U.S. Secretary of State Speaks to the Cuban People

On August 14, 2015, the U.S. formally opened its Embassy in Havana, Cuba with the raising of the American flag and a program featuring remarks by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that were telecast and broadcast live throughout the island.[1] Thus, his message, in one sense, was directed to the Cuban people, and the words in bold in the following remarks were especially addressed to them.

John Kerry @ U.S. Embassy in Havana
John Kerry @ U.S. Embassy in Havana
Secretary & U.S. Flag at Havana Embassy
Kerry & U.S. Flag at Havana Embassy

Kerry’s Remarks

Kerry started by recognizing that “this is truly a memorable occasion – a day for pushing aside old barriers and exploring new possibilities” and that Presidents Obama and Castro had made “a courageous decision to stop being the prisoners of history and to focus on the opportunities of today and tomorrow.”

The U.S. needs to recognize that “U.S. policy is not the anvil on which Cuba’s future will be forged. Decades of good intentions aside, the policies of the past have not led to a democratic transition in Cuba. It would be equally unrealistic to expect normalizing relations to have, in a short term, a transformational impact. After all, Cuba’s future is for Cubans to shape. Responsibility for the nature and quality of governance and accountability rests, as it should, not with any outside entity; but solely within the citizens of this country.”

“But the leaders in Havana – and the Cuban people – should also know that the United States will always remain a champion of democratic principles and reforms. . . .[We] will continue to urge the Cuban Government to fulfill its obligations under the UN and inter-American human rights covenants – obligations shared by the United States and every other country in the Americas.”

“And indeed, we remain convinced the people of Cuba would be best served by genuine democracy, where people are free to choose their leaders, express their ideas, practice their faith; where the commitment to economic and social justice is realized more fully; where institutions are answerable to those they serve; and where civil society is independent and allowed to flourish.”

We “believe it’s helpful for the people of our nations to learn more about each other, to meet each other. That is why we are encouraged that travel from the United States to Cuba has already increased by 35 percent since January and is continuing to go up. We are encouraged that more and more U.S. companies are exploring commercial ventures here that would create opportunities for Cuba’s own rising number of entrepreneurs, and we are encouraged that U.S. firms are interested in helping Cuba expand its telecommunications and internet links, and that the government here recently pledged to create dozens of new and more affordable Wi-Fi hotspots.”

“The restoration of diplomatic ties will also make it easier for our governments to engage. After all, we are neighbors, and neighbors will always have much to discuss in such areas as civil aviation, migration policy, disaster preparedness, protecting marine environment, global climate change, and other tougher and more complicated issues. Having normal relations makes it easier for us to talk, and talk can deepen understanding even when we know full well we will not see eye to eye on everything.”

“We are all aware that . . . the overall U.S. embargo on trade with Cuba remains in place and can only be lifted by congressional action – a step that we strongly favor. For now, the President has taken steps to ease restrictions on remittances, on exports and imports to help Cuban private entrepreneurs, on telecommunications, on family travel, but we want to go further. The goal of all of these changes is to help Cubans connect to the world and to improve their lives. And just as we are doing our part, we urge the Cuban Government to make it less difficult for their citizens to start businesses, to engage in trade, access information online. The embargo has always been something of a two-way street – both sides need to remove restrictions that have been holding Cubans back.”

Kerry also thanked “leaders throughout the Americas who have long urged the United States and Cuba to restore normal ties [and] the Holy Father Pope Francis and the Vatican for supporting the start of a new chapter in relations between our countries.”

He then paid “tribute to the people of Cuba and to the Cuban American community in the United States. Jose Marti once said that ‘everything that divides men…is a sin against humanity.’ Clearly, the events of the past – the harsh words, the provocative and retaliatory actions, the human tragedies – all have been a source of deep division that has diminished our common humanity. There have been too many days of sacrifice and sorrow; too many decades of suspicion and fear. That is why I am heartened by the many on both sides of the Straits who . . . have endorsed this search for a better path.”

“We have begun to move down that path without any illusions about how difficult it may be. But we are each confident in our intentions, confident in the contacts that we have made, and pleased with the friendships that we have begun to forge. And we are certain that the time is now to reach out to one another, as two peoples who are no longer enemies or rivals, but neighbors – time to unfurl our flags, raise them up, and let the world know that we wish each other well.”

