American People’s Reactions to U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation

After looking at international, Cuban and U.S. Government reactions to the December 17th announcement of U.S.-Cuba reconciliation, we now examine the reactions of the American people.

Those reactions can be obtained from public opinion polls and the views of prominent Americans, newspapers and business interests and from efforts to promote understanding of the issues and congressional support of the changes.

American public opinion polls consistently have shown that a majority of Americans favor reestablishing relations with Cuba. In April 2009 the favorable opinion ranged from 60% to 71% with the opponents from 20% to 30%. In April 2014 it was 51% to 20%, and in October 2014, 56% to 29%. [1]

This was confirmed just after President Obama’s December 17th announcement of the breakthrough with Cuba in a poll conducted by ABC News and the Washington Post. Re-establishing diplomatic relations was supported, 64% to 31%. Ending the embargo, 68% to 29%. Ending travel restrictions, 74% to 24%. [2]

On January 19, 2015, over 70 prominent Americans sent a letter to President Obama ”commending [him] on the historic actions [he is] taking to update America’s policy toward Cuba and Cuban citizens. Our new posture of engagement will advance our national interests and our values by empowering the Cuban people’s capacity to work towards a more democratic and prosperous country–conditions that are very much in the U.S. interests.” [3]

The New York Timeseditorial of December 18, 2014, “Mr. Obama’s Historic Move on Cuba,” stated that the changes in U.S. relations with Cuba “ends one of the most misguided chapters in American foreign policy. The White House is ushering in a transformational era for millions of Cubans who have suffered as a result of more than 50 years of hostility between the two nations.” 

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial on the announcement of the changes first admitted that “20 years ago these columns called for lifting the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba. We did so to assist the impoverished Cuban people and perhaps undermine the regime.” The Journal, however, went on to argue that “Mr. Obama’s approach will provide immediate succor to the Castro government in the hope of eventually helping the Cuban people.”  A similar negative view was expressed by the Journal’s conservative columnist, Mary Anastasia O’Grady, “So How’s That Cuba Deal Going?” Another of the Journal’s conservative columnists, Peggy Noonan, however, reached a different conclusion in her article, “The Cuban Regime is a Defeated Foe: In time, normalized relations will serve the cause of freedom.

An even more negative review was provided in the Washington Post’s editorial, “President Obama’s ‘betrayal’ of Cuban democrats.” 

On January 8, 2015, the United States Agricultural Coalition for Cuba was launched by 30 companies and other organizations “to strive to turn Cuba from an enemy to an ally . . . by building trade relations with an honest appraisal of the past and a fresh look to the future.” This mission is based upon the beliefs that “the improvement of agricultural trade between the U.S. and Cuba is the foundation for building successful and enduring relations between the two countries” and that “an increased exchange of ideas, knowledge, capital and credit will benefit both countries.” Speaking in support of this Coalition were U.S. Secretary of Agriculture (Tom Vilsack), Governor of Missouri (Jay Nixon), U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (Dem., MN) and Jerry Moran (Rep., KS) and U.S. Representatives Sam Farr (Dem., CA), Kevin Cramer (Rep., ND) and Rodney Davis (Rep., IL).

Another supporter of the reconciliation, including the ending of the embargo, is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the world’s largest business federation representing the interests of more than 3 million businesses of all sizes, sectors, and regions, as well as state and local chambers and industry associations. On December 17, 2014, it stated, ““The U.S. business community welcomes today’s announcement, and has long supported many of the economic provisions the president touched on in his remarks. We deeply believe that an open dialogue and commercial exchange between the U.S. and Cuban private sectors will bring shared benefits, and the steps announced today will go a long way in allowing opportunities for free enterprise to flourish. The Chamber and its members stand ready to assist as the Cuban people work to unleash the power of free enterprise to improve their lives.”

CodePINK (Women for Peace) has started a campaign to have citizens: “Tell Congress that you support the President’s effort to improve US-Cuba relations, and you’d like them to go even further by lifting all travel restrictions, take Cuba off the terrorist list, and return Guantanamo naval base to the Cuban people.” 

