Informing, connecting &
inspiring a new conversation

Get Involved

#CubaNow Briefing: Why Lifting The Embargo Is More Urgent Than You Think

David Gomez

#CubaNow Briefing

Nov 20, 2015


We want to begin this week’s briefing with our most sincere condolences and sympathies to the victims and families of the deplorable attacks in Paris, Beirut, and now Bamako. The images we have seen in the past week have been nothing short of heartbreaking, and our thoughts are with the people of France, Lebanon, and Mali.    

Much attention has been focused this past week on the plight of Syrian refugees fleeing their country’s violence and where and how they’ll resettle. While that debate has intensified in recent days, another important development involving refugees is taking place here in the Americas. As we’ve been noting recently, emigration from Cuba has spiked since the announcement of normalization last December. Believing that the Cuban Adjustment Act could soon come to an end, thousands of Cubans are setting off for the U.S. by both land and sea before the door supposedly closes shut.

This fear that the Adjustment Act will be eliminated did not originate from new legislation intended to do away with the policy. Pro-embargo members of Congress began stoking this fear almost immediately after normalization was announced, regardless of the consequences that could arise and despite the Administration’s insistence that there were no plans to change the policy. And as our own Ric Herrero explained this week in an op-ed for the Miami Herald, some of them are now openly embracing an end of the Adjustment Act while advocating for a continuation of the embargo, effectively putting Cubans in between a rock and a hard place.

Unfortunately, there is a cynical angle by some in South Florida seeking to end the Cuban Adjustment Act. Many of the problems they cite—for example healthcare and welfare fraud—are issues that can be resolved with increased law enforcement and cooperation with Cuba, solutions that don’t require modifying the Adjustment Act itself. The crux of the matter seems instead to be that the more recent generations of arrivals from the Island are far more supportive of ending trade and travel restrictions, as last year’s FIU Cuba poll found. And as Ric explains, a perception that only older generations were worthy of the Adjustment Act’s privileges is being used to drive a wedge within the Cuban-American community. But this political maneuvering does nothing to resolve the reason why thousands of Cubans are making these high-risk voyages. To end the Adjustment Act while keeping the embargo would only result in greater harm to the Cuban people.

That’s why the two policies should go out together, and soon. That the embargo’s days are numbered has seemed more likely than ever in the past year, yet many in Congress continue to maintain a wait-and-see approach. The rise in migration from Cuba should give them reason to act. If we want to reduce the number of refugees putting their lives on the line, fostering more economic opportunity on the Island by opening up trade and travel is the best policy at our disposal.

A new poll from the Atlantic Council this week is further incentive for Congress to take action. A strong majority of likely voters in Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, and Tennessee support the decision to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba, and are in favor of doing away with restrictions on travel to the Island. That support comes from both Democrats and Republicans, similar to past polls that indicate that Cuba is one of the rare issues that both sides of the aisle can strongly agree on. As Caterpillar’s Bill Lane put it at the event, “Republicans are doing their best to avoid eye contact on this issue… but let me just tell you right now, they are hearing from constituents.”

Lane is right—the 2016 election season has been largely devoid of attacks on the new Cuba policy, despite staunchly pro-embargo candidates that include two Cuban-Americans and a former Florida governor. Even former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s speech earlier this year calling for an end to the embargo, unimaginable only a few cycles ago, has yet to garner mention in the debates.

But the fact that the embargo has lost its political potency is no reason to avoid eye contact with the issue of Cuba. Polls continue to show that Americans of every stripe want trade and travel restrictions gone, and Congress has an urgent need to address the migration situation that our laws have helped spur. The people fleeing Cuba do not do so on a whim. They do it because they feel they have no other choice, and we owe it to them to enact a more cohesive policy that helps to give them one.

Thank you for your support,

David Gomez
Political Director, #CubaNow 

#CubaNow’s Ric Herrero: The Cuban Adjustment Act Should Only End With The Embargo 

#CubaNow’s Ric Herrero: It Makes Sense To Call For The End Of The CAA If You Support Lifting The Embargo, Not When You’re Still Upholding Blanket Sanctions On Cuba. "It makes sense to call for the end of the CAA if you’re also calling on Congress to lift the trade embargo. After all, normalization means doing away with all exceptional treatment when it comes to Cuba. It is immoral to close the door on Cubans searching for a better life in the States, while at the same time upholding blanket sanctions that seek to strangle their country’s economy. But many voices clamoring for the end of the CAA seem more interested in using it to drive a wedge within the Cuban-American electorate, obsessing over the distinction between 'exiles' and the 'recently arrived,' casting the former as the only ones who suffered political repression and worthy of special treatment.” [Miami Herald Op-Ed, “Cuban Adjustment Act inextricably tied to the embargo,” 11/16/15] 

