Maggie Alarcón

Posts Tagged ‘Marco Rubio’

Ending the Cuba Travel Crisis

In Politics on December 4, 2013 at 1:38 pm

Time Travel - twisted clock

By Tom Hayden

There is an opportunity for President Barack Obama to begin rolling back our Cuba sanctions policy by finding a bank willing to do business with Cuba so that hundreds of thousands of Cubans can spend the holidays with their families. The main reason the Cuban Interests Section in Washington DC cannot process visas and passports is because no bank is willing to handle the financial transactions. The reason the banks are afraid is the US sanctions policy and Cuba’s listing on the global terrorism list. So the irrational US policy has come full circle: Obama’s policy of expanding and normalizing purposeful travel to Cuba is prevented by Obama’s embargo policies. It’s an opportunity to begin lifting the embargo, but chances are the administration is too timid, for now, to fully undo its own senseless policy.

Notice, however, the tantalizing convergence between Cuban and American rhetoric on the main issue:

John Kerry, Secretary of State has said, “Each year, hundreds of thousands of Americans visit Havana, and hundreds of millions of dollars in trade and remittances flow from the United States to Cuba. We are committed to this human interchange, and in the United States we believe that our people are actually our best ambassadors. They are ambassadors of our ideals, of our values, of our beliefs.”

Ricardo Alarcon, former foreign minister and retired president of the National Assembly said, in relation, “In terms of changing Cuban society, the most effective ambassadors are the Cubans coming back, somebody living on the corner bringing gadgets from Miami. When they are in their dining rooms they probably are not pretending to mislead. They will say work is harder in the US. They can bring some different element here, maybe in fashion or music. So you will get a mutual influence. I don’t really see a problem with that. They have been coming back for years. So? It’s a two-way influence. For Cubans, they get a broader view of Miami, and it challenges the mentality of those Cuban-Americans who think everyone from Cuba is a terrorist. What free travel permits is a better understanding of Cuba’s realities and some benefits for the visitors, like cheaper medicines for example. For decades we have had millions of tourists from Western Europe and Canada, and they haven’t changed the country, they just come to enjoy life and relax.”

President Obama said November 8, “We have to update our policies. Keep in mind that when Castro came to power, I was just born.”

Ricardo Alarcon continued, “Now we have Esteban Laso as head of our National Assembly. He was a boy, a sugar cane cutter, in the Batista period. A little boy then; now he’s in his sixties. The misperception is that the Cuban system has been the same from the very first day; that the people who attacked Moncada are still around. Yes, a few are, but they are octogenarians. When Raul said he was getting out in five years, nobody here said, well, that’s the end.”

Alarcon said emphatically, “The main goal of immigrants is to come and go. The discussion is over.”

This irreversible process already has destroyed the argument of right-wing Cuban politicians, including Marco Rubio and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, that no one should travel to Cuba, nor spend money in Cuba, because they are subsidizing a dictatorship. Even many of Cuba’s US-supported dissidents have concluded that the blockade no longer makes sense.

If the “Cuban exiles” community is itself a dying band of octogenarians, what beyond inertia is propping up the US policy? Alarcon predicts that, “The day you don’t have a Castro, they will get into trouble because of their Helms-Burton law,” which prohibits US diplomatic recognition without the disappearance of the Castro regime and installation of a market economy. “In a few years the Cuban government will be led by other persons with other last names. But I don’t think the [passing of the Castros] will create an immediate process towards normalization. The reasons and forces behind the current policy are stronger than that.”

But, Alarcon observes, “If the anti-Castro people can go back and forth, it’s the end of the political exile movement.”

Article originally appeared on (

While Miami burns… Obama and Cuban-American politics

In ACLU, Blockade, CAFE, Cuban Americans, Cuban Embargo, Miami/Cuba, Politics, US on September 13, 2012 at 12:32 pm



By Arturo López-Levy

Originally published in OpenDemocracy



US policy towards Latin America has paid a substantial price for President Obama’s kowtowing to the Miami hard-right wing. For example, Venezuela withdrew from the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights of the Organization of the Americas (OAS), and there is a chance that no Summit of the Americas will happen in 2015 unless the United States changes its position on Cuba’s participation. Several countries in the Americas, from Nicaragua to Ecuador, spent years without a US ambassador due to Senator Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) obstructionist caprice.

