September 29, 2015

What President Obama discussed with Raúl Castro


From the White House:

President Obama met today with President Raul Castro of Cuba to discuss recent advances in relations between the United States and Cuba, as well as additional steps each government can take to deepen bilateral cooperation. The two Presidents discussed the recent successful visit of Pope Francis to both countries.  President Obama highlighted U.S. regulatory changes that will allow more Americans to travel to and do business with Cuba, while helping to improve the lives of the Cuban people.  The President welcomed the progress made in establishing diplomatic relations, and underscored that continued reforms in Cuba would increase the impact of U.S. regulatory changes.  The President also highlighted steps the United States intends to take to improve ties between the American and Cuban peoples, and reiterated our support for human rights in Cuba.

September 21, 2015

A dose of politics along with Pope Francis on Cuban TV

Cuba Pope (1)@PatriciaMazzei

HOLGUIN, Cuba -- Watch enough Cuban state-run television on a regular day, and the revolution-speak is impossible to escape.

Solidaridad. Explotación. Bloqueo. Solidarity. Exploitation. Embargo.

Watch during special coverage of Pope Francis’ visit to the island, and the language doesn’t change. The pundits just manage to apply it to the Holy Father.

Thousands of people waving to Francis as he rides on the Pope Mobile? A sign of “the solidarity of the Cuban people,” an interviewer explains.

Francis’ upbringing in Argentina? A formative experience growing up in “dictatorship” and under "neoliberalism,” says a news anchor.

His trip to the U.S. after four days in Cuba? “I’m sure he’ll also advocate against the embargo,” predicts a man described as an “intellectual.”

Cuban television offered wall-to-wall coverage Saturday and Sunday of Francis’ visit to Havana, with four channels (at least on hotel televisions viewed by foreign reporters in Holguín, where the pope will travel Monday) broadcasting the program. A fifth, Venezuela-based TeleSur, had its own anchors and commentators.

All praised the pontiff. But politics weren’t far behind.

More here.

Photo credit: Eduardo Verdugo, Associated Press

ead more here:

September 18, 2015

Obama administration plans new rules to expand U.S. business in Cuba

via @CAdamsMcClatchy

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration is working to finalize a change in U.S.-Cuba trade rules that experts called a major development that would significantly open the door to expanded business on the island.

The regulation has not yet been released, although a 27-page document, dated Sept. 7 and marked to be reviewed by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, was provided to McClatchy.

It couldn’t be determined if the version that is ultimately released will match the Sept. 7 version. The Department of Commerce didn’t respond to a request for comment about it.

As indicated in the document, the rules could amend existing ones to boost engagement between American and Cuban people, accelerate the free flow of information to and from Cubans, and ramp up independent economic activity generated by Cubans.

In many ways, the rule would merely be a continuation of the process begun Dec. 17, when President Barack Obama announced that the U.S. was seeking to thaw the five-decade freeze in its relations with the island nation 90 miles from Florida.

After that momentous December announcement, the Commerce and Treasury departments in January took steps to put in place parts of the president’s policy. The new rules, which could be announced as early as Friday, could amend the terms of existing license exceptions available for Cuba, create new licensing policies, and take other steps to further promote economic activity in Cuba.

More here.

September 17, 2015

Marco Rubio would like to fly Air Force One to 'a free Cuba'

GOP 2016 Debate


A tidbit from Wednesday night's Republican primary debate:

MODERATOR JAKE TAPPER: OK, here's the more serious question, Ronald Reagan, the 40th President, used the plane behind you to accomplish a great many things. Perhaps, most notably, to challenge Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the wall, and ultimately, to make peace with the USSR.

How will the world look different once your Air Force One is parked in the hangar of your presidential library?

MARCO RUBIO: One of the things that made Ronald Reagan a great president, is that he understood that America was a unique nation, like any other that had existed throughout human history. He knew it was founded on universal principles that were powerful, the dignity of all people, human rights, the rights of all to live in freedom and liberty, and choose their own path in life. He didn't just believe it, he acted on it. That's why bringing down communism was so important to him. If I'm honored with the opportunity to be president, I hope that our Air Force One will fly, first and foremost, to our allies; in Israel, in South Korea, and Japan. They know we stand with them. That America can be counted on. 

