Monday, December 31, 2007

Cuba as a National Issue

“The right to know, to converse with others, to consult with them, to observe social, physical, political, and other phenomena abroad as well as at home gives meaning and substance to freedom of expression and freedom of the press.”
--Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas

A Gallup Poll in December 2006 showed that 67% of Americans believe that we should be free to travel to Cuba and that the US should normalize relations.

Yet the issue of US-Cuba relations has been absent from Presidential campaign discussion with the notable exception of two niche events, Univision’s Spanish language debates and the December 1st Brown and Black Forum in Des Moines.

During a campaign in which “change” and the US role in the world play a prominent role, Cuba should be attracting more attention as a symbol both of America’s international isolation and of the control of foreign policy by special interest groups and Washington insiders.

At least as much as Iraq, the unilateralism of the US embargo of Cuba and the Bush Administration’s interventionist obsession with regime change, have puzzled and angered our own Hemisphere and long time international allies. For sixteen years, the UN General Assembly has condemned US policy, most recently by a record setting 184 to 4. (Our only significant ally, Israel, votes with us but does not prevent its own people from traveling and doing substantial business in Cuba.)

Big differences do exist among the candidates about Cuba and the issue has occasionally been a flash point.

Except for Ron Paul, the Republicans vie with each other to take a harder line than President Bush. At stake are 10% of Republican primary votes cast by Cuban Americans in Florida.

When Mike Huckabee’s opposition to the embargo as Governor of rice exporting Arkansas was outed by a Fred Thompson campaign press release, Huckabee did a complete flip-flop within 24 hours, and received the endorsement of one of the most intransigent Cuban American leaders, the speaker of the Florida House.

(Thompson does not let his anti-Castro polemics interfere with embargo violating possession and consumption of Cuban cigars, as reported by the conservative Weekly Standard.)

On the Democratic side, the picture is more complicated, as brought out during the Brown and Black Forum in Des Moines.

Before he withdrew, Chris Dodd, as befits the chair of the Senate’s Western Hemisphere subcommittee (and a former Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic), was the only candidate to make a comprehensive policy statement on Cuba, calling for the end of the embargo, all travel restrictions, and the privileged status of illegal Cuban immigrants. Dennis Kucinich agrees on ending the embargo on trade and travel.

Barack Obama supports unrestricted family reunion travel and remittances for Cuban Americans(as did Bill Richardson). Obama deserves great credit for breaking with misleading stereotypes of the Cuba issue by publishing an Op Ed in the Miami Herald in August and following up to an enthusiastic audience in Little Havana. John Edwards favors family travel but not remittances.

Only about a third of Florida’s Cuban Americans are Democrats, but most of them are angry at the restrictive family travel policy of the Bush administration.

During the Forum, Obama reiterated that he saw family travel as a first step that, “would send a signal that we can build on once Castro is out of power.”

Candidates have not been asked about their position on the civil liberties issue of whether all Americans simply should have the same right to travel to Cuba as they do to every other country in the world. Nor have they been pressed on what they think of Bill Clinton’s policy of allowing non-tourist people to people travel by students, professionals, world affairs councils, religious and humanitarian organizations, sports teams, cultural groups, etc. Cuba’s ongoing transition makes it especially timely to renew such channels for informal “track two” contact.

Although Hillary Clinton has not been overtly challenged for her position on Cuba, she is the outlier among the Democrats. Her stance ironically is closer to the policy of Bush rather than that of her husband. She supports the current administration’s harsh move in 2004 to limit remittances to a narrow definition of family and to reduce Cuban American visits from annual, plus emergencies, to one visit every three years.

During the Brown and Black Forum, Clinton also echoed Bush’s belief that, “when Fidel Castro finally does pass on, there will be a tremendous pent up desire on the part of the Cuban people for freedom and for democracy.” This sentiment is common among the old guard in Miami, but not supported by first hand accounts in Cuba by journalists and diplomatic observers.

