POTUS’ Rollback on Cuba – By Michael J. Bustamante June 19, 2017


The Consequences of Undoing the Rapprochement

On June 16, speaking from the heart of the Cuban exile community in Little Havana, President Donald Trump declared that he would be “cancelling” plans to ease relations with Cuba, a historic policy initiated by his predecessor Barack Obama in 2014 to end decades of Cold War-era hostilities between the two countries. It did not matter that Trump himself once explored (possibly illegal) commercial opportunities on the island, or that early in his presidential campaign he said normalization was “fine.” In an effort to appeal to the dwindling number of hardline supporters of the U.S. embargo in Miami who had thrown their support behind him in last year’s election, Trump forged ahead, denouncing Obama’s policies on Cuba as “terrible and misguided.” In doing so, he defied the wishes of roughly 63 percent of Cuban Americans who oppose the embargo, to say nothing of Cubans on the island.

Still, if a full rollback of Obama’s “Cuba deal” was what some in Miami hoped for, Trump’s announcement on Friday falls short in important ways. Commercial flights and cruise ship dockings will continue. Cuban Americans will still be able to travel and send money to the island without restrictions, unlike before 2009. The policy known as “wet foot, dry foot,” which granted Cuban migrants preferential access to U.S. territory until Obama ended it last year, has not been restored. Perhaps most symbolically, both the U.S. and Cuban embassies in Havana and Washington will remain open. Opponents of normalization once claimed that their mere presence “legitimized the Cuban regime.”

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Bartenders are winning Cuba’s embrace of capitalism — and doctors are losing – Henry Grabar, May 30, 2016


Cuba bartender

Joe Raedle/Getty Images — A bar tender prepares drinks for customers at the El Cocinero a bar/restaurant on February 25, 2015 in Havana, Cuba.

Cuban state employees are abandoning their jobs for high-paying, private-sector gigs—in Cuba. As bartenders, bellhops, and taxi drivers.

The growth of the Cuban private sector over the past two decades has created some serious imbalances between skills and pay: A bartender with some generous foreign customers could make more in tips in a weekend than a doctor, each of whom is employed by the Cuban government, does in a month.

A new reform could exacerbate that issue. Cuba will soon legalize small- and medium-size private businesses, according to an economic development plan approved by the Cuban Communist Party Congress last month. The 32-page document hit newsstands in Havana on Tuesday, according to the Associated Press, and offers the first glimpse of the reforms approved at April’s five-year CCP meeting. It comes on the heels of President Obama’s historic trip to Cuba in March, and the relaxing of the U.S. embargo.

The CCP hasn’t released many details, but the plans have been the works for some time, says Richard Feinberg, a professor at the University of California–San Diego and the author of Open for Business: Building the New Cuban Economy. It will soon be possible for Cuba’s self-employed, known as cuentapropistas, to incorporate their operations, easing the way toward working with Cuban banks, foreign investors, and state-owned companies. Small businesses will be the vanguard of the market economy in Cuba, while bigger industries remain under state control.

Cubama – The Economist Mar 19th 2016


CAUTION has been a watchword in the foreign policy of Barack Obama. But in one part of the world he has been adventurous. For any of the nine preceding American presidents, his planned visit to the Cuba of Raúl and Fidel Castro, on March 21st and 22nd, would have been unthinkable (see article). It crowns a bold gambit in which Mr Obama has restored diplomatic relations, frozen for 54 years, and begun to loosen the economic embargo against the island. He is betting that engagement with one of America’s neighbours will do more than isolation to bring its Communist regime to an end.

Moreover, engagement with Cuba will lance a boil that has poisoned relations between the United States and the whole of Latin America. After a period in which China appeared to be displacing America in what some once called its backyard, those links could become increasingly warm and mutually profitable—so long as the next president seizes the opportunity. On the evidence of America’s rancorous election campaign, there is a danger that he or she will not (see article).

How to change Cuba

Mr Obama’s bet is the right one. The American embargo against Cuba is an exercise in futility. It is a cold-war anachronism that hurt Cubans (and Americans) rather than the Castros, who use it to justify their police state and as an excuse for the penury inflicted on the island by communism.

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ATT, Starwood, Marriott Poised to Complete Cuba Deals – By FELICIA SCHWARTZ and CAROL E. LEE March 11, 2016 3:43 p.m. ET


White House officials express hopes business deals can be set before Obama visits Havana on March 20

A man wears a hat in the U.S. colors in Havana, Cuba, which is preparing for a historic visit from President Barack Obama on March 20.

