Friday, February 26, 2016

What Obama said when accepting the Nobel Prize...

Peter Hakim reminds us of this important section of Obama's Nobel Prize acceptance speech:

"… in a world in which threats are more diffuse, and missions more complex, America cannot act alone… The promotion of human rights cannot be about exhortation alone. At times, it must be coupled with painstaking diplomacy. I know that engagement with repressive regimes lacks the satisfying purity of indignation. But I also know that sanctions without outreach — condemnation without discussion — can carry forward only a crippling status quo. No repressive regime can move down a new path unless it has the choice of an open door."

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Solution to #Cuba's Problems Does Not Live in the White House

I just published an op-ed (in Spanish) in El Nuevo Herald entitled "The Solution to Cuba's Problems Does Not Live in the White House."

In the article, I take on the same topic that Ed Rogers does in his recent Washington Post op-ed - Obama's impending trip to Cuba - but I make a different argument and come to a different conclusion.

If you want to join the debate, you can do so by going to the new serious debate site @Parlio and adding your (thoughtful and respectful) two (or 25) cents.

We are dealing here with two separate but related issues:

1) The historically antagonistic relationship between the U.S. government and the Cuban government, where Cuba has successfully convinced much of the world that it is a victim of the US imperial bully via the embargo (with some reason and a lot of cynical manipulation),


2) The ongoing victimization of the Cuban people by the Cuban government via an "internal embargo" on their fundamental freedoms.

If in trying to normalize relations with the Cuban government - which I believe is in US interests - we can successfully remove ourselves as the Cuban government's bête noire (both in the eyes of the world and of the Cuban people) and use the normalization as a way to more effectively empower the Cuban people in terms of economic prosperity and access to modern technology, then both the normalization and the Obama visit are well worth the risk of implicitly recognizing Cuban sovereignty under the current undemocratic government.

But our necessary recognition of Cuban's national sovereignty (under the Castros or another future government) should in no way exempt the government from recognizing that its sovereignty - like that of any nation - is derived from the popular sovereignty of each and every one of its citizens - whom it has long preferred to treat as subjects.

This approach has the added potential of reminding both Cubans on the island and the international community that no one but the Cuban government itself will be left to blame for Cuba's internal "blockade" on prosperity and a whole host of fundamental civil liberties and political freedoms. In other words, it will allow us to change the conversation from one that is always about "el bloqueo" to one that is about the Cuban people and their struggle for freedom and prosperity.

Our failed past policy of isolation and impoverishment was always born more by the long-suffering Cuban people than it ever was by the Party stalwarts or members of the Castro Clan. But it did serve very effectively in giving the Castros a flag to rally nationalist ire around and a foreign Goliath against whom it could implant a siege mentality - both devastating for the development of any independent civil society.

However, this means Obama's trip can't be a shallow photo-op exclusively with government leaders or a "fun" celebrity show a la Rihanna. Obama must take advantage of the visit to stand up forcefully and unapologetically (if respectfully) for American values (a free press, human rights, representative government) and make clear to the Cuban people that our engagement with the Island is aimed primarily at making their daily lives "un poco más fácil" (a little bit easier) in terms of bread and butter issues (starting with entrepreneurship and Internet but including salaries, housing, and the price of food).

Obama must also make meetings with a broad cross section of Cuban civil society a central part of the trip - first so he can listen to what they have to say (including both those dissidents who support his policy and the others who have criticized it), and second so he can use the visit as a way to publicly and symbolically legitimize them to the world and to their fellow Cubans (including to the government itself).

It is supremely ironic that the Cuban government is capable of sitting down with its erstwhile enemy "Tio Sam" but is totally incapable of and unwilling to sit down with its own diverse and often dissenting citizens.

Marco Rubio once (in)famously compared Americans visiting Cuba to tourists visiting caged animals in a zoo. Last night Yoani Sánchez spoke here in NYC and said that while the metaphor may be somewhat apt, she understands it through the eyes of one of the caged (but courageous) animals inside. Some visitors may stare at the poor animals, but others can use the visit as a way to reach through the bars and help those inside - even going so far as to pass them a key that may open the lock.

If you never make the trip, you simply abandon those inside the cages to their fate.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

¡Nos vemos en La Habana!

President Obama tells Cubans:

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Obama is going to Cuba. Here's why:

Cuba is only 90 miles from Florida, but for a long time the distance between our two countries seemed a lot greater.

For more than fifty years, the United States pursued a policy of isolating and pressuring Cuba. While the policy was rooted in the context of the Cold War, our efforts continued long after the rest of the world had changed.