Clinton’s position is out of sync with the opinion of most Democrats. However, absent the kind of active pressure from potential caucus goers and primary voters that she gets on Iraq and Iran, Clinton reflects the inertia and conventional wisdom of inside-the-beltway foreign policy advisers. Her campaign staff may also have made a political judgment last spring that she had less need for liberal Cuban American voters in the Florida Democratic primary than for their more conservative brethren in the November election.

Clinton has more direct ties than any other Democratic candidate to the Cuban American community. Within days of her public embrace of the Bush policy last June, it was announced that New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez had signed on as National Co-chair of her campaign. Menendez is progressive on every issue but Cuba and a prodigious fund raiser in Miami. In addition her sister-in-law, Maria Victoria Arias, is a well-connected Cuban American who actively opposed US-Cuba normalization within Bill Clinton’s administration.

Nevertheless, neither Clinton nor the other Democrats echo the Republican in simplemindedly equating Fidel and Raul Castro. Nor, however, do they acknowledge the broad gauged debate over economic and social reform that has distinguished Raul’s tenure as acting head of state.

The test will come if Fidel Castro passes away or officially retires during the campaign. Will the Democratic candidates follow Bush and say there is no reason to change US policy? Or will they recognize a new page has been turned and declare that as President they will allow Americans to freely travel and sell agricultural products and will begin serious negotiations to resolve obstacles to normal diplomatic, economic and cultural relations?

--John McAuliff
The author is executive director of the Fund for Reconciliation and Development in New York

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Questions for Presidential Candidates

To Hillary Clinton:

Why do you support President Bush's post 2004 policy on travel rather than that of the Clinton Administration?

[Bush post 2004--Cuban Americans limited to one trip every three years, virtually no licenses for non-tourist purposeful travel;
Clinton-- annual plus flexibility for emergency visits by Cuban Americans; liberal licensing for short term student programs and for professional, religious, cultural and people to people exchanges]

To John Edwards and Barrack Obama:

I applaud your support for unrestricted Cuban American family reunions, but have noticed you do not address the kind of travel by other Americans that was permitted by the Clinton Administration. As President would you also immediately authorize a general license for non-tourist purposeful travel sponsored by not-for-profit organizations (short term student programs; cultural, professional and people-to-people exchanges)?

To Representatives Kucinich and Paul:

I applaud your support for the end of travel restrictions and the embargo of Cuba if you become President. What will you do in the coming session of Congress to at least return us to the travel policies of Presidents Clinton and even of President Bush prior to the 2004 election?

Broader questions for any candidate:

Is travel one of the Constitutional rights that needs to be redeemed from politics and fear-mongering?

If you are campaigning as an agent of change, shouldn't you be addressing the need to change an outdated and unproductive US foreign policy which is opposed by two-thirds of Americans and virtually every other country in the world?

How can the goal of restoring US international standing be achieved when our hostile policy towards Cuba is strongly opposed by the rest of the Western Hemisphere and virtually every other country in the world?

Which is more important, the desire of two-thirds of Americans to have normal relations and travel with Cuba or the views of a hard line minority of exiles in Florida?

Would your approach to Cuba continue the regime change strategy of the Bush Administration or treat Cuba like Vietnam, China, Saudi Arabia, Libya and other countries with which the US has normal but critical diplomatic and trade relations?

Or, if you can't ask a question, print out and distribute the Voter Pledge on Cuba at the event, and present a copy to the candidate signed by you or a group.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Huckabee Flip Flops,1,96861.story?ctrack=1&cset=true
From the Los Angeles Times

Huckabee does a flip-flop on Cuba

The GOP candidate now supports a trade embargo against the island nation, a stance sure to satisfy hard-line Cuban exiles.
By Peter Wallsten
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

December 11, 2007

MIAMI — As governor of Arkansas five years ago, Mike Huckabee joined a bipartisan chorus of politicians who concluded that the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba was bad for businesses. Now that he's a top-tier candidate for president, Huckabee has decided he favors the embargo -- so much so that he vowed Monday to outdo even President Bush in strangling the regime of Cuban President Fidel Castro and punishing those who do business there.

