Democracia y Política

#CubaNow Recap: Facts Are Stubborn Things

cuba-eeuu-banderasFebruary 12, 2015

Dear Friends,

When changes to our US-Cuba policy were announced last December, status-quo advocates warned of political hell-fire and brimstone. Some called it a “major setback” to the cause of Cuban freedom that inflicted “even greater damage…to American leadership in the world.”

The facts, however, are telling us a drastically different story.

It turns out our bold shift in U.S.-Cuba policy is becoming increasingly popular not just among Americans, but among our allies abroad, Cuban dissidents and civil society leaders, and the Island’s population at large.

And the wave of support has shown no signs of receding in recent weeks.

Just yesterday, European Union representatives told the Miami Herald that thanks to the United States’ changing its policy towards Cuba, “we’re in a stronger position to work together” to promote change in the Island.

Two days ago, UNPACU, the largest pro-democratic organization in Cuba, reaffirmed its support for our new policy shift, stating that it only helps strengthen their fight for freedom and welfare for all.

At last week’s Senate and House hearings, Cuban dissidents reminded U.S. lawmakers that they have diverse opinions on the policy changes, and recognized our new policy presents a fresh way to accomplish the ultimate goal: paving the road for a free and pluralistic Cuba.

We also witnessed seven Republican senators send a letter to President Obama affirming their commitment to expanding trade and travel with Cuba, while a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators introduced a bill to end the travel ban.

In the home states of some of our new policy’s loudest critics — like Senators Bob Menendez, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz, and Congressman Eliot Engel — major newspapers and media organizations called for an end to all restrictions on American travel to Cuba.

American companies like Netflix and Twitter are boosting demand for IT infrastructure investment in Cuba and placing greater pressure on the Cuban government to allow the Cuban people to connect with the outside world.

And Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela announced that Panama’s doors were open to Cuban dissidents to attend a key forum at the upcoming Summit of the Americas for civil society – a first for the 20-year-old hemispheric gathering.

Surprised? Not if you live outside of the hardline bubble.

In response, status-quo beneficiaries in Washington and Havana have reacted with plenty of bobbing and weaving and little accountability for their wasteful failures.

In the U.S., we heard plenty of bluster and outrage during three congressional hearings on the President’s new Cuba policy, but not a single substantive defense for how embargo laws are advancing their stated goals. We also saw a letter signed by 58–err, 57–embargo supporters calling on Congress to double down on Helms-Burton. Yet if the lack of social media attention and press coverage of the letter is any indication, few others cared for its message.

On the Cuban front, Raul Castro made a series of tough demands on the U.S. while insisting that nothing should be asked of Cuba in exchange, and Cuban officials delayed visits by pro-engagement members of the U.S. Congress for months citing bandwidth (read: control) issues.

So while it’s hard to gauge which side of the hardline table is less comfortable with the speed of change, it seems everyone else is rapidly seizing the opportunities that are opening up thanks to our “new normal.”

As I write this, a new bi-partisan bill was just introduced in the Senate calling for a lifting of the trade embargo, and the Minnesota Orchestra announced it will soon engage in some symphonic diplomacy by playing in Havana.

Below are some highlights the endless stream of recent coverage.

Thank you for your support,
Ric Herrero
Executive Director


Media Outlets in Home States of Hardliners Call for Ending Travel Ban.

New Jersey Star-Ledger: Ending The Travel Ban Is “A Reasonable Place To Start The Fight In Congress.” «Obama’s attempt to breathe some fresh air into this debate faces a likely roadblock in the Republican Congress. He has some executive discretion, but he would need approval from Congress to lift the pointless trade embargo, or to lift all travel restrictions. So it is encouraging, at least, to learn that some Republicans are open to change. And it’s likely to start with a focus on free travel.»We have tried this policy for about fifty years,» Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona declared, «and it hasn’t worked. It’s time to try something new. It’s time to allow Americans to travel freely to Cuba.»‘[New Jersey Star-Ledger (2/5/2015) Editorial: «End the Cuban travel ban»]

San Antonio Express-News: Time to allow Americans to travel freely to Cuba. «The broken policies of the last 50 years are evident. Perhaps increased contact with Americans would ultimately make Cuba more amenable to democratic reforms, opening the door to address deeper, more complex issues such as control of Guantanamo. Perhaps lifting the travel ban could open up trade, tourism and, yes, expand freedom. Those would be good developments for both nations. For these possibilities, it’s worth lifting the general travel ban to Cuba.» [San Antonio Express News, (2/5/2015) Editorial: «Lift ban on travel to Cuba»]

Fabiola Santiago: Allowing American travel puts the burden of opening up on the Cuban government. «But the opponents of free travel are missing the larger picture — not only that a democratic government shouldn’t be in the business of prohibiting its citizens’ travel, but also that there are unquantifiable benefits to engagement. [Miami Herald, (1/30/2015) Fabiola Santiago: «Free American travel puts the burden of opening up on the Cuban government»]

Bloomberg: Unrestricted travel is a powerful catalyst for change. «Every day the U.S. embargo remains in place, it empowers the regime, giving it a free talking point and enabling the ruling elite to entrench its economic and political interests. In other words, now is exactly the time when ordinary Cubans could benefit most from a wider exchange of views with their neighbors across the Straits of Florida.» [Bloomberg View (2/4/2015) Editorial: «Lift the Cuba Travel Ban Already»]

Tampa Bay Times: Rubio should listen to Floridian Cuban-Americans who want to lift the travel ban. «Polls show a majority of Americans support opening ties to Cuba. That’s also the view of the large and influential Cuban-American community in South Florida. The Cuba Poll at Florida International University, which is the longest-running research project to track Cuban-American opinion in South Florida, found last year that two-thirds of those polled favored diplomatic ties with Cuba, while a slim majority opposed the embargo. The younger generation opposed the embargo by nearly a two-thirds majority.» [Tampa Bay Times (2/4/2015) Editorial: “Rubio on wrong side of Cuba policy changes”]

Panama’s «Open Door» for Cuban Dissidents to Possibly Attend the Summit of the Americas. «But asked whether that debate would include the dissidents, he signaled it was a possibility that would be debated. “When a country seeks unity, if things are done the right way, when a country seeks unity and dialogue, well, then that’s the path to follow,’’ he said. “So, the doors are open.” [Miami Herald (1/30/2015) “’Doors open’ for Cuban dissidents to possibly attend summit in Panama»]

Boosting demand for tech in Cuba

Netflix launches in Cuba. «This is why Netflix going to Cuba is such a big deal. At peak hours, the streaming video service accounts for a third of all U.S. Internet traffic. If «House of Cards» and «Orange is the New Black» are half as popular there as they are in the United States, demand for the Internet in Cuba is about to go through the roof. And that may mean a rapid expansion in the country’s Internet infrastructure.» [Washington Post (2/9/2015) «Netflix and ‘House of Cards’ could be the best thing ever to happen to Cuba’s Internet»]

Twitter includes Cuba in its location setting. «Twitter has implemented a change that allows users in Iran, Cuba, and 20 other countries to select their location in their account settings, an option which wasn’t previously available. This seemingly minor change, which was implemented on Tuesday without much fanfare, gives users in those 22 countries the chance to take advantage of various features they could not access before. » [Mashable (1/27/2015) «Twitter adds Iran, Cuba and 20 other countries to location options»]

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