In celebration of the recent announcement that the U.S. and Cuba are embarking on a path of reconciliation, the great Cuban-American jazz pianist, Nachito Herrera, will give a FREEconcert at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 1200 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis on Sunday, January 11th at 4:00 p.m.
Westminster, the Minnesota Cuba Committee and many others have been involved in advocating for change in U.S. policy toward Cuba for many years. Westminster has partnered with a congregation in Matanzas, Cuba, since 2002 and worked closely with the Presbyterian and Reformed Church of Cuba on education and leadership development. Tim Hart-Andersen has traveled to Cuba 21 times over the past four decades and, at a recent White House event, spoke personally with President Obama about Cuba.
“We have much to celebrate with President Obama’s recent decision to normalize relations with, and ease sanctions on, Cuba,” says Tim. “We are so pleased that Nachito will be with us as we reflect on this historic event and ponder the possibilities for a new future.”
Ignacio “Nachito” Herrera combines classical music with Cuban rhythms and Latin jazz. He has been at the forefront of a renaissance in Cuban music. His musical career started at the age of 12 when he played “Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 2” with the Havana Symphony Orchestra. In the late 1990s, Nachito joined the famed Cuban Orquestra “Cubanismo” as its pianist, musical director and arranger, performing throughout Europe, the Far East, Canada, Central and South America and the U.S. He also toured as a member of the Afro-Cuban All Stars and continues to perform solo and with his quintet, Puro Cubano, and to teach at MacPhail Center for Music.
ALL ARE WELCOME! COME AND ENJOY THE MUSIC AND CELEBRATION!
On January 7, 2015, I sent the following email to U.S. President Barack Obama with copies to Secretary of State John Kerry, Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson, Senator Amy Klobuchar, Senator Al Franken and Representative Keith Ellison.
On December 17th I was overjoyed to hear the great news about your decision to embark upon a path of reconciliation with Cuba. That same day I sent you an email expressing my congratulations and thanks for this important decision. I also wrote the following blog posts to the same effect:
Now, however, I must express my profound disappointment in your Administration’s apparent decision to continue the covert or “discreet” USAID and other programs that purport to foster democracy and human rights on the island. It is horribly stupid and unwise to have such behind-the-back programs when the two countries are embarking on a long and complicated path for full reconciliation. As the New York Times said in October, the U.S. “should recognize that the most it can hope to accomplish is to positively influence Cuba’s evolution toward a more open society. That is more likely to come about through stronger diplomatic relations than subterfuge.” My blog post expands on these points: Rejection of Criticism of Cuban Cancellation of Open-Microphone Event and Arrests of Its Organizers (Jan. 6, 2015), .
Please, Mr. President, stop such programs as soon as possible. Instead, raise issues of democracy and human rights in direct meetings with Cuban government officials, as you have said your Administration would do.
After reviewing these documents, the post will conclude with observations on some of the points raised in these documents.
“FACT SHEET: Charting a New Course in Cuba”
The introduction to the FACT SHEET, among other things, said, “It is clear that decades of U.S. isolation of Cuba have failed to accomplish our enduring objective of promoting the emergence of a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba. . . . It does not serve America’s interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse. We know from hard-learned experience that it is better to encourage and support reform than to impose policies that will render a country a failed state. With our actions today, we are calling on Cuba to unleash the potential of 11 million Cubans by ending unnecessary restrictions on their political, social, and economic activities.” (Emphasis added.)
The FACT SHEET then provided the following “Key Components of the Updated Policy Approach:”
“Establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba-
The President has instructed the Secretary of State to immediately initiate discussions with Cuba on the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba, which were severed in January 1961.
In the coming months, we will re-establish an embassy in Havana and carry out high-level exchanges and visits between our two governments as part of the normalization process. As an initial step, the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs will lead the U.S. Delegation to the next round of U.S.-Cuba Migration Talks in January 2015, in Havana.
