HAVANA, June 3th The re-normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba, one of the signature accomplishments of Barack Obama, could be reversed by President Donald Trump in a matter of weeks. Read more
HAVANA, Jan. 19th (AP) President Barack Obama on Thursday blamed Congress for his failure to keep a promise to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, saying there’s “simply no justification beyond politics” Read more
HAVANA, March 10th (REUTERS) President Barack Obama’s administration will announce further measures to ease travel and trade restrictions on Cuba on March 17, ahead of his historic visit to the Communist-ruled island this month, U.S. congressional sources said on Tuesday.
The new rules will mark the latest effort by Obama to use his executive powers to sidestep the U.S. Congress and chip away at the more than half-century-old U.S. economic embargo against Cuba.
The anticipated announcement appears timed as a gesture toward Cuba just days before Obama flies to Havana for a March 21-22 visit in another step aimed at ending decades of animosity between the former Cold War foes. It will be the first visit to Cuba by a sitting U.S. president since 1928.
The measures are expected to include changes to make it easier for individual Americans to visit Cuba if they qualify under 12 authorized categories of travel such as educational or cultural visits, as well as further loosening of trade and banking rules, said the sources, who were briefed on the matter by administration officials.
Though details were still being finalized, the package could also include revised regulations on how the U.S. dollar can be used in trade with Cuba, a person familiar with the discussions said. U.S. regulations restrict or prohibit the Cuban government from using the dollar for international transactions.
“The White House wants to make a splash on the economic front before Obama gets to Havana, and this is one way to do it,” according to the source, who was consulted by Obama aides ahead of the visit. “It will come a couple of days before he leaves.”
Obama plans to hold talks with Cuban President Raul Castro in Havana but also intends to meet dissidents to show that Washington remains committed to promoting human rights on the island, a source of tension with the Cuban government.
RESISTANCE FROM SOME LAWMAKERS
The White House has invited members of Congress to accompany the president, and congressional aides told Reuters about 20, mostly Obama’s fellow Democrats, were expected to go.
Obama’s moves to normalize relations with Cuba have encountered stiff resistance from some lawmakers, mostly Republicans but also some Democrats, since the policy shift was first announced on Dec. 17, 2014.
They feel the White House is not getting enough back from Castro’s government in exchange for the eased regulations. The administration believes that moves to loosen the embargo would help meet its goal of benefiting the Cuban people.
But even some Democratic aides said they were taken aback by news there would be further moves by the White House without concessions from Havana. “Shouldn’t we get something from the Cubans in return?” one asked.
The mainstay of the new regulatory package is expected to be further easing of limits on travel by Americans to Cuba at a time when U.S. airlines are rushing to apply for routes to the island following the recent signing of a bilateral agreement for regular scheduled flights.
The rules changes are likely to allow more people to go on self-directed “people to people” and cultural trips without having to rely on group tours or be sponsored by an organization, two people familiar with the discussions said.
But a ban on general tourism to Cuba will remain in force. It is part of the broader U.S. embargo and can only be lifted by Congress. Obama has called for an end to the embargo but Republicans say that will not happen during his presidency, which ends in January 2017.
“We continue to look at additional regulatory changes that could be made as part of the administration’s efforts to further normalize relations with Cuba,” an Obama administration official said. But the official declined to provide specifics.
HAVANA, Feb. 18th As part of his opening to Cuba, President Barack Obama is expected to visit the island March 21-22, becoming the first sitting U.S. president to travel there in almost 90 years, sources said Wednesday.
The president is expected to arrive March 21, sources said. That timetable would put him in Cuba during a week when Havana is awash in special events. On the 20th, the Rolling Stones are expected to conclude their Latin America tour with a concert in Cuba and on March 22, Cuba’s national baseball team will play the Tampa Bay Rays in Havana. It’s unclear whether the president will attend the baseball game.
The White House will make the official announcement at a briefing Thursday. Obama, sources say, will stop in Cuba on his way to Argentina.
Critics of Obama’s Cuba policy were quick to condemn the visit.