In a clear distortion of American values and presidential foreign policy prerogatives, the pro-embargo machine is taking the debate away from questions related to security threats and the constitutional right to travel theoretically enjoyed by Americans, to whether it is fine, or “ethical”, for an American traveler to smoke a cigar, drink a mojito, and dance salsa. Unfortunately, the Obama administration’s Treasury and State Department have surrendered the constitutional and moral high ground. Could somebody in the administration ask Senator Rubio: what is the problem with Americans having a good time once they do their full share of religious, educational, and humanitarian work in Cuba? And exactly what threat does a mojito or a salsa dance pose to American national security?

According to Ellen Cragger from the Detroit Free Press, “the process of application for a people-to people-travel license grew up from six pages to more than a hundred. There has been also a massive slowdown on the responses of applications for new licenses and renewal of old ones for people-to people-travel.”

Appeasement is precisely Obama’s strategy, except that it is aimed towards his adversaries in the Cuban-American right instead of Cuba. Nobody is fooled by such tactics. Watergate (with the Cuban exiles as plumbers) and the 2000 elections Dade County incidents should remind every Democrat that Miami doesn’t play “second fiddle” to Chicago or any other place in dirty politics.  By showing no spine to defend democratic ground, the White House will not attract a single Cuban-American vote to its side. In fact, it might make more than one of its supporters stay at home in November.

Meanwhile, the Cuban-American pro-embargo lobby is working full speed to intimidate. In Miami, where nobody has ever apologized for using terrorism inside American territory, “somebody” set fire to the offices of Airline Brokers, the charter company that took American pilgrims to Cuba for Pope Benedict XVI’s visit. Not one of the Miami elected officials called for cooperating with the authorities or for condemning a terrorist attack on a business that honors every single rule in the book. The Democratic Party could have placed Republican congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen between the “rock” of condemning practices that are perfectly fine for her base and the “hard place” of avoiding condemning a terrorist attack. It missed its chance.

What about the South Florida press and TV? The Miami Herald editorial page condemned the attack but did not demand a similar attitude from every elected official in the city. Neither Senators Rubio or Bill Nelson (D-FL) nor Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who represents the district where the company is located, were ever asked by the press for their opinions.

On Radio Marti, a government-funded “Radio Free Europe”-like broadcast emitting to Cuba, Obama appointed director Carlos Garcia to prove his bona fides to the Cuban-American right. In an editorial page in the spring, Mr. Garcia showed who the boss was when it comes to America’s foreign policy towards Cuba. Garcia used taxpayers’ dollars to call Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega “a lackey”, because of his perceived indulgence towards the Castro regime. Of course, Garcia is entitled to express his own opinions under our first amendment. However, as long as Congress doesn’t pass a legislation committing the US government to censure and insult the Cuban Roman Catholic Church, the visible spokesman of those who defend dialogue and national reconciliation in Cuba, Mr. Garcia should not use a public institution to vent his adolescent catharsis.

Garcia’s editorial was not a demonstration of force against the Castro regime but towards moderate Cubans and even Obama’s own State Department, who supported the Pope’s visit. None of this was a surprise to observers within the Cuban-American community, but there was a certain amount of hope that the White House would have some sense of decency and commitment to its own limited engagement policy towards Cuba. Wrong. Instead of supporting a constructive approach to President Raul Castro’s economic reform, Washington, not happy with one bad policy towards Cuba, is en route to having two: Obama’s respect for the 1996 Helms-Burton law (which strengthened the embargo and applied financial sanctions to non-US companies trading with Cuba), and Garcia’s preference for an even more contentious implementation of it.

The lack of commitment to Cuban Americans who defended Obama’s engagement steps, such as the easing of Cuban-American travel and people-to-people contacts, might have negative consequences for his support in South Florida. After many decades of exclusion from political life, both in Cuba and Miami, Cubans everywhere have an instinct to wait and see. One of the reasons why candidate Obama attracted the vote of Cuban-American progressive and moderates in 2008 was his article in the Miami Herald announcing clearly how he would reverse President George W. Bush’s policy on travel and remittances. It marked a contrast with then Republican presidential candidate Senator McCain’s commitment to fifty years of nonsense.

