [Reuters, “Emotional return as first U.S. cruise in decades reaches Cuba,” 5/3/16]

Cuban-Born Anna Garcia, On Arriving In Cuba For The First Time In 48 Years: “I’m Nervous And Excited At The Same Time.” “But for Cuban-born Anna Garcia, the moment was more than just a holiday. ‘I’m nervous and excited at the same time, I left Cuba 48 years ago, when I was six years old. So just imagine everything that I’m feeling right now,’ said Garcia as she stepped off the boat and entered Cuban territory for the first time since childhood. A Cuban rule prohibiting people born in Cuba from entering or leaving the Communist-ruled country by sea led to protests from exiles and almost delayed the cruise, before Cuba agreed to lift the ban. That unusual flexibility under pressure was itself a signal of change in Cuba, long scarred by memories of the sea-borne, U.S.-supported Bay of Pigs invasion and other acts of aggression from across the Florida Straits.” [Reuters, “Emotional return as first U.S. cruise in decades reaches Cuba,” 5/3/16]

Visiting Cuban-American Isabel Buznego Overwhelmed With Emotion At Seeing Cuba Again. “Isabel Buznego, a passenger aboard the sold-out cruise, was born in Cuba but left about 40 years ago, when she was 5. She said she was overcome with emotion when she first spotted the 16th-century fortifications that protect Havana’s bay. ‘That really got to me,” Ms. Buznego said. The ship’s arrival on Monday caused a stir among the locals, too: So thick was the crowd as the American passengers disembarked that a passing tourist asked, ‘Who’s the celebrity?’” [New York Times, “Cruise Ship From Miami Docks in Cuba, Ending Decades-Old Freeze,” 5/2/16]

Embargo Still Hindering U.S.-Cuba Relations

AP: Despite Normalization, U.S. Embargo Still Prohibiting Most Exports And Business Contacts. “The thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations has many small and medium-sized companies thinking about doing business with the nation that has largely been off-limits for more than half a century. Most companies, however, will have to wait. The Obama administration has taken steps that allow companies in the travel and telecommunications industries to work with Cuba, but most exports and other business contacts remain prohibited under an embargo Congress passed in 1960 in response to Communist rule in Cuba. Because of the embargo, the U.S. exported only $180 million in goods to Cuba last year, most of it agricultural products and medicine. By comparison, exports to nearby El Salvador totaled nearly $3.3 billion. Only Congress can lift the embargo, and it’s not known when that might happen — some lawmakers are against ending it because of charges of human rights violations by the Castro government.” [AP, “A waiting game for companies hoping to do business in Cuba,” 5/4/16]

NAFSA’s Hanan Saab: Ending The Embargo Is Necessary To Cultivate Effective Relationships Between Higher Ed In The U.S. And Cuba. “As international educators, we believe that travel is inherently educational and is a human right. Everything we do in our everyday jobs is dedicated to creating a more welcoming and globally engaged United States and more peaceful world. But simply lifting the U.S. travel ban without ending the trade embargo is not enough to engage with the island and empower the Cuban people. We must take our advocacy efforts a step further. The trade embargo makes educational programs unnecessarily difficult to operate because of restrictions on banking and exports. Yet it is more than just the logistics of operating programs that is at stake in this debate. The free exchange of people and ideas is one of the core tenets of our field. The embargo undermines that tenet and inhibits our ability to build trust. It also undermines our leadership in the entire Western Hemisphere. Lifting the embargo will create an environment of goodwill, mutual trust, and cooperation, which is critical if we are to cultivate effective relationships between higher education institutions in both of our countries.” [NAFSA, “Why Ending the U.S. Embargo and Travel Ban on Cuba Matters,” 5/3/16]

Cuba Sees Massive Spike In American Travelers In 2016

Cuba Struggling To Absorb Spike In U.S. Visitors To The Island. “The number of U.S. visitors to Cuba has nearly doubled this year, its tourism minister said on Wednesday, as the island races to build hotels and expand Havana airport to keep up with booming demand. Tourism has taken off since Cuba and the United States announced they would work to bury the Cold War hatchet in December 2014. The Caribbean island received a record 3.5 million visitors last year. The influx has pushed capacity to the limit, prompting hotels to sharply hike prices and raising questions about how Cuba will absorb additional visitors when scheduled U.S. commercial airline service starts later this year. ‘With the increase in demand there have occurred problems with the confirmation of reservations and some irritation with delays at the airports, most of all in Havana,’ Minister Manuel Marrero said at the opening of an annual tourism fair.” [Reuters, “Cuba scrambles to keep pace with U.S. –fueled tourism boom,” 5/4/16]