Put simply, U.S. Cuba policy wasn't working and was well beyond its expiration date.

Cuba's political system did not change.
The United States was isolated within our own hemisphere — and in the wider world — which disagreed with our approach.
Most importantly, our policy was not making life better for the Cuban people — and in many ways, it was making it worse.

So in 2014, President Obama changed course. And on March 21–22, President Obama and the First Lady will visit Havana, Cuba.

He will be the first American President since Calvin Coolidge in 1928 to visit Cuba; President Coolidge traveled to Cuba on a U.S. battleship, so this will be a very different kind of visit.

Here's how we got here:

Early in the Obama administration, we made it easier for Cuban-Americans to travel and send remittances to Cuba — because the President believed that Cuban-Americans are our best ambassadors to the Cuban people.

We later pursued many months of secret negotiations hosted by the Canadian government and supported by Pope Francis and the Vatican. And on December 17, 2014, President Obama announced — along with President Raul Castro of Cuba — that the United States and Cuba would begin a new chapter and take steps to normalize relations.

Since then, we have made progress in opening up relations between our two countries. Last summer, we restored diplomatic relations and Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Cuba to raise the American flag over our Embassy. This enhanced diplomatic presence makes it much easier for the United States to advance our interests and values in Cuba, as we do in countries around the world.

We've been able to engage Cubans from all walks of life. We've facilitated visits to Cuba by U.S. lawmakers, businesses, and academics. Changes in U.S. policies and regulations have allowed for greater travel and commerce between our countries. In fact, over this period, the number of authorized American visitors to Cuba has gone up by 54 percent, enabling increased people-to-people engagement. This will continue to increase, as earlier this week, the United States and Cuban governments reached an agreement that will restore direct flights between our countries for the first time in over 50 years — a change that will allow up to 110 direct flights to Cuba from the United States each day.

We've already seen indications of how increased engagement can improve the lives of the Cuban people. Cuba's nascent private sector — from restaurant owners to shopkeepers — has benefited from increased travel from the American people. Increased remittances to Cuba from the United States has helped Cuban families. Openings for American companies also hold the potential of improving the lives of ordinary Cubans — for instance, American companies will be enabling travelers to stay in Cuban homes and setting up a factory that will provide equipment for farmers.

The Cuban government has taken some steps to fulfill its commitment to expand access to the Internet, expanding wireless hotspots and announcing an initial broadband connection. These are steps that should be built upon to increase connectivity to the wider world and access to information for the Cuban people.

Still, this progress is insufficient. There is much more that can be done — by the United States, and by the Cuban government — to advance this opening in ways that will be good for Cubans, and good for the United States. That is why President Obama is traveling to Cuba. We want to open up more opportunities for U.S. businesses and travelers to engage with Cuba, and we want the Cuban government to open up more opportunities for its people to benefit from that engagement. Ultimately, we believe that Congress should lift an embargo that is not to advancing the Cuban people's individual well-being and human rights, and remove onerous restrictions that aim to dictate to Americans where they can and cannot travel.

Even as we pursue normalization, we've made clear that we will continue to have serious differences with the Cuban government — particularly on human rights. While Cuba released Alan Gross, a number of political prisoners and recently hosted the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, we continue to oppose and speak out against restrictions on rights like freedom of speech and assembly — and space for independent civil society — that the United States supports around the world.

While we do not seek to impose change on Cuba, we strongly believe that Cuba will benefit when the Cuban people can exercise their universal rights. President Obama has raised these issues in his discussions with President Castro, and will continue to do so.

As the President has said, Cuba will not change overnight, nor will all of the various differences between our countries go away. But the guiding principle of our Cuba policy — our North Star — remains taking steps that will improve the lives of the Cuban people.

That will be the President's message on his trip — where he'll have the opportunity to meet with President Castro, and with Cuban civil society and people from different walks of life. Yes, we have a complicated and difficult history. But we need not be defined by it. Indeed, the extraordinary success of the Cuban-American community demonstrates that when we engage Cuba, it is not simply foreign policy — for many Americans, it's family.

Our opening to Cuba has also created new possibilities for the United States in Latin America — a region that used to uniformly oppose our Cuba policy, and which now welcomes our new beginning.
We have worked with Cuba and other countries to support President Santos and the Colombian people as they are pursuing an end to a decades-long civil war. Following the President's trip to Cuba, he and the First Lady will travel to Argentina — a country with a new President who wants to begin a new chapter of improved relations with the United States.