It would also fly to China, not just to meet with our enemies, not just to meet with those adversaries of ours that are there, but also to meet with those that aspire to freedom and liberty within China. I would even invite them to my inauguration. 

We would also fly into Moscow and into Russia. And not just meet with the leaders of Russia, but also meet with those who aspire to freedom and liberty in Russia. And ultimately, I hope that my Air Force One, if I become president, will one day land in a free Cuba, where its people can choose its leaders and its own destiny. 

Photo credit: Mark J. Terrill, Associated Press

September 10, 2015

U.S., Cuba to hold normalization session Friday in Havana

via @HeraldMimi

The United States and Cuba will hold the first session of their new bilateral commission on normalization issues in Havana on Friday, the U.S. State Department said.

U.S. Secretary John Kerry and Cuba Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez announced creation of the commission following a meeting on Aug. 14 — the day the U.S. flag was raised outside the U.S. Embassy in Havana for the first time in 54 years. It’s expected to serve as a steering committee in the rapprochement process and hold regularly scheduled meetings.

The United States plans to send a small delegation headed by Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs Deputy Assistant Secretary Alex Lee. The U.S. delegation also will include David McKean, director of the secretary’s policy planning staff. Charge d’affaires Jeffrey DeLaurentis will head the team from the U.S. Embassy in Havana.

Josefina Vidal, the Foreign Ministry’s director general for the United States and the chief Cuban negotiator in the talks that led to reestablishment of diplomatic relations, will head the Cuban delegation.

More here.

September 08, 2015

Once upon a time, Cuban exiles in Miami declared, '¡Viva Donald Trump!'



Visiting Cuban Americans in Miami a decade and a half ago, Donald Trump declared Fidel Castro a “killer” and a “criminal” who shouldn’t be “rewarded.”

Now he has come up in support, albeit a little tepid, of President Barack Obama’s push for closer ties between the U.S. and Cuba — a policy Trump characterized as “fine.”

In an interview published Monday, Trump briefly responded to a single question on his thoughts on the thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations: “Do you think that is a good policy, or do you oppose America’s opening with Cuba?”asked the Daily Caller, a conservative-leaning Washington, D.C., publication.

“I think it’s fine,” Trump said. “I think it’s fine, but we should have made a better deal. The concept of opening with Cuba —50 years is enough — the concept of opening with Cuba is fine. I think we should have made a stronger deal.”

There was no follow-up question in the published interview. Trump’s campaign did not respond to a request from the Miami Herald for further details.

The 2016 Republican presidential front-runner is only the second GOP contender to endorse the Obama Cuba policy, after Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. Miami’s two hometown candidates, former Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio, have been among its loudest critics. So has Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who is Cuban-American as is Rubio.

More here.

Photo credit: Tim Chapman, Miami Herald file

This post has been updated.

Donald Trump: New Cuba policy is 'fine,' but U.S. needed 'stronger deal'

From a Daily Caller interview with Donald Trump

TheDC: What do you think of the opening with Cuba? Do you think that is a good policy, or do you oppose America’s opening with Cuba?

Trump: I think it’s fine. I think it’s fine, but we should have made a better deal. The concept of opening with Cuba — 50 years is enough — the concept of opening with Cuba is fine. I think we should have made a stronger deal.

September 02, 2015

Hillary Clinton emails reveal how Diana Nyad got clearance to swim from Cuba

via @kaufsports

In 7,000 pages of Hillary Clinton emails released by the State Department, amid a trove of notes on Middle East policy and gefilte fish and the TV show Parks and Recreation, is an exchange involving South Florida and Cuba ties.

Endurance swimmer Diana Nyad, attempting a 103-mile Cuba-to-Key West swim at age 60 in the summer of 2010, reached out to then-Secretary of State Clinton in a “desperate plea’’ to help her get her expedition cleared by the U.S. State Department so that she could begin the swim on Cuban soil.

On July 4, 2010, Clinton received an email on Nyad’s behalf from Hilary Rosen, a political pundit and Democratic lobbyist. In the memo line: “A unique request for your help from Hilary Rosen.’’

The note went on to explain that Nyad needed help to get clearance for her swim. “I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t think taking it to your level is the only way to get it done,’’ Rosen wrote. “Thanks so much in advance for looking into this. I know it is a busy month for you. You are just the best!!!’’