“If true, it is absolutely shameful that Obama is rewarding the Castros with a visit to Cuba by a sitting American president since their reign of terror began,” said U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami. “A visit by President Obama more than one year after his unilateral concessions to the regime will only legitimize the Castros’ repressive behavior.”
A flurry of U.S.-Cuba events this week, plus Cuba’s recent return of a U.S. Hellfire missile that it said was mistakenly shipped to Havana from Paris in 2014, gave impetus to the possibility that an Obama trip to Cuba was in the works. On Tuesday, the United States and Cuba signed what they’re calling an arrangement that would allow commercial flights between the two countries to resume for the first time in more than 50 years.
That same day, Rodrigo Malmierca, Cuba’s minister of foreign trade and foreign investment, spoke at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He was accompanied by a large Cuban trade delegation. Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to meet with Malmierca on Thursday afternoon.
The first of two days of U.S.-Cuba talks to discuss the regulatory environment in the United States and Cuba began Wednesday. Under discussion are possible changes so that businesses in both Cuba and the United States can better take advantage of a commercial opening that began when the two countries announced they were normalizing relations on Dec. 17, 2014. The two countries hadn’t had diplomatic relations in more than five decades.
The president said in December that he would like to visit Cuba before the end of his term but that the visit depended on more progress in his priorities for Cuba, such as a bigger role for private enterprise, improvement in Cuba’s human rights record and more access to information and the Internet for Cubans.
Between now and the visit, sources said a number of business deals that are in the works could come to fruition.
The Cuban trade delegation’s “visit along with the restoration of the first U.S. commercial flights to Cuba in more than 50 years are important steps forward in our policy of engagement and show what can be accomplished when there is meaningful, constructive dialogue between our two countries instead of the decades of isolationist policies that preceded it,” said James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, a public policy group that supports normalization.
The last sitting U.S. president to visit Cuba was Calvin Coolidge in January 1928. Former President Jimmy Carter made two trips to the island after leaving office.
HAVANA,Dec.14th President Obama promised in an exclusive interview with Yahoo News that he “very much” hopes to visit Cuba during his last year in office, but only if he can meet with pro-Democracy dissidents there.
“If I go on a visit, then part of the deal is that I get to talk to everybody,” Obama said. “I’ve made very clear in my conversations directly with President [Raul] Castro that we would continue to reach out to those who want to broaden the scope for, you know, free expression inside of Cuba.”
Speaking in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Obama strongly hinted that he would make a decision “over the next several months.”
The president hopes that “sometime next year” he and his top aides will see enough progress in Cuba that they can say that “now would be a good time to shine a light on progress that’s been made, but also maybe (go) there to nudge the Cuban government in a new direction.”
White House aides privately describe an Obama visit – under the right circumstances – as the logical culmination of the new policy direction that he announced almost exactly one year ago.
On Dec. 17, 2014, Obama and Raul Castro stunned the world by disclosing that they had held secret negotiations and were prepared to usher in a new era of U.S.-Cuba relations, starting with the resumption of full diplomatic ties.
Embassies reopened in Havana and Washington, the United States removed Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, and the two sides took steps to increase travel and business opportunities.
Obama has undertaken many changes using his executive powers, and he indicated in the interview that he would continue looking at ways to do so in 2016. But Obama needs Congress to roll back the centerpiece of America’s Cold War-era pressure on Cuba and lift the U.S. trade embargo.
Asked whether that’s impossible while Fidel Castro is alive, Obama replied: “I’m going to test that proposition – that may be true.
The president argued that bipartisan support for lifting the embargo has grown over the years and that “the politics may change pretty rapidly,” to the point that “it’s conceivable that Congress chooses to take some action next year.”
Obama said he would be “selective and cautious” about using his executive powers to enforce the embargo in a way that might allow more economic exchanges.
“There are going to be certain sectors of the economy where we think, if there’s some modification of the application of the embargo, the Cuban people will benefit directly. There are going to be some areas where it could prop up, you know, certain cronies of the regime, but not necessarily have widespread impact,” he said.
