|Right to Travel to Cuba
The choice is before the Obama Administration and
Congress. Do cosmetic modifications in
policy and kick the can down the road until after the mid term election, or
make an historic break with decades of failed and counterproductive policy.
The result is not a foregone conclusion. On both executive and legislative fronts, the
conflict is intense.
On our side we have 68% of US public opinion, editorials in
every leading newspaper, multiple main stream policy studies and statements,
and the adamant voices of the full spectrum of Latin American leaders. Not to mention a President who brings an
unprecedented awareness of the world as it is, not as hubris and conventional
wisdom wish it to be.
The other side has inside the beltway inertia, well
distributed campaign contributions, politically powerful allies, and the
desperate knowledge that, once their Berlin Wall is broken, evolution replaces
counter-revolution and the old game is over.
The time is now. What
you and I do this week while Congress is home for the recess and over the next few weeks and months makes a real difference.
This year, in Havana!!!
Obama and Cuba,
the urgency of now
All we know for sure is that a full review is underway of US policy toward Cuba as signaled in the
confirmation hearings of Secretary of State Clinton and Secretary of Treasury
Leaks during the transition and in the first weeks in office
range from nothing more will be done than returning to Clinton's more liberal restrictions on Cuban
American travel and remittances to wider authorization of non-tourist travel
and more. The most significant straw in
the wind is an article in US News and World Report which for the first time
quotes "a senior State Department official" acknowledging that reform is taking
place in Cuba and that its leaders are making positive statements regarding
relations with the US.
Is it possible to affect the process, to offset the negative pressures?
We can convey disappointment that the President has not yet authorized general licenses for travel by Cuban Americans and all other
non-tourist categories of people-to-people engagement.
the Obama web site by clicking here to register your opinion with the Office of Public Liaison.
to Thomas Shannon, Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Western Hemisphere
Affairs, U.S. Department of State, 2201 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20520 Tell
him specifically how a general license for non-tourist travel will enable you to
visit family members, professional colleagues or coreligionists; undertake
projects of humanitarian assistance; educate yourself about a neighbor's
history and culture; and/or help overcome barriers of misunderstanding and
a local buzz with letters to the editor and through call-in shows. Be prepared to publicly welcome whatever
positive steps the President takes, while pointing out what still remains to be done by him and Congress.
your Senators and Representative to call upon the White House to enable
non-tourist travel. (see below)
5) Seek more signers for our on-line letter to the
President which now has nearly 1200 endorsements and many moving personal
Low Priority or Low Hanging Fruit
Conventional wisdom is that with two hot wars,
horrific casualties in Gaza, and an
international economic meltdown, the always contentious issue of Cuba is not at
the top of the nation's agenda. Unlike
other issues, however, Cube offers a straightforward, relatively costless and very popular
Only a diminishing minority of hard liners in Florida and New
Jersey will object.
Public opinion in the US
will be overwhelming favorable, including among most of the Bush
Administration's favored dissidents.
The full spectrum of Latin American and Caribbean leaders
have made it clear in collective and individual statements that the US moving
towards normal relations with Cuba is the bottom line for Obama Administration
credibility in the hemisphere.
Presidents of three major moderate countries that are critical for US
interests, Brazil, Argentina and Chile (photo above),
have recently visited Cuba
and made clear their critical view of current US policy.
On April 17th President Obama will
face them personally at the Summit of the Americas. He won't be able to address their demand to end the
embargo by then, but he does need to bring to the table evidence of making the substantial
changes that lie within his power.
Meetings and Resources
The annual Educational Travel Conference has added a session
this Thursday, 7:45 a.m. at the New Orleans Marriott Hotel, La Galeria 5 "Revisiting Cuba Travel: Imminent Change and
Exciting Opportunities", with John McAuliff
travel and normalization advocates from around the country will gather in Washington for
a consultation and lobby day. For
further information, go here
The first Cuba Trade Expo will take place in Miami. Information here. Substantially discounted
rates are available through the web site's contact page for non-profits that publicize the event and for students.
Cuba's impressive Feria Internacional de Turismo takes place in Havana with presentations and information centers by domestic and international vendors and suppliers. (Information here.) This is an annual trade show attracting hundreds of travel agencies and tour operators from Canada, Europe and Latin America.
Contact the Travel Industry Network on Cuba for more information about special programs for Americans firstname.lastname@example.org
To stay on top of fast changing developments in Washington, check out the postings here on the Havana note by Steve Clemons, Larry Wilkerson, Pat Doherty and myself.
Vicki Huddleston, former head of the US Interests Section,addressed a Miami audience on January 23 with her very problematic successor James Cason at a
meeting hosted by the USAID funded Institute for Cuban and Cuban
American Studies in Miami. A third wake-up-to-reality viewpoint was
expressed forcefully by Manuel Rocha, former Deputy Principal Officer of USINT. Huddleston served on Obama's State Department transition team and lays out steps he could take. Video here
Alvaro Fernandez makes a powerful case for family travel first
on his Progresso Weekly blog, the best bilingual window into Cuba's evolving
reforms. Click here
Background on the Hemingway documents microfilm project undertaken at La Finca Vigía by the Social Science Research Council with the support of Representative Jim McGovern.
And, just for fun
A couple of creative people have accompanied the
track of Jackson Brown's inspiring song "Going Down to Cuba" with montages of photos and videos
Looking toward the future
"I expect wonderful changes for the world and for the people of
the United States. The people of the United States deserve a President
like Obama and a first lady like his spouse. They and all of us need
civilization and not barbarity. We need intelligent and honest world
leaders. I think with Obama's Presidency, a whole new era will begin.