An important event to promote Minnesotans understanding of these issues will be on February 23rd (9:30-11:00 a.m.): “Modernizing U.S.-Cuba Relations Summit.” [4] This Summit has been called by our Senator Amy Klobuchar, a self-identified “strong supporter of normalizing ties with Cuba and increasing travel and commerce that could create new economic opportunities for American farmers and businesses while increasing the quality of life for Cubans.” After the Senator’s opening remarks, the keynote speaker will be Michael Scuse (Undersecretary for Farms and Foreign Agricultural Services, U.S. Department of Agriculture). The Senator will then moderate a panel discussion with Dave Fredrickson (Commissioner, Minnesota Department of Agriculture), Devry Boughner Verwerk (Cargill Incorporated’s Director of Latin American Corporate Affairs and Chair of the U.S. Agricultural Coalition for Cuba), Rodolfo Gutierrez (Executive Director, Hispanic Advocacy and Community Empowerment through Research) and Ralph Kaehler (Minnesota farmer who has participated in trade missions to Cuba).

I am helping to organize Minnesotans for U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation to inform the citizens of our state about the importance of this breakthrough and to mobilize public opinion to persuade our representatives in Congress to support the various measures to implement such reconciliation.

Conclusion

Now is the time for U.S. citizens who want to see our country reconciled with Cuba to be active. Say thank you and support, politically and financially, senators and representatives who support this effort. Identify those in Congress who appear to be open to this point of view from the citizenry and communicate your views to them. Write letters to the editor or op-ed articles for publication. Or, like me, research and write blog posts on the issues. Talk with your friends and colleagues.

Fellow Minnesotans should contact me to join Minnesotans for U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation. Citizens in other states, I hope, will organize similar groups.

I also invite comments to this post with corrections or additional facts and sources regarding the American people’s reactions to this important change in our country’s relations with Cuba.

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[1] Edwards-Levy, Polls Show Support for U.S. To Re-Establish Ties with Cuba, Huff. Post (Dec. 18, 2014); Dugan, Americans on Cuba: For Normalized Relations, but Party Divide Exists, Gallup (Dec. 18, 2014). 

[2] Holyk, Poll Finds Broad Public Support for Open Relations with Cuba, abc News (Dec. 23, 2014).

[3] Fuerte, Prominent USA personalities Urge Obama to Deepen Relationship with Cuba, Havana Times (Jan 19, 2015). The signers of the letter included Bruce Babbitt (former Governor of Arizona and former U.S. Secretary of the Interior), Harriett Babbitt (former U.S. Ambassador to the Organization of American States), Samuel Berger (former U.S. National Security Advisor), Chet Culver (former Governor of Iowa), Francis Fukuyama (Stanford University), Dan Glickman (former U.S. Congressman and former U.S.Secretary of Agriculture). Thomas Pickering (former U.S. Ambassador and former U.S. U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs), Bill Richardson (former Governor of New Mexico and former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.), Ken Salazar, former Colorado Attorney General, former U.S. Senator and former U.S. Secretary of the Interior), George Schultz (Former U.S. Secretary of State, Treasury and Labor) and Strobe Talbott (former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State).

[4]  The Summit will be at at the University of Minnesota College of Continuing Education, Room 135, 1890 Buford Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55108. It is free and open to the public. Please RSVP to Clara_Haycraft@Klobuchar.senate.gov.

Former U.S. Diplomats and Government Officials Urge President Obama To Expand U.S. Involvement with Cuba

A group of nearly 50 prominent U.S. citizens has issued an open letter to President Obama urging him to take executive action to expand U.S. involvement with Cuba. Here are the specific recommendations from this group:

