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#CubaNow Briefing: Will Rubio and Curbelo Ever Get Serious About Cuban Migratory Policy?

David Gomez

#CubaNow Briefing

Jun 3, 2016


Last week, Sen. Marco Rubio spoke on the Senate floor about his legislation stripping federal benefits for Cuban immigrants unless they were able to prove they were genuinely fleeing political repression. The “Cuban Immigrant Work Opportunity Act” promises to save up to $2.45 billion over the next decade simply by making many incoming immigrants ineligible for refugee benefits. With companion legislation introduced by Rep. Carlos Curbelo in the House of Representatives, it seems on its face like a sensible measure designed to save taxpayer dollars. But it ultimately fails to seriously address the root cause of increased migration from Cuba—and once again takes out political frustrations over normalization on those whom these representatives claim to care most about.

The pro-embargo wing of Congress has consistently claimed to have the interests of the Cuban people at heart in their criticism of renewed U.S.-Cuba relations. But it’s hard to tell from the legislation they’ve proposed since normalization. Lawmakers like Rubio and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart have prioritized the immediate resolution of property claims while staunchly opposing any measures that would actually benefit Cubans on the Island, or anyone else for that matter. Embassy funding and ambassadors? Block it. Expanded travel? Block it. Opening up trade? Block it. Practically every measure introduced by Congressional hardliners since D-17 has effectively sought to take away something from the Cuban people.

And now that ire turns on Cuban migrants. Now that they no longer provide a steady base of support for South Florida politicians, they instead become fodder for friendly headlines about preventing welfare abuse and fraud. Never mind that if Rubio and Curbelo were genuinely concerned about saving U.S. tax dollars, they would support lifting an embargo that has burned through them for decades. Or that if they wanted to slow down the increase in migration, they could do so by embracing a policy fostering Cuba’s private sector and gives younger Cubans a reason to stayNo, now the latest focus of the embargo wing is making refugees who made life-threatening journeys to the U.S. prove that they were fearful enough.

There is a serious debate to be had about the current system of benefits and whether or not they serve our interests, and so far Rubio and Curbelo have refused to engage in it. This is to be expected from Senator Rubio, given that he built his career on the simple calculus of opposing everything that President Obama does, no matter how reasonable. But we would expect more from Mr. Curbelo, whom unlike his Senate colleague, has actually shown the maturity to engage with pro-engagement constituents. It is cynical and misleading to pretend, as Rubio did in his floor speech, that the situation for Cuban immigrants is the same as those from Mexico and Japan. We have normalized relations with those countries. There is no equivalent faction in Congress purposefully seeking to squeeze their own people at both ends under the guise of promoting democracy. If we ever want to truly address the problems of our migratory policy toward Cuba, there is no realistic path that keeps the embargo in place.

Thank you for your support,

David Gomez

Political Director, #CubaNow

U.S. Officials Promote Trade With Cuba

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack Hopes Meeting With Cuban Counterpart In Iowa Will Push Congress To Lift Trade Embargo. “Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said he is optimistic a visit with his Cuban counterpart Friday in Iowa can help build pressure on Congress to fully lift the embargo on trade with the communist country. The White House announced in late 2014 efforts to improve relations with Cuba's communist regime, including expanding trade. While President Barack Obama has eased some financial and travel restrictions and reopened the U.S. embassy in Havana, Congress has not agreed to lift the embargo. ‘I think as we build those connections the political case for removal of the embargo will strengthen and eventually we’ll get to the point where there are adequate numbers in Congress to overcome the resistance to lifting the embargo,’ Vilsack said Friday. ‘When that day comes … we’re going to see an explosion of opportunity, and we just want to make sure we are prepared with the relationships and the awareness of that Cuban market.’” [Des Moines Register, “Vilsack hopes meeting with push Congress on Cuba trade deal,” 5/31/16]

Vilsack: Iowa Could Be One Of The Biggest Beneficiaries Of Trade With Cuba. “In an interview ahead of the meeting with Cuban Agriculture Minister Gustavo Rodriguez Rollero, Vilsack said Iowa — the nation’s top corn, soybean, pork, egg and ethanol producer — has an ‘amazing diversity of opportunity’ that could benefit from expanded trade. The former Iowa governor said the state’s soybean industry could be among the biggest beneficiaries of improved trade relations, along with pork and poultry. ‘I want (Rollero) to know that Iowa is a place that represents a diversified agricultural economy, similar to one that he can help develop in his country,’ Vilsack said.” [Des Moines Register, “Vilsack hopes meeting with push Congress on Cuba trade deal,” 5/31/16]