Cuban Government Reports 93% Rise In American Visitors In The First Four Months Of 2016. “The number of Americans visiting Cuba surged 93 percent year-on-year in the first four months of 2016, the Cuban government said Wednesday. The communist island is basking in its newfound glow as a trendy tourist destination since Washington and Havana announced a historic rapprochement in December 2014. Cuba has welcomed a stream of celebrities and VIPs since then, including US President Barack Obama, the pope, the Rolling Stones and German designer Karl Lagerfeld, who presented a Cuban-inspired runway show Tuesday for French fashion house Chanel.” [AFP, “US visitors to Cuba surge 93 percent,” 5/4/16]-

Agriculture Stalls In Cuba

Nora Gámez Torres Reports On The Headaches Of Buying Food In Cuba. “In 2008, Cuban ruler Raúl Castro approved the long-term lease of fallow state lands to private farmers, hoping to increase agricultural production. Although the government claims to have handed over 4.52 million acres to 214,000 people, eight years later food shortages continue to be the No. 1 headache of many Cubans. This year’s potato harvest, despite some improvement, has been so trouble-plagued that the arrival of potatoes in Havana markets competed with the Rolling Stones concert on March 25 as the day’s top news. During the recently concluded VII Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), the head of the commission in charge of implementing Castro’s economic reforms, Marino Murillo, admitted the island has imported nearly $2 billion in agricultural products annually for several years — even though it could grow at least half the items.” [InCubaToday, “The odyssey of finding food in Cuba,” 5/4/16]

Despite Nearly One Million Workers In Its Agricultural Sector, Cuba Struggling To Produce. “The United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organization has reported that Cuba’s agricultural sector employs nearly one million workers — in an island of 11 million people — yet accounts for barely 4 percent of its Gross Domestic Product. Figures released by the Cuban government also show that agricultural production fell by 2.5 percent in 2015 compared to the previous year. Cubans who lease state lands and other farmers were hoping the PCC Congress would approve new measures to stimulate production. Since the land leases were approved eight years ago, the government has been trying to ease some of the bureaucratic delays and absurd prohibitions. But it took four years just for the government to allow the new farmers to build homes on the land they were working.” [InCubaToday, “The odyssey of finding food in Cuba,” 5/4/16]

Exploring Cuba’s EDM Scene

Vice’s THUMP Reports On Cuba’s Growing Electronic Music Scene. “A reported 400,000 Cubans came out to watch Major Lazer perform a free concert in central Havana last month. That's more than most EDM festivals worldwide—EDC Vegas, for example, drew in 130,000 people per day in 2015. While surely many came for the forbidden fruit of seeing a US musical group play on the island, numbers that impressive also suggest that Cubans have caught the electronic music bug. This week, from May 4-6, the eastern city of Santiago will host Manana—Cuba's first international festival to fuse electronic music with Afro-Cuban rhythms. In a country with so much musical talent playing traditional instruments, the idea of "electronic music" is also about using contemporary techniques in the playing, recording, and production of folkloric sounds to keep them current in the digital era. We braved the embargo to find out more about the producers and DJs at Cuba's electronic frontier.” [THUMP, “Cuba Has an Exciting Electronic Music Scene – Here Are 8 of Our Favorite Producers,” 5/3/16]

UK Foreign Secretary Visits Cuba For The First Time In Decades

Philip Hammond Becomes First UK Foreign Secretary To Visit Cuba In An Official Capacity Since The Cuban Revolution. “Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has said he is keen to ‘forge new links across the Atlantic’, on arrival in Cuba for a visit. Mr Hammond is the first UK foreign secretary to travel to the Caribbean country in an official capacity since its communist revolution in 1959. He said there would be new ‘co-operation agreements’ on energy, finance, education and culture. Mr Hammond's two-day visit follows one by US President Barack Obama in March.” [BBC News, “Philip Hammond ‘keen to forge new links’ with Cuba,’ 4/29/16]

¡No Me Digas!

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen Mocks Kardashian Family For Visiting Cuba. “As the Kardashians arrive in Cuba, some are questioning the impression of glamour they're bringing to the financially struggling country. One outspoken U.S. representative had strong words on the reality stars' trip to Havana. ‘I know it's cool for celebrities to go to Cuba, but the Cuban people don't experience the glamorous Havana that is featured on social media,’ South Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen tells PEOPLE in an exclusive statement. ‘Far from photo shoots and fruity drinks, everyday Cubans experience a different, sad reality.’ ‘Now, the Kardashians are parachuting into the island to tape their vapid TV show,’ she added. ‘Haven't the Cuban people suffered enough?’” [People, “The Kardashians Arrive in Cuba as South Florida Rep Criticizes Their ‘Vapid’ Visit: ‘Haven’t The Cuban People Suffered Enough?’”, 5/4/16]