Saturday, January 30, 2021

Biden-Harris Petition Follow-Up

Update 11/10/21

Please review the blog posts in the right margin.

New Resources

November 15th Protests

Urgent Action: 

Push President Biden to Respond to Cuba’s Humanitarian Emergency and Restore Engagement  Urgent WOLA guidance to obtain support for a Dear Colleague letter from your member of Congress, click here

Posts from different perspectives about November 15 protests

Evolving Personal Thoughts on July 11 and November 15

"The Road Ahead: Exploring the Current Situation in Cuba" 

American University Symposium with 17 original papers

The American University's Center for Latin America and Latino Studies in collaboration with the Washington Office on Latin America presented a webinar on November 10 with Phil Brenner, Hope Bastian, William LeoGrande, John Kirk and MariaKarla Nodarse  view it here

"Cancion de Barrio"  A moving video of Silvio Rodriguez performances in poorer neighborhoods of Havana and other provinces, watch it here  (subtitled)


"For families, sending money home to Cuba shouldn't be a political football"


"Biden shouldn’t let right-wing Cuban Americans drown out Cuban voices"

by Jean Guerrero, AUG. 5, 2021  Los Angeles Times 

"Biden's Cuba Policy is Stuck on Trump's Autopilot"

 by Geoff Thale, Washington Office on Latin America  Responsible Statecraft

"Biden Stalls on Reinstating Cuban Remittances for No Good Reason"

by William M. LeoGrande, American University  Responsible Statecraft

Organizing Update 8/19/21

1)  Use the White House contact form to personally convey your views to the President and Vice President (Choose which from "Message Type").  If you were a campaign supporter, mention what you did (phone bank, donations, letter writing. etc.).  Explain how terrible it is (and for people you know in Cuba) that there has been a seven month politically motivated postponement in restoring remittances, travel and the embassy/consulate, especially desperately needed remittances.  Tell them why the July 11 protests are a reason for prompt reengagement between Americans and Cubans, not an excuse for further delay.

2)  If your Representative or Senators support engagement with Cuba, go to their web pages and click on "Contact".  Use the form to ask them to
 contact the White House urging no further politically motivated postponement in  restoring remittances, travel and the embassy/consulate.   Mention your reason for asking, personal experience in Cuba, etc. and tell them why the July 11 protests are a reason for prompt reengagement between Americans and Cuban not an excuse for further delay. 


Update 6/17/21

New Resources

"The Impact of U.S. Sanctions on Cuban Women"   A new Oxfam report with a foreword by WOLA, "Right to Live Without a Blockade: The Impact of U.S. Sanctions on the Cuban Population and Women’s Lives", will be the focus of a zoom program on Tuesday, June 22, 9:30 a.m. -10:30 a.m. (EDT)   Register here .  Oxfam organized an earlier webinar from Cuba which can be viewed here.

Dialog between Senator Leahy and Secretary Blinken on Vietnam and Cuba, read it here

"U.S. Policy on Cuba: Is It Safe to Go Back into the Water?" by Daniel Whittle, Legal News 

"Beyond the Embargo: The Case for an Engagement-Focused U.S. Strategy in Cuba" published by the American Security Project (an organization of retired senior military officers) 

'‘Shaking off inertia’: Cuba expands small and medium enterprises amid crushing crisis" by Adriana Brasileiro, Miami Herald

"Cuba approves long-sought legal status for private businesses" by Marc Frank, Reuters; posted here with official decree continuing state monopoly of tourism

"Roaring inflation compounds Cubans' economic woes" by Marc Frank, Reuters


"U.S. grants last minute visas to Cuban baseball team", Reuters

"Cuba says it is surprised and irritated by new U.S. terrorism charge", Reuters

"Hunger as a Weapon: How Biden's Inaction Is Aggravating Cuba's Food Crisis  If President Biden wants to support human rights in Cuba and empower the Cuban people, he can start by alleviating the food crisis by ending Trump's prohibition on remittances and restoring the right of U.S. residents to travel."  by William M. LeoGrande  Common Dreams