Conclusion

In attendance at the ceremony were Embassy staff, including Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the charge d’affaires; other U.S. federal government officials, including Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roberta Jacobson, who led the U.S. delegation in recent negotiations with Cuba; other countries’ diplomats; U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy (Dem., VT), Barbara Boxer (Dem., CA), Amy Klobuchar (Dem., MN) and Jeff Flake (Rep., AZ); [2] U.S. Representatives Karen Bass (Dem., CA), Steve Cohen (Dem., TN), Barbara Lee (Dem., CA) and Jim McGovern (Dem., MA); [3] and James Williams, President of Engage Cuba, and Zane Kerby, President & CEO of American Society of Travel Agents.

Also in attendance was a Cuban delegation, including Josafina Vidal, who led the Cuban team in those negotiations; and Dr. José Ramón Cabañas Rodriguez, the new Cuban Ambassador to the U.S. [4]

Another highlight of the ceremony was the beautiful reading of a beautiful poem, “Matters of the Sea” or “Cosas del Mar,” by the Cuban-American poet, Richard Blanco. Afterwards Kerry walked around old Havana, met privately with Cuban Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, participated in a joint press conference with Rodriguez and met with Cuban dissidents at the official Havana residence of the U.S. charge d’affaires These other events of the day will be discussed in subsequent posts.

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[1] Gordon, Kerry Strikes Delicate Balance in Havana Trip for Embassy Flag-Raising, N.Y. Times (Aug. 14, 2015); Assoc. Press, A Festive Flag-Raising, Then Tough Talk on U.S.-Cuba Relations, N.Y. Times (Aug. 15, 2015);  DeYoung, In historic Cuba visit, Kerry presides over raising of U.S. flag over embassy in Havana, Wash. Post (Aug.14, 2015); Granma, Official reopening ceremony will take place today, Granma (Aug. 14, 2015); Parazza, Bécquer & Gomez, The challenge of building a future without forgetting the past, Granma (Aug. 15, 2015). A video of the ceremony also has been archived.

[2] Separate press releases celebrating the formal opening of the U.S. Embassy were issued by Senators Leahy, Boxer, Klobuchar and Flake. Back in the U.S. Senator Marco Rubio denounced the opening of the Embassy.

[3] Representatives Cohen, Lee and McGovern issued press releases welcoming the reopening of the Embassy in Havana.

[4]  Dr.Cabañas visited Minnesota last October and was mentioned in a prior post.

New York Times Urges Normalization of U.S.- Cuba Relations

In an October 12th editorial the New York Times says, “For the first time in more than 50 years, shifting politics in the United States and changing policies in Cuba make it politically feasible to re-establish formal diplomatic relations and dismantle the senseless embargo.” Indeed, in the Times’ opinion, these changes in U.S. policy should be accompanied by ending the U.S. designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism.”[1]

 Editorial’s Commentary on Cuba’s Current Conditions

The Times points out that Cuba has “taken significant steps to liberalize and diversify the island’s tightly controlled economy.” This includes “allowing citizens to take private-sector jobs and own property.” encouraging foreign investment, constructing a major deep-sea port in Mariel with Brazilian capital and negotiating a cooperation agreement with the European Union. Although the pace of reform may seem slow and inconsistent, these are significant changes.

On the other hand, the Times asserts that the Cuban “government still harasses and detains dissidents . . . [and has not explained] the suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of political activist Oswaldo Payá.” This is outweighed, however, by the Cuban government’s in recent years having “released political prisoners” and showing “slightly more tolerance for criticism of the [government’s leadership” while loosening travel restrictions “enabling prominent dissidents to travel abroad.”[1a]

Editorial’s Recommendations for U.S. Policy

End Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism.” The Times recommends that the U.S. “should remove Cuba from State Department’s list of nations that sponsor terrorist organizations . . . .   Cuba was put on the list in 1982 for backing terrorist groups in Latin America, which it no longer does. . . . [and Cuba now] is playing a constructive role in the conflict in Colombia by hosting peace talks between the government and guerrilla leaders.” [2]

End the Embargo. Just 16 days before the U.N. General Assembly is expected again to overwhelmingly approve Cuba’s resolution to condemn the embargo, the Times says the U.S should end its embargo of Cuba as it has become “clear to many American policy makers that the embargo was an utter failure.” In addition, now a slight majority of Cuban-Americans in Florida oppose the embargo.