But since January 2011, when the Obama Administration expanded the categories of people-to-people contacts, the White House has been reluctant to strengthen its followers in the Cuban-American community. Admittedly, the President has firmly defended his policies towards Cuba, especially his family travel policy, from attacks from the Florida right; but he has avoided taking a high profile on this matter.  The end of the restriction against family visits, a disposition that bothered many who were unable to visit sick parents or even to attend relatives’ funerals, was announced a day before the fifth Summit of the Americas. The measures in favor of people-to-people contacts of January 2011 were adopted on a Friday afternoon through a discreet communiqué from the White House. During the 2010 campaign, no major Democratic figure came to campaign with congressional candidate Joe Garcia, who supports the trade embargo but campaigned for everything Obama stands for concerning the travel policy. No wonder a suspicion has grown that Obama is content with the status quo of Republican dominance in the Cuban-American community.

A second term could hopefully prove us wrong on this. To reach Cuban-American voters under 45 years old, increasingly registered as Independents or Democrats, President Obama should double down on his narrative of engagement, people-to-people contacts and dialogue with Cuba. Electoral considerations aside, Cuba has become a symbolic test case of the Obama administration’s will to adopt a realist approach to strategic problems in the hemisphere, such as the calamitous state of the OAS, immigration reform and drug ban efforts. Were a new constructive era of US-Cuba relations to begin, the new populist regimes would lose a rallying flag for their radicalism. A concentration on “good neighbors” actual multilateralism and not rhetorical fights could make a beginning.

P.S: Two weeks ago, US government-funded Radio Marti transmitted to Cuba an interview about the virtues and difficulties of developing a porn star career in democracy. There is nothing wrong with this use of freedom of expression as long as it is not paid for by taxpayers’ dollars. But again, Radio Marti is a public institution. It is difficult to believe how Director Garcia’s information policies fit with the rules and standards of the FCC, or how providing advice about the beauty and odds of a porn career squares with the mission of “promoting democracy in Cuba”. Everywhere in America, outside Miami, any promotion of porn with taxpayers’ dollars would cost the resignation of every official involved. It is time for Mr. Garcia to go.

About the author

Arturo Lopez-Levy is a Doctoral Candidate and lecturer at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies of the University of Denver. He is a co-author of the book “Raul Castro and the New Cuba: A Close-Up View of Change”, McFarland Publishers, 2011.

Respect for democracy begins at home

In CAFE, Cuba/US, Cuban Americans, Politics, US on June 14, 2012 at 12:26 pm

By Arturo López-Levy

Originally published in The Havana Note

Article 1 of the United States Constitution recognizes Congress as the first branch of US democracy, with the executive and judiciary following behind. Bicameralism was a central concept of the 1787 constitutional pact. It was seen as a republican “remedy” against potential abuses of legislative despotism. If the House was conceived to express the direct mood of the people, James Madison envisioned the Senate as a high chamber of “enlightened individuals” that would operate with “more coolness, with more system and with more wisdom, than the popular branch”.

But a conspicuous gap has emerged between the founders’ design and the reality of some of today’s Senators. Poll after poll shows that the public holds Congress in low esteem. In the view of many Americans, some Senators not only reflect a polarized public but also contribute to making the system dysfunctional by abusing procedures, such as the unanimous consent rule, in pursuit of personal or parochial gains or to settle personal vendettas, rather than to defend national interests.

The Cuban community’s representation in US politics has been remarkable over the last decade. No place is this more evident than in the Senate. Although the 1.8 million Cubans living in the US only represent 4 % of the Hispanics and less than 0.6 % of the US general population, they have managed to elect three Senators since 2004. The first was Mel Martinez, a moderate republican from Tampa who served as HUD secretary during the first term of George W. Bush. Second was Robert Menendez, a congressman from New Jersey who was appointed by the state governor and successfully ran for reelection in 2006. After Martinez’s retirement in 2010, Florida elected Marco Rubio, a former speaker of the state House.

