Wednesday, October 24, 2012

People to people travel rescued but not safe

       by John McAuliff, Fund for Reconciliation and Development

In January of 2011 President Obama finally returned travel for most Americans to more or less the situation under President Clinton. “More” in that universities and religious organizations received general, no need to apply, licenses. “Less” because third party providers of study abroad were shut out completely and licenses were issued for only one year.

The category that opened the door to all Americans to visit Cuba was people to people, in which the only prerequisite was willingness and ability to pay for a group trip with a “full-time schedule of educational exchange activities...that will result in meaningful interaction between the traveler and individuals in Cuba.”

The devil was in the details, how would such amorphous language be implemented. What subjective and political screen would be in place behind the very closed doors of the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), still led by a Bush appointee. In the first year OFAC approved about one in three license applications, and imposed a one year time limit. It seemingly had more enthusiasm for trips that looked more like high end educational tourism, and less for those focused on substantive interaction.

But even that was too much for the hard liners in Congress. They hid behind the claim that the small increment of Americans in a universe of 2.5 million tourists significantly subsidized the regime they hate. In reality their accurate fear was that the more people travel to Cuba the more challenge will arise to the US diplomatic and economic embargo.

The ultras tried to slip in a rider to the comprehensive appropriations bill in December that would gut travel, but the President faced them down. Their next tactic was hostage taking. Rubio denounced on the Senate floor both the biggest (Insight Cuba) and oldest (Center for Cuban Studies) providers of open registration travel, then put on hold the confirmation of the Assistant Secretary of State and several ambassadors. He only withdrew his unilateral objection when, he claimed, the Administration agreed to tighten licensing for travel. OFAC dutifully produced new guidelines in May but they seemed only face saving for Rubio in that the new language was in an either/or format allowing easy renewal.

Describe how the educational and people-to-people exchanges you propose would enhance contact with the Cuban people, and/or support civil society in Cuba, and/or help promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities.

However in practice, OFAC demanded unreasonable amounts of detail and justification and turned down completely qualified renewals.

The head of an organization that actually received a license renewal wrote me:

Well, the first version totaled 17,000 words as I did not toss out a generic template but rather specified two or so events each AM and PM.

A few weeks after they received that, I received an email from OFAC staff stating that it was not immediately clear in all instances how "[our] encounters resulted in meaningful engagement for both travelers and Cubans."

This sort of surprised me. For instance, in stating that with met with a grandparent's group in Línea street to discuss the challenges that seniors face on both sides of the Straits seemed pretty obvious to me what the meaningful engagement component was. Thus, I copied and pasted the above phrase after every encounter and then spelled out plainly (with some tautology it seems to me) the value added: "Both groups shared their experiences with senior health-care issues. Cubans did not complain about the price of health care, but rather the lack of prescription drugs, food, and linens in hospitals. Americans complained about the cost. Both groups agreed that seniors should be valued more in their respective countries."

That sort of thing.

Bottom line: I had to send them a 25,000 word document!

And what skills do OFAC staff have in assessing what is meaningful engagement? Why is UST meddling in that nonsense? And where is the Tea Party and the strict constitutionalists when you need them?
Insight Cuba, Rubio's prime target went through an excruciating process, being forced to cancel trips and lay off staff as it sought to write and rewrite more than 140 pages of detail OFAC ostensibly sought.

In late August, Ellen Creager blew the roof off with an article in the Detroit Free Press. Many additional stories in mass media and trade publications followed. Three petitions were launched and pro-travel Congressional staff met with OFAC.

Six weeks later the log jam appeared to break. Insight Cuba was renewed, and even our license finally came through after six revisions and a year and a half of waiting. Presumably someone in the Administration or Obama campaign noticed that the President's opening and credibility were at stake. However organizations that were licensed later than Insight are still awaiting renewal, including Smithsonian Journeys, National Geographic Expeditions, National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Austin-Lehman.

OFAC justifies the delay on the grounds that it is understaffed. However, that is a self-created problem based on a policing mentality which treats Cuba as an enemy and suspects the motives of anyone who wants to go there. Were OFAC simply registering programs and checking the credentials of organizations rather than trying to second guess intentions and censoring those it dislikes, the process would be far simpler and faster.

The Administration could solve the problem easily by just removing OFAC and Congressional pressure from the process. All purposeful travel can receive the same kind of general license as was granted to Cuban American, universities and religious organizations. The Administration should also allow all US travel agents and tour operators to book flights and programs for authorized travelers. This will make Cuba available to a far wider American population, including families and backpackers, and reduce costs significantly by allowing use of public transportation, rental cars and privately owned casas particulares (bed and breakfasts).

The perverse character of current US policy is that Americans are forced by OFAC to use group trips which can only be organized in-country by state companies which naturally use state hotels, restaurants and transportation. OFAC has denied licenses because they included visits to private markets and cuenta propistas (the self-employed) and self-directed time to personally explore life at the grass roots. Programs and facilities provided by the state companies are generally quite good, but it is odd for the US government to be their source of clients.

OFAC reached new heights of absurdity by requiring in July that all visas be issued by the Cuban consulate that is part of the Interests Section in Washington. Up until then charter airlines and Travel Service Providers (TSP) simply issued tourist cards, marking up the cost to around $40. The Cuban consulate collects $75 per visa and the TSP adds a service charge for assembling and forwarding documents. Unless OFAC has a secret agenda of employing Cuban government workers and increasing state revenues, its only conceivable motive was to make arranging travel more complicated and time-consuming. Ironically Americans who use the five day a week commercial flight from Grand Cayman to Havana can with complete legality pay $20 for a tourist card at check in.