“Fully ending the embargo will require Congress’s approval,” which may be difficult to obtain in this time of a dysfunctional Congress, but the Administration could “lift caps on remittances, allow Americans to finance private Cuban businesses and expand opportunities for travel to the island.”

Ending the embargo, according to the Times, “could also help American companies that are interested in developing the island’s telecommunications network but remain wary of the legal and political risks. Failing to engage with Cuba now will likely cede this market to competitors. The presidents of China and Russia traveled to Cuba in separate visits in July, and both leaders pledged to expand ties.”

In addition, ending the embargo would eliminate Cuba’s using the embargo as an excuse for the Cuban government’s shortcomings.[3]

Restoration of Diplomatic Relations. Says the Times, “Restoring diplomatic ties, which the White House can do without congressional approval, would allow the United States to expand and deepen cooperation in areas where the two nations already manage to work collaboratively — like managing migration flows, maritime patrolling and oil rig safety.[4] It would better position Washington to press the Cubans on democratic reforms, and could stem a new wave of migration to the United States driven by hopelessness.”

Closer ties could also bring a breakthrough on the case of an American development contractor, Alan Gross, who has been unjustly imprisoned by Cuba for nearly five years.[5] More broadly, it would create opportunities to empower ordinary Cubans, gradually eroding the government’s ability to control their lives.

In the opinion of the Times, Restoring relations would improve U.S. “relationships with governments in Latin America, and resolve an irritant that has stymied initiatives in the hemisphere.” The most current example of that irritant is “Latin American governments . . . [insisting] that Cuba, the Caribbean’s most populous island and one of the most educated societies in the hemisphere, be invited” to next year’s Summit of the Americas in Panama over U.S. opposition.

Moreover, “The [Cuban] government has said it would welcome renewed diplomatic relations with the United States and would not set preconditions” while a significant majority of Cuban-Americans favor restoring diplomatic ties, mirroring the views of other Americans.

Reactions to the Editorial 

I concur in all of the Times’ recommendations, but believe it understates the economic reasons for these changes in U.S. policy. Here is a fuller exposition of those economic reasons.

This month Dr. José Ramón Cabañas Rodriguez, the Chief of Mission, Cuban Interests Section, said that the U.S. was running the risk of becoming economically irrelevant to Cuba. Many foreign countries, especially China, and foreign companies are developing good commercial relationships with Cuba and its new private businesses with ordinary commercial terms, unlike the U.S. sales of food and agricultural products under an exemption to the U.S. Helms-Burton Law that requires Cuba to pay in advance and in cash for such products. This U.S. practice is not a good way to encourage future business. Moreover, the new Mariel port and its adjacent business park is attracting interest from companies all over the world, and if all the space in that park is committed to these foreign companies, there will be nothing left for U.S. companies.

The geographical setting of the new Mariel port is strategic in terms of trade, industry and services in Latin America and the Caribbean. On the northern cost of Cuba only 45 km west of Havana, it is located along the route of the main maritime transport flows in the western hemisphere. As the largest industrial port in the Caribbean, it will be equipped with state-of-the-art technology to handle cargo from the larger container ships that will begin to arrive when the expansion of the Panama Canal is completed in December 2015. Those larger ships can carry up to 12,500 containers, triple the capacity of the current ships, and the port’s warehouse capacity is 822,000 containers. Here are some photos of the development of this port.

Mariel PortMariel3

The Mariel project includes highways connecting the port with the rest of the country, a railway network, and communication infrastructure. In the adjacent special zone, currently under construction, there will be productive, trade, agricultural, port, logistical, training, recreational, tourist, real estate, and technological development and innovation activities in installations that include merchandise distribution centers and industrial parks.

The special zone is divided into eight sectors, to be developed in stages. The first involves telecommunications and a modern technology park where pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms will operate. Other sectors include renewable energies, agriculture and food, chemical, construction materials, logistics and rental equipment. For the last four sectors Cuba is currently studying the approval of 23 projects from Europe, Asia and the Americas.

The May 2014 visit to Cuba by a delegation from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce evidences U.S. businesses’ cognizance of these economic and commercial realities. The delegation’s head and the Chamber’s president, Thomas Donohue,  said in a speech in Havana, “For years, the US Chamber of Commerce has demanded that our government eliminate the commercial embargo on Cuba. It’s time for a new approach.” At the conclusion of the trip he said the delegation and Cuban officials had “talked about steps forward that might be taken by both countries” to improve U.S.-‪Cuba relations and that their meetings with President Raul Castro had been “positive.” In addition, the Chamber in congressional testimony has called for an end to the embargo and has supported proposed legislation to end the ban on U.S. citizens traveling to the island and easing restrictions on U.S. exports of farm and medical products.

