Thursday, August 20, 2020

How Biden Can Manage Cuba article


How Biden Can Manage Cuba

  By John McAuliff

Five years ago I stood in a mostly Cuban crowd outside of the US embassy in Havana, excitedly watching our flag be raised for the first time in 54 years.  Two hours later I was at a celebratory party at the US Ambassador’s residence, a beautiful building designed but never used as a Winter White House for FDR.  Scores of official and non-official Americans who had worked for normalization were there, along with diplomats from other countries.  No one from the Cuban government attended because the embassy chose to invite a few prominent dissidents. 

The path to this day had not been easy because of political distrust on both sides and was a tribute to the determination of both Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro.  None of us expected the future would be simple.  However we never anticipated that virtually everything would be undone by the election of Donald Trump.  

Cuba relations will hardly be the largest problem or the first priority of a Biden Administration, but it is low hanging fruit.  While special interests are loudly in favor or against US engagement with the island, two thirds of Americans, including a majority of Cuban-Americans, were quietly supportive of President Obama’s normalization path and ready to go further to completely open travel.

Biden can rapidly and effectively build on Obama’s opening.  He will do at least as well with personally affected Florida voters by convincing them his goal is a positive relationship with the homeland of their parents, children and other family members.  He can counteract the narrow minded regression of President Trump for whom Cuba policies were little more than a favor to Marco Rubio and to Vladimir Putin.

Biden will be able to signal his concern for the well-being of the people of both nations, his desire to strengthen in practice pro-market reforms and the need to effectively displace growing Russian and Chinese influence.   His Administration could solidify a historic new chapter of post Monroe Doctrine, post Platt Amendment US partnership with the hemisphere. 

Biden’s campaign is already publicly critical of the latest punitive pettiness toward Cuba by the Trump Administration, prohibition of rare private charter flights.  He has told Americas Quarterly, “as president, I will promptly reverse the failed Trump policies that have inflicted harm on the Cuban people and done nothing to advance democracy and human rights”.

Biden will certainly receive support from his Vice President.  Senator Kamala Harris is among 46 bipartisan cosponsors of the Leahy bill to end all restrictions on travel to Cuba.

He can also expect an abrazo, a hug, from the new First Lady whose moving cultural visit to Camaguey and Havana was portrayed in an Obama White House video. 

Biden has four stages of opportunity that will cut the Gordian knot of six decades of intractable mutually destructive US-Cuba relations.

1) During the campaign or right after election:  Announce that immediately upon taking office he will restore Obama policies on individual and group travel licenses, cruises, flights to regional cities, remittances, import of agricultural products, international shipping, specific types of investments and banking and as well as facilitation of visas for educational and cultural exchange.  Clarify that Cubans granted visas for family and professional visits and for study in the US will be deemed ineligible to claim status under the Cuban Adjustment Act.  (Depending on US success in controlling Covid-19, an announcement of intention allows planning for the winter season and spring semester by the travel sector and universities.) 

2) Within the first year: Fully restaff an embassy gutted by a Secretary of State and President who opportunistically exploited inexplicable health problems of US personnel (or just turned tail and ran).   Reopen consular authority and restore visa authority for immigration and family reunion visits.  Support Leahy/McGovern legislation to totally end restrictions on travel and other bills for comparable initiatives in agricultural and medical sales as well as on related financial transactions.   Enable collaboration in medicine and science, including on anti-Covid research, treatment and international humanitarian assistance.  Return to abstention on the virtually unanimous UN vote against the unilateral US embargo. Resuspend Title III of Helms-Burton to stop annoyance suits by Cuban Americans for property they lost before they had any claim as US citizens. 

Break new ground.  To test and support economic reforms, terminate application of the embargo to privately owned small and medium Cuban enterprises, permitting their exports, imports and US investments.  Cooperate with Cuba to confirm Canadian research that chemical toxins not illusive sound waves caused illness of embassy personnel and to discover who was responsible. Stop all US government funding of projects within Cuba that are not vetted through normal diplomatic channels with the host government.

