Saturday, October 31, 2020

Dialogue with Circles Robinson about Biden's Impact



We don't really know what Biden will do about Nicaragua and Venezuela.  About the latter, he, Nancy Pelosi and other mainstream Democrats appeared initially to follow the Trump/Bolton regime change fantasy of Juan Guaido.  (Fareed Zakaria was a cheer leader as well, to his great discredit.)

However Biden subsequently adopted a more nuanced position, stating in his Americas Society interview, "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."

In principle that frees the Biden Administration from going through a US created leader and allows it to seek a political solution directly with Maduro and the actual Venezuelan government.  The US can support rather than sabotage the Norwegian peace initiative or create its own comprehensive approach to the region that includes an end to all economic sanctions and embargoes.

I was surprised by your simplistic analysis of Cuba:

"The Castro’s outright rejected Obama’s policy of opening more doors to Cuba. The Cuban government opposed the increased US travel, people-to-people exchanges and free flow of remittances to individuals and private businesses. They treated it as a 'trojan horse' plan to subvert their rule. Their reaction was greater repression of dissenters and independent journalists and a slow-down in their own economic reform plan."

While Fidel, or old guard intermediaries around him, did criticize Obama, it is not hard to understand why.  The embargo is used as an excuse but it is also a classic act of very damaging economic warfare.  I think that Obama and now Biden are moving toward an end of the embargo--and the return of Guantanamo.  Their step by step approach is understandable in the context of US politics but makes it hard for older conservative sectors of the Party to stomach being lectured to about human rights and free enterprise by the same government that has had a knee on their neck for sixty years.

However, over more than two decades of deep involvement with Cuba, I have never encountered opposition to, "increased US travel, people-to-people exchanges and free flow of remittances to individuals and private businesses"  before or after Obama and Raul Castro normalized diplomatic relations.  To the contrary.

Did state institutions try initially to maintain monopoly control, sure, but that seemed bureaucratically and economically driven to maintain institutional primacy and fund the state budget.  There was steady growth of openness to the important role of the non-state sector, most obvious in practical cooperation with bed and breakfasts and private restaurants.   That will go further in the new round of economic reform discussions if travel is a sector authorized for small and medium enterprise.

The "greater repression of dissenters and independent journalists and a slow-down in their own economic reform plan" did not come during the Obama Administration.  It was a reaction to overt hostility and growing sanctions from Trump. 

The US responded to perceived threat in World War II by mass detention of Japanese Americans.  We responded to post war conflict with the Soviet Union by McCarthyite purges from government and educational institutions, by imprisonment and firings of members of the US Communist Party because of suspected disloyalty, as well as by mob action against left cultural events.  Are you surprised that a country of 11 million responds harshly and defensively to an existential threat from a thirty times larger geographically and culturally close superpower and mistreats citizens who overtly support US aggression against national sovereignty?

 Just as I believe Cuba would dramatically improve its economic situation if it adapted and adopted Vietnam's market model, I believe the US would dramatically strengthen its influence in Cuba if it followed the same policy of mutual respect and non-interference that it has with Vietnam.  Do I hope that Cuba, like Vietnam, finds a path to a more liberal and tolerant multi-party political system?  Yes, but the only role that US can play in either country's process is to give it space for its people to find their own path for their own reasons.

You can find my no doubt overoptimistic assessment of where Biden might go on Cuba as published by the Quincy Institute at

   --John McAuliff


I agree that Fidel's statement was negative.  It was impossible for anyone to directly contradict him but my impression is that his words represented only the most cautious perspective within the government and Party.  

It might have been impossible in terms of US politics, but I wonder whether Obama making a courtesy call on Fidel as the Pope did would have affected the atmosphere after his departure.

There was certainly not a negative change in policy or behavior about "US travel, people-to-people exchanges and free flow of remittances to individuals and private businesses".  The atmosphere was increasingly positive.

The problem for evaluating whether repression increased is that the people complaining  were against Obama's policy of normalization and could have been seeking ways to discredit it. 

Did anything negative happen to the people who spoke frankly during Obama's session promoting private business?

Again, my memory is that serious backsliding was associated with Trump's election.

Because the legal conditions were different, Clinton was able to lift the embargo of Vietnam before he reestablished diplomatic relations.  There were still conflicts after normalization but one of the biggest obstacles to establishing trust had been removed

Thursday, October 15, 2020

How President Biden Can Manage Cuba


How President 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 had invited a few prominent dissidents. 

The path to this day had not been easy because of political distrust on both side and was a tribute to the determination of both Presidents Obama and Castro.  None of us expected the future would be simple.  However we never anticipated that virtually all 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 minorities are loudly in favor or against US engagement with the island, most Americans, including Cuban-Americans, were quietly supportive of President Obama’s normalization path and even inclined to go further on travel.