Obama, who has always said that political change would not come “overnight” to Cuba, predicted that Havana would be “cautious” about opening up but that political reform would likely follow economic exchange as well as increased exposure to American culture and Western technology.
“Our original theory on this was not that we were going to see immediate changes or loosening of the control of the Castro regime, but rather that over time you’d lay the predicates for substantial transformation,” he said.
“The more that they see the benefits of U.S. investment, the more that U.S. tourist dollars become woven into their economy, the more that telecommunications is opened up so that Cubans are getting information, unfettered by censorship, the more you’re laying the foundation for the bigger changes that are going to be coming over time,” he added.
Obama said the United States would “keep on pushing and prodding” Cuba on democratic reform and human rights, and he pressed Castro to let more foreign investors hire Cubans directly, rather than going through the government. Experts say that the government uses outside investments – like luxury resorts – as a de facto patronage system, giving eagerly sought jobs to loyalists.
“A real game changer would be a situation in which you have a direct employer-employee relationship. Because then the higher standards of a U.S. company or a foreign company would make a big difference,” he said.
“If they want the full benefits of rejoining the world economy, then they’re going to have to accelerate reforms that are needed,” Obama said.
For most of his presidency, Obama was focused on a different aspect of Cuba policy: the fate of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, which he promised to shut down within a year after taking office. The progress there has been slow and plodding in comparison with the lightning fast diplomacy that led to normalization of relations with Cuba. Seven years into his administration, he’s still dealing with political fallout from the closure effort.
Obama said that reports of a former Guantanamo Bay detainee, freed in 2012, joining al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula were not cause to revisit his push to close the notorious prison for suspected terrorists.
“I am absolutely persuaded, as are my top intelligence and military advisers, that Guantanamo is used as a recruitment tool for organizations like ISIS,” he said. “And if we want to fight ’em, then we can’t give ’em these kinds of excuses.”
Obama also said that it was to be expected that “a handful” of the hundreds of Guantanamo Bay prisoners released over the past 14 years would join, or rejoin, terrorist groups.
“The judgment that we’re continually making is, are there individuals who are significantly more dangerous than the people who are already out there who are fighting? What do they add? Do they have special skills?
Do they have special knowledge that ends up making significant threat to the United States?” he said. “And so the bottom line is that the strategic gains we make by closing Guantanamo will outweigh, you know, those low-level individuals who, you know, have been released so far.”
But Obama demurred when asked whether, if he achieves the long-shot goal of closing the detention center, he will take steps to turn the base back over to Cuba.
“We’re far from having a conversation about that with the Cuban government,” he said. “There’s no doubt they’d love to have Guantanamo back. And I suspect that will be a long, diplomatic discussion that will outlast my administration.”
For his part, Obama has already had lengthy diplomatic conversations with his Cuban counterpart. Asked whether Raul Castro is a revolutionary, a caretaker, or a transformational leader, Obama sketched a biographical portrait of a complex and potentially conflicted man who has “gone through a bunch of stages” in his life.
“You’re talking about somebody in their 80s who has been in power alongside his brother since I was born,” Obama said. “I don’t think the man he was at 35 is the same person that he is at 85,” Obama said, describing Raul Castro as “somebody who is very much committed to the existing regime, who is suspicious of full democracy.”
Still, Obama said, “I do see in him a big streak of pragmatism. In that sense, I don’t think he is an ideologue.”
But Raul Castro is following the path blazed by China or Vietnam, of embracing limited market reforms “without letting go of the political reins,” Obama said.
“I think he’s going be cautious in how quickly he opens things up,” but he “recognizes the need for change” driven by an awareness of the weaknesses in his country’s economic and political system,” Obama said.
And while the White House plainly sees the U.S.-Cuba opening as a major legacy item for Obama, Obama himself suggested that it was even more important to Castro to “usher in those changes before he and his brother are gone.”
Castro “views himself as having the stature to move Cuban society in ways that a successor might not,” Obama said. “Obviously, nobody’s got better street cred when it comes to, you know, Cuban revolutionary zeal, than one of the original revolutionaries.”