If President Obama is reelected, he could fundamentally transform the US-Cuba relationship, as outlined by NPR's Nick Miroff in the Global Post

However, just as with license renewals, public opinion matters. A SignOn/ petition that advocates trusting the American people and provision of a general license for all purposeful non-tourist travel is attracting signatures here

Cuba's new visa policy greeted warmly, but warily, by industry

By Gay Nagle Myers
A Havana street.While many in the U.S. travel industry were pleasantly surprised by the Cuban government's recent change in policy, lifting the widely reviled exit permits required for Cubans traveling abroad, the move also prompted some concerns about the possibility of a mass exodus of people long deprived of the right to freely travel abroad.

Whatever the results of the new policy, however, Cuba experts said last week that the changes would not have much impact on the current people-to-people programs offered by companies licensed to operate extremely limited travel from the U.S. to Cuba.

Nor does it change the visas required of Cubans by the U.S. State Department.

"Our own visa requirements remain unchanged," said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. "We welcome any reforms that will allow Cubans to depart from and return to their country freely, and we remain committed to the migration accords under which our two countries support and promote safe, legal and orderly migration."

As of Jan. 14, Cubans will no longer need exit permits, which cost $150 in a country where the average monthly wage is $20.

Nor will Cubans need letters of invitation from their foreign hosts, which the Cuban government charges $200 to process.

They will, however, still have to obtain visas from most countries they plan to visit, and they still need a passport to leave Cuba, a time-consuming process that costs about $110.

Cubans wishing to visit the U.S. must procure a visa from the understaffed U.S. Interests Section in Havana, where even before the rules changed, by some estimates, applications just for interviews to begin the process were already backlogged 14 to 18 months.

In announcing the changes on Oct. 15 in Granma, the Communist Party newspaper, the government made it clear that it will continue to decide who can leave the island, as it has since Jan. 9, 1959, when the exit permit requirement took effect. The announcement also noted that "any Cuban could be kept from traveling when the proper authorities so decide."

In other words, the Cuban government still retains final say on who gets passports to leave.

Certain categories of Cubans, such as sports figures, those working in key technical and scientific areas, physicians and other medical personnel, military and government officials and others whose work is deemed vital to the state or to combat brain drain have to undergo special scrutiny and get special passports, according to the decree.

"The changes are part of work to update the current migratory policy, adjusting it to prevailing conditions in the present and foreseeable future," Granma said.

The measure also extends to 24 months, from the current 11 months, the amount of time Cubans can remain out of the country without losing rights and property.

They can also seek an extension beyond the 24 months, according to Granma.

Also abolished is the re-entry permit, which has been required since 1961 for Cubans who live abroad and wish to visit the island, but again this comes with caveats.

Anyone deemed "hostile" to the state for any number of reasons is not welcome.

So while the new policy really is not as broad as it seems and the devil is in the details, it does indicate a softening.

At the same time, the changes raise a lot of questions in the U.S., especially with regard to the "wet-foot, dry-foot" policies and the Cuban Adjustment Act.

As it stands now, Cubans who make it to land (dry foot) are allowed to stay. If they are intercepted at sea, they are sent back to Cuba.

John McAuliff, executive director of the Fund for Reconciliation and Development, a nonprofit organization that seeks to normalize relations between the U.S. and Cuba, sees political and legal challenges arising from Cuba's announcement.

"Cuba now gives its citizens more freedom to travel to the U.S. than the U.S. gives its citizens to travel to Cuba," he said.

"The Obama administration should respond immediately by using its power to allow all nontourist travel to Cuba without applying for a license, and it must press Congress to abolish all travel restrictions."

That move, he said, "would give all Americans who want to seriously engage with Cuba the opportunity to choose between organized tours or self-directed, unsupervised backpacking and family trips, using public transport, rental cars and privately owned bed-and-breakfasts and restaurants," he said.

McAuliff also advocated the suspension of the Cuban Adjustment Act and the wet-foot, dry-foot policy.

"With Cubans free to travel to Mexico and Canada [no visas required], 'step across the border' economic migration will become a bigger problem," he said.

Still, Tom Popper, president of Insight Cuba, which offers licensed people-to-people programs, said, "This is amazing, exciting news, a huge move forward."

He added: "I don't see any downside to it, but now we have to liberalize the U.S. regulations. It's a hot-button issue, and I don't see anything happening on that front before the U.S. election."

Although "we may not see much movement in travel from Cuba to the U.S. initially, these changes give Cubans much more flexibility in travel abroad," he said.

Adam Vaught, associate director of GeoEx, which also operates licensed people-to-people programs to Cuba, said he saw no impact on his departures "outside of adding a little chaos at Jose Marti Airport in Havana."

"As has been the case with all the policy changes and liberalizations that have taken place in the last six years, this is going to be a 'wait and see' situation," he said. "The Cuban government's concern is that there will be a brain drain and the most talented and educated in the country will leave for greener pastures."

Vaught said the difference between life in Cuba and life in the U.S. "is one of the most heavily discussed topics on the people-to-people trips we lead."

He pointed out that many of the musicians, artists and dancers that GeoEx participants meet in Cuba have sponsors in the U.S. or Europe that want to bring them to perform or present their work.

"They have been held back due to the restrictions," Vaught said. "They are frustrated at not being able to leave Cuba but none seem interested in staying away for good. Most just want the same ability to come and go that almost everyone else in the world enjoys."