A man wears a hat in the U.S. colors in Havana, Cuba, which is preparing for a historic visit from President Barack Obama on March 20. Photo: alejandro ernesto/European Pressphoto Agency

 

WASHINGTON—Three major U.S. corporations are preparing to complete deals to do business in Cuba as an approving President Barack Obama gets ready for a historic presidential trip to the island later this month.

With just over a week until Mr. Obama’s March 20 visit, at least three companies—AT&T Inc., Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, Inc. and Marriott International—are expected to announce agreements with Cuban government-run entities, according to company and U.S. officials.

They will be among the high-profile first deals notched since Mr. Obama said in December 2014 that the U.S. would move to restore ties with Cuba after more than 50 years of Cold War enmity. Since then, the Obama administration has loosened travel and trade restrictions for a variety of industries, betting that closer business ties between the U.S. and Cuba will cement the administration’s policy of normalization.

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GOP falling for Cuba’s allure – By NAHAL TOOSI 12/17/15 05:16 AM EST


Republican opposition is fading as pressure grows to lift trade embargo on Havana.

President Obama and his aides argue that Cuba is more likely to change with U.S. engagement. | AP Photo

President Obama and his aides argue that Cuba is more likely to change with U.S. engagement. | AP Photo

As President Barack Obama plots a path to Cuba, the big question isn’t whether he’ll visit the island during his final year in office. It’s how many Republicans will beat him there.

A year after the U.S. and Cuba announced they would restore diplomatic ties, Republican resistance to the idea has faded to the point that some insiders predict the next Congress will lift the U.S. embargo on the communist-led island.

A GOP-led Senate panel has already voted to lift an oft-circumvented ban on travel to Cuba. A Republican is spearheading a House bill to end the U.S. embargo.

And Republican lawmakers and governors are hopping on planes to check out the scene in Havana. Just days ago, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who revels in suing the Obama administration, became the second GOP governor to visit Cuba since diplomatic ties were restored, and he spoke glowingly of the potential for economic cooperation.

The GOP shift comes as polls show that a majority of Americans, including Republican voters, favor increased engagement with Cuba. U.S. firms are scouring the island for business opportunities, and pressure is growing on Congress to rescind Cold War-era restrictions including the embargo and travel ban imposed after diplomatic relations were severed in 1961. Both require congressional action to lift.

On Wednesday, a bipartisan group of House members announced it would launch a “Cuba Working Group” that “will seek to draw attention to how reforms in the U.S. and Cuba are opening new opportunities for commercial, diplomatic and people-to-people relationships.”

A notable number of Republicans, including some running for president — two of them of Cuban descent — still adamantly oppose restoring ties to the Castro-led government in Havana. But sometimes quietly, sometimes loudly, what were once minor cracks in the GOP facade on Cuba are now spreading.

“To the extent that there was some resistance, maybe some broad resistance, there’s now [just] pockets of resistance to diplomatic relations,” said Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican who has long championed engaging Cuba. He said many of his Republican colleagues tell him privately that they support the rapprochement but can’t say so publicly. Even many who genuinely oppose restoring ties are staying quiet because they know their constituents, especially if they are farmers or business owners, support it, he said.

“The problem is, particularly for members who have been here long enough to have a history of voting on Cuba, it’s tough to change,” Flake said. “It’s tough to turn around, particularly because the Castros are still alive and there.”

Since Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro, the brother of now-ailing Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, announced on Dec. 17, 2014, that their countries would set aside half a century of enmity, both supporters and opponents of the move can point to developments to bolster their stance.

Castro and Obama met in person, and the two countries formally restored diplomatic ties on July 20, upgrading their diplomatic missions to embassies. The Obama administration removed Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism and the president has, through executive actions, loosened trade and travel restrictions, including easing the way for telecommunications companies to operate in Cuba. Cuba has expanded Internet access for its citizens, while holding groundbreaking talks with the U.S. on issues such as human rights and battling the drug trade.

The two sides recently opened talks on an especially thorny issue: settling claims by Americans, including U.S. companies and Cubans who fled the island for the U.S., whose property was confiscated by the Cuban government after Fidel Castro seized power in 1959. (The Cubans argue that the U.S. owes them damages because of the embargo and other measures it has taken over the years against their country.)