It was a change of heart sure to please hard-liners among the Cuban exiles who could make up 10% or more of the electorate in Florida's crucial Jan. 29 Republican primary. But it also reflected the latest move by a once-obscure candidate now grappling with how to transform a burst of momentum into a sustainable bid for the White House.

Huckabee's Cuba flip-flop comes just days after he released a new, hard-line plan on illegal immigration described as "radical" by some of the same immigrant-rights advocates who once lauded him for more liberal views. As governor, Huckabee supported in-state college tuition for children of illegal immigrants and stood up for illegal workers caught in a raid of a meatpacking plant. Now he wants all illegal immigrants to return to their native countries within 120 days.

Huckabee all but acknowledged the political expediency of his shifting views as he stood Monday in a Cuban restaurant in Miami and explained why he wrote a letter to Bush in 2002 describing how the Cuba trade embargo was hurting Arkansas rice growers.

"Rather than seeing it as some huge change, I would call it, rather, the simple reality that I'm running for president of the United States, not for reelection as governor of Arkansas," he said. "I've got to look at this as an issue that touches the whole country."

Huckabee has rocketed to the front of the GOP pack by emphasizing his roots as a plain-spoken Southern Baptist preacher with staunchly conservative views. A CNN survey released Monday puts him in a statistical tie nationally with GOP front-runner Rudolph W. Giuliani.

But Huckabee's evolving views on certain issues are giving his rivals for the Republican nomination ammunition as they try to halt his rise.

On Monday in Miami, former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee criticized Huckabee for changing his stance on Cuba "on a dime to appeal to a particular group of people right before an election," according to the Associated Press.

The night before -- when the GOP candidates jockeyed to appear toughest on Castro during a debate on the Spanish-language network Univision -- Thompson's campaign gave reporters quotes from Huckabee's 2002 letter. Thompson had hoped to win support from the social conservatives flocking to Huckabee.

Huckabee on Monday won an endorsement from Marco Rubio, Florida's Cuban American state House speaker, handing the upstart candidate instant cachet in a community that some of his rivals have been courting for years. He said his decision was based largely on Huckabee's new views on Cuba.

Rubio, who has been wooed by all the major GOP candidates, said he decided to back Huckabee after searching for "someone that will fight for what they truly believe in the depths of their heart."

The letter Huckabee wrote in 2002 reportedly argued that the embargo "continues to harm our own agricultural and business interests here at home and has certainly not helped the people of Cuba."

His views on Monday were equally firm in the opposite direction, as he vowed, if elected president, to veto any effort to end the sanctions.

Huckabee pledged to adhere to provisions of a 1996 law that would permit U.S. citizens to sue in American courts for property taken from them during the 1959 Cuban revolution.

Those lawsuits could threaten European businesses with holdings on the island. Bush and President Clinton have routinely avoided conflict on the issue by suspending those provisions of the 1996 law.

"I really wasn't that aware of a lot of the issues that exist between Cuba and the United States," Huckabee said Monday, adding that his flexibility on policy should be viewed as a good thing.

"I'll be the first to tell you I'm always subject -- and I hope we all are -- to learning, to growing, and never being so stubborn and maybe bull-headed," he said.

Huckabee appears to be applying that same approach to his views on immigration, another issue that is important to conservative voters in early GOP contests and an area where he is being attacked by his opponents.

Like former New York Mayor Giuliani, Huckabee has long been viewed with admiration among advocates for immigrants. He supported legislation two years ago in Arkansas that would have given in-state tuition to certain children of illegal immigrants.

And two years ago he reacted with outrage after federal agents raided an Arkadelphia, Ark., poultry plant and arrested and deported many Mexican workers. Huckabee was incensed that federal authorities had separated many parents from their children, and he called for a White House investigation.

