Open Letter to U.S. Congress About U.S. Freedom To Travel to Cuba

To: Senator Flake: As an U.S. and Minnesota citizen, I thank you for sponsoring legislation to grant U.S. citizens freedom to travel to Cuba (S.127 Freedom for Americans to Travel to Cuba Act). I also thank and copy my Minnesota Senators, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, for joining 52 other senators in co-sponsoring this bill.

To: Representative Mark Sanford: I thank you for sponsoring a similar bill in the House (H.R.351—Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2017). I also thank and copy the three Minnesota representatives (Tom Emmer, Erik Paulsen and Rick Nolan) who have joined 21 other representatives in cosponsoring the bill. By copies of this open letter, I urge the other Minnesota representatives (Timothy Walz, Jason Lewis, Betty McCollum, Keith Ellison and Collin Peterson) to join the ranks of cosponsors.

Now is the time to push these bills forward for votes in the two chambers before the Trump Administration comes forward with proposed regulations to implement the President’s intention to eliminate individual person-to-person travel to the island. (A copy of this open letter is also being sent to President Trump.)

In addition to the arguments already advanced for supporting these bills, I submit that the new Trump policy is internally inconsistent for the following reasons:

  • The ban on individual person-to-person travel, by all accounts, will reduce the overall amount of U.S. travel to the island and thereby have substantial negative effects on Cuba’s emerging private sector, which has improved the living standards of many Cubans and is a force for change in Cuba and for friendlier relations with the U.S. Remember that President Trump favors measures to improve the lives of ordinary Cubans.
  • Forcing Americans who want to have a person-to-person experience in Cuba to do so only with established tour groups will mean “large tour groups [that] are too big for smaller bed-and-breakfast rentals, and their [Cuban] government-appointed guides tend to ply the well-trodden routes that bypass the new galleries, restaurants and night spots opened by enterprising Cubans and others.” This is a direct negative effect on Cubans’ standard of living, which President Trump does not want.
  • According to Andrea Gallina, an Italian entrepreneur who last year opened a high-end boutique hotel, Paseo 206, with his Cuban spouse, “If independent American travel is cut off, you won’t only hurt the bed-and-breakfasts. It’s also the construction crews, the private tour guides, the taxi drivers, the restaurants and the artists selling handicrafts.” Again, the Cubans now engaged in these private enterprises will be substantially disadvantaged.
  • The larger groups will by necessity have to stay in hotels, most of which are state-owned, rather than individually owned b&bs, and travel in tour buses (again, state-owned), rather than individually owned taxis. The large-group U.S. visitors also probably will be provided with government-provided guides rather than private guides used by people traveling by themselves or in small groups. All of these consequences are contrary to the President’s intent to stop or limit U.S. persons from doing business with enterprises owned or controlled by the Cuban military or security services.
  • The ban on individual person-to-person travel will increase the cost for Americans’ traveling to the island and thereby reduce the amount of such travel. As a result, the U.S. will lose the impact on Cubans of ordinary Americans, who often are the best ambassadors for the U.S., its government, people and values.

====================================================For more details, see This Blogger’s Reactions to Trump Reversal of Some U.S.-Cuba Normalization Policies (June 23, 2017).

U.S. and Cuba’s Efforts To Continue Normalization

With the impending arrival of the Trump Administration and twitterings that it might derail efforts at normalizing U.S.-Cuba relations, the Obama Administration, its U.S. allies and Cuba are continuing their efforts at that normalization. Let us examine these efforts by the latest U.S.-Cuba Bilateral Commission meeting, U.S. Senators and Representatives, Cuban entrepreneurs and a U.S. business coalition (Engage Cuba).

Latest Bilateral Commission Meeting[1]

On December 7 in Havana the U.S. and Cuba held another Bilateral Commission meeting to review the achievements of the Bilateral Commission since diplomatic relations were re-established in July 2015. It has prioritized and sequenced a number of bilateral initiatives. The U.S. and Cuba have established dialogues on law enforcement, claims, human rights, and economic and regulatory issues, and have continued biannual Migration Talks. The Bilateral Commission has provided a framework to address trafficking in persons and the return of fugitives, as well as to schedule technical exchanges on law enforcement and environmental issues.

In the last 18 months, the U.S. and Cuba have concluded 11 non-binding agreements, including Memoranda of Understanding on health, cancer research, agriculture, environmental cooperation, hydrography, marine protected areas, counter-narcotics, federal air marshals, civil aviation, and direct transportation of mail. In the coming weeks, the U.S. and Cuba expect to sign additional agreements formalizing cooperation on law enforcement, conservation, seismology, meteorology, search and rescue, and oil-spill response protocols.