For Caribbean and Mexico news, follow Gay Nagle Myers on Twitter @gnmtravelweekly.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Higher Education Orientation Trip June 2013

Higher Education Orientation Trip to Cuba

Cuba/US People to People Partnership
of the
Fund for Reconciliation and Development

Led by John McAuliff, Executive Director of the Fund for Reconciliation and Development
June 14-24, 2013

June 13  Miami Airport Hotel

Optional dinner in Miami with Cuban American friends. (Cost of airport hotel and dinner are not included)

June 14  Santiago Hotel Casagranda LD
Early morning check in for an 8 a.m. charter flight to Santiago de Cuba. Upon arrival, transfer to the hotel. Have lunch and then meet with administrators at the Universidad de Oriente. Guests from the university will join us for dinner.

June 15  Santiago Hotel Casagranda BLD

Take a city tour of Santiago and learn about its role in the Cuban Revolution and its dynamic cultural heritage.
June 16  Parque Colon Hotel Playa Pesquero BLD

Explore Parque Natural Cristobal Colon where Columbus landed on October 28, 1492. Visit a Taino village restoration. Later this afternoon, learn about the regions ecological characteristics at the Caverna Tanque Azul, with an opportunity to swim (if you snorkel, bring gear).

June 17  Holguín Hotel Pernik or Villa El Bosque BLD

Depart for Holguín. Upon arrival, visit the city. After lunch, meet with administrators and professors at Universidad de Holguín. Guests will join us for dinner at Paladar La Ternuda.

June 18  Camagey Hotel Colon or Grand Hotel BLD

Depart for Camagüey. Visit the city this afternoon.

June 19  Sancti Spíritus Hotel E Plaza or E del Rijo BLD

This morning, meet administrators at the Universidad de Camagüey. Depart for Sancti Spíritus. Have lunch and meet with representatives from the Nunez Jimenez Foundation (FNJ). See their museum and visit the permaculture organic farm training and research project where students can volunteer. Dine with guests from FNJ and the university.

June 20  Sancti Spíritus-Havana Habana Libre BLD

Meet administrators and professors at the Centro Universitario de Sancti Spíritus (Marti Peres). Depart for Havana. Stop for informal dinner at Playas del Este. If time permits, observe cannon firing ceremony.

June 21  Havana Habana Libre BD

Attend briefings with the Ministry of Higher Education and with study abroad professionals at the University of Havana. This afternoon, visit the International School of the Arts with Paradiso, the tour company of the Ministry of Culture.* Enjoy an evening (with guests) at a performance of Opera de la Calle at its dinner theater El Cabildo.

June 22  Havana Habana Libre BLD
Gather with Dr. Rafael Hernandez to discuss social and economic renovation in Cuba and in-depth programs available for students visiting Havana. Dr. Hernandez is the Director of Temas magazine and 2011 visiting professor at Harvard and Columbia Universities. Have lunch with guests at Yoruba Cultural Association and see a sanitaria religious exhibition. Hear talented musicians preserve and interpret Cuba’s Celtic heritage during a performance by Banda de Gaitas at Teatro Retazos. Have dinner at paladar Las Estaciones or Los Nardos.

June 23  Havana Habana Libre BD
This morning, Dr. Carlos Alzugaray, a former diplomat and 2011 visiting professor at Queens College CUNY, will discuss with us US Cuba relations. Lunch on own followed by an afternoon of self-directed time to follow up on meetings, special interest appointments, or museum visits. Gather for a final dinner.

June 24 Miami B
Transfer to the airport in time for a 10 a.m. charter flight to Miami.

* On request, an effort will be made to arrange alternative appointments at other specialized universities in the Havana area, e.g. Technology (CUJAE), Medicine, Agriculture, Peadagogy, (Full list below.) Personal payment of taxi fares may be necessary.

Please note:  Itinerary above and prices below were prepared for October 2012 and are provided for illustration only.  Itinerary times, sequence, content and costs are subject to change

Land and Charter Air Costs:

Per person in double occupancy: $3,920.00
Single occupancy supplement: $275.00

Cost includes: local Cuban guide, all items as indicated in the itinerary such as meals, accommodations, speakers, entrance fees, and group transportation; tourist entry card, tips for guide and driver. Each group lunch/dinner has two beverages, including water, juice, soda, or beer.

Cost does not include: individual tips, tourist card for entry into Cuba, bottled water, departure tax of approximately $27 USD (25 CUC’s), and other items of a personal nature.

Price is based on a minimum of 10 participants. If fewer than ten enroll, a surcharge will apply. A minimum of 8 travelers is needed in order to operate this program.

Charter Air Schedule:

June 14 Miami-Santiago 8:00 AM
June 24 Havana-Miami 10:00 AM
Land and Charter air package does not include connecting flights from home gateway or hotel at the gateway.

Due to the time of departure from Miami, this trip requires an overnight at an airport hotel on the outbound portion of the trip. John McAuliff will stay at the Miami International Airport Hotel, located within the terminal building. Rooms at this hotel can be reserved for $170 per night including tax.

Important Notes & Requirements:

This program will be carried out under FRD's people to people license so is open to anyone with professional interest, including 

Before purchasing any connecting air tickets that are non-refundable, wait until you are contacted to confirm we have a guaranteed minimum number of participants. The trip is priced on 10 participants and a minimum of 8 participants will be required for the trip and payments will be refunded if the trip cannot take place.