U.S. engagement will be critical when appropriate and will include continued strong support for improved human rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba and other measures aimed at fostering improved conditions for the Cuban people. (Emphasis added.)
The United States will work with Cuba on matters of mutual concern and that advance U.S. national interests, such as migration, counternarcotics, environmental protection, and trafficking in persons, among other issues.” (Emphasis added.)
“Adjusting regulations to more effectively empower the Cuban people-
The changes announced today will soon be implemented via amendments to regulations of the Departments of the Treasury and Commerce. Our new policy changes will further enhance our goal of empowering the Cuban population.
Our travel and remittance policies are helping Cubans by providing alternative sources of information and opportunities for self-employment and private property ownership, and by strengthening independent civil society.
These measures will further increase people-to-people contact; further support civil society in Cuba; and further enhance the free flow of information to, from, and among the Cuban people. Persons must comply with all provisions of the revised regulations; violations of the terms and conditions are enforceable under U.S. law.”
“Facilitating an expansion of travel under general licenses for the 12 existing categories of travel to Cuba authorized by law-
General licenses will be made available for all authorized travelers in the following existing categories: (1) family visits; (2) official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; (3) journalistic activity; (4) professional research and professional meetings; (5) educational activities; (6) religious activities; (7) public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; (8) support for the Cuban people; (9) humanitarian projects; (10) activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; (11) exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials; and (12) certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines.
Travelers in the 12 categories of travel to Cuba authorized by law will be able to make arrangements through any service provider that complies with the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) regulations governing travel services to Cuba, and general licenses will authorize provision of such services.
The policy changes make it easier for Americans to provide business training for private Cuban businesses and small farmers and provide other support for the growth of Cuba’s nascent private sector. Additional options for promoting the growth of entrepreneurship and the private sector in Cuba will be explored.”
“Facilitating remittances to Cuba by U.S. persons–
Remittance levels will be raised from $500 to $2,000 per quarter for general donative remittances to Cuban nationals (except to certain officials of the government or the Communist party); and donative remittances for humanitarian projects, support for the Cuban people, and support for the development of private businesses in Cuba will no longer require a specific license.
Remittance forwarders will no longer require a specific license.”
“Authorizing expanded commercial sales/exports from the United States of certain goods and services-
The expansion will seek to empower the nascent Cuban private sector. Items that will be authorized for export include certain building materials for private residential construction, goods for use by private sector Cuban entrepreneurs, and agricultural equipment for small farmers. This change will make it easier for Cuban citizens to have access to certain lower-priced goods to improve their living standards and gain greater economic independence from the state.”
“Authorizing American citizens to import additional goods from Cuba-
Licensed U.S. travelers to Cuba will be authorized to import $400 worth of goods from Cuba, of which no more than $100 can consist of tobacco products and alcohol combined.”
“Facilitating authorized transactions between the United States and Cuba-
U.S. institutions will be permitted to open correspondent accounts at Cuban financial institutions to facilitate the processing of authorized transactions.
The regulatory definition of the statutory term “cash in advance” will be revised to specify that it means “cash before transfer of title”; this will provide more efficient financing of authorized trade with Cuba.
U.S. credit and debit cards will be permitted for use by travelers to Cuba.
These measures will improve the speed, efficiency, and oversight of authorized payments between the United States and Cuba.”
“Initiating new efforts to increase Cubans’ access to communications and their ability to communicate freely-
Cuba has an internet penetration of about five percent—one of the lowest rates in the world. The cost of telecommunications in Cuba is exorbitantly high, while the services offered are extremely limited.
The commercial export of certain items that will contribute to the ability of the Cuban people to communicate with people in the United States and the rest of the world will be authorized. This will include the commercial sale of certain consumer communications devices, related software, applications, hardware, and services, and items for the establishment and update of communications-related systems.
Telecommunications providers will be allowed to establish the necessary mechanisms, including infrastructure, in Cuba to provide commercial telecommunications and internet services, which will improve telecommunications between the United States and Cuba.”