Cuba Formally Accepts Shipment Of Missouri Rice Sent As Part Of State Trade Delegation. “Leaders from Cuba formally accepted a 20-ton shipment of long-grain rice grown and processed in Southeast Missouri on Monday morning. Governor Jay Nixon and leaders from the Martin Rice Company in Bernie, Mo. are part of a trade delegation in Cuba. The 20-ton shipment was sent to the people of Cuba by Martin Rice at no cost. ‘Missouri farmers and workers produce the highest-quality products in the world and we are here to expand opportunities to get Missouri goods to Cuban consumers,’ said Governor Jay Nixon. According to the governor's office, there have been no U.S. rice sales to Cuba since 2008.” [KFVS, “Cuba accepts shipment of MO rice from Governor Nixon,” 5/30/16]

Cuban Migrants Make “Historic Surge” On Fears The Adjustment Act Will End

CNN On The “Historic Surge” Of Cuban Migrants And U.S. Lawmakers’ Response. “Rubio, whose parents were Cuban immigrants, said he's proposing a measure that would let Cubans keep some privileges but crack down on abuses of federal benefits by ending ‘the automatic assumption in U.S. law that all Cuban immigrants are refugees.’ ‘You'll be legal in this country,’ Rubio said, ‘but you're going to have to prove that you are actually coming because you fear persecution before you automatically qualify for refugee benefits.’ Cuban officials also criticize U.S. policies, saying they encourage Cubans to risk their lives on harrowing journeys and expose them to criminal exploitation. Obama administration officials have repeatedly said they have no plans to push for policy changes toward Cubans who arrive on U.S. soil.” [CNN, “The last flight and first steps: ‘Historic’ surge of Cubans crossing into US,” 5/31/16]

Cuban Migrants’ Chief Concern: Repeal Of The Adjustment Act. “That's a common thread in many of the stories shared by Cubans streaming into church-run shelters in El Paso, where they swap details of their harrowing journeys north: The financial hardships they faced in Cuba. The low wages they earned working as undocumented immigrants in Ecuador. The South American country's threats to deport them. The dangers of hiking for days through the Colombian jungle, facing rough terrain, armed groups and extortion by authorities. The fear they'd never make it out of Panama, where many of them were stranded for months after Nicaragua and Costa Rica closed their borders. Experts say several factors are fueling a spike in the number of Cubans to brave this dangerous journey to reach the United States. Chief among them: fear that U.S. policies that put Cubans on a fast track to legal residency could be repealed as relations between the two countries improve.” [CNN, “The last flight and first steps: ‘Historic’ surge of Cubans crossing into US,” 5/31/16]

Legal Battle Over Cuban Migrants Who Reached A Lighthouse Off The Florida Keys. “A group of Cuban migrants seeking to remain in the U.S. after they climbed onto a lighthouse several miles off the Florida Keys will not be sent back to Cuba immediately. A Miami federal judge on Friday ordered an evidentiary hearing to be scheduled for next Thursday. The 21 migrants are on a Coast Guard cutter and will remain under U.S. control for at least the next week. Under the ‘wet foot, dry foot’ policy, Cubans who reach U.S. shores are usually allowed to stay, while those intercepted at sea are generally returned to the communist island. A lawsuit filed on behalf of the migrants claims the 136-year-old American Shoal lighthouse on a reef off Sugarloaf Key should qualify as U.S. territory so the migrants can stay. U.S. officials disagree.” [AP, “Keys lighthouse Cubans to remain in US custody until hearing,” 5/2/16]

Reuters On The Reemergence Of Marketing In Cuba

Marketing On The Rise In Cuba. “For half a century after Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution, Cuba's marketing was limited to patriotic propaganda and its most ubiquitous brand was not Coca-Cola but late revolutionary hero Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, daubed on walls across the island. Now, market-style reforms to expand the private sector mean a blossoming of small businesses from cobblers to barbers and bars seeking to haul in customers. Havana streets that used to be pitch dark at night are lit up by neon signs advertising restaurants or spare rooms in private homes. ‘It was unknown territory, going through the steps of opening up a business, where promotion is key,’ said Erick Carballo, 26, who opened a beauty salon in Havana last August.” [Reuters, “Marketing in Communist-ruled Cuba: from guerilla to mainstream?” 5/31/16]