"Will Joe Biden Continue America’s Delusional Cuba Policy? An effective Cuba policy requires a realist mindset that recognizes, once and for all, Washington’s inability to impose its will on Cuba." by William M. LeoGrande, The National Interest

"Republican Sen. Jerry Moran hopes to lift embargo on Cuba to boost Kansas farmers" by Bryan Lowry, The Kansas City Star

"Are U.S. Officials Under Silent Attack? The Havana Syndrome first affected spies and diplomats in Cuba. Now it has spread to the White House" by Adam Entous  The New Yorker

"The acoustic attack epidemic", a Cuban perspective by Jesús Arboleya, Progreso Weekly

"Right to Live without a Blockade reveals the impact of nearly six decades of sanctions imposed by successive US governments on the Cuban population", an excellent new well illustrated report from Oxfam available on line here

Syringes for Cuba 

Cuba's economy has been devastated by the collapse of tourism, Trump's termination of remittances and insufficient domestic reforms.  A U.S. fund raising campaign has been launched by solidarity groups to purchase three to five million OFAC licensed syringes to enable nationwide use of Cuba's locally developed vaccines.   Tax deductible donations can be made directly to the campaign organized by Global Health Partners (GHP) here.  

Update 4/11/21 

Following is an English translation of the full interview with Juan Gonzalez, the top ranking Western Hemisphere person at the National Security Council:

"On the subject of the visas, we have a promise, like you referred to, to process 20,000 immigrant visas per year based on the migratory agreement. We are not fulfilling that at this moment because we have to make sure that our personnel at the United States embassy is safe, and that they are not in danger of microwave attacks, or, I don't know what they're calling it today. That is the focus. The president also, during the campaign, clearly said that his commitments were to lift limits on travel and remittances, but to be very direct with you, Juan Carlos, it´s that, Joe Biden is not Barack Obama when it comes to his politics towards Cuba. I think that both, the political moment has changed in an important way. There has been a closing in the political space because the Cuban government has not responded in any way and in fact the oppression against Cubans is worse today than maybe it was during the Bush administration. So, I think that, at this moment these are the commitments that have been made. They will get done at some point, but we are focused on various crises around the world and on the situation domestically. But those who think that the United States, in this moment, is going to enter a dialogue of multiple years with Cuba, I think that they don´t understand the political moment of today, the situation in which we are living, or frankly, I'd say that the disorder we inherited from the previous administration, that might not be where we will invest our initial political capital or the time of this administration."

Contrast this with Gonzalez' interview with Univision pasted below.

There is some discussion about whether this is Gonzalez' own view, and ignorance of history, or reflects higher level opinion in the White House, but below that of the President and Vice-President. 

Does he or they not know that the Black Spring took place during the Bush Administration when Cuba responded to deliberate provocation with the arrest, show trials and imprisonment of 75 dissidents?

It certainly raises serious doubt about how much they really care about the well-being of the Cuban people or of their families in the US who can no longer provide desperately needed remittances or bring them here for family reunion visits or immigration.

Using the Havana Syndrome excuse for no immigrant visas is pure Trump.

Gonzalez casually blows off the campaign statements of Biden and Harris when they promised to "promptly restore" Obama's policies.  Whether or not Joe Biden is Barack Obama on Cuba, he is not Donald Trump and Gonzales should not be Mauricio Claver-Carone.

"Done at some point" is morally and politically unacceptable.  Cuba policy is a salient example of the "disorder inherited from the previous administration".  Inaction cannot be excused by other priorities.

Hopefully Gonzalez on-the-record statement will provoke enough angry response that it leads the Administration to want to show it was not true.

The same vehicles suggested below still apply.  Make your sentiment about Gonzalez' interview known on the White House contact form and by asking for action by your Representative and Senators.