Optional travel/trip cancellation Insurance is strongly recommended
See or call Holbrook at 352-377-7111

Universities in Havana under Ministry of Higher Education

Universidad de Habana
Universidad de Ciencias Informaticas
Polytechnic Institute "Jose A. Echeverria" (CUJAE)
Instituto Nacional de Ciencias Agricolas (INCA)
Universidad Agraria de la Habana
Instituto Superior de Diseno

Other Universities and Organizations in Havana

Universidad de Ciencias Pedagogicas Enrique Jose Varona
Universidad de las Artes (ISA)
La Escuela de la Medicina Veterinaria
Universidad de Ciencias de la Cultura Fisica y el Deporte "Manuel Fajardo"
Universidad de Ciencias Medicas de la Habana
Escuela Latinamericana de Medicina
Centro de Ingenieria Genetica y Biotecnologia
Centro Nacional de Rehabilitacion "Julio Diaz"
Acuario Nacional Cuba

For further information, or to obtain a registration form, contact John McAuliff,


US schools participating in the June 2012 program were: 

* Central Washington University
* Marquette University
* Penn State University
* St. Olaf College
* University of Colorado-Boulder
* University of New Mexico
* University of Wisconsin-Green Bay
* Western Illinois University
* Wingate University.

They met with:

* University of Havana
* Higher Institute of Technology (CUJAE)
* University of Agriculture of Havana/INCA (Mayabeque)
* University of Matanzas
* University of Las Villas (Santa Clara)
* University of Sancti Spiritus
* University of Cienfuegos


* Christian Center for Reflection and Dialog (Cardenas)
* Fundacion Nunez Jimenez for Nature and Humanity (Sancti Spiritus)

Comment by a June participant:

"I want to compliment both John and Michelle for organizing and running a great
program.  I learned a great deal and had a very good time doing it.  The
Cubans I met were all impressive folks and would all make great colleagues as
leaders of potential partner institutions.  I have absolutely no reservations
about encouraging study abroad and eventual exchange relations with any of
the universities I visited.  I think that this would be truly a mutually beneficial
relationship, if we can get things off the ground.  I'm already encouraging
strategic faculty to consider going on your Fall program."
Michael A. Launius, Ph.D.
Assistant Vice President
for International Studies & Programs
Central Washington University  

Romney/ Ryan on Cuba

Cuba is hardly the only issue determining Presidential preferences.   Some who favor Romney are convinced he would address Cuba in a more sensible and centrist way than reflected below.  However, for those who support Obama, a donation page has been created here that enables them to do so while signaling interest in this topic to his political advisers.



United States
Mitt Romney will adopt a clear policy toward the Cuban regime: no accommodation, no appeasement. The United States should not relent until the day when the Castros’ regime meets its end and their history is written among the world's most reviled despots, tyrants, and frauds. The North Star that guides Mitt Romney’s policy toward the island is the realizable dream of a free Cuba.
Unfortunately, President Obama has adopted a strategy of appeasement toward the Castro regime. He unilaterally relaxed sanctions without making any demands of the regime. Predictably, the Castros responded to these naïve concessions by tightening their grip on the island and by taking an American, Alan Gross, as a political prisoner.  Now, increased travel and remittances to Cuba prop up a regime desperate for foreign currency.
Mitt Romney will break sharply with President Obama’s appeasement strategy. Mitt Romney believes unilateral concessions to a dictatorial regime are counterproductive, helping to secure a succession of power and greater repression instead of a transition to freedom. Mitt Romney will send a strong message to both the regime and the Cuban people that the United States stands with the courageous pro-democracy movement on the island, and that our support will never waver. Mitt Romney’s policy toward Cuba will include:
Reinstating Travel & Remittance Restrictions. Mitt Romney will reinstate the 2004 travel and remittance restrictions that President Obama naively lifted.
Adhering to the Helms-Burton Act. Mitt Romney will strictly adhere to the Helms-Burton Act, including Title III, to place maximum pressure on the Cuban regime.
Demanding Release of Alan Gross. Mitt Romney will demand the immediate release of Alan Gross.
Democracy Promotion Programs. Mitt Romney will fully fund and effectively implement democracy promotion programs to support Cuba’s brave pro-democracy movement.
Breaking the Information Blockade. Mitt Romney will commit to breaking the information blockade the Castro regime places on the Cuban people. He will order effective use of Radio and TV Marti’s broadcasts to the island and employ robust Internet, social media, and other innovative steps to bring information to the Cuban people and help them send information out.
Publicly Naming Oppressors. Mitt Romney will publicly identify by name those police officers, prison officials, judges, state security personnel, and regime officials who mistreat, torture, and oppress the Cuban people so they know they will be held individually accountable.
Holding the Castros Accountable for the Brothers to the Rescue Shoot Down.  Mitt Romney will explore all avenues — including criminal indictment — to ensure that Fidel and Raul Castro are held accountable for the killing of four Americans in the downing of the Brothers to the Rescue airplanes.
Mitt Romney recognizes the wider threat to freedom posed by the anti-American Bolivarian movement across Latin America that is led by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and the Castro brothers. This movement threatens the principles enshrined in the Inter-American Democratic Charter and poses a serious national security threat to U.S. regional allies and the U.S. homeland in the form of an enhanced drug-terror nexus. Mitt Romney will pursue a resolute policy toward Latin America that will include:
Bolstering the Inter-American Democratic Charter. The precepts of the Inter-American Democratic Charter will form the cornerstone of U.S. policy in the hemisphere. There will never be a Cuban exception to the Charter.
Campaign for Economic Opportunity in Latin America. In his first 100 days, Mitt Romney will launch a vigorous public diplomacy and trade promotion effort in the region — the Campaign for Economic Opportunity in Latin America (CEOLA) — to extol the virtues of democracy and free trade and contrast them with the ills of the model offered by Cuba and Venezuela.
Hemispheric Joint Task Force on Crime & Terrorism. Mitt Romney will form a unified Hemispheric Joint Task Force on Crime and Terrorism to coordinate intelligence and law enforcement among our allies against regional terrorist groups and criminal networks.

