Sunday, January 16, 2011

Pissing off the hardliners on both ends of the political spectrum (CNN and Financial Times)

When a new policy provokes impassioned protest from BOTH Ileana AND the Cuban government, you know you're doing something right!  (Also see these criticisms of Obama's changes from blogs on the right and the left - H/T to Roque Planas at Cuban Colada for the head's up).

Adelante Obama!

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Cuba calls U.S. measures positive, but far from enough
By Shasta Darlington, CNN

On Friday, the White House announced it would allow more academic, cultural and religious travel to Cuba.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
• President Obama announced easing of some restrictions on Cuba
• The U.S. will allow more travel and non-family remittances to Cuba
• The U.S. also will allow more U.S. airports to service flights to Cuba
• Cuba calls the moves "positive" but "they fall short of justified demands"

Havana, Cuba (CNN) -- Cuba on Sunday called President Barack Obama's latest easing of travel restrictions to the island nation "positive" but accused Washington of continuing its policy of "destabilization."

(Financial Times article below)


On Friday, the White House announced it would allow more academic, cultural and religious travel, non-family remittances and would pave the way for more airports to service flights to Cuba. "Although the measures are positive, they fall short of justified demands," Cuba's Foreign Ministry said in a statement. "These measures confirm that there is no willingness to change the policy of blockade and destabilization against Cuba," it added, noting that the measures do nothing to alter the decades-old U.S. trade embargo.

Under the new regulations, it will be easier for religious and academic groups to sponsor trips to Communist Cuba under a general license, therefore eliminating the need to request a specific license from the U.S. Treasury. The measures also will allow any American to send up to $500 every three months to non-family members in Cuba "subject to the limitation that they cannot be provided to senior Cuban government officials or senior members of the Cuban Communist Party."

Obama also directed that any U.S. international airport can apply to service licensed charters "provided such airports have adequate customs and immigration capabilities and a licensed travel service provider has expressed an interest in providing service to and from Cuba from that airport."

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From the Financial Times, January 16, 2011
Exiles tense over lighter US stance on Cuba By Andres Schipani in Miami

In Miami's Little Havana, the heartland of Cuba's exile community, the mood is tense. "This is outrageous, outrageous," says Miguel Zaldívar, a Cuban exile who fled Fidel Castro's regime in the 1960s to come to Miami.

"The Castros keep throwing candies at the Cubans trying to show the Americans they are changing things, to keep them happy, and now the Obama administration believes these are 'real' changes. It's nonsense, nonsense. There should not be any contact whatsoever with those unnameable [Fidel and Raúl Castro]," he fumes, sipping a strong Cuban coffee at the renowned Café Versailles, an anti-Castro stronghold.

The cause of Mr Zaldívar's anger, as well as that of many other Cuban exiles, is the recent decision by the Obama administration to relax restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba. On Friday, the US announced that although a long-standing embargo – imposed by President John F. Kennedy in 1962 after Cuba nationalised the businesses and property of US citizens – remained in place, US students, religious and cultural groups would be allowed to visit Cuba and US citizens would be permitted to send remittances up to $2,000 year to Cubans who were not government or Communist party members.

Cuban-Americans at the heart of Washington echo Mr Zaldívar's comments. "Loosening these regulations will not help foster a pro-democracy environment in Cuba," said Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Florida Republican and new chairwoman of the House foreign affairs committee – who was once labelled the "ferocious she-wolf" by Fidel Castro.

The US move follows measures taken by Raúl Castro, the Cuban president, last September to relax government control over the economy. During the first three months of this year, 500,000 workers will be taken off the public payroll, with most expected to become self-employed. The goal is to cut 1.8m public sector jobs in coming years, representing a quarter of the Cuban workforce.

In the light of this, some Cuban-American business figures welcome the changes. "The Americans will now enjoy more freedom to travel to Cuba, and with the changes [under way] in Cuba, this might mean a huge opportunity for people to start checking potential future business down there," says John Cabañas, who owns C and T Chartered, the largest charter airline flying from the US to Cuba. "To Cubans, this might mean a whole lot of new travellers that will disburse hard currency and will spark an exchange of ideas."

Mr Cabañas's own business, along with other airlines, will also benefit. He operates an average of 10 weekly flights between Miami, New York and Havana but says that in two weeks' time – when the provisions become active – he will start flying out of Las Vegas, Newark, Atlanta and San Juan.
George Montalván, a Cuban-American economist and micro-lending expert, says: "This is all good."

Not only will the changes lead to more visits to Cuba by Americans, "but remittances might also increase, which might [provide] soft lending to potential entrepreneurs that otherwise have no access to hard currency". He adds: "What is missing now is a proper institutionalisation, to find a way to channel those remittances towards investment and not consumption."

"The Cuban-Americans sitting in Congress might not lower their [voices], but they will see themselves pressured by the evolving business and political reality of Cuba and the newer generations of Cuban-Americans," says Mr Cabañas. "This is a golden opportunity for everyone."

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