--John McAuliff


New Resources
Pod Save the World  Broad ranging discussion between key Obama negotiator Ben Rhodes and Ric Herrero of the Cuba Study Group at 58.42

US-Cuba Bilateral Relations Under the Biden Administration  Panelists: Richard Feinberg, UC San Diego; Michael Bustamante, Florida International University; Javier Corrales, Amherst College; Ted Henken, Baruch College, CUNY; William LeoGrande, American University. Moderator: Margaret Crahan, Colombia University.  Recorded on 03/25/2021

Speakers from Cuba  A series of weekly zoom programs offer solidarity perspectives from Havana on the economy, culture, feminism, US sanctions, race relations, health and COVID from academics who meet with visiting Americans (Ricardo Torres, Luis Montero Cabrera, Marta Nuñez, Nancy Morejón, David Faya).  The programs can be seen on the Massachusetts Peace Action youtube channel here    


Biden-Harris Administration Statements

On the problematic side, Jan Psaki said in a White House briefing on March 10

Perhaps because of complaints, Ned Price said this at the State Department a day later:

Department Press Briefing - March 11, 2021 - United States Department of State

QUESTION: Hey, Ned. On Cuba, the White House says a policy shift with Cuba is not a top priority for President Biden. Does that mean that the administration finds value in the current policy, or is it quite literally just not a top priority and something that you imagine you’ll get to later?

MR PRICE: It is a policy that we are reviewing. Secretary Blinken spoke to this yesterday. He spoke to the core principles that animate that review.
First, support for democracy and human rights will be at the core of our efforts, because we believe it is the means to empower the Cuban people to determine their own future; and second, as we’ve said before, we also know that Americans, especially Cuban Americans, are in most cases the best ambassadors for freedom and prosperity in Cuba. We are committed to both of these principles. Our review is being animated by both of those principles. We have also committed – and you heard this from Secretary Blinken up on the Hill yesterday – to consult closely with members of Congress as we undertake this review. So it is not that – it is not that this is in any way on the back burner. It is something we’re looking at very closely, and as that review progresses, we’ll consult with members of Congress. And when we have something to share, we’ll let you know.

The Secretary of State's responses at a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee the day before are also worth listening to.  He adroitly mollified his hostile Cuban American questioners although they will try to hold him to their interpretation of what he said.

[Use the "Search this transcript" box for "Cuba".  The transcript itself is not 100% accurate but clicking on each arrow gives you the video.]

Secretary Blinken did not let himself be boxed in but it was unfortunate his only Cuba questions came from hard line opponents of normalization.  Why were our allies on the Committee silent?

Univision Interview with Juan Gonzalez, National Security Council Western Hemisphere Director 2/5/21

The Latin American director of the National Security Council was also consulted on biden's political approach to Cuba. In this regard, he said that the president "is also very clear that he seeks to lift the boundaries to remittances and also the possibility of Americans being able to travel to Cuba."

Gonzalez criticized the policy tightening towards the island maintained by the previous government, noting that they "only penalize American Cubans and the Cuban people in the middle of a pandemic," because many families were prevented from sending money to their relatives, and Trump "did nothing to try to advance a democratic future in Cuba."

"President Biden and spokes staff (Jen) Psaki have made it clear that his policy is based on two things: what are the national interests of the US and number two, what is the policy that will help put Cubans as owners of their own future."

State Department Press Briefing  2/5/21

QUESTION: Oh, great, thanks. The EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, called on the Biden administration to reverse Trump’s redesignation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terror. I’m wondering, has the State Department made a decision to do so yet? Or if not, and it’s still under review, what does that review entail, and do you have a timeline on when that review might be wrapped up? Thanks.

MR PRICE: Well, let me speak a little bit about our overall overarching policy when it comes to Cuba, and it’s a policy that will be governed by two principles. First is the support for democracy and human rights. It will be at the core of our efforts through empowering the Cuban people to determine their own future. And second, we believe that Americans, and especially Cuban Americans, are the best ambassadors for freedom and prosperity in Cuba. We’re committed to making human rights a core pillar of our U.S. foreign policy. That certainly applies to Cuba, just as you’ve heard me reference it across the board, and includes redoubling our dedication to human rights throughout our own hemisphere.