Another sign of U.S. companies’ interest in Cuba is the visit to the island this past June by Google executives. They said they discussed increasing Cubans access to the Internet and Cuba’s need for improving its Internet technology.

These U.S. economic concerns were highlighted in February 2014 by U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, who earlier had led a visit with four other Senators to Cuba. Leahy said, “Trade with Latin America is the fastest growing part of our international commerce.  Rather than isolate Cuba with outdated policies, we have isolated ourselves.  Our Latin, European and Canadian friends engage with Cuba all that time.  Meanwhile, U.S. companies are prohibited from any economic activity on the island.” Therefore, the Senator said, “It is time – past time – to modernize our policies and the frozen-in-time embargo on Americans’ travel and trade with Cuba that have accomplished nothing but to give the Cuban regime a scapegoat for the failures of the Cuban economy.  Change will come to Cuba, but our policies have delayed and impeded change.  It is time to elevate the voice of a crucial stakeholder:  the American people. Thanks to this [recent public opinion] poll, they are silent no longer. It is time to recognize that U.S. policy toward Cuba has been unsuccessful in achieving any of its objectives.”

Given the limited space for an individual editorial, the New York Times editorial does not discuss any of the other many issues that need to be addressed by the two countries in order to establish truly normal relations. Nor does it discuss how this normalization process can happen or be facilitated.

In contrast, this blog repeatedly has suggested both counties need a neutral third-party with the resources and commitment to act as mediator and has called for such a third-party to step forward to offer such services, rather than waiting for the U.S. or Cuba to make such a proposal unilaterally or for the two countries to agree to such a mediation. [6]

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[1] Interestingly the online version of the editorial is titled “End the U.S. Embargo on Cuba” with a linked Spanish translation while the print version is titled “The Moment to Restore Ties to Cuba.”

[1a] This month Dr. José Ramón Cabañas Rodriguez, the Chief of Mission, Cuban Interests Section, emphasized that Cuba now has term limits on every governmental office, including president: two terms of five years each for a total limit of 10 years, and Raul Castro has announced that this applies to him and thus ends his term as president in 2018. Dr. Cabañas also emphasized that many younger people are taking over many governmental positions and that there has been a decentralization of power to municipalities.

[2] This blog has provided detailed criticism of the ridiculous, absurd, stupid and cowardly rationales provided by the U.S. for such designations in 2010, 2011, 2012 (with supplement), 2013 and 2014.

[3] This blog has provided criticisms of the embargo.

[4] This month Dr. José Ramón Cabañas Rodriguez also said that the U.S. and Cuba in recent years have had bilateral discussions regarding migration, drug trafficking, search and rescue in the Florida straits, stopping oil spills in the Caribbean, airline security measures, scientific exchanges and restoration of direct telephone and mail services. In addition, the U.S. has invited or permitted an invitation to Cuba to attend a Clean Oil Conference in San Antonio, Texas in December 2014.

[5] Although it certainly is debatable whether Mr. Gross was unjustly convicted in Cuban courts for violating Cuban law, I agree that it is in the U.S. national interest to have him released and returned to the U.S. Cuba, however, has argued that the three of the “Cuban Five” still in U.S. prisons should also be released and allowed to return to their homes. At a minimum, I believe that negotiations between the two countries could and should lead to at least a one-for-one exchange with the U.S. President commuting the sentence of one of the three Cubans to time served.

[6] This blog has called for normalization of Cuba-U.S. relations and has criticized the U.S. for insisting on preconditions for holding any talks with Cuba to improve relations. Another blog post was a public letter to President Obama recommending reconciliation with Cuba. In addition, this year a group of 50 prominent Americans issued a public letter to the President urging him to take executive action to expand U.S. involvement with Cuba. Another blog post criticized recent opposition to pursuing such reconciliation.