Herrero: U.S. Government Can Address Migratory Challenges Without Modifying The Adjustment Act. "Our government can tackle these challenges without touching the CAA. Healthcare scammers are best dealt with through increased law enforcement and greater cooperation with Cuban officials. The Department of Homeland Security has discretionary authority over parole and inspection, with which it could control cross-border migration under the “wet foot, dry foot” policy. And if the intent is to give new Cuban arrivals the same level of access to welfare benefits that other immigrants have, then revise the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act.” [Miami Herald Op-Ed, “Cuban Adjustment Act inextricably tied to the embargo,” 11/16/15] 

Herrero: Hardliner Proponents Of Ending The CAA Has Had A “Tawdry Tendency” To Label More Recent Arrivals As “Abusers” Of The Policy. “The debate also has a tawdry tendency to group Cuban criminals who commit healthcare fraud with regular Cubans crossing the Mexican border or returning to visit their families in Cuba after spending only a year in the United States — branding them all 'abusers' of the privilege afforded by the CAA. This is a peculiar argument, considering that 1. The CAA only requires its beneficiaries to be of Cuban origin, not political refugees, and 2. Cubans landing on our shores today are fleeing an economic system controlled by the same communist leaders as those who arrived here 50 years ago.” [Miami Herald Op-Ed, “Cuban Adjustment Act inextricably tied to the embargo,” 11/16/15]

Herrero: Be Mindful Of Loose Talk Of Ending The CAA, And End It With And Only With The Embargo. "We must be mindful that loose talk and careless predictions about the end of the CAA can spur countless Cubans to risk their lives taking to the high seas in pursuit of U.S. residency. Cubans are the only people who enjoy the special privilege afforded under the Cuban Adjustment Act. But Cuba is also the only country in the world against which the United States maintains codified economic sanctions that impact its entire population. Thus, the fate of the Cuban Adjustment Act must be directly tied to that of the embargo. Eliminating one while preserving the other would only inflict greater pain on the Cuban people." [Miami Herald Op-Ed, “Cuban Adjustment Act inextricably tied to the embargo,” 11/16/15] 

Cuban Migration Surging Through Mexico And Central America

WSJ: Cuban Migrants Surging Through Mexico On Fears Cuban Adjustment Act Will End. “Cuban migrants, fearing the gate will soon close on their easy access to legal U.S. residency, have been surging by the thousands through Mexico in a bid to touch soil in southern Texas. The surge was prompted by the detente between Washington and Havana, which restored diplomatic relations in December. Cubans arriving on Mexico’s southern border say the change they consider most imminent is an end to the fast track to legal U.S. residency that their compatriots have enjoyed for generations.”  [Wall Street Journal, “Cubans Flood Mexico in Bid to Reach U.S.,” 11/16/15]

Cuban Migration To The U.S. Through Mexico Has Increased Nearly Fivefold Since 2014. “More than 28,000 Cubans requested asylum in southern Texas in the 12 months ended Sept. 30, according to the U.S. government’s count. They represented about two-thirds of all Cuban asylum seekers in that period and an 80% increase over the previous year. The more than 9,300 Cubans who have registered with Mexican immigration officials since January to gain safe passage through the country mark an almost fivefold increase from 2014. The Cuban tide has been rising since midsummer, said Mario Madrazo, the Mexican federal official in charge of immigration control.” [Wall Street Journal, “Cubans Flood Mexico in Bid to Reach U.S.,” 11/16/15]

Central American Countries Struggling To Deal With Rising Levels Of Cuban Migration. “Instead of risking the trip by boat through the Straits of Florida, many [Cuban migrants] have been traveling to South America and making their way north by land. Until recently, the Central American countries along their route let them pass through. But in recent days, the migrants have been bouncing between borders as local officials struggle with how to handle their growing numbers. On Nov. 13, Costa Rica started detaining migrants at its southeastern border after police broke a human-trafficking ring that was smuggling Cubans through the country. Officials later backed away from the measure, granting some 1,000 Cuban immigrants humanitarian visas to continue their journey after they blocked a highway in protest. Nicaragua, the next country on their way to the US, responded by closing its border on Nov. 15, leaving hundreds of Cubans trapped in Costa Rica.” [Quartz, “Cubans are rushing to the US border before an immigration loophole is closed,” 11/17/15] 