HAVANA, Sept. 16 A small trade group focused on promoting American business ties with Cuba says Commerce Department Secretary Penny Pritzker, and possibly Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, are planning to visit Cuba this fall.
John Kavulich of the U.S. Cuba Trade and Economic Council said Pritzker’s travel to the island nation “perhaps” will take place in early November in conjunction with the Havana International Trade Fair.
The Commerce Department declined to comment about Pritzker’s possible travel plans. But during keynote remarks at an event sponsored by the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and the Tampa International airport, Pritzker said she anticipated regulations allowing U.S. companies to participate in upgrading Cuba’s telecom infrastructure and Internet and consumer communications devices.
In April, Pritzker said she would lead a delegation to Cuba as soon as the two countries have normalized relations and opened embassies in each other’s countries.
While Pritzker’s schedule is likely up to her and her alone, Kavulich used his release to argue that she should travel either in December in January, and that she should attend with representatives of the International Trade Commission and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. By that time, he said, the Cuban government may have issued regulations approving purchases relating to product exports and imports first proposed by the U.S. in December when Obama announced the historic change to U.S.-Cuba relations.
“A visit by Secretary Pritzker should only arise subsequent to the government of the Republic of Cuba having purchased products and permitted the provision of services as outlined in December 2014, not as a means of seeking the purchase of products and provision of services,” Kavulich said. “The visit needs to be a reward, not an inducement.”
In fact, just yesterday, the Cuban government threw an estimated 90 protesters — many clad in black-and-white Barack Obama masks — into jail for marching against the government. The arrests are part of a larger crackdown in Havana ahead of John Kerry’s historic trip to the capital city Friday to reopen the American embassy there.
“It’s his fault, what is happening,” a political prisoner named Angel Moya told an AFP reporter at the scene, referring to Obama. “The Cuban government has grown even bolder” as a result of the thawed relations, he said before Cuban police arrested him.
Midway through the protesters’ march, security forces rounded up about 90 of the demonstrators and placed them under arrest, AFP reports.
The crackdown comes in a historic week between the Unites States and Cuba. When Kerry lands in Havana this Friday, he’ll be the first American secretary of state to visit since 1945. When the embassy reopens, it will mark the first instance of U.S. diplomats working on Cuban soil in more than five decades.
But the arrests heighten the tension that Obama’s government must deal with its move to normalize relations with the Castros. Will Kerry address human-rights abuses during his speech at the embassy? Will he meet with Ladies in White leaders to discuss the lack of free speech on the island?
It’s a good bet he’ll try to avoid both topics, but that could be increasingly difficult to do if mass arrests like Sunday’s police action continue in the leadup to the embassy’s reopening.
HAVANA, July 30 Hillary Clinton will declare her support on Friday for lifting the U.S. embargo on Cuba, her campaign said, allying herself with President Obama’s open stance toward the long-isolated island nation.
Speaking at Florida International University Friday morning, Clinton will also criticize Republicans’ opposition to normalizing relations with the country, saying that the right’s arguments against increased engagement are part of a legacy of failed strategies for addressing Cuban relations.
“She will highlight that Republican arguments against increased engagement are part of failed policies of the past and contend that we must look to the future in order to advance a core set of values and interests to engage with Cubans and address human rights abuses,” the Clinton campaign said in a statement.
Clinton will hold her speech in the state that Republican presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio call home. Bush, the former governor, has called Obama’s opening relations with Cuba a “policy misstep” and a “dramatic overreach of his executive authority.” Rubio, who is the son of Cuban immigrants, has also strongly criticized Obama, calling the decision “a terrible one, but not surprising unfortunately.”
The United States has maintained various embargoes on Cuba since 1960, and continues to block trade with the country despite having opened up diplomatic relations with the island nation. Republican Rep. Tom Emmer filed a bill on Tuesday to remove the restrictions on American businesses from trading with Cuba.