  1. Expand and safeguard travel to Cuba for all Americans
    1. Expand general licensed travel to include exchanges by professional organizations, including those specializing in law, real estate and land titling, financial services and credit, hospitality, and any area defined as supporting independent economic activity.
    2. Expand travel by general license for NGOs and academic institutions and allow them to open Cuban bank accounts with funds to support their educational programs in Cuba.
    3. Authorize U.S. travelers to Cuba to have access to U.S.-issued pre-paid cards and other financial services-including travelers’ insurance-to expand possibilities for commerce with independent entrepreneurs and safeguard people-to-people travel.
  2. Increase support for Cuban civil society
    1. Allow unlimited remittances to non-family members for the purpose of supporting independent activity in Cuba and expand the types of goods that travelers may legally take to the Island to support micro-entrepreneurs.
    2. Establish new licenses for the provision of professional services to independent Cuban entrepreneurs.
    3. Authorize the import and export of certain goods and services between the U.S. private sector and independent Cuban entrepreneurs.
    4. Allow U.S. NGOs and other organizations to lend directly to small farmers, cooperatives, self-employed individuals, and micro-enterprises in Cuba.
    5. Permit family remittances to be used as credits or equities in Cuban micro-enterprises and small farms.
    6. Allow U.S. academic institutions to issue scholarships for exceptional Cuban students.
    7. Allow for Cuban entrepreneurs to participate in internships in U.S. corporations and NGOs.
    8. Promote agricultural exchange studies between U.S. based NGOs and private cooperative farms in Cuba.
    9. Authorize the sale of telecommunications hardware in Cuba, including cell towers, satellite dishes, and handsets.
    10. Authorize general travel licenses for the research, marketing and sale of telecommunications equipment.
    11. Authorize telecommunications hardware transactions to be conducted through general license in the same manner as existing transactions for agricultural products.
  3. Prioritize principled engagement in areas of mutual interest
    1. The Obama Administration should engage in serious discussions with Cuban counterparts on mutual security and humanitarian concerns, such as national security, migration, drug interdiction, and the environment, among others. The United States should leverage these talks to press Cuban officials on matters such as the release of Alan Gross and on-going human rights concerns.
  4. The Obama Administration should take steps to assure financial institutions that they are authorized to process all financial transactions necessary and incident to all licensed activities.
Such measures, the group says, would “provide openings and opportunities to support the Cuban people in their day-to-day economic activities, and in their desire to connect openly with each other and the outside world and to support the broad spectrum of [Cuban] civil society, independent, non-state organizations created to further individual economic and social needs irrespective of political orientation.” In addition, the measures would “deepen the contacts between the U.S. and Cuban society. . . [and] help Cubans increase their self-reliance and independence.” Finally, the measures would help counter the U.S.’ increasing international isolation regarding Cuba.

This is a helpful suggestion from such a group of eminent citizens even though they do not go far enough. They say nothing about ending the U.S. embargo of Cuba or the U.S. absurd designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” or about launching a much needed respectful bilateral negotiation with the Cuban government on a raft of issues that have accumulated over the last 50 years. Perhaps they did delve into these issues because of their asserted belief that in “the current [U.S.] political climate little can be done legislatively.”

The group includes 12 former U.S. diplomats,[1] two former U.S. military officials[2] and nine former U.S. Senators, Representatives and federal officials.[3]

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[1] The former diplomats are Harriet Babbitt, former U.S. Ambassador to the Organization of American States; Paul Cejas, former U.S. Ambassador; Jeffrey Davidow, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere; Vicki Huddleston, former U.S. Ambassador, Chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Cuba and Director of Cuban Affairs at Department of State; John Negroponte, former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State and U.S. Director of National Intelligence; Michael Parmly, former Chief of U.S. Interests Section in Cuba; Thomas Pickering, former U.S. Ambassador and U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs; Charles Shapiro, former U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela; Anne-Marie Slaughter, former Director of Policy Planning for the U.S. Department of State; Strobe Talbott, former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State; Arturo Valenzuela, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs; and Alexander Watson, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs.

[2] The former military officials are John Adams, former Brigadier General, U.S. Army, U.S. Military Representative to NATO and Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, U.S. Army; and Admiral James Stavridis, former Commander of U.S. Southern Command Supreme Allied Commander NATO.

[3] The former Senators, Representatives and federal officials are Bruce Babbitt, former U.S. Secretary of the Interior and Governor of Arizona; Carol Browner, former U.S. EPA Administrator and Director of White House Office of Climate Change and Energy Policy; Byron Dorgan, former U.S. Senator; Richard Feinberg, former Latin American Advisor to the White House; Dan Glickman, former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and Congressman; Lee Hamilton, former U.S. Representative and Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence; Jane Harman, former Congresswoman; Ken Salazar, former U.S. Secretary of the Interior, U.S. Senator and Colorado Attorney General, and Hilda L. Solis, former U.S. Secretary of Labor and U.S. Representative.