3) Within the first two years: Align with Hemispheric and European goals by achieving through comprehensive negotiations a political settlement in Venezuela and an end to the unilateral US embargo of Cuba.   Open consulates in at least one Cuban and one US city.  Allow ferry service between US and Cuban ports.   Support with governmental, corporate and foundation funds wide ranging cultural, educational, professional and business exchanges.  Seek reciprocal dampening of interventionist hostility by state funded publications, broadcasts and social media, replaced by ongoing multi sectoral dialog about conflicting values and ideologies.

4) Within the first term: Follow the road map to restore full Cuban sovereignty of the Guantanamo base that was developed by Ben Rhodes and Alejandro Castro during the Obama Administration’s normalization discussions.   Explore transforming the military outpost and prison into a free trade zone, hemispheric medical research center and cruise port.


Cuba is the most immediate opportunity for the Biden Administration to creatively and positively roll back Russian advances.  The Senate Intelligence Committee report on Russia's active measure campaigns is limited to the election period.  It does not connect dots to the through line of President Trump's policies that have appeared to benefit President Putin.  Frequently noted with suspicion are his pro-Russian dispensations with NATO, Syria, Iran, North Korea, Ukraine, European allies, nuclear weapons, international institutions and climate change, not to mention his frequent secretive meetings and calls.  Also fitting that pattern was his abrupt barely noticed worldwide withdrawal of all Peace Corps volunteers (excused by Covid) and his constant efforts to discredit governmental norms and practices at home.  

Cuba is seldom discussed in this context although it's hard to imagine greater Trump Administration help for Russian interests. Because of the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia's role of protector against US threats and subsidizer disappeared resulting in the national calamity of the Special Period of the 1990s.   While many Cubans had ideological and personal ties to Russia as it had been, distrust and distancing grew with Russia as it was becoming, a center of oligarchic capitalism.  

As the result of the Obama-Castro opening real differences were emerging in Cuba about whether reconciliation and mutual respect with the US was truly possible or a Trojan Horse.  Had a path become available to sustained sovereign development, at variance with the choice of 60 years of total dependence followed by 60 years of total resistance?  If that were the case, would Cuba still need a big foreign friend for security and economic development?  

Barter of doctors and teachers for Venezuelan oil and trade with China had filled some of the gap.  Funds from Cuban American family remittances, visits and investments and the growth of cruises, tour groups and independent travelers were building the national economy and expanding the role of private business and entrepreneurs.  The natural propensity of economic and cultural relationships between neighbors with linked populations was beginning to take hold and the space for the Russians was declining.  

President Trump's harsh renewal of cold war era hostility foreclosed the discussion.  Cuba again needed a friend and Russia was only too happy to reenter with naval visits and leadership exchanges, even discussion of reopening its Cuba based center for electronic surveillance of the US.  Did Russia just accept what fate and Donald Trump delivered or did it help things along?  The scientific evidence from Canadian researchers that chemical toxins were responsible for the medical problems suffered by their diplomats requires rigorous investigation of whether the Americans were similarly targeted.  The question naturally arises whether the Russians applied their notorious skills in this field.  The Cubans may be able to help eliminate the problem by recognizing and controlling Russian behavior based on private collaboration with US scientists, doctors and security officials.  However, they cannot be expected to publicly acknowledge a Russian role until it is undebatable that the US has truly abandoned its regime change agenda, even in a soft power mode.  

The policies I have suggested for the Biden administration move us in the right direction, but real trust is impossible as long as the US maintains a devastating unilateral embargo and refuses to restore the Guantanamo base to national sovereignty, consistent with US principles elsewhere in the world.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on Cuba

op ed  in the New York Times by two important advisors of the Biden foreign policy team. 

Trump Still Has 70 Days to Wreak Havoc Around the World

A few words in Mr. Biden’s inaugural speech about his commitment to multilateralism, diplomacy and human rights would set the right tone. On Nov. 4, the Trump administration officially withdrew the United States from the Paris climate agreement, but Mr. Biden can easily rejoin it on his first day in office, as he has vowed to do. He can prevent our withdrawal from the World Health Organization, which doesn’t take effect until July 2021. The new president can also restore President Barack Obama’s Cuba policy, reaffirm the United States’ commitment to NATO, and replace Mr. Trump’s partisan and often unqualified appointees.