"Our first priority should be to secure our borders. I'm less threatened by people who cross the line to make beds, pick tomatoes, or pluck chickens as I am by people like those in Canada making 3-ton bombs," he said in an e-mail to The Times last year. "While we should certainly enforce the law, we need to prioritize." He called in the e-mail for a "process that avoids amnesty, but does provide a path for workers to become legal by paying a fine, getting in the back of the line to register."

But Frank Sharry, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, an immigrant rights group, said he was stunned last week when Huckabee released a new plan calling for all illegal workers to register with federal authorities and return to their native countries within 120 days.

Those who did would face no penalty under Huckabee's plan if they later applied to immigrate to or visit the United States. Those who did not return home would be barred, when caught, from future reentry to the United States for 10 years.

"To me, it's like night and day," Sharry said. "One day he's saying children of [illegal] immigrants should go to college, and the next day he's saying there should be mass expulsion."

Huckabee on Monday said his anger over the Arkadelphia raid stemmed from the fact that local authorities were not told in advance so they could make preparations for the children who were left alone when their parents were arrested and deported. Often, illegal workers have children who were born on U.S. soil and are therefore citizens.

He said raiding a business employing "vast amounts" of illegal workers was a "legitimate thing to do" as long as local officials knew in advance.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Huckabee Statements as Governor Against Embargo

The following was distributed by the Fred Thompson campaign. See below re Thompson's hypocrisy.

Contact: Press Office, 571-730-1010;

MEDIA ADVISORY, Dec. 9 /Standard Newswire/ -- In 2002, Governor Huckabee strongly advocated lifting the embargo against Cuba saying it "harm[s] our own agricultural and business interests," "has not helped the people of Cuba" and has "provided Castro with a convenient excuse for his own failed system of government."

"All four House members, both senators and Governor Huckabee strongly support doing away with the trade embargo." (Kevin Freking, "Legislators Call For Ending Ban On Cuba," Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 3/22/02)

"'The United States' policy of unilateral embargo against Cuba continues to harm our own agricultural and business interests here at home and has certainly not helped the people of Cuba,' Huckabee wrote in his Feb. 14 letter [to President Bush]. It's not right to continue to make American farmers bear the burden of a policy that hasn't worked, he said. Huckabee cited a study by Texas A&M University reporting that the embargo hurt Arkansas more than other states, costing Arkansas lost farm exports of $ 167 million a year and a loss of almost 4,000 jobs." (Michael Wickline, "End of Cuban Trade Embargo Benefits Children, Snyder Says," Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 3/29/02)

"In a letter to President Bush, Mr. Huckabee wrote, 'U.S. policy on Cuba has not accomplished its stated goal of toppling the Castro regime and instead has provided Castro with a convenient excuse for his own failed system of government.'" (Letters, "Time To End Embargo Against Cuba," Washington Times, 2/27/02)

"Huckabee, the GOP governor of Arkansas, wrote to President Bush seeking action against the embargo." (Jeffrey Birnbaum, "Business to Bush: Let Us Into Cuba!", Fortune, 5/27/02)


[Fred] Thompson's work space looks just like what the home office of a successful politician or CEO should look like--though a little messier: a large desk, dark wood, leather furniture, lots of books and magazines and newspapers, a flat-screen TV, and box upon box of cigars--Montecristos from Havana.

The presence of the cigars and the absence of a press chaperone were clues that Thompson is taking a different approach to his potential candidacy. A campaign flack would have insisted on hiding the cigars--Senator, how did you get those Cuban cigars? Isn't there a trade embargo?

“From the Courthouse to the White House: Fred Thompson auditions for the leading role” by Stephen F. Hayes The Weekly Standard 04/23/2007

Brown and Black Democratic Forum

Brown and Black Forum, Des Moines, Iowa 12/01/07

Michelle Norris: (1:24:57). This question is for Senator Clinton. A large percentage of Americans support normalizing relations with Cuba and
loosening travel restrictions. What would you do as president with regard to normalizing relations, ending the trade embargo, opening the door to travel and to diplomatic relations with Cuba?