The U.S. and Cuba have coordinated a number of high-level visits, including that of President Obama in March 2016, seven cabinet-level officials, and Dr. Jill Biden. U.S. governors from New York, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, Virginia, Missouri, and West Virginia have led trade delegations to Cuba since April 2015. More than 80 Members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, have visited Cuba in the last two years, many for the first time.

Purposeful travel by Americans to Cuba increased by approximately 75 percent from 2014 to 2015. Ten U.S. airlines now provide scheduled service between U.S. and Cuban cities, and Carnival cruises are docking in several Cuban cities, further connecting the U.S. and Cuban people.

Under the Bilateral Commission, the United States and Cuba expanded educational and cultural exchanges. The number of Cubans studying in the United States increased 63 percent in academic year 2015-16. More than 2,000 U.S. students visited Cuba as part of their academic program in academic year 2014-15. The U.S. welcomed the first Cuban Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow to the U.S.

Four U.S. cellular providers offer roaming service in Cuba, further connecting Cuba and the U.S.

The delegations agreed the Bilateral Commission has provided a framework for discussion of a wide range of issues. Where U.S. and Cuban interests align, including on counter-narcotics, health, and environmental issues, the U.S. and Cuba have made important strides for the benefit of both peoples. Where the two countries have disagreements, including on human rights, the U.S. and Cuba have articulated those differences in a clear, productive, and respectful manner. The dialogues and working groups that fall under the Bilateral Commission framework have allowed the U.S. and Cuba to establish working relationships with counterparts, which are essential to continued bilateral cooperation, advancement of U.S. interests, and progress toward normalization.

The Cuban delegation insisted that the U.S. blockade (embargo) has prevented significant results in economic and trade relations and that this measure must be ended before the two countries could have normal relations. Other conditions for normalization for Cuba are the U.S. returning to Cuba the territory allegedly illegally occupied by the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo and the U.S. elimination of other political interventions harmful to Cuban sovereignty.

The U.S. looks forward to hosting the next Bilateral Commission Meeting in Washington, DC at the earliest opportunity.

Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Mari Carmen Aponte led the U.S. delegation. Other members were U.S. Charge d’Affaires in Havana, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, and Deputy Assistant Secretary John Creamer. Josefina Vidal, the Foreign Ministry’s Director General for U.S. Affairs, led the Cuban delegation.

At a subsequent press conference Josefina Vidal said Cuba hopes “the new U.S. government takes into account the results we have achieved… that are backed by the majority of the Cuban population (and) U.S. citizens.”

U.S. Senators and Representatives[2]

On December 7 Minnesota’s U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (Dem.) and Representative Tom Emmer (Rep.) and four Cuban women entrepreneurs held a press conference on Capitol Hill to urge President-elect Donald Trump to keep Obama administration initiatives relaxing trade and travel restrictions for Americans wanting to travel to and work with Cuba and to end the U.S. embargo of the island.

Klobuchar said, “For far too long, U.S.-Cuba policy has been defined by the conflicts of the past instead of the realities of today and the possibilities for the future. I’ve spoken with business owners in Cuba and in Minnesota who look forward to the new economic opportunities that would come with lifting the embargo. We need to turn the page on the failed policy of isolation and build on the progress we have made to open up engagement with Cuba by ending the embargo once and for all.”

Emmer added, “Over the past two years there have been important changes on the island just 90 miles off our coast. The private-sector economy in Cuba continues to grow and today, we heard from four incredible young women who have excelled as entrepreneurs and are eager for the ability to grow, expand and continue their success. I look forward to working with President-elect Trump and the 115th Congress to make their success a reality and provide new opportunities for both Cubans and Americans alike.”

One of the Cuban women, Marla Recio Carbajal, founder and president of Havana Reverie, an upscale event and wedding planning company that caters primarily to U.S. travelers and companies, said Havana businesses are bustling, thanks in part to the relaxation on restrictions and that her business was doing well because of American interest in the country.

