Rob Sequin | Havana Journal
Maybe it is premature to declare the end of a US policy that is almost fifty years old but the Havana Journal is closely watching developments that appear to lay a path towards lifting the travel and/or trade Embargo against Cuba. We are listing events, although may not appear to be immediately related to changes in US Cuba policy, we think collectively the events below are related to the big picture of changing US Cuba policy.
We will update this article as events develop.
May 23, 2008: Presidential candidate Obama says he is in favor of rolling back restrictions on Cuban American travel and remittances to Cuba at a speech in Miami in front of the Cuban American National Foundation audience. This is a very bold move with much political risk that has not been done by any serious Presidential candidate in history.
February 10, 2009: President Obama announces that he will attend the Fifth Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago on April 17 -19, 2009. The effectively sets a deadline for the President to formulate a comprehensive Latin America policy that will most likely have to include some action with regards to US policy towards Cuba.
February 24, 2009: Havana Journal publishes summary of five bills submitted in the US House of Representatives that are all design in one way or another to ease or lift Cuba trade or travel restrictions on Americans.
February 26, 2009: US House of Representatives passes HR1105 Omnibus Appropriations bill that contains language that will restrict OFAC enforcement of Cuban American travel and remittances to Cuba along with language to suspend the “cash in advance” payment structure that requires Cuba to pay US agriculture sellers in advance of shipment.
March 2, 2009: Raul Castro announces a major reorganization of the Cuban government where Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque and Vice President of Council of State are fired.
March 11, 2009: After some political wrangling, the Senate passes the Ominbus spending bill that will continue to fund US government operations but contains controversial language that is a small step towards easing the restrictions of Cuba sanctions. Senator Menendez objects to having the Cuba language in the bill but eventually supports the bill as Treasury Secretary Geithner sends him a letter stating that the language will not substantially change US Cuba trade laws. Senator Menendez can see the writing on the wall that the momentum is building against the Embargo.
March 16, 2009: Brazil’s President Lula, who is well respected by the US, Cuba, Venezuela and other Latin American countries, meets with President Obama in the White House then gives a speech in New York calling on the US to reconsider US Cuba policy. This meeting may have been scheduled in advance of the Summit of the Americas so the two Presidents could develop a working relationship and perhaps even discuss Cuba in order to formulate talking points before, during and after the Summit.
March 17, 2009: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez “fires the first shot” at Obama before they meet at the Summit of the Americas next month. Chavez challenges President Obama to discuss Cuba before and during the Summit. We see this as a carefully worded and carefully timed announcement by Chavez in preparation for the upcoming Summit of the Americas.
March 18, 2009: Well. It appears things are heating up nicely. Today is the sixth anniversary of the “Black Spring” crackdown on Cuban dissidents (Cuba calls them agents of the US government) so maybe today’s news is just rhetoric but again, taken in the context of this developing timeline of the end of the US Embargo, they are relevant. New Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez made a statement that Cuba would work with the European Union to discuss human rights violations and would work with the EU to normalize relations. Meanwhile, back in Washington, the Obama Administration has made what I think is it’s first public statement regarding Cuba calling on the Communist government to release political prisoners. Are these two events an unrelated coincidence or is this international political posturing that precedes the release of political prisoners? Raul really has little to loose and much to gain by releasing political prisoners. This move allows President Obama to reach out to Cuba in a “new spirit of dialog” or some tag line like that. Hey, whatever it takes, let’s talk people. Let’s talk.
March 19, 2009: I guess we started this article just in time. The Cuba news stories are coming fast as you can see by the dates of the entries above. How about this news… Costa Rica and El Salvador both announced that they will normalize relations with Cuba. Comments in the article like “It appeared to be coincidental that the decision was made public on the same day that Salvadoran President-elect Mauricio Funes reiterated his campaign pledge to re-establish relations with Havana.” AND “Funes made the comments hours before he was to meet with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon.” has to make most people really start to wonder if all these announcements are in some way a coordinated effort or at least perhaps all parties are motivated by the upcoming Fifth Summit of the Americas that will see President Obama in attendance. Did I mention that Costa Rica and El Salvador are member states and will be attending? Hmmm.