One might disagree with Senator Martinez’s positions, but his posture was appropriate for the high office he held. On the verge of a constitutional crisis in 2005 over President Bush’s controversial judicial nominations, and the threat by Majority leader Bill Frist to use the so called “nuclear option” against the democratic minority, Senator Martinez joined the bipartisan “gang of fourteen” and helped to diffuse the conflict, thereby acting with the “coolness” and long-term perspective the framers foresaw. During his service on the strategic Judiciary Committee, Martinez placed country above party and developed a congenial relationship with other members (including Senator Biden) that eased partisan tension and gained him the respect of his colleagues.

Unfortunately, the other two Cuban American Senators have not emulated Mr. Martinez’s respect for the institution. During the current 112thCongress, Senators Menendez and Rubio have abused their powers to filibuster, with unusual frequency and unwholesome motives, in order to hold up nominations to the judiciary and several positions in the Foreign Service. Such behavior makes one wonder whether the two Cuban American Senators understand the gravitas the framers embedded in the Advice and Consent function of the institution in which they serve. It also raises concerns over how the Cuban American right-wing political culture, characterized by incivility, dishonesty and vengefulness, pollutes the halls of Congress and contributes to a further decline in voter confidence.

Since Mr. Rubio arrived in the Senate, he has tried to micromanage the Treasure Department policy regarding licenses for travelling to Cuba. Wasting hours of the Senate’s precious time, Mr. Rubio has read, again and again, promotional materials about educational travel to Cuba by various US institutions interested in participating in President Obama’s people-to-people diplomacy, second-guessing the decisions of US officials who are acting in full consistency with the laws of the land and the regulations of their agencies.

Since the White House began implementing its own Cuba policy, supported by the majority of the Cuban-American community and the US public, Mr. Rubio has embarked upon a McCarthy-style crusade against the State Department that is damaging our nation’s policy towards the entire Latin American region. In the last three months, Mr. Rubio has held-up the nomination of three ambassadors (Jonathan Farrar to Nicaragua, Adam Namm to Ecuador, and Mari Carmen Aponte to El Salvador) as well as the nomination of Roberta Jacobson for assistant secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere. As a result of Mr. Rubio’s pitiful bickering, US diplomatic presence in the region has been seriously handicapped, creating political opportunities for our adversaries.

In the case of Farrar, the former Chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana who simply carried out the policy of the State Department, Senator Rubio’s McCarthyism sent a chilling message: Ignore the Constitution and do not implement the policy of the Diplomat in Chief; Cuban-American right-wing politicians, not the State Department, will decide your promotion.  The same must be said about Mari Carmen Aponte. Mr. Rubio blocked her confirmation as the first Puerto Rican US Ambassador, despite the support of the entire US community in El Salvador where she had been serving under a recess appointment. The reason, he argued, was that more than twenty years ago, she had been sentimentally involved with someone who had links to the Cuban Interests Section in Washington and who was also an FBI source.

It is reasonable to expect that Senator Menendez, as a senior Cuban-American legislator, would guide his junior colleague toward a more mature stance. But the opposite is true. Rubio is Menendez’s “A +” pupil. In 2009, Menendez was responsible for holding up the nominations of Dr. John Holden and Dr. Jane Lubchenco, both world renowned scientists, because of an issue totally unrelated to their careers: Menendez was simply retaliating against President Obama’s policy that allows unrestricted Cuban American travel to Cuba.

Just a week ago, Menendez was shamefully blocking President Obama’s nominee to a seat on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. The Senator never presented one substantive complaint against Judge Patty Shwartz, who is rated by the American Bar Association as “unanimously well qualified”. The people of New Jersey know that Mr. Menendez was pursuing a self-indulgent political vendetta. Judge Shwartz’ companion of two decades, James Nobile, was the officer in charge of a public corruption unit that investigated Mr. Menendez and issued a subpoena against him in 2006. Only after massive pressure from his own party and powerful editorials against his action by the Washington Post and the New York Times, Menendez drop his block against Judge Shwartz’s nomination.