It will be a totally different story in the US and all over the world." Mariela Castro,
the outspoken daughter of Cuba's President gave a fascinating interview to Russian
television just before the US inauguration about her own work on sexual identity and discrimination, Cuba's democratic socialist evolution and the Obamas. (See video here.)
More transcript here.
House and Senate bills depend on grass roots
Excellent bipartisan bills to end all travel restrictions have been submitted in both the
House and Senate. However, that is only the first step. To be real they must gather broad bipartisan
cosponsors and make it through hearings and mark-up by Western
Hemisphere sub-committees and Foreign Relations committees in both
Flake with DeLauro, Edwards, Emerson, Farr, McGovern, Moran, and Paul
Dorgan and Enzi
with Dodd and Lugar
For the full text of the legislation and an updating sponsor
list, go here Insert HR 874 or S 428 in the box, click on
"bill number" then "search".
The obstacles are formidable.
Last year opponents of change won twice
in the House by more than fifty votes. (Rangel story here.) The hard right (anti family and all other travel) US-Cuba
Democracy PAC contributed $753,500 in the 2008 election cycle, up from $569,624
in 2006. (See article below for details.)
Winning travel in Congress is not a sure thing and could
take six to nine months or more of persistent effort. Having public opinion on our
side only matters if it is manifested by motivated people in each State and District,
at times explicitly pitting local constituents against Florida money.
The ask is straightforward:
- Will you cosponsor HR 874 or S 428?
What can we do?
Will you urge the White House to immediately provide
general licenses for Cuban Americans and other non-tourist travelers?
the District or State office of your Representative and Senators today and find out if he or she is holding public meetings with constituents
during this week's recess. If so, and your schedule permits, go to
it and ask about cosponsorship and sending a message to the White House. If not, request an appointment for you and
other constituents to discuss Cuba.
If you are told the week's schedule
is already full, ask where he or she stands on the two questions and for an appointment
during the next recess. If you do not
receive a clear response, call again once a week
until you do.
but persistently press the foreign policy staff person or legislative assistant
in your Representative and Senators' Washington
offices for an answer to both questions.
Again, if you do not receive a clear response, say that you will call
back the following week. Congressional switchboard:
out to local allies who are affiliated with national organizations
supporting travel legislation. Major
religious bodies have weighed in on the issue.
Protestant denominations issued a strong statement in December. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops are
mobilizing at the grass roots. (See the Texas version here.)
Travel agents and tour operators are engaged. Academic associations are speaking out. Help bring together a meeting of their local
activists to plan a campaign to educate the community and influence Congress. (Go here to find links to national statements and
4) Be sure to keep the Latin America Working Group informed
when you get a positive or negative answer on cosponsorship or want them to do educational
follow-up in Washington.
And please send me a note if you get a
promise to call the White House.
US Cuba Democracy PAC and Sen Menendez
Of the 177 House recipients of US Cuba Democracy PAC money, 90
were Democrats. They received 59% of the funds and included key leaders Berman
($5,000), Clyburn ($10,000 + $5,000), Engel ($7,500), Hoyer ($6,000), Obey
($6,000), Wasserman Schultz ($10,000 + $10,000), and Sires ($10,000).
In the Senate, 9 of
24 recipients were Democrats, most notably Reid ($5,000), Menendez ($2,500 + $5,000) and Nelson
($5,000 + $10,000). The new Senator from
Gillibrand, received $9,000 as a House candidate.
You can see the full list, with
some surprises, as well as the overwhelmingly South Florida Cuban American donor list here. Such relatively small out of town special interest donations will have limited effect, and can even be an embarrassment, if counter-balanced by concerned constituents.
In a widely reported phone conversation with then President-elect
Obama, Representative Ileana Ros Lehtinen publicly passed the flag of exile
leadership to Senator Robert Menendez of New
Menendez was known as Miami's fourth
Representative because he raised substantial campaign funds there (his third
largest source, after home state New Jersey
and New York).
He will return to that source often as head of the money raising Democratic Senate Campaign
Committee. This adds to his and Miami's political influence as Democrats strive to increase
their Senate margin in the mid-term election to a filibuster breaking 60 votes.
Travel for all, not some
President + Congress = Success
Neither Cubans nor Americans should wait months for legislation to completely
open the door to travel, making the perfect the enemy of the good.
The President does not have the legal authority to go beyond the twelve non-tourist categories codified by Congress in 2000 (details here), but enabling them with general licenses will mark
a tremendous psychological, political and practical breakthrough.
A wide range of Americans with personal ties
and a serious interest in bilateral relations will be able to book visits within days
and organizations like Global Exchange can start rolling out people-to-people
Allowing immediate unlimited travel and remittances for Cuban
Americans was an oft-repeated Obama campaign promise. But death, illness and family milestones do not
await the conclusion of policy reviews in Washington. Yet to only allow family travel ignores half the damage wrought on
Americans and Cubans by the Bush era and discriminates on the basis of ethnicity
and national origin.
Restoration and expansion of travel by local
opinion leaders and national trend setters with a serious interest in Cuba energizes
the grass roots and creates the buzz essential to overcome entrenched and well funded resistance
Key Congressional staff advise that activists should press both the Administration and Congress to go as far as they can on travel. Progress on every front is mutually reinforcing.
The stars are aligned for the first time in a century of problematic history between the US and Cuba: flexible and forward looking leaders in Washington and Havana, a progressive Congress, regional and global consensus.
But at the end of the day, it will come down to which Americans care most and are more willing to put out their energy and resources.
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