March 26, 2009: Republican Congressman Jerry Moran from Kansas introduced Bill (HR 1737), Agricultural Export Facilitation Act of 2009. It is designed to facilitate the sale of United States agricultural products to Cuba, as authorized by the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000.
March 30, 2009: U.S. Senators Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Michael Enzi (R-WY), Myron Brilliant from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, President of the American Farm Bureau Federation Bob Stallman and Human Rights Watch Executive Director Jose Miguel Vivanco will hold a press conference Tuesday, March 31, at 12:00 p.m. in room SVC-203 of the United States Capitol Visitors Center in support of S428, the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act.
The Havana Note writes two articles that summarize the fact that the hardliner Cuban American Senators and Representatives no longer have much power to stop the loosening of the Embargo.
The President of Trinidad has invited President Castro to visit Trinidad “whenever he wants”. The timing of this meeting and the release of this information is obviously designed to coincide with the upcoming Summit of the Americas in Trinidad in a couple weeks.
March 31, 2009: President of the Organization of American States, Jose Miguel Insulza said the OAS should take steps to readmit Cuba forty seven years after it was banned in 1962. Cuba is the only Latin American or Caribbean nation excluded from proceedings at the 35 member-nation OAS, and the U.S. is the only country in the Americas that doesn’t have full diplomatic relations with the country. El Salvador and Costa Rica reestablished ties this month with Cuba, the only country in the region that isn’t a democracy. Insulza said Cuba’s readmission into the OAS should come after serious study and dialogue.
U.S. Representatives Bill Delahunt (D-MA) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ), the co-chairs of the bipartisan House Cuba Working Group, will be joined by Cuban-American leaders and other Representatives in a press conference at 11:00 AM on Thursday April 2 in Room 2255 of the Rayburn House Office Building. The participants will discuss HR 874, the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act, which now has over 120 co-sponsors, and will urge its passage by the Congress. The legislation would end the current ban on travel by Americans to Cuba. At present the US government allows Americans to travel almost anywhere in the world - except Cuba.
April 3, 2009: The Obama Administration has announced that it will lift the remittance and travel restrictions on Cuban Americans who wish to send money and travel to Cuba. The date has not been set but we think he will sign an Executive Order before the April 17 Summit of the Americas.
April 10, 2009: The Cuban American National Foundation, a long time hard line exile group influencing the direction US Cuba policy, released the report A New Course for U.S.-Cuba policy: ADVANCING PEOPLE-DRIVEN CHANGE that calls for a new direction in US Cuba policy. It appears that US Cuba policy hardliners like Senator Menendez and the likes of the Diaz-Balart brothers have to realize that the days of the Embargo are numbered if their own CANF no longer even supports the US Embargo.
April 13, 2009: As expected, an announcement before the Summit was made today and in a big way. Obama will lift all restrictions on Cuban American travel and remittances to Cuba. They can go as often as they like, stay for as long as they like and go see pretty much any family member. The move goes beyond travel and remittance restrictions to include a loosening of cellphone, satellite radio and satellite television restrictions too.
April 17, 2009: Secretary Clinton says she expects Cuba to reciprocate for Obama’s move and Raul says he is ready to talk about “everything” with the US.
April 21, 2009: Fidel Castro does not like what Raul Castro said regarding his willingness to talk about “everything” with the US so Fidel writes a Reflection saying that Raul Castro was misunderstood. If Raul thought that he was misunderstood, why can’t Raul Castro make a statement that he thought he was misunderstood?
April 27, 2009: The New York Times is quoting anonymous Obama Administration officials saying that they are ready to start talks with Cuba regarding migration, drug trafficking and other regional security matters along with opening cultural and academic exchanges with Cuba. Also, a State Department official described the pressure building for a new policy toward Cuba as a “steamroller” and said that the administration was “trying to drive it, rather than get run over by it.”
