Wednesday, December 17, 2014

U.S. - CUBA RELATIONS -- AT LAST (AT LEAST) A THAW . . .

via Verne Strickland USA DOT COM 12/17/14


A Thaw in Relations Between the United States and Cuba -- What Will It Mean Between the Two Close Next-Door Neighbors -- One Communist, One Free?


Who knows what may happen between now and midnight EDT on the U.S. Atlantic Coast? But for now, the big news is the United States and Cuba are toying with restoring diplomatic relations,  and opening trade and travel to make nice with one another. What will it mean  between the two close next-door neighbors -- one communist, one free?

In a historic thaw of a relationship chilled since the early days of the Cold War, the United States announced plans Wednesday to restore diplomatic and economic ties with the communist island of Cuba.
The changes came with the abrupt release of an American government contractor, Alan Gross, who had been imprisoned in Cuba for five years. He stood when his plane cleared Cuban airspace and stepped off in the United States to hugs on the tarmac.
At the same time, the United States released three Cubans jailed for 15 years on spying charges, and Cuba released a U.S. spy held there for two decades.
President Barack Obama declared that the United States was ending an "outdated approach" after five decades of isolation failed to accomplish the goal of a democratic and prosperous Cuba. The United States and Cuba severed diplomatic relations in 1961, two years after forces led by Fidel Castro overthrew the Cuban government.
"Neither the American nor the Cuban people are well-served by a rigid policy that's rooted in events that took place before most of us were born," Obama said from the White House. "It's time for a new approach."
Obama said that the United States would relax travel, banking and commerce restrictions, and he instructed Secretary of State John Kerry to start talks to re-establish diplomatic relations, including the eventual opening of an American embassy in Havana.
"Nobody represents American values better than the American people," Obama said, "and I believe this contact will ultimately do more to empower the Cuban people."
A ban on travel to Cuba by American tourists can only be lifted by Congress, but Obama promised to talk to lawmakers about ending the full economic embargo. In the meantime, other licensed travelers will be allowed to bring home Cuban cigars.
Obama also told Kerry to review the U.S. designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism, which has been in place since 1982.
While Obama was speaking in Washington, President Raul Castro went on Cuban television to welcome the restored relationship. But he said there were still profound disagreements, including on human rights, and he said the two countries must live with their differences "in a civilized manner." 


Verne Strickland (USA DOT COM)
National and international news sources, and social news reporters like myself are all grappling with how how all this will play out. But, in the interplay between the Cuban communist government and the global powerhouse USA, some tectonic shifts are already taking place.

While NBC dealt with the expected headlines -- diplomatic relations, military adjustments, trade and travel -- reporters like Jose Diaz Ballard tackled some of the more personal issues that American conservatives and patriots -- including me -- are concerned about:

JOSE DIAZ-BALART: MRC
And just within the last hour, this from the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee on the Senate. This is New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez among the things he says in his comments, his statement:

“President Obama’s actions have vindicated the brutal behavior of the Cuban government. There is no equivalence between an international aid worker and convicted spies who where found guilty of conspiracy to commit espionage against our nation...

"Trading Mr. Gross for three convicted criminals sets an extremely dangerous precedent. It invites dictatorial and rogue regimes to use Americans serving overseas as bargaining chips. I fear that today’s actions will put at risk thousands of Americans that work overseas to support civil society, advocate for access to information, provide humanitarian services, and promote democratic reforms.” Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Senator Bob Menendez from New Jersey releasing that statement just moments ago.

HuffPo: Among the expected changes as a result of the improvement in U.S.-Cuba relations is that licensed American travelers to Cuba will now be able to return to the U.S. with $400 in Cuban goods, including tobacco and alcohol products worth less than $100 combined. This means the long-standing ban on importing Cuban cigars is over, although there are still limits, according to a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of the official White House announcement.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-FL, who like Menendez is the son of Cuban immigrants, also slammed the president's action to open diplomatic relations, calling it "disgraceful."
"The White House has conceded everything," Rubio said at a news conference just moments after the president spoke, calling Obama the "worst negotiator" who has ever taken occupancy at the White House.
Rubio said the U.S. policy change has resulted in no commitment from Cuba to ensure freedom of the press, speech and elections.
While Congress is responsible for lifting the trade embargo, which Obama can't do unilaterally, Rubio promised to use his power as incoming chair of a Foreign Relations subcommittee next year to pressure the administration on Cuba policy. He said he is likely to be very skeptical in his role to oversee the administration's efforts to confirm diplomats to Cuba and an embassy there.

NBC News House Speaker John Boehner also slammed the new policy. "Relations with the Castro regime should not be revisited, let alone normalized, until the Cuban people enjoy freedom - and not one second sooner. There is no 'new course' here, only another in a long line of mindless concessions to a dictatorship that brutalizes its people and schemes with our enemies."
Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona, also denounced the policy change with Cuba. "It is about the appeasement of autocratic dictators, thugs, and adversaries, diminishing America's influence in the world," the duo wrote in a statement.
Sen. Ted Cruz, another potential 2016 contender and whose parents are Cuban immigrants, said the agreement with Cuban leader Raul Castro has made the situation "worse."
"Fidel and Raul Castro have just received both international legitimacy and a badly-needed economic lifeline from President Obama. But they remain in control of a totalitarian police state modeled on their old state sponsor, the Soviet Union," Cruz said in a statement.

the right scoop: John Bolton says that even worse than the mistake of dealing with Cuba bilaterally is the message this sends to the world:
The president for his own ideological reasons has reversed 55 years of American policy. So our adversaries all around the world will be saying ‘two years to go in the Obama administration; now is the time to line up and get what we want.’
This is a very, very bad signal of weakness and lack of resolve by the President of the United States.
Regarding Cuba itself, Bolton says it is a mistake to think that giving Cuba a benefit will suddenly turn it into a free society. And he plainly calls Obama’s policy on Cuba ‘appeasement’.
BREITBART: President Obama says he respects the opinion of the many people who oppose his dramatic change in policy toward Cuba. “To those who oppose the steps I’m announcing today, let me say that I respect your passion and share your commitment to liberty and democracy,” Obama said.
But Obama says it's time to change the policy. He says it was obvious to him that it hadn’t made a difference in changing the status of democracy in Cuba.
“I do not believe we can keep doing the same thing for over five decades and expect a different result,” he said, “Moreover, it does not serve America's interests or the Cuban people to try to push Cuba towards collapse.”
Obama urged Cubans who were concerned about America’s attempt to “colonize” the country to put their grievances behind them.
“Let us leave behind the legacy of both colonization and communism, the tyranny of drug cartels, dictators and sham elections,” he said. “A future of greater peace, security and democratic development is possible if we work together. Not to maintain power, not to secure vested interests but instead to advance the dreams of our citizens.”