Hillary Clinton: (1:25:22) Well I think we are going to have that opportunity because I believe that when Fidel Castro finally does pass on, there will be a tremendous pent up desire on the part of the Cuban people for freedom and for democracy. Certainly if they were to make steps right now to recognize human rights, to release political prisoners, there could be perhaps some reciprocal action taken by the United States but until there is some recognition on the part of whoever is in charge of the Cuban government that they have to move towards democracy and freedom for the Cuban people, it will be very difficult for us to change our policy. But I look forward as president to perhaps being there when that opportunity arises.

You know it’s tragic that in the last seven years we’ve lost ground in Latin America. We’ve lost it as more and more countries have moved away
from democracy [toward] authoritarian even dictatorial rule. We see what’s happening in Venezuela with the big power grab going on by Chavez and I hope that when I’m president we can get re-engaged and we pay more attention to Latin America and we start building relationships again. I think that’s important for us and important for the people of those countries.

MN: (1:26:44) Thank you; just a very quick follow-up. You said that the US may have soon an opportunity, but Fidel Castro is very strong. And if he does last into 2008, in January of 2009 and beyond, would you normalize relations with Cuba.

HC: (1:27:01) No. Not unless he made, or whoever was then the head of government in Cuba made, significant changes in the way that they treated their own people and I think that has to be a precondition.

MN: (1:27:16) Thank you very much Senator. Senator Dodd very quickly? Very

Chris Dodd: (1:27:20) I served in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic and spent a lot time on Latin American issues and chaired the [sub]committee of the Foreign Relations Committee for the last 26 years dealing with Latin American. I think we are making a huge mistake by not normalizing relations with Cuba. The only one who is benefiting from this in my view, the only one who has benefited is Fidel Castro. This is outrageous in my view. If you want to create change in the country as we did with the eastern block countries, this is the way, is to allow travel to occur. This is the only country in the world where Americans are not allowed to travel there because our country forbids them from going there. That is how you create change in these countries. This embargo has done nothing but keep Fidel Castro in power. I think we ought to abandon
the embargo, open up travel restrictions and he’ll create change immediately in my view of Cuba.

MN: (1:28:08) Very quickly for the sake of fairness another very quick yes no
question. Normalize relations with Cuba just down the line, starting with you.

John Edwards: (1:28:18) Without respect to what’s happening with Castro.

MN: (1:28:22) Irregardless.

JE: (1:28:23) No. Not unless and until something has happened with Castro.

MN: (1:28:28) Representative Kucinich?

Dennis Kucinich: (1:28:29) Yes.

MN: (1:28:30) Senator Biden?

Joe Biden: (1:38:31) We have to reach out to the Cuban people right now because he’s not going to last no matter what you say and the bottom line is we have to have a plan. There is no plan. Chris is right. You’ve got to normalize relations with them eventually and it seems to me that’s going to come very quickly.

MN: (1:28:43) Normalize relations whether or not Fidel Castro is in power?

JB: (1:28:47) Not as long as he in fact has his human rights policy but you’ve got to compete with it.

MN: (1:28:51) Thank you. Senator Obama?

Barack Obama: (1:28:52) No, but there are two things we can do right now to prepare for that. And that is loosen travel restrictions for family members, Cuban Americans who want to visit and open up remittances so that they are able to support family members, many of them who are fighting for their liberty in Cuba right now.

MN: (1:29:10) But for right now?

BO: (1:29:12) I would not normalize relations but those two things, those two shifts in policy would send a signal that we can build on once Castro is out of power.

MN: (1:29:20) Very quickly Governor Richardson?

Bill Richardson: (1:29:22) Michelle as the only brown member in this debate, is there any chance we could have civil rights equity and have the brown guy get a little more time?

MN: (1:29:34) When you put it like that.

BR: (1:29:42) This is what I, Cuba. You always want to get something in return. The embargo has not worked. In return for lifting the embargo, there have to be some democratic reforms, release of political prisoners in Cuba. But we should stop preventing Cuban Americans from going back and forth with family visits. We should in addition to that permit remittances that are not taking place.