Separately Emmer as the Chair of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Cuba Working Group [3] and 16 Republican and Democratic members of that Group recently sent a letter to President-elect Trump urging the new administration’s support for the restoration of U.S. engagement with Cuba.  The letter stated the following:

  • “Americans support the easing of commercial restrictions in Cuba because it will result in increased jobs, economic growth and productivity gains for the United States economy.  In fact, the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) released a report earlier this year that found if U.S. restrictions on Cuba were lifted, U.S. exports of selected agricultural and manufactured goods could increase to a total of roughly $2.2 billion, up from a mere $180 million in 2015.  Policies that improve commercial relations could potentially create thousands of jobs here in the United States and open valuable new markets for our exports. The restrictions the U.S. government imposes on American business activity in Cuba have not only stymied America’s economic potential, they have provided the repressive Cuban regime with an excuse on which to place blame for their own economic woes.  Additionally, there is little credible evidence that sanctions have improved the human rights situation in Cuba, a top priority of the CWG.”
  • “The recent death of Fidel Castro represents a dawn of a new era in Cuban leadership and America must use this opportunity to help chart a new course for Cuba’s future.  We believe America’s greatest ambassadors – the American people and the U.S. private sector – will always be the most effective conduit for the spread of American influence. Continued engagement by our citizens and businesses will help to empower the Cuban people, facilitate economic reforms, and promote the expansion of civil and religious liberties.”
  • “{I]mproving our relationship with Cuba would also align the U.S. government with the will of the American people and improve our standing with our regional allies.  Recent polling from the Pew Research Center show that 73 percent of voters supported renewed diplomatic relations and 72 percent support ending the embargo. In addition, a recent poll out of Florida International University showed that 63 percent of Cuban-Americans in Miami want to see the embargo lifted.  Global support for the normalization of our relations also remains overwhelming, particularly among some of our most important economic and security partners in Latin America.”

As mentioned in other posts, Klobuchar and Emmer are the authors of bills in the current session of Congress to end the embargo. Klobuchar’s is the Freedom to Export to Cuba Act, which currently has 25 Senate cosponsors. Emmer’s is the Cuba Trade Act.[4]

Cuban Entrepreneurs and Engage Cuba[5]

On December 7 Engage Cuba, a national advocacy organization dedicated to dismantling the U.S. embargo on Cuba, released a letter to President-elect Trump from 83 Cuban entrepreneurs that said they “have experienced a great deal of change over the last several years. Changes by our government allow for increased private sector activity and we’ve seen significant growth in small businesses in our country. Over a half of million people now work in the private sector, earning considerably more money than state jobs and offering more autonomy in business decisions. We’re hopeful that our government will make additional changes to the legal framework and market conditions in the future.”

Moreover, the Cuban entrepreneurs said U.S. government reforms “to allow for increased travel, telecom services and banking have helped substantially as we attempt to grow our businesses. . . . Increased interaction and business dealings with U.S. travelers and U.S. companies [have] had important economic benefits, the exchanges of ideas and knowledge, and offered much hope for the future. . . . Additional measures to increase travel, trade and investment, including working with the U.S. Congress to lift the embargo, will benefit our companies, the Cuban people and U.S. national interests. We look forward to taking advantage of any openings that your administration makes to the Cuban private sector and the Cuban economy as a whole.”

That same day, the President of Engage Cuba, James Williams, said he remains hopeful that Trump, a businessman, will not reverse the work already done. “There is no business in the world that would continue a strategy that has failed for 55 years. We see no reason why he would do the same with the U.S. government,” he said. “We’re hopeful that he will continue to build on the progress of the last two years that has helped U.S. businesses and created positive changes for the Cuban people.”

Conclusion

Thanks to Senator Klobuchar, Representative Emmer, the House of Representatives Cuba Working Group, Cuban entrepreneurs and Engage Cuba for continuing their efforts at U.S.-Cuba normalization and urging the future Trump Administration to do the same.

All U.S. citizens who believe that this normalization should continue should thank the above people for their efforts and urge other elected officials to join the fight.

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 [1] State Dept, Daily Press Briefing (Dec. 6, 2016); Cuba Foreign Ministry, Cuba and the United States will hold the fifth Bilateral Commission Meeting (Dec. 6, 2016); Cuba Foreign Ministry, Press Release of the Cuban Delegation to the Fifth Meeting of the Cuba-U.S. Bilateral Commission. Havana, December 7, 2016; Peraza, Cuba reaffirms willingness to continue working to improve relations with the United States, Granma (Dec. 7, 2016); State Dep’t, Press Release: United States and Cuba Hold Fifth Bilateral Commission Meeting in Havana, Cuba (Dec. 7, 2016); Reuters, Cuba Wants to Sign Accords With US Before Obama Exit: Officials (Dec. 8, 2016).

[2] Sherry, Klobuchar, Emmer urge Trump to keep Obama’s Cuba policies, StarTribune (Dec. 8, 2016); Emmer, Klobuchar, Emmer and Bipartisan Congressional Coalition Highlight the Need for Congress to Lift the Trade Embargo with Cuba (Dec. 7, 2016); Emmer, Bipartisan Cuba Working Group Encourages President-elect Trump to Continue U.S. Engagement Efforts with Cuba (Dec. 8, 2016).

