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Cuba Policy Update

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We want to begin by thanking you for your generous contributions to our Cuba policy work; we are within a few hundred dollars of reaching our goal! With these kind donations, we are hard at work setting up book parties and travel trainings around the country. If you’d like to be part of this cross-country training effort, be sure to contact us so we can work with you to add your group and location to the schedule.
As a teaser, watch a video of LAWG’s Claire Rodriguez at Cuba Consultation Day 2008 explaining how to travel to Cuba on a general license at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LbWsB6NmBNI .

On a personal note, we want to wish a fond farewell to Claire Rodriguez, our Cuba Program Assistant for the past 2 ½ years. Claire will be attending law school at the University of Texas at Austin next fall; we will miss her terribly – her superior skills, her passion for a humane and just policy toward Cuba, and her energetic presence in our office. And we warmly welcome Paulo Gusmao to the Cuba policy work here at LAWG. Paulo has been with us for the past several months as an intern and will be ably picking up where Claire leaves off. We know that you will enjoy getting to know Paulo (pgusmao@lawg.org ) and working with him to change U.S. policy toward Cuba.

On to work . . . . We have a laundry list of issues today on which to update you. We hope you will pick and choose those that are of interest to you.

• Subscribers to LAWG’s Cuba policy email network have received an offer of a reduced-rate subscription to CubaNews, a monthly newsletter focusing on economic and political developments in Cuba. CubaNews is published by Larry Luxner, a veteran freelance journalist specializing in coverage of Latin America and the Caribbean. From Larry: “A one-year subscription costs $429, but as a non-profit organization, academic or individual member of the LAWG email network, we are happy to offer you the special price of $200 a year. This includes the option of receiving CubaNews electronically (in PDF format) at no extra cost. Subscribers also get access to all issues going back to 1998 via our user-friendly website at http://cubanews.com .” To see the current issue, click here. To take advantage of this offer, email Larry at larry@luxner.com and identify yourself as a LAWG network subscriber.

• The prestigious Council on Foreign Relations sponsored an Independent Task Force to assess U.S. policy toward Latin America and report on its findings, which was released a couple of weeks ago. We encourage you to take a look at the policy assessments and suggestions for change as they relate to current U.S.-Cuba policy, including recommendations which would significantly change U.S.-Cuba relations (repeal of the restrictions on Cuban-American family travel and remittances, reinstatement of licensed people-to-people travel for all Americans, and other positive steps to open informal and formal channels with Cuba). View the full report here: http://www.cfr.org/content/publications/attachments/LatinAmerica_TF.pdf .

• In light of Cuba’s formal Independence Day on May 20th, all the presidential candidates and the President himself talked about Cuba policy. (NOTE: Under the Cuban constitution written following May 20, 1902, the United States retained the right to intervene in Cuban affairs and to supervise its finances and foreign relations—through the constitution itself and through the Platt Amendment. Cuba today does not celebrate May 20 as their date of independence; instead they celebrate October 20 as the first declaration of independence, May 1 as international labor day, and July 26 as the date of Fidel Castro’s first attack on the Moncada Barracks.)

Senator Obama, speaking to the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF) in Miami on May 23, stated that he would immediately end the restrictions on family travel and remittances to the island and would explore direct diplomacy with Cuba. This is a positive recognition of the changing face of the Cuban-American community in South Florida. Disappointingly, he also stated that he would “maintain the embargo,” using it as a bargaining chip to push for “steps toward democracy” and the “freeing of political prisoners” – old U.S. demands. This appears to undercut the seriousness of his proposal to conduct direct talks with Cuban leaders. See Senator Obama’s complete remarks at http://blogs.suntimes.com/sweet/2008/05/obama_latin_america_speech_in.html and read an analysis at http://www.thenation.com/doc/20080609/hayden.

Senator McCain on May 20, also in Miami, spoke about his strategy in the region and made clear that his policy on Cuba would be more of the same: “The embargo must stay in place until…”

President Bush also took the May 20 observance as an occasion to speak about U.S. policy and the changes occurring on the Island. Besides the usual points we so often hear from President Bush and the administration, on May 21the President announced a new initiative in which the United States Government, responding to Cuba’s announcement that cell phones would be allowed for its citizens, would permit Americans to send cell phones to the Island. It seems to us that, if the President wants to encourage communication on and with the island, he should find positive ways to communicate with the island’s leaders himself. And he should remove restrictions on travel and trade between our two nations. Reform of U.S. policy would do more for Cubans than sending them cell phones. See his full remarks http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2008/05/20080521.html.

• Perhaps the President could better avail himself of positive avenues of communication with Cuba if he would listen to the dissidents themselves. In a well-publicized May 6 videoconference between the President and Marta Beatriz Roque, leader of the Assembly to Promote Civil Society, Ms. Roque directly advised the President to ease U.S. restrictions on Cuban-American family travel and remittances to Cuba, a position she took first in November 2006, along with several other prominent dissidents. The President ignored her call for change. In reference to this videoconference, members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to President Bush, calling on him to heed the advice of the Cuban dissidents that he so often quotes and to whom he directs substantial aid. To read the congressional letter, click here. And read on to learn more about U.S. aid to dissidents.

• The Cuban Government called a press conference on Monday, May 19 in which they said they had evidence that Michael Parmly, the head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, had delivered funds directly to dissident groups. The most disturbing part of this is that it appears that some of the funds came from Fundacion Rescate Juridico, an exile group created by Santiago Alvarez, an exile militant jailed in the United States on weapons charges, and a prime benefactor of accused terrorist Luis Posada Carriles.

Well, if you have read this far, congratulations. We appreciate your perseverance—in reading this update and in continuing to work for a just Cuba policy. Change is in the air.