Biden can rapidly and effectively build on Obama’s opening.  He will do at least as well with personally invested 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 narrowminded 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 pro-market reforms and the need to practically counteract growing Russian and Chinese influence.   His Administration will 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 of 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 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 would 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, specific types of investments and banking and international shipping 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 were opportunistically intimidated by inexplicable health problems.   Reopen consular authority and restore visas for immigration and family reunion visits.  Support Leahy/McGovern legislation to totally end restrictions on travel and 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 assistance.  Return to abstention on the 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 American 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 a 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.  Begin 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 Obama’s normalization discussions.   Explore transforming the military outpost and prison into a free trade zone, hemispheric medical research center and cruise port.

"What to Make of Cuba’s Planned Economic Reforms?"  Read a range of Cuban opinions here

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

The Impact of the US Election from a Cuban Perspective

 The Impact of the US Election from a Cuban Perspective

   by Jose Viera

On one occasion, Fidel Castro said that the results of the presidential elections in the United States were so important to Cuba that Cubans should be able to vote in them. In the next elections to be held in November the result will bear important consequences for the Island and, of course, for Miami, in particular the Cuban-American community.

Six years ago, on December 14, 2014, the joint announcement by Presidents Barak Obama and Raúl Castro of an agreement to negotiate the normalization of diplomatic relations and explore cooperation in areas of common interest opened a new phase in bilateral relations that, for the first time since 1959, was not based on hostility.

This brief period was quickly reversed by the then newly re-elected President Trump who, on June 16, 2017 in Miami stated: "Therefore, effective immediately, I am canceling the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba."[1]

In fact, the cancellation of these advances did not happen immediately, as Trump proclaimed in his usual arrogant and theatrical style.

During the years 2015-2016, the two countries had negotiated a score of cooperation agreements that were of importance to both the United States and Cuba, while at the same time, people-to-people relations increased substantially. Cuban-American visits and family relationships multiplied and Cuba even proved to be an immediate market –even under the conditions of the embargo- for US airlines and cruise companies with all indications of significant growth, even in the short term.

It was not possible for the Republican administration to reverse everything that had been advanced at a stroke; they have not even managed to do it in its entirety until now, but they did bring a sustained dismantling of all cooperation and even a severe increase in unilateral sanctions and a tenacious persecution of Cuban financial and commercial ties with the world. Today it can be said that the embargo ("blockade" for the Cubans) is more extensive, systematic and thorough than ever before.

Trump's policy was never explained in positive terms, he never presented a goal to be achieved other than reversing a visionary foreign policy achievement of his predecessor in the White House. In none of his statements did Trump offer a vision of the future of relations between the United States and Cuba, much less of how he conceived them in the framework of inter-American relations as a whole. It was not stated what were the interests of the United States in Cuba outside of promoting a change of regime or how to ensure a supposed democratization on the island. Nor was it explained how imposing more economic penalties on Cuba could provoke a regime change or how Cuba or Cuban-Americans could be affected by causing economic and social chaos on the island. By saying that the economic sanctions were to deny resources to government and party leaders, it was concealed that the real victims were the citizens of the island, the Cuban people, who were denied the means for their subsistence and development. It was a massive punishment seeking to force Cubans toward instability and disorder.

Even as recently as September 23 of this year, already in the middle of the electoral process and in search of his re-election, President Trump explained his actions fundamentally in terms contrary to those of the previous administration, stating that: “The Obama-Biden administration made a weak, pathetic, one-sided deal with the Castro dictatorship that betrayed the Cuban people and enriched the communist regime. I canceled the Obama-Biden sellout to the Castro regime."[2]

Both in the 2016 elections, as during his four years in office and even when facing his coveted reelection in 2020, at no time did Trump think of a policy towards Cuba, a plan based on solid foundation - that would take the history of those relations into account. – to forge a bond between two neighboring countries that can benefit each other so much.  Nor, even with the goal of changing the political and economic system on the island, did he articulate the way to achieve it in the best possible terms, without exposing Cubans, and even North Americans, to incalculable risks of violence and loss.

Every time what Trump decides about Cuba, is determined by his goals in the internal politics of the United States, to win the vote of Cuban-Americans.   In fact, he cares little about what happens to Cuba or to the Cubans. Nothing proves this better than the following statements by Trump: “Cuba has been very good to me, in the Florida elections, you know, the Cuban people, Americans…,” apparently the President of the United States considers that all Cubans are US citizens and vote in the elections in Florida.[3]

Meanwhile, on the Democratic side.