[3] The U.S. House of Representatives’ Cuba Working Group was established to promote increased trade, travel and investment in Cuba, open new markets, create jobs in both countries, promote human rights and improve the security posture of the United States. Two other Minnesota members of the Group signed the above letter: Representatives Betty McCollum and Rick Nolan.

[4] Klobuchar and Emmer’s bills were discussed in earlier posts.

[5] Engage Cuba, Cuban Entrepreneurs Announce Letter to President-elect Donald Trump (Dec. 7, 2016).

Bipartisan Bill To End Embargo of Cuba Introduced in House of Representatives           

Rep. Tom Emmer
Rep. Tom Emmer

On July 28 Representatives Tom Emmer (Rep., MN) and Kathy Castor (Dem., FL) introduced the Cuba Trade Act of 2015 (H.R.3238) to end the U.S. embargo of Cuba. The bill is cosponsored by Republican Representatives Ralph Abraham (LA), Justin Amash (MI), Charles Boustany, Jr. (LA), Reid Ribble (WI) and Mark Sanford (SC).[1]

According to Emmer, “Today marks a new and exciting chapter for the U.S. – Cuba relationship. The American people overwhelmingly support lifting the Cuba embargo. Along with the Cuban people, Americans are ready for a fresh start and new opportunities for increasing trade, advancing the cause of human rights and ushering in direly needed reforms. This legislation will improve our position within the region, giving the U.S. a seat at the table and increased leverage as we support political transformations beginning to occur in Cuba. The time has come for a change in our policy towards Cuba, and I am ready to work with my colleagues in Congress on policies that are beneficial to both the American and Cuban people.”

Rep. Kathy Castor
Rep. Kathy Castor

Co-author Castor had a similar message. She said, “The United States and Cuba have taken historic actions this year to set our countries on a more productive path forward for citizens of both nations and turn the page on the outdated 50 year policy of isolation. This [bill is an] important step forward will advance human rights and lift the fortunes of families and entrepreneurs on both sides of the Florida straits. Lifting the embargo and reestablishing historic trade ties with Cuba will be a boost to our port and local small businesses in Tampa Bay.” Her press release added that her district is “home to a large Cuban-American population with historic ties that date back to the 1800s.”[2]

This bill is a companion to the Senate’s bill by the same name (S.1543) that was introduced by Kansas’ Republican Senator Jerry Moran and Maine’s Independent Senator Angus King,,[3] and both bills would fully lift the trade embargo with Cuba by granting the U.S. private sector the freedom to trade with Cuba, while protecting taxpayer interest from any risk associated with such trade.

To protect U.S. taxpayers, the bills have three features. First, they would allow all private persons, entities or organizations to spend private funds for Cuba trade promotion and market development without the use of any taxpayer dollars. Second, commodity check-off programs, which are producer funded, would be allowed to be used. Third, private credit from private institutions could be extended to Cuba, without risk to U.S. taxpayers.

The House already had three bills to end the embargo, all offered by Democratic Representatives: (i) H.R. 403: Free Trade with Cuba Act (Rep. Charles Rangel (NY) with 29 Democratic cosponsors as of July 27); (ii) H.R.274: United States-Cuba Normalization Act of 2015 (Rep. Bobby Rush (IL) with no cosponsors as of July 27); and (iii) H.R.735: Cuba Reconciliation Act (Rep. Jose Serrano (NY) with 12 Democratic cosponsors as of July 27).[4]

All of these previous House bills were assigned to the following seven House committees: Agriculture; Energy and Commerce; Financial Services; Foreign Affairs; Judiciary; Oversight and Government Reform; and Ways and Means. Presumably the bill just introduced by Representatives Emmer and Castor will be similarly assigned. As of July 27, none of these committees had taken any action on the earlier bills.

Given control of the House is in the hands of the Republican Party, maybe the just-introduced bill by Republican Tom Emmer will have a more receptive consideration by these committees.