 

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Fidel Castro chides US ahead of embassy reopening – BBC News Aug 14 2014


Venezuelan and Bolivian presidents Nicolas Maduro (left) and Evo Morales (centre) visited Fidel Castro on his birthday

Venezuelan and Bolivian Presidents Nicolas Maduro (left) and Evo Morales (centre) visited Fidel Castro in Cuba on his birthday

Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro has published an open letter to the nation in which he makes no mention of the historic reopening of the US embassy.

Mr Castro instead criticises American foreign and economic policies since World War Two and accuses the US of owing Cuba millions of dollars.

The letter was published to mark Mr Castro’s 89th birthday.

The US embassy will be reopened in Havana on Friday, with US Secretary of State John Kerry attending.

Mr Castro said the US owed Cuba money because of the trade embargo the US imposed on the communist-run island in 1960.

Cuba says the embargo – which it calls a blockade – is hugely damaging to its economy.

It says relations will only be fully restored once it is lifted.

Three marines who lowered the American flag for the last time on 4 January 1961 will raise it again during Friday’s ceremony in Havana.

They are now retired and in their late 70s.

“I’m gonna love seeing that flag go back up,” said former marine Jim Tracy, 78, on a US State Department video.

Cuba reopened its embassy in Washington last month.

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http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-33919484

 

US, Cuba restore full diplomatic relations after five decades – July 20, 2015 12:15AM ET


The US and Cuba on Monday re-established embassies in each other’s capitals in a new era of post-Cold War relationsScreen Shot 2015-07-20 at Jul 20, 2015 1.18

The United States and Cuba formally restored diplomatic ties severed more than 50 years ago on Monday, by re-establishing embassies in each other’s capitals and ushering in a new era of post-Cold War relations.

Just past the stroke of midnight, the two countries reached a new milestone in the historic thaw that began with a breakthrough announcement by U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro on Dec. 17.

Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez on Monday morning will preside over the raising of the Cuban flag for the first time in 54 years over a mansion that will again serve as Havana’s embassy in Washington.

The symbolic event will be followed by a meeting at the State Department between Secretary of State John Kerry and Rodriguez, the first Cuban foreign minister on an official visit to Washington since the 1959 Cuban Revolution.

While the Cubans hold their ceremony, the U.S. Embassy in Havana will also reopen. But no American flag will fly there until a visit by Kerry, which is expected next month. “We wanted the secretary to be there to oversee these important events,” a State Department official said.

Differences remain and efforts toward full normalization between the United States and Cuba are expected to proceed slowly. Monday’s steps culminated more than two years of negotiations between governments that had long shunned each other.

More than 500 people, including members of Congress, are expected to attend the Cuban festivities in Washington. Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson is scheduled to lead the U.S. delegation.

Kerry and Rodriguez last met in April at the Summit of the Americas in Panama, where Obama and Castro also held talks. Aides see the outreach to Cuba as a boost to Obama’s legacy.

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http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/7/20/us-cuba-restore-full-diplomatic-relations-after-five-decades.html

 

US approves ferry service between Cuba and Florida – BBC News May 6 2015 3:01 AM ET


Passenger ferries could be set to run between Florida and Cuba for the first time in more than 50 years after the US government approved new services.

US President Barack Obama shakes hands with Cuban President Raul Castro on sidelines of Summit of the Americas. 11 April 2015
US President Barack Obama shook hands with Cuban President Raul Castro at April’s Summit of the Americas, a sign of thawing relations

Services between the two countries stopped when the US imposed a trade embargo on Cuba in 1960.

But Washington announced the restoration of diplomatic ties in December last year.

The US government has now lifted the ban and a number of ferry companies say they have been given licences.

New era

The BBC’s Will Grant in Havana says the latest announcement does not necessarily mean that boats will start launching for Cuban shores straight away, as there are bureaucratic hurdles to overcome in both countries.

However, it is another indication of Washington’s desire to put the policies of isolating Cuba in the past and begin a new era of co-operation, he says.

President of the Miami-based United Americas Shipping Services Joseph Hinson called the move “a great step forward”.

Map of Cuba

He said that “if all goes smoothly we could have things up and running by September”.

Havana Ferry Partners of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, said it also had a licence.

“This is a historical event. Thanks to President Barack Obama, to whom we are very grateful, for his leadership,” the firm wrote on its Facebook page.

Cargo

Ferries will also be allowed to transport cargo to Cuba, which sits 150km (90 miles) from southern Florida.