Clinton has long supported normalizing relations with Cuba, and as secretary of state pushed Obama to normalize relations with the Communist nation. A February Gallup poll showed that 59% of Americans support reestablishing diplomatic relations with Cuba.
HAVANA, July 28 A secretive White House meeting on Cuba last week revealed that President Obama plans to visit the island nation early next year, and also discussed the controversial idea of the Cuban government opening consular offices in Miami.
After hailing embassy openings in Washington and Havana last week, the White House held an off-schedule, private meeting on Thursday with U.S. officials involved in the administration’s Cuba policy.
Nearly 80 activist members of the Cuban-American community from Florida and across the United States — mostly Democrats — were also there.Valerie Jarrett, one of Obama’s closest advisers, was on hand, along with White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes and Roberta Jacobson, assistant secretary of State for the western hemisphere.
The White House declined to talk about the meeting, and referred questions about the meeting to the State Department. A State Department spokesman then referred the same questions to the Cuban embassy, which was already closed for the day.
HAVANA, July 1 President Obama on Wednesday announced his plans to formally re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba, declaring that the two nations were ready to reopen embassies in each other’s capitals and to start a “new chapter” of engagement after more than a half-century of estrangement.“Our nations are separated by only 90 miles, and there are deep bonds of family and friendship between our people, but there have been very real, profound differences between our governments, and sometimes we allow ourselves to be trapped by a certain way of doing things,” Mr. Obama said in the Rose Garden at the White House, taking note of the decades of hostility born of the Cold War that prompted the United States to isolate its neighbor to the south, a strategy he said had failed.
The diplomatic breakthrough is the most concrete progress to date in Mr. Obama’s push, announced in December after months of secret talks, for an official rapprochement with Cuba.
He also renewed calls on Wednesday for the lifting of a trade embargo with Cuba that has grown stricter over the years as Republicans in Congress, some of them Cuban-Americans, have pressed for a hard line against Havana.
“We don’t have to be imprisoned by the past,” the president said. “When something isn’t working, we can and should change.”
Mr. Obama said that Secretary of State John Kerry would travel to Havana this summer “to proudly raise the American flag over our embassy once more.”
Mr. Kerry, who is in Vienna for talks with Iranian officials on a potential nuclear accord, said that he would travel to Havana for the reopening of the United States Embassy. It would be the first visit to Cuba by a secretary of state since 1945, he said.
Acknowledging that the United States and Cuba continued to have “sharp differences” over human rights, Mr. Kerry said reopening the embassy would enable American officials to “engage the Cuban government more often and at a higher level.”
“This step has been long overdue,” Mr. Kerry added, declining to take questions.
Asked if the American diplomats in Cuba would have free access to talk to Cuban citizens, he said: “We’ll talk about all those details later.”
The United States already has a limited diplomatic outpost in Havana, called an interests section, in the same seven-story building on the Malecón waterfront that served as the embassy until 1961, the year President Dwight D. Eisenhower broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba in response to tensions with the revolutionary government of Fidel Castro.
Republicans who oppose the thaw with Cuba have vowed to block funding for an embassy and the confirmation of a new ambassador. But senior administration officials said on Wednesday that they did not believe they needed Congress to approve new money for the building and that they were in no rush to install a new ambassador to replace the career diplomat currently running the interests section.
The diplomat, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, was selected expressly because he is seen as someone who could serve as the acting ambassador pending a permanent appointment, one of the officials said on Wednesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity ahead of the release of details by the State Department.
Mr. DeLaurentis, who holds the rank of ambassador, has served at the United Nations, as a deputy assistant secretary of state and in Havana as the political-economic section chief.
Cuba has an interests section in a stately manor in the Adams Morgan section of Washington that could be upgraded. In May, Cuba announced that its banking services for that office had been restored, a precondition to reopening a full embassy. In recent weeks, Cuba also repaved the driveway, repainted the fence and erected a large flagpole on the front lawn to await the formal raising of its flag.
The official said that would happen on July 20, but it was not yet clear when Mr. Kerry would make the trip to Havana to cut the ribbon on the American Embassy there.
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