But there is only so much low-hanging fruit, not least because the Trump administration has been working relentlessly to make many policies as difficult to reverse as possible.

Robert Malley is the president and chief executive of the International Crisis Group. Philip H. Gordon is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of “Losing the Long Game: The False Promise of Regime Change in the Middle East.” They served in the Obama administration and as informal advisers to the Biden-Harris campaign.



On Cuba News has reported statements from the Biden campaign reflecting a more aggressive stance against Trump Administration Cuba policies:

“In the midst of a global pandemic in which families are suffering deeply on the island and around the world, President Trump is denying Cuban-Americans the right to help their families,” Florida campaign strategic advisor Christian Ulvert said in a statement.

The Democrat recalled that Western Union “is the largest remittance service” in Cuba and that its closing “will be painful for Cuban families, especially the oldest and most vulnerable, both on the island and in the United States.”

“Trump’s war on family remittances is a cruel distraction from his administration’s failure to promote democracy in Cuba,” said Ulvert, adding that the “presumed support of the president for the Cuban people is nothing more than empty rhetoric.”....

The Democratic candidate for the U.S. vice presidency, Kamala Harris, assured this Tuesday in an interview with EFE that if she and Biden get to the White House they will repeal the restrictions that Trump has imposed on the island, although the end of the blockade will not happen “soon.”

She said that the embargo is law and that an act by of Congress is needed to lift it or that the president determines that a democratically elected government is in power in Cuba, adding that they don’t expect any of these things to happen anytime soon.

Translated by Walter Lippmann. This is the section on Cuba of a longer EFE interview with Kamala Harris. Includes link to the full interview. Taken from Iroel Sánchez blog, LA PUPILA INSOMNE.

Kamala Harris on Cuba: "The embargo is the law." By EFE

In a written interview with the Spanish press agency Efe, the senator and vice president for the Democratic Party Kamala Harris answered two questions related to Cuba.

Q: What would a future government of yours and that of the Democratic candidate Joe Biden do to reverse the policies that Trump has adopted towards Cuba? Would you personally advocate for an end to the blockade?

A: The policy of a Biden and Harris Administration towards Cuba would be governed by two principles: First, Americans, especially Cuban-Americans, are the best ambassadors of freedom in Cuba. Second, empowering the Cuban people to determine their own future is vital to America's national security interests.

Trump is deporting hundreds of Cubans back to dictatorship and back to a regime crackdown that has only increased under his presidency. There are nearly 10,000 Cubans languishing in tent camps along the Mexican border due to Trump's anti-immigrant agenda. And it is separating Cuban families through restrictions on family visits and remittances.

We will backtrack on Trump's failed policies. And as Joe Biden did previously as vice president, he will also demand the release of political prisoners and will make human rights a centerpiece in the diplomatic relationship.

The embargo is the law; you need an act of Congress to lift it or you need the president to determine that a democratically elected government is in power in Cuba. We don't expect any of these things to happen anytime soon.

Q: From a US foreign policy perspective, what role do you think Spain can play in relations with Cuba and, in general, with Latin America?

A: Under a Biden and Harris Administration, the US will work with members of the international community, including Spain, to support the Cuban people, as well as promote Joe Biden's vision of the need to work for a safe hemisphere, middle class and democratic.

Read full interview )

Democrat Joe Biden is making a direct pitch to Florida’s Latino voters by attacking President Donald Trump’s handling of Cuba and Venezuela.

Speaking at a drive-in rally in Fort Lauderdale on Thursday, Biden said Trump is “the worst possible standard-bearer for democracy” in places like Cuba and Venezuela.

The president, Biden said, “can’t advance democracy and human rights” in Cuba or Venezuela “when he has embraced so many autocrats around the world.” And he said that the Trump administration’s decision to reimpose trade and travel sanctions on Cuba “isn’t working,” declaring that “Cuba is no closer to freedom and democracy today than it was four years ago.”