Representative Emmer in the first six months of his first term in the House serves on the Agriculture and Foreign Affairs committees and already has voiced interest in normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations as indicated by the following:

  1. His website‘s page on “Foreign Affairs”states, “Regions such as Latin America, Africa and Asia present us with emerging opportunities to increase trade and diplomatic relations.”
  2. Early this year Emmer made his first trip to Cuba with a congressional delegation and said the trip had convinced him that the Cuban people are ready to do business with America. “Before the trip, you can be academic about [the issue],” he said. “Once you see the people, it’s not about leadership as much as it’s about people. They’re hungry for the next step, hungry for access to the marketplace.”[5]
  3. In early February Emmer let it be known that if certain conditions were met, he could support lifting the embargo even though he thinks President Obama could have been more open about his initial talks with Cuban officials. “By all accounts the Cuban people are worse off today than when [the embargo] started. So clearly that’s not working,” he said. “And I’m supportive of engaging in diplomacy, starting to re-engage in diplomatic relations with Cuba, to begin that process to hopefully someday getting to normalize that relationship. But it’s two separate things. One, it’s diplomacy, and down the road is normalization.”[6]
  4. In late May Emmer made his second trip to the island, again with another congressional delegation, this one led by Representative Mark Sanford (Rep., SC). Afterwards Emmer said, “The experience for me, is to learn it, to understand it, and see how it fits with Minnesota’s economy.” He also learned “the Cuban people, they love Americans.” [7]
  5. After the July 1 announcement that the two countries would reopen embassies on July 20, Emmer stated he sees “a real opportunity for a positive, open trading partnership between these two countries. The potential benefits for Minnesota exporters are immense, and what is good for Minnesota is good for our country.”[8]

Upon introducing his bill to end the embargo, Emmer stated that he decided to do so after his second trip to Cuba. “I understand there’s a lot of pain on both sides of this issue that goes back many decades, something that a kid from Minnesota is not going to necessarily be able to understand. But I believe this is in the best interests of the Cuban people. This isn’t about the Cuban government — it’s about people on the street looking for more opportunity and to improve their quality of life.”[9]

Conclusion

Now the Minnesota congressional delegation is almost unanimous in supporting U.S.-Cuba normalization and ending the U.S. embargo of the island.

Our two Democratic U.S. Senators (Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken), our five Democratic Representatives (Keith Ellison, Rick Nolan, Betty McCollum, Collin Peterson and Tim Walz) and now our Republican Representative Emmer are on record as authors or cosponsors of bills to end the embargo.

In addition, our Republican Representative Erik Paulsen has made statements that at least do not indicate opposition to these measures. He said in early February, “We should be looking at opportunities to open up trade between the United States and Cuba so we can export more American goods and services. However, the President should have engaged Congress before making concessions to the Cuban government.” And after the announcement of the reopening of embassies, he observed, “A new [U.S.] embassy needs to focus on boosting open markets so the Cuban people can access more American goods and services.” Paulsen’s district, by the way, includes the headquarters of Cargill, the leader of the U.S. Coalition for Cuba, which is a strong advocate for ending the embargo and for normalization.[10]

The lone exception to this Minnesota consensus appears to be our other Congressman, Republican John Kline. In early February he stated he was “not confident the Administration will follow through on its promises to hold the Castro dictatorship regime accountable, and I’m concerned about revisiting relations with Cuba until all Cubans enjoy a free democracy.” After the announcement of the reopening of embassies, his spokesman said, “While congressman Kline supports new opportunities for American businesses and has a strong record of supporting trade and efforts to grow jobs in America, he wants all Cubans to enjoy a free democracy but is not confident this administration will follow through on its promises to hold the Castro dictatorship regime accountable,” [11]

As a Minnesota advocate for U.S.-Cuba reconciliation, I am proud that our congressional delegation is so supportive of ending the embargo and for normalization. I entreat Representatives Paulsen and Kline to join their colleagues in this endeavor.

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[1] Press Release, Emmer, Castor Introduce Legislation to Lift Cuba Embargo (July 28, 2015)   Emmer’s website contains endorsements from the Minnesota Farm Bureau, National foreign Trade Council, National Farmers Union, Minnesota Farmers Union, U.S. Agricultural Coalition for Cuba, National Turkey Federation, Greater Tampa Area Chamber of Commerce, Council of the Americas, Arkansas Rice Growers Association, Engage Cuba, Cuba Now, Washington Office of Latin America and CoBank.(See also Sherry, Rep. Tom Emmer leads Republican effort to lift Cuba embargo, StarTribune (July 28, 2015)(Democratic Representative Betty McCollum today indicatated her support for Emmer’s bill).)

[2] Castor, Press Release: U.S. Reps. Castor and Republican colleagues file bill today to end Cuba embargo (July 28, 2015)

[3] As reported in a prior post, the Moran-King bill (S.1543) was introduced on June 10 with Senator John Boozman (Rep., AK) as cosponsor and was referred to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. That committee also has the earlier bill to end the embargo– S.491: Freedom to Export to Cuba Act of 2015—introduced by Senator Amy Klobuchar (Dem., MN). As of July 27 that bill had 21 bipartisan cosponsors, but that committee had taken no action on either bill.