Young Cubans Using “Guerilla” Techniques To Promote Their Businesses. “Restricted and expensive Internet access means few businesses, even those in the tourism sector generating dollar revenue, can afford to advertise on the web. So, young Cuban designers are coming up with ‘guerrilla’ means of promotion, like offline apps, tee-shirt branding and commercials on El Paquete, a package of often-pirated media delivered across Cuba on USB sticks. In one video, surgeons wearing face masks lean over, apparently operating on a client. Yet the patient is a broken phone, not a human, and the ad is for the ‘Cellphone Clinic’.” [Reuters, “Marketing in Communist-ruled Cuba: from guerilla to mainstream?” 5/31/16]

Recent Highlights In U.S.-Cuba Engagement

Florida State Opera House Travels To Cuba. “Earlier this month, Florida State Opera carved its own niche in the island nation’s music history by sending four student opera singers from FSU to perform in Havana. Once there, they collaborated with seven Cuban singers before presenting the ‘Concierto Amistad’ for 125 fans in a recital hall in the Gran Teatro de la Habana…The journey took more than a year of planning and groundwork in 2015, the same time frame when President Obama was re-establishing diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States. While the political climate thawed in a hurry, Lata discovered that some Cuban cultural quirks did not change overnight.” [Tallahassee Democrat, “FSU singers take operatic, ground-breaking trip to Cuba,” 5/27/16]

UNPACU’s Jose Daniel Ferrer Allowed To Travel To The U.S. For The First Time Since Normalization. “Jose Daniel Ferrer spent more than eight years as a political prisoner in Cuba, but now he has been allowed to leave the country for the first time after the rapprochement between Cuba and the United States, a step that, as he told EFE in Washington, the opposition should take advantage of to "obtain results" beyond their criticism of the Castro regime. The dissident, who was part of the Christian Liberation Movement founded by the late Oswaldo Paya, now heads the island's largest opposition organization, the Cuban Patriotic Union, with more than 3,000 members. Ferrer is also a firm proponent of the view that U.S. President Barack Obama's new policy vis-a-vis Havana should be a step forward toward freedom for the Cuban people.” [EFE, “Cuban opposition figure: Use opening with U.S. to achieve ‘results,’” 6/1/6]

Documentary Aims To Highlight The Needs Of Cuba’s Music Scene Under The Embargo. “José Osvaldo Hunter Hernández is a talented young violinist at Almadeo Roldán, a prestigious music conservatory in Havana, but he does not have his own instrument. ‘I would love to represent my country’s music in the world,’ says Hernández, who studies with a Czech violin that he must return after he graduates. ‘It's very sad after so many years of practice, effort and sacrifice not being able to exercise your profession.’ Cuba's Violin, a short documentary by Maya Albanese and Antoine Goldet, follows the journey of an instrument from New York City to Havana via Miami. The film illustrates the dire need for musical instruments and supplies on the island as well as challenges with repairs since the implementation of the U.S. embargo decades ago and subsequent fall of the former Soviet Union.” [InCubaToday, “‘Cuba’s Violin’ documents a musical journey connecting two nations,” 6/1/16]

¡No Me Digas!

New York Times On Why So Many Names In Cuba Begin With Y. “It reflects a national trend informally known as Generación Y, in which thousands of people born toward the end of the Cold War have uncommon first names that share that initial. Perhaps the best-known example: Yoenis Cespedes, the power-hitting outfielder for the New York Mets, who was born in Cuba in 1985. The seeds for this unconventional nomenclature may have been planted by the Cuban revolution, which pulled parents away from biblical names. The influence of the Soviet Union, with its Yevgenis and Yuris, is also seen as a significant factor. Experts differ on whether the pattern is a sign of tribute or rebellion. The dissolution of the Soviet Union was disastrous for Cuba, the start of the so-called Special Period, an extended economic crisis and recession in the early 1990s. Lillian Guerra of the University of Florida sees Generación Y as part of a broader tradition of creative naming in Cuba, one she called a sign of cultural resistance. She pointed to unusual monikers like Milaidys, a phoneticization of ‘My lady’ in Spanish; Dianisleysis, inspired by Princess Diana; and, get ready for this, Onedollar, Usnavy, Usmail, Usarmy and Usa, all inspired by Cubans’ increased contact with Americans travelers and culture during the 1990s.” [New York Times, “The Ys and Wherefores of How Cubans Name Their Children,” 6/1/16]