May 20, 2009: Longtime supporter of easing Cuba sanctions in order to benefit US businesses, Senator Max Baucus introduced the Promoting American Agricultural and Medical Exports to Cuba Act of 2009 that, if passed, will allow US businesses to sell agricultural and medical exports to Cuba.
May 21, 2009: The Obama Administration has broken the recent silence in the recent US Cuba dialog by saying that it is open for discussions on Cuba migration issues. This is positive for two reasons: 1. Obama continues to reach out to Cuba and 2. migration is a life and death situation for Cubans leaving Cuba by raft.
June 1, 2009: Cuba has agreed to Cuba migration and direct mail service talks with the US. A conversation that has been silent for five years. This is a positive move the Cuba is willing to talk with the US and vice versa. Maybe other issues would be discussed in private while the two countries are engaged.
June 4, 2009: Yet another brick has been knocked out of the US Embargo. The Organization of American States has voted to lift Cuba’s suspension from the Washington DC based organization that is a collection of 34 democratic Latin American nations. Even the presence of Secretary Clinton could not influence the OAS members to side with the United States that wanted Cuba’s suspension to remain intact. This action only lifts Cuba’s suspension. Cuba will need to make steps towards Democracy in order to rejoin but the gravity of the vote in favor of Cuba and against the US is very telling of the sentiment against the US Embargo.
June 15, 2009: The economic conditions in Cuba are getting worse but Cuba has been there before during the Special Period when the Soviet Union collapsed. Cuba is having trouble paying its debts but that is nothing new either. What is new and why I have decided to add this news to this timeline is that the dire economic situation is being reported in the government controlled Cuban press AND I don’t think the Cuban people are going to put up with another Special Period. Fidel talked them through that but he’s not around and Raul is certainly no leader, he is a manager. Right now, there isn’t much to manage in Cuba. I think Cuba HAS to give something to Obama in order to move the dialog forward.
July 14, 2009:
The US and Cuba sat down for talks at the UN regarding immigration and national security issues. There seemed to be little “spin” from either side posturing for the upper hand. So, although the event was publicized, the tone of the meetings nor the content was released. However, ANY dialog is a positive step towards a post-Embargo Cuba.
July 26, 2009:
Even though Raul Castro made an uninspiring speech in Holguin on the anniversary of the Moncada Barracks attack today, the news worthy of posting in this article is that the long running propaganda ticker in the US Interests Section in Havana has been reportedly turned off to little fanfare from the US or Cuba. What you have to understand here is that the US turned off the ticker which shows that the Obama Administration is making some effort to engage (rather than enrage) the Cuban government. Raul Castro or certainly Fidel Castro could have taken the opportunity to claim a victory yet they have been silent. Maybe no one told Fidel that the ticker has been turned off. I would certainly expect some propaganda spin from him.
August 7, 2009:
Florida Senator Mel Martinez has resigned from his position citing personal reasons. The reasons are not clear but this leaves New Jersey Senator Menendez to be the lone pro-Embargo voice in the Senate. A voice we are thinking will be silenced by a majority in favor of the “Travel for All” bill that may come up as early as October. Also, the economy in Cuba is doing lousy and the Cuban government is running out of toilet paper.
September 4, 2009:
Today OFAC released an update to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations that allows for more family travel to Cuba, unlimited remittances and the ability for US based telecommunications businesses to operate in Cuba. These changes to the Cuba Embargo are the most significant in many years and a huge step towards the end of the US travel Embargo that infringes on American citizens’ rights of freedom to travel.
September 17, 2009:
US officials met in Havana in order to hold talks with Cuban officials about resuming direct mail service to Cuba, a service that has been suspending for more than 45 years.
Also on this date, the GAO released a summary of the US Cuba Embargo along with an outline for ending the Embargo as requested by three members of Congress.