Florida’s sizable and diverse Latino population could be key to Biden’s chances in Florida, a state that remains a must-win for Trump. While the state’s Cuban population has traditionally trended Republican, Democrats believe they have an opening with Florida’s Cubans because of Trump’s move to freeze relations with the nation and the changing demographics of the population.

Biden set the stakes for voters at the rally, telling them, “If Florida goes blue, it’s over!

Biden Discusses Cuba, Venezuela in Interview With NBC 6

Published September 2, 2020 • Updated on September 2, 2020 at 2:43 pm

Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden discussed Latin-American politics during a one-on-one interview with NBC 6 anchor Jackie Nespral.

Among the topics discussed was the frozen relationship between the United States and Cuba. In the last four years, the Trump administration has reversed many, if not all, Obama-era policies in relation to Cuba that were put in place in 2016. Some of these policies include placing restrictions on travel and tourism and cutting the staff in the U.S. Embassy in Cuba.

Biden said that if he is elected president, he will bring back those policies set by then President Obama and work to repair the relationship which has been on the rocks for more than 50 years.

“I am trying to reverse the failed Trump policies that have inflicted harm to Cubans and their families. He has done nothing to advance democracy and human rights," Biden said. "My plan, is to pursue a policy advancing interest and empowering the Cuban people to freely determine their own outcome and future.”

The crisis in Venezuela is also on the minds of many here in South Florida. Recently the president drew controversy from lawmakers, after saying he’d be open to meeting with Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro.

Biden called President Trump’s approach to Venezuela a failure and said if he wins the election this November, he would extend and provide temporary protected status for Venezuelans.

"It is an abject failure since he took office. Nicolás Maduro has gotten stronger, Venezuela's people are worse off, living in one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. The country is no closer to a free election," Biden said. "Trump’s incoherent approach has eliminated international partners, has alienated partners and undermined the cause of democracy and his policy has failed to eliminate human suffering for millions of Venezuelan Americans.”

What Kamala Harris thinks about Cuba On Tuesday, former Vice President Joe Biden announced Senator Kamala Harris, the junior senator from California, will be his running mate, the Tampa Bay Times reports. Last year, Sen. Harris responded to a Tampa Bay Times survey asking questions about Florida-specific issues, including Cuba policy. Asked whether she would continue or end the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, Sen. Harris’ staff responded “Senator Harris believes we should end the failed trade embargo and take a smarter approach that empowers Cuban civil society and the Cuban-American community to spur progress and freely determine their own future.” Shortly after the official announcement, a group of Cuban-American Biden supporters, Cubanos con Biden, reacted positively to Sen. Harris’ nomination. They tweeted that reason number 84 out of 90 that Cubans should vote for Democrats in November is because Sen. Harris is the daughter of immigrants and she is an Afro-Caribbean and Asian-American woman who understands the challenges of the immigrant community in the U.S. Democrats in Florida, a critical swing state. Fernand Amandi, a Democratic strategist and pollster from Miami, stated “Kamala Harris has no baggage with Hispanic voters [in Florida].” Sen. Harris was a co-sponsor of the Freedom for Americans to Travel to Cuba Act which would prohibit U.S. citizens from being restricted from traveling to Cuba in 2017 and most recently in 2019 .

-- Center for Democracy in the Americas, U.S, Cuba News Brief




JOE BIDEN: (33:03)




Biden: The United States should not be in the business of regime change. Nicolás Maduro is a dictator, plain and simple, but the overriding goal in Venezuela must be to press for a democratic outcome through free and fair elections, and to help the Venezuelan people rebuild their country. The international community also has a responsibility to help Venezuela’s neighbors like Colombia to manage the grave humanitarian crisis created by the millions of Venezuelan migrants who’ve fled the country. As president, I would also grant Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelans in the United States.


Biden: Americans – and especially Cuban-Americans – can be our best ambassadors for freedom in Cuba. Therefore, as president, I will promptly reverse the failed Trump policies that have inflicted harm on the Cuban people and done nothing to advance democracy and human rights.