“Updating the application of Cuba sanctions in third countries-
U.S.-owned or -controlled entities in third countries will be generally licensed to provide services to, and engage in financial transactions with, Cuban individuals in third countries. In addition, general licenses will unblock the accounts at U.S. banks of Cuban nationals who have relocated outside of Cuba; permit U.S. persons to participate in third-country professional meetings and conferences related to Cuba; and, allow foreign vessels to enter the United States after engaging in certain humanitarian trade with Cuba, among other measures.”
“Pursuing discussions with the Cuban and Mexican governments to discuss our unresolved maritime boundary in the Gulf of Mexico-
Previous agreements between the United States and Cuba delimit the maritime space between the two countries within 200 nautical miles from shore. The United States, Cuba, and Mexico have extended continental shelf in an area within the Gulf of Mexico where the three countries have not yet delimited any boundaries.
The United States is prepared to invite the governments of Cuba and Mexico to discuss shared maritime boundaries in the Gulf of Mexico”
“Initiating a review of Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism-
The President has instructed the Secretary of State to immediately launch such a review, and provide a report to the President within six months regarding Cuba’s support for international terrorism. Cuba was placed on the list in 1982.”
“Addressing Cuba’s participation in the 2015 Summit of the Americas in Panama-
President Obama will participate in the Summit of the Americas in Panama. Human rights and democracy will be key Summit themes. Cuban civil society must be allowed to participate along with civil society from other countries participating in the Summit, consistent with the region’s commitments under the Inter-American Democratic Charter. The United States welcomes a constructive dialogue among Summit governments on the Summit’s principles.” (Emphasis added.)
“Unwavering Commitment to Democracy, Human Rights, and Civil Society
A critical focus of our increased engagement will include continued strong support by the United States for improved human rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba. The promotion of democracy supports universal human rights by empowering civil society and a person’s right to speak freely, peacefully assemble, and associate, and by supporting the ability of people to freely determine their future. Our efforts are aimed at promoting the independence of the Cuban people so they do not need to rely on the Cuban state. (Emphasis added.)
The U.S. Congress funds democracy programming in Cuba to provide humanitarian assistance, promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, and support the free flow of information in places where it is restricted and censored. The Administration will continue to implement U.S. programs aimed at promoting positive change in Cuba, and we will encourage reforms in our high level engagement with Cuban officials. (Emphasis added.)
The United States encourages all nations and organizations engaged in diplomatic dialogue with the Cuban government to take every opportunity both publicly and privately to support increased respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cuba.
Ultimately, it will be the Cuban people who drive economic and political reforms. That is why President Obama took steps to increase the flow of resources and information to ordinary Cuban citizens in 2009, 2011, and today. The Cuban people deserve the support of the United States and of an entire region that has committed to promote and defend democracy through the Inter-American Democratic Charter.”
Background Conference Call
On December 17 two hours before President Obama’s speech to the nation, the White House conducted an hour-long “background” conference call with journalists and seven unnamed senior administration officials regarding these matters.
Among other things, one of the officials said the U.S. expects that “we’ll continue to have strong differences, particularly on issues related to democracy and human rights. The [U.S.] will continue to promote our values. We will continue to support civil society in Cuba. We’ll continue our democracy programming.” In President Obama’s December 16th telephone call with President Raúl Castro, Obama “made clear his intent . . . to continue our advocacy for human rights in Cuba.”
A State Department official stated the U.S. would not reduce its “emphasis on human rights, on democracy, on the importance of civil society. . . . In fact, our emphasis on human rights will be just as strong and we believe more effective under this policy. We will engage directly with the Cuban government on human rights.”
For example, the State Department official stated a U.S. diplomat in Havana “will be meeting with members of Cuban society and dissidents later today to walk them through the President’s initiatives of today, and to emphasize to them, as well, that their efforts on behalf of democracy and human rights in Cuba not only won’t be forgotten in these initiatives, but will, in fact, take center stage.”
