Cuba

Dr. Reinerio Arce: “If you go this year you will find another Cuba”

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Dr. Reinerio Arce, President of the Evangelical Theological Seminary of Matanzas, Cuba,  participated in a briefing at Washington, DC’s National Council of Churches last week regarding the current  reality of religious life and the role of churches  in Cuba. Dr. Arce’s presentation focused on the current economic and social changes occurring on the island and how they have affected various faiths and churches. He also expressed deep support for small, but important measures taken by the Obama Administration in regards to religious travel--which he claims has greatly facilitated his seminary’s ability to carry out social projects. Dr. Arce began by stressing the importance of the relationships between U.S. and Cuban churches:

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The Two Cubas: Travel and See

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Information on Cuba can often be biased, misinformed and confusing.  Two recently published articles, one from the Wall Street Journal and the other from the Council on Foreign Relations, highlight this constant conflict in the U.S. media.  These articles provide two starkly different opinions of Cuba. When presented with two contradictory portrayals of the same topic, how do you know what to believe?

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Cuba on the Terrorist List for 30th Year

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Today, March 1st, marks the 30th anniversary of Cuba’s placement on the State Department’s list of State Sponsors of Terrorism.  In 1982 Cuba was added to this list because, according to the Congressional Research Services 2005 report, “At the time, numerous U.S. government reports and statements under the Reagan Administration alleged Cuba’s ties to international terrorism and its support for terrorist groups in Latin America.” The report goes on to recall Cuba’s involvement in supporting revolutionary movements in Africa and other Latin American countries. In “1992 Fidel Castro stressed that his country’s support for insurgents abroad was a thing of the past,” mainly due to the fall of the Soviet Union and subsequent loss of resources following the fall. 

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Back from Havana

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Taking advantage of President Obama’s liberalized regulations that have re-established people-to-people licensed travel to Cuba, members of LAWG staff partnered with Witness for Peace and led a delegation of 25 people to study and learn about the art and culture of Cuba. Our delegation met with artists such as Sandra Ramos, Kadir and Kelvin Lopez, saw performances by students in one of Havana’s many schools for the arts, visited Ernest Hemingway’s home, witnessed the magic of the Cuba National Ballet, participated in folkloric dance led by a community group “Okantomi,” dialogued with members of the Cuban National Assembly, Ministry of Foreign Relations, Ministry of Tourism, Union of Artists and Writers, and the United States Interests Section in Havana.

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Remove Cuba from the List of State Sponsors of Terrorism

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Last week, the Latin America Working Group partnered with the Center for International Policy to host a conference examining Cuba’s placement on the State Department’s list of State Sponsors of Terrorism. Along with Mavis Anderson from LAWG, speakers included renowned Cuba experts Wayne Smith (Center for International Policy), Robert Muse (Muse and Associates), Carlos Alzugaray (University of Havana), Sarah Stephens (Center for Democracy in the Americas), and Arturo Lopez-Levy (University of Denver). Each panelist spoke critically of this designation, which has served to hurt Cubans rather than affect political changes in Cuba, or combat real terrorist threats.

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"When people take over the policy, it's going to change"

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Last night on "Strategy Session with Antonio Gonzalez" on 90.7 KPFK, LAWG's Senior Associate, Mavis Anderson, discussed the current political reality of U.S. policy towards Cuba. While there are some who will criticize President Obama's slow movement in changing our outdated Cuba policy, "kudos should be given where kudos are due," says Anderson. Obama has made some of the changes available to him under executive authority in permitting Cuban Americans to travel freely back and forth to the island, liberalizing the travel licensing process, and also issuing a veto threat if any legislation is proposed in Congress that aims at repealing his positive changes.

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Changes in Cuba warrant U.S. policy responses

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Significant changes being implemented by the Cuban government to permanently alter the island's economy have so far fallen on deaf ears in Washington.

A new report by the Center for Democracy in the Americas, Cuba’s New Resolve: Economic Reform and its Implications for U.S. Policy, identifies a number of measures the Obama administration should take to support and facilitate the economic reform process in Cuba. According to the report, Cuba is undergoing the most significant changes to its socialist system since the 1959 Revolution. Despite moves to increase the private sector, decentralize decision-making, increase autonomy for farmers and "a fundamental shift in economic thinking," the Obama administration has downplayed the reforms as insufficient.

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End the Case of the Cuban Five

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As a follow-up to our blog on "La Colmenita" (the Cuban children’s youth theater) last week, today we are happy to host a guest blog post from Wayne Smith of the Center for International Policy and former chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana from 1979-1982.

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La Colmenita vs. The Old World

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On Monday, October 17th, Chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, expressing grave concerns over the U.S. performances by the National Cuban Youth Theater, “La Colmenita.” In her letter, she questions the decision of the State Department to issue visas to the children’s group and demands an explanation for granting the visas, in addition to a “detailed accounting of all funding for educational programs with Cuba.” Her reasoning? To ensure that the State Department is not misusing taxpayer funds to promote exchange with Cuba. Rep. Ros-Lehtinen also claims that the group, which is comprised of 5-16 year olds, poses a national security threat, as one of the plays they perform is inspired by the story of the Cuban Five, un-registered agents of the Cuban government who were convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage and are currently serving long sentences in U.S. prisons. The Economist, a United Kingdom-based newspaper (with offices in the Americas, Europe, Africa and the Middle East, and Asia), conducted an interesting poll last week about the fairness of the trial (which was held in Miami) of the Cuban Five; see the results here.

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Obama and Romney Out of Touch on Cuba

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The Latin America Working Group is pleased to re-post this piece on U.S.-Cuba policy from our colleague at the Washington Office on Latin America, Geoff Thale. At LAWG, we are trying to maximize the opening recently made available by President Obama for increased travel to Cuba -- people-to-people travel, educational travel, religious travel, cultural travel. We are encouraging and educating the public on "how-to" travel to Cuba. See our on-line brochure, "How-to Travel to Cuba" here . We are very aware of how tenuous this small opening is, and how far it is from "Travel for All" with no restrictions. And we are aware that with just a stroke of the pen from a new President, these advances could be erased. We ask for your help in preventing that roll-back. Sign up for our Cuba policy updates and action alerts here.  And "like" our "End the Travel Ban on Cuba" Facebook page here

The 2012 presidential race is effectively underway, and the two leading candidates have both recently made statements about Cuba. While they may differ in emphasis, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney clearly share one thing: they are both out of touch when it comes to Cuba and what U.S. policy should be towards the island.

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