Pro-Embargo Sen. Marco Rubio Says Cuban Refugees Who Travel Back To Cuba “[Don’t] Look Like Someone Who Is Fleeing Oppression.” “‘What I have criticized — and what I think makes no sense — is that we allow people to come to this country on the Cuban Adjustment Act,’ he said. ‘One year and a day after they’ve arrived, they’re traveling to Cuba 15 times a year,’ Rubio continued. ‘The laws that exist are hard to justify anymore. ‘When you have people who are coming and a year and a day later they are traveling back to Cuba 15 times a year, 12 times, 10 times, 8 times, that doesn’t look like someone who is fleeing oppression.’” [The Hill, “Rubio pledges to undo Obama’s Cuba thaw,” 11/19/15]  

Atlantic Council Poll: “Heartland” States Support New Cuba Policy, Doing Away With Embargo

New Atlantic Council Poll: Solid Majorities Of Likely Voters In Ohio, Indiana, Iowa And Tennessee Favor Diplomatic Relations With Cuba And An End To The Embargo. “Solid majorities of likely U.S. voters in Ohio, Indiana, Iowa and Tennessee favor diplomatic relations with Cuba and an end to trade and travel restrictions with the Communist-ruled island, a poll by the Atlantic Council showed on Tuesday. The poll targeted states that are seen as leaning Republican or states that could swing to either major party in the November 2016 U.S. presidential election. The council called them ‘heartland’ states, located in the Midwest and South.” [Reuters, “Voters in four ‘heartland’ states favor Obama policy on Cuba: poll,” 11/17/15]

68% Were In Favor Of Restoring Diplomatic Ties, While 67% Favored Ending Travel Restrictions. “Sixty-eight percent of those surveyed approve of the restoration of diplomatic ties, which was achieved in July, versus 26 percent who disapprove. The respondents favor ending the trade embargo, which remains in place, by 58 percent to 35 percent. The poll showed 67 percent favor ending current restrictions on Americans traveling to Cuba, compared to 28 percent in opposition.” [Reuters, “Voters in four ‘heartland’ states favor Obama policy on Cuba: poll,” 11/17/15] 

Atlantic Council’s Peter Schechter: “You Would Be Hard-Pressed To Find Any Other Obama Administration Policy With This Much Republican Support.” “‘You would be hard-pressed to find any other Obama administration policy with this much Republican support,’ Peter Schechter, director of the Atlantic Council's Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, said in a statement. For decades both parties heeded the pro-embargo lobby led by Cuban-Americans in and around Miami, mindful of their fund-raising ability and sway in the swing state of Florida. But in 2012, Obama split the Cuban-American vote, and subsequent polls showed Cuban-Americans tilting in favor of normalizing relations.” [Reuters, “Voters in four ‘heartland’ states favor Obama policy on Cuba: poll,” 11/17/15]

Atlantic Council Panel: If Republican Voters Didn’t Like New Cuba Policy, We Would’ve Already Heard From Their Candidates. “Some Republican members of Congress are reluctant to lift the travel ban and trade embargo, but Cuba doesn’t come up on the campaign trail, said Garrett. ‘If Marco Rubio thought that it was a vote-getter in Iowa, New Hampshire or anywhere else you can be certain that he would talk about it. He does not,’ said Garrett referring to the Florida Republican Senator and presidential candidate. ‘Republicans are doing their best to avoid eye contact on this issue… but let me just tell you right now, they are hearing from constituents’ who want to visit and do business with Cuba, said Lane.” [Atlantic Council, “In America’s Heartland, Obama’s Cuba Policy is a Winner,” 11/17/15] 

Cuban-Americans To Be Awarded Presidential Medal Of Freedom

President Obama To Award Cuban-American “Power Couple” Gloria And Emilio Estefan With Presidential Medal Of Freedom For Their Popularization Of Latin Music. “President Barack Obama plans to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, to Gloria and Emilio Estefan later this month. The Cuban-American power couple from Miami were among the17 medal recipients named by the White House on Monday, along with other luminaries such as the late baseball player and manager Yogi Berra, theater composer Stephen Sondheim and film director Steven Spielberg. Obama will present the medals Nov. 24 at the White House. Singer Gloria Estefan ‘introduced Latin music to a global audience,’ the White House said in a statement. Her husband, music producer Emilio Estefan, ‘influenced a generation of artists” and “helped popularize Latin music around the world.’ [Miami Herald, “President Obama to award Presidential Medal of Freedom to Gloria and Emilio Estefan,” 11/16/15] 