This is yet another indication that the future is bright for the United States in our own hemisphere.

You can follow along as we prepare for the President's trip by visiting

Ben Rhodes
White House Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications & Speechwriting.

President Obama to Travel to Cuba and Argentina

President Obama to Travel to Cuba and Argentina

President Obama and the First Lady will travel to Cuba on March 21st and 22nd and Argentina on March 23rd and 24th. In Cuba, the President will work to build on the progress we have made toward normalization of relations with Cuba - advancing commercial and people-to-people ties that can improve the well-being of the Cuban people, and expressing our support for human rights. In addition to holding a bilateral meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro, President Obama will engage with members of civil society, entrepreneurs and Cubans from different walks of life. This historic visit - the first by a sitting U.S. President in nearly 90 years - is another demonstration of the President's commitment to chart a new course for U.S.-Cuban relations and connect U.S. and Cuban citizens through expanded travel, commerce, and access to information.

In Buenos Aires, the President and First Family will meet with the new Argentine President, Mauricio Macri, to discuss President Macri's reform agenda and recognize his contributions to the defense of human rights in the region. The President will deepen efforts to increase cooperation between our governments in a range of areas, including trade and investment, renewable energy and climate change, and citizen security. It has been nearly two decades since the last bilaterally focused visit by a U.S. President to Argentina, Latin America's third largest country.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

"El excepcionalismo cubano" - first published in 2004, but it easily could have been 2014!

El excepcionalismo cubano

Ted Henken. El Nuevo Herald, 21 de agosto de 2004.

El cambio en la política norteamericana de inmigración hacia Cuba en 1994 y 1995 no fue ni tan súbito ni tan completo como generalmente se cree. En primer lugar, un cambio en la política de brazos abiertos hacia los inmigrantes cubanos se había estado desarrollando desde hacía tiempo. Un cambio gradual ya había empezado a negar una automática aceptación ideológica de todos los cubanos como ''refugiados del comunismo'' a principios de los años 60 y a estigmatizarlos en Estados Unidos como delincuentes tras el puente del Mariel de 1980. Félix Masud-Piloto nos dio una actualización de este gradual desplazamiento hacia el cierre de la tradicional entrada de los cubanos en su estudio De exiliados bienvenidos a inmigrantes ilegales (1996), en el cual argumentaba que los cambios en la política de inmigración hacia Cuba representaban 'una completa inversión de una política inmigratoria de 35 años destinada a dar la bienvenida como refugiados políticos a casi cualquier cubano que alegara estar 'escapando de la represión de Fidel Castro'. Sin embargo, creo que esas declaraciones del tipo 'todo o nada' pasan por alto el hecho de que el tratamiento especial ha sobrevivido a los esfuerzos de buscar un tratamiento imparcial del caso.

Los acuerdos migratorios EEUU-Cuba de 1994 y 1995 tuvieron un éxito a corto plazo en resolver el problema de la peligrosa migración en alta mar y por haber estimulado ''una emigración segura, legal y ordenada'' de Cuba a EEUU gracias a una generosa política de conceder a Cuba un mínimo de 20,000 visas anuales. Sin embargo, un cambio de política que parecía en su época ser ''una completa inversión'' ha resultado ser mucho más complejo y matizado en la práctica. Después del 2 de mayo de 1995, todos los cubanos recogidos en el mar han sido devueltos a Cuba. Este importante giro de política ha sido ejecutado de forma consistente, aunque en aquella época pocos observadores comprendieron las implicaciones del hecho de que ni los acuerdos de septiembre de 1994 ni los de mayo de 1995 afrontaban la aplicabilidad de la Ley de Ajuste Cubano (CAA) de 1966. Irónicamente, esto es cierto aun cuando el acuerdo de septiembre de 1994 estipula claramente: ''Los EEUU han descontinuado su práctica de conceder libertad bajo palabra a todos los inmigrantes cubanos que lleguen a territorio de EEUU de manera irregular''. Lo que significa que prácticamente todos los cubanos que arriban a territorio norteamericano, por cualquiera que sea el medio, reciben permiso para quedarse.