Rosen attached emails that Nyad had written to her and to South Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz seeking help. They read: “It’s not that I’ve been flat turned down by the State Dept. But I have been told I won’t be approved this summer … warm water, my training, all of it…there’s no other time I can or will do it.

“…I have been told by lawyers within the Treasury that it will take either Hilary (sic) Clinton or Obama himself to clear my event. I know somebody has the power to green light in an hour’s time, if I can just get to the right person. … I just can’t let this dream slip away because I can’t get into Cuba with State Dept. approval.’’

More here.

August 14, 2015

Jeb Bush: U.S. embassy opening in Havana is 'birthday present' to Fidel Castro


On Thursday, Fidel Castro turned 89. On Friday, the U.S. will reopen its embassy in Havana. Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush, an honorary Cuban American, said raising the stars and stripes in Cuba amounts to a present to the Cuban revolutionary.

The other Miamian seeking the 2016 GOP nomination, Cuban-American Marco Rubio, delivered a speech in New York on Friday morning pledging to roll back President Obama's Cuba policy, which Rubio referred to as "concessions." "We're going to open up to Cuba, but Cuba's not going to open up to us," Rubio said later on Fox News.

Here's Bush's statement:

Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Havana is a birthday present for Fidel Castro – a symbol of the Obama Administration’s acquiescence to his ruthless legacy.  U.S. policy has changed, but Cuba has not.  It remains an unyielding dictatorship, a tragic example of the folly of communism, and an affront to the conscience of the free nations of the Western Hemisphere.

The accommodation of the Castro regime comes at the expense of the freedom and democracy that all Cubans deserve, but Secretary Kerry’s visit is especially insulting for Cuba’s dissidents. That courageous Cubans whose only crime is to speak out for freedom and democracy will be kept away from the official ceremony opening the U.S. Embassy is yet another concession to the Castros.

We need an American president who will work in solidarity with a free Cuban people, if I am elected President, I will reverse Obama’s strategy of accommodation and appeasement and commit to helping the Cuban people claim their freedom and determine their future, free from tyranny.  Standing up for fundamental human rights and democratic values should not be an afterthought to America’s Cuba policy, it should be its guiding principle.

Marco Rubio to denounce 'dangerous' Cuba, Iran deals in Friday speech

via @lesleyclark

Marco Rubio will mark the U.S. flag being raised in Havana for the first time in more than 50 years with a speech in New York, assailing President Barack Obama for making "dangerous deals" with Cuba and Iran.

The Republican presidential candidate, who will appear Friday morning at an event hosted by the Foreign Policy Initiative, will announce that if elected president he'd invite dissidents of repressed countries from across the world, including Cuba, Iran and China "to be honored guests at my inauguration."

His remarks come as Secretary of State John Kerry is to raise the U.S. flag at the embassy in Havana and Rubio will charge that Obama "has been quick to deal with the oppressors, but slow to deal with the oppressed." Cuban dissidents won’t be attending the flag-raising in Havana, but Kerry will meet with them later in the afternoon at a smaller event.

According to excerpts of his speech released in advance, the Florida Republican senator will say that he believes Obama's push for a nuclear deal with Iran and his outreach to the Cuban government in Havana "represent the convergence of nearly every flawed strategic, moral, and economic notion" of his foreign policy.

He will say the two deals demonstrate that the administration “has placed politics before policy, adversaries before allies, and legacy before leadership.”

Rubio is to say that as president, he'd tell the ruling Castro brothers that the diplomatic overtures would be erased unless they carry out "meaningful political and human rights reforms." And he will say he'd restore Cuba to the state sponsor of terror list and provide support to Cuba’s pro-democracy movement.

The speech also comes as the Obama administration seeks to ramp up support for an agreement aimed at preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Rubio, who opposes the deal, will say that a President Rubio would reimpose sanctions on Iran and ask Congress to pass "crushing new measures that target human rights abusers and Iran’s leaders involved in financing and overseeing Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism."

Rubio is also to say that he’d end the defense sequester and position forces in the Middle East "to signal readiness and restore a credible military option." He will also say he'd also link any nuclear weapons talks to Iran’s "broader conduct, from human rights abuses to support for terrorism and threats against Israel."

--LESLEY CLARK, McClatchy Washington Bureau