U.S. And Cuba Sign Environmental Accord To Cooperate On Marine Conservation

U.S. And Cuba Sign First Environmental Accord Since Renewal Of Diplomatic Relations. “The United States and Cuba signed an agreement Wednesday to join forces and protect the vast array of fish and corals they share as countries separated by just 90 miles (140 kilometers), the first environmental accord since announcing plans to renew diplomatic relations. ‘We recognize we all share the same ocean and face the same challenges of understanding, managing, and conserving critical marine resources for future generations,’ said Kathryn Sullivan, chief of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.” [AP, “US, Cuba sign first environmental accord since thaw,” 11/18/15]

American And Cuban Researchers Will Collaborate On Issues Including Preservation And Sustainability. “The memorandum signed by U.S. and Cuban officials in Havana directs scientists with the Florida Keys and the Texas Flower Garden Banks national sanctuaries to collaborate with researchers at two similarly fragile and protected reserves: Guanahacabibes National Park and the Banco de San Antonio, located on the island's westernmost region. Ocean currents carry many of the same fish and organisms off the coast of Cuba into the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, making collaboration on topics like preservation and sustainability an area of mutual interest for scientists in both countries.” [AP, “US, Cuba sign first environmental accord since thaw,” 11/18/15] 

Florida Baseball Team Picked For Possible MLB Game In Cuba 

Tampa Bay Rays Picked For Possible Spring Exhibition Game In Cuba. “If a major league baseball team plays a spring training game in Cuba next year, it will be the Tampa Bay Rays. Commissioner Rob Manfred chose the Rays by picking a ball out of a bin at Major League Baseball’s offices on Park Avenue in Manhattan on Friday afternoon. There were so many teams, including the Mets, the Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers, eager to play in Cuba because of the extra visibility it would give their clubs that Manfred decided to hold a lottery. The game would represent another significant moment in the continuing efforts by the United States and Cuba to normalize relations. But it is not a foregone conclusion that the game will be played. Major League Baseball still needs to negotiate the terms of the contest with the Cuban government, although in all likelihood, the Rays would play the Cuban national team and the game would be played in Havana.” [New York Times, “M.L.B. Picks Tampa Bay Rays to Play Possible Exhibition in Cuba,” 11/14/15]  

Americans Now Have Their First Debit Cards Available For Use In Cuba 

South Florida’s Stonegate Bank Makes Debit Cards Available For Use In Cuba. “It wasn't all that long ago that dropping any cash at a Havana hotel or restaurant was about as realistic for American travelers as finding a cheap drink on Ocean Drive. So it's remarkable that beginning today, U.S. residents will be able to use a debit card at about 10,000 locations in Cuba. The news from MasterCard and South Florida-based Stonegate Bank is the latest chip in the already fast-thawing freeze between Cuban businesses and American banks. ‘This should this relieve the burden a little on business travelers and any American travelers in Cuba,’ Dave Seleski, president and CEO of Stonegate Bank, tells New Times. Of course, the move doesn't mean a free-for-all, easy access to debit services for most American travelers. The debit plan works only for those with a Mastercard issued through Stonegate, which is a small Pompano Beach-based company. And for now, ATMs across the country will allow cards to work only on credit, though Seleski says the government is working on that and should have debit services available by 2016. But the move is still a significant step toward normalized relations between America and the Castro regime.” [Miami New Times, “You Can Now Use A Debit Card In Cuba Thanks To South Florida-Based Stonegate Bank,” 11/19/15]  

¡No Me Digas! 

Wall Street Investors Plan To Bring Cuban Television To The U.S. “A group of influential Wall Street dealmakers are betting that Americans have such an appetite for Cuban television – everything from sports, to music to even some government propaganda—that they’re planning to distribute the island’s TV programming to viewers in the U.S., the FOX Business Network has learned. The investors, led by former Perella Weinberg restructuring star Michael Kramer, plan to air Cuban media content through a new channel, the CubaNetwork. It will distribute both Spanish and English broadcasting of Cuban ‘Television… documentaries, music and music programs, cultural content, live sports and sports related documentaries… movies and plays,’ according to internal company documents.” [FoxBusiness, “Why Wall Street Sees Cash in Cuba Television,” 11/17/15]