A new charter flight service from New York City, operated by JetBlue, had already been announced.

JetBlue planes in New York, file
A charter flight service from New York City to Cuba, operated by JetBlue, has been announced

The service was agreed during a recent trade delegation of New York-based companies to Cuba, led by state governor Andrew Cuomo.

Despite the new flights and ferry services, a travel ban on Cuba is still in place for US citizens.

Only those who have the right paperwork in 12 different categories are permitted to visit the island.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-32602923

The thrill of the thaw – The Economist Apr 11th 2015 | MIAMI


American business is eager to cross the Florida Strait, but obstacles remain

And they’re off, again

IN THE late 1950s, when the Fabulous Rockers were hitting the big time, their hometown of Ybor City, near Tampa, Florida, was like Havana today: run down, its hand-rolled cigar industry an historic relic. In those days, the place to be was not Tampa or Miami, but Havana, which for Florida bands was as tantalising as Las Vegas.

They never made it. In 1959 Fidel Castro’s revolutionaries took power. Less than two years later Dwight Eisenhower imposed an embargo, and most ties were severed for the next 54 years. The band’s members did not give up on their dream. On May 15th they hope to fulfil it by headlining at the celebrated Hotel Nacional, on the seaside Malecón in Havana. “We’re very excited,” says Manuel Fernandez, who plans to lead 60 ageing groupies to Cuba to hear the band, now called the Ybor City Rockers. “It’s monumental.”

Rock gigs are not the only opportunities that have been opened up by President Barack Obama’s dramatic announcement on December 17th that restrictions on travel to and trade with Cuba would be eased. Lawyers, travel executives, bankers, farmers and tech moguls, among them Google’s top brass, are heading to the island to scope out business opportunities in a post-embargo future. Their excitement has mounted further with the approach of the Summit of the Americas in Panama City on April 10th and 11th, where Mr Obama and Raúl Castro, the Cuban president, are expected to meet for the first substantive discussions between American and Cuban leaders in more than 50 years (see article).

Although the mood is giddy, the obstacles to trade and investment remain formidable. The December 17th agreement opened a chink in the trade blockade: it allowed more Americans to visit Cuba without special permits, enabled them to spend more money there and to send more remittances. It also permitted banks and telecoms firms to take steps toward operating in Cuba. The State Department’s designation of Cuba as a sponsor of terror subjects the country to sanctions that terrify banks. It is likely to be taken off the list soon.

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http://www.economist.com/news/americas/21648006-american-business-eager-cross-florida-strait-obstacles-remain-thrill

Tech eyes Cuban payday – By Julian Hattem – 01/25/15 04:00 PM EST


Tech companies see a potential windfall in the Obama administration’s decision to ease trade restrictions with Cuba — and they’re racing to cash in.

 

Getty Images

The historic announcement late last year is leading to a rush of business interest to plug the island nation in to the rest of the world.

While the landmark change in policy is still in its infancy and companies have a long way to go before they feel comfortable spending millions on new projects, officials are eagerly working the phones to iron out how they might bring the Communist nation into the 21st Century.

“You’ve got a greenfield,” said Scott Belcher, the head of the Telecommunications Industry Association.

“You can leap over the last five generations of telecommuncations technology and build out a pretty robust system,” he added. “In that sense it’s a wonderful opportunity. It’s the least developed telecommuncations system in the Americas.”

Communications technology was one of the few industry sectors that Obama singled out last month for expansion into Cuba, along with a concerted diplomatic push to establish an embassy and roll back legal restrictions between the U.S. and its island neighbor just 90 miles off the coast of Florida.

Currently, Cubans’ ability to access the Internet is abysmal.

In 2013, just 26 percent of the country used the Internet, according to the International Telecommunications Union, an agency of the United Nations — but most of them could merely access a walled-off network of largely Cuban websites and services. The portion of Cubans who have actual unfettered access to the true, global Internet is estimated to be closer to 5 percent.

“Cuba remains one of the most heavily restricted environments for Internet use in the world, and it has been that way for quite some time,” said Laura Reed, a research analyst at Freedom House, a pro-democracy organization.

Poor infrastructure keeps the speed for most people’s Internet near dial-up levels, leaving even those with access to the Web unable to take full advantage of it.

Access is also prohibitively expensive for many on the poor island nation. A one-hour trip at an Internet café, for instance, can cost an average worker’s salary for the week.

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http://thehill.com/policy/technology/230608-tech-eyes-cuban-payday