Despite, human rights defenders around the world continue to look to the United States to – for support against authoritarian regimes. This is one of those issues that we will continue to rally our allies and partners against. And in the administration we’ve also committed to carefully reviewing policy decisions made in the prior administration, including the decision by the outgoing administration to designate Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism. I wouldn’t want to go into any further details. But as we take a look at this issue into our broader policy with Cuba, those principles will continue to be front of mind.



On-line zoom briefing 

"Mapping Out Change:
The United States and Cuba: A New Policy of Engagement"
Originally on line Friday, February 26, 2021  2:00 p.m. - 3:30 p.m. ET

Organized by Center for Democracy in the Americas and Washington Office on Latin America

Congressional sign on letter to the President

Sponsored by Representatives Rush, Cohen and Moore.  Supported by 80 members of House.  
Text and signers here  

Cuba Study Group
A Case for Making Engagement Resilient as a Means of Providing Long-Term Support for the Cuban People
32 pages, view by clicking here

The United States and Cuba: A New Policy of Engagement
28 pages, view by clicking here

"56 Groups Urge the Biden-Harris Administration to Take Immediate Action to Normalize U.S.-Cuba Relations"
View sign-on Letter by clicking here 

Open Letter to President Biden organized by La Joven Cuba
For English version with initial signers, click here 
For Spanish version with 800 signers including many prominent Cuban intellectuals and artists, click here.


Articles of Interest

The Editorial Board of  persuasively argues the case for the distinction between restoration and review of Cuba policy here

That will require lifting Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, which the Trump administration imposed in its closing days with no real justification. Biden will also need to restore frayed diplomatic ties — appointing an ambassador, staffing up the U.S. embassy (taking additional security precautions while the cause of a mysterious illness that struck U.S. diplomats in recent years remains under investigation), and resuming consular services so Cubans can travel to the U.S. again. The two sides should cooperate on public health to combat the pandemic and restart talks on security issues.

Further opening should focus for now on improving the lives of Cubans on and off the island. The administration should lift restrictions on remittances. And it should allow travel to the island, because American visitors are good for local enterprise. That means permitting flights to cities other than Havana and people-to-people exchanges, while drawing up a shorter “restricted list” of entities with which Americans are forbidden to do business.


"Biden to resume remittances, travel to Cuba, but other Obama-era overtures will take a while"
  by Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times  2/12/21

Now the Biden administration says it will lift some of Trump’s restrictions on business and travel between the U.S. and Cuba, and renew diplomatic talks.

But President Biden’s initial actions will disappoint advocates longing for the more robust relationship that was emerging in the Obama years.

Although he promised during the campaign to aggressively reverse Trump’s Cuba policy, Biden’s plans will have to roll out more slowly than some of his advisors had hoped....

Since Biden assumed office, his aides have become more circumspect about the plans for Cuba, repeating publicly that the policy is “under review.”

However, Juan Gonzalez, an Obama administration alum who is now head of Western Hemisphere affairs for Biden’s National Security Council, last week confirmed broad strokes of the new policy.

Biden’s “commitment on Cuba is to lift the limitations on remittances and make possible the travel of Americans to the island,” he said in Spanish to Spanish-language news channel Univision.

Cuban Americans move to try to influence Biden’s new U.S.-Cuba policy
The right wing rallies mostly Republican forces in Miami to try to prevent restoration but includes videos from Senator Menendez and Rubio, click here

Cuba opens door to most small business initiatives

By Marc Frank  Click here

HAVANA (Reuters) - In a major reform of the state-dominated economy, the Cuban government will allow small private businesses to operate in most fields, eliminating its limited list of activities, state-run media reported on Saturday.  

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