In response to a question as to whether there were discussions with Cuba about “USAID programs that have been pretty controversial in Cuba,” an administration official said U.S. “democracy programming . . . did factor into the discussions [with Cuba]. The Cubans do not like our democracy programming. They consistently protest those initiatives. . . . [The U.S., however,] made clear that we’re going to continue our support for civil society for the advancement of our values in Cuba. [This] . . . was an issue of difference that we will continue to have with Cuba, and we fully expect them to raise those issues just as we will raise issues with the Cubans about democracy and human rights. However, we’re going to do that through a normal relationship. We’re going to do that through our embassy in Havana. We’re going to do that through contacts between our various agencies.”
Vice President Biden’s Telephone Calls with Presidents of Colombia and Mexico
The White House reported that Vice President Joe Biden made telephone calls about the new initiatives with Cuba to President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia and to President Enrique Pena Nieto of Mexico. After outlining the agreement, Biden told each of them that President Obama intended to attend the Summit of the Americas in Panama next April “as long as Cuban civil society is allowed to participate and human rights and democracy are on the agenda.” In the call to President Nieto, Biden said that the U.S. would initiate discussions with Cuba and Mexico about the unresolved maritime boundary of the Gulf of Mexico.
I concur in most of the FACT SHEET’s assertions about democracy and human rights that suggest that the U.S. will engage and work with the Cuban government to improve the Cuban people’s political, social and economic rights and that the U.S. no longer will seek to impose such rights or values on the Cuban people through covert or “discreet” programs. These statements are the following:
(i) “It does not serve America’s interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse. We know from hard-learned experience that it is better to encourage and support reform than to impose policies that will render a country a failed state. With our actions today, we are calling on Cuba to unleash the potential of 11 million Cubans by ending unnecessary restrictions on their political, social, and economic activities.”
(ii) “U.S. engagement will be critical when appropriate and will include continued strong support for improved human rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba and other measures aimed at fostering improved conditions for the Cuban people.”
(iii) “A critical focus of our increased engagement will include continued strong support by the United States for improved human rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba. The promotion of democracy supports universal human rights by empowering civil society and a person’s right to speak freely, peacefully assemble, and associate, and by supporting the ability of people to freely determine their future. Our efforts are aimed at promoting the independence of the Cuban people so they do not need to rely on the Cuban state.”
(iv) The U.S. “will encourage [such] reforms in our high level engagement with Cuban officials.”
Other statements in the FACT SHEET, however, seems to undercut this benign interpretation: (i) “The U.S. Congress funds democracy programming in Cuba to provide humanitarian assistance, promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, and support the free flow of information in places where it is restricted and censored. The Administration will continue to implement U.S. programs aimed at promoting positive change in Cuba. . . .” (ii) “The U.S. Congress funds democracy programming in Cuba to provide humanitarian assistance, promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, and support the free flow of information in places where it is restricted and censored. The Administration will continue to implement U.S. programs aimed at promoting positive change in Cuba.” 
According to the FACT SHEET, “President Obama will participate in the Summit of the Americas in Panama. Human rights and democracy will be key Summit themes. Cuban civil society must be allowed to participate along with civil society from other countries participating in the Summit.” The account of the Vice President’s telephone calls, however, seems to add that President Obama intends to attend the Summit of the Americas in Panama next April “as long as Cuban civil society is allowed to participate and human rights and democracy are on the agenda.” I was surprised and disappointed to read that there was a precondition to Obama’s attending the summit: Cuba’s allowing members of its civil society to attend and participate in the Summit. While it may be a good idea to have civil society representatives from all countries, including Cuba, attend and participate, I think it unwise for the U.S. to provide Cuba with a veto on Obama’s attendance if it does not have such representatives there. I hope that this interpretation of the Vice President’s remarks is unfounded.
I am unaware of the details of the dispute about the maritime boundaries of the Gulf of Mexico, but assume that it relates to oil or other resources under the Caribbean.