[4] These bills were discussed in a prior post, which was updated in another post.

[5] Brodey, Why is Minnesota’s congressional delegation so focused on Cuba? MINNPOST (June 22, 2015).

[6] Henry, Emmer on Cuba embargo: ’Clearly that’s not working,’ MINNPOST (Feb. 6, 2015).

[7] Demczyk, Emmer Details Cuba Visit, KNSI Radio (June 1, 2015), This trip was discussed in a prior post.

[8] Spencer, Embassy reopening could help efforts to end Cuban trade embargo, StarTribune (July 1, 2015).

[9] Gomez, Emmer files bill to end U.S. embargo of Cuba, SC Times (July 28, 2015).

[10] Spencer (n. 8).

[11] Henry (n. 6); Spencer (n. 8).

U.S. Radio and Television Broadcasts to Cuba at Crossroads

In 1983 the Cuban American National Foundation, a once-monolithic lobbying group of Cuban exiles, helped persuade the Reagan administration to establish Radio Martí, which started broadcasting from Miami to Cuba in 1985, and TV Martí began in 1990. [1]

For most of its 30 years, the Martí services have been known for their anti-Castro, one- dimensional slant and advocacy. As a result, the Cuban regime has been very hostile to these services. It has made them illegal and often blocks their reception on the island.

The Martís, with a budget of $27 million, also have U.S. critics, including former American diplomats in Cuba. These critics “have considered them taxpayer-funded relics controlled by Cuban exiles that too often slide into propaganda, which has damaged their credibility.” In addition, “reports by congressional staff members and federal agencies, like the Inspector General for the State Department, have delivered stinging assessments” of Martí; the most recent such report came last summer accusing the Martís of ‘a lack of balance, fairness and objectivity,’ of cronyism, malfeasance and, most recently, low employee morale.”

More recently Martí has “focused on diversifying coverage of Cuba and ramping up a Martí website. [This includes] bringing more Cubans into the conversation through video, articles, texts, blogs and social media. “ This includes an expansion of a “cadre of journalists in Cuba who file videos and articles, with their names made public at great risk. Some of those interviewed by the reporters are also identified, a sign of diminishing fear.” In addition, Cubans now “can post their own blogs and news items through features like “Reporta Cuba,” which often spreads news of detentions.” “And a separate social network created by the Martís, Piramideo, allows Cubans to use cellphones or email accounts to gain access to a site that circumvents government restrictions. From there, they can send messages to hundreds of Cubans in Cuba about nearly anything.”

Another goal at Martí “was to lift journalistic standards, [especially attempting] to offer more diverse views of Cuban life and [U.S.] foreign policy. Reporters now call the Cuban government to get its response for certain stories.”

Now Martí presents “snippets of life on the island, like examples of the recently unleashed zeal for private enterprise. So one of the hosts, as part of an effort to bolster Cuba’s fledgling independent businesses, recently promoted “Hilda in Havana,” who is offering desserts and decorations for events and restaurants. Next up was a listing from a Havana man peddling his churro cart.” Other topics are housing problems in Cuba, the latest small-business ventures (public bathrooms in private homes, 25 cents for a quick stop, 50 cents for longer visits), dissident detentions, how to find the rare Wi-Fi hot spots.”

In addition to their live broadcasts, every month, Martí distributes nearly 15,000 DVDs of its programming in Cuba and circulated through flash drives. The goal of all of these efforts is to provide news and information about Cuba to Cubans without Cuban censorship.

In the last few years, Martí has been challenged by increased competition. “Cubans now use flash drives that are loaded with television shows and movies from satellite dishes and sold on the black market.”

With the December 17, 2014, announcement of the U.S. and Cuba intent to pursue normal diplomatic relations, the future of the Martí ventures is under re-examination.

“While Obama administration officials support the Martís, they are eager to cut the Office of Cuba Broadcasting loose from the federal mantle. In its budget for next year, the administration proposed consolidating the Office of Cuba Broadcasting and Voice of America’s Spanish-language programs, turning them into a nonprofit. The organization would be funded by federal grants, with federal oversight, but would not be part of the government. [This is the way that] Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which gained prominence during the Soviet era and served as the model for the Martís, has long operated this way.”

In January, Cuba’s President Raúl Castro called for an end to the Martís as a condition for normalizing relations with the United States, but this proposal has not been mentioned in the limited publicly available information about the negotiations between the two countries.

There is a bill in Congress to terminate the two broadcasting services: H.R.570, Stop Wasting Money on Cuba Broadcasting Act. It was offered by Minnesota’s Democratic Representative, Betty McCollum. As of March 25, there had been no action on the bill in the House of Representatives although it has gained four Democratic cosponsors—Barbara Lee (CA), Raul Grijalva (AZ), Richard Nolan (MN) and Jose Serrano (NY).