"This is a critical time. I think you realize that. We've waited a long, long time for the opportunity that is represented by a new president, and by new leadership, or by old leadership finally kicking the bucket in Cuba… And I want to take advantage… I want to be the American president that is proud to be able to say that I was president at the time that we brought freedom back to the people of Cuba.

If I'm fortunate to become the next president of the United States it is my expectation that Fidel Castro will finally be taken off this planet… I doubt he'll take any time in the sky. He'll find a nether region to be more to his comfort…

I know I learned something about negotiating. I found that if I was trying to negotiate with someone else that before I gave them something, I wanted to know what I was going to get back. The idea that I’m going to negotiate, it’s a trade – I’m going to get something, and they’re going to get something.

What has occurred to me as I’ve watched our president over the last Castro years, is that from time to time we have a president who thinks that a tyrant, that a person who considers America their enemy, that that tyrant will give them something, just by virtue of us giving them something, with no trade whatsoever. Where we just say here, we’ll give you this thing and hope you’ll give us something nice back. Negotiations are not a matter of giving and hope. They’re a matter of giving and getting in return.

This president has decided to give a gift, to Castro, to allow remittances to come from the United States to go into Cuba and help the economy of Cuba. He’s allowed more traveling into Cuba. Showing that olive branch if you will. And how has it been met? It is met with a man, Wilman Villar*, who must sacrifice his own life through his hunger strike, with many, many people being oppressed in prison.

This president does not understand that by helping Castro, he is not helping the people of Cuba he is hurting them, he is not putting forward a policy of freedom, he is accommodating and encouraging a policy of oppression, and if I’m President of the United States, we will return to Helms-Burton and the law, and we will not give Castro any gifts.

*Wilman Villar is a political prisoner who died in January 2012 after a 50-day hunger strike

Jan 25, 2012: Romney speaking at the US-Cuba Democracy PAC event in Miami Freedom Tower


Romney's GOP drops Cuba, gays in the military from platform

By Paul West

August 20, 2012, 3:34 p.m.

TAMPA, Fla. -- At the direction of Mitt Romney's campaign, the Republican Party is moving to soften its official policy on some of the most cherished ideas of the party's conservative wing, including restrictions on trade and travel to Cuba and prohibiting gays from serving openly in the military.

Four years ago, the GOP unequivocally proclaimed "the incompatibility of homosexuality with military service" in a platform plank that affirmed the need to "protect our servicemen and women" and "the benefits of traditional military culture."

Draft language in the 2012 edition, crafted under the tight control of the Romney campaign, drops any reference to gays in the military, however. It also doesn't directly address President Obama's decision to abandon the "don't ask, don't tell" policy and let gays and lesbians serve openly.

In its place, the Romney Republicans are offering a vague reference to study Obama's military personnel policies.

"We reject the use of the military as a platform for social experimentation," states the 2012 platform. "We will conduct an objective review of the current administration's management of military personnel and will correct any problems with appropriate administrative of legal action."

Even more striking, perhaps, the 2012 platform as drafted contains no mention in its foreign policy section of Cuba, a topic of intense interest to pro-Republican Cuban American voters in South Florida and an entrenched piece of Republican dogma for a half-century.

The 2008 platform demanded continued "restrictions on trade with, and travel to, Cuba as a measure of solidarity with the political prisoners and all the oppressed Cuban people." But Obama has lifted many of the travel restrictions to Cuba, to encourage more personal exchanges with residents of the Communist island. Regular flights are now taking off for Cuba, including from the airport in Tampa, site of next week's nominating convention for Romney.

At the height of Florida's pivotal primary last winter, when a surging Newt Gingrich was threatening to knock him from the lead, Romney was outspoken on the subject of Cuba. He told a Miami audience that Obama "does not understand that by helping Castro, he is not helping the people of Cuba. He is hurting them."

But during an appearance this month before a predominantly Latino crowd in the Miami area, Romney never even brought up Cuba, an omission that drew critical comments from local Republicans, including Ana Navarro, a prominent Cuban American campaign strategist who was active in John McCain's 2008 campaign.

The 112 GOP convention delegates on the platform committee will be able to offer amendments over the next two days, as they work to complete a draft of the document. It will be sent to the full Republican nominating convention next week for approval.