 Prior posts discussed the legal and political issues of rescinding the designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” and the U.S.’ previous concessions that Cuba has provided assurances that it will not commit future acts of terrorism.
 On December 20th Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker and Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew co-authored an article in the Miami Herald. It said the U.S. would have “continued strong support for improved human-rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba” and would “continue to implement programs to promote positive change in Cuba.”
 The previous democracy/human rights programs of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Department of State will be part of a subsequent post about the recent controversy about Cuba’s cancellation of n “open-microphone” event and arrests of its organizers.
As mentioned in a prior post, Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church for the last 12 years has had a partnership with a Presbyterian-Reformed Church in Matanzas Cuba and with the overall synod of that church for the whole island. As a result, many members of our church have visited our brothers and sisters in Cuba and some of them have visited us. We also have installed four clean water systems in Cuban churches and the ecumenical seminary in that city. In the process many of us at our church have become close to our brothers and sisters and advocates for a closer relationship between our two countries. We, therefore, are celebrating this great gift of reconciliation between the U.S. and Cuba.
December 21, 2014 Sermon
The first such celebration was the sermon, “Is the Church Born at Christmas?”, just before Christmas Day and just after the December 17th announcement of U.S.-Cuba reconciliation.  Rev. Dr. Timothy Hart-Andersen, our Senior Pastor, said “Christmas is not merely about the birth of Jesus; it’s about the birth in our hearts of a new willingness to be God’s people who seek to restore creation, to work for justice, to strive for peace among the nations of the earth.” He then illustrated this point with the following words about this gift of reconciliation between the two countries:
“President Obama’s announcement this week that he’s ending the half-century quarantine of Cuba came as good news and prompted great joy. It’s the culmination of decades of patience and prayer, not to mention politics.”
“We should not underestimate the impact of the change; it’s akin to the fall of the Berlin Wall. The entire Western Hemisphere will see us differently. It will take time for Congress to end the embargo, but now it will happen. The Cubans will want to protect and preserve their way of life as much as possible, but now change is underway.”
“My phone rang within minutes of the announcement with people rejoicing at the news. The jazz pianist Nachito Herrera called to say he wants to play a gig here to celebrate and thank Westminster for its steadfast support of the Cuban people for so many years. We’re planning an event early in the New Year.”
“Presbyterians in Cuba – those who have access to email – began sending messages to us almost immediately, as well. For them it’s the coming dawn after a long night of isolation and hardship. They chose to be the Church when being the Church subjected them to suspicion or worse. They chose to be the body of Christ, the one born outside the circle of acceptability, and it was not without cost.”
“They’ve been a gentle, generous witness in the face of decades of hostility and exclusion. They built bridges while others constructed walls. They stayed the course for the sake of the gospel. They’ve been in a fifty-year season of Advent; Bethlehem has finally come into view.”
“Christmas came a little early for little town of Guanabacoa, just outside Havana, Cuba. Last month Westminster’s Clean Water team, working with local Presbyterians, installed a purification system there. That small congregation is now the sole source of clean water for the neighborhood. Emmanuel: God in our midst.”
Our team “brought back a letter from another church where they had installed a system last year. The was from a neighbor who is not part of the church. ‘Permit me to say,’ he writes, ‘That the water the church is offering the community is life and health for all of us…In this humanitarian act for our people it is clear the church wants to save lives, alleviate pain, and promote health.'”
“That’s what true Christmas looks like: good news of great joy to all the people. Sometimes it’s hard to find, but we know it when we see it.”
Concert Celebrating Renewed Friendship with Cuba
Our other celebration of this great gift of reconciliation is a concert with Cuban-American jazz pianist and Westminster amigo, Nachito Herrera, at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 1200 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis on Sunday, January 11th at 4:00 p.m.
ALL ARE WELCOME! COME AND ENJOY THE MUSIC AND CELEBRATION!
 An audio recording of the sermon and the bulletin for the service are available online.