September 21, 2009:
Democrat Congressman Farr from California said that the Travel for All bill has enough support to come to a vote by the end of this year. Many politicians have floated this trial balloon in the past but they have mostly been long time players in the Cuba arena. We have not heard from Congressman Farr in the past about Cuba. At the time of this posting (one week later) we have not heard any rhetoric from the Congressmen and woman from Miami.
September 28, 2009:
Today Cuba’s foreign minister spoke at the UN and has considerably toned down Cuba’s rhetoric against the United States. We fully expect the UN to condemn the sanctions against Cuba as they have for many years. Cuba usually uses this international gathering to slam the US but this time it’s different? Maybe Cuba is ready to talk? Maybe Cuba is ready to make concessions to President Obama in exchange for a closer, working relationship? Let’s wait and see what Fidel has to say about all this. Nothing moves forward without his approval. Sorry Raul but you know it’s the truth.
September 29, 2009:
The US and Cuba openly announced that senior level officials would meet in Havana to discuss resuming direct mail service to Cuba. They met in Havana on September 17 so that is a step towards ending the Embargo but the real news apparently is the fact that Bisa Williams, a senior administrator in the US State department stayed in Havana for several days longer than expected to meet with senior level Cuban government officials.
November 20, 2009:
The US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs held a full committee hearing yesterday to discuss lifting the travel ban to Cuba since Congressman Delahunt’s HR 874, the Cuba Travel for All bill now has 179 co-sponsors. Several house members and witnesses argued that lifting the travel ban on Americans would not aid a regime change in Cuba. That is not the reason that bill was written. The bill was written to give all Americans the freedom to travel to Cuba, not to affect change in Cuba.
You can watch the full video of the three hour hearing or read the full transcript. The Washington Post has a good summary of the Cuba hearing. Although it was positive to have this full Committee hearing, it does not appear that anything new was learned or revealed and US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that this issue would take a back seat to overhauling US health care and fostering job creation. She said “I’ve always been a supporter of lifting the travel ban to Cuba but right now we’re consumed with job creation and health care” and that she doesn’t know when the bill would come to the floor for a vote. Congressman Delahunt thinks maybe the bill would come up “next year”.
December 8, 2009:
(Our) Senator Kerry from Massachusetts has just announced that he will support the Senate Bill S428, the Cuba Travel For All Bill which as of today has 33 co-sponsors. Senator Kerry would make it 34.
This is obviously a very positive step in changing the travel restrictions on Americans and thus giving us our freedom to travel. Do not be lured into the conversation that this Bill is designed to affect change in Cuba. There is no language in the Bill that says anything about any changes in Cuba. This is a Bill in favor or American freedom, nothing more.
December 13, 2009:
The Senate approved a provision today to facilitate cash sales of US agricultural goods to Cuba, overturning restrictions by former President George W. Bush’s administration. The agriculture pay provision was added to legislation to fund dozens of federal agencies for the rest of the 2010 fiscal year, which ends September 30, 2010. Congress authorized cash sales of US farm goods to Cuba in 2000 but the Bush administration issued rules in 2005 requiring Cuba to pay for the goods through third-country banks before the products left port.
January 15, 2010:
The Cuban government has open their airspace to allow the US to fly over Cuba in order to aid with the earthquake relief efforts in Haiti. We commend the Cuban government for this action and hope that it is appreciated by the Obama administration.
February 1, 2010:
Recently Cuba announced that the United States and Cuba will sit down to negotiate immigration on February 19. This is a good sign since nothing happens without dialog. Yesterday in Miami, Cuban band Los Van Van played to a packed Knight Center and there was a real sense of “oneness” between the band and Cuban Americans. Since Miami controls US Cuba policy, it’s good to see that this community is not as closed minded as it has been in the past. Perhaps this concert is one more step in the timeline in the end of the US Cuba trade and travel Embargo.
March 8, 2010
The Obama Administration apparently directed OFAC to allow US based Internet communications companies like Google, Facebook, Microsoft and others to export their services to Cuba. This relaxation in US Cuba trade policy will allow the Cuban people to communicate with each other and the outside world.
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