These behaviors, unworthy of the US Senate, should give pause to voters. The press must seriously scrutinize the moral capacity of these two Senators to honorably fulfill their constitutional duties of Advice and Consent especially in regards to the President’s policies towards Cuba. Senator Rubio’s lies about his parents’ immigration to Miami- reported by the Washington Post- and his hiding behind an artificially created clash with Univision as a pretext for not engaging in a televised debate about immigration are not isolated misdemeanors. The actions of Senators Menendez and Rubio are typical reflections of the authoritarian political culture that caused Fidel Castro’s revolution in Cuba. By bringing this culture of deceitfulness, revenge and corruption into the US Senate, these elected officials are demeaning the very kind of freedom they claim to want for Cuba. They have forgotten that respect for democracy must begin at home.

Dawn Gable contributed to this article.

A legal sling for David

In Blockade, CAFE, CENESEX, Cuba, Cuba/US, Cuban 5, Cuban Americans, Cuban Embargo, Politics, US on June 12, 2012 at 12:57 pm

Margarita Alarcón Perea

Benjamin Willis, a musician living in Queens, founding member of C.A.F.E (Cuban Americans for Engagement) and proud first time father, wrote a very good eloquent piece published in Counterpunch.

Members of C.A.F.E and other US based organizations such as the LAWG have stood up to a recent proposal of change to legislation put forth by Junior Congressman David Rivera. Congressman Rivera wants to amend H.R. 2831 which pretty much translates for those readers unfamiliar with laws within the Senate to re-adjust the Cuban Adjustment Act, where by any Cuban arriving on US soil is automatically eligible for permanent residency (USCIS). Rivera wants to change this. He wants to modify it in the most misrepresented way. Under Rivera’s proposal, any Cuban living in the US under the Cuban Adjustment Act who has yet to become a citizen would be automatically considered illegal upon returning to the US if he or she visits his or her family in Cuba after having emigrated from the island.

I agree with Mr. Rivera, the “misrepresenter”. Here’s my rationale: if Rivera has his way, the only option for Cuban Americans living in the US under current residency status and hence without the right to vote, will be to become citizens in order to travel legally to Cuba and then return legally back to their new home the United States. If we can force them through this ingeniously diabolical legal proposal, then they will have to become citizens in order to visit their families and then and only then will the ball start to roll in the right direction. Cuban Americans living in the US, the growing majority of which no longer have serious political issues with the Cuban Revolution, – NOT to be confused with the so called “Miami Mafia” – will be able to vote and vote people like Rivera right out of Congress and back to where ever it is that will best suit their needs.

Let’s face it, as Bob Dylan once said, “the times they are a changing,” and these Cuban American legislators aren’t legislating for “the Cuban people”, they legislate for their salaries and other amenities along the way.

So I say, go for it Rivera! Once again, your namesake David will defeat the huge Goliath; the growing number of coherent Cuban Americans of a new intelligent generation will defeat you on your own turf.

Please read the very eloquent piece by Benjamin Willis here.

The US embargo against Cuba is ridiculous … by gimleteye

In Architecture, Arts, Blockade, Cuba, Cuba/US, Cuban Americans, Cuban Embargo, Culture, Education, Environment, Politics, Travel, US on June 12, 2012 at 11:04 am

… by gimleteye

From  EYE ON MIAMI blog


I returned from Cuba yesterday to Miami, less than an hour and a world away. Although I am Anglo. I have lived in the shadow of Cuba for more than two decades.

In Miami, my experience of Cuba has been filtered through a career as a writer, an environmental leader and civic activist struggling against the values and political organization of Cuban American business interests, primarily tied to construction, development and sugar farmers who control politics in Miami and from that base, Florida, and from Florida, the nation.

What hasn’t changed, as a result of my week long cultural visit to the Havana Bienal, is my certainty that while the injuries and suffering of Cuban Americans who lost family, possessions, and their country during the revolution are real, the embargo against Cuba is a failure that serves no purpose.

Cubans know the embargo and its hardships have united their own state; defining hard-liners and moderates and serving to rationalize regional and superpower investments. But it is not fair to say that the embargo serves equal purposes in the United States and Cuba.

Since the late 1950s and the revolution and diaspora, the Florida economy has grown mightily. These decades created a class of Cuban American entrepreneurs and leaders whose power is rooted in Florida land speculation, the construction of suburbs and condominiums, and farmers using Everglades wetlands as their cesspits. Their control is vested through local zoning practices, transportation and national farming and environmental policies endorsed by Congress and the White House irrespective of party control.