But most importantly we should send a signal to Latin America, as we should to Africa that we care about the third world. That we care about problems that relate to the relationship with our southern hemisphere. That we care deeply about the fact that Hugo Chavez has more influence than we do because we are not paying enough attention to the region. That we need creative trade relations that we need renewable energy ties with Latin America. That we also need to make sure that we resolve the immigration issue, which effects not just Mexico but Central American and the Caribbean and the whole hemisphere.

(Slightly edited for clarity and consistency from on line transcript.)

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Republicans on Cuba at Univision Debate

PAUL: Actually, I believe we're at a time where we even ought to talk to Cuba and trade and travel to Cuba.



But let me -- let me tell you -- let me tell you why -- let me tell you why we have a problem in South America and Central America: because we've been involved in their internal affairs for so long. We have been meddling in their business.


We create the Chavezes of the world, we create the Castros of the world by interfering and creating chaos in their countries, and they respond by throwing out their leader.


MODERATOR: Thank you, Mayor. Thank you, Mayor.

When talking about Cuba, Cuban dictatorship has survived nine U.S. presidents. What would you do differently, that has not been done so far, to bring democracy to Cuba? We're going to start with Senator Thompson.

THOMPSON: I'm going to make sure that he didn't survive 10 U.S. presidents.

Castro is unique in many respects.

THOMPSON: He represents the only non-democratic, at least, elected government in the hemisphere. He is uniquely brutal. He is still tyrannizing his own people.
He lures the vulnerable and the naive Americans down there and puts on shows for them and they come back and do his propaganda. There are not many people who can pull that sort of thing off.
He's obviously in bad health. That situation, probably, is in God's hands. He will probably be succeeded by someone who's no better than him, and that is Raul.
And we should treat Raul with the same contempt that we show Castro, including keeping the embargo on Cuba.


MODERATOR: Governor Romney, what would you do differently that has not been done so far?

ROMNEY: Well, first of all, you've got to think about who Castro is, and who Raul Castro is as well.

ROMNEY: We call them strongmen -- dictators, authorative totalitarian leaders. And yet these are individuals who are not strong. Look at what they have done? Brothers to the rescue. They shoot a small aircraft out of the sky. People wearing a wristband that says change, are arrested -- 25 of them just for wearing a wristband; a Catholic church is edited and people are terrified because a priest is just speaking his sermon.

These people, these Castro brothers are cowards, and we have to recognize they are cowards.


And for that reason, the course for America is to continue our isolation of Cuba. It is not to say, as Barack Obama on the Democratic side said, that he would dignify the Castros with a personal visit to Cuba. That's not the way to go. Instead, it's to bring our friends together to isolate Cuba, to put together a strategy that helps all of Latin America, weakens Hugo Chavez who is propping up Castro.

ROMNEY: We need a Latin American policy that frees Cuba and that eliminates a threat of people like Hugo Chavez.


MODERATOR: Thank you. Governor?

MODERATOR: Senator McCain, the same question. What would you do differently?

MCCAIN: First of all, could I again congratulate the people of Venezuela for rejecting this dictator's attempt to become a president for life? And I also would like to echo the words of Prince Juan Carlos, Por que no te callas? Why don't you shut up?

I'm pleased to have the support of Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario and Lincoln Diaz-
Balart, who advise me and know these issues, and Mel Martinez, every day. My friends, tonight our thoughts and prayers go out to Dr. Bucet (ph), who fights for freedom, who is now in prison, because Dr. Bucet (ph) resisted and fought against a state-controlled and state-mandated abortion.

MCCAIN: God bless him and those students who wore this bracelet called Cambio, who are now under arrest today.

Of course we need to keep our embargo up. Of course we cannot allow economic aid to flow to Cuba. And if I were president of the United States, I would order an investigation of the shoot-down of those brave Cubans who were killed under the orders of Raul and Fidel Castro, and, if necessary, indict them.