Former Vice President Joe Biden has not provided extensive explanations of his policy toward Cuba. "Former Vice President Joe Biden said Monday he would return to Obama-era policies of engagement with Cuba and reverse the Trump administration's sanctions if he wins the White House race in November." "In large part, I would go back,”[4] Biden said. To these statements last April he recently added: “I’d try to reverse the failed Trump policies, it inflicted harm on Cubans and their families,” Biden said. "It's done nothing to advance democracy and human rights, on the contrary, the crackdown on Cubans by the regime has gotten worse under Trump, not better."[5] These statements have been nuanced with references to what Cuba should do in its relations with Venezuela and in the fulfillment of supposed commitments acquired by the Cuban side.

Neither Biden, and much less Trump, have offered an explanation of a policy towards Cuba that corresponds to a statesman's vision that describes the strategic interests of the United States, taking into account those of Cuba, and aiming to close the negative chapters of the complex historical relationship between the two countries.

Obama's policy.

In his statement of December 17, 2014, President Obama, in an excellent speech, outlined a vision of the future of these relations. One may or may not agree with his positions but there is no doubt of its transparency, depth and broad scope. Two concepts deserve special consideration.[6]

The first is the  “policy of engagement”, he said: “…I am convinced that, through a policy of engagement, we can more effectively stand up for our values and help the Cuban people help themselves as they move into the 21st century.”

The other was to abandon the goal of bringing political, economic and social collapse in Cuba. Obama said: “Moreover, it does not serve America’s interests or the Cuban people to try to push Cuba towards collapse.” Adding: “Even if that worked -- and it hasn’t for 50 years -- we know from hard-earned experience that countries are more likely to enjoy lasting transformation if their people are not subjected to chaos.”

It is necessary to understand the practical scope of both concepts in the context of the relations of both countries since 1959.

The proclamation that the United States did not seek to push Cuba to collapse signified accepting the reality of changes that occurred in Cuba since January 1, 1959. At the same time, the geographic proximity, the strategic situation of the island at the mouth of the Gulf of Mexico, would provoke the beginning of an important and beneficial cooperation between both parties in a whole set of areas ranging from health care and weather forecasting to exchange and cooperation on legitimate issues that concern national security. Differences on international issues could be examined, and topics as important as compensation for the nationalization of American investments in Cuba, and compensation to Cuba for human and material losses due to American hostility, could find a solution in the new political and diplomatic environment created.[7]

More importantly, without a collapse of the Cuban system, the legality existing in Cuba is consolidated. This has an enormous practical significance for every Cuban. In the aggressive and tendentious campaign of defamation and demonization of the revolution, American citizens are never reminded that the Cuban Revolution not only nationalized or confiscated the properties of foreigners and wealthy Cubans but also created hundreds of thousands of new owners in Cuba. More than 200,000 Cuban farmers received possession of the lands they cultivated. The Revolution gave ownership of their homes to hundreds of thousands of Cubans who previously paid rent to individuals or who got new apartments and houses build by the State or by themselves.  A collapse of the Cuban system would end the legal protection of these owners.

In fact, for the United States to proclaim that it was not seeking the collapse of the Cuban system but that it will use engagement to influence its evolution, meant something concrete and positive for practically every Cuban citizen.

The policy of engagement, of promoting the values ​​that Washington looks to see in force in Cuba through the promotion of cultural, economic, scientific cooperation between both peoples meant rescuing the most powerful ideological and political weapon available to the United States in its relation with the island nation : its great cultural influence in Cuba.  The fact that Cuban nationality was forged parallel in time to the period in which the United States became consolidated as an independent state and that the rapid growth of intense economic ties and the importation of technological advances that Spain was unable to provide to Cuba, insured that in the emerging identity of Cubans was present the cultural influence of the United States.

This general influence includes now the particularly important relationship with Miami. Undoubtedly the participation of Cuban Americans occupies a main place in Obama's confidence that the engagement policy would have a profound impact in Cuba.

The mutual cultural influence between Havana and Miami was not born with the emigration that took place after 1959. That influence grew steadily throughout the post-war period and was very evident in the 1950s. Ten of thousands of Cubans visited Miami each year, spending vacations, shopping, and experiencing American society. The geographical proximity and the ease of transportation provided by intense air and maritime links even led to practically a daily trade by Cubans who traveled back and forth in the same day. In that period, many Cubans, not only corrupt politicians, invested in Miami in significant amounts.[8]

Indeed, after 2014, the number of Cubans visiting the United States, especially Florida, and Cuban-American visits to Cuba increased even more, as did remittances to Cuba.   These now also included masked personal and family investments on the island within the framework of the conditions created by the timid and limited economic reforms in the Cuban system.

Many consider that the engagement policy proclaimed in 2014 did not find support in the Cuban-American Community and that this is shown because, facing the elections on November 3, support for the Democratic candidate will be less than it was in 2016 A major poll just released, the most recent Cuba FIU Poll 2020, finds that 60% of Cuban-Americans support Trump's reelection.