Cuban Events in Minnesota

Although far from Cuba, Minnesota has a strong interest in the island: its relations with the U.S. and its politics, religions, history, arts and people. Here are upcoming events in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul demonstrating that interest:

Date Time Event & Place
Cuba: The Accidental Eden.” This small island’s varied landscape, its location in the heart of the Caribbean and its longstanding place at the center of Cold War politics have all combined to preserve some of the richest and most unusual natural environments of the hemisphere. For decades, Cuba’s wild landscapes lay untouched while its Caribbean neighbors poisoned or paved over their ecological riches. Now, Cuba’s priceless treasures are about to face an onslaught. Tourism is already on the rise and most experts predict tourism will double once the U.S. trade embargo ends. What will happen to Cuba’s stunning biodiversity – an island filled with amphibians, reptiles and the most biologically diverse freshwater fish in the region? (National Public Television’s Nature’s Episode # 2711 was shown on local public television station, tpt, on August 3 & 4, 2014, and is available online as a DVD.)
Race to Revolution.” Dr. Gerald Horne, the author of Race to Revolution, discusses his book’s thesis that the histories of Cuba and the U.S. are tightly intertwined and have been for at least two centuries, including the interconnections among slavery, Jim Crow, and revolution. Slavery was central to the economic and political trajectories of Cuba and the U.S., both in terms of each nation’s internal political and economic development and in the interactions between the two countries. This was a Sojourner Truth radio program that was broadcast on August 29th, but can be heard anytime for the next 90 days at www.kpfk.com.
Sept. 2 7:00-8:00 pm Cuban Missile Crisis: Three Men Go to War.” This film tells the inside story of the Cuban Missile Crisis, exploring how in October 1962 the earth teetered on the very brink of nuclear holocaust. The documentary brings to life the three central characters John F. Kennedy, Fidel Castro and Nikita Khrushchev, and explores how the world’s most powerful men fell into an abyss of their own making and what courage and luck it took to climb out again. tpt Channel 2.
Sept. 2 8;00-9:00 pm Fidel Castro Tapes.” This film takes viewers on a journey like none other. This program uses only news and documentary footage — past and present — to detail the life and times of one of the most controversial political figures of the 20th Century. There is no narration in this film and no interviews. Instead, The Fidel Castro Tapes relies solely on the words of journalists who covered the major events in Castro’s life to tell the story. It is a unique approach, one that gives the viewer a chance to experience the life and times of Cuba’s leader as if they were actually living through them. tpt Channel 2.
Oct. 5 7:30 pm A Night in Havana.” A special concert with pianist Nachito Herrera, a Cuban-American resident of the Twin Cities, and his Cuban Orchestra with a dance floor! Ordway Music Theater, 345 Washington Street, St. Paul; www.ordway.org; tel: 651-243-2825. Tickets start at $23, but $10 discount with promo code “NACHITO SPECIAL.”
Oct. 6 5:50-7:30 pm What Does the Future Hold for Cuba-U.S. Relations?” Cuba’s top diplomatic official in the U.S., Dr.José Ramón Cabañas Rodríguez, will speak about U.S.-Cuba relations, the impact of Cuba’s economic reforms and ongoing U.S. sanctions and the prognosis for normalized relations. Co-sponsored by the Minnesota International Center and the University of St. Thomas, the event will be at the University of St. Thomas, Thornton Auditorium, 1000 LaSalle Avenue, Minneapolis. MIC & corporate members, cosponsors & students, $5; others, $15. Advance registration requested online or by phone (612-625-1662).
Oct. 11 2:00 pm Reembarque (Reshipment).” Film about Haitians immigration to Cuba in the early 20th century and their life in Cuba by Cuban documentary filmmaker, Gloria Rolando. Discussion after the film by Rolando and Robert Byrd, program director of the Jerome Foundation’s Film and Video Program. Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Pillsbury Auditorium, 2400 Third Avenue South, Minneapolis. FREE.
Oct. 22 7:30 pm Creole Choir of Cuba. Experience the heart and soul of Cuba through irresistible melodies, poetic lyrics and impassioned vocal and percussive performance. With influences from both the Caribbean and West Africa, the Creole Choir of Cuba tells stories of survival, faith and tragic history, drawing you in with infectious music. Ordway Music Theater, 345 Washington Street, St. Paul; www.ordway.org; tel: 651-243-2825.

If you know of other Cuban events in Minnesota through the end of this year, please add a comment with the relevant information.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Creole–http://www.ordway.org/performances/14-15/creole-choir-of-cuba/

 

Film–http://new.artsmia.org/event/durades-dialogue-film-reembarquereshipment-with-gloria-rolando-and-robert-byrd/