Aunque el alto porcentaje de las repatriaciones marítimas muestra una nueva consistencia en la política migratoria norteamericana hacia los cubanos detenidos en el mar, los inmigrantes de la isla siguen disfrutando de un número de beneficios que otros inmigrantes no tienen. Entre los países que envían inmigrantes, Cuba está sola con un mínimo de 20,000 visas anuales. Para todos los demás grupos nacionales del hemisferio occidental, esta cifra constituye un límite máximo de inmigración permitida, no una cuota garantizada. Por otra parte, aun si el secretario de Justicia fuera a rescindir mañana la CAA, los cubanos que lleguen a las costas norteamericanas no podrían ser deportados a Cuba hasta que ambos países instituyan un acuerdo bilateral de deportación. Finalmente, el programa de refugiados que tienen los cubanos es un acuerdo especial al que sólo tienen acceso otros tres países del mundo.

Uno pudiera preguntarse por qué los cubanos han seguido recibiendo una consideración especial de inmigración pese a los esfuerzos por terminar su status privilegiado. Considero que tanto los intereses burocráticos como los políticos pueden explicar la permanencia del excepcionalismo cubano. En primer lugar, las múltiples agencias locales, estatales y federales implicadas en la salvaguardia de las fronteras frecuentemente trabajan con objetivos contradictorios y obedecen diferentes grupos de leyes, lo cual conduce a lo que yo llamo una ''política por omisión''. Por ejemplo, la Guardia Costera de EEUU considera que su misión es garantizar la seguridad en el mar y la protección de las fronteras del país. De esta forma, tiene poder para detener inmigrantes marítimos no autorizados y aplicar los Acuerdos Migratorios EEUU-Cuba 1994-1995, que requieren que intercepten y devuelvan a los cubanos detenidos en el mar (pies mojados), como hacen con los inmigrantes marítimos no autorizados de todos los países.

Una de las lecciones a sacar tiene que ver con la cantidad de inmigración ilegal cubana en la última década. En directa contradicción con habituales suposiciones de que la inmigración cubana ilegal está ''fuera de control'', lo más sorprendente sobre el flujo de cubanos en los últimos 10 años es que no hayan venido más cubanos a EEUU como balseros o boteros dado el hecho de que todavía sufren de una crisis económica y una represión política generalizadas en su país, y que siguen disfrutando de excepcionales beneficios a su llegada a EEUU. Las diversas tendencias contradictorias que todavía funcionan en el caso cubano lógicamente debían llevarnos a esperar una migración marítima masiva desde Cuba cuando, en realidad, no ha sido así desde los acuerdos de 1994-1995. En realidad, la estructura política del actual régimen cubano puede, irónicamente, actuar como un freno a la potencial emigración.

A pesar de todos sus problemas, el gobierno cubano ha sido capaz de mantener un mínimo de servicios sociales básicos, garantizar una estable aunque tensa paz social, y evitar gran parte del caos sociopolítico que ha acompañado los choques económicos en la mayor parte del resto de América Latina. Nuestra preocupación sobre los actuales niveles de inmigración cubana pudieran estar desubicados. Una preocupación potencialmente mucho mayor es la emigración cubana después de Castro, durante una transición, o bajo una dirección diferente y menos autoritaria.

Una segunda lección se refiere a la anacrónica CAA. Mientras, la actual interpretación de la ley es una violación directa del acuerdo migratorio de septiembre de 1994: ''En ninguno de los dos documentos (los acuerdos migratorios de septiembre de 1994 y mayo de 1995) el gobierno de EEUU ha dicho que los cubanos que lleguen ilegalmente a suelo norteamericano serán devueltos a Cuba, ni el gobierno cubano ha dicho que aceptará la devolución de los que alcancen tierra'' --como ha observado Siro del Castillo.

En realidad, con excepción de un número relativamente pequeño de ''excluibles'' del Mariel, el gobierno cubano no ha aceptado deportados cubanos. La existencia de la ley les permite a ambos gobiernos tratar de echar la culpa al otro por políticas migratorias contradictorias y frecuentemente inhumanas. Ambos gobiernos tienen razón.

La máxima ironía en la actual aplicación de la CAA es la muy real probabilidad de que sólo será finalmente revocada cuando Castro y su régimen ya no controlen el gobierno cubano. Si esto sucediera, el gobierno cubano conseguiría su deseo de que EEUU deje de alentar a los cubanos a emigrar sólo después (y directamente porque) ha cesado de existir. Por supuesto, los políticos norteamericanos probablemente aleguen que ya no hay una ''necesidad'' de ese tratamiento especial en una Cuba postcastro. Pero la presión para emigrar de Cuba probablemente aumente y no disminuya en el previsible futuro postcastro.

Profesor de Baruch College, adscrito a la Universidad de Nueva York (CUNY).