Cuba, meanwhile, is a time capsule rooted in the 1950’s. Its significant achievements in universal health care and education are deservedly a matter of national pride. But nowhere on earth has a society been so deeply framed by economic strangulation. Perversely, what the embargo has accomplished is to save Havana (the only part of the nation, I visited on this trip) from Miami-style destruction.

Havana is in an exquisite state of decaying preservation; an oxymoron that also describes the embargo. Equisitely decaying yet existing in its own decay.

In Havana, rainstorms are claiming 18th and 19th century structures that are unfortified against the elements. At the same time as 1950’s era Detroit-made vehicles carry the city on their millionth mile, neighborhoods and houses built in the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s exist as testament to entrepreneurial spirit, corruption, life, love and ideological blindness. It is all captured in Havana and suppressed in Miami.

Last week I wrote that the bandwidth for political dialogue is wider in Havana than it is in Miami. Cubans understand perfectly that Hialeah politics are organized around Castro as enemy and villain. They also understand how socialist politics uses Miami as its own bulwark. But in depth, Cubans have their own worries. They may not understand all the ulterior motives: how in the US the revenge motives against Castro empower those whose real purpose is to make money here — millions and billions — by wrecking environmental rules and regulations, controlling building and zoning that might otherwise inhibit platted subdivisions in West and South Miami Dade or restrict water pollution and mercury contamination pouring out of sugar lands south of Lake Okeechobee.

The economic crisis in the United States has not served to open public discourse on these matters. To the contrary, the crisis — in part fomented by the local gears of the Growth Machine well documented on this blog — has served to contract public discussion. Newspapers and television have been crippled by debt and fail the public interest test time and again. Miami voters keep re-electing the same incumbent county and city commissioners based on the litmus test of their virulence against Castro.

Meanwhile, Cubans are engaged in uninhibited discussions around the questions of what happens next. Everything has changed around Cuba — China, Brazil, Latin and South America — and Cuba is finally taking tentative, selective steps to open its economy to change. While the pieces are not in place to make large scale, private investment possible — the small and limited efforts are yielding visible results that should encourage bolder action by a new generation of leaders.

What members of Congress need to understand is that the embargo is now a ridiculous farce. In the 1960’s it served to isolate a nation that had decided to accept a fire hose of economic aid from the Soviet Union. For a time, that assistance allowed an ideology to be artificially supported with no real economic growth.

Today, remittances from Cuban Americans — the majority, from the Miami area — are allowing Cuban entrepreneurs to by-pass the embargo. Small farmers, restaurant owners, and now — private homeowners and car owners, too — represent an army of embargo busters. Cuban Americans have destroyed the embargo on a small scale, while depriving American businesses of the chance to participate in the gradual opening of an economy poised to explode at a time when the domestic US economy, and in Florida particularly, is dependent on the kindness of strangers; foreign investors willing to pick up the slack of crushed housing markets.

One of the most interesting conversations I had was on the return flight to Miami with a Cuban American — I never got his name — who had just completed a visit to relatives in Cuba. He could only spend a weekend there because he had to return to work, Monday. I asked him, could the embargo ever work? He said, yes but that you would have to cut off everything. What he meant, was that the tens of thousands of lifelines extended through Cuban Americans to families in Cuba would have to be shut down.

In this way, the embargo would drive Cuba beyond the point of hunger to Eritrean-style deprivation. He said, Cuban Americans would in effect be condemning own relatives who have managed a margin of relative comfort, even wealth, through remittances.

My fellow traveler said: the embargo cannot be effective unless it drives their own families to ruin. Is that what Lincoln Diaz Balart and Ileana Ros Lehtinen and various Miami-Dade county commissioners and other aspiring Florida politicians want? Or do they just want to be re-elected? Havana knows the answer.

Miami — and the nation, by extension — shouts in an echo chamber on Cuba. It is clear Cuba will choose its own course, forward. Whatever hybrid emerges will not be dictated by Hialeah politics. the Latin Builders Association or its megaphones. US foreign policy to Cuba and the embargo have outgrown the purpose of Miami elections. Even Cuban American business leaders who reaped all the bitterness but none of the rewards — unless under-the-table violations of the embargo — must realize change is at hand if only they will listen.