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[1] This post is based upon Alvarez, Radio and TV Martí, U.S. Broadcasters for Cuba, Face New Obstacles, N.Y. Times (Mar. 24, 2015),

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bills To End U.S. Embargo of Cuba Introduced in House of Representatives

Two bills to end the U.S. embargo of Cuba have been filed in the House of Representatives, but so far nothing in the Senate. [1] This post will examine the status of those two bills and the positions on the embargo of Minnesota’s U.S. Senators and Representatives

 The Current Bills To End the Embargo

 On January 15th three Minnesota Congressmen—Keith Ellison, Collin Peterson and Rick Nolan, all Democrats—announced that they are co-sponsoring a bill to end the U.S. embargo of Cuba (H.R. 403) that was introduced on January 16th by Representative Charles Rangel (Dem., NY).[1] Titled “To lift the trade embargo on Cuba, and for other purposes,” neither its text nor its summary is currently available on the Library of Congress’ website for pending legislation. [2]

This bill along with another bill to the same effect (H.R. 274 by Congressman Bobby Rush (Dem., IL)) have been assigned for consideration to the following seven House committees, whose membership is listed in the hyperlinked websites:

  • Agriculture, whose members include Collin Peterson (the Ranking-Member), a co-author of the Rangel bill; Tom Emmer (Rep., MN); and Rodney Davis (Rep., IL), who earlier this month spoke in favor of ending the embargo at the launch of the U.S. Agricultural Coalition for Cuba.
  • Energy and Commerce, whose members include Bobby Rush (Dem., IL), the author of one of the bills to end the embargo, and Peter Welch (Dem., VT), who just visited Cuba with the group led by Senator Patrick Leahy (Dem., VT).
  • Financial Services, whose members include Representative Keith Ellison, a co-author of the Rangel bill to end the embargo (Dem., MN);
  • Foreign Affairs, whose members include Tom Emmer (Rep., MN) and Ileana Ros-Leltinen (Rep., FL), a vocal Cuban-American opponent of reconciliation;
  • Judiciary;
  • Oversight and Government Reform, one of whose members is the previously mentioned Peter Welch (Dem., VT); and
  • Ways and Means, whose members include Erik Paulson (Rep., MN) and the previously mentioned Peter Welch.

Those interested In repealing the embargo should examine the lists of the committees’ members and deciding whether and how to contact them to urge support for the Rangel bill (H.R. 403).

Minnesota Representatives and Senators’ Positions on the Embargo

One of the co-sponsors of H.R. 403, Congressman Keith Ellison, is on the Financial Services Committee, which has jurisdiction over some of the issues raised by H.R. 403. As co-chair of the House Progressive Caucus, on December 17th (the day of the announcement of normalization between the two countries) Ellison released a statement congratulating President Obama for the normalization of our relations with Cuba. It stated, “Congress must lift the trade embargo and normalize travel between our two nations, which are only 90 miles apart.” He repeated those sentiments on January 11th at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church’s celebratory concert with Cuban-American jazz pianist, Nachito Herrera.

Also on December 17th Representative Rick Nolan, another co-sponsor of H.R. 403, issued a statement lauding “President Obama’s decision to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba” and to obtain the release of Alan Gross from a Cuban prison. This was “a monumental step forward for both nations, allowing us to resume exports and trade, create more good paying jobs in the United States and move forward in our relationships with the entire Western Hemisphere.” This was “especially good news for farmers in Minnesota and around the nation, as well as for our manufacturing and high technology industries that will soon enjoy access to new markets in a nation that hungers for U.S. products and services.”

More recently the other Minnesota co-sponsor of the bill, Representative Collin Peterson, said the current restrictions against U.S. trade with Cuba “don’t do anything but give business to our competitors.” However, he added, “The question is what are the Republicans [in the House and Senate] going to allow to happen. They could well bottle these bills up.” Peterson, as mentioned, is the Ranking-Member on the Agriculture Committee, which has jurisdiction over some of the issues raised by H.R. 403.

Another Minnesota Democratic Representative, Betty McCollum, also is supportive of ending the embargo. On December 17th, she congratulated President Obama “for his efforts to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba and to begin easing the trade restrictions between our countries. . . .[and] for his efforts to secure the release of USAID worker Alan Gross from prison in Cuba.” She added, “I will continue to work to end the trade embargo between our two countries as I have done since I came to Congress in 2001.  Ending the embargo and normalizing trade relations is good for Minnesota businesses and good for the people of Cuba.”