With God’s leading or nudging the U.S. and Cuba to reconciliation, the timing of the announcement of that historic change on December 17th was due to more prosaic factors from the U.S. perspective.
Pressures for an announcement as soon as possible were several. The health of U.S. citizen, Alan Gross, was reportedly declining in a Cuban prison, and President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry legitimately believed that reconciliation would be destroyed if he died in that prison. As we now know, the U.S. and Cuba had been engaged in secret negotiations for 18 months, and delaying the announcement ran the risk of a leak of the existence of the negotiations that would upset, if not destroy, the reconciliation. Less immediate was the upcoming Summit of the Americas in April 2015 with the U.S. needing to have a position on host country Panama’s invitation to Cuba to attend the Summit.
In addition, U.S. domestic political considerations pointed towards a December announcement before the Republican-controlled 114th Congress opened in early January and as soon as possible (the next day) after the adjournment of the 113th so that there would be no resulting interference with the completion of the many items of unfinished business of the current Congress. December also is the traditional time for exercise of presidential clemency (pardons and commutation of sentences), the latter of which was used for the release of the remaining three of the Cuban Five on December 17th.
All of these considerations suggest why the President on December 16th (the day before the announcement about Cuba) quietly signed the $1.1 trillion appropriation bill even though it contained a repeal of an important provision of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act regulating financial institutions that Senator Elizabeth Warren passionately resisted. The President did not want a lack of funding to interfere with or torpedo the reconciliation.
Within a week of the announcement we learned that the U.S. GDP for the third quarter had increased 5.0%, the strongest quarterly performance in a decade, and the U.S. stock market reacted with a record close on December 23 with the Dow Jones Industrial Average at 18024.17, registering its 36th record close this year. Unemployment is below 6.0%. The FY 2014 deficit is below its 40-year average. The Affordable Care Act has reduced uninsured Americans by 25%, and overall health-care spending has slowed significantly. The U.S. Dollar is stronger against other world currencies. The federal government’s bailouts of banks and the auto industry that rescued the economy from a total collapse at the start of the Obama presidency were closed out with a net profit to the taxpayers of $15.4 billion. Low world oil prices help the American consumer and weaken regimes hostile to the U.S., especially Russia, Iran and Venezuela. An amazing economic performance! (Packer, A Pretty Good Year for Government, New Yorker (Dec. 23, 2014); Higgins, Oil’s Swift Fall Raises Fortunes of U.S. Abroad, N.Y. Times (Dec. 25, 2014).)
President Obama, using the “fourth quarter” analogy of his favorite sport of basketball, obviously has concluded that he would be engaged in a vigorous “fourth quarter” (the last two years of his eight years in office) to do as much as possible of what he believes to be in the national interest of our country. Indeed, at the first Cabinet meeting after the huge Republican victories in this year’s midterm election, Obama gave every Cabinet member a white card that said, “We are entering the fourth quarter, and really important things happen in the fourth quarter.” Timothy Egan, a New York Times’ columnist, says Obama has “been liberated by defeat” and “in finally learning how to use the tools of his office, Obama unbound is a president primed to make his mark.” He is “marching ahead of politicians fighting yesterday’s wars,” who are forced “to defend old-century policies, and rely on an aging base to do it.” Moreover, Obama now “has Pope Francis as a diplomatic co-conspirator,” leaving Republican opponents of Cuban reconciliation to try to lecture “the most popular man on the planet.” (Osnos, In the Land of the Possible, New Yorker (Dec. 22 & 29, 2014); Eagan, Obama Unbound, N.Y. Times (Dec. 20, 2014).)
Finally the merits of reconciliation and these reflections on the timing of the announcement resurrect my personal support of the President. Given the Administration’s problems with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and other administrative issues, I was beginning to think that Obama’s lack of prior administrative experience was a reason why he would not be the great President I expected him to be. Now, however, his achieving reconciliation with Cuba is a masterful demonstration of his intellectual, administrative and political skills.