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Social Media: Destroyer or Creator?

Tom Friedman's NYT opinion column today is about Wael Ghonim ...and Parlio!

I think Cuban bloggers and other active social media users and "cyber-activists" there can learn a lot from Ghonim's 5 lessons below.

The Opinion Pages | OP-ED COLUMNIST

Social Media: Destroyer or Creator?
Thomas L. Friedman

Over the last few years we've been treated to a number of "Facebook revolutions," from the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street to the squares of Istanbul, Kiev and Hong Kong, all fueled by social media. But once the smoke cleared, most of these revolutions failed to build any sustainable new political order, in part because as so many voices got amplified, consensus-building became impossible.

Question: Does it turn out that social media is better at breaking things than at making things?

Recently, an important voice answered this question with a big " yes." That voice was Wael Ghonim, the Egyptian Google employee whose anonymous Facebook page helped to launch the Tahrir Square revolution in early 2011 that toppled President Hosni Mubarak — but then failed to give birth to a true democratic alternative.

In December, Ghonim, who has since moved to Silicon Valley, posted a TED talk about what went wrong. It is worth watching and begins like this: "I once said, 'If you want to liberate a society, all you need is the Internet.' I was wrong. I said those words back in 2011, when a Facebook page I anonymously created helped spark the Egyptian revolution. The Arab Spring revealed social media's greatest potential, but it also exposed its greatest shortcomings. The same tool that united us to topple dictators eventually tore us apart."

In the early 2000s, Arabs were flocking to the web, Ghonim explained: "Thirsty for knowledge, for opportunities, for connecting with the rest of the people around the globe, we escaped our frustrating political realities and lived a virtual, alternative life."

And then in June 2010, he noted, the "Internet changed my life forever. While browsing Facebook, I saw a photo … of a tortured, dead body of a young Egyptian guy. His name was Khaled Said. Khaled was a 29-year-old Alexandrian who was killed by police. I saw myself in his picture. … I anonymously created a Facebook page and called it 'We Are All Khaled Said.' In just three days, the page had over 100,000 people, fellow Egyptians who shared the same concern."

Soon Ghonim and his friends used Facebook to crowd-source ideas, and "the page became the most followed page in the Arab world. … Social media was crucial for this campaign. It helped a decentralized movement arise. It made people realize that they were not alone. And it made it impossible for the regime to stop it."

Ghonim was eventually tracked down in Cairo by Egyptian security services, beaten and then held incommunicado for 11 days. But three days after he was freed, the millions of protesters his Facebook posts helped to galvanize brought down Mubarak's regime.

Alas, the euphoria soon faded, said Ghonim, because "we failed to build consensus, and the political struggle led to intense polarization." Social media, he noted, "only amplified" the polarization "by facilitating the spread of misinformation, rumors, echo chambers and hate speech. The environment was purely toxic. My online world became a battleground filled with trolls, lies, hate speech."

Supporters of the army and the Islamists used social media to smear each other, while the democratic center, which Ghonim and so many others occupied, was marginalized. Their revolution was stolen by the Muslim Brotherhood and, when it failed, by the army, which then arrested many of the secular youths who first powered the revolution. The army has its own Facebook page to defend itself.

"It was a moment of defeat," said Ghonim. "I stayed silent for more than two years, and I used the time to reflect on everything that happened."

Here is what he concluded about social media today: "First, we don't know how to deal with rumors. Rumors that confirm people's biases are now believed and spread among millions of people." Second, "We tend to only communicate with people that we agree with, and thanks to social media, we can mute, un-follow and block everybody else. Third, online discussions quickly descend into angry mobs. … It's as if we forget that the people behind screens are actually real people and not just avatars.

"And fourth, it became really hard to change our opinions. Because of the speed and brevity of social media, we are forced to jump to conclusions and write sharp opinions in 140 characters about complex world affairs. And once we do that, it lives forever on the Internet."

Fifth, and most crucial, he said, "today, our social media experiences are designed in a way that favors broadcasting over engagements, posts over discussions, shallow comments over deep conversations. … It's as if we agreed that we are here to talk at each other instead of talking with each other."

Ghonim has not given up. He and a few friends recently started a website,, to host intelligent, civil conversations about controversial and often heated issues, with the aim of narrowing gaps, not widening them. (I participated in a debate on Parlio and found it engaging and substantive.)

"Five years ago," concluded Ghonim, "I said, 'If you want to liberate society, all you need is the Internet.' Today I believe if we want to liberate society, we first need to liberate the Internet."