Lost in translation: GOP platform DOES include Cuba travel restrictions

Memo to those assembling the GOP platform for the upcoming Republican National Convention: Don't say restrictions on Cuba trade aren't a plank when it is.
A GOP platform that mentions support for the Cuban embargo isn't news. It's like Republicans affirming their support for tax cuts. A GOP platform without Cuba? That's news. Very big news.
So when the Los Angeles Times today attended an RNC platform meeting and two Republican officials mentioned that Cuba wasn't part of the platform, it obviously was news. Very big news. After all, Republican vice-presidential pick Paul Ryan had an anti-embargo voting record until about 2007, Republican Cuba experts say. After that, they say, Ryan became more pro-embargo (more here).
Mitt Romney's campaign quickly responded to the story by noting that the platform does include language that supports restrictions on Cuba. And they blame the story on supporters of Congressman Ron Paul, a free-trader.
"Alternatively, we will stand with the true democracies of the region against both Marxist subversion and the drug lords, helping them to become prosperous alternatives to the collapsing model of Venezuela and Cuba.
"We affirm our friendship with the People of Cuba and look toward their reunion with the rest of our hemispheric family. The anachronistic regime in Havana which rules them is a mummified relic of the age of totalitarianism, a state-sponsor of terrorism. We reject any dynastic succession of power within the Castro family and affirm the principles codified in U.S. law as conditions for the lifting of trade, travel, and financial sanctions: the legalization of political parties, an independent media, and free and fair internationally-supervised elections. We renew our commitment to Cuba’s courageous pro-democracy movement as the protagonists of Cuba’s inevitable liberation and democratic future. We call for a dedicated platform for the transmission of Radio and TV Marti and for the promotion of Internet access and circumvention technology as tools to strengthen the pro-democracy movement. We support the work of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba and affirm the principles of the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, recognizing the rights of Cubans fleeing Communism."
That's pretty standard, boilerplate stuff.
However there is one possible omission: The platform doesn't explicitly call for reversing the executive decision of President Obama that allowed for more travel to Cuba.
Romney's camp, including Cuba-crackdown leader and former Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart, says no additional language is needed, in great part because Romney's campaign notes that he explicitly opposes Obama's executive decision to loosen travel and remittances to Cuba.

Read more here:

Republican platform doesn't abandon Cuba after all

By Paul West
August 20, 20126:06 p.m.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Cuban Americans can relax. The 2012 Republican platform will continue the party’s hard-line rhetoric toward the Communist regime in Cuba, though it does not call for reversing President Obama’s decision to relax restrictions on travel and financial assistance to residents of the island.
An earlier Politics Now post stated incorrectly that the GOP platform was silent on Cuba. A delegate on the party platform’s foreign policy and defense subcommittee, who had a copy of the pertinent language, expressed surprise during a drafting session on the plank Monday that Cuba wasn’t mentioned. A GOP aide with access to the platform confirmed that the foreign policy portion section did not mention Cuba.
The actual text of this year’s GOP platform draft is a closely held document, crafted under the control of the Mitt Romney campaign.
The draft planks were distributed to the platform delegates -- on paper only, not digitally -- making it much more difficult for copies to circulate surreptitiously to reporters or to interest groups that might want to criticize.
But after the Politics Now post stirred up a swarm of concern, particularly in south Florida, the campaign agreed to provide the platform language about Cuba, some of it directly lifted from the 2008 document.
Four years ago, the platform stated that the Republicans “support restrictions on trade with, and travel to, Cuba.”  The 2012 version also contains language that points in that direction.
But there is no specific call to tighten the president’s loosening of restrictions, which made it easier for Cuban Americans to visit relatives on the island and send them money, and has been popular with some Latino voters.
Here is the language on Cuba, as released Monday night by the Romney campaign:
"Alternatively, we will stand with the true democracies of the region against both Marxist subversion and the drug lords, helping them to become prosperous alternatives to the collapsing model of Venezuela and Cuba.
"We affirm our friendship with the people of Cuba and look toward their reunion with the rest of our hemispheric family. The anachronistic regime in Havana which rules them is a mummified relic of the age of totalitarianism, a state-sponsor of terrorism. We reject any dynastic succession of power within the Castro family and affirm the principles codified in U.S. law as conditions for the lifting of trade, travel, and financial sanctions: the legalization of political parties, an independent media, and free and fair internationally-supervised elections. We renew our commitment to Cuba’s courageous pro-democracy movement as the protagonists of Cuba’s inevitable liberation and democratic future. We call for a dedicated platform for the transmission of Radio and TV Marti and for the promotion of Internet access and circumvention technology as tools to strengthen the pro-democracy movement. We support the work of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba and affirm the principles of the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, recognizing the rights of Cubans fleeing Communism."

Republican Platform text

Strengthening Ties in the Americas

We will resist foreign influence in our hemisphere. We thereby seek not only to provide for our own security, but also to create a climate for democracy and self-determination throughout the Americas.
The current Administration has turned its back on Latin America, with predictable results. Rather than supporting our democratic allies in the region, the President has prioritized engagement with our enemies in the region. Venezuela represents an increasing threat to U.S. security, a threat which has grown much worse on the current President’s watch. In the last three years, Venezuela has become a narco-terrorist state, turning it into an Iranian outpost in the Western hemisphere. The current regime issues Venezuelan passports or visas to thousands of Middle Eastern terrorists offering safe haven to Hezbollah trainers, operatives, recruiters and fundraisers.
Alternatively, we will stand with the true democracies of the region against both Marxist subversion and the drug lords, helping them to become prosperous alternatives to the collapsing model of Venezuela and Cuba.
We affirm our friendship with the People of Cuba and look toward their reunion with the rest of our hemispheric family. The anachronistic regime in Havana which rules them is a mummified relic of the age of totalitarianism, a state-sponsor of terrorism. We reject any dynastic succession of power within the Castro family and affirm the principles codified in U.S. law as conditions for the lifting of trade, travel, and financial sanctions: the legalization of political parties, an independent media, and free and fair internationally-supervised elections. We renew our commitment to Cuba’s courageous pro-democracy movement as the protagonists of Cuba’s inevitable liberation and democratic future. We call for a dedicated platform for the transmission of Radio and TV Marti and for the promotion of Internet access and circumvention technology as tools to strengthen the pro-democracy movement. We support the work of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba and affirm the principles of the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, recognizing the rights of Cubans fleeing Communism.
The war on drugs and the war on terror have become a single enterprise. We salute our allies in this fight, especially the people of Mexico and Colombia. We propose a unified effort on crime and terrorism to coordinate intelligence and enforcement among our regional allies, as well as military-to-military training and intelligence sharing with Mexico, whose people are bearing the brunt of the drug cartels’ savage assault.
Our Canadian neighbors can count on our close cooperation and respect. As soon as possible, we will reverse the current Administration’s blocking of the Keystone XL Pipeline so that both our countries can profit from this vital venture and there will no need for hemispheric oil to be shipped to China.