However, data provided by the same survey show very important contradictions in the opinions of Cuban-Americans, that allow affirming that there are present in the Cuban-American community aspirations in relations with Cuba that do not have space in the policy followed by Trump in his present mandate or those that would seem to bring his re-election. The following is one of those contradictions.

Parallel to the eight-year term of President Obama and the gradual reduction of hostility towards Cuba, support for the embargo fell from almost 60% at the beginning of that term to 47% in 2014 and 34% in 2016, the year of the lowest register. At the same time, support for normalization of relations and engagement grew from around 55% in 2008 to 66% in 2014 and 72% in 2016. That is, far from decreasing after two years of its application, support for normalization tended to grow among Cuban-Americans in Miami.[9]

But it is not the only contradiction. Actually among the possible policy implications of the poll is “strong support strong support for suspending the sanctions codified in the embargo to allow for humanitarian assistance during the COVID-19 crisis”.  There is high or strong support for “selling of food and medicines,” for “airlines to establish routes to all regions of Cuba, ”and for “policies designed specifically to improve the economic well-being of Cubans on the island”[10]

It would seem that the reversal of normalization trends under the Trump administration is not due to a rejection of Obama's initiatives but to the impact of open and increased hostility towards Cuba, and towards all those who supported those initiatives in Miami, in a community so sensitive to intimidation and political intolerance.  In the discussion of the findings of the FIU Poll, the pollsters state that it may be that “Cuban Americans are not so much shaping as reflecting U.S. foreign policy toward Cuba.”[11]

The support for the reelection of Trump is better explained by the absence of an open political debate in the Cuban – American community in Miami, without intimidation,  Also important is the excessive caution of Democratic Party candidates in explaining what return to engagement would bring to economic advantages and in family ties.  An additional factor is concealment of the true intentions and consequences of the continuation of the economic strangulation of Cuba by Trump, seeking the collapse of the Cuban system.

The re-election of Trump would bring much more than a worsening of the living conditions of the Cuban people.  His ultimate goal coincides with the desire for revenge and going back to December 31, 1958, of the most conservative, racist and anti-popular sectors of the Cuban emigration. To propose the collapse of the Cuban system would mean the end of the legal protection for the properties of land and houses of the Cubans who share their destiny on the island and who received those properties from the Revolution. The desire for revenge is directed not only against the leaders of the government and the Cuban communist party, but against all the people. Nothing would stop the counter-revolutionaries.

On the other hand, the return to engagement, with the most propitious conditions already created by the still fearful and insufficient economic reforms applied in Cuba particularly this year, opens the door for a decisive increase in cultural, economic and people-to-people relations between Cuba and the United States, but especially between Cuba and Miami and Florida. No one will benefit more from this increase than Cubans on both sides of the Florida Strait.

The political and economic evolution of the Cuban system and of the political trends among Cuban-Americans would become subject to a "battle of ideas." Finding who is afraid of that battle means discovering enemies of the future of the Cuban people.

[7] It should be remembered that Cuba paid compensation for the nationalizations to foreign interests in Cuba with the only probable exception of Americans because of Washington's refusal to find a negotiated solution. Cuba has never denied its obligation to pay.  The very laws that protected the nationalization included mechanisms of payment that can open the way to a wide deal that includes trade and mutual compensation.

[8] For an illustrative explanation of the links between Miami and Havana in the 1950s and the influence of the culture of the United States on the identity of Cubans see "On Becoming Cuban", by Louis Perez Jr. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill

[9] 2020 FIU Cuba Poll. Appendix 2: Selected Trends. Figure 41.

[10] 2020 FIU Cuba Poll, page 46.

[11] Idem.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Consequences of the Presidential Election


Consequences of the Election

for Cuba Travel and

Educational Exchange


President Trump


·         Destroyed cruises to Cuba


·         Blocked flights from the US to regional cities


·         Terminated group tours


·         Forbad Americans to use all hotels


·         Blocked most independent travel


·         Impeded cultural exchanges and conferences


·         Prevented faculty led introductory trips for students


·         Frustrated Cuban travel to the US for family visits and immigration,

for study and for professional exchanges by closing consular authority


·         Restricted remittances and family investments


·         Minimized US governmental contact and impact by emptying the embassy


·         Opened the door to greater Russian and Chinese presence and influence



Vice President Biden     


·         Has promised to undo this damage


·         Makes possible passage of Leahy/McGovern legislation to end all restrictions on

travel, opening normal tourism and resort holidays


·         Supports economic reforms and private sector growth initiated by Cuba.


·         Will multiply cultural exchanges like Jill Biden's visit to Camaguey and Havana,

view here




Make your own choice, but don’t forget to vote!

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