The other Minnesota Democratic Congressman, Tim Walz, has nothing about Cuba on his website, but in a December 18th interview by a Mankato, Minnesota television station he said he was cautiously optimistic about the White House’s changing policy toward Cuba. He said expanding trade is a good idea, but the U.S. needs to be cautious. “I think there needs to be accountability for what this regime has done,” he said, “and I’m glad this is Congress’ role to be involved, of looking at how this evolves, but I do think it’s an important step. As I’ve said, the status quo has been that way since before I was born, and it’s time to re–look at how we do business.”

Minnesota’s three Republican Congressmen—Erik Paulsen, John Kline and Tom Emmer—do not have any statements about Cuba on their websites

Congressman Erik Paulsen is a member of the Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over some of the issues raised by H.R. 403. In addition, on October 8, 2009, as a guest blogger on a Heritage Foundation website Paulsen made comments that could reflect his attitude on ending the embargo. He said, “There is another approach to stimulating the economy – a proven method to increase prosperity, grow our economy and create jobs: expansion of free trade. . . . We must make international markets more available to our exporters to help them grow. . . . In my own district, there are countless businesses, small and large, that benefit from free trade. . . . Unfortunately, there are consumers and markets across the globe that still cannot be accessed by American sellers because of high tariffs, quotas and other barriers to international trade. It’s time to knock down those barriers. . . . I have long advocated for increased trade and strong global relationships between the U.S. and nations abroad. I’ve visited India, China and several nations in Africa and the Middle East. In every country, free trade is essential for their own growth and prosperity, as well as the growth and vitality of the United States.”

I have not found anything by or about Congressman John Kline indicating his views on U.S. relations with Cuba, in general, or on ending the embargo, in particular. I especially solicit comments by anyone with more knowledge about his positions on these issues.

Minnesota’s newest Congressman and now in his very first Session, Tom Emmer, as mentioned is on the House Foreign Affairs and Agriculture Committees, each of which has jurisdiction over issues raised by H.R. 403. Moreover, his new website‘s page on “Foreign Affairs” states, “Regions such as Latin America, Africa and Asia present us with emerging opportunities to increase trade and diplomatic relations.” Maybe this is a hopeful sign for his favoring ending the embargo. Emmer also is on the Agriculture Committee, which has jurisdiction over some of the issues raised by H.R. 403.

Minnesota’s Senators

One of Minnesota’s Senators, Amy Klobuchar, favors ending the embargo and is willing to offer a bill to do just that, but wants to wait until after the Senate confirms the President’s future nomination of an ambassador to Cuba. She said, “Sometimes the best defense is a good offense. And part of that is legislation to remove the embargo. Some of this can be done by tying it to changes we want [Cuba] to make on human rights and other things. The timing is the question. We want this to be bipartisan.” In addition, as mentioned in a prior post, she was a speaker in favor of ending the embargo at the January 8th launch of the United States Agricultural Coalition for Cuba.

A prior post about Cuba’s perspective on this week’s diplomatic meetings in Havana suggests that there will not be a formal re-establishment of diplomatic relations, including appointments of ambassadors, until after the U.S. repeals its embargo of the island. Therefore, Senator Klobuchar may have to abandon her strategy of postponing Senate consideration of the embargo until after the Senate confirms the nomination of an ambassador to Cuba.

Our other Senator, Democrat Al Franken, does not have anything about Cuba on his website, but he has supported legislation calling for the normalizing of relationships with Cuba and is a co-sponsor of the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act.

Conclusion

Robert Muse, a Washington, D.C. international trade lawyer with substantial experience in U.S. laws relating to Cuba, recently told Minnesota’s StarTribune that “a majority of members of Congress do not support the embargo, but will not do so publicly until Cuban-American legislators come out against the embargo.” Nevertheless, he opined, “There is zero possibility of the embargo being lifted [in 2015].”[3]

This, however, is only one opinion albeit from someone with extensive experience of dealing with Congress on Cuba issues. It merely accentuates the need for citizens to increase their advocacy of ending the embargo.

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[1] To determine whether any other bills to end the embargo have been introduced in this Session of Congress, just go to the THOMAS legislative service provided by the Library of Congress [http://thomas.loc.gov/home/thomas.php] and enter “Cuba” in the search box; that will retrieve all introduced bills that mention “Cuba.”

[2] H.R. 403 has 14 other co-sponsors from California, New York, Colorado, District of Columbia, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas.

[3] Before the announcement of normalization, Muse wrote an article about the various actions the president could take regarding Cuba without prior congressional authorization.