Ryan Criticizes Obama’s Cuba Policy and Explains His Shift on the Issue
Published: September 22, 2012

MIAMI — On a morning intended to reassure hard-line anti-Castro voters, who are a powerful force in South Florida Republican politics, Representative Paul D. Ryan made a pilgrimage to a restaurant here at the heart of the Cuban exile community in Little Havana. Part of the reason: to criticize what he called President Obama’s “appeasement” of the Cuban government.

But the visit was also intended to do some fence-mending of his own: as a young congressman from a largely rural Wisconsin district, Mr. Ryan, now Mitt Romney’s 42-year-old vice-presidential running mate, supported ending the trade embargo with Cuba, an unpopular sentiment among many Republicans and Cuban exiles in this part of Florida, one of the most crucial swing states in the general election.

“If we think engagement works well with China, well, it ought to work well with Cuba,” Mr. Ryan had said a decade ago in an interview with The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “The embargo doesn’t work. It is a failed policy,” he said, adding that while many Cuban-Americans were passionate in their support of the embargo, “I just don’t agree with them and never have.”

And so on Saturday morning, Mr. Ryan appeared alongside a powerhouse lineup of Florida Republicans including former Gov. Jeb Bush at the restaurant Versailles, long famous as a gathering place for the anti-Castro movement.

There, in front of a cheering crowd and with particularly intense endorsement from former Representative Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Mr. Ryan made the case that his understanding of Cuba had evolved under long tutelage from Republican House members from South Florida, including Mr. Diaz-Balart and his younger brother Mario, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, now the House Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman, who have also endorsed him.

In a separate local television interview, Mr. Ryan also explained how he had come to change his mind and since 2007 has supported the embargo.

“You learn from friendships,” Mr. Ryan told the crowd at Versailles, explaining that his Florida friends in Congress had shown him “just how brutal the Castro regime is, just how this president’s policy of appeasement is not working.”

Mr. Ryan argues that the Obama administration has been too willing to engage with Cuba and has made it too easy to travel back and forth and send money to Havana from the United States. He vowed that a Romney-Ryan administration would be “tough on Castro” as well as on Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan leader.

An aide said Mr. Ryan’s evolution was not hard to understand: when he began in Congress he considered the issue primarily through the prism of constituents in southern Wisconsin who worried about export markets for agricultural products. But gradually, the aide said, Mr. Ryan’s views evolved to consider more heavily the embargo’s national security implications, and that he has explicitly supported the embargo for the past five years.

An Obama campaign official took strong issue with Mr. Ryan’s characterization of the administration’s Cuba policy, saying that Mr. Obama “has repeatedly renewed the trade embargo with Cuba, pressured the Castro regime to give its people more of a say in their own future, and supported democracy movements on the island.”

The official also said that the administration had “put in place common-sense, family-based reforms that allow Cuban-Americans to visit their family members still living in Cuba.”

Later in the day, Mr. Ryan spoke to 2,000 supporters at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, drawing ovations and what seemed universal approval from the cheering crowd. It was a stark contrast to his appearance the day before at the AARP convention in New Orleans, where he was booed for making many of the same arguments about Medicare and the Obama administration.

As he had in Miami, Mr. Ryan also began with a particularly local appeal to voters, arguing that the Romney-Ryan ticket would be better than the Obama administration for space exploration, long an economic driver in central and eastern Florida. (The Obama campaign quickly issued a statement asserting that Mr. Ryan repeatedly voted against NASA funding and that Romney-Ryan budget cuts could trim space-exploration financing by 19 percent.)

Using PowerPoint slides projected onto the wall of the arena, and with a national debt clock ticking behind him, Mr. Ryan put on a tutorial embraced by the crowd about the dangers of the national debt and government spending. “We can’t afford four more years of the last four years,” he said.

And he ended with what has become an effective talking point for his campaign, seizing on recent comments by Mr. Obama about how hard it is to change Washington from the inside.

“Don’t we send presidents to Washington to change Washington, to fix the mess in Washington?” Mr. Ryan asked. “When President Obama admits that he cannot change Washington, then we need to change presidents.”

While Mr. Ryan was on the stump in Florida on Saturday, the top of the Republican ticket was in California raising money in the hopes of recovering his fund-raising advantage.

In August, Mr. Obama and the Democratic Party raised more than Mr. Romney and the Republican Party. And much of the more than $300 million the campaign reported raising this summer is earmarked for the Republican National Committee, state Republican organizations and Congressional races, limiting the money Mr. Romney’s own campaign has to spend.

Mr. Obama on Saturday headed to Mr. Ryan’s home state, Wisconsin, to try to shore up support there. The addition of Mr. Ryan to the Republican ticket made Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes quite competitive in the closing phase of the presidential race, but a recent Quinnipiac University/New York Times/CBS News poll of likely Wisconsin voters found Mr. Obama with a slight edge in the state.

Meanwhile, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. was campaigning Saturday in the swing state of New Hampshire, where he repeatedly brought sarcasm to bear on Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan, describing their record and agenda with a “can you believe that” tone.

Mr. Biden seized on Mr. Romney’s disparagement at a private fund-raiser of “47 percent” of Americans who see themselves as dependent on government benefits. Mr. Biden facetiously recommended a book by Mr. Ryan and two fellow Republican leaders in the House, “Young Guns.”

“Get it, read it, it’s in paperback,” Mr. Biden said. “They constantly talk about this culture of dependence.”

He said he did not recognize the country described in the book. “People who get knocked down, my experience has been we get back up,” he told several hundred enthusiastic supporters at a middle school in the town of Merrimack. “There is no quit in America.”

Trip Gabriel contributed reporting from Merrimack, N.H.


Republican Candidates Court Miami’s Cuban Vote


There’s a political truism in Miami: Cuban Americans always vote Republican.
But four years ago, that voting bloc started to fray. Candidate Obama captured about a third of the Cuban vote in Miami.
Now the right-wing Miami Cuban establishment has a warning for their community: President Obama is soft on the Castro brothers.
Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen spoke in Miami this week at a Mitt Romney campaign event. Switching between Spanish and English, Ros-Lehtinen said every time President Obama mentions Cuba it’s to explain why he’s giving further economic concessions to the Castro regime.
Ros-Lehtinen is referring to the Obama administration’s easing of travel restrictions and remittances to Cuba. Critics call the policies an economic boon for the Castros.
So what you have now is an emboldened regime that feels that they can do whatever they want because they’re not facing any consequences,” said Mauricio Claver-Carone, director of the US-Cuba Democracy PAC.

There has to be consequences to certain bad actions: taking an American hostage, huge waves of repression. If they think they can do it, and they’re going to get this inflow of hard currency, then they’re going to increase the repression and continue doing so.”
The Republican presidential candidates are seizing on this. Mitt Romney spoke in downtown Miami this week.
Negotiations are not a matter of giving and hope, they’re a matter of giving and getting in return. This president has done something which is characteristic of his presidency and that is he turns and gives. And says that everybody in the world has the same interest and so people will give back to us. He’s wrong.”
But polls suggest a majority of Cuban Americans actually favor the Obama administration policies toward Cuba.
Uva de Aragón likes the policies and visits the island. She was born in Cuba and left as a young girl. De Aragón recently retired as the associate director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University.
I think the more open Cuba is, the more people who travel to Cuba, the more money you send to Cubans: the more you empower them, the more they’re knowledgeable. The people who travel and who bring magazines or stories, or whatever are an important source of information. So I’m very favorable to anything that opens up the island.”
De Aragón sees a contradiction between what many Cuban-Americans say and what they do. For instance, she said when you ask them about remittances, they respond this way: “Yes, of course I’m in favor of the embargo.”
But De Aragón said when you ask the same people if they send their family money back in Cuba, they’ll say, “Of course, he’s my brother!”
Cuban American Joe Garcia doesn’t mince words about the hardliners on Cuban policy and the Republican candidates courting them.
What you have going on here is a clown show and the audience is filled with clowns.”
Garcia ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2008 and 2010 as a Democrat. He says the president’s Cuba policies have been very effective assisting dissidents and expanding civil society. He said the hard-line hasn’t worked. Garcia called the rightwing position toward Cuba a religion, not a rational policy.
Part of the problem is that we’re engaged in revenge politics, which of course feels very nice, right? There’s a warmth and a heat that is driven by the absolute loathing of the Castro regime, which I share in. But later in the week someone will call for the 82nd Airborne to invade Cuba and I’m sure Gingrich will up the ante by calling for a nuking of the Havana suburbs just to teach Fidel a lesson.”
That hasn’t happened. But Newt Gingrich did call this week for American support for a “Cuban Spring.”

Some in the under-30 crowd here say all the bad blood and bickering over travel restrictions and remittances is a distraction.
I met David Cardenas and Giancarlo Sopo for dinner in downtown Miami. Cardenas is active in the Republican party; Sopo is with the Democrats. They have small disagreements about travel restrictions, but they say it’s not worth arguing about.
I think on the big issues relating to Cuba, in the final analysis, Cubans overwhelming agree with one and other,” said Sopo.
I completely agree with that,” said Cardena. “I think Cubans are united as a community, united in their policy positions toward Cuba.”
The trade embargo has overwhelming bipartisan support here. And in Congress and the White House.
Cardenas and Sopo are able to break bread together, perhaps because Cuba is not the focus of their lives.
I would say that Cuban Americans of our generation are not single-issue voters, much in the same way our grandparents and some of our parents are,” said Cardenas.
I would agree with what David is saying,” said Cardenas. “Cuba was much closer to their lives. They had just left the country, many of them still had hopes of going back. I think David and I, we see Miami as our home.”
And that’s where their real disagreement begins: What domestic economic policies are best for their home?
My comment  
A tonal correction to your assessment of public opinion:
Support for the trade embargo is 56% to 44% among Cuban Americans, according to the annual poll by Florida International University, hardly "overwhelming".   Cuban Americans, however, flip in their support for ending all travel restrictions, 57% to 43%.   
A 2009 Gallup Poll showed a majority of Americans favor ending the embargo, 51% to 36%.  The end of all travel restrictions was supported by 64%, with only 27% wanting to maintain them.  
The White House and Congress are out of step.
Even among Republicans, Ron Paul's message of normalization with Cuba could find surprising support.  
Gallup showed 60% of Americans in favor, only 30% opposed.  FIU shows  Cuban Americans were 58% for, 40% against
John McAuliff
Fund for Reconciliation and Development